Terry Sanderson should rename the NSS


by Sunny
22nd March, 2007 at 9:08 am    

The problem with the National Secular Society is that while they preach secularism, they actually prefer atheism. By conflating the two they not only wreck it for the non-atheist secularists but also help their opponents keep confusing the two. And it’s pi**ing me right off. For example on Monday its president Terry Sanderson wrote this piece of crap for CIF. The money quote:

I’ve come to realise that the delusions of the liberals are not qualitatively different from those entertained by the Pat Robertsons or Abu Hamzas of this world.

The danger that these apparently harmless liberals pose is that of enabling the fanatics, who happily use them as human shields. Just as the terrorists of the Middle East will hide out in schools and hospitals to avoid being targeted by enemy bombs, so the ideological terrorists hide behind the liberals and the good-natured in order to spread their doctrine of intimidation and terror.

Really, that is intellectual dishonesty. It may be that religious conservatives like the Muslim Brotherhood / Jamaat/Hizb ut-Tahrir types try and explain away Al-Qaeda, in the same way that the RSS/VHP/BJP Hindu nationalists in India provide cover for the real militants like the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena (and worse). But most ordinary religious liberals just want to live their lives in peace, let alone get involved in these debates. The few who do take a more progressive path get it in the neck from conservatives and now these atheists. To say they’re simply “providing cover” is just, well, ignorant.

Even the nice people from Ekklesia are annoyed and that doesn’t happen easily.

People such as Sanderson are not only trying to polarise the debate, as Simon Barrow points out, but also making themselves more irrelevant in the wider debate. What is the point of involving the NSS in a debate about keeping religion out of state control if what they really want is something else? Terry Sanderson and the NSS not only misunderstand religion, they hate it. They should call themselves the National Atheists Society instead of getting confused and annoying those who want to bring about real change.
Update: Matt Murrell, Not Saussure and Matt Wardman pile in.


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  1. soru — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:16 am  

    Have scientists yet found the portion of the brain which, if it is damaged or under-developed, causes people to be stupid in that very particular way?

    Browsing wiki the other day, I came across a word new to me: Caesaropapism. It’s an alternaive to theocracy, theonomism and secularism, meaning that the state organises and controls religion, not vice versa.

    Saudi Arabia is the best modern example.

    Sanderson seriously seems to be advocating some kind of atheist version of Saudi Arabia.

  2. douglas clark — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:22 am  

    Yes.

    Again, there are far too many bodies claiming to represent people of no religion, and claiming , in this instance to take my basic views and wrap them up with stuff I most certainnly do not subscribe to. To be clear, I’d never even heard of the National Secular Society before his article far less embraced its views.

    Whether it is deliberate or not, the multiple meaning of the word secular causes vast amounts of confusion, as we saw on the CiF thread by Reem Maghribi:

    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/reem_maghribi/2007/03/the_face_veil_clouding_the_big.html

    It had fallen off the front page completely before any mutual understanding of what she was talking about was, hopefully, achieved.

    Off the top of my head, I don’t recall the NGN specifically dealing with atheists, but it might be something you’d consider if you ever revise it. Mr Sanderson no more represents my opinion than the other pressure groups appear to represent moderate Muslim, Sikh or Hindu opinion.

  3. Leon — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:23 am  

    ‘Aheists can be as stupid as religious people shocker!’

    …meh

  4. Leon — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:26 am  

    there are far too many bodies claiming to represent people

    Now isn’t that a better sentence. The problem with all this Atheists being represented guff is it’s actually as likely as one body to represent anarchists.

    We ‘Atheists’ (thanks to faith and non faith idiots I’m really starting to dislike the term) are far too varied to be collectively referred to as detractors (and so called advocates) would like us all to believe….

  5. Leon — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:27 am  

    I don’t recall the NGN specifically dealing with atheists, but it might be something you’d consider if you ever revise it.

    ‘Dealing’ with? How exactly? Take us all out back and have us shot!?

    I refer my right honourable gentlmen to the comment I made above.

  6. Chairwoman — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:59 am  

    Perhaps we should just go for a new take on the Roman custom of Decimation, and just ‘Deal’ with every tenth person, regardless of who or what they are

  7. Matt Wardman — on 22nd March, 2007 at 11:05 am  

    I agree with you – mostly.

    There’s something of a rat’s nest of societies around the NSS – British Humanist Association, NSS itself and Freethinker Magazine.

    My beef is that they claim to represent 30% (or whatever) of the population and refuse to publishment their memnership.

    Grrr.

  8. DavidMWW — on 22nd March, 2007 at 11:49 am  

    As a long-time member of the NSS, I am sorry to agree with you. That article by our new chairman was unhelpful and – worse – logically incoherent. If, as he says, secular democracy is liberal religionists “best friend” (which it is), then it doesn’t make sense to brand them as bleating brainwashed fools. Best friends don’t do that.

    I am an atheist. I believe that religious people – moderate and extreme – all make the same fundamental error: their worldview is overly-dependent on certain texts unjustifiably regarded as holy. And I insist on the right to point this out as and when I think it is appropriate. But that does not mean I cannot engage with them when we share a common goal.

  9. anti-knee-jerk — on 22nd March, 2007 at 11:54 am  

    Finally sunny puts up a decent article for discussion.

  10. sonia — on 22nd March, 2007 at 12:09 pm  

    i think douglas hit the nail on the head when he points out that there is big confusion over the term secularism. this definitely was clear when the french hijab hoo ha ban was on.

    the thing is though everything is on a spectrum – terms like ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ are always relative. They don’t necessarily mean much in themselves – it depends what the context is. so if you’re comparing yourself to a bunch of medieval ideas of human rights
    ( i.e. practically non-existent)then all sorts of people will seem ‘progressive’ in comparision.

  11. sonia — on 22nd March, 2007 at 12:35 pm  

    some thoughts:

    from my viewpoint i see some commonalities between some atheists and some very religious people : i.e. firm convictions and thinking other people are silly and they’d better ‘convert’. Lots of other people are perfectly capable of having firm convictions on religion or the lack thereof, and are able to discuss this with others, even pointing out what they think is wrong about x y or z, without getting aggressive or trying to bully the other person. That’s pretty healthy – i don’t think religion should be the one area that people can’t discuss in the way – say they’d discuss healthcare provision. People should be able to handle other people’s criticism – there is nothing automatically sacred about religion – in my opinion – it’s a construct.

    there are a lot of people who are ‘agnostic’ and have no firm convictions. some of thesepeople would probably like to have firmer ideas for themselves, and don’t want to interfere with other people’s rights to their own opinions. i probably situate myself in this ‘middling’ crowd.

    my point is this: to me it doesn’t matter what the content of the belief is – but about how the holder of the belief positions themselves to people who don’t hold that same belief. If they are going to be nasty and try and force others to share those beliefs, then there’s a problem . doesn’t matter to me if that said belief is in a God, a Donkey, Santa Claus, or the lack of God.

    i think its perfectably acceptable for many people to question other people’s beliefs – if that is done in a non-violent aggressive way – e.g. many atheists, similar to many ‘devout’ people – want to share their ideas and ways of thinking. that’s fine – again – i don’t see why it would be any different to people spouting forth on any topic. It’s how people approach it – that is key.

    re: specific belief in divinity or a God – its for individuals to decide and not anybody else. the other bits of ‘religion’ i.e. once you’re supposed to have this belief and it is supposed to lead you to ‘actions’ – which have social impact on others around you – are obviously the same issues about how we all co-exist together. some people who insist on thinking their religion treats this as a totality might then insist th at ‘religion’ isn’t therefore a private matter because it encompasses this world and the social aspects – but they might need to realize people mean different things by ‘religion’ and not everyone is going to subscribe to their idea of religion, especially their idea of a divine being etc. people don’t share those beliefs – it’s clear – so they cannot then expect that to be the focus or basis of what happens in this world.

  12. douglas clark — on 22nd March, 2007 at 1:12 pm  

    Leon,

    Your analogy with anarchists was very good. I defer to you. :-)

    All I meant was that there is a similar stategy in play here with people that claim to represent atheists as there is with people who claim to represent the religious. Speaking personally, I’d be quite OK with the NGN not taking me out and shooting me! But it is surely useful to challenge any set up that claims to represent you when they do not?

    It is argueably part and parcel of being an atheist that you do not want an intermediary. Maybe a little off topic but Marx said that he’d never join a club that’d have him. Groucho.

    I’m with Leon, I don’t really want to be known as an atheist any more if I’m going to be attributed with having to defend our more confrontational folk at every turn. I can ‘do’ the debates on the Big Bang and Evolution, but it gets awefully boring after a while. As Sunny said, most moderate religious folk just want to be left alone to get on with it. I suspect that is even more true of those that would describe themselves as atheist, pending a better word coming along.

    Secularism, in the way it is used around here, protects everyone and is a good thing, I think.

  13. El Cid — on 22nd March, 2007 at 1:22 pm  

    I salute you for trying to establish a consensus around religion as well as race and class. It’s the way forward.
    Polarised debate may be easier but it’s also stale and leads to fragmentation and dead ends.

  14. Leon — on 22nd March, 2007 at 1:39 pm  

    All I meant was that there is a similar strategy in play here with people that claim to represent atheists as there is with people who claim to represent the religious.

    But it is surely useful to challenge any set up that claims to represent you when they do not?

    I agree but in the greater scheme of things I fail to see that they have anywhere near the influence other groups have. It’s a question of power and influence.

    I really wish I had the time to do a study which puts all these religious groups and non faith/secular groups side by side to compare the levels of funding, press coverage, membership levels and thus influence they have. I reckon it’d make for some interesting reading…

    Maybe a little off topic but Marx said that he’d never join a club that’d have him. Groucho.

    Hehe yeah the ‘people that hate people party’.;)

    I don’t really want to be known as an atheist any more if I’m going to be attributed with having to defend our more confrontational folk at every turn.

    Me too but also because of the way certain religious types are conveniently using them to lump as all together. Again it’s the extremists on both sides (not meaning to imply that faith and Atheists are yin and yang because in my view they’re not) leaving us moderate and dare I say nuanced folk caught in the cross fire.

    As Sunny said, most moderate religious folk just want to be left alone to get on with it. I suspect that is even more true of those that would describe themselves as atheist, pending a better word coming along.

    Agreed. And yeah a new word or even discourse is seriously needed for this.

  15. sonia — on 22nd March, 2007 at 2:57 pm  

    leon no. 4 – precisely.

  16. sonia — on 22nd March, 2007 at 3:10 pm  

    douglas no. 12 – good points

  17. bananabrain — on 22nd March, 2007 at 3:48 pm  

    Saudi Arabia is the best modern example.

    what about france, where the state religion is, effectively, something called “secularism”? it acts, walks and quacks like a duck, that’s for damsure. and then there is communism, of course…

    a friend of mine is a big fan of the NSS (although i haven’t asked him what he thinks of this) and he argues (correctly in my view) that it is wrong that humanists and atheists aren’t allowed on “thought for the day”. i think it would be a great idea if religious people lobbied for a change!

    If, as he says, secular democracy is liberal religionists “best friend” (which it is), then it doesn’t make sense to brand them as bleating brainwashed fools. Best friends don’t do that.

    quite. as a religious person myself, i don’t care whether someone is an atheist or not, as long as they leave me free to practice as i wish and i do the same to them. the/ideology need not preclude peaceful co-existence.

    there is big confusion over the term secularism. this definitely was clear when the french hijab hoo ha ban was on.

    a case in point – this is a case where secularism started acting as the state religion and penalising everyone for the sins of a few although, conveniently, the penalty didn’t really penalise anybody christian (as long as they didn’t work for british airways), which is why the muslims got so annoyed – they could tell they were the main target and the jews and sikhs got annoyed that they were being penalised in order to try and con the muslims that there was evenhandedness going on.

    if you’re comparing yourself to a bunch of medieval ideas of human rights

    as i’ve pointed out elsewhere, my religion came up with the idea of alimony, emancipation and social provision way before the middle ages – in the bronze age, as i believed someone pointed out.

    People should be able to handle other people’s criticism – there is nothing automatically sacred about religion – in my opinion – it’s a construct.

    i would say that a grown-up religion is one that doesn’t hide behind its self-declared holiness and is prepared to stand up and argue the toss about its ideas. we have nothing to fear from debate and everything to lose from stifling it.

    I can ‘do’ the debates on the Big Bang and Evolution, but it gets awfully boring after a while.

    partly because they’re not actually in conflict with the Torah at all, only in conflict with the sort of people that think that “six days of creation” means 144 hours when the sun (which defines what a day and an hour was) was only created on the third “day”. but that’s what happens when you try and analyse the most recondite bit of the Torah without any knowledge of hebrew or the mystical tradition.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain
    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  18. bananabrain — on 22nd March, 2007 at 3:48 pm  

    oops!

  19. Sunny — on 22nd March, 2007 at 3:54 pm  

    I am an atheist. I believe that religious people – moderate and extreme – all make the same fundamental error: their worldview is overly-dependent on certain texts unjustifiably regarded as holy. And I insist on the right to point this out as and when I think it is appropriate. But that does not mean I cannot engage with them when we share a common goal.

    David, exactly. I made the same point recently in this article:
    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/sunny_hundal/2006/12/a_new_approach_to_religion.html

    The problem with Terry Sanderson’s approach is that it actually gives more power to the theocrats (because we’re forced to choose between them and complete atheists) and it gives secularism a bad name. On top of that he will make ordinary people, who should be agitating for more secularism, to think that the real secular agenda is government enforced atheism.

  20. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 4:20 pm  

    The idea of an all seeing god or collection of supernatural beings ordaining how we should live our lives , a cognitive construct derived in earlier times of ignorance about the natural world, is inimical to human progress.
    Secularism to me is the free discussion of ideas without preordained immutable notions derived from religion or any philosophical position. I might form a loose association with like minded people, but I wouldn’t join a club, society etc.
    Don’t know what Sunny is talking about when he refers to real change. Seems to me that any theist has a limiting set of beliefs. They may try to accommodate theists of other persuasions or even non theists, but at some point they will dig their heals in.

  21. bananabrain — on 22nd March, 2007 at 4:51 pm  

    Seems to me that any theist has a limiting set of beliefs. They may try to accommodate theists of other persuasions or even non theists, but at some point they will dig their heals in.

    what rubbish. insisting that one must a priori restrict one’s criteria solely to that which can be measured mathematically is simply restricting your inputs – it’s like the old sufi story of mulla nasruddin, looking for his keys underneath the street lamp:

    “are you sure you dropped them here?”

    “no, but at least here i can see what i’m doing”

    secularists have preordained immutable notions just like anyone else – they just don’t admit it.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  22. soru — on 22nd March, 2007 at 5:16 pm  

    what about france, where the state religion is, effectively, something called “secularism”?

    Absolutely, the only reason I picked SA ahead of them is the Kingdom is, to be fair, a bit more brutal and absolute when they go about enforcing a dress code for religious reasons.

    The root problem is the great word shortage, the same word ‘secularism’ being used for two fundamentally different things:

    1. the state staying out of matters corresponding to Abrahamic ritual and personal laws, to the maximum extent compatible with valid civic and ethical laws.

    2. the state mandating a particular set of ritual or personal behaviours, out of hostility to the idea of religious law.

    If so, it’s a simple problem to deal with. From now on, the first shall be called ‘secularism’, the second is ‘caesorosecularism’.

    Let it be so.

  23. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 5:17 pm  

    Dear barbarian, sorry bananabrain,
    You appear to be a little green. You should get out into the sun a bit more.

    I am not a secularist in the sense that you imply. I am what may be described as a passionate sceptic, passé Bertrand Russell.

    I still stand by my comment “Seems to me that any theist has a limiting set of beliefs. They may try to accommodate theists of other persuasions or even non theists, but at some point they will dig their heals in.”

    You try engaging any theist in a rational discussion of the central tenants of their faith. A brick wall. Incomprehension.

  24. ZinZin — on 22nd March, 2007 at 5:31 pm  

    “Most ordinary religious liberals just want to live their lives in peace let alone get involved in these debates.”

    No they ignore or downplay the threat from religious extremists. Example Islam is a religion of peace after any terrorist raid or attack.

    Pro-life groups killing doctors defended by law abiding christians. Richard Dawkins found such an example when filming his anti-religious polemic Root of all evil. Do liberal Christian groups in the US defend the right to life of doctors who perform abortions?

  25. William — on 22nd March, 2007 at 5:45 pm  

    There are many a fair number of people with with a spiritual philosohy who believe that humans are on an upward journey of progress where there is constant learning. There are Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists who may believe this. This would also include modern day spiritualists. In this growth and change can include change of ideas, concepts, ways of seeing. New learning can even supersede the old ways of thinking/seeing. Trying not to limit oneself can actually be part of a spiritual philosophy.

    Of course eternal progress/evolution in this sense may in itself be just a belief system.

  26. Don — on 22nd March, 2007 at 5:57 pm  

    Good, provoctive piece, Sunny. I agree with much of what Leon, Douglas, David and Sonia have said. If I wanted someone to speak for me, to claim me as a constituency, I’d have joined a church.

    As a non-theist and secularist I am more than happy to confront any theist attempting to proseletyse or demand extra privileges on the basis of their beliefs, or insinuate their religion into public life, but I was puzzled to make sense of Sanderson’s position.

    Does he mean that everyone who holds a quiet personal faith is somehow of a piece with AQ, the LRA, or Westboro Baptist Church? That seems very unreasonable, unless he is taking the abstract position that any failure to adhere to strictly rational thought habits places you, willy-nilly, in camp x, which is intrinsically at emnity with the rationalists in camp y. I suppose you could make that argument, but it would not bear very much resemblence to the world we are living in.

    Harris more or less takes that position, but then Harris is a (very effective) polemecist. I don’t use the term perjoratively; polemicism has a long and noble history, but it shouldn’t masquerade as debate.

    Dawkins is often portrayed as holding that position, but Dawkins is an evolutionist taking the very long view that humans would be better off evolving away from their long established tendency to accept unsupported assertions which conflict with observable reality as being authoritative as long as they are utterred by soi-dissant holders of a revealed truth. And that in the meantime, religious incursion into the public sphere should be vigorously challenged. I see that as a view that can be argued strongly and with which I agree.

    But Sanderson seems to be implying that every elderly lady on her way to chapel is morally in cahoots with the Lord’s Resistance Army. If he means something other than that he has failed to make his case clear.

    Of course non-theists can engage with theists constructively. I happen to disagree completely with B’brain’s #21, but it’s the sort of disagreement one can approach with a certain relish, without characterising one’s interlocuter as a fool, a knave or an enabler of fanatacism.

    And by the way, appropos finding a more useful term than ‘atheist’, I really hate the word ‘Brights’.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brights

    I don’t see what’s wrong with ‘Unbeliever’. It’s not just god I don’t believe in; it’s anything that requires belief without evidence.

  27. douglas clark — on 22nd March, 2007 at 6:15 pm  

    AAArgh!

    Is it too difficult to understand?

    Secularism, in the way Sunny uses it, is a society which allows freedom of religious belief but does not privilege one faith over another. That is what a secular society is about. It was one of the founding principles of the USA. It makes sense, to me at least, as a philosophy. You could support the idea whether you were of any religion, or none.

    It is not about atheism at all in that definition.

    The way bananabrain and lithcol are using it is in the sense of ‘not religious, sacred or spiritual’, where contrarywise it is about atheism. It is this range of meanings that leads to chaotic discussions.

    Someone, somewhere should try to put some clear blue water between these meanings, even if it meant adopting different language altogether.

  28. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 6:26 pm  

    It is not the belief in a supernatural being that is the major problem. It is the appeal to this supreme being as the source of views that acolytes of particular faiths wish to impose on their own and others. You cannot question, it is the way things are. You have the faith or you are an outsider.

    Dawkins is in the mould of a passionate sceptic. He comes over as a bit abrasive, probably because he is deeply saddened by the murderous stupidly of true believers in this and that theist belief.

  29. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 6:40 pm  

    Don,
    My understanding of secularism is that rational debate rather than dogmatic religious belief should guide how we organise our society. Probably your understanding .

    Believe what you want in your personal life, however in the public domain understand that all ideas are up for critical debate or ridicule.

    It just so happens that I am an anti theist, however this does not make me a secularist.

  30. douglas clark — on 22nd March, 2007 at 6:52 pm  

    Sorry, in the time it took me to compose 27, it had been overtaken quite comprehensively. Had I but known…

    I agree with Don that ‘Brights’ is horrible.

    Maybe I’ll just call myself a Fortean. Charles Fort said something I always thought was very profound – I’ll have to paraphrase as I can’t find it on line:

    “There is nothing in science, religion or politics that is not just the fashion, for a time.”

    Works for me.

  31. Don — on 22nd March, 2007 at 6:58 pm  

    lithcol,

    Fully agree with your first two points, but puzzled by your third.

    Do you mean by antitheist the commoner usage, one who considers theism per se to be an intrinsic ill? Or the less common one of Dystheism?

    The latter would be fascinating, but if the former, how could you not be a secularist? Or rather, what is your definition?

  32. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 7:21 pm  

    Don,
    I think I meant that I might have some other belief system that was not theistic but was nevertheless dogmatic in its core beliefs. Marxism or derivatives thereof?

    I am a secularist, i am also anti theistic. Being an antitheist does not make me secularist if I have some other dogmatic belief system.

    I am of course a secularist. I believe rational debate is central to human progress. This could of course be construed as dogmatic and not open to rational debate.

  33. Sunny — on 22nd March, 2007 at 7:22 pm  

    You try engaging any theist in a rational discussion of the central tenants of their faith. A brick wall. Incomprehension.

    lithcol – as douglas clark said let’s try and seperate a few issues out.

    1) There is the approach to government policy. Here I advocate, as Douglas Clark and others point out, that the state should be religion neutral and secular in the sense that it is committed only to promoting and protecting human rights and freedom of speech not advocating or promoting religion / atheism.

    2) Discussion on religion vs atheism. That is a seperate argument to what political structure we should adopt. Many religious are dogmatic and narrow-minded. I hate them as much as the atheists do. I flirted with atheism for a while before coming to my own conclusion as to how I perceived “god” and related issues. I’m happy to debate them and have had similar debates with many religious and non-religious people. But you can’t lump everyone in one box.

    3) Tackling terrorism and / or interfaith dialogue. This is a different issue and here it depends on who the NSS is talking to and in what context. There are many liberal religious people who believe in offering equal rights to homosexuals. But the nature of how people get organised, it is the dogmatic and extremists who make the most amount of noise and get organised. If the NSS is only speaking to them then it has a skewed view.

    If it rejects talking to any religious body, on any issue relating to govt policy or even dialogue, then it only makes itself more irrelevant.

  34. Don — on 22nd March, 2007 at 7:51 pm  

    lithcol,

    Thanks for clarifying. I’d agree that just as one could adhere to a religious belief and still be a secularist (in not wishing that belief to intrude uopon the public sphere) then equally one could be antitheistic and not be a secularist, in wishing one’s antitheism to intrude upon others’ private beliefs. If that was your point, then fair enough.

  35. Don — on 22nd March, 2007 at 7:53 pm  

    Douglas,

    “There is nothing in science, religion or politics that is not just the fashion, for a time.”

    Yes; science is based on that, politics pragmatically accepts it, but religion …

  36. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 7:59 pm  

    Suuny,
    In response to (1), I agree totally as stated in my posts on this site. How could I disagree with your position?

    As for (2), my only comment is that some believers and non believers have sought and have indeed subjected others to their beliefs . Often in a most bloodthirsty way. One other thing. Yes, some people do have a need to believe in something outside of themselves , many others don’t.

    (3) Given the multitude of beliefs that various peoples hold there is clearly a need for continuous dialogue. But that is politics. It is clearly good that “many liberal religious people who believe in offering equal rights to homosexuals”, but of course a great many would deny them.

    I will state once again “You try engaging any theist in a rational discussion of the central tenants of their faith. A brick wall. Incomprehension.

  37. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 8:03 pm  

    Don,

    Exactly my point. Thanks for understanding. I sometimes confuse myself

  38. leon — on 22nd March, 2007 at 8:06 pm  

    the state should be religion neutral and secular in the sense that it is committed only to promoting and protecting human rights and freedom of speech not advocating or promoting religion / atheism.

    Not sure about this point. Seems to me to be more of the lumping Atheism in with religion. Atheism and religion aren’t two sides of the same coin despite the best efforts of the polar extremes to make it so.

  39. El Cid — on 22nd March, 2007 at 8:52 pm  

    how about live and let live and respect people’s personal beliefs, and just leave it at that.

    talking of richard dawkins — wasn’t he the chap who had a pop at peter kay. good work dicky.

    and for those of you who don’t believe in anything that requires belief without evidence — i hope that doesn’t mean you constantly spy your partner and kids, just in case they are up to no good, eh, eh?

  40. douglas clark — on 22nd March, 2007 at 9:03 pm  

    Don,

    All I said was I found it profound. Not, obviously, that profound. As the truly great Meat Loaf once said, “two out of three ain’t bad”.

    However, I’ll put the following up for you to consider, or whatever:

    I’m not so sure as you appear to be about that third pillar (religion) though. I happen to think that all three Abrahamic religions were founded on prescriptive beliefs that probably did make their societies better, compared to what had gone before. It could be argued, well by me anyway, that the establishment of law owes much to the codification of morality that religions brought.

    I would argue that rules to live by, that are based at least partially on common sense, are a good thing. (Looks over shoulder for Kulvinder charging in.)

    But, and it is a big but, the child, the law, has outgrown the parent, religion(s).

    You are unlikely to find yourself in court for eating shellfish, although the prescription probably had some merit. Is there not some folk saying about only eating them when there is an ‘r’ in the month, or vice versa? God, check that one out before you try it at home!

    Just as we do with out own kids, the religious have adapted to the child, by and large. You must recall the image of the, usually Welsh, Methodist preacher that used to berate his flock every Sunday with tales of how they were all damned to sulphur and brimstone? Who believes that now? Only the Welsh Masochists Society, probably. In other words if the religion does not seem relevant, it will be ignored, and finally lose adherents.

    That is not that long ago. If, as I think you argued, Dawkins can look at deep time as a measure of evolutionary progress, but wish to control the society around him, why can he not chill out? There are people on this website who have pointed out that, through debate and discussion, they think that progress can be made. I agree with them.

    I do not think any religion that does not reflect the reality of the contemporary world will survive. It will be an ‘adapt or die’ scenario as acolytes become something else. Or, as in the case of the faith I followed until sixteen years old or so, become a complete irrelevance.

    I am bigging it on education, I am bigging it on women. I expect that the elephant in your post was Islam. I think that that is the religion you are talking about? Anyway, I think that educated women are not going to agree to some of the more restrictive elements of Islam. And I think that that will be just as much of a sea change for Muslim attitudes and opportunities as, say, the ordination of women in the C of E. I frequently see Muslim women driving cars here. Is that a privilege they are likely to give up?

    I think not. Whilst many folk in this country describe themselves as Catholic they actually practice birth control. Pick and Mix, it’s the way to go.

    In other words Don, it is a process.

  41. El Cid — on 22nd March, 2007 at 9:29 pm  

    I’m glad you have the energy Dougy. Very well put my son

  42. Sunny — on 22nd March, 2007 at 9:33 pm  

    Nail on head, Douglas.

  43. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 9:51 pm  

    Well Douglas,
    Are you trying to say that individuals, obviously including women, can think for themselves and come to their own conclusions as to how they should live their lives?

    Are we to believe that organized religion has any place in the 21st century, especially given its downer on females?

    Islamic elephants, whatever next?

    “Whilst many folk in this country describe themselves as Catholic they actually practice birth control.” Are these folk all those homophobic Polish workers?

    “I do not think any religion that does not reflect the reality of the contemporary world will survive.” Christianity has been around a hell of a long time, and is about to take off in China big-time, and don’t tell me that Christianity in Africa and some parts of the Americas is keeping up with the contemporary world.

  44. El Cid — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:12 pm  

    Are these folk all those homophobic Polish workers?

    That’s a point is it lithcol?
    When you stumble into a room of adults having a discussion try not to do it with your pants around your ankles.

  45. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:24 pm  

    El Cid said,
    “When you stumble into a room of adults having a discussion try not to do it with your pants around your ankles.”

    Thank you for your ignorant comment. The halcyon days of the revolution in Poland are long gone. Catholicism is raising its ugly head and homophobia is more or less state sanctioned. A good reason why we need to protect the idea of secularism, otherwise we may eventually hang young men from cranes in public.

  46. douglas clark — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:24 pm  

    lithcol,

    Very witty.

    First the praise, now the pain.

    I’m away to join the Welsh Masochists Society, I think their last member was in Aberystwyth. Have you seen 300? They’ve got rhinos, allegedly! We are f****d!

  47. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:34 pm  

    Know what you mean Douglas. Join the teaching profession and receive pain every day. Unfortunately we aren’t allowed to give it nowadays. Don’t fancy getting f**ed by a rhino. What’s 300, some sort of cleaning fluid.

  48. douglas clark — on 22nd March, 2007 at 10:53 pm  

    No, 300 was a cheap cultural reference so you’d think I was quite hip. It is in fact a movie. It was a, quite probably, pathetic joke re your ‘elephants’ comment.

    I am not a masochist! Honest. Though, obviously teachers might be. Although they always has been that desire to turn the clock back, hasn’t there?

    If I can survive in smoke free pubs, you can survive in torture free schools.

  49. lithcol — on 22nd March, 2007 at 11:30 pm  

    300. Sand and sandals Hollywood baloney. An allegory of eastern barbarianism meets western civilization according to some. Haven’t seen it, probably wont. Dirty Harry is more my scene.

  50. douglas clark — on 23rd March, 2007 at 12:04 am  

    I actually read the comic. As it came out. The story is not much different from ‘The Keeping of the Bridge’ that I learned at school. It is a good story, about a few dying, to stand up to tyranny. Whether it is true or not, is another matter entirely. The meme is there, and it is quite a good one. I think you should let memes into your life. Y’know, contradictory ideas?

  51. Don — on 23rd March, 2007 at 12:34 am  

    Douglas,

    I have always felt that religious strictures were based on sound survival principles, for the time. Control reproduction, kill the dissenter, butcher the conquered, dominate every aspect of domestic life, post-mortem rewards for the faithful. History has shown that it works. The dominant religions we have now are the ones that were most effective at social control.

    The ones that were not so adaptive have not beeen passed down to us. So, I agree with paras #2, #3, and #4. And strongly endorse #5.

    As for #6, you’re darn right I’d check out the shellfish, rather than rely on half remembered folk sayings. And, although you are right to say that I am unlikely to find myself in court for eating shellfish, it doesnt doesn’t detract from the fact that a lot of people are up against it for something similar.

    #7 Maybe, hopefully.

    #9 ‘why can he not chill out? He has not been shy of giving his reasons, whether you agree or not.

    ‘I expect that the elephant in your post was Islam.’

    Realy? And what aroused that expectation?

  52. Sunny — on 23rd March, 2007 at 3:59 am  

    I have always felt that religious strictures were based on sound survival principles, for the time. Control reproduction, kill the dissenter, butcher the conquered, dominate every aspect of domestic life, post-mortem rewards for the faithful.

    That’s a very Abrahamic view unfortunately. The Sikh Guru Granth Sahhib, though I haven’t read it fully but read about it, is more focused on helping people have good moral and ethical values. Sikhism doesn’t have the tightly defined rule for everything in the way Judaism and Islam too – with rulings on everything. In Sikhism you make your own decision based on the general moral and ethical stances talked about in the scripture. And it’s isn’t a ‘scripture’, but more a book of knowledge. A Guru is simply a teacher. Unfortunately many Sikhs (and increasingly Hindus) take their cue on defining their religion from the west.

  53. Don — on 23rd March, 2007 at 9:03 am  

    Point taken.

  54. Vilka — on 23rd March, 2007 at 9:31 am  

    Sunny, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I just want to say that I wish there were more like you! You seem to be just about spot-on about everything!

    I am in complete agreement with you here. I’m a secularist and an atheist – these are discrete positions. I want a British secular pressure group that welcomes all faith groups and those of us without faith to work together against political fundamentalism. We need a British ACLU! (A secular British Constitution to protect would be a good start…)

    Sunny, thank you.

    I’d just like to say something in defence of the often-misrepresented Richard Dawkins. His own (typically mild-mannered) account of the Peter Kay thing can be found here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,,2030741,00.html

  55. douglas clark — on 23rd March, 2007 at 9:36 am  

    Don.

    Thanks for the reply.

    Just to put a marker in here. I consider Richard Dawkins the finest scientific populariser of the age. I have several of his books, and I never fail to be impressed with his humanity. His easy way with explaining complexity. The man has a great talent. And tells the story of evolution in a way that is completely convincing. I have learned a lot from his books, and had a few misconceptions corrected.

    But, perhaps Mr Dawkins should apply evolutionary principles to religion? If it is the survival of the fittest that counts for individual organisms, perhaps it could also apply to religions to? The point here is that the organisms in classical Darwinism have to adapt to the environment they find themselves in. It is not, generally speaking, the other way round.

    Where I think we are all probably wrong is in assuming that religion was or is completely without merit.

    You say:

    ” I have always felt that religious strictures were based on sound survival principles, for the time. Control reproduction, kill the dissenter, butcher the conquered, dominate every aspect of domestic life, post-mortem rewards for the faithful. History has shown that it works. The dominant religions we have now are the ones that were most effective at social control.”

    And I can see your arguement. What I am trying to say is that history, at least since the Enlightenment, has made the environment for religions much more hostile. Which is a good thing. It means they have to adapt or die. Bananabrain, for whom I have the greatest respect, is willing to read the Old Testament in a way that aligns with modern, scientific thought. It is not something that I imagine a religious person of a couple of hundred years ago would have had to contemplate. Whether Bananabrain likes it or not, his thoughts are influenced by ideas that do not come from religious scholarship. Darwins story of evolution really sets a time bomb under any literalist reading of the Old Testament. Which is why fundamentalists hate Darwin. Although he is clearly right. Modern cosmology says the Universe is 14 billion years old, give or take a couple of billion years. Which sets off another conflict between absolutists in a religious sense, and the rest of us.

    Does it matter? Probably not. As the intellectual environment alters, so do religions. It is like the apocryphal boiling frog. If it cannot adapt to the heat, it will die.

    Why do I think you were talking about Muslims? Dunno, perhaps because the cartoon version of Islam that Westerners usually attack is such an easy target. And becomes, if you like, a stunt double for all religions. One constructs a straw man of what is a complex and wide ranging religion and then attack that. If you are saying that that is not what you were doing, then, obviously, I accept that.

    What I am trying to get across here is the idea that we are in a process, not outwith it. That the arguements that the NGN have, say, are an example of an adaptive mechanism made available to the religious in order to allow them to fit better into the society they live in. So far, the host is rejecting the prescription. Plus ca change.

  56. Leon — on 23rd March, 2007 at 10:04 am  

    I actually read the comic. As it came out.

    Yep, me too, wasn’t terribly impressed. Frank Millers good stuff was behind him at that stage imo…

  57. douglas clark — on 23rd March, 2007 at 10:35 am  

    Leon,

    I agree. All I am trying to say is that it is a simple story which reverberates with people. It is also good to see a movie that retains much of the originals graphic impact, which is probably down to Lynn Varley more than Frank Miller. Not that I’ve seen the movie yet, just the trailers.

    In terms of comics, I really find it difficult to see beyond Alan Moore…

  58. Leon — on 23rd March, 2007 at 11:53 am  

    In terms of comics, I really find it difficult to see beyond Alan Moore…

    Know what you mean although he’s another one, for me, whose best work is behind him. His run on Swamp Thing was simply amazing…

  59. sonia — on 23rd March, 2007 at 11:57 am  

    “Dunno, perhaps because the cartoon version of Islam that Westerners usually attack is such an easy target. And becomes, if you like, a stunt double for all religions. One constructs a straw man of what is a complex and wide ranging religion and then attack that.”

    some things to point out about this.

    because such ‘attacks’ exist in such a fashion does not mean that there is nothing to critique. In fact it has helped lots of people – this kind of attacking – because it has made it much harder to actually challenge serious issues and the underlying problems.
    if you trawl the net and find you can find a variety of critiques on religion – some of it happens within the religion bashing crew who find that enjoyable – and some of it in a different context – e.g. within blogs by Muslims which are predominantly commented on by
    other Muslims – which appears to be a space where people feel comfortable to talk about the problems
    within their religion without feeling they have to justify why they adhere that religion to ‘attackers’ who are ‘external’. yes there is a lot of defensiveness out there. I have been frequenting such blogs recently because generally a lot of what i say anywhere else tends to be construed by people as ‘oh you’re just bolstering up those anti-Muslims’. for some strange reason – maybe because im seen as ‘anti-establishment’. who knows. anyway:

    main issue here is one of justification and using the notion of ‘sacred’ to evade scrutiny.

    from the perspective of a social observer, what is interesting about religion is of course the moral justification of certain acts – in the name of some divine being which is posited as the source of all moral and spiritual authority.

    I can see that religion is not the ‘source of evil’ – such a saying is simplistic and requires a belief in evil which i see as part and parcel of religion in the first place. also, it hasn’t got a monopoly on bigotry, superstitious beliefs, tribalism, what have you. Without religion, much the same sorts of things happen in life. What is different is how people justify their behaviour. Pure and simple. So religion obviously provides a ‘set of excuses’ if you like. Which is of course something to be aware of.

    and it is a valid point to realize that while some people will use religion for their own individual purposes of belief, {spirituality, making sense of their world,a reason to live, meaning – whatever} others will use religion to justify lots of things
    that would otherwise be hard to justify. Therein lies the problem.

    {And it isn’t just religion – the idea that we have a ‘country’ we should be loyal to – is also used to justify all sorts of horrors.}

    So it’s a social phenomena like anything else. This means – to me – that there’s no point being cynical about people searching for meaning – everyone does that in different ways – but it means that being open-minded is important – i.e. not fixed and dogmatic. Dogma – is for me – what it comes down to. There is
    plenty of dogma about – religious dogma simply uses a God figure to justify itself – other forms of dogma have other methods.

    But there is a problem if religion is thought to be sacred and cannot be questioned. How we choose to approach that problem – also says a lot – i.e. some approach that problem in an equally dogmatic way.

    My bottom line – i don’t care about the justification or the content of justification : the end does NOT justify the means. It’s the content of the actions.

  60. El Cid — on 23rd March, 2007 at 12:49 pm  

    Lithcol for brains,
    i think i know a lot more catholics than you.
    i’m also less prone to rampant generalisations on the basis of people’s nationality or religion.
    it’s self evident that you sir, not me, is the ignoramus here. so run along now and go play with your lego

  61. G. Tingey — on 23rd March, 2007 at 1:12 pm  

    Excuse me, but complete codswallop.

    You too, have fallen for the line about “aggressive atheist secularist” crap, being put out by the blackmailing, lying believers in some imaginary sky-fairy or other.

    Mr Sanderson is correct.

    To which I would add, that all religion is an organised combination of moral and physical balckmail.

    So why should anyone respevt the blackmailers, because they call themselves priests?

    Further more, what is it, and which case is it (assuming “you” are a religious “liberal” or a fundie) … answer these questions then ….
    Before we argue the (non) existence of “god”, can we define terms as to what this “god” thing is, please?

    Also, re-using an earlier comments: if “god” exists, and loves EVERYONE … then why is there such gross and unecessary suffering around?

    To which there are two possible answers, really:

    One: “God” doesn’t exist, and you are making it up.
    or, much, much worse…
    Two: “God” does exist, and he/she/it/they is a murderous, sick, torturing bastard, whom I want nothing to do with.

    AND/OR

    Is “god” in this universe, and real, with direct intervention in human affairs,
    OR
    Is “god” transcendant/immaterial, and “outside the universe, and hence space and time?

    If the former, then why no detection, at all, ever, and if the latter, why bother?

  62. douglas clark — on 23rd March, 2007 at 1:22 pm  

    Sonia,

    I think we largely agree with each other!

  63. douglas clark — on 23rd March, 2007 at 1:30 pm  

    Leon,

    Just to help me broaden my reading list. Who do you admire right now? Or is the golden age really past?

  64. sonia — on 23rd March, 2007 at 1:47 pm  

    Sunny:

    “take their cue on defining their religion from the west”

    by ‘west’ do you mean the Abrahamic tradition?

  65. sonia — on 23rd March, 2007 at 1:47 pm  

    we probably do douglas clark!

  66. Leon — on 23rd March, 2007 at 2:00 pm  

    Just to help me broaden my reading list. Who do you admire right now? Or is the golden age really past?

    No idea, haven’t read a graphic novel or comic in over seven years…I fear the state of the industry is problem several hundred times worse now than it was then.

  67. William — on 23rd March, 2007 at 2:02 pm  

    I would say that secularism provides laterality for diverse beliefs to coexist even when they don’t agree. Yes it should not be confused with atheism as this would muddy the issues a bit.

    As a religious person myself although not in the conventional way I still admire for example Dawkins work in that it provides a counter point to religious dogma. I support Dawkins perhaps even more than another person I know who is a professed atheist. This atheist thinks of Dawkins as a bit militant. I see Dawkins position as well ok he has a bit of an agenda but then so do most human beings but we need skeptics who are willing to stick their necks out in order we don’t get to think we know stuff we don’t.

    Myself I also admire writers like Frijof Capra who is also challeging our prevailing and past ways of thinking in a major way.

  68. Sid Love — on 23rd March, 2007 at 2:12 pm  

    I prefer Frithjof Schuon myself.

  69. Sunny — on 23rd March, 2007 at 2:29 pm  

    Vilka, thanks!

    G.Tinge – I’ve already tried to answer the points you’ve raised: see #34.

    Whether you see religion as complete crap is irrelevant. I’m annoyed by two things – the NSS constantly conflating the two different ideologies, and blaming liberals for the actions of conservatives or terrorists.

  70. Arif — on 23rd March, 2007 at 2:31 pm  

    G Tingey, I don’t think your points can be answered to your own satisfaction. Within your own framework of logic, where you determine what is good and evil from your own standpoint, and you decide what makes sense and what does not make sense from your own patterns of thought, I don’t think you can be touched by any argument by a religious person.

    They are fair questions, nothing unreasonable about them, just that they express assumptions that the truth must make sense to you here and now, and be expressible in ways you can rationally grasp, as well as other assumptions about how language works. And we use these assumptions all the time in rational discussions – there’s nothing devious or thoughtless about it, they are almost necessary assumptions.

    But I think when people approach spiritual questions, they often suspend some of these assumptions. When considering how our own ways of thinking and knowing are so limited, so capricious, self-serving, lazy or whatever, it makes sense to see truth as something which may be independent of our understanding, or even being able to understand it. There are any number of texts, preachers and philosophies (religious or otherwise) able to take hold of such scepticism and convert it into a faith, or a search for truth, or a falling back on rituals or other methods for spiritual development.

    What makes a particular outlook credible to people depends a lot on the person’s experiences and probably some degree of serendipity. I would try to respect this – as I am equally pushed by similar forces.

  71. Don — on 23rd March, 2007 at 2:39 pm  

    Douglas,

    Actually Dawkins does spend some time on the theory of religion as an adaptive mechanism (like you, I find it an intuitively persuasive argument) in TGD, but comes out strongly against, for more or less the same reasons as he outlined for his rejection of Group Selection in this article;

    http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Articles/1994burying_the_vehicle.shtml

    I was going to re-read that chapter as I wasn’t wholly convinced, but my daughter has taken my copy to Uni with her.

    As for the religion(s) to which I was referring, I unreflectingly had in mind the Abrahamic ones, as Sunny correctly deduced. And since Judaism does not proseletyze or insist that outsiders adapt to their rules (although I believe that the latter does not always hold true in Jerusalem these days) I guess I was thinking of Islam/Christianity.

    ‘ As the intellectual environment alters, so do religions. It is like the apocryphal boiling frog. If it cannot adapt to the heat, it will die.’

    I hope you are right, but I feel that increasingly the frog is trying to turn off the heat. Which is a clumsy way of saying that there are elements within both religions which are expending a huge amount of energy, money and political clout to reverse intellectual climate change, if no other kind.

  72. bananabrain — on 23rd March, 2007 at 2:48 pm  

    The root problem is the great word shortage, the same word ’secularism’ being used for two fundamentally different things

    you’re right, soru, so i shall try and define my terms more carefully from now on.

    @lithcol:

    I am what may be described as a passionate sceptic, passé Bertrand Russell.

    good! in that case, you should be sceptical about scientific axioms as well, then. i am a great fan of russell myself, especially his “orbiting teapot” theory. in fact, my beliefs are strongly influenced by logical analysis of the balance of probabilities, whether you like it or not – i happen to have come to a different sceptical conclusion.

    You try engaging any theist in a rational discussion of the central tenets of their faith. A brick wall. Incomprehension.

    this is rhetoric. you haven’t engaged me in any discussion of the central tenets of my faith and if you wish to so do, please feel free. you will not find me shy about it – with the proviso that i can’t always post on here as often as i’d like. i haven’t yet provided anything like a “brick wall”, let alone showed “incomprehension”, so i’d appreciate it if you didn’t declare victory just yet, dubya.

    It is the appeal to this supreme being as the source of views that acolytes of particular faiths wish to impose on their own and others.

    again – i challenge you to show me one place where i have attempted to impose my view on others by reason of my faith as opposed to logical argument.

    Believe what you want in your personal life, however in the public domain understand that all ideas are up for critical debate or ridicule.

    except you’re not actually critically debating them. you’re assuming you make sense and i don’t. and you don’t – and i do. ner, ner, ner-ner ner.

    I believe rational debate is central to human progress.

    so do i.

    @zinzin:

    Richard Dawkins found such an example when filming his anti-religious polemic Root of all evil.

    look, i’m the first person to bitch out religious liberals who won’t take on their own extremists, but dawkins is not someone to whom one should appeal in this case – i can tell you that he was not above using his editorial control to avoid showing the arguments he couldn’t answer or rebut during the actual interviews. you’ll notice he wasn’t exactly seeking out the religious liberals, was he? part of that is because nobody liberal will talk to him any more because he’s such a damn fundamentalist himself.

    @william:

    Of course eternal progress/evolution in this sense may in itself be just a belief system.

    that’s exactly what it is. i happen to believe in evolution myself, but i don’t kid myself that i’ve ever been shown it happening. i’ve seen evidence that it has occurred in the past, but as financial services companies are fond of telling us, “past performance is not a guarantee of future performance”. scientific evidence is by its nature *retrospective*, *heuristic* and *statistical*, which means that “on the balance of probabilities” it is likely, all things remaining equal, that its forecasts will be borne out. however, because of the geological timescales involved (and i’ve already explained that these are not precluded by my religious texts at least) nobody has yet demonstrated *any* species evolving into another species. and as for human progress being “ever upward”, i think there’s extremely strong evidence that it is nothing of the sort. there are ups and downs, but it’s far from being straightforward.

    @don:

    As a non-theist and secularist I am more than happy to confront any theist attempting to proselytise or demand extra privileges on the basis of their beliefs, or insinuate their religion into public life

    i agree. judaism does not proselytise, nor does it demand extra privileges. if i ask for time off on friday afternoon and saturday, any time will be made up if necessary. nor do i expect judaism to receive public money or position by virtue of its existence.

    Dawkins is an evolutionist taking the very long view that humans would be better off evolving away from their long established tendency to accept unsupported assertions which conflict with observable reality as being authoritative as long as they are uttered by soi-dissant holders of a revealed truth

    well, excuse me for mentioning it, but the reason he can’t use that to dismiss judaism is that he hasn’t observed its reality. he doesn’t understand the Text, nor the approach, nor the lifestyle, nor does he see why he should. what he does is take a bunch of nutters as being representative of why religion is evil. his sample selection is statistically unrepresentative, his methodology tendentious and his analysis flawed to the point of laughability. the only reason anyone listens to him about this is because of the logical fallacy that someone who is an expert in one area is deemed to be an expert in others. it’s no different from an expert actor like sean penn or vanessa redgrave being deemed to be an expert in international relations.

    Of course non-theists can engage with theists constructively. I happen to disagree completely with B’brain’s #21, but it’s the sort of disagreement one can approach with a certain relish, without characterising one’s interlocuter as a fool, a knave or an enabler of fanaticism.

    thank you, don – and i return the compliment. in this you are far more reasonable than dawkins.

    And by the way, appropos finding a more useful term than ‘atheist’, I really hate the word ‘Brights’.

    as long as you apply the same logic to the word “progressives”.

    I’d agree that just as one could adhere to a religious belief and still be a secularist (in not wishing that belief to intrude uopon the public sphere) then equally one could be antitheistic and not be a secularist, in wishing one’s antitheism to intrude upon others’ private beliefs.

    elegantly put. in that sense, the first is a particularist position and the second is an universalist one. judaism is, of course paradoxically both in that it espouses universalist positions in terms of wider society but particularist obligations in terms of itself. dawkins, by contrast, is an evangelical, universalist atheist and in that sense he has far more in common with hizb-ut-tahrir than i do. it is only a shame that this contrasts so strongly with the pithy, clear-sighted insight he demonstrates so superbly in his professional field.

    “There is nothing in science, religion or politics that is not just the fashion, for a time.”

    Yes; science is based on that, politics pragmatically accepts it, but religion …

    again, that’s not something judaism agrees with. there are some things that change, but these are the applications rather than the principles and that’s rather an important distinction.

    Control reproduction, kill the dissenter, butcher the conquered, dominate every aspect of domestic life, post-mortem rewards for the faithful.

    That’s a very Abrahamic view unfortunately

    and a communist and fascist one, too, the post-mortem beneficiaries being of course respectively the proletariat and the race – and the state in both cases. however, the book of joshua notwithstanding, there were relatively few people we were actually obliged to kill and once that issue was settled, it didn’t come up again.

    @leon:

    Atheism and religion aren’t two sides of the same coin despite the best efforts of the polar extremes to make it so.

    well that’s kind of my point. polemical atheists are to my mind, no different from evangelising theists – they certainly act in the same way and use the same arguments in my experience.

    @el cid:

    and for those of you who don’t believe in anything that requires belief without evidence — i hope that doesn’t mean you constantly spy your partner and kids, just in case they are up to no good, eh, eh?

    correct – this is because of the statistical, heuristic nature of observational evidence, as i pointed out before.

    @douglas clark:

    You are unlikely to find yourself in court for eating shellfish, although the prescription probably had some merit.

    this is the position of many liberal religious people particularly in judaism, otherwise known as the “pork goes off quickly” position. i strongly refute with this point of view, hopefully for obvious reasons. the shellfish rule is, like the pork and other dietary regulations and all but 7 of the 613 rules in the Torah, intended for *jews* and nobody else. and, of course, if i were on a desert island with nothing to eat, i would be religiously obliged to eat the shellfish despite my conditioning.

    In other words if the religion does not seem relevant, it will be ignored, and finally lose adherents.

    correct – and in that sense it is all the more statistically and historically improbable that judaism is still around 3500 years later, to say nothing of the impact of antisemitism and (to my mind) the miraculous reconstitution of the jewish state within the last century.

    Whilst many folk in this country describe themselves as Catholic they actually practice birth control. Pick and Mix, it’s the way to go/

    and it’s not just catholics – it is everybody. i don’t care how big your beard is, even the ultra-orthodox pick and choose. nobody is telling them to concentrate so obsessively on kashrut and modesty rather than business ethics and “kiddush haShem” being seen to set a good example and showing judaism as something to admire, all of which are equally mandatory and important.

    Bananabrain, for whom I have the greatest respect, is willing to read the Old Testament in a way that aligns with modern, scientific thought.

    how kind. although i must of course point out that the *supernatural* events described in the Tanakh (we don’t call it the “old” anything) are literal descriptions of *natural laws and processes* being suspended temporarily by the One Who Set them all up in the first place. unless science can observe such a thing happening, it is not in a position to determine (much less replicate) its validity or not. it is not a scientific experiment unless you’ve seen it happening and established a control so there’s not really a way to deal with miraculous occurences other than treating them as anomalous, particularly if one rules out a priori anything which science cannot observe. i need hardly remind you, of course, that nobody’s ever seen an electron. we just know they’re there.

    It is not something that I imagine a religious person of a couple of hundred years ago would have had to contemplate.

    you see, that’s where you’re wrong. i suggest you take a look at a copy of maimonides’ “guide for the perplexed” some time. the sages of the Talmud used to conduct scientific experiments – in fact there’s one really interesting story about rabbi shim’on bar halafta who attempted to determine by scientific experiment whether ants had a ruler or not. the Torah certainly approves of hokhmah (wisdom) in all its forms and judaism has never been short of scientists throughout its long history. in fact, i encourage you to take a look at the “association of orthodox jewish scientists”( http://www.aojs.org ) which operates in exactly this space and has demonstrated more than adequately that science and Torah are not only not in competition, but extremely complementary.

    Whether Bananabrain likes it or not, his thoughts are influenced by ideas that do not come from religious scholarship.

    i like it well enough – but i’ve never yet found a good idea that i had about this sort of thing that some beardy sod hadn’t already come up with. fairly vexing, i know, but when you come from a 3500 year old tradition which includes some of the greatest minds in human history it tends to present a bit of a handicap….

    @g.tingey:

    all religion is an organised combination of moral and physical blackmail.

    i fail to see how i’m morally or physically blackmailing anyone let alone you.

    Also, re-using an earlier comments: if “god” exists, and loves EVERYONE … then why is there such gross and unecessary suffering around?

    oh, my goodness me. look up “theodicy” and see if you can find any reasons, because it beats the rest of us. life is like a carpet. all we see is the pattern – the knots are all on the back.

    can we define terms as to what this “god” thing is, please?

    if you like – as long as you can define this “music” thing for me, because i am from this weird species that has no ears.

    and can you define “logic” without using representation?

    and can you define “maths” without using numbers?

    and can you define “english grammar” for me without using language?

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  73. El Cid — on 23rd March, 2007 at 2:50 pm  

    Vilka
    The apology from Tricky Dicky is accepted

  74. El Cid — on 23rd March, 2007 at 2:51 pm  

    BB
    I think you’ve beaten the record for longest post

  75. bananabrain — on 23rd March, 2007 at 3:02 pm  

    well, i would have posted in various bits, but i’ve been busy with work. sorry if it’s a bit of an essay.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  76. Sahil — on 23rd March, 2007 at 3:10 pm  

    #78 a very good essay, ~ 70% :D

  77. bananabrain — on 23rd March, 2007 at 3:14 pm  

    *blows raspberry*

    THRRRRRRRRRRRPPPPPPPPPPPPP

  78. lithcol — on 23rd March, 2007 at 5:04 pm  

    Dear El Cid,
    I can take your childish insults, but your ignorance of what is going on in Poland is lamentable. The far right government with the full support of the Polish Catholic Church is ploughing ahead with its anti-gay agenda.
    At the rate it s transforming itself, it will soon be a fully fledged theocratic state. Anti-Semiticism is also on the increase.
    The EU, various human rights groups, liberal catholic groups and others are very disturbed by developments. Before you resort to infantile riposte in the future please engage your brain with reality. I have a spare one if yours has gone missing.
    The above is in response to the following exchange,
    El Cid said,
    “When you stumble into a room of adults having a discussion try not to do it with your pants around your ankles.”
    Lithcol replied,
    Thank you for your ignorant comment. The halcyon days of the revolution in Poland are long gone. Catholicism is raising its ugly head and homophobia is more or less state sanctioned. A good reason why we need to protect the idea of secularism, otherwise we may eventually hang young men from cranes in public.

    El Cid replied,
    Lithcol for brains,
    i think i know a lot more catholics than you.
    i’m also less prone to rampant generalisations on the basis of people’s nationality or religion.
    it’s self evident that you sir, not me, is the ignoramus here. so run along now and go play with your lego.

  79. lithcol — on 23rd March, 2007 at 5:43 pm  

    Dear Bananabrain,
    Your post is extensive, no space really to reply in detail. Don’t want to hog Sunnys bandwidth.
    I was merely making general observations, not specifically directed at you, based on my own experience and what others have also experienced. I have beliefs and they can be challenged, and Indeed I may change them given sufficient reason. Someone has faith they have a set of truths that cannot be questioned eg Jesus was the son of God, homosexuality is evil, etc.
    By their nature scientists are always sceptical about scientific axioms, or more properly theory and hypotheses. If there is a better empirically supported explanation, then that will prevail.
    Thanks for your interesting posts.

  80. William — on 23rd March, 2007 at 6:21 pm  

    Lithcol

    ” The far right government with the full support of the Polish Catholic Church is ploughing ahead with its anti-gay agenda.”

    There was a radio programme last year about this on which they interviewed a Catholic priest. The priests attitude was really scary and openly biggoted towards gays in a way which I am sure he would not get away with in many places. It was openly we hate gays stuff and stuff anyone who questions it and stuff the interviewer for questioning it. I am not sure how widespread his attitude was but scary yes!!

  81. William — on 23rd March, 2007 at 6:22 pm  

    The priest I am talking about was a Polish Catholic priest.

  82. lithcol — on 23rd March, 2007 at 7:53 pm  

    Hi William,
    Thanks for the support. I used Poland as an example of creeping theism. I could have used other countries that have recently joined the EU. El Cid accuses me of condemning all the people of Poland. Patently not so.

    Just as I do not condemn all the people of Iran because their government has a predilection for hanging homosexuals in public.

    The former is experiencing creeping theism, the later a fully fledged theistic state. The dangers are obvious.

  83. El Cid — on 23rd March, 2007 at 8:38 pm  

    :)

  84. lithcol — on 23rd March, 2007 at 10:52 pm  

    I am smiling too El Cid. It’s the weekend. Only one drawback , that lost hour. Not looking forward to Monday.

  85. douglas clark — on 24th March, 2007 at 5:37 am  

    BB,

    Thanks for your reply. I did read the justification for reading the Genesis story as something completely different from what it purports to be. Fair enough, if thats the contortions one has to go through to convince folk that there is no conflict between science and religion….

    Here’s a picture of an electron:

    http://teachers.web.cern.ch/teachers/archiv/HST2005/bubble_chambers/BCwebsite/gallery/gal3_electron.htm

  86. bananabrain — on 26th March, 2007 at 11:34 am  

    ah, but douglas, that’s not actually a picture of an electron. it’s a picture of *where an electron’s been as far as we can tell*. it’s no more proof on its own than, say, a millennia-old document showing us what G!D Said at Sinai except, of course, that we can reproduce the former under lab conditions, whereas you’d have a hard time doing with Revelation. i’m aware that that’s precisely the problem from many people’s point of view – but a different set of “lab conditions”, “protocols” and “controls”, do in fact in many cases reproduce the results “belief” experiment fairly reliably, if several millennia worth of jewish existence constitute any kind of demonstrable evidence.

    incidentally, i feel i should point out that i fundamentally disagree with the notion that one should try and “prove” that G!D Exists, or that Revelation happened, or that the Torah is from heaven. i thoroughly dislike the sort of people who think it’s been proved, because they are not open to nearly as much scepticism and doubt as the rest of us – a doubt-free religion is a terribly dangerous thing as i think all of us would agree. this is why you’ll see that, apart from the Revelation, *all* the miracles in the Torah have a plausible natural explanation (under most circumstances), to leave room for doubt, like the “strong east wind that blew all night” the night before the splitting of the red sea.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  87. douglas clark — on 26th March, 2007 at 12:27 pm  

    BB,

    You are often the voice of common sense on here. It is a fact that everyone takes a lot for granted, don’t require proof of it and get along with their lives quite well. Two more lighthearted points:

    Someone on the World Wrestling Federation Thread on CiF – sorry, Sunny -v- Inayat – quoted an old Hebrew expression, which went something like this:

    “if someone in right 50% of the time, admire them, if someone is right 75% of the time trust them, if someone is right 100% of the time, shoot them!”

    I think you and I could subscribe to that!

    I give you a photo that doesn’t only show you where it’s been, but also the path it might have travelled. Whaddya want, a movie? With close ups and mood music? It’s only a bloody electron. For Jessica Parker, we’ve got the budget….. :-)

  88. bananabrain — on 26th March, 2007 at 12:47 pm  

    hah, yes. except that it can’t be that old if they talk about shooting. never heard it myself though.

    and it may only be an electron to you, but it’s a principle of faith to me. if i’m getting a movie about this, i want charlton heston in it – it’s the least you should demand if we’re going to take subatomic particle science as seriously as religion.

    “take your hands off me, you damn dirty proton!!”

    “you idiots! you blew it up! my lovely atom!”

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  89. bananabrain — on 26th March, 2007 at 12:48 pm  

    btw, i’d just like to say that that was a really great film (the earlier one, that is, although the recent remake wasn’t staggeringly awful) – as bernard black put it, you really believed that monkeys could have meetings.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

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