Scaring people into religion


by Sunny
12th July, 2008 at 2:29 am    

A few days ago I wrote about Ariane Sherine‘s delightful ‘Atheist Bus’ article / idea which has been taken up by others and is still attracting attention on various websites and blogs. The Facebook pledge page has over 500 signed up (I think she should start a FB group to let it spread wider but anyway).
Now Ariane has added to that discussion by saying:

Now that it looks as though the advert may become reality, I hope that the campaign stays positive and tolerant. Lately, there have been a few suggestions for slogans which would (a) be strongly anti- particular religious groups, or (b) turn the slogan into a much more controversial message. (a) is not what the campaign is about: it is about being pro-reason, pro-science and pro-freedom of thought, not anti- specific religions. And, though I understand why many atheists would prefer (b), and why many would like to remove the word ‘probably’ from the slogan, I inserted it because the ad won’t be allowed to run if the wording is too strong.

Yes, all atheists would like things to be different. And hopefully, one day in the near future, they will be, and we’ll live in a properly secular society. But change takes time, and if the “atheist bus” advert runs, the most helpful thing it could do would be to make people feel a bit brighter, and generate debate within society, rather than set itself above groups of people who might otherwise consider its message.

I think this is spot on. What annoys people like myself about religion is that too often the preachers use negativity to keep people in line or attack others. They are the nasty unbelievers… they will go to hell… this is why our religion is the best… OMG if you do that you’re gonna burn in hell for eternity!! etc.

Religion has become one big turf war and much of that relies on negativity towards the other religions. Of course they all believe in ‘tolerance’ but scratch underneath the surface and the venom can quickly spill out. To modern day religious self-styled leaders, only the numbers matter. They want to protect their patch or extend their empires rather than inspire people with positivity. We see this play out especially in India where religious groups offer incentives to new converts or try and prevent people from converting.

Which is why I think Ariane is right to resist deleting the ‘probably’ from the original suggestion: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life.” Her motive for the ad seems more towards trying to get people to think past the negativity of modern-day religion. Unfortunately a fair amount of supporters just want to stick one up at the believers. The problem with the second approach, to me, is that it’s just another turf war – this time between the religious and the atheist. And a turf war invitably means more negativity, which she clearly wants to avoid. So well done to her.
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  1. El Cid — on 12th July, 2008 at 9:40 am  

    Fair play to you and Ariane.
    That’s definitely the right way to go.
    About time you atheists chilled out.

  2. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 12:39 pm  

    I think this is spot on. What annoys people like myself about religion is that too often the preachers use negativity to keep people in line or attack others. They are the nasty unbelievers… they will go to hell… this is why our religion is the best… OMG if you do that you’re gonna burn in hell for eternity!! etc.

    Some do, many don’t. It’s really unbecoming of you to caricature religion in such broad terms – a lot of them are becoming more pluralistic, and accepting that the truth is not their monopoly. The fact that there are small fringe Christian (you are talking about Christianity, right?) churches who fright people should not give people the right to demonise religion in general. Isn’t this what you criticise the Sun of doing with Muslims?

    “Which is why I think Ariane is right to resist deleting the ‘probably’ from the original suggestion: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life.” Her motive for the ad seems more towards trying to get people to think past the negativity of modern-day religion.”

    Well, maybe she is right in not taking the “probably”, because asserting that “God does not exist” requires the same amount of faith than “God does exist”: there is no proof for either.

    I guess what pisses me off about this ad is that it implies unabashedly that people are worrying and don’t get on with their lives because they believe in God. Get it? A positive atheist message would be: “We do not believe in God and we do not worry, and we get on with our lives”. Instead, the ad that Sunny is promoting attacks people who believe in God.

    So, please do not insult our intelligence by saying that she is doing it for the good of people: both of you are engaging and promoting the same old stupid fight between religious and atheists.

  3. Sid — on 12th July, 2008 at 1:03 pm  

    Instead, the ad that Sunny is promoting attacks people who believe in God.

    You started off well then ended rather hysterically with that last assertion. To use your first sentence to defend the motives of the ad, it attacks some, not many. Certainly the non-pluralist, chauvinist, non-universalist believers. You’ll agree that most of whom easily fit into this group.

  4. Rumbold — on 12th July, 2008 at 1:07 pm  

    Is it really even much of a campaign? How many buses is it going to be on, and for how long? Who reads bus adverts anyway?

    Ravi’s right- there are plenty of religious people who don’t spend their days telling you that you are going to Hell if you don’t listen to them. The whole thing seems like a bit of attention-seeking: “look at me, I’m an atheist- oooh. Take that religious types.”

  5. Rumbold — on 12th July, 2008 at 1:15 pm  

    If this is just a bit of fun, then fair enough. But to present it as a campaign is a bit sad.

  6. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 1:22 pm  

    Rumbold @ 5,

    Well, it might not be a

    campaign

    as such, what with the the military aggression that only theists seem to be capable of, but it is worthwhile pointing out that non – theists outnumber theists ten to one in the society we live in.

    Sid, it attacks all the sad believers.

  7. Rumbold — on 12th July, 2008 at 1:30 pm  

    Douglas:

    It’s other people’s money, and they can do with it what they want, I just think that some people are taking this too seriously, as if it was some great defence of liberty of conscience.

    And religions are likely to spend more time and money on trying to convert people, as atheists don’t see that as part of their mission.

  8. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 1:31 pm  

    “You started off well then ended rather hysterically with that last assertion.

    Hysterically perhaps, but I did explain why I believe the last assertion to be true in a rational way.

    The point is that the proposed ad is *not* about atheists and their beliefs and attitudes in life. They could easily have done an ad with the same language but about *them* (#2). The ad is really a caricature about what some bitter individuals believe religious people are: a bunch of scared people who cannot move on with their lives because they believe God might exist. “God might not exist” – says the ad – “so, stop worrying and get on with their life”. How condescending. For a lot of people, religion brings comfort in their lives.

    But that is besides the point. Freedom of speech means that even this stupid little immature public advert should go in buses.

    But (hysterical mode on) don’t tell me you are helping people, or transcending the stupid and petty religious vs atheist fight: you are merely a part of it.

  9. Sid — on 12th July, 2008 at 1:42 pm  

    But (hysterical mode on) don’t tell me you are helping people, or transcending the stupid and petty religious vs atheist fight: you are merely a part of it.

    I’m sure you’re aware that historically, more bitterness has been generated and considerably more blood has been spilt in the stupid and petty inter-theist religious wars than between the theological battles between theists and atheists.

    I am yet to see an ad on a bus, or indeed anywere, commissioned by the Vatican, for example, which says, oh I don’t know, that the Catholic Church believes that Jews are the Chosen People of the Mosaic God or that Muhammed was a “true prophet for all Time”. Or, and this is key, that people should believe in the religion (or not) that most resonates with their temperament rather than the religion of their parents.

    That would be helping people. Do you see that kind of thing coming forth from Organised Religion Inc?

  10. Dalbir — on 12th July, 2008 at 1:58 pm  

    ———-
    I think this is spot on. What annoys people like myself about religion is that too often the preachers use negativity to keep people in line or attack others. They are the nasty unbelievers… they will go to hell… this is why our religion is the best… OMG if you do that you’re gonna burn in hell for eternity!! etc.
    ———

    What is unusual about this? I would say Britain operates on the same basis where pandering to fears is used to control the masses or mobilise them for some immoral end. Fear of immigrants, WMDs, Communism, Islam and so on.

    Why target religion as if they hold a monopoly on using fear for social control?

  11. davebones — on 12th July, 2008 at 2:15 pm  

    Did you all see Bonekickers? With the extremist christian beheading a peaceful Muslim? Lots of online debate about it. It is still on the iPlayer.

  12. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 2:17 pm  

    Rumbold.

    I’ve scratched my brain, and checked on the Internet.

    I cannot find an attack on religion, though there ought to be. Perhaps a few books maybe, but no advertising campaign. (Wish the hell I’d written Richard Dawkin’s book. I’d be able to take you out to the best restaurant in the land, all on me.) We atheists are pathetic although some are economically active.

    It is a defence of concience. Or at least an awakening that non-theists are under attack in this land, given that we are the majority…

  13. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 2:27 pm  

    davebones,

    Yes, I did watch Bonekickers. I thought as a drama, it fell apart at the end. I thought also that the death of the reasonable Muslim was a plot step too far. Surprised also that it wasn’t censored, if that’s the right word. It seemed to me that, for dramatic effect, that the Christian Right were put across as credible nutters. Which I am uncomfortable with…

  14. Sid — on 12th July, 2008 at 2:31 pm  

    Sid, it attacks all the sad believers.

    yep. Non-saddoes shouldn’t feel threatened.

  15. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 2:42 pm  

    I am yet to see an ad on a bus, or indeed anywere, commissioned by the Vatican, for example, which says, oh I don’t know, that the Catholic Church believes that Jews are the Chosen People of the Mosaic God… That would be helping people.

    That’s absurd. You are basically saying that it would help people if everyone agreed on the same thing. But that is not what living in a diverse country where people have the right to exercise freedom of religion is all about.

    How about leaving personal beliefs and even prejudices of other people’s beliefs – theist and atheist – with yourself and at home, and not parading them in buses? I am all for taking out those Bible quotes out of buses, if it means not having people aspiring for free publicity by putting these petty ads ridiculing religious people.

  16. Sid — on 12th July, 2008 at 2:49 pm  

    On the contrary, it is Organised Religion which says that everyone of the same confession should believe in the same thing within the boundaries of their confession. And that outside of that confessional boundary, theists of other confessions and non-theists are following some or other falsehood.

    Religions don’t help anyone unless you’ve made the leap of faith into a particular faith. Not faith as such.

    But that’s expected from most believers of a religion. They are non-universalist by nature.

    So why is it a problem to them when atheists make the assertion “your religion is false” when it is perfectly acceptable when religions do that to each other?

  17. Rumbold — on 12th July, 2008 at 2:58 pm  

    Douglas:

    “(Wish the hell I’d written Richard Dawkin’s book. I’d be able to take you out to the best restaurant in the land, all on me.)”

    Heh. We could get some deep-fired square sausages.

    “It is a defence of concience. Or at least an awakening that non-theists are under attack in this land, given that we are the majority…”

    It is an ad on a bus. This is what I mean about taking the whole thing too seriously. Atheism is not under threat in this country, nor is Christianity or any other religion. As for outnumbering the theists, where are your stats?

  18. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:02 pm  

    “That’s absurd. You are basically saying that it would help people if everyone agreed on the same thing.”

    Which is really the core tenant of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists believe they have the absolute Truth, and thus they are not just happy to be able to freely exercise that belief, but that others follow that as well. So, your little imaginary advert where Catholics acknowledge that Muhammed was a “true prophet for all Time”, would only make a fundamentalist happy.

    An advert that says: “As atheists we don’t believe in God, we lead normal and happy lives without worrying” would only upset fundamentalist religious people, who believe that everyone has to be like them.

    However, “God does not exist, so stop worrying and live life!” is not about atheism, but a caricature of how people currently live religion. I guess that’s similar to “Atheists do not believe in God, and thus are not bound to a moral code that prevents them from stealing and killing. er… so stop worrying and live life as you please”.

  19. Sid — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:09 pm  

    Ravi, are you replying in #18 to your own post at #15? :)

  20. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:30 pm  

    Rumbold,

    :-)

    I could probably afford to treat you to that right now! BTW, I have always hated square sausage, and deep fried Mars Bars are as alien to me as apparently Chicken Korma is to India. You go into a chippie, and they don’t appear to have it on the menu. Perhaps you need a secret code.

    ————————————–

    Church attendance figures. OK, I was wrong with my 90%, but it is fairly damning of organised religion as a major factor in our society, right now:

    http://www.vexen.co.uk/UK/religion.html

    We, scabby atheists, seem to outnumber the god fearing.

    Still, see this:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3725801.stm

    I believe even Richard Dawkins subscribes to the idea that he is a ‘cultural Christian’. As I probably do, too.

  21. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:35 pm  

    And that outside of that confessional boundary, theists of other confessions and non-theists are following some or other falsehood.”

    Not entirely true. The main faiths are becoming increasingly more pluralistic – including the Vatican (your preferred punching bag) who no longer believes that Christians are the only ones that can be “saved”.

    So why is it a problem to them when atheists make the assertion “your religion is false” when it is perfectly acceptable when religions do that to each other?

    Making an assertion and having a conflicted belief is not a problem in a diverse secular society like ours. Making a public advert that ridicules people for their beliefs is also ok: but don’t tell me you are doing to help people. It is just a cheap stunt.

    If the Sun had a headline like: “Islam is false: so Muslims stop worrying and live life”, would you actually believe that this only targets Muslim saddies? What would be the immediate reaction of our PP bloggers? Anyone? :)

    Ravi, are you replying in #18 to your own post at #15?

    I was merely continuing my thoughts on the matter. :) So #18 is the extension of #15.

  22. Rumbold — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:36 pm  

    Douglas:

    I really want a square sausage now. I had deep fried haggis once, in Edinburgh (a couple of years ago). It tasted nice until I got to the haggis part.

    In this country, I think that there are plenty of people who believe in a deity, or deities, but who don’t go to church. And plenty more agnostics.

  23. Rumbold — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:38 pm  

    Ravi:

    “But don’t tell me you are doing to help people. It is just a cheap stunt.”

    Exactly. Incidentally, were you arguing with yourself?

  24. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:41 pm  

    Sid @ 16,

    Dammit man! So, in the event that I thought I did have an immortal soul, then I’d have to bloody well guess which was the true religion. That is God cheating, right there.

    He should have a kitemark on the right product.

  25. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:49 pm  

    Incidentally, were you arguing with yourself?

    I often do that, but I usually try to hide this from people. :) Did I contradict myself?

  26. Sid — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:53 pm  

    Not entirely true. The main faiths are becoming increasingly more pluralistic – including the Vatican (your preferred punching bag) who no longer believes that Christians are the only ones that can be “saved”.

    I’ll believe that rubbish when I see it. It’s hard to break the habit of 4000 years. The Vatican by the way is my preferred punching bag because they’re the most organised. All religions are fair targets as far as I’m concerned.

    If the Sun had a headline like: “Islam is false: so Muslims stop worrying and live life”, would you actually believe that this only targets Muslim saddies?

    Do you see anything universalist in that statement? I don’t. So, erm, obviously, to answer your question, yes.

    If the Sun had a headline which said “God probably does not exist. Get on with your lives”, do you believe that this only targets Christians? Saddoes inlcuded?

  27. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:59 pm  

    Rumbold @ 22,

    I really want a square sausage now.

    No. no. You really don’t. Believe me, it is not exotic, it is disgusting. Haggis on the other hand is OK. Pick and mix your cultural identity is what I say. Though you’d be quite at liberty to assume that anyone that eats deep fried Mars Bars is a total idiot.

    —————————————————–

    Perhaps you are right. But see my response to Mr Sid @ 24. You can assume from that that most believers must be following the wrong religion, mustn’t you? And are therefor damned. Perhaps God is an atheist.

    Anyway, when are you putting up an open thread? Or is this it?

  28. El Cid — on 12th July, 2008 at 3:59 pm  

    Ravi,
    Let them patronise if they want. But it washes over me. At the end of the day, I can live with it. Chill out. Surely the key issue is that it should be a zero sum game. There are more other pressing issues. Regardless of whether He exists or not, I’m sure He would agree.

  29. Sid — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:00 pm  

    Making an assertion and having a conflicted belief is not a problem in a diverse secular society like ours. Making a public advert that ridicules people for their beliefs is also ok: but don’t tell me you are doing to help people. It is just a cheap stunt.

    So the only people who can critique the belief systems in “a diverse secular society like ours” are other religious people and people with conflicted beliefs? Apart from the naff logic in that supposition, it is also completely bogus. Who is going to be the judge of this very subjective idea of “conflicted belief”?

    It is nothing to do with “helping people”. It is “cheap stunt” to show the equally “cheap stunt” that religions allow themselves exclusively. Which is to suggest that only they hold the key to paradise and all others are damned.

    Put that on a billboard and it immeditaley becomes false advertising. If atheists do the same thing, why is it suddenly ridiculing people?

    If anything, it is claiming the equal right to a subjective interpretation of god. Why should only religions have the monopoly on that?

  30. El Cid — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:04 pm  

    Agggghhh! How I miss that editing gizmo.
    I meant to say: “Surely the key issue is that it should NOT be a zero sum game.”

  31. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:06 pm  

    I’ll believe that rubbish when I see it

    There you go.

    “All religions are fair targets as far as I’m concerned.”

    And so they should. But there is a plurality of faiths, and not recognising that is a grave error.

    “Do you see anything universalist in that statement? I don’t. So, erm, obviously, to answer your question, yes.”

    I don’t believe you. One has to see PP position on the Danish cartoons to see how they would be infuriated by such displays of religious intolerance.

    If the Sun had a headline which said “God probably does not exist. Get on with your lives”, do you believe that this only targets Christians? Saddoes inlcuded?

    I don’t care what the Sun writes. :)

  32. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:07 pm  

    Sid,

    Err, are you saying the Vatican was established 2000 BC? Now that would be momentous. :-)

  33. Sid — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:14 pm  

    I don’t believe you. One has to see PP position on the Danish cartoons to see how they would be infuriated by such displays of religious intolerance.

    You seem a little confused, I am *agreeing* with your question.

    Incidentally the Danish cartoons were nowhere near as refined as saying “Allah does not exist. Do what you will but be beautiful to one another”.

    Since you are clearly offended by the ad which says “God does not exist” imagine how you would feel if the ad said “Jesus was a terrorist motherfucker”. If you burn down an embassy or two, I won’t be wholly surprised.

  34. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:18 pm  

    Hmm…

    Sid should have written that book, what’s it called, ‘The God Delusion’ or something….

    Then he could have treated Rumbold and I to a square sausage supper. Tho’ I’d have thrown away the square sausage….

  35. El Cid — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:23 pm  

    Oh stop being so glib Sid. So where exactly did it say Mohammed was a terrorist motherfucker? You’re mistaking interpretation — cause I’m assuming you’re talking about the picture of Mo with a bomb for a turban — for fact.

  36. El Cid — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:24 pm  

    hey, the editing thing is back!!!

  37. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:27 pm  

    So the only people who can critique the belief systems in “a diverse secular society like ours” are other religious people and people with conflicted beliefs?

    That’s not what I meant. I feel that a diverse society like ours should accommodate all sorts of beliefs (including atheism) and should allow criticism between them. But I don’t believe making bus adverts ridiculing beliefs (yes, Sid it includes THEIST and ATHEIST) helps anyone.

  38. Sid — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:30 pm  

    But I don’t believe making bus adverts ridiculing beliefs (yes, Sid it includes THEIST and ATHEIST) helps anyone.

    An ad on a bus which says “God does not exist. Get on with your lives” is *not* ridiculing beliefs by any semantical stretch. It is a challenge to religions. You’d think that after 3000 years and libraries full of theological encyclicals they’d have the self-confidence to take it on.

    But clearly, if you’re a believer, your mileage may vary.

  39. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:31 pm  

    Sid,

    Calm down for goodness sake. Ravi is a nice person who certainly wouldn’t do what would not surprise you. As a long term atheist, I don’t happen to think that the case is made by aggression, I think it is made out of reason.

    Religious folk are not stupid. Just a bit deluded, in my very honest opinion.

  40. Sid — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:34 pm  

    douglas,

    I’m not in the least bit exercised nor am I getting aggressive. But if that’s how I’m coming across, then it’s time for me to bow out and take the kids out. byeeeee!

  41. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:45 pm  

    “Since you are clearly offended by the ad which says “God does not exist” imagine how you would feel if the ad said “Jesus was a terrorist motherfucker”. If you burn down an embassy or two, I won’t be wholly surprised.”

    I was not offended by the ad at all. It offends me that people like Sunny and others who should be about building bridges between different communities and yes even beliefs, are involved in this. I hate censorship in all forms, but I do believe in responsibility in delivering the message, and not doing it out of pettiness, immaturity and ignorance. I would say the same if a religious ad ridiculed atheists.

    The Danish cartoons were published in Egypt way before the “outrage”, and nothing happened. It was only when a Danish iman added two extra cartoons depicting Mo as a pig and with a dog and showed them alongside the 12 cartoons in a meeting in Egypt a few months later that this whole thing erupted. I don’t care if there is a painting of Jesus as a “motherfucking terrorist” – I would honestly interpret that as a sign of fundamentalism in Christianity… but that’s me. Would not even light a match for it. I also loved the movie the last temptation of Christ, and the book “the gospel according to Jesus Christ” by Nobel prize winner José Saramago.

  42. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:45 pm  

    Ravi @ 37,

    But I don’t believe making bus adverts ridiculing beliefs (yes, Sid it includes THEIST and ATHEIST) helps anyone.

    I hate, repeat hate being compared to a deist. My lack of beliefs are mine and mine alone. There is no ‘club’ you join, no rituals, no priest or summoner to prayer. The idea that a big flat nothing ought to have equality with faith is to attempt to equate chalk and cheese. We are talking here about opposed psychologies, I think.

  43. Don — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:51 pm  

    I’m not sure I like the idea of an atheist advert, it implies an agreed position, membership of a club as it were. On most ‘real-life’ issues I probably have more in common with bananabrain and Ravi than I do with, say, Sam Harris. (Who, quite apart from other issues, is a bit too woo-friendly for me.)

    I don’t believe I would give religion a moment’s thought if only it were not constantly intruding on public life, demanding special treatment and attempting to impose it’s so-called values on the rest of us. But that is the case, and it’s increasing. Even here in the UK religious bodies are far more pushy than I remember them being relatively recently.

    Religious belief is a basic human right, believe what you like. Organised religion is a different matter and how the power and influence of that organisation is applied does impact on me in ways both annoyingly trivial and far-reachingly serious.

    If people want to wear silly clothes and address each other by ludicrous titles it would no more bother me than the existence of Trekkies, but it does not entitle them to a seat in the Lords, tax-exempt status, control of schools, censorship of the arts, protection from criticism and mockery or any other privilege.

    As for the ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ slogan in question, as an atheist I demand the right to be as neurotic and up-tight as any Holy Joe.

  44. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 4:57 pm  

    “An ad on a bus which says “God does not exist. Get on with your lives” is *not* ridiculing beliefs by any semantical stretch.”

    The ad says: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life”. Since you are an atheist and you worship reasoning (just kidding :) ), then how else can you read this if not that this says that belief in the existence of God makes you worry about life, and prevents you from “getting on you with your life”? How’s that not ridiculing or caricaturing religious people? At least admit that.

    But clearly, if you’re a believer, your mileage may vary.

    Oh, that was a low-blow. But made me laugh. :)

  45. BenSix — on 12th July, 2008 at 5:15 pm  

    “I don’t believe you. One has to see PP position on the Danish cartoons to see how they would be infuriated by such displays of religious intolerance.”

    The Danish cartoons depicted Arabic stereotypes and linked Mohammed with terrorism. I support freedom of expression, but I’d be wary of sticking Piss Christ onto the side of a bus.

    “How’s that not ridiculing or caricaturing religious people? At least admit that.”

    It suggests that the beliefs of an atheist are more comforting than those of a theist. A theist, presumably would think similarly but with the beliefs reversed.

    “(Who, quite apart from other issues, is a bit too woo-friendly for me.)”

    God, I’d rather be locked in a room and forced to listen to Alistair McGrath on a loop than talk politics with Sam Harris.

  46. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 5:28 pm  

    Don @ 43,

    If people want to wear silly clothes and address each other by ludicrous titles it would no more bother me than the existence of Trekkies, but it does not entitle them to a seat in the Lords, tax-exempt status, control of schools, censorship of the arts, protection from criticism and mockery or any other privilege.

    Point.

    We are like cats in a sack. The religious have structure. We don’t. That is the overwhelming advantage of faith over reason.

  47. Ravi Naik — on 12th July, 2008 at 5:34 pm  

    If people want to wear silly clothes and address each other by ludicrous titles it would no more bother me than the existence of Trekkies, but it does not entitle them to a seat in the Lords, tax-exempt status, control of schools, censorship of the arts, protection from criticism and mockery or any other privilege.

    Agreed.

    “The idea that a big flat nothing ought to have equality with faith is to attempt to equate chalk and cheese. We are talking here about opposed psychologies, I think.”

    I didn’t mean to offend you. But to me, your belief in the “big flat nothing” and the belief of a higher belief require equal respect in the public arena.

    The stupid thing in all of this is that there is no proof that God exist or it doesn’t, let’s not pretend otherwise. So why should we all (theist and atheist) expose our prejudices, ignorance and egos in public advertisement which only adds more chaos and entropy in our society, when can all contend in living in our own belief system and just get along with each other?

  48. soru — on 12th July, 2008 at 5:57 pm  

    The ad says: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life”

    2 sentences: the first is a theological one, the second a moral imperative. There is a pretty clear ‘therefore you should’ implied between them.

    Just saying…

    More importantly, reading http://bonekickers.com/ tells me three things:

    1. has anyone ever seen a ‘fan site’ for a show where the overwhelming consensus is that it is embarrassingly bad?

    2. there really is a pretty scary level of unchallenged muslim-hate there.

    3. The upcoming episode with fake-Obama should be epic.

  49. douglas clark — on 12th July, 2008 at 6:13 pm  

    Ravi,

    I have never found you offensive. Ever.

    Of course there is no proof one way or another. Although, if one is even reasonably rational, the concept of ‘God’ has been pushed away towards an explanation of the Big Bang and not – as it once was – as an immediate explanation of how this world came to be.

    You said:

    so why should we all expose our prejudices, ignorance and egos in advertisement, when can all contend in living in our system beliefs and getting along with each other?

    Which is something I completely agree with. A short comment though:

    To my complete and utter embarrasment, I went to Sunday School and paid for bloody missionaries. I am also led to believe that Saudi Arabia finances mosques here. Nowadays I would equate both of these practices as equally wrong. Those are even more extreme, are they not, than advertising on the side of a bendy bus?

    I am going to be a bit circumspect in what I want to say next.

    My disbelief in, frankly, the need for a God, probably comes from completely different sources – and reasons – come to that, than Sids. Or, in fact, anyone else who had a religious upbringing and then rejected it. We, atheists, are each, for all practical purposes, a nation of one.

    To most atheists, atheism is a bore.

    Sure, sometimes it can be amusing. PZ Myers audience takes much delight in mucking up opinion polls designed to support nonsense like Intelligent Design. He can mobilise enough folk to turn these polls upside down. But, whilst it is funny, it is also a waste of time, and a trifle childish.

    So my point is merely that there is no ‘we’ in atheism, and attempts to establish it as a belief, when it is in fact, a disbelief, tend to flounder.

  50. Rumbold — on 12th July, 2008 at 8:31 pm  

    Ravi:

    Heh. I was just echoing Sid.

    Douglas:

    I really really want a sqaure sausage.

  51. El Cid — on 12th July, 2008 at 9:17 pm  

    Get a Sausage McMuffin then

  52. Don — on 12th July, 2008 at 10:09 pm  

    douglas #49

    Yeah, childish. But I always vote. Don’t you?

    Rumbold,
    Don’t take that crap they call Larne Sausage in supermarkets, get a proper square. And if certain people keep dissing the square, I may have to get offended.

  53. Ravi Naik — on 13th July, 2008 at 10:29 am  

    “Of course there is no proof one way or another. Although, if one is even reasonably rational, the concept of ‘God’ has been pushed away towards an explanation of the Big Bang and not – as it once was – as an immediate explanation of how this world came to be.”

    Still, the fundamental question always remains the same: what we consider ‘the world’ just gets larger and larger. Atheists look at the world the same way science does: things that cannot be proven conclusively are not true. Which means, your view is incomplete. Science is fine with incompleteness, because knowledge if filled over generations, centuries and millenia. But for a lot of people, this rather incomplete picture is unsettling.

    This void that science leaves us with can be filled by religion if interpreted properly, and does not overlap with our scientific knowledge. In particular two fundamental laws of science: one that states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the other that says that nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed, completely disregard the primordial force and how all our current mass and energy came about.

    So, I contend that it is rational to believe in a higher-being from the point of view of how science sees the world. :)

    To my complete and utter embarrasment, I went to Sunday School and paid for bloody missionaries. I am also led to believe that Saudi Arabia finances mosques here. Nowadays I would equate both of these practices as equally wrong. Those are even more extreme, are they not, than advertising on the side of a bendy bus?

    Depends on the message. If the message is positive and talks about your (dis)beliefs that’s fine with me. If you try to advance your point by ridiculing other beliefs (as in “start living life instead of wasting time with your faith”) then I have a problem.

  54. Ravi Naik — on 13th July, 2008 at 10:38 am  

    You know what would be an interesting experiment? Having this ad put up with the help of Sunny:
    There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life.

    … and then have one of those virulent Islamophobe groups put this advert in all buses in London:
    Islam is probably false. Now stop worrying about Allah and prophet Mo. and get on with your life.

    And see PP’s reaction in this. Because the former is the direct logical conclusion of the latter.

  55. El Cid — on 13th July, 2008 at 10:43 am  

    “Atheists look at the world the same way science does: things that cannot be proven conclusively are not true.”

    To be fair Ravi, the word “probably” was used in the orginal text. As Sunny points out, that does slightly change things, makes it easier to live with. That’s what I mean by a no zero-sum game.

    Also, and I’m no expert on physics, but I was under the impression that some of Newton’s laws had been tweaked/questioned by modern scientists.

  56. El Cid — on 13th July, 2008 at 10:46 am  

    But your point #54 is incontrovertible

  57. Sid — on 13th July, 2008 at 11:13 am  

    Ravi

    Your suggestion to change the message, which was agnostic to any particular religion to be exclusively anti-Muslim and then asking the question “And see PP’s reaction in this” is in bad faith. Forgive the pun ;)

    You stand against this ad was because you believed the original message was ridiculing “religious people”

    But you have no qualms about suggesting that the message be changed to be *specifically* about a certain religion, as long the believers who are “ridiculed” do not belong to your religion. So you’re perfectly willing to change a message which is agaist false adverstising and against ‘religion as such’ to one that is anti-religion in the particular.

    Your case would have been made far more strongly if you really believed in not ridiculing people. In fact you’ve shown yourself to be perfectly willing to ridicule believers to make a cheap point about “PP’s reaction”. .

    This is exactly the point I’ve been making about the non-universalist nature of religion and how religions seem perfectly willing to insult and offend each other. They then suggest implore religious tolerance when they’re the victims of the same “offence” but by people who do not share belief in any organised religion.

    Religion poisons everything. :)

  58. El Cid — on 13th July, 2008 at 11:21 am  

    On the other hand, having a pop at Islam specifically would be to single out one religion when version ‘a’ was about all monotheistic religions. So, in hindsight, I actually now disagree with #54. What was incontrovertible 40 mins ago has crumbled before my very eyes. I will go and lie down now.

  59. Ravi Naik — on 13th July, 2008 at 11:27 am  

    “Also, and I’m no expert on physics, but I was under the impression that some of Newton’s laws had been tweaked/questioned by modern scientists.”

    Yes, you are right. Einstein did tweak (update) both Newton and Lavoisier laws to accommodate his special theory of relativity, but the fundamental questions remain the same today as they were 300 years ago.

  60. Ravi Naik — on 13th July, 2008 at 11:57 am  

    On the other hand, having a pop at Islam specifically would be to single out one religion when version ‘a’ was about all monotheistic religions. So, in hindsight, I actually now disagree with #54.

    Both ads are not equivalent: saying that Islam is probably not true does not imply that other religions are probably not true. But saying that ‘God probably does not exist’ does IMPLY that ‘Islam is probably false’. It’s a direct implication.

    But you have no qualms about suggesting that the message be changed to be *specifically* about a certain religion, as long the believers who are “ridiculed” do not belong to your religion. So you’re perfectly willing to change a message which is agaist false adverstising and against ‘religion as such’ to one that is anti-religion in the particular.

    Sid, let’s go through this rationally. I have said that Sunny’s ad is disgraceful. I say that Muslim ad is direct logic implication of Sunny’s ad. So, it’s more than clear to any person with clear rational ability that for me the muslim ad is disgraceful as well, and so would be if you targeted ‘Christian’, etc.

    I used ‘Muslim’ because I know very well your biases. Had I used “Christian” I would not have caught this little gem of yours:

    “Your case would have been made far more strongly if you really believed in not ridiculing people. In fact you’ve shown yourself to be perfectly willing to ridicule believers to make a cheap point about “PP’s reaction”

    You must be kidding me. So the first ad only targets “saddo believers” as you point out in #14, but the second one – a corollary of the first – using the same language and structure RIDICULES all Muslims believers? If God probably does not exist, aren’t you saying in non-ambiguous terms that Islam probably is not TRUE?

    I would never support either ad. But I have no control over events. But I do know that those that support the first, have no credibility in criticising the second. None whatsoever. In fact, they can be blamed in starting a precedence.

  61. Sid — on 13th July, 2008 at 12:08 pm  

    Ravi

    In #53:

    Depends on the message. If the message is positive and talks about your (dis)beliefs that’s fine with me. If you try to advance your point by ridiculing other beliefs (as in “start living life instead of wasting time with your faith”) then I have a problem.

    I still don’t understand why you object to the first ad because you think it “ridicules beliefs” and your version in #54, which does the same thing.

    Perhaps you’d like to explain the difference because forgive me, I don’t see it.

  62. douglas clark — on 13th July, 2008 at 12:26 pm  

    Ravi @ 53,

    The point at which I would tend to agree that religious and scientific beliefs are both struggling with a reasonable explanation is indeed with the Big Bang. It is hard for a layman such as myself to see most cosmologists who deal with this issue as any less speculative than you are being here. (Forgive me, that is not supposed to sound rude, but it makes the point, I think)

    And speculation is only useful if it can be challenged. Quite a lot of the ideas that surround the origin of this Universe appear to hypothesise either a mother Universe from whence we came – which is, as you rightly say – simply pushing the problem backwards in time. Or an infinite multiverse of alternate parallel Universes, which is mind blowing. Neither has any evidence whatsoever to support them, nor ways of refuting them, come to that. So, the mathematicians and scientists that talk about these things do not seem to me to be dong ‘science’ as such. They are indulging in metaphysical speculation.

    Most atheists don’t bother with this sort of stuff, really.

    If there were a being that set it all in motion all these years ago, he had some really weird ideas if we, humans, are supposed to be the only consequence of it.

    ————————————–

    I always liked the Joni Mitchell quote:

    “We are stardust”

    Seems that we really are. It makes sunworshipping seem a bit more sensible. :-)

  63. Ravi Naik — on 13th July, 2008 at 12:37 pm  

    “I still don’t understand why you object to the first ad because you think it “ridicules beliefs” and your version in #54, which does the same thing.

    I object to both ads in equal terms: one is the direct logically implication of the second.

    But you didn’t. Yesterday you were not in the opinion that the first ad ridiculed anyone. And today you are in the opinion that both ridicule people’s beliefs, when you were presented the second ad. And that’s the point I wanted to make.

  64. Sid — on 13th July, 2008 at 12:52 pm  

    But you didn’t. Yesterday you were not in the opinion that the first ad ridiculed anyone. And today you are in the opinion that both ridicule people’s beliefs. And that’s the point I wanted to make.

    No I am still of the opinion that the first ad does not ridicule anyone. It is a point about religion in general.

    Rather, you’ve discredited your only point, about ridiculing faiths, all by yourself.

    I would never support either ad. But I have no control over events. But I do know that those that support the first, have no credibility in criticising the second. None whatsoever. In fact, they can be blamed in starting a precedence.

    That’s being very presumptive of you.

    Actually, I’ll gladly support your ad in #53. On the proviso that the campaign runs parallel ads that asserts the same message for all three monotheistic religions.

    I’ll leave you to word the messages. ;)

  65. Ravi Naik — on 13th July, 2008 at 1:26 pm  

    No I am still of the opinion that the first ad does not ridicule anyone.

    Make up your mind. You said in #61 that both ads ridicule people’s beliefs. In fact, you asked me to explain the difference between both of them because you didn’t see any difference in regards to how they ridicule people’s beliefs. And… suddenly you do again. ;)

    Rather, you’ve discredited your only point, about ridiculing faiths, all by yourself

    No, I didn’t. I was demonstrating the precedent that the original ad would present. And that’s not supporting or wanting to ridicule anyone: in fact, it’s rather the opposite.

    Actually, I’ll gladly support your ad in #53. On the proviso that the campaign runs parallel ads that asserts the same message for all three monotheistic religions. I’ll leave you to word the messages.

    Ads that expose bigotry and ignorance against the 3 monotheistic religions? I’m not the expert here Sid, but I’ll gladly take the challenge to make the point. Though I believe you spoke in haste as before. I will wait an hour or so, to see if you change your mind.

  66. Sid — on 13th July, 2008 at 2:06 pm  

    Ravi

    I’m sorry to say I won’t be changing my mind at all, I don’t know about you however. In the earlier post you refer to I agreed that the ad ridicules religious belief. I haven’t changed my mind on that becasue that is perfectly acceptable.

    It is you have introduced the idea into this argument that this ad is “disgraceful” because it ridicules believers. I don’t accept this to be of any relevance.

    And judging by your post in 53, neither do you because you contradicted your own argument by wording an alternative message which ridicules a religion in particular.

    You’ve quite perfectly proved two points categorically:

    1) Religious believers think that only they have license to critique other religions
    2) Religious people employ all sorts of histrionics to suggest that crticism of belief systems is the same as “ridiculing believers”.

  67. Ravi Naik — on 13th July, 2008 at 3:10 pm  

    You’ve quite perfectly proved two points categorically:
    Religious believers think that only they have license to critique other religions

    Let’s play a game, Sid. You will get one point for each quote of mine in this thread in which I claim that theists have special rights to ridicule other theists, which atheists don’t.

    And I will get 1 point for any quote that I can find which categorically says the opposite of what you claim I am defending.

    Shall we? I mean, you used the words “perfectly” and “categorically” – it should be easy for you to win it.

    Religious people employ all sorts of histrionics to suggest that crticism of belief systems is the same as “ridiculing believers”.

    Whether or not you agree it is appropriate or condescending, when you ask believers to get on with their lives because God probably does not exist, you are focusing on believers and how you assume they are currently living their lives because of their beliefs. No histrionics necessary, only common-sense.

  68. Ravi Naik — on 13th July, 2008 at 4:26 pm  

    “The point at which I would tend to agree that religious and scientific beliefs are both struggling with a reasonable explanation is indeed with the Big Bang.”

    Religion doesn’t struggle much with this particular issue because it doesn’t have to. Science, on the other hand…

    And speculation is only useful if it can be challenged. Quite a lot of the ideas that surround the origin of this Universe appear to hypothesise either a mother Universe from whence we came – which is, as you rightly say – simply pushing the problem backwards in time. Or an infinite multiverse of alternate parallel Universes, which is mind blowing. Neither has any evidence whatsoever to support them, nor ways of refuting them, come to that. So, the mathematicians and scientists that talk about these things do not seem to me to be dong ’science’ as such. They are indulging in metaphysical speculation.

    I agree with you. But unlike religion which relies on faith, there is a hard discipline involved in theoretical physics: mathematics. The latest trend is to unify two theories: the one that governs the world at a macro scale (Einstein’s theory of relativity) with the one the governs the sub-atomic particles (quantum mechanics). And they’ve made it with the string theory. The problem is that it is purely mathematical and sounds bizarre: it predicts that we live in a world of 11 or so dimensions (we are only aware of 3 dimensions + time).

    This is to say that string theory, multiverses and so on are still hypothesis and need to be validated by experiments to be part of our scientific knowledge. Unlike religious beliefs, they are backed by sound theory. However, even if they are validated which will be a breakthrough of epic proportions, we are still no better now in answering the fundamental questions than 300 years ago.

    Most atheists don’t bother with this sort of stuff, really.

    But they would if science managed to prove conclusively that God exists (or not), no? I know I would.

  69. Leon — on 13th July, 2008 at 5:18 pm  

    I think I said it on the other thread about this but I’ll say it again; this is an idiotic idea, and a waste of time and effort.

    As an ‘atheist’ there are far better things I can be doing with my time. Campaigning to have some words on a bus aint one of them.

  70. Don — on 13th July, 2008 at 6:31 pm  

    I agree with Leon. The message as such is fairly innocuous but also equally pointless. There is a conflict between those who value secularism and those who want to roll it back and bring religious authority to bear on public life. This needs to be challenged. But if it fits on a t-shirt or bumper sticker, it’s probably not worth saying.

    Time and energy would be better spent on addressing the long list of real problems that organised, politically assertive religions present to the world. If somebody has that much cash to spare and can’t think of anything better to do with it then they haven’t been paying attention.

    As for the origins of the universe, as far as I can tell we are a very long way from formulating the question, let alone finding the answer. On that issue I remain firmly agnostic. (Except I strongly doubt that it involves a supernatural being with whom a personal relationship is possible, who takes a detailed interest in our daily doings and whom it is appropriate to worship.)

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say religion poisons everything (really, Sid. Citing Hitchens? Whatever next? ). But religion as a power base has always been about privilege and control, has always needed victims, scapegoats and the unsaved. It’s the nature of the beast. Personal belief, on the other hand, is something I try to stay away from as being none of my business. The overlap means that isn’t always possible, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  71. DavidMWW — on 13th July, 2008 at 8:48 pm  

    There’s probably no God. So stop worrying and get on with your life.

    I think this is lovely. Wouldn’t it be nice if religious statements – and all religions emphasise the importance of humility, don’t they? – were made in such a humble tone?

    “Jesus probably loves you.”

    “There is probably no god but Allah, and Mohammed is probably his prophet.”

    “God is probably great.”

    The reason you never hear statements like that is also the reason why the atheist bus ad is necessary – even (or especially) if it does get up a few pious noses. The world needs more epistemological humility! Probably.

  72. Ravi Naik — on 13th July, 2008 at 11:15 pm  

    “There is a conflict between those who value secularism and those who want to roll it back and bring religious authority to bear on public life… But religion as a power base has always been about privilege and control, has always needed victims, scapegoats and the unsaved. It’s the nature of the beast.”

    I slightly disagree, Don. The really enemy of secularism is fundamentalism regardless of belief. The Catholic Church was at one time the biggest tyrant of Europe, but in the 20th century it was communism and nazism – godless ideologies. All of these tyrants were fundamentalists as they expected their views to be put upon everyone, and killed anyone who stood their way. Even today, fundamentalist forces can be religious (christian in the US, islamist in Europe), or atheist (skinheads, neo-nazis…) – all of them are hazardous to a healthy secular Democracy. Secularism ensures freedom of religion, whereas fundamentalism (even theist) curtails it.

  73. BenSix — on 13th July, 2008 at 11:33 pm  

    “or atheist (skinheads, neo-nazis…)”

    Even if such groups are atheistic – they by no means are, many claim to support ‘traditional’ Christianity – I would not see them as representative of ‘fundamentalist atheism’ because their actions are not defined by their atheism.

    Certain ‘secular humanists’, Sam Harris, maybe, would better fit your analogy, as their interpretation of their own beliefs leads them to a, yes, irrational, and certainly ill-considered, contempt, fear or ignorance. When one is a political or social commentator such as Christopher Hitchens or Harris the effects of this are obvious.

    Dan Hind is interesting regarding this peculiar brand of ‘enlightenment’ pontificators. Chris Hedges, also, though I dock immediate points for the irritating title of his book.

  74. Ravi Naik — on 13th July, 2008 at 11:43 pm  

    Wouldn’t it be nice if religious statements – and all religions emphasise the importance of humility, don’t they? – were made in such a humble tone?… Jesus probably loves you.”

    David, that’s an interesting take on the subject. However…

    The reason you never hear statements like that is also the reason why the atheist bus ad is necessary

    … if you want the atheist bus ad to start a precedent in humility, wouldn’t it make more sense, in light of what you suggested, to say: “God probably does exist…”, and finish off with something like “so stop leading empty lives, and get on with your life with Him”.

    It still feels condescending to put this up, because it assumes that atheists lead sad and empty lives and are unable to reach a meaningful existence without a religious belief.

  75. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 12:02 am  

    Even if such groups are atheistic – they by no means are, many claim to support ‘traditional’ Christianity – I would not see them as representative of ‘fundamentalist atheism’ because their actions are not defined by their atheism.

    Skinheads and neo-nazis (proper swastika-worshippers) are rabid anti-Christians, as they consider Christianity a semite (Jewish) religion. That’s really besides the point.

    Call it what you will, but ideologies without a belief in a metaphysical being, such as nazism and communism as exercised in the 20th century, have a lot in common with how the Catholic Church operated in the Middle Ages: all of them tyrants, totalitarian, rabidly anti-secular, and against the basic tenants of Humanism. So, the bottom-line is that I don’t see ‘religion’ to be a problem against secularism. The real nemesis of secularism is fundamentalism regardless of the belief in a higher-being.

  76. douglas clark — on 14th July, 2008 at 1:22 am  

    Ravi,

    Did you ever read Ariane Sherines’ original piece?

    She said, and I’ve cut it down to the basics:

    Yesterday I walked to work and saw not one, but two London buses with the question: “When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). It seems you wait ages for a bus with an unsettling Bible quote, then two come along at once……..Imagine you’ve had a really bad day, and it’s only 8.30am…….and you’re late for work and your only excuse is “I glued my hand to a dog”.

    You stumble out of the tube, and are confronted with the number 168 bus. It tells you that, along with your boss, a man with a beardy face is going to be upset with you, for ever, because you’ve refused to acknowledge his existence, despite the fact that he’s too antisocial to come down here and say hi. You promptly throw yourself under the number 168 bus.

    I can see her point, the religious have been allowed a free reign with this sort of stuff for ages. And if anyone should think twice about spending money on advertising it should be churches. I’m probably so inured to that sort of stuff that I just blank it, but it is a waste of money.

  77. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 2:00 am  

    I can see her point, the religious have been allowed a free reign with this sort of stuff for ages.

    True. So what do you about this? You could have a petition to stop advertisement of theist beliefs in public places, which honestly to me is the most sensible approach. Or alternatively pick a quote from the rationalist movement. I don’t see what you gain by insinuating that theists lead worried lives and don’t get on with them because they believe in a higher-being. If you are spending money on something, do it to genuinely help people, not out of resentment.

    And if you really believe religion is poison and atheism is the cure, then this transition won’t come out of a message, as Don puts it, that fits on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker.

  78. BenSix — on 14th July, 2008 at 2:20 am  

    “You could have a petition to stop advertisement of theist beliefs in public places, which honestly to me is the most sensible approach.”

    We LIKE freedom of expression.

    “And if you really believe religion is poison and atheism is the cure, then this transition won’t come out of a message, as Don puts it, that fits on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker.”

    A very fair point.

    Though I support this advert against charges of gratuitous offence, it’s hardly conducive for open, honest and pleasingly vitriolic debate.

  79. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 8:47 am  

    really, Sid. Citing Hitchens? Whatever next?

    The strapline of Hitchens’ book is appropriately sensationalist designed to go right up the noses of rigid belief systems and their defendants. I loved the book if only for his writing which is fantastic. It contains lots of interesting persepectives but many silly ones as well.

    I’m not an atheist, I’m a secularist. My beliefs do not fit into any one type of received theology of any one confession. And I do take your points on board Don (damn you to hell! :) ). But this ad is, if you remember, a silly message aimed to send up the also silly, weird, woolly and nonsensical copy of religious advertising. It is not an alternative “saving” message ‘on behalf of our sponsors from Atheism Inc’, which many believers will (and have) mistook it for.

  80. douglas clark — on 14th July, 2008 at 10:29 am  

    Ravi,

    No, I don’t think:

    And if you really believe religion is poison and atheism is the cure……

    As I’ve already said on numerous threads here I may be an atheist but I am a product of a Christian culture, and there ain’t much I can do about that. Which is to say that I rejected the belief in a God, or Gods, in early adolescence but have largely led an – ahem, reasonably, *cough* – moral life.

    There used to be an arguement about whether or not people who are brought up without any religious indoctrination whatsoever can do so. Yet it doesn’t seem to be second or third or fourth generation atheists that are causing a problem, does it?

    I have hung around sites like those run by Richard Dawkins and P Z Myers, and, if you do too, I think you’d agree that atheists are becoming a lot more forthright. Totally disorganised, but forthright.

    My point, such as it is, is that it is pretty offensive to atheists for theists to advertise their message then bleat when atheists want to do the same.

    But neither should waste tens of thousands of pounds on what, I think you’d agree, is a debate that is impossible to prove one way or another.

    There are, as Leon rightly says, more pressing uses of tens of thousands of pounds.

    Helping the poor, alleviating sickness, meaningless things like that….

  81. Stephen — on 14th July, 2008 at 10:40 am  

    Personally, I like the atheist ad and I’m not an atheist.

    The Christian ones always strike me as being rather pointless. I find it rather difficult to imagine that someone is going to see a bus with a Bible verse on it and think: “Ooh! Good point! I’ll go and get baptised immediately”. No-one changes their view on the Great Perhaps, I would hope, because they saw a slogan on the side of a bus.

    But the atheist one will make people smile – at least it made me smile – and that can never be a bad thing. I don’t see why anyone should feel threatened by the shocking discovery that people who disagree with them have put a message on a bus. So this Christian would like to wish you all luck.

  82. Ala — on 14th July, 2008 at 11:40 am  

    I always wondered why atheists don’t proselytise. Especially given they’re so sure of themselves. An agnostic, maybe: we don’t know whether we’re coming or going.

    But funnily enough, when I was a religious fanatic, I always thought proselytising atheists were more despicable than other proselytisers, maybe because I didn’t understand why a supposedly reasonable position would need proselytising, i.e, only stupid nonsense needs to invest billions to win converts.

  83. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 11:42 am  

    The strapline of Hitchens’ book is appropriately sensationalist designed to go right up the noses of rigid belief systems and their defendants.

    If that’s the goal of this book, it fails miserably. Such goal would require a well researched book, and Hitchens is an entertainer, not a scholar like Gould and Dawkins. So, let’s not pretend otherwise.

    I loved his book because it does a great parody of people who have superficial knowledge of religion and History, and thus are contend to make generalist and absurd assertions. I mean, what can one say when he defends that Stalin’s brutal regime was really a theocracy (get it? all the bad stuff happened because Stalin believed in the God of non-existence), or that Martin Luther King was not Christian because he rejected the sadic nature of the teachings of Jesus?

    The funniest thing however is not how he goes all the way to bend definitions to fit his narrative, but how he takes himself and his work very seriously. He and some of his readers.

  84. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 11:53 am  

    #72
    The Catholic Church was at one time the biggest tyrant of Europe, but in the 20th century it was communism and nazism – godless ideologies.

    #75
    Skinheads and neo-nazis (proper swastika-worshippers) are rabid anti-Christians, as they consider Christianity a semite (Jewish) religion.

    Nice try, but have you heard of Pope Pius XII?

    Hitler took power on January 30, 1933. On July 20 that same year, Pacelli and German diplomat Franz Von Papen signed a concordat that granted freedom of practice to the Roman Catholic Church. In return, the Church agreed to separate religion from politics. This diminished the influence of the Catholic Center Party and the Catholic Labor unions. The concordat was generally viewed as a diplomatic victory for Hitler.(1)

  85. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 11:56 am  

    Nice try, but have you heard of Pope Pius XII?

    Yes, I do. Do tell me how your little quote contradicts either #72 or #75.

  86. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 12:00 pm  

    He was a partial to a bit of Nazism, that “godless ideology” wasn’t he? The Catholic Church have never apologised for the help they denied to Jewish victims of the pogroms, and later, the Holocaust.

  87. Mark — on 14th July, 2008 at 12:57 pm  

    He was a partial to a bit of Nazism

    A bit like Hajj Amin Al Hussen and the Muslim Nazi battalions he set up.

    Catholic Church have never apologised for the help they denied to Jewish victims of the pogroms, and later, the Holocaust.

    And has the Ummah ever apologised to for Husseini and his pro-Nazi sentiments and actions?

  88. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 1:14 pm  

    well exactly, Muzumdar.

  89. BenSix — on 14th July, 2008 at 1:29 pm  

    “And has the Ummah ever apologised to for Husseini and his pro-Nazi sentiments and actions?”

    Someone appears to have stolen my goalposts.

  90. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 1:44 pm  

    He was a partial to a bit of Nazism, that “godless ideology” wasn’t he?

    Are you actually able to tell me what assertions in #72 and #75 are you actually contesting?

    The Catholic Church have never apologised for the help they denied to Jewish victims of the pogroms, and later, the Holocaust.

    Oh really, Sid? With so much to criticise about the actual positions of the Vatican, you once again (#31) are unable to do so because you don’t care about verifying your claims. There’s really no excuse for that.

  91. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 1:55 pm  

    Then we’re in the same boat Ravi since you seemed to care little about verifying the nonsense you put out in #72 and #75.

    And as for your stupefying claim that the Catholic Church is now pro-secular, I had to laugh. The Catholic church is still virulently anti-secular, but that, as Don says, is the nature of the beast.

  92. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 2:04 pm  

    Reading that BBC link on the Vatican’s apology for the Holocaust:

    But the document makes no criticism of the Pope of the time, Pius XII, who has been accused by the Jews of pro-German tendencies.

    The Vatican mentions that Pius XII saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives himself or through his representatives.

    I think that’s what is known as a ‘platitudinous apology’.

  93. bananabrain — on 14th July, 2008 at 2:41 pm  

    the original ad made me smile, as most ads for belief systems tend to, apart from the ones for “jews for jesus” (hwwwwwkkkk! ptui!!) which make me want to set fire to them due to the sheer mendacity of the content. what bothers me slightly is that i think everyone’s getting the wrong end of the stick. adverts are designed to raise awareness, but in the end also to change something. in this case, the change is obvious, as we can all see. what bothers me about this is the fact that it basically makes atheism into an evangelising belief system and for me, the enemy is not even fundamentalism, but rather the sort of belief system that cannot abide the fact that other people don’t agree with it. i think jews are really the only people who can point this out partly because we don’t evangelise and we certainly don’t advertise – our “outreach” organisations may try to “convert” the non-religious or non-affiliated, but that is a slightly different (i.e. internal) matter and makes them fair game for the other organisations that want to send a different, competing message to their potential “market”.

    I guess what pisses me off about this ad is that it implies unabashedly that people are worrying and don’t get on with their lives because they believe in God.

    and the trouble with this, of course, is that it won’t stack up against many people’s empirical experience of what it feels like to engage with the Divine. yes, of course, sometimes it *does* feel like a distraction, i dare say, but other times it is a useful, even vital check and balance upon our egotism and selfishness. furthermore, my religion at least is all about getting on with your life rather than spending all your time in theological BDSM, as is that of many others, so this ad certainly would just seem ridiculous to us, or indeed condescending, as ravi put it. it reminds me a bit of those christians who put a little fish sign on the back of their cars, which i find a bit pathetic (“OK, so you’re witnessing. do you really expect me to be converted by looking at your car boot?”) whereas the atheist response i’ve seen seemed rather witty and lighthearted – a little fish with legs and the word “darwin” in the middle. by contrast, a wholesale bus ad campaign, as opposed to a t-shirt or something, would come across to me as:

    “look at me, I’m an atheist- oooh. Take that religious types.”

    personally, i fail to see how the cause of reason is served by people behaving like idiotic evangelists:

    But that is besides the point. Freedom of speech means that even this stupid little immature public advert should go in buses. But (hysterical mode on) don’t tell me you are helping people, or transcending the stupid and petty religious vs atheist fight: you are merely a part of it.

    exactly. there are those of us who are not interested in having the fight at all.

    I’m sure you’re aware that historically, more bitterness has been generated and considerably more blood has been spilt in the stupid and petty inter-theist religious wars than between the theological battles between theists and atheists.

    but so what? does it make perpetuating this argument until it turns into something similar a worthwhile fight to start?

    Or, and this is key, that people should believe in the religion (or not) that most resonates with their temperament rather than the religion of their parents.

    practically speaking, that is what happens anyway. however, it is absurdly impractical to suggest that anyone could provide a level playing field. in the battle of ideas, i would suggest there are no

    It is a defence of concience. Or at least an awakening that non-theists are under attack in this land, given that we are the majority…

    i wasn’t aware of that. perhaps it would function better as a defence if you added: “offended? get over it. it’s part of living in a democratic society.”

    How about leaving personal beliefs and even prejudices of other people’s beliefs – theist and atheist – with yourself and at home, and not parading them in buses? I am all for taking out those Bible quotes out of buses, if it means not having people aspiring for free publicity by putting these petty ads ridiculing religious people.

    well, this is perhaps the issue. if religious groups are to be permitted to enter the ideas marketplace, then they cannot complain if others do too – but the atheists should admit that they’re trying to “convert” people at least.

    On the contrary, it is Organised Religion which says that everyone of the same confession should believe in the same thing within the boundaries of their confession. And that outside of that confessional boundary, theists of other confessions and non-theists are following some or other falsehood.

    not mine. with us, it is right action and moral behaviour that counts for people outside of the religion. we aren’t in the business of telling other people their religions are “false”.

    Fundamentalists believe they have the absolute Truth, and thus they are not just happy to be able to freely exercise that belief, but that others follow that as well.

    exactly.

    It is “cheap stunt” to show the equally “cheap stunt” that religions allow themselves exclusively. Which is to suggest that only they hold the key to paradise and all others are damned. Put that on a billboard and it immediately becomes false advertising. If atheists do the same thing, why is it suddenly ridiculing people?

    actually, i think i probably agree with sid here – as long as atheists can show that they know it’s a “cheap stunt”, that will give them far more moral credibility in my eyes. i think it’s an incredibly “cheap stunt” to proselytise at all, rather like trying to borrow money from your friends.

    Since you are clearly offended by the ad which says “God does not exist” imagine how you would feel if the ad said “Jesus was a terrorist motherfecker”. If you burn down an embassy or two, I won’t be wholly surprised.

    people have said all this and worse about judaism for as long as i can remember, but we haven’t burnt anything down. i read both hitchens’ and dawkins’ books and wasn’t offended by anything in them other than the fact that they clearly hadn’t done their research on religion properly unlike, say, daniel dennett. as the marxist historian (i think) terry eagleton rather amusingly puts it, “listening to dawkins on religion is rather like hearing someone hold forth on evolutionary biology based only upon their familarity with the ‘british book of birds’.”

    It offends me that people like Sunny and others who should be about building bridges between different communities and yes even beliefs, are involved in this. I hate censorship in all forms, but I do believe in responsibility in delivering the message, and not doing it out of pettiness, immaturity and ignorance. I would say the same if a religious ad ridiculed atheists.

    yeah, pretty much. it would make me rather sad, i think.

    I hate, repeat hate being compared to a deist. My lack of beliefs are mine and mine alone. There is no ‘club’ you join, no rituals, no priest or summoner to prayer.

    oooOOOooo, that isn’t true. there is everything from the national secular society to discussing richard dawkins’ latest broadside; it may not be an “organised religion”, but in most respects it is indistinguishable from how theists do things.

    The idea that a big flat nothing ought to have equality with faith is to attempt to equate chalk and cheese.

    but the absence of a belief is also in its own way a belief. and, i need hardly point out, the Divine Name “‘EYN” also means “Nothing”. what perhaps you are missing is the function of paradox within a sophisticated theology.

    bensix, what have you got against alistair mcgrath? i think he’s rather good at pointing out the fallacies in dawkins’ arguments, if rather less good at pointing out why, therefore, you should be christian instead, which rather lets him down. he’s not taken terribly seriously as a theologian.

    So why should we all (theist and atheist) expose our prejudices, ignorance and egos in public advertisement which only adds more chaos and entropy in our society, when can all contend in living in our own belief system and just get along with each other?

    *claps loudly*

    Although, if one is even reasonably rational, the concept of ‘God’ has been pushed away towards an explanation of the Big Bang and not – as it once was – as an immediate explanation of how this world came to be.

    depends who you’re reading. religion is more, as i’ve said elsewhere, about answering the question “and therefore, how should we live?”

    To my complete and utter embarrasment, I went to Sunday School and paid for bloody missionaries. I am also led to believe that Saudi Arabia finances mosques here. Nowadays I would equate both of these practices as equally wrong. Those are even more extreme, are they not, than advertising on the side of a bendy bus?

    now we’re into “violent agreement” territory. i say we ban all wahhabi financing under the existing regulations for being “not conducive to the public good” or put it in a big, publicly administered charity fund, a bit like we do with tax revenue. this would have to be done with all money which comes from organisations and governments rather than private individuals, who would then be assessed separately.

    Atheists look at the world the same way science does: things that cannot be proven conclusively are not true. Which means, your view is incomplete. Science is fine with incompleteness, because knowledge if filled over generations, centuries and millenia. But for a lot of people, this rather incomplete picture is unsettling. This void that science leaves us with can be filled by religion if interpreted properly, and does not overlap with our scientific knowledge.

    ravi, this is a potted version of the “god of the gaps” argument and it’s a complete non-starter. firstly, things are not “proven” by science. hypotheses are made and then experiments are conducted to see if the empirical evidence supports the hypothesis. philosophically, it’s in a completely different ballpark from “facts” and “truth” – although in many cases (like gravity, for example) you’d be ill-advised to act as if it were theory rather than fact. some religious people, unfortunately, do do this, with the result that they tend to disrespect and misrepresent science, with predictable results. i deplore this just as i deplore scientists who think they can spot angels under laboratory conditions – it’s no different from yuri gagarin announcing that atheism was correct because he didn’t see G!D when he went into orbit.

    Islam is probably false. Now stop worrying about Allah and prophet Mo. and get on with your life.

    only if it was followed by “offended? get over it. it’s part of living in a democratic society”. we’re used to it, i think muslims should start getting used to it too.

    1) Religious believers think that only they have license to critique other religions
    2) Religious people employ all sorts of histrionics to suggest that crticism of belief systems is the same as “ridiculing believers”.

    neither of these is true of the way i look at things – and i’m not the only one who feels this way.

    The world needs more epistemological humility! Probably.

    oh, i dare say. but doesn’t “probably” mean, effectively, “has a greater than 50% chance of being the case”? my theology i think probably works like that (!) – in that based on what i know, what i’ve learned and what i’ve experienced, that the idea that Torah is not a human document but a Divine one. i’ve chosen to live my life based upon the probability of that being true, but it’s not my job to convince others to do the same. the interesting thing is that the tradition says that this translates into 13 “principles of faith”, which i must, apparently, “believe with perfect faith”. interestingly enough, this is necessary because these 13 principles can *only* be believed, rather than demonstrated or proved. it is an interesting distinction to make. however, i do wonder on what basis people are assessing whether a given “probability” is greater or lesser than 50%.

    Call it what you will, but ideologies without a belief in a metaphysical being, such as nazism and communism as exercised in the 20th century, have a lot in common with how the Catholic Church operated in the Middle Ages: all of them tyrants, totalitarian, rabidly anti-secular, and against the basic tenants of Humanism. So, the bottom-line is that I don’t see ‘religion’ to be a problem against secularism. The real nemesis of secularism is fundamentalism regardless of the belief in a higher-being.

    here, i fear, ravi, you and i part company. nazism deified the “aryan” race. communism deified the revolution – both treated the state as their organised religion, with results that we are well aware of, so if anything they are excellent examples of what i mean by “idolatrous” religion (or “shirk” if you prefer) – and secularism, as it behaves in, say, france, can also be just such a fundamentalism.

    But this ad is, if you remember, a silly message aimed to send up the also silly, weird, woolly and nonsensical copy of religious advertising. It is not an alternative “saving” message ‘on behalf of our sponsors from Atheism Inc’, which many believers will (and have) mistook it for.

    but sid, i think that is either intentionally or unintentionally disingenuous. either way, people will experience it as a conversionist agenda and react accordingly either for or against.

    My point, such as it is, is that it is pretty offensive to atheists for theists to advertise their message then bleat when atheists want to do the same.

    But neither should waste tens of thousands of pounds on what, I think you’d agree, is a debate that is impossible to prove one way or another.

    *claps loudly again*

    He was a partial to a bit of Nazism, that “godless ideology” wasn’t he? The Catholic Church have never apologised for the help they denied to Jewish victims of the pogroms, and later, the Holocaust.

    actually, i think that’s a bit unfair to pius xii – i don’t think he was in favour of the holocaust, he just completely wasn’t up to the job of standing up to hitler and, in many cases, the church itself actively collaborated (though in other cases, it didn’t) – it’s not an open-and-shut case.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  94. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 3:23 pm  

    I don’t think that there is anything wrong with religious proseltysing. I certainly do not think that non-prosletysing faiths can claim to any kind of superiority simply because they don’t reach out. Some religions are open to people who embrace them because it resonates with their temparament then that is fine. If these religions didn’t preach, either by books or religious literature, that faith would have remained closed to “searchers” of metaphysical answers. It is the *nature* of the reach-out that one can and should object to.

  95. douglas clark — on 14th July, 2008 at 3:51 pm  

    Bananabrain,

    We seem to agree on more than we disagree.

    However, just a few points.

    The Dawkins’, et al, books are a modern phenomena. They are based on the perception that science is being undermined by fundamentalism, including in particular intelligent design, modern day woo woo about crystals and the like. And, sadly, for other authors at least, by militant Islam.

    The authors of these books are probably just as bemused as I am that a watch that had consistently pointed towards a more rational future has inexplicably started to tell the time backwards. It is quite annoying to get caught up in this resurgent drivel.

    The reaction however has indeed been over the top.

    The National Secular Society has around 8000 members and has never been significant.

    Ravi and I were discussing, in that wayward way that PP threads tend to, whether or not the ‘Genesis’ story was fact or fiction. I have, yonks ago, given up attempting to argue that anyone knows anything about events either at or before the Big Bang. I think we put that one to bed. The history of the Universe since then is a different matter altogether.

    I have said elsewhere in this thread that I am not at all convinced that there is a need for gods to frame human morality.

    Finally a lack of something is not the same as something. So atheism ain’t theism. I really wish all you folk would stop describing it as a belief when it clearly and simply isn’t. Grrrr.

    Cheers.

  96. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 3:53 pm  

    “Then we’re in the same boat Ravi since you seemed to care little about verifying the nonsense you put out in #72 and #75. “

    We aren’t in the same boat, Sid. You are unable to tell me what exactly is wrong with #72 and #75, so I can only guess what you are trying to argue. Are you making the imbecile argument that alliances between two parties mean that they share ideology?
    Does it mean that the alliance that Hitler had with Stalin in the beginning meant that Hitler was a closeted communist? Or that alliance that Stalin had afterwards with the Allies meant Americans were enamoured with communism?

    And as for your stupefying claim that the Catholic Church is now pro-secular

    Once again: stop lying. I never said anything of the sort.

  97. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 3:58 pm  

    Call it what you will, but ideologies without a belief in a metaphysical being, such as nazism and communism as exercised in the 20th century, have a lot in common with how the Catholic Church operated in the Middle Ages: all of them tyrants, totalitarian, rabidly anti-secular, and against the basic tenants of Humanism.

    Am I lying, or were you arsetalking? That passage by you above suggests that the Catholic Church was a tyrannical force in the Middle Ages, but come the 20th it became amenable to secularism and the basic “tenants” (sic) of Humanism.

  98. Leon — on 14th July, 2008 at 4:08 pm  

    Finally a lack of something is not the same as something. So atheism ain’t theism. I really wish all you folk would stop describing it as a belief when it clearly and simply isn’t.

    Exactly. It’s, for those agenda driven types, a tactic to try and rope us into some false diametric theological conflict…atheists are not the opposite of theists!

    I don’t define myself by the faith others have.

  99. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 4:30 pm  

    Am I lying, or were you arsetalking?
    That passage by you above suggests

    Being amenable to secularism – after all the Church does operate in a secular society – does not equate of having pro-secular agenda. It’s not that hard to understand, Sid.

    As for Humanism: what exactly do you object?

  100. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 4:38 pm  

    Being amenable to secularism – after all the Church does operate in a secular society – does not equate of having pro-secular agenda. It’s not that hard to understand, Sid.

    What exactly is the point you’re making about secularism and the church Ravi? Either it support secularism or it does not. What exactly are you saying about the Church when it “operates in a secular society”? And what exactly should I “expect” about the Church’s ideas towards Humanism. I’d appreciate some articlate answers so that you don’t have the luxury to call me a liar simply because I might misunderstand you. ;)

  101. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 4:57 pm  

    “Finally a lack of something is not the same as something. So atheism ain’t theism. I really wish all you folk would stop describing it as a belief when it clearly and simply isn’t.”

    Atheism is clearly not theism, because theism requires the belief of higher-being(s).

    But we all operate under a system of beliefs, comprised by everything we hold to be true. Our belief system gets larger (and more complex) as we learn knew things (which we accept as truths). We also use reasoning to derive new truths from our belief system.

    For instance, someone who believes to be true that there are no ghosts, will reason that a ghost story told by someone is either fabricated or stems from an optical illusion.

    The point is: a belief system can be completely secular and devoid of supernatural elements.

  102. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 5:01 pm  

    The point is: a belief system can be completely secular and devoid of supernatural elements.

    Hold on. When I said that you claimed that the Church is pro-secular you said:

    Once again: stop lying. I never said anything of the sort.

  103. Ms_Xtreme — on 14th July, 2008 at 5:24 pm  

    I hate this hoo haa that happens every few months about religion. Religion always has been, and always will be a personal choice. I’m a believer, and I know what my religion is about. Its ridiculous that I have to read some nonsense on a bus that goes against my beliefs.

    Do you see verses from the Quran posted on billboards all over the place? No, right? So why do I need to be subjected to the Atheist’s agenda?

    Also, who says religion can’t be secular?

  104. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 5:33 pm  

    What exactly is the point you’re making about secularism and the church Ravi? Either it support secularism or it does not. What exactly are you saying about the Church when it “operates in a secular society”?

    It is retarded to call any religious organisation pro-secular, because of the definition of secularism.

    What we have are different degrees of compatibility between religion organisations and the secular society. For instance, pluralistic religions will likely be more compatible than those that believe they hold the universal truth. As I demonstrated in #31, the Vatican has becoming increasingly more pluralistic. It is quite obvious that in the Middle Ages, that the Church which had political power over Europe had a rabid anti-secular stance.

    Bottom line: the idea that religion organisations are either pro-secular or anti-secular seems totally misguided.

    And what exactly should I “expect” about the Church’s ideas towards Humanism.

    The basic tenants of Humanism to me in their broadest sense are: dignity and worth of each individual based on a set of universal values, and also the embrace of rationalism and science. The rationalist point of view is that reason should have precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge… although not the only way.

    I hate to think how you are going to misconstrue everything I have just written.

  105. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 5:34 pm  

    “Hold on. When I said that you claimed that the Church is pro-secular you said”

    What does one thing have to do with the other? A belief system is comprised by what you believe to be true, regardless of what your beliefs are: natural or supernatural.

    What’s so hard to understand?

  106. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 5:38 pm  

    I would too if I were you.

  107. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 5:46 pm  

    Either it support secularism or it does not.

    You do know that the Church’s belief system contains supernatural elements, so it cannot be secular, let alone have a pro-secular agenda, right Sid?

    On the other hand, its message and actions do not try to subvert our secular society and its institutions, so it can’t be anti-secular, correct Sid?

    So, how do we resolve this mess?

  108. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 5:58 pm  

    I find these statements contradictory,:

    1. “The point is: a belief system can be completely secular and devoid of supernatural elements.”

    2. “It is retarded to call any religious organisation pro-secular, because of the definition of secularism.”

    (1) is contradictory of itself, since god is a supernatural being by definition, and is the subject of religion by definition.
    (2) is contradicted by (1)

    On the other hand, its message and actions do not try to subvert our secular society and its institutions, so it can’t be anti-secular, correct Sid?

    Are you sure Ravi? Seats in the Lords, tax-exempt status, control of schools, censorship of the arts, protection from criticism and mockery, the right to not employ homosexuals, the right to not marry homosexuals as per the law of the land?

  109. Don — on 14th July, 2008 at 6:07 pm  

    The point is: a belief system can be completely secular and devoid of supernatural elements.

    True, but it differs in nature from a belief system which includes supernatural entities in that a secular belief system only holds belief contingently. Even belief in the effectiveness of the scientific method in approaching questions about the world is based on the observable fact that it works.

    Even the most cherished concepts, such as luminiferous aether, can be surrendered without trauma as new evidence emerges. The same cannot be said of belief systems which incorporate the incorporeal.

    I agree with Douglas that most of the fairly recent pronouncements by non-theists are a reaction to a more assertive religiosity which is flexing its muscles throughout the world and has a strong anti-science bent. The catholic church makes accomodation with secularism where it must, but where it feels strong enough it is as authoritarian as ever it was. American evangelicalism more or less rules the roost, with presidential hopefuls obliged to parrot nonsense to suck up to the Elmer Gantry element. And while one may not see verses from the Quran on the sides of busses, Islam has not otherwise been shy or retiring in advancing an agenda of late.

  110. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 6:19 pm  

    (1) is contradictory of itself

    I guess we are discussing semantics. To me, and as I explicitly stated, a belief system is everything you hold to be true. Hence, it may not include supernatural beliefs or God. In that light, (1) and (2) are just fine.

    Are you sure Ravi? Seats in the Lords, tax-exempt status, control of schools, censorship of the arts, protection from criticism and mockery or any other privilege, the right to not employ homosexuals, the right to not marry homosexuals as per the law of the land?

    That’s for “do we live in a completely secular country?”, which the answer would be NO. However, just because it’s not completely secular, doesn’t mean you can’t call it moderately secular, or somewhat secular.

  111. Sid — on 14th July, 2008 at 6:32 pm  

    I guess we are discussing semantics. To me, and as I explicitly stated, a belief system is everything you hold to be true. Hence, it may not include supernatural beliefs or God. In that light, (1) and (2) are just fine.

    The precise use of semantics would be nice, thanks. I wouldn’t call political activism or a high regard of scientific enquiry or software programming a “belief system”. Nor would I call dancing with sufis in Djibouti or laying gifts on the alter to the goddess Bonbibi in the Sundarbans a secular activity.

    That’s for “do we live in a completely secular country?”, which the answer would be NO. However, just because it’s not completely secular, doesn’t mean you can’t call it moderately secular, or somewhat secular.

    Hey a point of agreement at last! So you accept that to build a more secular society we need to remove these priveleges and powers of subversion from the Church.

    huzzah!

  112. Ravi Naik — on 14th July, 2008 at 6:52 pm  

    True, but it differs in nature from a belief system which includes supernatural entities in that a secular belief system only holds belief contingently

    Correct. But in essence you highlighted another similarity with theist belief systems: secular belief systems are subject to falsehoods. And they can be as powerful. I mean, you really need to have faith when you go on a plane that science, mechanics, gravity, technology will not let you down (pun intended).

    I agree with Douglas that most of the fairly recent pronouncements by non-theists are a reaction to a more assertive religiosity which is flexing its muscles throughout the world and has a strong anti-science bent.

    The Catholic Church (and the Anglican Church) have embraced a moderate stance of rationalism and do not clash with science (as far as I know). For instance, they teach evolutionism in Catholic schools… nothing that compares to what is going on in Kansas.

  113. Don — on 14th July, 2008 at 7:19 pm  

    …secular belief systems are subject to falsehoods.

    Falsehoods? I wouldn’t call it that. More ‘best fit’ explanations subject to review as more data is acquired. I can’t remember who it was, but I was struck by a half-remembered comment from a scientist who said of a current theory in physics, ‘All we can say for certain is that it is wrong. Our job is to find out where it is wrong and how it is wrong.’ Very Popperian.

    The RC and Anglican hierarchies are very slick and practiced machines who know when to trim to the wind. Very reasonable until the mask slips, as with the Bishop of Carlisle’s pronouncement last year that the lethal floods were God’s way of showing how being tolerant of gays is a sin.I don’t mistake that for a change of heart, just PR.

    The real challenge today, as you rightly indicate, is from the evangelicals who lack that subtlety. We now have three schools in my area run by creationist evangelicals. We may not be in Kansas, Toto, but Kansas is coming to us.

  114. bananabrain — on 15th July, 2008 at 4:28 pm  

    I don’t think that there is anything wrong with religious proseltysing

    gosh, i totally do. conversion is necessary for people who can only see one “truth”. how can one be tolerant of diversity if you expect other people to recognise that you have the “truth”?

    The authors of these books are probably just as bemused as I am that a watch that had consistently pointed towards a more rational future has inexplicably started to tell the time backwards. It is quite annoying to get caught up in this resurgent drivel.

    but that is predicated upon a fundamentally C18-19th viewpoint (not dissimilar to fukuyama’s “end of history”) where “progress” and “reason” take man to utopia. unfortunately, “progress” has been experienced too often by cultures outside of western europe as a fundamentally alienating and negative force – read karen armstrong’s “the battle for G!D” – that is where fundamentalism comes from. religious fundamentalists grew out of the protest movements against C19th western imperialism; i find it very odd that lefties should feel that they can protest against imperialism whilst expecting the globalisation juggernaut of the enlightenment to be accepted without demur. what is more, many of the assumptions that these authors started with are based upon fundamental misunderstandings of nuance within the religious mindset, lumping them all into voltaire’s “écrasez l’infame”. but religion didn’t start this particular fight – the enlightenment did, as a revolution in thought. what annoys me particularly, though, is the ignorance about the profound rationalism and humanity to be found within many religious traditions such as my own. i only have “blind” faith about 13 things and it doesn’t actually feel all that blind to me, it seems far more empirical. the idea that history is a constant move in one clear direction is philosophically suspect to the highest degree – teleology is a religious idea for a start!

    I have said elsewhere in this thread that I am not at all convinced that there is a need for gods to frame human morality.

    you only really need something to function as the basis for the “argument from authority”, the “because i said so”. other than that, it is perfectly possible to deduce the basic frameworks for morality given enough work. that is what the jewish concept of the “noahide laws” makes clear.

    Finally a lack of something is not the same as something. So atheism ain’t theism. I really wish all you folk would stop describing it as a belief when it clearly and simply isn’t.

    it is a *belief* that there is no G!D, or if you prefer, it is a belief about belief. you have “proof”. we have “proof”. you think your “proof” is better then ours and probably vice-versa. but apart from this, atheism *acts* like a religion – science certainly does – in terms of its structures, behaviours, arguments and preoccupations. so does communism. the trouble is that human beings are involved in all of these belief systems. if you want to really understand the philosophical basis to all this, i strongly suggest you read the atheist daniel dennett’s book “breaking the spell”, with whose conclusions i beg to differ, but with whose methodology and approach i find admirable.

    True, but it differs in nature from a belief system which includes supernatural entities in that a secular belief system only holds belief contingently.

    most atheists seem to require theoretical entities to exist; conceptual thought is based upon the ability to posit something you cannot *yet* prove, such as the existence of a “meme”, for example. memetics is not an especially respectable idea, scientifically speaking, but it is certainly useful and used.

    belief in the effectiveness of the scientific method in approaching questions about the world is based on the observable fact that it works.

    belief in the effectiveness of my religious system in approaching questions about the world is based upon the observable fact that my group appears to have been very successful in all measures you might suggest to measure whether it “works”; we continue to propagate ourselves, we’ve survived several thousand years of human society, we enjoy an influence out of proportion to our numbers; these too are observable facts.

    most of the fairly recent pronouncements by non-theists are a reaction to a more assertive religiosity which is flexing its muscles throughout the world and has a strong anti-science bent.

    i agree – but why do the non-theists have to have a go at those of us who are not anti-science? why do the non-theists have to lump me in with osama bin laden? that is what i am talking about.

    The catholic church makes accomodation with secularism where it must, but where it feels strong enough it is as authoritarian as ever it was.

    my jury’s still out on that, but i’d be inclined to agree.

    I mean, you really need to have faith when you go on a plane that science, mechanics, gravity, technology will not let you down (pun intended).

    i think you’re making a mistake here, ravi. what you actually believe in are the control systems of the human organisations that allow people to qualify as pilots, engineers and so on. when someone says “this is your captain speaking” i presume i can trust them. it is not the science that lets you down but human error in either understanding an application or competence. science itself is never at fault – only our understanding and measurement of it.

    The real challenge today, as you rightly indicate, is from the evangelicals who lack that subtlety. We now have three schools in my area run by creationist evangelicals. We may not be in Kansas, Toto, but Kansas is coming to us.

    and the wizard of oz may be a fraud as far as you’re concerned, but we’re the best friends you’ve got, if only you’d realise it. these guys are not on our side at *all*.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  115. Ravi Naik — on 15th July, 2008 at 5:43 pm  

    “Falsehoods? I wouldn’t call it that. More ‘best fit’ explanations subject to review as more data is acquired. I can’t remember who it was, but I was struck by a half-remembered comment from a scientist who said of a current theory in physics, ‘All we can say for certain is that it is wrong. Our job is to find out where it is wrong and how it is wrong.’ Very Popperian.

    Absolutely: sometimes science brings better explanations that fit data acquired. An example of this are unifying theories. But other times, new data acquired can mean your existing explanations are just wrong or false. And this is what makes it science according to Karl Popper: the ability to prove something is false by observation or experiment.

    The classic example that illustrates this is the black swan. For a long time, Europeans believed that all swans were white. This is because that’s what they observed, and became scientific truth. Until a black swan was spotted in Australia, and thus the original assertion was proved false. To prove the universal truth of the statement “all swans are white” would be impossible because you need to take into account all swans in every place in the past, present and future. However, to prove it is false, all you need is a single black swan.

    This means that in theory, the whole belief system built by science can be wiped off by a single observation. Also, there is no guarantee that the scientific belief system is the actual reflection of reality, but a crude representation of it. The difference between yourself and a picture your 3-year old kid draws where you look like a tree.

    Science has served us pretty well in regards to our well-being, and will continue to do so, thanks to its rigorous scientific method. But I believe we are still in Plato’s cavern when trying to answer the fundamental questions of life, and we will continue to be so, regardless of what anyone thinks to be the truth. I believe we are all delusional in some way, because everyone’s belief system are bound to contain not only falsehoods, but crude approximations of reality.

    The RC and Anglican hierarchies are very slick and practiced machines who know when to trim to the wind. Very reasonable until the mask slips, as with the Bishop of Carlisle’s pronouncement last year that the lethal floods were God’s way of showing how being tolerant of gays is a sin.I don’t mistake that for a change of heart, just PR.

    I would interpret this as the words of a silly old man. The idea that God kills sinners is not part of the Catholic doctrine. Instead, it focuses on judgement day: all your sins will be judged when you die. Your narrative is that the Church is hiding its true motivations, and then you speculate that sometimes the mask comes down and the ugliness of the whole religious organisation is exposed based on the words of a few men. The irony is that their (official) prejudices are very open: they oppose gay marriage and believe gay sex is a sin. This to me this is enough to be disgusted.

    I don’t mistake that for a change of heart, just PR. The real challenge today, as you rightly indicate, is from the evangelicals who lack that subtlety.

    Are you saying that priests in Catholic schools teaching Darwinism/evolutionism and every other scientific topic in school without any changes in school curricula for a few generations now, are engaging in an exercise of subtlety and PR? If anything, they are promoting science.

    I was surprised to learn how Kansas decided to add creationism as a “scientific theory” into science books. It cannot be *even* considered a scientific hypothesis, because if creationism is indeed false, there is no way that it can be proven wrong through observation or experimentation.

  116. Sid — on 15th July, 2008 at 5:53 pm  


    I don’t think that there is anything wrong with religious proseltysing

    gosh, i totally do. conversion is necessary for people who can only see one “truth”. how can one be tolerant of diversity if you expect other people to recognise that you have the “truth”?

    I know many people who have come to religion (Buddhism or Islam) through books. That’s still prosletysing.

    I don’t particularly think there is any premium to a religion which boasts of being non-prosletysing. All it means is that the orthodox nature of these religions was only open to people who were originally born into it by dint of some spurious spiritual elitism. The Jewish “Chosen People” or the Brahmin caste springs to mind.

  117. Ravi Naik — on 15th July, 2008 at 6:09 pm  

    gosh, i totally do. conversion is necessary for people who can only see one “truth”. how can one be tolerant of diversity if you expect other people to recognise that you have the “truth”?

    As always, there are benign cases where it is perfectly ok for me to agree with your belief system, if you make a good case. And cases where you belief system is imposed on me by force or fear. Which is bad.

    i think you’re making a mistake here, ravi. what you actually believe in are the control systems of the human organisations that allow people to qualify as pilots, engineers and so on. when someone says “this is your captain speaking” i presume i can trust them. it is not the science that lets you down but human error in either understanding an application or competence. science itself is never at fault – only our understanding and measurement of it.

    Science is a human fabrication to interpret reality, and it can be proven to be false. When you go on a flight, a lot of faith is required in regards to secular matters: not only that the pilot is competent, the technology involved is working, but that the science involved in building the technology is sound and complete for the task at hand, and can withstand most scenarios like extremely bad weather. The point here is that we put a lot of faith in science and technology with our lives.

  118. douglas clark — on 15th July, 2008 at 9:04 pm  

    bananabrain @ 114,

    my dear friend, you appear to me to be arguing as much with yourself here as you are with me. If I can tease out for a moment what I said:

    The authors of these books are probably just as bemused as I am that a watch that had consistently pointed towards a more rational future has inexplicably started to tell the time backwards. It is quite annoying to get caught up in this resurgent drivel.

    In only an oblique way can I see what you are saying as relating in any particular way to what I was saying.

    You are attempting to weave together too many ideas and concepts into a complete refutation which is frankly incomprehensible. One arguement gets in the way of another. The overall edifice seems polemical.

    Let’s try to discuss it an issue at a time.

    but religion didn’t start this particular fight – the enlightenment did, as a revolution in thought. what annoys me particularly, though, is the ignorance about the profound rationalism and humanity to be found within many religious traditions such as my own.

    Logic and rationality predate Christianity, obviously. It is also a light that was kept alive throughout the thread of history from then until now. Which thread includes more downs than ups it has to be said.

    If you care to cast your mind back over the broad history syllabus that was taught at school, more or less nothing much happened – except wars – up until about the 17th C. (And don’t you dare come back with the Monty Python ‘What did the Romans do for us?’ sketch.) Really, whatever progress there was was painfully slow.

    Serving gods, in all their glory, and particularily hierarchies of priests and kings, had failed to serve the rest of us particularily well at all. A freedom away from that mind set was a long time coming. And it was a revolution that was instigated, for the most part, by people who would nowadays be considered devout. You may find this interesting at least:

    http://www.timelineindex.com/content/select/366/44,1573,366

    Part and parcel of that rise is in mechanistic views – the orbits of planets, the classification of species, etc, etc. It is the start, sir, of the god of the gaps.

    The arguement has gone ever since. My point merely being that, in a gradualist fashion, the arguement between god and atheism went on within the minds of individual men and women. It took Darwin for instance a long time to publish because he was, in younger life a theist, and he understood the earthquake it could cause, despite his latter day agnosticism. The point being that the arguement was an internal conflict, not an extrenal one. At least, not at first.

    It is certainly not the case that atheists have a prior claim on rationality or logic. And theists are just as capable of wielding it as anyone else. Whether atheism or theism wins in an examined mind is another matter altogether.

  119. douglas clark — on 16th July, 2008 at 2:45 am  

    Sir,

    bump,

    sir

  120. bananabrain — on 18th July, 2008 at 5:21 pm  

    sid:

    I know many people who have come to religion (Buddhism or Islam) through books. That’s still proseltysing.

    only if the books are written for the purpose of winning adherents to the religion, explicitly or tacitly. that is the difference. if the “coming to religion” is an accidental side-effect of the education, then i don’t have a problem with that; it is making an informed choice.

    I don’t particularly think there is any premium to a religion which boasts of being non-proseltysing. All it means is that the orthodox nature of these religions was only open to people who were originally born into it by dint of some spurious spiritual elitism. The Jewish “Chosen People” or the Brahmin caste springs to mind.

    that can only be characterised as “spiritual elitism” if it means that you are effectively on a lower spiritual level, nor can you live as morally correct a life, if you are not a member of that religion. we do not hold this opinion, although i cannot speak for the brahmins. you don’t get more “G!D points” for being jewish; that is not our purpose. non-proselytisation is better, when coupled with a healthy theology of non-members of the religion, because it is the only guarantee that you not considered any less for not being a member of the group. that, for me, is fundamental to tolerance.

    douglas:

    In only an oblique way can I see what you are saying as relating in any particular way to what I was saying.

    in that case, it’s possible i may have misunderstood you.

    Which thread includes more downs than ups it has to be said.

    i think it has to be said that that’s your opinion.

    If you care to cast your mind back over the broad history syllabus that was taught at school, more or less nothing much happened – except wars – up until about the 17th C.

    are you being sarcastic here? perhaps nothing happened in christian europe, but i don’t really agree with that either. the “guide for the perplexed” was written in C11th and rashi’s commentaries in the C12th. what exactly do you mean by “nothing happened”?

    Serving gods, in all their glory, and particularily hierarchies of priests and kings, had failed to serve the rest of us particularily well at all.

    it failed to serve people who didn’t understand that this hierarchy was not infinitely scaleable. the ‘ummah or the church might work as a community, but not as a global empire. we were fortunate enough never to be overtaken by the idea that we could spread judaism throughout the world. a small piece of it will/did just fine. in fact, as you point out, the problem with hierarchies of priests and kings was and is that they are far too subject to corruption and much of classical, rabbinic judaism is founded upon this insight, which is found in the Torah:

    http://www.torah.org/learning/basics/primer/torah/kings.html
    http://www.vbm-torah.org/kings.htm
    A freedom away from that mind set was a long time coming. And it was a revolution that was instigated, for the most part, by people who would nowadays be considered devout. You may find this interesting at least:

    It is the start, sir, of the god of the gaps.

    which is why that was such a bad theory to start with and why i have always sought accommodation between religion and science, not conflict, like the dawkinses of this world. i’ll aim you, sir, at daniel dennett’s book: “breaking the spell”.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  121. douglas clark — on 19th July, 2008 at 5:36 am  

    bananabrain,

    Thanks for the reply, I nearly missed it what with all the excitement going on up above. The replies below are to specific points you have made.

    Has history itself not perhaps become more violent, rather than less so? That was what I was getting at. I am a touch astonished that you’d think it was only my opinion. Our capacity for violence now clearly outstrips our reason, and quite often seems to have large sections of humanity in awe of it. The Cold War is the most extreme, unrealised, example of that.

    If you care to cast your mind back over the broad history syllabus that was taught at school, more or less nothing much happened – except wars – up until about the 17th C.

    are you being sarcastic here? perhaps nothing happened in christian europe, but i don’t really agree with that either. the “guide for the perplexed” was written in C11th and rashi’s commentaries in the C12th. what exactly do you mean by “nothing happened”?

    Well I’m not being deliberately sarcastic. I knew when I wrote it that it was a heck of a broad brush, and that something must have happened in that sweep of history. The Magna Carta falls into that era too. But in my sweeping way, all I see is might being right.

    To what extent did Maimonides actually change anything? The same question hangs over the Magna Carta.

    It is, IMVHO, not until folk started to think independently, meaning outwith religious sensibilities that any sort of real progress was achieved.

    And that, frankly, does not deny that many of these people were of themselves religious. But it does mean that they had another idea in their head. An idea that was, at the very least, a gnawing doubt about the absolutism of the religious perspective.

    There are hero’s here, and villains.

    Another point which it is really just handy to post here. In Orwells’ 1984, he talks about the military boot being in the face of the populace for a thousand years. (I paraphrase, as I’ve leant my copy)

    But is that not what priests have done to us for three thousand years? In a more subtle way, perhaps, but with the same intent. To keep us suppressed.

    which is why that was such a bad theory to start with and why i have always sought accommodation between religion and science, not conflict, like the dawkinses of this world. i’ll aim you, sir, at daniel dennett’s book: “breaking the spell”.

    You’d never get an arguement from me – OK, never, is impossible, but you know what I mean – that Dawkins approach is anything other that confrontational. I completely reject it.

    I happen to think that whatever you think, and whatever I think is moderated by a common purpose. I see no animosity between us, it is, if you like an intellectual debate, it is not going to cause warfare.

    I shall certainly read Daniel Dennett’s book. Which is a surprising bit of synchronicity, as I’d only encountered Mr Dennett about a week ago.

  122. bananabrain — on 21st July, 2008 at 1:26 pm  

    Has history itself not perhaps become more violent, rather than less so?

    in the general course of things, definitely less. despite the major wars of the C20th, the sentiment about war on the planet in general is extremely opposed, compared to what it was in, say, the C19th.

    It is, IMVHO, not until folk started to think independently, meaning outwith religious sensibilities that any sort of real progress was achieved.

    nonsense; most of the great scientific achievements of the middle ages in the west were from the clergy and eminent religious figures, because as a “natural philosopher” there weren’t the artificial barriers that now exist. in the east, buddhism, hinduism, confucianism and taoism were in no way acting as a brake on what you call “progress”.

    But is that not what priests have done to us for three thousand years? In a more subtle way, perhaps, but with the same intent. To keep us suppressed.

    powerful people use the tools that help them manipulate power. in the past this would have been kingship and priesthood – nowadays it is more likely to be the apparatus of state and legislature.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  123. Sid — on 21st July, 2008 at 2:34 pm  

    only if the books are written for the purpose of winning adherents to the religion, explicitly or tacitly. that is the difference. if the “coming to religion” is an accidental side-effect of the education, then i don’t have a problem with that; it is making an informed choice.

    Yes but that’s not the point I’m making. More often than not, the non-prosletysing nature of some faiths emanate from the fact that the faiths were originally tribal or caste orders. One had to be born into a caste (Brahmanism) or a race (Judaism) to belong to the particular religion. The whole premise of Christianity was that Judaean god was open to Gentiles through Divine Love. Similarly Buddhism’s success can be ascribed to the break in Brahmanism which it offered to the masses.

  124. bananabrain — on 22nd July, 2008 at 1:23 pm  

    yes, but sid, judaism was first a family, then a tribal system, into which you could marry (which happens all the way through the bible) and then (i don’t know if this was in response to hellenistic proselytisation or not, but probably yes) a proselytising religion in the context of an idolatrous larger society, ie the graeco-roman, egyptian, phoenician and persian pantheons with their attendant immorality and disrespect for human life; this continued through the classical period, when we were quite liberal on conversion and, consequently, constituted the largest religious minority in the roman world by the time of the destruction of the second Temple. it was recent converts that provided much of the bums on seats for early christianity; they were open to this sort of thing. we *stopped* being a proselytising nation when the christians themselves split off definitively and started proselytising *us*, but the rationale that developed was “we don’t proselytise, because christians (and later, muslims) are basically monotheists and basically moral people, so they fulfil the noahide laws, unlike the romans”. the point was to create a society based upon morality, not immorality and this change had been, at least initially, achieved. there was no point going beyond that to create a universal form of judaism and for that i am quite grateful.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

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