By HonestDiscussioner

Religion, Philosophy, Politics, and anything else I'd like to talk about

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

LadyTigerLily and Antitheism Part II

LadyTigerLily was nice enough to take the time and send to me a long, thoughtful, emotional, and in my opinion very well-written and well-reasoned response to my last blog post on anti-theism. What I find very encouraging is that, despite our disagreements, we tend to actually agree on a majority of the issues we have been discussing. I'm going to go over her response and point out where I agree and disagree. I apologize ahead of time but I am going to go back and forth between addressing TigerLily herself and the audience in general.

"Yes, I am against dogma, but I am not of the opinion nor support the opinion that one should assume that every person who is religious is also dogmatic."

Neither do I. A recurring theme here is the difference about being antitheISM and antitheIST, the former being against religion and the latter being against religious people. TigerLily understands this concept, and I hope that I can make it clear that I'm not against religious people, but that I feel religion is a net detriment to society.

"I don't really think that one's capacity to be a good or a bad person is dictated by what their faith is."

Again, I agree. The "capacity" for good or evil is an interesting concept though. We all have good and bad in us, and some are naturally predisposed to one or the other, while others are taught to be more inclined in one of those directions, but there always exists that dichotomy. Even Hitler loved people, and even Ghandi was guilty of hate at one point or another. Now as the late great Christopher Hitchens was fond of saying, it is very easy to think of something evil that only a religious person could think of and yet it is at best difficult to think of something good that only a religious person could do. Now it is easy to jump to the conclusion that this implies that religion is always harmful, or always will be harmful, and therefore dismiss the original proposition because clearly religion isn't always harmful, but that would be a misstep. The point here is that religion is capable of causing good people to do bad things that they otherwise would not have done, it is a special motivating factor that is unique in its ability to cause harm but is not unique in its ability to do good. It is unique to religion to strap bombs onto children that you otherwise love, believing they will go to heaven. It is not unique to religion to love your neighbor, promote goodwill, and participate in charity. I have no doubt that if I were to remove all religious knowledge from people like Rational Roundtable or UNFFWildcard or any member of my family that they would cease being decent people, just as how I have no doubt that doing to same to a certain number of religious people would cause them to cease doing harm on such a large scale. Again, this is about religion being a net detriment to society.

"Judging from your comment responses to some people on your video, I am willing to say that in your eyes, I am probably an "antitheist", while in my eyes, you are not."

I cannot comment as to how you, TigerLily, see me, but I don't see you as an antitheist. You separate religion from dogma and don't believe that religion really matters in the end as to the actions of an individual. I am trying to convince you otherwise, however.

"From what I hear from most antitheists, what they seem to be against is theocracy and other blendings of public policy and religion. But not even religion. Most folks' experience with religion is specifically Abrahamic. When people say they're antitheist, what it often sounds like to me is that they're really just against Judeo-Christianity."

I am against Judeo-Christianity and Islam, but that is not the extent of my position. I am also against Hinduism and its advocating the caste system. I'm also against the Shintoism used during WWII (though I am aware this was a perversion of traditional Shinto). I am against religion in general because I see it as something that will inevitably lead to dogma. Perhaps Wicca is an exception to this rule, but that topic will come a bit later.

"One of the biggest problems I have with religion in general is proselytism."

It may surprise you to know this, but I'm not against proselytizing in and of itself. If you were convinced that super powerful aliens would rain down death from above against anyone who did not conform to their rules, you'd certainly want to try to convince your family to follow those rules for their own sake. I am against many of the methods though, especially the indoctrination of children that TigerLily alludes to. I am also against pushiness, hounding people who have already said they are not interested. However going to a public square and expressing your views is fine, as is wanting others to commit to your cause, so long as it is something the individual wants to try out or is open to discussing trying it out.

"In HD's blog post, he said that he was anti-theism rather than anti-theist. To me, this smacks too much of "love the sinner, hate the sin" that many pseudo-accepting Christians use about homosexuality or those who don't fit into their set of gender norms."

I can understand why someone would make this connection, partially because it is an accurate analogy. The thing is, on its surface there is nothing wrong with the "love the sinner, hate the sin" sentiment. If there really are demons in this world that are warping people into things that they aren't "supposed" to be, then the correct position would be to hate the thing that warped them, and not the individuals themselves. However this is only on the surface. Peel off the thin veneer and you see this phrase being used to actually "hate the sinner" and justify condemning them as individuals and taking away their rights or preventing them from getting them in the first place. If this is what I am doing, if I am actually using this as a way to undermine religious people, then I deserve as much condemnation and criticism for my position that is usually reserved for the "hate the sin" crowd. I would assert, however, that I am not behaving in such a manner and that I am very consistent in my beliefs that religious people be free to worship however they please (assuming it does not affect the unwilling) and to enjoy the same rights and benefits that any non-religious person may have.

"I don't think that the good things anyone does necessarily excuse or make up for the bad things anyone does. But they shouldn't be disregarded. Yet I think it's interesting that, just as the Christian who says people who kill and are jerks in the name of Christianity are not "true Christians", plenty of antitheists or people who hold antitheist sentiments can say that the good someone does in the name of their religion is, in fact, not to do with their religion."

This is a fair point to make. "Give the devil its due" would be an ironic yet apt phrase to use here. Some people have been moved towards good acts due to their personal faith. This is undeniable. The caveat though comes from my good friend themanofearth, the same one TigerLily mentions in her blog post, and this is that religion in general is something that causes people to do both good and bad things, but for bad reasons. It goes along with my own sentiments of religion so often being a crutch, that it may have been a necessary one where we were little more than a few hundred groups of huddled masses hiding from the lightning we did not understand. However we no longer need that crutch, and our continued use of it only inhibits us from improving. Again, to come back to my overarching point, religion isn't always harmful, but it does seem to have a net detriment on our society.

"From what your standpoint seems to be, you don't have issue with people who are moderately religous or religious and keep it to themselves and don't hurt anyone by trying to force their view of the world on others and don't try to justify hurting others with their religion."

I don't have a problem with them, but I still generally have a problem with their religion and would prefer if they came to the conclusion that it is false. Take, for example, RationalRoundtable. He goes, last time I checked, to a pretty liberal\moderate pentacostal church. He calmly and reasonably expresses his views and does not hate on anyone. However his monetary contributions to his church go to an overarching pentacostal leadership which promotes harmful policies around the world. Even if that wasn't the case, I have on several occasions noticed some positions of his based on biblican dogma that I disagree with, and for which there is no evidence other than the biblical dogma. I cannot recall these on the spot, but suffice to say I believe his energies are being misappropriated due to his religion, due to beliefs that are in my opinion not based in fact. Now he has the right to hold to these positions, and I will make no move to force him to believe or behave otherwise, but it doesn't change the fact that I disagree with those beliefs and actions, and attribute their existence to the religion of his choosing.

"I think I would not be incorrect to say that you would consider them to be taking a more philosophical approach to religion rather than being truly religious."

I regret to inform you that you would be incorrect in this case. The difference lies in whether "truth claims" are made. "Do what you want if it hurts no one" is a prescriptive statement, but it isn't a dogma because it is based upon a understanding of human interaction that we can study and critique and not an objective and unquestionable written standard. No matter how much we look into homosexuality, no matter how much we find how harmless and natural it is, the Old Testament will always say it is an abomination. No matter how many faithful die of snake bites, the New Testament will tell you you'll be okay. Those people you mention may have an interpretation that allows them to not be a direct burden or harm on society, but they are still constrained by the book itself. There are avenues that will, assuming they intend to try to follow that book, be forever closed off to them. The more they advocate for the truth of their holy book, the stronger the fundamentalist's claims become, despite the fact that they disagree on interpretation. The idea that this book is correct and cannot be wrong is strengthened. Now if a person says "I read this Jesus, and I agree with what he has to say, and therefore I follow him" THEN it is a philosophy. It is not based on any claims of objective reality that cannot be verified, and divine providence is not behind this position. That is where the difference (and the dogma) lies.

"I feel that blaming religion for WHY people are shitty to other people robs them of agency and responsibility."

Well that depends on the individual circumstance. Clearly, were to attribute everything good a religious person does to something inherent to their being and everything bad they do to their religion, we would be rather foolish. However you earlier stated this:

"So when they do good things based off what kind of values they consider important as they have been taught in a religious context, I don't belittle their faith by saying, "No, you do good things because you're a good person, your religion has absolutely nothing to do with it.""

Now here you are quite willing to give credit to religion for the good things people do, and in some (perhaps even many) circumstances you'd be correct to do so. The problem comes in when you are willing to give credit to religion for the good things people do but claim it is robbing them of agency when we credit religion for some of the bad things they do. Rather, I recommend a balanced approach, and evaluate each individual action as to whether it can be tied to their religious belief. I believe we will see a mix in each person, some of their good actions will be due to their nature and some to their religion, and some of their bad behaviors will be due to themselves and others a product of their faith.

Take for example a recent conversation I had on the HHS Mandate that Catholics were up in arms about. They were rather upset that they would have to partially pay for health insurance that will give women the option to use birth control. I spent hours debating that and other topics when the youtube user known as KabanetheChristian posted an attack on Sandra Fluke, and that debate covered many topics other than the HHS, including comprehensive sex education vs. abstinence only and the morality of using birth control. What was evident was that many of the anti-sex opinons were clearly based on the religion of the person advocating them. I can say this with confidence because some of them stated that as their actual reasons. Without their church telling them that life begins at conception, without the philosophical underpinnings of the church informing its congregants that sex without the intention of getting pregnant is immoral, they would not have those harmful positions. Kabane himself said that he had no basis to convince me otherwise other than to convert me to Orthodox Christianity. Therefore it is the case that the religion an individual possesses is often (but not always) the direct root of some of their harmful beliefs and actions.

"In my original video, . . . [I] mentioned that if your parents force religion and dogma and hate down your throat, if they beat you and they claim it to be in the scripture, I say you don't have a religion problem, you have a parent problem."

Again, it depends on the situation. Some parents have mental problems so severe that they do such things and latch onto religion as a good way to carry them out. Others are told that their child will go to hell if they don't do this, and they will too for being bad parents and letting the life God trusted with them turn away from him. So sometimes it is religion and other times it is merely a bad parent.

See, even if you have a bad parents, we have to ask . . . why are they bad? What made them that way. In most cases, when we delve into human behavior we find it is a combination of both nature and nurture. Now I do not wish to deny the nature side of it, but it would be equally unfair to deny the nurture, to deny the effect the environment has on an individual. If we take into consideration the nurture side of things, then clearly we must also consider the effect religion has in that regard. Sometimes it will be positive, and sometimes negative, but again my argument is that overall it will have a net negative impact on our society.

"Parents who would disown and shame and hurt their children because they're gay don't have a religion issue. They have a parenting issue."

I would ask, is it the case that every single parent who has disowned their children due to being gay would still have done it had they not been religious? That is a bold claim to make, and I think an inaccurate one. When you go to church every week and hear your pastor talking about how evil and sinful homosexuality is, and are told lies about how they tend to recruit people, or that they can being evil into your household, I believe that may have a large effect on some parents. Not all, some just find it icky, but given that many of them double check with their pastors before kicking their children out should tell you that this isn't ONLY a parenting issue. It's both that and a religious issue.

"Muslim men hijack planes and fly them into the World Trade Center in 2001, we say it's because of their religion. Stalin systematically starves the population of Ukraine and other satellite states of the Soviet Union in 1932 and 1933 but we don't blame Atheism. Augustinian Friar Gregor Mendel gained encouragement and inspiration from his professors and fellow friars, which led to his experiments with pea plants that gave rise to modern genetics, and we don't blame religion then. In 1937, a group of Western missionaries, based off a Jesuit priest's example in Shanghai, and a Nazi businessman created the Nanking Safety Zone during the Second World War to keep people safe from the invading Japanese. But we don't blame religion then."

As I advocated earlier, we should take instances on a case by case basis. Clearly 9/11 was religiously motivated, as that was the claim made by those who took credit. I doubt they would have done that if they didn't believe they would be rewarded in heaven, nor would the young children who have blown themselves up or ran across a minefield had they not been told that. Now should we blame atheism for Stalin? I don't see how. There are numerous things that could have prevented Stalin from being such a butcher, religion is not the only "prevent person from becoming murderer". To blame the lack of one particular belief would greatly over simply the situation.

Should religion get some credit for Friar Gregor? Perhaps, I'm not too well versed on that part of history. Let's assume that religion should get some credit for that. So too does it deserve credit for pushing against so many scientific advancements that contradicted the religious worldview. Religion does good things, but at too high a price. We can get a better deal elsewhere.

For example, Catholics do a lot of charity work. What is the cost though? Between all of the robes, the fancy buildings and other expenses, for all the money they spend on actually helping the poor they spend more on themselves, and in addition their help comes with an additional price of their message being spread to desperate people. When my brother goes to poor countries as a missionary, he isn't just going to help them out, he's helping build churches which will spread around false beliefs to people who are too uneducated to critically evaluate those claims.

"Devchelle came out with a response to a tag video from ZOMGitsChris saying that he used to practice Wicca because he found it to be beautiful and found it to be roughly in line to what he held to be important, but later turned away because Wicca offered no answers to his questions, which arose through questioning his previous faith. I understand that and can see why it wasn't for him, but I honestly don't care and am not offended by his criticism of Wicca. It's true that Wicca "offers no answers". It's not really supposed to. "

This is why I believe that Wicca may be inappropriately classified as a religion. Now the first thing one may think when I say this is that I am in some way passing judgment on Wicca. That I don't think it is serious enough to qualify as a religion, or that it is lacking in some way. Instead, I'm strictly speaking in the terms of taxonomy. There is no judgment passed between whether a hominid was a member of one species or another, but instead they each have different features that make them distinct. When TigerLily says:

". . . .Wicca has no deity it demands anyone worship and no practices it demands anyone perform."

I must wonder by what measure should we classify Wicca as a religion? It may be an incredibly meaningful entity in a person's life, even moreso that some other person's religion is to them. Again, this isn't a judgment as to what is better or more detailed, but simply a matter of classification. To determine whether it is a religion or a philosophy, I'd like to put it to what I call "The Difference Test". So let's assume that Wicca is a religion, I would ask TigerLily to explain how it would be different if weren't a religion. What features of it would change if it was instead a philosophy on life? If there aren't any, then it is a philosophy and not a religion, and if there are, then we can discuss whether those different features make it a religion or not.

This is a long paragraph to quote but I feel it is very meaningful, well written, and relevant to the discussion:

"ManOfEarth and I got into many spats about culture and religion being tied together. For me, it's difficult to separate religion from culture. My first experience with Christian intolerance was in second grade. My first friends were from many different backgrounds, and we were encouraged to learn about other cultures and other religions from each other, and no one ever had a problem with it. One of my best friends is Jewish, and at that time she and her family would talk about Jewish traditions around Hanukkah and Passover and we would play with dreidels and eat chocolate coins and latkes. A Native American friend of ours talked about her family's Cherokee traditions a different day. We learned about different holidays around the world, like Diwali and Ramadan. And everyone thought it was fine. That is, until second grade, when one of my other best friends (also a Chinese girl) and I talked about Chinese New Year traditions, where we explained Chinese phrases and customs, such as lucky numbers and symbols, like the Dragon and the Phoenix. I explained the numerous gods whose portraits we hung up and the ancestor-reverence we had and still have. One popular example is the Kitchen God, whose job it was to oversee the family and at New Years, a sticky candy is placed on his portrait's mouth and burned, so that he can report to our ancestors and to the Jade Emperor that we have been a good family (the candy is so he will only say sweet things). A boy named Scott, who I had up until then been rather close to, confronted me saying that my gods were stupid, they were false, and there was only one god: his. It ended in a shouting match that was broken up by a teacher and me crying. He gave me a WWJD bracelet that he'd made, which I wore home. My mother saw it and made me take it off, asking who gave it to me and why I was wearing it. She sat me down and said that if I became a Christian, that was my choice. But don't let anyone insult what you believe, or don't believe. What would Jesus do? Not base his choices off a bracelet. You do what you do because it's right to do, not because someone tells you. I never wore that bracelet again. Consequently, I never really spoke to Scott again either."

I would very much agree with your mother in this case, and your actions. This would sorta seem to speak towards my point though. It was religion here that broke up an otherwise close friendship, and at such a young age! Now you could point to dogma as the true culprit here, but then we have to go back to my earlier point that religion is a dogma producing machine.

As for culture being difficult to separate from religion, I understand where you are coming from and why you would think that, but in reality it is very easy to separate those two out. Just look at the secular celebration of Christmas. Mostly every aspect of it is a pagan tradition or has its roots in a pagan tradition or belief, and yet almost everyone who celebrates Christmas, even Christians, don't believe in paganism.

The difference is, while traditions and culture can have their roots traced back on religion, they don't rely on them. They don't need them. Religion is the baggage, not the culture or the traditions. I imagine you still put that candy in the Kitchen God's mouth, but if one year you accidentally place what you thought was candy but was in fact something quite bitter, you wouldn't actually be worried that the Jade Emperor would hear bitter things, because you aren't doing it based upon some claim of truth, but simply because you enjoy the action and its benefits such as the fact that it binds your family together and creates many happy memories. This is what culture does, and there isn't anything wrong with that from my perspective in the least.

"My point in relaying this story is not to denounce faith. ManOfEarth has made some comments about superstition and the like, which he is as against as official established religions. I get a bad taste in my mouth when I read those things, because it brings me right back to Scott, even though ManOfEarth isn't a Christian. It's the belittling of something that I don't even believe, in the sense that I worship or consider these figures to be real. It's part of my tradition and my heritage as an ethnic Chinese. It's part of my language. Don't lecture me about how dragons and phoenixes aren't real. Don't look down your nose at me about how firecrackers don't scare away evil spirits because evil spirits aren't real. Don't piss and moan about how my ancestors aren't floating around above us watching everything we do and keeping track of whether we've been good or bad. I don't care that you're not Chinese and you're not a "theist". Neither am I. But this is part of my culture. Don't tell me how there's no such thing as luck and that eating chicken and pork won't bring luck to you. Don't bitch about how numbers are just numbers and how colours are just colours. I fucking know that."

If it is indeed the case that theManofEarth is against those traditions, then this will have to be one of the very few times I've disagreed with him. If you are under the impression that to be an anti-theist, one would have to look down your nose at such practices then please allow me assure you that it is not the case. When one thinks of the quintessential anti-theist, I would assert that you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better example than the late great Christopher Hitchens, so please allow me to quote him here:

"I once wrote a book about George Orwell, who might have been my hero if I had heroes, and was upset by his callousness about the burning of churches in Catalonia in 1936. Sophocles showed, well before the rise of monotheism, that Antigone spoke for humanity in her revulsion against desecration. I leave it to the faithful to burn each other’s churches and mosques and synagogues, which they can always be relied upon to do. When I go to the mosque, I take off my shoes. When I go to the synagogue, I cover my head."

—Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, p11

Hitchens was very much against trampling on traditions, at least when those traditions did not barge in on other people's freedoms or have some other type of harm (he was obviously against traditions such as female circumcision). If you think that I would look down my nose at such practices, you would also be mistaken. Who the hell wouldn't want to light a firecracker anyway? Other than phonophobes of course. However, if you were to actually believe that those things were real, that the numbers were lucky or that there were Gods looking down on you, would that not inform your behavior towards others? If I was a Christian, of course I would be concerned with your immortal soul and work to convince you to believe to prevent you from an eternity of suffering.

This whole time we've been focusing on dogma; while dogma may be bad, it only because a real problem because it is a truth claim. It is an bald assertion of the way the universe works, and thus has prescriptive power. If it is indeed the case that hell awaits those that that don't ask for forgiveness, then one should advocate that people ask for forgiveness. If numbers really are lucky, then likely the way your traditions work should become the norm, or at least one should advocate that they become the norm.

The problem with religion though is that the truth claims cannot be challenged or changed. When people I know on facebook argue against gay marriage, it doesn't matter what evidence I bring to show that gays are a-OK, because the Bible will always condemn it. Thus your inclusion of Wicca doesn't really discount any of my arguments, for it doesn't really seem to make any truth claims. There are no prescriptions, and if there are, they are not asserted dogmatically. At best, Wicca is the exception which proves the rule.

"I want to take this time to point out a huge hypocrisy among even the most level-headed of my atheist friends on YouTube. Before, I didn't want to rock the boat and play nice, but this really grates me. SchizophrenicQueen's displeasure with the user BionicDance has largely stemmed from BD's equating being religious to having mental illness. "

The "religion is a mental illness" meme seems to be something relatively new. If you stretch the meaning of the term "mental illness" the argument could make some sort of sense, but then you'd have to classify my love for the color purple and virtually every other personality quirk as a mental illness, thus removing any bite to the argument. I will agree that it is a bit insensitive to use this line of attack, as well as inappropriate given that those that make the case are rarely qualified to make mental diagnosis. I have a BA in psychology and I'm not even qualified to make a serious diagnosis like that, not to mention that it is a great large brush stroke that could hardly be considered a nuanced opinion.

While I stand by all of what I just said, it should be noted that some religious belief is likely caused by a malfunctioning brain. There is a great deal of evidence that religious visions are simply tricks of the mind, but then again so is deja vu that we all experience, so again the point is moot.

"ProportionalResponse came out with a video entitled "Abby", in which he s defended our mutual friend Abbynormal0ne and what a great friend she is, what "internal fortitude" she has to stand up to Greg Monroe for saying shameful things about the suicide of an atheist, William Cardno. He turns around 6 months later and comes out with his video "Faith". In this video he says, "I have said many times, I cannot stress enough, that I believe faith is poison. Faith is the antithesis of every inch of progress that we upright apes have dragged up from the depths of the unknown. ...The point where faith transcends one's own fallibility is WHY faith is poisonous."

I don't actually see anything wrong with PR's position here. I can see similar things about my brother. I love my brother dearly, and I truly believe he is a good young man with a lot of potential. However, his mind has been poisoned by faith, and it dictates his life in almost every detail. It is a prison for him, one he has been told is his place since birth, and one he has come to enjoy and relish. It is still a prison nonetheless, and the fact that religion is a poison, one that he has taken, does not diminish his other qualities.

There are many people I appreciate that are people of faith, but their faith doesn't define them. It defines their actions often, it defines their beliefs even, but not necessarily their personality or their abilities. Nurture can only do so much, nature will always be able to balance that out to varying degrees. Thus, one can still hold that faith is the most terrible thing ever invented (not my position) while still maintaining a love and appreciation for those that practice it. One can be against abortion and still love and appreciate those that support it.

Now perhaps Greg is only against Christianity, I won't comment as to whether that is the case because I don't know him well enough to state either way for certain, but that doesn't speak ill of anti-theism itself, even if true.

"My point is and has always been that one's faith doesn't make or break you as a person. This goes for believer and nonbeliever alike. Fanaticism, jingoism, dogmatism, proselytism, and people who would rather put their heads in the sand than care about the welfare of themselves or others. That's what I have a problem with. Not theism."

Sure, it doesn't make or break you as a person. I still think the average theist would be better off not believing, as would society as a whole. That will speak more towards my future video\blog about religion being a crutch, but it would be too much to include that here, we'll just leave it right here.

Thanks for sticking with me on this discussion, TigerLily and readers alike!