Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Response for Mookie

Mookie made a comment on an earlier post that I found was very thoughtful and deserved a full response. Mookie begins with a quote from my post:

"No religion preaches at the highest levels that their faith is merely one of many acceptable beliefs; all religions are in it for themselves."

i've been thinking about this point, and im wondering - is atheism any different? does atheism accept other beliefs as plausible? can an atheist recognize the possibility of any (g-d based) religion as acceptable for its followers?

Since atheism is many things to many people, and certainly has no prescribed doctrines, I can only speak for my own views.

I take a positivist (or rationalist) view of knowledge, which is to say I believe nothing until it is proven plausible to me. I will not assume something is possible simply because there is no evidence against it. I want concrete evidence in all things I believe (and I do believe in many things), though I reserve a certain skepticism, even regarding the sun's morning rise.

I have yet to find a religion which can stand up to empirical scrutiny. However, I have absolutely no feelings either way regarding how others choose to view the world. I will also extend this courtesy to my child, as forcing something, even atheism, is counter-productive. So when it comes to defending my beliefs (as atheism is not a belief, simply a lack of one), I have only one that I would fight to defend: laissez-faire morality.

I believe it is up to us all as individuals to determine the small choices that define our lives. The legal system must be designed to protect the freedom of all people to choose what they believe, who they love, and how to go about enjoying their lives. So long as no one else is victimized, I believe strongly in the freedom of each person to do as they please, even if it harms themselves (everyone thinks drugs first, but motorcycles, rock climbing, and even casual sex fall under this umbrella).

While I do not object to people believing in something that cannot be proven, I do forcefully oppose anything that threatens freedom. Religions too often seek to influence others, infecting innocent victims (usually children and those most in need) with ignorance and self-loathing.

So now that I've successfully circumnavigated my entire ideology, we're back to the original question: is atheism self-serving and dismissive of religious faith? Many atheists are, and at a cursory glance I would appear to be one of them. However, my opposition to religion is not in what they believe, but instead in their actions. If religions could recognize their rightful place as bastions of moral discussion and teaching, I would have a far deeper appreciation for them. However, religions too often do things like meddle in government, legislating individual morality across broad populations. One might say I do not oppose religion so much as I oppose the actions of all religions. There is a way for believers to easily see what it is I am talking about.

For most believers, the bother over Scientology is not really the fact that Scientologists believe something different about the way the world was formed. It's not about belief in Xenu's braiswashing of thetans, or anything relating to what is written by L. Ron Hubbard. Instead, believers don't want people like Tom Cruise going on TV and saying psychiatry is wrong. Believers don't appreciate the way the Church of $cientology handles its money, or its government involvement, or any of a number of complaints. Many even say the church's treatment of its own members is abuse. In the end, mainstream believers may mock the views of divinity surrounding Scientology, but they truly have disdain for the empirically proven, earthly actions of the organization.

I have no doubt that many problems with our society are directly linked to our inability to move beyond the Iron Age when it comes to religion. Religion's views on sexual preference, for example, are acceptable to me when practiced individually, but it becomes an obstruction of freedom when believers band together to decide how everyone has to love. I believe pacifism is the only belief worth fighting for, and the only thing I cannot tolerate is intolerance. I often find it difficult to tolerate religion, but I have no desire to take someone's comfort from them.


  1. so first let me say that im flattered :)
    now my comment to your comment to my comment...
    i hear what youre saying and youre saying most of the right things (and which i agree with), but i still feel a little defensive. i dont think im convinced that your atheism doesnt view itself as superior to other philosophies or belief systems and im certainly not convinced that you view my religious beliefs as acceptable.

    you claim to be intolerant to intolerance and you say youre not opposed to the beliefs of others - but thats not necessarily the message you give off.
    i think the reason i feel this way is that you make rash generalizations that i dont feel apply to me or to my experience as a religious person.
    you start out by saying that when it comes to atheism you can only speak of your own experience. that makes sense and i respect that - yet, when you talk about religions you make sweeping generalizations, lumping us all into a homogeneous entity with one prescribed doctrine and one ultimate goal.
    you must watch Lost - you speak of us as `the others`!

    you say youre tolerant of beliefs but intolerant of actions
    but i question whether you are tolerant of others practicing their religion.
    i agree with you that individuals should have the freedom to choose how to live their life, but i also believe that individuals have a right to put into practice those choices, without being judged for them.

    i'm an orthodox jew.i love my religion, and i love practicing it. i can only speak of my own personal experience and perception of this religion, and i chose it because to me it brings love and harmony in the world and in my life. i can respect and accept that someone else doesnt see the same thing, but i dont like being judged for making these choices. i consider my choice as valid as anyone else's.

    you can understand that as a worldview or a lifestyle atheism is multifaceted and complex in a way that makes it impossible for you to speak outside of your own experience.
    but i dont feel that you give me the same latitude or respect.
    religion, to me, is as individual as your atheism is to you.
    i understand that religions have prescribed doctrines, however im sure you would agree
    that the most of these doctrines preach positive ethics.
    i dont feel i should be held responsible for how humans distort or interpret their religions - same as i dont hold you responsible for how atheists may distort that worldview to manipulate or harm others.
    my religion is the one im living currently - not the one a rabbi lived 200 years ago, and certainly not the one lived by parents who reject their child, and not the one of those who are cruel or manipulative or judgmental. when i speak of my religion, im referring to the one religion that i know - the one that i live. its my relationship wit the divine and with the rest of humanity, its my understanding and it reflects my experience. my religion doesnt influence or infect.

    if you want your atheism, at its highest level, to be one of many acceptable beliefs, then i think it must translate into accepting the choices of others and the behaviors made according to those beliefs. accepting that other beliefs are as valid as your own requires more than tolerance, it requires a lack of negative judgement or generalizations. I think it requires a dose of skepticism about your own worldview in order to create a space for the possibility and validity of any other reality.

    is your atheism tolerant enough to accept the possibility that my worldview is as valid and as correct as yours?

  2. To strike out on one's own is individualistic. To latch onto a large group is not. I chose to not latch onto anything; not Atheism, not Science, not even a complete ethical system. I know I am not unique and that many do as I do. Even more do what I do with the exception that they claim to be in a religion. As long as a person isn't donating time or money to religious agendas as a group (be they churches or American Atheists), I have noticed very little difference between atheists and believers.

    I guess what I'm saying is this: if you just pick and choose what parts of a religion you follow while claiming to be in that religion, I find you hypocritical. I'm not an Epicurean simply because I oppose superstition. Religions are diseases not to be taken lightly. Hearing cafeteria Catholics or pick-and-choose Jews talk about disagreeing with X belief or Y practice while simultaneously claiming to be adherents is a cognitive dissonance I cannot personally ignore in my own beliefs. It is tantamount to calling oneself OCD simply because you like to keep a few things organized. Its disingenuous and irrational, two things I avoid.

  3. i think we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    I consider myself an open minded person and I’m always curious to learn, but I’m having a hard time believing that as an atheist you respect the views of those who are afflicted by this disease you call religion. I dont believe im latching on to a group, on the contrary, the reason im an orthodox jew is precisely because I find it gives me to leeway to explore on my own what it means and how to practice it. the reason I can be an orthodox jew is because I feel that it allows me a measure of skepticism, and that in turn allows me to respect others and their views. There is no absolute proof of g-d or the validity of torah, and that’s what I like about it. Absolute proof makes me suspicious. Like you wrote in your post about science: “It must never become so comfortable with a “theory” as to accept it as the complete and total truth.” and I agree with that. Truth, to me, must include a degree of doubt, flexibility, evolution, movement. It allows me to believe without latching on blindly. it must include inconsistencies, and the ability to question. It allows me to respect others without believing that I have the one and only way. You can call that hypocritical or consider it a form of cognitive dissonance, or you might just be projecting onto others the exact behaviors you're afraid of exhibiting. it's a claim we can all make..

    i dont believe it is religion or the lack or religion that causes the miseries of the world. i believe it is poeple. i believe that just like atheism or religion cant fix you, it cant break you either. people choose to be fixed or broken.

  4. I think the problem is you're trying to get me to validate your beliefs, which I will not do. I don't respect your beliefs and I mock them in private. I find it necessary to tolerate all those who are different, but I don't have to respect, like, or even refrain from judging others... though I reserve prejudice for matters of choice, like religion, rather than race, gender, and age. I let the religious handle all the hating in those three.

    Also, you most certainly are latching onto a group by self-applying a group denotation such as "orthodox jew." I don't go to weekly atheist meetings where we discuss our cherished history of abuse, both as perpetrators (Soviet Russia, China, etc) and victims (every other time). If I did, it would be a religion and I would be part of a group. If you cannot see the difference at this point, I have to assume you are just trying to frustrate me by making it seem like atheism is some sort of faith, when it is in fact a decision to not engage in boogie-man group play sessions.

    I choose to engage in the realm of logic, and I know a believer can as well, so long as it is not regarding the divine itself (which is why you will rarely see me discuss the concept of gods, as it bores me... the same circular arguments I've had since I was a teenager). If you are offended by my use of the word "disease," I think you should consider a few things:

    - Homosexuality, drug use, deviant behavior, and even being a willful woman are or were considered mental illness (by religious societies).

    - "Cult" membership is considered worthy of such a title as mental illness, but the definition of "cult" could include every religion (especially in practice) that I have ever heard of.

    - Religions are not without their share of unflattering terminology for non-believers. Goy, apikorus, gentile, heathen, pagan, infidel, heretic... the list can go on and on if I wasn't going off the top of my head. None of these are meant in a flattering, or even neutral, manner. Regardless of intent, defining someone as "other" is never polite.

    - I'm not trying to win you over. I don't want you to convert to atheism. It will be much more fun, as time goes on, to watch as you wonder why nothing seems to be the way you thought it should. Even if atheism was a group, we wouldn't want you in it. Though to be fair, Atheism is so exclusive, not even we're in it. And no, this is not reverse psychology; I assume you aren't 5 years old.


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