“The Student”

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The release of Richard Dawkins’ new book The God Delusion (of which I have only read the first few pages) has returned my thoughts to the issue of what stance atheistic futurists such as myself should take toward the religious beliefs of our family members, friends, and fellow citizens between now and whatever singularities lie on the horizon. I have reached no definite conclusion on this point. I am torn between, on the one hand, (1) my devotion to the seeking of truth, and my revulsion toward the stupidities and barbarisms daily committed in the name of religion; and, on the other hand, (2) the innumerable small and quiet (and occasionally large and dramatic) ways in which faith is a force for good in the lives of people that I know. Perhaps this is all an illusion, but it seems to me that for many people religion is an irreplaceable inspiration to virtue, means of community, and source of solace in the face of barely endurable afflictions. When I read Dawkins on religion, no matter how right he is, no matter how devastating his blows, I get the sense of someone with a callous lack of understanding and sympathy for simple human frailty.

I thought this was an appropriate occassion to recall Anton Chekhov’s classic short story “The Student.” Perhaps I am wrong to see in it an acknowledgement of the importance of religious tradition (by an avowed atheist and anti-clericalist no less); to say what a Chekhov story is “about” is often to diminish it. But no matter. It is a wonderful story and worth reading in any case. The translation below is by Constance Garnett:

At first the weather was fine and still. The thrushes were calling, and in the swamps close by something alive droned pitifully with a sound like blowing into an empty bottle. A snipe flew by, and the shot aimed at it rang out with a gay, resounding note in the spring air. But when it began to get dark in the forest a cold, penetrating wind blew inappropriately from the east, and everything sank into silence. Needles of ice stretched across the pools, and it felt cheerless, remote, and lonely in the forest. There was a whiff of winter.

Ivan Velikopolsky, the son of a sacristan, and a student of the clerical academy, returning home from shooting, kept walking on the path by the water-logged meadows. His fingers were numb and his face was burning with the wind. It seemed to him that the cold that had suddenly come on had destroyed the order and harmony of things, that nature itself felt ill at ease, and that was why the evening darkness was falling more rapidly than usual. All around it was deserted and peculiarly gloomy. The only light was one gleaming in the widows’ gardens near the river; the village, over three miles away, and everything in the distance all round was plunged in the cold evening mist. The student remembered that, as he had left the house, his mother was sitting barefoot on the floor in the entryway, cleaning the samovar, while his father lay on the stove coughing; as it was Good Friday nothing had been cooked, and the student was terribly hungry. And now, shrinking from the cold, he thought that just such a wind had blown in the days of Rurik and in the time of Ivan the Terrible and Peter, and in their time there had been just the same desperate poverty and hunger, the same thatched roofs with holes in them, ignorance, misery, the same desolation around, the same darkness, the same feeling of oppression–all these had existed, did exist, and would exist, and the lapse of a thousand years would make life no better. And he did not want to go home.

The gardens were called the widows’ because they were kept by two widows, mother and daughter. A campfire was burning brightly with a crackling sound, throwing out light far around on the ploughed earth. The widow Vasilisa, a tall, fat old woman in a man’s coat, was standing by and looking thoughtfully into the fire; her daughter Lukerya, a little pockmarked woman with a stupid-looking face, was sitting on the ground, washing a cauldron and spoons. Apparently they had just had supper. There was a sound of men’s voices; it was the laborers watering their horses at the river.

“Here you have winter back again,” said the student, going up to the campfire. “Good evening.”

Vasilisa started, but at once recognized him and smiled cordially.

“I did not know you; God bless you,” she said. “You’ll be rich.”

They talked. Vasilisa, a woman of experience who had been in service with the gentry, first as a wet-nurse, afterwards as a children’s nurse expressed herself with refinement, and a soft, sedate smile never left her face; her daughter Lukerya, a village peasant woman who had been beaten by her husband, simply screwed up her eyes at the student and said nothing, and she had a strange expression like that of a deaf-mute.

“At just such a fire the Apostle Peter warmed himself,” said the student, stretching out his hands to the fire, “so it must have been cold then, too. Ah, what a terrible night it must have been, granny! An utterly dismal long night!”

He looked round at the darkness, shook his head abruptly and asked:

“No doubt you have heard the reading of the Twelve Apostles?”

“Yes, I have,” answered Vasilisa.

“If you remember, at the Last Supper Peter said to Jesus, ‘I am ready to go with Thee into darkness and unto death.’ And our Lord answered him thus: ‘I say unto thee, Peter, before the cock croweth thou wilt have denied Me thrice.’ After the supper Jesus went through the agony of death in the garden and prayed, and poor Peter was weary in spirit and faint, his eyelids were heavy and he could not struggle against sleep. He fell asleep. Then you heard how Judas the same night kissed Jesus and betrayed Him to His tormentors. They took Him bound to the high priest and beat Him, while Peter, exhausted, worn out with misery and alarm, hardly awake, you know, feeling that something awful was just going to happen on earth, followed behind. . .. He loved Jesus passionately, intensely, and now he saw from far off how He was beaten. . . . “

Lukerya left the spoons and fixed an immovable stare upon the student.

“They came to the high priest’s,” he went on; “they began to question Jesus, and meantime the laborers made a fire in the yard as it was cold, and warmed themselves. Peter, too, stood with them near the fire and warmed himself as I am doing. A woman, seeing him, said: ‘He was with Jesus, too’–that is as much as to say that he, too, should be taken to be questioned. And all the laborers that were standing near the fire must have looked sourly and suspiciously at him, because he was confused and said: ‘I don’t know Him.’ A little while after again someone recognized him as one of Jesus’ disciples and said: ‘Thou, too, art one of them,’ but again he denied it. And for the third time someone turned to him: ‘Why, did I not see thee with Him in the garden today?’ For the third time he denied it. And immediately after that time the cock crowed, and Peter, looking from afar off at Jesus, remembered the words He had said to him in the evening. . . . He remembered, he came to himself, went out of the yard and wept bitterly–bitterly. In the Gospel it is written: ‘He went out and wept bitterly.’ I imagine it: the still, still, dark, dark garden, and in the stillness, faintly audible, smothered sobbing.. . . .”

The student sighed and sank into thought. Still smiling, Vasilisa suddenly gave a gulp, big tears flowed freely down her cheeks, and she screened her face from the fire with her sleeve as though ashamed of her tears, and Lukerya, staring immovably at the student, flushed crimson, and her expression became strained and heavy like that of someone enduring intense pain.

The laborers came back from the river, and one of them riding a horse was quite near, and the light from the fire quivered upon him. The student said good-night to the widows and went on. And again the darkness was about him and his fingers began to be numb. A cruel wind was blowing, winter really had come back and it did not feel as though Easter would be the day after tomorrow.

Now the student was thinking about Vasilisa: since she had shed tears all that had happened to Peter the night before the Crucifixion must have some relation to her. . . .

He looked round. The solitary light was still gleaming in the darkness and no figures could be seen near it now. The student thought again that if Vasilisa had shed tears, and her daughter had been troubled, it was evident that what he had just been telling them about, which had happened nineteen centuries ago, had a relation to the present–to both women, to the desolate village, to himself, to all people. The old woman had wept, not because he could tell the story touchingly, but because Peter was near to her, because her whole being was interested in what was passing in Peter’s soul.

And joy suddenly stirred in his soul, and he even stopped for a minute to take breath. “The past,” he thought, “is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another.” And it seemed to him that he had just seen both ends of that chain; that when he touched one end the other quivered.

When he crossed the river by the ferryboat and afterwards, mounting the hill, looked at his village and towards the west where the cold crimson sunset lay a narrow streak of light, he thought that truth and beauty which had guided human life there in the garden and in the yard of the high priest had continued without interruption to this day, and had evidently always been the chief thing in human life and in all earthly life, indeed; and the feeling of youth, health, vigor–he was only twenty-two–and the inexpressible sweet expectation of happiness, of unknown mysterious happiness, took possession of him little by little, and life seemed to him enchanting, marvellous, and full of lofty meaning.

47 Comments

  1. “of which I have only read the first few pages” 
     
    “I get the sense of someone with a callous lack of understanding and sympathy for simple human frailty.” 
     
    Having finished Dawkin’s book yesterday, I can assure you he deals with your objection as he does so many others. There is consolation to be had in truth as well as fiction. Read it all, as they say. 
     
    And while you are at it, read Dennett’s less strident “good cop” version Breaking the Spell, if that is more to your liking although it is difficult to see how to sugarcoat a message like “there is no god, get over it” to be compatible with the human frailty that desperately claims otherwise.

  2. ..my devotion to the seeking of truth, and my revulsion toward the stupidities and barbarisms daily committed in the name of religion; 
     
    I would say that secular ideologies or atheism have also their share of stupidities and barbarisms and suppressing truths committed in their name. Apparently this is common to all human ideologies and beliefs, whether god/s are involved or not.

  3. There is actually one thing worse than superstition (i.e. “religion”): sentimentality. If some people need dangerous delusions to lead good lifes, those are bad people. Bad people need to be bettered, not respected or left alone. We should all bring out their murky superstition into the light and kill it.

  4. An atheist is not a very satisfying nor comfortable sort of being to be. I am struck by how intellectually appealing Buddhism is, especially for atheists. There is something in our nature that desires an authority figure, Jesus, Stalin, Hitler, Musolini, Mohammed – what have you. 
     
    “If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.” Albert Einstein

  5. TO label faith solely as a need for an authority figure is to demonstrate a profound lack of intellectual interest in what faith is.  
     
    Dawkins’ work in other areas is quite good but his views on religion are oafish. His the mirror of tose religious folk who insist that atheists cannot be truly moral.  
     
    And despite teh many times its been explained to me why professing atheism is not an absolute declaration of an unprovable cosmological statement identical in its scope to “There is no God but God”, I still see the parallel. So its not clear to me what rational high ground that Dawkins really holds here. 
     
    What is needed is for people of faith and non-faith alike to simply accept that they draw their inspirations from different wells, and stop trying to pigeonhole the other side. Dawkins book is the latest salvo in an ongoing polemical war and I’m frankly tired of it.  
     
    Since I am aware that he’s a GNXP blogfriend, I invite Dawkins to ask me ten questions of his choosing about my faith and my reason, to test whatever thesis he may have. I only ask for the right to ask him one question in return.

  6. I regret the fact that I may left the wrong impression – at least with Aziz, that faith answers solely to the need for an answer man, an authority figure. I did not say that nor do I believe that. We have other needs also, such as spiritual needs.

  7. Frank, I apologise as well for my first sentenece.

  8. Dawkins was being interviewed about his new book a couple of days ago here on British television. He made his arguments clearly and persuasively, and I for one have no argument with his arguments. Just one snag: his last answer included the phrase “We were not put on this earth to …..”

  9. What’s odd is that Dawkins’ works are what gave me an almost spiritual appreciationg for life as an event in the universe.

  10. I found Darth Quixote’s post and the Chekhov story he included to the point: what’s needed among our educated elites nowadays is not belief so much as understanding — understanding not only of the consolations of faith in the lives of ordinary people, but the central role this faith has played in the historical process that led to modern society.  
     
    Ironically, it is precisely the physical ease and safety which these elites enjoy in today’s world which makes religious faith such an incomprehensible phenomenon to them. Having none of the existential needs of their forbears and less fortunate contemporaries, they have, in their own minds, reduced the concept of “God” to a pseudo-scientific superstition.  
     
    Which is not to deny that one aspect of the Hebraic conception of God — as creator of the universe — played its part in the Western discovery of the unity of nature, and hence in the rise of science (I agree with Rodney Stark on this). But even so this was never its primary human or historical significance, which was moral in nature: God is Just, the universe is just, and in the end every man gets what he deserves. Or, in one of Marx’s less well-known formulations, “religion is the heart of a heartless world.”  
     
    Evolutionary psychology may shed light on both the human religious impulse and the moral sense in the context of primitive bands. But it has little to say about how these two dimensions of human nature were combined in complex, multi-ethnic European civilization, in which human bondage was the central fact of life for most of its inhabitants. That was a unique historical phenomenon which can only be “understood” in the Weberian sense — ie, intuitively, imaginatively, from within — but never explained scientifically. That it cannot be explained scientifically does not diminish its importance one iota however. Nor does it diminish the importance of science.

  11. Perhaps this is all an illusion, but it seems to me that for many people religion is an irreplaceable inspiration to virtue, means of community, and source of solace in the face of barely endurable afflictions. 
     
    i would (perhaps) quibble with for “many” it is “irreplaceable,” depending on what you define as “many.” the utility function is sensitive to whether the subset of the population for which religion is a necessary precondition of virtue, community and solace in the face of tragedy is 5% or 50%.

  12. Reale, you are a bitter child.

  13. It is interesting to me how, in our western culture, so much ink is put down debunking the “God” idea, but so little is spent investigating the self (which thorough investigation will demonstrate is also just an idea). And on the foundation of that unexamined idea a whole castle of suppositions are built. . .

  14. michael freeman thinks I’m bitter, but that’s not correct. I’m just calmly saying what needs to be said. Atheists need to become missionary, have to become more outspoken, have to become above all willing to offend.  
     
    Once upon a time the task of the atheist was simply to fight for the right to disagree with superstition. An intermediate stage passed when he had to fight to become respectable. Now though, his duty has become something else: he must now become intolerant. It’s time now to begin calling “religion” by its proper name: bigotry. And its adherents: bigots. “Religion” is insane, a disease of the mind. “Religion” is everything which values feeling above Reason, everything which refuses to give in to the better argument. “Religion” even makes the worse argument the better. “Religion” is a cancer on humanity, an irredemable enemy of all that is true, just and good. It simply must be rooted out.

  15. reale, you are painting with a real broad brush. i don’t know if it will get us anywhere as unbelievers to speak in such a fashion. i don’t think all religion is bigotry, or insanity. the key is not what to think, but how to think. 
     
    “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

  16. This is a struggle I’ve committed myself to, and there is nothing overly fanatical or overstated in what I’m saying. “Religion”, as I define it, is belief beyond evidence, or contrary to it. Such belief is also commonly termed “bigotry”. If beliefs of this kind had not been held, then racism, sexism, anti-science, quack-science, conspiracy theories and “religious” fanaticism would not have been the case. Bush would never have been elected president. Hitler would never have gained power. Israel would not have grown to become his spitting image. An no one would’ve had to risk his life telling people that there is no Allah and that Muhammed isn’t his prophet.  
     
    OK, I know this is a counterfactual, and thus unverifiable. I know of the shortcomings of science and its foundations. But I make a prediction: if science does not become missionary, and obnoxiously so, we will be defeated.

  17. Bush would never have been elected president. Hitler would never have gained power. Israel would not have grown to become his spitting image. An no one would’ve had to risk his life telling people that there is no Allah and that Muhammed isn’t his prophet.  
     
    reale, you have a record on this weblog, and i have overreacted to you before, but please, conflating bush and hitler, or israel and germany, is not the way to foster reasoned discourse. let’s move the discussion into a more abstract direction so that we can keep it from exploding into recriminations.

  18. “But I make a prediction: if science does not become missionary, and obnoxiously so, we will be defeated.” 
     
    Atheists and the science-minded will be “defeated” anyway, due to the birthrate differential between beleivers/non. You’re being ideological, think of practical solutions to problems.

  19. Well, you have to follow your own best judgement, but given how vastly the religious outnumber the atheists, calling for intolerance strikes me as being, if nothing else, a bit premature.

  20. If you think my manner of speech to much for this place, I understand you, and shall of course respect this. I understand most of the newspapers who never publish my letters also. But still, this is my sincere opinions, and as I guess you’ve understood, the main thing according to me is that they’re expressed in just this way. Furiously. To allude to your saying above, the most important thing is not what we say, but how we say it. People with only a weak will to truth will not listen to Dennett’s musings, nor even Dawkins’. They need something more like Lenin or Robespierre: threats, yelling and hatred-mongering. Of course, this is unnecessary when speaking to already enlightened, truth-loving people like the readers and writers of GNXP. But there is no harm in rehearsing it a bit, or showing what it’s all about.

  21. The inability for honest, public discourse on religion has halted rational progress for centuries. It is taboo to exercise critical thought with regards to religion. I’ll make the wild conjecture that this taboo–the idea of religious “tolerance”–is just yet another memetic trick that religion has imposed on outsiders to ensure its own existence/persistence. It seems to be the norm for atheists to proclaim, “I have no trouble what people believe as long as they don’t try to force their beliefs on me.” Fact is, we “force beliefs” on people every time we have a conversation. I don’t understand this so-called moral high-ground, as I find it immoral to allow that which causes harm (faith, in this case) to persist.

  22. reale, there is harm in this forum. it poisons the well as others react in like fashion. i would have deleted your comment immediately if your handle was not known here.  
     
    there is a time and place for rhetorical extremity, but the topics that we address here are best served by a little coldness of comportment. that is more an of issue than the fact that i have substantive disagreemants with your assertions. we can focus on substantive issues when emotional rhetoric is removed from the picture.

  23. “as I find it immoral to allow that which causes harm (faith, in this case) to persist.” 
     
    And where does this view of it being immoral come from? Is it not just an aspect of your own belief system? Is it based upon anything that is more real than the beliefs of the religious?

  24. as I find it immoral to allow that which causes harm (faith, in this case) to persist. 
     
    the relationship between faith(s) and religion(s) is more complex than the identity being asserted here suggests. just because many atheists are bitter and amoral does not imply all are, and just because many theists are righteous and unreflective does not mean all are. i suspect the proportion of righteous and unreflective theists is higher than bitter amoral atheists, but i also suspect that the majority of the individuals north of 130 in IQ in the world are theists.

  25. Actually, I’ve had the very same problem that I experience in this forum everywhere. Even talking to hard-line communists, very few see the point of demonizing superstition. Most of the opponents of “religion” think that it is already quite beaten and nothing to worry about, and in the special case of islam, that it only feeds racism to oppose it per se. But they’re wrong. Racism hasn’t been half as bad as superstition historically, and superstition is very much alive today – not just in islam. Look at socialism, with its unwarranted and contradictory belief in universal sameness. What’s this but superstition? Every time a do-gooder speaks courteously of entitites not supported by evidence, just because he or she thinks people would otherwise be offended, or because the truth seems too uncomfortable, the germ of war, misery and barbarism grows stronger.  
     
    That’s why it seemed as if I smeared Bush with Hitler – because I smeared them both with superstition. The one with the superstition of “God”, the other with the superstition of Aryanism. Otherwise, I have no special bone to pick with Bush. I could’ve just as easily said that Clinton would never have been elected, because I’m sure he wouldn’t. Egalitarianism is just as wrong as evangelicalism, just as factually disproven. 
     
    Finally, I believe in happiness. I believe that justice will be had and truth prevail. War, suffering, disease, yes, even age, will some day be history. But winning the struggle against unthought will be a big leap towards that goal.

  26.  
    I am torn between, on the one hand, (1) my devotion to the seeking of truth, and my revulsion toward the stupidities and barbarisms daily committed in the name of religion; and, on the other hand, … 
     
     
    It seems to me that those stupidities and barbarisms were actually committed in the name of improving someone’s reproductive success, and only dressed up as being done in the name of religion. 
     
    On the one hand, followers instinctively know that their reproductive success will take a big hit if they do not remain members in good standing, and on the other hand, leaders instinctively know that they can improve their reproductive success by manipulating the masses.

  27. keil, Razib: 
     
    Neither of you addressed the primary claim I made in my opening few sentences: critical conversation about faith is considered taboo. Your lack of attention to my central point appears to support my claim (instead you nit-pick about the origins of my beliefs and the morality of atheists, who I was not defending, by the way). 
     
    The very belief that faith-based beliefs are beyond criticism (and thus rational discourse) is irrational. Neither of you can even either admit or deny this, but instead ignored it, just as it has been for centuries. Give me a rational argument why beliefs based on insufficient or contrary evidence should be tolerated. 
     
    Whether faith itself is immoral, sure, I will gladly leave that up to debate, as one can observe or imagine some good from CERTAIN unfounded beliefs. I will even modify my statement (that faith is immoral) to instead say that continuing to tolerate faith’s immunity from intolerance is immoral. After all, we can’t even evaluate whether faith is immoral until we see through this smokescreen of so-called tolerance. 
     
    I whole-heartedly agree with Reale on this (even if he disagrees with me).

  28. By the way guys, if you can’t unlink the word “faith” from “religion”, maybe “superstition” (as Reale used) will help you understand my point.

  29. Reale, 
     
    “Demonizing superstition” is diabolically difficult. And racism has not been “half as bad as superstition historically…” How would one know? Data might suggest that racism is 57% worse than superstition, but it’s a tough calculation. 
     
    I applaud your “belief” in “happiness,” but God help me, it smacks of superstition.

  30. critical conversation about faith is considered taboo.  
     
    well, the god delusion was published, wasn’t it? anyway, it obviously isn’t taboo here. i don’t see what the point of that is. i am stated that dawkins is an important witness for atheism precisely because it is taboo.  
     
    yes, it is taboo among the unintelligent, but i feel that ‘criticial conversation’ is not possible in that case anyway. rather, it is what reale has alluded to, a propoganda war. 
     
    frankly, i care not a wit if someone is drowning in the lake of superstition. i’ll leave the task of spreading the ‘good news’ to others.

  31. also, L9, please don’t use the “you haven’t addressed my point” tactic. that’s tiresome. life is busy, and one needs to allocate resources. this conversation started while i was at work, so obviously i wasn’t going to get into a major discussion. this isn’t college level debate, the name of the game is not to “flow your argument.” it is to understand where other people are coming from and attain a better model of the world.

  32. LG, 
     
    There has been “honest” public discourse on religion for centuries, but the results have not always been… “progrssive.” I think the definitions of both “honest” and “progressive” are at play in this discussion. 
     
    It seems to me that the priests of “Reason,” should be cautious in their proscriptions. 
     
    For what it’s worth, I’m about a 5 or 6 on Dawkins’ atheist scale.

  33. It was only a “tactic”, Razib, insofar as I wanted to reiterate my point, since it seemed you missed it. Whether a failing on my part or yours, I found it necessary to do so. 
     
    frankly, i care not a wit if someone is drowning in the lake of superstition. i’ll leave the task of spreading the ‘good news’ to others. 
     
    That’s fine. It simply removes your right to complain about superstition-based initiatives that end up having a significant impact on your life. (Not that you have; I have no idea; I haven’t kept up on this blog much since you started letting others post on it.)

  34. It simply removes your right to complain about superstition-based initiatives that end up having a significant impact on your life.  
     
    oh, you’re god now? you determine what rights people have? a little imperious aren’t we? :)

  35. Old Dad said: Reale, 
     
    “Demonizing superstition” is diabolically difficult. And racism has not been “half as bad as superstition historically…” How would one know? Data might suggest that racism is 57% worse than superstition, but it’s a tough calculation. 
     
    I applaud your “belief” in “happiness,” but God help me, it smacks of superstition.
     
     
    I’m not opposed to evidentially unwarranted beliefs, as long as they make no ontological commitment. Science would be quite impossible if scientists never accepted unproved ideas, and tried to prove or disprove them. But what I meant here was of course nothing literal. I might favorably have used a better word. What I meant was, as I’m sure everybody understood, that I can see no unsurmountable obstacle to overcome superstition (which does not mean I think I know it can’t), that this makes me entusiastic, and that my motivation is the goal of universal happiness.

  36. Razib: 
     
    I remember reading a book on Mensa awhile back that was published in the early-mid 80s, it had a poll on religion among Mensa members (ostensibly those north of 130 IQ). 
     
    I remember that Christianity (undifferentiated between sects) was about 52%, with Judaism and “other” bumping up believers to around 60%. the rest were listed as Nonreligious, agnostic or atheist (can’t remember the proportions of each). 
     
    I tend to think fundamentalist literalism isn’t too much of the believer spectrum within, though.

  37. It should’ve said: “(which does not mean I think I know that no such a thing is there),”

  38.  
    I remember reading a book on Mensa awhile back that was published in the early-mid 80s, it had a poll on religion among Mensa members (ostensibly those north of 130 IQ). 
     
     
    saw the same poll. remember that mensa is filled with oddballs though….

  39. Razib: 
     
    Would oddball mean more or less likely to be religious? 
     
    On a more on-topic note for the discussion, I tend to be of the school that Dawkins is oversimplifying. I say that as someone who’s agency detecting device is fairly strong (brain phenomenon that in other days would have been construed as mystical experiences). Sometimes it’s damn hard *not* to believe subjectively speaking.

  40. Atheists need to become missionary, have to become more outspoken, have to become above all willing to offend.  
     
    Which reminds me to atheist propaganda under the commies. Atheism schoolings, constant dreidel about the evils of churches and opium of mankind etc. Made me interested in Christianity, though. I would describe myself as an atheist, but – sometimes I feel that I would be happier as a believer.  
     
    However, there’s one thing I hate even more than a proselytizing religionist, and that’s a proselytizing atheist. Generally these are much more unpleasant and bitter.

  41. I’ve just read that in Slovakia a new church was established. Its name is “The Church of Unbelieving Atheists”. They apply for registration with a petition signed by 48 000 people. 
     
    Real – here is maybe your proselytizing atheism…

  42. Reale, 
     
    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Human happiness is an admirable goal. Superstition often leads to human happiness and often to tragedy. Science…the same…because the same superstitious bastards wield both. That’s you and me.

  43. Funny how zealous the nonbelieving can be, isn’t it? Hmmm: “zealous” … “zealotry” … “proselytizing” … Words we usually apply to the religious, no?  
     
    Reale: “Finally, I believe in happiness.” Umm, I’ve run across several studies showing that for many people a sincere religious belief is an important component of happiness. So, y’all are convinced that stripping people of this sincere religious belief will make them … happier? Is that it? I dunno, it seems to me that if you really want people to be happier, you’d be encouraging them in the direction of sincere religious belief.

  44. It’s also “funny” how often the Fallacy of Equivocation comes up while attempting to draw parallels between religion and science.

  45. It wasn’t me who first used words like “true,” “just,” “good,” “bad,” “missionary,” “enlightened” and “demonizing” in this thread! It was — shhhh — the atheist!

  46. Michael Blowhard, see my reply to Old Dad.

  47. It is interesting to me how, in our western culture, so much ink is put down debunking the “God” idea, but so little is spent investigating the self (which thorough investigation will demonstrate is also just an idea). And on the foundation of that unexamined idea a whole castle of suppositions are built. . . 
     
    Right on to Matthew. Religion is more than any semantic construction of “God,” and goes to something much deeper in the human collective mind. And it usually ends up by articulating values: priorities for human behavior.  
     
    Can values be compared, criticized, contrasted? Probably not directly, but certainly the outcomes of values can be criticized. Taking something simple like attitudes to marriage: are priorities good sex, daily pleasure, career advancement, baby production, emotional support, cultivating patience and other character elements, security in old age, social status, wealth? The order of priority of these has definite social outcomes.  
     
    What’s interesting about modern Western society is that its God is invisible. Apparently, the Western crypto-religious ideal is to be like machine-like: an efficient economic producer and voracious consumer. Who benefits from that? It’s hard to say, because paradigms only make sense from within. In Western society, to be rich is to benefit, this is supposedly the greatest blessing. 
     
    But many people find that answer extremely unsatisfying.

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