Friday, November 10, 2006

I just got home from two three-quarter-days at Disneyland. Last night was all California Adventure Park and today, all Disneyland. It’s already all decked out for Christmas, and holiday carols are heard throughout the park. Christmas trees and Santa Claus are everywhere. The crowds were enormous, throngs of people just trying to get from one side of a pathway to the other. The waits weren’t so bad, mostly because I had younger children too afraid to see Pirates of the Caribbean, and we mostly went on things like Autotopia and the spinning teacups.

Today - Frances, my assistant/nanny, who came along, had an idea where each child got to pick one favorite ride and we all just followed that clear agenda (that meant six rides; four children and the two of us.) My favorite: The Tiki Room, OF COURSE. I can’t help but get all choked up in that room. And even though it uses technology from 1963 (as the MC told us at the beginning, like he was warning the younger ones that it would be archaic and hokey) to me it was as enchanting as anything else there. The worst moment of the day was waiting for an hour in the sun just so we could order lunch. But otherwise, a good time was had by all.

Okay, I am so thrilled with all the posts to my blog! Wow. I wish I could respond to every entry. I thought all day yesterday AND today about Anonymous’ comment, the first one. He or she wrote:

“If I get pleasure or comfort from my religious faith, logic is not likely to change me. Why, because the "pain" of self-deception is less that the perceived or real pain of facing reality. I think it's only when life throws us a "sucker-punch from god" (the seminal event I mentioned in the email) that the pain of continuing to embrace our faith exceeds the pain of abandoning our faith.”

Yes! Wow, I thought about that so much. Even though that wasn’t what it was for me, in terms of God. I really just learned way too much about science to keep leaning on the vague crutch I had, the political correctness I enjoyed, the culture I dipped into. It was truly an intellectual crisis where I really felt I had to choose between my mind and my learned reflex of belief.

But in terms of the pain/change equation, what about people who have, like… their children die? And this horrible event is what makes them stop believing in God. That seems to have been a contributing factor for Darwin. I mean, supposedly, their faith in God is something that would be quite comforting in that moment. Hmmm…

I guess in that sense, their loss of faith is like mine, that you just can’t be comforted anymore by something that makes so little sense. It’s just mine didn’t involve a crisis like that one. I mean, actually I did have a crisis, and I believed that God comforted me. And then, I analyzing that comforting made me Uncomfortable. It embarrassed me. It didn’t make sense to me.

But I didn’t really think about this comment, this statement of fact by Anonymous, in terms of God. I was thinking about pain=change comment in terms of everything else! How this applies to almost anything – and how there are things I want to change about myself – habits, behaviors, I mean nothing gigantic, but still. And I wandered around Disneyland thinking, “When will the pain of behaving in the way I have been be bad enough that the pain of changing the behavior be less painful?”

It’s so elementary, but so potent – just thinking about things like that. Really – it applies to my inability to organize the papers on my desk or to stop over-scheduling myself or exercise or anything, just anything. Pain is such a great and useful and wonderful thing. The pain of frustration is such a powerful motivator. But not always the motivator I wish it were.

I am really appreciative of all the posts about the second law of thermodynamics. I do understand it better now. And Dan in the U.K. talking about the faithful fogging up their arguments so quickly! Yes, I find that too. It’s laziness – it’ such slutty-ness in thinking. They will quickly move from one argument to the next, without fully understanding what they are throwing out and not caring that the second or third argument they serve up is contradictory to the one before it.

But whom I want to address right now, and really only for my own practice really, is Pontifica, another person who wrote a response to my blog. I am going to break apart her post and answer it piece by piece.

Pontifica writes:

“This specious binary opposition (God or Not God, faith or science) neglects the very many people who can unproblematically get behind both. Not all "Christians" believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old, for instance. There are many shades of spirituality.”

You are saying a lot of different things with those first three sentences. First of all, yes, you are right. There are millions of people who say they “believe” in science and in God. It is my opinion that most or nearly all of those people haven’t looked into either God or science very far. I was raised by people like this: well educated Jesuits who could debate with you with word games long into the night, doctors at the hospital who prayed with their patients before heart surgeries. These are the people who raised me. Well-educated, intelligent, mainstreamed – not fundamentalists or survivalists – smart people who had professions that required them to be at a high level of knowledge.

And yet, it is my experience that very few of them – including the Jesuits, I am so sorry to report – had really thought about the real cold hard chilly probably truth about the existence of a loving God and very few of them understood the nature of science. The doctors knew a lot of facts – they could use those facts to help people. So did the priests. But they were traders in bits of knowledge. Not people who thought deeply about the theory behind it or the implications of their belief or knowledge as it applied to God. Or even people (like the priests) who were capable of or inclined to confront the likely truth about what their faith was really based on. How that evidence stood up to the standards of good evidence. How what we all know about psychology and human behavior made the invention of God inevitable – or at least much more likely – than their Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.

Because, as Anonymous so rightly pointed out: what was in it for them to let their minds confront this? There would be too much pain in it, and for what? So they could become atheists – the most reviled group in America? A group that association with makes them unable to be elected to office? Un-trustable? They would be out of step with their culture. They would be out of their religion, the religion they loved. They would not be able to call upon God in times of crisis. They would not be able to let a vague sense that the world was in some way pre-ordained (the poor, the unjustly punished, etc.) allow them to look the other way. (And think about it. People who are attracted to the priesthood are attracted, probably, partially because they enjoy the "trust" that this job gives them. They like being this symbol of trust to a community. Why would they do something that would jepardize this -- just so that a few, a very few people who HAVE thought this through would have more admiration for them?)

There is SO MUCH that not-really-thinking-it-through provides. There is a big gigantic incentive not to look at this stuff deeply. The facts are profoundly unsettling. Our vulnerability, in this spinning world without God, is frightening. Denial of our vulnerability is necessary on some level, just to get through the day. Religion offers us that denial, it gives us so much. It’s perfectly reasonable that people feel they can accept religion and science. But that doesn’t make them compatible or meant that the person really understands either line of thinking very deeply.

Then, when you say that people have “many shades of spirituality.” I really don’t like that you throw that sentence in there. What do you mean by spirituality? A sense of wonder and connection to the material universe? That’s what I feel. I think the feelings I feel when I contemplate myself as a living, breathing, temporary piece of matter to be deeply profound. Profound in a way that most people would call it spiritual. The word spiritual is used to mean so many things that it’s really wrong to label a person who doesn’t believe in God as a person who is not “spiritual” in the way that you mean “spiritual.” I try not to use that word, in order not to be confusing. But the experiences I have, the feelings I have, the connections I feel, are all things that I would have used the word “spiritual” to describe before I became careful about the words I used.

Pontifica continues:

“ I find it reductive and insulting to paint all people who believe or have faith in a force greater than our little, temporary, individual selves as stupid, weak, and unable or unwilling to let go of a crutch.”

What you are saying, when you make a statement like that, is that people who don’t have faith are people that have an overly inflated view of human intelligence, and in particular, their own human intelligence. You are basically saying that people who believe in God are people who are humble, and see that humans are small and limited in awareness. But the truth is that the opposite is really true. People who believe in God are people who think that their limited ability to intuit truth should take precedence over a concillience of evidence pointing in another direction: towards a world that evolved without the help of a God, without the intervention of God, and without the guidance of God.

Pontifica: “If you don't believe in god (and believe me, many Christians and other people of faith don't believe in a vengeful, bearded guy passing judgments and thunderbolts from a pink cloud either), it doesn't somehow make you smarter than and superior to those who do. I truly admire you, Julia, and yet I seem to pick up that this is really what you and your atheist friends think.”

This is a hard one. It really falls under the heading of an ad hominum attack. I mean, I don’t think it necessarily makes me smarter. I think I am right about this. I think I am right that there is no God. I may be wrong. Or I may be not as smart as you in a hundred different areas. Or maybe I’m right. But this kind of stinging statement is made so that a person is humbled, and fearful that others think that “they” think they are smart. I think it’s insufferable to be around know-it-alls or people who have an inflated sense of their own intelligence, just like anyone is. I think it’s really beside the point. And this kind of remark is made to let the person know that if they come off sounding like they think they are so smart, others won’t like them. What does that prove? Maybe they are smarter. Maybe they aren’t smarter, but they are right! Maybe the smarter people are wrong. What difference does that make? I’m not sure. I just hate statements like that.

Pontifica continues: "This seems just as wrongheaded as the so-called religious right (which is just about as un-Christian a bunch of villains as you could hope to find) claiming that anyone not in lockstep with their worldview is going to hell."

Why do you think the religious right is un-Christian? Jesus said in Matthew, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus told parables where he asked people to bring those that did not have allegiance to him and slaughter them. That is Christianity. Granted, there are a lot of admirable, or loving things that Jesus said too. The point is that… well, what is Christian anyway? I was brought up on what I consider to be the best type of Christianity – the Jimmy Carter – Vatican II type of Christianity of my Jesuit high school. I loved their view of the world and their call to social action. I liked what kind of social movements they were part of in Central America. They felt their worldview was inspired by Jesus. So do the fundamentalists who would happily see me burn to death in a rapture. Who is Christian? All of them, or none of them. The bible gives you a smorgasbord of views, a Jesus that is a character that could say wildly divergent things – a hodgepodge of views. Movements pick and choose based on what they want their church or personal view to be. Who is right? How can you say what is right when it’s a mythical character (most likely) who has had a stew of ingredients thrown into his character profile. Christianity can be anything and still be Christian as far as I can tell, after reading the Bible.

Pontifica: “You can't prove that god, or, let's say, an eternal force of love and creative intelligence of which we are all a part, perhaps, doesn't exist - any more than you can prove that it does. So if you're an atheist, you're just like every single other person on the planet: someone with a theory. No more, no less, no smarter and no dumber. Maybe we should all label ourselves agnostics. Because no one knows!”

Yes, yes. I can’t prove that there isn’t a purple dinosaur in my garage either (to use the classic analogy). I mean, the dinosaur is invisible, so I can’t see him. But is he there? You can’t prove a negative! Well, yes, you are right. I can’t definitively prove that the invisible purple dinosaur is not there. But I would say that the probability that the dinosaur is not there is really high. I am going to conduct my life under the most likely scenario – that the purple dinosaur is not in the garage. I think that makes me smarter. Yes, I should – technically – be agnostic about the existence of the invisible purple dinosaur, but then I might be afraid to enter the garage – not committing to any one view on whether the dinasaur exists. And that makes my life very limited. Because my garage has lots of space that I can use! Blah, blah, blah. I can’t go on. I just had to take a stab at that one.


Irregular Joe said...

Hi, Julia!

I don't understand why someone like Pontifica would bother posting a reaction to your blogs. I mean, I do understand that many people seek out intellectual stimulation with others who do not share their views, but some of her words seem to be condescending, which, to me, doesn't track with one who desires intellectual discourse. She seems threatened by what "you and your aethiest friends" say.

No matter what Pontifica and others like her say, I will still continue to believe that Alanis Morissette is God.

LeftDog said...

A fine job of responding to Pontifica. I know it isn't easy, it gets so tiring dealing with people like that who aren't really looking for illumination or even a real discussion.
I just got your "Letting go" CD in the mail yesterday. Sadly, as a current Grad student I don't think I'll have time to listen to the whole thing till Thanksgiving, but I'm still glad I got it! Thanks so much for sharing so much and being a voice for us realists.

Atheism Quotes said...

Very nicely done, Julia!

I should point out that my Jesuit high school education was probably the single most important aspect of me realizing that my lifelong lack of actual faith was really atheism. By teaching me about all Christian religions, followed by all major world religions, I realized that no religion is any more invalid than any other. And since they all can't be right, they're all wrong.

I never felt faith. Ever. I went to church, was an altar boy, could even say the Latin parts of the mass from memory. But I never *felt* anything. Ever.

I guess I never "turned" atheist. I always was, and just needed to figure out that it's ok to not believe. My parents were great, and never forced religion on me.

As Stephen Roberts said:
"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

That sums up my atheism. For me, god was created by scared human minds who needed to explain the (at the time) unexplainable. Almost every culture did it, and Christianity is where it is now thanks to the Roman Empire, and the Europeans then settling America. But the myths of Christianity make no more sense than the Norse mythology, the Egyptian mythology, or any other set of supernatural beliefs.

Belief in the supernatural is a natural need of our conscious mind. And since most religion is presented to children during their most formative years, they accept it without thinking. And judging how hard it is for many atheists to break free of religion's hold, it's obvious that it's deeply ingrained. Yes, people find religion later in life, but how many of those are because they experience something so horrible they feel they can't deal with it on their own?

And I totally agree about proving a negative. Just because many people believe in god doesn't give us any more reason to disprove it than a belief that only one person has. As you said, there is no burden to disprove anything.

Thank you again for being out here for us! :-)

Atheism Quotes said...

From Isaac Asimov:
"I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say that one is an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or agnostic. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."

bookeraptor said...

The invisible-purple-dragon-in-the garage analogy is such a great one. I first ran into it in Carl Sagan's book The Demon-Haunted World and it puts god belief on a footing that believers can relate to as an outsider. Because it seems that as soon as you use the word "god" in any discussion, all sorts of associations are brought into play that can obstruct the point. But what Sagan said that really nails it down is, "Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?"
One can imagine the universe populated with all sorts of improbable beings, but to feel justified in believing they are there just because it can't be proved they aren't there is meaningless and irrational and ultimately, for me anyway, a waste of time. My life will never be long enough to understand all the things that ARE known and CAN be known. And as tragic as that seems sometimes, it's enough for me.

Steve said...


I so appreciate what you are doing in being open and honest about your skepticism and non-belief. It takes a lot of courage in our current society. You also have to spend a great deal of time explaining yourself and debating with people who are threatened by your beliefs. That must get tiresome!

Just finished reading Sam Harris's "Letter to a Christian Nation". Great book!

Thanks for speaking out for reason--

Anonymous said...


Ok, I’m the guy that posted yesterdays comment about pain being the catalyst for change…here’s a nugget on me and how pain played a key role in my path to atheism…

After my dad died and my mom was diagnosed with cancer and I was back in college I met this incredible girl, Theresa, who, for the first time, I could really open up and share all the incredibly painful events of my parent’s illnesses with. She was also a Catholic so we had that in common too. When it was clear that my mom’s illness was terminal, she would say things meant to comfort me like, “When God closes a door he opens a window”. Well I just assumed that Theresa must be that window because well, that’s what I wanted to believe. So, about a year after my mom died, when Theresa let me know that marital bliss was not in the cards it was all so confusing in a religious faith sort of way. Pain, anger and the need to make sense of it all were the ingredients that led me to really question my faith deeply for the first time. Until then I’d just accepted it, embraced it really, warts and all. Don’t get me wrong, I’d questioned my faith in a shallow way such that I was not a down-the-line sort of Catholic but more the ala carte variety, picking and choosing the things I liked. Anyhow, the emotional pain I was going through – unable to reconcile all the crap I’d been through with my parents and then to have this one person who I really, really loved not want to marry me - forced me to question my faith in a deep way like I’d never done before. It was sort of like being in the Wizard-of-Oz and you finally say, “Damn it, I’m going to look behind that curtain and see what’s really going on.” Well, needless to say it was life altering and caused me to reject the Catholic dogma I’d been raised to believe. It was ultimately very liberating. Here’s the thing, I’m pretty sure if I’d not experienced that painful sequence of events, I’d still believe all the Catholic dogma I was raised on.

So, what’s the point of sharing all this… As much as I’d like to convert the religious to atheism, I’ve never found logic, by itself, to be an effective approach. Religious faith is not logical so don’t expect logic alone to be a very effective tool. If you can’t find someone’s pain button – the thing that really makes the status quo of their faith painful – you’re not likely to change their mind.

Again, just my $0.02.

Norma Manna Blum said...

Listen kids... the rituals, the liturgy, the catechism, the indoctrinations of Roman Cathoicism (or any other body of religious dogna ) is NOT, repeat NOT, synonomous with either the concept of a god (or gods) , or his/her/ its existence in the arena of our or our planet's existence.
Two separate subjects.
On the one hand there is our universe in all its glory waiting to be explored and reexplored, and on the other there is the body of nonsense (or ideas if one is more generously inclined) that has grown up around our fears, ignorance, superstitions and disappointments and which have been used against the weak and powerless by the strong and the power hungry.
Skepticism based on disappointment that the myths inflicted upon us iin childhood have nothing to do with the way life turns out is personal: it has nothing to do with the workings of the universe.
Moreover, the beating of tom-toms to either ward off the devil of belief because of personal chagrin, pain, or whatever other anecdotal experiences one has suffered through, does not support or disallow the supernatural, i.e.e god.
Because whether god exists or not is not going to be decided by one human persuading another through argument or the sharing of experience. in the form of anecdote.
In other words, god's existence, and/or faith in the benevolence or enmity of good gods or bad is not going to be decided on the basis of a plebiscite.
""Does god exist?" is NOT the Miss America pageant or some other example of decision by popular approval.
And conversely the rejection of "Origin of Species" because it has no moral context comparable to God's having written and delivered the text of Torah to Moses in person, or Jesus dying for the sins of mankind, is hardly of any importance in the actual schematic of life.
That man gives up god because real life doesn't meet the promises that were part of the innocence of childhood, is an example of human behavior,.
But it has nothing to do with why we are here, and where we are going, and why.
What we BELIEVE has nothing to do with reality; what we do... is really what counts.
Unless, unless, unless... we get too carried away by DOING unto others what they may not want done unto them.
That - what is really religion's major contribution to the human species - is what gets us into deep shit every time: crusades, pogroms, jihads, can be attributed such an idea, just as can the soup kitchen.
Forget about god, leave his/her/its existence aside as something over which we have less control than over most of the other things that befall us between conception and death.
Let's move on to other less divisive matters of human consilience.
"Splendor in the grass!
Glory in the flowers.:"

Atheism Quotes said...

The whole point of Kevin Smith's "Dogma" is that you can ruin a perfectly good faith by putting a religion on top of it :-)

SweetThursday said...

Are you sure Barney isn't camping out in your garage?

I mean where else did he go?

It's all about Elmo these days.

Funny how, as a child, you can believe some brilliantly colored fake fur covered hand or human is real person. And even a representation of it lying on your bed or that you cuddle with at night has a power to help you feel not alone.

Then little Johnny Paper outgrows Puff, which is sad and painful, but it happens to us all.

Except with God.

Sheldon said...

Hey "Norma Manna Blum,"

Is that the approach you take to cancer, world poverty, women's rights, and other ills? Just ignore them if they're divisive or disturbing?

Yours is a very poetically written admonition (see how I mirrored the prose there), but it's not very fruitful or realistic. And don't be so fast to label us all as a bunch of sour-grapes intellects, licking our religious wounds. Some of us are just pissed off that theists get to run the world based on nonsense, and invision a world where decisions are made base upon the facts, rather than on emotion, mythology, and superstition.

Joe said...

I know someone who truly questioned her faith -- admittedly not injected in a particularly benign way -- when her dad suffered and died from cancer. Why would God do this, etc.

[This raises flags in this blog, obviously.]

A familiar cry, but one that seems self-centered. It requires -- and current events underline we can do this all the time -- basically ignoring all the other suffering of similar loved ones. Your loved one is special; that is when you are to question your faith.

It's like something that recently played on Your Call, a lib. radio station out of San Fran. An evangelist leader was on showing they too are Green, but did note that many evangelists think more of the personal as to the group wrong. One things of the plank in the eye analogy in the gospels ...

This is ultimately selfish. As to using faith to ease one's pain etc., the danger is that said faith can be abused and at some point -- see above -- can also be limiting, since it often is actually a bit too shallow.

I know selfish/shallow, so when I see it in others, a light goes off. We all are a bit selfish, but we should be aware of what we are doing.

Norma Manna Blum said...

No sir.
It is NOT the same approach I take to cancer and/or any other of the earth's ills, not those I CAN do anything about, nor those I CAN'T do anything about.
Nor is it the approach I actually take to most aspects of the religious divide with which I have lived (as do we all) for my entire life.
De facto my problem is much the opposite: I don't ignore most of what the better part of sense OR valor would dictate is none of my business.
I am old enough to know that adamant belief in god or gods cannot be argued with except as a sport: one can't effectively argue with what another person FEELS.
For instance at this moment I have gotten the feeling that having read what I wrote this afternoon, you decided that as I apparently wasn't entirely FER ya then I was entirely AGIN ya.
That said and to return to the subject at hand which to me seems to be a confusion between giving credence to the possibility of preternatural influence in the creation and perpetuation of the universe and the influence in our lives of the dogmas imposed upon us, initially in the bosom of our families and later by the conventions of the larger society in which we find ourselves,.
The existence of god cannot, of course, be either proven or disproven, but within our adult communities of choice the question is easy enough to ignore - what for instance does it matter to me that someone else who has little to do with me believes in fairies or elves or gods, when I don't and live my personal life accordingly?
However, when it comes to the entirely different problem of religious dogma that permeates our institutions and is imposed by its most powerful adherents on the fabric of society, i.e., in public observances, prayers, celebration, the teaching of science in schools, the intrusion into necessary sex education for adolescents, imposed attitudes on female reproductive rights, racism, exceptionalism, and "god on our side" as justification for collective violence, the negative effects CAN be proven, and should be emphasized, and militated against.
Bringing the existence of god into the mix serves no purpose other than as a satisfying personal statement which for me is "*I* don't believe that there is a god,and I never for a moment of my life believed that there is a god" but that is another step and as a public expression against the power of religion in our society only complicates the struggle against that power in what SHOULD be, MUST be, a multicultural, knowledge seeking, sexually liberated, progressive society.
In other words, in case I am not expressing it very well, atheism is relatively simple being merely a disbelief in a god, nothing more.
It's not a vehicle for working out our gripes against what was imposed on us in childhood and involves the sticky and complicated issues of familial loves, hates, irritations, disappointments and dissatisfactions.
Is that clearer or does it muddy the waters of dissent even more?

Kergillian said...

For years I’ve been struggling with my faith.
I was raised Christian, but from an early age I figured out that the Bible was just a book, a work of fiction written by savages seeking to understand their place in the world. Even so, I found it impossible to give up my faith. I was comforted by the thought of an omnipotent Parent figure watching over me and keeping me safe.
As time went on, I came to realize that it wasn’t just the Bible that was screwy. I had a job at a TV station that aired a lot of religious programming, and I came to realize that religion was just an exercise in social control. Another way to separate “Us” and “Them”. I came to realize that all religions, even as they gave lip service to brotherly love, really taught hatred and intolerance.
But I still refused to give up my faith in a God, even though it was getting harder and harder to reconcile what I knew and what I wanted to believe.
Then last year I caught Letting go of God on This American Life. It really stirred up quite a bit inside me, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then.
I began to explore my feelings more deeply and at the same time I began to explore atheism. I began to realize I was an atheist, but I was afraid to admit it. I imagine I felt about my atheism the way Ted Haggerty feels about his homosexuality.
Since then with the help of thinkers such as Jonathan Miller and Richard Dawkins I began to understand my own non-belief, and grow comfortable with it.
I feel like I’m waking up for the first time. The world has never felt more real to me.
I want to thank you for sharing your awakening, for having the courage to speak out. It’s helped me a lot!

Mike said...

The theist's argument that atheists also have a type of faith and/or is some brand of religion has always intrigued me.

When I consider aspects of religious practice found in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc, and compare with my own, my consistent response is, "I don't do that" or "I don't believe that." Point by point, my position is quite opposite of what they do (practice) and believe, so why call atheism a religion?

Then finally, the matter of faith in disbelief is put to the atheist. "Well, you have faith that God doesn't exist because you can't prove the non-existence of God!" One of the best responses I've read is found in Julian Baggini's "Atheism - A Very Short Introduction":

"Atheism is not a faith position because it is belief in nothing beyond which there is evidence and argument for; religious belief is a faith position because it goes beyond what there is evidence or argument for. That is why faith requires something 'special' that ordinary belief does not."



Sheldon said...


Your reply does more to clarfy than to muddy (although I have to admit getting a little lost on the first read).

I guess, for me, it all comes down to two things:

First, it's far more likely that the theists among us will start an argument like the one Julia described, and will be less willing to "let it go" once it's started. They seem to have a lot more vested in us believing their way, than we do in reverse.

Second, I think it's extremely important to keep the conversation going. As I once heard Julia say, there are so many stories out there about people finding god and all, and hers is just as beautiful a story, so "what about that?" To suggest, as you seem to, that the whole discussion is pointless because we'll never convince each other misses the point. For me, the issue is to keep the debate going for the so-called fence sitters, many of whom are beginning to suspect that there's another option, but who simply need role models and more information.

Anonymous said...

I think Sheldon has it right, "the issue is to keep the debate going for the so-called fence sitters, many of whom are beginning to suspect that there's another option, but who simply need role models and more information."

It's amazing how much our environment influences our views about the world. I have several friends who moved to various locations throughout the USA. While we all had similar religious and political views when growing up in California, within a couple of years the views of these friends changed dramatically, generally becoming more "local" to where they were living (i.e., those who moved to the deep south became more conservative, religious, and republican, and those that moved to blue states became more liberal, etc.).

I think a lot of these changes are subconscious, and are acquired slowly over time so that the person who is "changing" doesn't even realize it. So having people like Julia and others who are outspoken about their lack of believe will definitely help those who are natural doubters, but who live in environments where it is taboo to even say the word atheist, and social suicide to identify yourself as one. Once people are aware that there are respectable and intelligent people who are atheists, more of the fence sitters will be willing to acknowledge (and explore) their doubts about the supernatural.

David said...

I sometimes wonder if theists ponder the existence of a malevolent God. I occasionally freak myself out with such a notion. Anyway, the great, weird, but wonderful Paul Erdös routinely referred to God as the SF, the Supreme Fascist, the guy up there always hiding his glasses, etc.

gwc said...

Hi Julia,

This blog has reminded me that people aren't ever going to completely agree on this. All of us think we are right. All of us have our reasons. When a person gets bashed long enough she or he can begin to respond out of frustration, pride, or self defense rather than honesty or reason. I'm sure we have all been guilty of that.

One of my best friends who is an atheist told me that he doesn't think faith was very practical (I make that distinction because I am a Christian). That got me thinking. How can we (people of all philosophies) become practical? How do we promote healthy dialogue? More importantly, how do we make this world a better place in spite of our differences? How can we unite to help reduce world hunger? What can we do to promote world peace? What about AIDs in Africa? Racism in America? Are we ever going to stop fighting and start working together?

I am not saying that we shouldn't be having this online discussion. I am simply wondering how we can use this discussion to bring about a healthy change even if we never end up "converting" one another.

Norma Manna Blum said...

Boo hoo hoo.. Ma! Why am I being misunderstood here?
And by, of all people Sheldon, too.
Listin: I never said that atheistm shouldn't be argued, discussed, recognized by custom and even law as a valid way to approach human nature and the universe.
Or that one's atheism shouldn't be shouted from the housetops no matter what the obstacles society imposes on the outspoken non-believer.
God, (you should pardon the expression) knows, I certainly shout out mine, and just about wherever I see a housetop, even when I am tresspassing to get up there.
What I meant and still mean, and will mean tomorrow is that in a world where peoplle ask for simple answerrs to the terrifying questions that plague them, it might be wise to remember that atheism is a word that describes a mind set - NO GOD!
It DOESN"T provide a moral system by which one lives ones life.
That comes from the individiual atheist, and what ever other significant beliefs he has accumulated in a lifetime, or is working on accumulating.
Just as so many religionists are either by design or default "bad guys," not all atheists are the good guys.
Atheists can even be, and often are, despite a certain amount of brain washing to thecontrary... REPUBLICANS!
Yes, and homophobes, and are even in the crowds that surround prisons during scheduled execuations screaming "burn, bdby, burn!!"
I mean, golly, there are some really rotten eggs among us, and perhaps always will be: atheism itself doesn't solve human prblems or offer amendments to the Constitution.
That's all I meant. And it seems simple enough to me that if one attributes - a priori - moral superiority to atheism, or endowns the concept of atheism with a further comprehensive system of thought or behavior one is then making the same mistake as those who tell us we can't raise morally equipped children withouth the framework of god AND one of his/her/its religion.
No fair to think that atheism per se means you can stop thinking.. the brain is really man's strongest weapon which we have not yet begun to use..
Example, just to think about: when a so-called feminist tells me that she can't accept god as a man..and "don't you as women feel that god is female?" gives me the heebie jeebies.
I say, "WHAT, please, are you freaking TALKING ABOUT?"
And when some preacher announces that god must have loved the poor, homoseexuals, Jews, and Black folks, because he made so many of them and how could a loving god "think" otherwise, I say, "Nuts..."
Because, I'm an atheist: I don't believe there is a god, not a good god, not a bad god: no god.
God no more made the meek, poor, displaced and trod upon than he made George W. Bush or Donald Trump, or me or you.
God would have to EXIST in order to influence our condition, much less create us in the first place.
He, she, it, does NOT exist.
And after that I confess to think that religion, all of them, including the deism that we atheists often like to attribute to our Founding Fathers to divorce them from Christianity, is manipulative, power hungry, horseshit, and like all thought based on a concept of the supernatural, the most odoriferous horseshit ever to come out of the horse.
Dangerous horseshit at that: to eat it makes us ill, and blind.
What atheism offers, and nothing else, is the chance for humans to view the universe, and the animals (us) in it through another, better, clearer prism.
That's it; a- theism is a tool. After you sell it to anyone, given that it can be sold, then it's every man for himself to find a better world to use it in.
Just remember that unfortunatley not ALL atheists are looking for a better world, some just want to be left to read Racing News in peace.
Or be left alone with their fifth of whiskey.
Or to watch "Desperate Housewives."
Once more with feeling: Atheism - non-belief in god, does not produce Julia Sweeneys, or indeed Richard Dawkins, or O. E.Wilsons, or even thee and me.
Julia was a warm, wonderful, witty woman before her belief flew the coop.
And the two scientists whose names I have pulled out of the vast hat full of names of scientists, were undoubtedly the smartest kids in the class long before they became aware of their religioius difference with the rest of the world.
I am - life long atheist - never going to be warn, wonderful or witty, nor am I going to be as sharp witted and scietifically productive as Dawkins or Wilson.
Removing god from the equations of human thought, will bring, one hopes, better things in an improved environment in which to live our lives, but you can't put a sow's ear under your pillow as a believer and wake up to find that y ou are an atheist with a silk purse that holds the answers to human frailties that prevent reason and consilience.
There IS no brain fairy., either.
Norma Manna Blum

Anonymous said...

Hello Julia –

"irregular joe" said, "I don't understand why someone like Pontifica would bother posting a reaction to your blogs." Well, because I'm very interested in the conversation. I’m grappling with the ideas, and I’m a great fan of yours. I have the utmost respect for your mind, your values and your work. I certainly didn’t mean to come across as "condescending" or for my comments to be read as "stinging." On the contrary, I thought I was picking up condescension or smugness from some of the atheists in the discussion, and that bothered me.

“leftdog” said “it gets so tiring dealing with people like that who aren't really looking for illumination or even a real discussion.” Well, I hope I’m not “people like that.” I’ve been reading your blog and its comments with great interest for quite a while. As someone who has questioned the beliefs of my childhood, abandoned some, and reclaimed some in a spiritual search that is a work in progress, I loved “Letting Go of God.” I had a classic driveway moment the first time I heard a segment of it on NPR. I sat in my car, intrigued and moved, unable to leave until it was over. Then I came to your show and loved seeing the entire thing. I identified with your struggle with faith and the oddities of Christianity.

I still don’t think that science (evolution, cutting-edge mind-boggling discoveries, etc.) and faith must necessarily negate each other. (I don’t believe that the bible is the word of a deity or that Jesus died on the cross for our sins; I do believe that humans have free will and that it misses the point entirely to blame “god” for bad things that people do or terrible things that happen.) For me, it’s possible to think it through, as you suggest, and still be willing to entertain my faith. I would never suggest that your path is wrong, or that spirituality is limited to people of religious faith. What I meant was sort of the reverse: that I consider myself spiritual, and (nominally) a christian, yet someone who doesn’t ascribe to religious dogma – so I’m not comfortable describing MYSELF as religious.

I do think that human awareness is limited – not our potential, just our awareness. I am also inspired and heartened by the heights of human achievement in music, literature, science, art, public policy, etc., and I believe that we, not some deity, are responsible for social justice, ending violence and starvation and poverty, saving the environment, and trying to embody our highest principles in the world.

I agree that there are endless interpretations of Christianity and the bible. I like to interpret Jesus’ line, “I come not to bring peace but a sword,” for instance, as a sort of righteous condemnation of corruption and a warning to evildoers.

I don’t think either point of view is “smarter.” I’m reminded of what can happen when someone comes out as gay. They don’t like being marginalized and judged by the straight majority, but often they’ll fall into the same practice of judgment and policing of others who are, let’s say, bisexual or transgendered.

I get your argument that you think the probability of the invisible purple dinosaur in the garage is pretty low. I guess, for myself, I don’t feel that entertaining the possibility of the dinosaur in any way limits my life. I believe we’re on the same page when it comes to decrying all the crimes for which organized religion has been guilty through the ages. Thanks for bearing with me.

timr said...

wow. just listened to the 30-min excerpt on loved it. i love you and your writing ability and your humor. you don't need spell check and stop apologizing for it. i'm a grammar snob and could find nothing wrong at all.

i just wanted to share my story. raised catholic as well. luckily (blessedly?) i came to the realizations you speak about when in was in the fifth grade. chalk it up to the circumstances of my surroundings, my being gay, a certain aunt/nun and many of the very same stories you spoke about offending my literal, bookish self. i definitely recall the mary ones, where she is pushed aside by jesus. what an ungrateful jerk! but, anyway, i realized i didn't believe in god and had the same stunning moments of abandonment (no god?? what about...??) as you had. it was amazing to hear it said so cogently. bravissima! as we say here in italy (i'm american, though).

later, in ny, as you were performing on saturday night live so brilliantly, i had a roommate who was half new age and half simply psychic and artistic and wise. i came to our friendship not believing in anything and left it the same way, basically, but at the same time i saw and heard certain things that i couldn't deny. for example, she would instantly know things about people i'd introduce her to or the tv would blink anytime she walked by it or she'd tell me things about me that i didn't know myself at the time. luckily i am not overly prone to self-doubt and so discovered the unique gift of being able to consider something possible or even real without it necessarily denying my true non-beleiving state. i don't know exactly how to explain it, but let's just say i can believe the things she taught me and still not believe in god or higher spirits or such stuff, while at the same time referring internally or externally to such spirits (i.e. native american spirituality) without having any sort of conflict. perhaps i'm shallow that way, but it works for me.

basically, i'd say i don't believe in god at all, but that there are things that can't be explained and i just don't know, so be it.

i do judge religious people though. the ones who believe in the bible and who persecute gays and who think others should believe what they believe. i can't help that. like i said, i'm a grammar snob. i loved your insight that these people really haven't read these stories. it's so simple and so true and it explains so much. thank you for that especially.

Anonymous said...

There is way too much on my mind, and I run the serious risk of babbling incoherently--so I will endeavor to keep this brief, for now.

I am the child of an atheist, so my journey has been very different. My father underwent a journey similar to Julia's, and it was his hope to raise my brother and me to be open--and he raised us to Think. More about that some other time perhaps.
What I wanted to contribute today is a mention of a couple of interesting resources. I am new to this blog, so excuse me if I'm covering old ground here. First, Carl Sagan's book Contact is quite an intriguing treatment of god-vs-science faith. Don't settle for the movie--read the book. Second, the scientific Pantheists have an interesting perspective, with a lot of emphasis on the role of spirituality. I'm not proclaiming myself to be a Pantheist, but I enjoy the website. Here's a link:
Keep the discussion rolling. Thanks for letting me pop in.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there are endless interpretations of Christianity and the bible. I like to interpret Jesus’ line, “I come not to bring peace but a sword,” for instance, as a sort of righteous condemnation of corruption and a warning to evildoers.

Agreed, there certainly are endless interpretations of the bible. I personally do not see the passage in Luke 19 as Christ declaring that he wants his enemies to be killed in front of him. It was a short fictional story (parable) speaking of a fictional king. Thus the beauty of fiction; it can teach and/or shock us.

Still hoping to see Letting Go of God, if possible. I had the opportunity to listen to a few audio samples on your site. Perhaps I'll simply get the CD. ;-)

Deb said...

We just received Letting Go of God in the mail today. We got it because my 7-year-old daughter and I heard Julia on Fresh Air last week and she just HAD to have the CD. We are atheists, and Madison is extremely interested in religion and philosophy. She has sometimes expressed the longing for a god-- I'm not sure if it's because she wants to be like all of the other kids, or if she just regrets the fact of death. She was absolutely fascinated by the interview (we heard the "Intelligent Design" clip about the eye and she really got it), and even suggested she spend her own money for the CD! Of course, I bought it for her.

One thing that was extremely valuable for me was the fact that the 2-CD set is transcribed into the accompanying pamphlet, so that I could look through it completely today before letting her listen. So Madison is going to be skipping #6 on Sodom and Gomorrah, but otherwise everything is fine for her to listen to, even if she won't understand everything.

One thing that Letting Go of God portrays so effectively is the courage involved in taking a clear stand in the face of so much opposition. It's really valuable for kids to be exposed to heroes in our society, people who muster their courage to do what they know is right. So this is perfect.

Also, the CD is particularly valuable because it gives my daughter real insight into the mind of someone who is religious, as Julia describes herself in the first CD; Madison can see what it's like, and follow the reasoning for why people leave faith behind. The distinction between thinking and feeling is exactly the right one to draw: feeling that there is a god in no way evidence for a god's existence. Or, as Ayn Rand put it, emotions are not tools of cognition.

I have just ordered a second copy of the CD to send to a friend of mine who emigrated from Cuba in the 1990s. Tatiana was raised an atheist from the very start in a society whose only good points, in her opinion, are the food, family cohesiveness, and the fact that religion doesn't permeate the culture. Religion is absolutely foreign to her and her husband, and they always ask me questions about what it was like to have been raised with religion. This CD will give them truly vivid insight into that, and for this I'm really grateful to Julia. There is nothing else like this in our culture, as far as I can tell.

Jagshimesh said...

Look, lady, you seem to be overlooking some very important facts here, or maybe you have a perfectly good grasp of them and you're just being purposefully inflammatory.

Religion is many people's sole reason for existence. By saying that no god exists, to some people, it sounds like you're implying their dedication is based on a falsehood, and in fact, their beliefs hold just as much merit as natives who worship the flashing camera the missionary left behind. To them it sounds as if you're saying no such thing as good or bad exists -- and the philosophy held by a Vegas hedonist, a Militant Shia cleric, a Aum Shinrikyo Japanese cultist, and themself are all equally valid.

You sound like a reasonable person, so I think you'd understand why someone would be a little upset if you took away their only reason to exist. If someone came up to you and told you that you yourself did not exist, and nor does your daughter, based on the fact that you couldn't prove your existence, wouldn't that be a little disconcerting?

For some people, cold rational logic doesn't help fill the natural existential dilemma. Some people need certain things to get by, so what's the deal? Why take that away from them? Does it somehow invalidate your beliefs if others hold opposite views? Would the world benefit if everyone become and atheist? What then prevents using moral relativism to justify travesties? Rationalism?

I don't mean to sound combative, I'm not. I say this stuff, purely with an inquisitive spirit.

!!!!!Here it is, the basic philosophical problem. If you're an atheist, you might have the answer to what we ought to do, but not why we ought to do it. If you're a theist, you have to answer to why there is no proof of diety, and face the basic contradictions in religion based philosophy. !!!!!

If you have a conclusive answer for either side, then you have found an answer that has eluded human-kind for thousands of years. HURRAH! Parades will be thrown in your honor, the everyone will in awe of your wisdom. Until then, there is nothing in this arguement except for a mental excercise.

MadDan said...


I agree with some of what you have said. Embracing a religion must be very comforting. Sometimes I envy those who believe that everything will be OK because God is watching over them. I avoid pushing my ideas on religiousniks because it is not my place to take away their comfort even if it is delusional. It's not my place to make that choice for them just as it should not be anyone else's place to evangelize indigenous people who are happy with their own personal beliefs or decide who can or cannot have an abortion.

You started with "Look, lady, you seem to be overlooking some very important facts here, or maybe you have a perfectly good grasp of them and you're just being purposefully inflammatory."

You follow with, "I don't mean to sound combative, I'm not. I say this stuff, purely with an inquisitive spirit."

You're not being very introspective if you cannot see the contradiction. Julia is an atheist who very courageously went public with it. This is her blog. She is espousing her ideas. We are here to read these ideas knowing full well that they are chock full of atheism. WE WANT TO HEAR THE IDEAS. Your writing is an attempt to shut down the ideas. By its very nature, atheism is threatening to theism. Those that don't want theism threatened should avoid this blog. Church is where people go to share their religious ideas and experiences. I have been quite a few times but never did I stand up and scream out that everyone in the place is delusional. That would be inappropriate.

You criticize Julia’s firm beliefs and then write, "Here it is, the basic philosophical problem."

Why on earth are you shutting down others while making broad declarative sentences as if they are immutable?

What makes so much religion insufferable isn't that it is nuts but but those instances when it is judgmental and hypocritical. As you have demonstrated, those qualities are not limited to the devoutly religious.

Petra said...

Maddan said: "I avoid pushing my ideas on religiousniks because it is not my place to take away their comfort even if it is delusional. It's not my place to make that choice for them just as it should not be anyone else's place to evangelize indigenous people who are happy with their own personal beliefs or decide who can or cannot have an abortion."


This is exactly my thought. Long before I figured out I was an atheist, I applied this same philosophy to other parts of my life. Personally, I don't drink. It is a choice I made long ago. But I certainly don't expect OTHER people not to drink, so I don't go around telling everyone that I don't drink, that might take them out their their comfort zone.

I don't believe in any god. I respect other people's choice to believe in a god. Of course, in many cases, choice is not a good word as many are indoctrined from such an early age, they are not given a choice. Still, to each his own, and yours to you, too (as my friend Celeste, used to say).

Live and let live.

Then again, I sure won't have someone walk all over me, ramming their god down my throat either. So, there is a happy, healthy medium.

I'll let you know when I find it!

: ) P

Norma Manna Blum said...

Petra said: "This is exactly my thought. Long before I figured out I was an atheist, I applied this same philosophy to other parts of my life. Personally, I don't drink. It is a choice I made long ago. But I certainly don't expect OTHER people not to drink, so I don't go around telling everyone that I don't drink, that might take them out their their comfort zone."

Jeez, Petra.. I was just about to have a drink when I saw the above: down the drain went the contents of my glass!
It doesn't matter that the glass contained only seltzer water (for the digestion) - I was involuntarily responding to stimulii.
The point is, Petra, that you can't go around publicly PRONOUNCING that you don't do something (anything) even as you are in the process of doing it.
I understand that it is probably only a thoughtlessness encouraged by the influence of authoritarian (religious) manner of instruction, but it's a no no.
And one of which we are reminded all too often.
It's what has made Congressman Foley the latest poster boy for unthinking hypocrisy, he being only the latest example in a long, long list that goes back even into pre-history.
One caveman to another: " Ingah oogah! Ingah oogah, oogah!!"
(Translation: I NEVER say OOGAH!")
Never mind.. we are ALL slow learners.

Anonymous said...

Norma Manna Blum:

It used to be fun to visit the comment section of Julia's blog because it was about JULIA.

You're making it a drag now by trying to put the focus on you (and apparently by trying to make yourself sound intelligent and important).

If you have so much to say, start your own blog and preach from there.

Sheldon said...

Atheism isn't about trying to make others come to our conclusion, but you have to admit that you're muddying the waters a bit.

If a group of indigenous people were buring their women at the stake as witches, or boiling gay people in oil because they were obviously possessed by demons, would you just stand by and watch them, or would you step in and try to educate?

That may be an extreme example, but it gets the point across; when I, as an Atheist, try to get through to those whose worldview includes things that are demostrably untrue, I'm doing a service to all humankind. To do any less would be to allow people to continue to hold beliefs that are potentially dangerous to us all.

3boysmom said...

What a great blog. I just heard you describe your journey of unbelief on a "This American Life" broadcast. It's so nice to hear others who've gone through similar experiences.

Unfortunately, I went from nominal Christian kid to fundamentalist evangelical in high-school. I spent 10 years as a very devoted born-again believer. I even went into full-time christian work after college.

After years of actively ignoring my many questions and doubts I finally came to my senses. It was a long and painful process but it's amazing how much bigger and more complex the world is when you finally emerge from that insular little bubble.

I haven't made the step from agnostic to atheist yet. I still like to entertain the questions of spirituality. I must admit, however, that I often find myself facing the undeniable probability that there is no god.

Cheers to you for sharing your thoughts on the subject!

Ben Turk said...


I don't know what's so wrong with being purposefully inflamatory or with mental exercises. Inflamatory mental exercises are some of the best entertainment money can't buy.

My answers to your questions (for what they're worth)

Some people need certain things to get by, so what's the deal? Why take that away from them?

Which would you prefer, a calm delusion or an honest panic? The natural existential dilemma REQUIRES honesty, and if someone needs god and faith, then they are not experiencing the natural existential dilemma, they are dodging it.

Does it somehow invalidate your beliefs if others hold opposite views?

we try to be helpful, taking away people's crutch may cause them pain temporarily (see anonymous' comments) but will allow them far greater self-understanding in the future.

Would the world benefit if everyone become and atheist?

%@$#&^ YES!

What then prevents using moral relativism to justify travesties? Rationalism?

Throw morality out all together, it's a lie and a means of control. We all need to recognize that we are self interested individuals before we can recognize that the best way we can use each other is through cooperation and coexistance. we can't escape exploitation and abuse until we start talking honestly about what motivates us, and that is ultimately selfishness.

Your parade is long overdue. The first atheist found the answer thousands of years ago, the rest of you just won't listen.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia,

I wanted to say that your blog and the discussion on the topic of God/atheism is very interesting. I am a Christian, right wing, Conservative who enjoys apologetics and discussions of this nature (as hard as that might be for some to believe). There are many Christians who do not check their brains at the door when considering God and science.

I previously conveyed a small thought in an email to you I sent after your appearance on Fresh Air.

You indicated that it was your exploration of science that really convinced you there was no God. I wonder if you would acknowledge that there is a anti-God bias in science, most clearly seen in Darwinian theory? Most people start throwing tomatoes when that point is made, but it is documented even by well-known non-Christians. If that point is accepted, even hypothetically, then you have to acknowledge that there may be "scientific" evidence pointing to a creator which is being deliberately discounted. If you knew that to be true, would that change your view of the veracity of a scientific position?

As far as I know, the only "science" that would counter a creator is macro evolutionary theory. Is there some other areas of science that caused your transformation? How do you feel about string theory? If string theory indicates that there may be multiple dimensions existing alongside of us, which we cannot currently measure, how can you conclude that God cannot be in one of those dimensions?

Have you looked at probability considerations for evolution? What have you concluded regarding the opinion of Sir Fred Hoyle, a world reknown astronomer who demonstrated that the chances of species developing through a Darwinian model are so infinitessimally small as to be impossible? How would you go about reconciling these "scientific" problems? Have you applied the same rigourous proof standards to issues like these as you have to God?

I'm looking forward to getting involved in the discussion. Keep the blog going.


Petra said...

Sheldon said: When I, as an Atheist, try to get through to those whose worldview includes things that are demostrably untrue, I'm doing a service to all humankind. To do any less would be to allow people to continue to hold beliefs that are potentially dangerous to us all.

This is where we differ. Perhaps in time, I will feel the way you do, Sheldon, but at present, I do not. I am thrilled that there are people out there with the conviction you have... that you, and others, are educating the masses.

We are living different lives and are in different places in those lives. Even if I wanted to convince theists that they "hold beliefs that are potentially dangerous to us all," I simply do not have the time or energy to do so. My focus, at this time, is my full time, 24 hour-a-day job: teaching two little boys to be good people and keeping them safe. I will leave making the rest of the world safe to those of you with the fortitude to do so! [big grin]

norma manna blum said: The point is, Petra, that you can't go around publicly PRONOUNCING that you don't do something (anything) even as you are in the process of doing it... I understand that it is probably only a thoughtlessness encouraged by the influence of authoritarian (religious) manner of instruction, but it's a no no.

Well, gees, NMB, don't hold back. I was using that as AN EXAMPLE. No need to get all fire-breathy about it. Are you even READING the same blog I am?

I am not thoughtless, nor was I subjected to authoritarian instruction. I was, quite simply, using that example to show my agreement with maddan's philosophy. I subscribe to the "live and let live" ideology (as I said in my prior post). So, I shall not comment further on your reply.

Jagsheeemesh said...

"Those that don't want theism threatened should avoid this blog."

"WE WANT TO HEAR THE IDEAS. Your writing is an attempt to shut down the ideas."

Just playing a bit of the Devil's advocate. I'm not threatening to shutdown anyone's ideas, just offering other ideas in order to clarify. I'm offer more ideas.

I'm sure the last thing Julia wants is everyone stroking her ego in full agreement. Healthy debate is welcomed, because that is the premise on which atheism can further realized.

It was a declarative statement that I made, but it wasn't refutable. It's just the basic existential problem that everyone faces. It's like declaring gravity exists.

The Turk wrote:

"Throw morality out all together, it's a lie and a means of control. We all need to recognize that we are self interested individuals before we can recognize that the best way we can use each other is through cooperation and coexistance. we can't escape exploitation and abuse until we start talking honestly about what motivates us, and that is ultimately selfishness."

Well, that is one world that I wouldn't want to live in. I think it would emphasize an ugly degree of hedonism. Maximize pleasure and minimize pain.

If one were to guide myself through selfish impulse, there would be no reason to cooperate with one's fellow man or woman, aside from getting what they want. Other's value extends as far as their usefulness. Attaining the most optimal way in which one could use another wouldn't matter. What would matter is that "I would get what I want." Selfishness would lead to more exploitation and abuse. Screw Game Theory, its Blaine Theory (If my name was Blaine).

Aside from all of that, I would actually want my life to have more meaning than to satiate selfish interest. Even if it were a delusion.

Anonymous said...

As with so many debates that pop up here and elsewhere, I very much enjoy reading everyone's points of view.

Someone who is very dear to me said to me just today something along these lines:

The very definition of a good person is someone who would treat others as they want to be treated themselves. It isn't what you proclaim, it is what you do and the kind of person you are.

Nothing magical, it's the Golden Rule, which shows up in some form or other in most religious texts as well as most philosophy texts.

It got me thinking.

I personally would call myself an atheist. This is a significant change for me; I used to call myself an agnostic, because I liked the comfort of being able to say "I just don't know." But the notion that I personally do have a belief about the nature of the universe makes me want to be more honest with myself about MY belief, and that positions me as an atheist.

Most of my best friends in the world are not; most are some form of Christian. We have a very workable basis for religion, based on the above rule.

I don't mind if someone says they think differently than me. I don't mind if they want to try to make an argument that supports their point of view. And anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE to make the good argument back. But they key rule is to be considerate and kind, without hypocrisy.

I don't avoid calling my friends stupid to avoid hurting their feelings, I do it because I don't think they are stupid, even when they think differently than me. And I trust that they don't think I'm stupid either (lost, maybe, but not stupid).

Being an atheist means being part of a slim minority in this country, and pretty much in the world. Wendy Kaminer said we are one of the last really oppressed minorities, for reasons such as the fact that we have basically zero chance of participation in our representative government. Being a part of this minority, one tends to occasionally seek out others of your kind for community, solace, acceptance, etc.

Many (well, most) of the atheist-centric web sites and online communities give me the willies.

I'm not sure why, but I think it is the kind of things that are being talked about in this very blog and the associated comments. Belief is an emotional issue, and has tight associations with our core identities. I don't expect anyone to come along and try to strip me free of my identity, and I don't want to do the same to others.

I AM delighted to engage in thoughtful and respectful conversation and debate with willing participants. But some of this conversation is teetering close to the edge of the elitism that makes it impossible to be considerate and non-hypocritical of others.

Life is not art, and vice versa, but sometimes art illustrates life. Recently on "Studio 60", the Matt Alby character says approximately:

"Your side hates our side because your side thinks we think you are all stupid.

And our side hates your side because we think you are all stupid."

Not so subtly, this points out that discussion among consenting adults should be supported and encouraged, but "illuminating the unfortunate" against their will should not.

Sadly, the written word is among the easiest vehicles for conveying condescension and sarcasm, and among the hardest to convey honest empathy.

Near the top, irregular joe asked why Pontifica would post here when she is condescending and threatened. This was followed by a non-trivial number of condescending and threatened posts.

No one knows for sure. Many of us strongly suspect. Interestingly, many of us strongly suspect different things. Be kind.

ben turk said...


you ARE living in that world. human beings are rational actors who seek to maximize utility. Some human beings use morality to attempt to universalize their preferences, thereby conning others into working for them. others of us recognize that the best way to get the most real joy out of another human being is to cooperate with them, not bamboozle or exploit them. You like to keep people in their comfortable little faiths because you think it benefits you. but by doing so you are limiting their ability to interact with the world, stunting their potential and doing a disservice to them, yourself and the rest of us. please stop it.

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