Thursday, December 07, 2006

Random Thoughts

Once again, I am beat. I am working on getting the forum together, because clearly, we need one on this site. But I thought I would offer some random thoughts, some of them in regards to posts that have been written in the last few days.

I have gotten hundreds of emails after doing The View. Most of them, the vast majority of them, positive and encouraging. Several have been from Mormons, correcting me about their Church's belief in the Virgin Mary and the divinity of Jesus. Of course, as most of you know, I understand that. When I speak about the Mormon missionaries and their stories, and then say that I couldn't be condescending to them because I believed in things like a virgin birth, etc. What I meant was that I also had mythical stories that I took seriously. I didn't mean to imply that the Latter Day Saints didn't also believe in those stories as well as their own, specifically Mormon stories. All I have to say to all those emails is... WOW.

I also got some disgruntled letters from atheists! One said I wasn't smart enough to be an atheist! Well, I'll show him or her! I will not be smart AND be an atheist and, and... just take that, mister. Or, sister.

Anyway... WOW. I think this person in particular was upset about comments I made on this blog about Christmas songs being sung at public school. (Combined with being what was characterized as overly polite to the Elizabeth on The View...) I have been thinking about that -- and since I wrote that blog entry I have been literally drown in a sea of Christmas -- every radio station (almost) filled with stories about Our Lord And Savior's Birth -- and I was thinking how sick I am already of it and how GLAD I am that when I go to Mulan's "Holiday Celebration" next week I will mostly hear about Kwanzaa. But after being so snidely insulted, I offer more defense of my original idea. I, like all of you fellow non-believers - think the Christian stories are myths. I am still not sure that making those stories off-limits in public schools is making things better. I am not sure that every teacher would teach the Bible with a believers slant and I offer up England, Australia and much of Europe for evidence. Yes, based on principles, Christian stories should be kept out.

But what if there was a group of people who seriously believed that Santa Claus was real? Would we have to stop anyone from talking about Santa Claus in a public area? Then the Santa Clausists might feel persecuted and huddle together - starting their own schools just so their kids could talk about Santa Claus openly. I think it's a difference in opinon in the matter of strategy. What will make the myth of Christianity become more obviously mythical? Having kids do nativity plays in public school and singing Christian religious songs? Or having them not mention a word about Jesus during Christmas time? I think that we blew it, frankly. Or possibly. My own strategy would have been to innundate the kids with Jesus to the point where they were puking from it. (The Shick Center Concept for getting rid of Christian Myths!) And I don't think having this opinion makes me "less developed in my thinking." (As one writer put it.)

For the record: I am not the president of Atheists of America or any group that is like that. I am not even an op-ed writer for a newspaper. I am just me. I have opinions. Not everyone is going to agree with them. I might even change some of my opinions as I get more information. But that's no reason to start calling me names. C'mon you atheists who wrote me in anger, jeez!

Also, Norma. In response to your response to Becky. Not every one of us is rational through and through about everything we do. I can totally understand Becky's desire to send her children to CCD (Catholic religious school) to get a "conscience." Norma wondered, in the face of all the obvious damage that Christianity has done - specifically Catholicism, and in spite of the fact that Becky herself didn't need continuing "conscience" education as an adult, why she would want to send her children to get indoctrinated.

Well, maybe I can answer.

1.) Maybe Becky wasn't sure why she had a "conscience." Maybe she felt her own morality had been shaped partially by her church and then she took it from there. Maybe she felt her church had inculcated a sense of deep morality in her that she couldn't instill in her children on her own. Now - mind you - I don't think this is the case. I can just understand why someone would think that way. It's reasonable.

2.) Churches and church communities offer lots of opportunity for reciprocal altruism. There are lots of personal interactions and much social debt that is spent and accumulated at a church. As we know, this is the basis for the evolving of a moral conscience. Maybe there was no other equally dense social opportunity for her to immerse her children in that would cause them to be aware of how they treated others with such scrutiny and such payoff.

3.) How old was she? It sounds like she was in her twenties. If I had had children in my twenties, they would have all been Catholic. I think my decision to raise them Catholic would have been reasonable, given my age and circumstances.

What else? Oh yes, my interest in fantasy in film. I loved "Heaven Can Wait" before and after I believed in God. The Lubitch film is brilliant. But on the average, I am more inclined to reality-like films than fantasy-based films. I don't know why. I would take Yasojiro Ozu's "Late Spring" (where the big drama is a subtle shift in attitude) over Star Wars. Which brings me to my next admission. I have never seen Star Wars. But if I did... Okay, that's not fair. I should have seen Star Wars. I am just not one for fantasy or science fiction. I do like The Wizard Of Oz.

And now I get to Mulan. So, recently Mulan put it together and figured out that The Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus were not real. Because I want to encourage her skeptical thinking, I admitted it when she asked. I couldn't keep up the ruse. Basically she found a baggie of her teeth in my bathroom and one question led to the next. It was a pretty funny conversation we had. Of all the moments I wish had been secretly filmed between us, that was the time. And to be honest, I was proud of her.

But now Mulan has told one of her friends that there is no tooth fairy and the mother of this friend has complained to me. I talked to Mulan and she promised not to reveal this to anyone else. But then she said, "But... I want to tell!" And I thought, "I TOTALLY understand."


Erwin R Gonzalez said...

I think your brilliant.

No mythical or historic figure who has taught a revolutionary thought or innovative idea has ever been faced with public acceptance.

Just be careful because if you want to take this on, any person who finds you threatening enough may take action outside of a poison pen. Simply put... don't be naive and ignore persistant haters.

I respect your intellect and you have helped me tremendously mend my own faith issues.

Thank You and Happy Holidays,

Anonymous said...

First off:

The toothfairy story was so adorable, esp the "I KNOW" at the end. I needed a smile.


I'd just like to leave a Nietzsche quote I came across as I was reading The Will to Power (as we all so casually do):

All the beauty and sublimity we have bestowed upon real and imaginary things I will reclaim as the property and product of man: as his fairest apology. Man as poet, as thinker, as god, as love, as power: with what regal liberality he has lavished gifts upon things so as to impoverish himself and make himself feel wretched! His most unselfish act hitherto has been to admire and worship and to know how to conceal from himself that it was he who created what he admired.--

I feel that the quote really ties in to the discussion being had over the past few blog posts. While I myself am not a Nietzsche person, I find a lot of what he writes to be quite applicable to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, I sooooo meant the "I TOTALLY understand", not "I KNOW".

Please forgive for such a heinous act. It's late and my brain is fried prepping for my last final of the quarter at 8 am tomorrow morning.

Anonymous said...


Your random thought about really believing in Santa Claus is interesting because it raises, for me, questions about the limits of freedom of religion. I’m conflicted on the idea of freedom of religion and have not resolved it in my own mind so I’ll invite some others to weigh in. I fully expect to get ripped to shreds on this (perhaps I simply wish to deflect the snide insults away from you). One part of me sings the party line about freedom of religion but I think that’s because I want to believe it promotes societal harmony. The other part of me wonders… how much total crap do we allow an oddball religion to believe or practice before we call bs? And by bs I mean the state side of society legislates against the freedom to believe or practice the religion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent for a very wide separation of church and state.

Maybe this example, albeit poor, will help. Suppose a devout Blah community moved into lower Manhattan. And suppose the Blah brought with them 100 sacred cows. Sacred because they believe that the holiest Blah are reincarnated as cows when they die. And suppose further that the Blah believe the cows be allowed to freely move about lower Manhattan. And suppose further that the Blah believe that if anyone kills a cow for any reason that the killer be put to death. Are we all going to stand behind the Blah in the spirit of freedom of religion? Are we all going to secretly cheer when the first taxi driver gets dragged from his car and set on fire for hitting and killing a sacred cow? Does our commitment to freedom of religion extend this far and if not, where do we draw the line and why?

Just my $0.02,

(Note: Sam Harris’ book cost $2.09 to mail to Ryan in case you have any way to edit/update my previous post but it’s in the mail and hopefully he’ll have it by the weekend.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

I have thought about this question, too, in a broader sense. Germany is basically a free country like here, yet the writings of Hitler and displaying Swastikas are illegal there. Is that right? A man in Europe (I don't remember which country) was recently convicted for being a Holocaust denier. In this country, obscenities are bleeped out on much of TV and radio. So there are all ready limits to free speech, even where free speech is the main law.

One way to look at it is to ask does it break other laws? I don't think the Blah community you mention would be able to let their cows roam free because it would break other laws about keeping animals in the city.

I think that you have to take things on a case by case basis and discuss and research them. It is not that clear cut.

There was that man who recently went to court over the "under God" phrase his child was made to say with the pledge of allegience in school. I don't remember the final outcome.

My sister is raising her children with religion. I wish I could stop her in the name of child abuse, but I don't think I would get very far. I've heard it suggested that no one should be raised with religion. When they are 18 and could think for themselves, they can make up their own mind. I think that would be a good thing, but I don't see a realistic way to make it happen. Sometimes, approaching things indirectly works. Required courses in critical thinking and an overview of major religions might difuse indoctrination in one religion.

I am very concerned about the home-schooling movement which I think has become a place of major extreme religious brainwashing. I think something could be done about that in the name of good education.

Maria Alexander said...

First I want to reiterate that I think you're awesome, Julia. Keep sayin' whats you gots to say!

As for Europe being a good example of teaching the Bible without dunno about that. I'm living in France, and my boyfriend is French. Apparently, the *vast* majority of people here are Catholic, even if they don't go to church. And oh do they believe. In fact, the reason the French kids don't go to school on Wednesdays and instead on Saturday mornings is because the Catholic Church got the entire country to change its schooling schedule to accomodate catechism and other bible studies on Wednesdays.

The cool thing that the French government has been trying especially hard to do lately (and getting a lot of flack about it at times) is that they are desperately trying to keep the church out of government. It's *so* pervasive that they have to be extra vigilant.

Italy is worse, if you can believe it.

I'd say the only country successful at it is possibly the Netherlands.

And there you have it.

Anonymous said...

At last, another kindred spirit.

I saw you on The View and agreed with everything you said, especially about Letting Go of God.

I became an atheist not long after my mother died, in 1979 and haven't looked back.

Anonymous said...

One of my biggest problems with atheists as a group is that, since we're by nature NOT sheeple, it's impossible to get enough of us to agree on even the simple things to be a serious force for change.

I think your being picked on by atheists for not being "tough enough" or "smart enough" is a perfect example.

Until we can do what the Republicans did decades ago and put aside the petty differences to focus on a larger agenda, well always just be the "most hated and feared" group in the country. We need to provide a unified front on major issues, and not just the ones each person considers major.

Anonymous said...

1) You ARE definitely smart enough to be an atheist, and,
2) Your conversation with Miss Mulan Sweeney about the bag of teeth, what it meant, and whether or not she is free to tell what she knows to be true, or ask about what she doesn't know, is EXACTLY the conversation I thought I was having with Ms. Becky, who thought (but found out otherwise) that we learn morality and ethics in the process of religious education.
WHich is to say (or ask) that while it is difficult, is it impossible, to raise kids without depending on mythologies that serve no purpose in order to make it easier on the parent???
We use the excuse (I think) that we are making it easier for our children if we encourage them to conform, or to hide their non-conformity under nods of agreement, but if we (atheists) continue to do that, are we being true to our own convictions?

Of course, no everyone thimks or behaves consistently rationally or logically - god knows, as an example, that I certainly don't.
But that doesn't mean that the letting go of god, the idea of god, but most particularly of religious influence isn't a logical and rational point of view that isn't worth talking seriously about- which means asking others how they arrive at THEIR conclusions.
And "what do YOU mean?" in any converstion is the most basic of questions.- coming before any others.


dabradster said...

Sadly, as we're very much human-beings, non-believers and free-thinkers are not immune from rigidity and fundamentalist-style thinking, so as a public person you, Julia, will no doubt get wacky negative feedback from those who don't recognize the great service you're doing for them. Of all the people who are trying to bring more health and happiness to our world through reason, I think you're among the most effective BECAUSE you bring compassion, respect, and a religious history of your own to the table. While I greatly admire, for example, Mssrs. Harris, Dawkins, Dennet, et al, I think their effectiveness would be greater if they could approach the subject more from your perspective.
(But they can't, of course, due to their personal backgrounds, which is not a bad thing either.)

I hope there will be a day when all the Abrahamic myths will be "defanged" and we can enjoy and appreciate their good qualities and good stories. Just imagine, when that day comes we (or our descendants) won't even have to worry about all the viciousness and bad advice that surrounded the good parts.

Finally, I can't wait to see your next show, which I hope will incorporate the "tooth baggie" story!

Anonymous said...

Loved your appearance on The View. And the tooth fairy story. A thought on how to handle many of the conversations you might have with your daughter that you want to remain between just the two of you. Explain to her the difference between a secret and something that is private, secrets can be good or bad and if she needs to tell you something that someone told her is "secret" you need to tell her that it's okay for you to know. A conversation between the two of you should be considered private, when you start talking about other things down the line she will need to know it's not appropiate for her to be giving her classmates information in certain circumstanses.

Anonymous said...

I know science fiction and fantasy opens the mind to new and unthinkable possibilities. It liberates the imagination and carries us to places that may be strange or frightening only because we have never been there before. I was raised a catholic and when I grew out and beyond it, I did look back at it with a sense of fondness. A loss of necessary innocence. It was just like when I found out one by one that the fairy tales were myths, they both were a type of cocoon. That outer protective casing that ensures that the creature (child within) will be able to devolpe to the next stage. At which time they will break through and cast off their shroud. But this is where I see it a little different. Because the moment we shed one cocoon we are at that very moment starting to spin another one around us. The human mind could not live in absolute reality. Reality must be brought into human dimensions. Never think we are living without myths. They are the fabric of our (ideas) cocoons. So to Julia’s point I don’t see any problem in children experiencing the interior walls of their (for now) protecting shelter. When they begin to expand their minds they will break through, into a larger and more mysterious world. Only to repeat this cycle (if they wish) till the end of their lives.

Anonymous said...

Julia! You are awesome! And you're inspiring me to stand up for my non-belief.

Two days ago a coworker who is a devout and self-confident Christian saw that I was reading Darwin's Dangerous Idea. He said that because I was reading books about evolution and natural selection that I was "still looking for answers." It was at the end of our conversation. His remark bothered me, but I didn't have time to think and respond. I never think fast enough to defend myself in situations like that.

So, yesterday I asked him if he still reads the Bible. When he said "yes" I asked if that means he's "still looking for answers?" No, of course not. He reads the Bible to educate himself about his faith and seek inspiration. Well, I told him I am not "looking for answers" either and I read books on science to gain more understanding of the natural world. And inspiration. He apologized, because he's basically kind-hearted. I think he didn't realize that he had unintentionally insulted me.

This co-worker's wife is struggling with cancer now and I know his belief system is helping him cope. I sometimes feel guilty when I express my non-belief around him. I know he has a lot riding on his belief in an after life. He's the one who usually brings up the subject of religion though.

Anonymous said...


I was unaware of the minimum IQ require to be an Atheist, I will have to look into this to ensure that I can remain one.

Anonymous said...

Regarding taking a child to church to teach them morality, I think we tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. I mean, how hard is it to teach a child the golden rule? To me, morality is all wrapped up in that one simple little sentence. I'll addmit, however, that I'm simplistic by nature and as such may not be smart enough to be an atheist.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, we don't have many secular institutions set up to teach children "morality," kindness, peace, self-awareness/meditation, reverence for nature, and above all community with other like-minded people. For better or worse, churches, temples, synagogues, church schools and camps, etc. are what we have.

So much of our culture is about competition, work, conspicuous consumption and media. We have to teach our children to find the sacred (broadly defined), that inner voice, wherever we can, in the interstices. I think it's doing a disservice to kids if we don't provide a space, however imperfect, for them to momentarily escape the blaring materialist messages of our culture.

Sometimes the message, however clumsy or flawed, rather than being "abusive" as some here have claimed, can lead kids to that sense of wonder and peace that exists beyond dogma.

Anonymous said...

Hey PassionBright,
Funny you should bring up the religion/child abuse issue, there was a terrific episode of Boston Legal this week with exactly your situation--a sister tried to get custody of her nieces who were being raised by white supremacist parents. The sister lost, but the point was made.

We homeschooled our first daughter for the first couple of years for the exact opposite reason--we were trying to keep her from being exposed to the seriously fundamentalist christians in our town. Since being in school, she has had many kids tell her about Jesus and God being real. My favorite was the kid who said that rainstorms are when Jesus is crying. My daughter was totally shocked and tried to explain in her 3rd grade understanding what rain is from a scientific point of view, but no, he argued, rain is Jesus's tears. Arrgh. At least she gets that we have the extremists here and doesn't take it personally. Still it's tricky when we know that there will be christian songs and decorations for the holiday season and not a word said about the longest night of the year, (which is science!) They did mention Kwanzaa last year. But not Hanukkah or any other seasonal traditions.

We don't tell the school about our beliefs other than to tell them we are not christian. When my husband tried to ask the Chamber of Commerce (he was on the board,) to quit using various churches to promote/bless local non-religious community events, he was literally boo-ed out of the meeting with hisses of "we'll run you jews out of town." No, I am not kidding and no we aren't, nor did we imply in any slight way that we are, jewish.

Julia, I think you are lucky to live in a place where you have the option to send your child to a school where they don't focus on Christmas. We love our rural place, but christianity infuses the town and thus the public school and most of the inhabitants--I don't find that stuffing Jesus down their throats is lessening their fervor later on. I think the way to stop it all is to just tell kids as they hit that concrete age--you're right, there is no Santa, no tooth fairy, no easter bunny and no Jesus/God, they are all myths.

The Jesus stories are way more involved though and very deliberately written to suck in kids from the start--who can resist a baby... Maybe that's why so many grownups can't let it go. Or maybe people are just so self-important and afraid to be nothing, that they need to cling to God to keep some hope of living on in eternity.
Apologies for the length,
Merry Kwanzikah Yulismas,

Anonymous said...

Regarding secular institutions to teach children morality, there's an interesting camp I thought I'd let you all know about in case you don't already. It's Camp Quest

Anonymous said...

Geez. How dare you be polite to a Christian. (she said, witheringly.)

This is why you're one of my heroines. You totally hit that happy medium between being frank and honest and not backing down from your opinions, and being kind and polite and respectful to others.

I struggle each day to hit that happy medium, but too often err on the side of acquiescing to make peace or becoming a bulldog to defend my position.

Anonymous said...

On freedom of religion:

the supreme court's take is "Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices."

so, yeah, you can beleive that human sacrifice to appease your god is necessary, but you can't break the law to do it. Which seems like a decent standard to me, though it will probably piss the religious people off some.

i know there are some cases that they've set some more specific guidelines (peyote eaters and animal sacrifice, come to mind, but i don't remember which way those went)

these are really interesting cases to read, cuz you end up seeing people like Scalia defending Voodoo animal sacrifices

fun2bfree said...

sgfhmSimilar to the Nietsche quote:

"one of the principal consolations of religion consists in allaying the fear which it has itself conjured up."

Dr. Woods Hutchinson

Anonymous said...

so... does anyone else not find ewin's comment at the very top (I think your brilliant.) very encouraging? Oh, irony.

Julia, you are brilliant, your ability to reach out to people who i can't stand to even think about, to penetrate some of their barriers and open their minds, is great. At the same time Dawkin's more aggessive approach compliments Julia's activities. It's similar to (though on a much smaller and less direct-action sort of scale) The Black Panthers complimenting Martin Luther King's action.

I think atheists should be proud of our multi-faceted approach and lack of a universal platform. To me atheism is about honesty, and the honest truth is: people don't agree on this kind of thing. If that means short term losses, it also means a much more thorough and wonderful victory.

Besides, religion is the slowest moving last-to-adapt area of life. If atheists want more rights, you should be communists first, change the economic system, then the political and cultural systems will follow.

Unknown said...


I was traipsing through myspace hoping to find a profile or group for yourself on there, but alas! No such luck. So I decided to create one. The URL for the group is:

If there is anything at all you'd like me to add or edit, please feel free to comment on my blog posted entitled "Julia Fangroup".

Becky Brooks said...

I thought that you were perfect on the view. You didn't debate their beliefs or apologize for yours. I think the comment that you are not smart enough to be an atheist was an attempt to intimidate you, and your response was perfect.

As for being nice to the conservative christian on the view. I think that if we want others to respect our views we need to respect theirs. I thought you were just lovely on the view and even though I have never met you I thought to myself "I would love to go to lunch with her"

I think one thing that we miss being atheist, that you get a church is a sense of community. I know that I would love to have a group of like minded people to hang out with and listen to uplifting talks with. I think that is why I like the idea of your forum.

I answered on the other post, but I was in my twenties when I considered sending my kids to CCD. I am now 47 and have changed my views completely. If I had children today I wouldn't give a second thought to it, but at that age I was still not sure what I believed and was there ya go

Becky in Ohio

Anonymous said...

For anyone who dares, this fascinating review of Dawkins' The God Delusion in the London Review of Books pinpoints the repellently blunt instrument of his blind condescension and theological ignorance:

Anonymous said...

When I was teaching 5th grade, (10,11 year olds), the kids were discussing how Santa wasn't real. They were all talking about when they "figured it out." One girl asked me if I believed in Santa. Not thinking, I said "I'd LOVE it if he were real! It would make my life easier!"

Of course she went home to her mother and told her that I said there was no Santa. Uh, NO...the whole class did that first!

Anyway...the mother called me and told me I "ruined her child's childhood" by saying what I did, and "how DARE I" take it away like that!

From that day forward, I NEVER admitted to a student ANYTHING about Santa.

Ugh. Sometimes I just wish my own kids (two 7 year olds and two 9 year olds) would just ASK me the question. So far, they all believe.

Petra said...

Wow. I leave town for a couple of weeks and your blog EXPLODES with entries and comments! Trying to cut myself off from the world was good for me, but it will take some time to catch up with what has gone on during my absense! Brava!

I taped your episode of The View, Julia, and look forward to watching it. Rosie spoke highly of you on her blog, so I gather it was a success. Congrats.

Your tooth fairy entry tugged at some heartstrings for me. Ds8 and ds6 were at a Parent's Night Out tonight and evidently got into a religious discussion with a couple of other children. [sigh] We had a family discussion afterwards and ds6's eyes welled up as he told me he just didn't know how to DEAL with these people and their reactions. I reminded him that although I realized I was an atheist as a very young child, it took me more than 20 years to say it out loud and even more so, to tell other people. It is a lot to handle - for a little one to know such truth.

Thanks for your inspiration and insight - it seems I need it frequently!

: ) P

Linda Fleming said...

I love these two quotes:

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it - even if I have said it - unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. ~Buddha

Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt!
-- Clarence Darrow


Anonymous said...


I just got my CD today. I think your material is really very good. But I do have a criticism. I don't think the CD version is as good as the This American Life version. The tempo of your delivery is much much faster on the CD. It feels rushed. One of the really good points of the TAL version was the pace at which you delivered the message... a pace which allowed the listener to really think about things as you spoke. I think it's more difficult to do that with the CD.

Of course, you had a lot more material for the CD, so perhaps you were rushed to get it all into 2 hours (or so). But I would suggest that perhaps you could offer both the condensed, TAL version, and the CD version.

Just a comment. I really really really appreciate what you are doing, and believe that you are having an impact on people's thinking and their acceptance of us non-religious folk. Please keep it up.

Anonymous said...

An "anonymous" provided the link ( to Prof. Terry Eagleton's review of Dawkins's "The God Delusion" in the London Review of Books. It IS fascinating.

If visitors to this blog aren't interested in my comments on Prof. Eagleton's review and some quotations from it, skip this comment. And no, my quotations from the review are not a copyright infringement. I am relying on the "criticism and comment" aspect of the fair use doctrine under section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act.

Prof. Eagleton is an erudite and expressive writer with a degree in English literature and all the learning in general Western Culture that a professorial position at Manchester University implies.

Living in the U.K., where what passes for Christianity is the desiccated, mostly harmless husk of the Church of England (which appears to have been the chief religious influence on his grammar school education), Prof. Eagleton can't be expected to appreciate how DIFFERENT and more dangerous religion can appear here in America. Prof. Eagleton says that Dawkins attacks the straw man of intolerant, dogmatic fundamentalist religion, but that there is another religion that is just fine and that a lot of folks keep for perfectly reasonable reasons.

Prof. Eagleton's chief complaint against Dawkins and his book appears to be that Dawkins has not studied enough theology:

"Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be."

I've studied the history of religions and historical/textual analysis of the Old and New Testaments, but I've not studied much theology. I'm not prepared to assume that much theology will impart useful knowledge -- learned debate and navel-gazing about the nature of God, heaven, hell, purgatory, limbo, etc. seems to me to be about as useful and grounded in reality as the debates that fans at Star Wars conventions have about what light saber handles must be made of in order to avoid being burned up.

Here (in part) is how Prof. Eagleton describes God:

"[W]hat is traditionally meant by the claim that God is Creator . . . [is that] He is what sustains all things in being by his love; and this would still be the case even if the universe had no beginning."


"For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. . . .
Nor does [Dawkins] understand that because God is transcendent of us (which is another way of saying that he did not have to bring us about), he is free of any neurotic need for us and wants simply to be allowed to love us."

Say what? Maybe it's just my training in critical thinking, but the foregoing is so slippery and vague as to be approximately meaningless -- or capable of meaning anything that the speaker wants. If this is what passes for serious theology, then maybe it was good for Richard Dawkins to skip over it.

The following quotations from Prof. Eagleton's review will illustrate, I hope, that he uses "faith" and "reason" to mean things different from what American fundamentalist Christians and freethinkers/non-believers mean when they use those words:

"[W]hile faith, rather like love, must involve factual knowledge, it is not reducible to it. For my claim to love you to be coherent, I must be able to explain what it is about you that justifies it; but my bank manager might agree with my dewy-eyed description of you without being in love with you himself.”

[I think this quote is profound and wonderful, but Eagleton is not using "faith" in the sense that I use it.]

"Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that. For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief. . . . Even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason. We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification, but are nonetheless reasonable to entertain. Only positivists think that ‘rational’ means ‘scientific’. Dawkins rejects the surely reasonable case that science and religion are not in competition on the grounds that this insulates religion from rational inquiry."

[Again, I don't agree that Dawkins "lives more by faith than reason." Dawkins relies upon provisional explanations of the world that he has not personally tested, because he can confirm that those explanations have been proposed, tested and improved by others according to the scientific method. That's not "faith." As some wit once wrote, without my hands and my prejudices I could not safely make my way across my living room in the dark."]

"Dawkins tends to see religion and fundamentalist religion as one and the same. This is not only grotesquely false; it is also a device to outflank any more reflective kind of faith by implying that it belongs to the coterie and not to the mass.

"Such is Dawkins’s unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false."

Eagleton had to insert the adverb "scarcely" to avoid making the preceding statement a falsehood. Dawkins spends much of his last chapter on the "inspiration" and "consolation" that people can draw from religion.

But here is the sentence in Prof. Eagleton's review that left me dumbstruck:

"[Dawkins] also holds, against a good deal of the available evidence, that Islamic terrorism is inspired by religion rather than politics."

What evidence? Eagleton has read his Christian theology, but he apparently has read nothing about the unquestionably religious roots of fanatical Islamic "jihadist" or "hirabah-ist" ideology. For these Muslims, there is no separation between religion and politics, and the only proper political order is a theocracy based on Sharia law. (Osama Bin Ladin cited the separation of church and state as the absolutely worst sin/crime of America.) According to the jihadists' literal interpretation of the Q'uran and the Hadith, "God has no partners" and Islam must rule every aspect of every human being's thought and action.

This is part of what peaceable freethinkers and even moderate "mainstream" religious folks are up against. For all I know, Islamic jihadism may burn itself out sometime in the next 50 years, and the main religious wars of the 21st century may be touched off by intolerant fundamentalist Christians (Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.) from Asia, Africa, or South America.

Jeff D

Anonymous said...

Eagleton is totally a whiner, reading his thing makes me cringe, but he is on to something. I haven't read Dawkins, but this review points out the kind of mistakes that a scientist who is talking outside his speciality would run into.

The social sciences are not the same as physical science. There is no such thing as a perfectly repeatable experiment, the hard and fast data are nowhere near as hard or fast. Research methods are far more prone to bias, misinterpretation and error. I think that we should proceed rationally and attempt to be empirical, but our conclusions will never be as solid as the conclusions of the physical sciences.

So, Dawkins blaming all these wars on religion is pretty short sighted. There's tons of geopolitical conflict built in there. Jeff D, it doesn't matter what Osama says, we need to look at the reason people are listening to him in the first place, and THAT is rooted in their social and political situations.

Philosophy and theology are even less like physical science. Like i said on here a few days back, you can't be an atheist on science alone.

dabradster said...

Jeff D - those are great comments on the Eagleton review. Among other things, Prof. Eagleton should really read "The End of Faith," and then go live for a while where "anonymous" or Becky from Texas lives.
I think Eagleton does have a valid point about Prof. Dawkins' APPROACH to religious criticism. I'm reminded of the old saying, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."
I'm sure Prof. Dawkins would reply that it would be dishonest of him to favor delusional beliefs with "honey." But I think he, and other writers without a religious family background fail to see that religion has brought much good to humankind. It's just after one does a serious examination of the net result of belief in deities (especially the Abrahamic ones)when you have to start standing up for reason!

There are some really wonderful and smart kindred spirits on this blog/soon to be forum! I'm very grateful to Julia for giving us this space!

Also, it occurred to me that the person who wrote Julia and said she wasn't smart enough to be an atheist may well have been a dishonest (to be nice about it) religionist trying to sow seeds of doubt in Julia's thinking about the quality of people who are non-believers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia
I am sorry to say you may also have the wrong shoe size ( or the wrong type of shoes ) to be an athiest !!!. I was at a nieces first communion ( disagree wholeheartedly with the thing myself but respect others choices ) the thing I found so objectionable was the priest telling the children that Jesus said" those who do not believe in me are STUPID" ! 2006 and someone chooses to use that type of language to 7 year olds . I include this example only to question how valid ANYONES arguement can be when they choose to question someones ability to comprehend ,it seems a cheap and shoddy attempt at wrongfooting rather than offering a validly constructed point .

I am guessing athiests come in all sizes , shapes , attributes intellectual and moral , sexes ect and shoes . I wonder if athiests we are all supposed to follow some line and if not always in attack dog mode do not deserve to be in the club .

On a seperate point Julia you mentioned a producer on The View seeing you to your car is there any chance of prevailing upon this person to see if they can get your section on the playback part of the programs website.

Keep Well Dan

Eden Kennedy Onassis said...

Very happy to find your blog. It's so nice to read about another ex-catholic mom trying to raise a reasonable kid. My own thinks god is stupid but santa has our phone number. It's hard being five years old.

Lori Doyon said...

Just to clarify that I am an utter pretentious film geek, I also own a DVD of Lubitsch's "Heaven Can Wait", though I was referring to Warren Beatty's.

I always wondered why Beatty chose to name his remake of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan." the same as Lubitsch's.

By the way, thanks Carl R. Sams for answering too.

Love your new font. I usually catch your blog in the wee hours when my peepers are weak, this eases the read.

I always got what you meant by "The Virgin Birth" Anyone who misinterpreted you did so because their defenses edited your words in their ears.

I for one am not smart enough to be an atheist. Reading your blog and its comments has made that perfectly obvious.

As for Santa, I don't know if I ever believed. My parents always had a loudish wrapping party the night before, which got louder in proportion to the comsuption of eggnog. This was no quite stealthy magic filling the living room with presents.

My father took it upon himself when I was 7 to try and convince me Santa was real on one Christmas Eve night by climbing on our roof with jingle bells, I was sure it was my Dad and decided to catch him on the roof, which gave my Mom a panic attack because a winter roof is not the easiest place for someone to run about on avoiding the skeptical gaze of a truth seeking child at the age of reason.

All survived without injury. And my father stopped his attempt to get me to believe. He saw the danger in that much clearer.

I did always believe in Santa as an Uncle Sam type. A representation, a symbol. I see Santa in all the people that go to the post office and answer the Santa letters, and in other random kindness that is bestowed on those we don't know expecting nothing in return.

Anonymous said...

My comments seem to have been lost, so will try again.

I wonder if we could have a consensus as to what is permissible behavior for an atheist at this time of year. Do we trim the tree, sing carols, fest on the holiday bird and get together with friends & loved ones or do we just chuck the whole kit and kaboodle?

Lori Doyon said...

Uh Oh Beverly brings up a conundrum. What would be an Atheist holiday?

First it couldn't be a holiday, since holiday is a pushed together sloppy version of Holy Day.

But everyone needs days off, days for reflection, days to consider the beauty of a flower and days to recover from the bee stings from the considering the former all too fervently.

Anonymous said...

To ben turk:

You are right that Dawkins tends to be strident, but "The God Delusion" is not unrelentingly strident in tone, as many of the reviews would suggest.

You are correct that the (usually) young men who sign onto the jihadist / hirabahist party line of intolerant, theocratic, anti-rational extremist Islam are often "primed" to be suckers because of their economic or social situation. Often, but not always. A large fraction of the 19 9-11 hijackers (and also the 7-7 London subway bombers) were from middle class backgrounds and even college educated. It's worth remembering that the modern Islamic jihadist / hirabah-ist ideology that was embraced by Bin Ladin was really "brought back to life" (based on writings of Muslim scholars from as long ago as the 14th century) by a man named Sayid Qtub, who lived in the U.S. in the early 1950s and attended college in Colorado, before deciding that the modern, Western world was unredeemably evil and that true Islam was not being practiced anywhere in the world by anyone. As Mary Habeck writes in her book "Knowing the Enemy," Qtub's fierce hatred of the sinful, evil U.S. arose BEFORE the U.S. had any significant foreign policy ties to Israel or the Middle East. to the extent that the start of radical, intolerant, terrorist Islam can be dated back to Sayid Qtub in the 1950s, it's a religiously motivated, ideological reaction against the modern world, and not a reaction to political disenfranchisement or socioeconomic distress.

Especially at this time of year, it is important for freethinkers, atheists, and other non-believers get a grip, kick back, and adopt as easy-going an attitude as possible toward religious folks, most of whom are just going through the motions without really thinking much about the basis for the beliefs that they profess (perhaps half-heartedly or even hypocritically) and the rituals in which they engage. Outwardly religious folks who go through the motions may be attending church services or other church activities to achieve a sense of belonging, or community solidarity, or to gain acceptance as someone trustworthy within that social group -- the coffee and donuts are at least as important as the doctrines and sacraments. I don't take the doctrines and sacraments of the half-heartedly religious any more seriously than they do. We can and should remain wary of and vigilant against the real extremists.

Non-sequitur time:

(1) All of us are capable of occasionally (and consciously or semi-consciously) switching off our critical thinking and (as one of Lewis Carroll's characters put it) "believing six impossible things before breakfast." I think Anatole France wrote, "Better the lies that exalt us than ten thousand truths." An extreme statement, but containing a kernel of truth. Myths, such the stories of Gilgamesh, Osiris, Isis, Horus, Prometheus, Athena, Hercules, Robin Hood, Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Superman, and yes, even Mithras and Jesus the Nazorean can CONCENTRATE truth and reveal some profound things about the nature of human beings and how they relate to the rest of the universe.

(2) Based on my reading and my own experience with meditation as a non-supernatural altered state of consciousness (somebody called it "tuned attentiveness"), I've come to accept that the ability to have and the desire for a "religious" or "mystical" or "spiritual" experience -- unfortunately there's no good word for it in English -- is wired in our brains and therefore in our genes. Unfortunately, for me the mystical experience itself is ruined as soon as we put it into words. It's like taking a beautiful, living butterfly and drowning it in a killing jar or sticking a pin through it. I have always found visual images and music without lyrics to be the best stimulus for the mystical experience.

(3) I think I suffer from seasonal affective disorder and am not usually cheerful around Christmastime, but my wife and I do our best to enjoy the holiday as a purely secular one and as an exuse to get together with family. None of the religiously-tinged aspects of Christmas bother me.

Unknown said...

Here's a place to host a free forum:

I've only just skimmed it but it looks like it would work great for this sort of thing.

Becky Brooks said...

We are all Atheists but we celebrate Christmas because it is a tradition. Everyone has to do what is right for them, but I try not to take things too seriously and Christmas is an opportunity to have some fun. I mean I am not Irish but celebrate St Patrick's day.

Jeremy and Julia as a former message board owner admin(I had an online support group for womens health for a few years), I would not recommend proboards. Since you already have a site Julia if you want a top notch message board vbulleton is the best. If you want free software phpbb is good. I am sure that the hosting company for your website has some suggestions. Go for something that is easy to use. If you want to pick my brain feel free to contact me through my blog

Arioch1066 said...


I found your blog quite by accident. I was wondering what had happened to you.

I curious about your views on the Modern Pagan movement

Merry Yule

Unknown said...


Thanks for the info! I was just surfing online to see what was there.


Anonymous said...

I have a bunch of message boards and I've been really happy with UBB.threads. I have one free phpbb board and it's a magnet for hackers. Free software often is. Make sure you get paid software with some support.

By the way, Santa Claus is real. It hurts no one to believe in a magical dude who brings presents one day a year.

Our Xmas/Hanukkah decorations consist of two lighted gingerbread girls. Do you think the neighbors get the significance of two girls? ;) Then again, we've been teepee'd twice, so maybe they do.

Anonymous said...

Or would it be t.p.'d? Anyway, is there anyone who has The View appearance who can put it on YouTube?

Anonymous said...


I agree, traditional celebrations, regardless of the religious aspect, are a wonderful way to keep in touch with friends and loved ones.

Anonymous said...

The first time one of my business meetings includes a prayer, I'm contacting a lawyer:

Aaron said...

Has the clip from "The View" ever reached the internet anywhere? I could not find it on youtube or google video. Sure would love to see it.

Becky Brooks said...

Just in case any of you are thinking that your children are confused by your celebrating christmas even though you do not believe in God or Jesus, mine were raised this way and they seem to get it all in the big picture.

I always told my kids the truth about religion and didn't try to shield them from it. I would tell them that some people believe this way or some people believe that way, usually in response to their questions about it. I told them what I believed but told them that I would support them on whatever way they wanted to go.

For awhile my daughter was into saying prayers at night and I guess it was comforting to her, so I did it with her. She seemed to outgrow it around the same time she realized that I was the toothfairy lol.

There were many times that my son and daughter were asked to go to a religious type of activity with another child and I did fret but let them go, with a discussion beforehand and then a follow up discussion.

My daughter got invited to a few things that were like sunday school, with a friend of hers in elementary school. She went a few times but became disenchanted. She said "Mom they are trying to bribe me to believe in Jesus by giving me little toys if I say what they want me to(bible verses and such)" then she told me that she didn't want to go anymore and if she wanted a toy she would buy one. I said ok, and was glad she was able to realized what was going on.

One time my son was in about 5th grade and was invited to go to this youth group thing at a baptist church where a friend was performing some sort of music thing. For some reason he asked me if he would go with so I did. There was some weird chanting and talk of giving it all up for Jesus. After a bit my son leaned over to me and said "Mom, I think these people have issues" I was of course thinking the same thing, and we both could not wait to get out of there.

At any rate I feel that by letting your children see first hand what the religions are about they will formulate their own opinion. If you raise them to be discriminating thinkers, they will most likely see through it.

reasonably prudent poet said...

i still remember the day i opened the hall closet and saw on the top shelf: a bag of plastic "grass" , plastic easter eggs, bags of candy and an empty basket. i was four. easter was two days away. i put two and two together pretty fast and that was it for the easter bunny, tooth fairy, santa, all of it. and i was ok with it, frankly. i preferred living in a world of real things rather than pretend things. esepcially as a kid, when you're already at such a disadvantage compared to adults. i preferred not to be any more controlled and manipulated by adults than i had to be.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to "undecided" for posting the link to the Yahoo story about the Irvine, California law firm that holds voluntary prayer meetings but doesn't allow employees to proselytize.

In 27 years of law practice, I have never attended a meeting at which somebody tried to lead a prayer, and I have never had a prospective client ask me if I had found Jesus or been saved, etc., even though I live in the Midwest where there are a LOT of fundmentalist or born-again Christians. I am guessing that most very religious folks also don't ask the surgeon about his or her religion prior to elective surgery.

I'm not a labor & employment lawyer, but bver the years I have found and collected some reported court decisions dealing with religion in workplace environments. If an employer called a meeting of the entire staff or department, at which everyone in the staff or dept. was expected to attend, and if the leader of the meeting proceeded to conduct all attendees in a prayer, that could be actionable as a violation of the civil rights act. For those who care and who know how to look up cases by their West reporter citations, here are two:

Peterson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 358 F.3d 599 (9th Cir. 2004) --- A devout Christian employee was fired for violating employer's harassment policy by posting anti-gay Bible scriptures in his work area so that his gay co-workers would see them and repent. Employee loses on his discrimination claim.

Millazzo v. Universal Traffic Service, 289 F.Supp.2d 1251 (D. Colo. 2003) -- Federal trial court modified only the punitive damage awards in favor of 3 employees who successfully sued their employer because the CEO bullied all employees into signing a corporate prayer and into listening to audiotapes of the CEO praying and reading scriptures.

The reverse situation can happen: an employer can be found liable for not making a reasonable accommodation to an employee's religious beliefs. Because atheism or freethought is not a religious belief, I guess we couldn't sue for failure to accommodate, but we could sue if we were being gently or not-so-gently coerced into participating in workplace prayer meetings, etc.

Jeff D

Dave said...

When I was whatever age, a friend, who was two years older, told me that there was no Santa, and that it was just my parents doing all that Santa Stuff. I rushed home, and I can still remember my mother standing at the sink in the kitchen when I asked her about it. I guess she thought I was old enough to know the truth, so she told me that my friend was right.

Suddenly it dawned on me that there were several obviously unrealistic heroes in my life. “If there is no Santa,” I said, “How about the Easter Bunny?”

She replied, “No, David, the Easter Bunny isn’t real either.”

“Well, how about the Tooth Fairy?” I asked, as my world came crashing down around me.

“No, David, there is no Tooth Fairy. It’s just me and your Dad putting money under your pillow.”

Under the circumstances, the next obvious question seemed entirely logical. “Well, how about God,” I asked through my tears. “Is God real?”

My mother thought about that question a bit longer than the first three questions, but only a couple of seconds longer. “Yes, Honey,” she said, “There is a God.”

I was somewhat relieved to hear that at least one of my great heroes was real. But in that moment, a seed had been planted. I puzzled over why three figures in my life that all did magical things, but never seemed to show up when I was there, should turn out to be fake, when the fourth magical figure that never seemed to show up when I was there should be real.

I was raised as a Lutheran, and if anyone ever asked, I always claimed to be a Christian, but ever since that Santa episode, I had serious doubts that plagued me and became even more serious as I matured and learned and talked to others.

For many years I considered myself an agnostic, but one day some guy kept pestering me about whether I believed in God. I kept telling him I didn’t know for sure, and he kept bugging me by saying that’s not what he was asking. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I didn’t have a belief in God, and really hadn’t held such a belief for many years, even while I professed to be a Christian.

I claimed to be an agnostic, on the grounds that I really had no proof about God, but it was a giant leap for me to confess to myself and finally realize that I didn’t actually hold a belief in God at all. For years all I did was entertain the idea that God was a possibility, but not something I took seriously. My mother would have been deeply hurt had I realized this earlier, but my mother has long since passed away.

I miss my mother, but I can’t say I miss God.

Iris said...

I am so excited to get your CD. I've been an athiest since I was about 6 years old. I was living in Israel at the time, and it was the night of Yom Kipur. We were visiting my maternal Grandmother's home and my Mom and Grandmother were very eager to get me to bed early so they could chat. They told me to go to bed and think about what I had done that year to piss god off. I went to bed and thought, "I know this, I've done this before. Oh yeah! It's what I have to do with my parents all the time. Is god like my parents? Is god just a concept to keep people from doing bad things... like guilt?" I got out of bed and went to the kitchen where I shared this thought with my Mom and Grandmother. I was sent to bed again.

Anonymous said...

on uncomfortable inappropriate advances from the religious, i don't have any employer stories, but i've got a pretty good doctor story.

I went and got a weird shaped itching mole on my leg checked out by this doctor, and he said, yeah, that should come off. He cut it out and tested it, and then he told me it came up positive for malignant melanoma, and he'd have to take another bigger chunk of me out to make sure they got it all. They left me with a scar that he said "someone riding past on a horse would be able to see".

Afterward, he said i'd be fine and seemed really non-chalant about the whole thing, like it was routine and not a big deal. He didn't even look at my other moles, or instruct me to get my self checked over regularly. Then he gives me one of those little "Where are you going when you die?" pamphlets.

Anonymous said...

Hi all, mostly a lurker but have a few thoughts on the comments I have seen here tonight.

Firstly, bravo Julia for being so public about your beliefs, it isn't easy and for so public a figure that takes real guts.

I was raised by very loving non practicing believers. The only religous symbol in my house was the angel on top of the Christmas tree, the only time I saw the inside of a church was for weddings or funerals. If asked my parents would say they believed, I was christened Lutheran as was my brother. To say I was free to find my own way religously is an understatement, I recieved 0 direction from my parents. My brother has expressed some anger about that, me though, I am very happy for it.

Never was the wonder of the natural world dimmed by praise for a god.

Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny were all real, until one day they just weren't. I have no idea when that happened, it just did not impact me that much.

I celebrate Christmas with all the capitalist trappings, tree, ornaments, Rudolph. I still have the angel, it is just family tradition, not at all religous. Besides, the story of how she got into that position might disqualify her from Heaven, lol.

Anyway, the point to all that rambling is that I was an athiest from day one who loved Santa, still enjoys Christmas and Easter with no religous overtones.

Celebrate Christmas because it is fun, and something to do near the shortest day of the year. Easter? Well, Spring is coming, and for the ladies on the site, chocolate Easter Bunnies! What more do you need???

So a very unreligous Merry Christmas to everyone, lets hope for some more peace this coming year than this past one gave us.


Anonymous said...

Not everyone who signs their posts as "atheist" is actually an atheist.
I see it all the time in chat rooms. Someone comes in, saying Agnostics are such and such, and when the argument between atheists and agnostics ensue, they say, hey I am a xtian, you guys can't even get along.
Most of the atheists I have met, probably several hundred, not one had anything but great things to say about you and your comedy and performances.

Tell us about what you would like about your romance and marriage.

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