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Talking To Outspoken Atheist


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I am interested in discussing how to communicate with atheists who are influenced by the New Atheist movement.

 

First let me say I understand we all have different challenges in terms of our environment and who we interact with on a regular basis and I understand from browsing here that many progressive Christians find themselves in areas and situations where they are around conservative Christians. I grew up in that sort of environment and am sympathetic to the challenge which that entails. I happen to have a different experience for most of my adult life.

 

I was an academic and move from a liberal college town to the Northeast living in Maryland and now New Jersey where there is no shortage of liberals and progressive churches. What I have found though is that some of my friends from academia have become outspoken atheist and are not shy about sharing their point of view. Through them in places like Twitter and Facebook their friends, my friends of friends, are even more aggressive being quick to let everyone know that they consider any religion delusional and that religion should be eradicated for the good of civilization.

 

I am not looking for a debate with these people and don't want to return aggression with aggression but I feel like I need to be able to explain if asked why I practice Christianity and support an organize church (in my case The Episcopal Church).

 

I find that they use many of the arguments which progressive Christians would use in the face of fundamentalism but they go a step further and assert that any use God speak is delusional and that any support or allowance for organized religion is backward and in fact a great harm for society.

 

I am not sure it is useful to catalog the assertions and rebuttals. Maybe there are some that I would like help with. Mainly I think I am looking for mental and emotional support for something which has been challenging.

 

Some of the points which I have struggled with are:

-indoctrinating children in religion is child abuse,

-the church supported the Nazis who were inspired by and praised Martin Luther’s antisemitism,

-all spiritual experience is explainable by brain chemistry and to think otherwise is unscientific,

-the church has been on the wrong side of evolution, slavery, birth control, homosexuality, etc.

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Hi Scott,

 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and concerns here with us. I agree that these are indeed some confusing times as to the question of the role of religion in a modern society. I have struggled with this as well. Maybe I could just share some thoughts on the points that you articulated at the end of your post. Hopefully there's something here that might resonate with you, or if nothing else, give a sense of solidarity.

 

Some of the points which I have struggled with are:

-indoctrinating children in religion is child abuse,

 

I can see the validity of this assertion as far as fundamentalist religion goes, especially when 'hell' is ingrained into the thoughts of children, but also extending to the general suppression of intellectual freedom and even confusion about sexuality. These are indeed important issues, though whether they qualify as 'child abuse' is certainly a matter of debate. But let us not forget that everyone is indoctrinated into something. The religious and secular alike are raised with certain metaphysical presuppositions that may or may not turn out to be damaging. It can be argued that some forms of materialism can have unfortunate consequences as well.

 

-the church supported the Nazis who were inspired by and praised Martin Luther’s antisemitism,

 

The antisemitism of the church is indeed a horrible aspect of its history. The best way to deal with this, IMO, is to just be open about it and see it for what it is.

 

-the church has been on the wrong side of evolution, slavery, birth control, homosexuality, etc.

 

I would suggest that the church has been on both sides of this debate, but yes, I do acknowledge the problem here. The way I see it is that this is not really about 'religion' vs 'secularism', but about how the worldview of a former age is not easily set aside. A religion is not going to be better than the society it embodies.

 

Yet, as long as we are resting our beliefs on the doctrine of human rights - dignity, meaning, and value - I think we are still expressing essentially religious ideas. And while these may well be compatible with a secular worldview, it is at least the case that neither science nor materialism can detect or determine the existence of anything called a 'human right'. It seems to me that the doctrine of human rights is indistinguishable from a religious value.

 

-all spiritual experience is explainable by brain chemistry and to think otherwise is unscientific,

 

I saved this one for last because I think in this you have touched upon what is the most important issue. In fact, I would suggest that if the reality of mind were given a higher affirmation than it presently is in our modern philosophical climate, it would be surprising if more secularists did not gain a deeper appreciation of, and find continuity with, religious philosophy and the worldview of our ancestors.

 

While I cannot deny that neuroscience has deeply challenged what we previously might have believed about the nature of experience, I think in some sense we tend to be deeply misguided by reasoning about it only in terms of a materialist metaphysic. Setting aside the idea of 'spiritual experience', I would argue that no experience is explainable merely by reference to "brain chemistry", and some aspects of experience are hopelessly beyond any explication in terms of the metaphysical concept of materiality, a concept which, in my view, really boils down to a fallacy of misplaced concreteness. But I'd note that it is at least the case that even if materialism is a true account of things, it is by no means obvious or to be assumed a priori.

 

To me, all experience is spiritual, because reality itself is spiritual. A couple of good books on the mind/matter debate that have really been helpful to me are 'The Emergent Self' by William Hasker, and 'Panpyschism in the West' by David Skrbina. It's easy to give the concept of the "material" more ontological significance than is warranted, simply because it has become, in the popular imagination, synonymous with the virtues of the scientific method which, in turn, tends to be considered the only valid epistemology. Religious epistemology - other ways of knowing reality - are usually denied (though not without self-contradiction). Yet the two -- materialism and science -- are actually quite distinct, the former being a nonempirical metaphysical doctrine and the latter being an empirical methodology. Please see the thread on "scientism" for more elaboration on what I mean by this.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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Scott,

 

Michael Dowd calls the New Atheists prophets; they challenge Christians to know what they believe in a 21st century context with new scientific knowledge and global concerns. There has been a call for atheists to come out of the closet and they have been given set accusations to level. Their knowledge of Christianity and the Bible seems extensive in detail but not in depth. They will the list the genocides in Joshua without understanding how this false history was constructed.

 

-indoctrinating children in religion is child abuse,

 

So is the reductionist approach of science. I know that many atheists on the speakers tour will deny this. The point is that some are. Some religious practices toward children are abusive. They often come from parents who would be abusive anyway. So science suggests. The curriculum developed by ProgressiveChristianity.org is not abusive, it promotes values, attitudes ans skills necessary from creating a compassionate and just society. The same can be said for other mainstream curriculum. As Mike observed all children are indoctrinated that's why some of us returned to church when our children were born. We liked the values taught.

-the church supported the Nazis who were inspired by and praised Martin Luther’s antisemitism,

 

the Church was co-opted by the Nazis. Just as in evolution one mechanism can be adapted for another purpose - and it is not always advantageous. Many religious people rejected this co-option and that's why we have the Barmen confession. Science was in the forefront of the Nazi goal of purifying the race. That's why eugenics disappeared as something you could talk about.

-the church has been on the wrong side of evolution, slavery, birth control, homosexuality, etc.

 

As Mike said the church was always on the both sides of slavery from the very beginning. Just ask the Quakers. Scientists - in this case psychologists, uninfluenced by religion, defined homosexuality as a disease until the middle of the last century. Science brought us thalidomide babies, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, frontal lobotomies, cigarettes, blood letting. Daniel Dennett says that what distinguishes science and religion is that science says, Oops. Well I think religion says Oops too. Religious thinkers and writers from the J and E scribes, the Priestly writers and the Deuteronomist historians began by slanting their stories and revisions toward a new understanding (or agenda). Prophets changed their messages according the conditions on the ground. Paul revised his presentations every where he traveled. Borg, spong, and other theologians continue to find new language and new ways of seeing our faith. Science and religion are both confessional. They recognize when their known world no longer matches the discovered world and make changes accordingly. Search Stephen Jay Gould and skulls. Recently a grad student discovered that his research for his book, The Measurement of Man, was carelessly done, and willfully biased. Google "de-discovery" for conversations about how long it takes science to correct a mistake - the autism and vaccine research in the UK, again bad research - scientific information that has fueled increasing resistances to vaccines in America. Which threatens the health of all of us, religious and atheist. It has taken years for scientists to discover and point out the faulty research.

 

-all spiritual experience is explainable by brain chemistry and to think otherwise is unscientific,

 

Mike and I have had discussions about this. See the skeptic thread. Hear Andrew Newberg interview by Robert Wright. Andrew is not religious but he says that brain science can not tell anything about the quality or the reality of one's religious experience. In response to the question about whether mystical experiences can be validated as the existence of a table can be validated Newberg says the many people who have mystical experiences across the ages and across cultures say the same things about their experiences. That shows that there is verifiable event that can be cross referenced with many others. People who say that the television has special messages for them do not have this kind of validation. Science can not show that the experience of the table and the mystical experience are in any way different.

Atheists may also say that religions are superstitious, tribal understandings. But religion changes

 

from Ilida Delio, book Christ in Evolution, the first chapter available online

 

In the axial period, consciousness evolved from mythic awareness “governed by ‘projection,’ fantasy, and wish fulfillment” to critical reflection. Philosophers and spiritual teachers appeared, calling the public to use the intellect to free themselves from collective consciousness, from the physical world, from myth and ritual. With the awakening of reflective subjectivity, the individual could take a stand against the collectivity, become a distinct moral and spiritual self, and embark on an individual spiritual journey. Evolution in Christ first chapter is available on line.

On the different ways of knowing in science and religion - again from Ilia Delio

 

Her language is rich and multilayered. In referring to her body sense of knowing I use the phrase "butt on the bench hand in the garden soil way of knowing." Her brain was "re-wired" by sitting on a bench praying 7 days a week for months. Her brain was "re-wired by learning how to garden at the Carmelite monastery. It is not a knowledge which can interrogated by intellect.

 

I do think a lot of people get stuck either in the world of rational thinking from the scientific point of view or in faith alone, without any reasoning, in the world of religion. On either side there’s a reluctance to allow reasoning and faith to come together and to allow the brain to be exercised or rewired to be more encompassing of both of what we can know in the world by way of experience and what we can know in the world by way of faith.

They are not opposed. The only way they are opposed is if we make them oppose—if we throw up our defenses,with all sorts of rational reasons. But we know that knowledge itself is much deeper than reason alone. The deepest knowledge, and this goes to all religions since the ancient traditions, is really wisdom. And wisdom is knowledge deepened by love. Wisdom is the bridge, between the rational knower and the faith knower. The one who knows, who can use reason. a reason now deepened by faith and by love—this one knows the world and the things in this world in a much deeper way.

 

Religion is maladaptive

 

Get to know David Sloan Wilson. He will help you blunt the focus on religion. He is an atheist but has written a book, Darwin's Cathedral, about the evolutionary advantage of religion. He says that religion should not be in a category of its own for new atheists to target. I think he uses the term "motivational systems"

 

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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If you or they have kids read them this. Unless it doesn't agree with your cosmology.

 

Seeds and Stardust by Jim Burklo

Here is just the introduction.

 

It’s awesome!

That I came from a seed

and so did you.

 

Fifteen billion years ago,

The universe was so small

It was hardly more than a fuzzy speckle,

Barely as big as a freckle on a flea.

And all that there was and all that could be

Was rolled up inside like a baby in a blanket.

Everything that came before

Dreams and dinosaurs,

Planets and popsicles,

Gardens and galaxies,

Was packed inside so tightly

That one thing had just about no room

To be any different than another thing.

Outer space was squished inner.

Time was scrunched down so much

That then was when

And yesterday was balled up with tomorrow

And forever was now and never.

There was so much inside the seed

That it was so heavy that nothing

Could escape its gravity.

It was hotter than a billion billion chile peppers

You couldn’t see it because you were in it

And even if you were out of it you couldn’t see it

Because all the light was stuck inside of it!

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Thank you for the thoughtful replies. I will take some time to study them carefully.

 

Over the last day I have been struggling with the question of whether I should simply ignore the active atheist; I could simply unfollow all of the people I have accumulated online who like to shout out the New Atheist talking points. I was struck by the comment about the atheist being prophets. This I believe is why I am not inclined to plug my ears and simply ignore this movement. It seems that it is necessary to take this in and find a way to digest it and react to it.

 

In some ways it is taking me back to my childhood memories of the evangelical school and my struggles to come to terms my doubts and concerns about what I was being taught there. There is something similar. There I was taught that for most of history (since apparently right after the disciples of Jesus died) the church had been corrupted and only recently had the evangelicals rediscovered the true religion of the early church which we were being taught. As I learned for myself about history and the rich culture that has existed for the last two thousand years including the Roman Catholic Church I realized I could not accept such a rejection of our past. I knew I needed to be open to tradition and to understand that tradition together with reason informs understanding.

 

Through this lens, I see the New Atheist as saying that human culture has been corrupted by religion for as long as we can remember and only now with science have we broken free and found the true culture of science to replace all religions. Therefore they call for a rejection of traditions and a call to despise history instead of honoring our past.

 

Hopefully I have been successfully inoculated against that type of hubris.

 

PS.

The most striking comment I saw yesterday was an atheist quoting Psalm 137.9. Yes, that is a challenging verse and I am not likely to bring that one up in my children's Sunday school.

 

On the mind, I have been influenced by the book Being No One by Thomas Metzinger which is a purely scientific description of consciousness. I will have a look at the other thread and maybe bring it up there.

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Through them in places like Twitter and Facebook their friends, my friends of friends, are even more aggressive being quick to let everyone know that they consider any religion delusional and that religion should be eradicated for the good of civilization.

 

Scott,

 

I guess one could say there are extreme fundamentalists in all religions or movements depending on how you want to look at it which to me includes "the New Atheist movement". :) To me that seems to be no different than religion and the common denominator is the both are made up of humans. If i were asked, "are some religions delusional ?", i would respond that it seems to me to be so. Are all religions delusional ? If so, then it would seem to me that so is New Atheism.as it fits under my dictionary definition of religion at least in one area. ( ie: A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion. ) although perhaps that would be an arguable point with a New Atheist. One can google " Is New Atheism a religion" and find points on both sides but it remains in my experience that when it comes to being delusional, religion holds no exclusive claim to that term.

 

If one requires information and reasoning to debate such issues, i think some of the previous posts in this thread have done a really good job of answering your specifics. Personally, "New Atheists" sound to me to be equally as dangerous to society as extreme fundamentalists of any religion can be. Hopefully, all this will pass with experience and time and perhaps reasoning may play a good part?

 

Just one man's thoughts on the subject,

Joseph

 

 

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My preferred tactic is out science the New Atheists: more history, sociology, cognitive science, etc. I agree 100% with Mike about Scientism, something more than a few New Atheists seem to have a proclivity towards.

 

But here are some things I would do to try to de-escalate the conversation, and bring it back to something more reasonable:

 

First, what is the difference between socialization & indoctrination? We always socialize our children (and ourselves). It cannot be avoided, and even if it could be, it would end badly. Their definition of indoctrination cannot simply be "socialization involving information I disagree with," unless they're willing to reject several centuries of liberal democratic theory. Any answer they give will necessarily create some nuance, because if they're being intellectually honest, they'll have to acknowledge that children can be exposed to some forms of religion without being abuse, even if they still think it is wrong.

 

Second, there is no such thing called "The Church." Look up the Confessing Church in Germany, and you'll see some people who were on the right side of things. Karl Barth wrote the Barmen Declaration denouncing any attempt at blending Christianity and fascism, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an active member (and eventual martyr) of the resistance movement. Both insisted their opposition to Nazism was based in their faith, not in spite of their faith.

 

Third, science & religion serve radically different social functions and have radically different ways of constructing truth. Consequently, they ought to be compatible in some way. Progressive Christianity and New Atheism (or at least atheism) can be united in their opposition to anti-scientific forms of religion. However, New Atheism (as promoted by Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris) is grounded in a very dramatic claim that all religion is necessarily destructive, not just incorrect. Honestly, this is the biggest problem I have with people taking a New Atheist tact, because if we're doing science as opposed to SCIENCE! (which Harris loves dearly), we need to be careful about the variables we're talking about. Yes, as human institutions, churches are "inside power relations", and as such they often promote racism, sexism, economic inequality and a whole host of other, horrible things. However, the question then becomes why is religion inherently a different human activity than other areas of social life. Science, family, government, the economy... all aspects of society are capable of being used for horrible things, precisely because they're still within society and run by humanity. Religious belief, practice, & experience can be liberated from these forces in similar ways that the state, family, and economy can.

 

 

Also, here are some "fun" links:

where he argues that SCIENCE! can be used to ground morality in objective fact. You don't need to be a sociologist or a philosopher to realize there is a big, hand-waving problem with statements like, "All human morality is based on minimizing suffering."

 

New Atheism often doesn't let facts get in the way of their rants. At a

a few years ago, Harris wanted to make sweeping statements about how religion is evil and bad (except Buddhism, which he loves in a sadly orientalist way). Scott Atran, an anthropologist who has written books on things like suicide bombers, was in the audience and argued Harris' understanding isn't really factual.

 

As a sociologist and a Progressive Christian, I have gigantic problems with the New Atheists such as Harris. They use bad science to justify ridiculous over-generalizations about something called "Religion," which is, scientifically speaking, a category so broad that it borders on being useless.

 

EDIT: I want to be clear I see vast differences between atheism and New Atheism. New Atheism is an identity and a stance that believes all religious is not just incorrect, but necessarily delusional and ends in oppression. I accept people will think I am wrong in my beliefs, but if someone wants to tell me that my beliefs necessarily lead to EVIL, he or she better have a very good argument. More llikely, I'll excuse myself from the conversation, because life is too short for bad-faith argumentation.

Edited by Nick the Nevermet
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Wow! There's a gold mine of good material in these responses, I'm actually going to copy them for my personal reference resources. While many of the things alread said, points others have made here, are ones I agree with, and some of them points I might have presented myself. However, since others have already made them better than I ever could, I'm going to try to focus on contributing something different in this response.

 

In my response here, I look at trying to better understand these people and where they are coming from, and how we can use that to modify our interactions with them.

 

When Sam Harris' "The End of Faith" was assigned reading for a Religous Studies course I took, "Clash of Civilizations", in which the primary text was Harrington's book by that title, it was my first look at how atheists actually reason out their position. I found Harris' book disturbing in a way I was already in a state of disturbance, if that makes any sense.

 

What I found so disturbing was in how many of Harris's points, I had to agree with him, even if I came to a different conclusion than he has. In fact, his reasoned arguments often provided me a clearer understanding of my own reasons for rejecting certain things about the church, religion in general, and my own Christian religion in particular. The end affect on me was to further strengthen something I had already come to, that of divorcing God from religion. It seemed to me the God Harris rejects is not actually God, but the God images religions create for themselves, and how people use that to evil ends.

 

I think an understanding of where these "aggresive", often overtly hostile atheists have become so for much the same reasons some of us have become so toward what we see as 'bad' religion, particularly those of us that have felt hurt by overly conservative, fundamentalist Christians. Most of us participating on this board have experienced the hostility and aggression of those caught up in that form of religion as it is directed toward ourselves, as liberal, or progressive Christians. It is natural, and so easy, when we feel unfairly and cruelly attacked for our beleif position, to react by forming a defensive, angry, even hostile shield against those we feel hurt by.

 

Unfortunately, if we don't realize what we are doing, we can easily become as offensive toward them as we feel that have been and are, toward us. Through our reaction formation, we can become them! I think many defensive, angry, antagonistic atheists have in that same "become" just as their persecutors. Now consider how athiests in our society are veiwed by, often treated by, those very same conservative, fundamentalist Christians,and in fact by similar elements in other religions as well, including Islam and Judism.

 

For any of us as Christian, we need to guard ourselves against defensive, hostile reactions to the challenges and attacks of those atheists, recognizing that if we fall into a natural defensive response, again, we are in danger of not only becoming them, but adding fuel to an already hot fire, forcing them to react even more strongly to us and other religious.

 

This often means we need to avoid being drawn into arguments we know aren't going to change anyone's mind. Those in defense posture already are not open to discussing these challenges they throw ourway,and we are best to realize that from the start. I see this in the same sense as I responded to a thread about homophobia in the Spong forum, which goes alongthe line of....

 

....I know we stand on different positions in this issue...I've already heard all the arguments you are likely to cite as defense for your position, and you've already heard any that I might present to defend my own. So why don't we just accept that nothing you say is going to change my mind, and nothing I say is going to change yours, so let's just not go there, ok?

 

...a sort of agreeing to disagree, so we can move on and not let this difference define either of us or any relationship we may have otherwise. My son is a self-professed atheist, for many of the reasons I mentioned in Harris' book. This is how we have been able to remain in good relationship, without letting the atheist matter destroy what other parts of our relationship that are good.

 

Jenell

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This is a TED Lecture by Sam Harris where he argues that SCIENCE! can be used to ground morality in objective fact. You don't need to be a sociologist or a philosopher to realize there is a big, hand-waving problem with statements like, "All human morality is based on minimizing suffering."

I happen to listen to this yesterday. It is no more rational than a sermon. He does speak in a post-post modern world which has realized that although people are entitled to their opinions and views about morality, some of them can be quite wrong. I think many of us have moved beyond that unexamined relativism. I have no quarrel. But he speaks from a unexamined privilege and failure to acknowledge who has been contributing to the effort to create a compassionate and just society.

 

Mostly I was struck about unscientific it was.

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Great contributions everyone, I'm enjoying this thread.

 

Scott,

 

On the mind, I have been influenced by the book Being No One by Thomas Metzinger which is a purely scientific description of consciousness. I will have a look at the other thread and maybe bring it up there.

 

Please do feel free to do so.

 

From what I've been able to gather, most such descriptions of consciousness are rooted some way in the Cartesian intuition of mind and matter - and the more they try to break away from that intuition, the more they presuppose it.

 

Descartes' definition of matter was jury-rigged to require mind, and I consider it a very strange accident of history that most people today believe in a doctrine of materiality that was designed to refute materialism. I think the problem lies not with 'mind' per se but with the extraordinarily narrow concept of 'physicality' being entertained today. As such, I question how 'scientific' such projects can really be since they so closely involve a (very dubious, as I see it) metaphysical commitment rather than an unbiased consideration of empirical phenomena.

 

Peace,

Mike

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I absolutely agree that one needs to know what conversations one is getting into, and that active hostility is to be avoided.

 

Jurgen Habermas makes a useful distinction between instrumental and communicative action. Instrumental action has a goal one is moving towards, and efficiency is the watchword. Communicative action, on the other hand, is the act of trying to understand others and coming to a common understanding ("Intersubjectivity" in Habermas' terminology).

 

Bad Things happen when people enter debate with the goal to win. Sometimes, you need to defend yourself verbally, but generally speaking, this is not a good place to go. Habermas has a long discussion of what makes for an ideal speech moment in communicative action, but it amounts to arguing in good faith and actually listening to the other side.

 

I'm not sure there is a need to create consensus (some feminist theorist criticized Habermas for making consensus the goal of communicative rationality), but either way, there is a time and a place for good faith disagreements and discussions. If one does not find oneself in those situations, one has to think long and hard about why they would want to press an argument.

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Over the last day I have been struggling with the question of whether I should simply ignore the active atheist; I could simply unfollow all of the people I have accumulated online who like to shout out the New Atheist talking points. I was struck by the comment about the atheist being prophets. This I believe is why I am not inclined to plug my ears and simply ignore this movement. It seems that it is necessary to take this in and find a way to digest it and react to it.

 

My experience has been that these folks have made up their minds and are very difficult to have an open discussion with. I have the same trouble with the bible literalists in that they arrogantly refuse to consider any viewpoint other than their own. For those who I am personally close ( my father) ... after one of his rants I told him he sounded like an evangelical. I told him none of us know anything for sure and all we can do is find our own truth and for any of us to force a belief system on another person is disrespectful . I further pointed out that the abuses he points to were made by people who , like himself, knew they were right, and maybe the abuses were/are the result of the "Tribal Mentality" and that tribal atheism is just as likely to foster abuses as tribal religion. Spong has a very good youtube video on tribal religion. As I spoke with Dad I found that much of his anger is a response to fundamental Christians not respecting his viewpoint.

 

I am reminded of a quote in the front of Brian McClarens book "A new kind of christianity" that suggests that once we have the right belief system that is never in need of consideration or change we will know we are wrong.

 

If you can change the focus of the discussion from religion to tribalism you have a chance of pointing out that the aggressive atheist is very little different from the fundementalist christian/muslim/jew/hindu/..... .

 

Good Luck

 

steve

 

steve

 

 

This is a great thread with solid insight.

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Steve posted: "I am reminded of a quote in the front of Brian McClarens book "A new kind of christianity" that suggests that once we have the right belief system that is never in need of consideration or change we will know we are wrong."

 

How very true! A great insight...thanks!

 

Jenell

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"Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum dei", The church reformed is always reforming according to the Word of God.

 

In other words, as a human institution, the church is never perfect, and must always be changing, evolving. One must be on constant vigil against religious arrogance.

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Scott, some thoughts on your deciding what to do about those online that shout out things you find offensive....

 

There is a definite difference between intellegently and respectfully presenting or discussing/debating an opposing position, and abuse. I define abuse here as postings that disrespect, denigrate, ridicule, insult, name call, distort facts, etc, and I would apply this standard to any and all areas, where it be topics related to God, faith, and religion, or politics, social issues, other people whether private or celebrity....

 

Finding such posts unpleasant is not the only reason we need to limit our contact with such stuff and the people that spew it. It is also because we can't help but be negatively affected by it, just as we are (our health) what we eat, so is our mind what we expose ourselves to.

 

First, where say you "follow" online, I assume you mean like their blogs or websites or forums....I'd say if they are offensive to you, just "unfollow."

 

Second, if you mean such as people on a social networking site, like Facebook, here's how I've dealt with it. I am ok with others posting opinions different from my own, as long as they are intellegent and respectfull in it. But when someone on my friends list is posting material I find offensive, whether for the reasons already given here, or for anything such as sexually explicit, lewd material, or angry rants about anything suggesting violent responses, etc, I will privately express my concerns to that person, explain why I find it offensive...if it involves lewd sexual content or filthy language, I may add that I do have children/young people that might view my page....and tell them if they continue to post things I find offensive, I will unfriend them. Sometimes, when there wasn't much of any close relationship with that person, or, if the postings are so blatantly bad most anyone would find them offensive, I won't bother to inform them first, I'll just go ahead and unfriend that person.

 

Jenell

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You might also add the the communism is usually officially atheist and is not immune to abuses. If you are expected to defend the abuses of "Christian" Nazi Germany eh should be expected to defend the abuses of "athiest" Stalin, Lenin, and Mao.

 

steve

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Thank you so much for all the rich material in your replies. Again let me say I will need to spend some time digesting and following up on all the great suggestions on references.

 

Here is a quick thought which I have been going over the last two days on replying (not literally but in my own mind) to an atheist on twitter who is particularly sharp in his rants about doing away with all religion. Today he posted something like 'instead of teaching your children the fairy tales about god you should be teaching them about all the abuses of religion in history'.

 

The issue I think is the tool which they claim to be using, namely science and reason. Neither I believe can address 'what if' questions about history. It is probably impossible to even consider that humanity could have come out of the bronze age without religion. If you did imagine it though there would be no way to know what abuses would have existed under a different banner. I see no application of science here, science cannot tell us what would have happened in history if some thing or another had been different. Also, I am not sure that I would say that reason can provide any definitive insight on what history would have looked like if we had not left the bronze age with theist religions. So it appears this person is actually using something other than science or reason.

 

It appears to be a subjective belief that the world could have been different if we had just eliminated or avoided theistic religion at some critical point in the past. And it is a subjective belief that we would be better off now if we were to somehow eliminate religion now.

 

These are partial ideas so I am not sure if they are well expressed or whether there is a flaw in my thinking. In particular, I am not sure they know or maybe just I don't know if I know how they claim to use reason in this question.

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The issue I think is the tool which they claim to be using, namely science and reason. Neither I believe can address 'what if' questions about history. It is probably impossible to even consider that humanity could have come out of the bronze age without religion. If you did imagine it though there would be no way to know what abuses would have existed under a different banner.

Scott,

 

Religion is a cultural universal. It has been part of every human societies as far back as there is evidence. There is evidence going back 40-50K years in prehistory with cave paintings and grave goods. And, it persisted in some form, even when suppressed like in the USSR and Red China.

 

But, the best examples I can think of for secular dominant societies are the USSR and Red China. I wouldn't want to defend these as exemplars of humanism.

 

IMO, we as humans, will express our cultural attitudes in our religion. A more peaceful culture will have peace promoting religion. A militaristic culture will have militaristic religion. So, I don't think religion is the determiner, it is the culture that determines the religion. Without religion, we will express these basic attitudes in secular ideologies and institutions.

 

George

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IMO, we as humans, will express our cultural attitudes in our religion

We attribute to God our highest value. The writers of Joshua called on a Divine Warrior. The New Atheists, the fundamentalists who believe that the literal is the highest value call him Science. :P Neither understood the Ultimate Reality they reached for.

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an odd thought

It is probably impossible to even consider that humanity could have come out of the bronze age without religion.

In the June 2011 National Geographic article, The Birth of Religion, about Gobleki Tepe, "the World's First Temple", anthropologists are considering that possibility that religion - as a institution - may have precipitated settlements rather than arising out of them.

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You might also add the the communism is usually officially atheist and is not immune to abuses. If you are expected to defend the abuses of "Christian" Nazi Germany eh should be expected to defend the abuses of "athiest" Stalin, Lenin, and Mao.

I think of these as totalitarian ideologies as not much different than a authoritarian religious institution with rigid beliefs.

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Just a tiny nitpick, there is no such thing as the "New Atheists." The "New Atheists" aren't saying anything new that hasn't already been said decades before by people like Thomas Paine, David Hume, and Robert Ingersoll. The only thing "new" about the "New Atheists" is that they're much more vocal now thanks to the advent of the Internet and the atheist blogosphere but the arguments themselves are not new. I think it would be more accurately to describe them as anti-theistic atheists. I think the way we should interact with anti-theistic atheists is the same way we interact with anyone else who participates in these religious discussions. Jesus said to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Even if we disagree on the relevance of religion to society, we can still show kindness to others even if they don't show kindness back. You can even form friendships with them if they're open to it and put aside the differences you have with them if they're open to forming friendships with you and if they aren't, then that's their loss and not yours. Jesus didn't win the hearts of people through winning Internet debates but it was through positive action. Jesus showed kindness and acceptance to everyone even those who were the most hated in mainstream society. Even when Jesus was hanging on the cross, he didn't condemn the people who persecuted him even though he may have been justified in doing so but he prayed for God to forgive them because they didn't know what they were doing. In these discussions, we often focus on the things about the New Atheists we disagree with on rather than the things we agree with them on but I happen to think progressive Christianity has more in common with the New Atheists than things we disagree with on. Some of the things we all happen to agree on

 

-Freedom of religion is an important essential aspect to preserve the stability of society.

-Religious theocracies always end up in tears and tragedy.

-Biblical literalism is difficult to maintain in modern society thanks to the discoveries of science and mainstream biblical scholarship.

-Many texts in the bible are very troubling to our modern understanding of morality and have been used to promote intolerance and immorality.

-Everyone deserves equal rights and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

 

The things we disagree on

-Religion is the source of all evil in society

The relevance of spirituality to society

The compatibility of religion with science

 

If Jesus could pray for the people who murdered him, then Christians can surely forgive those people who mock their beliefs and show them the same kind of love and kindness Jesus showed people who hated him. If we can co-operate and accept religions who come from entirely different cultures than ours, than why can't we put aside the two or three things we differ in with the anti-theistic atheists and focus on the issues we have in common? When the anti-theistic atheists share so much in common with progressive Christianity, then is it really that different and can we really say they're just as "bad" as the fundamentalist Christians?

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Nick,

 

A good analyst of the true nature of the forces that call religion to change. Your call for friendship (inter-subjectivity as it has been named elsewhere) rather than demonization is needed. But they are the "New Atheists" because they called themselves "New Atheists" It wasn't their term to begin with but they use it and it has meaning. It may be a "denominational" term and we should not use it pejoratively or in fear as we have sometimes done. They are pressuring Christians to become clear about the religion we practice or our spiritual-but-not-religious walk.

 

Dutch

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