Thursday, May 17, 2007

Delusional NIge

This morning, while I waited at my commuter station - no Adlestrop it - a goldfinch was singing its heart out in the greenery just yards from where I was standing. Nice work by the props department to provide this link with yesterday's thoughts...
Today's began when I got on the train and noticed that the man opposite was reading, avidly, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. I have seen this phenomenon before, and it is invariably a man, and invariably reading avidly. I know much has been said of Dawkins on this (highly delusional and proud of it) blog, but there is one thing that still genuinely mystifies me about the success of this book. Why should anyone, in today's cultural climate - especially in this country - feel so threatened by the idea of God as to feel the need of Dawkins' prickling battery of surface-to-air missiles to send it crashing and burning to the ground (not that D does any such thing of course, but his avid readers aren't likely to notice that). In this country, God makes only the most hesitant and apologetic appearances in any public discourse, what George Herbert called 'the sweet mediocrity of our native church' has only become sweeter (and more crushingly mediocre), there is no prsent threat from God or religion in any shape or form.
Militant atheism in past eras and particular cultures was an entirely understandable cultural force - but in Britain today? What is going on? The only theory I can come up with is that many people have a nagging sense that possibly, just possibly, Something might have been lost - and, rather than inquire into what that Something might be, these uninquiring minds (products of our largely fraudulent education system) prefer to put an end to any such doubts altogether by arming themselves with Dawkins' adamantine certainties.
Anyway, the goldfinch was lovely.


  1. The fool hath said in his heart, or is it mind, there is no God, and we all know there's no talking to a fool, Nige.

  2. Richard DawkinsMay 17, 2007 10:27 am

    There's a line by the famous German mystic, Meister Eckhart, which beautifully shows up my ignorant materialist mindset:
    "Simple people imagine that they should see God as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge."

  3. The rage that atheists feel towards believers is very strange. i spent three years as a non-believer in a Xian college surrounded by Evangelical religious nutters, but met at most disapproval and suspicion from their ranks - never hatred or rage.

    Atheists, on the other hand, seem genuinely infuriated by anyone who isn't an atheist. i can understand holding Xians to account for Hell or the past crimes of Xianity, but hating someone just because they believe in God seems...nuts. But there it is.

    i note that on Bryan's last religion post, the only really sour and vicious notes came from the atheists. They seem incensed that anyone believes the world is other than a blind mechanical assemblage, which suggests that their nihilism is itself a belief. Non-belief surely wouldn't require such a rabid defence? It reminds me of a chap i know who used to harangue me for liking jazz & poetry - he seemed really pissed off and enraged that i liked them, as if this in some way threatened him.

  4. Elberry, as you say, non-believers are liable to give believers the hardest time - and that applies in all fields. The chap threatened by your liking for jazz and poetry reminds me of the numerous people who have lambasted me over the years purely because I enjoyed doing something they didn't - vegetarianism being a particular trigger. During my 16 years as a vegetarian, I constantly found myself under attack from meat eaters who demanded an explanation as to why I was wearing leather shoes . Why should I be forced to justify myself , when I was never the sort to try and convert carnivores or force them to go to veggie restaurants, let alone make an issue out of our differing dietary habits? But then, people always go on the offensive when they don't understand...
    J Cheever Loophole

  5. It is an interesting (and worrisome) phenomenon and it reminds me a little bit of modern attitudes to smoking. As upper middle class people have become further and further removed from any exposure to the nefarious weed whatsoever, their palpable rage and disgust for it has grown, not abated. Thirty years ago they complained about the lack of non-smoking areas, but today they become apoplectic if you even suggest the latest research on the immediate, fatal affects of occasional sixth hand smoke is perhaps a little overstated.

    Normally I'm not big on argument by psychoanalysis, but as you point out, it is so irrational that it's hard not to. So I'll throw out the thesis of St. Malcom of Muggeridge that a lot of it has to do with sex (and overall family commitment). The very idea that that our sexual identities and freedom to walk away may or should be constrained by tenets of objective morality (with Somebody keeping tabs)is very, very disturbing to modern Brights and even not-so-Brights and they react viscerally to the very suggestion there are a few universal rules, imagining all manner of resulting neuroses and psychic warping ( drool, drool, twitch, twitch). After all, it's is the only Commandment most modern folks really have trouble with and see as personally threatening. And wild and crazy Richard does include "enjoying our sex lives" as one of his commandments. (Can you imagine the size of the ego of anyone who, instead of giving us advice, bequeaths us commandments?)

    The funny thing is that this sexual libertarianism is often solely in the head and unrelated to reality. We've all encountered throughly unadventurous, boring couples who will assure with conviction they undertstand completely why some folks stray, why people have different "needs", why couples should be tolerant of the demands of each other's ids, why we must not be judgmental, blah, blah. The prospect that they themselves would so indulge appears unfathomable. However, in those cases where they do, or rather their partners do, the world explodes and they either spend years talking to the walls or go completely ballistic.

  6. the question is: which presence should concern you most, Dawkins or God?

    It's Dawkins, of course! because the other doesn't exist.

    post validated - please carry on...

  7. God, I can take.
    Jazz & poetry? Fuck no.

  8. Elberry, I'm with you. I grew up in the hyper-religious South (of the U.S.), yet no one ever spent the energy trying to proselytize me there that the atheists did once I moved to "intellectual" NYC.

    I think what is maddening to militant atheists is this: Faith is not reasonable, so there are no arguments that can defeat it. I don't wear it on my sleeve and it's fine with me whatever beliefs (or lack thereof) that others have. I'm not out to convince them to my way of thinking, I just want them to permit me to follow my own heart.

    Come to think of it, I am now reminded of a posse of militant lesbians I knew in graduate school. They were convinced that everyone was really gay at heart, but some were repressing it. As a girl raised with all brothers and quite the tomboy in some respects, I seemed to them the poster girl for their beliefs. But I wasn't, not at all! I found them pushier than the many guys who had crushes on me (this was back in the day, obviously). Men, at least, can usually take no for an answer.

    I have no idea where I'm going with this. I like the finch, too, Nige. A few days ago I was weeding my flower beds when I saw what I thought was a huge dragon fly hovering near the Franklinia tree. It perched on a branch for a moment and, by God, 'twas the most gorgeous little hummingbird I've ever seen. It had almost turquoise wings and a soft, grayish body. Anyone ever seen a hummingbird with that coloring?

    Nature will make you believe in God. Pied-beauty and all that.

  9. The issue with D has less to do with any persons belief in God than it has with his belief that his opinion is correct.

    The Goldfinch, is much more interesting. Did he sound annoyed or even peeved, what with a big Englishman lumbering 'round in his area of seduction. Imagine the reverse, and with something the size of that europlane. Next time, nod with dignity to the chap, and move.

  10. For me, it is not about putting an end to any lingering doubts (I can live with doubt), but more to do with a sense of fellowship. It is comforting (consoling, even) to come across others who share your views. It is even more pleasing to see those view articulated so well in print (that is not to suggest I agree with all Dawkins has to say). Just to add, it is my impression that militant atheists are small in number. The majority are mild-mannered souls like me. I think you generalise a bit, Elberry.

  11. I hope you're right, Neil - certainly agnostics are mild-mannered types, but they cld hardly be otherwise. As for the goldfinch, Vince, I like to think he was singing from sheer joie de vivre - not that that wld be much enhanced by my presence either.
    Interesting line from Peter there, too - I think there's a lot in that...

  12. On the gay thing, Susan, I had a similar experience in my late teens. An acquaintance of mine who was gay (very) wouldn't accept my word. He tried to convince me that beneath all the layers of my heterosexual yearning, there was a gay man trying to get out. Well, he hasn't surfaced yet. I think he may have given up.

  13. oh, definitely Neal (generalising, i mean) - i guess i only really notice the militants, because the rest don't see any need to talk or shout about it. It's the old problem that you base your assumptions on what you notice, forgetting that what you notice will often be exceptional (exceptionally loud, for example), and so your assumptions will be skewed.

    people always think i'm gay too, but that's probably because i'm camp as tits.

  14. Yes the gay thing - and indeed much else in popular 'thinking', especially about sex - goes back to that mouldy Freudian chestnut Repression. The great John Bowlby - a humane psychologist - linked this to Freud's ideas of how the physical world worked, which were based on a kind of hydraulic model involving the build-up and release of pressures. Systems theory, according to Bowlby, provides much more useful models of how humans actually work.

  15. I see lots of people reading The God Delusion on the train/tube also. Strange.
    My husband, a professor of biophysics, read it also (probably in part on the train/tube? No, scratch that, he works in those places). He found the book a bit didactic -- at one point he said that the delusion was Dawkins's, in that Dawkins thought he was God, but as he got more into it, it grew on him. Pretty positive about it by the end. How many of these commenters have read it? (I haven't, but I've read most of Dawkins's earlier books).

    My husband has just finished a book about military strategy in the Peninsular War, penguin, by Michael Glover. He seemed to enjoy that a lot more, I have to admit.

  16. My suggestion regarding the Dawkins reading passengers is a nudge on the knee, a meaningful gaze, followed by the hushed line, "He is a Freemason, you know." A barely observable but yet potent increase in intensity of the meaningful gaze, and then a retreat into self-contained anonymous obscurity.

  17. I find the whole issue of evangelical atheism fascinating. I don't believe in astrology. I find it hard to believe that anyone with any talent for rational thinking does believe in astrology. The fact that astrologers can make money at what seems to be a complete and total fraud is astonishing and just a little depressing. But I never try to argue believers out of their belief and, frankly, I just don't care that much that they do believe. I can't imagine becoming emotionally invested in an anti-astrology crusade.

    So why do the militant atheists care so much?

    Now, there are plenty of atheists (defined simply as people who don't believe that G-d exists or, more broadly, people who don't believe in any supernatural forces unexplainable by the laws of physics) who don't much care. They accept that their neighbors do have such beliefs although they might have trouble accepting that those beliefs are in earnest. They might even regret that those beliefs interfere with the teaching of evolution or with accepting what they see as rational policies. But they don't dedicate their lives to stamping out irrational beliefs.

    On the other hand, there are Dawkins and his ilk.

    Part of it is that, for people who have accepted reason as the final arbiter of good and bad (not, of course, evil), the rejection of reason is inexplicable. It is irrational. They can't conceive of people choosing irrationality over reason and think that if they can just demonstrate that their beliefs are irrational, are not founded upon science, then surely the believers will give up. That they don't then becomes maddening.

    The other part, which applies to only a few atheists but the most vocal, is that their atheism is not actually founded on reason, however much they claim that it is. Their atheism is, instead, a Christian heresy.

    You can identify these people fairly easily. First, they care a lot (as heretics tend to do). Second, they want to argue theology and, in particular, want to show ad nauseum why the Christian churches in general and the Catholic Church in particular don't actually follow the teachings of Jesus. They have strong opinions about the moral failings of the church throughout history -- Mother Teresa was a sadist who enjoyed the suffering of the poor (yes, Christopher Hitchens, I'm looking at you) or Pope Pius was a Nazi. Unless provoked, they don't take off after Jews or Buddhists or Hindus, their focus is entirely on Christianity. Their attacks, in other words, are on religion rather than on G-d -- just like Jesus.

  18. Susan, I grew up in the South, too, and I do not believe one single, solitary word of your post.

  19. Nige, you must be a *stone's throw away from my abode!

    Glad to see you are now including the links!

    As for G-d, I would let it that be. People read stuff. Danielle Steele is much more popular but I do not see anyone getting worried about that here. And, her religion is definitely suspect!

  20. I'm beginning to doubt this goldfinch story - can we be sure it was a goldfinch? This is how these things begin... Statistically it was more likely a more common finch.

    come on! Birds don't sing out of happiness.

    bah, absolutes! belief in being 100% hetero (or 100 % gay) is a nurtured delusion. the reality is you're susceptible to same sex attraction, you just haven't come across the right person yet. Or possibly you have but you're denying it.

    As for evangelism, atheist vs. christian - I've considered my experiences and it is almost polar opposite to yours. I don't think I've ever been doorstepped or cornered in the street by an atheist on a mission. Religios on the other hand, I have really lost count.

    I have no idea what Dawkins has to say on this subject - I don't have much interest - but as long as there is a Pope, there has to be a Dawkins or someone like him. The truth should always be tested or how else can we know it to be the truth and not just another false perception of it?

  21. Iain, it was a goldfinch all right - few birds are easier to identify.
    And, a propos much that has appeared here, a nice quote from J.S. Mill. In On Liberty, he characterises his era as one in which 'people feel sure, not so much that their opinions are true, as that they should not know what to do without them'.

  22. Following up on David's excellent insights, I've read a lot of Hitchens's writings and have enjoyed his artistry tremendously, but I don't think I have ever read anyone who uses the word "moral" more than he to defend his opinions without ever bothering to tell us what his morality is or where it comes from.

    And the fulminating zeal of these guys! They seem to spend 24/7 cherrypicking all the lunatics on the extremist fringes of religion. I'd love to force them to spend an afternoon with dear old Aunt Bertha so she could tell them to be good and say their prayers every night as she bakes them their favourite cookies.

  23. Harry, you're awfully "eagar" to call me a liar, but who are you? I speak only from my experience. The worst of the Christian proselytizers I encountered in the South were the Crossroaders around north central Florida (when I lived in Gainesville, attending U.F.), and though they said I'd burn in hell for not joining their church, at least they didn't insist that my desire not to was a delusion.

    Oh, wait: P'raps you're making a joke in the same vein. E-mail is very sucky for gathering nuances. If so, pardon.

  24. ''few birds are easier to identify''

    it wasn't an ostrich then?

    or an emperor penguin?

    scarlet ibis or great crested grebe?

    rhode island red?
    barn owl, lesser spotted woodpecker or mute swan?

    canada goose, maybe.

    anybody know how many models of birds there are?!

    no, I believe you, I really want to! It's entirely plausible - I don't need it to be perfectly true as it makes for a comforting story.

  25. ''I'd burn in hell for not joining their church''

    christ, what did the atheist threaten that was more offensive than that?!

  26. Damn it, you're right, Iain - it was an ostrich. That would explain why the branch broke and it fell out of the tree, then ran off at high speed to the nearest pile of sand, where it promptly buried its head. I thought this was slightly odd behaviour for a goldfinch.

  27. Are you sure it wasn't African elephant, Nige?

  28. Just to make sure,
    African elephant
    as opposed to

  29. Susan, I know Gainesville well. My mother and sister have lived there for the past 35 years.

    As for the rest, what Ian Russell said.

  30. Oh, c'mon now. You atheists are starting to sound like Victorian spinsters inclined to fits of the vapours. I can see how a child might suffer from a fierce terrorizing within his faith or church, but at the hands of proponents of other faiths they don't believe in? I grew up in a town with Catholic and Protestant schools. We all knew the Catholics believed we were going to Hell and joked about it all the time. No one gave it a further moment's thought.

    Harry, ian, you two are arguing like those meddlesome secularists who insist on expunging references to Christmas during holiday festivities lest "people of other faiths be offended". All that happens is rabbis and imams start writing letters to the editor telling everybody to stop being so anal and wishing one and all a Merry Christmas. You guys are the only true theocrats left.

  31. That's the one - African Elephant. What did I way - Goldfinch?

  32. Susan B., ton amie,May 18, 2007 6:14 pm

    Thank you, Peter Burnet.

    What the atheists said that was worse, was this: "You must be *stupid* to believe in something that cannot be proven!" When I went to grad. school at Columbia U., lots of people assumed I had to be stupid because of my very strong Southern accent (which I lost as quickly as I could) and oddly friendly ways. Plus, I didn't dress all in black, cut my hair off, and eschew make-up.

    By the way, I was a Catholic in the Baptist South and one of my best friends was a Baptist. She used to look at me sadly and say, "Suzy, papists go to hell. That's where you're gonna go unless you get saved."

    And to see my experiences at a revival meeting I went to with said friend (to be saved), you'll have to read my memoir, "Settlers and Savages," in an old issue of the now-defunct Grand Tour magazine.

    And that's all she wrote!

  33. It takes a big man to accept when he was wrong, Nige. I look forward to your Great Book of British & Irish Birds with barely suppressed enthusiasm.

  34. Peter, as you very well know, my objection was to Baptists who tried to prevent me playing basketball on the sabbath.

    I still do not believe a word Susan says. If she had really gone to a revival -- as I have done -- she would not say that no Southerners ever called her delusional. In fact, they would have told her that she was being led to hell by the Great Deluder, Satan.

    I really did grow up in the South and was raised Catholic, too. I don't live there any more, but I spent a week in Gainesville in April. Went to the street fair in Alachua and know enough to pronounce it Alachuway.

    Heard, as usual, the vile preachments and threats of the Christians. Was not accosted by any atheists.

  35. Harry, boy, if you were really from the South, you'd know continually calling a fellow Southerner a liar is a shooting offense. Lucky for you I'm out of range.

    I sure have been to revival meetings, in tents, where people rolled on the ground and spoke in tongues. I did get told I was going to hell, but I did not get bullied for refusing to sign on to hard-core Baptist beliefs. I was, however, bullied by atheists who could not take no for an answer.

    You strike me as a bully, too: To begin by saying you don't believe a word someone is saying indicates a very, very narrow mind. Too bad for you.

  36. Peter, as you very well know, my objection was to Baptists who tried to prevent me playing basketball on the sabbath.

    Move over, Eichmann. Are you out of therapy yet, Harry?

  37. First they came for the kids playing basketball. . .

    Of course, if you think the Big Spook will give you props for preventing little kids from playing ball, it all makes sense.

  38. Susan: Don't take it personally, that's just Harry's style.

    But on the other hand, I can't see that telling you your beliefs are stupid is worse than telling you that your beliefs are stupid and you'll also spend eternity in hell for them.

    There's been a mis-step here. Criticising Dawkins for his Quixotic and misguided mission I can get with.

    But psychoanalysing Dawkins's eager reader is a crock (though if you insist on doing it, at least start with his childhood priest).

  39. Yes, we could easily dissect the mental furniture of any random reader of 'Prayer of Jabez,' but I suspect all we would find would be stuff IKEA threw in the alley.

  40. But psychoanalysing Dawkins's eager reader is a crock

    Possibly, but it sure is fun, which I assume is why so many atheists and secularists can't stop doing it to the Bible's eager readers.

  41. From reading these comments, I gather that religious attitudes in the American South are very different from those in the English North, where I grew up. Almost everyone was Catholic or Protestant and we children called each other Cat-licks and Proddy-dogs, while playing happily together. The only proselytising I encountered was when a group of handsome young American men turned up in the park and introduced us to baseball. After some months, they gave each of us a Book of Mormon and invited us to a party at their centre. I've never held their sneakiness against them, but then, 'I'll pray for your conversion' is not as threatening as 'You can't play baseball on Sunday' or 'You are stupid if you don't agree with me.'
    To Susan, Harry and anyone else who feels they have been damaged by over-zealous Christians or Atheists, I will follow the fashion and apologise on behalf of those who did these terrible things to you, even though I am not remotely responsible for their actions. On the other hand, I might just say 'Grow up!'

  42. Richard DawkinsMay 19, 2007 11:39 am

    As I said earlier in quoting Eckhart,
    "Simple people imagine that they should see God as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge."

    People like me are those very simple people, talking about God as if God exists in the dualist subjest object sense. Eckhart's mystical notion is far too subtle for our leaden materialist vision of reality.

  43. Gee, I'm gone for two weeks and a juicy religious dust-up breaks out on Appleyard. It's not fair!

    The experiences of English and American atheists aren't the same. Here there is much more a sense of being part of a beseiged minority, a point that is rigorously driven home by conservative Christian commentators and politicians at every available opportunity. So the militancy is a natural reaction that any maligned or disfavored group of people would have as a matter of sticking up for oneself. Don't confuse passionate defense of a philosophical position with rage. If that were so, then you would have to ask why so many Christians who proclaim their beliefs publicly, unsolicited, are so angry.

    The Christian Right may have painted itself into a political corner here in America. The percent of the population that are self-described as non-religious has been growing, generationally, for the last 50 years. It is now at 12% and could reach 20% in the next 30 years or so. At some point it won't be politically profitable to kick them around anymore. That point may have already been reached, judging by the last election.

  44. Susan B., at peace,May 19, 2007 1:56 pm

    As Kevin Kline said so memorably in "A Fish Called Wanda": "Don't call me stupid!"

    That definitely bugs me more than anything else. I don't care if you attack my religious beliefs, but please don't attack my IQ. (This is a chip-on-shoulder caused by Southern accent heading to NE U.S.)

    Yeah, there are oppressive people on both sides of this debate; Harry has no doubt seen his share of jerky Christians, whereas I've seen my share of holier-than-thou Atheists/vegans/radical feminists.

    My feeling is still one of "live and let live." After all, my adorable husband whom I worship is an Atheist. Doesn't seem to have hurt our marriage in any way!

  45. But atheism is an absurd philosophical position. If reality were consistent with atheism, there would be no reality. From nothing emerges nothing.

  46. monix, you have missed my point. When the Baptist decided his religion and his god gave him the right to tell me whether I could play basketball or not, I was not an atheist. I was then still a Catholic, an altar boy.

    The point of the example was not basketball, it was tyranny.

    You may very well apologize for your religion and all others. Secularism will make you free.

  47. David:

    From your comments at Appleyards:

    But I never try to argue believers out of their belief and, frankly, I just don't care that much that they do believe. I can't imagine becoming emotionally invested in an anti-astrology crusade.

    For one very simple reason. Astrologers don't care what you believe. Monotheists do, and will, given the means, seek to coercively impose their absolute and universal beliefs upon others. Unfortunately, unlike astrologers, theists will not leave other-believers alone.

    That is why some atheists care so much, particularly since 9-11. Christianity may no longer, by and large, seek to coerce instead of extol, but Islam has yet to master that distinction.

    Consequently, because you make the astrology - atheism analogy, I suspect you have not given Dawkins et al a particularly close read.

    Additionally, I suspect you are rather guilty of employing a double standard. I'll accept that the definition of "militant" can be conjoined with Dawkins; however, why does its inverse not also apply to, say, Pope Benedict? By his very job description, mission statement, and no doubt his utterances, accepting Christ is the is essential to salvation, and that acceptance must be through The Universal Church.

    In other words, his proclamations are completely right, and all theological assertions to the contrary are completely wrong.

    If Dawkins is a militant atheist, then the Pope, and all who proclaim exclusive, absolute, and universal truths, are militant theists.

    Mother Teresa was a sadist who enjoyed the suffering of the poor (yes, Christopher Hitchens, I'm looking at you) or Pope Pius was a Nazi. Unless provoked, they don't take off after Jews or Buddhists or Hindus, their focus is entirely on Christianity. Their attacks, in other words, are on religion rather than on G-d -- just like Jesus.

    More accurately, Hitchens accuses Mother Teresa of being a world class hypocrite.

    As I recently learned from reading Constantine's Sword, while the Vatican's Secretary of State, Pope Pius reached the very first treaty agreement with Hitler's nascent regime, agreed to the disbandment of Catholic political parties, was far more assertive about Communism's transgressions than Hitler's, and, oddly, failed to excommunicate even one Nazi.

    Does that make him a Nazi? No. However, that history clearly demonstrates how the anti-Judaism organic to Christianity not only fertilized the ground for Hitler's willing executioners, it numbed Pope Pius XII's response to the final solution.

    It is that -- the consequences of absolutist claims, the most worrisome currently being Islamic, the most awful so far being anti-Judaism -- which motivates Dawkins et al.

    As for not taking off after Jews, Buddhists, etc, that demonstrates you haven't taken the time to read Hitchens, as opposed to reading about him.

  48. As far as I'm concerned, all those actions by Pacelli did make him a Nazi, but even if they hadn't, his protection and encouragement of the Croat murderers of 300,000 Jews did the trick.

    It was not only that Catholic bishops did not excommunicate Nazis (although a single one, Cardinal Galen, did try to keep them out of his church, unsuccessfully).

    The pope and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy were positive and active Nazis. Cardinal Macrory, the primate of Ireland, for example, orated in favor of the Nazis over the magical head of St. Oliver Plunket.

    In America, the most popular
    Catholic spokesman of the '30s was Coughlin. He was eventually silenced by the Catholic hierarchy, not because they objected to his Naziism, which they didn't, but because they feared for their political position after Roosevelt made it clear they were on thin ice.

    All Nazis were either Catholics or Lutherans, and in Europe almost all Catholics were Nazis.

  49. I noticed it when being instructed in the faith. After I gave that up, I looked it up. Anybody can examine the contemporary documents. Well, not in Catholic schools, but there are libraries.

    It isn't the 11th century any more.

  50. Skipper: And yet I'm a monotheist and don't care at all whether you are or not. Once again, caring about what others believe is a very Christian trait.

  51. Harry: All of which has exactly nothing to do with whether G-d exists.

  52. If he exists and sits in judgment, it has something to do with it.

  53. Skipper: And yet I'm a monotheist and don't care at all whether you are or not. Once again, caring about what others believe is a very Christian trait.

    David != religion

    Caring about what others belief is a trait unique to religions.

    viz. Reformed v. Orthodox.

  54. Harry: Which you deny is possible.

    Skipper: Why do you think that the Reformed care about the Orthodox or the Orthodox about the Reformed?

  55. You guys had better hope there is no god, or, if there is, that he does not have any predilection toward decency.

    As you know, David, I never search out religious atrocities. They find me, each one worse than the last, so that I foolishly imagine each time that I have now encountered the worst.

    No such luck. Allow me to quote a paragraph from 'Kepler's Witch,' which I picked up thinking it would be about cosmology and not the pure evil of religion. Especially not, since the author, Connor, is a Jesuit.

    (pages 302-3) 'Generally, out of Christian charity, the executioner strangled the [my note: always innocent] witch before the flames could take her, but sometimes that did not work. All too often, the flames burned the executioner's hands, and he was not able to finish the strangling. [. . .] In the case of Kathleen Cawches and her two young daughters, also in England, all three women were burned at the same time on the same pyre. Right in the middle of the burning, the younger daughter gave birth to a baby. Someone in the crowd pulled the baby from the fire and gave the child to the priests. After some deliberation among them -- the dean and the bailiffs, the jurists and the provost -- the provost commanded that the child be thrown back on the fire, since the infant too was tainted with heresy.'

    Only a firm belief in the existence of a loving god could induce humans to do such a thing. No atheist could even imagine it, much less find an incentive to carry it through.

    It passes belief that anyone would voluntarily join an organization capable of such behavior. Thus, the reasonableness of reading Dawkins on the tube in London.

    He says ('A Devil's Chaplain,' p. 118), comparing belief in religion/god to Russell's undisprovable hypothesis that a teapot orbits the sun: 'Children are not compelled to spend their formative years memorizing loony books about teapots. Goverment-subsidized schools do not exclude children whose parents prefer the wrong shape of teapot. Teapot-believers do not stone teapot-unbelievers, teapot-apostates, teapot-heretics and teapot-blasphemers to death. Mothers do not warn their sons off marrying teapot-shikshas whose parents believe in three teapots rather than one. People who put the milk in first do not kneecap those who put the tea in first.'

  56. David:

    Skipper: Why do you think that the Reformed care about the Orthodox or the Orthodox about the Reformed?

    One of them gets to decide who is a real Jew; one of them has a tendency to forcibly decide what people get to do on Saturdays in Israel.

    I will grant that, among the monotheisms, Judaism is the least inclined towards imposing itself upon non-believers. However, whether that has more to do with a long standing inability to impose, or the racist notion of being uniquely chosen by God is difficult to say.

    Certainly, Judaism is scarcely a patch on Christianity or Islam in this regard.

    All of which has exactly nothing to do with whether G-d exists.

    Which has virtually nothing to do with the argument Dawkins and his ilk are promoting.

    There is an objective truth about G-d that has always been, and may always be, completely unknowable to humans.

    Beyond that acknowledgment, you will find Dawkins et al saying scarcely a word.

    Rather they insist two things: there is absolutely no correlation between the various gods as instantiated in their respective religions, and G-d. In and of itself, that is hardly worthy of comment.

    However, going from the completely unknowable to universal, absolute, assertions is very worthy of comment.

    Your statement indicates "atheism" really is the wrong word, or it doesn't quite capture the position of those you term militant atheists (once again, why isn't the Pope, every Evangelical Christian, and the whole teeming herd of Imams included in that group?).

    Dawkins, Hitchens, etc are primarily anti-theists who, regardless of their opinion of the objective truth of G-d, would never have bothered to put pen to paper had it not been for the relentless predations of various and sundry gods.


    The most devastating critique of religion I have ever read is Constantine's Sword by James Carroll. Although, I doubt he, as a believer, did so intentionally.

  57. I guess I cannot read Carroll's book, since I've committed not to go seeking religious atrocity stories.

    But I did read about 50 reviews at Amazon. Whew!!

    'Kepler's Witch' has some remarks about how the Protestants took out their anger on the Catholics in Prague -- they killed Jews. Somehow, reading a book on the tube seems like a pale sort of crime compared with that.

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