Re-humanising the religious victims of the Revolution: Admitting the truth is step one

Recently a group of Islamic State sympathisers entered a Catholic Church in Normandy, France, during Mass, took hostages and murdered a priest.

Naturally, the French authorities condemned this violent act. This line in particular caught my eye:

François Hollande, the French president, promised to win the war against terrorism. In a televised address to the nation he said: “To attack a church, kill a priest, is to profane the republic.”

The republic? The irony here was a little rich. The republic, established by the French Revolution? The revolution in which clergy were literally being killed by those advocating atheism and reason, because the clergy represented allegiance to a foreign power? The republic whose violent birth is still celebrated on Bastille Day, commemorating a day of shocking violence, killings and beheading? Surely there is a fundamental disconnect here. I mean sure, of course I get that Mr Hollande condemns the attack. I don’t doubt his sincerity. But there doesn’t seem to be much careful, consistent thought to this statement in a French context, that an attack on the Church is an attack on the Republic.

I took to Twitter thus: “A Muslim kills a priest and he’s bad. Atheists murder the religious and people celebrate Bastille Day because of it. You silly Frenchies.” Yes its short and snarky, but such is Twitter. Continue reading “Re-humanising the religious victims of the Revolution: Admitting the truth is step one”

Dawkins Still Doesn’t Get Arguments for God

Richard Dawkins isn’t stupid. He’s a bright spark. This makes me think that his muddle-headedness about arguments for God’s existence can’t be written off as a dullard’s inability to understand. The confusion must surely be an intentional tactic to confuse matters, giving his fans the impression that arguments for God’s existence are just a bit of a mess. The (possibly kinder) alternative is that Dawkins exhibits an inexcusable laziness and hubris, pontificating about arguments that he has never taken the time to understand because he just knows that religious beliefs are a load of nonsense.

At a public event to discuss his recent book about himself this month, Dr Dawkins was asked what he considers to be the best argument for God’s existence. Naturally, he prefaced his answer with a reminder that he doesn’t believe in God or that there are any good arguments for God’s existence. But if pressed for the best argument out there, here is what he says:

Continue reading “Dawkins Still Doesn’t Get Arguments for God”

A story of reason, science, bookburning and wiping bottoms

Once upon a time, in a free country, a private organisation that loves the Bible encouraged private individuals to take their own Bibles to school for their own use in free time, because they love the Bible and because they wanted to remind people that this is allowed.

It wasn’t long before word spread of this decree, and the American Humanist Association asked its friends what they thought of it. This is what the American Humanist Association says about itself:

Mission

The mission of the American Humanist Association is to advance humanism, an ethical and life-affirming philosophy free of belief in any gods and other supernatural forces. Advocating for equality for nontheists and a society guided by reason, empathy, and our growing knowledge of the world, the AHA promotes a worldview that encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good. [Emphasis added]

They aren’t old fashioned humanists, the AHA. Old fashioned humanists believed in silly things like God. Isn’t that funny? No, these are modern, clever humanists. It’s fun to call this group AHA, because “Ahaa!” is the sound you make when you’ve had a clever idea. The AHA’s friends are all very, very clever, which is why this is such a good name. Don’t you agree?

This is what the AHA asked its friends: Continue reading “A story of reason, science, bookburning and wiping bottoms”

Scepticism about Online Scepticism

conspiracyIs the internet really a benevolent playground of truth about religion?

Some people read conspiracy theory websites and magazines. In fact, I’d wager that more people than ever before read them. As a result, more people than ever before believe ridiculous conspiracy theories. Although I have no desire to see people forced to stop reading such trash, I really wish they would. The fact that more such theories are available now than ever before does not increase the likelihood that people who read this material are going to stumble onto a true theory. It just means that there is more nonsense to choose from, leading to paranoid, sometimes hysterically funny, and often sad, unscientific and damaging beliefs and practices. I have little sympathy for anyone who would reply by saying something like “Dude, you’re just threatened. The truth is out there and now that it’s out there, you can’t stop people finding out.”

I suspect that my perspective on the proliferation of conspiracy theory websites and magazines is shared by most people. At least I hope it is. Such material gives a platform to views that frankly do not deserve it.

Josh McDowell is concerned about the proliferation of comments of a different sort on the internet.

Continue reading “Scepticism about Online Scepticism”

Religion and Mental Health

Are religious people on the whole more likely to be mentally ill?

We live in a world where people form strong opinions (or rather, are happy to see their already strong opinions/biases reinforced) by browsing headlines. So when people see the (still fairly recent) headline, “Spiritual people are more likely to be mentally ill,” you can guess what prejudices will be reinforced. “Religion is a symptom of an unwell mind!” Or maybe “Religion is so crazy that it makes those who believe in it go mad!” Whatever the specifics, the point is, religion equals nutso.

Here, as with many misunderstandings, the solution is simply taking a few minutes to read and digest the information before leaping to conclusions. Continue reading “Religion and Mental Health”

Episode 020: The Argument from Atrocity

Should we reject Christianity because of the harmful deeds done in its name? Some have said so. This episode explains what is wrong with that line of reasoning.

Glenn Peoples

Episode 015: Why become an atheist?

It’s back!

The last month has been pretty crazy for me: changing job and moving house being among the main culprits for this state of affairs. But after much ado, here it is, Episode 15! This time I’m asking a simple question: Why be an atheist? And if you’re not one, why become one? And if you are one, why try to persuade other people to become one?

I’ve started a new trend with this episode. Some previous episodes were just too long for a lot of listeners, so I’m making a fairly strict rule that episodes shall not exceed forty minutes. This one’s just under twenty eight minutes, so I’m off to a good start. Also, I’ll only be putting episodes up each fortnight rather than weekly, just because I don’t have quite as much time as I did before – plus with all these people downloading an episode every week I literally couldn’t afford the bandwidth!

So here it is, enjoy. As always, comments either here or by email to be discussed on the show are more than welcome.

Glenn Peoples

Dennett. Yawn, says Jack Miles.

Apparently, people other than conservative Christian scholars have noticed that Daniel Dennett’s analysis of the divide between religion and skepticism is shallow. See Jack Miles’ Review here.

Dennett sets out to tell us all that we need to break the spell of religion, and break it now. But so much of what he says ends up being more sauce than meat. For example, says Miles:

[I]ntellectual outbursts emotionally akin to “Let’s step outside and settle this, shall we?” keep intruding. Thus we read: “If theists would be so kind as to make a short list of all the concepts of God they renounce as balderdash before proceeding further, we atheists would know just which topics were still on the table, but, out of a mixture of caution, loyalty, and unwillingness to offend anyone ‘on their side,’ theists typically decline to do this.” Perhaps so, but then is Dennett prepared to perform a comparable triage for the favorite topics of his fellow atheists? Where do “we atheists” stand, for example, with regard to fellow atheist Howard Stern? We theists would like to know, if Dennett would be so kind, though we fear that out of a mixture of caution, loyalty and unwillingness to offend, he may pass over America’s most influential single atheist in silence.Truth to tell, this kind of game is depressingly easy to play, and it’s a rare student of religion who really wants to be drawn into it.

What’s got Dennett so riled up? Miles suggests that it’s because while skepticism has better arguments, it’s dying out anyway. That may well be how Dennett would choose to describe the state of philosophical affairs, but in light of the recent upsurge in religious belief rather than skepticism in philosophers of religion, this charge is more than a little difficult to maintain without serious misgivings. One sociological fact, however, is much harder to deny:

Fertility rates in the relatively secular blue states are 12 percent lower than in the relatively religious red states, according to Philip Longman in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy. In Europe, a similar correlation holds. As Longman writes: “Do you seldom, if ever, attend church? For whatever reason, people answering affirmatively . . . are far more likely to live alone, or in childless, cohabitating unions, than those who answer negatively.” For the most secular cultures in the world, Longman predicts a temporary drop in absolute population as secular liberals die out and a concomitant cultural transformation as, “by a process similar to survival of the fittest,” they are demographically replaced by religious conservatives.

It’s almost enough to make you believe in Dominion Theology!

The Simpsons as Philosophy? Easy to say when your philosophy stinks.

According to Juilan Baggini, the cartoon show The Simpsons wrestles with serious philosophy, and does it well. What?

No, it’s true, apparently. Here’s an example:

We now know we’re just a bunch of naked apes trying to get on as best we can, usually messing things up, but somehow finding life can be sweet all the same. All delusions of a significance that we do not really have need to be stripped away, and nothing can do this better that the great deflater: comedy.

The Simpsons does this brilliantly, especially when it comes to religion. It’s not that the Simpsons is atheist propaganda; its main target is not belief in God or the supernatural, but the arrogance of particular organised religions that they, amazingly, know the will of the creator.

For example, in the episode Homer the Heretic, Homer gives up church and decides to follow God in his own way: by watching the TV, slobbing about and dancing in his underpants.

Throughout the episode he justifies himself in a number of ways.

  • “What’s the big deal about going to some building every Sunday, I mean, isn’t God everywhere?”
  • “Don’t you think the almighty has better things to worry about than where one little guy spends one measly hour of his week?”
  • “And what if we’ve picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder?”

Homer’s protests do not merely allude to much subtler arguments that proper philosophers make. The basic points really are that simple, which is why they can be stated simply.

Of course, there is more that can and should be said about them, but when we make decisions about whether or not to follow one particular religion, the reasons that really matter to us are closer to the simple truths of the Simpsons than the complex mental machinations of academic philosophers of religion.

I guess this explains why Baggini thinks The Simpsons is good philosophy. It takes the kind of prejudices he happens to hold, namely the prejudice against religious faith, and states them in a way that he likes, even though no philosopher of religion or theologian would ever utter them with the hope of feeling any sense of intellectual satisfaction.

In other words – this is crap philosophy, but since real philosophers don’t say the things I want them to, I’m going to say that this crap philosophy is good philosophy. Search around until some fat yellow cartoon bozo says what you’re thinking, and it’s good philosophy. It’s a bit like the guy who says “dude, my drunk neighbour who always rants about politics is actually brilliant. Send all them illegals back, put up border fences a mile high and string up all them non-patriots! He says what the political scientists are afraid to say!”

Yeah…. there may be a reason they’re not saying it.

Glenn Peoples