Comment deletion in the religion thread. May 15, 2006 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Why can't you love your fellow man and be selfless, without needing to believe in a giant invisible wizard in the sky? This statement was attacked, defended, reconnected with the topic at hand, and was further clarified and apologized for by its author. But as of a few minutes ago, it no longer exists. This, my friends, is Chewbacca, and Chewbacca does not make sense.
posted by Saucy Intruder to Etiquette/Policy at 1:26 PM (295 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Yeah, I'm with Saucy Intruder here. The statement was rude, but it was on topic and well addressed in subsequent conversation. The thread as a whole is actually (or at least was, the last time I checked in on it) proceeding much more smoothly and civilly than I would have expected. That particular deletion may have been a smidge on the heavy-handed side.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:32 PM on May 15, 2006


Yeah, I'm the guy that posted it. I realize that my tone was way too snarky, but the question asked was 'Please help convince me to become a Christian. Or not.'

If it was deleted because of the tone, fine. If it was deleted as being off-topic, I'm not sure I follow the reasoning.

I wasn't going to bring it to MeTa, but I'm happy to discuss it.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:33 PM on May 15, 2006


Faint of Butt - You might want to check it again.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:33 PM on May 15, 2006


The question began with "Please help convince me to become a Christian. Or not," and ended with "Thanks for any thoughts, facts, perspectives, or resources you are able to offer." So it shouldn't have been deleted at all, but once it started generating on-topic conversation, it definitely should have stayed.

Sometimes, you know, we do actually answer the question.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:38 PM on May 15, 2006


I flagged it as breaking the guidelines. It was seemingly designed to derail. The same point was made in a helpful, thoughtful, nonobnoxious way by Faint of Butt further down in the thread. That comment was, to me, quintessentially inappropriate for AskMe in its calculated obnoxiousness. Thanks, though, WinnipegDragon, for your later apology and more constructive participation in the thread. Can't we all just get along?
posted by ibmcginty at 1:38 PM on May 15, 2006


Didn't you see the FAQ? Rhetorical questions are no longer permitted.

I blame the christo-fascists.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:43 PM on May 15, 2006


I flagged it, too, and agree with ibmcginty's reasoning.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:43 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


No intention to derail at all.

I'm still not sure how to say anything I said without offending someone though.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:46 PM on May 15, 2006


+ibmcginty.
posted by klangklangston at 1:47 PM on May 15, 2006


I think it's really cool to deride Christianity. That makes you cool and edgy. Because Christians generally don't fight back anymore so you can totally belittle another's religion without physical harm.
posted by geoff. at 1:49 PM on May 15, 2006


Right, I'm an atheist because it's 'cool'. Besides, I was deriding all organized religion.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:52 PM on May 15, 2006


I thought the deleted comment was inappropriate when I first read it, but it was explained and talked through in the thread and managed not to be a derail.

The current "Christianity causes AIDS" comments, however, are totally off-topic, inflammatory, and stupid... and they're still up.

I know it's impossible for the admins to be everywhere and read everything, but this really looks like the comment was deleted without anyone reading the thread. Which I think is a bad policy.
posted by occhiblu at 1:52 PM on May 15, 2006


A bunch of people flagged it and it looked like something that could have been said in a less rude way.

It's a tough thing to delete since it totally derailed every followup, but I didn't remove those because people spent a sentence on the derail, then would shift back into real advice. It's a messy business sometimes and that was a thread I wasn't happy to see with the comment left in, nor is it perfect with it removed.

The lesson is: don't be a dick when you are talking about other people's beliefs.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:54 PM on May 15, 2006


I think it's really cool to deride Christianity. That makes you cool and edgy. Because Christians generally don't fight back anymore so you can totally belittle another's religion without physical harm.

Yeah, and Christians never belittle anyone else, either!
posted by delmoi at 1:54 PM on May 15, 2006


Man, I didn't think I went to the point of 'being a dick' at that point.

Oh, and occhiblu, I'm sorry, but the current catholic-backed anti-condom propganda in Africa is, in fact, contributing to the spread of AIDS.

I'm not going back to the thread, but I'll take that point up with anyone here if they want to refute it.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:56 PM on May 15, 2006


Let's just bring my point to an absurd end to undermine it? Of course Christians belittle. Here it seems to be the passing fad to make comments about "Jesus magic", perhaps less so in the past but it still make me hit my hand to my head and go "yeah you're pretty punk alright." You know like the guy in school that would sit and smoke a cigarette in the corner and call God a fag?
posted by geoff. at 1:59 PM on May 15, 2006


1. It's not just Catholic-backed, and the US refusing to endorse condom usage there is CERTAINLY not due to Catholicism.

2. Of course anti-condom policies are contributing to the spread of AIDS, but claiming that stupid people backing stupid policies and using religion to justify it is the same thing as religion causing AIDS is ludicrous. If the Pope were somehow entirely responsible for disease work in Africa, and he were refusing to distribute condoms, then I could see your point. As it stands, you have no point.

3. Claiming that religion has never contributed anything to the spiritual life of the world ignores pretty much all Western art, philosophy, architecture; ignoring the church's role in those things (or explaining them away), then blaming the church entirely for politicians being idiots right now, makes no sense.
posted by occhiblu at 2:02 PM on May 15, 2006


The lesson is: don't be a dick when you are talking about other people's beliefs.

Alas, that's a lesson the ubercool people around here don't want to learn.

Yeah, and Christians never belittle anyone else, either!

But, Daaad, Bobby cusses all the time, so how come you won't let me cuss, huh?
posted by languagehat at 2:05 PM on May 15, 2006


It's my perception that folks who fire off the "skygod" sort of missives about religion don't really intend to be complete jerks, but just to be sort of jerks. I don't think those who use that type of statement/characterization necessarily even realize that the characterization is inaccurate. It's just a meme that people have picked up on and toss out there in religious discussion without much thought, I think.

And I wouldn't dispute that the failure of people in Africa to use condoms when they're engaging in extramarital sex is a significant factor in the spread of HIV.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:06 PM on May 15, 2006


1. Not just catholic backed, certainly, but they are a driving force in the spreading of misinformation. Oh, and US social policy right now, is not religiously influenced. Sure.

2. That doesn't follow. I never claimed religion caused AIDS. I said that Catholic-backed anti-condom propaganda is contributing to the spread of AIDS.

3. I never claimed that either. That was another poster.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:07 PM on May 15, 2006


I explained that last point badly: If you're going to claim that religion is influencing policy makers to such an extent that it is the guiding force behind the AIDS epidemic in Africa, then you must also recognize that religion influenced artists through the ages IN THE SAME WAY to such an extent that it has created most of our enduring masterpieces. So your original statement that Christianity has brought nothing good to the world cannot stand if you also believe it's caused the AIDS epidemic in Africa; if you're going to give all the credit for the bad things to religion, then you can't change your terms and take all the credit away for the good things.
posted by occhiblu at 2:08 PM on May 15, 2006


3. I never claimed that either. That was another poster.

Yes, but you used that as the spur for mentioning the AIDS crisis.
posted by occhiblu at 2:09 PM on May 15, 2006


I don't remember the rest of the comment, but if the quoted portion was the most offensive part, I think people are overreacting. There's nothing inherently negative about "giant invisible wizard in the sky." Any offense people take must be the result of their own prejudicial feelings about wizards having a chip on the shoulder about criticism of religion.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:09 PM on May 15, 2006


The lesson is: don't be a dick when you are talking about other people's beliefs.
posted by mathowie at 4:54 PM EST on May 15


I don't know, a lot of people are way nice with magical bullshit beliefs and so we have 9/11, Jim Jones and rabid vitriol toward a variety of different people here in the United States, which is whipped up and supported by Churches all across the nation. Atheism is love. Religion is hate. Courtesy is required but to say nothing is to let people all around us slide into oblivion.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:10 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Is the implication that Atheists are atheists in order to be edgy and cool a new rhetorical trend or has it been around for a while?
posted by Shutter at 2:10 PM on May 15, 2006


so if god isn't a giant invisible wizard, then what the fuck is he, anyway?
posted by Hat Maui at 2:12 PM on May 15, 2006


or she. i meant to say 'what the fuck is she, anyway.'
posted by Hat Maui at 2:12 PM on May 15, 2006


Atheism is love. Religion is hate.

Neither is either.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:12 PM on May 15, 2006


It's my perception that folks who fire off the "skygod" sort of missives about religion don't really intend to be complete jerks, but just to be sort of jerks.

Thank you for telling me what I intended.

I don't think those who use that type of statement/characterization necessarily even realize that the characterization is inaccurate. It's just a meme that people have picked up on and toss out there in religious discussion without much thought, I think.

What's inaccurate? Would you prefer if I said 'omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent being'? Both are caricatures of the same thing.

Oh, and I have a hint for you. All religion is just a meme as well.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:13 PM on May 15, 2006


dang! on preview: my comments clearly needed more cowbell.
posted by Hat Maui at 2:13 PM on May 15, 2006


Oh, the more offensive portion of my post might have been:

Religion is a crutch for those that can't accept that their lives are fleeting and meaningless in the vast expanse of space and time.

Or something like that. I can't recall exactly what I wrote.

I stand by it anyhow.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:15 PM on May 15, 2006


The way I understood the comment, I found it to be off-topic. I pretty much read it as "what you're asking is dumb. Don't ask your question."

(No offense meant to you personally, Winnipegdragon, and your clarification is much appreciated.)
posted by desuetude at 2:16 PM on May 15, 2006


1. Not just catholic backed, certainly, but they are a driving force in the spreading of misinformation. Oh, and US social policy right now, is not religiously influenced. Sure.

People bent on getting power will misuse whatever philosophy they can get their hands on. I'm not sure why everyone blames the philosophy itself when this happens. Abstinence-only education and policy has little to do with Christian teachings and a hell of a lot to do with keeping women under control. If Christianity wasn't the dominant religion, there'd be a way to spin these beliefs to create distorted branches of Judaism / Islam (that's already out there, with the Taliban) / whatever.

I'm not saying it's *just* about subjugating women; my point is that using the rhetoric of Christianity to support abhorrent programs is not the same thing as Christianity being abhorrent. Bush can take the idea of patriotism and turn it into an unrecognizable mess of hatred; that doesn't mean that the idea of patriotism is inherently flawed, just that an unscrupulous group of men in power is using it for their own means.
posted by occhiblu at 2:16 PM on May 15, 2006


Oh, and wizards are cool and all, but sorcerers are where it's AT!

I should have gone with 'giant invisible sorcerer' dammit...
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:18 PM on May 15, 2006


The way I understood the comment, I found it to be off-topic. I pretty much read it as "what you're asking is dumb. Don't ask your question."


Oh hell no! That was never it at all. I was really just trying to present this position: Atheists can be good people too. DO you really need a church to accomplish what you want.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:19 PM on May 15, 2006


Thank you for telling me what I intended.

I told you what I percieved. Now I perceive that you don't really care to read what others actually write, or even what they believe. Is that perception incorrect?

What's inaccurate? Would you prefer if I said 'omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent being'? Both are caricatures of the same thing.

Of what same thing? If you still don't understand that Christians don't believe that Christ is a) invisible, b) giant c) a wizard or d) in the sky, then there's not much I can do for you. But you did confirm what I wrote, so thanks.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:19 PM on May 15, 2006


occhiblu
Okay, I think we have an understanding. Thanks for your time and effort in making your points, they are appreciated.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:21 PM on May 15, 2006


Jek
Hey, feel free to perceive people any way you like.

You don't seem to realize that the comment was not directed towards Christ. Insert: Allah, Buddha, whatever...

To an atheist, the concept of such a being is just as ridiculous as magic underwear and Xenu lying in a volcano.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:24 PM on May 15, 2006


"a giant invisible wizard in the sky" is a less polite way form of "something". I bet most Christians don't believe he's all that giant, either. it's snark, but if it's not allowed in the topic, I don't really think the thread should stay in the green.
posted by kcm at 2:24 PM on May 15, 2006


mathowie writes: The lesson is: don't be a dick when you are talking about other people's beliefs.

Matt, I realize it's in your interested to defuse theological debates where toes might be trod upon, but that's a really stupid statement. Some people believe strapping explosives to their gut and blowing up a Sbarro's is a good idea. Should we bend over backwards to defend them and/or make them feel "accepted," here or elsewhere?
posted by bardic at 2:25 PM on May 15, 2006


I don't know, a lot of people are way nice with magical bullshit beliefs and so we have 9/11, Jim Jones and rabid vitriol toward a variety of different people here in the United States, which is whipped up and supported by Churches all across the nation. Atheism is love. Religion is hate.

What a ridiculous, offensive comment. But hey, you sure stuck it to those God people, who deserve everything they get because they're barely human, not like us Brights!

What's inaccurate? Would you prefer if I said 'omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent being'? Both are caricatures of the same thing.

Ah, another person with superb perspective. "My views are so obviously right anyone who disagrees with me is a moron!"
posted by languagehat at 2:25 PM on May 15, 2006


Don't be a dick is "a really stupid statement"? No wonder this place is so nasty.
posted by languagehat at 2:26 PM on May 15, 2006


"2. That doesn't follow. I never claimed religion caused AIDS. I said that Catholic-backed anti-condom propaganda is contributing to the spread of AIDS."

You used it to support a thesis that religion had done more harm than good.

"I don't remember the rest of the comment, but if the quoted portion was the most offensive part, I think people are overreacting. There's nothing inherently negative about "giant invisible wizard in the sky." Any offense people take must be the result of their own prejudicial feelings about wizards having a chip on the shoulder about criticism of religion."

Wow, that's retarded. There's nothing insulting about calling African Americans "negros." I mean, it's just "black" in French.

"All religion is just a meme as well."

And this is why the use of the word "meme" should be banned until idiots on the internet abandon it.

"Atheists can be good people too. DO you really need a church to accomplish what you want."

And wow, that's how you should have said it! Was that too hard?
posted by klangklangston at 2:26 PM on May 15, 2006


Okay that post is going to hell now. Quonsar just made an insightful, on-topic post. Ragnarok must be coming!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:26 PM on May 15, 2006


Hey, feel free to perceive people any way you like.

Thanks. I do. I rely on the unlimited tolerance and acceptance of all the atheists out there, and it does make me feel quite free.

You don't seem to realize that the comment was not directed towards Christ.

Then it wasn't responsive to the question.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:28 PM on May 15, 2006


"Some people believe strapping explosives to their gut and blowing up a Sbarro's is a good idea. Should we bend over backwards to defend them and/or make them feel "accepted," here or elsewhere?"

And Hitler was religious! Do we have to tolerate HITLER HERE?!!

How about a non-moronic line of argument? One that doesn't rely on straw men? Or on the premise that there is no non-dickish way to say "I disagree."
posted by klangklangston at 2:28 PM on May 15, 2006


I learned it from mefi celebs like you, dad.
posted by bardic at 2:29 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's so fascinating to me how Metafilter is like this magical bubble where Christians are an oppressed minority. It's such a refreshing change of pace compared with, say, the real world. (I'm not saying I'm in favor of oppressing anybody, just that I find this whole ongoing debate really odd.)
posted by 912 Greens at 2:31 PM on May 15, 2006


Then it wasn't responsive to the question.

Sure it was. Christ is a 'God'. The comment was directed at the concept of God, encompassing Christ, Allah, and buddies.

Or on the premise that there is no non-dickish way to say "I disagree."

I'll start when you do.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:31 PM on May 15, 2006


You better watch out, or dios will cast you into a lake of fire.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:33 PM on May 15, 2006


I have water wings. I'll be fine.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:34 PM on May 15, 2006


"I'll start when you do."

Tu quoque, retard. I already pointed out what you could have written were you not so concerned with, like, totally making your awesome atheist point, dude.
posted by klangklangston at 2:36 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


languagehat, you're missing the point completely, by hurling your own prejudices at what was written. You can writhe and flail all you like, but calling out someone ensnared by religion is a moral hand outstretched in love. Atheism is human, and it is simply love. No one said anything about intelligence, or education, just you. Losing religion is to stop wasting your life, and try to be simply human, like everyone.

Religion is ridiculous, langugehat. Hate is offensive. Atheism remains love, despite your hysterics.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:37 PM on May 15, 2006


Atheism remains love, despite your hysterics.

Atheism has nothing to do with love, hate, or any of that. Don't you know what Atheism means?
posted by JekPorkins at 2:39 PM on May 15, 2006


Religion is walking death, the turning over of your short life to nonsense. Athesim (along with democracy) is the mechanism by which the world can finally obtain peace.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:41 PM on May 15, 2006


No religion: No 9/11. No suicide bombers. No Emitt Till. No Matthew Shepard.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:42 PM on May 15, 2006


Religion is walking death, the turning over of your short life to nonsense. Athesim (along with democracy) is the mechanism by which the world can finally obtain peace.

So I take it that's a no.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:42 PM on May 15, 2006


No religion: No 9/11. No suicide bombers. No Emitt Till. No Matthew Shepard.

now that's what i call misplaced faith.
posted by quonsar at 2:48 PM on May 15, 2006


"To an atheist, the concept of such a being is just as ridiculous as magic underwear and Xenu lying in a volcano."

No it isn't. I'm an atheist, so I should know. Speak for yourself.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:52 PM on May 15, 2006


Religion is ridiculous, langugehat. Hate is offensive. Atheism remains love, despite your hysterics

Well, Mr. Mean Bucket:

Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Who else but God gave man Love that can spark mere dust to life! Poetry, uniting All-One! All brave! All life! Who else but God! "Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!"
Einstein, 1939, after Nazis & Commies united, proposed spacebombs that destroy all, unless we finally teach the Moral ABC's the real Rabbi Hillel taught Jesus to unite all in All-One-God-Faith. As teach astronomers Abraham - Israel - Moses - Buddha - Hillel - Jesus - Spinoza - Paine - Sagan & Mohammed, inspired every 76 years, 6000 years by the Messenger of God's Law, the sign of the Messiah, Halley's Comet: "WE'RE ALL ONE OR NONE!" "THERE IS NO GOD BUT GOD!" "TEACH LOVE THY ENEMY!" "LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE!" Israel-Moses-Buddha-Jesus-Mohammed: ONE! ALL ONE!


I rest my case.
posted by kosem at 2:52 PM on May 15, 2006


Mr. Mean Bucket:

Please quit abusing the connective "is".

You will render all further posts in E-prime or risk the tedious nightmare of unending grammar parsing and the attendant irritation of other members.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:57 PM on May 15, 2006


Meh. I honestly wasn't trying to Godwin the thread, but then again, it is metatalk, so who the fuck cares? Certainly not Matt.

That said, I was trying to make the point that cultural and/or theological relativism is an absurd position. To say that anyone who "believes" X must be treated with kid-gloves or at least taken as a serious contributor to a discussion is beyond senseless. Certain beliefs are simply incompatible with living in modern society (neocons make this argument all the time re: the "Clash of Civilizations" meme). I happen to think Christianity is one of those incompatible beliefs, along with organized religion in general.
posted by bardic at 2:58 PM on May 15, 2006


I think there's a cognitive disconnect between those that belive in God and those who profess athieism. I believe that athieism is a belief system and I feel relatively secure in that belief and that I'm not alone in it. Religion is a belief system as well. I choose to believe in God, I don't think that makes me any better or worse than the guy standing next to me. His belief system may not include God, but I do not believe that it is possible to believe nothing.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:00 PM on May 15, 2006


I for one welcome our new atheist overlords.
posted by mattbucher at 3:06 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


These Athiests , they Vibrate ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:09 PM on May 15, 2006


"I believe that athieism is a belief system and I feel relatively secure in that belief and that I'm not alone in it."

To the degree that that is true is the degree to which theists create a context in which a failure to believe in a god becomes an act or a belief. Atheism is not inherently a belief system. And even if what I say in the first sentence is true, such a "belief" in atheism is not necessarily a "system" and does not necessarily have any qualities other than disbelief. I'm not claiming there are not atheists who approach atheism the way theists approach theism and for whom atheism is much more an affirmation than it is merely a default denial. I am saying that such is not necessarily what it means to be an atheist and that it is possible and not extraordinary for an atheist to hold to atheism without it being any more a "belief" than in the most trivial and socially unavoidable sense.

A theist tends to see his theism as an ordering principle in his life. Thus, when he looks at an atheist, he imagines that atheism plays the same role in the life of an atheist. But this may or may not be true in any individual case. An atheist may have an ordering principle in his life in which theism (or atheism) is irrelevant. Alternatively, he may have an ordering principle in his life in which the denial of theism plays a large role. Just because an ordering principle lacks a God doesn't mean that it is an ordering princple built around the lack of a God.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:16 PM on May 15, 2006



Tu quoque, retard. I already pointed out what you could have written were you not so concerned with, like, totally making your awesome atheist point, dude.


So I take it we aren't starting yet, dingus?

No it isn't. I'm an atheist, so I should know. Speak for yourself.

So, you find any one religion less ludicrous than another?

These Athiests , they Vibrate ?

Not necessarily. We just don't think it's a sin if we choose to.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 3:22 PM on May 15, 2006


His belief system may not include God, but I do not believe that it is possible to believe nothing.

Well, one, I'll just disagree with you on that point, but you probably expected most atheists here to do that. Two, to me, the "belief in a higher power" thing is only one part of the atheistic mindset--there's also a lack of a need to worship something, and a lack of concern about any kind of afterlife. I see a lot of theists work so hard on just trying to prove, either by logic or semantics, that 'god' exists, that their god ends up being reduced to something where there's really not much of a point to the whole religion thing. Aside from maybe a "thanks for starting the big bang, dude!" sense of gratitude.
posted by LionIndex at 3:24 PM on May 15, 2006


This Metatalk thread is a good example of the kind of derail that could have happened in the referenced AskMe.
posted by nomad at 3:30 PM on May 15, 2006


The Beatles were taller than Jesus, and they were 5'11", tops, and Jesus is God, so He's not a giant.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:31 PM on May 15, 2006


WinnipegDragon : "Would you prefer if I said 'omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent being'?"

Yes. And, I suspect, mathowie would have preferred it too. And some of the other people in the thread. And I doubt anyone would have been upset at that phrasing. And it would have communicated what you wanted to say just as well.

So,
Choice A
  • Communicates your ideas to some/most
  • Pisses off some people
  • Gets your comment deleted
ChoiceB
  • Communicates your ideas to some/most
I'd say Choice B is clearly the better choice.
posted by Bugbread at 3:33 PM on May 15, 2006


didn't Oral Roberts already settle the whole size deal anyway?
posted by kcm at 3:33 PM on May 15, 2006


And this is why the use of the word "meme" should be banned until idiots on the internet abandon it.

Amen, brother!

Atheism remains love, despite your hysterics.

Yeah, everyone sure felt the love under Stalin, I'm sure.

Religion is walking death, the turning over of your short life to nonsense.

Really? As an atheist myself, I'm not sure I perceive any sense in our short lives. How can anything be less sensible than no perception of meaning at all? What difference does it make to me, how I spend my time in life, when facing the abyss?

It's crap like this which gives atheism a bad name, you know.

Certain beliefs are simply incompatible with living in modern society (neocons make this argument all the time re: the "Clash of Civilizations" meme). I happen to think Christianity is one of those incompatible beliefs, along with organized religion in general.

And yet, from where did modern society arise - democracy, capitalism, human rights? I seem to recall it being ... the Christian West?
posted by me & my monkey at 3:50 PM on May 15, 2006


Yeah, and Christians never belittle anyone else, either!

posted by languagehat
But, Daaad, Bobby cusses all the time, so how come you won't let me cuss, huh?


Because Bobby hasn't had your advantages, son.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:05 PM on May 15, 2006


Certain beliefs are simply incompatible with living in modern society (neocons make this argument all the time re: the "Clash of Civilizations" meme). I happen to think Christianity is one of those incompatible beliefs, along with organized religion in general.

This statement is dumb on so many levels, I'm just not sure where to begin.
For one thing, the whole idea of a 'Clash of Civilizations' is deeply stupid because the central principle that it's based on - the incommensurability of the central mythologies and core beliefs of different civilisations - is irrelevant. Those 'core beliefs' simply don't differ as much between the ordinary people of various 'civilisations' as Huntington et al. claim.

Not only that, but I wonder where you get the idea that there is such a thing as a monolithic 'modern society' and that organised religion is incompatible with it. What makes you say that?
I don't think that I'll be taking my intellectual guidance from Sam Huntington or the Neocons any time soon, thank you.
posted by atrazine at 4:07 PM on May 15, 2006


the Christian West?

I don't even know where to start with that one...
posted by WinnipegDragon at 4:08 PM on May 15, 2006


"Atheism is not inherently a belief system."

Amen. And I wish more Atheists would stop acting as if it were.
posted by klangklangston at 4:09 PM on May 15, 2006


Have I entered some sort of bizarro universe where the Christians are reasonable and polite, and the atheists are strident assholes?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:16 PM on May 15, 2006


Have I entered some sort of bizarro universe where the Christians are reasonable and polite, and the atheists are strident assholes?

You've entered the real world, where strident assholery is the norm among both groups. Welcome!
posted by JekPorkins at 4:18 PM on May 15, 2006


Wow.. and I was worried that my post would ruffle feathers...
posted by twiggy at 4:19 PM on May 15, 2006


I don't even know where to start with that one...

Oh, I don't know, maybe a history book? Are you really going to argue with that statement? Because, like it or not, the formulation of ideas that we think of as "modern society" weren't created in the Muslim or Buddhist world, but by Christians and people strongly influenced* by Christianity.

* Admittedly, this influence was certainly negative in some cases.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:27 PM on May 15, 2006


monju_bosatsu : "Have I entered some sort of bizarro universe where the Christians are reasonable and polite, and the atheists are strident assholes?"

A large portion of everybody acts like big assholes. When they're in the majority, it sticks out. So in conventional US society, where Christians are the majority, their assholishness sticks out. In MeFi, where atheists are the majority, their assholishness sticks out.
posted by Bugbread at 4:27 PM on May 15, 2006 [2 favorites]


Amen. And I wish more Atheists would stop acting as if it were.

That, and stop acting like everyone who goes to church/synagogue/mosque for services, observes religious practice X, or defends "religion" against reductive carpetbombing is:

a. A firebrand weilding monomaniac, to whom you must speak loudly and slowly;

b. Steeped in religious conviction in the first place, and therefore the appropriate person at whom to direct vitriol;

c. Unaware of the moral and philosophical quandaries posed by the tradition to which they belong and utterly without conflict regarding how those moral and philosophical quandaries might even conflict with their other values; or

d. a neoconservative.
posted by kosem at 4:29 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


*riots*
posted by brownpau at 4:31 PM on May 15, 2006


"So, you find any one religion less ludicrous than another?"

Yes, of course. I'm being a little inconsistent because I've argued in the past against people claiming that one religion is perfectly sensible (e.g. Catholic Christianity) and another completely ludicrous (e.g. Scientology). In those cases I'm arguing against the supposed large, even huge difference in reasonability that some people claim.

But as a matter of principle—which is, I strongly suspect, the basis on which you are claiming the opposite—of course some given religion might be less ludicrous, or more reasonable (to avoid loaded terms), than another given religion. The possibility of a Creator with no other postulated qualities is surely more reasonable than the possibility of a Creator named Steve with 14 fingers. The possibility of a Mefite with no other postulated qualities is surely more reasonable than the possibility of a Mefite named Steve with 14 fingers. See how this works? If you're going to play around with (implicitly) claiming to be rigorously rational, you'd best have these sorts of things figured out.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:33 PM on May 15, 2006


Question like this askme post are right up there with, "Will you go to the bathroom for me?" and "What's so morally wrong with murdering my baby?"

Questions that no one should waste their time answering because the poster already knows the answer.
posted by 517 at 4:35 PM on May 15, 2006


NEGRO:

Member of a subgroup of the human race who hails, or whose ancestors hailed, from a chunk of land nicknamed — not by its residents — Africa. Superior to the Caucasian in that negroes did not invent nuclear weapons, the automobile, Christianity, nerve gas, the concentration camp, military epidemics, or the megalopolis.

— from The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C. Mulligan
posted by 31d1 at 4:39 PM on May 15, 2006


the formulation of ideas that we think of as "modern society" weren't created in the Muslim or Buddhist world

Unarguable. However this doesn't mean that there is some fundamental disconnect that prevents Muslims of Buddhists from agreeing with many of those ideas. Or that prevents predominantly Muslim or Buddhist societies from being democractic, modern societies.
The idea of a 'clash of civilisations' is that there are differences that can simply never be worked out.
posted by atrazine at 4:43 PM on May 15, 2006


Chad Mulligan was a bourgeois living it large off the company account while selling his books as a countercultural rebel.
posted by Bugbread at 4:45 PM on May 15, 2006


klangklangston wrote, "Tu quoque, retard. " klang, I love you and I want to have retarded internet babies with you.
posted by boo_radley at 4:49 PM on May 15, 2006


It's crap like this which gives atheism a bad name, you know.

Amen. I've never felt so bad about being an atheist as when I read MetaFilter.

Then the pig got up and slowly walked away...

Oh, and what boo_radley said. klang, if I've ever said bad things about you, I do heartily repent me.
posted by languagehat at 5:12 PM on May 15, 2006


Oh hell no! That was never it at all. I was really just trying to present this position: Atheists can be good people too. DO you really need a church to accomplish what you want.

Personally, I agree with this in fact. Isn't it nice when we can just clarify our points and have a nice discussion? [hug]
posted by desuetude at 5:24 PM on May 15, 2006


Interesting how it seems that calling a real human being a retard is somehow less offensive than calling a fictional god a giant invisible wizard in the sky.

And yet, I am the asshole.

Interesting.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:34 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh, and by the way...

Until any one of your gods shows up here with a kidney for my wife sometime in the next ten years, get your fucking hands off the stem cells.

Thank you.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:38 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]



posted by kosem at 5:42 PM on May 15, 2006


As long as Christians continue to condemn me and those I love to eternal damnation for not believing in their peculiar mythology, I reserve the right to think of them as nitwits. I'd hardly consider that an equivalency.

As for Huntington, he's an intellectual lightweight, but I agree that there's a "clash" going on. I just think he drew the line in the wrong place re: Christian West vs. Oriental/Muslim East, as have the neocons. Given world enough and time, and money and guns, any religion becomes a threat to our common humanity. Hegel continues to have a good laugh at all of us.
posted by bardic at 6:18 PM on May 15, 2006


As long as Christians continue to condemn me and those I love to eternal damnation

And the ones that don't, and never have?
posted by moss at 6:47 PM on May 15, 2006


It's so fascinating to me how Metafilter is like this magical bubble where Christians are an oppressed minority.

It's crap like this which gives atheism a bad name, you know.

Amen. I've never felt so bad about being an atheist as when I read MetaFilter.


Preach it, brothers/sisters!

Now if you'll pardon me, I have to go feed the family of Christians who are hiding out in my basement.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:43 PM on May 15, 2006


And the ones that don't, and never have?

That's okay. The Bible does that for them.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:09 PM on May 15, 2006


The Bible does that for them.

Don't forget those hate-dripping, ignorantly worthless tomes the Koran and the Torah, too!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:25 PM on May 15, 2006


Oh for goodness sake.

This reminds me of the time a bunch of us went to a Free-Thinking Humanists centre to learn about their philosophy, and the guide kept going on and on about how just believing in God meant that you were manipulated.

A large number of us believed in God in some manner (Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, Muslim, Pagan) but even those that didn't believe in God didn't see how "believing in God's existence" = "manipulation".

Those of you going "THEM HOLY BOOKS ARE EVIL" or "THEM RELIGIONS ARE EVIL" - could you please consider:

a) Every religion has many, many sects - much of whom have not much in common with each other
b) The holy books have many intepretations and translations, some of which make wildly different conclusions on things
c) There is a difference between the religion and the practitioner

Whatever happened to just letting people find their own truth? None of us "God-believers"* are pushing our faith on you; why are you all so insistent on pushing the "ATHEISM IS FACT" notion?

* grew up Muslim, now more Eclectic Pagan
posted by divabat at 9:06 PM on May 15, 2006


Whatever happened to just letting people find their own truth?

Some people are great at rejecting theology, but fewer can shake evangelism.
posted by namespan at 9:09 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Actually, the Hebrew Testament and Koran don't make all that many mentions of hell and/or the afterlife. It's there, and it's debated all the time, but the Christian Testament is rather explicit--accept Jesus as the messiah/christos or you burn in hell. You know who says that, despite his rather admirable anti-authoritarian and humanitarian moments? Three guesses.

I'd be happy to discuss comparative religion with you any time Alvy.
posted by bardic at 9:52 PM on May 15, 2006


man, i miss the olden days. zeus wouldn't have tolerated being called an invisible sky wizard. he'd be all "enjoy that thunderbolt in your rectum." and then he'd turn in to some kinda sexy swan and make it with your lady. and you know, who ya gonna cry to? athena? look where that got roger daltrey.
posted by Hat Maui at 10:09 PM on May 15, 2006 [2 favorites]


Please, how powerful could Zeus have been? Shit leaped forth from his forehead without any say from him whatsoever. Forehead incontinence is no basis for a system of deism, my friend.
posted by Dunwitty at 10:25 PM on May 15, 2006


Forehead incontinence is no basis for a system of deism, my friend.

Then again, most of my participation here at Metafilter over the years has been a direct result of forehead incontinence, so there's something to be said for it.



Or not, I guess, depending on your perspective.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:50 PM on May 15, 2006


WinnipegDragon: Interesting how it seems that calling a real human being a retard is somehow less offensive than calling a fictional god a giant invisible wizard in the sky.

People regard their religious beliefs as part of their identity. Hence when you ridicule their beliefs, it feels like a personal attack to them.
posted by russilwvong at 10:57 PM on May 15, 2006


Wow, that's retarded. There's nothing insulting about calling African Americans "negros." I mean, it's just "black" in French.

For fuck's sake, get hold of a dictionary before you share any more complete and total arse like this.
posted by Wolof at 11:07 PM on May 15, 2006


It's debated all the time...

Spend time with fundamentalists of any faith, and see how much debate and discourse there is regarding the fates of the unsaved: "Hmmm, I'm kinda on the fence between 'Kinda crappy' and 'Really crappy'...".

The "Yer either wi' us, or agin' us," mentality sure as hell isn't a uniquely Christian characteristic. It's a human one, one that *gasp* even atheist folks are susceptible to. But then, I doubt that's news to anyone who's read this thread.

I'd be happy to discuss comparative religion with you any time Alvy.

What's to discuss?
You yourself concede that faith-sanctioned intolerance is not an exclusively Christian phenomenon.
Is there really a threshold below which prejudice motivated by religion is acceptable? If so, how is that arbitrary line marked, by who the biggest believers on your particular block are, by the color of their skin, by fashionability, by political correctness, by history? Kneejerk cherry picking.
If it's all bunk, it's all bunk.

To be honest, I first read your comment as being about religious intolerance towards homosexuality, which I could understand.
Upon rereading it, I guess you were just talking about the church's take on unbelievers, which reeks of some sort forced, petulant indignation:
"Mommy! Jimmy said I was smelly and couldn't join his club!!!"
"But honey, don't you always say that Jimmy's club is dumb and that you don't care what he says?"
"Yeah, but he said...!!!"

According to the pamphlets, I'm going to hell for my atheism too. But since, you know, I don't believe in it, I'm not losing any sleep.

posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:38 PM on May 15, 2006


"For fuck's sake, get hold of a dictionary before you share any more complete and total arse like this."

If you run to the bus stop now, you may just be able to catch up with the point.

"man, i miss the olden days. zeus wouldn't have tolerated being called an invisible sky wizard. he'd be all "enjoy that thunderbolt in your rectum." and then he'd turn in to some kinda sexy swan and make it with your lady. and you know, who ya gonna cry to? athena? look where that got roger daltrey."

ZING!

"It's there, and it's debated all the time, but the Christian Testament is rather explicit--accept Jesus as the messiah/christos or you burn in hell."

Unless you're a Unitarian, which means that you believe Christ's sacrifice gets everyone a free pass.

LH&BR— Aww, shucks. I have my good moments and my bad.
posted by klangklangston at 5:31 AM on May 16, 2006


Still waiting for a kidney here.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:54 AM on May 16, 2006


So?
posted by klangklangston at 6:56 AM on May 16, 2006


I'm waiting to be convinced. I figure some god out there might, you know, care.

Apparently not.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:06 AM on May 16, 2006


I'm waiting to be convinced. I figure some god out there might, you know, care.

Apparently not.


So, if God cared whether you believed or not, he would send irrefutable proof at your command? Through Metafilter?

That's brilliant. Thanks for the morning chuckle.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:20 AM on May 16, 2006


namespan : "Some people are great at rejecting theology, but fewer can shake evangelism."

Metafilter: Rejecting theology, embracing evangelism.

WinnipegDragon : "I'm waiting to be convinced. I figure some god out there might, you know, care."

Care that your wife needs a kidney? Yes, I care, to the extent that I care about anyone I kinda know tangentially having a possibly fatal condition. Care that you're waiting to be convinced in a deity? Nope, don't particularly care about that. I doubt anyone here does.
posted by Bugbread at 7:26 AM on May 16, 2006


Sure, why not? What's the other option then? God doesn't care.

So, if he/she/it doesn't care, why should we waste time worshipping it/her/him?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:27 AM on May 16, 2006


Actually, my anger about this specific subject extends moreso to people than gods. I live in a province of one million people. Do you know how many people donated kidneys in this province last year?

5.

So, I'm running out of options.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:31 AM on May 16, 2006


Wow.
I knew Canadians had a very low donation rate compared to out nationalities, and that Manitobans are a pack of jerks, but wow.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:45 AM on May 16, 2006


According to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority there were 30 kidneys donated in 2005 in Manitoba. Also keep in mind that Nonetheless, 30 is not nearly enough, given that there are more than 2000 Manitobans with kidney disease and the province has the highest rate of dialysis patients in Canada.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:08 AM on May 16, 2006


WinnipegDragon : "Sure, why not? What's the other option then? God doesn't care.

So, if he/she/it doesn't care, why should we waste time worshipping it/her/him?"


Ok, I'm an atheist, so this is all speculative, but:
  • IF there is a god
  • AND the god has specific entry requirements to Heaven, which if not met will result in eternal pain
  • AND the god doesn't care about our wellbeing on earth,
  • THEN we should 'waste' time worshipping him because it will prevent us from eternal pain.
I don't believe in god, and neither do you, so this is speculative, and I'm sure you have other more valid arguments about why we should or shouldn't worship a god, but the argument "God doesn't care about what we want him to care about, so why should we worship him?" is akin to saying "The mafia doesn't care if I score with this chick, so why should I pay protection money to keep them from breaking my legs?"
posted by Bugbread at 8:12 AM on May 16, 2006


The comment was a direct answer to the question, was not a personal attack or even an attack on a specific faith, and was at the mild end of the hostility spectrum. Answers much more hostile to religion in general, and to Christianity in particular, would still have been completely on-topic and in keeping with the question. It's not possible to post a question like this and not be asking for answers of this sort. If there is really a problem with this kind of comment, then it's the question that should have been deleted at the outset.
posted by bingo at 8:19 AM on May 16, 2006


According to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority there were 30 kidneys donated in 2005 in Manitoba.

Hmm, the Winnipeg Free Press had said there were only 5 in 2005. It appears that the WRHA numbers reflect transplants, not donations. Perhaps there is some differentiation between live donors and cadaver donors that the WFP was not clear on?

I don't believe in god, and neither do you, so this is speculative, and I'm sure you have other more valid arguments about why we should or shouldn't worship a god, but the argument "God doesn't care about what we want him to care about, so why should we worship him?" is akin to saying "The mafia doesn't care if I score with this chick, so why should I pay protection money to keep them from breaking my legs?"

Well, I suppose that line of thinking comes from another line of thinking. I have to assume that if god exists in the classical sense of 'god', in that he/she/it loves us.

Of course, my basic logical conflict with the pure existence of god goes something like this:

If god is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, then why do we exist?

God would learn nothing from us, could foresee anything we might accomplish, and would not need us for anything.

So, if there is a 'creation' god must do it for our sake, and as such, must care for us.

If god cares for us, why is creation imperfect?

If creation is imperfect because god intended it to be, then god has made those god loves suffer, and as such god is unworthy of worship.

If god did not intend creation to be imperfect, then god is not omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, and as such, god is unworthy of worship.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:40 AM on May 16, 2006


One of the central ideas behind the tantric tradition is that gods have created us in order to experience what it's like to have limitations, and to experience the world bounded by a body, and to see what joys that can bring. We exist in what we see as time because we are manifestations of divine consciousness, which seeks out obstacles and difficulties in order, by experiencing our difficult lives, to challenge itself and ourselves and grow.
posted by occhiblu at 9:04 AM on May 16, 2006


If God exists, he is incredbly insecure. Hence the requirement of constant worship, proscibed worship of other deities, and harsh treatment of apostates. He's also a charlatan and fraud, for if not he's regularly send a random person back from heaven, or heal an amuputee to shut up the apostates.

I was raised in a christian (Seventh-Day Adventist) (I'm better now) household and indoctrinated from infancy. For the record, I fully believed God was an enormous invisible wizard type man with a big fuckoff beard who lived in the sky. I think most people brought up in christo-judeo-islamic belief systems at least subconsciously believe this too.
posted by mullingitover at 9:08 AM on May 16, 2006


Occhiblu, so are the gods in the tantric tradition not omnipotent then?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:10 AM on May 16, 2006


I don't think I'd ask a question this open-ended on this sort of thing again.

AskMe is usually all of the smartness of Mefi without the snark and wrangling. Snark and wrangling are great things, but not on AskMe. And people just don't seem to be able to help themselves on this topic. I don't want to corrode the green.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:14 AM on May 16, 2006


*he'd
*amputee
argh
posted by mullingitover at 9:16 AM on May 16, 2006


Well, any answer on a topic of religion is bound to offend someone. Religious beliefs are funny that way, despite the fact that they (mostly) preach tolerance.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:26 AM on May 16, 2006


bingo: It's not possible to post a question like this and not be asking for answers of this sort.

Exactly (I was gonna say "bingo!").

The question was "convince me or not", with an overt and very casual sort of "pitch it to me" approach.

The asker didn't even say if s/he does believe in God, let alone the Christian God. He did say he's looking at "non-interactional forms of religion"; he didn't try and go to a church and talk to a minister and didn't say he was interested in that.

It's rather hard to imagine how a person may be able to convert to Christianity or any such massive organised religion without at least the first of those requirements, and the second usually comes with it too. A vague interest in love and selflessness and tradition and community is not really enough, is it?

"Why can't you love your fellow man and be selfless, without needing to believe in a giant invisible wizard in the sky?" may be a disparaging way to put it, but it's hardly out of bounds for the way the question was asked.
posted by funambulist at 9:37 AM on May 16, 2006


Tantra is coming out of, and overlapping with, both Buddhism and Hinduism, and I'm hardly an expert on any of these three areas, so I'm not claiming to give a definitive answer. From what I understand, Shiva is the creator and destroyer of worlds, but left to his own devices, he'd just sit and meditate and be holy all day long. He is the consciousness of the universe. Tantra posits that the energy the world needs to survive comes from Shakti, the female diety, more or less getting bored with Shiva's serenity and wanting to actually live in the world, not just think about it all day long. So she becomes humans, putting herself into different shapes (bodies) in order to fully experience the world, which you can't really do if you're not a part of it.

So it's taking the idea of gods on mountaintops and adding a sense of divinity on earth, an idea that our struggles are not because we're imperfect beings who will never measure up but because they're vital to experiencing what "life" is. If we were perfect, and never died, and had no limitations, then... well, we'd all just go meditate on mountaintops and miss all the joys that an imperfect, difficult, finite life brings.
posted by occhiblu at 9:41 AM on May 16, 2006


I didn't actually answer your question, did I? I guess what I'm trying to get at is that human limitations are seen as divine, so whether the gods are omnipotent or not is kind of beside the point. In tantra, the gods want to be *us*, it's not about us struggling to be as perfect as god. An omnipotent being would miss out on all the good stuff in the universe.
posted by occhiblu at 9:44 AM on May 16, 2006


I fully believed God was an enormous invisible wizard type man with a big fuckoff beard who lived in the sky.

Oh, I wonder why...
posted by funambulist at 9:47 AM on May 16, 2006


Occhiblu, well it's not like there is a correct answer to that sort of question, to be fair. I thought your answer was quite informative.

It's certainly a different sort of tradition, but I guess there are quite a few examples of the belief in the 'spark of divinity' in all mankind. Perhaps it's a more common belief than one would expect.

In my roman catholic raising though, the thought of the gods admiring or desiring anything from our human condition is just unthinkable though. I mean god is all-powerful right? Why would god ever want to hang around this dump?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:53 AM on May 16, 2006


Why would god ever want to hang around this dump?

So we can learn something important about living with our fellow humans. Or you can come to some other conclusion. But if you sincerely ask the question, then you have to at least try to think of answers, instead of coming up with dumb 2-year-old type nonsequiturs like if God loved me he would make everything perfect for me all the time, and in a way that I would immediately recognize that perfection. It takes almost no brain power to come up with zillions of logical responses to your question. Are any of them the right one? Maybe. But pretending that the only logical answer is that God either doesn't exist or doesn't care is just completely stupid.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:16 AM on May 16, 2006


Why would god care what we learn about living with our fellow humans? Are we teaching god?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:21 AM on May 16, 2006


Why would god care what we learn about living with our fellow humans? Are we teaching god?

Again, it takes almost no brainpower to come up with many, many logical answers to this, but you're not willing to devote any of yours to it, apparently.

Why does any parent care what their children learn about living with their fellow humans? As you correctly assume above, the answer is love. Or come up with another one yourself, if you really care about the question.

But I'm totally baffled by your statement above that you start by assuming that God does exist, and that he possesses given attributes, and then you decide, based on that assumption, that he doesn't exist, because the being you assume exists doesn't behave the way you predict he should.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:28 AM on May 16, 2006


Again, it takes almost no brainpower to come up with many, many logical answers to this, but you're not willing to devote any of yours to it, apparently.

I haven't seen any answers from you either, just the admonition that 'smart people can list hundreds of answers'. Start listing.

Why does any parent care what their children learn about living with their fellow humans? As you correctly assume above, the answer is love. Or come up with another one yourself, if you really care about the question.

If the relationship between man and god is the same as the relationship between parent and child, then god is really not all that powerful. I can make sure that my child is fed when hungry, and yet tens of thousands of god's children are starving to death every day.

If you believe in this personal relationship with god, than god is a fucking mean bastard who allows millions to suffer and die for no reason other than curiosity about 'how they learn to live with other humans'. What a coont this god must be.

But I'm totally baffled by your statement above that you start by assuming that God does exist, and that he possesses given attributes, and then you decide, based on that assumption, that he doesn't exist, because the being you assume exists doesn't behave the way you predict he should.

It's a paradox. If god exists and is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, then there is no reason for us to exist. Yet we do, so if god exists, god cannot be omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. If god is not omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, then god is not truly god.

But you know, clearly god needs you here to defend him, so go! go! MetaFilter God Defense Force!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:36 AM on May 16, 2006


dumb 2-year-old type nonsequiturs like if God loved me he would make everything perfect for me all the time

Bingo, though 2 is perhaps a bit young. But if WinnipegDragon is no longer in fifth grade, he needs to catch up with how the grownups think.
posted by languagehat at 10:38 AM on May 16, 2006


WinniepegDragon, though, if you look at the actual story, that's exactly what the Christian story says god did: Sent his son to come live with us, to suffer and die as a human, and that act is what redeems us all. *Not* that god is perfect and all-powerful, but that god was human.

And if you look at what the Catholics say the eucharist is, then each Sunday people are actually taking part of god into themselves, adding that "divine spark" to their humanity.

There are, of course, many ways to pervert that story, and many people who do pervert the story. But the story, at its core, is almost identical if you strip off the historical context. (And I realize that most organized religions are built exactly *on* those types of historical contexts, but that doesn't mean they're really the whole story.)
posted by occhiblu at 10:38 AM on May 16, 2006


Whatever happened to just letting people find their own truth? None of us "God-believers"* are pushing our faith on you; why are you all so insistent on pushing the "ATHEISM IS FACT" notion?

Wow. Are you completely ignorant of the whole phenomenon known as "evangelism", or what? We get religion shoved down our throats all the damned time, over and over and over again. When was the last time an atheist knocked on your door and tried to talk you out of your beliefs?

If god is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, then why do we exist?

God would learn nothing from us, could foresee anything we might accomplish, and would not need us for anything.


We are a highly developed form of art.
posted by beth at 10:49 AM on May 16, 2006


Oh, and just because The Christian West [tm] was the font of lots of spiffy things doesn't mean that it was A) the Christianity thereof that made it good and B) impossible without the Christianness.

I mean, look at how Christianity held things back - Gallileo is the example that first springs to mind. The church wasn't always looking out for the interests of the people, or the truth, it was interested (and still is) in its own power.
posted by beth at 10:52 AM on May 16, 2006


Bingo, though 2 is perhaps a bit young. But if WinnipegDragon is no longer in fifth grade, he needs to catch up with how the grownups think.

Right, anyone who disagrees with you is in fifth grade. Well shit, I've been dismissed by the best I suppose.

WinniepegDragon, though, if you look at the actual story, that's exactly what the Christian story says god did: Sent his son to come live with us, to suffer and die as a human, and that act is what redeems us all. *Not* that god is perfect and all-powerful, but that god was human.

So a human created the universe? A human divided the light from the darkness and saw that it was good?

Every single religion is full of fantastic mythology, but I can't see how any forward-thinking person in this day and age could possibly believe that any of these stories were true...

We learned that Santa brought presents, and it was a lie. We learned that the tooth fairy left money for each lost tooth, but it was a lie.

It's time for humanity to grow out of it's collective childhood and learn that the rest of these stories are just lies too.

We, and only we, are responsible for the course of our lives, both individually and collectively. Until then, we wallow in the dark age, toiling under the watchful eye of self-made god-priests who are just looking to make a few bucks, kill a few infidels and rape a few altar boys.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:53 AM on May 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


But I see very, very few Christians on Metafilter trying to convert anyone, or specifically and repeatedly attacking posters for their religious beliefs. I see very, very many atheists jumping down people's throats and crowing about their superior lifestyles here, on a regular basis.

I understand that many atheists may, in the real world, feel oppressed or marginalized or attacked, probably on very personal levels. But that does not mean that they automatically get to personally attack and ridicule every Christian they come across. Especially since that's putting them in the same category as the evangelists they're complaining about -- hearing one label and making huge assumptions about that person's belief system and morals, based mainly on stereotype and ignorance.
posted by occhiblu at 10:54 AM on May 16, 2006


(The above was to beth.)

To WinniepegDragon: I'm what I refer to as a Joseph Campbell spiritualist. I believe in the stories as metaphor. Many devoutly religious (I'm talking priests, here) people I've talked to have said the same thing. It's more rare in America, I admit, where Protestantism has instilled a more literal view of the Bible, but there are many many many people who take the spiritual metaphorical truth from these stories (in the same way you might look at a myth) and don't get so caught up in the details.
posted by occhiblu at 10:57 AM on May 16, 2006


Also, how does "so a human created the universe?" follow from what I was saying about Christianity and tantra being similar in some ways? Tantra's still got Shiva and Shakti creating the world. Again, I see that as a metaphor for general forces in the universe, but the story is still the same.
posted by occhiblu at 11:00 AM on May 16, 2006


occhiblu,

Can I ask how you separate the literal truths from the metaphorical truths? If the book is full of metaphorical stories, why is god not also just a metaphor?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:01 AM on May 16, 2006


Oh, your second point. I was responding the statement 'but that god was human.'
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:02 AM on May 16, 2006


We are a highly developed form of art.

Then the kiln is too cool, because we are only half-baked.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:03 AM on May 16, 2006


If you believe in this personal relationship with god, than god is a fucking mean bastard who allows millions to suffer and die for no reason other than curiosity about 'how they learn to live with other humans'

According to the pervasive Christian theology, God told mankind not to let each other suffer and die for no reason. If you can't see the point in learning to live with your fellow human beings and exercise compassion, charity and other virtues, beyond "curiosity," I'm not sure your commentary is all that relevant. Do you honestly think that humans don't benefit from learning to live peacefully with one another?
posted by JekPorkins at 11:06 AM on May 16, 2006


What occhiblu said.

"Well shit, I've been dismissed by the best I suppose."

There's one thing you've gotten correct.

If I had to choose between one of two wishes (imagine a hypothetical all-powerful wizard genie)—the first being abolish all theism from human belief, the second wish being abolish the kind of assholism you're displaying here—I'd go with the latter because it would do far, far more good.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:08 AM on May 16, 2006


I think it is. I think there are forces in the universe that are outside our conscious control, and that are outside our conscious understanding, but that exist. (Truthfully, love is a good example. I can't explain how or why it happens, but I know I feel it, and that it greatly influences everything from minor daily interactions to major wars.) I, personally, use the general idea of "god" (though I'd call it "universal consciousness" or some other such liberal-hippie-dippy type phrase) to encompass those things. Those things that influence humans but are, to a large extent, outside scientific quantification.

For me, it ends there. For the priest I was discussing this with the other day, he puts God-with-a-capital-G as the originator of these things, but still sees our daily interactions as affecting this web. And he believes that there was an actual Jesus who was actually the son of god and was crucified and was resurrected, but the thing is, that's also a metaphor: In (older, "high") Christian theology, we all get to be Christ. We are all the sons and daughters of God, we will all be resurrected. Jesus has shown us how that is possible, for each of us; he wasn't here just to show off. I'm not sure I agree with this priest about all the details, but the underlying truth of the story remains -- we are born, we live, we die, we are resurrected in some way, either because our genes are passed down and we live on that way, or because we are remembered by people who loved us and we live on that way, or simply because we are buried and become fertilizer and a tree grows out of head and we continue "living" through that biological cycle.

That, for me, is how I separate literal truths from metaphorical truths. To me, *none* of the literal stories matter as much as the metaphors behind them, and those metaphors are "true" in the sense that they describe what actually, really, physically, emotionally happens in the world.
posted by occhiblu at 11:11 AM on May 16, 2006


But we don't Jek. We are imperfect, and we prove it time and time again. If god is waiting for us to work this all out ourselves, what cost is he willing to accept?

I know where you are coming from, I was raised catholic, and I appreciate the 'peace, love and cooperation' message in the bible, but it never works that way, never has, and there is no reason to believe that it ever will.

We kill each other, steal from each other and rape each other. We wage war on each other over land, money or minerals. We kill millions over racial, societal and religious divisions. We use religious and political power to lord our values over each other, and oppress those who dare to disagree.

If it's a big experiment, it's a colossal failure. It's time to burn the cities, flee to the hills, grow beans, and start over.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:12 AM on May 16, 2006



If I had to choose between one of two wishes (imagine a hypothetical all-powerful wizard genie)—the first being abolish all theism from human belief, the second wish being abolish the kind of assholism you're displaying here—I'd go with the latter because it would do far, far more good.


Gee, EB. How many times have you been called out for 'assholism' here? Pot, kettle and all that.

Besides, what's wrong with arguing a dissenting viewpoint?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:14 AM on May 16, 2006


Occhiblu,

Thanks for expanding on that. It's an interesting viewpoint.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:16 AM on May 16, 2006


Thanks. And my reason for blathering on is partly to show everyone here that there's a huge range of beliefs on this site and in the world in general, even among people who might all refer to themselves as "Christian," and it's useless and silly to think you understand someone's entire worldview based just on that one word.
posted by occhiblu at 11:20 AM on May 16, 2006


If god exists and is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, then there is no reason for us to exist.

it's my impression that possibly you need to put the question of god aside for awhile and work on why you think the existence of humanity should or should not be meaningful

i'm not sure that you can judge the existence of god in a meaningful way when you seem confused about your own existence ... my view is that you're generalizing from your own negative life circumstances
posted by pyramid termite at 11:25 AM on May 16, 2006


It's not blathering, it's genuinely interesting. If I could have your tone from certain other posters in this thread, I'm sure my own would be better as well.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:26 AM on May 16, 2006


Do you honestly think that humans don't benefit from learning to live peacefully with one another?

But we don't Jek. We are imperfect, and we prove it time and time again. If god is waiting for us to work this all out ourselves, what cost is he willing to accept?

We don't benefit from learning to live peacefully with one another? Nonsense. Notwithstanding our imperfection, that lesson is paramount to our existence, both in a religious sense and in purely secular one. God, IMHO, is not "waiting for us to work this all out ourselves." According to Christianity, God has actually given quite explicit instructions regarding how to treat one's fellow humans.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:30 AM on May 16, 2006


pyramid termite,

My theory on the existence of humanity is this: The universe is so vast that the chance of an advanced race like humans arising is pretty much guaranteed. We are here because of pure luck.

I'm not confused about this, nor do I think of life as being a purely negative experience, although there are surely negative aspects.

My goal in my existence is to leave the world a better place for my children, and to secure for them every opportunity I can, while following my own internal moral compass.

That's about it.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:33 AM on May 16, 2006


According to Christianity, God has actually given quite explicit instructions regarding how to treat one's fellow humans.

Are you referring to the parts of the Bible that say to go into land X and kill / destroy the Y people and take their women as wives (let's be truthful - this means raping them)?

Or did you mean the touchy feely "love thy neighbor" and "give up your possessions" kind of stuff?
posted by beth at 11:36 AM on May 16, 2006


We don't benefit from learning to live peacefully with one another? Nonsense.

I never said that. I said that we continue to FAIL to learn to live peacefully with one another.

Notwithstanding our imperfection, that lesson is paramount to our existence, both in a religious sense and in purely secular one. God, IMHO, is not "waiting for us to work this all out ourselves." According to Christianity, God has actually given quite explicit instructions regarding how to treat one's fellow humans.

And many Christians routinely ignore those instructions, as do Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Taoists, etc... Oh, and they all have different instructions too.

We aren't getting anywhere.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:36 AM on May 16, 2006


p.s. This is great conversation. I'm trying not to be a total dink, and I appreciate everyone else doing the same ;)
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:37 AM on May 16, 2006


Beth, yes. And lots of others, too. The Bible's one wacky book, I'll give you that. But it's clearly not about God waiting for us to figure life out for ourselves.

WinnipegDragon, I assumed that you answered the question I asked. That's why I directly quoted you. Sorry for my misinterpretation.

The fact that people don't follow their own alleged beliefs isn't an indicment of the beliefs themseves, but of the people as hypocrites. Saying Christianity is bad because Christians don's actually practice it is like saying that outlawing discrimination is a bad idea, because people will still discriminate.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:46 AM on May 16, 2006


Don't get me wrong - I think laudable goals are well, laudable, and I recognize that people are imperfect. But using a 2,000-odd-year-old book to base your morality on is kind of silly in this day and age. It's pro-slavery, pro-genocide, and pro-lots of other things which decent modern folks have learned we're better off without.

Not to mention that the book contradicts itself (in more than one place).

From what I have seen *everyone* picks and chooses what parts of the Bible to follow (and shove down other people's throats), and what parts are, I don't know, where God was only kidding or something.

I have yet to meet or hear of a single Christian who follows the rule about no mixing fabric types in their dress, but there are plenty screaming about the "God hates fags" stuff in the neighboring verses, and clamoring to erode their rights and / or support violence against them.

The Bible's one wacky book, I'll give you that. But it's clearly not about God waiting for us to figure life out for ourselves.

I think we do better figuring these things out for ourselves, frankly, and that's *with the lessons of history to guide us*. Slavery was bad. Genocide is bad. Discrimination based on race is bad. We (all right-thinking people [tm]) have learned these lessons, and others that tell us what the best way to treat people is in order to preserve their rights and to do justice.

No, it's not perfect, and we don't always agree, but it's a damn sight better than (a lot of) what's in the Bible. It's an ongoing process, and we continue to learn, and I think we continue to do better. At least we have the *potential* to do better if we aren't fettered to obsolete notions of morality that come out of a book. That only ties us back to a more brutal and unjust period of history. We must move beyond it. It is a moral imperative, imho.
posted by beth at 12:02 PM on May 16, 2006 [2 favorites]


Well said beth.

There are wonderful lessons in the Bible, Koran, Torah, etc... There are also wonderful lessons in Disney's 'The Jungle Book' but I'm not about to start worshipping King Louie.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:09 PM on May 16, 2006


Also, just a general principle: I give Christians the same sort of respect I imagine they'd give me if I declared myself a Unicornist.

They're such assholes with their Aunicornism anyway, it's like a cult!
posted by beth at 12:21 PM on May 16, 2006


s/Christians/Theists/
posted by beth at 12:22 PM on May 16, 2006


Also, just a general principle: I give Christians the same sort of respect I imagine they'd give me if I declared myself a Unicornist.

Yep. That 2000 year old guideline to treat others as you would have them treat you is so outdated. Your version is better. Treat others as you imagine they would treat you in a hypothetical alternate reality, even if you wouldn't want them to treat you that way. After all, "We (all right-thinking people [tm]) have learned these lessons, and others that tell us what the best way to treat people is in order to preserve their rights and to do justice."
posted by JekPorkins at 12:27 PM on May 16, 2006


WinnipegDragon : "If god is not omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, then god is not truly god."

How do you figure?
posted by Bugbread at 12:27 PM on May 16, 2006


JekPorkins, not everyone needs to read a given book to know that being decent and kind is the right thing to do. And not everyone needs a promise from their sky-wizard that they'll get to live in Heaven forever and ever in order to be decent people (Does my anthropomorphic snark bother you? OK, "demiurge" than.). Some of us were just raised to try and be that way--no carrot and stick, just a sense of our common limitations. Through my own life experiences, which included a stint as someone who called himself a Christian and a few years spent reading as much about world religions as I could, this notion grew stronger. I'm a big advocate of reading books in general, but it's ridiculous to say that Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John are somehow better guides for life than any of the thousands of other texts written before and after. What's more, remember what the J-dog has to say about all this--sure, be nice to one another, because that's a good sign you'll make it into my father's mansion. However, being a generous person is explicitly not what gets you there, i.e., being kind is not its own reward from a Christian perspective.

Mix that in with the whole "Accept me as messiah or suffer horribly," and you've got a theological tradition that, IMO, has long outlived its welcome.

(Alvy, you're still missing an important doctrinal disctinction between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--I agree that a fanatic, or even a well-intentioned but ignorant reader, can draw bigotry, hatred, or ignorance from any text, but there is a qualitative difference between these three traditions. Judaism doesn't have an authentic tradition of proseletyzing because, well, it wouldn't make sense. Either you're born as a descendant of Abraham or you aren't, and while it's good to be a member of the tribe, so to speak, there's also a lot of "baggage" that comes along with it--think Job, for starters. Islam is similar, IMO--the Koran mentions many Hebrew prophets, and Jesus himself, as pretty smart guys, but also deluded guys in the sense that they don't realize Mohammed is really the only one you should bother listening to. It won't hurt you to read some of the gospels or some Daniel or Elijah, but don't confuse good writing with true prophethood in the form of Mohammed and his wisdom.

So there's a consdescension here, as well, to non-Muslims, but it's a qualitative leap to get to Jesus' message of exclusion--accept me as the christos, or burn in hell forever. Really, he says that in all three synoptic gospels and then again in John. He says some other things that are worth reading as well, but this makes Christianity a morally reprehensible tradition IMO, moreso than other religious traditions.)

Winnipegdragon writes: If you can't see the point in learning to live with your fellow human beings and exercise compassion, charity and other virtues [as a moral good in and of itself, not out of a fear of heavenly retribution], beyond "curiosity," I'm not sure your commentary is all that relevant. Do you honestly think that humans don't benefit from learning to live peacefully with one another?

Along with my bracketed insert, that pretty much resonates with my own thoughts on the issue of religion.

And PS, atheists and/or people with problems with Christianity in this thread have been called tools, retards, and horribly intolerant. For those of you incapable of "speaking like adults" (funny that comment, considering the source), get thee to a local house-of-worship you self-aggrandizing twits.
posted by bardic at 12:55 PM on May 16, 2006 [2 favorites]


That 2000 year old guideline to treat others as you would have them treat you is so outdated.

My understanding is that the Bible was not the first formulation of this idea (which is a noble one, but is not a complete moral system).

I have no problem with taking the good parts of the Bible, and adding them to the canon of good things that come from other myths, religion, folklore, and the like (and there's plenty of room for new stories and lessons too).

I just find the idea that *everything* in the Bible should be followed *without question* to be ridiculous. Not even the most ferocious proponents of this idea (and there are many, and they are loud these days in America) follow the stuff about mixed fabrics. Everyone picks and chooses.

And I am as free to consider whatever tenets of Christianity to be silly and outdated as others are to consider my views on cosmology and morality to be preposterous. I have no problem with disagreement per se. It's when these outdated and (imho) quite harmful notions of morality are agitated for *to be legislated for believers and unbelievers alike* that I feel particularly threatened.

But even if They kept their rules just to themselves, I would (and do) worry about their children, particularly those who are gay and in a homophobic household. This can and does lead to suicides and other horrible fates, which are tragic for all concerned.

I'm not sure what the perfect answer is, but I know that letting Them legislate things like ID in the schools (and rejection of evolution instruction), abstinence-only sex ed, and laws that abrogate gay rights, is bad for *all* of us.

I think tax money should be used for laws and programs that best serve the needs, rights, and general justice of *all* citizens (as much as possible), and is a better way to structure our society.

Treat others as you imagine they would treat you in a hypothetical alternate reality, even if you wouldn't want them to treat you that way.

It was an analogy. And anyway, they treat me worse. They tell me I'm burning in hell, and how *dare* I reject Christ's gift of salvation. Then they fuck with things like the morning after pill, and try to take sex ed and evolution out of my daughter's school (and make her pledge to "one nation, under God" every damn morning there), and shit like that. I'm sick of their throwback agenda. I wish they would leave me alone, but they insist on foisting their beliefs on others using *our* tax money. I find it repugnant.

Frankly, I think if I professed belief *in* something, like Unicorns, they'd give me more respect than they do already. At least we could mutually congratulate each other on our ability to short-circuit the parts of our brains that require evidence in order to believe in something.
posted by beth at 12:59 PM on May 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


Some of us were just raised to try and be that way--no carrot and stick, just a sense of our common limitations.

One word: empathy. Once I knew what suffering was by having experienced it, how could I in good conscience inflict that on someone else, knowingly? Especially when options not to do so were / are available to me and are reasonable? It seemed pretty basic to me from a very, very early age. I didn't need to be threatened. And there are plenty of people like me in this regard.

Frankly I find the idea that I would need to be threatened into behaving decently towards other people very insulting.
posted by beth at 1:07 PM on May 16, 2006


Who's said that?

As I keep keep keep saying, people perverting Christian rhetoric to make stupid points are not doing so because they're Christian, they're doing so because they're stupid. And if they didn't have god to use to threaten people, they'd use something else. ("Wait until your father gets home!" "True Americans think X; if you disagree, you must be a terrorist," etc.)
posted by occhiblu at 1:16 PM on May 16, 2006


This is what is going on here (rhetorically), and what I especially don't like:

1. God says to kill Amalek's descendents if you meet them.
Here is Amalek son of Amalek, your gardner.

You believe in God, right?

Please kill him now and do as you're told. If you are currently unwilling to do this, you don't believe in the supremacy of God's law, which cannot, of itself, be unjust. Since the injunction against Amalek is unjust and internally inconsistent (which it most certainly is), God is unjust (which is impossible). See? Religion is bullshit and you are full of shit because you lack the courage of your professed convictions.


2. The conflation of every person who wants to engage with religion seriously, academically, religiously or spiritual (without blithe, caustic dismissal) with Dr. Dobson, Rev. Falwell, Meir Kahana or the Ayatolla. Most expressions of religious observance, faith and curiosity are not also flirtations with extremism, hate and social busybodiness.
posted by kosem at 1:17 PM on May 16, 2006


Frankly I find the idea that I would need to be threatened into behaving decently towards other people very insulting.

I do, too. And I acknowledge that many religious people do view their religion as a "do what is right or be punished" thing. But I don't think that describes all Christianity, and it especially doesn't describe what I think are Christ's actual teachings. The idea, I think, is that our mortal existence is, by nature, full of suffering, and that by following Christ's teachings (esp. the first and second commandments that he recognized), we can transcend and avoid much, if not all, suffering. It is empathy, just as you've described it.

Organized "christianity" has, by and large, abandoned the actual teachings of Christianity in favor of political expediency and greed. But again, that doesn't implicate the original teachings.

You don't need to be threatened into behaving decently. But you just said that you behave decently because you've experienced suffering yourself and you're trying to help others avoid suffering. Regardless of whether you believe in Christ, what you've described is exactly what I believe he taught by his example and what he asked of humanity.

Everyone in the world is a hypocrite. So what?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:17 PM on May 16, 2006


In other words, faulty logic, empty threats, cliqueishness, and us-against-them are hardly restricted to Christians, or religious people in general.
posted by occhiblu at 1:17 PM on May 16, 2006


(Turns out I was quoting JekPorkins, and not Winnipegdragon. Still seems to make sense to me though. The idea that a dyspeptic carpenter's son somehow patented the notions of kindness, charity, and forgiveness is ridiculous. Charming, but ridiculous.)
posted by bardic at 1:18 PM on May 16, 2006


The fact that people don't follow their own alleged beliefs isn't an indicment of the beliefs themseves, but of the people as hypocrites

Or perhaps it's just further evidence that morality cannot be based on religious beliefs alone, and you do in fact have to figure out life on your own and develop your own moral compass and be responsible for your actions, even if you believe in god and belong to a religion.

In that sense, I very much support the "hypocrisy" of religious people who do pick and choose, for better or for worse, from their given religion, as long as they're aware of doing so and don't demand an exception from being held responsible for what they do, say, and the effects of their words and actions, like anybody else. I bet this sounds even too banal and obvious, but in practice, it's clearly not such a given.
posted by funambulist at 1:20 PM on May 16, 2006


beth : Frankly I find the idea that I would need to be threatened into behaving decently towards other people very insulting.

And yet, legal systems are all based on this (break the law and be punished). Whether or not you find US Penal Code personally insulting doesn't mitigate its reasonableness or its usefulness as a social contruct.

You probably don't steal, yet it would be ridiculous for you to suggest, on the basis of your own behavior, that people who did steal didn't need to be punished for doing so.

To transpose this to a religious context, religious law is not a guarantor of certain behaviors. Instead, it establishes consequences.

A person who has faith in Mosaic or Christian ethics is not admitting that he or she needs the laws in order to behave according to them. Rather, faith in those laws constitutes an acknowledgment of the way the universe is ordered (according to a particular system of belief).

Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., on the whole don't go around saying to themselves "hoo boy, if I wasn't a [insert faith here], then I'd flay that [offense to God] alive and make him into a raincoat."

Their choice to behave or not behave in a manner that is in accordance with the dictates of their faith is a separate process from the one by which they accept those laws as true.
posted by camcgee at 1:32 PM on May 16, 2006


occhiblu, we can agree to disagree, and I'll spare all of us multiple quotations from the Christian Testament, but I'd stick to my argument that there's a qualitative difference between a religious tradition that says "We look down on non-believers, but live and let live" (a very cursory but theologically valid view of Judaism and Islam as written in much of the Hebrew Testament and Koran), and the central tenet of Christianity--Jesus is messiah (annointed to recognize him as the son of God) and the only "way" to eternal life. If you don't accept him as such, you are condemned for eternity.

(Someone mentioned Unitarianism, apparently without irony. Having attended Unitarian services and having Unitarian friends, I'll leave it at this--it's one of the few exceptions to organized Christianity (Quakers possibly being the other) that proves the obvious rule. Don't believe me? Try explaining Unitarian theology to some Evangelicals or Pentacostals.)

Can anyone mutilate a given religious tradition and twist it to support his or her bigotry or hate? Certainly. But having read as widely as possible on the traditions and issues involved, the "all religions can be wacky" thing doesn't hold much water for me in light of the fact that some doctrines are more prone to irrational exclusion, and therefore outright contempt disguised as pity, than others.

(Of course, it's fascinating that no one really knows what Jesus himself said. Even the earliest gospel was written down decades after the crucifixion, and early Christians were already vying to codify his teachings into something palatable for distribution in order to empower themselves, while paradoxically trying to avoid excecution by the Romans. However, "Christian" rarely = what Jesus would say or do, from the little evidence we have to go on. Shaw said Christianity is a great idea, it's a shame no one ever tried it, which is about as truthy as it gets IMO.)
posted by bardic at 1:41 PM on May 16, 2006


How do you figure?

Any god that isn't all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful is flawed, and as such, is in no position to be telling people what to do. God is supposed to be a perfect being.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:43 PM on May 16, 2006


Any god that isn't all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful is flawed

Says who? Ipse dixit? How did you reach that conclusion?

and as such, is in no position to be telling people what to do.

Again, how did you reach this conclusion?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:49 PM on May 16, 2006


WinnipegDragon : "Any god that isn't all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful is flawed, and as such, is in no position to be telling people what to do. God is supposed to be a perfect being."

And, again, how do you figure? Saying Yahweh is meant to be a perfect being, I can grok, because he is in fact held to generally be so. But the Greek gods? The Norse gods? The gods of pretty much most pantheistic religions? Not supposed to be perfect beings.
posted by Bugbread at 2:03 PM on May 16, 2006


("is in fact held to generally be so" = "held to be so by the people who believe in him", not "held to be so by most people, whether they believe in him or not")
posted by Bugbread at 2:04 PM on May 16, 2006


bugbread, erm, I don't think there's a Church of the Greek Gods or Norse Gods that is politically active and relevant these days. That stuff has been archived under the mythology chapter.
posted by funambulist at 2:13 PM on May 16, 2006


WinnipegDragon : If creation is imperfect because god intended it to be, then god has made those god loves suffer, and as such god is unworthy of worship.

If god did not intend creation to be imperfect, then god is not omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, and as such, god is unworthy of worship.


The problem with these propositions is that they ignore the possibility that a being that is indeed omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent might have motivations that are not only inscrutable but completely incomprehensible to us.

I'm sure that a spider on the ceiling of the Louvre has no idea why the Mona Lisa was painted, but no arguments of spider-logic would serve to dismiss it satisfactorily.

From a theological standpoint, the error in anthropomorphizing God as an "invisible wizard in the sky" is not that the image is disrespectful, but that it conceives an entity who is simply a direct analog for humanity, possessing all of our vanities, greed, and compulsions. A Christian Zeus, if you will.

Clearly many believers of Christianity and other faiths do idealize God in this way, and in a way it's only natural to do so, because it's a logical extension of personal experience for someone with a consciousness of the universe as was generally available in the first century CE. However, such a concept of God is not consistent with current knowledge.

When the known world only spread ten miles in any direction, and the firmament was just a curtain slightly above our heads, then such an idea of God might have served sufficiently. But knowing what we know now about the universe, Gandalf floating on a cloud just doesn't suffice to explain it all.

I can't properly get my head around the expanse of the universe -- so how am I going to be able to rationalize a being that might be even beyond that immensity, and capable of creating it? If God does exist, and has the power to both create and sustain all existence, then isn't it realistic to imagine that it's simply not possible for us to discern why he might have done it?

Just because Christians or Zoroastrians or others might labor under a misapprehension of God's nature does not mean that God doesn't actually exist.

For example, perhaps there actually is an infinite, inscrutable being pervading the cosmos, and the entirety of human religion is simply an attempts by humanity at different times to come to terms with that being using the limited faculties we have available to us.

None of this is meant to prove God's existence. It's only to point out that the possibilities for what God's existence is (and what potential rationales that being might have possessed for creating the universe) are more numerous than what you've cited.
posted by camcgee at 2:17 PM on May 16, 2006


We are a highly developed form of art.

Then the kiln is too cool, because we are only half-baked.


Heh, this is like an Ethiopian creation story. God made humans out of dough and put them in an oven. But the oven was too cool, so the humans didn't bake properly and were fair skinned. The God put them in the north. God adjusted the oven, but it was too hot so the next batch came out burned. God put these humans in the South. Then God adjusted the oven's temperature and the third batch of humans came out perfect. These were the Ethiopians.
posted by luneray at 2:21 PM on May 16, 2006


The problem with these propositions is that they ignore the possibility that a being that is indeed omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent might have motivations that are not only inscrutable but completely incomprehensible to us.

Or he/she/it might be make-believe. There's a possibility that Gandalf lives in my bedroom closet when it's closed, but's very, very slight, to the point of absurdity.
posted by bardic at 2:28 PM on May 16, 2006


There's a possibility that Gandalf lives in my bedroom closet when it's closed, but's very, very slight, to the point of absurdity.

Yes, but Gandalf has never directly told anyone that he lives in your closet. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and several other religions are based on at least the allegation that God actually appeared to or otherwise communicated directly with someone and conveyed the principles of those religions at some point.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:33 PM on May 16, 2006


funambulist : "bugbread, erm, I don't think there's a Church of the Greek Gods or Norse Gods that is politically active and relevant these days. That stuff has been archived under the mythology chapter."

I just used them because they're generally well-known, and because my point has nothing to do with political activity or modern relevance, it has to do with the definition of the word "god". But if you want a more modern example, the god worshipped at the shrine near my station is far from being considered omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. The same could be said of most gods here.

The whole "gods are supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent because that's how they are in Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition" just smacks of cultural arrogance.
posted by Bugbread at 2:37 PM on May 16, 2006


Again, how did you reach this conclusion?

Seems logical to me. If I'm going to take instructions for my life from an ancient tome that is supposed to be the infallible word of god, then he better be perfect. Anything less than perfect and you are subjugating your will to the word of someone/thing no better than another human.

Phenomenal cosmic powers, do not, alone, a god make. If your god has a few 'whoopsies' now and then, you have committed yourself to a con man.

I'm sure that a spider on the ceiling of the Louvre has no idea why the Mona Lisa was painted, but no arguments of spider-logic would serve to dismiss it satisfactorily.


Fair enough, and I'm sure an ant crisping under a child's magnifying glass is similarly unable to comprehend it. It doesn't mean that the child is suddenly an ant deity, worthy of undying praise and absolute devotion.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:41 PM on May 16, 2006


camcgee : "The problem with these propositions is that they ignore the possibility that a being that is indeed omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent might have motivations that are not only inscrutable but completely incomprehensible to us."

bardic : "Or he/she/it might be make-believe."

bardic, you're either missing the point, or you're pretending to. camcgee's argument is against people saying, "God is held to do X. That doesn't make sense to me. Therefore there is no god." camcgee is saying "Well, the possibility you're forgetting is that God may in fact just plain do stuff that doesn't make sense to you." The "or he/she/it might be make-believe" position is not being ignored, it's in fact the core belief which is resulting in the argument that camcgee is arguing against.
posted by Bugbread at 2:42 PM on May 16, 2006


bardic : Or he/she/it might be make-believe.

Granted. As I said, my response was not about establishing whether God did or did not exist. My point was that the propositions regarding God offered by WinnipegDragon were not the logical deathtrap that he seemed to imply.

WD's arguments were not about disproving God's existence, only the invalidity of worshiping God even if he did exist. Both of his statements imply the existence of God, and I was just following suit and expanding the frame of reference.
posted by camcgee at 2:43 PM on May 16, 2006


camcgee,

Yes and no. It's one argument I brought out as a refutation of organized religion in general.

If you want my theory on the yes/no, black or white existence of god, I go by Occam's Razor: The universe is so unimaginably old and inconceivably vast that something like humans were bound to turn up eventually. No god needed.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:46 PM on May 16, 2006


WinnipegDragon : "Anything less than perfect and you are subjugating your will to the word of someone/thing no better than another human."

How do you figure? Why is anything less than perfect equal to human? Is a car with a scratch no better than a rusty barely functioning jalopy because it isn't perfect? Is Einstein no smarter than my high school gym teacher because he is less than perfect?

WinnipegDragon : "Phenomenal cosmic powers, do not, alone, a god make."

What, then, defines what a god is, and on what basis do you say so?

My conception is fuzzy (there's no hard line between god and demigod, for example), but as far as I know, generally gods are just supernatural beings who are in some way vastly superior to humans (not necessarily in all ways), and who are immortal unless intentionally harmed (no gods dying of old age).
posted by Bugbread at 2:50 PM on May 16, 2006


The universe is so unimaginably old and inconceivably vast that something like humans were bound to turn up eventually. No god needed.

Then wasn't something like a god bound to turn up eventually, too? I mean, if you're just going to play the imagined odds and figure that odds are humans would exist . . .
posted by JekPorkins at 2:52 PM on May 16, 2006


WinnipegDragon : Fair enough, and I'm sure an ant crisping under a child's magnifying glass is similarly unable to comprehend it. It doesn't mean that the child is suddenly an ant deity, worthy of undying praise and absolute devotion.

The relationship between the spider and the painting I cited is not the same as the one that is implied between creator and creation. The intent of my analogy was not

spider : human :: human : God.

It was only to establish the idea that not everything in the world can be deduced using the tools available to the deducer.

If God does exist and is the creator of the universe, then there's really no analogy that can contain the implications of that relationship. The things on earth that might be capable of perception are not our creations, and the things that humans (so far) can create are incapable of relating to us. Even the phenomenon of human reproduction only produces beings of the same class, and so would be limited to the analogy of God creating other Gods.
posted by camcgee at 2:58 PM on May 16, 2006


JekPorkins : Then wasn't something like a god bound to turn up eventually, too?

If you're speaking of God as the "creator," then the argument doesn't work; his existence is a necessary precondition of that creation. It's not sensible to say that in the vast expanse of creation, something will eventually appear that will then create that expanse.
posted by camcgee at 3:06 PM on May 16, 2006


It's not sensible to say that in the vast expanse of creation, something will eventually appear that will then create that expanse.

Hey, if he can't create something that existed before he did, he's not omnipotent, and I don't see why I should believe in anything that's not omnipotent. ;-)
posted by JekPorkins at 3:21 PM on May 16, 2006


Yes, but Gandalf has never directly told anyone that he lives in your closet. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and several other religions are based on at least the allegation that God actually appeared to or otherwise communicated directly with someone and conveyed the principles of those religions at some point.

So since someone said it's true, that makes it so, especially if they're talking about truly important things like the origin of all known existence and who God is or isn't.

That's interesting. Jim Jones and Charlie Manson are happy to have your support I guess.
posted by bardic at 4:16 PM on May 16, 2006


So since someone said it's true, that makes it so, especially if they're talking about truly important things like the origin of all known existence and who God is or isn't.

Nope. Did you miss the point intentionally, or do you really not see the difference?
posted by JekPorkins at 4:21 PM on May 16, 2006


I see a difference in scale, given the benefits that accrue to older mythologies through dissemination by way of PR, or in some cases forced conversion and slaughter, but not a difference in kind, no.
posted by bardic at 4:28 PM on May 16, 2006


just because The Christian West [tm] was the font of lots of spiffy things doesn't mean that it was A) the Christianity thereof that made it good and B) impossible without the Christianness.

My post neither stated nor implied either one. I simply pointed out that this weakened bardic's argument that Christianity is incompatible with modern society.

If I could have your tone from certain other posters in this thread, I'm sure my own would be better as well.

Generally, you get the tone that you set. As the thread has progressed, you've certainly gotten better, though.

I'd stick to my argument that there's a qualitative difference between a religious tradition that says "We look down on non-believers, but live and let live" (a very cursory but theologically valid view of Judaism and Islam as written in much of the Hebrew Testament and Koran), and the central tenet of Christianity--Jesus is messiah (annointed to recognize him as the son of God) and the only "way" to eternal life. If you don't accept him as such, you are condemned for eternity.

And yet, this same central tenet of Christianity requires that each individual accept Christ as savior for himself - one can't be forced to become a believer. So who cares, really? My complaint about Christianity (or any other religion) hinges solely on how they may constrain my behavior, as a nonbeliever, but this desire to impose constraints isn't a necessary part of Christianity. And faith without good works isn't sufficient for salvation in most Christian sects.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:46 PM on May 16, 2006


I find it amusing that in one conversation, we have the thought that god can't be defined by humans, and in the other thread you we are arguing that my definition of god is not the right one.

How can we have a true religion if we can't even define the deity/ies?

The relationship between the spider and the painting I cited is not the same as the one that is implied between creator and creation. The intent of my analogy was not

spider : human :: human : God.

It was only to establish the idea that not everything in the world can be deduced using the tools available to the deducer.


I think that was the point I was trying to make as well. My point is that just because we don't understand the mechanism by which a phenomena we perceive was created (ceiling painting, solar ray beam of death, what have you) there need not always be a supernatural explanation.

Heck, I'm all for the concept that we were planted here by aliens. It's every bit as plausible an idea as any religion that I am aware.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 4:46 PM on May 16, 2006


Heck, I'm all for the concept that we were planted here by aliens.

Then you might consider Christianity as an option for you. After all, if God created the earth, he is, by definition, an alien.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:55 PM on May 16, 2006


Generally, you get the tone that you set. As the thread has progressed, you've certainly gotten better, though.

You might not have seen the initial reaction in the first post then... I've been called a retard, a tool, and insulted a number of times.

I've held off returning fire.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:18 PM on May 16, 2006


Then you might consider Christianity as an option for you. After all, if God created the earth, he is, by definition, an alien.

I didn't say I believed it, only that it was equally plausible.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:19 PM on May 16, 2006


I didn't say I believed it, only that it was equally plausible.

I know what you said: I even quoted you. You're "all for it." And it's not "equally plausible" as any religion. It is the actual belief of most major world religions.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:23 PM on May 16, 2006


It is the actual belief of most major world religions.

Little green men from Mars on the same footing as Allah, Yahweh, etc...

Yeah, sounds about right.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:01 PM on May 16, 2006


WinnipegDragon : "I find it amusing that in one conversation, we have the thought that god can't be defined by humans, and in the other thread you we are arguing that my definition of god is not the right one."

I think they come down to the issue:

God is a fuzzy concept. You cannot strictly define it, but you can kinda define it. Trying to define it strictly means you're eventually going to be called wrong. So the arguments aren't opposite, they're basically the same.
posted by Bugbread at 6:15 PM on May 16, 2006


So bugbread, if we can't even define god, how can we even support the notion of any sort of organized or dictated religion?

Isn't god strictly a matter of personal interpretation then?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:39 PM on May 16, 2006


how can we even support the notion of any sort of organized or dictated religion?

Being organized makes it much easier to accomplish common goals, such as helping one's fellow humans on a larger scale than just not being a jerk. It also helps to accomplish not-so-nice goals, like making lots of money or taking over the world's governments.

If a group of people hold common beliefs, and among those beliefs is the idea that they should help one another, it would be stupid not to form some sort of organization to advance those beliefs.

Yes, God is a matter of personal interpretation. But so is art, but that's not an argument in support of eliminating art museums.
posted by JekPorkins at 6:46 PM on May 16, 2006


So bugbread, if we can't even define god, how can we even support the notion of any sort of organized or dictated religion?

Define art. Define love. Define good government. Define the numinous. Define language.

Although I'm a great believer in defining one's terms before wading into discussion, it must be accepted that there are things that we can fruitfully discuss -- and some would say this is universally true outside of mathematics, and I think that's a defensible position -- that we can not beforehand adequately or completely define.

Amusingly, comfort with indefiniteness can be a sign of either a weakness in reasoning ability or strength of intellect. Sometimes both at the same time.

On preview, I see JekPorkins already went there.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:10 PM on May 16, 2006


WinnipegDragon : if we can't even define god, how can we even support the notion of any sort of organized or dictated religion?

Isn't god strictly a matter of personal interpretation then?


I don't think that the conflict you're defining here actually exists, since clearly there is not a worldwide consensus on who or what God is, yet most of the world's population believes in God (in whatever manner) and identifies with some form of religion.

The broader issue is that your comments conflate so much that it's difficult for me to tell precisely what you're arguing against. Clearly you don't believe in any sort of God, or in organized religion, but it appears that you're treating your various statements as if they present the same basic proposition, when in fact they do not.

There are a multitude of questions to be begged here:
"Is it necessary to have a definition of God before we can worship him?"
"Can we support the idea of religion even if there is no God?"
"Is it possible that God exists and has created the world's religions, and yet these religions are not the best way to organize human society?"
"Is a personal definition of God not provided by a religious text or institution mutually exclusive to faith in a particular religion?"
"Is a personal definition of God necessarily more or less reliable than the definitions offered by the world's religions?"

Answering one of these doesn't mean that you've addressed them all, and simply waving your rhetorical arms and declaring "it's all bunk -- all of it," doesn't really do much.
posted by camcgee at 7:43 PM on May 16, 2006


WinnipegDragon : "So bugbread, if we can't even define god, how can we even support the notion of any sort of organized or dictated religion?

Isn't god strictly a matter of personal interpretation then?"


I don't know. If I can't define "blue", how can I paint?

That sounds flippant, but what I mean when I talk about definitions is just that they are fuzzy. The boundaries of something being fuzzy does not mean that the term is meaningless. Stavros is on the money with the examples of love, good government, etc.

Is YHWH considered a god? Yes, we'd all agree. Is an ordinary pencil considered a god? No, we'd pretty much all agree. Is Satan considered a god? Fuzzier territory. How about those spawn of Zeus and some human? Fuzzier still.

There are plenty of things that we can't clearly define, but we can work with as long as we don't enter fuzzy territory. And the disagreement here is just that I think the "clear" territory of the word god includes non-omnipotent, non-omniscient, non-omnipresent beings. Just like the definition of blue is fuzzy, and I can't define where blue starts and ends, but if you said navy was not blue, I'd disagree and place it squarely in the "blue" category.

And if you disagree that non-omnipotent, non-omniscient, and non-omnipresent beings can be considered gods, I'm living in a whole country of people who would disagree.
posted by Bugbread at 9:12 PM on May 16, 2006


I don't think there's a Church of the Greek Gods or Norse Gods that is politically active and relevant these days. That stuff has been archived under the mythology chapter.

*points you to Pagans, Druids, Heathens, Reconstructionists...*
posted by divabat at 10:04 PM on May 16, 2006


If you run to the bus stop now, you may just be able to catch up with the point.

I got the point, wanker. The point is that you are pulling this shit out of your arse again.
posted by Wolof at 1:04 AM on May 17, 2006


bugbread, and divabat: for Zeus's sake! and may I be struck by the thunder of Thor! mine was just a silly lighthearted response to bugbread, not meant to support any side of the omnipotent/non-omnipotent argument, or to imply that only Allah and Jaweh and Christ count and everyone else is a poser. I don't believe in the superiority claims of any god/religion. It's all fiction to me.

In fact, if I had to go on fictional/literary sympathies alone, I think it'd be much more fascinating to have the biggest politically active religions be about gods like the Norse and Greek ones, precisely cos they're more human and interesting and got up to all kinds of mischief.

So, yeah, of course bugbread is right that those gods and "the gods of pretty much most pantheistic religions? Not supposed to be perfect beings". Sorry if it sounded like I was refuting that.
posted by funambulist at 2:35 AM on May 17, 2006


Well, I don't know how much more clearly I can say it.

If we can't properly even define 'god', then every world religion is wrong. We can't be exactly sure what god is, but we kinda understand, and THIS IS HIS INFALLIBLE WORLD AND YOU ARE A HEATHEN BASTARD IF YOU DON'T OBEY IT.

Not to mention that worshipping god seems a lot like an abusive marriage. I imagine the scene played out in the heavens is sort of like this:

Man 1: Oh lord, I have failed to follow your word, but I wasn't sure which word was the right word, and which god was the right god.
God: Burn forever, fucker!
Man 1: OMG, WTF?!
Man 2: Lord, I was a good buddhist all my life.
God: Wrong choice! Burn forever, fucker!
Man 2: *sizzle*
Man 3: Hey god, I didn't follow a religion, but I was a good person my whole life!
God: Wrong answer! Burn forever, fucker!
Man 4: God, I blew myself and a a bunch of zionists up. Can I get some virgins now?
God: Nope, but enjoy the lake of fire! Burn forever, fucker!
Shiva walks by...
Shiva: Man, you are really kicking the shit out of mankind.
God: Bitches should have listened to what I told them. Oh, I mean, mankind fell down the stairs.
Shiva: Uh huh...
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:23 AM on May 17, 2006


Can I interrupt this theological discussion to complain about metafilter-related issues? Good.

I think the question was bad. I know we're supposed to give the asker the benefit of the doubt and all that, so when I saw the thread with only a few comments I gave what I thought would be a helpful and non-snarky answer. But of course I knew that the thread was going to turn into a crapfest. And I don't think that's metafilter's fault, exactly - there are some questions in the world that are just not well-suited to answering an online discussion forum. "Should I become a Christian?" seems like a fairly obvious one.

And while I'm here bitching, I have to say that, right or wrong, I find klangklangston's style of discussion to be pretty consistently obnoxious. klang, I agree with you plenty of times and you seem like you have some good ideas to contribute, but you just seem to get way too much of a kick out of "laying the smack down" on people. It just comes across as unneccesary, smug posturing.

I think this AskMe exchange was an example, but there are plenty of others. There are people with this attitude on most internet forums (and I won't deny that I've been one of them at times), but one of the good things about metafilter is that such things are relatively rare here, and I can honestly say that I make an effort to avoid such an approach. I wish you would do the same.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:45 AM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


one of the good things about metafilter is that such things are relatively rare here

I'm afraid that's not really true. "Not as common as on most forums" does not equal "relatively rare." I've become more prone to "laying the smack down" during my time here; I try to fight it, but it's hard avoiding the prevailing atmosphere, which is not one of sweetness and light (and frankly, that would be pretty boring—the high-quality snark is one of the things that keeps me coming back). I agree we should make an effort not to be unnecessarily nasty and to bear in mind the effect the way we put things may have on the likelihood of people accepting what we say, but klang isn't a unique or even a particularly notable offender.
posted by languagehat at 7:36 AM on May 17, 2006


"Not as common as on most forums" does not equal "relatively rare."

Well, that's exactly what I meant, hence the "relatively," as in "relative to other forums."

I think there's a difference between snark, which I interpret as a brand of sarcasm, and the aggressive, smug, macho-posturing attitude that some like to take in the context of online discussion. Everyone flies off the handle sometimes, but some people seem like they jump at the opportunity to do so because they think it's fun or funny.

And in my opinion, klang is a notable offender for his consistency is this regard, otherwise I wouldn't have mentioned it. But no, he's certainly not unique.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:48 AM on May 17, 2006


WinnipegDragon : If we can't properly even define 'god', then every world religion is wrong.

Your argument is flawed. "All religion is wrong" does not logically follow from "we can't define god."

As several people (myself included) have pointed out, consensus on a thing does not correspond to its existence and/or validity. How does a person's understanding or not understanding a particular concept invalidate its existence?

In addition, I'm not entirely sure I understand who the "we" you're using encompasses. I am assuming it means "everybody in the world," but that presupposes that we have access to everyone in world's ideas and understandings about God for the purposes of this discussion, which we don't. It also presupposes that the scenario envisioned by the various religions is inherently invalid -- that God communicated to someone to provide them with the proper understanding of his nature. So even though "we" might not understand God's nature, that's not to say that Moses or Krishna didn't. This, in fact, is the basis of most religion, not to mention that these scenarios rely on the very assumption (the ineffability of God) that you're saying causes them to be erroneous.

Your assumptions also ignore the fact that, for example, most Buddhists do not consider themselves to be believers in God, so a denial of God's existence wouldn't faze a Buddhist one bit, nor (in his eyes) invalidate his beliefs.

Another weakness in the argument is that it presupposes that either all religions are true or none of them are, and I don't have any idea on what basis you're attempting to establish that. Why is it impossible that Krishna is the true way but not Moses?

As I discussed in my previous response, these are the types of questions that your argument is roughly tumbling over without addressing or considering -- your various propositions do not make any distinction between these various points, but instead treat the whole of human religion and every possible form of God as one amorphous and undifferentiated mass which, if one part is dismissed, then the whole must be as well.

Instead of responding to any of the points I raised, though, you just reiterated the exact same argument, with your confidence in it apparently unshaken.

There's really no reason to continue this discussion if you're not going to respond to legitimate and reasonable questions about the basis of your assumptions
posted by camcgee at 9:03 AM on May 17, 2006


WinnipegDragon, there are plenty of organized religions in the world that don't even come close to your follow-without-thinking-or-you'll-be-damned scenario. Millions of people follow them. I'm sorry that that's your view of Christianity, and I'm sure that you have cause for feeling that way about it, but it's hardly the only view of god or religion in the world. The whole idea of "one true god that must be worshipped only" was a *new* concept with Judaism, if I'm remembering correctly; that would imply that other religions have not followed the same paths.

Arguing against Christianity is not the same as arguing against religion in generaly. Arguing against a Christian God is not the same thing as arguing against god in general. And arguing against the errors/horrors committed in the name of organized religion is not the same thing as arguing against any and all forms of god.

As camcgee has pointed out, a lot is getting conflated in this conversation (and other conversations about religion on MeFi). I think it's great for everyone to believe what they believe, but I wish people would pay attention to the nuances of the topic at hand if they're going to debate it in a public forum. You (and others) are just lumping together totally different things as if they were the same, and totally different worldviews as if they were the same, and generalizing one idea as if it covered everyone's idea, and then, based on that soup of fuzzy association, telling everyone they're wrong.

Again, if you don't want to believe in god, fine, I have absolutely no problem with that. But I'd like it if people could stop making up stories about what *other* people believe, and then telling them they're wrong without even pausing to make sure they understand what the *actual* beliefs being discussed are.
posted by occhiblu at 9:08 AM on May 17, 2006


1. There is no support in reality that shows currently popular god-concepts are anything other than fictional beings.

2. Piled on top of this complete lack of support, religious believers claim to somehow know what their god-concept wants, doesn't want, likes, dislikes, etc. Just like the previous point, they cannot provide any support for how they obtained this 'knowlege' from a being they cannot even show exists.

This is the core absurdity of western religious belief.

As this thread has shown, we can all spend lots of time discussing the fine details of specific god-concepts. But in the end, these god-concepts all boil down to the two absurdities listed above.
posted by jsonic at 9:11 AM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


WinnipegDragon : "If we can't properly even define 'god', then every world religion is wrong."

I just don't see how that can be necessarily true. I mean, I think every world religion is wrong as well, but that certainly isn't why. If "you can't properly define the word 'god', so your beliefs about your own god are wrong" is considered a valid argument, then everyone is pretty much wrong about everything. I think my carpet is beige, but I can't really define "beige", so I'm wrong about what color it is. I think I enjoy the band Pinback, but I can't define "enjoy", so I'm wrong about enjoying it. I think I exist, but I can't really define "existence", so I'm wrong about existing...it's just a silly standard to determine if something is right or wrong.

What's more important than whether we can define something is whether we can generally agree about the use of the term. I can't define "beige", nor can my wife, nor can my friends, but we almost all agree that my carpet is beige, so it's a useful term. And in this case, you're like the person who says my carpet isn't beige because it's made out of wool, and beige stuff is made out of cotton. (That is, you're saying "X is not a god, because gods are omni-etcetera", when it's only the case that some gods are, and some aren't). In this case, while we can't define "beige", pretty much everyone (except, apparently, you) can agree that being made out of cotton is not generally considered a requirement for something to be considered beige.

In the same veins, most people can't define god, but we can almost all agree that Shiva counts as a god, and my TV repairman does not. It's a useful term for the fuzzy concept. We could stop using the word "god", but then we'd switch from discussions like this:

A: "I believe in Maitreya"
B: "I don't believe in any gods"

to discussions like this:

A: "I believe in Maitreya"
B: "I don't believe in Maitreya, Zeus, Dionysus, Shiva, Isis, Thor, Marduk, Loki, Izanagi, Dagda, Ptah, Tuonela, Quetzalcoatl, Februus, Quirinus, Goibniu, Mextli, Tiamat, Turan...."

only to finish the sentence 5 hours later and for A to say, "Ah-hah, so you believe in Annunaki?!" because I accidentally skipped over him.

So it's a fuzzy word, like most words, which is hard to precisely define, yet most people can agree on most of the time, and is useful. Sometimes fuzzy words like that refer to things which you and I would agree is true (the 'sky' yesterday over here was 'blue'). Sometimes fuzzy words like that refer to things which you and I would agree is false (there is a 'chupacabra'). But the fuziness of the word is neither an argument for or against its validity.

WinnipegDragon : "We can't be exactly sure what god is, but we kinda understand, and THIS IS HIS INFALLIBLE WORLD AND YOU ARE A HEATHEN BASTARD IF YOU DON'T OBEY IT."

Ok, I'm starting to get the impression that you should just give up arguing about God, and start arguing about YHWH, because it seems that every argument you give about why you dislike the belief in gods is all about Christianity. That's fine, but you're not presenting it as an example (or at least it doesn't come across that way), but more like an assumption that "believing in god" = "believing in a god who happens to be a solitary god, and happens to be a jealous god, and happens to have a big holy book about him, and happens to send people to hell, etc."

It seems like all your arguments about god are based on an utter lack of knowledge of any gods except YHWH. Believing in god sticks you in an "INFALLIBLE WORLD AND YOU ARE A HEATHEN BASTARD IF YOU DON'T OBEY" situation? Well, no, but it does if you think "believing in god" means "believing in YHWH".

Believing in god seems like an abusive marriage because god sends people to hell? Well, no, but it does if you think "believing in god" means "believing in YHWH".

Believing in god means believing in some big old book? Well, no, but it does if you think "believing in god" means "believing in YHWH".

It may come as a big, big surprise to you, but there are a lot of people in this world who believe in god(s) that aren't YHWH.
posted by Bugbread at 9:25 AM on May 17, 2006


"If we can't properly even define 'god', then every world religion is wrong."

Ah. And if we can't properly even define "light" (is it a particle or a wave?), then all of science is invalid. But that would be stupid. Um . . .
posted by JekPorkins at 9:42 AM on May 17, 2006


jsonic : 1. There is no support in reality that shows currently popular god-concepts are anything other than fictional beings.

If there is no support in reality that proves the concept of God, then why do people believe? The more true statement is "There is no support in reality that [demonstrates to jsonic that] currently popular god-concepts are anything other than fictional beings."

People do produce their own evidence and they do believe their ideas have support. There are plenty of items proposed by believers for the proof of God's existence. Most Christians, for example, believe that the facts of Jesus's appearance, ministry, then death and resurrection, are proof. People who are not Christians don't accept this as proof of anything, but the existence of evidence that you do not accept is not the same as a lack of evidence.

There are people who believe that God's existence is self-evident -- that the mere fact that there is something that we can call a "creation" implies and necessitates that there is a creator behind it. You can say that this teleological proof is philosophically insufficient and present alternate scenarios and arguments. But the existence of a debate doesn't by proxy invalidate the individual arguments as a basis for belief -- that would be like saying that since there is debate, there is no possible answer, so both belief and unbelief are impossible.

The same mistake in the other direction is the common situation of religious adherents assuming (and sometimes enforcing) that everyone must accept the same proof that they do for the existence of God or the validity of their particular doctrine.

But whether or not you believe it does not affect whether or not it can be believed.

jsonic : religious believers claim to somehow know what their god-concept wants ... they cannot provide any support for how they obtained this 'knowledge'

But they can provide this information, though once again, it's in a form that's unacceptable to you. Christians, for example, take their instruction from the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. There are lots of arguments against this: Jesus didn't actually exist, the Gospels are not reliable, etc.

But the existence of contrary evidence doesn't mean that they can't provide support. Your characterization is totally baseless -- if you approach a Christian and tell him that there is no basis for his belief, he'll present a Bible and say, "that's the basis." You can certainly present arguments against the book being used as the basis for a religion or a society, but you can't say he hasn't "provided support for how [he] obtained this 'knowledge'".

The mere existence of the multiple billions of minds on earth necessitates that we must accept that people are going to think about things differently and interpret evidence differently. This is not the same thing as a person denying something in the face of incontrovertible evidence, but that a lack of incontrovertible evidence produces many possibilities.

I must accept that I cannot know that my own information is the most reliable or the most sufficient -- I can't presume that I am the smartest, wisest, and most well-informed fellow on the planet and that for all possible conclusions about which there is controversy, my conclusion is the correct one.

Accepting that does not mean that I don't have my own particular beliefs, but it does mean that I must accept the reality that they will not be shared by others. This is what thinking for oneself means. Pretending that "evidence I don't like" is the same as "no evidence" denies people the right to decide for themselves whether or not the evidence presented is sufficient and reliable.
posted by camcgee at 10:41 AM on May 17, 2006


If there is no support in reality that proves the concept of God, then why do people believe?

The popularity of an idea has no bering on its veracity. Take old-world views on the shape of the Earth for example.

Your characterization is totally baseless -- if you approach a Christian and tell him that there is no basis for his belief, he'll present a Bible and say, "that's the basis." You can certainly present arguments against the book being used as the basis for a religion or a society, but you can't say he hasn't "provided support for how [he] obtained this 'knowledge'".

The Bible is the assertion, not the evidence. I'm not asking for an explaination of why someone belives in their god-concept. I'm asking for support that would differentiate that god-concept from fiction.

Pretending that "evidence I don't like" is the same as "no evidence" denies people the right to decide for themselves whether or not the evidence presented is sufficient and reliable.

I don't deny evidence that displeases me. For instance, I would really rather that viruses such as HIV didn't exist, but that does not stop me from accepting that it does. But this acceptence is based on demonstrable support for the existence of HIV in reality.
posted by jsonic at 11:11 AM on May 17, 2006


jsonic, the numerous first-person accounts of encounters with God both in the bible and elsewhere are direct evidence of God's existence.

You may think that direct evidence is not credible, or is unreliable or simply false. But it is evidence, and is "support in reality" for the concept of God.

I assume you don't deny the existence of the evidence, but you simply dispute the reliability of the evidence. I wonder, though, if you have any "support in reality" for your rejection of that evidence.

Hypothetically, it's like if I told you there's no support in reality for the premise that HIV exists. You could show me thousands of documents discussing and analyzing HIV, and anecdotal evidence of people with it. But then what if I told you that those documents and those people are not evidence, they're the assertion? What if I told you that I think that your "evidence" for the existence of HIV is not based in reality?
posted by JekPorkins at 11:22 AM on May 17, 2006


Okay, I am clearly obsessed with the concept of the infallible, omnipotent god, and I'll admit it. That's what I was raised to believe god is, and it also stems from the vocal minority of extremists (of all religions) who assert that their god is infallible and omnipotent, and that my failure to follow their faith will lead me to damnation.

Of course, it's this same vocal minority who want to have their say to supercede all others when it comes to biomedical ethics and laws based on morality worldwide.

Their are also certainly religions out there that seem to be much more tolerant. I've never heard of a Taoist demanding a law that no tree should ever be cut down because it disturbs the natural order, for instance.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:45 AM on May 17, 2006


the numerous first-person accounts of encounters with God both in the bible and elsewhere are direct evidence of God's existence.

The claims of believers are direct evidence for the existence of supernatural beings? That's great news for Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Santa Claus. Like camcgee, you are conflating why religious people believe something with whether or not that belief represents reality.

You could show me thousands of documents discussing and analyzing HIV, and anecdotal evidence of people with it. But then what if I told you that those documents and those people are not evidence, they're the assertion? What if I told you that I think that your "evidence" for the existence of HIV is not based in reality?

You elucidate my point precisely. Unlike god-concepts, HIV doesn't exist simply because a bunch of research documents claim that it does. Nor does it exist simply because a bunch of people claimed to have mystical visions of it. HIV exists because it can be demonstrated to exist right now in reality through experiment.

Unlike HIV, god-concepts are indistinguishable from fiction.
posted by jsonic at 11:46 AM on May 17, 2006


jsonic : The popularity of an idea has no bering on its veracity.

I wasn't suggesting that it was true because they believed it. I was simply pointing out that belief in religion is not something that it totally spontaneous and without external intervention. Each religion is built on its history, its texts, etc. These things are all built on "evidence," albeit evidence that you neither support nor subscribe to.

jsonic : The Bible is the assertion, not the evidence.

I don't believe we're using common definitions here. For a Christian, the assertion is the divinity of Christ, and the evidence is the Bible (or, more specifically, the Gospel stories about the life of Jesus, which he accepts as being historically reliable). If we can't agree on the fact that Christians present the Bible as evidence of the truth of their religion, then I think we are just at an impasse.

Evidence does not need to be irrefutable, nor does it need to be direct. It simply needs to provide support for belief.

I return to my example of the teleological proof of God's existence. The evidence in this particular system is self-contained -- it is not the proposition that "creation exists" that is being argued, it is the implication of that existence -- the conclusion that is contained within the evidence.

If, in a murder trial, the prosecutor presents as evidence a bloodied knife with the defendant's fingerprints, he expects that the conclusion the evidence leads to supports his assertion that the defendant is a murderer. The defense, on the other hand, might present contrary evidence in the form of an alibi for the defendant's whereabouts during the time the murder supposedly took place. Neither piece of evidence alone proves or disproves the premise (defendant = murderer) completely and irrevocably, but they are nevertheless each pieces of evidence upon which individuals in the jury base their decision on whether to convict the man.

Can you explain what you mean by evidence and give an example of a hypothetical object/point of reference that you might satisfactorily consider "evidence"? This doesn't have to be something that it would make you believe, only something that you would consider evidence as you're referring to it. Or by "evidence" do you mean something that contains a self-evident and undeniable conclusion?
posted by camcgee at 11:47 AM on May 17, 2006


You can't look to the physical world for proof of something that's not physical.

Love exists, yes? I've felt it, I hope you've felt it, it influences how people act and what their goals are. But how do I go about "proving" it exists? How do I prove happiness exists? How do I prove sadness exists? Do you need a being that comes down from the sky claiming to be sadness incarnate in order to believe it exists?

Again, feel free not to believe in god; this is not meant as any sort of "of course he exists!" But you can't demand physical proof for something that no one, or very few people, are claiming is a physical thing.
posted by occhiblu at 11:57 AM on May 17, 2006


Bible as evidence is such a circular argument though.

The Bible is the word of god.
I know this because the Bible says so.
And the Bible can't lie, because it's the word of god.

Oh and love? Neurochemical reactions. Same as pain, fear, anger, ecstasy, and whatever other sensation/emotion you can imagine.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:02 PM on May 17, 2006


The claims of believers are direct evidence for the existence of supernatural beings? That's great news for Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Santa Claus.

So, if a witness sees something, their testimony is not direct evidence unless they don't believe what they saw?

You claim that "HIV exists because it can be demonstrated to exist right now in reality through experiment." Ignoring for a moment your causation problem, you've essentially argued that anyone who actually believes that HIV exists cannot present evidence of HIV's existence.

Have you ever actually performed the experiments necessary to demonstrate the existence of HIV, or do you accept the direct evidence presented by believers who have performed the experiment and told you the results of it?

Furthermore, evidence is not causation.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:03 PM on May 17, 2006


Neurochemical reactions.

Caused by what? Neurochemical reactions don't explain the whole process.
posted by occhiblu at 12:06 PM on May 17, 2006


For a Christian, the assertion is the divinity of Christ, and the evidence is the Bible (or, more specifically, the Gospel stories about the life of Jesus, which he accepts as being historically reliable).

As I said in my reply to Jek, you are conflating why religious people believe something ('cause the bible tells me so') with evidence that this belief represents reality.

I return to my example of the teleological proof of God's existence.

In order to explain the existence of a complex system (the Universe), you imagine the existence of a complex being who created it. This leads to an infinite recursion of who created this creator. If, utimately, a complex being can exist without being created, then so can the Universe itself. The teleological 'proof' is sophistry.
posted by jsonic at 12:08 PM on May 17, 2006


occhiblu: But you can't demand physical proof for something that no one, or very few people, are claiming is a physical thing.

If a god-concept actually exists, and interacts with the Universe in any manner, then that interaction can be measured and studied. If these 'interactions' are indistinguishable from natural events, then that god-concept is indistinguishable from fiction.
posted by jsonic at 12:11 PM on May 17, 2006


Bible as evidence is such a circular argument though.

The Bible is the word of god.
I know this because the Bible says so.
And the Bible can't lie, because it's the word of god.


Try this, instead. It's not my own basis for belief, but it's a simple non-circular argument based on real evidence:

God exists
I know this in part because the Bible, a compilation of ancient texts, contains firsthand accounts encounters with God.
And the people who wrote the Bible could lie, so the evidence is not conclusive.
But aside from attempts to impeach that evidence based on appeals to fallible human logic, I am aware of no direct evidence to the contrary (an example would be if there were an ancient text written by someone who claims to have set a bush on fire and pretended to be the voice of God talking to Moses).

you are conflating why religious people believe something ('cause the bible tells me so') with evidence that this belief represents reality.

Hm. That's not why I believe, but thanks for projecting. I don't think you know what the word "evidence" means.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:16 PM on May 17, 2006


Caused by what? Neurochemical reactions don't explain the whole process.

Why would you say that? All mental capacity is just a function of neurochemical reactions. No magic involved.

So, if a witness sees something, their testimony is not direct evidence unless they don't believe what they saw?

That's not what he was saying at all. He was saying that undocumented hearsay is not logically acceptable evidence.

You claim that "HIV exists because it can be demonstrated to exist right now in reality through experiment." Ignoring for a moment your causation problem, you've essentially argued that anyone who actually believes that HIV exists cannot present evidence of HIV's existence.

Again, only if you misinterpret his entire argument.

Have you ever actually performed the experiments necessary to demonstrate the existence of HIV, or do you accept the direct evidence presented by believers who have performed the experiment and told you the results of it?

Hardly the same thing. The existence of HIV is repeatedly and predictably observable by anyone. Take an HIV-tainted blood sample. Throw under microscope. Confirm HIV exists.

Can you do the same thing with god? Can you, on demand, produce god in an repeatable, observable, documentable manner?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:17 PM on May 17, 2006


So, if a witness sees something, their testimony is not direct evidence unless they don't believe what they saw?

No, I said that you are, again, conflating why a religious person believes in a god-concept (ie. mystical vision) with whether or not that belief represents reality. Their belief may or may not be congruent with reality, but their mystical vision is by no means "direct evidence" that it is, as you claimed.

you've essentially argued that anyone who actually believes that HIV exists cannot present evidence of HIV's existence.

I did no such thing. I've simply stated that god-concepts are indistinguishable from fiction, unlike verifiable claims such as HIV.
posted by jsonic at 12:19 PM on May 17, 2006


Because natural events are indistinguishable from fiction? I don't understand what you're saying.

Also, saying "God doesn't interact with the universe" doesn't mean that "God doesn't exist" necessarily follows. Again, I feel like this is a conflation of questions: "Does god exist?" with "Is [this] organized religion correct in its assertions about that god?"
posted by occhiblu at 12:19 PM on May 17, 2006


WinnipegDragon, not just the feeling of love, but the process of being in love (which I was unclear on in my original post about it). Sure, we can say we reduce the feeling of love to what's going on neurochemically in my brain. But that doesn't explain what makes me fall in love with a person, or stay in love with that person. Unless you're going to reduce all that to pheromones, which seems improbable, there's more going on than just neurochemical reactions, and most of it's pretty baffling to both the people involved and the people watching.
posted by occhiblu at 12:21 PM on May 17, 2006


evidence
1. A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment: The broken window was evidence that a burglary had taken place. Scientists weigh the evidence for and against a hypothesis.
2. Something indicative; an outward sign: evidence of grief on a mourner's face.
3. Law. The documentary or oral statements and the material objects admissible as testimony in a court of law.


The bible might fall under one of these if you stretch the meanings a bit.

How about this one:

1. The evidence or argument that compels the mind to accept an assertion as true.
2.1. The validation of a proposition by application of specified rules, as of induction or deduction, to assumptions, axioms, and sequentially derived conclusions.
2.2. A statement or argument used in such a validation.
3.1. Convincing or persuasive demonstration: was asked for proof of his identity; an employment history that was proof of her dependability.
3.2. The state of being convinced or persuaded by consideration of evidence.
4. Determination of the quality of something by testing; trial: put one's beliefs to the proof.
5. Law. The result or effect of evidence; the establishment or denial of a fact by evidence.


You'd have a much harder time here.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:23 PM on May 17, 2006


Hm. That's not why I believe, but thanks for projecting. I don't think you know what the word "evidence" means.

Dude, that was in reply to camcgee, who was specifically talking about belief based on the bible.
posted by jsonic at 12:23 PM on May 17, 2006


He was saying that undocumented hearsay is not logically acceptable evidence.

First: Undocumented? Are you daft, man? Second: Hearsay? Are you daft, man? I don't think you have any idea what either word means, do you?

Hardly the same thing. The existence of HIV is repeatedly and predictably observable by anyone. Take an HIV-tainted blood sample. Throw under microscope. Confirm HIV exists.

Millions of people will tell you that the existence of God is similarly repeatedly and predictably observable by anyone.

Can you, on demand, produce god in an repeatable, observable, documentable manner?

Yes.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:24 PM on May 17, 2006


But that doesn't explain what makes me fall in love with a person, or stay in love with that person. Unless you're going to reduce all that to pheromones, which seems improbable, there's more going on than just neurochemical reactions, and most of it's pretty baffling to both the people involved and the people watching.

Again, since you can't understand it, it must be supernatural?

Why do you fall in love with a person? How about a few million years of sexual and mental evolution combined with preferences imprinted during early childhood. That should cover it.

We are just machines made out of meat. Everything we do is stimulous-response.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:26 PM on May 17, 2006


First: Undocumented? Are you daft, man? Second: Hearsay? Are you daft, man? I don't think you have any idea what either word means, do you?

Some guy telling his buddy that a flaming tree spoke to him and having him write it down is exactly that. Undocumented hearsay.

Millions of people will tell you that the existence of God is similarly repeatedly and predictably observable by anyone.

And yet, it's never happened.

Can you, on demand, produce god in an repeatable, observable, documentable manner?

Yes.


Then you are the single most important person on the planet today. Make god appear. Right now. Twice.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:28 PM on May 17, 2006


occhiblu: Because natural events are indistinguishable from fiction? I don't understand what you're saying.

Read what I wrote. It's not what you just summarized.

Also, saying "God doesn't interact with the universe" doesn't mean that "God doesn't exist" necessarily follows.

I never made the statement "God doesn't exist". I claimed that god-concepts are indistinguishable from fiction. Those who claim otherwise can feel free to demonstrate how.

posted by jsonic at 12:29 PM on May 17, 2006


Any time now, right?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:47 PM on May 17, 2006


It's not what you just summarized.

Yes. Hence the request for more information.

But really and truly, rather than demanding proof and then saying that proof's not good enough or arguing for another 200 comments, how about you just stop caring so much? I don't mean that flippantly, I'm just still astonished that it should matter this much to anyone what anyone else thinks. Pursue your own beliefs this doggedly, yes, to figure out what your own worldview is. But why aggressively interrogate and make demands and put so much effort into PROVING YOU'RE RIGHT at the expense of other people?

(And if there were believers here doing the same thing, I'd ask the same thing of them.)

In any event, I'm out. I don't think anyone's listening to anyone else anymore.
posted by occhiblu at 12:51 PM on May 17, 2006


jsonic : you are conflating why religious people believe something ('cause the bible tells me so') with evidence that this belief represents reality.

There are two separate premises here: one is that (for example) Jesus is the son of God, and the other is that the Bible is a reliable historical document.

A person can use the Bible as evidence of Jesus's divinity while granting the assumption that it's reliable. At that point, one can say "well, how do you know the Bible is reliable?" and that leads to a separate set of arguments, but it does not a priori invalidate the use of the Bible as evidence for the claims of Jesus. The point that I was making above is that not every piece of evidence is going to contain complete proof within it. Instead, these different pieces of evidence together form the proof (or lack thereof) that each individual needs to be satisfied that his conclusions are correct.

As WinnipegDragon rightly points out, the Biblical argument can quickly become a tautological one, if it requires recourse to the Bible as the Word of God as being its own proof of validity. But (and this is essential to what I've been saying all along) just because you or I or he may find it philosophically unsound does not make it illegitimate as the basis for belief.

As for the teleological argument: I am not saying that it actually proves anything. I am, however, asking you to consider that someone who uses this argument does so because, for him, it is proof.

I presented it as one example of a "proof" that relies on previously established evidence, where the point of contention is not the evidence, but its implication. Arguing for or against any of these proofs is fine -- but it doesn't address the question of whether someone should be able to use them as a basis for belief in God. You're saying that they cannot, and your objection is based on the fact that everyone must use evidence that is also agreeable to you in order to reach their conclusions. (You also didn't respond to my question about what constitutes evidence.)

My own fundamental belief is that the existence of God, assuming he is of the omnipresent/omnipotent form, cannot be proved, through logical formulations or otherwise. But that doesn't mean that these proofs are without value for the people who find them to be complete and satisfying.

I return to your original proposition: "There is no support in reality that shows currently popular god-concepts are anything other than fictional beings."

For believers, "support in reality" does exist. For you, it does not. Instead of treating alternate interpretations as possible, though, you are blanketly invalidating all belief simply because you haven't found any proof that will satisfy you.
posted by camcgee at 12:57 PM on May 17, 2006


how about you just stop caring so much? I don't mean that flippantly, I'm just still astonished that it should matter this much to anyone what anyone else thinks.

I posted a comment and replied to those who asked me questions about it. I don't find that very aggressive.

As for why discuss this? I've actually found that writing my arguments in a concise manner, and seeing how others respond to them, is an excellent way to find problems with my arguments. It also helps me to refine them to their core points.
posted by jsonic at 1:00 PM on May 17, 2006


The bible might fall under one of these if you stretch the meanings a bit.

You don't need to stretch them at all.

Then you are the single most important person on the planet today. Make god appear. Right now. Twice.

Wait. So, you didn't actually mean the whole HIV analogy with repeatability? I mean, you understand that with any experiment there are conditions that have to be reproduced and precise steps that have to be followed, right?

Or can you observe the existence of HIV right now? Come on, do it. Right now.

If you honestly want to follow the steps that are necessary in order for the experiment to work and gain a firsthand knowledge of the existence of God, send me an email. But as millions will tell you, it won't work if you're not sincere. And I don't really care if you do it or not. But you did ask.

Millions of people will tell you that the existence of God is similarly repeatedly and predictably observable by anyone.

And yet, it's never happened.


Says who? You? What evidence do you have that it never happened?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:09 PM on May 17, 2006


jsonic : I never made the statement "God doesn't exist". I claimed that god-concepts are indistinguishable from fiction.

That claim, however, relies solely on your interpretation of reality and the available evidence. If other people can observe the same reality and reach different conclusions, then clearly these "god-concepts" are distinguishable from fiction, even though you don't make the distinction and even if it's possible for someone to either distinguish or not distinguish.

The controversy around the Da Vinci Code's ridiculous claims aside, people who believe in God or in religion do not have problems separating the "fictions" of their religion from the other fictions that permeate their reality. It's possible for them to both believe in an omnipotent God and to watch Star Trek without fear of being zapped by Romulans When these people examine the evidence (the corpus of whatever it is that leads them to conclude the truth of God/religion), they are making the exact distinguishment that you claim is impossible.
posted by camcgee at 1:10 PM on May 17, 2006


That claim, however, relies solely on your interpretation of reality and the available evidence. If other people can observe the same reality and reach different conclusions, then clearly these "god-concepts" are distinguishable from fiction, even though you don't make the distinction and even if it's possible for someone to either distinguish or not distinguish.

Your conflating belief with reality again. Some people observe reality and conclude that Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are real. Their belief does not make it so.

I'm essentially asking what makes your (third person usage) god-concept less fictional than all of these other historical god-concepts and mythical beings that we all agree are fictional?

If you can demonstrate some verifiable support that makes a certain god-concept demonstrably less fictional than these other myths, I will be very appreciative.
posted by jsonic at 1:27 PM on May 17, 2006


I guess we all get frustrated occhiblu. I'm frustrated that the belief in ancient mythologies holds back the future development and potential of man.

I'm sure on the other side of the argument, there is frustration that their deeply held beliefs are 'under attack'.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:28 PM on May 17, 2006


Wait. So, you didn't actually mean the whole HIV analogy with repeatability? I mean, you understand that with any experiment there are conditions that have to be reproduced and precise steps that have to be followed, right?

Yup. They are simple to follow, well documented, and repeatedly tested for accuracy.

Or can you observe the existence of HIV right now? Come on, do it. Right now.

I work in a hospital. I observe it daily, as do numerous other lab technicians, doctors, surgeons, etc... Would you like photographic evidence? Double-blind studies? Blood samples? I have lots and lots of observable, documented, repeatable, predictable proof.

If you honestly want to follow the steps that are necessary in order for the experiment to work and gain a firsthand knowledge of the existence of God, send me an email. But as millions will tell you, it won't work if you're not sincere. And I don't really care if you do it or not. But you did ask.

No, you said you could make god appear predictably and repeatedly. Now you are hedging away from that claim. I don't want to make god appear, I want you to, since you said you could.

Oh and "it won't work for you since you don't believe" is the exact same bullshit used by people like Miss Cleo, Uri Geller and Jeane Dixon to cover up the fact that they are complete and utter frauds.

Says who? You? What evidence do you have that it never happened?

You are the one claiming he exists, you prove that it has happened. Otherwise I could claim Unicorns exist, and force you to provide the proof. It doesn't work that way.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:39 PM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


How about a photo?


posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:52 PM on May 17, 2006


I work in a hospital. I observe it daily, as do numerous other lab technicians, doctors, surgeons, etc... Would you like photographic evidence? Double-blind studies? Blood samples? I have lots and lots of observable, documented, repeatable, predictable proof.

I go to church. I observe God daily, as do numerous other people of all kinds. Would you like documentary evidence? Written and sworn testimony? Firsthand accounts? I have lots and lots of observable, documented, repeatable, predictable proof.

But you asked me to make God appear to you right now. And I ask the same of you. Make demonstrable proof of the existence of HIV appear to me, right now. Not photographs of some previous experiment. Perform the actual experiment right now, and make the proof appear before me, here, where I am. Now. Do it. And when you do, you must prove to me that what you've shown me is HIV, and not something else. Do it now.

No, you said you could make god appear predictably and repeatedly.

No I didn't. Scroll up. Read the text of your question that I answered in the affirmative.

Oh and "it won't work for you since you don't believe" is the exact same bullshit used by people like Miss Cleo, Uri Geller and Jeane Dixon to cover up the fact that they are complete and utter frauds.

But I didn't say that, and I won't.

You are the one claiming he exists, you prove that it has happened. Otherwise I could claim Unicorns exist, and force you to provide the proof. It doesn't work that way.

Once again, you need to scroll up and read your comment that preceded my statement, instead of pretending that you responded to something I didn't say. You want me to prove that people have observed the existence of God? Fine. I have observed it. Firsthand testimony, documented. Disprove it.

And your photo? A fabrication. You didn't perform that experiment, and you probably don't know the person who did. Furthermore, you can't prove that it's a photo of what you say it is. The caption? Hearsay. Unverified. No foundation.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:54 PM on May 17, 2006


Oh man, you really are a joke. You equate sitting in church getting people to write out "I SEE GOD" to a double-blind study?

Tell you what, you come to Winnipeg, and I will put you in front on a tunelling electron microscope with an HIV sample at the other end.

Oh, and I can't make it appear in front of you right now, because I don't believe in magic. That's your territory.

By the way your exact answer to my question (Can you, on demand, produce god in an repeatable, observable, documentable manner?) was: Yes.

Now you deny saying that you could make god appear predictably and repeatedly?

You also said: "it won't work if you're not sincere". Now you are denying saying that as well?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:09 PM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


I go to church. I observe God daily, as do numerous other people of all kinds. Would you like documentary evidence? Written and sworn testimony? Firsthand accounts? I have lots and lots of observable, documented, repeatable, predictable proof.

People praying to a god-concept is in no way 'proof' that the god-concept actually exists in reality. Just like UFO abduction claims are in no way 'proof' that aliens exist.

JekPorkins: And your photo? A fabrication. You didn't perform that experiment, and you probably don't know the person who did. Furthermore, you can't prove that it's a photo of what you say it is. The caption? Hearsay. Unverified. No foundation.

In summary, "you can't prove anything, therefore everything is true". In Jek's world, a belief in the easter bunny is as credible as believing in viruses.
posted by jsonic at 2:12 PM on May 17, 2006


If you are willing to accept as proof evidence that can't be confirmed by a un-biased third-party in a double-blind scenario, then you accept fiction as fact.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:18 PM on May 17, 2006


You equate sitting in church getting people to write out "I SEE GOD" to a double-blind study?

No.

I will put you in front on a tunelling electron microscope with an HIV sample at the other end.

And how will you prove to me that what you show me is HIV?

Oh, and I can't make it appear in front of you right now, because I don't believe in magic. That's your territory.

No. In Jek's world, asking someone to prove something concrete on demand over the internet is a completely inane, stupid exercise that proves nothing.

Nor do I. And I didn't say I could make God appear before you right now.

By the way your exact answer to my question (Can you, on demand, produce god in an repeatable, observable, documentable manner?) was: Yes.

Now you deny saying that you could make god appear predictably and repeatedly?


You didn't read your own question. Read the question to which I answered "yes." Words matter. They have meaning. You should try reading them. Especially when you wrote them.

You also said: "it won't work if you're not sincere". Now you are denying saying that as well?

No, I'm not denying that. Read your words again. They matter.

People praying to a god-concept is in no way 'proof' that the god-concept actually exists in reality.

Agreed. I didn't say it was. Jsonic, you still don't seem to know the difference between 'proof' and 'evidence.' People praying isn't evidence, either. And I didn't say it was.

In Jek's world, a belief in the easter bunny is as credible as believing in viruses.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:20 PM on May 17, 2006


in Jek's world, asking someone to prove something concrete over the internet is stupid.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:20 PM on May 17, 2006


WinnipegDragon: If you are willing to accept as proof evidence that can't be confirmed by a un-biased third-party in a double-blind scenario, then you accept fiction as fact.

Additionally, if you make a claim of the form "you have to believe first, then you'll see", then you are a conman. Although, potentially, a conman who has conned himself.
posted by jsonic at 2:26 PM on May 17, 2006


JekPorkins: Agreed. I didn't say it was. Jsonic, you still don't seem to know the difference between 'proof' and 'evidence.' People praying isn't evidence, either. And I didn't say it was.

Actually you did. In response to WD's offer of demonstrable evidence for the existence of HIV, you offered people praying in a church.
posted by jsonic at 2:28 PM on May 17, 2006


jsonic, please read the actual words that I wrote. If you think I said something about people praying, quote me. I'm not going to waste space by quoting myself, so you'll have to actually read the words above.

Interestingly, the first person in this entire thread to mention prayer was you, when you said: People praying to a god-concept is in no way 'proof' that the god-concept actually exists in reality.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:34 PM on May 17, 2006


WD: I work in a hospital. I observe it daily, as do numerous other lab technicians, doctors, surgeons, etc... Would you like photographic evidence? Double-blind studies? Blood samples? I have lots and lots of observable, documented, repeatable, predictable proof.

JP: I go to church. I observe God daily, as do numerous other people of all kinds. Would you like documentary evidence? Written and sworn testimony? Firsthand accounts? I have lots and lots of observable, documented, repeatable, predictable proof.


There's your quote.

In response to WD's offer of demonstrable evidence for the existence of HIV you offered people in a church. How silly of me to think that people pray in church. Maybe they just sit there and solve math problems.

Or are you now claiming that "as do numerous other people" only applies to "observe god daily" and not to "go to church"? Either way, you're hiding behind the curtain of semantics.
posted by jsonic at 2:46 PM on May 17, 2006


jsonic, thank you for reading and for then changing your statement. I offered my own direct observation, as well as that of others. I and numerous others observe God daily, both in church and elsewhere.

I'm not hiding behind a curtain of anything. Do you dispute that numerous people go to church?

That people go to church is not evidence of God's existence. It was a response to WD's statement that he/she works in a hospital -- which is similarly not evidence that HIV exists.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:58 PM on May 17, 2006


JP: It was a response to WD's statement that he/she works in a hospital -- which is similarly not evidence that HIV exists.

I see you're conveniently ignoring the second part of WD's quote:

WD: Would you like photographic evidence? Double-blind studies? Blood samples? I have lots and lots of observable, documented, repeatable, predictable proof.

Regardless, you're still failing to show how your god-concept is not fictional like the thousands of historical god-concepts and mythical beings that people no longer believe in. Surely, if you believe in and have an inkling of what your god-concept likes/dislikes, then you can show that 'it' is not simply your imagination.

I'm not even asking you to prove anything, just list some steps you would take if you had the chance to show that your god-concept is not fictional.
posted by jsonic at 3:19 PM on May 17, 2006


I see you're conveniently ignoring the second part of WD's quote:

No, you don't see, because you're still not reading what I wrote. Scroll up. Read every word.

just list some steps you would take if you had the chance to show that your god-concept is not fictional.

Step one: Present documentary evidence, including both ancient and modern firsthand accounts.

Step two: Present firsthand testimony.

Step three: Explain to you that a complete understanding of a phenomenon is not a prerequisite to evidence or rational belief.

Do you want me to provide more steps? Really, its pretty much the same steps you'd take if you had the chance to show that your resume is not fictional.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:27 PM on May 17, 2006


jsonic : Your conflating belief with reality again. Some people observe reality and conclude that Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are real. Their belief does not make it so.

I'm not conflating belief with reality because we are not discussing the state of reality (ie., whether or not God actually exists), but whether it is possible for a person to examine reality and determine that God is not fiction. That's not an argument about reality, but an argument about perceptions, which is exactly what I'm addressing.

Your central premise is that "god-concepts are indistinguishable from fiction," which hinges on the verb "distinguish." This is clearly a function of perception, not of "how things are." Blind people can't distinguish between green and red, but that doesn't affect their reality. We can discuss perception without saying that such perception is necessarily equal to reality.

I feel like you're being disingenuous because you keep eschewing the question of whether God exists but then repeatedly returning to an argument that relies on creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, where the fact of their nonexistence is taken for granted and so evidence for or against is considered entirely superfluous.

If we're genuinely discussing the question of a god-like being that has the properties ascribed to the Judeo-Christian God, then we can't begin from a position that exclusively assumes either existence or nonexistence -- to do so would prejudice the discussion.

Some people observe reality, as you say, and determine that Bigfoot exists. They cite evidence like footprint castings, hair, etc. This evidence doesn't convince me, but I can't argue that the evidence isn't actually evidence, which seems to be what you're saying. The question of whether there is actually a Bigfoot is entirely secondary to the question at hand, which is whether it's possible for someone to look at plaster castings and fur and then believe that Bigfoot lives among us.

Debating whether those footprints might be fakes, or from a different source, or whatever, is clearly necessary to establishing whether Bigfoot is indeed real. But if all we are trying to determine is "how can anyone tell that Bigfoot is real?", then the evidence that people use to support their actual belief in Bigfoot satisfies that requirement.

As you say, you aren't actually arguing that God doesn't exist. Instead, what you're saying is that it's impossible for people to believe that he exists. That is what I object to, because it amounts to saying that reality can only be perceived in one way, and that there is only one (reliable) way to examine the evidence before us.
posted by camcgee at 3:32 PM on May 17, 2006


No, you don't see, because you're still not reading what I wrote. Scroll up. Read every word.

I read and quoted you multiple times now. You should just admit that people believing in a god-concept or claiming to have seen it in a vision has no bearing on its actual existence. Just like UFO abductees.

Step one: Present documentary evidence, including both ancient and modern firsthand accounts.

How exactly would a document of ancient or modern accounts demonstrate that a being or event was actually divine?

Step two: Present firsthand testimony

Just like the UFO abductees? How about the people of conflicting religions and beliefs who can produce 'testimony' to support their differing claims?

Step three: Explain to you that a complete understanding of a phenomenon is not a prerequisite to evidence or rational belief.

We can't explain everything yet, so anything goes...
posted by jsonic at 3:50 PM on May 17, 2006


jsonic, I'm trying to figure out if you're a) just dense b) linguistically challenged c) confused about what your point is or d) trying to say that it's impossible to distinguish anything in the world from fiction.

So, following camcgee's lead, I'll use the Bigfoot paradigm to make my point:

How does a Bigfoot believer distinguish Bigfoot from fiction? Well, he might rely on firsthand witness accounts, photographs, footprints, and maybe his own personal experience seeing Bigfoot. He might then contrast that with, say, the Da Vinci Code, where he can read a statement from the author of the book who says that it's fiction.

You might ask how he knows that what he or others saw was really Bigfoot, and how they distinguish between that firsthand experience and the experience of seeing special effects in a movie, or having a hallucination after being hit on the head with a garbage can. Well, they would start by noting the differences between the experiences.

So tell me: How do you differentiate between your resume and fiction? Sure, you believe that you did all the things that are on it (presumably), but you're a believer, and the fact that you believe it doesn't make it so, right? I mean, that's what you're saying, isn't it?

Think of a country you've never been to. Botswana or Surinam, perhaps (or somewhere else, if you've been to those places). How do you distinguish between the existence of that country and the fictional Island of Sodor?
posted by JekPorkins at 4:09 PM on May 17, 2006


As you say, you aren't actually arguing that God doesn't exist. Instead, what you're saying is that it's impossible for people to believe that he exists. That is what I object to, because it amounts to saying that reality can only be perceived in one way, and that there is only one (reliable) way to examine the evidence before us.

Interesting, it seems this hinges on the differing usage of believe. As an example, I think that it is possible that aliens exist somewhere in the Universe. This is based on the idea that we are an example that life is possible in the Universe, and there are many solar systems, some of which have planets.

If this was all that religion was, then I wouldn't quarrel. However if, like religion, I were to claim the following:

1. Aliens actually exist
2. I can communicate with these aliens
3. These aliens actually interact with our world

Then I would have crossed into the realm of claiming something that requires support. Unless I provided some support for these claims then I wouldn't expect to be taken seriously. And, unless I could offer some support, then others would be justified in treating my claims to be as fictional as the thousands of other god-concepts and monsters that we all treat as fictional.

Modern western religions are exactly this kind of unsupported belief, yet they expect to be regarded as different from the other unevidenced mythical beings.
posted by jsonic at 4:23 PM on May 17, 2006


The difference, jsonic, is that most people in this world have had some experience in their life that has led them to believe in some kind of deity. Firsthand experience is the strongest type of support, and those who have had it tend to have an interest in making sure that people like themselves are respected for what they believe in due to their own experience.

If most people in the world believed, based on personal experience, in the three tenets of Alienism that you've outlined above, you can bet that they'd expect to be regarded as different from other beliefs.

But I think you still don't have a clue what the word "evidence" means, since you persist in saying that God is "unevidenced." Do you seriously not get it?
posted by JekPorkins at 4:50 PM on May 17, 2006


Jek,

He gets it. I get it. You don't get. You are trying to argue an unarguable point. You are arguing that faith and belief equals reality.

Let's go back to HIV. How can I prove to you that it is HIV? I can point you to a couple of guys who discovered HIV-1, Dr. sucRobert Gallo and Dr. Luc Montagnier. They discovered a new virus, qualified it's properties, named it and were able to reproduce their experiments. They DEFINED what HIV is, and as such, we can point to it.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 4:57 PM on May 17, 2006


You are arguing that faith and belief equals reality.

No. I'm arguing (among other things) that firsthand experience is evidence, and I have mad the assertion that I have that evidence (because I do).

They discovered a new virus, qualified it's properties, named it and were able to reproduce their experiments. They DEFINED what HIV is, and as such, we can point to it.

So what? I can point you the texts that defined what Jesus is. That doesn't prove anything.

Have you ever gone through every step of the scientific process that resulted in the current definition and understanding of HIV? No. Other people did. And presumably because you respect their opinions, you just go ahead and believe that what they reported is true -- that they actually discovered a new virus, that they did qualify its properties, and that they were able to reproduce the experiments. You believe their account, and those of others. That's what's called evidence, and you don't have to do every single experiment before you can believe, with support, that they were right.

But you can't reproduce the experiments here and now for me, and that doesn't matter either. You claim that the results can be reproduced for your experiment, and I make the same claim regarding mine. Neither of us can force the other to perform the experiment the right way over the internet. Your calling me out to make God appear for you right now is just as dumb as me asking you to perform each of Gallo and Montagnier's experiments for me right now.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:11 PM on May 17, 2006


he he. Made. Not "mad." Though it does make a nice pun.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:12 PM on May 17, 2006


I thought it was cute too Jek...

Okay, okay... We have to decide how much longer we are going to go with this. I'm enjoying it or I wouldn't still be here, but you're not going to convince me, and I'm not going to convince you. No winners or losers here or anything.

I'll leave it up to you and jsonic.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:30 PM on May 17, 2006


WD, I'm not trying to convince you that there is a God. I'm pointing out that a) there is lots of evidence of God's existence, though most of it is of questionable value, and none of it except for one's own experience can possibly be convincing or conclusive, and b) that trying to get people to prove stuff over the internet is just silly.

But I've enjoyed this, too. And I'm glad it was in MeTa, and not junking up AskMe.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:33 PM on May 17, 2006


True. I was a bit ticked early that the comments got pulled, but frankly this is the most involved I've ever been with a Me?? thread, so it paid off, and the green was saved from 250 posts of often pointless arguments.

I'm glad faith works as a path for you. I'll find my own way. I'm sure we'll both be fine.

Who knows if we'll meet up some day?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:36 PM on May 17, 2006


I'd like that. You bring the virus, and I'll bring my giant flying invisible friend ;-)
posted by JekPorkins at 5:44 PM on May 17, 2006


You got god in my retrovirus!

You got retrovirus in my god!

It's two great tastes, that taste great together!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:49 PM on May 17, 2006


Group hug! (but leave enough space between you for the holy spirit)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:54 PM on May 17, 2006


jsonic : If this was all that religion was, then I wouldn't quarrel. However if, like religion, I were to claim the following.... Then I would have crossed into the realm of claiming something that requires support.

I disagree about the point at which the line is crossed. You're saying that the moment that you believe something seriously enough to base decisions on it, that it must be validated externally, but I think that's an unreasonable bar and one that doesn't translate to other aspects of life. (For example, I didn't need to prove to anyone that I loved a particular woman in order to ask her to marry me -- the fact that I knew it was enough.)

I think the point at which someone is compelled to produce this external verification is when they propose the consequences of belief or unbelief on others. (The point at which I asked the woman to marry me, then I was compelled to produce sufficient evidence that I loved her and would make a good husband.)

For example, if I am a Christian and I believe that you are going to hell for not being a Christian, then I shouldn't expect you to be convinced by that unless I can produce evidence that is personally satisfying to you that the claim is true.

However, if I'm moving to Zambia because I believe God wants me to, then I'm under no obligation to "prove" to anyone that this is the case, not even the boss whose job I might quit, or the landlord whose lease I will violate, in order to do so.

The beliefs and decisions that motivate a person's actions, whether it be "buy a Hummer" or "tithe 10 percent to the Catholic Church," are not beholden to outside referents, at least not in this country. That freedom of operation is not only (I believe) a natural law, but is also enshrined in the constitution.

Let's suppose, though, that a Christian comes to his friend, who does not believe in God, and tells him that he will go to hell if he's doesn't accept Christ as his lord and savior.

He's imposing his beliefs on another person and so, unless his friend is particularly weak-minded, will require some kind of evidence other than his friend's say so (he respects his friend, but not quite enough to condemn his own soul on just one say-so). So, then the Christian is compelled to bring evidence and to convince his friend of the real potential of eternal damnation without salvation.

The key point here, though, is that the Christian is not under any obligation to provide evidence to his friend that will remove all doubt in the minds of every person on earth -- he only needs to produce such evidence as will convince his friend. Possibly he'll be able to do so and possibly not, but the crux is that if the friend does accept and says "yes, this is valid evidence of the plan of God for my life," then that's sufficient for both of them.

Even if a third friend looks in from the side and decides they're both nuts and this the evidence is just a bunch of smoke and mirrors, neither is under the obligation to then further justify their belief to him. This is the point of my refrains about perception and the subjectivity of evidence.

If we look at any other issue about which there is controversy but no conclusive evidence, then the same thing is true.

Since I just read an article about the confirmation of the tax cuts, I'm going to use that as an example. (I'm well aware that this is a limited example, but I think the points of overlap are enough to demonstrate the point.) Many Republicans believe that the tax cuts are good for the economy, and will continue to sustain the areas of growth that they note.

Many Democrats, on the other hand, examining the exact same economy (albeit likely focusing on different points of emphasis) come to the exact opposite conclusion, and believe that keeping these tax cuts will be harmful to the economy as a whole and especially to the less financially prosperous segment of the population.

There is no way for either side to conclusively demonstrate that their point is the correct one. Even if the economy right now is going gangbusters and continues to do so, the Republicans can't prove that its growth is either directly or exclusively linked to the tax cuts. By the same token, if we have an economic collapse next year, Democrats will have no proof that it was directly and exclusively the tax cuts that were responsible.

Regardless of whether we look at the situation from a before or after picture, it's impossible to tell exactly what the interaction the tax cuts will have with the nation's economy, even though both sides strongly believe, and all economic science supports, that there is an effect.

So if a Republican congressmen is seeking reelection on the basis of his support of the tax cuts, he needs to convince his constituents that the tax cuts are a good thing. But he knows that no matter what evidence he provides for their support, it's not going to convince the hardcore Democrats. But in order for him to convince 51 percent of his constituents, it's not also required that he convince everyone else. As such, the people who are convinced and vote for him on the basis of his support of tax cuts, only need such evidence of their efficacy as will personally satisfy them, fully recognizing that not everyone will agree.

Is the Republican congressman supporting his claim? He presents statistics, charts and graphs, and compelling personal anecdotes that all tell the story that the tax cuts are good. All of the things he presents are true -- there are no fudged numbers or lies. That most Democrats think his evidence is misleading or poorly reasoned does not mean that it is not actually evidence, in that these things are the reason that he himself believes in the good of the tax cuts.

So, moving back to the realm of God's existence, the evidence (proof) that any individual brings to bear on the question of God's existence or the validity of a particular set of religious beliefs does not need to be sufficient to satisfy everyone. Even though people can look at the exact same evidence and reach a different conclusion, neither can be conclusively proved, and so each person must make his own determination about whether the evidence as presented is complete enough.

The fact that the alternate conclusion -- that there is no God and that religion is false -- cannot be conclusively proved is key here. If there was irrefutable evidence that, for instance, Jesus never existed, then the basis of Christianity would be ruined. There is some evidence that people say supports their conclusion that Jesus never existed, but there is also evidence that asserts the contrary position, so based solely on what we can collect and present from history, it's impossibly to objectively determine beyond doubt. Hence the decision to accept or deny the evidence is a personal one.

The objection I think you'll likely make here is the one you made before, which is that it is the responsibility of the believer to prove that his beliefs are "less fictional than the thousands of other god-concepts and monsters that we all treat as fictional."

But this is a false dichotomy and one that doesn't operate in the minds of most believers. For an individual to believe in Christ, it's not essential that he state why Zeus does not exist. Asserting a positive belief in Christ is not the same as asserting a negative belief in Zeus -- the two are not directly related. Similarly, it isn't necessary for a Christian to determine that Hinduism or Buddhism or Aboriginal religion are invalid in order for him to believe that his belief in Christ equal his salvation.

A nonbeliever may rightly treat all of these concepts as roughly equal, but in the mind and heart of the believer, they are not.

To use the cryptozoological example from before, it's possible to believe in Bigfoot and also disbelieve in the Loch Ness monster, wendigo, fairies, and unicorns. In the mind of the believer, proof of Bigfoot's existence (once again, such proof as is enough for him to believe) does not require that he validate or invalidate the existence of all of these other mythical creatures, even though someone on the outside may look at them and determine them all to be ridiculous fantasies.
posted by camcgee at 10:44 AM on May 18, 2006


Jek, your position seems to ignore the fact that people can examine evidence and draw incorrect conclusions from that evidence. I believe that this is what jsonic is trying to assert. You're trying to prove that people base their belief in God on evidence, but this says nothing about whether or not their conclusions are correct. Throughout history humans have made incorrect conclusions about things that they couldn't fully explain. That's why there are standards of proof in science. You could argue that those standards aren't perfect, and you'd be correct, but that still wouldn't be a good argument. They're based on the history of scientific inquiry, which has consistently yielded practical benefits. And one standard not being perfect does not excuse the fact that anotehr standard is virtually non-existent.

I realize that you're trying to prevent religious people from being painted as irrational, which is fair enough; I'm sure that people have good reasons for their belief, and that's their prerogative. But you're resorting to sophistry to do it. The whole HIV tangent is a complete dead end and seems a bit disingenuous unless you reject science, technology, and medicine entirely.

Anyway, that was interesting to follow. Sort of.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:51 PM on May 18, 2006


(For example, I didn't need to prove to anyone that I loved a particular woman in order to ask her to marry me -- the fact that I knew it was enough.)

I think the point at which someone is compelled to produce this external verification is when they propose the consequences of belief or unbelief on others.


Don't you think that decisions about one's internal feelings are in a somewhat different class to decisions about the nature of reality and how to behave in society? And don't you think that one's decisions in the latter category are more likely to affect other people than decisions in the former, assuming that we're talking about someone participating in society?

And you also talk a lot about convincing people, which seems to ignore the point as well. People can and have often been convinced of things that turned out not to be true. Yes, it's quite clear that people are capable of being convinced by what they accept as evidence of God. But that doesn't say anything about whether or not God exists. Talking about the historical evidence for Jesus seems rather irrelevant.

Again, if you're trying to prove that people who believe in God aren't complete crazies because they look at the world and decide that the evidence says that God exists, well, ok. I agree that God's existence has not been provded or disproved conclusively (depending very much on one's definition of God). But you also seem to be glossing over the leap from belief in "a God" to "belief in a religion (namely Christianity)" in a pretty big way. Christianity, for what I'm guessing is a majority of its adherents, is more than a belief in a higher power.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:02 PM on May 18, 2006


ludwig_van : Don't you think that decisions about one's internal feelings are in a somewhat different class to decisions about the nature of reality and how to behave in society?

Well, my example of the marriage decision/proposal was only meant to demonstrate the difference between internal belief and imposing that belief on others. Maybe it wasn't the best example (though I still like it).

Still, I think that the rest of what I said addresses the questions you're asking. My example about the man moving to Zambia, or the proposition of damnation -- these are both of the type that fall into "nature of reality and how to behave in society."

Is deciding that I love a woman and would like to be married to her in a different class than deciding that I need to be nice to everyone I meet or that I shouldn't pay my taxes? Certainly their implied consequences are different, and the latter two necessarily impact others, while the former does not. However, I don't believe that there is a fundamental difference in the way these decisions are made. Some decisions we make rely more on objective evidence, while other decisions rely more on past experience or simply personal taste. I find that the decision-making process is the same for each, only the elements that are factored into the decision are different. (This point is one where there is a lot of room for debate and there are going to be a lot of different interpretations, because people view their internal decision-making processes differently.)

ludwig_van : And you also talk a lot about convincing people, which seems to ignore the point as well. People can and have often been convinced of things that turned out not to be true.... But that doesn't say anything about whether or not God exists.

I think you're understanding a different argument than what is actually taking place. No one is trying to prove the existence of God. I'm talking about convincing people, because the points I was making hinged on what demonstrated "evidence" (a point of discussion earlier in the thread). The purpose of presenting said evidence is to convince people of a certain conclusion, whether it be that God exists or that there really is a Bigfoot, or that Christ died for their sins.

From the beginning, I have been operating behind the notion that in order for an individual to believe and practice something (especially if that thing fundamentally cannot be unequivocally proved given the existing information) does not require

a. that the thing actually be true (since there is no way to conclusively prove or disprove it, we can't a priori know whether it is true or not)

or

b. that he make any effort to present convincing evidence of his own conclusions to others until such time as his actions/statements/behaviors implicate them in the fabric of his belief.

I have been arguing against contrary statements to these propositions. In the first case, the idea that if something cannot be conclusively proved or disproved, then people should not believe it, and secondly that if a person cannot prove conclusively their beliefs then those beliefs are invalid.

ludwig_van : But you also seem to be glossing over the leap from belief in "a God" to "belief in a religion (namely Christianity)" in a pretty big way.

This whole discussion has gotten pretty unwieldy, partly because people are approaching it from very different angles. I never meant to equate belief in God with belief in Christianity. But based on the discussion so far, we've been using belief in God and/or religion as somewhat interchangeable in terms of making points about believing in things that are difficult to prove.

The whole discussion is premised not on proving God's existence or on the establishing the properties of a theoretical God, nor on offering credence to a particular system of belief. From my perspective, it has been a discussion about what kind of personal and social responsibilities are entailed in believing in something that cannot be proved, particularly when that belief is not shared by everyone.

I used Christianity to illustrate certain points because it happens that the religion provides both familiar territory and an opportunity to delve into a specific issues that more general theoretical cases don't allow.
posted by camcgee at 5:25 PM on May 18, 2006


Again, if you're trying to prove that people who believe in God aren't complete crazies because they look at the world and decide that the evidence says that God exists, well, ok.

Oh, I think nearly everyone in the world is a complete crazy, whether they believe in God or not. What I'm trying to say is that there is, in fact, evidence both of the existence of God generally and of Christian theological points specifically. That evidence is far from conclusive, and may fairly be called subjective or downright unreliable, but it is evidence. It bugs me more than a little bit when people say that God is "unevidenced" or things like that.

Now, what were we talking about again? It's been such a long thread, and I don't really want to read the whole thing to make sure I'm still on the same train of thought.

Oh, and Steve Goldberg's music is awesome.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:42 PM on May 18, 2006


Well, I suppose it all really comes down to differing ideas of what qualifies as "evidence." It's true that different people/systems of belief set the bar for evidence at different places, and none can be said to be able to prove things with 100% certainty. But I think it's a pretty common notion that ideas with different sorts of evidence behind them should be regarded differently in the decision-making process, and that in general it's more reasonable to base any decision on information that has been shown to be valid under a rigorous standard for evidence.

For example, though one's religion might predict that the world is coming to an end soon, and therefore conservation is not an important concern, the claim that the world is not about to end and therefore conservation is important has much stronger evidence behind it.

I imagine we're all in general agreement about this idea?

And I can understand that when people say that there is no evidence for God it might be more accurate to say that they are unconvinced by the evidence they've encountered.

Oh, and Steve Goldberg's music is awesome.

Hey, thanks!
posted by ludwig_van at 8:30 AM on May 19, 2006


ludwig_van : I imagine we're all in general agreement about this idea?

Yes -- it's perfectly legitimate for individuals or societies to regard one set of evidence as more complete or more valid than another for any given circumstance. The example that you're using is slightly different because it's not one set of beliefs vs. another regarding the same phenomena, but an overall world view vs. a non-parallel instance of scientifically verifiable evidence.

That is, it's not as if some people are saying "natural resources are running out, so conserve and recycle" while another group is saying "no way, God will replenish the earth, so use all you want" -- neither the "world will be destroyed" idea or the conservationist one inherently verifies or invalidates the other, it's just that their conclusions lead to different types of action.

This does lead to an interesting point, though, which is that the reality of the majority of religious life is such that even if someone does believe that the end of the world is imminent, that doesn't necessarily mean that he'll stop recycling, saving for retirement, or paying his taxes.

There is a great amount of dissonance in people's lives in this regard. A person can object to evolution with "I didn't come from no monkey," but then live his life while taking advantage of the same genetic evidence that supports human evolution when it serves some pragmatic purpose, such as disease prevention.

People make a big deal about the cosmological or ontological framework of others as being fundamentally irrational and perhaps even personally frightening, but the reality is that the day-to-day actions of those people, sometimes even the most vocal of the fundamentalists, rarely reflect those overarching views in a way that a person could objectively determine from another's actions his belief about the origin and fate of the world.

We can look at polls that supposedly demonstrate that a majority of Americans believe in the literal truth of the Bible, but they only use this viewpoint to inform a limited number of decisions. Call it hypocrisy or cognitive dissonance or what have you, but this is the reality of the way that religion is practiced in the world. There is a separation between what a person believes in an abstract sense and the information he uses to make his day-to-day decisions.

While those who believe in the literal truth of the Bible may easily apply it to items like the Flood or the Maccabees' lamp oil lasting for eight days, that doesn't mean that for every question of their lives they will automatically recourse to what is presented in the Bible.

This can also be applied in the opposite direction. Richard Dawkins' theory of gene propagation removes any external meaning from human life. Yet despite believing that our individual personalities can be boiled down to the accidental byproduct of a genetic process, I'm sure he still kisses his daughters good night and loves them dearly and feels no daily dissonance in these actions. When he's sitting around the dinner table with his family, he sees individuals, not the results of evolutionary process that are equivalent to the fish they've baked for their meal.

Many systems of belief, whether they be absolute optimism, nihilism, or "Christ is coming back any day now," are nearly impossible to sustain while still functioning normally in the world. Those that do embody these beliefs and carry them to their natural conclusions are often rightly labeled as kooks.

I know a lot of atheists, agnostics, and people of a variety of religious backgrounds. When confronted with a problem, some of them will say, "I need to pray about this," while others would find that approach a waste of time. No one I know, however, when confronted with a practical, material problem says "I'm going to pray about this and then sit back and wait for [saint/deity/mother earth] to solve my problem." They still will take their own practical steps to address the problem -- prayer is not a solution for them, but a part of the decision-making process.

There certainly are people who might truly believe that prayer is all you need, but I contend that no matter how much they assert that belief, they can't live it unless they're either a. incredibly lucky or b. actually right.

Part of the conflict that seems to arise in discussions about religion is that people are usually not talking about real life, but abstracting everything to their ideal forms and having those archetypes attack each other. People availing against the opposite viewpoint to their own will most often attack the abstract generality rather than the reality that is being evidenced, and the person on the defensive will often take that on its face and defend the abstraction instead of reframing the argument to be about the reality.

When a person who believes in the power of prayer is confronted with the argument that prayer is useless, he will often defend it in its irrational, ideal form (prayer is all I need), rather than appealing the argument from the standpoint of how he actually lives his life (prayer as a component of action).

None of this means that these people don't actually believe these things that they espouse, but only that belief is a much more complex and multi-layered thing than its portrayal (from either side) would generally lead you to conclude.

(And, apparently, I am obsessed with having the last word.)
posted by camcgee at 9:59 AM on May 19, 2006


So am I.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:08 PM on May 19, 2006


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