"There is no afterlife." Cite, please... March 3, 2009 4:54 PM   Subscribe

"There is no afterlife." Cite, please...

A thread in which a mefite asks for help in coping with grief and belief turns (unsurprisingly) into an opportunity for others to present their own personal beliefs as inarguable fact. I find this to be a) completely insensitive, but especially b) a really unfortunate misinterpretation of the original question that pretty much derails the thread.

"Of course there's no afterlife..."
"Your father has ceased existing..."
"There is no afterlife or other side..."

It's fine to share your beliefs as part of your advice, and especially in cases like this where it's somewhat topical, but stating them unsupported as fact is not helpful. If comments appeared saying "Don't worry, your loved one is with King Jesus now, sharing in Jehovah's eternal glory, and you'll be better off if you can accept that," it would be just as bad a use of AskMe.

I don't expect any comments in that thread to be deleted, but the extreme atheism on this site creeps into the dogmatic range pretty often, and I think everyone could benefit from a reminder that no one party has a monopoly on The Truth (tm), and if you can't reach out to help someone without telling them what to believe, then you should maybe think twice about your offer.
posted by hermitosis to Etiquette/Policy at 4:54 PM (315 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

(Link.)
posted by hermitosis at 4:56 PM on March 3, 2009


My dead grandfather visited me in my room one night and told me there was no afterlife.
posted by trinity8-director at 5:02 PM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


I have to agree. The OP is dealing with tremendous loss compounded by sudden doubt. She has asked for advice on dealing with those feelings. Not for others to hammer her loss into her head.

And trinity8-director, that really isn't funny. The OP lost her father.
posted by katillathehun at 5:04 PM on March 3, 2009


Except I think M.C. Lo Carb did exactly what you suggest: he included the bit about there not being an afterlife as part of his advice for dealing with the fact that there is no evidence of any sort for an afterlife and thus it can reasonably be concluded that there is no afterlife.

The following is from his post: So instead I sought to comfort myself by concentrating on the affects she had while she was living -- the young lives she touched as a teacher, the people she helped later in her life as a social worker, the friends she had, the family she helped create (my sisters, etc.) the 3 chords she taught me how to play on the guitar, that sort of thing. Those are the things that "live on" after someone dies.

How is that not exactly what you suggest? He pointed out that there isn't an afterlife and then gave advice on how to deal with it.
posted by Justinian at 5:05 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think we need to know if deleted comments are still present in the DB, or if they just migrate to another table.
posted by iamabot at 5:06 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


From your answer: It's generally accepted that time doesn't exist in a way that conforms to our perception of it. Everything that is and was and shall be are all connected, regardless of our sunjectivity

Do you have a cite for this? Not snark, I would like to read more.
posted by mlis at 5:08 PM on March 3, 2009


I just can't get over how stupid this complaint is. "You can't say there's nothing! Prove it! Waah!"

Christ, hermitosis, this is stupid even for Metatalk.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:11 PM on March 3, 2009 [19 favorites]


katillathehun, how do you know it isn't true?
posted by trinity8-director at 5:12 PM on March 3, 2009


I find this to be a) completely insensitive...

To whom? I can't see how it is completely insensitive to the original poster, as s/he states that they are agnostic, is currently questioning whether or not there is an afterlife, and is asking for general thoughts and advice.

...but especially b) a really unfortunate misinterpretation of the original question that pretty much derails the thread.

The original question is "Someone close to me recently passed away. For the most part I'm okay, but what stops me in my tracks is the idea that there may not be an afterlife. How do I come to terms with this?" How is the statement that there is no afterlife in any way a derail from a question asking how to come to terms with the fact that there is no afterlife?
posted by googly at 5:14 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also agree. Thank you for calling this out. I know how reading some of those comments made me feel, and I can't imagine reading them while dealing with my father's death.
posted by changeling at 5:14 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


(gently - because I think you're awesome, hermitosis): your crapping all over the idea that people live on in stories in memories was the most unpleasant comment in the thread.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:14 PM on March 3, 2009


The question is really super vague and the only way to answer it in a way that you'd like is to give a really super vague answer.
"How do I come to terms with the possibility that there's no afterlife?" within the context of grief is really tricky to answer without having people bring in their own anecdotal experiences.

I too am sensitive to others' belief systems and frown upon forcing beliefs on others, but when someone is essentially soliciting for a coping mechanism to deal with recent tragedy, I think giving a sanitized answer that doesn't really say anything is less beneficial than presenting one's own point of view (presumably from personal experience), even if that point of view conflicts with the other person's views. At the very least, the asker learns something about how they feel.

I didn't see anything in that thread that berated or insulted the asker in the vein of "Drop the crutch, religion is all lies." All I see is someone asking "How do I deal with the idea there's no afterlife when I've lost a loved one?" and people responding with "Well, I don't believe in an afterlife and I cope with loss like this."

That strikes me as useful and completely fair game.
posted by anifinder at 5:14 PM on March 3, 2009


I deleted one crappy comment about a sky ghost but I haven't removed anything else from that thread, maybe cortex has. It was an open-ended question that, to my mind, could accept a lot of answers including "hey I don't think there's an afterlife but here's how I dealt with my doubt/fear/feelings"

People should be respectful of the fact that the OP lost her father recently and not be jerks, but I didn't see most people being jerks, just offering their own version of advice.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:16 PM on March 3, 2009


"hey I don't think there's an afterlife but here's how I dealt with my doubt/fear/feelings"

is not the same as

"Of course there's no afterlife."
posted by changeling at 5:18 PM on March 3, 2009


I haven't deleted anything; I was out buying cat food when this went up. I will check to see if the cat food deleted anythign.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:18 PM on March 3, 2009 [14 favorites]


"He pointed out that there isn't an afterlife..."

I may be misinterpreting, but I think hermitosis objects to such a flat statement. The OP is still struggling with the question itself, and I think it might have come across a little better if something was said along the lines of "I don't personally believe in an afterlife, and here's how I came to terms with that..."

And on preview, anifinder, if they had all been "...people responding with 'Well, I don't believe in an afterlife and I cope with loss like this.'" - that would have been great, but there was "There is no afterlife or other side" instead.

Anyway, it bothered me in the same way, but I thought that most, if not all, of the advice was kindly meant, so I just moved on.
posted by HopperFan at 5:19 PM on March 3, 2009


it deleted a lower case 'g'.
posted by dawson at 5:20 PM on March 3, 2009


MetaTalk - The afterlife for stupid arguments.
posted by iamabot at 5:23 PM on March 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


"He pointed out that there isn't an afterlife..."

I may be misinterpreting, but I think hermitosis objects to such a flat statement. The OP is still struggling with the question itself, and I think it might have come across a little better if something was said along the lines of "I don't personally believe in an afterlife, and here's how I came to terms with that..."


Certainly we can assume that the OP is an adult and can insert his-or-her own qualifiers.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:26 PM on March 3, 2009


I was out buying cat food when this went up. I will check to see if the cat food deleted anythign.

How could the cat food have deleted anything? It was supposedly with you. Cortex, you just broke your own alibi.
posted by orange swan at 5:27 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Are people confused? Do they think that posters in that thread have actually gone to the place where the afterlife might be and verified its non-existence?

I don't understand what the hypothetical distinction between "I don't believe there's an afterlife" and "There is no afterlife" would even be. Of course that's your personal belief. It's an unanswerable question. It's like complaining that someone says "Cilantro is delicious" - should we harp on them to say "In my opinion, cilantro is delicious"? No! Because judgments about deliciousness are inherently subjective, just like statements about things that cannot be disproved are inherently belief-driven.
posted by 0xFCAF at 5:28 PM on March 3, 2009 [18 favorites]


Yeah, it was probably the cat. Cats have much to answer for. Furry tyrants.
posted by mlis at 5:30 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


0xFCAF - I think the difference is that this is a touchy subject for the OP and not qualifying statements in this case may be perceived as insensitive.
posted by gman at 5:32 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I know how reading some of those comments made me feel, and I can't imagine reading them while dealing with my father's death.

My mum died a few years ago. She was a great believer in freedom of expression, my mother -- especially in matters of religion. You can't imagine how I feel, reading requests for people's comments to be deleted while I meditate on the festering corpse of my dear, dead mum.

All of you. Stop doing call-outs as of now, as a mark of your respect for the late Granny McDermott!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:33 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


your crapping all over the idea that people live on in stories in memories was the most unpleasant comment in the thread

Other commentors referred to this being cliche or a platitude, and I meant to just elaborate on what cold comfort I felt it was to hear that. I didn't intend to spoil any comfort that others may get from believing this.

Both religion and grief are delicate subjects, and ought to be treated as tactfully as possible. Front-loading one's helpful comments with a declarative statement about cosmic truths seems like a bad idea for AskMe.

Certainly we can assume that the OP is an adult and can insert his-or-her own qualifiers.

How about we save each other the trouble and just mind our own words?

It's like complaining that someone says "Cilantro is delicious"

No, it's really not like that at all.
posted by hermitosis at 5:33 PM on March 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is a terrible call out. The original post questioned whether or not there was an afterlife, people are giving their opinions - because that's all we have about the afterlife, our own opinions. No one has posted in the thread and said "There's no afterlife, suck it up." They've explained how they have coped with their own belief that there is no afterlife - and how they remember their own loved ones who have passed.

If the original post was "My father is dead, how do I cope" and people said "That's it, he's done, get over it" you might have a point. But the question was about dealing with their thoughts on the afterlife and whether or not it exists.

I actually find your position in that thread and this call out here even more distasteful. And this line of yours:

If you don't believe that this life and world and experience are a means to some other life or world or experience, then anything important that makes us who we really are is lost at the moment of death, except for in the most inconsequentially semantic ways.

That's more of a barrow being pushed than anything else that's been posted in that thread.
posted by crossoverman at 5:34 PM on March 3, 2009 [10 favorites]


"Certainly we can assume that the OP is an adult and can insert his-or-her own qualifiers."

Certainly. We could also assume that people would be a little less imposing of their version of the truth, and more sensitive to someone who's just lost a family member.
posted by HopperFan at 5:34 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


How would one cite this? Furthermore, isn't it the positive claim that there IS an afterlife that really needs a cite?
posted by DU at 5:35 PM on March 3, 2009


Yeah, it was probably the cat. Cats have much to answer for. Furry tyrants.
posted by MLIS

THE COMMENTS ARE BEING DELETED FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!
posted by iamabot at 5:37 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, it's really not like that at all.

Yes, it is.

Look, we're having a meaningful discussion!
posted by 0xFCAF at 5:37 PM on March 3, 2009


I thought that the fact you have a username underneath everything you post negated the need to preface everything you write on here with "In my opinion..."

But really, are we going to have "Prove there are no unicorns" the next time someone makes light of their existence? I think the "extreme atheism" here reflects the beliefs of the majority of the users. I presume everyone asking a question here has a fair idea of the readership.
posted by fire&wings at 5:38 PM on March 3, 2009


Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, null hypothesis, cognitive psychology, pattern-recognition overfitting, etc.

Are we still having this discussion? Does anybody think that someone who believes in an afterlife is ever going to be convinced, if only a sufficiently logical argument could be found?

Likewise, do the true believers really think that us heretics are actually going to be convinced by an earnest and sincere argument?

Or, because thou shalt not multiply entities without cause, do we really just like to hear ourselves talk?
posted by Skorgu at 5:42 PM on March 3, 2009


In general, I'd say that the burden of proof for the existence of the supernatural lies with those who suggest that such things exist.

But it's good to be kind to people who are grieving.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:45 PM on March 3, 2009 [10 favorites]


If this comment gets no favorites, I'll tell hermitosis not to smoke and post.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 PM on March 3, 2009


No, it's really not like that at all.

Yes, it is.


You're still doing it wrong. Try: I don't mean any disrespect, but I feel it is like that. That's just my opinion, no more and no less valid than yours.
posted by gman at 5:47 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


"In general, I'd say that the burden of proof for the existence of the supernatural lies with those who suggest that such things exist.

But it's good to be kind to people who are grieving.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:45 PM on March 3"


QFT.
posted by HopperFan at 5:51 PM on March 3, 2009


Tell you what—if there is an afterlife, I will give you a dollar.

Of course, you'll have to track me down. I'm not going to go looking for you just to give you a dollar. If I was that sort of person, I'd be a lot more sure of the existence of an afterlife to begin with.
posted by klangklangston at 5:52 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


And, given my brother's recent troubles, I certainly hope there's an afterwife.
posted by klangklangston at 5:54 PM on March 3, 2009


Tell you what—if there is an afterlife, I will give you a dollar.

I actually don't believe in an afterlife, per se. Sorry if you mistakenly thought that's what all this boiled down to.
posted by hermitosis at 5:55 PM on March 3, 2009


i agree with moxiedoll that "your crapping all over the idea that people live on in stories in memories was the most unpleasant comment in the thread." almost everyone in that thread said something along the lines of "it was easier for me to deal with the loss when i realized that s/he lived on in my memory and the memory of others." which is a legitimate answer to the question in that it gives advice on how to deal with the grief (thinking of existance in a different way).

but then you come in and say that thinking that people live on as long as we remember them "reduces it to something so insignificant that it hardly bears considering."

frankly, reading "then anything important that makes us who we really are is lost at the moment of death, except for in the most inconsequentially semantic ways" is a big fucking downer, and is worse to me than saying "your father doesn't exist anymore, except in your memories."

this is one of those questions where personal thoughts and beliefs are so closely tied to the answer that anyone might give it's almost impossible to extricate the belief from the answer.

finally, "and if you can't reach out to help someone without telling them what to believe, then you should maybe think twice about your offer." please. this is metafilter. you know that's never going to happen.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:57 PM on March 3, 2009


Your love of delicious, delicious cilantro probably doesn't affect anyone else very much. A pronouncement of "there is no afterlife" to someone that's struggling with a recent death and is not sure whether to believe in an afterlife certainly does.

And I don't actually believe in the concept of an afterlife, either. I don't think anyone's trying to convince anyone else of that here.
posted by HopperFan at 6:00 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


"He pointed out that there isn't an afterlife..."

I may be misinterpreting, but I think hermitosis objects to such a flat statement.


As do I. But people on MeFi are, by and large, dicks about religion, and that's unlikely to change, so I don't think there's much point to this callout.
posted by languagehat at 6:04 PM on March 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


This sucks, h-man. Your own post in the thread is largely given over to sub-GWB assertions that any meaning materialists find in life is not only "distasteful" but "inconsequentially semantic." You're free to say so, of course, but it's fucking bizarre for you to push your "What the #$*! do we know?" worldview in that thread and then come here and complain about people outing themselves as atheists.

The question is an attempt to deal with some doubts at a tough time. What's so bad about an answer that says, Your doubts are most likely correct; here's how the rest of us cope with that seemingly alienating fact.
posted by grobstein at 6:04 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Damn you MLIS!
posted by cjorgensen at 6:15 PM on March 3, 2009


people on MeFi are, by and large, dicks about religion

Which is why I tend to agree that we all could afford to circumcise exorcise exercise a bit more restraint whenever the subject raises its by and large head.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:18 PM on March 3, 2009


The subject of the nature of my own comment is fair game for this thread, and I don't really have a problem with it being deleted from the thread if others find it inappropriate (and clearly many do). Flag away. I only meant to comment on the inadequacy of that sentiment in my own experience, but perhaps it was a bad idea.

...your "What the #$*! do we know?" worldview...

Strangely, the most outrageous thing anyone's said to me in a while.
posted by hermitosis at 6:20 PM on March 3, 2009


See you in hell.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:22 PM on March 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


Your doubts are most likely correct; here's how the rest of us cope with that seemingly alienating fact.

Except that's not what's hermitosis is arguing about but, for some reason, everyone is reducing his complaint to this statement with its qualifiers. What I think hermitosis is saying is that, when it comes to those topics that are tied to spirituality (socially, culturally, etc), when you're dealing with a thread that involves someting sensitive, like, maybe someone's dad dying - qualifiers should be encouraged when being written. There are plenty of posts in that thread that do approach the topic like that but there are several that don't. Hermitosis is attacking those that don't (and his answer isn't in that bucket).
posted by Stynxno at 6:22 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


cjorgensen: Condition corrected!
posted by mlis at 6:26 PM on March 3, 2009


It's fine to share your beliefs as part of your advice, [...] but stating them unsupported as fact is not helpful.

Stating them without qualifiers like "I believe" or "I think" is not the same thing as stating them as fact. It's tedious to say "I think" all the time; the reader doesn't need help to distinguish between fact and opinion. If you were writing a movie review, wouldn't you just say "Moulin Rouge is a piece of shit", rather than "I think Moulin Rouge is a piece of shit"?
posted by equalpants at 6:31 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


people on MeFi are, by and large, dicks about religion

and some are religious about dicks.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:38 PM on March 3, 2009


Rhomboid's wager: It's impossible to know whether this thread will result in a flameout, but just in case it does I'm reading it anyway.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:39 PM on March 3, 2009 [14 favorites]


A movie review and an opinion on death are not the same.

Unless you're talking about Manos : Hands of Fate.
posted by HopperFan at 6:41 PM on March 3, 2009


If you were writing a movie review, wouldn't you just say "Moulin Rouge is a piece of shit", rather than "I think Moulin Rouge is a piece of shit"?

Bad example. "Moulin Rouge is a piece of shit" is apparently a fact.*

*Cite
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:42 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Except that's not what's hermitosis is arguing about but, for some reason, everyone is reducing his complaint to this statement with its qualifiers.

If this is really the point, then, yeah, I missed something. Indeed, I am still missing something. There are a few posts that flatly say, "There is no afterlife." But unless you think that statement is itself insensitive, there's nothing insensitive about those posts. They're constructively trying to help the OP grapple with exactly what the OP asked for help with. (See here, here.) You may find the help they offer unhelpful. Hermitosis obviously does, which is why he roundly derides it in his own post (see my complaint above). But they are model AskMe answers, except that y'all disagree with them.

(Is the problem really that you think people should say, "I believe there is no afterlife," rather than stating it as fact, because "spirituality" is "sensitive"? I see languagehat also supports this idea. But it's strange to me: if you believe that the universe of evidence overwhelmingly supports a given proposition, shouldn't you state it as fact? (Oddly, this problem also came up in the MehFail thread.) One might respond that it would be jarring for religious Mefites to state their own beliefs as fact, so maybe religion should be set aside as an area where we all preface our opinions with "I believe." This argument doesn't work for me: religious people, especially liberal religious people, often feel that their religious beliefs occupy a special sphere of "faith," apart from ordinary beliefs about the universe. "I believe" is a way of signaling that they are discussing this sphere. Non-religious people, however, often feel (correctly) that their beliefs about traditionally "religious" subject areas (like the afterlife) are not religious beliefs; they are just beliefs about the world like any other. Hence no need for a special hedging introduction.)
posted by grobstein at 6:43 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


and some are religious about dicks.

Indeed.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:44 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Cite please?

How about you afterlifers "citing" a single shred of evidence that what we can plainly see with our own eyes isn't true.

Telling someone the truth is a legitimate approach to assuaging their grief. It may not work, or be the only legitimate approach, but then posting a query about dealing with private, personal grief to a public website full of contrarians and atheists is a conscious decision to seek any advice that might be offered.

There is no afterlife. Unless you can prove otherwise.

Didn't think so.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:52 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ooh, way to burn em, fourcheesemac.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:53 PM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


Who, in this thread at least, is an "afterlifer?" Please point them out.
posted by HopperFan at 6:56 PM on March 3, 2009


I think context is important: If a question is specifically about how the OP's doubts about an afterlife are difficult to deal with, it doesn't strike me as inappropriate to answer with "There is no afterlife, and here is how I deal with that."

If it had been a different question it most certainly could have been insensitive and inappropriate; but it isn't a different question, it is this one.
posted by Justinian at 6:57 PM on March 3, 2009


It is appropriate to support the notion that there is an afterlife, or the notion that there is not an afterlife, iff the OP has stated their belief to be that way.

If they believe in an afterlife, it is appropriate to offer support that requires this particular worldview.

If they believe there is no afterlife, it is appropriate to offer support that requires this particular worldview.

In matters dealing with grieving, it is inappropriate to offer support that requires the OP to have a different worldview than the one they have. I'm hard atheist, but FFSWTFBBQ!, the person you are trying to help is grieving. Cut 'em some slack!

This isn't exactly social rocket science, folks. I'm an antisocial miscreant, but even I have the common sense to recognize when it is not appropriate to get all up in someone's face about their ridiculous beliefs.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:02 PM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


fff, you must recognize that this question is not either of the cases you've described. Perhaps that is why it is generating so much controversy.
posted by grobstein at 7:04 PM on March 3, 2009


Obviously, if the OP has expressed interest in both worldviews, then it is appropriate to fight to the death to be right about your own worldview. To hell with their grief, they've just started a land war with Asia! To the death!
posted by five fresh fish at 7:04 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Now you're just mischaracterizing the thread. Here in MeTa, we're having a land war in Asia. In AskMe, though, the comments are constructive and the disagreements are (mostly) low-key.
posted by grobstein at 7:05 PM on March 3, 2009


I'd just like to mention that pater alethias is good people and we're lucky to have that kind of poster around. Also, I had nothing productive to add to the askme in question but I offer my internet moral support to metroid baby.
posted by stet at 7:06 PM on March 3, 2009


What I would really like to know is, if cortex's cat pooped on his rug while he was gone?
posted by P.o.B. at 7:11 PM on March 3, 2009


Give me a moment, grobstein, I'll go take care of that problem. It's clearly got to be a war zone, else why would we have this MeTa thread?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:12 PM on March 3, 2009


. . .
posted by grobstein at 7:13 PM on March 3, 2009


FWIW, and this is nothing, I think in a way I understand the reason for this MeTa. Having just lost someone, some of the answers in the AskMe were so unpleasant to read. It truly seemed to me as if some answers, a couple of which I flagged, were almost taking a delight in being dismissive or cruel about the subject. They might technically be answers to the questions but (and I guess I am not surprised) it was bizzare to see that level of schadenfreude, or deliberate provocation, in a thread about grief. Especially compared to the level of support and empathy I've seen here recently, in my own experience.

At the same time, for me, too, it was hermitosis' own comment that bothered me most.
posted by bunnycup at 7:19 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


hermitosis, I hope the confusion over your smug intro will convince you to craft better call outs in the future.
posted by boo_radley at 7:20 PM on March 3, 2009


The Beast of Burden (of Proof) is not sniffing around the door of those who do not believe in an afterlife, because the very notion is contrary to everything we know about mortality, entropy, thermodynamics, mass, chemistry, physics, and so on. In fact the very notion of an afterlife is faintly repugnant because it suggests that this life, this here and now, is little more than a waiting room. What do you do in a waiting room? You worry about what's going to happen on the other side of the door.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:35 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


What do you do in a waiting room? You worry about what's going to happen on the other side of the door.

They put you under general anaesthesia.
posted by grobstein at 7:41 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Everyone is making compelling arguments, but have you thought about this?
posted by mullingitover at 7:43 PM on March 3, 2009


A lot of people on Metafilter are impressed with their own ability to regurgitate some variant of the argument that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof," i.e. that because there is no proof of an afterlife, they are safe in concluding that t here is no afterlife. Have reasoned thusly, they feel the need to tell this to anyone who still clings to their backward belief.

The reason this argument is pathetically childish is revealed by that AskMe thread, and the self-avowed atheist evangelists completely missed it.

The point of religion, you small minded twits, is to reconcile the fact of death with the fact of life. The mind seeks an answer, just like it sought an answer to why things fall to the ground and why the sun rises and sets. It is precisely because science and philosophy continue to be completely incapable of addressing death, and because the condition of death is totally unknowable, that people seek to ascribe some meaning to death by way of ascribing some greater meaning to life. The poster is grappling with the fundamental question of human existence -- if one can cease to be, one does it mean to have been.

Atheism, at least the revolting and stunningly childish variant of it practiced all over the internet and on non-serious media outlets, is totally silent on this issue. The reason this is so is because dumb people confuse religion with rituals and rules, and confuse the roles of science and philosophy in framing the human condition. Atheism does not provide its own answer to the question of death. Saying "there is no afterlife" not only fails to answer the question, it reveals that you didn't even understand the question, and that there is a good chance you lack the ability to ever understand it.

There is no great tension between religion and science when religion is understood to be set up entirely for the purpose of addressing this question, and science is not. There is no way to collect evidence about death.

Religion is not creationism or bible fundamentalism. Small minded atheism needs creationism because it is in opposition to that worldview that athiesm can define itself. No serious theologian takes the creation story or Bible stories literally.

If the AskMe poster is reading this thread, and I don't blame them if they aren't, consider that we perceive the existence of others, even those who are still living, through our memory. You don not interact with everyone you know, every second. What is sad about death is that you will not have new memories of the departed. But you still have your current memories, and you can interact with memory in a way that is not like a photograph or a movie. You also have that strange combination of imagination and memory that allows us to hear the voices of others as if they were with us. These are all capacities of yor mind, but you should be open to the fact that your mind may be processing and reproceessing experiences, thoughts, and feelings in a way that you are not overtly aware, and you should let it happen. Let the questions come, and relish them. Wonder about his experience, and contemplate your own. The questions will at times comfort your and at other times torment you throughout the rest of your life, and that is how it should be. It's okay not to know the answer. It is not okay to stop thinking about the question.

Ultimately, no one has the answer to your existential questions. But consider that you still think about him, and that as long as you do so, he is not completely gone. What does it mean to be remembered, even when it is not possible to make new memories?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:05 PM on March 3, 2009 [52 favorites]


This is interesting.

I agree with hermitosis.

The reason? I've taken a couple of the hardcore Christian MeFites to task here for making unqualified statements presenting their religious beliefs as fact. STatements like "Gays are going to hell," "God considers homosexuality a sin," "Jesus was sent here to die for your sins and loves you even though you say such terrible things," "the entire BIble is divinely inspired," and "Abortion is a sin." I'm paraphrasing, but those are the kinds of statements I opposed.

My basis for opposing them was that they represent one person's opinion and belief system, yet were presented as statements of fact in an argument when they are simply not statements of fact. As presented, they are harsh and confrontational and mean that the topic cannot be discussed at all without contesting the basic statement. They are, in short, bullying, and they're poor argumentation because they are an attempt to disguise opinion as fact, and then build on the 'fact' in further argumentation.

I often suggested that they would go over much better, and be much more appropriate to a discussion with diverse participants, if they were framed with more qualifying language: "I believe gays are going to hell;" "In my denomination, we consider the entire Bible divinely inspired."

Whenever I said that sort of thing, I found a lot of MeFites willing to agree with me, on the grounds that the statements weren't provable, were strongly biased, and brooked no discussion.

I don't see any reason to change my stance on unprovable statements presented as fact simply because this time it's athiests making unprovable statements. I understand that they were probably not made harshly (haven't been through the thread), and that's nice. But it's ludicrous for anyone to claim they have information that there is no afterlife. That's not admissible as "fact."

If anyone does have such information, what are you doing wasting your time hanging out on this useless website? You should take this news to the people. Let the world's population see your evidence ASAP, so they can set aside all this foolish wrangling with spiritual questions and get down to feeding the hungry and reversing climate change and everything like that, since this is all there is. And thanks for ending those perennial Middle Eastern conflicts too - thought those would never settle down! All those religious nuts will be psyched when they realize they can stop believing in that ultimate purpose garbage, lay down their arms, and embrace one another. Think of all the man-hours we'd get back once there's no need to spend all those hours in long services, too. It's gonna be awesome when everybody sees what you have to show! We've been waiting for this a long time.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on March 3, 2009 [13 favorites]


I dunno, I'm pretty sure there is an afterlife. Take these song lyrics:

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side


Yeah, yeah, I get it, I can kind of get into it, I can believe.

But then they throw in this stupid line, right at the end:

But I've seen love conquer the great divide

I mean, what the fuck is that? So, so typical U2, and the reason why I will never believe in God.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:16 PM on March 3, 2009


Atheism does not provide its own answer to the question of death.

You can voodoo it up all you want, but death isn't a question, it's an event.

No serious theologian takes the creation story or Bible stories literally.

In the context of a mass-market religion, it doesn't matter what outliers or theoreticians believe. What matters is the beliefs (or purported beliefs) of those indoctrinating the crowds.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:17 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually, belay that. Death isn't even an event, it's the end of an event, the termination of a process.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:18 PM on March 3, 2009


I have no problem with your comment, Pastabagel. Charging into a grief thread with certainties about the afterlife is indeed small-minded and insensitive and stupid.

This on the other hand:

Religion is not creationism or bible fundamentalism. Small minded atheism needs creationism because it is in opposition to that worldview that athiesm can define itself. No serious theologian takes the creation story or Bible stories literally.

Yes, there are probably a lot of "serious theologians" who have a pretty sensible world view, and atheists should talk to them.

But these are not the people who influence politics in a dangerous way and try to force religious beliefs into legal systems etc.etc. Most people really don't give a fuck about what serious theologians think, least of all the vast majority of enthusiastically religious people. Yes, this is a somewhat childish thing to say, but I've never seen any indication that it isn't largely true.
posted by Dumsnill at 8:25 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


there is no afterlife

Really? I think you're wrong.

First, allow me to state my credentials. I'm a lifelong atheist. I have never, and never will, belong to any organized religion. I find the term "agnostic" to be a cop-out, because I believe the mythologies of the major religions to be pretty clearly a) crafted by man, b) contradictory, and c) mostly factually impossible.

But: is there definitely no "afterlife?" People at every point in history have believed they 100% understood how the universe worked. They have always been wrong. Quantum physics and string theory credibly propose the existence of many other dimensions beyond those we can currently perceive. A physicist as prominent as Brian Greene has stated in print he believes some form of reincarnation is possible. Also, people are made of atoms. Those atoms do not disappear when they die. They return to the Earth, and eventually some of them become other life forms. While this proves nothing, the possibilities exist.

So to flatly state with 100% certainty "there is no afterlife" is not only insensitive, it's wrong.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:26 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I thought MeTa was the Afterlife. Well, for sinful threads at least.
posted by jonmc at 8:27 PM on March 3, 2009


Actually, belay that. Death isn't even an event, it's the end of an event, the termination of a process.

...and the beginning of a thousand other processes involving decay and breakdown and eventual recycling and reuse.

First, allow me to state my credentials. I'm a lifelong atheist. I have never, and never will, belong to any organized religion. I find the term "agnostic" to be a cop-out, because I believe the mythologies of the major religions to be pretty clearly a) crafted by man, b) contradictory, and c) mostly factually impossible.

The term "agnostic" doesn't mean that you might believe a mythology of a major religion. Agnosticism can be entirely consistent with your belief about those mythologies. It's simply an acknowledgement that there is no usable, testable, reliable information.

To me, it's the only logically defensible stance. Atheism can only deal in conditionals and likelihoods, since it is not dealing in empirically observed information.
posted by Miko at 8:32 PM on March 3, 2009


What I find repellent about some of the answers that assert there is no afterlife is that their main reason for existing is to assert that belief, and then they go on to say something like 'Oh yeah, your grandfather died. Sorry'.
posted by jamjam at 8:33 PM on March 3, 2009


Pastabagel, you forgot to preface your post with "I believe..."
posted by crossoverman at 8:34 PM on March 3, 2009


I have never, and never will, belong to any organized religion.

I challenge that, too; it's likely that you won't ever belong to an organized religion, but you don't have any evidence about the future, so it's not something you can make assertions about.

For instance, an athiest could say that, and then one day have a stroke. After surviving the stroke, they could feel they have a new and compelling sense of some divine force, which they might pursue by joining an organized religion. Or an athiest with an addiction might say that, and then find that in the course of treating their addiction, they use the 12-step system and adopt a belief in a higher power that eventually leads to religion. Or an athiest might go through a traumatic event like the loss of a very close relative, and find that their emotional response, including feelings that have never before been part of their experience, demands that they explore participation in some faith community.

I understand you feel it's not likely and that statement is totally defensible. But since these things have happened and do happen over the course of people's lifetimes, and since the future is unknowable, saying "I'll never believe" is not supportable.

Same thing with the afterlife.
posted by Miko at 8:37 PM on March 3, 2009


So to flatly state with 100% certainty "there is no afterlife" is not only insensitive, it's wrong.

That's technically true but unhelpful. It is also wrong to flatly state with 100% certainty that unicorns don't exist. In the sense you mean it's wrong to flatly state anything with 100% certainty. Like I said, that may be true but it's completely unhelpful to dealing with the world.

Luckily I don't think it has much to do with the thread in question.

Also, People at every point in history have believed they 100% understood how the universe worked. They have always been wrong.

They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
posted by Justinian at 8:39 PM on March 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


...and the beginning of a thousand other processes involving decay and breakdown and eventual recycling and reuse.

Agree 100%
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:39 PM on March 3, 2009


There are a lot of ways of conceptualizing 'afterlife.'

that may be true but it's completely unhelpful to dealing with the world.

...for you. Helpful for others, possibly.
posted by Miko at 8:45 PM on March 3, 2009


It is also wrong to flatly state with 100% certainty that unicorns don't exist. In the sense you mean it's wrong to flatly state anything with 100% certainty.

I agree with you, almost everyone here agrees with you. This is why this seems childish, at least on Metafilter. Everyone knows the arguments. You are repeating clichés. As far as I'm concerned, the clichés are correct in this case, but they are boring.
posted by Dumsnill at 8:51 PM on March 3, 2009


I'm the asshole that mentioned the "of course". Sorry, no disrespect meant, and I didn't really put a lot of thought into feelings of the poser. However, I honestly thought I was sharing which ramifications of not be immortal I found helpful and comforting. (Namely, that my fathers sky ghost doesn't know he's gone, and there's nobody to let down, etc.)

I kind of was shocked to see my comment deleted, I didn't know that's how things were done. I would really prefer it if there was some sort of notification of when you've been censored, it was only by chance that I noticed it was gone.
posted by floam at 8:55 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


s/poser/poster/
posted by floam at 8:56 PM on March 3, 2009


As someone who grew up with both religion and a dead father I can tell you there's one huge thing you're all missing: Thinking that your dead father can watch you take showers is seriously fucking disturbing and everyone showed great restraint by not mentioning this fact. High fives, guys!
posted by birdie birdington at 9:00 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Actually, belay that. Death isn't even an event, it's the end of an event, the termination of a process.

Break out the dictionaries, boys and girls! It's time to define our questions away!
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 9:00 PM on March 3, 2009


I found hermitosis comment in the thread more disturbing than the "no afterlife" crowd. It brought up the same anger in me that my dumb cousin with her metaphysical philosophy du jour did when she told me my father died because he wasn't thinking positively enough.

My memories of my father are deep and true and comforting. I honor him when I speak about him and when I tell my nephews stories of the grandfather they never got to know.

It is my opinion that you are a cold fish, hermitosis.

Now, I didn't feel it appropriate to share in the other thread, but I will do so here: I subscribe to my friend's "Playdoh" theory of the the afterlife. i.e. we all come from a big ball of Playdoh. When we are born our individual bit gets molded and shaped and becomes a unique person through a lifetime of experiences. When we die, our Playdoh self gets mushed back into the bigger ball to become a tiny part of future individuals...and so on and so forth.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:00 PM on March 3, 2009


I think the "extreme atheism" here reflects the beliefs of the majority of the users.

Please don't confuse being the loudest and most vocal with being 'the majority'.
posted by onalark at 9:14 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Okey, boys and girls, I can settle this question once and for all.

Definition number 8 from dictionary.com:


death

the false belief that life comes to an end.

Yay!
posted by Dumsnill at 9:15 PM on March 3, 2009


The point of religion, you small minded twits, is to reconcile the fact of death with the fact of life.

This is not the "point" of religion. The fundamental trait of religion is animism (the attribution of mind to inanimate objects), a psychological tendency that evolved essentially because it was adaptive to be paranoid and jumpy about animals and conspecifics. At least that is the dominant working scientific hypothesis. Belief in afterlife also extends from this same animism.

It is precisely because science and philosophy continue to be completely incapable of addressing death, and because the condition of death is totally unknowable

BULL. SHIT. Death is "unknowable" in no rational scientific or philosophical sense. Your human brain evolved from simpler versions of itself over millions of years due to random mutations and stepwise nonrandom ecological advantages. The brain is an organic machine that creates mind, thinking, intelligence, perception, and awareness. When the machine breaks down, it no longer creates your mind. That's it. That isn't "unknowable", it is as solid as any scientific fact that can be named. Any addition to that theory is just superfluous pseudoscientific gobbledygook. It's like saying that satan planted the fossil record to make it look like things evolved. It is just some tacked on false bullshit to spin the facts in a direction they don't point.

Not one scientific fact leads us to any other conclusion than that the mind is created entirely by, and is entirely local to, the brain. If you deny this fact you are ten times the asshole as any creationist who believes that the earth is 6000 years old. "Agnosticism" about either assertion is pseudoscience. The facts are not disputable or open to doubt in any reasonable epistemological sense.

that people seek to ascribe some meaning to death by way of ascribing some greater meaning to life.

Again, this is not why people are animistic. And atheists don't suffer to any troubling greater extent when the people they love die. The dilemma is manufactured. A lot of things about life and reality are sad, we shouldn't, and don't have to, encourage lies to help people cope with these emotional challenges. They can be and are coped with in an equally fulfilling secular manner.

Philosophically there is no reason that eternal life has more rational meaningful than ephemeral life. There are many arguments why the opposite is more true. Eternal life is like a rambling novel, with no story arch, and no ending. No one would ever read it. A human life is like a good book, with a comprehensible plot, an engaging story arch, and an ending that reflects on and underscores all the events that preceded it. I think the movie Big Fish is an optimistic, secular way of viewing death as something both sad, yet encouragingly human. Lives aren't meaningless, we give them meaning.
posted by dgaicun at 9:26 PM on March 3, 2009 [22 favorites]


Literal viking.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:28 PM on March 3, 2009


Should be "has more rational meaning than ephemeral life".
posted by dgaicun at 9:33 PM on March 3, 2009


Either there is or there is not an afterlife. None of us is in a position to answer the question definitively, and all of us will eventually find out. I fail to see the value in arguing about a question like this.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:38 PM on March 3, 2009


meh
posted by Dumsnill at 9:40 PM on March 3, 2009


When the machine breaks down, it no longer creates your mind.

So? You're still not telling anyone anything about afterlife. Your statements are accurate as far as your understanding of this system goes, but that's as far as it goes. Materialism. But there's nothing about a concept of afterlife that's inconsistent with your statements.

You know what you know about theory of mind through the use of scientific methods and reasoning, all taking place in this environment at this time. That approach has value but simply doesn't extend into the realms that people concerned with an afterlife are considering -- they can easily exempt themselves from the parameters of reason that bound your argument. You aren't talking about the same things.

We aren't necessarily dealing with mind, physicality, the actions of neurons, etc. All that is simply beside the point; people conceiving an afterlife are positing other systems of knowledge than science. What science has to say about why they might posit such systems doesn't impact that process.

I might agree with you, but I can see the other side as well. It's possible to accept everything contemporary science is saying about the mind illusion and still posit an existence beyond this material plane. Whether you think that's bullshit is a personal decision, because it's just not something you can reason about. It's not possible to showit as bullshit, because there is nothing to show. You might not think it makes a good story to have an afterlife, but that's an aesthetic opinion - plenty of major world religions think their story is a lot better than yours.

If you are quite sure that's all there is to it, then a compassionate approach to believers is probably the best one, not an aggressively dismissive one. Human beings being what they are, there will always be believers - the theory you cite dictates that - so I see no point in railing against the existence of belief systems that are, if you're right, biologically inevitable.

Science and religion do concern themselves with fundamentally different questions. How and why and what else are all different questions.
posted by Miko at 9:52 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Back off, man. I'm a scientist.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:53 PM on March 3, 2009


(I just like that line btw)
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:53 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


The reason this argument is pathetically childish is revealed by that AskMe thread, and the self-avowed atheist evangelists completely missed it.

The point of religion, you small minded twits, is to reconcile the fact of death with the fact of life.


That was really cruel.

It was fun to learn that I've spent the last 23 years grieving a father who died when I was too young to know him that as an atheist I'm not only doing it wrong, but I'm also a huge jackass.

I really don't care what anyone in that AskMe thread said, nobody could top that for cruelty. You win.
posted by birdie birdington at 9:56 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Um, let's retract my last comment. Considering Pastabagel's comment actually made me cry, it's my responsibility not to read this thread, probably not his to be nice. So, uh, sorry, let's forget that.
posted by birdie birdington at 10:05 PM on March 3, 2009


It was fun to learn that I've spent the last 23 years grieving a father who died when I was too young to know him that as an atheist I'm not only doing it wrong, but I'm also a huge jackass.

I don't think he was telling you that you're doing your grieving wrong. He's saying that it's small-minded for people not to accept that religion can be important to others even if it's not to them, and to insult other people who are grieving in the way they want to by telling them they're delusional. He's saying, rather sharply, that religion serves a purpose for the religious and that perhaps it would be a good thing if everyone respected that basic fact.

Sorry if I'm putting words in his mouth, but that's how I interpreted it. It's not a rebuke to athiests as a class, it's a rebuke to "athiest evangelists" who can't let believers believe without insulting their desire to believe.

It's one thing to talk about your worldview, another to call someone else's worldview bullshit, even if you think it is. This is a simple matter of respect for others, not a matter of the search for ultimate truths in science or religion.
posted by Miko at 10:10 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


None of you are invited to my funeral.
posted by nanojath at 10:12 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Funeral? We're just going to toss you out on top of the garbage bags. You're just a bunch of cells that have stopped functioning - why all the ritualistic, sentimental folderol? It's not rational. We could use that time to see a movie.
posted by Miko at 10:16 PM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


The poster is grappling with the fundamental question of human existence -- if one can cease to be, [what] does it mean to have been. …Atheism does not provide its own answer to the question of death. Saying "there is no afterlife" not only fails to answer the question, it reveals that you didn't even understand the question, and that there is a good chance you lack the ability to ever understand it.

One's actions in life have consequences that can extend in time well beyond the grave, and in space well beyond one's travels. Atheism does not preclude belief that one should live a life that improves the lives of others, handily answering the question "what does it mean to have been?" It means to have done things that changed the world for better: perhaps to have loved and been loved, to have raised children that are compassionate and fair, to have offered service that others have valued.

Religion need not enter the picture in the least. It just means looking outside of oneself.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:23 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think that's exactly what Pastabagel was saying in his comment.
posted by Miko at 10:33 PM on March 3, 2009


PB seems to be saying "atheism fails to answer the question 'what does it mean to have been'," and I'm trying to say that "what does it mean to have been" can be answered without need for religion. Those seem to be opposite opinions, far as I can tell.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:37 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's an incredibly generous reading of the comment, Miko.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:38 PM on March 3, 2009


It's another one of those threads where the religious people demonstrate just how terrified they are, not only of death but of the idea that it is possible not to require their comforting lies.

(Now somebody replace the specific words in that statement to imply that swindling someone and lying to them are equally as bad as telling them that they're being swindled from and lied to.)

Here's the thing: nobody's died and later said "Hey, this is how it is." Nobody has any information about the afterlife. Anybody who says "Hey, the afterlife is like this", or even "Hey, there is some kind of survival after death" is lying to you. Anyone who would lie to you about something that big does not have your best interests at heart.

People say "oh, but it's comforting to believe." So what? Many things feel good and are not good for you. I'm perfectly aware that religion "serves a function" and that some people have been put in the horrible position of "needing to believe"- it's not them that arouse my ire. That's a popular attack of the nonreligious- "you're so shrill! you hate anybody who believes for believing!"- but it's false. It's the pieces of shit like Pastabagel who piss me off every time, incapable of writing a single honest word about religion and insisting that anybody who calls them on their lies is a child who just. doesn't. understand. The arrogance, dishonesty, and condescencion makes me physically shake.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:40 PM on March 3, 2009 [10 favorites]


birdie, I wasn't trying to be cruel, and I'm not even arguing against the statement that there is no afterlife. I'm arguing against the very silly notion that because there is no God (if you believe that), then there is no point to religion and it is a silly thing to turn to for answers. It also had nothing at all to do with grieving, or whether people believe in God. It is simply to make the point that not believing in God does not help to deal with the existential questions that religion deals with quite well.

This is not the "point" of religion. The fundamental trait of religion is animism (the attribution of mind to inanimate objects)
posted by dgaicun at 12:26 AM on March 4


What the hell are you talking about? No major religion is animist in any way. Early religions may have been animist, but they aren't now. Do you really believe what you wrote there?

Death is "unknowable" in no rational scientific or philosophical sense.

It is unknowable in the English language definition of that which cannot be known. In other words, you can't know what death is, or what it is like to die. You can't collect anything other than indirect evidence of death. Because you haven't died.

When the machine breaks down, it no longer creates your mind.

Let me present you with a thought exercise. Our perception of time is fluid and affected by our mental state. It is very possible that, much like an object that falls into a black hole appears to a distant observer to spend eternity at the event horizon, our perception of time at the moment of death is frozen such that it feels to the dying mind that time has stopped and that it is taking literally forever to die. That's just speculation of course, but you have no idea what the death experience is first hand, and once you do, there is no communicating it to anyone else.

In other words, everything we know about the world we know from our ability to perceive the world. There is no capacity for perceiving death. We literally can't collect any evidence about it in a way that distinguishes the death of a human mind from the death of a chicken's mind (if they have one) in the same way that we can distinguish a living human mind from a chicken's.

One's actions in life have consequences that can extend in time well beyond the grave, and in space well beyond one's travels. Atheism does not preclude belief that one should live a life that improves the lives of others, handily answering the question "what does it mean to have been?" It means to have done things that changed the world for better: perhaps to have loved and been loved, to have raised children that are compassionate and fair, to have offered service that others have valued.


In other words, "love thy neighbor." But it also has nothing to do with the question I proposed. I didn't ask what the purpose of life was. I asked what does it mean to be. We are all going to die. Think about that. Think about what it feels like to be living, and then try to imagine transitioning to the antithesis of that. You exist. You die. Your body still exists. But you?

Every single philosophy that has ever existed has tried to address the meaning, in a philosophical sense, of death. I don't have the answer. Neither did all the world's great minds. But they grappled with it. That's the point. To acknowledge the mystery and contemplate it, and in the process come to some better understanding of what you are.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:53 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Anybody who says "Hey, the afterlife is like this", or even "Hey, there is some kind of survival after death" is lying to you.

Oh, but you should see the French film "Martyrs". It's all about torturing people for a very long time, until they tell you all about the afterlife.

(No, I just watched it, and I thought I was so over being annoyed by fictional torture-porn, but apparently I wasn't.)
posted by Dumsnill at 10:57 PM on March 3, 2009


Anybody who says "Hey, the afterlife is like this", or even "Hey, there is some kind of survival after death" is lying to you.

Missing italics in previous comment.
posted by Dumsnill at 10:58 PM on March 3, 2009


Atheism, at least the revolting and stunningly childish variant of it practiced all over the internet and on non-serious media outlets, is totally silent on this issue.

I think "atheism is silent on the issue of death" is kind of an odd thing to say. I mean, the National Football League and "Drive My Car" by The Beatles are two more things which have nothing to say about the issue of death, if we're compiling a list.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:59 PM on March 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


Oh, it's torture porn? I was thinking it must be a documentary about the inquisition or something.
posted by grobstein at 11:01 PM on March 3, 2009

Let me present you with a thought exercise. Our perception of time is fluid and affected by our mental state. It is very possible that, much like an object that falls into a black hole appears to a distant observer to spend eternity at the event horizon, our perception of time at the moment of death is frozen such that it feels to the dying mind that time has stopped and that it is taking literally forever to die.
There are fundamental problems with this from both a quantum physics angle (there's nothing really that special going on in the brain), and more importantly from a logical and medical view. There's a lot of ways to die. People "die" and get restarted all the time. None of them have reported experiencing near-infinity in their last moments. Seeing as these people had a stopped heart, were not conscious, it seems implausible that had they not been cardioverted back to life that their unconsciousness would have somehow turned back to consciousness and then continued on for eternity.

There are also neurological things to consider. Things like thinking "oh boy what's going on here" or looking up a memory take a finite amount of brain-time. It would not be plausible that you could go on thinking forever with only a moment of time measured on a clock next to the brain.

For this to be real, this forever-state would be very very limited and not much like consciousness as we know it. I don't refute that time as we know it is subjective.
posted by floam at 11:05 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


No, you didn't, you joker you. But yeah, it was, kinda.
posted by Dumsnill at 11:05 PM on March 3, 2009


I'm arguing against the very silly notion that because there is no God (if you believe that), then there is no point to religion and it is a silly thing to turn to for answers.

The existence of God is one of the central claims of religion. You're arguing that one of the central, fundamental ideas in a structure of ideas being wrong wouldn't weaken the structure itself. That's ridiculous.

It is simply to make the point that not believing in God does not help to deal with the existential questions that religion deals with quite well.

We live in a culture where the belief that there is a God and that that God is central to what happens when you die is so prevalent that dissenters are in an incredibly tiny minority, barely statistically significant. Whether or not there is a God is fundamental to examining such questions within the context of our culture.

In other words, you can't know what death is, or what it is like to die. You can't collect anything other than indirect evidence of death. Because you haven't died.

Only if you assume that there's more to death than the cessation of bodily functions- which assumption you make without even thinking about it.

Let me present you with a thought exercise. Our perception of time is fluid and affected by our mental state. It is very possible that, much like an object that falls into a black hole appears to a distant observer to spend eternity at the event horizon, our perception of time at the moment of death is frozen such that it feels to the dying mind that time has stopped and that it is taking literally forever to die. That's just speculation of course, but you have no idea what the death experience is first hand, and once you do, there is no communicating it to anyone else.

That's a nice thought experiment, but unless you can demonstrate relevance of any sort, all it is is you throwing something out there and thinking that anybody should care about. It's a hypothetical that would support your position if taken seriously. So what? Why should anybody who is interested in reality care?

There is no capacity for perceiving death.

Indeed! So stop defending people who lie about that!

We literally can't collect any evidence about it in a way that distinguishes the death of a human mind from the death of a chicken's mind (if they have one) in the same way that we can distinguish a living human mind from a chicken's.

And if you were even just a little bit honest with yourself, you'd start to think about what that fact implies.

I asked what does it mean to be.

Hahaha, "meaning". You are just terrified to die.

And you know what? So am I. But the difference is that I acknowledge that, and I work to deal with it constructively, rather than burying my head in structures of lies about it and screaming shrilly at anybody who suggests that maybe that's good for me.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:06 PM on March 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


But there's nothing about a concept of afterlife that's inconsistent with your statements.

Miko. Bullshit. The brain causes the mind. When the brain stops working, it stops creating the mind. Full stop. There is no "concept of afterlife" that does not contradict that scientific fact. The "concept of afterlife" is pseudoscience. Full stop.

What you are saying is no different than saying there's nothing about a concept of a 6000 year old earth that's inconsistent with a statement that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. It's incoherent. The two statements are unambiguously contradictory.

It's possible to accept everything contemporary science is saying about the mind illusion and still posit an existence beyond this material plane.

Look, just because you can tack on the meaningless flatulence "beyond this material plane" to any bullshit statement that strikes your fancy, doesn't make any less bullshitty. Maybe cold fusion works "beyond this material plane", maybe the earth is 6000 years old "beyond this material plane", maybe global warming is a myth "beyond this material plane", maybe phlogiston is released during combustion "beyond this material plane".

Quack, quack, bark, bark, oink, oink. Fart. It's fucking idiotic. It doesn't mean anything. You can tack it on to any false statement you want to give it the illusion that it is somehow made less false. It's like a magic omen.

You might not think it makes a good story to have an afterlife, but that's an aesthetic opinion - plenty of major world religions think their story is a lot better than yours.

This is completely true. But the fact that atheists have scarcely less ability to cope with death than theists undermines Pastabagel's emotional suggestion that there is something about death that can't inherently be coped with without the concept of afterlife.

The "dilemma" that says people need human life to be eternal for it to be meaningful is completely manufactured. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, the idea of an afterlife is the cause of, and the solution to, the grief that comes from believing that life is meaningless without an afterlife!

If people are capable of dealing with death just as well by accepting facts as they can accepting lies, then it is preferable in a humanistic sense, for them to deal with death on the basis of facts.

It is unhealthy and undignified to make mental health dependent on false ideas.
posted by dgaicun at 11:06 PM on March 3, 2009 [9 favorites]


As do I. But people on MeFi are, by and large, dicks about religion, and that's unlikely to change, so I don't think there's much point to this callout.

Did you bother reading the thread? The only person being "a dick about religion" is hermitosis.

Perhaps you should lay off your "hurr atheists who aren't me are dickheads" macro.

This isn't exactly social rocket science, folks. I'm an antisocial miscreant, but even I have the common sense to recognize when it is not appropriate to get all up in someone's face about their ridiculous beliefs.

Again, I can only wonder if you read the thread before commenting...

"extreme atheism"

This just made me giggle.

This is a simple matter of respect for others,

"You small-minded atheists are fucking idiots" is respectful discourse. Well, that clears a few things up...
posted by rodgerd at 11:13 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why don't we just throw this whole thread over to Pharyngula? It might liven things up a bit over there.
posted by Dumsnill at 11:31 PM on March 3, 2009


The arrogance, dishonesty, and condescencion makes me physically shake.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:40 AM on March 4


Then this should give you a grand mal seizure - I don't believe in God.

What I can do is appreciate that there are people who are both not stupid and do believe in God, or the divine, or the whatever, because they are faced with very fundamental questions that both science and message board posters haven't addressed to anyone's satisfaction. The fact that you think you have some bullshit glib answer to something that philosphers, artists, (and yes, scientists) have written fucking volumes about is nothing but arrogance on an astounding level. How about a little humility?

Here's the thing: nobody's died and later said "Hey, this is how it is." Nobody has any information about the afterlife. Anybody who says "Hey, the afterlife is like this", or even "Hey, there is some kind of survival after death" is lying to you.

They are lying? That's the only possible conclusion? It can't be that they think that the idea of nothingness is so abhorrent to the idea of having been alive that they hope and believe that there is something else? No, apparently they have to be lying, with malicious intent.

Hahaha, "meaning". You are just terrified to die.

And you know what? So am I. But the difference is that I acknowledge that, and I work to deal with it constructively, rather than burying my head in structures of lies about it and screaming shrilly at anybody who suggests that maybe that's good for me.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:06 AM on March


Actually, I'm terrified that my last thought on this earth will be of this conversation, and then I will realize I have truly wasted my life.

That aside, what is your problem? "structure of lies" You keep talking about lying, in this thread and others. Did your parents lie to you about something and it really hurt you? Did a girlfriend cheat on you or something?

You characterize religion as lies, you accuse of lying anyone who acknowledges that religion fills a void that other disciplines may not as, and yet your nickname is "Pope Guilty.

You may be doing a lot of things, friend, but dealing with things constructively isn't one of them. A liar once said "neurosis is the way of avoiding non-being by avoiding being." But he was probably lying when he said that, right? Or wait, maybe I was lying just now. I guess we'll have to wait for the afterlife to find out...


Kidding! (but not lying (that was a lie (no, it wasn't (you be quiet (it's cramped in here)))))
posted by Pastabagel at 11:32 PM on March 3, 2009 [11 favorites]


It's worth pointing out that

A) Pastabagel specifically addressed his remarks to "the revolting and stunningly childish variant of [atheism] practiced all over the internet and on non-serious media outlets." If you are a mature and thoughtful atheist, then his rant was not directed at you, any more than a rant against "small-minded, bigoted fundies" is directed at, say, an average member of the Unitarian Universalists. Harshly worded, perhaps. Poorly thought out, perhaps. But it's not a personal attack, and taking it as one isn't really helping anyone. I think a lot of anger could be avoided if everyone applied a little of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy to themselves as a topical balm.

B) After relatively little provocation, the rather nasty statements about delusion, idiocy, and lies have come out full force, even directed at Miko, who has been about as inoffensive and conciliatory as it's possible to be in this situation. Seriously, you guys; you're kind of being dicks, and that's not really helping distinguish you from the aforementioned "revolting and stunningly childish" folks.
posted by Scattercat at 11:37 PM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


But it's not a personal attack, and taking it as one isn't really helping anyone.

Dude, give us a break here. If Pastabagel is going to address those who disagree with him as "you small minded twits", I think we can pretty safely call that a personal attack (albeit one aimed at a large group of people).
posted by ssg at 11:50 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not that it's not a personal attack, then, but that YOU, personally, are not being attacked, but rather the (large?) group who perpetrates the behavior he excoriated, which is to say "being assholes about their beliefs by making a point of telling religious folks how stupid, backwards, and blind they are for believing in a god or gods."

In other words, if you don't go around inserting your nose into religious discussions in order to tell people they're all idiotic sheeple for following the teachings of the Bible, then you're not one of the "small-minded twits" which prompted the rant.

Honestly, this is not that hard of a concept! "I hate people who drive big SUVs too fast and while talking on cell phones! Those people are assholes!" All SUV drivers should not be offended by this statement (unless they drive them too fast and also talk on their cell phones while doing so.)
posted by Scattercat at 11:55 PM on March 3, 2009


Then this should give you a grand mal seizure - I don't believe in God.

Who cares? You cheerfully attack a strawman of atheism every time this fucking subject comes up. You're like some kind of Vichy atheist. I'm not interested in what you say you believe but in what you do, and what you do is spew nonsense and insist that anybody who disagrees is too stupid, or childish, or otherwise less than you to really understand.

What I can do is appreciate that there are people who are both not stupid and do believe in God, or the divine, or the whatever, because they are faced with very fundamental questions that both science and message board posters haven't addressed to anyone's satisfaction.

See, here's an example of the dishonesty. It's not just "science and message board posters". It's philosophers, writers, artists, human fucking beings. Because you do not have a good argument to make, you instead attack the people making the arguments. And I'm sure you'll deny it, but the point of characterizing those who disagree with you as "message board posters" is specifically to suggest that somehow, priests and popes and theologians, in their discourses on the nature of things which they cannot percieve or experience in any way and have nothing on which to base their claims, somehow have an authority on the subject that other human beings have. This is the sneering arrogance that angers me, the condescension. "You may spend a lot of your time thinking about this, but since you're posting on a message board about it, you're clearly uninformed and stupid and unserious!"

The fact that you think you have some bullshit glib answer to something that philosphers, artists, (and yes, scientists) have written fucking volumes about is nothing but arrogance on an astounding level. How about a little humility?

Again, with the presumption and condescension. You can write and write and write for your entire lifetime, but that doesn't make the ideas you express well thought-out or well-considered. William Buckley wrote thousands of pages over decades, and his political ideas never rose about muddled, poorly thought-out garbage. You are doing exactly what you do every time you participate in this discussion- attacking the atheist instead of the atheism, attacking the proponent and not the ideas.

I also find it fascinating to see such sneering, down-the-nose arrogance surrounding a call for humility.

They are lying? That's the only possible conclusion? It can't be that they think that the idea of nothingness is so abhorrent to the idea of having been alive that they hope and believe that there is something else? No, apparently they have to be lying, with malicious intent.

There are many reasons why people lie, both to others and to themselves. If people are so horrified by the concept of death that they feel the need to make things up or cling to structures of untruth to cope with it, then we need to address that and deal with it. Simply letting it be is the absolute worst thing that can be done. Making excuses for them and refusing to engage their belief simply because it brings them comfort is horribly patronizing and infantilizing. That a thing brings comfort does not make it good for you- heroin springs to mind. It feels good, and you can take heroin as a way of dealing with your problems, but taking drugs to deal with your problems doesn't make the problems any better, and tends to introduce a whole new set of them.

That aside, what is your problem? "structure of lies" You keep talking about lying, in this thread and others. Did your parents lie to you about something and it really hurt you? Did a girlfriend cheat on you or something?

Ahhhh, more attacking of the individual as a means to avoid engaging the ideas.

you accuse of lying anyone who acknowledges that religion fills a void that other disciplines may not

Religion doesn't fill the void in people who have one. It allows them to ignore it. It does not impart any special knowledge, and they are still going to die. It is a placebo, and nothing more.

You characterize religion as lies, you accuse of lying anyone who acknowledges that religion fills a void that other disciplines may not as, and yet your nickname is "Pope Guilty.

You may be doing a lot of things, friend, but dealing with things constructively isn't one of them. A liar once said "neurosis is the way of avoiding non-being by avoiding being."


I generally hate it when people say "you just don't get it", but if you can't see why I would choose the name "Pope Guilty", I have to say that you just don't get it.

(Also you're still focusing on attacking me rather than my ideas. Classy.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:03 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Pastabagel specifically addressed his remarks to "the revolting and stunningly childish variant of [atheism] practiced all over the internet and on non-serious media outlets." If you are a mature and thoughtful atheist, then his rant was not directed at you, any more than a rant against "small-minded, bigoted fundies" is directed at, say, an average member of the Unitarian Universalists.

Anyone who has interacted with Pastabagel on this topic in the past knows goddamn well what he means.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:05 AM on March 4, 2009


"being assholes about their beliefs by making a point of telling religious folks how stupid, backwards, and blind they are for believing in a god or gods."

No one ever said that in this thread, so I'm not sure why you are presenting it as a quote. That's misleading, just like the rest of your comment.
posted by ssg at 12:05 AM on March 4, 2009


There is no capacity for perceiving death.

Indeed! So stop defending people who lie about that!


Pope Guilty, I'd be interested to know why you believe we have no capacity to perceive death. To my mind, being alive as a human being is being conscious and thus dying is permanently losing consciousness. As floam points out above, many people have been resuscitated after being clinically dead. Why should we believe that their experience of losing consciousness (i.e. of dying) would be any different than that of someone who loses consciousness and never regains it? I don't even see any reason to suppose that dying is different than losing consciousness due to general anaesthesia or any other cause (except in our attitude towards the loss of consciousness).
posted by ssg at 12:13 AM on March 4, 2009


RE: Pope Guilty

I dunno. It seems counterproductive to me to spew out all of this bile on what you're admitting is an assumption on your part about what someone meant. I mean, just tonight, my wife got mad at me because I said, "Oh, I thought you were going to cook the salmon?" and she thought I was insinuating she was lazy and a terrible helpmate, but really I was just confused because I thought I remembered her saying that but sometimes I dream people saying things and I wasn't quite sure what day it was relative to the proposed salmon-cooking.

Given the context and the way the initial rant was phrased, the responses were out of sync. At this point, you've both made really assholish comments to each other and I don't know why I'm bothering. I just don't like seeing so much nastiness.

---

RE: ssg

I was using quotes to indicate a paraphrased thought. It was not intended to be misleading. Nor was anything in my comment misleading. I'm saying this as plainly as I can, within my limited skillset.

Tell you what, you pretend I'm being insulting, and then you can shout at me, okay? I think it will work better if we're all open and honest about what's going on here.
posted by Scattercat at 12:14 AM on March 4, 2009


Pastabagel:What the hell are you talking about? No major religion is animist in any way. Early religions may have been animist, but they aren't now. Do you really believe what you wrote there?

If you wanted to know what I'm talking about you could've read the article I linked to. That's why I gave you the link. I'm talking about the innate psychological tendency for projecting volition onto things without volition: perceiving and sensing ghosts, demons, spirits, gods, souls.

You can't collect anything other than indirect evidence of death. Because you haven't died.

I also can't travel back 4.5 billion years ago to see the world being formed. I can't travel back to 6000 years ago to see it not being formed. Hey, maybe I can fucking use evidence and logic to decide between these two alternatives! Maybe the evidence stacks up in such a way to remove all doubt about which one is correct, and which one is a wacky bunch of ax-grinding make-believe.

You can't "collect anything" other than nothing if you've died. Because you've died. You have a poor understanding of epistemology.


Let me present you with a thought exercise.

Your thought exercise was laughable and sophomoric. See floam's comment and Pope Guilty's. Much more could be said. It underscores your poor epistemology. I'm sure a relgious-nut neuroscientist, armed with a lot more knowledge of how the brain works, could cobble together a more sophisticated, superficially plausible scenario, trying to do the same thing you just did.

This is basically what happened with Michael Behe and Bill Dembski in the Intelligent Design movement. And likewise it wouldn't make the argument any less faulty. It would just underline the fact that someone was abusing science to try and make it support primitive religious superstitions again.

Science completely debunks the existence of an "afterlife". Fullstop. No argument you can make can refute this. The most you could do is flail about like a paranormalist crank.

Miko:Funeral? We're just going to toss you out on top of the garbage bags. You're just a bunch of cells that have stopped functioning - why all the ritualistic, sentimental folderol? It's not rational. We could use that time to see a movie.

This isn't clever, and demonstrates how warped your thinking is here. People can cope with death in any way they want, but it is better for adult human beings, with volition and dignity, to believe and know true things, and cope with the difficulties of life on that basis. Especially if it is equally possible.

Education and facts make human beings more free. Always. If you really don't understand why, then you are the one who has an implicitly low opinion of humanity. Don't try to turn it around on us, like we're indifferent to human well-being.
posted by dgaicun at 12:14 AM on March 4, 2009


To my mind, being alive as a human being is being conscious and thus dying is permanently losing consciousness. As floam points out above, many people have been resuscitated after being clinically dead. Why should we believe that their experience of losing consciousness (i.e. of dying) would be any different than that of someone who loses consciousness and never regains it?

I agree! My aim is more at the fact that nobody has any ability or right to say anything about the end of it. I leave open the possibility that there's something after this life. I flat-out deny that anybody alive can say anything about it other than "I don't know" and be honest.

I dunno. It seems counterproductive to me to spew out all of this bile on what you're admitting is an assumption on your part about what someone meant.

Look at the tone Pastabagel takes toward me. Look at the tiny bit of engaging with my ideas surrounded by a thick outer shell of condesension, arrogance, and what appear to be attempts at vicious personal attacks. If there was any doubt before, there can be none now.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:18 AM on March 4, 2009


Pope Guilty, in all honesty, as someone who's read the site for a few years (and not always thoroughly), I have sometimes enjoyed your comments, but other times found you very offensive. You often take on a tack similar to the one Pastabagel describes, which is to say snide and dismissive of belief as a whole. I agree that Pastabagel has not responded to you appropriately here in this thread, and I can certainly imagine that you two have had issues in the past which may lend a special tang of irritation to the things he says, but I don't think you can honestly say you've never done anything to cause irritation in return.

I have what I consider to be realistic ideas of the utility and limitations of both religious thought and scientific thought. I don't derive much awesomeness from reading about how I am part of a "structure of lies" and so on. I have on several occasions that I can recall had to restrain myself and refrain from posting an angry retort to something you wrote.

To reduce myself to parody and save everyone the time, I think it would be nice if people could be nicer and not say mean things that upset my delicate little sensibilities. I realize this isn't going to happen, but this here thread here has had a hellacious amount of vituperation strewn about it, and it's rankled my metaphorical fur.
posted by Scattercat at 12:29 AM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


I leave open the possibility that there's something after this life. I flat-out deny that anybody alive can say anything about it other than "I don't know" and be honest.

My point is that if we accept that dying is equivalent to losing consciousness permanently and we accept that losing consciousness is the same no matter if we later regain it or not, then we do know that there is nothing after a loss of consciousness because many have been there. I've lost consciousness and then regained it and I'm quite certain that there was nothing in between. I do think that this is weird and fundamentally difficult to think about, but I think I am being honest.
posted by ssg at 12:51 AM on March 4, 2009


It's the pieces of shit like Pastabagel who piss me off every time
posted by Pope Guilty

Also you're still focusing on attacking me rather than my ideas. Classy.)
posted by Pope Guilty


You calling out someone for being classless can only be considered comedy at this point Pope Guilty.

I mean, topic aside you sound like a complete raving lunatic to my ears. But I never called myself classy.
posted by gtr at 12:52 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know what offends me, Scattercat? It offends me when people say things that are not only absurd but totally lacking in any underlying reason or justification, and expect to have those things respected and treated as valid. It offends me that I spend a fair amount of my time thinking about this stuff, reading other perspectives, and being able to provide justifications and arguments to support why I believe what I believe, and yet somehow I'm supposed to react to totally unsupported and ridiculous claims with exactly the same respect and patience and consideration that I'd give to claims which had solid structures of justification holding them up.

The justification that's usually given is that "religion is a sensitive topic. That's not because there's anything intrinsic about religious ideas which make them extra special and deserving of respect. It's because religious beliefs very, very strongly encourage those who hold them to construct their identities around the religious beliefs, to take those religious beliefs and identify not just with the group of believers but with the belief itself. Criticism, then, of the belief becomes criticism of every believer. Religion trains its adherent to never hear attacks on the religious belief, or on religion, but on the adherent.

This poisons the well of discourse and essentially prevents there being any serious discussion of religion. We start saying ridiculous things like "religion is a sensitive subject" not because there's something about discussing ideas that is sensitive, but because the specific constellations of ideas which constitute religious belief are generally the ones that include "submerge me into your identity until you can't really tell the difference."

Capitalists don't respond to reasoned criticisms of capitalism by saying "I find that offensive." Socialists don't respond to reasoned criticisms of socialism by saying "I find that offensive." Conservatives don't respond to reasoned criticisms of conservatism by saying "I find that offensive." Post-modernists don't respond to reasoned criticisms of post-modernism by saying "I find that offensive." Deconstructivists don't respond to reasoned criticisms of deconstructivism by saying "I find that offensive." It is religion alone that earns the "sensitive topic" designator by taking offense to reasoned criticism, and I find it offensive to give special treatment to people for no reason other than the fact that they take offense at something.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:53 AM on March 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


My point is that if we accept that dying is equivalent to losing consciousness permanently and we accept that losing consciousness is the same no matter if we later regain it or not, then we do know that there is nothing after a loss of consciousness because many have been there.

I'm happy to say hey, null hypothesis and whatnot- I certainly think it's the only even vaguely rational way to go about your life- but I am totally unwilling, at least at this time, to say that I am 100% certain that there is nothing after life, for the same reason that I am totally unwilling to give the time of day to anyone who says that they know that there is. I draw a distinction between the practical and the theoretical.

And to be a pedant, there is something between losing and gaining consciousness- dreams. But of course that is a wholly different kind of thing than what those who insist that there is an afterlife are claiming.


You calling out someone for being classless can only be considered comedy at this point Pope Guilty.

I mean, topic aside you sound like a complete raving lunatic to my ears. But I never called myself classy.


The difference here, and I do believe that there is a difference, is that I am primarily arguing and occasionally tossing in a personal attack. Pastabagel is using personal attacks in lieu of arguing. If you don't see a difference, I don't know what to say to you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:00 AM on March 4, 2009


I draw a distinction between the practical and the theoretical.

Fair enough. You could also make the exact same claim about, for instance, my belief that the sky is blue, but if you want to maintain the standard of absolute certainty then I don't think you can take anything other than your own existence to be absolutely true.

And to be a pedant, there is something between losing and gaining consciousness- dreams.

I'm not talking about going to sleep.
posted by ssg at 1:32 AM on March 4, 2009


I think there's a difference. You can confirm that the sky is blue- you can measure the light waves coming in and notice that the water vapor has refracted them such that they look bue. The difference is that death looks to me to be different from unconsciousness; it entails physical changes that are not present, as far as I am aware, in any other phenomenon of the human body. As such, I am not comfortable arguing by analogy with regard to it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:46 AM on March 4, 2009


The justification that's usually given is that "religion is a sensitive topic.

I think the "sensitive subject" in this case was that a person's father just died, and they're doubting whether his father will live on in an afterlife. It's not like he's saying, "You know, just the other day I began to doubt that there might be an afterlife. Weird, eh? What do you guys think?"

Now, I personally see nothing wrong with saying, "I don't think that there's an afterlife, but think of all the memories your father left behind/his life lives on in how he changed others for the better etc." But given the emotionally charged circumstances of the question, common sense would dictate it should be approached with sensitivity. In reading the AskMe thread, I see believers and non-believers showing sensitivity to the subject at hand. Why you would huff and puff at the very idea of considering another person's feelings in this matter is beyond me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:44 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


In reading the AskMe thread, I see believers and non-believers showing sensitivity to the subject at hand. Why you would huff and puff at the very idea of considering another person's feelings in this matter is beyond me.

Great! We're sensitive there and insensitive here. What's the issue?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:51 AM on March 4, 2009


Using the royal We now?

Calm down. I think this call-out thread was pushing it, I see nothing wrong with the AskMe thread, but I do wonder why it bothers you so that to consider another person's feelings and the circumstances of the question being asked.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:57 AM on March 4, 2009


I meant "I wonder why it bothers you so that to consider another person's feelings and the circumstances of the question being asked" with regards to death and/or the afterlife.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:59 AM on March 4, 2009


I thought the use of "we" was pretty obviously collective, particularly as I didn't post in the AskMe thread, but whatever.

And I'm pretty sure I answered your question upthread.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:01 AM on March 4, 2009


I just want to be sure I understand you correctly then. Because I think I have to be missing something here. Are you saying that when it comes to responding to questions about death or the afterlife, that considering the feelings and circumstances of that person is just off the table, and it infuriates you to be made to feel like the subject should be approached with sensitivity?

I'm really not trying to pick a fight with you or build a strawman. I'm just genuinely confused because I can't see how any human being with a heart would actually contend something like that.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:08 AM on March 4, 2009


I don't recall making any claims that religion was the ONLY place one should strive to be nice and approach other people on the assumption of good faith and on their ground.

Oh. Hunh. I didn't. Whoopsie. Silly me, forgetting to play into Pope Guilty's presumptions.

I'm sorry, but your rant there is very goofy. I've seen lots of people claim offense on lots of topics when their "side" was broadly implicated. It's not "just" religion, and it never has been. Respectful discourse and rising above petty sniping are what I would consider a "good" response.

"He started it!" and "It's not fair, THEY get to do it the other way!" are not really where I'm aiming with this, if you catch my meaning.
posted by Scattercat at 3:13 AM on March 4, 2009


Actually, never mind. Consider it answered.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:13 AM on March 4, 2009


Are you saying that when it comes to responding to questions about death or the afterlife, that considering the feelings and circumstances of that person is just off the table, and it infuriates you to be made to feel like the subject should be approached with sensitivity?

We all consider the feelings of others when we interact with them. What I find infuriating and unacceptable is the elevated place that religion gets- the notion that no matter what a person believes, the very fact of religious belief- a set of beliefs that by their very nature are unsupportable- itself generates some kind of super extra special obligation to be extra nice and not offend people. Fuck that. People with ridiculous beliefs that boil down to "it makes me feel good to believe this" should be ridiculed at every turn. If the stakes were lower, it wouldn't matter- certainly I'm not going to jump up someone's butt because they think Final Fantasy whatever is better than some other video game. But religious beliefs influence and often determine the things that real human beings really do.

Short version: If you're going to believe something and expect it to be taken seriously and worthy of consideration and respect, you need to have a strong justification for that. I take exception to the notion that religious beliefs should be exempt from that.


I don't recall making any claims that religion was the ONLY place one should strive to be nice and approach other people on the assumption of good faith and on their ground.

Oh. Hunh. I didn't. Whoopsie. Silly me, forgetting to play into Pope Guilty's presumptions.


I didn't say you did, but don't let that stop you from scoring rhetorical points against me.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:24 AM on March 4, 2009


What I find infuriating and unacceptable is the elevated place that religion gets- the notion that no matter what a person believes, the very fact of religious belief- a set of beliefs that by their very nature are unsupportable- itself generates some kind of super extra special obligation to be extra nice and not offend people. Fuck that. People with ridiculous beliefs that boil down to "it makes me feel good to believe this" should be ridiculed at every turn.

I don't think that "no matter what a person believes", they get a free pass if it has a religious basis. It is not, for example, really cool to believe that white people are the true special children of God and that minorities are the spawn of Cain and/or Satan, and people who contend such usually aren't treated with kit gloves on how they're criticized.

You have to consider what that person is actually contending, and how it effects other people. "I believe in Heaven" is pretty harmless, and a person contending such does not, to me, deserve to be "ridiculed at every turn".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:48 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is not, for example, really cool to believe that white people are the true special children of God and that minorities are the spawn of Cain and/or Satan, and people who contend such usually aren't treated with kit gloves on how they're criticized.

And that represents an infitesimally small fraction of religion believers, and it's a minimally effortful (or whatever the word I'm after here is) moral stance to say "hey, respect given to religion doesn't cover that."

But is it really harmless to believe in Heaven? It entails a set of subsidiary beliefs that rather minimize the importance of the material world. If Heaven exists, then any of that meaning of life that people are so concerned with exists solely with respect to Heaven and how to get there- certainly nobody would argue that a flawed and awful world in which we spend a few measly decades in is more important and meaningful than one which is perfect and lasts forever.

At this point, the question shifts to how one gets to Heaven. Universalism is a tiny, tiny belief; the vast majority of believers agree that there are codes of conduct which must be adhered to on this earth in order to enter Heaven. These codes may be as simple as "accept Christ" or may fill books of codes and commentary, but they all have their roots in what is claimed to be divine revelation- and generally a specific divine revelation which is not compatible with many of the other myriad divine revelations. So we've come to the point of having to rely on the Bronze Age mythological literature from which the idea of Heaven originates (as it's not like the concept of Heaven can be arrived at through a chain of logical reasoning) in order to justify ethical principles...

You get the idea. You cannot simply say that ""I believe in Heaven" is pretty harmless" and stop your analysis there. There is no such thing as an idea which exists in and of itself; all exist and are believed within structures of beliefs, of which some are more coherent and solid than others. Simply to say that a given belief is harmless ignores the beliefs which stand on its shoulders, and whose shoulders it stands on.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:16 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


And that represents an infitesimally small fraction of religion believers, and it's a minimally effortful (or whatever the word I'm after here is) moral stance to say "hey, respect given to religion doesn't cover that."

Granted, Christian Identity is in the minority. But there are plenty of other religious beliefs that (rightfully, to my mind) don't get a free pass which are more mainstream - that women shouldn't be in the workplace, that abortion should be illegal, that evolution is "just" a theory. The list goes on and on. I don't know where this mythical automatic free pass to be treated nicely comes into play with any of these.

I think generally speaking, when a person is talking about/practicing a fairly neutral or even positive faith (and I know I've evoked these names before, folks like Carter, King and others), the general rule is, "Don't be a dick." Seems like a fair enough rule to me, which brings us to this:

You get the idea. You cannot simply say that ""I believe in Heaven" is pretty harmless" and stop your analysis there. There is no such thing as an idea which exists in and of itself; all exist and are believed within structures of beliefs, of which some are more coherent and solid than others. Simply to say that a given belief is harmless ignores the beliefs which stand on its shoulders, and whose shoulders it stands on.

Fair enough, and would think this would be a given. It's not just what a person believes but what they do with that belief. Take for example, "I believe in Heaven". That belief could be expounded upon to say, "I believe in Heaven - that it's a place all people go to when they die, regardless of how they lived or what religion they practiced" or to say "I believe in Heaven - that only adherents to my faith go there, and that all others are heathen chattle who will be our livestock in the next life."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:28 AM on March 4, 2009


It's dishonest to mention the two on equal footing, as if Universalism was more than a tiny minority. The idea that Heaven is for the in-group only has long been and probably always will be the more popular of the two conceptions.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:35 AM on March 4, 2009


But you do understand the principle of what I'm saying, even if the examples are rare, right? I'm saying I agree with you, enjoy it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:38 AM on March 4, 2009


I would have enjoyed the agreement, but that was before I realized that Marisa was not in fact a girl, and Guilty was not in fact the pope.

So fuck off, the both of you.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:43 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


That question is not what AskMe is for.

"A good question should have a purpose, goal, or problem to be solved."
posted by Eideteker at 4:44 AM on March 4, 2009


Maybe that should be changed to "concrete problem." Existential angst is a problem for some, I suppose, but it's not generally something that the internet will fix.
posted by Eideteker at 4:46 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


If this comment gets 500 favorites, I will demonstrate whether there is an afterlife or not.
posted by Eideteker at 4:50 AM on March 4, 2009


Spare your favorites, folks - I will demonstrate whether there is an afterlife or not, by going and finding out right now.

brb
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:56 AM on March 4, 2009


OK back.

I chickened out.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:59 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Certainly we can assume that the OP is an adult and can insert his-or-her own qualifiers.

I can tell you from experience that people want you to preface just about everything with 'in my opinion.'
posted by jonmc at 6:01 AM on March 4, 2009


Who cares? You cheerfully attack a strawman of atheism every time this fucking subject comes up. You're like some kind of Vichy atheist.

you're right - it is a "strawman of atheism" - you're being considerably more nasty than anyone accused atheists of being

i invoke godwin
posted by pyramid termite at 6:05 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Capitalists don't respond to reasoned criticisms of capitalism by saying "I find that offensive." Socialists don't respond to reasoned criticisms of socialism by saying "I find that offensive." Conservatives don't respond to reasoned criticisms of conservatism by saying "I find that offensive."

i take it you've never argued with people about these beliefs in a bar
posted by pyramid termite at 6:10 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I can posit an afterlife, indeed, several, which are all consistent with science as we know it.

Imagine the universe as a very large cellular automata set, running on unimaginable hardware. All physical laws are arbitrarily simulated and consist of a set of rules applied to data, over and over again. Wolfram wasn't the first to think of it. We would have little way of knowing this wasn't true.

When you "die," that set of information composing mind might be maintained on a backup tape. This could be later restored by keeping the rules developed by the mind and a unique ID number, but not the data (reincarnation). Alternatively, that set of information could be restored into a new, somewhat different simulation (afterlife). This could be Heaven or Hell, or something in between, as based on the inscrutable whims of the operator. We would have little way of knowing this wasn't true, either.

Or maybe the operator just flicks off her game of the Sims, for the last time, and shelve that dusty old PC she pulled out for kicks. Whether or not this is comforting is an exercise best left to the reader.
posted by adipocere at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Then this should give you a grand mal seizure - I don't believe in God.

Interestingly, my atheist sister became very religious when her epilepsy meds were out of wack. She's not like that anymore but man was it fun to watch.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh hey guys! I'm the OP of the question in question. What all's going on in here?

For what it's worth, I haven't been offended or upset by any of the comments in the thread. The bald statement "there is no afterlife" doesn't faze me; it's something I've thought about a million times already. Framed in the context of "there is no afterlife, but here is something that may comfort you," I find it perfectly all right. If there were a comment to the effect of "there is no afterlife, so suck it up and deal" or "there is no afterlife and you're stupid for even considering the possibility of one, huff snork invisible sky fairy" would piss me right off.

I'm not in favor of people being dicks about it, but I'm actually a little bit glad to see the discussion in MetaTalk. If nothing else, it reinforces that it's normal not to be sure about What Happens To Us and so on.

P.S. Dad loved the internet, heated discussions, and cats. I think he might have enjoyed it here.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:56 AM on March 4, 2009 [22 favorites]


When you "die," that set of information composing mind might be maintained on a backup tape. This could be later restored by keeping the rules developed by the mind and a unique ID number, but not the data (reincarnation). Alternatively, that set of information could be restored into a new, somewhat different simulation (afterlife). This could be Heaven or Hell, or something in between, as based on the inscrutable whims of the operator. We would have little way of knowing this wasn't true, either.

But it ties in very nicely with my "universe as RPG" worldview - my XP gets saved, loaded, and rezzed into something awesome, like a time-travelling space robot in the guise of Arundhati Roy, and lasers shoot from my eyes.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:01 AM on March 4, 2009


Kidding! (but not lying (that was a lie (no, it wasn't (you be quiet (it's cramped in here)))))

After reading this thread, I have come to the conclusion that Pastabagel and Pope Guilty are the same person.
posted by chinston at 7:07 AM on March 4, 2009


Metroid Baby, thanks for coming in and responding positively to the discussion. I am really sorry for your loss :(
posted by onalark at 7:43 AM on March 4, 2009


But the difference is that I acknowledge that, and I work to deal with it constructively, rather than burying my head in structures of lies about it and screaming shrilly at anybody who suggests that maybe that's good for me.

This is a classic example of MeFi dickishness and should be added to the Wiki: "Here is how we deal with religion. If you want to bring up the subject, be prepared to be accused of burying your head in structures of lies and screaming shrilly. Atheists, by definition, are incapable of screaming shrilly, because they are just spreading THE TRUTH."
posted by languagehat at 7:43 AM on March 4, 2009 [14 favorites]


So I guess this is pretty much wrapped up but let's just make it clear for once and for all that cilantro is delicious and the darkest parts of Sheol are reserved for those of you who think otherwise
posted by Greg Nog at 7:46 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Science completely debunks the existence of an "afterlife". Fullstop. No argument you can make can refute this. The most you could do is flail about like a paranormalist crank."

I'm a scientist on the Internet. Are you a scientist? If so, where are your citations to peer-reviewed journals?
posted by onalark at 7:48 AM on March 4, 2009


Back off, man. I'm a scientist.
posted by turgid dahlia


Great science fiction story in six words, by the way.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:52 AM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


and I can certainly imagine that you two have had issues in the past which may lend a special tang of irritation to the things he says, but I don't think you can honestly say you've never done anything to cause irritation in return.

Is this true? Did I have an argument with Pope Guilty in the past about something and stepped out of line? I honestly have no memory of this, but I suppose it's possible. I apologize if my comments were offensive, or if I said something beyond the pale. While I do think a lot of what passes for atheist arguments online and elsewhere these days is superficial and indeed "small-minded," it was and is wrong to resort to name calling with words like "twits" etc. IT doesn't help me or the discussion or Metafilter.

The reason I got irritated last night when I read the AskMe thread and this one is because almost all of the comments from the atheist perspective are basically the same comment. It's the case where because everyone agrees (or dissent is stifled) the argument or thought never gets refined or improved, even when it has obvious holes. It becomes an echo chamber.

That said, Pope Guilty, your own comments state explicitly your anger with religion, believers, etc. Not annoyance, or irritation, or frustration. Anger. You argue that a belief in Heaven is "not harmless". You ascribe malice to religious belief. You keep talking about lying in a context where it is totally nonsensical given the dictionary definition of 'lie.' This is not my opinion, this is what you write.

It's a strange thing to say, because anger is usually a reaction to some personal involvement with the thing. Anger is a defense. This is not a personal attack, or any kind of attack at all, and certainly not being made in an effort to score meaningless points in my dumb argument about whatever. I am now bringing up an entirely different point. What is the story with your vitriol against religion? You're angry and emotional about an issue where the position you support criticizes the opposite side as emotional and irrational. It's just...odd.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:04 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Science completely debunks the existence of an "afterlife". Fullstop. No argument you can make can refute this. The most you could do is flail about like a paranormalist crank.

I also would appreciate the citations for this one. I didn't even know that a study had been done. Did it account for all the major variations of afterlife belief (reincarnation, wispy souls in a cloudy heaven, dead bodies in the grave until the resurrection to come?). I'm curious about how test were tested and demonstrated to be false. Rather than just telling us that irrefutable evidence exists, maybe you could point me to it?

I don't mean to be annoying. I've just been told a lot around here that I shouldn't accept things on faith.

Have the afterlife debunkers responded to our been aware of the various articles gathered in the book "What About the Soul? Neuroscience and Christian Anthropology?"

I do enjoy a good flail, but I'm not sure it's called for just yet.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:07 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, does the research account for the existence of horrific typos?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:08 AM on March 4, 2009


So I guess this is pretty much wrapped up but let's just make it clear for once and for all that cilantro is delicious and the darkest parts of Sheol are reserved for those of you who think otherwise

People who say this are deluding themselves. Cilantro tastes like organic soap, and its advocates are lying just to comfort themselves while they chew their disgusting non-food herb.

KNOW TRUTH. NO CILANTRO.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:11 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]



I generally hate it when people say "you just don't get it", but if you can't see why I would choose the name "Pope Guilty", I have to say that you just don't get it.


Also, I admit it. I don't get it and google fails me. What does "Pope Guilty" mean or to whom does it refer? Was a Pope somewhere guilty of something? I know that Pope Alexander VI was something of a naughty boy, but beyond that you'll have to enlighten me.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:13 AM on March 4, 2009


The ones in my lifetime have been guilty of propagating dangerous archaic ideas to the willing masses.
posted by gman at 8:27 AM on March 4, 2009


Wow. Many a time I've come across mentions to the MeFi athiest mafia and their general disagreeableness, but I've never actually seen it until now. It's unbelievable! It becomes very hard to approach some of your points of view with any respect because of the overt hostility and contempt you bring to this discussion.

It is sort of funny that I generally agree with most of you on matters of fact: I'm one of the most fact-loving people you'll find around, and I am also not a believer of the type you seem to have set up as your own straw man. I accept that the theory of mind dgaicun subscribes to is likely to be accurate, inasfar as it goes. However, just because that may be true, it doesn't follow that (a) that is the full and complete story, and that there is nothing else meaningful to either ask or say about existence, individual identity, or the origins of consciousness and being or (b) that because it may be true it's therefore acceptable to describe other ways of viewing of the world - even those that include those facts but take in larger speculations - as 'meaningless flatulence,' lies, born of fear or an incapability to deal with death, childish, moronic, or useless speculation.

It's perfectly fine to be a materialist, but that has to accept recognizing the limits of materialism. The limits end where you stop discussing what is observable in matter. That's it. People engaged in religious discussions are operating outside that limitation. It's possible even for nonbelievers to find value in the activities, intellectual history, and speculations that are components of religious thought. I understand that some of you are adamant that human beings confine their attention only to what can be empirically shown to be true, that you believe it's 'childish' to refuse to do so and idiotic to ascribe value to stories, rituals, imagination, hope, love, yearning, grief, and other such illusions originating in neural action, but I suspect that your own lives are totally inconsistent with that idea in nearly your every daily act. What I object to is the arrogance of certainty that the materialist approach always offers a sufficiently satisfying construction of the world to the complex organism that is a human being. I understand that it does so for you, but you make an error in assuming this is the best way for everyone to approach questions of meaning. To proceed to then insult and berate their intelligence is really shameful. You have no basis for that hubris.

It's possible to just accept that people are talking about different things. It's as though you're talking with an artist, who says "I use a lot of red. It's a strong color signifying strong emotion; for some people it signifies luck or joy, and in others blood or fire. It's the color of love, of war, of passion, of heat." And you, the scientist, say "There is no color. There is only a color effect whereby the cones in your eyes perceive a pattern of stimulation we name red, provoked by the longest wavelengths on the visible spectrum (650 nanomenters and up)."

That's all well and good, but it doesn't offer all that much to the artist for his or her purposes in choosing to work with red. You're holding on to different parts of the elephant. If the athiests who can't contain their contempt for people who don't live strictly according to their worldview, however well supported it is, would recognize, accept, and admit the truth of thatas adamantly as they assert the truth of your other beliefs, you would likely not be perceived as so arrogant and aggressive. A refusal to do so only calls into doubt the degree of loyalty you have to your own professed belief system. Recognize the quality of the system, but also recognize the points where it begins and ends and the points upon which it has nothing to say, and don't expect science to obviate the human interest in other forms of thought - including religious thought.

And there's no need to be a dick about it. Who are you so angry at?
posted by Miko at 8:29 AM on March 4, 2009 [16 favorites]


What does "Pope Guilty" mean or to whom does it refer?

Given PG's antipathy towards the clergy, I'm guessing it's a zingy take on the presumption and arrogance of papists dubbing themselves Innocent.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:35 AM on March 4, 2009


And don't get me started about Pope Fittycent.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:39 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


My limited experience has led me to believe that Pope Guilty has done some scholarly work on the history of Christianity and has become fixated on the crimes and criminals found in that religion. It is possible that there is a personal history as well that causes such bile to spew forth. It makes him so angry that he shakes, and this shaking causes him to mis-type "Christianity" as "religion" every time he posts to MetaFilter.

Pope, feel free to correct me, berate me, shoot me down or otherwise enlighten...
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 8:44 AM on March 4, 2009


You're like some kind of Vichy atheist.

Dude, weak. You write for User Friendly or something?

Totally kidding
posted by adamdschneider at 8:49 AM on March 4, 2009


Cilantro tastes like organic soap

I can't be the first to say this, but here it goes:

CILANTRO ONLY TASTES LIKE SOAP IF YOU USE TOO MUCH.

This is relative to the taster. For some tasters, too much is any. For some tasters, too much doesn't exist. But you, as an individual, will know there is too much (for you) cilantro if it tastes like soap. If it doesn't taste like soap, then it is not too much.

This is such a stupid argument. In the words of Bill Cosby, COME ON PEOPLE*. There are ACTUAL PROBLEMS in the world, like PINEAPPLE ON PIZZA and PEOPLE FROM CHICAGO ARE DICKS ABOUT THEIR HOT DOGS, and SOME PEOPLE THINK ORBITZ WERE NON-AWESOME**.

*Just do it. Come on them.
**Orbitz was Clearly Canadian plus colored semenesque balls of goo. How could that NOT be awesome?***
***Both of those footnotes were examples of threadjizzing.

posted by SpiffyRob at 9:15 AM on March 4, 2009


It's perfectly fine to be a materialist, but that has to accept recognizing the limits of materialism. The limits end where you stop discussing what is observable in matter.

But surely you recognize that materialists do not believe that anything exists beyond matter and thus do not believe that there are any limits to materialism. If you insist that a materialist accept that there are things beyond the bounds of materialism, then you are insisting that this materialist abandons materialism.

I understand that some of you are adamant that human beings confine their attention only to what can be empirically shown to be true, that you believe it's 'childish' to refuse to do so and idiotic to ascribe value to stories, rituals, imagination, hope, love, yearning, grief, and other such illusions originating in neural action, but I suspect that your own lives are totally inconsistent with that idea in nearly your every daily act.

You are attacking a strawman here. I have never read any argument from a materialist that ascribes no value to thoughts, emotions, etc.

What I object to is the arrogance of certainty that the materialist approach always offers a sufficiently satisfying construction of the world to the complex organism that is a human being.

I doubt that anyone is a materialist because they find it "sufficiently satisfying". I could believe all kinds of strange and wonderful things that would satisfy me in many different ways, but I pick my worldview based not on the satisfaction it provides to me, but on what I conclude to be the truth of the matter.
posted by ssg at 9:18 AM on March 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I understand that some of you are adamant that human beings confine their attention only to what can be empirically shown to be true, that you believe it's 'childish' to refuse to do so and idiotic to ascribe value to stories, rituals, imagination, hope, love, yearning, grief, and other such illusions originating in neural action, but I suspect that your own lives are totally inconsistent with that idea in nearly your every daily act.

i am certain of that - i've yet to meet a totally "rational" human being and i don't believe i ever will

their construction of the world is just that - a construction - it is based upon assumptions that they believe about what can be empirically shown to be true and i suspect much of the anger is from the fact that no matter how one tries to insist upon strict materialism in all areas of thought and life, it is, in fact, unprovable and unattainable and the presence of those who choose other assumptions remind them of this
posted by pyramid termite at 9:25 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


People who claim like cilantro are only deluding themselves because they don't want to look like dupes to the people who like to ruin food by using too much cilantro.
posted by Max Power at 9:25 AM on March 4, 2009


I pick my worldview based not on the satisfaction it provides to me, but on what I conclude to be the truth of the matter.

mmmmm, hot truth. so satisfying.
posted by generalist at 9:46 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metroid baby, and others -- in hindsight, I think I could have worded my response differently to be more respectful of other peoples' opinions.

But yeah, I meant to be encouraging to you, and to pass along my view that it's ok to just accept someone as gone, and that the "meaning" of life is pretty much what you do during that life that will be remembered when you depart. I wrestled with the exact same thing when my mom died, and felt like I could relate.

I do tend to be an immature dick about beliefs in the supernatural, and I know it's off-putting to some. I will try to be more nuanced. I do like cilantro, in moderation.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:48 AM on March 4, 2009


I leave open the possibility that there's something after this life. I flat-out deny that anybody alive can say anything about it other than "I don't know" and be honest.

Ugh, et tu, Pope Guilty?

Agnosticism is a bankrupt epistemic courtesy that people only extend to quaint religious superstitions. People never apply the same radical epistemology to any other faulty ideas, even though it takes no more effort:

* No one can honestly say whether or not Santa Claus exists until they travel to the North Pole themselves... and check everywhere at the same time, because he can move around at the speed of light.

* No one can honestly say that the earth isn't 6000 years old, until they invent a time machine and bring back Polaroids.

The mind ceases to be when the brain, and the body that supports its function, stops living. There is no room for any rational agnosticism here. The supporting evidence for this is as strong as it is for anything. If someone applied the same "skepticism" or "agnosticism" to global warming science, we would rightly think they were being an asshole. Yet the evidence that the mind causes the brain is far stronger.

I think there's a difference. You can confirm that the sky is blue- you can measure the light waves coming in and notice that the water vapor has refracted them such that they look bue. The difference is that death looks to me to be different from unconsciousness; it entails physical changes that are not present, as far as I am aware, in any other phenomenon of the human body.

No, the "physical changes" of death are the same for every part of the human body. Oxygen stops supporting the physical processes of the organs, and those organs cease to function and begin to decay. There is no more of a scientific theory for how the mind possibly persists after death than there is a scientific theory for how the liver and the pancreas continue on after death.

I can posit an afterlife, indeed, several, which are all consistent with science as we know it.

This is much better than Pastabagel's 'thought experiment'. In normal epistemological terms, we can consider the theory false. It's the equivalent to proposing that satan planted the fossil record to make it look like evolution happened.

In the same way we don't say "ok, we can never honestly know whether evolution happened," just because people can dream up arbitrary counter-factuals. The evidence unambiguously leads to the conclusion it happened, just as the evidence unambiguously leads to the conclusion that the mind ends with the brain.


I also would appreciate the citations for this one. I didn't even know that a study had been done. Did it account for all the major variations of afterlife belief (reincarnation, wispy souls in a cloudy heaven, dead bodies in the grave until the resurrection to come?).

I'm a scientist on the Internet. Are you a scientist? If so, where are your citations to peer-reviewed journals?

Science is paradigmatic, and all neuroscience and related disciplines are predicated on the materialist paradigm that the mind is created by the activities of the brain, all biology is predicated on the materialist paradigm of naturalistic evolution. All the research agrees that the brain evolved from more rudimentary versions of the structure. There is literally no contradictory evidence, no contradictory paradigms to explain the panoply of facts that the brain is the evolved organ that generates the mind.

I can link to any peer-reviewed paper and its methods, foundational citations, and assumptions will support this. What I can't do is link to any evidence that would lend credence to "wispy souls in a cloudy heaven". This theory either contradicts science, or is fashioned in such a way that it is unfalsifiable, which also makes it false, by any meaningful philosophy of knowledge.
posted by dgaicun at 9:52 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're a barrell of laughs, dude. Have a smurfy day!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:59 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


CILANTRO ONLY TASTES LIKE SOAP IF YOU USE TOO MUCH.

And for some people, as you have stated, too much is "any" which means that to them cilantro does indeed tast like soap.

However, taste in cilantro, like taste in the afterlife, is subjective, not objective.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:02 AM on March 4, 2009


No, I don't feel morally required to state ambiguity I don't have. If it were children, I would withhold the lack of Santa out of cultural sensitivity, but we are all adults or close enough to adults as makes no difference here. And any truly offensive belief (ie racism/sexism/ageism) is offensive with our without 'but that's just my opinion' tacked on. It’s none of your blight minded, benighted business to police my lack of doubt, just because some people need to believe not only that grandpa is in a better place, but that everyone thinks he is or allows, beyond logic and their own reasoning that he might be. I don't have a monopoly on the truth, but this is generally understood, just like I don't interject "I believe" into more mundane matters. I’m an atheist, not agnostic, and making me pretend to be uncertain just because you feel it threatens your certainty is in poor taste.

After all, I don't go around saying: I believe this recipe calls for a cup of milk. I believe I am out of milk and I believe if you would like me to make pancakes for breakfast, you must go to the corner store, where I believe you can get two liters to replace the milk I believe you drank last night.
posted by Phalene at 10:10 AM on March 4, 2009


Science is paradigmatic, and all neuroscience and related disciplines are predicated on the materialist paradigm that the mind is created by the activities of the brain, all biology is predicated on the materialist paradigm of naturalistic evolution. All the research agrees that the brain evolved from more rudimentary versions of the structure. There is literally no contradictory evidence, no contradictory paradigms to explain the panoply of facts that the brain is the evolved organ that generates the mind.

Sure. But saying that modern neuroscience has established that there is no need to posit a ghost in the machine is a long, long way from "science has debunked the afterlife!" Orthodox Christian doctrine is that God will resurrect all people bodily. The Biblical view is not of an immaterial soul persisting in the ether, that Jesus is the prototype of a material resurrection that everyone will experience. If neuroscience says that you need a brain to have a mind (and it does), then to me it sounds like resurrection into an improved and immortal body is the best strategy for an eternal existence. And this is precisely the New Testament view:

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

1 Corinthians 15:50-54

Yeah, yeah, I read the silly 2000 year old myth. Hurf durf Bible reader and all that. The point is, Christian doctrine from the start has taught the transformation of dead bodies into new, better bodies. That's the afterlife. And I can't for the life of me figure out what tests scientist can run on our current bodies to determine whether or not there is a God who someday will raise and transform them. This just takes us back to the more basic question of whether it is reasonable to believe in God. But you can't rule out the resurrection in a lab.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:24 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Go to hell.
posted by Mister_A at 10:24 AM on March 4, 2009


"Agnosticism is a bankrupt epistemic courtesy that people only extend to quaint religious superstitions. People never apply the same radical epistemology to any other faulty ideas, even though it takes no more effort:"

Thank God not all atheists are as stupid and obnoxious as you're being. People can and do apply radical epistemology to all sorts of questions, and rightly so. It's just that solipsism leaves no room for conversation, and is fundamentally opposed to the sensory information we receive. But it's purely the frequency and commonality of assumptions regarding cause and effect and persistence that negates the necessity of them being mentioned in good science, not the lack of assumptions.

And that you can't see the difference between scientific questions and philosophical questions, where the applicability of fundamental assumptions varies wildly, means that you come across as both ignorant and insulting. The only place where absolute certainty exists is mathematics, because they're inherently artificial.

Oh, and one more thing—Folks who can't see that materialism is inherently limited are philosophically morons. Even moreso because they generally agree with the limits of materialism.
posted by klangklangston at 10:24 AM on March 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


That said, Pope Guilty, your own comments state explicitly your anger with religion, believers, etc. Not annoyance, or irritation, or frustration. Anger. You argue that a belief in Heaven is "not harmless". You ascribe malice to religious belief. You keep talking about lying in a context where it is totally nonsensical given the dictionary definition of 'lie.' This is not my opinion, this is what you write.

You can't argue without attacking the individual, can you? I can write page after page after page of argumentation and you're never going to address the substance of what I write because you're really more interested in attacking others than in actually discussing or arguing or whatever.

But fine. Let's talk about anger, since you are much, much more interested in that than in the topic at hand.

I look at the world, and I see structures of power and control, and in them I see exploitation and abuse, and I see that most people either don't care or have learned not to see it. And yeah, that makes me angry.

Religion is one of those structures. It serves to keep the social order, promising pie in the sky in exchange for good behavior on earth. Christianity is particularly noxious in this- the message of the gospel, no matter how much people like to lie to themselves and others about it, is Submit. Slaves, love your masters. Turn the other cheek. Give all of yourself to those who would take some of you. In a world run by thieves and murderers, the message of the most popular belief system on earth is to submit to them, give them what they want, and get your reward in a time and place that you have no reason to expect to even exist. And yet, the very second you suggest that there's something fishy about the world's largest faith teaching its adherents to give endlessly of themselves in exchange for a reward nobody has the right to promise or expect, you apparently lose any right to be engaged with honestly.

The counter"arguments" are ever the same, and never betray a hint of honesty or engagement. You get accused of parroting Marx, you get accused of being "extreme" or "irrational", or of having deep-seated emotional problems. I've lost track of the number of times I've heard the utterly patronizing and infantilizing argument that human beings need to be told fantasies (I'd say "lies", but apparently calling an untruth a lie is rude) in order to get through the day. Occasionally I do, in fact, get engaged honestly on the topic; people actually react to the arguments rather than to the arguer or the conclusion. But it's very rare; more frequently is what you can see by scrolling up just a little, and seeing an argument against the idea that belief in Heaven is harmless "rebutted" with the claim that my conclusion is inherently irrational.

I'm not claiming to be a Paragon Of Reason or a Model MeFite Debater or whatever. I've participated in my share of flamewars and made my share of snark. But I feel that when I do try to engage in honest debate on this particular topic, with actual argumentation and examination of the topic, the response, here as elsewhere, is overwhelmingly "You're an asshole for asking" rather than "Your premises are flawed" or "Your premises don't support your conclusion" or whatever.

So, to recap, abusive and exploitative power structures everywhere, religion generally supports them, providing arguments for being against it is almost never met with honest answers but with execration and venom. Gee, why would I be angry?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:31 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, the "physical changes" of death are the same for every part of the human body. Oxygen stops supporting the physical processes of the organs, and those organs cease to function and begin to decay. There is no more of a scientific theory for how the mind possibly persists after death than there is a scientific theory for how the liver and the pancreas continue on after death.

You've completely misread. I claim that what happens at death is unique among bodily phenomena, as a counterargument to the claim that it's no different from losing consciousness.

Oh, and one more thing—Folks who can't see that materialism is inherently limited are philosophically morons. Even moreso because they generally agree with the limits of materialism.

I notice that people like to throw this out as a fun little "fuck you!" at the end of comments, but could somebody please explain to me what these horrible, awful limits are?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:35 AM on March 4, 2009


"So, to recap, abusive and exploitative power structures everywhere, religion generally supports them, providing arguments for being against it is almost never met with honest answers but with execration and venom. Gee, why would I be angry?"

Because you're kind of stupid when it comes to religion? You cherry-pick, you create straw men, you commit all sorts of logical fallacies, all while claiming to be rational and righteous? I mean, I don't understand how any other conclusion can be drawn from what you've written aside from the fact that you have a fairly unsophisticated worldview and really want to be angry. It's like you overheard a couple of guys talking about Nietzsche and said, Yep, that's for me! without ever doing any more investigation. You're a fighty partisan, the atheist equivalent of the fundamentalist railing on about how all fags are going to hell.

"I notice that people like to throw this out as a fun little "fuck you!" at the end of comments, but could somebody please explain to me what these horrible, awful limits are?"

Yes, but I'll only do it in a condescending tone because you're too dumb to work out the fairly self-evident statement for yourself: materialism is limited inherently to commenting on the material, and the material is inherently limited by a huge number of factors with the goal of having the material be objective. There are a vast number of things that materialism is not suited to addressing, some philosophical (qualia), some aesthetic, some simply ineffably subjective. The "fuck you" is that you're too dumb to grasp that on you own and need it explained to you, not that materialism is bad or stupid or wrong. Unlike you, I'm quite capable of separating belief from believer.
posted by klangklangston at 10:50 AM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Miko: I understand that some of you are adamant that human beings confine their attention only to what can be empirically shown to be true, that you believe it's 'childish' to refuse to do so and idiotic to ascribe value to stories, rituals, imagination, hope, love, yearning, grief, and other such illusions originating in neural action, but I suspect that your own lives are totally inconsistent with that idea in nearly your every daily act...

And there's no need to be a dick about it. Who are you so angry at?

Ha, too much. First of all don't be a dick, if you are going to insult people, insult them by name. Don't hide your accusations behind generalist pronouns. There are only a few people here.

Second of all, if you are going to make moronic, inflammatory accusations, that you "understand" I think love and grief are "childish" and "idiotic," then don't be surprised when I react like you're calling me an inhuman monster, because that's exactly what you're doing.

I already challenged you on this sickening distortion of my arguments, and you just ignored that response and repeated it.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with "stories, rituals, imagination, hope, love, yearning, grief," which all give meaning and fullness to human life, and don't detract from human dignity and freedom. Note than none of those things are based on belief of lies, which do detract from dignity and freedom.

Your attempt to conflate 'lies' and 'love' is disgusting.

It's possible to just accept that people are talking about different things. It's as though you're talking with an artist, who says "I use a lot of red. It's a strong color signifying strong emotion; for some people it signifies luck or joy, and in others blood or fire. It's the color of love, of war, of passion, of heat." And you, the scientist, say "There is no color. There is only a color effect whereby the cones in your eyes perceive a pattern of stimulation we name red, provoked by the longest wavelengths on the visible spectrum (650 nanomenters and up)."


No, this is a fallacious analogy. People do perceive color, and this perception is supported by science. A better analogy is talking to an artist who says he will travel to Mars and pet a unicorn, and me telling him that unicorns on Mars are contradicted by logic and science. And then Miko walks in the room and tells me this means I believe happiness, music, and love are idiotic, that it's somehow logical to believe in Mars unicorns because "science doesn't know everything", and then condescendingly asking me if I need to hug, as if all this blatant insanity shouldn't provoke outrage in a normal human.
posted by dgaicun at 10:54 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't believe in God, but I'm not angry at people that do. Maybe I'm lucky in that I was raised in open-minded, largely secular household, and wasn't forced to go to parochial school/ church on Sundays/youth group. I adore spirited debate, but the level of anger in these conversations is frankly bizarre to me.

And it's not just Metafilter. Offline conversations, these discussions go badly. Invariably, someone's beef with religion in general gets so personal that it sounds less like a question of science/philosophy and more like some weird daddy issues on a macro scale. Like they feel personally abused/victimized by every believer in the world. And I find myself thinking: Yeah, it sucks that your parents forced you to Bible Camp when you were fifteen, but what the hell does that Rabbi over there have to do with it?


Two sides so absolute in their beliefs will never convince the other of anything. Whatever happened to just agreeing to disagree and getting on with the business of what we can accomplish together.
posted by thivaia at 10:54 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Religion is one of those structures. It serves to keep the social order, promising pie in the sky in exchange for good behavior on earth.

it can be used for that - but it can also be used to subvert the social order - and make no mistake about it - the fundamentalists that you rightly protest about are subverting the social order, not protecting it

that you don't seem to understand this just tells me what you know about religion and the social order

Christianity is particularly noxious in this- the message of the gospel, no matter how much people like to lie to themselves and others about it, is Submit.

no, it's "resist not evil" - and yes, there is a fundamental difference between submission and non-resistance

Slaves, love your masters. Turn the other cheek. Give all of yourself to those who would take some of you. In a world run by thieves and murderers, the message of the most popular belief system on earth is to submit to them, give them what they want, and get your reward in a time and place that you have no reason to expect to even exist.

the time is now and the place is within you

plain and simple - you do not understand what you're talking about
posted by pyramid termite at 10:55 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


"A better analogy is talking to an artist who says he will travel to Mars and pet a unicorn, and me telling him that unicorns on Mars are contradicted by logic and science. And then Miko walks in the room and tells me this means I believe happiness, music, and love are idiotic, that it's somehow logical to believe in Mars unicorns because "science doesn't know everything", and then condescendingly asking me if I need to hug, as if all this blatant insanity shouldn't provoke outrage in a normal human."

Well, no, it's an artist saying that they're going to travel to Mars and pet a unicorn, and you taking him literally, and Miko being too nice to say, "Are you fucking autistic? He's making a joke about taking a whiz so that he can get away from you and your materialistic pedantry." It's like someone telling you that they're in love, and you replying that it's just a mass of hormonal interaction, and that there's no such thing, so it's meaningless to talk about.
posted by klangklangston at 11:04 AM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's like you overheard a couple of guys talking about Nietzsche and said, Yep, that's for me! without ever doing any more investigation.

Hey, look, the one thing you said in that entire paragraph that had anything resembling substance in it, and it's a ridiculous strawman used to support an excluded middle. Yes, Virginia, there is space between being angry at people who tell victims to exalt and love and submit to their victimizers and supporting the half-assed psuedo-Nietzchean Superman morality that you see on the internet sometimes. I'm not sure I understand how anybody who's seen me post about anything ever could get the idea that I'm what you're so clumsily accusing me of.

There are a vast number of things that materialism is not suited to addressing, some philosophical (qualia), some aesthetic, some simply ineffably subjective.

None of those things require there to be anything immaterial.

(I suspect that what you mean is that epistemic materialism has little to say about them, but that's like complaining that evolution doesn't explain how life originated.)


Whatever happened to just agreeing to disagree and getting on with the business of what we can accomplish together.

That rather comes to the heart of the matter, doesn't it? Before we can accomplish anything, we need to agree on what to accomplish. If it weren't for that, religion wouldn't be nearly the hot topic that it is.


it can be used for that - but it can also be used to subvert the social order - and make no mistake about it - the fundamentalists that you rightly protest about are subverting the social order, not protecting it

But those religions that subvert the social order do so not in order to build a better world, but to secure for themselves a higher place of privilege. Can you not distinguish between reshuffling and revolution?

no, it's "resist not evil" - and yes, there is a fundamental difference between submission and non-resistance

Phrase it how you like. The end result is the enabling and empowering of the thief, the murderer, and the oppressor.

the time is now and the place is within you

Mysticism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:20 AM on March 4, 2009


Speaking as someone with a heavy interest in science and twelve years of Catholic education, I'd just like to point out to both sides that belief in one side does not necessarily mean a disavowal of the other. You can be perfectly logical and still think that the basic tenets of a religion (be nice to one another) is a good thing, or you could be heavily religious and still respect facts. One of the best teachers I ever had was a Marist brother.

So lay off the vitriol, people. It shouldn't personally offend you that other people have religious beliefs and it shouldn't be a blow to your mindset that some people don't.
posted by flatluigi at 11:21 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, no, it's an artist saying that they're going to travel to Mars and pet a unicorn, and you taking him literally,

False. All the claims I have addressed in this thread were entirely literal, starting with Pasta Bagel's assertion that "the condition of death is totally unknowable", and all other assertions which call into doubt the unassailable fact that the mind is caused by the physical brain, and ceases to exist when that brain dies.

Miko being too nice to say, "Are you fucking autistic? He's making a joke about taking a whiz so that he can get away from you and your materialistic pedantry.

No one was "joking".


It's like someone telling you that they're in love, and you replying that it's just a mass of hormonal interaction, and that there's no such thing, so it's meaningless to talk about.

No it's not "like this" one fucking bit. This makes no false claims that contradict science.

My analogy is exactly what's happening.
posted by dgaicun at 11:21 AM on March 4, 2009


It's like someone telling you that they're in love, and you replying that it's just a mass of hormonal interaction, and that there's no such thing, so it's meaningless to talk about.

Why do you believe that emotions being the result of electrochemical interactions means that they're meaningless?

Fuck it, I know why. It's the same bullshit that always comes up- the assertion that materialists are "dead inside".

I don't understand why "theists are dishonest" is beyond the pale, while "materialists are dead inside" is totally cool. Anybody?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:23 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


seems like Science! is a religion 'round these parts.
posted by stubby phillips at 11:26 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


But those religions that subvert the social order do so not in order to build a better world, but to secure for themselves a higher place of privilege. Can you not distinguish between reshuffling and revolution?

your refusal to do anything but make gross generalizations is tiresome

Phrase it how you like.

it's not "how i like", it's an actual quotation - i guess you really don't know much about this

Mysticism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

that wasn't mysticism - it's concrete and real
posted by pyramid termite at 11:26 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


But surely you recognize that materialists do not believe that anything exists beyond matter and thus do not believe that there are any limits to materialism. If you insist that a materialist accept that there are things beyond the bounds of materialism, then you are insisting that this materialist abandons materialism.

Exactly - that's what materialists believe. They start with a belief assumption, and reason from there. It's not necessary in all thought systems to start with that assumption. I recognize that it's a strong assumption, but all reasoning that falls out from it has to begin by taking the initial assumption - that only the material is real - as a given. The subsequent reasoning is necessarily confined to its own initial assumption, and only relevant in discussing phenomena observable within the realm of the material. But the acceptance of only the material as real rests on nothing other than a will to believe only that for which there's physical evidence. If you don't take that assumption at the start, you don't have to remain confined to the rules for that reasoned conversation. You might think that's flabby, but that's all right - materialism has to confine itself to itself. The fact that you don't start with another assumption doesn't make all other assumptions invalid, or even inconsistent with materialism.

I already challenged you on this sickening distortion of my arguments

I didn't see a challenge, I saw your opinion about how truth shall set us free, and I continue to see only your opinions here. I'm sure you have some ideas in there somewhere, but you're being so insulting that I can't bother to read your comment deeply. You're just being too obnoxious. I mean "Your attempt to conflate 'lies' and 'love' is disgusting" sounds like just a fantastic putdown, but the question it calls to mind is, in your system of thought, why shouldn't they be conflated? Why should belief in love have some special status that belief in a god doesn't? Isn't love also a neural ilusion, biologically selected for because it facilitates the conception and maintenance of offspring to an age of viability? Isn't 'love' as we think of it a set of lies just as the god delusion is - an illusion created by our minds, associated with a social construct we've built as a backwards justification for our own genesis? If you're really a materialist, why would this idea ever disgust you? That's just how it is. It's pleasant for us that it feels nice, but it doesn't mean anything.

Anyway, as I said, you haven't posed a challenge. And if I'm going to take you seriously, you need to approach this discussion in a different way.

You do a spectacularly bad job advocating for your position.
posted by Miko at 11:26 AM on March 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


your refusal to do anything but make gross generalizations is tiresome

And your refusal to do anything but spout vague mystic horseshit and allusions to your being right is tiresome, but here I am.

it's not "how i like", it's an actual quotation - i guess you really don't know much about this

Fuck you, you pedantic ass. Do I actually have to come out and say that the only difference between submission and nonresistance is semantic? That you're splitting meaningless hairs to pretend that things are as they are not?

that wasn't mysticism - it's concrete and real

Talking about an unobservable, indescribable place within yourself is mysticism, plain and simple.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:32 AM on March 4, 2009


You've completely misread. I claim that what happens at death is unique among bodily phenomena, as a counterargument to the claim that it's no different from losing consciousness.

Pope Guilty, even if you assume that only a loss of consciousness accompanied by physical death (i.e. lack of circulation, respiration, etc.) is the proper subject of our study, you have to admit that many people have been clinically dead (i.e. had no circulation or breathing and no brain activity) and been resuscitated. If there was an afterlife, I think we can safely say that those people would be able to tell us about it.
posted by ssg at 11:33 AM on March 4, 2009


Are you fucking autistic?

Autism: it's the new stupid. You heard it here first.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:38 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


If there was an afterlife, I think we can safely say that those people would be able to tell us about it.

I don't think that's necessarily true. Possibly the memories of the afterlife are locked away from the living, or maybe the afterlife is so amazing that we subconsciously block it out when we're alive as a survival mechanism. It's a completely hypothetical topic with no evidence whatsoever involved, so we could go so far as to suggest that unicorns threaten your spirit half with violence should it tell your physical half about the afterlife. What's even worth discussing?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:40 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


But the acceptance of only the material as real rests on nothing other than a will to believe only that for which there's physical evidence.

The only reasonable position that I can take is to believe only in things for which there is evidence. Otherwise, what would I base my beliefs on? I have never encountered any evidence that was not physical (or if you prefer, phenomenological). I have a will to believe that which there is evidence for and I do so. Why should I have a will to believe things for which there is no evidence?
posted by ssg at 11:51 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Miko, suppose that I accept the converse assumption to materialism: that something exists beyond the material, and I want to do some reasoning with that assumption. But right away we run into trouble with our language: 'something', we might have thought, referred to material things: things that take up space and have locations. How are we going to make the word 'something' refer to immaterial things, which we don't (can't?) know anything about? So it can only happen obliquely, with references and concepts that only by happenstance bear any relation to how immaterial things actually are. That seems like an awfully unsuitable project for our language, so we might begin thinking about how to revise our linguistic practices to deal with the immaterial...but pretty quickly we might become worried that we're losing grip on our entire practice of making assumptions and reasoning from them. Then we feel queasy, and have a nap.

I take it that thoughts like these are why religious sympathizers who I respect tend to refrain from engaging materialists in argumentation: because these assumptions endanger the very practice of argumentation. dgaicun and the good Pope, good Humeans straight and true, think that this leads us to a reductio on antimaterialism. But Kant was a smart man. Antimaterialists should be Kantians.

Also, I have enjoyed this thread a great deal, rampant frothing fuckery or no.
posted by Kwine at 12:03 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


What, you guys haven't settled this yet?
posted by Mister_A at 12:04 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Hey, look, the one thing you said in that entire paragraph that had anything resembling substance in it, and it's a ridiculous strawman used to support an excluded middle."

Dude, you should really stay away from trying to argue fallacies. Because, no, you really did just spout out a bunch of bullshit about religion that's drawn Nietzsche's attack on the slave mentality of Christianity through an undergrad telephone. See, in order for it to be me positing you as believing in Nazi hogwash or Ubermensch, I'd actually have to say that, not just reference an incredibly well-known argument being parroted uncritically and clumsily. That's, in fact, one of the chief problems with Nietzsche's writing, that his hyperbolic aphorisms and poetic discursive style make his arguments appealing to people who don't understand them. Nasreddin, him, I'd talk about Nietzsche with. You? An ape trained to perform Mozart.

None of those things require there to be anything immaterial.

(I suspect that what you mean is that epistemic materialism has little to say about them, but that's like complaining that evolution doesn't explain how life originated.)
"

Um, did you miss the point about materialism having objectivity as a goal? It's not just that materialism has little to say about them, it's that materialism fundamentally cannot say anything about them. That's a limit, spud. The necessity of the immaterial is orthogonal to the question. There are hard limits to what we can know (or assume), and materialism only functions within those boundaries. And, like I mentioned, certainty only exists in mathematics, because it is inherently abstract. In fact, think of materialism as philosophically equivalent to materialism, and you'll have an excellent analogue regarding limitations internal and external in a value-neutral setting.

"That rather comes to the heart of the matter, doesn't it? Before we can accomplish anything, we need to agree on what to accomplish. If it weren't for that, religion wouldn't be nearly the hot topic that it is."

What does goal-setting have to do inherently with religion? Oh, right, you disagree with religion, so it's all tainted, because you're an idiot.

"But those religions that subvert the social order do so not in order to build a better world, but to secure for themselves a higher place of privilege. Can you not distinguish between reshuffling and revolution?"

Christ, this is stupid too. Do you have a quota to fill or something? Martin Luther King Jr. didn't want to end segregation to make the world a better place, he wanted to end segregation so he could rule!

"Phrase it how you like. The end result is the enabling and empowering of the thief, the murderer, and the oppressor."

The relationship between faith and politics is incredibly complex, having been one of the most significant political questions for a couple thousand years, from City of God through… Oh, who the fuck am I kidding? You're not going to read anything I mention, you're not going to understand anything I mention, you're going to continue with your sandwich-board arguments, ignorant of history, context, religion, well, every topic you declaim on, honestly. And you're never going to bother to try to view things from anyone else's perspective, because they're all evil and wrong slaves and you're righteous and pure. At least most Christians will admit that they're flawed.

"False. All the claims I have addressed in this thread were entirely literal, starting with Pasta Bagel's assertion that "the condition of death is totally unknowable", and all other assertions which call into doubt the unassailable fact that the mind is caused by the physical brain, and ceases to exist when that brain dies."

Really? What is it like to die, then? What first-hand accounts can you give? Or were you simply quibbling with "totally," because we can describe the physical processes?

"No one was "joking"."

Oh, of course, Captain Science, no one was joking or using symbolic, non-literal language because it was YOUR hypothetical about some artist and the Martian unicorns, and everyone was quite grateful when you corrected him with logic and science and no one rolled their eyes and excused themselves and you didn't have to get on the internet to proclaim how logical and scientific you were (how are those small-sample sexuality studies going? Still posting them like they mean anything?) because no one was bored and you weren't missing the point and then they threw you a parade and there was ice cream.

"No it's not "like this" one fucking bit. This makes no false claims that contradict science.

My analogy is exactly what's happening.
"

Since Miko's too nice: Are you fucking autistic? I mean, seriously, not only do you deny that anything can't be known, but you're a weeping sore about it, and construct bizarre analogies where you get to Mary Sue those damn subjective thinkers, mystics and agnostics with your mighty Science Penis.

Fuck, all this is reminding me is that I need to avoid anyone who believes in a totalizing ideology, no matter the source. Otherwise, it's all a bunch of combative question-beggers.
posted by klangklangston at 12:05 PM on March 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


"Do I actually have to come out and say that the only difference between submission and nonresistance is semantic? That you're splitting meaningless hairs to pretend that things are as they are not?"

Well, no, it's not. Submission implies consent. I hope you never have sex if you don't understand the difference between submission and non-resistance.
posted by klangklangston at 12:09 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The only reasonable position that I can take is to believe only in things for which there is evidence. Otherwise, what would I base my beliefs on? I have never encountered any evidence that was not physical (or if you prefer, phenomenological). I have a will to believe that which there is evidence for and I do so. Why should I have a will to believe things for which there is no evidence?"

You could base your beliefs on faith, but your underlying question—reasonable position—precludes this. However, reason is not a given, it's an assumption (and a pretty big, fraught one from all sorts of different perspectives). I'd also be wary of invoking the phenomenological justifications—there's a lot of Husserl that requires non-materialist explications of existence.
posted by klangklangston at 12:11 PM on March 4, 2009


You'll find out whether or not there is any basis to the so-called "afterlife" after I murder all of you. Soon.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:13 PM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Miko, suppose that I accept the converse assumption to materialism: that something exists beyond the material, and I want to do some reasoning with that assumption. But right away we run into trouble with our language: 'something', we might have thought, referred to material things: things that take up space and have locations. How are we going to make the word 'something' refer to immaterial things, which we don't (can't?) know anything about? So it can only happen obliquely, with references and concepts that only by happenstance bear any relation to how immaterial things actually are. That seems like an awfully unsuitable project for our language, so we might begin thinking about how to revise our linguistic practices to deal with the immaterial...but pretty quickly we might become worried that we're losing grip on our entire practice of making assumptions and reasoning from them. Then we feel queasy, and have a nap."

Or they embrace the line of Continental philosophy that flows through Nietzsche and Heidegger and deal with the immaterial through oblique, aesthetic, anti-rational strategies. A lot of art can be seen this way.

But you're right, regarding the necessity of reason and or linguistic commonality to argument. In some ways, I think it's similar to the Enlightenment conception of "rights." Almost every society recognizes rights, and rights are treated as a de facto for political conversation. However, rights, especially Natural Rights, are incredibly hard to support on any meaningful philosophical level. They have to be assumed, which is largely fine, until you want to start arguing about the edges of rights and rights conflicts, etc.
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 PM on March 4, 2009


Why should I have a will to believe things for which there is no evidence?

You don't have to, but some people do; and some people don't require evidence they want to think about to be material.

Again, if that's not your preferred system of thought, that's fine, but you have to recognize you are starting with a statement that assumes your evidence is real. You have to start with some assumption. If you don't believe in any systems that start with other assumptions, that's fine. Others do, though, and you can't force them through bullying to accept your form of reasoning. I think you have to accept that if they reject the initial premise (only what is material exists), for which you have no evidence, they're entitled to reject the rest of the argument. Without being morons.

You can point out that there's no material evidence for the immaterial, but that doesn't get you anywhere outside your system. You just can't make statements about what falls outside your system using the reasoning that takes the the initial assumption that it's only going to deal with things in your system.

If there was an afterlife, I think we can safely say that those people would be able to tell us about it.

I don't think so. For one reason, I don't think they made it all the way beyond death. We know that some brain activity continues for minutes, sometimes hours, after breathing and circulation has stopped functioning. So the brain was not yet dead. For another, a lot of people do come back from those experiences with all sorts of wild stories about what they saw and felt. There was a good Radiola segment last week called "Where Am I?" about one of the commonly noted phenomena, a sensation of brain/body split or out-of-body experience, and it offers a good model for understanding what forces might produce that illusion. Sometimes these experiences are offered as evidence of an afterlife, and yet personally I believe they are simply part and parcel of a brain experiencing death in predictable and physical stages. I don't think we can admit the experiences of physical death as evidence of an afterlife. Especially because anyone who was able to come back to talk about them was not actually completely dead.
posted by Miko at 12:19 PM on March 4, 2009


You could base your beliefs on faith, but your underlying question—reasonable position—precludes this.
I'd also be wary of invoking the phenomenological justifications—there's a lot of Husserl that requires non-materialist explications of existence.


I absolutely agree with you. If you base your beliefs on what you are pleased to call "faith", then you can believe anything you please. But then there is no point at all in our trying to have a rational discussion about it.

Also, "phenomenological" is a word that means a lot of different things in different contexts. The context I was using it in had little to do with Husserl and nothing at all to do with invocations of any particular justification. Not all uses of the word "phenomenology" have to do with big-P Phenomenology.
posted by ssg at 12:26 PM on March 4, 2009


So, to recap, abusive and exploitative power structures everywhere, religion generally supports them, providing arguments for being against it is almost never met with honest answers but with execration and venom. Gee, why would I be angry?
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:31 PM on March 4


Maybe because that has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand, which is whether religion can be useful in addressing the existential questions around death and can it do so better than other fields of thought or inquiry. The topic is not organized religion. You seem to want to have an argument that no one else was having.

Secondly, I notice that your anger is directed almost exclusively at Christianity, and not at Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. that also have a lot to say on the subject.

See, it seems to me that you are actually obsessed with the existential crisis of death. It fascinates you, but you are sublimating it into other things (fantasy, etc) instead of dealing with it head on. And I suppose it isn't fair to pick on you for this, because there's a lot of it going on. Reddit is flooded with almost as many zombie posts as atheism posts. The most popular books and films for kids and teenagers are about magic and immortal beings (vampires, wizards, elves, etc). Not only is there nothing wrong with this, it is to be expected. The existential crisis is a real thing. The difference between fantasy and religion is that fantasy implicitly denies the crisis by depicting a world where there is no death (immortals, zombies, ghosts, coming back to life, etc), but religion tackles it head on by noting that you'll never understand the mystery until you die.

What is amazing to me is that you and other atheists don't realize this (the denial/sublimation) is happening. It's positively Freudian. And this is on topic, btw. Because denial is certainly one of the many ways people deal with death.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:27 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I believe the children are the future. Unless they die. Then I don't believe they are the future.

And now I have to go to the store to buy some cilantro. No joke. I'm making blackberry tequila salsa, with roasted peppers, tomatillos, and garlic, diced red onions and roma tomatoes, red wine vinegar, and fresh-squeezed lime juice. And fresh-squeezed blackberry juice, of course, and Patron. And spices. And cilantro. This will top blue corn and sea salt tortilla chips with diced chicken breast, black beans, and artisan pepper jack and Cotija cheese. The dish will be finished off with a dollop of fresh, homemade guacamole. I believe this will be a kick-ass lunch.

As for life after death, I believe that it is a scientific fact that there is life after death, if by "death" we are agreeing to the common definition of death as being signified by brain death. It is well established, but I am far too lazy to cite, that parts of the body continue to live and even grow (fingernails, for example) well after the brain has ceased functioning and the core body temperature has dropped to unsustainable levels. A fun fact, but not really the point, of course, since what people are really all hepped up about is not whether some element of their current cellular matrix continues on, but whether their awareness of self continues on in some recognizable manner.

It is pretty well established by empirical evidence that brain damage to specific areas of the brain can cause irreparable loss of memory, identity, and even self awareness. Whether the soul exists or not, it shows no evidence of being able to sustain a specific given self when the brain is so injured. Given that, there is simply no reason to believe that a recognizable awareness of self will somehow reemerge after the brain has died, even if we grant the existence of a soul for sake of argument. If there is a soul, it is not the source of your sense of self, or your sense of self would not be forfeit when your brain is rewired. If there is a soul, it is something else entirely.

That the ample evidence conflicts with wishful, magical thinking and our love of mythic traditions does not somehow invalidate it as evidence.

We die a little every day. Every life is a continuous journey of loss and transformation as we move from innocent childhood through various stages of adult understanding to our ends. No specific sense, emotion, or event can long be sustained in one’s sense of current time throughout this journey. But as sad as it may be to lose the immediate sense of wonder as experience transforms into memory, this is also the very mechanism that makes room in our awareness for the wonder of the new. We cannot grow without relegating some part of what we have been to the past. It is painful to lose those we love or to try to imagine the world without ourselves as witness, but it is this very act of stepping aside that provides a space for what comes next. Own your connections to the past and cherish your role in the now. You can lay the groundwork for the future, but you can never actually live in it. And that’s as true when you’re alive as when you’re dead.

I believe that being temporary is a blessing, if anything is. That life has meaning precisely because it is finite, transformative, and interdependent. I have said it before, and I’m certainly not the first to say it, but I believe that our deaths are the greatest gift we have to offer the future.

And that’s what I believe. And now, the cilantro is calling. It will live again, for a time, in me. And then, eventually, it will pass from all memory, having played its small part, and then made way for the rest of the story. As will I.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:28 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Or they embrace the line of Continental philosophy that flows through Nietzsche and Heidegger and deal with the immaterial through oblique, aesthetic, anti-rational strategies.

Good gracious, if it came to that nuclear option I'd bravely line up with the reductio Humeans! Just leave me my Kant. But this is, as it turns out, not territory that I want to wade into, so I will bid you all adieu as I step boldly into fresh air. Write me some good readings for later!
posted by Kwine at 12:29 PM on March 4, 2009


Because, no, you really did just spout out a bunch of bullshit about religion that's drawn Nietzsche's attack on the slave mentality of Christianity through an undergrad telephone.

You don't understand slave mentality/morality in the fucking slightest. Nietzche doesn't call Christianity a slave morality because it enslaves its believers but because society being built around it is an end desirable to slaves.

That's, in fact, one of the chief problems with Nietzsche's writing, that his hyperbolic aphorisms and poetic discursive style make his arguments appealing to people who don't understand them.

My biggest problem with Nietzche lately is that some people think "UR ARGUMENT IS LIEK NIETZCHE LOL" is valid argumentation. For the record, I dislike Nietzche; I have a very short patience for aphorisms, metaphors, and poetry when you could just say what you fucking mean.

Also, none of this addresses the fallacies that I pointed out, but I don't get the impression that you're going to do anything but make personal attacks and glancingly address my arguments, sooo

It's not just that materialism has little to say about them, it's that materialism fundamentally cannot say anything about them. That's a limit, spud. The necessity of the immaterial is orthogonal to the question. There are hard limits to what we can know (or assume), and materialism only functions within those boundaries

My apologies. I thought you meant that materialism was limited in the sense of being unable to account for things that need to be accounted for, rather than meaning that it is what it is and nothing else. I was responding to an argument that I anticipated you making and not one that you were.

What does goal-setting have to do inherently with religion?

Because the things that we believe determine the things that we prioritize and the things that we do. Are you seriously arguing that differences in beliefs will not create differences in agendas and goals?

Christ, this is stupid too. Do you have a quota to fill or something? Martin Luther King Jr. didn't want to end segregation to make the world a better place, he wanted to end segregation so he could rule!

"Martin Luther King" is not a religion.

You're not going to read anything I mention, you're not going to understand anything I mention, you're going to continue with your sandwich-board arguments, ignorant of history, context, religion, well, every topic you declaim on, honestly.

"You disagree with me! You must just be ignorant of how right I am!"

And you're never going to bother to try to view things from anyone else's perspective, because they're all evil and wrong slaves and you're righteous and pure.

I never said anything of the sort. I've spent quite a lot of my today responding to other opinions and perspectives, examining them, and identifying what appear to be problems with them. You, on the other hand, have used your time in this thread to make facile arguments and surround them with sneering arrogance and vituperation. What I find fascinating is that if I say something nasty, it's proof that atheists are nasty people, whereas if you say something nasty, well, the religious are a diverse lot. Cute, that.

Fuck, all this is reminding me is that I need to avoid anyone who believes in a totalizing ideology

And the war on systemic thinking continues! Disparate and frequently incompatible ideas cobbled together into a freshman philosophy paper uber alles!
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:31 PM on March 4, 2009


You don't have to, but some people do; and some people don't require evidence they want to think about to be material.

What other type of evidence is there?

We know that some brain activity continues for minutes, sometimes hours, after breathing and circulation has stopped functioning.

Do you have a source for this assertion?

Especially because anyone who was able to come back to talk about them was not actually completely dead.

I think that's just moving the goalposts to serve your argument. If brain activity ceases, then I think we are entirely reasonable in calling a person dead. You can set up some arbitrary length of time for there to be no brain activity for before you call someone completely dead, but I don't see any reason to do so.

For one reason, I don't think they made it all the way beyond death.

You can't argue from the assumption that there is some way to be beyond death.
posted by ssg at 12:38 PM on March 4, 2009


It is well established, but I am far too lazy to cite, that parts of the body continue to live and even grow (fingernails, for example) well after the brain has ceased functioning and the core body temperature has dropped to unsustainable levels. A fun fact, but not really the point,

Sorry to wreck your fun, but actually the skin pulls back from the nails, causing them to appear to grow.
posted by ssg at 12:45 PM on March 4, 2009


Because, no, you really did just spout out a bunch of bullshit about religion that's drawn Nietzsche's attack on the slave mentality of Christianity through an undergrad telephone.

Disparate and frequently incompatible ideas cobbled together into a freshman philosophy paper uber alles!

I took a philosophy course my freshman year of undergrad. Was I really such a bad person back then?
posted by cimbrog at 12:45 PM on March 4, 2009


Ah, hell with it. Since that's the way we're doing this...

Well, no, it's not. Submission implies consent. I hope you never have sex if you don't understand the difference between submission and non-resistance.

Look at this facile bullshit. Leaving aside the ridiculous idea that sex involves resistance or non-resistance, thereby classifying it essentially as a violation or assault (some real nice psychosexual issues you got going there!), what it comes down to is that in the real fucking world- that'd be the material one, in case your feeble mind has forgotten- the outcome is the same. Exploitation, theft, and murder don't give a shit how you feel, it's whether or not you actually do anything to stop them, which Christianity, at least, commands that we do not.

You could base your beliefs on faith, but your underlying question—reasonable position—precludes this. However, reason is not a given, it's an assumption (and a pretty big, fraught one from all sorts of different perspectives).

Your idiocy reminds me of some of the alcoholics and potheads I knew in undergrad. If you can't fucking see why reason is a necessary start to any endeavor, it's no fucking wonder you're such a failure at philosophy.


Maybe because that has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand, which is whether religion can be useful in addressing the existential questions around death and can it do so better than other fields of thought or inquiry.

Look, you dishonest piece of shit, you basically ignored everything I said and said "Why are you so angry?" It's a classic tactic of marginalization, and you're filth for using it, but I answered your goddamn question.

The topic is not organized religion.

The dishonest drawing of a distinction is exactly characteristic of the kind of bullshit you're spewing. Pretending that there are religious beliefs that exist in isolation from organized religion is lying.

Secondly, I notice that your anger is directed almost exclusively at Christianity, and not at Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. that also have a lot to say on the subject.

I'm familiar with the principles and ideas of faiths that aren't Christianity, and have yet to see anything in them that looks even a little valuable, but the reason I target Christianity in these debates is because we exist in a culture that absolutely dominated by Christianity and in a world in which Christianity is the dominant faith. You're a lying asshole who wants to pretend that there's some kind of platonic "religious beliefs" that exist apart from instantiated religious beliefs, but it's just as nonsensical when you say as it was when Plato says it. We are talking about beliefs that are held in the real world by real human beings. Apparently that's too fucking hard for you to understand.

See, it seems to me that you are actually obsessed with the existential crisis of death.

Of course I am, you fucking dolt! Every human being who's ever fucking seen or been near death is! Saying that as if you've made a point of some kind of ridiculous.

The difference between fantasy and religion is that fantasy implicitly denies the crisis by depicting a world where there is no death (immortals, zombies, ghosts, coming back to life, etc), but religion tackles it head on by noting that you'll never understand the mystery until you die.

No, bullshit, stop that. Religion does NOT claim that you'll never understand the mystery until you die. Religions come right out and say here's how it fucking is. Here's what happens when you die. But they don't fucking know that, and they have no way to know that, and no right to say it. That is the central inexcusable lie that every religion is based on- the lie that the religious have any idea what happens after death. Every other bit of dishonesty and noxious social prescription is subordinate to that lie.

What is amazing to me is that you and other atheists don't realize this (the denial/sublimation) is happening.

What is amazing to me is that you honestly believe this.

(I don't think you do- I think you're really just a dick who lost his faith but doesn't want to be seen as like those other nonbelievers.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:49 PM on March 4, 2009


I took a philosophy course my freshman year of undergrad. Was I really such a bad person back then?

Fresman-level philosophy courses aren't exactly known for rigorous arguments.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:50 PM on March 4, 2009


Fresman-level philosophy courses aren't exactly known for rigorous arguments.

Whereas this one is stellar, I guess.
posted by stubby phillips at 12:51 PM on March 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


The subsequent reasoning is necessarily confined to its own initial assumption, and only relevant in discussing phenomena observable within the realm of the material.

Except you yourself can't discuss phenomena outside the "realm of the material" either. You can string undefined words and unarticulated concepts together, but that doesn't mean you've communicated anything but noise to yourself or others. Saying that the mind could exist "beyond this material plane", is like saying the mind exists in a slithy tove. I don't know what you're trying to propose, and neither do you.

But the acceptance of only the material as real rests on nothing other than a will to believe only that for which there's physical evidence.


There are mental procedures for being more often right about facts and more often wrong about facts. There are also mental procedures for almost always being very, very wrong about facts. This doesn't mean those procedures are always necessarily wrong, it means that no rational person should use them in the expectation of good results.

It's like shooting someone in the head and throwing them off of a cliff. You are almost certain to kill them, but maybe, just maybe, shooting them and throwing them off the cliff will somehow result in them being ok, winning the lottery, and curing AIDS.

This may be a technical possibility, but it has no relevance in the context of human experience and endeavor. If you throw someone off the cliff, you are a murderer, even if you were doing it because you insanely thought the outcome would be lottery and puppy dogs. Similarly, if you try and form beliefs by intentionally contradicting scientific facts and cherry-picking from the world buffet of unfalsifiable folk superstitions, you are a kook and an idiot. You are purposely engaging in bad thinking.

Why should belief in love have some special status that belief in a god doesn't? Isn't love also a neural ilusion, biologically selected for because it facilitates the conception and maintenance of offspring to an age of viability? Isn't 'love' as we think of it a set of lies just as the god delusion is

Miko, either you are being disingenuous, or you just aren't very intelligent. Love isn't a "belief," it is an experience; a feeling. And to the extent that it would sometimes result in false beliefs (i.e. a woman staying with a physically abusive boyfriend, under the impression that he wouldn't ever "really" hurt her), then I would challenge those false beliefs.

The cognition underlying religion isn't a "belief" either, it is an instinctual projection of minds into space. This often results in "experiences" too, just like the processes underlying love. For example the feeling of fear when you see a movement in some shadows, even when you know you're home alone. Perhaps others are comforted by the feeling that dead loved ones are present.

I have no problem with experiences or feelings that people do not perceive as negative. Sometimes feelings, aided by social processes, lead to false beliefs. I do have a problem with false beliefs, even when those false beliefs make people happier, for reasons I've already alluded to, and that aren't entirely relevant to this discussion.
posted by dgaicun at 12:52 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sorry to wreck your fun, but actually the skin pulls back from the nails, causing them to appear to grow.

Hey, cool! Thanks, ssg. New information doesn't wreck anything for me. That was just an obviously-not-so-clever aside on my part, anyway. I'll happily retract it to reveal more of the gruesome nail beneath.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:55 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you base your beliefs on what you are pleased to call "faith", then you can believe anything you please. But then there is no point at all in our trying to have a rational discussion about it.

Well, there can be, if you begin by making some assumptions about the faith and setting parameters about the rules and limits of the dicussion, just as you do with a discussion about material evidence. I'm pretty sure you can use reasoning in moral discussions and theological discussions, so they're still rational, even though they're not materialistic. I might be wrong about that, but that's how I understand 'rational,' using reason, and I don't think there's anything about reason that doesn't work if you begin with different foundational assumptions aside from materialism. I am thinking particularly of the use of reasoning in nonsense syllogisms, which I remember doing in a logic class to demonstrate the action of reasoning without muddling us up with emotional responses (All mogs have bruck, Chup is a mog, Chup has bruck.") Reason is being used, so it should be considered rational, it's just that there's no shared understanding of meaning in those premises. Maybe klangklangston will correct me there if I'm wrong, but I think you can call religious reasoning rational, just not rational within all thought systems.

And some people work to reconcile material evidence with assumptions about faith, using reason, which is a fine thing for people to do if it interests them though it obviously has not been conclusive. So I think what you mean is that there is no point trying to have a discussion about it that's confined to materialism.

My basic point is that those who confine themselves to material reasoning should easily be able to admit that's what they're doing, since that's the system they propose for understanding the entire world; and that it would be helpful for discourse to refrain from insulting people who are using other mental structures to think about the world, and refrain from insisting that theirs is the only useful or imaginable construct or that there is a quality of ultimate truth about it that other systems lack. This is the same absolutism that the hardest-core evangelicals use - "it's true because it's true because I say so because I'm using my rules and those rules say it's true" - and that, I reject.

As for Pope Guilty, problems with the experience of religion as a sociopolitical force really are a separate question from whether divinity exists. I don't think there's anybody here who would say "all religion has been 100% good all the time in human history," so you're arguing with a position that no one has asserted.

Also, nice comment IRFH, but one small point: fingernails don't really grow after death.
posted by Miko at 12:58 PM on March 4, 2009


Yeah - ssg already nailed me on that one.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:04 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, there can be, if you begin by making some assumptions about the faith and setting parameters about the rules and limits of the dicussion, just as you do with a discussion about material evidence. I'm pretty sure you can use reasoning in moral discussions and theological discussions, so they're still rational, even though they're not materialistic.

You can have moral discussions without referring to the immaterial (unless you seriously believe that moral objectivism is necessary to be talking about morality, which is a surprisingly common position). Theological discussions make the immaterial mandatory, and the problem you run into is that you have no reasonable starting point. You are building on feet of clay, if I may make a Bible reference.

and that it would be helpful for discourse to refrain from insulting people who are using other mental structures to think about the world, and refrain from insisting that theirs is the only useful or imaginable construct or that there is a quality of ultimate truth about it that other systems lack.

Materialism has the trump card of actually referring to things that exist and can be verified. (Yeah, yeah, radical skepticism. I'll believe claims of radical skepticism when I meet a radical skeptic who can walk through walls... or at least is black and blue from trying.) Outside of artificial structures like math, empiricism is the only actual source of information that we have. The claim that you can just make things up- which is what faith amounts to- and be equally valid is offensive.

As for Pope Guilty, problems with the experience of religion as a sociopolitical force really are a separate question from whether divinity exists.

They are intertwining issues that must both be addressed. To ignore one in favor of the other would be dishonest.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:10 PM on March 4, 2009


I have no problem with experiences or feelings that people do not perceive as negative. Sometimes feelings, aided by social processes, lead to false beliefs. I do have a problem with false beliefs, even when those false beliefs make people happier, for reasons I've already alluded to, and that aren't entirely relevant to this discussion.

I think it's entirely relevant that because you have a problem with beliefs you deem false, you feel entitled to insist that your estimation of falseness is always correct, even to the point of being intentionally cruel and nasty. That's the topic of the thread, so it's pretty relevant.

The difficulty is that you are using your system of belief - again, one which I find very convincing myself - to declare beliefs built on other thought systems 'false.' I see no reason to accept the experience of love as a valid nonnegative experience and yet refuse to accept the experience of religious feeling as a nonvalid nonnegative experience. If your reasoning were consistent, wouldn't you just accept the experience of religious feeling as long as it did not do social harm, as the experience of love does no social harm unless it results in negative conditions? Why is religious feeling - which arises equally, in your construction, because of the same physical processes that produce love - singled out as a target for hostility, a scourge that must be confronted and destroyed?

Miko, either you are being disingenuous, or you just aren't very intelligent.

Oh, gee, which is it, O great logician?
posted by Miko at 1:10 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Disingenuous.
posted by dgaicun at 1:16 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and for the record:

I generally use about half the amount of cilantro the recipe calls for. Especially in things like salsa.
posted by thivaia at 1:16 PM on March 4, 2009


Ask the horse you just beat to death if there's an afterlife.
posted by gman at 1:19 PM on March 4, 2009


I fucked that up, but I'm too lazy to redo.
posted by gman at 1:26 PM on March 4, 2009


He said, "Neigh."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:27 PM on March 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Miko: I think it's entirely relevant that because you have a problem with beliefs you deem false, you feel entitled to insist that your estimation of falseness is always correct, even to the point of being intentionally cruel and nasty. That's the topic of the thread, so it's pretty relevant.


Cruelness and nastiness is not the topic of anything I've addressed. You're free to talk about that with others. I don't see me as the bully here, just the same typical litany of false insinuations about atheism as the hateful belief system coming from others.

I see no reason to accept the experience of love as a valid nonnegative experience and yet refuse to accept the experience of religious feeling as a nonvalid nonnegative experience... Why is religious feeling - which arises equally, in your construction, because of the same physical processes that produce love - singled out as a target for hostility, a scourge that must be confronted and destroyed?

Religious feeling is not religious belief. The two are nothing alike.


If your reasoning were consistent, wouldn't you just accept the experience of religious feeling as long as it did not do social harm,

Yep, I do. Unfortunately spreading pseudoscience about the human brain does not qualify.


klang:Really? What is it like to die, then? What first-hand accounts can you give? Or were you simply quibbling with "totally," because we can describe the physical processes?

You don't understand science. I don't need "first-hand accounts", anymore than I need a "first-hand account" of 6000 years ago, to tell you that the earth didn't being 6000 years ago. Both 6000 year earth and life after death are entirely false, in no uncertain terms.

The rest of your post was just angry insults, nothing of substance to respond to.
posted by dgaicun at 1:29 PM on March 4, 2009


Miko, I think we are arguing past each other here. I'm not trying to argue that religious reasoning can't be rational. I just don't see any way to have a useful discussion on the existence of the afterlife when one side is arguing from faith and the does not have the same faith. Both sides can be entirely rational in their arguments, but neither will agree when the bases of their arguments differ so much. This is a sad situation, but I don't see any way around it.
posted by ssg at 1:41 PM on March 4, 2009


Okay, funny story - I've been slogging through this thread, finding much of it interesting, some of it incomprehensible, and then I stumble upon Klang's words, "mighty Science penis", and I giggle out loud. I like the phrase so much I copy it, thinking I will chime into the thread with some incredibly witty comment incorporating "mighty Science penis". But I've got nothing. Bubkes. I'm out of my depth. But that's not the story.

So one of our IT guy calls me in response to a request, and he asks if he can shadow my computer. I agree, of course. I'm not looking at anything incriminating after all. He remotely takes over control of my screen, opens a window, and mutters something about how he has to paste some text. So (on his end) he copies whatever text is on his screen, and then attempts to paste it onto my screen. Except apparently it doesn't work that way, so when he hits "paste", what appears on my screen and his is:

MIGHTY SCIENCE PENIS

Just wanted to share. Back to the argument at hand.
posted by Evangeline at 1:45 PM on March 4, 2009 [19 favorites]


I think we are arguing past each other here. I'm not trying to argue that religious reasoning can't be rational. I just don't see any way to have a useful discussion on the existence of the afterlife when one side is arguing from faith and the does not have the same faith.

Why even stop with the "limits of materialism"? Whomever said it above was right -- when you add another "plane of existence" (etc.) you've already invented your own rules and are no longer part of the same conversation. So why just apply it to what happens after death? Why not evolution? Why not global warming? I mean, sure, maybe all the *science* says we fucking things up nine ways from Sunday, but on another plane of existence, all our C02 might be growing roses. Who knows?

This is the same absolutism that the hardest-core evangelicals use - "it's true because it's true because I say so because I'm using my rules and those rules say it's true" - and that, I reject.

Yeah, them and those wacky scientists.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:48 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to share. Back to the argument at hand.

Worth the thread. Thank you.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:50 PM on March 4, 2009


SCIENCE PENIS MIGHTIER THAN THE WORD
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:51 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cruelness and nastiness is not the topic of anything I've addressed.

You haven't addressed them as a topic, though it's the thread topic, but in the defense of your point of view you employed them in your tone, and that's certainly bullying.

spreading pseudoscience about the human brain does not qualify.

I'm not sure where the pseudoscience about the brain comes in. What are you referring to?

I just don't see any way to have a useful discussion on the existence of the afterlife when one side is arguing from faith and the does not have the same faith. Both sides can be entirely rational in their arguments, but neither will agree when the bases of their arguments differ so much. This is a sad situation, but I don't see any way around it.

ssg, I completely agree with you. I don't even think it's sad, it's just the way it is.

Starting out with this understanding, and according the people who are arguing from different assumptions some basic respect even as you talk about why you believe your system is superior, would be good things to do in these sorts of conversations.

I'm in this thread to advocate that more people start out with this understanding, and leave the invocation of Ultimate Certainties and the name-calling down at the bottom of the bag of rhetorical tricks.
posted by Miko at 2:20 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, never mind, it's OK. I'm done debating and discussing. What ssg said is my stance, plus a final plea to be compassionate if you cannot be credulous.
posted by Miko at 2:26 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Respect as respect is due. Unicorns, flying pigs, and the afterlife all fit into the same "mere possibility" category and are due the same amount of respect. I find it hard to believe that those people encouraging more respect for one of these beliefs manage to keep their minds open to all of them, and if they do, I think they've well passed the point at which open-mindedness is a virtue.

Now, compassion and tact are always in season. There's no reason to be rude to someone who has suffered a great loss (greater in the estimation of those of us, I might point out, who don't believe in the happy ending) but that's an entirely different matter than respecting the belief itself.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:51 PM on March 4, 2009


It is also wrong to flatly state with 100% certainty that unicorns don't exist. In the sense you mean it's wrong to flatly state anything with 100% certainty.

I agree with you, almost everyone here agrees with you. This is why this seems childish, at least on Metafilter. Everyone knows the arguments. You are repeating clichés.


Ah yes, but have you considered the possibility that these have become cliches in the time we've awaited non-evasive responses to them?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:53 PM on March 4, 2009


"You don't understand slave mentality/morality in the fucking slightest. Nietzche doesn't call Christianity a slave morality because it enslaves its believers but because society being built around it is an end desirable to slaves."

Uh, yeah, actually, I got this back when I read Nietzsche. The point was that you misunderstood Christianity and caricatured it the same way that Nietzsche did, over-simplifying an incredibly complex body of theology in order to make your point.

My biggest problem with Nietzche lately is that some people think "UR ARGUMENT IS LIEK NIETZCHE LOL" is valid argumentation. For the record, I dislike Nietzche; I have a very short patience for aphorisms, metaphors, and poetry when you could just say what you fucking mean.

Really? Because my biggest problem with Nietzsche lately, aside from correcting the spelling of his name, is hearing arguments that he made regurgitated as bile plus lumps. Like you just did, though I suppose that were Nietzsche reading this, he'd be relieved you claimed that vomit as your own.

(PS—The aphorisms, metaphors and poetry? That's an intentional attack on the language of philosophy, and makes an assload more sense if you've read his early works regarding Greek tragedy, and his arguments about ressentiment seem directly applicable to your unhappiness with Christianity).

"Because the things that we believe determine the things that we prioritize and the things that we do. Are you seriously arguing that differences in beliefs will not create differences in agendas and goals?"

I am arguing a negative, that belief systems do not inherently presuppose physical agendas and goals. A smart atheist would realize that this is the same argument that atheists make regarding the common supposition that they lack morality. Perhaps you could find an intelligent atheist and have them explain that to you.

""Martin Luther King" is not a religion."

And religions aren't agents. So arguing that they have a will to rule is stupid; arguing that their agents have a universal will to rule is easily disproven. Would you rather be stupid or wrong?

""You disagree with me! You must just be ignorant of how right I am!""

When you argue: "Religion is one of those structures. It serves to keep the social order, promising pie in the sky in exchange for good behavior on earth," I suppose I could go through every example of religion and theology's complicated relationship with temporal power, from Chinese Taoist mysticism to Liberation Theology or Deitrich Bonhoeffer, etc. etc. etc., but it hardly seems worth it just to point out that you have no fucking idea what you're talking about at all.

"What I find fascinating is that if I say something nasty, it's proof that atheists are nasty people, whereas if you say something nasty, well, the religious are a diverse lot. Cute, that."

What I find fascinating is that when I say that not all atheists are obnoxious assholes, you interpret it as me saying that all atheists are obnoxious assholes, and if I say something nasty, suddenly you think I've found religion, instead of just pointing out that you're acting like a giant asshole. Retarded, that.
posted by klangklangston at 3:04 PM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure where the pseudoscience about the brain comes in. What are you referring to?

Life after death = pseudoscience = 6000 year old earth.


but in the defense of your point of view you employed them in your tone, and that's certainly bullying... leave the... name-calling down at the bottom of the bag of rhetorical tricks.

This moral high-ground is disingenuous. So you are once again being disingenuous, no 'name-calling' about it. Do you or do you not see why this was an incredibly vicious comment:

"Funeral? We're just going to toss you out on top of the garbage bags. You're just a bunch of cells that have stopped functioning - why all the ritualistic, sentimental folderol? It's not rational. We could use that time to see a movie."

Do you not see why this is dehumanizing? This is the equivalent of calling people apes and pigs; insinuating we have a dangerous worldview that views people like garbage.

By the way: you feel entitled to insist that your estimation of falseness is always correct, even to the point of being intentionally cruel and nasty. That's the topic of the thread, so it's pretty relevant.

This was a myth. Atheists weren't being jerks, as jessamyn confirmed. Meanwhile, as Crossoverman pointed out it was hermitosis who actually insinuated that atheism was some sort of hate speech! That's what this call-out was about, crying that atheists have the gall to communicate their viewpoint at all. And his suggestion mirrors your ugly insinuation that atheists don't believe in love and grief and all other human attributes just because they don't sympathize with pseudoscience.

Furthermore, the first "name-calling" in this thread was from PastaBagel who called the atheists in this thread "small minded twits", among other insults.... and you favorited the fucking comment.

All this makes you a rather vicious and slippery hypocrite, for a number of different ugly reasons. Your call for restraint and civility, once you personally feel insulted, ring mighty hollow.
posted by dgaicun at 3:11 PM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Look at this facile bullshit. Leaving aside the ridiculous idea that sex involves resistance or non-resistance, thereby classifying it essentially as a violation or assault (some real nice psychosexual issues you got going there!), what it comes down to is that in the real fucking world- that'd be the material one, in case your feeble mind has forgotten- the outcome is the same. Exploitation, theft, and murder don't give a shit how you feel, it's whether or not you actually do anything to stop them, which Christianity, at least, commands that we do not."

Hi, retard. See, I know that you want this to be all about how I'm a bad evil person with all sorts of issues, but me and the law and common sense all recognize that intent and consent are real things that matter when discussing morality.

And, see, here's when you're going to have to say, wait, this is easily proven, and I was wrong: Without a difference between submission and non-resistance, all Dom/sub play is rape. A sub, rather tautologically, submits willingly, giving up their power in a situation because they chose to. That's different than, say, drugging someone and having sex with their unconscious body, which is simple non-resistance. That's not a semantic distinction, it's a distinction of meaning. Which happens to exist in the material world, but which has nothing to do with materialism. If you need more examples, I can provide them aplenty.

QE fucking D.
posted by klangklangston at 3:14 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Agree with them or not, at least klang's finally met his rhetorical double in dgaicun. En garde!
posted by adamdschneider at 3:16 PM on March 4, 2009


"That's what this call-out was about, crying that atheists have the gall to communicate their viewpoint at all."

No, it was not. Like boo_radley pointed out, this was never supposed to be a debate about the afterlife, but it's turned into one, because of the way hermitosis led off the callout.

And Jessamyn said "I didn't see most people being jerks." She did not validate everyone's comments in that thread.
posted by HopperFan at 3:25 PM on March 4, 2009


"Your idiocy reminds me of some of the alcoholics and potheads I knew in undergrad. If you can't fucking see why reason is a necessary start to any endeavor, it's no fucking wonder you're such a failure at philosophy."

You're the success story? Cod Nietzsche, apoplectic atheism, a totalizing belief in reason?

Hey, here's my faux-Foucault: Every dominant power structure has used "reason" to constrain and ostracize competing worldviews. And my mock-Mouffe: Excluding the "unreasonable" from political conversation can only serve to strengthen institutions regardless of utility.

And if you can't understand that similar conflicts have been already hashed out with legitimate points on both sides, you need to stop pretending that you have any claim on a philosophical or political education.
posted by klangklangston at 3:25 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


"You don't understand science. I don't need "first-hand accounts", anymore than I need a "first-hand account" of 6000 years ago, to tell you that the earth didn't being 6000 years ago. Both 6000 year earth and life after death are entirely false, in no uncertain terms."

I do understand science. You don't. And you also don't understand philosophy. If you did, you would say that it's not consistent to believe that the Earth came into being 6000 years ago from a materialist viewpoint.
posted by klangklangston at 3:37 PM on March 4, 2009


"I just don't see any way to have a useful discussion on the existence of the afterlife when one side is arguing from faith and the does not have the same faith. Both sides can be entirely rational in their arguments, but neither will agree when the bases of their arguments differ so much. "

That's, frankly, one of the biggest reasons to advocate for secular politics. Materialism is common, able to be communicated, and open to shared projects in a way that the vast majority of anti-materialism isn't. The assumptions of materialism are fairly open, and they're big enough that they're not really impacted inherently by folks choosing to disregard them.
posted by klangklangston at 3:45 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is one of those times when people try to show how smart they are by talking about what they've read. There was that movie with Matt Damon in it, remember? He was a genius because he could quote more arcane philosophy than the other guy. Good Will Hunting.

Did you buy that scene? I didn't. I'm not buying this one either. What's the point of all this wrangling, anyway? What are you hoping to achieve? What's at stake?

Reread some of the things you typed. What the fuck? Why do you throw your dignity away on something like this? The afterlife? Seriously?
posted by stubby phillips at 3:49 PM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ask the horse you just beat to death if there's an afterlife.
posted by gman at 1:19 PM on March 4 [+] [!]

He said, "Neigh."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:27 PM on March 4 [2 favorites +] [!]


The fact that IRFH wasn't immediately struck by lightning or flattened by a meteor after making this quip is 100% definitive proof of the non-existence of God.
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:56 PM on March 4, 2009


I, however, am apparently perfect. Otherwise, why would I be entitled to be so judgemental and harsh?

Sorry. I wish I could unpost.
posted by stubby phillips at 3:57 PM on March 4, 2009


The fact that IRFH wasn't immediately struck by lightning or flattened by a meteor after making this quip is 100% definitive proof of the non-existence of God.

How do you know He didn't?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:13 PM on March 4, 2009


Or "How do you know I wasn't," I suppose, would be a more correct response.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:15 PM on March 4, 2009


I do understand science. You don't. And you also don't understand philosophy. If you did, you would say that it's not consistent to believe that the Earth came into being 6000 years ago from a materialist viewpoint.

Actually, adipocere already proposed a logically consistent materialist afterlife, which I never doubted could be proposed anyway. (a so-called "non-materialist" afterlife, which you are attempting to insinuate could exist here, along with so many others in this thread, is just empty verbal noise. Quack. Quack. TimeCube. Fart. Phlogiston is released during combustion, Jesus turned water into wine, and hamburgers eat people in the triangular 54th hyper-dimension. Great, whatever that made-up nonsense means. Back here in reality people eat hamburgers and die forever when they get shot in the head)

This isn't mathematics, it's Bayesian induction. An infinite number of logically consistent theories are implicitly assigned the lowest possible rating of probability. That is where life-after-death dwells, right along side Santa Claus, Martian unicorns, 6000 year old earth, and all supernatural religious claims. They are false, and that is as much of a fact as anything that can be regarded as a fact, outside of tautologies. (i.e. deduction)
posted by dgaicun at 4:17 PM on March 4, 2009


Aren't we getting a little far afield from the initial point that just because you don't believe there is an afterlife, there's no need to be a dick to someone who does?
posted by dersins at 4:26 PM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


pfff, all the unicorns on Mars died out years ago.
posted by jtron at 4:32 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aren't we getting a little far afield from the initial point that just because you don't believe there is an afterlife, there's no need to be a dick to someone who does?

NO BECAUSE I STILL PHYSICALLY SHAKE
posted by generalist at 4:37 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just addressed that. The "initial point" was that atheists were being dicks for communicating their harmful belief. So, no, your insinuation is ass-backwards: people were being dicks to others because they didn't believe there was an afterlife. And then when they started biting back (mostly just me), all of sudden it turned into OMG THE ANGRY RUDE ATHEESZTS AT IT AGAINZ. CIVITLITY PLZS.
posted by dgaicun at 4:38 PM on March 4, 2009


"Actually, adipocere already proposed a logically consistent materialist afterlife, which I never doubted could be proposed anyway. (a so-called "non-materialist" afterlife, which you are attempting to insinuate could exist here, along with so many others in this thread, is just empty verbal noise. Quack. Quack. TimeCube. Fart. Phlogiston is released during combustion, Jesus turned water into wine, and hamburgers eat people in the triangular 54th hyper-dimension. Great, whatever that made-up nonsense means. Back here in reality people eat hamburgers and die forever when they get shot in the head)"

Wow, quoting yourself and running on some coprolalia fart-huffing excursion. That's a lot of masturbation to beg a question.

If it were empty verbal noise, ergo conveyed no meaning, you'd be unable to reply because it wouldn't register as a statement. Instead, you're left sputtering the same frothy mix of materialist bullshit (Phlogiston was materialistic, remember?).
posted by klangklangston at 4:41 PM on March 4, 2009


"The "initial point" was that atheists were being dicks for communicating their harmful belief."

You can say this a million more times, and it still won't make it true.
posted by HopperFan at 4:57 PM on March 4, 2009


You can say this a million more times, and it still won't make it true.

See here (no evidence of dickish pattern) and here (evidence of primary offense over atheist belief). This is like the Monty Python argument sketch. A contradiction isn't an argument. An argument is built on premises.

If it were empty verbal noise, ergo conveyed no meaning, you'd be unable to reply because it wouldn't register as a statement

Why in the world would I be unable to reply to a nonsensical statement by calling it a nonsensical statement?? Would a "real" nonsensical statement instantly melt my face off like the Ark of the Covenant for some reason?

Non-material premises don't register as anything but words: Life after death could exist "beyond this material plane" (Miko) = Life after death could exist in the triangular 54th hyper-dimension = twas brillig and the slithy tothes. None of those statements are making coherent claims.

Instead, you're left sputtering the same frothy mix of materialist bullshit (Phlogiston was materialistic, remember?).

Right, and pretending to send the whole idea over into some mysterious, inarticulable realm doesn't make it any more true. Just like saying that maybe life-after-death exists is the echoes of the unreal parallax doesn't do anything to add to our Bayesian weighting of its truth value. It's cargo cult epistemology. If science contradicts a premise, science contradicts the premise. Tacking on meaningless verbal garbage like "beyond this material plane," doesn't do anything to make it more probable.

Materialism is common, able to be communicated, and open to shared projects in a way that the vast majority of anti-materialism isn't.

Could you please cite some examples of anti-materialism that are common, able to be communicated, and open to shared projects? It would sure clarify what in the world you think you're talking about. Just one example would be fine.

I'm waiting...

One example?

*crickets*
posted by dgaicun at 5:20 PM on March 4, 2009


I propose a fight to the death. Loser has to let us know if there's an afterlife.
posted by gman at 5:23 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


"See here (no evidence of dickish pattern) and here (evidence of primary offense over atheist belief). This is like the Monty Python argument sketch. A contradiction isn't an argument. An argument is built on premises."

Hermitosis simply didn't say what you keep claiming in one way or another, "...atheists were being dicks for communicating their harmful belief." I suppose I should have said that repeating a false claim, over and over, and quite vociferously, does not make it true.

What you linked to was Jessamyn's take on the comments in the original thread as a whole (atheist or no) , and another commenter who felt like it was a "terrible call-out." I don't think that proves your claim. If you're trying to prove that 1. Atheists are not dicks and 2. Other people felt like the responses that included atheism were just fine thank you very much - I can give you #2. After reading some of the responses in this thread, #1 is still up in the air.

I think you're just screaming into the void now, though, so have at it.
posted by HopperFan at 5:48 PM on March 4, 2009


But I too would like to see a death match.

"In accordance with our principles of free enterprise and healthy competition, I'm going to ask you two to fight to the death for it."
posted by HopperFan at 6:01 PM on March 4, 2009


I would like to submit this thread as concrete evidence for Evangelical Atheism.

What's amazing to me is that you all are banging each other on the heads and there's not a theist among you. Ok, don't believe in an afterlife, that's cool, but then doesn't make more sense to UNBUNCH YOUR PANTIES to live your life in a world of grooviness instead of keeping your sphincters so firmly clenched?

Honestly, if you step back and read this thread from an outsider's perspective, not a one of you believes in an afterlife or a divine being and you're all screaming at each other.

Man, I'm not an atheist and I'm almost afraid that revealing this is going to get me beaten up in the alley as soon as I turn my back.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:02 PM on March 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


"Could you please cite some examples of anti-materialism that are common, able to be communicated, and open to shared projects?"

Of course, I'd love to reward your hectoring tone! A belief in the afterlife, especially from a literal reading of the Bible, fulfills the latter two conditions. If I was intellectually dishonest, I'd posit that it also fulfills the first ("common"), but that isn't what I meant by common. Rousseau's General Will is by definition common, communicable and open to shared projects; it has the disadvantage of being rather tautological (though, as mentioned, so is materialism).

But the fundamental problem with anti-materialism is that it is subjective, and the political sphere should operate in as objective a space as possible.

"Why in the world would I be unable to reply to a nonsensical statement by calling it a nonsensical statement?? Would a "real" nonsensical statement instantly melt my face off like the Ark of the Covenant for some reason?

Well, first off, there are different kinds of nonsense. But if something truly has no meaning, there's no response possible, because there's nothing to respond to. Even the nonsense that you responded with has meaning and different characteristics; that you're too fucking stupid to understand this may be part of why you're having so much trouble with symbolic communication. Faith can be irrational (or arational—something I'd normally grant, but fuck you, prove it), and Beckett's plays can be irrational, but that doesn't meant that faith is the same as Waiting for Godot (Qua qua qua qua qua…). And it doesn't mean that because vorpal blades and jabberwocky are nonsense that they're valueless, even in the "real world."
posted by klangklangston at 6:11 PM on March 4, 2009


not a one of you believes in an afterlife or a divine being and you're all screaming at each other.

How do you know that?
posted by Miko at 6:12 PM on March 4, 2009


not a one of you believes in an afterlife or a divine being and you're all screaming at each other

hey, i believe in reincarnation (a kind of afterlife), but it's a model that was specifically revealed to me & maybe not commonly shared, in which it's possible to be reincarnated into the same time period as an existing version of myself. or, better put, i could be reincarnated into the past, future or present. likewise for past & future & present versions of me.

the upshot of this is that i believe that every single person i ever interact with is none other than me, in another life. as is everybody in history & in the future.

this is why i prefer not to scream at others, because that just means i'm being nasty to myself.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:15 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I kind of like that theory, but it must be damn hard to remember when faced with an Israeli tourist, eh?

(I'm referring to an earlier thread, people, don't jump all over me)
posted by HopperFan at 6:21 PM on March 4, 2009


Unless I've seriously missed something, everyone who is passionate in this thread has made a statement saying "I don't believe in an afterlife, BUT" or "I'm an atheist" or, at best, "I'm an agnostic."

Maybe this is splitting hairs, but really, the points of view when you distill them are more all within the same color spectrum than say, green vs. red. There aren't any religious believers of any kind who have unmasked thus far. And yet, this is one of the meanest discussions about religion, or total lack thereof, that I've ever encountered.

I'm not going to shoot myself, because y'all have done a good job demonstrating that once my consciousness ends that's it, end of story, but I might start drinking to drown my sorrows that I live in such a meaningless universe.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:22 PM on March 4, 2009


gfm - the reason iit doesn't matter whether someone is a theist or not is that the discussion isn't about belief vs. nonbelief, it's about two other things: whether there is a universal truth or not, and whether it's desirable to tell others that what you determine to be the truth is absolutely true for them as well, always. At least that's how I see it.

I apologize if I inadvertently hurt anyone's feelings; that's wrong and a poor example, especially since I'm trying to say that it would be good for people here to experience and offer more respect and kindness.

To me, that involves avoiding absolutism of any kind, so my other positions remain unchanged.
posted by Miko at 6:25 PM on March 4, 2009


I would like to submit this thread as concrete evidence for Evangelical Atheism.

What's amazing to me is that you all are banging each other on the heads and there's not a theist among you. Ok, don't believe in an afterlife, that's cool, but then doesn't make more sense to UNBUNCH YOUR PANTIES to live your life in a world of grooviness instead of keeping your sphincters so firmly clenched?

Honestly, if you step back and read this thread from an outsider's perspective, not a one of you believes in an afterlife or a divine being and you're all screaming at each other.

Man, I'm not an atheist and I'm almost afraid that revealing this is going to get me beaten up in the alley as soon as I turn my back.


I would like to submit this comment as concrete evidence for Theist Disconnect With Reality.

Now I get to pretend that your hyperbole and hysteria represents all theists.

Or not. Seriously, grapefruitmoon. It appears to this groovy atheist that you're the one needing to unclench a bit. Given that a) You're probably not right that everyone participating in this thread is an atheist; and b) you're definitely not right that all atheists in this thread are screaming at each other; and c) that even if we were all screaming at each other that doesn't necessarily represent a threat to you - I think your comment is at least as over-the-top as the comments you're commenting on. I like you, and I think you're better than that. What's going on here is nothing more than Internet argumentation 101. It could have been any subject. It doesn't say anything more about the character of the average atheist than it says about the character of the average Mefite. I don't really think we're the most dangerous things lurking in your alley.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:39 PM on March 4, 2009


Maybe this is splitting hairs, but really, the points of view when you distill them are more all within the same color spectrum than say, green vs. red.

I don't agree with your assertion that there aren't any believers in divinity or an afterlife in the thread, but even if that were the case, your comment is analogous to my questioning (as an atheist) why one religion might disagree with another. Is no one allowed to disagree with anyone unless that person disagrees with them as much as possible?
posted by ssg at 6:46 PM on March 4, 2009


HopperFan - I'm big enough to admit that in some of my lives I'm a completely obnoxious dickhead.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:55 PM on March 4, 2009


This thread was a great way to pound a 12 pack and waste the day.

I would like to thank all involved.
posted by Max Power at 7:11 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


(and before any of me makes a quip, i already know what i'm going to say, so i shouldn't bother)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:11 PM on March 4, 2009


I was at least 50% kidding in my comments, trying to be over the top as a kind of joke, many apologies that this doesn't seem to have translated to text as well as it worked out in my mind.

I'm just saying that coming into this thread as an outsider, the discussion really reads as a nasty throw-down. Honestly. Miko, your comments aren't offensive in the least, but a vast majority of the "discussion" between Pope Guilty and Pastabagel reads more like an evisceration.

Perhaps I am wrong in my generalizations, but what I'm trying to comment on is the absurdity in the heated reactions that some people have taken to such things as "Is philosophy worthwhile?" The greatest fights in history are always between people who sort of agree on most things, and then disagree on the specifics. IE: Protestants v. Catholics. Shiites v. Sunnis. Original Star Trek v. Next Generation. So, what I'm trying to say is that this reads like Pragmatic Atheists v. Philosophical Atheists MeTa Deathmatch.

Which just, honestly, seems a bit silly. It's certainly calming down now, except of course, that my commentary sounded way better in my head and it's like I peed on the fire, but anyhow. A lot of the reactions seem really harsh for people who have admitted that they *generally* agree.

(And anyhow, I'm not a believer in a big sky magician or anything, for the record. I'm a Buddhist and I'm of the Bill Hicks "one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively" school. Not that I really feel like my particular opinions on the subject are what I want to debate at this point, but just, I don't know, full disclosure or something.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:11 PM on March 4, 2009


I have ALSO read stuff, you guys! I am particularly fond of this well-known quote from Robert Anton Wilson, a gentleman who was a bit...um...skeptical? as regards religion:

"Is", "is." "is" — the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don't know what anything "is"; I only know how it seems to me at this moment.

Who also, I am informed by the internet, had on his desk a card that read:

"If you think you know what the hell is going on, you're probably full of shit."

These statements typify, generally speaking, how I myself roll in this bleak vale of tears. PG, in many other contexts you seem like a pretty groovy cat, but in this one, you are so probably full of shit it is blowing my motherfucking mind. And you are consistently and obnoxiously and tirelessly probably full of shit, endlessly plucking your one chord over and over long after you have been booed off the stage. It's unbearable and I cringe for you. I can't imagine that you really think, deep down, that the reason no one can you when you get on this subject is that they fear death. Dude, they fear being annoyed to death BY YOU. For the love of Richard fucking Dawkins -- for the love of Richard fucking Dawson -- hang the bullshit UP. You cannot win this argument; it is an argument that is always intrinsically not able to be won. More to the point, you cannot perpetually reiterate your argument -- whether it's right or wrong -- and not alienate everyone, including people who actually agree with you about everything.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:35 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, thank... Hicks, grapefruitmoon! I honestly couldn't get your comment to match up with my sense of you. Sorry if my response was too snarky.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:43 PM on March 4, 2009


Eh, no worries. The snark did help realize that the brain/text barrier was a bit too murky in my previous comments. My mellow has not been harshed.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:48 PM on March 4, 2009


I like the use of phlogiston as some kind of strike against materialism. It's like when young earth creationists point to scientists having been wrong about, say, plate tectonics and don't even understand for a second how they've bolstered their opponents' points.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:20 PM on March 4, 2009


I can't imagine that you really think, deep down, that the reason no one can you when you get on this subject is that they fear death.

I think I've explained pretty well in this thread that that's an oversimplification of my position, but shit, why read the thread when you can skim it and just knock out a generic "look what a reasonable person I am"?

The only people outside of ssg that I've even vaguely got the impression are reading what I type here are klangklangston and Pastabagel, and they're more interested in feeling good about themselves than in arguing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:23 PM on March 4, 2009


Fuck you, you pedantic ass.

translation - "you're right, but i'll never admit it" - after all, i could hardly be "pedantic" if i was wrong

Do I actually have to come out and say that the only difference between submission and nonresistance is semantic?

tell that to the million or so souls who resisted the evil of the roman empire in a d 70 and were massacred for their trouble

this ain't mystical bullshit, it's history - and no, you didn't need to be a mystical prophet of god to see it coming, either

now submission would have been to totally take on the culture and religion of rome - nonresistance was to "pay to caesar's what is caesar's, and to god what is god's" - and to go off into the wilderness if things got too oppressive - or leave and "shake the dust from one's feet"

Talking about an unobservable, indescribable place within yourself is mysticism, plain and simple.

peace of mind and heart are not unobservable or indescribable except to someone who believes he is totally beyond achieving them

how unfortunate for you
posted by pyramid termite at 8:32 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


i could hardly be "pedantic" if i was wrong

That doesn't follow at all.

tell that to the million or so souls who resisted the evil of the roman empire in a d 70 and were massacred for their trouble

Wait, wait, I thought you were telling me that they weren't resisting? Get your story straight.

now submission would have been to totally take on the culture and religion of rome - nonresistance was to "pay to caesar's what is caesar's, and to god what is god's" - and to go off into the wilderness if things got too oppressive - or leave and "shake the dust from one's feet"

Oh, I get it, the people who actually laid down their lives fighting oppression and conquest and imperialism were wrong, they should totally have just avoided actually opposing it in any meaningful sense. That makes total- wait, no, that's fucking horrible and you're horrible for believing it.

peace of mind and heart are not unobservable or indescribable except to someone who believes he is totally beyond achieving them

The only paths to peace of mind and heart on this earth are delusion and totally abandoning one's empathy. Based on your comments above, I'm going to go ahead and guess you went with the second one.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:46 PM on March 4, 2009


Wait, wait, I thought you were telling me that they weren't resisting? Get your story straight.

no, get your history and context in which the new testament was written in straight

Oh, I get it, the people who actually laid down their lives fighting oppression and conquest and imperialism were wrong, they should totally have just avoided actually opposing it in any meaningful sense. That makes total- wait, no, that's fucking horrible and you're horrible for believing it.

that's not something i believe, that's something i KNOW - people who resisted the roman empire at that time and place were massacred - period

it seems as though perhaps i've offended you by questioning your own faith in the REVOLUTION and whether it should be fought in all times and all places - seems to me that you've got your own substitute for religion going on here and you're just as irrational about it as you say the religious are - "yes, people, you should fight for what's RIGHT even if it kills you and everyone you know to do so, because it's right - oh, and don't expect to go to heaven, because there is no such place, but don't mind getting hacked to death by soldiers - you're RIGHT and it'll be worth it!!"

but no, you're on the side of the revolution and the revolution will triumph always so you should just go and be massacred

and you accuse me of having an irrational belief system

The only paths to peace of mind and heart on this earth are delusion and totally abandoning one's empathy.

don't be absurd - there are people who have peace of mind, empathy and manage to stay in touch with reality - i've met them - so have you, but you were probably too busy showing off what a rebellious pissant you can be to notice

all you are is a loudmouth wannabe revolutionary who's going to submit to the corporate powers just like everyone else in this country does - just like the metalheads who listen to songs about demons and prattle on about christianity is a slave religion do - you're not going to put your fists or your guns or your body on the line for your precious revolution yourself, but you'll gladly castigate me for saying that it wasn't a good idea for the jews to do that under the roman empire, even when that's a matter of pure historical record

i'd call you a piece of work, but there's no real work involved in you, just talk

shut up and do something, will you?

bye
posted by pyramid termite at 9:11 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


this well-known quote from Robert Anton Wilson...

Oh great, I hope you're all happy now.

compassion and tact are always in season.

*Gets gun and day-glo orange vest*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:59 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


no, get your history and context in which the new testament was written in straight

I'm sorry, the fact that you can't be bothered to speak in complete thoughts means it's sometimes hard to tell what you're getting at. I know, I know, your words are so self-evidently right and true that their meaning should just arrive fully blown inside my head. Comes with the inner peace and true enlightenment package you got when you discovered whatever the fuck your specific brand of marijuana is. It's my fault that you're a shitty communicator.

that's not something i believe, that's something i KNOW - people who resisted the roman empire at that time and place were massacred - period

And the alternative that you offer is that they should've just withdrawn from society and refused to actually do anything to change the system or make the world better.

it seems as though perhaps i've offended you by questioning your own faith in the REVOLUTION and whether it should be fought in all times and all places - seems to me that you've got your own substitute for religion going on here and you're just as irrational about it as you say the religious are - "yes, people, you should fight for what's RIGHT even if it kills you and everyone you know to do so, because it's right - oh, and don't expect to go to heaven, because there is no such place, but don't mind getting hacked to death by soldiers - you're RIGHT and it'll be worth it!!"

Man, when you're done jerking yourself off about how badly you owned that strawman, I'll be standing over here, 'kay?

don't be absurd - there are people who have peace of mind, empathy and manage to stay in touch with reality - i've met them - so have you, but you were probably too busy showing off what a rebellious pissant you can be to notice

If you think "rebellion" has anything to do with it, you're just as ignorant on this topic as you are on the topic of religion. Anybody who can exist in this world, among the pain and violence and exploitation and misery, and feel "peace" inside them is either straight-up incapable of empathy or a master at pretending that things are as they are. Insisting that you bear the symptom of sociopathy but not the cure makes as much sense as the rest of your self-important ramblings.

all you are is a loudmouth wannabe revolutionary who's going to submit to the corporate powers just like everyone else in this country does - just like the metalheads who listen to songs about demons and prattle on about christianity is a slave religion do - you're not going to put your fists or your guns or your body on the line for your precious revolution yourself, but you'll gladly castigate me for saying that it wasn't a good idea for the jews to do that under the roman empire, even when that's a matter of pure historical record

"Mmmm, mmm, mmm, yes, god yes I told him! Oh god, mmm, yes!"

shut up and do something, will you?

Sure, I'll spend a day telling people to stop actually trying to change the world to make it a better place and just withdraw from society to find inner peace.

Your morality is a goddamn mess.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:52 PM on March 4, 2009


I'm sorry, the fact that you can't be bothered to speak in complete thoughts means it's sometimes hard to tell what you're getting at.

no, it's because you're ignorant about religion and history

And the alternative that you offer is that they should've just withdrawn from society and refused to actually do anything to change the system or make the world better.

actually, that's one of the reasons the western empire collapsed is that people withdrew from it - they stopped serving in the army, they stopped paying their taxes, they stopped staying where they were supposed to and they went over to the so-called barbarians

but it all sounds like babble to you because you don't know anything

Man, when you're done jerking yourself off about how badly you owned that strawman, I'll be standing over here, 'kay?

i indicated that rebelling against the roman empire at that time was suicidal and hopeless and you said i was a horrible person for saying so - clearly, you think they should have done so at the cost of millions of lives

you're so ignorant you don't even understand what the implications of your own words are - you are, as i've indicated, a phony revolutionary - just some suburban kid mouthing off about how other people should change the world for him

Anybody who can exist in this world, among the pain and violence and exploitation and misery, and feel "peace" inside them is either straight-up incapable of empathy or a master at pretending that things are as they are.

and of course you've met all 7 billion people on this planet, interviewed them and verified this for yourself

or is this just an article of faith, mr materialist rationalist who's too lazy to actually question his own irrational beliefs?
posted by pyramid termite at 6:28 AM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Last word. *That way none of you feel the need to get it in.
posted by gman at 6:37 AM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I really liked that line in House where Wilson is trying to reason with House, who is just having none of it and he says: "Rationalization man saves the village!"

That's all.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:43 AM on March 5, 2009


Trogdor the burninator would have totally burninated that whole village right the fuck up.
posted by iamabot at 10:47 AM on March 5, 2009


LOGIC AND SCIENCE PROVES THERE IS NO TROGDOR.
posted by klangklangston at 2:05 PM on March 5, 2009


The only people outside of ssg that I've even vaguely got the impression are reading what I type

Dude, you say exactly the same shit any time the subject of religion comes up, ever. You've said exactly the same shit over and over like sixty times in this thread alone. Everyone knows where you stand, I assure you. Frankly, your stance just isn't that complex.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:01 PM on March 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


The existence of God is one of the central claims of religion. You're arguing that one of the central, fundamental ideas in a structure of ideas being wrong wouldn't weaken the structure itself. That's ridiculous.

The birth of Jesus Christ is the core reason for the celebration of Christmas. Are you saying that we shouldn't celebrate it? Worse, we know for a fact that if he did exist, Jesus of Nazareth was not born in December.

There are relgions that do not have a officially designated deity. And there are others that have hundreds or thousands of deities. In my opinion, there are three components to this whole thing:
  • The Just So component -- deities, spirits, and other religious teachings/myths used to explain why the world is the way it is. For most people (even religious people), science has replaced this. Keep in mind that I'm not talking about evolution here, I'm more saying that few people today really believe that there is a deity that controls thunder or one that controls fire, and are perfectly willing to accept scientific explanations. At the same time, some people perceive deeper layers of meaning (I know this is true in Judaism, where the idea of interpreting a section of Torah literally would be scoffed at...there are always several meanings underneath.
  • Rituals, Ceremonies, and Traditions -- this is really important for some people. I remember reading somewhere that part of the point of the religious rituals following a death is it give sthe mourner a predictable set of steps to go through in response to the death. Of course, it also provides an opportunity to reach out to the larger community. Unfortunately, these traditions also include some really bad old habits of exclusion, persecution, and isolation. However, these are not the results of ritual, they are manifested in some rituals. Which means that you can still engage in many rituals and customs while adapting your political viewpoint to be more accepting of other peopls and beliefs.
  • That "spark", source of the "I'm not religious but I'm spiritual". Even if theologians have been arguing about free will for centuries, realistically being able to really practice free will -- having the freedom to do whatever you want -- has only emerged recently. So I think that's why you see more emphasis on this component than the other two. Nonetheless, the idea of a personal connection with a spiritual source has been around for a long time, as well as the idea of having this connection directly rather than mediated via specific rituals or customs.
Particularly in the case of religions that have a tendency to treat their literature literally I think scrapping the first component (Just So) is long overdue. I myself am partial to ritual, which may be a vestige of my superstition. I think it still serves a useful purpose if you can drop the political and socio-cultural baggage (and yes, even if it's difficult you can drop it).

No one ever said that in this thread, so I'm not sure why you are presenting it as a quote. That's misleading, just like the rest of your comment.

Well, in the same way that people are reacting a little strongly to PastaBagel because of how he's written in the past, he might be responding to postings that go along the lines of "I wouldn't want my son taught by a science teacher who believed in God, because that would make them either delusional, insane, or very stupid." I can't point you to an exact post (although I could easily find one if I looked), but there are plenty of them.

I think everyone wins when we realize that there are scientific issues, and theological issues, and the best possible thing is to let them serve their purposes. When I have kids, I don't want creationism taught in schools, and I also don't want their biology teacher to tell them that there is no God.

I personally believe that there is no way to prove that there is no afterlife or spiritual entity out there. By definition they are not really measureable or perceivable by living human beings. On the other hand, there is bountiful evidence to suggest that unicorns do not exist, at least on this planet, because we have been relatively successful in identifying and classifying the species on our planet.

I believe that spiritual practices and beliefs are necessary behaviors and components for some people in exactly the same way that some people feel a need to write or draw. On the whole, choosing to make a living as a painter is a far riskier life choice than deciding to believe in God, but I imagine few scientists would berate the artist, or assume he was turning to art because he was afraid of offices. People are who they are, and for some religion and God is part of that. Respect that belief in others, but fight it when it infringes on your your rights.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:35 AM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I myself am partial to ritual, which may be a vestige of my superstition.

Or not - I enjoyed this week's rebroadcast Radiolab episode on placebo because it talked about how much the power of narrative creates measurable physical responses actions within the brain. The rituals people go through in case of mourning, or a birthday, or whatever are indeed culturally developed, and yet our experiences of witnessing them, developing expectations for them, and drawing meaning from them determine, to a large extent, the value we get for ourselves when going through them - and that value comes from responses that tap into the "well-stocked pharmacy of our brains" and can contribute to healing. The use of ritual doesn't need to depend only on superstition for its value; it has demonstrable value as a physical phenomenon. And it's always about story. This episode made an interesting argument, that humans are hardwired to look for narratives and stories in large part because we are stories. Identity is a story we are telling ourselves, an attempt to make sense of experience.
posted by Miko at 4:52 PM on March 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


On this week's Speaking of Faith:
Former surgeon Sherwin Nuland speaks about his sense of wonder at the body's capacity to sustain life and support our pursuits of order and meaning, and why he believes the human spirit is an evolutionary accomplishment of the brain.
Nuland manages to intelligently discuss the problems of meaning in a wholly materially viewed existence without being the least bit an asshole - so we have wonderful proof that it can be done. He is also, stunningly, respectful of people of faith, because he understands the shared quest and doesn't seek to diminish or demean the difficulties of the human spirit or the larger questions that both science and religion try to approach. He shows that, at the most sophisticated level of cosmology, the two ways of inquiry are not even far apart.
posted by Miko at 11:40 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


« Older Hovercraft Eel call-out thread.   |   What-does-back-off-mean Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments