Over on my other blog, HinesSight, I wrote a 2008 post that chastised a Portland talk show host: "Atheism isn't a religion, Thom Hartmann."
Usually I agree with Portland's Thom Hartmann, Air America's progressive talk show host. But this morning he kept saying that atheism is a religion – that not believing in God is a belief system.
That's ridiculous. It shows that no matter how smart and articulate Hartmann is, he's got some blind spots. Those logic-obscurers likely stem from his Christianity.
I approvingly quoted from a right on piece cleverly titled "Religion of Atheism: if atheism is religion, 'albino' is a suntan.'" Excerpt:
If someone asked you about unicorns, would you say "I believe there are no unicorns", or would it be more honest to say "I do not believe in unicorns"? These are two different answers. Nobody disbelieves in unicorns purely as a matter of personal faith.
Again, apply the same reasoning to the Gods of other religions. Example : if you are a Christian, do you believe the Hindu God Ganesh does not exist? Or do you not believe in Ganesh?
If you believe that unicorns do not exist, then may I say that you [are] a member of the "No unicorns" religion? Is it a matter of faith that unicorns do not exist? Can I come along to your non-unicorn church with you tomorrow?
This made perfect sense to me. But apparently not to someone who left a comment on the post today.
"If you believe that unicorns do not exist, then may I say that you are a member of the 'No unicorns' religion?"
If and I only if I'm Zealot in my belief of 'No Unicorns'. If I shout at the top of my lungs that there are 'No Unicorns', if I write a book called 'Unicorns are not great', host a radio show called 'Free Unicorn Radio', or start some sort of organization. If I write a blog post called 'Unicorns isn't a religion'.
If I do any of those things, then you can say I'm a member of a religion.
No, that's wrong. As I said in the post:
...there is a huge difference between (1) not believing, and (2) believing, in the existence of something.
To assert otherwise is to engage in a form of sophistry where words don't mean anything. Sure, you can say that for many people "golf is a religion" or "watching Lost is a religion."
But this just means that they regularly engage in those activities. Like atheists frequently thinking, "I don't believe in God."
That said (and now I've said it twice), I'll agree with the commenter in this sense: some people not only don't believe in God, they aren't even interested in the question of whether God exists.
This has been called "nontheism" by Jack Huberman -- finding the notion of God so meaningless, it isn't worthy of not being believed in, which would be atheism or agnosticism. (Nontheism is closely akin to the notion of not even wrong.)
But here's the thing about unicorns, which makes them a lot different from gods: nobody to my knowledge has even flown airplanes into skyscrapers, denied homosexuals the right to marry, cut off funding for embryonic stem cell research, killed a doctor who performs abortions, or tried to stop the teaching of evolution in public schools because of their belief in unicorns.
Religious beliefs in imaginary supernatural entities aren't harmless fantasies. They have real world consequences. Standing up and speaking out against harmful religious dogma is necessary.
And it definitely isn't a religion. As the author of the excellent article said:
Atheism is neither religion nor faith, but the happy freedom from them. Declaring it to be otherwise, sadly, will not make it so.
Religion means 'to reconnect', while atheism means 'without gods' - completely opposite.
For man to reconnect, there must be something to reconnect with, i.e. a 'belief' in the existence of something (a deity or some other unprovable entity).
Atheism means without deities, i.e without belief - completely opposite.
It may be that atheists and religious hold equally dogmatically to their respecitve views (tho I personally dispute this - a physical war has never been waged by atheists against the religious - while the opposite happens everyday where believers brand and justify the murder of disbelievers) - in any event, they remain completely different ideas.
Posted by: George | January 08, 2010 at 02:00 AM
yes yes, go the atheists.
the mystics fall squarely into the believer's category.
poca hontas, never never land territory.
mad as march hares who believe in fairy tales.
Posted by: George | January 09, 2010 at 03:50 AM
the production of the A-bomb is a far cry from deciding to use it, and that is a political decision - craftsman who have made cutting blades and swords since ancient times, are the not the same as those who decided to use them to strike down their enemies who dont believe in the Truth.
Whenver groups claim to know the Truth, like the religious and mystics, then you likely to defend it in a blind manner as you do.
7-plained RS cosmology, what a crock, and if thats the Truth you must be out of your mind, or too far gone within it to know the difference.
Posted by: George | January 09, 2010 at 04:04 AM
actually i listen and read to all these RS satsangis and i realise it is a cult - and that the other were right afterall - i mean the RS folk dont even want to disucss or allow questions of their theology.
they are instructed not to discuss it - and yet they cant help themselves, but rather then discuss it, they attack and preach, like every fundamental warmongering crusader since the beginning of time forcing their version of The Truth on everyone else.
Posted by: George | January 09, 2010 at 05:18 AM
what i really cant understand tho is your beliefs are so unwavering, why dont you committ ALL of your time, every single waking moment to your simran and meditation - but of course RS folk dont do that, all sorts of excuses not to do it. then of course there are those who do all of the ritualist meditation and simran, having been psycholigically primed for the experience with the literature and the intiation, and yet still do not have any experience.
they have doubt, and whats worse, is that indicates that like religion, its still at base only a belief, and the only reality experienced is a subjective one which every cult movement worth its salt engenders, which is precisely why they are so dangerous.
you got to be very wary of any organisation which teaches one;s intellect is the problem, and to stop questioning and to not discuss RS tenets and theology on the net.
You want to go along that path, go for it, but dont expect everyone else to bow down to your sacred path.
Posted by: George | January 09, 2010 at 05:28 AM
Hi Huk Huk.....
Well, you've certainely convinced me of the wonderous benefits of believing in RS 'spirituality'!
You really make a very convincing case for the maturity, wisdom, insight & inner contentment whcih arises like cream, through involvement with RS conceptuality!
Posted by: manjitd | January 09, 2010 at 06:26 AM
[George, per this blog's policy I deleted the profane, insulting, meaningless, fundamentalist comments. I left up some of your responses, and one comment from the ranter that was halfway reasonable. -- Blogger Brian]
yeah thats right, the usual preachy bollocks.
Actually Brian you may as well delete my comments too, its just the usual crap.
your policy of deletion is in fact a very good one, i thought it destroys openminded discussion, but actually allowing the nonsense lowers the tone of your site. i was quite wrong and you were quite correct, wipe it all.
Posted by: George | January 09, 2010 at 07:01 AM
ah the frothing is now starting, let me boot it into hyoperdrive.
there is a reason why the true englightenment occurred in the west 300 years ago, triggering the modern scientific age and man's greatest progress.
it is a simple concept, which totally bypasses the myth-based magical mind, it involves rational arguement and tolerance - not the crap your gurus spout with all their secretive nonsense.
Science invites critcism, it says go for it, nothing is taboo, try and disprove it.
This is exactly what RS and such quasi-religions do not do, they have all sorts of secretive proclamations, and its no wonder why the intellect is marked out as the problem, becuase every thinking person will question.
that is why the true enlightenment has produced the most successful thinker and countries on the planet today. the superior enlightenment, not the archaic shite.
Posted by: George | January 09, 2010 at 07:33 AM
I dont mind if you tell me how it is my delude mad-arse friend, but at least tell upon which you base your proclamations.
You are quite correct Kabir is not even in the league of Einstein. Kabir may have been a great poet and a great mystic, whatever the hell that means, in contrast Einstein changed our very understanding of the world and i can tell you exactly how he did that. That is reality as supported by evidence for consumption by a mature mind, not the childish mystical poetry for comforting the immature myth-riddled mind.
Its got nothing to do with ego, and everything to do with proof. Instead you simply proclaim Kabir is in a different league, based on what, nothing, like the gap between your ears, a big void thats been filled with gobbledey gook.
Posted by: George | January 09, 2010 at 07:56 AM
who's evading criticism, me or you, who pretends to 'know' anything, you or who?
You reckon Einstein represents the building blocks of your so called 'knowledge' then build your quasi realms of convicted non knowing on that.
Its empty without substance, pure falsified intellectual ramblings about sweet holy nothings at all. Just second hand half baked hand me down theories about mathematical equations to attempt to decipher reality or nature. But hardly reality or nature at all, not even remotely even close to reality or nature. Simply intellectualized fiction stories about the man made ramifications about what or how reality or nature functions or represents itself in the world of stepped down sensual illusion.
Modern science is beginning to tread gingerly around the periphery of where the mystic have known reality to be all along, they are discovering that energy is at the base of everything, light and sound represents or is the fundamental force behind nature, it is the essential source of everything that ever was or IS.
All religions which have derived their dogmatic beliefs from mystics teachings originally have said the same, 'In the beginning was the word and the word was with god and is god' and so will all scientists once they know what drives or sustains life.
Any true path to discovery of such understanding, or rather immersion in its reality, is the true 'science'. All others are simply stepped down second handed theoretic intellect manifest versions and are 'False".
Posted by: huk huk its a lesson too late for the learning | January 09, 2010 at 08:14 AM
'In the beginning was the word and the word was with god and is god'
- ah i think that was the first bit where you actually had something to say.
But what does this mean, what is the Word and how do we know it exists?
I reckon there;s as much chance of finding The Truth on here, than anywhere else, whatever that is. I dont believe there is a Truth to find. Have you found it?
If so, why not tell us what The Truth is, stop the half-truths and secretive mystery.
Posted by: Geoge | January 09, 2010 at 09:40 AM
"Religious beliefs in imaginary supernatural entities aren't harmless fantasies. They have real world consequences. Standing up and speaking out against harmful religious dogma is necessary."
To avoid a rather long and drawn out argument, I feel safe concluding that while the major religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism) advocate peace as a cornerstone to their dogmas, adherents are prone to justify non-peaceful means to attain what appears to them a greater good. It's a simple case of allowing the ends to justify the means, which is in no way exclusive to religion, but a common trait among adherents of any ideology.
For example, I doubt atheism or most atheists advocate mocking and insulting others. Yet, in an earlier post the means of ridiculing religion and the religious was advocated to achieve the greater good, namely ridding the world of religion or what the atheist deems an evil. Now discounting the obvious, that pursuing such a tactic would be about as effective as ridiculing fat people to rid the world of obesity, we're still left with one group of people justifying doing to another group of people what they wouldn't want done to them.
What I see as the cause of the problems of the world is pursuing egregious means to justify desired ends. So I don't see religion per se as the cause anymore than I attribute our problems to materialism or any other ideology.
The bottom line for me is if a person's religion or ideology advocates peace, then an adherent who commits an act of violence in the name of their religion or ideology is a hypocrite. Or, if a person's religion or ideology advocates treating others with respect, then an adherent who commits acts disrespectful to others in the name of their religion or ideology is a hypocrite. Setting religion or any ideology up as an agent provocateur is a straw man.
Posted by: john | January 09, 2010 at 09:59 AM
John, by "ridicule" I got the sense that what was meant was the strong debunking of beliefs that lack a grounding in demonstrable evidence. This is what scientists do. And what debaters do.
It isn't a ridiculing of the person making the unfounded statements. Ad hominem attacks aren't effective or justified. But if someone is making claims that aren't reasonable, yet demanding that other people accept them, it is fair to vigorously challenge those "ridiculous" beliefs.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | January 09, 2010 at 10:13 AM
'Most ppl would rather die than think, and many do' - Bertrand Russel
Posted by: Geoge | January 09, 2010 at 10:40 AM
In the youtube video, Dawkins said that atheist hold a different belief system. Would this be a proper definition? True, there are all types that would claim to be atheist. However, what would be the need to create a BS as an atheist?
Posted by: Roger | January 09, 2010 at 11:37 AM
I don't think there's a requirement for an atheist to have a belief system. It's just that metaphysical materialism, which most atheists adhere to, declares that all truths be physical truths and empirically verifiable, rules out theological beliefs (as truths) by definition. But I don't imagine a counter belief system is a logical necessity for rejecting a belief system. (Rejection being the lack of accepting or affirming).
Posted by: john | January 09, 2010 at 12:12 PM
yes i also picked up on that, not sure i agree with Dawkins there, but he's reponded on air, so perhaps did not have as much time to think about it.
I suppose it can be thought of as a belief system, tho its more a disbelief and its not a system so much as a single idea.
All the atheists says is that he or she does not believe in the existence of god, thats it, no system or moral philosophy or theology or revealed wisdom or masters - as is the case with religion or mystic tradition.
Posted by: Geoge | January 09, 2010 at 12:31 PM
"When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis" – had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of "agnostic."
Posted by: Geoge | January 09, 2010 at 01:06 PM
"denied homosexuals the right to marry"-you can be an atheist and be morally conservative too. Queer sex is a perversion and should be reclassified as mental illness like it was 30 years ago
Posted by: Rock Hudson | January 09, 2010 at 07:36 PM
I just wanted to point out that God IS a unicorn.
Posted by: The Rambling Taoist | January 09, 2010 at 10:03 PM
Dear Rambling Taoist - isn't that a INVISIBLE PINK unicorn?:
Dear Brian - WHislt I agree with many of your sentiments regarding those of the 'beliefs' - I personally DO think a great deal of modern 'atheism' IS a belief.
I believe recently you posted that it's NOT a belief, because there's no need to either believe or dis-believe in a 'God' (this IS very close to my 'position' on the matter).
However, I ask you to ponder over this - how is the Grand Poohbah of the new age of atheism, Sri Richard Dawkins' book 'The God *Delusion*' NOT stating a belief? The belief that 'God' IS, definitively, a 'delusion'?
Sounds like a belief to me. One that can never be proven or disproven - and certainely not as yet.
There are other mental conceptual paradigms, 'belief' structures which abound in atheist & scientific reductionist circles.
Such as that of there being brain correlates to conscious experience & mystical experiences, somehow DISMISSING them as delusions or 'caused' by the brain, for example. Or believing that consciousness is an epi-phenomena of matter etc
Imo, these are statements of belief based on mental conceptual paradigms of causality etc, and not neccassirly reality as it is - and disregarding of numerous facts & paradigms which contradict this linear mode of thinking.
I personally think the ultimate understanding of this vast & awe-inspiring existence of ours is......UNKNOWING.
Posted by: manjitd | January 10, 2010 at 02:34 AM
Well, I have to say, the universe does move in very mysterious ways :) DIRECTLY after posting this, I checked my email, the very FIRST link in my inbox was this:
Haven't finished reading it yet, but it seems relevant to what I just wrote!
Posted by: manjitd | January 10, 2010 at 02:38 AM
I think what Dawkins atheism is saying that he simply does not believe that God exists because of the lack of positive proof. He is not concerned with trying to disprove god, because he says it is impossible to disprove something that does not exist.
I think agnosticism is similar to atheism, except it perhaps recognises that god may or may not exist but in any event God is unlikely to be provable or knowable by man.
The mystic or gnostic outlook is different in that they assert it is possible to have knowledge or proof of god, but their proof/knowledge is of a subjective kind, not the objective kind required by the agnostic or scientist.
Posted by: George | January 10, 2010 at 07:19 AM
George, you're correct. Manjit has it wrong. An agnostic and atheist both say, "I don't believe in God." Why? Because there isn't demonstrable evidence for God. Pretty darn simple.
This isn't a belief system. It is the lack of a belief system. Like, "I don't believe the moon landings were faked." If I said that, I shouldn't be called a "Moon landings weren't faked'ist."
Like you said, there isn't much difference between the agnostic and atheist positions. Agnosticism just sounds better, is more politically correct in fervently religious nations like the United States, than atheism is.
Regarding the link you sent, the "god of the gaps" argument isn't persuasive. I guess you're arguing that because science doesn't understand everything about consciousness, God might exist. Well, religion understands a lot less about consciousness than science does.
And sure, God might exist. But if you base your spirituality on the gap between what sciences understands, and what science potentially can understand, your God is shrinking daily.
Anything (basically) is possible. But what is possible is different from what is objectively real. Our minds can conjure up all sorts of possibilities, as the author of the New Scientist article did. Here's another possibility:
There is no God. Now, prove me wrong.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | January 10, 2010 at 09:08 AM
John and George,
Yes, I don't think an atheist or atheism needs a belief system. However, like any -ism, there are persons(self named atheist) that could create a BS. I don't know of an example, however, people can take any -ism and redefine it.
That said, Dawkins with his background, responding on air or not, should have his definition of atheism pretty well set. This is no big deal, if an atheist wants his/her unique BS then that is their own business.
I like the 2 statements,
A belief in the unknown.
A non-belief in the unknown.
Here I am leaving the word God out of the discussion. So, I don't see any evil in either. If God is a known, then why the need to engage in belief or non-belief.?
Posted by: Roger | January 10, 2010 at 11:30 AM
Hi Brian - saying 'I don't believe in God', is vastly different to stating 'God Delusion'.
THAT is a statement of belief, imo.
George - Likewise! :)
Posted by: manjitd | January 11, 2010 at 10:45 AM
Manjit, no, I disagree. If someone says that a ghost is standing in my living room, and there is no evidence of this, I'd be justified in saying either...
(1) "I don't believe there is a ghost in my living room."
(2) "You're deluded when you say a ghost is in my living room."
If someone is mentally ill (such as psychotic), he or she might similarly claim that an entity exists which is only apparent to him or her.
A psychiatrist wouldn't conclude, "Well, who can say what is real?" Rather, the diagnosis would be "This person is deluded."
Sure, there's a slim possibility that God exists, there is a ghost in my living room, or Cleopatra is accompanying a mental hospital patient everywhere he goes.
But without evidence, there's no reason to believe this. Or any reason against saying "You're deluded" if someone else claims one of these things to be true.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | January 11, 2010 at 10:58 AM
Hi Brian - how can statement # 2 be justified, and not belief based?
To me this is the problem with all of us (inc me) - just because YOU cannot see something, doesn't mean that somebody who can is a priori 'deluded'?
Am I missing something here people? :-o
CLEARLY, and I mean CLEARLY, there is a WHOLE host of other possibilities - and that statement would be a statement of BELIEF?
To me, this is the believers mindset inverted, from a positive belief, to a positive non-belief.
Perhaps Dawkins and others (yourself?) really have cracked the entire mystery that is creation and existence, and are able to unequivocally state that 'God' is a delusion?
You & Dawkins are by far the more wiser than I could ever hope to be.
But you'll forgive me if I have my suspicions that you only have an intellectual belief that you 'understand' issues so tremendously vast.......
Posted by: manjitd | January 11, 2010 at 11:12 AM
Yes, perhaps you are right, a belief remains a belief whether framed in a positive or negative sense.
I think the problem tho is those who misunderstand the word 'atheism' as meaning a 'fundamentally' held belief. Dawkins is often portayed in this ardent, agressive, militant light - yet all he is doing is presenting logical arguments to support his belief. But Dawkins has always maintained that if evidence comes to light, he would change his mind.
This would never happen with a religious fundamentalist. Ppl that believe in creationism, for example, believe despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Atheists don't believe blindly, despite what their detractors would have one believe, they've simply formed their BS based on a lack of evidence and not faith; which is completely different to those with a religious BS.
So imo that is why the atheist BS is incomparably different to the religious BS.
Posted by: George | January 11, 2010 at 01:17 PM
Yes, the issue with atheism(imo) is that the word takes on the definition of it's antagonist. We here can agree upon the proper definition, however, out in the general world, it is presented as something kinda evil. This is rather silly.
That said, if we could assume(create an example) that an unknown is exactly the same. Then as an example, the two:
Belief in an unknown.
Non-belief in an unknown.
I don't see a "big deal" or major difference in the two above statements. Keeping the belief and non-belief very simple. That is, don't create a system or institution.
So a person can engage in belief and non-belief and not be some sort of wacko.
Posted by: Roger | January 12, 2010 at 07:29 AM