Maher vs. Aslan: Is Religion an All-Powerful Force or Mere Window Dressing?

I have been following, with some glee, the verbal spankings that Bill Maher and other “New Atheists” have been getting from the likes of Ben Affleck and Reza Aslan. For years I have been not so much annoyed as dismayed by the utter naïveté of spokespersons like Maher or Sam Harris, who earnestly argue that if “religion”–by which they of course mean “belief” or “blind faith”–would just go away, violence would also magically go away and world harmony would take its place.

These folks have so uncritically embraced modernist body-mind dualism that they blame all of the world’s problems on bad ideas (of which Islam is apparently the “motherlode”). As an ethicist, I am very interested in good and bad ideas, which lead to flourishing or suffering. But for all their love of “facts,” the New Atheists completely ignore history–the messy web of concrete factors like power, land, genetics, weather, hormones, economics, chemistry, and even good old father issues that give rise to ideas.

As postmodern theorists have been telling us for decades, religious “beliefs” do not simply spring up sui generis or ex nihilo. On the contrary, they exist within bodies–messy blobs of blood and bone and nerve endings that need food, shelter, and social ties in order to thrive. A healthy dose of materialism would go a long way toward complicating their oversimplifications. (I can recommend Manuel Vasquez’s More Than Belief  as a primer, or perhaps they could enroll in Brent Plate’s introduction to religion class.)

But I’m grateful to The Week’s Damon Linker for putting into words something that made me uncomfortable about parts of Reza Aslan’s rebuttal of these oversimplified claims. Aslan is absolutely right that there is no universal essence of Islam that some Muslims can possess; this means neither an atheist nor a jihadist nor the president gets to have the decisive word on what is “true” Islam and what isn’t. He’s also right that it is people who embody violence or peace in their religions, such that every religion has both violent and peaceful schools of thought.

But as Linker notes, Aslan’s defense also diminishes religion, gutting it and rendering it trivial. He says here, “People don’t derive their values from their religion—they bring their values to their religion.” Religions have no actual substance, in other words; they are mostly fancy packaging slapped onto something more real and powerful underneath. Religions are culture or nationalism or simple prejudice in drag. This, too, strikes me as an unwarranted oversimplification, as if “cultures” or “nations” or “prejudices” existed separately from the ideas or rituals that accompany and bolster them.

It is time to retire old-fashioned reductionism in any direction. Religion is neither only about ideas nor only about stuff. Ideas and stuff are inextricable; moreover they are constantly in flux. Let’s get rid of the “bad idea” that our beliefs exist separately from, or prior to, our bodies – our economies, our politics, or our family lives. Religious beliefs can be both a powerful cause of some behaviors and sometimes window dressing for darker motivations. How many of us are perfectly certain about who we are, or where our own motivations, ideas, and behaviors come from? Why should we expect entire religious traditions to answer questions we can’t even answer about ourselves?

  • DKeane123

    “by which they of course mean “belief” or “blind faith”–would just go away, violence would also magically go away and world harmony would take its place.” – Only took until the second sentence for the author to reduce their views to the point of misrepresentation. Even better that the last paragraph complains about too much reduction-ism on the new atheist side of things

    “Aslan is absolutely right that there is no universal essence of Islam that some Muslims can possess” – 1) Also a misrepresentation of what Sam Harris and others are saying. 2) Islam has very prescribed rules about how believers are to behave within society and towards non-believers. To state there is no universal essence. makes it sounds as if anyone could call themselves a Muslim – but I wouldn’t want to misrepresent, as you clarify later on.

    Yes the interaction of religious ideas, geography, history, and a bunch of other stuff is complex – I believe Sam Harris, a neuroscientist understands this. The real issue here is that Islam has a scriptural problem, that allows those prone to violence to justify their actions (Mohammed the warrior) . And yes the OT has similar issues,which is why a whole bunch or Anabaptists and other heretics were burned at the stake by the Catholic Church in the middle ages (1500’s +). To look back on the history Europe during this time period and claim that religion didn’t have a significant role to play or that without religion Europe would have been peace on earth are both equally absurd and simplistic.

  • Jim Reed

    You make good points, but I hope we are not overly quick at dismissing religious responsibility. We can’t blame religion for everything, but we might still be able to find reasonings to blame it for something.

    This is America, and we are primarily a Christian nation, so we shoud try to see if we can find problems caused by Christianity. It would do us no good to try to find problems with other religions around the world. We can only be responsible for fixing our own problems.

    Fortunately, in Christianity it is easier than most religions to point out the problem, and that is because it is a religion based on Jesus, the historical figure. This makes the religion subject to study and questioning. When people read the Bible too literally and go to church, Jesus becomes the savior of the world and the reason for living. Viewed more closely, the Bible is a story of a process of evolving Jesus into place over the good part of a century, or more. In the middle of the first century we have an extensive written recording of Christianity from the works of Paul. This shows none of the stories of Jesus the man that we believe in today. Those stories come from the gospels, written decades later, and each one inventing new religious additions to the Jesus story. This makes Christianity an upside down religion because the Jesus that we believe in leads back in time to nothing. After thousands of years, Christianity now has a problem. It is based on the Christian believing in his own heart something that is not there, and at least trying to base his life on that, plus Christians are encouraged to try to convince the rest of the world to follow along. Now we are forever locked in a struggle of Christians trying to convince us to believe in Jesus, and we trying to convince them their beliefs are based on what the Bible shows is not really there. Getting rid of Christian beliefs won’t solve all the world’s problems, but given the tension it is causing you would think at least it might improve something.

  • EvenIfYourVoiceShakes

    “It is time to retire old-fashioned reductionism in any direction.” Amen.

  • apotropoxy

    Blanchard: “Why should we expect entire religious traditions to answer questions / about who we are, or where our own motivations, ideas, and behaviors come from?”
    ______________________

    uh, Kate… We’ve come to expect religious traditions to answer these questions because they have been claiming throughout their time on earth that they have these answers. Your complaint of reductionism by belief critics is a little ironic when we you you using the technique to deny the essence of the principle you seek to defend.

  • Jim Reed

    apologetics at its finest.

  • Steve Ruis

    You mis-state Sam Harris’ arguments. He claims that Islam contains many bad ideas and there are people within Islam who act upon them. He gives as an example that the Bible tells people to stone any member of their family who rejects Yahweh. Have you heard of any Christians stoning such people lately? (I am one who should have been stoned by my family but no one even brought it up as an option.) This is because many of the great many bad ideas in Christianity have been culled. No one “believes” them any more. (There is more culling needed, obviously.)

    Harris has no problem with bad ideas that nobody believes. But he does have a problem with whole states who profess Islam as a national religion and which have a majority of its citizens stating a desire to have Shari’ah implemented. Even though that country has non-Muslim’s in its midst, they would prefer to have all judged by the law of a religion that executes people for being apostates (which Saudi Arabia, which has Islamic law, has done recently; Saudi Arabia has beheaded way more people than ISIS and invoking the same religion, but one is an ally and the other an anathema).

    Harris’s arguments do not just boil down to “Islam is bad” or “religion is bad”.

  • GeniusPhx

    He is right that belief alone doesn’t radicalize someone. But if you take someone who obsesses, who believes he has the only truth, a narcissist, psychopath, sociopath, then religion can be what makes them act. Religion/belief exists only between your ears until you take it to someone else’s door. Our freedom of thought and conscience we have under the law, only protects beliefs of the thoughts/conscience, not the acts that may be caused by the belief.
    Most people are able to let acts roll off their backs, leave others alone, but some are so obsessed and controlling they have to act to make other believe the same thing. It should be said we have those in the pro-life movement, fundamentalists of all faiths, people who are trying to get prayer back in schools to make all people believe like them.
    People with certain personality disorders will push the limits of civility because of belief, but it that belief didn’t exist they might just sit home and watch tv.

  • apotropoxy

    🙂

  • Craptacular

    If all you are saying is that “violence motivators are more complicated than just religion,” then I agree. But if you are implying that religious violence is non-existent and that violence is just violence, then you are a simpleton, falling into the very trap you are attempting to push others into.

    Religion may not be the only motivator for violent activities, but religious justification gives the violence a legitimacy that allows it to continue. If you are denying this, you are not just a simpleton, but an apologist, as well.

  • Serai 1

    Utopianism, like fundamentalism, is a mindset that spans every category of religious and cultural thought, from atheism to Christianity to whatever other religion you might name. Maher and Harris and their ilk are expressing that utopianism – “if only we get rid of THIS problem, the world will be peachy keen”. This is nonsense, of course, but in a messy, uncertain world, it’s powerful nonsense. Ironic that people who claim to be all about the rational would cling to this fairy tale, this magical incantation that ignores everything we actually know about human beings – our complexities, our prejudices, our stubbornness, our diversity, our strengths, our compassion, our generosity, our innate capacity for good, our altriuism. Claiming that all human strife and misery is due to just ONE thing that could somehow be magically vanished into the cornfield is so childishly reductionist, it’s flabbergasting to hear anyone declare it, especially people who claim to reject such triteness. It’s like hearing a five-year-old fantasizing that if only he had NO DADDY, he’d be happy forever. It’s impossible to take seriously, and it’s doing serious damage to the very idea of atheism.

    (A trend I’ve been seeing the last few weeks is atheists actually rejecting the very label they’d so proudly worn, all because of these jerks dragging it through the mud of bigotry and hate. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot – these “New Atheists” may end up doing to the word “atheist” what bigoted, violent fundamentalists have done to that term: making it anathema to anyone who does not follow their negative, reductionist train of thought.)

  • Serai 1

    Nice straw man there. The writer said nothing of the kind, and you know it.

  • Serai 1

    “We can’t blame religion for everything, but we might still be able to find reasonings to blame it for something.”

    Sure, if what you’re interested in is finding something to blame. If that’s all you can see in religion, then you’ve missed the entire point of it.

  • Serai 1

    It’s not a misrepresentation. Maher and Harris and Dawkins have said just that – all mankind’s ills can be reduced to religion. Sure, they’ve said more, but don’t pretend they’ve never stated their BELIEF that if religion wasn’t there, mankind’s problems wouldn’t exist.

  • DKeane123

    I would like to see a quote that isn’t taken out of context.

  • Jim Reed

    That is why we post here, looking for the point. There should be something beyond apologetics.

  • Jim Reed

    Christianity has advanced beyond those old ideas. Now we have drones.

  • Craptacular

    You mean, like Ms. Blanchard’s straw man?:

    “… like Maher or Sam Harris, who earnestly argue that if “religion”–by
    which they of course mean “belief” or “blind faith”–would just go away,
    violence would also magically go away and world harmony would take its
    place.” -KB

    Sure, but that is why I prefaced my arguments with “if,” which Ms. Blanchard didn’t. My statements allow her to clarify her words, if she wishes.

  • Craptacular

    I, too, would be interested to see your source for this. Don’t you find it a bit ironic that you are reducing all the works of these men to that single statement?

  • cranefly

    I disagree with Sam Harris’ premise that not enough people are critical of Islam. If anti-Muslim prejudice is a tool that leaders of my country use to commit human rights atrocities with public approval and impunity (which it is), then tackling Islam is not my issue.

  • cranefly

    That is a problem. But there are countries like Senegal with 90+% Muslim majorities that don’t interpret Shariah that way. So make sure you give credit where it’s due, rather than stirring up prejudice against people you don’t know based on assumptions about their broad group identity.

  • cranefly

    “2) Islam has very prescribed rules about how believers are to behave within society and towards non-believers.”

    I’m not convinced of this. I think anyone can call himself or herself a Muslim. Malcolm X, Malala Yousafzai, Saddam Houssain: They have essentially nothing in common. No True Scotsman can be inconvenient for atheist polemics as well.

  • jfigdor

    1. Maher and Harris handed out the spankings based on reason and logic.

    2. Ben Affleck just whined like a petulant child and made things up (like when he said ISIS didn’t have enough people to fill a AAA ball park. Actually, they have 30k+ troops.)

    3. You’re onto something though, Kate Blanchard. “Aslan’s defense also diminishes religion, gutting it and rendering it trivial. He says here, “People don’t derive their values from their religion—they bring their values to their religion.” Religions have no actual substance, in other words; they are mostly fancy packaging slapped onto something more real and powerful underneath.”

    This is true and it is why religion is dying in the west.

  • joeyj1220

    Actually if you watch Maher or any of the new atheists this is not Blanchard’s straw man. They DO claim religion as the most vile things on earth and pretend that eliminating them all would somehow lead to peace. An oversimplification at its worst (and I say this as an atheist myself)

  • DKeane123

    Late reply, busy weekend. We are talking scriptural versus practice here. I agree with you that the practice of Islam is very different, although certain practices have greater scriptural support than others. Generally, I agree with you.

  • Craptacular

    I cannot speak about Maher. I find him humorous, but too simplistic and irritating to watch or read for any length of time. I would like to see a quote from Sam Harris though, that says anything to the effect that ALL violence would “magically go away” with the eradication of religion/blind belief. Please note that “religious violence” does not equate to “all violence.”

    No one is so naive as to think ALL violence would cease with the eradication of “fill-in-the-blank-with-your-ultimate-evil-here.” (Except the religious, I might add. Most religions i studied have some form of timeline where evil is locked-up/conquered by “good,” unable to trouble mankind for a period of time/eternity. It’s one of their qualities that makes the religious dangerous…they really believe they/their god(s) can “eradicate evil.”)

  • joeyj1220

    Harris’ words come awfully close to it; “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.” Not to mention his grotesque justification of violence “there are extreme circumstances in which I believe that practices like ‘water-boarding’ may not only be ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary”

  • DKeane123
  • Craptacular

    I didn’t say I agree with everything Sam Harris has written. I only asked for a quote to support Ms. Blanchard’s assertions. (Note: your Sam Harris quotes do not support Ms. Blanchard’s assertions, nor even “come close.” No where do either of those indicate that violence will cease with the demise of religion or blind faith.)

  • Serai 1

    See, that’s one of the reasons you’re so insufferable – because if something doesn’t exactly agree with your simplistic reductionist view of religion, it’s “apologetics”. Why do you even bother, when you have no interest in actually listening to anything any of us have to say?

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Jim knows exactly one thing about Christianity — this business about the historical Jesus — and he trots it out into literally every discussion on religion that he participates in. It’s like a kid who learns his first curse words and feels the need to use them all, in every sentence. Thus, I’ve found that talking with him has very diminishing returns.

  • Jim Reed

    Can you imagine dedicating your life to belief in something that turns out not to be there? You do all you can to convince yourself. You gather together with others who encourage each other to believe without question. This is the starting point. What happens if you stop believing? The religion would like you to quietly go away and not bother those who still choose to believe. But that might not be the best thing for the future of the world.

    Do you understand this kind of belief? I suspect no because you are not one of those who accepts the Bible as the unquestioned word of God. To you, it is more like a long history of culture.

    This is beyond being just one issue, but the main issue is critical. Where did Christianity start? What is it based on? I do listen. I just don’t accept whatever religion says, and perhaps I don’t even respect the religious approach. It might sound rude to some, but what other choice is there? Just let things slide? I am hoping there is room for progress here, but part of that is to completely reject any “apologetics” because that always comes down to nothing but misdirection and kicking the can down the road.

  • Paul Prescod

    One can hardly expect a person in Kate Blanchard’s position to look at the two sides in this debate in an even-handed way. After all, Harris and Maher wish to make her life’s work obsolete. Nevertheless, it is very easy to demonstrate that she is being unfair. When she criticizes Aslan she produces a quote that demonstrates his extreme post-modern-esque view of religion. When she criticizes Harris and Maher, she produces no quote that demonstrates that they believe that if “religion”–would just go away, violence would also magically go away and world harmony would take its place” or “they blame all of the world’s problems on bad ideas”.

    She cannot produce these quotes because these are strawman arguments that she has placed into Harris and Maher’s mouths. It will take me only 5 minutes to find quotes that prove that they believe otherwise.

    There we go…4 minutes. Here’s Harris:

    “there are many sources of human evil. And if we want to protect ourselves and our societies, we must understand this.” Then he lists four sources of violent acts and lists religion as a subset of a single one of the four categories.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/no-ordinary-violence

  • Paul Prescod

    You are either mistaken or lying.

    Harris has said the exact opposite of what you claim he said.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/no-ordinary-violence

    “there are many sources of human evil. And if we want to protect ourselves and our societies, we must understand this.”

    He goes on to list 4 sources of human evil. Religion is a subset or a single source (the fourth). And he says of that 4th source: “Some of these belief systems are merely political, or otherwise secular, in that their aim is to bring about specific changes in this world.”

    The idea that Maher thinks that all of the world’s ills can be reduced to religion is also hilarious. On his show, Maher has many targets. For example, he is strongly about income inequality. What does that have to do with religion???

  • Jim Reed

    The point I was trying to make is the Jesus thing is a critical question, and one where we might ultimately be able to make some progress. The point of the rest of this thread seems to be searching for a reason to disagree, but so far nothing concrete has shown up.

  • Gemgirl

    Belief in an all-powerful, omni-present God…is not a small thing. At all. It is a constant throughout thousands of years. If we could rid ourselves of this one idea….it WOULD be something. Something major and fascinating. Seriously, YOU are telling us…what would or wouldn’t happen if we ditched religion? No one knows that. We have no idea whether it is Utopian or not. But calling it trivial is what is silly. Okay, here’s the deal: No, we DON’T honestly believe that we can all ditch religion tomorrow…or even this century or next. What we are hoping for is that, at least in the United States of America, if the number of Millennials and their children not believing in this ‘God’ of yours increase in number…we will have a better, fairer, society. Not Utopia. Just better. The very fact that you compared it to a child wishing for no Daddy (which is sick by the way) is what we Atheists find BIZARRE. The fact that Religionists believe in an all powerful ‘Daddy’ in the sky who helps them when they’ve lost their car in a parking lot and made sure they didn’t miss their plane….but looks the other way when a Christian somewhere else is blown up on their way to school or when a classroom of 1st graders are gunned down on a school day….is BIZARRE to us. It is not just bizarre…it is so full of arrogance and so egocentric that it makes us physically sick. If we wish for less religion

  • Gemgirl

    Okay, if we wish for less religion is would be to go toward a more honest society who wants to tackle it’s problems without asking some ‘God-Daddy’ to intervene. Now, that is what is childish. We aren’t trying to step on religion (you have a constitutional right to believe in whatever god you like) but we would be SUPREMELY happy if there were less of it. And, that’s the truth! Pfftsssttt. (If you are old enough to know where that line comes from)

  • Jim Reed

    There may be a way in the next couple generations for us to grow beyond Christianity. There is increasing interest in some combination of NASA, SpaceX, and possibly Boeing in traveling to Mars, and then establishing a colony on Mars. This would be the first step in us spreading across the solar system, and there would soon be more humans off Earth than on. This could be a way to leave Christianity behind because it doesn’t scale up well through outer space. Christianity is looking for a time when a giant Jesus appears in the sky, and establishes a kingdom on earth centered around Jerusalem. Once we are established off earth, that all becomes obsolete. Hopefully we will be able to keep the various cults down here on earth.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Jim Reed wrote:

    Christianity behind because it doesn’t scale up well through outer space

    —————

    I take it that you haven’t read Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles.” Specifically, a chapter entitled “The Fire Balloons.”

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    The majority of the world’s population is non-Christian. The mistake you make, constantly, is extrapolating your experience with the distinctive qualities of evangelical Christianity and applying them to religion, generally.

    It seems to me a much more productive exercise to oppose intolerant, fundamentalist forms of religion at the “local” level than to engage in broad dismissals of religion, taken generally.

  • Jim Reed

    If you get too local you run into the Christian denomination issue. They have lots of denominations, so any problems can always be attributed to the other ones. I would like to address them all together, and that is the Jesus issue. Without a historical Jesus, there might not be much left of Christianity. Some few Christians do seem to be able to work with a non-historical Jesus, but I think even they would have a difficult time expressing that in the wider Christian world. This issue might have been out there for a few decades, but I think it is just now starting to gain some popularity. This seems like the time to press the issue.

  • cranefly

    I’ll agree that the Koran has some problematic stuff in it.

  • Serai 1

    Not every religious person treats their deity like a daddy and goes around begging for favors. Don’t tar everyone with the brush of the dumbest and most childish, please.

  • Serai 1

    Considering how much good has come of religion, how much comfort it gives to people who have nothing else, why should we get rid of it? Just because you refuse to see anything but the bad? Okay, how about we get rid of atheism? After all, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were atheists, and between them they kill off nearly 50 million people. According to your logic, a lack of belief in a deity therefore makes people murderous dictators.

    Harping on the evil people and ignoring the fact that the vast majority of religious people are decent, kind, and mind their own business only tells me that you’re bitter and have a particularly huge monkey on your back. It certainly doesn’t tell me anything about religion.

  • Serai 1

    People who think that way miss so much about religion. Really, they miss out on almost everything about it.

    Have you read The Cosmic Christ by Matthew Fox? Wonderful book. If Fox had been writing books back in the 70’s, I might still be a Catholic today.

  • Serai 1

    There is no central authority in Islam, no Pope, no council of bishops. An awful lot of people can’t deal with that fact, and want to project onto the religion what they think it should be like.

  • Gemgirl

    You may have to explain to me the good in religion. I’m a bit lost on that one. Yep, you got me. I admit to being somewhat bitter. I can’t deny that. I was indoctrinated as a very young child to believe in a fairy tale…one that doesn’t end like ‘Santa’ does. A fairy tale that millions of adults believe in because they we indoctrinated just like I was. Where would religion be without children? My guess is: a small cult or maybe groups of small cults. Without the continued indoctrination of children religion would be minuscule in the grand scheme of things. Children are the key the whole enchilada. When you lose your ‘faith’….you step back and observe. It blows your mind how children are used…their minds shaped, molded, twisted, turned. Innocent little people with just a couple of small “faults”…..the inability to assess what might be fairy tale and what might be true…along with a penchant for wanting to please one’s parent and family. Children are marketed to by parents who think they are doing right by them. They are given

  • Gemgirl

    Wow…iPads are touchy. Children are marketed to by ‘well-meaning’ adults, given words to repeat and told that this is ‘Truth’ and ‘The Way’. They are given religious symbols to wear and prayers to recite. Bible school. Holidays to celebrate. For kids, there is no way out. They are engulfed…cloaked…steeped in whatever religion their parents were steeped in. The most egregious part is ‘Heaven’. The children, with wonder and amazement in their eyes, are given a ‘Heaven’. This might not be so bad if it was everyone’s Heaven. But, alas..it is not. The “Truth” is that ‘you, my child….will be separated from me, your mom…and your dad…and your grandpa and grandma if you don’t believe as we do. We will go to heaven. You will not. So you need to believe, Sweetie and do what we tell you. We don’t want to be separated in the ‘after life’ do we? I want to see you in Heaven, dear child.’ Religion uses children like dam uses water. Stops them. Dead in their tracks. They never had a chance to just grow and learn about their world….unaffected. Now, they’re just pawns.

  • Gemgirl

    God’s little pawns.

  • GregAbdul

    Nice Shading…..these influences mingle and mix and we can’t specify what percentage we are of what and where it comes from at any given moment and what really complicates things is that each of us as individuals have what Muslims call, “high and low eman.” In other words, our faith is a living thing inside of us that is strong weak and takes differing directions at different times. I can feel my faith tells me to hate Christians one day and to love them the next and this is from me, and I think I have excellent teachers who teach peace and love for all mankind. Our religious teachers matter, but we bring so much and our interpretations can be different one day to the next depending on our moods. There are basic ideas….creeds and and dogmas that come with most world religions and Islam is clear in this regard. So if someone is actually pointing out a creed or dogma of Islam and has a problem that’s fine. Our dogma is not FGM nor honor killings, nor subjugation of women. Our most basic dogma is simple pure monotheism. We can’t worship anything outside of God…funny how that never comes up when Mahers and the Harris’ start with their bashing.

  • Serai 1

    No, human beings with free will who are inspired by their religion to put themselves on the line for people who have no power or agency. Can you tell the difference, or are you just flat out refusing to admit that religion can inspire people to do good deeds they wouldn’t necessarily do otherwise?

  • Serai 1

    Fine. See the world in as negative a light as possible. I think it’s rather a cramped, bitter way to go through life, but if you’re happier never letting go of the past, enjoy your spoiled milk.

  • Gemgirl

    Religion sometimes inspires very good deeds. However, people without religion are also prompted to do good works as well. You do not need religion to be moral, care about others, feel empathy, give to people who have less than you, help when needed, and as you said, “put themselves on the line for people who have no power or agency”. I love that sentence and I hope you don’t mind if borrow it. That is a perfect way to describe what we should be doing whenever possible and even when we think it isn’t possible. We should be stretching ourselves to be the most generous we can be at all times. If everyone did that….that WOULD be Utopia, wouldn’t it?!? Of course, religion inspires some to do good works…..but religion doesn’t need to be the catalyst. I would say that if it is always the catalyst then maybe you need to look inside yourself and ask: “Would I be doing this if I didn’t have religion, believe in God, go to church, pray, etc.”? Some believe that they would not be doing it. That people who don’t have God in their life

  • Gemgirl

    I swear, I’m not happy with my iPad, right now….aargh. 🙂
    Anyway, some people believe that if you don’t have ‘God’ in your life then you are not giving and not inspired to do good works. This is naive and untrue. If you think that you need to be around more ‘Godless’ people and spend time with them. (Without trying to ‘help them see the light’). Last year, I volunteered to take my daughter’s best friend into our home for 6 months while she finished school when it looked like her parents would lose their home. I did not wait for them to ask me. I called them and in a very shaky voice (because I felt I might be overstepping boundaries) I asked them if they would be interested in that option if the bank did foreclose. I didn’t want Amber to be uprooted in the middle of a school year. Her mom was so happy that I asked. They had been worried about asking me to step in. To me, it was a no-brainer. Later, I donated a car to another family who needed it. It really doesn’t take religion. It really doesn’t. And it shouldn’t.

  • Gemgirl

    I’m not bitter about MY life. I have dealt with my confusion and pain. I have peeled off the layers of bullshit and found a whole new life-view. It still astounds me that losing my religion took a full 10 years of deep thought and wrestling with what is true and what isn’t. The fact that I had to even wrestle with it at all is what astounds me. I was so brainwashed. I spent the majority of my life brainwashed because I was purposely indoctrinated into believing all this crazy, nutty, stuff as a kid. It’s just Insane! From what I understand, a lot of Atheists feel this way after what I call: ‘getting clear’. I am suddenly in control of my life. I don’t give up so easily anymore and look to God for ‘answers to my prayers’. I can make things happen all on my own. It’s a freeing and wonderful feeling. Every kid should get the option to grow up without being lied to and brainwashed. They shouldn’t have to wrestle with it as adults. It wastes so much time and energy that could be used elsewhere.

  • Serai 1

    How about you try for a minute to step out of your own mindset and make the attempt to see things as the people you are high-handedly dismissing see them? A belief in god may be “silly” and “false” to YOU. It is not to them. Much as you like to smugly claim you know the truth – by which you really mean the facts – you’re claiming it about things you can’t possibly know or prove. The only thing you can prove is that you haven’t found any proof, and of course you conveniently ignore the “yet” in that equation. Certainty is the enemy of knowledge; it’s doubt that leads to discovery.

  • Serai 1

    Yes, we should do it – but only in the way you approve of. Can’t you hear yourself? I really don’t give a fuck what people like that believe – they can believe the one about the Star Goat if it’ll keep them doing what they do. The world doesn’t work according to your wishes, or mine. Whatever bitterness you have against religion, all it’s doing is making you bitter. It’s not changing anything, and it’s certainly not erasing something that is part of the essence of being human. You can’t just demand that everyone on earth have blue eyes RIGHT NOW, and you can’t just demand that humanity abandon religion. It’s part of us. It inspires us, and I’m sorry, but those chilly computer paintings of stars and nebulae are lovely, but they’re very limited in their power to inspire art or poetry or any other of the things humans use to make it through our lives. Perhaps living without Divinity is better for you, but it didn’t work for me at all. I didn’t like the kind of person I became, the kind I now see stomping around the internet bullying others with arguments that really boil down to THAT’S JUST STUPID. People like Harris and Hitchens and Maher, and their cadre of fans, who don’t care enough to realize how they behave. And no, “they did it first” is not an excuse, except maybe for a kid in the sandbox. Religion doesn’t work for you? Fine. But the sneering and spitting do your side no favors at all.

  • Gemgirl

    My issue is that your beliefs are heavy-handedly forced onto children.

  • Gemgirl

    My point isn’t about what You or any other adult believes. You can feel free to believe whatever you want. My point was that most children of parents who are religious….are administered a book of rules and told that this is the key to going to heaven to be with their loved ones in the afterlife. They are told what to think…what to feel…and told to follow the rules of and pledge their allegiance to an invisible man in the sky who holds all the cards to their future. Sure, it MAY be true…but it’s a big gamble when you’re playing head games with a 5 year old who just wants to love, trust, and please his parents. Even the head games we play with Santa Claus is destructive in a way. But, at least we end it. We all admit it’s a fantasy…or it might be, I guess I could be a Santa Agnostic if I wanted to be. The problem with religion is that we never say: “Look Sweetie, I don’t know if God or Heaven is real. I just hope and pray it is. It’s just what I believe. You can believe that or something else if you would like. You can even not believe at all.” I mean, really. Why NOT have that honest conversation with kids? That is what is silly…not the belief, itself. The child deserves that.

  • Jim Reed

    Religion is complicated, and if we want to get a handle on it this is a good place to start. Is Jesus real? The Bible shows the story was made up, constructed over a period of about 100 years, and that was the start of the evolution of Christianity. Understanding this and dealing with Christianity can be a first step toward dealing with religion in general. Dealing with this fact of history is also needed if we are going to deal with the dark side of Christianity, historically and now. It is a hard thing to do because so many people believe so deeply, but deep belief in something not real is going to lead to problems, as it has and will continue to do unless we can resolve the issue.

  • Serai 1

    MILLIONS of people have that conversation with their kids. Honestly, what universe are you living in? Perhaps you should get out and meet more people, because you’re judging the majority of humanity on the image of a small percentage of ignorant know-nothings.

  • Serai 1

    MY beliefs? I’m not a Christian, not by a long way. See, that’s the problem with making sweeping generalizations and ill-mannered assumptions – you end up wrong most of the time.

  • Anthony_McCarthy

    For all of their tiny numbers in society, atheists come up with a remarkable number of silly ideas which they then demand everyone treat as if they are the very essence of reason.

    “Religion” is not a “thing” it is a category in which a large number of things which are not things but ideas, notions predilections and on upward to the best of ideas, such as that we are absolutely required at a cost to ourselves to respect the lives and rights of others and to make justice a real reality in life, are placed.

    Over the past decade of the neoatheism I’ve come to conclude that the last one is the real problem with religion for atheists, they don’t want to have to respect the rights of others at a cost to themselves, they don’t want to be required to make justice a real reality in life. Which is why libertarianism, both in its overt form and in the form of pseudo-liberalism, a category of libertarianism, is the normal accompaniment for the neoatheist model of invective.