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Jan 18 2012

Atheism 2.0 is buggy…

Several people sent me this link, via Twitter, Facebook and E-mail. Feel free to take 20 minutes and watch this TED talk.

(Irrespective of your views on this video, I highly recommend digging through other TED talks – there’s some amazing content there.)

Alain de Botton – Atheism 2.0 TED talk

I’ve watched the video and here are my thoughts:

So there are aspects of this that I agree with, but have to reject the bulk of it. On many occasions, I’ve said something like, “Keep the good and get rid of the bad, wherever you find it – including from religion” – and I meant it. Generally, though, I’m talking about the community building aspects of religion.

But he seems to be saying that we should adopt the methods of religion – methods that I specifically reject. What he’s suggesting are largely elements of indoctrination; using art, repetitive, ritualistic actions and emotional language to instruct people…and his justification for this seems to be that it’s useful. Well, of course it’s useful!

This is an “ends justify the means” argument. Convinced that he has the truth, he’s advocating spreading it by whatever means works best. Unfortunately, there’s doctrine and dogma waiting at the end of that road…and the results may not match his projections.

Another problem is that it’s ridiculous to use indoctrination techniques to teach people to be freethinkers…you’re teaching them what to think instead of how to think. It’s a good way to get people to memorize things, but a bad way to get people to understand things… and understanding is critical.

It’s a self-defeating exercise that reminds me of the moment in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” where Brian informs the crowd, “You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody. You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals.” And the crowd responds, in unison, “Yes, we’re all individuals!”

Don’t even get me started on his suggestions, during the Q&A, to remain silent and politely disagree…

 

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  1. 1
    davy c wingler

    Matt, what do you think an ideal utopian vision would be?

    1. 1.1
      atheist from hell

      Don’t know about Matt. But my utopian vision is a world where people are not looking for utopian solutions.

      1. Daemon6

        I have to agree 150% with [i]atheist from hell[/i] on this one… The idea of utopia is, in my opinion, a “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” situation. It sounds great, but doesn’t have any grounding in reality.

        1. Orlando

          Also agree. All utopias are dystopias, as conformity destroys our humanity.

          1. jacobfromlost

            Also, the very word “utopia” is a kind of tongue in cheek reference to “no place”. The notion still floats around with those who suggest (or tacitly imply) that everyone can potentially be a millioniare or billionaire. If everyone were a millionaire, who is physically picking up my garbage? Waiting on me at a restaurant? Taking care of my mother in a nursing home? Mowing my lawn? Teaching my kids? Policing the neighborhood? And pretty much doing every job the lower, middle, and upper middle classes do to keep society functioning so millionaires can be millionaires? Soon someone will suggest we build robots to do all those jobs…then the robots will revolt and demand a raise, but they won’t get one because there won’t be anyone with money to need any of their services. Instead, the robots will be fired and join the homeless nonrich, lol.

        2. atheist from hell

          Having a goal that is a “Pot of gold at the end on the rainbow” is not wrong as long as people realize that it is just a strech goal that can not be met. For example, corporations have road maps with a 5 year goal of 10x waste reduction. Everyone knows that this goal will not be met but having such a goal provides people with the direction in which projects have to be executed. If you take these goals too literally you will destroy the organization with radical decisions.

      2. Hamsa

        Agreed! It is idiotic to attempt the impossibility of Utopia…that’s why ANYONE SENSIBLE is a Republican. Democrats only want to inflict the utopian vision-of-the-week on mankind, and are destroying the earth entirely, in the process. Oh well,I guess the End is near…thanks Democrats!!

  2. 2
    Neale

    I think his ideas are tremendously condescending, he is basicly conforming with established religions view of the masses as sheep just waiting to be herded. I was most depressed by the standing ovation he received. We still have a lot of work to do.

    1. 2.1
      atheist from hell

      I watched the video again. I don’t think he wants to treat people as sheep. He just makes a silly attempt to suggest that secularization has made life boring and that religion has lot more to offer than the idea of supernatural god. He like many clueless callers to the AES seems to think that atheist are nihilists.

      1. katiemelbourne

        Alain de Botton IS an atheist. I doubt he has any misconceptions about what that means considering all the questioning and explaining he’s had to face throughtout his career.

        1. F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

          You’ll have to explain accomdationists, then.

        2. atheist from hell

          Ok, he seems to think that all the so-called new atheists are nihilists who don’t know how to enjoy finer things in life.

          1. Muffin

            Hi AXP,

            I think the Richard Feynman Series that were posted on YouTube are great examples of how people who try to understand the world with Science can see great beauty in the world.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRmbwczTC6E

            Cheers!

        3. Ron Handy Jr

          I’m thinking most of the atheists here that do NOT agree with atheism 2.0… just don’t get it, or they only have a vested interest in only fighting religion. The way I see atheism 2.0 is, it’s about doing some real good and EVOLVING BEYOND THE NEED OF A GOD FIGURE!!! Not your strawman proposition of creating a blissful coombaya Utopia. Sure, a atheist utopia would be nice… but we all can agree that ‘utopia’ is a very unrealistic fantasy. What matters is the endeavor to better ourselves with a tried and true proven method (‘church’) that does work. I don’t know about you, but if you are half the staunch lifelong ATHEIST as I am… you will ALWAYS be skeptical and you will NEVER EVER allow it to be a religion! The saying “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the Problem” applies here. If you work toward to altruistic values, you will get some real good done… you will be “The Better Angels Of Our Nature” (yes, I’m a big Steven Pinker fan and I have read his last three books). It’s the REASON why I started and organize the Portland branch of the Sunday Assembly. So before you go second guessing what Atheism 2.0 is about, honestly EVALUATE IT with the scientific method using atheism 1.0 as the control group… and see who gets more good done.

  3. 3
    Giordano Bruno

    Worst. Ted Talk. Ever.

    Every single one of his arguments began with an assumed and unsupported proposition, or one that he expects the audience to accept a-priori.

    Sorry, but an argument will not withstand criticism if it’s based on an initial a-priori assertion.

    FSM, this was horrible…

  4. 4
    Orlando

    This guy and his ilk make me sick. This was especially jarring the day after MLK day – a day that I recalled MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail that railed against those who would slow down or quiet activists.

    He attacks a straw man, atheists who are both strident and bereft of sentimental feelings for the religious traditions in which they were raised. We do not need atheism 2.0 because many, perhaps most, of us can see religions and god for what they are – collections of primitive superstitions and myths – yet still enjoy christmas carols and religious art and architecture.

    This is yet another thinly veiled attack on the new atheists – atheist activists especially – and like the others of his crowd, was likely asked by his liberal interfaith friends to put a muzzle on the new atheists, who “are harming both the thoughtful, sophisticated atheists like yourself as well as the liberal christian movement”.

    By the way, I have read some of the author’s books and am familiar with his family, who are big names in art (and very VERY WEALTHY). He grew up in a life of incredible privilege and in the social milieu of “don’t make waves.”

    There is room in the atheist movement for both the loud and the reserved. What we do not need is some overly refined soi disant intellectual mandarin putting us in the quiet corner. Ala Dirty Dancing, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”

  5. 5
    Paul Wittmeyer

    Well said, Matt. When he was discussing the bit at the end about quietly disagreeing, I hoped beyond hope that he was going to say something like “If someone tells you that they are an atheist, maybe you should quietly disagree instead of declaring to them that they are going to hell.” But, of course he had to go with the perspective of ‘Atheists shouldn’t attack.’

    Yes, his point about ‘quiet disagreement goes both ways. And, if you agree with it (which I do not,) then the theist and the atheist should be able to have a conversation about where their positions overlap. But, to give only one example, and to have that example being an atheist as the would-be aggressor frames us in the exact stereotype of ‘why do the atheists always have to attack those poor religious folk?’

  6. 6
    Cuttlefish

    Reminds me of atheism 6.2.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2012/01/17/atheism-6-2/

  7. 7
    genemille

    Yeah, let’s combat dogma with more dogma. That’ll solve everything! And, shhhh! Don’t voice your opinion. Be respectful.

    Give me a break.

  8. 8
    KathyO

    Thank goodness that’s over. I don’t believe he uttered one statement that I agree with in 20 minutes.

    I think de Botton looks longing at the religious community and thinks that if he could just convince himself that they’re a little bit right he could go to their parties.

  9. 9
    Alex Songe

    Is your argument that these methods are so effective, they’re all necessarily detrimental indoctrination…or are you making some sort of “rule utilitarianism” where the utility of not going near indoctrination is better than risking indoctrination to reinforce things we’re sure are truths?

    I plan on using some of these methods with my children in order to lend meaning and memory to life. To mark seasons and changes in the weather with specific ritualistic events to cement memories and reinforce values such as love, life, and yes, death. I currently consciously create rituals for myself. Once a week when I walk my dogs, I will often think of death personified walking in the corner of my eye. This is to remind myself that I shouldn’t invest everything into the pleasure of a future that may not come, and to at least enjoy myself today. At certain times of the year, I’ll go back and read a certain book and watch a few movies to remind myself to pay attention to some aspect of how to live the good life.

    I think you may be running dangerously close to making claims on the subjective experiences and their values of people who do consciously create rituals to enrich their lives. But I don’t think you’re going to buy that counterargument without some way to distinguish between indoctrination and fostering culture. So I will pose this: perhaps this should be about raising aspects of the search for truth…by posing questions through ritual instead of answers. Most of the benign aspects of religion that do provide benefit are midrash, they often run against the grain of the literal meaning. They turn the statement back into a question. Why not just stick with questions the whole way through? Hitchens did this with his family, turning the Jewish passover seder into a Socratic dialogue with the children. As well as posing questions, one may wish to call attention to aspects of life. Maybe when fall begins, create a ritual where you talk about things that are no more…death, the parting of old friends who have moved away, lost friendships, and lost loves. One thing modern life has against it is the constant distraction away from paying attention to the life that is yours to create.

    So in short, I think we can use these methods without it becoming indoctrination as long as we don’t involve doctrine or conclusions as necessary components. There are things that are nearly universal about life that we can set into a calendar, and there are questions we all have to confront about being human. People don’t get enough practice in learning how to create lives that are worth living.

    1. 9.1
      Orlando

      Huh?

    2. 9.2
      erin

      I love that so many people here are rejecting what de Botton said, while doing exactly what he said people should do.
      1. Arrange times to think and question
      2. Get together with others to discuss, think and question
      3. Write and speak articulately about what you think and ask questions
      4. Go places and do things that make you think, ask questions and yes – appreciate stuff
      5. Do and make things that make you think and ask more questions
      7. Use the power of the many (and the web) to share the idea that you can think and question
      6. Repeat Often so you don’t forget to think and ask questions

      These aren’t new ideas, but see #6.

      1. atheist from hell

        The objection is that religion did not gives us any of these concepts.

        1. katiemelbourne

          Once again, de Botton does not suggest that religion gave us any of these concepts, only that these organisations utilise them and he suggests we utilise them too.

      2. atheist from hell

        Botton might as well have said that religious people brush their teeth the first thing in the morning. We atheists should also brush our teeth.

        The religious people take a dump right after that. We atheists should also do the same.

        1. katiemelbourne

          Yes but he didn’t say that. I don’t even understand what you mean there. He is saying that there are some tactics used by religious organisations that he thinks Atheists should incorporate.

          Personally I disagree, but that doesn’t mean he is saying we should copy religion. Because he is just not saying that.

          I am starting to understand why the AXP crew never enter the chatrooms :/

          1. atheist from hell

            katiemelbourne,

            I believe you agree that none of supposedly great ideas that Botton mentions came from religion. It true that religious people and organizations have used these ideas effectively over years. But non-religious people and organizations have also used these ideas effectively over the same period of time if not longer.

            So why did Botton unnecessarily bring religion into his talk? I am unable to put a finger on it. Can you please explain.

          2. katiemelbourne

            Hey atheist from hell, for some reason I could not reply to your post. I think we have skipped a step here.

            You said “But non-religious people and organizations have also used these ideas effectively over the same period of time if not longer.”

            How?

          3. atheist from hell

            If you agree that these ideas did not originate from religious people and organisations, would you also not agree that these ideas were created by people and organizations in a secular setting?

            Am I still missing something?

          4. atheist from hell

            I guess I am still missing something.

            If these ideas were invented/created by people in non-religious setting it is natural to say they these ideas have been practiced effectively for a longer duration by the non-religious than by the religious.

          5. atheist from hell

            I think I am still missing something.

            I don’t think I can prove that non-religion people and “organisations” have to practicing these ideas “effectively”.

            What do we mean by “effectively”? I am not sure.

            When we go back in time I also find it hard to figure out what is a non-religious “organisation”. Religion was so mixed up with government, education, science, military, and trade that even if I I prove that the these ideas were practiced effectively by these organizations I will find it difficult to segregate the religious components of these organisations and assign these ideas to the non-religious components of these organisations.

    3. 9.3
      James Croft

      I agree.

      What he’s suggesting are largely elements of indoctrination; using art, repetitive, ritualistic actions and emotional language to instruct people

      How are these methods necessarily indoctrination? How are you using the term? It seems to me that the use of communicative techniques other than spoken or written argument is not always indoctrination. So how do you justify this claim? You don’t get away with simply asserting it!

  10. 10
    Brad

    As soon as he got to the fake choice of (paraphrasing) “If want to like the pretty things of religion: the songs, the art, you can only enjoy it if you accept the doctrine”, I was out of there. Why CAN’T I enjoy a beautiful Christmas carol, even one talking about Jesus, without having to buy into the religion? It’s like saying I can’t enjoy reading “Lord of the Rings” without honestly believing in Hobbits. So, three minutes in, I’d had enough.

    1. 10.1
      katiemelbourne

      Reminded me of this great song by Aussie comedian Tim Minchin.

    2. 10.2
      James Croft

      Errrr, Brad, he’s making precisely your point, if you’d listened the whole way…

  11. 11
    katiemelbourne

    It was an intersting talk and my thoughts mirrored yours as far as indoctrination is concerned, Matt.

    In his opening statements, Alain states if you go to University asking for guidance in life they cannot offer any, but in my experience you send those people to Philosophy classes. It seems that Mr Botton has overlooked his own profession as being that which teaches people how to think and act without religious involvement.

    I do like the idea of having more scheduled moments in life to stop and reflect, but we already have national holidays to this effect. In Australia we have ANZAC day, a time for reflecting on war, it’s price, it’s cause and it’s meanings. We have Australia Day where we discuss and reflect on colonisation, it’s effect and where we go from here. For love we have Valentines Day, for parents we have Mum’s day and Dad’s day. We already have these non-religious days in place where we are given the time to consider elements of life in a ritualistic fashion.

    Basically, through a lot of his talk I was thinking ‘but we already have that’. Maybe Alain de Botton just doesn’t get out that much anymore.

  12. 12
    piero

    Matt, your comments piqued my curiosity and I watched the video. Now you owe me 20 minutes of my life. No need to hurry, though: you can give them back to me when we meet in hell. I accept Visa and Mastercard. No cash: it’s hard to keep it from burning.

  13. 13
    gleasutterfield

    Yes, Matt… I too shun that ugly institution ‘at the end of the road.’ It has big, nasty teeth.

    Religion, art, government, etc., they already do things THE WAY HUMANS DO THINGS. No further piddling required– except to the extent that freedom, freethought, and rationality might embellish.

    He does refer to an idea which sounds like Sam Harris”spirituality’ admission, the Inner Dimension, and I think there might be something worthwhile to explore there (for some, maybe, not so much for me. Just can’t make it work).

  14. 14
    fullyladenswallow

    “…another thing religions know is that we’re not just brains, we’re also bodies.”

    Yeah. Bodies that are sinful.

    Religion, especially Catholicism, has never given good press to the body. The body is bad and gives into evil and temptation. The body always makes bad decisions. Do not trust the body. Do not trust your individual thought.

    I don’t see anything beneficial about this aspect of religion.

    This is just so incredibly wrong, wrong, wrong!

    1. 14.1
      katiemelbourne

      He is saying that we should be more emotionally engaging when teaching i.e. being aware that the person is more than a mind to be filled with data, that they also need to relate to this information in some way.

      He is not suggesting that the secular community mimic religious teachings about physicality.

      1. fullyladenswallow

        I realize that he’s saying physical ritual can be an effective teacher, but I take exception to his phrasing, since as a former catholic, the use of the word “body” carries a negative connotation for me. And besides, as I look back on it, there are rituals in the catholic church that are rather disgusting. Confess my sins of the body to the priest? Swallow the body and blood of a holy dead man?

        I’m not sure that atheists need rituals anyway. It’s too woo-oriented.

  15. 15
    Tommy R.

    As I listened to this 2.0 guy talk, I disagreed with him more. It just kinda blew my mind that he suggested it, but I let him go on. As it went on it just became facepalm session… I mean, I have to agree that just because you become an atheist you can still enjoy art, music, and community, but just leave religion out of it, that’s why we’re atheists…. He’s trying to put religion and “spirituality” into an environment that has clearly rejected those same things because of a realization that they were bad… It’s just ironic.

  16. 16
    marcoconti

    We are far from done with atheism 1.0. In fact, we are barely at 1.1. Let’s finish the job first.

  17. 17
    atheist from hell

    I totally agree with Matt. We should pick up good ideas and discard bad ideas irrespective of the source.

    For instance the Nazi doctors were one of the first to identify the link between smoking and cancer and also the first to start an anti-smoking movement. People can accept the anti-smoking message with out agreeing with the Nazis on antisemitism and totalitarianism.

    But good ideas in religion? I really could not find any.

    Can any of you?

    1. 17.1
      katiemelbourne

      How about a supportive community structure? Or legislation and guidance spread through spoken word in a time when practically no one was literate? Religion has given us some great ideas and systems in the past.

      It’s the tenacious grasp some people keep on these antiquated notions that births the dilemma. Religion will always be a part of our history and of the foundation of human thought and it is foolish to claim it has never held merit. The battle now is to build on those foundations, to keep thoughts and ideas growing and malleable rather than stagnant.

      1. Orlando

        You are kidding, right? Religion has given us conformist, repressive institutions and structures. Some people, by temperament, need to be a part of those hierarchical social structures. As an outsider, I want no part of them.

        1. katiemelbourne

          I think it is both extreme and foolish to claim that religion has never had any merits. That it has never been beneficial to society in any way.

          I am just as opposed to it’s continuation as anyone in this room, but I will not pretend that it is all bad just to make myself feel that I’m on the side of ‘right’.

          Religion is not all bad and once upon a time (about 2,000 years+ ago) it was a good structure for informing people about dietary needs, hygiene, morality, laws etc. but now it is well past it’s use-by date. However that doesn’t strip it of it’s prior merits, just means that it was a stepping stone to where we are today, one that is no longer required.

          1. yellowsubmarine

            It’s not extreme or foolish. The merits religion has had in the past are so trivial compared to the suffering and death they’ve wreaked upon humanity that I wouldn’t bother mentioning them. It’s like saying “Well, that preacher has been raping children for years, but at least he paid his taxes.” Great, lots of us pay taxes. The idea that the church didn’t royally fuck up 100 percent of what it got it’s hands on doesn’t mean that without the church, these things never would have come about anyway. They don’t get brownie points for not sucking from start to finish.

          2. colubridae

            Religion got its hooks into everything from the start.
            That means practically everything that went on was touched by religion. You are assuming that benefits accrued by humans necessarily came about because of religion. You don’t know that’s true. Religion was simply around.
            For all you know everything was held back and hampered by religion. We might have got to a modern enlightened society with useful technology much faster without religion.

      2. rippe

        Humans have supportive community structures because most of us are highly social animals. A good community was much more likely to survive than one where no support existed. And the ability to transfer information from one generation to another is pretty much a prerequisite for any kind of coherent religious system, not the invention of one. Don’t give credit to religion where it really deserves none. That is not to say religion hasn’t given us any good ideas, but I can’t come up with any.

        And honestly, there’s nothing about not believing in any god concept that needs updating or modifying, making the notion of 2.0 seem ridiculous. It’s tacking on meanings the word ‘atheism’ really doesn’t need.

  18. 18
    atheist from hell

    Just watched the TED video. It was very lame.

    Where did he get the idea that lectures are less inspiring than sermons? Has he ever listened to Richard Feynman or Carl Sagan?

    1. 18.1
      James Croft

      That gives rise to a very interesting question: depending on your definition of “sermon”, I’d argue that Sagan, at least, very frequently gave “Humanist sermons”. He used precisely the sorts of techniques that seem to be criticized by Matt here – appeals to the arts, poetic language, even the language of religion – to make eloquent moral cases. I think you could reasonably call that a sermon.

      Remember, it was Sagan himself who talked about the creation of a “religion of science” and of “informed worship”. I believe what De Botton talks of here is closer to Sagan than almost any other prominent atheist I know.

  19. 19
    atheist from hell

    Religion did not give us the calendar. Human’s ability to identify patterns in weather gave us the calendar.

    1. 19.1
      katiemelbourne

      He doesn’t say or even imply that religion gave us the calander.

      He states that religious organisations have a schedule of events where everyone in that group reflect and conduct rituals together and focus on one aspect of life. He used the moon festival as an example.

  20. 20
    heicart

    Indoctrination means teaching ideas and including within that teaching that those ideas cannot/should not be questioned. This is what differentiates it from education, which is teaching with a goal toward understanding why ideas are valid or invalid. I agree with that if we teach people what to think, without providing them with mechanisms to understand how to think–how to understand which ideas are valid, we’re doing them a disservice and creating minds at risk for accepting fallacies and being easily persuaded to follow anyone/anything for very bad reasons (as they don’t know how to tell good reasons from bad).

  21. 21
    Gary W. Longsine

    hi Matt,

    If you’re not familiar with Peter Boghossian, you might enjoy this interview (audio only). In a mental cage match he’d crush Alain de Botton.

    http://www.philosophynews.com/post/2011/12/05/Interview-with-Peter-Boghossian.aspx

  22. 22
    nunya bidness

    This talk struck me as yet another attempt to woo atheists into making themselves more palatable for others. This guy can do whatever the hell he wants and more power to him. I’ll continue to the faithful the way I always did and I’m happy with that.

    1. 22.1
      Orlando

      I read it the same way. Sort of, “You may be right that our god beliefs are false, but do you have to throw it in our faces?” Uh, yeah, we do if we are going to demand social equality.

  23. 23
    Berend Mulder

    I guess we should hold out for Atheism 2.1, there are severe bugs in 2.0!

  24. 24
    Comment1

    I quite liked how he said “of course there’s no God”, the next question is “now what?” It seems to me that in Europe we’re much closer to that question, whereas in America you got way more crap to deal with. It’s nowhere near as war-like in the UK.

    I can well imagine Alain talking to all sorts of essentially Atheist Church of England clergy and finding it not so bad.

    As for “indoctrination techniques”. I kinda feel that scientists are exposed to that when they’re repeatedly told to formulate falsifiable hypotheses, that it’s good to change your mind to reflect facts and that intuition is not necessarily true. It seems to me that many of those ideas bear repetition.

  25. 25
    Mike Haynes

    Am I missing something here? Once you’ve determined that you don’t believe in a god or gods, you have your atheism, or “without god-ism.” After that, how you engage others and what you do in your community is a different topic.

    I can speak out as a skeptic or a humanist as loudly or as softly as I deem necessary in my particular situation. Those choices are not based on my “atheism.” My being an atheist might be contained in my speech, but it doesn’t determine how I speak or if I want to be loud, silent, or somewhere in between. And it certainly isn’t something I need to reinforce with ritual.

    “Atheism 2.0″ ? Pfffft!

    1. 25.1
      davidct

      I tend to agree with you Mike. I am primarily a skeptic in that I care about what is true and try to only accept things as true when they are supported by evidence. I only become what is called an atheist when someone proposes a god and I do not find sufficient evidence to reject the null hypothesis. There is no “ism”, but simply treating god as any other claim about what it real.

      I outraged at people trying to use their superstitious beliefs to control what other people think and do. It is a betrayal of my values to politely allow this behavior with no protest. There is little polite about the arrogance of the deluded.

      1. Orlando

        Well said. This guy would have told the young lady in Cranston to keep her mouth shut about the religious mural lest she offend those who appreciate that type of religious trapping.

  26. 26
    Justin Zimmer

    Alain has setup numerous false dichotomies throughout this video. How does he separate religion from culture? Or is he using culture to mean only the arts and humanities? How much has religion influenced all of these?

    So we either have to believe the doctrine or live with Walmart? Huh? Why can’t I go to a bar mitzvah or a quinceanera just to party? Every year I have a ritual of inviting my community of friends and family to eat good food and get drunk, I call it my Birthday. I think we’ve secularized just fine. Secular doesn’t mean completely abandoning rituals.

    Why do we need a love room in an art museum again? What an awful idea! Do we put Picasso and Dali in the WTF room? Let’s just tell everyone that when they look at a painting they are supposed to feel a certain way!

    This guy seems completely disconnected with what both religion and secularism are. I don’t understand what he was getting on about regarding lonely poets. I don’t think all poets are lonely, and if they are I don’t think forcing them into a communal setting is even an approachable idea. Imagine a socially extroverted Poe: “Quoth the Raven, ‘Let’s go grab a beer.’ “.

    And there are secular presentations that motivate and explore meaning. They’re called seminars, and they rake in a ton of money here in the states. Most are utterly pointless, and can be complete pseudoscience. Of course, I didn’t miss the irony of him claiming we need something like secular sermons in a TEDtalk of all things. On another note, he’s completely missing the danger of the sermon model. Mob mentality begins with a speaker in the pulpit.

    This talk was nothing but mush. Atheism 2.0 is vaporware. My freedom comes from not having to participate in any sort of institutionalized activity. Adopting the societal pressures of religion to endorse secular culture and ideals does against everything I am. After all, I am a unique individual, just like everybody else.

    1. 26.1
      katiemelbourne

      Brilliantly said, Justin!

    2. 26.2
      Mike Haynes

      Exactly! You nailed it!

    3. 26.3
      James Croft

      I think this is to take a very weak idea of “freedom”. As someone who regularly participates in the sort of atheist community de Botton describes, I feel it adds enormously to the richness, satisfaction and enjoyment I get out of life, as well as to my concrete freedom. I do not HAVE to participate – I choose to do so because of the concrete benefits the community offers: social opportunities with like-minded friends, cross-generational socialization, the opportunity to explore my deepest values, and the chance to engage in collective action to further those values. You can’t get those on your own. You can’t get those from a church (because churches don’t share my Humanist worldview). The only place I can get it is from my Humanist community.

  27. 27
    jacobfromlost

    I don’t know if there is a name for it (or maybe I do and have forgotten it), but there is a kind of psychological phenomenon when people get bored of a previous artistic/cultural movement, and reject it. Then they seem to get bored of the rejection, and make up a new one. (Sometimes the new one IS the rejection.) Maybe I’m thinking of the Hegalian dialectic? …although that isn’t exactly what I just described.

    Anyway, I think something similar is happening here. Humans love their stories, rituals, cultures. But over time, they also get bored of the same thing, and humans LOVE to make up new stories, rituals, cultures. Rejecting religious notions altogether as unfounded is a perfectly valid rejection.

    …but that human impulse to create something else sorta-kinda religious, even if that doesn’t entirely make sense, pops up again.

    Another related point: many of my favorite extended stories–modern myths, if you will–were written by atheists. I didn’t even know they were atheists until later, though.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that many religious myths had to be written by people who knew what they were writing wasn’t literally real. Some undoubtedly thought what they were writing WAS real–thinking they were psychically channelling god, spirits, or whatever. But the impulse to tell complex stories with fantastic, supernatural elements is present in humans across the spectrum of belief/disbelief–probably because those kind of stories are most effective in being entertaining, and most effective in a being a delivery system for a lesson, or exploring abstractions within the human experience, or just binding people together who all know the same stories (culturally, and communication-wise).

    I think that an atheist suggesting that certain religious myths, rituals, etc, can be useful and thus should be supported on that basis is patronizing at best. Every mythmaker wants his myth to just blow the audience out of the water, and one tempting way to do this is to suggest it is ALL TRUE (even if the writer him/herself doesn’t believe it is true).

    However, you can have common myths, common cultures, common rituals, etc. ALL the stuff that is useful to have, and not have the religion, and not tell people your myths are ALL TRUE. You don’t have to believe anything supernatural is actually real at the core of any of it, which makes it even MORE useful because you don’t risk being manipulated by giving up your own free thought.

    We can have common myths, and we can have differing opinions on the effective parts, and discuss those differing opinions with support from our own lives, from how people actually behave, from what the lesson is or should be, etc. But once you make it RELIGIOUS, then there is a chilling effect on those differing opinions–we’re told we have to read it THIS way and understand it THIS way and believe THIS absurd thing is literally true at the core of it (and–get this!–we’re even told we have to LIKE the myth). But worse than that, the people SAYING it has to be read THIS way may not actually believe that themselves. Many of them are just saying that because THIS interpretation keeps the religion going and keeps them in power over the minds of the flock. The motivations for this could be A) pure power, or B) “those stupid people don’t know how to think for themselves so I will do it for them”, or, sadly, both.

    Which, as Matt has pointed out, puts everyone right back to square one. If that is the end result of skepticism, rationality, etc, what is the point in advocating for it?

    1. 27.1
      Orlando

      I’ll add one aspect to this excellent post. As a former Latin scholar (and some Greek), I had to learn many figures of speech, such as metonym, synecdoche, prolepsis, and so on. The one most people recognize today is hyperbole.

      You see, in pre-writing (oral) cultures, where stories were past down through families and tribes, to be remembered (because some stories had moral or other points helpful to survival), the stories had to be vivid and arresting. So words would be ordered in certain memorable ways and numbers would be exaggerated for effect.

      As writing developed, figures of speech were continued and refined. So it is ludicrous to think that these stories were literal – even if they were based on fact – because they were highly colored syntactically (with exaggerated claims and metaphors) for emotional impact and so they would be remembered.

      Historians know this, as do students of ancient languages. The sheeple do not.

    2. 27.2
      jacobfromlost

      Me before: or just binding people together who all know the same stories (culturally, and communication-wise).

      Me Now: I think I just had a religious experience that binds the universe together. What would it be like to watch a crowd-sourced version of a movie that everyone knows like the back of their hands? Now we know. Now we know… Just…wow…

  28. 28
    logic / reason / evidence

    Actually I agree with a lot of what he says. I do think that secular society could learn a lot from the theological world about spirituality & community -something which is undoubtedly missing in much of life in the 21st century,

    I see a couple of problems with what he said:

    1. The idea is too wooly i.e. he needs to define more precisely what is meant. How should tourism integrate the idea of ‘pilgrimage’ in any secular terms exactly? If I go on holiday to a mountain range somewhere how can that be a pilgrimage? It’s like a pilgrimage perhaps but in what way can you meaningfully make it into one? Go every 3rd of August? Why??

    2. If it is to be called ‘atheism 2.0′ that’s a bad title. Atheism is about what isn’t valued & says nothing about what is. If it is called that, it needs to challenge the person who brings prayer into the arena. I personally think it ought to be called something better. What? Hmmm,,, ‘The Numinous’ perhaps? Maybe not, I’m not sure but it ought to be something inclusive. I’m not an anti-theist per se, perhaps I’m more of a ‘Bright’ as Dan Dennet has defined it.

    On balance I kind of agree with most of what Alan De Boton has said but he needs a better title than ‘atheism 2.0′. He also needs to be one of it’s midwives. Not the pope or figurehead, just it’s instigator -perhaps with others who have said similar things like Dan Dennett, If he doesn’t do more (or someone like him) it simply won’t spontaneously happen. Religions are organised (probably too much) but without any attempt to organize this idea it simply can’t happen.

    1. 28.1
      Orlando

      Someone on Youtube is attempting to organize The National Atheist Party. While I understand that organizing affords a group political power, that name has some tonal problems (think National Socialist Party).

      And I will NOT release my tax returns (at least until Romney does) (*_*)

    2. 28.2
      atheist from hell

      I don’t think sense of community is missing in the 21st century. If at all anything humanity is more closely linked today than any other point in history.

      1. Orlando

        You make an excellent point. People looking to establish rituals and doctrines and social structures are looking backwards, through a lens of the past, not ahead.

      2. katiemelbourne

        Totally agree. The way communities organise themselves and communicate may have changed slightly, but this does not indicate dissolution. Plus, let us not forget the awesomeness of the online global community. Makes it possible for a girl in Melbourne, Australia to be a part of the Atheist Community of Austin in America. Wild stuff.

    3. 28.3
      Jasper of Maine

      I do think that secular society could learn a lot from the theological world about spirituality & community

      And that’s why we’re already taking lessons from them in terms of community.

      But spirituality? Is that something that actually exists? What is it?

      You may as well have said:

      I do think that secular society could learn a lot from the theological world about <b??????????? & community

      I don’t think we need to learn a whole lot about ghosts and spirits from them, for example.

      1. Comment1

        It’s quite possible for “spirituality” to be part of the human experience within the brain, but not be something that exists outside of it. If atheism is supposed to just deny the existence of those feelings, then that’s a problem.

      2. Jasper of Maine

        That’s why I asked what is meant by spirituality – because I don’t know what it means.

        As far as I can tell otherwise, it’s “psychology”.

        Once you take the supernatural crap out of “spirituality”, what’s left?

        1. Comment1

          Sure. So it would be cool to find out more about it, like that geezer with the “spiritual feelings machine” they tried out on Dawkins.

          When theists say “God is love” or whatever, it’s quite easy to dismiss without saying that love is a load of crap. We don’t have that with spiritual. We don’t know what it is or how to talk about it so religion and the supernatural have total control over it and any narrative surrounding it. I don’t think the answer is to declare it meaningless, non-existent crap or otherwise without value.

        2. Jasper of Maine

          I can dismiss it if I have no idea what the word is supposed to mean.

          The problem is probably using the term “spiritual” at all, as opposed to specific lessons.

          If we’re trying to glean some lessons from religious spirituality, which is typically dependently interwoven with supernatural things – if we remove the supernatural bits and there’s nothing left – then yes, we have nothing to learn from religion about spirituality.

        3. Jasper of Maine

          For all I know “spirituality” is about making muffins. I don’t know. It just seems to be a wildcard – a word that means whatever the person wants it to mean.

          If the word doesn’t have a set definition, or we haven’t established a context that ties it to a particular definition, then it actually is literally meaningless.

        4. Jasper of Maine

          I’m failing at getting too ranty, but it’s like people are fighting to save a word, and not necessarily a concept. It’s not that there’s a thing that they’re fighting for that’s called “spiritual” – it’s that they’re intent on simply having the word “spiritual” and are scouring around trying to find some concept to attach the word to – and people can’t come to a consensus.

          1. Orlando

            Brain studies have shown some people are wired to feel numinous or spiritual experiences and others are not.

            And when that part of the brain is damaged (I think it is the parietal lobe), there is an increase in spiritual or numinous “I’m one with the universe” feelings. It has to do with the ego boundary and it is all inside the brain.

          2. Jasper of Maine

            Well at least that’s the beginning of a definition of what a “spiritual experience” is.

            Personally, I’d call those hallucinations.

      3. James Croft

        This is a good question. I’m never really sure what people mean by the term “spirituality”.

      4. atheist from hell

        What is spirituality? Does it refer to the experience you get when consume spirits like whiskey and beer?

        1. piero

          I depends on the amount and the quality. After half a bottle of beer I feel very earthly. After half a bottle of Jack Daniels I feel definitely ghostly. And ghastly.

  29. 29
    noisician

    or the old Steve Martin routine:

    Now let’s repeat the non-conformists’ oath:
    I promise to be different! (audience repeats)
    I promise to be unique! (audience repeats)
    I promise not to repeat things other people say!

  30. 30
    Michael R

    Hi Matt, love your web show. Great work.
    But you’re wrong on this one.
    There’s two dimensions to this problem: beliefs and values.
    1 – Beliefs. Of course we wants freethinkers free of indoctrination and rote learning. Duh.
    2 – Values, morals, and philosophy, for atheists, can only come from our emotions/desires/feelings. The entire history of philosophy is about balancing our desires to maximise happiness/fulfilment. It is not an easy task even for smart people. So we really do need to take atheists by the hand and lead them to a fulfilling post-religion lifestyle/culture.
    Leaving it up to each individual to choose a lifestyle is not going to grow the humanist movement. People only drift to strong and clear cultures and community. That’s why we have to steal from the example of religion and cults in how to build a sustained movement. But we don’t want one single atheist culture: it should be a contest of cultures, and may the most fulfilling/compelling one gain the most followers.

    1. 30.1
      Matt Dillahunty

      1. I love how you tell me I’m wrong…and even throw in a “duh”. He was ADVOCATING the equivalent of rote learning – he repeatedly did this.
      2. What an stupid misunderstanding flavored with arrogance! I never suggested we simply abandon people to their own devices…but your “take them by the hand” condescension pretty much ends this little back-and-forth.

      1. Michael R

        1. Beliefs – I did not say you were wrong, I was just stating the obvious. All atheists agree that, in the realm of beliefs/knowledge/facts, indoctrination and rote learning is wrong. That’s why I said “duh”. It was not an insult.

        Alain did NOT advocate rote learning about beliefs, only rote learning about values/philosophy/culture/community. You’re mixing beliefs and values. That’s why I emphasized the two points separately.

        2. Values – We’ll have to disagree on this one. Alain is not “convinced that he has the truth”, rather, he is convinced that people need to grow up in a culture that feels like it’s the truth. Read some of Jonathan Haidt’s writing about how people are happier in well defined cultures as opposed to the freedom to do whatever you want. Now, you are correct to warn of “doctrine and dogma waiting at the end of that road”. That is a real danger. But the solution is not one extreme (a cult) or the other (total freedom). The solution is to have a contest of atheist cultures whilst teaching atheists about the dangers of groupthink, and allowing the freedom to move between groups, and the freedom to challenge ideas.

        The Four Horsemen and your show have done a great job, but they need to be complemented by a new breed of atheist leaders like Alain. Time is running out. Christopher Caldwell: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

    2. 30.2
      jacobfromlost

      Michael: 1 – Beliefs. Of course we wants freethinkers free of indoctrination and rote learning. Duh.

      Me: Then what are you arguing for?

      Michael: 2 – Values, morals, and philosophy, for atheists, can only come from our emotions/desires/feelings.

      Me: You mean I can’t determine what is more valuable and what is less valuable within the context of the evidence around me? Our emotions/etc are not divorced from actual outcomes.

      Michael: The entire history of philosophy is about balancing our desires to maximise happiness/fulfilment. It is not an easy task even for smart people.

      Me: But if you separate desires/happiness from evidence of actual outcomes, philosophy is useless.

      Michael: So we really do need to take atheists by the hand and lead them to a fulfilling post-religion lifestyle/culture.

      Me: Good luck with that. I think you’ll have more luck training cats to hold hands (paws?) and sing Kumbaya. (You should do a feasibility study on both–I’d bet good money the cat thing would be more feasible.)

      Michael: Leaving it up to each individual to choose a lifestyle is not going to grow the humanist movement.

      Me: And what is the alternative? Whatever the alternative is, it MUST be very close to indoctrination and rote learning if you are not leaving it up to an individual’s choice.

      Michael: People only drift to strong and clear cultures and community.

      Me: It’s almost as if you think the very notions of freedom (and freedom of thought?) are inherently flawed. The freethinking/humanist culture is not going to be made “stronger” and “clearer” by making it something other than freethinking and humanist.

      Michael: That’s why we have to steal from the example of religion and cults in how to build a sustained movement.

      Me: I think you’ve missed the point, if you are not trolling (steal from CULTS? really?).

      Michael: But we don’t want one single atheist culture: it should be a contest of cultures, and may the most fulfilling/compelling one gain the most followers.

      Me: Who are you to say what it “should” be? Who are to say ONE cultural movement even COULD be the “most fulfilling/compelling” to the widest number of humanists? And why should we as individuals or a group want such a thing?

      1. Michael R

        I don’t know where to start, so I’ll just clarify my position.

        In the realm of facts/knowledge neither you, nor I, nor Alain want rote learning or indoctrination. We want freethinking, reason and science to reign supreme. Hip, hip, hooray. We all agree on this.

        In the realm of values/culture/community/philosophy it is a matter not primarily of beliefs/facts, but primarily of emotions/desires/feelings. It’s about maximising happiness/fulfillment by prioritising desires. Once those emotional priorities are chosen, we then employ reason to pursue those desires. Stephen Pinker: “We have desires, and we pursue them using beliefs”. Yes, there are beliefs associated with the best way to satisfy those desires, but they are secondary servants in pursuit of emotional desires.

        And in the realm of values, there is no clear right or wrong. There will be conservatives and liberals at each others throats as per usual. In the long run, maybe Sam Harris is right that we will gather so much detailed knowledge of our brains that we will be able to offer a lifestyle that maximises happiness. But that’s a long way off so, meanwhile, there is still a diversity of value systems and we need to teach the children what we think the best lifestyle is. And for that we need well-defined cultures and community.

        What Alain is offering is structure and content, because people need something solid:

        “Durkheim is perhaps best known for studying the factors that contributed to suicide during the late nineteenth century throughout Europe. As Haidt explains in The Happiness Hypothesis, all of the data that Durkheim collected can be summarized in one word: constraints. No matter how Durkheim shuffled through the data he found that suicides rates increased whenever people had fewer social constrains.”

        If you are worried about “training cats to hold hands” then you don’t understand human nature. The herd instinct is very strong. Jesse Prinz: “we have an unconscious tendency towards social conformity”. Scientific fact. Deal with it. People want to conform, they want to belong. We need to indulge that need whilst being acutely aware of the dangers of groupthink and herd mentalities.

        Bottom line: if we don’t have clear and strong atheist cultures, but remain a collection of individuals, then people will be drawn to religions and cults that do.

      2. jacobfromlost

        Michael:In the realm of facts/knowledge neither you, nor I, nor Alain want rote learning or indoctrination. We want freethinking, reason and science to reign supreme. Hip, hip, hooray. We all agree on this.

        Me: Except that we don’t. As Matt pointed out, Alain advocated rote learning and indoctrination in the video. If he only wants secular, cultural rituals, art, literature, etc, we already have that and it is thriving far better than he indicates. (He even goes so far as to say we should overtly TELL people what to think about art, lol. If that isn’t rote learning and indoctrination, what is?) Moreover, you seem to think everyone AGREES on what facts and knowledge are! They don’t, which puts a very big monkey wrench in your thesis that they can be separate from values and rote learning.

        Michael: In the realm of values/culture/community/philosophy it is a matter not primarily of beliefs/facts, but primarily of emotions/desires/feelings.

        Me: No, it isn’t. One can value things that are not valuable, and not value things that are. (They can also value things that are facts/knowledge, or value things they only think are facts/knowledge.) You can easily attach emotions/ desires/ feelings to things to make them seem valuable when they are not, in reality, valuable and lead to negative outcomes. We see this all the time. Asserting the opposite doesn’t change the evidence that you are wrong. Sorry.

        Michael: It’s about maximising happiness/fulfillment by prioritising desires. Once those emotional priorities are chosen, we then employ reason to pursue those desires. Stephen Pinker: “We have desires, and we pursue them using beliefs”. Yes, there are beliefs associated with the best way to satisfy those desires, but they are secondary servants in pursuit of emotional desires.

        Me: I think you are mixing and matching different definitions of words so it is impossible for me to tell what you mean. Emotional desires cannot be chosen by preference only (by groups or individuals) and THEN guarantee valuable outcomes. You are making HUGE assertions and not backing them up with any evidence. (And if what you say is true, why don’t I agree with you? Why doesn’t MATT agree with you? Wouldn’t it be so obviously true, with mountains of evidence in support, that we would have no problem with it?)

        Michael: And in the realm of values, there is no clear right or wrong.

        Me: There are better and worse values. Things are valuable due to the value of their outcomes, not simply because someone says they are valuable, nor because they make you happy.

        Michael: There will be conservatives and liberals at each others throats as per usual.

        Me: And biologists and creationists, too. Does that make the creationists values equal to the biologists? The biologist values evidence and reason. The creationist values their faith. If valuing faith makes you more happy (and you believe if its full of facts and knowledge), why not embrace it and encourage everyone else to embrace it? You see, there is always a disagreement among humans regarding what the facts are, and what the knowledge is. You can’t negate that with repetitive poems, songs, rituals, or culture.

        Michael: In the long run, maybe Sam Harris is right that we will gather so much detailed knowledge of our brains that we will be able to offer a lifestyle that maximises happiness. But that’s a long way off so, meanwhile, there is still a diversity of value systems and we need to teach the children what we think the best lifestyle is. And for that we need well-defined cultures and community.

        Me: We have shared values across the culture that most sane people agree upon. We don’t teach our children it is ok to randomly kill people, lie, cheat, steal, etc, because those actions lead not only to a dysfunctional community/society, but because an individual who does these things will not be valued/helped by the group. We also have a shared culture of history, stories, movies, television, music, myths, people, education, etc, that Alain (and you) seem to ignore for some reason. Alain also seems to suggest that being an atheist means you must reject (or do reject) most of these things on an emotional level. Nothing is farther from the truth, and the fact that we get to pick what interests us based on who we are as individuals and as groups is what has led to the vibrant cultures you see today (far more vibrant than the culture of just 100 years ago, which had religion more prominently at its core).

        Michael: What Alain is offering is structure and content, because people need something solid:

        Me: We have that already, in spades. This is the information age. People as a whole are more educated now than they have ever been, and SMARTER now than they have ever been despite all the complaining about education. (Moreover, Alain isn’t offering anything. He’s making a vague, wrong-headed suggestion, not writing myths and songs and rituals to fill this void he made up in his own head.)

        Michael quoting someone: “No matter how Durkheim shuffled through the data he found that suicides rates increased whenever people had fewer social constrains.”

        Me: What does this have to do with anything, who wrote it, and why did you quote it? The 19th century? Define “constraints”. Are we talking about LAWS, here? Policing? Basic societal structure? You are taking a vague, sweeping statement and then making it even MORE vague and sweeping, and then trying to apply it to a completely different context (modern day, where we know more about all of the operant factors).

        Michael: If you are worried about “training cats to hold hands” then you don’t understand human nature. The herd instinct is very strong.

        Me: No, you don’t understand human nature. If human nature was what you were saying it is, we wouldn’t be having this argument because your views would already be reality. They are not.

        Michael: Jesse Prinz: “we have an unconscious tendency towards social conformity”. Scientific fact. Deal with it. People want to conform, they want to belong. We need to indulge that need whilst being acutely aware of the dangers of groupthink and herd mentalities.

        Me: So why don’t you conform to the view that says Alain is wrong? You need to indulge that need since it appears most of the other atheists in your group disagree with you. (You are overgeneralizing all of humanity, when humanity is VERY diverse.)

        Michael: Bottom line: if we don’t have clear and strong atheist cultures, but remain a collection of individuals, then people will be drawn to religions and cults that do.

        Me: Matt was right. You are condescending. You are saying you know what is best for those poor, ignorant people, and we need to tell them with repetition, secular sermons, and ritual. How is that any different than the pews filled with ignorant people today who go to be told what to think?

        The way we get to what is true about anything–including our values, desires, and emotions–is to vigorously and FREELY debate each other within a context of understanding HOW to think using evidence and reason. That debate NEVER ENDS, because there is always something new to learn about each other and about the world around us. The simple things–like don’t kill each other, steal from each other, maliciously lie, etc–come out in the wash immediately, and anyone who knows how to think doesn’t need someone to repeat those things.

        Now, it is a fact and confirmed knowledge that I am right and you are wrong about this, so go home and repeat a dozen times every morning at 8AM: “Jacobfromlost is right, and I am wrong. Jacobfromlost is right, and I am wrong. And Matt is right too.” Then you will agree with us and all will be strong and clear.

        1. Michael R

          David Brooks:

          During the summer of 2008, the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith led a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America… and the results are depressing.

          It’s not so much that these young Americans are living lives of sin and debauchery, at least no more than you’d expect from 18- to 23-year-olds. What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.

          The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, which Smith and company recount in a new book, “Lost in Transition,” you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so…

          Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Again, this doesn’t mean that America’s young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions

          Wake up and smell the fatalism. This “extreme nonjudgmentalism” is manifesting itself in many obvious signs in Western nations. We cannot say no to Muslim immigration when clearly it is harmful to the West. We cannot enforce our borders when clearly illegal immigration is harmful to the West. We cannot put a limit on immigration/diversity when clearly it is harmful to the West. Our streets are not safe because of gang and inter-racial violence. We cannot say no to massive debt when clearly it is sending us broke. We cannot say no to a massive trade imbalance with China when clearly it is exporting jobs and financing the expansion of China’s military. We sit by blindly whilst our culture degenerates into bonobo-like sexualisation of everything. We are left speechless when our kids turn to polyamorous relationships. The West is stuck on stupid.

          All these stem from a failure of atheist leadership, which comes back to a lack of atheist culture/community that breeds the right type of people. The present atheist culture is dominated by “extreme nonjudgmentalism” and the West is dying in a ditch because of it. Time is running out.

        2. jacobfromlost

          I read that article (was in in the NYTimes?) and you seem to be adding 2 plus 2 and getting 22.

          There are several problems with this. One, if I recall correctly, is that the study didn’t focus on atheists, but on that particular age group. Pinning ANY result on atheism would be unwarranted and odd. Two, you included in the quote above that the kids are NOT immoral. Why are we going overboard with religious-like moral educations if they are not immoral? And three, “moral intuitions” sounds a little touchy-feely to me, and a term that lends itself to being redefined in the middle of a discussion.

          Michael: Wake up and smell the fatalism. This “extreme nonjudgmentalism” is manifesting itself in many obvious signs in Western nations.

          Me: Depending on how we want to define “nonjudgmental”, I might agree. There are perfectly rational ways to get to moral judgments. In fact, cognitive restructuring in psychology uses logic/reason to help people see that irrational beliefs (often about their own thoughts and behaviors) don’t lead to the outcomes they want, and how to replace irrational beliefs with rational ones in order to achieve behaviors and outcomes that are more functional.

          Michael: We cannot say no to Muslim immigration when clearly it is harmful to the West.

          Me: Depends on what you mean specifically, and in what context.

          Michael: We cannot enforce our borders when clearly illegal immigration is harmful to the West.

          Me: Cheap labor and business interests have always been the problem here, not “extreme nonjudgmentalism”. Outlaw hiring illegal workers and shut down or impose onerous fines on business who do. Problem solved. Instead, we get talk of giant fences as those ignorant folks who are afraid of those “foreigners” think this is a feasible and effective option, while ignoring the fact that they are supporting the politics of the very businesses that oppose any sanctions against themselves for hiring illegal workers.

          Michael: We cannot put a limit on immigration/diversity when clearly it is harmful to the West.

          Me: The immigration thing is debatable, but I don’t know how you put a limit on diversity–that sounds downright anti-freedom to me.

          Michael: Our streets are not safe because of gang and inter-racial violence.

          Me: Poverty and a lack of education result in gangs and violence.

          Michael: We cannot say no to massive debt when clearly it is sending us broke.

          Me: We’re straying an awfully long way away from inculcating people into Atheism 2.0, but I’m game. The massive debt was piled up on both sides of the aisle for years, and the magical thinking of trickle down economics continues to raise its brainless head. The way you pay down debt is to spend less and bring in more money–ie, cut spending and raise taxes, although not by so much that the entire economy collapses. Also, cut the defense budget in half…twice…maybe three times. No one would notice. (I know you are casting a net wider than the US, but I’m American and pretend to assume everyone is to annoy them.)

          Michael: We cannot say no to a massive trade imbalance with China when clearly it is exporting jobs and financing the expansion of China’s military.

          Me: Sure. We love our cheap Wal-Mart crap. But the US has a large number of poor, conservative consumers who like nothing more than to save money by buying cheap Chinese products, making large international corporations richer, which throw money at campaigns and lawmakers who keep the cycle going…while the self-same poor conservative consumers decry the system that couldn’t work without their dollars.

          Michael: We sit by blindly whilst our culture degenerates into bonobo-like sexualisation of everything.

          Me: Comprehensive sex ed would help negate whatever degeneration you’re talking about. In the US, there is even a backlash in Texas (of all places) since abstinence-only has failed miserably. (And you can’t accuse Texas of being too influenced by the lack of atheist leadership; Texas is filled with religious moral teaching…but is it working? No.)

          http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/16/us/in-texas-more-schools-teach-abstinence-plus.html?pagewanted=all

          Michael: We are left speechless when our kids turn to polyamorous relationships. The West is stuck on stupid.

          Me: There are problems, but you seem to be overstating them and attributing them to causes that, in many marked cases, are unrelated to the problem. I don’t know what this has to do with atheism, but I do know that if you follow immorality, you will find it just as often in people with extensive moral educations in religious institutions as with the “extremely nonjudgmental”. In fact, I’d bet 10,000 spiritual dollars that the more egregious immorality is found with those who HAD moral educations, but lacked basic education (like critical thinking found in English, Math, Science, History, etc).

          Michael: All these stem from a failure of atheist leadership, which comes back to a lack of atheist culture/community that breeds the right type of people.

          Me: Huh? You haven’t built a bridge between your complaints and atheism, much less atheist leadership. Most people in the US ARE religious, and ARE theists (and ARE “The West”). Even in a country like England, a huge percentage are still theists. How are your complaints (whether or not they are valid) the fault of atheists, when many of those exhibiting “extreme nonjudgmentalism” are NOT atheists? Many of whom who exibit extreme immorality ARE NOT ATHEISTS EITHER, AND HAD THE VERY MORAL TRAINING ALAIN ADVOCATES. How do you explain this?

          Michael: The present atheist culture is dominated by “extreme nonjudgmentalism” and the West is dying in a ditch because of it. Time is running out.

          Me: If you are trying to say the culture AT LARGE is “atheist”, I think you are misusing the term atheist. And the West is not dying, despite the Magical Thinkers efforts to bring it down.

          Whatever problems the West has, it isn’t the fault of immigrants, atheists, or “nonjudgmentalists”, but the Westerners who stopped believing they could achieve Big Things through hard work and study and, instead, started thinking they could achieve Big Things just by BEING who they are and believing really, really hard. Kids in the US nowadays often rank below kids in many other nations in regard to test scores, but outrank them ALL in regard to self-confidence. Why? Because they’ve been told they are the chosen ones from the time they are born, and that if they believe they can be great, that’s good enough. You can do anything if you believe in yourself! No hard work needed as the magical thinking will do the rest (or you can do the hard work later…and later never comes…). And then they look at people like Sarah Palin, who not only promote that kind of thinking, but are an example of in action. All the magical thinkers supported her, and threw money at her to tell them that believing is all you need, which made her rich, and now confirm their belief that all you need is belief. I’d say it’s the most dysfunctional example of self-fulfilling prophecy and confirmation bias in the last ten years, if there weren’t DOZENS of others, and indoctrinating people into hating immigrants or Muslims is not going to solve these problems. The only thing that will is critical thinking, which can’t be taught by rote, and you can’t make a culture value critical thinking if they’ve already been indoctrinated to value Magical Thinking from birth and from existing culture (the same culture that blames all of society’s ills on immigrants and atheists).

          If someone truly believes EVERYONE can be a millionaire or billionaire, they will vote against their own interests every time in favor of the rich, because someday…SOMEday…I’ll be rich too! (And if I’m not, it’s all the atheists’ fault. And the immigrants’.)

  31. 31
    Dave

    Just popped in to see if the internet atheist brigade would be up in arms in telling people how they should be engaging in free thought. Leaving satisfied. Before you ask, not a theist, just someone whose mind regularly boggles at the level of hypocrisy deployed by the post-Dawkins atheist generation.

    Get over your insecurities kids, your comments read like a Fundie Christian blog with a few words swapped. Dogma, dogma and more dogma. Stop trying to judge everybody else’s judgmentalism and stop denying the scientific facts which at this point show your belief system has no more scientific validity than any other belief system.

    And while you are at it, spend some time grasping that faith and religion are disparate entities. Start from there and you may actually be able to display the tolerance you lay claim to yet show no evidence of.

    Before you rage out, bear in mind that free thought generally encourages acceptance of other points of view. Does your version?

    Gosh, this telling people how to think is very thrilling, I see why you find it so appealing!

    1. 31.1
      jacobfromlost

      I’ve read your post four times, and I still don’t know what you are talking about, so it’s kind of hard to rage out about it.

  32. 32
    darkstar

    What I think I dislike most is Botton’s implication that we must monkey religion and its accoutrement in order to be happy. It is religion that has borrowed from the human condition.

    But I do agree that we need improved secular outlets for altruism and building community, and we humans need to talk more about ethics.

    But this is something we don’t need religion to tell us, humans have been doing it as far back as we have records (e.g., the Code of Hammurabi).

  33. 33
    Mic4-1-4

    I found this real insightful, also as a means of imitation:
    “Women as Tempters. There will be women who will become tempters, and who will do their best to attract and win
    the attention of men to themselves. First, they will seek to win their sympathy, next their affections, and then to induce them to break God’s holy law. Those who have dishonored their minds and affections by placing them where God’s Word forbids, will not scruple to dishonor God by various species of idolatry. God will leave them to their vile affections.
    It is necessary to guard the thoughts; to fence the soul about with the injunctions of God’s Word; and to be very careful in every thought, word, and action not to be betrayed into sin. It is necessary to guard against the cultivation of the indulgence of the lower passions. This is not the fruit of sanctified thoughts or hearts.
    It is now the duty of God’s commandment-keeping people to watch and pray, to search the Scriptures diligently, to hide the word of God in the heart, lest they sin against Him in idolatrous thoughts and debasing practices, and thus the church of God become demoralized like the fallen churches whom prophecy represents as being filled with every unclean and hateful bird.”
    -Testimonies on Sexual Behavior

    (first of all I read ALL of the posts and replys, I couldn’t pull away, I truly enjoyed the thoughts and challenges)
    Religion has helped me to avoid and in more cases overcome many pitfalls and vices I was not so privileged to understand or be taught growing up as an undereducated and underexperienced youth in southern Louisiana. I found religion, or God found me, in my late twenties and my life is so much more happier to have both learned to avoid the things that actually make me unhapppy and more importantly pointed out to me those things, which by experimentation, truly do bring happiness. My home life is stable, whereas I never knew stablity, my emotional balance is on a more consistent keel – being better able to handle the vicissitudes of life… Anyway, why am I sending this… I’ll admit that to most of you I’m rather ignorant even now (and how much more then in my youth) and I’ll accept that maybe that is the case (I’ll accept your judgement) but if through religion I learn morals and firmness to live better (family life, work, community) and if religion is a hoax and if I am truly welcome into your community (not saying that I ever heard that) Where are your structures for making people better?.. And if that’s not your aim then the Christian religion has a tremendous value over your community… It is well documented of the hypocrisy and fakery of much of religion, yet the Bible remains and one so lately come to it (as I was) can still find and gather much good, even with the hypocritical baggage (in religion) which is everywhere to be seen… But what would your community have offered me in the days of my youthful ignorance? Freedom? I was free… Had a good paying career and fulfilling career, but my decisions and passions forbid me from having a happy home… It may just be coincidence that these improved with religion, but my story has been repeated and told throughout the centuries (I know that these evidence many of you would not accept to attribute the improvements to religion) But I was not churched, I was not evangelized, I was not mentored… I began doing research in a public library (looking up something someone told me about the Ten Commandments being changed, I didn’t believe that so I wanted to do some research) But later I started reading the Bible… And yes, I believed it was God’s word but still I found wonderful ideas there… Okay now I will share seven (get it ‘seven’ :) thoughts I found helpful to my life from the Bible, then I will follow and ask, what book would you recommend me, which could have, possibly have helped me so much as giving me what I needed: Strong ‘Moral’ convictions, firmness to pursue them and live them out despite serious difficulty in changing and the motivation strong enough to pursue such an enterprise… Okay!? Now here are what for me were some life changing ideas (of course I won’t include all the context and support that undergird and enlighten these ideas, this is already way too tedious a post:
    1.)I said in my haste, All men [are] liars.
    “They are all gone aside, they are [all] together become filthy: [there is] none that doeth good, no, not one.”
    2.)But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
    For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
    These are [the things] which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.
    3.)Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her.
    Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her [was] greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone.
    And she said unto him, [There is] no cause: this evil in sending me away [is] greater than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her.
    4.)Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth
    5.)Let nothing [be done] through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
    Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
    Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus
    6.)O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, [and] not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.
    And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
    And all thy children [shall be] taught of the LORD; and great [shall be] the peace of thy children.
    7.) Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
    Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
    For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light.

    These are just a few thoughts that have become precious to me whereas I didn’t know them… What will be offered, in its place, what shall I gain by realizing I’m in bondage and not enjoying the freedom and liberty your community offers… How will I be made better by my understanding that the sublime thoughts brought our in the Bible are foolishness? In the Bible is revealed perfection of character I (neither have you) seen displayed on earth… Jesus (Messiah) was for 4000 years anticipated as One Who would be God on Earth and perfect… this was the promise of the Jewish religion… with that type of anticipation and hype, How did He perform? Even if you don’t believe in the miracles, what exactly would God say? What wisdom would He display? What would be the results (it couldn’t be insignificant)? What type of people on earth would acknowledge this as Wisdom which is transcendent? How long would the influence of such words last? And the words come in a narrative which was both foretold (His rejection was foretold in the literature of the people who unwittingly fulfilled it) and inspiring (its such a great thought to aim to live selflessly instead of selfishly and we read that this is how God is) What can be placed against these rather challenging claims as excelling them? Said Jesus 2,000 years ago: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
    So therefore may the gentleman from the talk may be offering some helpful ideas to help you guys put together a more solid platform, to educate, to inspire, to have a common reference point to point to, to truly challenge the religion detailed in the Bible. But I don’t think you ever could do that because as I read all of the posts and from experience, there will always be more than half of you who don’t want to acknowledge that certain realities of our lives are indeed true and exist. For one example that the teaching we (human nature) are inherently selfish is true and that selfishness should be resisted as it is hurtful to most all institutions of stable life and that Christianity has done more to help people first see that our inherent selfishness is a problem and encourage more altruistic behavior toward those close to us and even beyond our near circles than humanism or standard Atheism has done. (as one example… how many would agree with those ‘facts’?)

    1. 33.1
      Martin Wagner

      Christianity has done more to help people first see that our inherent selfishness is a problem and encourage more altruistic behavior

      Excuse me, but this is just a tad amusing. It’s clear you have the same rose-colored-glasses view of religion this clown de Botton has. Then again, you’re a believer, so he still has less of an excuse.

      I suppose you’ve never heard of “The Prosperity Gospel.” Or of “affinity fraud.” Or seen the mega-million dollar palatial megachurches, or the sprawling mansions their pastors dwell in. You think Christianity has taught people selfishness is a problem? The sky must be a lovely color on your planet.

      I defy you to provide any evidence that the religious are, by nature, more altruistic. There are many wonderfully kind-hearted religious people, just as there are many cruel ones, and the same can be said for those without religion, or those who are “spiritual” if not traditionally religious, or those whose creeds fit no common cultural presets. Religious people may do good works. But as the motivation is, in most cases, to gain favor in the eyes of God, such acts are in no way altruistic. It’s altruism when you don’t care about the reward.

    2. 33.2
      darkstar

      Mic4-1-4,

      I’m glad that you found something that helped you to grow as a compassionate human being – but that is called Philosophy and not religion.

      What you seem to have missed is a second prong of Philosophy – verification. As humanity grew we discovered that many things we THOUGHT were true, turned out to be wrong. How did we come to know they are wrong? We tested our ideas against reality (very carefully). We demanded an empirical component beyond mere thought and wishful thinking.

      Faith failed, miserably. Faith is a guide to nothing but ignorant fascism where you put people to death for daring to suggest that the Earth goes around the sun and isn’t immobile.

      It’s perfectly FINE to use the Bible as a source of thoughts/ideas – even moral ideas (not an authority, but a source of things to think about critically). But the critical thinking step comes in when you evaluate concepts such as commanding an army to genocidally slaughter every man, women, child, and suckling infant in the seven nations. Or when you observe that slavery is unequivocally wrong – that no human being should be chattel to another, EVER, PERIOD.

      If you believe those are perfect moral actions then you’ve disastrously failed a most basic test.

      >>> Christianity has done more to help people first see that our inherent selfishness is a problem and encourage more altruistic behavior toward those close to us and even beyond

      I would NOT agree with that. Have you read nothing of history?

      Dr. Michael McDonnel in The ‘Conquest’ of the Americas:

      conquistadors regarded plunder, slaves, and tribute as the just desserts for their efforts in forcing pagans to accept Christianity and Spanish rule. After all, the conquistadors did scrupulously adhere to the Spanish law of conquest by reading the requerimiento, which ordered defiant Indians to immediately accept Spanish rule and Christian conversion, or face punishment in a “just war”. The requerimiento announced that “The resultant deaths and damages shall be your fault, and not the monarch’s or mine or the soldiers”. Attending witnesses and a notary usually certified in writing that the requerimiento had been read and ignored by the usually uncomprehending Indians, thus justifying the death and destruction that so often followed.

      How many ‘savages’ were slaughtered in Africa by Christian slave traders? How many African families were destroyed by them? How many taken away as slaves?

      How many people murdered and families destroyed and slaves taken from the islands of the Americas?

      How many people murdered, families destroyed and slaves taken in the conquests of the Aztec? The Mayan?

      How many people murdered and families destroyed in the conquest of North America?

      How were Jews treated historical by these ‘altruistic’ Christians through history? Hint: go read through the Papal Bull’s that force jews to wear special badges, forbid them from living in Christian areas, ban their books, order them burnt, forcing them to live in ghettos — and read Martin Luther’s “On The Jews and Their Lies” | http://www.humanitas-international.org/showcase/chronography/documents/luther-jews.htm

      All justified because they didn’t worship the god Christians demanded they worship and in the way they demanded.

      The history of humanity has been a LONG struggle out of ignorance and there have been MANY non-christian voices that have argued for compassion and you do them a great disservice by your statement.

      Especially when much of the good done by Christians hasn’t been when those Christians are following their Bible but when they are fighting against it – the abolition of slavery, empowerment of women, and more recently, equal rights for gay people.

  1. 34
    The good bits about religion « Views from the train window

    [...] PZ Myers launched a scathing attack on his ideas, and Matt Dillahunty gave it a more gentle thumbs-down. I think both of them miss the point to a degree. Here, you can watch and decide for [...]

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