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Nov 26 2008

Progress Report: Yep. A Train

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Definitely a train. That’s got to be what that light at the end of the tunnel was, because I feel like I’ve been hit by one.

I did a desultory bit of work tonight revising The Rules for the purposes of this book. I’m stuck on #9. My brain resembles tapioca far too much to coherently rewrite that one, so I’m punting it to you lot. Some of you weren’t around when The Rules were first created, so here’s your chance to weigh in.

Here’s the original #9:

9. Absolutely under any circumstances never ever bring up that old “atheism is a religion too” chestnut. That’s one of the dumbest things you could possibly say. Absence of belief is not a religion. We don’t have “faith” in the non-existence of God. That’s just one of those whiny, snivelly things religious people do to try to win arguments, and all it does is make you look like a total fuckwit. If you’re here to earn any respect at all, do not shoot yourself in both legs by that snooty “atheism is religion” crap. And if you even begin to start with the “but you’re really agnostics” bullshit, I shall give you such a smack.

One of the original commenters pointed out that this rule might fly straight over the heads of those who can’t imagine life without belief. So how do we manage to make this comprehensible?

I am taking my sorry self to bed. At least tomorrow is the last day I have to drag myself from it before late afternoon, so you’re likely to see a much more cheerful Dana come Thanksgiving. No worries, eh?

Sympathies to my fellow sufferers. I imagine we’re all feeling rather wretched just about now, but remember, my darlings: ’tis almost done, and we will have that wonderful warm glow of success very soon.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    stevec

    There is one context in which it might make sense to refer to atheism as a religion, and that is for legal purposes of protection under the first amendment.This is probably more a problem with the specific wording of the 1st amendment, or with equivocation on the word “religion.”Just be aware that declaring that atheism is never to be referred to as a religion opens you up to the (nitwitted) criticism that in that case it shouldn’t be protected under the first amendment, and then the subsequent insisting that it should be protected under the first amendment leads to the retort, “ah, so I guess it is a religion, eh?”Here’s the text of the 1st amendment to save you the trouble of googling it:”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”I think (my opinion, and I’m no lawyer or constitutional scholar) that the intent of the 1st amendment in the establishment clause was to protect people’s right to think whatever they’re going to think without fear of being coerced into saying, and acting as if they think something else, or freedom of conscience in other words. With that meaning, clearly atheism would be protected, whether or not it was considered a religion.So anyway, not that I disagree with you, of course atheism isn’t a religion in the sense the theists who say that it is generally mean it (they generally mean something along the lines of “well, my religion may be dumb, but it’s no dumber than yours — you use faith too. nyah nyah nyah.”) But the 1st amendment thing is a response to be aware of and addressed head on.

  2. 2
    Howard

    Well, there’s always the witty aphorism, “Atheism is a religion the way bald is a hair color.”Another approach doesn’t really boil down to an easy-to-remember rule, but it’s summed up in Philip Dick quote that I always mangle when I try to quote it by memory: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”That approach though, leads to a long discussion on the difference between “believing” and “believing in,” which are very different. (Timmy: “I’m going to fail my math test.” Choose one response: a. “I believe in you.” b. “I believe you.”) Pretty soon, though, you’re into the realm of inductive belief vs. empirical belief vs. epistemic belief vs. religious belief vs. ideology, etc., etc., and it all gets rather messy very fast, and suddenly the ghost of every philosopher is looking over your shoulder and clucking mildly, and you freeze up and can’t write anymore. At least, that’s how it works for me.

  3. 3
    Howard

    One more thing: When the topic of “what atheists believe” comes up, I like to say, “I believe in chairs.”When someone offers me a chair, I sit in it. Given that there is a nonzero chance that the chair will collapse, spilling me onto the ground (as I can personally attest), this is a remarkable leap of faith. And yet it is one I make on a daily basis. I don’t stop to evaluate the structural integrity of every chair I’m offered, I simply trust that it will support my weight and offer sweet respite from the tedious grind of standing upright.And yet, despite my miraculous faith in chairs, I know that my belief is easily falsifiable. And on those rare occasions when I suffer a bad chair, I know that it is the chair that has failed, and not I who has failed the chair.

  4. 4
    Efrique

    I think you’re right to take a basically strong stance on this one, but yes, how does one deal reasonably with someone who cannot even imagine being without faith?I don’t think they should be kidgloved all the way to being able to maintain that position.Perhaps something like (though I’m sure you’d do better than this):This idea that people could truly not have a need to have faith (in the religious sense) can be threatening to some believers, who seek comfort in imagining that it isn’t real. But turn the tables a moment. If a nonbeliever said “Your belief in God is really just a form of disbelief. You faith in God isn’t ‘real’ religious faith. You have no more faith in God than any atheist.” you’d likely find it both nonsensical and arrogant (how could such a person presume to know what your beliefs truly are?).It would not be reasonable for an atheist to speak to you in such an ignorant way, merely to support a comforting prejudice.… and so on. Just a thought

  5. 5
    Cujo359

    SteveC brings up a good point, which I’ll summarize this way: Atheism qualifies as a belief. It doesn’t qualify as a religion. Religions have some common things they believe in, rules, icons, and the like. Atheism doesn’t. We just don’t believe in supernatural phenomena. Despite my efforts, ;) we still don’t have anything like a Ten Commandments, nor will we.

  6. 6
    stevec

    Howard, I would disagree that you have faith in chairs. You have plenty of evidence (in the form of past experience) that chairs generally work. And if you were to sit down on a chair, and it were to creak portentously, you might well get up and take a hard look at the chair, and maybe gingerly test it a bit before sitting on it again.To put it more shortly, you do not appear to believe in the structural soundness of chairs to a degree which exceeds the available evidence. And that is what faith is, as best I can tell, believing something to a degree of certainty which exceeds what it warranted by the available evidence. So, to be blunt, I doubt your faith in chairs. You are no chair-believer, you.

  7. 7
    WWW

    The ‘lie’ in belief and the ‘f’ in faith:The funny thing about beliefs is there’s a lie at the centre of it; now I don’t know about you but I think that’s ironic. If a con-man, or to be more politically correct a con-person, wants to successfully sell you a lemon on the pretence it will ripen into an orange, they lie and you believe. If you have been unfortunate enough to purchase a load of lemons and intend to hand them out at half time at the footy on Sunday, then all is not lost if I can convince you of the lie in your belief; you can still turn them into lemonade. If you refuse to admit you have been conned and want to continue on believing the lie, then you are heading for a showdown.When those who promote belief systems have a serious challenge aimed at them, they tend to hide behind the skirts of little old ladies saying” How can you shake our belief, when if what you are saying is true, then these little old ladies will be upset because they have lived their entire lives believing the lie”. This is were the ‘f’ an faith comes into it, fundamentally, they say: “Our oranges may look a little yellow and taste bitter but we have faith on the day they’ll be sweet, fu.” So how can you win against that type of dogma, the bigger the falsification, the bigger bad guy you become when you point out the truth. Now I know truth is subjective and one mans oranges are another mans lemons but don’t you think there’s far to many sour-pusses out there pushing yellow oranges onto people in the vain hope that you will have faith in their belief and not upset the apple cart.I can foresee the criticism, I’ve used to many fruity metaphors and made a cocktail out of it when I should be sparing because there’s a lot of fruitcakes out there already, but you would have to admit it’s better than a ‘Rusty Salmon’ mornay. Anyway, the next time someone comes to your door handing out believer tracts, try taking the lie out of it and tell them to make beaver tracks or better still, go suck a lemon.

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