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Are All Religions Equally Crazy?

This piece was originally published on AlterNet. Please note the addendum at the end about my use of the word “crazy” in this piece.

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Are less established religions really crazier than older mainstream ones? Or are mainstream religions just more familiar?

Religious symbolsDoes any religion make more sense than any other?

Atheists, by definition, don’t think any religion has any reasonable likelihood of being true. And yet, for some weird reason, we’re often asked to choose between them. Believers often accuse us of ignoring more moderate and progressive religions while we trash the low-hanging fruit of hard-line fundamentalism. We’re accused of disregarding sophisticated modern theology so we can zero in on the simplistic faiths held by the hoi polloi. (Neither accusation is fair; many atheists, including myself, have taken aim at both modern theology and progressive religion, and in any case fundamentalism and other widely-held religions are valid targets for critique — but that’s another rant.) Yet at the same time, many believers seek our approval for their particular beliefs. “Sure,” they’ll say, “a lot of those other religions are silly — but my religion makes sense! Don’t you agree? Don’t you? Huh?”

For the most part, it’s a game I don’t like to play. I think all religions are equally implausible, equally based on cognitive biases, equally unsupported by any good evidence whatsoever. But sometimes, the battiness of a particular religion is powerfully borne in on me, to the point where it becomes impossible to ignore. And it forces me to consider the question: Is this religion really any more batty than any other? Or is it just less popular? Less familiar? Is it simply newer, and thus has had less time for the more wildly ragged edges of its wackiness to smooth out? Is this religion really as crazy as it seems — or are all religions equally crazy?

Magic Hats Versus Magic Snakes

First, just to be very clear: I’m not saying that all religious believers are crazy. I’m saying that religious beliefs are crazy. I’m criticizing the ideas, not the people. And when I say “crazy” (or “nutty” or “batshit” or “lunatic” or what have you), I don’t mean “literally, clinically mentally ill.” I mean “crazy” in the colloquial sense. I mean… well, I’ll get to that.

Mormon temple I was in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago giving a talk, and I took the opportunity to visit the Mormon Temple Square. If you’re not a Mormon, you can’t go inside the Mormon Temple itself; but Temple Square has all sorts of attractions for the non-Mormon visitor, including the tabernacle, the assembly hall… and two different visitors’ centers, specifically designed to explain Mormonism to the non-Mormon, and to make the religion seem inspiring, and to entice people into the faith.

I have no doubt that it has that effect on many people. Mormonism is one of the fastest-growing religions on the planet; there must be something about it that people like. But its effect on me… Well, it was inspiring, all right. It inspired me right into a rollercoaster ride of hilarity and horror. It inspired me, at one point, to out-loud laughter that I was literally, physically unable to control. It inspired me to get the hell off their property, take several deep breaths, and rant incoherently with my wife about what an appalling nightmare of indoctrination and brainwashing it was, before we plunged back in. It inspired me to work on my atheist activism ten times harder than I ever had. Its effect on me was not to entice me into the faith. Its effect was to make me think, even more strongly than I had before, “This religion is batshit crazy.”

But then I started thinking.

How much crazier is this, really, than any other religion?

Christus_statue_temple_square_salt_lake_city north visitors center Let’s not mince words. There is some profoundly crazy stuff in Mormonism. The magic underwear. The retroactive baptism of the dead. Getting to be a god on your own planet after you die. The Garden of Eden being in Missouri. The foundational story of Joseph Smith reading secret magical golden plates through a magic hat. The baptismal font sitting on the backs of twelve cows. (Okay, fine, oxen. Still.) The washings and anointings and veils and temple garments and secret handshakes and other highly ritualized pseudo-Masonic ceremonies. Lying for the Lord. (No, really. Look it up.) The casual shrugging-off of well-known, thoroughly documented facts of history and archaeology that contradict Church doctrine. The shameless, barefaced retroactive continuity, to the point of actually lying about the religion’s history. (“Polygamy is not a central tenet of Mormonism, and it never was. Racial bigotry is not a central tenet of Mormonism, and it never was. Stop looking at The Book of Mormon. No, stop it. We’ll tell you what our religion says, thank you very much.”) Mormonism loves to present a wholesome, clean-cut image of almost obsessive normality to the public… but when you scratch the surface, what you see is howling, chaotic lunacy. That assessment may seem harsh — but if these ideas were presented in any context other than a religious one, nobody would be debating it.

But then I started thinking:

How much crazier is this than any other religion?

Adam and eve How much crazier is this than talking snakes? People living inside giant fish? Boats that carry two of every living creature on the planet? Magic crackers that turn into the body of your god when you eat them? Magic fruit that ruins the lives of all your descendants? Virgins giving birth? Sprinkling magic water on babies so if they die they won’t burn forever in Hell? A planet that was created 6,000 years ago, despite an overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary from every relevant scientific field? A god who sacrifices himself to himself to save the world from the punishment he himself was planning to dole out?

Afghanistan_burqa And let’s not just pick on Christianity. How much crazier is this than ritual washing in a polluted magic river? Transferring your sins to a live chicken, waving it over your head, and having it slaughtered? Transferring your sins to a bundle of money, waving it over your head, and donating the money to charity, because the chicken thing is just too weird? The compulsory covering of women’s bodies from head to toe? The compulsory wearing of hats? A god who’s okay with you smoking weed, but doesn’t want you drinking alcohol? A god who’s okay with you drinking alcohol, but doesn’t want you smoking weed? A god who doesn’t want you to draw pictures of real things? A god who wants you to cut off your daughter’s clitoris? A god who wants you to cut off the tip of your baby boy’s penis?

Plenty of religions are loaded with crazy when you scratch the surface. You don’t even have to scratch very hard.

So why do these older, more mainstream religions seem less crazy?

A lot of it, I think, is popularity. If lots of people believe something, we’re more likely to give it credibility. This is a bias that all human brains are vulnerable to, and it’s largely unconscious. (Although many religious believers will make this argument consciously and overtly. Spend enough time in the atheist blogosphere, and I guarantee you’ll see it pop up: “How can you dismiss something that so many people believe in?”) We’re social animals, and we’re wired to think that if everyone else thinks something, it’s probably true. Or at the very least, that it’s not batshit insane on the face of it, and we ought to give it serious consideration.

Tiger From a strictly evolutionary standpoint, this bias makes sense. Other people can, in fact, be a useful reality check: if everyone in your tribe is screaming “Tiger!” and you don’t see one, it still makes sense to run. But it’s a confounding bias to contend with when you’re rigorously examining a truth claim. It makes it hard to voice unpopular perceptions… and indeed even to conceive of them. It’s very, very difficult to be the first person to say out loud, “The Emperor has no clothes.” It’s even more difficult to say it to ourselves.

Time Then adding to this de-crazification phenomenon, we have the power of time. In the earlier days of a religion, the battier elements are much more prominent. But with time, if a religion flourishes and becomes more mainstream, the rough edges get smoothed off. “Our Savior is returning within a generation” turns into “Our Savior is returning one of these days.” “You have to wear a ginormous hat all the time” turns into “It’d be nice if you wore a little hat in the temple.” “God created the entire universe out of nothing in six days” turns into “God created matter and energy and the laws of physics and let them unfold into life as we know it, and when we say ‘day’ we don’t mean a literal ‘day,’ and it’s absurd and unfair for you to think that we do.” The battier elements get abandoned entirely, or get hidden out of sight, or get shoved to the back burner as trivial and peripheral, or start being seen as metaphorical instead of literal. (45% of all U.S. Catholics don’t even know that, according to the doctrine of their own Catholic Church, the magic cracker literally becomes the body of their god when they eat it. They think it’s symbolic. They apparently weren’t paying attention in catechism class.)

The fascinating thing about Mormonism is that we can see this process happening in real time. As a religion founded within the last two centuries, during a time of good historical record-keeping, Mormonism is an intriguing case study of how a religion transforms from a despised fringe cult to a popular branch of mainstream modern faith. And part of that picture is the ways that the fringier elements have either been abandoned wholesale or kept out of the public eye. .. and indeed kept out of the eyes of its own adherents until they’ve already bought in. (Mormonism even has a “milk before meat” concept: teach the easy, non-controversial stuff about Mormonism first, and wait to teach the batty stuff until adherents are too deeply invested to leave.) The degree to which Mormonism has become mainstream is the degree to which the less digestible nuts have been eliminated from the fruitcake.

But most of this phenomenon, I think, is simple familiarity.

Mormon underwear I didn’t learn about magic Mormon underwear until I was an adult. So when I did, the battiness of the belief smacked me in the face. I was like, “Really? Magic underwear? Really?” And the same was true for the magic hat, and the secret handshakes, and the Garden of Eden being in Missouri, and so on and so on. Every time I learn something new about Mormonism and Mormon history, it’s… well, it’s new. And I can see its craziness with fresh eyes.

Communion_wafer But I’ve known about magic crackers and talking snakes since I was very young. So they just seemed normal. Part of the cultural landscape. I didn’t believe in them — but for years, I didn’t think about them very hard. And again, because these beliefs were widely held, when I did think about them I gave them more credit than they actually deserved.

So is it fair to think that Mormonism — or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Scientology, or any other relatively new religion — is really any crazier than more mainstream religions? Is it fair to think that it’s crazier than the mainstream varieties of Catholicism or Baptism, Hinduism or Buddhism, Judaism or Islam?

I spent my day at Temple Square going back and forth on this question. One minute, I’d be thinking, “Well, okay, this is pretty nuts… but it’s not really any crazier than magic crackers and magic snakes.” The next minute, I’d be confronted with some new form of wacko, and I’d be thinking, “No, this really is crazier.”

So which is it?

I think the answer depends on what exactly we mean by “crazy.”

Crazy Is as Crazy Does

Like I said earlier, when I say “crazy” here, I don’t mean “mentally ill.” I mean… well, what, exactly?

Joseph_smith_figure_north_visitors_center_slc_utah If by “crazy” we mean “out of step with cultural norms”… then yes, Mormonism really is crazier. Pretty much by definition. To some extent, battiness and reasonableness are defined by social norms. In the Victorian era, it was considered entirely normal for women to wear tightly-laced corsets, all day, every day of their adult lives, to the point where their physical functioning was seriously impaired and their internal organs were deformed. In modern society, doing this would generally be considered pretty damn freaky. Instead, many women in modern society wear high-heeled shoes that impair their functioning and deform their feet, all day, every day of their adult lives… and this is considered standard, non-crazy behavior. So yes, by this definition, the more mainstream a religion is, the less crazy it is. And so yes, by this definition, Mormonism is crazier than, say, Catholicism.

But if what you mean by “crazy” is “out of touch with reality”?

Then it’s all equally crazy.

Blake_ancient_of_days Any belief in a supernatural world that affects the natural one is equally implausible, equally the product of cognitive biases, equally unsupported by any good evidence. Some religions contradict reality quite blatantly, flatly stating that well-established historical and scientific facts aren’t true. (Young-earth Creationism does this with basic facts of evolution; Mormonism does it with basic facts of human history.) Other religions do a better job of presenting a plausible face and shoehorning their beliefs around reality. (The standard progressive Christian belief in theistic evolution is Exhibit A. Theistic evolution is entirely inconsistent with even the most basic facts of evolution, but these believers can still convincingly tell themselves and others, “No, no, we think science is great, of course we accept evolution, we’re not out of touch with reality.”)

But all religions are out of touch with reality. All religions are implausible, based on cognitive biases, and unsupported by any good evidence whatsoever. All of them ultimately rely on faith — i.e., an irrational attachment to a pre-existing idea regardless of any evidence that contradicts it — as the core foundation of their belief. All of them contort, ignore, or deny reality in order to maintain their attachment to their faith.

And by that definition, all religions are equally crazy.

Some just hide their craziness better than others.

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Note: I have read the comments criticizing my colloquial use of the word “crazy” in this piece, and am seriously considering them. I’m not sure I agree with them, and I’m a bit puzzled at the automatic assumption that I don’t have any experience myself with mental illness. (That’s not, in fact, the case. I’ve struggled with depression off and on for most of my adult life, and while I don’t currently consider myself as someone with mental illness, I am someone with a history of mental illness, and I have to carefully manage my life so as to minimize a chance of a recurrence.) But I have heard the criticisms, and I am taking them seriously. I’ve decided to go ahead and reprint this piece as originally written, with the original language, since I think it’s important that the stuff I write for AlterNet be archived here in more or less its original form. (Especially since the comment threads on AlterNet are so — how shall I put this? — challenging, and re-posting them here gives my readers a chance to discuss my pieces in a more welcoming forum.) But the message has been received, and I’ll be re-thinking this language in the future.

Comments

  1. Meghan says

    This fall I might be going to Salt Lake for the APS conference. I’ll have to check out the square.
    Any Mormons out there? How do these beliefs translate to the real world? Do most Mormons literally believe this stuff? Or is a metaphorical interpretation, like progressive/liberal interpretations of other Christian sects?
    I wasn’t raised in religion so all of this seems equally off-putting to me. I have a hard time dealing with other scientists who have devout religious beliefs. I don’t understand how they can suspend reality/skeptical thinking in only one area of their life.
    Note: If a fellow scientist tells me she is devout I don’t treat her or her work any differently. I just don’t understand it.

  2. says

    Mormonism is one of the fastest-growing religions on the planet;
    Not true. It was a fairly fast-growing religion up to a few decades ago, but now is flat-lining or even declining.
    It’s amazing how many people hear about Mormonism’s amazing rate of growth in the same faith-promoting-literature pack with claims about Joseph Smith seeing angels — and yet will immediately reject the latter, while believing the former without question. Is it because it’s juxtaposed with a statement that’s obviously absurd that turns people’s critical thinking off for the statement that could theoretically be true…?
    Anyway, I’d just like to recommend Parker & Stone’s new musical The Book of Mormon as the most fantastic treatment of this question (again using Mormonism as the example).

  3. Locutus7 says

    The true believers of mormonism believe in polygamy, but they ostensibly disavow it because “society is not ready for that belief.” And for Utah to achieve statehood they had to publicaly disavow it.
    To prepare society for acceptance of polygamy, mormons back TV shows and movies depicting polygamy to show that it is just another lifestyle choice (stage 1 of altering opinion).
    Mormons are adept at using media to incrementally alter opinions. The Mormon authors of Ender’s Game and Twilight both have admitted they incorporate mormon beliefs into their writings.
    Mormons have traditionally used science fiction to portray their beliefs even in the 1950’s (Zenna Henderson’s The People series). Maybe all religions do it to different extents, I don’t know.

  4. Strakh says

    Greta:
    Why, yes, yes they are.
    Whatever the physicists say, we are born into this reality, and we use the senses we are born with to learn how to best survive in this reality.
    All religions, without exception, state that those senses are 100% wrong. Religions state that what we cannot see, taste, touch, hear, or smell is so much more important than any sensory input we actually receive that we must value what we cannot perceive over what we can.
    This causes a state of cognitive dissonance so severe that those who are abused in that manner (and make no mistake, it is abuse) may have difficulty the rest of their lives perceiving what is real and not real.
    Some are strong enough to fight this abuse and rise above it. Sadly, they are in the extreme minority and always have been. But they are remembered, always for their clarity of thought and their humanity.
    So yes, Greta, all religions are crazy, not merely in the colloquial sense, but in the actual, hallucinatory type we currently lock people up for.
    And while your voice is strong, intelligent, and poignant about this, people like you have been saying this literally for as long as those mentally unstable people have been spewing the idiocy of religion.
    And as far as I can see, it hasn’t made one damn bit of difference. After 54 years of fighting the filth of religion, I see this country sliding so far back that completely deluded maniacs like Sarah Palin are actually allowed to speak in public, let alone walk freely among the sane.
    And by the way, gentle readers, if this offends, too bad. I’ve seen so much misery inflicted in the name of g0d, I no longer care to mince words.
    That’s why it’s better for people like Greta to get the word out.
    It’s nice to see the torch of the extreme minority get passed again, as the light of reason and reality struggles against the darkness of the malevolent, life-hating force that all religions represent.
    (Enjoy your blog and your take on things. Refreshing to see some real joie de vivre in atheist writing again.)

  5. Azkyroth says

    Oh, cripes, not THAT shit again.
    I think there’s a valid argument for not using actual diagnostic terms imprecisely as derogatory adjectives – like, say, describing the god of the bible as “schizophrenic.” “Crazy” has been largely decoupled from the connotation of mental illness; the colloquial understanding is that it refers to habitual behavior or mindsets to which some combination of the terms attention-drawing, unpredictable, irrational, uninhibited, and dangerous applies. Obviously this does overlap with some mental illness symptoms, but it’s been used colloquially to describe acts of physical daring and thrill-seeking, parties, music tempos, and political views – far more often than it’s used to refer to actual mental illness symptoms – for decades at the least. Using it to describe these religions is *accurate* given that colloquial understanding. And given that, I as a person with multiple psychiatric diagnoses find the insistence that it be dropped…kinda patronizing, actually, and given the obliviousness of the people who seem to have taken up that cause, obnoxiously paternalistic.
    (I never have heard back on what similarly evocative adjective they expect us to replace it with.)

  6. says

    I don’t understand the objection to the use of the word “crazy” here. Surely believers aren’t going to be any less offended if we call their views “deluded”, “false”, or “utterly lacking any trace of evidence”.
    There seems to be a kind of severe reductionism going on here. “Crazy” is immediately associated with the worst cases of mental illness. The truth, of course, is that there are many kinds of mental illness and many degrees exhibited thereof. You can’t reduce this to a binary state.
    Being able to point to other people who share your precise beliefs is not a means of escaping responsibility or proof of certitude. Without evidence, it merely implicates them in shared delusion.

  7. Terry says

    The interesting thing to me about Mormons (from a sociological viewpoint) is how effective they’ve been in growing and turning their image around so quickly.
    The religion was designed very well. For instance, they have left the power of Revelation in the hands of the church leadership. So if any part of the faith becomes too damaging to their continued growth and revenue stream, they can jettison it. As they did with blacks having “lesser souls” than whites.
    It will not surprise me at all if the Mormon leadership has a revelation about homosexuality in the next couple decades, once their adamant opposition becomes a liability.
    They also do a lot of great image-control. The Mormons went from being hounded out of the country to having their Tabernacle Choir singing during imporant government functions and having very high level US politicians in such a short time.
    But the real masterpiece of mania is how vigorous they are in their indoctrination. Not only do they hammer their religion into their children non-stop, but they train all their young men to be missionaries then send them out into a cruel world to almost solidify that “us against them” mentality. Always in pairs, where at least one is very string in the faith.
    On the surface, this is to try to gain recruits, but I think its more important purpose is to cement the tribalism of the young men and lock them into their Mormon identities.
    The other evil-genius part of Mormonism is holding onto people. Most little cults you hear about…the first thing they try to do is separate you from your support group, your friends and family members, to make you dependent on the cult.
    But Mormons breed this in from Day 1. The cult IS your friends and family, your entire support group. If you stray, you endanger the souls of your family. You can no longer attend the weddings and funerals of your loved ones. Many people lose everything they hold dear, when they walk away from the Mormon church.
    And yet the entire outward vision of Mormons is big, strong, happy familes full of love. And who doesn’t want that in their life?

  8. John the Drunkard says

    Yes, yes, yes.
    ALL religions partake of the same, elemental batshitdom. The details: talking snakes, cannibal crackers, magic underware, god’s official share of loot etc. come far, far down the epistemic/cognitive line.
    Another example of the same kind of error: the Thomam Jefferson-Sally Hemmings story. We can concoct as many fantasies as we like about their relationship; from Romeo and Juliet to Simon Legree and Little Eva. The underlying outrage is the same: Jefferson OWNED Hemmings. This is so fundamentally wrong that further speculation seems ridiculous.
    Magical imaginary friends in the sky=crazy. The rest is stamp-collecting and theology.

  9. Stonyground says

    It is interesting that many religious folk can recognise the total absurdity in every other religion but not their own which they perceive as being perfectly reasonable. Even pointing out to them that the only reason that they make this one exception is the place and time that they were born and raised makes no difference to their position.

  10. starskeptic says

    RE: ‘magic crackers’
    I’ve always preferred the term ‘Jeez-its’ myself…

  11. says

    I was at one point going to Episcopal Sunday School and Mormon Sunday School on alternative weeks. After my folks got divorced, my dad decided to go for the cliché and got engaged to one of the secretaries at his office. But since she was Mormon, he had to convert to get married. Yes, my dad came to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for pussy. (I’m sure it’s not a unique story.) The relationship fell through before the marriage happened, though, and he got engaged to another woman from the Temple who was herself a good argument for how religion can enable mental illness. (Admittedly, though, by the same standard she was also a good model for the argument that Teddy Ruxpin enables mental illness.)
    I was exposed to more of Mormon culture than I ever want, and I didn’t even get the really crazy shit. One of my strongest memories is when some of his friends were driving my brother and I to the wedding reception. On the way, the father of the family turned around and just said, “So, when are you guys joining the Church?” The assumption that we would join, sooner or later, struck me like a slap in the face. I was already kind of creeped out by the authoritarian, Stepford-like nature of the church, and his assumption that he didn’t even have to ask if we’d considered it, or what we thought of it, deeply pissed me off. My brother and I stared at each other for a moment, our mouths open, and then said almost simultaneously, “Uh…. We’re not.” I remember a lot of silence after that.
    The other thing I remember was a really, really bad play that showed at the local Temple. It had something to do with these two guys who were close friends as souls in the cosmic pre-life, then meet each other in their lives on earth. One of them ultimately dies as the other cradles him in his arms; even then I found the play to be heavy on the homoeroticism.

  12. says

    I think that we could really stand to have a long, complex conversation on the difference between clinical and colloquial language. There’s a lot of people on the left, I think, who get caught up in trying to refine language down to proper usage based on what a word means in a clinical or literal context, not taking into account its implications in the larger society. One of the problems with criticizing people for the colloquial use of words like “crazy” is that inevitably this approach is directed against words that are most likely to be used in highly emotional and stress-filled situations, and people really need ways to express themselves in those situations. When we over-critique colloquial language, we risk making our legacy be a bunch of people who are emotionally mute.
    Like you, I’ve suffered from depression a lot over the years. It’s almost my emotional default setting. When I’m really far gone, when my mind feels completely shattered emotionally, crazy is a really good description of where I feel like I’m going. It’s actually pretty restrained. It might be clinically inaccurate, but it expresses the frenzied loss of control that builds up in my mind, and the sense that just one more thing will send me spinning off into oblivion. Sometimes words need to be looked at for what the speaker is saying, rather than what the dictionary says the word means.

  13. says

    @ starskeptic – “Jeez-its” just about cost me a monitor. Damn.
    Re “crazy” in this context, it strikes me that only the hypersensitive will be willing to go through the contortions required to link the word back to their own states of mind. I’ve got issues of my own as well, and frankly don’t object to “crazy”, nor “nuts”, “looney”, or “batshit fucking insane” regardless of when, where, how, or to whom those terms are applied.
    Part of not being crazy is having enough balance in your world view to realize that not everything is about you. Believing otherwise is … ahh, you know.
    Re the Mormons – I was one for a while. Converted at 12, dropped it at 19. Calling it a childish whim would be just about accurate.
    And yes, you are are expected to believe all the batshit fucking insane crap they tell you. Including the stories about how the magic underwear saved people from burning in fires, getting shot, etc., and how Joseph Smith used magic goggles to translate plates of solid gold which he dug up from a hill in New York, but couldn’t show to anyone or else Moroni would get mad and take the plates away.
    That’s almost as nuts as 72 virgins, or a god with an elephant’s head.

  14. says

    I don’t know if you should consider using other words in future. I haven’t read all the comments, but to me it seems like if one person believed these things they would be considered crazy, the strength in numbers doesn’t change that fact.
    Besides, I believe you were referring to the concepts of these religions. Ideas cannot be clinically insane, so the colloquial usage seems to make perfect sense.

  15. Robert B says

    Thanks for your attention to the word “crazy.” I didn’t originally post about it, and I wouldn’t have – although it bugs me a little, I have more than one mentally ill or neuroatypical friend who uses the word just as you did, so it would be odd of me to flip out on a stranger for it. Still, I definitely appreciate that it’s something you’re giving serious thought to.
    I also really liked the article itself. Based on my friends and the public figures I’m aware of, Mormons don’t seem to be any less rational or moral than members of any other faith. I don’t know much about their theology. But, if a philosophy is basing everything off the first premise of “We should worship an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity,” does it even matter what comes after that? (In terms of truth and falsehood, I mean – from a moral perspective things can always get worse.) It only takes one logical contradiction to make something false; everything else is redundant.

  16. Christin says

    I find it interesting how many comments here make the very same arguments for the continued use of “crazy” as we see used by the religious against atheist activism. Hypersensitivity – check, popular understanding must be correct – check, people really need it for emotional value and support during stressful times – check, people who are deprived of this thing lose something important (emotional fluency, morality) – check. I expected more.
    To me, the base issue is this: some people are hurt and their lives made harder by this word. There is no reason why I should or must use it instead of the other, far more descriptive and precise words that communicate information instead of only being pejorative. So, why use it? I see no reason. And, now that I’ve taken the time to think about it, it makes me uncomfortable in the same way that racial, homophobic, sexist, and other ableist slurs do.

  17. says

    …instead of the other, far more descriptive and precise words…

    Christin: So what are you suggesting as those words?
    I’m serious. I don’t want to use language that’s hurtful and insulting. But there’s a reason I used this word: it expresses exactly what I wanted to express. And I couldn’t think of another word that expressed it. I couldn’t think of another word that even came close. If you think there are far more descriptive and precise words… what are they?

  18. Ellie says

    Hi, Greta Christina.
    Use the word ‘crazy’ all you want (IMO.)
    I’m a shrink-type person.
    I’m also mentally ill, with a mood disorder, duly reported to my board, my hospital’s credentialng committee, the DEA, and everyone else of concern, every single licensing cycle. “Eternal vigilance is the price of” if not liberty, at least function…
    ‘Crazy,’ like ‘queer,’ is in the process of being reclaimed.
    Sure, we can pretty it up and call it “mentally interesting, ” but what the hospitalst wants to know is: “crazy or not”…
    I and my colleagues tell people every day that they’re not crazy – but we then also promise to tell them when they ARE, and that we need them to listen up when I say so.
    They do.
    Because “crazy” makes sense to them. And what “crazy” means is “gravely impaired or danger to self/others” to me; to them it means “out of touch with reality to the point of grave impairment.”
    When I then say to someone, “OK – now you’ve hit ‘crazy’ – ” it really gets their attention.
    Again, use the word. Destigmatize it. Crazy / crazed / fragmented / dropped / broken. Works for me.

  19. Dan M. says

    @Christin …very same arguments… popular understanding must be correct…
    You just equated using popular consensus to determine the truth of (a) whether there exists a universal super-being, and (b) what the popular consensus of the meaning of a word is. Really? You don’t don’t see how popular understanding is a little more relevant in one of those?

  20. says

    It’s good to see that my one comment on the previous posting of this piece turned into a discussion. I’m on the fence about the use of the word crazy. I know a lot of people who have asked me not to use it because it hurts them personally and I’ve tried to excise it from my language out of respect of them. At the same time, I have friends who use the word crazy pretty frequently, some of whom are deliberately reclaiming it and some of whom just use it as part of their daily language. I don’t know what’s right, so I err on the side of not hurting my friends’ feelings.
    Onto the topic at hand: I completely agree that there is not a single religion that is not out of touch with reality. My response when I find out someone is a theist of any sort is usually to smile and nod and leave it at that. Most of my friends, whether religious or not, are pretty reasonable people in other areas of their life. If I ever see them using their religion to justify fuzzy thinking I try to call them out on it, but I have to admit that I’m not very good at that sort of thing. It’s a process…

  21. Robert B says

    @ Dan M.:
    The issue isn’t what the word means. I don’t think anyone’s arguing that the meaning of Greta’s article was confusing or that she was deliberately insulting the mentally ill. The issue is, when someone uses the word “crazy” to mean “very foolish, out of touch with reality,” is this usage offensive/marginalizing?
    In the last comment thread, the one for the preview of this article, someone compared it to using the word “gay” to mean “bad, displeasing” or the word “pussy” to mean “coward.” I’ve heard plenty of cases where those meanings were clearly understood by majority consensus, at least within the group where the speech was happening, but that doesn’t change how demeaning they are to gays and women respectively.
    The question at hand is, does the word “crazy” work the same way? And that’s an issue where majority consensus is a very problematic authority to call on. Privileged groups like the mentally well and neurotypical tend to either be the majority or to dominate majority discourse, so I don’t think the majority should get to rule on what’s hurtful to an unprivileged group like the mentally ill and/or neuroatypical. In other words, the majority don’t get to be the judge this time, because they’re the ones on trial.
    That said, I think I agree with Ellie that we should go ahead and use this word in a way that reclaims it. People use the concept of “crazy,” in the same sense as Greta used it, as a check on their own thoughts and behavior – and this check is at least as useful for the mentally ill etc. as everybody else. That really fits for me, and apparently a lot of my friends.

  22. Azkyroth says

    I don’t understand the objection to the use of the word “crazy” here. Surely believers aren’t going to be any less offended if we call their views “deluded”, “false”, or “utterly lacking any trace of evidence”.
    There seems to be a kind of severe reductionism going on here. “Crazy” is immediately associated with the worst cases of mental illness. The truth, of course, is that there are many kinds of mental illness and many degrees exhibited thereof. You can’t reduce this to a binary state.

    The objection is supposed to be that the people who have mental illnesses that are not of a dangerous, destructive nature (at least with treatment) and their loved ones are going to shrivel up and die because of that association if the word “crazy” is applied pejoratively to irrational, destructive beliefs and attitudes consistent with that degree of mental illness (aside from the special exemption from mental illness diagnoses for well-recognized religious beliefs).
    Never mind what we actually think on the matter, of course….

  23. Azkyroth says

    I find it interesting how many comments here make the very same arguments for the continued use of “crazy” as we see used by the religious against atheist activism. Hypersensitivity – check, popular understanding must be correct – check, people really need it for emotional value and support during stressful times – check, people who are deprived of this thing lose something important (emotional fluency, morality) – check. I expected more.
    To me, the base issue is this: some people are hurt and their lives made harder by this word. There is no reason why I should or must use it instead of the other, far more descriptive and precise words that communicate information instead of only being pejorative. So, why use it? I see no reason. And, now that I’ve taken the time to think about it, it makes me uncomfortable in the same way that racial, homophobic, sexist, and other ableist slurs do.

    Okay. Let me put it this way.
    I am on the autism spectrum. I may have other issues as well, and in the past have been diagnosed with variants of bipolar disorder, which I don’t think is accurate and have stopped medication for without differential ill effects.
    I have objected in the past to people who have used the term “socially inept” to describe people who were behaving in a fashion exhibiting a strong sense of entitlement and a disregard for the views and rights of others, either in general or a specific group (that group usually being female humans). This is because the term is imprecise and probably inaccurate – a failure to understand empathetic social relations cannot be assumed from such behavior since it necessarily reflects a disregard for the other party and thus is as likely, if not more, to reflect a sense of being entitled to dispense with empathetic social relations, and in any case a disinterest in understanding or performing them. It’s not just hurtful and marginalizing to associate that behavior with people who struggle (usually in good faith) with social skills, it’s untrue and doesn’t express the speaker’s thoughts.
    I’ve also objected to the suggestion that certain people perceived as obnoxious, self-centered, or disregardful of others might have Asperger’s syndrome (Ayn Rand has come up), again because it doesn’t accurately describe them, as well as being hurtful.
    I do not, however, object to the use of terms like “arrogant” to describe people who are, well, arrogant, despite the fact that my difficulties with social skills and academic gifts have in the past lead to people calling me that and related terms.
    I see two issues here.
    First, I agree with you (I presume) that the use of, say, “schizophrenic” or “bipolar” nondiagnostically to describe disturbing or irrational behavior, is inappropriate and potentially hurtful. “Mentally ill” and “socially inept” are analogous as well. However, I see the objection to the use of “crazy” as being analogous more to a hypothetical objection, on my part, to the use of “arrogant.”
    When one says someone is “socially inept” one often means that they’re acting arrogant and entitled. When one say someone seems Aspergerish, one usually means they’re acting arrogant and disregardful of others, which aren’t accurate descriptions of the psychological state of Asperger’s. When you say someone is “crazy” you usually mean they’re irrational, unpredictable, attention-drawing, and/or dangerous, which is pretty much the understood meaning of the word “crazy.” When you make reference to a “schizophrenic deity” for instance, you’re also saying the party in question is acting “crazy.” In every case, it’s perfectly reasonable to say what you mean. I find your reference to religious disregard for the views of atheists ironic because it seems more analogous the other way: you’re arguing that we shouldn’t use a perfectly good, relatively precise, evocative word, because a few people have unusual associations for it that may lead to them being hurt or offended. And I don’t understand how you could possibly arrive at the conclusion that the understood meaning of the word isn’t relevant.
    Second, my reading of this anti-“crazy” campaign is that it looks like a handful of neurotypicals motivated by something analogous to noblesse oblige have taken it on themselves to decide for a group of people with disabilities what they might find offensive (such speculation being informed by a rather patronizing view of the sensitivity of mentally ill people) and started a crusade to rid the world of it on their behalf, without actually consulting them. As a member of that group, I feel like I’m being shoved into something analogous to a passive sick role and having power of attorney demanded by people who presume they’re entitled and responsible for acting on my behalf because I just can’t, the poor dear. I find this paternalistic and insulting. It’s incredibly offensive, and considerably more marginalizing than the imprecise or evolving use of “crazy” by any reasonable standard. And furthermore, the rhetoric invariably assumes that people with these disabilities will support the effort, if their support matters at all, since anyone who objects is presumed to have no experience with mental illness or other psychological disabilities. In other words, the message is that, being a member of the marginalized group who doesn’t agree with the message of a set of people who have presumed the right to speak for the group, I don’t even exist. It’s hard to get more marginalized than that.
    (And this mostly holds even if my misreading of the effort as being led by neurotypicals is inaccurate, frankly.)

  24. says

    I totally agree with Dan M.
    language is made up by people, when every one agrees that google is a verb, it becomes a verb. Really, it does, I just googled it.
    That is exactly how language works.
    When you are arguing for the existence of a being, like god, opinion doesn’t matter.

  25. Azkyroth says

    (I, of course, meant “even if my READING…is inaccurate”. Hold the cheap shots. >.>)

  26. Azkyroth says

    And perhaps I should clarify the bolded portion:

    When one says someone is “socially inept” one often means that they’re acting arrogant and entitled. When one say someone seems Aspergerish, one usually means they’re acting arrogant and disregardful of others, which aren’t accurate descriptions of the psychological state of Asperger’s. When you say someone is “crazy” you usually mean they’re irrational, unpredictable, attention-drawing, and/or dangerous, which is pretty much the understood meaning of the word “crazy.” When you make reference to a “schizophrenic deity” for instance, you’re also saying the party in question is acting “crazy.” In every case, it’s perfectly reasonable to say what you mean.

    Let me rephrase: you should say what you mean. In the one out of four cases above where what was meant is actually what was said, it’s reasonable to say it.

  27. Robert B says

    I still don’t find it convincing that the word means what it’s supposed to. A word could be powerful, provocative, precise, and otherwise extremely useful, but I don’t see how that would have anything to do with whether it is morally right to use. I’m much more convinced by the people speaking from life experience and expertise who are saying they just don’t find it offensive.
    (By the way, since we seem to be sharing, I’m multiple and I live with depression. So include me in that last. But even so, I’m very glad the issue is being seriously considered.)

  28. Brian Killian says

    Your definition of faith sounds more like a definition of fundamentalism.
    And of course atheists are as capable of being fundamentalists as any bible thumper. You can be a fundamentalists about anything really.
    The real question is: who is more out of touch with reality, the religious person or the atheist? Which leads to still more questions like…
    What is reality?
    And how do we know it?
    Not exactly things which admit of easy answers, and so calling each other “crazy” doesn’t really go very far.

  29. Ronald King says

    Brian, Calling someone “crazy” actually goes far in enhancing one’s narcissism which we know is a defense mechanism defending oneself against the awareness of being nothing. It puts one in the delusional position of superiority within one’s belief system which forms the individual’s reality.

  30. Robert B says

    @ Brian Killian:
    1) All else being equal, the religious person.
    2) All this stuff everywhere.
    3) Science.
    Do I get an A?
    Granted, while saying the answers is easy, the reasoning and logic to back them up are trickier. I’d be happy to have a conversation getting into reasoning and logic. Please, after you.

  31. says

    Mainstream religions are not crazy, they are fiction and insane.
    I was born in Salt Lake City and I have fewer issues with Mormons than I do with Catholics.
    My dad was Mormon, my mother was Catholic, I’m just a spiritual being having a fucked up human experience here.

  32. says

    I’m new here – attracted by a link I was sent on your post demolishing Pascal’s Wager. Love your writing, wit, energy, rants and, most of all, your intensity. But – (there’s always a “but”, right?) – how is atheism itself NOT just another crazy religion?
    From my perspective as an agnostic, atheism is simply the religion of non-religion. To me the only rational answer to the question “Is there a God?” is ”No one knows” because at this time there is also no tangible, provable evidence there is not.
    Then, again, I absolutely loathe anyone asking me if I believe in God. That’s never really the question being asked – even by atheists. Genuinely asked, the question would be stated “do you believe about God the way that I do?” So my answer, even to atheists is always “no.”
    All religions do indeed always reside somewhere on the crazy spectrum. Including atheism, albeit at the low end of crazy.
    That’s because all religions are based on a fanatical, faith based need to convince others their view is correct. Regardless of the particular faith, the goal is to educate the ignorant sinners about the salvation of truth – as each faith sees it, of course.
    Thus truth becomes relative, which truth cannot be. Truth itself is absolute. It is only one’s state of knowledge that is relative.
    Relative to what? Well, truth, of course.
    Admittedly, atheists don’t distort well established scientific and historical facts to achieve the convincing of the weak-minded. Athesits do, however, seem to believe, like every other faith, that they are in possession of the whole truth. i.e., there is no God and thinking one (or more) exists is, well, crazy.
    Atheism does not rest on non-belief, because that very non-belief is, in fact, also based on a very strong belief – namely, that if there is no way to run an experiment to produce evidence that [whatever] exists, then it automatically becomes axiomatic that [whatever] doesn’t exist. Period. Atheist have a vested faith in the unassailability of that belief.
    Yet by that measure it could be argued that microbes, atoms, radiation, and what is presently known of quantum mechanics and all other scientific facts only began their existence when humans discovered ways to test and, therefore, prove their existence. They were only then made retroactive to the beginning of time – whatever that is.
    Sorry, but that sounds almost as implausible as any of the other misguided and distorted beliefs accurately attributed to the other religions.
    The difference between agnosticism and atheism is simply this. When asked if he/she believes in [whatever] for which there is no evidence whatsoever that [whatever] exists, an agnostic relies on the only thing he/she knows 100% to be certain at that very moment. Since, like atheists, we cannot accept the existence of [whatever] without proof, we are also unwilling to accept the non-existence of [whatever] without an equal amount of proof. Since it is impossible to prove a negative, agnostics must embrace not knowing.
    Not knowing is a path to potentials and possibilities and the abiding hope that all truth is not yet known.
    The only absolute in my life is certainty that I know almost nothing about the universe in which I reside – no matter how small the subset of the larger universe might be that I can observe or how much I can learn in this lifetime .
    The great part about embracing the certainty of not knowing is the relief of any need for faith.
    For as the High Priest of Salemanship, Saul of Taurus, said as he recruited Christians and built the early Church – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
    Happily agnostics do not require any faith whatever to stand on the solid rock of our own ignorance and there from laugh at both those who ardently believe in things they can’t see, touch, smell, hear, taste, count, sort or measure as well as those who cannot believe in things that no one has yet discovered or figured out an experiment to prove.
    I have always held that the only thing worse than an unanswered question is an unquestioned answer.
    So I irritate my religious friends by asking them questioning their answer until I exhaust their ability to come up with ridiculous plausible answers. Most of my friends who are religious are progressives – very smart, well read, thoughtful and logical up to the point of being able to embrace not knowing. So sometimes it takes awhile to exhaust them.
    With atheist friends it’s usually not as much fun to question their answers. Atheists are by design (intelligent or otherwise) also very smart, thoughtful, ridiculously knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects, and really wonderful people. But when it comes to discussing religion, all they’ve got in their arsenal is, “You can’t prove any of that crazy shit.” Once they realized I agree with them about religious insanity, there’s nowhere to go except to insult them – as I fear I may have done here.
    But my experience with almost every atheist I have known, is that while they can point out the absurdity of religious beliefs, more often than not, their ability to do so with such ease results in an arrogant superiority complex that blinds them to their own inability to prove a negative and admit, that they can be, when all is said and done, exactly as faith based as their targets.
    And that’s just, well, crazy. Not bat-shit crazy. Just crazy in the the normal everyday wonderful use of the word.

  33. Maria says

    Tom, are you as dogmatically agnostic about ALL possible concepts the fanciful brain of the human species are able to come up with?
    Do you snicker as arrogantly at the poor Santa believers as you do at the likewise poor Santa deniers, when clearly the only sane stance is to remain agnostic about the matter?

  34. Eclectic says

    I have to respond to Tom’s comment at some point, but it’s a bit long. Bascially, I’m not dogmatic about the non-existence of a deity, but there absolutely is evidence. I’ve explored the matter and am convinced. I’m as sure that Yahweh doesn’t exist as I am that I would burn my hand if I put it on a hot stove. That is, certain enough that I’m not interested in more research.
    Back to my intended point: perhaps it would actually be useful to use more mental helath terminology. We can distinguish neurotic and psychotic believers.
    A neurotic belief, like a fear of spiders, is one which is recognized as irrational, but one follows anyway.
    A psychotic belief is one which the believer is unable to distinguish from reality.
    Note that this is a taxonomy of believers, not beliefs. Although the more elaborate stories tend to be associated with psychosis.

  35. AYY says

    GC, Why does it matter if all religions are equally “crazy”? Religions that are more doctrinaire are going to have beliefs or doctrines that make them seem crazier than religions that are less doctrinaire. The beliefs and practices of the less doctrinaire religions can still be untenable.
    So I don’t see what good it does to argue, for example, that Unitarianism is more rational than Mormonism, or that Reform Judaism is more rational than Haredi Judaism, if the core beliefs are still untenable.
    Eclectic, 1101.
    Not sure your distinction between neurotic and psychotic beliefs is correct. I don’t see how a belief can be neurotic or psychotic, if the person can otherwise function rationally in life. Lots of people believe in the historical accuracy of the Bible, or that there really is an omniscient, ominipotent Supreme Being whose will we can discern, and who has the properties that Judeo-Christian religions ascribe to it. One might say that these people are unable to distinguish that belief from reality, but the fact is that many have those beliefs, and if in their minds there is a rational basis for those beliefs, and they function rationally in other aspects of their lives, I don’t see how you could consider their beliefs psychotic.

  36. Margo K. says

    @ Greta Christina
    Thank you for taking the “crazy” issue seriously. I did not expect you to change this article, I just think you should just be more careful in the future. Your willingness to think about difficult issues is one reason I respect you so much as a blogger.
    Azkyroth said:
    “(I never have heard back on what similarly evocative adjective they expect us to replace it with.)”
    @Azkyroth
    I gave some suggestions on the first page on this article. You can go back and read them if you missed them.
    I agree that neurotypicals deciding what should and should not be offensive for mentally ill people is patronising. I changed the way I thought about the word “crazy” because of some writings by mentally ill people about the word. I know many people with mental illnesses do not find the word used pejoratively as hurtful, but since some do (according to what they have said) I have tried to be more careful about how I use it for the sake of those who are hurt by the pejorative use. Again, you can find some writing by people with mental illness on the issue by googling “Feminists with Disabilities crazy” (I would link if links were allowed in the comments).
    I am a bit puzzled by the comments talking about reclaiming “crazy”. I have nothing against the reclamation of “crazy” as a non-pejorative word, but that’s not how the word was used in the article – Greta was using the word ‘crazy’ to describe what is bad about religion, not to describe religion in a neutral or positive way.
    While I think religious people are mistaken, I don’t think they are any more mentally unstable than I am (I identify as neurotypical, but that doesn’t mean my brain is perfect), nor do I think religious thought is more divorced from reality than some of my own thoughts. I like to think that my skepticism makes me better at sorting out my divorced-from-reality thoughts than religious people, but I think it’s a matter of having the right knowledge and choosing to take a skeptical attitude, not a matter of our brains being wired differently.

  37. Margo K. says

    Oh – and by the way I want to point out that Greta made the exact same point about religious believes not being more mentally unstable than non-believers in her article – I was responding to comments, not the article itself.
    I also want to point out that the very fact that some people are referring to believers as “mentally unstable” shows that the link between “crazy” and various mental circumstances has not be severed in the popular imagination.

  38. Christin says

    @Greta Christina: At other places in the essay, you describe them as out of touch with reality, fringe cult, implausible, hilarious, appalling, shameless, chaotic, and put particular emphasis on the magic bits (which has automatic connotations of silly untruth). Other options include ridiculous, weird, frenzied, confused, eccentric, silly, bizarre, and wacky. I felt that you made the point well and clearly; I just don’t see how “crazy” really contributed any more. It’s evocative, and makes for a good headline, but that’s all I saw.

  39. Christin says

    @Dan M.: Way to miss the other three points I made.
    There are many people who say “Well, God is just another way of saying love (or justice, or the universe)” without addressing any of the institutions of or harm caused by religion and belief. Should we agree to that, or hold them to the way the word has been used for centuries?
    Back to the topic, I am going to take a prescriptivist stance here and say that sometimes the majority of people choose to use a word in a way that is insensitive. I would never say that it’s okay to say “how gay is it that they believe this”, even though there are many people who would say it’s a perfectly legitimate use of the word. Do you see at all where I’m going with this?
    I think @Robert B’s comment says what I’m trying to get across well. However I will add that I see reclaiming a word as something that can only be done by those to whom it applies, not just anybody using it because it’s been rehabilitated.
    I’m also going to link to another essay on popular meanings and slurs in context: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2006/07/theres-no-good-way-to-use-fag.html

  40. Christin says

    @Azkyroth: The essays I have read on “crazy” that inform my position were written by people not on the autism/aspergers spectrum, but with other mental illnesses and conditions. My reasoning though is the same as not using other slurs that are considered acceptable in some circles and not in others. (Similar to how @Puck wrote). I’m still thinking about the rest of your last paragraph though. I don’t think anyone necessarily SHOULd find it offensive, but I have met people who think it is.
    @Everyone: Sorry this took three comments. I’m not quite sure if there’s a better way, but it wouldn’t let me post them all at once.

  41. Margo K. says

    “(I identify as neurotypical, but that doesn’t mean my brain is perfect)”
    I apologise for making this comment. It implies that neurotypical brains are better than neuro-atypical brains, and is the exact type of thinking I am still trying to shake myself out of.
    @ Christin
    I am interested in essays on “crazy” written by people with mental illnesses that you have read. Can you give me search words to plug into google so I can find them? As my faux pas shows, I still need to think about this issue myself, and I find such useful.

  42. Robert B says

    Yeah, apparently some people really did think that “crazy” here was denoting something related to mental health. Calling religious beliefs “crazy” didn’t offend me. (Partly this was because Greta was so clear about what she did and didn’t mean by the word.) The comment proposing that religious beliefs be classified as neurotic or psychotic, I have to say, did offend me. To wield the technical language of mental illness at people with unwelcome beliefs is… Orwellian, frankly. Even if those opinions are really really disagreeable and false. It implies that the proper response is medical: doctors, drugs, hospitals, straitjackets. I find myself reacting to it emotionally, as if to a threat of violence.
    It’s also demeaning to the mentally ill to use them as a rhetorical club. But that’s a less upsetting aspect than the other, for me.
    (And I can’t fully explain why “crazy” is okay if “psychotic” isn’t. The arguments I just wrote seem to apply pretty well to “crazy” also. If someone made that case I would totally understand how they felt.)

  43. Margo K. says

    Ah, I finally found the essay (again, on Feminists with Disabilities – it’s the site I’m most familiar with) which first made me think about the use of the words “crazy” and “insane”. You can google “This is Why We’re Always on about Language” and it’s the first hit. While this essay is about “insane” the person who wrote this also identifies as “crazy”. And, coincidentally, “atheist”.

  44. Eclectic says

    AgnosticTom: Methinks you are a little too smug in your uncertainty.
    Here’s the core of my disagreement with you (taken slightly out of context):

    an agnostic relies on the only thing he/she knows 100% to be certain at that very moment

    This, I claim, is complete rubbish. The only thing I (or anyone) can know to be 100% certain is cogito ergo sum. Beyond that, it’s all a bunch of extrapolations from imperfect observations. I am not 100% certain that I am not living in the Matrix (or Plato’s cave, to use the classical version). I am not 100% certain that the keyboard I am typing this on, much less the blog comment I am responding to, is not a figment of my imagination.
    If you require 100% certainty before reaching any conclusion, you’re never going to get anywhere.
    Are you certain that your hair is the same colour now as it was last time you looked? I know that your experience is that it has never changed colour without some obvious intervention, nor have you heard about it happening to anyone else, but that’s an extrapolation.
    The way I like to resolve this is to say that “proof is subjective”. The evidence that we consider may be objective, but the amount of it required to quiet our internal doubts, i.e. to constitute “proof”, is indeed subjective.
    I just happen to think that some people profess an impractically high standard. Why do you use such a standard for theological questions when you use a much lower one for the rest of your life? (E.g. What’s the point of driving to work if you’re not 100% certain that it’ll be there?)
    As I, and Greta, and Richard Dawkins, and many other outspoken atheists have written, considering a matter proved does not mean that we are utterly unwilling to change our minds given new evidence.
    It means that we consider the search for new evidence to be a waste of effort. So you’re welcome to keep looking, but I have better and more productive things to do with my life, thank you very much.
    Another point you make:

    Atheism does not rest on non-belief, because that very non-belief is, in fact, also based on a very strong belief – namely, that if there is no way to run an experiment to produce evidence that [whatever] exists, then it automatically becomes axiomatic that [whatever] doesn’t exist. Period. Atheist have a vested faith in the unassailability of that belief.

    That’s a pretty serious misstatement of my claim. I assert that if there is no way to run an experiment to produce evidence that [whatever] exists, then it does not matter if [whatever] exists. Because it will never make the slightest difference to me.
    If it would make a difference, then that would be a runnable experiment!
    I don’t care about some abstract philosophical definition of “existence” of utterly imperceptible things. The point is that I can go on acting as if it doesn’t exist, and I will never make a mistake by doing so.
    Now, on to the last point I want to address: atheism is a religious faith

    That’s because all religions are based on a fanatical, faith based need to convince others their view is correct. Regardless of the particular faith, the goal is to educate the ignorant sinners about the salvation of truth – as each faith sees it, of course.

    I can talk about the morality of educating people, but the most important reason for “proselytizing” is that if I don’t, it has very real consequences for me.
    A political democracy is based om the “marketplace of ideas”. “Crowdsourcing” may be a new word, but in this area, it’s a very old idea.
    Growing up, I never experienced any conflict with religious believers, so I really didn’t care. The most outspoken atheists are usually drawn from religious converts, who are offended by the lies that they were taught and would like to help others facing the same problems.
    But these days when religions are routinely manipulating world politics, and there are active struggles to make over multiple countries as theocracies, if I want the right to live my life in non-religious peace, it is a civic duty to speak up and be heard.
    That’s a civic duty, one imposed by my citizenship, not my atheism.
    For more on this point, see Greta’s essay on “Shut up, that’s why”.

  45. Christin says

    @Margo K: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/12/crazy-does-not-equal-stupid.html is part 2 of a three-part series about how crazy is used as shorthand for violent, stupid, and worthless and therefore maps those meanings onto mental illness. I feel fairly certain that shakesville has another post on it somewhere, but it’s also been explicitly stated that authors and commenters find it harmful. The FWD one is another. Unfortunately I don’t always keep the best track of my reading history, but if I remember any more I will drop them here.

  46. says

    @Maria. I am 100% certain there is a Santa Claus because for far too few years that passed in a blink, I WAS Santa Claus. And for the past few years I have been fortunate to be the father of two recently ordained Santas. With any luck, I’ll one day be the grandfather to a few more Jolly Elves.
    @Eclectic – I’m very glad Jonas Salk and others like him did not buy into your assertion – “I assert that if there is no way to run an experiment to produce evidence that [whatever] exists, then it does not matter if [whatever] exists. Because it will never make the slightest difference to me.”
    Throughout history many diseases thought to be incurable were simply accepted as God’s will.
    Fortunately people of science did not accept that because there was no known experiment it didn’t matter that a cure didn’t yet exist. That mattered to a great many people – for all you know, their work may have even mattered to you.
    Also @eclectic. Yes, indeed. I am certain my hair is the same color today as it was yesterday. I’m as bald today as I was yesterday and as I will be tomorrow. Sadly, when it’s gone it’s gone. :)
    Also @ecletic – “I can talk about the morality of educating people, but the most important reason for “proselytizing” is that if I don’t, it has very real consequences for me.”
    That’s very Christian of you. :) Or, at a minimum, I’d say it doesn’t distinguish your stated intentions all that much from the same argument used by all religions.
    But I do get your point and it’s a good one. I’d rather endure the proselytizing of 1000’s atheists all day any day than any one Christian’s for 15 minutes.
    Thanks for the replies. I’ll work on the smugness thing.

  47. says

    AgnosticTom: You are rather missing the point here — to the point where it seems almost deliberate.
    Here is the point. For most atheists, atheism is not the absolute, 100% certainty that there is no God. For most atheists, it is the conclusion that the God hypothesis is so implausible, so contradicted by all the available evidence, so unsupported by any good evidence, that we can reject it. If we see better evidence, we’ll change our mind — but it better be darned good evidence. We are no more agnostic about any god than we are about unicorns, fairies, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. We know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that there are no unicorns, fairies, or Flying Spaghetti Monsters — and we know, with the same degree of certainty, that there are no gods. Even though we can’t absolutely prove it.
    Is there some reason you have more doubt about gods than you do about unicorns, fairies, or Flying Spaghetti Monsters? Or do you also call yourself “agnostic” about unicorns, fairies, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, and anything else you have no good reason to think exists but can’t absolutely disprove?
    For the record, I don’t actually care whether you call yourself agnostic or atheist. I just get really tired of agnostics who make arguments against a version of atheism that pretty much doesn’t exist.
    And why do you think it’s a bad idea to persuade other people that your ideas are correct and theirs are mistaken? We do that with every other sort of idea — science, politics, medicine, art, etc. Why should religion get a free pass? It seems that you’re using the word “proselytize” to mean “any attempt that I don’t approve of to persuade people of something.” And that’s not fair. You need to make an argument for why these particular attempts to persuade are bad, while others attempts to persuade on other subjects are fine.

  48. Allen Dexter says

    Let’s not split hairs. “Crazy” is a perfectly understandable term that applies. It’s used every day in its colloquial application.
    It’s the religious, who expect to be treated with deference and respect they deny others who get all bent out of shape. I, for one, have given up trying to please them.

  49. says

    It’s the religious, who expect to be treated with deference and respect they deny others who get all bent out of shape.

    Allen, if you’ll read the discussion in this comment thread, you’ll see that it’s not just the religious who get, quote, “bent out of shape” by the colloquial use of the word “crazy.” Plenty of non-believers have a problem with it. I’m still not sure what I think about this question… but I’m not going to just dismiss the people who raise it.

  50. Eclectic says

    I’m very glad Jonas Salk and others like him did not buy into your assertion – “I assert that if there is no way to run an experiment to produce evidence that [whatever] exists, then it does not matter if [whatever] exists. Because it will never make the slightest difference to me.”
    AgnotsicTom: What on earth are you referring to? Jonas Salk in his most famous medical accomplishment (with Hilary Koprowski, and Albert Sabin, and many many others) absolutely did have clearly measurable evidence: the incidence of polio in inoculated people.
    As I said, if there is any circumstance in which it will make a detectable difference, that’s an experiment that can be performed, at least in principle.
    What are untestable are things like a deist God, or Last Thursdayism, or the Dragon in Carl Sagan’s garage.

  51. Eclectic says

    Sorry about the formatting above; I hope everyone can still make it out. Greta, have I mentioned that a preview button would be very handy?

  52. Maria says

    Okay, evasion of actual point of question noted. No wonder you are so “successful” in discussing with atheists…
    I guess I just have to ask again:
    Are you as dogmatically agnostic about ALL possible concepts the fanciful brain of the human species are able to come up with?
    I’ll work on the smugness thing.
    Not started yet, I see.

  53. Margo K. says

    @AgnosticTom
    I think you missed Eclectic’s point about experiments. Eclectic is not talking about whether we have the means to detect God (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster). We are talking about whether the God hypothesis can fail (which is a prerequisite for a testable hypothesis).
    “Throughout history many diseases thought to be incurable were simply accepted as God’s will.”
    If I have a hypothesis that dancing for an hour while singing ‘la la la’ in the presence of someone who is sick can cure any disease, this is a hypothesis I can test. Furthermore, somebody 100,000 years ago could have conceived of and tested this hypothesis as well.
    A hypothesis on whether or not something can cure someone is inherently meaningful (even a silly one like my example) because the results make a difference – whether someone remains sick or is cured.
    Some religious hypotheses are testable, such as the hypothesis that the Earth is only a few thousand years old (geological data can be used to test this hypothesis). However, if a hypothesis is not testable, then there is really not reason to care, because, as Eclectic said, if such a hypothesis made a difference in our lives, such a difference would be testable.

  54. Ronald King says

    This came to me as I was in the shower this morning preparing to go to Mass and as you say eat the “magic cracker”. By the way according to catholic belief the “magic cracker” is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ before we eat it and whether or not we believe it. However, that is not the important thing in all of this. The most important thing in all of this is love. It is love that nurtures life, it is love that gives life. Anything that forgets about love and the mystery of love looks and sounds ludicrous to those who observe it from the outside and becomes empty ritual to those who practice it on the inside. I have much more to say about this but I must go and consume my “magic cracker” which is the source of my memory to love everything in creation because it is only love which brings order to all this chaos we call “crazy”.

  55. Maria says

    You love everything? Even things like natural disasters and deadly diseases? And this brings… order in chaos? And to not forget this you need to eat crackers in a ritualized way?
    Ah, okay, that makes perfect sense!

  56. Ronald King says

    Maria, You know what I am saying if you want to know what I am saying. But, I think you have a different purpose.

  57. Maria says

    Are you saying that you love things like deadly diseases? Or are they not a “part of the creation”? If not, what are they?
    And no, I don’t have the slightest idea what you are saying when you say that “only love brings order in chaos” and how that makes sense in regards to also having to love “everything in creation”.
    My purpose was to show that I think none of the things you said made much sense. Was it a lie that you said you need to eat crackers to remind you of loving everything in creation? If you actually meant something completely different than that, why didn’t you say that instead then?

  58. Ronald King says

    Maria, you have convinced me that what I have written does not make much sense to you. If it doesn’t make sense to you then so be it. Suffering that is of human origin is different from suffering that is a natural disaster. Love responds to suffering with nurturing or with sacrifice of one’s comfort and security for the sake of what is in the best interest of others and the world we inhabit.
    Read once again what I wrote about what someone termed “magic crackers” and what I believe to be true as a Catholic. I do not expect you to believe it nor anyone else. I did not believe it until 2005 when I was 58. So I have no problem with disbelief. That is another story. The problem I have with myself or anyone who believes or disbelieves is the lack of love we express to one another and the harm and chaos that creates in human relationships.

  59. Maria says

    It did indeed not make much sense, and you still haven’t answered my questions.
    Again, I repeat, you said that you should love “everything in creation.” Now I asked you if you really do think you should love some pretty horrible things that, without a doubt, are part of that “creation”, and you are not answering. Do you love Ebola? It’s one of the most horrible deadly diseases there are, creating horrendous suffering to the poor individual who gets it. Ebola is caused by a virus. Is the Ebola virus a part of the creation? If you say it is, do you love it? If it isn’t part of the creation, then what is it?
    If loving “everything in creation” does not in fact include EVERY thing, then how the heck am I suppose to know which things are supposed to be included and which are not? And since you chose to express yourself in those terms how the heck am I suppose to know that these words didn’t matter, and I should just know that what you really meant is that we should be nicer to each other and the world would be a better place (which I certainly agree with).
    Anyway, you do believe those things, it seems, and since you did bring them up, that seemed to me a rather important question to get an answer to.
    Of course there are many more questions. Such as why you think love is mysterious, and what you actually mean with “mysterious” in this case. And what you actually mean by chaos? And through which mechanisms love (as a mysterious force?) bring order in this ill-defined chaos, and how that all ties in with humans loving everything? If you just meant that humans acting out of love and care can make a difference, then that’s not very mysterious, and certainly nothing to do with any religion.
    If it doesn’t make sense to you then so be it.
    What? You brought it up! Why can’t you explain these things, so that it does make sense? It’s supposed to be something wrong with me that I can’t understand the vague assertions you made?
    “Love is a mystery”
    “Uh… what does that actually mean?”
    “You know what I mean; you are just trying to be silly.”
    “Uh… I really don’t know what you mean.”
    “Ah, you have convinced me you cannot handle such mysteries. I shall simply leave it at that then.”
    “Me thinks you just can’t explain these things!”
    That’s how it sounded to me.
    Suffering that is of human origin is different from suffering that is a natural disaster.
    What do you mean, and what does this has to do with anything we talked about? Are you saying you love one of these but not the other, or are you saying deadly diseases are of human origin, or… what ARE you saying??
    I was asking you if you love deadly diseases, or if you don’t consider them part of the creation. Or are words like “to love everything in creation” not suppose to actually be taken seriously? It’s well known by those who use it that it’s just “something you say that sounds nice, or something” or “Of course that only includes good things that are, like, possible to love.”?? I shouldn’t have taken it seriously and ask what it really would entail?
    Love responds to suffering with nurturing or with sacrifice of one’s comfort and security for the sake of what is in the best interest of others and the world we inhabit.
    Yes, sounds good enough. I agree. How does that make love mysterious?
    The problem I have with myself or anyone who believes or disbelieves is the lack of love we express to one another and the harm and chaos that creates in human relationships.
    Sure, I agree. How does that make love mysterious?
    Look, saying that showing more love and care for each other and our world is a great thing to say, why wouldn’t I agree wholeheartedly with that? But if this is indeed the important part then why mystify it like that? It’s not a mystery at all. And if you need crackers to remind you of this that’s your business (though if you say things like “By the way according to catholic belief the “magic cracker” is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ before we eat it and whether or not we believe it” I have to ask things like what the cracker becomes after you’ve eaten it, and exactly where in the digestive system it stops being Christ, and how do you know all this anyway) but that wasn’t really what you said.
    Did I take you too literally? Maybe, how should I know that when you speak of love as something mysterious tied in with Catholic rituals and that it should be all-encompassing – you really mean, ‘just be nicer to each other regardless of belief or non-belief’? Now, that’s something I can agree with, but if your basic message is that belief isn’t even necessary for that kind of love… then why wrap that message up in that kind of language?
    I do not expect you to believe it nor anyone else.
    Then why bring it up at all?

  60. says

    @AgnosticTom,
    I encourage you to read the information at this web site for the opportunity to look at the definitions of “atheism” and “agnosticism” with a wide-angle lens. The Scope of Atheism
    by George H. Smith
    from his book Atheism: The Case Against God
    http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/smith.htm
    “The term “agnostic” does not, in itself, indicate whether or not one believes in a god. Agnosticism can be either theistic or atheistic.”
    There are numerous instances in which atheists do not proselytize. Babies, for example. Implicit atheists, for another (which includes babies). Buddhists are atheists, but the absence of a belief in God is not what Buddhists who share their spirituality focus on. Are you an agnostic theist-one who “believes in the existence of god, but maintains that the nature of god is unknowable”, or an agnostic atheist (I can’t know, and I am without belief in any deity at this time, and if evidence of a god is presented, I will consider it with an open mind). I suppose you could believe that God could be with you and you just have no way of knowing as long as God chooses to prevent you from knowing, but that just doesn’t seem like a productive thing to put a lot of thought into.
    “Agnosticism is a legitimate philosophical position (although, in my opinion, it is mistaken), but it is not a third alternative or a halfway house between theism and atheism. Instead, it is a variation of either theism or atheism. The self-proclaimed agnostic must still designate whether he does or does not believe in a god — and, in so doing, he commits himself to theism or he commits himself to atheism. But he does commit himself. Agnosticism is not the escape clause that it is commonly thought to be.” George H. Smith
    I’d be interested in your thoughts about what atheists and agnostics are after reading that article. You can’t really pigeonhole anyone with those two words, accurately, anyway.
    @Everyone This business of whether “crazy” is offensive/inappropriate/hurtful is new to me. Madonna is “crazy for you”, Patsy Cline is “crazy for feeling so lonely”, and Seal says “we’re never gonna survive unless we go a little crazy”. I have some “Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up Salt” in my spice cabinet and some Krazy glue somewhere else in the house. I went a little “crazy” for a while after my mom died, and again when I was having trouble conceiving. My personal take on it is that it’s in poor taste when talking about actual mental illness, like when I had post-partum depression after having the babies and had disturbing thoughts of hurting them. I’m sensitive about having gone through that, and the word “crazy” being used to describe it and other times in which I was struggling with clinical depression makes me feel humiliated and defensive, for some reason. However, looking back on my pre-deconversion days, I sure believed in some crazy shit.

  61. Ronald King says

    Maria, I cannot respond to everything you expressed today in a short com box. I apologize for the fragmentation of what I have written because it seems to have caused you distress, at least that is what I presume because I cannot see your expressions nor hear your voice.
    It is very clear in my mind what I know and the problem I have is to attempt to write with clarity what has taken decades to form from being agnostic, gaining knowledge in interpersonal neurobiology, working as a psychotherapist, having developed an interest in quantum physics, and directly experiencing only what I can describe as miraculous, and somehow explain it to someone within a few paragraphs. So, if I frustrate you I am sorry. My intention was to write what I have come to believe. The responses I get are interesting to me in the sense of what may be the primary disposition of the response. What does the person feel about what I have stated, not what the person thinks about what I have stated. In other words, what is the emotional response.

  62. Maria says

    Why do you think I’m distressed and frustrated? It seems to me that these responses have not been enough information for you to actually be able to draw conclusions about ‘primary dispositions’ from.
    And that’s all very impressive. Still, I can’t see how simply answering some very simple questions can be so difficult.
    Is the Ebola virus a part of the creation? Should you then love it?If it isn’t part of the creation, what is it?
    That’s two easy yes or no answers there, and one that might be a few words longer. That wouldn’t fit into a comment box?

  63. Brian Killian says

    Of course the difference between the flying spaghetti monster and God is that the flying spaghetti monster is made up; and the existence of God is inferred or hypothesized as the best explanation of certain facts.
    It’s kind of a big difference.

  64. Ronald King says

    Maria, It is not a simple answer of yes or no. You seem intelligent, you should know that. What is your disposition driving your questioning?

  65. Maria says

    How is it not a simple question of yes or no? It is perfectly possible to answer that question with either a yes, or a no! I agree that the consequenses of answering that might be a bit more complicated question to discuss, but for now I’d be happy with a yes or a no.
    Is the Ebola virus part of the creation of which you said you should love the entirety?
    What is your disposition refusing to answer this simple question?
    Not that you have to, if you don’t want to, just say so, but please stop claiming it demands such a long and complicated answer that it’s not possible to answer it here.

  66. Ronald King says

    What is ebola related to? What function does it serve? I have curiosity about it, but I have more curiosity about your disposition.

  67. Maria says

    Don’t tell me you don’t understand that Ebola is just an example, and that you don’t understand what the question really is about. Don’t insult the intelligence you earlier claimed you could spot.
    Your refusal to answer the question is starting to become silly, as is your attempts to evade it by trying to make a sort of case study out of the people you are in a “discussion” with.
    The question is up there, answer it or… don’t. I am sure that at this point no one cares in the slightest which.

  68. llewelly says

    Brian Killian | June 05, 2011 at 12:46 PM:

    Of course the difference between the flying spaghetti monster and God is that the flying spaghetti monster is made up; and the existence of God is inferred or hypothesized as the best explanation of certain facts.

    God is a terrible explanation. First, it begs the question: What made God? Second, the natural world has many features, from eyes with blindspots, appendices, recurrent laryngeal nerves, to vast expanses of empty space, which are quite difficult to explain if “God” is intelligent, but readily explained by processes neither intelligent nor all powerful.
    I recommend you read Victor Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis for an explanation of the many kinds of evidence against “God”, and the many ways it fails to explain anything.
    A careful study of the natural world reveals that traditional notions of “God” do not explain the world around us any better than the Flying Spaghetti Monster; the appearance that there is a “big difference” is an illusion resulting from the human failing of granting special treatment to the familiar ideas we are brought up to accept, especially those which feed our egos.

  69. llewelly says

    Ronald King | June 05, 2011 at 06:37 AM:

    This came to me as I was in the shower this morning preparing to go to Mass and as you say eat the “magic cracker”. By the way according to catholic belief the “magic cracker” is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ before we eat it and whether or not we believe it. However, that is not the important thing in all of this. The most important thing in all of this is love. It is love that nurtures life, it is love that gives life.

    Each time you go to mass, you support an organization which attacks the essential human right of a woman to control her body. That is the opposite of love. Each time you go to mass you support an organization which attacks the essential human right to marry as one chooses. That is the opposite of love. Each time you go to mass you support an organization that spreads lies about condoms, which in turn enable the spread of AIDS, contributing to the deaths of millions in Africa. That is the opposite of love. Each time you go to mass you support an organization which has bent over backward in its efforts to prevent child rapists from being separated from potential victims.
    Your words unknowingly illustrate an essential horror common to most religions; they teach people to believe that dreadfully harmful treatment of others is morally superior, even that such treatment is “love”.

  70. Maria says

    I suspect Ronald is a troll.
    He’s having a laugh at my expense in any case, that is quite clear :-)

  71. Lynn Wilhelm says

    Ronald, prove Maria wrong.
    It’s easy, answer her questions. Otherwise you simply prove her presumption.
    I’ve just spent too much time in anticipation of your answers, Ronald. Crap on you for wasting my time. Typical troll.

  72. says

    @sarah
    Thank you for the link to George Smith’s essay. It was an excellent summary of atheism and agnosticism. However, about your extracted quote re agnosticism
    “The self-proclaimed agnostic must still designate whether he does or does not believe in a god — and, in so doing, he commits himself to theism or he commits himself to atheism. But he does commit himself.”
    Harrumph – says you, Mr.Smith!!
    That’s a legitimate opinion, but the fact that the Smith penned it does not make it a fact. For me it is a matter of intellectual honesty to admit the limits of what I can and do know.
    Thus I much prefer Thomas Huxley’s quote from the same essay
    “What I am sure about is that there are many topics about which I know nothing; and which, so far as I can see, are out of reach of my faculties. But whether these things are knowable by anyone else is exactly one of those matters which is beyond my knowledge, though I may have a tolerably strong opinion as to the probabilities of the case.”
    My opinion is this is the correct statement of an agnostic’s postition. That I agree with Huxley and wrote almost exactly the same thing in my initial comment also does not make his or my statement true.
    What you and I can agree on completely is the description of atheist as one who requires proof before belief.
    Which leads me back my point about to Dr. Salk, et al.
    True scientists tend not to embrace not knowing as an agnostic must. Their refusal to do so increases humantity’s store of knowledge by asking, “What if….?” questions.
    If scientists had taken the same attitude of Smith’s “existence” atheists as opposed to agnostics (as Huxley defines them), they would have taken the postion that since the evolution of human knowledge had not progressed to the point where a proof of already vaccine existed, it would have been not only irrelevant to them (as eclectic above would have it), but also a foolish notion to remain hopeful one might someday could be found through their efforts.
    And, again, that would be, in my humble opinion, a very lazy and even crazy position to take.
    Knowing my limits are infinitessimal compared to giants like Salk, I must embrace not being able to know or comprehend or I would go insane. But I’m very glad people exist who don’t embrace not knowing and then set out to prove what humanity thus far has not.
    My complaint with religiosn is the same as everyone else’s here. They neither offer nor feel any need to search for proof of their claims. They just create ridiculous stories to justify their beliefs and insult the rest of us with their arrogant judgment of anyone who disagrees with their opinions.
    That’s beyond crazy.
    It’s dangerous and does great harm. Not confronting that craziness is, as someone already mentioned in this thread, (paraphrasing liberally here) “an act of civic irresponsibility.”
    Tom

  73. Indigo says

    AgnosticTom, I’m not totally sure I follow. Are you saying that reaching a conclusion regarding a fact about the current state of the universe (such as “there is no God”) is equivalent to giving up on the possibility of creating through human endeavour some solution to an enduring problem (such as a vaccine for smallpox)?

  74. Ronald King says

    Lynn, Why do you anticipate my answers? You are correct that is a waste of your time, but not my time. I haven’t formulated an answer for Maria nor myself because I haven’t considered ebola until Maria brought it up. The more immediate consideration for me is how human beings relate to one another and creation. I came to this site because I thought what Greta wrote was interesting and I thought I would make a statement about love which I thought was innocent enough. That is it. There is no simple yes or no about what I have written. I apologize for your distress and waste of time.

  75. airbagmoments says

    I don’t really see the point in declaring that they are all equally crazy. That just weakens your arg. Deists are demonstrably less crazy than young earth fundies.
    Everything is on a spectrum. Yes, there’s a big gray area containing many religions that are all pretty crazy, but they aren’t all in there. Some forms of Buddhism are hard to even define as religion.
    I’m not much of an “accomodationist”, but I believe trying to make the crazier religions seem as crazy as they are can help believers move down the crazy ladder. Not everyone can just let go of belief all at once.
    I also consider much religious thinking to be a form of or side effect of mental illness, so I don’t mind your use of “crazy”. Any word you replace it with will begin immediately to accrue negative connotations and will need to be eventually replaced as well.

  76. says

    You asked – Are you saying that reaching a conclusion regarding a fact about the current state of the universe (such as “there is no God”) is equivalent to giving up on the possibility of creating through human endeavour some solution to an enduring problem (such as a vaccine for smallpox)?”
    My answer:
    Not exactly, no. What I’m saying is that I believe there is still an infinite amount of learning required to understand the universe. But everyday new knowledge is uncovered that, in the aggregate, improves humanity’s fund of stored knowledge and answers questions heretofore believed to be unaswerable. Sometimes the question is so broad and requires the development of such a degree of undergirding that we can’t even imagine what the characteristics of a testable hyposthesis might be.
    Beating the dead horse a bit more, Salk & compatriots likely could not have come up with a vaccine for polio if not for previous generations of scientists having developed refracting lenses and then the microscope that enabled the subsequent discovery of microbes, germs, bacteria, etc. previously unseeable and, therefore, unknowable to the human senses. Yet that didn’t mean they had not previously existed.
    Sure, it’s now an unfathomable step to suggest that at some point generations from now science may evolve further to be able to detect human and animal thoughts. Sounds too bizarre to even imagine now. Speculating about such possibilities seems ridiculous and, to some, even irrelevant to consider as a possibility. Better to leave it as the province of whimsical science fiction, they might say.
    Even though I agree that such is now, in fact, largely irrevalent to the outcomes of our daily lives, I am simply unwilling to say that the march of human history cannot possibly arrive at the point where the ultimate creative source of the universe might become known.
    I consider it a possibility because there’s no more tangible evidence for me to rule it out than there is for me to say it will definitely happen.
    If I had lived 1000 years ago and someone asked me if I believed I could be made sick by small living organisms invading my body that were so small no one had ever seen them, I would likely have not have accepted that as even a possibility either. I probably would have thought such an idea absolutely ridiculous or I might have bought into to all sorts of other ridiculous explanations for illness that had been passed down through the generations and then finally to me from people I trusted – likely my parents or other respected people in the community.
    And that’s the way it happens to most of us early on.
    Do I live my life in accordance with a chosen set of ridiculous rules required by the religion passed down through generations of my family and then on to me by a mother I loved and respected? Yes, in fact, for about the first third of my life I did.
    Then I went to college met Galileo, Copernicus, etc. all the way up to Newton then on thru to Einstein. My masters is in physics and in acquiring that degree I learned to question everything.
    So it is with God.
    Do I believe a God exists?
    Well, I’m certainly no longer willing to live my life according to the silly rules and Southern Baptist faith I grew up wth. But neither can I declare with certainty that some elemental force of nature or some infinite intelligence that transcends everything doesn’t exist.
    I simply don’t know and I don’t believe anyone else does either.
    It’s one thing to prove the specific beliefs of any given religion simply are not true. Been there. Done that.
    But it’s a completely different matter to have declared with absolute certainty 1000 years ago that microbes and germs did not exist or to declare today using exactly the same logic as has been displayed in this “crazy religion” thread above that there is no God simply because there is no evidence one or more actually exists.
    I don’t have the time now to look back through the thread, but somewhere above someone said something to the effect that the non-existence of God had been proven to their satisfaction.
    Reminds me of a bumper sticker I used to see. “God said it. I believe it. End of discussion.”
    Or of my grandfather who loved to say to anyone who would listen, “I believe in the Saint James version of the Bible. If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”
    Talk about bat-shit crazy!!!

  77. says

    But it’s a completely different matter to have declared with absolute certainty…

    AgnosticTom, for the eighty billionth time: No atheist here has declared anything about the non-existence of god with absolute certainty. What part of that do you not understand? We are saying that, given the currently available evidence, we consider the question settled beyond any reasonable doubt. But if we see new evidence, we’ll change our minds. We consider the god hypothesis so implausible that we feel comfortable rejecting it — just like we feel comfortable rejecting the hypotheses of fairies, unicorns, Zeus, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, even though we can’t absolutely disprove any of these. And we will continue to reject it unless we see better evidence. If we see better evidence, we will, at that point, change our minds.
    Do you have any reason to think that the god hypothesis is more plausible than fairies, unicorns, Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Do you think there’s any reason to have any more doubt about the non-existence of God than about the nonexistence of any of these? And if not — do you argue that people are being unreasonable or close-minded because they’ve concluded — not with absolute certainty, but with reasonable certainty — that they don’t exist?
    Please, please, PLEASE, stop arguing against this straw-man version of atheism. It’s divisive, and it’s a total waste of time. Thank you.

  78. says

    I haven’t considered ebola until Maria brought it up.

    Really, Ronald?
    You’ve never before considered the question, “If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, why is there so much suffering in the natural world?” Not “Why is there human evil” — that’s a different question — but “Why are there earthquakes, droughts, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, birth defects, pediatric cancer, terrible illnesses like ebola, and so on?”
    Really? That question has never occurred to you?

    I thought I would make a statement about love which I thought was innocent enough.

    Actually, you did more than that. You made your statement about love — a fairly vague one, but one which few atheists would disagree with — in the same comment as your statement about Catholic teachings about communion. And we are arguing that those teachings are bunk. We don’t simply care about what people feel. We care about what is true. If you don’t care about what is true — if you don’t care about whether God really exists, or whether communion wafers really turn into the body of Christ, or any number of questions about reality — then why should we be interested in what you have to say about it? We can all stand around in a circle and explain what we all think and how we feel about it… but if you’re not interested in going beyond that and looking at which of our ideas is most likely to be true, then please don’t waste our time.
    And for the record: Atheists care about love. Atheist activists care about love. In fact, love is probably our primary motivator for our atheist activism. We see religion as not only a mistaken idea about the world, but one that has done a tremendous amount of harm in the world. Many of us see the very nature of religion as inherently harmful. We have compassion for the people harmed by it, we have a sense of justice for the people wronged by it, and we want to see that harm and injustice stopped. You may not be able to see the love in what we do — but it’s there.

  79. says

    @greta –
    Wow, disappointing response.
    In my defense, in each of my posts after the first, I was directly responding to other’s questions. I viewed the dialog as an online conversation – not an argument.
    But, hey, your site, your rules. Fair enough. I’ll respect that by simply assuming your questions back to me were rhetorical and not a request for more explanation of what I have already said.
    Besides, I agree it’s past time to close on this topic and move on to the next one.
    Thanks again for this site.

  80. Ronald King says

    If she had asked the question you asked about all the suffering in the world I would have answered it. However, she asked about ebola. I’ve worked with suffering people my entire life and that has been the question I have explored more than you would know. I have worked with people who have been hurt by assholes in the Catholic Church and I did not return to Catholicism blindly after 40 years away and hating it all those years. I returned in the midst of revelations of sexual abuse and my desire at this point in time is to actively participate in efforts to challenge the hierarchy of the church and I began this process in 2007. I know the harm my religion has done and I am enraged by it. You think you get shit on by writing about it from the outside, well, there is a different level of being shit on from the inside. It is the extrovert who has a materialistic faith that does harm to the faith and to those outside the faith. It is the materialist who clashes with people who are different from them. It is the materialist who functions from the primitive limbic system in the brain and is influenced to feel that different is danger.
    You have no idea what faith is about because your perspective is materialistic just the same as those right wing materialistic religious believers. Both of you battle on the same materialistic primitive fight or flight response and form your belief systems based on those primitive feelings without knowing that you are just the same but with different belief systems.

  81. says

    I have worked with people who have been hurt by assholes in the Catholic Church…

    Ronald, you are entirely missing the point of the question. We didn’t ask, “Why is there suffering caused by people?” We asked, “Why is there suffering caused by God?” We asked, “Do you really love all of creation — including the natural, non-human parts of creation that cause terrible suffering?” You have yet to answer this question. It is a relevant one. Crucial, even. If you’re going to keep ignoring it, it seems unlikely that anyone here is going to want to keep engaging with you.

    You have no idea what faith is about…

    That is simply and flatly not true. I once had religious faith. I know what it’s about. In fact, most atheists once had religious faith. Most of us know a lot more about religion than religious believers know about atheism. Religion is the dominant paradigm in our culture. We are very familiar with it. We’re soaking in it.

    It is the materialist who clashes with people who are different from them. It is the materialist who functions from the primitive limbic system in the brain and is influenced to feel that different is danger.

    ?????
    Are you seriously arguing that atheists are more motivated by our limbic system than religious believers? That we treat people we perceive as different with more hostility than believers do?
    Those are testable assertions. Do you have any evidence to back them up?
    I can give you some evidence that counters this assertion. Countries with higher rates of atheism are also, on the whole, countries with higher rates of happiness, equality, social functioning, and social responsibility. They’re countries where people see themselves more as a part of a larger social organism — not less. Source: Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, by Phil Zuckerman.
    Now, I’m not arguing that atheism creates this greater sense of happiness and social responsibility. In fact, I don’t think so — I think it’s the other way around, that a greater level of social functioning leads a society to be less dependent on religion. But your assertion that atheists are more fearful and hostile is clearly contradicted by this evidence, and you’re going to have to provide some pretty good evidence to persuade me of it.
    And if you’re basing that assertion on your experience getting into argument on the Internet… well, yes. People in arguments are combative. Duh.

  82. Ronald King says

    Nobody asked me “Why is there suffering caused by God?” until you did. Maria asked a question about loving ebola. I guess I have to be more concrete here. I take it for granted people understand what I mean. My bad. I do not see this as suffering caused by God. I see this as the reality of living in this world with the chaos happening all around us, some apparently natural and some through humanity’s stupidity and inhumanity. We are here and there is no other place than to be here and are subject to the forces that we know of and do not know of. Reality is that life is suffering and the only power we have as human beings is the power of choice. Do we choose to love and help those who suffer or do we choose to live a materialist self-serving life. If faith in God is real faith we feed the hungry, clothe the poor, love our enemies to the point they are not enemies and we see that we have created the enemy with our own false beliefs.
    There is no difference between a materialist believer and a materialist non-believer. Each competes for superiority over others. I am saying that atheists are just as motivated by their limbic as the religious right are. Just as aggressive and just as egocentric. Don’t be fooled by the religious right’s talk of heaven. If you threaten their possessions and their beliefs you will get attacked. The same goes with the atheist. If you threaten possessions or beliefs you get attacked. That is what happens on a primitive level. With each group there is a deep rage that is projected on to others and this rage is what reinforces belief systems that are rigidly protected against the perceived threat.

  83. Maria says

    Nobody asked me “Why is there suffering caused by God?” until you did. Maria asked a question about loving ebola.
    Oh for goodness sake, you cannot be that dense! Is it a wonder I thought you were just fucking with me??
    I do not see this as suffering caused by God.
    That is why I asked you, if you say you love all of [God’s] creation, you also love Ebola (or any natural occurring horror you’d prefer here, it was just an example *facepalm*) Because, if we are to go on your beliefs, who the hell else created the damn Ebola virus????? If god didn’t do it, than who did? If god is then not responsible for these horrors, then who is?
    I see this as the reality of living in this world
    But the “reality” of your world is that it is created (presumably by your god). There’s no ‘that’s just the way it is’ in such a world. In your world, someone has to be responsible for all these horrors, and that someone is your god. If he isn’t, if he’s so weak he could neither stop someone else creating these horrors, or stop the horros after they were created, or even limit the damages they do, then… that’s not a god, is it?
    I know that’s not the god Catholics usually speak of anyway!
    You actually understand the real world perfectly well. Why insert a god in it at all? By your own arguments such a being is totally unnecessary!
    The mystery here is why you believe in him, as he seems to add nothing to your worldview, really. And… what it all has to do with eating crackers in a ritualized way!

  84. says

    @Ronald King
    You mentioned your “desire at this point in time is to actively participate in efforts to challenge the hierarchy of the church” and that you “began this process in 2007.”
    If you don’t mind, could you expand on what actions you are taking to achieve this? And/or point me to some websites of organizations you are working with? A quick web search brings up bishop-accountability.org, catholics4change.com and VoiceOfTheFaithful.org. Are you working with any of those groups? I don’t disbelieve your statement that you are working to change the church, but I’d like to know more.

  85. Ronald King says

    I know of these groups Jesse. My efforts have been on an individual basis thus far with time permtting due to the time and energy consuming nature of my work and since 3/2010 I have been recovering from esophageal cancer and hope that will be complete in another 6 weeks.

  86. Ronald King says

    Maria, I wish I knew how to highlight your points and bring them into the combox but that is another thing I must learn. Yes, I am that dense at times. Sometimes, I think it’s the lingering effect of chemo because it is difficult for me to concentrate well enough to read, comprehend and write like I used to before treatment. I am not saying this for any pity, it’s just for your info. I miss being able to connect ideas quickly from varied experiences and resources and write them immediately into a coherent statement. If you think you are frustrated with me, so am I.
    Back to the God thing and the reality of all this suffering. Like I said I left Catholicism as soon as I left home in 1966 and went into the Air Force at 18. I did not believe what I had been indoctrinated into because if God loved me like they told me then why didn’t I feel his love. The people who taught me this never really showed me the love they talked about, it was all about going to hell or heaven depending on what you thought or how you acted. One thing it helped me with was to be more aware of how I treated others. However, I am an introvert and therefore, I was naturally born to be sensitive to the interpersonal dynamics of human relationships in terms of doing no harm. By the way, I was an altar boy. My best friend in the AF had a degree in psychology and he was the major influence in my interest in the field. I wanted to discover why I was so fucked up. See what happens I have to fill in areas that I think are important for you to understand so you can get a clearer picture of how I got here. Started transcendental meditation in 1970 and got my BA in psych in ’73. M.Ed in counseling psych in ’77. Worked in the field until 3/2010. Private practice from ’91 to 2010. Along the way read Krishnamurti, Ouspenski and Gurdjieff, practiced mindfullness since ’74, picked up some knowledge about quantum physics especially interested in a particular theory called quantum entanglement and how that may apply to human relationships(which influences me to inquire about the subjective dispositions that influence thought and behavior), interpersonal neurobiology(great info here which destigmatizes mental illness)–as a matter of fact I have come to believe that those we label as mentally ill are the “canaries in the coal mine” who are our warning signals letting us know how we are fucking up everything before we are consciously aware of it. They do not have the filters we have developed to live in the violence of this world and are constantly inundated with the force of this violence from my understanding of quantum entanglement. See what I mean. I am tired now. More later if you do not think this is a waste of your time.

  87. Strakh says

    @Ronal King:
    I’ve watched your song and dance here quietly, but I’ve had enough. Now that you’re pulling out the pity party of *I’ve been sick* as an excuse for bald-faced disingenuousness, I’m stepping in.
    You want a pity party, big boy? I’ve had a heart attack and a stroke, results of battling an incurable nerve disease, and I’m not yet 55.
    Alright, even-steven. Time to deal with you.
    Don’t you sound all spiritual? I mean, Ouspensky! Wow, like, I’m impressed. Let me see…. oh, yeah, that was the sleazeball who said the moon is an actual living, embryonic being sucking the *soul juice* out of us. No wonder you partake in ritualized cannibalism… need to get that *soul juice* back, eh?
    And another thing: I have a degree in mathematics and physics and if I hear one more idiot misapply the word *quantum* to anything psychological, my meds won’t keep me from barfing. The misuse of the term quantum entanglement is merely a cover for the new-age idiocy of applying meaning to meaningless coincidences. Get your butt back to college and get a real degree!
    You are an example, Ronald, of the typical *spiritualist*: sample a little of this, a little of that, believe the stupidest crap, and become a Catholic, or a Jew, like Madonna.
    If you need to eat flesh and drink blood to be reminded of the most basic of animal emotions, empathy; you haven’t really learned anything in your *journey*.
    You want the reason I’m sick of you and your ilk, Ronald?
    You support the single most evil organization on this planet, slither onto a blog of a person dedicated to really doing good on this earth, and then vomit up some of the most disingenuous crap I’ve seen.
    And then when you’re caught in your little prevarications, you pull out the *I’ve been sick* excuse!
    Can you slime any lower?

  88. Strakh says

    @ Greta Christina:
    I know you can handle someone like Ronald, but I just couldn’t stand it any longer.
    Apologies if my post was too strident. After so many years of listening to this stuff and never seeing any improvement, I’m pretty danged sick of it all.
    I do admire your desire to continually engage people who clearly do not have the desire to learn.
    And I do quote you when I dissolve into sputtering anger. Your phrasing is too good to pass up for some of these mealy-mouthed prevaricators like Ronald and AgnosticTom.
    Keep up the good fight!
    And, oh yeah,
    Ramen!

  89. Ronald King says

    I knew the rage would come and I knew writing what I did about my health would trigger such a response. You sound depressed. It is not even-steven. Your condition appears much more harmful than mine. I know there is nothing I can say to change what you believe about me. I agree with you about Ouspensky’s moon bs. You do have to separate the bs from the not bs.
    I have sat face to face with rage like you are expressing and I know that there is a lot of pain that the rage protects from others seeing and I know how vulnerable a person feels without that protective rage.
    You will believe what you want to believe about me because it justifies your powerlessness and helplessness and distracts you for a period of time so you do not have to think about your illness.
    Rage on, but, I suggest raging out loud to those who care about you and letting them in on how much you are hurting and how scared you are.
    I do expect you will disagree with me. I was merely being open about my illness.

  90. says

    The venom here is truly astounding. I haven’t encountered this much irrational anger and defensive closed mindedness since I left the Baptist church over 40 years ago for the same reasons I say good-bye to this site.
    What you disagree with you call mealy-mouthed prevarication. How sad for you.
    You guys are simply too religious and blind to it. Enjoy your closed circle.
    Very disappointing waste of time.

  91. Ronald King says

    I agree Tom. It wasn’t a waste of time for me. I was taught once again how hard people can get in order to defend themselves from the pain of being vulnerable. An analyst named Winnicott once said, “It is a pleasure to be hidden, but a disaster not to be found.” Blind hostility can be found equally on the right and left. Unresolved rage is the god of each side.

  92. says

    The comments have been a little harsh to Tom and King here. That doesn’t make what they’ve said coherent, unfortunately.
    I have no real understanding of why people enter an open thread and post comments which are known to be hostile to the prevailing viewpoint, most especially when those comments are restating issues which have been addressed many times before. It doesn’t make sense; you’d have to be a real masochist to enjoy something like that.
    In case either of you is actually dense enough not to know why you got a hostile response, this is it: you didn’t respond to what was said to you. Your “communication” is similar to talking to a wall. That does tend to have an impact on people.
    There’s also one other aspect to this: a lot is assumed about the tone of writing. No one can fairly claim what the intended tone of another person’s statement was. In that context, I try not to read between the lines because what typically lies there is one’s own bias.

  93. Lynn Wilhelm says

    Both Ronald and Tom are expressing what someone recently called “Patronizing Spiritual Pity”.
    Ronald’s 2nd to his last comment simply drips with it.

  94. Maria says

    Maria, I wish I knew how to highlight your points and bring them into the combox but that is another thing I must learn.
    This is an excuse.
    Yes, I am that dense at times.
    I simply do not believe that.
    Sometimes, I think it’s the lingering effect of chemo because it is difficult for me to concentrate well enough to read, comprehend and write like I used to before treatment.
    You have been able to write very long comments here throughout, and seemed to be content with those explanations. It’s only when we push you about things you don’t like to answer that you bring this up.
    I am not saying this for any pity, it’s just for your info.
    The info is irrelevant in this case. I wanted my questions answered and you seem able to write both long and short. I can’t see, in the light of what you have already done here, that this illness would make it possible for you to go on at length about just about everything else than simple answers to simple questions.
    I miss being able to connect ideas quickly from varied experiences and resources and write them immediately into a coherent statement. If you think you are frustrated with me, so am I.
    This kind of evasion of questions are very common among believers, it’s nothing new. Sometimes I am bored enough to give it a go anyway.
    Back to the God thing and the reality of all this suffering.
    You have still not addressed the “god thing” in way shape or form.
    Like I said I left Catholicism as soon as I left home in 1966 and went into the Air Force at 18. I did not believe what I had been indoctrinated into because if God loved me like they told me then why didn’t I feel his love. The people who taught me this never really showed me the love they talked about,
    You are likewise not really showing the love here, that you talk about.
    it was all about going to hell or heaven depending on what you thought or how you acted. One thing it helped me with was to be more aware of how I treated others.
    The “going to hell-thing” has not changed.
    You still need to work on how you treat others. It is actually rather rude to come to a blog clearly dedicated to a certain subject, make statements you know are opposite of the blog’s views, and then, when asked further questions about your statements, ignore people’s questions, evade them in the most egregious manner, and then – to top it all off – trying to “psychoanalyze” people in an obvious attempt to dismiss their very valid objections as something only born out of their emotional shortcomings. You treat people very rudely!
    However, I am an introvert and therefore, I was naturally born to be sensitive to the interpersonal dynamics of human relationships in terms of doing no harm.
    You are not as good at this as you think.
    By the way, I was an altar boy. My best friend in the AF had a degree in psychology and he was the major influence in my interest in the field. I wanted to discover why I was so fucked up.
    Still, all you do is to – not so very subtly – hinting at that everyone else is fucked up, and that’s why we can’t understand you.
    See what happens I have to fill in areas that I think are important for you to understand so you can get a clearer picture of how I got here.
    No, you are only trying to evade valid objections to the statements you have made here. It is fooling no one. This is not important for me. There is nothing of substance to understand. I asked some questions, answer them or not, but understand that your evasion tactics are not working.
    Started transcendental meditation in 1970 and got my BA in psych in ’73. M.Ed in counseling psych in ’77. Worked in the field until 3/2010. Private practice from ’91 to 2010. Along the way read Krishnamurti, Ouspenski and Gurdjieff, practiced mindfullness since ’74, picked up some knowledge about quantum physics especially interested in a particular theory called quantum entanglement and how that may apply to human relationships(which influences me to inquire about the subjective dispositions that influence thought and behavior), interpersonal neurobiology(great info here which destigmatizes mental illness)—
    So? You have a long history of dabbling in woo. We have kind of already got that.
    as a matter of fact I have come to believe that those we label as mentally ill are the “canaries in the coal mine” who are our warning signals letting us know how we are fucking up everything before we are consciously aware of it.
    Nonsense.
    They do not have the filters we have developed to live in the violence of this world and are constantly inundated with the force of this violence from my understanding of quantum entanglement.
    More nonsense.
    See what I mean.
    No!
    I am tired now. More later if you do not think this is a waste of your time.
    I believe your own time is all you really care about, and this seems to amuse you, for some weird reason. Or it’s some kind of martyr- or persecution complex that you’re feeding. (I can play that game too.)

  95. Sarah says

    After reading your initial post, I was compelled to direct you toward the George H. Smith article because of your narrow and inaccurate assessment of atheists. You said, “From my perspective as an agnostic, atheism is simply the religion of non-religion,” and then, “That’s because all religions are based on a fanatical, faith based need to convince others their view is correct,” and “Thus truth becomes relative, which truth cannot be. Truth itself is absolute. It is only one’s state of knowledge that is relative.” So you’re saying that all atheists are fanatical and faith-based is absolutely true or just true from your relative position to absolute truth? Again, I ask you about implicit atheists. Show me these proselytizing babies! It’s already been said in replies to you, the preponderance of atheists at whom you’re laughing at from atop the agnostic mountaintop are agnostic, also.
    “To me the only rational answer to the question “Is there a God?” is ”No one knows” because at this time there is also no tangible, provable evidence there is not.”
    When has GC ever said otherwise?
    It seems that you are mistaking the drive to fight for social justice for some insecurity that impels us to be GOD DELUSION thumpers. I assume you’re up on school prayer, forced recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and the inexhaustible list of issues that violate the civil rights of atheists in America. I assume you’re aware of that the constitutions of seven states include religious tests that prevent atheists from holding public office. I assume you know that my little boy is not welcome to be a Boy Scout because our family does not have a religious affiliation, and we can’t claim your “non-religion” as our religion so that he can join. I assume you’ve already seen the Gallup poll entitled “Some Americans Reluctant to Vote for Mormon, 72-Year-Old Candidates”. The gist of that is, they’re not voting for you, either. There’s a fight to be fought, here, and you insult Greta Christina and those who deeply appreciate her efforts and courage when you minimize her activism to a petty, insecurity-fueled impulse “ to convince others their view is correct.” It’s even more insulting when you consider the efforts that her atheist activism requires her to withhold from fighting other injustices that affect her very personally.
    For someone who claims to not know anything with absolute certainty, there is a preponderance of absolute language in your post: “all religions are based on a fanatical, faith based need…”, “ if there is no way to run an experiment to produce evidence that [whatever] exists, then it automatically becomes axiomatic that [whatever] doesn’t exist. Period.”, “all they’ve got in their arsenal is, ‘You can’t prove any of that crazy shit.’”, and “To me the only rational answer to the question “Is there a God?” is…”.
    “Happily agnostics do not require any faith whatever to stand on the solid rock of our own ignorance and there from laugh at both those who ardently believe in things they can’t see, touch, smell, hear, taste, count, sort or measure as well as those who cannot believe in things that no one has yet discovered or figured out an experiment to prove.”
    How can you say such a thing and, in the same post, this:
    “But my experience with almost every atheist I have known, is that while they can point out the absurdity of religious beliefs, more often than not, their ability to do so with such ease results in an arrogant superiority complex” ???
    How can you call the anger generated by these words “irrational”? How can you drop in on a community of a blogger and her readers and say that we’re faith-based fanatics with an arrogant superiority complex at whom you’re laughing from atop a mountain and then wonder at the venom?

  96. says

    Strakh, I’m glad you de-lurked, and I don’t want to discourage you from commenting again — but I do need to ask you to dial it back. My comment policy is that criticism of ideas and behavior is fine, but personally insulting language towards other commenters is not. Your comment crossed that line.
    Believe me, I get your frustration. Both Ronald King and AgnosticTom’s commenting here has been very frustrating. They came into an atheist blog to give their opinions, but are consistently resisting efforts to engage with people who are challenging those opinions. They’re evading or ignoring valid questions; they’re simply repeating their opinions without addressing opposition to them or backing them up with evidence; they’re focusing their debate on tone while largely ignoring content; and they’re equating argument and strong disagreement with rage and venom. I’m frustrated, too. But please rise above it. Don’t get personally insulting here. Thanks.

  97. Ronald King says

    This is my last statement. I see what you see and it is so very black and white in your materialistic perception. You cannot see what I see and so you get angry. Continue in your black and white world with the rest of the enemies you have defined as crazy and argue it out with them. They are just like you, rigid and concrete thinkers. Goodbye.

  98. Maria says

    You cannot see what I see and so you get angry.
    Was this last post directed at me?
    Well, I’m for one is actually not angry at all. And yes, of course, all the objections anyone has ever made to the nonsense here in this thread… is really only sheer jealousy from not “seeing what you see”.
    You’re flouncing, and WE are the angry ones? If Internet had a door, it would have been slammed really hard at that last ‘Goodbye’.
    :-D

  99. Maria says

    You cannot see what I see and so you get angry.
    This part of my comment above was supposed to have been bolded to show it was Ronald’s words, not mine, but I was a bit too fast on the post-button it seems.

  100. Strakh says

    Having dealt with the likes of Ronald King face to face and on the ‘net for years, I’m willing to take big bets that King is and will comment again.
    It’s just too much fun for him to be so ‘spiritually’ condescending to those of us who are more intelligent and/or better educated.
    He thinks that he has “put one over on those aigh-haids” with all his ‘love’ of ‘gawd.’
    Because, it is easier to talk about love than to actually do what is right by people, like:
    Give them equal rights regardless of gender or sexual orientation, or face that most frightening of all realities, personal responsibility for one’s own behavior without the concept of a forgiving god.
    He projects his fear of eternal punishment for his lack of personal control onto those of us who have evolved beyond his level.
    And I know he really believes it. He has to, or he would have to grow up and take responsibility for his actions.
    He also mistakes disgust for anger. For I am not angry, but supremely disgusted that grown adults like him can say the most egregiously idiotic crap and then be condescending when caught in the act.
    You’d think the man was running for political office or something.
    Hope he doesn’t tweet….

  101. Robert B says

    Now wait a minute, Strakh. Neither being wrong nor speaking condescendingly has anything to do with intelligence or education. There are lots and lots of smart, well educated people in the world who are wrong on some important issue and are rude about it. Heck, I’ve been wrong and rude about it, and I like to think I’m a pretty bright fellow and my school was pretty good.
    I’ve been reading Greta’s articles, and I’ve noticed something. Though Greta’s writing is adult and eloquent, there’s nothing really complicated or difficult in her arguments or her logic. I could explain her case against God to most of the ordinary high school students I’ve worked with.
    In other words, we’re not talking brain surgery here. There are (I estimate) billions of people in the world who are smart and educated enough to understand the reasoning behind atheism, but who do not accept it. Therefore, it must be that intelligence and education aren’t very important factors in whether you believe in God. There must be some other factor or factors leading to their belief.
    And, not to start a fight, but I think assuming that people who disagree with you are stupid and ignorant is a condescending thing to do, too. Even if I disagree with those people also.

  102. Strakh says

    @Robert B:
    Then let me clarify: when I disagree with someone, I don’t assume they’re stupid. I ask them about the topic. If their knowledge and/or reasoning is superior to mine, then I learn, and change. Such is life, and it’s a good thing.
    Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about:
    When I was working for National Geographic under my Professor’s tutelage during a summer break, I got to work with a real electron microscope. I was so excited I couldn’t shut up about it at lunchtime. I was using the real equipment to help my Professor classify samples we had found in the field. I mean, big time stuff to a college boy like me.
    A girl at the table looked at me and said, “You don’t actually believe that, do you?” I had no idea what she was talking about. She went on to explain that the things we had found were placed in the earth by Satan to confuse us and turn us from “God.” “I’ll pray for you,” she sneered at me as she left. For once, I was speechless.
    I had spent years working on the science behind the technology, then more years studying the application of the technology to understanding the world in which we live and this woman actually stated that all of it was a lie and that her small, stupid beliefs trumped all the evidence I’d seen and read about.
    You see, she wasn’t disagreeing with ME, she was denying reality.
    And sorry if this offends you, or anyone else in existence, but denying reality is s.t.u.p.i.d., period. I don’t care how many letters you have behind your name, if you deny reality, you are acting stupid, if you aren’t actually stupid.
    If anyone, anywhere, could give me evidence of their g0d, I would change my mind, as I have done over other things many times. But since the concept of g0d is such a fantastically stupid and hateful piece of crap that no one, anywhere, has ever proven, I’m not holding my breath.
    So, no, Robert, I don’t assume someone is stupid if they disagree with me. I know they’re either acting stupid or are truly stupid if they deny reality, which is the fundamental prerequisite for all religions, as we have amply seen many, many, many times over.
    And no fight intended from me, either.

  103. says

    Strakh: There’s a difference between saying that the belief is stupid, and saying that the believer is stupid. (Although in the example you just gave, I’d have to say “both”…)
    Many otherwise intelligent people compartmentalize when it comes to deeply treasured beliefs. And it’s not just religious believers who do that. Many, many atheists do it as well. In fact, compartmentalization of this sort is probably a fundamental part of how the human mind works. It is entirely possible to have a couple/few phenomenally stupid ideas, and still be a generally intelligent person.

  104. Robert B says

    You distinguished, more than once, between acting stupid and being stupid. I think you made a very important distinction there. I totally agree that the claim you describe about your samples (something like fossils or ancient artifacts, I gather) being placed there by Satan to confuse you, is a really stupid idea. That sort of reality-denial is a very stupid way to behave.
    But I think it’s much less useful to describe a person as stupid, even if they have some really profoundly stupid ideas and behaviors. There are people who have measurably less reasoning ability than average, which is what I think of as the literal meaning of “stupid” as applied to a person, but stupidity in this sense is surprisingly rare as a cause of stupid ideas. I believe George W. Bush, for example, had a notably above average IQ (whatever IQ is worth) and he did go to Yale.
    Please don’t think I oppose either your point or your tone. I agree that religion is stupid, and that we should be angry about this and show it. The woman you describe in your story deserves some sort of insult, certainly. I object to characterizing religious believers (rather than beliefs) as stupid because I don’t think it’s very likely to be true. Theism is probably caused by something else, and figuring out what that is will make us better able to change it.

  105. bengriffith says

    “Mormonism, it seems to me, is — objectively — just a little more idiotic than Christianity is. It has to be: because it is Christianity plus some very stupid ideas.”
    —Sam Harris (September 2007)

  106. Florian Blaschke says

    This is only a detail in an otherwise awesome and thought-provoking essay, but it just bugs me:

    “In the Victorian era, it was considered entirely normal for women to wear tightly-laced corsets,”

    Only for upper- and middle-class women. Not for lower-class and rural women, who still made up the majority of the population.

    “all day, every day of their adult lives, to the point where their physical functioning was seriously impaired and their internal organs were deformed.”

    While I’m far from a corset expert personally – I only have a peripheral interest in the subject –, I suspect this is an exaggeration originating from the anti-corset propaganda at the end of the 19th century. Searching the web for “corset tightlacing myth” returns numerous relevant seeming hits. A book published last year written by a female corset apologist, Sarah A. Chrisman, “Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me About the Past, the Present, and Myself” argues extensively against the view that tightlacing is harmful. Moreover, while I don’t doubt that really extreme tightlacers existed back then as they do now, it doesn’t seem to have ever been common at all.

    This controversy might actually be a relevant and interesting subject to research for you, the way it ties in with sex-positive feminism, BDSM/fetishism, and the history of women and feminism. Just an idea.

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