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And all the Whos down in Whoville…

According to Time magazine, we’re apparently a nation of gentle New Age bliss-ninnies. All that sectarian stuff, the Nicene creed, even Jesus…nobody really believes all that with any conviction.

Just as Christian fundamentalists insist on a literal reading of the Bible, angry atheists tend to insist that belief in God qualifies you as a raving creationist.

Here’s what they refuse to get: Yes, Christians believe that Jesus’ nativity was a virgin birth and that he rose from the dead on Easter. But if you were to show most Christians incontrovertible scientific proof that those miracles didn’t occur, they would shrug — because their faith means more to them than that. Because in the end, what they have faith in is the redemptive power of the story. In Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, an agnostic says to his Catholic friend, “You can’t seriously believe it all … I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

“But you can’t believe things simply because they’re a lovely idea.”

“But I do. That’s how I believe.”

I’m willing to bet it’s how most believers believe. Before Hitchens died at 62 from esophageal cancer, he made a point of declaring he was certain no heaven awaited him. But that swipe at the faithful always misses the point. Most of us don’t believe in God because we think it’s a ticket to heaven. Rather, our belief in God — our belief in the living ideal of ourselves, which is something even atheists ponder — instills in us a faith that in the end, light always defeats darkness (which is how people get through the wars and natural disasters I cover). That does make us open to the possibility of the hereafter — but more important, it gives us purposeful inspiration to make the here and now better.

What a load of reeking bullshit.

Try telling the congregation at your local Catholic church that if it’s more convenient for them, they might just as well attend the Baptist church, if it’s closer. Then go to the Baptist church and suggest likewise that the Catholic church is a lovely building and the priest is very nice and they should switch.

Try suggesting to the 40% of Americans who oppose good science in the classroom that they should be fine with teaching evolution, since their faith is all about love and light, and Adam and Eve are just lovely myths.

Apparently, no one ever really gets indignant at being cheerfully told “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. Everyone is untroubled by trivial differences in emphasis, and all that matters is that we’re all happy in our own way.

There is no hell. No one believes in it, anyway. We’re all about light defeating darkness, so the screams of the damned in torment are only invented by a few imaginative horror story authors. No true Christian believes in such evil!

Close your eyes real tight and imagine real hard, and all those people demanding that the schools sponsor public prayer will just vanish … and Tim Tebow is just expressing his appreciation of the Buddha, and his missionary family thinks Catholics are just as Christian as they are.

We can revoke all the special parking dispensations the clergy has at hospitals, because they aren’t really needed to usher the dying into heaven, after all. And isn’t it more important that the afflicted spend more time with their loved ones than that irrelevant guy with a funny collar?

Rick Perry wasn’t actually elected to be governor of Texas. Rick Santorum is just gentle humorous satire (come on, the name is a dead giveaway — no one would call themselves that if they were serious). For that matter, the entire slate of Republican presidential candidates is a hallucination.

The Mormons didn’t pump millions of dollars into the fight for Proposition 8 in California. They just believe in Love! And the Living Ideal of Themselves! And Lovely Fucking Ideas!

I could go on. Tim Padgett, the author of that tripe in Time, is simply a delusional liar — while accusing Hitchens of taking religion too literally, he goes far, far off the deep end to conjure up an entirely imaginary Christendom of pablum and soft, soothing breezes and no difficulties whatsoever, where everyone is stretched out on a comfortable sofa with some really good weed, toking themselves into half-lidded and smashingly baked heedless bliss. He himself might be wallowing deeply in that gooey non-sectarian treacle — these people do exist, from Karen Armstrong to Chris Stedman — but they are in total denial of reality. I can go down to the coffee shop on Tuesday mornings and find the Men’s Bible Study group going strong on the reality of Noah’s Ark and the submission of women; I can open up the local paper and find letters to the editor complaining about the university’s awful tolerance of The Gays; I could, if I were sufficiently masochistic, attend any of a dozen churches here in town and find people who will tell me that believing the earth is millions of years old (or older!) means I will burn in hellfire for eternity (oh, wait, I have done that! Painful, it was).

Unlike Padgett, I have a realistic view of religion. I do not think all Christians are creationists, as he falsely claims, but I also know for a fact that most Christians are damned insistent on the literal reality of Jesus, Heaven, Hell, and their sectarian views about how one can achieve or avoid a meeting with any of them.

Comments

  1. says

    “Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

    “But you can’t believe things simply because they’re a lovely idea.”

    “But I do. That’s how I believe.”

    I’m willing to bet it’s how most believers believe.

    Of course they do. That’s the problem, a nice belief-confirming story beats hard facts any old day for a whole lot of religionists.

    That’s the problem. The writer assumes that the sentiment expressed in the Waugh novel means that the believer sees religion as a lovely aesthetic, rather than as a good reason to dismiss evolution as something that a good person wouldn’t even consider.

    And even if they believe less idiotic religions, really, they’re not sitting through droning dull sermons with no hope for a heavenly reward for such dreariness.

    If we wanted to play no true Scotsman, fine, there are religionists who find religion to be aesthetically pleasing and a social opportunity. That changes nothing of the fact that almost certainly most American believers definitely want more than that out of it.

    Glen Davidson

  2. says

    I’m not sure if you saw it, but there was a post in a similar vein from Jacques Berlinerblau. Atheists aren’t actually opposed to religion; what we really have a problem with are just those few theocrats out there, and if they’d go away, it would all be hunky-dory. I responded to his drek on my blog.

  3. Retired Prodigy Bill says

    What sniveling drivel. Once you accept things that are not real, what you are left with is fantasy. If you want a fantasy world of sweetness and light take a heroin overdose, the rest of us need to work on making things better in the here and now.

  4. Dick the Damned says

    The few believers that i’ve discussed this with claim to have experienced the immanence of their god or spirit. They’ve got a personal relationship with their imaginary friend. It’s scarily real to them.

    It’d be interesting to see some statistics on how common this is among believers. Needless to say, i’ve never experienced anything of that nature.

  5. says

    Our belief in God — our belief in the living ideal of ourselves, which is something even atheists ponder — instills in us a faith that in the end, light always defeats darkness

    So he unreasonably believes in some bullshit because it promotes his faith in some other bullshit. And that’s supposed to be a sensible justification for unjustified belief.

  6. says

    I’m not sure if you saw it, but there was a post in a similar vein from Jacques Berlinerblau. Atheists aren’t actually opposed to religion; what we really have a problem with are just those few theocrats out there, and if they’d go away, it would all be hunky-dory. I responded to his drek on my blog.

    I might agree…but in order for that to satisfy all religions would have to become monastic orders who practice civic service.

  7. stonyground says

    I do not insist that anyone who believes in God must be a raving creationist for the simple fact that it isn’t true. I consider truth to be very important and try very hard to avoid false beliefs. This isn’t easy, it requires constant questioning of the things that you hold to be true and a willingness to change your mind. There are many who don’t even try to make sure that their beliefs align with the best available knowledge. The reference to the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection is a case in point. All educated people living in the modern world know that these things are scientific impossibilities and therefore did not happen. We know enough about the reproductive process and about how our bodies begin to decay the instant that we are dead to know that virgins don’t have babies* and that it is impossible to re-animate a two day old corpse. Proof that such beliefs are false is freely available and yet people do not shrug, they carry on believing them anyway.

    *With the caveat that it is possible with the use of IVF or a turkey baster but I don’t believe that that is really what the Bible is claiming happened.

  8. says

    Yes, Christians believe that Jesus’ nativity was a virgin birth and that he rose from the dead on Easter. But if you were to show most Christians incontrovertible scientific proof that those miracles didn’t occur, they would shrug — because their faith means more to them than that. Because in the end, what they have faith in is the redemptive power of the story.

    And right there he glosses over two huge problems with barely a pause. What more scientific proof does anyone need to know that virgins don’t give birth, and people don’t rise from the dead?
    They’re already shrugging, because their faith means more to them than facts.
    And that “redemptive power” of the story is just another way of saying that we’re all miserable sinners–and we’re just the “unredeemed” ones, bound for hell. And they make sure this crap gets passed on to the next generation.
    Not something that should be glossed over. These ideas have an impact on real lives, you know?
    Killed By Fish

  9. fmitchell says

    I suspect so many people believe in religion because their parents instilled it into their heads (just as their parents did, and so on). In different ways the milquetoast faithful and the flame-breathing fundamentalists express the same cognitive dissonance between what they’ve been taught and how the world actually works; one by asserting the “truth” of these tall tales and ancient speculations for some nebulous definition of “truth”, the other by grinding down inconvenient bits of reality to fit the myths.

    Religions are like gigantic games of Telephone (a.k.a. Chinese Whispers) across centuries, or practical jokes that nobody bothered to spring. The people who came up with this stuff had their reasons: controlling the populace, replacing the old social order with theirs, cadging free meals, or simply answering somebody’s annoying questions. Now close to seven billion people echo words from another time, shorn of context, and treat them like … well, gospel truth.

  10. raven says

    The few believers that i’ve discussed this with claim to have experienced the immanence of their god or spirit. They’ve got a personal relationship with their imaginary friend. It’s scarily real to them.

    All faith claims reduce down to, “the voices in my head told me”.

    The in the head voices all say different things. It’s not convincing.

  11. davidct says

    If that was all there is to religion I would be able to give up on being an atheist activist. He seems to have missed how christians are only too pleased to tell me how I am going to Hell because that is where good people who do not believe in Jebus belong. He also missed the blatant misogyny of his benevolent believers. Too bad he missed one of the planes headed toward the twin towers.

  12. articulett says

    Why is Hitchens assertion that there was no heaven awaiting him considered a “swipe at the faithful”?

    And I am pretty sure that most people believe in the god because they’ve been indoctrinated to believe their salvation depends on such a belief, and they fear they will suffer forever if they lack faith– much as they tell themselves that they really believe for other reasons. Why would an atheist’s non-belief matter unless the believer feared it might lead to his own loss of faith or a loved ones loss of faith– and, thus, damnation, at the hands of a “loving” god?

    Also, I think most believers have been taught to associate their faith with morality and all that is good and to vilify anyone who threatens this delusion; perhaps they fear god will take away the goodies in this life if they are not constantly defending him and singing his praises.

    I don’t understand the blither at the end of the quoted piece either… how does believing in god give believers the “purposeful inspiration to make the here and now better”? Where is the evidence? And what about the truth? Does that matter to any theist? Or was this whole piece a tap dance around the truth claims religions make?

    It is getting weird for the faithful– they need to give lip service to faith in general, but they really only think their own brand is the “true woo”. They make a bargain with each other not to criticize another’s faith in exchange for the same. They can’t really make that bargain with the atheist.

  13. dianepatyjewicz says

    Ignorance does not become wisdom just because you gussy it up with the Gospels.
    Great quote. good article.

    I saw this yesterday and I think that it is the best explanation of religion and how religions started

  14. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Er… PZ?

    The Mormons didn’t pump millions of dollars into the fight againstin favor of Proposition 8 in California.

  15. had3 says

    The redemotive story is that if you’re sufficiently powerful enough and your audience believes in fairy tales, you can convince them that a non-sacrifice is actually a sacrifice and they should reward you for your generosity. Hmmm, sort of like the republican leadership.

  16. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Damn it.

    The Mormons didn’t pump millions of dollars into the fight against in favor of Proposition 8 in California.

    This is the error I intended to point out.

    As for the topic: the author is basically trying to redefine “belief” in a way that would make “belief” in absurd things not unreasonable. NO, thinking that something is a lovely idea is not the same as believing it; thinking that something is true is believing it.

  17. anubis0100 says

    So how does the story can redeem anyone?

    A guy died and then resurrected. Great. So can I be redeemed by the same story about Superman? What about other fictional self-sacrificing characters? Can I get the same goodness from those stories? Because, you know, it doesn’t matter at all if they are true or not.

  18. Die Anyway says

    The range of believers is spread across some curve, probably bell-shaped. The ones described by Padgett may make up a good chunk, I can’t be certain of the percentages, but the ones that PZ describes make up a sizeable chunk too. And they are the noise makers, the saber rattlers, the political activists, the ones we have to worry about and contend with.

    As for the idea that it’s one ecumenical love-in out there, I guess things have changed since I was a church goer. I grew up in the Presbyterian church. If we were out-of-town, visiting relatives say, and no Presbyterian church was available we were allowed to attend Methodist services, possibly Lutheran services and as a last resort Baptist services. Anything else and you were better off not attending at all. Certainly not Catholic mass, those idol worshipping blasphemers, nor Jewish Synagog, those Christ killers. Your ticket to Heaven was null and void if you stepped into one of those places. Maybe things have eased up… I was surprised to see so much support for Newt Gingrich from the Protestant fundamentalists, not only because of his divorces but because he’s a coverted Catholic. I guess they can rationalize anything.

  19. alysonmiers says

    According to Time magazine, we’re apparently a nation of gentle New Age bliss-ninnies.

    That wouldn’t be so bad, IMO. New Age bliss-ninnies are a lot easier to get along with than the fire-and-brimstone crowd.

    Just as Christian fundamentalists insist on a literal reading of the Bible, angry atheists tend to insist that belief in God qualifies you as a raving creationist.

    What is it about the “sophisticated religion” bunch that compels them to this “juxtapose fundamentalist religion with outspoken atheism at every possible opportunity” nonsense?

    I’m willing to bet it’s how most believers believe. Before Hitchens died at 62 from esophageal cancer, he made a point of declaring he was certain no heaven awaited him. But that swipe at the faithful always misses the point. Most of us don’t believe in God because we think it’s a ticket to heaven.

    And yet, even progressive believers are not above arguing Pascal’s Wager at us.

    Real nice, too, to characterize Hitchens’s declaration of continued non-belief as a “swipe at the faithful.” I suppose Hitch should have kept quiet and allowed the Jesus-pushing ghouls to spread the word that Hitch was having a deathbed conversion. It would’ve only been the polite thing to do.

  20. says

    “Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

    “But you can’t believe things simply because they’re a lovely idea.”

    “But I do. That’s how I believe.”

    And that pretty much shows an important aspect of what is wrong with religious belief.

  21. Hurin, Nattering Nabob of Negativism says

    Try telling the congregation at your local Catholic church that if it’s more convenient for them, they might just as well attend the Baptist church, if it’s closer. Then go to the Baptist church and suggest likewise that the Catholic church is a lovely building and the priest is very nice and they should switch.

    Ah, but he has already covered the people who take religion seriously in the first paragraph, see those are the “fundamentalists” which he dismisses along with the “angry atheists”. See, those people are on the ends. The good people are in the middle, and big mean atheists should stop ignoring people in the middle because then they have to remain on the end as opposed to in the middle where all the good people are, and also anger. This is a very bad thing. The important thing is to be in the middle.

    I don’t know where we got this moronic legion of moderate supremacists from, but I think we need a name for them. “Mediocratists” maybe, or “Mediocrats”? Whatever is used, it should sound like it indicates a bunch of smug ignorami who use a formula to figure out where they stand on any given issue instead of bothering to understand why there is conflict.

  22. anteprepro says

    So, according to the article, Christians believe that Jesus was born of a virgin and came back from the dead, they will shrug in response to evidence of the contrary, they believe Christianity is true entirely on the basis of how emotionally appealing the story is to them, and that this appeal is largely because they want to believe that good beats evil (which totally justifies believing in the specific miracle claims of the Bible). And all of this is supposed to actually be a Good Thing, supposed to be less ridiculous than creationism, and be a version of religion that atheists don’t dare to address? What the fuck is wrong with this writer? Just another case of someone trying to find a Sophisticated Theology to hide behind and failing. This one is just all the more notable because the Sophisticated Theology presented is so clearly utter bullshit, on par in terms of dumbfuckery with the creationism he sneeringly condemns.

  23. robert79 says

    Actually, the (very few) believers I know believe in roughly this fashion. However, I seriously doubt that my circle of friends is a representative sample for the world population.

  24. ltft says

    “I do not think all Christians are creationists, as he falsely claims, but I also know for a fact that most Christians are damned insistent on the literal reality of Jesus, Heaven, Hell, and their sectarian views about how one can achieve or avoid a meeting with any of them.”

    I’m picking nits, but I hate it when the skeptical movement forgets to be skeptical and falls back on its own biases. I’m all for harsh or hostile looks at religion, but being sloppy about it and exaggerating or overstating claims helps no one.

    Why am I saying that? Because it took less than 3 minutes of googling to find out that PZ’s claim quoted above isn’t a fact; most Christians may not believe in literal reality of Hell.

    If you phrase your question, ‘Do you believe in Hell?’ most surveys find that most Christians do (surveys found in a quick google included ones by Beliefnet, USAToday, and Barna and ranged from 54% to 85%). However, if you ask, ‘Do you believe Hell is an actual place’ or something similar only about a third (roughly; it varies with the survey, Barna in 2003 came up with 32%) of Christians believe in Hell. How the hell are most Christians going to be insistent on the literal reality of a place that quite a few and maybe most of them don’t believe actually exists*?

    I don’t mean to rely on a single survey. However, if there’s conflicting evidence you can’t just say, ‘See? One survey said 90%! Therefore fact!’

  25. says

    I used to like the “I believe in X but I still have faith” line these days I find it an annoying cop out.

    Far too many times “faith” seems to be short hand for “I can’t defend my point, please stop using that line of reasoning at me”

  26. greame says

    stretched out on a comfortable sofa with some really good weed, toking themselves into half-lidded and smashingly baked heedless bliss.

    I can do that and still be able to tell fact from fiction.

  27. The Lorax says

    So, they take the stories as myth and metaphor and derive life lessons from them, as a mere source amongst many which helps to guide their moral and ethical choices? Sounds like religion is just a fairy tale, just like Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Bears.

    … I’ll give you ten bucks if you step into a church and claim that. No, seriously. In fact, I’ll bet everyone on the Pharyngula blog would pony up the same if you did it on, say, Fox News. C’mon, go for it. I’ll cover anyone who doesn’t want to pay. You’re a reporter, right? Gotta do research, right? And hey, you’re right, after all, so no problems in saying any of that to a live audience of millions of Christians… right?

  28. says

    @25

    ‘Do you believe in Hell?’

    ‘Do you believe Hell is an actual place’

    The practical distinction here seems a bit fuzzy. A majority believe in Hell, but only a minority believe in a fixed location? So, what, do they think it’s floating around like a raft on the sea, locatable only with a good GPS?

    It seems to me the if they believe in Hell, then they believe in hell. Case closed.

    I’m not nitpicking you. I just think the responses to the second question say more about their comfort level in their belief, when pressed, than in the belief itself.

  29. capnxtreme says

    Yet another example of the intellectual dishonesty committed daily, whether consciously or not, by religious moderates. If you consider yourself religious even in the most friendly and benign sense, you still need to consider what the rest of your fan club members are doing. They are making you look incredibly bad. You need to condemn these peoples’ actions. I understand there are examples of deplorable extremism on both sides of the fence. I do my part by speaking out against the worst excesses of my fellow atheists, I don’t think it’s too much to ask all the decent religious folk out there, of which I personally know many, to do the same. Like it or not, there are people out there abusing your faith! If you’re truly against that, then stop enabling it, speak out, and spread the word!

    If you want to be religious and accept Jesus into your heart, or whatever it is they’re doing these days, go right ahead. As an atheist, I’m not against that. What I am against is abuse of organized religion as an excuse to pass judgment on others for their own beliefs or lack thereof. Don’t believe that god hates gays? Let the world know! You can only further enable this sort of backward thinking by remaining silent.

  30. ltft says

    @29/Spanish Inquisitor

    On your point that if Christians believe in Hell then they believe in Hell… I kind of agree and so hesitated to post earlier, but it really bugs me when someone, even and especially PZ, posts something that maybe isn’t a fact as a fact. And with the fact that most Christians are damned insistent that Hell is a literal reality… well, between the ‘most’ and the ‘damned insistent’ and the ‘literal reality’ there’s a lot there that makes it probably not a fact.

    On the idea that the Christians who believe in a Hell that’s not an actual place being wishy-washy… the survey I looked at gave multiple choices. One choice was (along the lines of- I’m paraphrasing) ‘Hell is an actual place’. Another choice was, ‘Hell is a personal or psychological state removed from God’s presence’.

    I don’t think those are the same, or at least they aren’t meant to be. I knew a guy in high school whose church believed all humans were born in to Hell and had to find God, or something like that. I think that’s what the second multiple choice option I described above was meant to tease out (though I could easily be wrong). Anyhow, FWIW I don’t think it was wishy-washyness.

  31. victimainvictus says

    To quote Dawkins:

    If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They’ll be right.

  32. anteprepro says

    If you phrase your question, ‘Do you believe in Hell?’ most surveys find that most Christians do (surveys found in a quick google included ones by Beliefnet, USAToday, and Barna and ranged from 54% to 85%). However, if you ask, ‘Do you believe Hell is an actual place’ or something similar only about a third (roughly; it varies with the survey, Barna in 2003 came up with 32%) of Christians believe in Hell. How the hell are most Christians going to be insistent on the literal reality of a place that quite a few and maybe most of them don’t believe actually exists*?

    Barna :

    Four out of ten adults believe that Hell is “a state of eternal separation from God’s presence” (39%) and one-third (32%) says it is “an actual place of torment and suffering where people’s souls go after death.”

    So, how are most Christians insistent on the literal reality of Hell? Because most Christians believe in Hell. It’s just that some consider it a “state” and others a “place”.

  33. says

    A majority believe in Hell, but only a minority believe in a fixed location? So, what, do they think it’s floating around like a raft on the sea, locatable only with a good GPS?

    Heh. No, they typically say “hell is separation from God” and then there is debate about whether this a place or a state of existence without any particular location.

  34. anteprepro says

    ‘Hell is an actual place’. Another choice was, ‘Hell is a personal or psychological state removed from God’s presence’.

    So, personal/psychological states are not literally real then?
    Anyway, that definition is a distinction without a difference: If Hell is just a state/experience of being removed from God’s presence, then where they are is “removed from God’s presence” i.e. the other definition of Hell. They are claiming that the damned experience Hell as a state of mind, while also noting that they are in a specific place that they refuse to also call “Hell”. It’s a sleight of hand, plain and simple.

  35. Luc says

    In other words, his version of Christians is “I don’t care if it’s true, and I want everyone else to live according to it”.

    Real Christians however are like “it’s true, and I want everyone else to live according to it”.

    He got the social control bit right. He’s wrong on what Christians believe. But hey, I guess it’s a “lovely idea” to think they don’t really believe their dogmas so it doesn’t matter, right?

  36. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    Honestly, I don’t care if someone believes that unbelievers, wrong believers, gay people (and many many more) will suffer in some existing place forever being tortured by the devil himself, or be tortured in some metaphysical scientifically unexplainable place/state that exists somewhere to the left of reality, or in any other way be punished by some nonexistent being… as long as someone believes in anything of sorts they can’t lay claim on love and peacefulness. They are deluded and at least seriously lacking in empathy if not outright hateful. I don’t care if they think most of the Bible is just a metaphor (I know, for what?!), the moment they claim that a God is supposed to be our judge, jury and executioner they lose the right to claim that their religion is good and right, or that their supposed belief that “light defeats the darkness in the end” should make us feel good about their bullshit.

  37. says

    So, how are most Christians insistent on the literal reality of Hell? Because most Christians believe in Hell. It’s just that some consider it a “state” and others a “place”.

    Calling this all literal would work if the Bible didn’t use terminology about places. If Hell is a state without a place, then it’s not literally true that Hell has a pit and a lake of fire. Lakes have edges, pits have sides, and a lake is not simultaneously a pit. So these concepts of place are understood metaphorically, and then it’s not fully literal anymore.

  38. raven says

    Many Americans don’t believe in hell, but what about pastors …www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-08-01-hell-damnation_N.htmCached – Similar

    1 Aug 2009 – The soft sell on hell reflects an increasingly market-conscious approach … COMPARE CHANGES IN U.S. RELIGIONS OVER 2 DECADES … Only 59% of Americans believe in hell, compared with 74% who believe … Evangelical Christians have traditionally offered a sterner view of salvation and damnation. …

    Roughly half of all US xians no longer believe in hell or satan.

    But they don’t really present the public face of US xianity any more. The so called moderates are all but invisible and have let their religion be taken over by the malevolent fundies.

    The fundies mostly do believe in hell and satan. They are the noise makers and public face of US xianity. They are the haters and liars of our society who want to set up a new Dark Age.

  39. Brownian says

    What makes this a load of fucking horseshit is that, were I to scam, flim-flam, or otherwise sell a bridge I don’t own to any of these fucking dolts (and isn’t it a nice idea that you now own the distinctive and historic Brooklyn Bridge, irrespective of its truth?), these moderates would be howling for my head.

    Bernie Madoff sold people hope, too.

  40. says

    So, personal/psychological states are not literally real then?

    They are, but then the lake of fire is not literally real.

    If Hell is just a state/experience of being removed from God’s presence, then where they are is “removed from God’s presence” i.e. the other definition of Hell.

    Not if they hold that this separation is not a traversable distance: “So how should we understand the language of departing from God’s presence? Not in spatial, but in relational terms. Or, to put it another way, it is a spiritual separation that we experience because of our sin, not a strictly local separation.”

    (I believed something like this once.)

  41. footface says

    And don’t forget Mormons retroactively baptizing people (or whatever is it they’re doing), so they too can be saved.

  42. says

    All faith claims reduce down to, “the voices in my head told me”.

    Not even that good!!!
    They boil down to “the voices in some other guy’s head told him, and he wrote it down, and told other guys, and now I believe it.”

    All claims regarding an afterlife have to overcome the problem that there’s no evidence that there is such a thing or that, if there were, information about it could be somehow reliably brought into the here-and-now. All claims regarding an afterlife are based on “some other guy said…” which isn’t even worth responding to with anything more than a shrug.

  43. speedweasel says

    Right now Google is displaying a Christmas themed logo with the mouse-over text, “Happy Holidays from Google!”

    Expect christians everywhere to blow gaskets in 3… 2… 1…

  44. machintelligence says

    Lorax @ 28

    So, they take the stories as myth and metaphor and derive life lessons from them, as a mere source amongst many which helps to guide their moral and ethical choices? Sounds like religion is just a fairy tale, just like Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Bears.

    That’s pretty much what John Spong, retired Episcopal bishop, has been saying in church for the last 20 years or so. Needless to say, he has been both praised and reviled by members of his congregations.

  45. leonpeyre says

    Before Hitchens died at 62 from esophageal cancer, he made a point of declaring he was certain no heaven awaited him. But that swipe at the faithful….

    That “swipe at the faithful” was a defensive maneuver, an attempt to keep Christians from making spurious claims that he suffered a deathbed conversion to Christianity. Of course, Mr. Padgett would probably claim that Christians don’t really do that sort of thing.

    Typical, isn’t it, that Christians would try to make a defensive parry sound like an offensive attack?

  46. articulett says

    I think the hell question is weird– because we are talking about a “place” that doesn’t literally map to anywhere created by a god that is immaterial and indistinguishable from an imaginary being. So what does it mean to say hell exists? I think it’s as confusing as claiming that any immaterial entity exists. In what manner does it exist? And don’t get me started on whether Jesus is the “uncaused first cause” as well as the god of the old testament and also that god’s son…

    I don’t think Christians are really clear on what exactly they believe (at least I wasn’t as a Christian)– I just think they think that it’s good to believe it… that it’s possibly necessary for “salvation”— and they fear being on the wrong side of Pascal’s wager… and then society pushes this inane meme that faith is a virtue. So Christians believe they are good and moral for defending belief!

    People want to believe they will live on after death, so they are very susceptible to those who promise them they will. Religions promise this, but the more virulent ones add a problem to the mix– an eternal soul that can suffer forever– and they proffer themselves as the solution.

    So though many theists may say they don’t really believe in hell… they still are probably tethered to their faith with the fear that it “might” be true. This was the case for me… and when I really dig at people to find out why they believe– Pascal’s wager almost always comes up. They believe to be on what they imagine is the “safe side”.

    Later I realized that souls were an illusion of the brain… it didn’t makes sense to think of a being thinking, feeling, seeing, interpreting, remembering, etc. without a material brain. Without an immortal soul that can suffer forever, belief in gods became irrelevant to me. Gods and demons didn’t make any more sense than immaterial souls.

    I don’t think people really fear a metaphorical hell… they fear that the hell mentioned in the bible (or Quo’ran) might be real.

  47. juice says

    Ok, but the cosmic reason that article was written was to incite this priceless comment:

    I would have no problem with christians if they were actually created in the likeness of their god……Invisible and Silent.

    Never heard that one before, but I’ll sure use it from now on.

  48. says

    The next generation of Evangelical Christianity is getting weirder.

    Ever since most of the Universalists combined with the Unitarians and then got out of the Christianity business altogether, Christian universalists have been without their own movement.

    Gary Amirault started his own minor ministry. Carlton Pearson drifted between denominations and I’m not sure what he’s doing now.

    Now it’s going to get weird, because Rob Bell is in effect preaching universal reconciliation, he was and still is huge among Evangelicals, and he’s not willing to leave them.

    This newer Evangelical Christian Universalism is probably going to cause some schisms, but with the wealth and power behind Rob Bell, it’s not going to wither away.

  49. says

    Articulett:

    I don’t think people really fear a metaphorical hell… they fear that the hell mentioned in the bible (or Quo’ran) might be real.

    The majority of Christians I’ve known in my life fear/believe hell is real. I was certainly taught it was real when I was in Catholic school. It’s the classic carrot and stick – without the whole heaven or hell business, there’s not much point to religion, at least no sticking point to make people think believing is a good idea.

  50. raven says

    The next generation of Evangelical Christianity is getting weirder.

    A lot of them are getting more extreme.

    The Assembly of god kooks are one of the few churches growing. They are pretty extreme and corrupt at the same time.

    The other strange ones are the New Apostolic Reformation ones, part of a group Sarah Palin is involved with. They believe that we are living in a new era. God has raised up new apostles and given them magic superpowers to heal the sick, raise the dead, and convert people. Or some such. It would be more convincing if these superpowers actually had some evidence for their existence.

    Plus the xian Dominionists who openly hate the USA, want to overthrow the government, set up a theocracy, and head on back to the Dark Ages.

    With present trends, the fundies are either going to end up defining themselves as a social problem; weird people living in out of the way places, and oppressing their women and children. Or they are going to destroy us. It’s not clear yet how this will go.

  51. says

    With present trends, the fundies are either going to end up defining themselves as a social problem; weird people living in out of the way places, and oppressing their women and children. Or they are going to destroy us.

    Or neither.

    But tell me, raven, how do you square this with your usual pronouncements that Christianity is dying?

  52. Sastra says

    “Because in the end, what they have faith in is the redemptive power of the story.”

    In the end, what even the “gentle New Age bliss ninnies” have faith in is the cold and empty nature of the atheist. Why in the world would Padgett or anyone think that atheists ought to be impressed by the tolerance and open-mindedness of a world view which announces that it doesn’t matter what anyone believes about God — as long as they find some way to SAY and THINK they believe in God.

    Otherwise, you are an atheist, and you suck.

    Yeah. Thanks for extending the branch of peace.

    So how do atheists differ from believers in this warm and fuzzy religion of love and vagueness? If you read the article, it would not be unlikely that you’d draw the conclusion or get the impression that atheists: are angry; don’t understand fiction; don’t appreciate the concept of redemption; don’t share in ideals; take swipes at people; are not appropriately moved by aesthetics; have no hope; don’t want light to defeat darkness (or don’t want it enough); lack motivation for doing good; are closed to possibilities; are uninspired.

    Aw. What could be a nicer thing to say to us than that? Doesn’t it just make you want to run out and declare that hey, you too want to be the kind of person who isn’t an atheist?

    When it gets right down to it, it’s all about being the right kind of person. It’s dividing people up by taking the focus away from what is believed and putting the focus instead on the believer. Don’t draw conclusions: make commitments. Religion isn’t about empirical claims. It’s about personal character. People who take religion seriously enough to think truth actually matters are narrow, insensitive meanies. Oh … no offense.

    Hell, I don’t think the real problem is that ‘hardly any believers are really like this.’ I think it’s damn bad enough that anyone IS like this. It’s not better. In some ways, it’s worse: smug, self-congratulatory, simpering bigotry disguised as acceptance and sensitivity.

    Faith in faith: the root of the problem, not the solution.

  53. ltft says

    I (think I) started the whole debate in this thread between whether Hell is a place, a state of mind, if it is literally real, if it matters, etc. I just wanted to chime in again to clarify my point.

    I recognize I may have misunderstood what ‘literaly real’ meant to PZ when he wrote it (though I still think I’m right- I think ‘literally real’ means what is written (presumably in the Bible) about Hell, meaning it is a physical place with fire etc (going by the standard American translation that American Christians read)).

    However, I still think PZ was wrong. PZ closed his argument with a ‘fact’ that was born from his biases rather than any real evaluation of the evidence. That’s more in keeping with religion that skepticism. I appreciated PZ’s argument but loathed his ending to it.

  54. Vicki says

    I think what some of the Christians are saying is “hell isn’t a specific physical place, it’s an emotional state of misery, loneliness, and despair.”

    The problem isn’t the lack of precise location, it’s the idea of the survival of the personality after death at all, in any location. (Well, that and the ethics of any entity torturing people that way.)

  55. samihawkins says

    I left this comment there, but I’m sure I’ll get smarter replies here:

    The majority of Christians are hatemongering bigots. If they weren’t bigots I would be allowed to get married. Theirs no way to argue against this simple statistical fact other than a pathetic “Well they think you’re inferior, evil and sinful and vote against your civil rights, but they aren’t hateful!”.

    No one ever has to make excuses claiming theirs a ‘silent majority’ of atheists who don’t want to take away rights from gay people, because unlike you Christians the majority of atheists loudly and proudly support equal rights and it’s proven with every poll on the subject.

    I also want an example of how Atheist fundamentalists are just as intolerant as religious fundamentalists. Where are the atheists campaigning to take a minority’s civil rights away? Where are the atheists cackling with glee every time an abortion doctor is murdered? Where are the atheists traveling to Uganda and holding conferences about how Christians are filthy, evil people who deserve no rights? Where are the atheists trying to force our public schools to ignore proven facts in favor of their ideology? Where are the atheists defending terrorism and honor killings against our enemies?

    Where are all these intolerant fundamentalists atheists? Because all I see are people being labeled ‘intolerant fundamentalists’ because they wrote some books and made abunch of speeches where they showed your religion the exact same lack-of-respect you show scientology

  56. raven says

    But tell me, raven, how do you square this with your usual pronouncements that Christianity is dying?

    They are running out of time and they know it.

    Have you looked at the Tea Party/GOP candidates lately? They are almost all christofascist Dominionists. Any one of those would destroy the USA if they can and they say so themselves. Bush, the first and hopefully the last fundie president, without even trying managed to set us back an entire generation.

    Obama hasn’t looked too good to most Americans for a while. But compared to the toads of the Tea Party, he looks much better.

  57. petejohn says

    Rather, our belief in God — our belief in the living ideal of ourselves, which is something even atheists ponder — instills in us a faith that in the end, light always defeats darkness (which is how people get through the wars and natural disasters I cover).

    This sentence truly, deeply, utterly sucks. “Our belief in the living ideal of our ourselves…” is a bunch of woo-woo that makes no sense. It is a matter of historical fact that “light” doesn’t always defeat “darkness,” and the fact that people believe that it does to get them through “wars and natural disasters that I cover” doesn’t make it so. As one example, Stalin was pretty “dark” and he was never defeated, he just got old, sick, and died. A lot of Orthodox Christians went to the grave in Stalin’s USSR due to starvation, sickness, or murder, and I’m sure their belief in the power of light over darkness didn’t do much good.

    Not that the other sentences are much better, but this particular piece of tripe seemed particularly awful to me. Also particularly awful was his swipe at Hitch. Hitchens wasn’t taking a potshot at the faithful by stating he believed no heaven awaited, but I guess when you’re a religion-blinded idiot any contrary opinion is a “swipe at the faithful.” These people really make me ill with their condescension, their smug attitudes, and their unwavering wrongness.

  58. samihawkins says

    Also particularly awful was his swipe at Hitch. Hitchens wasn’t taking a potshot at the faithful by stating he believed no heaven awaited, but I guess when you’re a religion-blinded idiot any contrary opinion is a “swipe at the faithful.”

    I forgot to mention in my other post that it’s just cowardly how they waited until after the man was dead and unable to defend himself to go after him.

  59. anubisprime says

    raven @ 51

    “With present trends, the fundies are either going to end up defining themselves as a social problem; weird people living in out of the way places, and oppressing their women and children. Or they are going to destroy us. It’s not clear yet how this will go.”

    I get the growing sense that they are already defining themselves as socially inept and problematic.
    I think that sooner rather then later they will do what they so desperately wanted to do all along…establish a theocracy…with violence and terrorism.

    They have been trying the diplomatic route…the usurping of political officials…packing councils and boards with clones…media coverage for any and every opportunity.
    The consistent and continual attack on education and the avowed promise to introduce cretinism into science classes.

    And the moderate church says and does nothing.
    Maybe they see advantage in the fundies doing all the work and the moderates picking up the odd disillusioned soul that found fundy land to bigoted.
    Or more likely they are petrified of the backlash and schism agitators in their own ranks.

    It seems inevitable this approach will be abandoned within the next couple of years for affirmative and direct action.
    Because it has so far failed to make any significant gains in their favour.

    Intimidation threats and violence will follow if they do not get their way in all things…these folk are by definition not stable and extremely irrational.

    It would not be a great change of character…or require much urging to go marching into battle under the banner of jeebus!

  60. Sastra says

    You know, Hitchens himself might not have minded if his statement about being sure no heaven awaits him is characterized as “a swipe at the faithful.” About bloody time, he might say.

  61. anubisprime says

    raven @ 57

    “They are running out of time and they know it.”

    And there is nothing more dangerous then a cornered shithouse rat!

    After all they have all to gain if they mount one final decisive and overwhelming strike against secularity and probably take out a few atheists at the same time.

    The present tactics are NOT working…and time is not in their favour to wait and see if that changes in any significant way…they will go with the last option on their menu…dominion over all.

    I really think it will happen…they will not die with a whimper…a glorious extremely violent last stand with their invisible hero by their side is the only logical…to them…choice they have left

  62. ikesolem says

    The origin of religious belief must be closely tied to the origin of linguistic-capable intelligence in primates. The ability to convey and understand complex information (the ability to tell a story) would lead immediately to stories about origins (creation myths) and explanations for mysterious natural phenomena (the sun and moon, seasons, thunder and lightning, earthquakes, life itself, etc.).

    The involvement of supernatural beings is likely directly related to the social structure of primate groups. Young primates were protected by older primates, so appealing to supernatural beings for protection and support is a natural extension. There’s also the in-group/out-group nature of social primate groups – groups could distinguish ‘self’ from ‘other’ via their choice of supernatural god-protector.

    Provide “one of the faithful” with this evolutionary explanation for the rise of religious belief, or even ask them to discuss it, and they’ll be unhappy. They would claim that the evolution of life’s diversity is explained by religious scripture, but refuse to consider the inverse – that evolutionary process in social primates explain the rise of religious belief in primitive human societies.

  63. raven says

    And the moderate church says and does nothing.
    Maybe they see advantage in the fundies doing all the work and the moderates picking up the odd disillusioned soul that found fundy land to bigoted.
    Or more likely they are petrified of the backlash and schism agitators in their own ranks.

    Where in the hell are all these so called moderates? They do exist but are all but invisible. I suspect a lot of them aren’t so much moderate as apathetic to the point of being in a coma.

    This was why I’m an now an ex-moderate xian. When I first became alarmed at the fundie death cults, I opposed them enough to get on their To Kill lists. I didn’t see any other moderates xians stepping up.

    What I saw who were opposing them were,….THE ATHEISTS. Huh? Who!!! I knew Richard Dawkins as a biologist only, didn’t even know he was an atheist. Had never heard of Christopher Hitchens or PZ Myers.

    The silence of the moderates really cost them. They are declining too. In fact, they are declining faster than the fundies.

  64. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    “Because in the end, what they have faith in is the redemptive power of the story.”

    In a way this bothers me more than the other, more traditional aspects of Christianity. Why? Because it’s a fucking stupid story that makes absolutely no sense in the wider context of the belief system.

    The omnipotent god who created the universe is suddenly bound to follow some rule (created by what? enforced by whom?) that a sacrifice is required before he is able to ‘forgive’ humanity for doing exactly what he created them to do; he then comes to earth in human form, tells a few stories, stirs up the local religious authorities and gets nailed to a cross and dies.

    Now, if at this point he stayed dead, having agreed to go and suffer eternity in hell in our place, then the story (while still not answering the question of why it had to happen) could be considered to have ‘redemptive power’.

    But he didn’t stay dead, and he didn’t go to hell. He came back to life, swanned about for a bit, and ascended to fucking heaven for an eternity in paradise at God’s right hand. What’s ‘redemptive’ about that? How is it, by any definition of the word, a ‘sacrifice’?

    Really, there’s nothing inspirational about the Jesus story in the way Christians perceive it. It’s baffled me for years as to how it could possibly be interpreted as such.

    Am I missing something?

  65. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Am I missing something?

    Of course not. The theists miss the the total context due to their desire to believe, rather than looking at the total evidence (or rather, lack there of).

  66. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    NoR wrote:

    The theists miss the the total context due to their desire to believe, rather than looking at the total evidence (or rather, lack there of).

    This is less about the evidence and more about the underlying logic – because, even if you could (somehow) show me irrefutable evidence that everything happened as the bible described (well, one of the conflicting accounts at least), it still wouldn’t explain why it had to happen in the first place.

    Not to mention something else I’ve thought for a long time – why does being able to demonstrate that Jesus could do magic necessarly lead to the existence of God? Demonstrating Jesus could do magic tells us exactly two things: 1) magic exists, and 2) Jesus could ‘do’ it. Nothing more.

  67. carlie says

    If it’s all metaphorical, why bother to believe it in the first place? More importantly, why bother to waste every Sunday morning and 10% of your salary on it?

  68. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Am I missing something?

    No, I don’t think so. Jebus spent a miserable afternoon hanging around the cross and then a day or two later he’s all better. Why Daddy God needed Jebus to do that is illogical. If Daddy God is annoyed with humanity then he should just poof himself all better. That’s the whole point of being an omnipotent deity, he can poof anything he wants, including getting rid of any annoyances.

  69. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    This is less about the evidence and more about the underlying logic – because, even if you could (somehow) show me irrefutable evidence that everything happened as the bible described (well, one of the conflicting accounts at least), it still wouldn’t explain why it had to happen in the first place.

    Why would why it happen in the first place? The folks that put the present babble into script were trying to gain power by the second method (the first being military/political, the second being religion/medicine doctor). So they had to make up a good fictional story that sounded mildly plausible to the majority at the time so that they would accept it. I found the story laughable in my mid teens…

  70. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    You know, given the mindless, pre-chewed pablum the “sophisticated theologists” are producing these days, I wonder if it might not be possible to produce these sorts of diatribes by a computer. Just string together a bunch of positive adjectives with an occasional contradiction thrown in (e.g. “living ideal of ourselves”). I mean it can’t be much worse than the rat excrement in this piece.

  71. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    NoR wrote:

    So they had to make up a good fictional story that sounded mildly plausible to the majority at the time so that they would accept it. I found the story laughable in my mid teens…

    But it’s a bad story. I don’t know why they didn’t come up with a better one. I guess it betrays the mish-mash of existing mythologies they drew on when they put it together, but I find it more than a little surprising that they ended up with something so bafflingly inconsistent.

    What springs to mind is that episode of The Simpsons where the adults are all hopped up on Homer & Abe’s snake oil and having sex all the time, so the kids sit down and try to work out what, coming up with a story that combined all their ideas – saucer people, reverse vampires – into one.

    If there was at any point a committee involved it probably explains it.

    “He’s got to be the messiah foretold by the existing scriptures.”
    “But we want the Eastern influence as well, so he’s got to be about peace and love.”
    “Well, the Egyptians have Osiris coming back from the dead, so we should throw that in, too.”
    “And sacrifice. Everyone loves sacrifice. That’s got to be a big part of it.”
    “Don’t forget internal conflict. You know, character development.”
    “Betrayal. Someone’s got to betray him.”

    And so on and so forth. It’s just a pity (well, not really) someone didn’t spend a bit more time working out the plot holes before it went off to the printers.

  72. russ says

    I’ve seen this divide (fundamentalists Vs the “comfort believers”)> I was listening to a show on the radio where a panel was calmly discussing how harsh and silly Atheists were… How no-one really believes most of the biblical miracles, but that there was a great deeper truth, etc, etc. Then, since it was a call in show, they received a call from a Fundamentalist Christian woman who, quite obviously distressed, berated them for their failure to follow the truth of Jesus.
    What stuck me was the inability of the panel to respond. They just sat in stunned silence for a moment before one of them calmly hushed her and ushered her off the air. Then there was an embarrassed silence before they moved on to another topic.
    So yes, there is more than one type of belief, and interestingly: they treat each other like crazy people when they are forced to discuss their actual ideas.

  73. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Most of us don’t believe in God because we think it’s a ticket to heaven. Rather, our belief in God — our belief in the living ideal of ourselves, which is something even atheists ponder — instills in us a faith that in the end, light always defeats darkness

    LOL, what a load of crap. Since when is belief in god defined as “belief in the living ideal of ourselves”? What a fucking a moron.

  74. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    The best way to describe it is to say they’re wanting to have their cake and eat it too; they want a nebulous god with no clear statements about anything – so they can’t be rebutted or criticised – but they also want to feel that Jesus came and died for them and God will answer their prayers.

    It’s one or the other – make your choice, because it can’t be both.

  75. alkaloid says

    @Vicki, #55

    I think what some of the Christians are saying is “hell isn’t a specific physical place, it’s an emotional state of misery, loneliness, and despair.”

    Isn’t the obvious retort to that to say that it’s like their church then?

  76. gmacs says

    That wouldn’t be so bad, IMO. New Age bliss-ninnies are a lot easier to get along with than the fire-and-brimstone crowd.

    My uncle’s girlfriend is a New Age bliss-ninny. She’s actually very nice and fun to be around. Although, whenever she talks about being able to sense someone’s energy or about ear candling, it’s a bit awkward.

    And yet, even progressive believers are not above arguing Pascal’s Wager at us.

    It especially sucks when it’s your own mother. When my mom said that, my jaw dropped and hung for a few seconds.

  77. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    It’s just a pity (well, not really) someone didn’t spend a bit more time working out the plot holes before it went off to the printers.

    Nah, it really is a pity. If it weren’t such a stupid story, we wouldn’t have had to wade through half a dozen literary allegories of the Christ figure by the time we were 15. So some stupid asshole fisherman has a big fight with a big fish. Okay, it’s impressive that he didn’t die. So the fuck what, Mr. Hemingway?

  78. DLC says

    There’s also a lot of “oh shut up, you Atheists, you don’t have any faith, so you don’t have any joy in life” to the Times piece.
    As if there were no excitement to be had in reality. Fools. What is real joy, that found by discovering the reality of life, or that found in magical thinking ?

  79. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    DLC wrote:

    There’s also a lot of “oh shut up, you Atheists, you don’t have any faith, so you don’t have any joy in life” to the Times piece.
    As if there were no excitement to be had in reality. Fools. What is real joy, that found by discovering the reality of life, or that found in magical thinking ?

    That’s one of those things I don’t get about theists either – that they appear so clueless about what atheism is, and how atheists think and live. Unless Christians think about their god every second of every day, they know exactly what it’s like to be an atheist.

    Of course, I’ve never been a Christian; anyone who’s a deconvert want to weigh in?

  80. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    Mmmmh. The quoted piece (with obligatory and deservedly gumby text) reads straight out of William James at a particularly low ebb. Have these people not moved forward in the last century?

    The religious are not going to die out from our atheist arguments. They are going to die out because they lose track of their own message as they progressively dumb it down.

    but more important, it gives us purposeful inspiration to make the here and now better.

    BELIEF… will let you make that leap of faith. And then somehow, … jeebus! Do not doubt, do not question, …commit! Aspiring to the xtian message, working towards that goal… that will make it happen. If you only BELIEVE.

    Somehow doubting god/yahwe/jeebus will mean that we vacillate and miss our goal. We need a story (even untrue) to move forward, to have something to aim at. As if a a secular life cannot do as much or more … and have the advantage of being related to reality.

    Xtians claim to “derive hope and humane inspiration from our beliefs”. Hope and humane inspiration sound like very good things to seek. But sadly they fall too readily by the wayside and all that remains is a sad, self-indulgent superstition.

    It is not either/or with such higher values that the more considerate xtians claim to ascribe to. Everything of value in this regard can be found in a humanist world view. I welcome these notions, even within the xtian church but not all the creepy lies that they have contrived to bundle together with these.
    -
    @ Xtians

    Some of what you claim to subscribe to has value. The parts that subscribe to humane and humanist goals.But that shit about jeebus and sky-daddy jars. You can believe in the values without believing in the fairytales. Really, that is more than OK.

    Embracing basic human values is a lovely idea. All that other crap they feed you is a bad idea. Learn to discriminate.

  81. madbull says

    The first time I heard this argument I was bowled over, but I have heard the “we know it can’t be true but we believe it because we like it” argument really very often, I guess some people are too afraid of reality to face it, they would willingly delude themselves into believing a fairy tale where a happy ending is guaranteed.
    This is one reason why I think some people just cannot handle atheism, though Dawkins says that it is arrogant to suppose so.

  82. kylecarruthers says

    I find this argument infuriating when debating theists. Rather than defend the indefensible–religion–they redefine “religion” into something vague, fluffy and impossible to nail down. That way they can forever claim that you just don’t understand the “true nature” of religion (after all if it is “vague, fluffy and impossible to nail down” how can you know it). I agree with PZ. In my experience he literalist, fire and brimstone, intolerant version of religion is far more common than the likes of Karen Armstrong and others would have you believe.

    What is most telling however is that those who don’t take a “literalist,fire and brimstone, intolerant version of [their] religion” aren’t even bothering to extrapolate morality from their religion. They take humanist values and then redefine and reinterpret (stretching it to the point of credulity IMHO) their religion to bring it in to line with those humanist values.

  83. petejohn says

    Just string together a bunch of positive adjectives with an occasional contradiction thrown in (e.g. “living ideal of ourselves”).

    God is not the bearded man of popular images and stories. God is the loving, living, brilliant, incredible essence of essence itself. God is the very being of grounding and without this grounding there would be no “be” to begin with. Hence, we know God is necessary and true because without an essence of essence there would be no grounding of beauty and truth.

    I’ll take my Ph.D in Theology now. Please send the diploma via email.

  84. chigau (mrmee, mrmee, mrmee) says

    ———————————–
    | This is to certify that |
    | peetjon |
    | has earned a Theophud |
    | December 23, 2011 |
    ———————————–
    OK?

  85. David Marjanović says

    I think Padgett is an atheist who immediately thought religion is just adults playing make-believe when he was first exposed to it as a child and still hasn’t understood that some really believe it, because he can’t imagine that anyone could. Therefore, he’s puzzled at atheists who actually use that self-designation and contrast it with religion: he believes they’re very naïve indeed, and he tries to explain this very politely…

    There are such purely cultural Christians who, moreover, think all sane people are like them. In some countries in Europe or, say, New Zealand, they might even be the majority, though I doubt that. But if he believes they’re a majority in the US, he’ll need a Biblical miracle to make the scales fall off his eyes.

    but more important, it gives us purposeful inspiration to make the here and now better.

    If we ignore the word purposeful because I don’t know what, if anything, it means, the opposite can give the same inspiration: we must “make the here and now better” because it simply won’t happen on its own. Es gibt nichts Gutes, außer man tut es, “there is no good unless you do it”.

    And all of this is supposed to actually be a Good Thing, supposed to be less ridiculous than creationism, and be a version of religion that atheists don’t dare to address? What the fuck is wrong with this writer?

    See comment 17.

    If you phrase your question, ‘Do you believe in Hell?’ most surveys find that most Christians do (surveys found in a quick google included ones by Beliefnet, USAToday, and Barna and ranged from 54% to 85%). However, if you ask, ‘Do you believe Hell is an actual place’ or something similar only about a third (roughly; it varies with the survey, Barna in 2003 came up with 32%) of Christians believe in Hell. How the hell are most Christians going to be insistent on the literal reality of a place that quite a few and maybe most of them don’t believe actually exists*?

    Well, “do you believe hell is an actual place” can be interpreted as “do you believe hell occupies physical space in this universe”, which lots of people would answer with “of course not, are you trying to make fun of me?”. Souls aren’t supposed to be physical objects that occupy space either, and few people these days believe that heaven is the sky even though English is probably the only language that uses different words for those.

    That said – at least over here – plenty of Christians who go to church on as many Sundays as possible don’t believe in an even remotely personal devil.

    some metaphysical scientifically unexplainable place/state that exists somewhere to the left of reality

    That’s a wonderful way to put it. :-)

    and a lake is not simultaneously a pit

    I bet that’s a mistranslation anyway.

    Now, if at this point he stayed dead, having agreed to go and suffer eternity in hell in our place, then the story (while still not answering the question of why it had to happen) could be considered to have ‘redemptive power’.

    Fun thing is, of course, that there are such stories. One word: Prometheus.

    And yet, even progressive believers are not above arguing Pascal’s Wager at us.

    It especially sucks when it’s your own mother. When my mom said that, my jaw dropped and hung for a few seconds.

    Ooooh yeah, that sounds familiar. Couple it with the claim that all religions are actually identical (you know, in some deep way), and… I found myself out of words.

    That’s one of those things I don’t get about theists either – that they appear so clueless about what atheism is, and how atheists think and live. Unless Christians think about their god every second of every day, they know exactly what it’s like to be an atheist.

    Of course, I’ve never been a Christian; anyone who’s a deconvert want to weigh in?

    Yes. You’re right.

  86. coffeehound says

    anubisprime @ 60,

    And the moderate church says and does nothing.
    Maybe they see advantage in the fundies doing all the work and the moderates picking up the odd disillusioned soul that found fundy land to bigoted.
    Or more likely they are petrified of the backlash and schism agitators in their own ranks.

    I agree; in either event fundies will eventually turn on their less righteous brethren, once the focus is no longer on the infidels.
    Fundamentalists need an enemy, and if it has to come within their own ranks,a shism will occur regardless.

  87. airbag says

    You didn’t even mention his dismissive, bigoted use of “angry atheist”. Why is it never “angry fundamentalist” with these people? What about the g-d westboro baptist church?

    And you didn’t mention the f-ing use of “fundamentalist atheist”, another one I hate.

  88. chigau (mrmee, mrmee, mrmee) says

    John Morales @92
    Yeah, I know.
    My problem is remembering that for more than 10 minutes.

  89. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    Airbag wrote:

    And you didn’t mention the f-ing use of “fundamentalist atheist”, another one I hate.

    It’s misused to often that it’s starting to become pointless to even note that, despite the fact that the people accurately described by the former tend to also be the latter, the word ‘fundamentalist’ doesn’t mean ‘determined’ and/or ‘outspoken’.

    ‘Evangelical’ is thrown around as well, but I find that less irritating. ‘Militant’ still bothers me.

  90. John Morales says

    [OT]

    roberthagedorn, challenge yourself: tell me in what sense is that a challenge, and why I should accommodate your request.

  91. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ John M,

    Well, I was just too curious to wait for roberthagedorn’s reply and googled up this (exactly the same suggestion): Linky . Something about St Augustine TL;DR. Why all this carping on about bronze age allegories, as if they are historical fact? (It gets worse… “There is clearly a great deal of metaphor in the story of Adam and Eve. However, I believe that the story is also literal.”)

    My suggestion (unless I have totally misrepresented xis position) is not to waste your time.

  92. John Morales says

    [meta]

    theophontes, huh. It’s literal, yet metaphorical, eh?

    <snicker>

    I’m perfectly happy to waste my time*, but only on my own terms.

    (Specimens such as roberthagedorn evoke the contrarian in me)

    * Doing that right now, and I like it! :)

  93. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    roberthagedorn, if you have a point to make, make it here. If it’s a compelling argument, surely you can present a summary of the major points it raises.

  94. hbart says

    Thank you PZ, for your link on on the true meaning of Santorum. It was the best spontaneous giggle for a long time.

  95. says

    and a lake is not simultaneously a pit

    I bet that’s a mistranslation anyway.

    Why? In the Textus Receptus version of Revelation the lake of fire is perfectly straightforward; it’s λίμνη πῦρ (limne pyr). The bottomless pit is ἄβυσσος φρέαρ (abyssos phrear).

    Bart Ehrman says the NRSV is the English translation which pays the most attention to varying sources. It usually has footnotes indicating where the sources differ. I checked the NRSV and it also says bottomless pit, and it doesn’t have any footnote for that. No footnotes for lake of fire, either.

  96. says

    few people these days believe that heaven is the sky

    Many probably don’t and do. It may depend on whether you ask them in a way that is cognitively demanding (processing a story which involves multiple characters including God as an agent) or trivial (recalling dogmas: “do you believe X?”).

    See Theological Correctness by Justin Barrett.

    right PDF, wrong filename: http://www.zshare.net/download/97597745d4351c9b/

  97. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    John Morales #98

    theophontes, huh. It’s literal, yet metaphorical, eh?

    A clearer example of Sophisticated Theology™ you cannot find.