FTBCon 3 panels


Tune in this weekend for hours of live panels featuring the bloggers of Freethought Blogs and numerous guests. Here are the panels I’ll be participating in:

Secular Cults

by Russell GlasserAdam LeeKaren StollznowVyckie D. Garrison and Angie Jackson

Not all cults are religious. Attributes of a cult include traits such as: unquestioning commitment to one or more leaders, who are considered unaccountable to any authorities; punishment of dissent; mind-altering practices such as meditation and chanting; and deceptive recruitment practices. Many organizations that are not overtly religious still exhibit many of these traits. In this panel we will discuss some examples of this phenomenon, such as the Amway and other multi-level businesses, the self-help movement, and some homeschooling organizations.

5:30pm to 7:00pm, Saturday 24th January

 

The True Version of the False: Can Atheists Argue Over the “True” Version of Religion?

by Dr. Richard CarrierRussell GlasserDan FinckeAlex Gabriel and Kaveh Mousavi

A debate about the issue of “true” religion: some atheists claim that we can say that some versions (like fundementalists) of a religion are the “true” version of those religions becuase of their relative consistency and loyalty to the scriptures, while other atheists bring different reasons to refute this, for example the subjective nature of the religion. This panel is a debate between the proponents of these two positions.

10:00am to 11:00am, Sunday 25th January

For the most recently updated full schedule, visit FTBcon.org.

Comments

  1. Narf says

    In this panel we will discuss some examples of this phenomenon, such as the Amway and other multi-level businesses, the self-help movement, and some homeschooling organizations.

    Heh, yeah, I looked into Amway, in my late teens, when one of the guys in my local barbershop chorus tried to recruit me. I went to I think two of the big meetings, before the creepy vibe of the things started to get to me.

    I was also having some slight mathematical issues with the concept. “So, wait, I have to get people under me in the organization, producing this much product-flow, before I become a direct distributor … and I need to have this many direct distributors under me, before I’m making real money … wait a minute, how many people are there in the organization now, and what do you think is maximum market saturation? And how do you propose that we hold onto those lower down in the organization, as we get closer to the saturation point?”

    Seemed like a bit of a house of cards to me, even back then, before I was as educated in this sort of thing as I am now.

  2. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    >The True Version of the False: Can Atheists Argue Over the “True” Version of Religion?
    This is a rather nuanced and complicated question. I’m sure very few people care, but here’s my take on it.

    It is an objective question of history (and thus of science) what was the original intent and original common understanding of the religion of its original practitioners. I guess there might be some ambiguity in who qualifies as its original practitioners, but in the case of religions with “unchanging” holy books, I think that’s often not a problem to identify who counts as the original practitioners.

    I try assiduously to avoid any conflation with “true believer” and “what their text actually commands from a reasonable-person standard in the context of the author”. I’m not going to say that one sect of Christianity is closer to true Christianity than another sect of Christianity. I’m not caring. They’re welcome to that argument without me.

    However, I’m more than willing to use the current consensus meaning of certain religious labels to make reasonable assumptions about people who self-identify with those labels. For example, today, the consensus is that to be a Christian, you have to believe that Jesus rose from the dead to atone for your sins to give you everlasting life or some such. Words don’t have intrinsic meaning, and cultural movements are not unchanging, but in today’s climate, under today’s meanings of words, that’s what “Christian” means, and if someone calls themself a Christian but doesn’t believe that, and instead thinks that Zeno will save everyone, then I think they’re misusing the word Christian.

    Similarly, what distinguishes a Catholic from a mere Christian is that a Catholic recognizes some special divine status of the Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Pope.

    I think that what I wrote is very important to understand a crucial point that comes up when discussing the work of Sam Harris. IMHO, off the cuff, the Christian bible and the Muslim koran contain about the same evil proscriptions, and I expect about as much violence from the adherents of either book with no further information. However, the culture(s) of Christianity and the culture(s) of Islam are more than just the mere reasonable-person understanding of their holy books (no matter how much either group may protest to the contrary). When I attack Catholicism, or when I attack Sunni Islam, I am not attacking the mere contents of the books. I am attacking the common collection of beliefs and the culture which self-identify with those labels; the holy book contents are at some level a mere accident.

    For example, there are proscriptions in the Christian bible to kill those who work on the Sabbath, but the modern Christian culture has various reasons why that passage should not be followed, and the beliefs in the culture around this particular interpretation are very strong, and thus I don’t worry about Christians killing me for turning on a light switch on the Sabbath. However, there are Christians who read a similar passage about gays in a much more straightforward fashion, and I am concerned that they will act on that passage.

    Further, I will argue that the general hatred of gays is largely a religious phenomenon – in the following meaning. If not for that particular commandment, I would fully expect that the hatred against gays would be significantly less. There are definitely other cultural and historical reasons why hatred of gays became prominent, but it is foolish to ignore the causative factor of the contents of holy book, and how that shaped the culture and beliefs of a certain group of people.

    However, I do have a certain caution that perhaps some day in the future Christians will get some intellectual fortitude and honesty to recognize that if they have a belief that the book is divinely inspired, and to recognize that the simple honest reasonable-person reading of their book is that slavery is allowed and condoned. If that happens, then I expect that Christians might start keeping slaves again, and I expect that it’s more likely to happen because the book has those contents compared to a hypothetical world where the Christian bible clearly condemned slavery.

    Also, while I don’t want to play the “no true Christian” game, if a Christian has a belief that their book was divinely inspired and is inerrant, and they are against slavery and sexism, I will note that the Christian is logically inconsistent in their beliefs. I will note that if they believe that their book is divinely inspired and inerrant but not keeping slaves and sex slaves, then they’re not taking that belief of inerrancy seriously. That’s often a good thing, but again I am worried because it’s only through intellectual dishonesty and compartmentalization that this state of affairs can continue.

    And now apply everything I’ve said to Sunni and Shia Islam, which will cause many to accuse me of Islamaphobia. Always entertaining.

  3. L.Long says

    The is no true version of xtian! They are all false, and until they produce actual PROOF that can be verified by outsiders they will always be LIES. A persons own experience that is inside himself is of no meaning to others, he could be psychotic.

    ALL cults or DOGMAs are wrong whether religious or secular. All things need to be questioned and if not allowed, then ridiculed.

  4. Narf says

    @3 – L.Long
    We’re speaking of true in the sense of being reflective of some initial version when it was somewhat solidified. Being memetically true to the origin, perhaps. Obviously, we aren’t talking about the mythology bearing any resemblance to reality, since … well, mythology, you know?

    Take the church that my girlfriend came out of, the Unity Church. If ever there was a denomination about which you could make a valid no-true-Christian argument, it’s those guys. They’re a new-age, woo-woo gathering that only has a resemblance to Christianity in that they keep some of the vocabulary and proper nouns. They’ve thrown out pretty much all of the tenets of any previous version of Christianity.

    They’re still dangerous, in that they promote faith healing, the law of attraction, and other new-age bullshit. My girlfriend was only vaccinated after she got off to college and could do it herself. We got her little sister vaccinated only after she moved in with us. Their parents were ahead of the curve, on the anti-vax shit.

  5. Monocle Smile says

    @EL
    I underestimated the Islamophobia thing in the past. Personally, I’m only apt to use that term if someone refers to “Muslims” but is freaking out about (benign) aspects specific to Arabic culture not necessarily related to the religion. In other words, the term is overused and typically employed to halt discussion, not further it.

    I’m totally bookmarking this page, because your comment was on-point and I’ll probably refer to it in the future.

  6. Matt Gerrans says

    For those who are interested in this topic and have not already read Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities, you have a treat in store. If you like that one, you’ll probably want to continue with several others like Jesus, Interrupted, Misquoting Jesus and Forged. These all dispel the idea that “Christianity” was (or is) some well-defined religion that came about because of the ministry of this Jesus character (who is likely fictional — see recent excellent books Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus by Richard Carrier).

    Ehrman shows what a chaotic contest of competing groups and ideologies the early development of Christianity was. It is pretty clear there never was a “true” Christianity. One sect won out over the others and then had purges to destroy the heretics and blasphemy. Of course, even after the purges, it resumed the divergence, so that today it is probably neigh impossible to count the number of different sects of Christianity.

    In a recent discussion with a modern wishy-washy type of Christian (who chooses to ignore the bad parts of the bible mentioned above regarding gay sex, bacon, shellfish, slavery, etc.), she claimed something about holding to every absolutely to “every tenet of Christianity” or something like that. Naturally, I asked what the tenets are and I was immediately castigated for being a jerk/asshole/etc. Since I was curious, I also googled “tenets of Christianity” and was quite amused to find many “top ten” kind of lists from different churches and sects, among which lists there was not much overlap. There are probably plenty of Christians who wouldn’t even agree that there are tenets of Christianity. What a big joke.

  7. Narf says

    For those who are interested in this topic and have not already read Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities, you have a treat in store. If you like that one, you’ll probably want to continue with several others like Jesus, Interrupted, Misquoting Jesus and Forged.

    *looks over to bookshelf*
    Check … check … check … check.

    Lost Scriptures was also very interesting, but that one is a bit less narrative and more scholarly in presentation.

    I also highly recommend all of Israel Finklestein’s work, particularly The Bible Unearthed and The Quest for the Historical Israel. He focuses on the Old Testament, of course, being Jewish.

  8. Narf says

    It is pretty clear there never was a “true” Christianity.

    Well, not until somewhere between 200 and 300 CE, at any rate.

  9. Narf says

    There are probably plenty of Christians who wouldn’t even agree that there are tenets of Christianity. What a big joke.

    Well, God is love, and anything else is un-Christian, right? Fighting to take away the legal rights of gay people is just one of the many expressions of love.

  10. L.Long says

    #3 Narf…Yes true, but under that condition not many can argue which is true xtian. As there are ‘true’ writings from that period. As we only have bad copies of worse copies. But even so I go back to my 1st post, and add Can atheists argue which one of the cults is true???
    ONLY if you have the deep historical knowledge of the writings and period other wise you may be arguing from ignorance. Personally I would not do so as I don’t really care who is closest.

  11. Narf says

    Doesn’t matter, man. Once you have them accepting their book as the Word of God, you go from there. This is the sort of thing that the Socratic Method was created for. Socrates would have pissed himself in exuberance, if he had had a worldview as slapped together as the modern Christian one, which he got to peel apart.

    It doesn’t matter that the Christians are horribly ignorant of the origins of their holy book. Once they accept it in its final, orthodox form, that’s what you work with.

  12. Monocle Smile says

    @Narf
    This is one of my frustrations with “sophisticated” theologians, Thomists (Thomas Aquinas groupies) in particular. They blather on and on about how criticism of Christianity is mostly composed of straw men because we don’t understand the depth of their theology or the history of their scriptures and we’re not Greek and Hebrew scholars. It’s a form of the Courtier’s Reply.

    It’s all bullshit, of course, since not only are we merely addressing what the glut of modern Christians accept and believe, but polishing a turd doesn’t make it not a turd. It’s just an exercise in obfuscation. We’re basically being condemned for honestly addressing what most Christians actually believe rather than what a few snooty eggheads think they should believe.

  13. Narf says

    Or, to put it another way, “If your book doesn’t mean that, then why are the words in it, in rather unambiguous terms?” I don’t see the frame story of Jesus telling a story to his apostles or a crowd …

  14. Matt Gerrans says

    @12 — I didn’t know the name “Courtier’s Reply” but I like it. I’ve seen this in spades from Muslim “scholars.” They put a particularly good lock on it, because:

    1. You are not a scholar, so are in no place to have an opinion on the matter.
    2. To become a scholar requires around 20 years intensive Qur’anic study for starters.
    3. In order to be accepted as “a scholar” requires some kind of certification by existing scholars (which also means you have to be a Muslim).

    This way, anyone who disagrees with the various conclusions of Islam is not “a scholar.”

    This is like saying you can’t claim that ring wraiths with flying steeds aren’t real, because you have not memorized all the details in every book of the Lord of the Rings, plus the Silmarillion and all of Tolkien’s other notes.

  15. L.Long says

    13Narf….That is in essence my pet peeve with so called lying moderates,
    IF their accepted book o’BS says kill the gay, and the xtians claim that jesus negates the OT then why are the words in it?????!!!

  16. Narf says

    And why did Jesus specifically affirm all of the stuff in the Old Testament that they’re trying to dismiss?

  17. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Because of the talk, I feel I was wrong on some important points in what I wrote in #2. The first error I had was that I made too light of the problem to identify the original worshipers of a holy-book based religion like Christianity. The book is from text written by many people over hundreds of years. Thanks Richard. The second error is related. At the moment, I did not appreciate the inconsistencies of the various texts that make up the Christian bible. For that reason, I hesitate to say “true version”. Thanks Glaser. I think Kaveh expressed it best: There are plausible reading of a text, and there are less plausible reading of a text. How many different readings there are, and the relative plausibility, would depend on which particular target issue, and on the text itself relevant to that issue. For example, Christianity and slavery? Slam dunk. Christianity and the requirement follow all of the old law? The text is wholly inconsistent because it was written by several authors with differing viewpoints.

  18. Narf says

    @12 – Monocle Smile

    This is one of my frustrations with “sophisticated” theologians, Thomists (Thomas Aquinas groupies) in particular.

    Reminds me of this one guy I spoke to. This girl I knew was a bit of a religious nut. I’d probably be dating her right now, if she wasn’t a total faith-head. She brought in her friend, the theologian, who tried to use the Summa Theologica as proof of the Christian god.

    The guy just blathered and blathered, on and on, layering adjective on top of half-assed rephrasing of the cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments, as presented in Aquinas’s 5 Proofs. They just really don’t get it. If you really have something solid, you express it with precise vocabulary. If you’re starting with arguments that are both invalid and unsound, you can’t preach them into good arguments.

    @17 – EnlightenmentLiberal

    How many different readings there are, and the relative plausibility, would depend on which particular target issue, and on the text itself relevant to that issue. For example, Christianity and slavery? Slam dunk. Christianity and the requirement follow all of the old law? The text is wholly inconsistent because it was written by several authors with differing viewpoints.

    Hell, Ehrman dissects the Gospels in one of his books which I’ve read. I can’t remember which one, at the moment. I want to say Lost Christianities, but I’m probably wrong.

    If you read the Gospels as separate books, rather than the mashed-together, Frankenstein’s monster that modern Christians read them as, it’s pretty amazing. They each demonstrate a Jesus with a significantly different character, and they make utterly different theological points, in key scenes.

    One of the Gospels has a serene Jesus, going to the cross with barely a moment’s suffering, except for a bit inserted later, which shows him sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. That Gospel works wonderfully for Gnostics, who preach that Jesus was never flesh and blood but just a spirit form walking amongst us, except for that sweating blood bit, which was inserted specifically to oppose them.

    Another of the Gospels has Jesus suffering the whole way, written during the earlier stages of the church, when Jesus was just some Jewish guy who Yahweh picked to do all of this stuff, inserting his holy spirit into Jesus at Jesus’s baptism.

  19. says

    @18, Narf

    Jesus was just some Jewish guy who Yahweh picked to do all of this stuff, inserting his holy spirit into Jesus at Jesus’s baptism.

    You’re making baptism sound like visiting a Yeerk pool. That would make a neat story…

  20. says

    @20, Monocle Smile

    ya I’ve seen quite bit of it. Definitely a similar idea, though I’m not sure they ever tricked people into getting a “baptism” like that…

  21. Monocle Smile says

    @brianpansky
    No, but the Yeerks are clearly a Goa’uld derivative with the novel addition of the required extraction and feeding pool concept. I reference Stargate because of the ‘god’ angle played up by the Goa’uld that’s not present in Yeerks.

  22. Narf says

    Ohhhhhhhh. I just did some reading up on what a Yeerk pool is. I never read or watched the Animorphs, so I had no idea what the word meant.

  23. Narf says

    “Proof” isn’t a scientific concept. Math deals in proofs. Science deals in evidence and conclusions that can be drawn from that evidence. Then you and other scientists test those conclusions and try to poke holes in them. If you fail to prove them wrong, then you eventually have a theory. A scientific theory is the best conclusion that fits the evidence, and has withstood many attempts to demonstrate that it’s false.

    To answer the question you should have asked, yes, the theory of natural selection (biological evolution) is supported by a preponderance of evidence. It’s so well supported that there isn’t a competing hypothesis. Creationism attempts to compete with it, but the creationists don’t even have a working hypothesis, and we know that half of the crap they say is just flat-out wrong.