Open thread for AETV #907: Matt and Don

Don asks whether it’s appropriate to blame religions for the harm of religious belief and what to do about it.


  1. L.Long says

    If their book of BS moral guides says …kill…whoever … then yes the religion is part of the problem!! But nothing can be done because their BS books state that they can’t be changed. So they can’t take the hate-bigotry-killing out of their so-called moral code.

  2. Dremelteeth says

    The first caller is the worst kind of idiot. Dumb as a post and completely unaware of the fact.

  3. says

    Following up on the observations about brain physiology and aspects of “self,” does anyone know of a great book that really corrals a lot of the science on that topic? You know, a sort of “From Phineas Gage to Here”?

    I recently bought “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” the classic by Oliver Sacks, but was sorely disappointed. The anecdotes are generally thin, Sacks himself seems onboard with the idea of “soul” (whether literally or not I can’t quite tell) and overall, the book seems more like his attempt to put his life’s work to poetic flight than an examination of the connection between the physical brain and—if I understand the state of current science—just about any aspect of “self,” “soul,” “belief” and so on.

    Is there a good survey out there? Thanks

  4. Monocle Smile says

    @Clay Evans
    I imagine The Mind’s I by Dennett and Hofstader would dive into what you’re looking for, and I think Dennett is a co-author on another work dealing with science and “self.”

  5. Hippycow says

    @ #5 Dremelteeth – Yeah, he even pointed out that he had been identified as a troll by others more than once. I don’t know why they spent so much time on him. He deserved five minutes, tops.

    @ #5 & #6 – Yup, I was going to suggest The Mind’s I too. There is also a lot of current neurology work on on with this kind of thing, so the in the next few decades we’ll probably be learning a lot more.

  6. JT Rager says

    First caller was hilarious and sad. It’s like he couldn’t even grasp in the first place why Matt & Don reject his Bible. Instead he’d rather talk about “love, man”. Matt didn’t seem to know where to even start with that guy, and I don’t blame him.

  7. ironchops says

    That first caller can’t be real.
    To Don’s topic question: I think we could blame religons for their harmful beliefs. I believe that most of these religons have run off the track all up into the weeds and need to be abandond. They were invented thousands of years ago and the inventors are all dead. You would have to pick that battle very carfully. How do you punish it or make it go away? I believe that toleration and education is the key which means we need to knock down barriers and learn to interact with each other in order to figure it all out.

  8. Narf says

    @11 – ironchops (and @8 – Hippycow)

    That first caller can’t be real.

    Heh, I REALLY wish I could agree with you man. It would do wonders for my view of humanity, if I could make myself believe that he was just screwing with us. I think that he self-identified as “the troll” as a way of embracing what people called him, as a way of diffusing it, sort of like we do with heathen, apostate, and the like. Strangely, I have no difficulties imagining a lot of people calling him a troll.

    I don’t think he was being dishonest in any way, though. I’ve met several wishy-washy hippie-types, like him, particularly back in my early 20’s, when I was dating a pagan. Plus, the caller used a few key trigger words that the Oprah, new-agey, God-is-love kind of spiritualists use. “Agape” (äˈɡäˌpā not əˈɡāp) is one of those clan-affiliation markers that they throw out to identify each other. Oprah used it like crazy, on her show.

    The fact that he lives in Chicago was an amusing parallel, since Oprah broadcasts out of Chicago. I think Chicagoans are often proud of the fact that she comes from there, those who aren’t disgusted by her constant support of new-age, woo-woo frauds.

    It sounds like this guy might have gotten ahold of a lot of bad scholarship, from sources like Zeitgeist and similar, adding to a preexisting, complete disregard for any kind of discernment, caring if anything he believes is actually true. I think he’s probably one of those spirit-science mooks. He might be a non-theist, technically, but I can see why he doesn’t embrace the atheist label, since most who self-identify as atheists are skeptics … and he sure as hell is no skeptic.

  9. Zaphod says

    If there is a prize for describing yourself as a troll in the most trolling way imaginable, that first guy just won it.

  10. Narf says

    I don’t know that he was describing himself as such, as much as being proud of the fact that that’s what he’s known as by most of the people he interacts with. Either way, it’s a pretty odd thing to be proud of, yes.

  11. Robert, not Bob says

    On patriotism vs. jingoism. I’ve never quite, ah, grokked patriotism. I mean, a nation isn’t really real, is it? How can I love something that’s not even real? Of course I want the best for America-or at least Americans, who are actually people. Is that patriotism? I want the best for other countries too… Anyway, it seems what it means to be American is casual littering, not knowing any foreign languages, and not being able to pick out the country on a map: not much to be all that proud of.

  12. Mas says

    The caller from Dubai got off very easy. It was ironic that he started off complaining about US media’s anti-Muslim bias only to bring up the NC killings with the bias pushed in Muslim countries’ media, i.e., that the murders are hate crime atrocities meriting a presidential address. In Indonesia, and surely even more so in UAE, the universal solidarity of Muslims (the ummah) implicitly guides the media narrative of stories like this one. Even as a freethinker, he is as much in the thrall of corporate media as a Fox News watcher.

  13. says

    Guy from Dubai pointed to interesting topic, which I believe many people in atheist community missing. Nationalism and patriotism is indeed have this element of dogma similar to religion, and there is even historical example when both religion and nationalism/patriotism were working together and was feeding each other.

    And I’m afraid, people in atheist community don’t like to talk about this, because they think that acknowledging this, is somehow helping religious people to win this debate about what is causing conflict like in Norther Ireland. But I think acknowledging bad influence of nationalism dosen’t mean that you automatically discard religion as factor, I think it’s both religion and nationalism, and even without nationalism religion still is a problem (because they share similar characteristics).

    And I can understand that Matt feel this positive feeling toward patriotism, and with his experience, and his definition of patriotism, it’s something good and different from jingoism. But he is still wrong about it.
    One of the problem with patriotism, is that this line between this mild peaceful patriotism of feeling proud for you country, and this evil for of patriotism when people worship flags and country and start whitch-hunting against people who doesn’t share this blind love to their country is thin and sometimes can be easily crossed. And while mild form of patriotism and nationalism can be harmless, it still provides foundation and ground (way of thinking, and dogma) for moving into aggressive and radical form in the future.
    Another problem, is that people who are more into radical form of it, into jingoism, sometimes for political reasons, like to pretend that there are not really supporting aggressive form, but really just into mild for of it. For example, people who by their speeches can be considered as neo-nazi, while pressed with direction questions (are you neo-nazi), start talking that they are not nazis, but just support idea of “loving you country, and your neighbors”.

    And in any form, this ideas is not rational.
    In case of patriotism, it’s idea that says that place where you are born, and people who live there, and symbols related to it (flags, emblems) is somehow objectively better then other places, just because it’s where you are born, and not for other reasons, and that you are somehow belong to it, and you should feel good about it, but not about other places, which is not your fatherland or motherland.
    In case of nationalism, it’s even worse, it ideology that say, that abstract nation, is somehow more important than individual people (i think that in this moment, nationalism is not compatible with humanism), and that people of one nation ( with same citizenship, or even worse – with same ethnicity/race/language/political views/ religion), are somehow objectively better or/and more important then other.

    If Matt and other people, mixing this idea about positive feeling to some place or people, because you have positive memory about them, with term patriotism, I propose to not mix it, and not call this thing a patriotism (even if George Orwell was defining patriotism, exactly like this, – i think he was wrong in this moment, but right about nationalism), because really, when most people talking about patriotism in the political context, they talk not about this, but more about countries and nations. And while one thing is good and reasonable (positive feeling toward people you know and like), other thing is not (blind love to something, just because you born into it, and not because of some objective reason).

    Unfortunately, one reason why people would not fully understand my comment, or this thing what caller was speaking about, is that it’s probably will require to pass real experience of living in some specific environments.
    Matt and most people in US are living in the more or less peaceful environment, in really nice country, that had given them lots of benefits and opportunities. And while there is problem with republicans, it’s maybe not so serious.

    But I think, if I will be able to give to Matt my experience (but not stripping him from his experience, so he will still be a humanist and skeptic, as he is) living in Ukraine for 27 years for example, and most important experience of recent few years living in Ukraine, and listening people around, and watching Ukrainian TV, and see this stupid patriotism and nationalism combined with so much hate and etc, creating this ugly conflict (with same level of nationalism and hate from other side, from Russia, and pro-Russian Ukrainians), he will understand all this, and will not be so confident arguing that patriotism is different from jingoism and that it’s good thing (i mean, it’s different, but not so much, and it’s not a good thing).

    And these ideas, they are definitely have this religious element, people tend to believe that patriotism is a virtue, and when they learn that you don’t share their patriotic views, they tend to think about you as about immoral person, bad person. Sometimes even as about traitor.

    In when talking about intersecting with religion, I have seen how priests of Russian Orthodox Church was (few years ago, and probably they still do this now), were invoking idea of “defending your people culture against foreign culture” in their talks, which is touching this nationalism idea. And I have also seen how Ukrainian priests were giving speeches in support of this militaristic hateful nationalist mood of Ukrainian society. I think it’s big mistake, that western atheist ignoring all this, just because it’s not a problem for them in their western countries, or because they want to blame everything just on the religion (and again I’m not saying that religion is innocent, I’m an anti-theist myself, I’m saying that these things are related, and it’s important to talk about them too).

    Sorry for long comment, it’s important topic for me, and i just decided to use this as opportunity to say what I think about all this.

    Here something from Orwell on this topic –
    And from Leo Tolstoy –

  14. Monocle Smile says

    In case of patriotism, it’s idea that says that place where you are born, and people who live there, and symbols related to it (flags, emblems) is somehow objectively better then other places

    That’s quite a redefinition of the word “patriotism.” You’ve got this completely wrong.

    he will understand all this, and will not be so confident arguing that patriotism is different from jingoism and that it’s good thing (i mean, it’s different, but not so much, and it’s not a good thing)

    I fail to see how it’s Matt’s fault that you fail to understand fine, important distinctions.

  15. corwyn says


    Unless you provide an alternative definition, and evidence that it is objectively better, you are just engaging in exactly the problem that Alexander is talking about.

  16. Monocle Smile says


    Also, Alexander didn’t back up his crappy definition (it was pulled from an ass), so it’s not actually my job to do what you said. His definition was a paraphrasing of jingoism, not patriotism. It’s stupid and sloppy to conflate the two like Alexander and Mohammed did. There’s a very important difference and I’m not sure why this is so hard.

  17. frankgturner says

    @MS # 20
    Well jingoism would not exist without patriotism, though I agree that they are separate. I agree with your assessment nonetheless.
    @JT #9 and ironchops # 11 (and anyone else who might listen to this, Narf I think that you have commented on this other podcast before)
    Some weeks ago I was listening to “The Thinking Atheist” and they were mentioning these unusual religious followings like Jediism and others (it has to do with his book, “Sacred Cows”). The first caller sounded a lot like what Seth Andrews described as “Dudeism.”

  18. chris lowe says

    To me American patriotic testimony is like being forced to listen to verbal masterbation.

  19. says

    @Monocle Smile

    Wikipedia article says:
    Patriotism is, generally speaking, cultural attachment to one’s homeland or devotion to one’s country, although interpretations of the term vary with context, geography and political ideology. It is a set of concepts closely related to those of nationalism.

    How this is different from what I described? What is “devotion to one’s country” if not a “idea that your country is better”, and worshiping country and related symbols and etc? And one doesn’t even need Wikipedia confirmation, it’s enough to see what people say, and how they behave in society to understand what patriotism is.

    And maybe my previous comment was not very good in terms of quality and considering that my English is poor, and that this topic is complicated, yet I don’t see that you really tried to understand it, but I see your very arrogant aggressive language, with all this “crappy definition” and “pulled from an ass”. I bet you don’t even tried to read my links.

    But I will try explain in more compact way, what I tried to say (if not for you, but maybe for other people).

    I tries to say, that while you can argue about difference between patriotism and jingoism, in reality line between them is not clear, and it’s hard to make clear distinction. And even if this line would be clear, patriotism is still irrational in itself, because it’s about devotion to some piece of land, or nation, or country, only for one reason – because it was randomly assigned to you, when you born. And since patriotism is considered as a virtue, people who are not patriots, considered less moral.
    And since it’s about this irrational devotion to some group, or place, or country with symbols, it creates ground for other things, exactly like jingoism, nationalism, tribalism, racism.

    In addition there are obvious parallels with religion, in same way moderate Christianity, Islam etc, while maybe harmless, they provide this way of thinking, that can be used as ground for radical variants of these religion, they provide excuses then one can possibly use, to justify something evil, which moderate religious people don’t usually do.
    And you basically, like some Christian trying to argue, that your moderate patriotism is different from jingoism, and that your moderate patriotism is good.

    And in the end you don’t really need “patriotism”, to help your fellow citizens, or to respect other people in your country, for good they do for other people in you country – you just respect them, for what they do, disregard of how they connected to your country. And i don’t see any problem in appreciating country history and culture, but you can just appreciate any country history and culture as they are, and be fair.

  20. says

    I also want to add, that recently a famous (but controversial) journalist and writer was murdered in Kiev, Ukraine. And disregard of who killed him (it’s still a question), many people in Ukraine, who consider themself a “patriots”, including some public figures, made very vile comments about this journalist, saying that he was traitor, and that while they believe (without any evidence) that this (murder) was a provocation by enemy of the state, they don’t really sad about him being murdered, because for them he was also an enemy (purely for his political views, and what he was writing).
    And same people will also argue, that clearly radical nationalistic organization, are not really radical nationalist, but just being patriots.

    This is an example, how easily this line can be crossed, and how this notion can be manipulated for political reasons,
    how for example if you in such case will try to argue with people, and try to explain them how they are wrong, they will use this idea of patriotism being a virtue, as way to show themself and everyone else how immoral you are, not being a patriot, and how moral they are. Or hide their right wing ideology and radical nationalism behind patriotism label.

    And again, there are parallels with religion, and as I was saying in my first comment, there is historical examples of religion working together with nationalism/right wing ideology (which are closely related to patriotism, and use them). And even now in Russian and Ukraine, priests making excuses about why war is ok, how it’s not sin if you go to war and murder, because it’s for your country.

  21. Gines Velazquez says

    My english is por too, but i think i understand Alexander Z. position and is difficult to write in other language because there are a lot of grey areas, nothing is black or white. I understand his correlation between religion and patriotism.
    I think the only nice part of the nationalism-patriotism is the cultural part when you appreciate nice things about your country / region, share it with others and especially know about those nice things of other cultures.

    on the other side, for example, i think a lot of atheist has done military services for their countries even in the part that is not centered directly in the conflicts; specially in a country as USA which participate in a lot of foreign conflicts. Isn´t it like when atheist say that the people who went to the church but they don´t support, for example, the pederastia in the catholic church, but with their participation in the church they are supporting the “structure” or the “system”, etc?

    i´m an atheist from Argentina and living in Colombia.