Monday, April 30, 2007

More good news about atheists!!!

There's a new carnival in town for atheists: The Humanist Symposium!!! Their inaugural edition includes not only a post by yours truly but also one by Outer Blogness's own from the ashes!!!

This is a fun carnival because the idea is to highlight positive aspects of being an atheist and a humanist. The term "atheist" describes an absence of something, namely absence of belief in God or gods. However, (like the term exmormon ;^) ), being defined by this negative can actually mean a whole lot of positive things in your life. So it's cool to have a blog carnival to focus on all of the good stuff!!! :D I hope it will be a big success!!!

I have a hard time seeing how people could view atheism (or humanism) as bad -- except possibly fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. As much as I don't proselytize for atheism myself, I have to admit I feel a lot of hope for the future when pondering quotes like this one I saw on the Secular Earth site:

My only wish is ... to transform friends of God into friends of man, believers into thinkers, devotees of prayer into devotees of work, candidates for the hereafter into students of the world, Christians, who by their own admission, are 'half animal, half angel' into persons, into whole persons.
- Ludwig Feuerbach

I don't know much about the "Secular Earth" community except that they left a comment on my blog, and I have no idea who Ludwig Feuerbach is, but they've got at least one good quote going for them, so maybe there's more where that came from. ;^)


Rebecca said...

Atheism can also mean a belief that there is no God or gods. I'd rather define myself by what I DO believe than by what I don't - I also think (hope) maybe it's a little comforting for my family and friends to know that it's not that I DON'T believe in anything - it's that I DO believe in DIFFERENT things.

JulieAnn said...

Glad you found something in which to believe (LMAO!) Kidding on that. Actually, sounds like an interesting endeavor. I'm not an atheist per se, but I would call myself a humanist, since most of my spirituality surrounds the mythical teachings of Joseph Campbell and the study of the psyche. Maybe I'm a Campbellite? LOL

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Rebecca!!!

You've hit on one of the popular online atheist debate subjects: is atheism an affirmation that no god exists or an absence of belief in gods? I kind of lean towards the latter because I feel like "god" is not sufficiently well-defined for me to actively affirm that there's nothing out there that some person might think of as god. All the gods I've heard of so far don't exist though. ;^)

Hey JulieAnn!!!

I don't know much about Joseph Campbell, but being a humanist is cool even if you're not an atheist. :D

Gluby said...

Sounds exciting!

You know, I had that same debate with a good friend of mine, who strongly asserts (from a quasi-religious viewpoint of his own -- he's currently converting to some sect of Judaism) that atheism is "just another kind of faith" -- believing in something that cannot be proved.

At first, he had me at a loss to explain the difference. After all, one can't prove a negative, and therefore believing there is no God (or god, or god-figure, or Shiva, or Athena, or Pan, or what-have-you) is believing in a proposition that cannot be proved.

However, I think I have solved the riddle.

It is obvious to me that you inspired me for the moment, as have written a loooong comment here. So, I decided to post it in full on my blog with a link here.

Oh, and to Rebecca, I think that the issue is not so much a matter of negative or positive belief. It is true that atheism is a position that rejects the moral and social position of the religionists and, to a large extent, conservatives of our society, but it is far more than that.

After all, when one abandons all the metaphysical machinery of salvation religion, or the arguable self-absorption of the more introspective religions, one is forced to either become totally cynical -- a morally inexcusable position -- or to conclude that this is all we've got, and we'd better do our best to make it good for all of us.

Atheism, put positively and at its best, is a belief in healthy skepticism, empirical weighing of evidence, and reason. It accepts that there are limitations of our ability to clearly perceive, but it attempts to remedy this through cooperation with others.

But you are definitely right about the fact that it is not sufficient to merely vacate religion from your psyche, for it leaves a gap. You must come up with your own purpose, and replace it with reality-based beliefs. But that is not inconsistent with also being an atheist. Atheism is one major social position to take, and an important one.


Texas said...

I think Feuerbach is an interesting cat. He was the first who clearly articulated the view that religious belief is nothing more than projective wish fulfillment.

I think that the humanist carnival is a great thing. I think humanism, for the most part, is a very positive movement.

My only question is, why think that a religious person is necessarily opposed to humanist ideals? When I read Feuerbach's quote the first thing I thought was that these two things he is contrasting are not contradictory at all. Of course for some they may be, but I don't see any principled reason why they should be opposed to each other.

AnnM said...

Hey Chanson! You seem to have picked up some philosophers. Their comments have inspired me to share one of my big issues with religion.

I agree with Feuerbach's aims, which I think result in behavior that strives to be moral in this life, even if there is no next life. Whereas many fundamentalist Christians/Mormons allow the expectation of the next life to influence their calculation of morality.

For example, many Christians--or maybe just Mormons--have little interest in conserving the earth for future generations because it will all be burned at Christ's coming. But if you required that your behavior be moral even if there is no God, no next life, then you would have to consider your impact on the earth for future generations.

Similarly your attitudes toward world poverty would change. If you can't count on the last being first, etc., from the Sermon on the Mount, if this life is all there is, then you would feel the unfairness of this world more acutely, and possibly decide you have a moral imperative to help remedy it. Less soul-saving, more effort devoted to structural changes.

I do agree that Feuerbach's aims are not necessarily inconsistent with religious belief, but I would add one further desire: to move believers to a position where they strive for behavior that is moral even if there is no God. I believe that is a higher morality.


C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Gluby!!!

Whenever anyone hits me with that "your belief is just faith too" line, I ask them if that means they're agreening that faith is not a good reason to believe something, and continue with this line of reasoning.

Hey Johnny!!!

I figured you might know something about this Feuerbach guy... ;^)

That's a very good point about the things he sets up in opposition in that quote not really being exclusive. They appear to conflict because it's hard to have real-life consequences and eternal rewards in mind when choosing one's actions, but I think probably the majority of people really do use both types of reasoning.

Hey Sam-I-Am!!!

Glad to see you're posting again!!! If this keeps up, I'm going to have to move your blog out of "irregulars" and back onto the main list. ;^)

I agree completely -- it's too easy to conclude that you don't need to do anything real to alleviate suffering or make sure to leave the Earth in good condition for future generations if you believe that an omnipotent God has it covered in the hereafter.

Gluby said...

You know, honestly, I don't have a very strong concept in my mind of what "humanist" means. To me, it's kind of like "anarchist" -- loaded with unwarranted stigma, and interpreted scores of different, seemingly-valid ways among both adherents and neutral observers. And I haven't read Campbell or Feuerbach. It seems I display all the hit-and-miss exposure of the ADD philosophical autodidact that I am.

Thank you, Sam-I-Am, for completing the reasoning I was too lazy to write, but should have: when one abandons religion, one is suddenly faced with the real responsibility for suffering in the world (rather than just trusting that it will be taken care of, somehow), and the moral mandate to adopt a higher ethic that does not depend on reward or punishment. A generalized, impersonal compassion for humanity does, must, lead in the direction of concern for the poor and anger at a system that maintains poverty as a source of low-wage labor. But I won't wax political here.

Interestingly, for me, the more in tune I became with a sense of morality based upon compassion and notions of truth and concern for humanity, the more I squirmed within the arbitrary constraints upon morality enforced by my religion.

My former TBM wife had the realization about a year ago; one day, she told me that she was sitting there at a crosswalk watching people walk across, and was suddenly hit heavily by the idea that it was irresponsible to leave her fellow human beings to the whims of fate, leaving it to god. She explained that she had a sudden feeling like she shared responsibility for them, for helping make a better world, and that to just leave it up to some sort of providence was a cop-out. The religion had been an excuse for self-absorption.

The environmental position -- ugh, I cannot tell you how annoyed I would get at hearing the more intelligent of my acquaintances in the ward tell me that it didn't matter, as the lord made "plenty and to spare." Furthermore, what more intense form of "multiplying our talents" is there than to take the earth we're given, chew it up and churn out consumer goods? I obviously characterize it absurdly, but the argument in milder form carries great currency.

On the subject of the different senses in which the word "faith" may be taken, I've found that I am far more optimistic about human potential and human nature than are religionists, who, after all, have a rather dim view of it (particularly, of necessity, those within salvation religions).

So do I have "faith" in human beings where they do not? In a way, I do, but my faith is based upon observed patterns that constitute valid possibilities. So, in the vague sense of believing in humanity where others do not, I "have faith in it," but not in the sense of believing something by taking the word of others or trusting in some irrational intuition. That's my thoughts on the matter, anyway.

Anyway, this has spurred me to think again on the subject of true universal morality (which I believe does exist, though not by the fiat of any will) not based upon metaphysics, dogmas or inventions. Hmm... time to work on another post. AFTER I burn our anti-exmo stalker, of course.

Rebecca said...

Notice that I said atheism can ALSO (NOTICE THE WORD "ALSO"!) mean a belief there is no God. Which means that I AGREE that it can ALSO mean a disbelief in God. And both are totally valid, in my opinion - it all depends on what you think each statement means. To YOU.

I lean towards the belief that there is no God (being agnostic, it's more of a belief that there is no proof, and that there PROBABLY isn't a God) because, to me, saying "I don't believe in God," sounds like I concede that there IS a God that I do not believe in. Which makes no sense. I KNOW that's not how other people view that statement, but when I say it, that's how it sounds to me. Which is the reason I try to remember to say "I BELIEVE that there probably isn't a God."

So, chanson, I think we might be saying the same thing - or close to it - but the statements mean different things to each of us (???).

Gluby, I'm not really sure where you're coming from with your comment to me. I didn't mention morality at all, so...??? I don't think I've abandoned any belief or position I already had - only the ones that I believed ONLY because I was told I HAD to believe them by a religion. And I don't think you were saying I've abandoned any - I'm just not sure what your comment to me had to do with what I said - I don't think atheism (or agnosticism) is incompatible with a system of beliefs, or with morality...So I think we're agreeing? Misunderstanding each other? I'm not even sure.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Gluby!!!

I think we are mostly in agreement, except that I'm not convinced that there is a true universal morality. Even really basic stuff like "we should try not to harm other humans and leave the planet in good (human-habitable) condition for future generations" is human-centric, and other species or life forms (if they exist) might not agree. Ethics (objective morality) are essentially a set of behavioral norms that humans commonly agree upon in order to coexist.

Hey Rebecca!!!

You're right that we're essentially in agreement on atheism, and the question of whether atheism is a positive or negative assertion is kind of hair-splitting in practical terms. Sorry if I implied that you said that atheism is always the positive assertion that no god or gods exist. I noticed that you were throwing out multiple possibilities, and if my reply didn't reflect that, it was my own sloppiness...

Gluby said...

Hi Rebecca,

Hmm. I got the impression that you were making the argument that atheism is a negative (as opposed to affirmative, in the sense of saying that it does *not* believe in something) belief, and that you dislike the label for that reason (hence you would prefer to define yourself by what you do believe).

Reading your post again, I can see that I misconstrued it. Apologies! You are correct; we are in agreement. :)

Friends don't let friends post long epistemological diatribes tired.

Gluby said...


I am going to try to convince you that a universal morality is possible -- one that is simple, elegant, eminently intuitive, based in reality (not human assertion), and eliminates the species-centrism you address.

I'll be putting it up soon. No rabbits will be involved.


C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Gluby!!!

Sounds like a fun challenge!!! ;^)

Unknown said...

Hey, never any apologies necessary (unless you call me ugly, in which case I will have to ask you how you came to that conclusion since I am obviously GORGEOUS. Or since you have never seen me. Whatever) - I just wanted to be clear because I think people maybe thought I was stepping on toes when I was just saying, "Hey, you say potato, I say po-TAH-to (no I don't)."

I'm interested to see where this universal morality thing goes - I can never make up my mind on that point!

Gluby said...

I am convinced I will convince you. :P

C. L. Hanson said...

Good luck to you!!! ;^)

-M said...

With regards to the discussion on the Feuerbach quote, I agree with Johnny that a religious person could hold the same values as a humanist in the matter of ethics or morality. It is in the area of rational thought or or where we get this morality that they would not see eye to eye.

What I think Feuerbach is trying to say is the same thing Carl Sagan was trying to get across when he said: "We are on the eve of discovering that nothing should be done for the sake of gods, but all for the sake of man." or when he said: "Life is but a momentary glimpse of the wonder of this astonishing universe, and it is sad to see so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasy."

To summarize, religion takes energy, resources and time and we would be better served if those who use these efforts for god would use them in service of humanity.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey M!!!

Very well put.