Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Feb/10

28

Amen (Sort Of, And If That’s Not An Inappropriate Word To Use)

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I have to say that I rather liked this by Freddie, the blogger at L’Hôte:

 …Atheism is not a project.It has no purpose. It proceeds towards no end. It has no meaning beyond the simplicity of absence. It has as little negative presence as positive and demands no philosophy. Sam Harris’s life is dominated by religion. It’s what he thinks about; it’s what he writes about; it’s how he pays the bills. He speaks all over the country about religion, he opines on it constantly, denying it is his constant endeavor. His intellectual and philosophical life could hardly be more centered around religion if he were a monk.

Me? I go weeks without thinking about religion or God. And why would I?

 

With the important qualification that I do spend quite a bit of time pondering the implications of religious belief (to start with, there’s that whole rise of militant Islam business to think about), I have some sympathy for what Freddie is saying, even if I suspect that many of those who have taken the trouble to define themselves as atheists have already spent far more time on this topic than it deserves.

 I did, however, note with concern this passage from the same post (the whole post is incidentally well worth reading in full):

I once listened to a recording of a lecture by the New Age guru Ram Dass…

 

 Oh dear, I hope that’s not a sign of some quest for “meaning”.

H/t: The Daily Dish

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20 comments

  • Freddie · February 28, 2010 at 8:04 am

    No search for meaning beyond the only meaning that concerns me, which is “what is right for me to do?” I stuck that in there, honestly, as a sort of a dare. Because there are certainly some who will take one look at that citation and run in the opposite direction.

  • Susan · February 28, 2010 at 8:15 am

    I’ve noticed a distinct difference between agnostics/atheists like me, who weren’t raised in any religion, and thus had no faith to lose, and people who were raised religious and have disavowed it, particularly ex-Roman Catholics. They are absolutely obsessive in their rage against belief in general and the RC church in particular, and quite militant in their atheism. (This can get very boring at dinner parties, when one would far rather be discussing juicy political/sexual scandals over the rack of lamb.) I don’t, for example, see many people wearing t-shirts that proclaim “I am a recovering Episcopalian,” or “I am a recovering Methodist.” I DO see people wearing t-shirts that read “I am a recovering Catholic.” This could be a phenomenon limited to the northeast.

    But I think the larger point stands: People who were raised religious and then disavowed faith seem to be far more defined by their “notness” then those of us who weren’t.

  • Falterer · February 28, 2010 at 9:18 am

    I agree with Susan that those of us who’ve disavowed a religion tend to be more anti-theistic than those raised without a religion. Freddie made a comparison to recovering alcoholics. A friend who joined such a support group found that it fostered active animosity toward alcohol. The attitude was infectious, and he left the group after catching himself criticizing his wife and friends who continued to drink (responsibly, and never around him).

    For recovering alcoholics, who’ve identified alcohol as a problem but struggle to reject it, this may be a necessary step on the path to recovery. That’s not true of once-religious atheists, who’ve already completed our rejection of religion and have no struggle to return to it. For us, I think the desire to form communion with like-minded people is what brought us together in groups as atheists, and the lack of any specific goal or project is what makes us more strongly anti-theistic, since atheism is what we have in common.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · February 28, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Andrew: You got me looking up Baba Ram Dass. I’m mildly surprised to find he’s still with us. I learned all I needed to know about him from “Adam Smith’s” 1975 classic Powers of Mind, where he gets a whole chapter:

    … he came back to the U.S. [i.e. from India in 1967] as Baba Ram Dass. His father the railroad president was much relieved, he called him Rum Dum but it was better than the drug trip, his elder brother the stockbroker called him Rammed Ass, but he began to move around, college campuses mostly, staying only a few days at each place … a sort of Johnny Appleseed of the consciousness story.

    What a waste of a nice Jewish boy!

  • Danny · February 28, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    I find militant atheism quite boring, for the reasons Freddie gives, but one should remember that even you’re not interesting in religion, religion is interested in you, and if you don’t like that, it makes sense to combat it.

  • Sheldon · February 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I think it only fair to pass along what another atheist on Sullivan’s site had to say about Freddie’s post. Pretty much blows that post to smithereens, it seems to me:

    “The post is startling in how well written it is as compared to how childishly bad his reasoning is. Apparently, once you don’t believe in a deity, any and all earthly concerns about the real, observable effects of religion in the world we all share become irrelevant.

    Since Harris does not believe in a god he should not concern himself over the trifling matter of jihadists flying planes into buildings. Since Hitchens is an atheist the murder of teenage girls at the hands of their fundamentalist fathers, brothers and uncles should be of no concern to him. How indifference towards religion should follow from non-belief in religion is not explained, probably because you can’t get there from here.

    Later in the post he makes the almost as ridiculous claim that though of course there are people who would like to force their religious views on the rest of us and this must be fought against (gee, I forget, who are the strongest voices against this sort of thing….Sam something, Christopher someone else) the underlying truth of the religious claims on which policies are formed is irrelevant to the discussion. How someone is supposed to make the argument that a religiously mandated death penalty for homosexuality can be argued against without touching the underlying theology and rationality he does not say.

    Freddie doesn’t care and that’s his right, but if he wants to make the argument that none of the rest of us should care either, he’s going to have to come up with a better argument than that.”

  • Kevin I. Slaughter · February 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Reading your post here instantly reminded me of this, a paragraph I found rather striking and equally applicable to other realms, including atheism/skepticism:

    I was reminded of the English novelist Howard Jacobson’s brilliant insight about Holocaust deniers: “You will know them because they know more about the Jewish religion than you do. As soon as you meet one of those, and think, by God they’ve got a lot of quotations, by God they know everything about Jews—then that’s what they are. And what cheers me about all this, is that your true anti-Semite, like your true Holocaust denier, is doomed to a kind of Dante-esque hell of living among Jewish things, Jewish books, Jewish artifacts. You can see them in the library, they’ve got the Talmud up here, and they’re burrowing away to find more and more evidence against the Jews. Few Jews live a more perfect scholarly Jewish life.”

    http://www.tabletmag.com/news-and-politics/7515/the-denial-twist-part-ii/

  • Snippet · February 28, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Ram Dass is in the grip of some debilitating illness, which I think he is handling graciously.

    Among the gurus I got seduced by in my New Age days, he is the only one I still respect.

    He was, after all is said and done, at the very least, honest.

    He said, in effect, “It’s easy to think you’ve become enlightened when you spend time sitting in a cave in India, but when you come back to the States and find yourself enraged because someone cut you off in the line at 7-11, you realize, you realize you’ve got a lot to learn.

    This did and still does impress me as does his introduction to Duane Elgin’s, “Voluntary Simplicity,” where he acknowledged that the simplicity of primitive people was artificial and untested, and, therefore, not to be obsessed upon as so many people did.

    His ‘spiritual quest’ as it were has been sprinkled with honesty and has therefore been at least “interesting” to this particular agnostic.

  • Freddie · February 28, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Actually, Sheldon, that email is some of the most pathetic strawmanning I can imagine.

  • Morgan · February 28, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    The post criticizes some of the “New Atheists” for being obsessed with something they don’t believe in. This a fair criticism only if a belief in God does not motivate bad behavior. Harris and Hitchens clearly believes that belief in God leads to bad behavior so it seems like they are rightly preoccupied with criticizing theism.

  • 8 · February 28, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    But I think the larger point stands: People who were raised religious and then disavowed faith seem to be far more defined by their “notness” then those of us who weren’t.

    typical vapid SR-Suzan generalization, ala the church of Aynnie Rynd. For that matter, those who know little or nothing about the history of church/theology/philosophy generally tend to overlook many troubling or difficult issues, even from the standpoint of ….secularism (or naturalism). Neither Dawkins or Sammy Harris are up to the theo-philosophical discussion, as was say Bertrand Russell vs Copleston…..(and lets not forget Harris’s lovely justifications for torture and war)

  • Polichinello · February 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    I don’t, for example, see many people wearing t-shirts that proclaim “I am a recovering Episcopalian,” or “I am a recovering Methodist.” I DO see people wearing t-shirts that read “I am a recovering Catholic.”

    No, it’s worldwide, and it’s because, unlike the liberal churches, the RCC actually stands for something. Disagree with their theological assumptions all you like, and I do, but the Church does take itself and its seriously–at least a grade more seriously than most western institutions.

  • John · February 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    I’m with Polichinello. As a former Catholic who disagrees with the church on darn near everything, I can still admire the way that they take morality seriously. As one priest I knew said, we are going to teach our values, and if people reject them, at least they’ll know what they’re rejecting. Unlike some Catholics turned atheists, I feel no hate. My Catholic schools gave me a great education, and a solid respect for what being a good person means. It doesn’t mean being popular or even successful. It means doing the right thing, even if it is the hard thing. Pope Benedict and I don’t agree about a lot of things, but I’d rather sit at a bar with him than careerist politician who would just tell me what I want to hear.

  • Sheldon · March 1, 2010 at 9:38 am

    In fairness to Freddie, he has a nice response to that Sullivan reader I quoted above here:

    http://lhote.blogspot.com/2010/02/oh-enemy-of-straw.html

  • “I Go Weeks Without Thinking About Religion Or God. And Why Would I?” « Around The Sphere · March 1, 2010 at 10:05 am

    […] Andrew Stuttaford at Secular Right: With the important qualification that I do spend quite a bit of time pondering the implications of religious belief (to start with, there’s that whole rise of militant Islam business to think about), I have some sympathy for what Freddie is saying, even if I suspect that many of those who have taken the trouble to define themselves as atheists have already spent far more time on this topic than it deserves. […]

  • B.B. · March 2, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Apparently the change in website design removed the quote boxes from all posts.

  • Le Mur · March 2, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Susan: But I think the larger point stands: People who were raised religious and then disavowed faith seem to be far more defined by their “notness” then those of us who weren’t [particularly ex-Roman Catholics.]

    “8” inaccurately/dishonestly truncated Susan’s statement, fixed in []s, then wrote:

    8: typical vapid SR-Suzan generalization, ala the church of Aynnie Rynd. For that matter, those who know little or nothing about the history of church/theology/philosophy generally tend to overlook many troubling or difficult issues, even from the standpoint of ….secularism (or naturalism).

    Those “issues” are only troubling or difficult for you because your goofy superstitions don’t provide a framework for rational thought. By your attempt at logic, everyone who has a philosophical viewpoint on any issue should be well-versed in every current and defunct religion in the world…or is your own favorite ‘church/theology/philosophy’ so special that it’s the only one people should be familiar with?

  • Susan · March 2, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Thank you, Le Mur. I was wondering how an observation, which is neutral if subjective, could be vapid. I was also wondering why such an observation should require a comprehensive knowledge of all religions in order to be made. I don’t have to be a pastry chef to observe that a pie crust is insufficiently flaky.

  • 8 · March 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    No, Le Mur, just object to the AynRyndification of secularism, and the shall we say auto-naturalism. Besides, neo-atheism does often seem to go along with something like…bang for the buck-ism, as Suzan’s posts generally illustrate. If it feeels good, do it……..

  • A-Bax · March 3, 2010 at 8:41 am

    I think Susan is right that there is a difference between atheists/agnostics who were raised without any formal religion, and those who were.

    In the former group, it would require a “positive” step to actually become religious. You’d have to actively look into the religion, and pursue it. Whereas for the latter group, it (often) requires a “positive” step to extricate yourself from that religion.

    The “path of least resistance”, i.e., just kind of going along with how you were raised, leads in opposite directions in these two cases. So I can understand how someone who was not raised in a religious household thinks it kind of odd that Sam Harris, or Hitchens would “obsess” about something they don’t believe in.

    But for those of us who had to formally disavow the faith we were raised in, the “not-ness” of our atheism/agnosticism is something which feels palpable, and which has real social weight.

    I was raised in a strict Catholic household, and had epic battles with my father over Catholicism. He has finally come to accept my irreligion, but it ultimately required a painful and difficult back-&-forth prior to my wedding, with him threatening to not “recognize” my (first) marriage (since it wasn’t being performed by a priest) and my formally renouncing the Roman church for him to come to accept that I was indeed apostate.

    Things are fine now, but at every dinner, at every gathering, some small prayer or point of religiosity comes up. I’m keep a respectful silence, but do not pray while everyone else does. Thus the “not-ness” of my atheism is something very real to everyone in the room.

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