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Featured Why Anti-Religious and Anti-Theistic Thinking Miss the Mark

Discussion in 'Religious Debates' started by Debater Slayer, Jun 14, 2021.

  1. Debater Slayer

    Debater Slayer Veteran Member
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    Up until a couple of years ago, I used to admire and identify with the so-called "New Atheist" movement, largely because at the time I felt a sense of belonging in its opposition to religion and ostensible promotion of values such as gender equality, LGBT rights, and freedom of religion.

    Fast forward to today, however, and I find the idea of condemning religions or opposing them wholesale instead of supporting reformist and liberal interpretations and sects/denominations thereof quite myopic, unrealistic, and sometimes tribalistic. I'll explain why in this post.

    First, the idea that religion is necessarily a negative thing—or that religions form an "axis of evil," as Hitchens put it—misses the fact that many charities and positive communities draw inspiration from their respective religious beliefs. While it is arguable that said communities would still be positive toward others even without any religion, the point remains that religion clearly doesn't necessarily impede progressive thought or inspire harmful beliefs or actions. To condemn religions as necessarily being an "axis of evil" or a force of bad in the world misses the point of promoting progressive ideals and instead focuses on pointless and tribalistic identity politics.

    Second, there is also the fact that religions are often so encompassing of different aspects of life that they can easily include both beneficial and harmful beliefs, so it is simplistic to focus on only one aspect and declare them "wholly good" or "wholly bad" without considering the bigger picture.

    For example, there are Islamist charities that have helped many families in dire need, yet some of those same charities are also run by people who believe in capital punishment for homosexuals and apostates. There are many discussions one could have about the net effect of such religions on the world, but said discussions are far from simple enough to allow one to definitively condemn or idealize religion without being off the mark in one way or another.

    Third, I see no reason to believe that religion is going anywhere anytime soon, no matter hard some public figures try to combat its presence and sometimes basically preach against it. As far as I can see, the more realistic and useful approach is to support progressive, benign interpretations and sects of religion instead of aiming to get rid of religion altogether.

    Aside from the fact that an absence of religion wouldn't even necessarily guarantee freedom of belief or abolish overly controlling laws and social norms (consider North Korea and China as examples), it seems to me that focusing on getting rid of religion instead of merely promoting progressive values misses the point and turns a pursuit of reason and tolerance into one of identity politics in a way that could alienate many potential allies of progressive thought among religious circles.

    I don't think everyone who is anti-religious or anti-theistic is necessarily a bad or ill-intentioned person at all; in many cases, it seems to me that it is actually an important phase of personal growth that some people need to go through. However, the keyword here is "phase": I think it is crucial to grow past it at some point.

    From what I have seen in multiple Arab atheist circles and multiple ex-Christian communities, for example, anti-religious bitterness and anger, as understandable as they are in many cases, do nothing useful for the rights or freedoms of said groups and often end up being unhealthy for the mental health of the person harboring them. In fact, sometimes they lead people to become exactly like the religious extremists they rail against, which demonstrates how counterproductive this kind of thinking can be.

    I would much rather be defined by what I am rather than what I used to be as well as focus on promoting progressive values instead of opposing religion wholesale. This is where I think "New Atheism" misses the mark and why I no longer identify with it, despite my acknowledgement and appreciation of the fact that its vocal endorsement of secularism may have helped normalize atheism and non-mainstream worldviews in a useful way.
     
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  2. Shadow Wolf

    Shadow Wolf Rival's Wife

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    Ultimately, the contents of the books they follow are heinous. We can do much better than things like the Bible and Quran, and over the past thousand some years since their writing and spreading we have done better. Abraham's god wants a lot of us dead. There is no getting around this. Those charities, those people moved to goodness, that is their god. Also, many of our most treasured and cherished values and rights--such as the freedom of religion--is explicitly contradictory and incompatible with the religions based on Abraham's God. Slavery is horrible and banned by much of the world. It is impossible to reasonably conclude their god has any problems with slavery with an honest reading of the Bible and Quran. His books have rules to regulate it, a part of that being who can or cannot be taken or sold into slavery.
    Really, it's like Viking glorification and romanticizing them. They weren't good people. But we tend to overlook who they actually where and what they did. Or we may as well ignore the bad of the Nazi party and focus on how they tried to address poverty and alleviate the situation of the common German. Or, in America, it's like the argument the Civil War wasn't over slavery, and many trying to put a spin on it to make it look better than it actually is.
    I don't see it as being any fundamentally or principally different in trying to cleanse the Abrahamic religions and downplay the problematic and baneful passages that have justified all manner of wickedness and evil.
    If you look hard enough you can find something good even in the worst of people. That doesn't change who they are.
     
    #2 Shadow Wolf, Jun 14, 2021
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  3. sun rise

    sun rise "This is the Hour of God"
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    @Debater Slayer , I like much of what you wrote.

    I know Christians who try to live the message of love by service to people. I've read stories of Muslims and Jews who help each other ignoring historical enmity and current political strife. And I know atheists who act better than those who call themselves believers. And I know Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'i and others who also embody the most positive aspects of their religions.

    And on the flip side, I see people with negative personalities who seek out and embody the worst aspects of various beliefs. And that also applies to atheists who have no beliefs in anything beyond the physical.

    The "phase" you wrote of is for me not moving from belief to non-belief since I went the other way, from atheism to belief! Rather it's moving from unquestioning acceptance of external books and authority figures with prescribed rituals and mandated theology to the spiritual path where books and people can inform but do not compel and where people are seen as on the same journey no matter what the apparent differences.
     
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  4. viole

    viole Metaphysical Naturalist
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    Hitler built very nice Autobahnen. And loved dogs.

    Ciao

    - viole
     
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  5. Shadow Wolf

    Shadow Wolf Rival's Wife

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    He also started one of the first anti-smoking campaigns. Volkswagen. (Ironically) Excellent labor laws. He promoted medical research. He had excellent animal rights acts. And he is a most superior and apex example to study should one want to learn from when enhancing oratory skills is the goal.
    If we treat Hitler like Christianity, in a lot of ways Hitler was a very progressive man who was very far ahead of his time.
     
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  6. ChristineM

    ChristineM "Be strong" I whispered to my coffee.
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    And had a cute moustache
     
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  7. Altfish

    Altfish Veteran Member

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    I don't think anyone has said that religions have not done some good deeds - maybe that's an over simplification because I'm sure someone will have.

    Many religious charities are good BUT inevitably they come with the catch of trying to 'convert' the people they are helping.

    People can believe what they want BUT don't impose your beliefs on others, don't expect others to behave as you do, or have to respect your holy day or honour your prophet. Don't try to influence governments to do your bidding..
     
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  8. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Be your own guru

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    Yeah, I do not know why some people who had nothing to do with Hitler or politics like/liked that style (my dear departed uncle, for example).
     
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  9. Marcion

    Marcion gopa of humanity's controversial Taraka Brahma

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    I would think it suffices to be anti-dogma and against teaching kids that they are born sinners and not free to investigate the truth freely.

    Spiritual practice can be seen as something universal and seperate from religious context and is usually heavily connected with progressive benevolent action.
     
    #9 Marcion, Jun 15, 2021
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  10. Shadow Wolf

    Shadow Wolf Rival's Wife

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    If we overlook the bad he had a lot of good ideas. Give it a couple thousand years and we can say his bad ideas were metaphors, and they don't really matter anymore because he just wouldn't really be saying to so things to people to hurt and kill them because he was such a proponent of promoting a society that is fit and healthy.
     
  11. Debater Slayer

    Debater Slayer Veteran Member
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    The main problem with this is that it assumes reformist readings of religious texts are either "not honest" or should be dismissed along with extremist readings. I look at this from a pragmatic viewpoint: these religious texts aren't going anywhere for the foreseeable future, and as in the case of many Christian denominations, we have evidence that they can be fitted to a more modern, progressive understanding of the world.

    While the original context of some texts may be unsavory, this doesn't mean a religious reformer has to brush said context aside or dismiss the religion altogether either. It isn't about finding the good in religions and ignoring or glorifying the bad parts; it's about reinterpreting the historically bad parts in such a way that their harmful impact on the world is negated or diminished. I believe supporting this kind of reform and reinterpretation is both possible and the most realistic approach to take toward religions.
     
  12. lewisnotmiller

    lewisnotmiller Grand Hat
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    An interesting OP. Mileage on New Atheism varies, for me. I'll focus on Hitch, since he's the only one I've paid much attention to (I'll occasionally dabble with something Harris presents, but I commonly disagree with him, even if I find him interesting). Hitchens was a controversial figure well before he turned his attention to religion, and through most of this life, and it's worth remembering that he didn't cut his teeth on religion. His political views are both strongly held and presented, and done in a manner which would seem quite familiar to those who came to his work through religious commentary.
    A couple of quick examples, but I could offer a lot of them...!

    On North Koreans:
    Starving and stunted dwarves, living in the dark, kept in perpetual ignorance and fear, brainwashed into hatred of others, regimented and coerced and inculcated with a death cult: This horror show is in our future, and is so ghastly that our own darling leaders dare not face it and can only peep through their fingers at what is coming.
    (Slate, Feb 1, 2010)

    On JFK and Robert Kennedy:
    Their hysterical and profitless hyperactivity on one front is in the boldest contrast to the millimetrical trudging and grudging with which the Kennedy brothers approached their genuinely urgent, and constitutionally mandated, responsibility for civil rights. Confronted with an inescapable matter, they abandoned the flamboyance of their overseas melodramas and confined themselves to the most minimal Fabian tactics.
    (Times Literary Supplement, Aug 22, 2003)

    My point? Hitchens wrote about religion in much the same fashion as he would write about disagreeable political opponents, particularly those he thought were unreasonably lauded, or had unfettered power.
    You can disagree with him on North Korea, on JFK...or on religion...but I think it's worth looking more holistically at his works, and seeing that this is his style. It's rooted in how he was brought up, how he perceives the value of literature and writing, and even his belief around debate and argumentative stylings.

    When he wrote about religion (and I think 'God is not Great' is the only 'atheist' book I own, nestled on my shelf next to 'A History of Christianity' and 'A History of the Arab Peoples'), it's with much the same approach. Biting wit, if you favour his style, and self-indulgent arrogance if you don't. But he presents a view, does so strongly, and despite often being called 'arrogant' because of his strong positions, he largely doesn't talk down to his audiences (I say largely, because the format of some debates, etc, almost demands simplification of message. But I think of him as a writer, first and foremost).

    It's then up to you to work out your position on that, and how his points might be countered, or contextualised.

    For me, much as it seems for you, I see very little value in anti-theism. Indeed, I positively dislike turning atheism into more than it is, for all that I am a passionate secularist.
    But for all that 'New Atheism' was more marketing message than coherent movement to start with, I find it hard to blame the 'New Atheists' themselves for that. If people started treating them as a coherent group, with a consistent message based on considered and universal histories...well...it sold some books, and perhaps did some good. And perhaps not.

    As with all things in life, there is a lot of grey between the black and white (of good or bad).

    TLDR : If you ever get to the point where you 'believe' something just because someone you like says it, you've gone too far. Use the brain God, Cthulu, the Primordial Oooze, or Optimus Prime gave you, and take wisdom from where you find it. Fashion that into a coherent worldview, and leave yourself the flexibility to keep learning, and you're ahead of 90% of the people you'll meet.

    TLDR-TLDR : Thinking for yourself is good.
     
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  13. Debater Slayer

    Debater Slayer Veteran Member
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    Hitler was an individual with agency, whereas religious texts are more often than not mere tools in the hands of the people who choose to employ them in different ways. The impact of any given religious text on the world is often a function of how people interpret and act on it (or not); this isn't the case with a genocidal dictator who explicitly had the goal of eradicating other peoples based on his vision of how the world ought to be.

    That aside, Christianity is also far more diverse than an individual. There are Christian denominations that disagree with each other as much as they disagree with people from other religions. From a pragmatic viewpoint, focusing on this potential for diversity and reinterpretation seems to me much more productive than pursuing the eradication of Christianity altogether despite the fact that we have evidence that it can coexist with progressive values and even support them if interpreted and practiced in specific ways.
     
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  14. Debater Slayer

    Debater Slayer Veteran Member
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    I definitely agree that it's an unsound approach to believe something just because someone you like says it, and I think this kind of quasi-idealization happens a lot with multiple public figures. Jordan Peterson is one example, where some people who like his work on psychology, for example, end up repeating his misinformed and often prejudiced political opinions. The same goes for Dawkins and a subset of his political views.

    Hitchens strikes me as someone with very little restraint. While this could be useful in some situations, I think it's a net negative in the case of a public figure. It means his worst opinions often didn't have enough uncertainty in their presentation, and I simply can't overlook the fact that he supported the Iraq War, for example. Were I to look for rational, productive work, Hitchens wouldn't even be on my top-ten list as an author and speaker.
     
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  15. PureX

    PureX Veteran Member

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    Blaming my desire to rape your wife and steal everything you own on some 'beardy guy in the sky' is just as dishonest when you do it, as when I do it. Yet this is the atheist's main preoccupation most of time. And in fact, the more the atheist plays into this lie, the more credibility and power they give it. But they never see this, because that lie is just too easy of a straw man for them to keep beating up, and then feel all superior and righteous about. And yet that old 'beardy guy in the sky' remains intact. And rape and pillage remain a part of the human agenda. You'd think that would give at least the atheist pause for reconsideration, if not the theist, but it never does. Self-righteousness always seems to be more important than reality, for many of those on both sides of the debate.
     
  16. danieldemol

    danieldemol Well-Known Member
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    It is odd that you dont see communism as as practiced by China and North Korea as a kind of religion given that they are personality cults centred around the leaders of those countries.

    Having said that I agree that promoting progressive values should be prioritised over abolishing religion. Where religion coincidentally needs to be abolished is where it stands opposed to progressive values, which fundamentalist religions often do.

    The real allies of progressive thought seem to me to be the liberals who are prepared to deviate from the word of their scriptures when these are perceived to clash with progressive values.

    In my opinion.
     
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  17. lewisnotmiller

    lewisnotmiller Grand Hat
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    Ugh.
     
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  18. Jaiket

    Jaiket Well-Known Member
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    I was into the New Atheism when I was younger and I'm still sympathetic to some of the ideas common to that set. Good post though, my own position is quite similar and I found this a clarifying read.
     
  19. Jaiket

    Jaiket Well-Known Member
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    Mate, did you read my mind? This a hundred times.

    I'd take Jordan Peterson's advice if it was relationship counselling or self-motivation. His politics is almost always complete nonsense. Remember how he became famous? He told us that everyone was going to the gulag if we didn't say exactly what postmodern, Marxist, trans-revolutionaries told us to.

    Dawkins is still a very interesting speaker in regards to evolution and science in general. He's worse than useless when it comes to religion.

    I also can't take anything Hitchens said seriously. He's was obviously a gun for hire, and would have told us the grass was blue if it suited his handlers. The people that worship him really freak me out.
     
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  20. SomeRandom

    SomeRandom Still learning to be wise
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    At least Jordan Peterson has legit credentials behind him. I remember when that Milo Yianopolis (sp?) guy toured my country some years back as part of some free speech....thing? Celebration? Seminar? I’m not quite sure. The only thing he had going for him was a posh sounding accent. Even my right leaning cousin called him a failed Oscar Wilde wannabe.
     
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