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April 18, 2007

Comments

"I respect him when he's on his own topic, but when he starts going on about atheism, he isn't."

Says who?

re nikki giovanni's speech, it references concepts such as "sad", "imagination", "mourning", "innocent" and "(non-physical) hearts". possibly these concepts don't exist in the "purely materialistic universe" of d'souza's hypothetical atheist, hence her speech

...is "heavily drenched with religious symbolism and meaning".

(and d'souza is such a goose i can't tell if this is an unfair thing to say or not).

I have mixed feelings about Dawkins' claims re atheism. While I share his atheism and agree that much religious feeling has led to horrific events, I am uncomfortable with the ferocity of his condemnations of believers. People need spirituality in the same way that they need art or companionship or freedom.

In any case, Mr. Dawkins' commentary is undeniably more rational than the poppycock that hilzoy presents for our undelectation. And I especially appreciate her assembly of facts and ideas on the topic -- very well done, hilzoy! Thanks!

Oops, I want to make clear that the "poppycock" to which I refer is a portion of the material quoted by hilzoy, not her own thoughts and reactions to the material. Sorry for the sloppiness.

Glenn Beck just uttered the most incoherent, but self-delighted bouillibaise of shite ever to spew forth over that accursed invention of RCA scientists.

Immigration, political correctness, gun-free zones, the entire list .....

If Beck had submitted that opening diatribe in a creative writing course I was teaching, he'd be tasered and trussed until the authorities arrived.

Rush Limbaugh blames liberals for this, the cocksucker.

I'm buying a gun.

Hey John, everything ok up there?

This post is excellent. I'm not normally the biggest fan of going after easy targets like this, but D'Souza is so absurd, pretentious, and insulting, and this undercuts him so well, that it far more than makes up for it.

I'm disgusted.

There is going to be lots at handwringing over the next few months about how to prevent this in the future. Lots of talk of all kinds of ineffectual policy. And yet the one small and simple thing we could do to discourage this, we didn't have the fortitude to do. I'm just appalled that NBC is showing this video, these photographs. It's just sickening. They've given the kid everything he wanted. This all played out exactly as in his fantasy, and that only encourages copycats. You would think that there would be public pressure on the media to refrain from showing these, simply on the grounds of discouraging future imitators.

Don't forget to check out the pious Mr. D'Souza and other right-wing luminaries at Freedom (sic) Fest (sic) on the fabulous Las Vegas Strip this summer:

http://freedomfest.com/speakers.htm

Dinesh in Sin City. That should be a sight to behold.

Rilkefan:

I'm great. How about you? Thanks for asking.

See, I knew a sensitive liberal would be the first one to wonder if I needed a waiting period, you statist you. ;)

Hope lives.

Debbie Schlussel notes that the shooter had Ismael tatooed on his arm, dropping a lifted eyebrow "hmmm" into her speculation like a dissonant chord struck in a sequel horror movie.

She neglects to mention that he was an English major and maybe had a little Melville under his belt, like any red-blooded American.

In her breathless play-by-play earlier, in quick succession, she declared him a Pakistani, a Chinese immigrant, an Andanman Island primitive, the spawn of a threesome between Allah, Phil Spector, and Dennis Kucinich, and a Chelsea Clinton lookalike, before repeating the hated MSM's reportage that the guy was a Korean who had been in America long enough to choose wrong over right, probably just from listening to the tone of Rush Limbaugh's voice.

Schlussel, schlussel, schluss, anschluss ..... wait a second ...
...she's one of my people!

Let me tell you how we Germans immigrate to other countries ... we assemble 30 Panzer divisions and the Luftwaffe and we blight the landscape until someone kicks our butts.

Which is what the comely Debbie requires.

The text of the VAT crazy guy quoted both the worst of the Mullahs AND Dinesh D'Souza, agreeing with them that everyone BUT them are at fault.

Atheists and psychiatrists wish they'd got a happy pill down the guy's throat and the faithful wish they'd got him down on his knees.

Meanwhile, the killer leaves enough coherent incoherency, thrown onto the sidewalk like so many coins at the feet of desperate beggars, who fight each other for the meaningless currency they cash in with the corner media shark.

I' m O.K. now.

I rant.

No need to lock down the campus.


This basically sums it up.

"Atheists are nowhere to be found" is a falsehood on a par with "there are no atheists in foxholes."

Jim, my favorite response to that one:

If there are no atheists in foxholes, does that mean there could be no war without religion?

I suspect that D'Souza is misrepresenting Dawkins. I don't think Dawkins would say something like "the universe has all the properties of a system utterly devoid of meaning".

Calling the world "devoid of meaning" is something anti-atheists do. I've yet to meet an atheist who felt that way. Most of us are just baffled at the idea that the only way to find "meaning" in life is to invent fantasy friends.

I'm tired of D'Souza. Can't we just send him somewhere where he'll leave us alone?

You guys are soooooo obtuse. It's clearly when she referenced the 'Hokie Nation....'

Sheesh...

See, I knew a sensitive liberal would be the first one to wonder if I needed a waiting period, you statist you. ;)

And on the other hand, a libertarian fully supports your right to arm yourself against Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. :D

Cho was an English major and aside from the biblical connections, "Call me Ishmail" is perhaps the best known beginning line of any American novel. I am not conversant enough with the nuance of Moby Dick to say much more, but I am surprised that I haven't seen this angle mentioned.

D'Souza is amazingly dumb, even for a conservative pundit. sometimes i think he writes his essays the way some people write computer programs: if it compiles, ship it! or, in English: if it meets the rules of grammar and syntax, it's good to go.

I've seen a lot of people dogpile on Dawkins lately, making all sorts of claims about what he has said or, more often, what the implications are of things he's written, and in my opinion, they're all full of crap. I've read The God Delusion, and I've seen him speak about it, and let's just say that D'Souza is taking a lot of liberty in interpreting Dawkins's statements. I don't have my book with me--I've lent it out--but let's consider the source for a second. Would anyone here ever really expect Dinesh D'Souza to give a honest explication of something Dawkins said? Seriously, if D'Souza told me that the sky was blue, I'd begin observations to discover whether or not it was, in fact, green. He's one of the most dishonest conservatives around today, and that's a hell of a bar to clear.

I don't know: the shooter was railing about Western decadence and consumerism and hedonism. Sounds like me he was reading him some D'Souza.

Your universe may be barefoot, but D'Souza's universe wears dark brown wingtips, nicely shined.

Awesome post! The man is as dumb as a post and yet makes a living at being dumb as a post. Very impressive, in a twisted sort of way.

A simple illustration of the Souzaphonic belief system: A Shoemaker-Levy comet colliding with Jupiter is devoid of meaning because who cares about Jupiter? The same comet striking Earth would be evil because it would silence Dinesh D'Souza*. The difference is that Jupiter doesn't have a loving God who cares for him/it.

*The goodness or evilness of this specific consequence of the event is debatable, but I can't imagine even a pitiless, indifferent universe not getting a chuckle out of it.

Great post.

It is mind-bending that D'Souza has any reputation as an intellectual.

Interesting how every act is now seen through a deeply-tinted ideological prism. It's like Cho acted rationally to assert his world view. The guy is/was crazy. He does not 'prove' anything really. That some things have no deeper meaning is part of the tragedy - this loss of life is tragic. It is a waste.It saddens everyone. Just as the death of almost 200 Iraqis yesterday is heart-wrenching.

The best explanation I have seen for what happened in Blacksburg is from Bob Herbert's column today (behind the NYT wall)quoting Dr. James Gilligan:
“What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal,” he said, “is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.”

Ideologically not very satisfying, but it has the ring of truth.

Beautiful rant on D'Souza, who I keep hoping will go off & join a madrassah somewhere ...

That said, his point reminded me of a passage from Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon:

"Bingo. Suddenly, fourteen-fifteenths of the boat is full of water, and the other fifteenth is a pocket of compressed air, capable of supporting life briefly. Most of her crew dead, she fell fast and settled hard onto the bottom, breaking her back and leaving the bow section pointing upwards, as you see her. If anyone was still alive in the bubble, they died a long, slow death. May God have mercy on their souls."

In other circumstances, the religious reference would make Randy uncomfortable, but here it seems like the only appropriate thing to say. Think what you will about religious people, they always have something to say at times like this. What would an atheist come up with? Yes, the organisms inhabiting that submarine must have lost their higher neural functions over a prolonged period of time and eventually turned into pieces of rotten meat. So what?

Since N.S. doesn't arouse the visceral what-an-idiot feelings that D.D. does, it's noteworthy that Hilzoy's dismemberment of D.D. would seem to apply equally well to this passage.

This is too easy. D'Sousa's talking points about deeply religious language:

"a child in Africa dying of AIDS"
"invisible children walking the night to avoid being captured by a rogue army"
"the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home ... being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized"

I'm hoping that we aren't hearing from atheists as atheists because they don't really think that bringing up problems of religion at a time like this is either helpful, constructive or appropriate, unlike some religious zealots who use every disaster as an excuse to claim that their particular religion has an answer. Rather, the atheists are speaking as caring human beings who are showing their concern for those who have been killed or hurt by the actions of a very disturbed man.

I realize that Dinesh D'Souza has his axe to grind, but I cannot fathom why. What point can he possibly think he is getting across with such erroneous commentary?

It is pretty clear now that Cho Seung-Hui was a man who was suffering from a very serious mental disease. Nothing about religion deals with this problem in an effective way. Taking comfort in religion may be helpful for some people after the fact, but it doesn't address what happened in any meaningful way. As was said, the Problem of Evil has never been dealt with in a satisfactory manner.

It doesn't require atheism to decide that people have to take responsibility for their lives, their culture, their country and their world. Most religious people I know have the same attitude. God may provide, God may solve problems, God may be gracious, but He doesn't do it by Himself. On a day-to-day basis, God works best when we don't rely on Him.

Cho Seung-Hui doesn't teach us anything beyond the fact that our mental health system doesn't work very well and our methods of protecting ourselves from dangerously unhinged people are not very good, both because we often ignore those who are dangerously crazed and because we don't always recognize them or successfully do something to help them. Everything else is a mirror of ourselves.

As a devout Christian, I am ashamed that D'Souza speaks as if he is representing me and other believers.

"What's especially silly about this sentence is that the problem of evil is a problem specifically for Christians" Not really.

For those who have said this guy needed medications, I highly doubt that they would have helped. I am not sure if he was more sociopathic or psychopathic, neither of which responds to medications. And, although I at some level believe in "evil", I would not classify him as evil.

We will probably never know what ultimately was his motivating force, although plenty of armchair and real psychologists, etc will try to make some theory promoted above all others.

As far as showing the tapes on television, I am of two minds (which is normal for me.) On the one side, I cannot imagine how painful it is for families and friends to watch them. On the other hand, it might make people more aware of what to look for in others who might be headed in that direction. Unfortunately, we live in country full of over-reactors, so that may not be a good idea afterall.

john miller: as an ex-Christian who has an enormous amount of respect for my former religion, I agree.

About "the problem of evil": there is a standard, and famous, philosophical problem that goes by that name, and it is as I described it. (See here andhere.) I might have been wrong in assuming that D'Souza was referring to that problem, though. I mean, it's not as if the rest of his work is so well-informed that no other explanation is possible.

hilzoy, note that your cite expresses the "problem of evil" as being an issue in almost all religions, not just Christianity. That is what I was referring to, that it is not just Christianity that has to grapple with that issue. But perhaps I misread the intention behind your original statement.

Oh, true, sorry. I thought you were disagreeing with the 'not a problem for atheists' part.

My bad ;(

I do believe "Hokie Nation" is in the Bible... although I could be wrong. :)

Hokie Nation is the name in Numbers given to the lost tribe of Israel. I think it was the genesis for the native population in America.

it's noteworthy that Hilzoy's dismemberment of D.D. would seem to apply equally well to this passage.

while i can't speak for Hilzoy, my first reaction to that was pretty much the same reaction i had when i read D'Souza: what a dumb thing to say. Stephenson's a decent storyteller but he's never struck me as a deep thinker. and if he really thinks atheists put no value on human life beyond cold scientific facts, the most charitable thing you can say about him is that he's profoundly ignorant.

but i think Stephenson's saying something about what people expect to hear at times like that. "May God have mercy on their souls" is a hopeful thing to say; it's a polite thing to say; it's something a polite atheist will let slide in situations like that. and, even more important, it's what religious people always say - it's doesn't take much for a religious person to "come up with" it, since it's a stock phrase. that well-worn ritualistic familiarity is part of the comfort of the phrase - you go to a funeral, you expect to hear it; then you hear it, and you achieve some resolution, even if you don't believe it.

I think it is just the belief that if there is no supernatural or afterlife, than we are all just accidental chemical reactions, with no purpose. If 'this' is all there is, what is the point? If my chemical reaction ends 50 years earlier than its potential, who cares? But if after my life there is some continuation of consciousness, then life is not so barren.

So probably both comments are projections of beleivers on what they think non-believers must conceive life is.

Wouldn't it be nice if some of these rooftop-proclaiming Christians tried out the golden rule?

If 'this' is all there is, what is the point?

the point is that humans are conscious, compassionate and illogical.

i can only speak for myself, (so that's what i generally do :) ) but i don't believe there's an afterlife or a supernatural anything; and as Robyn Hitchcock sings it: "Where do you go when you die? Nowhere." but, listening to that song makes the collection of meat, bones and fluid that i call "me" smile. and i like that. being with my wife makes me smile; being nice to strangers makes me smile; eating fresh pineapple makes me smile; sleeping makes me smile; not being in pain makes me smile. so, The Point is: there is a universe full of things that make me smile - and i like to smile.

we keep living, despite the knowledge that this is all there is, because our self-reflective ugly bags of mostly water enjoy being alive.

Every time D'Souza's name is published with his "relationship" to Stanford University, an angel cries.

The main characteristic of the universe is pitiless indifference.

This is also the main characteristic of Dinesh D'Souza.

CharleyC: Wouldn't it be nice if some of these rooftop-proclaiming Christians tried out the golden rule?

That would make them simpering wussies in the eyes of little baby Jesus, who we all know was about smiting teh librulz.

I suggest Mr. D'Souza never read that excellent SF story "The Cold Equations" if he is worried about atheists believing in the indifference of the universe.

What we agnostics and atheists are saying is, not that life is meaningless, but that the supernatural is not needed as an explanation for reality, and that anyone who thinks that appeals to a deity will cause a miracle getting around physical laws will be disappointed.

This all just goes to show that those folks who insist that atheism is a religion are utterly clueless. The idea that we would turn for comfort to our lack of faith in times of crisis is simply nonsensical. That's what relationships with other human beings and inner strength are for (as non-blinkered religious folk already know).

jrudkis: I think it is just the belief that if there is no supernatural or afterlife, than we are all just accidental chemical reactions, with no purpose.

I think your meaning here is slightly obscured, since an afterlife doesn't per se give life any more meaning than does a final death. Do you mean to say that without eternal reward or punishment for our deeds in life there is no possibility for moral order?

Suppose, having lived a virtuous life, your soul is lifted up to paradise. What then? If you are unable to find meaning in your existence without some external system of rewards, Isn't this heaven just a recipe for an eternal existential crisis? Is the memory of your virtue on earth enough to sustain your into infinity?

Which is just to say that I don't think heaven and hell resolve these sorts of existential problems any more than do earthly rewards.

Cleek,

If that is all we are, I would find it hard to not make my short time the most enjoyable possible, and not worry about resources for future sentient bags of water. Whether humanity continues to exist or not would be zero impact on anything.

Not saying that you are wrong, but it is hard to concieve of myself as being no different from a microbe, briefly alive simply to reproduce and die.

What would D'Souza say about this fine, upstanding Christian reaction:

"Pastor Fred, a/k/a/ Fred Waldron Phelps Sr., who refers to himself and his grown children as “the most hated family in America,” claims he and his Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist ‘church’ –which is made up almost entirely of his own offspring– are heading to Virginia Tech in order to ‘protest’ the funerals of the slain students and professors. He claims he will use bullhorns and that his family will carry large placards saying some version of “God Hates Virginia Tech.” He claims his ‘gospel’ for the occasion will be, ‘God is glad that the students and professors at VT were slain; that the massacre was God’s happy retribution for the USA’s love of homosexuals.’"

Gromit,

I think that having an expectation of continued consciousness provides hope. Perhaps it provides reason for effort to continue when life is hard. When life just sucks, and that is all you get, why would you continue to suffer through it?

I don't actually beleive in heaven or hell based on works, but on expectations. I think you will experience after death that which you expect so a muslim martyr probably does experience 72 virgins-though hopefully they are very nagging. Conversely, a very pious person who does great works but has a fear and expectation of some hell like eternity will experience that.

So I really do not have a belief in some diety pulling strings, but simply of continued consciousness in some form.

Grasping at straws for sure, but that is all I got.

jrudkis: If that is all we are, I would find it hard to not make my short time the most enjoyable possible, and not worry about resources for future sentient bags of water. Whether humanity continues to exist or not would be zero impact on anything.

Here's the thing, you are here discussion the possibility that there is no grand universal meaning to your life, and worrying about how that knowledge might make you treat others. Does the fact that that is your first thought not tell you that something about the human condition makes us (or at least you, if you don't want to generalize) intrinsically compassionate? If it helps you to justify the feelings you have to say that these feelings are supernaturally-inspired, so be it, but it is pretty clear that they are still there even when you question the metaphysical stuff.

As far as I'm concerned, the knowledge that it's humans' evolution into social creatures who pair-bond, form social groups, and care for their young for a very long time, and the knowledge that these emotions are driven by a bunch of incredibly intricate chemical reactions, doesn't change my appreciation of these human traits one bit. But to each his own.

If that is all we are, I would find it hard to not make my short time the most enjoyable possible, and not worry about resources for future sentient bags of water.

see, it makes me happy to know that i'm not intentionally destroying the world for future generations. i enjoy thinking that, if i'm thought of at all in the future, it won't be along the lines of "what a jerk!". likewise, i don't litter, at least in part, because i don't want to be thought of badly by complete strangers.

and my imagined relationship to future generations feels pretty much the same as my imagined relationship to strangers who are alive today. they're both instances of what a Psychology teacher i once had called "the nosy old lady on the hill": society. we all act in ways that we imagine are pleasing to society in general, even if there's no immediate benefit. and i'm perfectly comfortable believing that is an evolved instinct, because, like i said above, it makes me smile when i do it.

obviously there are people who act without regard to the hypothetical thoughts of imagined strangers - we call those people "assholes", regardless of their religion, because they end up doing things that negatively affect other people, and they don't care.

(or, what Gromit said)

Personally, I have never gotten the idea that eternal life provides a meaning to life. I mean, if you can't find a meaning in a life of limited duration, how would having an infinite amount of that life help matters?

I also don't see why, if life is finite, we should conclude that the only thing that makes sense is to have fun. If you think that it matters to do the right thing and to be a good person, why couldn't you continue to think that, however long your life was going to last? Conversely, if you thought your life was finite and you didn't see why you had to be a good person, how would learning that you can expect to live forever change that?

When I was a Christian, I thought that the importance of doing the right thing didn't depend on eternal life, and that the crucial thing about God, for these purposes, wasn't His giving us eternal life, but His goodness. curiously, now that I'm not a Christian, I still believe that.

I think that having an expectation of continued consciousness provides hope. Perhaps it provides reason for effort to continue when life is hard. When life just sucks, and that is all you get, why would you continue to suffer through it?

Sure, I understand why folks want to believe in eternal reward, but that's a somewhat different thing than giving life meaning.

Your philosophy could as easily be turned on its head by asking, if life sucks, and there is something better after you die, why would you suffer through it? I suspect the main reason most of us suffer through even terrible times is that self-preservation is innate to humans and other animals.

This all just goes to show that those folks who insist that atheism is a religion are utterly clueless. The idea that we would turn for comfort to our lack of faith in times of crisis is simply nonsensical.

That's exactly right. It's standard for religious people to respond to a tragedy by wrestling with the question of why a loving God would let this happen. But the standard reaction of nonbelievers to, let's say, 9/11 was hardly to say "Aha! This proves I was right, there is no God!" In fact, I'm not sure most nonbelievers bother looking for confirmation at all, let alone in tragedy.

Wouldn't it be nice if some of these rooftop-proclaiming Christians tried out the golden rule?

Ah, but recall the definition of "Christian":

CHRISTIAN, n.
One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.

Excellent post, Hilzoy. I've been thinking about the assertion that atheism (a p.o.v. I'm leaning toward more and more) rejects morality. A while back Sullivan linked (can't find just now) to a commentary by a Rabbi Gellman who argued

If a person believes that all human beings are made in the image of God and thus deserve respect, then God is real for that person as the source of his or her transcendent duty to treat all people with love and respect. If, on the other atheist hand, people are just one of many species ruled by the survival of the fittest, then God does not exist for that person and neither does any transcendent duty to treat others with dignity. In this dispute, Sam is not wrong, he is just on the side of those who do not believe in the sanctity of life.

I find this remarkably myopic. The notion that the only conceivable reason for believing others deserve respect is the belief they were made in the image of God strikes me as wholly illogical.

Maybe I'm off base here, but it stands to reason, to me, that if, as atheism asserts, mankind created the idea of God, then mankind also created the ideas of respect for other people, the duty to treat others with dignity, and the sanctity of life. All by themselves. A species capable of creating such notions, even if initially in relation to the belief of a God, can surely be expected to value them outside that belief. Mankind has attributed all kinds of rules and laws to the will of this or that God (many of whom are no longer worshipped) only to later have science verify that there's always been a compelling health reason (or whatever) for following them.

As for the notion of eternal life, I've been struggling with that to a large degree as well. The concept of "Heaven" where folks who might have been law-abiding and otherwise nondeserving of being sent to Hell are suddenly supposed to get along well enough that they will no long bicker or resent each other or be tempted to cheat each other or whatever is somewhat idiotic to me. Unless one receives a labotomy at the pearly gates, wouldn't the same problems and crimes that develop on earth have to occur in heaven as well? If not, then the entire notion of redemption (which is predicated on the idea that good people can do bad things sometimes) makes no sense. So, therefore, eternal life will need to have the same social defenses (police, laws, etc.) with the same threat of punishment (jail, Hell, etc.) as we currently have on Earth, no?

If so, what's the difference between Heaven and Earth?

If not, who would one be in Heaven? Certainly no recognizable form of who they are on Earth.

It is pretty clear now that Cho Seung-Hui was a man who was suffering from a very serious mental disease. Nothing about religion deals with this problem in an effective way.

Good point. Religion does seem to help with addiction, but even there its contribution to the success rate isn't terribly big. On other matters, it can be a positive hinderance -- I know a woman, and have read at least one memoir about a similar situation, who went into a religion-based drug rehab program with some other mental problems which the program simply refused to acknowledge, let alone help, because the answer to all problems was supposed to be G-d. Just pray a lot, and you won't need lithium.

Faith may move mountains and bend hearts, but when it doesn't work all by itself a lot of religious people go into heavy denial and/or blame mode. Not pretty, and not helpful.

Edward, great comments. The former reminds me of Feuerbach, who IIRC held that God is humanity's alienation of its own virtues.

And I was thinking the same thing about eternal life last week -- if "I" won't resemble myself in heaven, then in what sense have "I" survived? But perhaps it's cynical to suggest that we wouldn't recognize ourselves without our baser impulses.

You-all may find Aloysius Watermelontail's VT Shooting Bingo useful as you play along at home.

(delurking to hop on the Neil Stephenson side-topic): Stephenson was able to sympathetically portray an atheist (Randy's ancestor Daniel Waterhouse) in the Baroque Cycle. So I just assume the passage in Cryptonomicon (which really got on my nerves) was an instance of Randy being a schmuck.
(relurk and re-rail)

Also, re: eternal life, there's Wittgenstein:

Not only is there no guarantee of the temporal immortality of the
human soul, that is to say of its eternal survival after death; but, in any
case, this assumption completely fails to accomplish the purpose for which
it has always been intended. Or is some riddle solved by my surviving for
ever? Is not this eternal life itself as much of a riddle as our present
life? The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside
space and time. (It is certainly not the solution of any problems of
natural science that is required.)

Edward, that quote puts me in mind of the thing that has always mystified me about the abortion debate: pro-lifers always say that the fetus must be saved because(shrilly) it has a SOUL!!!
Even if I accept the notion of a soul, which is difficult at best to reconcile with modern neurobiology, I have never understood why it should make me respect life more. If the body is only a temporary shell and this world only a prelude, shouldn't I value life a lot LESS than if I think this is all we have? Unless you believe in damnation absent baptism, which most people today don't, why isn't the ensouled 5-day blastula better off going promptly to heaven, skipping over the whole vale of tears?

But perhaps it's cynical to suggest that we wouldn't recognize ourselves without our baser impulses.

Yes, even as I wrote that it occurred to me that a better version of ourselves is the basic spin on who we'd be in Heaven. But that idea is problematic for me as well. Assuming there's an apex of enlightenment or whatever you wish to call the highest achievement in human goodness, it's obvious that people who die, but go to Heaven, will be at diffent points on the path to that apex when they do. Does everyone get bumped up to the apex upon entering Heaven? That would represent quite a leap for many people, and less so for others. If that's the case, Heaven, again, sounds like it comes with the spiritual equivalent of a labotomy. Who cares if you live eternally if you can't reconize yourself in doing so?

If all Heaven dwellers are not equal in goodness, then the same problems that exist on earth (jealousy, envy, etc.) surely will exist there too.

If not, who would one be in Heaven? Certainly no recognizable form of who they are on Earth.

the answer is that it's futile to try to apply logic to divine matters - it's all beyond logic, beyond experience, beyond our understanding. we should just accept what we've been told. you'll be you in heaven, but you'll be floating in eternal joy, ensconced in velvet, not necessarily stoned, but beautiful - blissful as if at the peak of orgasm for all eternity. don't ask anyone to explain, you just will.

And what about the path to that apex? We place so much value on the journey here. The notion that it's not important enough to continue once we die makes Heaven sound like a very dull place.

I think Edward's issue about the afterlife really comes down to, "what IS goodness, anyway?"

Lobotomy. Referring to the lobes of the brain.

"what IS goodness, anyway?"

Pie.

Cleek, the sarcasm is unwarranted. Having been the member of 4 different Christian denominations, I don't remember any describing the afterlife like that, and most do not say you just have to "accept" what you have been told. Most encourage inquiry and some self-definition of one's faith.

But perhaps it's cynical to suggest that we wouldn't recognize ourselves without our baser impulses.

would anyone else recognize us, or is Heaven a place we go to hang with the hollowed-out shells of people that we used to know ?

not necessarily stoned, but beautiful - blissful as if at the peak of orgasm for all eternity

But I *already* feel like that all the time!

or is Heaven a place we go to hang with the hollowed-out shells of people that we used to know

No, that would be your 20-year high school reunion.

I think it's kind of nice and comforting to believe that you are going to see your loved ones again in the afterlife. No one has to believe it, of course, but it strikes me as particularly low to mock that sort of belief. The belief isn't hurting anyone and you should just let it go.

Lobotomy. Referring to the lobes of the brain.

Spelling. [groan] Who invented that tiresome discipline anyway? ;-PPP

The purely materialist universe is constantly blowing all its cash on expensive designer handbags.

Most encourage inquiry and some self-definition of one's faith.

In some ways, I consider myself to still be a Christian, even though I have no evidence or reason to believe that God exists or that there will be an afterlife or that I have a soul. My inquiry led me to that conclusion. Am I a Christian because I identify with the Western Culture that is inextricably tied to Christianity? How many Christians would agree that I am one?

I know there are some churches like some of the Anglicans, UCC and UU that aren't terribly concerned about the conclusion that one draws about such ideas as God, the soul, or the afterlife, but there are others who won't even consider letting you look at actual scientific facts that show that their doctrines about a young earth are false.

Christianity is absurdly easy to attack and absurdly easy to defend because it isn't a single thing. I doubt that it was before the Great Schism or, in the West, before the Reformations. Now, it certainly isn't. All you have to do is pick what you like to attack or defend, and you can find an excellent example of it in Christianity.

it strikes me as particularly low to mock that sort of belief. The belief isn't hurting anyone and you should just let it go.

I'm not sure mocking it is low or high (and I'm not at all sure "mocking" is what's going on here), but the belief is most definitely hurting lots of people. "Sinners" (as opposed to criminals) are shunned in many societies, including many communities in the US, and openly murdered in others (see this horrifying report). If that's not hurting someone, we need a more granular definition.

Cleek, the sarcasm is unwarranted. ... most do not say you just have to "accept" what you have been told.

no offense intended, but i've been in enough of these discussions to know that they typically devolve into issues of proof, logic and causality - and that the religious argument always comes down to "well, you gotta have faith". and to me, that sounds like accepting what you've been told.

I don't remember any describing the afterlife like that,

here's a bit from the very first Google hit for "What Is Heaven":

    Think of the happiest moment you've ever experienced, think of the best you've ever felt, think of the most incredible beautiful sight you've ever seen, magnify it billions of times, and understand there is no end to this joy, no aging, no pain, no disease, no lonliness, no fear, no doubt, no discomfort, no death, and you only scratch the surface of what it's like in the Paradise of God. Majesty beyond conception, brightness and light of such beauty, it's beyond description.

it goes on to describe a city made of the most lavish construction materials available to people in 0AD.

    The next thing to catch our vision as we look at the city is its jeweled foundation. Many Bible students believe that these jewels reflect all the colors of the rainbow, though we do not know the precise characteristics of each stone. Beginning at ground level, these were probably the colors seen by the apostle: the jasper stone may have been a light green or yellow; the sapphire, a sky-blue or azure; the chalcedony, containing a combination of colors, was mostly green and blue; the emerald, bright green; the sardonyx, red and white; the sardius, reddish in color; chrysolite, golden yellow; beryl, sea-green; topaz, yellow-green and transparent; chrysoprasus, golden-green; jacinth, violet; and amethyst, either rose-red or purple. The radiating light of the city, shining out through the jasper wall and blazing through the open gates, reflects from these precious stones in splendrous color.

m k

    In that perfect society we'll realize our full spiritual potential as individuals. Having entered an eternal fellowship with God, we'll be engaged in an endless variety of meaningful activities. We'll join with the saints of all the ages in a spirit of communion, fellowship, and love never ending. We'll see that the imperfections of this life will be missing and that positive blessings will be there.

that's not really far off what i said - i just used some graphic words to do it.

Christianity is absurdly easy to attack and absurdly easy to defend because it isn't a single thing.

Truer words were never spoken. The forging (it's a pun) of the Catholic Church took centuries, a classic example of the will to power at work.

There was an Unfogged thread on the subject a while back (not that an Unfogged thread is ever a single thing, either), and I was defending my "squishy Christianity."

To the extent that I found anything persuasive to say, it was that, having been brought up in the Christian tradition, that's the spiritual "language" that I'm fluent in. To the extent that I know how to be religious, it's as a Christian. Needless to say, an unorthodox one.

The strangest thing about holding this point of view is encountering self-professed atheists who argue with me that I'm not really a Christian.

I'm not at all sure "mocking" is what's going on here

There's nothing wrong with discussing whether there's an afterlife. Cleek's comment was just plain mockery, though, as if you'd have to be an idiot to think that we'll be "ensconced in velvet" at "the peak of orgasm for all eternity." It's just disrespectful.

"Sinners" (as opposed to criminals) are shunned in many societies, including many communities in the US, and openly murdered in others (see this horrifying report).

That has plenty to do with religion, but very little to do with the completely harmless belief that you're going to see your loved ones again in the afterlife. Maybe the 9/11 hijackers believed in an afterlife, but so does my grandma, so don't go blaming the belief. And I think it's pretty weak to engage in mockery that would offend my grandma and then defend it by saying that some religious people do awful things.

Unfortunately too many still believe that unbabtized unborns go straight to hell (that once was the main reason for being anti-abortion). Dante who put them into the limbo (did he invent it??) instead got into trouble because of that (i.e. for believing that they are not tortured in eternity).

Interestingly there are few concrete descriptions of heaven in Christian literature but very detailed descriptions of hell (while Islam has colorful depictions of both). My personal guess is that anything "real" that would have made heaven worthwile would have been considered sinful on Earth. How to explain that to the congregation?
Many theologians believed that their scholastic discussions would proceed in heaven and be the main attraction. That resulted in others claiming that they would prefer hell because they could not stand boring hairsplitting (and the people doing it) for eternity while hell would at least be entertaining.
One thing Jesus made clear: No sex up there (there is no "man" or "woman"*);-).

*In the Middle Ages it was a hot topic whether all women would become men or all would lose their genitals in heaven (St.Thomas Aquinas considered females defective males, so it would naturally be rectified after death).

but very detailed descriptions of hell

Well, it's much easier to imagine -- we have so many examples.

There was the problem with converting the Esquimaux too. When they heard that hell was hot, they wanted to go there (no, I don't make that up!)

I heart Edward's comments.

According to Buddhhist tradition, the purpose of life is to achieve enlighhtenment, which is to be beyond words and concepts and descriptions so I'll stop writing about thhat. The way to get there is by cherishhing all living things. ALL livinng things. Hilzoy modelled this very well withh her post about the shhooter. Shhe also showed how chhrishiing saved a potential shhooter. Anyway the idea is thhat every living thingg gets recycled until they get it righht, and onnly then does thhe living thinng get nirvana which is not a heaven or a place, or even a state of mind. It's the end to all the struggle and suffering of not being enlighhtened.. The way to get there, cherishhinng all living things, is also the way to determine ehtical behhavior.

I'm probbly telling people what they are ready know and doing it poorly.

It's a sad philosphy, in a way, since it's based on the assumption that life is suffering. And life IS suffering; we live on thhe deaths of othher things. It seems obvious to me that life itself cann't have a meaning other than to support one way or thhe other the other living things. I can't stnd to watch wildlife shows because the lives of animals are so stressful and paranoid and thhen they get eaten by some other stressed, parannoid creature. The city pound is full of kittens thht were born to die.
I think that religious people want to belive that good annd evil and meaninng have ann existannce independent of what we make up. They want thhe good and evil and meaning of life tto be a truth inndeepndent of human understanding. I think that if I , a human can understand it(meaning of life), thhem "it" is part of human underrstanding and therefore not likely to be a truth thhat exists without my understanding. Which is why I am attracted to the more abstract forms of Buddhism: no deity, not much dogma, the assumption that
truth can't be put innto words. Meanwhile I work on tryinng to be more cherrishing.

I like that, "atheists are nowhere to be found." How exactly are we supposed to represent, yo? Call up grieving families and do the ol' Edward G. "Where's your messiah now" line? Or how about "You know Heaven doesn't exist and they're gone for good, right?"

Sorry, D'pstick, we didn't realize that a gathering of people trying to come to terms with unimaginable pain was the proper venue to score points for empiricism.

Love the author, hate the writing!

"That has plenty to do with religion, but very little to do with the completely harmless belief that you're going to see your loved ones again in the afterlife."

How often is that "completely harmless belief" divorced from religion? In a fairly thorough religious upbringing, I don't remember the afterlife issue ever coming up apart from the "here's what you have to do to get there" and "here's why the other guys won't make it" discussions. Always in the "because I said so" context, of course.

as if you'd have to be an idiot to think that we'll be "ensconced in velvet" at "the peak of orgasm for all eternity."

well, you would - if you're going to take that literally. but, look at the Christian's definition of Heaven that i quoted:

    Think of the happiest moment you've ever experienced, think of the best you've ever felt, think of the most incredible beautiful sight you've ever seen, magnify it billions of times

if i, like George Costanza, was really into velvet and loved the idea of being wrapped in it; and if i, like Jimi Hendrix, thought being "beautiful" was a good description of transcendent bliss (which i do); and if i thought the peak of orgasm was "the best i've ever felt" (which... well) - why wouldn't all that satisfy the given description of Heaven ?

would it have been better if i said it'd be like living in a city made of semi-precious stones, participating in "an endless variety of meaningful activities" with the saints, blissed-out in eternal love ?

at least my version of Heaven sounds appealing.

It's just disrespectful.

yeah, it probably was.

that's what happens when you try to discuss the logical aspects of something with no basis in logic - both the questions and the answers become meaningless.

And I think it's pretty weak to engage in mockery that would offend my grandma and then defend it by saying that some religious people do awful things.

Hiding behind your Grandma (as if I didn't have one as well) is what's weak, IMO. Reasonable people should be able to debate, vigorously, and with the occassional bit of mockery, any idea, regardless of who holds it sacred. No one here took potshots at your Grandmother, per se. Romanticizing the idea that death equals reunion with lost loved ones to the point of not debating it offends some of my lost relatives who had no patience for anti-intellectualism. So who wins, your Grandmother or mine?

well, one thing is for sure, Nikki Giovanni won't be giving speeches at my funeral - baby elephants? wtf?

Romanticizing the idea that death equals reunion with lost loved ones to the point of not debating it offends some of my lost relatives who had no patience for anti-intellectualism.

Once again, I didn't say you shouldn't debate the idea. I said it's crass to mock it.

Mockery can be amusing if you happen to agree with the mocker; but if you don't, it's just schoolyard taunting. It doesn't serve to actually advance a debate.

Clearly there are degrees of mocking (some of which are very effective in advancing a debate, I'd argue), and I'll agree that there are rightly expected degrees of respect for other's beliefs as well, but nothing in this thread that I can see crossed the line to the degree you're suggesting it has. Perhaps you can point out the offending passage.

Again? Sigh.

Sigh? Really?

You pointed out the comment in Cleek's passage that you felt was mocking, but proceeded to suggest I'm mocking your Grandma's belief's. I'm asking you to point out where you fell I've done that. Or are you responding to us as if we were one in the same? Me and Cleek, the two-headed mocking monster.

true story: first time I flew on a plane, when I must have been about 5 or 6, I asked my mother once we flew above the clouds where all the dead people were.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula has had a lot of threads on atheism and many more recently due to the Dawkins book and the Mooney / Nisbet op-ed requesting that Dawkins be not quite so vocal about his atheism.

I'm not sure what I find more repellant: the unctuous and false sympathy from believers who are so sorry that I have no place to go when I die, or the assertion that my godlessness makes me necessarily immoral.

Can you get bored in heaven? depressed? suicidal? do you even sense the passage of time?

Debating the nature of heaven is, to me, like debating the finer points of Quidditch. It can be amusing, but it's all just fantasy.

i've been in enough of these discussions to know that they typically devolve into issues of proof, logic and causality

Same here, and I think "devolve" is the right word, because it's not an issue that will ever be resolved through proof or logical analysis.

In my experience, people embrace religious belief or not more or less at the level of something like intuition. In cases where folks seem to follow a purely rational path toward, or away from, religious belief, it always seems (to me) to be more a case of their reason following where their instinct leads.

Not, in either case, in the sense of blind acceptance or rationalization (at least necessarily), but in the sense of exploring and working out the implications of the direction they are drawn to for other, perhaps more profound, motivations.

That's what I've observed, anyway.

The long and the short of this is that noone's particularly likely to talk anyone else into, or out of, religious belief. There are other experiences that can move folks one way or the other, but reasoned argument generally doesn't do the trick.

My only other comment here, I guess, is that religious faith has as it's object things that are, inherently, impossible to demonstrate empirically. So, it's going to strike lots of folks as odd, inexplicable, or downright silly and quaint. If holding to a religious faith is your path in life, you might as well just sign for that and let go of being offended by it.

Last but not least, IMO Dinesh D'Souza is an opportunist and a wanker.

Thanks -

In cases where folks seem to follow a purely rational path toward, or away from, religious belief, it always seems (to me) to be more a case of their reason following where their instinct leads.

I think that's exactly right.

It seems also to me that the most obnoxious people, on either side of the line, are those who can't or won't trust their own instincts, and thus insist that the rest of us feel the same way, to help *them* feel that way.

the religious argument always comes down to "well, you gotta have faith"

this can indeed be a bit frustrating, but it's not unique to religious arguments: our whole system of morality and law (yes, yours too) depends on the notion of 'free will', yet it's very existence is hotly debated, which is unsurprising since it's pretty hard to square it with a naturalistic worldview; same goes for consciousness; and what about liberté, égalité, fraternité and the like?

our whole system of morality and law (yes, yours too) depends on the notion of 'free will', yet it's very existence is hotly debated

for the record, my view of free will is that it's a beautiful illusion caused by not being able to identify and monitor all of the various inputs that go into human decision-making (physical, electrical, chemical, biological, motivational, situational, etc.). i'm not sure we'll ever be able to do it, either. nonetheless, i don't think there's any ghost in this machine.

nonetheless, i don't think there's any ghost in this machine.

Tell me, Mr. Anderson Cleek... what good is a phone call... if you're unable to speak?

Assuming you define free will in a way that allows for the fact that every human being is a product of his own nature and his environment, and not as some ideal by which human impulses spring from nothingness (a phenomenon which would be indistinguishable from madness, I'd think), why do you think "free will" and a naturalistic world view are incompatible?

Tell me, Mr. Anderson Cleek... what good is a phone call... if you're unable to speak?

i do not try to speak on the phone. there is no phone.

Artist/Band: Dement Iris

Lyrics for Song: Let the Mystery Be

Lyrics for Album: Infamous Angel

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say once you're gone you're gone forever, and some say you're gonna come back.
Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour if in sinful ways you lack.
Some say that they're comin' back in a garden, bunch of carrots and little sweet peas.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Instrumental break.

Some say they're goin' to a place called Glory and I ain't saying it ain't a fact.
But I've heard that I'm on the road to purgatory and I don't like the sound of that.
Well, I believe in love and I live my life accordingly.
But I choose to let the mystery be.

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

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