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Religion: The Good, the bad, and the ugly

category national | sci-tech | feature author Friday February 22, 2008 09:29author by James O'Brien - Worker Solidarity Report this post to the editors

An anarchist view

featured image

An anarchist dismisses religious belief as a means of understanding the world that has been "superceded by science", sparking a lively debate. Is this argument simply showing disrespect to believers, talking down to the proles, or is it really the case that religion is "a dangerous drug" which means "handing over your brain to a priest, rabbi, or imam"? Read the arguments and make your own mind up.

Anarchism has traditionally been hostile to all religions because by their very nature they tend to be authoritarian. A supernatural creator who sets the rules is naturally considered to be the ultimate source of authority. And its authority means humanity’s obedience. If there is a god, it would, in the words of Bakunin, be necessary to abolish him. But a creator doesn’t exist, so we are left with the more mundane task of spreading the good news that values aren’t handed down from on high, but emerge from human society.

Socialists of all stripes are materialists. This doesn’t mean we’re greedy for money or crazy for the latest fashions. It just means that we think that the world started off quite simple, i.e. matter, and gradually evolved into more complex forms, such as animals. We see the world from the bottom up and try to understand the causes of events in natural terms, e.g. disease isn’t a form of possession by demons but often a virus or bacterial infection. Anti-social crimes aren’t simply committed by evil people; they’re partially the result of social pressures such poverty and lack of opportunities.

Religion looks at the world from the opposite point of view. Everything is top down. First you’ve got an unimaginably smart creator who was bored enough to make humans fairly clever and then down the long chain from animals to bacteria. The top-down view is especially illustrated in the religious view of the superiority of the immortal soul over the physical body.

When humanity was first coming up with answers to tricky questions like “why does it rain; what happens when we die? what causes events?”, they came up with quite a good answer. Since, in our everyday experience, minds are responsible for causing events and designing complex objects such as tools, a very great mind must be the ultimate cause of everything. This resort to an ultimate designer is especially attractive when trying to understand important parts of people’s lives, such as the weather, death etc. We still see the remnants of that today amongst people who turn to religion in order to cope with difficult circumstances.

Attributing all of creation to a super-mind was a good answer and a valuable one too. It got humanity on the scientific path of seeking proper causes for events. That the answer happened to be completely wrong doesn’t invalidate its historic importance.

Nowadays, religion has been superseded by science as a means of understanding the world. Science explains successfully what religion can’t. What science can’t explain, it is working on. Unfortunately, most, if not all, of the world’s religions have failed to keep up. They still keep to their doctrines of creation and resurrection, of prophecy and visions, of salvation and doom. There are naturalistic reasons for this too; the desire to maintain an institution’s power and the influence of inertia amongst others.

Worse, religion’s retreat in the face of science has left it holding not only absurd dogmas, but extolling the only means of believing in them: faith. This is simply belief without evidence and it’s a dangerous drug because in effect it means handing over your brain to a priest, rabbi, or imam. That is, handing it to somebody who advocates the greatest absurdities. This can only have negative consequences, especially when it comes to social life.

By contrast, anarchism is a vision of self-activity. Letting other people do your thinking for you will come home to roost in the end, hence the libertarian opposition to the concept of power being in the hands of specific political parties.

Trusting the bishops and the mullahs to weigh up matters on our behalf will soon result in edicts justifying exploitation and the necessity of a leadership. The Catholic Church just last December felt the need to yet again decry the socialist vision for a free and equal society. The faithful are supposed to line up against their own interests. Naturally, they will only do this if they concede the right of the church to do their thinking for them.

Happily, this is less and less the case in Ireland. About 15% of the population are non-religious and many of the nominal Christians pay heed to the apostles of Christ in name only. The litany of child abuse scandals, idiotic teachings on contraception, and blatantly sexist treatment of women has combined with a better educated people and more developed country to reduce their influence.

Just as science has replaced religious explanations, so too have ethical ideologies such as socialism replaced superstitious teachings as the cutting edge of social justice. After all, if something is the right thing to do, it remains the right thing to do, irrespective of what Jesus or Mohammad think. If by some tiny chance a creator does exist and has a direct line to the religious people in this world, our only problem would be how to get rid of it. As the cruel and bloody history of religion testifies, the gods are probably a lot less ethically inclined than the rest of us.

No, if we want a free and just society, there’s no point in putting your faith in superstition. That’s got to come from human endeavour, and depressing as the world may seem with daily stories about war in Iraq and hunger in Dafur, in many cases things have gotten better.
In Europe alone in the last two hundred years, we’ve seen massive changes in the winning of women’s and workers’ rights, and on the other side, the end of the divine right of a thieving aristocratic elite to rule. The rise in living standards is connected to the questioning by working people of the eternal religious platitudes. It is not simply a one-way process. Just as material conditions influence the degree of religious belief, so religious belief influences the kind of world we live in.

The best hope for the world is that ordinary working people, acting in solidarity, will progress towards a rational and libertarian socialist society. Along the way we have to throw off the chains of superstition.

<small>Mohammad frequently consulted with angels</small>
Mohammad frequently consulted with angels

<small>Desmond Connell reckoned his guardian angel saved him from burglars</small>
Desmond Connell reckoned his guardian angel saved him from burglars

author by Ahmedpublication date Wed Feb 20, 2008 19:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

You mock The Prophet (PBUH). You know that any representation of The Prophet (PBUH) is repugnant to try believers yet you choose to spit in the face of all Muslims. You do not just portray The Prophet (PBUH) you do so in a mocking manner. This yet another occurence of Islamophobia.

author by leo bloomerspublication date Wed Feb 20, 2008 19:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Doesn't much matter what people say they believe, but what they do for their fellow-creatures! I don't think any insult was intended; some people are atheists, & they're free to be so. Try not to be distracted by other people's doings - it's like when y're driving or cycling along, ya need to concentrate on steering yr own vehicle. The best defence against Islamophobia is good Muslim people who enrich their community or workplace.

author by erpublication date Wed Feb 20, 2008 19:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Best thing is this- respect belief.

Most of the working class women I know, attend mass btw- and I do not think they will give
up baptising their babies and burying their dead cos a group of spotty theorists tell them
that what they believe is wrong...

The thing with leading is, you have to take cues. you cannot mock deeply held beliefs
even if they are anathema to you. (and thats got nothing to do with faith)

whose PBUH?

author by Chekovpublication date Wed Feb 20, 2008 21:11author address author phone Report this post to the editors

1.Gets offended and offers no defence
2. Says it doesn't matter what people believe
3. Resorts to personal abuse "spotty theorists"

The formidable intellectual might of the theists out in force.

author by Colmpublication date Wed Feb 20, 2008 21:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

PBUH = Praise be upon him.

It's a phrase those afflicted by the foul superstition of religion (muslim branch) attach to every utterance of the name of their fantasist-in-chief.

author by ribbidpublication date Wed Feb 20, 2008 22:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'd love to chance adding an illustration as well as suggestions for anyone who though convinced by the comrade's argument against a place for religion in anarchism still likes a bit of religiosity.

here are some interesting links - The Church of Google argues quite deftly that there is more proof of Google being God than God. Sign up and know "Googlists believe that after they die, their contributions during their lives to the sum of human knowledge will be stored on Google's servers, allowing for the knowledge they shared to be remembered and cherished by future generations" http://www.thechurchofgoogle.org/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Church_of_Google You really have to read the scriptural proofs - http://www.thechurchofgoogle.org/Scripture/Proof_Google....html

or check out the IPU http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn instead.

superflous imagery.
superflous imagery.

author by Ciaron - Catholic Worker/Pitstop Ploughsharespublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 04:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A few weeks ago, I went off to the local anarchist squat to listen to and debate with american anarchist Peter Gelderloos who had written a book "How Nonviolence protects the State!". The large anarcho crowd gathered was predominantly male, athiest, white and of middle class origin. The next morning I went to my local Catholic church in Hoxton where the congregation was, as it is every Sunday, predominatly women, black and of working class or peasant origin. This is a pretty good metaphor...it is only in affluent Europe that post belief abounds. The poor believe.

I live in a house with a Catholic priest, a Sunni, a Shia, an Ethiopian Orthodox, a Congolese pentecostal and an East End anarchist athiest - we all respect each other's religiosity or nonreligiosity and the house runs on principals of nonviolence and direct democracy.

It is wrong to say that anarchism is traditionally hostile to religion. You could say "secular anarchism" or "post-enlightenment" anarchism...but these are really the new kids on the block. Thiest anarchism goes way back beyond the Diggers, way way back. See Marshal's "Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism" for chapters on anarchist streams in various religios traditions. The anarchist critique of co-option of the church by power, wealth, status (and the old chestnut lust) is shared by radical christians - we just don't make the mistake to think that the church has a monopoly on getting co-opted or sexual scandal (see the recent demise of Sandanistas, ANC, Scottish Socialist Party etc etc)

If you are a radical christian, you're going to be a pacifist. And if you are a radical pacifist you're going to be an anarchist - because all states are based on the violence of the miltary, cops and prisons. In terms of exploring the interface beyween secular and thiest strands of anarchism checkout Ammon Hennacy on that one
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammon_Hennacy

I think secular anarchists continually shoot themselves in the foot by taking such a hostile position to thiests and belief.
How people come to terms with the existential question
Q. "What the fuck am I doing here?"
and the realisation
"I'm not going to be here for fucking long!".......
....is really their own business, subjective terrain. They really don't need an anarcho inquisition into it. If people find meaning in radical interpretations of Buddhism, Christanity, paganism, Islam or encounters with the pixies at the end of the garden is irrelvant - as long as they come up with ethics & praxis of nonviolence and direct deomocracy

The London Catholic Worker is part of the recently formed anarchist Hackney Solidairty Network, roughly modeled on Dublin's now defunct AAA and ongoing "Radical Preston". I was talking to an experienced comrade there the other night whose 20 year politcal trajectory had led him from the SWP through Anti-Fa through Class War to a more community based - less subcultural - politics. He had just read Dave Andrews "Christianarchy" and although not a thiest is impressed by the books approach to neighborhood politics.

I am also reminded by Noam Chomsky's response in Dublin - to the effect that anarchism is just common sense. There is a mistake to think that anarchism is some kind of elitest theospohist type insight only shared by a privileged few in the know. All groups and projects have their strengths and weaknesses (often they are the same thing!). The anarchist politics of WSM are heavy on the specifics of utopian thought, analysis of contemporary struggles etc. I'm glad there's an anarchist group doing this kind of work. But I guess what goes with the post-enlightenment vibe is a lot of dualistic, "defining against" thinking.

Given the accelerated collapse of civil society and the increasing atomised lives being led - the churches can be a font of local grassroots mutual aid and a powerful springboard for struggle...see the civil rights movement in The South (of U.S.), see the role of the mosque in the present Islamic resistance etc, even our more limited experience of organsing around the '96 "Seeds of Hope" trial in Liverpoool - it was pretty much four Catholic churches that put the numbers on the streets outside the trial of these 4 powerful feminist women.

The other night I was reminded by anarchist author Milan Rai of an old cartoon picturing a variety of anarchist characters (punk, hippy, les-fem, class war etc) a the London Anarchist Bookfair all have seperate thinking bubbles ascending to a common thought "How come I'm the only real anarchist here!"

Related Link: http://www.londoncatholicworker.org
author by Epicuruspublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 09:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then is he impotent?
Is he able, but not willing?
Then is he malevolent?
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence commeth evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

author by Norapublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 09:20author email noorazao at hotmail dot comauthor address Malaysiaauthor phone Report this post to the editors

It is time to depoliticize every religion in this very modern century; as politics is fundamentally about gaining or sustaining power. And such power has throughout centuries been used to dominate rather than moving progressively towards true social justice that encompasses true equality and true freedom for all beings especially women and the gay communities. Only by personalizing it back that it becomes a cultural tradition that is dynamic and flexible; subjected to one's truly enlightened and truly conscious and subjective interpretation. Only through that journey initially where religion is only as guidance, thus not encompassed within absolute and dogmatic laws and ideology ( as all system of believes should be whether of anarchism, capitalsim or socialism), to what is spiritually enlightening in the journey of self-discovery, one may be a genuinely better human being in the social world. But as long as it remains in the political sphere, the manipulation of such cultural tradition by a group of a few such as the (male) elite-capitalist class will continue.

Thus, despite being a socialist, I'm not against the harmonious balance between materialism/science and the spiritual world. And if the spiritual world can be achieved through the supernatural world, so be it especially if it gives an individual a sense of deep inner peace. After all, amidst so much brutality in the current world, humans turn to religion to keep themselves sane. As long as one believes genuinely in social justice; and such beliefs do not infringe upon one's or any other's human rights and promote social injustice; and trampling upon the natural world. However, although I've a religion, the best solution in the very modern century is through dynamic UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS and secularism (not about promoting Atheism) that can mediate genuinely and unbiasedly any conflicts and injustice, whether between humanity or with the natural world.

One last word, to Ahmed; please do not shout "Islamophobia" to any criticism towards Islam; as that will be mostly self-destructive. I was born a Muslim woman. Religion is only a cultural tradition; and any tradition can be criticized or be critically analyzed by anyone. Especially if it abuses universal human rights and promote social injustice. Any culture should never be placed above such increasingly progressive and modern values of universal human rights and social justice.

author by Ciaronpublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 09:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Who said God was a he?

God created man in God's image
and man returns the favour.

author by noodley appendagepublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 10:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

...."The Florida Board of Education voted 4 to 3 [Wednesday] to include the language [theoretical] as part of its retooling of the state's science standards for public school education. The board approved clearly labeling every scientific law and theory as such. The standard dealing with biology now says, "The scientific theory of evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence." Some had urged the board to add an "academic freedom" provision that would have let teachers "engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence.

http://www.fldoe.org/news/2008/2008_02_19.asp
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/20....html

Yep. Gravity is a theory too. & so is nuclear fusion. The little machine in Dick Cheney's heart keeping him alive is very theoretical. & water theoretically boils at 100º or theoretically freezes at 0º.

_____________________________________________________________

However, this is a great victory for evolutionists & many of you might miss that only now are schools in Florida obliged to teach this theory.

author by maconpublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 13:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Religion is just another way the followers of Orisis and his father Amen use to control the world. The supreme force has no name and demands no worship. Religion is the root of all evil.
Mind you so is money , government and everything else that is used to enslave us. TV is the opium of the masses. Enviromentalism is the latest (con) cult. Believe nothing only yourself. Live ethically.

author by horseshite!publication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 13:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

it is hard work, with people on this newswire (regular contributors) being brutalised, their civil liberties ignored.
There is no fucking creed for eco-activism- it has always been about highlighting the lack of concern for where
we live that is gobsmackingly displayed by those in power- who would use it for profit.

btw:- JPII called environmentalists the 'anti-christ' , while his colleague Benedict uses global warming and eco
as a tool for oppression and control. (specifically of women who are hairy and scary). you cannot respect a finite
resource by brutalising those who would defend it, its called responsibility.

author by Inactivistpublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 15:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Good to see Ciaron letting his hair down (!) and sticking his neck out (can hardly be seen for the hair!) to express his positive views towards religion on such a religion-hostile thread as this. Faith power works wonders.

author by Jamespublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 15:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Ahmed: You mock The Prophet (PBUH). You know that any representation of The Prophet (PBUH) is repugnant to try believers yet you choose to spit in the face of all Muslims. You do not just portray The Prophet (PBUH) you do so in a mocking manner. This yet another occurence of Islamophobia.

Well, it does mock a little, but what’s wrong with that? Really, though, it’s more highlighting the weird nature of religions. Desmond Connell is very influential in Ireland. He’s the leading intellectual of the Irish Church. And he believes in angels. That should make people pause.

Religions kinda specialise in absurdity; it’s almost a test that fosters group submission. After all, if people can intellectually debase themselves enough to believe that Mohammad went up to heaven from the Al Asqa or that Jesus rose from the dead (but only for 40 days!), then they’re liable to believe anything. Which is helpful for the ruling elites.

I find it interesting the way defenders of religion are quick to condemn mockery, however gentle. Even ordinary questioning gets short shrift. But in a sense they’re right. Firstly, it’s not as if their core doctrines make much sense, so you don’t really want people to think about them at all. Secondly, humour undermines the very nature of religion. The best jokes contain the truth. If we don’t take god or his messengers seriously, then after a while maybe people will start to take on board the underlying message of the jokes. And once the initial “don’t question this” spell is broken, it’s not too long a journey towards abandoning belief in the supernatural.

If the religions actually had good defences against atheistic criticism, they wouldn’t need to close down discussions with accusations of Islamophobia. It often appears that the faithful don’t have much confidence in the rationality of what they believe in.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2004/sep/27/comment.bro...sting
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_of_the_rose

author by Joepublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 15:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I also find this article gratuitiously insulting to people who believe in God and Angels. What has insulting people got to do with Anarchy? Nothing! I think it has a lot more to do with Communist totalitarianism which this 'worker' seems to deliberately confuse with Anarchy.

And why go specifically out of your way to insult Muslims Mr O'Brien?

This piece by you containing anti- Islamic and anti-Iranian views in an interview with a character 'Farzad Safavisaleh' who you allege you met in a flat in Dublin, may expose your motivations more clearly.

http://www.ainfos.ca/04/feb/ainfos00009.html

You ask him, 'What is your attitude towards Islam now? Do you go the mosque regularly?" And what precicesly has that got to do with the situation in Iran? Nothing.

I for one will certainly be having nothing more to do with Workers Solidarity if this is the sort of anti-Islamic 'Communist Anarchy' you are promoting.

author by Jamespublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 16:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yep, because the Iranian regime is to be totally identified with the population. So much so that when Iranians who've been tortured by that regime speak out in favour of freedom there're to be classified as anti-Iranian. That is, they have a few qualms about the torture of themselves and their family and friends. Brilliant analysis.

author by Inactivistpublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 16:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

So you think "Religions kinda specialise in absurdity" James? Look, lots of sectarian left groupos specialise in absurd holier-than-thou intrigue and infighting. And you regard Cardinal Desmond O'Connell as the leading catholic intellectual in Ireland? The leading catholic intellectuals are outside the hierarchy, some of them outside the groves of academe. That Moriarty guy who passed away a few months ago - the bloke who worked as a gardener after getting out of university lecturing - now there was an intellectual. Come to think of it, when Ciaron is talking to meetings around the country he can seem like a leading catholic intellectual. He'll never be trapped into doing a doctoral thesis though: too much activity going on for that lark.

author by Jamespublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 16:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Ciaron: The large anarcho crowd gathered was predominantly male, athiest, white and of middle class origin. The next morning I went to my local Catholic church in Hoxton where the congregation was, as it is every Sunday, predominatly women, black and of working class or peasant origin. This is a pretty good metaphor...it is only in affluent Europe that post belief abounds. The poor believe.

Is that a good thing though? To what extent does religion inculcate a submissive attitude towards the powers that be? Presumably the religious poor expect some reward in the next life and are willing to spend their energy working on that instead of sorting this world out. Believing in absurdities needs a lot of faith. Faith demands a switching off one’s critical faculties. This is not a recipe for freedom. The labour movement’s historical hostility to religion is based on religion’s use of myths to voluntary enslave ordinary people. Overcoming that is a necessary, but no by no means sufficient, part of liberation.

In any case, simplistic identity politics, e.g. comparing non-theistic whites to the coloured poor jettisons large parts of history. The pre-war Spanish working classes were notoriously anti-religious and went as far as anybody in overthrowing capitalism. That level of self-activity just does not sit well with a mindset that demands submission. While the economic development of Europe undercut religious belief, the decline in obedience to religion assists the development of people’s freedom.

Ciaron: I live in a house with a Catholic priest, a Sunni, a Shia, an Ethiopian Orthodox, a Congolese pentecostal and an East End anarchist athiest - we all respect each other's religiosity or nonreligiosity and the house runs on principals of nonviolence and direct democracy.

Good, good. Nothing wrong with a bit of respect. I used to work with a Catholic priest involved in liberation theology and nuns who’ve seen more war zones than your average US marine. That doesn’t negate the overall effect of religious thinking though. In some ways, it makes the power of the Church stronger in that it lends credibility to the rest of the organization. Think of it as Fianna Fail TDs opposing health cuts while their government presses ahead. The most influential religions are similarly broad and similarly hypocritical.

In any case respect doesn’t mean not discussing different analyses, and being humans, sometimes such discussion make people uncomfortable. That’s not a reason for sweeping them under the carpet though. It could be that the religious conception of the world is badly wrong, that there is no god, that the religious doctrines are weird legacies of a primitive people. Wouldn’t it be interesting to think about that and to weigh up the evidence? Interesting to consider the overall impact of religion in both its positive and negative influences?

Where we seem to diverge, is in the importance of truth. In your post there’s no reflection on whether what you (or Muslims, Hindus etc) believe is actually true. As long as folks are decent (and presumably, therefore, don’t take their core texts too seriously?) then the question of truth just isn’t important.

But the world would be a very different place if god did exist and, as political animals, it would greatly affect our understanding of it. For example, most lefties tend to analyse the American invasion of Iraq in terms of the ruling class interests. Were they looking to rob the oil? Set up military bases to dominate the region? Keep their own population submissive due to a state of perpetual war? All of the above?

Imagine if we were to abandon a materialistic analysis in favour of a theistic one. Maybe god really did inform Bush’s plans. Maybe praying to old Jesus really did give Blair the moral conviction to murder thousands. While those morons may believe it, nobody takes seriously the proposition that the ruling class would invade for just those reasons. In order to understand the world, we need to look at how it really is. That means not subscribing to fairy stories just because it makes people feel nice. Knowledge isn’t always comforting in the short term.

Btw, the Marshall book includes a chapter on anarcho-capitalists. Do you consider them part of the anarchist movement? The anarchist movement as a self-conscious anti-state socialist political tendency emerged in the 1860s. Obviously there’s a long and complex history that feeds into that. There’re plenty of inspirational struggles that overlap with anarchist thinking but were not part of the historical anarchist tradition, from the medieval peasant uprisings to the Diggers, from Marxism to liberation theology and onto the Zapatistas. We can learn from these and support them. I don’t see the need to force every libratory movement into an anarchist box. But it's not a big deal one way or the other.

Also, the WSM never has a problem with working with people from different traditions in campaigns. Again, that’s no reason not to raise differences. After all, there’s no way people will learn about each others’ views. After all, we could be wrong on the whole materialistic analysis bit. The only way to improve is to be open to discussion. But, so many decent religious people get defensive and don’t want any discussion on the core theological doctrines. You’d think if those ideas were true it’d be important to communicate that truth.

I always regard being placed in the Enlightenment tradition a compliment!

author by con carrollpublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 17:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Ciaran
nice one. on the middle class arnachists. it has always been my political argument that arnachism is controlled by the middle class. that can never identify with working class. I get issed off sometimes by those people from middle class backrounds who go on about poverty in Africa. aqnd the war on terror. when it comes closer to home these people are either in control of wel funded government bodies on poverty
who become paranoid when challeneged by people who experience poverty. for instance we have many people in europe who experience exploitation in the work-places. people with disabilities. people who are asylum seekers.
this week in Ireland we can think off Irish Republicans families. who's fathers, husbands mother comrades died. IRA volunteer Brendan Hughes. ex hunger striker Belfast. Mags Hughes. the mother of Francis Hughes. IRA hungwer striker. Ella o Dwyer father, Billy. Ella a ex Irish Republican pow. Tony Tracey. a survivor of child sex abuse.. who died in Cork.

I am opposed to institutionalised religion. one has to look at their treatment of people who were sexually abused as children. in Ireland
also their attitude towards travellers. their homohopic standards. their control off anti poverty groups.

saying that I also recognise. that many people working on the ground. against poverty, injustices peace. did so with liberation theology analysis. in many parts of the world. many were murdered imprisoned. I for one have always supported liberation theology. inspired by left radical Franciscan spirituality

I have also met people whos faith is Islam. who are political left. whom I would n't dismiss. where people are working for political change. who are political motiviated we should work with them. instead off seeing ourselves as saviours of humankind. one can look at the lives of Romero. the women who were murdered in El Salvador. along with the Jesuits. the many Iraqi women, children. Palestinians. anti racist activits who were murdered by the state. Guantanamo bay. ask ourselves which side are we on. remembering those who were murdered in the holocaust. Pastor Neimer thoughts

author by Anarcho-atheistpublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 18:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is sort of interesting that all of the arguments against the article above have basically taken on straw men.

I mean James' article did not say that people who believed in religious ideas were terrible people. It also did not express any disrespect for the people who hold those ideas, nor did it advocate that anybody should disrespect people who hold such ideas - it concerned itself with the content of the religious ideas themselves and how those ideas can be used by powerful institutions.

All of the responses have basically argued that people with religious ideas can be good people and can get on well together.

The arguments about the class of those who hold the ideas are also just totally irrelevant to the topic. Does anybody really believe that an idea is better because of the socio-economic background of the person who holds it? I mean the US military is stuffed full of working class people of colour, but that doesn't mean that we should necessarily think that blowing up Iraqi villages, or torturing prisoners is a better idea than the peaceful ideas proposed by the generally much-more-privileged people in the US peace movement.

The reason, in my opinion, why people have to resort to such a poor standard of argument in response to such articles is that they are simply incapable of responding to the reason and logic that they contain. Nobody has even attempted to argue in favour of religious ideas in any way at all - prefering the straw man argument of arguing in defence of those people who have religious ideas and ad-hominems.

The people who use such shoddy debating devices do not apply the same standards elsewhere. For example, when somebody argues against the US war of terror, Ciaron does not jump in to tell us that he knows a load of good people who support the war, and gets on well with them and that their ideas should be respected. He does not claim that the anti-war activists are mainly middle class while the GIs are mostly from much poorer and more diverse backgrounds. The reason that he doesn't do this is because he realises that it is an eminently reasonable thing to do to try to change the opinions of those that we disagree with and that to disagree strongly with somebody's ideas does not imply disrespect for the person him or herself. It is only in the religious domain that such terrible logic is applied - and it is applied as a defence against thought, a sort of self-imposed lobotomy when it comes to this realm.

I mean nobody really thinks that all religious ideas should be respected and should be immune from challenge, because religious ideas are frequently barbaric, hateful and frankly crazy.

author by darren - per capacitypublication date Thu Feb 21, 2008 23:55author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I’m glad to see this article on Indymedia, because it actually motivated me to write a response. The article totally ruined my porridge yesterday as I settled down to breakfast with the latest issue of Workers Solidarity.

It’s one thing to see this article on Indymedia, but to think of the poor auld WSM foot soldiers pushing this article through the letterboxes of Dublin’s proletariat gives me the heebie jeebies. As anarchists it’s important to understand, reflect upon and rally against all forms of oppression. In our efforts to dismantle systems of oppression, we should strive to understand them and to develop analyses and strategies that work towards this end. To attack religion per se rather than focusing on its oppressive forms is to miss the point.

When we criticise the current political order, we don’t advocate an abandonment of politics. Similarly this article is big on science and enlightenment. Should we dismiss science because of all the death and destruction that have happened in its name? Or socialism for that matter?

The article, ‘Religion: The Good The Bad & the Ugly’, is gross, over-simplified, two-dimensional and, in my opinion, a disservice to modern Anarchism. It denies the possibility to hold a multiplicity of ideas; it trots out some tired, stale dogma and it is downright disrespectful towards readers with religious beliefs.

The article is insulting to the intelligence of the many anarchists and socialists who have a sophisticated enough worldview to reconcile spirituality/religion with their political convictions. I know many comrades who are Buddhists, Taoists, Christian Anarchists, Muslims, Quakers, Catholic Workers, Pagans, Liberation Theologists & others with less defined spiritual/religious beliefs. For many, the fight against oppression and the desire to build a new society are informed and driven by their religious beliefs.

Religion is a touchy subject and should be treated with due sensitivity. It has been an oppressive force for many (myself included- as a ‘recovering catholoholic’). Many people have been also persecuted for their religious beliefs and, in the face of oppression, religion has been a space for regeneration and even a space of resistance.

I think we should all celebrate the fact that the Catholic Church is loosening its stranglehold in Ireland, but we also need to remain aware of the changing nature of Irish society. For many migrant ‘workers’, religion is a significant part of life and culture. As anarchists aiming to bolster a sense of class pride and solidarity, it would be beneficial if our message resonated with, rather than alienated people.

The main question this article raises for me is: just who is the author trying to communicate with? Maybe the author is just ‘preaching to the converted’ (if you excuse the pun…) Is it just me or is there a tendency towards over-simplification in Workers Solidarity? I can’t imagine this article appearing in Red & Black Revolution. I really hope we’re not dumbing down for the proletariat.

I expect better from the WSM, an organisation made up of inspiring anarchist activists and thinkers, many of whom I’m proud to call friends. In the case of the current issue of Workers Solidarity, I’d have to reflect that this paper is so much less than the sum of it parts.

author by libertarianpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 09:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Have you even a notion what socialism and anarchism are? As political philosophies, they adopt a cold-eyed, rational and materialist view of the world in order to understand clearly the political and economic forces at play. Both outlooks are firmly rooted in the Enlightenment and reject superstition.

You can know as many nice Buddhists and 'Catholic Workers' as you like, but, if you are a rational thinker, you can't seriously accept their beliefs in the dominant role of the supernatural in this world. In fact, I would go further and say that you cannot even accept the existance of the supernatural! Where is the proof for god, angels and the rest of that gobblydygook? There is none. Ciaron O'Reilly and the Catholic Workers offer no evidence for the existence of the supernatural - other than 'faith'. What??? This is just childish nonsense, and most believers are people trapped in their upbringing, unable to make that final break with age-old superstition.

author by libertarianpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 09:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I will go further.

I think an acceptance of superstition undermines an activist's analysis of the world as it is. The supernatural is supposedly beyond human control and even understanding. For most religions, god is a defining feature of human existence - he or she plays a major role in determining our fortunes and misfortunes. God plays a role not just in terms of direct intervention but in terms of believers tailoring their lives to serve the supposed values of the deity. In short, a belief in the supernatural necessarily leads to a lack of understanding of the world as it actually is.

Fundamentally though, a belief in the supernatural is intellectual self-abasement. There is no evidence of 'God' so why believe in it? Theology is entirely self-referential - it proves nothing. It's all utter bunkum. It's up to believers to prove that god exists, not for unbelievers to prove otherwise, and all we ever hear is 'faith', 'faith', 'faith'. It's intellectually feeble stuff and that's being kind.

author by inmendumpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 09:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors




If there is a God he or she is evil.

I don't believe in God so what am I left with?

Nature, Gaia or whatever.

Should I worship her?

Our existence is suffering pure and simple and as rational human beings our reason for living is to reduce suffering as much as possible by whatever sliver of an increment.

Related Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNd386MmQYI
author by Al Neffaripublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 10:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

'between me and thee is thy self-experience, cast it from thee and I will veil thee from thyself.'

now why are they taking our st patrick's day and moving it to the ides of march?
open literal interpretation by twisted war-mongering bad and nasty leaders causes the problems.

author by Norapublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 10:20author email noorazao at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Libertarian, don't be so condescending. Just because we believe in religion, thus accusing us of being "bad/stupid" activists are plain silly. In fact my (personalized) religion doesn't conflict with my social consciousness and social activism as a socialist; but actually inspires me to be a better person. It works for me, hence my business, and if it doesn't work for you, then it's your business. Religion/spirituality is part of cultural dynamics; just as many Atheist I know celebrate Christmas because it's a part of that cultural tradition that gives one (especially the young) joy and rekindles social connection which doesn't really harm anyone unless it became commercialized. Thus, as long as the cultural values do not cause harm to one's or other's universal human rights, I don't see why you should find it so harmful. Most of the time; when it's personalized rather than politicized, it gives one a sense of deep inner peace, appreciation and connection with the social, natural and supernatural world. Extreme in things always caused fundamentalism and arrogance. Thus the harmonious balance between spirituality and materialism can provide a healthy balance to our whole sense of well-being, not just physically but in our hearts and soul. Those aspects do matter to some people including activists. Especially when in the pure materialistic world, greed, selfishness and being extremely individualistic overwhelms in the extreme.

author by libertarianpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 11:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Intellectually feeble.

Nora, this is just an argument for taking deep breaths and relaxing the mind every now and again. What are you on about? What the hell is 'spirituality'? Sure, we need to contemplate the self on an ongoing basis - we remain individuals in a social world. But 'connect to the supernatural'? Explain this. What are you on about? What supernatural? What, an imaginary friend?

author by Inactivistpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 11:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Scientific socialists of the Soviet Union certainly took a "cold-eyed, rational and materialist view of the world in order to understand clearly" political and economic realities in the world of their time. Look what that Science and materialist view led to - judicial murder on a vast scale, slave labour in the gulag, the death of free art, music, philosophy. The worship of History became a substitute religion; the Party Presidium a substitute religious hierarchy; forced confessions, sentences and executions the equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition. Chairman Mao's litle book became a bible, the red guards the church evangelists who claimed that strongwilled peasants could move mountains, just like Faith.

But it's not just a scientific socialist thing, and I'm not a capitalist, I still hope for a mixed economy with taxation buttressing a humane welfare state. No, in the present western capitalist societies we see the media worship of the Market and the media worship of tinsel celebrity. That's the substitute religion in capitalist consumerism. That and lots more: it's time for those on the left of the capitalism/socialism debate to analyse and expose and campaign against these religion substitutes and other opiates on which the masses of all classes are suckling.

I question the human validity of cold rationality since it led to the invention of the "scientific humane killing machine", the guillotine, during the French revolution, and "precision bombing" and "surgical strikes" in present times. It led in the mid-40s to the creation and use of atomic weapons of massacre. Think about cold reason and be afraid.

This is just an interjection on historical realities. It seems that the main discussion about spirituality is still between Ciaron, James and Nora, so keep at it.

author by libertarianpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Inactivist,

Most of what you've written is completely irrelevant to this discussion. Very few if any of the contributors here supported or support Stalinism and the Pol Pot view of the world. Using gross hyperbole to dismiss human rationalism won't wash.

The debate between socialists/anarchists and theists is essentially a debate between rationality and a belief in superstition.

The key question is, does the supernatural exist? If not, then religion is just one big heap of historio-cultural junk.

I await cogent evidence of the existence of god - and I'm guessing that I'll be waiting a long, long time (like, till I die) before somebody on this thread supplies it. All we ever get is babble about 'faith'.

author by anarchagirlpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

libertarian

you keep talking as if it is obvious that any kind of religion is based on superstition, whereas you with your far superior unblinkered vision see through all that mumbo-jumbo.

This is both nonsense and extremely unhelpful.

Almost everything (maybe everything) you believe with your rational mind is based at the end of the day on subjective experience and intuition. You have no more reason to believe that your hands typing these comments exist, that the sky is blue, or that capitalism sucks than I have to believe that everything is holy and full of God. That is because the latter is based on my personal experience, just as the former is based on *your* personal experience.

There is no necessary connection between having religious or spiritual sentiments, and Authority. I am most definitely a spiritual anarchist - I believe it is dangerous and ridiculous, and probably no more than a symptom of heirarchical and oppressive social relations, to hold that any other person has spiritual authority over me. Pope Schmope. Incidentally, my particular beliefs also mean that even God it/her/himself does not act as an external authority on me, but rather as an internal impulse of love.

Nevertheless, I am not going to insult the intelligence of my catholic or what have you comrades by dismissing deeply held and subjective feelings and beliefs as baseless. This is for two reasons.

Firstly, because I see that for any individual, the spiritual beliefs that have meaning to them and which give them strength to be compassionate and aware of the world and its sicknesses may come in many shapes and sizes. For some, atheism or humanism may offer this, for others even catholicism (though being so obviously authoritarian it is probably the religion I am furthest from, as a creed).

Secondly, because having a watertight ideology that is identical to my own is not something that I regard as a wholly desirable or remotely feasible goal. Anyone's views and beliefs are subject to development and introspection, and for anyone to regard themselves as infallible is the road to authoritarianism itself. And that includes any of you self-styled anarchists who actually march about telling people what the truth is as if there is no discussion to be had. Maybe my view makes more sense than anarcho-fascism and catholicism combined. But I am sure there are holes in it. If so, we all need to listen to one another and think openly and carefully rather than just being dogmatic and insulting.

Dogmatism is not an ill that is limited to religion.

love and insurrection x

author by libertarianpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yesss, you're a nicer and less dogmatic person than me. Umm.

I love my neighbours too. I respect believers. I'm a nice person.

However, I do NOT believe in the supernatural. And all this stuff ultimately boils down to 'faith' in an entity that cannot be proven to exist. The whole religious superstructure is built around this belief.

You talk of your 'inner' whatever. Fine. But what comes from within is entirely human. If you want to pretend that a comtemplative sense of self is religion, that's grand, but it's also wrong. Religion is centred on a belief in the supernatural, on an adhesion to superstition.

I'm not superior to anybody. Never claimed to be. However, I think I'm correct to be dubious of belief in a god in exactly the same way I'm dubious of beliefs in Santa Claus and leprehacauns.

There seems to be some weird fall-back position that theists rely that goes something like this: if billions of people get something from religion (a different debate, by the way) then go easy on the disbelief. Let them at it. It's insulting to point out the obvious - which is that the emperor is clearly buck-naked.

author by Norapublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:23author email noorazao at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Spirituality is fundamentally about cultivating one's inner being as ingrained deeply in one's immortal soul. Just as the soul can't be visualized simply through materialism, so is the supernatural world. The spiritual world especially through traditional culture connects us in complexity through our souls deeply to this other world of the supernatural, a world of non-human beings, sharing and respecting in harmonious balance with our human world. Why do humans selfishly think that they should be the only inhabitants or the most superior ones in this whole and complex universe? It's no wonder many think they can simplistically destroy the universe as if they absolutely owned it. Thus, if I want to imagine or believe such beings, the soul and other worlds exist, as long as I don't violate anyone's universal human rights, but instead through such imagination or beliefs find or try to achieve deep inner peace, conscience and consciousness within me; so be it. Further my spirituality gives deep meaning to my life and how I perceive life and the universe deeply instead of having just shallow understanding and regard towards life and the whole universe as in a purely materialistic world.

author by god - Religionpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 13:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Read the bible.

god kills just over a third of a million people for his own ends................(not including the alleged flood)

Gods Followers? they kill over 2.4 million for their god.

And thats just the bible....how many since then?

Its not god or religion that bothers me its all the humans who kill in their names.

Why are some religious people "good people" or "moral people"?

Well its a little thing called eternal damnation they commit good acts out of a fear of being punished after they die by being sent to "hell"

so my question is.............

if your motivation for an act of kindness is due to a fear of pain is the act still morally right?

author by Rational Ecologistpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 13:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

While I do not wish to defend organised religion I find the follow from James to be quite baffling " Nowadays, religion has been superseded by science as a means of understanding the world. Science explains successfully what religion can’t. What science can’t explain, it is working on ". This is no more than blind faith in science and more importantly the powerful to reveal to us their truth. Any anarchist worth his/her salt must, as a prequisite, have a healthy scepticism regarding science. James, are you naive enough to believe that science is rational, neutral?
The enlightenment did herald a new way of examining reality but it's high priests were hardly those to be admired by left-thinking people. Cartesian dualism only served to subjugate subjective experience and indeed other humans and the planet.
Science has all the facets of a religion, it is controlled by a powerful hierarchy and is as faith based as most religions.
GM, Nuclear and so on, these are creations of a science and not a science that seeks to understand and liberate but rather one that wants to own, control, dominate and destroy.
If we believed that the earth was sacred ( a religious concept ) could we do what we do?

author by god - religionpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 13:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

if we believed that the earth was necessary for our survival ( a non-religious concept ) could we do what we do?

author by anarchagirlpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 13:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

libertarian you have not answered my main points, and instead resorted to attacking me for things I never said.

For instance, I never said you weren't nice, though to be honest your previous posts were, bluntly, not nice. They were belittling and insulting, and you spoke in a way which implied that your opponents are all just stupid or blind and ignorant. That is patently false. I never used the word "inner" either. What I said was, my beliefs are based upon direct personal experience and intuition. The point you never answered was that SO ARE YOURS. There is no such thing as cold hard rationalism.

Maybe my religion comes from me, maybe it comes from humans. But I do believe there are very strong arguments at least that not everything is material. Shall we discuss that, or are you just going to resort to your favourite attack and call me superstitious again?

I dont believe in santa claus because I have not had any experiences which give me any evidence for such a belief, and also, the existence of santa claus is pretty much incompatible with many of the other things I believe about the world, for which I have direct experience. This is simply not true of my religious/spiritual beliefs.

So, to reiterate, you have no grounds for dismissing my beliefs as just false. This just leaves the argument that, whether or not we can prove it wrong, religion is *bad* in some way, oppressive or whatever. So the rest of my post was aimed at that. Now for god's sake (or, all our sakes, if you prefer) can you please get off your high horse and use some actual arguments instead of just repeating yourself, it is getting frustrating.

hoping you have ears for listening
x

author by Chekovpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 14:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"Science has all the facets of a religion, it is controlled by a powerful hierarchy and is as faith based as most religions."

Post-modernist nonsense. Science as it is practiced is not perfect, but to say that it is "as faith based" as most religions is just complete and utter nonsense.

How many religions propagate their beliefs through repeatable, rigorous experiments which make precise, measurable predictions?

The rationalist label that you have given yourself is laughable.

author by libertarianpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 14:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

My central points are very clear. Your disquisitions on 'spirituality' and on yourself address nothing. They are a pointless diversion from the central issue, which is whether or not the foundations of religion are solid. Let me put this even more concisely:

1. Religion requires a belief in the supernatural, in a deity.

2. No verifiable proof has been provided - certainly not on this thread - that god, as a supernatural entity, actually exists.

3. Without such proof, theology, religious institutions and the rest of the superstructure are clearly based on hocus pocus. Of course religious traditions are actually existing cultural entities, but they are based on a bogus belief in something that doesn't actually exist (unless somebody proves that god exists).

All the new-age, spirituality stuff addresses none of this. It's just mysticism and intellectually feeble, as I said earlier.

author by sidewinderpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 16:11author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This talk of freedom of personal beliefs is a diversion. Does your god issue commandments and do you have to obey them without question? If you do, then you probably think everybody should. To accept the principle of obeying without question then you have accepted a principle that is, from the anarchist perspective, disastrously destructive. If your own personal god lets you make up whatever rules you chose to live by as you please, then I have no problem with you believing in Jehova, Cthulhu or the Tooth Fairy.

From an anarchist and socialist point of view the 6 million dollar question relates to the way we chose to arrange our society. Do we arrange it by finding, through negotiation, the norms and customs that suit us all best, collectively. Or must society be organised in accordance with non-negotiable divine dictat?

author by Gods2Menpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 16:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Nevertheless, I am not going to insult the intelligence of my catholic or what have you comrades by dismissing deeply held and subjective feelings and beliefs as baseless.


You've just argued that you believe in absolute solipsism. Unless you don't really believe what you've written then you're arguing that _everything_ is baseless and can only remain in that state.

Sure may as well make out like a madman in the here and now and then have a good oul deathbed repentance. Or if you really want to cover your tracks and hedge your bets for the afterlife then you could do some anguished soul searching.

Materialist rationalism is often painted by its opponents as soulless, but in reality it espouses the hopeful position that there really is an understandable, statistically predictable world peopled by other intelligences (of varying degrees). This is in contrast to the ultimate atomisation of the worldview espoused by the irrationalist "spiritual" believers.

Materialist rationalism has given the world comedy, lowered infant mortality, the bicycle, space travel, warm homes, democracy and factual challenges to racism and other perversions of the mind.

Spirituality has given us the Third Reich, the Crusades, Kings, child abuse, the Middle East and a lot of people sitting around on their holes on yoga mats.

author by PedoProphetWatchpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 16:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Catholic Church has turned a blind eye to childabuse and so has Islam. Indeed Islam defends the fact that the "prophet" took a 9 year old bride.

Sahih Muslim Book 008, Number 3310:
'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) married me when I was six years old, and I was admitted to his house when I was nine years old.

Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64
Narrated 'Aisha:
that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).

Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 65
Narrated 'Aisha:
that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old. Hisham said: I have been informed that 'Aisha remained with the Prophet for nine years (i.e. till his death)." what you know of the Quran (by heart)'

Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 88
Narrated 'Ursa:
The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with 'Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).


Source: http://www.faithfreedom.org/Articles/sina/ayesha.htm

Evidence Muhammad was apedophile:
http://www.faithfreedom.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=10197

The marriage between the holy Prophet and Aisha was consummated when she was 9 years old and he was 54 years young
The marriage between the holy Prophet and Aisha was consummated when she was 9 years old and he was 54 years young

author by Nilpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 16:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I am definately not a spiritual person and hardly supersticious, exept i always touch wood when i think of someone dear to me dying...i cant help myself, besides as Zizek says, we follow superstitious rituals so that we dont have to be superstitious! Anyway, its bad luck to be superstitious! Libertarian, i am inspired by your militancy...but, although i do not believe in god i do not waste my time thinking about the truth or lie of its existence...its irrelevant to me because firstly, i have faith that it does not exist (funny the paradox, isnt it?) and also for reasons that i will go into in a sec. Also it is of great human arrogance to assume that we can fully explain the world wether with scientific or religious means, sure there is no 'supernatural' because everything is natural even that which is not yet within our comprehension or may never be! By the way science is a religion too, any unquestioning faith is a religion...even ideology is a religion if it calls for the individual to blindly adopt a cause other then its own.

But more to the point my criticism to this (and to Ciaron) is that to reduce the debate on religion to a conflict between faith and non faith is to depolitize the matter. An antiauthoritarian stance against religion understands religion first and foremost as an institution, an entirely political institution with vested interests and entrenched power in this world! Personally i have lately been very preoccupied with this issue because i see religion coming back in the forefront of politics with a vengeance and religious fundumetnalism too (mainly Christian). So i would like to see a militant atheism making its stance clear and not shy away from the matter. I think that atheism is being slyly equated to religious fundamentalism on the grounds that it 'promotes hatred and is not for tolerance'

One thing i gotta say about tolerance...I am not a fucking politician, i dont have to talk political correctness with a stick up my ass! I am opinionated and yes i take sides! I dont tolerate everything because i dont believe in consensus politics, this is just the tool of modern 'democracy' to silence dissent, conceal its totalitarian nature and feed the illusion that history has come to an end and this system is the natural way of being...bullshit! Anyway...I as an atheist am not a religious biggot because i dont discriminate against any specific religion....I am against all religion! No i dont want to tell anyone what to think -i want to tell everyone what I think!- but religion is not about what individuals do in the privacy of their own mind, it is a political institution that should not in any way be made immune to attack! For this reason and because frankly i am worried about the persecution of atheists, i say now more than ever it is paramount to be blasphemous at any given opportunity!

But on the other hand and according to my own words i am being religious here...religiously opposing religion, unquestionably believing that power and authority are wrong! Well i guess i am full of contradictions....one thing i read in a novel sometime ago...the most attrocious violence is commited by the righteous. Say for example you witness a brutal beating on the street, you will feel appalled, terrilble or perhaps indifferent. Now say that you knew the victim and he was a Nazi interogator who had done terrible things....suddently you feel joy and exhilaration at the scene...interesting isnt it?

author by Chekovpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 17:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

More post-modernist twaddle about science:

"By the way science is a religion too, any unquestioning faith is a religion"

The whole point about science is that it is questioning - that's what scientists do, they question current understandings of the world and try to come up with better ones. The fact that scientific views of the world are constantly changing as new evidence comes to light is proof positive that it cannot be unquestioning. The fact that something as weird and bizzare and, frankly implausible as quantum mechanics can be accepted by science shows the tremendous open-minded nature of the methodology - it will accept even the most far-out and freaky stuff if it is supported by the evidence.

And you may have 'faith' in the non-existance of god, but that's a crazy position to have. Most atheists just accept the fact that you should only believe those things for which there is evidence. There is no evidence for the super-natural, so gods and tooth-fairies are out.

author by ronanpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 17:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

it's a little tragic when anarchists have to defend an anti-religion piece (in my view reasonable and well argued) against other anarchists of all people! anarchists are fundamentally opposed to all authority, and since organised religion is almost inevitably authoritarian in manner, we oppose it.

now, the trickier point which James was trying to explore was that we should oppose faith itself, arguing that faith presumes a belief in a higher power which necessarily disempowers humankind from resolving its own problems. Principles of rational thought offer a more positive way forward, in that they form a basis for analysis and action that is not god given nor accessible only to a few chosen individuals, it's power comes from its very transparency (a more democratic belief system one would have thought!). this point seems to have been missed on our erstwhile anarchist comrades; instead they put forward a new age metaphysics of tolerance and personal enlightenment.

on tolerance: james nowhere suggests that religious people are bad, merely that they are wrong. no-one has yet provided a conclusive argument against this point, preferring to pretend that criticism of ideas amounts to hostility. we should also note that when 'true believers' of any sort, christian or marxist get themselves into a position of power, they show very little tolerance for anyone who doesn't toe the line (for example of Poland or Ireland in the 80s). the same could be said for anarchists of course, but that's why we don't seek power, we seek its abolition. part of this process is arguing our ideas, such discussions form a part of this.

on personal enlightenment: sure god can be the impulse to love inside us all, or perhaps that impulse is more likely to be caused by a hormonal secretion called oxytocin, itself part of humankind's great reproductive toolkit (for those who don't still believe in storks that is!). faced with a groundless insight or the evidentially backed theory of evolution I'll go with Mr Darwin thanks. But there's quite a tricky position in this 'personal enlightenment' argument, can we really base our behaviour purely on what we feel within ourselves? what about people suffering personality disorders that commit terrible crimes, is it just right for them or do they need treatment? if you want to believe things based on feelings that's fine, just don't expect people to take you seriously when you deny all history prior to your existence, argue that other people are just 'feelings' that you have, and in fact, the outside world doesn't really exist at all. actually, maybe i want some of whatever it is you're taking. sounds like fun.

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationality
author by Deirdre Clancypublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 18:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Firstly, I think it's a positive development that this issue is being featured on Indymedia. I don't want to get into a point by point refutation of the article because I've had these discussions through the years with friends and most of the points made are wearily familiar (generally those three in the morning, post-bottle(s) of wine Meaning of Life talks that one has in one's twenties). Somebody else has mentioned they found the article simplistic, and I agree with that to a certain degree. However, I will add that James's writing is generally very thoughtful and incisive in my opinion, and it is good that he has put the issue on the table for discussion. Most of the time, I find in leftist circles an assumption that God and religion are closed subjects. So well done to James for at least being open minded enough to write about the issue, and to Indymedia for being open minded enough to feature the article.

I find that the points made in the article pretty much represent what I thought for a few years when I was an agnostic. At the time, I sometimes (though not always) conflated the church hierarchy and its ever-present problems with faith itself - the one represented the other. I have since met atheists who don't do that, and who are atheists for very well thought-through reasons. However, an atheism that is predicated on misconceptions about what it means to have a faith strikes me as sort of a shallow form of atheism.

Undoubtedly, there are people who blindly follow the teachings of bishops, mullahs, rabbis and gurus, rather than the teachings of the founders/prophets of their own religions and/or their inner conscience. However, most sophisticated religious thinking these days would acknowledge that this is not faith in the real sense, as it hasn't been tested or challenged.

It wasn't until I was 20/21 and started exposing myself to theological thought that problematised what was going on in the churches that I really realised what it meant to have a genuine belief in God. Many who actually took their faith seriously were the very ones who were willing to take the risks in dangerous situations, such as the US-sponsored dictatorships in South America, by speaking out and disrupting their lives. Jose Miranda's 'Being and the Messiah' and 'Marx and the Bible' were to me more indicative of the true spirit of the Gospels than any church pronouncement on contraception (which, let's face it, even the most observant Catholic couples have ignored for decades now). Even the Church itself privileges the individual human conscience as the final arbiter in making moral decisions, though it actually doesn't advertise that element of its teaching, unsurprisingly. In other words, if having honestly examined your conscience with reference to your faith/belief in God, you take a course of action that contradicts church teaching and you genuinely believe you're in the right, the church has to accept that. Most Catholics don't know this (and I only do because it was mentioned by a lecturer when I studied for a night diploma in theology).

Theologically, belief in God is not superstition, at least not if you believe that God gave us our rational minds - which stands to reason if you believe that in some sense God gestated the universe and everything in it. It is superstitious to believe that if you break a mirror by accident, you will be punished by bad luck for seven years. There is a distinction between supersitition and faith, though James has a point, in that often superstition is passed off as faith.

The human imagination has envisaged a transcendent reality since the beginning of time. Experiential reality seems to bear that out in many cases. It has taken many different forms, and inspired some of the most important works of art in history (from the music of J.S. Bach to the paintings of Leonardo - who himself taught science a hell of a lot, incidentally). Most thinking believers in a Creator of some form are more sophisticated than James's article cares to admit, and are not bound to petty rules and regulations. Most now believe that all world religions have some form of validity and would balk at the idea that theirs necessarily had a monopoly on truth and revelation. In fact, last year I had a conversation with a Catholic monk who strongly believed aspects of Hinduism were more revelatory than Christianity (though also acknowledging the flaws in the caste system, etc.).

Most of the great mystics of any religion were thorns in the flesh of the established churches of which they were a part and transcended the herd mentality that went along with blind adherence to the rules and regulations of the top-down approach. In terms of Christianity, it was the job of the mystics to point out the way in which human institutions had distorted the messages (as recorded) of the founder of the faith. Nobody could read the Gospels and honestly argue that the approach of Christ was top-down. The Gospels would have it that he hung out with the social outcasts of his day and made of point of defying the religious authorities. It is one of the great ironies of history that the magisterium has aped the very practices that Christ himself railed against. However, many theologians and mystics have pointed this out through the ages. Mostly, you will find the teachings of the founders of all the world's great religions are pretty similar at base - love, forgiveness, kindness and peaceful co-existence. Some of the greatest social critics through the ages have pointed out the anomalies between the religious institutions and the central messages of the prophets/founders of the religions (and often been crucified/hounded to death themselves as a result).

My favourite of all time is Lenny Bruces sketch on Christ and Moses coming to New York (at the link below if anyone's interested).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzIFUXK6yg4&feature=related

And as for angels - again, it's easy to ridicule talk of them. Often, they're conceived of in a symbolic way in art and poetry. 'May the angel of Wildness disturb the places/Where your life is domesticated and safe/Take you to the territories of true otherness/Where all that is awkward in you/Can fall into its own rhythm.' - John O'Donoghue (RIP) - 'A blessing of angels', from 'Benedictus'.

author by Nilpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 18:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Chekov...you are right science is questioning, new things are discovered all the time...which is exactly what my reply to Libertarian was: that since the world if full of unsolved mysteries how arrogant of us to call what we dont understand as supernatural. But my point that science is a kind of religion is not a postmodern one...i am not willing to accept everything and anything on grounds of subjective relativism blah blah..But consider this...if you would dare stand up at some ecologist's conference and announce that you dont believe in global warming wouldn't you be treated as something equivelant to blasphemous or a heretic? Or isnt any medical practice that is not supported by modern science considered hocus pocus and even sometimes persecuted much like the witch hunts of previous centuries...?
And in the end...do you believe in a better society than this, in a better social system than capitalism for the future? If yes...what evidence do you have that it is possible? and anyway even if you had evidence that it is not possible would you stop trying?

author by Chekovpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 18:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"if you would dare stand up at some ecologist's conference and announce that you dont believe in global warming wouldn't you be treated as something equivelant to blasphemous or a heretic?"

No. I'd say that you would be treated in the same way as somebody who got up and claimed that they were Napoleon. Due to the overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject, nobody is going to take an individual's contrary opinion seriously. Do you think everybody should really respect stupid opinions which deny all the evidnece as much as smart ones backed up by huge volumes of hard data?

"Or isnt any medical practice that is not supported by modern science considered hocus pocus and even sometimes persecuted much like the witch hunts of previous centuries...?"

No. There have been no homeopaths or crystal healer drownings or burnings that I'm aware of. Again, people who are familiar with the evidence and have an idea of how to evaluate stuff properly consider that those who believe in these things are either: a) misinformed b) deluded or c) cynical. If the well-informed people are nice, they will try to explain the evidence to them, if they are not nice they will just laugh at them.

There have been a couple of cases where alternative health practitioners have been prosecuted for gross negligence because they made money from selling nonsense cures to desperate sick people while making up blatant lies about the treatments' efficacy. I certainly don't have a problem with that. In general our society tolerates quackery as long as it doesn't endanger lives.

"And in the end...do you believe in a better society than this, in a better social system than capitalism for the future? If yes...what evidence do you have that it is possible? and anyway even if you had evidence that it is not possible would you stop trying?"

The evidence that it is possible is, in my mind, all around us. Humans are extraordinarily good at cooperation, hate being oppressed and are capable of showing enormous acts of solidarity with other people and most people would like to live in a world that was fairer and more equal. To be honest, when dealing with systems of such incredible complexity as human societies, you are never going to get much more evidence than that.

author by Norapublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 19:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The transcendental experience
author by Norapublication date Fri 22 Feb 2008 06:54:54 PM CST

I respect some science and in need of some materialistic values in order to survive. No problem with that. Just because I believe in some aspects of those values; does not have to convert me to be an atheist. Atheism too seem to promote irrationality by dogmatically generalizing and absolutizing all forms of spirituality as irrationally similar and negative. Without differentiating dynamically diverse forms of spirituality since spirituality is part of culture and cultural traditions are very much diverse. Thus the main root of the problem is not simplistically about whether to believe in religion or atheism per se, but about how beliefs became ideologically dogmatic due to cultivating irrational sense of greed for power through strategic construction of dogmatic and monolithic system of belief; mainly to dominate other humanity or the universe. Thus why we have all the distorted socialism and so on. From my own self-discovery journey, initially born into a religion of not my own choosing; which is based on dogmatic & politicised ideology, has never given any deep meanings to my personal inner being or to understanding the wonders of the universe. From there towards Atheism, which only provides me with one layer of explanation through science-materialism of what the universe, means. Yes, what it means within my own personal inner being, rather than what it's use for, in the generalized and absolute materialistic sense especially for endlessly selfish and greedy humans particularly in a capitalistic world. For an example, rather than think of the ancient forest or nature for that matter as simplistically useful products for our general materialism needs; instead to understand why many traditional communities believe that the forest with all its materialist and supernatural biodiversity (diversity is always important rather than a monolithic world) is meant to promote in diverse ways our whole sense of both physical and inner well-being within complex deep relationship with the whole universe. That's their meaningful spirituality which is mainly personal. Thus the harmonious and meaningful inner soulful relationship that most traditional communities have with nature through such humble and diverse spirituality; of why before extreme materialistic ideology took over the world arrogantly and monolithicizing it, nature was still abundant, diverse and well-taken care of. Including in the very spiritual Celtic civilization, before most of the forest in Ireland got destroyed by capitalistic-materialistic greed of the British empire.

author by phatspublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 19:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

We need to distinguish between the subjective sense of being (spirituality) and the cultural attempts to categorise and manipulate it (religions).

Empiricism arose during the Renaissance as a very necessary approach to distinguish fact from folklore, and gave birth to modern science. But what we have ended up with is a purely materialistic mindset, which now constitutes idological tyranny. In 'progressive' secular circles, anyone who questions the belief that "matter is the basis of reality" is ridiculed.

It's true that organised religions have caused some of the worst atrocities in history, served as outlets for the foulest aspects of our nature and stifled free thought. It's also very likely that the concept of a Creator deity is an invention of the human mind, having no basis in factual reality.

But spirituality is not the same as orthodox religion. Spirituality is just direct apprehension of the mystery of existence. It often gets expressed in odd ways, but it's not voodoo. It's respect for the fact that we're here. And as useful as science can be, it will never take away that enchantment.

Modern physicalist science views all phenomena as the result of material processes - every thought, emotion, and action in your life are seen as merely byproducts of the blind motion of molecules. But science cannot discount subjectivity as invalid. It can only say that anything which cannot be measured is outside the bounds of experimentation. This does not prove the dogma of materialism.

It's interesting that quantum physics has many parallels with ancient and modern mystical thought, which basically says that all things are expressions of a single force.

In my opinion the root of and solution to the problems we perceive in this world lie in our consciousness. Changing things on the outside will require us to change ourselves on the inside.

Here are some words from one of the greatest scientists of all time and a very spiritual man (Whose findings, incidentally, were used to create the atomic bomb.)
--
“A human being is part of the whole, called by us the Universe – a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures.”
- Albert Einstein

author by Nilpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 19:24author address author phone Report this post to the editors

oh well you got me there chekov...but you are missing my point. You seem to show an unrelentless devotion to science irrespective of the political motivations behind every single scientific research. I am not refuting global warming cause the way they set the question to me it is impossible for me to argue since i am not a scientist! But thats my point, if they tell me beyond all question that there is no global warming, everything is cool we can keep doing what we are doing...am i to accept that? Arent there other issues at hand, isnt this a political domain not a scientific one and isnt the scientific domain taking over what should be political decisions and depoliticizing them by making them the domain of the experts and not of the people?...meaning ovbiously that I have some faith, gut feeling, instinct or morality call it what you want that determines my actions aside from pure cold logic and provides a perception of the world one way and not the other...anyway this is going unbearably around in circles and entering domains i'm not even really interested in like post modernism you say...i dont even want to argue for some morality or other...nor am i justifying faith for god on these grounds...there is so much more shit and historical and social conditioning and indoctrination and bullshit and ovbiously the churche's undying will and capacity to clutch to power any way it can that comes with faith of god im not going any where near justifying faith for god...anyway thats it for me, this is the first time i've ever participated in this thread discussion thing on indy ovbiously cause im very passionate about the issue..but man....i feel i've lost a few years of my life...
but even so...great that this has come up and that it has attracted so much attention..i was worried anarchists werent paying too much attention these days to the problem of religion...glad to be wrong!

author by NoodlyAppendagepublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 19:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

you arrive in a weird world which you don't understand
you look around for a bit and realise that it has no meaning, society is just a group illusion and you are just a meat machine built and refined gradually over millenia by mindless genes that have a tendency to reproduce themselves.

In the process, increasing complexity in the meat machines control system has "accidentally" imbued the meat machine with an "internal running commentary" as somehow it leads to increased survival prospects (more of those with it seem to live long enough to reproduce)

During idle time, this running commentary can sometimes be diverted a little from the main mission (fucking like minks, killing and eating). Sometimes even enough to see that what we do to survive is not nice to other meat machines
over time some of this superfluous thought has turned on itself and led to lots of complex rationalisations. It is clear that a little of this is a good thing but too much of it is a bad thing (from the point of view of the main program)

A simple uncluttered sense of purpose is often more likely to get on with the job. And witness the mating success of nerdy people who think too much!! Not great really.

Religion is a great meme in this respect as it short circuits much of the unnecessary reflection on the insane complexity of life with simple statements which you accept on faith alone, and it frees you to piously get on with fucking your brains out. Built into that meme are often suspicion of other such memes (kill the non believers) and rules to encourage multiplication of followers ("no condoms", "go forth and multiply")

the study of genetic algorithms shows how some of the survival strategies pan out (although in very simple models).
co-operate or renege on your turn to contribute etc.
it turns out that co-operation is the optimal strategy for survival among a group of competing self motivated automatons.
It also turns out that such self motivated automatons achieve a more robust and stable survival pattern if they form "communities"
religion, political groups, etc etc are an analogue to what is happening at a genetic level. Its just game theory. The basis for the community is irrelevant, just the binding principle.

In other words, we are bugs on a rock in a godless soulless bleak empty weird universe, driven in our daily lives by the mindless force of genes tending to reproducing themselves which has led to more and more efficient slightly different patterns over millenia culminating in this one we call human (still with a bit of a tail and an appendix which used to help digest grass!), and forming communities of various kinds as it leads to more stability and greater survival prospects
(funny how rampant capitalism seems to be anti community)

I think we can understand the behaviour of humans better by looking at how genes behave and examining human behaviour in the light of this, ignoring our daft rationalisations of our behaviour.

The meaning of life is to fuck and reproduce our genes, which is indeed mostly what we do despite talking lots of "philosophically vague" shite and ambiguous nonsense in between. We play monkey hierarchy games in everything we strive to do which leads to politics, power struggle and paralysis, and we get little done that would need to be done (if we were being truly rational about survival and being nice to each other). We are steadily overpopulating the planet, fighting each other for power and more of the bananas.
And these stupid memes like religion only serve to prevent us facing that reality square on and dealing with it.

The sun could sneeze tomorrow and we're all gone. As our big rock home whizzes around a huge nuclear fireball at 1000 miles a second once more, contemplate on the notion that our society and our reality and all our little notions of gods, money and societial rules, tv and celebrity are just illusions to hide the bleak cruel and strange circumstances of life which we truly live in, and which most of us just cannot contemplate without blowing a fuse. Our big brains are just cushioning us from reality with a big mass hallucinations.

War, death, famine, disease, Quantum particles?, big bang?, huge flying nuclear reactors? 11 dimensional spaces? m-branes, p-branes? WTF? Life and death? what does it really matter? your little bug life muddling to work making profits for a bigger alpha monkey with a nice set of golf clubs and more bananas than you, who will be fucked and reproduce more than you too. to make more greedy mindless domineering alpha monkeys even more greedy for bananas. never asking why.

beneath the veneer of rationalisations we're just acting out our basic program to reproduce mindlessly. just meat machines, bugs on a big rock whizzing around our huge nuclear reactor, just one among countless billions of such rocks and reactors, with a huge hungry black hole snacking away on whole suns and planets at the core of each galaxy. What now, our pathetic rivalries, our stupid wars, our daft invisible friends, our greedy banana intrigues? in the face of such large scale annihilation?

Humans are not rational. But what does it really matter in the face of this crazy reality we live in. Make up your own simplistic but comforting rationalisation, and carry on with your fuck program. None of it figures much in the scheme of things anyway.

Reality is so screwed up, wouldn't it just be easier to believe in a nice simple god story, be nice to people and achieve eternal life after this spell in the nuthouse ends!! Happy and having fun, all the time. with no vicious banana stealing dictator monkeys enslaving us and no giant black holes to eat us. No wonder people do. You need some fiction to get you through the day without going mad don't you? And if you go mad, you won't get laid, which does not bode well for the mindless reproduction of your genes. Hey, maybe thats why we really have religion. religious types are the most prolific after all. Always fucking, the lot of them.

How should a rational being cope with a crazy reality like this? I don't know.
some thoughts:

(a) don't reproduce
(b) try to do no harm
(c) try to get a better handle on whats going on. study physics
(d) have empathy with this awful human condition
(e) have empathy with all living creatures for the screwy nightmare they find themselves in (imagine being a gazelle being chased by a lion!)
(f) if you get through it all alive, buy yourself a bag and a container of inert gas for when old age and suffering kicks in. Apparently hypoxia is the easiest way to go.
(g)meanwhile, try not to believe all of the lies you are told whose purpose is merely to perpetuate the whole charade.
(h)be prepared to feel very alone and full of quiet desperation from time to time if not perpetually. Your genes purpose for you is to get you to reproduce. Remember, being happy is not necessarily synonymous with that program
(i)oh..and try to keep your mindless noodly appendages in your pants and let the organ in your head do your thinking.

Alternatively take the easier route, dive into some religion or cause, feel self righteous and purposeful, and try not to think about anything except what is on front of you, and get really defensive and bite the head of anyone who tries to talk about the meaning of life or the faults in your approach to whatever it is you are immersed in. Use said activity to become somebody and scout out suitable people with which to fuck and mindlessly reproduce.

But keep some humbling perspective. Look up at the night sky from time to time. try not to get into any stupid fights over your respective fairy stories. And try to feel some compassion towards your fellow earth travellers, with whom you share this bizarre reality, both four legged and two legged. This is all there is. It ain't great. Try to make it a little better if you can, or at least don't make it worse by being a right cunt!. And try not to mess up the rock too much either. we all have to live here for quite a while more y'know!

my 2c worth.

author by phatspublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 19:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

i should add to my comment above that i'm talking about spirituality in the sense of it's most fundamental essence, not with regard to the supernatural. that's another realm of discussion which i will steer clear of addressing here.

author by ronanpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 20:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

how can spirituality possibly be not related to the supernatural? spirituality - relating to matters of the spirit - spirit - the incorporeal part of humans, the immaterial.

author by phatspublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 20:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

i like your post NoodlyAppendage. but i disagree with it.

The idea that we're just gene ferries is another form of scientific dogma. Many would say the point of life is to live, not just to leave descendants. True, we're automatons to a degree. But the fact that anything at all exists (even this "godless soulless bleak empty weird universe") points to something greater than we can explain.

Consciousness, our "internal running commentary" may not be an accidental emergent of complex systems. Many who have looked deeply into it have found a tremendous sense of the sublime at the root of their own awareness.
Despite all our illusions, hopes, fears, loves, hatreds, games, pains, beliefs, dreams, stories, concepts - maybe everything is OK (or even perfect).

If it's all so pointless, why exhort people to be more compassionate? Where does that sense come from?

To quote your good self , "This is all there is." If you think it ain't great, that's your concept.
Others would say that within what is lies infinite everything, beyond good or bad. But that's another concept. At the end of the day whatever you make of your subjective experience here is up to you.
---------
an aside:
Those who feel drawn to continue this story of humanity on Earth (ie: activists) may find it beneficial to consider the effect our consciousnesses have on our actions. If we're coming from a position of adversity and conflict, that's what we'll bring to the world. To this end, spirituality and personal growth can be quite useful to some.

author by phatspublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 20:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

in response to Ronan, I was trying to make a distinction between the immaterial sense of the subjective (ie: your awareness at every moment) and supernatural phenomena such as ghosts, entities etc.

My point is that 300 years of mechanistic science has led us to a point where it's widely assumed that practically anything not made from atoms is dismissed as hocus-pocus, though science has yet to prove that our brains produce consciousness.

author by Angel - Catholic Workerpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 20:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Trying to arrive at the "truth" of whether belief in a deity hinders your credentials as an activist against oppression and exploitation to me stinks of pure rotten egotism!! The use of language in the discussion would fly over the heads of any poor person, whether they attend a religious service or not, who are seeking to be liberated from their poverty....the 'I am more intellectual' than you debate is one that as a believer in God who loves all regardless of who they are (and is always knocking at the door for each of us to invite he/she in) and is actively inspiring the historical process of liberation among his favoured people-the poor- is totally misleading and taking us away from any type of useful response to poverty and the structures in the world that uphold it this injustice....yes, on the level of the rational mind, there are many reasons to think belief in God is a farce, that is not to say that there are not many rational arguments in favour of God's existance but to pursue such rational debate would result in many circles gone around....the thorny issue of faith which 'Libertarian' dismisses exists at the the soul level of human experience which cannot be understood rationally but only experienced at a personal level...many people have put that experience down to their meeting the presence of God...

Anyway, hadn't meant to go on as long, suffice to say that while I find the analysis offered by Red/Black Revolution to be inspiring, I do find such narrow analysis of religion and its virtures being discussed in such a dimissive way (and totally misunderstood at the level of spirituality) to be closing the paths towards unity of all people against the oppression inherent in capitalism today...as many have commented, let's assume the perspective of the poor while we attempt to address the issues of solving poverty and not be so arrogant as to talk on their behalf using 'intellectual' argument to exclude what they do or don't believe in!!

author by NoodlyAppendagepublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 21:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"If it's all so pointless, why exhort people to be more compassionate? Where does that sense come from? "

answer: I just made it up.
its just an arbitrary premise I chose to help me build an ethical system by which I could live

All premises run the risk of being completely stupid and wrong
so one tries to minimise the use of premises in a moral framework.
This was one of my premises which I just plucked out of my ass. Hey, I'm a nice guy, and soft as shite (and being a nice guy definitely doesn't get you laid so it definitely wasn't for that purpose!!)

(I could also have chosen "killing is good" if i was a psychopath and that felt right for me. It would definitely make me more edgy and get me royally laid and I'm sure I could have looked around at the human race and found lots of good rationalisations for that decision but at the end of the day, the premises we choose are somewhat arbitrary. Once we have them however we can use reason to stay on track. However logic tells us nothing about the premise itself. is it good? is it bad? what is good? what is bad? Nope, its just a gut feeling. That is the weakness of logical thought. Takes you safely from A to B but says fuck all about A or B......mind you as the saying goes, lately I've been thinking that my "gut" is full of shit!)

anyway, the "reasoning" went something like this for me:
WTF????!!!??
Gosh...Havent a clue what the fuck all this is and whats going on
ok, I better figure out how I should behave in this madhouse
right, I don't like pain and suffering..and have a strong irrational fear of death (i.e. i for some daft reason value my life. probably those mindless genes singing in unison at cellular level)
other creatures exhibit the same responses to said suffering and impending death.

ok, then why not say life is to be valued and death and suffering are not good things. not unreasonable.
where can I go from there?
ok,
Arbitrary Axiom 1: life is valuable,
Arbitrary Axiom2: suffering is bad,

leads to the negative golden rule I suppose...
"don't do to other creatures, stuff you wouldn't like to have done to yourself"

and since I really don't know what the fuck is going on, perhaps I shouldn't fuck with anything too much. y'know, leave things be. try not to make too much of a mess. that kind of thing

Arbitrary Axiom3: don't fuck with stuff you don't understand. Leave stuff alone. try not to make a mess

from there I got more or less to where I am today. Some would say thats not a great achievement but at least I wake up each day and when I give enough of a shit to get out of bed, at least I face my weird reality square on with the minimum number of arbitrary premises about what life is. No gods need apply. And sometimes its not all bad. but humans are cruel and selfish creatures and most of the time they do their level best to ruin what could otherwise be a very nice rock to live on

to see how the story will probably end see "easter island"

author by phatspublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 21:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

i applaud your arbitrarily constructed ethical paradigm NoodlyAppendage (or whoever that is).

And I think your first two axioms (life is valuable, suffering is bad) are shared by a great many of us who contribute on indymedia and work for a 'better' world.
Activism doesn't gel much with the "Leave stuff alone. try not to make a mess" idea, which isn't to say that there's not wisdom in that.

My feeling is that the impulse towards compassion ultimately comes from something more profound than the genetic survival impulse, something you could call spiritual or transcendent.

There are echoes of Buddhism in your posts. (Just to note; Buddhism in its original form is not a religion, it's a way of dealing with the mind, no gods involved. Also - I'm not trying to convert anybody, I'm not even Buddhist.)

author by NoodleyAppendagepublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 22:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think you misunderstand the meaning of "leave stuff alone"
Leaving stuff alone includes taking a non violent action of conscience to help prevent unscrupulous people from messing stuff up too.

I would be against war
I would be against messing up the planet and its ecosystems
I would be against killing off all the animals on land and sea for corporate profit
I would be against drilling for gas and fucking up and polluting our country and coastline
I would be against not dealing conscientiously with human waste products
I would be against poverty (which causes suffering and leads to eco-disaster), hence against WTO, world bank etc

to cut a long story short, I am in principle a believer in the good of many activist causes espoused on indymedia and I take action on some and try to support many of them however i can.

and all because of those 3 nagging arbitrary axioms.

author by phatspublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 23:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

yes i did misunderstand your meaning, apologies. i'm all for countering the things you mentioned too, and active as such.
pleased to make the acquaintance of a fellow conscience.

author by jp100 - free soulpublication date Fri Feb 22, 2008 23:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Only two things ever cause war and misery in this world of ours religion and money .i dont believe in talking all night and say nothing.

author by Seanpublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 00:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Another gem of an article from those-who-would-claim-to-be the prophets of tolerance.

Tell me chaps, if you really believe in "freedom and tolerance", why do you have such a hatred of religion? Is it not true that you seek to enslave men's consciences just as you claim the Catholic Church is trying to? Can men not be slaves to your indomitable atheism?

And is a man worth more as a human being if he expresses faith and fidelity to something supernatural, rather than be a slave of his own passions, or his own "boundless wisdom" (the same wisdom which landed people of good faith in the gulag)?

In reference to this article, I'm going to use a few popular maxims of the political left. As a Catholic, I am offended. This is discrimination and hate speech. This is atheist bigotry and intolerance. I am being persecuted; my rights are being trampled on.

I hope you now know how hypocritical you all sound.

author by NoodleyAppendagepublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 01:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

phats.. thanks. nice to meet you too.

Sean:
ever try being an atheist around religious people? In the end they all have a grudging respect for each other but they are all united in their hatred of atheists. I once had a conversation in a shop (during ramadan) with a very friendly islamic man. We talked about stuff for a while to the point where he invited me to share his meal (having fasted all day) However the conversation turned to religion and out of respect I did not mention my atheism. He spoke about how christians and muslims respected each others temples even when they made war on each other but they had no respect for a man with no beliefs. for people like that, anything goes. essentially this otherwise friendly and decent man who had been so kind and who had been happy to take me at face value and have friendly conversation with me, on the basis of some unproveable nonsense, would forego the evidence of his senses that I was a decent human being who could be his friend, and be happy to see me treated as less than human. Many people have also experienced persecution in middle america as a consequence of their professed atheism. Some literally driven out of their communities. Atheists cannot publish a book about atheism without there being a big hoo hah, wheras there are any number of wacky religious tomes published without a whisper. In past centuries, to admit to being an atheist was tantamount to a death sentence.

So don't talk to me about intolerance. It is only now that atheists are starting to have a voice, and the courage to speak out a little. However from the statistics, it looks like we may be entering a new age of religious fundamentalism so they may not be able to speak out for much longer. Sad times.

BTW, we are all non believers regarding the existence of all gods but our own. (and they are legion!) Atheists just go one god further

author by epicuruspublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 01:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is tantamount to electoral suicide in america to admit to being an atheist.
only fruitcakes who talk to people who aren't there or liars need apply it seems. sad!

author by Deirdre Clancypublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 01:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"The use of language in the discussion would fly over the heads of any poor person, whether they attend a religious service or not, who are seeking to be liberated from their poverty...."

'Angel' who purports to be from the Catholic Worker isn't representing all Catholic Workers. I think it's a non-sequitor. Some of the most intelligent and articulate people I have ever come across are self-educated people who grew up in poverty. Let's not assume healthy debate is somehow against liberation, or that the poor are stupid, which seems to be suggested here. It is deeply patronising, for a start.

author by leo bloomerspublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 13:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

True, Deirdre. For ____ sake, we're all liable to error! Let's try to stop squabbling & get on with the job of salvaging what we can from a polluted & despoiled planet, & getting some social justice & human rights. Part of the job is trying not to be divided by race, religion, class or sexual orientation, etc.,

author by NoodleyAppendagepublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 16:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I feel solidarity with anyone who gets up off their ass and stands up against the encroaching capitalist "exploitation and war" machine and its lackeys in our government, who are messing up our rock and causing suffering and death.

I don't mind if they have an invisible friend if it helps them soldier on. But all ideas should be up for discussion. However such disagreements should remain firmly In the realm of ideas. Its not personal. It should be seperate from self worth. Its unhealthy to mix up your self worth with your current set of beliefs. Beliefs are far too ephemeral to base self worth on. They are just opinions based on incomplete evidence.

If we can't have a free discussion of ideas on an abstract forum like this and not get personal then we are very insecure people indeed and obviously unable to keep a clear perspective under pressure. And perhaps we should ask ourselves whether personal issues are colouring our activism.

So lets discuss this stuff here freely, disagree if we want to (reasonably politely if possible!!), but then lets meet on the protest lines together in solidarity against the common oppressors in our shared reality

Just because we disagree in the realm of ideas doesn't mean you are a bad person or anything. We could disagree on everything but if your ass is out there for a good cause then I respect that. Catholic, muslim, atheist , swp, whatever, when we're out there, we're comrades.

author by Lostpublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 17:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Human beings are essentially higher evolved bacteria, rodents, maggots etc.
We have a mouth and an arse and all we do is eat and shit and reproduce.
We are born addicted like all the other competitors. Rats in a maze sniffing out the cheese, fighting eachother, scrambling about the turns and going down the false alleys, to get the biggest piece of cheese sooner.
Our evolution and our individual existences is at the chain of a long line of suffering, births that were painful mothers, endless squealing bloody newborn infants, furrowed brows of hard working fathers who broke their backs so their children would live and would not die.
A whole narrative of carnage, conscious beings devouring other concious beings and surviving while others perished.
Billions upons billions of tales of misery hardship and suffering just so we could get here, watch Pop idol, stuff our faces with Big Macs and waste the few years we have to die of heart disaese never knowing or caring about the sacrifice that created us.
Nature is grotesque and wasteful and hateful and broken.
What man has been blessed with is the faculty of reason.
People like Socrates, Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Confucius etc. all in their own human flawed ways in times of incredible ignorance and violence attempted to persuade people that there was a better way for rational beings to live in the here and now and seek to reduce suffering by an increment.
Organized eligion has probably produced more violence than good but before organized religion there was complete savagry.
Now modern man can cast off organized religion because the human race has matured beyond it.
Does that mean man is not an animal anymore, is not in misery, is not desperately searching for the truth or some hope or ultimate or whatever than give an answer or release?
Of course not.
Is suicide and death the answer, the only escape from the hell of consciousness, or drink or alcohol or sex?
No of course not.
What can we do? What is the meaning?
I would guess it is simply being productive, trying to reduce the misery in the world, by doing something.
Can you do it on your own?
Of course not.
Can you be assured that everyone will gang together and work as one for the common good?
Of course not.
What's the answer?
Looking for the truth and never being satisfied with the answer.
Maybe acknowledging that you are the result of suffering, that you suffer and most of what you do causes suffering for others in ways you cannot even imagine.
Can you be happy not. Not really. Just a little.

author by NoodleyAppendagepublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 19:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

good to meet another honest human who faces reality with courage and without crutches.

author by Ciaron - Catholic Worker/Pitstop Ploughsharespublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 20:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Wow I was offline for a couple of daze and this thing really took off uh?

I guess my initial point on this thread was the lack of acknowledgment in the original post of thiest streams in the anarchist tradition. Being from Australia, I'm use to a lot of hostility on the left to faithbased activism. Getting active in Brisbane in '77 was particularly difficult as we were dealing with a corrupt police state where all civil liberties were suspended. So as radical catholic anarchist pacifists we were caught between a rock and hard place - being beaten up, raided, arrested by a hostile state and then taking it in the back from a hostile left. I think this was exacerbated by the Special Branch being predomiantly Irish Australian Catholics, (the head SB detective was the leader of the "Holy Name Society") AND the left being predominantly pissed of ex- (or at least schooled) Catholics. This hostility doesn't really exist in the U.S. but is pretty common in Ire/England & OZ.

I was offline for the last couple of daze as I headed up to MIlton Keynes to the Nipponzon Myohoji Buddhist temple to attend the inquest of Handa who was tragically killed in a tractor accident at the temple last year.
http://www.indymedia.ie/article/83925

Handa pretty much built the temple and peace pagoda at Milton Keynes
(pictures http://www.pbase.com/chrisayriss/japanesebuddhisttemple...agoda ).
I first met Handa and the other monks & nuns of this small radical Japanese order on a peace walk from London to Belfast in '96. Along with Sr. Marta, Handa attended the Pitstop trial in Dublin 05. Sr. Marta attended all three trials. The monks would lead the Pitstops and support to court each morning beating their peace/meditation drums and then keep beating and chanting outside the Four Courts throughout the preceedings. I had been with Handa and the nuns at many demonstratons and direct actions over the years...British Aerospace, Inodonesian Embassies, Anti-Capitalism etc I must admit I initially felt a little uncomfortable in 1996 heading through the north in marching season with people dressed in orange beating drums. But as the old saying goes...."if anyone offers to take you on a strange journey, go!"

While staying at the temple - I had lived there for 3 months in 2000 and met fellow Pitstop Karen Fallon there and then - I would get up at 5am, join the monks and nuns, kneel down, beat a drum for an our and chant the Buddhist mantra. We then bow and walk outside into the cold and dark to the Peace Pagoda, circle it a few times chanting and bowing. And then bow towards the sunrise. A lot of it is in Japanese and I don't completely know what's going on a lot of the time. I've never been attracted to Buddhism but I've always been attracted to the Buddhists of the small Nippponzon Myohoji order.

It reminds me of the late Sam Day http://no-nukes.org/samday/jan29sam2.html former agnostic editor of "The Progressive" who late in life took up getting busted with Catholic Workers in nonviolent direct actions against the war machine. He would say, of the Catholic Workers he was getting busted with, "I don't believe in God, I believe in these people who believe in God!"
So I dunno if I believe in Buddha but I sure believe in these people who belive in Buddha.

So I guess my interest in this thread was rather than trying to convert athiests (I have no interest in converting these Buddhists either!) was a call for celebration - or at least tolerance -of the various streams in the anarchist tradition. If the anarchist movement isn't going to do pluralism who is? This is not a call to "dissolve into mutuality" (as Dan Berrigan would say) and there is a place for "Clarification of Thought" (as CW founder Peter Maurin would say). "Clarification of Thought" is not a winner takes all debate, where someone emerges victorious and another emerges defeated, but a process where one would hope at the end you have a better understanding of your own position (from the various challenges from other positions) and a better understanding of other positions (rather than the comfy stereotypes you'd prefer to cling to!). There are lots of debates in the anarchist traditions eg. veganism is a big one over here!

The folks at the London anarchist squat who didn't share my position on nonviolence were very welcoming of the pacifist position being put and very friendly (I was expecting a lot more hostility) and have invited me back to show "Route Irish" this Thursday night. That was a challenge to my comfy stereoype.....

author by bartpublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 20:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This is the root problem with anarchism, isn't it? It's just another form of individualist liberalism. It's not socialism in the real sense of the term. Most anarchists I know are Goddists or lifestylers. Those that make sense and understand class politics - the WSMers - are a minority among the anarchists in Ireland. A day spent at any of the grassroots gatherings proves this. The weird and the wonderful, but not a lot of sense.

A belief is God is just straight-out incompatible with being a socialist. And an awful lot of this religiosity is a self-indulgent focus on the self, paving the road to personal salvation and so on.

author by Ciaronpublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 20:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"It's not socialism in the real sense of the term."

...well there's socialism and there's socialism. Forced collectivism, the gulags, the liquidation of the individual in theory and praxis.

Or there's voluntary collectivism of
"socialism without freedom is slavery
freedom without socialism is privilege" type of thang.

There's also the socialism being lived out by the diggers in the past and aforementioned Buddhists, Catholic Workers, basic christian communities in Latin America & Philippines, utopians in the here and now and there are the "socialist" elites - party members with access to privilege etc

How pie in the sky is "after the revolution"?

Related Link: http://www.catholicworker.org
author by Jamespublication date Sat Feb 23, 2008 23:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi Deirdre, thanks for your comments. It's good to see a lack of defensiveness and willingness to have a discussion. I found your post interesting and thoughtful. That said, I'm going to disagree pretty deeply...

Deirdre: I find that the points made in the article pretty much represent what I thought for a few years when I was an agnostic. At the time, I sometimes (though not always) conflated the church hierarchy and its ever-present problems with faith itself - the one represented the other.

Although the article mentions the Catholic bishops as an example, it is worth noting that they are only an example of a deeper problem and that problem is faith per se. Faith is belief without evidence – this is why doubting Thomas is told as a warning story to schoolchildren. Requesting evidence is not to be encouraged.

Deirdre: Undoubtedly, there are people who blindly follow the teachings of bishops, mullahs, rabbis and gurus, rather than the teachings of the founders/prophets of their own religions and/or their inner conscience. However, most sophisticated religious thinking these days would acknowledge that this is not faith in the real sense, as it hasn't been tested or challenged.

Well, there is a problem with people following the teachings of the founders and prophets of their religion as well. Yes, there are parts of the Bible and Koran which are fine and even progressive. But there’re also a lot of extremely dubious teachings in the gospels, e.g. “the meek shall inherit the earth”, “turn the other cheek”, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar”, the more or less total inability of Jesus to engage in any rational discussion of his ideas (contrast with ancient Greek philosophy). This isn’t even mentioning the far out mythical stuff (virgin birth, resurrection). Islam contains pages of frequent threats against anybody who questions the revelation (a good way to avoid discussion); it is blatantly misogynistic, and like a lot of religions doctrines it contains stuff that is plain wrong, e.g. humans were made out of clay by a creator, acknowledges the existence of angels and the d’jinn. And so on.

Liberation theology is more interesting for the obvious reason that it opposed the rampant exploitation in South America. But clearly so did many secular movements. The issue is not that there won’t be many decent religious people – as I mentioned in my second comment, there clearly are. It is firstly whether their background beliefs are actually true (if they are, then the world is a different place than most socialists conceive of it. We’d need to alter our analysis). Secondly, the long term cultural effect of basing an understanding of the world on false foundations (i.e. the world as a divine creation, the role of Jesus as the saviour of humanity, the prospects in the next life etc) cannot be ignored. It is our opinion that the liberation of ordinary working people is likely to be hindered, for reasons I described in previous comments, if it bases itself on an incorrect foundation.

As I mentioned in my reply to Ciaron above, you don’t really address the question of truth. We think it matters if a naturalistic, atheist view of the world is correct. Of course it’s a difficult to know for sure, and probably we’ll never get it 100%, but the aim of achieving a true description the world seems to me to be an important endeavour. The scientific method is, as Chekov described, the best way to achieve a good understanding of the world. When the religions can produce verifiable experimental evidence that some of their more unusual claims are true (e.g. the existence of angels), we’ll be the first to revise our opinions. That evidence is sorely lacking and I’m not at all sure that there is any interest on the part of theists to see if it could be produced. Because if they fail, then it further undermines confidence in religion.

As such, I’m not that gone on a purely subjective basis for believing in god. After all, the human brain is prone to error; it can easily misinterpret unusual data or emotions and project a religious or spiritual interpretation as their basis, when in reality it is a natural phenomenon.

Deirdre: Theologically, belief in God is not superstition, at least not if you believe that God gave us our rational minds - which stands to reason if you believe that in some sense God gestated the universe and everything in it. It is superstitious to believe that if you break a mirror by accident, you will be punished by bad luck for seven years. There is a distinction between supersitition and faith, though James has a point, in that often superstition is passed off as faith.

Some of what I’ve written above is applicable to this bit, but just to add, whether it is superstitious or not is a lesser issue. The important one is whether it is true and if, on balance there is sufficient or indeed any evidence for it. All the evidence should be publicly available for inspection and scientific study. Belief in a creator in the absence of such evidence may not reach the depths of mirror-breaking superstition, but it is, in my opinion, not a credible position to hold. Yes, theology is a magnificent intellectual construct, but that does not make it any less wrong – only that it is wrong in a very sophisticated way.

A comment on the statement that believing in god is not superstition if one believes that god gave us rational minds in the event that one believes that god gestated the universe. This seems a bit circular. Why believe the latter at all? Evolutionary theory, which is supported by heaps of evidence, provides a brilliant and awe inspiring account of we developed our cognitive abilities, not to mention the vast web of life on the planet. There is no need to resort to non-scientific myths to understand the world and our place in it. In fact they explain nothing as practically speaking we have to go through science anyway to explain how god got around to actually doing it.

As for angels, they wouldn’t be an issue if it was clear that everybody considered them imaginary fictional characters like Santa Claus or the leprechauns. Nobody would bother ridiculing them if they were purely treated symbolicly. Unfortunately many people do believe in angels.

author by moderatepublication date Sun Feb 24, 2008 17:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'm not hearing any voices for moderation on this thread , apart from the thought provoking plea from Leo Bloomers perhaps.The trouble with anarchism in Ireland as far as I can see is the continuous bickering between different uncompromising factions. Like the spat between Ciaron and Chekov or between Deirdre and James for instance .All of them are good anarchists and a credit to the movement without a doubt , but they are also extremists when it comes to defence of their own personal interpetration of anarchist theorey . Does it really matter whether god exists or not ? Not as far as I'm concerned it doesn't , so long as we're all fighting for the same cause - a more caring ,just and compassionate society .
Anarchism has got a pretty bad name ,we can't deny it . So what do we do about it ?Sitting around at our 'puter desks arguing the toss all day and night is not going to resolve anything . We need to all put our heads together in a spirit of concilliation and work out how best to move things on . One suggestion I would make is that we should perhaps consider a change of name . Let's face it the word Anarchy conjures up all sorts of negative connotations for the average voter - not that I'm personally in favour of getting involved with electioneereing at the present moment .
I'd like to end by saying that ,if the movement wants become a force for genuine change , its going to have to make some hard choices and perhaps be courageous enough to address the points I'm raising , and get rid of some of the old shibboleths that have retarded the growth of movement for so long .

author by libertarianpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 09:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Moderate,

I'm a fairly laid-back person, but if there's one thing that gets my eyes flashing, it's the self-appointed 'moderate' who, usually anonymously (and, therefore, disallowing an assessment of whether the person deserves referee status), decides to put themselves into the middle of a discussion to smugly declare all sides to be 'extremists' and bickerers, and him or herself to be an honest broker, a sensible adjudicator on what is the correct way to do things.

The various sides in this discussion are passionate about what we believe because it matters. We don't sit around scratching our intellectual holes, doing our best to avoid difficult questions.

Anyway, I'm still waiting for proof that god exists (I'm not really - life is too short. I'm actually getting on with actual activism in the real world). But, short of such proof, I think it's fair to say that Deirdre and Ciaron's beliefs in the supernatural, angels, theology, souls and all that other stuff are just intricate mind games that bear no relation whatsoever to reality. Without god, the superstructure of religion and theology is just meaningless nonsense. A superstructure cannot stand without a solid foundation.

author by Independentpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 10:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'm not going to try and prove God, except to say have you tried the Five Proofs of Thomas Aquinas?

Anyway I want to focus on free will. Atheists or agnostics generally describe themselves as Freethinkers, with an implication that deists and other religious believers don't think freely because they use god as a branch in the air to hang from. (Other dependency metaphors are sometimes applied in these arguments.) Well I think deists and others do exercise free will, firstly in deciding to have supernatural beliefs but secondly by opting for a code of ethics governing their dealings with others. I won't claim that believers are "better" than nonbelievers since it is obvious that there are hypocrites on all sides, there are crooks and mass murderers who claim to adhere to a code of humane ethics but grossly violate the code in pursuit of profit, power or for some other motive.

I'd like to claim that believers can be no less independent in their thinking than atheists and agnostics. In late 18th century Britain and throughout the 19th century political and moral religious motivation was important, especially among nonconformist protestants like Wilberforce (anti-slavery) and all sorts of Methodists and socialist Anglicans. Religious believers have throughout the last 500 years contributed to original discovery in science, in medicine, in historical investigation and other branches of study. Their religion wasn't a handicap; maybe in some cases it was a spur. Christians who paid with their lives in opposing nazi ideology - Lutherans and Catholics - are examples.

Finally I want to raise the Problem of Evil. Why does the human race encounter a sharp conflict between good (virtue) and evil (anti-humanity) in every known civilisation and in every century? The judaeo-christian tradition has an explanation for it; buddhists and muslims offer their explanations. How do these deist explanations of evil differ from atheist or agnostic explanations?

I've been a part time activist/campaigner on reform issues relating to Ireland and the world all my adult life. Some people on this thread are more personally committed to radical social change than I have ever been. I don't think that deep activism makes a person's beliefs more plausible than the beliefs of those who are less active.

author by libertarianpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 10:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"Atheists or agnostics generally describe themselves as Freethinkers"

No, they don't. This is a term that was used by some agnostics and atheists in the nineteenth century. In the context of the Victorian world, I can understand why they chose this term, but it's now long redundant.

The rest of your comment simply raises more straw men. Nobody is suggesting that believers are bad people or incapable of doing good things.

I wish people could focus on the central issue and stop waffling around the point. Is there a supernatural? Do gods exist? If this cannot be shown to be the case, then, when we discuss religion, we are simply discussing a cultural entity based on (an intricate) mythology.

author by moderatepublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 10:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Libertarian , I must admit I find your post troubling and really not in the spirit of reconcilliation that I recommended yesterday.But I don't want to bicker with you on that point or otherwise I would be just as negative as you appear to be.
You wrote :
"Without god, the superstructure of religion and theology is just meaningless nonsense. A superstructure cannot stand without a solid foundation"
This would suggest that you think that either god or the belief in god is the solid foundation on which religion is founded upon , which in my opinion is much closer to Ciaron and Deirdre's analysis than you might like to think.
That's why we should really ,as I said in my last post ,put our heads together and try to find what unites us rather than what divides us . That way anarchism can grow in an inclusive ,organic way.

author by ribbidpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 11:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Christianity is nothing without Rome, without Mithras, without Isis, without Saint Paul on the Castor & Pollux telling slaves to obey their owners. & then you've the little voices. That spoke to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph - every generation a little voice.

The Catholic workers are a minority in Anarchism & a laughably minority in Christianity.

such indulgence.

author by libertarianpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 11:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Moderate,

First of all, I'm a socialist not an anarchist (though I'm fond of anarchism), so your injunction about us all being anarchists on the one road is wasted on me.

Secondly, I have no idea what you are on about. You seem to think that if we all shut up, the differences will disappear.

People continually work together despite fundamental differences of outlook. To do otherwise would be bigotry and intolerance, and nobody is aruing for that. However, in terms of our Weltanschauung (how we view the world), these issues are important. Personally I have no interest in perpetuating mysticism, which is what Ciaron and Deirdre support. Their belief in the supernatural is just not intellectually viable and I don't see why socialists and anarchists should pretend that it is. They view the world through the distorted prism of religion and, post-Enlightenment, it's hardly surprising that activists on the left reject such a position. Show us the proof!

author by moderatepublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 12:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

You did give the impression that you were one of us when you wrote :

"Have you even a notion what socialism and anarchism are? As political philosophies, they adopt a cold-eyed, rational and materialist view of the world in order to understand clearly the political and economic forces at play"

I would urge you to consider becoming an anarchist Libertarian . As I said in an earlier post , anarchism doesn't neccessarily mean extremism -we're a pretty broad church . Your Weltanschauung seems much closer to Ciaron and Deirdre's than it does to the worldview of Chekov and James and maybe not as cold eyed and rationalist as you'd like to imagine . Perhaps you need to explore the more spiritual aspects of anarchism , in which case Ciaron and Deirdre could probably give you some recommendations for reading .
But thanks for the more concilliatory tone of your last post .

author by Cianpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 13:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Moderate - you seem to be suggesting that these kinds of arguments over religion and faith are dividing and holding back the anarchist movement. All this Indymedia thread shows is that there is a healthy difference of opinion among Irish anarchists (and others on the left) on matters of personal spirituality and faith. I hope you do not get the impression (as I fear you have) that this means we cannot work together or refuse to work together on the basis of such disagreements. Certainly in the WSM, as far as I am aware, there has never been any such incidents. There are some members of the WSM who have strong personal religious/theistic convictions, there are others who hold the opposite convictions with just as much fervor!

Most political actions we take which have any kind of religious element at all are based on all anarchists principled objection to hierarchical authority as personified in almost all major organised religions. On this, there is no disagreement within the WSM, the Catholic Workers or indeed for most socialists of a libertarian bent.

James presents the more difficult to argue but widely held view of (I believe) most within the WSM that religious faith is a bad thing "per se". Not everybody will agree 100% with him, even within WSM. I personally think he presents a strong and convincing case. Chekov and Ronan also provide some solid points. The idea that the article is somehow "disrespectful" towards those who hold religious or theistic beliefs is nonsense. A person has the right to believe whatever they like and that right should be respected. That is not the same as saying they have a right to never hear any criticism of those beliefs.
As for the Muslim who got offended at the picture of Mohammed - you might want to skip on over to Wikipedia where the CRRRAAAAAZZZY islamophobes that run that site are displaying a picture of Mohammed too!! Those wacky kids! They'll never learn!

There is a bit of looseness with definition here, people are arguing about religion and theism as if they are the same, which they are not. It is possible to be a religious theist or an irreligious athiest. For example, Buddhism is a religion (contrary to what "phats" has said) but it does not have a theistic element. These are important distinctions to make if you want to argue for or against one or the other.
Atheism, also may be a lack of belief in god, or an outright denial of gods existence. These are usually referred to as "weak" and "strong" atheism respectively. (Contrary to what you might think from their names, it is actually the "weak" type of atheism that has the strongest arguments in its defence).

It is also misleading to suggest that we don't "dismiss science because of all the death and destruction that have happened in its name". Firstly, we do not see dictators oppressing their subjects or armies commiting genocide citing their motivation as wishing to see a greater commitment to data collection, hypotheses forming, and experimental verification of these hypotheses by the populace.
Secondly, we do not dismiss science because science is the best system we have yet discovered for acquiring knowledge about the world. Religion requires that we hold beliefs which at the very least, are not supported or even verifiable by science, and even more frequently, are actually in direct contradiction to known scientific evidence. There is no basis for comparison, let alone analogy.

Contrary to what "Anarchagirl" has suggested, there are very good grounds for dismissing almost all theistic beliefs without much serious consideration. All theistic belief's, if postulated, must first be logically consistent (if one is to have any kind of meaningful discussion about them at all), and must then be supported by evidence which can be verified. If you ask someone to believe in something which is not logically consistent and for which there is no evidence, then that belief can be immediately dismissed, not merely as false but as unworthy of serious consideration. It is not necessary to spend a lot of time investigating whether leprechauns might or might not exist, and nobody does this, because there is zero evidence to even suggest that they might - lack of belief is the default position. Few people can even put forward a logically consistent definition of "god", let alone provide any kind of verifiable evidence of its existence so the existence of such a being, barring the fulfillment of the burden of proof, is, until such a time, also unworthy of consideration.

The worst thing about many arguments from defenders of theism here is their apparent complete lack of concern about whether a believers belief's have any foundation whatsoever in reality. It seems even if we (the supposedly enlightened) can agree that such a being as "God" is unlikely to exist, they insist that the idea continue to be used as a sort of "opiate of the masses" for the poor ignorant proletariat - that regardless of the truth of the matter we should not challenge the idea since it is supposedly such a driving force in getting people to do unselfish things, we should allow the poor dears to believe it. Those making this argument seem to have such a low opinion of human nature that they believe people need to be duped and deluded into doing good things rather than deciding upon such a course of action independent of delusional beliefs or fear of reprimand from an omnipotent being. I would like to be set right on this, for I would hope that no anarchist or indeed socialist would hold such opinions.

author by Rational Ecologistpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 13:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I haven't been on the thread for a few days. Chekov decribed my comments as post-modern. Could you please explain your understanding of this term. Your " faith " in science is naive to say the least. I think you may be referring to the scientific method as a way of examining reality. There is no denying the merits and achievements of science, however, science is owned by the powerful and as such serves their ends. Who pays for the research?

author by Ciaron - London Catholic Workerpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 13:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Comment on running the site removed. The comment facility exists to provide news, information and analysis directly relevant to the article. The mailing lists are for discussing the running of this news site - moderator

It is a nonsense to deny thiest streams in the anarchist traditions. These are acknowledged by anarcho historians Marshall, Chomsky, Nicholas Walter etc Christians anarchist the late Jacques Ellul is considered a major philopspher out there in the mainstream world etc. Maybe the original post here is an attempt to recreate anarchism or redifine anarchism - to say "serious" anarchism is this or that, athiest etc.

I don't think the Catholic Worker claims to be anything but a prophetic (some say pathetic) minority in Catholicism or anarchism. We were never heavy on recruitment in our five years in Ireland. The Dan Berrigan maxim "Start smaller, get smaller!"

As stated, for me this thread has less to do with god and more to do with a debate about the definition of the anarchist tradition. anarchism etc. For me, pacifist and anarchist ethics are implicit to my radical (latin for "returning to the roots") Christianity. It is not a marriage - say like christian-marxism - of two seperate ideologies.

Anarchism and pacifism are both negative definitions. Pacifism means without violence. Anarchism means without exploitation (or "lording it over" as the scripture puts it). So because they are negative definitions they make better questions than answers.

A pacifist is someone who lives a life answering the question How do I live without violence to another?

A pacifist is a person who lives answering the question How do I live a life without exploiting another?

I think it is a distraction for the anarchist movement to get uptight about people's faith. It is impossible to argue or debate. It is intuitive. God refuses to be known. Yahweh is the name that cannot be uttered. Breathe in, breathe out and listen. "Yahweh" will be the first thing you say and the last thing you say. God is accessed by love.

Since the 16th. century there has been a wholesale loss of the contemplative tradition in the church. The church has been caught up in the post reformation oppositional - dualistic thinking.

We had a good first three centuries (has any other dissident movement had such a good run?) The Constantine shift compromised out anarchist and pacifist orientations....but there always radicals in every tradition trying to get back to the roots. The Catholic Worker www.catholicworker.org is 180 autonomous communites that has been on the road since the 1930's More recent waves of christian anarchism are coming form post-evangelicals see link http://anz.jesusradicals.com/

Related Link: http://www.londoncatholicworker.org
author by moderatepublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 13:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Cian , I think you have hit the nail right on the head there. If there was no strong belief system then people would do all sorts of evil to each other . I come from a Church of Ireland background myself , but that doesn't mean to say that I'm not prepared to work with others to make the world a better place . With Christianity on the decline ,we see a breakdown of the core moral values of society .That's why you get so much crime ,which is ,after all , a form of negative thinking ,(the criminal mind is essentially a negative mind ).
Anarchism could I am sure provide the missing underpinning of a just and caring society .But to do that we must be positive . We must, in other words , counter the negative energy of division and bickering (which deists would perhaps call evil ) with the positive ,post-enlightenment rationalism of anarchism .

author by Independentpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 14:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

In response to now hidden comment Tits makes a grand dismissal with his assertion that most of what has been posted on this thread is sh** and whatever other excretal nouns and adjectives he can summon from his diminutive deposit of vocabulary. I marvel at his grandiose "there is not one word of truth on this stupid and boring thread." Actually this thread has been one of the most lively ones since the Coolacrease RTE documentary threads appeared a few months ago.

A God discussion between anarchists, catholic activists and miscellaneous intruders (me?) is better than silence, since silence might often be interpreted by those who talk loudly as assent by the silent ones to their repeated assumptions about worldviews, spiritual motivations and personal understandings about the Meaning of Life. In Irish culture many individuals tend to be quiet and refrain from open contradiction because they feel diffident about causing emotional scenes. Differences of opinion and attitude remain unexpressed by default. North American culture is more overt and expressive by contrast.

The CW of Ciaron and associates is indeed a miniscule organisation in the context of leftwing activism in Britain and Ireland. Yeah, they may appear to be a laughable, eccentric little group. I wouldn't be surprised if they laugh at themselves occasionally. Laughter is a great safety valve. They don't go in for strenuous and sometimes devious party-building like some far left groups - but that is not the point of the CW network. Since Dorothy Day founded it in the late 1920s (30s ?) it has been a small but useful comfort to the down and outs in USA through its "houses of hospitality" while offering imaginative possibilities of radical activity to those few who want to work for social improvement without exiting the christian spiritual framework.

Libertarian is leaving the thread at a point where the argument is gearing up. Pity.

author by Chekovpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 16:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Ciaron says that "It is a nonsense to deny thiest streams in the anarchist traditions". I disagree. The anarchist tradition springs from the writings of Proudhon, Bakunin and the thought of the first international. There are a whole load of other traditions which have arrived at a lot of the same conclusions - including some medieval millenarian christian movements and modern faith-based movements. However, the movement which invented the term and which presented an explicit anarchist ideology was decidedly materialist and atheistic. Bakunin's god and the state was one of the core texts of the anarchist movement and also one of the best statements of the flaws in theism. "No Gods! No Masters!" has always been one of the most famous anarchist slogans, with "if god existed we would have to abolish him". In short, the workers movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which invented the term "anarchism" and first formed mass movements based upon those ideas saw materialism as a core belief - and we still do.

This atheistic materialist tradition was a core of the anarchist movement at its birth. The fact that other movements, from different traditions have arrived at similar conclusions in other areas as the anarchist movement has arrived at does not mean that they can say that the anarchist tradition can be stripped of one of its core values. We can not project backwards in time and claim a whole load of people in history as anarchists. At most we can say that they came to similar conclusions - but an attachment to gods and the supernatural is one thing that sets such groups apart from anarchism as a philosophy.

To rational ecologist - answer my question above and I'll answer yours.

author by Leonpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 16:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Cian :
"Contrary to what "Anarchagirl" has suggested, there are very good grounds for dismissing almost all theistic beliefs without much serious consideration. All theistic belief's, if postulated, must first be logically consistent (if one is to have any kind of meaningful discussion about them at all), and must then be supported by evidence which can be verified."

Why must all theistic beliefs be logically consistent? Do you mean consistent with each other or internally consistent and who is the arbiter of that consistency? If it is you why should I accept that?

Why must theistic beliefs be supported by verifiable evidence? Who decided that? If it is you why should I accept that?

How many of those people posting against religion or in defense of science why those beliefs they hold are true? Most of us who hold a set of so called 'scientific' or rational beliefs don't know why that which we hold to be true is true.

How many people alive today have a clear understanding of
[1] The first three minutes of the universe's life
AND
[2] The processes by which life (self replication) came about on earth

What set of these people arrived at this knowledge independently.

How does the scientific approach differ from the religious? If I assert because I read it in a book that life arose from an increasing and random complexity in mineral salts and you assert because you read it in a book that JubJub made the world out of stew how do we know whose book is right.

author by moderatepublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 16:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yes Independent ,the debate will indeed be the poorer without libertarian’s insights. They may be the insights of somebody blinkered by a somewhat extremist adherence to the principles of libertarianism , but nonetheless it is important that we do not fall into the same mindset of intolerance .
Libertarian should understand that despite any differences we may hold , the important thing is that we all recognize the need for reconciliation ,mutual understanding and tolerance which I believe to be at the heart of anarchist teaching .And if libertarian should ever feel the need to reconcile with a more moderate approach to the epistemological problems we are addressing , I for one will not slam the door in his or her face.
Chekov has raised some very valid points in relation to Ciaron's post ,but once again it is I believe framed within the same narrow one-size-fits-all narrative. As Cian has wisely said , "A person has the right to believe whatever they like and that right should be respected".
But more importantly we need to ask ourselves whether we aren't perhaps a little too far out for the average person ,too far off the radar screen in terms of the politics we espouse , and that our insistence on holding on to what we consider immutable truths principles etc aren't ,to put it simply ,putting people off.

author by NoodleyAppendagepublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 17:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"How does the scientific approach differ from the religious? If I assert because I read it in a book that life arose from an increasing and random complexity in mineral salts and you assert because you read it in a book that JubJub made the world out of stew how do we know whose book is right."

well, the evidence for many scientific theories is all around you and just one counter example to a current scientifically accepted theory could cause the whole edifice to fall down yet despite millions of minds looking for that counter example, for the most part we are still waiting for such a catastrophe. Scientific theories are born in the face of great scepticism and adversity and they have to be solid and consistent and in keeping with the daily observations of nature by millions of clever sceptical people (with lots of very sophisticated technology) to survive.

e.g. You drop something, it falls and accelerates. Even a simple experiment with paper and pencil marks can give you some values for this acceleration. If performed with care, these tend to cluster around the accepted figure. If yours disagree and your work is careful and documented, you can present your data and others will try to recreate your results. If they can then its in lots of folks interest to be in on the death of a widely held theory like gravity. Science tries hard to find fault with its own theories. Thats a better way to search for truth I think. Sometimes the inertia is great in the scientific community with an idea thats been around for a while like gravity, but if that one simple counter experiment is reproducible then it will eventually win out over goliath.

Such simple verifications become untenable when it comes to things like particle physics but a visit to cern (like a pilgrimage to mecca but a little more revealing perhaps!) is possible and much of its workings and the theory behind it are possible to grasp and freely available on the internet.

However the material is somewhat inaccessible without a difficult course of study. In that sense from joe soap's perspective, it might seem like it is an article of faith to believe in the z or w particle. Yes, the increasing complexity and learning requirements for somebody to keep up with the leading edge in physics is indeed a problem I must admit. However the raw material is out there in abundance if anybody has the discipline, intelligence and determination to master it. In fact with peer to peer internet sharing, there has never been a wider availability of scientific books and learning materials (albeit of dubious legality! :-) )

By contrast, the bible is full of hypocrisy and contradictions and is based on things like gods, angels for which there seems scant evidence or for which there could be far more mundane explanations for (such as schizophrenia or ergot fungus) With religion, when you try to find fault with it, and discuss the inconsistencies openly, the conversation is often shut down by religious types (the technique used may vary but usually it boils down to a "leap of faith"). This seems a method far less honest and less likely to bear fruit if your intention is to discover the nature of our reality. It embodies the idea that you should just take somebody's word for something and not question. That it is a virtue not to question. IMHO It is NEVER a virtue not to question. This very dangerous "non thinking" is at the heart of much oppression and propaganda and is at the root of most religious dogma. Its what I most dislike about religions.

Anyway, Such is the difference between religious exploration and scientific exploration.

However science too has its issues. Because it is often taught in a moral vacuum, It is often easily hijacked by the rich and powerful and used to make weaponry and create profitable technologies which are not used in a way which stays in harmony with our environment (such as GM , nuclear power, nanotech etc)

I believe part of the problem comes from the fact that logic can take you from a premise to a conclusion but can often tell you little about the quality of your premise. i.e. "is it good or bad". Not surprising since such moral premises are often arbitrary and plucked out of our arses. Logic takes you from A to B but does not give you A.
I can believe that killing is good then create my own self consistent set of behavioural ethics and logical rationalisations. But the fact is "A" is rather arbitrary. You either feel in your gut that being mean to your fellow meat machines is ok , or you don't. You proceed from there. So science is in a way at the mercy of our "guts".

Many rich and powerful people's guts are seriously full of shit and this has led to a mistrust of science. This is really a conflation of the nature of the lousy human moral compass and the activity of discovery for its own sake which should be neutral. In practice we stray far from the ideal of neutrality in scientific discovery and normally humans are more interested in discovery for killing/profit's sake which is sadly part of our lizard / monkey heritage. The question we are left with is "are we mature enough to handle science?"

The answer I fear is often "no".

author by moderatepublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 18:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

'are we mature enough to handle science?

The answer I fear is often "no".'

That’s exactly my point noodly appendage . We are not mature enough as a movement and that’s why we always seem to be so "way out " to most people. The movement needs to behave in a mature way - responsibly . As anarchists we are going to have to grow-up before we grow is the way I like to put it. ,and that means that at some point we are going to have to face down the hot-heads who are at the moment stopping us from making any real serious breakthrough in terms of future development . We are in other words going to have to make some tough choices .

I do see some positive signs in this thread of that process -and it is a process - of growing-up taking place . As Independent said ,this is the most exiting and relevant debate there has been on indymedia for a long time . We're moving in the right direction ,but we're not there yet - not by a long haul. We’re not liked by mainstream society ,let’s face it . We are seen as extremists and completely unelectable even if we were to take part in elections .

There is bound to be some resistance to facing up to the realities from die-hards like Libertarian (whose commitment to the cause I do not doubt btw) ,but it is my firm belief that with patience we can nudge the movement in the right direction. It may take a long time ,but with good will -and there is no shortage of that in the anarchist movement- reasonable voices will prevail .

author by anonpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 19:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This thread is turning into a bit of a joke. 'Moderate', are you reading anything anybody else is writing? Yourself and 'libertarian' aren't even in the same plantary dimension. He/she ('libertarian') has asked a very valid question - where is the proof that God exists? The logical outcome of God being proven not to exist is that religions and theology are absurd because they have a completely false and untrue base. Without the Gods, talk of theoology and religion is absurd. Therefore for religion to make sense at all, in any way at all, you need to prove that it refers to something real.

Where is the middle ground on this? 'Moderate' talks about everybody getting on but, judging by his posts, this must be on the basis of non-believers suspending their disbelief or at least shutting up about it. I mean really this is the most black & white situation possible - either religion has a basis in reality (i.e. God or the supernatural exists) or it doesn't. If God doesn't exist then all this religiousity and belief in in Angels is just so much shite. Why pander to it?

There's some serious whacko stuff on this thread but what disturbs me most is the number of 'anarchists' willing to suspend their critical faculties and believe in pixies, hob goblins, Gods, and all the rest of it. It's not even funny.

author by moderatepublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 19:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yes I am following what people say on this thread ,and I think you are very wrong to present it as some sort of a joke .

Libertarian wrote :
"Without god, the superstructure of religion and theology is just meaningless nonsense. A superstructure cannot stand without a solid foundation"

S/he said somewhere else that superstructure is based on belief or something like that .
Surely that means that god or faith created the superstructure of religion and theology - that god is the foundation on which religion is built. Which is an argument for the existence of god .That's what I mean about Libertarian being closer to Deirdre and Ciaron than to the so-called hard atheists James referred to. Libertarian is a closet mystic as far as I can see. And then s/he gets all hot under the collar about other people's religious beliefs.

author by anon againpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 19:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I love the following quote from 'Moderate':

"We're moving in the right direction ,but we're not there yet - not by a long haul. We’re not liked by mainstream society ,let’s face it . We are seen as extremists and completely unelectable even if we were to take part in elections .

There is bound to be some resistance to facing up to the realities from die-hards like Libertarian (whose commitment to the cause I do not doubt btw) ,but it is my firm belief that with patience we can nudge the movement in the right direction. It may take a long time ,but with good will -and there is no shortage of that in the anarchist movement- reasonable voices will prevail ."

Can you expand on this?

You clearly want the anarcho movement to drop it's antagonism towards religion (no more shall we hear 'No Gods! No Masters!'). What else should be done to fit into "mainstream society"?

'Moderate' - you are not an anarchist. You're either a chancer or a stirrer or somebody who hasn't the faintest notion what anarchism is.

author by anon yet againpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 20:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is feckin' obvious that 'Libertarian' said that if God doesn't exist, then the superstructure (theology, religion, churches) are meaningless and without a basis in reality. Isn't this stating the obvious? What is religion if there is no supernatural, no Gods, no deities?

You write - "Surely that means that god or faith created the superstructure of religion and theology - that god is the foundation on which religion is built. Which is an argument for the existence of god ."

'Moderate' you might be able to physically read but you clearly have no powers of comprehension. 'Libertarian' was very clearly making the point - quite rightly - that if theists can't prove God to exist (and no evidence has been proffered) then theology and religion have NO basis, precisely because their raison d'etre has been cut from under them. He/she was arguing that if Gods don't exist, then religion is just a heap of meaningless shite with no roots in reality.

How you derived the convulted meaning above from this would baffle the best brains on this planet. A word of advice with regard to debating: you actually need to understand what your opponent is saying before you take them on. You clearly haven't a clue what 'libertarian' was saying. Bow out.

author by moderatepublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 20:33author address author phone Report this post to the editors

" if theists can't prove God to exist (and no evidence has been proffered) then theology and religion have NO basis, precisely because their raison d'etre has been cut from under them. "

What you're saying is the same as Libertarian said - that the basis of religion and theology is god. I can't prove that god exists ,but religion does , I think we're agreed on that .You say the raison d'etre for theology and religion is the existence of god . OK ,fine that's your opinion and you are fully are entitled to hold it.
I disagree with you ,but there isn't any reason to get so angry and wild-eyed as you and Libertarian do about the whole affair . Anarchism has a pretty bad name ,you must admit anon .Bad tempered posts like yours only add to the opprobrium.

author by anonpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 21:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

'Moderate' writes: "I can't prove that god exists ,but religion does , I think we're agreed on that ."

No we are not agreed on that. 'Religion' proves nothing of the sort which is the point of this entire thread. Are you reading a different thread and just dipping in here occassionally?

The point is that 'religion' and theists have PROVED NOTHING. They just ASSERT, as supposedly self-evident, that Gods and the supernatural exist. There is no evidence. None. In fact everything points to the contrary.

So if there is no Gods or supernatural (wheres the evidence???), then religion has no logical basis. Its all baloney.

(I swear it's like talking to the wall)

author by Laurence Coxpublication date Mon Feb 25, 2008 21:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Fair play to James for raising the issue. I think there are important arguments to be had about religion and the left, not least in Ireland. My feeling though is that this, in this form, isn't the debate that's needed in the area.

For some time now, there's been a trend on the Anglo-American left to go in for "wars of religion" of this kind, fuelled by a return to some of the most basic positions of the 18th and 19th century left and in opposition to Christian fundamentalism in the US and the rise of radical Islam. All of which is certainly fair enough, as far as it goes. These are learning processes that every literate person needs to go through at some point. But as educational processes they have severe limits.

To start with a point which a number of people have made: there is usually a certain degree of provincialism in the argument: all religion is assumed to be like our own, whatever "our own" is. At the moment, what we usually get is a selection of Abrahamic religions, seen through the prism of local debates: so all religions are presumed to be theistic, concerned with faith, heavily oriented towards cosmology and the provision of explanations, and so on. While this does describe the fundamentalist wing of Christianity in particular quite well (issues of cosmology / explanation and faith apparently work rather differently even in the other Abrahamic religions, and certainly do so within non-fundamentalist forms of Christianity), it works less and less well as an account of religion as it moves further away from home, into the various religions of South and East Asia and "indigenous" religion of various kinds. Lots could be said about this, but suffice it to say that religions do very different things in different contexts, even when they are nominally "the same religion". The 18th and 19th century left, like most Europeans of their day, knew very little about the religions of the societies that European states were busy colonising or wiping out, but it is strange in the 21st century to find equivalent levels of not-knowing among intellectual commentators on religion.

Within the left, there is a subtler problem, one of the first which Marx highlighted. Observing that the radical liberals of his day had "abolished God" intellectually, he noted that this had little to no effect on most people's behaviour, and suggested that a more significant challenge would be to abolish the social conditions that give rise to religion. In other words, having once made the simple observation that most religious practitioners are not in fact particularly concerned with rational reasons for their behaviour, the political question becomes how that behaviour can be understood. It is relatively easy, and relatively ineffective (under most circumstances) to shoot those particular fish in their barrel: what is interesting, and politically useful, is to find out what people are actually trying to do, in their own lives, with religion, and think about this politically.

This approach is often described as materialism in a more useful sense: that rather than an analysis of religion which treats it purely as ideas that people think up to resolve cognitive problems, it explores religion as practice, and asks what social purposes people are pursuing through their religious practice - whether they are purposes of liberation or of oppression. Historically, of course, both have been significant, and the two have not always been completely separate: one person's liberation, as in Ireland, can involve another person's oppression; or what from the outside can look like oppression can seem very different from the inside. A recent analysis along these lines is in Carol Coulter's pamphlet "The hidden tradition", on feminism and nationalism in Ireland and the long-term complexities of class and religion in Irish women's movements.

It is worrying to see a class-oriented left, which is familiar with social analysis, to drop all the reflection and intelligence that it would bring to bear in analysing the latest movie or political theorist and retreat into what could be called "just-so stories" of the origins and purpose of religion. (Many interesting things can be said about the archaeology of early ritual, for example in Richard Bradley's recent work.) This is not to say that there isn't *also* a space for this level of polemic, but that there is a political problem if this polemic is taken as serious analysis and intended to serve strategic purposes.

A last, and more positive, thought: One of the merits of the article and the associated discussion is highlighting atheists, agnostics and non-practitioners as social groups which are both very widespread and typically not talked about (including on the left). In a context such as Ireland, where affiliation to a religion confers (at least in theory) automatic rights in relation to areas such as schooling and education, it is always worth mentioning the needs and rights of the non-religious, highlighting the value of their conscious decisions and supporting their claims to recognition and breathing space. Given traditionally significant levels of anti-clericalism (as in most predominantly Catholic countries), and the value that is often placed on tolerance in working-class life more generally, these arguments may be worth making more of.

author by dunkpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 01:51author email fuspey at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors



It is hidden but always present.
I don't know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.


Thats verse 2 of part 4 of TAO TE CHING, the second most widely translated book in the world after the bible, many of us in west dont know of it, takes half hour to read, or a lifetime (typical taoist theme) original book supposedly written by wandering old guy called lao tzu @ 6th century bc- unfortunatley the "cultural revolution" in china managed to make a lot of chinese people unaware of this simple book of poetry

good to see this discussion bubbling again, there was a previous sort of discussion here:
Toward true christian anarchy. (Organised religion:political parties in disguise.)
http://ireland.indymedia.org/article/73849

i feel we in the west could well do with learning a bit more about others ideas before saying all religion is bad, theres reasons for the emergence of ideas that have ended up being religions. my own view is opposed to formal systems and id see being religious or spiritual is just having an attitude to our life and death, acknowledging it, hopefully being able to feel a bit of the strangeness of existence, then get on with living as much as possible.....

we live in a funny galaxy, mister sun gives us energy to exist, mother earth allows things to grow including us odd creatures, we live, soon we die....

the film zeitgeist's first quarter gives an interesting account of the how and why of the emergence of the christian religion as an orchestrated power system that built up on pre existing pagan and other views....
http://zeitgeistmovie.com/
watch this section on youtube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeZB2EsPqGE

one of the things that impresses me is the idea of dreaming, imagining, hoping....
a wild idea that might someday be a reality, thats what politicos do too.. dreaming the alternative then working to make it happen. In Catalunya many people talk about the successful anarchist revolution in 1936 and how that although most of the anarchists were very anti-religion the spirit they had, the dreams they started to live out, was similar to groups in a deep religious state, their god was their anarchist ideal, the believed in it, fought for it and many died for it.

so to finish up, for me, religion is making sense of being alive and with that trying to have the highest quality of life. that can include, and for me does, working for better fairer healthier happier more eco existence for all..

can digging a hole in the ground to plant spuds on a cold paddys day in a squatted community garden count as a religious act, for me yes...

you can read all 81 verses of the tao te ching (stephen mitchell version) here:
enjoy it, if youve never heard of it
http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/taote....html

ill leave you with my favourite part...

25:

There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Solitary. Unchanging.
Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.

we live here.... It is older than God?
we live here.... It is older than God?

author by Deirdre Clancypublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 06:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

James wrote:
'Faith is belief without evidence – this is why doubting Thomas is told as a warning story to schoolchildren. Requesting evidence is not to be encouraged.'

This is Religion for High Infants, as taught in some primary school in Ballygobackwards 20 years ago. Actually, I don't think any serious, nuanced theological thinker would argue that faith is belief without evidence, and I have read various commentaries that cast Thomas in a positive light (I have a soft spot for him myself). If you take into account the difference between evidence and proof, which is considerable, there is actually plenty of evidence for the existence of a deity, including evolution itself, and the fact that there has been a human assumption that there is a deity or deities since the beginning of human existence. If someone is looking for hard proof, that's not possible when dealing with the numinous. You can't get God on camera, as such (though there may be some cranks who argue that you can), or attain DNA samples (except the DNA we see all around us in nature and humanity). However, there is plenty of evidence for the validity of each religious tradition. It may not be possible to out-and-out prove the existence of God, but then it's not possible either to prove the non-existence of God.

James wrote:
'But there’re also a lot of extremely dubious teachings in the gospels, e.g. “the meek shall inherit the earth”, “turn the other cheek”, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar”, the more or less total inability of Jesus to engage in any rational discussion of his ideas (contrast with ancient Greek philosophy).'

The remark about the 'total inability of Jesus' (as recorded in the Gospels) to rationally discuss his ideas is quite remarkable, and would make me question when James last read the Gospels in full. It's true that Jesus often communicated his ideas through parables, as that was the idiom of the times, and the most effective form of communication in his cultural context. I think you'll find that all the parables and sayings attributed to Jesus have a very coherent structure and a very clear underlying teaching. It would be irrational in itself to expect a teacher in first-century Palestine to discuss his ideas through the use of the same rhetoric as is used in a scientific paper of the present day, and that very expectation would show an ignorance of historical context. Added to which, even the most atheistic of literary critics would concede that the Gospels are great pieces of literature, and the ideas put forth clearly rendered.

All the teachings you mention have to be taken in context, and you are taking them totally out of context. They are taken from the Beatitudes, which read in their entirety form one of the most radical speeches of all time, and possibly the greatest. Would you rather the arrogant inherited the earth than the meek? Turning the other cheek is basically an argument for nonviolence. Some people don't agree with nonviolence as a philosophy, but even those people don't tend to find it dubious - they just find it rather naive. And, let's face it, those who actually do subscribe to nonviolence tend to be the most willing to put themselves on the line on behalf of the oppressed and walk the walk, taking all the risks with their own security (be it job, financial, physical safety, etc.). Lots of people who believe in armed revolution only seem to believe in it when it's at a geographical and historical distance. They let the nonviolent crowd do the risk-taking. There is something in the Gospels which recognises that nonviolence, or at least a striving for it, equals integrity.

Socrates expressed a similar sentiment to 'turn the other cheek': 'One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.' He said this as he was about to be put to death. The mention of ancient Greek thought as a positive alternative to religion because of its rationality is astounding (see further points below) for various reasons, too many to enumerate, though I'll mention a few.

Speaking as someone who has done a comparative study (in formal education) between aspects of Greek thought and the aspects of the Gospels, I have to say your knowledge of Greek thought must be fairly limited. I'm a bit rusty at this stage, for sure, but I do know that Plato basically said that all human beings were originally stars. His cosmic hierarchy was male (at the top of the pile, closest to the heavens = good), female (lower, because closer to the earth = everything base and bestial) and beasts (the closest to the earth). There are theorists who argue fairly convincingly that aspects of Greek cosmology are quite deeply responsible for the set of assumptions that has lead to the ecological mess we're in today, and our careless attitude toward Earth and its non-human inhabitants. The body/spirit dualism in some Greek thought was very deep, with the body regarded as suspect and base (something the Catholic Church took on board and that it certainly didn't get from Judaism). That's not to deny that Greek philosophy contributed hugely to civilisation, but to set it up as somehow profoundly rational compared to Christianity when Greek philosophers had their own irrational assumptions seems to be very suspect (the Greeks had their own set of deities, after all, who were busy killing each other and engaging in incestuous activities). In fact, theologians such as Rosemary Radford Ruether have argued that Hebrew/Jewish thought is much more respectful of Earth and its resources than Greek, and that the idea of subjugating the planet for our own ends comes from the Greek influence as manifested in the Fourth Gospel, with its high Christology and infusion of Greek philosophy. As it happens, this is my favourite Gospel in terms of literature, but the theologians who argue this actually have a point. It is also the Gospel responsible for eliciting the supersessionist attitude to Judaism that has plagued Christianity for many centuries and caused untold persecution of Jews to occur (though it is strongly debatable whether this was the intention of the author of the Gospel). The Fourth Gospel is permeated with Greek ideas.

All religious traditions contain mythological elements. Unless people of faith choose to have a fundamentalist approach, then they generally accept that and take elements of scripture as symbolic, or historically contingent. Biblical hermeneutics are very sophisticated these days. It is only a very literalist mind that would ridicule religion because of things like the Virgin birth or any other aspect of religious thought that doesn't ring scientifically true. The ancient Greeks thought Athena sprang fully formed from the forehead of her father, Zeus, and yet you're comparing Greek thought favourably to Judeo-Christian thought. Greek mythology is fascinating and tells profound truths about human nature and the evolution of society. Similarly, there are elements of Christianity that are symbolically expressed.

James wrote:
'... you don’t really address the question of truth. We think it matters if a naturalistic, atheist view of the world is correct. Of course it’s a difficult to know for sure, and probably we’ll never get it 100%, but the aim of achieving a true description the world seems to me to be an important endeavour. 'The scientific method is, as Chekov described, the best way to achieve a good understanding of the world. '

The scientific method (in modern times) suffices for a description of the natural world (though it can't ever describe the world completely, so the phrase 'a true description of the world' seems rather strange to me, given that the world is so diverse and it would seem to be it is only possible to talk about truths collectively when it comes to the world). However, if you're talking about an understanding of the human relationship to the universe and creation, the scientific method can be sorely lacking. If I want to nourish my soul, I am not about to read a scientific paper or buy a copy of Nature. I will listen to the Brandenburg Concertos or read a Flannery O'Connor short story, or perhaps Buber's 'I and Thou', or watch a Kieslowski film in an attempt to get a sense of elevation. Only some science is capable of reaching the aspect of the human that reaches for a transcendent reality and that wants to nourish its imagination and creativity. The arts and sciences were more integrated at one time in history, and it's a pity that they're so separate now. But that seems to be the way the academy has formulated it. In my opinion, however, the separation between humanities and sciences is a great fiasco that creates a schizoid consciousness in our culture.

James wrote:
'When the religions can produce verifiable experimental evidence that some of their more unusual claims are true (e.g. the existence of angels), we’ll be the first to revise our opinions. That evidence is sorely lacking and I’m not at all sure that there is any interest on the part of theists to see if it could be produced. Because if they fail, then it further undermines confidence in religion.'

You refer to the claims of people of faith as 'unusual'. Bear in mind that they're not that unusual at all, except in some small and rather closed circles of elite political practitioners. There are, of course, different levels of sophistication in terms of faith, but there's no doubt that it nourishes people. I may not believe that there were moving statues in West Cork in the 1980s, but the fact that people flocked to see them is testament to a deep human need for spiritual fulfilment in some form or another. Perhaps people don't always look in the right places to fill that need, and a lot of the time the established churches let the faithful down spectacularly, causing great grief. But this aspect of human nature has to be respected. Attempts to suppress it have generally proven unsuccessful and disastrous. If, in the course of a revolution, the anarchists were to smash up all the ancient holy wells and grottos of Ireland, on the grounds that they encouraged superstitious practices, then I would be the first to be part of the underground resistance, because I don't want to live in a sterile, banal, unimaginative society.

James wrote:
'As such, I’m not that gone on a purely subjective basis for believing in god. After all, the human brain is prone to error; it can easily misinterpret unusual data or emotions and project a religious or spiritual interpretation as their basis, when in reality it is a natural phenomenon.'

The human imagination is part and parcel of religious faith; that is undoubtedly true. However, the basis for religious faith is never purely subjective - the components of faith are always interwined with culture, history, and folk tradition - as well as the personal confession of faith. These components don't make religion any less valid. Human beings use their imaginations to describe the mystical experiences. Artists do it all the time. We're not all borgs, and thankfully so. If our brains were wired to interpret data scientifcally and in a left-brain way all the time, we would be computers, not humans. And by the way, I will add that my own personal sense is that the supernatural is an extension of the natural. It is just the scale that is different, and the absence of the lack and half-heartedness and self-interest that often characterises human interactions. Most of the time, it seems to me that human beings are pretty poor at loving one another, and good at exploiting, using and abusing one another. But at its best, human love resembles the divine, and is a reflection of the divine in humanity. It is natural but also supernatural.

James wrote:
'Evolutionary theory, which is supported by heaps of evidence, provides a brilliant and awe inspiring account of we developed our cognitive abilities, not to mention the vast web of life on the planet. There is no need to resort to non-scientific myths to understand the world and our place in it. In fact they explain nothing as practically speaking we have to go through science anyway to explain how god got around to actually doing it.'

Evolutionary theory is an important narrative. It doesn't cancel out faith, or vice versa (at least, not unless you're a fundamentalist Christian, which I'm decidedly not, or a fundamentalist evolutionist, which Richard Dawkins is). It's interesting that you mention cognitive abilities as having been explained by evolution, because of all things that evolution has managed to explain, that is probably the one which still has the most gaps. For instance, psychiatry as a science that studies and pronounces on human behaviour was actually full of quackery and myths up until the mid-twentieth century, and some would argue it still is. Most psychologists and psychiatrists would admit that the brain is the organ in the human body about which the least is yet known (though that may change). However, even scientists who have studied spiritual practices have concluded that those who engage in them often have better mental and physical health than those who don't. Various scientific studies have shown this to be the case, both with regard to Buddhist meditation and other forms of practice, such as prayer. It is also now an accepted fact that those who have some sort of faith live longer and recover more quickly from illnesses than those who don't. I know that doesn't prove anything - I just thought I'd thrown it in for the heck of it.

James wrote:
'As for angels, they wouldn’t be an issue if it was clear that everybody considered them imaginary fictional characters like Santa Claus or the leprechauns. Nobody would bother ridiculing them if they were purely treated symbolicly. Unfortunately many people do believe in angels.'

I mean, so what if people believe in angels? Why is it that unfortunate? Is this any worse than believing that Marx or Bakunin has all the answers for every social and cultural context, at any time in history? Do the WSM seriously believe that it's possible to end all belief in God or gods (be it pantheistic, theistic, deistic or otherwise) in Ireland or anywhere else even in longer term? I'd like to see you try.

author by ribbidpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 09:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I presume serious theological discussion of the nature of Godhead and the relationship between a supposed God and Christ, sometimes called the "trinity" is too deep for this thread. Pity.

So let's keep it fluffy. Deirdre, the Beatitudes were not the teaching of the Christ or if they were, they were nor original. We know from the Midrash that the exact list including "blessed be the peacemakers" had been circulation for centuries before. So - having read all synoptic gospels, & having once been considered for holy orders - I defy you to now chapter & verse your insistence that James is wrong in regards to the inability of the Christ to frame his teaching. Because quite simply what you have just described thusly :-
"They are taken from the Beatitudes, which read in their entirety form one of the most radical speeches of all time, and possibly the greatest."

is not what you claim it to be. I suppose someone might churn out the Gettysburg address this weekend, & it would stir many a heart - that wouldn't detract from its originality would it?

_____________________________

If that's too difficult - let's keep it really simple - how do you know what Jesus actually said?
I posit you don't & you can't. It is a matter of faith & of course no less than 9 councils of the ancient church.

author by ribbidpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 09:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

& the Nag Hammadi Codices.
Both predate the supposed lifetime of the Christ.

But we see them mentioned in 2 of the synoptic gospels & there is certain agreement that at least 3 formed part of the teaching of the Christ - but there is no reason to believe that he ever held a monster meeting O'Connell style on the Mount & allowed the cynical & dreary of heart to hear "blessed be the cheesemakers" instead.

I do respect your faith Deirdre, but I find it quite astounding that this thread moves from discussion religion to discussion of Christ without any serious attempt to justify the divinity of Jesus. Either He is God or he isn't it.

Scroll 4Q of the Dead Sea scrolls includes a the beatitudes of which the 2 synoptic texts appear to be a later paraphrase. As do sections of the Nag Hammadi Codices.

Anyway - jesus might have been a rousing speech-maker, that's no argument to believe he was or is God. If he isn't, then it's not religion which teaches slaves obey their masters & wives their husbands - but a personality cult.

It's horrible to think a personality cult justifies the US christian right, all I wonder is why are non-believers keen to be good people. Perhaps it's a genetic flaw..,

author by Rational Ecologistpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 09:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

" How many religions propagate their beliefs through repeatable, rigorous experiments which make precise, measurable predictions? "
Again, if you read my original submission then this question is redundant as I am not seeking to defend religion but rather examine your " faith " in science. Of course the scientific method, in it's pure form, is extremely vital, however, from the perspective of anyone who wants to examine the power structures that pertain, then a serious look has to be taken at science.
Science is owned by the powerful.

author by readerpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 09:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

That's a lengthy and articulate defence of mysticism but you make no attempt to engage with the concept of 'truth'. Boiled down, your basic view is that belief in gods and/or pixies is a subjective thing. Apart from the theological swaddling that believers have developed, it's not a great deal different from saying that a child's belief in Santa Claus means that Santa Claus exists.

Moreover, to counter the fact that God's existence is unproven with the assertion that his non-existence is unproven is the most fatuous nonsense I've read in manys the year. How is the non-existence of something proven? I can see that it's a while since you studied logic. Your motto seems to be "I think it's so, therefore it is", which is just mysticism and nothing more.

author by moderatepublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 09:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

To avoid confusion ,
read my post as :
"What you're saying is the same as Libertarian said - that the basis of religion and theology is god. I can't prove that god exists ,but religion does exist , I think we're agreed on that ."

You are so anxious to find disagreement wherever you can Anon. We were discussing the basis of religion .You wrote :"if theists can't prove God to exist (and no evidence has been proffered) then theology and religion have NO basis"

My point was that , if you think that the basis for theology and religion is god , the belief in god or the believers ability to prove that god exists , then you are saying that religion does not have a material basis That argument is essentially mystic /idealist . Consistent atheists maintain that religion has its roots in society .
I hope this clears things up.

author by Pepepublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 10:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

When I read the article, the first thing I thought was: who do you want to reach with that argument? Certainly not the believer community (what becomes even more obvious given the selection of images attached to the article here on indymedia).

If this article is intended to have a political intention, then it is awful politics. In politics, you attack your opponent but try to persuade your own. This article has little capacity of persuasion: it treats the believer community as dumb, not clever enough to understand reality around them and prey to absurdity. You may think that believers are actually a bunch of bollocks; you may believe that any form of religion is stupid. And that is all fair enough: but just be aware that you will not have a chance of winning that people to your own argument. You don't even actually try to persuade.

If you can prove me that one, only one, believer read it and then went "Oh, jaysus James, I think you definitely have a point here. Now I am challenged in my religious believes" I would give credit to the article. But I would doubt it. You don't persuade people by being patronising or derogatory.

And even assuming that you could persuade people against religion: then so what? Most atheist people today are not socialists in any way. The tacit assumption that if you become an atheist then you are one step closer to anarchism it is naive and altogether wrong. That manicheistic view of the world does not hold up to reality: some believers, and actually communities of believers, have been with the oppressed challenging and authority and fighting for revolution while some atheists are stauch defenders of authority and capitalism. Fortunately, human beings are complex enough beings to fall into that rigid caricature of clever non-belivers and somehow slow and thick believers.

It is actually quite funny that you mention the Irish example of atheism growing, because at the same time that atheism has been growing, the left in general and the popular movement are shrinking to irrelevant levels and the bulk of the "new atheist" have completely bought into Neoliberalism and the crass definition of materialism you refute "crazy about money", etc.

If you were attacking the hierarchies and oppressive practices in organised churches, then you would really have a point. But dismissing faith altogether is taking the argument a bit too far as it is a living experience for most of the world population. What you risk, is that people that would otherwise pay attention to you and agree to a large extent, will not have time for anything you say. I much prefer a line of argument of the like "abusing children has nothing to do with believing in God" than " catholics are paedophiles". The first one is persuasive, the second is not (you can use as many examples as you want, I used the easiest one which came to head).

And actually, to state that the history of religion is the history of oppression, as most of the discussion has revolved around, is a simplistic and poor argument. The history of religion is, as well, the history of very contradictory tendencies, from being the ideology of slaves, to be an ideology of State, and then to have a number of dissident voices inside of it. An alternative view of religion can focus on the never ending struggle between the hierarchies and the heretics of all sorts -which tended to challenge wordly authority (and given the fact that you don't beliebe in God, then why would you care about a non-existing authority?)

As simplistic and poor is the view that the labour movement has historically been anti-religious: that is also quite Eurocentric. Indeed, early anarchists in most of Latin America and even Spain played a lot with the image of Christ and the modern proletariat -the image of a crucified workers has been extensively used and was intending to move some deep seated sense of injustice that feeds into the religious thought. There certainly was criticism of organised religion and particularly of the Catholic church; militant atheism indeed existed in labour ranks. But Zapata also rode behind an image of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe and workers were told about the modern Christ in their union papers.

Also, it is over simplistic to equal materialism to complete rejection of spirituality. In fairness, Marx mocked what he called the crass materialism of Feuerbach that you seem to follow (German Ideology is a particularly good text on that). Materialism is a method of understandind reality, which could be or could not be, as philosophers call it, an onthological system. Religious people, notably the liberation theologists, have applied the materialist method to analyze and interpret reality in order to change it. Read particularly interesting texts on this by Gustavo Gutiérrez and Leonardo Boff.

Socialism is not a cold interpretation of reality as you try to portray: I know numerous people who really understand the way this system works and just could not be arsed to move a finger! As the brilliant Peruvian socialist José Carlos Mariátegui puts it, socialism is indeed a form of faith -there's nothing, absolutely no "empirical" proof, that it is achievable or that in any case it can work out. And yet, masses of people are from time to time thrown into revolutions. Certainly, you can't be based on faith and you need clear arguments: but if you lack that faith element, you go nowhere.

It cannot be stressed enough that, in as much as religion has been actually used as a method to oppress people, so has been science and the rationals of the Enlightment. Positivism became a conservative force after the struggle against the Church power was basically won. In revolutionary Mexico the "scientists" were used as an anti-revolutionary group of opinion makers. Most scientists, for some reason, have not been socialists, but liberals. Socialism as such has been used in pretty much the same way: we could talk endlessly of Stalin and many others. Yes, you can say that this is not true socialism; but believers could also argue quite convincingly that Torquemada was not a true follower of the message of JesusChrist.

I personally have always been worried about the pathological sectarianism in the left, but particularly among anarchists: if you are not exactly like them, then you are turned into an undesirable or an enemy (some take this to the extremes of gastronomic preferences!). Revolutions have shown that people from all persuasions can actually come together to try and build a society on the basis of liberating practices and principles. That way we unnecesarily alienate people that otherwise would generally agree with us. And instead of creating a powerful mass movement, what we do is replicate a tiny sect where we all agree and live in a neverending praise to each other while for most people we remain completely irrelevant.

Indeed, though I'm a big fan of Workers Solidarity, I would be reluctant to give it to people around me for I'm sure they would be turned off about anarchism or anything the WSM has to say. We have a Colombian group and most people are fervent believers. I'm worried about them being taken to an Anarchist bookfair to hear people abusing them as "Jesus freaks" (I've seen that happening). What good does that to anarchy? Who are we trying to convince that way? Does it really matter if you are a believer or not if you, just like me, desire a libertarian and egalitarian society?

A lot of people receiving that paper on their doorsteps will probably throw it away immediately and won't give it a chance to hear what else has to say. It is different to criticising the church or criticising oppressive religious practices. People have time for that, but people have no time for a blanket over-simplistic criticism of a grand concept as faith or religion that can mean anything. However interesting this issue may be for writing books, I think it does no favour to socialist propaganda. Just ask the following question: do this article really bring oppressed people closer to your cause?

author by Chekovpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 10:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"there is actually plenty of evidence for the existence of a deity, including evolution itself, and the fact that there has been a human assumption that there is a deity or deities since the beginning of human existence. If someone is looking for hard proof, that's not possible when dealing with the numinous. You can't get God on camera, as such (though there may be some cranks who argue that you can), or attain DNA samples (except the DNA we see all around us in nature and humanity). However, there is plenty of evidence for the validity of each religious tradition."

Evolution is absolutely not evidence for existence of a deity. The whole point of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is that it explains how all life-forms came about all the way back to the simplest uni-celluluar organism 4.4 billion years ago, entirely by natural processes. It dispenses with the need for any supernatural intervention from the first appearance of replicators to humans today. It tells us that human beings are simply one product of a massively iterated and chaotic process of reproduction with mutation. It flatly contradicts almost all core religious texts and traditions as they normally contain an explanation of the creation of the world and humans. The fact that humans have traditionally believed in a god also tells us nothing about the truth of that belief - the belief in a flat earth, orbitted by the stars has also been a staple of human traditional beliefs.

"It may not be possible to out-and-out prove the existence of God, but then it's not possible either to prove the non-existence of God."

That puts him/her in the same category as leprechauns.

"I think you'll find that all the parables and sayings attributed to Jesus have a very coherent structure and a very clear underlying teaching."

I disagree. I find them obtuse, ambiguous and in those cases when one can discern a definite moral teaching, it is frequently one that I would have serious problems with (e.g. the prodigal son). Indeed, Jesus is quoted in at least 3 of the gospels explicitly telling us that parables are used in order to mystify his teachings to those outside his inner circles:

"But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that

Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them. [1]"

Which is pretty perverse thinking from where I'm sitting.

While it might be unrealistic to expect Jesus to speak in precise scientific language, if he was really transmitting the word of a deity, the least we might expect was that he expressed his message in a clear way, not prone to misunderstanding. James's point about the Greek philosophers is not that they were a fountain of truth, but they managed to express themselves in very clear ways, so one came away with a definite idea of what they were saying. They predated Jesus by up to 500 years, and he had the advantage of being the son of God, or at the very least a prophet with divine insight - so why couldn't he make his point clearly? For the vague, mystical way in which he expressed himself has real negative consequences. A large majority of every king, tyrant, crusader, inquisitor, imperialist and conquerer of the last 2,000 years has been able to make a plausible case that he is acting in accordance with the teachings of christ.

"They are taken from the Beatitudes, which read in their entirety form one of the most radical speeches of all time, and possibly the greatest. Would you rather the arrogant inherited the earth than the meek? Turning the other cheek is basically an argument for nonviolence. Some people don't agree with nonviolence as a philosophy, but even those people don't tend to find it dubious - they just find it rather naive."

I find the beatitudes to be a clear argument for passivity and the endurance of suffering in this world in favour of reward in the next. Since there is no evidence that this next world actually exists, it simply boils down to a call for passivity. It's the very opposite of radical to my mind and I find it morally abhorrent. Incidentally, I do find non-violence to be dubious as a philosophy. I think people should try to defend themselves from attacks when they can. Meekly turning the other cheek encourages bullies, standing up to them discourages them.

"All religious traditions contain mythological elements. Unless people of faith choose to have a fundamentalist approach, then they generally accept that and take elements of scripture as symbolic, or historically contingent. Biblical hermeneutics are very sophisticated these days. It is only a very literalist mind that would ridicule religion because of things like the Virgin birth or any other aspect of religious thought that doesn't ring scientifically true."

As human understanding has grown, through the application of scientific method to the world, more and more of the passages in the holy texts which were formerly taken as a factual account of events - and the evidence suggests that they were intended to be taken literally - have been reclassified as symbolic, allegoric or otherwise mythical. That is a sure sign of post-facto rationalisation and a theory that simply can't deal with the evidence. The reason for such a complex edifice of biblical hermeneutics is that the actual text on which the religion is based is so riddled with total factual errors, contradictions, barbarity and beliefs which we now consider to be abhorrent that it needs an industrial quantity of sticking plasters to keep it all together.

[1] http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mark%204:10...on=50"

author by commentpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 10:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I have to say that I did not get involved on this thread at all because it was wrecking my head and also
because I have not accepted the teachings of dogmatic religion (in this case RC) since I was ten years
old, (though I was fourteen before the anger got crystalised in my brain enough for me to articulate it).

I do not oppose anyone holding religious views, in many ways I think the kids need an upbringing
that is philosophical and ethical in its basis and that gives them a grounding in basic principles
such as beatitudes etcetera.

This morning I read that the head of that Church has made public prayers for the conversion of
jews-to remove the veil from their hearts- I find this not alone deeply offensive but very, very, disturbing.
All the heads of religion speak of love but turn their backs on War and offences against the planet,
some leaders justify their murderousness through a strange perversion of religious philosphy which is little
else than racist supremacy .

I have read some of the issues round nag hammadi and gnosis, but find as usual, that
they present a 'time and place' record and philosophical system that was related to the time in which
they were written. My backround is in art history and conservation and if anyone is really interested in
how narrow and materialistic the western christian churches have become may only look at how
the churches have effaced and vandalised their own apocryphal and symbolic teachings from the
sculptural programmes in the churches in France or how the images and words of
joan of arc are now utilised as a french Military symbol.

we have not discussed on this thread :

1.the question of infallibility.
2.the use of new media to disseminate offensive and divisive propaganda against other relgious
and philosophical systems.
3. The RC refusal to recognise the rights of women /and of course their consistent
ring-fencing of women into second class citizens and souls.
4.the RC refusal to recognise the individuality of the child and ensure rights.

We have, it appears an anti-modernist pope who has created arguments in Muslim, Jewish philosophies
and further to that has instructed interference in Political debate and election.

as to the bibles- and their interpretations- I confess to not understanding enough to be able to word
the issues. They comprise histories, philosophical systems, textured and word-constructed mandalas
of incredible beauty and someone thought it a really, really good idea to change all that and create
from books that have been studied for thousands of years a materialistic and divisive way to
'approach the difficulty' of life.

can we discuss the divinity of women in mythologies next- demeter/dore and perspehone
would suffice?

like all systems- feminism- anarchism-religion- they stagnate unless they are constantly evolving
and honestly I am offended at the hate crime and murder that is justified because people are stymied
in dialogue because of repression= thou shalt not.

author by readerpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 10:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

But I suspect the reason for this article is that atheism ('No Gods, No Masters') has always been seen as intrinsic to anarchism. However, with the arrival of Ciaron O'Reilly and the Catholic Workers some years ago, the waters became muddied. The CW are serious about their religious beliefs and insist that they are anarchists. Suddenly, the association between anarchism and atheism was undermined in a way that hasn't happened for Marxists. That said, anarchism's critique of religion has always been polemical and vulnerable to challenge. The Marxist tradition has a much more nuanced position on religion.

Anyhow, my suspicion is that the emergence of religious anarchists has impelled this defence of atheism by the WSM. The tenets of their political beliefs have come under challenge.

Added to that, of course, is that many non-WSM anarchists in this country hold new age beliefs, including some fairly wild religion-like ideas.

author by readerpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 10:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I was responding to Pepe in my comment above.

author by Ciaron - London Catholic Workerpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 11:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Chekov says "I disagree. The anarchist tradition springs from the writings of Proudhon, Bakunin and the thought of the first international."

Well it looks like I'm adopting the evolutionary position vis a vis Chekov's Creationism (the 1st. International being the Big Bang) when it comes to the anarchist tradition. As mentioned before, many anarcho-historians refer to thiest and pre-industrial expressions of anarchism. The Hopi tribe are often mentioned in the Native American context, for example.

I think both the anarchist tradition and the state are being defined to narrowly here. One could argue that until modernism and industrialism what you refer to narrowly as the "state" did not have much of a presence in people's lives.

If however you share the definition of the anarchist mystic Gustav Landauer
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Landauer
"that the state is a relationship" and come to the conlcusion we detsroy the state by constructing other ways relating (lateral non-herarchical ways of organising a the point of production consumption etc.) then it's a bigger picture. A state relationship - order giver-order taker backed by violence - can exist in a house, in a rock band, in a movement etc The anarchist tradition, too, is a bigger picture than what coalesced around the evictions of the First International. Indeed anarcho-ecologist Murray Bookchin would argue that the least likely place for people to self activate in direct democratic struggle is as "workers" in the workplace. They are more likely to have autonomous space in the neighborhoods etc.

The Catholic Worker would be more anarcho communist in this regard. Founder Peter Mautin influenced by the Personalist school evicted from Stalinist Russia and Dorothy Day being the card carrying member of the I.W.W. In terms of the Catholic Worker's development Peter was the theorist and Dorothy the activist. The call was to come out of the work place, kickstart "Houses of Hospitality" and "Farming Communes". The Euro "Young Christian Workers" (who we are often confused with the American Catholic Worker) had a more syndicalist approach initiating cells in the workplace etc.

Response to James
In terms of the apostle Thomas disbelief (doubting) this duplicates the response of all the male apostles to the women informing them of the ressurection. Thomas then believes as an act of choice and will and then utters the treasonous statement (punshable by death at the time) refering to Jesus as Lord. Enough to be topped by Ceaser. So it's "O God No Master!" for the early church! Whether you want to define them as cosmic monarchists social anarchist that's up to you. Interesting that the early Christians are executed as athiests for not worshipping the state sanctioned Gods of Rome (Rome did not have a problem with religious pluralism that keep a bended knee and burnt incense for Ceaser.

Reminds me of Phil Berrigan telling the story of a priest resister who is released after a month in DC Detention Center, returns to his order's house and hasn't seen or heard from any of his religious community. The released priest resister gets angry, another priest responds "don't you see you're not going to change anything. A hundred of you, a thoousand of you. We just don't believe!" Belief it's a choice. Whether rational thought has a monopoly on accessing the truth, you'll have to work that one out for yourself. Thomas declaration is one of relationship.

I think the best thing to do is support anarchist currents weherever the appear in punk, in rap, in chritianity, in buddhism, in islam, even as a vegetarian in the meat workers union!

Related Link: http://www.londoncatholicworker.org
author by Inactivistpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 11:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

So religion wrecks some people's heads, diminishes women (including missionary schools for African girls from the late 19th century onwards?) and stifles social progress? And atheism, agnosticism and philosophical anarchism (including postmodernism in social philosophy and the arts?) frees us up?

Maybe, maybe. But does the vacuum left by the fading away of organised religion in post-WW2 western Europe lead to freedom, tolerance and social fulfilment? Look at the race hate in parts of contemporary France and Germany. Look at youth suicide rates, at drug-cum-alcohol abuse (wrecked minds and bodies, such opiates of the youth culture masses), at the atomisation and non-community of suburban society. Look at the receptiveness of yuppies to neoliberal laisser-faire economic theories and their disdain for government expenditure on the poor, the arts and social housing. Look at the embourgeoisement of the mainstream trades unions and social democratic "labour" parties.

None of this proves God. I only use it to show that when the social cement of religion fades and/or crumbles the vacuum is not filled by leftwing political beliefs. Huston, we've got a problem, as they say from outer space.

author by Pepepublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 11:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"I think the best thing to do is support anarchist currents weherever the appear in punk, in rap, in chritianity, in buddhism, in islam, even as a vegetarian in the meat workers union!"

That's quite a sensible approach I fully support -we may not be in the same political organisation because we are too different, we may not agree on everything, but if we agree on something, we should support each other on that specific issue. That's the basic politics of mutual aid, and the ground for a society inclusive and tolerant.

I may not agree with Ciarán's views of anarchism necessarily (particularly when it comes to history or tactics), but I'm proud to march alongside him against the use of Shannon by murderers and I'm sure I can count on him to build a better world. and that for me is 99% of what matters.

author by phatspublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 11:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

In response to Cian - I will restate that Buddhism, despite its modern form, was not originally a religion. It began with Siddartha Gautama sharing his experience of the effect meditation had upon his mind. Then scripture came into it, and over time his students and theirs became the organised religion that is now prevalent in Asia.

The reason I make this point is to distinguish between theistic/supernatural forms of spirituality and other types of spirituality that are not necessarily incongruent with science - Advaita Vedanta (the Indian philosophy of nonduality) being another.

Both "primary" Buddhism and nondual philosophy differ from orthodox religion in a very important aspect - they are not based on dogma, holy books, invisible entities, unquestioning faith, etc. They are founded on independent groups of researchers conducting an experiment (meditation & self-inquiry) and then comparing the results. The only difference with empirical science is that what they are studying is an inner subjective experience, which by its nature is outside the bounds of objective science.

author by Deirdre Clancypublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 12:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

'How is the non-existence of something proven? I can see that it's a while since you studied logic. Your motto seems to be "I think it's so, therefore it is", which is just mysticism and nothing more.'

ust to comment that 'reader' and his personalised jibes and cheap shots are pretty much typical of what I'd expect from a certain type of kneejerk atheistic viewpoint. I think most logicians wouldn't have a problem with my statement that it's impossible to prove the non-existence of God. Attempts to prove the non-existence of many different phenomena have been a part of science itself for a long time. There are whole scientific disciplines dedicated to disproving certain theories that human beings hold dear, so logicians would have no problem whatsoever with what I said.

This is my problem with Indymedia - though it's not the fault of the people who run it. Nobody polices the threads when they descend into facile, fatuous and personalised attacks, and this has happened on several occasions in relation to me. I don't even know why I bother coming back for more. And people such as reader generally engage in such attacks when they feel threatened by someone's use of logic and feel their side of the argument is being challenged. I think it would be hard to argue that my last posting is based on mysticism and nothing more - and actually, the fact that it is based on a background knowledge of the subject matter is probably part of 'reader's' problem. This is in the fine tradition of anonymous contributors to indymedia who seem to have a profound problem with women who can argue their corner, and the tolerance of them by moral cowards on threads

Once it descends into personalised attacks that are not based on the content of my posting, or where it is clear that the person hasn't really engaged with what I said - and that unmerited, personalised attack remains on the thread - I bow out of a thread. It's a new policy. I feel like contributing to Indymedia is like throwing pearls to the pigs, to use another biblical metaphor. At least it's possible to have a decent debate with people like James and other members of the WSM, but there are always one or two anonymous contributors who lower the tone to the point where it's not worth it anymore.

Okay, I'm done. Probably done contributing here as a whole as well. Apart from certain people such as Ciaron and Chekov, the level of argumentation is really dire and I'm increasingly bored.

I'm sorry for commenting on editorial matters, but in this context I felt I had no choice.

author by Laurence Coxpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 13:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Sorry to see Deirdre leave the discussion - I think she makes very good points.

Wondering whether it wouldn't be more constructive to have a more focussed and face-to-face debate on e.g. the compatibility of anarchism and religion? Would love to see e.g. James, Chekov, Pepe and Deirdre or Ciaron explore this more seriously, among comrades.

author by John Bakerpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 20:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Think that's a great idea Lawrence. Or perhaps an email discussion group for those of us not in Dublin. I was in communication with James on this issue just before Christmas and wrote quite a long response which I don't have time to rewrite to fit in with this thread. I don't have the time to wade through all of it either. Some of it seems interesting and important but I'd be interested in a more relaxed ongoing discussion without the personal abuse. Certainly the volume of response indicates a hot issue that merits more looking at.
Cheers

author by Libertarianpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 21:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This is the best article I have read on Indymedia for a long time.

Usually this debate revolves around the concept of 'God' which is pretty futile as 'God' often boils down to nothing more than a generic term for complex belief systems which, are in turn too complexed to be dismissed by an all encompassing atheist rejection. One thing we can be sure about: people create belief systems to give meaning to their lives.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that rational ethical belief systems that emerge out of societal needs & concern for others is a lot healthier than belief systems emerging out of the authority of the church.

Thus, I really enjoyed this articles focus on 'religion' rather than 'God' as its critique.

However, on a small minor point. The article states:

" Religion’s retreat in the face of science has left it holding not only absurd dogmas, but extolling the only means of believing in them: faith. This is simply belief without evidence"

It is not only religious believers that retreat into this naive faith, many 'revolutionary' feminists, anarchists and socialists follow a similar path. That is, a belief in an ideal anarchist utopia occurring after 'workers revolution' even though there is not the slightest bit of evidence to support a) the functional & practical possibility of Communism in the future and b) the desirability of Communism as a goal in itself.

Granted, such evidence cannot be 'fact' in the scientific term as it is based on a normative preference for how people 'ought' to live, but many Anarcho Marxists view society in such rigid terms that they do believe in the 'Science of Communism' and 'Revolution' as a factual outcome of the evolution of Capitalism.

This is just another form of 'belief without evidence' , and not a whole lot different to religious faith.

Arguably, both forms of faith are necessary for their projects to be complete. Most anarchists & socialists I know are incredibly faithful to their political belief systems, which is admirable to a certain extent but there is a fine line between absolute faith in a political project and absolute dogma. And absolute dogma/ naive faith in the political sense of the term is just as dangerous (if not more so) than religious dogma. In fact, the two are often indistinguishable.

author by Independentpublication date Tue Feb 26, 2008 23:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Libertarian has hit it bang with his observation that " One thing we can be sure about: people create belief systems to give meaning to their lives." I'd add that this applies to anarchists, communists, socialists (157 varieties), maoists and vanguard proletarian internationalists (no names for fear of creating offence!) Since Marx published his manifesto in 1848 numerous large movements and derisably small splinter groups have mentally and psychologically revisited the worst traits of European christianity - heresy accusations, excommunications, doctrinal investigations, sects, millenarianism/apocalypticism (666 and all that), misappropriation of members' funds, and witch hunts followed by mass executions. This has made capitalists and their political leaders snigger all the way to the bank.

I'd second L. Cox's suggestions that organised discussions be attempted in other venues. Hey, religion seems to hit a more sensitive nerve than sex!

author by readerpublication date Wed Feb 27, 2008 14:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

With regard to 'proving' the non-existence of God, is there any chance somebody could define or describe what it is we should be looking for?

Does it have a corporeal form, is it everywhere yet nowhere, is it a feeling? What is it precisely that we are being asked to disprove?

A tricky question I know, but it's kind of relevant to the demand that we (sceptics & non-believers) 'disprove' its existence.

I await your varied and mutually contradictory responses.

author by Jamespublication date Wed Feb 27, 2008 17:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Pepe: If you can prove me that one, only one, believer read it and then went "Oh, jaysus James, I think you definitely have a point here. Now I am challenged in my religious believes" I would give credit to the article. But I would doubt it. You don't persuade people by being patronising or derogatory….

Well, actually a few ordinary Christians (i.e. not particularly religious, Fianna Fáil-type voters) and a couple of folks from a Muslim background said it provoked them to think about the issues raised. The Christians wouldn’t have been massively interested in the subject. They’d just have soaked up the ideology that they were raised in. The Muslims were hostile towards militant Islam anyway so their situation is a bit different.

I don’t think any of them are going to abandon their faith, but it has encouraged them to think about the issues. That’s all short articles in a newsletter can do (after all we don’t expect folks to become anarchists from just reading the newsletter either). They also went on to read the rest of the paper and found it interesting (the Christians had never read any left-wing paper before). So, while your claim that the article will put off some people may be true to some extent, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.
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Pepe: it treats the believer community as dumb, not clever enough to understand reality around them and prey to absurdity

Not at all. The article treats people as capable of considering ideas and lays out in a straightforward way one view of the world. Otherwise there would be no point in writing it. My experience is that most people compartmentalise their religious beliefs, i.e. they don’t apply supernatural reasoning to most areas of their lives. The list of very smart people who were religious is very long, for many reasons, not least the cultural context in which they lived.

In fact, I find your depiction of religious people as being extremely defensive about discussing criticism as condescending. The reality is that, as is normal in a huge group of people, there are wide varieties of reactions to criticism. Some do get offended, some genuinely, some in order to avoid discussion. Some people don’t give a toss. Some are interested in hearing new ideas.
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Socialism as such has been used in pretty much the same way: we could talk endlessly of Stalin and many others. Yes, you can say that this is not true socialism; but believers could also argue quite convincingly that Torquemada was not a true follower of the message of JesusChrist.

And they’d probably be right. But, we’re merely not claiming that the Old Testament god is less than benign or that this or that Church has lost its way. The claim is that religious thinking does not accurately depict reality and that its encouragement of faith inhibits the emergence of critical thinking. You haven’t provided an iota of evidence for the existence of supernatural (or spiritual) beings.

In any case, we don’t just blandly claim that Stalin was less than true to socialist principles. We claim that the roots of Stalinism can be found in the Leninist conception of the party and its right to exert dictatorship during the overthrow of capitalism. That is, we go to the roots of the problem in order to understand it. Similarly, it is necessary to go to the roots of religious thinking in order to understand it. Hence the criticism of religion and faith per se and not just of particularly obnoxious manifestations of them.
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Pepe: As simplistic and poor is the view that the labour movement has historically been anti-religious: that is also quite Eurocentric. Indeed, early anarchists in most of Latin America and even Spain played a lot with the image of Christ and the modern proletariat -the image of a crucified workers has been extensively used and was intending to move some deep seated sense of injustice that feeds into the religious thought. There certainly was criticism of organised religion and particularly of the Catholic church; militant atheism indeed existed in labour ranks. But Zapata also rode behind an image of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe and workers were told about the modern Christ in their union papers.

Yes, that’s a fair point. Still, I think you underestimate the value in leaving behind myths which are known to be untrue. Whereas you may think I lean too far in hoping that a naturalistic worldview will spread, I think you lean too far in not challenging at all people’s religious beliefs. Consider how we apply a class analysis. On one level it is a useful tool for understanding the world, on another it’s fairly crude; on a given issue there are likely to be a few capitalists who might oppose the rest of their class. On the whole, however, the evidence is that class interests will inform personal behaviour.

So too with religious belief. It is historical fact that people have been partially motivated to fight for justice by their religion. That does not, in my opinion, negate the overall regressive impact that believing in the supernatural and the reliance on faith has. If it were otherwise, we would have a much fairer world, given the strength of religions both historically and even today.
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Pepe: Also, it is over simplistic to equal materialism to complete rejection of spirituality. In fairness, Marx mocked what he called the crass materialism of Feuerbach that you seem to follow (German Ideology is a particularly good text on that). Materialism is a method of understandind reality, which could be or could not be, as philosophers call it, an onthological system.

I’ll clarify: matter (including material energy, e.g. light) and patterns of matter are all that exist. There is no spirit. If this weren’t the case then a materialistic analysis would not make sense. I don’t know what Marx’s views on this were. If he has a good counter-argument I’d be interested in hearing it. But you don’t outline what it is, so I can’t really address it.
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The tacit assumption that if you become an atheist then you are one step closer to anarchism it is naive and altogether wrong.

Atheism and science are accounts of the way the world is. In so far as anarchism seeks to understand the world as it is, it must have recourse to a naturalistic or materialist analysis. A spiritual analysis or one that invokes the divine is misleading. In that limited sense science and atheism are useful to anarchism. But they are equally useful to every other ideology that tries to understand the world as it is, from the neo-cons to the social democrats. The visionary part of anarchism – or how we would like the world to be – is an entirely different question to how the world actually is. Science is a system of knowledge, not a source of moral insight.

I also don’t know what kind of persuasive process you think we’re engaged in. Very few people abandon major belief systems because of a brief article in a paper. That sort of change tends to be a long time coming. What we want to be doing is putting ideas out into the wider culture so that folks will have alternative views to consider and an awareness that they’re not isolated in thinking along these lines. This is a loooooooonnnnggg term process, much of which is beyond our control. All the arguments you make against advancing a naturalistic analysis could just easily be made against advancing anarchism (most people find it even more offensive than atheism). It doesn’t mean we stop.
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Pepe: as the brilliant Peruvian socialist José Carlos Mariátegui puts it, socialism is indeed a form of faith -there's nothing, absolutely no "empirical" proof, that it is achievable or that in any case it can work out.

Again, this is confusing what we would like to be the case with what actually is the case. We believe that socialism is possible for various reasons. A better analogy is to compare the anarchist belief in the existence of a boss class with the religious’ belief in a creator. Anarchists claim that the world is really divided into classes, with distinct interests. This is a claim about actually existing reality. And so is the belief in a creator. Therefore, in each case we should question if there is sufficient evidence to warrant these beliefs. Striving to create a different reality is an altogether different thing from a claim about what currently exists.

Religious people, notably the liberation theologists, have applied the materialist method to analyze and interpret reality in order to change it. Read particularly interesting texts on this by Gustavo Gutiérrez and Leonardo Boff.

So they ditch the religious mode in order to understand the world? Sounds good, but what role does the non-material, spiritual, divine stuff play? What’s left for god to do? What evidence to they advance for whatever it is that god does? Behaving as if god doesn’t exist is just an interim solution before folks move on to not-bothering about him or her at all.
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Pepe:
I personally have always been worried about the pathological sectarianism in the left, but particularly among anarchists: if you are not exactly like them, then you are turned into an undesirable or an enemy (some take this to the extremes of gastronomic preferences!)..


Presumably you’re not talking about the WSM here. As you know, being good Bakuninists, the organisation’s policy is to involve itself with campaigns and struggles with folks who do not share our political views, religious analysis etc. Who else are we going to persuade!

WSM position paper on religion: http://www.wsm.ie/story/843
In Arabic: http://www.wsm.ie/story/2003

author by Jamespublication date Wed Feb 27, 2008 17:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Laurence: there is usually a certain degree of provincialism in the argument: all religion is assumed to be like our own, whatever "our own" is. At the moment, what we usually get is a selection of Abrahamic religions, seen through the prism of local debates: so all religions are presumed to be theistic, concerned with faith, heavily oriented towards cosmology and the provision of explanations, and so on

This is a fair enough point. However, I’m not sure I’d classify something as a religion if it isn’t theistic, concerned with faith, and doesn’t advocate a cosmology. What’s left? An ethical system? That’s not sufficient for something to be classified as a religion in the common understanding of the term. To the extent that this describes Buddhism, I’d say Buddhism isn’t a religion (though versions of it may have degenerated to that). By the way, do Buddhists still believe in incarnation? If so, on what basis?

Laurence: it works less and less well as an account of religion as it moves further away from home, into the various religions of South and East Asia and "indigenous" religion of various kinds.

This may be true of some forms of Buddhism, but Hinduism, animism? I’m skeptical. Yes, there are significant differences between the jealously of old Jehovah and the plurality of Hinduism, but I’m not sure that I see ideologies that claim that a god’s army of monkeys built a causeway as a massive improvement on the assumption of Mary into heaven.

I mostly agree with your points about the relevance of social circumstances to belief. However, I would have a slightly different emphasis in that I would see the exposition of alternative ideas a healthy thing in itself. Straightforward articles are part of that process of spreading knowledge. I’m also somewhat wary of people, in this case atheists, concealing their views. After all, there might be truth to these religions and having a discussion is one way to find out.

If religion were true, this would be interesting and affect our understanding of the world. This is reason enough to take seriously the ideas that religions put forward and to discuss them at that level and not just to analyse the underlying reasons for belief. To only do the latter would show a lack of respect for those religions. But in any case, one article like this (if that is what you were referring to?), does not entail the dropping of a wider analysis of the origins and purpose of religion.

Yep, a face to face discussion would be interesting. If the Grassroots Gathering is going ahead, that might be a good opportunity?

author by Gods2Menpublication date Wed Feb 27, 2008 18:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is actually quite funny that you mention the Irish example of atheism growing, because at the same time that atheism has been growing, the left in general and the popular movement are shrinking to irrelevant levels and the bulk of the "new atheist" have completely bought into Neoliberalism and the crass definition of materialism you refute "crazy about money", etc.


It's not that funny. In fact if you look at it from another viewpoint then you can infer that religion was once useful to capital and the state as means to suppress people but it's no longer necessary. So now the dwindling minority that actually believes as opposed to being forced into conforming represents the true levels of religious belief.

Religion from that perspective never did us any good, was mainly a creation of those that controlled the State and there's no reason to believe that it could do anything to help now, so don't worry about its dwindling away. It's an irrelevancy. It's just one more layer of confusion removed from our perception of the struggle between the many and the few. No gods anymore, time to get rid of the masters.

author by phatspublication date Wed Feb 27, 2008 19:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

James: "matter (including material energy, e.g. light) and patterns of matter are all that exist. "

Just to note, that's a metaphysical/ontological presumption, not a proven fact.

author by Independentpublication date Wed Feb 27, 2008 23:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Iosaf's mention of the "nonauthoritarian" education provided by Rudolf Steiner schools reminds me that the Camphill community, Austrian in origin, has some schools for Downes syndrome and other children who may have mild mental handicaps, in Ireland. To the best of my knowledge the Camphill community takes its educational guidance from Steiner's writings, but Camphill is also christian in orientation.

Steiner lived in Paris during the commune of 1870 and noticed the pileup of horse manure on the streets. He wondered what could be done and soon discovered that the manure was great for composting vegetable gardens. He experimented with tall composted "heaps" of earth and developed a theory and practice of biodynamic gardening using the phases of the moon together with elaborate composting. The religiously motivated Camphill community maintains biodynamic gardens in its educational centres around Europe.

I admit that none of this deals with the God debate, except to add that religious motivation can and has often prompted individuals to work for progressive social reform.

author by paul o toolepublication date Thu Feb 28, 2008 12:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

When John Paul2 got ill, very ill, 2 billion beilevers prayed for him.....and I diddnt notice any improvement. In all my years being dragged to church for everything from funerals to baptisms and back again for everyone that has come and gone in my lifettime i've never seen a 'prayer' answered. There has never been an intervention granted-'a suspension of natural law to allow supernatural law to exist'.
No one I know has had one either, Im not saying they dont exist.
If your 'intervention' dosent work you dont have enough faith. Ive always found that if you want something done no one else is going to do it for you.
No one has ever come back from the dead to tell us stories of an afterlife were told without reservation does exists. Just because we cant explain our existence but feel the need to, dosent mean we have an answer in supernaturality.

Ratzinger has Kissinger in Rome now as an 'advisor'. Now this all makes sense to me, there is no supernatural good or evil, just human greed for power and wealth.

author by Zeitgeistpublication date Thu Feb 28, 2008 13:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

the film zeitgeist's first quarter gives an interesting account of the how and why of the emergence of the christian religion as an orchestrated power system that built up on pre existing pagan and other views....

http://zeitgeistmovie.com/

author by Laurence Coxpublication date Thu Feb 28, 2008 20:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

James -

Yes, the Gathering is going ahead (June bank holiday, Dublin - further details TBA) and would be a good place for a discussion on this. I'd suggest discussion rather than debate, i.e. more than two sides!

I'll respond on the substance when I can.

author by Laurence Coxpublication date Thu Feb 28, 2008 22:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'd written:

"there is usually a certain degree of provincialism in the argument: all religion is assumed to be like our own, whatever "our own" is. At the moment, what we usually get is a selection of Abrahamic religions, seen through the prism of local debates: so all religions are presumed to be theistic, concerned with faith, heavily oriented towards cosmology and the provision of explanations, and so on"

James: This is a fair enough point. However, I’m not sure I’d classify something as a religion if it isn’t theistic, concerned with faith, and doesn’t advocate a cosmology. What’s left? An ethical system? That’s not sufficient for something to be classified as a religion in the common understanding of the term.

OK, this is exactly my point: your definition of religion assumes that religion around the world is basically the same as what you're familiar with. Do you see the problem here?

James: To the extent that this describes Buddhism, I’d say Buddhism isn’t a religion (though versions of it may have degenerated to that). By the way, do Buddhists still believe in incarnation? If so, on what basis?

It varies hugely, as between different sects, in different countries, and depending on how people relate to the religion. That isn't a fudge: it's that being Buddhist is not defined by adherence to a particular set of propositions. One minimal, widely-accepted set of criteria has to do with practice ("3 refuges and 5 precepts").

Laurence: it works less and less well as an account of religion as it moves further away from home, into the various religions of South and East Asia and "indigenous" religion of various kinds.

James: This may be true of some forms of Buddhism, but Hinduism, animism? I’m skeptical. Yes, there are significant differences between the jealously of old Jehovah and the plurality of Hinduism, but I’m not sure that I see ideologies that claim that a god’s army of monkeys built a causeway as a massive improvement on the assumption of Mary into heaven.

Sure, but you're missing the point.

Crudely, scholars of religion distinguish between different kinds of religion, and what you're talking about (faith - theism - cosmology) is only one kind. E.g. Ninian Smart argues for a distinction between religions where faith and devotion are central (cosmology is optional) and those where meditative experience is central (SE Asian Buddhism being a classic case). Another approach distinguishes between the peculiar obsessions of the Abrahamic religions with faith and propositional statements; religions whose main or even sole concern is ritual practice (and which tend not to ask many questions about interpretation); and religions focussed on ethical behaviour.

Classic examples of ritual-oriented religion include Roman paganism (which was more like a civic duty - believing in the literal truth of the myths was definitely infra dig) and many forms of "Hinduism" (arguably itself a construct, in the image of Christianity, geared at organising the immense variety of actual local cults in the million villages of India). "Animism", or indigenous religions more generally, tend to have a strong ritualistic dimension, because a key point is the reaffirmation of community (whether that community is stratified by class and power or is basically egalitarian and stateless). Faith tends not to be that important in ritual contexts - what matters is that you join in whatever it is, not what you think about it.

Classic examples of ethical religions include Confucianism, Taoism and various forms of Buddhism. "Ethical" here does not always mean "deeply moral"; with Taoism in practice it may at times mean the pursuit of various exercises and magic potions. Cosmology is often at a major discount here (the Buddhist account of world creation is widely held to be a joke at the expense of Brahmins).

Crudely, you are generalising massively on the basis of a small number of cases. There *is* a scientific approach to the study of religion, and it starts (inevitably) from a lot more empirical data. It really is as simple as that.

Obviously the more important points are political ones, and I think Pepe has the right of it here, but that will have to be for another day.

author by Jamespublication date Fri Feb 29, 2008 00:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Laurence: "Animism", or indigenous religions more generally, tend to have a strong ritualistic dimension, because a key point is the reaffirmation of community (whether that community is stratified by class and power or is basically egalitarian and stateless).

The community bonding dimension a key function of all religions that gain any popular following. This does not change the fact that most primitive religions subscribe to the supernatural.

To some extent, the differences between us come down to semantics: I regard faith, the supernatural, and to a slightly lesser extent some sort of cosmology as intrinsic to religion. In so far as Buddhism etc do not share these characteristics, I don’t regard them as religions. More like ethical ideologies or guides to living. However, to the extent that tendencies within such bodies of thought accrue the elements of faith (e.g. belief in reincarnation, gods, the original universe as mind), it becomes useful to describe them as religion.

Laurence: Crudely, you are generalising massively on the basis of a small number of cases.

Actually no, that is incorrect. The theistic, faith based, weird cosmology is staple for religions far wider than the three Abrahamic faiths. Consider the religion of the Celts, the Germans, the Vikings, the Kikuyu, the Yoruba, the Igbos, the Rastafarians, the Sikhs, the Zoroastrians, the Mithristis, Greek Paganism, Greek mystery cults, Hinduism, the religion of the Incas and Aztecs, the pre-Islamic Arabs, the Sumerians, the Fang. And they’re just the distinct ones I can remember off the top of my head.

Others theistic or ancestor worshiping, faith based religions that I don’t know much about are, according to Wikipedia, Shintoism, Caodaism (mixture of Taoism and monotheism) and possibly Chinese folk religion, the latter seems like a curious mixture of a lot of things though, and I’ve no idea how seriously the ancestor worship is taken nowadays. I’m sure Chekov could chuck in a dozen more from Africa alone.

I’d be willing to bet that supernatural, faith based religions vastly outnumber the mass ethical and philosophical belief systems such as purely ethical Buddhism.

If correct, then Buddhism is the exception in this regard (and from what you say, possibly only partially so), hence my questioning of the usefulness of including it in the category of religion. Confuciusism appears to be straightforwardly non-religious. I don’t know enough about Taoism to comment (btw what is a magic potion?). If anything, I think basing your generalisation of religion on the basis of the more philosophical and ethical systems is inaccurate.

In short, I’m not so much missing your point as disagreeing with it.

In any case, even if we continue to disagree on the semantics, this won’t bet a problem as long as we’re clear what we mean when talking about religion. That way we can factor in what each of us regard as the other’s misconceptions, tailor our contributions appropriately and thus avoid straw man arguments.

On reincarnation, do you believe in it? Do you know any Buddhists who do? On what basis? I’m interested in the reasoning behind this doctrine. Btw, do you have a large distaste for the Abrahamic religions or is that too much reading between the lines?

author by Jamespublication date Fri Feb 29, 2008 00:51author address author phone Report this post to the editors

James: "matter (including material energy, e.g. light) and patterns of matter are all that exist. "

Phats: Just to note, that's a metaphysical/ontological presumption, not a proven fact.


It’s just my opinion, though it’s not one short of evidence. Playing devil’s advocate against myself, I’d say that instead of pointing towards spirits and gods, the best counter-argument would be to invoke some mild version of Platonism and claim that abstract entities such as numbers have their own, stand-alone existence separate from matter. That’s one for another day though; this thread has eaten too much of my time already.

author by Laurence Coxpublication date Fri Feb 29, 2008 11:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

OK James, life is getting too short for this.

On your reasoning, if it looks like what I'm familiar with, it's a religion. If it doesn't, it ain't. This isn't simply a semantic proposition; it's a cultural one.

I'm not at all convinced by your list of examples. Take, for example, the Celts and the Vikings. In large part, what we know about the pagan religions from this period is textual and cosmological, for one main reason: these were the elements that were felt to be non-threatening by the Christian converts who wrote them down. We do not in fact know, and arguably cannot know, whether "faith" played *any* significant part in these. What we do know from Roman and Greek pagans, who did on occasion speak for themselves, is that actually believing these stories was often felt to be something simple country folk did. What mattered, to an urban and literature pagan, was ritual participation. (Christian faith and emotionalism was felt to be terribly plebeian, and a mark of distinct naivety.) There is an extensive (serious) literature on all of these religions, which is worth exploring.

In part the problem is that you are confusing the presence of cosmology and the supernatural with "faith", which is a term that doesn't make much sense outside of Christian theology (people who know more about the subject than me tell me that it doesn't work very effectively either for Judaism or Islam, but I can't tell you more than that). Within Hinduism's own categories to take one example, faith-orientations (bhakti-marga or bhakti-yoga) are typically contrasted to other orientations, such as (what we call) yoga, meditation, ritual and so on, implying that people recognise it when they see it or do it, but do not agree that it is defining of religion as such. This is before we get into the discussion of how far "Hinduism" is a constructed means of pulling together what are essentially a thousand different, and widely differing, cults.

My sense is that this goes back to what I would see as an overly cognitive understanding of religion - what Marxists would call a form of idealism in which what matters is only people's ideas, and their actions are seen to flow from this. Sociologists of religion would generally agree with Marx that what matters is largely what people *do*, and would observe that the focus on propositional statements of belief is a local peculiarity of the Abrahamic religions. It is also, of course, a peculiarity of the "scientistic" critique of religion (including its foundational refusal to take a scientific look, not at religious propositions, but at religion as a social reality). I say scientistic because of this lack of familiarity with any serious empirical research on religion; this critique is not scientific in the sense of being grounded in empirical research, and this is one reason why it prefers to stay on what it feels is the safe territory of cosmology etc.

My stress on the Abrahamic religions is in noting the extent to which (like Stalinism) they tend to make it hard even for people who reject them to think outside their categories. The Credo, for example, is something which has no parallel in most of the world's religions. (In the late 19th century, an eccentric western Buddhist persuaded a number of Asian Buddhist organisations to subscribe to a Buddhist Credo: this was the first time in history such a thing had been thought relevant, and the matter has long since become a cultural-historical curiosity). In most of the religions you mention, one is a member *not* because one subscribes to a set of propositions, but because one participates in particular rituals or lives one's life according to particular principles. It's at this level that one can develop a category of religion which does not simply project our own experience onto the rest of humanity: trying, for example, to understand what might be common between ritualistic religions, ethical religions and faith-oriented religions.

But this is really hard to do, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to bow out of the debate at this point, with apologies. I've spent frustrating years trying to get some of these points across, and life is too short (just as IMHO it is too short to try to dismantle Christianity with cognitive arguments, which is where this started).

In response to your question: I don't particularly "believe in" reincarnation (more technically, the Buddhist concept is one of rebirth) in your sense of belief. I certainly don't know any Buddhists who would suggest that people's positions on the subject entitle them to call themselves Buddhists or not, though I'm sure one could dig them up. There is a locus classicus, which is the Questions of King Milinda (a record of discussions between a Buddhist monk and a Hellenistic king in the early centuries CE). As I recall it, neither is particularly interested in the cognitive proposition per se, they are interested in what rebirth means and how it can be squared with the core Buddhist doctrine that there is no fixed self: so, the king asks, what is reborn? Obviously, they are both logicians (one in a Greek tradition, one in an Indian one).

More useful reading, though, would be the Princeton series "World religions in practice". The volumes on e.g. India or China (making up between them a third of the planet's population) are very unsettling reading for anyone who wants to make *any* general statements whatsoever about religion.

author by Laurencepublication date Fri Feb 29, 2008 12:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Two, slightly calmer, follow-ups.

One is conceptual. If you focus simply on cosmology, the observation that prior to the arrival of science people told a variety of stories about the formation of the universe is pretty uncontroversial. The unwarranted jump is generalising from the Christian experience (and, I suspect, from the socialisation of many fans of natural science) in particular as to the significance of these stories, and assuming that they are necessarily the objects of faith, central to religion, etc etc.

I take a trivial example: the Buddhist canon has a couple of suttas in which a monk (a friend says: a 9-year-old one!) asks the Buddha why the sun shines and why the moon shines, and the Buddha says that there is a deva (spirit) that inhabits them and makes them do so. The difference is that, to the best of my knowledge, nobody ever made an issue of this (I only came across it through accident), and I have never heard of anyone raising objections to astronomy on this basis (there was rather a lot of astronomy in ancient Asia). The Galileo trial would make no sense in this kind of context.

So the problem is with the jump from "people had their own explanations of things" to "these explanations are at the centre of what their religion is about". There are religions for which this is, at least in part, true; and it is of course centrally true for natural science. There are many (I would argue most) religions for which these are not particularly interesting issues, and people's religiosity is not assessed on the basis of faith in cognitive propositions, but on the basis of ritual or ethical practice.

The other is substantive, which is to suggest that Pepe's comment about Marx's development of the radical-liberal critique of religion (which is essentially what James presents) is worth following up in more detail. As it is (to make a very 19th century, progress of science comment) the debate is largely stuck in the 1830s. Why that is so is a very interesting question in the study of 21st century politics, and one which I'm tempted to follow up as a topic for empirical research. But something more than Wikipedia is needed here.

The loci classici would be the Theses on Feuerbach, the Holy Family and the German Ideology, all from the mid-1840s and all available on marxists.org. Gramsci's writings on the subject, from a situation in many ways comparable to Ireland, are also very much worth a look. They've been recently collected together in Italian, but not to the best of my knowledge in English; however, a number of them are in the section on "intellectuals" in the Selections from Prison Notebooks, which are widely available.

author by Chekovpublication date Fri Feb 29, 2008 12:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"Crudely, scholars of religion distinguish between different kinds of religion, and what you're talking about (faith - theism - cosmology) is only one kind. E.g. Ninian Smart argues for a distinction between religions where faith and devotion are central (cosmology is optional) and those where meditative experience is central (SE Asian Buddhism being a classic case). Another approach distinguishes between the peculiar obsessions of the Abrahamic religions with faith and propositional statements; religions whose main or even sole concern is ritual practice (and which tend not to ask many questions about interpretation); and religions focussed on ethical behaviour."

Both categorisation schemas seem like reasonable approaches to a materialist analysis of the various roles that religion plays in different societies. The problem is though, that neither deals with what the religious practitioners actually think. Virtually no religious adherents participate in rituals purely for their community-building potential. People participate in them because they by and large believe in the existence of the supernatural forces which the rituals are addressed to. It is, I think reasonable, to address the question of whether such supernatural beliefs are true or not.

"Classic examples of ritual-oriented religion include Roman paganism (which was more like a civic duty - believing in the literal truth of the myths was definitely infra dig) and many forms of "Hinduism" (arguably itself a construct, in the image of Christianity, geared at organising the immense variety of actual local cults in the million villages of India). "Animism", or indigenous religions more generally, tend to have a strong ritualistic dimension, because a key point is the reaffirmation of community (whether that community is stratified by class and power or is basically egalitarian and stateless). Faith tends not to be that important in ritual contexts - what matters is that you join in whatever it is, not what you think about it."

All of these examples of ritualistic religions are, in the minds of adherents, entirely motivated by a belief in a particular supernatural order. The Romans by and large believed that their supernatural Gods intervened regularly in their affairs. The gods pepper their everyday language and even make regular appearances in the best of their attempts at factual histories. While supernatural spoofs might have been occassionaly employed against simple country folk, and there may have been some non-believers among the educated elite, there is not a single expression of atheism or disbelief in the supernatural in general in the whole of roman literature.

In India, once again, supernatural forces play an everyday role in people's lives and motivate an enormous amount of their behaviour. Animists genuinelly believe that spirits inhabit all things, spirits which can sometimes choose to do stuff, and these spirits are once again ever present in everyday life.

Of course, a religion is a lot more than just the supernatural beliefs that the adherents hold, but to analyse it from a sociological perspective which does not even incorporate a picture of what motivates the adherents misses the point. I mean, while religious rituals can have a positive social function, bonding communities together and distributing people among social roles, they also generally have important roles in maintaing traditional systems of oppression, particularly of women, bride-burning, dowries and female genital mutilation are all particularly persistent because of the fact that they are seen as having a particular supernatural significance, and are not just an arbitrary ritual which could be replaced by some other, less destructive celebration. You can't address these oppressive aspects of religions unless you address the root beliefs which motivate the adherents.

author by Laurencepublication date Fri Feb 29, 2008 13:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi Chekov,

Two quick points, because I really do want to abandon this debate.

One is that the propitiatory theory of religion (that ritual participants believe in a supernatural order etc.) is in many cases not a very good one. I know it might not seem intuitive, but people do participate in rituals *without* a particularly strong sense of why they are doing so. This is fairly obvious at weddings and funerals in our own society, but also in things like dropping coins in fountains and streams. Hence "superstition", a term which covers much of Roman religion quite well - people did things, but without very coherent theories of why they were doing them.

Similarly with Brahmin rituals: conceptualisations of how they worked, or were supposed to, went through massive evolutions over time, in many cases coming to the conclusion e.g. that what mattered was the correct performance of the ritual in a magical sense, or the internal events within the celebrant.

The point of the sociological analysis is precisely to ask what it is that *does* motivate religious behaviour, and beliefs in your sense are only part of the picture - a variable part in different religions, and at different points in time.

I agree entirely about the need to tackle oppressive aspects of religion, as you say:

"You can't address these oppressive aspects of religions unless you address the root beliefs which motivate the adherents."

The difficulty, though, as Pepe and others have pointed out, is that this critique of beliefs is not, in most contexts, particularly effective. Part of the reason for that is that, even in our neck of the woods, it is mostly not these "root beliefs" that drive religious participation. Hence the *political* importance of raising genuine questions about what people are actually doing with religion, rather than assuming that the answer is already known.

Not that cognitive arguments are never worthwhile; but it is not this kind of argument that has brought about widespread secularisation in NW Europe, and the unquestioned belief that this is the way to do things does not explain differentials in success within broadly similar societies. As soon as one starts to ask about differences in religious belief between Ireland and Britain, for example, you move into the sphere of politics and history, with a particular emphasis on ethnicity.

OK, this is genuinely my last post. Happy to discuss in some other forum, but I can't give this the time and energy needed. Apologies.

author by Jamespublication date Fri Feb 29, 2008 14:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Laurence: In part the problem is that you are confusing the presence of cosmology and the supernatural with "faith", which is a term that doesn't make much sense outside of Christian theology

Not at all. It’s why I bother using different words; they refer to different concepts. I completely disagree that the term “faith” doesn’t make much sense outside of Christianity. It may not be emphasised as much, but the phenomenon of people believing deeply in supernatural entities for which there is vanishingly little evidence is very widespread.

Laurence: I'm not at all convinced by your list of examples…. [snip]..… What mattered, to an urban and literature pagan, was ritual participation. (Christian faith and emotionalism was felt to be terribly plebeian, and a mark of distinct naivety.)… …[big snip]… In most of the religions you mention, one is a member *not* because one subscribes to a set of propositions, but because one participates in particular rituals or lives one's life according to particular principles.

Firstly, this completely misses the point that a religion can have a social function *and* have supernatural elements (creators, spirits etc). In fact, getting people to internalise very arbitrary claims through massive, often unconsciously applied social pressure may have a cohesive effect on that society. That is, they both can be true.

Yes people participate in many rituals (your examples of weddings and funerals are good ones), without buying into the full menu of claims on offer. But most folks who participate probably do, even if only in a vague sense, believe in something spiritual. This would be interesting to study properly and to compare across cultures.

Secondly, it is not just faith that marks these religions out, they also subscribe to some version of the supernatural order. That list also includes many religions which have their own writings as well as modern ones where we don’t have to rely on Greek scholars. Therefore this list is informative data, not inconclusive data to be sure, but solid data that supports the claim that the supernatural (life after death, spirits, gods etc) is not a significant presence in the vast majority of religions the world over.

Laurence: On your reasoning, if it looks like what I'm familiar with, it's a religion. If it doesn't, it ain't. This isn't simply a semantic proposition; it's a cultural one.

Ok, I need to elaborate a bit with what I meant with my penultimate paragraph. Obviously there are deeper reasons for our differing views. Otherwise we wouldn’t bother with the discussion at all. As I offer evidence for my claim, your facetious description of my reasoning is wide of the mark.

It is semantic in that we are arguing over the *meaning* and *significance* of facts and not merely over the facts themselves. As long as we are clear on what our differing meanings are, then it is possible to have a fruitful for discussion. So, to take an example, if you make x claim about religion then I can mentally reconfigure my understanding of what religion is to yours in order to understand your argument. It does not mean that our differences are irrelevant or unimportant – indeed these may be the most important issues. Nor does it make any pretense that it addresses the reasons we have differing views. It just means that they need not be an impediment to other discussions on the subject, for example the political ramifications of religion, of religious oppression etc.

Laurence: My sense is that this goes back to what I would see as an overly cognitive understanding of religion - what Marxists would call a form of idealism in which what matters is only people's ideas, and their actions are seen to flow from this. Sociologists of religion would generally agree with Marx that what matters is largely what people *do*, and would observe that the focus on propositional statements of belief is a local peculiarity of the Abrahamic religions. It is also, of course, a peculiarity of the "scientistic" critique of religion (including its foundational refusal to take a scientific look, not at religious propositions, but at religion as a social reality). I say scientistic because of this lack of familiarity with any serious empirical research on religion; this critique is not scientific in the sense of being grounded in empirical research, and this is one reason why it prefers to stay on what it feels is the safe territory of cosmology etc.

I already replied to this sentiment in an above comment. Sociology of religion is interesting and important. So are the actual views of the various religions and so are the *truth* of their claims. I think we may disagree on the latter as you don’t seem very interested in whether the claims of religions are true at all (apologies if you are!). Chekov addressed this well.

However, simply because we are interested in the truth value of their claims does not mean we are uninterested in other modes of understanding religion (e.g. its origins, social function, necessary preconditions). You seem to be implying that we are uninterested and haven’t investigated or even thought much about this aspect. In fact we are and we have. We just also take their ideas seriously. That may be radical-liberal. As long as it is done rationally I don’t much care what it's called.

author by Chekovpublication date Fri Feb 29, 2008 14:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"One is that the propitiatory theory of religion (that ritual participants believe in a supernatural order etc.) is in many cases not a very good one. I know it might not seem intuitive, but people do participate in rituals *without* a particularly strong sense of why they are doing so. This is fairly obvious at weddings and funerals in our own society, but also in things like dropping coins in fountains and streams. Hence "superstition", a term which covers much of Roman religion quite well - people did things, but without very coherent theories of why they were doing them.

Similarly with Brahmin rituals: conceptualisations of how they worked, or were supposed to, went through massive evolutions over time, in many cases coming to the conclusion e.g. that what mattered was the correct performance of the ritual in a magical sense, or the internal events within the celebrant."


Even in a monotheistic scripture-based religion such as christianity, the supernatural world is a complex place, full of mystery. The complexity is greatly magnified in animist or polytheistic religions. Virtually no adherents feel that they adequately understand the supernatural order, but they absolutely believe in its existence. The fact that people don't fully understand the specific significance of a ritual, does not mean that their participation is not motivated by their belief in the supernatural order. In all supernatural belief systems, including christianity, the typical approach to rituals is: "I don't fully understand what this ritual is for, but then again I'm ignorant in the ways of the supernatural and the elders who are much better versed in such things say that it is important. Since I know that supernatural forces are powerful and I desperately want to keep them onside, I must participate as well as possible".

I also think that there is a significant differnce between the stuff that we consider superstitions and the role of the supernatural in animist and polytheist religions. I mean African animists genuinely believe that the spirits which inhabit their bracelets protect them from gunfire in battle. It is not uncommon for people who have been cursed and deemed excluded by an animist community to go off and quietly die. While the supernatural world is seen as complex and very difficult to understand, a belief in the existence of a supernatural order which intervenes regularly in human affairs is pervasive and very deep indeed.

"The point of the sociological analysis is precisely to ask what it is that *does* motivate religious behaviour, and beliefs in your sense are only part of the picture - a variable part in different religions, and at different points in time."

I agree entirely, my only point is that the adherents actual belief systems can't be ignored in understanding what motivates religous behaviour.

"The difficulty, though, as Pepe and others have pointed out, is that this critique of beliefs is not, in most contexts, particularly effective. Part of the reason for that is that, even in our neck of the woods, it is mostly not these "root beliefs" that drive religious participation. Hence the *political* importance of raising genuine questions about what people are actually doing with religion, rather than assuming that the answer is already known."

In my opinion, the root beliefs - in our case the existence of some sort of benevolent supernatural divine force - tend to be more persistent than the rituals. Lapsed catholics tend to be agnostic or adopt some sort of "a la carte" idea of a divine force rather than becoming atheists. For many believers, the only rituals observed are those which are based on the family (births, weddings, deaths), rather than the regular rituals of the spiritual community.

"Not that cognitive arguments are never worthwhile; but it is not this kind of argument that has brought about widespread secularisation in NW Europe, and the unquestioned belief that this is the way to do things does not explain differentials in success within broadly similar societies. As soon as one starts to ask about differences in religious belief between Ireland and Britain, for example, you move into the sphere of politics and history, with a particular emphasis on ethnicity."

I disagree with you here. I think the rise of rationalist, scientific thought in the last 300 years or so was entirely critical for the widespread secularisation in NW Europe since 1700. I also disagree with you about the differential success rates in similar societies. The fact that Ireland is a much more religous country than many others in NW Europe has a great deal to do with the fact that, until the very, very recent past, rationalist atheist arguments were pretty much invisible here. It is only in the last few years that it is possible to be an atheist and raise your voice in public here.

I also think that such arguments are actually fairly important in Ireland now. There are a significant number of people who are alienated from the major religions in Ireland today, primarily due to the obvious hypocricy of their institutions rather than a deep rejection of their core beliefs (i.e. benevolent omni-potent god with an exemplary prophet called jesus). Many of such people are open to far-reaching criticisms of religious beliefs, and are open to ideas which explain the discrepancy between their beliefs and the institutions that are supposed to represent them. In such a situation it is important to not only analyse the political and social functions of religions, but also to question the underlying basis for belief. For unless the underlying beliefs are questioned, the institution is always capable of reforming itself and re-exerting its control.

"OK, this is genuinely my last post. Happy to discuss in some other forum, but I can't give this the time and energy needed. Apologies."

That's a shame. I think that this has been a genuinely interesting discussion - in an area that is discussed very rarely. I'd be delighted to continue and develop the discussion in the real world.

author by Fergal Scullypublication date Fri Feb 29, 2008 17:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors



First of all let me say that it was a pleasure to read most of this thread so thanks to James for starting it off. Having said that I have my doubts about the wisdom of putting it in the WSM newspaper. i'll go into this more later.

Having taken a good few hours to get through it I feel like I’ve been on a roller coaster with some laughs along the way (thank you noodley appendage).

Firstly I am a non believer in both god and anarchism, I do however keep an open mind on the possibility of both (tho I think right now the existence of god might be more possible than anarchism hehe).

I can understand and empathize why people believe or don't believe in god without thinking any less of them. It must be said that those who say “god doesn’t exist full stop” are as close minded as any religious fundamentalist. Part of the human condition is to ask the questions Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? How was the universe created? What caused the big bang etc…There are no logical or reasonable answers to these questions so we are left with theories or beliefs etc…To answer these questions with “science hasn’t figured it out yet so just wait and see, don’t worry about these questions” is just as bad as a bishop telling you not to masterbate. Scientists regularly publish supposition about things they have not yet proven especially biologists and archaeologists, so why can’t people decide for themselves that “it’s not proven but I reckon it’s impossible for a universe to be created by accident so there must be a god”. Its just as valid as saying there is no god. Whatever flicks your switch really.

To say that this universe and everything in it in all its amazing beauty “just happened” or is “accidental” is just as unproven and dogmatic as saying a god, goddess, gods etc… created it. Both views are unproven and therefore equally valid or equally nonsense.

I agree with the James that blind faith in anything, be it socialism or Catholicism, which forces you to suspend your critical thinking to obey an organisation or hierarchy is to be avoided. However a belief in god or a faith does not necessarily mean suspending your critical thinking as Martin Luther proved way back in his critique of the established church. Many people who suspend critical thinking in our society are atheists, so the two are not mutually inclusive. In fact as has been said before a lot of prestigious scientists Einstein included are religious.

On another topic related to WSM I have to say I agree with Darren’s earlier post. This article is a fine one for discussion on the internet but to put it through people’s doors as part of a “newspaper” is condescending at worst and politically naïve at best. The fact is Irish people have a long and deeply held belief and fear that socialist ideas in all their forms will lead to a suspension of their religious freedoms (not without good reason either). This article will help to cement this in their minds. A monumental shot in the foot if you ask me.

Far better for anarchists and activists of all hues to critique the actions resulting from hierarchies and bureaucratic establishments of organised religion and encourage the religious to do the same. Really the established church is doing a much better job in this regard at the moment than any of us are. E.G. After all the sex abuse scandals people are very open to the ideas that our Church run education system is a bad thing. They are not however open to attacks on their personal beliefs, especially when it comes down to it, all your saying is “God doesn’t exist because you can’t prove it”.

author by Cianpublication date Sat Mar 01, 2008 03:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I disagree that James' article can be boiled down to "God doesn’t exist because you can’t prove it”.
A better summary might be "It's not reasonable to believe in any god or gods, since there is no evidence that such beings exist". I'm not trying to play semantics, there is a difference between this summary and the one put forward by Fergal. When I say "It's not reasonable to believe", that's not the same thing as outright denial of the existence of "god".

You can't just say "God doesnt exist" unless those you are conversing with have agreed on some definition of what is to be meant by the word "God" - i.e are we talking Jehovah here, or some Hindu God or some impersonal force or non-interventionist "first-mover". Without agreeing on the basics you can't move onto denying whether something exists or not. But it is important to remember that an atheist position does not require the outright denial of the existence of god(or gods)

All that is needed is simply a lack of belief. Lack of belief is the default position. Almost everyone lacks belief in unicorns and leprechauns and flying spaghetti monsters and whatever else have you... but it is not necessary for us to go round outright DENYING that such things exist. Could there be a pink unicorn somewhere in the universe... maybe? Yeah...Maybe! there could be!.... but I dont need to deny that this alleged pink unicorn could exist ... I can simply lack any kind of belief in its existence until evidence to the contrary appears.

The argument then becomes that atheism is the most reasonable and rational position to take on the existence of god, and any kind of theism is irrational and unreasonable. I don't think that's insulting, I think thats basic logic. If we have reached a point in our civilisation that people must be protected from encountering perfectly reasonable arguments about their belief's, then we really are in trouble.

We can of course be at this for another few years discussing the sociological benefits or negatives resulting from religious belief, however if you support theistic religions for sociological reasons (as some type of social glue that binds society or whatever) when you yourself are an agnostic or atheist, this would suggest to me that you believe lack of belief is fine for enlightened beings such as yourself, but the masses require some kind of moral compass or guideline to prevent them running about like amoral lunatics. Obviously this would be an extremely patronising attitude for any libertarian - perhaps any agnostics/atheists who have some other kind of reason for supporting theistic religion can set me to rights about this?

As regards nontheistic religions, almost all religions contain some kind of belief in the supernatural - even nontheistic buddhism, in its oldest texts, contains passages on "deva worlds" , "rebirth", "hungry ghosts" and "celestial mansions". As for Buddhism not starting as a religion, you could say much the same for Christianity and almost all religions - charismatic figure shares his experience or beliefs in a convincing way... scripture comes along after his death... and so on until you get a religion... To answer James question - yes the majority of Buddhist sects do believe in rebirth. A belief in some kind of supernatural force/entities/realms or beings is fairly fundamental to most religions. As such, even if individuals do not 100% believe in all this stuff, it is undeniable that most religions are promoting obfuscation and belief in things for which there is no evidence. This becomes a real problem when you get into political issues with abortion, stem cells and a myriad of other issues where the common religious or spiritual belief in a "soul" sets the religious or spiritual believer apart from those who wish to argue against something based on reason, morality and science. How can you argue agree on a framework to discuss these issues with someone whose belief in something cannot be shaken by reason or by lack of scientific evidence?

author by Independentpublication date Sat Mar 01, 2008 07:04author address author phone Report this post to the editors

That last post is most interesting because written in reasonable, nonoffensive language. I take issue with two assertions in the post, (a) the social glue thesis accepted by agnostics as a patronising stance; (b) the implication that issues like abortion and euthanasia can arouse only one moral stance if religious concepts like the "soul" and "afterlife" are disproved and left aside.

Firstly I'll quote from your well expressed view on religion as a social glue: " ... however if you support theistic religions for sociological reasons (as some type of social glue that binds society or whatever) when you yourself are an agnostic or atheist, this would suggest to me that you believe lack of belief is fine for enlightened beings such as yourself, but the masses require some kind of moral compass or guideline to prevent them running about like amoral lunatics...."

European civilisation, later becoming western civilisation after the discovery of North America, was bound together, gradually, by philosophical beliefs emanating from ancient Greece, laws and manners emanating from ancient Rome, and the Judaeo-Christian ethical and eschatalogical worldview. This civilisation, which had many ups and downs (wars, massacres, reformations, plagues) hinged around shared general attitudes to the meaning of life, the hereafter and the ethical rules of conduct in everyday life. Now I'd argue that if the historical consensus on norms, the nature of human dignity and the philosophical-religious aims of existence breaks down - as appears to have happened in bursts and gasps since the Great War and in an accellerated way since the devestation of WW2 - then, yes, we are witnessing serious disruptions in some western countries There appear to be massive dysfunctions in the traditional family based on marriage, in the birth rate among white ethnic groups, in relations between men and women, in relations between parents and children, and in the learning environment in secondary-high schools. Massive breakdown, to use nonsociological terminology. I don't know if this breakdown amounts to the "masses running around like amoral lunatics" as you say, but the situation is serious for societies, even if it is rational rather than lunatic. The social glue of the Judaeo-Christian tradition has not been replaced by any agreed coherent ethical and philosophical alternative. I think atheists, agnostics and traditional believers should be most concerned about this since the future of their children and grandchildren is at stake.

Briefly on the point of abortion and euthanasia. I don't want to sidetrack this thread into a major debate on such issues per se. Only to say that it is perfectly reasonable for atheists and agnostics to have moral reservations about these issues that dovetail into the ethical concerns of religious believers. You don't have to believe in a hereafter or an immortal soul to find fault with termination of pregnancy: you can disagree with it if you are a (agnostic) pacifist, or if you believe there is only one life and that a viable fetus is a life and should have a right to that life.

author by Timespublication date Sat Mar 01, 2008 12:59author address London, Englandauthor phone Report this post to the editors

From The Times On Line
February 29, 2008

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3...1.ece

Following Jesus in love and anarchy

Related Link: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3461731.ece
author by phatspublication date Sat Mar 01, 2008 14:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A couple more from Albert Einstein that express a little better some of what I was trying to previously:

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

"I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

"A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms—it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man."

""[A] person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings and aspirations to which he clings because of their super-personal value … regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a Divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities.
...In this sense religion is the age-old endeavour of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals, and constantly to strengthen their effects."

"All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom."


Anyone who finds any of this interesting (not many here I'd guess) might like to check out the work of Peter Russell, another spiritual scientist with a deep concern for the future of the planet.

author by %publication date Sat Mar 01, 2008 16:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

God is Dead
-Niestche

Niestche is Dead
-God

author by Earthlingpublication date Sun Mar 02, 2008 20:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This debate seems to focus somewhat on whether people should live an let live with other activists who may have invisible friends to comfort them. This is the rather harmless side of religion. So what if joe bloggs in his/her quiet moments talks to their invisible friend for solace and comfort. as long as he/she doesn't try to foist "harvey" on anybody else, well then so what.

The real problem with religion is when it is in the hands of people in power or their friends and they DO try to foist it on others and make it the basis of the foreign policy of a country. They only have the power to do this kind of thing if the majority of suggestible people go along with it because they believe "you don't question religion" or "religion is good" or "there is a god".

So by all means have a personal belief but as long as you draw a firm line between that and any form of organised religion and reject religious influence on state policy.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjMRgT5o-Ig

(check out this and other good vids on youtube from max blumenthal)

Ideally if people faced reality, accepted that this life is all there is and tried to make this life as good as it could be instead of focussing on some idealised eternal afterlife, then we'd all be better off. And Maybe folks wouldn't be willing to take quite so much shit in this life from their lords and masters

author by N.A.publication date Sun Mar 02, 2008 22:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

the actual solid historical evidence for the existence of Jesus as a historical figure is rather scant.

Apparently it comes down to one dodgy quote from tacitus, the basis for which, was probably gossip from his friend pliny the "interrogator" about what some christians blurted out about their beliefs under extreme duress.

There was another quote from flavius josephus but his writings are known to have been adulterated.

Not much of a basis for half the world to believe in this story's authenticity !!

Suffice to say that decent empirical historical evidence for the existence of Jesus is flaky and scant at best and he may be just a character from some fictitious stories and parables written by a cult.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus-Myth

(bear in mind that rabid christians can be very motivated and free to edit articles of this kind on wikipedia.)

some other links of interest on this topic:

Richard Dawkins at ted (good vid!):
http://www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/view/id/93
http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/dawkins2.htm#NULL

Lots of interesting stuff here:
http://www.positiveatheism.org/tocawed.htm

Bertrand russells essay : "why I am not a christian":
http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell0.htm

daniel dennett on "dangerous memes":
http://www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/view/id/92

author by Libertarianpublication date Thu Mar 20, 2008 16:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The atheist delusion

OPINION: "Opposition to religion occupies the high ground, intellectually and morally," wrote Martin Amis recently. Over the past few years, leading writers and thinkers have published best-selling tracts against God. But the "secular fundamentalists" have got it all wrong, according to John Gray .

AN ATMOSPHERE of moral panic surrounds religion. Viewed not so long ago as a relic of superstition whose role in society was steadily declining, it is now demonised as the cause of many of the world's worst evils. As a result, there has been a sudden explosion in the literature of proselytising atheism. A few years ago, it was difficult to persuade commercial publishers even to think of bringing out books on religion. Today, tracts against religion can be enormous money-spinners, with Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great selling in the hundreds of thousands. For the first time in generations, scientists and philosophers, high-profile novelists and journalists are debating whether religion has a future. The intellectual traffic is not all one-way. There have been counterblasts for believers, such as The Dawkins Delusion? by the British theologian Alister McGrath and The Secular Age by the Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor. On the whole, however, the anti-God squad has dominated the sales charts, and it is worth asking why.

The abrupt shift in the perception of religion is only partly explained by terrorism. The 9/11 hijackers saw themselves as martyrs in a religious tradition, and western opinion has accepted their self-image. And there are some who view the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a danger comparable with the worst that were faced by liberal societies in the 20th century. For Dawkins and Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Martin Amis, Michel Onfray, Philip Pullman and others, religion in general is a poison that has fuelled violence and oppression throughout history, right up to the present day. The urgency with which they produce their anti-religious polemics suggests that a change has occurred as significant as the rise of terrorism: the tide of secularisation has turned. These writers come from a generation schooled to think of religion as a throwback to an earlier stage of human development, which is bound to dwindle away as knowledge continues to increase. In the 19th century, when the scientific and industrial revolutions were changing society very quickly, this may not have been an unreasonable assumption. Dawkins, Hitchens and the rest may still believe that, over the long run, the advance of science will drive religion to the margins of human life, but this is now an article of faith rather than a theory based on evidence.

It is true that religion has declined sharply in a number of countries (Ireland is a recent example) and has not shaped everyday life for most people in Britain for many years. Much of Europe is clearly post-Christian. However, there is nothing that suggests the move away from religion is irreversible, or that it is potentially universal. The US is no more secular today than it was 150 years ago, when de Tocqueville was amazed and baffled by its all-pervading religiosity. The secular era was in any case partly illusory. The mass political movements of the 20th century were vehicles for myths inherited from religion, and it is no accident that religion is reviving now that these movements have collapsed. The current hostility to religion is a reaction against this turnabout. Secularisation is in retreat, and the result is the appearance of an evangelical type of atheism not seen since Victorian times.

As in the past, this is a type of atheism that mirrors the faith it rejects. Philip Pullman's Northern Lights - a subtly allusive, multilayered allegory, recently adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster, The Golden Compass - is a good example. Pullman's parable concerns far more than the dangers of authoritarianism. The issues it raises are essentially religious, and it is deeply indebted to the faith it attacks. Pullman has stated that his atheism was formed in the Anglican tradition, and there are many echoes of Milton and Blake in his work. His largest debt to this tradition is the notion of free will. The central thread of the story is the assertion of free will against faith. The young heroine, Lyra Belacqua, sets out to thwart the Magisterium - Pullman's metaphor for Christianity - because it aims to deprive humans of their ability to choose their own course in life, which she believes would destroy what is most human in them. But the idea of free will that informs liberal notions of personal autonomy is biblical in origin (think of the Genesis story). The belief that exercising free will is part of being human is a legacy of faith, and like most varieties of atheism today, Pullman's is a derivative of Christianity.

Zealous atheism renews some of the worst features of Christianity and Islam. Just as much as these religions, it is a project of universal conversion. Evangelical atheists never doubt that human life can be transformed if everyone accepts their view of things, and they are certain that one way of living - their own, suitably embellished - is right for everybody. To be sure, atheism need not be a missionary creed of this kind. It is entirely reasonable to have no religious beliefs, and yet be friendly to religion. It is a funny sort of humanism that condemns an impulse that is peculiarly human. Yet that is what evangelical atheists do when they demonise religion.

A curious feature of this kind of atheism is that some of its most fervent missionaries are philosophers. Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon claims to sketch a general theory of religion. In fact, it is mostly a polemic against American Christianity. This parochial focus is reflected in Dennett's view of religion, which for him means the belief that some kind of supernatural agency (whose approval believers seek) is needed to explain the way things are in the world. For Dennett, religions are efforts at doing something science does better - they are rudimentary or abortive theories, or else nonsense. "The proposition that God exists," he writes severely, "is not even a theory." But religions do not consist of propositions struggling to become theories. The incomprehensibility of the divine is at the heart of Eastern Christianity, while in Orthodox Judaism, practice tends to have priority over doctrine. Buddhism has always recognised that in spiritual matters truth is ineffable, as do Sufi traditions in Islam. Hinduism has never defined itself by anything as simplistic as a creed. It is only some western Christian traditions, under the influence of Greek philosophy, which have tried to turn religion into an explanatory theory.

The notion that religion is a primitive version of science was popularised in the late 19th century. The positivists believed that with the development of transport and communication irrational thinking would wither way, along with the religions of the past. Despite the history of the past century, Dennett believes much the same. In an interview that appears on the website of the Edge Foundation (edge.org) under the title The Evaporation of the Powerful Mystique of Religion , he predicts that "in about 25 years almost all religions will have evolved into very different phenomena, so much so that in most quarters religion will no longer command the awe that it does today". He is confident that this will come about, he tells us, mainly because of "the worldwide spread of information technology (not just the internet, but cell phones and portable radios and television)". The philosopher has evidently not reflected on the ubiquity of mobile phones among the Taliban, or the emergence of a virtual al-Qaeda on the web.

The growth of knowledge is a fact only postmodern relativists deny. Science is the best tool we have for forming reliable beliefs about the world, but it does not differ from religion by revealing a bare truth that religions veil in dreams. Both science and religion are systems of symbols that serve human needs - in the case of science, for prediction and control. Religions have served many purposes, but at bottom they answer to a need for meaning that is met by myth rather than explanation. A great deal of modern thought consists of secular myths - hollowed-out religious narratives translated into pseudo-science. Dennett's notion that new communications technologies will fundamentally alter the way human beings think is just such a myth.

In The God Delusion , Dawkins attempts to explain the appeal of religion in terms of the theory of "memes", vaguely defined conceptual units that compete with one another in a parody of natural selection. He recognises that, because humans have a universal tendency to religious belief, it must have had some evolutionary advantage, but today, he argues, it is perpetuated mainly through bad education.

From a Darwinian standpoint, the crucial role Dawkins gives to education is puzzling. Human biology has not changed greatly over recorded history, and if religion is hardwired in the species, it is difficult to see how a different kind of education could alter this. Yet Dawkins seems convinced that if it were not inculcated in schools and families, religion would die out. This is a view that has more in common with a certain type of fundamentalist theology than with Darwinian theory, and I cannot help being reminded of the evangelical Christian who assured me that children reared in a chaste environment would grow up without illicit sexual impulses.

Dawkins's "memetic theory of religion" is a classic example of the nonsense that is spawned when Darwinian thinking is applied outside its proper sphere. Along with Dennett, who also holds to a version of the theory, Dawkins maintains that religious ideas survive because they would be able to survive in any "meme pool", or else because they are part of a "memeplex" that includes similar memes, such as the idea that, if you die as a martyr, you will enjoy 72 virgins. Unfortunately, the theory of memes is science only in the sense that Intelligent Design is science. Strictly speaking, it is not even a theory. Talk of memes is just the latest in a succession of ill-judged Darwinian metaphors.

Dawkins compares religion to a virus: religious ideas are memes that infect vulnerable minds, especially those of children. Biological metaphors may have their uses - the minds of evangelical atheists seem particularly prone to infection by religious memes, for example. At the same time, analogies of this kind are fraught with peril. Dawkins makes much of the oppression perpetrated by religion, which is real enough. He gives less attention to the fact that some of the worst atrocities of modern times were committed by regimes that claimed scientific sanction for their crimes. Nazi "scientific racism" and Soviet "dialectical materialism" reduced the unfathomable complexity of human lives to the deadly simplicity of a scientific formula. In each case, the science was bogus, but it was accepted as genuine at the time, and not only in the regimes in question. Science is as liable to be used for inhumane purposes as any other human institution. Indeed, given the enormous authority science enjoys, the risk of it being used in this way is greater.

Continued tomorrow

John Gray's Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia will be out in paperback in April (Penguin)

- (Guardian service)

© 2008 The Irish Times

author by Chekovpublication date Thu Mar 20, 2008 16:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The IT runs yet another pathetic straw man attack and series of ad hominems on atheists as an opinion piece. A truly terrible article.

author by Atheistpublication date Fri Mar 21, 2008 13:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A common attack on atheism goes like this:

stalin, pol pot, hitler were atheists and they killed more people than religious nuts did therefore atheism is more violent than religion.

firstly, hitler was respectful to religion and some of his speeches refer to god, as commented on previously.

Secondly, there is a difference between making war and killing in the name of religion or for the purposes of creating a homogenous religious population, and the fact that a nasty individual who did lots of killing and warmongering, happened to also lack an accepted religion other than the usual politicians one of greed for power and money.

The fact is, stalin did not kill all those people purely to further the cause of atheism. He did it because stalin himself was a power crazed paranoid nutcase furthering his own personal agenda with little regard for human life. Ditto for pol pot and others. complete scumbags the lot of them I agree.

The taliban, the inquisition, the crusades, israeli zionists, sunni/shia militia, nutcase powerful right wing christians pushing the us government into war in iraq and iran and giving support for israeli murder etc etc did/do their killing in the name of god.

complete scumbags too.

Atheists are generally nice rational thinking folk who don't like war and killing and unfairness. They are defined not by their belief in any particular fairy story, but rather by their lack of such a belief. They don't create armies and go to war to fight for atheism ( how do you fight for the lack of a belief??). They aren't even organised enough to have meetings to talk about things, wheras fruitcake religious groups abound. All atheists do is voice a rational opinion from time to time or occasionally one of them becomes somebody and then writes a book. It seems even that low level of freedom of speech is too threatening for some people.

author by Libertarianpublication date Fri Mar 21, 2008 19:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors


Here is the second part of John Grays article on Atheism.

(On a side note , I personally dont agree with Grays opinion on Atheism, but I do think he frames the debate quite well. Particularly his emphasis upon the Christian roots of many secular/ politcal ideas. It is atheists in the tradition of the liberal left that he critiques. He admires Nietzschean Atheists)

Moral high ground is shifting beneath secularists' feet

OPINION Anti-religious zealotry will not eradicate religion. But it may prompt it to assume grotesque forms, writes John Gray.

CONTEMPORARY OPPONENTS of religion display a marked lack of interest in the historical record of atheist regimes. In The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, the American writer Sam Harris argues that religion has been the chief source of violence and oppression in history. He recognises that secular despots such as Stalin and Mao inflicted terror on a grand scale, but maintains the oppression they practised had nothing to do with their ideology of "scientific atheism" - what was wrong with their regimes was that they were tyrannies. But might there not be a connection between the attempt to eradicate religion and the loss of freedom?

It is unlikely that Mao, who launched his assault on the people and culture of Tibet with the slogan "religion is poison", would have agreed that his atheist world-view had no bearing on his policies. It is true he was worshipped as a semi-divine figure - as Stalin was in the Soviet Union. But in developing these cults, communist Russia and China were not backsliding from atheism. They were demonstrating what happens when atheism becomes a political project. The invariable result is an ersatz religion that can only be maintained by tyrannical means.

Something like this occurred in Nazi Germany. Richard Dawkins dismisses any suggestion that the crimes of the Nazis could be linked with atheism. "What matters," he declares in his book The God Delusion, "is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. There is not the smallest evidence that it does." This is simple-minded reasoning. Always a tremendous booster of science, Hitler was much impressed by vulgarised Darwinism and by theories of eugenics that had developed from Enlightenment philosophies of materialism. He used Christian anti-Semitic demonology in his persecution of Jews, and the churches collaborated with him to a horrifying degree. But it was the Nazi belief in race as a scientific category that opened the way to a crime without parallel in history.

Nowadays most atheists are avowed liberals. What they want - so they will tell you - is not an atheist regime, but a secular state in which religion has no role. They clearly believe that, in a state of this kind, religion will tend to decline. But America's secular constitution has not ensured a secular politics. Christian fundamentalism is more powerful in the US than in any other country, while it has very little influence in Britain, which has an established church. Contemporary critics of religion go much further than demanding disestablishment. It is clear that he [ Dawkins] wants to eliminate all traces of religion from public institutions. Awkwardly, many of the concepts he deploys - including the idea of religion itself - have been shaped by monotheism.

AC Grayling provides an example of the persistence of religious categories in secular thinking in his Towards the Light: The Story of the Struggles for Liberty and Rights That Made the Modern West. As the title indicates, Grayling's book is a type of sermon. Its aim is to reaffirm what he calls "a Whig view of the history of the modern West", the core of which is that "the West displays progress". The Whigs were pious Christians, who believed divine providence arranged history to culminate in English institutions, and Grayling too believes history is "moving in the right direction".

No doubt there have been setbacks - he mentions Nazism and communism in passing, devoting a few sentences to them. But these disasters were peripheral. They do not reflect on the central tradition of the modern West, which has always been devoted to liberty, and which - Grayling asserts - is inherently antagonistic to religion. "The history of liberty," he writes, "is another chapter - and perhaps the most important of all - in the great quarrel between religion and secularism."

The possibility that radical versions of secular thinking may have contributed to the development of Nazism and communism is not mentioned. More even than the 18th-century Whigs, who were shaken by French Terror, Grayling has no doubt as to the direction of history.

But the belief that history is a directional process is as faith-based as anything in the Christian catechism. Secular thinkers such as Grayling reject the idea of providence, but they continue to think humankind is moving towards a universal goal - a civilisation based on science that will eventually encompass the entire species.

In pre-Christian Europe, human life was understood as a series of cycles; history was seen as tragic or comic rather than redemptive. With the arrival of Christianity, it came to be believed that history had a predetermined goal, which was human salvation. Though they suppress their religious content, secular humanists continue to cling to similar beliefs. One does not want to deny anyone the consolations of a faith, but it is obvious that the idea of progress in history is a myth created by the need for meaning.

Belief in progress is a relic of the Christian view of history as a universal narrative, and an intellectually rigorous atheism would start by questioning it. This is what Nietzsche did when he developed his critique of Christianity in the late 19th century, but almost none of today's secular missionaries have followed his example.

One need not be a great fan of Nietzsche to wonder why this is so. The reason, no doubt, is that he did not assume any connection between atheism and liberal values - on the contrary, he viewed liberal values as an offspring of Christianity and condemned them partly for that reason. In contrast, evangelical atheists have positioned themselves as defenders of liberal freedoms - rarely inquiring where these freedoms have come from, and never allowing that religion may have had a part in creating them.

Among contemporary anti-religious polemicists, only the French writer Michel Onfray has taken Nietzsche as his point of departure. In some ways, Onfray's In Defence of Atheism is superior to anything English-speaking writers have published on the subject. Refreshingly, Onfray recognises that evangelical atheism is an unwitting imitation of traditional religion: "Many militants of the secular cause look astonishingly like clergy. Worse: like caricatures of clergy." More clearly than his Anglo-Saxon counterparts, Onfray understands the formative influence of religion on secular thinking. Yet he seems not to notice that the liberal values he takes for granted were partly shaped by Christianity and Judaism.

The key liberal theorists of toleration are John Locke, who defended religious freedom in explicitly Christian terms, and Benedict Spinoza, a Jewish rationalist who was also a mystic. Yet Onfray has nothing but contempt for the traditions from which these thinkers emerged - particularly Jewish monotheism: "We do not possess an official certificate of birth for worship of one God," he writes. "But the family line is clear: the Jews invented it to endure the coherence, cohesion and existence of their small, threatened people." Here Onfray passes over an important distinction. It may be true that Jews first developed monotheism, but Judaism has never been a missionary faith. In seeking universal conversion, evangelical atheism belongs with Christianity and Islam.

In today's anxiety about religion, it has been forgotten that most of the faith-based violence of the past century was secular in nature. To some extent, this is also true of the current wave of terrorism.

Islamism is a patchwork of movements, not all violently jihadist and some strongly opposed to al-Qaeda, most of them partly fundamentalist and aiming to recover the lost purity of Islamic traditions, while at the same time taking some of their guiding ideas from radical secular ideology. There is a deal of fashionable talk of Islamo-fascism, and Islamist parties have some features in common with interwar fascist movements, including anti-Semitism. But Islamists owe as much, if not more, to the far left, and it would be more accurate to describe many of them as Islamo-Leninists.

Islamist techniques of terror also have a pedigree in secular revolutionary movements. The executions of hostages in Iraq are copied in exact theatrical detail from European "revolutionary tribunals" in the 1970s, such as that staged by the Red Brigades when they murdered former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978.

The influence of secular revolutionary movements on terrorism extends well beyond Islamists. In his book God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens notes that, long before Hizbullah and al-Qaeda, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka pioneered what he rightly calls "the disgusting tactic of suicide murder". He omits to mention that the Tigers are Marxist-Leninists who, while recruiting mainly from the island's Hindu population, reject religion in all its varieties.

Tiger suicide bombers do not go to certain death in the belief that they will be rewarded in any postmortem paradise. Nor did the suicide bombers who drove American and French forces out of Lebanon in the 1980s, most of whom belonged to organisations of the left such as the Lebanese Communist Party. These secular terrorists believed they were expediting a historical process from which will come a world better than any that has ever existed. It is a view of things more remote from human realities, and more reliably lethal in its consequences, than most religious myths.

It is not necessary to believe in any narrative of progress to think liberal societies are worth resolutely defending. No one can doubt that they are superior to the tyranny imposed by the Taliban on Afghanistan, for example. The issue is one of proportion. Ridden with conflicts and lacking the industrial base of communism and Nazism, Islamism is nowhere near a danger of the magnitude of those that were faced down in the 20th century. A greater menace is posed by North Korea, which far surpasses any Islamist regime in its record of repression and clearly does possess some kind of nuclear capability. Evangelical atheists rarely mention it. Hitchens is an exception, but when he describes his visit to the country, it is only to conclude that the regime embodies "a debased yet refined form of Confucianism and ancestor worship". As in Russia and China, the noble humanist philosophy of Marxist-Leninism is innocent of any responsibility.

Writing of the Trotskyite-Luxemburgist sect to which he once belonged, Hitchens confesses sadly: "There are days when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb."

He need not worry. His record on Iraq shows he has not lost the will to believe. The effect of the American-led invasion has been to deliver most of the country outside the Kurdish zone into the hands of an Islamist elective theocracy, in which women, gays and religious minorities are more oppressed than at any time in Iraq's history. The idea that Iraq could become a secular democracy - which Hitchens ardently promoted - was possible only as an act of faith.

In The Second Plane, Martin Amis writes: "Opposition to religion already occupies the high ground, intellectually and morally."

Amis is sure religion is a bad thing, and that it has no future in the West. In the author of Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million - a forensic examination of self-delusion in the pro-Soviet western intelligentsia - such confidence is surprising. The intellectuals whose folly Amis dissects turned to communism in some sense as a surrogate for religion, and ended up making excuses for Stalin.

Are there really no comparable follies today? Some neocons - such as Tony Blair, who will soon be teaching religion and politics at Yale - combine their belligerent progressivism with religious belief, though of a kind Augustine and Pascal might find hard to recognise.

Religion has not gone away. Repressing it is like repressing sex, a self-defeating enterprise. In the 20th century, when it commanded powerful states and mass movements, it helped engender totalitarianism. Today, the result is a climate of hysteria.

Not everything in religion is precious or deserving of reverence. There is the claim of religious authorities, also made by atheist regimes, to decide how people can express their sexuality, control their fertility and end their lives, which should be rejected categorically. Nobody should be allowed to curtail freedom in these ways, and no religion has the right to break the peace.

The attempt to eradicate religion, however, only leads to it reappearing in grotesque and degraded forms. A credulous belief in world revolution, universal democracy or the occult powers of mobile phones is more offensive to reason than the mysteries of religion, and less likely to survive in years to come.

Victorian poet Matthew Arnold wrote of believers being left bereft as the tide of faith ebbs away. Today secular faith is ebbing, and it is the apostles of unbelief who are left stranded on the beach.

John Gray's Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia will be out in paperback in April (Penguin)

CopyLeft

2008 The Irish Times

author by Seán Ryanpublication date Fri Mar 21, 2008 20:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Evangelical atheists?

One knows that Mr. Gray is on a voyage into the dark when such a description appears. How in the blazes is someone supposed to evangelise a non-belief, nevermind the obvious oxymoron?

The real telling aspect of atheism for the vast majority of those who refer to themselves as atheists is a willingness to discuss, define and even justify their positions. Many thousands of years after the first of numerous hypothetical deities invaded the first theist's imagination, we still do not have a single definition of God, that stands up to any logical investigation.

Mr. Gray should try reading the books he's so carelessly and thoughtlessly maligned, he'd have noticed (one can but presume) that his non-points were dealt with fully. As for the Times - I rationalise to arrive at my opinions (sometimes successfully too) - spoonfed opinions speak for themselves.

author by NoodleyAppendagepublication date Fri Mar 21, 2008 23:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Gray is just cynically taking advantage of gullible religious types of which he knows there are many and saying what they want to hear in order to seperate them from their cash. He probably doesn't believe half this shite himself

author by Laplandianpublication date Thu Oct 21, 2010 03:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I must say, I find this article rather disappointing and counter-productive. Almost every line can be easily refuted on historical, philosophical or anarchist grounds. Unfortunately, such oversimplified anti-religious propaganda could turn many good people away from anarchism. In the contrary, this article makes anarchists look like a narrow-minded marginal sect, who don't know neither the history of religion nor the history of anarchism.

Not every religion believes in a personal creator God who sets the rules and demands obedience. Buddhism and Taoism are the most notable counter-examples. A plenty of mystical thinkers, who crossed the boundary between theistic and non-theistic thinking, can be found in all major religions, including Christianity (e.g. Meister Eckhart, Jakob Böhme, Rudolf Steiner). Many mystics are pantheists and equate God with reality itself or with the essence of the human mind.

Hardly any people today believe that diseases are possession by demons. Spirituality deals primarily with mystical experiences, states of consciousness and other psychological phenomena. The superiority of the immortal soul over the physical body is a peculiar view of some Christian churches. It's foreign to many other religions that reject the mind/body dualism.

And what is it supposed to mean that "socialists of all stripes are materialists"? Nearly all proto-socialist societies were clearly not materialistic, from archaic hunter-gatherer communes to the Diggers and Henri de Saint-Simon. What about Gustav Landauer, Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, Martin Buber and many other religious anarchists?

Now it's getting worse: "It means handing over your brain to a priest, rabbi, or imam". I don't think that Thomas Müntzer, the anabaptist rebel theologian, handed over his brain to any priest. Or Giordano Bruno, who got burned at the stake, because he refused to give up his strong mystical beliefs. Many great religious figures were extremely original thinkers.

"After all, if something is the right thing to do, it remains the right thing to do, irrespective of what Jesus or Mohammad think. If by some tiny chance a creator does exist and has a direct line to the religious people in this world, our only problem would be how to get rid of it." Does the author possess clairvoyance or telepathic abilities? Apparently he know what Jesus, Mohammad and religious people think. One great thing about anarchism is that anarchists are usually consistent about the difference between organized religion and personal belief. This author isn't, unfortunately. He keeps mocking not the clerical power, but religious people on personal level.

This article raises valid points about contraception, sexism, child abuse, worker's rights. However, this offensive style will only alienate religious people and convince them not to look anymore into anarchism. The good style would be: "Christians, Jews and Muslims, believe whatever you want, it's cool, but don't let the church to have power over you. Let's unite and smash together the state and get rid of capitalism!" But what I hear instead, sounds more like "we are the vanguard party, we know better, and you are a bunch of brainless idiots".

Well, this sort of ideology is not new, but it's not called anarchism. It's called Leninism.

author by V for vendettapublication date Thu Oct 21, 2010 20:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"Not every religion believes in a personal creator God who sets the rules and demands obedience. Buddhism and Taoism are the most notable counter-examples"

But nice and all as buddhists are, they also believe in the rather wacky notion of reincarnation and eternal life in some cases. Whee.

If you are going to make shit up then why not just go wild. I think we should have lots of zany gods with superpowers. The fact is most religious types don't believe in lots of gods. They seem to have absolutely no problem with pooh poohing and not believing in other people's gods except their own. Yet they get all worked up when Atheists do the same thing. Atheists just go one wacky god further.

Teach your child clarity of thought, critical thinking and how to question information. Don't cloud their little minds with lies and stories and unquestioning belief in nonsense. No gods and masters.

author by A T istpublication date Thu Oct 21, 2010 23:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'm with V on this. It is tempting but mistaken to divide religions into the good and the bad. Thus we juxtapose right wing Catholicism (bad, bad, child raping autocrats) with Hinduism (nice, far out vegetarian with a spot of reincarnation thrown in.) Or we got Catholic Workers (nice, anarchist, radically cool, socially caring) and then fundamentalist Islam (really bad, fatwa pronouncing, gay hating, mysogyny.) Or Anglicans (nice, vaguely liberal, woolly, going all ecological these days) compared to USA evangelical Christians (tea party nutters with "god hates fags" t-shirts.)

This categorisation is dangerous because it fails to recognise the basic flaw of all religions - they appeal to belief in something beyond the material universe. We nned a system of ethics and morality that is empirically derivable from first principles and does not need a supernatural basis. Once we allow a supernatural basis (no matter how woolly - I'm thinking Buddha, Christain Socialism, homeopathy and that vague concept called spirituality) to underpin a system of morality for society, which we then codify as law, we have crossed a boundary. The slippery slope leads inexorably to canon law, jihadists and the Inquisition.

The nice religions are more dangerous than the bad ones - if there were no nice religions only nasty ones, then they would wither away. But the nice religions and the good priests/ministers/gurus make the supernatural respectable and unwittingly oxygenate the waters where the evil religions thrive.

author by Laplandianpublication date Mon Oct 25, 2010 21:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

V for Vendetta:

"they also believe in the rather wacky notion of reincarnation and eternal life in some cases".

What's wacky about it? Lots of people experience past lives and various mystical entities firsthand, while meditating or tripping on LSD. The reality seems far wackier than most people imagine, if you just let your brain walk on unusual paths. Why should anyone trust so called "critical thinking" more than personal emotions or expanded modes of their own mind? Extreme rationalism seems itself irrational.

"If you are going to make shit up then why not just go wild. I think we should have lots of zany gods with superpowers."

Precisely. Our powers are wild and limitless. We are not just small screws in the system - we are God. All of us.

"They seem to have absolutely no problem with pooh poohing and not believing in other people's gods except their own."

What you describe are fucked-up versions of religion. All major mystics believe in religious pluralism and personalized perceptions of mystical inner realms.

"Don't cloud their little minds with lies and stories and unquestioning belief in nonsense. No gods and masters."

Radical spirituality is based on personal experience, gathered by excursions into the depths of own consciousness and questioning all, including populist mass religions, science and rational worldviews. My motto is "No masters - because we are God".

A T ist:

"This categorisation is dangerous because it fails to recognise the basic flaw of all religions - they appeal to belief in something beyond the material universe."

First of all, the whole Cartesian opposition between "material" and "spiritual" has been refuted by many major philosophers, including a number of anarchist and heterodox Marxist ones. There is no conclusive way to prove that someone's vision, emotion or belief is less real than a tree or a rock.

Everyone believes in things they had never seen. Do you believe in the existence of Antarctica? Maybe it's an elaborated hoax. Do you believe jumping from the roof is deadly? Maybe It's a portal to a better world. People don't do it, because they trust someone else's opinion.

The problem with so-called rational ethics is that it's philosophically inconsistent and potentially as bad as Jihadism or the Inquisition. The Enlightenment "values" lead to the most inhumane, mechanized versions of capitalism and state oppression. Social Darwinism and fascism is perfectly logical. They can only be defeated in moral grounds. But morality is by definition irrational, because It's based on feelings and vague notions.

I think that the dichotomy between religious and atheistic thinking is itself a result of social injustice. So-called primitive tribes didn't have it; ancient Taoists also didn't and neither did the Renaissance humanists. This whole distinction appeared together with rigid professional stratification, hierarchic system of education and other evils of industrial capitalism. We are used to see ourselves as fundamentally atomized, separated screws of the machine. It think that instead of pondering on possibly unsolvable philosophical issues, people should simply ignore their personal religious or ideological differences, and should unite against the common class enemies.

Alienating believing workers with anti-religious rhetoric is counter-productive, because it creates division. IMHO, a generally progressive anti-dinosaur member of Flat Earth Society is far better that a rational agnostic factory owner.

author by Laplandianpublication date Tue Oct 26, 2010 00:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

And not all religions "appeal to belief in something beyond the material universe". Spinozism, Taoism, Jainism and some Buddhist schools can be understood in materialistic sense. They are based on philosophical reasoning and not blind belief. One medieval rabbi said that God is another word for cosmic energy. Similar ideas are also found in some Islamic Shia sects. Hegelian dialectic is religious and Hegel himself was a Christian, but Marx and Engels managed to turn his philosophy into the very anti-religious rhetoric that is being discussed here. Some texts written by contemporary liberation theologians totally blur the boundary between religion and atheism, by interpreting the traditional religious narratives into an allegory about the world revolution.

The history of human thought is very complex and binary oppositions like materialism vs. idealism, theism vs. atheism are easily deconstructable. Much of continental philosophy, especially post-structuralism, was dedicated to this sort of questions; they can't be just resolved by jokes about "pooh poohing".

author by opus diablos - the regressive hypocrite partypublication date Tue Oct 26, 2010 11:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I believe in god. Its a three(there's your trinity)letter word, as in the beginning.
Its very handy as a means to social and psychological control, as with a little incense, subtle lighting and a nice harmonious chant(hence the Irish term 'a bit of a chantster')hypnotic trances can be induced which maximise the natural credulity and manipulability of the hominids.
A good doseof fear is necessary, to first destabilise the subjects security and elicit susceptibility.This can be induced by gettin them young(give me a child till seven...)and indoctrinating them with horrific visions of the consequences of disobedience to one's rules.The child's imagination can be relied on to create the diabolical images necessary to maintain this state of nervous aprehension, adequately encouraged by the iconography accumulated over centuries of censorship to glorify bloodthirsty martyrdom in service of one's chosen sect.Variations to suit individual customised needs can be discussed with our marketing division.
This has been a public service broadcast on behalf of the Church of Perpetual Mammon, Cathedral View, Ballyhades, County (D Kingdom,Cha)Kerry.

author by We the Peoplepublication date Tue Oct 26, 2010 11:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is important to get as many opinions on the World's largest money making and population controlling multi- trillion dollar racket.........religion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o

Caption: Embedded video Youtube Video


author by V for vendettapublication date Tue Oct 26, 2010 14:04author address author phone Report this post to the editors

self important crap. the difference between us is I look up at the sky and humbly accept that I'm really not all that important in the scheme of things. "Spiritual" folk like You need to feel important so you make up stories about great being/s who made all this that you are important to, which in turn somehow confers importance on you. Or perhaps you go one step further and believe you yourselves are gods. I call that self important delusional thinking. You ask me to accept the opinion of a delusional thinker because a delusional thinker says so. NO.

I think to some extent engaging disproportionately with stupid irrational discussions on gods and spirituality wastes our time and helps to give the topic oxygen and an intellectual validity it does not deserve. I prefer Tim Minchin's approach. The idea of a god deserves to be ridiculed and he does it so much better than I ever could.

Caption: The funniest refutation of biblical tenets I have heard in a while


Caption: And as the saying goes, you can be so open minded all your brains fall out.


author by Laplandianpublication date Tue Oct 26, 2010 17:51author address author phone Report this post to the editors

V:

Did I expressed my personal opinions on spirituality in the previous posts? I don't think so. A totally agnostic postmodern philosopher or historian could say the same exact things. E.g. read Žižek's recent pro-Islamic essays.

Did I accuse the atheist folks in anything? No! I merely said that I personally find Atheism neither true nor fun.

Did I try to impose any religious or philosophical view on anyone? No! All I said was that I find anti-religious propaganda offensive (not so much for me personally, because I'm already used and immune to it) and counter-productive. Read the history of the Makhnovist movement. Whole villages of Orthodox Christians, Orthodox Jews and occasional Catholics were Makhnovist. The anti-religious majority didn't mock them on personal level and didn't disturb their religious life, as long as they were organizing along the same class lines.

Now, what do I hear in response? "Self important crap", "stupid irrational discussions", "spirituality wastes", "lies", "pooh poohing". Did me or any CW here addressed the Atheists in such offensive language? To me the CW guys sound here much more like anarchists.

Meanwhile, the protagonist of your nickname is exactly a "spiritual guy". Alan Moore, the author of the original "V for Vendetta" comics, is a well known pagan and occultist.

I grew up in the USSR and I know very well, how real Leninism smells and feels. But I don't watch the capitalist propaganda shitbox and dislike commercial media in general, and don't know much about Tim Minchin or his approach. I prefer to discuss stuff while drinking beer on the streets with my worker friends, and not by listening to TV celebrities.

author by V for vendettapublication date Tue Oct 26, 2010 19:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

it is funny though! He is actually rather a good piano player and a clever unorthodox fellow. You'll like him.

author by Laplandianpublication date Wed Oct 27, 2010 04:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

V:

Thanks! Funny, but not my style, though. I prefer folk/trad, New Age, psychedelic rock of various kinds and really dark metal, but nothing even remotely pop. These songs don't refute any spiritual concepts that I respect. Most likely, about 90% of religious things you consider ridiculous I consider ridiculous too. For me what religion calls God is the depth of our human reality. A high level of perception, when everything is full of intense love, life and communal solidarity. Anyway...

author by V for vendettapublication date Wed Oct 27, 2010 17:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hey, then stop using the word god then. I think that's where our misunderstanding lies. It's a confusing word for simple creatures like myself. I see God as meaning an "invisible friend" to whom (or rather to whose "book") we give some form of unquestioning belief.

You probably mean the nice fuzzy connected feeling you get when you plant your organic vegetables to help feed your interdependent anarcho syndicalist autonomous collective.and a birdie lands on your shovel and tweets at you. I have that feeling too but I don't call it god. It's a stupid word.

There are no gods, we are not gods. Just frail bugs on a flying rock. This is all there is, so look after this rock together or it's going to be another corporate sponsored easter Island. No time to be looking to the after life or our next incarnation as a rich person. It clouds all our decisions, meanwhile the earth and our daily lives go to shit.

Sorry you didn't like tim. :-)

author by Mattpublication date Fri Mar 01, 2013 06:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

To the writer of this article: You think you know so much, but you know so little. You have such confidence in your "intelligence", while you are in fact blind. Have you not considered that "believers" might know something you don't? Do you truly understand what the concept of God means? To be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent?

From what you say, I can only assume that you think science will eventually be able to explain everything. That is incredibly idiotic, and truly makes you no better than your hampered view of what Christians are. (and other monotheistic religions I suppose) You are hampered because of your arrogant preconceptions.

Science, in our past as recorded by history, has never ever been able to explain EVERYTHING. Why do you think it will be able to explain everything? Is that your twisted version of faith? I challenge you to pray to God to reveal himself to you in some manner. He might do it, or maybe not. Understand that since He is so much "smarter" than the rest of us, He has His own reasons for doing things, which very few of us, if any, will be able to understand. I challenge you to consider His word, the things He is purported to have told mankind to do. The things He has told people, in the old testament and new, about how people should live their lives in a general sense.

I pray for you. I truly wish you nothing but the best God has to offer.

author by Vpublication date Fri Mar 01, 2013 19:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

You said:
"Have you not considered that "believers" might know something you don't? Do you truly understand what the concept of God means? To be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent?"

Here's what Epicurus had to say about that whole omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent thing.

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?"


As for believers knowing something scientists don't, well would you trust disorganised vague wishful thinking over well organised rigour? We'd probably still be in caves making human sacrifices to the sun god if it was up to them.

True science is not a religion. It does not purport to know the everything with the arrogant certainty that religions do. It is merely a concerted organised effort to categorise all the phenomena of nature using as few simple rules as possible. It has lots of gaps and has only scratched the surface. But at least it's not just some arbitrary superstition. It's a systematic attempt to understand our universe better. What cooler way to spend your time on earth. Beats spending it worshipping on your knees.

you said:
"You are hampered because of your arrogant preconceptions."

then you said:
" I challenge you to pray to God to reveal himself to you in some manner. He might do it, or maybe not. Understand that since He is so much "smarter" than the rest of us, He has His own reasons for doing things, which very few of us, if any, will be able to understand. I challenge you to consider His word, the things He is purported to have told mankind to do. The things He has told people, in the old testament and new, about how people should live their lives in a general sense. "

Is the complete irony of your own juxtaposition lost on you?

It looks like you have a few arrogant preconceptions yourself! Your certainty that you are right is troubling and typical of devoutly religious.

In the words of leonard cohen:
"he was starving in some deep mystery
like a man who is sure what is true"
-stories of the street

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