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Baron von Bone
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« on: Oct 11, 2011, 06:50AM »

Several times I've found something that fits under Atheism: Good or Bad but that isn't political. This blog entry from the Internet Infidels/Secular Web website is a perfect example. It's a good start for such a topic, but it really deserves an appropriate home, and Purely Politics definitely ain't it. It's an intimate and profoundly sincere glimpse into one standard issue atheist's thoughts and sensibilities. So, here it is:
 
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On 9/11, Atheism, Buttons, and Bowling for Jesus

Lisa Hickey

We have an amazing series stories on 9/11 on The Good Men Project. I wasn't going to write, because I thought so many other people did it better—the dozen others who all had a story that touched me, that changed me, that helped me see the extraordinary complexity around what happened that day. Surely whatever I had to say couldn't compete with those stories.

But then, long time Good Men Project contributor Roger Durham asked me for help.

Knowing that I am an atheist, he emailed me this note:

    I have something I need you to help me with. If you have been watching the memorials of 9/11 today, help me to understand how an atheist views these overtly religious observances? Do they have meaning for you? Do they bore you? Do they frustrate you? And how does an atheist mark moments of grief and memory? How does an atheist honor the dead? I am seriously curious about that, Lisa.
    — Sincerely, Roger

And I realized this is the story I had to tell.


Like most people, in the days following September 11, 2001, I struggled to make sense of it. The night it happened, I watched the videos of the planes flying into the towers over and over and over again. I couldn't get enough of it. It was as if, for the first 20, 40, 50 times, my eyes still couldn't comprehend what they were seeing. I needed to watch it enough times to get over the shock, to make it real.

Afterwards, I read. I was inextricably drawn to every written word I could find on the subject. I was especially drawn to the stories that showed maps of the buildings. Who survived and who didn't. How they got out, helped others, died trying. And all the stories of the "jumpers"—the more than two hundred people who consciously chose the moment at which they would die.

The most haunting story—the one that stuck with me—was from a journalist who described a few people who had taken tablecloths and tried to use them as parachutes. This journalist described seeing a man who jumped, caught the wind just right, and remained aloft for about two seconds, "before the force generated by his fall ripped the drapes, the tablecloths, the desperately gathered fabric, from his hands."

And it was the moment that I read that sentence that I stopped believing in God.


I was raised a Catholic. Baptism, communion, confirmation, church every Sunday. I stopped going to church when I left home for college. I became a nonpracticing Catholic, then a self-proclaimed "sort of a Christian." And later, Agnostic fit me well—I simply didn't know. Never did I feel a happiness over having a religion, nor a void at not having a religion to call my own. It wasn't something I particularly cared about one way or another.


But on Sept. 11, 2001, I cared. That moment I read that sentence I made a conscious choice, driven by the image of the man trying to parachute with a tablecloth. Surely those people had prayed to a God—any God—in their final moments. And for the guy that had floated far above Manhattan with a tablecloth in his hands—for two full seconds he thought his prayer had been answered.

Not only could I not reconcile any sort of God with one who could allow that to happen, what changed my mind was this: I no longer wanted to.


God aside, there are things about organized religion that I think are valuable. A moral upbringing is important. A group of people you can discuss ethics with. Rituals around birth and marriage and death. A sense of community.

And—my favorite church ritual of all times—the moment I would look forward to in great anticipation whenever I went to church—the moment when the priest said "May we offer each other a sign of peace."

That was something I could believe in.


When I was in recovery, I was told to "believe in a higher power." At that time, my belief in a God was nil. At one point, I was in a meeting, semi-circle of filled folding chairs, barely listening to others, because I'm puzzling over whether there is any power greater than myself I could possibly believe in. It is my turn to speak. I tell the story of how in college, when I was drinking all the time, I used to walk around campus holding my coat closed. This was in upstate NY, where the winters were fierce and the blizzards were frequent. And yet, I simply wouldn't button my coat, despite the fact that people would see me and yell out to me, "Lisa, button your coat!" And so, I told the group, the only insight I could offer them was this. Not only did I not believe in a higher power of the traditional sort; but, for most of my life, I didn't even believe in the higher power of buttons.


I would never, ever, think to judge someone else's religious beliefs. I would no more judge someone for their religion than I would judge them for enjoying bowling as a sport. That's exactly the way I feel when someone asks me to partake in their religious ceremonies—as if they had asked me to go bowling. The truth is —I would do either one of those things—with joy, with zeal even—if I loved the person or people I was with. I would embrace the ceremony, sing the hymn, jump up and down at the last minute strike as the bowling ball hits the tenpins. And yes, if I was not in either of those places voluntarily, if I was not with a person or a community I loved, I would be bored. And you can tell me, well then, "God is Love" but I won't believe you. Love is Love. The difference is, love is of the moment, it is an experience in the present time, it is an action taken where you get outside yourself to do something for someone else. And that "feeling" that you get when you step outside yourself to do something that truly connects you to someone else—yeah, that sure feels spiritual. I get that. But that is not the same as believing in God.


When I die, I already have it in my mind that I am going to have someone publish a blog post, after my death, titled "I'm dead and it's OK." Not that I want to die—wow, no, never. Or at least not until I'm 120 years old, which is how long I tell my kids I'd like to live to be. But the fact is, I have very little control over when that moment of death will happen. And the only way that I can ensure my death will be "OK" is to ensure that my life is filled with as much meaning as possible. When your days are filled with only that sole purpose—when you love life in all it's complexities, good and bad, all the people and connections that go with it—that is peace. That is joy. And that is happiness. And life itself is your religion.


The week after I told my button story, I went back to that same recovery group. I still didn't have a higher power. I was quiet. I let others talk. At the end of the meeting, one girl walked over to me and handed me a button.

Here's the thing. At that point in my life, getting sober was a matter of life or death for me. A complete stranger understood that. And so, she gave me something that symbolically said, "I care whether you live or die."

That is what I had always hoped a God would do—care whether I lived or died.


When the guy with the tablecloth in his hands was aloft for two seconds, thinking to himself, "maybe, just maybe this will work"—there's no God that I know of who cared whether he lived or died. But someone on the ground most certainly did. And the fact that someone cared is what gave his life meaning.

For the 2,919 people who died on September 11, 2001, their life had meaning. The religious ceremonies are but one expression of that, and so, for that reason—even as an atheist—those ceremonies bring me great joy.

And it's why the stories we tell are so important. So that the meaning that is shared by the people that we love will continue to live on forever. And that's all the spirituality I can wish for.

Interested in publishing on the Secular Web? See the Submission Guidelines & Instructions.

Disclaimer: Kiosk articles represent the viewpoint of their authors and should not be taken as necessarily representative of the viewpoint of Internet Infidels and/or the Secular Web. Full disclaimer here.

Copyright 2011, Lisa Hickey and Internet Infidels, Inc. Copyright info here.

Published: 9/23/2011
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Baron von Bone
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« Reply #1 on: Oct 11, 2011, 09:31AM »

Clarification and illumination of some very popular mental and conceptual/perceptual errors regarding "militant" atheists and fundamentalism and such:
 
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How not to be a dogmatic fundamentalist

It's not how strong our views are, or how vigorously we defend them, but how open we are to others changing our mind
 
    Julian Baggini
    guardian.co.uk, Friday 7 October 2011 08.12 EDT
 

'There is no automatic virtue in softly advocating accommodating beliefs, nor any vice in strongly
advocating clear, divisive opinions.' Photograph: Eliana Aponte/Reuters
 
If there's one thing guaranteed to irritate a new atheist it's the accusation of being "militant" or "aggressive". Unfortunately, it's an irritant that they can't avoid. To pluck out just a few examples, Booker prizewinning writer Howard Jacobson has attacked "the new aggressive form of popular atheism" saying it "lacks imagination and, worse still, it lacks curiosity." Pope Benedict used his recent trip to Britain to condemn "atheist extremism" and "aggressive secularism". Even atheists are in on the game: philosopher of biology Michael Ruse has regularly criticised "atheistic fundamentalists" for their "nastiness" and "near mystical veneration of the leaders". Heck, I've even described some atheists as "militant" myself.

I have some sympathy with the atheists who complain of a double standard when it comes to how robust people are entitled to be in defence of their beliefs. Who's the real aggressor, they rightly ask, secularists who compare belief in God to fairies or a pope who compares secularists with Nazis? Why, asks British Humanist Association chief executive Andrew Copson, does the BBC use the inflammatory term "militant atheists" to describe non-believers who campaign for state neutrality in matters of religion when they "do not use such an adjective to describe mainstream religious people who express their opinions publicly"?

Given that the key issue here is about people's tendency to harden into their fixed positions and demonise opponents, it is ironic that this debate itself tends to descend into a squabble over who are the real fundamentalists, with each camp defending its own and pointing the finger back at the other side.

What's needed to clear this issue up is to think through where the boundary lies between legitimate strong belief and dogmatic fundamentalism. There clearly is such a boundary, but by talking as if there were none, religious ultra-liberals and agnostics (the "fluffy brigade" as I affectionately call them) manage to make it look as though the only reasonable position to take in this debate is one where the sole passionate commitment is to a lack of passionate commitment.

I'll be saying more about why this is wrong next week, but for present purposes, what matters is that this analysis fails to distinguish properly between the kinds of beliefs we have and the manner in which we hold them. Take beliefs first, which can be more or less comprehensive and precise. Someone could believe that the world was created in six days 6,014 years, 331 days and 2 hours ago, and someone else that it was created at some point in the past, in some way, by some sort of God. For the sake of shorthand, call them strong and weak creationists. Nothing about their beliefs, however, tells you how strongly they believe them. We tend to assume that strong creationists are absolutely certain, and as a matter of fact, we'd probably usually be right. But this needn't always be so. The strong creationist may not be totally convinced, while the weak creationist might be more certain of her vaguer position.

There is also an independent third factor here: the extent to which we are open to revision of belief. A person could be an utterly convinced strong creationist, but still be completely open to counter-arguments and the possibility of being wrong. A tentative weak creationist might be much less willing to consider alternatives, perhaps out of fear that changing her mind would be too uncomfortable. This is the danger of joining the fluffy brigade: you become so keen not to become like those science-drunk atheists or young Earthers that even though you sound and feel not at all fanatical about what you believe, there's no way you're going to stop believing it.

So there are three factors at work with how we believe: the clarity and comprehensiveness of the belief; the conviction we currently have of its truth, and our willingness to contemplate its potential falsity. And it's the third factor that is most important when it comes to identifying what constitutes militant or aggressive belief. People are often accused of being aggressive if they criticise opponents directly and strongly. But it seems to me there is no virtue in itself in being either intellectually pugnacious or accommodating. What matters is not how strong and clear own our views are, nor how vigorously we defend them, but how much we really engage with our critics. It's about taking seriously the best case for the opponent being right and the strongest case that you might be wrong. What is really objectionable is not conviction and clarity, but the abuse, mockery and refusal to acknowledge any weakness that signals a lack of openness to the possibility of being wrong, and sadly, this is all too common.

That's why the fluffy brigade can be as guilty as engaging in pointless argument as their supposedly more aggressive peers. It may appear respectful and polite not to challenge your opponent at all, but in reality, all that means is a refusal to engage with the deep differences between you. As Frank Furedi puts it in his latest book, "instead of serving as a way of responding to differences in views, tolerance has become a way of not taking them seriously."

So before we even get into the matter of what we should be thinking in these interminable God wars, we have to do better at how we are thinking about them. We need to get beyond a false set of assumptions that divide people up into the dogmatic and the reasonable, the nasty and the nice. There is no automatic virtue in softly advocating accommodating beliefs, nor any vice in strongly advocating clear, divisive opinions. What really matters is that whatever we believe, however strongly we believe it, we genuinely engage. It's because that happens so rarely that the God wars have become so stale, and we desperately need to freshen them up.

• Apologies, by the way, for not responding to the comments in the thread last week. I had a busy week travelling and by the time I could sit down and read through, comments were closed! I have since read them, will read future ones, and will aim to respond as often as I can.
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« Reply #2 on: Oct 11, 2011, 09:55AM »

I find it interesting that the Evangelicals reserve much venom for Unitarians as well as Atheists.  Lately we have also seen them starting to show animus to Muslims.

This is a country dedicated to the freedom to worship whatever God you choose in whatever method you choose (within limits: human sacrifice has been outlawed, as has polygamy).

So if a bunch of Wiccans want to celebrate the summer solstice in an apple orchard, how is this different from a bunch of Protestants celebrating Easter morning in the same orchard?

I know a few atheists, and much like gays they aren't interested in forcing you to believe their ideas (although they will argue about how blind religion is "silly").  Maybe those who have swallowed the Religious Kool-Aid are insecure enough that they consider this belligerence.  If they were totally secure in their faith they would treat the atheists as any other oddball with a different belief system.  How different is it that Jesus healed the sick or that the earth is carried on the back of a giant turtle?  There are people who believe in either.

And how different is having an Atheist Pride parade than carrying a large statue of the Madonna down the streets of Boston's North End?
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Baron von Bone
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« Reply #3 on: Oct 11, 2011, 10:20AM »

I know a few atheists, and much like gays they aren't interested in forcing you to believe their ideas (although they will argue about how blind religion is "silly").  Maybe those who have swallowed the Religious Kool-Aid are insecure enough that they consider this belligerence.

I'd say the fact that until very recently it's been exceedingly rare to hear anything at all about atheism (much less from actual, genyouwine atheists and secularists) is also a huge factor, for at least a couple of very clear reasons. First it's just the shock of hearing a ubiquitous cultural "truth"/ethos flat out questioned and challenged (the Disparaging Motherhood Effect), and second, the slap in the face to the We're Bein' Oppressed! delusion, so popular and highly valued and loving nurtured and nursed in fundagelical circles, that this shock represents. That slap in the face is about the shock of actually hearing or seeing an actual atheist/secularist actually offering an actual atheist/secular point of view rather than the internal straw man rhetoric, the fact that there's usually little resemblance between the two (most often "little" as in none), and the fact that if some very key aspects of the We're Bein' Oppressed! delusion were even close to resembling reality it would actually just be expected/old hat rather than shocking. So, the psyche has to pin it on a non-delusion-threatening reason ... so it's obviously because the atheist/secularist is being highly offensive ... uh ... by presuming to express his or her viewpoint openly and without great shame and trepidation. No, that won't do ... it's that the atheist/secularist is being strident and militant and just a big meanie ... and not allowing us to believe what we want to believe. See!? We're bein' oppressed!
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« Reply #4 on: Oct 11, 2011, 10:26AM »

Several times I've found something that fits under Atheism: Good or Bad but that isn't political. This blog entry from the Internet Infidels/Secular Web website is a perfect example. It's a good start for such a topic, but it really deserves an appropriate home, and Purely Politics definitely ain't it. It's an intimate and profoundly sincere glimpse into one standard issue atheist's thoughts and sensibilities. So, here it is:
 

The story by Lisa is powerful - what a great perspective.

Thanks for sharing it.

Clearly not political - just personal.

If only all Religion were personal....but alas.....
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« Reply #5 on: Oct 11, 2011, 01:56PM »

I would argue that a true Atheist would kill him/herself. If there is nothing to live for, than why live. Many Atheists are Secular Humanists who either don't know it or won't admit it.
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« Reply #6 on: Oct 11, 2011, 02:02PM »

I would argue that a true Atheist would kill him/herself. If there is nothing to live for, than why live. Many Atheists are Secular Humanists who either don't know it or won't admit it.

I find this an interesting perspective.  Atheists don't believe in a hereafter, but they do believe in a legacy and they believe in doing all they can while here.  What's not to like?  Why would this make them suicidal?  Or would a Believer go suicidal if it were proved that there were no God?
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« Reply #7 on: Oct 11, 2011, 02:10PM »

I would argue that a true Atheist would kill him/herself. If there is nothing to live for, than why live. Many Atheists are Secular Humanists who either don't know it or won't admit it.

On the contrary, Atheists have everything to live for.  I would argue that if you know that this life is all you get, making the most of it becomes easier and more imperative.
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« Reply #8 on: Oct 11, 2011, 02:17PM »

This life is all Christians get as well. We can't impact this world for the Cause of Christ in Heaven.

What is the legacy they are living to leave?

What's not to like? 

Any time you put a person on a pedestal you will be disappointed, because people are imperfect.

Your next point is irrelevant because it is impossible to prove that there is no God.  
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« Reply #9 on: Oct 11, 2011, 02:23PM »

...

Your next point is irrelevant because it is impossible to prove that there is no God.  

Quite frankly, it's just as impossible to prove that there is.

Quote from: Nietzche
God is dead

Quote from: God
So is Nietzche
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« Reply #10 on: Oct 13, 2011, 03:43PM »

Your next point is irrelevant because it is impossible to prove that there is no God.

It's also impossible to prove there isn't a tiny spaceship in orbit around Neptune that looks precisely like a football.
 
No one really thinks that's a valid argument in defense of the god hypothesis (and "hypothesis" is putting it rather kindly), because if they did they'd have to think it reasonable to believe anything else that can't be disproven, to include, for starters, bigfoot, John Edwards' psychic powers, dragons, alien abduction, pyramid power, reincarnation, chupacabra, Atlantis, ancient sea monsters ... etc, etc.
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« Reply #11 on: Oct 13, 2011, 03:51PM »

I would argue that a true Atheist would kill him/herself. If there is nothing to live for, than why live. Many Atheists are Secular Humanists who either don't know it or won't admit it.

Because we always especially cherish that which we have in total abundance, and devaluate that which we have in very limited supply (and in this case it's a set of one that is all we know and have and are).
 
I don't think anyone really believes that argument either, even though it seems strangely popular among religious apologists, though there are a lot of examples of things like this that more hard core fundagelical type religious apologists get precisely reversed. I think these kinds of inversions and obvious, egregious errors (or defensive "beliefs") are good demonstrations of how religious faith corrupts thinking (as does any other bias one embraces as a virtue, much less the highest as in religion ... at least in Western religion).
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« Reply #12 on: Oct 13, 2011, 03:51PM »

This life is all Christians get as well.

So you don't believe in eternal life ... ?
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« Reply #13 on: Oct 13, 2011, 03:57PM »

i, too, enjoyed Lisa's story very much.  

what is there to live for if there is no god?  everything.  the absence of god does not also mean the absence of love.  

DG
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« Reply #14 on: Oct 13, 2011, 05:21PM »

I would argue that a true Atheist would kill him/herself. If there is nothing to live for, than why live. Many Atheists are Secular Humanists who either don't know it or won't admit it.
What ??????

That makes no sense.  Atheists love life.  Atheists love people.  Atheists look forward to every day because we know that we have a limited time to make our mark.  It is the people who believe in an Eternal Disneyworld who have no urgency in their lives.

And if that Eternal Disneyworld were all that, why don't the true believers kill themselves to get there sooner?
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« Reply #15 on: Oct 13, 2011, 06:01PM »

What ??????

That makes no sense.  Atheists love life.  Atheists love people.  Atheists look forward to every day because we know that we have a limited time to make our mark.  It is the people who believe in an Eternal Disneyworld who have no urgency in their lives.

And if that Eternal Disneyworld were all that, why don't the true believers kill themselves to get there sooner?


actikid,

this is a general comment...not only directed to you...but, i think the discussions fare better when we explain our beliefs rather than attempting to engage in false comparisons.  this is especially important on topics as passionate as this one.  we benefit when we understand those with whom we may disagree. 

we can assume that this topic is unlikely to convert someone from their committed belief system to one that's contrary.  therefore, the greatest benefit is that we share and explain our views clearly.  comparisons just muddy the waters. 

the bottom line is that we all LOVE.  rob didn't understand something about the atheist's point of view and you explained it....love.  understood.



DG
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« Reply #16 on: Oct 13, 2011, 06:17PM »

That makes no sense.  Atheists love life.  Atheists love people.  Atheists look forward to every day because we know that we have a limited time to make our mark.

Well, atheists don't believe any gods exist, but speaking generally atheists live, breathe, wash their socks, brush their teeth, eat junk food, drive Toyotas and Fords, go to college, have kids, watch movies and TV ... etc. But atheists have no common beliefs or attitudes or behaviors other than the absence of belief that any gods exist, which generally means the gonads to go against the grain in a very unpopular way--i.e. a significant degree of integrity.
 
But I get the general sentiment. I suspect it's largely lost to many though, buried under the weight of rather heavy hyperbole.
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« Reply #17 on: Oct 13, 2011, 06:22PM »

i, too, enjoyed Lisa's story very much.

It made the same point actikid was making, but in a very different way. I thought it was pretty powerful.
 
 
what is there to live for if there is no god?  everything.

In a very literal sense, in fact.
 
When you get one shot at doing something you tend to want to make it count. When it's something you'll do often and for a very long time, you don't tend to put a lot of value on any given instance. This is basic economics. We value what's rare and what's abundant is cheap. The fact many people somehow get that precisely reversed for this special case is telling, I think.
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« Reply #18 on: Oct 13, 2011, 07:19PM »

this is a general comment...not only directed to you...but, i think the discussions fare better when we explain our beliefs rather than attempting to engage in false comparisons.  this is especially important on topics as passionate as this one.  we benefit when we understand those with whom we may disagree. 
I take your point.

My comment wasn't meant to inflame.  It was simply to provide symmetry to the original comment that it would be sensible for atheists to just kill ourselves because we have no purpose for living.  My comment was intended to be equally nonsensical, although I guess I didn't do a good job of making that clear.
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Where was Blackwater on the morning of September 11, 2001?
Rob Earhart

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« Reply #19 on: Oct 13, 2011, 07:24PM »

Now I see the point of this thread wasn't so much as "Lets actually debate an issue" as rather a "Lets destroy whoever disagrees with us".

Love for what exactly: each other, what we do, ourselves?

I do believe in eternal life, but the next part of the phrase is "We can't impact the Cause of Christ in Heaven."

Yes, it is impossible to scientifically prove there is a god. You can't test it and reproduce the results of the test.

We, as believers, do not kill ourselves upon salvation because we have a job to do. Ever hear of the Great Commission? "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations".

I'd rather live for something bigger than me and knows everything that has happened, does happen, could happen and will happen.

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