Remember, I am posting this before setting off on my holidays: it may refer to the 4th of July, but, in my never-humble-opinion, this piece is timeless!!!
Remember, I am posting this before setting off on my holidays: it may refer to the 4th of July, but, in my never-humble-opinion, this piece is timeless!!!
There are several things Pat Condell raises which are worthy of further discussion…where to start?
Perhaps before I do get into it, I should post this video which underlines just how the ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ appears to work:
Before you think I am picking on Christians, I’d like to point out that I included this video to support Pat Condell’s specific assertion that very different people who truly and honestly believe that they have a personal relationship with God through Jesus get very different information from this Jesus about what He thinks, says and commands. Yet, they all honestly believe it to be true…
…just like Muhammad truly and honestly believed that he had a personal relationship with God and that God was telling him what is right, what is wrong and what is forbidden. After all, Muhammad did convert to Christianity for a brief period of time in his youth!
So, I would like to bring the discussion back to some of the points Pat Condell had made.
Perhaps by stating that, in my never-humble-opinion, whether god(s) exist is rather irrelevant.
People keep debating, discussing, self-examining and exerting effort and emotional investment towards answering the existence or non-existence of god(s). Frankly, framing the ‘religion debate’ by ‘this question’ is more than a bit of a red herring – it is a load of dingo’s kidneys!
This is not a proper – meaning constructive – debate to have because it rather completely misses the point that the problem does not lie in spirituality per se. Sure, just like cultures – not all spiritual beliefs are equal and some are downright destructive to the human psyche. Their veracity (or lack thereof) does not determine their venemosity, nor their cultural influence!
The archetype (or, perhaps I should call it ‘meme’) of ‘the original sin’ is one of the most toxic, humanity-destructive bits of spiritual belief around – for pretty much the very reasons Pat Condell has stated.
In a sad way, this very ‘spiritual meme’ (for the sake of convenience, I’ll shorthand it to ‘smeme’) is the greatest threat the Western Civilization faces.
Let’s not mince words: our Western Civilization may have arizen from a predominantly Christian area of the world, but it arose precisly by rejecting the dogmatization of spiritualiy as much as was possible. Yes, some wounds are too deep to heal – and the ‘original sin’ is one of these. During a comment-section-discussion with CodeSlinger and Derek, I explored some of these themes, but only tangentially…though at great length, if you are interested in this type of a discussion.
The short version of it is – one of the (several) points I was trying to make was – that ‘modern’, ‘enlightened’ Christians still obey/accept as ‘divine directive’ many of the things that they no longer believe to be ‘true’. Perhaps literally, perhaps even more deeply. The fact remains that once the ‘roots’ of where different bits of theology come from become divorced (to a greater or lesser degree) from the underlying dogma, the resulting ‘rules of proper conduct’, the very ‘morality’ dictated by that ‘religion’ becomes separated from its source.
Once this separation occurs (and the deeper it is – for, like most things, its degree is a continuum – the more this holds true), it becomes impossible to trace the ‘morality’, the ‘reason’ why something is ‘good’ or ‘evil’. The resultant belief that certain actions are ‘good’ or ‘evil’ remains: just the ability to understand the belief itself becomes lost through the unfamiliarity with (or de-coupling from) the fundamentalist dogma it came from.
In other words, it is no longer recognized as a ‘religious dictum’ and, instead, becomes thought of (erroneously) as a ‘universal value’.
This is true – to a lesser or greater degree – of just about all the ‘moderate faiths’.
What is also true is that parents raise their kids ‘to do what is right‘. This permits these ‘moral directives’ which results from specific ‘smemes’ to be passed down the generations without any reference to the original ‘smemes’! (All the guilt, none of the bliss!)
The more secularized and non-fundamentalist a society becomes over a number of generations, the deeper the disconnect between the ‘smeme’ and the ‘moral directives’ that result from it grows. The ‘Great Western Self-Guilting’ is just one of these: in just about all the populist ‘secular’ movements in The West, from environmentalism to radical feminism to just about everything else, we can trace the self-guilt and ‘self-loathing’ back to the ‘smeme’ of ‘Eve’s original sin’. Some try to fight it (inventing ‘salvation schemes’, like ‘municipal recycling’ and ‘carbon taxes’ and ‘reverse discrimination/quotas’), others submit to it (villifying everything ‘Western, Christinan, Jewish’ and attempting to befriend anything and anyone with a contempt for ‘Western Civilization), – but none of them recognize it for what it is: a ‘moral’ directive, left over from the time of Christianity and deeply rooted in the doctorine of ‘original sin’.
No longer having access to the root of this ‘moral directive’, because we have unshackled it from the fundamentalist dogma it is rooted in, we cannot identify (much less question, confront and defeat) this particular demon of ours…
…which is why it has so much power over us!
OK – I have barely scratched the surface here…but, enough ranting for now. Let me know what you think!
It keeps baffling me just how many people are either unable or unwilling to grasp the difference between ‘not believing something’ and ‘believing in something else’.
A non-deity centered example of this would be, say, the question: do you believe that my mother has ‘naturally blond hair’?
Never having met my mother – and therefore not holding an opinion on the topic of her hair colour – seems the most obvious and logical position.
Yet, to have some people explain it, not having any opinion on the topic either way somehow implies a belief that her hair is NOT naturally blond – or even that it is ‘naturally red’!
Like Pat Condell, I find the suggestion that a ‘belief’ should be treated with respect similar to or greater than ‘fact-based reality’ actively offensive! Whether that belief is religious or secular, it is a belief – a notion (perhaps deeply held, but a notion none-the-less). It must never be afforded the level of respect that the anti-blasphemy movements demand.
No, I will not deny them the right to believe whatever they want to. It is their right to believe whatever they wish.
But it is NOT their right to demand that I, you, or anyone else respects their beliefs and goes around pretending that just because they believe something, we must all behave as it it were true!
Yet that is exactly what the UN’s new anti-blasphemy laws demand…
Now, couple the religious beliefs with political ambitions and you have a recipe for oppression – of the worst kind.
Not that long ago, I wrote a post because I was frustrated about the inaccurate use of the terms ‘agnostic’ and ‘atheist’.
In the comments following the post, JR and I got into a bit of a discussion on this topic: JR insisted (at least, that is my understanding) that even though he considers himself an agnostic, he’d rather toss his lot in with theists than atheists.
In my never-humble-opinion, Pat Condell’s video (though it stands perfectly well on its own) makes an excellent addition to this discussion.
Today, I got an interesting and thought-provoking comment from JR (as a response to my reaction to a comment where I declined to participate in celebrating ‘Agnostic Month’ on the grounds that I found ‘agnosticism’ illogical and arrogant).
JR managed to ‘hit’ one of my really, really ‘big buttons’. So, I thought I’d best answer him in a full-fledged post of its own…..because I suspect that philosophically, we are close. It’s those danged ‘labels’ that are all over the place.
Which, of course, is the above-mentioned ‘button’ of mine….
JR’s comment was:
Have to disagree, Xanthippa. Of all the philosophical positions one can hold on religion agnosticism is the most rational. Based on what an agnostic rationally ‘knows’ about the world s/he forms an opinion that the objective evidence available to date does not conclusively prove the existence of a supreme being who consciously and deliberately created the universe as we know it and now, in some fashion or other, watches over and/or guides its existence. That last part would be my definition of “God” which I think covers most others’ definition also (if you can propose a more satisfactory one, please do).
Those who worship God, or just “believe” in God’s existence, do so based on their own objective knowledge of the world plus subjective internal “feelings” which are not directly accessible to anyone else. Their subjectively formed convictions are, by definition, unconvincing to non-“believers” who, clearly, have no similar “feelings”. A weak agnostic is one who is not convinced yet, but who thinks it possible that some time in the future, through new knowledge or, who knows?, even a religious experience or revelation, God’s existence will be satisfactorily proven (to him/her). A strong agnostic, on the other hand, believes that knowledge of the existence of God is forever beyond the human mind to grasp – it can never be objectively “proven”. Neither form of agnosticism constitutes atheism which I understand to require an absolute conviction or “belief “ in the non-existence of God – no “maybe” about it. The atheist requires an extremely strong faith – because there can never be any objective proof of a negative.
Your notion of a “militant agnostic” is interesting. I’ve never encountered one of those. It sounds oxymoronic. Is there an on-line example?
The problem, of course, is the disconnect between the popular use of these terms and their actual meaning.
THAT is my ‘big button’ that JR managed to really ‘push’!
Luckily, most of the terms to describe forms of belief or non-belief in all kinds of ‘thingies’ regarding God(s) have been artificially created, so we have their actual (i.e. correct) definitions and need not rely on the inaccuracies of their vulgar use…
Aside: ‘vulgar’, of course, means ‘common’ or ‘as popularly used by ‘common’ people’.
Another aside: Wikipedia used to actually have the correct definitions of these terms. However, a few years ago, they changed them to reflect the vulgar usage of them rather than their accurate meanings. Disappointing!
The terms ‘agnostic’ and ‘atheist’ do not refer to the same aspect of belief: one addresses ‘BELIEF’ while the other addresses ‘KNOWLEDGE’. Perhaps I should go back to the beginning….
First, there was the term ‘ATHEIST’. It was specifically designed to express NON-BELIEF or NEGATIVE BELIEF regarding the existence of God(s). Literally, ‘ATHEIST’ = ‘apart from the belief in the existence of God(s).
By definition, an ‘atheist’ does not hold the positive belief that God(s) exist.
The term was ‘coined’ with specifically THAT meaning: it expressly did not address the PRESENCE of ANY specific belief – only the absence of belief in the existence of God. Of course, the term became misused almost as soon as it was engineered…
The second term to have been ‘coined’ was the term ‘THEIST’ = someone who holds the POSITIVE BELIEF that God(s) DO exist. It was designed specifically to be the opposite of the term ‘ATHEIST’.
‘Theist’ describes someone with the presence of belief in the existence of God(s), ‘atheist’ describes someone with the absence of belief in the existence of God(s).
The term which properly describes a person who holds the positive belief in the non-existence of God(s) is ‘ANTITHEIST’: though, naturally, this term, too, became misused shortly after it was invented. Currently, the most popular usage of the term ‘antitheist’ is to describe a person who is opposed to all forms of organized religion.
It appears to me that JR has mistakenly used the term ‘atheist’ to label the positive belief system of the ‘antitheist’. Common, if frustrating, mistake.
To recap: we have visited the core definitions of three terms, two of which describe holding ‘positive beliefs’ and one which describes the absence of a particular positive belief:
Thus, the ‘theist’ and ‘antitheist’ both hold positive beliefs as to the existence of God(s) – just opposite positive beliefs.
In this way, ‘theist‘ and ‘atheist’ are opposite: one is the presence of a positive belief in the existence of God(s), the other is the absence of such a belief. However, the term ‘atheist’ does not address the presence or absence of any other belief regarding the existence of God(s). Thus, antitheists are one of the many sub-groups of atheists.
All these terms are focused on the belief in the EXISTENCE of deities – exclusively.
It would be ‘an error of omission’ it it were not mentioned at this point that ‘monotheism’ is actually a special case of ‘antitheism/theism’, as it is a positive belief that ALL BUT ONE Gods and Goddesses do NOT exist. As such, it is a positive belief in the non-existence of so many deities, the belief in the existence of one last remaining one of them is so illogical as to defy comprehension. That is why so many professionals in the field think that ‘monotheism’ can only be achieved through serious brainwashing during early childhood or through mental illness. I am not a professional in the field, so I merely report this, without commenting on the validity of such an opinion. (Note: Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all forms of monolatry, not monotheism, and thus do not fall into this category if practiced according to their scriptures.)
In contrast, the term ‘agnostic’ addresses something quite different.
‘A‘ means ‘apart from’.
‘Gnosis’ means ‘knowledge’.
Aside: It is important to stress that the Greek term ‘gnosis’ means ‘personal knowledge’ and has, throughout the millenia, been used to also denote ‘mystical knowledge’ when it has been used in the context of religion or religious experiences. ‘Gnostic Christians’, for example, were a sect of Christianity which rejected imposition of the structure of The Church in favour of ‘personal knowledge’ or ‘gnosis’ of the divine. Until the ‘Conversion of Constantine’, ‘Gnostic Christianity’ was the ‘norm’. Several Crusades were authorized by various Catholic Popes to suppress Gnostic Christianity: ‘the Albigensian Heresy’ (Cathars), ‘Bogomils’ and Hussites, to name just a few. (Reformations introduced by Martin Luther were a watered-down bastardization of the teachings of the Hussites, a century or so after the Hussite teachings went ‘underground’. But, that is a different ‘button’…)
The term ‘AGNOSTIC’ refers to a person who holds the positive belief that it is impossible for us, puny humans, to ever achieve KNOWLEDGE whether or not God(s) exist. It thus corresponds to what JR identified as ‘strong agnosticism’: there is, by definition, no such thing as ‘weak agnosticism’ (according to JR’s description thereof).
In other words, an ‘agnostic’ believes it is UNKNOWABLE whether God(s) exist.
This positive belief does not address the actual existence of deities: just our ability to ever KNOW – for sure, one way or the other.
As such, a person who believes s/he can never know if God(s) exist can still hold positive beliefs as to their existence itself! After all, these are beliefs regarding completely different aspects: one is ‘belief’, the other is ‘knowledge’.
Thus, an agnostic can be a theist or an atheist (of the antitheist type or otherwise)!
As for the ‘militant agnostics’ I have encountered – I am sorry, but it was in ‘real life’, not online. However, the vast majority (though not all) of them fit into the logical fallacy of ‘Pascal’s Wager’: “we cannot KNOW if GOD exists, but I am safer/can’t loose if I believe in God, so I do!”
When I would point out to these people that this does not constitute actual ‘belief’ and is both a moral and logical hypocrisy (if I chose to use kind terms), these militant agnostics got downright crotchety!
On a related note…
I admit freely, I simply do not understand it: with so much opportunity for factual learning, why do so many people insist on submitting their minds to dogma – whether secular or religious?
Spirituality is one thing. But imprisoning one’s spirituality (and/or intelligence) within the cage of any dogma – that is not just shameful, it is immoral.
Recently, a post I had made a long time ago where I was looking at the definitions and nature of religion received a comment which raised a very important point. It was something that I had attempted to get across – and failed. Here, I hope, to remedy this!
Context: Having used the Jungian definition of ‘religion’, I argued that ‘freedom to practice one’s religion’ must never be given greater weight in our society than ‘secular laws’.
Permit me to recall ‘Xanthippa’s First Law of Human Dynamics‘ -IF there is a potential for ANY law (rule) to be applied IN EXTREME ways – never foreseen when the law was first formulated – eventually, it WILL BE!!!’. In other words, every potential law or rule must be subjected to scrutiny of its effects when (and it is a question of when, not if) it will be applied to a ridiculous extreme.
Therefore, in that post, I used an extreme example: ‘If there is a blanket protection for actions based on religious belief, even such extreme acts as ritualized murder would be protected’.
‘I cannot agree with your definition of religion. Since I am Catholic, I will use my understanding of it to explain my position. At the core of Catholicism, is the belief that there are some things that, with regards to morality, are objectively wrong- wrong in every time, place, and situation. I believe that you yourself would assent to this, since you already have identified objective moral truths (human sacrifice, polygamy, ritual rape, paedophilia (child-brides), ritual cannibalism, genital mutilation).
Now, it is not enough to believe that human sacrifice is wrong, rather, one must also behave in accordance with that belief. If one does not have the freedom to act in accordance with that belief, of what value is the belief? None. It is nothing but an illusion of freedom which the state allows to placate the people.
The crux of the issue, however, lies in the contradiction between the constitutionally granted “freedom of religion” and the secular law- a contradiction that is only truly resolved if religious belief and secular law both conform to objective moral truth. You seem to assume, though, that secular law is ipso facto closer to objective moral truth and therefore has primacy, but that is a false (and sometimes dangerous) assumption. Our laws were not created in a vacuum, but created by people who drew from their religious beliefs, cultural backgrounds, and own understanding of morality. There is nothing to suggest that they inherently knew better and we should accept their moral code a priori.’
I am not, in any way, shape or form, convinced that there is such a thing as an ‘objective moral truth’.
This does not mean I don’t think some things are wrong. Yet, I recognize these for judgments based on my observation of the collection of impressions I will, for lack of a better-defined term, call ‘life’. I would be loath to have pretensions to any absolutes, even if I became convinced ‘absolutes’ could be defined.
First things first…. Sequentially, I suppose.
The commenter self-identifies as a ‘Catholic’ (Roman Catholic Christian, I presume).
He/she then asserts that ‘objective moral truths’ exist, and as a proof cites me that, among other things, ‘ritual cannibalism’ is wrong. However, where I say these acts cannot be justified by ‘exercising one’s religious freedoms’ IF they contravene the secular laws of the land, the commenter goes further, calling this wrong in every time, place and situation and equating this condemnation with an ‘objective moral truth’.
HOW can a Catholic possibly assert that?
Is it not one of the core beliefs of Catholicism that the priests’ blessing physically transforms a wafer of bread into the actual flesh of Christ, wine into the actual blood of Christ? Is the consumption of these not part of their worship rituals?
This is, by definition, ritual cannibalism.
Don’t be dismissive of its importance! Either the person truly believes they are eating Christ’s flesh, or they are heretics to their faith and not a Roman Catholic Christian. These definitions are not mine… One cannot possibly be both a practicing Roman Catholic Christian and believe that it is an ‘objective moral truth’ that ‘ritual cannibalism’ is wrong in every time, place and situation – unless one believes their religion demands behaviour contrary to ‘objective moral truths’!
No, I am not trying to pick on the commenter: rather, I am attempting to illustrate of just how quickly things get muddled when we enter the realm ‘theological principles’ and ‘objective moral truths’… No society of free people could hope to form effective laws which respect core human rights and freedoms on such a tenuous foundation.
This is precisely why ‘secular laws’ must ‘trump’ religious ones whenever there is a conflict: ‘secular laws’ do not and must not legislate morality. To the contrary: the primary role of secular laws must be the protection of individual rights and freedoms against the oppression by other peoples’ ‘morality’!
Justifying a proposed law by an appeal to ‘morality’ or ‘greater good’ or ‘public interest’ (all of these are the same thing at their core, they just wear different cloaks) should sound our ‘alarm bells’ that something dangerous is afoot and requires close scrutiny.
Passing laws on these grounds necessarily permits the morality of some to over-rule or abridge the rights of others. Than, in my never-humble-opinion, is always a bad thing!
The commenter says:
You seem to assume, though, that secular law is ipso facto closer to objective moral truth and therefore has primacy…’
No, not at all. I am sorry if I gave that impression. To the contrary!
Secular laws are not created in a vacuum – not even the vacuum of some ‘alternate dimension’ where rule-making deities reside. Rather, they are a negotiated contract among the citizens of a country how to best keep from infringing on each other’s rights as we strive to coexist and thrive. It is a living contract, not set in stone, but continuously evolving to reflect the changes in our society – and it must be supreme because by the virtue of accepting citizenship (or residency), one voluntarily chooses to abide by them. Or, at least, that is what the meaning of accepting citizenship (or residency) ought to imply…
Because it is a negotiated contract of ‘minimum interference’, if you will (OK – let me just say that it ‘ought to be’ as we see laws becoming more and more intrusive and ‘moralistic’….), it will necessarily reflect the moral ideals of the majority of the members of the society. That is how it should be – provided that the core rights and freedoms of each and every individual are not infringed.
Our laws must permit every person to exercise their rights and freedoms as fully as possible – but not past the point where this activity would violate the rights of another person. Sort of like that right to swing one’s arms stops just short of hitting someone else’s nose…
In other words, a man – say, my father – must be free to believe (or not) in whatever Gods he wants. And, he must be free to worship (or not) them as best as he can – but the limit on his freedom to practice his religion must stop short of the right to kill me because I offended his God by wearing the wrong kind of polka-dots on Sunday!