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First of all I wanted to thank mjackson75 for kindly accepting my invitation for this interview. Your time is much appreciated. This transcript begins the first of my ‘Interview with a…” series where the beliefs of a wide variety of people are investigated. The emphasis of this series is on religious belief and what we can learn about it in terms of human nature. I also hope that it allows people from both sides to consider issues from an alternative point of view and contributes to a plan of action as to how society can move forward, whether through a amalgamation of science and spirituality or otherwise.

Please take a moment to visit mjackson75’s wordpress blog for more of his insightful views on theism, politics and ontology.
I thought we would begin with a clarification of your present position. In what sense do you describe yourself as a Deist? What do you mean by this term?

I consider myself a Philosophical Deist. Actually, I consider Deism more of a philosophy anyway than a religion as there is no real system tied with Deism. Instead, Deism is a thought system with some basic beliefs: Belief in a creator of some sort; belief that the universe gives ample evidence of creation; rejection of so called “revealed” religions (religions through special revelation of written documents or prophets); and a belief in the preciousness of life.

You mention on your blog that you were originally part of Christian worship. Was there a defining moment when you realised that traditional religion was not fulfilling your spiritual need? If not, have you always harboured doubts regarding the authenticity of religious teachings but lacked a suitable alternative?

There was no defining moment for me. I became serious about my Christianity when I was eighteen years old. From that time on, I went to and became very active in my church, I read the Bible, I prayed, I went to Bible studies, I sang in the church choir, I actively pursued a relationship with Jesus Christ. However, over these 10 or so years, there was always that little voice in the back of my head questioning whether I truly believed what I was proclaiming. So, I immersed myself in apologetics. I would never say I became an expert scholar, but I became pretty well armed with all of the arguments for belief.

I discovered that I truly valued intellectualism. Not to mean I’m extremely intelligent, instead I mean that I love to think, I love to be challenged intellectually. I soon came to the realization that I was faking my Christianity. I decided that wasn’t fair to me or to the church and other Christians with whom I was worshiping on Sundays. The more I tried to immerse myself in my Christianity and pray, the more uncomfortable I became. After quite awhile, I was able to nail down some of my beliefs, and Deism is where I found a fit.

What are your thoughts on an intrinsic human need for spirituality? Do the traditional religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism etc) fundamentally satisfy this need for you or do they offer only superficial reassurance?

I believe that humans are spiritual beings. The reason I say this, is that I do believe in St. Anselm’s (I think???) argument that basically said: finite beings could never comprehend the infinite if the infinite did not exist. I probably really butchered that, but it’s been a long time. Anyway, I see truth in this statement. Man is a spiritual being in the sense that he strives to know the truth. Even Atheists, I believe, think often of spiritual things…they may ultimately reject the thoughts they had, but they do still think them. We can’t help but wonder is there something greater than ourselves out there.

As far as the religions go, I don’t believe they satisfy humanity’s spiritual appetites at all. In some ways maybe, but overall the religions are systems of belief and behavior. They can become extremely impersonal. The religious texts of these religions are thousands of years old. They were from different times, cultures, and places. This doesn’t mean that they are completely irrelevant; however, I do believe that trying to submit your beliefs to a pre-established system based on texts and prophets is not going to ultimately be fulfilling. This is a personal question. I think the answer will be quite different coming from a Muslim, Jew, or Christian. To me, the revealed religions offer superficial reassurance. I think they take the personal responsibility out of living a good life through the concepts of original sin, human depravity, sin, justification, and sanctification.

What do you think are the differences in those who adopt traditional religions vs those who do not (atheist or agnostic)?

Dangerous question here. I’m bound to tick someone off with this one. Firstly, I believe that our experiences have a lot to do with it. These experiences range from did your parents go to church, to have you been through a lot of pain in your life. Experience plays a huge role in everything we do. That said, I do believe that people who tend to be more emotionally focused, tend to choose religion; whereas people who are more intellectually or rationally focused, tend toward Atheism or Agnosticism. Unfortunately, people reading this will assume that when I speak of reason and intellect, I am referring to “smart” people. That is not the case. There are plenty of Christians out there who could debate me under the table. I’m not referring to intelligence level. I’m referring to the mode of thinking.

Do you believe humanity is intrinsically ‘good’ at heart? If so, how do you explain the occurrence of ‘badness’ (crime, greed, anger) in the world?

I don’t believe that humanity is intrinsically “bad” at heart. It’s hard to say whether I believe we’re intrinsically “good.” I think what is more accurate for me is the belief that humanity is intrinsically “selfish.” I don’t believe this is a bad thing overall.

I have become rather convinced that our actions out of our love and respect for others stems from good selfishness. I mean that I, like every human, want to be happy. What makes me happy? My wife and son and doing good for others. This means that because I love my wife and son, I will sacrifice my wants and desires in order to give them what they want and need. Through sacrificing my wants and desires (altruism) I am actually making myself happier because they are happy. I believe that humans do good because doing good makes them happy. So, if doing good makes you happy, perhaps that means you’re intrinsically good.

As far as “badness,” I think that is selfishness gone awry. Crime and greed are results of selfishness based on obtaining my wants and needs, not the selfishness of making myself happy through helping others. When one puts his or her own desires above the needs of another individual, we can easily run into trouble.

Do you think spirituality can solve this problem of human vices? If yes. how so? If not, how can we live harmonious lives if our future seems devoid of spirituality (through an increasing reliance on science and technology)?

I don’t believe that spirituality can solve the problem of human vices. The reason is that none of is likely to ever attain true good selfishness (as explained above). We are imperfect beings with thoughts, limited perceptions, and emotions. I don’t believe spirituality has to be about improving ourselves. I think spirituality could just be about recognizing what’s out there. By determining one’s beliefs, then one can begin to align his or her life to those beliefs and values. However, we are all going to have some different ideas of what is most important.

I don’t believe science and technology are necessarily the answer either. I believe that this is a human issue, some would say a matter of the heart. I don’t necessarily like that cliché, but I guess it works. I don’t think any scientific discovery or technology is going to make humanity get along better. As long as everyone has their own provincial perspectives (Steven Covey refers to it as Paradigm), we will have the basis for misunderstanding.

How would you explain the increasing trend towards agnosticism and atheism? What is causing this shift and how far will it go? Will both sides become increasingly fundamental and extremist with no ‘theistic middle ground’ for the average citizen?

I think this may have to do more with the philosophical changes taking place between generations. Modernity vs. Post-Modernity. The younger generations, X-ers like me, and the Nexers, don’t seem interested too interested in just accepting the religion of our parents. Many of us are determined to find out for ourselves. There is also a sense of rebellion, I believe, between any two generations.
I actually do think that the theistic vs. atheist/agnostic sides will become more polarized. I’m not sure that “extremist” is the right word, but I do think their beliefs will reach a greater separation and less understanding. I don’t know that there will be any theistic middle ground. The book of Revelation talks about the “Luke-warmness” of the church at Laodicea (I think). For many people of any faith, there is no interest in finding a middle ground, it’s either all the way in or all the way out. People like me are apostates that are going to hell, no matter how well I live my life and how good a person I am. For Christians, there are no “good” people, because of the depravity of man. Therefore, either you accept the gift of eternal life, or you don’t.

What aspects of Humanism most appeal to you and why?

Truly, the aspects of Humanism that most appeal to me are:

  1. The belief that man is the highest form evolved;

  2. The belief that man is not fallen in nature;

  3. The belief that man is the source for endless progression; and

  4. The belief that man is capable.

What aspects of Humanism do not appeal to you? How can they be improved?

There are a few aspects that don’t appeal to me:

  1. The politics of many humanists being nationless, borderless, and oftentimes arguing for a more socialist form of government;

  2. There are others whose politics seem to center around moving toward a more direct democracy form of government (which I believe is totally impractical);

  3. Many Humanists, instead of arguing their beliefs, seem to be engaging in more and more ad-hominum attacks against theists; and

  4. The fact that many Humanists won’t allow for the possibility of a creator

As far as improvement, I have made generalizations in the last two questions, and I am well aware that there are always exceptions. I think that just like any movement or philosophical ideal, there will always be those who desire to take things to the extreme. I would like to see the Humanist associations keep away from the radical fringe, at least in official policy. The more radical one becomes, the less influence he or she is likely to have.

How do you respond to the theistic criticism that Humanism cannot provide the type of morality offered by religion?

This is hard to respond to in a way that the theist will accept. However, because I don’t believe in the inspiration of the Bible, or any other revealed religion for that matter, I see the morality as not divinely inspired through religion’s revelation, rather I see morality in humanity as culminating from an amalgamation of both a- priori and environmental influences. I believe that humanity is endowed with a general respect for life and taught a general respect for property. Immediately the “fallen” and selfish nature of man is brought up in combating my view, however, I think the vast majority of humans do have a respect for the lives and property of others.

And finally, how do you see the future of human spirituality? Do you think that a fusion of all religions is appropriate (eg the mental principles of Buddhism and Hindu with the morality of Christianity and Islam)? Or do you think future society has no place for spirituality at all, and ‘hard science’ will come to dominate?

To be honest, I don’t see either in the future. As far as religions go, the majority of those holding to them do so because one particular religion speaks to them in a personal way. Usually, it seems that this is so by cultures. There will undoubtedly be the “freethinkers” such as myself who have beliefs that my fit into some aspects of various religions, but I think the revealed religions have too strong a grasp on the various global cultures (i.e. Christianity in Western Civilization, Islam in the Middle East, etc…) I believe there is a place for spirituality in humanity. I don’t believe that “hard science” can ever replace the never-ending search for the greater.

I would like to thank Vulcanis for the opportunity to give my views on these fantastic questions. This interview really made me think about what I truly believe. I truly enjoyed this.

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Secular humanism is fast becoming one of the most popular idealogical fads of this age. An increasing unrest is brewing within the world’s intellectual elite as religion and atheism go head to head. As we stand at this crossroads, it is important to take a moment and reflect upon what this trend means to a modern society. In this article I aim to examine the current conflict between atheism and theism, and how this is dividing the opposing parties towards an increasing fundamentalism. Secondly, I also wish to introduce the life philosophy of Secular Humanism, an alternative value system that allows for spirituality and intellectual skepticism to co-exist.

Teleological thought processes seem to dominate human thought, as we attempt to look beyond what is in front of us and seek some deeper meaning or absolute truth about the world. ‘Stronger’ religions gain footholds among the populace which then snowball and spread like contagion throughout the minds of the world. In this context, a strong religion is one that 1) seems plausible to the agent, 2) appeals to human nature and 3) easily passed between people. Weak religions, by way of contrast, could be likened to cults; ideas that appeal to a small group of deluded individuals and involve overly complex ritualistic ceremonies (reducing its appeal through a lack of understanding). Thus religion as we know it is a natural emergent outcome of this process; easily communicable between individuals and groups alike, regardless of nationality or ethnicity and fiercely infectious and appealing to the inner human need for explaining the unknown.

Spirituality is undoubtedly an intrinsically human characteristic, dating back to the birth of civilisation. Therefore, it seems illogical to try and deny that which comes as second nature. It can be argued, however, that religion in its most pure and authentic form is becoming increasingly scarce. The core principles of religion are not to blame. Rather, spirituality is a human trait that should be protected at all costs. It is the distortion of religion by those in power that creates problems. The Dark Ages in medieval Europe is a prime example of such corruption. During this period of cultural and intellectual stagnation, religion came to be recognised as a source of power and control over a populace. Tapping into and exploiting the human ‘soft-spot’ for spirituality not only changed the way in which religion was taught, but created a fusion of church and state. Fortunately this has been revised in most (I use this word with emphasis due to the presence of Middle Eastern governments based on a interpretation of religion) modern constitutions and a separation of church and state is recognised as not only fair/just, but also the ethical and morally correct thing to do.

In more recent times, the rising rate of education and promotion of scientific principles has culminated in an emerging trend towards strong atheism; that is, explicitly declared, proud atheism with individuals actively asserting their disbelief in god(s) and general rejection of traditional religious ritual. Strong atheism has been spearheaded (most prominently) by the biologist Richard Dawkins and philosopher Daniel Dennet, two very vocal advocates of disbelief. While their methods and tone could be construed as (ironically) verging on the fundamentalist, it has been argued that such a strong stance is necessary in order to counter the matching (and disturbing) rise in fundamentalist religiosity. I propose that it is no coincidence that this increase (particularly radical Islamic groups) is occurring in third world countries that lag behind the Western world. Original religious teachings are becoming distorted as the evil power of theism is once again realised and abused by those in authority.

Aethism is finally becoming ‘fashionable’ (for lack of a better word). While the concept has existed since ancient Greece (indeed, Aristotle was executed for his disbelief in the Greek gods), those who spoke out against it were met with unflinching retribution. This is where we really get to the crux of the issue with religion; the way in which it can be corrupted to play out the delusions of a powerful few, and the way in which its teachings are often taken literally. Adding to the problem is religion’s unwavering stance against criticism and introspection. This is where modern society comes in, with its rising distaste for those which do not have the courage to look inward and accept the possibility of error. The education system (to a degree) promotes a healthy skepticism and questioning attitude which is finally causing a critical mass of doubters to turn around and challenge the monopoly that religion has held over our minds for so long.

There are those of us who seem to have been born with a natural deference to atheism, while others sit in the middle content to hold some belief but doubting the minor details, and finally the fundamentalists who are indoctrinated at an early age. It is to this middle group that this article appeals. Secular Humanism is not only a collection of ideas and philosophical stances, but rather matches the ability of religion to provide a framework upon which to guide conduct. Some of us seem to require such structure within our belief systems, as it seems to be human nature to hold a cynical attitude towards the behaviour of others and our own capacities for self control.

Secular Humanism was founded in 1980 by Paul Kurtz, with the original declaration undergoing several revisions and now supported by a plethora of leading intellectuals and scientists. It is an amalgamation of all things ‘science’ and intellectual; a guide to living created by smart people, for smart people who want the structure and organisation of a religion, but also desire the freedom to criticise, revise and generally act in an inquisitive manner.

Ten main principles form the basis of the Humanist declaration. None are unexpected, having been selected for their universality and applicability with a scientific ethos in mind. Secular Humanism promotes ideals of;

  • Free inquiry
  • Separation of church and state
  • The ideal of freedom
  • Ethics based on critical intelligence
  • Moral education
  • Religious skepticism
  • Reason
  • Science and technology
  • Evolution
  • Education

All are self explanatory, therefore I will not go into the finer details. Suffice to say, the nub of the proposition is that humans should have the fundamental right to choose the course of their lives. Children should not be ‘born’ into a religion; essentially, every person is born an implicit atheist (they have no knowledge of religion therefore cannot make an informed choice regarding their affiliation). Equally important principles of Humanism are the freedom to critically evaluate and also empowering the individual to make their own moral decisions.

Predictably, the first counter-blow from religion comes in the form of a cynical attack; “People are incapable of making their own moral choices, religion is needed in order for people to behave morally”. This argument equates religion itself with morality, which is simply not true. Religious advocates should be gracious enough to exert the same level of faith to their fellow humans that they do to a faceless, silent god.

Certainly, there are those in society who do lack the level of freedom required of adopting the Secular Humanist position. This lack of freedom predisposes them to commit crimes, ruminate over inappropriate thoughts and otherwise act in malicious ways towards society. Whether due to biological malformations or environmental upbringing (or a combination of both) such individuals simply cannot be held responsible (in the sense that they are free to chose the course of their actions) for the crimes they commit, therefore they should not be granted such freedom in the first place.

I am not advocating a policy of preemptive incarceration, but rather a change in mindset from lumping such people together in institutions (and arguably increasing the problem through intense exposure to other like-minded individuals for long periods of time) to re-educating them and assisting them to live a harmonious life.

But is this so called ‘rise of the atheists’ without its share of doom and gloom? We must tread carefully, or risk an increasing divide of the intellectually ‘rich and poor’. Those that can adopt the Humanist position freely and without reservation must ensure and respect the freedom of those who do not wish to participate. Human diversity, even when it results in the negative, is worth preserving at all costs. Without it, there would be no critical opinion, no discussion and a stagnation of society. Opposition breeds improvement, and Secular Humanism is only too willing to hear and learn from the criticisms that the disgruntled have to offer. The days of fundamentalist religions are numbered. Secular Humanism is at the forefront of this war, empowering society to question and challenging it to grow into maturity.