Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Group 2: Against Religion

All or Nothing

“You’re either for us or you’re against us.”

This phrase has been uttered throughout history, and most notably (even ironically—contingent upon your religious and political views) by Jesus and George Bush. The Manichean or dualist philosophical outlook embodied by this phrase is fundamental to most religions and is a major tenet of Christianity. This form of exclusionism is made explicit in Luke 11:23 by Jesus: “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scatterth.” George Bush, although lacking the poetic norm of antiquity by adding ‘eth’ to the end of verbs, said the same thing in an address to Congress during a joint session: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The consequences of this divisive phrase spoken either of these leaders will have to be assessed individually but it doesn’t take an advanced degree in Logic to recognize the law excluded middle fallacy. This is one more thing Aristotle was wrong about.

The atheist pushback against religious Dominionism, protectionism and privilege is often rhetorically characterized for political and religious purposes as a ‘crusade’ against belief; a concerted effort to eliminate, wipe out or exterminate religious belief by whatever means necessary. This is derisive and inflammatory language is embodied in the phrase often used by people of faith and right-wing media: ‘the war on religion.’ I’m sure there are a few crackpots and nuts who would like to eliminate all religious belief  (even believers) from the face of the earth but, as in any concept, we can’t let the extreme define the middle. So, as Baggini notes on page 90, atheists are anti-religious in only one sense: they believe religion is false. This is an evaluation based on evidence and rationality, and in no way endorses hostility towards believers that the use of the negative prefix ‘anti’ brings to the conversation. Baggini puts it succinctly: “Atheist opposition to religion is essentially an opposition to its truth.” Suggestions otherwise are a reflection of ignorance, propaganda, or intellectual dishonesty.

If someone’s belief and their particular god retreats to the confines of there individual personal experience and personal conviction, a feeling that is so real and vivid that it can’t be expressed in words, then I, like Baggini, have no issue with that type of belief. Faith of this type may very well be 'beyond words.' 

One’s personal religious experience has no bearing on empirical facts about the world—it’s the other way around. Maybe, on some days, this is where William James and I part ways. I’m not saying religious experience doesn’t influence one’s beliefs that, in turn, create cause and effect (we can now factor in physics), I think it muddies the waters where clarity on this matter has been discovered by science. Maybe some theists just can't admit it just yet.

The push back against religious privilege is necessary for peace, equality and understanding in a modern society. Once religious privilege is defeated by means of facts, reason, evidence, ridicule, mockery, etc., we can attack hatred, bigotry, subjugation, and violence on equal footing without the illusion that immoral religious values have some justification in divine providence.  


  1. Very well expressed, Dean. Clearly you're wanting to remove Baggini's question mark. If you just have to be anti-, make sure you also remember to accentuate the positive: pro-naturalism, pro-humanism etc.

  2. If people were to keep their religion a personal or family matter, I would agree with you.

    As a non-believer, I, and many others, have lived in a world where the religious convictions of those in power dominates the cultural landscape. Neither party can claim total truth, so why does one get to make the laws? That is one reason I am "anti-" religion. Religion very blatantly infringes upon my rights. That's not even to mention the religious practices of "Honor Killing" or female castration. I don't feel bad about being against religion, if only out of self-defense.

    I also think we should scrutinize the middle. Like Sam Harris said in End Of Faith, (paraphrasing because I loaned the book out five years ago, and it's now on its fourteenth reader) the extremists might be the most strict interpreters, but they are not really the problem with the discourse. They are just the result of the conversation (lack thereof) that we aren't allowed to have. The moderates of the religious institutions have defined the discussion as out-of-bounds. We can't criticize the beliefs Osama bin Laden or Pat Robertson because we will offend my Mom or the nice Muslim man down the street who certainly doesn't want to exterminate all of the infidels. These "extremists" are really just men of faith who take seriously and literally the writings they consider sacred. The real problem is that the nice and reasonable religious will not let us talk about WHY extremists do and say horrible things. We can only identify them as horrible, and treat the symptoms.

    I liked Baggini's reflections on the difference between atheism and agnosticism, because I have always felt a little insecure in the word atheist. I don't want to declare anything as "truth". I just don't know. But, I know, I am, I guess, Anti-religion. And, that has nothing to do with whether a God exists or not.

    1. "If people were to keep their religion a personal or family matter, I would agree with you."

      This is my point exactly--most theists don't keep their religion to themselves so there really no option than to be anti-religion because, as you say, the existence of religious belief blatantly infringes upon our rights.

      I just don't want the push back against religion characterized as anti-speech or the elimination of belief. The 'anti' part should be that religion is false.

      Once society figures out the scam, these bronze-age desert dogmas, too, shall pass and modern society will look for a new god (maybe Dr. Oliver's DNA god: Dana) to give their lives meaning.

      Hopefully the next batch won't be so violent.

  3. I agree with Dr. Oliver, very excellently stated Dean. I have been having a lot of discussion recently around the idea of 'privilege', though in regards to racism and sexism. I wonder if this idea of privilege in any sort of sense might be one we want to relegate to the dustbin of things that are judged unproductive.

    I certainly could sign up as being against some types of religion, specific manifestations of it. I haven't yet been convinced that religion is /inherently/ something we need to be against. But then, I'm still not sure how to adequately define the religious impulse.

  4. Scrutinize the middle, sure. But I still agree with Baggini that the big problem is fundamentalism, not religion per se. Let's try to encounter individuals first, not labels and boxes.

    The religious impulse at its best, I think, is driven by love of life and the desire somehow to sacralize and extend it. At its worst it's a repudiation and denial of freedom.

  5. So, if we come to find that the "driving force" behind the religious impulse is a feeling we basically all share and can act upon, with or without a religious outlet, it seems we can say that religion is immoral because it does serve as a denial of freedom in some cases...?
    Perhaps, religious belief is so ingrained into peoples' lives that it will naturally take a few generations to reach a point when (most) people are comfortable with the idea that religion is not necessary.
    Maybe the "average" person of today's world is just not psychologically ready to adopt an open-ended explanation for life.

  6. MM, it seems as though it's only necessary to resist if and only if it falls into a religion that perpetuates the type of behavior you're discussing.

  7. Ben, I agree with the points you made on religion sometimes being a denial of freedom and how most of the world is not comfortable enough with the world for what it seemingly just is, and the idea that no one can say for certain if there is a point or if it's just a cognitive free-for all loaded with unexplainable phenomenon, ineffability in general, droughts of ennui and melancholic longing for answers and transcendental experience. With as much opportunity for pleasure and happiness as one could ever need, with the right mindset, I should add. I think Atheism certainly is appealing to many, or has the potential to be, excluding those stricken with a case of religious tunnel vision. As time progresses and more free-thinkers arise, i believe normative social influence will take hold allowing for more logical generations later down the road.

    1. Let me revise, informational social influence will initially take hold, and then normative social influence for those who choose to not think for themselves.