September 13, 2006
I feel like I take my life into my hands when I post something on the topic of religion, but is it really so terrible a thing to try and provoke discussion in this area? We all want freedom of thought, I hope, so let us have the courage to carry through that conviction! This post is for all the atheists who have stuck with me even when I behaved somewhat crassly in respect of your beliefs. I totally support your freedom of belief and of thought - please reciprocate by supporting mine! My thanks to you all for your patience!
Previously, I advanced a position that everyone should try to identify a religion for themselves. Now, I don’t know exactly how I worded this view before, but since then my position has been clarified by exploration and discussion, and I hope it is now clear that my argument is actually as follows:
Everyone should endeavour to understand their own metaphysics, and to develop from this a system of ethics. This process may be harder to achieve without the supporting framework of religions (or perhaps nonreligions) – although it is certainly not impossible.
This position can apply to atheists, theists and agnostics – and does not necessarily imply the need to adopt a religion (personally, I don’t think we can have too many agnostics). However, I feel that if one’s metaphysics or ethics transpire to correspond with a particular religious position it is helpful to identify oneself with that religion.
Now it is important to remember that when I say ‘atheist’ I
mean solely ‘the rejection of theism’ (i.e. gods). I recognise that some
atheists use atheist to mean ‘the rejection of religions’, but I don’t personally use
this word in this way. Since this additional definition has yet to make its way
into any dictionary I know of, it gives me some hope that this linguistic battleground is still
open to debate. (Dictionaries tend to run at least ten years behind the use of
language, so when a certain meaning is absent it usually means the case for the
new meaning has not yet been convincingly delivered to lexicographers). I am certainly not saying you can't use 'atheist' in this additional sense, though - we can each make language our own tool, after all.
I am certainly not saying you can't use 'atheist' in this additional sense, though - we can each make language our own tool, after all.
Choosing to reject gods is but a small part of metaphysics. Ironically, for a theist their metaphysics will likely be heavily influenced by their belief in God or gods, but for an atheist knowing that they reject gods actually tells us very little about their metaphysics. It is slightly akin to someone responding to the question “what is your nationality?” by saying “I am not an Atlantean”. It is often unhelpful to define oneself by what one is not.
Since you are an open minded, intelligent human being, I
trust you will at the very least listen to my case patiently, and endeavour to
understand the idea I am trying to express.
Leo Tolstoy wrote, in 1879:
The essence of any religion lies solely in the answer to the question: why do I exist, and what is my relationship to the infinite universe that surrounds me? It is impossible for there to be a person with no religion (i.e. without any kind of relationship to the world) as it is for there to be a person without a heart. He may not know that he has a religion, just as a person may not know that he has a heart, but it is no more possible for a person to exist without a religion than without a heart.
I agree with Tolstoy in the sense that no-one escapes having a system of metaphysics (which implies a religious position), but since I am heavily in support of agnosticism I am less willing to go so far as to say that no-one can exist without a religion.
However, I believe that one of the oft overlooked problems
of the twentieth century was that a great many intelligent individuals turned
their back on religion and sat in the ill-defined metaphysical and ethical position
of atheism, or were inadvertently sucked into a fundamentalist nonreligion. This
‘brain drain’ has hurt the development of religions, and made the situation
worse than it might have been otherwise. One does not transform religion by
opposing it – opposition to religion tends to further entrench those with
Religion can be transformed by those people who practice it. In this sense, all religions are bottom-up organisations to some degree. Therefore, I hope to encourage people who practice a religion to continue to do so – and to transform the practice of their religion for the better. I also hope to encourage any atheist unable or unwilling to practice a religion to at least take a neutral, agnostic stance on other people’s practice of religion, and not to fight for the abolition of religion – a metaphysical “salvation” as absurdly unlikely to occur as the kookiest religious eschaton.
We are now as ready as we will ever be to look at some of the atheist religions in the world.
Once upon a time it looked like the atheist community was co-operating to build themselves a religion. This was a positive step in my eyes! The essence of Humanism was a simple system of metaphysics placing living beings in higher import than gods (which are expressly rejected), and a focus on rationalism as the foundation for ethics. This leads to ethical systems which assert the dignity and worth of all human beings, and in some cases of all life.
Unfortunately, at some point this endeavour seems to have run into a problem, with many people who would otherwise identify their religion as "Humanist" being unwilling to do so because of their entrenched position in opposition of religion. As a result, Humanism seems gradually to have distanced itself from being considered a religion, with the expression ‘life stance’ being coined instead. Examining the Wikipedia entry on this term suggests to me that this is a synonym for religion which allows those with anti-religious views to practice a religion while simultaneously escaping the admission of this state of affairs.
Humanism is a great choice of religion for atheists! I call
upon practicing Humanists not to support the use of the divisive term ‘life
stance’ and to answer the question: “what is your religion?” with the logical
response “I am a Humanist,” rather than responding “I don’t practice a
religion, however my life stance is Humanist.” Otherwise it is only a matter of
time before we hear some Christians (Hindus, etc.) responding “I don’t practice
a religion, however my life stance is Christian”, instead of “Christianity
isn’t a religion, it’s a way of life.”
Pantheism holds that the universe and God are equivalent
terms, and is a feature of certain theistic religions (including Hinduism) as
well as certain atheistic religions. Naturalistic pantheism is an atheistic
form of pantheism that holds that the universe is unconscious and non-sentient,
but can still be a meaningful focus for mystical fulfilment. Naturalistic
pantheists believe that the universe is divine and that the Earth is sacred.
This metaphysical position allows practitioners of this religion to derive a
system of ethics.
Descending from Spinoza’s writings and containing significant influence from Taoism, the religion is represented today by two key organisations – the Universal Pantheist Society (the other UPS) and the World Pantheist Movement (WPM).
Einstein is generally considered to have been an adherent of
In certain countries, such as the
Many Christians view Christian Atheists as an "enemy", which is unfortunate since it has ethical goals in common with theistic Christianity. I suggest that Christians who desire to achieve the ethical goals put forward by Jesus should consider Christian Atheists as allies.
To an atheist currently not identifying a religion,
Christian Atheism (or indeed an atheist version of another theistic religion
e.g. Jewish Atheism) is probably not an appealing choice.
The oldest extant form of Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism promotes the idea of Vibhajjavada or Pali, meaning “teaching of analysis”. Worship does not form an element of this practice, and neither does any theistic notion of gods.
The central concept is that insight must come from the practitioners
own experience and critical investigation, and that blind faith is never
sufficient. Although some Theravada Buddhists include reincarnation as part of
their metaphysics, this is not essential.
I suspect that atheists will have a tough time accepting Theravada Buddhism, and would do better to consider Ch’an Buddhism (see below), but I mention it here as an option.
Ch’an Buddhism (Zen Buddhism)
Ch’an Buddhism is a
Ch’an goes beyond mere atheism, and seeks to abolish notions
of the self as well, and indeed, all conscious thought. In fact, the whole
teaching of Ch’an is concerned with destroying our assumptions and instead
perceiving reality in “whole mind”. The essence of its practice is that its
central message cannot be taught – it can be hinted at indirectly, but the
individual cannot learn it, they must apperceive it by abandoning
cognising as it is generally understood.
This is one of the five religions I currently identify as my
own, and I heartily recommend that atheists spend some time exploring it, even
if they do not wish to practice it. A good starting point may be the writings
of Wei Wu Wei, such as Posthumous Pieces, as he writes from a
comparatively modern position. However, atheists with a history of conflict
with religion might do better to start with Discordianism (see below).
Traditional Chinese Religion (Taoism and Confucianism)
This is a vague descriptive term used to group together the
metaphysical and ethical beliefs of many Chinese people, which otherwise would
be hard to categorise in a census. It includes both theistic and atheistic
variations, although in modern
I do not suggest that non-Chinese people will get much from
examining the Confucianism element of traditional Chinese practices, but Taoism can be much more intriguing. In fact, Taoism is also an important influence in all
schools of Buddhism, and well worth examining for this reason alone. However,
it may be easier to examine this from the position of Ch’an Buddhism.
One particular benefit of Taoist practices which may
interest some atheists is ejaculatory control – a method which allows men to
experience multiple orgasms, or to extend the arousal period thus experiencing
longer and more intense orgasms. Similar to Tantric practices, Tantra is
practiced by couples while Taoist techniques can be used to enhance masturbation.
Now this practice isn’t religion, per se, but it is still worth noting.
This atheist religion stresses spiritual independence and
the equality of all life with an emphasis on non-violence and self-control.
Because of its spiritual bias, many atheists will struggle to connect with this
religion, although it is strictly atheist in that it does not contain gods. I
mention it solely in passing.
Although still in its infancy, some people are attempting to fashion a religion from the notion of a Jedi. George Lucas in no way endorses or supports this endeavour. Although the Force is mentioned as a central tenet, this is not considered a god, and hence it is an atheist position. The last I heard, however, the religion requires one to give up direct attachments to other people i.e. to be single. As such, I don’t hold out much hope for the growth of this religion, but it is an interesting phenomenon all the same.
A good friend of mine once described Discordianism as “Zen Buddhism reinterpreted for the West”, and this appellation is apposite although not necessarily complete. Strictly speaking, Discordianism is an agnostic religion since it expressly extends to its followers the obligation to believe whatever they wish. However, many practicing Discordians are atheists. The Discordian holy book the Principia Discordia expressly states that a Discordian is prohibited from believing what they read (including that statement!)
Although copies of the Principia Discordia can be
found online I heartily recommend the yellow Loompanics edition as the best way
to approach this text; the online versions do not have quite the necessary
The most famous Discordians are arguably Robert Anton Wilson, who may actually have been responsible for a small amount of content in the Principia Discordia, and Steve Jackson, who published a black edition of the holy book in the 1994.
Discordianism is another of the five religions I currently
identify as my own, and I can honestly say that my years as a practicing
Discordian have been thoroughly liberating, utterly confusing, and strangely
engaging. My one caution is that to get the full value from Discordianism one
must arguably get together with other people and form a cabal or similar group,
as solo practice will tend to reinforce your own metaphysics rather than
allowing you to explore further afield.
Create Your Own!
And when all else fails, invent your own religion! In fact,
Discordianism has a long tradition of encouraging people to found their own
religions – the Church of the Subgenius being the most famous, albeit not
necessarily the most sincere, example.
Of course, this is not a step to be taken too lightly, and I do not necessarily recommend that anyone travels in this direction, but it is always worth bearing in mind that all religions start somewhere… if you can’t find the religion that’s right for you, why not create one? (And if not a religion, then perhaps a nonreligion).
Deciding to reject the notion of gods is a reasonable start
to identifying a system of metaphysics for oneself, but it should not be the
end of that process. Exploring the atheist belief systems that are available may allow you to better define your own metaphysical or ethical position, and even if it does not, at least by the
exploration you will have gained a broader understanding of other people's views on the universe. What have you got to lose but time?
This post carries a high risk of cognitive dissonance. If you find yourself feeling enraged at this point, please consider waiting a short while before posting a comment. Thank you for your patience! And for the flames I am doubtless about to recieve anyway, may I not lose my sense of humour!
The opening image is Lotus, by Ge Wu, which I found here. As ever, no copyright infringement is implied, and I will take the image down if asked.
Posted by: Darius K. | September 13, 2006 at 04:27 PM
All Hail Discordia!
Posted by: eris | September 13, 2006 at 05:38 PM
My self-made religion changes depending on the project I'm working on. Last year it was Burnism, where you burn things in an attempt to find a lateral exit to the existential trap of self-destruction. This year its ludo-paganism, since I'm making a game about pagans. Next year it'll be Franchise-ism, gods willing.
Posted by: Patrick | September 13, 2006 at 08:38 PM
"why do I exist, and what is my relationship to the infinite universe that surrounds me?"
My answers: Chance, and continuation. Any discontinuity between me and the rest of the universe is a figment of my imagination :-). I am explicitly *not* a Humanist, as I do not subscribe to a system of ethics that asserts that living creatures, human or no, have any more dignity or worth than does that hurricane over there. Portions of the Universe merely occasionally appear organised, and some of those portions start to think, exchange information, organise other portions into computers and networks, and blog late at night with low blood sugar.
"What have you got to lose but time?"
Speaking as an atheist... what more precious possession (even if it was a chance gift) do I have than the brief moment of my consciousness?
Posted by: Peter Crowther | September 14, 2006 at 12:20 AM
Patrick: ever the opportunist. :D
Peter: I find your position on Humanism to be genuinally fascinating!
As for time, well, it surely is a precious gift, but how about this argument: if you don't invest some of that time in understanding other people's world views, you will instead waste too much of your time arguing with or getting angered by other people. :)
Posted by: Chris | September 14, 2006 at 09:59 AM
"if you don't invest some of that time in understanding other people's world views, you will instead waste too much of your time arguing with or getting angered by other people."
Why do you think I'm here? :-) But, as you note above, it's a trade-off. I have a time budget, and I would rather spend it than "lose" it.
"I find your position on Humanism to be genuinally fascinating."
Happy to be the object of fascination - preferably at a safe distance. Out of interest, *why* do you find it fascinating? What parts? Or do I need to clarify my position a little more?
Posted by: Peter Crowther | September 14, 2006 at 10:57 AM
Peter, i guess one question your position raises (at least in my mind) is how you set a goal on which your are going to act given
"why do I exist, and what is my relationship to the infinite universe that surrounds me?
My answers: Chance, and continuation."
After all. the lumps of organized matter which "exchange information" seem to have a profound effect on your consciousness...
Posted by: translucy | September 14, 2006 at 07:29 PM
"i guess one question your position raises (at least in my mind) is how you set a goal on which your are going to act"
If you've seen my rather random way of acting, you might have fewer questions :-).
OK, that's not *entirely* fair. In the short term I have goals such as "avoid dying", "pursue experiences I find pleasant and avoid ones I find unpleasant" and "look after my (extended) family". These then give me sub-goals such as "earn money in order to house and feed myself and those around me" and "oppose societal pressures that reduce my choice of pleasant experiences". But I've had more than half my expected life, and I've no idea what to do with the remainder - I find I have no long-term goals other than to avoid dying before I'm ready for it and continuing to look after a) my blood family and b) my wife. It's all a bit of a disappointment - I'd hoped to have found something to fire me by now, and it simply hasn't happened. As a result, the goals feel half-hearted at best; I haven't even got to the bottom of *why* I feel it is appropriate to look after my blood family, unless it's hard-wired as I suspect. I have a better idea of the reasons for my other long-term goals.
Well, you asked...
Posted by: Peter Crowther | September 14, 2006 at 10:23 PM
Peter: Is it possible your skepticism has been too efficient in optimising your belief system? You write here as if you feel you have never found a purpose you can connect with your own identity. In some respects, it seems this is the malaise of the modern era - and it seems particularly hard upon atheists. :( This makes your earlier comment about the hurricane seem much more maudlin than it did before, alas.
I would like to note, however, that although it was not by intent, your actions resulted in a signficant and fundamental change in the course of my life.
When I was halfway through the astrophysics degree, and feeling pretty disillusioned, it was a group of UglyMUG players that gave me a choice I didn't know I had - to switch to the Computer Science department. UglyMUG would not have come about without you - it was your creation - and as such you are the inadvertant architect of this key event in my life.
Without this, it is likely I would have stuck with astrophysics, and although I can't know how this would have transpired, it conjures up visions of me working at CERN or a radio observatory somewhere, where I honestly doubt I would have been happy.
Instead, I'm making games, which I inexplicably feel is my purpose in life (for which I have no explanation - nor do I need one). One does not always see the effect one has on the people around them, but UglyMUG forged friendships and wrought changes in people's lives which they are still benefiting from today.
For this, I am thankful to have had you in my life, and I know other people would feel the same way, even if they would not say it.
Posted by: Chris | September 15, 2006 at 09:10 AM
Pantheism holds that the universe and God are equivalent terms, and is a feature of certain theistic religions (including Hinduism) as well as certain atheistic religions. Naturalistic pantheism is an atheistic form of pantheism that holds that the universe is unconscious and non-sentient, but can still be a meaningful focus for mystical fulfilment.
I would agree with 90% of this, but how could the assertion "unconscious and non-sentient" possibly be justified?!
To me this is the real core issue between "believers" and "atheists" as a whole -- whether God / Universe is really "unconscious and non-sentient" or actually Consciousness in its essence.
Posted by: Matthew Cromer | September 15, 2006 at 03:44 PM
Sorry about my last comment, the quoted section was supposed to in italics but I guess the comment engine ignores that tag.
Posted by: Matthew Cromer | September 15, 2006 at 03:45 PM
'how could the assertion "unconscious and non-sentient" possibly be justified?!'
Of equal relevance, how could its negation possibly be justified?
Posted by: Peter Crowther | September 15, 2006 at 04:06 PM
"Is it possible your skepticism has been too efficient in optimising your belief system?"
"Too efficient" for what? And, indeed, "optimal" for what? Efficiency and optimisation are measured against particular goals - for a computer science example, consider two sort algorithms: one is fast but consumes memory like it's going out of fashion; the other is parsimonious with memory but slower. Which is more efficient, and in which direction would you optimise? Answer: It depends what you're trying to achieve and what the constraints are.
I have a belief system that is very well optimised for seeing the world as a set of interlinked systems; for examining those subsystems, decomposing them, and producing suggestions for composing them in different ways; and for communicating my understanding of those subsystems to other people or computers in relatively unambiguous form. As a systems architect, developer and trainer, that's my job - I've made a (generally) good living from it for over 20 years, and all the indications are that I will continue to do so. Cause and effect are probably interlinked - my apparent natural bent for decomposing systems and my job doing so tend to reinforce each other.
I have a belief system that is very poorly optimised for long-term goal setting, as by its nature it tends to assume that everything is mutable and that, to a large extent, the only thing you can say about a long-term plan is that it will be precisely wrong.
This is most emphatically *not* to say that I get no enjoyment out of life (although for whatever reason I show most of the diagnostic symptoms of dysthymia most of the time and have episodes of major/double depression). To take one socially-acceptable example, I get as much of a buzz coming off stage after a good gig as does the next musician. However, sometimes I envy those with a clear set of goals... and sometimes I see the folks with a clear set of goals who will never meet them, and remember how grateful I am that I'm not one of them.
Thanks for the comments re UglyMUG - as an online community, it helped and continues to help a number of people (several of whom have said so), and to hinder a few (fewer of whom have said so - at least to my face). If I have a "purpose" in life outside work - as opposed to setting my own goal, which I regard as somewhat different - it appears to be as facilitator, communicator and occasional catcher when it all goes pear-shaped. UglyMUG assists in that.
"Maudlin" - effusive or tearful sentimentality. Hmmm. Don't see it myself; feel free to hold up a (textual) mirror and point.
Posted by: Peter Crowther | September 15, 2006 at 04:35 PM
"Of equal relevance, how could its negation possibly be justified?"
We know only one thing for sure. That we exist. We are conscious, we are aware, we experience.
This is the one thing that we know of a certainty.
Now there is a hypothesis that there is so called "dead matter" which is utterly unconscious and non-sentient. And many people have developed elaborate mental models that this supposed unconscious and non-sentient matter is the primary constituent of the universe, and that the only thing we know (that we are conscious, that we experience things) is in fact an epiphenomenon of this supposed hypothetical "dead unconscious matter".
Of course, there are no theories on how this supposed dead and unconscious matter can somehow become what we know we are - conscious awareness.
And of course all theories are themselves mental, they are thought-based. They are not themselves material entities.
So in the end we know that we are subjectivity itself, and everything we know comes to us through this subjectivity. Including the thought-based mental model that all thoughts and all experiences and all consciousness of thoughts are nothing more than this purported hypothetical "dead unconscious matter". "Objectivity" is itself a mental model of how the universe works, not a material thing. And it is built up from the sea of subjectivity, constructed of the very material of subjectivity itself - thought.
Now the "dead unconscious matter" theory is highly popular right now, and seems to do pretty well explaining how a lot of our technology works. And it explains some things about how organisms work. And it has basically no explanatory value for how consciousness works. And it mostly completely denies the existence of other phenomena ( http://amethodnotaposition.blogspot.com/2005/08/category-scientific-studies.html) which don't exist to those who hold tightly to the "dead unconscious matter" proposition, because opening the door to those phenomena would cast the entire "dead unconscious matter" thought-meme into question. . .
Posted by: Matthew Cromer | September 15, 2006 at 05:03 PM
One more comment in the same vein: How can there be an "objective" universe without conscious observers? In what way would such a universe that "really exists" be any different from an imaginary universe?
Posted by: Matthew Cromer | September 15, 2006 at 05:06 PM
Hung over from my neighbours Ken & Val's Ruby Wedding Anniversary party last night, so my mental faculties are limited. ;\
I am fascinated to discover that the word 'Maudlin' does not appear to mean what I thought it meant. It seems too obscure a word for it to be a recent language drift, so I guess I just misfiled it! Alas, I cannot seem to find another word with equivalent meaning... Stark, maybe?
Matthew: I have enabled html in the comments. I would have done it ages ago if I'd known TypePad had it as an option! :) Alas, my addled mind cannot do justice to your comments today but thank you for sharing your perspective - I particularly enjoyed the comment directly above! :)
Posted by: Chris | September 16, 2006 at 09:58 AM
stark works pretty well, yes.
Posted by: Peter Crowther | September 16, 2006 at 10:21 AM
I pretty much use the terms "religion" and "belief system" interchangeably. It sounds like you do as well, so you may get a better response from non-church-goers if you use "belief system" instead of "religion", or if you make it clear up front that you say "religion" and you mean "belief system".
A lot of people hear "religion" and automatically think "church". But you are right; there is a lot of spiritual and philosophical parts of life that atheists miss out on because they reject anything religion-related pretty much wholesale.
I define a "belief" as an affinity between thought and feeling. It is both a thought and a feeling: it is a *thought* that you strongly *feel* is true. And a "belief system" is a collection of beliefs along with the tools you use to examine and update them.
Posted by: gconnor | September 18, 2006 at 04:42 AM
gconner: I don't use 'religion' and 'belief system' entirely synonymously, as there are many political and scientific belief systems that I would not consider religious. I dig into the issue of defining religion in this post.
Thanks for sharing your viewpoint!
Posted by: Chris | September 18, 2006 at 12:40 PM
I noticed the word chance comes up quite a bit with atheists. To believe that chance is responsible for this universe and all of the life in it is too much of a stretch for me. The laws and principles that are at work in this universe are due to much more than chance. Quite the opposite; it my belief that it is an intelligent universe but we are just too ignorant at this time to recognize the level of this intelligence. We confuse intellectual capability with intelligence.
Religion is a human's way of interpreting the laws and principles operating in this universe and I admit often do not pass even simple logic tests. Atheistism is as much a system of beliefs as any religion and often those who profess to be atheists are far more closed minded than those who profess to be religious. We humans must continue to do as much open-minded research as possible into all of these unexplained phenomena.
Posted by: william fechter phd | September 21, 2006 at 08:14 PM
The rest of my commnets that did not post.
If you do not believe there are unexplained phenomena in this world and we already know all there is to know about reality you have already closed your mind and I seriously doubt that any research you conduct will be unbiased enough to be worth considering. The same applies for those who are convinced their religion is thee religion will undoubtedly be unable to conduct unbiased research. If I could just meet one atheist that is somewhat open-minded I may change my comments. I am sad to report that to date this has not happened. When I started my research into such things as the meaning of life and if life after death existed I considered myself agnostic/ atheist but I must amend that version of myself and remove atheist from my view of myself.
Our first recognition of ourselves should be to realize how our personal existing paradigms affect our view of reality and at this stage of our human evolution we know very little about our reality. Enjoyed your article and others comments. Thank you
Posted by: william fechter phd | September 21, 2006 at 08:20 PM
"Atheistism is as much a system of beliefs as any religion"
You must be crazy. Atheism isn't a belief system at all - it's a single belief. Hell, it's a single non-belief.
Stop grouping atheists and healthy skeptics with reactionary skeptics.
Posted by: Malky | September 21, 2006 at 10:19 PM
William: thanks for your comments! I have to say, I've engaged in debates with a number of atheists here on this blog and I don't believe the situation is quite as bad as you suggest.
Much as with the problem that vocal Christian bigots make more noise than moderate Christians, so vocal atheist bigots tend to make more noise than moderate atheists.
Although we get a lot of crazy atheists here who drop by, spout off, then disappear into the foggy depths of the internet, the majority of my atheist readers have shown themselves to be much more open minded than your comments appear to presume.
Peter, for instance, who is a "confirmed skeptic" is engaged in part time research into dousing, which surprised the hell out of me when he mentioned it! And everyone, even the atheists who I kind of embarrasingly antagonised at one point, have been both willing and able to engage in debate on topics both far and wide.
Although I don't necessarily agree with Malky's premise that atheism doesn't constitute a belief system (it is my view that a single belief can be influential enough to constitute a system of belief), I must agree with his conclusion that it is a grave error to group atheists, skeptics and skeptical bigots in an a priori fashion.
If, as I have, you have had unpleasant experiences with atheists in the past (or present), it is easy to let this confirm a bias in one's head. But the majority of atheists keep their views to themselves, and although collectively they might be rather prone to depression, I find no cause to collectively accuse them of being closed minded.
Now I'm not saying there aren't close minded atheists fascists in the world - I'm sure we've all seen them - but it would be extremely disingenuous to tar all atheists with the same brush.
I hope you will take this comment in the spirit in which it is offered - as a suggestion that you may have accidentally let the few entrench your opinion on the many in this case.
One last point, I do agree with you that the use of chance as an explanatory mechanism by atheists is wholly inadequate to the vast task at hand, simply because chance doesn't provide an answer to the ultimate question: why do we have something rather than nothing? Some "chancists" attempt to make an end run around physics with fluctuations in the quantum foam triggering the big bang etc. - but of course, even this requires something to exist! No-one, whatever their belief system, really gets to answer this question which I suggest may always be the great unknown.
Thanks once again for your comment and best wishes!
Posted by: Chris | September 22, 2006 at 08:38 AM
I think there is mass confusion between what constitutes 1. chance 2. randomness. 3. probability 4. chaos
The basic claim by some religious people is that : "Random means chaos."
A random process only implies that every possible outcome has some assigned probability, and that probability is what influences whether or not a particular event occurs.
Similarly, is the claim that: Chance means anything can happen.
All results, or any result in each circumstance is not equally likely. Once again, "the chance" of something happening can be assigned a probability and it is that probability which influences whether or not a specific event occurs.
Posted by: beepbeepitsme | November 07, 2006 at 03:03 PM
"And when all else fails, invent your own religion!"
Matrixism - http://www.geocities.com/matrixism2069
It appears that someone(s) did just that using the movie The Matrix as its scripture. It's pretty creative (I'll give them that) especially when it's compared to the Jedi religion some people have made out of Star Wars.
I guess the philosophy of The Matrix could be considered athiest. I don't think they ever mention God once in the whole trilogy or any anime or video games.
Posted by: Ajedireligion | November 15, 2006 at 02:27 PM
Some Christian mystics might also be regarded as practising an atheist religion. Meister Eckhart says somewhere 'man's last and highest parting occurs when for God's sake he takes leave of God.' The inquisition were not keen on this kind of talk, by the by.
Posted by: Theo | November 24, 2006 at 03:02 PM
"Peter, for instance, who is a "confirmed skeptic" is engaged in part time research into dousing, which surprised the hell out of me when he mentioned it!"
Dowsing. Actually, I'm involved in some part time research into dousing as well, but that's dumping large amounts of water+citrus over foreign cats who try to stray into the house.
I rather like "First there was nothing. Then it exploded." as a way of describing the creation of the universe. Problem is, it presupposes the concepts of 'nothing' and time in 'then'.
Anyway, how can one be skeptical *without* an experimental mindset? Clarke's Second Law applies here, I think?
Posted by: Peter Crowther | November 29, 2006 at 09:25 PM
William - "If I could just meet one atheist that is somewhat open-minded I may change my comments."
What would be minimum criteria for having an open mind, and who is doing the defining of the term "atheist"? If you are both defining atheist and the minimum criteria for open mindedness, you may find you have left no possibility of intersection. If you define the criteria and anyone who considers *themselves* atheist can measure themselves against those criteria, that's rather more promising :-). Please post some criteria, and I can at least see whether I'm open enough to be at least *less* biased.
- Peter, a self-defined atheist
Posted by: Peter Crowther | November 29, 2006 at 09:31 PM
Thank you for informing me about Eris. I now know that I am a Discordian. I was found by the Goddess and she did some wonderful, strangely wonderful, things to me--the last of which was to advise me to seek her no more for she does not exist. Bah! She obviously(?!) lies. She must sense what I'll do to her when I find her... But I digress...
Which 5 religions do you practise? How does that work?
Posted by: Suyi | December 19, 2006 at 11:42 PM
Surely too large a topic for a comment, Suyi, but a fair question. Briefly, one must appreciate that central to my position is that No-one Understands the Mind of God (NUTMOG), and hence no religion can be absolutely true, although all sincere religions can be true in some sense (and false in some sense, and meaningless in some sense). I believe this position, which is a form of Sufism is the most consistent position for any religious person to take, since almost all other positions rely on a conception of God that suggests that religions are a strange metaphysical lottery, where God has hidden the winning ticket in one tradition and not another.
I've been going lightly on the religion posts recently, because I've been busy with work, but I know this topic will come back to the fore again at some point.
Thanks for enquiring! I'll endeavour to follow this up with more details in a future post.
Posted by: Chris | December 20, 2006 at 09:22 AM
This was a good read. a bit long, but interesting. although i wont take everything for fact, i do believe what was writen. I question what religion if any do i have. I want to say i believe in a greater meaning in life, although i dont agree what religions do or say; religions' past are usually worst than the effect of not following their belief. i would say im an athiest, cus i dont believe there is a "god" individual, but i do think there is more to life, like a spirit or supernatual conection to the earth and univers. so would that make me a spiritualist or agnostic? i still have a deep need to learn whats what.
on creating your own religion... i use to do that, make up my own rules, my own beliefs; the golden rules basiclly. but now i see it a little too egoistic, similar to a geocentric belief. it might be helpful to get over ourselves before we go on the quest to the mecca.
Posted by: Jonesbond | May 17, 2007 at 08:10 AM
Jonesbond: Thanks for the comment! You seem uncertain about your beliefs - I consider this to be a wonderful thing! It is far easier to find where one is if one does not already know. ;)
It sounds to me as if you are not a materialist (the most common form of atheist) but perhaps some kind of non-theist or agnostic, seeking some system that you can work with.
It's interesting that you tie the effort to create one's own religion to egoism - I think I would tend to agree. I consider creating one's own religion to be a last resort when all other approaches have failed. :)
Welcome to Only a Game, and best wishes!
Posted by: Chris | May 17, 2007 at 01:09 PM
I am an active member of both the Holely Catlick Church in which we proclaim Cat is the creator and the Church of Dog whereas we believe Dog Almighty is the only one we bow wow down before as he is the biggest and baddest dog gone dog in the universe.
But he does not have a dogma as she died last year leaving only his dog pa.
Posted by: Eagle Ashcroft | July 15, 2007 at 11:46 PM
Eagle: since you worship deities, what is the connection with atheist religions? :)
Posted by: Chris | July 16, 2007 at 01:27 PM
to keep it shortly:
Your aspects of what Discordianism is supposed to be are quite impressive and gave me some hints for further development. For quite a lot time during my mission (here in germany) I had the point of view, that if religion is a virus, atheism would be an allergic reaction, which was tested by some people I have talked to.
But you have changed my view somehow and I hope that our (?) "good" ideas will spread in the ideosphere. That´s my hope for a better world.
Hail Eris, and take care!
PS If you´re interested to know what discordia is doing here, feel free to email at "email@example.com"
Posted by: JayPsi | August 08, 2007 at 07:13 PM
Thanks for dropping by, JayPsi! We Discordians, as the saying goes, must stick apart. ;)
Posted by: Chris | August 08, 2007 at 07:50 PM
You mentioned Atheist Religions.
I participate in The Ethical Society Without Walls (ESWoW.org), which isn't totally Atheist, but many Atheists are indeed drawn to Ethical Culture.
Posted by: Billy D | October 09, 2008 at 01:24 AM
Billy D: thanks for stopping by! I was never in any doubt that one can be atheist but still be drawn to ethics. See the current serial on Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age" on the forces behind exclusive humanism for a unique take on this.
Posted by: Chris | October 10, 2008 at 08:49 AM
this statement is false.
One of my favorite invented religions comes from Kurt Vonnegut's novel "Cat's Cradle". The foundation of Bokononism is that all religion, including Bokononism and all its texts, is formed entirely of lies; however, if you believe and adhere to these lies, you will live a happy life. Fnord!
Posted by: adam | April 08, 2009 at 11:56 PM
Hi Adam! Thanks for the comment. I still haven't read any Vonnegut, although he's highly regarded of course.
I'm curious as to what it is about this post that causes it to recur so often... It's far from my best work - feels very old to me now.
Posted by: Chris | April 14, 2009 at 09:13 AM
Yes. Reality is the relationship of sentient beings to their total environment, and for atheists it need not be devoid of a salvation hope. So many atheists get it wrong in their anxiousness to bash every attempt to provide a rational explanation for how eternal life and purpose can exist. I'm absolutely certain that atheistic religion is the route to go, for it offers something of practicable value.
Posted by: Graham Epp | October 23, 2009 at 02:43 AM
Graham: Thanks for your comment, although I'm curious as to why you believe theistic religion has nothing of practicable value... In my experience, theists get as much from their religion as anyone else, in many cases much more. It was certainly not my intent, in writing this piece, to seem to be elevating non-theistic religions above their numinously-focussed brethren.
Posted by: Chris | October 26, 2009 at 10:38 AM