The Great gOd Debate With John Loftus And Dinesh D’Sousa

THE GREAT gOd DEBATE!

CHAMPAIGN,IL (January 12, 2010) – On February 9, 2010 at 7:00pm on the University of Illinois campus, authors Dinesh D’Souza and John W. Loftus will debate the question “Does the Christian God exist?” The event will be held in Foellinger Auditorium on the south end of the main Quad and is open to the public. After the formal portion of the debate, D’Souza and Loftus will field questions from the audience.

Mr. D’Souza will be responding in the affirmative. He is the author of What’s So Great About Christianity? and has appeared on a number of popular news programs. He has previously debated Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Peter Singer, and a number of others.

Mr. Loftus will be responding in the negative. He is a former Christian minister and the author of the recently published Why I Became an Atheist, which has been acclaimed as one of the most effective defenses of atheism in recent times. Mr. Loftus is also a contributing author of the forthcoming The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails.

Moderating the debate will be Kenneth J. Howell, the director of the Institute of Catholic Thought at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center on the Illinois campus. “This debate should be a great opportunity for different worldviews to have a healthy exchange of ideas, which is the essence of what a university is about,” said Prof. Howell. “D’Souza and Loftus are both articulate spokespersons for their worldviews and their presence promises an enlightening evening.”

The event is being co-sponsored by the Champaign-Urbana Freethinkers, the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers student organization, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and the St. John Institute of Catholic Thought.

There are only 1,600 seats and we hope it will be full.  Please join us.

Lohn Loftus has done a nice post on why he is debating.

When it comes to this specific deity I can affirm with complete and utter confidence that such a God does not exist.

Should be great fun.

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27 Responses to The Great gOd Debate With John Loftus And Dinesh D’Sousa

  1. anonymous says:

    That had to be one of the most embarrassing debates I’ve ever seen on the subject. Perhaps I’m just used to watching atheists mop the floor with their pro-religion counterparts, but I had to stop watching. It was infuriating. It was insulting. Loftus owes the atheists here an apology for making us look like boneheaded idiots. D’Souza certainly ran down the litany of absurd arguments to “prove” the improvable with every nonsensical tactic he could muster. Our imaginations allow empirical evidence of divinity? Wow. But who do we have to respond to such an absurd argument? A guy who looked like a stoned college student who didn’t appear lucid enough to even jump on all of these openings for the obvious smackdowns. This guy should have been debating sunday school students, not someone who is obviously a very comfortable public speaker who was well prepared to do his thing. He left Loftus stammering and stuttering and running off into tangents to hide.

    I’d just like to “thank” whoever was boneheaded enough to think this was a good idea. You helped give the religious propagandists a victory, helped make atheists look like oblivious nimrods, and otherwise embarrassed the hell out of every atheist who might have witnessed this guy bringing a short bus to a gun fight. It’s arguable that it’s even wise to be giving the anti-logic/anti-reason/anti-critical thinking crowd an invitation to sell their wares in an academic forum. It generally only helps them claim credibility (e.g. “I took on Hitchens!” or “I defended Christianity in the halls of academia!”). It helps them claim their anti-logic cultism has some place in scientific discourse.

    This was an epic fail. I’m embarrassed. I’m furious. Whoever responsible should be even more so. If they aren’t, they should be removed from any leadership position that empowered them to cause this horrorshow to occur.

    Great fun? Great fun would have been having someone who could have the first clue on how to debate defending our point of view. It’s anything but great fun to watch someone hopelessly out of their league attempting to represent us. Next time leave the short buses out of the selection process and try to find someone qualified to do the job.

  2. rhubar says:

    Wow, that’s a pretty critical review! Did others feel the same way?

  3. Chris says:

    Unfortunately, I’ll have to agree. On a purely technical standpoint, D’Souza mopped the floor with this guy. After almost every statement D’Souza made, I was waiting for Mr. Lofuts to tear into him with one of the many counter arguments that I and I’m sure others were thinking. Yet it never happened and his default position was condescension and a brainwashing argument. I think it’s easy for people like Dennett and Hitchens to sound condescending because they have the ability to back up their claims with reason and facts. Loftus kept asking for hard facts that he himself didn’t seem to know, coupled with recitation of a myriad of Atheist arguments without really backing up a single one of them. I truly appreciate Mr. Loftus’ passion for the cause, but passion alone cannot win or even really compete in a debate format.

    For the anonymous commenter above, it’s unfortunate that you left early, because some of the hardest-hitting moments towards D’Souza came in the Q&A session from members of the audience, particularly one involving D’Souza’s ‘brain death’ argument that left him grasping for an explanation. But unfortunately, neither D’Souza or Loftus did a satisfactory job of answering any of the questions posed by the audience, and only D’Souza had the gall to accuse Mr. Loftus of doing the exact same thing he was doing, which was almost promptly change the subject to try and turn the question in his favor (by the way, I think if I were to hear one more hyperbolic statement from D’Souza in trying to compare the supernatural and natural, I would have started throwing heavy objects in his general direction). Something tells me that there were probably a handful of audience members that could have done a better job of debating against the existence of god. Hell, there were probably ardent christians in the audience that could have done a better job debating against the existence of god.

    I in no way want to sound as vitriolic as the original commenter, and I would never want to attack either debater personally or even professionally, but ultimately this debate left me wanting far more. Neither party gave me the slightest desire to go check out their books or even their blogs. But most of all, I was saddened to hear such weak arguments on the behalf of Atheism. I truly hope that this isn’t the last time that something like this happens in the Champaign-Urbana area, but I do hope that there’s more of an actual debate when it does happen.

    I do want to truly thank you, Phil, for helping to put this together and please know you have my support when the chance for something like this happens to come up again.

  4. rhubar says:

    Interesting to see how two people saw the debate. I’m not entirely surprised. I’ve read John’s opening statement and I thought it was very weak, largely irrelevant. The whole things tends to confirm my growing view that adversarial debate is the wrong model for these questions. People are rarely convinced to change their minds by debate – rather each “side” turns up hoping their champion will smash their opponent so the debate just further polarises them. Perhaps if we could see ourselves as fellow humans trying to make sense of life, and the more we disagree with someone, the more we feel compassion for them rather than anger or scorn. Then the debate could be a more constructive discussion. Perhaps ….

  5. anonymous says:

    My comments above were still in “storming off” mode, hence the frustration pouring out in gallon buckets. I do agree with this more level headed response above:

    “On a purely technical standpoint, D’Souza mopped the floor with this guy. After almost every statement D’Souza made, I was waiting for Mr. Lofuts to tear into him with one of the many counter arguments that I and I’m sure others were thinking. Yet it never happened…”

    The next day this is probably closer to my feelings. In the moment I was yelling at the computer (I was watching the debate on-line due to the weather… horrible audio btw). I’m sorry I missed some later zingers but it wouldn’t have been worth enduring any more of that, or risking facepalming myself to death in the process.

  6. justkem says:

    Getting atheists together and on the same page is a bit like trying to herd cats. We’re all very different, bound by little more than a general acknowledgment that the gaps in our understanding of the natural world do not require supernatural forces to explain them. One thing we all share is that we are the single most distrusted “other” group out there. For anyone who hasn’t seen the 2003 University of Minnesota article, it’s worth a read. We’re the arrogant ones, the ones who look down on the rest of humanity as sharing in a mass delusion while we remain aloof and go about with our lives casually refusing to accept the love and guidance of a guru (living or dead) to help us make sense of our mortal lives. When our beloved relatives die, we mourn them without comforting ourselves with the idea that they are in some idyllic land of milk and honey; it pisses our other relatives off to no end.

    Things may be changing, slowly, in the general direction of acceptance and understanding for the minority that don’t go to church regularly, and the smaller minority within that group (roughly 13%) that do not follow any religion. But that doesn’t help those of us in the Bible Belt who understand through sometimes painful experience that outing ourselves as atheists to friends and family may mean losing relationships.

    All that being said, Mr. Loftus didn’t do us any favors last night. Calling people brainwashed is, errr, not a good way to win an argument. “Oh yeah, well YOU’RE brainwashed, so Neh!” It’s a difficult thing to do a long debate in front of an unsympathetic crowd. It’s particularly tough when your opponent is the evangelical equivalent of a timeshare salesman. You need extraordinary powers of patience, resilience, and an unwavering tenacity when it comes to identifying the best way to tear down the mountains of artfully arranged bullshit being constructed before your eyes. You need to have a strong stomach, so you don’t wind up laughing out loud or letting the sneer seep into your voice, and hurling emotionally all over the audience– some of whom see the art much moreso than the construction materials. You need to be able to calmly and concretely identify the fragrance for what it is through solid analogies, and remind people that just because you can get used to the smell of poop, it doesn’t make it not-poop.

    Loftus didn’t manage it very well, in my opinion. One of them was delivering a sermon, carefully rehearsed and fluidly delivered. The other was apparently expecting a conversation, one where there was respect given to the possibility that the other person might be right. Constructive criticism here… it’s never a good idea to go into a debate of any sort with that kind of congeniality; however, if you’re not good at delivering subtle or not-so-subtle digs the way that Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins do, it’s not a bad idea to pretend you expect that kind of debate. That way you can address the holier-than-thou crap for exactly what it is and kindly remind your opponent that this is exactly the sort of poisoning the well nonsense that makes these sorts of debates toxic to the rational mind.

    Bottom line: I don’t want the friendly atheist-next-door up on stage with a snake-oil salesman. I want the person who has studied his opponent’s fighting style and knows exactly what to avoid, when to hit, and how to make those hits count while simultaneously doing it in a way that builds as much rapport as possible with an audience that may never come out to one of these events again. I can deal. I just hope the next time one of these comes around, we pick someone who is a bit more with it.

  7. rhubar says:

    justkem said: “It’s particularly tough when your opponent is the evangelical equivalent of a timeshare salesman. You need extraordinary powers of patience, resilience, and an unwavering tenacity when it comes to identifying the best way to tear down the mountains of artfully arranged bullshit being constructed before your eyes. You need to have a strong stomach, so you don’t wind up laughing out loud or letting the sneer seep into your voice, and hurling emotionally all over the audience”

    I didn’t hear the debate and I’ve never read or heard anything of D’Souza, but he wasn’t the only one to sling mud and try to win with disparagement rather than argument. John also tried this. On a blog, he is reported (I haven’t been able to verify this, so it may be wrong) to have said” “When I trash Dinesh D’Souza in our debate, as I think probably will, then I’ll get noticed.”

    And in his opening statement he said things like:

    “In every single case Dinesh’s response will be pretty much the same. Rather than admit his faith is improbable, he will be forced to claim …..”
    “we must learn to be critical of what we were raised to believe in our Christian culture. After all, brainwashed people do not know that they are brainwashed”
    “The sad fact is that believers do not dispassionately evaluate the evidence for their culturally inherited religious faith.”
    “It’s as if he [Dinesh] is oblivious to these things, because his faith has a brainwashing and blinding effect.”

    So your comment that “Calling people brainwashed is, errr, not a good way to win an argument” points not just to a failure in the heat of debate, but a deliberate, consciously chosen pattern of argument. I too think it was more than unfortunate.

  8. rhubar says:

    Sorry, I omitted a closing tag in my last paragraph and made it look like it was all a quote from you. It should have read:

    So your comment that “Calling people brainwashed is, errr, not a good way to win an argument” points not just to a failure in the heat of debate, but a deliberate, consciously chosen pattern of argument. I too think it was more than unfortunate.

  9. justkem says:

    “I didn’t hear the debate and I’ve never read or heard anything of D’Souza, but he wasn’t the only one to sling mud and try to win with disparagement rather than argument. John also tried this.”

    I think you missed the point of my post. I wasn’t complaining about D’Souza, I was familiar with him already and expected him to pull out all of the Banana Man arguments with flair and panache. He can smear atheists and sneer at us all he wants, and only about 13% of the American population are going to be personally offended. People simply don’t notice it because they agree with him, in general. Certainly, the holy books they rely on for wisdom about the human condition back him up. We are, in the minds of the majority (certainly in the middle of the Midwest on a miserably cold and snowy night when only the most stridently opinionated are going to make it out), inferior examples of human beings because of our inability to feel the love of Mr. Deity. It sells well to the majority; I expect it.

    What I don’t expect is for the atheist at the table to think that he can get away with the same kind of tactics. First and foremost, we don’t need to. Most of us were raised into some form of religion, and I would venture to say that all of us know at least some religious people who are intelligent, loving, wonderful people. But from a debate perspective, the other great reason not to do something like that is that you’re automatically making sure that the majority of the audience is personally offended. Your good points will carry less weight, and if you make mistakes (which Loftus absolutely did), it will be more transparent. If you’re going to take the New Atheist angle, you had better make darned sure that you have the facts, figures, wit, and charm to back it up.

  10. Janet Factor says:

    I was desperately disappointed in Loftus. It seemed to me that he had only one string to his violin, and he kept playing the same note over and over. It also seemed that he had not prepared for D’Souza’s counterarguments, nor even constructed his own.

    His presentation was regrettable; I found D’Souza unbearably snarky, but Loftus came off as fumbling. He was poorly spoken. Worse, he seemed completely unable to think on his feet. Several times D’Souza said things that made me think, “There! That’s the opening! You could drive a Mac truck through that one!” yet Loftus never took those opportunities; instead he always reverted to his same basic argument.

    I fear Loftus was overconfident and failed to prepare. In this he let the community down mightily.

  11. rhubar says:

    justkem, fair enough. I can agree with pretty much all you say about the debate.

    Just for the record (I don’t want to leave a false impression, even inadvertently)) I am not an atheist as you perhaps have inferred, but a christian. I therefore hold D’Souza to a higher standard than I do Loftus, just as you do the other way round, and for similar reasons (and a few others as well). Like I said, I know nothing of D’Souza, but I’m not sure I’d like his tactics either, and from what I read I would totally disagree with his politics. But I’m not sure I’ve heard a fair summary of his efforts yet (people here are naturally opposed to him before they started), although this atheist gave him a somewhat more complimentary review.

    So we are agreed that more reason and less rhetoric and ad hominems would be better from both participants. Like I said above, creating a less adversarial ambience would be helpful.

    May I further say, as someone who doesn’t live in the US, that I would find US christianity very difficult to live with also, and I’m genuinely sympathetic about the social situation you describe. Here in Australia, I don’t know many christians who would describe non-believers as “inferior examples of human beings”, we are too much of a secular society for that. I just think you are unfortunately mistaken, just as I imagine you think I am.

    Best wishes.

  12. justkem says:

    rhubar,

    Actually, I pretty much got that you were a reasonably open-minded person of some faith or another from your opening comment about feeling compassion for one another and trying to find a different method of approach to these sorts of conversations. It sounds like precisely the sort of comment I would have made as a believer six years ago. 🙂

    I appreciate the sentiment. It is possible (although very difficult) to do it right. It basically requires an academic detachment from your own faith, a movement generally referred to by theologians as “virtue theory”, where approaches like embracing “Spiritual Regret” that you can’t really share what the other person experiences and cultivating respect for the possibility that the other person may be right (traditionally bad approaches in a religious context, if you’re strictly going by the Abrahamic books) are extolled as necessary for furthering understanding of an alternate and perhaps ultimately contradictory religious (or atheistic) outlook. There’s a great deal of unexplored territory to be had through that approach, but it requires a very moderate outlook as the default starting position.

    Where it fails utterly though (and this is something I did not truly understand at all until after I had already left my faith and examined everything in hindsight), is when it comes to absolute truth claims about the supernatural made by people who have the some skill at the art of gaining followers… which absolutely do need to be tackled head on in order to prevent things like Jonestown from happening again. There is simply *no* room for compromise when someone says they know the will of God and it is [insert any of the thousands of confident faiths or creeds that have been devised over human history]. The only appropriate answer is to step in and inject some shrewd common sense with a sidecar of gravitas. Atrocities throughout history have been committed in the name of divine certainty. More simply put, blind faith is not, and never has been, a virtue worth cultivating if the human race is to survive in a world where different Gods direct the fingers that hover over different nuclear arsenals.

    So, yes, I’m a bit distraught when people don’t bring their “A” game to this particular fight.

    And, while I don’t presume to know your culture better than you do, I do know that the texture of faith throughout time is a terribly sensitive and delicate thing. One generation’s secular tolerance and distrust for authority can easily enough be replaced by another generation’s complete repudiation of the lack of moral center in the past. (I’m thinking of our 1960’s here.) The kind of discrimination we see here can certainly be exported– there’s *a lot* of money and power in it. People like to belong to the “winning” team, particularly if it gives them someone to blame for why the world is the way it is and offers hope that they can change the world by making sure that everyone else believes exactly the same way that they do. Wouldn’t that be lovely? World Peace!

    Missionary work occurs in all sorts of ways, and not just in the “developing world”… the developed world needs inoculation against it, too. There is a time for anger. People like D’Souza give the lie to the whole notion of balance to the Force… sometimes the only way to deal with them is with a lightsaber and the skill to use it. .

  13. rhubar says:

    G’day justkem, thanks for explaining where you’re coming from. It won’t surprise you to hear that I think you’re applying extreme examples to what are mostly more normal situations. When I talked about a less adversarial approach, I was thinking of “normal” situations. For example, as a believer I spent most of my working life in work teams with non-believers (mostly) and most people in the family I married into are likewise non-believers. In both those situations, which have comprised a fair proportion of my waking life so far, I have to get on with those I disagree with, and have in fact formed many close relationships based on mutual respect and affection.

    I would like to think that internet and other discussions between believers and non-believers could be similar, and I think there is no reason why they couldn’t, but unfortunately many reasons why they in fact may not. I don’t think the extreme examples your alluded to have much relevance to my work or my relatives, nor need they to relations between (for example) you and I. But I am interested to hear what you have said. Best wishes.

  14. darren says:

    anonymous says: ‘I’d just like to “thank” whoever was boneheaded enough to think this was a good idea.’

    That would be John Loftus. He’s been begging for a public debate with a well-known Christian apologist for quite some time now, but as they say, be careful what you wish for.

  15. justkem says:

    rhubar,

    No problem. Absolutely, I’m pointing out the extremes… but it’s because I have a healthy respect for slippery slopes when it comes to faith– I’ve been down them before myself. I’m the last person in the world I would ever think of as closed-minded or extremist, but there was a time when I was able to rationalize my beliefs in a totally benevolent monotheistic God who speaks through a cycle of divine revelation over the ages that I actually tried to explain to my (gay) mother why God repeatedly condemns homosexuality. The fact that I took a totally twisted approach by attempting to justify God’s deliberate deception of his people in order to avoid alienating “the base” (and gradually guide leaders within the community to affect change from within) does not in any way excuse the mental gymnastics. If it can happen to me, it can happen to *anyone*.

    Your situation is the exact reverse of mine… I can count on one hand the number of non-believers I know and talk to on a daily basis. One of my supervisors at work is a young earth creationist. I’m familiar with the need to look past our differences and get along as well, and religious differences don’t rule out my willingness to grant respect or affection for someone. I have way to much respect for the complexity of the human brain to pretend that a totally rational approach to life is desirable or even possible. We are all quirky in our own way, and for some people that way includes religion. I’m fine with that, as long as they don’t use it to excuse intolerance. Unfortunately, the intolerance happens… a lot. Some ways are more obvious and horrific than others, but they all demand immediate and serious work to eliminate it as a cancer on the collective zeitgeist. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the Rolling Thunder brigade? Worth a Google…

    In any case, yes, internet discussions between believers and non-believers and interfaith discussions between believers of different stripes can be helpful. I’m all for anything that helps people come to terms with each other and learn to get along. If we can do it well, then maybe our children will grow up with a real chance at spiritual moratorium until they are old enough to choose for themselves what they think is right. That’s a dream worth striving for, in any age.

  16. rhubar says:

    “I have a healthy respect for slippery slopes when it comes to faith”

    Yep, except it’s not faith per se but people – and those with no faith can be just as extreme. How do you feel about these quotes?

    “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”
    [torture] “in certain circumstances, would seem to be not only permissible but necessary.”
    “the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.”
    “for the good of society, irrational faith should not be tolerated”
    [I am] “a cynical existentialist, anti-human humanist, anti-social social-Darwinist, realistic idealist and god-like atheist. …. I am prepared to fight and die for my cause, I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection.”
    “”The new society must first stabilize itself ….. Once this is achieved, the executions of diehard Christians and Jews should bother no one.”
    [on “inferior races”] “Well, the world is a world and not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go.”
    [atheism should be promoted by] “protracted use of brutality”

    All of these examples of intolerance and extremism were by atheists! (I can give you sources if you like.) Now please note I am not suggesting these quotes are typical of atheism, and I am aware that both of us could come up with a similar list by so-called christians. I am simply suggesting that all “isms” are capable of being perverted and misapplied, and you should mistrust all extremism, not just religious extremism. But otherwise, I think we have resolved the matters we have been discussing. Thanks and best wishes.

  17. justkem says:

    “those with no faith can be just as extreme”

    Yes, but the crucial difference is that they don’t justify their extreme viewpoints by pointing to an infallible holy book that is by definition beyond reproach. It doesn’t make them any less likely to believe absurdities or commit atrocities, but it does mean that they’re less likely to be able to coerce people into following them in the name of eternal salvation. That matters a lot to me.

    “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”
    [torture] “in certain circumstances, would seem to be not only permissible but necessary.”

    I had trouble with these lines in “End of Faith”. My copy, before it was loaned out and subsequently lost, had some furiously scribbled margin notes there. Essentially (and at the risk of invoking Godwin here), I think it’s acceptable in *very* rare circumstances. If I could go back in time and off Stalin or Hitler before they had their chance to inflict horror on millions, I would. If torture was the only way to get Jim Jones to confess to his converts in the People’s Temple that he was a very sick man who shouldn’t be followed across a street, much less into the jungle, then I’d be for that, too. The women and children were the first to be murdered in the name of his insanity, and there simply wasn’t any other way to extract them safely from the situation other than to destroy the messiah they so blindly believed in.

    “the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.”

    If that belief about God includes the belief that you have the right to order the deaths of women, children, infidels, abortionists, or in any way shape or form intimidate or coerce through threats of eternal damnation, then yes. I agree that it’s driving us toward the abyss. We should not grant respect to the right of a husband to beat his wife or murder his child simply because this behavior is sanctioned in a holy book. There are some things that are simply not beyond reproach just because they are sanctioned by some particular religious sect.

    “for the good of society, irrational faith should not be tolerated”

    In the sense that it should not be left as inviolate and immune from any type of critical examination, I agree. This could easily be taken out of context, though… Harris particularly bothers me with his assessment of Islam. It’s hard to disagree with his figures and facts about the history of mutual violence and the extreme risk of a giant and cataclysmic confrontation between the younger of the two Abrahamic faiths as fundamentalism and militarism collide. But it’s equally hard for me to agree with the assertion that there is no hope in the moderates’ collective ability to redefine the nastier bits and change the norms over time. Hopefully, it’s fast enough.

    If it’s not, then no. I don’t think it’s safe to turn the other cheek in every instance, nor is it wise.

    However, there’s a big difference between intolerance and aggressively attempting to squelch. Intolerance is what I experience when my daughter’s friends parents tell me that she shouldn’t talk about her religious views with their kids. It can be addressed the same way that intolerance has historically been addressed, through the marketplace of ideas and public action. Aggressively attempting to squelch out the existence of something is entirely different. That’s what happens in Iran to the members of my former faith. I have no tolerance for their faith that it is okay to do this sort of thing in the name of Allah.

    [I am] “a cynical existentialist, anti-human humanist, anti-social social-Darwinist, realistic idealist and god-like atheist. …. I am prepared to fight and die for my cause, I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection.”

    Sounds like Nietzsche, if you’re speaking metaphorically. He was pretty messed up. So was the kid who said this… and of course I don’t agree with this.

    “”The new society must first stabilize itself ….. Once this is achieved, the executions of diehard Christians and Jews should bother no one.”

    Right.. so that would be over the top as well. Anytime anyone starts preaching the execution of anyone based on faith, creed, or ethnic heritage, it’s time to start monitoring their behavior very carefully indeed. Mental illness comes in plenty of packages, and not all of them are safe.

    [on “inferior races”] “Well, the world is a world and not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go.”
    [atheism should be promoted by] “protracted use of brutality”

    All of these examples of intolerance and extremism were by atheists! (I can give you sources if you like.) Now please note I am not suggesting these quotes are typical of atheism, and I am aware that both of us could come up with a similar list by so-called christians. I am simply suggesting that all “isms” are capable of being perverted and misapplied, and you should mistrust all extremism, not just religious extremism. But otherwise, I think we have resolved the matters we have been discussing. Thanks and best wishes.

  18. justkem says:

    Sorry… I left the last parts of your quotes unblocked off– it was confusing which parts were yours and which were mine.

    Bottom line: I think we can both agree that people can be dangerous, and extremist ideologies are present everywhere. Some are more socially acceptable (read: contagious) than others, though. As thinking, compassionate human beings, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to future generations to act now when we see things labeled “socially acceptable” that are clearly inappropriate abuses of the human psyche.

  19. rhubar says:

    “they don’t justify their extreme viewpoints by pointing to an infallible holy book that is by definition beyond reproach”

    Yes, I think I’m willing to agree with you that an infallible holy book is likely to lead to stronger motivation, for good or for bad, than almost anything else. But I think it is clear that any belief that is held to be certainly right can lead to much harm. Those who claim total reason as their authority can be just as certain, “unpersuadable” and (as the quotes show) pretty nasty.

    I still think if you condemn religion (as you did) by pointing to extremism, you catch a lot of innocent people in your nutcracker for the sake of catching a few dangerous fanatics. (I personally have met thousands of christians in my time and never ever met any fanatics like you describe, although I know there is the occasional one out there.) Far safer and fairer is to simply condemn the fanatics, of whatever the persuasion. Otherwise, to the innocent who get caught in your condemnation (of whatever type), you seem as evil and unjust as the fanatics you are trying to catch.

  20. justkem says:

    rhubar,

    I hope you take this in the spirit that it’s intended, rhubar. If it helps, read through Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail first. The simple act of belonging to a church and contributing to a collection plate carries with it enormous responsibility. The act of raising children to believe in the doctrine of any one particular faith carries with it enormous responsibility. They are not “innocent” acts, they are intentional. I will certainly concede that there are religious groups that are generally neutral when it comes to the question of whether or not harm is done. I identify as an atheist, but I am also a Unitarian, and I do occasionally enjoy going to the local service. I do not have a problem putting my money in the plate, I know it will go to a good cause.

    What is *not* innocent is raising a child to believe that religious doubt is a bad thing that will cause you to burn in an eternal pit of fire. (A part of my religious upbringing, on the Lutheran, Catholic, and Baptist sides of the coin depending on what year you want to slice out of my childhood and examine.) What is *not* innocent is contributing (even if it’s only through a loose affiliation with the occasional coin tossed into the coffer on Christmas and Easter) to any organization that institutionally denies gay people the right to live a normal and happy life with the partner of their choice. These are not “extremist” points of view. They’re pretty much normal (at least around here), and they aren’t innocent at all.

    I’m not condemning religion by pointing to extremism, I’m condemning religion because it gives extremists a contextually valid excuse that moderates really can’t argue with. I’m pointing out that there are real social problems involved with religious certitudes, and we desperately need the thoughtfully religious to help fix them. We need the moderates to stand up and afirm the importance of a Questioning Faith, and we need the moderates to work from within to end intolerance based on societal mores that have no justification whatsoever outside of the Bible (or the Torah, or the Qu’ran). In short, we need a new understanding of the force of religion and it’s fundamental purpose in society.

    It won’t solve all the social ills of the world if we get that kind of grassroots movement occuring throughout the world, but it will go a long way towards fostering independent morality and eliminating the problem posed by Milgram’s 37 out of 40 blindly obedient murderers who were only doing as they were told.

  21. rhubar says:

    justkem

    I appreciate the friendly manner in which you’ve engaged with me, but I’m not sure further discussion will achieve much. I think (1) you slightly over-exaggerate the dangers of religious belief (e.g. in bringing up a child to believe) – we certainly tried to teach our kids to a thoughtful faith, and I think most christians that I know do (obviously this varies), and (2) you consistently under-recognise the fact that exactly the same problems can occur with other beliefs and unbelief. If your real problem is the extremism, I suggest you attack it rather than muddy the waters and draw into your net of condemnation people of goodwill (which I believe I am). As it is, it would be easy to infer that your real problem is religious belief, and the extremism attack is just one means of arguing against it.

    I will read your next comment, and will happily continue if we both think that would be constructive, but I feel that we might be starting to repeat ourselves. What do you think?

    PS I wasn’t familiar with Milgram so I looked it up in Wikipedia. I don’t think it proves your point. (1) The person who made quote 5 in my list above murdered 8 people. (2) Wars are started by Governments (authorities which we obey) but the problem isn’t Government (even more widespread than religion!) or democracy but evil people

  22. justkem says:

    “I appreciate the friendly manner in which you’ve engaged with me, but I’m not sure further discussion will achieve much.”

    Thank you, and the compliment is returned. I guess it depends on what we’re trying to achieve. I feel I understand your position fairly well, I’m not sure you fully understand mine from your last post. It seems like there might be more that could be said to help that along, but I’ll let it rest if this isn’t something you want to continue with.

    ” I think (1) you slightly over-exaggerate the dangers of religious belief (e.g. in bringing up a child to believe) – we certainly tried to teach our kids to a thoughtful faith, and I think most christians that I know do (obviously this varies) ”

    Certainly, it does. My problem isn’t so much with the transmission of beliefs and values, which happens in every area of life and is a huge part of being a parent. Rather, it’s with the “Or Else” that’s writ large in the Abrahamic faiths. Love God, OR ELSE (bad things will happen… eternal punishment, family disowning you, friends’ parents not wanting you to play with their kids etc…). Kids grow up learning that asking the “right” kind of questions wins them praise and appreciation, and asking the “wrong” kind of questions makes people very, very upset. This may not be true in your case. If that’s so, I say that’s all to the good, and I hope you encourage others in your faith community to take the same approach if they don’t already. Furthermore, I hope you take it beyond your community of like-minded believers and out into the congregations of other Christians who take a more hard-line approach. No child should have to worry about whether or not their parents or their friends will still love them simply because something he learned in Sunday School doesn’t make sense and the explanations didn’t help. If you didn’t grow up with that experience, please understand that plenty of people did (and do!). I think we can both agree that this sort of coercive transmission of values is wrong. It teaches kids to quit asking questions. (Having read the Bible many times as a young child, I can also say that going to the source material is of little help here… it’s very anti-doubt.) I’m open to any solutions you might have. Do you think uncomfortable questions should be welcomed in the Church?

    I do. I think they create a “positive tension” (to borrow a phrase from MLK, here), one which brings to the surface things that are typically swept under the rug. But I know for certain that not every religious person I’ve met feels that way. Many (most? possibly) would much rather stick with rehearsed and comfortable answers. I think it’s a shame, because there’s a lot of room for deepening as an individual (and, arguably, as a global community) when those tough questions are approached head-on.

    “(2) you consistently under-recognise the fact that exactly the same problems can occur with other beliefs and unbelief.”

    Actually, I don’t. I’m not addressing those problems here because there is plenty to discuss simply tackling the problem of whether or not blind faith is a virtue. Anything else would be moving into straw man territory or getting off on a tangent that buries the original point I was trying to make. I do want to point out that I specifically did nod this way when I said a grassroots movement of believers who challenged themselves to understand fully the alternate faith (and non-faith) positions of other compassionate and intelligent people around the world would *not* solve all of our social ills. It would, however, serve to reduce the perception of one’s own faith as the “one and only” faith worth following. I think that would be a very good thing, all things considered.

    “I suggest you attack it rather than muddy the waters and draw into your net of condemnation people of goodwill (which I believe I am). As it is, it would be easy to infer that your real problem is religious belief, and the extremism attack is just one means of arguing against it.”

    That’s a complicated thing. I can honestly say that I’ve learned a great deal about the world from the explorations I’ve made into Christianity, Paganism, Buddhism, and Islam. I’ve been all of the above at one point or another in my life. I recognize the emotional and intellectual value of faith. But it doesn’t come without some pitfalls, even in moderation. I think the de facto assumption that there is an all-powerful being looking out for the best interests of humanity is, in and of itself, a dangerous assumption in a dangerous world. Relying on the supernatural to take care of us may not be our best and last hope for peace. Accepting each other as equals who have different and non-compatible notions of the same reality seems more likely, but that won’t happen until the default position of any believer is that their faith is not the only way to God– that it is not intrinsically better or more divinely inspired than any other notion of spiritual growth. It’s not a comfortable position, and certainly not a majority position. Until it becomes that way, I do think the net result of religion in general is divisive, and generally bad for a cohesive global village where diversity of every sort is truly welcome.

    “I feel that we might be starting to repeat ourselves.”

    Productive communication usually involves at least a little repetition. Otherwise the important points can be missed. 🙂

    “PS I wasn’t familiar with Milgram so I looked it up in Wikipedia. I don’t think it proves your point. (1) The person who made quote 5 in my list above murdered 8 people. (2) Wars are started by Governments (authorities which we obey) but the problem isn’t Government (even more widespread than religion!) or democracy but evil people”

    The problem is also good people– good people who think they are doing the right thing because someone they respect told them to do it (and even if they do privately have reservations, who are they to argue? — which was the whole point of the Milgram reference). I know good people who have expressed blindingly offensive intolerance toward me without even realizing they are doing it. They don’t look at it as offensive because all their life, they have been told that this is the proper way to go about having these conversations. I let it go, because they simply can’t grok the concept that it would be better to assume that nobody has the answers… they lack the mental scaffolds to even begin to approach something like that. I do think a society that creates this phenomenon has a responsibility to future generations to find a solution that will hold up over time and prevent our kids from growing up to be just like us. They can be better. We owe it to them to help them learn from our mistakes.

  23. anonymous says:

    Long story short, murdering people is bad. It’s bad when a communist murders his neighbor. It’s bad when a communist murders a political dissident because it’s part of his ideology. A bad action is still bad. A bad ideology can be even worse since it will promote more of that badness.

    It’s not that complicated.

    Moderates love to explain how they changed the religion or somehow found the real communis… er… real interpretation that has magically turned it into the peace man, love everybody, hippy-dippy utopia view that it was always meant to be. The fundamentalists generally dismiss this as a bogus interpretation that directly contradicts the ideological rules set down by god in the Bible. They have a point.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love moderates far more than extremists. They tend not to not want me dead and burning in agony for all eternity. Yay!

    But when you tell someone you worship and try to follow the wisdom of a god notorious for genocide, killing individuals, baby-killing, biological warfare, etc… and then try to say it’s okay because we don’t really try to mirror those aspects of him… oh and by the way I’m going to force my child to believe this god and his bronze age cultist worshippers who cherished his stories of wiping out the heathens with unspeakable wrath.

    I suppose we heathens should have little concern about the forthcoming indoctrinated legions because there are a lot of moderates right now who don’t look at that stuff as justification. That must mean they and others won’t do it again, right? I mean just look at islam getting radicalized again over the last several generations. I’m sure if we look at history we’ll see no parallels with christianity ever… *cough*

    Nothing to worry about by moderates clinging to the infallible guide of a genocidal god that has no problem killing people like me in it. If they interpret it just the right way, they’ll think my existence isn’t an abomination that their god wants destroyed. I feel oh so much better.

  24. Bob says:

    ” I identify as an atheist, but I am also a Unitarian, and I do occasionally enjoy going to the local service. I do not have a problem putting my money in the plate, I know it will go to a good cause”

    LOL!
    Sure… it goes to a cause YOU agree with.
    I’m Catholic, and when I dontate “I know it will go to a good cause” too.

  25. Bob says:

    “What is *not* innocent is raising a child to believe that religious doubt is a bad thing that will cause you to burn in an eternal pit of fire. (A part of my religious upbringing, on the Lutheran, Catholic, and Baptist sides of the coin depending on what year you want to slice out of my childhood and examine.)”

    Is it innocent to raise a child believing that there’s no purpose to life? That they just happen to be one congealment of matter over another.
    At least in one scenario you have the ability to avoid hell….. in your scenario life is hell and the end of it you’re greated with the void. Prior to the end of it that void reflects back the absurdity of your existence.

  26. Darrel says:

    Bob: “At least in one scenario you have the ability to avoid hell….. in your scenario life is hell and the end of it you’re greated with the void.”>>

    DAR
    Your life is hell? Speak for yourself Bob. My life is the greatest thing I have ever known and as far as the evidence suggests, the greatest thing I will ever know.

    Incidentally, D’Sousa, dishonest lying sack of crap that he is, has a book out smearing Obama with the most ridiculous absurdities. Media Matters rips it to shreds with 15 well referenced examples:

    D’Souza’s The Roots of Obama’s Rage rooted in lies:

    http://mediamatters.org/research/201010040030?lid=1141717&rid=54577251

  27. Darrel says:

    BOB: “I’m Catholic, and when I dontate “I know it will go to a good cause” too.”>>

    DAR
    The “good cause” known as paying restitution for priest buggery.

    Isn’t it up to nearly $3 billion now?

    Why yes it is:

    “American dioceses have paid more than $2.6 billion in abuse-related costs since 1950, according studies commissioned by the U.S. bishops.”

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-03-31-catholic-abuse_N.htm

    And that’s just the US. Keep those donations coming, they’ll need it. More bills are no doubt in the pipeline.

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