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Indulging myself on an eccentric atheist’s blog

Ftb blogger Comradde Physioproffe demands, “Everybody poste a picture of your bookshelves on your blogge and leave a link in the comments!” so I’m obliging.

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Efforts to Resist Fisking Every Blog Post that Gets My Attention

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything here, so it’s been awhile since I wrote much about them atheists. I’ve been trying to stick to more important things. I shouldn’t even bother now since I’ve got several other more pressing things to do – although one of those is a presentation on atheism for next month. Speaking of which, lemme try this on: “Harkening to the Death Knells of ‘Religion’: The Re-Inscription of (Anti-)Secular Curiosities; or, Why the New Atheism Hates the Laurentian Federation.” Why yes, I did have a coupla pops before I came up with that. In any case, that’s in the back of my mind as I proceed at present. And I proceed to a quick(ish) roundup of a few atheism things I encountered this week (I’ve been reading very little of that shit lately – so much chewing the chewed).

Let’s give pride of place to the irrepressible PZ Myers.

1) On Valentine’s Day he posted, How about if we stop pretending religion is an important academic subject at all?

Catchy. The post begins by promoting an Avaaz petition against religious education in Greek schools. But this is only to serve a Myers diatribe following the title:

I’ve usually taken a pragmatic perspective on this issue before. We don’t have much choice to but to give way on minor compromises in school curricula, and this is often an easy one: if religion is taught comparatively and objectively, it’s a good tool for breaking dogma. I can’t get too irate at a school offering a “world religions” class, because I know that would be the first step towards atheism for the students (for the same reason, though, I’m suspicious. Our opponents aren’t morons, and they’d know this too — I suspect them of plotting to smuggle orthodoxy into the classroom under cover of objectivity, and for instance, knowing that a local priest of the dominant cult will often offer to teach the course.)

But here’s my major problem. It’s a useless subject. And no, I’m not one of those elitist yahoos who thinks art and philosophy are useless subjects, rejecting anything that isn’t a hard science; I mean, it is literally useless, distracting, and narrow. If right now students were getting an hour a week in a “religious studies” class, I think they’d be far better served by getting an hour a week for anthropology, or philosophy, or poetry…or sure, more math.

I know what the usual argument would be: but every culture has a religion of some sort, it’s a human universal, people find it important and we ought to acknowledge it. So? Every human culture has parasites and diseases, so why don’t we have a mandatory weekly course in parasitology? It would be far more entertaining, interesting, and useful. What wouldn’t be quite so useful, though, is a course taught from the perspective of the malaria parasite, praising its role in shaping human civilizations for thousands of years, which is pretty much equivalent to what kids get in a “religious studies” class right now.

I don’t think religion will ever disappear, but I’ll be satisfied when seminaries and theology departments all shut down everywhere for lack of interest.

Breathtaking.

At the outset, I might call up the old disciplinary truism about confessional vs. non-confessional approaches to the study of religion (whatever that is). But I won’t – M heads that off by evoking conspiracies by the religious to highjack comparison and objectivity. More than that, these days, I’m 50 shades of dubious about the distinction anyway. I get a smile out of the atheist argument that World Religions ed. serves their ends creating a bunch of atheists by comparative exposure to multiple religions (… and all their comparable silliness). It’s not that I deny it, I’ve seen it in action. No, the smile I get out of it comes from the complete lack of self-awareness and self-reflexivity that accompanies this small corner of the atheists’ millenarian hope for a future godless world. Religion, comparison, objectivity, atheism are all treated as if they’re clearly defined, neutral, ahistorical terms in a god’s eye conception of the world. (To this list we might add implied or allied terms – secularism, pluralism, any named religious tradition, etc.) It’s only by regarding them as such that one can attribute nefarious intention to the committed who might teach religion, “to smuggle orthodoxy into the classroom under cover of objectivity.” And it’s only by such … uh … dogma that atheist fans of comparative religion can blind themselves to the question of the forms of … uh … secular pluralist indoctrination that such treatment of religion promotes. It ain’t just self-identified atheists who unsee this way, it is built into the very fabric of secularism in North America (buddy’s and my proposed paper for the Congress addresses this – “Codifying Pluralism: The Supreme Court of Canada and World Religions Discourse”).

In the hands of rabid secularists (=atheists?) though, so many extra layers of occlusion are part and parcel of this unvision. The rest of Myers’s post would surely give a chuckle to scholars like Fitzgerald, McCutcheon/Arnal, et al. 

I won’t challenge Myers’s contention that religion is a useless academic subject (it kinda is, at least in certain senses). But one surely wonders at his distinction between art, philosophy, anthropology, and poetry, and “religious studies.” (Certainly those in the field who are prone to handwringing about what exactly RLST is and how it’s distinct from fields such as Myers names must wonder.) Some kind of cognitive dissonance (or simple ignorance) appears operative here which I might suggest is the result of the incoherence of the concepts mentioned above and the resultant confused state of the academic study of religion. What do the likes of Myers think RLST teaches that excludes anthro etc.? I’ll suppose provisionally that he means systems of (irrational) beliefs/truth claims.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not what we identify as the religions of the world are truly subject to systematic belief/doctrine/dogma, the idea that education in such systems, in and of themselves, is useless seems a tad philistinistic, if not authoritarian. K, forget about that over-the-top conclusion.

Though, in the next to last paragraph, Myers may be one, the other or both, but more importantly he simply returns to muddled belief that religion is some distinct thing within a culture (and a very very bad one) to be likened to a biological parasite, as pernicious as such things are, yet as influential on history as particular ones like malaria.* Fine. But does not the same apply to political, social and economic systems? And of course then one must ask what’s the relationship between any two or more of these? And then, throughout modern Western K-12 ed. (and post-secondary?) is it not then the parasite’s perspective that’s “pretty much equivalent to what kids get in a [insert subject here] class right now?”

We’ve reached a point here where objective vs. confessional is beside the point. Religion – constructed, deconstructed, confessed or interrogated – as an object of study is delegitimated. Moreover, that peculiar instrumental purpose for its presence in some North American K-12 curricula, acknowledgement of cultural pluralism, is proscribed.

Politically, what’s the form of secularism Myers is promoting? Pluralist it ain’t.

Moving on.

*Reminds me of that line I used to repeat about how the Buddhist Four Noble Truths take the form of a medical diagnosis, combined as it was with my material circumstances for the Axial Age in India: urbanization and intensification of agriculture in jungly parts of India, malaria and dengue and cholera, oh my! And here I’m going to leave aside that fundamental dogma of the modern conception of religion, according to a weird orgy of bedfellows, universality.

2)  A few days earlier Myers posted, Atheists are responsible for creationism!

I must admit that the tussle that Americans have with those very aggressive forces who want to believe that the universe came about just like Genesis says (whatever that means) is just not a thing I can get that interested in. But, I guess I’m empathetic to the resistance Myers, Larry Moran et al. put up to it and the degree to which they are concerned with it.

But here, we surely seem Myers being himself, taking the least provocation to be ideological, thus asking little of historical data as he meets them, and in the end being the complete fucking asshole that he is. Nothing wrong with any of these fundamentally – but from the outset, let me say that to go from zero to asshole with a money-making blog in a heartbeat, well, gotta be something unseemly about that.

Long-short, as far as I can tell, a commenter on another post proffers the thesis that creationism was the result of the rise of public atheism. A little vague, needing refinement and specificity to be sure, but workable. And a thesis, no matter, that with a lay understanding of mine with respect to the history of religion in America I’m willing to affirm provisionally. But Myers shits all over it (maybe he knows the commenter better than I, but that’s not exactly the point): “ahistorical ignorance,” “short-sightedness,” “blame,” “idiots …. Give them a look of contempt and walk away.”

This is so much Myers at home that I can’t bother to engage it in even a sort of fisking sort of way. All I can say is, Paul, seriously, you can’t take such commentary as challenge to move thought forward, as opposed to your sort of reaction?

But by all means, offend your commentariate, and your students. But you go further, offending the scholarly field of American Religion, which you clearly understand just slightly better than the average bar patron. Admit what you don’t know well. And Scopes arises only as the result of secularism and a construction of 19th century atheism, the progress of atheism in 20th century America runs parallel to the progress of American Xty in 20th century America. You draw a cartoon for the purposes of insulting a commenter on your blog. Très unseemly.

As an educator, seriously, that’s you response? It neither prompts you to think forward nor refine what you already think? As a student, I’d tell you to go fuck yourself and then bitch to your Chair, your Dean, and the Arts Dean. You clearly refuse to accept the conventions of the academia.

Try that shit with the Religion in American History crowd.

Telling I think (though of what exactly I’m quite sure yet) that Myers wants to bracket off historically the New Atheism from the atheism of before. Do the NAs fear the realization that the movement is historically contingent, no more a reflection of an objective reality than any other historical social and political movement?

3) Leading us to the next entry, from the equally irrepressible, and Myers enemy, and former pastor, John Loftus. Does the Internet Spell Doom For Organized Religion? linking to this post by Valerie Tarico.

To the title question, Loftus answers, “Hell yes! Or, do you live in a cave?”

Lots to wonder about with respect to the confidence shown by Tarico/Loftus.

For a thorough examination of Tarico see Elizabeth Drescher, The Internet is Not Killing Organized Religion.

I won’t rehearse Drescher’s arguments. But two points significant for present purposes are worth mentioning. First, the religious are just as likely to maintain an internet presence as the non-religious. Second, what Tarico, and so Loftus, means by organized religion is mostly conservative forms of (American) Xty.

In future I’d like the discipline and enthusiasm to take a good long look at, legend in his own mind, John W. Loftus. Day after day on his blog he makes it apparent that he might have left his fundy church, but his very tiny frame of reference remains fully intact.

The thing that gets me about the predictions of religion’s demise by the likes of Loftus is the complete certitude that this will be the greatest thing ever. Never does one encounter any sense of foreboding about a world w/o religious institutions, no sense that institutions, social formations, or political/economic orders that might follow just might be far worse. This is especially disturbing in predictions that take the explicit form of a techno-sci-fi eschatology, such as I’ve written about before.

4) And what would such a roundup be without a “This Week in Thin Description” entry? As is his wont, Hemant Mehta reports on the murder of a 20 year old woman in Papua New Guinea who had been accused of practicing sorcery and thus killing a 6 year old boy.

Icky facts (if that’s what they are) to be sure. But Mehta, in his inimitable style, in the style of every one of his ilk (pour exemple our old dear friend idoubtit) reflecting on the events as he’s received them offers nothing but petty moralizing and the usual cheerleading for reason and whatnot:

This isn’t a religion-based crime, per se, but it is the sort of violence that occurs when you put faith in superstition and throw aside any notion of evidence.

This is a crime against common sense, a crime against women, and a crime against reason. It was caused by the same sort of gullible thinking that leads all sorts of religious extremists to kill in the name of their God.

For what it’s worth, 96% of natives are some form of Christian, but that didn’t seem to stop the murderers from committing their horrific act.

I don’t know what I find more wearying, the dogmas of the cult of reason and appeals to the myth of religious violence  or the simple incuriosity about what’s surely the complex context left out in the mere gazetting of events in Mehta’s sources.

I’ve been trying out a new line as I think through the criticism and reaction to it by atheists of the thesis, “atheism is just another religion.” No, it’s not just another religion, it’s a pretence to an academic discipline or political party, argue I. When I read such reactions to news that interest (I use that verb loosely) the likes of Mehta or idoubtit, as well as the treatment of religion by Myers, Loftus, and other atheists, I must conclude that it’s soooo not the former, more like the later, and that kind of political party would be of a decidedly illiberal (or accidental neo-liberal) sort.

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Skip This, Watch The Virgin Suicides Instead

Our old old dear dear friend idoubtit suddenly seems to show a glimmer of recognition of, to have cracked the doors open a smidge to, notions that the news media are not all they appear to be and that what they report is not either. Huzzah!

What’s she actually asking more of now? This story on the English site of Dainik Bhaskar that reports that pubescent girls (and at least one boy) in Madhya Pradesh have been setting themselves on fire and so dying, and a prevailing story round Indore and environs is that ghosts are telling them to do it.

idoubtit’s to-be-expected roundup?

A paranormal power? A pathetic excuse. Were these troubled teen girls? FAR more likely. If this is a trend, it is a very scary one. There is not enough information to know if they had family trouble or mental illnesses that were left untreated or some other real life cause for their desperate acts but the fact that this is treated without addressing material causes (at least in this source) is very disturbing.

Were they troubled girls? Fucking DUH! They fucking killed themselves, up to 20 of ‘em. Family trouble, mental illness or some other “real world” cause? Shit, lady, I’d find no fault if you wanted to ask questions about broader social conditions and the plight of young girls and women in India (connected to specific historical circumstances). The point is, wow! you’re actually asking questions for a change.

That you imply that actors and other observers are oblivious to such possible bases is the height of conceit.

But, congratulations, idoubtit, you’re on the verge of the full blowed realization that culture/religion actually says something about the “real world.” But here’s a bit more pointed advice, like my previous commentary, that might help you into the room with the rest of the thoughtful who actually pursue questions, who actually try to interpret the world in a coherent meaningful way on the basis of such data.

First, and this is just stylistic advice. Ditch the emotive editorial language and whatnot for fucking already.

A paranormal power? A pathetic excuse.

The question mark (I’da called it a rhetorical question, but since we’re dealing with two incomplete sentences here, that’s not entirely accurate) is a rhetorical device best employed by professionals, please don’t try this at home.

Is “pathetic” a modifier you really wanna use to make your point? Pathos here there surely is. Why undermine the glimmer of empathy you’re experiencing by a term that means lame in common parlance? No matter, I’m used to that out of you – curing it overnight seems unlikely.

“Excuse.” Also not a good word. Now that you’re intellectually on the verge of asking after coherent fulsome explanations, you need to be careful with respect to such vocabulary choices. You’re this -> <- close to suggesting that the paranormal thing is expressive of something in a larger social world, don’t sneer at the fact when you (and I) live in a world in which that kinda thing is not regularly culturally operative.

It’s not an excuse (pathetic or otherwise).  Cummon, you’re halfway there. Culture both reveals and occludes. Recognize that, refine the way you deal with it, and you just may get all the way there.

Alright, maybe you’ve taken my grumpy old professor’s suggestions constructively so far. This is proly gunna be a little harder for you to swallow.

Let’s look at this “real world” you speak of.

Imagine for a minute that from, not so much a god’s eye view (a whole other problem of yours that we’re not ready to tackle headon) but as a view entailing, well, everything yours entails, you suddenly find yourself observing a social situation in which the assumptions, possibilities, language, other cultural junk, etc. built into life are almost completely Other than your own. Honestly, how do you make any given state of affairs, set of events make real sense?

When you come from a world wherein a cherub of a hillbilly child whose claim to, uh, fame consists of the made-for-television construction of her family’s tossing her into cattle auctions for judging such sub-adults, plus more carefully constructed peering into the lives of such a calf and her cow, is popular entertainment, can you honestly say you belong to a real world or one that is objective enough to render judgements on social formations elsewhere?

I’m really not trying to poison your well here. Go all Pomo. But let’s make it clear. Poo-pooin much if not all of culture when we encounter it, with a sense we stand completely above and apart and superior, is at best fraught.

Moving on.

My goodness.

not enough information to know … treated without addressing

Your source might not be telling you a full story? Endulge me whilst I say … didn’t I fucking tell you so! Repeatedly! In several ways (including the comment of mine you wouldn’t publish, justa be a bitchy blogger)!

I don’t mean to apologize for Dainik Bhaskar (= Daily Bhaskar, the English page, = “The Daily Sun”). But you have consistently, and here also, refused to acknowledge the built-in shortcomings of the sources which you broadcast and upon which you offer passing shots.

Be human, and an educated human at that. You are in a complex web of translation and interpretation. But, that you pretend otherwise, like you have up to this post, like you do to degree in this one, is fucking vulgar. Again, by all means, if it hasn’t been made clear so far, bring every one of you naturalistic assumptions to these issues and events, but don’t let that shit blind you to the theatrical way that others under no pressure to accept your naturalism act out all the social stuff of their lives, for better or worse. Til you can explain your way out of your culture, which gave us Honey Boo Boo, I don’t think you oughta be tsk-tskin the matters like for which I’ve been calling you to task.

Finally – praise Jeebus! You suddenly seem to have got religion with respect to the fact that media don’t tell you a full story about any set of events. But now you’re overcompensating – you surely realize that if you let these seeds of doubt grow to fruition, your whole doubtful news enterprise collapses under its own weight, don’t you? Don’t fear, if you simply take your sources for what they’re properly worth, you can keep on keepin’ on. Just stop the shit I’ve been buggin’ about, ask good questions, and you’ll be fine. No, strike that. Just stop reporting and fucking commenting on shit you’ve no capacity to fathom!

very disturbing

Not as disturbing as your past broadcasting of similar stories, with your unreflective snark, refusing to ask questions and refusing to recognize that these mere specimens of journalism point to far more dynamic things beneath the surfaces they consist of.

Go figure. Journalism, like the culture it belongs to, both reveals and occludes. It’s not disturbing; it’s part of the very structure of the material your soapbox is built out of.

Still. Cummon in to the room where ppl actually think about all such things. I’m inviting you, intellectual vampire that you are. I’m just hoping that in future you’ll not suck the life out of any more interesting and complex cultural phenomena. But maybe you need a new blog since with the post in question you’ve established, if you hadn’t already, that “Doubtful News” is redundant in name, not to mention full of complete crap in substance.

***

BTW, idi, as far as I can tell the story isn’t translated. It’s written in a form of Indian English, the kind of English many North Indians speak and write in, with its own syntax, idioms and vocabulary, and often clipped in journalistic prose (“cent percent” = 100%). And so it’s devoid of the error which you claim. As for thanking me for this bit of cultural sensitivity training? Mention it not (even though fortnightly you are eating my brain).

But since most of us in the Commonwealth are an apologetic lot: one lakh, one crore(!) apologies on behalf of all us colonials who are not writing American. But come on, you’ve got to love the coloUr in it. Chintzy, I know, can make me spit on my chemise sometimes. Anyway, I must make a move; I’ve got to shift out of my pyjama now and be going to the Home Hardware godown for some plumbing supplies.

But again, mauf kejiye.

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Atheism’s “Supreme Fiction,” or Today, Let Us Pick on Someone New

Wanna really piss of an atheist? Tellem/er that Atheism is just like any other religion; they’ll do angry rhetorical cartwheels. Of course, the mere assertion is simply polemical. And it’s on the basis of the mere assertion that atheists get so angry. But what they won’t do is engage the claim, ask for qualification, or interrogate the assertion and its terms, despite the emotive charge (and so neutralize it) that’s attached there – thus the response is simply and equally emotive.

Par exemple. Here’s Greta Christina’s response (to the charge as she’s constructed it):

“Atheism is just another religion. And you’re just as close-minded / faith-based as the believers you criticize.”

No, it isn’t. And no, I’m not. It simply isn’t the case that atheists are 100% convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that there is no God. I’ve met hundreds of atheists — thousands, if you count the ones I’ve met on the Internet — and I’ve encountered maybe half a dozen who thought that. (And most of them back down when you press them on it.) Contrary to popular belief, atheism isn’t an unshakeable faith in the non-existence of God. Atheism is… well, it’s different for different people. But for most atheists I know, it’s more or less the position that the God hypothesis is an extremely unlikely one, not supported by evidence or reason, and that in the absence of any convincing evidence, it’s reasonable to discard it. It’s the position that the Christian /Judaic /Muslim god is about as probable as Zeus or Thor… and that if you don’t believe in those gods, it makes sense to disbelieve in Jehovah /Yahweh /Allah as well. (And the same is true for the Hindu gods, and the Wicca Goddess, and every other god or goddess or supernatural being anyone has ever conceived of. Just while we’re at it.) And it’s simply not true that I don’t give any reasons for my disbelief, and that I take my disbelief on faith. I’ve written extensive arguments about why I don’t believe in God, or a soul, or an afterlife. As have countless other writers, from Richard Dawkins to Julia Sweeney, Daniel Dennett to Sam Harris. Take a look at The Top Ten Reasons I Don’t Believe In God in Chapter Eight, and at the Resource Guide in Chapter Fifteen, if you want to yourself.

Notice that neither religion nor faith is really clarified. Note that the charge is merely answered with the claim that reasons not to believe are given, and hence atheism is the only term for which explanation is given.

Now, she does imply something of what religion is. Or, I must confess, I know full well what she thinks it amounts to:

Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.

Yeah … maybe … sorta (and if Greta can use the ellipsis promiscuously, so can I).

To find that understanding adequate (and to limit faith to belief in the supernatural) is obviously partisan in innumerable ways. (Surly I don’t need to spell that out here, do I? In any case, it’s beside the point for my present purposes.)

Anyway, one of those hairs the atheists absolutely refuse to split (spose I can’t entirely blame them) is between faith and belief. When the distinction between them is made it often turns into faith-as-hope and it’s usually a lot of bargain basement Schleiermacher and liberal bougie treacle (see Reitan’s Is God A Delusion: A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers.)

But, if we accept that semi-theologically entailed in faith in lots of cases is hope in the sense of an expectation with respect to the shape of things to come, then we clearly have to accept that ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ are not completely synonymous.

And if the terms of such hope are eschatological (or might we use a less theologically specific term like millenarian?) faith-as-hope cannot so easily be brushed aside, even by undermining the apparent truth-claims that undergird it. For we’re no longer confined to a global image of religion (with Christina’s idea of it at the centre) as a system of ideas (or rather truth-claims); we are in the realm of Simon Critchley’s ‘supreme fictions’ for which attempts to determine their veracity are really beside the point.

Lemme just toss this out there (though it’s hardly original to me). If atheists acknowledged that appeals to millenarian mythology (say, of the decidedly religious sort) in any given historical moment expressed the hopes and fears and ambitions and anxieties (or sometimes death wishes, I’ll grant) of a given community, and “truth” is not and cannot really be an issue, then they’d surely have to acknowledge that an equally millenarian (and identically motivated) mythology runs right through their movement.

So here I get near to my purpose. There’s a broadish swath of atheists whose godless hopes consist of the belief that a secular-scientisty-Star Trek future is just around the corner.

This was brought home to me this week by a coupla posts by the blogger Staks  who belongs to the Planet Atheism network.

Let’s begin with his post of 17/08/12.

I am someone who has hope for the future of humanity. I believe that human knowledge and technology are progressing at an ever increasing rate. Just a little over a hundred years ago, the Wright Brothers flew for the first time. Now we can fly around the globe with relative ease. It was only 43 years ago that we put a man on the moon and now we are sending robots to Mars. What will we be doing 100 years from now?

Well, that’s quite the positive spin. Morbid sort that I am, when I reflect on the history of flight, I’m inclined to think: the Wright brothers’ flights got us the jet fighter and attack helicopter; rocketry gave us the ICBM; and robotics gave us the unmanned drone. In any case, we’ve obviously walked right into the myth of progress. (A low rent version at that: surely I’m not the only midlevel geek who immediately thought of the title sequence of Star Trek: Enterprise here, am I?)

But it isn’t just knowledge, science, and technology that are changing. Morality is changing too. A century and a half ago, we were fighting a war to end slavery. 100 years ago, we were fighting in the streets to allow women the right to vote. 70 years ago, we were fighting against genocide and racial purity. 45 years ago we were marching for civil rights. Within the last 10 to 20 years we are marching for gay rights. Just 5 months ago, we rallied for reason.

Who picked the cocoa in those Almond Joys you scarf whilst playing Xbox? Has the resurgence of European anti-Semitism escaped your notice? I don’t even know what to say about your imagining that minority and women’s rights have made any fundamental progress. And as for the rest, similarly, what a blinkered short-horizoned vision of the state of the world your eyes see. Yeah yeah, I know, it’s all religion’s fault, right?

Religion is still a dominant force in the world. There is no doubt about that. But it is changing. The world is getting more secular; atheism is on the rise and religiosity is in decline. Religion will never be completely gone, but someday it will be viewed in the same way most people view those who believe in astrology or voodoo.

“Secular.” I don’t think that word means what you think it does. Atheists and nones may be a growing demographic, but the world is becoming more secular?

What’s your basis for such predictions? Seems to me that it’s not much more than the bases upon which the original 19th century myth of progress was built. What makes you think that another century will make a difference? Mere hope, certainly not evidence.

BTW, my Indian astrologer suggested that I put off posting this to today since one can’t expect a positive result from actions undertaken on Saturn’s day.

Today we have the internet. The religions of the world can’t hide any more. All the bad arguments they have made can now be shown for what they are, bad arguments. A quick Google search can now educate religious believers. The need for special holy people who are needed to interpret ancient texts for the believer is vanishing. Religious believers are starting to read their holy books for themselves without the need for middlemen. This of course leads to atheism. I believe that we are close to the tipping point. We may even see religion take a steep decline in our lifetime.

Breathtaking. But of course we’ve seen virtual atheist nonsense like this before. Only took 400 years of Protestant bible reading to produce a world full of atheists, eh? And thank the FSM that the internet liberated all those BOOKS so that ppl can finally, finally read them for themselves. Personally, I blame librarians for keeping everyone ignurnt.

This is important because it will pave the way for a brighter future. The Dark Ages began when Hypatia of Alexandria was brutally killed by Christians in a manner far more horrific that the alleged death of Jesus. Carl Sagan claimed that had this not happened humanity might be a 1000 years more advanced than we are today.

I’m speechless. And the atheists think David Barton is a bad historian. Can we call this the myth of regress?

Religion is holding us back. It is robbing us of the future. The more religion fades from prominence the more advanced scientifically, technologically, and morally we become. The future is almost here, but we have to shape it today.

Yeah, damn religion. If it weren’t for that we might have some sorta institution – call it, I dunno, the university – in which all kinds of research might be going on free from the interference of religion and politics and whatnot. Hey wait a minute, didn’t religion invent that institution already?

“The future is almost here.” I actually snorted when I read that. “We have to shape it today.” Buddy has a promising future in nonsensical jingle writing.

Straight up utopianism. I guess he doesn’t think Skynet is going to kill us all.

Anyway, I’m already tired, but let’s soldier on and look at Staks’ post from a couple of days before the one above.

Many religious believers believe that we not only have an immortal soul, but that this soul is our true self. When we die, we live on as our soul. They often ask in a serious manner, “Where will we be in 1000 years?”

[Never mind the theologically goo that gets in here.] Who! Who asks that question?

Of course the reality is that in 1000 years we will be dead and just as there was no consciousness before we were born, there will almost certainly be no consciousness after we die. But I like to refocus the question on the collective “we.” Where will we (as humanity) be in 1000 years?

Oh, ok, that theological nonsense above has nothing to do with your point. But I smell uptopia coming on.

The religious never stop predicting the end of the world and it always seems to be going to happen soon. They always think that we are living in the end times. The really scary thing is that many of them hope that we are because the standard Christian interpretation of Revelations is that the world needs to end in order for Jesus to return and give special few Christians “God’s kingdom.”

[Pedant in me says, uh, it’s the book of REVELATION, singular.]

One, you don’t know much about (Xtn) eschatology, do you? Two, they may not ever stop talking about it, but they talk a lot more in historical circumstances of widespread anxiety and uncertainty. Maybe you wanna pay attention to that sorta thing.

More interesting to me is the fact that you flip out about Xtn (and Islamic) apocalypticism and offer in its stead Sci-fi utopianism, ignoring, of course, Sci-fi apocalypticism and Xtn utopianism.

Oddly enough, I thought they would be much happier in Heaven. Why bother trying to create a kingdom of God on Earth after the whole world is destroyed when you can sit up in Heaven enjoying bliss for all eternity. Something doesn’t make sense here… I suspect a great many things don’t make sense here actually.

But let’s move on to where I hope humanity will be in 1000 years. As an atheist and a humanist, I hope that we have ditched religion and other superstitious beliefs and that human beings have socially evolved past our petty differences, greed, jealousy, hate, etc. I dream of a world similar to Star Trek (which is a mere 200 to 300 years in the future) in which we are exploring strange new worlds far from Earth.

Doesn’t make sense? Then fucking work to make sense of it. Or get on with your life. But no, that’s not your plan, you’ve got a story to sell. You foresee a world of peace love and understanding. And seems that you think religion (whatever that is) is that thing holding back your utopia. But no matter, now we’re down to brass tacks. For …

YOU DREAM OF A WORLD SIMILAR TO STAR TREK!

Are you fucking serious? Lemme get this straight, a view of the future entailing the idea that the hour is coming and is now is morally and reality challenged, but hoping for a future in which we travel at unimaginable speeds to planets we haven’t even identified is reasonable? No, atheism isn’t a religion, that’s just crazy talk.

But we’ve seen this atheist sci-fi-myth-love before. Remember Guy P. Harrison?

When I’m not staring at a blank computer screen hoping that words will appear, I’m likely to be running, hiking, reading a science book, working out at a gym, or trying to teach life lessons to my children via repeated viewings of Star Trek. When normal people are busy thinking about politics, economics, and the Kardashians, I’m usually daydreaming about time travel, the singularity (nerd rapture) ancient Greece, extremophiles, the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and robots.

Funny thing about these nerds and their Star Trek theology – they all neglect the fact that in the mythology, before we get to the United Federation of Planets and all those good times, we have the Eugenics Wars and World War III.

Jeebus, and they chide the religious for cherry-picking.

This really is the stark difference between the theists and atheists when it comes to our hopes for the future. Now sure, not all theists think this way, but a most do. And even if a theist shares the atheistic hope for a better future, they should realize that religion is one of the main things holding us back from reaching that goal.

NOT ALL ATHEISTS THINK THIS WAY, BUT MOST DO.

I don’t even know what to say. But we’re clearly no longer in the realm of an atheism that even pretends to offer a substantive critique of religion; we’re squarely in the realm of fantasy. Or rather, we’re in the realm of what Simon Critchley calls “Supreme Fiction” which he describes thusly: “It’s taking something that does not quite exist and, as it were, forcing it into existence through a certain declaration, through a certain act of faith.”

There’s simply no winning with these geeks: science and tech are absolute goods and religion an absolute evil, and don’t let historical and contemporary fact stand in the way of faith in that. ‘Atheism is just another religion’ is not an argument I’d make as baldly as that, but in the face of nerd utopianism like Staks’ … and Harrison’s … and of other atheists by the dozen, it must be recognized that we’re dealing with a kind of evangelism for an old myth no less eschatological than that of the (Western) religion it rails against.

If I had my way, anybuddy who’s attended a Star Trek convention, Comic-Con or the like would be barred from holding public office. (My friend June excepted.)

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“Doubtful News” is Redundant

[BTW, before I go on this tear, is it necessary to disclose that I am not a believer?]

So here I got myself an abfab opportunity to drive home a point expressed or implied in some previous posts.

Not only are atheist responses to the latest outrage perpetrated by the religious (as reported by hincky and not-so-hinky media) jawdroppingly base in their substance, but – and this is the gold-standard kicker – the atheists, in their haste to report a gotcha, readily gussy themselves up in gullibility to share what they present as unassailable good news.

These are moments when the diktats of skepticism are conveniently set aside for the greater good of the cause.

Case.in.point. Last week our friend idoubtit and the blog Canadian Atheist quoted stories from The Star-Tribune,  The Guardian, and The Toronto Star (an important fact as you’ll see in a minute), pulled from AP, Reuters, and AP again respectively. To wit:

Cult living underground raided by Russian police.

Oh nozz! Freaky Muslims (and their womenz and chid’ren) held hostage underground, under the thumb of their creepy leader.

Well lookie there, The Star reports today that maybe things weren’t quite as they appeared:

A brief visit inside the compound, which provided shocking headlines around the world when police raided it and seized the children, revealed none of the elaborate underground design described by prosecutors. Nor does a police video showing rooms inside. The father of a cult member, who originally disapproved of his daughter joining the group, said he was able to visit freely and has no complaints about how members live or treat their children.

This is a movie I’m seeing over and over again lately. Anybuddy remember the story about the new law in Egypt legalizing the ultimate dead fuck? If so, did you also see that the story was completely discredited?[UPDATE] (Seems that even PZ Meyers couldn’t himself be bothered to note this fact, though to their credit some of his commenters did.)

And I tellya, this is a movie I’ve see in long drawn-out classic fashion in times long past. Thuggee anyone?

So, heads up atheists, when I argue at some future point that you and your ideology are the – witting or unwitting – handmaid of Neo-Liberalism, don’t even fucking dare to take me to task. No doubt in my mind that you are the contemporary equivalent of Low Church 19th century Britsh Liberals and Utilitarians.

[UPDATE] Alright, alright. To try to satisfy anonymous commenter and Doubtful News Fan “Chew,” I note that Doubtful News corrected this story. But like I told, uh, it, “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube ….”

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More Thin Description

I hate to sound like a broken record, but jeebus, those scientisty types sure like their world shaded in nothing but greys.

Our good friend idoubtit is at it again with this: “Swiss change tactics with prayer to stop glacial ice from disappearing.”

So what’s the skinny? From Nat’l Geo Daily News:

About 50 people set out on foot from the Swiss village of Fiesch at dawn on July 31. As the sun rose over 13,000-foot (4,000-meter) Alpine peaks, the procession moved slowly up a mountainside and into the cool of a pine forest, stopping at a tiny church.

By 7:30 the group had swollen to around a hundred—too many to fit inside the chapel of Maria Heimsuchung, or Mary of the Visitation, so a makeshift altar was erected outside.

“Glacier is ice, ice is water, water is life,” intoned priest Toni Wenger, before beseeching God to stop the glaciers high above them from melting.

By changing a few, crucial words in the liturgy, Father Wenger reversed a Catholic ritual that for 350 years had implored the heavens to push back the glaciers.

The Vatican had approved the change as the effects of global warming became all too tangible in the Alps.

….

The people of devoutly Catholic Fiesch and Fieschertal have made the annual pilgrimage since 1674, when Europe was in the grip of the Little Ice Age.

Looming over the villages, the two largest glaciers in the Alps … grew over the next two centuries, reaching their maximum lengths around 1850.

….

The consequences for the villagers were dire.

When pieces of the Aletsch [glacier] fell into Lake Märjelen—which lies between the two glaciers—the lake overflowed. Three hundred and fifty-three million cubic feet (10 million cubic metres) of water rushed down the valley below, inundating settlements, damaging property, and killing villagers. Extremely poor until the late 19th century, the locals had few options but to rebuild.

Having endured hundreds such diasters, the villagers—with the help of local Jesuits—organized the pilgrimage, to be held annually on July 31: the Catholic feast day dedicated to the Jesuits’ founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola.

….

The glaciers began receding in the 1860s, and they continue to shrink today.

The Aletsch … has lost nearly 3 miles (5 kilometers) in length and 650 feet (200 meters) in depth since 1864.

“We prayed for the ice to recede, and our prayer worked—too well,” said Herbert Volken, mountain guide and mayor of Conches, the district that includes Fiesch.

….

Today the villagers no longer worry about floods, he said, but about having less drinking water, energy, and food for their animals, and more forest fires. Another problem is the impact the dwindling glaciers could have on tourism—the main source of income, besides hydropower, for the district—which is already strained by recession and the Eurozone crisis.

So far, icemelt doesn’t appear to be a factor in the tourism dropoff, Volken said. But “if the [Aletsch] glacier isn’t there any more, the tourists won’t come.”

….

Hanspeter Holzhäuser, a University of Bern geographer who specializes in glacier history, said the Aletsch is losing about 75 feet (23 meters) a year in length.

….

“Even if all the new prayer does is to draw attention to man-made global warming,” he said, “it’s a good thing.”

idoubtit’s commentary?

Here is a great example of superstition at work. They prayed to stop the destruction of their lands from the glacier’s floods and hazards. Global warming decimated the ice which has receded to such a degree that it’s causing its own hazards such as lack of water and increased fires. So, with the help of nature (aided by the industrial age), the prayer appeared to work. Now, reality bites.

The new prayers will do nothing to reverse global warming. Based on trends the rapid warming—and subsequent melting—will continue for at least the next 30 years. Yet, people will cling to their hope they can exert some effect on the environment by appealing to a higher power.

What is this ‘superstition’ of which you speak? Ok, ok, that was rhetorical. I understand what you mean: you think all those Swiss Misters and Misses believe in such hocus and/or pocus; you think they believe it’s worked (to reverse effect) in the past, and so it’ll work in the future. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: dunno quite how you are so sure of that, but so what if they do? What makes you think that that’s what’s fundamentally operative here?

Let’s start with the sorta metasocial facts of me, you, the story, and the liturgy. If the press hadn’t tagged along for the pilgrimage (were they invited? I wonder), you, me and all the readers of the Nat’l Geo website would have no idea this even had occurred. You don’t suppose that maybe, just maybe, those villagers (or at least pilgrimage organizers) were keen to have the press along, and maybe because they were keen to have the larger world made aware of their plight in the epoch of climate change, do you? Holzhäuser implies as much: “Even if all the new prayer does is to draw attention to man-made global warming … it’s a good thing.” So, don’t you think that if the pilgrims, or at least the authorities, thought for a minute that all anyone would see was a bunch of yokles trying to pull of a magic trick if the press observed, they might try to keep the press away? Dontcha?

And if you accept that, even just a smidge, ask yourself what the layer of meaning just below that is. But of course, as long as you’re working with a single element taxonomy, there is no meaning to be discerned.* Allow me work from an assumption you cannot allow yourself to make. What if a force of directors/actors here do genuinely accept the process of climate change (and hence can’t, presumably, genuinely believe that this liturgy is potentially effective)?

They’re just going along? Possibly, but I doubt it. Cognitive dissonance? That’s not an explanation. But, if you could get anywhere near the idea of ritual-as-theatre, you might be able to ask, what’s this little play trying to say? Maybe the play (and so the actors whether they are conscious of it or not) is saying, there is a problem (melting glaciers), the cause of the problem is known (global climate change), the powers that be cannot inact a solution to the problem, thus, there’s nothing else to be done but try to generate a miracle (a specific miracle for this specific problem, hence the liturgical change to produce the opposite effect from the traditionally desired one). And if you can’t conceive of such an interpretation, and if you can’t recognize the potential for political resistance in that (‘hey politicians, scientists, et al. you’ve got to fucking do something!’) is any form of communication between us even possible?

But fine, dismiss me as a pretentious apologist for all such religious nonsense. Let’s grant at this point then, your simple analysis (and I use that term loosely) that we’re dealing here with nothing but superstition. What drove the locals to this annual fit of woo from 1674?** The persistent existential threat represented by two gianormous glaciers looming over a poor village in the Alps. What drove them to reorient this woofest now? The new existential threat represented by the rapid receding of those formerly gianormous glaciers. These are people with a long history of getting fucked by the fickle finger of fate. Your dismissal of the expression of their anxieties – “people will cling to their hope they can exert some effect on the environment by appealing to a higher power” – isn’t just condescending, isn’t just stoopid, it’s absolutely, positively, fucking callous.

———-

*And you and your ilk do this all the time – you read some piece of online journalism and take it entirely at face value and ask not a single interesting question about it. Forgive me for presuming, but I have to imagine that you have taken Herbert Volken’s remark, “We prayed for the ice to recede, and our prayer worked—too well,” simply as an affirmation of faith in the ritual. Maybe he chuckled as he said that to the reporter, maybe his anxiety about the effects of climate change on his life was palpable (if not expressed). In any case, every time you encounter a story that gets your knickers atwisted you rush in headlong, never suggesting that any qualification or interpretation of the reported ‘facts’ might be required.

**BTW, while I know nothing of the history of Catholicism in this part of Switzerland, I’m interested in the fact that this pilgrimage coincides with the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola (fyi, a statutory holiday at my workplace). Few other Catholic orders are so intimately associated with education – including scientific education – as the Jesuits. Might not this religious activity entail a plea for scientific and technological help? I merely speculate.

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