Tag Archives: Atheism

Symbolic Immortality

From: Carlo Strenger’s article You’d better believe it: Daniel Dennett argues that many religious people don’t truly believe. But though I sympathise, it’s a case of wishful thinking Hopefully enough of a clipping to understand where I’m going with my thoughts.

What is Dennett’s problem, then? Why can’t he accept the facts, even though he professes to be guided by science? The reason for Dennett’s disbelief in belief is that, like Dawkins, he does not want to give up on the Enlightenment narrative that says that humanity inevitably evolves towards higher rationality. He can simply not let go of the idea that if humans have access to education and knowledge, they will inevitably move towards being secular atheists like himself – and like me, for that matter.

I identify with Dennett in that I’m also struck by the recalcitrance of religious belief to the enormous advances of science. I wonder how people who are brilliant and have access to as much information as I have, have beliefs that seem utterly irrational to me. And, like Dennett, I cannot let go of the Enlightenment narrative, in spite of evidence to the contrary. In fact, I don’t want to let go of it for two reasons: first, because it gives me some hope for humanity (and I live in an area of the world where hope is a pretty scarce commodity these days). Second, because fighting for Enlightenment values is a form of life that I’m deeply engaged in and gives my life meaning.

The findings of existential psychology show that humans need a cultural framework that provides them with symbolic immortality, or what is generally called meaning. This is the feeling that we are part of a larger whole, a religion, culture or movement that will survive our personal death. By contributing to this larger whole, we feel that we will not disappear without a trace. This is one of the major functions of cultural belief systems, and humans will often defend these belief systems with their lives; meaning and symbolic immortality, paradoxically, matter more to us than our individual lives.

Full article here.

My thoughts on belief in belief have been so PC lately I almost make myself sick. Anyways its still interesting to me. While this general idea that we need religion or any belief system so we can feel part of something is just a wee bit over simplfied for my tastes. The thought is also in this other article about Dorothy Rowe’s book. (another book for my ever growing reading list….)

At the launch of her new book, psychologist Dorothy Rowe said she intended it to act as a sequel to The God Delusion. Dawkins, she said, had posed the question: “Why do intelligent people believe this garbage?” In What Should I Believe?, Rowe gives an answer, though with less of a blanket judgment as to the rubbishness or otherwise of the religious outlook. In fact, her explanation could be used to understand any form of belief, Dawkins’ included.

She starts from the premise that our greatest fear is annihilation, not physical death, necessarily, but annihilation as a person. It is the desire to avoid this that motivates us throughout our lives. For some, religion is the answer, because it tends to suggest quite straightforwardly that life carries on after death.

To me this is not why I pursue the thought of God, or the creation of the universe. For me it is to understand my existence, and the world around me. I am open to all ideas in science and religion. Even if an idea is immediately discarded by me, I still feel I am closer to understanding something just by trying to understand someone else’s point of view.

The second article goes on to how its possible for bad things to happen even if there wasn’t religion. While religion seems to be the biggest excuse train these days, there are other excuse trains in the station.

Comments and arguments welcome.

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Belief in Belief: Interesting Discussion

I’ve been reading and writing a lot on religion/philosophy/existence etc over the last couple days, and as a result of such, my brain is just bouncing around with arguments and thoughts. In the moments before I’m fully awake or asleep my brain auto pilots strange explanations for a God. This morning I woke up to my brain arguing atheism. I think this has to do with my inability to grasp exactly what I believe, so that when I come across a strong atheist post, I feel offended. I feel like they are calling me silly because I may or may not believe in a God.Which is odd because for the most part I think I side with atheists much more than theists. Anyways this is long and ramble-ly because I’m in the mood to write/think that way.

Anyways an question series in the Guardian on “Should we Believe in Belief?” has stirred up some interesting discussion. Highlights and comments follow:

From Karen Armstrong’s reply-  Metaphysical mistake: Confusion by Christians between belief and reason has created bad science and inept religion

“In most pre-modern cultures, there were two recognised ways of attaining truth. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were crucial and each had its particular sphere of competence. Logos (“reason; science”) was the pragmatic mode of thought that enabled us to control our environment and function in the world. It had, therefore, to correspond accurately to external realities. But logos could not assuage human grief or give people intimations that their lives had meaning. For that they turned to mythos, an early form of psychology, which dealt with the more elusive aspects of human experience.”

Karen Armstrong’s reply talks a bit about logos and mythos and how dangerous it can be to confuse the two. To me its not that science and religion have to be separated, but that they are two ways of looking at the world. One with the mind, logically figuring out what makes sense, and one with the heart, emotionally navigating this strange existence. Nor should we always separate them. But you can’t always take emotional reactions and feelings and apply a logical structure to them.

“We often assume “modern” means “superior”, and while this is true of science and technology, our religious thinking is often undeveloped. In the past, people understood it was unwise to confuse mythos with logos, but today we read the mythoi of scripture with an unparalleled literalism, and in “creation science” we have bad science and inept religion.”

This is a big beef… taking the bible as absolutely literally is just about the silliest thing ever. I’m on board 100% with atheists on this one. Not only do most people pick and choose which parts to take absolutely literally, its 2000 year old ideas. While this is a wonderful base for idea and inquiry, stagnation of thought is dangerous and silly. You wouldn’t stop the development of medicine 2000 years ago and call it good.

So this is where I’m in the middle roads. I think telling people there is NO God is rude and presumptuous. Telling them to think outside the box (or book in this case) is a good cause. But we need to be careful how we tell them. Telling them God is a delusion or not great, is not a place to start the dialogue. This sensationalizes the debate and leads to hurt feelings and closed ears. It sells books, but to the wrong people.

From Daniel Dennett’s article – The folly of pretence: We must not preserve the myth of God – it was a useful crutch, but we’ve outgrown it

“Today one of the most insistent forces arrayed in opposition to us vocal atheists is the “I’m an atheist but” crowd, who publicly deplore our “hostility”, our “rudeness” (which is actually just candour), while privately admitting that we’re right. They don’t themselves believe in God, but they certainly do believe in belief in God.”

This is funny, because just above I talked about the rudeness of telling people there is no God. I am almost exactly the person he is talking about here. And honestly its not so much what Dennett, Dawkins, Harris or even Hitchens say about God that bother’s me its the crusade of followers. While the four horsemen usually debate these things perfectly reasonably, the general public, especially on the internet, can argue these things less than diplomatically. This is also very true of the other side of the debate.

Which is why I feel the debate should be moved away from the word God. God is a very personal thing. Even within the major religions, each person’s mental idea of God different.This is a sacred space. A place to retreat to when things are shitty, and a place to rejoice in when things are good. When you call this idea space a crutch, delusional or less than great, feelings get hurt.

From Baber’s reply – The philosopher’s God: There is no cabal seeking to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes. Many philosophers believe in God, and many more think the issue is not easily solved

“Most people I know are atheists. But they’re atheists of the old kind who have no particular interest in proselytising because they do not believe that anything of importance hangs on whether or not people believe in God and because they recognise that theological claims are controversial. Unlike the New Atheists they don’t think they have discovered, or invented, something new and interesting.”

I think this is interesting for the use of calling anyone that attacks God as a New Atheist. While it stirs up thoughts, I also think it is untrue. I somewhat agree with her article in general, because she seems to be calling for atheists to not attack God as an idea. Though her article is a little all over the place.

Yes the belief in God can be a dangerous vehicle for other ideas, but its not the major problem. Chip away at the ideas themselves and leave the center of the tootsie pop for another day.

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