Are You There, God? Nope? Fine.

Sometimes people I know say to me “Why are you so hard on religious people? Why must you hassle? What harm does it do?” and from time to time I even find myself saying things like “Who cares if the guy that pumps my gas thinks the world is only 3000 years ago? Does it really matter? He wasn’t going to be publishing any papers on geophysics anyway.”

Then I read articles like this one:

Family watches fatal exorcism

A Wainuiomata woman was killed during her family’s attempt to exorcise a Maori curse, with the mother of two drowning in a lounge as up to 40 relatives watched.

..and this one …

Jehovah’s Witness mother dies after refusing blood transfusion

A 22-year-old mother died just hours after giving birth to twins because doctors were forbidden from giving her a blood transfusion as a Jehovah’s Witness. … Peter Welsh, the couple’s best man when they married two years ago, told the Sun: “We can’t believe she died in childbirth in this day and age, with all the technology there is.”

She didn’t die because of a lack of technology. She died, pointlessly, and preventatively, because she believed in bullshit. The maori woman drowned, while her family fucking LOOKED ON, because they all were taught that nonsensical fairy tales were truth.

Where’s the harm? There, gentle readers, is the fucking harm.

175 thoughts on “Are You There, God? Nope? Fine.

      1. Re: good try at trolling.

        Knuth : Lutheran = faith + organised religion
        Lemaitre : Catholic priest = faith + organised religion

        I may have to concede Wall, not knowing the context in which he practices faith.

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      2. Re: good try at trolling.

        Only takes one counter-example to refute the careless generalisation I was trying to refute. I had three (and the last, Lemaitre, a Catholic priest was a key proponent of the Big Bang Theory). The intent was to draw out a less general statement. Your example of 3 non religious clever people would merely be rhetoric, and not relevant.

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      3. Re: good try at trolling.

        Yeah I was just watching Stephen Hawkings Universe and he was mentioned in that, though I think the Pope has decreed that scientists should only study what happened after the big bang and not the big bang itself as that is looking too much at God.

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      4. Re: good try at trolling.

        I’ll look into that. So far it’s been hard to find an account other than Hawking’s personal recollection. There does seem to have been some ban on big bang / universal origin at a seminar in ’81 held by the PCS but finding the actual text of that is also taking time. Fortunately there seem to be no ex-Cathedra bans on big bangish research.

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      5. Re: good try at trolling.

        Not being a Physicstition I am most likely talking out of my bottom but it would seem that it’s not much of a restriction considering it’s such a minute amount of time you’re not allowed to look into, and as far as I know most doccos say um it went bang and then explain what happened after it went bang, correct me if I’m wrong but is it even possible to figure out what happened at the bang part, other than say it went bang?

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      6. NO NO NO NO.

        You are _seriously_ suck at this game.

        “Organised religion is for stupid people with no thought.” is not actually an argument since there is no premise here and no conclusion.

        Shoei criticized the factual claim statement with counter evidence. That’s not an argument either.

        You can’t claim that this kind of exchange is an appeal to authority at all. It’s like describing this:

        Bob: “The table is blue”
        Dick: “Except for the green legs and the pink spots on it.”

        … as an argument. It’s not, it’s a disagreement over factual

        You can’t claim “appeal to authority” when no conclusion was made even in the first place.

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  1. Oh yeah, I can see this argument being real productive. I have no doubt that one or other of you will be swayed by the overwhelming force of the other’s thesis and change your entire life-view because of it.

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      1. Good point. I’m starting to think I should only argue with people who I can verify are capable of changing their worldview. So far that’s me and um… me. Anyone else? I’m guessing that changing from the religious views of your parents doesn’t count per se, since that may just be the initial formation of your personal world view. It’s hard to verify that someone’s world view isn’t just a product of their immediate culture if they haven’t done a 180 on it.

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      2. Shoei and I just chatted about this. As a teenager I was an atheist, as a small child Christian (by own choice, my mother is an atheist).

        But adult faith moving to another faith isn’t really a change. Where as Shoei was a convinced materialist as an adult and he moved to something completely different.

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      3. So? I was a convinced Roman catholic till I was 23, then I moved to shamanism via druidism. Then my hormones settled down and I calmed the hell down ™ and came to realise that I couldn’t rectify _any_ belief system in superstition with the world in which I found myself and moved to agnostic -> atheist as I gathered more evidence to convince myself of the consistency of my arguments.

        If you hold that my conversion is less valid or less “hard” than shoeis then I agree with you. The reason you would think that is his coinversion _is_ the harder one as it is a movement from a system based on evidence to a system based on less evidence.

        That transition is always going to be harder, for a good reason, it’s fighting uphill against evidence and experience of the world around you.

        Especially for a materialist, I can’t even _fathom_ how someone could make that transition.

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      4. Yes I could. Good idea. Even if they’re answering in the affirmative truthfully, at least it makes the point that culture has a big influence and may get them to examine that personally.

        re: [1] Har har, it is the funny.

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      1. It’s like expert systems they get it right about 80% of the time real doctors get it right about 60% of the time, yet we still don’t like the idea of totally trusting a computer to treat patients, because it is absolutely galling when someone needing some aspirin dies when the expert system gets it wrong.

        Pretend I had a point somewhere here.

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      2. And yet again. No.

        45degreeangel made the statement that arrogance and stupidity are a human trait regardless of religious belief and I agreed with that. I didn’t make a personal attack. I certainly didn’t claim that because atheists kill it makes it acceptable for theists to kill also, which is a tu quoque fallacy.

        What I said wasn’t even an argument, it was a statement. There was no premise, no conclusion.

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      3. I’ll try to put it better.

        Humans do bad things. Sometimes they justify it through religious arguments, “Burn her, for she is a witch!” But sometimes they justify it through non religious ones, “Kill her, for she is an aristocrat.”

        Either way, burning and killing is BAD. Drowning someone because of a mataku is bad. It isn’t right. But religion isn’t the only reason people hurt other people.

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      4. Help me but I’m struggling to see the difference between what you have said here and what you said before.

        You’re saying people do bad things not just because of religion, why would you say that?

        If not to somehow justify the bad things done because of religion?

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      5. Yes.. but you’ll notice that religion is used as an excuse for doing bad things an _assload_ more than any other excuse. Simply because it is an authority that cannot be superseded or questioned.

        I believe I’ve used this example in a previous thread.

        Saying. “Lets go over there and kill all those people and their children and rape their women because.. ermmmmmm we really want the land”

        Is a far less convincing argument to the general populace than

        “Lets go over there and kill all those people and their children and rape their women because god said so and it is our chosen land and they are cursed by our god!” (paraphrased from many chapters of various “good books”)

        I’m all for removing the handy excuse and making them have to justify their genocides based on sound logical arguments… you know why? Because it’s a _damn_ sight harder if not impossible to do.

        I can think of _very_ few genocides that were excused with anything other than religious “we are the promised people” reasoning.

        See :

        * The genocide of the Roman Catholics in East Timor by the Muslim government of Indonesia from 1975 to 1999. About one in three Catholics in the country were exterminated.
        * The genocide of hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Muslims, primarily by Serbian Orthodox Christians in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990s.
        * The genocide of Christians and Animists by the Muslim government of Sudan. This program continues today, although it does appear to be slowing down.
        * The 1994 genocide of about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.

        And that’s just the last 20 years.

        I have been unable to find _one_ that did not have a religious basis as the primary excuse for the genocide.

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      6. Yea yea yea, atheists killing people wa wa.

        Blaming atheism for how Stalin and Hitler conducted themselves is simply ridiculous. Stalin may have been an atheist, but he didn’t kill people in the name of atheism. It’s rather like this logic:

        1. Hitler and Stalin were both ruthless dictators who committed genocide

        2. Hitler and Stalin both had large moustaches

        3. Therefore I conclude that moustaches are an evil influence

        Their acts were not done in the name of atheism, they were simply acts committed by atheists. The crusades, inquisition, genocides etc. etc. etc. were all done in the name of Christianity.

        Mao and Stallin both erected monuments to themselves, loved having their picture painted EVERYWHERE there was room for one, and demanded the kind of unquestioning loyalty and obedience that gives them a cult of personality on par with the cults of religion.

        They edified themselves as sole authorities, never to be questioned and always to be praised.

        Hardly atheistic when you set yourself up to be treated like a god, is it?
        Their claims to atheism were occidental, not motivational.

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      7. I didn’t break Godwin’s Law matey!!

        The Communists did kill many pro-revolution bourgoise (and I know I messed the spelling) because of their ideology. Read Andrei Platanov’s books. Very scary.

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      8. Yesss… but notice the word you used there.

        Ideology. You make my case for me.

        An Idelology != Religion.

        i·de·ol·o·gy
        1. the body of doctrine, that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.
        2. such a body of doctrine, etc., with reference to some political and social plan, as that of fascism, along with the devices for putting it into operation.
        3. Philosophy.
        a. the study of the nature and origin of ideas.
        b. a system that derives ideas exclusively from sensation.
        4. theorizing of a visionary or impractical nature.

        re·li·gion
        1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

        These people killed millions due to their _ideology_ of which atheism was a single facet( and not one even held by all communist members). You could just as easily claim they killed millions because of their view of the class struggle as the cause of all poverty.

        When killing is performed in the name of religion the excuse used and the blame can be solely laid at the feet of the shared belief structure that allows and encourages such behaviour.

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      9. I must lower the tone by sniggering at your typo “An Idelology! = Religion”. Presumably an idelology is worshiping cats with captions.

        I think the main flaw in the argument that atheism has been the impetus for anything violent is because atheism is not a belief but an absense of one. One might as well claim not believing in the Easter Bunny (were he to be fictional which he bloody isn’t) is a reason for a bit of biffo. Atheism makes for a lousy cry to arms: “We should go kill those bods over yonder as I don’t believe in God!”. The only circumstance when that might work is when a horde of atheists are attacking a religious group who are, as so many groups tend to be, freaking annoying. And teeechnically in the end that violence can be blamed on religion.

        Hurrah, godlessness wins.

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  2. I think these two cases are different. In the case of the JW, an adult made the decision to refuse a life saving treatment because it was “wrong”. That’s a direct religious injunction.

    In the case of the mataku I think it’s more about a cultural way of purging the family of something. This article was highlighted on Boing Boing re: the Salam Witch Trials

    The displaced people [refugees from the French-British war] created a strain on Salem’s resources. This aggravated the existing rivalry between families with ties to the wealth of the port of Salem and those who still depended on agriculture. Controversy also brewed over Reverend Samuel Parris… The Puritan villagers believed all the quarreling was the work of the Devil.

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/brief-salem.html?page=1

    Here was a very real tension in the Salem community which was unconsciously dealt with through the witch trials.

    My suspicion is that Janet Moses was either a source of tension in the family or the representative of some tension. She wasn’t the one that stole the taonga, yet she was murdered. My guess is that the mataku represented the family conflict/stress, she was (in a literal way) a scapegoat for something more than her. You don’t drown someone or watch it happen without there being some real anger at the person dying or anger at what she represented.

    By having 40 or more people present individuals are absolved of direct guilt. Each person who either held her down in the water (assuming it happened that way) or watched her being drowned could point to another person “in charge” who never stopped it.

    I think there was a non-religious reason for this woman’s death, but I don’t know if the people who killed her would know that consciously.

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      1. Please don’t mistake me. She was murdered, what happened to her was totally evil and wrong. Religion does not justify murder. I hope the people who murdered her are found guilty and sentenced to jail. The fact this it was her own family makes it even worse, if that’s possible.

        But I’d pay money her family feel justified in what happened (which btw is terrible). There’s no excuse for what happened to her.

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      2. It would be if it were rationalising. I think its a sociological explaination of how such an even could happen without someone stopping it.

        “By having 40 or more people present individuals are absolved of direct guilt”

        I think that’s meant to mean they might have (incorrectly) considered themselves absolved, thus explaining their failure to act to save a life. I doubt that Muerk believes that all 40 are actually absolved of direct guilt. Could have been phrased better since it lacked a little framing to make that context clear.

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    1. It certainly purged the family of the mother in question. All because of demons that come when someone steals a small stone statue of a lion from a nearby hotel, if updates on the story are correct. I’m so glad people have religion to give them guidance and a moral fucking framework for their lives. However short those lives may be cut.

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      1. I don’t think religious people are any better than agnostics or atheists. Religious faith doesn’t automatically confer moral authority. And I don’t think you need to believe in God(s) to be an ethical person.

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    2. I think you are likely at least partially right however I think that, without the religious (or I guess any extreme ideology) “excuse” you would be hard pressed to get 40 people willing to be complicit in murder

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      1. Yeah, I would love to be able to know what they were thinking at the time. I wondered if the people drowning her were not the ones in charge and thus transfered their moral choices over to them. People in groups can be very dangerous.

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      2. Couldn’t agree more. We don’t get politics doing that any more unless people start moving into ‘cult’ territory, but the religion provides an excuse to get people to do something they normally wouldn’t countenance, and think it’s okay.

        And… it looks like she wasn’t the only one they tried it with.

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      3. I note that police are talking about “cultural issues” in this case which is a bit concerning. I hope people don’t get a “pass” because it’s Maori and the cops don’t want to look racist.

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  3. If only you could thrust a copy of The God Delusion at them, and they’d actually read it. Sadly that’s not how the faithful (and sometimes even just the faithful-sympathetic) roll.

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    1. The God Delusion really isn’t that great though. Here is one small critique:

      http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=776

      Dawkins doesn’t have enough theology or philosophy to make his point effectively. For scholars of religion, Dawkins is just blundering around and making a bit of a fool of himself, but for those uneducated about the subject matter his arguments look for more convincing than they actually are.

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      1. Uneducated about theology? Yes. Show me one theologian or philosopher of religion who think that The God Delusion was a good piece of academic work. It wasn’t, it was a polemic.

        How could I critique a book on say, geology, if I had no geological background? Sure I’ve lived around rocks all my life, but what do I actually know about them? Saying that I could speak with authority and have something to offer the world about geological knowledge would be ridiculous.

        Dawkins knows precious little about religion and people who aren’t educated about religion enjoy his book. That doesn’t make you a fool at all. But defending Dawkins in the face of rational and specialist critique is a fool’s errand.

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      2. I think not being a scholar in a particular field qualifies someone uniquely to ask very sensible questions about some of the things wrong with it, I think sometimes it takes the uneducated child to ask the obvious questions about something that we, who know too much about it have been inured to the incredulity of.

        Imagine trying to explain Transubstantiation to someone who knew nothing about it, they might quite sensibly say “you what, you eat flesh and drink blood, and you really believe that’s what you’re doing… but that’s cannibalism isn’t it?”

        Now a scholar who knows a lot about this wouldn’t ask that question, but you know at the end of the day it’s the right question, the kind of question that should be asked of all religious ritual, the child’s question of “Isn’t that a little weird?” yes Timmy it is a little weird thanks for reminding me.

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      3. Hey, if you’re punting for the uneducated, emotional response to religious thought then dude, I am not going to stop you. But don’t expect me to respect it much either.

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      4. You’ll forgive me if I’m not overly concerned about the respect I receive from the lady reading tea leaves as I ask her ask obvious questions like, “Um hows that supposed to work?”

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      5. You’ve created a strawman of the folk belief of fortune telling and are trying to use that to compare it with a sophisticated internally coherent system of praxis that’s been at least 4000 years in the development.

        So what if you ask the tea leaf lady how it works, what does that have to do with theology? Nothing.

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      6. No I didn’t. I made no claim as to the validity of the “sophisticated internally coherent system of praxis” at all.

        An argumentum ad antiquitatem would look like this:

        A sophisticated internally coherent system of praxis that’s been at least 4000 years in the development is true because it is so ancient and venerable.

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      7. She’s right JSR. What she actually did was simply sophistry: she failed to say anything meaningful at all. Hell, even *her* religion would regard it as a statement with no argumentative weight, designed purely to misdirect.

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      8. I’m sorry the 4000 years of development thing does nothing to make something more valid, doing something stupid for a long time does not make it less stupid it makes the people doing it more stupid.

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      9. Absolutely true, see above.

        I’m saying that you can’t reasonably compare questioning of how tea leaves work with asking if transubstantiation is cannibalism. Tea leaves and transubstantiation _explanations_ are different enough to warrant separate categories.

        That’s why it’s not an argumentum ad antiquitatem because I make no conclusion on the validity of either tea leaves or transubstantiation. I’m merely saying you can’t compare the two in the specific way you were.

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      10. I only meant that there had been 4000 of systematic development of transubstantiation as religious praxis. Beginning with animal sacrifices in Old Testament Jewish religion.

        Tea leaves has never been developed as a religious praxis that could be _meaningfully_ compared.

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      11. Well my point was that I take reading tea leaves as seriously as I take transubstantiation, because they seem to a layman as equally absurd.

        I thought the main argument was that someone not specifically a scholar would notice these absurdities with more clarity.

        My point is I find this clarity valuable because it gives a perspective a scholar from either side cannot have.

        I have always thought that instead of hiring a consultant companies should hire someone who knows nothing about what they do so that he can ask questions someone more knowledgeable would never ask, in order to highlight possible flaws in their systems.

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      12. Okay, so putting aside the tea leaves part, you think that when someone comes in with no prior knowledge about a subject they can ask basic questions that experts have never thought to ask?

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      13. More like important questions experts are too clever to ask.

        Questions that nobody is asking because they have moved on from those questions and do not consider them on a daily basis anymore.

        Example,

        A lady always cut the end off her leg of lamb,
        A friend notices and asks “why do you do that?”
        She answers “Because my mother did, so I do”
        They ask “Yes but why did she do it?”
        So she asks her mother “why do you do it?”
        it then turned out that she did it because her mother did it
        So the went to the Grandmother and asked her “why did you always cut the end off your leg of lamb” and she replied “my roasting dish was too small”

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      14. Oh _please_

        _You_ of all people have _zero_ right to hassle “a strawman of the folk belief of fortune telling”

        I _quite_ distinctly recall you asking me if you could read my tarot cards in a quiet corner of a library so you could “get practise”. I agreed despite embarrassment because you were one of Karens friends.

        I’m sorry but your track record for “sophisticated internally coherent systems of thought” is not exactly exemplary.

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      15. Oh COME ON! That was when you were being a _druid_ for the love of pete. You have no right to throw the first stone.

        Let’s face it, most of us here have dire embarrassing things we did or wanted or believed in. I mean ok, mea culpa on the tarot cards. No debate. But you had your howlers too.

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      16. And you’ll note I admitted this in my _next_ post.

        However I also hold some pride in the fact that I went from this insanity towards sanity.

        You however seem to have managed to follow my spiritual development almost in direct reverse.

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      17. It depends really. I certainly respect their right to their opinions but I’d have to know about what they think and why to really respect it as a valid argument.

        I guess though I’m going to have a greater degree of respect for anyone who is expert in their field. So I respect Zane’s geology knowledge over mine which consists of about “It’s a rock.” Zane really knows about rockness. I don’t.

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      18. I don’t think that’s what he’s saying, keeping in mind that many of these opinions and beliefs are propagated by (on the surface) fairly educated people.

        I think it’s the belief system he’s attacking not the people or their level of education.

        Having said that there are some fairly interesting statistics linking education level and tendency to be religious with religiosity dropping off drastically among the most educated/prosperous of society.

        This however to my mind does not say that the uneducated are to blame but rather that we should be _fighting_ like madmen to make good education available to all equally.

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      19. You mean people who have spent years studying something don’t like a book
        that tells them in no uncertain terms that they’ve been wasting their time?

        Go figure!

        – MugginsM

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      20. It tells them in no uncertain terms sure. But it doesn’t offer a quality argument on _why_.

        Even if Dawkins is objectively right, and God does not exist, he hasn’t written a good argument to show that. Even a stopped clock is correct twice a day.

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      21. lol.

        Fine, even a stopped clock is correct twice a day provided it isn’t in a plane hurtling around the planet. Or in outer space. Or on another dimensional plane. Have I missed anything?

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      22. You Have: Failed
        You Have: Presented an Argumentum ad ignorantiam, attempted to Shift the Burden of Proof.

        Thank you for playing. Restart? Y/N

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      23. No it’s not. It would be if I was claiming that because Dawkins argument re: the existence of God is poor, God therefore exits.

        I am making a statement about Dawkins’ quality of argument, not whether or not his conclusion is true or false.

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      24. >>Show me one theologian or philosopher of religion who think that The God Delusion was a good piece of academic work. It wasn’t, it was a polemic.>Dawkins knows precious little about religion and people who aren’t educated about religion enjoy his book.> That doesn’t make you a fool at all. But defending Dawkins in the face of rational and specialist critique is a fool’s errand.

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      25. A theologian or philosopher of religion is hardly going to be flattering of a book which condemns their entire field of interest as meaningless nonsense, are they?

        Dawkins is a scientist. He writes books about science, not theology, not philosophy of religion. He approaches the question of God from a scientific, naturalistic perspective. As somebody who buys into that worldview, Dawkins’ arguments make a hell of a lot of sense to me. If you don’t buy into that worldview, and have already accepted your beliefs on faith, well, you’re hardly going to be convinced to abandon them by reason.

        In either case, though, I don’t think it’s fair to say that a failure to buy into worldview X is a result of a failure to understand it.

        Just for the record, I consider myself to be fairly well educated about religion. I would wager that I have a much better understanding of Christian theology and philosophy than the average Christian on the street (which to be fair, is not terribly difficult). But I reject it, along with the meaningfulness of religious discourse. Does this mean I don’t understand it well enough? That I have no right to critique it?

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      26. Dawkins did a bit of the old “find the stupidest religious people I can find and laugh at them” in a way that was amusing but didn’t cast a lot of light.

        Christopher Hitchen’s rant was also pretty contemptuous but a lot more fun. He also seemed to have a much better understanding of what he was arguing against.

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      27. Sorry, what were *your* qualifications again? If you’re going to argue he’s unqualified we’d better know what your qualifications are.

        (Inverse argument from authority fails to impress, sorry)

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      28. I can only point to others who have the qualifications to refute Dawkins. The closest I get is taking religious studies at university and then merely at undergrad level. But then I’m NOT refuting Dawkins, only stating that he has been refuted.

        Alister McGrath would probably be a prime example who does have the knowledge to make intelligent criticism. He is a Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University. There’s debates with him and Richard Dawkins online.

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      29. He’s been rebutted and rebuked, but surely to refute him would require proving God existed? Depending on which of his claims were successfully challenged, of course.

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      30. Personally I don’t think there is definite proof of either God’s existence or not existence.

        I also think you can’t use religious belief or faith to justify murder or war. I’m not so sure about the JW blood transfusion thing. I personally think it’s horrific that she made that choice. But then I don’t know how I feel about the ethics of forcing her to have the blood transfusion.

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      31. So how can Dawkins be refuted?

        As for dead Jehovah’s Witnesses, given many religions are unholy fuckfests with plans of overcrowding the planet with their eminently-tithable zombies, a few weeding themselves out of the gene pool by clinging to outdated dogma is fine by me.

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      32. But if one removes someone’s premises, how can their conculsions remain? Now that you’ve redefined your phrase “refuting Dawkins”, could you specify what premises have been disproven?

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      33. His premise that “God” can be disproven only works for certain definitions of the term “God”. However as people will up stakes and run away to hide their goalposts elsewhere, unless Dawkins stalked every bug-eyed godbotherer and forced them (perhaps swearing on a Bible?) to define their deity so that it might be exposed to the scrutiny of science, you’re right that the highly subjective “God” will never be totally disproven – all it takes is one mushroom-mad freak to name a charmed quark that passed through the head of his penis “God” when Dawkins’ back was turned, for your claim to be right.

        …that said, as things stand, he’s done a pretty good job of showing the silliness and flaws in internal logic of the majority of definitions of “God”. Bless ‘im.

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      34. Actually, no, strictly speaking you can’t *refute* his premises. All you can do is not accept them.

        Or, even more strictly speaking, if he can show his premises are derived axiomatically then they can’t be refuted per se, only rejected.

        (fvck me, I’m going to use the term “trivially true” any second now, I just know it (as it were))

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      35. Fair enough then, I don’t accept them. Do we all pass PHIL 101 now?

        I might add by the way, thank God, or Not God, that Edward Ursus isn’t here ‘cos I’m not up for any Wittgenstein.

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      36. Well I don’t necessarily disagree with you on this. _However_ I don’t think Dawkins is a fool, and I suspect he has a lot more background that comes through in his books and shows. Keep in mind her does to some degree have to keep his books and shows available to the general public or he locks out his target audience.

        See my book list below for far more succinct and salient arguments against religion by specialists in _each_ field. (Philosophy, Ethics and science)

        Then you get the really meaty stuff without the approachability of Dawkins.

        Dawkins really is an introduction to atheism as a concept for the people. Beyond that you have to do your own research like with anything.

        You can’t dis-regard the field just because the populist book for the topic doesn’t go as deep as you would like.

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      37. Also, that critique is awfully, awfully fickle. So Dawkins thinks that a life of scientific discovery is of more value than a life of religious contemplation. Is this surprising?

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    2. I liked the god dellusion but I _do_ find Dr Dawkins to be a _little_ trite sometimes when dealing with the subject mattter. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame him, after watching his shows and seeing some of the people he has to talk politely to I would be a little thin on the polite too.

      However my current personal booklist for “good introductory books to atheism” and “good books for solidifying your arguments and viewpoints” are

      For a philosophically concise argument against religion : Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (Hardcover)
      by Michel Onfray

      For a scientifically precise set of arguments against any supernatural involvement in the creation of the universe and all in it : Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism (Paperback)
      by David Mills

      and finally for a _very_ good evolutionary biological reasoning as to why we are moral beings without the need for “inspired” ethical frameworks : The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule (Hardcover)
      by Michael Shermer

      I highly recommend reading all three of these books for a well rounded framework of tools for dealing with these kind of common arguments and debates as well as clarifying some finer points which were still lacking in my own framework for dealing with the world. (mainly in the moral and ethical systems area)

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      1. Indeed. Preferably one that doesn’t involve a whole bunch of stuff I’ve seen before.

        OTOH, I have a certain morbid fascination for watching a post zoom up on a hundred comments.

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      2. All the cool kids appear to be using Ubuntu at the moment. I’m still rollin’ Debian, but I can relate to wanting more frequent driver and code updates, so me and the Ubuntu boyz, we at peace, we chillin’.

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      3. I know they had to have a word starting with G for the Gutsy Gibbon, but I really wish it was the Funky Gibbon, ’cause it’d have a theme song and three great mascots already.

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  4. ** Sometimes people I know say to me “Why are you so hard on computer gamers? Why must you hassle? What harm does it do?” and from time to time I even find myself saying things like “Who cares if the guy that pumps my gas thinks the world is on a computer screen? Does it really matter? He wasn’t going to be publishing any papers on geophysics anyway.”

    Then I read articles like this one: http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/europe/07/29/uk.manhunt/index.html

    LONDON, England — Campaigners are stepping up pressure for a violent video game to be banned after it was blamed for the horrific murder of a 14-year-old British boy by an older friend.

    ..and this one …

    http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/10/23/1066631542647.html?from=storyrhs

    Makers of the violent video game Grand Theft Auto III are being sued for $US246 million ($A352.2 million) by families of two people shot by teenagers allegedly inspired by the game.

    They didn’t kill because of a lack of technology. They killed, pointlessly, and preventatively, because they played bullshit games. They honed their murder laced minds, while their family fucking LOOKED ON, because they all were taught that nonsensical fairy tales computer games were truth.

    Where’s the harm? There, gentle readers, is the fucking harm.

    ** Note that instead of “computer games” or “religion” I could have used virtually any example to “prove” my idea. I’m quite sure google would have thrown up a case of somebody who smashed their partner to death with frozen spinach, thus proving the danger, nay, nonsensical fairy tale danger that is spinach, freezing and having partners.

    Capiche?

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    1. Can you give me an example of any group people, or even one person, who routinely teach others that Video Games are Absolute Truth?

      People who kill others because of an inability to differentiate fantasy in the form of video games, movies, tv-shows or Beatles songs from reality are (rightly) considered to be suffering from a psychosis. They’re mentally ill.

      In my opinion, True Believers are _also_ mentally ill, in exactly the same manner. It’s just that they have a huge support group of OTHER mentally ill people who serve to pull them into a eternal spiral of crazy. When everyone you know believes in the Invisible Sky Beard and his Many Crazy Rules, you’re under a shitload of pressure to believe it as well.

      Sure, people die, and kill, because of non-religious reasons. This is Bad. But people at least then _want to do something about it_. “Make GTA R18!” they say. “Keep it away from kids!”

      Where’s the “Ban the Bible!” and “Keep it away from kids!” uproar when someone is tortured to death to drive the demons out?

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      1. Hey, the Maori culture of mataku isn’t Christian. You can’t blame Bible for that.

        Interesting anecdote. My mother was the hostel manager for the Post Office in Wellington in the ’60s. One day a Maori girl just couldn’t get out of bed. Couldn’t move. They got the doctors and she was checked out but apparently there was nothing they could find. Her family claimed it was a mataku and she had to go home and they had to get the person who put the curse on her to remove it.

        Mum (atheist, skeptic, ex-nurse) said the girl wasn’t faking.

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      2. NB : Incident occurred in the 1960’s when our medical understanding of brain disorders and things like sleep paralysis were poorly (if at all) understood.

        Humans have been making up supernatural excuses for (now) well documented medical disorders for as long as there have been humans.

        Epileptics were _very_ often thought to be possessed.

        Hell lets just take my sleep paralysis example.

        “Though sleep paralysis is harmless, it can be terrifying, especially if you don’t know what’s happening to you. Someone experiencing an episode may have hallucinations, or have the feeling that someone is in the room or sitting on his/her chest. Hearing and smell can also be involved, as can the feeling of floating or flying. Sleep paralysis is also common — so common that many different cultures have their own names and stories associated with the condition:

        Newfoundland An “old hag” with supernatural powers was thought to sit on the sleeper’s chest and cause paralysis.

        West Indies
        A “kokma” or ghost baby was thought to jump on the chest of the sleeper and attack his/her throat.

        China
        “Ggui ya” or pressure applied by a ghost was thought to be responsible for paralyzing the sleeper.

        Some researchers believe that sleep paralysis could even be responsible for recent reports of late-night alien abductions.”

        The condition is often linked to the sleep disorder narcolepsy — a condition that causes people to lose control over when they fall asleep — but people who don’t have narcolepsy experience episodes as well. Sleep paralysis seems to run in families and is more common in teenagers and people who have panic attacks.

        SO while I’m not disregarding your mums statement that at the time she had no medical explanation for the girls paralysis I am not as eager as you to attribute said paralysis to “da evil spirits w0t got her brains!”

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      3. You stated that “She wasn’t faking” therefore lending credulity with your statement to the concept that she was affected by a “mataku”. You were implicitly defending that position.

        It was only relevant if you were trying to defend the stance that some ailments can only be explained by supernatural means.

        A stance which I most surely and strongly stand in opposition to.

        It’s fairly hypocritical to have a chuckle at the local “savages” for their silly ideas of curses and witches, then turn around and defend your own cultures ridiculous ideas of demonic inspiration and the devil trying to “get you”.

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      4. I’m not chuckling at the local “savages”, you’re reading far more into what I’m actually saying.

        “She wasn’t faking” implies only that _the girl_ seemed to believe in the mataku, not me.

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      5. If she believed in the mataku and that was the cause of her immobility then her medical problem was indeed fake.

        Just because her subconscious is fooling her into motionlessness it doesn’t make her problem any more “imagined”.

        It’s amazing what we can fool ourselves into, doesn’t make it any more real.

        See religion.

        I’m sure you’ve had moments in your life where you’ve “felt the calming and supportive hand of god cupping you and nurturing you”. The fact that you managed to get your brain to give you a nice little serotonin dump through self delusion doesn’t make your feeling any more heaven sent that if you had achieved the same emotion using off the shelf drugs.

        Half of what makes us human is our ability to rationalise our sensory input to support our world view.

        It takes serious focus to stand back and look at everything critically and ask yourself. “Am I feeling this way because I am being touched by his noodly appendage? Or am I feeling this way because my blood sugar is currently low and I am as such succeptable to a sugar crash instigated emotional state?

        Being able to accept the (far less exciting) realistic alternative is (in my opinion) the sign of a mature and well developed mind.

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      6. Just because her subconscious is fooling her into motionlessness it doesn’t make her problem any more “imagined”.

        I disagree. I think “faking” implies a conscious deception, but fine, my bad for not being completely specific. My mother didn’t think the girl in question was being consciously deceptive in her paralysis.

        I think subconscious causes for physical symptoms does not warrant the term “fake”. And btw, my faith is not based merely on feelings or experiences but it is also a question of my will. I assume you’re aware of the dark night of the soul and spiritual dryness?

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      7. Ah yes.. those thing that Mother Teresa experienced for most of her career.

        It’s interesting how it requires a force of will to pull out of such thinking but no such force of will to come to such thinking.

        I would like to posit the theory that this is because your subconscious knows something that you don’t and that the state of doubt and dis-belief is your “thinking head” telling you that your normally held belief structure is so much twaddle.

        It’s all a case of perspective.

        To you being in a state of spiritual dryness is an undesirable state and is a spiritual/mental deficiency.

        To me being in that state is the default and more sensible state to be in and rationalising yourself out of it is the case of denial and self-delusion.

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    2. Apples and oranges… the examples initially cited by JSR relate to matters specifically and provably tied to religious beliefs. People complaining about computer games because they might have had influence over some waterheads is not the same situation. Had the debate began with the claim “the Catholic Church is being sued by parents of a child killed whose murderer alleged “God made me do it”” in which the involvement of religion isn’t yet proven, and is only an influencing factor, your examples might be more similar.

      Is there any other single overreaching component of human society that has so many bodies at its feet? Feudalism, perhaps, or racism? And if so, what fueled them? Rather than Googling news articles to find the one-in-a-million cases, find the big hitters, the things that have provably caused more harm than mosquitoes, and throw THEM in the ring with the god squad.

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    3. I know this is a difficult point, but there’s a difference. It’s causality.

      In both of those cases there is a bunch of people who *claim* that there is a causal link between violent video games and violent actions. Note the words “inspired” and “blamed by”, not any actual proven causal link, but a bunch of people who start off with the premise that violent games cause violent people, and look for the evidence to fit.

      And there you have it, violent people do violent things, and somewhere you make up some vague link that is nothing more than a correlation. Not a single shred of evidence.

      On the other hand, these religious fuckwits followed what their book told them. You can’t really get more causal than that.

      But no, we can’t say they’re psychopaths for following whatever their sky fairy they think exists tells them to and kill people, because that’s a Religion and you appear to get a free pass out of psycholand for following one.

      The harm, in case you missed it, is the free pass.

      (Aside: there is a vast difference between believing in something on faith, and doing whatever the hell you want because of it, even when it affects other people. I have no problem with anyone’s beliefs, provided they don’t put anyone else at harm. When they put someone else at harm, they are a dangerous person and need to be stopped.)

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      1. Ah, true. That’s a fair point actually, it’s not a book in this case. I’m not sure if less written definition makes it worse or better really. Not that written text makes things any more clear in most cases I guess. 🙂

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  5. Sometimes people I know say to me “Why are you so hard on religious people? Why must you hassle? What harm does it do?”

    Do you feel you’re hard on religious people in general? I’ve always found you to be polite, relatively interested, and happy to acknowledge that reasonable people can be religious. In practice, you seem to distinguish between the general concept of religion and specific religious beliefs you find ridiculous or dangerous.

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    1. Oh yeah, I get called on it. I think it’s because I really do genuinely think that people who connect their (for lack of a better word) “spiritual side”[1] with obviously absurd tribal bollocks like always having to wear a certain type of hat, or chopping very very sensitive bits off your children, or not eating wheat on a thursday.. in my opinion these people are truly broken. In the brain. High functioning mental defectives, obviously, but still mental defectives.

      And I don’t even want to seem like a smart-arse, or the kid from the Emperors New Clothes story, but if everyone called people on it when they Did Stupid Stuff, maybe, just maybe, humanity overall would do less Stupid Stuff. And every little bit helps.

      [1] The part of being human that makes one marvel at the universe and it’s beauty and complexity. The part that notes the ability of humanity to display the finest of graces and the darkest of ills. That bit.

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      1. At what point in the “spiritual side” continuum are people high functioning mental defectives? I mean in an observable way.

        Going to a religious service once a week? Or fasting on Fridays? Or identifying as a “Hindu” or “Muslim”. Or is it less about doing religious-type things and more about believing in a deity. Say Visnu or Allah? What do you think about say Buddhists who believe in reincarnation?

        Or does it have to be more extreme than that to warrant the mental defective thing? Like giving lots of money to Benny Hinn’s Hour of Power.

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      2. As a Catholic, and belonging to a church that has rejected linear models of moral judgements as sinful for the exact reason that it leads to these sorts of questions etc, doesn’t it strike you as strangly hypocritical to be expecting someone else to hold such a moral viewpoint? Maybe they have a more holistic moral standard that they use (or claim to use)?

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      3. in my opinion these people are truly broken

        I’m more of a nurture guy, myself. I think there’s a terrible general confusion between religion and tradition and ethnicity that needs to be challenged more often and more seriously. Many religious believers define themselves more by the special hat rituals or by skin colour or nationality, than by what they believe to be true. This mitigates against the search for genuine understanding, and diminishes religion to mere rhetorical cover for prejudice. People mired in this confusion don’t have the mental tools to distinguish between belief and culture – it’s all one indistinguishable ball, so that it’s impossible to accept criticism of any part without facing the traumatic prospect of throwing away the whole thing.

        I don’t think you need to be mentally defective to be that confused. More often, I think people have just never been exposed to clear thinking about religion. If they can resolve the big ball of wax into a more understandable collection of interacting components, they’ll be more willing to contemplate which components are necessary, and which can potentially be modified or phased out.

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    2. I would have to say this is a true prejudice that I have, I really view religious belief as a character flaw or even in extreme cases a mental disorder, for me faith makes no sense, it flies in the face of everything that I know to be true and correct, and more often than not it is misused to justify some pretty impolite or sometimes antisocial behaviour.

      If I agree with only one thing Dawkins had to say it would be that religion enjoys a special status of it not being acceptable to criticise it because it’s sacred, and I think in a lot of cases this status is undeserved and abused.

      I have a sense of distrust when I am around some religious people, not bog standard catholic and anglicans they generally behave fairly normally, and don’t usually have anything to prove, more the bible thumpers, the door knockers and the street preachers, these people make me very uneasy.

      I think people have the right to believe what they like, I do not think they have the right to try and foist those beliefs on anybody who doesn’t want them to, and the minute they wish to, using force or the state, then I have a real problem with that religion.

      In a lot of ways I think society would be better off without religion, I really think it would be nice if people could be nice to each other, run youth groups, take children on camping trips, sponsor kids sporting events, collect money for worthy causes, help people out who are in need without having to do it for religious reasons.

      Why not the Boy Scouts minus God?

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      1. You have a problem with the religion when people do this?

        I would have thought you’d have a problem with the people? Not everyone who holds the same beliefs behave the same way.

        Personally I think the problems come from people and their varying interpretations of the basic message. Hence the wars and killings that have happened in the name of *insert religion of choice here*. People want what they want, and some are willing to manipulate the rest and use religion as a tool to get it. (which brings up the point of why do the people being manipulated not have the sense to question the motives of their leaders.)

        I think alot of the basic tenets of varying religions are sound advise on how to live a good life and have society function well. Unfortunately, too many people pick out certain ideas and twist them in ways never meant to be, and use them to justify their own prejudices…

        I don’t think having belief in something “more” is a flaw. I think, as you say, trying to force it on others, and using it as justification for all the “nice” things/causes we do and the evils we commit just cheapens that belief. If we are a truly functional and “good” society, we should be able to do just like you say, help people without needing that excuse. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case yet….

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      2. >You have a problem with the religion when people do this?

        Sorry, to clarify, I have a problem when doing this is a part of the religion, rather than just some members of the religion taking it upon themselves to do it.

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      3. If I agree with only one thing Dawkins had to say it would be that religion enjoys a special status of it not being acceptable to criticise it because it’s sacred, and I think in a lot of cases this status is undeserved and abused.

        No argument there. Religion, as belief, shouldn’t need any special protection. I think the social taboo on criticising religion derives from the confusion with ethnicity and race. If religion were something you were born with and couldn’t easily change, like your skin colour or family or tribe, it would be unfair to denigrate it. I think ethnicity should be accorded some respect, but ought to be recognised as a little more open to criticism because it’s more fluid – you can change it, but it’s quite hard to do, and some people are much more tightly connected to it than others. But nobody is born with a religion. Whether people acknowledge it or not, religious belief is a choice.

        I think people have the right to believe what they like, I do not think they have the right to try and foist those beliefs on anybody who doesn’t want them to

        If people believe something is extremely important for me to know, I think they should have the right to try and tell me. Not being pushy with people who clearly aren’t interested ought to be a matter of common sense, and while it’s annoying that not everybody has that common sense, I don’t think you can force them to develop it.

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      4. If people believe something is extremely important for me to know, I think they should have the right to try and tell me. Not being pushy with people who clearly aren’t interested ought to be a matter of common sense, and while it’s annoying that not everybody has that common sense, I don’t think you can force them to develop it.

        Personally I would want to be pretty sure the person was actually interested in hearing what I had to say first, no mater how important I thought it might be, this should be fairly obvious, for example if they are visiting your church there’s a good chance that they would be ammenable to such a discussion, if they are in their own home and I’m walking along the footpath I’m going to presume they don’t.

        I think it’s important to remember some people are terribly polite and have a lot of trouble telling you they aren’t interested because they don’t wish to seem rude, hurt your feelings or cause a scene.

        I think that in this day and age it is best to presume that a given person knows at least enough about the common religions that they know where to go should they want to learn more about them.

        I would presume that if they haven’t availed themselves it is because they decided not to, or aren’t interested just yet and I wouldn’t bother them.

        I especially disagree with what amounts to the hard sell being put on impressionable children, my experiences with this (in hindsight) were abusive in nature and I don’t believe I should have been subjected to it.

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      5. Personally I would want to be pretty sure the person was actually interested in hearing what I had to say first

        Oh yes, I quite agree that people should do this. But on the odd occasion that some don’t, I consider it a minor inconvenience that I can put up with for the sake of general freedom of speech. I do have more respect for people who have gone out of their way to visit my house and knock on my door because they want me to know about something they believe will benefit me than I do for, say, people who pay minimum wage for their employees to call me up and try to sell me things.

        I think that in this day and age it is best to presume that a given person knows at least enough about the common religions that they know where to go should they want to learn more about them.

        They may know where to go, and it should be easy, but there’s a very pervasive idea that you can’t just go up to a house of worship and ask questions. Due to the ball-of-wax problem, people are generally scared they’ll cause deep offence by wearing the wrong clothes or saying something they didn’t know was rude, or whatever. For most people, getting to the point where you actually feel comfortable asking meaningful questions is a long process. Part of the intention of door-knocking campaigns, whether religious or political, is to break down that barrier and connect you with real people.

        This is not to defend door-knocking, though. I think it’s a bad idea in New Zealand, no matter how good one’s intentions might be. I’d reserve judgement on whether it might be more acceptable in other societies.

        I especially disagree with what amounts to the hard sell being put on impressionable children, my experiences with this (in hindsight) were abusive in nature and I don’t believe I should have been subjected to it.

        I quite agree, which is why I’m in favour of schools teaching the basic facts about what religions believe.

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      6. >I quite agree, which is why I’m in favour of schools teaching the basic facts >about what religions believe.

        Yes I agree, though you tend to get one of two responses when you suggest this, either a blanket “we can’t teach religion in school” or the preumption that christianity (particularly only whatever flavour is locally acceptable) be the only religion taught.

        I would love to have had a wider experience of the different religions when I was younger, I think though, that had I been given the range of options I would have been a lot more interested in the eastern religions, instead all we got was some voluntary religious education put on by a certian christian church I don’t know which one it wasn’t very memorable and whilst it was voluntary we weren’t really told it was so we all did it, mind you giving children the option to either do voluntary religious education or their school work isn’t a very fair choice.

        But I think it would have been great if someone from all the religions was asked to come to the school and explain to us what it was all about.

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  6. Whoa, jsr! 141 comments!
    am totally impressed.

    re: JW person. I have no problem with people believing “bullshit” what I have a problem with is that they are BLAMING a so called lack of technology! If they make this choice and it turned out bad, why can’t they just accept it?

    I hate blame, and I’m blaming you all for this.

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  7. My take on religiony stuff, from when I was around 11, which continues to this day is: “People who have issues with birth control: if God really wants that child to be born, the birth control will fail and you will choose to carry that baby to term”. Also, so that will continue: “If God really wants you to die, that blood transfusion won’t save you anyway”. And I can’t imagine that there would be a god who would want that anyway. As a non religious person, of course.

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  8. Just like old times, with one exception

    Not that I’ve had time to do more than quickly skim this thread, but I see the Realmians outnumber the NotRealm by about 5:1 and it’s just like old times – except that in days of yore, Tess would have been on the other side. 🙂

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    1. Re: Just like old times, with one exception

      Another important difference is the level of politness – the theists haven’t been mercilessly excoriated and then had their entrails poked about with a blunt stick for good measure.

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    2. Re: Just like old times, with one exception

      I’m pretty sure I was always anti-abortion though.

      The odd thing about faith is that I think you can be quite clinical about it. So for example I think you can have faith without any of the squishy “I hear you God” feelings. I think to a large extent there’s a level of choice as to the God bit, then it’s all a matter of which religious expression is actually likely to be true.

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  9. My parents used to work in the ER of the local public hospital. Dad told me a story about a month ago of an emergency court intervention he had to organize to get a JW kid a life saving blood transfusion – the parents didn’t want it done.

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