1: The strident atheism of Reddit has me convinced that, as a doctrine or ideology, it is not any better than a religion.
2: I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.
1: Reddit or atheism?
2: I assume the variety of atheism you're referring to exists apart from Reddit, so probably the latter.
1: Well, Reddit atheists are just opinionated internet people -- spiteful, angry, and rude internet people. I'm just puzzled by all the "new atheists" and the "four horsemen" who hold that religion, in and of itself, is incompatible with values like tolerance, intellectual inquiry, etc. The intolerance and intellectual inquiry of our country's religious people seems incidental to the political and cultural climate, not an essential aspect.
2: May i play devil's advocate?
2: I think well-informed atheists who disbelieve for proper reasons, which only describes some of those on Reddit, would be quick to agree with you. Bad people do good things, good people do bad, and religion for the most part stands outside one's inclination toward either.
1: Yep, yep.
2: And so as I recall the argument goes, religion is post-will rather than pre-will. It serves only to justify, not inform, our actions. So the primary accusation cuts beyond the superficial fact that there are stupid and/or cruel people who are religious. It mostly concerns our methodology in regards to knowledge. Must I have a reason for what I believe and do? If so, how do I come about this reason?
1: Right, so my point is that the new atheists espouse that they have this moral impulse to stamp out religion, that it will improve the world in a definitive way, and that seems like a very unfounded claim, and one that is inconsistent with examples we already have.
2: We can point to excellent examples of religious people furthering the human race. That is undeniable.
1: I mean, there are examples all over the place.
2: Of course.
1: It's not really my intent to rehash them. I'm just saying, one of the central claims of guys like sam harris is that we only stand to be improved by the abolition of religion, not just intellectually, but morally, socially, etc. And to me that looks like putting the cart before the horse. Now if you want to attack theism on an argumentative ground, actually tackling the idea itself and not how it manifests in the world, then yeah, that's an entirely different argument and one I'm willing to entertain. And what is "must i have a reason?" What is that in reference to?
2: Epistemology? The entire point of faith is not having a reason for believing and doing.
1: Well, what is "reason?"
2: Is that rhetorical?
1: I'm just trying to understand what you said earlier.
2: If you do something without reason, you are said to act "in faith." If you believe without reason, you believe "by faith." "Knowing in your heart," "trusting in your spirit." To defend Sam Harris' idea, if he does in fact believe that reason is a firm ground for better morality, social progress, and intellectual expansion, and also that reason and faith are essentially incompatible, then it doesn't appear to be an overreaching conclusion. I honestly think the "heat" of these new atheist arguments come from atheists in the US being an especially despised and somewhat persecuted minority.
1: To say that reason and faith are "fundamentally" incompatible is an extreme perspective.
2: Well that is the key, isn't it. It's an old debate.
1: I'm aware. But i do think this description is at odds with the actual intellectual practices of people, theist and non-theist. And that's why I find it to be extreme.
2: Now that i might agree with. But I would chalk it up to "cognitive dissonance" rather than epistemic principle. You have seen and you believe, but blessed are those who do not see, yet believe.
1: Right, yes, I do agree that they are at odds "on paper." The thing is humans adhere to epistemic principles only ostensibly, and with constant effort. We default to a state of cognitive dissonance which inevitably works its way into our lives.
2: Sure. It's inevitable.
1: Maybe aiming for the principles of reason is necessary despite our imperfections, but now it's starting to sound like religion which, in the durkheimian or neitzschian sense, it would be.
2: That's fine. If one wishes to couch reason in terms of rite, I have no problem with it. Though I might argue that it is a dubious redefinition of religion.
1: It's a different definition than that employed by the new atheists, and that which is used in our general discourse, but i think it's a more useful one.
2: There are already lots of definitions of religion floating around: a vague sort of cultural continuity; a moral community; etc. I'd argue for "Tradition." It's elegant. It captures the central idea(s) around which doctrine and community are formed and the practices they maintain. It describes its inertial effect on society, explains the purveyance of religion through time and culture, and illustrates religion's natural place in the shaping of society. From this perspective religion is a basic, natural result of the social nature of man. An elixir to be studied but not consumed, to be esteemed for its place in our history but not for its bearing on our future.
1: Well that's sort of how I see it.
2: The harsh counterpart to that perspective is that it must, for the good of society, eventually die out. It must be shed and left behind as an empty, ornamental husk.
1: But religion persists... and will persist.
2: A form of it will.
1: But in my sense, man is a religious animal. And yes, I think it will look very different, but it will persist.
2: I imagine aspects of religion, as a distinctly social phenomenon, may.
1: I would argue that those aspects are what constitute religion. Gods, faith, etc... those are secondary characteristics.
2: But then all you really have left is Einstein's god, a vague personification of the unknown, cosmic intelligence, or merely "wonderment/curiosity" in that regard.
1: Religion is not belief in a god or gods. Religion is a human phenomenon and gods are a particular manifestation of it. So not even Einstein's god is an essential component.
2: But then what is left? Community? Reach exceeding grasp?
1: Gonna pull from Durkheim here: "A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, i.e., things set apart and forbidden--beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them." Durkheim argued that, in the modern world, the sacred things are rights, to put it quite briefly. At least, that is one important category of the new sacred.
2: That sounds like simply "morality."
1: Yes, "moral community."
2: Well it's difficult to say "reciprocal ethics" a.k.a. "the very foundation of common morality" is now the modern cultus spiritualis without seeming desperate to save just the word "religion."
1: I don't think it is. We act like a religious community when it comes to rights. Look at the tea party. We have a socially visceral reaction when it comes to the violation of rights. And it's not just saving the word religion, it's discovering the fundamentals that underlie it.
2: I agree with you to a certain extent, but our definitions of religion are not the same. Again, mine is bound up in Tradition while yours may stretch to cover fundamental social dynamics for which we already have words like "society." That is, I agree with your estimation of the future, and I don't particularly mind your definition, except that I would prefer to limit my definition to little beyond the colloquial usage, to the part of your "religion" which will eventually die. This way, we know what is behind us and what is ahead.
1: Well what would you term what is left?
2: Given your description above? Society. The expression of the social nature of man.
1: I'm not at all bothered by recasting the term religion. I can't help but feel our disagreement has something to do with each of our personal histories.
2: That's an easy out.
1: Not necessarily. Just because you've developed arguments for your views doesn't mean that your biographical history with religion didn't inform them.
2: Right, of course experience informs opinion, but you know that isn't a viable argument. I am arguing for restricting the definition of religion and have provided an argument. So the question is, why should we extend that definition to describe the social nature of man. What does humanity stand to gain by calling our most unique cognitive function "religion?"
1: Similarly, what do we stand to lose?
2: Maybe a sense of momentum or progress, moving beyond the bloody aeons of backward thought and deeds done in the name of traditions forged in human prehistory?
1: So maybe that terming of religion wouldn't survive in today's intellectual climate, if your attitude towards it is any indication, but it captures a certain sense that "social nature of man" does it not?
2: Aesthetically, perhaps. I doubt it does technically. I mean, we already have "society." Why must we also have "church?"
1: And your sense of moving beyond is not aesthetic?
2: Ha, touche. I did concede that our reasons might be roughly equivalent.
1: Our reasons for rejecting or preserving the term?
1: I think, if you're willing to forgive the terms "religion" and "church" for their association with our past, they are terms that already have built in the definitions that new terms will have to work to capture.
2: But those terms are not free and clear. They carry a lot of baggage. You must agree.
1: I guess I just don't feel as strongly about that point.
2: But you are a student of history. How can you not? Billions slain, civilizations destroyed, knowledge burned, endless bigotry and hate, a penchant for impeding progress, and all because it threatens tradition. For every Hospitalier there is an army of crusaders; for every Capernicus there is a Torquemada.
1: I think this is the same reason why I don't understand the moral urgency of the new atheists. I don't see these as the products of religion, they are products of incredibly complex social, cultural, and political interactions, of which religion is a part. Islamic extremists claim religion as their motive force, but western analysts have a whole host of geopolitical and historical explanations as to why they're doing what they're doing that treat religion as almost secondary or incidental.
2: I have already conceded that religious affiliation has little bearing on action. Perhaps religion is the outward expression of a pre-existing condition, the natural symptom of the human tendency to divide for the sake of unity. After all, there must be a them before there can be an us. But that stands aside from the fact of what religion represents. We know fire is not what consumes forests and houses. It's the chemical interaction of elemental particles in an energized state. It's only the photons and byproduct emissions we percieve as flame and smoke, but we still refer to the combustion as simply "fire" and paint cartoon flames on our safety signs, because that's the familiar expression.
1: I don't see religion as being particularly more representative of evil than any other of the human motive forces. To me, it represents humans being humans. Again that might not be the concensus.
2: One could compare it to Nazism, you know -- good intentions, some historic accomplishments, but it's not something you put on a resume.
1: Yeah, but that's a specific ideology that makes specific claims. Apples and oranges.
2: So religion is the name we gave many of our biggest mistakes, and also some of our biggest accomplishments. Maybe some people have a few good memories with an abusive parent, but they still don't name their child after them.
1: Shouldn't that just underline its essentiality to the human project?
2: What? The abuse?
1: We've done really horrible and really awesome things in the name of religion. So if the term religion is shorthand for human social nature, moral community, blah blah, then even people in the middle ages who talk about god etc. were unwittingly just emphasizing how important the social dimension of our species is and how central it is to our experience as a species. Not saying that we will always do horrible things no matter what, but it's all evidence, all part of the picture.
2: I agree with you, but I still have difficulty using "religion" to refer to "society." I can entertain an intellectual notion defining religious expression as an essential part of human nature, but my definition of religion cannot be stretched that far.
1: OK, so we're back to that.
2: I don't think we ever left.
2: I'll probably never say "hey, religion ain't so bad." I might say that about religious people, though.
1: Yeah, what i'm saying is "religion ain't bad and it ain't good. It just is."
2: "...and we'd be better off without it."
1: "...and we can't get rid of it."
2: "...but it is inevitable that we will."
1: I feel like we got distracted from whether or not using the term religion is appropriate to talk about a concept we both agree is accurate.
2: Well yeah, the distinction lies in the concept we're referring to. I can't call "religion" what you do.
1: I was under the impression we were referring to the same concept.
2: We were. I assumed your definition for the sake of argument, but I can't assimilate it as my own. What you call old and new religion, I call religion and society.
2: Human culture is moulting tradition everywhere, and the modern subdermal lining is society, not church.
1: I disagree with you there. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯