Here’s my problem (ok…one of them…haha)

I begin with a disclaimer.  Until very recently, I’ve never had reason to study atheism.  But, I’ve also not really had much reason to study the problematic parts of Christianity, either. 

Over the past few months, I’ve been introduced to a world that I knew existed, but that I’ve never truly visited.  On my journey to where I find myself, I looked into other world religions, but I never really questioned whether or not God existed.  It’s never been a question to me.  What I questioned was Christianity’s brand of God.  But then I experienced God, and saw Him work in so many lives that I questioned Him no longer.

Now I find myself listening to and reading the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.  They are both really smart guys, I have to give them that.  They are well-spoken and argue well.  But I have a problem with their narrow (to say the least) viewpoints.  I have a problem with the fact that they demean those with whom they disagree.  I find it quite humorous and ironic that they talk about the violence of religion yet speak in such hateful terms about all religions.  I understand being vehemently against something…I am a very passionate person.  But what I don’t understand is how people can take the words of these men seriously.  It seems to me that they are not trying to do good…they are simply trying to tear down not only the beliefs of people, but the people who hold those beliefs.  Condescending, ascerbic people are not confident people…quite the opposite.

I think that this is going to turn into a series…I’ve promised my friend that I would read The End of Faith.   Maybe I’ll encounter a few points worth discussing rather than ranting about.  Here’s hoping I don’t have a heart attack first. 🙂 (You love me still, right?)

24 thoughts on “Here’s my problem (ok…one of them…haha)

  1. You have “experienced God, and saw Him work in so many lives that I questioned Him no longer.” I completely doubt that you are able to tell that that is actually what you experienced. As a philosophical starter, any god worthy of the name would be capable of deceiving you into thinking that’s what you experienced. In other words, experience, when it comes to the existence of any gods, counts for nothing — even to the person who has had the experience. Basic philosophy stuff here.

  2. “any god worthy of the name would be capable of deceiving you into thinking that’s what you experienced”

    Is that your opinion, or is that a verifiable fact? Do you doubt because do not want to believe what I’ve said, or do you doubt because you did not see the evidence with your own eyes?

    Just wondering…

  3. “I have a problem with the fact that they demean those with whom they disagree.”

    Could you point out where they do this?

    I’m not doubting you, but I constantly see this comment from believers and I’m never able to recall where Dawkins, Harris or Dennett are ever being terribly demeaning.

    Could it, perhaps, be that you are listening to/reading people who for the first time don’t give religion automatic deference, and that is coming off as demeaning?

  4. Dawkins and Harris are probably not the best people to look to if you want a discussion about atheism that won’t make you annoyed. The End of Faith isn’t bad in that it’s not ‘angry’, but Harris doesn’t exactly hold back on his opinions, either.

    A good place to start might be The Atheist Universe (I can’t remember the author, but it’s quite well known). I read it quite a while ago, but was impressed at it advances atheism as a viable worldview without attacking religious people – although it obviously does attack certain religious beliefs.

  5. Morsec0de:

    I recently watched excerpts of Sam Harris’ debate with Rabbi Volpe. In it, Sam Harris referred to a religion (either Christianity or Judaism, I cannot recall at this moment) a “fairytale.” If someone called what you believe a fairytale, wouldn’t you find that a bit demeaning? I can understand refuting some parts of Christianity or other world religions, but there is no need to be condescending when doing so. I am sure that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are very intelligent people whose theories I find problematic. I don’t classify their work as dumb or as them living in some sort of fantasy world…

  6. forknowledge: I will definitely look into that book. I’d like to read something that presents argument that is not so harsh. My friend and I have decided to read books of each others’ choosing, so I will start with The End of Faith.

  7. morsec0de:

    Point taken.

    Whether he meant it to be offensive or I took it as offensive, it is a condescending comment/comparison…assuming that his belief is rational and smart and the other belief is not as rational or smart.

  8. But that is what people do in almost any kind of debate, particularly in heated philosophical ones. If you disagree with someone, a good way of undermining their position is to argue that it’s irrational (compared to your position, which is). True, it can be done in much better ways than what Dawkins tends to do, but his method is not something that you should be offended by.

    Of course, some atheists actually do think that religion is comparable to a fairytale, in which case they’re just speaking their minds.

  9. Deneen:

    But I don’t think he is assuming. I think he’s done research, talked to a lot of people, done some serious investigating and thinking, and come to this conclusion.

    Not a terribly flattering conclusion, I’m sure, but I don’t think he assumed any of it. But you, however, assumed he assumed it. Or so I assume. 😉

    It’s like when I speak out (on occasion) against organizations like the Catholic Church, for example, and am called prejudice.

    I’m not prejudice. Prejudice implies that I judged before investigating. But that’s not the case. I investigated, I did my best to look at all angles, and then I made a judgment.

    I hope that clears it up a little.

    Some atheist once said (and I’m paraphrasing): “The worst we can say to a believer is that we think they’re wrong. The worst a believer can say to us is that we’re wrong AND deserve to be burned and tortured for eternity for it. So it looks like we have the moral high ground.”

    Not saying that you have ever said that atheists deserve to be tortured for eternity, of course. But many have, for many years. So perhaps an occasional rudeness, while not good, should be expected.

  10. Hello everyone–I am barging in on the conversation :).

    Sam Harris simply says he does not pretend to know things he does not know. He is open to the possibility that any religion could be true if the evidence supports it. He sess no evidence to support the “truth claims” of any religion and points out many followers of religion become angry or annoyed when asked for support for their truth.

    Sam Harris is most concerned with what happens when religious texts such as the Bible are adhered to by groups of people who are convinced of the Bible’s total authority. While he applauds the golden rule, he takes serious issue with the consequence of certain Bible prescriptions such as slavery and treatment of women.

    Harris even points out that many people who claim to follow the Bible have actually personally discarded the harmful rules even though pickng and choosing which rules to follow does not seem to be an available option. I think it is a human option from moral beings that recognize the toxicity of some of the guidelines in the Bible no matter how much historical context Bible followers want to dress it up in–they realize it is simply just a bad idea, but for some reason do not seem to want to admit the Bible could possibly contain a bad idea.

    I think this is a fair challenge and am not sure why his views from his critics are labeled condescending. Harris labels them as intelletually honest and I am open to anyone showing me where his views contradict the theme of intellectual honesty.

  11. Okay I will try again :). Barging in attempt #2.

    Sam Harris simply says he does not pretend to know things he does not know. He believes religions claim to know things that it has no evidence for and is concerned when groups of people follow the Bible word for word. Harris believes we all should be open to a religion being true if the evidence supports it. To date, he sees no such evidence to validate any religion as being the true.
    In fact, not only does he question its truth, but also its usefulness in society in 2008 and points out the consequences of taking religion seriously (martyrdom).

    Many of you may say–“well the Bible is not meant to be taken literally” but from what I have learned recently–I think it is and that is what worries a person like Sam Harris and myself.

    An example of this would be the position on slavery, women, and the parenting techniques of Abraham, Lot, and Jepthah.

    Many followers of the Bible have discarded guidelines in the Bible because I think people are moral beings living in 2008. The Bible as noted with examples above may not be the best prescription for morality in all sectors of life. This does nothing to diminish the beautiful, loving, and kind parts of the Bible, however, careful scrutiny of problematic areas is warranted.

    Sam Harris asserts that his questions and comments on religion are the result of intellectual honesty. Many of his critics see him as inflammatory. I am open to someone pointing out where Harris has not been intellectually honest with his questions and where he is inaccurate when he cites the Bible.

    Thanks–have a good day.

  12. When one believes in another realm outside of our current reality and expresses those opinions on whatever platform, those opinions are bound to receive alternative responses. Why? Because bringing up such a subject creates this inner search within each and every human being. And each and every human being thinks they have come to a conclusion..
    Great article.

  13. Thank you guys for joining the conversation.

    What is “intellectual honesty?” And who gets to define it? Is there a universal answer–meaning it can be applied cross-culturally–or is it a Euro-centric answer, meaning that only supposedly enlightened westerners accept it?

    Condescendning means that you talk to someone from a place of superiority. Can anyone show me where Sam Harris speaks from a place of humility?

  14. I think Rockintheshoe hit it, Deneen.

    Sam Harris does not claim to know things that he doesn’t know. Which is the appearance given by many religions and religious people.

    They use faith, which loosely defined means ‘belief without evidence’. If you don’t have evidence, evidence you can demonstrate to others, then you really can’t say you know someone.

    An atheist, I think, can be humble when they say they don’t know what happens after death. But we do know that you don’t know either. But you (the general ‘you’) claim to know, which comes off to us as extremely arrogant.

    Intellectual honesty means only claiming to know things which you can back up with evidence. I have no problem with you believing your religion. But to claim you KNOW it, and then not back it up with evidence, is not intellectually honest.

    The same would be true for me. To be intellectually honest I can’t say “There is no god”, because I can’t back that up with evidence.

    What I can, and do, say is that I just don’t believe the religious claims I’ve heard.

  15. rockinshoe and others, hi.

    I would like to express my beliefs without the guise of diplomacy. I am one who believes the Bible to be the inerrant Word of a loving, personal God who created mankind to love Him out of choice. (He doesn’t need us, but He wants us. I don’t want to create a whole new debate here though, just hear what I’m saying)

    I take it literally, but in context. Rockinshoe’s Old Testament examples of moral instruction are interesting. Because as a Christian, I now believe that we are free from the Law because Christ fulfilled the Law. This is Grace. A subject entirely on its own.

    So I take the accounts of the Bible to be historic. But the instructions by the characters of the Bible may or may not apply directly to us. The purpose of the Bible was to point us to the work of the Cross. Not to create debate, but to reveal.

    This may spark further questions. But I hope it helps.

  16. Hello Rightwing. I have read your post twice and have a response/question. If the Bible is the “inerrant Word of a loving, personal God” then the entire thing is basically a prescription where deviation from the guidelines is not acceptable. I am totally confused to put it mildly how the Bible’s prescription regarding homosexuality, slavery, treatment of women, and parenting techniques are consistent with a loving anyone.

    Our world has abandoned many of these essentially counterproductive ideas yet people who hold the Bible as the inerrant word of God are not afforded that choice. They must believe what is written since it is inerrant. So back to my confusion, is slavery in the Bible and the postion on homosexuality consistent with a loving outlook on the world.

    How can something be taken literally and in context (honest question)? Literal to me means exactly as it is written.

    It basically all comes down to the book (Bible)–it is either your prescription for living in total or has problems. If it has problems, it negates its inerrancy.

    It seems (I hope this can come across gently) that you want to keep one foot on the side of context and one on the side of it being taken literal.

    If you believe in that the Bible is perfect as it is written, it seems that it would be morally necessary for you to justify the acts that are mandated in it that we have determined are immoral in 2008.

    Thank you for the response.

  17. Hi Deneen–

    One of your main (among many) issues with Sam Harris is that he is condescending, but I have yet to see a cited example or even a quote. (I would be open to agreeing if you could provide one). Harris shows humility in simply saying he does not have explanations for many things but he is not going to pretend he has one. Instead he wants to continue questioning and investigation.

    He specifically states that he is open to any religion being true if the evidence presents itself.

    To repeat my question, for those who believe in the Bible–what is your position on the Koran? Is it any different than the position of Harris on the Bible? Would you call yourselves condescending towards Islam then?

    That is enough questions. Have a good night.

  18. Hey rocksintheshoe,

    Let’s take calling (or referring to) religion a fairytale as an example of being condescending.

    The question that I’ve asked more than once is what “evidence” is Sam Harris looking for. He never says what will convince him that Christianity–or any other religion–is true?

    Your question about the Koran is fair. I don’t believe that I have a condescending view toward the Koran. I’m sure that people believe the words of Muhammad and his interpretation of the Bible. I am sure that they are very logical people who have been raised to believe the tenents of that faith. I do question women who are willing to go from being able to wear whatever they choose to a culture where they have to cover every part of their bodies.

    To say that I don’t have problems with the teaching of the Koran would be a lie. I’ll address those issues on another blog…I have enough cans of worms open here…though I welcome anyone else’s comments.

  19. Deneen:

    “I don’t believe that I have a condescending view toward the Koran. I’m sure that people believe the words of Muhammad and his interpretation of the Bible. I am sure that they are very logical people who have been raised to believe the tenets of that faith.”

    Ah, but see, this is how I feel and how, I would imagine, Sam Harris feels.

    None of that, however, goes against the argument that religious beliefs could be comparable to fairy tales.

    Look at it this way. Take your average Christian who was raised Christian by their parents and remains one to this day. Let’s say we could go back in time and switch out the stories from the Bible with stories from the Brothers Grimm.

    My guess would be that this person would grow up believing the stories by the brothers just as much as your average Christian believes the stories of the Bible.

    That Christian can still be intelligent, still honestly believe and not be illogical. But that doesn’t mean that their particular beliefs, when one attempts to look at them objectively, are any more believable or verifiable than fairy tales.

    I hope none of that is offensive. Just trying to fully explain the point.

  20. I was hoping Right Wing would come back to my question about the inerrancy of the Bible and why Christians do not practice things written in the perfect book today. For example, if a man finds out his wife is not a virgin on their wedding night–I have not read any stories about a new wife being stoned to death as mandated in the Bible.

    I hope Right Wing checks in and responds.

    Have a good night,

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