Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Archive for the ‘atheism’ Category

Will You Take The Pain I Give To You?

Posted by spritzophrenia on October 4, 2010

Yesterday we looked at pain in Genesis, and discussed the Christian idea of the distortion of the world, the breaking-down which theologians call “the Fall”. Remember, I’m agnostic, but I’m wearing my Christian hat today.

Matthew Fox is one modern heretic who focuses on Original Blessing rather than original sin, as do Jewish theologies, but I see this as the other side of the paradox. Humanity, and all of nature are full of good, as well as broken-ness. We can hold this alongside the belief that pain came into the world very early on.

“Fall” has a nice Autumnal feel about it don’t you think? The leaves are no longer green, they retain their structure but are beginning to die.

Literalists claim there was no death before the fall. Conceptually, it’s rather hard to see how Eden could have been anything like the forests of today without leaves dying and rotting to provide mulch and minerals, to give one small example.

leaves

Can theistic evolution cope with the pain inherent in an evolutionary view?

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

~ Richard Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function,” published in Scientific American (November, 1995) p. 85, via Iain at Phrenic Philosophy)

Does Dawkins paint his story rather too thickly? My suggestion at this point is to hope that perhaps less “conscious” beings than humans don’t truly “suffer”, in the way that we do? A purely materialist universe, as Dawkins says, is pitiless, indifferent and cruel.

The problem of pain and evil is not an easy one for theists either. It’s something I’ve pondered for many years, even as an agnostic. Philosophy is not a static field and I understand, contrary to popular belief, that the weight of argument is in theists’ favour at present. Check out contributions by Swinburne, Plantinga, contributors to God and the Philosophers and others. Ergo the problem of evil is not a proof against God, it’s at best a probability. More on this another time.

However, when considering the horrors of suffering, the recent floods in Pakistan for example, I always keep in mind two approaches: One can cope with suffering via the intellectual path or the emotional path. (Most likely a mixture of the two.) Even if I present a watertight case defeating the argument from evil, this won’t satisfy someone whose friends have recently died of disease, or remain permanently disabled. Knowing the arguments didn’t satisfy me, after all, when I merely experienced betrayal and a broken heart some years ago. It was this which caused me to walk away from God.

If we know the intellectual reasons I believe this may help, in the big picture. However, when in pain, we don’t want sophistry, we want comfort and strength. On that note I recommend Philip Yancey’s modern classic Where Is God When It Hurts?. It’s a profound book and I rate it highly.

Buddhism takes the reality of suffering as one of its foundational starting points. Alternately, I believe if there is some kind of pure Being there, who knows us intimately, then this g0d somehow shares in our suffering, and the suffering in nature.

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What Do You Think?

How do you think about suffering and spirituality? Does a higher power disgust you, or help you when you think about these things? This is part three of a series, starting with part one.

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Pleasure constricts us
That is the way
Empty perversion
Crippled by fate
(I believe in pain! In disease, cruelty and infidelity.)
Front Line Assembly | Final Impact, Bio-Mechanic

Posted in agnostic, atheism, Biology, Christianity, Emergent, ethics, god, Judaism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

And No Religion Too

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 14, 2010

Imagine all the people, living for today. When I was a committed believer, I was very much living for today— a belief in an afterlife didn’t stop me trying to do good in this one.

“Imagine”, by John Lennon.

I said yesterday that I think it’s unlikely the world will become significantly less spiritual in the future, and suggested listening to each other as a possible solution. Maybe I’m too idealistic. Or maybe Lennon is.

Is Religion Dangerous?. I often think yes, this book says “no”. It’s in my city library, I might read it, but the link has a good summary.

Religion and superstition have perpetrated many horrors in our lifetime, let alone before. We’ve just had the anniversary of the September 11 bombings in New York. We could aim for an “atheist peace”, in the words of hardcore punks Bad Religion. Is the Lennon solution the best? He doesn’t suggest that atheism alone is what we need:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer

Would the world really be more peaceful if no-one believed in gods?

Respond

? What do you think?

[Shout-out to Aswin for asking me to do a piece critical of religion. There will be more critical pieces at some point in the future.]

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Am I A Rationalist?

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 5, 2010

When I was at university Rationalist House was just down the street, but I never crossed its threshold. The building looked archaic, and I imagined old men inside, perhaps bitter atheists. Much like people must conceive of old churches. I’ve been thinking about *how* I undertake my search, and wondering if my love of reason makes me a rationalist?

I thought, “If I’m going to call myself a rationalist, I’d better understand what that means.” In the library, I picked up a book and began to read 1.

Maybe…

Rationalism regards religion as a personal question … [and] does not deny the existence of God or a future life.

Surprised? I was. I definitely want reasonable beliefs, but not a rationalism which by definition excludes spirituality. However the following section in the book makes it clear that an atheist-leaning agnosticism is the ‘rational’ presumption. Oh well.

The Rationalist Press association defines rationalism “as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a system of philosophy and ethics verifiable by experience and independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority.”

A noble idea. I mustn’t forget the postmodernism of the end of last century attacks the idea that one can create a grand narrative.

Rodin - The Thinker

The writer makes a good deal of noise about ethics, at times there was a moralistic do-gooder sense about his writing. I wonder if that’s the defensiveness of an atheism which was accused of leading to amorality by outsiders?

He quotes Chillingworth, an “eminent Christian writer” of the time who says

Reason gives us knowledge; while faith only gives us belief, which is a part of knowledge, and is, therefore, inferior to it … it is by reason alone that we can distinguish truth from falsehood.

Also one Bishop Butler who says, “Reason is the only faculty we have wherewith to judge concerning anything, even revelation itself.”

That whole belief and reason thing interests me a lot, and I intend to write more about it some time. I was also concerned rationalism might ignore our emotions.

On the contrary, it fosters and regulates the emotions. There is no denying that some of the noblest thoughts born of human genius have emanated from the impulse of emotion, but it was that emotion was controlled by reason.

Controlled? I’m not sure if I deprecate emotion to that level.

I wondered if being a rationalist would turn me into one of those rabid hater-type atheists I see on twitter and in other places on the intarwebz. I very much appreciated these comments:

“Gentleness is one of the greatest of virtues, and to promulgate our opinions in what is conventionally … termed a gentlemanly manner…[is wise]”

“Of course, destructive work must be done [of error]; but a man need not put himself into a passion in doing it.”

“While some rely entirely upon faith as their rule of life, others seem to attach too much importance to the lack of it. The latter contend that belief cannot save mankind, but they ignore the fact that neither can mere unbelief.”

I heartily agree.

Maybe Not…

Since researching this, I’ve been doing some more thinking and reading. I do think it’s important to figure out the best method to search for truth. Yes, I’m still committed to reason and experience… but perhaps not to the extent of calling myself a rationalist. In my next post, I write about the reasons.

Agree or disagree? How does this rationalist approach to finding reality make you feel?

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Notes
1. All quotes are from Charles Watts The Meaning of Rationalism (1905) in An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism (Prometheus, ed Gordon Stein, 1980)

Posted in agnostic, atheism, ethics, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , | 42 Comments »

The Crib Notes

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 29, 2010

FAQ: All the things you wanted to know about this site, and some you didn’t. Like my life and thinking, this page is a work in progress.

The most important bit is probably the

Comment Guidelines

I love comments from all perspectives, please don’t feel intimidated. You don’t have to be a super-intellectual or brilliant writer to contribute. I’m quite ok with “I don’t feel like this is true, but I’m not very good at explaining my reasons”. After all, that’s how I feel sometimes.

I hope Spritzophrenia can be a place where we leave our pride behind and sincerely listen to each other. I have to lead by example, of course, and I’m sure I’ll screw it up at times.

If something really pushes your buttons or makes you angry you might want to consider taking a few moments to breathe before commenting.

Play nice, children.

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Glossary, Definitions and Suchlike

Most of the below deserve posts in their own right, but for now…

Offending Your Beliefs
I’m well aware that a non-adherent of a religion usually makes mistakes in emphasis, nuance and understanding when writing about it. My apologies for any factual errors I make. I feel uncomfortable criticising a spiritual path from the outside and I try to rely on those writing from the inside. I also acknowledge the large number of good, moral people in any worldview.

See also…

Religions
I’m far from an expert on everything. Nobody can be. I’ve done a lot of reading, and have a fair amount of personal experience of a very *few* religions. Please correct me and help me understand your worldview if I’ve got it wrong.

Atheism
Sometimes I include atheism in the category of “religions”,”faiths” or “beliefs”. I don’t mean to insult anyone, it’s just simpler to write. Atheism is not a religion, and it pisses atheists off to hear that line. All I mean when I use the word in this context is “a perspective on life”, which can be grouped with other perspectives on life.

Agnostic
I call myself an “open agnostic”, a “friendly agnostic”, and a “woolly-headed intellectual lightweight without the balls to man up and be an atheist” 😉 Many agnostics are at the atheist end of the scale. I tend to float up and down the scale a little. That means sometimes I take seriously the idea there could be a spiritual reality. Sorry ’bout dat.

g0d
You’ll notice that sometimes I talk about “g0d”. That’s a zero in the middle there. I suppose it looks similar to the way some Jewish believers write G-d but that’s not why I do it. “God” is a concept that has so much baggage for so many people, including me. I’m trying to distance myself a little from any particular religion’s God, particularly the grumpy old man in the sky. If g0d exists she’s a truly wonderful being. g0d to me means a theistic god, and that’s about it.

Spritzophrenia
What does this word mean? Anything you want it to, really. I suppose seeing I coined it you want to know what I mean by it.

Anything else that should go on this page?

Posted in atheism, ethics, God, meta, writing | Tagged: , | 18 Comments »

From The Book of Atheist Spirituality

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 12, 2010

I think the reviewer who suggested The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality should be read along with the current offerings from Dawkins, Dennet et al was right. It’s fairly erudite, as one would expect from a French philosopher, but also readable, especially if one has a basic grasp of this field. I think believers as well as atheists would find this book worthwhile.

I won’t consider here whether he makes a good case for his question Can There Be An Atheist Spirituality?, especially as I haven’t finished it yet. I did find his writing enjoyable and stimulating so before the book goes back to the library I’ll drop in a few quotes:

As shown in the first chapter, we are finite beings who open on to infinity. It can now be added: we are ephemeral beings who open on to eternity, and relative beings who open on to the absolute. This ‘openness’ is the spirit itself. Metaphysics means thinking about these things; spirituality means experiencing them, exercising them, living them.

night sky

This is what distinguishes spirituality from religion, which is merely one of its possible forms. … All religions involve spirituality, at least to some extent, but all forms of spirituality are not religious. Whether or not you believe in God, the supernatural or the sacred, you are confronted with the infinite, the eternal and the absolute – and with yourself. Nature suffices. The truth suffices. Our own transitory finiteness suffices. …

To be an atheist is not to deny the existence of the absolute; rather, it is to deny its transcendance, its spirituality, its personality. It is to deny that the absolute is God. But to be not-God is not to not be! Otherwise we ourselves and the world itself, would not be!

Does the word absolute bother you? I understand. I, too, long shied away from it. Indeed, nothing prevents you from replacing it with another. Being? Nature? Becoming? With or without a capital letter? Everyone is free to choose their own vocabulary and I know of none that are faultless.

If we decide to take the word spirituality in its more restricted sense, we shall need to go further and higher: at its utmost, spiritual life verges on mysticism.

Here again, it too me a long time to accept the latter word. To my suspicious ears, it had a religious or irrational ring to it. Eventually, however, I was forced to acknowledge that it was the only word that fitted.

~ Andre Comte-Sponville, quotes from pp 136 – 141

Read more by me on this topic here.

Some music to help you feel spiritual? Carbon Based Lifeforms:

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Agree, disagree, indifferent? What do you think?

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Atheist Music

Posted by spritzophrenia on June 28, 2010

Welcome back to music week. Today, atheist music and there’s such a lot to choose from. In the end I’m going with XTC | Dear God (more below)

and

Mainly because I love Slayer. I wanted to post the title track of Slayer’s “Christ Illusion” but it doesn’t seem to be on youtube. So “Skeleton Christ” will have to do. Lyrics

Interestingly, I read that singer Tom Araya is some kind of nominal Catholic but says he’s quite happy to sing the lyrics his atheist bandmates write.

I came across a new word this morning – misotheism. I think this song expresses that.

Don’t forget to check out other posts in music week. See you tomorrow for day three.

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Nature Was Sacred

Posted by spritzophrenia on May 14, 2010

Now, an atheist can not believe in the conventional religious gods of the culture and still feel a great sense of the sacred, even if you don’t call it sacred. And there are many people, great scientists, who feel this way.

When I was younger I was totally allergic to what I saw as religion: Judaism and even worse, Christianity—it was my enemy. But I loved nature, and for me nature was sacred. I didn’t use that word, but it made me quiet; it made me feel a sense of something greater than myself; it made me wish to serve something. So I was an atheist, but I recall it as spiritual—a spiritual atheism.

~ Jacob Needham on atheists feeling religious emotions.

Nature

More on Atheist Spirituality here.

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The Days of Nothing

Posted by spritzophrenia on April 16, 2010

I want to record how it is when there is just the material world. No spirituality, nothing spiritual. No God, no Krishna, nothing to connnect with when you meditate.

There are trees, sun, houses, cars, pavement, earth. Nothing more. No feeling. Nothing imparting these things with life, with transcendance. Nothing.

There is no happiness, no sadness, no meaning, no lack of meaning. Just nothing. The world exists, rolls on. I sit and observe. I’m not concerned or upset. It is what it is. (Without a person to give it meaning, is it anything?) There is a certain kind of detachment. Biology creeps across the hillsides. People walk alone in the late afternoon sun. And nothing.

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Bibles for Porn

Posted by spritzophrenia on March 10, 2010

Buzzfeed notes

A student group called Atheist Agenda is giving out pornography in exchange for Bibles and generally pissing everybody off. Fortunately, Christians on campus are giving out Bibles in exchange for porn in retaliation. Sounds like a good opportunity to upgrade your porn collection through the Bible exchange hierarchy.

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Atheist Spirituality: Real Poetry?

Posted by spritzophrenia on March 5, 2010

A beautiful and moving vid for anyone, like me, with a background in or appreciation of Science. Or just of beauty.

I’m a regular reader of Santi Tafarella’s Prometheus Unbound. It’s relevant to my recent posts on atheist spirituality; I was going to partially quote, but I really can’t do better than

This Is What Atheist Spirituality Looks Like?

I kind of like the above video, but there’s also a part of me that feels the undercurrents of a hijack, not just of religion, but of poetry: scientists unweaving Keats’s rainbow and replacing it with, well, this. And notice the Christmasy church bell feel that starts the video is soon followed by the not so subtle anti-Platonic and anti-Kantian refrain of Richard Dawkins:

“There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.”

But if science is the poetry of reality, then what is religion and poetry, well, good for? What are they the poetry of? The refrain would seem to suggest an either-or, not a both-and: you’re either a science-literate person enmeshed in the poetry of the real (material) world, or a muddle-head living in Don Quixote Land.

But is life really this simple and easy to coherently integrate? Is it just the perversity of the theist and poet that makes things seem more complicated than they really are? At one level, of course, science is the poetic map of the material world, revealing the contours of its poetry. But at another level a philosophical question must always linger behind the empirical: why should the material world show itself to have any poetic contours at all? Why, in other words, is the material world a cosmos and not Shakespeare’s sound and fury signifying nothing (that is, a chaos)?

Afterall, the universe signifies or it doesn’t. Which is it? Chance can’t signify. Chance means zip. So where is the space for atheist spirituality and feelings of wonder except in the sublimation of chance and the illusion (delusion?) that the universe answers the questions we put to it with harmony and significations? But the atheist universe is a text without an author, so how can anything that is not an author—or the product of an author—signify?

William Blake called the universe without the human imagination a desert. I agree. But the chance universe, actually devoid of independent significations, births intentional ghosts by the billions who are full of significations (that is, us). Isn’t that interesting? The poetry is not in the blind mechanisms of the stars, but in ourselves, Horatio. And, well, how did we get here? 

Maybe there’s still room for religion and poetry after all.

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Respond Below

Is there still room for religion? What do you think?

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