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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

If you couldn't infer from previous comments, I'm not what you would call a religious person. While raised to believe in the J-man (and I remain a big fan of his purported work) and Catholicism, I have since my late teen years been pretty agnostic. It came on rather suddenly, but it has stuck for the most part. There have been times when I have wondered what to call myself. The word atheist brings up rather gross associations involving strident university students who gather when their Magik and LARP schedules allow to scoff at people and their religions. I'm not really interested in that.

My interest in talking about my own views only comes up when someone else's views try to dictate my actions. Then I get strident.

In a country where 92% of the population believes in God, and atheists are ranked as the least trustworthy citizens in the land, it would be nice and inspiring to see more people make their lack of faith public. It is tiresome to have to explain to someone how you can actually have morality without religion. That is sadly a brand new concept to a lot of people.

So, with all this said, I present to you a very good piece of reading by Sam Harris. It is food for thought...a large Christy waifer for the non-believing brain. I've extracted some of my favorite excerpts for your reading pleasure!

I never thought of myself as an atheist before ....I think that “atheist” is a term that we do not need, in the same way that we don’t need a word for someone who rejects astrology. We simply do not call people “non-astrologers.” All we need are words like “reason” and “evidence” and “common sense” and “bullshit” to put astrologers in their place...

We are faced with the monumental task of persuading a myth-infatuated world that love and curiosity are sufficient, and that we need not console or frighten ourselves or our children with Iron Age fairy tales. I don’t think there is a more important intellectual struggle to win...

So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.

Now, it just so happens that religion has more than its fair share of bad ideas. And it remains the only system of thought, where the process of maintaining bad ideas in perpetual immunity from criticism is considered a sacred act. This is the act of faith. And I remain convinced that religious faith is one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised. So we will, inevitably, continue to criticize religious thinking. But we should not define ourselves and name ourselves in opposition to such thinking.

What stood out to me about Harris' speech is not only how he acknowledges the human need for something larger, something most people call spirituality, but he tackles a very large misconception that non-believers exist to spoil everyone's good time.

My concern is that atheism can easily become the position of not being interested in certain possibilities in principle. I don’t know if our universe is, as JBS Haldane said, “not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose.” But I am sure that it is stranger than we, as “atheists,” tend to represent while advocating atheism. As “atheists” we give others, and even ourselves, the sense that we are well on our way toward purging the universe of mystery. As advocates of reason, we know that mystery is going to be with us for a very long time. Indeed, there are good reasons to believe that mystery is ineradicable from our circumstance, because however much we know, it seems like there will always be brute facts that we cannot account for but which we must rely upon to explain everything else. This may be a problem for epistemology but it is not a problem for human life and for human solidarity. It does not rob our lives of meaning. And it is not a barrier to human happiness.

I may be in a huge minority in this country but I can't help but be really sold by the majority of what Harris is presenting here.

Sorry this entry wasn't so much fun. Hopefully I'll be able to work something completely inane next time.

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