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The Great Religion Debate

  • Sep 13, 2014 · 5:00 PM
  • This location is shown only to members

PLEASE READ OUR UPDATED ATTENDANCE POLICY before RSVPing for this event — basically, if a member is a "no-show" for two consecutive events after RSVPing for both events, they will be barred from attending future events.

_____________________________

Join us this month for an intellectual no-holds-barred yet civil debate on one of the most contentious topics known to the humankind.

Background: the topic of religion is perhaps one of the most controversial one of them all.  It also poses one of the most universal questions that virtually all humans ponder — "who are we and why are we here"?  Many believers say that their religion has all of the right answers regarding one of the most fundamental questions — even if the teachings conflict with rational thinking, or is antithetical to, modern science.  In many faiths, challenging the virtues of the religious dogma of one's faith is considered as an anathema; all the while as they view and dismiss other faiths as being morally inferior. Furthermore, our society depicts the nonbelievers of faith as soulless creatures blindly meandering through the journey of an unsanctimonious life.

TOPIC I:  Is the world better off without religion?

The issue is whether, on balance, the existence of religion and its institutions, have been a force of good towards humanity.

Throughout the viciously-cyclical nature of the human history, many wars were fought, many military conflicts and violence have ensued, hundreds of millions -- perhaps billions of people -- killed, tortured, enslaved, or be subject to the imperialistic colonial subjugation, lands violently pillaged from the rightful owners . . . and the story goes on and on . . . all justified in the name of religion.

Yet the Believers assert that their faith provides them with certain "purpose and guidance" needed for the spiritual enlightenment; moreover, many assert that religion gives them a sense of an identity.  Additionally, many often cite the charitable nature of many religious institutions as the impetus behind contemporary altruism and the "humanitarian" movement.

The question for this topic goes hand-in-glove with a branch of historical studies known as the "counterfactual history" (e.g., the "what ifs").  For this topic, we'll debate and examine the following -- absent the powerful and influential religious institutions, how would the modern world appear? Would it be better than the status quo currently with the everlasting ripple effects of religion?

TOPIC II:  Is America truly a "Christian" nation?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the exercise of free religion, that protects the interests of the believers, as well as the nonbelievers. Yet, a poll after poll shows that many Americans believe that America is a "Christian" nation.  Moreover, this contradicts with the notion of the "Separation of Church and State" originally espoused by Thomas Jefferson and others regarding the "Establishment Clause" of the  First Amendment.

Over many years, the wavering line of distinction between faith and the cultural norms has become a bit fuzzy.  Religious influences have all but become ubiquitously intertwined with various aspects of everyday lives for many Americans — from the ceremonious sing-along chants of "God Bless America" at baseball games to the near-universal celebration of Christmas.  On this debate, we expect an inevitable ideological clash between the cultural warriors, the "politically-correct" thinkers, and the strict constitutionalists to wrestle in a verbal dissent sprinkled with a small dose of revisionist history proffered from each side.

TOPIC III:  Is God necessary for morality?

Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously wrote in The Brothers Karamazov that if God doesn't exist, then everything is permitted. This is meant to say that the existence of God is a requirement to have a functioning moral system and society.

But is this really true?

Supporters say that God is necessary to have objective moral values and that without God, morality is merely a matter of opinion. Critics point to the morals of religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam which support the subjugation of women, gays, and condone slavery -- as evidence that morality does not come from God or religion, but instead has a naturalistic and philosophical basis.

On this debate we want to explore the arguments on both sides of the divide and to see whether morality requires God or whether God has nothing to do with morality.

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Proposed event schedule:

5:00 to 5:30 - Background and Introductions

5:30 to 6:30 - Debate Topic I

6:30 to7:30 - Debate Topic II

7:30 to 8:30 - Debate Topic III

8:30 to 9:30 - Post-event social hour

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Debate Format 

- Similar to a televised  "townhall" debate format. 
- Approximately six to eight debate participants on each side; the remaining attendees will be part of the townhall audience. There's no mandatory requirement to participate or actively debate -- so attendees can sit back and observe. 
- The townhall audience members can also ask questions directly to either debate groups. 
- New debate participants will be selected for each of the two topics.

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VENUE INFORMATION

Here's a photo of the building entrance:

Once you enter the building, proceed to the banquet ("Amenities") room, as shown below:

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If you wish to stay for the post-event social hour, feel free to bring snacks and/or beverages to share with others.




Join or login to comment.

  • Eleanor Elizabeth F.

    Date: Sept. 25

    6:45 P.M. NYCA Business Meeting
    7 P.M. Video by Rod Bradford: The Founding of the Nation

    The myth that America is a Christian nation promotes the pernicious idea that non-Christians are second-class citizens. We owe a debt to freethinkers such as Ethan Allen, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine, who were inspired by the Enlightenment and its emphasis on reason, science, and education to reject a monarchy and a state religion.

    This video portrays freethinkers from our country's beginning to the present. It is part of a four-part series, "American Freethought."

    Location: The SLC Conference Center, 15 West 39th Street, 3rd Floor (west of Fifth Ave.)

    Cost: A voluntary donation of $10 will help defray the cost of the meeting place. Those unemployed or in school, free.

    1 · September 21, 2014

  • Marcus

    "Religion is to do right. It is to love, it is to serve, it is to think, it is to be humble."
    -Thomas Jefferson

    1 · September 18, 2014

  • Jorge

    Many of these arguments resemble Sartre's proposition of "BAD FAITH". I encourage folk to explore it and then apply it to your arguments regarding god/divinity, oppression, injustice, beliefs, afterlife, et cetera...... It may generate some critical re-examination and prompt some insight(s).

    1 · September 18, 2014

    • Jorge

      1 · September 18, 2014

    • Jesse N.

      Thanks Jorge. Most Sartre reading I've done was for French classes, and it felt like the guy wasn't even writing in English (haha)... Reading it in English will probably help me out a lot more.

      September 18, 2014

  • Jesse N.

    I can't make such a firm conclusion on topic 1, but still, it seems that dividing and fighting is so ingrained in human nature, that removing religion would not end most conflicts. Division and competition is evolution; it's been our nature forever. I might be projecting here, but it seems to me that us debaters, politicians, pundits, proselytizers, and the Sam Harris/Richard Dawkins folks are all driven by this instinct. They've all got benevolent intentions, but they're also achieving a sense of superiority by defeating opposers. While it would be wonderful to have fully rational governments who wouldn't turn atheism into dogma like Stalin, I'm afraid there aren't enough rational, fully benevolent, considerate type-A people out there who could lead and defend against subtle usurpation by power hungry athiests (just like we can't defend against power hungry religionists). For one hilarious illustration of a future sans religion, watch South Park's "Go God Go" episodes! See y'all soon!

    1 · September 17, 2014

    • Yen

      South Park's "Go God Go" :D
      http://southpark.cc.c...­

      1 · September 18, 2014

    • Marcus

      Although removing it might not end conflicts, quantifiably it will still be one less thing to cause conflicts. In that regard, the world would be better if only slightly.

      September 18, 2014

  • Eleanor Elizabeth F.

    Yeah, most of the other team were devil's advocates! No one asked if anyone had changed their minds afterwards!

    September 15, 2014

    • Yen

      Topic Question: Can authorities educate without indoctrinating?

      September 17, 2014

    • Jesse N.

      Along the lines of Jonathan Haidt and being unable to see the other side's arguments: As I slowwwly deconverted from Christianity, I was amazed to see how reasonable the secular side could be, after it had seemed so irrational and overly simplistic to me for so many years. That was my experience, but I know there are plenty of people who slide the other way and discover new rationality in spirituality that they could not have perceived before. Given that SO MUCH of our perceptions and thoughts are driven by the subconscious (Gazzaniga's "Who's in Charge" and Mlodinow's "Subliminal" are two excellent recent books on the topic), it seems obvious that we are going to be somewhat blind to the sense that our opposers see. This is one reason why democracy simply doesn't work--at least in US congress. So which side of a conflict sees more truth? I can always hope that my side of the argument is, BUT I must constantly challenge myself to try to see it from the other's perspective.

      September 18, 2014

  • Marcus

    I am a Christian...played devil's advocate, but here is an interesting quote by Richard Dawkins.

    "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, insecticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully"

    1 · September 16, 2014

    • Yen

      Wow! I was totally fooled! You were so convincing! You devil! :D

      1 · September 17, 2014

    • Jesse N.

      As for that Dawkins quote, you (Marcus) might agree with me when I say that it shows Dawkins has not devoted much honest thought to learning about the contexts of the old testament, the contrasts between the Hebrew god and the other gods of the time, and the likely intentions of the writers and followers of the Hebrew god. This quote from Dawkins might not actually be so hyperbolic in the context of whatever speech/text this is taken from, but nevertheless, we know that Dawkins has a vested interest in being anti-Christian, and this will undoubtedly bias his perceptions and opinions. (I think this--the subconscious bias--is what Jonathan Haidt discusses in the Ted talk suggested by Yen up above. I'll try to listen to it on subway today.)

      September 18, 2014

  • Marcus

    The pro religion side did not argue how religion provides humans with comfort in the face of death.
    Also, although science may be the "truth" our minds are finite and we may spend the rest of our lives reaching for something we can not find. Objectivity is shot through with subjectivity. It is no wonder why there is a fine line between genius and insanity.

    1 · September 17, 2014

    • Eleanor Elizabeth F.

      False comfort. People waste their lives preparing for the afterlife which doesn't exist, and being afraid of what might come, as well as being comforted.

      September 18, 2014

    • Jesse N.

      False comfort? How can I be sure that my mom loves me? How can I be sure that anyone loves me? How can I be sure that anyone really exists and that I am not just experiencing a "matrix" situation? All my emotions and things that I deem "evidence" lead me to decide that my mom does love me and that I can take comfort in it. All the emotions and things that religious folks deem as "evidence" can lead them to feel/decide that God is real and loves them and offers them comfort. The religious folks and I are both using some bit of faith to trust that our feelings and senses show us truth. Maybe I'm making some logical fallacy here, but it seems to me that faith and reason are another spectrum; everyone uses a mix of the two to find comfort and truth.

      September 18, 2014

  • Marcus

    Also, the other team could not answer the question: In what religion are women equal to men?

    3 · September 18, 2014

  • Marcus

    It is important to note the difference between religiosity and spirituality. Religiosity is what the Pharisees practiced and is what leads people to intentionally or unintentionally harm others. Jesus condemned the Pharisees, and instituted a new commandment of love.

    2 · September 18, 2014

  • Marcus

    “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.” Quotes by C.S. Lewis that I love.

    2 · September 16, 2014

    • Yen

      Sounds reasonable to me.

      September 17, 2014

    • Eleanor Elizabeth F.

      No it doesn't. Humans impose perceptions of just and unjust, but different cultures disagree.

      September 18, 2014

  • Yen

    @Jesse, Marcus, Chuck, Al, Thanks for the deep thoughts to ponder when I'm bored on the Subway. : )

    1 · September 17, 2014

    • Jesse N.

      Yeah, it's been great reading everyone else's followups.

      1 · September 17, 2014

  • Jesse N.

    Here are the two main points that drove me to the "pro-religion" side on topics 1 and 3. I think we cannot determine "objective" morality, because we are the ones doing the acting; our calculations and judgments are subjective because WE are the subjects. Consider parts of speech: We can have a sentence with just a subject and verb. But if we want an object, there must be a different actor. If we want objective morals, then us humans would be the "object" of judgment; in a sentence, it would be "X judges human." If we are the ones judging, then our sentence is just "humans judge." In that sentence, "humans" is the subject. It seems to me that through our huge history of nature and nurture, we have developed the sensation of objective morality, and I think we should live it and enjoy it, but we ourselves can't prove them to be universal/objective. We should have discussed population control.... If China determines it's safest to limit births, do birthing laws have moral grounding?

    2 · September 17, 2014

  • Jesse N.

    Hey folks! That was a great time, just like all the world's greatest debaters, I didn't think of the best arguments till on my way home. D'oh!! Even though I think about this stuff from a secular/naturalist perspective these days (bearing in mind what it was like when I had strong faith), I wasn't playing devil's advocate.

    1 · September 17, 2014

  • thomas k

    Given the intense degree of passion on this topic, we'll have to do this again soon -- based on new, but related topics on this subject. I welcome all suggestions.

    1 · September 16, 2014

    • Alex

      Yen, that was my topic :)

      1 · September 17, 2014

    • Yen

      Ah, I misunderstood your question...it was your topic question. I erroneously assumed it was a criticism of our topic questions. I changed my mind now and I apologize. : )

      September 17, 2014

  • Yen

    "Knowledge and Limitations"
    Saturday, September 20,[masked]:30-4:30pm
    http://www.helixcenter.org/roundtables/knowledge-and-limitations/

    September 16, 2014

  • Yen

    "Science and the Big Questions: Roundtable Series on the Physical and Spiritual World, the Brain-Mind Connection, and Human Development and Genetics"
    http://www.helixcenter.org/roundtables/science-and-the-big-questions-roundtable-series-on-the-physical-and-spiritual-world-the-brain-mind-connection-and-human-development-and-genetics/

    September 16, 2014

  • Chuck

    Another really fun debate with a wonderful group of open and engaged people.

    There was a fellow on one of my teams that gave me his card and asked if I could send him my notes and a link to my main source. I managed to lose it on the way home. If he sees this, please feel free to message me with the email again and I'll get it to you.

    2 · September 15, 2014

    • Chuck

      I thought the same thing… maybe he decided I already did enough damage for one day…

      September 16, 2014

    • Yen

      :D

      September 16, 2014

  • Yen

    Large turn out. Great fun! :D Many thanks to Tom and Chaplain Michael for organizing. Great job setting the ground rules and tone. The preparation was evident with defining terms and and introductions. I liked the Townhall format in particular. Loved seeing people bring snacks to share and enjoyed the conversation in the post event social as well. A group of us went out to eat afterwards and the younger bunch stayed out well past midnight!

    September 15, 2014

  • Sophie

    Thank you for the debate. It was very interesting and the crowd was great. Very good introduction to the themes, excellent time keeping and moderation and great respect between the participants.

    3 · September 14, 2014

  • thomas k

    Thanks to everyone for attending and participating in this Great Debate!

    1 · September 14, 2014

  • Ebony

    Great and interesting first debate for me!

    2 · September 14, 2014

  • Rania

    great as usual.

    2 · September 14, 2014

  • Marcus

    Great debate! Sorry I couldn't stay for the whole thing.

    2 · September 14, 2014

  • Mizan

    Great as always. Thanks everyone. :)

    2 · September 14, 2014

  • Brandi

    Great experience!! It was my first debate and I truly enjoyed myself! Thanks to Patrick & Michael for thoughtfully organizing such a phenomenal event! Also, thanks to all participants for the wonderful discourse! Hope to see everyone again!

    3 · September 14, 2014

  • Jorge

    Just want to express my gratitude for the experience to everyone. It was my first time. Thomas and Michael, I found, were impeccable as moderators and facilitators. And all the debaters were impressive.

    4 · September 13, 2014

  • Al P.

    Hey guys, I'm terribly sorry I am unable to make this debate.. Still caught up here at work... Looks like another 2 hours for me..

    1 · September 13, 2014

  • Srikanth P.

    Can spots still open up if someone drops out at the last minute?

    September 12, 2014

    • thomas k

      Unfortunately, we're overbooked, as members from another group will also be attending.

      1 · September 13, 2014

    • Srikanth P.

      Thanks Thomas. Please let me know if spots do open up. I am very interested in this topic.

      September 13, 2014

  • Deven

    Regretfully I have an unexpected work obligation and must cancel. This looks like a great debate and I hope everyone enjoys. Hopefully my spot will be open to another member on the list. See you at the next one.

    September 13, 2014

    • Srikanth P.

      Can I take Deven's spot? :)

      September 13, 2014

  • Chuck

    I have a suggestion as to the logical order of the debate questions, that the more philosophical ones should proceed the historical and speculative ones. I think it would be helpful to first define religion as against secularism, then address whether God is necessary to morality, then whether the world would be better off without religion, then whether American is a Christian (essentially religious) nation.

    1 · September 13, 2014

    • thomas k

      Good points -- duly noted.

      September 13, 2014

  • thomas k

    A couple of final reminders:

    September 13, 2014

    • thomas k

      2) If you wish to stay for the post-event social hour, feel free to bring snacks and/or beverages to share with others.

      September 13, 2014

  • thomas k

    A direct message with the venue address sent to all attendees. If you didn't receive the message, please let me know.

    September 12, 2014

  • Marcus

    This is my first time. Are we allowed to bring notes?

    1 · September 12, 2014

  • Eleanor Elizabeth F.

    Is it OK if I come late?

    September 11, 2014

    • thomas k

      No problem - you can come and go as you wish.

      September 11, 2014

    • Eleanor Elizabeth F.

      Great! I'll be coming from a previous event, and didn't want to get hit by the No Show penalty even though I showed.

      September 11, 2014

  • thomas k

    A reminder: all members who have confirmed their attendance with a "yes" RSVP will receive a direct message from me tomorrow around 9pm with additional event details, including the venue address.

    September 11, 2014

    • thomas k

      Also, if you cannot attend, please be courteous and change your RSVP status, as there are many others still waiting for a spot.

      September 11, 2014

    • thomas k

      A point of clarification: attendees are not required to participate in the debates -- you can simply watch and observe. However, it will be difficult to resist, as passivity often times dissipates in a heat of an intense exchange of ideas.

      September 11, 2014

  • thomas k

    Three more days until this Great Debate! If you have a schedule conflict for this Saturday, kindly update your RSVP, as there are many still waiting for a spot.

    2 · September 10, 2014

  • Jorge

    Coincidentally, I'm reading The Brothers K. I'm sure most are aware that Dostoevsky's "existence of god" is not necessarily denoting an objective god, nor the idea of god. As an existentialist (although that's not his label) he is mocking humanity's tendency to externalize morality. He argues for and alludes to a conscience (individual and collective) that is internally and subjectively cultivated and wrought by one's experiential struggles. Anything else is absurd.

    1 · September 8, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Not sure if I'm on wait list or debating but since it would be first time attending , Id like to watch first, so if nel wants my spot, cool with me

    September 8, 2014

    • NEL S.

      Hey will g, thanks for offering your spot, but I would like for you to experience nyc debate, that was very generous of you, but I must decline your offer, fair is fair and you reserved a spot before I did.

      September 8, 2014

  • NEL S.

    Hey Thomas, I really would like to attend this upcoming debate. I'm currently on the waiting list, if a spot becomes available how will I know I am able to attend?

    September 8, 2014

    • thomas k

      Nel Sun -- you'll be automatically notified when your RSVP upgrades to a "yes" from the wait list. Hang tight, as I'm trying to make a few more spots open up for those currently on the wait list.

      September 8, 2014

    • NEL S.

      Okay thanks Thomas. #Fingerscrossed

      September 8, 2014

  • Jorge

    Look forward to witnessing and listening.

    September 8, 2014

  • Eleanor Elizabeth F.

    This sounds like it will be quite an interesting free-for-all! I have a conflict 4-6 PM. Any chance there might be another session on another day/time?

    September 7, 2014

    • thomas k

      Hi, this group usually meets once a month and we select new debate topics for each event. So it's unlikely that this topic will be debated again in the near future -- in fact, our next debate will likely be on the topic of net neutrality.

      September 8, 2014

  • Emmanuel T.

    I am sorry to say that I have changed my RSVP and will not be attending because of a scheduling conflict....

    September 3, 2014

  • Jorge

    Where is Patrick's Place? The inserted map isn't too helpful ...

    September 2, 2014

    • thomas k

      Hi there, The event venue is within 3 blocks from the Columbus Circle. Because we're meeting at a private venue, I don't post the address here -- instead, you'll receive a message from me one day before the event with all relevant event info, including the building address. The map above is merely intended to show you the general vicinity of the venue.

      September 2, 2014

    • Jorge

      Thank you Thomas.

      September 3, 2014

  • thomas k

    We also need a timekeeper, as the debates will follow a rigid, timed format -- any volunteers?

    September 3, 2014

  • John L.

    Hello. I have no formal debating experience but love the battle of ideas, especially on this topic, so am looking forward to the event.

    1 · July 24, 2014

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