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Rami K.
Rammy
Orlando, FL
Post #: 538
Let's migrate any argument based upon cosmological stance over to the "Faith Philosophically As Inherently Irrational and Immoral" thread based upon Daniel Fincke's article of the same name.

­
Ben Forbes G.
Epicurean306
Orlando, FL
Post #: 295
It should be noted that Thomas Paine was no lover of organized religion in general or any form of Christianity in particular (and, like most freethinking deists of his day, would arguably probably have been an atheist if he knew then all that we know now by the lights of contemporary science)...

Anyway, another more relevant thread will indeed have to be found or created if I eventually find the time to refute all of the many egregious fallacies and ridiculous canards about atheism cited on this thread from Chris Hedges, Rod Liddle’s deluded documentary pummeling straw-men, etc. — and I am forced to agree that even unequivocally warranted criticisms on that subject are not relevant to these thinkers' separate critiques of American empire, its constitutional abuses, or its foreign policy. I suspect, however, that much of the antipathy many of these critics have toward the atheist movement stems from prominent/outspoken (and often misunderstood or distorted) support of “the war on terror” by certain famous “New” Atheists... (such as Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens)...

Regarding this latest image though, one should not spuriously conflate/confuse the reliably adduced evidence-based provisional conclusion of ontological materialism (aka physicalism/naturalism) with the shallow pursuit of rapaciously greedy or excessively-competitive economic materialism (indeed, not only is the former quite distinct from the latter; the former certainly does not lead to the latter in some sort of imaginary slippery-slope). Unfortunately, this quite popular false equivalency (and the even more false implication that spirituality is necessary to avoid nihilism and pessimistic despair or that these sorts of cultural maladies have resulted from godless modernism or science “run amok”) is a common rhetorical tactic favored by all sorts of ascetic or purportedly “transcendent” religious traditions. Karma is indeed a dangerous and deplorable doctrine as well (and has served to keep people “in their place” for millennia).

Also, it should be noted that even the “bad” sort of materialism has some factual truth behind it when it comes to the quest for human wellbeing, in that some degree of existential security and at least a subsistence-level of wealth or better can usually “buy” some amount of happiness for healthy humans (ceteris paribus) — but only up to a certain certain point of prosperity: subject to the Diminishing Marginal Utility of Income (after which there is no longer any measurable happiness gain, and there may even in some circumstances tend to be a loss)!cool This is all, of course, an excellent argument for progressive taxation (including progressive inheritance-taxes and closing offshore tax-shelter loopholes) — which progressive liberals like me would ideally like to see combined with a robust social-safety-net.smile
Rami K.
Rammy
Orlando, FL
Post #: 543
Paine was a Quaker. They have a faith tradition which states, "If you cannot improve upon the silence, one remains so."

"And here, without anger or resentment I bid you farewell. Sincerely wishing, that as men and Christians, ye may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right; and be, in your turn, the means of securing it to others; but that the example which ye have unwisely set, of mingling religion with politics, may be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of America."
-- Final paragraph of Common Sense by Thomas Paine, 1791

Ben Forbes G.
Epicurean306
Orlando, FL
Post #: 298
Paine's father was a Quaker (and they have some admirably democratic/egalitarian traditions compared to other sects which were no doubt influential for him), but Thomas Paine was a deist (and about as much of a Quaker as I am a Lutheran).biggrin That is a nice quote of his supporting proper separation of Church and State... but the fact remains that he had little good to say about Christianity, its faith traditions, or its core tenets; indeed, he was far from silent on such subjects (and his stridently critical-thinking thoughts on religious issues were definite improvements on piously reverent silence) — though of course he respected people's right to free-exercise, as do atheists today. Here are just a few of many fine gems of “truth-speaking” from Thomas Paine:

  • “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
  • “Each of those churches show certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say, that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say, that their word of God came by divine inspiration: and the Turks say, that their word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from Heaven. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”
  • “...according to the Christian Trinitarian scheme, one part of God is represented by a dying man, and another part called the Holy Ghost, by a flying pigeon, it is impossible that belief can attach itself to such wild conceits.”
  • “It is... not difficult to account for the credit that was given to the story of Jesus Christ being the son of God. He was born when the heathen mythology had still some fashion and repute in the world, and that mythology had prepared the people for the belief of such a story. Almost all the extraordinary men that lived under the heathen mythology were reputed to be the sons of some of their gods.”
  • “The Christian Mythologists, after having confined Satan in a pit, were obliged to let him out again to bring on the sequel of the fable. He is then introduced into the Garden of Eden, in the shape of a snake or a serpent, and in that shape he enters into familiar conversation with Eve, who is no way surprised to hear a snake talk; and the issue of this tete-a-tete is that he persuades her to eat an apple, and the eating of that apple damns all mankind.”
  • “But it appears that Thomas did not believe the resurrection, and, as they say, would not believe without having ocular and manual demonstration himself. So neither will I, and the reason is equally as good for me, and for every other person, as for Thomas.”
  • “That many good men have believed this strange fable, and lived very good lives under that belief (for credulity is not a crime), is what I have no doubt of. In the first place, they were educated to believe it, and they would have believed anything else in the same manner.”
  • “Had it been the object or the intention of Jesus Christ to establish a new religion, he would undoubtedly have written the system himself, or procured it to be written in his life-time. But there is no publication extant authenticated with his name.”
  • “...if the Bible be not true, or the truth of it be doubtful, it ceases to have authority, and cannot be admitted as proof of anything.”
  • “If we are to suppose a miracle to be something so entirely out of the course of what is called nature, that she must go out of that course to accomplish it, and we see an account given of such miracle by the person who said he saw it, it raises a question in the mind very easily decided, which is, is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course; but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.” (Bayesian reasoning for the win with that one!)
  • “The authenticity of the book of Homer, so far as regards the authorship, is much better established than that of the New Testament, though Homer is a thousand years the most ancient. It is only an exceedingly good poet that could have written the book of Homer, and therefore few men only could have attempted it; and a man capable of doing it would not have thrown away his own fame by giving it to another. In like manner, there were but few that could have composed Euclid’s Elements, because none but an exceedingly good geometrician could have been the author of that work. But with respect to the books of the New Testament, particularly such parts as tell us of the resurrection and ascension of Christ, any person who could tell a story of an apparition, or of a man’s walking could have made such books; for the story is most wretchedly told. The chance, therefore, of forgery in the Testament, is millions to one greater than in the case of Homer or Euclid. Of the numerous priests or parsons of the present day, bishops and all, every one of them can make a sermon, or translate a scrap of Latin, especially if it had been translated a thousand times before; but is there any among them that can write poetry like Homer, or science like Euclid?”
  • “Whence arose all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Bible is filled, and the bloody persecutions and tortures unto death, and religious wars, that since that time have laid Europe in blood and ashes — whence rose they but from this impious thing called revealed religion, and this monstrous belief that God has spoken to man? The lies of the Bible have been the cause of the one, and the lies of the Testament of the other. Some Christians pretend that Christianity was not established by the sword; but of what period of time do they speak? It was impossible that twelve men could begin with the sword; they had not the power; but no sooner were the professors of Christianity sufficiently powerful to employ the sword, than they did so, and the stake and fagot, too...”
  • “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”

It's frankly amazing to me that someone like Chris Hedges, who goes to ridiculous lengths as an apologist for Islam, letting its vile doctrines off the hook for much in which they have a major share of blame while sharply criticizing the Christian-Right (and who has also launched deplorably inaccurate and fallacious critiques of atheists), could simultaneously purport to admire Thomas Paine...confused The compartmentalization and irony of which human brains are capable is astounding.
Rami K.
Rammy
Orlando, FL
Post #: 548
And who was Paine's mother, grandmother, aunt, sister? He appears well and capable to consider the other end and he starts to do this from the other end. Most of what you are quoting is no doubt from "The Theological Works of Thomas Paine" which is worth the read if you are interested in his opinions to their written extent...



Out of this referenced text the following quotes from the same are listed in Wikipedia:
    I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

    I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit

    The opinions I have advanced ... are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation, by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues – and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now – and so help me God.


That was Paine's view at the age 56, if you click on graphic above and can make it to page 60 you'll find his first impression of "the Christian system" as it was preached by a relative from when he was seven or eight years of age.

As for Hedge's defense of the rights of the believer, even of a different faith, this probably comes both from the american defense tradition expressed above, paired with the relation experience of speaking with actual Muslims.
Ben Forbes G.
Epicurean306
Orlando, FL
Post #: 303
  • One does not necessarily share the beliefs of one's family members... I've read The Age of Reason, among some of Paine's other works. He was a freethinking deist who was very outspokenly critical of religions, especially for his time — and he supported secular government and pluralism, just like the overwhelming majority of atheists do today; moreover, there are huge and significant differences between deism and theism. Paine mocked and criticized revealed religion as it deserves — even if he naïvely hoped for a happy afterlife and implausibly imagined that a deity wanted him to be moral and virtuous.
  • Persuading people that bad ideas ought to be abandoned (and even mocking stupid ideas) “intolerance” — and free speech should not be censored to pander to religious privileges in any just and modern society.
  • Like the overwhelming majority of even the most strident atheists: I fully support religious rights (freedom of conscience without illegally discriminating, assembly, speech, and all noncriminal rituals/practices, etc.). There are some reasonable limits and exceptions, of course, but secularist pluralism means more freedom for all sorts of believers and nonbelievers alike. Hedges' characterizations of atheists' views are inaccurate to the point of being delusional. Sadly, his anecdotal and in-denial conceptions of some of the realities of how Islam too often plays out in the world are not much better...
  • I'm no great patriotic supporter of the United States (indeed, I'm a critical dissident, just not blindly or hyperbolically so). But what I definitely do not support is undue religious privileges, religions that think they deserve respectful deference, religions that mistakenly think criticism of their beliefs is “racist” or intolerant, theocratic de jure religious intolerance, religions that advocate or tolerate what should be considered criminally harmful acts, or apologists (like Hedges) who deliberately and repeatedly misrepresent the views of atheists and engage in straw-man fallacies to the point of unprofessional libelous absurdity — all while making the most ludicrous excuses trying to let some of the most vile religions on the planet off the hook and “absolve” their deplorable doctrines from any reasonable share of the blame. For these reasons (and more) Hedges does not deserve to be considered, in general, a “truth speaker” — and his egregious flaws as a thinker are unfortunately detrimental to the legitimacy of his warranted critiques of various American policies and tactics.
  • Sam Harris summarizes one of the major problems with the attitudes of folks like Chris Hedges as follows: “no one is suffering under the doctrine of Islam more than Muslims are—particularly Muslim women. Those who object to any attack upon the religion of Islam as “racist” or as a symptom of “Islamophobia” display a nauseating insensitivity to the subjugation of women throughout the Muslim world. At this moment, millions of women and girls have been abandoned to illiteracy, forced marriage, and lives of slavery and abuse under the guise of “multiculturalism” and “religious sensitivity.” This is a crime to which every apologist for Islam is now an accomplice.” There is much to worry about with regard to excesses, crimes, or just plain stupid tactics of American empire/hegemony — but I think worrying more about American foreign policy more than the very real (and arguably more serious) threats of theocracy and terrorism is a mistake.
  • The very notion Hedges imagines of “secular fundamentalism” is absurd — and the idea that humanistic atheistic secularism (as currently advocated throughout the developed world and beyond) poses a “greater” threat of terrorism than the doctrines of Islam is asinine.
  • As much as some important principles of our government's ideals are under threat of being chipped away at or eroded (and this should hopefully be stopped and progressively reversed), the reality is that few people raised as Muslims in the world today are fortunate enough to live in countries where they enjoy the constitutional rights and freedoms even close to comparable to those of American citizens!

Rami K.
Rammy
Orlando, FL
Post #: 551
Who defends human rights under any atheistic system?
Ben Forbes G.
Epicurean306
Orlando, FL
Post #: 309
Who defends human rights under any atheistic system?
That question has already been more than adequately answered on this thread in my previous posts (#s 284—286) correcting Chris Hedges’ and Rod Liddle’s fallacious ignorance regarding this issue... All of that said (and I stand by it), I would also add that atheism itself (being merely the lack of certain types of implausible beliefs) is not even close to a “system” — and, even under the worst sorts of “atheistic” (secular) systems of government in history (which make for far too popular straw-men and were very far from humanistically ideal), atheism did not cause or advocate human-rights violations in anything like the same way that religions, religious scriptures, and religious leaders unequivocally have: explicitly because of their particular dogmas/tenets. The Killing Fields, Gulags, political-purges, etc. of secular régimes were not the result of societies that became too attached to critical-thinking, or too demanding of evidence; they were not crimes against humanity inspired by atheism or committed in its name. Sam Harris is correct to have quipped: “I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.” Furthermore, as scholars like Phil Zuckerman have amply documented: “society without God is not only possible, but it can be quite civil and pleasant” (when irreligiosity is the norm). Several popular and prominent international ranking-systems and indices conclusively prove that very secular countries like Denmark and Sweden are among the most well-developed, wealthiest, most democratic, most free, most entrepreneurial, least corrupt, least violent, most peaceful, healthiest, happiest, most egalitarian, best educated, most charitable, and most environmentally conscientious societies. Indeed, there are mountains of unequivocal data from every relevant measure one cares to take which can easily undermine the baseless accusation that people can’t live well and defend superior human rights without religion, but this doesn’t mean that lacking religion causes strongly humanistic societies (in fact, I think the reverse seems to be true: progressive humanistic societies that protect people’s rights and provide existential security, education, and good standards of living no longer have any “need” for religion and make it much easier for people to abandon and eschew religion as it deserves). On the other hand, many of the poorest, most miserable, and most ignorant societies on earth also tend to be among the most religious!

Regardless of one’s stance on this “chicken and egg problem” regarding increasing atheism and secular humanist εὐδαιμονία, however, it’s demonstrably true that a humanistic philosophy and politics (such as those espoused by the majority of atheists throughout the developed-world and beyond today) support human rights significantly better than any religious philosophy that opposes or disagrees with progressively humanistic principles and values (which most religious philosophies/theologies unfortunately do, to some extent at least: in deplorable de facto implications of their tenets and scriptures if not in overtly unjust de jure legal policies they explicitly advocate, such as those which discriminate against homosexuals or women). Crucially: humanistic ideology and politics provide for both freedom of religion and freedom from religion, oppose unfair discrimination in ways that religions too often do not, generally support more comprehensive human rights than most religions, and (even better) support them for better reasons than religions that do support human rights (since intentions and motivations matter). Admittedly, there are some religious views that are fully compatible with pluralistic secular humanism and actively support a government that practices proper separation of Church and State (Unitarianism or some of the most liberal Jewish sects are probably among the best familiar examples I can think of off the top of my head); furthermore, it's also true that even some religions that are insufficiently supportive of human rights do at least mostly support separation of Church and State (e.g. many moderate or conservative minority religious communities that want their freedom of religion protected and realize that secular government is the best way to achieve this).

Nevertheless, the overall reality is that secular standards of human rights have advanced far beyond religious standards; moreover, to the extent that some believers do adequately support human rights at comparable or even occasionally superior degrees to most humanistic atheists (even though many more unfortunately do not), religious belief remains insufficient and unrealistic as a basis for moral behavior — and I can prove it... Consider the inconsistency often displayed by religious scriptures and traditions. Almost every major religious text encourages appalling violence against nonbelievers, as well as endorsing other evils such as slavery and/or the oppression of women. Furthermore, many of these texts also contain stark inconsistencies on important moral issues. These manifest flaws make these books unsuitable and unlikely to be the true basis of anyone’s moral system. Some believers imagine that we should accept the fallibility of scripture, disregard the bad parts, and keep the good ones; but if we have developed conscientious ethics to the level of sophistication where we can easily tell the difference between good and bad regarding the issues in question, then why not just disregard scripture and tradition entirely and use that conscience itself as the basis for ethical behavior? Religion does not, in general, teach people to critically reason — but rather to faithfully obey. It is epistemically, ontologically, and ethically obsolete.
Ben Forbes G.
Epicurean306
Orlando, FL
Post #: 310
P.S.
A better question than the one you asked would be: “Who defends the human rights of diverse marginalized minorities under any sectarian theocratic system — or any system that legalizes special privileges or deference for any particular religious views (or lack thereof)?”

Most religious organizations tend to be far behind the most progressive frontier of human rights that secular civil society throughout much of the developed world has achieved... Most churches are fundamentally unlike other kinds of groups that usually declare not-for-profit status and EARN tax-exemptions (instead of receiving them by default privilege). Secular charities and educational institutions, for example, typically serve all people equally (just like for-profit businesses in the post-Civil-Rights Act era), and are usually even legally required to do this when the laws are properly enforced. However, churches are free to discriminate, and often do discriminate, against people who do not share their primitive and intolerant beliefs (this is called the “ministerial exemption”). They can (and do) discriminate against people for being gay, for being women, for being unmarried, for their age, for having health problems, or for virtually any other reason they please. Where faith abides, few employees have equal rights and opportunities, and religious employers too often enjoy discriminatory liberties that should never be granted to any employer anymore in any civilized secular society. At the very least, religious groups or businesses should pay taxes if they intend to treat their employees in this way. Even better, this special treatment should end: any businesses owned by religious organizations which employ or serve the entire public (including those who don’t share their beliefs) — rather than just their congregation/sect as a “private club” — should be held to the same anti-discrimination rules as any other business without exception (and prosecuted/fined appropriately if they don’t comply just like any secular business justifiably would be). If some theists don’t like that, then they should stick to running discriminatory religious social clubs (churches) or theological advocacy groups and get out of businesses serving the public where they obviously don’t belong as employers in any fair and tolerant society (if they insist on intolerant bigotry). Discriminatory intolerance should not be tolerated in the public and commercial spheres of a just society.

Finally, regarding making war on terrorism, letting irreconcilably militant terrorist groups be harbored freely, unmolested, to plot death and destruction for innocent civilians (by pursuing isolationist or pacifist policies) is not “defending human rights” — and it's not only protecting developed-world citizens from terrorist attacks we should be worried about either, because letting theocracies like the Taliban treat Afghan women like they would prefer to or terrorize their people with impunity is not “defending human rights” either... I think there’s plenty of room for debate regarding drone-strikes and special operations versus quagmire-counterinsurgency/nationbuildin­g wars, the ethics of interrogation and detention practices, how to deal with sovereignty and cooperation in an age of shadowy stateless threats, and much more — but I can’t respect a position that equates even a hegemonic empire (rather than a multilateral coalition) defending modern civilization with the even more vile acts of theocratic terrorists.
As Emerson so eloquently put it: “In front of… sinister facts, the first lesson of history is the good of evil. Good is a good doctor, but Bad is sometimes a better.”
Or, as Robert S. McNamara put it even more directly in The Fog of War: “How much evil must we do in order to do good? We have certain ideals, certain responsibilities. Recognize that at times you will have to engage in evil, but minimize it.”
Religion is a uniquely harmful type of ideology… and one of the most clear and concise ways to express why is the Christopher Hitchens challenge (which, as far as I am aware, still stands): “Name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. The second challenge. Can anyone think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first awaits a convincing reply.” Many believers have offered spurious or ridiculous “replies” to the first question — but none of these attempts that I’ve seen can satisfy reason or withstand criticism in the way that the multifarious replies to the second question so easily can.
Rami K.
Rammy
Orlando, FL
Post #: 558
Christ on the Cross
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