Chamblee54

Atheism Number Two

Posted in Library of Congress, Religion by chamblee54 on March 23, 2017








Whenever someone writes a book about religion, the writer pays tribute to mammon. Interviews are given, TED talks are given, and the printed donkey flogged within an inch of its life. The book of the moment is Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion. The author is Alain de Botton. A chat on blogginheadstv goes over the same material.

The idea is that atheists can learn a thing or two from the believers. Mr. de Botton also gave a TED Talk about this concept. TED provides a transcript, which makes the bloggers endeavor a bit easier. Quotes below,from the transcript, are in blue. Editorial comments, by the house, are in green.

One of the most common ways of dividing the world is into those who believe and those who don’t — into the religious and the atheists. And for the last decade or so, it’s been quite clear what being an atheist means. There have been some very vocal atheists who’ve pointed out, not just that religion is wrong, but that it’s ridiculous. These people, many of whom have lived in North Oxford, have argued — they’ve argued that believing in G-d is akin to believing in fairies and essentially that the whole thing is a childish game.

We may as well began by questioning the entire belief paradigm. Christians believe G-d exists, and a few other things. Atheists do not believe G-d exists. What no one seems to be questioning is whether belief is the best way to go about the G-d issue. The word gnosis (the root of agnostic) refers to having a knowledge of G-d… to feeling her presence in your soul. There are some who say that man and G-d are one and the same. When all you have is a belief… a strongly felt thought… you just might be missing most of the picture.

Christianity is a religion based on beliefs. One of the central beliefs is the notion that having the correct beliefs will cause you to be “saved”… to go to heaven when you die, instead of hell. This is a big deal to Christians, who find it difficult to deal with someone who is not as fascinated by belief in “salvation” as they are. Some say Jesus is appalled by this obsession with life after death.

Atheism seems to be a reaction to Christianity. If they Christians did not tell them about G-d, how would they know what not to believe in?

“they’ve argued that believing in G-d is akin to believing in fairies and essentially that the whole thing is a childish game.”

Oh my, what a terrible thing to say about faeries. Maybe faeries are not something to believe in either. Just wear the fabulous fashions, and don’t worry about that silly religion business.

Mr. de Botton laments the lack of community is atheism, and he may have a point. PG has often envied the sense of extended family that churches seem to offer. If only those pesky beliefs didn’t get in the way. Does religion fulfill a tribal need for conformity, rather than spiritual fulfillment?

“Now religions start from a very different place indeed. All religions, all major religions, at various points call us children. And like children, they believe that we are in severe need of assistance. We’re only just holding it together. Perhaps this is just me, maybe you. But anyway, we’re only just holding it together. And we need help. Of course, we need help. And we need guidance and we need learning.”

It is a common rule of public speaking… you treat children as though they were adults, and adults as though they were children. The concept of being “born again”, of having a second childhood… these are very appealing notions. Can an atheist church offer these good times? Or would it spoil the fun by treating “worshipers” as adults?

Another point about education: we tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it. Sit them in a classroom, tell them about Plato at the age of 20, send them out for a career in management consultancy for 40 years, and that lesson will stick with them. Religions go, “Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the lesson 10 times a day. So get on your knees and repeat it.” That’s what all religions tell us: “Get on you knees and repeat it 10 or 20 or 15 times a day.” Otherwise our minds are like sieves.

So religions are cultures of repetition. They circle the great truths again and again and again. We associate repetition with boredom. “Give us the new,” we’re always saying. “The new is better than the old.” If I said to you, “Okay, we’re not going to have new TED. We’re just going to run through all the old ones and watch them five times because they’re so true. We’re going to watch Elizabeth Gilbert five times because what she says is so clever,” you’d feel cheated.

PG listened to the embedded TED talk twice, the second time taking notes in the transcript. The idea of listening to this lecture three more times is horrific.

The other thing that religions are really aware of is: speak well — I’m not doing a very good job of this here — but oratory, oratory is absolutely key to religions. In the secular world, you can come through the university system and be a lousy speaker and still have a great career. But the religious world doesn’t think that way. What you’re saying needs to be backed up by a convincing way of saying it.

So if you go to an African American Pentecostalist church in the American South and you listen to how they talk, my goodness, they talk well. After every convincing point, people will go, “Amen, amen, amen.” At the end of a really rousing paragraph, they’ll all stand up, and they’ll go, “Thank you Jesus, thank you Christ, thank you Savior.” If we were doing it like they do it — let’s not do it, but if we were to do it — I would tell you something like, “Culture should replace scripture.” And you would go, “Amen, amen, amen.” And at the end of my talk, you would all stand up and you would go, “Thank you Plato, thank you Shakespeare, thank you Jane Austen.” And we’d know that we had a real rhythm going. All right, all right. We’re getting there. We’re getting there.

This is one issue where PG has a big, big problem. Jesus worship is an emotional affair. Powerful feelings are stirred up. This power, and fury, can be a terrifying thing if it is used against you.

This use of Jesus driven emotions is an issue in American politics today. The force and thunder of a screaming Jesus worshiper, leading his flock of angry sheep, is a terrible thing to have used against you. It is hoped that an Atheist church would be more “humanistic”.

No, we need to be polite about differences. Politeness is a much-overlooked virtue. It’s seen as hypocrisy. But we need to get to a stage when you’re an atheist and someone says, “Well you know, I did pray the other day,” you politely ignore it. You move on. Because you’ve agreed on 90 percent of things, because you have a shared view on so many things, and you politely differ… That’s what the religious wars of late have ignored. They’ve ignored the possibility of harmonious disagreement.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Jesus worshipers are notorious for interrupting you if something is said they do not like. Perhaps this is another function of the belief based religion. When you believe something, and do not understand why someone does not share your belief, you don’t have time to listen. This rudeness does not speak well for Jesus. Hopefully, atheists can be a bit better.

This is a repost, with pictures from The Library of Congress. Russell Lee took the pictures in October, 1938. “Crowd, listening to the Cajun band at National Rice Festival, Crowley, Louisiana.”






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  1. […] Atheism Number Two – Quotes below,from the transcript … is a terrible thing to have used against you. It is hoped that an Atheist church would be more “humanistic”. No, … […]


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