Thursday, November 16, 2006

More to consider from Seldom

I appreciate your last response Seldom, and I would like to comment a bit further as well.

You quoted me and then added your viewpoint:
“Hmmm... and I guess if we both compile a list of what religious organizations vs. atheist organizations have accomplished for the common good, your list will be longer? Not a chance, and you should be well aware of that.”

This is a completely inappropriate comparison. Atheism is not a religion. We don’t organize in a way comparable to churches, temples, etc. Lack of belief in a God doesn’t require organization; it only requires the individual to reach this conclusion in his own mind.
I’d argue that atheists do organize in a way that compares to theistic groups - complete with social events and proselytizing just as churches do. Perhaps you are familiar with humanist organizations? Here are a few links:

The Council for Secular Humanism
American Humanist Association
National Secular Society

You’ll find that humanist groups do try to organize functions to help others in society, but their main focus is politics, rejection of the supernatural, science as truth, and various philosophical issues. They have meetings, bylaws and manifestos just as churches have meetings, church services, bylaws, and articles of faith. They encourage others to bring friends into the flock just as faith communities do.

I attended a documentary in Kansas City some time ago, and atheist groups were handing out information to share just as church groups do at their various functions. The documentary by the way was “The God who wasn’t there”, by Brian Fleming. Have you seen it? Here’s my review of the flick.

Some of the key players in the evolution/ID debate are involved in humanist organizations. In fact, Eugenie Scott is a notable signer of the Humanist Manifesto III. Barbara Forest and Richard Dawkins are also members of humanist groups along with many other key players in the fight against “creationism“ (as they refer to it). The Humanist Manifesto has a tone very similar to religious articles of faith. I fail to see the difference between religious groups and atheist groups other than the fact that there is a belief or disbelief in God.

In Nancy Pearcey’s Book, Total Truth, she makes a very profound statement, IMO. She wrote that, “Humans are inherently religious beings, created to be in relationship with God - and if they reject God, they don’t stop being religious; they simply find some other ultimate principle upon which to base their lives.”

You wrote:
A more valid comparison would be what has been accomplished by non-religious organizations v. religious organizations. We are talking about whether God is required for people to do good things. And the religion of the person isn’t what matters. After all, non-religious groups certainly benefit from people who believe in God, while many atheists support religious organizations like the Red Cross (I just gave blood this afternoon).
Well, number one, you’ll never hear from me that atheists are not able to benefit society or “do good things”. I will say that my personal belief is that if there were no God, if we merely evolved from nothing, and we were left with no guidelines as to how to lives our lives, I believe the world would be quite a different place. Nuf said.

God actively upholds all of creation. Found among the verses of Matthew 5:43-48 (which, btw, offer some wonderful words to live by) we find this: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” His gifts are given to nonbelievers as well as believers. BTW, This verse is not stating that atheists are “evil”, it’s making the point that regardless of our choices (good or evil) or our beliefs (godly or ungodly), God’s earthly gifts are available to all.

As for your non-religious organizations vs. religious organizations, I see a flaw in that way of thinking. There are numerous organizations that do considerable good for society that are not related to a particular church or religious belief system, but certainly many, many people who are involved in those groups hold various religious beliefs, so this is not an entirely accurate way in which to weigh the benefits of religious vs. non-religious groups. It would seem to me that religious beliefs might be a factor in how people choose to serve in these groups as well. Most Americans are brought up in religious households and religious upbringing certainly plays a factor in how we view our world and the decisions we make. In fact, religion has always had an influence on morality and even those who reject God are influenced by the morals of others (many of them coming from religious teaching).

You quoted me and then commented:
“Neither should we be making statements like “religion is the root of all evil” or “atheism is the root of all evil”. That completely closes the door to all meaningful and respectful dialogue.”

It does do that, and I never said or even suggested this. I assume you are using the “root of all evil” phrase because of the Dawkins TV series title. I’m also sure you have been made aware that he didn’t pick the title, strongly argued against it, states this fact whenever he discusses the show, and flat out says that it is a ridiculous idea.
I’m sorry if I made it sound as though you were making that statement. Yes, I was referring to Dawkins, and I am also aware that Dawkins claims not to support that statement. But, I’ve heard him speak, and I’ve read many of the articles and interviews regarding his beliefs. He certainly does feel that religion is at the root of most of the problems in society. He’s made that abundantly clear, and most strong atheists involved in on-line discussions certainly seem to lean toward that way of thinking as well.

I also believe that if Dawkins felt strongly enough about changing the “root of all evil” phrase, he could certainly have done it regardless of what he claims to have control over. Perhaps I’m wrong, but nonetheless, Dawkins has made his views abundantly clear regardless of what he chooses to title his books or films.

You quoted me and then commented:
BTW, “good works” are not the only positive result of Religion. Our faith in God also provides us with a connection to Him that an atheist doesn’t understand. His word (the Bible), provides us with answers as how to live a life that will benefit His creation. We find that when we follow His guidelines, they benefits us in numerous ways. God didn’t give us a set of unreasonable demands to live by. As our Creator, He knew what would lead us to live a more fulfilling and healthy life.”

This statement is so impossibly vague as to be without meaning to anyone who isn’t already of like-mind. I guess being an atheist, I just can’t understand it? Do you know how patronizing that sounds?
I’m sincerely sorry if that sounds patronizing, but I have no other idea how to state that fact. This is another thing that cannot be measured or understood except by each individual person. Many people state that they feel a strong connection with a “god” of some sort, and there is no way to know what exactly that may mean to each person. But, the majority of people on earth either believe in a divine creator or are open to researching the possibility due to the strong instinct to acknowledge that there is a creator of the cosmos.

I recently read this in an article: “The atheist knows that the universe began to exist and since the universe is, according to the atheist, all there is, the very existence of the universe seems to be a colossal violation of the laws of nature (i.e., a miracle). It's hard to believe in miracles without God. “

And, of course, scripture tells us: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:20-22).

You quoted me and then wrote:
“I’ve known many people, myself included, who have turned their back on biblical truth or morality at various points in our lives and have made decisions which in turn led to consequences that were not pretty.”

Of course you do. You live in the US. Virtually everyone you know is Christian. Of all of those people, if you didn’t know someone who turned their back on “biblical truth” and then exercised poor judgment of some kind, that would be truly surprising. But that doesn’t prove or even suggest a causal connection. As you might expect, I know many other atheists. Almost without exception, we were all raised by Christian parents and attended church until we were old enough to make our own decisions. We rejected your “biblical truth” and surprise—we are all law abiding, successful, productive members of society, living happy, fulfilling lives.
I’ve no doubt that you live a very productive life as an atheist, but bear in mind that as you stated and I alluded to regarding atheists in general earlier in my post, you had a religious upbringing. Do you truly believe that just because you decide to throw the concept of God out the window that those religious ideals you were brought up with don’t have some type of influence on you and your decisions in life? Darwinists often state that our morals are connected with influences from society. Since the dawn of written history, religion has always been extremely connected with education on morality. Atheists can’t escape that influence simply because they reject a Creator.

You quoted me and then commented:
“I am quite aware that atheists pull random verses from Old Testament laws that sound immoral and shout with outrage that anyone would consider them moral, but unless one takes the time to thoroughly understand what was going on during that time in history and how that ties in with the rest of the old and new testaments, you’re not going to get a clear picture of the entire message.”

Where did this come from? I did not cite any bible verses at all. I merely pointed out that virtually every argument coming from Christians, against gay marriage, seems to come from the Bible. “The Bible says so” is not a valid reason for a law in the US despite what some people would like to believe.
Never in my life have I heard someone simply state that something is right or wrong merely “because the Bible says so”, except for little children singing the song, "Jesus loves me". I’ve no doubt that those type of people exist, I’ve just not encountered one.

People may use Biblical ideals in support of their views, but they usually provide an explanation of why they believe it is the best idea, and tie that in with their own experiences and observations in society as I did with you on a few issues. There are reasons God gave us guidelines to follow, as I mentioned in my last post. They aren’t to hinder our lives from doing the things we want, but to enhance our lives.

You wrote:
Your point that you have to look at the Bible as a whole and understand what was going on at that time in history is very intriguing to me. This is because the Religious Right in this country seems to disagree with you as far as I can tell. I repeatedly hear that morality MUST come from the Bible otherwise we just have moral relativism. But you seem to be saying that we have to understand that what was moral then, isn’t moral now. Isn’t that the very definition of the evil moral relativism? Why did God require homosexuals, adulterers, and heretics to be stoned to death back in Old Testament times, but now he doesn’t? Having read the Bible in its entirety multiple times, attended more Sunday school classes than I care to remember, and having taken two college classes on Christianity, I offer the following semi-educated opinion: the moral teachings of Jesus mirror and expand upon the golden rule; they are well worth studying; however the main ideas are not unique to Jesus and certainly did not originate with him. The “morality” of the Old Testament is just plain scary and I would suggest that we would ALL be better off not taking it seriously.
The scriptures definitely gives example after example of how living contrary to how God designed for us to live with one another in society will result in negative consequences. King David’s life alone gives us so much to consider and learn from. But, I believe you truly have to consider the bible in it‘s entirety, the history surrounding Biblical times (especially during Old Testament times) and how Christ was considered the new covenant.

Gosh, this is such an interesting subject and we could go on forever, but with the life and death of Christ we have been given a new covenant, and many of the OT laws are obsolete as they are not relevant to the new covenant and teachings of Paul and the apostles and their guidelines for the church.

Where does one draw the line as to what is relevant in our modern society? Well, I believe Paul, in most cases, makes that pretty clear in his letters and instruction for the church. As I said in my last post, I’ve addressed a bit of this in an on-line forum.

After all those years of Christian education and two years of college courses on Christianity, it would seem that you might have given some consideration to the NT teaching of the new covenant in Christ‘s death and resurrection. But, then again, I missed the importance of that in my religious upbringing as well. It wasn’t until I really dug into scripture on my own and asked the really hard questions of anyone who would listen to me, that I actually came to a whole new understanding and appreciation for God’s word. Just out of curiosity, where did you attend college?

You made a very good suggestion:
“Harris doesn’t make an evolutionary argument, he makes a philosophical one. If you haven’t read “Letter to a Christian Nation” you should. It will only take an hour or two.”
Will do. I ordered it today.

You quoted me and then commented:
“An atheist would support the notion that morality has evolved in the same way we have supposedly evolved - through natural selection. But, there is very little to support this sediment other than "just so stories".

If you reject evolution to begin with, then there is really no point in me trying to argue this specific point, because there is no evidence or explanation that could possibly be good enough. So I will just say, that the evolutionary path to morality is very simple and common-sense when you consider that we are talking about a social species moving from living in small, family groups to living in societies.
No, Seldom, the “evolutionary path to morality” is not “very simple and common-sense“. If it were anything other than speculation, scientists wouldn’t be offering a variety of ~opinions~ as to how morality “evolved”. Scientists still don’t have a handle on how consciousness, altruism, or even the validity of thought evolved, much less the evolution of morality.

Evolution is a fact in as far as the theory can be supported with empirical evidence, but when we take the theory past the point of speciation and into macroevolution and evolution of the entire universe, we are basing the theory on inferences, assumptions and speculation. There is nothing wrong with that, and by all means let the exploration into finding the answers continue. But, don’t teach it dogmatically as a fact.

You wrote:
First, please note that I did not call you a bigot.
Well, actually you did. You’ve stated that you believe the word applies to “most people who are anti-gay marriage”. Um, that would be me.

You wrote:
I think we have a disagreement over exactly when “bigot” is appropriate. In my meaning, Dawkins and Harris are not bigoted at all, because they are criticizing beliefs that are chosen.
Webster’s dictionary defines a bigot as “one who holds blindly and intolerantly to a particular creed, opinion, etc.” Now, in that sense, ~I~ would certainly define Harris and Dawkins as bigoted, although I’ve no doubt that you would disagree. I believe their opinion that there is no god to be held on faith, not facts. They are also ~extremely~ intolerant of those who disagree with their opinion. I also consider both gentleman extremely divisive, and they encourage ridicule and belittlement of those who do not agree with their opinions on various issues. That, IMO, is morally wrong. Are there Christians who treat atheists in the same manner? Certainly, and their behavior is equally wrong as well. Remember, this is all just my opinion.

You wrote:
“I find it amazing that anyone who has met gay people thinks they chose to be gay. The gay people I have met are gay in the same way that I am male. More on this with your comments below.”
Well, actually my husband’s cousin chose to commit to a homosexual relationship after years of being in a heterosexual relationship. The reason was due to having her fill of men who treated her poorly. She decided to give it a shot with a woman.

A high school student who was living with his girlfriend at her mother’s house next door to us a few years ago told us that he knew high school girls who would engage in homosexual behavior just for kicks. My husband asked the kid if he was serious, and he assured him that he was.

Then of course, we all hear the stories from Hollywood regarding people switching back and forth between men and women.

I do not rule out that some people may be predisposed to homosexual behavior, but I believe that societal situations can lead to this behavior as well. My personal opinion is that they should at least consider counseling like anyone else who acknowledges that they find that their feelings or behavior is not the norm.

You quoted me and then commented:
“Only a relationship between a ~man and a woman~ will result in procreation. Then there is the fact that men and women differ in many ways, and children need the influence of both genders. Sure, a gay couple could get someone of the opposite sex to spend time with their child just as a single parent could. But, the ~best~ situation for a child is a Mom and a Dad in the household caring for the children.”

This is largely a question of what marriage is for in general. The purpose of marriage has changed constantly over time. Clearly, in the not too recent past it was related to procreation. I think that is now a very quaint, old fashioned idea. People now marry primarily, if not exclusively, for love. If this is accurate, your argument is no longer a valid reason for preventing gay marriage.
I would have to disagree with this statement. Marriage, in our modern society, is actually related to starting a family much more so than in the past. Today, many couples who love each other merely move in together. That seems to be becoming almost the norm at this point in time. When these couples consider starting a family, it’s at that point that they seek out the marriage certificate.

But, let’s consider your idea that marriage is exclusively due to loving another person. Where would we draw the line?

From the article I provided, The Secular Case Against Gay Marriage: “If the state must recognize a marriage of two men simply because they love one another, upon what basis can it deny marital recognition to a group of two men and three women, for example, or a sterile brother and sister who claim to love each other?”

Then, there is this:

Question: Once we open the door to redefining marriage, what is to stop the next "sexual freedom" movement from molding the definition of marriage to how they see fit?

Answer: Nothing.

---Mark Glesne, "Marriage and the Slippery Slope", 2004
You quoted me and then commented:
“My personal opinion is that there are social factors that cause some people to choose partners from their own gender, and I don’t rule out the possibility that there are those who are genetically predisposed to choosing partners of their own gender.”

Here’s the deal. If it is a choice, then we as a society are justified in accepting or condemning it as we see fit. If it is genetic, then this is no different than racism or sexism. Is the jury still out on this question? From what I have seen, I don’t think so, and—I can state without a doubt that I have never said this before—even Ted Haggard agrees with me.
Yes, the jury is still out on that one. Scientists have conducted studies on this issue, but as yet we have no conclusive evidence that homosexuality is genetic, though as I‘ve said before, it wouldn‘t surprise me if in ~some~ individuals it is.

My personal opinion about Ted Haggard is that he is one who chose that behavior due to some sort of power struggle or something similar. Not only is he stepping out of his marriage, but he is also apparently heavily addicted to drugs, and his ability to be honest apparently flew out the window some time ago. The man needs serious counseling, and my heart goes out to his family. My hope would be that their church will reach out to them and help them through this incredibly difficult situation.

You quoted me and then commented:
“You might also consider Rosie O’Donnell’s comments as well:
...Rosie said, "Yes he does, all the time." And Diane said, "What do you tell him?" And Rosie tells him, "You can't have a daddy, because I'm the kind of mommy who wants another mommy."

Same-sex marriage and parenting really comes down to those two words: "I want."

I’m sorry if this comes across as offensive, but quoting that is pathetic. You are taking what a grown up simplistically tells a child, and claiming it makes some larger point about the issue. Really? What was she supposed to do—explain sexuality in depth to a six year old? And God forbid that a gay woman wants the same thing for her life that 99% of the rest of us want: a spouse and a family! How selfish of her. Not one of your better efforts to say the least. (Note: I do realize that the quote above isn’t from you directly.)
Actually, my point was this:

During the program, host Diane Sawyer asked Rosie if her then-6-year-old son Parker ever asked why he can't have a daddy.

Rosie said, "Yes he does, all the time."
Her son misses the fact that he doesn’t have a daddy. Male bonding is very important for a child. When my children were little, it seemed their lives centered around me. But, as they grow, that bonding with their father is something wonderful to watch. My two boys are currently in 4th and 6th grade and they simply idolize their father at this age. Dad takes them hunting and fishing and takes them to batting practice, etc., etc. The other day I looked out my window and there was my husband walking across the yard with my two boys, one on each side like little bookends. They were both looking up at him and I could tell they were having a very interesting conversation by the expressions on their faces. It was so cute to watch. Children need the influence of both sexes and marriage is an institution that should center on what is the best choice for future generations.

As I’ve stated before, it’s not simply “because the bible says so” that people form strong opinions on this issue. We realize from experience and observation what the best scenario would be and it just so happens that God was right about those issues from the start.

You wrote:
I’ll try to stop by more frequently although I don’t want to monopolize your comment section with long spiels like this. I’m wondering if anyone is still awake at this point!
I enjoy talking with you and considering your perspective on these issues. Many on-line forums are controlled by people who are quite hateful when discussing various opinions which in turn makes it impossible to have a meaningful conversation. I like discussing these issues because I find them quite interesting, and it helps me further examine my belief system and my overall worldview. Thanks again.

[This post was edited to correct a few gramatical errors 11/16, 10:30pm]