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Old 02-16-2007, 12:54 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Atheism's sudden rise

Seems like every week someone comes out and says he's an athiest. Another post here on TFP has an interview with Julia Sweeney in which she informs us that she too is an athiest. As few as 3 years ago, that would be a career ender unless your name was George Carlin.

That got me to wondering - how much of this athiesm movement is fueled by people genuinely sitting down, thinking it out, and coming to the conclusion that there is no god, and how much of it is just because it's a trendy thing to do?

I recall 10 years or so ago when being bisexual was suddenly hip. Every couple of days some celebrity would get him/herself onto a TV show and tell the world they were bi. You don't really hear about bisexual celebs anymore.

I'm sure it's a bit of both, but I'd be interested in knowing just how many of these newly-out-of-the-closet athiests are just hopping on the latest bandwagon. Your thoughts?
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Old 02-16-2007, 02:22 AM   #2 (permalink)
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My take on this has to do with a belief that we as humans are endlessly fascinated and preoccupied with ourselves. We have the mental ability to devise a myriad of intricate, orthodox philosophies as a means of expressing our inner thoughts and feelings. The more intricate and complete the thought - the more fullfilling and satisfying...like a long hard back massage or thunderous fart. We are driven to creating such theories, even at times perhaps more than, 1) is necessary, 2) is psychologically healthy and 3) is even possible. It is like fiddling around with a 5000-sided rubiks cube.

Atheism is one such topic that especially comes to play in people's minds, because it pertains to many intriguing and existential issues such as who or what is controlling my quest for self-knowledge, who is controlling my destiny, who is controlling my decision-making processes, who is controlling the machinery. I think there is a certain amount of trend and peer pressure and herd mentality to it especially at first, but if it remains a long-term issue its probably based on an honest journey of self-discovery although I can see how it sometimes comes off as bs.
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Old 02-16-2007, 04:05 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I am an atheist. It is due to study of various religions, anthropology, sociology, and history. I have put much thought into it. It is not because it is trendy. I don't believe that it is trendy as suggested. Atheists are viewed differently and not in a good way. It makes people uncomfortable. I don't advertise it to everyone because I realize it could have unwanted repurcussions.
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Old 02-16-2007, 07:58 AM   #4 (permalink)
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by powerclown
The more intricate and complete the thought - the more fullfilling and satisfying...like a long hard back massage or thunderous fart. We are driven to creating such theories, even at times perhaps more than, 1) is necessary, 2) is psychologically healthy and 3) is even possible.
Only those of us who can afford it, really. I think one would be surprised at how many atheists (and/or Western-fad "Buddhists") are middle or upper class, well-educated, and have plenty of time for navel-gazing and sitting around thinking deep thoughts all the time. The rest of the world is busy scratching out enough to live day to day, and you sure as hell bet they're believers. It's rational behavior... materials means determine superstructure/belief systems, not the other way around. If you ask me.
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Old 02-16-2007, 09:01 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I think that a lot of people were (and still are) afraid of admitting their lack of belief in a god. Christians (and those of other religions) constantly insist that all morality and meaning in life comes from religion. And hence, anyone who is without religion must therefore be an utterly amoral nihilist. In fact even the word atheist has a kind of derogatory association with it (in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins describes Juila Sweeney recalling in Letting Go Of God, that her mother could understand her not believing in God....but being an atheist....an atheist!?). Some atheists have even decided to create a euphemism for atheism ("Brights") though personally I find this somewhat misguided.

So there is a great fear of "coming out" and saying that you are an atheist. And doing so will often make you come up against a lot of ignorance, resentment and prejudice (and even outright hatred in some cases). Personally I have been told to my face that I deserve to be tortured for all eternity in hell for my lack of belief (despite living an otherwise moral life) and that my life is utterly pointless and that it should make no difference to me if I were to commit suicide now rather than waiting to die of other causes. (And these were my friends!. With friends like these......)

But the zeitgeist seems to be thankfully changing. It is starting to become more socially acceptable to be an atheist, without so many people assuming that you eat babies. And so you hear more and more people coming out and openly stating that they are atheists.

This of course has secondary effects. People seeing others stating that they are atheists, others who may be respected, or even friends, causes them to think about their own beliefs. It makes them confront the negative stereotype of atheists that they have in their heads - the bitter angry loner who resents society. It may even cause them to question their own beliefs - "do I really believe what I claim to believe? Do I have good reason to? Or is it just because I was brought up to believe that way?"
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Old 02-16-2007, 10:29 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by abaya
It's rational behavior... materials means determine superstructure/belief systems, not the other way around.
Are you saying that only rich people are atheists and working people are believers?
Are you saying that poverty drives people to religion?
Or poverty drives people to atheism?
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Old 02-16-2007, 10:50 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Atheism is easier for educated people.
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Old 02-16-2007, 10:58 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by willravel
Atheism is easier for educated people.
Not sure I follow...what does this mean?
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Old 02-16-2007, 11:02 AM   #9 (permalink)
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I think what abaya is saying is that people who are more well-off have the luxery of reading more and learning more things beyond what they are taught in school and taught by their family/religion.
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Old 02-16-2007, 11:12 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I think the "sudden rise" in Atheism is stemming from the fact that is now acceptable to admit to being one. Back in the days of yore, when you could lose your job, lose your family, be tortured, killed, or excommunicated for saying you didn't believe in God, "out" atheists were pretty slim.

Nowadays society is coming to accept that gee golly - you can be an Athiest - a lot more people are declaring themselves as such. I don't think their numbers have changed at all, but merely their visibility.

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Old 02-16-2007, 11:43 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by powerclown
Not sure I follow...what does this mean?
I'm not sure that athism is easier for educated people, but i think that the truth is that SKEPTICISM is easier for educated people.

It is clear that religeosity declines as educational standards rise - for whatever reason, free thinking and clear reasoning skills seem to tally with a fall in orthodoxy.

If you look at the Europan 17th and 18th Century period of the Enlightenment, first there was the reformation, then a rise in learning, then a rise in non-conformist Christianity, then the rise in public acceptance of people admitting to Atheism.

It just means that you 'mericans are catching up.

Welcome to the 18th Century!
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Old 02-16-2007, 11:44 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Although it's definitely worth considering, and strongly, that the privileged find it easier to arrive at atheism, I wouldn't feel it diminishes atheism. Thanks, abaya, for bringing this up.

The same thing could be said of science in general (which I feel atheism is a part of). Of course the more well-off are and ought to be leading the way in these sorts of philosophical pursuits.
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:48 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Here is a fact that the religious don't like to acknowledge. It makes them uncomfortable. Everyone is born an atheist. Atheism is the default.
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Old 02-16-2007, 01:18 PM   #14 (permalink)
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I think atheism is a result of progression. I believe the more there is to know about something, the less there is to make up. By "knowing" I mean, witnessing, observing, touching, feeling, and other forms of hard evidence. As we progress in science and society, with the sharing of knowledge, opinions, experiences and our direct effect of communicating with one another, people are starting to become demistified. Part of what faith is is being "impressed" by something beyond comprehension. As we humans are able to comprehend more and more, the less faith there is to have.
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Old 02-16-2007, 04:24 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by powerclown
Not sure I follow...what does this mean?
Sorry, I thought it was clear. As Daniel said, with the accumulation of knowledge comes the ability to question (skepticism). With the ability to question comes the ability to doubt, then question, then study, then ascertain, then understand and evolve.
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Old 02-16-2007, 11:13 PM   #16 (permalink)
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In addiction circles, there is talk of putting belief in a power greater than the self (theism) as a means for recovery.
Because it was this reliance upon oneself (atheism) that got them into addiction to begin with.

It seems to me this scenario can substitute for any case of spiritual impoverishment, be it gambling, overeating, extreme poverty, overshopping, sexual addictions, disease and sickness, eating disorders, alcoholism, neuroses, criminal behavior, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, severe depression, OCD, etc.
Where is one to turn when it becomes impossible to look inward for spiritual comfort?
.
.
.
(shakran, let me know if I'm threadjacking and I'll stop here.)
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Old 02-17-2007, 08:24 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Atheism leads to addiction? Not in the least. The loss of self control leads to addiction. The use of theism in breaking addiction is about replacing one control with another, one dependence with another.

I require no spiritual comfort the same way I don't require the force from Star Wars. It's fictional.
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Old 02-17-2007, 09:50 AM   #18 (permalink)
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I think it's a mistake to equate atheism with addiction. The purpose of a "higher power" in 12 step programs is to highlight that one cannot accomplish everything by oneself. Indeed, relying only on yourself to try and kick an addiction is, generally, a very big mistake and a sure recipe for failure. Twelve step programs refer to a higher power to encourage addicts to admit that they are not all powerful and that they cannot control their addictions without outside help. There does not need to be a god for this to be true. Unless I'm mistaken, 12 step programs do not generally dictate what that higher power is, and as such I don't think atheism necessarily goes against what 12 step programs teach. The higher power, for example, may be the power of collective humanity. The power of love, generated by strong bonds between people. That's a higher power, and it certainly goes a long way toward breaking down an addict's barriers to outside help. It also doesn't require belief in any sort of god.
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Old 02-17-2007, 10:19 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by abaya
Only those of us who can afford it, really. I think one would be surprised at how many atheists (and/or Western-fad "Buddhists") are middle or upper class, well-educated, and have plenty of time for navel-gazing and sitting around thinking deep thoughts all the time. The rest of the world is busy scratching out enough to live day to day, and you sure as hell bet they're believers. It's rational behavior... materials means determine superstructure/belief systems, not the other way around. If you ask me.
This can go either way depending on the individual. I would say that material means can determine belief systems for some,while belief systems can determine material realities for others. Take this study, for example.

In particular, consider the following from it:

Quote:
The religious beliefs children learn in their families translate into educational attainment, adult occupations, financial literacy, social connections and other factors that influence adult wealth ownership, [the researcher] said.

Religious teachings of different faiths may influence spending and saving strategies in a variety of ways [...]
What the study determines is how religion in America acts as education in wealth issues. Also bear in mind that most religions stress a good work ethic and contributing to local communities, which generally helps one's material security.

Something else that confuses the issue is that many atheists I've met are disgruntled working-class people who barely had a high-school education. They didn't believe in God because if there were a God, their life wouldn't suck so much...

On the other hand, there are many mega-wealthy people I read about who are devoutly religious.
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Old 02-17-2007, 12:00 PM   #20 (permalink)
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In addiction circles, there is talk of putting belief in a power greater than the self (theism) as a means for recovery.
Because it was this reliance upon oneself (atheism) that got them into addiction to begin with.
That's a line I've heard before, and although fallacious, it's only fair. If you're unable to break an addiction without in a belief in something other than yourself, then you shouldn't be an atheist. Please be religious, if that's what it requires to break your addiction.

Atheism is reserved for those strong enough to take the hard route; if you need an easier route, then by all means be religious - I won't hold it against you at all.
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Old 02-17-2007, 01:46 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Atheism is reserved for those strong enough to take the hard route; if you need an easier route, then by all means be religious - I won't hold it against you at all.
I don't know about that. I always imagined that the smug self-righteousness of many atheists was more than enough to balance out the lack of reliance on a higher power.
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Old 02-17-2007, 02:08 PM   #22 (permalink)
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A theist accusing an atheist of self-righteousness?
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Old 02-17-2007, 02:37 PM   #23 (permalink)
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I don't know about that. I always imagined that the smug self-righteousness of many atheists was more than enough to balance out the lack of reliance on a higher power.
I don't think that has anything to do with belief in god or not.
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Old 02-17-2007, 04:21 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by willravel
A theist accusing an atheist of self-righteousness?
*imagesnip*
Theists aren't necessarily self-righteous. Filtherton, for example, didn't display self-righteousness in that post. Your comment doesn't make sense in this context.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Halx
I don't think that has anything to do with belief in god or not.
But it shows that atheism isn't always indicative of strength. Just as with theism, it can indicate other less positive attributes as well. Point being, I think, that sweeping generalizations about either theists or atheists are bound to find exceptions. And perhaps the exceptions even form the majority of cases.
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Old 02-17-2007, 04:27 PM   #25 (permalink)
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A theist accusing an atheist of self-righteousness?
An atheist making overly broad, uninformed statements about theists? Shocking.
I'm not a theist, btw.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Halx
I don't think that has anything to do with belief in god or not.
No, perhaps not. It does, however, reference what seems to be the main draw for a noticeable portion of atheists.
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Old 02-17-2007, 05:25 PM   #26 (permalink)
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I'm not a theist, btw.
Whoops, my mistake as well.
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Old 02-17-2007, 05:36 PM   #27 (permalink)
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Whoops, my mistake as well.
It's okay, i could see how one might get the impression.
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Old 02-17-2007, 06:03 PM   #28 (permalink)
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No, perhaps not. It does, however, reference what seems to be the main draw for a noticeable portion of atheists.
For a "noticeable portion" the main draw for not believing in a god is so that they can effect a smug self-righteousness? Oh please!
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Old 02-17-2007, 06:24 PM   #29 (permalink)
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For a "noticeable portion" the main draw for not believing in a god is so that they can effect a smug self-righteousness? Oh please!
No, only that it seems like it is. Many of the sciencey people i know are atheists, but the majority of atheists that i know don't know shit about science, the scientific method, burdens of proof, etc. They complain about the sheepish nature of theists whilst themselves being relatively sheeplike in other aspects of their lives. There is definitely a number of people for whom atheism is merely another personality accessory, like the kind of shoes they wear or the kind of music they listen to. It is cool to not believe in god; it's rebellious. It's like spiritual punk rock.

I think we're all aware of how good it can feel to convince yourself(not you specifically) that you are better than others. All i'm saying is that there is a noticeable portion of atheists who seem to derive more pleasure from copping a holier than thou attitude towards theists than might be expected when you take into account that they're often the very same atheists who complain about holier than thou attitude given off by noticeable portions of theists.

I'm not saying that all atheists are like that, just that there are many who are.

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Old 02-17-2007, 06:38 PM   #30 (permalink)
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atheism is a "harder route" how does that work? I would think it would be far easier for a person to say....blah blah blah..doesnt exist....I wont believe in anything thats not tangible...Im not accountable for anything when I die because there is nothing after death..etc

how is that "hard"? I dont see where that requires "strength" at all.
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Old 02-17-2007, 07:00 PM   #31 (permalink)
 
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I think what abaya is saying is that people who are more well-off have the luxery of reading more and learning more things beyond what they are taught in school and taught by their family/religion.
Yeah, Smeth had it right here. Sorry, hadn't checked in on this thread in a while. But yeah, I am not saying that by some law, poor = religious and rich = atheist, not at all (agreeing with Baraka_Guru on that point... obviously, there are very clear exceptions to the rule, particularly in mainstream America).

However, I do think Marx had a point with his "religion is the opiate of the masses" line... and since much of my theoretical foundation in my studies comes from cultural materialism (traced back to Marx, in part), I am biased towards thinking that many (not all) people who have less material resources have far less time and money to sit back and chew their spiritual cud... at least, as opposed to those of us who can afford to go to university and sit around shooting the spiritual shit over a joint with our deep-thinking buddies. This is especially true in developing and/or traditional societies, I think, where tribe and family are much more intertwined with faith and confessional identity (and thus much more rigid) than they are in the West. That is, when one lacks financial and human capital, one finds it in social capital... and where else to find social capital more regularly than at your local church, mosque, temple, what have you?

Quote:
Originally Posted by ShaniFaye
atheism is a "harder route" how does that work? I would think it would be far easier for a person to say....blah blah blah..doesnt exist....I wont believe in anything thats not tangible...Im not accountable for anything when I die because there is nothing after death..etc

how is that "hard"? I dont see where that requires "strength" at all.
Well Shani, I'm not even a full-on atheist, but I have to say that for me it's been extremely difficult to give up my belief in God. I was a full-on evangelical up until about 7 years ago, and every step of the way I wished that God would give me belief back again. But everything was leading me away from it, and it was a mental and social struggle on a regular basis for me. The church and my belief in God had been pillars for me through a very difficult time in my life, and they had become part of my identity. When I gave that up, I had to basically start over from scratch in terms of figuring out who I was... God had been so central to my life, I didn't know where to start again.

So, I guess for me, losing faith was actually MUCH more difficult than gaining it, the latter which came almost naturally to me... having faith was not hard for me, a long time ago. I lost a lot of friends by walking away from the church, and a big part of who I was. It was not easy for me, and still isn't. I wish I could run back to church and sing my favorite songs and shake everyone's hand again... but I just can't.
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Old 02-17-2007, 07:49 PM   #32 (permalink)
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Old 02-17-2007, 08:39 PM   #33 (permalink)
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atheism is a "harder route" how does that work?
Because it's hard work to swim upstream against a very hard current. It's a lot easier to "go with the flow".
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Old 02-17-2007, 08:54 PM   #34 (permalink)
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I'd say it also a little harder to be an atheist because your are on your own. Those who choose religion (regardless of which) have a road map and, if they attend services, continual guidance in the form of some sort of spiritual leader.

Being an atheist means doing the right thing because it is the right thing, not just because a book or a spiritual leader tells you you will be eternally punished if you don't.
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Old 02-17-2007, 09:23 PM   #35 (permalink)
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I'd say it also a little harder to be an atheist because your are on your own. Those who choose religion (regardless of which) have a road map and, if they attend services, continual guidance in the form of some sort of spiritual leader.
I think it depends on what you choose to focus on. Certainly it could be easier to have a map. However, sometimes that map is completely missing large pieces or takes you places that really suck.

On the other hand, being an atheist doesn't necessarily mean that one doesn't have a map. After all, buddhism is atheistic(correct me if i'm wrong, it's been a while), yet is incredibly prescriptive.

Also, depending on the particular brand of theism in question, there isn't necessarily a map.

Quote:
Being an atheist means doing the right thing because it is the right thing, not just because a book or a spiritual leader tells you you will be eternally punished if you don't.
Believe it or not, theism can also mean doing the right thing because it is the right thing. Not all theists believe in hell- for them heaven is assured. Without the threat of damnation, one can defer to whatever one wants when deciding what the right thing is.

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Old 02-17-2007, 09:49 PM   #36 (permalink)
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I think Richard Dawkins has put atheism back in the public consciousness in a big way, which is why we're seeing people jumping aboard. Without wanting to disparage anyone's particular belief, I can't say that I think it's a bad thing, but I wished I believed they were doing it because they'd really thought about it.

Agnosticism is interesing in itself since what you're basically saying you can't prove or disprove the existence of god, so belief is impossible. But you also can't prove or disprove the existence of allsorts of other things that are nevertheless unreasonable to believe in, such as hobbits, elves, fairies, men on mars, Cthulhu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

So to be agnostic about god is to be agnostic about anything we don't have direct evidence for. If you, as an agnostic, accept that it's unreasonable to believe in hobbits, then why not god? If you then go on to accept that it's unreasonable to believe in god, then you're pretty much an atheist.

It's also worth pointing out, I think, that absolute atheism is as much a position of 'faith' as hardline theism is, since I don't think we can honestly discount the possibility of a god.
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Old 02-17-2007, 10:05 PM   #37 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by flamingdog
But you also can't prove or disprove the existence of allsorts of other things that are nevertheless unreasonable to believe in, such as hobbits, elves, fairies, men on mars, Cthulhu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Hobbits, elves, fairies, the Flying spaghetti Monster, and Lovecraft's Cthulhu are all fantasy creatures invented by fiction writers. We certainly can say that they don't exist - at least not on earth - except in the minds of their creators and those who read the stories. As for men on mars - we have direct evidence that there aren't any. We've photographed the planet, and there is NO indication of any sort of macro-scaled ecosystem which would be necessary to support a life form analagous to us.


Quote:
So to be agnostic about god is to be agnostic about anything we don't have direct evidence for.
True, but your examples all involve things we don't have direct evidence for. A better example would be the sasquatch. Photographs and filmstrips taken by known practical jokers aside, we have no concrete evidence that sasquatch exists. Yet it is possible that somehow a giant primate has managed to avoid our detection. Not likely, but possible. So sure, I suppose you could put me as being "agnostic" about sasquatches.

And if you want to be technical the breakdown of agnostic is a - gnostic. Gnosis is an early christian term for spiritual knowledge, and therefore it is not technically possible to be agnostic about anything but a diety.

Quote:
If you, as an agnostic, accept that it's unreasonable to believe in hobbits, then why not god?
Because hobbits were made up by JRR Tolkien. God was not. Unfortunately, the god legends start so far back in history that we cannot reliably assess their veracity. Because we have not proven it to be impossible, we must accept that it is possible that the bible describes accurately the supernatural events surrounding god and his kid. However for the same reason we must also accept that it is possible that the bible is pure fiction.

Quote:
If you then go on to accept that it's unreasonable to believe in god, then you're pretty much an atheist.
Here you're correct, but this statement is built on a very shaky foundation. It is certainly possible to be agnostic. I find that generally only those with fervent beliefs that there is or is not a god find agnosticism to be impossible.

It's also worth pointing out, I think, that absolute atheism is as much a position of 'faith' as hardline theism is, since I don't think we can honestly discount the possibility of a god.[/QUOTE]
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Old 02-17-2007, 10:15 PM   #38 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by shakran
Hobbits, elves, fairies, the Flying spaghetti Monster, and Lovecraft's Cthulhu are all fantasy creatures invented by fiction writers. We certainly can say that they don't exist - at least not on earth - except in the minds of their creators and those who read the stories.
How is that any different from the Bible?
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Old 02-17-2007, 10:23 PM   #39 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Bill O'Rights
How is that any different from the Bible?
because they are not from the inspired word of gawd.

we must remember that all theist, are atheist to 99.999% of all the gods that have came before.
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Old 02-17-2007, 10:23 PM   #40 (permalink)
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But it shows that atheism isn't always indicative of strength. Just as with theism, it can indicate other less positive attributes as well. Point being, I think, that sweeping generalizations about either theists or atheists are bound to find exceptions. And perhaps the exceptions even form the majority of cases.
That's why I slap my forehead when people who make judgements feel the need to speak up. I'm content to classify atheism as a progression in the understanding of the world. Screw all the other attributes that people like to give it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dilbert1234567
because they are not from the inspired word of gawd.

but they are from the inspired word of Tolkein, who many revere as deity.
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