Fundamentalism, Atheism, and Tunnel Vision

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I seem to be getting into arguments with militant atheists* recently, for reasons I don’t really understand. I should know better. It’s just that I get a little annoyed when people lump me in with religious fundamentalists.

See, I get into arguments with religious fundamentalists all the time, and that isn’t any mystery.

Still, here are two groups that all but define themselves in opposition to one another, particularly the atheist side, and they become so obsessed with their conflict at times that they can’t see anything outside its boundaries. The position of militant atheists goes something like, “THAT is what religion is! And that’s why we hate it! It’s a plague upon the universe, a fountain of intolerance and an authoritarian mess of superstitious ignorance!”

All of which is quite true about fundamentalism. But the first sentence is false.

It’s remarkable how complete this tunnel vision can be among people who pride themselves on their ostensible rationality. Recently, I even had one MA respond to evidence that atheists and agnostics don’t constitute 20% of the American population, they constitute about 5% of it — one quarter of the religiously unaffiliated (that’s the 20% demographic) — by saying, “Come on, America isn’t 95% Christian!” In his mind, evidently, there were only two categories, atheist and Christian, and so if the country isn’t 95% Christian (which it’s not — more like 79%), then it must be more than 5% atheist, because, you know, there’s no other category with respect to religion. Is there?

Most MAs aren’t quite that obvious about it, and have some awareness that non-Christian religious people exist, but this awareness isn’t convenient to their facile dismissal of religion, and so they suppress the knowledge one way or another. The too-obviously-untrue “all religious people are fundamentalist Christians” is replaced by claims like, “all religious people are authoritarian,” “all religious people believe what they do because a book tells them it’s true,” or “all religious people are opposed to science.” These three things are characteristics of religious fundamentalists, particularly fundamentalist Christians: they are authoritarian, they believe in the literal infallibility of the Bible, and they are averse to at least large portions of science and certainly to the scientific method as an approach to knowledge.

None of these statements is true about religion in general, of course, any more than it’s true that all religious people are fundamentalist Christians. (I am a religious person. I am anti-authoritarian. I reject the concept of scripture altogether. And I adore science. Therefore these claims are factual errors. Q.E.D.)

In fact, the militant atheist misunderstanding of religion reminds me of nothing quite so much as the creationist misunderstanding and misrepresentation of evolution theory. In both cases, the errors are driven by a desire to believe something in conflict with reality.

The root error in militant atheism is the other side of fundamentalism’s coin. To my perspective, MAs and fundamentalist look like conjoined twins. Neither can exist without the other, and both are making the same basic mistake, but going in opposite directions as a result.

The mistake both are making is to define God.

God (or substitute whatever other metaphor you prefer — the Goddess, the All, the Void, the Infinite, the Ultimate, the Cosmos) is ultimately unknowable. We may experience God in various ways, but we cannot encompass and know God, and that means we cannot define God. God is in this respect like the ocean. We can swim in it, but it’s an exercise in futility to try to drink it dry, or to put it in a bottle.

With respect to fundamentalism or to doctrinaire religion of any kind, this means that any theological claims about what God is — particularly when they imply something God is not — are mistakes. It is impossible to have one religion be true, and others false. At best, any religious statement is a metaphor, and there is no such thing as a true or false metaphor. Fundamentalism is a confusion of the map with the territory, the poem with the feeling, the cup with the wine. (If they drink wine. Some of them don’t.) To define God is to create an idol. It is idolatry. Fundamentalism is idol-worship.

And militant atheists? They stand up proudly, and with icy, unassailable rationality declaim that there is no evidence the fundamentalists’ idol exists. And that would be fine (because they’re right as far as that goes) if they had sufficient awareness that that was all they were doing. But instead, they claim that there is no evidence God exists, as if they had any idea what God was or what would constitute evidence for his/her/its existence.

Which they don’t. Nor does anyone else, really — not a clear, definable idea anyway, because that’s impossible. God is and will always remain a mystery. God can be experienced, but not known; God can be understood, but not defined; God can be loved, but not analyzed.

Both fundamentalists and militant atheists have a very crude, simplistic idea in their minds that they mean when they say “God,” and it’s the same idea. Fundamentalists insist that this crude idea is real; they point to spiritual experience and answered prayer as proof. Atheists insist that there is no good evidence the same crude idea is real; they point to problems with scripture and lack of any concrete proof, while dismissing or explaining away spiritual experience and answered prayer. Both are partly right. The fundamentalists are right in that there IS something real underlying their idols — but they’re wrong in defining it as they do. The atheists are right that the idol is something made up and imaginary and there is no good evidence that it exists — but they’re wrong in thinking there is nothing there, even if it’s not what the fundamentalists claim it is.

From my own point of view, these are two sides of the same coin. The fundamentalists are heads. The atheists are tails. Flip the coin and see which one comes up. But whichever one does, it remains counterfeit.

 

* “Atheist” is a broad term. In some respects, I’m an atheist myself. The Buddha was an atheist. Anyone who does not believe that a personal deity is the ultimate reality is an atheist in some sense. By no means all atheists fit the description in this post. However, there is a certain sub-set of the set of atheists that does, and that sub-set includes almost all of those who go around making a point of being an atheist and picking arguments with religious people. Hence the “militant” qualifier.

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43 Comments

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43 responses to “Fundamentalism, Atheism, and Tunnel Vision

  1. The labels are always confusing. The issue has nothing to do with religion at all. There are people who are rigidly (and therefore, somewhat simple-mindedly) submissive to authority, and it really doesn’t much matter who or what the authority is: religion, science, the US Constitution, the New York Times, the dictionary, or their sixth-grade civics text. Within that domain, they will be rigidly (and therefore, somewhat simple-mindedly) submissive to that authority. They’ll get ticked-off if you challenge that authority.

    Your Militant Atheists are a subset of self-described atheists who have picked a (usually boneheaded) variant of scientific materialism to place in authority over their thoughts. The Christian Fundamentalists you describe are theists who have picked a (usually boneheaded) variant of Biblical Inerrancy to place in authority over their thoughts.

    In both cases, to argue with them is to argue with people who have their heads stuck in a corner and can’t back up.

  2. I get the same thing, Brian. What really amuses me: having a militant atheist who actually teaches at the collegiate level actually trolling me in exactly the manner he would troll a hardcore Christian fanatic, with exactly the same arguments about proselytizing, attempts to deny freedom to others, and arrogance of a my-god-is-the-only-god viewpoint. Then, in the next sentence, he boasts about himself as dismissing all that crap because he is a man of science and reason.

    So scientific and reasonable that he simply assumed things that were most convenient for his case, rather than do a little research. It’s getting to where I’m going to start telling the militant atheists that they are becoming more unbearable and less intellectual than the radical Bible-pounders. This should be fun.

  3. Heh. You’re a BAD man, Jonathan. 😉 Be sure and wear your flame-proof clothing.

    And of course, if you’re not an atheist, then you have to be a fundamentalist Christian, because those are the only two positions possible.

  4. If any atheist is rude and passionate and angry, they’re militant? Seems like a massive watering down of a term.

    • “[T]hat sub-set includes almost all of those who go around making a point of being an atheist and picking arguments with religious people. Hence the “militant” qualifier.”

      It has nothing to do with being rude, passionate, and angry. Christopher Hitchens is definitely a militant atheist, but he is usually quite refined and polite.

  5. It is true that not all Christians are fundamentalists, but neither are all Atheists militants. A militant is someone who uses violence to further their aims. Atheists are not militants

    • Certainly not all atheists are militants, but I disagree that “a militant is someone who uses violence to further their aims.” That’s too narrow a definition. A militant is someone who regards himself or herself as being at war, in conflict. Whether the weapons used are physical or verbal is irrelevant to the concept.

  6. Pingback: Why I Believe – the Love of Science « Why I Believe in God

  7. I would take issue with three things in your post. First, I don’t believe the “militant” is an appropriate descriptor for the type of atheist you’re describing, since the term typically implies the use of force or coersion.

    Second, defining any god as unknowable does mean that there is no evidence for such a god. If any god interacted in any way with the real world (no matter how to define that god), the effect could be observed; there was thus be some kind of empirical evidence. If the god does not interact with the real world, then its existence is irrelevant.

    Finally, I disagree that fundamentalism and atheism are two sides of the same coin. Most atheists base their worldview on evidence. If evidence is presented that contradicted any of their beliefs, they would change those beliefs. A fundamentalist admits right up front that no amount of evidence would change their views. I know this does not hold true in all cases. I do know fundamentalist atheists, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

    • You’re the second commenter to equate the word “militant” with physical violence, so I decided to look it up in an online dictionary. Here’s what I found:

      1.vigorously active and aggressive, especially in support of a cause: militant reformers.
      2.engaged in warfare; fighting.
      I’m using the first definition here, although either one is appropriate if you understand that “warfare” and “fighting” don’t have to be literal weapon use. Certainly the atheists I’m referring to are vigorously active and aggressive in support of a cause, that cause being anti-religion, and they are engaged in warfare or fighting against religion. I believe the word is appropriate.

      Your conception of a god, implicit in your second point, is that of a discrete thing out there in the world that may be observed. That’s incorrect. God is, in my believe, not any particular thing but ALL things, and everything that is done is by his/her/its will. You can’t point to any discrete, particular thing and say, “that’s the effect of God.” That which is everything is nothing in particular.

      As for atheists going on evidence, that’s only true up to a point. They focus on the fundamentalist conception of God — they also conceive of God as a discrete thing — and note that there is no evidence for its existence. My response: So what? It’s not as if that conception of God actually WAS God.

      I see militant atheists and fundamentalists as two sides of the same coin because both are obsessed over a defined conception of God. Fundamentalists insist this God-in-a-bottle is real. Atheists insist that it’s not. I happen to believe the Atheists are right.

      But I also believe that it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference, and that genuine spirituality and genuine religion are untouched by this argument.

      • “I’m using the first definition here”
        Fair enough, although I still think it’s a misleading usage.

        “God is, in my believe, not any particular thing but ALL things, and everything that is done is by his/her/its will. ”
        But if it is not observable, how do you know that? Since the rest of your response depends on defining god this way, I’ll be able to respond to it when you explain why you believe that.

  8. Dvd Bach:

    What is “observation”? Does this word encompass all of the ways that we can derive information about something? That depends on the “something.” There are at least two entities whose reality cannot be doubted but which cannot be observed.

    The act of observation requires two entities, an observer and something observed. A separation and a distinction are implied. That’s fine if what we’re dealing with is a discrete part of the universe, such as a natural process or natural phenomenon, but a different approach is necessary when we are dealing with either the whole of the universe or oneself. Those last two are (in my opinion) the proper subject matter of spirituality or (broadly conceived) of religion.

    God cannot be observed as something distinct from oneself but may be experienced subjectively and inwardly. No objective statements of fact may be made on this basis, but claims that the experience is significant and reveals something about our own nature and our relationship with the cosmos can be. Such experiences are the real reason why some people believe in a discrete, external deity. As a literal statement about phenomena, I do not, but recognize the concept as a valid metaphor and understand why others do.

    It’s logically sound to point out that there is no evidence in favor of such a discrete, external deity. But this is not as significant as you might think. It does nothing to undercut the real basis of religion.

  9. Can’t help you then. Either it’s unexplainable to someone who doesn’t share the same experiences, or the concept itself is.

    In fact, it’s fairly certain that you don’t know, and I can’t explain, WHAT I believe, which leaves you in a very poor position to understand why I do.

    • I disagree. I feel that I have a pretty good understanding of what you believe; you’re simply unable to explain why. I’m sure you can understand that without such explanation, no one else has any reason to agree with you. Some of us prefer to avoid irrational beliefs; I would encourage you and anyone reading this to do the same.

  10. “I disagree. I feel that I have a pretty good understanding of what you believe”

    In that case, you tell me. That should be interesting.

    As for anyone having any reason to agree with me, not only do they not have any such obligation, but unless they already do they have no way to know what they would be agreeing with if they did. That of course makes agreement — and disagreement — equally impossible.

    • Okay, here are the characteristics you ascribe to God:
      unknowable
      can be experienced
      undefinable
      mysterious
      understandable
      cannot be analyzed
      all things
      posseses a will, according to which all things happen
      has no specific effects on the world
      nothing in particular
      unobservable
      Does that about capture it?

  11. Exactly. Those were your exact words. So what am I missing?

    If you’re asking for my interpretation of your conception of god, I’d say that you don’t actually have one, since a number of the characteristics you’ve given contradict one another. I don’t think you’ve given it enough thought to come up with a coherent conception of god. I think you make it up as you go along, so that you don’t have to provide any sort of rational defense of your beliefs.

  12. You’ve confirmed that you don’t understand what I was talking about. If you did, you would know that “the characteristics contradict one another” and the phrase “coherent conception of God” are not appropriate to the subject matter. Which is pretty much my point. God is an experience or set of experiences which CANNOT be understood rationally. The fundamentalists make the mistake of trying to do so, applying logos to what is properly the domain of mythos.

    There is no way — or need — to provide “rational defense” for spirituality. If you can understand the concept with the rational mind and apply either critique or defense, you’ve got it wrong.

    • So we agree that your beliefs are irrational.

      • Not unless falling in love, appreciating a work of art, and judging a moral issue are all irrational, too.

        “Irrational” implies that reason is appropriate for the subject under discussion. That isn’t always true.

      • Science actually has a pretty good understanding of love, asthetics and morality. I would submit that it’s better to understand the reasons why we believe things than to have irrational beliefs.

  13. If I may step in, the discussion apparently having come to an impasse….

    @Dvd: there are many conceptions of divinity. Let me offer one — and it’s only one among many — that would mostly satisfy your demands, though you will have to think of the problem from a different angle. This is the idea of archetypes.

    I think of “archetypes” — a term coined by Carl Jung in this context — as being like the five-fingered hand of the human. Now not all people have five fingers on their hand, and we could waste a decade or two arguing about whether a “thumb” is really a hand (or other semantic issues), but it’s pretty common observation that humans have five-fingered hands. It isn’t a theory: it’s an observation. We don’t really know WHY humans have five-fingered hands, as opposed to six, or three, or tentacles. It is an observation.

    Our minds are built in much the same way. There are structures. We are not blank cybernetic organisms awaiting programming ex nihilo. Our brains are built in a certain way, and as a result, our minds work in a certain way.

    One of those structures of the human mind is what you might call the “autonomous unconscious personality.” We spend our waking moments thinking we are one “person,” but it doesn’t take a lot of experimental work to demonstrate that this is not true: the typical human mind is an entire cluster — an entire ecosystem — of autonomous personalities, organized under a single “consciousness.” It’s why you can argue with yourself. It’s why you can be “of two minds” about something.

    These autonomous personalities are not arbitrary. Like the five-fingered hand, they fall into “types.” This is, as near as I can tell, what Jung meant by “archetypes of the unconscious.” They are the shadows cast on our consciousness by the structures in our brain/mind. And the important point is that humans share both the existence of these shadows, and the shape of them.

    This is subject to observation, and it is “objective” in the sense that these shapes are shared among all humans. Of course, there are exceptions, and we can spend a few centuries wrangling semantics. But the general existence and uniformity of these archetypes is what makes fantasy literature possible. We can all relate at some level to stories about animals that talk, dragons that breathe fire and hoard gold, dwarves beneath the earth who forge golden rings — and gods that hurl the lightning.

    The question you are likely to ask at this point — I’m guessing — is, well yes, but this is just fantasy. Imagination. It isn’t real.

    By a materialist’s definition of “real,” I’d absolutely agree with you. These things have no material substance. But neither does the scientific method, and no one has ever built Occam’s Razor. The absence of material form is hardly the same as being unimportant.

    I hang out with people who speak with gods, and who channel them, meaning they allow them enough autonomy to be able to give them voice. I don’t do that myself, but I can speak personally of a musical daemon. At any given moment in the day, if I pay attention, I can hear the “music playing in my head.” It’s always there, like a sound track — it’s an autonomous unconscious personality, a mental construct that is as automatic as breathing or keeping my heart going. Usually, it’s playing old favorites: sometimes, it plays music that has never been written; sometimes, when I listen carefully enough, I can write down what I hear.

    Furthermore, because it comes from an archetypal source, it isn’t just random music: it isn’t personal doodling. It’s shareable. I’ve been present at five performances of my Missa Druidica at this point, and at every performance it has moved some people to tears. Actual, wiping-their-eyes tears. That is because we all share the archetypes from which the music sprang. Our musical brains all have five fingers.

    What the gods — or the daemons, in the old Greek sense — bring humans is nothing less than inspiration, and this applies as much to science and mathematics as it does to ethics or philosophy.

    This is a fairly specific definition of the gods. It is observable. It is objective in the sense that it’s common to humans, just as are five-fingered hands. It is relevant, in that it provides a commonly-accepted inspiration and motivation across a wide range of human activities. And it pretty well matches the definition of what most people in most times have thought of as being gods — though we have to exclude the doctrinally-bound Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Christianity, and to a lesser extent, Judaism.)

    • Okay, several responses here…

      First, the mention of non-rational processes (falling in love, autonomic physiological processes) is a non sequitur. What we’re discussing are beliefs, not processes. My position is that it’s better to have reasons for what we believe than it is to hold irrational (or “nonrational”) beliefs.

      Second, you appear to be conflating archetypes and gods, and you appear to be describing them as external to human beings. I am not following how you claim they are observable. How do we know they exist, again? All I can make out is two logical fallacies:

      Argument from analogy: Yes, we have five fingers on each hand; among these are opposible thumbs. However, we have a perfectly good natural explanation for them: we evolved them. To say that we all commonly accept that we have five fingers, and that we all commonly accept that we experience inspiration, and that therefore there are gods, is a meaningless analogy leading to an unsupported conclusion. And by the way, having six fingers on each hand is actually a genetically dominant trait; the reason we don’t see it more commonly is that six-fingered people are considered abnormal and thus have a harder time reproducing.

      Argument from personal experience: So you have friends who believe they can channel gods. You believe you interact with a “musical daemon.” So what? Why should I believe that you really do that and are not just delusional (or full of crap)? Unless the experience can be objectively verified to be an interaction with something external to the person having the experience, that isn’t evidence.

      Finally, I take issue with how you’re defining “real.” I have never claimed that it refers only to material things. The scientific method is real in the sense that there exists a process that we have developed for doing science that we have given that label; there is a concept we have come up with and decided to call Occam’s Razor. If you wish to apply the same definition of “real” to gods, you can certainly argue that there exists a concept or concepts that we refer to as “gods.” If that is your position, though, you are admitting that, like the scientific method and Occam’s Razor, gods are human constructs.

      • @Dvd — At the very end, I think you got it. Gold star for both of us! With one correction.

        I don’t mean to be conflating archetypes with gods. I’m saying they are — in this conception of divinity — exactly the same thing. They are, after all, OUR gods, not cockroach gods. If humans all die in a nuclear war, our gods will cease to have any meaningful existence. Even if they have some independent ontological substance and could somehow “survive” our disappearance, they’d have to retrain as cockroach gods, and those positions are doubtless already filled. So either way, it’s off to the gods’ graveyard for them.

        However — and this is the correction — they are no more “human constructions” than your heart is a “human construction.” It is a human heart; they are human gods. But we didn’t make them. We were born with them. That’s not to say that a lot of nonsense hasn’t been spilled out in ink (and blood) about both the heart and the gods, and THAT is most certainly of human construction.

        Now, let me turn this around the other way. Why don’t you explain why “rationality” is so wonderful that you feel compelled to proselytize?

        To quote: “Personally, my preference is to make sure that I have and understand reasons to believe what I believe. I’d encourage you and your readers to try it.”

        This statement doesn’t mean much.

        “Personally, my preference is public nudity in mixed company, and the glitter pool at Burning Man. I’d encourage all of you to try it.” 🙂

      • “I don’t mean to be conflating archetypes with gods. I’m saying they are — in this conception of divinity — exactly the same thing. ”
        That’s what conflating means.

        “However — and this is the correction — they are no more “human constructions” than your heart is a “human construction.” ”
        No, we have objective evidence for the existence of the human heart. I’m still waiting for the evidence that your gods exist.

        “Why don’t you explain why “rationality” is so wonderful that you feel compelled to proselytize?’
        “Proselytize” is a religious concept, so I don’t do that. I believe that rationality is desirable because it is the single most effective way we have ever found of expanding human knowledge.

        ““Personally, my preference is public nudity in mixed company, and the glitter pool at Burning Man. I’d encourage all of you to try it.””
        False dichotomy. One can still be rational and see the value of having fun.

      • I thought “conflation” created a composite of disparate entities, typically with an implication of “inappropriate conflation,” as in “mixing apples and oranges.” That’s distinct from identity, as in “a poTAYto is a poTAHto.”

        However, if you wish to use “conflation” for “identity,” then I have communicated the concept. Thank you for your opinion on the word-usage.

        Are you saying there is no evidence for archetypes? ::shrug:: There’s plenty of evidence, ranging from the existence of fantasy fiction, to common threads in world mythologies, to specific studies in experimental psychology. If you summarily reject all of that as evidence, you’re simply being stubborn. That would be your business, then.

        Please consult a dictionary regarding the word “proselytize.” As Inigo Montoya said to Vezzini, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

        You entirely missed my point with the “nudity” remark. Perhaps it would have been clearer if I’d said, “Personally, my preference is root canals without anesthetic, and I’d encourage you all to try it.” Or perhaps the more insulting, “Personally, my preference is to bathe at least one a month, and I’d suggest the rest of you try it.”

        To make it explicitly clear, your “preference” regarding rationality carries no more weight than your “preference” regarding how often you brush your teeth, and your encouragement that we “try it” (your preference) implies that a) we haven’t tried it, and that b) we would believe/behave differently if we did.

        This is exactly how the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses pitch their “preference” when they come to my door. Hence, the similarity that Brian has noted.

      • “By which you mean, that certain forms exist in common in the imagination and have psychological power?”
        By which I mean however you’re defining it.

        “No, it’s not.Again, you show that you don’t know what I’m describing.”
        There’s no point in my repeating my refutation of this. I invite anyone reading this to decide for themselves whether you’re articulating beliefs.

        “Apparently, you don’t know how to discuss spirituality or religion except with a single template”
        Called reason. I’m partial to it because no better way of understanding the world around us has been discovered.

        “Faced with someone who claims to be a religious person but does not approach it even remotely the way a fundamentalist does, you are at a loss. ”
        I’m not at a loss at all; I’m happy to continue to point out all of the unsupported and contradictory claims that you make.

        “No. Parts of the universe can be observed. The universe itself, as a whole, can’t be.”
        What can be observed can be treated scientifically, which is my point.

        Let me see if I can bring this back around to the main point:
        You are making claims of fact about a God, for example, that it is undefinable. You offer characteristics of this God that are contradictory; for example, that it is both mysterious and understandable. You state that God is unknowable, but you know enough about it to provide its characteristics. You maintain a self-contradictory set of beliefs that you get to change at will, so that no one can carry on a rational discussion with you. You’re simply making it up as you go along. That’s fine; you have a right to that, of course. I would submit to your readers, however, that believing things that make sense is a much wiser course of action, since that approach has led to the development of things like the internet.

        If you have any claims that you’d like to have a shot at supporting, I’m all ears. So far, every time you’ve made a claim that I’ve refuted, you simply go back and pretend that you never made such a claim. I invite anyone reading this to look back on the conversation and judge for themselves whether or not I’m right on that.

  14. “thumb is really a finger” — apparently I can’t edit these.

  15. @Dvd — I also find a useful distinction between “irrational” and “nonrational.” Technically they are synonyms, but the former connotes a disconnect from reality, while the latter connotes merely disconnect from ratiocination. Humans have many nonrational processes that are part of our experience of reality — vision, for instance, or any other form of sensory observation. We prize these processes precisely because they are coupled — or at least, we believe they are coupled — with reality. But they certainly do not require ratiocination.

    There are a great many nonrational mental processes as well, and many of them serve us at least as well as reason.

  16. The idea of archetypes is good as far as it goes. I don’t think, however, that it represents the ultimate reality on this subject. Asking for proof of the “existence” of archetypes is, of course, silly; everyone knows that the imagination exists and that is all the proof one should require here. One might ask for evidence that (for example) archetypal deities can perform miracles — if themonthebard was claiming that, which isn’t clear.

    But in fact, this illustrates the basic error: treating everything in our experience in the same way, even when that is manifestly and obviously inappropriate.

    “First, the mention of non-rational processes (falling in love, autonomic physiological processes) is a non sequitur. What we’re discussing are beliefs, not processes.”

    No, actually, we aren’t. It’s your mistake to suppose what I’m asserting here are “beliefs,” by which you mean assertions of fact about the observable world. That mistake (w/r/t God) was first made by the doctrinaire religious, not by atheists, but atheists have latched onto it and make the same mistake, which is why these two groups are, to me, two sides of the same coin.

    Rationality is inappropriate w/r/t God because one cannot have any beliefs, so conceived, about God. One can have them about a mental construct that one is inappropriately calling “God,” but not about the reality for which that construct is a metaphor.

    No, I am talking about a process here: the process of spirituality, of spiritual experience and the search for it and the learning from it and allowing it to transform oneself. It is as inappropriate to apply the standards of formal reasoning (or of scientific method) to that process, as to apply it to art.

    Spirituality is about the self/consciousness, the universe as a single entity, and the relationship between the two. As none of these entities can be observed, they cannot be treated scientifically. One can derive no propositions of fact from this; however, one can derive understanding of realities that cannot be literally articulated.

    • “Asking for proof of the “existence” of archetypes is, of course, silly; everyone knows that the imagination exists and that is all the proof one should require here”
      I didn’t ask for evidence of the existence of imagination; I asked for evidence of the existence of the “archetype” of imagination. If you’re saying they’re the same thing, then we don’t the term “archetype;” imagination already describes that idea.

      “It’s your mistake to suppose what I’m asserting here are “beliefs,” by which you mean assertions of fact about the observable world.”
      The idea that any god exists in any way that you’re describing is a belief.

      “Rationality is inappropriate w/r/t God because one cannot have any beliefs, so conceived, about God. ”
      Demonstrably false. If you claim anything about any god, you’re expressing a belief.

      “No, I am talking about a process here: the process of spirituality, of spiritual experience and the search for it and the learning from it and allowing it to transform oneself. ”
      Well, I am not. I’m talking about your beliefs regarding gods; your attempt to obfuscate that is a non sequitur.

      “Spirituality is about the self/consciousness, the universe as a single entity, and the relationship between the two. As none of these entities can be observed, they cannot be treated scientifically. ”
      The universe can be observed.

      • “I didn’t ask for evidence of the existence of imagination; I asked for evidence of the existence of the “archetype” of imagination.”

        By which you mean, that certain forms exist in common in the imagination and have psychological power? If not, please clarify; if so, I’ll leave the answer to themonkthebard.

        “The idea that any god exists in any way that you’re describing is a belief.”

        No, it’s not.Again, you show that you don’t know what I’m describing.

        “I’m talking about your beliefs regarding gods”

        Since I have none, or anyway have expressed none, you are talking about something that exists only in your imagination.

        EDIT: This illustrates quite nicely what I was talking about in the original post. Apparently, you don’t know how to discuss spirituality or religion except with a single template, as if you were talking to a doctrinaire religious person, archetypically 😉 a fundamentalist. Faced with someone who claims to be a religious person but does not approach it even remotely the way a fundamentalist does, you are at a loss. You keep trying to steer things back to your preferred template of atheist vs. fundamentalist.

        I was talking about the practice or process of spirituality. IN RESPONSE (please be reminded), you were talking about “my beliefs” (as you imagine them to be) regarding “gods” (as you imagine them to be), and therefore were responding inappropriately — and it is you, not I, who are guilty of the non-sequitur here.

        “The universe can be observed.”

        No. Parts of the universe can be observed. The universe itself, as a whole, can’t be. Any potential observer is part of the universe, and therefore can observe, at best, only the universe minus himself.

  17. “By which I mean however you’re defining it.”

    First of all, I’m not defining it and I’m not even the one who mentioned it. Secondly, you can’t make any statements about anything “however you’re defining it,” since by leaving that open you have no clue what the other person means.

    The template you’re using is not “reason,” it’s “atheist vs. fundamentalist.” You are casting me in the latter role, because you know of no other way to have a conversation about religion. It’s amusing so far, although a little irritating as well — but then, that’s nothing new.

    “What can be observed can be treated scientifically, which is my point.”

    The universe as a whole cannot be observed and so cannot be treated scientifically, which is mine. The same is true of our own subjective awareness.

    “You are making claims of fact about a God, for example, that it is undefinable. You offer characteristics of this God that are contradictory; for example, that it is both mysterious and understandable. You state that God is unknowable, but you know enough about it to provide its characteristics.”

    “Undefinable” and “unknowable” are not characteristics; they are assertions that it is impossible to know what characteristics it has. “Understandable” — I can see where that might be confusing. I’m referring to a sort of empathic understanding rather than anything cognitive.

    But yes, here are two claims of fact, not about God but about ourselves and our own limitations. We cannot know the ultimate nature of God/the cosmos. We cannot define God/the cosmos so as to set limits upon him/her/it; if we do, then we have defined something else entirely.

    My basis for believing these things should be obvious.

    • “First of all, I’m not defining it and I’m not even the one who mentioned it.”
      False. You brought up archetypes, not me.

      “You are casting me in the latter role”
      False. You are taking on that role in order to play victim.

      ““Undefinable” and “unknowable” are not characteristics”
      False. You’re making up your own definition for the word characteristics.

      “I’m referring to a sort of empathic understanding rather than anything cognitive.”
      Now you’re making up your own definition of the word understanding.

      “We cannot know the ultimate nature of God/the cosmos.”
      Yet you’re happy to make up characteristics for it.

      “We cannot define God/the cosmos so as to set limits upon him/her/it; if we do, then we have defined something else entirely.”
      You’re making up your own definition of god.

      “My basis for believing these things should be obvious.”
      Yes, because you make stuff up as you go along.

      Prove me wrong on this. Show me one assertion that you’ve made that you can actually support without contradicting yourself.

      My experience has been that pagans tend to take offense at the idea that their beliefs are as absurd as those of mainstream religions. Yours are even more absurd; at least Christians don’t just pull stuff out of their asses.

  18. Dvd Bach, you are seriously starting to sputter and foam at the mouth. You are also becoming rude and personally offensive. Please mind your manners.

    Now, calm down, please, stop sputtering, and let’s look past the nonsense towards what you are trying to say.

    Neither you nor I was the one who brought up archetypes. Look back over the comments and you’ll see that this is true.

    You are certainly in no position to “victimize” me in any way, and so claiming I’m trying to “play the victim” is beyond absurd. You are trying to make this discussion fit the pattern you are used to when arguing with orthodox religious believers, of whom I am not one — Christian, Pagan, or otherwise. You have yet to address much of anything that I’ve actually said.

    Regarding the word “characteristics,” you’re making a linguistic quibble here. If I say that it is impossible to see a quasar with the naked eye, is that a characteristic of a quasar, or is it a limitation of human vision? Similarly, when I say that God is unknowable, I’m saying nothing about God, but rather about the limitations of human cognition. What’s more, this isn’t even a statement you disagree with! How can an atheist assert that God is knowable? Come off it!

    I can well believe that Pagans (of whom I’m not one, by the way) — or anyone else who has a sense of polite conversation — would find you offensive. But you may be wrong about exactly why that is so. Perhaps it has less to do with what you are saying, and more to do with the way you are saying it.

    EDIT: I received a message from someone just now that expressed the opinion that you were not actually listening or learning anything, but were simply looking for an “internet bar fight.” Sadly, I see evidence that this is the case. Unless you both improve your manners and express something of coherent substance with any further comments, this will be the last one of yours I’ll respond to.

  19. Pingback: A fundamentalist for all seasons and all purposes | An African woman blundering her way in the west!

  20. Pingback: The militant religious and non-religiousOn (or close to) Schedule | On (or close to) Schedule

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