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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2009-08-11 14:05
Subject: [personal] More on religion and SF (well, religion, at least)
Security: Public
Tags:links, personal, politics, religion, writing
My question this morning about the intersection between religious belief and genre fiction has spawned a sprawling, fascinating, and mutually respectful series of replies both on my LiveJournal and on my jlake.com blog. Both threads are worth checking out if this topic interests you at all.

Also, at one point, I responded in comments to a question about whether atheism is another form of belief with the following:
I'll swing at this one as well. I'm not a "quiet" atheist in Sundog's sense, but I am what I only somewhat jokingly call a "Low Church" atheist. Which is to say I personally find the existence of God not only unprovable, but impossible to prove, and therefore empirically irrelevant outside the personal experience of individual faith holders. That does not translate to a dismissal of the beliefs of others — however silly or irrelevant they may strike me as — but it does translate to a fierce opposition to the imposition of religious belief into educational, civic and political structures. A highly secularized society is the best possible protection for religious freedom, something which seems to escape many American Christians who appear to assume that a natural form of exceptionalist majoritarianism pertains to them.

But I don't find lack of belief its own kind of belief, at least not in the "leap of faith" sense. Do I "believe" there is no God? Yes, the way I "believe" that 1 G accelerates at 9.81 m/s2. That's not a faith-based belief, it's a judgment based on available empirical evidence, or lack of same.

At the same time, even as an atheist I believe the human spirit is gloriously irrational, obsessed with miracle and wonder, and quite capable of nonempirical transcendence. I just don't require an outside agency to which I can ascribe those impulses.

Also, as an atheist, I deeply resent the assumption that a number of religious people seem to bear that those without faith are incapable of morality. That strikes me as the worst sort of poverty of spirit, not to mention a profound personal weakness in requiring a larger outside authority to create moral force.


Originally published at jlake.com.

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User: the_ogre
Date: 2009-08-11 22:26 (UTC)
Subject: Chiming in.
I also have that reaction to the "atheists are immoral" b.s. I also have similar reasoning for my non-belief; given that there are no usable definitions for any given deity (for the concept, sure), I see it as impossible to construct an experiment that would prove the existence of any deity. If you can't define it, how can you detect it?

So, for me, not only is the existence of deity unprovable, I don't see any reason to look for any.
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lauriemann
User: lauriemann
Date: 2009-08-11 23:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I especially hate the "all atheists are immoral" bull. While many atheists only care about themselves, many, many of us believe in the concept of enlightened-self interest and trying to look out for one another. I can think of plenty of immoral religious people.
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Peter Hollo
User: frogworth
Date: 2009-08-11 23:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for this! Definitely worth saying, and I'll put my hand up as subscribing to your newsletter.
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catsparx
User: catsparx
Date: 2009-08-11 23:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"A highly secularized society is the best possible protection for religious freedom"

Hell, it sure is. I'd never quite thought of it that way myself before though. Ta.
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biomekanic
User: biomekanic
Date: 2009-08-11 23:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My personal belief is that a huge chunk of humanity is immoral. With or without religion.

Though I think some people who would otherwise engage in immoral acts are held back by their religious beliefs, just as their are those held back by their fear of secular punishment.

In brief, people are shits.
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russ: zen
User: goulo
Date: 2009-08-12 04:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:zen
Indeed, the assertion that "atheism is just another form of belief, just like Christianity, etc" strikes me as at best a disingenuous "cocktail party philosophy" kind of twisting "belief" into a vacuously broad tautology so that EVERYTHING is "just another form of belief".

It's like saying "Your assertion that there is no invisible robotic army of extraterrestrial monkeys launching intangible nuclear missiles that explode with no visible effect in your living room is just another form of belief, just like my belief that there IS such an army in your living room." There are clearly qualitative differences in the 2 types of "belief", even if at some level you can label them both "belief".
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2009-08-12 15:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>> existence of God... impossible to prove, and therefore empirically irrelevant outside the personal experience of individual faith holders.

It is "verifiable by observation or experience" that FAITH IN God, at least, is very relevant to your life, as you yourself argue in this post (re religious freedom). That's one step removed from the question of the existence of God.

Of course the believer would argue that God's existence is, for us, verifiable by experience.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-12 15:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, and that's more or less what I mean by "Low Church" atheism. I don't view my stance as a mandate to deconvert the faithful. The experience of faith can be core to that transcendence of the human spirit I mentioned.

And while God's existence may be verifiable by experience, you cannot replicate that experience for me, the way you can replicate your experience of gravity for me. Neither can you replicate the experience of love for me, and I suppose there may be those in the world who have never loved.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2009-08-12 15:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
RE: replicate - this is true.

Re: conversion - I don't view my stance as a mandate to convert the, um, unfaithfulk?, either. I have a mandate to share my experience, I think; I hope respectfully.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-12 15:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One of the things I like about you, actually. I just wish more of your co-religionists saw their mandate the same way.

In that vein, to my mind a rather bizarre feature of many religions, including a number of forms of Christianity, is the conviction that unbelievers somehow fall within the strictures of the religion. Ie, why should *I* be consigned to damnation because I don't subscribe to someone else's religious views. What does that have to do with me?
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2009-08-12 16:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?"
- St. Paul, writing to the believers in Corinth
(1 Corinthians 5:12.)

Somehow this doesn't get quoted much.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2009-08-12 15:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>> But I don't find lack of belief its own kind of belief, at least not in the "leap of faith" sense.

I think the keywords here are "not in the 'leap of faith' sense."

Belief: "to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, though without absolute proof that one is right in doing so." [Dictionary.com.] Seems like the belief in a godless world qualifies, in exactly the same sense as a unicornless world--though it's not in a "leap of faith sense." Two slightly different shadings of the same word, I think.

One thing I'm curious about--this is sincere, not snark--why is it important to qualify atheism as not-a-belief? Every now and then I think, "OK, I get it!" but then it slips away and I'm confused again.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-12 15:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
why is it important to qualify atheism as not-a-belief?

Because that question quite often implies an equivalency between atheism and some religious viewpoint. As if atheism were simply another religion,. The whole point of atheism, at least my flavor of it (ie, non-militant) is to step aside from the question at a spiritual level. As opposed to indifference, where many people who are technically atheism simply don't care about the question at all, and so will not self-identify as atheists.

I'm extremely tuned into the dialectic between atheism and religion on the political/cultural front, but that's because I'm reacting to religion as a corrupting social and political force. (Ie, forced pregnancies, criminalization of sexual behavior, mandated distortion of pedagogy, etc.) Religion on the personal/spiritual front is none of my damned business, in that it is a matter between you and your heart.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2009-08-12 16:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>> as if atheism were simply another religion

Aha! I must remember this. (*repeats to self over and over*)

>> a matter between you and your heart

It is that, but my tradition (Methodism) also says it's social; believers must be in relationship with each other, and also ought to do good in the world. We started the first free medical clinics in London, for instance, and were key in the anti-slavery movement in England.

So I can trace the roots of the "social and political force" you speak of; a corruption (in my view) of the urge to do good. Not that that makes it sacrosanct, of course.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-12 16:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And I must apologize. I spoke overbroadly in that last comment.

Unlike some atheists, I don't view religion as an inherently corrupting social and political force. Not at all. It's like any other human artefact ... to be used for good, ill or indifferent outcomes depending on the mood and needs of the users. But during my politically aware lifetime, since the late Carter years and forward, the hardwiring of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity to hardline political conservatism had produced a political movement blessed with an absolutist moral certitude that makes compromise a literal sin, combined with a startlingly narrow and counterfactual worldview which will not be denied, as its own internal logic refutes new evidence by definition.

This has led to deeply destructive outcomes for both the conservative movement and society as a whole. So far as I'm concerned, conservatives can lie in the bed they've made. The problem is, they've made that bed for the rest of us, too.
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