Re: [asa] Re: (religious memes?)

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Wed Sep 02 2009 - 19:01:08 EDT

I have to admit, I think David has a point here that often goes ignored out
of what I suspect is well-meaning but misplaced/overdone politeness.

I'd like to know where "atheism" has ever been used to instigate good,
particularly if we're talking about utterly materialistic/naturalist atheism
(as opposed to, say, buddhism where naturalism is rejected, various
spiritual principles and realities are affirmed, but it's 'atheistic' in a
technical sense). Especially since that strain of atheism far and away
rejects the idea of objective morality, and 'good' reduces to "What
society/individuals have subjectively declared to be good" or even "What
evolutionary contingencies lead us to call "good" at the moment".

I have absolutely zero doubt that a person can proclaim themselves to be an
atheist, yet engage in acts we would judge as good. Trying to say, however,
that such "good" flows from naturalism/atheism itself, though, is nearly
impossible to do without inconsistencies, except in the most superficial
way. Like saying "hurricanes can be good" because sometimes they knock down
trees that were a driving hazard.

A self-proclaimed Christian who does evil, even while using religious
rhetoric, can plausibly be criticized as violating the obvious moral
teachings of his faith. How can a self-proclaimed atheist/naturalist who
objects the existence of right and wrong be criticized of violating such? At
most he can be criticized for violating some ethical system he purported to
subscribe to that's ultimately arbitrary anyway. But if he digs in his heels
and insists that there is an objective morality and purpose to the world and
humanity, he may not have left the realm of atheism necessarily (possibly,
though), but he's certainly left naturalism behind.

On Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 6:32 PM, David Clounch <>wrote:

> On Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 4:14 PM, David Campbell <>wrote:
>> > Dr. Campbell said:
>> > "The atheism meme seems to overlap with a lot of human sacrifice, too,
>> > though in the form of guillotines, genocide, gulags, etc. rather than
>> > on a physical altar."
>> >
>> > I think it is a shame to blame genocide on atheism just as it is to
>> blame the Crusades on Christianity. Both atheism and Christianity have been
>> used to instigate evil, but they have also both been used to instigate
>> good.<
>> True; my point was that atheism's record is, if anything, worse than
>> religion's, but that largely reflects the fact that the atheistic
>> governments (not merely "don't care what you believe, as long as you
>> pay your taxes") have almost all been totalitarian regimes and have
>> generally been modern enough to have the technology to more
>> effectively get at everyone. It's possible that lacking the
>> restraints imposed by religion contributes to the poor humans rights
>> records of atheistic regimes, but there are plenty of dictators who
>> use religious rhetoric, too.
> David,
> Most of the founding fathers believed atheists were not qualified to serve
> in government. Jefferson was against Muslims serving in government, and
> made remarks about the rulers in Africa (Tripoli was running pirates and
> demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in protection bribes from Adams).
> As for restraints, Dennis Prager has been talking about this lately. He
> says liberty cannot be unrestrained, but a moral and religious people can
> restrain the temptation to badness that comes with liberty. Atheism
> offers no such restraint and an atheistic people can only be restrained by
> force. Which explains the tyrants of history you refer to.
> Let me be clear: Do we believe someone is watching us and that we will be
> held to account? That is critical. An atheist says no to both. That
> leaves only humans to watch and hold us to account. That spells a tension
> between police state vs. anarchy. This is why Christian based societies
> have done so well.
> -Dave
> PS, This is why it is important to accommodate Christians who happen to be
> wrong rather than to exclude them. That is why origins and beliefs is a
> civil rights issue. I know you and Rich disagree, but can you see a little
> bit of what I am talking about?
>> More fundamentally, this tends towards the error of the consequent.
>> Whether we like the results of something is not a reliable guide to
>> whether it is true.
>> > Even the Hebres sacrificed to a false god (Azazel, the god of the
>> desert), in Lev. 16:8,10,26. Translating Azazel as 'scapegoat' is a work of
>> obfuscation, I think. I think the MSG is more clear on this one:<
>> Not exactly. First, it was not exactly sacrifice-the goat was sent
>> out into the wilderness, as a symbol of the banishing of sins, not
>> killed. Before sending out, it was presented to God, which doesn't
>> fit well with seeing it as presented to some other god. However, it
>> is possible that the goat was envisioned as taking the sin out into
>> the wilderness to the haunts of evil spirits, rather than mere
>> banishment. Nevertheless, carrying the community's sins out doesn't
>> seem like it would be considered a sacrifice to some evil spirit of
>> the wilderness; it seems more analagous to the idea of the devil
>> snatching away some particular reprobate. There's also the
>> difficulty of knowing whether a word usage retains its original pagan
>> overtones or not. Canaanite mythology had Rahab and Leviathan as
>> primordial chaos monsters, serious threats to the gods. Rahab in the
>> OT is mostly a derisive designation for Egypt, purportedly powerful
>> but ineffectual. (Although one is tempted to speculate that one might
>> name a three-year old or so after a chaos monster, Rahab of Jericho is
>> not the same word). Leviathan in the OT is a mere creature, imposing
>> to humans but not to God. There is use of the old gods versus
>> monsters imagery in Psalms, but it is used to portray God as the
>> sovereign and creator of all. Thus, Rahab and Leviathan seem to have
>> no more pagan significance within the Bible usage than our names of
>> the days of the week or months have for us. For spirits in the
>> wilderness, it's less clear. I believe at least one of the words that
>> seems to designate a sinister spirit of wilderness or ruins is now
>> used for a rather spookily-voiced owl, but whether the same call was
>> identified by the name in the OT and if so, what the Israelites
>> thought made it, is far from clear.
>> Now of course, they did sacrifice to false gods throughout most of
>> their history (the exiles from Jerusalem seem to have learned their
>> lesson, but not those who ran off to Egypt), but this is consistently
>> condemned by the Bible.
>> > Murray Hogg said:
>> > "I reckon that sacrifice (or more broadly, offerings to the gods) is one
>> of those intrinsically religious things that humans do - like prayer,
>> worship, fasting, etc."
>> >
>> > Just because it is our nature doesn't make it right. It is also our
>> nature to be superstitious, and science has rid us of a lot of superstition.
>> Can we really know God's will be reading omens? They did that in the OT
>> and NT, but we don't do it now (actually, some still do, like those who
>> propose "putting out a fleece" OT style, but in a figurative way, not
>> literal, though still using it as an omen).<
>> More generally, what is the exact null hypothesis and alternatives?
>> You're sounding a bit like the idle speculations of the "Jesus
>> seminar" in which things that sounded Jewish or Christian were
>> rejected from the NT. In reality, Jesus, being a Jew who claimed to
>> be reforming and restoring Judaism ought to have a number of points in
>> common with Judaism. Likewise, given that Christianity sprang up from
>> His teaching, there should be reasons for Christianity traceable to
>> Jesus. Of course it's true that passages that are somewhat
>> uncomfortable for Christianity, yet are preserved by Christians in the
>> Bible, seem quite likely to have been preserved because they were
>> undeniably authentic, but rejection of anything that is comfortable
>> for Christianity is not reasonable.
>> God, in communicating with humans, must do so in ways that are
>> comprehensible. Thus, we should expect the Bible to draw a good deal
>> on common custom and ritual of the ancient Near East, while
>> repudiating the religious systems of the surrounding nations. Many of
>> the odd random-seeming laws in the Pentateuch are actually banning
>> pagan rituals. For example, later Jews on whom the original meaning
>> was lost took not boiling a kid in its mother's milk as a ban on
>> cheeseburgers, but in reality it's preventing someone from perfoming a
>> pagan ritual under pretense of cuisine. A similar usage can be seen
>> in modern missionaries encouraging a tribe to make up their own hymns
>> using traditional secular tunes, while avoiding the old religious
>> ones. There's no reason to expect Judaism to appear as if it were
>> something totally foreign in comparison to surrounding cultures, and
>> in fact Jesus Himself asserted that the Law contained accommodation to
>> the state of the people.
>> Presumably He also designed us to be able to understand the
>> communication. In a fallen state, we are likely to go for some
>> garbled version of what worship ought to be. A modern analogue would
>> be the way that occult practice sometimes mimics standard religious
>> practice, or the degrading of a religious event such as Mardi Gras
>> (starting as "last chance to party before Lent", now transmuted to
>> "party"). The secularization of Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter (Holy
>> Week events sponsored by a major beer company in Venezuela had nothing
>> to do with the week being holy), etc. likewise in no way implies the
>> original events did not happen.
>> --
>> Dr. David Campbell
>> 425 Scientific Collections
>> University of Alabama
>> "I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Wed Sep 2 19:01:52 2009

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