October 9, 2003

Debrighted

So, I'm not actually an island.

I don't personally know anyone who thinks that the Brights Movement chose a good name for their umbrella organization of folks who have a naturalistic worldview. (For those who missed it and care, see previous Brights posts)

I've been on the Brights email list, and they addressed the problems with the name. But as time went on and they seem to have left the problem behind even though it lingers, I've decided that their response was insufficient. I can understand sticking to your guns, but I think you have to choose better battles.

So, maybe I do need a ton of bricks to fall on me, or maybe you just reach a tipping point when so many of the people you respect (Starting with Greg way back and finishing up with Chuck S. and Patti M.) think the name sucks.

All you folks have changed my mind. So I remain an atheist, and support a naturalistic view of the world. But I won't be calling myself a Bright any time soon.

Since I do believe in the idea behind what they're doing, it really bothers me that they didn't anticipate the reaction they were going to get and think it through a little more. Maybe they figure it's better to be made fun of for your name than it is to be feared and maligned for your beliefs. But I don't.

Posted by James at October 9, 2003 10:22 AM
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Well, I don't believe in god, but I'm not an atheist (I feel that implies that some sort of effort is involved in my non-belief, and there isn't). And there's more to my worldview than the fact that I don't believe in god.

I didn't realize, until a few years ago, that there's a term for people like me: secular humanist. To quote Merriam-Webster's:

One entry found for secular humanism.

Main Entry: secular humanism
Function: noun
Date: 1933
: HUMANISM 3; especially : humanistic philosophy viewed as a nontheistic religion antagonistic to traditional religion
- secular humanist noun or adjective

Here's one website that does a fair job of explaining secular humanism: http://www.secularhumanism.org/intro/what.html

There are more sites here: http://freethought.freeservers.com/library/humanism.html

Posted by: Patti M. at October 9, 2003 1:37 PM

I'm definitely a secular humanist. But even beyond that, beyond god-belief, I don't believe in psychic powers, an afterlife, etc.

I, too, have felt that "atheism" doesn't fit. And "agnosticism" has been ridiculed by associating it with the idea that you just can't make up your mind.

But, truly, I'm an atheist in the sense that I lack belief in god. No effort went into proving god does not exist. I believe he does not exist because of a lack of evidence.

This is why I hope for an accepted term describing people who eschew a supernatural worldview for lack of evidence.

Posted by: James at October 9, 2003 2:08 PM

I call myself agnostic. Not because I can't make up my mind but because I don't give a rats ass. And I've got to beleive that if there is a god that he really doesn't give a rats ass if I beleive in him either. I definately don't beleive in heaven or hell or any other afterlife so whats he (She/it) gonna do? strike me down dead right now? Go ahead I double dog dare you!


Didn't happen. Hmmm.

Posted by: Bob at October 9, 2003 4:13 PM

I tend to describe myself as a humanist, though I am not antagonistic toward religious beliefs as long as they are not imposed on me.

I am quite certainly an atheist.

Posted by: Chuck S. at October 9, 2003 8:33 PM

Well, I guess I'll sign in here:

I'm a former arrogant atheist/agnostic intellectual convert to extremely dedicated Roman Catholicism who spends his free time writing multi-part essays seeking the link between science, the humanities, and religion.

Disbelief is a religion in itself. Witness:

James: "No effort went into proving god does not exist. I believe he does not exist because of a lack of evidence."
— What could this mean other than that James hasn't given thorough consideration to questions of God because he takes on faith that the evidence that He does not exist is sufficient?

Bob: "I definately don't beleive in heaven or hell or any other afterlife so whats he (She/it) gonna do? strike me down dead right now? Go ahead I double dog dare you!"
— What could this indicate except that Bob takes on faith that God does not exist because he (Bob) can get away with being flippant about God? But what if the damage done by the flippancy is to the flippant? All this proves is that God is not such a petty omnipotent Being as to lash out at every scoffing human. It's a false choice, between such a God and no God.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 9, 2003 10:17 PM

I'm amused and not a little insulted by your presumption that you have any idea how long I may have spent thinking about religion. Or that you have any idea how much evidence I require to tip myself in favor of swallowing theism. I won't bother to give you any sort or religious resume. What would be the point?

You describe yourself in the past as being an arrogant atheist. But now you're a dedicated Roman Catholic. Why not an arrogant Roman Catholic? Is arrogance merely for atheists? When you become a Roman Catholic do they cleanse you of your arrogance?

Much more interesting to me than your religious conversion is this shedding of your admitted arrogance? And, shouldn't a lack of arrogance translate into humility? Sorry, I don't see it.

Posted by: James at October 10, 2003 2:23 AM

Seconded!

The idea that you might have some deep insight into the belief system of someone you don't even know based on a few comments is very telling. You may have converted to Roman Catholicism, but you didn't convert to humility in the process.

Were you truly humble, you would have begun your discourse by *asking* James what consideration he's given to questions of God, rather than just assuming you already knew. A humble person begins from the premise "Maybe I am wrong or I just misunderstood you". To me, your first rhetorical question sounds a lot like:

"What could this mean other than that James hasn't given thorough consideration to questions of God because he hasn't come to the same conclusions that I have?"

You're no better than anyone else Justin. Your beliefs about God are not The Truth, they are only your truth. Which is as it should be. No one person has a monopoly on The Truth. Each person's belief system is based on upbringing, personal experience, and a certain amount of thought. If the Almighty exists, it would be folly (or arrogance) to assume that you have a better take on Him than other people. As the cherub said to Aquinas, "You'll never get the whole mystery of the Trinity into that tiny little head."

Justin, I respect your belief system (to the extent that it does not make rash assumptions about the belief systems of others). That's why though I might disagree with you, I would never presume to tell you why you are a Roman Catholic, or why you are a Bush supporter. Please do me and others the same courtesy. Thanks.

Posted by: Chuck S. at October 10, 2003 7:03 AM

Amen Chuck and James (oops sorry being agnostic I guess I'm not allowed to use that word). Justin if you actually read that last part I wrote I think you'll actually catch that it was sarcasm. I really (REALLY) don't care what you beleive in. What bothers me is that you actually give acrap about what I beleive in enough to try and analyze me and others.

I am a reformed catholic myself so I guess I'm your polar opposite. I realized at a very young age that I didn't beleive half the crap that I was being told and actually caused quite a stir in CCD when I told the nun teaching us that I didn't beileve in the afterlife.

I think religion in general is a bad thing. It has a great capacity to do good but then we humans go and take things too far. There have been too many evil things in history that have been caused by religion. Is there a religion out there that hasn't sanctioned persecuting some other relion at one time or another? Buddism maybe?

I just don't get it. I don't feel any need to beleive or disbeleive in god. I guess that would make me immoral. Although I don't think anyone that knows me would call me that.

OK I've watsted enough time on this now. (Oh I'm still here by the way. Maybe he'll get me tommorrow).

Posted by: Bob at October 10, 2003 9:36 AM

I'll answer James's two posts in their respective comment areas. Herein, I'll address my comments above.

The first thing to note is that, in everybody's accusations of presumption, you have presumed that I believe myself to be infallibly correct about religion and, therefore, better than others. This is simply not the case; nor am I "pushing" my specific beliefs on anybody. This post is about that ridiculous "Brights" name, which inherently seeks to imply non-faith based on superior intellect and a better understanding of reality (e.g., with reference to "evidence"). The comments above specifically make the claim that there is no evidence of God, or that His existence doesn't matter, and I questioned those judgements.

I made no claims to seeing into James's soul, which is part of the reason that I phrased my comments as questions. I asked "What could this mean?" And apparently, by "No effort went into proving god does not exist." James meant (from the other post), "I have reviewed the improbable hypothesis of a supreme being found the evidence wanting." Okay, so now we have effort, but in the form of reviewing evidence "for" God, with the default conclusion being that without sufficient evidence for His existence, His existence or non-existence doesn't matter. That's fine, and in some ways, I'd probably agree that it's a plausible belief for specific individuals, and won't necessarily represent an insurmountable black mark when those individuals come up for judgment. But that's where the conversation — note that I don't mean "indoctrination" — begins, and discussion of "Brights" and how people ought to categorize themselves suggests that the topic might be of interest.

As for my having been an "arrogant atheist," I meant that as an apt description: there was no proof, no argument, that would have persuaded me of God's existence... mostly because there were none to which I would listen. I characterize my current religion as "dedicated" because I am, in fact, active in my church as well as in my contemplation of Catholic teaching. I am not, however, arrogant in the sense that I consider my belief to be untouchably correct — the error of such a stance being a lesson that I've already learned.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 10, 2003 1:09 PM

That's fine, and in some ways, I'd probably agree that it's a plausible belief for specific individuals, and won't necessarily represent an insurmountable black mark when those individuals come up for judgment.

I'm not concerned with judgement (obviously). But if it makes you more comfortable with me to view it that way, then so be it.

Posted by: James at October 10, 2003 1:30 PM

> I made no claims to seeing into James's
> soul, which is part of the reason that I
> phrased my comments as questions. I asked
> "What could this mean?"

In that case you need to work on your delivery. They come across as rhetorical questions, or statements masquerading as questions. Expressions like "What could this mean other than that" and "What could this indicate except that" carry heavy connotations.

If someone says "All the evidence indicates Clinton slept with Lewinsky, and yet he denies it. What could this means other than that the former President is lying?" We know darn well what they are trying to say, and they aren't looking for an answer to the question.

> but in the form of reviewing evidence "for"
> God, with the default conclusion being that
> without sufficient evidence for His
> existence, His existence or non-existence
> doesn't matter. That's fine, and in some
> ways, I'd probably agree that it's a
> plausible belief for specific individuals,
> and won't necessarily represent an
> insurmountable black mark when those
> individuals come up for judgment.

I think it's safe to say James' belief system isn't based on fear. Neither is mine. There is not enough evidence to support the existence of God, ergo I do not believe in God. Further I do not believe there will ever be evidence of His existence.

In the light of this lack of evidence, choosing to believe anyway "just in case" is not an act of Faith, it is an act of fear. Based on my study of scripture I'm pretty sure it wouldn't count for much during judgement if one chose to believe in God simply because one was afraid he might actually exist. According to the Catholic Faith, God judges you based on your INTENTIONS as heavily as He does on your ACTIONS. If you are a nonbeliever but to pretend to be one, and you go to church every sunday, and you do good works, and you tell everyone God exists... guess what. You go to Hell. He who is not with Me is against Me.

Therefore the argument with respect to judgement is pointless. If I understand the New Testament, God doesn't want followers who are terrified into believing in him.

You can't hedge bets with the Almighty.

Posted by: Chuck S. at October 10, 2003 2:49 PM

Sheesh! What's with the uncharitable interpretations, people? At no point did I suggest that atheism is a matter of fear in James's case (although I think it can be in some cases). The reference to a "black mark" on judgment day fell under the phrase "I'd probably agree that..."

Knowing that you were aware that I am Catholic, I presumed you'd know that I believe in judgment. I was saying that not believing in God does not necessarily condemn one to Hell. How that implies that I'm suggesting fear on anybody's part, I don't know.

As for what "makes [me] comfortable" with James, I'm not uncomfortable in any case. The point following the above is that discussion would move toward what similarities and differences we derive from our differing belief systems and what they imply.

I've learned one thing about arguing religion, and that is that argument can never turn the switch from off to on. It can help to locate the switch, however.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 10, 2003 5:58 PM

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