March 19, 2008

"God Talk" Oversimplified, Confuses

More than once, I've seen a comment like the following:

When Bush talks about God, you liberals get all upset. But when x talks about God, you give him a pass.

Imagine "x" to be some liberal politician. Barack Obama is a good contemporary example, but it doesn't really matter who.

This comment, and the sentiments behind it, are an excellent example of how a simplistic view of people, boiled down to labels, is misleading. Although it isn't mentioned by name in the comment, the label "atheist" hang in the air because, presumably, liberal atheists don't like it when people talk about their gods.

And this is one of the reasons I'm not very fond of the term "atheist." It leads some people to some strange assumptions. I won't beat a dead horse about it, but you should already know that "atheist" is a negative term, which tells you next to nothing about what I do believe.

So let me explain, in very brief form, how this liberal atheist -- or, better, a liberal humanist -- processes incoming information. Since I don't believe in "God" I see the concept of God often acting like a megaphone. "God" is used to hammer a point home with believers. Whatever your message is, you put God behind it and some people take special notice.

If someone is telling me about how his god has given him the right to do this or that, or that God is smiling upon the destruction of this or that group of people, or gives him license to deny rights to some corner of our population, I see the underlying message. I disagree with it, often very strongly. I see that he's using religion to beat this idea into people. Not only does that make me wonder about what religion has taught this individual, it annoys me that he's trying to spread it.

If, on the other hand, someone is talking about how his god told him we have to treat each other better, or that his belief in God is leading him to pay attention to inequities in our own society, again I am filtering out the god to get to the underlying message.

I am a concerned that we get a president who reflects humanist values. I will prefer a Christian, Jewish or Muslim humanist to any sort of person who does not represent humanism, in my view. To deny that there is a large population of religious humanists to draw from would place an unacceptable limit on the chances of getting a humanist president.

So, if you've determined that liberals are hypocritical for taking some politicians to task when they reference God in speeches, you may have missed something. maybe you're talking to a humanist. When those speeches either use God cynically,as empty rhetoric or, to erode out society's humanism, some of us are disgusted. If you have a very limited idea of the motivation of a liberal humanist, you might find it unnecessarily confusing.

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Posted by James at March 19, 2008 9:47 AM
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I hope it isn't inappropriate to say, "Amen!"

Posted by: PJ at March 19, 2008 10:40 AM

"My atheism ... denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image to be servants of their human interests." -- George Santayana

It does seem that people justify their actions, good or bad, with god.

The difference between the believers I will accept and those I won't is not only humanism, as you discuss, but also the willingness to revise belief. The thought process and reason that led to the belief. Non-humanistic believers, people who think that they are right because god says so, seem far less likely to revise their beliefs. So not only are they completely self-serving, they're also unchangeable.

This article about Bush's belief, from 2004, is a pretty frightening example.

And here's a lovely anecdote about Bertrand Russell: "from the occasion of Russell's ninetieth birthday that best serves to summarize his attitude toward God and religion. A London lady sat next to him at this party, and over the soup she suggested to him that he was not only the world's most famous atheist but, by this time, very probably the world's oldest atheist. "What will you do, Bertie, if it turns out you're wrong?" she asked. "I mean, what if -- uh -- when the time comes, you should meet Him? What will you say?" Russell was delighted with the question. His bright, birdlike eyes grew even brighter as he contemplated this possible future dialogue, and then he pointed a finger upward and cried, "Why, I should say, 'God, you gave us insufficient evidence.'" -- Al Seckel, in Preface to Bertrand Russell on God and Religion

I wish there were a heaven so I could meet Bertrand Russell. ;-)

Posted by: Maggie at March 19, 2008 2:42 PM

Totally lost the url again.

Posted by: Maggie at March 19, 2008 2:43 PM

"And God created man to his own image..." Genesis 1:27

Looking around this country that would mean God is credulous. "Yer doin it rong!"

Posted by: Mike at March 19, 2008 2:50 PM

I am filtering out the god to get to the underlying message.

You'll need to filter this. In today's Boston Globe, there is a disturbing picture that was taken outside the Supreme Court yesterday. If I could have found it online, I would have given the link. Allow me to describe it:

A woman wearing a "Second Amendment Sisters" T-shirt holds two large plackards.

One reads as follows (all capitalization is the woman's): "ALL RIGHTS come to the PEOPLE DIRECTLY from the CREATOR! The SECOND AMENDMENT is MY RIGHT - NOT the CITY'S, STATE'S, or FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S.


Interesting. I thought god was the only one who was supposed to decide who lives and who dies, hence the term "playing god."

Posted by: Patti M. at March 19, 2008 4:04 PM

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