Believe it or not, I had my first civilized discussion on YouTube with a religious person.
"I don't believe it" - you might say, as any rational skeptic should. But please, bear with me.
So this is how the impossible happened...
After a "Hitch-debates YouTube spree" of several days, I was trying to find some older Hitchens clip from the 90's that I somehow missed when suddenly I received a personal message in my inbox as a response to some random comment I made on a Sam Harris clip.
This was the message:
Hi...things sometimes aren't what they appear—you seem rather mystical from your profile pic, but you must not be a mystic...it's as Sam Harris said re proving a negative and C.K. Chesterton affirmed: "Atheism is the most daring of all dogmas for it is the assertion of a universal negative." I don't disagree with Harris re our cultural views of God, but then it is what I'd expect since we are made in his image. You want proof of God? Look in the mirror. Now you or I may not be the best representations of God's holiness and love, but that fault lies in our human weakness—still, the potential to be God's holy vessels is within us all. I'm a big fan of diversity and I'm glad we don't all think alike and are free to believe or not believe as we choose. I would, however, never make science into a god, although I do love science. I'm glad to have made your acquaintance.
So, you see, no mention of "Accept Him As Your Saviour Before You Burn In Hell For All Eternities". Imagine my surprise.
Well, in all honesty, the "potential to be God's holy vessels" shouldn't be considered in this way. You need only basic psychology to understand that it's probably a young female of the species with thoughts of - let's say pregnancy - rattling around in her subconsciousness.
So, I thought to write a somewhat loaded/disguised "nice" response and mention a few things that I couldn't let go unanswered:
Thank you for you message, it is always nice when one is reminded that there are nice people on the Internet. Thanks for the comment on the somewhat misleading profile picture. :) I have changed it to something more descriptive of my fascinations. :D
I don't actually agree with your C.K. Chesterton quote (or is it that I don't agree with him?). :)
Atheism is not a 'universal' negative. Atheism is a very specific negative. It only means that one does not believe in the existence of gods. Or, that there is not enough evidence for someone to believe otherwise. I don't really care for the word as a description of someone as a person or a 'belief system'. It doesn't actually describe anything.
For example, I don't believe in faeries, dragons, demons, ghosts, witches, unicorns, magic, astrology, alien visitations, ... So, in that sense, if you call me an atheist as a descriptive term you would have to use an almost infinite amount of other words as well. Words like: a-dragonist, a-astrologist, a-magicist, a-unicornist, a-faerieist, a-ghostist, ... Doesn't make sense, does it?
While I appreciate your attempt to persuade me that looking in the mirror would make me believe in Thor, Zeus, Yahwe, Allah, Horus, Pikiwoki or whichever god you meant - I don't find that example good evidence for the existence of a deity. I don't believe I actually understand what you mean by that, unless you are referencing the Bible. Which I have read BTW. Several times. Along with the Koran, Torah, Book of Dao, Baghavad Gita, ...
From my own personal experience, many of my Christian (mostly Catholic) friends and acquaintances have never read the Bible. Many of them feel threatened when I try to question their belief by referencing the Bible. Some react violently. Even if they don't actually know what exactly they are defending - because they've never read their magic book.
May I ask you a few questions? - If yes:
1. Have you read your religious text? (the main one, i.e. Bible, Koran, Torah, ...)
1.a) If you answered question no.1 with 'No': Why not?
2. Why don't you believe in Allah/Yahwe/Vishnu/Krishna/Zeus and of course the mythology? Could you elaborate?
3. There are as many Hindus and Budhists as there are Christians and Muslims. Are they all wrong? Will they all go to Hell?
4. Do you personally know a member of any other faith? Is he/she a bad person in your opinion? Why do you think that?
5. Where do you think that morality comes from? What are your sources? Have you tried at least googling for 'evolution of morality'? Why not?
As you can see by my somewhat lengthy (and possibly boring) response, I too am a fan of diversity in opinion and rational discourse.
I'm pleased to have made your acquaintance too.
Yeah, yeah. I know. I could've done a better, but I started watching some clip and wasn't into it.
Several videos later, I got a response. A civil one.
This time, I totally expected capitalized first letters, quotations, hellfire, damnation - the works.
But this is what I got:
I like the points you make and will gladly answer your questions, but if you don't mind, I'll take a few days to give them some thoughtful consideration. (I don't want you to think I am being dismissive of them by not answering right away.) I'll have to check out your new profile pic--maybe, I should have said it looked "mysterious", rather than mystical? Now do not take this as an insult, but I leave you for now with this Sufi saying, "A donkey with a load of holy books is still a donkey."
PS: Remember what King Agrippa said to Paul, "Paul, you almost persuade me—" ? And Festus said, "Paul you are beside yourself, much learning doth make thee mad!" And then there is Sam Harris, who can prove dysfunctional brain synapses at the root of Paul's fervor or that Paul's road to Damascus experience was an epileptic seizure. My point, unlike Paul, I don't fancy myself as the instrument to persuade you and would not make the attempt. I may well have malfunctioning brain synapses, I only wish someone would charge me with "much learning;" we're just talking—okay?
Man. I couldn't let this opportunity go to waste. I had myself a believer willing - no, suggesting - that we actually talk. Gasp. Well... let's try and make another infidel via the interwebz.
So, I wrote the following, somewhat lengthy and very calculated response:
(bonus points for noticing the (unintentionally) stolen phrases from notable atheists)
I must be honest and admit that I'm very much surprised with your answer. I can't help but think less of myself because I reacted with genuine surprise at the notion of a thoughtful answer from an obviously religious person. I apologize for my initial reaction. I think that youtube commentators in the form of extremists, fundamentalists and not-very-bright creationists have heavily influenced my reasoning and considerably lowered my expectations.
I'm very glad to be proven wrong in that regard.
Indeed, take all the time you need with your answer - it will be that much more appreciated.
Because I expected an aggressive response loaded with scorn, I may have come out as aggressive myself with the initial questions and uncalled-for innuendo. I rightfully deserved the not-very-subtle Sufi proverb. :)
In addition to those questions, may I suggest a thought experiment? Try and imagine that there are no gods. Only the Universe and us. How does that make you feel?
With that in mind, I'll give you an honest description of my viewpoint so you can know where I'm coming from with my comments and questions.
I was raised a Catholic and went through all the rituals. During my puberty and in my late teens I've had a period of struggling with god(s), spirituality, and eventually philosophy and introspection. That was the period of my life in which I just couldn't bring myself to 'believe' in any monotheistic god anymore. The more I learned about Christianity, Islam and Judaism the more I realized that it was all man-made make-belief from the early childhood of humankind. It was our first attempt at science, philosophy - our first attempt at making sense of the Universe. But ultimately, a relic from a period of ignorance, violence, brutality and fear. When I realized that, I tried reading the Bible again - understanding the historical context this time. Well, the mystery just wasn't there anymore. It was Brothers Grimm. With some Tolkien and Exorcist thrown in for good measure.
That was when I went into reading philosophy and learning about eastern religions.
Buddhism sounded like it could work for me. No violence, genocide, rape and torture; no outdated moral beliefs and commandments, no need for cherry-picking the good stuff. Didn't last long. I found myself being more and more skeptical about the spiritual and the transcendent in that context. And it was "once more unto the breach" for me in my quest for the Answer and self-discovery.
Finally, I thought Zen would be it. It seemed cool at first glance, the koans seemed deep and very subjective. But again, I considered the context and the human need for believing in 'something more'; a deeper truth, an understanding of one's place in the Cosmos - and realized the origin and the need of all those religions and philosophies.
That was when I discovered the Universe and Nature in all their magnificence. I was ready. And this time it was different! And it was so much more than I or any ancient philosopher could have ever imagined. The more I learned about any little detail, the more I was amazed by the complexity which emerges from the underlying elegance and simplicity. When I finally understood how such complexity could arise from such simplicity by a very elegant mechanism... that was it. I've finally found it - and it was an infinitely more beautiful, transcendent and spiritual experience than any burning bush, talking snake or any other kind of Bronze Age imagery.
The realization that we are not the supreme rulers of the Universe or the owners of Nature - but only its part. And a very small part at that. Only a glimmer in the vast river of time and space. Humbling, isn't it? But then I discovered that every atom in my body was once part of a star... a star which had to die in order for me to live and that we're all made of stardust. Imagine that, a star had to die so that one day there can be enough heavier elements for me or you to live. And we only have a few short decades in which we can appreciate it and share everything with our fellow humans. Share and try to leave a better world for generations to come. Death cannot be avoided, but why delude oneself and waste precious time instead of appreciating our reality? Immortality is within our grasp, it's in our genes, it's in our legacy and our children. Only through our children do we have a chance at immortality.
Anyway, sorry for the wall of text.
Hope to hear from you soon.
So, what do you guys think? Was it a good first attempt?
Will post a response when (if) I get one.