I was wondering how much of religious thought we atheists could agree with. Obviously all the metaphysical claims are right out. But there are some things here and there which are appealing. Its not ALL just awfully, horribly wrong. Perhaps we could start with the Golden Rule. Not sure if it was originally a religious thought, or if it did indeed come from Jesus. Most likely it came before, as with most things. Or something else then. Any thoughts?

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Sorry to be ignorant, Wanderer, but what is the Golden Rule?
You are sorely ignorant. Hehe, I'm just playing with you (I do that!). But really, have you been living under a rock? The Golden Rule is "do unto others as you would have done to you". Good morning!

Ignorance is knowledge which is as yet, unlearned.




No offense taken and thanks for clearing that up.

Haha, you're welcome! But I may have to tease you about this some more.
Wanderer, if I can't laugh at myself, I have no raison d'etre at all! ;-)
The problem with any religious thought is one of arriving at the right answer (for those ideas we can agree with) by the wrong means. The golden rule is, I think most would agree, a good rule of thumb for regulating how we behave towards one another. The problem with accepting the idea as one of religious origin is that it comes with a whole boatload of unacceptable baggage, like the thought that it is of divine origin. If the idea is in fact a good one, it can be shorn of any religious association and stand on its own. I'm reasonably confident that any of the truly good ideas within a particular religious text can also be found in other religions and in more secular writings. The golden rule is a fine example of this, and it can be found in a number of religions and more secular writings across the globe, arising independently both before and after it appeared in christian religious texts. Good ideas stand on their own legs, and giving credit for them to a particular religion is both unnecessary and gives unwarranted credibility to that religion (see, my faith is true, what good ideas we have....).
Good points. We are trying in this group to see what we can't find in the mind of the believer to point to and say, yeah, we agree, we are not so unalike as you might imagine. The golden rule might be one of those things we can point to and say, this is something that we also believe, we think that arriving at this conclusion is a good place for a dialogue to start, etc.

We hold everything that falls outside of religion in common with our religious neighbors, and if we wish to find common ground on which to have dialog, that is, it seems to me, where to look. Picking and choosing among specific ideas contained within religious texts so that we can say, well I can agree with that has the problem I outlined above.

I know I run the risk of sounding overly dramatic, but I cannot help but think that religious beliefs and worldviews are possibly the most serious threat to the future of humanity that there is, and doing anything that would help bolster or lend comfort to any worldview based on superstition and rejecting reason and evidence would be both hypocritical and counter to our collective best interests.

I'm not sure I understand what this first sentence means. There is nothing positive about religion whatsoever? I intend to argue that this is not the case. Stick around.

Religions are perhaps the most serious threat to humanity, I may agree with you here. This is because it is a breeding ground for ignorance and everything that comes with it, and because of that it is dangerous. However, this group was created with the idea in mind of converting if not believers, then at least those on the fence. Simply refusing to engage religious beliefs, attitudes, arguments, etc., is to avoid all the major issues. Religions are not just metaphysical claims, they are claims about human nature, human motivation and psychology, human values, etc. Its a whole world-view, one which needs to be explored and examined before it is tossed away wholesale.

It is idealistic to set ourselves up in a superior position from the outright and not let others come to their own understanding. And although the rationale for their beliefs is faulty, this doesn't entail that they have come to all the wrong conclusions. We need to find out what they got right, where they got it wrong, and then, most importantly, why they got it right or wrong so that we can show them that indeed there is a rational explanation which is always superior to superstition and the like. Compromising in this regard is not hypocritical, it is a necessary tool for mutual understanding, which is after all the aim of the group.

On the contrary, I think that religions provided a very important framework that allowed group dynamics to develop beyond the small groups that our ancient ancestors lived in. Because religion postulates an unassailable source of authority, it allowed some individuals within a group to assert that they were acting under cover of an unquestionable and unchallengeable source of knowledge and authority, at least to those who accepted the tenets of the belief. 


There have been a number of studies about group dynamics among peoples who are essentially egalitarian with no one person laying claim to some kind of "higher authority" and such groups appear to break down when the group size gets much larger than about 300 people. Interestingly, this happens in egalitarian groups as diverse as amazon tribesmen and mennonite farming communities (as a bit of an aside, mennonite groups are fascinating from an anthropological POV, as they have rejected the idea of any individual having unique access to authority from god while retaining the authority of god as a central tenet. And their groups fission at about the same group size that egalitarian Amazonian groups that believe in hecura spirits and magic do). For groups larger than this it seems that someone within the group must successfully lay claim to authority that others within the group do not possess.


In this sense, I think that the modern world owes its very existence to the rise of organized religions from which a claim of unassailable authority was able to be made, whether that authority was marduk, osiris, or a warlord with a "mandate from heaven". Large groups of people acting cohesively under a framework of authority which they commonly accept are able to overwhelm smaller groups that lack such a framework. And the objective truth of those claims is irrelevant as long as the people in the group accept them. People respect power.


In our world, we have commonly "agreed" to accept authority in the guise of constitutions, bodies of law, and elected officials and their proxies. We no longer need a metaphysical source of authority to keep us from fragmenting into small competing groups.


Any wisdoms contained within the religious tenets of any group were generated by the human beings who held their authority under cover of that religion. The problem is that it was much easier and more successful for those in authority to simply assert that the ideas were valid because "god says so" rather than try to convince people that the ideas had merit because of the nature of the idea itself. Unfortunately "god says so" gives credibility to ideas that do not stand up to rational examination as well.


If we wish to help those who are "on the fence" accept the validity of a worldview based on reason and evidence, then it is that validity we need to engage them on. Rational worldviews work because they are demonstrably more effective in their predictive powers than superstitious worldviews are. Witness the all too common occurrence of people letting their children die of easily curable ailments because they reject modern medicine in favor of prayer and faith. Convince someone that a rational, evidence based worldview works and that it puts forth an internally consistent, coherent and largely accurate understanding of the world in which they live, that such a worldview conflicts fundamentally with mythical explanations, and that is enough to convince most rational people to abandon a superstitious worldview.


An attempt to engage such a person by agreeing that specific parts of their religious belief have validity do not, it seems to me, have much hope of convincing them that the framework surrounding those ideas is not valid. Possibly, getting them to agree that certain points in religious beliefs that are not their own have some validity may help convince them that ideas can have merit in and of themselves without having to be "gods word", and help get them out from under the rule of superstition.


I do not "set myself up in a superior position", nor do I think that an atheist is superior as an individual than a religious person. I am as flawed and limited as any other human being. But I absolutely assert that a worldview based on reason and evidence is superior to one based on superstition and mandates of authority from god.



obfuscate likes this.
Right right right. I think we are both arguing around what we both really agree on and prematurely as well. All the reasons you give for why religion had been a positive force for humanity are just fine. What I am arguing is that we need to find the "kernel of truth" within religious frameworks and work to extract those truths from the falsehoods that surround and infect them. We should agree completely here. We need never lend credence to the elements which are false. I am not suggesting that we do. All I am suggesting is that we take as honest a look as possible at religious frameworks and find the good in them, find out what makes them so appealing and what gives believers a sense of rightness about them, and then we might go about showing how those elements might be safely removed.

In any case, the tricky part lies in the fact that religion becomes so central to a person's identity and sense of self that virtually all attempts at showing them "another way" are immediately seen as threatening and cause them to recoil in fear. The hard part, what I am suggesting is necessary, is enabling them to keep the parts of their identity which really are good and then wean them off of the bad parts, like recovering from a drug addiction.



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