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Essential topic: the difference between theism and religion
Posted: 10 March 2011 06:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Quoting PlaClair:

Yesterday Occam asked me a question on another topic: “I guess I’m missing something, PlaClair. 
Could you clarify for me what religion would consist of if there were no theistic basis for it?”

  Reading your respond, PC,
I realize I was far less precise in asking my question than I should have been, and I tended to generalize unjustifiedly. 
My concern isn’t theism per se, but rather a social structure that encourages following authority instead of teaching
members to think and analyze independently. 

From the discussion above it appears to me that even the existng and proposed non-theistic religions still rely on authorities
for setting their basic ideas or guiding them.  I realize all organizations, just by the nature of being organized, tend to
have some rule or authority basis, however, the more we can minimize it, the happier I would be with it. 

Occam

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Posted: 10 March 2011 07:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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PLaClair - 10 March 2011 05:37 PM

What threat do you think I pose?

None. That’s not what I meant. It’s just that I should like to beware of people who think they know what others should do and think.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 07:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Gnostikosis - 10 March 2011 06:14 PM
PLaClair - 10 March 2011 05:37 PM

What threat do you think I pose?

The threat that you may get too many people thinking like you, instead of like me.  tongue laugh

I’m kidding kind of, and I certainly don’t mean to or think I could possibly answer for George. But isn’t that almost always the case?

What you think/accept as true, I don’t care. You get too many other people thinking the way you do, it might become a problem.

Why would it be a problem? If more people thought as I do about this subject, we would avoid unnecessary conflicts with people who aren’t our philosophical adversaries. What’s the problem?

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Posted: 10 March 2011 08:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Occam. - 10 March 2011 06:58 PM

Quoting PlaClair:

Yesterday Occam asked me a question on another topic: “I guess I’m missing something, PlaClair. 
Could you clarify for me what religion would consist of if there were no theistic basis for it?”

  Reading your respond, PC,
I realize I was far less precise in asking my question than I should have been, and I tended to generalize unjustifiedly. 
My concern isn’t theism per se, but rather a social structure that encourages following authority instead of teaching
members to think and analyze independently. 

From the discussion above it appears to me that even the existng and proposed non-theistic religions still rely on authorities
for setting their basic ideas or guiding them.  I realize all organizations, just by the nature of being organized, tend to
have some rule or authority basis, however, the more we can minimize it, the happier I would be with it. 

Occam

Perhaps but I hope you would agree that your or my personal comfort level shouldn’t determine the position either of us takes on issues of common concern to Humanists, secularists, etc. In fact, our personal comfort levels reflect our biases. If we hope to be members of an effective organization, don’t we have to account for our biases and try to adjust our thinking accordingly? Or is that too much obeisance to authority? If it is, then there is virtually no chance that our organizations will ever succeed. I am willing to subject my views on these subjects to reason, so that the positions I take advance the causes I believe in. Are you committed to that, too?

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Posted: 10 March 2011 08:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Sarah Pseudoproblem - 10 March 2011 02:27 PM

(1) What is the message?  How would it change given a shift from a pedestrian understanding of theism to a careful distinction?

(2) What are we fighting exactly?  Maybe I’m alone in it, but part of what I dislike most about some people of faith is how they condescend and push their beliefs on others in the name of helping them live a better life.  I’ve always tried to live by example and to hold conversations and debates when and where they seem appropriate.  It’s a different matter when people with faith take action which harms themselves or others.  Then they are inviting intervention.  Fighting the pervasive influence, like discrimination against atheists, fighting the progress of science, vaccinations, things like that seem to have very little to do with this distinction.  Maybe I am missing your point.

(3) Christians are the ones in power in the USA.  If I had to pick out the two religious currently causing the most problems, it would be Islam and Christianity, which are both faiths that fall under the religion and theism umbrella. 

(4) Yes.  If you want to have a debate and look well reasoned it’s best to understand the terms and the facts.

(5) Maybe I too am misunderstanding the distinction between religion and theism, but for me the more pressing distinction is something like this: when looking at a practice, faith, religion, what have you, how much of their practice can be considered positive psychology in action or philosophy and how much is pseudoscience and bigotry?  When something feels like religion it irks me, but there are many practices out there that I’ve learned more about and come to accept because they actually do good and aren’t hurting anybody.  Some are just one more set of tools in the toolbox of how to be a good and functioning person.

(1) In this context, our message is that theistic belief is without foundation in fact. The shift would be that we would not pit ourselves against non-theistic religions like Ethical Culture, which is explicitly Humanistic; we would stop fighting not merely our allies but our fellow secularists.

(2) I would like see us fight against belief systems that make claims of fact that are not founded in fact, and also against disrespectfully aggressive belief systems as you point out. To return to my issue, there are non-theistic religions that do not make unfounded claims of fact and are not overly aggressive. There’s no reason for us to lump those religions with the theistic religions, especially the more aggressive ones; on the contrary, there are compelling reasons for us not to do that. And yet I continue to see us ignoring or denying the distinction. Every time we do that, we paint ourselves into a corner.

(3) The cultural and social power of Christianity in the United States is precisely the reason why we should oppose their insistence on defining terms for us. I propose that we point out that there are ways to “do” religion that do not involve belief in a supreme being and do not aggressively proselytize as some factions in Christianity and Islam do. By offering another way of looking at things and doing things, we promote alternatives that are consistent with our views. I can’t think of a good reason not to do that. Can you?

(5) Theism is belief in a supreme being. Religion, in the context I’m commenting on, is a framework for one’s central concerns. Everyone has a religion, whether she calls it that or not. Some people prefer to call it a philosophy or world view. There are several reasons why I think the word “religion” is the better term, the main one being that religion is what cuts to a person’s core and permeates all the domains of being (emotion, thought and action), and simultaneously reaches out to address everything as best one can. You could say that religion is a person’s orientation to everything. Not only is there no reason to oppose that; such opposition is nearly absurd.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 08:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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PLaClair - 10 March 2011 08:22 PM

You could say that religion is a person’s orientation to everything. Not only is there no reason to oppose that; such opposition is nearly absurd.

I could think of one compelling reason: very, very few people adhere to such a meaning of the word. I happen to prefer philosophy or worldview.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 09:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Isn’t this debate similar to the one over the word “spirituality”?

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Posted: 11 March 2011 04:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Michael De Dora - 10 March 2011 08:56 PM
PLaClair - 10 March 2011 08:22 PM

You could say that religion is a person’s orientation to everything. Not only is there no reason to oppose that; such opposition is nearly absurd.

I could think of one compelling reason: very, very few people adhere to such a meaning of the word.

That’s one of the reasons why we should do it. The reason people in the West don’t think of religion that way, as Griffiths points out, is that their vision is limited by cultural myopia. [http://books.google.com/books?id=HyPnrDiBM7cC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Charles+Talliaferro+and+Paul+J.+Griffiths,+Philosophy+of+Religion&hl=en#v=onepage&q=Indian Buddhist scholastics&f=false; see my opening post at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/10169/P0/ ]

I hope we agree that a broad view of reality is preferable to a narrow view that excludes entire cultures, and that an accurate view is better than an inaccurate view. By both criteria, we should make the distinction between theism and religion. To the extent that we use this distinction to remind people that there are religions besides Christianity and the other theisms, we will encourage them to think about these things differently, which should be one of our goals; if we don’t, then we will accede to and support the cultural myopia that creates the social dynamics of homogenization (e.g., a true American is a Christian). Broadening people’s thinking on this subject is especially important because their myopia is what leads to arrogance and religious intolerance, and impedes progress toward our goals, as expressed in CFI’s mission statement.

Furthermore, my reason for starting this topic was that I saw several recent comments from secularists who were using the word “religion” instead of the more accurate word, “theism.” If you’re going to argue that the word “religion” is too widely misunderstood, that is all the more reason to use the word “theism” instead, when that is the intended reference.

Most people in this culture think a theory is a an unproven statement but that doesn’t stop us from using that word; we just use it the right way, which is what I am asking us to do here. You’re saying we should use the word religion narrowly and incorrectly because we live in a culture that does that; the people, broadly speaking, are unaware of historical and cultural facts, therefore we should go along with the unawareness. Where’s the advantage to that, and how is that consistent with CFI’s commitments?

Finally, do you have any evidence to support the statement that “very, very few people” use the word “religion” in an historically accurate way? How many people? How deeply embedded is their usage? In what context was the issue or question presented to them? To the extent that some people don’t use the word that way, what are the reasons for that? What does all of that say about where they are intellectually, culturally and emotionally, and what we secularists should do about it? All of those things matter.

[ Edited: 11 March 2011 06:10 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 11 March 2011 06:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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It seems to me that in (2) you’re asking us to start a war on theistic faiths.  One reasonably strong argument against organized religion is the history of bloodshed over faith.  I am against any war that doesn’t have an achievable and measurable goal.  Do you want to take over that mountain? Maybe that’s justified.  Do you want to end rape in the country? Good idea.  Do you want to win a war against terror? Umm… How do you do that?  You want to crush the infidels? Well, they are sort of like whack-a-moles; you can’t get them all. But I suppose good reasons to go to war would be a large enough topic for another thread, so I’ll abandon it here.

I’d like to see us fighting the symptoms, because I’m not sure it’s a disease.  If religion is the opiate of the masses, and some people are O.D.-ing in their own home because they chose too, I’m not to keen on stopping them. (Yes, I know, by the definitions clearly laid out in this discussion the last sentence should be “theism is the opiate”). 

I think making people aware of their options in faith is a fine idea, but I don’t think it is that effective.  Faith is deep.  For most people who claim to be religious (and I mean this in your sense) there is a deep foundational belief driving them.  For theists, this is often the belief in god.  Even most lapsed Christians I know, who reject most church dogma, still believe in some sort of flying spaghetti monster.  And honestly, if it makes them happy and they aren’t pitying me for my philosophies, then it doesn’t seem like the fight I’d choose.  There are better ways to expend my resources.

[ Edited: 11 March 2011 06:37 AM by Sarah Pseudoproblem ]
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Posted: 11 March 2011 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Sarah Pseudoproblem - 11 March 2011 06:35 AM

It seems to me that in (2) you’re asking us to start a war on theistic faiths.  One reasonably strong argument against organized religion is the history of bloodshed over faith.  I am against any war that doesn’t have an achievable and measurable goal.  Do you want to take over that mountain? Maybe that’s justified.  Do you want to end rape in the country? Good idea.  Do you want to win a war against terror? Umm… How do you do that?  You want to crush the infidels? Well, they are sort of like whack-a-moles; you can’t get them all. But I suppose good reasons to go to war would be a large enough topic for another thread, so I’ll abandon it here.

I’d like to see us fighting the symptoms, because I’m not sure it’s a disease.  If religion is the opiate of the masses, and some people are O.D.-ing in their own home because they chose too, I’m not to keen on stopping them. (Yes, I know, by the definitions clearly laid out in this discussion the last sentence should be “theism is the opiate”). 

I think making people aware of their options in faith is a fine idea, but I don’t think it is that effective.  Faith is deep.  For most people who claim to be religious (and I mean this in your sense) there is a deep foundational belief driving them.  For theists, this is often the belief in god.  Even most lapsed Christians I know, who reject most church dogma, still believe in some sort of flying spaghetti monster.  And honestly, if it makes them happy and they aren’t pitying me for my philosophies, then it doesn’t seem like the fight I’d choose.  There are better ways to expend my resources.

In any culture, beliefs matter. So I do not entirely share what I take to be your view that what other people believe is not our concern. However, the fight I propose on this front is nothing like what you’ve imagined; instead, it is to point out the problems with theism. That’s one of CFI’s stated missions, as I understand it. It’s not a question of forcing anyone, which would be anathema to our commitment to freedom of thought, not to mention common sense (it doesn’t work), but of making our case in a reasoned and persuasive way. I am suggesting a vision that goes beyond the narrow boundaries of our theistic culture; it floors me that this isn’t an obvious point in our ranks.

There is a difference between faith as belief and Faith as an action. We all have Faith of the latter kind. If we didn’t, we couldn’t function, because there are no guarantees in life. For example, a person who starts a business has no guarantee that she won’t lose money; a research scientist has no evidence that he will solve the problem he sets out to solve. Every time we act with no guarantee of the result, we are expressing that kind of Faith. Faith is another concept that I think many secularists muddle by defining it too narrowly. The irony is that they keep bringing it back to the dominant theistic belief in their culture, which is the very thing they reject. I am suggesting a vision that looks beyond the narrow boundaries of our theistic culture and invites (not forces) others to share and join in that vision. It floors me that this isn’t an obvious point within our ranks.

I agree with you that talking is not enough. That is why I would like to see more fully functioning Humanist organizations: places where people celebrate and laugh and dance and have fun with the same vigor as we see in some of the more successful churches. There’s no reason why we can’t have a good time in community just because the Christians are, too; and if we don’t, it costs us dearly because no one wants to become a part of what we offer.

Our efforts to reach out and bring others in will succeed when they see that we have something appealing to offer. I agree with you that we will not replace their faiths with what they will likely see as mere talking points.

[ Edited: 11 March 2011 07:19 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 11 March 2011 07:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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PLaClair - 11 March 2011 07:12 AM

There’s no reason why we can’t have a good time in community just because the Christians are, too;

Yes, there is: we would all rather watch Star Trek than dance at some church gathering.  cheese

PLaClair - 11 March 2011 07:12 AM

and if we don’t, it costs us dearly because no one wants to become a part of what we offer.

Here you go again. So in other words, it is my fault that they teach Creationism in biology classes because I don’t feel like sweating on a dance floor at the Humanist church.

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Posted: 11 March 2011 08:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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George - 11 March 2011 07:41 AM
PLaClair - 11 March 2011 07:12 AM

There’s no reason why we can’t have a good time in community just because the Christians are, too;

Yes, there is: we would all rather watch Star Trek than dance at some church gathering.  cheese

PLaClair - 11 March 2011 07:12 AM

and if we don’t, it costs us dearly because no one wants to become a part of what we offer.

Here you go again. So in other words, it is my fault that they teach Creationism in biology classes because I don’t feel like sweating on a dance floor at the Humanist church.

Not at all. Watch Star Trek if that’s what floats your boat. If you don’t like community gatherings, then don’t go. But there are people who do like that sort of thing. If we don’t offer it, they’ll go where it is offered.

So I am not criticizing you for not doing what you don’t enjoy doing. I am criticizing you for saying that secularists shouldn’t do it.

[ Edited: 11 March 2011 09:12 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 11 March 2011 09:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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PLaClair - 11 March 2011 07:12 AM

There’s no reason why we can’t have a good time in community just because the Christians are, too;

I’m reasonably convinced people behave better when they have something more structured to gather around.  Example: fraternal brotherhood = bad choices.  The best behaved frat I’ve seen was one where 90% of the brothers were related to the theater or arts department.  They had a common theme to gather around, something more concrete.  It’s one of the things I like about CFI, they have programs towards specific things.  I like when churches have specific charity events like building hopes or donating food, it’s the vauge programs that tend to create idle hands and brains.

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Posted: 11 March 2011 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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PLaClair - 10 March 2011 07:56 PM

Why would it be a problem? If more people thought as I do about this subject, we would avoid unnecessary conflicts with people who aren’t our philosophical adversaries. What’s the problem?

Some people feel the conflict is necessary in order to bring attention to something they feel causes social issues.

They may not be your philosophical adversaries. Obviously you have some philosophical adversaries here.
Rational people don’t always agree philosophically. Not everyone is going to agree with you what issues are important or not.

I would happily agree it’s not a big deal. Some think it is. If you convince others to think like you it’s obviously going to be a threat to those who think it is a big deal. Words have power over people. I single word may not seem significant to you, for others, it may start wars or civil unrest. People hear a word and it triggers an emotional response. It causes people to react.

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Posted: 11 March 2011 11:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Gnostikosis - 11 March 2011 10:56 AM
PLaClair - 10 March 2011 07:56 PM

Why would it be a problem? If more people thought as I do about this subject, we would avoid unnecessary conflicts with people who aren’t our philosophical adversaries. What’s the problem?

Some people feel the conflict is necessary in order to bring attention to something they feel causes social issues.

They may not be your philosophical adversaries. Obviously you have some philosophical adversaries here.
Rational people don’t always agree philosophically. Not everyone is going to agree with you what issues are important or not.

I would happily agree it’s not a big deal. Some think it is. If you convince others to think like you it’s obviously going to be a threat to those who think it is a big deal. Words have power over people. I single word may not seem significant to you, for others, it may start wars or civil unrest. People hear a word and it triggers an emotional response. It causes people to react.

You’re right, words can trigger emotional responses. But then, if I react like that, I have to ask myself whether that reaction is consistent with my commitment to reason and to furthering our causes as expressed in CFI’s mission statement; unless of course I’m just hanging around a secularist organization because it provides emotional satisfaction.

So I have to ask why my position should be a threat - a threat to what? To the right to react emotionally to a word? I don’t question that but I do ask whether the people who come here are committed to our causes. Are we serious about secularism and scientific naturalism or are we just gratifying ourselves? Are we trying to further important common values like a planetary ethic or not? I see it as a commitment and confess that I get annoyed with people who come here, argue passionately for a point of view and then offer an emotional reaction to defend it. Obviously the people arguing with me over this care about the issue or you wouldn’t be arguing the point. But if it was just about personal gratification, there would be no reason to do that.

In what way do I have philosophical adversaries here? As far as I can tell, we are all secularists and scientific naturalists. The only difference I can identify is that some people are not comfortable using certain words; but that is not a philosophical difference, only a difference in personal preference or maybe a difference in our views on what will and will not work strategically. Is Ethical Culture a philosophical adversary? Do we demand absolute purity not only in our substantive philosophies but also in our emotive approach to these questions? If we do, we paint ourselves into a very small corner.

So by all means, let’s be rational and reason this through. But don’t then tell me that you’re offering an emotional reaction to defend a substantive point.

Each of us will decide the answer for ourselves but every one of us who chooses to indulge an emotional reaction over reason . . . finish the sentence yourself. I thought that intelligent and rational people would recognize the need to move beyond that.

[ Edited: 11 March 2011 11:39 AM by PLaClair ]
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