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October 24, 2010


John Mitchell

Good post Kris,
Although I operate to not upset my mother's feelings...
I must recommend Sam Harris's new book "The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Human Values" as an excellent starting point for a reason and science based human ethics. I like this book even better than his earlier "The End of Faith" and I would also recommend his website samharris.com and his non-profit Project Reason (projectreason.org)


I respect your choice to not upset your mom or other family--what would be the point at this late date, right? I want Sam Harris's new book and will put it on my Amazon wish list.


There are similarities between certain "believers" and "non-believers" that are fascinating to think about... One way or another there's that tendency to preach, to convince. But it seems like the people who might genuinely benefit from the sermon are unlikely to be convinced of anything beyond the point of view they already hold. I wonder if the question of belief is relevant in a practical sense today or a relic of another time.

This past weekend my niece, who was raised a catholic, married a muslim man. Earlier in the year, the groom came to me and asked me for permission to marry my niece (it's a long story why the question would be asked of me, the uncle, but bear with me). I responded that I honestly couldn't see how two sincerely religious people of such different faiths could hope to marry and live in happiness together. (Yet I still approved of the wedding because it's not really my business and I do think highly of this guy.) I also talked a great deal about this with my niece.

Essentially, I think they probably had very little interest in what I was saying and they just couldn't see the potential problem. My conclusion is that they are both only superficially religious, and they have no especially deep convictions regarding their differing faiths. Those things that might be impossible to reconcile... they just don't think about them and they are not issues.

Maybe the question of belief is essentially the same non-issue to many people. They just want to go and sing hymns at Christmas.


Well, Jeff, yes and no ... I'm afraid there are too many bible-defending zealots out there (Young Earth Creationists, e.g.)to call such beliefs relics of another time. If that were so, we wouldn't have the senseless insistence of some believers that Creationism be taught alongside evolution in public schools. And yet. Not to mention those who opposed gay marriage because of their religion, and on and on. I'll agree that many so-called believers are pretty much coasting and just hoping that afterlife thing is true, calling on God when they're up against it, etc. But when you have religion influencing public policy in this country (abstinence-only "sex education," for example, then it's hard to argue that it's a relic of another time.

You can read many deconversion stories (stories by people who denounced their religion and embraced agnosticism/atheism) at various sites, so sometimes people ARE convinced. And we all know how relgions crow about the converts they make.

I, personally, am not out to change anyone's religious views ... well, okay, there are some religious views I'd sure like to change! but mostly i just wish the believers would stop proselytizing to me, urging me to find jesus, etc. Do they really think I haven't thought about these things? And I would like some day for atheists not to be the most despised group in America according to poll after poll. And that's why those of us who don't believe need to say so, so that people know we're just people, like they are. Same reason I always went out of my way to call myself a feminist.


Maybe politics and organized religion are separate things from a sincere belief in God, which is not dependent upon either of them no matter how many people try to make them so.

I went to a Lutheran school until I was 12 and shaking off those experiences hasn't been easy. Yet I can see that many people get a lot out of religion, and more power to them. The church gives many people, particularly the elderly, a community where they can belong. Or consider the Rasta movement, which has helped to empower many people, particularly in Jamaica of course. Interestingly, if you study the Rastafari movement one fact that stands out is how most Rastas think about their system of belief more in terms of it being a part of their core being, and not in terms of a "religion".

In America, religion sometimes seems to represent all that is "normal", and if you're not part of the group then maybe there's something wrong with you. This is obviously loathsome, deeply wrong on countless levels. If this is what you advocate struggling against, I'm right with you there.

Regarding the Out Campaign: if there are people who are afraid of being known as atheists, I have to wonder if there are also people who are afraid of being known as "believers"-- maybe professors at universities, for example. How very sad, either way...


Jeff-certainly the conservative Christian groups are always saying that college profs are fearful of being known as believers. I haven't known it to be true in my experience; think of the Eberweins, for example, and I know of many others. Francis Collins hasn't been shy about being an evangelical Christian--but he's taken a lot of flack about it from the scientific community, I'll admit. But the fact is that Christians in this country have the run of things, pretty much. Look at all the hysteria of the so-called War on Christmas! Good grief. As far as the Out Campaign, many people whose family are quite religious have a very difficult time being open about their beliefs. They fear ostracism and loss of love. I doubt that either of my kids would fear that from me if they chose to convert to a religion (as long as they didn't try to convert ME!). No matter how people try to make an equivalence between being disliked/distrusted for being a nonbeliever and being disliked/distrusted for being Christian, there just isn't one. It's like insisting on an equivalence between institutionalized racism in this country and black racism. A U of Minnesota study showed that atheists were the group Americans were least willing to have their chilren marry--below Muslims,and this was post-9/11!

Yes, people obviously get something out of religion, and as you say, more power to them--as long as they don't use it to try to run others' lives. I think organized religion--which as you say is different from a belief in god--has done far more harm than good in this world and continues to do so. It held back science for a good long while and is still attempting to do so. And militant Islam ... no comment necessary. And people who refuse medical treatment for their children because god will cure them, use of religious beliefs to mutilate and punish women and keep them subordinate ... and don't forget, the bible was used to justify slavery. So I don't think religion is harmless in the big picture.

I agree that politics and religion are separate from a belief in god, but many do not agree, and some of them have a disproportionate amount of power in this country. This last campaign season saw TV commercials in some areas that told viewers "God will watch how you vote." (I don't need to tell you who god wanted them to vote for.)

It's interesting to me that the more educated people are, the less likely to belong to an organized religion or even to believe in god. (This is the main reason fundies send their kids to conservative Xian schools.) Among scientists the number of atheists is way, way, way higher than for the general public. So yeah, there may be a bias there TOWARD atheists/agnostics; maybe among scientists there's an assumption that other scientists are nonbelievers or believers in a god so removed from our daily life as to make no difference. But anybody who's a non believer can tell you that the assumption on the part of just about everybody you meet on a daily basis is that you're a Christian, and if not a Christian, well of course you have some kind of belief.

Basically, I think we should all go for a "live and let live" kind of attitude. That's really what the Out Campaign is about, not about deconverting religious believers. But a lot of fervent believers don't have that attitude, and I resent it. I resented it each time a relative would write in a Christmas or birthday card,"I hope you find the peace that is Jesus" or "I'm praying for you to find god." But believers don't understand why that's offensive and condescending ...


I don't disagree with anything you write here. What distresses me is how the loonies of the world have clearly won possession of the concept of God.

The desire to believe in a God, or at least the tendency to contemplate the possibility of a God, must be a very human trait, don't you think? Were there any early cultures without such beliefs or thoughts? If so, I would guess they were relatively few in number compared to cultures based upon or influenced by religion. Sure, they were just cavemen who didn't know any better, but a lot of time has passed, science has helped to dramatically change the world into a place that would scare the crap out of the average caveman, and the need to believe in something doesn't seem to have diminished all that much. The atom bomb and genetically engineered tomatoes haven't changed a thing in that regard.

Science can go only so far. Who wants to kiss a bacterial culture growing in a petri dish? If I last to be a hundred years old with a wife of 60 years who dies before me, the last thing that I would care to think about is logic and science. In fact, if I operated on logic alone it would probably be better for humanity as a whole if we burned all the science books and reverted to a state of savagery, like the humans in the first Planet of The Apes movie. Sure, we'd still have the Spanish Inquisition to worry about, but at least there would be no stupid television shows cluttering up the dial, or Chinese food smothered in MSG.

Everything doesn't need to make sense, does it? I don't have to believe in ghosts to love stories about them. In fact, I want very much to believe in ghosts, because a world with ghosts just seems like it would be a much better world than one where all of the sheets stay tucked into the beds. Just like the world is a much better place for someone having said, "Consider the lilies..." God save us from the poems of literal-minded poets!


Yeah, I think probably the need for a belief in something transcendant has roots in our very evolution. I love the stories too! I mean, we celebrate Christmas and it's like Tim Minchin says in his Xmas song--he likes the songs--"some of the chords are quite nice, though the lyrics are dodgy." Also, I feel that I have actually experienced a ghost, which I can't explain at all but I feel there must be some explanation. Nevertheless I know what I experienced. Not only doesn't everything have to make sense, I think we all need to live with that fact and be OK with it. I can't explain why there's something rather than nothing or how the universe came to be at all. Iris Dement has a great song called "Let the Mystery Be" that makes a great point. A belief in a higher power can inspire people to great works of art. I guess it's just very human that it can also lead to mass slaughter ... I've really enjoyed our dialogue on this! I don't regard myself as spiritual but like anyone else with sense I can still feel awe at a desert sky. that feels like some kind of transcendance. I understand that people have a longing. to want to believe in something bigger and better than oneself--I get that. Why does it get so petty so often? As Carl Sagan said, you think the major religions, finding out how vast the universe is, would say, Wow, it's even better than we thought! It's bigger, more elegant ... But they say No,no! Our god is a small god and we want to keep him that way. I think that's what led me away from belief in the first place--how petty and egotistical the god of the bible is, demanding worship, punishing people if he didn't get it etc. I guess if people really did believe in some higher power that was ... higher and bigger that would be one thing but so often people's religion seems so petty, and the idea that there's a god who cares about every little thing I do and judges my actions--that just seems bizarre to me and it points to a self-centeredness on the part of the human who holds that belief. have they never looked up at a starry sky and gotten a sense of their own insignificance in the universe? maybe so and maybe that's why they need to believe in the god they do. Well to each her own--if the believers can leave it at that!


I've enjoyed our dialog on this too! Believe me, I know where you're coming from in being so disgusted with religion. Yesterday I noticed again how one of its worst manifestations takes form in the pages of bad children's books. Family members often give my daughter books on Easter or Christmas or angels or even death where the "story" is essentially a long, boring, often disturbing, sermon. Yuck!

Professional sceptics can be somewhat annoying as well, however. They may serve a useful purpose in exposing and debunking baloney, but there's something... I don't know, distasteful maybe... about the sort of person who goes through life destroying illusions. We need a certain amount of fantasy and escape. Tolkien wrote about the derision heaped upon fairy tales because of how they supposedly fail to reflect the everyday reality of the modern world-- because they function merely as an "escape" for the reader. His response was to distinguish between two different kinds of escape: the "escape of the deserter" and the "escape of the prisoner".

Maybe there's a personality type that just gets off on having possession of the "truth". Both bible beaters and sceptics seem to get this way. Maybe it's simply egotism, I don't know, but it's an odd way of looking at the world.


Not sure how I feel about this, Jeff. I think it's useful to destroy illusions sometimes, and i wouldn't put "illusions" in the same basket with fairy tales, fiction, etc. I completely agree that we need fantasy and escape. But you know, I can't get worked up over someone debunking the notion that somebody can bend spoons with his mind ... You can be a skeptic and still love story. Look at my spouse--if there was ever a born scientist, he's it; but he loved the Lord of the Rings movies and got totally into them. But he throws cold water on any number of illusions. Ethan is the same--even when he agrees with me on an issue, if my argument sucks, he's all over it, pointing out the flaws. And he's read no end of fantasy and SF. So I think it's a mistake to conflate skepticism with an inability to appreciate story, myth, fantasy, etc. I don't say it's necessary to go on and on about how there's no Bigfoot, but on the other hand, a belief in the efficacy of homeopathy could definitely be deleterious to your health!

Linnie Lou

Hello from the weird, strange sister Linn, running rampant....again...and...again.
All I can say is that I've had so many strange, unexplainable experiences that I find these debates interesting, but it feels to me as if someone wants to "win." There's nothing to win or lose--it is what it is.
Fortunately for all but a few, my strange experiences and "knowledge" has me tidily branded as CRAZY! That makes it so much easier to not have to hear what I say (and often, it doesn't make sense,) but these "things" have happened and I accept them---I have no choice except to accept or go against myself.
I don't try to explain anything anymore (although I seem to be doing it now ha ha!) but here's what I have to say 1)no organized religion 2) no personal god watching and sneering.
I don't care to use words like faith, hope, pray, meditate, good and bad. I say, "Trust the Universe, and soon you will be able to trust yourself. Then, TAKE YOURSELF BACK!
I will never claim to be a mystic, guru, spiritualist because all of those words have such heavy conditioning factors to them, it hurts rather than heals.
Most people only "look' rather than "see." Of course, I so so often do that myself, even though I have worked to "see the inside."
My profession is Astrologer. Society demands that, boy, you'd better "be" something. I could care less how anyone feels about that--believe it or don't; half the time I do and sometimes wonder, but I've seen it work over and over.
I do too much thinking to be able to put my position into words, and there are no words that would explain anyway.
So--is there a God? I don't know. No one knows. But there is a Universe (and I am NOT saying it gives a rat's ass about us personally,) and perhaps, if we would begin to appreciate that fact alone, soon we would (maybe) be able to feel the interconnectedness of everything, the cycles; and yet, the uniqueness of every single thing.
As you can see, I'm intellectually challenged, and that's OK with me. I base most of my life on instinct, senses, learning and (hopefully) a little reasoning, but not too much "reason" because sometimes there are no "reasons."
Everybody knows everything already anyway, we just don't know we do.
So worry not. Join the frenzy. I'm going to go have my mystical experience of taking a shower and happily doing all the errands that are to be done today.
I love you two.

Linnea Stade

Linnie Lou

And I forgot to say:
I love it! It fascinates me!


Hi Linn,

I think your post is very interesting! Although I don't see why you would write that you're "intellectually challenged"-- it sounds to me like you're a very thoughtful person.

I'm not sure if Kris and I are debating or not... If so, I freely concede that I lose, although I somehow doubt that she views this as an argument either.

Maybe I give people too much credit, but I personally already understand that you can't bend a spoon with your mind (unless you hit the psychic over the head with it), and I make the assumption that most everyone else knows this as well. To me a skeptic specializes in stating the obvious, and I don't see the usefulness of that at all. Magicians can't levitate, check... Witch doctors can't pull tumors out of a sick person's stomach, check... the president isn't a member of a reptilian alien race, check. Skeptism isn't science so much as it's beating a dead horse.


Oh Linn, just an FYI-- I'm a Cancer. Apparently this means the following:

"Cancer is the fourth astrological sign in the Zodiac. Following the first three signs – that are mostly involved in the exploration of self and the world, Cancerians love to be around family. They follow their emotions and cherish traditions, are interested in their personal history and their family’s past and will always keep close with the loved ones. They like lo live their everyday life close to what they feel is home, which is why Cancer rules the House of Home."

Hey, let's turn this into a blog about astrology!

Linnie Lou

You're missing the most important parts of your Sign.
Everything you say about Cancer is true; but what if the planet Uranus is in it? Then you would have a very unusual and eccentric home. Also, it's a Cardinal Sign--a go-getter who will start big, but maybe not finish. Cancer will do things sideways rather than straight up, and before you know it, the Cancer is ahead of you and you have no idea how it happened.
Now, to make matters more interesting, you do not have your Ascendant written for me. And all I can think of is you must have Leo Rising or some very sociable, humorous, loving Sign, as I remember you well from the workshop. (Smokers OK--to the Muse, remember?)
I say FUCK pop Astrology, and this won't be turned into that. It is Kris' after all. Anyways, pop Astrology is about as useful as pop psychology--in other words NOT!
By the way, people have been beating spoons over my head all my life. It works!

Linnie Lou

I forgot--both of you should be interested in Jesse Bering's first book, "The God Instinct." He's a gay Athiest and I ordered the book last May. It's being released this month, and he writes for Scientific American (or something like that--Jimmy would know.
Thought you might keep it in mind.


Hmm, I just did this online chart thing to see about Uranus. This is what I got:
Uranus is in 00 Degrees Libra.
You, as well as your entire peer group, have a very free, unstable and unconventional approach to relationships and emotional commitments. You will be attracted to experiments in marriage and shared lifestyles. Personal freedom is more important to you than entangling emotional bonds. In the realm of art and aesthetics, you are attracted to the bizarre, shocking and unusual.
My goodness! Is it warm in here?

Thanks for the book recommendation, Linn! I'll look into it on Amazon.


This is turning into the thread that wouldn't die ... I didn't think Jeff and I were debating, just throwing ideas around. I see your point, Jeff, about professional skeptics, but I think some of them do it out of pure frustration. I do like to see faith healers taken down, I admit it, and I think a useful service is performed thereby, since a lot of people part with their hard-earned cash in the belief that they'll be healed.

Also, Jeff, you should know that Linn's website will be up soon, and also that she has a blog called Take Yourself Back. and of course Linn is nowhere near intellectually challenged, she just likes to say that because she doesn't like the words "intelligent" or "intellectual."

Look at it this way, both of you: can I really be completely rational if I'm doing NaNoWriMo?? Can a person who's all logic write poems? I don't doubt that I've been influenced by living with a scientist for 41 years, but still ...


Thanks for the nice conversation, Kris, Lynn! I appreciate all of your thoughts on these subjects. The temptation to veer off into silliness in these sorts of discussions is just too much for me to resist, but hopefully no one has been offended too deeply.

Linnie Lou

What fun! Kris, you're a good sport for taking all my shit (you KNOW I am WEIRD!) and of course, you yourself said you are not as rational as you say (or play!) To that I say Yay!
Let the dead bury the dead--well, I buried myself in this shithole called life a long time long long long time ago, and I'm loving every minute of it! Love to you both.
PS You really can bend spoons with your mind when you bang it against your head over and over. I know--I've done it often! ha ha let's laugh and make merry--perennials and annuals alike!


Goodness, Jeff, what could you have said to offend anyone? As Linn says, what fun! Longest comment thread I've ever had, too. I've always wanted to get conversations going in comments but never have luck, probably due to a scarcity of readers! So thanks!


Well, I probably overindulge my sense of humor sometimes. Also, my comments are not entirely appropriate to this forum. This blog is a place where you can write about whatever you like, and since your posts aren't dissertations you shouldn't have to defend them as if they were.

Anyway, I like reading the blog and I'll continue doing so. Keep it up! :)


Jeff -- hah, I loved what you had to say about skeptics and beating a dead horse. Also, your comments are PERFECTLY appropriate here. I wouldn't include a comments option if I didn't want people's opinions! (Well, not trolls, of course.) I've always loved your sense of humor, I thought you knew that.

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