Living without religion: a CFI campaign

The Center for Inquiry has launched a new campaign, “Living without Religion,” that will place ads in Washington, D.C., Houston, and Indianapolis (press release here).

“With this campaign, we are aiming to dispel some myths about the nonreligious,” said Ronald A. Lindsay , CFI president & CEO. “One common myth is that the nonreligious lead empty, meaningless, selfish, self-centered lives. This is not only false, it’s ridiculous. Unfortunately, all too many people accept this myth because that’s what they hear about nonbelievers.”

The campaign was created with the goal to reach different areas of the United States, with a city in the heartland (Indianapolis) and the largest city in the Bible Belt (Houston) supplementing the nation’s capital. Other cities may be added as the campaign progresses.

The campaign website features this video: it’s quite nice, and packs a lot of punch into a minute:

Ooo, that’s so strident!  You might recognize some of the faces in the video; if so, identify them in a comment.

And here’s another ad: I hope they turn it into a bumper sticker:

My only beef: they could have added “to be moral” to that last ad.  My experience has been that the issue of morality is the true sticking point for those considering atheism. Here’s a common view:

We have to hit the morality issue hard; I am in fact writing a piece on it now.  That issue is, however, nicely dealt with on the CFI’s campaign site:

There are some common myths about the nonreligious—atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists. One popular myth is that the nonreligious are immoral, or at least that they can’t be relied upon to be as good as those with religious beliefs. If you know any nonreligious people (and almost everyone does—see below), you already know this is not true. Human decency does not depend on religious belief. There are good believers and good nonbelievers; there are wicked believers and wicked nonbelievers. You can’t predict a person’s moral character just from knowing his or her metaphysical beliefs.

Another prevalent myth is that the lives of the nonreligious are empty, meaningless, and dominated by despair. This, too, is false. The nonreligious experience the same range of emotions, sentiments, and sensations as the religious. They are joyful and sad; they feel sympathy and disgust; they experience pain and pleasure. They have aspirations; they are concerned about others. They love and are loved.

These are simple facts, not subject to dispute.  Sadly, some of our fellow atheists, who rebuke us for pervasive scientism, implicitly disagree.  Or they claim that while we, the big-brained atheists, can find solace in a life without faith, the bulk of humanity can’t. You know the condescending mantra: “religion will always be with us.”  Tell that to the Danes and Swedes!

61 Comments

  1. Simon
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    My wife Melody and I are in it:-)

  2. Posted March 3, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Here’s an an article from the Christian Post that includes a reply from a Christian apologist in which he basically says “Atheists can be happy, but not really moral because they deny the Law Giver. Silly atheists, real morals are for us.”

    Craig Hazen, director of the M.A. Program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University in Southern California, doesn’t disagree that atheists and unbelievers can live decent, fulfilling lives.

    But he argues that there is no grounding for what they’re putting forth.

    “You are talking about joy, and pleasure, and goodness and so on. If you’re employing words like that and you have no objective basis for the reality of those words … in other words, if you don’t believe in a moral law giver who actually gives meaning to the words good and evil, you can … put up billboards all day long and they mean nothing,” he told The Christian Post.

    “What does it mean to do good in a world that’s really just a gigantic accident of matter and energy?” Hazen pointed out.

    “Ha ha” moment is when he claims that he knows what objective morality is.

    • Saikat Biswas
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      “What does it mean to do good in a world that’s really just a gigantic accident of matter and energy?”

      It means we do good for the sake of goodness. It means our urge to do good to others is not subject to celestial instructions.

      • Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        Or, who is more trustworthy: the one who comes to a rational, evidence-based conclusion that doing good is its own reward, or the one who does good so as to avoid infinite torture?

        Cheers,

        b&

    • Dominic
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Ho is using the same terms I would use to describe his ‘religion’.

      Because his religion is so moral –
      “Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give [them] unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.” 2 Samuel 12:11 – Yes, god advocates rape. Funny, I don’t know any atheists who do.

      • Dominic
        Posted March 3, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        He – not ho…

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Is that one of those sophisticated theologians we keep hearing about? I mean, he’s teaching an M.A. program, right?

  3. Sigmund
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    “Tell that to the Danes and Swedes!”
    Well religion is still here in Sweden but it is certainly not the ‘in-your-face’ type of religion that seems pervasive in the US. The idea of a politician being atheist means virtually nothing here. To even bring up the question would be regarded as suspiciously backward as religion is regarded as a private matter.
    Unless, of course, you worship Melanisian frogs!

    • Lars Karlsson
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      I’ve certainly noticed an increase in jokes with religion and religious people as the object being made fun of over the last year or two by colleagues on various workplaces.

      I feared the madness of Islam would make swedes flee to Christianity to get a counter-identity. However luckily it seems the silly little honor killings and muhammed.jpg insanity have put religion in general in a bad light.

      • Chris Slaby
        Posted March 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        This is a truly interesting issue: how has the growing number of Muslim Europeans affected atheism in Europe in relation to secular religious identity? I certainly don’t know the answer; I haven’t even been to Europe in years.

        The case that I know the most about is Geert Wilders and Islam in the Netherlands. While Wilders is an atheist, in the face of what he sees as the threat of Islam (as looney as he might seem, I do generally agree with him about the threat of Islam, though I wish he would not be so reluctant to include all the other supernatural belief systems) he has strongly embraced a Judeo-Christian cultural identity. While he’s not outright promoting Christian or Jewish beliefs or practices, I don’t like that his answer to crazy (i.e., violent, undemocratic, etc.; though to Wilders, all Islam is bad, a claim with which I agree, but that, again, I think should be expanded to simply include all supernatural belief systems) Islam is apparently cultural (i.e., non-crazy/liberal) Christianity or Judaism.

        Lars, I’m glad to hear that the flaws of Islam are being correctly seen as broader problems of religion.

        • Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          Never mind that Islam in the Netherlands is secularizing fast, and is already becoming more of a cultural identity for many. In fact, a lot of the radicalism can probably be seen as a push-back against what some see as the bad Western influence. In the short term there’s going to be friction and problems, but I’m a bit more optimistic on the long term, as long as we can keep people like Wilders from throwing away our liberal ideals. I’m less optimistic about the Middle East though.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 4, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        Before that, I believe, I noticed an open debate here among young students that “hate”, i.e. severely dislike, christianity specifically and religion in general because of all the troubles the church bothers society with, historically and still.

        It is very refreshing, and may I take the opportunity to say to accommodationists that “they wouldn’t be helping and please STFU in the debate”. 😀

    • Helen Wise
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      Religion makes people think stupid things, and act in crazy, frequently dangerous ways. Nothing is as terrifying to me as a religious zealot with power and weapons.

      The sanity of your comment, and others who write that religion has lost, or is losing, its stranglehold on their country is a true source of optimism for me. It’s happening elsewhere. Why not here?

      Sorry. I know this comment doesn’t contribute information.

  4. JBlilie
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Yeah, those immoral, crime-ridden, hell-holes: Denmark and Sweden (not to mention Norway).

    But, when your entire life-style is built around denying the evidence, making such assertions makes sense I suppose.

  5. Posted March 3, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    My only quibble — and it’s a very minor one, all things considered, not worth mentioning outside a gathering of fellow rationalists — is that the phrasing implies that this “God” character really is real and we know it, but we just don’t need him to do the things we do.

    Of course, in practical terms, the fact that there’re as many different gods who go by the name of, “God,” as there are self-proclaimed monotheistic religious sects is completely incomprehensible to…well, the overwhelming majority of the population and 100% of the target audience. And slapping them in the face with the fact that their imaginary friends are naked (and ugly!) would make the CFI ultra-super-mega strident (instead of the merely obnoxiously strident this campaign makes them).

    That’s a long-winded way of writing that I don’t think I or anybody else could have done better, but I wish somebody had the flash of brilliance necessary to do so.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • daveau
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      I would have been happier with “a god” or “gods”, because it does sound as though he’s real, but you don’t really need him. Quibbling, though. I generally like this approach.

    • Chris Slaby
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      An extremely valid point. I always feel like if people simply took a good intro. to anthropology course, they’d quickly realize that religion is a human phenomenon, that is, it’s simply something we make up, along with all the little gods to accompany it. Once people realize that just about every other culture does the same thing to their young–indoctrinating them to believe in their own supernatural beings–then the idea that any one of those stories is true simply becomes preposterous. Worshipping frogs isn’t any less rational than worshipping Jesus and Mary (actually, seeing as frogs currently exist and might serve as a purpose in some peoples lives, it would make more sense, for at least some groups of people, to worship frogs).

  6. daveau
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    “One popular myth is that the nonreligious are immoral, or at least that they can’t be relied upon to be as good as those with religious beliefs.”

    Does that mean we can’t eat roast babies anymore?

    I was never so despairing in my life as when I felt that god had abandoned me. It was almost as though there was no god, and everyone had been lying to me. Obviously a long time ago.

  7. Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    “These are simple facts, not subject to dispute. Sadly, our fellow atheists, who rebuke us for pervasive scientism, implicitly disagree. Or, they claim that the bulk of humanity can’t find solace in a life without faith.”

    I don’t think this is a fair characterization. Accommodationists are asking gnus to hone our message to achieve political goals they largely share with us. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone say that we shouldn’t attack religion because people would be lost without it. They say we shouldn’t attack religion because it creates too much acrimony for what good it does.

    Say what you will about that position, but don’t say that accommodationists believe that atheists are bad people or that theists would be without religion.

    • Helen Wise
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      “Say what you will about that position, but don’t say that accommodationists believe that atheists are bad people or that theists would be without religion.”

      Dr. Coyne did not say this.

      You’ve taken a button and sewn a shirt to it.

      • Posted March 3, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        You’re right that “Or, they [accommodationists] claim that the bulk of humanity can’t find solace in a life without faith” is a far cry from saying that they would “be bad” without faith. I was wrong about that. I am not wrong to point out that accommodationists do not argue the above and it’s an unfair characterization for Coyne to say they do.

        Likewise, the facts that Coyne says the accom’s implicitly disagree with are that atheists are decent, happy people. So, the other half of that sentence (“atheists are bad people”) stands up, afaict.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted March 4, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

          Likewise, the facts that Coyne says the accom’s implicitly disagree with are that atheists are decent, happy people.

          The construction you refer to can be interpreted in several ways.

          Either accommodationists implicitly disagree with that [a long list of] facts are not subject to dispute. This is the simplest explanation, which explains why “pervasive scientism” would be a problem (since it would close off dispute).

          Or accommodationists implicitly disagree with [a long list of] facts. Those facts include the exact opposite of your description, namely the series of claims that “Human decency does not depend on religious belief. There are good believers and good nonbelievers; there are wicked believers and wicked nonbelievers. You can’t predict a person’s moral character just from knowing his or her metaphysical beliefs.”

  8. sailor1031
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    I am so tired of this. In what ways are the religious more moral than non-religious? Fact is most of all us just obey the laws (most of the time) whatever our religious convictions or lack of them. If I see any difference between the behavior of religious and non-religious people it is that non-religious people seem to be less hate-filled and bigoted than some religious. I can’t, for instance, see a Westboro atheist association picketing soldier’s funerals or even babies’ baptisms….

    • Posted March 4, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      The morality is not related to acts nor effects, but source. Source is the definition of morality, not effects nor intention.

      If you don’t have the right source, the Moral Lawgiver, then you are just a bag of molecules accidentally doing good.

  9. Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    The ad has the very unfortunate and confusing wording of “you don’t need God”, which I fear will imply to most people the view that the existence of God is acknowledged, but he isn’t needed. All that phrasing will accomplish is to prompt the smug response that “God doesn’t need YOU either, ha ha.”

    The phrase should be avoided. It’s meant as an abbreviated way of saying something like “you don’t need to believe a nonexistent god”, but religious people aren’t going to understand it that way. This is no place for abbreviations; it’s much better to make it clear exactly what’s meant.

    • Dr. I. Needtob Athe
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Edit: “It’s meant as an abbreviated way of saying something like “you don’t need to believe in a nonexistent god”…

  10. Posted March 3, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I hope eventually in such campaigns we might identify ourselves more positively, namely as those with a naturalistic worldview (naturalists) not “the nonreligious.”

    The otherwise very well written campaign website says things like “We invite you to consider how many people have already found that living without religion provides a foundation for a life that is rich, rewarding, and complete.” More positively: “We invite you to consider that understanding ourselves as fully natural beings provides a foundation for a life that is rich, rewarding, and complete.”

    Of course, some atheists, skeptics and freethinkers might argue that articulating and promoting a positive naturalism is a distraction from the real fight, which is primarily to free the world from the hold of faith-based religions. I agree that that’s an essential objective, but in getting free of faith the positive epistemic alternative that needs to be presented is empiricism, and in accepting empiricism folks tend to end up as naturalists, not supernaturalists. Some might even end up *religious* naturalists, that is, religious in the Einsteinian sense, http://richarddawkins.net/articles/123-religion-einsteinian-or-supernatural

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Ah, but that’s the can of worms. Atheism is something we can all agree upon (and even that gets shakey when the resolute agnostics chime in) but agreeing on a name for the atheists’s world view is far more contentious.

      I agree about the attractiveness of a non-negative definition, though. And I prefer humanist, as to me it speaks more to the “issues” that religion currently presumes to speak to. Naturalism & empiricism seem more like methods to me than philosophies. (Tho they certainly lead to philosophies, at least for some of us.)

      • Posted March 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        Seems to me what’s most in common to the folks here is disbelief in the supernatural, which stated positively is belief that the natural world (nature) is what there is, and that it’s enough. This is worldview naturalism – not a method, but a claim about what exists and its sufficiency for a meaningful, moral and effective human life. But of course many, like yourself, have identity commitments over and above this basic orientation, e.g., humanist, atheist, skeptic, etc. which tend to take precedence. But I don’t see why we need define ourselves collectively via a negative, as “the nonreligious”, instead of in terms of the positive common ground of naturalism.

  11. Posted March 3, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    If you want an inspirational video, James Croft did a really good one a week or two ago. I like the CFI one but I think James’s is even better.

    I’ll find the link…

  12. Teapot
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Its not just Scandinavia, its Britain (and I suspect Aus, Can, NZ, Holland and Germany) too. When I was at school in the 70s and 80s (in a small market town) almost no-one was religious. I remember when I switched schools someone pointing to another kid and saying in an awed whisper “do you know he actually believes what’s in the bible?”. Religion had largely died out, apart from the tribalism in Northern Ireland and West of Scotland (see last night’s Old Firm game).

    It was the Salman Rushdie death threats 20 years ago that woke us up to the fact that religion was being reintroduced by immigration, and it has got worse since. This is why in Britain criticism of religion is often perceived as being racist, precisely because strongly religious people are mostly non-white immigrants.

    I realised recently that I have always assumed that anyone who is white and born after 1945 is non-religious, and its been a pretty good first approximation.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      This is why in Britain criticism of religion is often perceived as being racist…

      That certainly bodes ill for us. Similar criticisms are used to attack abortion rights and population control. Sigh.

  13. FreedToChoose
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    The requirement that to be religious requires a belief in God is a narrow view which ignores the non-theists who are religious call themselves religious.

    Would someone cite a reference that confirms the, as I see it erroneous, premise that one must be a theist to be religious?

    After citing references is part of scientific and rational discourse.

    • Posted March 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Oh, let’s not start a thread about definitions of religion. We tried that on Eric Macdonal’s Choice In Dying blog (er, website).

      I’d actually tend to agree with you, you don’t have to be a god or gods to be religious, in the broadest sense. But what is does it mean to be religious? What is a religion? Some worldviews commonly regarded as religions are looked upon by their adherents to be philosophies. Zen Buddhism, for example, at least according to Alan Watts.

      Which religions would you regard as non-theistic? (Leaving aside deism, pantheism and panentheism.)

      • Posted March 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        PS. And leaving aside contemporary woo like Raelianism.

      • FreedToChoose
        Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        Religious Humanism for one with Unitarian Universalism being theism optional. Confucianism? Taoism? Buddhism?

        Rather than take excessive space here I refer you to Wiki, with the usual reservations for its precision, at

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nontheistic_religions

        My specific point has to do with the Center for Inquiry website livingwithoutreligion.org which leads with “You don’t need God”, a statement which equates God belief with religion.

        In my opinion, the atheist view that all religions are theistic eliminates the non-theistic religious from the discussion which seems to be a rather non-rational position.

        • Posted March 4, 2011 at 3:32 am | Permalink

          I don’t think it’s only an atheist view that all religions are theistic: I think that that is a pervasive view amongst theists, too!

          Some of those you mention are only religions in a very loose (but idiomatically common) sense. As I said before, it depends how you define religion – AC Grayling (Ideas That Matter) notes that “Religion is one of those capricious terms that allow a great variety of definitions.” (hc, p. 311)

          He goes on to say, “One major and central sense is that a religion is a set of beliefs about a supernatural agent of agents, …” (p. 312)

          And, “… Buddhism in its original form is not a religion but a philosophy. The distinction between a religion and a philosophy is important and clear, and applies to other philosophies wrongly described as religions, such as Daoism, Confucianism and Mohism in China, Stoicism in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, and others.” (p. 312)

          So, in part, you fall for this trap!

          I’m not at all sure in what sense Religious Humanism is “religious”. Or (non-theistic) Unitarian Universalism. AC Grayling notes, “real [sic] humanists often note that such folk take religion out of religion while retaining the name for reasons unfathomable, unless the use ‘religion’ as a misnomer for ‘attitude to life’ …” (p. 176)

          It’s interesting to note that

          • Posted March 4, 2011 at 4:09 am | Permalink

            * “… unless they use ‘religion’ as a misnomer for ‘attitude to life’ …”

          • FreedToChoose
            Posted March 5, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

            Excellent point. The issue, then, is what is meant by religion? Terminology changes in every field as new insights form, so too with religion.

            The fact that Secular Humanists make a point of differentiating themselves from Religious Humanists makes an important point. If there is a significant difference of opinion within one body of thought, humanism, it should not surprise us that the differing views across other bodies of thought are even more diverse.

            One of the sticking points in this discussion is that of the supernatural which is dismissed by many of my Christian friends as archaic. Interestingly, Einstein used the term “impenetrable” and said, “To know what is impenetrable to us really exists manifesting itself as the highest wisdom… in this sense I belong to the ranks of devoutly religious men.” (I hope I haven’t edited out substance.)

            It’s simply a question of how we define religion and my preference is to allow every thoughtful persons to form that characterization for themselves.

            • Posted March 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

              the supernatural which is dismissed by many of my Christian friends as archaic.

              In what sense are they Christian, then?

              Surely the divine nature of Christ is central to (non-secular) Christianity? And his resurrection and ascent into heaven? What are their non-supernatural explanations for those?

              • FreedToChoose
                Posted March 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

                “In what sense are they Christian, then?”

                the same way someone is an atheist or humanist, they believe they are and say so. There is no standard for any of these.

                Just as scientific understanding changes, so, too, does religious belief.

              • Posted March 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

                I’ll grant that religious belief can change in the light of scientific understanding, but is patently obvious that that ain’t necessarily so.

                If you friends’ beliefs have changed so much that they dismiss the supernatural as archaic, are they not “Christian atheists” (or, conceivably, “Christian deists”) with a naturalistic worldview?

                But if they self-identify as theistic Christians, which is what “Christian” without a qualifier implies (Nicene creed and all that), then dismissing the supernatural seems to be egregious cognitive dissonance.

                However religious beliefs might change in the face of science, surely theism and naturalism are mutually exclusive?

              • Posted March 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

                (Apologies for multiple ytpnig errors. It’s late.)

              • FreedToChoose
                Posted March 6, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

                We have exhausted the reply levels. A considered response to your point would take too much space here. Suffice it to say that within religion there are many respites, Christianity being one identity which has more places than time and space allow. This began as an issue about the characterization of religion. Specifically the reference to the Council for Secular Humanism which promotes itself as “beyond atheism,beyond agnosticism” and not a religion, which is fine by me. They get to declare their identity. Ironically, humanism has grappled with whether it is a religion since its early days. Secular Humanism is so called to differentiate it from Religious Humanism.

                I suggest a reading of the three Humanist Manifestos, the first of which identifies religious humanism explicitly. It is at http://www.americanhumanist.org/Who_We_Are/About_Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_I

                Humanist Manifesto II categorizes a variety of humanisms. It is at http://www.americanhumanist.org/Who_We_Are/About_Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_II

                And finally, Humanist Manifesto III which makes no mention of religion at http://www.americanhumanist.org/who_we_are/about_humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_III

                Times change, terminology characterizations change. The question is whether we are trying to understand what things are about. (Dang, I hadn’t wanted to take this much space. Sorry.)

            • Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink

              FTC, you seem to have answered a question I didn’t ask. This certainly doesn’t answer the question I did ask.

              — Ant

            • Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:51 am | Permalink

              (Darn it. That wasn’t properly nested.)

              Oh — maybe you’re actually responding to Bryan’s remark, “I think that defining ‘religion’ such that humanism is a religion is unhelpful.” (below).

              • FreedToChoose
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink

                I appreciate your patience. The issue for me may be explained best by my engineering tutor’s persistent question, “What is your reference?” which has been answered by the Dennett reference and illuminated by the Grayling one.

                My first references are the Oxford dictionaries of World Religions and Science.

                Augmenting these are other readings. As for the ‘transcendent’ I don’t think it means supernatural, rather, I like Einstein’s reference to knowing the impenetrable exists and that in this he is a devoutly religious person.

                It seems I am too sensitive to this issue, mainly because I consider myself a religious person, participate in a religious community and find nothing with which to argue in WEIT scientific postings.

                Could it be I am some evolutionary mutant?

              • Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

                In what sense are you religious?

                With all due respect, I think Einstein rather confused the debate: “To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness.”

                Is this the sense in which you’d claim to be religious, as Einstein did: ”In this sense I am religious. ¶ To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.”?

                In this sense, I am too, but I wouldn’t self identify as “religious”. (“Spritual,” perhaps; but that’s another minefield.)

                And it’s a leap to call this worldview a religion. (Except in a metaphorical sense, like football.)

                I don’t think “transcendent” means “supernatural,” either. If you’re suggesting God is transcendent (”existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe”), I can’t see how that can apply to a theistic, intercessionary/interventionist God.

              • FreedToChoose
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

                Response to antallan

                “In what sense are you religious?” begs two references:

                1. Dennett was cited here. I am only familiar with his writings in passing. My reference for the definition of religious reference is William James who wrote, “Religion means the feelings, acts and experiences of individuals in their solitude so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” That is, for me a definition of the religious experience.

                2. A religion, thereby, would be a group wherein that experience is an objective of group and individual practice.

                P.S. As for the idea of God, it has become one of inconsequentiality (if that is a word) to me.

        • Posted March 4, 2011 at 4:06 am | Permalink

          (cont. I accidentally clicked “Post Comment”!)

          It’s interesting to note that some atheistic religions are contiguous with theistic religions, especially Christianity and Judaism (notably absent from the Wikipedia article you cited). I seems to me that these are religions only in the sense that they retain the core philosophies and social structures and practices while eschewing the supernatural foundation of those things. One might make the same comment as in the Grayling quotation about (non-theistic) UU, although in this case the reasons for retaining the label of “religion” are clearer.

          So, it may be possible to rationalize the view that all religions are theistic. While I’ll admit that there are fuzzy boundaries that make things less clear cut, I think the statement is more generally true than you assert. It strikes me that one of the problems is that the overly-broad definition of religion persists in official contexts (eg, on hospital admission forms), where there’s a “What is your religion?” question that often includes non-religious worldviews.

          Those semantic issues aside, however, I’m not sure that it’s fair to criticize the CFI for asserting that “all religions are theistic”. If you look at the goals of the campaign, they are rebutting a specific claim, namely that those who live without religion (atheists, agnostics and secular humanists) have empty, meaningless lives that are dominated by despair – and, I’d say, empirically, this claim is most often leveled at them (us!) by Christians who claim that fulfilled, meaningful lives full of hope and joy are only possible through God.

          In a marketing sense, the slogan is spot on.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted March 4, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

            Moreover, Grayling is glossing over that before “original” buddhism where were original buddhism which was founded precisely as other major religions, with a fable of a founder way before and long away from the first written accounts. I recently learned that the same goes for confusianism, i.e. none of the major “philosophies/religions” have alleged founders that are certified historical persons.

            • Posted March 4, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

              Well, I’ll allow that the founders may not have been historical persons, but that doesn’t detract from their original philosophy-rather-than-religion status. In the narrow sense of “religion”.

        • Bryan
          Posted March 4, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

          I refer you to Wikipedia, with no reservations in this particular case:

          Dennett’s working definition of religions is, “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.” He notes that this definition is “a place to start, not something carved in stone.”

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaking_the_Spell:_Religion_as_a_Natural_Phenomenon#Definition

          • FreedToChoose
            Posted March 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

            Thanks. I was impressed with Breaking the Spell, but found his view of religion to be more narrow than mine which was formed in a fairly progressive Methodist congregation and has changed through the years to become much broader than most.

            It seems the sicking point is w.r.t. the supernatural which I believe was a reference to what Einstein called the impenetrable.

            As for a working definition of religion, my current preference is ‘a way of life’ which is one translation of the Tao, also one view of Jesus saying, “This is the way.”

            • Bryan
              Posted March 6, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

              I like Dennett’s definition because it is the most “non-denominational” I have seen that still retains some meaning. “Way of life”, on the other hand, could mean anything. While you are certainly free to define your terms however you want, I think that defining “religion” such that humanism is a religion is unhelpful.

              • Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:59 am | Permalink

                I agree with Bryan. Partly.

                “While you are certainly free to define your terms however you want…” — Yes, FTC is. But the more idiosyncratic the definition, the less utility they serve in discourse.

                A was amply demonstrated by Mary Helena Basson on Choice In Dying: http://choiceindying.com/2011/01/30/curiouser-and-curiouser/

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

                Clearer MHB: religion means everyone who’s not a psychopath.

                Sheesh!

                Thanks for the crosslink, ant.

  14. Posted March 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    To folks in the UK: If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so: http://census-campaign.org.uk/

    Thanks!

  15. Posted March 4, 2011 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    My only beef: they could have added “to be moral” to that last ad. My experience has been that the issue of morality is the true sticking point for those considering atheism.

    CFI address this issue directly on their website: “One popular myth is that the nonreligious are immoral, or at least that they can’t be relied upon to be as good as those with religious beliefs. If you know any nonreligious people (and almost everyone does—see below), you already know this is not true. Human decency does not depend on religious belief. There are good believers and good nonbelievers; there are wicked believers and wicked nonbelievers. You can’t predict a person’s moral character just from knowing his or her metaphysical beliefs.”

    However, Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, says, ”our message has very little overlap with previous secular campaigns. Those campaigns emphasized that nonbelievers are morally good people and questioned the truth of religious claims. Our campaign does not focus on morality per se or evidence for God.

    Our message is about the lives of the nonreligious, or, put another way, we’re addressing God’s relevance, not God’s existence.” http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/you_dont_need_god_–_to_hope_to_care_to_love_to_live/

  16. Bryan
    Posted March 4, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    I think delusion is more important than moral considerations. The #1 impediment (IMO – it’s an empirical question that I haven’t researched) to naturalism is that people don’t want to die. They not only don’t want to die, they are so ignorant and/or stupid that they think they actually might not die!


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