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Web Letter

I've been thinking lately on this question of God existing. I even wrote a letter to God on myspace.

He looked better than ever but I never heard back from him. He lived somewhere in Utah and had a voice of sedated tanning butter like Mitt Romney. I hear the Devil is seductive, so my next presidential choice shall be an ugly loser that will get sympathy from people in other countries who hate our guts for bombing the crap out of them.

Well, the right-wingers believe that George W. Bush is God. So if you throw out God, then realize that in this Right-Wing Dictatorship that God is indeed George W. Bush.

We know that the Devil exists (e.g., George W. Bush), so God must exist because without the Devil, there is no God! The whole Good-versus-Evil thing only works if you have forces that are polar opposites. Sort of like George W. Bush being Darth Vader and John Kerry being Luke Skywalker.

Does this make any sense or am I nuts?

May the Force be with us all...

Marina Gipps

Fort Lauderdale, FL

May 14 2007 - 10:58pm

Web Letter

With the growing synergy between politics and religion, there is a lot of sensitivity among all sides, whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, atheist, etc. You either believe that God created the world in six days, or you see that the earth has been around for the past 4-6 billion years...The most sensitive issue of this matter is whether one wants to assert his views on others based on faith which cannot necessarily be proven.

The most significant sign of God would have to be when the Jewish slaves were leaving Egypt as led by Moses, as well as the parting of the Red Sea, and later on, after forty years in the desert, the thunder at Mt. Sinai, which brings upon a more unified consensus than any other religion. Most other religions happen to be man-made, where only one or a few people claimed to have witnessed something miraculous as an act of God, which is not as convincing as up to 2 million Jews who left Egypt to the promised land of Israel to see God give down the Ten Commandments, with Moses as the secretary... In the Jewish bible (Deut. 13), there is warnings about false and dangerous prophets, as has happened with other religions when man makes up his own religion, as what has happened with the Crusades, Inquisitions, suicide bombings and terrorism, which have often been the case in Christianity and Islam....

Furthermore, getting back to how certain beliefs and faiths shouldn't be shoved down people's throats, to say that if one does not believe in a certain thing or being, then he/she is going to "burn in Hell," seems very much like spiritual extortion, and why would such a loving God want to imply that? God inferrably does not change His mind, which doesn't begin or end with Christianity and/or Islam. Aside from there being only "one true path" to God, there are really two, both for Jews and non-Jews/Gentiles. The information for this can be found on http://www.noahide.org. Thus, religion does not need to sell itself, nor play a significant role in making governmental policies. If this isn't correct, then science, common sense and logical reasoning are the remedies for making sense out of our chaotic world. Each individual must be a responsible steward and citizen for their country and world under the right and reasonable circumstances.

Nick Rosen

Great Falls, VA

May 14 2007 - 10:39pm

Web Letter

Maybe it's time we start talking about religion and politics at social gatherings. general ignorance on both subjects seems immense. It's distressing to see otherwise intelligent writers making arguments based on cartoonish stereotypes and a general misunderstanding of their subject material. One should know the various meanings of the term "fundamentalism" before one wishes to dispute its right to exist. One should appreciate the debt intellectual pursuit owes to religion before one disparages the whole phenomenon. I recommend the works of Ken Wilber to anyone seeking to understand evolution in the light of spirituality.

James Altman

Stanley, WI

May 14 2007 - 10:19am

Web Letter

Daniel Lazare would have it that religion had become "a kind of minor entertainment" until we big, bad, sans culotte atheists awoke from an unaccountable fainting spell and began to attack the Holy Writ without giving a thought to what we were going to replace it with. All of us, I suppose, screaming in unison, Ecrasez l'infâame!

What Lazare doesn't seem to get is that there are those of us out here in the boondocks who have never believed in God, don't feel the need to replace him with anything at all and don't feel like we're part of a movement.

I can't speak for Dawkins, Hitchens, Onfray or Eagleton, but I suspect that each of us strays off the road to Damascus on his own. Some of us, like myself, were offroad from the very beginning. When I was 9 a neighbor threw rat poison over my grandmother's fence and my dog ate it. I didn't know what to do so I prayed for him. The poor thing died a lingering, painful death. I concluded that God didn't care or didn't exist. Either way, he didn't matter. Of course, it helped that my parents were atheists. But, honest to God, it didn't occur to me that Robespierre and The Committee of Public Safety were involved or that "La Veuve" was poised above my outstretched neck. Sacré bleu!

Mateo Pardo

Denver, CO

May 14 2007 - 2:02am

Web Letter

Dawkins is an easy target, so I don't begrude Lazare a few shots at him.

However, his criticism of Hitchens's knowledge of history is so transparently silly that only Nation readers who (like Lazare himself, apparently) cannot forgive Hitchens for believing it is a good idea to kill those who want to kill you before they get the chance will buy such rubbish. Hitchens has probably forgotten more history than Lazare will ever know. Does Lazare really think Bush's foolish religious beliefs get a pass from Hitchens? Does he think Hitchens too sees the Iraq War as the triumph of Christ's truth? Can he be that uninformed and dogmatic?

And, in conclusion: Yes, Nietzsche is indeed the philosopher of "angry 16-year-olds" (or whatever Lazare's wooden cliché was)...at least, in the estimation of 17-year-olds who mistakenly believe that, because one more year has passed, they have at last passed beyond all that juvenile stuff and made it to wise intellectual manhood. Intelligent and discerning people of all ages will reckon that 16- and 17-year-olds (and those who think like them) would do better to keep quiet about the value of philosophies they clearly not do even begin to understand.

Alexander Riley

Lewisburg, PA

May 13 2007 - 11:51pm

Web Letter

This article is in my bookmarks. I expect that I will reread it many times. In fact, The Nation is now on my daily reading list due to this article and Mr. Cockburn's article on global warming. Huzzah! A left of center voice that is reasonable, rational, articulate and thought provoking. I've been looking for a long time. I now have a greater appreciation of Diogenes.

I do not pretend to the erudition of Mr. Lazare's nor his command of language so I shall try to be concise without being cryptic. I would like to start with an admittedly simplistic analysis of Dawkins' works then address the logical fallacies of the Neo-Darwinist (not my term) arguments.

Dawkins was initially very compelling in his early works. I believe The Blind Watchmaker was his first. However he was challenged on the basis of information theory by those who have subsequently been termed the "Intelligent Design" school. Their argument was that the genetic variations necessary for speciation were statisically impossible. Most, if not all, observers consider that probabilties of less than one in 10^50 (that's 1 followed by 50 zeros) are, for all practical purpose, impossible.

Dawkins responded in his book Climbing Mount Improbable. He posited that there were "hidden mechanisms" in nature that compelled these improbable changes. I fail to see the distinction between this argument and mysticism.

He furthered this argument in coining the term "meme". This was an attempt to apply Darwin to human experience. He was, in turn, far more vague and far more mystical. I must admit that I have not read his subsequent works. He jumped the shark.

For those of you who are still reading, thank you. My English teacher would be proud. My philosophy professor I'm not so sure of. As promised long ago I turn to the logical fallacies of the militant atheists.

The first of these is most aptly described as "begging the question". The argument presented is that there is a "scientific method" by which we shall judge your arguments. By this standard they reject the truths and insights of Shakespeare, The Bible, Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin, Dante, Donne, Pound, Eliot, Dylan.. the list is endless. This point was made far more eloquently by Mr. Lazare.

The second of these is "guilt by association", although I'm not sure that is the correct classification. See the following. They dwell upon the supposedly ridiculous pronouncements of past theologians to discredit the underlying concepts. I offer phlogiston, craniology,... as a counterpoint. We are all seekers of truth. To disparage serious thinkers is an ad hominem argument.

The last, not really, is a serious assault on reasoned debate. They have moved to the judiciary which is ill equipped to decide these matters. In a case in Pennsylvania they persuaded a judge that "intelligent design" was equivalent to "young earth creationism". I fault the court only in that it did not recognise that this was not adjudicable. ID ("inteligent design") is broadly in agreement with Darwinian evolution. The only disagreement is that Dawkins and others have not provided a logical explanation for speciation.

The far deeper issue is that the Darwinists have no explanation for DNA. The simplest DNA comprises about 700,000 base pairs. Human DNA is about 2 billion base pairs. Sparing the details, the probability of 4 distinct base pairs (amino acids) combining in this fashion is beyond the capabilities of my calculator. The Darwinists say "that's not my field, don't bother me with things I don't want to talk about".

If you are still with me this is a good time to exit. Information theory, which is responsible for our transistion from 300 baud modems to your current cable connection, is a direct descendant of the third law of thermodynamics: entropy. This principle states that all systems tend to disorder. In familiar terms this means that your cocktail will assume a temperature that is somewhere betwen the ice and the libation of your choice. Nowhere in nature do we find a tendency towards organisation except in DNA based biology. See above.

I commend you to bring up Google in your browser and search for "unsolved problems physics". It's a long list. I didn't try "unsolved problems biology". I suspect that I would be informed that they found multiple thousands of pages in 1.7 seconds. The point is that our universe is complex beyond our wildest imagination. Those who suppose that they have answers are naive. Serious theologians are quite straightforward in their admission to this underlying truth.

Roy Lofquist

Titusville, Florida

May 13 2007 - 2:01am

Web Letter

It is understandable that the religious will often attack those who do not subscribe to thier beliefs. Perhaps it is because they realize how flimsy the basis of thier beliefs are. They also realize that many others of the religious do not believe the same things. On the one hand the author claims non believers are hollow without being filled with fantasy. I assure you I don't feel hollow at all. Another claim is that scientism fills that void but anyone who understands science knows that it cannot fill such a void because it in itself is a methodology not a belief. Then there is the claim that non believers have failed to see the great other stated by the religious. Well frankly people who ascribe to themselves special but unprovable knowledge are not particularly a group I would like to join.

The religious spend billions if not trillions to propagate thier beliefs. They try to insure those who don't share thier beliefs do not get political or social power. How many movie heros have been aetheists. Most aetheists don't care what others believe so there aren't billions spent or huge organizations created trying to convert the believers. When authors such as Dawkins publishes they are attacked for reasons that have little to do with thier arguments.

One of the incorrect claims of religion is that it forms the basis of our relationships and morality. The only social/moral institution that is based on the bible is of coarse sharia hardly a system most people would want. If you dissagree reread the old testiment and the places in the new testiment were Jesus states he supports it.

Our morality and social institutions are what's normal for humans. Love, looking after children and the aged come naturally. Unlike the neo-liberal sociopath model, studies show people actually do feel the pain of strangers and that irrespective of culural there is a basic morality built in.

Perhaps more effort should be put into reading Adam Smith's other book. While the basic morality is natural, interpetation does varie. This means there is still room for moral philosophy including Buddha and Jesus. You just don't need some thuggish enforcer ready to send youto hell.

John McEwen

Brampton, Ontario

May 12 2007 - 3:15pm

Web Letter

My nontheism is based on this simple question: Why were the gods very busy meddling in the affairs of humans and making personal visits to the planet until we developed reliable methods of documenting these events?

Robert Minato

Salem, OR

May 12 2007 - 1:00pm

Web Letter

In "Among the Disbelievers," Daniel Lazare grounds the criticism of Richard Dawkins' book with an objectionable and false premise: that those who do not believe in God have a "purely negative ideology"

This is illogical. Would Lazare say that people who don't believe in fairy godmothers have a purely negative ideology? It may be difficult for Lazare to grasp, but in fact, it is perfectly possible for people to live happy, fulfilled and complete lives having accepted that fairy godmothers, tooth fairies, magical wizards and gods of various kinds are fantasies.

By about the age of about six, most children have figured out that Santa Claus doesn't really exist, but nevertheless, they learn that it feels good to give and to make other people happy.

Obviously, people are not tainted by a "negative ideology" having accepted that Santa Claus isn't real. They simply move on, grow up, and make meaning in their lives through their friends and family, without waiting for Santa Claus to come down a chimney and rescue them.

Ditto for God.

Lazare asks: If one does not believe in God, what does one believe instead?" Again, this is a false framework. It starts with the assumption that people who don't believe in God must be "lacking" something or other. They aren't lacking anything at all and in some ways may be even stronger than the believers .

On average, atheists likely possess the same measure of good qualities that God-believers have. They are intelligent, kind, responsible and have great inate capacity for altrustic behavior, even toward those who are total strangers to them. The only difference is that atheists do not need to worship or give credit to a god for that capacity to be intelligent, kind, responsible and altruistic.

In fact, altruism is not even unique to human beings. Studies have shown that individuals in chimp cultures will behave altruistically toward one another too, simply because they have evolved to live, as we have, within complex social groups and in complex social environments where helping one another in times of need is important to the survival of the group, the society and the ecosystem they live in.

Having said all this, I do part ways, at least in some degree, from the authors of the books that Lazare criticizes,

I don't think "spirituality" or a belief in an outside supreme force (be it god or lady luck or angels or whatever) is, in and of itself, necessarily harmful.

It isn't fair for atheists to downgrade or dismiss the feelings of those who say that their religion is a source of great strength. If they feel strongly that they were "saved" by some outside force that they call god, and if they believe their religion motivates them to great action . . . well, atheists don't need to believe it, but should accept that for those people, god is indeed great.

But likewise, religious people have no right to suggest that atheists of lacking in morality or are in some manner flawed because they don't believe in god.

Moreover, the larger problem, until now, has been that atheists have been a little too silent while people in fundamentalist religious groups have used their religion and their false characterizations of atheists as weapons to gain political power and instill their agenda in the classrooms, the courts and systems of government.

That's why authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are now trying to draw atheists out of the closet. The language these authors use may sometimes be extreme, but they do have a point: It is time for that large and silent contingent of non-believers to speak up and make their voices heard too.

Rose Simone

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

May 12 2007 - 1:23am

Web Letter

Interesting article, I enjoy the conversational value of it. Though I have not read these books, I did catch these authors interviews on TV promoting their books.

Dawkins was rather impressive, but Hitchens seemed to come off as intelligent, but way-too-gung ho. Neither of these men speak directly toward my less complicated view of atheism, which I subscribe to.

Simply put, atheism is not a negative, in fact it is religion that is the additive. One doesn't need to believe in anything, there need not be a moral hole left behind in the absence of religious doctrine, or rather morality is not contingent on religious faith.

My doctrine in life is this: "Maximize the Kind, and Minimize the Mean." Why? because it is undeniable that meaness leans heavily toward destructiveness, and kindness leans toward potential growth/good health. A type of Darwinistic think perhaps.

No more complicated than that.

As far as the argument of the destructiveness of religious faith through history...first off, the greater evil is not the faith but power itself (absolute power corrupts absolutely) apart from other elements potentailly aflicting anyone of any belief (religious or athetistic alike). When looking at the crusades, for instance, one must ask oneself what is the breakdown of motives for these popes, how much is religious and how much is simply imperialistic.

George W. Bush would be a great modern case study on this issue. It appears from my outside eye that the answer would fall greatly into the realm of "These idol-worshippers were simply in my way to get control of the oil." "It doesn't matter what group of people that might be, any disagreeable group occupying the Iraqi sands would be my enemy." thus, the motive clearly becoming imperialistic.

As to the followers of these, at times, destructive-acting religions (e.g., the Crusades) is where the real damage is done, but I believe this is aside from religion itself, and just the greater flaw of humanity itself, the easy ability to believe and act on just about anything. The clearest remedy (though not perfect) being to eliminate the philospohy of "additivism" and buy into the doctrine of "Occam's Razor."

Thomas Yarbrough

Oakland, CA

May 11 2007 - 5:30pm

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