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Web Letter

I have been a non-believer since my twelfth year. Evidently, I was not blessed with possession of a "God gene.” I came to my non-belief by my own reason and not as a reaction to any negative experience that left a lasting sense of bitterness toward religious belief.

I have very fond memories of my church-going years. Religion just never made much sense to me--it requires blind belief in so many things that are clearly wrong or that need to be rationalized through hopelessly convoluted logic. Despite the obvious inadequacy of religion to explain the world as it is revealed to us through science, I appreciate that an absence of religious faith can leave a void in the soul (for lack of a better term) that needs to be filled by a rationally based, life affirming worldview.

Such a worldview does not come easily, and may not come at all to most of humanity unless the best minds on the planet address this issue seriously.

I applaud the recent efforts by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens to push back against the resurgence of irrational faith currently gripping much of our nation. However, their protestations often appear rather shrill and may put off many people who might otherwise benefit from their insights. I hope those on either side of the reason vs. faith divide will benefit from Daniel Lazare’s wisdom, so that we may eventually find a satisfying, rational worldview to take the place of religion.

Robert Austin

Seminole, FL

May 11 2007 - 2:29pm

Web Letter

Lazare and Dawkins again and again seize with ignorant delight on the often inconsequential inanities of particular religious beliefs, determined to believe that if some statements about God are silly, God must be too silly to exist.

So both gentlemen restrict their consideration to those formulations of the divine for which they can muster ready refutations, and conclude that if tithing to televangelists doesn't cure cancer, God's not there.

Worse than the specious logic that pretends to let science see outside the universe, there's a childish gloating to the tone and substance of their arguments: "Nyah nyah nyah nyah, I see your underpants," dressed up in adult clothes.

In the quest for some understanding of how reality came to be here, they've contributed a little roadside litter.

David Knapp

Ko Sichang, Chonburi, Thailand

May 11 2007 - 2:12pm

Web Letter

Lazare states: "Atheism is a purely negative ideology, which is its problem. If one does not believe in God, what should one believe in instead?"

First, I would like to address the idea of atheism as a purely negative ideology. What does that mean? To say that you don't believe in someone else's imaginary omnipotent big brother somehow makes a person negatively predisposed? And is Lazare equating negative ideology with pessimism? Why is putting aside a concept that brought us the Crusades, the Holocaust, genocides in countless countries, 9/11, and currently the American neo-hawks "war on terror", stifles human creativity, and subjugates women, such a bad thing? If you have people who unquestioningly believe that "the end is near" and that life after "the end of everything" will be paradise what incentive do they have in trying to make the now any better, or even actively participating in bringing about that end?

Second, why does one have to "believe" in anything? I believe in my love for my family and my desire to make the world a little better before I'm gone. I don't believe in long-white-bearded old men who willingly sacrifice their children because they just won't concede a point concerning the intransigent nature of mankind, does that make me a bad person, or a negative ideologue? If so, so be it.

I am a firm believer that everyone has the right to "believe" (or not) as they choose. But I also think that for the good of mankind burying organized religion of all stripes in a big, unmarked grave is long overdue.

David Hodges

Columbus, OH

May 11 2007 - 7:58am

Web Letter

He could replace today's religion with the one that came before this one. That of pagan procreation, that old time religion that people actually practice.

Every time you fall in love, in lust, work for your kids, strive to make them a better life you are practicing that old time religion. It's something done in every culture across the globe, since time began, it's not some vague wispy spiritual thing, it's real, so normal as not to be recognized as a religion at all. But it is!

Try to envisage your offspring as that which is left behind after you go (a living spirit), left in a better place you helped to create (a living heaven). The real holy trinity of you, your mate, and your offspring.

All creatures practice this religion to the level their intellect allows. No God to offend or defend, no nonbelievers to condemn or kill. The meaning and propose of life is procreation, always has been, always will be from the size of a virus the size of a whale. On any planet in any universe.

That that is, is That that is not, is not Is that it? It is!

Steven T. McCarty

Revere, MA

May 11 2007 - 6:38am

Web Letter

Belief in evolution doesn’t fit the dictionary definition of “religion,” but it is, nevertheless, a core reality-principal that owns its adherents.

This explains why Richard Dawkins’ scorn for Creator-worshippers carries such rhetorical animus--his prickliness radiates from an atheist whose deepest convictions have been defiled.

Ironically, Dawkins’ defensiveness on behalf of his non-deity, Evolutia, points to the power of the “meme” holding his intellect together. “Meme,” a term he coined in 1976, refers to the cultural counterparrts of genes that transfer, like a virus, from one mind to another.

Memetics includes all intellectual concepts and religious beliefs, and so, evolutionist ideology qualifies as a typical mind-virus.

Dawkins’ viral "truth" was present at the post-Big Bang nucleosythesis, an event wired with an intelligence and designfulness to come. It was just a matter of time, so to speak, that the cosmological, hypernatural idiot-savant of selection brought life to lifeless primordial elements, and then spontaneously generated the elegant complexity of the biosphere. One day it hatched an Oxford-schooled scientist and author who became famous for his Creator-trashing Weltanschauung.

His claim, however, that “genes are the master programmers, and they are programming for their lives” seems to indicate he is doomed to fueling Darwin’s time-worship contraption with engineering skills that are not only mental and clever, but irresistibly personifiable.

Dawkins has written, “It may be that brain hardware has co-evolved with the internal virtual worlds that it creates.” That last word is anathema to his scientistism. It desecrates an idea-virus engaged in spreading the belief that the molecules in the font on the page are the authors of meaning.

Bruce Riddington

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

May 11 2007 - 3:07am

Web Letter

Mr. Lazare has written a lot of gibberish. All the criticisms of religious practices and beliefs, past and present are perfectly valid by the religions' own terms.

Very few religious people will stand up for slavery, or stoning adulterers, even though these practices are endorsed by the holy books. Understanding the historical context of old religious texts and prophets and philosophers is an attempt at a rational scientific explanation of the phenomena rather than an affirmation of religious faith.

Religious, faith-based descriptions of the world were the best available for hundreds of thousands of years, but not any more. It used to be reasonable to believe that the Earth is flat, that the sun revolves around the Earth, that miracles happen (commonly).

Atheists admit we don't have all the answers, but through scientific inquiry we are understanding more and more. The atheist writers in question are consistently right on substance. The criticisms are diversionary. Whether you support or oppose the Iraq war, is irrelevant to the irrationality religion.

Andrew March

Phoenix, AZ

May 10 2007 - 11:33pm

Web Letter

An interesting way to frame religion is with the Complexity dichotomy of top-down order/bottom-up process. Examples would be that capitalism is bottom-up process, the corporation is top-down structure. Democracy is bottom-up process, the Republic is top-down down structure.

What monotheism attempts to do is to define reality as top down, with "God" at the top. It is politically valuable, because it validates top down organization, such as monarchy/divine right of kings.

The problem is that organization is focal and thus subjective. Pope John Paul ll described God as "all-knowing absolute," but absolute is basis, as in zero, not apex, as in one. So the spiritual absolute, the source of that elemental sense of awareness, is the basis out of which we rise, not a model of perfection(like Plato's forms) from which we fell.

Both theists and atheists equate consciousness with knowledge: theists because the spirit is assumed to be all-knowing. atheists because they consider consciousness an emergent property of reasonably advanced knowledge.

What if essential awareness is as much a property of biological life as gravity is of mass? It turns two mysteries into one and explains organic behavior to its base?

The top-down model views the conflict of good and bad as a duel between the forces of light and darkness, but actually they are the biological binary code. Single-celled organisms distinguish between what is good for it and what is bad. It is similar to magnetic polarities, in that what is good pulls it together, increases force, nutrition, positive, etc.

What is bad breaks it down, pushes the pieces apart, negative, etc. Compare that to how religion measures good and bad. What holds the community together, gives it positive direction, etc. What's bad divides the community, is unhealthy to its members, etc. Logic rises out of this emotional base when good and bad become yes and no.

The origin of the concept of God was in the notion of the tribe as some larger being, as individual members were born and died.(The Five Stages of Greek Religion, Gilbert Murray) Individuals were like threads in a rope, tying what came before with what came after.

The nonsense was trying to anthropomorphize the entire universe. Even though it gave cover to political order.

John Merryman

Sparks, MD

May 10 2007 - 9:48pm

Web Letter

Daniel Lazare approvingly quotes from Ricard Dawkins's book "The God Delusion". Lazare writes:

Not one for politeness, he [Dawkins] is the sort of fierce logic- chopper who chuckles nastily when coming across what he regards as some particularly choice bit of inanity. Discussing Arius of Alexandria, for example, infamous in certain fourth- century theological circles for maintaining that God and Jesus were not "consubstantial," i.e., not composed of the same substance or essence, you can almost hear him snicker: "What on earth could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What 'substance'? What exactly do you mean by 'essence'? 'Very little' seems the only reasonable reply."

The terms in question come from classical philosophy. Without claiming any great expertise in the subject myself, I think I can help with Dawkins's questions:

A substance is a particular thing, as distinct from a property of a thing: a bird you might see hopping outside your window is a substance, while the color white is not a substance.

Consubstantial just means of the same substance. If you and a friend each took a picture of a bird, and you are comparing them to try to figure out if both pictures are of the same bird, you are trying to figure out if the birds in the pictures are consubstantial.

Essence is the quality or qualities of a thing that make it the kind of thing it is. For example, if a biologist holds that an animal is to be classed as a bird according to whether or not it has feathers, he is holding that the essence of birds is feathers.

Given these meanings, it isn't difficult to understand why Arius stating that Jesus and God were not consubstantial and did not have the same essence would have caused controversy: Arius was stating that Jesus was not God.

Dawkins doesn't understand Arius because Arius used philosophical language in which Dawkins was evidently never educated. That Dawkins regards his own ignorance as a worthy basis for mocking Arius is not something that should give Dawkins's friends any pleasure.

Bowen Simmons

Sunnyvale, CA

May 10 2007 - 7:41pm

Web Letter

I consider that Dawkins suffers from an affliction that appears to infects many scientists: that of being too level-headed to understand when forces other than logic, or physical laws as we know them, are at work.

Poor old chap!

Charles Thornton

Reisterstown, MD

May 10 2007 - 3:03pm

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