Many thanks to Alain de Botton for helping with today’s script.

Discussion (82)¬

  1. Jim says:

    Just read the link to the CNN piece… de Botton thinks that religion INSPIRES harmonious society!??

  2. Nassar Ben Houdja says:

    And so it came to pass
    The truth, twisted by cults with no class
    In a tolerant secular state
    There is progress through peaceful debate
    Heresy to those with their heads up their ass

  3. Ron Millam says:

    Actually, they’re still arguing….. only one of them seems to know what “truth” really IS. Barmaid, take a bow……

  4. ddragoonss says:

    De Botton is a fucking joke. I don’t know if he is a real-life troll or just a guy wanting attention and sales for your shitty book.

  5. WalterWalcarpit says:

    AdB does raise some interesting points “Strangers rarely sing together.”is perhaps my favourite: The rare times I attend a service (weddings/funerals) a belter of a hymn is a reward the absence of which is akin to not getting a single favourite song to dance to at a party.
    This BBC piece from a series entitled Soul Music really sums it up:
    If it is a matter of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater then we should take care to rinse off the dogma and soapastition and to bring it up free-thinking rather than thinking-free.

  6. WalterWalcarpit says:

    or perhaps the proverb should be “Not have one’s cake but eat it”

  7. Oozoid says:

    Oh my goodness, De Botton really has crawled right up his own bottom, hasn’t he? Can one be any more egostistical than to pay lip service to religion for the sake of the ‘harmony’ it brings to lesser mortals? Religion an AID to education? Come on! Hymns and temples seem beautiful because they’re designed to manipulate our emotions, not because they’re divine. Observing religious practices without actually believing is shallow, condescending, and manipulative – the sort of prevarication the likes of David Cameron engages in.

  8. FreeFox says:

    I must say, I really like this Atheism 2.0. ^_^ (And no, I’m being honest, not trying to troll.) You have to at least admit that with only around 12% of the world population non-religious and no more than 3% explicitly atheistic*, religion does seem to do some job that people flock to. Must it really be so bad to learn from success, even if it is the success of your enemy?

    I didn’t quite get how AdB says that “truth doesn’t matter” or is willing to compromise with religious doctrine in anyway… if that was Author’s implication. Maybe I just don’t understand how today’s strip and the TED lecture are connected.

    * according to Wikipedia and a 2005 Encyclopædia Britannica survey

  9. BrainLogic says:

    I watched the linked AdB video and offer this translation: If religion says you have to have dessert after every meal, and you become an atheist, it shouldn’t result in you having to always give up dessert. Atheism means you’re free. Pick and choose what you like, regardless of what someone else says is its meaning, and enjoy. Shallow? Not really. Just pragmatic.

  10. Sheila says:

    “We have no mechanisms for expressing gratitude.” “We resist mental exercises.”

    Is he serious? He is obviously speaking for himself, but surely he doesn’t presume to speak for all of us?

  11. noreligion2 says:

    Studying religion is definitely rewarding, but in my opinion only with regard to understanding how memes infect, propagate, and manipulate their hosts.
    Yes, I do “bridle” at being “sermoned.” Tell me a great story, entertain me, teach me or share your life experience and you might have a friend. Patronize me or attempt to seduce me with the promise of membership into the common-lie-believing click, and I will see you as the risk to collective sanity that you are.

  12. durham669 says:

    FreeFox, I completely agree with you. There are aspects of religion that are positive. Right or wrong, religion does provide a feeling of community, a sense of belonging. Can’t we incorporate that into secular society and get rid of the god nonsense? Afterall, we are all in this together.

  13. noreligion2 says:

    durham669, you sound like one of those trotters from the Judean People’s Front.
    Judean People’s Front, COME ON!

  14. FreeFox says:

    @noreligion2: Um. Not to be offensive or anything, but you do realise that you just called a fellow secularist “splinter”, right? I mean, just saying…

  15. FreeFox says:

    Damn, lol… “splitter” of course… ^_^’

  16. Don says:

    Well, that pretty much settles the Barmaid’s identity question.

  17. Don says:


    Perhaps a more relevant statistic would be the the proportion of non-religious in societies where being non-religious is a viable option.

  18. oldebabe says:

    Clever. Each faction of course describing `truth’ as they see it.

  19. noreligion2 says:

    Freefox, I was hoping anyone commenting here at J&M, especially durham669, would appreciate my intentional irony. “We’re all in this together,” was too ripe and low-hanging to ignore. Most of us humanists like to think that way, but realize it is an impossible ideal when dealing with people who live to be offended.

  20. thalio says:

    There is always some distance between an idea and what it strives to represent. Draw a line between the two. The direction moving from the idea to what it represents is what we call truth.

    The problem lies in claiming that truth is up, down, left, or right. That depends, obviously. And anyone holding any particular position can miss this point–be they barmaids, prophets or gods.

    THE truth? It doesn’t exist any more than THE up or THE down do.

  21. Bart says:

    AdB basically starts by saying that atheists say that what religion holds to be true (the faiths) is ridiculous, he then agrees that this is the case but that it’s so ridiculous that it doesn’t interest him (of course by doing this he ignores the issues that atheists are usually addressing; civil rights, scientific literacy and medical aid), and goes on to try answer the question; if you gut all things religious of everything that is either ridiculous and/or nasty do you end up with something or nothing? For him their is something, and that something he thinks is worth exploring for its usefulness, which it may well be. Though in this TED talk I think that he thinks he finds more of value than he actually does, for example his bit about education at best only really applies to higher education.
    I didn’t like his snide way he refers to Dawkins, which is an attempt to ingratiate himself to a particular audience. But I think “atheism 2.0” could be a stepping stone for those leaving religion.

  22. ShaunOTD says:

    @ Freefox – “[since most people aren’t atheists]…religion does seem to do some job that people flock to. Must it really be so bad to learn from success, even if it is the success of your enemy?”

    That rather depends on the means your enemy uses, and the nature of those successes.

  23. FreeFox says:

    @Shaunt OTD: Yeah, it does. If you enemy uses bombs and child rape and suppression of free thought and a loathing of your own impulses, it’s probably wise not to emulate him. And when he achieves fear and ignorance and hatred, then you shouldn’t either. But if he uses awe and wonder, singing and dancing, meditation and integrating the body and the mind to achieve a fuller experience of learning, when he inspires to greatness and beauty, and when he achieves consolation and a sense of belonging and guidance… then maybe it is. Which was, I thought, what was said. As BrainLogic already so perfectly summed up: Do we really have to reject desserts just because the Catholics have it? ^_^

  24. Aw Hell Naw says:

    You know, I initially thought that article might have been remotely interesting. But then I read it and it was composed almost entirely of non sequiturs and straw men. Is anybody else getting really bored of people not being able to argue a point without resorting to them? :/

  25. Are there some aspects of some religions that could be useful? Yes. Are these the exclusive property of religion, some are. Where AdB fails is that he’s assuming these things don’t already exist in society. It’s like he’s looking at all these religious practices and then glancing at “secular” society and completely missing their corollaries because they don’t take place in big buildings with stained glass windows. From a completely secular standpoint (that being not related to religion OR irreligion) there are such things as clubs and bowling leagues, bridge clubs, book clubs, etc, etc, etc. is the modern secular community building tool that gets people together with common interests. Church just happens to be a common interest. He also seems to completely ignore (or perhaps these are those secular attempts he finds “lacking”) the irreligious organizations such as the British and American Humanist Associations (as well as those in other free countries) that is even putting together a chaplaincy. There are “Freethought Fellowships” in various cities, and overall, considering that the irreligious community is a minority, there are quite a few organizations and groups for the irreligious. If you’re weaning yourself off of religion, there are always the Unitarian Universalists where even atheists are welcome and even speak. Many of these organizations have been around for decades if not over a century. On the other hand, just because you don’t believe the tenets doesn’t mean you have to stop going to the church if you like the people as well as the rituals and the imagery. It’s not shallow to do this because there are many rituals even seculars perform that have their roots in superstition. The entire Christmas season is full of them. AdB is obviously missing something, or trying to ingratiate himself with the religious who also don’t seem to think there is anything outside the church that can give them the same satisfaction. Why AdB gets so much backlash from his fellow atheists is because most self-proclaimed atheists, myself included, don’t have any interest in church, and it serves no purpose for them. Many wouldn’t even set foot in a Humanist Community center. We’ve found other ways to fill those needs on our own.

    Another problem is that he’s focusing on atheism here. A truly secular solution would be ignorant of faiths, so a Muslim, a Christian, and an Atheist could find community together. I call these bowling teams.

  26. Dan says:

    Truth matters is a direct part of the definition of truth. It would be fairly useless to define a truth that didn’t matter. How would we test it?

  27. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    You know, over the years I’ve become convinced that the whole ‘church-as-community’ idea is at best overstated, at worst a complete fallacy.*
    I’ve lived in cities, towns and villages, often near to churches of all flavours, and have seen the comings and goings of the congregations. They may have a jolly time inside, with a nice man telling them stories and a bit of a sing-song, but I wasn’t aware of much interaction between the members of the flock on arrival or departure beyond the usual half-hearted hellos and goodbyes. They’re more like a bunch of strangers who happen to be in the same place – like shoppers in a supermarket – than a coming together of community. The only exceptions to this that I’ve noticed tend to be in very small or isolated villages, possibly because in rural areas with a sparse and widely scattered population the local church is as good a place as any for a weekly catch-up.
    *I’m referring chiefly to Christian churches; there tends to be more social interaction outside of the mosques and synagogues.

    Aside from the community aspect, what AdB seems to have forgotten is that the the ‘good’ bits of religion that he thinks we discard along with the bad came from the minds of humans. We didn’t need a god to give us a good moral code, we needed one to blame all the shit on, be that an earthquake or the ordering of the destruction of a rival tribe by a power-hungry megalomaniac (take your pick from the peace-loving guys in the cartoon).
    We still don’t need a god to show us how to be good, but by being prepared to take responsibility for – and have others judge us on – our own actions, we just no longer need a convenient scapegoat.

  28. @FreeFox Picking up a previous conversation that I dropped because of computer problems: My father was fond of saying: “A lie is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, but a great help in times of trouble.” He said this as a joke, but of course it had meaning for him. He was an accomplished liar, but always by omission or misdirection. He was a master at letting you think what he wanted you to think without actually telling a lie. He could have given Bill Clinton lessons.

    I am not in any way a racist, nor am I xenophobic. I’ve lived among all kinds of people, including Muslims, and generally play a game of tit for tat with everybody. I trust people until they give me a good reason not to trust them. This goes for everybody, no matter their skin colour or crazy religious beliefs.
    That said, I think that just as people earn a reputation, groups of people also have a reputation. Some groups, like the Mafia you mentioned, go out of their way to make sure their reputation is intimidating. I suspect that the radical Islamists are likewise very consciously creating a reputation for irrational brutality and violence, because it stops people from openly criticizing them. This obviously works.

    Is it being xenophobic or bigoted to take this reputation into account when dealing with people as a group? This is the question of racial profiling. Is it valid? I really don’t know. I do know that I grew up in a culture in which cheating somebody was considered shameful, not something of which one felt proud. I believe there are other cultures in which if you are offered the opportunity to cheat somebody, and you don’t take it, you are considered a fool. This is part of the culture and teaching. Now, when meeting somebody from that culture, should we not take their culture and teaching into consideration, and treat them with a little bit more than the usual caution?

    Back to my father: As a teenager, he drove a tow truck for a garage. He’d get called out to rescue people with engine trouble. He said that if he towed a Sikh, he’d better get his money before he unhooked their vehicle, or he wasn’t going to get it. This was not xenophobia. This was his direct experience. Was it more than one experience, which he then generalized to the entire population? I don’t know. Was it just that the Sikhs, all of them immigrants, in his part of the world were more criminally inclined than normal in their culture? Again I don’t know.

    I am not a racist or a xenophobe. I will admit to being a culturist, if there is such a word. There are cultures I detest.

  29. FreeFox says:

    “Was it more than one experience, which he then generalized to the entire population? I don’t know.” / “I don’t think I’ll ever trust a Muslim ever again.” / “There are cultures I detest.” Sure. And you have of course every right to your opinion and to detest what you detest. While I have the right to think the position you expressed makes an excellent anecdotal argument against New Atheism and for sth like Atheism 2.0 ^_^

  30. Nibien says:

    As someone with a degree in philosophy with a focus on ethics… Alain de Botton is so far into the Dunning-Kruger effect it’s insane. It’s disgusting.

  31. @FreeFox You have whatever rights you wish to claim, regarding your personal attitudes towards me and my thoughts about things. Taking a sentence such as “I don’t think I’ll ever trust a Muslim ever again,” that far out of context is a good example of quote mining.
    Am I to take it that you are so tolerant and liberal that there are no cultures which offend your sense of…. justice, fairness, rationality, humanity? There are no cultures you detest? I think you are either full of shit, or about to be canonized by somebody. Going to be a tough call who it will be in your case.

  32. FreeFox says:

    “The smiling glee with which the dude relates the story is really chilling. What an asshole. I don’t think I’ll ever trust a Muslim ever again. Does that make me a racist?”
    And there I thought I was sticking right to the context of this conversation. That quote started this particular thread after all. I do not know how much more a quote can lie on the surface and doesn’t need to be mined. ^_^
    I suppose getting canonised has to wait until Hell freezes over. If the myths were literally true, there’d be little doubt where my soul would go in the end. In fact there has been a time when I’d been quite certain that it had been there, briefly. So, no, nothing holy about me. Though having done all the stuff I have done I have a certain amount of sympathy for all other liars, cheats, thieves, scapers, betrayers, oathbreakers, sneaks, leg-breakers, and thugs out there, if only because I know the all too real non-mythic price to their souls.
    Of course is there is a lot in many cultures that offends me, though probably less the justice or rationality bits, both not stuff I hold in too high esteem. But promoting prejudice, cowardice, and ignorance, or prohibitting pleasure or sensuality, curiosity, or hospitality are for example traits in many cultures I very much detest. But as the saying goes, hate the sin and not the sinner. So I really do not detest any entire culture (at least non of those I have actually encountered, well, the Norwegians were a really annoyingly sensible, friendly, rational and practical people), nor do I dislike, mistrust, or otherwise reject anyone just because he is from a particular culture, not even, say, Frenchmen. (Though I detested having to learn their languge in school… ugh) 😛 Quite the contrary, not only am I again and again surprised what great individuals come from the most difficult cultures, I also keep being amazed at the glories and beauty that can be found (especially?) in such difficult cultures, e.g. as Egypt, Romania, Bulgaria or the Roma.
    In addition to that I am indubitably also full of shit. ^_^

    You know, I even think you didn’t really mean what you said about not trusting Muslims per se. (I may be wrong there.) It seemed like you just said it because it was kinda the cool thing to say in that context. But that is exactly the problem I have with this New Atheism stuff. I don’t doubt the factual truth of most of their basic claims, but I have a big problem believing the intent. That was how I understood the truth quote at the beginning of the Atheism 2.0 lecture: Not that he doubted the truth of Atheism, to him that is so self-evident and any especially literal belief in religious myths is so obviously humbug, that it is no longer especially clever to go “but you are wrong, nya-nya-nya-nya-nya”. Like telling a five year old: “And Santa doe-oesn’t exis-ist!” But that it was time to go beyond that petty tribalistic “we won and you lost” chant. (Even in the United States the combined financial power of the Religious Right is unable to stop things like the spread of queer marriage – Washington and Maryland are the next to fall.) And the discussion about Taqiyya was lead mainly in that same petty nya-nya-nya / backslapping spirit that many of these discussions get, and which by its hateful, divisive nature has more in common with the uglier side of redneck conservative religiousness than with the open-mindedness, curiousity and tolerance that should be the spirit of science. (Which makes this thread here so funny in that sproing sense…)

  33. MarkyWarky says:

    I’m not sure I see the problem with what Alain de Botton is saying, at least at the non-detail level. I think it’s self evident from the numbers who subscribe to it, that there’s something about religion that fills a human need or series of needs. I don’t think atheism (or more accurately secularism), has offered much to meet those needs yet (it has for individuals like me, but not for the masses), and so on that level I think he’s right.

    This actually kind of sums up my underlying attitude to religion; if we could have the good bits of it (social structure, a framework for making moral decisions as a society, comfort in times of need, etc), without having to believe or pretend to believe in sky fairies, and without all the negatives, it would be good. It wouldn’t be called religion, but it’d be good none-the-less.

    I do think it’s valid to argue against people’s delusional beliefs, unlike Alain de Botton on the face of it, but I also think we atheists have a responsibility to say what we’d replace the good parts of religion with. In other words I don’t think it’s acceptable to say religion does a lot of good for lots of people, so leave it be, but I DO think saying religious beliefs are untenable, without offering something to fill the same need, is never going to work.

    It makes me extremely sad to think that the human race doesn’t have the intelligence to operate without having these ridiculous beliefs to hang it’s structures on, but the evidence is that it doesn’t, so if we want rid of them we have to have something to replace them.

    Cue lots of people telling me that free thought and freedom from bigotry etc is what replaces religion, and how much happier they are having rejected the fairy tales. Me too, but unfortunately that appears to be good enough for only a minority of humans 🙁

  34. Daoloth says:

    @Marky-Warky. Do you feel that there is anything to be said for Pinker’s thesis that on every scale increased secularism correlates with decreased unpleasantness? In other words–we are doing something right. Although it looks as if the C20th was a supremely bloody one this is because the population was so high. Proportionately it was much less likely that you would be killed in anger. Some traditional hunter-gatherer or horticulturalists have male death rates in combat of nearly 60%

  35. FreeFox says:

    @Daoloth: I always kinda figured it was the other way around. Like, the safer your life (not just from violence, but from hunger, disease, poverty, death), the easier it is to go secular. As long as the world is really threatening it’s kinda hard to give up on God and the afterlife. But if you feel pretty secure, you don’t really need them that much. Which explains why Northwest Europe with the densest social security net has the highest proportion of atheists, while even the US in spite of their wealth and power – but with still a high level of constant threat of poverty and disease – still has a high religious population, and why going south increases the religosity. It might also explain the connection between right wing conservatives, religion, and the opposition to social security systems.
    Of course, there’ll be other factors (such as Communism in Eastern Europe) involved, but this seemed to me always to have the highest correlation.
    It might even suggest that the correlation between smarts and atheism is more co-incidental than directly causal… smart often means well-off, thus secure, which then leads to less need for the supernatural. Of course alternative (rational) explanations for the world also create their own sense of safety: You understand nature better, making it less eerie and you less needy for supernatural help.
    Religion is often tied to a sense of humility – Thy Will Be Done – that corresponds to that helplessness. It’s a way of comming to terms with the cruel unpredictability of fate. Which could indicate one of the few real dangers of secularism: Hubris. Too confident of our mastery over fate, we build towers of babel and thus run the danger of accidentally engineering our own destruction.

  36. archbish says:

    just to throw a spanner in the works remember that the most secularised societies in history – Soviet Russia, North Korea, China, etc. have perpetrated some of the most appalling abuses in history.

  37. bitter lemon says:

    Actually, the truth is out! Not only the internet, but also religion is caused by cats, via their parasites!

  38. Aw Hell Naw says:


    Describing those societies as secular is completely missing the point – they went beyond secular and out the side into the outright dismantling and oppression of religion, which is not the action of a secular state. Furthermore, certainly in the case of North Korea, the countrys’ leaders essentially elevate themselves to godhood and demand worship and obedience; in which case, there is de facto a state religion. That, too, is not how a truly secular state works.

  39. archbish says:

    @Aw Hell Naw

    I’m afraid you miss the point. If the best of religion lies in humanity so does the worst of secularised states. if there is no God we are responsible for good and bad. It’s also a bit bizarre to describe a totally anti-religious state as “beyond secular”

  40. fuzzy says:

    @archbish : An anti-religious state is not a secular state.

  41. archbish says:


    And an islamic state is not the same as a Muslim state.

    I’m afraid you’re just using words to suit your own prejudices in the same way that many religious people use the word “religious” to suit their own prejudices. It’s the same error that people down the ages have fallen into when they describe another group in exclusionist ways. The Muslims are heathen so we can attack them. The Eastern Christians are heretics so we can attack them.

    An anti-religious state may not be what you mean by secular but it is secular according to the definitions of the billions of people who draw the distinction between the religious world and the secular world

  42. Daoloth says:

    Terry Pratchett suggested that there was a desgin fault in human beings: “A tendency to bend at the knees”.

  43. Daoloth says:

    Also, of course, the tendency to “us and them”. I have frequently found a discussion move into tribalism when I have “activated someone’s trap card”. Not that such a thing could ever happen in the hallowed electronic pages of philosophical discussion that Jesus and Mo represents, natch.

  44. MarkyWarky says:

    @Daoloth, yes I think there is SOMETHING to be said for that. I think a lot if not the majority of unpleasantness involves religion on some level or another, so yes, in simple terms more unforced secularism = less unpleasantness.

    But that IS an oversimplification. It’s simply dishonest to claim that there is NOTHING good about religion or the religious, or that it doesn’t fill a need in the majority of people, and so to my mind there must be lessons that secularism can learn from religion. That is the basis of Alain de Botton’s argument I think, though I don’t agree with what he concludes we should do as a result.

    My point is that it’s maybe not enough to argue against religion based on truth – that there obviously is no god of the kind and with the detailed nature that religions claims – we also have to argue it based on “there is an alternative”, so as to satisfy the basic human need/failing that religion fills.

    You can’t tell a religious person that his beliefs are delusional so snap out of it, any more than you can tell a cancer sufferer his tumour is bad so get rid of it; you have to provide a cure.

    @archbish, accepting your rather wide definition of secular for a moment, the difference between the societies you mention and the one I for one would seek is that they were forced secular regimes, without consent from the people, whereas I want everyone to WANT a life free from religion. That’s precisely why I want us to give the religious something (I don’t know what) to replace their religion, rather than just telling them they’re wrong so can’t have it. If I had the ability, I’d want to cure the human race of religion, not ban it.

    And that’s why this all makes me profoundly sad rather than angry; It’s sad beyond words that the race I believe to be supremely intelligent with massive potential for good, is actually so sick that we can’t attain it.

  45. archbish says:

    @markywarky you are right – choice matters. What you do have to be careful about is assuming that religious people don’t choose their religion. As a teacher of RE and philosophy it’s a discussion that crops up time and time again. I find that, although there are many religious folks who just go with the flow – as there are many non-religious folks who don’t think about their atheism/agnosticism/secularism, the vast number age 14+ have freely made a choice and can articulate that choice.

    I also find it interesting that if you use, for example, Ninian Smart’s ideas of the 7 dimensions of religion the BHA is constructing a religion. Just saying.

  46. Micky says:

    Well, Crack Cocaine isn’t all that bad either, let’s focus on all the good it does for the individual’s sense of well being and the redistribution of wealth involved in production and distribution.

  47. Aw Hell Naw says:

    @ archbish No. You can claim otherwise all you like, but the statement is false. A secular state, by the definition of modern secularism, does not seek to oppress religion, seeking instead to provide a level playing field. What you are describing is precisely the opposite, and so it does not matter in the *slightest* what you or however many billion people want to claim; a state which oppresses the religious is NOT acting according to secular values. It really is that simple. Yes, said state might be semi-secular in that it does not allow religion to influence the state, but that hasn’t ever been the sole facet of secularism.

    “If the best of religion lies in humanity so does the worst of secularised states.”
    Yes. It’s high time we grew up and started taking responsibility for when we get things wrong.

    “If there is no God we are responsible for good and bad.”
    Depends what you mean by ‘responsible’. The nonexistence of God does not necessarily preclude the existence of objective morality, if that’s what you mean. If, on the other hand, you mean responsibility literally, then Genesis would certainly have us believe we’re at least responsible for evil; with that in mind I’m not really sure what your point is. We’re certainly responsible for our own actions, though.

    “It’s also a bit bizarre to describe a totally anti-religious state as ‘beyond secular'”
    Not at all – in fact, it’s completely accurate. Secularism is clearly defined so as to completely preclude being anti-religious. If you are anti-religious you by definition breach one of the tenets of secularism, taking it far beyond its remit, while potentially preserving other facets of the system.

  48. Second Thought says:

    Regarding your example of the secularized states of Soviet Russia, North Korea, China and their abuses. Those are all examples of states that had ideologies that pressured people into unquestioning obedience. They all had leaders, past or present, filling much the same role as gods or prophets who delivered ‘the way’ to their people.

    I think that the true danger in any system, political or religious, is when it crushes dissent and questioning. Without questioning there are no checks on power and the powerful can then do terrible things. And its not just the powerful that carry out horrendous abuses under these systems, the common people can step all over each other in the rush or zeal to prove their ideological purity, or just in their trying to protect themselves or their loved ones.

  49. Aw Hell Naw says:

    Ooh, I should clarify that last paragraph – ‘you’ is intended as a brief catch-all term for a state, not an individual. Reading it again, though, that doesn’t come through.

  50. FreeFox says:

    Exactly, Micky: As long as you do not find an alternative solution for the problem of people lacking the individual sense of wellbeing and the need for wealth redistribution… you will never, ever get rid of crack cocaine and all the problems it causes. 30 years of war on drugs have amply proven that. ^_^

  51. MarkyWarky says:

    @archbish, I agree that the majority of adult believers have made a choice (I didn’t suggest otherwise), I dot think it’s generally “free”. How many believers choose a religion that is not the one given to them by their parents or culture? Very few.

    I also don’t agree that they can articulate it. I have never yet met a Christian (I only use Christians as an example because I have little experience of other religions), who can explain their choice in logical terms that stand up to basic scrutiny. In fact, most lapse into all kinds of defensive behaviours when asked too strangely (they would say aggressively) to justify their choice.

    Even those who set out to offer supposedly reasoned arguments for faith, such as Lee Strobel, only ever manage to do so with logic that is only strong enough to satisfy those that want or need to believe. And they are the best of the bunch; try spending some time on Twitter to see the lengths believers will go to to defend their untenable beliefs and avoid true scrutiny!

    It’s even built into most religions and theologies; “until you want to believe you can’t see the evidence”. “God wants you to come to him, not the other way around, so does not offer proof”.

  52. MarkyWarky says:

    “asked too strangely”?? “asked to strongly”, surely!!!!

  53. archbish says:

    @aw hell naw

    Again, you are saying “by the definition of modern secularism.” Seems a paraphrase of humpty dumpty there. “A word means what i mean it to mean – neither more nor less. You are placing your value of a word as of a higher meaning than others. Oh – and I do believe that humans bear responsibility for their choices for good and evil.

    @markywarky – and I hate to say it but so many atheists/agnostics/secularists come to their positions on faith/religion from the same perspective. Very few are able to argue from a rational position – probably because the very basis of faith/non-faith is equally irrational. Bliks are equally a trap for theist and atheist alike.

  54. MarkyWarky says:

    @archbish, how is it irrational to say “until you can provide some verifiable evidence for that which you claim, I don’t accept your proposition”?

  55. Aw Hell Naw says:


    “Again, you are saying “by the definition of modern secularism.” Seems a paraphrase of humpty dumpty there. A word means what i mean it to mean – neither more nor less. You are placing your value of a word as of a higher meaning than others.”
    Erm, *no*. I don’t know how to make this any clearer to you, but I’ll try. Secularism is the separation of church and state, principally defined by the following: The state specifically avoids interfering in the affairs of religion, whether by promoting one or by denigrating any, other than by enforcing laws which apply equally to everybody regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof. This means that the state does not favour one religion over any other or over none at all; nor does it favour a lack of religion. It boils down to nothing more than fair and equal treatment blind to religion wherever possible, and as such completely precludes attempting to abolish or oppress religion. Claim otherwise all you like, but you’re wrong. The difference I highlighted was the difference between secularism in its original form, which required that the state did not restrict religious practice, and its current incarnation, which preserves that requirement but adds the caveat that, conversely, religion may not exercise undue influence on the state.

    “Oh – and I do believe that humans bear responsibility for their choices for good and evil.”
    Oh good 🙂

  56. archbish says:

    @markywarky – if we take the idea of a religious hypothesis then, according to philosophy of science, we take a null hypothesis that there is no God along with the experimental evidence that there is a God. There actually is no verifiable evidence that supports the null hypothesis either.

    @Aw Hell naw Erm No – you are still maintaining that *your* definition of secular is the correct one that excludes all others. You have shifted the definition to support what *you* want to support in much the same way as certain theists constantly shift their definition of the “religious hypothesis” to permit them to discount discussing alternative hypotheses. unfortunately, that is a claim as arrogant as J&Ms claims to truth.

  57. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Archbish, the fact there is no evidence either for or against the god(s) / no-god(s) hypotheses does not make them equally valid, just as the lack of evidence for or against unicorns or fairies doesn’t make it equally probable that unicorns and fairies either do or do not exist.
    I’m sure that you are aware of the difficulties involved in proving a negative, which is why the onus of providing proof is on those making the positive claims, and why the continued lack of positive evidence adds weight to the arguments of those claiming the opposite. Which is why I and many others don’t believe in unicorns, fairies, ghosts, and gods.
    Regarding secularism, it’s you that is ‘shifting’ the definition, Aw Hell Naw is using the term correctly. A secular state is one that allows all religions and favours none, and seperates religion from matters of state; any state that specifically forbids one or all religions is not a secular state, just as a state that disallows the participation of either some or all opposing political groups, or some or all citizens in elections, is not a democratic state.

  58. archbish says:

    @acolyte of Sagan

    My point regarding evidence is merely pointing out that faith/unfaith is experiential and not necessarily rational. The fact is that no-one has provided any evidence to reject or accept either hypothesis highlights a flaw in either shaping the argument or the investigative method.

    As far as the argument over secularism the older meaning of secular is to do with having a non-sacral meaning. Hence, any state that disallows an overt religious dimension is secular. If one doesn’t like the extreme it does not resacralise the state and hence it is still secular. the definition of secular in the terms you and Aw Hell Naw are using is a later, linguistic shift.

    A bit of intellectual honesty would not go amiss here.

  59. fuzzy says:


    As I understand it secularism is state neutrality towards religion. It’s nowt to do with my prejudices.

  60. FreeFox says:

    For crying out loud…

    “remember that the most secularised societies in history – Soviet Russia, North Korea, China, etc. have perpetrated some of the most appalling abuses in history.” (archbish, first comment on this issue)

    “A secular state is a concept of secularism, whereby a state or country purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion/nonreligion over other religions/nonreligion” (Wikipedia, Secular State)

    “Secularism is the principle of separation between government institutions and the persons mandated to represent the State from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. In one sense, secularism may assert the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people within a state that is neutral on matters of belief.” (Wikipedia, Secularism)

    Archbish, face up, you mistook “secularised society” for “atheist state”. But as for atheistic albeit massively ideologically controlled states, yes, they have perpetrated some pretty horrible abuses.

  61. Daoloth says:

    @Markywarky. I take your point about snapping out of delusions. Maybe its a bit like an addiction though? I remember that when I was a smoker I had all kinds of clever reasons to stay as one. Once I stopped they melted away–but I had to be really really sure that I did not want it any more. Never having been religious, I cant be sure–but people I know who have overcome it report similar feelings. The key one being “Wow. I actually do not need this crap any more. How liberating!” However, just as santimonious non-smokers tend to make folk guard their boundaries I wonder if some people who think that they are too strong for religion (when actually they are just following an intellectual fashion) have a similar effect?

  62. FreeFox says:

    @Daoloth: Yeah, they kinda do. ^_^ (Said as a smoker and a religious person…)

  63. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Archbish, as FreeFox said, “For crying out loud”. The whole ‘atheist states’ angle is a hoary old chestnut that has no place in a discussion such as this. All that it proves is that some people don’t feel in need of a god figure to justify their actions – whether or not they see the irony in projecting themselves as all-powerful, patriarchal figureheads very much in the mould of the O.T. God. Doesn’t this sum up the leaders of all the example states you mentioned?

    Daoloth & FreeFox, I tend to find that the mere mention of the word ‘atheist’ is often enough to put people on the defensive, but I agree wholeheartedly that it’s usually the ones that have recently quit that make the most noise, just as the new-born-again Christian can’t wait to tell everybody about it.
    Us long-timers (lifers?) are happy to discuss or debate our positions whilst the newcomers tend to lecture at every opportunity, and will attempt to bring any conversation round to their new pet subject.
    Which reminds me…..the collective conscious….just kidding. 🙂

  64. FreeFox says:

    @AoS: “The whole ‘atheist states’ angle is a hoary old chestnut that has no place in a discussion such as this.” Hmm.. Well, I do think that ostentiously atheist regimes like Stalinism, Maoism, and Fascism did show that it isn’t the atheism per se that is worthy and beneficial, but the only the mindest that originally produced it, of honest sceintific scepticism, openness, curiousity, and awe about the world a it is. Which, going back to de Botton should lead peeps espacially in a place and discussion “such as this” to a bit more willingness to liusten and understand and criticise constructively instead of tribalistic bashing of anyone who says the word “Jehova”, er, “religion”. 🙂

  65. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    FreeFox, I have to admit that sometimes your posts can be so ambiguous that it’s hard to tell whether you agree with a point or not. However, I do hope that I’m not seen as a ‘tribalistic basher’ (and if that doesn’t sound like a euphanism I don’t know what does!); I think that I listen, try to understand, and engage in constructively critical debate.
    Having said that, I do have a problem when somebody professing to be a teacher of R.E. and philosophy -somebody who really should know better- plays the commie / maoist / fascist card as if it’s a relevant point in a debate about secularism. Far from being a ‘spanner in the works’ of an atheistic viewpoint, it’s a red herring, one which could possibly be seen as a borderline violation of ‘Godwin’s Law’. I could understand if it came from one with little or no knowledge of the subject, but for somebody with archbish’s accreditations it smacks of dishonesty; shifting the definition of ‘secular’ to give support to the initial non-sequitur just compounds the error.
    One can only hope that the archbish was merely mischief making, and isn’t quite so conservative with fact in the classroom.

  66. FreeFox says:

    @AoS: Ambiuous? Moi? If you’d told my teachs 5 years ago that I could ever be something even resembling ambiguous, they’d have called you nuts. Confrontative. Opinionated. Bloody-minded. Sure. Tribalistic basher, you know. ^_^ But ambiguous. *rofl* Ah well, it’s been 5 bloody long and eventful years.
    But, um, no. I don’t perceive you generally as very bashing. I was thinking more of the likes of Nibien or ddragoonss. Because, as any scientist worth her salt will confirm, truth isn’t the only thing that matters. Being able to prove it, and doing so in a somewhat neutral way – passionate without being abusive – and actually engaging opposing arguments with regard to their content and not their “allegiance” is just as important.
    I suppose I get annoyed most by comments meant to heap scorn on the opposition, but written obviously to please the gathered, like-minded mob in the hopes of some backslapping gwuaffs. Cowardly. Reminds me too much of high school bullies thinking being queer made me easy pickings, feeling so smugly safe in their group. Or maybe I am just still bloody-minded and confrontative at heart. ^_^

  67. thalio says:

    Forget the secular/religious dichotomy for a minute. What binds Soviet Russia with Jonestown is truth by authority. Unthether truth from evidence and chain it to a book or a person’s edicts and pronouncements and you get the same result whether you call it a secular or religious state. Atheism doesn’t even enter into the question here. The question is–how do you recognize something as truthful.

    Historically it has proved untenable to govern large groups for an extended time from a position that is generally recognized as untruthful.

  68. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Freefox, maybe I should have said ‘deliberately’ ambiguous, And there’s nothing wrong with being bloody-minded and confrontational; the meek may inherit the earth but they have a boring wait!

  69. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    FreeFox, nice one (imagine ‘thumbs-up’ icon here).

  70. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    FreeFox, something I forgot to ask earlier; but toward the start of this thread you referred to a ‘splitter’, the inferrence being that it’s something of an insult. Noreligion2 obviously understood what you meant so maybe I’m just being dense or naive -or both- but I don’t recall coming across the term before in this particular context, so if you wouldn’t mind……?

  71. FreeFox says:

    @AoS: You gotta read the preceeding comments by durham and noreligion and watch the video link in noreligion’s comment immediately before mine. It should become self-apparent. ^_^

  72. Aw Hell Naw says:

    Oh good, I’m glad I could go away for the weekend and someone else would still slap down that ludicrous semantic whinging. Nothing more to say on the matter; I think it’s pretty firmly closed now. We know what secularism is 🙂

  73. MarkyWarky says:

    @archbish, the evidence against gods is the lack of evidence for, and the fact that our observations of the world do not fit the model of god that the religious put forward.

    You mentioned Bliks, but Bliks only exist on a philosophical level; philosophically it’s true (is it though; are you sure?) that nothing can be an absolute fact, but in practical senses there are facts.

    In the case of religion Bliks are simply a tool used to try and place the argument against gods on the same level as the argument for; I can’t prove there are, you can’t prove there aren’t, so we are equal. That simply is not the case because one side of the argument has evidence, while the other does not.

    I cannot prove absolutely that this is a chair I’m sitting on, but I do have evidence that it is, and can show you that evidence, so in all practical senses you’d be wrong to argue that it isn’t. Of course you being you, you’d then argue that it’s only a chair by MY definition, but of course you know full well that that tactic is fallacious.

    Conversely if I claimed to be sitting on an invisible chair, you’d be wrong to accept that without asking for more evidence, and if I couldn’t provide any the sensible conclusion in any other world but philosophy would be that I’m not.

    It’s pretty straightforward, because atheists, or at least this one, are not asking for proof; we are asking for evidence. If you can point me to something that suggests that there are gods of the kind religions describe, then I’ll accept that argument, but there is no such evidence that I’ve seen. Therefore my conclusion is that in all probability there are none. That is a rational position to take, whereas believing in the existence of something complex and highly detailed without evidence, isn’t.

    And no, I’m not setting unattainable standards of evidence, as atheists are often accused of doing. My frustration with the religious is that they never ever bring forward ANY evidence for their detailed descriptions of god that can be taken seriously.

  74. noreligion2 says:

    MarkyWarky, the only description of god that we need to know is that he’s indescribable. Check mate.
    Take a deep-seated personal desire for a projected, human-centric explanation of the cosmos, add equal amounts of semantic smoke and mirrors and a pinch of “a need for certainty”, throw in a touch of nya-nya, nya-nya-nya and an insufferable aversion to logic, and viola, “truth” is born (or more accurately, fabricated). Don’t forget to compliment with a side order of ritual.

  75. Daoloth says:

    @ Archbish (@Markywarky, I think). Thank you for drawing my attention to the concept of blicks. It reminds me of Minsky’s “frames”–the frame problem in AI being how one sets the paramenters of problem solving.
    Religion has been losing explanatory frames pretty rapidly in the teeth of advancing science but the residues are easy to see. For example, I don’t believe anyone has truly experienced the richness of the modern intellectual life until one has had supposedly rational atheists frothing at the mouth at you for suggesting that evolution did not stop at the neck. If you are really lucky they will call upon their uncreated god (“culture” as an explanation).
    It is here–in the moral frame–that religion, and many atheists dig in their heels. “Morality jusy cant be reducible to a natural phenomenon, surely? Why that would make it right for men to behave like animals…you are justifying rape…etc etc etc.” Sigh. Groan.
    Have you seen the debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig on these lines?
    Most of what WLC says is pretty predictable but he does score some hits on Harris re naturalism in morality which he does not follow up–I guess because he is so wedded to a supernaturalism himself. I mean–how could God give us morality–how could she possibly care about our tiny little species coming late in the life of a tiny little planet? Having said this there does need to be some shared foundation for moral arguments.

  76. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    And there was I thinking that ‘bliks’ was what white South Afrikaans called the indiginous population.
    Daoloth, please tell me how we can share a foundation for morals with a non-existant god. It has long been my understanding that our morals developed in line with civilisation, and -to put it very simplistically- were hijacked by the religious to conform with their ‘everything is due to God’ belief.

  77. Daoloth says:

    @AoS. Never could. Never said you could.
    However, most objections to most things are moral ones. However they dress themselves up.
    For example all–and I do mean ALL objections to evolutionary psychology–apart from some highly technical discussions on modularity which are competent to be had by about 37 people on the planet–reduce to Ashley Montagues “Descended from the apes? Let us hope it is not true, but if it is true let us hope it does not become widely known”.
    Oh, people fluff it up with some half-digested pseudo-technical nonsense (thanks Steve Gould for making liberal arts graduates feel entitled to opinions), but the essential horror is “we are aniamls? Ugg!”
    It’s simple. Evolution happened. It happend to every body part. Brains are a body part. Now you can say we are doing it wrong (show us how to do it better). Or you say evolution is false (good luck). Or you can shut up (please, oh please). No other options.
    For the religious the essential idea is “Morals cannot come from us because we are esentially bad”. If you don’t meet them on this ground then you are wasting your time and theirs. I believe that there are ways of doing this–but without knowing why they think the way they do there is little point. Unless you just want to show off your atheist credentials without doing anything except pleasing your acolytes. See PZ Myers passim for details on how to achieve this.

  78. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Daoloth; I see what you’re saying now, I misunderstood your earlier post. Sadly, unless a way can be found to help the religious understand that gods are a human construct and not the other way round, then dialogue is going to be difficult at best. And I know it’s an old argument that they feel themselves at liberty to pick and choose exactly which ‘biblical’ morals to follow and which to pass off as analogy, whilst still claiming to be following their gods’ laws, but being old doesn’t make it any less true.

  79. mandydog says:

    This place needs recommend buttons for those too idle to type ‘I agree’

  80. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    “This place needs recommend buttons for those too idle to type ‘I agree’”
    Or less idle people!


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