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On Secular Fundamentalism

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Posted on Apr 7, 2008
AP photos / left: Gautam Singh / right: Uwe Lein

By Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges, who went to seminary at Harvard Divinity School, is the author of “I Don’t Believe in Atheists.” This essay is adapted from the book, which was inspired in part by Hedges’ debate with Sam Harris.

The battle under way in America is not a battle between religion and science. It is a battle between religious and secular fundamentalists. It is a battle between two groups intoxicated with the utopian and magical belief that humankind can perfect itself and master its destiny. 

We live in an age of faith. We are assured we are advancing as a species toward a world that will be made perfect by reason, technology, science or the second coming of Jesus Christ. Evil can be eradicated. War has been declared on nebulous forces or cultures that stand as impediments to progress. Religion, if you are secular, is blamed for genocide, injustice, persecution, backwardness and intellectual and sexual repression. Secular humanism, if you are born again, is branded as a tool of Satan. 

The folly of humankind, however, is pervasive. It infects all human endeavors. It has not exempted itself from institutional religion or the cult of science and reason. The greatest danger that besets us does not come from believers or atheists. It comes from those who, under the guise of religion, science or reason, imagine that we can free ourselves from the limitations of human nature and perfect the human species.

Those who insist we are morally advancing as a species are deluding themselves. There is nothing in science or human history or human nature to support this idea. Human individuals can make moral advances, as can human societies, but they also make moral reverses. Our personal and collective histories are not linear. We alternate between periods of light and periods of darkness. We can move forward materially, but we do not move forward morally. The belief in collective moral advancement ignores the endemic flaws in human nature as well as the tragic reality of human history. This belief in inevitable moral progress, whether it comes in secular or religious form, is magical thinking. The secular version of this myth peddles fables no less fantastic, and no less delusional, than those preached from many church pulpits. 

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The word utopia was coined by Thomas More in 1516 from the Greek words for no and place. To be a utopian, to live for the creation of a fantastic and unreal world, was to live in no place, to remove oneself from reality. It is only by building an ethic based on reality, one that takes into account the dangers and limits of human nature and human power, that we can begin to adjust our behavior to cope with social and political problems. All utopian schemes of impossible advances and glorious conclusions end in moral squalor, criminality and fanaticism. 

The current “war on terror” by the United States is a utopian vision. It is being fought so that evil can be violently uprooted. Its proponents promise a world that will become “reasonable,” a “civil” world ruled by the “rational” forces of global capitalism. Those who support the “war on terror” speak as if victory in any tangible sense is possible. This noble vision of a world in harmony is used to turn us into criminals, beasts who carry out needless murder and torture in Iraq and our offshore penal colonies in the name of human progress.

The desire for emancipation, universal happiness and prosperity has a seductive pull on the human imagination. It preoccupied the early church, which was infused with exclusivist, utopian sects. We are comforted by the thought that we progress morally as a species. We want things to get better. We want to believe we are moving forward. This hope is more reassuring than reality. But all the signs in our present world point to a coming anarchy, a massive dislocation of populations that will result from ecological devastation and climate change, multiple pollutions, the weight of overpopulation and wars fought over dwindling natural resources. Science, which should be used to address these looming disasters, has largely become a tool of corporations that seek not to protect us but make a profit and stimulate the economy. New technologies that are potentially threatening, such as genetically modified organisms and nanotechnologies, are being unleashed with no understanding of the impact on the biosphere. The global population is expected to jump from about 2 billion in 1930 to 8 or 9 billion in the mid-21st century, and this means that if growth is left unchecked we will no longer be able to sustain ourselves, especially as nations such as China seek the consumption levels of the industrialized nations in Europe and North America. Nearly two-thirds of the life-support services provided to us by nature are already in precipitous decline worldwide. The old wars of conquest, expansion and exploitation will be replaced by wars fought for the basic necessities of air, food, sustainable living conditions and water. And as we race toward this catastrophe, scientists continue to make discoveries, set these discoveries upon us and walk away from the impact. 

The belief that science and reason will save us makes it possible to ignore or minimize these looming catastrophes. We drift toward disaster with the comforting thought that the god of science will intervene on our behalf. It is dispiriting to live in a world where things are not moving forward and will most probably get worse. We prefer to believe that we are the culmination of a process, the end result of centuries of human advancement, rather than creatures trapped in the irrevocable limitations and blunders of human nature. The idea of inevitable progress gives us comfort in times of turmoil. It allows us to place ourselves at the center of creation, to exalt ourselves above others. It translates our narrow self-interest into a universal good. But it is morally irresponsible. It permits us to avert our eyes from reality and place our hopes in an absurdist faith.

The belief that rational and quantifiable disciplines such as science can be used to perfect human society is no less absurd than a belief in magic, angels and divine intervention. Scientific methods, part of the process of changing the material world, are nearly useless in the nebulous world of politics, ideas, values and ethics. But the belief in the possibility of collective moral progress, in our ability to advance as a species spiritually and ethically, is seductive. It is what has doomed populations in the past that have chased after impossible dreams, and it threatens to doom us again. It is, at its core, the enticement that we can be more than human, that we can become gods.


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By Burt Goldstein, May 20, 2010 at 9:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Maani,

I defer to your wisdom with respect to staying on topic, and not drifting off to analogies about gun control!

This leaves me to re-re-wording my point, which I would not blame you for finding tiresome.

HOWEVER, it seems you have once again declined to consider science itself apart from the uses to which it is put. If you have a reason for that, won’t you make it explicit?

Here’s what I mean - you write:

“If ascertaining “factual matters” were the ONLY purpose for which science was applied, then, yes, we could say that.  But since we have already established that science can be and is used for multiple purposes, your statement would only apply to a portion of scientific endeavors.”

My statement requesting you not attribute moral agency to science itself cannot logically apply to a portion of scientific endeavors, since my statement is about science considered as a method, not as applied to a particular endeavor.

Can we agree to call ‘science’ the application of a method to seek the truth? The decision of what truth to seek is a moral decision. Science doesn’t make this sort of decision on its own! So if science is used to make a nuclear weapon that (we might agree) has nothing but an immoral purpose, can we agree science is not to blame for the bomb?

After all, the bomb also took physical labor to assemble it, and the workers had to be physically fit to do their work. To blame science for the bomb is logically the same as blaming physical fitness, isn’t it? (Or is this another bad analogy?)

Again, if you feel there is something mistaken about the way I am trying to separate science from the uses to which it is put, please make clear why.
I apologize if these arguments seem repetitious. I keep hoping I will be able to state my point in such a way that you will respond that it is self-evident. If you feel this is one of those cases where we will have to ‘agree to disagree’, I would rather you tell me we’ve reached that point, than irritate you by going beyond it!

Best wishes,

Burt

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By Maani, May 19, 2010 at 8:37 pm Link to this comment

“When one argues for gun control, isn’t it rather on the basis that it is poor public policy to let the public arm itself, in light of statistics indicating they are more likely to harm themselves - an innocent bystanders - by accident than to defend themselves against intruders, muggers or bears?”

There are so many issues inherent in the Second amendment (not least the very interpretation of its four sentence fragments!) that I hesitate to answer this on a forum about another issue.

“Will you agree that it would have been more correct for you to have written that those who wish to wrap themselves in the mantle of science’s neutrality whenever they use science to achieve their ends are committing a fallacy?”

Yes.

“Isn’t your earlier post conflating science with a particular use to which science is put?”

I have already answered this in my previous post.

“Can’t we just say that science is a method for trying to approach the truth of factual matters, and as such, its value is only to be judged by how well it does that job?”

If ascertaining “factual matters” were the ONLY purpose for which science was applied, then, yes, we could say that.  But since we have already established that science can be and is used for multiple purposes, your statement would only apply to a portion of scientific endeavors.

“It seems you are suggesting the value of science is to be determined by weighing all the good that has been done with it against all the evil. Do you hold that belief?”

Not at all.  That would be a pretty poor way to determine almost anything!

“If not, then will you excuse poor, maligned Science from the wrath you rightly pour upon various evil deeds that have been done with the help of science?”

Only in those instances in which science is or has been undertaken, used for and/or applied in a truly neutral fashion.

Peace.

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By Burt, May 19, 2010 at 7:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Maani,

I am relieved to read in your post today of your agreement that the scientific method is morally neutral.

But you have written earlier (April 8, 3:25pm) in a way that seems to blame science itself for the immoral uses the method is put to.

“Yes, but the military was using SCIENCE to create all of those things.  The point is that science is NOT as “morally neutral” as the scientific community likes to claim.  And yes, one could argue that the inventions themselves are morally neutral, and only become moral issues based on their application or use.  But this argument is as phony as a six-dollar bill: it is the same as saying that it is not guns or bullets that kill people, but people that kill people.”

As a believer in much stricter gun control im America, I find it odd that I should be making the argument that, strictly speaking, the guns themselves are not, in fact, moral actors. When one argues for gun control, isn’t it rather on the basis that it is poor public policy to let the public arm itself, in light of statistics indicating they are more likely to harm themselves - an innocent bystanders - by accident than to defend themselves against intruders, muggers or bears?

Steering away from the analogy, let’s return the issue at hand. WIll you agree that it would have been more correct for you to have written that those who wish to wrap themselves in the mantle of science’s neutrality whenever they use science to achieve their ends are committing a fallacy?

Isn’t your earlier post conflating science with a particular use to which science is put?

Can’t we just say that science is a method for trying to approach the truth of factual matters, and as such, its value is only to be judged by how well it does that job?

It seems you are suggesting the value of science is to be determined by weighing all the good that has been done with it against all the evil. Do you hold that belief?

If not, then will you excuse poor, maligned Science from the wrath you rightly pour upon various evil deeds that have been done with the help of science?

Best wishes,

Burt

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By Maani, May 19, 2010 at 11:09 am Link to this comment

Burt:

“Can we agree the scientific method is morally neutral?”  Happily (LOL), yes.

However, I reiterate that scientists are also human beings with moral and ethical natures.  Thus, when I suggest that “just because scientists CAN do something doesn’t mean they SHOULD do something,” I am quite serious, and am suggesting that while the METHOD is neutral, even “well-meaning” scientists have moral and ethical obligations to the society in which they live.

Peace.

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By Burt, May 19, 2010 at 9:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Maani,

In response to your May 18 post:

I agree that some scientific research is done for immoral purposes. The scientific method itself is, however, ethically and morally neutral. It seems you agree with this, because in an earlier post you seemed to make this point. (Sorry, can’t find that post just now.)

But in your April 8 post, you write:

“Yes, but the military was using SCIENCE to create all of those things.  The point is that science is NOT as “morally neutral” as the scientific community likes to claim.”

I think this way of putting it conflates the scientific method with particular uses to which it is put.

My April 17 post was attempting to write only about the scientific approach to truth, and your response is tangential, as it refers only to particular uses of science, some good, some bad.

When a military official orders or hires a scientist to make poison gas, both he and the scientist can be held morally accountable. (I’m not suggesting it is an easy accounting, given the unknown unknowns in their situation.) Science itself did not decide to make a weapon, and for that reason - among others - is morally neutral.

Can we agree the scientific method is morally neutral?

best wishes,

Burt

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By Maani, May 18, 2010 at 7:40 pm Link to this comment

Burt:

I will grant you that much science is, in fact, both morally and ethically neutral.  And I will further grant you that I may be conflating morality with ethics.

However, it is nevertheless disingenuous to suggest that there is no science that is done specifically for reasons that are NOT ethically or morally netrual.  If the military asks scientists to come up with a particular weapon - nuclear, biological, chemical, etc. - that can hardly be called ethically or morally neutral.  And this type of thing occurs far more frequently than you would seem to be suggesting.

However, even on a non-military basis, what you seem to be calling “ethical/moral neutrality,” I call willful ignorance.  That is, all too much science is done without considering the moral/ethical ramifications.  The old cliche applies here: just because scientists CAN do something does not mean they SHOULD do something.  In this regard, to suggest that all scientists are simply “innocent bystanders” is also disingenous.

Again, yes, you are correct: much, perhaps even most, science is done from a position of moral/ethical neutrality.  However, not all of it is, and, in my opinion, far too much is not.

Peace.

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By Burt Goldstein, May 17, 2010 at 6:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Maani,

I’m back to try to rescue SCIENCE from the rough treatment I feel you have given her, esp. in your April 8 post.

You write: “Yes, but the military was using SCIENCE to create all of those things.  The point is that science is NOT as “morally neutral” as the scientific community likes to claim. “

1.I should be patient and ask you to quote the claim for neutrality you are reacting to. I should be patient and ask you, “Well, how morally neutral do you think SCIENCE is - (if not as neutral as claimed…).

2. While I am waiting to become a more patient person,let me go ahead and dispute your claim right away!

a. Suppose for the sake of argument that military weapons are evil. The fact that the military ‘uses science’ to make weapons doesn’t mean that science itself is evil! The military uses metal to make some weapons. Does that mean METAL is morally bad?

b. If the military used ‘common sense’ to find a way to kill people, would that make “common sense” morally tainted?

c. So far we have been talking about science being used as a means to create a weapon. But even if science was used to justify that end, science itself would still be neutral morally. Even if the military somehow used science to prove that killing people was good (and we somehow knew it was morally bad), this would not be sufficient for us to conclude that SCIENCE itself was not morally neutral. The best you could say was that the scientific method led, on one particular occasion, to a result you disagreed with, either on a scientific basis - or a moral one. 

d. In conclusion, science is neutral morally. Science does not claim to be able to tell us what is morally Good or Evil. Scientific thinking helps you make a bomb, not decide whether it is “moral’ to make it or use it.

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By PorFavor, May 17, 2010 at 2:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Seriously? The comments on this article are EXACTLY what this article, and Hedges, is talking about. Pathetic and hypocritical atheists vs annoying religious fundamentalists. Seriously guys, religion is not harmful. Creationism will never be taught in schools, and atheists are not converting in mass to fight religious people. Chill out.

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By Maani, April 11, 2010 at 9:17 pm Link to this comment

Burt:

I did not “backslide” or suggest that scientists do not have the right to make certain arguments.  What I said was that they do not have the right to make certain arguments SOLELY AND EXCLUSIVELY from SCIENCE - since, as I said, much of faith and religion have little or nothing to do with science, and so demand arguments from other disciplines (psychology, logic, etc.).

“What if a parent wants to teach the child to love Satan and worship him in every way?  As Americans, can we say that parent does not have the right to raise the child according to his beliefs?”

It has nothing to do with being Americans.  No one has the right to interfere with the raising of another person’s child – no matter how repugnant (i.e., spiritually et al) what they are teaching that child may be – as long as that child is being provided with all of their needs and the parents are obeying the laws.  In this case, if the child is well taken care of – and is going to school, and engaging in what we would reasonably consider “normal” activities – then no matter how repulsive it might be that s/he is being taught to worship Satan, no one has the right to directly interfere with the parents.  However,  if other family members, friends, teachers et al believe it is harmful, they can (lovingly) try to disabuse the child of those beliefs – just as we have discussed that anyone has the right to attempt to change another person’s beliefs, as long as it is done in a loving, humble fashion.  But there is a difference between direct interference in child-rearing (particularly by the State) and (loving) attempts to “help” the child.  As an aside, it is worth considering that such “help” may actually backfire: i.e., a child may well grow up to NATURALLY reject his/her parents’ “teaching” in this regard, including via friends, school, etc.  Attempting to interfere at a young age may well end up “pushing” the child even closer to the parents, thus backfiring.

“When can the State decree that teaching a child a belief is a form of child abuse?”  As above, ONLY if and when that child is otherwise (i.e., NOT related to such belief) being neglected or abused, or the parents are in violation of federal, state or local laws re education, etc.

“What if a parent believed God will protect the child so thoroughly that looking both ways before crossing the street would be a form of mistrust of God?”

Although this particular hypothetical is absurd in the extreme, it is nevertheless similar to the Christian Scientists who, until quite recently, believed so heavily in the power of prayer that they would not being their sick children to doctors, and many of those children died.  And if you follow the case law, you will find that more and more frequently the parents are losing those cases on alleged First Amendment grounds because they ARE being found to violate various laws re child neglect, DESPITE their right to freely practice their religion.

As an aside, re your hypotheticals, there is an old saying: if the king had wheels, he’d be a wagon.  LOL.  Hypotheticals are fine when they are reasonable and realistic.  When you get into absurd “ifs,” you make it difficult to make rational comments.

“At some point, wouldn’t we agree that teaching a religious belief could comprise a form of child endangerment, which the State is empowered to act upon?”

As above re Christian Science, the PRACTICING of some beliefs is already being acted upon by the State.  But as for the teaching of those beliefs (or others), I refer to my comment above re when “the State” may and may not interfere (i.e., rarely).

Hope that answers your questions.  And I repeat that I very much encourage, and enjoy, these types of discussions.

Peace.

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By Burt, April 10, 2010 at 6:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Maani,

Well, I think my work here is done. I took objection to your original remarks
denying scientists the right to try to persuade believers to be unbelievers. You
in turn have bought my argument that it is more correct to say the scientists
are making a bad argument than it is to say the scientists do not have a right to
make their argument.

I am dismayed to see you backsliding later in your post by stating that
scientists do not have the right to make certain arguments… Why not use what
you have agreed is the more correct statement of your beliefs - that you
believe the scientists are sometimes making poor arguments, rather than they
have no right to do so.

The issue of civil rights is the only point I have raised with you so far. Civil
rights seem especially important when discussing religious upbringing (and
child-rearing (!) which you bring into the discussion.

I feel as strongly about civil rights as I do about ... the misuse of quotation
marks! BTW, I feel you have articulated well the several proper purposes of
quotation marks in general. But I have not been able to tell when you are
raising an issue with the concept you are enclosing in quotes - or quoting
some source I am unfamiliar with. I propose not using quotes with people we
don’t know well - or just making it obvious what we mean by them.

So what have I gotten myself into? If you do not object, I believe I have gotten
agreement that we all have the right to make arguments about religion - good
arguments as well as bad. But I am strangely dissatisfied with my success. (I
almost put that last word in quotes!)

Now my mind seems to want to find the limits of the right to make the
argument. Especially in the context you just raised. Do we want to limit a
parents’ right to persuade its child of a religious belief? A parent is in a natural
position of authority with a child

What if the parent wants to teach the child to love Satan and worship him in
every way? (I tried to pick an example where you as a believer and I as an
atheist might agree. Are you with me? Or can you think of a better example?)
As Americans, can we say that parent does not have the right to raise the child
according to his beliefs? When can the State decree that teaching a child a
belief is a form of child abuse?

I am known for my absurd hypotheticals - please tell me you can work with the
one I have, so that I don’t propose the following: What if a parent believed God
will protect the child so thoroughly, that looking both ways before crossing the
street would be a form of mistrust of God? At some point, wouldn’t we agree
that teaching a religious belief could comprise a form of child endangerment,
which the State is empowered to act upon. The questions then would be - at
what point? and who decides?

Do we really need to get into this?

I would not feel you are wrong to say we have settled the issue we began
discussing, and leave well enough alone. Perhaps I simply miss being in college
philosophy classes, and should go to night school!

Best wishes,

Burt

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By Maani, April 9, 2010 at 4:23 pm Link to this comment

Burt:

I think you are a bit oversensitive about quotation marks. (LOL)  Although they can be used to denote an “issue” with the quoted word/phrase, they can also be used to signify that (i) one is quoting directly from another, or (ii) the word or phrase being used may or may not be the best one (may be one of several that apply).  I use quotation marks liberally, though I try to elaborate if I am using them in the way you seem to see them.

“Do you object to scientists miscasting religious belief as an object of scientific discourse?”

The short answer is yes.  Again, there is a difference between scientists teaching science vis-à-vis religious belief – e.g., the universe is ~13 billion years old; the earth is ~5 billion years old (and is round, not flat…LOL); dinosaurs and humankind never inhabited the planet at the same time; species evolved from other species (no “special creation”); humankind evolved over time from a common ancestor with the primate/simian species’; etc. – and science attempting to prove/disprove non-scientific matters of “faith” and “religion” (in their broader forms).

Gould’s theory of “non-overlapping magisteria” is a good starting point - though I believe he may have been slightly incorrect; that there is SOME overlap, but not very much.

“Would it not be more correct to say scientists are acting outside their role as scientists when they try to make such an argument, rather than claiming they have no right to make what you think is a bad argument?”

I’ll buy that.

“I am not a scientist.  Do you believe I do not have the right to try to persuade a believer to be a non-believer?”

On the contrary, you most certainly have that right.  And, in fact, so does any scientist - except if such scientist is basing his attempt to persuade SOLELY on science.  Science can (and perhaps should) play a part in such persuasion.  But even a layman such as yourself has the right to use whatever science you know as PART of your attempt to persuade a believer that they are incorrect in their beliefs.  However, since so much of faith and religion has little or nothing to do with science, one would have to have positions/arguments from many other disciplines as well.

“Do you believe a believer – say a teacher or a priest or a parent – has the right to try to persuade a child to believe in God?”

It depends on (i) which one of those people we are talking about (I believe it is different for each), and (ii) what your definition of “persuade” is.  I would never support any form of “forced” “indoctrination” of faith or religion. But, for example, simply raising one’s children “in faith” does not automatically assume such forced indoctrination (though it certainly does exist…in perhaps too many cases…)

I could turn the question around and ask: As a person of faith, should I not be allowed to take my children to church?  Should I not be allowed to teach them about the God that I believe in?  If I am also giving them false facts (the earth is flat, only 10,000 years old, dinosaurs and humans roamed the earth together, etc.), then that would be wrong (though perhaps ignorant rather than consciously dishonest), and I would hope that teachers (one of the groups you note) would correct those facts. [N.B. This might lead to confusion on the part of the child, and possible tension between the parents and the teachers, but I would support the teachers here.  However, that is a separate, and deep and lengthy, discussion.]  But just as atheists have the right to teach their children that God does not exist, so believers have an equal right to teach their children that God does exist.

Finally, I never consider rational debate “obnoxious” (especially when it is done with openness and humility; without rancor, impatience, closed-mindedness, disdain, etc.), and am always encouraged by it, even if the parties ultimately must agree to disagree.

Peace.

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By Burt, April 8, 2010 at 4:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Maani,

Thanks for responding! And I am happy to see you permitted me to persuade
you to remove ‘correct’ from quotes, I presume since you in fact intended to
use the word literally.

But now you have used the word “persuade” in quotes! What am I to make of
this? You do intend the word in its literal sense? Why then is it in quotes?

On a more serious note, thank you for providing a context in which you would
accept me granting scientists the right to try to persuade believers regarding
scientific fact. But since you give no argument (other than the orthography of
capital letters!) for your assertion that scientists do not have the right to try to
persuade believers to become unbelievers, I guess the better part of humility
would be for me to ask you simply - - - why?

Do you object to scientists miscasting religious belief as an object of scientific
discourse? If that’s the case, would it not be more correct to say scientists are
acting outside their role as scientists when they make such an argument, rather
that claiming they have no right to make what you think is a bad argument?

We can get at the same issue by my posing the question this way - I am not a
scientist. do you believe i do not have the right to try to persuade a believer to
be a non-believer?

Do you believe a believer - say a teacher or a priest or a parent - has the right
to try to persuade a child to believe in God?

Again, hoping I am not being obnoxious and wishing you the best,

Burt

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By Maani, April 8, 2010 at 11:56 am Link to this comment

Burt:

I accept your correction re the word “correct.”  LOL.  I will no longer put it in quotations.

However, I disagree with your comment that, “I object to your asserting that scientists don’t have the right to try to persuade believers to be unbelievers. If being a believer means asserting that God exists and has, at least in the past, affected the Earth or human life, it is hard to see how that is not the domain of science. Even if it is not, scientists have the right to try to persuade.”

Yes, scientists have the right to “persuade” believers to BELIEVE SCIENCE FACT.  What they do NOT have the right to do is to persuade them to be UNBELIEVERS.

Your argument would be more supportable if you had said that since believers (particularly Christians and Muslims) are “called upon” to “bring” others to their faith via evangelism, etc., then scientists (and atheists, for that matter) have an equal right to try to “bring” people AWAY from faith-based beliefs to a purely rational-scientific belief.

Personally, I would have no problem with the latter, as long as it was done with the same love and humility that my Christian faith calls me to use in bringing others to the faith (even if that love and humility is admittedly sorely lacking in far too many others of my faith…)

Peace.

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By Burt Goldstein, April 7, 2010 at 11:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Maani,

While I appreciate your granting a ‘right’ for scientists to correct the misconceptions religious believers may have about geology and so on, I wonder why you put ‘correct’ in quotes. It seems you are hedging your bets, and not granting that there are more and less correct views of such topics as whether the Sun goes around the Earth, and whether the Earth was formed 6,000 years ago. Please show you truly grant scientists the right to teach on these subjects by removing your quotes.

I also appreciate your call for less vituperation in the name of being more persuasive. But I object to your asserting that scientists don’t have the right to try to persuade believers to be unbelievers. If being a believer means asserting that God exists and has, at least in the past, affected the Earth or human life, it is hard to see how that is not the domain of science. Even if it is not, scientists have the right to try to persuade. All Americans have this right. For a more professional opinion, may I recommend an enjoyable author - Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment.

Please let’s not use the word ‘right’ lightly, especially when talking about religion.

Hoping to persuade and not offend,

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By MOnger, April 7, 2010 at 3:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

BUnch of Atheist trolls up in here

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By Shenonymous, May 15, 2008 at 8:00 am Link to this comment

Part 2
His attack on the theories of Dawkins, Dennett, et al, is grandstanding at its worst really; his arguments are weakly supported.  His accusation that they are proposing a “meme religion” is ridiculous at best.  If one were to actually read “The Selfish Gene,” chapter 11 to be exact, or Blackmore’s “The Meme Machine.” one with half a mind could see they are likening the transmission of “memeplexes” of religion as how cultural behaviors are exchanged.  It is no more a religion as Darwin’s theory of evolution.  There are no meme churches nor tithing plates to donate money to as do all the religions.  Uh, pardon me.  If it is wanted to call all scientists pastors of their theories then that is an insane stretch of defintion.

Religion has a definite connotation, as a belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers as regarded as creator and governor of the universe.  There is no worship of meme theory just as there is no worship of gene theory.  The fact that there is no worship at all among a growing number of the population must be the classic Shakespearean rub.

Seems like Hedges would like the Dark Ages to return and send science to the hell he invented.

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By Shenonymous, May 15, 2008 at 7:59 am Link to this comment

Since the other forum on Christopher Hedges’ article on Darwin has been closed down for some odd reason, it appears to me not to have been resolved and I am therefore using this somewhat related article to regenerate discussion since there are enough secular humanists in our society to warrant further exploration.  These are my sentiments.

In his good book, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins begins chapter 2, The Replicators, pg. 13 paperback, with the sentence, “In the beginning was simplicity.”  It is the mantra of all good science whether we are talking about the nature of a benzene molecule, string theory, snakes eating their own tails, dark matter, a unified field theory, an uncertainty principle, Darwin’s theory of evolution, a theory of cultural transmission (memes), or the notion of an abstract idea such as Truth.  It would be a good idea to apply it also to any notion of god, which is what actually happened when the change from polytheism to monotheism occurred to the mind of mankind (using the term mankind because it is from the mental devices of men that the idea of god sprang much in the same way that Athena sprang from the mind of Zeus, whole and ready to take on the world, except of course Athena was hidden there by her mother! and it took an ax to let her out of Zeus’s head).  You must pardon this amusing digression.

Christopher Hedges in his usual habit of name dropping historical figures and their possible thinking, offers his usual bargain basement philosophy with a shopping bag full of examples in the Darwin article (and here as well) that cultural traditions are somehow transmitted through some non-rational means in opposition to Richard Dawkins’ completely rational idea of meme conveyance.  Except Hedges exaggerates with unholy exuberance in order to shine brighter than the actually dull thesis he offers.  Such as when he says dark matter can be seen!  See his 2nd paragraph.  He wants to make the case that science is as elusive in its knowledges as theology (we can let philosophy and. every other human endeavors go since we know he is really after exonerating theology).  He sort of takes the Berkeleyan view that if you don’t see it, you don’t know if it really exists.  The problem with Hedges’ comparison is that science knows its limitations and knows it works on inference and implication where as theology thinks is has a grasp of Truth.  Science always leave the door open to questions and evaluation, whereas religion demands faith its dogmas are true. 

Hedges says, with only derivative understanding “There are forces in the universe that will always lie beyond the capacity of the human mind.”  The really big problem is to say that science is no always directly empirical is a fact is incorrect and Hedges’ edifice falls flat on its face.  Nothing is every directly empirical since nothing is ever experienced directly.  Not even oneself!  There is always a “time” delay in cognition of the sense of oneself and all reflections of oneself is thereby delayed.  We are always viewing even the thoughts in our own minds in a historical perspective.  Because it takes “time” for thoughts to travel around the synapes and come to rest in the region of contemplation or if you prefer, reflection.  We never experience the world or ourselves directly except as sensations immediately occur without thought about them.  We are constantly and helplessly inferring ourselves and the world.  We imagine ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves.  Hedges’ eccentricity for religion is to criticize science and scientists imperfectly.  Do with it what you will.

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By fontinalis, May 7, 2008 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment

I like Chris Hedges, I really do.  I find his arguments, even those with which I may disagree, extremely compelling.  Which is why I can’t believe he even authored this piece. Now we can all grant that he’s seen more of the dark side of humanity than anyone deserves, but it seems possible he’s covered a few too many wars up close and personal: he seems to see the next one in the making no matter where he looks.

Now the New Atheists may not have the gritty experience of the weary war correspondent, but I don’t think any serious observer could accuse them of overlooking the subtle insight of, well, the entire expanse of human history in highlighting the dark possibilities of the human heart. Heck, I bet even some of them have read Conrad and Golding. Even if you deny them the intelligence and circumspection afforded by a life split between divinity school and war zones, their minds are certainly free of the naivete—and probably even the optimism—that would allow them to ever entertain the notion of human perfectibility, the prerequisite for Utopian dreaming.

More importantly, Hedges gets in wrong in being right about their inflexible fundamentalism.  They would admit to it freely: in there minds there is no reason to be conciliatory or compromising in insisting the people stop sacrificing chickens and try to dictate universal policy based upon the blood spatters. To them religion is quite simply irrational in the intellectual environment of our day, and they’d like to see that changed.

History certainly bears witness to the short distance between ideological self-certainty and piles of dead bodies.  But if Hedges thinks anyone with the strength of their convictions over what progress means is akin to the great despots of history, he might want to take a break and let someone else cover the next global conflict.

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By Whyzrowl, April 10, 2008 at 6:55 pm Link to this comment
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The thrust of Hedges’ piece is a response to Sam Harris, and should be viewed as part of the evolution of the atheism debate.

The dangers of religion so often cited by today’s atheists were in response to the theist’s argument embodied in Pascal’s Wager, which I’ll crudely summarize as the following: God may/may not exist, but if he does, it’s better to err on the safe side. And what’s the harm in believing in god, anyway? It’s my own business.

What’s the harm? Well, plenty. The current wave of bestselling books by atheists have amply documented the crimes of religion, both to the individual, and to greater society. While many, myself included, don’t think that this is the best argument against religion, since it draws conclusions about the whole based only on the extreme, it was once a show stopper on the debate circuit, and remains an effective argument to some.

The theists countered this argument by claiming that even greater crimes were committed by atheists, citing Stalin’s pogroms as the favorite example. That argument hasn’t gained traction however, since it contains the flaw that these crimes against humanity were not committed in the name of atheism, but for the cause of some other kind of ism - in this case communism, or more properly, communist fundamentalism.

Hedges is now trying to get around this obstacle by using the following syllogistic reasoning: Fundamentalism is a source of evil. Rigidity of thought is a hallmark of fundamentalism. Atheists, because they flatly refuse to accept belief in god, are rigid in their thinking. Therefor atheists are fundamentalists. If fundamentalism is a source of evil, and atheists are fundamentalists, it follows that atheists are a source of evil.

The number of erroneous assumptions in the above argument are such that there is scarcely a true statement contained in it. Yet, incredibly, this is the ‘logic’ that lies at the core of Hedges’ piece.

To my knowledge, nowhere does any outspoken atheist claim to hold the one key to redemption, or the means to achieve the perfect society. I don’t personally know any atheists who would even, if pressed, maintain that the world would be a better place without religion. So who are these atheists, these mad scientists who formulate that the world, minus religion, equals utopia, these secular fundamentalists that Hedges is referring to?

To argue that all forms of fundamentalism are dangerous would merely be wrong. But to claim that atheists are dangerous fundamentalists is worse, it’s intellectually dishonest. It’s like calling a prison warden a kidnapper, or a soldier a murderer. It has about as much interest and importance as arguing that those who boldly insist that the sky is blue are color fundamentalists. By this same silly reasoning, wouldn’t Chris Hedges be an anti-fundamentalist fundamentalist?

Sorry Chris, but this brainchild is dead on arrival.

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By niloroth, April 10, 2008 at 7:30 am Link to this comment

So is it fair to say that you think hedges has “progressed” farther than us in our understanding of progress, which is bad, since moral progress is an illusion, but we do progress in technology, but thats bad, because in order to progress technologically, we need to progress morally, which we can’t do?  And then you end by saying we have to make sure we don’t regress in the name of progressing, but if we can’t progress, and we must not regress, we should all just stay the same way we are now?  So i guess you think that the way we are right now is perfect?  You know, kinda like a utopia?

Sure, you make sense.

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By whyzowl1, April 9, 2008 at 11:46 am Link to this comment

Chris Hedges is writing from a perspective that few achieve and even fewer can grasp. First he’s arguing against the concept of utopianism, which in practice he correctly identifies as a form of self-idolatry. Wouldn’t the world be a keen, technicolor dream if only everybody was just like us? And don’t “they” hold pretty much the same opinion? Of course—it goes without saying.

Secondly, he’s arguing against one of the primary Western Gods: Progress, which is the bastard spawn of both historical and divine determinism. Moral progress is illusory; and technological progress without moral progress just puts infinitely more dangerous tools in the hands of Shakespeare’s Caliban, the Ape Man. What’s happening in the Middle East today is not Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” but, as Gilbert Achcar points out in his fine book of the same name, a “Clash of Barbarisms”—ours against theirs.

His broad argument is that secular utopians are absolutists every bit as dangerous as religious ones, and he’s trying to forewarn and forearm us against the blandishments of both as we head into troubled and turbulent times. The great threat we face—and indeed are experiencing—is a willing regression to an ultimate state of barbarity, all in the name of “progress.” Gawd save us from that.

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By niloroth, April 9, 2008 at 11:12 am Link to this comment

this is now nowhere to be found on the front page, instead they list report articles that date back weeks.  Damage control by truthdig’s staff maybe?

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By niloroth, April 9, 2008 at 7:58 am Link to this comment

” Niloroth says that moral progression is possible and that it has happened.  He cited women’s suffrage and the end to slavery.  First, Hedges isn’t saying that an individual cannot advance morally.  He is saying that a society/civilization as a whole cannot advance morally.”
Uh, what?  So the laws, that we as a society create, are not reflections of the moral outlook of the society as a whole?  Really, thats the argument you and hedges want to go with?  Cause i am rather sure that we now have laws against slavery, murder, and denying people the vote on race or gender.  These are at the same time societies moral choices, backed up by the moral choices of the people.  Simple concept, why can’t you grasp it?

“So, as he says, the country can still go through droughts of morality or lighten up, but we will never advance to the point where we can place our selves higher on the moral scale, like we can do with technology.”
What?  No really, this makes little sense.

“Second, niloroth says that today we live in a much more moral society than 1,000 years ago.  Say that to a mother and father in Iraq whose sons’ bodies have been riddled by machine gun bullets, or to any victims from the bomb in Hiroshima which killed 140,000 people (and was only 60 years ago), or to any victim of Stalin’s big brother dictatorship, or to the jews killed in the Holocaust, or to the genocide in Cambodia.”

The fact that we even find these things morally wrong and strive to work against them, is proof in itself, that we are as a species becoming more based in a positive moral code.  I can support all those things via religion, not so with science and psychology.

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By niloroth, April 9, 2008 at 6:29 am Link to this comment

” All the same, you really have to hand it to Big Science.  An ideology that defines itself in opposition to all other ideologies.  How brilliant was that!”

Wow, that in itself just sums up how off target your entire post is.  You really think that all scientists do all day is sit around and think about what ideology they can disprove?  Sure, thats exactly what they do.

“For starters, if human nature has changed in any fundamental way over the last few millennia, why is it that we turn time and again to ancient texts for our moral instruction?”

You mean the ones that are rife with religiously justified rape, murder, slavery, sacrifice, hate, and delusion about the world around it?  Yeah, sure, lets all do that.  Once again, you are way way off target.  I suggest you go read some of those texts you talk about, they are horrifying in their evil.  don’t get me wrong, there is good as well, but you can’t take one side and ignore the other any more than i can claim the benefits of science and knowledge without facing the pitfalls of the same.  But while science and morality do progress, those old texts of yours stay the same, immutable, and filled with evil.

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By Tom Allen, April 8, 2008 at 10:31 pm Link to this comment
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It is a battle between me and control-freak, power-hungry, egomaniac zealots who want to control what EVERYONE does and thinks, for a tax-free dip into the collection plate, of course.

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By WorkingMan, April 8, 2008 at 10:09 pm Link to this comment
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I’m an admirer of Chris Hedges and my answer when anyone asks me if I believe in God comes from Alan Watts:
  “If you believe in God, I don’t; if you don’t believe in God, I do.”
  Obviously, living in America, I get to use the “I don’t” side of that equation more than the “I do” side.
  And with good reason. Just read today’s local article about a Mega-Church preacher who coerced his female members into sex and then pimped them out to pastors from other churches.
  And although atheist Communism has been responsible for plenty of the 20th century’s body count, my instincts tell me to not trust religion or religious people. And I really want to, but a “danger!” red light starts flashing whenever I get anywhere near a religious person, event, or discussion.
  So when Chris says, “We must face reality, a reality which in the coming decades is going to be bleak and difficult.” I can’t help but think that, for example, a mature discussion of overpopulation would be a great place to start.
  That discussion will never take place, and for mostly religious reasons. At the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 the word “overpopulation” was banned from the discussions so as not to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities.
  Meanwhile, I’ve always admired Mother Theresa, until I heard recently that her religious order of nuns did not dispense pain medication because they believe pain is “ennobling.”
  When John McCain’s friend, the televangelist John Hagee rails about “Neo-Pagan Environmentalism” you get an idea about where many Christians stand on environmental issues, despite a small uprising in recent months by some evangelicals who are having second thoughts about destroying the world around them, a world their descendants will inherit.
  Now, an indictment of religion could go on forever, but what I’m saying here is that the impediments to fixing the problems we face are largely religious. People’s superstitions stand in the way of the radical rethinking that will be necessary to prevent catastrophe.
  Science tells us why, specifically, cutting down the forest harms us. Why breathing certain types of gases and pollution causes asthma and respiratory problems. How the food we eat affects us, and what is the healthiest, most efficient way to produce that food, and so on.
  But, of course, science also builds the nukes, and makes advances that require even greater investments of time, energy and capital, with horrible or at least unknown consequences.
  I guess in the end, science or religion in the wrong hands are equally dangerous. It’s just that there seems to be a real battle in the scientific community about the consequences of its discoveries, while the religious “forces of common sense” are a weak and marginalized minority.

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By colin2626262, April 8, 2008 at 9:56 pm Link to this comment

Chris,

Your article is enlightening but also somewhat disturbing.  There’s pessimism throughout your analysis.  “Evil can be eradicated,” you write with irony, but this should be taken seriously.  Evil truly can be eradicated, moral evil.  You admit that “human individuals can make moral advances,” but then you say “we alternate between periods of light and periods of darkness.”  That’s true.  But the most important section of the Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount, ends with this verse: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  It’s not wrong for human beings to strive for moral perfection, nor is it “magical thinking.” 

There are “endemic flaws in human nature,” such as those which the Ten Commandments forbid, yet it’s not Utopian to fight against these flaws and believe one can win in the end, through faith.  “We want things to get better,” you write, as if this is a dream that will never come true.  But things do get better, for those who believe, for those who actually love God.

You made a mistake in this article.  You said, “We have nothing to fear from those who do or do not believe in God. We have much to fear from those who do not believe in sin.”  Those who do not believe in God are those who do not believe in sin.  So we have everything to fear from those who do not believe in God.  They’re the ones who, in Christ’s words on the cross, “know not what they do.”

I am a sinner.  But I don’t feel I’m “bound and limited” by my flaws, because I can ask God for forgiveness and try to do better, try to make myself, morally, a better person.  You say it’s an “illusion” that the “human species” can better itself morally.  You’re speaking like a Utopian yourself here.  You’re speaking for the whole human race instead of for yourself as an individual within the human race.

“To turn away from God is harmless,” you write, adding that “saints have been trying to do it for centuries.”  That’s not true.  Look at Mother Teresa.  It was revealed that she spent decades in a spiritual darkness where she felt cut off from God, abandoned, even unable to pray.  Yet she kept trying to turn to God, not away from God.  She felt God had abandoned her.  It’s not the saint who turns away from God; it’s the sinner who turns away.  You can’t “turn away from sin” unless you’re facing God.  If you’re turned away from God, you’re facing sin; you’re in sin.  Sin is not something to be lauded, as a reminder of our humanity.  It’s something evil, and it can be eradicated in the soul.  That’s a moral advancement.  If people in the societies of the world are all facing God, turned away from sin, then there can be moral advancement all over the world.  “The kingdom of God is within you,” and yet the kingdom of God can be established on earth.  That’s the whole message of the Gospels.

Some religious people, who are not humble, believe they know the will of God and are free from sin, you write.  This is unfortunate but true.  The religious fundamentalists of today could be compared to the Pharisees, the priests who pray openly and for show, the ones who crucified a man of peace, as related in the story of Jesus.

“The belief that human nature can be improved and perfected . . . is malformed theology,” you say.  Human nature may not be able to be improved or perfected.  But what does it mean to be human?  It means having a soul, not just a body on this earth.  The soul lives through the moral advances it makes day by day, and the moral imperfections it conquers through love of God and one’s neighbor. 

There are “severe limitations” within us and without.  And I agree that we should “face reality.”  To me, reality is God.  If a person faces God, everything will get better, because when you face God, everything is already perfect.

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By WriterOnTheStorm, April 8, 2008 at 9:51 pm Link to this comment

Chris, your political pieces are expressly progressive, so it’s always surprising to me that on the subject of atheism, you sound as though you’re talking with your mouth full of freedom fries. This article has to be just about the butt-ugliest polemic you’ve ever brought to print on TD. Are you really sure you want to claim that because the world is not perfect and can never be perfect, that therefor all efforts at improvement are fruitless and vain? Maybe someone should have told that to Jonas Salk before he went out on a tear and cured polio. Now we got a bunch of smart asses walking around without their crutches and proclaiming that there might just be better way of doing things. A truly disastrous state of affairs.

Are you convinced that employing the straw man fallacy (ascribing beliefs and positions to your opponents that they don’t actually hold, then proceeding to attack those ideas and positions) is the best strategy to win the debate? In doing so, aren’t you engaging in the very same below-the-belt tactics you rail against in your political articles? Isn’t the term ‘radical atheist’ the same kind of thought-terminating phrase you otherwise detest? Phrases like ‘tree hugger’, ‘death tax’, or ‘war on terror’?

There’s a big difference between claiming that there’s only one way to salvation, and having strong convictions about how to better the lot of mankind. I know that you know what the difference is, Chris. Yet here you are insinuating that those who don’t subscribe to god worship represent some sort of wahhabism of the west. So shame on you for this piece. I can understand your frustrations that Harris’ arguments - arguments that shake the very foundations of your raison d’etre - are resonating with so many people. But do really want to stoop so low in opposing them?

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By David, April 8, 2008 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment
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Any critique of Islam, or any other religion, is not racism.  Religion is not exclusive to race. It would be closer to call it regionalism, but even that is not accurate.
A religion which promotes conquest must be vanquished, or it will eventually succeed. So how successful has it been so far?

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By kath cantarella, April 8, 2008 at 8:37 pm Link to this comment
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secular fundamentalism would lose much of it’s raison d’etre.

Everyone should have the right to believe what they want to. But no one should have the right to indoctrinate their children instead of teaching them essential independent and critical thinking, no one should have the right to proselytize and create religious intolerance and the abuse of power through sheer weight of wealth and numbers.

Spirituality is a personal and private thing: your own personal relationship with the universe.

A sense of community is important in the faiths, right? Well, a sense of community is also confounded by faith, when those of us who do not believe are excluded because we do not want to feel the constant and largely unspoken peer-pressure to become believers.

The rest of us have a right to try and protect our societies from negative religious influences, as from those intolerant secularists who would ban all faith and choice.

As far as i can see, the secularists are not the main problem at the present moment.

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By CrysH, April 8, 2008 at 8:28 pm Link to this comment
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ShawnK,

While I agree with the premise of your arguments and I was amused by your observations, I must point out a small flaw in your comments.

Secularist does not necessarily equal scientist.

A scientist, or at least a rational person that respects the scientific method, would not be outraged if a confluence of scientific evidence determined that climate change was not caused by man. A secularist might well staunchly refute the scientific evidence in favor of their personal belief in man-made climate change. Being a secularist doesn’t mean you can’t have blind faith in something. That something just isn’t god.

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By Bboy, April 8, 2008 at 8:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well put. But for man it is impossible, for God nothing is.

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By Bboy, April 8, 2008 at 7:49 pm Link to this comment
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This commentary is the antithisis of intellectual humanism vs. faith in something more than yourself.
And the truth will set the mind free, at ease. For my yoke is easy and burden light. Recognise.

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By rsmatesic, April 8, 2008 at 7:20 pm Link to this comment

Chris:

Thanks for yet another superb piece.  I suppose it’s a testament (no pun) to the depth of your analysis that the majority of responders here feel so threatened that they insist on viciously attacking you, while adding little of substance to the debate.  These people should be strapped to a chair, Clockwork Orange-like, and forced to watch Dr. Strangelove and The Fog of War until something clicks.  And if nothing ever does, well, I guess we can always call Sam Harris and see if he has any idea of what to do with those whose intransigence is surpassed only by their intolerance.

All the same, you really have to hand it to Big Science.  An ideology that defines itself in opposition to all other ideologies.  How brilliant was that!

I think your detractors owe themselves and the rest of us some explanations.  For starters, if human nature has changed in any fundamental way over the last few millennia, why is it that we turn time and again to ancient texts for our moral instruction?  And how is it that the plays of Shakespeare have anything of relevance to say to contemporary audiences, if not for the fact that the same impulses that drove Hamlet also largely predetermine our actions? 

The claim for moral advancement is mostly a hoax.  So what if child labor has been eradicated, when the champions of that cause lose not a wink’s worth of sleep over the million-plus children who have suffered and died as a consequence of U.S.’ actions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

How ironic that your detractors seem oblivious to the cautionary pleas of Albert Einstein, who never mistook technological advance for moral development, and on the contrary warned that we were on a catastrophic trajectory occasioned by our failure, or inherent inability, to evolve morally at the same time that our technology was advancing by leaps and bounds.

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By aelfinn, April 8, 2008 at 6:58 pm Link to this comment

> Notice he doesn’t say some, or a few:
“Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith.”

You’re actually misquoting. To give you the context:

“The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a fantasy, and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge. It is not at all clear how we should proceed in our dialogue with the Muslim world, but deluding ourselves with euphemisms is not the answer. It is now a truism in foreign policy circles that real reform in the Muslim world cannot be imposed from the outside. But it is important to recognize why this is so—it is so because most Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith. Muslims tend to view questions of public policy and global conflict in terms of their affiliation with Islam. And Muslims who don’t view the world in these terms risk being branded as apostates and killed by other Muslims.”

This, and not anything else, is what he means by “deranged”.

> His defense of killing people based on their beliefs

Again, please don’t take your cues from Hedges’ article. The idea you put forward is obviously ludicrous. What Harris actually says is that some people’s beliefs inspire them “to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others”. It is *acts*, not beliefs, that he says we might be justified in defending ourselves against.

> His intolerance of the Islamic religion:
“Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.”

This has nothing to do with intolerance, which is defined as “not to allow the existence of without interference”. You can say he is wrong on this point, maybe that what he says is offensive, but certainly not intolerant.

> His defense of a nuclear first strike

Which Harris calls “an unthinkable crime”. Hardly a defense. He says it *may* be the only option—again, a debatable point, but at least he *argues* for it.

> He says this isn’t racist but I find it to be clearly racist

Then, clearly, you don’t appreciate the definiton of racism, which is discrimination based on, surprisingly, race. Religios denomination does not equal race.

In any case, Harris makes a distinction based on facts in the real world, namely people’s convictions. If, as Harris maintains, war is still an accepted means of doing politics or of furthering a religious agenda, if women and children are denied basic human rights, if the penalty for apostasy is death—then that is an *argument* for saying that “many Muslims” lag behind in their moral development. You may think it is wrong, or you may not. The point is that it is reasonable, is reasonably presented, and can be reasonably discussed.

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By Cat, April 8, 2008 at 6:13 pm Link to this comment

aelfinn,

I have provided all of the quotes to back up my argument:

Notice he doesn’t say some, or a few:
“Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith.”—Sam Harris, Letter To A Christian Nation, p. 85
His defense of killing people based on their beliefs:
“Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people.  If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense.  This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and of innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world.  We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.”—Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p. 53
His intolerance of the Islamic religion:
“Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.”—Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p. 123
His defense of a nuclear first strike:
“What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry?  If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them.  In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own.  Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.”—Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p. 129
He says this isn’t racist but I find it to be clearly racist:
“Any systematic approach to ethics, or to understanding the necessary underpinnings of a civil society, will find many Muslims standing eye-deep in the red barbarity of the fourteenth century.  There are undoubtedly historical and cultural reasons for this, and enough blame to go around, but we should not ignore the fact that we must now confront whole societies whose moral and political development in their treatment of women and children, in their prosecution of war, in their approach to criminal justice, and in their very intuitions about what constitutes cruelty lags behind our own.  This may seem like an unscientific and potentially racist thing to say, but it is neither.  It is not in the least racist, since it is not at all likely that there are biological reasons for the disparities here, and it is unscientific only because science has not yet addressed the moral sphere in a systematic way.”—Sam Harris, The End of Faith, pp. 145-146

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By aelfinn, April 8, 2008 at 5:40 pm Link to this comment

- How do you explain his advocacy of a first nuclear strike on countries in the Middle-East?

Please don’t emulate Chris Hedges’ article. Could you give the book and page number or the page URL where Harris actually said this?

- How do you explain his description as us being the rational western nation that must quell and use force against the irrational forces in the Middle-East? Isn’t that a bit pretentious and, if you look at it closely, racist?

Again, that is your interpretation. Please give a quote from Harris.

- How do you explain his quote that proposes that we kill people on behalf of their beliefs?

By reading what he actually said. If you can’t be bothered to pick up “The End of Faith” to see for yourself, please see Harris’ comment on [www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2].

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By Cat, April 8, 2008 at 5:31 pm Link to this comment

To those of you who support Sam Harris:
-How do you explain his advocacy of a first nuclear strike on countries in the Middle-East?
-How do you explain his description as us being the rational western nation that must quell and use force against the irrational forces in the Middle-East?  Isn’t that a bit pretentious and, if you look at it closely, racist?
-How do you explain his quote that proposes that we kill people on behalf of their beliefs? 

Those of you who criticize Hedges for sinking himself so low in these atheist debates forget that Hedges isn’t after popularity points.  So please stop insulting him and saying that he is “full of shit”.  He isn’t.  He’s a very good author and a well-respected journalist who’s contributed a lot to our newspapers. 

Niloroth says that moral progression is possible and that it has happened.  He cited women’s suffrage and the end to slavery.  First, Hedges isn’t saying that an individual cannot advance morally.  He is saying that a society/civilization as a whole cannot advance morally.  So, as he says, the country can still go through droughts of morality or lighten up, but we will never advance to the point where we can place our selves higher on the moral scale, like we can do with technology.  Second, niloroth says that today we live in a much more moral society than 1,000 years ago.  Say that to a mother and father in Iraq whose sons’ bodies have been riddled by machine gun bullets, or to any victims from the bomb in Hiroshima which killed 140,000 people (and was only 60 years ago), or to any victim of Stalin’s big brother dictatorship, or to the jews killed in the Holocaust, or to the genocide in Cambodia. 

The point is that there will always be evil, and while we may advance in technology and medicine, we also advance in warfare weaponry.

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By aelfinn, April 8, 2008 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment

> … We have much to fear from those who do not believe in sin.

Excuse me? Now you’re freaking me out.

> … The secular utopians from Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris to Daniel Dennett to Christopher Hitchens have also forgotten they are human. Both they and religious fundamentalists peddle absolutes.

Why am I not surprised that, again, you are unable to provide even one instance of any of the above-mentioned people even coming near “peddling absolutes”? I would challenge you to name even one place in e.g. “The God Delusion” or “Breaking the Spell” where the authors “peddle absolutes”. That is, if you have even read those books, which on the evidence presented here one should firmly doubt.

> Those who do not see as they see, speak as they speak and act as they act are worthy only of conversion or eradication.

Kool-aid, indeed. It’s hard to see how Dawkins et al. can be mistaken for Ann Coulter, but this is what must’ve happened here. Stranger things have … uh, come to think of it, they haven’t.

> … atheist writers … They too seek to destroy those who do not conform to their vision.

This is actually libellous. Also, making Ann Coulter seem to fall into the sane category is decidedly creepy.

> “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them,” Sam Harris writes.

That certainly sounds bad. Care to explain the context in which Harris wrote this, Mr Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist? What a disgrace this text is to our profession. It’s acutally in the quote itself: “otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing … in self-defense”. Which part of self-defense did you not understand? As Harris has made abundantly clear (cf. http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2), “Whenever we can capture and imprison jihadists, we should. But in most cases this is impossible.” That is certainly a debatable point, at least the second part. But your treatment of it is a joke.

> Harris and the other atheist authors mistake a tiny subset of criminals and terrorists for 1 billion Muslims. They justify the unjustifiable in the name of civilization.

Are you fucking kidding us? Dawkins et al. justify, as you say below, “suffering and death”? I suppose if you could produce even a shred of evidence for this moronic claim, you would have. (And here I am explicitly excepting Hitchens’ support for the Iraq war, which I suppose is pretty schizophrenic.)

> Religious fundamentalists pervert and distort religion … Atheists do the same with science and reason. … These atheists and Christian radicals have built squalid little belief systems that are in the service of themselves and their own power. They urge us forward into a nonreality-based world, one where force and violence, where self-exaltation and blind nationalism, are an unquestioned good.

Spot-on for Bush and his kleptocracy. As for atheists (all of them??), might I suggest you have your head examined? Alternatively, you could actually *read* Dawkins and Dennett. Again, on the evidence presented here, one must conclude you haven’t so far. They in fact say the exact opposite of what you allege they say. (Or, to quote Captain Edmund Blackadder: “Tell me, have you ever visited the planet Earth, sir?”)

> The atheists, in the end, offer us a new version of an old and dangerous faith. It is one we have seen before. It is one we must fight.

On the contrary. It is public idiocy that we must fight, for an open, democratic society depends on the prevailing of reason and rationality, not the twisted delusions of this or that fringe group.

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By aelfinn, April 8, 2008 at 5:02 pm Link to this comment

> The desire for emancipation, universal happiness and prosperity has a seductive pull on the human imagination. It preoccupied the early church, which was infused with exclusivist, utopian sects. [yatta-yatta-yatta] Nearly two-thirds of the life-support services provided to us by nature are already in precipitous decline worldwide. The old wars of conquest, expansion and exploitation will be replaced by wars fought for the basic necessities of air, food, sustainable living conditions and water.

Is there a point to all this?

> And as we race toward this catastrophe scientists continue to make discoveries, set these discoveries upon us and walk away from the impact. The belief that science and reason will save us makes it possible to ignore or minimize these looming catastrophes. We drift toward disaster with the comforting thought that the god of science will intervene on our behalf.

“Disingenuous” is perhaps the most benign description for this … dare I say idea? If anyone alerted us to the imminent dangers in the first place, it was science and reason. In any case, what is the alternative to science and reason? Do you expect us to *pray* for climate change to go away? Good luck with that!

> It is dispiriting to live in a world where things are not moving forward and will most probably get worse. We prefer to believe that we are the culmination of a process, the end result of centuries of human advancement, rather than creatures trapped in the irrevocable limitations and blunders of human nature. The idea of inevitable progress gives us comfort in times of turmoil. It allows us to place ourselves at the center of creation, to exalt ourselves above others. It translates our narrow self-interest into a universal good. But it is morally irresponsible. It permits us to avert our eyes from reality and place our hopes in an absurdist faith.

If anybody believed such nonsense, you would certainly be correct. A psychologist would undoubtedly make much of the fact that Chris Hedges seems to take this drivel seriously.

> The belief that rational and quantifiable disciplines such as science can be used to perfect human society is no less absurd than a belief in magic, angels and divine intervention.

If we’re to suppose that this is at all to the point, then you’re apparently suggesting that rationalists and atheists have such a desire. I have to admit, Dawkins’s choice of the word “delusion” suddenly makes a hell of a lot of sense. What’s more, you recognised the absurdity of the thought but had no qualms about ascribing it to your opponents. Again, I should add, without any evidence whatever. If that isn’t intellectually bankrupt, I don’t know what is.

> Scientific methods, part of the process of changing the material world, are nearly useless in the nebulous world of politics, ideas, values and ethics.

Bollocks. If politics and ideas are subject to reality, then scientific thinking and rationality are the only proven tools at humans’ disposal for making informed choices. For those of us living in the real world, that is.

> … It is what has doomed populations in the past that have chased after impossible dreams, and it threatens to doom us again.

Tell that to the anti-slavery movements in America, democratic forces in pre-Enlightenment France, or to Gandhi shaking off the British Empire.

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By aelfinn, April 8, 2008 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment

What an astonishingly sub-standard article. Any text like this would fail my writing classes for violating the most basic principles of argumentation, not to mention journalistic and scientific writing standards. Most egregiously, throughout the piece Hedges alleges that unnamed people or unspecified groups of people have said things he doesn’t even bother to specify; and when he actually deigns to give specific names, throwing around allegations of breathtaking inanity, there is just one single quote from Sam Harris to back them up. That this shoddy piece of writing was ever published leaves me speechless. Well, almost.

> The battle under way in America is not a battle between religion and science. It is a battle between religious and secular fundamentalists. It is a battle between two groups intoxicated with the utopian and magical belief that humankind can perfect itself and master its destiny.

In matters of faith, we’re supposed to take an elder’s word for whatever they say. Not so in discussion. What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

> … We are assured we are advancing as a species toward a world that will be made perfect by reason, technology, science or the second coming of Jesus Christ. Evil can be eradicated. …

Mistakes have been made, I assume. If you cannot or will not say who you think said these things, you can’t be expected to be taken seriously in any rational discussion.

> Those who insist we are morally advancing as a species are deluding themselves. There is nothing in science or human history or human nature to support this idea.

Heaven forbid, because that would torpedo your argument, so it can’t be true.

> Human individuals can make moral advances, as can human societies, but they also make moral reverses. Our personal and collective histories are not linear. We alternate between periods of light and periods of darkness. We can move forward materially, but we do not move forward morally. The belief in collective moral advancement ignores the endemic flaws in human nature as well as the tragic reality of human history. This belief in inevitable moral progress, whether it comes in secular or religious form, is magical thinking.

Ten assertions without any evidence whatsoever. Respect!

> The secular version of this myth peddles fables no less fantastic, and no less delusional, than those preached from many church pulpits.

Where the “secular version of this myth” can certainly be considerd a myth itself — at least as long it is beneath Mr Hedges to even give a *reason* for believing what he says, let alone evidence.

> … The current “war on terror” by the United States is a utopian vision. It is being fought so that evil can be violently uprooted. Its proponents promise a world that will become “reasonable,” a “civil” world ruled by the “rational” forces of global capitalism.

Nicely done. This underhand conflation of rationality and its proponents with the propaganda war on terror would make any sleight-of-hand artist turn green with envy.

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By ShawnK, April 8, 2008 at 4:46 pm Link to this comment

Part 2

Or maybe this is the most absurd line in this article:
“The belief that rational and quantifiable disciplines such as science can be used to perfect human society is no less absurd than a belief in magic…”
firstly, scientists have never made any claims about perfecting human society or reaching some perfect knowledge. scientific method exists to rationally pursue answers about things we arent sure of, and makes no claims of what we are trying to achieve when we find them out, so you are talking about a position here which scientists do not hold.
secondly, humanity’s increase in lifespan, productivity, happiness, and quality of life can all be attributed to science, not magic. hundreds of years of very hard work in questioning how nature works without presuppositions is what has revealed to us how to harness electricity and use microprocessors. 2000 years of prayer to jesus has done nothing.
if there is such a thing as moral progress in society (which science neither claims there is nor is not), it is going to be achieved through open-mindedness and rational thinking.
On the beginning of page 2, Hedges goes on to talk about sin as some legitimate concept, So it was really a struggle for me to keep the page open or read past that. so if you want to be taken seriously on that part, Chris, please define human sin for me.

“The belief that human nature can be improved and perfected, that we are moving throughout history toward a glorious culmination, is malformed theology”

i would like to believe that human nature can be improved. perhaps if everyone believed that, then it could be? no one is making claims about perfecting human nature except for the religiously deluded. how is my desire to make a better world a malformed theology, since no god is involved? it is about personal responsibility and compassion, not ‘the god of science’!

chalk up another straw-man:
“Any form of knowledge that claims to be absolute ceases to be knowledge. It is a form of faith.”
scientists and rational thinkers do not claim this position… they would agree with you! The very basis of what scientific theories are is that they are models to explain our world that are open to change based on new data! no one claims scientific knowledge to be ‘absolute’ in the philosophical sense! He is talking about a position which rational thinkers do not have.

“These two groups peddle the myth that we can conquer human nature, overcome our imperfections and build the perfect society.”
no, they don’t. scientific thinking makes no claims about the nature of humanity, period. it seeks relative answers for us rather than accepting made-up ones like religions or chris hedges provide.

I think this article is really deserving of a point-by-point obliteration, but this post is just the most obvious stuff off the top of my head. I gave Hedges every chance, but he has used them all up. I hope Sam Harris writes a reply to this article and it is a featured story.

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By ShawnK, April 8, 2008 at 4:45 pm Link to this comment

PART 1

The irreverent arguments and ramblings Hedges writes herein are incredibly fallacious and tiring. I started reading Hedges’ articles and excerpts of his books about 2 years ago, and while i didn’t agree with a lot of his ideas, I kind of liked him. I liked that he was speaking out against religious ignorance in the christian right with an ‘inside voice’ that christians might be more likely to listen to than the other more blunt prominent atheist authors.
As time has gone on and I have watched him in a couple of interviews and ‘debates’ where he reads from pre-written speeches in his overly wordy language that does not even address issues raised at-hand and after the release of his ‘i do not believe in atheists’ pile of crap I have lost all respect for Hedges.
Come one, Chris, The problems in the world are THIS serious and you are going to spend all of your time and money writing articles of books against atheists because they embarrassed you at debates?
The straw man argument - setting up a position which you claim your opponent has so that you can defeat the position, when the assumed position is not what your opponent actually thinks. Chris Hedges starts right away with the straw-mans: the greatest danger comes from those who under the guise of science think that “we can free ourselves from the limitations of human nature and perfect the human species.” That is not the motivation of science. That is not why scientists study the world. Laughable! do you think we really think that, Chris? is that why Stephen Hawking studies space? to free us from the limitations of nature and become perfect? man, so off-base.
And then to say that the belief in inevitable moral advancement is just as false and harmful as beliefs taught from any church…. fallacious. the first belief is not a truth-claim about the way the world works, it is a social idea that we are aspiring towards. the beliefs preached from religions are blatantly false truth-claims about how the world and universe work, and if believed in can have drastically horrible consequences for society.

Next, Hedges’ funniest sentence of the article: “We drift toward disaster with the comforting thought that the god of science will intervene on our behalf.” [if we ‘believe’ in science’]. Straw-man. this is not the scientific approach in thinking. I do not know anyone who lives their lives scientifically and rationally who waits for the ‘god of science’ to intervene. someone please explain to me what the ‘god of science’ is. seriously, what the fuck?
This would be the very opposite of what the scientific method is. How can anyone suffer from having TOO MUCH rationality in their lives?

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By Denis Robert, April 8, 2008 at 4:39 pm Link to this comment

You have sunk yourself so low since the so-called Atheism debates, you should be ashamed of putting you name on your posts.

This post is based on a few obvious fallacies:

1. Secularism = Atheism. No, Mr. Hedges, although Religious Fanatics LOVE to claim this, Secularism is about limiting the religion to the private sphere, not eliminating it altogether. YOU can do whatever YOU want in the privacy of YOUR house; I don’t give a damn. But when religious zealots start claiming that the United States is a Christian nation, and that religion should inform our laws, you’ll forgive me if I base my views on a most sober examination of the history of religious states. Let me name a few:

- Christian Rome
- Catholic Spain (both under Isabella AND under Franco)
- Calvin’s Geneva
- The Massachussetts Bay Colony
- Mussolini’s Very Catholic Italy
- Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran
- Maurice Duplessis’ Quebec (1930s to the 1960s)

Since my parents were born and raised during the last one, I can say that I have a certain direct connection with these which makes me somewhat apprehensive at the thought of ANY relaxation of the separation between Church and State. But I STRONGLY resent the epithet of “fundamentalist” which is attached by the religious zealots to anyone who simply want them to keep their business to themselves.

2. Atheism = Sam Harris. I happen to share Sam Harris’ atheism. But that is the extent of what we have in common. I certainly do not share his Western (read: White) Racial Exceptionalism, or his Neo-conservative Faith.

The difference between me and those Christian, Jewish and Muslim zealots I decry is this:

I AM NOT CALLING FOR THEIR DEATH AND/OR ETERNAL DAMNATION.

That, I think, is a distinction worth highlighting, wouldn’t you say, Mr Hedges?

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By Steve, April 8, 2008 at 4:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

niloroth, it is true that the scientific method is superior to faith in determining actionable facts.  This said though the BELEIF in technological solutions to every problem besetting the human race is as much magical thinking as Religious faith in a 2nd coming of God/man and a New Heaven and a New Earth.  It is magical thinking that is the real danger here.  Reasoning is a pre-requisite to progress.  I have come to see the belief in deliverance from the human condition through divine intervention or technological intervention as illusions.  This is not an either or proposition. The truth of the situation is that accountability in the face of self consciousness is the burden we humans must carry.  Sadly some of us find this too heavy and desire to shove their load onto others.

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By Maezeppa, April 8, 2008 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment

This is exactly the kind of argument I’ve come to expect from religious fundamentalists - accuse the other side of what you’re guilty of and then try to persuade them to back off, counting on the other side’s sense of sportsmanship and fair play.

It’s a flawed position and frankly tiresome.  There’s no reason why anybody should concede any thing to religious fundamentalists.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, April 8, 2008 at 2:49 pm Link to this comment

Symbolic, not always metaphorical.

I think the jury’s still out on the healing effects of religion and art.  I’m not ready to toss them out.
They affect the mind; the mind, the body. 

If there is a climate crisis—and the jury’s still out on that, too—it is the effect of human (scientific) activity.  This may be the one problem science caused that it can’t solve, except to stop the science, and if that’s so, so much for science.

Cures?  Some people are unlucky.  Wholesome living is probably the best defense against disease.  Living things die.  Some sooner than others.  Too often, the cure for a chronic disease is as bad, sometimes worse, than the disease and worse, too, than dying.  Transplant patients pay a very heavy price, physically, emotionally and psychologically for staying alive.  Do no harm?  Hmmm?

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By James D, April 8, 2008 at 2:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How utterly depressing. By Hedges algorithm past is destiny; nothing has or can be changed. Not true, guy. We are vastly more gentle than the barbarian brutes our species used to be. Do the math, guy. Watch Steven Pinker at TED Talks add up the numbers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ramBFRt1Uzk

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By niloroth, April 8, 2008 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment

http://www.viruscomix.com/page433.html

And to Blueshift, are you saying that the scientist working on curing aids, sounding the alarms on global warming while working on clean energy systems, and studying the wonders of the universe are all nothing but greedy nihilists? Wow, glad you warned me about that against all the available evidence.

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By blueshift, April 8, 2008 at 11:34 am Link to this comment

Secular utopian fundamentalists? Are you kidding? Most of them would be nihilists, actually, and the exercise of greed is its result. I’m getting mine now, regardless of what’s better for all, because somewhere out there is a meteor (or rising global tide) with our names written thereupon.

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By blueshift, April 8, 2008 at 11:34 am Link to this comment

Secular utopian fundamentalists? Are you kidding. Most of them would be nihilists, actually, and the exercise of greed is its result. I’m getting mine now, regardless of what’s better for all, because somewhere out there is a meteor (or rising global tide) with our names written thereupon.

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By yours truly, April 8, 2008 at 11:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Utopia Is Ours For The Taking

“How?”

“We elect a president who’ll end the Iraq War, negotiate with Iran plus turning things around here at home.”

“And then what sort of world?”

“It’ll be up to us.”

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By Lee, April 8, 2008 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

Once again, Obama is using smoke and mirrors to bamboozle the
American public into believing what he says ... rather than who he
really is ... and rather than what he’s actually done. And, the scary thing is
that millions of Americans are actually believing it!  The faces of Obama’s audiences have that euphoric vacant look, like you find on the faces of religious
congregations who have totally relinquished reason for faith. If you look
at old newsreels of nazis listening to Hitler you can also see that same euphoric
mindless expression.

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By Burt Goldstein, April 8, 2008 at 9:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a musician, for whom reading is a hobby, I may have missed something that Mr. Hedges can supply. I just finished Hitchen’s “God Is Not Great”, and have read 4 or 5 of Dawkins’ books. Why does Chris Hedges describe Hitchens as a “utopian”? And why, as a Harvard-trained person does Hedges provide no citation or reference? Is it because he naively misconstrues the science of genetics as wholly populated by believers in progress? Then I humbly can recommend to him Gould’s book, “Full House” which belabors the opposite point - that genetics provides no evidence for ‘progress’.

I regret not having the time to hold up other parts of Hedges article to some scrutiny. So will you forgive me just a few unsupported statements myself?

Reacting to Hedges title “I Don’t Believe in Atheists”, let me state I am an atheist, not because I am a ‘believer’, but because there is insufficient evidence for God. (I am referring only to those definitions of God that are at least internally coherent.)

Hedges attempt to get us to believe in ‘sin’ as an antidote to the illusion of omnipotence is despicable, because as a divinity student the author surely knows the blood-soaked history of the concept of sin. At the very least, it is a wholly uneccessary concept to make Hedges reasonable point that science must not be used to justify notions of grandiose perfectibility. All that is needed to make that point is science itself!

No, Mr. Hedges, I am afraid the guilt is your to bear - religious fundamentalism is the guilty party.  The best you could do, with minimal rewriting of your article, is to include as religious all those who substitute faith for reason when picking their beliefs - to include believers in the infallibility of the State, or the Executive Branch along with those who claim the infallibility of the Pope.
(end of rant-portion of this post - thank you for your tolerance…!)

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By niloroth, April 8, 2008 at 8:45 am Link to this comment

“What most of you miss is that Hedges isn’t saying that we shouldn’t accept reason and logic.  He is saying that moral advancement is an illusion, and that people like Harris, who advocate force and violence to protect logic and reason, have forgotten that we will always have weaknesses.”

This is 2 entirely different issues.  You seem to have missed that as well as hedges.

The concept that moral advancement is an illusion is so wrong on the face of it i am amazed that anyone can utter it.  Not to say that the world is a wonderful and beautiful place now, but to depreciate the sacrifices made to free the slaves, to give the women the vote, to shut down the company towns, to create a country as a free haven on religious freedom, and more, is to willingly close your eyes on the progress that we have made in this country in just the last few hundred years. 

I am sure you will counter with a comment about morality in the world.  Well, okay, find me a place women can’t vote that isn’t an islamic state, or find me slavery that isn’t justified by religion, and find me places that free practice of religion isn’t allowed that isn’t a repressive theocracy.  And even these are strictly in the minority.  If you believe that moral advancement is an illusion, tell me, would you rather be alive today, or 1,000 years ago?

“People like Hitler, Stalin, and Robertson lobbied on behalf of moral progression.  They spewed ouit seductive messages of hope and the possibility of humans eliminating evil.  But what these people overlook is that evil is within the human heart, not in the external where we can defeat it.”

This part wraps up into the second part of your first paragraph.  Just as Harris is not a spokesman for morality in the “atheist” movement, Hitler, Stalin, and Robertson are not either.  The basic and obvious fact that you overlook is that there is much potential for evil in every single one of us.  We all must guard against that.  And we all also have a task to guide ourselves as we see fit.  When out leaders tell us either 1) god says we have to do something, or 2) science tells us we have to do something, it is up to us to reason out the logic of that.  However, science gives us a better framework for questioning than religion does.  Always has, always will. 

It becomes obvious, as i read this, that hedges, while he has maybe read harris, has not actually understood it.  And i highly doubt you have read his work.  Bring up hitler and pol pot and all, but they are canards.  Hitler used much religious symbolism, and pol pot had a personality cult.  But none the less, they are examples of people taking things as fact without questioning, or useing reason and logic.  Just like hedges seems to think we should.  I think you will find that the “secular fundamentalists” will be far less likely to fall for these types of things again than hedges himself is.

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By Radioactivedad, April 8, 2008 at 8:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Todays Christian religions are nothing more than mushrooms, growing in the mold and manure that is the remains of the Holy Roman Catholic Church; which in turn is nothing more than a layer of mulch cradled within the felled and hollowed trunk of that ancient oak called the Greco-Roman Empire.

And like most Mushrooms, swallowing them is most likely to make one ill.

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By Cat, April 8, 2008 at 8:14 am Link to this comment

Gmonst has put it beautifully.  What most of you miss is that Hedges isn’t saying that we shouldn’t accept reason and logic.  He is saying that moral advancement is an illusion, and that people like Harris, who advocate force and violence to protect logic and reason, have forgotten that we will always have weaknesses. 

Writers like Proust, Beckett, and Shakespeare all point out that man can never be perfect.  And people who think they have all they answers, in a way, ignore the fact that they are human.  People like Hitler, Stalin, and Robertson lobbied on behalf of moral progression.  They spewed ouit seductive messages of hope and the possibility of humans eliminating evil.  But what these people overlook is that evil is within the human heart, not in the external where we can defeat it.

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By Chloe, April 8, 2008 at 7:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Remember China, the Soviet Union, and the Third Reich were secular and embraced science, but they weren’t an idealized society.

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By Pedro, April 8, 2008 at 6:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hedges seems to be saying secularists are behind the war on terror? What news source is he getting this info from? Bush is not secular, nor is he fundamentalist. he is very mainstream and he is solidly in the anti-muslim camp. As for atheists wanting to strive toward collective moral improvement I ask, what is the alternative? Sit back and say we are all sinners and will continue killing each other and oh well….Sounds like nihilism which is traditionally been placed in the secular camp. Hedges is trying to spin this whole debate just to make atheism bad. It’s hollow and silly and makes no sense and as far as I am concerned I have no respect for this guy’s intellect. Maybe he had a deadline to meet so that he could get a paycheck so he could pay off a mortgage and this is the best he could come up with at 2am.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, April 8, 2008 at 6:04 am Link to this comment

Indree5, I won’t take your comment as being condascending because I’m—not by nature for sure—a kind and loving person. I’ve become that way by ignoring all the millennia of mind farting by pseudo-intellectuals, like Hedges.  There are a lot of people who enjoy that activity and, if they enjoy it, they should keep at it.  Hedges, of course, gets paid for mind farting and might not do it if he weren’t being paid.

I’m lucky.  I made up my mind long ago about all this farting.  Here’s my version:

People are basically animals with a questionably higher thinking ability.  This gets them in trouble.  Science has caused us no end of problems, probably the greatest of which is the notion that it can solve its own problems—not unlike congress.  How foolish and arrogant! 

In order for there to be order in the world, there will have to be a more equitable distribution of world wealth and, and this is the BIG one, ethical and moral consensus among the world’s 6+ billion citizens.  The possibility for this is miniscule, at best.  About as likely as getting somewhere 20 light years away.  We think at a higher level but we can’t and won’t control our greed for wealth and power.

So, bottom line, gather around yourself a few loved ones, a dog (especially a dog) a cat, a little place to keep warm and dry, get up early and watch the sun rise, grow some flowers, make or listen to some good music, try to help other people, and convince yourself that you’re happy.

You only have, at best, a hundred years.

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By Expat, April 8, 2008 at 2:25 am Link to this comment

^ shallow pool on this.

  Judah Krishnamurti delves into the problem of belief extensively.  Eugene Herrigel’s “Zen and the Art of Archery” was a wonderful read, but then he goes back to prewar Germany and becomes a Nazi.  What’s that saying about belief?  My point is; nothing (belief/faith) guarantees anything; it boils down to the individual.  Without an understanding of the dynamics of belief there can be no progress by humans on any level.  Religion and science are irrelevant to this understanding and in fact are an impediment (both of them). 

  You speak of faith and belief which are two sides of the same coin.  Faith is born of belief and belief is the nasty bugger buggering us all.  I submit that the very existence of belief is the beginning of trouble; the beginning of divisiveness; for it immediately draws a line in the sand and thereby closes the mind.  You mention faith/belief and then offer nothing further in understanding them/it.  You have addressed belief but not the paradox and conundrum of the very act of belief itself.

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By Maani, April 7, 2008 at 11:25 pm Link to this comment

shemp:

“You seem to think religious people are the only ones allowed to voice their opinion.”

I do not see where you get this from my post.

“The fact that you are offended by someone saying they don’t believe in a God is a sympton of most believers.”

Again, where are you getting this from my post?

“In this country, we do have a RIGHT to convert believers. Ever hear of the Constitution?”

Excuse me?  What does the Constitution have to do with “converting believers?”  I agree that ALL U.S. citizens should respect the separation of church and state, and you might be surprised to find that MOST Christian Americans do.  I am not the only minister to have signed the American Atheists’ petition for the Absolute Separation of Church and State.  Other that this issue, I am not sure to what you may be referring.

“Your diatribe doesn’t surprise me a bit.”

Diatribe?  If you consider my post a “diatribe,” you should see me on a BAD day.  LOL.  But seriously, I think you are overreacting.

“Fundamentalism is primarily a religious adjective.”

No, fundamentalism is a word, and the definition of that word is “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.”  Such a “movement” or “attitude” can come from anywhere: religion, politics, science.  So it is as possible to have “scientific fundamentalism” as it is to have religious fundamentalism.  And THAT is EXACTLY what Hedges (and I) is suggesting.

“The difference betweeen you and I is I allow myself the opportunity to change my mind.  Just so happens there is zero evidence for a Creator.  But my mind is always open.  You preclude yourself the right to change your mind, and get upset if we don’t believe in your particular fairy tale.”

Once again, WHERE are you getting this from based on my post?  What on earth makes you think that I have “precluded” myself “the right to change” my mind?  Or that I “get upset” if other don’t believe in God?  Neither one is true.

“At least you acknowledge the advances of science, and it is true of the negative outcomes.  I’d blame the military for a lot of that research also.”

Yes, but the military was using SCIENCE to create all of those things.  The point is that science is NOT as “morally neutral” as the scientific community likes to claim.  And yes, one could argue that the inventions themselves are morally neutral, and only become moral issues based on their application or use.  But this argument is as phony as a six-dollar bill: it is the same as saying that it is not guns or bullets that kill people, but people that kill people.

And although it can be argued that guns CAN serve “good” purposes (e.g., hunting), can you think of a “good” use of a nuclear weapon, or Zyklon B, or napalm or ICBMs?

Peace.

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By Bboy, April 7, 2008 at 9:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jesus (The Son of God) -“Why do you call me good.  Only God is good. If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will God give you, to those who but ask!”

There is no doubt we live in a secular system here. And secularist governments are being advanced worldwide. Look at Iraq. What does everyone think is being advanced there?

And why is the US backing an independent Kosovo break from Serbia, when Islamic militant terrorists are having their way, and international rule of law is by the wayside? While the UN looked on helpless.

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By Manson, April 7, 2008 at 8:32 pm Link to this comment
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Mr. Hedges attempts to equate extreme non-evidence based belief systems with those who consistently employ the scientific method (and demand that others do the same when making truth claims).

If I understand Mr. Hedges correctly, he is saying if religion is unreasonable then so is rigorous science.  This is an old argument - the attempt to make science as faith-based as religion.  Unfortunately for Mr. Hedges it doesn’t fly.  How much irrationality and unreason is required by Mr. Hedges for an acceptable, non-fundamentalist (his term) science?  Half rational, half non-rational?  What degree of inaccuracy about truth claims is Ok with Mr. Hedges that pervaders of reason can shake the fundamentalist label?  What amount of faith in the improbable is necessary for a rationalist to NOT be a fundamentalist?  I challenge him to answer these questions.

Or should we atheists just be contented to return to our secret world of reason and STFU.  That’s what Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) would surely have atheist Rob Sherman do as he testified last week before the state legislature of Illinois. http://richarddawkins.net/article,2441,n,n

I can say this, I certainly wouldn’t want Mr. Hedges to be my lawyer if I was unjustly accused of a crime - testimony of a psychic has equal billing with DNA evidence?  No objection your honor!  My client has no wish to offend the court with demands of evidence for supernatural claims.

Gmonst, you mention poetry and dance as part of the irrational human mind.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Poetry, dance, art, expression, etc. are all very rational human endeavors.  They have great purpose and provide meaning in our lives.  They are metaphorical expressions of our conscious experience.  They are the closest we can come to conveying the ineffable and they are sacred indeed.

However, we can not dance our way to solving the climate crisis.  And no amount of poetry will stop reason-challenged cultures from performing genital mutilation on the next generation of children.  And, no matter how beautiful in expressing our deepest emotional experiences, art like religion does not have the capacity to cure cancer, AIDS, diabetes, or mend a severed spinal cord.

For the real challenges we face in making a better world, we absolutely must embrace the methods of reason and pledge allegiance to “intellectual honesty”.  And, as corollary, reject baseless claims of the supernatural that are obstacles to improving our world.  Don’t think we can?  Try and recall the last time you met someone who was crippled by Polio as a child.  It wasn’t Zeus or Jesus who eradicated Polio, it was the relentless application of the scientific method until the problem was solved.

At this point someone usually throws out the old canard of Nazism or Stalinism or Pol Pot as the ultimate ending of non-supernatural based living.  For them I can not iterate enough that religion has in no way a monopoly on non-rational, irrational, or unreasoned thinking.  Instead, the flaw these failed ways of thinking all share is the same flaw religious faith has at its core.  Belief without evidence.  Belief in spite of evidence.

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By Blackspeare, April 7, 2008 at 7:22 pm Link to this comment

All those words could be summed into a quote made by Pogo many years ago that says it all, “We has met the enemy and they is us!”

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By niloroth, April 7, 2008 at 7:16 pm Link to this comment

Damn, sorry for the blank post, mistype issue.

Anyway, no i was not attempting to say you were a scientologist, i was mostly finding it highly amusing that the ad on the page was for said cult.  It had nothing to do with my comments towards your post.  Sorry for the confusion.

However, you have confused me a bit, in your second paragraph, you admit that sin is a loaded word, and idea, and admit it is best dropped, and then in your 3rd paragraph you use it again?

And i really think you should reread the “essay” by Hedges again, because at no point in his illogical, baseless, biased description of the “secular fundamentalists” does he come anywhere near what you are talking about.  You seem to mostly be saying “hey, whatever you believe, whatever you value, whatever you have faith in, be honest to yourself and that faith.”  I can get behind that, although i myself would have to add “and always test your own beliefs for weakness, and strive to see the other side, because they just may be right.”

However, what Hedges has written is a diatribe mostly based on misquotes, bad interpretations of facts, shallow views of the world around him, and well, i am really not sure what else. 

I have no idea what hedges issue with atheists is, but as far as i have been able to see, both in reading this “essay” and watching his “debate” with Harris, he has nothing but BS to back up that issue with.

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By niloroth, April 7, 2008 at 7:03 pm Link to this comment

Gmonst

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By Idree5, April 7, 2008 at 7:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Make sure you always speak all of your mind coz CONSTIPATIONS can kill you BESIDES I love hearing from you.

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By tom baker, April 7, 2008 at 6:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

...is the faulty ideology employed by both sides described by Hedges. it is the fatal flow in most human ideologies, and it’s nice to see it identified and discussed (finally).

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By Larry A. Taylor, April 7, 2008 at 6:16 pm Link to this comment
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It is hard to reconcile Chris Hedges’ claims with the actual writings of the four best-selling atheists. Where in any of their prominent books, do they advocate utopia, the perfectibility of humans, or do they forget their humanity?
Dennett’s book in particular, Breaking the Spell, is a careful book giving current knowledge and scientific views. One chapter concedes a known benefit of believing (health). So far as I can see, Dennett is nowhere guilty even of exaggeration, let alone grand claims that Hedges warns against.
Dawkins has a harder style, but on what page does he claim perfectibility? For the most part, he is completely scientific.
Harris, other than his disbelief, says many things that I disagree with. He is too cozy with torture and modern war. But what justifies Hedges alarmism? Is anybody rioting in the streets for Harris’s advocacy of meditation?

LAT

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By jackpine savage, April 7, 2008 at 5:00 pm Link to this comment

Wait, we’re not gods?

But God made us all to be just like Him!  So if He’s a god then we’re gods too…right?  Or if we’re dumb, then God is dumb…and maybe even a little ugly on the side. (FZ) The latter is probably more likely.

Religion tells us that we’re blessed with the divine.  Science tells us that we’re blessed with reason.

But at the end of the day, we’re pretty much just monkeys.  If you can’t understand the terrible things we do to each other, watch some serious primatology films.  Have you ever seen a band of chimps attack a lone male chimp from a different band?  Have you ever watched a group of chimps go monkey hunting for fun?

They’ll jump up and down, screaming with glee while the captured monkey is skinned alive.  They’ll beat the monkey with sticks…long after it is dead.  Sometimes they’ll eat the monkey, but not always.

Where’s God in that?  How are we so much different with God’s grace?  Fully opposable fifth digits on our upper limbs, goofy hips that allow for bipedal motion, and a brain so big that we have to be born prematurely is neat…but it isn’t “divine”.

We’re monkeys who invented Gods and bombs; mostly, we’ve used the latter to prove that our version of the former is superior.

Our travails and our demise will come no matter whether we put our faith in God or Science…both are merely explanations of the world around us.  The question is: why do we have such a need for explanations?  Neither has really explained anything (especially not ‘why’, which is the big question); and both have probably caused more damage than good.

P.S. It’s not just primates, don’t even get me started on Dolphins and their propensity towards kidnapping and rape.

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By jackpine savage, April 7, 2008 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment

You’ve got a very good pet theory, WinterSoldier.

One problem may be that many/most of us go with both science and religion.  This is problematic, because science and reason give us power…while religion releases us from responsibility.

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By shemp333, April 7, 2008 at 4:36 pm Link to this comment

You seem to think religious people are the only ones allowed to voice their opinion.  The fact that you are offended by someone saying they don’t believe in a God is a sympton of most believers.  In this country, we do have a RIGHT to convert believers.  Ever hear of the Constitution?  Your diatribe doesn’t surprise me a bit.  Fundamentalism is primarily a religious adjective. 
  The difference betweeen you and I is I allow myself the opportunity to change my mind.  Just so happens there is zero evidence for a Creator.  But my mind is always open.  You preclude yourself the right to change your mind, and get upset if we don’t believe in your particular fairy tale. 
  At least you acknowledge the advances of science, and it is true of the negative outcomes.  I’d blame the military for a lot of that research also.  But barbed wire?  LOL

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By jbart, April 7, 2008 at 4:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great posts, ALL.
What I didn’t read, however, is an alternative reason for religious beliefs.How about the following theory? A possible philosophy that provides a “premise” for it’s existance.
What about the “afterlife”? As long as there’s a “better place” awaiting, the present(full of sacrifice)awaits the “true” beleivers. And,as long as that proposition exists,there will be no resistance to the “unjust” situations in this life. Nice scenario for the “liars/wealthy class/neocons"to coerse the populace,huh? As a “devout” atheist,I have seen the rationales/justifications as to the “why”, the “what”, and the"how” that we, as a people, have been lied to, decieved, and manipulated, over time.
Intelligent design is just more crap that they feel can fool the masses to maintain bekief and, more importantly, donations.  Empires need capital if they are to remain empires.  Hence….We have an idea that we believe can “convince” you that, although you have acquired scientific knowledge, we can “still” compete for your dollars and dedication. Religious people,PLEASE use the intelligence you’ve attained in life,to ask the really “tough” questions. You “owe” it to yourselves,your children, and your country. You DO NOT, however, owe anything to your “CHURCH” !!

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By Gmonst, April 7, 2008 at 4:09 pm Link to this comment

Very well said Maani!

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By Filipe Brás Almeida, April 7, 2008 at 4:08 pm Link to this comment
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There is nothing fundamentalist about either secularism or science. Science merely obliges us to look at the evidence and maintain a high standard of intellectual honesty. Secularism obliges us to the same things in the sphere of politics and government.

Chris Hedges is a great writer, but he’s gone off the rails against atheists.

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By Gmonst, April 7, 2008 at 4:06 pm Link to this comment

I think he was arguing against the idea that the problems will ever be completely solved by humans, unrationally or rationally.  Humans are part rational and part irrational, we can’t be exclusively either one.  Rationality is the best way to learn about our environment, that is true, but it is the unrational side which calls us to write a poem or dance. Rationality has its limits.

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By Gmonst, April 7, 2008 at 3:56 pm Link to this comment

Are you suggesting I am from the church of scientology?  Thats really amusing.  I don’t represent any group.

What I was trying to get at was that there is right and wrong which isn’t tied to any idea or dogma, but comes from within.  We all have that inner voice, commonly called conscience, which acts as our moral voice.  We also at times act against and repress that voice, and also try to not see how we do so.  That’s what I see as sin, which can be uncovered through introspection, reflection, and meditation.  The word sin is pretty loaded and probably best dropped because of the way it has been used.  So on that I agree, but the concept itself is not necessarily a bad thing. 

The main point was that human beings do have these complex internal lives with feelings and actions which aren’t always rational.  We will never be fully rational, its just not possible.  If one forgets that, they become internally cut off from themselves.  They fail to see the irrational side of themselves, they believe true objectivity is possible.  People who are cut off from themselves can do horrible things in the name of their objective correctness.  My feeling was that Hedges was arguing that such thinking is also dogmatic, dangerous and yes, a sin.  I agree with him.  I honestly don’t know what will happen when I die.  However, I can say that the value in what religious and spiritual teachings have given me are in reorienting the way my inner world is examined and structured more than any promise of a heaven after death.  I sometimes think this aspect tends to be overlooked by the more ardent atheists.

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By Maani, April 7, 2008 at 3:21 pm Link to this comment

Frikken Kids:

“Those bastard scientists!  Doing things like making it possible to grow enough food to feed billions, finding cures for diseases that in the past have wiped out billions, devoting lives to finding renewable energy sources etc, etc…”

True.  But if memory serves, it was NOT the Vatican (or religion) that gave us poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives, experiments in eugenics, the formula for Zyklon B, heavy artillery, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental ballistic missiles, military space platforms, and nuclear weapons.

Dick:

“I suggest he read “The God Delusion” by Dawkins.”

And I suggest that YOU read “The Dawkins Delusion,” by Alister McGrath, and “The Devil’s Delusion,” by Doug Berlinski.

As a general matter, what Hedges is railing against is “fundamentalism” in ANY form: religious, political, scientific.  What he is saying about Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens et al is that by engaging in rabid, polemic, “fundamentalist” (read “intolerant”) atheism, they are no better than those whom they scorn.  And there is no question as to the validity of this position.

Indeed, no less an “authority” than the Skeptical Inquirer - a magazine devoted to science, and skepticism of “pseudo-scientific” beliefs - has more than once admonished Dawkins, both for his weak science, but moreso for his polemics.  SI, among other reputable scientific publications and persons, has taken Dawkins to task because he claims to speak on behalf of “science” rather than on his own personal behalf.  And these publications and scientists rightly believe - and state forcefully - that this is unacceptable and detrimental, since it gives “science” a “bad name.”

Science is the study and explanation of the natural world.  Period.  It uses the “scientific method” to determine the supportability and solidity of various theories about the natural world.  That is its purview.  And it is very good at what it does, and has accomplished extraordinary things.

But science and the scientific method have ZERO applicability to faith and religion.  Certainly science has a right - even an obligation - to “correct” believers who reject geology, paleontology, archeology, biochemistry, physics, etc., and the many strongly supported theories that have come out of them (the ~13 billion-year-old universe, the ~5 billion-year-old earth, evolution, etc.), and to reject the teaching of any non-scientifically-based alternative theories.

But science does NOT have the right to attempt to “convert” believers into non-believers - particularly via the kind of arrogance, intolerance, denogration, dismissal, etc. that Harris, Dawkins, Dennett et al engage in (and non-scientists such as Hitchens and Maher also engage in).

The overwhelming majority of believers of ANY religion practice their faith quietly, privately, and without interfering with those who do not believe.  It is only a vocal, visible minority in each religion who are fundamental, extremist, anti-science and/or pro-theocracy, much less violent.

In fact, if the goal of science, and people such as Dawkins, Harris, Dennett et al, is to bring more people (particularly believers) into an understanding and appreciation of science, it is decidedly self-defeating to attempt to do so by attacking and insulting those you are trying to teach.

Peace.

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By Reason101, April 7, 2008 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Religion = Organized Superstition…

“Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.” - Ambroise Bierce

- Bertrand Russell
“Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific cooperation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment. It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.”
“The Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is, the principal enemy of moral progress in the world”
“If you think your belief is based upon reason, you will support it by argument rather than by persecution, and will abandon it if the argument goes against you. But if your belief is based upon faith, you will realize that argument is useless, and will therefore resort to force either in the form of persecution or by stunting or distorting the minds of the young in what is called ‘education’.”

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, April 7, 2008 at 2:22 pm Link to this comment

We should simply accept that we’re going to destroy ourselves and probably the planet and get on with it.

I, for one, really don’t need too much, probably like many of you. I can get along with other people.  Most people can.  I don’t need TV, a phone, a car, NASA, Drs., a big house, pavement, computers, etc. 

Science got us that.  Our leaders and other sociopaths who suck us into their views of utopia are to blame, not me. I don’t vote for sociopaths.

Who needs utopia?  I don’t. A little food, a way to keep warm and dry. A few friends.  That’s all.  The rest is BS. 

Here’s an idea.  When science perfects space travel all you science and religion lovers and sociopaths hop aboard and get the hell out of here and let me live in peace!  There ain’t no such thing as progress.

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By shemp333, April 7, 2008 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment

I’m all in!  With Science and reason!  Nice post.

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By niloroth, April 7, 2008 at 1:23 pm Link to this comment

so you say we should keep the idea of sin, but then you describe it as introspection?  Why not just say we need to be more introspective, without cluttering the concept with the baggage and mumbo jumbo associated with sin?  Not to mention the history of the concet of ‘sin’ being used as a weapon against the ‘sinner’? 

You make about as much sense as hedges.

And is anyone else seeing adds for the church of scientology on this page?  Wonder if this essay wa paid for?

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By Sienna, April 7, 2008 at 1:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“It is a battle between religious and secular fundamentalists. It is a battle between two groups intoxicated with the utopian and magical belief that humankind can perfect itself and master its destiny.”

It’s a bit of a one-sided battle, isn’t it Chris, with “secular fundamentalists” numbering about 122 in the U.S. vs. the 250 million other citizens who are of the religious persuasion? If you don’t believe there are that many religious fundamentalists, perhaps you haven’t heard that atheists have a lesser chance of becoming President than pedophiles do in our manifestly open, secularized America.

PS Your prolonged and now mainly one-sided debate with Harris is becoming embarrasing.

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By ocjim, April 7, 2008 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment

The battle mentioned by Hedges seems to be cloaked in principle: from one religious fundamentalims and from the other a scientific fundamentalism.

Hedges’ claim seems too pat, too narrowed patterned on his own dual hypothesis.

If we live in an age of faith, it is a self-deluded faith that only justifies the accumulation of power in the hands of those who think they are elite. These are generally of the neocon stripe.

Men of reason, technology and science not infected by this so-called fundamentalism, do not engage in this Machiavellian focus on an agenda of their self-defined progress.

I think this struggle by dual forces is vastly generalized and overplayed. Hedges is applying the neocon arrogance, greed, and quest for power to both forces without consideration of reason and logic to a vast rational group.

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By Manson, April 7, 2008 at 12:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If rationality and reason can’t save us, what, Mr. Hedges, are you proposing as an alternative?  Irrationality and unreason?

What choice do we really have?

When is evidence-less conjecture posing as established truth EVER a good thing?

Please help me understand when LESS evidence is better than MORE evidence?

How much unreason is required to balance reason?

When is making stuff up when lacking evidence or despite evidence to the contrary a useful proposition?

The question is not whether the scientific method will provide us with all the answers we need to survive.  That remains to be seen.

Rather, the question is whether there exists any other method that provides more consistent, dependable, and reliable results?

Religious apologists like Mr. Hedges like to throw tomatoes from the crowd and boo-hoo the scientific method.  But all of us have yet to see any of these folks step up and show us a method that is demonstrably better suited for understanding the universe we actually live in and solving the real problems that face our species and all life on this planet.

See you at the Creation Museum.

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By Ivan Hentschel, April 7, 2008 at 12:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What was the line from the ridiculous TV show, ‘The A-Team”? “I love it when a plan comes together”? Basically, I am always overjoyed when someone like Mr. Hedges can say something that will get EVERYONE talking…which this essay did. Getting us all to talk to one another, no matter how wildly we may disagree in pricipal or concept, is the only way we will ever learn anything. So either pull up a chair and join the discussion (in the “fundamental”...pardon the expression) interest of better understanding amongst us all, or get down off that chair you are yelling from and contribute something constructive. You are all smart people: let Howard Dean do all the yelling.We all know how helpful that is.

Anyway, I agree and I don’t. Depends. But it got you to your keyboard, and at least now I know what YOU think. Thanks Chris and thanks to the rest of you!

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By Gmonst, April 7, 2008 at 11:32 am Link to this comment

I didn’t really see this piece as for or against either religion or atheism.  Instead I saw it as an argument for moderation, an argument I myself agree with.  The most dangerous people are those who think they have all the answers.  I do think that hard-core atheists and religious fundamentalists are two-sides of the same coin.  By hard-core atheist I mean those who seem intent on pounding on religion and spiritual belief as the root of all the bad in the world.  I have seen quite a few atheists who seem to suggest the world would be alright if all the religious nuts who believe in fairy-tales and imaginary men in the sky would just go away.  Similarly, the religious fundamentalists present views that those who don’t believe as they do are evil and will be punished in this lifetime or the next.  They like to blame natural catastrophe’s on things which they say are God’s punishment for wrong behavior.  Both groups seem to have an absolute belief in their superiority over the other.  They are both dangerous.  I think that extreme feelings of superiority over one’s fellow humans doesn’t lead to good places.

Hedges is right to suggest that the idea of sin is necessary.  Not is some Catholic punishment and guilt kind of way, but in making that personal journey of self-exploration and discovery.  The journey to expose our own weaknesses, flaws, and contradictions.  Human nature if one of contradictions, extremist and fundamentalist views over-simplify those contradictions.  They codify intolerance and mistrust.  The spiritual quest of humans has always been to look into one’s self and become aware of one’s contradictions and to slowly start harmonizing the divided self.  One who is aware of their own weaknesses and contradictions is a lot more likely to be humble enough to have empathy for the weaknesses and contradictions of others.  That journey of discovery is open to everyone, it doesn’t matter what you believe about death.

Those who claim ultimate superiority and lack humility are dangerous.

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By tomack, April 7, 2008 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

Just another try at rearranging the bits to this age old argument; not so craftily trying a subtle approach to support, yet again, the great imaginary friend in the sky. But in the end it is the same old debate: you either believe or you don’t—or like many of us you humbly admit that you just Don’t Know. 

However, I agree with many of the posts here—my odds are on science. Because it is the same science that unfortunately gave us bombs abd missiles that will eventually get us off the planet and help manage the unavoidable population problem. Caused, mind you, by both science and religion. One due to medical advancements and basic nutrition and lifestyle improvements, and the second because God said people shouldn’t buy rubbers.

The scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life comes to mind with vivid alacrity.

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By Marshall, April 7, 2008 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

...with those here that think Hedges doesn’t quite know what he’s saying.  Is there a position in this article besides “everyone else has it wrong”?

I’m thinkin Hedges had a submission deadline looming.

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By Albert Bakker, April 7, 2008 at 10:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As an atheist myself I agree with much of Hedges’ thinking on this subject. I do however differentiate strongly between some of the (spotlight) atheists he mentions, but I do regularly see atheists professing to be worthy of being heared, on political issues for example, combining strong convictions and strong wordings of it, with great lack of knowledge.

This to me is tormenting for a number of reasons and I’d like to distance myself from it.

I see there is a great eagerness in many people to misunderstand Hedges’ central argument, exaggerate and even resort to red herring type fallacies. I honestly do not understand why that should be necessary.

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By shemp333, April 7, 2008 at 10:23 am Link to this comment

Everyone’s comments here have been terrific so far.  Kudos, ladies and gentlemen!

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By shemp333, April 7, 2008 at 10:19 am Link to this comment

Chris,

  I’ve read a lot of your work and enjoyed it.  I agreed with some of what you wrote here as well.  Wars will be fought over basic resources.  Our species has become a victim of our own success, and we are going to hit a wall in the near future it seems.
  However, I don’t think you understand what science really is.  I suggest reading Carl Sagan’s, “The Demon Haunted World.”  I think it may help you.  Your religious background definately affects how you view everything, and you need to get out of that box to see what you look when you’re in it.  This talk of all mankind needing to know sin.  People turning away from God.  These are meaningless phrases.  How do you turn away from God?  Right and wrong are two things, but what exactly is sin?  Picking up sticks on Sunday?  Checking out your neighbor’s wife’s ass? 
  You also put words in peoples’ mouths.  I’m quite sure neither Harris, Dennet, or Dawkins claimed to be able to perfect human society.  So in that way you are lying.  I would agree with them that the scientific method of thinking is far preferable to religious belief.  They are clear in their positions.  They state their reasons well.  I cannot say the same for your writing.  You seem to have no position at all except to dispute others’ positions.  What do you suggest to deal with these coming disasters?
  I may be with you in a way as in I don’t have an answer for that question.  I don’t think anyone does.
But I’m quite sure dropping to our knees in prayer will help NOTHING.  Now then, how do we proceed?
  I would think scientific methods would be far prefavorable than beliefs based on no evidence.  Our survival will depend on it.  That’s the exact point Harris, Dennet, and Dawkins are making.  You are missing their point, and I am missing yours.

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By niloroth, April 7, 2008 at 10:06 am Link to this comment

probably the best advice on this one.  If you ever actually watched the debate between Harris and Hedges (with robert scheer failing fully in the roll of independent moderator) you would know that hedges has as full a grasp on religion and spirituality as G.W.B. has with honesty on Iraq.

I would respond to this essay in depth, but why, it is poorly thought out and nonsensical in total.

Move on, try to read something coherent instead.

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By Erik, April 7, 2008 at 9:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hedges is goofy on this point. The challenge of secularism, whatever that is, is that science has proven over and over again how old superstitions are just plain false. It is clear to anyone with half a brain that there is no such thing as a soul that is separate and apart from our brains, as it must by now be clear that human beings are not more than a highly complex series of chemical reactions. This does not suddenly make us all amoral robots, nor does it diminish the wonder of life.

Behind it all is the challenge that I find more and more to seem to be distasteful to people raised in religious settings—that our ethics should be rooted in hard facts.  If, for example, it is definitively shown that same sex couples can raise children equally as balanced and healthy as hetero couples, then there should be no obstacle to adoption by same sex couples. Ancient superstitions that somehow have taken on the veneer of respectability should be placed aside if they do not comport with fact.

To call this approach fundamentalist is tantamount to saying that we should all be allowed to deceive ourselves on occasion. I don’t have that much of a problem with the notion, but not if it’s going to directly affect someone else’s life.

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By Gabor Arato, April 7, 2008 at 9:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As Hedges idiotic tirades against atheism has been getting increasingly vehement in recent times its becoming just as difficult for me to believe that the same person wrote one my favourite books even written (war is a force that gives us meaning. 

There is little to debate over Christopher Hitchens’ obsessive support for a morally and legally bankrupt and in its result catastrophic war, just like over whether the capability for objectivity of a person (Sam Harris) who relies on Alan Dershowitz as the absolute authority in judging Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinian people instead of ridiculing him as that long ago discredited fool deserves.

The main problem with Hedges is that he criticizes these people for something that they have not said or if so with much less emphasis on it than Hedges wishes to attribute to them.


Out of the 3, Dawkins is the only actual scientist who however great an admiration has for the potential of science in helping our attempts to understand our world, Ive never read him saying that these revelations will automatically lead us to a better, more peaceful world.

Also, Sam Harris, no matter how wrong he might be in some sense has also warned us of the threat that the fruits of scientific progress when getting in the wrong hands can pose to the survival of the species. Thus, his view of scienceat least is not as black-and-white as Hedges presents it.

He also differs from Hitchens in his view of the war in Iraq - namely criticizing heavily it from the start - therefore Hedges’ lazy attempt to lump all of them in the same category without bothering to read them thoroughly makes his otherwise reasonable arguments to accept even more so.

By the way, even if to a limited extent science - whether Hedges is willing to accept or not - can change our moral sense positively. For example, the scientific discovery that abortion - however regrettable it may be -  is not equal with killing a new born child and shaping our legislations and moral sense accordingly.

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By WinterSoldier, April 7, 2008 at 9:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Good comment. My “pet theory” about religion is that since human children are so dependent for so long, very few reach true adulthood. Religion consists of comforting stories these “permanent children” turn to when they feel they have no power and can’t make a difference. Or just can’t be bothered working to solve their problems.

Science and reason, conversely, not only give people power, but responsibility. And it’s easier to be a dependent child than a responsible, and therefore powerful, adult. Which is why religion is such an easy sell.

“Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.”—Author Unknown

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By Steffan F, April 7, 2008 at 9:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Believers fail to understand that the absence of belief in god does not imply a blind “belief” in science and technology. Not believing in god means only that. It doesn’t mean trading one unsubstantiated belief for another.
This article is meaningless as is its title “Secular Fundamentalism”

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By dick, April 7, 2008 at 8:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I suggest he read “The God Delusion”, by Dawkins.

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By Rick Bady, April 7, 2008 at 8:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

People who insist on believing in magical gods seem to have a hard time understanding how you can do without them.
(Religion =  magic)

That said, sometimes we all NEED to believe in a little magic.
It only causes harm if you take YOURS to seriously—that’s what fundamentalism is.

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