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Connor Moran
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PostPosted: Fri May 14, 2004 3:50 pm    Post subject: The Antithesis of Organized Religion Reply with quote

Scott McCloud wrote:
An NPR piece today referred to the loose confederation of beliefs followers call "Wicca" as "the antithesis of organized religion." Odd. Last I checked, the antithesis of organized religion was called atheism.


As a person with a relationship with Neopaganism (Wicca is a term that refers both to a specific religious group within Neopaganism and the greater whole. I personally think Neopaganism is a clearer, more descriptive term), I would hesitate to call it "The antithesis of organized religion." I'm sure that whoever said that was drawing on the fact that one of the main motivations for the movement is a rejection of traditional patriarchal monotheistic religious structures. But atheisim is DEFINITELY not the antithesis of organized religion. In certain contexts, Atheism can be an organzied religion. Like any religion, it is an belief system based in a non-rational assumption. In the case of atheism, it happens to be an assumption of the non-existence rather than the existence of a higher power, but that doesn't fundamentally change the nature of the thing.
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PostPosted: Fri May 14, 2004 5:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Unless there's an institutional Church of Atheism that I haven't heard of, it seems silly to call atheism an organised religion.
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PostPosted: Fri May 14, 2004 5:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Connor Moran wrote:
Like any religion, it is an belief system based in a non-rational assumption.

I'm with Doc on this one. There is no system of beliefs to atheism.
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PostPosted: Fri May 14, 2004 6:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Atheism is a single belief: nothing is more divine than humanity. (Whether humans are divine is an entirely separate matter.) So I'd call it as much a religion as agnosticism: not at all.

But the antithesis of organized religion is, in my opinion, disorganized religion.
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PostPosted: Fri May 14, 2004 6:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

gareis wrote:
But the antithesis of organized religion is, in my opinion, disorganized religion.


Exactly.
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PostPosted: Fri May 14, 2004 7:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

gareis wrote:
Atheism is a single belief: nothing is more divine than humanity.

On what are you basing this? Divinity with regard to humanity doesn't enter into atheism.
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PostPosted: Fri May 14, 2004 9:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Religion is like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus... something good for teaching kids how to behave that you should then stop believing in once you get old enough to think for yourself.
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PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2004 8:44 am    Post subject: ok... Reply with quote

let's have a look on this one. what is religion? and what is the antithesis of organised religion? if you answer disorganised religion and not atheism, you assume atheism is not a religion. is that correct?

the term religion does not say how many gods a specific religion must have to be a religion. religion is a in itself 'logical' system, which answers the big questions of life. these questions in my opinion do not include if there is a god. god is just the way to get to the answer. the questions are roughly 'where do i come from?', 'where do i go to (after death)?' and 'is there, and if there is, what is the sense of life?'. these are questions, which refer to things outside of our abilities of reception, therefor the answers are not rational but beliefs.

let's make an example. of course being muslim or believing in islam first of all means to believe in a single god and that muhammed is gods (last) prophet and that the qur'an is gods prophecy. but by this it answers as well the noted questions. 1st you are created by god. 2nd you go to heaven or hell after death depending on your deeds. 3rd the sense of life is being a good muslim.

atheism answers these questions as well, but as there is no single atheism (as there is not a single monotheism etc.) different athists would answer these questions differently. let me give it a try. 1st you are a result of natural processes. 2nd you're energy and mass will stay on but you as an identity will fade away. 3rd there is no common sense of life but one might give oneself an individual sense of life.

now as we see, atheism answers the questions i put up in the beginning as islam or hinduism or greek mythology do. all these different systems are systems of belief. so atheism is in the broad defenition a religion. now there is the tighter definition which counts only organised religions as such. if there is a divine god and if the is a prophecy the result will usually be some kind of an organisation (church). this organisation might be as hierarchical as catholicism or as independent and unconnected as sufistic islam (AKA sufism). atheism on the other side does not call for organisation. there is no god to pray to, there is no divinity. the church of atheism is the daily life. therefor atheism is automatically the least organised religion, because an organisation of atheists does not make sense.

long talk, short sense: i agree with scott.

kaos

PS referring to, that atheism believes 'nothing is more divine than humanity.' now, i guess you mix up specific interpretations of the evolution theory with atheism as such. (besides as was noted before, atheism defies usually the concept of divinity.) that human beings are the crown of the evolution is one possible concept, but it is not the only one. look at a spider. a spider is as well adapted to its habitat as humans are to theirs. there is bacteria living in volcanoes. these bacteria are as much the crown of evolution as human are, they are one possible solution to survive in a certain habitat. if you are too weak to fight with your hands/paws and too slow to run away, you have to be intelligent enough to find another solution when meeting with a natural enemy.
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PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2004 9:42 am    Post subject: "agnostics" the true antithesis of organized relig Reply with quote

If an atheism is a religion:
dictionary.com wrote:

1: the doctrine or belief that there is no God [syn: godlessness] [ant: theism] 2: a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods


What about an agnostics
dictionary.com wrote:

1: One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
2: One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.


Is this the true antithesis of organized religion? If you don't devote yourself to one belief then you can't be part of any set religion. Is the "whatever" approach more radical than the "there is no God" attitude?
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gareis
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PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2004 12:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Greg Stephens wrote:
gareis wrote:
Atheism is a single belief: nothing is more divine than humanity.

On what are you basing this? Divinity with regard to humanity doesn't enter into atheism.


Some who call themselves atheist might believe that humans have spirits. Spirit can be considered divine. Therefore, while most atheists likely believe that nothing is divine, the definition that covers the most self-proclaimed atheists is the one I gave.
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PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2004 12:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

William G wrote:
Religion... should then stop believing in once you get old enough to think for yourself.

I think that religion has been with mankind for so long (at least as long as we have written history) that we're now faced with a baby/bathwater situation. I would recommend Douglas Adams' brilliant speech "Is There an Artificial God?" You can find this in "The Salmon of Doubt" (page 126, USA hardcover edition- Why this book has no proper index is beyond me) or, as it happens, online.

Kaos wrote:
...religion is a in itself 'logical' system, which answers the big questions of life...

I don't agree that it's that simple. Religion has a property that is divine or at least spiritual. Going to the dictionary again:
dictionary.com wrote:
    1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
    2. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.

  1. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
  2. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
  3. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

I think item #4 is a little dodgy and evidence of how the dictionary gives definitions that are based on common usage to capture such things as what people mean when they say, for example, "folk music is my religion." So religious people are dealing with the same big questions of "Why," "How" and "Where" as all humans, but the thing that makes them religions is that their answers include gods or other spirituality.

But let's get back to Kaos' very interesting post:
Kaos wrote:
...different athists would answer these questions differently. let me give it a try. 1st you are a result of natural processes. 2nd you're energy and mass will stay on but you as an identity will fade away. 3rd there is no common sense of life but one might give oneself an individual sense of life.

Nice try, I say, but I'd further say that your first and second points aren't intrinsic to atheism. It sounds an awful lot like what you're describing is, not atheism, but science. Specifically, point one is Darwinism- Evolution; Point two is Newtonian physics (mass and energy are neither created nor destroyed, but merely change forms). Point three is a little trickier to pin down. It's some sort of philosophy, but I'm simply not learned enough along those lines to identify it (and lack more time to Google properly). It seems to me, though, that there are atheists who believe differently on point three. Point three implies meaning given by self-direction, but there are certainly people who believe there is no meaning and others who don't care if there is a meaning. How many of those would be atheists? Probably a high percentage, by definition, but it would be equally inaccurate to define all atheists as absurdists and nihlists as it would be to define them all as scientists.

(Belief in science, by the way, doesn't preclude belief in religion, as many branches of science have nothing to do with answering the Big Questions (well, twigs in this case, rather than branches, because the actual branches are about the Big Questions. The point is that many scientists work in areas that are specific to problem-solving for practical purposes here on Earth without concerning themselves about answering the Big Questions), and many scientists are content to follow religious beliefs on that score.)

efm wrote:
If an atheism is a religion...

I, as already noted, find that presumption to be false, so:
Code:
Given {
  At != R
  Ag != R
  At != Ag
}

Assume{
  IF (At = TRUE) THEN
    R = FALSE
  ELSEIF (Ag = TRUE) THEN
    R = FALSE
  ELSE
    IF ((At = FALSE) AND (Ag = FALSE)) THEN
      R = TRUE
    ELSE
      R = UNKNOWN
    ENDIF
  END IF
  RETURN R
}

I would say that, while any unknown value exists, neither atheism or agnosticism can be said to be the antithesis of religion. OK, I know that's a silly proof and of almost no value. I just felt like typing it up. Anyway, we're talking about organized religion and to that point, I might suggest that atheism, agnosticism AND wicca are all disorganized when compared to most major religions, so maybe wicca is AN antithesis of organized religion, but now we need to check the definition of "antithesis" and I really think it's time for me to stop typing...
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Last edited by Greg Stephens on Sat May 15, 2004 12:40 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2004 12:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

gareis wrote:
Greg Stephens wrote:
gareis wrote:
Atheism is a single belief: nothing is more divine than humanity.

On what are you basing this? Divinity with regard to humanity doesn't enter into atheism.


Some who call themselves atheist might believe that humans have spirits. Spirit can be considered divine. Therefore, while most atheists likely believe that nothing is divine, the definition that covers the most self-proclaimed atheists is the one I gave.


But saying "nothing is more divine than humanity" implies that "humanity is divine to some degree," a statement with which, as you noted, most atheists disagree. It would be more accurate if your original statement had been "Atheism is a single belief: nothing is divine." Even so, this is inaccurate, as Atheism is not about divinity or spirituality, it is simply that there is no god. One may believe in divinity and spirituality but not believe in any god, therefore, one is an atheist. Or one may not believe in divinity and spirituality in addition to not believing in a god and still be an atheist.
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PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2004 4:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sociologist Emile Durkheim (he's one of the Big Three in the field) defined religion primarily as a system for distinguishing the sacred from the profane. In the most basic sense, for most atheists this distinction is meaningless since there is nothing that is "sacred" nor "profane" in the strict, denotative sense.

There are social norms and taboos at work that provide a similar function in secular(ising) societies, so it's not quite that simple. I'm by no means one of those jerktaculasome religious people who think that atheists have no basis for moral judgement. Please. But right and wrong, the more loosely sacred and profane, are not defined by appeal to a higher power, religious authority, or inherently sacral, holy, or divine nature.

Of course, Durkheim also believed that religions by definition have some level of organisation or institutionalisation, so he might not be the theorist to appeal to in this discussion. I guess, for him, what we would call "disorganised religion" is some other kind of faith system or spirituality rather than religion as such.
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Connor Moran
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PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2004 6:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This question hinges on the definition of a lot of words that are very difficult to define. And a few that are not so difficult. So, here's a little help from the Oxford English Dictionary and the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

Part of the question regards the word "Antithesis." This word has a number of similar but subtly different definitions.

The Oxford English Dictionary wrote:

1. Rhet. An opposition or contrast of ideas, expressed by using as the corresponding members of two contiguous sentences or clauses, words which are the opposites of, or strongly contrasted with, each other; as ?he must increase, but I must decrease,? ?in newness of spirit, not in the oldness of the letter.?


This is a specific definition from rhetoric. It isn't particularly helpful here except to better understand this definition:

The Oxford English Dictionary wrote:

3. By extension: Direct or striking opposition of character or functions (between two things); contrast.


There is certainly a direct and striking opposition of character and function between atheism and organized religion. This is not, however, to say that they are polar opposites. If this is the way NPR was using the term "Antithesis" I would say that both Wicca and Atheism qualify. This definition does not imply that there is a single binary opposition. However, I believe that this one does:

The Oxford English Dictionary wrote:

4. The direct opposite, the contrast. Const. of, to.


Scott's message said, in effect, that Wicca CANNOT be the antithesis of organized religion because atheism IS. This is predicated on this notion that a thing can only have one antithesis, and that antithesis must be its direct and total opposite. It is my assertion that atheism, while it certainly different from traditional organized religion, shares enough qualities with it that they cannot be considered antithetical in this way.

So the logical next step is to figure out what exactly is meant by ?organized religion.? First, the easy part. Organized:

The Oxford English Dictionary wrote:

2. a. gen. Formed into a whole with interdependent parts; co-ordinated so as to form a system or orderly structure; systematically arranged.


Simple enough, a systematic arrangement. Religion, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult to define. The best explanation I found is from the Britannica Student Encyclopaedia online. While not strictly a definition, I think it gives a good outline of what religion is.

Britannica Student Encyclopedia wrote:

[R]eligion encompasses that to which people are most devoted or that from which they expect to get the most fundamental satisfaction in life. Consequently, religion provides adequate answers to the basic questions such as What are the origins of the world? What is the meaning of human life? Why do people die and what happens afterward? Why is there evil? How should people behave?


(Since they make it so easy, the citation for this is:
"Religion." Britannica Student Encyclopedia. 2004. Encyclop?dia Britannica Online.
15 May 2004 <http://0-www.search.eb.com.cals.evergreen.edu:80/ebi/article?eu=298783>.)

So organized religion would consist of a group created with a co-ordinated, orderly structure in order to gain satisfaction from life and get answers to basic questions regarding existence and behavior.

Clearly, this does not describe all, or even most, atheists. Nor does it describe all monotheists or polytheists or animists or members of any other broad religious category. That doesn't mean that any of these categories are the antithesis of organized religion.

However, there are certain groups with atheistic beliefs that behave in a way that matches this definition of organized religion. For example, Secular Humanists. Take this paragraph from the web site of the Council for Secular Humanism.

The Council for Secular Humanism wrote:

Secular Humanism is a way of thinking and living that aims to bring out the best in people so that all people can have the best in life. Secular humanists reject supernatural and authoritarian beliefs. They affirm that we must take responsibility for our own lives and the communities and world in which we live. Secular humanism emphasizes reason and scientific inquiry, individual freedom and responsibility, human values and compassion, and the need for tolerance and cooperation.


Here we have an organization (a council) dedicated to a set of beliefs and a way of life, a manner of living, and a means to seek out the fundamental truths of existence. They reject belief in the supernatural, making them both atheists and members of an organized religion. Were organized religion an atheism truly antithetical in the way we are discussing, this would not be possible.
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PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2004 11:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Greg Stephens wrote:
William G wrote:
Religion... should then stop believing in once you get old enough to think for yourself.

I think that religion has been with mankind for so long (at least as long as we have written history) that we're now faced with a baby/bathwater situation.

The main difference is that we're not babies anymore. We can find new ways to clean ourselves.... to stretch a metaphor
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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 11:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Scott McCloud wrote:
Hmm. I thought I was making a little joke.


Yeah, I could tell. But unfortunately both Wiccanism and this particular argument regarding atheism are hot buttons of mine and I couldn't resist the urge to make a serious reply. Apologies...I know I hate it when people take my jokes (or anything I say, really) seriously.
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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 4:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One of the worst things about religion is that the religious want to suck you into their system one way or the other. Therefore, one is not permitted to simply not believe in God. To religious extremists, this unbelief is transformed into a 'belief,' and atheism into a 'religion.'

As a lifelong atheist, I used to be annoyed by this. But I've come to realize that the extremists are only hurting themselves with this insular, self-perpetuating worldview.
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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 5:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Greg Stephens wrote:
Connor Moran wrote:
Like any religion, it is an belief system based in a non-rational assumption.

I'm with Doc on this one. There is no system of beliefs to atheism.


You believe there is no God. That's just as much belief as someone who believes that there is a God.
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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 6:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One could just as easily say that they came to the conclusion that there is no god due to strenuous scientific method.
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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 6:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

William G wrote:
Religion is like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus... something good for teaching kids how to behave that you should then stop believing in once you get old enough to think for yourself.

I don't personally subscribe to the simplistic "fairy tale" approach to religion that many religious folk do, but still I think that casually lumping Judism, Islam, Christianity, etc. in with Santa Claus in the Easter Bunny is awfully insulting to a lot of people William.

William G wrote:
One could just as easily say that they came to the conclusion that there is no god due to strenuous scientific method.

But then what is "god" supposed to be anyway? An old, omnipotent man in the sky with a white beard? Somehow I doubt it. But what about the possibility of God as a metaphor for the universe as a whole? That's the idea that intrigues me.
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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 6:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

zerofoks wrote:
Greg Stephens wrote:
Connor Moran wrote:
Like any religion, it is an belief system based in a non-rational assumption.

I'm with Doc on this one. There is no system of beliefs to atheism.

You believe there is no God. That's just as much belief as someone who believes that there is a God.


Actually, I haven't said one way of the other about what I believe, so you'd be better off having phrased that as, "Atheists believe there is no God." Standing by what I said, though: One belief does not a system of beliefs make. Organized religions tell (or, at the very least, suggest to) their members how they should behave, based on their shared beliefs. That is a system. Atheism has no such thing.

BuckBeaver wrote:
I think that casually lumping Judism, Islam, Christianity, etc. in with Santa Claus in the Easter Bunny is awfully insulting to a lot of people...


Any time religion comes up in conversation it can quickly become a shouting match and I agree that some comments have been a bit blunt, but so long as we agree not to make this discussion a personal one either by taking something as personally insulting that probably wasn't meant that way or (more importantly) by not saying something that could be personally insulting, then I think we'll all be able to have a good conversation. Remember, there are always private messages or email if you feel the need to really take someone to task. If the thread gets out of hand, I'll shut it down, but I generally err on the side of letting everyone have their voice.

Frankly, I'm impressed that no real name-calling has begun yet and I hope it remains this way.
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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 7:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

William G wrote:
One could just as easily say that they came to the conclusion that there is no god due to strenuous scientific method.

As a good humanities major, I think I am duty-bound to mention that there is also a belief component to scientific knowledge -- belief that there is an objective reality, that scientific methods produce truth, the problem of induction, and so forth.

But I think that I agree with the point you're getting at. To claim that an atheist believes that there's no God with that emphasis, while obviously crudely true, only really gets at the heart of things if that person defines themselves in contradistinction to a theistic religious tradition. If someone was brought up as a Christian, say, and then decided that, actually, he or she didn't believe in the premises of Christianity, then I guess it's accurate. However, there will be many people for whom the idea that there is a God maybe never occured to; in these instances, the claim and its emphasis are increasingly meaningless.

The institutional nature of Christianity in Western societies has probably meant more of the former category, but as societies continue to secularise, you're going to be getting more and more of the latter kind.
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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 8:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

So long as we're still on shaky ground so far as terminology is concerned, it's worth mentioning that many people don't "believe" there is a God, but rather they "know" there is a God. Likewise, many people "know" there isn't a god.
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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 8:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's a good point.

Personally, I've always thought that the beauty of particpating in any belief system is the willingness to believe despite not knowing. Science, religion, atheism - they're all just different methods we use to try to make some sense out of this wacky world we live in.
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