On what your creator’s been thinking.

The idea was an interesting one: to write a children’s book for children that are raised atheist. – Afterall, there’s a wide range of more or less religious or religion-oriented, some educative, others affirmative books for children of all kinds of faiths, particularly for Jewish and Christian children. – It could have been a book that would positively encourage some morale or another, independent of any religion, maybe lay out the history of atheist thinking.

Michael Schmidt-Salomon (author) and Helge Nyncke (illustrator) set their hands to task and created the book Wo bitte geht’s zu Gott? fragte das kleine Ferkel (What way, please, is God? the little piglet asked). Style, spelling, punctuation and capitalization mistakes in the book’s title aside, the book has stirred quite some controversy over here and even had the Bundesfamilienministerium (federal office for families, women and social issues – I’m not kidding you) move for the book to be officially listed as not suitable for children, which would have made it illegal for any minor to obtain or be enabled to get access to the book.

So what was all the fussing about? In a nutshell, a piglet and a hedgehog try to find out where God lives and go to the Temple Mount and try to visit a synagogue, a church and a mosque. The piglet and the hedgehog are rudely turned from each doorstep with reference to their non-affiliation with the respective religion. The rabbi, the bishop and the mufti sending the two animals away are portrayed with unpleasant features in the text as well as in the illustrations. In the end, those three representatives of the three Abrahamite religions get into a violent fight; the accompanying illustration shows the rabbi trying to suffocate the bishop with a Torah scroll while the bishop is hitting the mufti in the head with a Bible while the mufti is apparently trying to break the rabbi’s ankle. In the meantime, the intimated piglet and the hedgehog are sneaking off.

I am pretty sure all readers are aware that even non-believers of or non-adherents to Judaism, Christianity and Islam may visit synagogues, churches and mosques as long as they behave respectfully. So does this fatal contextual error give us a solid idea of the quality of this book? I think it does.

It is not a positive book, not a book that would positively affirm a child’s atheism, but a book that encourages scorn towards religions. It is a book that, by its illustrations, seems fit to leave children with a scary visual of rabbis, bishops and muftis. And at that, in my humble opinion, the book is nothing but pathetic, generalizing and using the same scare-techniques its authors accuse the religions of.

Taken to task on what seem to be not only anti-religious but antisemitic tendencies throughout the book, the author claimed that he, because of his last name, had been a target of antisemitic propaganda for years and that he had only aimed at tackling the extreme forms of religious observance. The book’s publisher describes the author to be an author, philosopher and musician as well as a spokesperson of the Giordano-Bruno Foundation.

Eventually, the book did not make the index of abolished books as the examiners did not see any bias towards a specific religion. And if not for the self-sustaining demographic of those that confuse cultural ignorance with atheism, we could be safe to assume that the days of the book were counted. Being as fond of diversity as I am, I still hope to see a few quality atheist children’s books someday. If the atheists cannot write those themselves, what about having some religious folks do it? I’ve already got a suggestion for a title: So you will, Godforbid, be worm food someday?

About the author



  • The book also exemplifies atheists’ propensity for criticizing religious practice, as opposed to dealing with the notion of God directly. Dumping on the big, bad major faiths is really the easy way out.

    Muffti’s my choice, though, to fill this market niche. Some proposed tittles: Suck It Up, Boys and Girls: There Is No Hope. Or: Meaning Is For Sissies.

  • …And for the slightly older, pre-teen crowd: “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret… God? Hello?? Are You There??? Hel-loooo! Hey! Where Are You!!!”

  • Oh atheists… speaking of which, I just read a totally rad article called The Atheist Delusion that appeared in The Guardian. What a spectacular critique of Dawkins, Hitchins and atheist fundamentalists. Really, must reading material. If I were smarter I’d turn it into a post.

  • *sings* You can get it if you really want. You can get it if you really want. You can get it if you really waaant, but you must try, try and try, try and tryyyyyy. You’ll succeed at last.

    Alright, breakfast time for me…

  • Just read the article TM, it’s awesome. Not everything has to be about Israel ya know!

  • The book also exemplifies atheists’ propensity for criticizing religious practice, as opposed to dealing with the notion of God directly. Dumping on the big, bad major faiths is really the easy way out.

    What the hell is htat supposed to mean? 🙂 atheists don’t believe in God. We don’t recognize that there is a God and so we don’t have to deal with him and hte various contradictions that he brings along with him (just tell Muffti once and for all – can he make hot sauce so hot even he can’t taste it or not???) what’s absurd about your comment is the thought that the burden of proof is on atheists to provide a rationale for god – not the people who walk around believing that there is some invisible force controlling everything that somehow only revealed him or her or itself in ancient books full that are dubious at best in their plausibility and authenticity and accuracy.

    If you want a title, what about: Good news Kids, You’re Free and Your World is Understandable!

    As for that ‘must read’, what exactly was so must read about it CK?

  • The Guardian article was a lovely (albeit lengthy) critique of the “proselytizing atheists.” I think I said that already.

  • waaah waaah waaah! “speculative and uninformed?” please explain. Like I said, I’m too dumb to get all the references and big words. Aren’t you supposed to attack strawman arguments?

  • You know, Muffti, we help you out with an idea that’s gonna make you a hell of a lot more money than your lover-of-wisdom gig, and all we get is abuse?

  • I’ve read the article now. It is kind of rambling as Muffti tells us, and it does appear to attack some straw-man arguments, and includes some speculative declarations. However, there are also many good points in there, including the premise that atheists like to believe and push their beliefs as if their correctness is so obvious and absolute that, well, that it resembles the divine.

  • CK, have you even read Dennett or Dawkins?

    A strawman argument is an argument that you make up to represent your opponent’s which doesn’t actually faithfully represent his position. So, no, you shouldn’t attack strawman arguments. But you should call an argument a strawman argument if you see one 🙂

    Sorry Tom. You have a point. Muffti’s appologies for the abuse.

    MIddle, Muffti doesn’t think that what you say about atheists is true. Certainly some atheists push an agenda starting off wtih the premise ‘obviously there is no god’ etc. But Muffti thinks that’s an unfair characterization of atheists in general. In fact, Muffti challenges you to find an atheist of any repute who claims that it is obvious. These guys who claim to be doing religious anthropology like Dennett don’t claim its obvious – in fact, they work incredibly hard to explain why a belief they take to be false is so widespread.

    The claim, which Muffti thinks is a fairly subtle one, is that belief in God is unjustified on the basis of the evidence and philosophers, laymen, members of the nearly all monotheistic religions have written on both sides of the issue. what’s really shitty about the article, in fact, is just that point that you are saying is good, Middle: the guy claims that atheists are every bit as bad as theists in pushing their point, that it becomes a sort of religion for them, but muffti can’t see one shred of textual evidence for this claim other than some gestures towards certain totalitarian states that had atheist leaders.

  • Muffti asked: “CK, have you even read Dennett or Dawkins?”

    Muffti, have you even practiced anal sex? Heh. Uh oh! Did I even dare imply anything even approximating negativity about St. Dawkins? Don’t wanna do that! Raise the ire of militant atheists and all – that’s unpleasant stuff, yes it is. “The Selfish Gene” and “The God Delusion” are on my bookshelf, read, contemplated and ultimately… well, let’s just say that I disagree. I haven’t read Dennet but am somewhat familiar with his work. Suffice it to say that my faith and belief in Darwin’s theory of natural selection coexist. Duh! I told you I was dumb!

  • When Muffti comes over in May there had better be copies on your bookshelf, amigo 🙂

    That’s a rather personal question there, CK! But fair is fair and since you answered Muffti’s question, the answer is oui, a few of Muffti’s past lovers have been kind enough to allow a few forays in that direction.

    You can say anything you like about Dawkins, Hitchens the like. What’s annoying isn’t saying things that approximate negativity – what’s annoying is when a smart guy like you (who Muffti well knows thinks himself extremely bright) dissembles and fawns over some piece of shit Guardian article that manages to miss the point of its own target. That’s what Muffti found peculiar. There is a lot of interesting debate to be had over the Dawkins and Dennett stuff – in fact, what makes Muffti smile is that last time he saw Dennett the dude said quite straightforwardly that his intent was to open up a debate to advance further research on the nature of religion, belief just like cultural anthropologists currently due with respect to old religions.

    Extremely close minded and militant Muffti’s ass. The phenomenon is called ‘projection’ and if you don’t know it go search your book shelf for a basic psychology text.

  • But dude, I’m not militant about my beliefs, nor do I proselytize. You really ought to at least look into John Gray a little before writing him off so quickly…

  • Muffti isn’t writing off John Gray; just John Gray’s article.

    Where is the evidence, however, that atheists proselytize anymore than you do? Muffti sees not a shred of it, unless you consider writing books to be an effort at proselytization.

  • Well not only do I not proselytize, but I’m not militant either. Dawkins however, well… he’s called faith one of the world’s greatest evils, akin to smallpox but harder to eradicate. He’s also called faith “lethally dangerous nonsense,” “preposterous” and sees organized religion as having a “malignant influence” on society. Well, if he’s not a proselytizer for atheism, he sure as heck sounds pretty darn militant – especially since he makes no distinction between the vast majority of people who practice their religions peacefully and the minority who are violent fundamentalists.

    I mean you’re a big fan of scientific evidence. Do you really think that religion is one of the greatest causes of misery on earth today? How many people died in 9-11? 2,300? How many people died in traffic fatalities in the US in 1998? Over 45,000. Is it religion that allowed these fatalities to occur? Or could we look at the greed of car and oil companies and the politicians that they control who prevent the implementation of life saving measures like say, safe and efficient rapid mass transit? That’s just one example and was probably influenced by being at Kelsey’s for 5 days… but you get my point.

    Extremists come in all shapes and sizes, Hitler, Mao, Stalin – these weren’t religious people. Neither were the folks behind the Red Brigades, the Baader Meinhoff Gang, the PFLP, the DFLP, the Shining Path etc. The corporations that pollute the earth and use marketing to promote a lifestyle of waste and mindless consumerism, these aren’t religious institutions.

    Dawkins sells a lot of books, but it don’t mean he’s right.

  • Muffti isn’t defending Dawkins here but he disagrees completely that calling faith ‘lethally dangerous nonsense’ and ‘preposterous’ makes you militant, at least not in the sense of ‘militant’ that gets used in the dangerous sense. It certainly makes you provocative. SO does calling atheists, at large, proselytizers.

    Muffti agrees that the case for religion being the greatest cause of misery today is awfully hard to swallow – (though he thinks there is a good case to be made that it is a cause of much misery, strife and the general holding back of science). he also thinks that like residual costs in economics, it’s awfully hard to judge the misery caused by religion in terms of its side effects: do the doctors that get assassinated by nutso count as adding to religion’s cause of misery? Does the Vatican condemning condom use AND abortion simultaneously count as contributing when a young woman brings a child she doesn’t want to term? What about their ban on divorce, leaving many people stuck in miserable marriages? Do boys molested by their priests add up or is that on the priests had not the religion? And that’s just the catholics! Muffti has no idea how to count the plusses and the minuses here and he suspect no one else really does either.

    In any case, he thinks misery caused is a kind of shallow indicator of the goodness or badness of something: surely you have to balance misery caused with happiness/welfare caused and, as well, whether or not the misery would be caused whether or not the phenomenon. Chemotherapy causes a great deal of misery but there is great call for it’s eradication. Furthermore, Muffti thinks it’s pretty darned stupid to lump all religions when judging.

    What we should really be asking, in Muffti’s opinion, are two questions: (1) is religion doing anything good for people that wouldnt’ be better served by a lack of religion and (2) should one be an atheist or a theist (and (3) – does the answer (2) have any bearing on whether or not religion should be promoted). Muffti thinks that people have fairly uncritically accepted that the answer to (1) is ‘a great deal’ and ignored an awful lot of the bad that it has caused, or assuem that the good outweighs the bad. This has been one powerful arguemnt for the promotion of religion in general: the good it does makes it indispensable. Muffti thinks Dawkins et. al. do a nice job of showing that there is a LOT of bad that gets caused which could be avoided.

    Anyhow, Muffti isn’t really sure how he got called on to defend St. Dawkin’s here. Muffti has no interest in that. But he does think that what you just said is much more cogent htan anythig in the Gray article you linked to.

  • TMI-hehe. And people wonder why Jewish Mother is sitting on the sidelines!! My clothing-optional sukkah seems so tame, all of the sudden….

    I for one like to hear what our deep-thinking, ass-f***ing Muffti has to say about religion. Really! I think most people look at a specific religion and decide if what they get out of it is worth the personal sacrifices it will take to be a part of it; they are usually not concerned with what effect it has on things in a general sense. And that might be completely different.

  • Ass f***ing aside, Dawkins himself noted that he doesn’t want to do away with things like Christmas – he (jokingly?) suggested that he’d be in favor of creating a group called “Atheists for Jesus.” Dawkins clearly possesses a set of moral values – yet dismisses the religious origins and context in which those values were formed. The notion that all people of faith are “uncritical” is insulting, especially in a free, liberal and non-theocratic setting where one could easily dispense with religious practice and belief with little or no consequence. Why do otherwise intelligent, educated individuals persist in faith-based belief systems despite the fact that these do not stand up to the scientific method? I guess they look around them and see that indeed, not everything is quantifiable and that religion answers questions that science cannot.

    So religion can be used for evil? So what! So can atheism, so can a Rose, so can a butt plug. I can use Dawkins’ hardcover book to smash someone over the head and kill them. I can manipulate a secular, atheistic society and turn it into a genocidal entity. Democratic, Freedom loving Nations can be manipulated into serving greedy corporate interests and in doing so commit all kinds of evil. Does that mean that all these things, especially the butt plugs, are innately evil? Uh… I think not.

    In conclusion, Wo bitte geht’s zu Gott? fragte das kleine Ferkel sounds like a shit book, why mess with little children?? Let them read Aesop’s Fables or Mother Goose. But banning it is a dumb idea too.

  • Muffti is actually yet to see one convincing case in which athiesM itself has led to evil – loads of cases in which atheisTS have done evil things but has anyone actually ever gotten up and said ‘in the name of no god, I do this’ and then done something horrible?!? Good luck finding Muffti a credible case. It’s not surprising beacuse atheism is a purely negative belief and so consistent with just about any moral system you attach it to that doesn’t ground itself in God. Similar, the mere belief in God has never caused a lot of evil. Likewise the mere belief in God coupled with the idea that he tells you what to do and then its being carried out in particularly horrible ways? Clearly happened over and over again.

    For those still reading at this point, no one knows just why intelligent people are led to believe in God and the reliability of old books despite the fact that they tell very implausible stories. In fact, shallow as its current state might be, that is exactly the sort of question Dawkins et al are trying to answer (especially dennett) thoguh Muffti has to say he finds the meme theory too weak to be anything like a real theory. Muffti is guess is pretty simple: you don’t easily get over what you are raised with and most people are raised with a religion. Not surprisingly, then, you get a lot of people with religions. Giving up family traditions and beliefs does come with a huge cost, by teh way: the scorn of your community in some cases along with the requirement that you find a new set of values or a new way to ground the old ones. That’s a massive cost.

    Religions seemed to have formed under contexts in which there was no competing scientific method and they were the best explanations at hand for what was happening. The crises of faith that have ensued seem to have been the result of being able to successfully study many of those things that were once thought to be impenetrable to the human mind, and yet regular, and so presumably penetrable and made happen by the mind of the divine. What you should be worried about is why so many have started to find atheism so plausible and wonder especially why it correlates with a time at which literacy rates, scientific knowledge and technological advance are at unprecedented levels. Hmmmn….wonder if those things are connected?

  • If you’re going to make the case that atheism hasn’t brought about violence, you should address some of the points the article raises, particularly about the Communists and the Nazis.

    It also seems simplistic to blame how people are raised with religion as the reason for their belief in god, especially the intelligent people to whom you refer. Many people change their views on religion, not to mention religions, over time. This includes some fairly intelligent people. I’m not sure that I count among the intelligent people, but I have trouble ruling out the existence of god and wonder how anybody can. There are enough question marks about the possibility of some supernatural presence that one has to consider the possibility, in my opinion.

    why so many have started to find atheism so plausible and wonder especially why it correlates with a time at which literacy rates, scientific knowledge and technological advance are at unprecedented levels. Hmmmn….wonder if those things are connected?

    Um, this plays into the argument made by the article’s author. He is saying that the leading atheists as well as those who follow their lead and those who are convinced to join their ranks, are essentially mimicking religions in their attempts to inculcate people with a set of beliefs. In this case the tool is science and technology and while it explains many things, it still cannot satisfactorily explain how or why.

    If I were to challenge the author, I would take a different tack. I would seek to show some of the common elements that are shared by religions and cults and then contrast them with Atheism and its believers. That should eliminate the argument that atheism resembles religions. What it won’t do, however, is eliminate the “faith” part of the equation. The religious folk can’t prove what they believe is true, and the same goes for the atheists. At some point, each group takes a leap of faith…

  • Muffti’s point was that atheism is compatible with many different political systems and moral codes. Muffti doesn’t think the mere belief in god has ever led to evil – it is hte belief in God + the adoption of a certain moral code and /or the perversion of that for evil ends. IN other words, there are really two questions here:
    1) Is there a god?
    2) Is religion a good thing?

    Atheists don’t have religions on account of their atheism, nor political systems. They adopt them, but teh belief in atheism is just a negative belief: there is no god. So Muffti can’t help but think that the author is massively confused on this issue because he mixes the two up. In fairness, Dawkins et al mix this up as well sometimes when they aren’t being careful (Dennett less so).

    Of course it is simplistic to claim that people believe the religion that they are raised with: the truth is simply don’t know why people do this, adn there is no straightforward reason to think taht everyone believes on account of teh same cause or reason. At this point, it’s basically just speculation and Muffti freely admits that. He was giving his best guess at one cause of it.

    What you claim is playing into the arguments made by the author is nothing of the sort. Muffti was sayign that there is a straightforward correlation of mounting of scientific data and willingness to atheism (coupled alos, curiously, with a growing tendency to reject current science, at least in america, by what now make up the religiosu right. Notice the fight over teaching evloution). This has nothing to do with leading atheists inculcating or following others – sure people will write books and articles saying what they believe but Muffti sees no way in which this mimics a religion other than it engages in the transmission of arguments and debate between two rational parties. If that is your standard then taking a chemistry class is basically doing the same thing as religion does.

    And what exactly is this how or why that it doesn’t answer (yet)?

    Muffti completely agrees with you, incidentally, over how to challenge the author – that was muffti’s point about atheism being a negative belief. beyond that, atheism is basically compatible with just about anything. There is no enforced code of ethics, common vision, leadership…so Muffti thinks we are basically converging here.

  • You know what would be cool? If Dennet’s first name was Asam. That would be so fucking cool…

  • The how is how we and everything else got here.

    The why is why we and everything else got here.

    Religion and science both attempt to explain the how and religion attempts to include the why. Assuming you are right, and I think you are, that science, technology (an offshoot of science) and literacy (access to the scientific information) are the driving forces behind increased atheism and decline in religious populations, I would say that science achieves this in two ways.

    First, in that science challenges many fundamental premises of the ancient religions which dominate the world today. Second, because science seeks to eliminate the premise of a supernatural anything controlling nature or living things. In both cases, science seeks to present its case through investigation and logical presentation of facts. Atheists rely on science to buttress their arguments and I would venture that most atheists got that way because science made it evident to them that the mainstream religions were providing false information.

    The problem is that even as we investigate scientifically, we can’t explain how or why we’re in that lab in the first place. Or why there is an option in our genes that gives us blond hair. Or why the materials with which the lab was built exist. Or why the sun outside is warming our world. Or how all of it came about…

    I think you have to consider that many scientists believe in god. Obviously they feel that science doesn’t offer all the answers. If that’s the case, then you have to address the fact that an imperfect argument is swaying plenty of people away from religion and into atheism. You claim there’s no comparison to religion because atheism is simply a contradiction that god exists, but the very rejection of a supernatural and the acceptance that things just are is a statement about existence.

    I am suggesting to you that scientific theories in and of themselves are often equivalent to anti-religious polemics (as the struggle over evolution indicates) and the gurus of atheism out there (as listed in the Guardian’s article) are seeking to spread these ideas far and wide. Imperfect ideas…that require a leap of faith to accept. Just like any religion.

  • Truthfully, Middle, adn we’ve been through this before, this seems to betray a very deep confusion in a lot of ways. First, religion doesn’t explain anything – how does telling us that there is a god explain WHY we are here? It just names a mystery. There is no theory of god’s actions. There is no theory of why genes are the way they are or why a gene in a certain environment express the phenotype blonde coming from religion. Muffti doesn’t even understand how anyone could have ever confused that for an answer to a why question. It’s as little an explanation to be told that god wanted it that way as a little kid getting told that mom wants it that way explains anything to the little kid.

    Second, science doesn’t achieve atheism. Muffti merely said it was correlated with it. The aim of science is to understand the fundamental forces behind phenomena so we can understand how the universe works. The more that we can find that is law goverened in the physical world the less we have to rely on supernatural explanations because supernatural explanations aren’t explanations. They are just passing the buck of a mystery to a mystery that we name.

    For what it’s worth, Muffti thinks that the explanation of how people got to be atheists is probably as heterogenus as the explanation of why people are theists. He thinks that the 2 things you name help. In fact, he thinks that it’s a pretty good reason to reject religion when you find out it is giving you false information, just like you stop taking advice from someone who consistently gets things wrong.

    Of cousre we can explain why we are in teh lab in the first place – we want to know more about how things work. Why do we want to know about how things work? probably it’s a decent survival strategy. There’s one deep question fo cousre that we don’t know – why is there anything at all. Short of a theory of what god is and why he wants what he does, religion just seems to say ‘that’s how god wanted it’. Which is not an answer anymore than saying ‘that’s just how it is’. Unless Muffti si way misunderstanding religion.

    Muffti vehemently disagrees moreover that scientific theories are anti-religious polemics. He does agree that they often get used that way, partly because they show that religion just is giving us false information. The gurus of atheism, by the way, are just three prominent examples amongst millions and millions of us who are happy to live and let live. Other than Dawkins, as well, none are scientists. As far as spreading ideas far and wide, all scientists attempt to do that – when you discover stuff you want to promolgate it.

  • No, no, no, you do not get off so easily, mon petit atheist.

    Religion most certainly explains (if you believe, that is) the why and the how. You may think the answer “God wants it that way” is childish but it answers the question for hundreds of millions and perhaps billions in the world today. Historically, as a percentage of the world’s population, the people who bought this answer represented a vast majority.

    There are other ideas that can be found in religions. In ours, for example, the idea of a covenant with god or the idea that god created and saw what he created and thought it was “good” are enough to convince some fairly astute people that god intended things and then made them happen. These ideas may not satisfy Muffti, but they satisfy many people and are definitely explanations believed by multitudes as to the why.

    With respect to the how, I can point you to any number of creation myths, not to mention the reliance in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which together link over half the world’s population, upon the biblical stories and subsequent explanations of these stories to explain the how.

    Here I think you’re being a little disingenuous, or at least backing off your earlier claims. Science is at the heart of atheism. What freed believers from the shackles of faith was the ability to reject supernatural explanations thanks to scientific progress. In fact, it is science that makes plain that the book may not be God’s word since it isn’t perfect. You essentially agree with what I write here in your 3rd paragraph.

    But science fails to explain both the why and the how. A religious person may not have the sophisticated understanding of a gene that a scientist possesses, but that religious person understands the gene is, at the most, predetermined by god herself, or at the least a part of a broader plan for mankind. The gene is not accidental and is also considered to be holy, in some respects. Science merely knows the gene exists and perhaps what the gene does. This leaves the atheist struggling to explain the same. After all, without a god to give greater meaning to everything (no matter how simplistic you find it), you are on your own trying to explain what the hell that gene is doing there in the first place.

    This applies to the issue of the lab as well. What I meant was that we don’t know why anything exists. Why do we exist, why did we create cities and communities, why do we seek knowledge, why do we want to sleep with that blonde in the lab, etc. This is a bigger why. It’s a Why. And yes, science can explain that I have testosterone flowing through me and it drives me to desire that blonde woman, but it can’t explain Why. Oh, to reproduce? But Why? Oh, to keep my gene pool going (survival and Darwinism)? Great! Yes! But Why? Why do I want to have my gene pool survive and why am I here along with all these other creatures in the first place? We are looking for the big Why and neither science nor atheism provide it. Religion does, even if you find the explanation lame and simplistic. If you believe that god is the, for example, master of the universe and its very creator, than the answer “that’s how god wanted it” is very satisfying.

    I have no beef with your last paragraph, but you have to admit that there is a movement afoot that has a definite anti-religious and pro-atheist flavor.

  • Glad to have found a post topic that Muffti enjoys. 🙂 He should beware though of confusing the wrong-doings of individual adherents to a faith with that very faith’s doctrine.

    (Off topic: I’ve explained the Catholic Church’s stance on condoms in another thread; it’s not as easy as people make it out to be and pretty close to the Orthodox Jewish view on condoms. The population explosion, BTW, largely has been taking place in predominantly Muslim countries, and demographically, it marks a necessary step provided Muslim countries will eventually permit access to science like in the Western Hemisphere. Europe faced such a population explosion in the mid-18th century (won’t go into the details as to why now lest I get chided).)

    Not off topic, but an inside bynote:

  • Sure, there is such a movement afoot. But it’s nto like the movement of evangelicals in the 80s or something. It’s a few guys writing a few books that people consider thought provoking. Muffti walks down one of the quads on his campus and sees frat and sorority advertisements, political parties (‘young _____s’) and various religious organizations appealing to your need to find jesus/etc. He sees no one standing around with flyers saying ‘reject religion and find your inner scientist’. No retreats for atheists to talk and support eachother. No ‘let’s changet he world with atheism’. As pointed out, we arent’ proselytizers (for the most part).

    Science and atheism are related but the one is not at the heart of others. Many scientists are religious despite excellent understanding fo the gene, and many atheists are suspect of science’s ability to explain all. Muffti is suspicious of such an ability. Niether is philosophy – many philosophers are religious and theists (often you find ones that are one but not the other) and many atheists know little or no philosophy. This is what you woujld expect Muffti thinks, from disciplines and beliefs that are distinct from one another….

    As has been pointed out before, science and religion need not be hostile to one another. The way you put it, the two have different goals. And Muffti is fine wit religious people. But he doesn’t see how the thesis that there is a god explains anything. Put it this way, after reading the chumash, do you know why God created the world? Do you have any insight into God’s psychology that tels you why he created man and woman with the ability to reason but not to fly? Do you know why he declares some animals edible and others to be filthy abominations (of his creation)?

    of course not. Those are just mysteries engendered by religion and you get standard answers that aren’t explanations but put-offs ‘his nature is infinite so we can’t understand it’. ‘that’s one of the mysteries that tests are faith….’ That’s fine but Muffti thinks it’s bullshit to swap in a mysterious, unexplainable entity and they pretend that you have found an explanation. You’ve basically labeled a cause that we know next to nothing about (especially when we start to admit that these are all creation myths and that our holy books are meant to be read metaphorically).

    All this is to say that religion doesn’t really seem to compete with science on answering questions, niether how nor why.

  • Just returned from a Catholic funeral, and the priest in his sermon clearly stated that believing is not knowing. Mixing up beliefs with knowledge is typical of cults, so the major religions should stay clear of such approaches.

  • All this is to say that religion doesn’t really seem to compete with science on answering questions, niether how nor why.

    Okay, that may be true for you but it is decidedly untrue for most believers in most religions. That’s the point.

  • But that just dodges the question: what is explained by invoking God? what deeper understandign do you have from being told that a source that is impenetrable to your understanding is responsible for the whole big shebang?

    How is that an explanation?

  • froylein’s comment illustrates the perhaps surprising irony that it’s religious people, and not atheists and scientists, who occupy the middle ground between knowledge and belief, faith and doubt.

    The Hitchens-style polemicists– including Nietzsche himself, though not including more measured skeptics like Hume– radiate a nimbus of certainty. Religious belief is pathological; the impulse to believe itself may be genetic, or in any event a matter for clinicians. Then, there are straw men, like the Genesis creation story or the Virgin birth; attacking them fails to address the fundamental questions, such as the one ontologists ask– why is there something and not nothing?

    Mature faith acknowledges, even accommodates doubt. Muffti is right that we do not know God’s purposes. We can’t answer all of the ‘why’ questions. We cheerfully acknowledge that such human limits are precisely why faith is required. Further, such limits obviously underlie doubt as well. My faith journey, and I believe that of many or most other people of faith, amounts to a kind of ongoing dialectic between faith and that deadening, trap-door feeling that maybe all of this is random, purposeless, ultimately tragic. One can’t have one without the other. I’m not sure of God’s purpose in creating us. But he manifestly did not create robots.

    The atheists I know, an often rather intellectually lazy bunch, are content to play defense– mocking the foibles of institutional religion and judging faiths by the standard of their most feckless, falliable members. Fair enough, we can take the criticism. But perhaps atheists would do well to take their cue from religious people, and adopt the nuances, and live with the uncertainties, that we take on as part of our commitment to grow in our understanding of the divine.

  • Another suggested title for Muffti: Heather Has Two Mommies But No God Or Anything.

  • But that just dodges the question: what is explained by invoking God? what deeper understandign do you have from being told that a source that is impenetrable to your understanding is responsible for the whole big shebang?

    How is that an explanation?

  • Morrissey, that’s a lovely tale but if we are going to take Hitchens as the poster child for atheism, it’s only fair that Muffti gets to point out no end of preachers, pastors, rabbis and imams who exhibit about as much confidence in their being a God and him having a purpose that they, of course, can divine. Muffti ain’t never seen Pat Robertson answer a question about faith with ‘hmmmn, sometimes I’m not THAT sure there is a god…’

    as to the question why is there something rather than nothing, Muffti’s whole point has been that claiming that there is something rather than nothing because god wanted it that way is no real answer at all. He doesn’t really get why anyone gets street cred for having ‘answered’ the questions and ‘grappled with its implications’ or ‘addressed the fundamental question’ by doing so.

    Muffti has a great deal of respect for the religious nonetheless – though he knows no shortage of the intellectually lazy amongst their ranks, content with a belief and the instructions of a book – and of course atheists live a life that is frequented by many of the same questions. The implications of a world that doesn’t ultimately rectify injustice, that is an indifferent to suffering as it is to joy, the coming to grips with the realization that finality truly is oblivion rather than salvation are staggering. If the claims about foxholes are true, most atheists can’t stand up under the psychological pressure. On both sides, Muffti thinks you find reflective and non-reflective people and since the mystery of meaning and purpose are indeed deep mysteries, its not surprising you find people that avoid and ignore them on both sides and people that take them on with sisyphean efforts no matter what their take on God and religion might be.

  • Does Muffti believe in love / hate?

    Would Muffti skip on off-weekends / holidays / basic human rights that the Ancient Greek society did not provide for to pursue a fully atheist lifestyle?

  • He certainly does. He loves hamburgers and beer and hates most country music. He’s not really in full comprehension of your last question however…

  • Would Muffti say that love and hate always need to be directed at an object or could they exist without a target?

    I was wondering whether Muffti finds it fair that many atheists will gladly accept the positive things religions have brought about but reject the obligations that have come with them in observance. Wouldn’t that compare to only going to work for the coffee breaks and picking up your pay cheque? Wouldn’t that require that atheists re-structure their lives to be completely atheist?

  • No idea, Middle; lately I’ve occasionally had lines disappearing, but it might well be me accidentally highlighting and thus deleting something while typing.

  • Middle, Muffti and I sufficiently discuss any private topic via email. Afterall there’s a challenge to make Muffti blush, which might be tough, but not impossible.

  • Hmm, getting back to Muffti’s question, I think the answer is that if we conclude that the universe is the product of authorship– even if we know nothing further along the lines of the intention or purposes of such authorship– were impelled to inquire further, to try to understand. It’s tricky, because xtians (and Jews, too, as far as I know) are strictly bound not to pretend to God-like powers of understanding. So our faith teaches us that the ‘why’ will remain a mystery.

    Nonetheless, even from the point of view of Nietzschean will to knowledge, it would be odd to stop with aknowledging that some sort of authorship informs creation. It’s different, right, if we stipulate at the outset that the universe is the product of totally impersonal forces? If we reject this view, how not to proceed onto questions of His responsibility, ours, the meaning of suffering, etc.?

  • A fn. to Middle’s obsessive curiosity about that lonesome byway: Middle, it’s 95 per cent in the head. And we now know that Muffti favors music not performed by xian or Jewish artists. He must have the world’s greatest collection of sitar and gamelan albums.

  • Hey, don’t look at me! ck and Muffti brought it up and then Froylein, um, resurrected the topic. I think that if God had wanted…uh, never mind.

  • I, too, have a profound aversion to oral sex, Middle. Thanks.

  • (Make that O’Middle and McMuffti for the balance of the day.)

  • Begosh and begorah, Tom, why er ye averse to oral sex? It gets the old peat fires bornin’, ye know…quicker than a nip of Jamesons, to be sure…

  • Just a lil’ ol’ white lie, Giyoret, to make O’Middle feel less alone about them “unnatural” sexual practices….

    What’s wrong with me? It’s 5 pm and I’m still sober.

  • Hey, who said what I feel or don’t feel about anything sexual? We were discussing Muffti’s girlfriends.

  • Is McMuffti involved in this discussion, or can we talk behind his back?

  • Muffti asked: But that just dodges the question: what is explained by invoking God? what deeper understandign do you have from being told that a source that is impenetrable to your understanding is responsible for the whole big shebang?

    Well, on a very basic level, sometimes we are called upon to make a choice between good and evil. And yes, the notion of a social contract and the fear of worldly repercussions might make us choose to do good, but what happens when you know with absolute certainty that you can get away with it? What’s to stop you from not choosing evil if in doing so a significant benefit is conferred upon you? From the perspective of social cohesion, and in many cases, to protect the weak from the strong, the notion of divine consequences works quite well in keeping folks in line and defining a notion of morality, what is right and what is wrong, that goes beyond mere utility.

    So to answer your question – “What is explained by invoking God?” – well, the difference between good and evil for one. Is this effective 100% of the time? No. But humans are imperfect by nature.

    And I love how atheists say that they can arrive at a notion of morality and discern between right and wrong without God. Yeah, but then they ignore the religious foundations of these notions. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness etc. – these were not always universally accepted principles. That they are now is not a testament to human reason but rather to a faith in a God that introduced these values to mankind.

  • Muffti is not delicate as far as I can tell, but I’m not sure whether it’s fair to discuss his girlfriends if we could discuss…… him. 🙂

    The good thing about this thread is that by now, anybody who isn’t interested in atheism vs theism vs sexual practices vs corny country music by Belgians (!), has likely stopped reading and moved on to some other posts, so I can as well share that I’ve just baked 14 trays of cookies and that I’m going on vacation next week.

  • Watch out, froylein, this site is secretly dominated by a Canadian cabal. All of the characters you know and love, O’Middle et al., grew up together in a tiny, seaside Jewish community on Baffin Bay.

    Not sure what they do for nook up there, but there aren’t many of ’em, so draw your own conclusions.

  • Tom misrepresents the history of “the characters.” It’s well known I’m Finnish in origin, ck is Moroccan and Muffti did grow up in Canada but only after a difficult childhood in Crown Heights. I’m blond, ck is ck and Muffti looks like a Yemenite child kidnapped by Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Baffin Island was just a way-stop.

  • Bet the Crown Heights folks paid for a one-way ticket out of town for that atheist agitator.

  • So are they something like the smurfs? Are the women bloggers a collective Smurfette? Is Rabbi Yonah Papa Smurf? Who is Gargamel?

  • Froylein asked:

    I was wondering whether Muffti finds it fair that many atheists will gladly accept the positive things religions have brought about but reject the obligations that have come with them in observance.

    It depends what you have in mind. Religion was partly responsible for producing the Vatican whcih Muffti thinks is a very beautiful part of the world. Does that mean that Muffti has to go to confession inorder to enjoy it? Pretty clearly no.

    Morrissey said (admitted?)

    It’s tricky, because xtians (and Jews, too, as far as I know) are strictly bound not to pretend to God-like powers of understanding. So our faith teaches us that the ‘why’ will remain a mystery.

    Nonetheless, even from the point of view of Nietzschean will to knowledge, it would be odd to stop with aknowledging that some sort of authorship informs creation. It’s different, right, if we stipulate at the outset that the universe is the product of totally impersonal forces? If we reject this view, how not to proceed onto questions of His responsibility, ours, the meaning of suffering, etc.?

    You can proceed away to these questions. You basically gave Muffti all he was looking for – positing a ‘god’ who is omnipotent etc. does not explain jack shit. It raises tons of questions that you can then go on to ponder but it’s not an explanation. THat’s not to say its not a partial explanation – it renders the universe the product of intentional rather than unintentional means, but it doesn’t seem to do much more than that. essentially it leaves the universe just as mysterious with respect to why as the thought that hte universe is cold and impersonal.

    CK claimed:

    That they are now is not a testament to human reason but rather to a faith in a God that introduced these values to mankind.

    Muffti finds this awfully hard to believe, especially since there are plenty of law codes that predate any realistic date at which the mosaic law was ‘passed down from god’. Hammurabi and teh codex of Ur-Nammur both predate it by a good 500 years. A quick (granted Wikipedia’d) look at the latter reveals:

    1. If a man commits a murder, that man must be killed.
    2. If a man commits a robbery, he will be killed.

    28. . If a man appeared as a witness, and was shown to be a perjurer, he must pay fifteen shekels of silver.

    Let’s see, that accounts for ‘no murder, no stealing and no false witness bearing’.

    Muffti loves it when religious people pretend values started with them and god passing down a bunch of unheard of laws. It’s bullshit so far as the empirical record goes, amigo.

  • Muffit, check out Toumani Diabate’s new album ‘Mande Variations’– he’s a Muslim from Mali, so it might not be half bad (actually, it’s sensational).

    The fact that other cultures posit the same moral and legal values as Torah Judaism or Christianity is, if anything, further evidence that God or something like Him exists. Beyond the prohibited behaviors (theft etc.), it shows a broadly-shared, affirmative human desire for goodness and right conduct…. A common human aspiration to live with integrity. (It doesn’t prove anything, however.)

    I probably part company with the more orthodox Jewish readers on this site in stressing the “mysteries” of creation. Catholicism having messed with my head, I don’t read the Bible literally. The Bible, including the NT, poses as many questions as it answers, for me anyway. But that may be a minority view, I don’t know.

  • How does other cultures positing the same moral and legal values provide evidence for god or anything like it as opposed to an innate disposition to find certain actions to be valuable and others to be avoided?!? Does common grammatical structure in all languages point to the divine as well?

  • Muffti, frum people claim it does… Tell a Chasid there are more than seventy languages in this world and see his reaction…

  • Oh boy, you guys ain’t going to convince each other. Each of your positions requires faith.

    Hey Muffti, if different cultures and religions come up with more or less the same kind of laws, why do you think it’s not part of god’s plan? Wouldn’t that make more sense than different cultures randomly coming up with similar rules hundreds of years apart and thousands of miles apart? Or if it’s pre-configured into our DNA, why is that the case? I actually agree with Tom, that the commonality of many elements in our culture poses a bigger problem for your view than for his.

    Not all languages share common grammatical structure. But yes, why wouldn’t that point to the divine?

    And Muffti, “Why” are we here? Is it just an accident of fate and the universe? Is there no purpose to the universe at all – all those planets and solar systems gone to waste?

  • Oh, and Muffti, you could only go to confession as in one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church if you were a member of that church; but feel free to tell priests about anal sex. 🙂

  • Some of those common values obviously have to do with proscribing obviously bad behavior. But Moses and Jesus and Lao tzu and Mohammed put forth a common, affirmative vision, too. If you’re a believer, it’s evidence that human beings commonly strive to do good, strive toward God, if you like. There’s a distinctive kind of seeking here– a drive to transcend limits. I think this is more than simply a “disposition to find certain actions to be valuable and others to be avoided”. My dog’s good at that.

  • froylein, not sure if that’s officially a sin, but I’ll look into it and get back. I know you need an answer, what with vacation coming up.

  • Not a sin per se, Tom, but the receiving of sacraments requires baptism as the initial step (cf. F.-J. Nocke, Sakramententheologie); so a priest would need to require that (cf. Codex Iuris Canonici) to fully go through with confession + absolution. Muffti could, however, confess his sins to a priest, and the priest would be tied to secrecy of confession, but it wouldn’t equal to the sacrament of penance.

  • Oh, and indeed, I’m looking forward to my trip. I bought two memory cards for my new camera today as I plan on taking lots of pictures.