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A Modern Secular Religion

 
 
blatham
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Jul, 2003 11:10 pm
george

You see how dispersed and unfocused this discussion is already. You are at fault, because of the nature of your original post. Thought not terribly long, it contains a host of assumptions, and cliches built on assumptions, all of which are highly contestable. Setanta, writing one of the best posts I've seen him compose, addresses a number of these.

You will have to look very hard to find an encyclopedic dictionary on line which even has a category heading for 'secular humanism' - I actually couldn't find one. So, what is it you (and others who use this term, including those who refer to themselves this way) are actually referring to? How distinct or ill-defined is it? Are there variants? Do followers meet while their wives (members of the Secular Humanist Lady's Auxilliary - Twin Forks Chapter) prepare little triangular sandwiches?

Do you really want to return to a pre-Rennaissance, pre-David Humian world? The human figure portrayed in art from shortly after the end of the classical period until its rediscovery is without joy, without sexuality, without life. The Dark Ages, though poetically named, are named well. Centuries of stick men...then Michelangelo. Number of angels that might be fit on the head of a pin...then Hume and rigorous Socratic subversion of the unquestioned assumptions. Humanism was not a step backwards, George.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Jul, 2003 05:54 am
Are them little sandwhiches perhaps thinly sliced ham on white bread with butter and Miracle Whip? 'Cause i have a secret love of certain trashy foods. Hmmm, the Twin Forks Chapter of the Secular Humanist Subversive International & Social Club--where do i sign up?
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Jul, 2003 12:35 pm
George, we live in a secular society with a secular government. This is specifically protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

You will have to define "secular humanism". But I am going by the definition given by this link:

http://www.secularhumanism.org/intro/what.html

Government "advocacy" of this creed is most definately correct.

-It allows for a multicultural pluralist society
-It fulfills the constitutional requirement for separation of church and state.
-It favors reason and truth over dogma.

This country was founded on secular humanism. It has (mostly) worked for this country for over 200 years.

George, what are you offering us as an alternative...
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georgeob1
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Jul, 2003 01:05 pm
As you can readily see, I borrowed the term "Secular Humanism" from Setanta, and used it in a way fully consistent with his implicit definition. It was evident that Setanta does not associate himself with it, and I made no attempt to make that association myself. Further he rejected the notion that it could properly be considered in any way a religion, but in his last sentence, quoted below, he made a clear reference to the existence those who would attempt to impose such ideas on others, presumably in public life. I made a rather broad use of the word religion precisely to illustrate the fact that the beliefs which are being displaced from public life are mostly those associated with religion in this country, and that a general effect of this is to diminish the role of religion in our public lives.

Setanta wrote:
.... Finally, secular religion, apart from being hilariously oxymoronic, makes the unsupported and unsupportable assumption that there is such a thing as secular humanism to which a significant body of the populace adheres in support of a defined agenda of belief and calls to action. That the narrow, self-serving and exclusionary agenda of the religious right has a large and vocal opposition is not to be doubted; that this therefore constitutes an opposing "religion" is too absurd to continue to refute. However, i will acknowledge that there are those who do hold a belief in something called secular humanism, and that they would hope to impose their beliefs on others. The effort is largely futile, however, as religious adheres requires the surrender of one's will to higher authority, and what is described as secular humanism derives from an assumption of the intrinsic worth of the individual, to which the imposition of higher authority is antithetical. ....


While it is true that some aspects of many religions require "the surrender of one's will to a higher authority", so too does the very idea of God. I note also that governmental enforcement of many of the ideas that Setanta has described as "Secular Humanist", also involves the surrender of one's will to a higher authority. If government is empowered to describe some words directed at some groups of people (selected by the government) as "hate speech", deserving of government sanctions, then that surrender has a very palpable meaning indeed.

I agree that establishing an acceptable vocabulary for such a discussion presents its own difficulties. It is, however, far from impossible. Is this merely the rejection of ideas seen as antithetical to currently established truth? I see in much of the rejection here the same indignation that is often seen in religious zealots confronted with heresy. But then such a comparison could be used to further the heretical notion that modern political rectitude (see I'm using Setanta's formulation) itself takes on religious aspects.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Jul, 2003 01:35 pm
Your observations are truth to you; it doesn't matter what other's think. c.i.
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blatham
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 09:36 am
Well, do I not look the fool now.

George...my apologies. After reading your original post, then Setanta's, I conflated. Duh. However, there remains much to take you to task on.

Let me begin with a thesis. There was a previous period where religious authorities were unquestioned. "Truth" was their province and no one else really had any appropriate role there. That unique status fell under assault from a number of quarters...the inflow of classical ideas during the Rennaissance, the inflow and exchange of alternate cultural ideas as a consequence of trade/commerce and associated communication lines, the random and cruelly injust destruction of the plague, the contest for power between the church and the princes and the new merchant class, etc. Such changes brought about a vast and compelling epistemological turmoil across Europe. And those assaults on church authority (politically and epistemologically) did not stop, but continued and grew even more pointed and profound. And the church lost every battle. The world wasn't at the center...disease might be remedied not by prayer but by finding little bugs in the water sick people were drinking... it made sense to think of immense periods of time in understanding the formations of mountains....and finally, the real kicker, evolution of species.

Your strategy george, and it's a common one, is to claim that all ways of knowing are equally faulty, equally based on notions of faith and epistemological uncertainty. It's the only way believers have of gaining back the ground lost over the last thousand years.

But it is not valid. There are deep and critical differences between these two ways of 'knowing'. Unfortunately, I must head out the door to work, so your epiphanies must await my return.
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georgeob1
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 10:55 am
Blatham,

No argument with you that religion, Christianity in particular, has more or less consistently resisted the initial changes proposed by science to the classical Aristotelian models. That is, however, a matter of history and it would hardly be accurate to characterize Christianity as opposed to science.

I believe the evolution issue is a red herring. Luddite, bible thumping rejectionists of evolutionary concepts are no more characteristic of Christianity (or religion) than are advocates of cold fusion characteristic of science. My earlier reference to the age of the earth and the time required to have achieved human evolution was merely an attempt to show that questions relating to design continue to emerge in science in fields as diverse as relativistic quantum mechanics, cosmology, and biology. My belief is that the march of science will continue to lead us closer to understanding the laws of nature and that in them we will continue to see only the outline of the possibility of a creator, never the certainty. One is left with a comparison of the relative magnitude of two leaps of faith - to a creator, or to atheism. I believe the latter is far greater.

I was aiming the discussion at the practical relation of religion to government in the West. Many historians make the case that one of the foundations of the development of Western political systems and progress (perhaps we could use Popper's term, 'open societies') has been the continuing tension between secular power and religion. Neither has dominated completely: each limited the worst excesses of the other. Compare this to the central tendency in the Islamic world in which there is little distinction made between government and religion. Consider also the record of avowedly atheistic or at least irreligious regimes in the West - Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia are the best examples. Each of these illustrates the truth of the Neitzgian suggestion that, without God, everything is permissable.

My concern is that we are permitting government to go too far in the legislation of right behavior, belief, and expression. Discrediting and displacing norms outside of and independent of government opens the door for worse at the hands of government.
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Scrat
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 11:06 am
George - You're right on point. The 1st amendment prohibition against establishing a religion had as its goal keeping government open to all religions. Anything that blocks that access--including the mindless cant of "separation of church and state"--effectively becomes an established religion, by doing that very thing which the founders feared establishing a religion would do.
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dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 11:44 am
THUD
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Frank Apisa
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 11:59 am
georgeob1 wrote:
My belief is that the march of science will continue to lead us closer to understanding the laws of nature and that in them we will continue to see only the outline of the possibility of a creator, never the certainty. One is left with a comparison of the relative magnitude of two leaps of faith - to a creator, or to atheism. I believe the latter is far greater.


Talk about LEAPS!!!!

That one was off a cliff about as steep as Everest.

In any case, one is never left with a comparison of the relative magnitude of two leaps of faith -- to a creator or to atheism. One can simply acknowledge that there is not enough information to make a reasonable, meaningful guess or estimate in either direction.

But if the compulsion to do so is so great as to preclude taking the reasonable, honest, and ethical stand on the issue (the agnostic stand), you ought at least have enough sense of proportions not to assert that a blind leap in one direction is better than a blind leap in another.

And despite what you might want to think (which is diametrically opposed to the take of atheists on this) there is absolutely nothing in current scientific work to indicate any movement toward information on whether the reality is a creator or no creator.
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patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 12:51 pm
I'm a bit thick-headed. Could someone explain to me, without delving too far into the epistemological shift that took place in our collected European minds in the last millennia or into the usual atheism/agnosticism/theism debate, exactly what this new "religion" is -- specific examples would be very helpful -- and who is trying to establish it as the official state religion?
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Scrat
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 05:46 pm
Patio - I can't speak for George, but I merely refer to it as a religion for the reasons I've outlined above. The 1st amendment bars government from establishing a religion. Why? A: To ensure that all religions are treated openly and fairly by government.

My contention is that the modern notion of separation of church and state effectively commits the very act the 1st amendment wishes to prevent. All religions are treated unfairly by government, because of this overbearing notion that government and religions must never intersect. I find nothing in the Constitution, the Federalist Papers or elsewhere to support the notion that the founders wished government to have no dealings with religion. Rather they simply (and quite clearly) intended only to bar government from espousing one religion to the detriment of others.

I believe if you look at this from a standpoint of the framers' intent, you may be able to see my point. (You may not agree with it, but you might at least understand what I'm going on about. :wink: )
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 05:49 pm
Scrat wrote:
The 1st amendment prohibition against establishing a religion had as its goal keeping government open to all religions.


A statement absolutely without foundation, and for which not the least textual support can be provided. Given that, the absurd attempt at a logical inference which followed it is not worthy of refutation.
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patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 06:01 pm
I must beg pardon, having proved my own thick-headedness: it had been my intention, before my previous post became so convoluted, to ask first what "it" is, and only then ask who is trying to make "it" the state religion. Is "it" just some vague notion of lefty groupthink engendered by the paranoia of the right*, or does george have something more specific in mind. As far as I'm concerned, any discussion of so-called "political correctness" demands a definition of the phrase as a basis for the conversation, as there is no consensus in society on what this phrase actually means (as is the case, increasingly, with the terms "liberal" and "conservative").

Please help me out here; I am a bit slow.



* Please note that no faction has cornered the market on paranoia.
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georgeob1
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 06:16 pm
Frank Apisa wrote:


.... In any case, one is never left with a comparison of the relative magnitude of two leaps of faith -- to a creator or to atheism. One can simply acknowledge that there is not enough information to make a reasonable, meaningful guess or estimate in either direction.

....

But if the compulsion to do so is so great as to preclude taking the reasonable, honest, and ethical stand on the issue (the agnostic stand), you ought at least have enough sense of proportions not to assert that a blind leap in one direction is better than a blind leap in another. ....


Frank, do you really mean to suggest that belief in a creator (or the denial of it) is neither reasonable, honest, nor ethical? Remarkable ! As far as we know we have only one life. We are all confronted with this dilemma and with the very human aspiration for understanding and something I'll call spiritual fulfillment. Many have found that in God. I would not call them unreasonable, dishonest, or unethical.

I do believe it is both reasonable and defensible to compare leaps of faith. Even mathematical infinities have their categories and magnitudes. In this case one may be found to simply involve fewer assumptions or apparent contradictions than the other. A process not at all unlike that of physicists in developing new theories in the face of incomplete evidence and contradictions with other, not directly related theories.
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Scrat
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 06:24 pm
Setanta wrote:
Scrat wrote:
The 1st amendment prohibition against establishing a religion had as its goal keeping government open to all religions.

A statement absolutely without foundation, and for which not the least textual support can be provided. Given that, the absurd attempt at a logical inference which followed it is not worthy of refutation.

How then can the practice of religion be free if the government denies access to any group or person due to their (or his or her) religious beliefs?

Quote:
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, pt. 1
All religions are in their nature mild and benign, and united with principles of morality. They could not have made proselytes at first, by professing anything that was vicious, cruel, persecuting or immoral. Like every thing else, they had their beginning; and they proceeded by persuasion, exhortation, and example. How then is it that they lose their native mildness, and become morose and intolerant?

It proceeds from the connection which Mr. Burke recommends. By engendering the church with the state, a sort of mule-animal, capable only of destroying, and not of breeding up, is produced, called, The Church established by Law. It is a stranger, even from its birth to any parent mother on which it is begotten, and whom in time it kicks out and destroys.

The Inquisition in Spain does not proceed from the religion originally professed, but from this mule-animal, engendered between the church and the state. The burnings in Smithfield proceeded from the same heterogeneous production; and it was the regeneration of this strange animal in England afterwards, that renewed rancor and irreligion among the inhabitants, and that drove the people called Quakers and Dissenters to America.

Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion reassumes its original benignity. In America, a Catholic priest is a good citizen, a good character, and a good neighbor; an Episcopal minister is of the same description: and this proceeds, independently of the men, from there being no law-establishment in America.

George has argued--reasonably and perhaps by thinking beyond your ability--that a thing other than a religion can become this mule-animal, if merely treated as such. I more specifically argue that the bastardization and complete misinterpretation of the phrase "separation of church and state" has led to the creation of a hollow shell that sits where a religion cannot, but which--by occupying the same status--harms other religions in precisely the manner the framers hoped to avoid.

And the only thing in this discussion that is "absurd" is your apparent belief that you can toss aside an argument without actually arguing it. Calling my point of view unfounded and unsupported means nothing unless you can back it up. (Of course, this is the point where you hide behind the claim that I'm somehow unworthy of the simple effort it would require to show how wrong I am. I wonder whether you realize how impotent this tactic is. Oh well, no matter.)
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 06:56 pm
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. (Thomas Jefferson, as President, in a letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.)

As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of government to protect all conscientious protesters thereof, and I know of no other business government has to do therewith. (Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776.)

Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of the mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear--maintain the principles that he believes--worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 07:01 pm
Nothing in your quote of Paine supports your contention that the First amendment was promulgated to afford equal access to government by all religions. You have provided not the least textual evidence that this was anyone's intent in the framing of that amendment.
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Frank Apisa
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 07:08 pm
georgeob1 wrote:
Frank, do you really mean to suggest that belief in a creator (or the denial of it) is neither reasonable, honest, nor ethical? Remarkable !
Quote:
As far as we know we have only one life. We are all confronted with this dilemma and with the very human aspiration for understanding and something I'll call spiritual fulfillment. Many have found that in God. I would not call them unreasonable, dishonest, or unethical.


I understand that you wouldn't. I wouldn't either. But I would call it less reasonable, less honest, and less ethical than simply acknowledging that you do not know. I truly cannot understand why you wouldn't also.

Quote:
I do believe it is both reasonable and defensible to compare leaps of faith. Even mathematical infinities have their categories and magnitudes. In this case one may be found to simply involve fewer assumptions or apparent contradictions than the other. A process not at all unlike that of physicists in developing new theories in the face of incomplete evidence and contradictions with other, not directly related theories.


Once again you are into this "belief" stuff. That probably is your problem.

There are others in A2K who come up with the exact opposite conclusions from yours -- saying that assumptions and apparent contradictions favor the atheistic side.

It is my contention that the evidence we have DOES NOT FAVOR ONE SIDE OR THE OTHER -- and any perception that it does is strictly wishful thinking on the part of a proponent for one side or the other.

You are, of course, free to make these "leaps of faith" -- just as I am free to call your attention to what I perceive as the folly of doing so.

I thank you for sharing -- but I very strongly disagree with you. I hope you decide to discuss this with me at greater length. You have some very interesting ideas -- and you present your arguments in an interesting and lucid way.
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georgeob1
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jul, 2003 07:24 pm
Frank,

No problem at all with your last formulation. What you said before was that the ONLY reasonable, honest, and ethical option is ... etc. There was no comparative. My conclusion was the only one you left open.

I don't know anyone who says (at least to me) he KNOWS that God exists, but many who believe very strongly that he does.

I know of many serious thinkers who, on consideration of the whole of human nature, would say that Agnosticism, while logical is an unreasonable position for one to embrace. Many others disagree.
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