Tuesday, December 22, 2009

10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On

In the spirit of the holidays and of religious tolerance, I thought I'd post a link to a pretty good list I found at cracked.com called 10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On. It's a long article that I won't fully post here but will list the 10 items with highlights from a few:

Can Christians and atheists both agree that...

1. You Can Do Terrible Things in the Name of Either One

... All I need from you is agreement that it's entirely possible for either an atheist or theist world to devolve into a screaming murder festival. The religious leader sends his people into battle because he thinks God commanded it, the Stalins and Maos of the world do the same because they see their people as nothing more than meaty fuel to be ground up to feed the machinery of The State. In both cases, the people are equally dead.

2. Both Sides Really Do Believe What They're Saying

... if there is a God, it appears that some good people honestly don't perceive him. For whatever reason. And there has to be some tolerance in God's rules for the Honest Mistake. Has to be. Otherwise we're all going to get screwed by that thing with the Sabbath being on Saturday instead of Sunday.

So, we've agreed that the other guy, no matter how irritating he or she is, is likely making an honest mistake.

3. In Everyday Life, You're Not That Different

... Well, at the very worst, the atheists are just applying the same common sense, real-world troubleshooting to the God question. At the creation of the universe and in the heart of mankind, they expect to find the same physical, tangible answers they'd find inside a burnt transmission. If they're wrong about God, they're only wrong in that they've taken the tried-and-true troubleshooting we all practice one step too far ...

Well, at the very worst, the Christians are just taking that same moral impulse and applying it to the God question. At the creation of the universe, they expect to find the same invisible hand that pushes us to be fair and loyal and kind. If they're wrong about God, they're only wrong in that they've taken that absolute morality and put a face on it, made an idol out of it. Taken it one step too far.

You think of it that way, and the amount of overlap between the two of us is actually pretty striking.

4. There Are Good People on Both Sides (fairly self-explanatory)

5. Your Point of View is Legitimately Offensive to Them

... So Christians, knowing what we just said about how it is possible to be a true, honest atheist, that people walk around every day and truly see no evidence of God, can you understand why it's offensive to them to hear that they, and their family, and their children, and their friends, are going to burn for eternity for it?

6. We Tend to Exaggerate About the Other Guy

Anybody can memorize facts. But you remain a clumsy, intellectual oaf of a person as long as you keep looking for sheer black and white in every situation ...

... when we get into these atheist vs. Christian arguments, can the atheists stop acting like Christians want to abolish all science and live in grass huts? Just because some Christians reject the science on evolution, doesn't mean they reject all science.

... America has been full of Christians since the day we invaded it, and has been a scientific and technological freaking superpower. So please stop waving your arms and warning that if Christians get their way, we'll all be sacrificing virgins on altars and replacing surgeons with priests.

And Christians, ... stop implying that the atheist lifestyle is one long drug-riddled blood orgy? You take a country like Japan, where just 12% of the people say religion is important to their lives and yet have some of the lowest crime rates in the world.

... we only need to agree that rejecting science on one subject doesn't mean you reject all science on all subjects, and that rejecting Christian morality doesn't mean rejecting all morality.

7. We Tend to Exaggerate About Ourselves, Too

8. Focusing on Negative Examples Makes You Stupid

9. Both Sides Have Brought Good to the Table

... rationalism ... the philosophy that started saying, centuries ago, that it's not demons that cause disease. It's microbes, and genetic defects, and chemistry. And that we can find those causes and we can find cures. Cures in the physical world, without consulting the priest, without going through a ceremony.

... If atheism is wrong, it's only wrong in that it takes rationalism too far, beyond the edges of the universe. But you don't have a problem with the rationalism itself. There are people you love who would not be alive without it. You can pray that grandpa's heart holds out for another year, but rational thinking invented the pacemaker.

So even if you detest atheism, you can at least agree that it grew out of something good.

... In the middle of a religious debate, you may say that religion and superstition are the prime evil in human society. But you look behind it, and you'll find that other monster is bigger. Humans doing the opposite, acting like animals. Treating other humans as nothing but engines for their own pleasure.

Religion - whether it was handed down by God or just invented by a bunch of guys- serves mainly to fight that. It makes humanity sacred, and the moral law moreso. You can hate the methods it uses, you can say that there are other ways, you can say that it only replaces one cancer with another. But most of what it's trying to get you to do - treat other humans as sacred and put morality above your own impulses - you already do ...

10. You'll Never Harass the Other Side Out of Existence

Remember when I said that, when somebody comes on too strong, no matter what they're selling, we tend to run the other way?

... People are not convinced that way. The sarcasm, the disdain, the laughter. It makes you feel better, and rallies your friends, but it does exactly nothing to change minds on the other side. Conservatives may like to read Ann Coulter, but nobody else does.

No, in reality, if changing minds is your thing, there's only one way to do it:

Lead by Example.

... if you want to criticize the Christians' intolerance, then be tolerant. Show them how it's done. Shame them with your tolerance. You won't have to say they're awful. They'll look awful by sheer comparison to you.

And don't show up in a room full of Christians and start making fun of their taboos, immediately talking about boobs or whatever, as if the only reason people adhere to a rule is out of fear of experiencing the awesomeness of breaking it. You've got taboos, too. All of you. ...

Be tolerant. Lead by example.

Both of you.

And don't think of it as a tactic to win converts. Think of it as common courtesy.

Be tolerant and lead by example. Couldn't have said it better myself. Have a great holiday everybody.

"The difference between stupid and intelligent people - and this is true whether or not they are well-educated - is that intelligent people can handle subtlety." -- Neal Stephenson

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Chomsky on Imperialism

I'm not going to speak too much on the decision of Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan. Those that know me know my views on American imperialism. Just because it is a Democratic President signing the orders doesn't make it any more right. Famous linguist and progressive Noam Chomsky spoke Thursday at Columbia University. His subject - "hypocrisy and "schizophrenia" in American foreign policy":

Chomsky Speaks on US Imperialism

by Claire Luchette

According to Noam Chomsky, all U.S. leaders are schizophrenic.

... Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, came to Columbia on Thursday to discuss hypocrisy and "schizophrenia" in American foreign policy from the early settlers to George W. Bush.

Chomsky, often considered one of the fathers of modern linguistics, is also well known for his controversial criticism of the United States' actions in international politics.

... Discussing the United States as an international player, he said, "To this day, the U.S. is reverentially admired as a city on a hill." Chomsky characterized this as an imperialist policy, "a conception that we are carrying out God's will in mysterious ways."

He argued that the U.S. sacrifices democratic principles for its own self-interest, and tends to "focus a laser light on the crimes of enemies, but crucially we make sure to never look at ourselves."

Democracy, he said, is "supported if it defends the strategic and economic objectives of the United States."

The U.S. is losing its status as the "city on a hill". We cannot engender change in the world when we seem mired in the past at home. Flat-earthers, xenophobes, the military and corporations hold sway instead of individuals and ideas.

"In the United States, the political system is a very marginal affair. There are two parties, so-called, but they're really factions of the same party, the Business Party." -- Noam Chomsky