Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

My non-real God


Recently, I’ve been making a somewhat half-hearted attempt to tidy over a decade’s worth of archived files scattered throughout dozens of long forgotten folders on my computer and on CDs and DVDs littering storage space in my home office, and the basement/garage. Yes I confess. I’m a hoarder when it comes to digital data. One of the CDs I came across had a label in my handwriting saying Non-realism in religion. The CD must be pre 2008 as the files had been created by Windows applications. (I’ve been a Linux user since 2008).

The CD was damaged, and most of the files couldn’t be opened, but there was one good pdf file titled Non-realistic Christianity. Inside was this list:

  • Religion is about internal spiritual experiences, and that is all.
  • There is no world other than the material world around us.
  • There are no beings other than the living organisms on this planet or elsewhere in the universe.
  • There is no objective being or thing called God that exists separately from the person believing in him.
  • There is no ultimate reality outside human minds either.
  • We give our own lives meaning and purpose; there is nothing outside us that does it for us.
  • God is a projection of the human mind.
  • God is the way human beings put ‘spiritual’ ideals into a poetic form that they are able to use and work with.
  • God is simply a word that stands for our highest ideals.
  • God-talk is a language tool that enables us to talk about our highest ideals and create meaning in our lives.
  • Religious stories and texts are ways in which human beings set down and work out spiritual, ethical, and fundamental meanings in life.
  • Our religious talk is really about us and our inner selves, and the community and culture we live in.
  • Religious talk uses the familiar language of things that exist outside ourselves to make it easier for us to handle complex and subtle ideas.
  • Faith therefore isn’t belief in a God that exists outside minds.
  • Faith is what human beings do when they pursue ‘spiritual’ ideals.
  • Saying that someone follows a particular faith is a way of talking about their attitudes to life and to other people.

Somehow over the years I had completely forgotten about the use of the terms realism and non-realism in relation to religion, but a quick Google search provided a refresher and the probable source of the pdf file. It seems I’ve done a little editing (bold text) and one bullet point is missing, but otherwise they are the same. And the list does reflect what I perceive religion to be.

While atheism is where my head is, it’s not where my heart is. I don’t live in a purely logical and rational world – I don’t think anyone does, and for me, the reality of what I experience is either denied, described as delusional, or otherwise devalued by much of the atheist community – especially the online one. Delusional or not, I’m required to deny so much of who I am just to be accepted by society (that’s autism for you), that I’m not willing to deny that ‘spiritual’ part of me.

The essentials of non-realistic Christianity have been the cornerstone of my understanding of religion and God for all my adult life, although not as clearly defined as in the list above. In my search for a ‘spiritual’ home, I looked at various Christian denominations and at a variety of other religious and spiritual beliefs. Back in the 1970s and 80s I found small pockets of believers who held similar views to my own in all the mainline denominations, especially within Anglicanism and Methodism, but they were tolerated, sometimes grudgingly, rather accepted or welcomed. That lack of acceptance was a turn off, as was the liturgy and worship practice. Universal Unitarianism and secular Buddhism had some attraction, but, worship, in the case of Unitarianism, and meditation, in the case of Buddhism, were outside my comfort zone.

If I was conducting the search today, I dare say I would have stumbled upon one of the many mainline and independent congregations that welcome or embrace the essentials of non-realistic Christianity. I might well find one that I felt comfortable in, although their forms of worship probably would always be an issue for me. However I don’t doubt that I could find a religious community where I would be welcomed and feel at home in.

Today there are also a large number of secular/non-real/humanist organisations that are non-denominational/pan-denominational/pan-religious such as Sea of Faith New Zealand and St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society where I’d be very welcome and in many ways I’d be more comfortable than within a church community. A major reason for this is that while congregations within the churches embrace the essentials of non-realism, the various churches as a whole haven’t, (although some are getting close). Those darned creeds that they all retain are a complete turn off for me, and there is no way I could honour them. Unfortunately, groups such as SoF and SATRS didn’t exist, or were very thin on the ground when I began my search. Remember, this was well before the arrival of the Internet.

As it turned out, I did stumble upon a religious group that did meet my needs, was non-creedal, and had, over a period of some 350 years, developed an understanding of God that was not in conflict with the essentials of non-realism. That group was the first I had come across that did not have some expectation of how I should understand God, nor did they expect me to hold specific theological beliefs.

That group was the Quakers – the Religious Society of Friends in Aotearoa New Zealand, (Gifted the name Te Hahi Tuhauwiri – “The faith community that stands shaking in the wind of the Spirit” – by the Maori Language Commission). Now before anyone jumps on me and says that non-realism is unchristian, and Quakers most definitely are Christian, I’m going to say hold up a minute, is it important or even relevant? Let’s consider the second part of the statement (Quakers most definitely are Christian)

Are Quakers Christian? There’s about 350,000 Quakers worldwide, and the majority are Christian and it would be very difficult to distinguish them from many other evangelical, fundamentalist Christian denominations. Evangelical Friends can be found in Africa (there’s more than 130,000 in Kenya alone) and the Americas. They have churches, clergy, creeds, articles of faith and believe the Bible is the Word of God. They are hierarchical and (especially in Africa) patriarchal. They are the youngest and most successful (in terms of numerical strength) of the various strands of Quakerism.

There is another strand of Quakerism which is somewhat more difficult to pin down. Often referred to as liberal Quakerism, it can be found in the UK and Ireland, Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Canada and parts of the USA. Liberal Friends have no clergy, creed or articles of faith, lack hierarchical structure and have had a belief in the equality of the sexes since the foundation of Quakerism in the 1600s. They value their Christian roots, but as to whether or not this strand of Quakerism is Christian, depends on one’s concept of what Christianity is. Their numbers are small – possibly 50,000 worldwide, with around 1,400 in NZ.

Personally it makes no difference to me whether or not Quakerism is Christian, but in the context of New Zealand, it fits comfortably in the liberal/post modern wing of Christianity, even if it’s considered somewhat “peculiar”.

Now I come to the reason why I was motivated to write this article. I hear and read far too often, a section of atheists who claim that all religion is harmful. If this is true, then the religion practised by Friends, even liberal Friends, is harmful. Try as I might, I can find nothing in the beliefs and practices of NZ Friends and Christians at the liberal end of the spectrum that is harmful. Of course, it’s possible that being religious myself, I’m blind to seeing the harm I’m causing, and if is the case, is it possible for me to recognise it? I suppose it’s possible…

but unlikely.

On the other hand, it could be an atheist plot to discredit religion and bring disorder and immorality to the world. That’s definitely the claim of some Christian extremists. But I can see no evidence of that. There is no organised atheist movement. In fact, non-theists within religious groups are far better organised than atheists. Perhaps atheists are opposed to particular forms of religion. That, I could understand, but when I have put the proposition forward, I have been knocked back: All religion is harmful.

As I understand it, their argument is that religion and critical thinking are always incompatible. Perhaps, because I’m religious, and take my religion seriously, I’m incapable of critical thinking. It would also mean that I am incapable of seeing what harm my beliefs are doing to me, others, and society as a whole. So, if my religious beliefs and practices, and those of my fellow believers are harmful, can someone please point out to me where they are harmful, or at least point me in the right direction. If on the other hand, my religious beliefs and practices, and those of my fellow believers aren’t harming myself, others or society, the argument that all religion is harmful must be false.

I have no argument with atheists. After all atheism is part of my beliefs. My argument is with those who believe all religion is harmful. I’ve heard argument that religion has evolved along with the development of human thought, possibly as a result of seeking patterns and explanations for what we experience. Perhaps religion also helped in the development of cohesive groups. Whatever the reason, a great many of us still seek some form of religion or spirituality. I’ve heard that it could be as high as 9 out of 10 people. That seems rather high, but what seems apparent to me is that a significant number do desire and seek some form of religion or spirituality.

Census figures show a continuing decline in religious affiliation. What they don’t show is is that the number who hold religious or spiritual beliefs remain fairly constant. While those who believe in a deity have declined in number, other forms of spirituality have increased. Worldwide, the number of religious adherents continue to grow, although not as fast as the total population. It doesn’t appear that religion is going to disappear any time soon. This being so, rather than seeking the disappearance of religion, perhaps a more productive course would be to seek a change in what religion is. Don’t let up on religious privilege where is exists. It has no place in in modern society.

I’m not targeting any one with this ramble. I’ve found it helpful for me to share what I’m thinking with others, as feedback helps in clarifying and modifying my beliefs. Sometimes it’s with family or friends. Sometimes it’s within my religious community, or another community. This time it’s I’ve put it out to the blogosphere.

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and discovered I am autistic at the age of sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

53 thoughts on “My non-real God

  1. If you’re going to equivocate about the meaning of ‘spiritualism’ as separate from ‘religion’ then isn’t it only fair and consistent in your comparison,to consider the ‘problem’ you have with those atheists who take an anti-theism stance to be unrelated to those atheists who take an anti-spiritualism stance? And I don’t know many people – atheists or theists who have a problem with those who metaphorically describe their awe and wonder about the universe with spiritual terminology.

    The ‘problem’ that anti-theism advocates have is with theism. Introducing spirituality as a kind of substitute for religion is simply a means to try to avoid the actual criticisms aimed at theism… turning religious belief in superstitious nonsense into a moving target hidden by ill-defined words under the heading of ‘spirituality’.

    It would help clarity itself to keep these two concepts – religion and spirituality – cleanly segregated if you wish to avoid the criticisms by anti-theism advocates for equating the two when they are equated by the theist! And that is a problem owned by those who so easily substitute one for the other whenever convenient… only to them, of course.

    • You’re going to have to help me out here. I’ve tried Googling “religion”, “spirituality” and “religion vs spirituality” and it’s enough to make one’s head spin. If I ignore those results that claim “religion=good, spirituality=bad” or “spirituality=good, religion=bad”, I’m still left with a bewildering array of definitions of what the two terms mean.

      For example, on “spirituality” Wikipedia states “Modern spirituality typically includes a belief in a supernatural (beyond the known and observable) realm, personal growth, a quest for an ultimate/sacred meaning, religious experience, or an encounter with one’s own “inner dimension”. Couldn’t those characteristics also be applied to modern religion?

      On the same page under Definition it states “There is no single, widely agreed definition of spirituality.” and a little further on “A survey of reviews by McCarroll e.a. dealing with the topic of spirituality gave twenty-seven explicit definitions, among which ‘there was little agreement.'”

      Wikipedia has this to say in its definition of religion: “An increasing number of scholars have expressed reservations about ever defining the ‘essence’ of religion”. Then is gives a number of classical definitions and modern definitions (note the plural) that really don’t help me in separating religion and spirituality.

      Here in Aotearoa New Zealand we refer to many aspects of Maori culture as being spiritual in nature whereas in other circumstances it might be considered religious – prayer: religion; karakia: spiritual. Recognising the distinction between religion, spirituality and culture can be very difficult at times.

      In so much discussion, religion and spirituality are used together or interchangeably. I see them as being two sides of the same coin, and in the context of my ramble, not worth splitting hairs over.

      Getting back to the real issue that all religion is harmful and poisons everything: “All religion” must include the religion I practise. Therefore my religion is harmful. As my religion is harmful, then by practising my religion, I am causing harm. If I am unable to find anything in my religion that is harmful, then it means that either I’m blind to the fact, or the statement “all religion is harmful” is false. If it is false, then all that follows based on the false premise is unreliable at best. If on the other hand I’m unable to recognise the harm I cause, then being told I’m delusional isn’t of much help. Specific examples would be helpful.

      Christopher Hutchins has said that organised religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children and sectarian. Ouch! He makes no exception for my religion, so I have to assume his description of religion includes mine. Either I believe him, and remove myself from my religion and all its stands for, or I conclude that he’s wrong about my religion As I can find no evidence that supports his claim that my religion is so terrible, then I have little option but to believe he’s wrong. If he’s wrong about my religion, how wrong is he about others?

      • Religion poisons everything because it is a method of thinking that is guaranteed to fool you. Religion is a set of precepts that is believed to be true not because of evidence but because it requires a high level of trust and confidence – if not certainty – that the precepts are, in fact, true with no evidence. This requirement is called ‘faith’ and so any conclusion that utilizes this requirement is by definition a ‘faith-based’ one and not an evidence-adduced conclusion. The requirement differentiates the approach – the METHOD – of how we ‘know’ anything; a faith-based ‘knowledge’ is simply a faith assertion that is empty of any knowledge value.

        Religion, as the Mother Ship of faith because it promotes its use to be a virtue and not a vice, cannot, is not, can never be, a way to ‘know’ anything because how it approaches any inquiry is first setting up premises on the basis of faith that is divorced from reality’s arbitration of their validity. One is expected to believe as a precondition whereas an evidence-adduced approach is a conclusion… subject to review and change if evidence warrants it. Religion suffers no such constraints; it simply pronounces and holds fast. To gain knowledge and insight into reality and whatever it contains, the faith-based method is an unequivocal failure when tested against reality. Religion has never, does not currently, and probably never shall yield any knowledge about anything ever. Yet religious belief is used to justify all kinds of ‘reasons’ from morality to sex, from rights to parenting,. from the quality of human relationships to the practice of medicine. And these reasons divorced from reality but full of faith is completely pernicious. Completely. That’s why religion poisons everything… because the method is divorced from knowledge. It is ignorant from beginning to end, from start to finish, and it is intentionally kept ignorant as if this were more virtuous than informing beliefs by the weight of demonstrable knowledge. Human history is filled with such rationalized nonsense as soon as faith is introduced as a reasonable and rational addition.

        Along comes spirituality… a term so nebulous that it means whatever one wishes it to mean. How very handy for religion to borrow/steal/shamelessly use Under the spiritual umbrella term, the religious can now insert whatever faith-based ignorance it wants, mix it up with a bit of evidence-adduced beliefs, and – PRESTO! – we have a much more reasonable version of Oogity Boogity! (at best) and a way to attribute and assert whatever hidden agencies and magical critters/forces/creators/designers/ we want to throw in whenever one feels the urge to make shit up and try to pretend it is adduced from reality. But, also under this umbrella term are all kinds of descriptions we use to for feelings and wonder and awe and being connected hither and yonder and so on. Why, it’s all so very spiritual … now slipped under the tent of religion to claim false ownership of these very human conditions.

        My point upthread was that you’re doing religion a service by lumping all of what spirituality can mean with faith-based religion and using the terms as synonyms when handy and antonyms when not. You then present criticisms of theism by atheists to be synonymous with criticisms of spirituality, as if addressing a theistic claim for a magical invisible creative divine agency causing something in this world without any evidence to support it and mountains of evidence against as synonymous with criticizing someone emotionally moved by music and claiming to have had a ‘spiritual’ experience. This is a false equivalency because spirituality is not always but sometimes is the same as religion; the difference is about which method is being utilized to support some claim. Faith-based is always ignorant and pernicious; evidence adduced is neither.

        • I’m still none the wiser. What, for example am I expected to believe as a precondition and can’t be questioned or modified in the light of new information?

          So I presume a document such as “Towards a Quaker view of sex” released in 1963 provides no useful information at all as it’s full of rationalized nonsense. Thanks for the warning.

          • Barry, you wrote,

            “I hear and read far too often, a section of atheists who claim that all religion is harmful. If this is true, then the religion practised by Friends, even liberal Friends, is harmful. Try as I might, I can find nothing in the beliefs and practices of NZ Friends and Christians at the liberal end of the spectrum that is harmful.”

            So I explained WHY religion is harmful: the method used to support its precepts are guaranteed to fool you into thinking you know something you do not know.

            Regarding Quakerism (from Quaker information centre),

            ” Worldwide, the vast majority of Friends confess an orthodox Christian faith. Friends’ emphasis has always been on the role of the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, however, most Friends believe that the Spirit is unchanging and will not contradict itself. On this basis, the Christian Scriptures and tradition are highly esteemed as testimony to God’s relationship with our spiritual ancestors. Crucially, because most Friends consider the Scriptures to be inspired by God, the Bible is helpful in weighing whether new inward guidance comes from the Spirit of God or from another source.

            What defines the orthodox Christian faith? A set of precepts that are assumed to be true. There’s the perniciousness. There is no means to establish if those religious precepts are true. There is no means to find out if one is guided by an entity distinct from your own called ‘The Holy Spirit’. We know biblical scripture is human made yet Quakers believe quite differently, that it is ‘inspired’ by an external entity called ‘God’, that it is meant to provide ‘guidance’, that it it contains a ‘testimony’ to an entity called ‘God’ and ‘His’ relationship with human ancestors.

            All of this is unknown and contains compelling evidence from reality that it factually wrong, yet presumed true by Quakers because… well, just because it is presumed to be true.

            There’s the method in action: imposing a faith-based belief on reality and then pretending reality is accurately described by it. That’s demonstrates how this religion fools you into believing stuff that is simply believed FIRST, and then reality is treated in such a way as if it is supposed to comport to these faith-based beliefs. That’s pernicious because it causes harm to the relationship you are to have with reality.

            • There is no umbrella Quaker authority, and no website can speak for Quakers. At best it can speak about Quakers. So while the description you quote from the website is correct, it’s can be misleading. I don’t want to give a history lesson on Quakerism, but briefly, Quakerism started off with the belief that God “speaks” directly to the individual. A popular quote by George Fox that starts with “You will say, ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this’: but what canst thou say?“ Early Quakers opposed any form of external authority including clergy and the Bible itself. Later, after arriving in America, a faction of “reverted” to believing the Bible is an authoritative Word of God. They became evangelical and fundamentalist in outlook and doctrine, adopted creeds and articles of faith, and reverted to proselytising, sending missionaries around the world. They were very “successful” in Africa, and that is where most Quakers can be found today. They are evangelical, and their message, in my opinion, doesn’t seem to be all that different to those of the Southern Baptists in the US.

              Meanwhile Quakers in Britain continued down a different path, without a clergy or central authority. This is the wing is often referred to as liberal Quakerism and can be found in the UK, NZ, Australia, Canada and parts of the US.

              I’ll accept your definition of the orthodox Christian faith, but that is irrelevant. It doesn’t apply to liberal Quakers or liberal Christians.

              I mentioned the publication “Towards a Quaker view of sex” because, using the methods you claim Christians don’t use, the committee came to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality and is just as healthy as heterosexuality – a conclusion the medical profession came to some ten years later. The medical associations of Australia and New Zealand were the first to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder, and that was around 1972/73 I believe.

              Important among Liberal Quakers (and most people who are religiously liberal) is the concept of “continuing revelation” which in broad terms means that knowledge isn’t fixed in stone. It requires us to constantly evaluate what we believe in the light of new knowledge. Once, it was reasonable to assume that the earth was the centre of the universe and that the heavenly bodies revolved around it. That is how it appears to the observer on earth. But to continue to hold such a belief when a better model was found is unwise. That applies to everything from notions about God, to the way I treat the environment, to what constitutes a healthy society, to how I interact with you.

              There is nothing in liberal Quakerism that requires I hold any particular belief about the nature or existence of God, the relevance of the Bible, or even the existence of Jesus.

              In most liberal Quaker meetings, you’ll find about 90% of the members have come from non-Quaker backgrounds. You’ll also find that most children of Quakers don’t become Quakers themselves. Perhaps in more traditional religious groups such a low retention rate might be regarded as a failure in conveying “God’s Word” to the next generation. Among liberal Quakers, it’s viewed differently, as it means we’ve encouraged our children to think for themselves. A high retention rate is a good indicator of indoctrination.

              I’m not sure that I’ve provided sufficient evidence to convince you that liberal Quakers don’t have any precepts that are assumed to be true. If not, can we continue this conversation please. Who knows, you might be able to convince me that I am wrong in my notion that not all religion is harmful.

            • Barry, you questioned the claim that all religion is harmful so I explained why it is the method used to support beliefs with faith that is the harm. The method.

              You then write, “because, using the methods you claim Christians don’t use…”

              No, I never said this. I said granting high levels of confidence and trust to beliefs informed not by evidence but by faith are pernicious. I did not say religious people do not use evidence-adduced beliefs (they have to do so almost all the time in order to function and survive in reality)… they just don;t use it when it comes to their religious beliefs.

              So what I’m reading from you is that liberal Quakerism religious beliefs aren’t really so much Quaker as they are a kind of religious beliefs that aren’t really religious at all and the God you listen to isn’t really an Old or New Testament kind of gody god-god but more of a deistic spirit sort of without any scriptural attachments that can’t be severed at the first hint of criticism. In the meantime, you can claim a Christian version of belief in Jesus that isn’t really all that Christian because the Jesus spirit is more of a vague divine reference and Quakers don’t import their beliefs to real world stuff because there aren’t really any beliefs to import but, hey, this a religious belief that doesn’t import any religious belief to positions claimed to be religious.

              And you’re confused about my criticism of the faith-based method and why it causes harm?

            • I’m a day into a severe migraine and finding it difficult to comprehend exactly what you’re meaning.

              We can argue till eternity as to whether evangelical Quakers or liberal Quakers are “true” Quakers, but remember the founders of Quakerism opposed a clergy class and the authority of the Bible – both of which have been adopted by the evangelical wing.

              I’m not sure what you mean by I listen to a deistic spirit. God is a human creation.

              I’m not sure I undetstand what you mean by “import”. Quakers have beliefs they try to live by (with various degrees of success). The principle one would be the belief that there is that of God in everyone.

              I’ve heard Quakerism described as an experiential religion. The beliefs arise from our experiences and understanding of the world around us. What we describe as God comes directly from that. As everyone’s experience is different, everyone’s understanding of God will be different. This I believe is at the heart of the Quaker experience.

              I’m not sure if I’m making sense as I’m aware my cognition is somewhat below par at the moment. I’ll relook at both your comment and my reply when I’m feeling better

            • Take care of yourself and feel better, Barry. We can always come back to this later if the mood strikes. Migraines suck.

            • I’m back in a more cognitive state, so I’d like to continue the conversation.

              Before we get to discuss your rather peculiar ideas of Quakerism, I think we need to come to some understanding of what we each mean by “religion”. I’ve already stated my position in the bullet list in the blog post. Where do you disagree with it? What is the inevitable harm that will arise from religion that fits the criteria laid down there?

            • The confusion you seem to be experiencing is looking at certain products you attribute to your religion and religious beliefs under the heading of spirituality (but that can be undertaken for good reasons without any necessary inclusion for religion or spirituality to play any part whatsoever) and then be mystified when someone says religion is pernicious. The problem is is with your attribution that religion or spirituality CAUSES the product. This is incorrect. To claim this means you have to link the effect – the product – to this cause – religion (to the extent that if you remove the cause – religion – you remove the effect – the product.

              Can you do this?

              Not as far as I can see.

              The perniciousness of faith-based belief resides in its broken methodology because it severs the belief from arbitration, from testing, from any means to find out if the belief is justified. The problem is that religious beliefs are granted high levels of confidence and trust first without ever having to undergo a means test. And you demonstrate this problem by attributing to religion a causal position for the products you select to represent religion (or spirituality). There’s the broken method in action; you presume this connection and then start to draw conclusions based on it. This is not different in method than presuming demons inhabit your brain and so treatment of migraines must involve burnt offerings and blood sacrifices.

              The METHOD causes perniciousness.

            • I apologise for the long delay in replying, but that’s what I’m faced with in the face of my constant enemy – migraine.

              I’m not sure that I am confused at all. I’m not convinced that there is any difference between being religious and being spiritual – they are essentially a means of expressing what we experience and understand about the world around us. It is not the following of a set of rules as laid out in some tome or blindly accepting the stories told within are factually true. This is what many who claim to be religious actually do. And this seems to be what you believe all forms of religion require.

              You state “religion is a set of precepts that is believed to be true not because of evidence but because it requires a high level of trust and confidence – if not certainty – that the precepts are, in fact, true with no evidence”. Exactly what are these precepts you refer to that are believed without a shred of evidence?

              You ask “Can you do this?” I’m trying to comprehend what “this” is. You state that I attribute that religion causes some undefined product. To the best of my understanding your challenge is that I need to be able provide evidence that if religion was removed from the scene, some “products” would disappear as a consequence.

              Without waiting for a response from me, you then state that as far as you can see, I can not do so. And I whole heartedly agree. The problem, Tildeb, is that for any of these “products” (whatever they may be) to disappear if religion disappeared, it would be necessary to provide evidence that these products were not only caused by religion, but that they were exclusively caused by religion. And that I’m not able to do, as I have not seen any evidence to support such a notion, nor have I made such a claim.

              To use your analogy of “products”, it makes more sense to perceive religion as a product of other causes rather than a cause of other products. And a major cause of religion is human experience and our interpretation/understanding/comprehension of that experience. As we expand our understanding of the world around us and of how the human mind works, we need to re-interpret what we experience in that light.

              Which brings me to your argument about methodology. Religion has existed for thousands of years, if not tens of thousands, and possibly pre-dates the existence of our species. Modern scientific methods are exactly that – modern. And that includes critical thinking as we understand it today. They’ve been round for a few hundred years. It’s hardly reasonable to expect religion to have used a methodology that didn’t exist. Religious thinkers (as opposed to those who used religion to exert authority) used the tools that were available to them at the time. In liberal traditions, modern methodologies are used in respect to their religion.

              You then claim I demonstrate this so-called faith based methodology by attributing to religion a causal position for the products I select to represent religion: that I presume this connection and then start to draw conclusions based on it. Really? Forgive me for my ignorance, but (a) what are these products I attribute to be caused by religion, and (b) what conclusions have I drawn based on that attribution?

              My original gripe was with those who claim all religion is harmful: that religion and critical thinking are incompatible. You concur by identifying methodology as being the culprit although you fail to provide evidence that faith based methodology is the only one used in religion and that religion is the only human endeavour in which it is practised.

              If the claim that all religion is harmful is true, then it holds that my religion harmful. Christopher Hutchins claims organised religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children and sectarian. No exceptions. Therefore the claim also applies to my religion. Examples/evidence please.

              You claim that all religion is harmful by virtue of methodologies they employ to support the “truthfulness” of their beliefs. You assert that all religion employs a faith based methodology, and presumable at the exclusion of any other. So unless the members of the Religious Society of Friends do not form a religion, then your assertion must also apply to Quakerism. And again examples would be helpful.

            • You claim, “Religion is about internal spiritual experiences, and that is all.”

              That will be news to billions of people who claim to be religious. They think it’s about paying homage to their creator.

              You then claim, “God is the way human beings put ‘spiritual’ ideals into a poetic form that they are able to use and work with.”

              Work with a poetic form? That produces… what? Just start to imagine how many ways ‘God’ is used to criticize and justify all kinds of human activities and behaviours. Is it really all just ‘poetic form’?

              Come on.

              You claim, “God is simply a word that stands for our highest ideals.”

              No it’s not. We have other words for those. God is a word used to describe an entity – usually a monotheistic entity, a very real causal agency, usually a creative intervening supernatural agency. You’re just making up your own definition to be as innocuous and meaningless as possible.

              You claim, “God-talk is a language tool that enables us to talk about our highest ideals and create meaning in our lives.” Like don’t pick up sticks on the Sabbath or covet thy neighbour’s ass. Very meaningful stuff. Very poetic when one is preparing one’s burnt offerings. And high ideals to be sure… like the ideal rooftop from which to throw homosexuals to their death.

              Barry, the term ‘God’ is so nebulous to begin with that anything can be inserted into its meaning and then protected from legitimate criticism by claiming it to be pious and therefore good. Anything. This is why the faith-based method in action is so pernicious: it rejects reality’s arbitration of the particular claim camouflaged by the ‘religion’ sticker. It justifies not vaccinating kids. It justifies removing fluoride from drinking water. It justifies buying rhino horn for erectile dysfunction. It justifies sticking pins in ears to help digestion, cracking the spine to improve the flow of life energy. It justifies soaking the feet to get rid of the body’s impurities. It justifies reading cards and entrails to divine the future. It justifies human atrocities against others. It justifies raping the planet. It justifies abusing children, of reducing half the world’s population to second class citizenry. There is no end to the perniciousness, a method championed by this idea that we can project our beliefs, call it ‘God’, and think reality should comport with them. Only religion champions faith to be a virtue. It is a vice. It is a dysfunctional way to think, a means to guarantee an avoidance for taking responsibility for one’s actions, a method that channels the thinking to become less moral than the person who rejects the method and who is then vilified for willing to accept reality’s arbitration of beliefs held about it.

  2. I don’t “know” in a way that would satisfy my definition of “knowledge”, hence I consider myself agnostic…
    And in the end, to the dismay of my friends and foes, everyone is agnostic, because neither belief, nor disbelief is “knowledge”.

    • So, if the topic is knowledge, then agnosticism. I agree in the light of certainty. In fact, all of science is agnostic in this sense.

      So the problem here is what you mean by belief. If you mean it in the religious sense of trust and confidence WITHOUT compelling evidence (a kind of belief we call ‘faith’) then we aren’t even talking about knowledge. We’re talking strictly about faith. Against this sense, non belief is a very reasonable response to such belief claims based on faith alone no matter what objects they happen to involve.

      The danger here is equating the term ‘belief’ of the faith-based kind to its common and practical sense – an indication of trust or confidence BASED on compelling evidence. When that evidence guiding such a belief becomes reliable and consistent for everyone everywhere all the time, a belief that is used to build applications, therapies, and technologies that demonstrate the reliability and consistency of the explanatory model we believe accurately reflects how reality operates, then we ARE talking about knowledge. If we’re not, then we have no knowledge about anything and all beliefs – no matter how divorced from reality or contrary to it they may be – are equivalently agnostic.

      This is a word game about ‘belief’ that serves only one master: ignorance… trying with manipulating a word to create a false equivalency, to excuse a method of forming a belief that lacks of any knowledge to be equivalent to a method that does not possess all knowledge. And the bridging term here is ‘agnosticism’. It is a ruse.

      Of course we have knowledge. We have to in order to operate and navigate in our environments successfully. And to demonstrate this significant difference in amounts or reliable and consistent knowledge between two very different kinds of belief – faith-based vs evidence-adduced – we only have to understand that we need an explanation why applications, therapies, and technologies that works for everyone everywhere all the time using evidence-adduced belief works. And then we can compare and contrast this mountain of evidence with faith-based belief that produces…. nothing knowable. Ever. We have to ask ourselves why there is such a remarkable difference if ‘belief’ in the agnostic sense means these two are equivalent in lacking knowledge.

      The obvious answer is that they not equivalent in belief. And what faith-based belief lacks is knowledge whereas what evidence-adduced belief lacks is certainty. These are not equivalent states of knowledge as the agnostic would have us believe.

      • “I agree in the light of certainty”
        Agnosticism is uncertainty.
        Gnosis is certainty.
        There’s no certainty.
        “Evidence based” knowledge is still not certainty.
        A capacity to operate in a given environment may be knowledge, but not certainty.
        There are only two certainties: nothing as 0, and something as 1.
        The rest are all variables exposed to environmental subjectivity. Subjectivity cannot be binary.
        Subjectivity cannot be certainty.
        If 0 and 1 are removed, certainty ceases to exist. If anything is added, everything becomes subjective.
        I’m certainly agnostic.

        • Are you really agnostic about all knowledge claims?

          Not for one second do I believe you. In fact, I think you’re full of it.

          I am willing to bet your life and the lives of everyone you love that you are more than capable of acting quite differently in practice than you say you are philosophically. Something tells me you wouldn’t turn down medical care because you really can’t know for certain if stopping the excessive bleeding is a knowable response (otherwise known as ‘a good idea’). I deeply suspect you entrust your life to those who have accumulated a fair bit of knowledge (even though less than certain knowledge about everything) be it academic and/or practical in all manner of your behaviour in the real – and not the philosophical bubble – world inhabited by so many self-proclaimed agnostics. I’m willing to bet you actually get on a plane and reasonably expect it to fly safely because you’re almost certain the explanatory model of aerodynamics is probably correct and not equivalent to believing in flying horses and carpets. If you exercised agnosticism on the basis that we can’t know for certain, you’d already be long dead because you couldn’t act. But you do act so…

          Not for one second do I believe you. In fact, I think you’re full of it.

          All this prevarication about the actual and intellectually honest exercise of agnosticism I suspect is directed only towards those who take a principled stand on the issue of how accurate or knowledge-free faith-based claims about reality truly and demonstrably are. I suspect you’re one of those who meet a faith-based claim contrary to how we know reality to operate with a sleight-of-mind rationalization called ‘agnosticism’ – rationalized on the basis that because can’t know anything for sure, therefore this or that batshit crazy belief contrary to reality is just fine and equivalent in knowledge value to, say, cell phone technology because – Hey! – we can’t know ANYTHING for certain.

          Please assure me that I’m wrong. Otherwise, I’m going to think you’re likely one of those intellectual cowards mewling at the feet of the faith-addled trying oh-so-hard not to offend them and their illiberal use of batshit crazy faith-based ideas.

          As the Hitch liked to quip, niceness is over-rated.

  3. My friend, you certainly loooove your mind, aren’t you?
    So after being left in a slight uncertainty about what you’re on about, I’d venture saying that since philosophy is for the unhumble me still the royalty of any scientific endeavour, it can never overcome its not of this earthness…
    So there’s quite a distance between my theoretically palatable agnosticism, and my use of empirically backed medical sciences, myself being a bit of that.
    FYI, I am a former minister, who left all behind and burnt all bridges, because my logical analysis in the end didn’t match the premises I started with.
    Nevertheless, since the premises for “atheism” were unsatisfactory, I’ve been left with no better than agnosticism.
    So, ignoring the “intellectual cowards mewling” abasement, which I despise, considering its use a serious character flaw in a philosophical argument, I’ll leave you enjoying whatever you tried to impress yourself with, which is probably worth “the Hitch”…
    Oh, and “niceness” has nothing to do with manners…

    • The only premise’ I’m aware of for atheism is to have enough respect for reality to allow it to arbitrate claims made about it and grant or remove some level of confidence on how well or poorly a claim comports with it. So, when it comes to non belief in gods or a god, the only issue is one of having no compelling reasons to believe. That’s it. Why that would be ‘unsatisfactory to you is a mystery. Atheism is a null set, devoid of any other principles or premises fundamental to it. So, if you have no compelling reasons from reality to grant to a claim about reality any level of confidence, then I don’t see how any rational mind could conceive of this absence of belief to be unsatisfactory… philosophically or not.

      So truth be told, every New Atheist I know of freely and unabashedly describe him- or herself to be an agnostic atheist. After all, none pretend to have certainty and even Dawkins grants his level of confidence that there is no god or gods a six out of seven. So I have no clue why your think this is an either/or case. When asked if you believe in some God or gods, why wouldn’t it be acceptable to be honest and say, ‘No, I don;t believe in a God or gods.’ If asked if you KNOW there is no God or gods, why isn’t it perfectly acceptable to say a very honest, “I don’t know.” Why this song and dance to pretend a question about your state of religious belief is best answered with a dishonest lack of knowledge? You know perfectly well if you believe oi not.

      That observation has nothing to do with being in love with my own mind and everything to do with revealing at the very least a level of dishonesty on your part. It makes one wonder why when the truth serves very well.

      • “If asked if you KNOW there is no God or gods, why isn’t it perfectly acceptable to say a very honest, “I don’t know.””
        That’s exactly what I was/am saying, concluding it to be a typically agnostic position…
        So since manners are back, what are you really on about?
        What’s the difference -for you- between “an agnostic atheist” and a non-religious agnostic?
        And what exactly is the “dishonesty” on my part?
        Oh, and would a belief in an absentee entity/entities alike Ridley Scott’s “engineers” who initiated a panspermia type of process, leaving also some set of laws/rules, described in ancient texts as gods, qualify as religion, or scientific theory?

        • What’s dishonest about your position, Liberty of Thinking? What am I on about? I’m on about criticizing you because you’re trying to answer a question about belief with a typical PRATT bait and switch tactic by responding that, well golly gee whiz, you just don’t know.

          That’s transparently dishonest.

          You DO know if you believe or not. You just won’t admit it… for what I think may very well be the typical mindset of the typical agnostic: a lack of intellectual courage to admit your lack of belief. There simply is no middle ground regarding your current state of belief, yet you pretend there is. That’s deceit in action. That’s what this ‘state’ of agnosticism really is: a prolonged refusal to admit your own lack of belief. It’s an avoidance tactic to try to make yourself seem more reasonable and open minded than the person who admits to hold no belief in baseless claims about the existence and causal tinkering in our reality by some gods or a god. Claiming agnosticism regarding your current state of belief is not an intellectually justifiable one.

          Furthermore, you then try to camouflage your disbelief behind a smokescreen of some nebulous implication that you don’t yet agree with some ‘philosophical’ tenets of atheism. That’s straight up bullshit; atheism has no tenets, no principles, no fundamental elements. Period. It’s simply a statement about a lack of belief in gods or a god. But you feel smug enough to assert that someone who stands by a lack of belief and admits as much for very compelling reasons – including the claim for perniciousness inherent in any and all faith-based beliefs – must be ‘in love’ with their mind… suggesting you have no such ego, no such hubris, no such chauvinism… as if that’s what agnosticism regarding belief in gods or a god means. That, too, is well past dishonest because you’re intentionally implying that the self-admitted atheist does.


          Oh, but it’s the self-admitted atheist who is responsible for lacking manners, for not being polite enough to you in your prevarication and unwillingness to stand by your current state of belief or disbelief, for daring to call you out for demonstrating your lack of courage, your lack of integrity, your lack of honesty, your hubris and arrogance and willingness to paint others in a very negative light to try to make yourself look and feel smugly superior and oh-so-tolerant when it comes to questions about believing in gods or a god. Your position is turtles all the way down.

  4. I have no argument with atheists. After all atheism is part of my beliefs. My argument is with those who believe all religion is harmful.

    I suspect the problem comes back to what a person believes religion is in the first place. There is a lot of debate in the literature on how to define religion (link). In my experience, people have very different ways of understanding their own religion. For some people, it seems to be more like a metaphor or symbols that they identify with to express their experience of reality, for some it is more their culture and the groundwork of their values, for some it functions more like a type of literary-oriented philosophy, while for others it is a complete metaphysical worldview and belief system.

    • CR, your non belief is a part of your beliefs? Torturing the language this way might be a clue about its real purpose.

      • The first paragraph in my prior post is a quote from Barry’s main post (in other words, they’re Barry’s words, not mine) that I either failed to italicize properly or for some reason the html didn’t work.

        The second paragraph in my prior post are my actual comments, which you failed to address.

        Third, why exactly are choosing to respond this late to a post from over a month ago?

        • I’m the reason. I after a long delay I replied to his comment, which caused him to revisit this post. He’s replied to your comment and to that of another, but has yet to respond to my comment.

          • Below, did I accurately describe your position?

            • Yep. As you commented, it’s not a difficult concept to grasp unless you’re fixated on a belief that God must be a supernatural being.

            • Think about what you’re doing to the language: you are saying your non belief in a God is part of your religious belief you call Quakerism and then redefine religion – aka ‘spirituality’ – to fit with that lack of a divine agency… yet tell us that religion is really all part of a basic human spiritual experience whose object you’ve negated by declaration. It makes no sense… other than to call whatever you believe to be equivalent to a religious belief in something that doesn’t involve any tenets of any religious belief.

              I mean, seriously… I identify as a pine tree and claim I really am part of the forest you see… except I have no pine needles, no pine branches, no pine trunk, no pine roots, and am not a tree… but I’m still very ‘forest-ee’ in my identity regarding my deeply held non tree tree beliefs.

            • You state: “you are saying your non belief in a God is part of your religious belief you call Quakerism”. No I am not. Just as I’m not saying that my non belief in goblins, Yeti, the Spaghetti Monster, and a six-day creation is part of my religious beliefs. They are irrelevant.

              On the other hand, the intrinsic worth of humanity, both as individuals and as communities is a cornerstone of my beliefs. From that rise beliefs expressed in the Quaker testimonies, especially those represented in the abbreviation “SPICES” – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship.

              It seems that you don’t believe that that is sufficient to form a religion. Am I correct? If so, then is it your view that the Religious Society of Friends of Aotearoa is therefore not religious?

            • Barry, I think the values you espouse are very worthy. I just don;t grasp any need whatsoever to then try to insert them into a framework you call ‘religious’. These values have nothing to do with religious belief. I don’t see how that ‘qualification’you make claiming these constitute your ‘religious’ beliefs means anything other than being able to say to someone else, “Oh yes, I’m religious” knowing full well that this description is completely foreign if not antithetical to almost all other standard religions. And to then try to make it seem derivative and compatible with being a version of Christianity (rather than its closer kin, Buddhism) I think is a blatant attempt to grossly misrepresent what you call your religion because you have already rejected all the central tenets that define what constitutes the core beliefs necessary for differentiating Christianity from, say, Buddhism. It’s like claiming you are just another kind of tree when, in fact, you are nothing like a tree.

            • I think your comment goes to the heart of the matter. We have very different views of what religion is. But as even the scholars can’t agree, I think that’s understandable. It seems to me you have been persuaded by the hijacking of what religion is by the religious fundamentalists, which places doctrine above and beyond investigation. Faith (accepting uncorroborated evidence as being true) takes precedence over everything else).

              Firstly, within liberal traditions, which I am more familiar with, such nonsense isn’t acceptable. For example when Professor Geering was accused by conservatives within the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand of “doctrinal error” and “disturbing the peace of the church”, the Church Assembly found he had no case to answer. His “crime” was teaching that the Resurrection was a myth, that there is no immortal soul and that God is a human creation. Had the professor not been principal of the Knox Theological College at that time, I suspect his teaching would not have caused so much dismay within conservative circles. That was fifty years ago, and while conservatives at the time found it difficult to accept, such beliefs are widely held today. Does that make everyone who holds beliefs similar to Professor Geering non-religious? I’m not convinced that it does.

              Here’s an example: As you may be aware, New Zealand’s South Island has suffered a series of severe earthquakes since 2010, the last major one being near Kaikoura in November. The day before that quake, the self-appointed bishop of the evangelical fundamentalist Destiny Church claimed that the earthquakes were the work of God as punishment for the “ungodliness” that was creeping into our nation. He cited the acceptance of LGBTQ culture, the legalisation of same sex marriages, our relationship property laws which give the same property rights to partners in de facto relationships as to those in legally recognised marriages and civil unions, and the decriminalisation of all aspects of prostitution as some of reasons for Gods anger. The following day after the quake, reporters asked a number of clergy from mainline churches such as the Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican churches if they agreed with Tamaki. All responded that that is not how God works. They all gave similar examples of the work of God by telling the reporters to go into the affected areas and see all the people working tirelessly to ease the suffering of those in need. That is what the work of God looks like. In other words, it’s the collective work of humanity doing good that is the work of God. Particularly telling is that not one of them implied that God manipulated the minds of those men and women to volunteer.

              Secondly, the growing influence of aspects of the indigenous Maori culture on the non-Maori majority has seen a shift in how we understand religion. Within Maori tradition there is no separation of religion, spirituality, ceremony, history and the so called secular. Faith as defined by fundamentalists doesn’t exist. For example my post Farewell Haka demonstrates how the haka has moved from being purely a Maori endeavour involving ceremony, spirituality and religion to becoming part of the Kiwi culture. In a similar vein, both Karakia and Pōwhiri are making the transition into the wider culture. Both are very ceremonial and spiritual and generally include reference to religious mythology, traditional and/or Christian. I doubt anyone takes the religious references literally (apart from fundamentalists who seem to be convinced that such ceremony is the work of Satan), but interprets them metaphorically, as indeed all religion should be. That can be seen in approval ratings for religion here in NZ. All the major religions and atheism get a 90% approval rating. The only exception is Islam, which gets an 80% rating. In light of current Islamic extremism, I think that rating is understandable.

              Thirdly, in this part of the world, fundamentalism is a recent arrival. For example, what many in North America – Christians and atheists alike – believe to be the essential tenets of Christianity (the literal truth and inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the immanent second coming of Christ, and the substitutionary atonement of Christ’s death), are seen as allegorical or metaphorical “truths” rather than literal truths. I’ll concede that most Christians here believe in God, but its nature is not clearly defined apart from equating “God” with “Love”. All interpretations, including my own are seldom viewed as being wrong, but simply differing ways of understanding something we collectively call God. If I bring up the question of what Christianity is, most Christian here feel that the definition of Christianity has been hijacked by the fundamentalists.

              Fourthly, for over 350 years there are a number of principles that are at the heart of Quaker beliefs. One is the importance of spirit over the letter. Almost every piece of Quaker writing will include these words, or similar, first used in 1656 “Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light that is pure and holy, may be guided; and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.

              Another principle puts the authority of conscience above every “objective” external authority, no matter whether it is ecclesiastical or civil. George Fox, a founder of Quakerism, reportedly said “You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?

              The other principle I’ll mention is the belief in continuing revelation. What we believe to be true today may not be true tomorrow. Surely scientific methods are one of the ways in which new understandings and insights are revealed. It seems to me that placing faith in ancient dogma over scientific discoveries is the antithesis of continuing revelation.

              You ask if the testimonies I mention require religion. My answer is that they do not. Humanists hold very similar values without the need for religion. But for some people, myself included, religion adds another dimension to how I experience and follow those principles which shape my life. For others, including yourself, that need is not there. Think of it this way: Most people enjoy, and need social intercourse; For me it is something to be endured. The same goes for religion: some people enjoy and need it; others, for want of a better word, endure it.

              With regards as to whether Quakerism is Christian, it really depends on one’s point of view. The evangelical wing most certainly is and so is the conservative wing. Within liberal Quakerism, it’s hard to say. There are no creed, and no agreed theology. Liberal Friends value and respect their Christian roots, but after 350 years of evolution, beliefs have changed considerably. For most, the question of whether or not they are Christian is irrelevant. Here in NZ, the mainline churches do see Friends as Christian, although somewhat “peculiar”. There’s no doubt that in many parts of the world liberal Quakerism is considered a heretical cult and to be avoided at all costs, whereas in some places it’s seen as Christian. Take your pick. I’ve tried to avoid referring to liberal Quakerism as Christian, except in a historical context.

              Your comment about being able to say to someone else “Oh yes, I’m religious” is a little unkind. It is likely to get a similar response here as someone saying “Oh yes, I’m gay” – indifference to antagonism. Of the 45% of Kiwis who include a Christian affiliation on their census forms, the majority are referring to their family history, not any particular belief. If asked if they are religious, most of the answers would range from “not really” to “hell no!”. I call myself religious because of what I feel and experience, not because of what I believe. In these parts, that is more important than doctrine, but it still takes some courage to say “I’m religious”. And you can expect some inaccurate conclusions about your personality and what you might believe as a result. If I’m ever asked that question face to face, I usually respond by asking the questioner what they mean by religious. By the time we’ve finished discussing that, they’ve usually forgotten that they had asked me if I was religious in the first place.

            • Tildeb writes: “yet tell us that religion is really all part of a basic human spiritual experience whose object you’ve negated by declaration”

              This presumes the object of religion is worshipping God and thus declaring oneself an atheist believer in a religion is contradictory.


              1) A religion can still maintain supernatural beliefs, but not necessarily believe in God or gods. In other words, it doesn’t make much sense to claim God is the object of religion when there are religions that may be more about ancestor worship. God is the object of SOME religions, not all religions.

              2) Reality and data suggests there are in fact plenty of atheists who still in some shape or form identify with their religious traditions. As Christopher Silver noted in his typology research on atheists he identified a group called Ritual Atheists/Agnostics. Here is Silver’s description of this typology:

              “One of the defining characteristics regarding Ritual Atheists/Agnostics is that they may find utility in the teachings of some religious traditions. They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation. Ritual Atheist/Agnostics find utility in tradition and ritual. For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions.
              … it may be simply that they hold respect for profound symbolism inherent within religious rituals, beliefs, and ceremonies. The Ritual Atheist/Agnostic individual perceives ceremonies and rituals as producing personal meaning within life. This meaning can be an artistic or cultural appreciation of human systems of meaning while knowing there is no higher reality other than the observable reality of the mundane world. In some cases, these individuals may identify strongly with religious traditions as a matter of cultural identity and even take an active participation in religious rituals.”

              This describes Barry almost perfectly. In other words, Barry identifies with some of the ethical, aesthetic, symbolic and ritual elements, but doesn’t actually believe in God (at least not as anything but a metaphorical term). According to Silver’s research this represented about 12.5% of his sample of American atheists.

              Basically there are many atheists out there who still practice or identify with aspects of a religion, while not believing in the supernatural.

            • These are good points to raise and they lie at the heart of trying to describe these traditions and activities (meditation for example) as ‘religious’. This new umbrella term for woo – spirituality –
              muddies the water enough so that anything can be excused from honest examination and evaluative inquiry (and reasonable constraint when found to be pernicious) because it falls under the banner of ‘religious’. Whoopty doo. My take on this problem is that the poison of religion is covered up by stealing everything of value and merit first and then tries to claim these for its own, as if adding the religious sticker is somehow meaningful in and beneficial. People, I think, have been duped into going along with this charade. This is why I criticize this practice; the attribution has no truth merit whatsoever but directly aids and comforts those who wish to confuse and obfuscate the source of the benefit in order to identify the thief – religion – as the rightful owner of the merit. That is the Big Lie. (Of course, to add even more confusion, we’re to talk about the Big Lie exchanging the term ‘religion’ with ‘spirituality’ and pretend it’s a higher virtue to add to maintaining a faux-respect for the woo factor.)

              Meditation, for example and like many other traditions and practices, has real benefits. That’s the merit. It’s not that these are considered ‘religious’ that adds anything of value, but including this term as if they ARE religious and THEREFORE have this benefit is highly problematic because it misplaces where the value – the merit – actually derives from. The merit – what I’ve previously described as the beneficial ‘product’ – does not derive from ‘religion’ – the thief; it derives from something else and that these ‘something else’ aspects do not need or require the label of religion to still have the benefit, to still have stand-alone merit. But it does offer cover for religion to misrepresent itself as if believing in woo is fine and dandy because the woo is really the source of this benefit when it is not. And we shouldn’t pretend it is. And I encounter this misunderstanding constantly regarding faith-based claims of merit and benefit… not just religious but also in every nook and cranny where ignorance reigns and superstitious nonsense raises its head.

              So what we end up with is a torturing of language to pretend it’s reasonable and rational and of benefit to be an atheistic theist or a theistic atheist. That’s post modern language at its finest and it is always a clue that something has gone wrong in the thinking process. And this kind of ridiculous terminology serves only one master in this case, and its neither clarity nor proper attribution for the merit; the advocates who promote this confusion may not realize the scope of their error which serves only to misrepresent religion as if it were some benign and beneficial influence when it is not (it serves to fool people into thinking their beliefs accurately describe reality and this is equivalent to allowing reality to arbitrate our beliefs about it. That’s a huge source of perniciousness… see Donald Trump for how pernicious this way of thinking can be and just how wide the negative effects of denying reality its proper role has on everyone), What advocates for this PoMo absurdity and linguistic torture end up doing is granting to woo what it never possessed to begin with: merit and benefit. Woo is synonymous to ignorance, and it ignorance is in no way an equivalent kind of knowledge.

        • Because Barry re-initiated it.

      • As far as what I think Barry meant by the phrase; I think he is suggesting as part of his beliefs as a Quaker he doesn’t believe in an actual God. So belief system = a version of Quakerism, but part of his particular version = no belief in God. Not so hard to figure out when you actually think about it.

        He can, of course, correct me if I’m understanding him wrong.

        • You’ve got it. In liberal Quakerism, God isn’t defined, and I believe most think of God as a concept/metaphor/all embracing envelope that speaks yo the human condition rather than some supernatural force. But this idea isn’t just within Quakerism, but can be found within all branches of liberal Christianity.

  5. God is simply an abstract concept and as such EVERYTHING we think about God is then about God.


    Due to the subjective nature of abstract concepts. My concept of God, Beauty, Love, Justice, Goodness, etc is different from your concept of these abstract ideas or anyone else’s, therefore no one is actually speaking of these concepts in and of themselves.

  6. “While atheism is where my head is, it’s not where my heart is. I don’t live in a purely logical and rational world” Like Tildeb I don’t view atheism as some sort of mechanistic/robotic world view. (I have written on the role of emotion in sport, about as far from rationality as one can get.) Humans have a vast array of “feelings” which are attempts to describe and explain our actions and perceptions. My guess is that many of these will prove to be subjective. (For example, if everyone on the planet were to disappear for one year, what would happen to the meaning of life for that period?)

    Atheism is directed against unsupported beliefs in the supernatural, focused on religion. I tend to think that atheists also do not believe in unicorns, fairies, the Loch Ness monster, and other mythical beings and do not limit their disbelief in just a god or gods.

    • My point is that religion does not require a belief in the supernatural although it usually does. I get the impression that Tildeb doesn’t want to accept that religion can evolve in a way that one’s understanding of God does not require a deity. To me God is something I experience and I don’t expect anyone else to experience the same thing.

      • “God does not require a deity.”

        Post modern word play does not translate into cohesive meaning that can be shared, Barry. In other words, you’re just making up your own definitions. This kind of linguistic rearrangement indicates the extent to which one must distort words to make them appear to be a term of shared meaning when they are actually antithetical to the term’s meaning. It is reasonable to consider this kind of distortion as a kind of deceit. For example, if you stated this belief that your God-is-not-a-deity to most religious people with whom you are trying to claim some sense of community, some kind of sense of shared religious beliefs, they wouldn’t have a clue what this ‘thing’ you call God might be and would reasonably consider you an atheist unwilling to admit as much.

        • Perhaps if I lived in the US then you’d probably be correct. However I don’t and in this part of the world most Christians, although by no means all, accept the concept of God is a personal matter and differences in understanding the nature of God doesn’t mean one is wrong. Most people here, Christian and non-Christian have a favourable opinion of all religions and are often more critical of their own religion than they are of others. I’m guessing that’s because they are more familiar with their own religion than they are with the others.

          I have no hesitation of saying I’m an atheist, especially among those who believe the only “True Religion” is the one they follow. Likewise I’m more likely to say I’m religious among those who are strongly anti-religion.

          Perhaps a majority of people who claim a Christian affiliation here would not be considered Christian in some other parts of the world, but that is their problem, not ours.

          We do have a vocal minority who feel the growing influence of Maori culture on the Pakeha majority is the work of Satan or the anti-Christ and must be snipped in the bud, the majority don’t believe in any form of personified evil. And outside of Christian fundamentalists the idea that God is a supernatural omnipotent intelligent being responsible for all of creation and that the Bible is literally the Word of God is uncommon.

          • Oxford English Dictionary:


            Noun: (in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being, (in certain other religions) a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity.

            Well. That’s a problem because the term ‘god’ is synonymous with the term ‘deity’. So, we press on to check:


            Noun: A god or goddess (in a polytheistic religion), from the Middle English (denoting the divine nature of God): from Old French deite, from ecclesiastical Latin deitas (translating Greek theotēs), from deus ‘god’.

            Yet you say “God does not require a deity.” I then accuse you of making up your own definitions, to which you say that might be the case outside of NZ but, golly gee whiz, not in your parts of the world. You then change the meaning of my criticism about you changing the language to suit your preferences and substitute this idea that many people hold different definitions of this divine agency you call god and, because this is socially acceptable in your neck of the woods, you creating your own definition contrary to the very meaning of the term is therefore fine and dandy.

            Good grief, Barry.

            This tactic raises a central issue I have with empowering faith-based beliefs with confidence and equivalency to evidence-adduced beliefs. The method of imposing faith creates a dishonest and deceitful way to make incompatible claims appear to be compatible… not by merit, not by reality’s arbitration, not by demonstrated usefulness, but by raping the language and inserting one’s own meaning where it has no business being. I see this happen all the time, where something and not-something are to be considered synonyms.

            Not X is really just a different kind of X, you see. A non belief is a different kind of belief. Atheism is different kind of theism. A religious belief that is lacking knowledge is just a different kind of knowledge, donchaknow. A faith-based explanatory model that is contrary to and incompatible with an evidence- adduced explanatory model possesses an equivalency in knowledge value… but a different kind of knowledge, I’m telling you.

            And. to sell this charade that is nothing but a false equivalency across the board trying to make Not X be a different kind of X , anyone who steps up and says this is all bullshit is then labeled with all kinds of reprehensible attributes and characteristics… starting with intolerance and moving quickly to accusations of attempting to be seen as divine.

            So here we are, Barry, where you are attempting to do the same thing by claiming that the use of the term ‘God’ does not necessarily mean you are invoking a deity. But you are, Barry. That’s what the term means. You may every right to owning your own beliefs but you do not have the right to own your own facts. And the fact is that the noun ‘god’ really does and necessarily so require a deity. You are invoking this deity meaning when you use the term ‘god’.

            • Tildeb, language does not stand still. It evolves. My understanding of what the word “God” means is by no means unique. The liberal branch of Quakerism evolved this concept of God over a period of several hundred years. Others have reached similar concepts  after rejecting traditional Christian beliefs. To many Christians the dictionary definition you have is exactly what they believe God to be. However to the religiously liberal, such a definition is outdated.

              I fail to understand why you are so adamant that what is understood by the word “God” cannot change/evolve over time. The meaning of words do evolve. For example what an American understands by the word “fanny” is different from what a Kiwi understands.

              Or take the word “kiwi”. When I visited the US in 1999 I was often asked if I liked eating kiwis. I was able to genuinely shock Americans by stating quite truthfully that eating kiwi was a serious crime in New Zealand and I had never eaten kiwi. What they didn’t realise was that the word they used for that little furry fruit was a corruption of the word “kiwifruit” coined just thirty-five years earlier by NZ exporters. NZers never never refer to the fruit as “kiwi”. If a word can change its meaning from a flightless bird to a subtropical fruit in only a few decades, isn’t it possible that what is understood by “God” can change over a few centuries especially if fundamentalism hasn’t hijacked Christian beliefs.

              Another example is “whiteware”. Merrium-Webster: a class of ceramic products that include porcelain, china, pottery, earthenware, stoneware, and vitreous tile, are usually but not necessarily white, and consist typically of clays, feldspar, potter’s flint, and whiting; Collins: white earthenware; Wiktionary: Any pottery of a white or nearly white colour. Seems very clear that whiteware is a form of pottery. But this definition is unknown to Kiwis. Ask any NZer what whiteware is and they will tell you that it refers to fridges, freezers, washing machines, dishwashers, ovens and similar appliances – not what the dictionary says.

              My point is that Christianity in some parts of the world has been hijacked by fundamentalism and is taken very seriously whereas in other places religion exists but is not particularly important and has been allowed to “change with the times” and multiple religions are not in conflict with each other. And what is understood by “God” has moved on from its mythological roots.

              Finally, if you find my use of “God” to describe what I feel and experience objectionable, what would you suggest as an alternative?

      • @Barry

        The question of how to define religion tends to boil down to:

        1) Does one create a definition with what they think religion is and then look out into the world and only include the phenomena that meets said definition.

        2) Or does one look at the phenomena they want to study and then form a definition.

        When people talk about being an atheist Jew or an atheist Quaker does this communicate something about these people:

        1) The atheist JEw may still identify with the Jewish community and heritage, might still celebrate Jewish Holidays, may still engage in Jewish practices (lighting a menorah during Hanukkah, fasting during Yom Kippur, spinning a dreydyl and making latkes, etc.), may still think of some of their values as being Jewish values that they were raised with, might speak Hebrew or Yiddish or Ladino, but they don’t believe in God or the supernatural or the loch ness monster or other mythical beings.

        2) The person might be someone who identifies with Quaker traditions, may go to meetings and engage in certain Quaker rituals, may understand those rituals as being symbolic for human goodness and God as a metaphor for the universe, practice SPICES” – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship (with its historical roots in Quakerism), while not believing in God or the supernatural or the loch ness monster or other mythical beings.

        By religious these people don’t mean they believe in supernatural entities, but rather they identify with certain elements of those specific religious traditions that they find enjoyable or meaningful.

  7. With regards to non-theist Quakers, my interpretation of God would be more along the lines of the potential of collective humanity to realise SPICES. For others it may be a metaphor for the universe – a kind of pantheism. There’s probably as many ways of understanding God as there are liberal Quakers, but for them, that is how it should be.

    As I’ve stated before I believe that for many, religion is a means by which they express their values and world view. It frequently involves supernatural elements but the supernatural isn’t absolutely required.

  8. As I’ve stated before I believe that for many, religion is a means by which they express their values and world view. It frequently involves supernatural elements but the supernatural isn’t absolutely required.


    • I meant to ask whether your previous comment was meant to be directed to me or to Tildeb, as you and I are somewhat in agreement in our understanding of what religion is.

      • To whomever wants to read it.

        I don’t find interacting with Tildeb to be that fruitful. I doubt I will ever change his mind about anything and I find his arguments unconvincing for the most part.

  9. Pingback: Childlike Grace | Archon's Den

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