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Atheist Experience

Hey all,

I watch your show online, great stuff! I noticed that the issue of atheists having no grounds for morality keeps coming up over and over again. The best explanation I've ever seen for morality was in Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate. Pinker argues that morality is a mental faculty in the same way that vision is a mental faculty. Just as there are visual illusions, there are also moral illusions, it even gives a general formula for constructing moral illusions (where an action feels wrong without causing any harm).

Morality aside, I have a Christian friend who sees our existence/universe as being aimed at a (god given) direction. The best way for me to explain his opinion is to quote him directly... it's not that i'm agnostic. i'm perfectly theist. but i'm reading a lot of joseph campbell (a great intellectual authority on world religions) and basically i agree or believe in a higher plain or divine existence that is the culmination or synthesis of the fabric of reality or the universe (i'm not sticking to concrete terminology). basically i believe that we can reach this higher plain either secularly, or through religious practice. catholics can reach it through jesus, buddists through bhudism, and the like. basically all roads leading to what catholics would call "heaven" or any other religion's idea of transcendence.

My question is: what are some solid arguments against this?

I read the quote around ten times and don't feel I really understand what your friend is trying to say. I know what all the words mean, but ...

Maybe some of those "ORs" should be "OFs?"

Anyway, It _sounds_ like your friend may be saying that a certain state of mind can be reached in various ways: through religion or not. (I would add drugs to the list.) I don't think that needs to be argued against. Lots of states of mind can be reached in lots of different ways.

But, the last sentence speaks your friend's fundamental misunderstanding of some of the terminolgy: "basically all roads leading to what catholics would call 'heaven' or any other religion's idea of transcendence."

Catholic Heaven and other religions' (presumably Eastern) idea of transcendence are decidedly NOT the same thing. So, how could all roads lead there?

BTW, Joseph Campbell blasted the "Three Great Religions," as much as any atheist ... He argued that their biggest problem was in treating metaphor as reality.

I'm surprised your friend admires Joseph Campbell. Here's a Campbell quote to give you an idea of why: "All religions are true, but none are literal."

Campbell advocates that religion is synonymous with mythology and that it is all only metaphor.

I agree with the other poster who replied here. I am having trouble understanding what your friend's claim actually is?

My best guess of what he's trying to say (and I'll be sure to clarify next time I see him) is that he knows god exists from personal experience (as Popp mentioned, such a personal experience could very well be induced by drugs). Personally I don't trust my own mind, in that if I were to feel that I am in the presence of god, I would write it off as an interesting phenomena rather than a divine experience. However, I can't think of any solid arguments for not trusting one's mind. What are some good arguments for dismissing thoughts that contradict rationality?

Are you trying to win a debate or help your friend to expand his thinking? If you're trying to win a debate, neither of you will win because you and your friend are not debating by the same set of rules.

"What are some good arguments for dismissing thoughts that contradict rationality?"

Thinking that contradicts rationality, by definition, tends to ignore rational arguments. Rational thinking tends to dismiss non-explicated assertions.

These systems of thought (theistic religion and atheism), do not work in the same way and are not compatible for the most part.

Sure, we can identify features that exist in both modes of thought: Emotions, Art & music. Or identify commonly-held beliefs: Morality, love & concern for family, friends and strangers. Still, the fundamental "operating systems" are simply not compatible: Rationalism requires evidence to accept the Resurrection (you said your friend was a Christian); simple assertions do not work. Religions have their own rules, usually including faith in some set of prescribed set of beliefs.

That said, If you want to help your friend to expand his thinking, read some Joseph Campbell yourself and TALK WITH (not necessarily ARGUE AGAINST) your friend about your interpretations. Campbell is probably a good choice of reading for your friend as Campbell expounded on "the sublime," -- impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power; inspiring awe, veneration, etc. ( -- but rejected religious ideology. This really sounds more like what your friend is talking about ... Except for the Christianity part ...

Thanks for the suggestion. I'll definitely read some Joseph Campbell.

The (many different paths but the destination is the same) theme is very familiar. This is the claim Christians make. But in fact the devout can't make their idiotic religion inclusive, tolerant, and unbiased. No matter how hard they try to cover it up. There are many different paths but the destination always is the same. You might tell your friend - In my Father's house there are many doors…and don't slam it on the way out.

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