The banana nightmare again

The comments on the previous post were to interesting. What sparked my question about the meaning of “faith” and its distinction from belief was the following (again from the Washington Post religion discussion).

>Too Soon For Genuine Believer-Atheist Dialogue?

>When I became an atheist during my first year of college (thanks to my leftover high school obsession with Ayn Rand, and subsequent introduction to Sartre and Camus), I talked about the utter absurdity of believing in a divinity to anyone who cared to listen, and to a number of others (including my Catholic mother) who did not.

>I was as zealous in my atheism as a new convert in her chosen faith.

>Atheism is a belief system like any other—a religion of sorts in its own right. Dialogue between different believers is possible only when each person (or group) is not only ready to leave their unbridled enthusiasm for personal convictions aside, at least for a time and for the purposes of conversation, but also when each party concludes that a dialogue has value.

>Dialogue between atheists and believers is no different than dialogue between members of two different faith traditions. If both parties come to the table, as scholar Sandra Schneiders suggests, “as onto a field of battle,” with one’s “tradition as shield against heresy or paganism or, worse yet, as a sword with which to vanquish the other,” then open, productive conversation is impossible. If each party enters “undefended,” however—not altogether without their belief system, but with the conviction that conversation is not to destroy or even best the other’s thinking and rather to find common ground and exchange what is of consequence—then true, productive dialogue has a solid foundation.

>In the initial fervor of my atheism, I entered all conversation about faith with swords blazing—in much the same (and unfortunate) style of The O’Reilly Factor,where people come to the table not for dialogue, but for war. It was a good while before the fires of my atheism died down enough for me to a) be willing to truly listen to another side of the conversation, and b) desire the dialogue itself because it might be important to engage it.

>The perception that atheism is enjoying a kind of “vogue” at the moment comes only from the fact that Sam Harris’s The End of Faith and most recently Letter to a Christian Nation, coupled with Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, each have enjoyed a healthy stay on the bestseller list. But good atheist reads have long been widely available and are wildly popular in the classroom—anything by Sartre or Ayn Rand will do—and many a college student boasts a well-worn copy of some classic atheistic text or other (The Fountainhead is my personal favorite).

>Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation implies a desire for dialogue in its very format. A letter is an address, an attempt to grasp the attention of another party. In this case it appears as a plea for Christians to attend a worldview distinct from their own. Whether or not Mr. Harris has garnered the attention of this intended audience, and in a way that’s productive, not condescending, is another question. Most people I know who are purchasing Harris’s books (and Dawkins’ for that matter) are devout atheists themselves, excited to finally see their belief system get some popular press.

>Whether we, as a country, are not only ready but desirous of this sort of “inter-religious” conversation, as true dialogue and not as a standoff between two irreconcilable parties, remains to be seen.

Let’s assume this was posted as a comment to the previous discussion–comments anyone? Again, Happy New Year.

7 thoughts on “The banana nightmare again”

  1. well, the question as i now see it is not “are atheism and theism equivalent beliefs?,” but rather “what is a religion?” in short, what makes a distinctive pattern of thoght/faith/belief a religion? is it a certain degree of devotion among the believers? if atheism is a religion, is humanism also a religion? it seems that our Randian friend above is dangerously close to an equivocation here….

  2. I suspect any ensuing discussion would gradually (and tediously) resolve to different underlying meanings of the word atheist.

    I wonder if a better question is to ask forthright whether it’s only the *positive* assertion of the non-existence of gods (vis-à-vis the *probabilistic* assertion) which requires faith.

    PS: Why does *everyone* who talks about the recent books of Harris and Dawkins always fail to mention Dennet’s? From what I’ve skimmed of them, his is the only one with anything remotely new or interesting to say.

  3. I was hoping rather for a tedious discussion of the word “faith.”

  4. were you hoping rather or rather hoping?

    how can we discuss faith without first establishing the bounds of the title “religion”? i think it is readily acceptable that faith in the religious sense is very different from faith in the areligious sense in that the former is far less pragmatic, or less mutable, to use mr. grey’s terminology. unless we first establish the veracity of the claim that atheism is a religion, then we lack the grounds to adequately address the question of the atheistic faith vs. the theistic faith. if atheism is a religion, then the faith it purports to espouse fails the requirements of religious faith; conversely, if atheism is not a religion, then it seems beyond the demand for faith, rendering thomas’ accusations moot.

  5. of course, perhaps the belief in a naturalized religion such as Deism might bridge this gap, but i fear Hume dealt that sort of religious belief a fatal blow…

  6. A quick comment,
    I do believe that both theists and atheists have belief systems. We all have belief systems about many things. I’m not entirely sure what is actually being argued for in the above commentary. It would seem obvious that both theists and atheists could hold their beliefs for irrational reasons and engage in zealous defenses of their views with little regard for rational dialogue. The problem raised above seems to be more general than problems between theists and atheists. Any time someone in a conversation refuses to engage in a rational discussion the participants will likely never get very far. If the call is for people to be more rational in their discussions with each other, then I certainly do not disagree. I believe that both atheists and theists are capable of defending their views rationally. But, perhaps there is something more going on here. There could be a hidden distinction between faith and reason. The above commentary may be attempting to conflate the two. This comment, “Atheism is a belief system like any other—a religion of sorts in its own right” is confused. One can have a belief system and not have a religion, unless one wants to call things like science, analytic philosophy, and auto repair, religions. However, if we call all of these belief systems religions, then traditional religions seem to lose their uniqueness.

    I was going to write a detailed account of faith at this point, but I decided that it probably will run about 10 pages in length. So I am going to write a paper on the topic and see if I can post it to the internet. However, because of the nature of the project, I will have to place my real name and academic affiliation on it, which seeing the nature of this forum, may break some of the anonymity currently enjoyed. I will discuss it with the moderators before I post anything. I hope to have the paper completed by midday Saturday.

  7. QUOTE: “Atheism is a belief system like any other—a religion of sorts in its own right.”

    I don’t understand how one can go so far as to define atheism as a religion. Even if we were to consider atheism as more complex than a simple dictionary definition of disbelief or denial or God or gods, and to consider it a “doctrine” that there are no Gods, pulling atheism into the realm of “a religion” redefines, then, the term religion as being something that someone simply believes in.

    People of the Flat Earth Society (I gather) believe that the Earth is flat. Does that make “Flat Earth” a religion?

    Part of the definition of atheism is actually, and simply, “not believing.”

    QUOTE: “Dialogue between atheists and believers is no different than dialogue between members of two different faith traditions.”

    Not so. Dialog between atheists and believers might sometimes (or occaisionally I suppose) be no different — when the “believers” are not fundamentalists. But most often, “believers” are people who live with absolute belief and lack any will to understand what it is that they actually believe in.

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