Can atheism produce a viable and flourishing society

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Redd_Kross
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08 Aug 2021, 3:22 pm

There's a massive difference between a liberal state where everyone - including atheists - is welcome (within reason), and the state operates independently of religion, and a dictatorial state where religion is banned for political reasons.

One is effectively state atheism through non-affiliation, but religion is still tolerated. It's a mostly passive arrangement.

The other is compulsory atheism i.e forceful discriminatory against any form of religious belief. That's an active, deliberate, ongoing thing.

As an atheist myself I don't believe religion is fundamental to morality. If you need a God to make you feel ashamed of wrongdoing, such that you're forced into doing right, you weren't really a moral person in the first place. Having said that, I appreciate that religious groups can be very supportive, and ideally revolve around helping people to get over problems (shame, guilt etc.) and lead better lives, rather than simply giving them a hard time.

The atheist paradox is that promoting atheism as the only way to live, effectively turns it into a religion or cult of its own. Similar to the liberal political paradox whereby being liberal means accepting the right of non-liberal groups to exist. To campaign for choice and openness means, ironically, also being prepared to give a platform to others who don't share those views at all.

Most Western democracies either deliberately separate church from state, or retain historic associations without actually paying them much heed. In some ways the latter is easier, as it draws more of a line in the sand. It's in the nature of different religions to compete, but if a nation already has a declared official religion they're already "spoken for", meaning there's less point in political manouvering in the hope of seizing control.

Very often those state religions (Church of England, for example) wouldn't say boo to a goose. So they don't actually do very much, but they're largely inoffensive and don't stir people up to be "anti" and want anything else.

Banning religion simply forces it underground and pushes the various religious factions towards extremism. Because if you're outlawed then you might as well go for broke - you're illegal now anyway, so why be moderate and understanding? Champion your cause as the one true vision and hope to eventually gain dominance. Whereas once upon a time you might have been happy co-existing.

Ultimately all we can hope for is balance. Atheism can produce a viable and flourishing society but probably only by neutralizing religious extremism, by tolerating religious moderation. In other words a successful atheist state won't be characterised by a complete lack of organised religion, just the lack of attention that's paid to it when making decisions. And I think there's quite a lot of that going on already. Despite the continual power games we see from competing religious leaders trying to expand their influence.



ToughDiamond
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08 Aug 2021, 6:07 pm

I don't see why a "viable and flourishing society" would be any less feasible without religion than with. I don't think atheism in principle inhibits people from achieving anything particularly desirable or important. It might be thought that atheists would be too individualistic to form a cohesive group, and would be always in conflict with each other, but I think when people are religious, the only difference is that their conflicting views are expressed as "the deity wants this / no, the deity wants that," or "my version of the deity is better than yours." So instead of disagreements being honestly based on the conditions somebody wants and somebody else doesn't want, you get jihads, witch hunts, and crusades. It's probably true that if everybody could be sufficiently brainwashed then there would be no conflict, but I prefer it when people accept the inevitability of conflict and work to resolve it and to limit any ensuing damage.

I think the main thing that's needed to keep a society rubbing along well together is an understanding that developing a workable code of conduct - morals if you like - is best done by considering what this or that rule may do to / for real people on earth, not by looking to some spiritual authority, "sacred" text, or a supposed supernatural being to fob the responsibility onto. If you want a viable, flourishing society, figure out what rules would encourage that by thinking about the people the code of conduct is meant to serve.

Perhaps a more important question is whether or not the human race will ever be capable of this "viable and flourishing society." I've yet to see a sustainable society composed entirely of happy, healthy people, religious or otherwise, and I don't see much evidence of such an entity emerging. Maybe expectations need to be lowered to "not too bad."



Redd_Kross
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08 Aug 2021, 6:23 pm

ToughDiamond wrote:
Maybe expectations need to be lowered to "not too bad."

That's supposedly a key trait of Scandanavian culture. Being happy with a reasonably good life, rather than perpetually aiming for the stars then being disappointed.



shlaifu
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08 Aug 2021, 6:39 pm

Redd_Kross wrote:
.

As an atheist myself I don't believe religion is fundamental to morality. If you need a God to make you feel ashamed of wrongdoing, such that you're forced into doing right, you weren't really a moral person in the first place. Having said that, I appreciate that religious groups can be very supportive, and ideally revolve around helping people to get over problems (shame, guilt etc.) and lead better lives, rather than simply giving them a hard time.

.


I'm an atheist too, and I don't need a god to make me feel ashamed either, but I do need a god to tell me what about. Well, not so much a gid as a social context, and I'm not going to pretend that the secular humanism that's the foundation of most western, laicistic states isn't a thinly veiled christianity, minus the organ music and architectural ornaments.

I'm not sure if morality can exist without some ultimstely irreducible myth about what's right and what's wrong. the sense of moral I'd like to believe, is an evolutionary adaptation which allows us to live together in large groups.


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Redd_Kross
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08 Aug 2021, 7:03 pm

You could look at that the other way round.

A lot of religions share the same core values, though of course they like to pretend they're totally different.

That's most likely because the fundamental ones are all to do with living in harmony with others in society. In other words, they're the essential basics that already existed, before all the window-dressing and irrational control freakery got added on.



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08 Aug 2021, 8:50 pm

kraftiekortie wrote:
Sure, this can theoretically happen. But it hasn’t, yet.

The atheists in question must believe in at least some morality derived from religion, though.


It hasn't worked because most non-atheists aren't rational people.
Most people embrace emotionalism because the evolutionary process has made them that way. 8O

A wise skunk once said: "You can't reason with an unreasonable person."
That same skunk also said: "You can bring a wombat to logic, but you can't make it think." 8)


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09 Aug 2021, 4:35 am

salad wrote:
I ask because of the claim by anthropologists that every society on earth that has stood the test of time and prospered had to have a religion to act as a centripetal force to bind its members....


The comedian Patton Oswalt has a routine that touches on this idea called "Sky Cake." It's funny, but also insightful, I think. The abridged version: early humanity couldn't get any further along than having a big guy with a club wreaking havoc on everyone, until one day somebody came up with a trick: telling the big guy that if he behaved, he would get a reward after he died -- that he would get to "go up into the sky and eat as much cake as he wants." The trick worked and civilization was able to progress. "It's the old Sky Cake dodge!" The problem, Oswalt says, arose when this started happening everywhere and the people who believed in "Sky Cake," "Sky Pie" and "Sky Baklava" all started fighting each other.


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When we look at some of the atheist regimes of the 18th-20th and even 21st century...


Atheism is just the lack of a belief in a theistic god, so I question what an "atheist regime" is. Is it a regime that outlaws the practice of religion? That isn't inherent in the idea of atheism. (I'm an atheist and I don't think we should do that. It doesn't make me any less of an atheist.) Is it a secular government? The United States technically has one due to the Establishment Clause, but the voting public is largely religious. Meanwhile, as I understand it, England has an official state church, the Anglican Church, but the public is much less religious than in the U.S.

A regime that truly had atheism as its central guiding principle would go something like this:

LEADER: "Hello, fellow citizens. After much deliberation, we have decided that we still don't believe in God. That's all we have for you. Good day."



Harry Haller
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12 Aug 2021, 9:36 am

Well, considering the topic, this is interesting
https://babylonbee.com/news/progressive ... t-of-doubt

Oh for parody :D



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12 Aug 2021, 8:09 pm

vividgroovy wrote:
salad wrote:
I ask because of the claim by anthropologists that every society on earth that has stood the test of time and prospered had to have a religion to act as a centripetal force to bind its members....


The comedian Patton Oswalt has a routine that touches on this idea called "Sky Cake." It's funny, but also insightful, I think. The abridged version: early humanity couldn't get any further along than having a big guy with a club wreaking havoc on everyone, until one day somebody came up with a trick: telling the big guy that if he behaved, he would get a reward after he died -- that he would get to "go up into the sky and eat as much cake as he wants." The trick worked and civilization was able to progress. "It's the old Sky Cake dodge!" The problem, Oswalt says, arose when this started happening everywhere and the people who believed in "Sky Cake," "Sky Pie" and "Sky Baklava" all started fighting each other.





didn't get that the guy with the club wreaking havoc was an actual guy until I read on, and briefly thought you, or Oswald, were talking about any sort of old testamrnt god, allah, shiva, and so on. - just impart some religion on your vengeful gods and see if they can behave, so you can have a nice, tyranny-free society here on earth.

dear god, no more floods or you won't go to super-heaven


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12 Aug 2021, 9:35 pm

vividgroovy wrote:

The comedian Patton Oswalt has a routine that touches on this idea called "Sky Cake." It's funny, but also insightful, I think. The abridged version: early humanity couldn't get any further along than having a big guy with a club wreaking havoc on everyone, until one day somebody came up with a trick: telling the big guy that if he behaved, he would get a reward after he died -- that he would get to "go up into the sky and eat as much cake as he wants." The trick worked and civilization was able to progress. "It's the old Sky Cake dodge!" The problem, Oswalt says, arose when this started happening everywhere and the people who believed in "Sky Cake," "Sky Pie" and "Sky Baklava" all started fighting each other.


I was recently reading some anthropological studies that this reminded me of, having to do with some of the tribes of Australasia and why some were more successful in cooperating and forming larger societies than others, and one of the ingredients was theology. In a nutshell, the less successful tribes tended to believe in a sort of "evil spirits" model to explain misfortune, and thought that the evil spirits were conjured by other tribes and so would constantly fight, where as the more successful groups believed in gods who punished people for their own sins with misfortune, and so if someone was killed by a falling tree in the jungle, they'd blame the person for "sinning" and bringing the punishment on themself rather than blaming another tribe for cursing them and going to war over it. I'm super simplifying it, but it's interesting stuff.


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12 Aug 2021, 9:43 pm

Redd_Kross wrote:
The atheist paradox is that promoting atheism as the only way to live, effectively turns it into a religion or cult of its own. Similar to the liberal political paradox whereby being liberal means accepting the right of non-liberal groups to exist. To campaign for choice and openness means, ironically, also being prepared to give a platform to others who don't share those views at all.


1. I'd like to just give you a +1 for this whole post, very well put.

2. I think it's really interesting that if you look at the period from the early 2000s to now, there used to be a flourishing online atheism community that, having basically vanquished the religious right as a cultural power in the US, morphed into the online social justice community and has essentially become a religion unto itself. This isn't an original observation, a number of people have explored the concept in depth, but it tracks almost exactly with your comment about atheism becoming it's own cult or religion.


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12 Aug 2021, 9:56 pm

Why the hell not? No churches to avoid taxes.

And sales of hair dryers will skyrocket as they are used en masse to un-baptize people.


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13 Aug 2021, 5:46 am

shlaifu wrote:
vividgroovy wrote:
The comedian Patton Oswalt has a routine that touches on this idea called "Sky Cake." It's funny, but also insightful, I think. The abridged version: early humanity couldn't get any further along than having a big guy with a club wreaking havoc on everyone, until one day somebody came up with a trick: telling the big guy that if he behaved, he would get a reward after he died -- that he would get to "go up into the sky and eat as much cake as he wants." The trick worked and civilization was able to progress. "It's the old Sky Cake dodge!" The problem, Oswalt says, arose when this started happening everywhere and the people who believed in "Sky Cake," "Sky Pie" and "Sky Baklava" all started fighting each other.



didn't get that the guy with the club wreaking havoc was an actual guy until I read on, and briefly thought you, or Oswald, were talking about any sort of old testamrnt god, allah, shiva, and so on.


I see what you mean. In this case, Oswalt was saying that, while he's not religious, he appreciates the effect it had on early civilization.

Basically, religion is a way to motivate people with a carrot or a stick when you have neither a carrot nor a stick.

Quote:
- just impart some religion on your vengeful gods and see if they can behave, so you can have a nice, tyranny-free society here on earth.

dear god, no more floods or you won't go to super-heaven


That's great :lol:.

Dox47 wrote:
I was recently reading some anthropological studies that this reminded me of, having to do with some of the tribes of Australasia and why some were more successful in cooperating and forming larger societies than others, and one of the ingredients was theology. In a nutshell, the less successful tribes tended to believe in a sort of "evil spirits" model to explain misfortune, and thought that the evil spirits were conjured by other tribes and so would constantly fight, where as the more successful groups believed in gods who punished people for their own sins with misfortune, and so if someone was killed by a falling tree in the jungle, they'd blame the person for "sinning" and bringing the punishment on themself rather than blaming another tribe for cursing them and going to war over it. I'm super simplifying it, but it's interesting stuff.


That's interesting. Both of those models sound terrible to me, but I can see where the latter might have more of a stabilizing effect.

Dox47 wrote:
Redd_Kross wrote:
The atheist paradox is that promoting atheism as the only way to live, effectively turns it into a religion or cult of its own. Similar to the liberal political paradox whereby being liberal means accepting the right of non-liberal groups to exist. To campaign for choice and openness means, ironically, also being prepared to give a platform to others who don't share those views at all.


1. I'd like to just give you a +1 for this whole post, very well put.

2. I think it's really interesting that if you look at the period from the early 2000s to now, there used to be a flourishing online atheism community that, having basically vanquished the religious right as a cultural power in the US, morphed into the online social justice community and has essentially become a religion unto itself. This isn't an original observation, a number of people have explored the concept in depth, but it tracks almost exactly with your comment about atheism becoming it's own cult or religion.


I like the saying, "Atheism is a religion the way 'off' is a channel."

However, I agree that atheists can employ religious thinking when it comes to whatever ideology they subscribe to.

I used to watch an atheist YouTuber named Steve Shives, who used logical arguments to refute Christian apologetic books. He also had another show on his channel, "5 Stupid Things About [insert topic here]." Then one day, Shives announced that the word "stupid" was "ablest and harmful," according to his disabled friends. He basically felt that, as an able-bodied person, his duty was to unquestioningly accept this and delete the word from his vocabulary and his show title. In my view, his line of thinking is identical to religious thinking: an authority says so, therefore it's true. It's not your place to question it. After that, I couldn't take his atheist videos seriously anymore.



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13 Aug 2021, 11:36 am

vividgroovy wrote:
Shives announced that the word "stupid" was "ablest and harmful," according to his disabled friends. He basically felt that, as an able-bodied person, his duty was to unquestioningly accept this and delete the word from his vocabulary and his show title. In my view, his line of thinking is identical to religious thinking: an authority says so, therefore it's true. It's not your place to question it. After that, I couldn't take his atheist videos seriously anymore.

Everybody talks rubbish from time to time. I can see how that instance of it would be a put-off, but I think it's important not to throw out the baby with the bath water. A person saying one silly thing doesn't invalidate everything they say.

It's an interesting notion though. I've long thought that there's a limit to how far the idea of ableism as a thing in need of eradication can be taken. Mostly I see it as harmful, but taken to its logical conclusion we would have to radically alter all these exams and other aspects of life that require people not to be stupid in order to pass or to receive the goodies. Logically, society has massive built-in discrimination against idiots. Stupid people can't help being stupid.



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13 Aug 2021, 2:29 pm



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13 Aug 2021, 7:45 pm

Rexi wrote:

Although I like some of the design-work very much, I always wondered why the artwork of the Mediaevals so often look as if they were done by small children, with mistakes in the perspective and shapes of figures and animals. Some of the faces they drew were laughably primitive. Classical art was way more realistic. They explained at school that it was because it wasn't till the fall of the Roman Empire that artistic techniques necessary for realism were rediscovered, but until now I couldn't see any reason why they stayed hidden for all those centuries.

As for the arguments that try to show that science demonstrates atheism to be a fallacy, I've never seen a sound one yet. They seem to be based on the idea that the world wouldn't have any hard-and-fast scientifically-understandable laws without a deity to cause it all, but I've never seen any rational argument that shows that to be the case. It is kind of mysterious that those principles should be there at all, but explaining it by the introduction of a mysterious ethereal agent that thinks and ordains doesn't make it any less mysterious. To put it another way, I used to wonder why anything existed at all - why any matter or energy? But an answer such as "because a miraculous super-being put it there" just begs the question "Why is the super-being there?"