Does Religion Have Value?
Thanks for taking my call today. I'd like to briefly follow up.
Your position on religion was, "If it works for you and makes you happy, that's good enough for me."
That's a good position to take, full of tolerance, and a wise one to take as a talk-show host in Utah. It's also a good standard for polite company in public. You never want to attack people's religion or politics in a social setting. It's just good manners. Fact is, for day to day living, that's my code too. I certainly don't accost my co-workers at the office about their religious beliefs.
On the other hand, if other people bring up the subject in my presence, and start making claims about religion to me, I think they're fair game. If they bring up the subject I'm ready to defend my perspective.
There are problems with the position "if is works for you and makes you happy, it's good enough for me." That perspective would allow you to get along with anyone short of a serial killer. If you were surrounded by KKK klansmen in sheets, it would even be the smart thing to say. However if you want to have an objective discussion of things like values and principles, you need to be free to discuss both the pros and the cons. Since talk radio purports to be such a free forum, I consider it fair game for the discussion of atheism. Nobody's holding a gun to the heads of the listeners and forcing them to agree or even to listen.
Generally, if someone wants to believe in a god or an afterlife, that's their right to do so, and I don't question that. I do however assert my right to say that such a belief is unwise and can have tragic consequences. Unfortunately people with such beliefs are often responsible for the welfare of other people. Remember the woman who threw her children from the top of a hotel a few years ago so that they could be reunited with their father in the afterlife?
Therefore the beliefs of teachers, policemen, military officers, government officials, doctors, and psychotherapists are fair game for criticism if they include religious superstition. Their actions can hurt other people, so it is desirable that they be reasonably sane.
As I mentioned, the atheist position is derived from the approach of science. If one posits the existence of a god, a scientist is correct in being skeptical and demanding evidence to support the claim. In religion skepticism is a sin and faith is a virtue.
Just because a scientist is rigid in sticking to his principles for the derivation of knowledge, that does not make science a religion and does not make the scientist a fanatic. Since my atheism is derived from the science perspective, I am open to a valid scientific proof of the existence of a god, but it must be reasonable and scientific. It can't rely on faith.
In Utah and many other places, the most effective argument against atheism is to define it away. Atheism is so defined as the belief or doctrine that a god does not exist, and the atheist is characterized as a fanatic believing on faith that he can prove that a god can not exist. This little oversimplification and distortion satisfies most religionists and the thinking stops there. You can find such definitions in most dictionaries, and it is even a valid definition, since dictionary definitions are based on popular usage, not on whether they are accurate descriptions.
The scientific atheist however is simply being consistent in applying the scientific perspective to the acquisition of knowledge. He does not make an exception in the case of religion. It is an ethical principle to not cave in to pressure from religionists. In the case of outspoken atheists such as myself and my group, we not only do not believe in religious doctrine, but we also see much harm that is caused by such beliefs. We also see that the harm comes from fundamental characteristics of religion generally -- i.e. the primacy of faith and fanaticism, the dependence on superstition. Although there is much pressure to silence us and dismiss us as religious bigots, we think it is important that our perspectives be presented and explored.
I know these are radical thoughts, and I know the Sage of South Temple has opted for "moderation in all things, including moderation." I argue however that some of our greatest leaders and thinkers have been radicals. Being a radical does not necessarily make you a bad guy. I was certainly not the first person to think these thoughts about religion. I like the thoughts of these famous radicals:
"What has been Christianity's fruits" ... superstition, bigotry and persecution."
-- James Madison from his "Memorial and Remonstrance" which ultimately inspired the First Amendment.
OK, I said I'd be brief. That's enough for now.
Page updated 2012-01-14
From: Robert B. Sammel, M.D.
Sent: Friday, June 22, 2001
Subject: website quote
On [this] webpage there is a quote from John Adams in the letter of Chris Allen to Tom.
"This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion it."
-- John Adams
The context of this quote is the following:
Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!" But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.
-- John Adams, quoted from Charles Francis Adams, ed., Works of John Adams (1856), vol. X, p. 254
I bring this up as the placement of Adams' quote outside its context has been cited by leaders of the religious right in an attempt to discredit the body of evidence regarding the religious beliefs of the founding fathers and the separation of church and state, at the same time that fabricated and misquoted statements from the same individuals have been aggressively used to try to revise the original intent of the first amendment.
I therefore request that the quote be revised or annotated to include its context.
One suggestion would be to replace it with the statement from Adams: "God is an essence that we know nothing of"
Robert B. Sammel, M.D.
Thank you. Your suggestion that Adams was only a Deist is well taken. I blindly reproduced the quote from a source I trusted.
I think Bertrand Russell, who is my hero, once said that the world is better off with religion than without it. I can't remember in where I saw that. Who am I do disagree with Him? I think he is wrong, though.
This, above, should read ERRATUM.