Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Asshat on CNN

I get really annoyed at posts like this one. Alain de Botton is spouting off about things that atheists can learn from religion. He starts off with about the stupidest thing one can say about it:
Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is "true."

No, Alain, that is the central point. If you build your worldview on a falsehood, then everything else is poisoned. If you ignore truth in favor of anything else, then nothing else you build can be trusted. And if you are deliberate in your rejection of truth as an important criteria, well, I have no respect for you in the least.

But on to his main point:
I believe it must be possible to remain a committed atheist and nevertheless to find religions sporadically useful, interesting and consoling -- and be curious as to the possibilities of importing certain of their ideas and practices into the secular realm.
This is why I generally use "atheist" as an adjective, rather than a noun. My lifestyle, worldview and social behaviors are not confined to "atheist behaviors." There is no such thing. I am a secular humanist, if you are going to require a general label to understand me. Religion doesn't have a monopoly on singing or gathering together to remember someone who has died. It is not required for art or dance. These are all HUMAN behaviors. This is part of our shared heritage as members of our species. Religion may have insinuated itself into many of these facets of human nature, but it is not required, and it is certainly not a good idea to try and import it. In most cases, religion just hijacks the important moments in a human life for its own needs.

This is most apparent in my experience in funerals. Many times, people feel compelled to include a minister of some sort in the funeral of non-religious people. And, it is so tawdry, IMO, to bring in a priest or preacher who did not know the person to preside over the funeral. The most wretched version of this is when they turn the somber occasion of saying goodbye to a loved one into proselytization in front of a captive audience. I'm much more impacted by heartfelt words from other family members, not a canned Christian sermon from someone who never even met the deceased.

The practical upshot is that non-believers do NOT need to import the baggage of religion. We need to embrace our humanity, and forge our own individual approaches to life events.

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