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Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments 
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 Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments

Please use this thread to discuss the above section of Lex Bayer and John Figdor’s “Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-first Century.”

You’re also welcome to create new threads however you see fit.



Mon Nov 03, 2014 10:33 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
I'll try to comment more later, I read the first couple of chapters and like it so far. I wouldn't be thrown off by the whole "ten commandments" thing, I was skeptical when I first saw the title, but the book would really be the same without any mention of it.

They really try to use careful logic in laying out their arguments, in a more concise and less tedious way than Carrier did in his book for example. It's a nice addition that they laid out the steps in their arguments in an appendix.



Mon Dec 01, 2014 5:25 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
Thanks for kick-starting this discussion, Dexter!



Mon Dec 01, 2014 5:42 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
Right, it's December already and time to talk about the book. The authors telling a joke about an atheist, an agnostic, and a humanist makes me think of Studs Terkel's joke that an agnostic is a cowardly atheist. Maybe a grain of truth in that. Bayor and Figdor get into the matter of classification and definition, but they conclude that in the end the labels don't make a lot of difference, and I agree. The commonality is that all three types don't believe in God. I capitalize the word, making it a name, just to make it clear that what we don't believe in is something at least close to the biblical God. There are other, fuzzier notions of god that some humanists and agnostics might say they believe in, though how you can believe in something you can't even properly define escapes me. Some people might reserve a vague notion of god in order to be able to claim the label 'spiritual,' a quality that many people approve of.

The power of words is really amazing. Looking at the word 'atheist,' it's the addition of one little vowel on the 'word 'theist' that turns the "good" word into one that many people regard with something like horror. How that came about I'm not sure; probably it has to do with the high prominence of Christianity in our republic right from the start. The worst insult people threw at Thomas Jefferson was 'atheist,' and the situation is only a little different today. I vaguely remember the scandal of Madeleine Murray O'Hair, a prominent atheist known as "the most hated woman in America."

B & L will probably not have anything more to say about the 10 Commandments. It occurred to me, though, that even for strict Christians the
Commandments might need updates. The command to "have no gods before me" is a clue to the polytheistic culture of the ancient Middle East. Although Yahweh forbade worship of other gods, he surely considered them to be very real. That would be why worshiping them was a capital offense. They were competing gods. Just having a delusion about unreal gods probably wouldn't bring that response. The norm for Christians for quite a while has been to regard any god besides God to be a fantastic delusion.

The ban on many kinds of graven images of course doesn't apply anymore, and never did for Catholics.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
This past weekend, I went to a cousin's wedding and spent some time with my younger brother. We were talking and I happened to let out that I consider myself an atheist. He wanted to call me an agnostic because the word "atheist" has such negative connotations for him. He then proceeded to describe the God he sometimes prays to, but it was a very fuzzy entity, exactly as DWill describes above. Interestingly, he said he just needs to engage with something that's "not me." So "God" for my brother is a kind of placeholder for that very Buddhist concept of "not me." It seems to me that some folks want to keep God in that fuzzy realm precisely so they can pray to it, and that such prayer is actually a form of meditation.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
geo wrote:
This past weekend, I went to a cousin's wedding and spent some time with my younger brother. We were talking and I happened to let out that I consider myself an atheist. He wanted to call me an agnostic because the word "atheist" has such negative connotations for him. He then proceeded to describe the God he sometimes prays to, but it was a very fuzzy entity, exactly as DWill describes above. Interestingly, he said he just needs to engage with something that's "not me." So "God" for my brother is a kind of placeholder for that very Buddhist concept of "not me." It seems to me that some folks want to keep God in that fuzzy realm precisely so they can pray to it, and that such prayer is actually a form of meditation.


I'd call the fuzzy-god phenomenon more of a feeling than a belief, and that's not to denigrate the feeling. We've often spoken of some sense of immensity that's available at certain moments, perhaps brought on by certain settings, and one supposition could be that we're experiencing divinity--without even being able to define what that is. Another supposition could be that we're experiencing our minds, rather than perceiving any part of external reality. I'm rather surprised that your brother could find the fuzzy god something to pray to, but not surprised that he could meditate on it. I don't find any reason at all to be skeptical about this type of belief, if that's what we have to call it. It seems a misuse of skepticism to even use that approach. There's no claim being made about reality that evidence could have a bearing on.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
DWill wrote:
I don't find any reason at all to be skeptical about this type of belief, if that's what we have to call it. It seems a misuse of skepticism to even use that approach. There's no claim being made about reality that evidence could have a bearing on.


I don't either. The fuzzy-God seems to stand for something that people have a difficult time articulating precisely because it is a feeling. So it's kind of a metaphor. I think the problem, if you can call it that, comes into play when people confuse the feeling for something that exists externally. Maybe it's when the metaphor becomes too literal that gives rise to claims about reality and the ultimate conflict with skeptics.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
geo wrote:
DWill wrote:
I don't find any reason at all to be skeptical about this type of belief, if that's what we have to call it. It seems a misuse of skepticism to even use that approach. There's no claim being made about reality that evidence could have a bearing on.


I don't either. The fuzzy-God seems to stand for something that people have a difficult time articulating precisely because it is a feeling. So it's kind of a metaphor. I think the problem, if you can call it that, comes into play when people confuse the feeling for something that exists externally. Maybe it's when the metaphor becomes too literal that gives rise to claims about reality and the ultimate conflict with skeptics.

With the 10 Commandments and the ruler God, authority also comes into it and explains why many people need to make any metaphors literal. I'm thinking of Jonathan Haidt's moral foundations theory. He makes the point that there are different "moral taste buds," and that one of these values authority in particular. It's very anachronistic to go around talking about "the Lord," the ruler of all, and all these other names that belong to a political past grounded in the authority of monarchs. We've been into democracy for a while, obviously. Yet, in the culture there are still those who want morality to be unquestioned, absolute, because it comes from the King of the universe. It's all about morality, in my view, including the evolution question. No way that people could deny the facts of evolution except through a fear of its implications for morality. It's not good for it to be true, therefore they must find a way to deny that it's true.

Bayor and Figdor's choice of the term "non-commandments" for the principles of humanism (the label I'll use for now) may be awkward, but it does point out the different idea that humanists have regarding morality. It's much more in the nature of an agreement that evolved, rather than a command from an outside authority.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
DWill wrote:
The authors telling a joke about an atheist, an agnostic, and a humanist makes me think of Studs Terkel's joke that an agnostic is a cowardly atheist. Maybe a grain of truth in that.


I'm not sure if I agree with that. As an agnostic myself, I would say I came to this position because I do not know whether God exists, and I frankly don't know whether we can know the answer. The questions we ask regarding his existence tend to be skewed from pre-written traditions and dogma; I think if God does exist, he wouldn't fit into any preset pattern.

Agnosticism doesn't address whether you BELIEVE in God or not; it only addresses whether you KNOW or not. You can be an Agnostic Atheist or an Agnostic Theist in this regard.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
I mean by 'degree of truth,' that it's quite understandable for someone who doesn't believe in God, but knows that it is a cherished concept of his listeners, to soften the blow by identifying as agnostic. So that could be interpreted as a failure of nerve. Agnostic doesn't sound nearly as bad to people. If you really feel that you're undecided about God, I don't mean that you're hedging in order not to get in trouble in case he's real.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
DWill wrote:
I mean by 'degree of truth,' that it's quite understandable for someone who doesn't believe in God, but knows that it is a cherished concept of his listeners, to soften the blow by identifying as agnostic. So that could be interpreted as a failure of nerve. Agnostic doesn't sound nearly as bad to people. If you really feel that you're undecided about God, I don't mean that you're hedging in order not to get in trouble in case he's real.


The way I understand the terms, it is personal belief that most people assess themselves by when they claim a label. I don't believe god exists. But that is belief and not knowledge. For knowledge, the belief must be justified and true, and I don't think that's possible to determine either way regarding all definitions of a god. The truth is, no one "knows", at the same time we have our beliefs.

Is an atheist someone who merely believes god doesn't exist? Or must it be knowledge? I've always gone by what I know(as far as I can determine). Which means I'm agnostic. I've never seen this as a cowardly stance. To me, it's always been the more honest position. To acknowledge where we lack knowledge is a virtue.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
Quote:
To acknowledge where we lack knowledge is a virtue.


i think i just saw Socrates smile, or was it a twinkle in Plato's eye, no matter, the 'Great Unruffled One' continues to demonstrate consistency!

if you were an american indian i do believe "straight arrow" would suit well.

as always, thanks a felt 'n meltin' million, you are a constant scource of inspiration.

long may you run.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
To speak again on the concept of agnostic and atheists, I would say that these terms answer two different claims. To be an atheist means you simply don't believe in a God. To be an agnostic means you don't know if there is a God, and don't think there is a way to know. One answers belief claims, while the other answers knowledge claims.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
Thanks, MN, but are belief and knowledge claims really any different? The chemical composition of water seems for me as much a belief as it does knowledge.

The problem with claiming that God doesn't exist seems to be as interbane says, that the concept is so inclusive that we can't possibly rule out all that it might be said to cover. But if we agree beforehand on what we mean by "God," I think we can say that we know he isn't real as a matter of knowledge and belief. The book doesn't make this explicit, but it's clear the writers are talking about the Judeo-Christian, biblical God. Do you feel agnostic toward this God, believing he might exist, or do you know he doesn't? My way of thinking is that "believe" and "know" aren't separate but are on a continuum.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Rewriting the Ten Commandments
Interbane wrote:
DWill wrote:
I mean by 'degree of truth,' that it's quite understandable for someone who doesn't believe in God, but knows that it is a cherished concept of his listeners, to soften the blow by identifying as agnostic. So that could be interpreted as a failure of nerve. Agnostic doesn't sound nearly as bad to people. If you really feel that you're undecided about God, I don't mean that you're hedging in order not to get in trouble in case he's real.


The way I understand the terms, it is personal belief that most people assess themselves by when they claim a label. I don't believe god exists. But that is belief and not knowledge. For knowledge, the belief must be justified and true, and I don't think that's possible to determine either way regarding all definitions of a god. The truth is, no one "knows", at the same time we have our beliefs.

Is an atheist someone who merely believes god doesn't exist? Or must it be knowledge? I've always gone by what I know(as far as I can determine). Which means I'm agnostic. I've never seen this as a cowardly stance. To me, it's always been the more honest position. To acknowledge where we lack knowledge is a virtue.


The terms gnostic and agnostic address knowledge claims, while theist and atheist are terms dealing with belief. You can have a gnostic atheist and an agnostic Christian in this regard.

I think what DWill is arguing against is the idea of people who label themselves as agnostic so they won't have to admit to being an atheist--there is still a stigma in America (and perhaps in other countries to) regarding atheists, so I personally won't begrudge a person who doesn't feel comfortable to admit what they are within their local environment. It'll be similar to coming out as gay--if the person does not feel safe, secure, or comfortable in divulging such personal information (and sexuality and religious belief are personal), then they should be allowed to go about it as they see fit. To me it should be a matter of changing the environment.


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Tue Dec 16, 2014 9:33 am
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