The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever


March 24, 2005 | 34 Comments

Excerpt of an interview between two Harvard philosophy professors:

All this religious dogma, it’s like this gigantic separation machine that divides people and causes more death than anything. Especially when the golden rule is supposed to be ‘love thy neighbor’ . . . I got out of religiosity and maintained spirituality.

They’re on the right track, I guess, although that last line is something you usually hear from a clueless Hollywood airhead.


34 Responses to “Dogma”

  1. glenstonecottage
    March 24th, 2005 @ 10:14 am

    Question for GodIdiots:

    Would you call the California Presbyterian minister who was recently convicted of trying to extort millions of dollars from Celine Dion’s husband “religious” or “spiritual”?

  2. June
    March 24th, 2005 @ 12:17 pm

    I disagree with TRA’s pejorative view of spirituality. “Spirit” can have many non-religious meanings, such as (alphabetically) alcohol, animation, assertiveness, attitude, breath, content, cooperation, essence, exuberance, feeling, impulse, joy, life, loyalty, mind, meditation, mood, nature, patriotism, reflection, self, sentience, thought, vitality, volatility. Which of these meanings does one “usually hear from a clueless Hollywood airhead”?

    Here is a simple example of spirituality for atheists: You come home from work, your front door is ajar, and your expensive new plasma TV is gone. You can rant and rave and feel raped and your space invaded and that usual crap that poisons the rest of your life, OR you can simply make a gift of the TV to whoever took it. Amazing as it seems, this Zen concept of making a gift of a lost item takes the sting out of the loss and soothes the self. It works in other situations, when you get cheated, someone cuts you off in traffic, or you have to take work home over the weekend. Just give it to them, and you end up a winner!

    Now, that bit of life philosophy has nothing to do with religion. It’s simply a technique for calming a brain that feels robbed or cheated. Just because one is a realist, a skeptic, or even a cynic does not mean one cannot be spiritual. Or has religion robbed us of the right to spirituality?

  3. Dada Saves
    March 24th, 2005 @ 12:27 pm

    Hey, Why not just leave the door open 24/7? Be like one big birthday party for the world.

  4. The One True Commenter
    March 24th, 2005 @ 1:55 pm

    Well, in my experience, “spirituality” has been used mainly by people who want the warm n’ fuzzies from religion without all the strict rules and stuff that might harsh one’s mellow. The kind of people who would find it primitive and gauche to claim that God directly punished people for certain actions, but have no problem invoking “karma” to fill the exact same function. The kind of dolts who say “I believe what goes around, comes around!”, and apparently find this profound. The kind of people who are so determined to see Jesus as “the Martin Luther King of his day” that they studiously ignore all his, umm…less-than-liberal pronouncements.

  5. Viole
    March 24th, 2005 @ 6:18 pm

    Please, put all things in historical perspective. Jesus lived, if in truth he lived at all, two thousand years ago, when they routinely did things which would make even our modern torture advocates cringe. It’s true, we’re still fighting what are essentially the same battles, but us left wingers are far more mainstream that we would have been in the Roman empire.

  6. The One True Commenter
    March 25th, 2005 @ 7:55 am

    In my limited time yesterday, I forgot to touch on this gem: OR you can simply make a gift of the TV to whoever took it…Just give it to them, and you end up a winner!

    So, what if he doesn’t steal your TV, but, rather, rapes your teenage daughter, who was home alone? Pretend your way past it by saying she willingly made sweet, sweet love to him? I assume no one is really insane enough to do this, so…

    …that seems to suggest that most people perceive an inherent difference between material objects and the physical and mental well-being of a loved one, which…

    …would seem to belie the claim that “you create your own reality”, which, from my experience, I would call a typical example of “spirituality”. And if I’m not being too presumptuous, it also seems to be pretty much what you’re saying by suggesting that it’s all in how we look at things.

    So, let me suggest that if “spirituality” means accepting as a given that being happy and mellow is more important than squarely facing up to uncomfortable facts, then it seems to me to be about as worthless as traditional religion.

    Or has religion robbed us of the right to spirituality?

    It didn’t “rob” me of it. I didn’t find it worth having, so I gave it away as a gift. ;-)

  7. June
    March 25th, 2005 @ 7:58 am

    TOTC (#4) helps to make my point. TOTC has apparently only experienced groupies who are so mind-scarred by religion that they can no longer enjoy beautiful things without urge to exclaim “Thank you, whatever God provided this beautiful thing”.

    Spirituality simply means taking care of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, in the daily struggle for survival. What this means to you depends on your lifestyle. Some atheists may use music, others meditation, an Internet discussion group, drugs, alcohol, whatever. Some may want to jump into their truck and go hunt themselves some rabbits. I myself enjoy a walk along the Pacific.

    I don’t think the “warm and fuzzies” come from religion; I think religion hijacked them long ago to serve as bait for the faithful. The church fully exploits basic human needs and drives and fears to the point where we forget what was once ours. Spirituality has been co-opted by religion so much that one can no longer use the word without being suspected of wanting to feel good or being accused of being an airhead. Come to think of it, why the hell shouldn’t atheists feel warm and fuzzy occasionally?

    Now, as to “karma”, do you think it is possible that one’s personality and behavior influence one’s future? He who habitually drives drunk is bound to get into a car accident. That’s just simple probability, not mystic karma. Religion then comes along and turns this into a sin for its purposes. In Western dogma you go to hell; in Eastern dogma you’re reincarnated as a louse or some nonsense like that.

  8. June
    March 25th, 2005 @ 8:17 am


    Well, I see frim #6 that my philosophy does not please TOTC’s, which immediately sentences me to being mocked and belittled as worthless. If that floats your boat, enjoy; you are simply helping to make my point.

    Yes, I have been feeling a little worthless this week, but I am still able to distinguish a brief ad hoc example from a fully developed philosophy, between someone stealing a TV and someone raping my daughter. I can even recall the original point of this post, which was TRA’s unwarranted assertion that spirituality implies being a “clueless airhead”. Then again, perhaps I am…

  9. Dada Saves
    March 25th, 2005 @ 11:36 am

    June, I’m trying to understand your point, really I am. But the more you broaden your definition of “spirituality,” the less meaning it actually has — at least for me.

    “Spirituality simply means taking care of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, in the daily struggle for survival. What this means to you depends on your lifestyle. Some atheists may use music, others meditation, an Internet discussion group, drugs, alcohol, whatever.”

    If it means “whatever,” then it means nothing. It’s no different than saying “I think God is everything and everywhere, therefore everyone must believe in God.”

  10. June
    March 25th, 2005 @ 12:29 pm

    Woah there, Dada, two strawman fallacies in one post? “Whatever” does not mean “nothing”, and “nothing” does not mean
    “everyone must believe in God”. But if it will clarify #7 for you, replace “whatever” with “and so on” or “et cetera” to signal more similar items in the list. It seems obvious that HOW you take care of your spirit is up to you.

    Yes, there are about 15 definitions of “spiritual” (see #2), each with a different focus. All the more reason for TRA to question which one the Harvard philosophy professor meant.

  11. Dave
    March 25th, 2005 @ 12:33 pm

    Spirituality is what’s left after you get discard the dogma, superstition, and power structures of religion. Luckily, I was not raised religious, so I didn’t have a lot of stuff to discard.
    But, I still feel spiritual – though I don’t believe in anything supernatural. It’s a feeling with aspects: awe at the existence of the universe and the things and people in it. When playing music and my consciousness sort of seems to meld with what I’m doing.
    anyway, that’s my 2 cents.

  12. goob
    March 25th, 2005 @ 1:35 pm

    I’m with June and Dave. TRA, please refrain from poopooing people who identify themselves as atheists, yet prefer to be spiritual. On a nice, sunny day, go outside, sit under a tree in the park. Close your eyes, listen to the wee birdies sing, feel the cool breeze on your face, take a deep breath, put yourself at peace. Life has a rhythm, if you get it, then you understand spirituality, if you don’t, then please don’t attempt to insult those who do. You do more to trivialize atheism, than theism with these comments; we don’t need supernatural powers, but humans certainly need to feel connected with each other and with nature. Just because spirituality is often linked with religion doesn’t mean it is inherently religious. Just because they have their definition doesn’t mean we can’t have ours. Being spiritual is possible for anyone, it is only your distrust of religion that has you opposed to it. If you still don’t beileve us, try some drugs: THC (marijuana) MDMA (ecstacy), LSD (acid), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), mescalin, etc. You get the idea. It would certainly make for an interesting post! ;-)

  13. AK
    March 25th, 2005 @ 2:16 pm

    Spirituality does not a conscious creator of the universe necessitate. Spirituality can be so vaguely defined as to even be compatible with materialistic atheism. Spirituality can be compatible with belief that your soul or existence expires along with your body. Kinda like Buddhism.

    And on another note: RA, TODAY IS GOOD FRIDAY AND YOURE NOT POSTING ANYTHING????? I NEED AN ATHEISTIC EXAMINATION OF THE CULTURE OF BELIEF TODAY MORE THAN EVER! Please hook an atheist up with some wonderful biting posts that will actually make my Friday a “good” Friday! :)

  14. MBains
    March 25th, 2005 @ 2:39 pm

    Yah huh. What June & Dave said.

    (When I gets the house to meself and put on a little Def Tones & a groovin’ book then I be spiritualized!)

    Recovering (eternally! LOL!) Catholic

  15. The One True Commenter
    March 25th, 2005 @ 3:04 pm

    Where did I call you worthless, June? If you check again, you’ll see that I’m making what should be a completely uncontroversial point: happiness and a peaceful, easy feeling is not worth purposely lying to yourself about reality. I’m not attacking you personally; sorry for your rough week.

    As for karma, you said it well: He who habitually drives drunk is bound to get into a car accident. That’s just simple probability, not mystic karma.

    Exactly. Simply by living, you will have a variety of experiences, some pleasant, some not. One is limited only by imagination in drawing causal lines of connection between events separated by space and time. How can this be disproved? Two events may have nothing in common other than sharing a vague description of being

  16. Dave
    March 25th, 2005 @ 3:19 pm

    I think it has to do with things that make you feel calm and contented in a minimally materialist way. This is getting into value judgements – but I would argue that there are activities that are calming and bring contentment that are not spiritual, at least most of the time.

    things are defined as much by what they aren’t as by what they are. If anything can be dressed up as spirituality, how does the word mean anything in particular?

    If we substitute the word “Art” for “spirituality”, we run into an discussion that I went thorugh many times in college. I don’t know if we ever came to a satisfactory solution.

    I guess I’d say not being able to concretely define a concept liguistically or logically does not necessarily mean that it is entirely bogus or without value.

  17. simbol
    March 25th, 2005 @ 3:51 pm

    Excuse my english, I am not from here.

    I’am atheist, so I don’t believe in spiritual principles.

    Enjoying sunsets, music, sex, good friends, literature, painting, poetry, good wine and good conversation.

    Trayng to be a good neighbor, a good citizen, a good father, a good husband and help the needed.

    prefering science over voodoo and classic philosofy.

    Hating wars, hating hate, loving freedom.

    All that has nothing to do with spirit, it has to do with hormones,
    enzimes, instintcs, senses operation, brain operation, education, childhood, parents, customs, information and logical cost-benefit analysis.

    Do you think Terry Schiavo, now without cortex, could be spritual?

  18. Dave
    March 25th, 2005 @ 4:04 pm

    Thanks for commenting simbol,
    I guess that the word “spirituality” does not necessarily mean anything supernatural, immaterial. I guess it means finding an abstract fulfillment with existence. Like many words in English – it doesn’t mean what its root seems to imply.
    No, Terri Schaivo cannot be spiritual without a cortex.
    By the way, in your list – you left out aesthetic.

  19. simbol
    March 25th, 2005 @ 4:21 pm


    I didn’t forget aesthetics because it has to do with education, customs and cultural environment.

    What I forgot was genes.

  20. MBains
    March 26th, 2005 @ 7:37 am

    if “spirituality” is just a catch-all term for whatever makes you feel calm and contented, how is this anything special? Is there anyone who doesn’t do this?

    Unfortunately the answer is all too often, Yes. Yah Huh. No doubt about it. You betchyerbottomdollar!

    Not to be confrontative TOTC but have you ever heard of Prozac? Paxil? Zoloft? The multi-billion dollar inustry which exists to foist these occasionally beneficial medications upon the Health Care Covered public wouldn’t exist if there weren’t millions of folk who Don’t have a clue how to just relax.

    OK. I gotta blog this…

  21. The One True Commenter
    March 26th, 2005 @ 9:31 am

    Okay, fair enough (although I think someone upthread also included drugs as being conducive to spirituality).

    And again, just because someone mouths all the right platitudes about being at one with the universe doesn’t mean they’re truly relaxed, either; it could just be another avoidance technique.

  22. Dada Saves
    March 26th, 2005 @ 11:50 am

    Whoa there, June, why don’t you go study up on what a “strawman” is, then get back to me. You’re the one using terms like ‘whatever’ and ‘and so on’ and ‘et cetera’ to confer ever more meanings to the concept of spirituality. But thanks for “clarifying” #7 for me. Now I can take care of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions in my daily struggle for survival — and do it however (whatever?) my lifestyle dictates. I’m spiritual!

  23. freddy
    March 26th, 2005 @ 12:32 pm

    I’m with TOTC and Dada on this. I think, while the dictionary definition of “spirituality” may be perfectly compatible with conventional atheism, in modern times the word has been hijacked by New Age flimflam artists. For me, the word spirituality conjures up images of Deepak Chopra, Madonna doing Kaballah, and aural healing. As someone mentioned upthread, it’s basically religion without all the rules, dogma and power structure.

    Anyway, it basically seems to be a question of semantics. When someone is criticizing “spirituality”, I’m taking it to mean that they’re criticizing the New Age bullshit industry. I don’t think it’s anything to take offense to (unless you are a proponent of the New Age bullshit industry). If you personally take “spirituality” to mean something different, abstract fullfillment gained from appreciation of sunsets and that kind of stuff, then it’s probably better to just describe your specific experiences and avoid the use of the catchall term, since I think the word is for now irrevocably associated with many things atheists would prefer not to be associated with.

  24. June
    March 26th, 2005 @ 3:47 pm

    I’m getting back to Dada on “strawman” as requested. From Logic 101, the Strawman Fallacy consists of distorting an argument and then attacking the distortion. In #7, I listed ways for atheists to feed their spirituality, ending the list in “… drugs, alcohol, whatever.” Dada said in #9 that “whatever” means nothing, which is the same as saying everyone must believe in God, and thus brutally distorted my defense of atheistic spirituality into a diametrially opposite argument FOR belief in God. A superb example of a Strawman Fallacy!

    Now I have a question for Dada: What is the origin and meaning of the phrase “diametric opposite” used above?

  25. The One True Commenter
    March 26th, 2005 @ 7:08 pm

    in modern times the word has been hijacked by New Age flimflam artists…When someone is criticizing “spirituality”, I’m taking it to mean that they’re criticizing the New Age bullshit industry.

    Yes, indeed. All those examples (plus countless others) give me a sense of a nauseating facileness. When I hear the word “spirituality”, I think of the kind of shit that gets Oprah excited, or the kind of advice that Dr. Phil gives. Everybody’s special, there’s deep, profound meaning behind the most banal happenings, there’s no senselessness or absurdity or messy, loose ends. And, like I griped about upthread, people are frequently willing to deceive themselves to maintain this syrupy facade of harmony and balance.

  26. goob
    March 27th, 2005 @ 12:19 am

    “When I hear the word “spirituality”, I think of the kind of shit that gets Oprah excited, or the kind of advice that Dr. Phil gives.”

    That’s how you respond to the word, and I’m guessing that’s how TRA does, too. You are free to associate whatever meanings you want with the word. Those of us who happen to like harmony and balance SEPARATE from religion will think of our “syrupy” facade, thank you very much. If you don’t like the thoughts associated with the word, change them. Don’t gripe at us about it, we can’t change your mind for you. Just one big consensual hallucination anyway…

  27. The One True Commenter
    March 27th, 2005 @ 10:39 am

    Oh, don’t be so pissy about it, goob, it’s just a discussion, and I for one happen to enjoy the back-and-forth between different viewpoints. Go meditate and drop acid with the wee birdies instead of reading my posts if they bother you so much.

    Actually, I think what annoys me about the whole New Age/spiritual thing (I mean it, goob, quit reading – you’re only gonna get more irritable) is that it seems to combine parts of romanticism with the naive, typically 19th century faith in progress.

    If romanticism was mainly an aesthetic reaction against what was perceived as a stifling rationalism and Enlightenment obsession with order, it seems fair to me to see parallels with the way people today prefer to be “spiritual” in opposition to “organized religion”. Don’t worry about what religious leaders and holy books say, go with what moves you and feels right. Follow your bliss, as Joseph Campbell put it. The difference being, the romantic artists were willing to go to extremes to be authentic and prove the vitality of their vision, even if it meant drinking and drugging themselves into a stupor, going insane and dying young. Can’t quite imagine Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, and Oprah approving of all that.

    No, they seem to accept a version of the notion of teleological progress people used to have; that life was on a constant upward trajectory, there was little that couldn’t be solved by education and technology, and every year was an improvement on the one before it. Maybe it was like the sunny side of Social Darwinism, where “evolving” meant constant improvement in a moral and intellectual sense (and there are lots of people who still use it that way), even though, in the Darwinian sense, it only means adaptation, not progressivism.

    So, if negativity is acknowledged at all, it’s only as a learning experience on your path of personal growth, which winds its way through a neat and tidy scheme where “everything happens for a reason” (another one of those cliches that makes me grind my teeth), and everyone and their mother’s a friggin’ “survivor”.

    Or maybe I could just describe it as religion soaked in mawkish sentimentality. That’ll work, too.

  28. June
    March 27th, 2005 @ 12:31 pm

    Not bad, TOTC, and all in all I quite agree. I like your advice not to piss on someone else’s philosophy so quickly.
    It’s, essentially, what I wanted to tell TRA to begin with and it should be part of the Golden Rule. Come to think of it, it is the Golden Rule!

    Perhaps one needs to fine-tune the level at which one applies the hammer of rationality. At the bottom level, life is FUBAR, nothing but struggling and then you die. But at higher levels, it is possible to extract something out of life that exalts.

    Happy Atheist Easter To All!
    Go celebrate nature’s renewal. Be a spiritual kook for a day; dance around the maypole; have a special brownie; loosen the old sphincter a notch or two. All happily without the albatross of religion.

  29. goob
    March 27th, 2005 @ 3:40 pm

    I’m not offended at all. I think you don’t really know what I’m talking about anyway. It has nothing to do with the New Age crap. Crystals are pretty, but they don’t have any special powers I can draw forth with candles. All the connections I make with people and with nature are grounded firmly in reality, the drugs just make more fun. ;-) Being a true blue atheist, it is slightly insulting to me to be lumped so easily with the irrational folks. I just wanted to point out to TRA and anyone else who feels like TRA does that there is a definite difference between what the irrational people believe spirituality to be, and what I, a rational atheist, believe it to be.

    ” seems fair to me to see parallels with the way people today prefer to be “spiritual” in opposition to “organized religion” ”

    My spirituality and atheism are not a response to religion, organized or not. I grew up without ever going to church services, never believed in god(s). I do enjoy living, though, and I believe that reality is always more interesting than fiction or fantasy. I can assure you, TRA, and TOTC, that my spirituality is nothing like what you think it is. It is not religious, it is not irrational, and it in the end, it doesn’t really matter what you think it is. I would like people to see and connect with the world the way I do, because I feel its a nifty system. Truly, one of the things that draws people to religion is the feeling of being connected. If you want more people to be atheist, you have to feed their spirit with wonderful, rational things. What better way to do that than with love and appreciation of nature? It’s more about the way we see the world than the way it really is. If we can see the full frontal reality, and find harmony and beauty within it, then we have enriched our lives. Go do some drugs, people.

    “Go meditate and drop acid with the wee birdies…”
    TOTC, if you have a hit or two, send them my way! ;-)

  30. June
    March 27th, 2005 @ 5:29 pm

    What Goob said. My atheism is more in the nature of a liberation from the nonsense of childhood, a deeper understanding and appreciation of nature and its mechanisms than a believer can ever attain. When you finally realize the stork does not bring babies and Santa is just Dad in a funny suit, when everything falls into place, it turns out to be much more profound and more beautiful than the religious fables. Not to be connected to this in a spiritual way is a huge loss to atheists.

    Having first mentioned drugs in this thread, I now hasten to add that what I had in mind is a limited use of stimulants or relaxants to loosen the joints. My preference is a gin-and-tonic, maybe two; anything beyond that deadens the brain and thus interferes with the spiritual aspects.

  31. The One True Commenter
    March 27th, 2005 @ 5:50 pm

    It’s all good, goob. I’m not presuming to tell you or anyone else what you really think as if I would know better; I’m just throwing out there what the word means to me. If anything, we’re having a linguistic hairsplitting debate here.

    Like all labels of convenience, “spirituality” covers a ton of widely disparate territories. My personal temperament is one of shying away from catch-all terms like that when they become too popular. I could fairly enough call myself a Zen Buddhist, but many people would then wonder why I didn’t shave my head, wear a robe, eat rice and spend my time pondering silly riddles, because that’s all most people care to know of it. I find it easier to talk about the details first, maybe about favorite authors like Alan Watts or Steve Hagen; that way, if they aren’t familiar but sound interesting, the person can go check them out and get right to the heart of the matter. If they are known to them, then we can talk about “Zen” without worrying about misunderstandings. It’s pretty much like what Freddy said above – describe the specific experience first and work your way backwards to generalities. If I were to talk about being spiritual, I fear someone would try to lend me this great book they read called The Celestine Prophecy or something like that, and then I’d have to break down and cry, and who wants that?

    Just as a further example of why I’m so harsh towards what I see as lazy thinking: one former dippy New Age friend was telling me all about this wonderful friend of hers who was so spiritual, so calm and content, he was “just like a Buddha”, she said. He was also a proponent of good ol’ sixties-style free love. When she asked him about being worried about disease, he said that diseases like AIDS were the result of guilt feelings. Yep. If you get an STD, it’s because you’re still harboring old Calvinist inhibitions deep down. Even if you don’t think so, you must be, because if you weren’t, you wouldn’t get sick. QED.

    Obviously, that’s not only stupid, it’s incredibly dangerous, but because this shitwit had convinced himself that he was actually following some higher path of consciousness, not much was going to get through to him. So, just like traditional religion, it’s all too easy for people to copy the rhetoric and plaster a serene look on their face without actually transforming their thoughts or actions. Not all spiritualists, of course, but enough to make me think I may have been lucky enough to meet all the nutjobs personally.

    Anyway, I’d send you the goods, but I went to church this morning and dropped them in with the Communion wafers. Everybody there will remember the Easter of ’05!

    (Nah, just kidding, but that would be pretty funny…)

  32. goob
    March 28th, 2005 @ 1:52 am

    Yes, hairsplitting indeed. I can relate to not trusting nebulous, broad terms. I realise, though, that we do some media stereotypes an injustice by not hearing its side. Its something like judging a book by its cover. Yes, a lot of the New Age shit is bogus and stupid, but Eastern philosophy + hippy orientation (bad pun) makes a nice combination to broaden one’s perception of the world. Trick is don’t whole-hardedly accept or reject memeplexes, but find and pick good aspects from those that have something to offer humanity.

    “Anyway, I’d send you the goods, but I went to church this morning and dropped them in with the Communion wafers. Everybody there will remember the Easter of ’05!

    (Nah, just kidding, but that would be pretty funny…)”

    We should seriously do that… LSD in the holy water… marvelous!

  33. DamnRight
    March 29th, 2005 @ 10:24 am

    I remember all too well, the “spirituality” of church… I was the “worship leader”… turn down the lights, play softly, repeat phrases or simply have silence… we could make these people do almost anything… feel that?… that was God…
    … I also remember sitting in my friend’s dimly lit basement, eyes closed, listening to Inagoddadavida (sp?)… same feelings…
    … I get wonderful feelings listening to all sorts of music, making love, watching a sappy movie, petting the dog, buying cookies from the neighborhood girls scouts…
    … spiritual?… nah… hormones?… endorphins?… probably…
    … so, it probably is all drug induced to some extent…

  34. June
    March 29th, 2005 @ 2:11 pm

    True spirituality lifts your spirit, calms the brain, eases pain, clarifies life, brings good feelings, stabilizes your daily life — without abusing anyone or inventing supernatural powers.

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