Monday, October 8, 2012

Dealing in Doubt


In a recent series of posts, I identified 13 cardinal points of religious doubt. In each of three successive posts I juxtaposed 13 pairs of philosophers with an emphasis on antiquity in the first post, modernity in the second, and geographic extension in the third. In this post, I bring together all three perspectives to demonstrate more clearly the continuity of thought across the ages. 

I've brought together the quotes of 52 thinkers arranged as a deck of cards (13 concepts x 4 quotes). The order of presentation is chronological by the ancient philosopher to whom the idea is first attributed. The chronological development of each idea is presented clockwise from the top left: (1) spades, (2) hearts, (3) clubs and (4) diamonds. 

Also in this post, I've recast the points of doubt as incremental rejections of faith. It may serve as an anti-viral regimen for theism, administered in several doses until the patient is free of delusion. 



Reject anthropomorphism. (Rationalism)

Most religious people already reject the idea of an anthropomorphic god, but many would not go so far as to say that their god is a metaphor. Their god is somehow incorporeal but real. Rationalists understand the sacred as metaphor.



Reject credulity. (Atheism)

We are conditioned to see faith as virtuous in its own right, but determined faith is wishful thinking. Many people have higher regard for believers of other faiths than for atheists. They uphold faith as a virtue independent of the substance of belief.





Reject miracles. (Naturalism)

Everything conforms to the laws of nature, yet scientific discoveries continue to be greeted as heresies. Religious resistance to knowledge is evident in the story of Eden. It is a serious threat to scientific literacy and critical thinking. 



Reject prophesy. (Empiricism)

We reflexively revere the exotic as mysterious. We allow for prophesy and miracles that happened in an ancient, far away land but dismiss modern prophets and faith healers from familiar places as insane. Prophesy is hearsay. Discovery trumps revelation. 



Reject immortality. (Cynicism)

It is narcissistic to insist that our consciousness is indispensable. An eternal consciousness would not be bound by the circumstantial and physiological limitations that we experience in life and would not share our acquired or hereditary traits.



Reject fatalism. (Antitheism)

Divine intervention is a nepotism fantasy. If a god exists, it is either disinterested, impotent or cruel. A god that demands worship is, furthermore, a narcissist. Religious fatalism and servility are corrosive to human self-worth. 



Reject sectarianism. (Universalism)

Rival faith claims are mutually contradictory. Most people adopt the religion of their community. There is no good reason to assume that any particular tradition holds any ultimate, transcendent truth. 



Reject subjugation. (Stoicism)

Faith calls for resignation of the will. A population that believes in the virtue of faith will be docile. Blind faith is inherently authoritarian, whether extorted by religion or the State. Atheism encourages free thought and skepticism.



Reject compulsory faith. (Agnosticism)

Resolute atheism is not necessary to understand that piety licenses brutality. Many people identify as agnostic as a concession to the tautology that The Unknowable is unknowable. Others stress that the burden of proof is on the believer.



Reject Supernaturalism. (Skepticism)

We create the mind/body duality to resolve the dissonance caused by the brain's lack of self-awareness. We create the body/spirit duality by extension. Incorporeal consciousness is impossible because consciousness resides in the brain.




Reject obscurantism. (Humanism)

Empathy is a universal human quality that informs ethics. Psychopaths are the exception that proves the rule. It is obscurantist and craven to insist that without the threat of eternal punishment humans would descend into moral depravity



Reject theocracy. (Secularism)

Reason is the common currency of civil society. Whatever the views of a religious majority may be, the government must remain secular. To grant every individual freedom of conscience based on sectarian beliefs makes consensus impossible.





Reject indoctrination. (Freethought)

Faith calls for suspension of the intellect. Faith is not invoked unless there is a claim that cannot stand on its own merits. When we declare certain revered notions immune from scrutiny, we declare competing ideas thought-crimes.



There is considerable overlap in the above categories of doubt. A Skeptic is a Freethinker by rejecting allegiance to custom. The Cynics and Stoics were early Humanists in the sense that they valued virtue without regard for an afterlife. Agnostics and Atheists, whether or not they agree on the probability of the God Hypothesis, can be Antitheists by understanding religion as authoritarian.

Cynicism and Stoicism seem to have converged as Humanism. They do not correspond to a contemporary freethought movement, although they retain a colloquial usage. Atheism+ activism seems to reflect the underlying philosophical principles of Humanism, but might be understood just as well as having rival claim on Seneca

The atheism of the ancients was no less strident than the New Atheism. In this regard, there is very little that is new about either the New Atheism or Atheism+. It need not dampen anyone's enthusiasm, however, to see what has been touted as innovative described instead as part of an ancient intellectual heritage. 

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