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Wed Dec 28, 2011, 10:02 PM

A MUST read: An Atheist’s Sermon to All Souls Unitarian Church on December 11th, 2011

The following sermon was given at a UU fellowship on Dec. 11th. I think that everyone who participates in the forum should read this, and get a greater understanding of just who WE are. We who reject your beliefs as superstition. We who choose a naturalistic view of the world. We who call ourselves atheists. To understand us is to know us. To know us is to understand us. Will you listen? Will you understand?

Am I speaking for all atheists? Of course not. I speak for me, and no one else. But I am willing to bet that those with whom I share the trait of non-belief will agree with the following, or at least I would hope so.

----------------------------------------------------

We are all Heretics in this room. At least according to sociologist Peter Berger who
thinks we are all heretics just by living in a pluralistic society. The English word “heresy” comes
from the Greek verb which means "to choose." In a society as diverse as our own none of us are
stuck with the religion we were raised in. Unlike most humans for most of history we have real
alternatives. This is why, to Berger, we all face what he calls the “heretical imperative”. No one
can avoid choosing their religious identity for themselves. This freedom comes with a
tremendous responsibility. Nothing shapes who we are and what we value more than our
convictions regarding ultimate reality.


I am here to represent people who do not worship any gods, people who choose live
without belief in the supernatural. We are called by many names: atheists, agnostics,
freethinkers, skeptics, secular humanists. I am comfortable with any one of these labels but
please do not call me an unbeliever. If you ask you'll find there are many things I believe in, and
I suspect you probably share some of those beliefs. I believe through reason, observation and
experiment we limited human beings can find some measure of understanding in this world. I
believe that the pursuit of truth and the cultivation of virtue are the most noble of human
aspirations. I believe patriarchy, authoritarianism and fundamentalism are the greatest threats
to human progress. I believe that the survival of human species depends on education and
empowerment of women worldwide. I believe that friendship is what makes life bearable.
We
should choose our friends carefully, but once chosen, we should give ourselves to them fully. I
believe in many things and these beliefs help me make sense of the world. They inform my
goals. They direct my actions. I turn to them in times of hardship and uncertainty, because they
remind me who I am and the purpose I have chosen for my life.

It's not a lack of beliefs which earns me and my fellow atheists that label unbeliever—it
is our lack of faith in the supernatural.
The vast majority of people living on this planet believe
in a God or some other higher reality that transcends the physical world. Having faith seems to
be as ordinary a human activity as breathing. It’s only natural to regard the relatively few who
reject the supernatural with suspicion. Why haven’t they signed on to faith? To answer that we
must return to the heretical imperative I spoke about earlier.

Faced with so many options how do we choose? By the authority of a tradition or
scriptures? Who’s tradition? Which scriptures? Christians and Muslims both take their
scriptures to be the word of God but the Bible and the Quran contradict on numerous and
essential points of doctrine. By what criteria can we decide which scriptures are truly inspired
by God and which are merely the invention of human beings? What about miracles? Both
Hindus and Catholics point to supposed miraculous events and supernatural signs as proof of
their claims. On what ground do we affirm Catholic miracles yet deny Hindu miracles? What
about personal religious experience? What about the power of religion to transform lives?
Many Christians insist they know their faith is true because they can feel God’s presence. They
have direct knowledge of God through the inner witness of the spirit, but Muslims also feel the
divine peace that comes with submission to Allah and Zen Buddhists catch a direct glimpse of
enlightenment through the experience of Satori. Every one of these religions can point to
people who've turned away from violence or substance abuse through the redemptive power
of their faith. On what basis other than prejudice or an arbitrary preference for my own
tradition do I take the experience of Christians seriously and simply dismiss the experience of
Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists?
Perhaps in the end it all boils down to faith. Perhaps you
must first believe and then you will see the truth. But what help is that? Centuries ago Julius
Cesar observed "Men are generally ready to believe what they wish to be true." Knowing this
we should be all the more hesitant to simply commit to believing something, without evidence.


Download the entire sermon here: http://www.doubtcast.org/docs/an_atheists_sermon_by_jerermy_beahan.pdf

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Arrow 17 replies Author Time Post
Reply A MUST read: An Atheist’s Sermon to All Souls Unitarian Church on December 11th, 2011 (Original post)
cleanhippie Dec 2011 OP
MarkCharles Dec 2011 #1
cbayer Dec 2011 #2
cleanhippie Dec 2011 #5
GliderGuider Dec 2011 #3
cleanhippie Dec 2011 #4
beam me up scottie Dec 2011 #6
cleanhippie Dec 2011 #7
beam me up scottie Dec 2011 #8
cleanhippie Dec 2011 #9
beam me up scottie Dec 2011 #12
GliderGuider Dec 2011 #11
beam me up scottie Dec 2011 #13
cleanhippie Dec 2011 #14
GliderGuider Dec 2011 #10
cleanhippie Dec 2011 #15
tama Dec 2011 #16
GliderGuider Dec 2011 #17

Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Wed Dec 28, 2011, 10:09 PM

1. Thanks for this link! Reading it fully.

 

More comments after a full and careful reading tomorrow.



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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Wed Dec 28, 2011, 10:18 PM

2. Interesting man with an interesting history.

He makes some excellent points and manages to do it without attacking those that see things differently.

BTW, your link doesn't work. Here is a site where you can download the transcript and hear an audio recording.


http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts

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Response to cbayer (Reply #2)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 10:27 PM

5. Link seems to work just fine.

Goes right to the PDF file.

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 03:12 AM

3. He raises many of the issues that have prompted me to leave my atheism behind...

 

...and become a nonbeliever instead.

It's an interesting article, but it's just a bit too traditionalist and dogmatic for my taste.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #3)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 10:26 PM

4. Dogmatic?

I don't think that word means what you think it does.


Traditionalist? This is supposed to be "New Atheism". How can it be traditionalist?


And I hate to break it to you, but atheist = non believer.

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Response to cleanhippie (Reply #4)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 10:39 PM

6. GliderGuider isn't an atheist, not by our definition.

We had this discussion on DU2, remember?

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Response to beam me up scottie (Reply #6)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 11:01 PM

7. To be honest, some of GG's posting on DU2 required mind-altering drugs to comprehend.

And I didn't have any, so pretty much nothing he says makes much sense to me.

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Response to cleanhippie (Reply #7)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 11:32 PM

8. Could be he doesn't understand what the term means

because he's coming at it from an eastern religious pov.

Or maybe he does understand what it means and wants his non-belief to appear superior to ours (like some agnostics do).


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Response to beam me up scottie (Reply #8)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 11:35 PM

9. Either way...

I still don't understand nary a word he writes most of the time.


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Response to cleanhippie (Reply #9)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 11:56 PM

12. At least you try.

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Response to beam me up scottie (Reply #8)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 11:44 PM

11. No desire to appear superior. I'm just exploring another way of looking at the question of belief.

 

Most people will see absolutely no value in it. Some might, so I write about it from time to time.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #11)

Fri Dec 30, 2011, 12:01 AM

13. I get it, it's a journey, not a destination.

Keep posting GG, this group needs more diversity.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #11)

Fri Dec 30, 2011, 02:44 AM

14. And please, continue. I'm not trying to knock that down.

I just don't seem to be able to grasp your meaning sometimes.

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Response to cleanhippie (Reply #4)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 11:42 PM

10. To me unbeliever and non-believer have somewhat different meanings.

 

An unbeliever or disbeliever in how we normally think of atheists.

When I use the term non-believer I mean someone who is interested in not believing - one who is interested in discarding belief and disbelief of any and all sorts. It's a clumsy term and easily misinterpreted, but I can't come up with a better one - the idea is, as far as I can tell, relatively new.

As an example take Beahan's statement, "But when it comes to reality—that which exists prior to and independent of ourselves..." This is one of the things I don't believe. However, I also don't believe its solipsistic opposite - that reality exists only within and because of ourselves. I believe neither of those positions. That leaves me free to explore both of them in the context of my own direct experience, whatever it may be at the moment. I spent 57 years as the sort of materialist Beahan alludes to here, but I recently moved away from that position without moving towards any "opposing" position.

The same goes for the notion of "higher realms" of any sort - I don't "believe in" them, but I also don't disbelieve in them. I find that this sort of non-belief allows me greater exploratory freedom.

The reason I use the word "dogmatic" is that it means the close adherence to a belief system, and in this case I see rational materialism (logical positivism) as the belief system Beahan is championing. I think there is much more freedom outside it, so long as one doesn't make the mistake of falling prey to its dualistic opposite.

Similarly for traditionalism. Beahan is proposing a very traditional form of atheism, one that has been well understood for well over a hundred years. I prefer the fluidity of having all forms of belief and disbelief open for exploration - I find there is more potential for personal growth in that stance.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #10)

Fri Dec 30, 2011, 02:46 AM

15. Fair enough. Thanks for the explanation.

I appreciate you putting it such a way.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #10)

Fri Dec 30, 2011, 06:40 AM

16. The idea is ancient

 

and it's called (philosophical) skepticism:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skepticism#Philosophical_skepticism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrhonism

Ancient skeptics also used the word 'dogmatism' similarly to you.

PS: philosophical skepticism has little to do with with modern "skeptic" movement and scientism.

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Response to tama (Reply #16)

Fri Dec 30, 2011, 12:10 PM

17. Those ancient Greeks are forever post-modern!

 

I had never heard of Pyrrhonism, but it sure looks like what I'm trying to do. Another door is opened - thanks for that, tama.

Now, if I can just peel this new label off my mind I'll be all set for the next step

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