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  • Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on July 25th, 2007 (All posts by )

    Religion is the illusion that there is a net over the abyss.
    A comforting thought, but you pay for it. The net is not for everybody, only the ones who submit to the will of God. To save your soul, you have to give it up.
    I’ll keep mine.

    a Belmont Club commenter

     

    21 Responses to “Quote of the Day”

    1. Tatyana Says:

      …or, as Julian Barnes put it, “religion is best-deal pension plan. Death Insurance for the Faithful.”.

    2. Robert Schwartz Says:

      And irreligion is the illusion that the world is encompassed by your thoughts.

    3. Mitch Says:

      Strangely enough, I believed in God long before I believed in personal immortality. In that interval, having had sufficient acquaintance with evil, it was enough for me to know that absolute good existed. The darker the shadow, the brighter the light, and evil is a turning away from the good, looking only at one’s own shadow. There is a reason that pride is considered so dangerous in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and so nearly akin to folly.

    4. Tatyana Says:

      Mitch, what if even the shadow of a non-religious person is lighter and brighter than the whitest spot on the religious one?

    5. Verity Says:

      Mitch, What an interesting post! Thank you!

      Robert Schwartz – on the button!

    6. Kurt9 Says:

      I have always thought that the purpose of religion was to guarrantee personal immortality. I mean, what would be the point of believing in a religion that did not offer this guarrantee?

      When I was in high school, I correctly concluded that the existance of a god-entity and the issue of personal immortality did not necessarly correlate.

      Much later, I began considering ways to “bridge” the abyss on my own terms. I call this the “access to tools” mentality. This led me to life-extension and transhumanism in the late 80’s, which is where I am today.

      I have been a libertarian/transhumanist for so long that I can’t even imagine what it would be like not to be as such.

    7. Lexington Green Says:

      This is an odd quote. I cannot speak for Animism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam or Judaism. But I can say for sure that no one loses their soul by practicing Christianity, you find your soul and you cultivate it, and you become aware that other people are NOT things for your use or amusement, or obstacles, but are immortal souls and children of God and are to be treated accordingly. So, the loss of your soul does not happen, and this fellow is talking nonsense. Far from living a life of illusion, practicing Christianity should, and in many cases does, lead you to a sound, practical idealism: a realism about both the pervasive weaknesses that beset people, and the great potential they also have. As to the “net”, i.e. the escape from the apparent finality of death, it is of course the destiny God wants for all of us. If a person simply cannot see it, there is no human being who can judge them. Faith is a gift, and people of faith have to live in accordance with it, since it is their own example and not (usually) books or sermons that allows others to see God’s light in what is an otherwise (usually) very dark world.

      The author of this comment has an (as far as I can tell) unearned disdain for religious believers.

    8. Jonathan Says:

      I think that he was speaking figuratively: the safety net is an illusion available only to people who are willing to accept the religious belief system, and he does not want to make that tradeoff.

    9. Lexington Green Says:

      “…the safety net is an illusion available only to people who are willing to accept the religious belief system, and he does not want to make that tradeoff.”

      No, that can’t be right. No one accepts an “illusion” as a tradeoff. If you believe something is an illusion, living according to it is deluded or stupid. So it is not a matter of deciding not to make a tradeoff, it is a matter of concluding that religious people are deluded. There is no “tradeoff” option for this guy. To him, there is reality as it is, he understands that reality, death is final, and anyone who thinks otherwise is living according to a pretty obvious delusion, which they buy into because they would rather believe fairy tales (since they are cowards), rather than face reality (bravely, like him), which makes him smart and noble and them stupid and contemptible. The guy is smug and dismissive, which is a common enough attitude. I just don’t see why this garden-variety banality is a quote of the day.

    10. Dove Says:

      This quote does not come from observation, but from vanity.

      One of the core myths of atheism, at least as it is practiced on the internet, is that atheism is the pinnacle of all reason. It is not merely a possible or even a true belief, but actually a righteous belief. All other belief is an exercise in self-deception and superstition.

      So the epic goes. The noble atheist rises above his petty fellows by sheer force of reason, intellectual honesty, and will for truth, and when he has achieved the lofty height of unbelief, he can look down upon the superstitious masses with a mixture of pity and contempt.

      To the educated and intellectually honest Christian, the story is poppycock. The reasoning is nothing like the line of reasoning that any believer will give you. No one will ever say, “Well, I know it’s all hogwash, but it’s comforting hogwash, you know?” The tradeoff is a fantasy–but one that makes sense when you realize atheism is a religion, not a science. The attitude summed up in the quite stems not from actual close-up observation of what religion is, but from a distant self-serving perception of it ought to be. Its roots are not in reason, but in emotional need.

    11. Ginny Says:

      I think part of the reason Americans have traditionally been uncomfortable with someone in a position such as president who is an atheist is that we sense that while many religious people are prideful, that the sense there is something larger than him is a pretty good feeling for a ruler to have. Obviously, when a ruler gets it into his head that he’s a god, the country he rules is likely to suffer. And those who believe reason is not means but ends are also dangerous, especially accompanied by the thought that some of us can reason and some of us can’t. The history of the French is edifying. If, on the other hand, we see God’s logic as encompassing but larger than man’s and if we see reason as a means to obtain the good (that is, the virtuous) life, we are likely to be better rulers & ruled.

      I am not comfortable with religion in general and am far too mid-western & stoic to feel at all comfortable with the beliefs of charismatics. But I’ve grown to respect a variety of beliefs and recognize that it is not sophistry to argue that in submission we become free and in kneeling we rise; this seems a pretty useful way to understand not only our religion but our relations with others. So, frankly, I was appalled by the kind of reasoning I sometimes see on the Reason blog and by the confrontational arguments of people like Stephen Jay Gould. This whole “people believe because they are weak and broken” or they believe because they are scared of death or they believe because they are ignorants who think there’s a bearded guy in the sky – these set up a straw man and I can’t imagine some don’t find it offensive – actually, I do. (Not that the quote is all that irritating.)

    12. Jonathan Says:

      No, that can’t be right. No one accepts an “illusion” as a tradeoff. If you believe something is an illusion, living according to it is deluded or stupid. So it is not a matter of deciding not to make a tradeoff, it is a matter of concluding that religious people are deluded. There is no “tradeoff” option for this guy. To him, there is reality as it is, he understands that reality, death is final, and anyone who thinks otherwise is living according to a pretty obvious delusion, which they buy into because they would rather believe fairy tales (since they are cowards), rather than face reality (bravely, like him), which makes him smart and noble and them stupid and contemptible. The guy is smug and dismissive, which is a common enough attitude. I just don’t see why this garden-variety banality is a quote of the day.

      He believes it an illusion, so it’s a trade he won’t make. For the believer in a deity, there is no illusion, he submits happily and reasonably. They can’t both be right, but there is no way to test the hypothesis.

    13. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      Maybe the tradeoff we make is between gambling on an illusion or accepting empirical truth. That would explain a few things about the human condition.

    14. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Lex: Thank you for explaining what I meant.

      The deeper issue is that the quote exposes a common American misconception about the nature and purpose of religion. The misconception is that religion is about what the individual believes. It derives from the deracinated unitarianism of WASP New England in the 19th century, and is epitomized by William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience.

      Religion is not about individual belief, it is about community praxis and solidarity. (read Rodney Stark’s books for a modern sociological exposition of this). Of all of the world’s religions, only Christianity has spent much energy on theology, which has provided tokens for the demarcation of community boundaries: e.g. Orthodox vs. Catholic, Catholic vs. Protestant, Reformed vs. Lutheran.

      Judaism and Islam are far more concerned with the regulation of community behavior than with theology and most of their intellectual structure is legalistic (i.e. halakah and sharia). Buddhism is almost anti-theological. To them reincarnation is a brute fact and salvation is found through release from the wheel (take note Kurt9).

      In sum, the quote is not only reductionist and egotistical (“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”), it is just plain wrong.

    15. Jonathan Says:

      Robert: I believe in the Jews and Judaism. They have a good track record. It’s God I am skeptical about.

      Lex: Rethinking what you wrote above, I would add that many people will knowingly embrace an illusion rather than face an ugly, costly or frightening alternative. This is human nature, observable in many realms of behavior from politics to investing to war. It’s actually difficult to get people to embrace reality in some situations. One of these situations might occur when we realize that the world as we know it, and our brief lives as we know them, may really be all that there is.

    16. One of the other big lies of our time « Likelihood of Success Says:

      […] by Ron Coleman on July 27th, 2007 From the comments at Chicago Boyz: One of the core myths of atheism, at least as it is practiced on the internet, is that atheism is […]

    17. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “I believe in the Jews and Judaism. They have a good track record. It’s God I am skeptical about.”

      Go ahead, belief is not vital in Judaism. Praxis is. A complete atheist could be an Orthodox Jew, or conservative, reform or reconstructionist. What you believe is a lot less important than what you do.

    18. Tweed Says:

      I wonder what the author meant by “abyss?”

      For atheists, there is no abyss.

    19. Jonathan Says:

      Robert: Sure.

      Tweed: Perhaps there are varieties of nonbelief, as there are varieties of belief. Some people see an abyss and want to rationalize it, some do not see an abyss, some find the explanations offered by belief systems inadequate, etc.

    20. Tweed Says:

      Hmmm. so perhaps for the nonbeliever, religion is the abyss?

    21. Jonathan Says:

      No.