On Sun, Mar 16, 2014 at 7:28 AM, GS Chandy <gs_chandy@yahoo.com> wrote:
Under the title "How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World [Excerpt]", Scientic American has published a thought-provoking excerpt from a book "Imagine There’s No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World", by Mitchell Stephens.  Very much worth the reading, in my opinion.

Myself, I am 'passionately agnostic' in my beliefs - as I think (notwithstanding Dawkins, et al) that 'atheism' may well be - in some sense - the opposite side of a Bible-thumping (or Quran-thumping; or any other kind) of fundamentalist religiosity.  I've not read the book yet: I do look forward to doing that.

(I must, however, admit that 'atheism' appears per se to be far preferable to 'unthinking deism' - or is 'theism' the word I should be using?  Perhaps someone highly expert in the use of the English language, like Robert Hansen, might advise?  I have searched Wikipedia and the dictionaries, don't find much help there).


Karen Armstrong, former nun, student of religions, is good at pointing out that a focus on "beliefs" e.g. "belief in God" is in some ways a European fixation that goes with having a belief in a soul with a permanent state, such as "in heaven" or "in hell" with a deadline (called "death"). 

Not all cultures have that, and what we call "a religion" should, we must remember (wearing our "A is for Anthropology" hats), a set of habit for personal and group hygiene (sanitation rules), division of labor, acknowledgement of stages of life with rites of passage, including burial or incineration or other preservation / memorialization practice. 

In other words, a religion is oh so much more than mere "head beliefs" about some deity.  When a secular society offers parallel or similar solutions, that's when we can afford to take the weight off some religions that are failing, and many are, a mess of cruft and accrued belief and no fun to work with. 

I favor spinning out newer "designer religions" built with a half-life of ten to a hundred years but with the potential renew themselves and/or to join up with others, more like an art movement or literature.  The Jungians have proved an inspiration.  Also the New England transcendentalists. 

If these "designer religions" also happen to emerge from within Quakerism, that's potentially a healthy sign.  We're open to forking and branching, as well as convergence (merging), just like on GIthub.  We just need to monitor and compare notes, see what's happening in the various meeting houses, a Darwinian process one might call it (but of memes more than genes, sorry Dawkins).

http://youtu.be/PhsvqbCIaAs  # <--- monitoring Quaker memetic activity

I've accepted my Quaker heritage as "strong cards" (as in "a good hand") as there's still enough liberalism baked in for me to introduce favorite atheists to our practice and not get flak for it, either from them or from the elders / leadership (I'm one of the leaders in fact) or from my favored, who claim to feel not harassed or insulted about their dismissal of the Great Spaghetti Monster. 

I like that we're egalitarian are respond to "that of God in everyone" (i.e. the "soul" to use a Euro word for it) regardless of said soul's pet peeves and/or religious credo.  Yes, you're a product of your culture, aren't we all.

What western civvies, atheist, agnostic or theist tend to not doubt, ever since Descartes' little experiment (he thot, therefore he wuz), is their own existence ("egg-zyst-tense") as something more than partially overlapping chaotic "processes" (where this word "process" is metaphoric, as the first mistake of a "self" is to believe in a "thought process" that's barely there and thread bare, and to reify / rectify it as badly confused philosophy about some "though process"). 

Buddhism and eastern civ in general have tended to counter the westerner's "religious war" semantic obsessions with a new flavor of doubt, in the existence of egos really worth that much fuss.  Put up with 'em maybe, but c'mon people, lets not go overboard taking these "selves" of ours too seriously.