This is Quite possibly the route of all philosophical questions. Why are we here at all? Is there a purpose? Is there some sort of higher power? Or is it just pure luck? Or is it possible that we're just a small cog in some even grander design?
I find that really interesting Daniel. It seems to me that you're a man of faith, and that it is fairly central to who you are. I'm actually quite curious what it is that drives your faith? I grew up going to church and catechism, and all that, but as I got older, I drifted away from the church. I could never make that leap of faith that many Christians make, despite agreeing with many of the views expressed in the bible. Perhaps it's the views I don't share that have pushed me away?
I know this is a bit off topic, but I find faith and religion fascinating.
If this is too personal for a blog post, I understand if you would prefer not to discuss it.
Our purpose isn't completely clear to me. I doubt it is completely clear to any atheist or any deist or spiritual religious types either. The idea of purpose that we've each individually embraced only serves to move us forward as a whole. Meaning, the religious person's "hope" as incentive scenario and an atheist's "fear" or deadline initiative, both serve to move those individuals forward through life efficiently producing, consuming, and propagating the species as a whole when added to rest of the individuals that believe they are working on an independent level. So the question from there moves to; what is our role as human beings as a whole? I think that question would best answered by what changes would occur if human beings were removed from the big picture.
We sit at the top of the food chain or the center of it due to opposable thumbs and high intelligence. With high intelligence we gained sentience. Knowing that we are alive we no longer operate on instincts and survival as animals do. Now we need answers! "Okay I want to survive, I need to eat, I want to mate...why? Whats the purpose beyond that?" If the answer is that there is no reason then there is no point to continue and we are possibly either less efficient in our role by apathy or defective by suicide. Our failsafe/defense mechanism for this is religion and philosophy. I hold that if any species became sentient it would create its own relgion and philosophies in a very short period of time. These beliefs don't have to be accurate or true, they simply have to serve to occupy and distract us, to keep us moving forward in our role.
Religion and philosophy divide us and make us cull and thin our numbers through conflict so it serves the purpose of population control which is a necessity in any species and at the same time it drives us forward by binding huge groups together with a common agenda which aids in survival and effeciency the whole. While individualism and ego inside the group make it impossible to discern the truth and validity within the group.
We are here. There is a reason we are here. I don't believe anyone knows the reason. I don't believe anyone including myself, is looking in the right place. Also I'm not sure that if we discovered our true purpose that we would be content with it.
I find it interesting that you reject the idea that we give ourselves our own meaning. What would your reponse be to my observation that you have done just that by adopting the doctrines of a religion to form your own purpose. Furthermore your specific doctrines are yours less by reason and more by the chance location of your birth and inheritance from your family and environment.
As for any alternatives to religion seeming too hopeless to you I offer these thoughts from Dr. Carl Sagan:
"I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides."
—"In the Valley of the Shadow," Parade, March 10, 1996
"How is it that hardly any major religion has looked and science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?" Instead they say, "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way." A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths."
— Carl Sagan (Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space)
If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
-- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
So far there has been no evidence to lead us to believe there is a reason or a purpose for anything so it is up to us to decide what we will be. This "do what you want" state of not knowing our purpose can cause a lot of anxiety, mostly because we will never know the degree of right and wrong that our choices are. Religion offers a supernatural dogma in an attempt to reduce this anxiety. Existential philosophy offers the hypothesis of "Existence precedes essence." This hypothesis acknowledges the anxiety that man feels because, once coming into existence without God, man has the freedom to decide who he is, or with God but has been given free will to decide who he is. This is not a hopeless fearful perspective or one so despairing that it leaves the suicide as the best course of action. In actuality, It is a free, robust, mindful, responsible, and motivational and extremely hopeful and optimistic view. It makes no difference if we were created without being told what our purpose is, or if we just came into existence. Nobody knows of an overlying purpose for any of it, including man's purpose, and we all feel the same anxiety over it. Some choose to delude themselves by denying their freedom and submitting to one of man's religions or some unknown supreme being while others embrace their freedom by enlightening themselves and seeking the truth.
Assuming some "sub-purpose" in lieu of understanding our true purpose and presuming enlightenment is delusional as well. Freethinkers and deists alike serve their true purpose (whatever it may be and whether they choose to or not) and chase the carrot until they are no longer a physical asset to the larger machine and then they are recycled into it. Each persons mind, from the moron to the superintellect, has got to have a level of satisfaction or a promise of satisfaction to even make hope a viable motivator. We achieve this satisfaction at different levels.
It seems that man needs a purpose in order to provide himself some direction in making choices and attempt to relieve his anxiety. Rejection of the idea that we have some “true or divine” purpose leaves only one choice. Our purpose must come from us and be for us. Assigning ourselves a purpose is not something that is secondary or delusional in and of itself, but responsible, practical and necessary to function as an individual or a society. This is not to say that specific purposes are not viewed as greater or less than, good or bad, right or wrong, delusional or sound. However, we have no way of absolutely knowing if our self-assigned purpose and the choices from it are ultimately right or wrong because they may only be judged by ourselves and other contemporaries while we are here and those that come after us after we are gone. Our hope, satisfaction and thus our motivation can only come from the balance between our own judgment of ourselves and the judgments of others while we are here and that we will be remembered by other people when we are gone and never know. We will also never know even if those judgments of ourselves are ultimately right or wrong because outside the context of man, there is no other right or wrong that we are aware of to have any concern over or pretend to.
Rejection of one sort of motivator (religion) for another is simply falling into a different failsafe. Neither is superior to the other. They just appeal to differently minded and differently egoed individuals. There is really no difference between the cadaver of a christian or atheist, or in the carbon dioxide they breathe out, or in the food they consume. Our bodies live in the big picture with the universe and our minds live in the small picture with religion, philosophy, and desire for satisfaction and there is no way around it. There is a strong partition between those two places. I guess that our role as whole is probably not a grand one and we would not be satisfied with life if we completely understood our true role/purpose for existence. Philosophy and religion are most likely evololutionary defense mechanisms and motivators for higher intellegence sentient animals and neither would be superior as they both serve that same purpose just as red and blue are both colors neither are superior.
That isn't to say we shouldn't chose our own path, or decide on our own how we wish to live our lives. We actually have no other choice, do we? We will simply occupy our years with our seemingly important self given tasks and purpose until our bodies deteriorate. The world would keep on turning even if every christian in the world died or if every atheist on the planet died. So it is just delusional for either party to believe that they are on the more meaningful path. So my question to an atheist would be; Assuming all of the religious convert to atheism, what then? What happens then? Forge ahead with no restricitons on science and development of the "true" nature of humanity? Nope. The answer is that everyone divides into factions and devise new conflicts based on the nuances of atheism, ethics, and morality. It would be the same dynamic just painted a different color.
David Hawkins-"However, we have no way of absolutely knowing if our self-assigned purpose and the choices from it are ultimately right or wrong because they may only be judged by ourselves and other contemporaries while we are here and those that come after us after we are gone. Our hope, satisfaction and thus our motivation can only come from the balance between our own judgment of ourselves and the judgments of others while we are here and that we will be remembered by other people when we are gone and never know. We will also never know even if those judgments of ourselves are ultimately right or wrong because outside the context of man, there is no other right or wrong that we are aware of to have any concern over or pretend to."
With that in mind then it would be unconscionable to pass judgement on those with religious beliefs. Just because one man has satisfaction with the answer of whether or not a higher power exists doesn't mean that another's pursuit of that answer is right or wrong no matter what stage they are at or what their final conclusion is. Unless of course the one passing judgement wishes to be the ultimate authority and manipulate the lives of others for some reason.
I'm staying out of this one. Once the word "delusion" came out, meaning not "psychotic belief maintained despite incontrovertible evidence" but "something I don't agree with," this discussion was doomed to produce heat rather than light.
I don't really agree with it either but it can still be addressed and properly nullified without having to dismiss the topic as well. For instance stating an idea as delusional still has a slight but strong enough distance from calling a person delusional. It offers a person an opportunity to defend or really explain in detail their ideas without having to defend a personal attack or retaliate to some barb. But I totally get you.
I'm staying out of this one. Once the word "delusion" came out, meaning not "psychotic belief maintained despite incontrovertible evidence" but "something I don't agree with," this discussion was doomed to produce heat rather than light.
Ok, I see I’ve raised some defensive responses. I had rather hoped to challenge than to raise a call to arms. I will change the tone of my presentation somewhat in hopes of presenting a kinder and more gentle viewpoint. I am in total agreement with James that we can and should be able to discuss the full range of topics regardless of level of difficulty or disagreement with civility. We must realize that our aim is more to explore and learn rather than to convert, win, or even simply resolve anything. But what we don’t need, is unjustified back patting and mindlessly saying, “Hey, nice viewpoint, here’s mine.” Disagreements, criticisms, explanations, etc., are all part of the process. Everything can be addressed, and most everything can be nullified too. Gadflies are welcome.
From my own study of philosophy I have come to learn that the basis for a man’s thought and action spring from his metaphysics and ontological views. This is why I stated them as the background justifying my answer to Big Question #2. For now some time now I have been examining for myself the concepts of Existentialism. So far the viewpoint of existentialism seems to make the most sense to me. If anyone knows of refutations of it I would welcome them to share it for consideration.
Here are a few relevant definitions for clarity.
When I say I am an atheist there are two possibilities. I could mean that I am convinced that God does not exist. Or, I could mean that I am not convinced that God does exist. These are too completely different statements. My view is more agreeably held by the latter and not the former.
States that if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept and that this being is man, or, as Heidegger says, human reality. What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. – Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism
Belief - confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof
Before the next definition I would like to state I do not use the term delude or its derivatives to say I disagree, but I use it to explain why I do. It is fair game if anyone wishes to label my views or even me as delusional. I only ask that if you do, you argue the perspective with reason and not more belief.
1) – v. to decieive or mislead (usually without actually telling lies)
2) – tr.v. to deceive the mind or judgment of
3) – v. To make someone believe something that is not true.
1) a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact
So now, after the definitions above, help me with the following questions:
1) A devoutly religious woman kills her young children and claims in court that God told her to. Is it acceptable to call her delusional?
2) A group of devoutly religious men fly planes into buildings killing themselves and nearly 3,000 other people. Is it acceptable to call them delusional?
3) A man becomes a serial killer known to be responsible for at least 6 deaths at the command of a demon in possession of his neighbor’s dog. Is it acceptable to call him delusional?
4) A woman works tirelessly and selflessly her entire life to minister to the poor, sick, orphaned and dying in the name of her God and she is revered by the world like a saint. Is it acceptable to call her delusional?
Obviously the first 3 examples are of criminals and the 4rth is an example of selfless service to others. Is it the morality of the actions (A version of the ends justifying the means.) that determines if it is acceptable to call a person delusional? Or is it the motivation behind the actions? Or is there some combination of the two together that determines the applicability of delusion? Or, maybe these claims of divine commands are simply human excuses for their actions. From my perspective, they must be human excuses for human behavior because God does not exist and therefore he cannot suggest actions for humans to take, they are all four delusional.
So, IF God does not exist (and by that I mean I am not convinced he does exist), then the belief in Him is false or at least untrue and delusional.
Or maybe we could just leave it at this: I cannot rationally prove the existence of God so I choose not to 1) delude myself, 2) deny reason and spite truth, 3) act in bad faith, 4) take a leap of faith, or otherwise go with the mere unsubstantiated belief that he does exist. Pick one.
Now maybe you can help me with these:
Existentialism is nothing less than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position. It isn't trying to plunge man into despair at all. But if one calls every attitude of unbelief despair, like the Christians, then the word is not being used in its original sense. Existentialism isn't so atheistic that it wears itself out showing that God doesn't exist. Rather, it declares that even if God did exist, that would change nothing. There you've got our point of view. Not that we believe that God exists, but we think that the problem of His existence is not the issue. In this sense, existentialism is optimistic, a doctrine of action, and it is plain dishonesty for Christians to make no distinction between their own despair and ours and then to call us despairing. Jean-Paul Sartre
Finally to restate my answer the big question #2 again for your consideration:
I see 3 solutions to facing the great “Silence of the Universe”.
1) We can remove ourselves from the world (physical suicide).
2) We can replace the world with a more agreeable world of magic and superstition (philosophical suicide).
These first two are some combination of cowardly, lazy, self-destructive, self-deceptive, utterly submissive, teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world, lacking in any responsibility, and deny reason. Because this is the AOM site I will call attention to the fact that these characteristics are not the traits that have been deemed manly or even good and therefore do not advocate these choices.
3) The third and only acceptable solution is to embrace the man’s desire for order, meaning and purpose, and the big blank of indifference of the Universe. This bond of incompatibility between man and the universe is probably man’s most unavoidable and thus most defining characteristic along with his mortality. To rise each day to fight a battle you know you cannot win, and do it with wit, grace, compassion for others, with some sense of mission is exemplary of the spirit of heroism and bravery. For the sake of this site, these are the characteristics and behaviors identified in other discussions on AOM to be manly traits or at least desirable ones and I submit they are supportive of choosing this 3rd. choice.
In response to your first set of questions:
1. Deanna Laney was psychotically insane, mentally delusional and her motives are moot.
3. David Berkowitz recanted the talking possessed dog story and revealed it as a ruse to create an insanitydefense.
4. Mother Theresa wrestled with her faith in God's existence and performed her works in spite of what
internal struggles she suffered. Far from delusional she could be seen as a humanistic saint as well.
A delusional person doesn't know they are deluded. An atheist could quite possibly be deluded through demonic interference. According to the story of Job we are just as open to satanic influence as we are to divine influence. It could be that you are deluded and just because you think that you are not doesn't mean that you are not. You may just be waiting some spiritual awakening. And that possiblity could possibly make it irresponsible for you to espouse delusional atheistic beliefs. The catch-22 is that if the existence of God were proven to you then God's test of men through faith would be broken.
As far as despair in the face of a godless world is concerned, I do experience despair and dread. Not due to the attempted social engineering by believers though. I simply can't comprehend not existing except in the most abstract manner of thinking thinking about it. Existence is all I know and once I can wrap my mind around the idea of not existing, I'll be fine.
I believe you left solution #4 out. Attempt to reduce my ego and live in appreciation of life and be content and humble. Don Quixotes impossible dream isn't for eveyone. ;)
Before I start my reply, let me ask you something James. To the question on superstition in another discussion here you stated that, “All superstition is bunk. The closest thing to validity are jinx that lead people that believe in them to subconsciously find trouble or sabotage themselves.”
What is the difference between religious belief and superstition?
1. Ok, Deanna Laney was mentally delusional and not by her choice. I suppose we could say her motives were moot because if she had not blamed them on God, she would have blamed anyone or anything else. If she had in fact blamed anything but the supernatural, she would have possibly been perceived as slightly more credible, at least requiring authorities to look into it. However, it is a fact she said God commanded her to kill her children that made the insanity and delusion plain for all to see. Instantly the world says, no, she is crazy, that couldn’t be possible, she must have mental problems. Why is that? Is it because God would never command the death of innocent lives? The bible surely doesn’t seem to support that, nor do many religious texts. It is the simple fact of her saying so that is a symptom of her delusion?
If you say her motives as she claimed are moot, then I agree, God is moot. It was a very human excuse (delusional or not) to blame the divine for an irresponsible action. God made me do it, the devil made me do it. I am glad the courts don’t buy it. This is just a case of someone who is already delusional claiming there is a God instead of the other way around of an otherwise sound and responsible person choosing the delusion on purpose. At least Deanna Laney’s came by her delusion honestly.
2. By saying it is acceptable to call one extreme group of people who kill in the name of their religion delusional how far are you willing to take it? Only for the extreme? Only where immoral actions are promoted and carried out? Or where unwise decisions are made because of it? Where do you draw the line? Other extremists don’t view the perpetrators of 911 as delusional. By what right do you have to call them delusional? What if something would happen that those extremists became the majority? Far from delusional, the 911 perpetrators would become hero’s and iconic defenders of the faith on a global scale. But at least we agree on this one, the terrorists of 911 are delusional.
3. David Berkowitz, if he wanted to build an insanity defense he sure picked a good way to do it…appealing to supernatural command. Unfortunately for him he didn’t get away with it. It seems nobody has a problem calling someone insane who states that some supernatural dog told them to kill, whether it turns out to be the truth or not. The point is, blaming supernatural causes for human lapses in responsibility when the person really believes so is considered insane, when he is just making it up as an excuse for his real reasons, he is lying.
4. Mother Theresa, see number 2. Above. Delusional yes but on what basis do you draw the line? Even if she was as close to pure good as we can get her extraordinary actions, from an extraordinary motivation, which unfortunately still requires extraordinary evidence. All of it unnecessary because we certainly have the capacity to do good without God. If the critical claims of Hitchens and others are correct she was way more delusional than most people would ever suspect.
I can only agree in part with the statement “A delusional person doesn’t know they are deluded.” In some cases, like Deanna Laney where there is some physical/mental disorder, yes, she may have not been aware of her delusion. However, the delusion I am talking about here is not an unavoidable medical condition, but a conscious deceptive choice. You show that you believe it is a choice when you say “…if the existence of God were proven to you then God’s test of men through faith would be broken.” So if it is a choice as you seem to be implying, what information do we have to base our choosing on?
The closest I have been able to come so far to that question is this: Lack of evidence is not evidence. This cuts two ways. 1) There is a lack of evidence so we can not sufficiently prove that the supernatural does exist. 2) The lack of evidence also fails to prove the supernatural doesn’t exist. In other words, the lack of real and hard evidence can neither prove nor disprove the existence of god. However, since it is considered impossible to prove the non-existence of something the burden of proof lays with the argument to prove that he does exist. Hence, I am not convinced He exists, and in the face of overwhelming contrary albeit circumstantial evidence, He most likely does not exist.
Again, from the premise that God probably does not exist, a belief that God exists qualifies as a delusion because it is a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. If one person suffers from a delusion, as those listed above, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.
To sound like less of a bully I will personalize it to myself.
If I would deny the evidence (or lack of it) and deny reason in order to choose to take a leap of faith and believe in God, even at the lowest level of hedging my bet by Pascal’s Wager, I would be choosing to operate in a world that is very highly likely a false make-believe one. I would be deceiving myself and thus be deluded with respect to that choice.
Ok, even though your attempt to label me as delusional included beliefs in the supernatural as part of the argument I shall do my best.
First, I am not convinced that Satan exists, any more or less than I am not convinced that God exists. As an aside, speaking of Satan. Deceptive and dishonest is a starting point for describing the teaching Santa Claus to children. Teaching children that Satan and Hell are real and telling them that’s where they will end up burning in Hell if they are sinners is mental defilement tantamount to child abuse.
Suppose we assume for a moment that God and Satan both exist. Let us also say that Satan is influencing me to espouse all of these atheistic ideas as you suggested. Am I deluded and not know it? Or am I deluded but aware? If the choice to believe in God really is a test of God to choose Him through faith then I have these thoughts that come immediately to mind.
1) Why am I not one to be tested? I’m screwed and it is unfair because I have no choice. This is not a God that I owe anything to for abandoning me like this and I’m better off not believing in him. Or if I am tested and already failed, then I owe him nothing for making me to fail and abandoning me. Honestly, I would be really pissed off if he tested people like that anyway. Cruel it is…and not a God I want any part of. If it were one of my friends instead of me, I would be just a angry.
2) If it is to be revealed to me at a later time through some spiritual awakening, then I would of course be convinced then that he exists, but for now by His design I have his approval and am therefore correct to be unconvinced of his existence.
3) Even though Satan or some demon thinks he is controlling me, it is in fact God since he is all Omni-everything and I am in fact doing God’s will by separating the wheat from the chaff so to speak by challenging the faith of others so when the time comes God knows who is strong and can withstand temptation and who is weak and gives in to their reason over their faith. So not only is it my job to espouse these views, but it is your job to listen to them, argue with me, and come away tempted with your faith in tact. By the way, for anyone thinking they should kill me in the name of God and end my tempting others away from faith, don't, I'm just doing God's work here to tempt you so he will know you are worthy. If you silence me or don't talk to me, you are wasting one of God's tools that he uses to judge you by. Maybe if you really believe I am an agent of God ultimately working on His and your behalf that will you start paying me for this. Build me a house, give me money for fancy cars...but I digress.
So now given the choices of my views, versus the scenarios that you have outlined there are two possibilities. My views are either now proven logically correct, or I am an agent of God, doing God’s work, by and for God, at God’s will and you all better start respecting me! :o). I think everyone including myself would agree that any belief in the second possibility would be pure delusion for whoever believed it. So there are two choices, reason or delusion.
But that is just another problem with religions and a belief in the supernatural. It is too easy to make stuff like that up. I admit it is even fun to argue in the make believe world because one can always make something up or twist it up somehow that will stack the argument one way…until the next guy makes something up and he stacks the argument the other way…and so on and so on, etc. etc.
Another problem is also part of the problem with “The catch-22 is that if the existence of God were proven to you then God's test of men through faith would be broken.”
You see, the religious people -- most of them -- really think this planet is an experiment. That's what their beliefs come down to. Some god or other is always fixing and poking, messing around with tradesmen's wives, giving tablets on mountains, commanding you to mutilate your children, telling people what words they can say and what words they can't say, making people feel guilty about enjoying themselves, and like that. Why can't the gods leave well enough alone? All this intervention speaks of incompetence. If God didn't want Lot's wife to look back, why didn't he make her obedient, so she'd do what her husband told her? Or if he hadn't made Lot such a shithead, maybe she would've listened to him more. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn't he start the universe out in the first place so it would come out the way he wants? Why's he constantly repairing and complaining? No, there's one thing the Bible makes clear: The biblical God is a sloppy manufacturer. He's not good at design, he's not good at execution. He'd be out of business if there was any competition. [Sol Hadden in Carl Sagan's Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985), p. 285.]
As for your suggesting of making the reduction of my ego, living in appreciation of life, being content and humble the 4th possibility ind dealing with the despair, with the exception of living in appreciation of life, I would be betraying the responsibilities outlined in #3. I promise to work on the humble thing though.. :o) However, you should cut me a little slack, it is hard to be humble when you realize that it was you (man) who created God and not the other way around. I am not taking credit for creating anything else though.
As for Don Quixote: He preaches well that lives well, quoth Sancho; that's all the divinity I understand.
If you really wanted to try and convince me that I am delusional you could have stuck to your original guns and pushed a point like this:
In Buddhism delusion is [ignorance]... a lack of awareness of the true nature or Buddha nature of things, or of the true meaning of existence. " According to the Buddhist outlook, we are deluded by our senses-- among which intellect (discriminating, discursive thought) is included as a sixth sense. Consciousness, attached to the senses, leads us into error by causing us to take the world of appearances for the world of reality, whereas in fact it is only a limited and fleeting aspect of reality
If this is indeed the case then we are all delusional and it would be in turn delusional to think we are not deluded and delusional to defend ourselves against those who must also be deluded into thinking we are deluded. That makes my head spin.
Thanks James, you have a good weekend and the same goes to anyone else reading all of this.