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Atheism, Agnosticism, Buddhism, Superstition

phyruxus (72649) writes | more than 9 years ago

User Journal 4

Someone dropped a bomb on me here at Slashdot, and I realized I need write out what I think. Said bomb was a chiding for bringing "superstition and mythology into a practical discussion." Since I am an atheism-leaning agnostic, this stung more than a little.

Someone dropped a bomb on me here at Slashdot, and I realized I need write out what I think. Said bomb was a chiding for bringing "superstition and mythology into a practical discussion." Since I am an atheism-leaning agnostic, this stung more than a little.

I'll try to keep this light. First, I'm sort of trying to salvage my dignity here. I considered myself a pretty hard nosed realist. But I found myself on a razor's edge, rhetorically. In this thread about a desktop atomic fabricator. Read it if you care to. I got my @ss handed to me by fyngyrz on my own rhetorical stomping grounds. Namely, he said that buddhism is superstition. And that's where I found myself on the other side, wondering how I got flipped. So to sort out my thoughts, and maybe to refer people to someday, here's where I stand on some stuff.

Like I said, trying to keep this light. First, the question of "god". In a debate, I would take an agnostic position. But personally, I think "god" is a contrived idea. Outside, socially, I'm agnostic. Inside, atheist. Chalk it up to Occam's razor in the prime mover argument, and David Hume.

Let me cut to the chase. This is the conversation I had inside myself: How can I be dismissive of religion in general, but think buddhism is cool? Isn't that a huge logical contradiction? Specifically, buddhism has the concepts of karma and reincarnation, which in my own opinion are mystical and therefore unrealistic. Something has to give right?

The focus, the purpose, of buddhism is so-called enlightenment. Call it increased awareness in western terms. This is the difference as I see it between (for example) Christianity and Buddhism. For Christians, there's this big, magical guy named "God", and he defies all logic and physics and you HAVE to believe in him, or ELSE. In Buddhism, you close your eyes and do mental excercises (clearing the mind, or focusing it, as well as metta bhavana which has to do with excersizing compassion) which lead to an altered mental state. Now, I personally haven't achieved "enlightenment" (yet:). I have no proof that such a state exists, but I *do* have experience that meditation *does* result in an altered state. And people have done research showing that advanced students of meditation have brain activity that explains their subjective experiences while meditating (so called meditative bliss). Also, eastern practitioners talk about Buddhism in terms of science, and in terms of philosophy. They do not resort to saying "Oh, have faith" or threats of "believe me or else". Which brings me back to Christianity: I can't disprove "God", but no one can "prove" "God" either. So it's moot. If one takes the bible as a METAPHOR, then there's a lot that can be discussed. But I never hear people discussing it as metaphor- it's always "the word of God". Sorry, too 12th century for me.

Now, here's where I attack myself. Karma and reincarnation: Buddhism doesn't posit them in metaphoric terms. Karma is like a law of physics, and reincarnation is about as scientific as heaven and hell. So aren't I a hypocrit?

Sort of. (Ouch. Thank you fyngyrz! :)

So why don't I go get all baptized and be done with it? :) Okay. Rhetorically, Buddhism doesn't rely on Karma and reincarnation to get anyone to do anything. You can throw them out the window, and still meditate. You don't need to be afraid of negative consequences to have "Duty to buddha, duty to community, duty to self". I've been a little curious about these two ideas (karma and reincarnation) because they run counter to my thinking. Karma I can (if only to myself) let go, because I can think of it as an emergent condition of humanity; that things even out over time, not so much that if you kick an old lady, you'll get hit by lightening. But that leaves reincarnation. TOTALLY UNSCIENTIFIC!!! What do I do about that? This is what I think; Buddhism is about increased awareness through meditation. I read that the when the buddha (or anyone) gained the "final enlightenment", he passed "beyond all rebirth". This appears to be saying outright that people are reborn but enlightenment lets you break out of the cycle. My take is that this "rebirth" is a mental change; that usually people's viewpoints switch as they think about things, but in the "final enlightenment" one has reached a viewpoint from which switching is unneccesary.

This taking of something which is stated as literal opens up the prospect of saying "well yeah, but you could say the same thing about the bible" which unfortunately, means that now I have to look into that :) But I disagree with christians who say that there's LITERALLY a heaven and a hell, and a God and Devil, and that if I disagree I'm going to hell.

Okay, work is out now but I'll finish this later.

BTW, fyngyrz, you're tres cool. Your journal even has a bit about making moderation non-anonymous, which is an idea I had myself. I don't know you, but you made me think, and also, I like people who dismiss superstition as foolishness. I still consider myself one of them, but you've brought the light into my thinking on this area. Although I expect (from our limited back and forth) that you think I'm a monkey dancing around a fire with a bone in my nose :) I don't think buddhism is superstition, but then, neither do the christians I always seem to be at odds with think christianity is superstition.. That's something that doesn't bother me too much but I'll be thinking about it anyway because I'm a pedant too. Oh yeah, one last difference between buddhism and christianity... the buddha specifically told his followers NOT to proselytize or evangelize. *Sigh*, work is out, will flesh out related ideas later.

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4 comments

Nah. (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 9 years ago | (#10927776)

Although I expect (from our limited back and forth) that you think I'm a monkey dancing around a fire with a bone in my nose :)

Not at all. Life is full of interesting things, and it is by no means a given that we resolve all the contradictions and subtle implications in our positions on the first, or first few, go-rounds with any idea. I know I sure don't.

FWIW, my take is that the atheist position is a highly likely precursor to what people typically call the agnostic position (and then act as if it's a separate position apart from theism and atheism.) Theism is belief in a god or gods, the prefix a means without, hence the literal and direct meaning of atheism is "without belief in god or gods."

The classic summary of the agnostic position is "I don't know if there is a god or gods" but that avoids the question, it doesn't answer it. The question is, does one have any belief in a god or gods? Because if lack of knowledge leads one to not form belief, then one is atheist beyond any shadow of a doubt. If, on the other hand, lack of knowledge has led to some shreds of belief, no matter how tattered and flimsy, then one is a theist because one holds "belief in a god or gods."

I am left with this list...

  • Atheist agnostic
  • Theist agnostic

...rather than this one:

  • Atheist
  • Agnostic
  • Theist

The reason that I said above (in so many words) that a declared agnostic is probably atheist (as opposed to theist) is because if they weren't without belief, they probably wouldn't be waffling about it - agnosticism in and of itself is enough of a social black eye to make it an unlikely position for a believer to take - so I presume, until informed differently by a particular individual, that it masks an underlying atheism (and a bit of understandable moral cowardice.)

What some call "hard" atheism - actual disbelief in a god or gods - is a position I find to be hardly more tenable than that of theism, for precisely the same reasons, and only of interest in passing because some atheists do in fact take that position. I recognize that there is some satisfaction to be had from declaring in a definitive manner that "there is no Santa Claus." Personally, I am not particularly comfortable arguing for hard conclusions from a complete lack of information.

I also mediate - I am a martial artist [dojang.com] (that's me, top right under the patch), and I use meditation as a means of performance enhancement. I mention this because it bears on your "monkey" presumption. You and I aren't all that far apart, methinks. :)

Buddhism (1)

Le Marteau (206396) | more than 9 years ago | (#10928593)

Specifically, buddhism has the concepts of karma and reincarnation

Not every form of buddhism believes in reincarnation. Lots do, but many forms do not. For example, the purer forms of Zen, or read "What the Buddha Taught" by Rahula (sp?) for an entire chapter refuting the idea that Buddha preached reincarnation.

The focus, the purpose, of buddhism is so-called enlightenment. Call it increased awareness in western terms

OK. But beware of temporary states of altered conciousness. Any state you can only visit and must return from is merely 'getting high' which is pretty easy, using breathwork, drugs, and other 'tricks of the trade'. These things are not any nearer to 'enlightenment' but are just 'getting off', and are in fact dangerous and can put one off the path if one believes that those experiences point toward 'enlightenment'.

But that leaves reincarnation. TOTALLY UNSCIENTIFIC!!! What do I do about that?

Nothing. Pretend you never heard about it. It's a fantasy; a mental construct, and has nothing to do with the reality of the here-and-now.

Buddhism is about increased awareness through meditation.

Buddhism, to me, is about reality. Experiencing reality, fully, and without illusion. You can call that 'increased awareness' but I think that's a loaded term and misses the point.

But I disagree with christians who say that there's LITERALLY a heaven and a hell, and a God and Devil

Yeah, that's just mythology put forth to appease simple minds. But that's all some people are ready for. When they become more sophisticated, they will hopefully be able to go beyond mythology and into a true understanding and seeking of the truth.

Okay, work is out now but I'll finish this later.

I hope so, and I look forward to it. In the meantime, you have inspired me to write about what _I_ believe in my journal. Thanks for the impetus.

Howdy! (1)

nizo (81281) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932425)

But that leaves reincarnation. TOTALLY UNSCIENTIFIC!!!

Some people would beg to differ. [amazon.com] . I am willing to agree this guy could have made this all up to sell books, but I also feel that at some point we may actually prove reincarnation (i.e. if someone is able to give details about a past life, say by being regressed, that they could never know from this life. To me at least that is fairly convincing). Prior to reading this book I had had dreams that might imply past lives. Is this proof? Probably not to anyone else, but I do find it compelling. But even if you don't buy the more "hokey" aspects of a religion, there is nothing wrong with taking for yourself the positive aspects of it, be it love they neighbor or the path to enlightenment or whatever.

Buddhism is cool (1)

FuzzyBad-Mofo (184327) | more than 9 years ago | (#10933014)

Just wanted to say that was a great journal entry. You and I seem to share a similar viewpoint on this issue. I was on a long drive today, and thinking how sad it was that so many people still believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, so to speak.

My ex is a Buddhist (from Vietnam), and I must say it's a very nice philosophy. What annoys me most about Christians is that they're always trying to tell people how wonderful their religion/cult is, but if you don't agree with them you will go to their "bad place" (I say, it's their Hell, let them go to it).

Buddhists mostly keep their beliefs to themselves, and just live and let live. I can respect that (also the same for most Jews I know, incidentally). I dream of a day when the human race can put superstition behind, and simply live well for it's own sake.

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