10 November, 2008

Progress Report


One of those nights when the words wouldn't flow, alas. But progress none the less.

I came up with an interesting exercise:

If you and I sat down and made lists of things that are important to us, there would be a lot of duplicate items. Why don't we try an exercise? Take a pen and paper right now, and list out ten things that are important to you. I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

Ready? Here's mine, in no particular order of importance:

  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. My community
  4. My country and the world
  5. The environment
  6. Financial security
  7. Literacy and education
  8. Science
  9. Constitutional issues
  10. Writing

How many things do we have in common? Probably quite a few. If we got into specifics, we'd probably notice quite a few differences in the details, some of them superficial, some of them more serious. But there's enough there to work with, isn't there?

This is just a little warm-up, to show you that we really do have enough interests in common to talk about. Most of us share common concerns. We want clean water to drink and clean air to breathe. We want kids to be healthy, and we want our communities to be vibrant. We want to make sure our economy's strong so that we all have a chance to work and support ourselves and our families. We want a better world.

Together, we can find ways to make that happen. Even when we disagree.
It's kind of sad to think we might be reduced to making lists and checking them twice in order to find things to talk about, but hey. Considering that some religious folk seem to think we have nothing at all we agree on, at least it would be one way of demonstrating otherwise.

As I'm writing this, I'm conscious of the fact that there are some religious folk buried so deep in the dogma that there's no possible way we could hold a useful discussion, so I'm trying to aim this book away from them and at those who either want to talk to us, but aren't quite sure how, or those who never really considered we'd have anything to talk about but are willing to be surprised.

For those of you who might be afraid I'm getting too toothless here, I do get more confrontational later in the chapter. That's where I explain in no uncertain terms what the world would be like if atheists had never existed. Some folks might be a mite surprised.

It seems to me important to get across one metatheme in this book: Atheists are here to stay, and the world needs us like it or not, so you might as well learn how to get along with us.

Striking the right balance between friendly and firm has proven a bit difficult. We'll see how it turns out.

Your comments on this project thus far have been invaluable. I haven't incorporated your ideas and suggestions just yet, simply because NaNo demands looking forward rather than back, but most of what you guys said yesterday is going to end up tweaking the book considerably in revision. We'll hold a few discussions on specific points later. Right now, I just want to say thank you a thousand times THANK YOU, everybody drinks on the house (how I wish I could actually give you guys real live free drinks!), and keep the commentary coming. I don't care if you don't think you have something useful to add: I want to hear your thoughts. No, I NEED to hear your thoughts.

This book is for all of us. Without you, it's not going to be a very useful book at all. So: thoughts, links, quibbles, anything you want to toss at me, bring it on.

Muchos gracias, mis amigos. Salud!


quicklime said...

I'd add a couple. No. 3 would be happiness and no. 4 would be science or technology.

Woozle said...

Another thought which might or might not figure in your revision phase...

...is the way in which the same religious arguments against secular ideas keep being raised over and over again, despite having been soundly refuted each time. (I'm thinking in particular of creationism, but it certainly doesn't start or stop there.)

I suppose the automatic assumption is that many religion-based people aren't aware of the counter-arguments because they haven't been exposed to them.

But the pro-religion side of the story is certainly being spread far and wide, and somebody clearly has the resources with which they could do an awful lot of educating if they chose to do so. I have to ask the obvious question: Why are people being indoctrinated with this crap without at least being fully prepared with answers to the by-now-well-known counter-arguments?

Does the church -- or whoever's doing the spreading when they should be educating -- really want their followers going out there making pathetic, easily-refuted arguments and basically looking like idiots? Isn't that more likely to result in people becoming disillusioned with religion than if they went out armed with actual, substantial arguments?

The obvious answer is in several parts:
1. The spreaders don't have good arguments to offer, but...
2. ...their priority is not seeking or teaching the truth, but popularizing certain beliefs...
3. ...because those beliefs work in such a way as to support unquestioning belief in whatever the spreaders say.

The part of this which might actually be useful for your book, though, is that initial question: Why do they keep bringing the same points up, over and over again? This is a question which religious dogmatists need to be asked.

There are vast catalogues of rational answers to religious arguments. Where are the vast catalogues of religious replies to those counter-arguments?

They need to demonstrate that they aren't sacrificing the truth in order to protect their beliefs, because that's the only explanation I'm aware of that fits the data. Indeed, much religious doctrine states that this is absolutely necessary -- but modern religious debaters will tend to deny it, preventing the discussion from addressing the key issue: why is it better to believe ancient works of dubious origin than to believe the evidence of your own senses and reason? How do you know you're not being lied to and manipulated?

Ok, done randomly firing off neurons at you again... for now...