Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the fourth of a seven-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

You would lose that bet -- unless, of course, somebody was trying to offer up some nonsense or was trying to convert me.
(R) In other words, since you consider all religious beliefs to be nonsense, whenever the subject comes up. Looks like I would win the bet.
(MB) Belief in God as a personal preference or as a lifestyle choice is neutral. Using that belief as a basis upon which to make other claims about the nature of the universe or about how somebody else should live their life is a different issue. When a person acts upon his personal beliefs in order to affect or influence another person, that's when it is proper to ask for that belief to be supported.
    Saying "I believe in God" or "Jesus is my Savior" is fine since that's just a harmless statement that implies no other significant beliefs. Saying "I believe in God and you should too", "You must accept Jesus as your Savior", "Anything other than God is the wrong answer", or "My belief in God is just as good as any other belief" is something different. Those statements will require some support before they can be accepted.

Perhaps you should read my essay on Public Prayer for an in-depth answer to that question.
(R) I did. Since you are military, I assume the farewell party was in a military office, thereby associated with the U.S. Government. If so, the individual giving the blessing was putting himself in a bad spot by making reference to a specific religion. If someone was offended, they could have lodged a complaint, just as if a racist or sexist remark had been made.
(MB) In this particular instance it happened to be in an office. But, such parties are also often held in civilian restaurants and similar prayers are offered/demanded in that setting as well. My quibble was with the prayer itself and not with the location.
    The difference between these prayers and racist/sexist remarks is in their intents. The person offering the prayer is not intentionally intending to harm, insult, belittle, or make fun of anybody. See the next paragraph...

(R) On the other hand, nearly every official function I've ever been to has included some sort of generic prayer, including the weekly staff meeting I currently attend. This acknowledges the fact that most people believe in God in some form or another, and that those who don't usually don't mind that others do. What possible harm does such a prayer do?
(MB) As you have pointed out so many times, *most* does not mean *all*. Even racist/sexist remarks do not offend most people. But, the fact that the clear potential for harm exists makes such remarks unacceptable. While most people might believe in a deity in some form, the fact remains that there are those who either do not believe in one or who believe in one in a way that is incompatible with what might be the majority belief. Since religious beliefs are at least as strongly held as any other, this presents a real potential for conflict or offense. Put yourself in the situation of finding yourself as the only Christian at a party where the others are all members of, for example, a Satanic cult and they start offering prayers prior to the food being served. Wouldn't you rather that they had observed a moment of silence instead?

Let me ask you a couple of questions on this subject. What do you think is happening and why is it seemingly necessary for so many people to say "God bless you" whenever somebody sneezes?
(R) This is merely a social convention. Personally, I usually say "Gesundheit," which I think means the same thing. Many people only say "Bless you!" This is nothing more than a polite way of acknowledging that someone has sneezed. Why does it bother you?
(MB) Why is it necessary to acknowledge such an obvious thing at all -- much less with a remark invoking the blessing of a particular deity? Actually, there is an answer to that question. Prior to the advent of modern medical knowledge, sick people were thought to have had their bodies invaded by demons. Since sneezing is often a sign of a cold or some other ailment, saying "God bless you" was a superstition that invoked God to drive out the demons and cure the sickness. Even though we know better today, the old superstition remains alive and well and is little more than another imposition of a particular religious belief into everyday life.
    BTW, "Gesundheit" literally means "sound health". It is a non-religious way of expressing a wish for someone to get over what ails him. If I feel the need for a remark after hearing a particularly robust sneeze, I usually say "Damn, I hope you didn't get any of that on your shirt!".

Why should we believe that God has any interest in which boxer is able to pound the other into submission or in which professional team wins a game?
(R) Personally, I would pray mainly that neither boxer gets killed. But seriously, I think you would agree that everything that happens has an effect. Which team wins has an effect on which goes to the play-offs, which has an effect on the lives of the players and coaches, which has an effect on their families, etc. It's like the old saying, "A butterfly flaps its wings in Central Park and it rains in Peking." Who knows the ultimate effect of an event? Which team wins a game may have life and death significance for someone somewhere down the event chain.
    Does God care, one way or the other? I don't know, but I think He probably does. Everything which happens has a purpose. I do know that it matters to the people involved, which is why they pray about it.

(MB) That really doesn't make much sense. For every winner, there's a loser and the proportionate effect of each balances out. If everything which happens has a purpose, then all outcomes and their subsequent effects must be predetermined -- which means that God must have some reason for preferring one side over the other. If he loves all men equally, there should be no inherent preferences. This whole issue also begs the question of why athletes of non-Yahvistic beliefs can beat God-fearing athletes in any sporting event.

(R) I have stated you cannot shake my belief in God, because you cannot prove He doesn't exist. On this point, and this point only, I can afford to be narrow-minded, because I know I'm right.
(MB) In that case, you are little different from the guy who walks around talking to Harvey all day. Nobody can prove that Harvey doesn't exist, so he also feels that he can afford to be narrow-minded -- because he "knows" that he's right. That may work for him, but most others will roll their eyes and slowly shake their heads.
    If an argument is based on nothing more than "Well, such-and-such could have happened or might exist and you can't prove otherwise", there's really very little being said. You can't prove that it wasn't *me* who created the universe, but would you hold such a claim to be equal to any other creation explanation? There are an infinite number of things that "could" have happened (especially if one invokes supernatural explanations to resolve or evade problems). Science, on the other hand, provides real explanations not of how something "could have" happened, but of how something "did" happen. Science also provides evidence in support of its explanations.
    While any given theory might be incomplete or imperfect, the more evidence there is to support it, the more confidence one can have in it. "Could have" explanations have no evidence to support them and contain nothing we can use to justify preferring any of them over any other such explanation. This inspires no justifiable confidence in them within the mind of any thinking person. This means there is no reason to accept them, to consider them to be the equal of science, or even to give them any serious consideration until such time as they develop past the meaningless "could have" stage. If they fail to gain such development, then all such explanations should be consigned to the intellectual dustbin.

How could what I believe possibly be dangerous? If there is a God who is what is claimed for him, then he already knows what I believe, he knows that I am honest about it, he knows what would change my mind and he also knows that, if my mind was changed, that I would strongly support him.
(R) I think you would be surprised to learn how many people would agree with some of what you express here. It is not as important what you believe, as that you honestly believe it, and faithfully practice it. Where it gets dangerous is if you actually get what you believe. If you believe there is nothing after this life, that when you die you simply cease to exist, that might be exactly what you get, and if there really is another alternative, you will have made a terrible mistake.
(MB) How? If I get no life after death -- whether such an afterlife actually exists or not -- how would I ever know (and possibly regret) the difference? On the contrary, if one lives his life under the false pretense and influence of an afterlife and/or a particular deity and none actually exists, there is the great possibility that much of his life will have been wasted. Until the existence of an afterlife can be demonstrated, I prefer to live my life freely and honestly.

(R) Before you simply dismiss this as just so much superstitious nonsense, and blithely say you're willing to take the chance, think about the other people you might influence. It's fine to risk your own soul, but do you want to be responsible for those of others? How about your own children? Are you so certain they have no souls that you are willing to sacrifice them on the altar of your own vanity?
(MB) In a word -- yes. That's because I *am* so confident of my own views. Religious beliefs and believers are certainly far more responsible for more lives and "souls" than I am, but I don't see your concerns expressed towards them.
    Consider, religious beliefs in a particular deity risk that deity not existing at all as well as the distinct possibility that another deity may actually be the one in charge of things. That other deity may not appreciate your believing in one other than him and may treat you accordingly after you die. You are locked in to your views since religion does not permit changing them. I, however, am free to accept anything that is shown to be a superior belief. Frankly, I think you've got a lot more to worry about than I do.

(R) Furthermore, if you, through your words and actions, are responsible for the loss of the souls of others, do you not think a just God (if He exists) will hold you accountable?
(MB) If he exists and if he what is claimed for him, then he will know my intentions and will treat me accordingly. If he allows others to be swayed by me, then he must have permitted that to happen, as well. If he permits such a thing, and then holds me accountable, is that "just"?

(R) Before I move on, let me point out that my belief in God costs me nothing. You can't name a single thing you can do, think, or say (unless it's morally reprehensible) which I can't also.
(MB) I can say that I am free to accept any point of view or any theory of the universe. I am not predisposed to one "color" of reality. Nobody who bases their life around a particular religion or on faith alone can say that truthfully.

(R) If I am wrong, it doesn't matter, and if there really is nothing after death, I won't even know I'm wrong and will die happy.
(MB) Just like the members of the Heaven's Gate cult?

(R) If you are wrong, on the other hand, there may be serious consequences.
(MB) The consequences of one's beliefs are in what he influenced during his life. If he contributed towards ignorance and superstition, the negative effects will hardly be outweighed by any possible afterlife. If one contributes towards a better understanding of Life, the Universe and Everything, then his legacy will be unaffected by any possible afterlife for that individual.

If there is no God, then my beliefs represent the state of reality as we currently know and understand it.
(R) Sure, if there is no God.
(MB) And, until such time as the existence of such a being can be demonstrated, and until such time as anything in the Universe can be shown to require the existence of such a being, there is no need to believe in such a being. In fact, the requirements of such beliefs have always held back the progress of our understanding.

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