Dreams of Madmen

“Mythology is where all gods go to die……[usual ranting snipped]…….Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music.”

Sam Harris in the LA Times 

No need to read the article – you’ve read it before. Just enjoy those two classic lines.

Published by

Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

6 thoughts on “Dreams of Madmen”

  1. Many people derive value from religion that can’t be had more honestly, this may be based on self-deception (depending on what you mean by that), but that doesn’t eliminate it’s value in all cases.

    For example:

    If a loved one dies, and you Really Believe they’re with god now, that has serious value for you in your coping with the loss.

    If you sorta believe or don’t really believe but try to believe even if you know it’s just a rationalization to make the coping easier – then it has lesser, but non-zero value. I don’t think what someone else thinks about the validity of the value they’re getting affects their ability to be at peace.

    I’d like to think my dad is in Valhalla, but I don’t think it’s likely. The idea doesn’t really have value for me, because it’d be too stark a self-deception. Others are more fortunate (though someone else is welcome to consider them unfortunate, FWIW). YMMV.

    1st line is a good one.

    Some of the music is very nice, BTW.

  2. I have struggled with (and blogged about my struggle with) that one for a while.

    How to cope with loss?

    Or, if you really want to shine a spotlight on it:

    How to explain to your little girl how to cope with loss?

    I could teach her things that are comforting but aren’t true (Granny is with the stars now. She is watching over you.) or, following Harris, look for an honest explanation.

    “Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly”

    Rather than look at the self-deceivers with envy, I prefer to look for a comforting truth. If the truth is not comforting, I’ll take that instead.

  3. While I’m not advocating a conscious goal of envy, I don’t think preferring non-comforting truths precludes envy of some of the fruits rather than the means of self-deception.

    I envy the innocence of children, but that doesn’t mean I want to sequester my son.

    Part of me feels envy for someone who blows past me on the freeway at 120MPH, though I choose not to follow.

    The little girl question is a tough one that I haven’t had to think about yet. My high level plan for my son and religion is to explain to him what the Big Ones are, how they’re optional, let him choose for himself and to be supportive of whatever he wants, while still sharing my own beliefs. I’m sure it will be a lot more complicated than that.

    I wonder if the use of electro-convulsive therapy to erase “harmful memories” (if my understanding is correct), is related to this discussion of self-deception. Though the nastiness associated with the procedure itself would likely “taint the jury”.

  4. Your proposed strategy for talking about beliefs is similar to my own. I have a standard format:

    A lot of people believe [insert belief]  but I believe [insert other belief] .

    If she asks a follow up question “Why don’t you believe that?” I’ll give an explanation.

    Jazz has been comparing and contrasting ‘real’ vs ‘fantasy’ at school and she asks me a couple of questions every week. So far we have banished dragons, fairies and unicorns and confirmed dinosaurs. Gods and Bearded Present-Deliverers have not come up yet.

  5. I cope with loss very easily. I think that crying over a loved one is selfish and disrespectful to them. Why are you crying? Not because they died, but because you can no longer interact with them. Why cry over that rather than respect and enjoy the memories you had with that person. This is why I prefer not to go to funerals. I think it is one of the ugliest moments for people in our society.

    When I die, I think I’ll have my coffin set up as a bar top and everyone can just party there in the cometary singing songs and exchanging stories. At the end of the night they take their final glass and lower me on down. I think that is a proper burial.

  6. You should always go to the funeral and all the funerals I have attended have been beautiful and brimming over with happiness and sadness and tears and happy memories.

    That’s possibly the one thing that I do envy of religious folks – not because of their self-deception but because the pomp and tradition of a funeral is comforting and helps give meaning and context to life.

    I believe funerals show great and selfless respect for the one who died and for the ones left behind. That’s why we need to work on the plan for Kev & Jeff’s House of Death – so atheists can enjoy them too.

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