Hey clw, thanks for your thorough reply! I figure if I'm going to debate, I might as well not half-ass it.
"What's wrong with Buddha being Atheist/Agnostic?"
I never said there's anything wrong with Buddha being atheist/agnostic. To be more specific, I never said anything about the Buddha's specific beliefs - I made statements about the religion of Buddhism.
The Buddha never called himself atheist, agnostic, non-theist, or anything else. He simply stated that gods and devas are impermanent and not all-powerful. The Buddha transcended labels. He was not attached to views, even if those views were in-line with his own teachings. That's the problem I have with Batchelor insisting Buddhism be atheist - it's completely contrived and self-imposed. While Batchelor is trying to cut away what he perceives to be cultural baggage, he is obviously caught up in his own thicket of views.
"The fact that they are in a minority does not make them elitist in nature. It only shows that they are lower in number. They actually want to increase the number of non-believers. An elitist would want to keep numbers small and within their own group.
"Now I dont hear of them or the New Atheist movenment in general tell people that they cant find answers to their own issues and need westerners to tell them what to do. All they are arguing is that one should use a critical mind and think for oneself and not rely on tradition, creed or faith. There is nothing wrong with advising people to think for themselves is there? And furthermore its not just westerners."
You're right - them being a minority doesn't make them elitist. But I don't see where I said this... My point is that their position comes off as elitist because they are insisting that everyone interpret religion and faith the way they do - with their own definitions, concepts and truths. If it's not elitist, it is at least selfish. They want to increase the number of non-believers who interpret religion the way they do - but there isn't one single type of atheist or non-theist. There are tons of non-believers with varying viewpoints, so who's to say Dawkins and his people are right?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging people to think for themselves. (Keyword "encouraging", as opposed to "advising", unless that person wants to be advised; if not, it's an imposition to attempt to advise them, which is what I've been talking about all along). You keep saying "I don't hear them saying this or that", but what I'm trying to get across is that they don't have to actually say it - their actions speak for themselves. Are they dialoguing with prominent religious members of various cultures (as opposed to just setting up debates organized by predominently white western universities where they yell at each other for an hour)? Are they having informal discussions with common everyday people who practice religious faiths? From the numerous videos I've watched and articles I've read on these guys, the answer is no, but I could be wrong. All I've seen is one pompous debate after another, one interview with a public radio station or a BBC anchor after another - all forums organized and controlled by white Westerners.
It's not just about relying on tradition or religion or creed - like I stated before, there are legitimate reasons why people cling to these things, and these reasons must be understood before we can have any meaningful discussion about them or their abolishment. To ask a person to give up a belief on the grounds of evidence or reason in this day and age is like asking them to give up a part of who they are (or who they believe they are). It obviously doesn't work, and oftentimes they end up holding onto the belief even stronger than before (as is the case with many reactionary militant fundamentalists in the States).
"I dont have a personal connection with the Arab peninsular, that doesnt mean I cant say that the pedophilia of Muhammed was wrong or that slavery is wrong. Just because its ok in a certain culture doesnt mean its right. The ancient Aztec religion used to practice human sacrifice as part of their religion. Would it be elitist and wrong to criticize that culture?"
There isn't anything wrong with you having an opinion of certain behaviors. The problem comes in when we assume everyone must think like we do, or else we're somehow uneducated or unenlightened. This is what I get from Batchelor and the like. There are plenty of highly educated philosophers who take a more culturally relativistic approach to these issues. Just because they don't think like you, does that make them wrong?
"From what I read the argument is that if you use your reason and evidence, the existence of gods is just as likely as elves or vampires. This is not an unreasonable position to take"
You're right - it's not an unreasonable position at all. As a matter of fact, it is the most reasonable position to take in terms of evidence and observation. That doesn't mean everyone "should" believe it. If we approach discussions with religious followers based on what we want them to believe because we think they should, we will fail most everytime. Trust me, I've tried this numerous times. It doesn't work. We can't change anyone's mind - they have to change their own mind when they're ready to do so.
"Perhaps his interpretation came after study of the scripture. Not everyone who doesnt side with Classical Theravada does so because of their own biases. Sometimes its their own study that leads to it."
Batchelor is well-versed on the scriptures, maybe even one of the most versed. He's a former Zen and Tibetan monk, has translated numerous scriptures and written numerous books on Buddhist study. I have no doubt he is formulating his opinions based on his wealth of experience. However, it's obvious that not every highly educated Buddhist agrees on various points in the scriptures. The Venerable Bhikkhu Buddhadasa has much different views on rebirth than Ajahn Chah. Jack Kornfield has different views than Gil Fronsdal. Who's right?
Just because a person is highly versed on a particular topic doesn't mean they can't make mistakes and be plain wrong sometimes. In this case, Batchelor is just plain wrong when it comes to his idea that rebirth isn't a central element of the suttas. He may very well be right about the falsehood of rebirth, but the evidence suggests that rebirth was absolutely essential to the Buddha's teachings.
"How is denying religions racist. Most religions are universal in nature so I just dont see how it follows."
First: I never said "denying religion" is racist. Second: You're reading out of context. My statement is followed by another in the same paragraph, so they should be read together, not separately.
It is culturally insensitive to assume you have the answers to another culture's problem. It's culturally insensitive to assume another culture has a problem based on your own definitions, instead of the definitions relevant to that specific culture. The West is very good at doing this.
"I take my example of the Aztec culture again. If you were faced with this culture, by your own standards you could not argue against or fight against the practice of human sacrifice (which was culturally and religiously important to them) without being classed a "culturally insensitive" or "racist" in some way. However I think we can both see this is ridiculous, hence why they are right in what they do (Dawkins etc)"
First of all, what does "faced with this culture mean?" Does it mean if you were a member of this culture and you disagreed with the practice? If that's what you mean, you just stated what I've been saying the whole time - it is up to MEMBERS of that culture to decide what is and is not best for them, not up to us who are not a part of the culture. It's different if that culture is trying to invade your culture's space and impose their practices onto to you. In that case, fight like hell. But if you're a dissenter in your own culture, you have every right to dissent.
We don't live the same everyday realities of other cultures because we aren't a part of their culture. How can we decide what is and is not good for them? What if someone from a dictatorship were to come to America and parade around espousing the death of democracy? And they were adamant that we have it wrong with this democracy nonsense? How would that make us feel?
"And the same tradition that gave you the computer and internet to even have this discussion. The same materialist science that gave you central heating and a home to live in. The same materialist science that has extended human life spans from a mere 25 years to 80 years. Also on a side note Science is inherently materialistic, it cant be any other way."
Yep, you're absolutely right: the computer, the internet, central air and heating, and even the way we make buildings, are all completely unsustainable and are a direct result of human beings calling themselves scientist and engineers and insisting that nature is something to be controlled and dominated instead of it being the very lifeblood all life on the planet depends upon. A direct result of mainstream science's insistence that the planet and its ecosystems are lifeless, cold and without purpose, instead of it being a living, breathing organism to enter into a mutual relationship together.
This insistence that science only be materialistic goes against one of the most fundamental aspects of the scientific method - test it and prove otherwise before assuming it can't be proven. As Buddhists, we trust that the Buddha actually tested and experienced what he says he experienced, just as consumers we trust that science and engineering has tested and proven certain laws and truths so that we can use what we use in today's world. There are scientists testing the existence of sixth senses using modern technology (http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/199 ... sense.html
), testing a part of the brain for the function of spiritual experiences (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... =110997741
), and even how near-death experiences induced spiritual experiences (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyyjU8fzEYU
). To assume that science be relegated exclusively to the materialist without any further research into the non-material (and the relationship between the two) is the result of selective reading and self-imposed limitations.
"While in the mean time people go on suffering and dying because of these doctrines. The Islamic Republic of Iran for example has gone on to kill roughly 4000 people just for being gay since the revolution. In your logic they should continue to do so, without any "strident" outsiders criticizing their religious practices and should wait for such criticism to rise up from within. A process, by the way, that would take longer and cost more lives because of the oppressive nature of the country."
It is unskillful for a culture or government to kill off its own citizens and expect to last beyond an uprising or armed resistance from its own members. They make themselves susceptible to coups, overthrows and invastion from external threats. History proves this. We don't have to invoke their religious beliefs to see this is true. To invoke any type of moral measurement upon them is unnecessary. Right and wrong are relative and subject to redefinition with the rise of subsequent generations. But cause and effect are immutable.
There are atrocities in the world, and for various reasons. We in the West aren't even able to curb our own atrocities against ourselves and others - how can we do it for other cultures? Besides, our yelling and screaming about their atrocities won't change them unless we impose the same level of immoral behavior to get them to change, such as invading their country, imposing trade and economic sanctions on them that stymies their growth and starves their people, etc.
"There not trying to tell anyone to do anything. They are simply challenging religous belief and customs (something that has been lacking before) in order for people to think critically and examine their ways.
"I dont know if religion will ever disappear. I see two views on religions origins and extinction. Either in the sociobiology view that religion is an adaptation that has come about via evolution. That is to say it has a certain survival value. If this is true then religion will be around until humans have evolved into something else (or gone extinct).
"The other view is that of Karl Marx. That is to say that religion is the outcry of a being who has been removed from nature and oppressed and that the increase in material and social well being will result in religions withering away. I feel there is some evidence for this if you look at the wealth of western european countries and the level of religiosity
"However I do not know ultimately what the cause of religion is but I do fee that in some way the critcism dished out by Sam Harris etc does help to understand and overcome religion."
I've watched and read plenty of Dawkins, and he's absolutely insisting people do something - stop believing. And he has, in his own words, called for "militant atheism." It's a term of his invention and therefore it necessitates his own definitions, interpretations and set of behaviors.
Furthermore, to think that challenging religion has been "lacking before" is to simply not have looked at the history: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/brief-history-disbelief/
I'm not qualified to speculate on the origin or future of religious belief.
"I think you might find that they are pseudoscience. Science can have nothing to say on the "supernatural" because its beyond nature and unstestable. Science can only be applied to natural phonemena."
If you will allow me to offer my opinion on this even though I'm not a scientist per se...
The scientific method says to ask a question about a particular problem, propose a logical solution, and then test to see if that solution actually solves the problem. Conclusions made must be observed and able to be duplicated in order to be proven true.
As you can see from the links I provided above, there are obvious material connections to non-material phenomena. A person - let's say a meditator - is practicing the scientific method when testing the effectiveness of meditation and the Noble Eightfold Path. Their conclusions are based on their own experience, and can be duplicated by others. As a matter of fact, Buddhism necessitates the scientific method, or else the entire practice falls apart. This shows that science is not simply relegated to pure materialism.
If you're using technology, you can probably only use those instruments to detect phenomena of a material nature (i.e. having some type of substance, even if just energy, waves, etc.) But what about theoretical sciences? Are practitioners of these fields not scientists because they don't actually see what the theories say should exist? There are widespread discussions of the Higgs boson, string theory, and the existence of consciousness. As a matter of fact, some of the world's largest scientific instruments have been to find evidence of many of these phenomena.
There are some things that may never be proven or disproven from material or non-material science, I can definitely admit that. But to say that the only way to practice science is through materialism alone is just false. Science is a process of gathering knowledge and information based on what's actually experienced. If it can be experienced and duplicated, then it can be called science.
"Religion in general is highly illogical. If your parents do believe that then at some point they will have to resort to religious faith because angels and demons cannot be proved via evidence and testing, therefore to assert a belief in their existence is irrational. This is why they need faith."
This is true, but it has nothing to do with my argument. I'm arguing against the validity of members of one culture imposing their beliefs on members of another. Further along, I stressed the function of such beliefs, and how they cannot be easily divorced from cultural and ethnic traditions. To criticize faith alone is to entirely miss the reasons for such beliefs. You can't just tell a person not to believe when believing is wrapped up in their very identity. This is what Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Batchelor seem to be missing.
"I think the fundamental point is that religion gets its morality from us, not the other way around so its completely redundant."
Yes, because religion is human-made and human-defined, therefore it reflects what humans believe rather than it being something of universal truth or significance. I'm not debating this at all. I'm debating the validity of imposing beliefs onto another culture without a thorough reading of the function of those beliefs.
There are reasons why religion is popular, and there are reasons why it's so varied among different cultures. And there are also many similarities between religions across cultures. To look past all of this is to remain willfully ignorant, and be more intent on your own agenda than the actual good of the people of your subject. There are many cultures on the planet that would hardly be a shell of their former selves if you divorced them from their religious practices. Not saying that's a good or bad thing, but what are we really after? A homogeneous world? What about all the practices that are completely harmless? Should we get rid of them?
As a final note:
What will the world look like in a society of Dawkins et al choosing? What will other cultures look like? This is a problem many reformers run into, and I admit I've fell into it plenty of times. If we are wanting to change large-scale structures that effect the lives of millions (or even billions) of people, we have to have some idea of what the world will look like afterward. And who gets to decide that? Why should we agree to the world being the way someone else wants it to be? Doesn't it make more sense to focus on our own culture? If we think we're right, we should model our desired behaviors and prove we're right through our actions. Once other cultures reach a breaking point with their current practices, maybe they will take the example of others. So if Batchelor et al want to criticize religious belief in their own specific families and cultures, that's totally fine. But they have yet to demonstrate how their way of life is better for the world.