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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 07/16/2006 :  21:07:13  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message
Today I saw a screening of Richard Dawkin's television program (a two-parter) "The Root of All Evil?" which aired in the UK a bit ago. Rather than write a separate review for SFN, I present the comments I wrote for Dawkins:

Dear Richard Dawkins,

As an atheist and humanist I enjoyed about 90% of "Root of All Evil?", especially the visits to Israel and to fundamentalist churches in the United States. Indeed, that type of radical religion is a large force for destruction and suffering in these times, and religious extremism needs to be continuously criticized and exposed for its hypocrisy and other deep flaws.

Since I'm sure many others from the Freethought Society and Humanist Association in Greater Philadelphia will sing further praises for the show, I'll now turn to my criticisms. My first bone to pick is with the title. Any time someone uses the word "evil" to describe some aspect of their enemy, my alarm bells go off. That is the language of emotional manipulation, such as when George Bush named the "axis of evil" or when radical Muslims call Americans "devils". Further, the idea that religion itself is the root of these problems of human conflict a stretch. The world would be no utopia if everyone were an atheist. Peoples' irrationality extends far beyond concepts of religious faith. I have met misogynists and those who hate gays yet never set foot in a church. In Alabama, an outspoken atheist - Larry Darby - is running for attorney general and is also a white supremacist. Just as it is no coincidence that racist Larry Darby comes from the American south, it is no coincidence that Muslim suicide bombers typically come from unstable regions of the world where at least part of the instability stems from a legacy of abuses at the hands of more powerful Western nations. Certainly religious extremism is part of the problem, but to suggest it is the "root of all evil" paints a narrow picture of both human nature and human history.

Early on in the first part you criticized more benign forms of religious belief as being a "slippery slope" that "can lead to far more dangerous ideas". I was surprised to hear a skeptic use a logically fallacious argument such as slippery slope. Just as the recreational use of alcohol can lead to abuse, it also more-often stops at perfectly harmless usage. Likewise, while surely many fundamentalists began their dark path with a benign form of religious belief, plenty of other religious folks keep their faith relegated to matters where there is not scientific evidence to the contrary (such as the teapot orbiting the earth). Examples of these are the religious moderates that fully and actively support progressive moral values. You criticized how they "interpret the Bible selectively" and accused such moderates of "fence-sitting". That is to simplify their perspective. There are plenty of books by thoughtful and well educated progressive theologians explaining their worldview. It is fine for atheists to debate progressive religious adherents on philosophical/theological issues, but to liken them in any way to radical fundamentalists is to do them a great disservice. In the USA, progressive Christians work side by side with freethinkers to defend separation of church and state, gay rights, and women's rights. Yes, these people have religious faith, but unlike fundamentalists they do not confuse faith with knowledge that is backed by scientific evidence. It is no slippery slope, but a huge chasm which separates such types of thinking.

I was concerned at the accusation of "child abuse" in the discussion of sectarian schools because child abuse is something where typically the law intervenes. You did not advocate any solution to this problem of children being isolated and indoctrinated, but I fear that the label of "child abuse" might imply to some a solution of forced public schooling or some other type of infringement on parents' rights to raise their children how they see fit, so long as they do not physically harm their children. As far as American policies go, I hope fundamentalists will just opt to home-school their children; then maybe they will stop infiltrating school boards and trying to get public schools to teach creationism and advocate abstinence-only sex education.

The metaphor of religion as an infection that children get and then pass on to their own children didn't make much sense to me. Most of the atheists I know (including myself) were raised religious. Likewise, plenty of children raised atheist become Christians or Muslims. If children are raised to think for themselves, inevitably some will become religious. Are we to then stop them from teaching their kids' religion? And how would we stop them? Unless religious communities totally isolate themselves (such as the Amish in the American mid-west) their children will get some exposure to mainstream culture, and therefore will have the opportunity as adults to question the beliefs they were raised with. And no religious community can isolate themselves that securely without also losing power and influence in the larger society.

I hope you find this criticism constructive. I truly admire you as a leader in the Freethought Movement. I have read and enjoyed several of your books and saw you speak at a conference in the USA a few years ago. It is wonderful that smart and charismatic people like you are brave enough to speak out passionately against religious extremism. Be well,

Martha Knox

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

JohnOAS
SFN Regular

Australia
800 Posts

Posted - 07/16/2006 :  21:43:16   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit JohnOAS's Homepage Send JohnOAS a Private Message
Nice review Marf.

I'm in the middle of a thousand things at the moment, and I haven't actually watched the whole series yet (it's on my hard drive somewhere), so I wont comment on most of it. Your comment about the title however prompted me to reply.

You may want to listen to the Point Of Inquiry interview with Dawkins about this series specifically. I remember him stating that the title was not his idea, and in fact he was against it. Why he let it slide is beyond me. I suspect he doesn't mind poking the hornet's nest on occasion.

It's under the February 2006 archive, but here is a link to the summary page for this interview, and a direct link to the audio file itself.

John's just this guy, you know.
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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  07:07:00   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message
Hope you post a reply, if you get one. John's right. Also notice that there is a question mark at the end of the phrase about "evil." That's some TV producer's idea of a good sensational title, and nothing more. No one is making a statement that religion is the root of all evil.

Also, please cite any studies that show that "extremism" or "fundamentalism" is any better or worse than any other kind of supernatural belief, or for that matter, non-supernatural belief. People of all kinds of stripes kill and torture each other in all kinds of ways, especially "liberal" theists and nontheists.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  11:54:31   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message
JohnOAS - thanks for the explanation about the title. I'm happy knowing Dawkins wasn't for it. I really do admire the guy and the show is worth watching just to see his reactions. He comes off as truly concerned as well as calm and genuine.

Gorgo wrote:
quote:
Also, please cite any studies that show that "extremism" or "fundamentalism" is any better or worse than any other kind of supernatural belief, or for that matter, non-supernatural belief. People of all kinds of stripes kill and torture each other in all kinds of ways, especially "liberal" theists and nontheists.
Studies? I suspect you wrote this paragraph in haste because it doesn't make a lot of sense. For instance, did you mean to say that "liberal theists and nontheists" especially torture each other, or did you mean that they are especially tortured by other "peopel of all kinds and stripes"? Knowing you, I'm guessing you meant the former, but grammatically it sounds like the latter.

I've pretty clearly defined the difference between fundamentalism and moderate religion. The first considers faith to be superior to knowledge gained through reason and science. The second relegates their faith to only areas where scientific evidence does not prove otherwise. At least in current times, it is only fundamentalists who both reject and actively resist the teaching of accepted science (especially evolution), modern values such as the equality of women, sexual liberation, gay rights, and religious pluralism.

You are absolutely correct that people of all kinds engage in killing and torture - and this includes atheists and agnostics. They can be coerced into it such as young impressionable soldiers, or they can do it out of a out-of-control grab for power or means to maintain power, such as we see in the terrible acts of the regime under Kim Jung Il, or Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Sadaam Hussein - all dictators who act/acted not out of religious motivations, but personal and maybe also ideological motivations. My primary point to Dawkins was that irrational religious faith isn't the root of such "evil", and that in fact, those with a non-irrational or moderate amount of faith have often been those to resist dictators and other aggressors. That's a damn fact - there are religious groups of people all over the world right now working together against human trafficking, discrimination, poverty, and a whole host of "evils".

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  12:14:56   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message
You have said that people with and without religion do all kinds of nasty things. Yet you contradict yourself by saying that "irrational" religion somehow causes people to do nasty things at a greater rate than others.

Where is your proof that one religion (that is, a point of view in which one believes in a supernatural ruler of the universe) is more "rational" than others, or that rational theists are more or less dangerous than anyone else based simply on their professed beliefs about the supernatural?

So what if a few Muslims commit suicide? That is why is that somehow morally inferior to bombing city blocks without committing suicide? Is it more moral to be able to murder more people again and again?

Most Muslims do not commit suicide. Most "extremist" theists do not do anything any more extreme than some atheists.

What is your point exactly and how do you intend to back up what you say?

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



Edited by - Gorgo on 07/17/2006 12:36:37
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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  12:35:44   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message
I think the analogy with alcohol might be something to rethink. To say it's a good idea to encourage people to believe that the supernatural has some effect on reality is the same as saying it's a good idea to self-medicate with alcohol and other non-prescribed drugs.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  12:54:38   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message
Maybe restating would make it clearer to you. You are saying that certain ideas, like those held by people who reject evolution, are only created by "irrational" religion. However, some believe that god created evolution. That doesn't mean that the belief in evolution is more rational than a belief that one must reject evolution.

Also, at the same time you are saying that nontheists have stupid ideas too, thus contradicting your idea that "irrational" religious people do bad things necessarily, and "rational" religious people don't. Most people who believe in evolution irrationally do not do anything against the teaching of evolution, as an example. Most people who believe that martyrdom is good do not commit suicide. Some "rational" religious people do. It is not the religion which you've judged "bad" that causes people to invade Iraq and alughter thousands of people.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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JohnOAS
SFN Regular

Australia
800 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  18:27:39   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit JohnOAS's Homepage Send JohnOAS a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by Gorgo

Maybe restating would make it clearer to you. You are saying that certain ideas, like those held by people who reject evolution, are only created by "irrational" religion. However, some believe that god created evolution. That doesn't mean that the belief in evolution is more rational than a belief that one must reject evolution.

I really don't get what you're saying here Gorgo. A belief in evolution is inherently more rational than any rejection of it, as long as you're definition of "rational" is based on the conventional one being rooted in logic and reason.

Perhaps your are arguing for the rationality of the underlying reason for the belief. If the latter is true, then I agree that a belief in evolution achieved through study of scientific research and observation is better than belief in evolution because the great pumpkin decreed that it is so. Is this the point you are trying to make?

I certainly don't agree with everything Marf as posted, but the fact is, there are those with faith in some deity or other who's belief's don't trample on science and reality as observed. I don't agree with those who believe that their omnipotent god created the universe via the mechanisms currently under examination by cosmologists, but unless they start claiming that every living thing on the planet is descended from a boatload of flood escapees a few thousand years ago, I have a hard time getting too worked up over it, when the real fundies are doing so much more overt damage.

quote:
Also, at the same time you are saying that nontheists have stupid ideas too, thus contradicting your idea that "irrational" religious people do bad things necessarily, and "rational" religious people don't.

I'm not sure if there are some words missing here, or I'm just failing to understand you fully. Looking at the second part of this sentence, it's fairly obvious that irrational theists will do bad things, "necessarily" if (and only if) their belief system says that they must do so. Regardless, I don't see how this contradicts anything to do do with nontheists dumb ideas (which are not in short supply), and don't see where Marf has implied this is the case.

John's just this guy, you know.
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JohnOAS
SFN Regular

Australia
800 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  18:47:05   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit JohnOAS's Homepage Send JohnOAS a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by marfknox
I was concerned at the accusation of "child abuse" in the discussion of sectarian schools because child abuse is something where typically the law intervenes. You did not advocate any solution to this problem of children being isolated and indoctrinated, but I fear that the label of "child abuse" might imply to some a solution of forced public schooling or some other type of infringement on parents' rights to raise their children how they see fit, so long as they do not physically harm their children.

This is a complex issue. Child abuse is generally not, and correctly in my opinion, restricted to physical harm. The case could easily be made that long term indoctrination is far more harmful than many forms of physical abuse. I don't think that "forced public schooling" is the solution, but I have no issue with third party (most likely government) intervention in cases where an institution, be it private, religious or state sponsored, is knowingly promoting ideas known to be harmful.

quote:
As far as American policies go, I hope fundamentalists will just opt to home-school their children; then maybe they will stop infiltrating school boards and trying to get public schools to teach creationism and advocate abstinence-only sex education.

That's really interesting. Sacrificing a few minds to simplify the protection of the majority? I'm not implying this was your specific intent, but that's more or less the outcome isn't it? As for fundamentalists homeschooling and not messing with the public education system, unfortunately I see no real evidence that the former will result in the latter. In fact, many fundamentalists' doctrines ensure that this is not the case.

I'm not sure I can articulate my absolute position on how far a parent's "rights" go in terms of how their children are raised. I can see the dangers of having to tow the majority line as defined by some statistical average of the population (ugh), but also see the case for some forms of oversight.

I admit I don't have the solution.


John's just this guy, you know.
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  23:29:49   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message
In response to Gorgo:
quote:
You have said that people with and without religion do all kinds of nasty things. Yet you contradict yourself by saying that "irrational" religion somehow causes people to do nasty things at a greater rate than others.
I did say that, but those two things do not contradict each other.
quote:
Where is your proof that one religion (that is, a point of view in which one believes in a supernatural ruler of the universe) is more "rational" than others, or that rational theists are more or less dangerous than anyone else based simply on their professed beliefs about the supernatural?
What the bloody hell are you talking about? I never said one religion is more rational than others. I said some types of faith are irrational (in that they directly contradict known scientific evidence) and other types of faith are relegated to only things which are not (yet) contradicted by scientific evidence. It is my opinion that the first type can be a motivating source for violent acts like suicide bombings, while the second type is benign (meaning the faith itself isn't going to motivate any violent action. That person might still do violent things motivated by some other source such as emotion or a non-religious irrational belief/ideology.)
quote:
So what if a few Muslims commit suicide? That is why is that somehow morally inferior to bombing city blocks without committing suicide? Is it more moral to be able to murder more people again and again?
No comprehendo.
quote:
Most Muslims do not commit suicide. Most "extremist" theists do not do anything any more extreme than some atheists.
You are half right. Most fundamentalists do not do extreme acts like killing abortion doctors or volunteer for suicide bombings. However, most do engage in milder forms of behavior that is destructive to human welfare, such as voting for conservative presidents because the Dem “advocate killing babies” and “gay marriage is an abomination”. They do infiltrate our school boards and try to get Creationism taught. Moderate believers not only don't engage in such stupidity, but they are frequently a force fighting against fundamentalists. That was my point.
quote:
I think the analogy with alcohol might be something to rethink. To say it's a good idea to encourage people to believe that the supernatural has some effect on reality is the same as saying it's a good idea to self-medicate with alcohol and other non-prescribed drugs.
The analogy was to point out that Dawkins slippery slope argument is false, and it is false. Your new analogy may not hold since neither you nor Dawkins have shown any evidence that moderate believers (as I have defined them: believers who only keep faith in things which do not contradict scientific evidence) experience any bad side effects of their faith.
quote:
You are saying that certain ideas, like those held by people who reject evolution, a

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

Edited by - marfknox on 07/17/2006 23:34:57
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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  23:30:43   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message
quote:
I certainly don't agree with everything Marf as posted, but the fact is, there are those with faith in some deity or other who's belief's don't trample on science and reality as observed.



There are people who believe in the intervention of the supernatural, and those who don't. Marf is either defending atheists who have no belief in the supernatural, or she has made some arbitrary dividing lines that I don't understand.

Again, I see no evidence that "extremists" and "fundamentalists" do more damage than so-called liberal theists and nontheists. Where is her evidence for that, if that is her premise?

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  23:39:56   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message
Gorgo wrote:
quote:
There are people who believe in the intervention of the supernatural, and those who don't. Marf is either defending atheists who have no belief in the supernatural, or she has made some arbitrary dividing lines that I don't understand.(my emphasis)


Wow. Really. Wow.

Well, let's quote my first post (with emphasis):

quote:
Likewise, while surely many fundamentalists began their dark path with a benign form of religious belief, plenty of other religious folks keep their faith relegated to matters where there is not scientific evidence to the contrary (such as the teapot orbiting the earth).
and
quote:
Yes, these people have religious faith, but unlike fundamentalists they do not confuse faith with knowledge that is backed by scientific evidence.


I really don't see how I could have made the distinction between what I'm defining as "moderates" and "fundamentalists" any clearer.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  23:45:24   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message
There is no evidence for the supernatural. In fact, the world would be quite different if there were a supernatural. You seem to be saying that some people who believe in the supernatural keep their belief within the realm of science somehow, and others don't. How is that possible?


Where is your evidence that fundamentalists are more dangerous in any way than non-fundamentalists?

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 07/17/2006 :  23:56:18   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message
JohnOAS wrote:
quote:
Child abuse is generally not, and correctly in my opinion, restricted to physical harm.
That is true – in America the law does intervene when parents fail to give their children a proper education either by making sure they attend school or home/private schooling that provides the bare minimum standards of a necessary education. Good point.

However, in a country where religious freedom and freedom of speech, how exactly does the law draw the line at certain types of religious “indoctrination”? Freedom of thought must be protected and I and I ACLU would fight on the side of the fundies if the state started telling them that certain “ideas” that are “known to be harmful” cannot be taught to their children. If adults are free to believe what they want, how can we say children aren't allowed to be taught those same beliefs. Sure, children can't choose for themselves, but they can when they are adults. Plenty of Amish leave their communities – and those are some of the most isolated communities in the modern world. The problem is so bad that most Amish communities are experiencing a genetic bottleneck that causes many diseases and disorders, or they are just disappearing entirely.

quote:
That's really interesting. Sacrificing a few minds to simplify the protection of the majority? I'm not implying this was your specific intent, but that's more or less the outcome isn't it?
The opposite solution does no less than sacrificing many parents' rights in an attempt to save a few minds. I do not trust the government to decide what ideas and religious beliefs are acceptable and what aren't. A free society isn't a perfect one, but no society is perfect.

quote:
As for fundamentalists homeschooling and not messing with the public education system, unfortunately I see no real evidence that the former will result in the latter. In fact, many fundamentalists' doctrines ensure that this is not the case.
If the parents are spending so much time homeschooling their children they have that much less time to lobby to change the policies for schools that their children do not even attend. They would also be much less personally emotionally invested. Not to mention that if they were forced against their will to send their kids to schools they did not approve of, they would be much more stirred toward action.

The current system works pretty well – there are certain things kids are required to know about in order to get their HS degree and be considered properly educated opposed to truant. Sure, fundamentalist parents teach these things sarcastically and only enough so the kid can pass the test, but the kid still gets exposure, which is more than the Amish kids get.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

Edited by - marfknox on 07/17/2006 23:56:39
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 07/18/2006 :  00:11:53   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message
quote:
There is no evidence for the supernatural.
Nope - no scientific evidence. No moderate believer says there is, and neither do I.

quote:
In fact, the world would be quite different if there were a supernatural.
Oh, now you're a theologian, are you? Please explain exactly how the world would be if there were the supernatural. Here I thought it wouldn't be any particular way at all since there are thousands of concepts of the supernatural. Certainly it would be quite different if the Christian fundamentalist concept of the supernatural were true, or the Australian Aboriginal concept of creation for that matter, but since neither of them have a monopoly on spiritual concepts of reality, neither concepts can be taken to represent all of what might be supernatural.

quote:
You seem to be saying that some people who believe in the supernatural keep their belief within the realm of science somehow, and others don't.
They separate faith and knowledge, and then they make knowledge superior to faith. In other words, if knowledge (something backed by scientific evidence) contradict a faith, that faith is considered wrong. But if knowledge doesn't contradict it, that faith might be right, so it is OK to believe in it if that is what seems true to the individual.

Think about stances on most political issues - that any given policy will result in x result is largely a guess. An educated guess, but a guess, and those guess are wrong even more often than they are right. Whether any given proposed solution to any given social ill is the one that will produce the best results can never be supported with concrete evidence. And yet we go ahead and support various politices. We support them passionately, even arrogantly. Sometimes we even demonize and slander those with opposite proposed solutions. We take those leaps of faith every day based not only on scientific evidence, but on intuition. The idea that we can or should function as purely rational beings is absurd. There is a reason we have intuition, and that reason is that it is useful when science can't help. So what the fuck is wrong with someone using their intuition on a religious issue that science (so far) has no beef with?

quote:
How is that possible?
Do you read any theology written by non-fundamentalists? Do you ever sit down and have long, open-minded talks with thoughtful, intelligent liberal Christians? Why don't you go do that and stop having this same argument with me over and over where I repeat the same things and next time you just forget everything that I explained.

quote:
Where is your evidence that fundamentalists are more dangerous in any way than non-fundamentalists?


I guess you don't pay attention to elections.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 07/18/2006 :  03:29:00   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message
quote:


I guess you don't pay attention to elections.



Where "liberal" theists vote for extreme right-wing theists? Where "liberal" theists and atheists vote for people who attack other countries and do their best to increase poverty and pollution? Sure? What's your point?

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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