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Arguing with theists
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donatello Offline
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Post: #1
Arguing with theists

I often get into arguments with theists about god and religion. These theists are usually what you would call moderates - they believe what they believe and don't care about what other religions say or even about what is happening in politics. They are often reasonable people, but they refuse to take their blinkers off.

I argue with them usually to point out the horrible/disgusting things done in the name of their religion, with the ultimate aim of de-converting them, but usually with the minimum aim of trying to get them to think about their religion's intrinsic faults.

I often meet the strong believer with whom its quite difficult to even to get them see a different point of view of their own religion. These people are not fundamentalist as far as I can see - they don't try to dictate their morals to others. Their usual argument is rather poor. They ask if I have read the holy books of their religion well. If I say no (as is often the case), they somehow have gained the moral high-ground in the argument/conversation and they mentally shut their ears to whatever else I have to say.

For example, many Hindus say that the caste system is being taken out of the context in which it was intended, and when asked what this damned context is, they say that I should go read the Bhagavad Gita or something else. At this point, I'm too angered and I swear and leave. I am certainly not inclined to read the bloody Gita or the Bible in detail at this time, so how do others handle these kind of arguments? Would it make sense to build a repertoire of excerpts from these books and use them? I know there are plenty of articles that do these for the Judeo-Christian faiths. How about Hinduism?

Aditya Manthramurthy
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Nirmukta.com
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mohankarthik Offline
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Post: #2
RE: Arguing with theists

Hey Donatello smile

Well, for me, its a lil more simple since I actually know most of the stories from Hindi mythology! Its quite fun, you should read, its like a fantasy book! When you read, it becomes painfully obvious that the characters are very human and sometimes downright sneaky / in human! And its very obvious that no "god" would ever behave that way.

I want to write a lot more, but i'm very confused at the moment after reading the dating and commitment thread, and my mind is a little too blank. But all I can say is that knowing the lore on which their god is based, helps a lot.

One other thing i've come to notice is that there are a lot of people who do not believe in a religion, but believe in a super natural! They generally say that they have a "feeling" that somethings there that runs the show. How the hell do you argue against people like this.

http://www.mohankarthik.com/
http://www.facebook.com/mohan.karthik
http://www.youtube.com/user/nemesisnitt
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Lije Offline
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Post: #3
RE: Arguing with theists

Hinduism's greatest boon is the inaccessibility of its scriptures. Written in cryptic Sanskrit with a lot of room for interpretation, anyone can pick a scripture that suits their beliefs. With shifting goalposts, it is very hard to show Hindu theists the harm their religion is causing. Some literature does exist that is very critical of the scriptures, but it can be hard to find. Here are a few on top of my head:

Dr. Kamath's articles on Nirmukta.com make a good critique of Brahmanism in the Vedas, Upanishads and the Gita.

There is this book which I plan to get my hands on - The Poisonous Tree of Ramayana. Many Hindus believe Rama as the epitome of moral and ethical behavior, a God figure. But in Ramayana he just comes across as another regular guy with his own biases and weaknesses. Applying Ram Rajya morals to today's India can lead to some unsavory situations.

And then there is Manusmriti, a misogynist racist masterpiece. So shameless it is in its recommendations that some Hindu apologists have disowned it. But many of its ideas still find good support among Hindus.

As to casteism, the big books of Hinduism implicitly support it. Nowhere will you find them explicitly condemning the Varna/Jati dharma. For example, the Gita says "It is far better to discharge one's prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another's duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one's own duty is better than engaging in another's duties, for to follow another's path is dangerous." (3.35). Here the duty is that of one's Varna. In Mahabharat when Yudhishthira inquires about Kaliyuga, Markandeya mentions "Brahmanas and Kshatriyas and Vaisyas will be reduced to an equality with the Sudras" as one of the evils of Kaliyuga.

There is also the arrogance aspect of Hinduism that has held back scientific inquiry. Some Hindus firmly believe that the scriptures know everything about the Universe and the rest of the world is inhabited by troglodytes who are just discovering civilization. Al-Beruni, a Persian scholar was quick to notice that conceit when he visited India in the 11th century.

Also, I believe that it is important to know the context in which a scripture was written. For example, for many Hindus Vedas represent a golden age where everything was happy and dandy. But they were created by pastoral people who had sufficient food to eat and plenty of land to roam around on. Applying vedic ideals to present day India can be counterproductive. Many theists just don't understand the context in which scriptures were created.
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astrokid.nj Offline
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Post: #4
RE: Arguing with theists

Well.. even if we debunk a large number of the religious foundations/stories, the hardcore religious people we directly debate with arent gonna change. The goddamn thing just endures in them.

for e.g the other day, a believer was telling me some story about (Lord) Rama in his childhood, when his mother showed him a mirror, ...
I said.. whoa..hold it.. where did she get a mirror from? how old is the Ramayana.. apparently.. tens of thousands of years ago..
Did people have mirrors back then? You know how difficult it is to make mirrors.. metal mirrors are pretty difficult to make.. and modern-day glass mirrors with aluminium-deposited at the back was invented not too long ago..
end of conversation... only to resurface some much later day.. back to square one..

Likewise astrology.. someone tells me that the horoscope of (Lord) Krishna.. I say.. whoa.. somebody knows exactly when Krishna was born? the time?? in minutes? They say.. yeah.. well.. how did they measure the time to that accuracy back in the day? The earliest clocks.. sundials/water clocks.. couldnt have possibly been that accurate..
end of conversation.. only to resurface some much later day.. back to square one..

I now ask them directly.. what exactly do I need to do to show you the falsity of religion... no answer..

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has - Margaret Mead
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Cityboy Offline
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Post: #5
RE: Arguing with theists

Donatello,

English translations of religious texts are available on the Internet at http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/index.htm

Whether one needs to spend considerable time going thru full texts depends on what it takes to provide evidence for a claim, and what it takes to rebut a claim. The nature of the claim matters.

I often claim that but for the creation hymn (also known as Nasadiya hymn) in the Rig Veda, there is no other hymn in the 4 Vedas that is impressive. This claim is a falsifiable claim and I challenge those who are shocked to produce me one hymn (beyond the creation hymn) from the 4 Vedas that is impressive. To date, I have not heard from anyone and the silence means they were not successful. I have merely read some verses from the 4 Vedas randomly and see no need to read the entire text.

Why is it important to show the Vedas are simply poetry and not profound? Because per Hinduism, Vedas are revealed word (Apaprusheya Shruti) and superior to Smriti (e.g. Manusmriti).

If you want to show Vedas supported casteism, all you need is one verse that supports it. That verse is the Purusha Sukta.

The Gita acquired centrality in Hinduism much later, though in Bollywood movies, the Gita is given a prominent place and equated with the Bible and Koran. The Gita has verses that support casteism. Please feel free to ask me if you are interested.
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Cityboy Offline
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Post: #6
RE: Arguing with theists

(18-08-2010 03:46 PM)mohankarthik Wrote:  One other thing i've come to notice is that there are a lot of people who do not believe in a religion, but believe in a super natural! They generally say that they have a "feeling" that somethings there that runs the show. How the hell do you argue against people like this.

Yes, some people are embarassed by features in religions, but retain a belief in God. Some are embarassed to call it god, and use words like "the force", "superconsciousness" ... and other mumbo jumbo. Soul (Atma) is one such word, in Dwaita as well as Advaita.

Before arguing, I have found it helpful to probe. One can ask whether this "force" or "supernatural" has any characteristics - does it have preferences, can it perceive, can it change things, is it amenable to appeal, is it merciful and benign, ... and proceed depending on what the responses are. Usually, these characteristics will turn out to be contradictory.

Advaita and Sankara cop out completely when probed as described above - the soul is odorless, shapeless, massless, energyless, has no desires/preferences, ... it is nothing. Then one can ask, why bother about it?

The statement "There exists a dog with diamond teeth" is a non-falsifiable statement, by construction i.e. there is no conceivable evidence that will invalidate the claim. When I say "God exists" is not falsifiable, many theists get happy. Then I point out that it is so by construction and equivalent to "Yeti exists" and "Dog with diamond teeth exists". Non-falsifiable statements are useful only when there is evidence supporting them. In the absence of evidence, I ask theists why they do not believe "Yeti exists" or "Dog with diamond teeth exists".
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Captain Mandrake Offline
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Post: #7
RE: Arguing with theists

(16-01-2013 02:45 AM)Cityboy Wrote:  I often claim that but for the creation hymn (also known as Nasadiya hymn) in the Rig Veda, there is no other hymn in the 4 Vedas that is impressive.

I have never heard of the creation hymn. Googled it and found it here.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasadiya_Sukta

It sure does read nice. But is the beauty of it in the way it has been translated? Is it impressive in the original language as well? You know, very often little babies blabber some gibberish but their proud parents translate that into something more meaningful. Is something like that happening in this creation hymn (and other archaic poetry that often gets translated) as well?

PS: I apologize to the moderators for digressing from the theme of the thread.
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arvindiyer Offline
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Post: #8
RE: Arguing with theists

(17-01-2013 07:43 AM)Captain Mandrake Wrote:  http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasadiya_Sukta

It sure does read nice. But is the beauty of it in the way it has been translated?

The concern about self-serving distortions in apologist translations is quite well-founded and it is raised here often, like in this instance of bovine exceptionalism thrust in by a translator, or in this instance where an apologist bases conclusions on a dubious translation rather than the original.

However in the case in point, the translation seems to be one of considerable fidelity. I couldn't find the Sukta recited online, but something that is close is this near-verbatim translation into Hindi beginning with the original Rig Vedic stanza, in this clip from Bharat Ek Khoj. Advocates of 'Indian secularism', which is often mistaken for ecumenism, like Shashi Tharoor, quote this hymn ad nauseam as supposed evidence for skepticism and liberalism in the Indian ethos. However, as is discussed in this thread on the Vedas, it will take more than a stray cherrypicked instance like this one to establish the inerrancy and supremacy that is claimed for the Vedas.
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Cityboy Offline
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Post: #9
RE: Arguing with theists

Quote: I couldn't find the Sukta recited online, ..

Here are some links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15sEQnuIG4k (starting about 15:50 minutes into the video)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN5xgf9gFeo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZ3Fnopw_v0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrUA6d_KjkQ
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Cityboy Offline
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Post: #10
RE: Arguing with theists

(17-01-2013 07:43 AM)Captain Mandrake Wrote:  It sure does read nice. But is the beauty of it in the way it has been translated? Is it impressive in the original language as well? You know, very often little babies blabber some gibberish but their proud parents translate that into something more meaningful. Is something like that happening in this creation hymn (and other archaic poetry that often gets translated) as well?

Your question is important. The way I check is by trying to read translations by different people, including those who were not Hindutvavaadis or participants in the Hindu awakening of the 19th century.

A statement "Small things are powerful" cannot be taken as evidence of knowledge of nuclear power. However in the case of the Nasadiya hymn, the literal translation is evidence that the composers had questions, wondered about the origin of the world, and speculated that birth, death, water, and even gods came after the origin. It even wonders if the one it presumes is in a place up there knows the origin or not.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv10129.htm
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arvindiyer Offline
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Post: #11
RE: Arguing with theists

(17-01-2013 11:30 AM)Cityboy Wrote:  Here are some links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15sEQnuIG4k (starting about 15:50 minutes into the video)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN5xgf9gFeo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZ3Fnopw_v0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrUA6d_KjkQ

Hearing these renditions, the traditional variants of which UNESCO considers part of the 'intangible heritage of humankind', one can't help note that this heritage is now composed of sounds committed to memory rather than their sense extended in ongoing exploration. The much-vaunted civilizational continuity of which such oral traditions are flaunted as an example, has been a continuity of form rather than one of inquiry. The Sukta-chanters who are the supposed custodians of this heritage treat it as their calling to replicate the ritualized sounds rather than explicate, let alone put to the test, the philosophical speculation that those sounds articulate. Such sanctification of the letter of scripture that almost enjoined suspension of judgment and discouraged application of logic, has been a major contributor to civilizational decline elsewhere as well. When such a suspension of inquiry and adherence to tradition becomes religiously enforced, it is no wonder that the Nasadiya Sukta, millennia after composition, is still hailed by some Indophiles as almost the last word in scientific inquiry, even though it now sounds like an 'ode to cluelessness' now that credible models for the origin of the Universe are available for all but the first 10^(-34) seconds of its origin.

Such suspension of animated inquiry into frozen scripture happened not only to Vedic hymns but also to what maybe called secular texts like grammarian's manuals! Panini's pratyahara system of rules which has at its core an arrangement of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet in a taut manner that allows economical statement of rules, is widely acclaimed as a masterpiece of the grammarian's science and art. The term pratyahara with connotations of 'compression' or 'packing in' seems quite a functional and descriptive identifier. That of course was unsatisfactory to the revisionists of later times who had to devise a story of the pratyahara formulae occuring to Panini in a dream where Shiva appeared and sounded the formulae to him with his drum! So, the 'pratyahara sutras' got labeled as 'Shiva Sutras' in a process of religious usurpation of a secular enterprise and today, they are treated as chants in their own right! Here is a musical rendition of the same by Pandit Jasraj and party:



When this record was first released, there was an unforgettable comment I heard, wherein a bemused commenter remarked that this exercise is somewhat like setting E=mc^2 to tune and singing it in choirs with zero understanding of physics!

Several conversation-starters with theists maybe found if we insist on unlocking the intended and potential sense in the chants beloved to these worshippers of sounds.
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Cityboy Offline
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Post: #12
RE: Arguing with theists

Arvind,

I agree with your submissions. Reverence stifles inquiry. It applies as much to Tagore's works as to the Vedas. For many Bengalis, Tagore is God and even a legitimate critical look at his works is viewed as heresy. India has not been unique in bowing to reverence or not exploiting early manifestations of the spirit of inquiry. Even within India, Vedas are not uniquely revered. Among the Dalits, there is reverence of Ambedkar. Among adherents of the Dravidian movement, there is reverence of Periyar. Shivaji is god of Maharashtra. Thirukural is revered by many Tamilians.
(This post was last modified: 18-01-2013 01:40 AM by Cityboy.)
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