How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Is there a God? If so, what is She like?

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Lacewing
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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Lacewing » Sat Aug 15, 2015 3:08 pm

Skip wrote:Humans who feel the need for their lives to have a meaning and purpose organize everything that happens to them, and everything they do, into stories. Since they only know a very small part of everything that happens, only their small, local, personal stories are - in any sense - true.
The inflated egos who need for all of human life to have meaning and purpose extrapolate their own stories onto other people, including those whose real experience they don't know, and insist on the other people accepting their version as true. The ones with the biggest, most fragile egos of all, who need the whole universe to have a meaning and purpose, project their own little stories over all that immensity about which know almost nothing, stretch their own image into a grotesquely distended mask, and demand that absurdity to be worshipped by all.
I meant to respond to this days ago -- I think this is a really good way to describe it, Skip.

Most religions don't push their stories onto everyone else. So I've wondered what happens within the mindset of many Christians, that makes them oblivious and/or in denial about their obsessive and egotistical intoxication with their religion's stories which they superimpose on the entire universe? Is there some kind of mental re-wiring that happens when they consider themselves "saved"? What are they saved from: being "poor human wretches", which they consider the rest of us to be? And they, as god's uniquely anointed soldiers, are in the superior position to dispense judgment, justice, and wisdom? And then they feel persecuted for their beliefs, and wonder why non-theists are so disgusted by it.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Philosophy Explorer » Sat Aug 15, 2015 3:21 pm

Lacewing wrote:
Skip wrote:Humans who feel the need for their lives to have a meaning and purpose organize everything that happens to them, and everything they do, into stories. Since they only know a very small part of everything that happens, only their small, local, personal stories are - in any sense - true.
The inflated egos who need for all of human life to have meaning and purpose extrapolate their own stories onto other people, including those whose real experience they don't know, and insist on the other people accepting their version as true. The ones with the biggest, most fragile egos of all, who need the whole universe to have a meaning and purpose, project their own little stories over all that immensity about which know almost nothing, stretch their own image into a grotesquely distended mask, and demand that absurdity to be worshipped by all.
I meant to respond to this days ago -- I think this is a really good way to describe it, Skip.

Most religions don't push their stories onto everyone else. So I've wondered what happens within the mindset of many Christians, that makes them oblivious and/or in denial about their obsessive and egotistical intoxication with their religion's stories which they superimpose on the entire universe? Is there some kind of mental re-wiring that happens when they consider themselves "saved"? What are they saved from: being "poor human wretches", which they consider the rest of us to be? And they, as god's uniquely anointed soldiers, are in the superior position to dispense judgment, justice, and wisdom? And then they feel persecuted for their beliefs, and wonder why non-theists are so disgusted by it.
Bob Evenson notwithstanding.

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Hobbes' Choice
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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Hobbes' Choice » Sat Aug 15, 2015 3:23 pm

Actually there is no necessary connection between meaning and purpose.

We all find meaning as an everyday part of our existence before the question about the universe having a 'purpose' is ever a question.
As children we all learn that everything else seems to have a purpose.
Din't stick your finger in the speaker - that is for playing music. Don't lick the toilet seat that for making a poo into. Don't spill ice-cream on your clothes they are for making you look good. ad infinitem.
In fact in our world of artefacts, and very little natural environment we are brought up to think that every thing is for something.
Then we ask why is it raining, then some idiotic parent tells them - so the plants will grow, and the seed of natural purpose has been sown. Disaster!
Then the false answers come thick and fast. The sun shines so we can have fun, the beach is there for us to swim in the sea.

"But surely, mother, we are adjusted to nature, nature is not adjusted to our needs!"

"What are you on about, you insufferable intellectual, here - play with your bucket and spade its for making a sand castle."

Skip
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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Skip » Sat Aug 15, 2015 5:51 pm

Lacewing wrote: Most religions don't push their stories onto everyone else.
Most religions are national - or tribal, if you prefer. The seers, kings, high priests, viziers or whatever their top morale officers are called do impose their world-view on the population with which they are concerned. The peasant, miner and midwife are all forced into the vision of the prelate; they're told their meaning, assigned their role, given their purpose. Foreigners and outsiders don't matter. Some of these old religions are tolerant of other beliefs, some are xenophobic, some expansionist, some insular, but none are produced for export.
So I've wondered what happens within the mindset of many Christians, that makes them oblivious and/or in denial about their obsessive and egotistical intoxication with their religion's stories which they superimpose on the entire universe?
Christianity was explicitly manufactured for export. Its original kernel (nothing very special: another young male demigod sacrificed at winter solstice and revived at spring equinox) was re-worked under the auspices of Rome. The creation story from Ur and Babylon by way of Hebrew mythology suited them quite well; it was just a matter of choosing and repackaging the old texts and faking up a few new ones. The one all-powerful god in that story fit nicely with the imperial model of governance and replaced the family-of-gods idea of most ancient religions, just as the anointed governor (later king) replaced any local council of elders or democratic process.

As the empire grew, so did the power of its god. Its priesthood and military governors imposed their top-down system of belief, along with that same style of rule, on the peoples they conquered - often by rather horrific means. The nations of Europe, and thus the successive empires that arose from the ruins of the Roman one, already had Christianity, and were equally ambitious, so they imposed it on the peoples they conquered. And, as their concept of the world (and eventually the universe) expanded, their god had to keep growing to fit the new picture, until the temperamental patriarch of a minor cattle-herder tribe in Mesopotamia became this immense, grotesque and incomprehensible deity of the American Empire.
Is there some kind of mental re-wiring that happens when they consider themselves "saved"? What are they saved from: being "poor human wretches", which they consider the rest of us to be?
Original sin. A brilliant propaganda concept.

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Gustav Bjornstrand
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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Gustav Bjornstrand » Sat Aug 15, 2015 7:21 pm

What you offer, Skip - in lovely, digestible narrative I should add - is the Marxian analysis of history applied to religion. It is a vision of reality, oddly enough, similar in reductive scope to the worst Christian reductions. The odd thing is that you have zero knowledge of Marx and yet you have absorbed its free-roaming Weltanschauung, which because of its reductive simplicity is highly saleable. It infects similarly to virulent and mindless religiosity - for example Mohamadism.

There are no narratives among those that have influence that do not have a coherent aspect or element, and the Marxian critique certainly has a link to 'reality'. Even a 'lying' or 'dishonest' narrative, to function, must have some level of truthfulness (verisimilitude) or it would not function at all. But what yours fails to take into consideration, and what it cannot consider - in its intense scepticism - it can neither see nor understand.

The vulgar Marxian critique, in the hands of vulgarians, ends up destroying more than just the possibility of belief in some invisible dimension, phantasy, imagination, projection or what have you. It destroys a whole upper level of intellect. Marxian ideas, generally speaking, and certainly the neo-Marxism that paradoxically is so virulent in the present, is a form of acid. Acid: reductionism: reductive thinking: Marxian-materialist thinking: those all function together.

  • "As spiteful as wasps and as unthinking."

Unfortunately, much more ends up destroyed than just the fragile intuited sense of connection to an invisible divinity and the concretions most people rely on to express that.

Thus, the prospect as not so much of destroying religiosity, or mystical relationship, but of bringing it all to another level entirely, comes back around as a question.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Skip » Sat Aug 15, 2015 9:53 pm

I wasn't talking about all religion; not even the universal human impulse to worship - just the historical facts of Christianity. Repeating the name of Marx - whom I have not invoked - and linking it with Mohammad - whom I have not mentioned, since his religion has a completely different aetiology and development - may be good propaganda, but not truth.

Which parts of my narrative are inaccurate? In those instances, what did happen, and where is the true story documented?
Thus, the prospect as not so much of destroying religiosity, or mystical relationship, but of bringing it all to another level entirely, comes back around as a question.
Did I mention that the several Christian empires wiped out hundreds, if not thousands, of native religions?
Are you prepared to defend the methods by which they did this?
What do you think happened, in residential schools and mission compounds, to the mystical relationships of the subject peoples with nature, with their own roots embodied in their language and creation myths, their continuity and heritage, with the divine as they and their ancestors had experienced it?

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Gustav Bjornstrand
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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Gustav Bjornstrand » Sun Aug 16, 2015 1:41 am

Did I read what you wrote wrong? When you proceed to mention 'seers, kings, high priests, viziers' etc. I assume you are speaking of all religious hierarchies, and Christianity as one among them.
Skip wrote:Most religions are national - or tribal, if you prefer. The seers, kings, high priests, viziers or whatever their top morale officers are called do impose their world-view on the population with which they are concerned. The peasant, miner and midwife are all forced into the vision of the prelate; they're told their meaning, assigned their role, given their purpose.
I understand what you say about Christianity, I think. I believe that I understand fairly well the critique. I have heard it - everyone has heard it - for many, many years. And any cogent narrative must have links to reality and to fact. Yet your overall implication - and if it is your opinion that is completely fine with me - is that Christianity is a destructive, even a criminal, historical movement. I think this is the gist of the conversations (sharing of agreements) that occur here when Christianity is discussed. My assertion, as you know, is that it is in no sense so simple, and the doctrines of Christianity, let us say at an inner level, and I say this as 'fact', have nourished very positive elements of culture. When I see these mean-spirited attacks, and even though I am not a Christian myself, I am inclined to defend (it is part of my nature). In any case: This is a public board and we should all be having fun as we engage in our polemics.

Your narrative, your discourse - I mentioned this over a year ago - is dripping with Marxian interpretation. The interpretation you offer is essentially Marxian. To mention Marxism one also must mention the Frankfurt School (very influential) and Critical Theory which has - I use the word 'infect' since I am not a big fan - infected our cultures from top to bottom. I am surprised that you don't get what I mean. If what I say is true, you don't have a firm grasp on the ideas that have informed your perception, and thus you are blind (in some sense and to use a common turn of phrase) to the metaphysical force of your view. But I notice it.

Mohammedism has been called 'frozen Judaism' and is an offshoot of Judaism though the separation occurred later. I mean only that it is one of the virulent forms of 'mad religion', and I grant you that some sects of Christianity are rather batty. But there is a very high aspect, too. And it is that part - the better part - that is core to our own civilisation.
Are you prepared to defend the methods by which they did this?
That is part of a reductionist, and even a little manipulative, narrative. To win my points I must agree to the evils of the Conquest. It is simply not a good question. Let me put it this way: The so called Aryas, who came down from the North, subdued and dominated the dark indigenous tribes of the tropical Indian subcontinent and through those processes created a civilisation, various civilisations.

China has been expanding, and contracting, for centuries and millennia, and surrounding cultures (for example historical Vietnam) have been resisting, but also incorporating, cultural elements from China for 800-1000 years. Same with Japan.

Rome, in its expansion, imposed on the territories it absorbed what we understand as civilisation, and of course law as we understand it. All of Europe is an outcome of Roman expansion, and we are all direct products of that. Numerous are the examples of regions petitioning Rome to become a part of the Roman project.

Incan civilisation conquered and then repopulated the incorporated area, moving the indigenous populations to other lands to break their sense of connection to 'their land' and thus created the Incan civilisation, which was remarkable and long-enduring. Civilisation is in many senses a price that one pays.

These processes occur - have occurred and likely will continue occurring - and as some things are destroyed, new things are born. Is your lament that the world is like this? There is quite honestly and factually no period, ever, where these sorts of things did not happen. If you were a real Marxist, naturally, you'd be clamouring for the 'end of history' in a paradisal worker's utopia. Certain communist states have been attempted with this ideology. Modern China comes out of all that.

What you do with your narrative is wield it in a Marxian-critical manner. It is not neutral. It has and proposes ends, even if you are not aware of those ends, nor the degree that you embody the narrative. It cannot be said that all of that is 'bad' either. Critical Theory and its reach into the Academy is not all 'bad'. Yet: it is a form of acid and it tends to corrode in all manner of different areas. Therefore, it is wise to be aware of it, to have some self-consciousness of it. That of course is only my opinion.

My view is that the Critical Narrative is not benign, it is active and determining. (It is acidic overall and yet not all acid-elements are 'bad'.)

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Skip » Sun Aug 16, 2015 3:58 am

Gustav Bjornstrand wrote:Did I read what you wrote wrong? When you proceed to mention 'seers, kings, high priests, viziers' etc. I assume you are speaking of all religious hierarchies, and Christianity as one among them.
Yes, you did read it wrong. I was answering Lacewing's question about what makes Christianity different. Christianity is most distinctly not among the national or tribal religions; is being contrasted against them.

All formal religions assign roles and functions to the people who practice them; all civilized formal religions have a strong political component; the imperial hybrids, like the Greek and early Roman adaptations of their own pagan religion to the local customs of occupied territories are 90% propaganda. Christianity is unique, as far as I know, in having been custom made for a culture outside of its country of origin and then tailored to fit each European nation as it gained ascendency.
I believe that I understand fairly well the critique.
What critique? I've said nothing about the religion itself, its content or practice, except a passing mention of the two central figures. The burden of my post was about the difference between an organic local product and one imposed by conquerors - why the second grows so much bigger.
Yet your overall implication - and if it is your opinion that is completely fine with me - is that Christianity is a destructive, even a criminal, historical movement.
That its carriers destroyed indigenous cultures is hard to refute. As for criminality, I haven't the authority to judge. Just telling the story.
Your narrative, your discourse - I mentioned this over a year ago - is dripping with Marxian interpretation.
My story may be drippy, but the Marx fixation is yours, not mine.
To win my points I must agree to the evils of the Conquest. It is simply not a good question.
Okay. You don't have to comment on methods. But you did concur with my conclusion:
Rome, in its expansion, imposed on the territories it absorbed what we understand as civilisation, and of course law as we understand it. All of Europe is an outcome of Roman expansion, and we are all direct products of that.
Also, by extension, the Americas, Australia, parts and pockets of Asia and Africa.
If you were a real Marxist, naturally, you'd be clamouring for the 'end of history' in a paradisal worker's utopia.
How is what I would do if I were something I'm not, relevant to how Christianity differs from tribal cults?
It has and proposes ends, even if you are not aware of those ends,
Then tell me what they are.

I think all religions are absurd; many are evil. The same with ideologies. That's not to say spirituality and ideals are bad - in fact, we'd be a far meaner, and perhaps even crazier, species without those. It's when those deep personal longings of individual humans are co-opted and subsumed by a political-economic-military machine that they become destructive - especially to the harnessed souls themselves.
Last edited by Skip on Sun Aug 16, 2015 4:08 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Obvious Leo » Sun Aug 16, 2015 4:01 am

Gustav Bjornstrand wrote: I assume you are speaking of all religious hierarchies,
In the entire anthropological record very few religions are hierarchical. It is not an oddity solely restricted to Abrahamic monotheism but predominantly so, for obvious reasons. The monogod of the Egyptian psychopath Amenhotep IV was a god of VENGEANCE. He was to be FEARED and OBEYED.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Lacewing » Sun Aug 16, 2015 3:49 pm

Skip wrote: Christianity was explicitly manufactured for export.
Skip, thoroughly enjoyed your responses to my questions. So clear and sensible... and shocking to think of how such beliefs still hold a grip today, in a culture that thinks it is so "advanced"? (But then... Donald Trump is leading in the polls too!) It says much. I think we must have a good sense of humor amidst the madness of who we collectively are.
Gustav wrote: Unfortunately, much more ends up destroyed than just the fragile intuited sense of connection to an invisible divinity and the concretions most people rely on to express that.
Skip wrote: What do you think happened, in residential schools and mission compounds, to the mystical relationships of the subject peoples with nature, with their own roots embodied in their language and creation myths, their continuity and heritage, with the divine as they and their ancestors had experienced it?
YES! Christians seem to think that their belief/worship of a god is the highest order of intuitive connection there is? And, in doing so, they lose understanding of, and respect for, ALL of the intuitive connections people have with nature... which is of an even BROADER perspective, in my opinion, than a single "figurehead" of some sort. Christianity identifies these nature connections/beliefs as a threat/evil... even though their god supposedly "created" all of it. The Christian beliefs seem so convoluted and inconsistent and contrived for human purposes, that, for me, it's difficult to consider them as truly spiritual. I guess that's because, for me, what is truly spiritual is what is truly natural.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Gustav Bjornstrand » Sun Aug 16, 2015 4:22 pm

Lacewing wrote:YES! Christians seem to think that their belief/worship of a god is the highest order of intuitive connection there is? And, in doing so, they lose understanding of, and respect for, ALL of the intuitive connections people have with nature... which is of an even BROADER perspective, in my opinion, than a single "figurehead" of some sort. Christianity identifies these nature connections/beliefs as a threat/evil... even though their god supposedly "created" all of it. The Christian beliefs seem so convoluted and inconsistent and contrived for human purposes, that, for me, it's difficult to consider them as truly spiritual. I guess that's because, for me, what is truly spiritual is what is truly natural.
We are speaking on different levels. You (and Skip) are speaking to a common, lower-dimension, vulgar Christian form. But if I mention the 'higher intuitive connection' I am speaking of people like Goethe and Schiller and Hermann Hesse, for example. These are men who come from and out of a Christian tradition, and yet are men who have extended the parameters of Christian understanding to the East and opened up Occidental understanding, and thus expanded the very definition and possibility of Christianity.

The problem is in use of one sole word - Christianity - to refer to what is complex and varied. In the case of Hesse, who might be emblematic of what I refer to as good and worthy of Christian traditions in Europe, his grandparents were missionaries in India (if memory serves) and they developed profound relationships with and understanding of the eastern religious forms. Siddartha is a book not about the East or Buddhism but an expression about a man's relationship to the possibilities of his own religion and metaphysic. I could speak, literally, of dozens of examples.

What you are desirous to accomplish and enact is a slap-down of the sort of Christians for whom you have pure contempt. And those sentiments are not invalid, by no means.
The Christian beliefs seem so convoluted and inconsistent and contrived for human purposes...
Curious to know what religion you are familiar with that is not convoluted, inconsistent, and not contrived 'for human purposes'?

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Skip » Sun Aug 16, 2015 5:08 pm

The apologists of upper-crust of Christian tradition - who cite the best artists and writers their nations have produced - are wedded to the twin convictions that 1. modern Western Civilization as we know it is the best possible civilization and 2. that no other cultures could have produced overachievers in art and literature, or that these same men could not have achieved under different systems. (They prefer not to notice that the system which produced such great men wasted the other half of its potential achievers... and 90% of its "common" people's potential.)

They often refer to the great philosophers, also, but I try to overlook that gaffe and refrain from pointing out that those very bright guys, who might otherwise have been productive members of society, spent their lives in a fruitless circular exercise: defending crazy contradictory belief systems. Sometimes I fail, just as they did.
They often describe other religions and other cultures as doing the same kind of things as their own have done. This doesn't go very far in convincing us of the goodness of Christianity or the superiority of European culture; it merely reminds us that all human civilizations have been aggressive, ruthless, destructive and oppressive. I already knew this and didn't recommend the Egyptian or Japanese or Aztec civilizations as preferable - though they all had great art and literature, legal codes and civil service and other stuff their apologists were proud of.
Inability to imagine a better alternative is not proof that this is the best we can have.

And, of course, it's no excuse at all to promote Abraham's fantasy avatar to king of the whole mind-blowingly big universe.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Gustav Bjornstrand » Sun Aug 16, 2015 5:37 pm

It's more of the same, Skip:

An acidic, excavating discourse the intention of which is to undermine, devalue, and degrade. It is levelled against your own self, essentially. It is 'the European grammar of self-intolerance' that Bowden speaks of. Because you have never had any one successfully define it as such - to name your disease - it is all new to you. And that is as it should be.

That is its purpose: to undermine. It really doesn't matter what are the elements or specifics of that discourse, it is the animus that determines.

Western civilisation - in the sense of nation/state, municipal, and governmental organisation, in terms of jurisprudence, in terms of intellectual culture, of university and the opening of scientific possibilities - is the standard now by which world culture measures itself. What 'we' achieved, they want. Not the other way around. At the higher dimension in philosophy, in ethics, in the definitions of human possibilities, in technology, math and nearly all else, it is the Occident that has done far more than its share, and offers astounding riches to a world community. It is these riches that have transformed and continue to transform.

It is Western culture - exclusively - which has allowed for a radical new definition of woman, and has allowed for women to integrate in culture in ways that are setting the standard for the whole world. This did not come out of Vedic culture, or Chinese or Persian culture, nor out of any South American culture Aztec, Toltec of Mayan, but directly out of Greek and Roman achievements filtered through a European Protestant reformation lens.

The 'fruitless circular exercise' has allowed for the highest level of Conversation to occur, and is a world-standard, and allows for communication of ideas at a universal level. From all over the world people come to learn about it, to participate in it, and to bring its transforming possibilities back to their own cultures where, as ideas and possibilities, they transform.

What you do, Skip, and what is clearly seen in all your efforts, is work like the devil to undermine very valuable achievement because you have a core and virulent hatred in you. It is a momentum that has taken possession of your ideas, and it is exactly that which I describe as 'destructive' and 'an acid'. You and millions just like you have drunk down the same poison. You proceed to proselytise with religious zeal.
...that no other cultures could have produced overachievers in art and literature, or that these same men could not have achieved under different systems.
Name them, Skip. Describe the states and cultures that have allowed for these 'achievements'. We can describe great things in many different cultures, no doubt, but we cannot locate the transformative impulse that has remoulded the world. It arose in Europe.

Ideas have consequences, and yours are having and will have consequences.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Skip » Sun Aug 16, 2015 6:11 pm

We can describe great things in many different cultures, no doubt, but we cannot locate the transformative impulse that has remoulded the world.
Why can't you? Lack of imagination? Myopia? Autism?

People are people. They come with a pretty standard issue hardware, formed by the same evolutionary processes, on the same planet. They go through the same developmental phases. Wherever they build civilizations, those civilizations have the same features: a pyramidal power structure, specialization of functions, carrot-and-stick formal morality, codified law, regulated trade and commerce, coinage, art and culture: armed forces, bureaucrats, labourers, aristocrats, entertainers, police, farmers, tax collectors, snake-oil salesmen, artisans, pimps, beggars, chroniclers, and very often, professional mourners.

What transformative impulse? Every empire remoulds the world. Every empire, at its zenith, thinks its will be forever. Some fail early, some last a few centuries. Then they're replaced by the next empire that thinks it's be-all and end-all. In decline, they all go into a frenzy of denial and chest-thumping. It's an embarrassment to witness.
My take on this has no consequences: I'm a totally powerless bystander, watching it crumble.
Last edited by Skip on Sun Aug 16, 2015 6:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Gustav Bjornstrand » Sun Aug 16, 2015 6:19 pm

Once again, all that follows from the determining doctrines. It levels everyone and everything, and cannot recognise distinction. People are indeed people, but what is it that lends transformative power to a people, a culture, an historical moment that produces effects that - literally - transform the world? To answer that question will involve months if not years of research and reading. As I have said, yours is a simple, virulent, a reductive Marxism. It is basic Marxist historical analysis.

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