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Ian Petersen
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Post number one in what promises to be a very interesting perspective on philosophy of religion.
 
What I Learned Teaching Philosophy of Religion: Post # 1

Stereotypes about believers and nonbelievers or why you shouldn't think it’s simple.

First:

When I started teaching this class I had certain preconceptions molded by the loudest voices on religion of what sorts of people I would find in my classroom.  Those preconceptions were wrong.  My students were all complex people that didn’t fit neatly into any stereotypes.

I also quickly learned that when you are teaching a subject like this you cannot (or should not) express doubt that a person really believes what they say they believe.  To do so would be poisonous to the teacher-student relationship.  Even more importantly, you cannot (or should not) express any kind of disrespect for the content of a student’s beliefs and (mark this well) everyone can tell what you are thinking.  Your face is being examined for any tell as if you were in the poker game of your life.

So, generate some sympathy and respect for your students - that will spill over to respecting their intelligence/experience and thereby also their beliefs.

Two uses of the word “belief”: When I use the word belief I usually mean it in the normal philosophical way; i.e. ‘a truth functional attitude toward a proposition’.  For example, “I believe today is Friday” expresses the attitude, “It is true that today is Friday.”  It is important that you recognize that this version of belief is not terribly exciting - unless you are into epistemology it is pretty much trivial.  No one puts their life on the line for a belief of this sort.  The other sort of belief is more akin to ‘trust’, “I believe you,” or normative value, “I believe in doing unto others as I would have them do unto me.”  I will try to be clear which kind of belief I am talking about.

Second:

~My Type of X-Belief is the Only Real Version: Almost everyone is tempted to be contemptuous of those whose beliefs are similar but different.  “X isn’t a real Christian” or “X doesn’t count as Atheism.”  To which I will simply say in my new found internet speak: orly? and be careful.

~Representativeness: My classroom may not be representative but it was nonetheless my experience.

At any rate, you may be surprised at the variety of beliefs I have witnessed:

Religious Types

Evangelical Christians If you are a lifelong atheist these may be the only people you think of when you think of Christians.  They are by far the most likely to speak about their religious beliefs.  What sets them apart is their deeply held belief that those who do not believe as they do will spend eternity being tormented.  Now, you may or may not believe this, but the Evangelical Christians in my classroom were genuinely moved by this to want to “save” as many people as possible.  That is, the desire to convert you comes from compassion.  They don’t believe in a pyramid scheme or anything.  They’re not building up brownie points. The ones in my class really despised folks like Westboro Baptist Church goers.  Of course, WBC types are not likely to sign up for a philosophy of religion class - or didn’t sign up for mine at least.

Mainstream, populous religions: These are: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism (I’m probably leaving some out but these are the ones I can remember being represented in my classroom.)  I am distinguishing these mainstream Christians from the evangelicals because they simply do not like to (or have an aversion to) trying to convert people.  These people make up the silent majority of religious people.  If you are an evangelical or an atheist, you may not even know they exist because they usually will not talk to you about their religious views.  They do not wear their religion on their sleeves.  Their political views vary widely but their religious views tend to be moderate.  Most disagree with evangelicals that if you don’t believe what they believe then you will go to Hell (or the relevant version thereof depending on the religion we’re talking about.)  Evangelicals and atheists tend to have condescending attitudes toward this type Christian because they are perceived to be not “true believers”, not serious - conversely, mainstream Christians usually see evangelicals as cultish.

Note how the preceding paragraph didn’t say much about the Buddhists, Taoists, Jews or Hindus mentioned in the first sentence.  There’s a good reason for that.  The Atheists in my classrooms mainly ignored them.  Their beef was with the Christians.  And the Christians mainly ignored them as well.  That always struck me as odd.  I had to work hard to try to keep the class from becoming a debate between the evangelicals and the atheists (who both were disgusted by the mainstream Christians.)  When I could get the other groups to participate, their attitudes were not that different from the mainstream Christians.  I am not trying to conflate them, just pointing out something interesting.  There was a general mainstream attitude.

So what was that attitude?  “Dude, chill out.  The point of religion is to help you be a good person.  To teach you how to love your neighbor and to be a happier person.  You’re focusing too much on that one line in the (insert Scripture here).”  This group often had differences of opinion on the various topics that came up but they were not the type to go looking for kindling at the end of a disagreement so that the heretics could be burned alive.  This was the live-and-let-live group.

They saw religion as a private matter that should not intrude on public life.  And that is why the evangelicals hated them.  It’s also why the atheists had no respect for them, as we’ll see.

Spiritualists This category includes people who hold what I would usually call religious beliefs except that they take issue with the adjective ‘religious’ because while they may hold very similar beliefs they do not like organized religions.  This group usually held fairly mainstream views but with more variety and more sampling from other religions.  They certainly agreed with the mainstream folks that religious beliefs should not intrude into public decisions.  For example, spiritualists would not agree with the Indiana freedom of religion provisions.

Spiritualists are very independent, given to seeing their beliefs as evolving over time and have no patience for the evangelicals or the atheists.  They get along well with mainstreamers individually but don’t trust their organized religions.  They are not particularly worried if their beliefs, at any given time, are not consistent.  To them, that’s not the purpose of believing.  The evangelicals and atheists tend to have a harder time understanding spiritualists.  I think this group is so different that they tend to defy easy categorization.  As we’ll see, the same can be said from some others.

These students were some of the most engaged in my classes. I suspect it was because of their independence and curiosity that the issues and arguments we went over never really “pushed” any of their buttons.  To them, experiencing philosophy of religion was like that of a music-lover exploring a huge used record store with a manager that let them play any record they laid their hands on.  In short, they seemed to have a blast.

I don’t think the general population thinks about spiritualists when they make blanket statements about believers.

Reboots and Anti-establishment: Examples: Druidism, Isis, Nordic gods, (too many to list all.)

This group is like the Spiritualists in terms of the independent streak.  But they also have a lot in common atheists.  In fact, some in this group have so much in common with atheists that I put them into another category below - straddlers.

But to be in this group, one has to take one’s religion seriously.  Members of this group feel themselves to be members of religions that are every bit as legitimate as the mainstream religions.  They have their own holidays, their own rituals, their own roles and traditions.  For them, their religious beliefs also play pivotal meaning-of-life purposes.  This is serious stuff, and outsiders would be well advised to recognize it.

The reboots are new religions derived from what we know about their ancient originals with additions supplied by modern practitioners.  These religions speak to these practitioners in a way that modern religions just don’t.  There is often a focus on nature and spirits.  This group seemed to enjoy the class.  Like the spiritualists, they tended to be more open to evolution in their beliefs.

The anti-establishment religions are ones that have been around for quite a while in their general current form but in some ways are rebellions against what they see as common religious themes of conformity and subservience.  This latter group of people never tended to stay in class that long.  I don’t think it was rebellious enough for them.  I’m not sure. 

Again, I don’t think the general public ever thinks about these people as being religious.  That’s actually pretty inconsiderate.

Straddlers People who straddle the line between serious and silly on openly fictional deities like the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

This group is perhaps the hardest to define.  I can’t put them with the atheists because they are just a bit too serious about their religious beliefs for that.  On the other hand, I can’t put them with the spiritualists (or any other religious group) because they aren’t serious enough to qualify.

This group laughs at themselves in a way.  Take, for example, the Flying Spaghetti Monster followers in this group.  Now, I know that a lot of people pretend to worship FSM and are really atheists.  But this group takes it further.  They say, “I know it’s a fiction but it’s a fiction that I really, really like.  It’s a fiction that gives me a higher purpose.  So, I do take it seriously.  For me, it’s more than an internet prank.  It’s my religion (and no, I’m not being sarcastic).”

And you would be wise to acknowledge their statement.  The thing I find most intriguing about this group is that they entertain two disparate views of themselves and what they are doing at the same time.  For them, the concepts of fiction and non-fiction blur and merge when the issue is religious belief.  Again, I think this is because they share the spiritualist tendency to see religious belief as being about meaning-of-life not facts.

Atheism

There were at least three types of overlapping atheism in my classroom:

Religion is bad atheism:  This form of atheism is as much about opposing religious people and religions on moral grounds as it is about denying the existence of deities.  Similar to anti-establishment groups, this sort of atheist is most driven to speak up by evangelicals who deny evolution, anthropogenic climate change, same-sex marriage, etc.  In this sense, it is a moral stance as much as it is an epistemological stance.

Religious beliefs are unjustified atheism: This form of atheism is fairly relaxed about proof.  They do not claim to know that there are no deities, they are simply arguing that without any sufficient proof they are not going to believe.  Thier stance is about epistemology.  And they see religious belief as not being about meaning-of-life (or at least not primarily) but about the facts.  As such, they have come to the conclusion that the facts at this point do not support theism of any kind.

Atheism is proven atheism:  This form of atheism is far more assertive.  They also see religious belief as being primarily about facts but unlike their counterparts they believe they have all the relevant facts required to claim absolute certainty.

 While both tend to believe that religion is bad, there is often conflict between the  Religious-beliefs-are-unjustified atheists and Atheism-is-proven atheists.  From my perspective, this seemed to more a difference in temperament than anything else. 

Interestingly, the Religious-beliefs-are-unjustified atheists were more likely to see merit in the idea of religious beliefs as serving a meaning-of-life purpose.  I definitely got the sense that some were interested in their colleagues practices.  They tended to see my class as a safe place to experiment with non-traditional religious beliefs.

The Atheism-is-proven atheists, on the other hand, stayed in the class because they really loved a good fight.  It’s worth nothing, they were not liked by anyone but the evangelists.  The evangelists really enjoyed sparring with them and never showed the least sign of fatigue.  But alas, it was a one-sided friendship as the Atheism-is-proven atheists absolutely despised the evangelists.  Well, they didn’t really like anyone else much - though I did notice that they tended to ignore the non-Christian mainstream believers.  I always had the sense that they weren’t comfortable sparring with them as much.

Agnosticism
Left out because I can’t point to a large enough contingent of them to separate out.  I don’t think it’s a position that’s as popular as it once was.

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So there you have it - my first installment.
It was far longer than I anticipated.  If you made it this far, you have more patience than I would have had.
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/me agrees with +Joanne Edison-Brown​. I'm now following +John Wehrle​ as well.
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I don't think anything properly described as a "summary" of this video could possibly do the video justice.
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Guh.  This is HORRIFYING.

/via +Joanne Edison-Brown 
 
Mom live-tweets her son's abstinence only "sex ed" class.
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The Auschwitz-Birkenau curators have taken an interesting approach to preservation, one that clearly states "this is here; this happened." This approach is particularly difficult in the middle of an overwhelming mass of messy, human stories and fingerprints and rubble.

They have made one exception:
The museum has decided not to conserve one thing: the mass of human hair that fills a vast vitrine. Over the years, the hair has lost its individual colors and has begun to gray. Out of respect for the dead, it cannot be photographed. Several years ago, the International Auschwitz Council of advisers had an agonizing debate about the hair. Some suggested burying it. Others wanted to conserve it. But one adviser raised a point: How can we know if its original owners are dead or alive? Who are we to determine its fate?

It was decided to let the hair decay, on its own, in the vitrine, until it turns to dust.

Hat tip to +Lauren Weinstein 
The aim of the foundation maintaining the site of the concentration camp is “to preserve authenticity.” It is a moral stance with specific curatorial challenges.
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Consent can be presumed, for surely they wouldn't have wanted to be forgotten.
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Ian Petersen

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Someone's  a birdwatcher (this is absolutely typical behavior in colonial-nesting seabirds: the gays birds take over for the parents that get eaten).
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Neat read!  Reinforces my belief that crypto is hard.
Lea Kissner originally shared:
 
Moxie posted several entertaining examples of "cryptographic doom". His principle boils down to "crypto is hard, implementing crypto correctly is hard, things break in hilarious ways":
When it comes to designing secure protocols, I have a principle that goes like this: if you have to perform any cryptographic operation before verifying the MAC on a message you’ve received, it will somehow inevitably lead to doom.

The fact that these attacks make me giggle madly probably tells you quite a lot about my sense of humour.
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In some ways this makes it easier: if there's only one way to do something, you only have to know what it is and use it. You can ignore all the other ways (;-))
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Ian Petersen

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This is really well done.  Looks like circling +Bill Hammack wasn't enough--I had to circle +engineerguy to get the goods.
 
This is an amazingly well-done "how it's made" video, all about the process by which aluminum beverage cans get built. These cans are so common that we rarely look at them, but they're a marvel of engineering: to save material (important, when you're making hundreds of billions a year!) they're made almost as thin as paper, and when they're empty, they easily crumple to save space while recycling. Yet when full, they can support 6 atmospheres of pressure inside and are sturdy enough to stand on -- and it only takes a single pull of a tab to change one into the other.

+engineerguy does a fantastic job of explaining the whole story, with everything from example parts to animations that show exactly how the subtle steps work.

h/t +Jordan Peacock for finding this!
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