Atheist, UW-L professor to debate whether religion is positive force

2012-10-26T00:00:00Z 2012-10-26T05:43:59Z Atheist, UW-L professor to debate whether religion is positive forceBy MIKE TIGHE | La Crosse Tribune

Expect some fire and brimstone at this debate, but it won’t be a pre-election fracas.

Preacher-turned-atheist Dan Barker appears ready to stoke the fire when he squares off against philosophy professor Eric Kraemer on the question “Is Religion a Positive Force in Society?” Thursday at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

“Religion overall is a negative force in the world,” Barker said during an interview to preview his debate strategy.

Kraemer, chairman of UW-L’s philosophy department, begs to differ.

“I’m defending the positive value of religion,” he said, “and I’ll point out the important positive things religion can do.”

Barker was a Christian preacher for 19 years until he eschewed that belief system and embraced atheism in 1984. Now, he  argues that religious faith fosters “climates of hostility” that create conflicts between people and wars between nations.

Kraemer didn’t want to tip his hand in advance of the debate, but he noted, “It’s very easy to point to the negative. It’s harder to point to the positive.”

Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, said he decided to quit preaching when “I found what I was teaching was not true. It has some truth, but the Bible is not true, it’s not historical. … It’s immoral and bad. I asked, ‘Do I want religion or do I want truth?’ I decided I wanted truth. That led to atheism.”

Kraemer said, “I’m not defending any particular religion as true, but I’m defending religion as a social institution.”

Although Barker said religion has restricted the rights of women, gays and blacks, he acknowledged that “most religious people are good, and most religious institutions do good things. But those are not really religious things but human things.

“The doctrinal teachings that dictate the clothes people wear, the food they eat and the day they have to worship restrict people. Religious teachings are not good,” Barker said.

Kraemer plans to argue about the positive connections between religion and social justice.

“Clearly, without religion, the civil rights movement wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “It was no specific religion but lots of people from various religions getting together. I like it because people of different religious denominations were working for the common good based on their own faith traditions.”

The public is invited to the free debate in the Valhalla Ballroom at UW-L’s Cartwright Center.

It is the fourth in a series and the third featuring Barker, said Hank Zumach, president of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society, which is co-sponsoring the event with the La Crosse Student Secular Society. Previous debates have drawn as many as 850 people, he said.

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(11) Comments

  1. scs1584
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    scs1584 - October 31, 2012 5:33 pm
    It seems Professor Kraemer has mistaken morality and good works for theology. Working to promote social justice is a wonderful thing, but it is not the exclusive territory of religious people. Atheists and agnostics work for social justice, too. Building hospitals and schools is a good thing; even the Soviet Union did that and they were officially a religion-free society. It's the theology and dogma parts of relgion that cause problems. Religious hatred is the worst kind of hatred because it's based irrational stuff and nonsense.
  2. Syte
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    Syte - October 29, 2012 9:10 am
    Dan Barker argues that "religious faith fosters “climates of hostility” that create conflicts between people and wars between nations?"
    What a joke!

    At the Madison, WI Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally in June, 2012, all the religious people were behaving like peaceful exemplary citizens and it was Dan Barker who was shouting angry rude and suggestive things at children who were kneeling and praying.
    FFRF: masters of the double standard, and representing only a tiny minority of atheists, the intolerant atheists, 1 out of 1,000 atheists, who cannot bear to tolerate 80% of Americans, who are Christian.
  3. Monteee
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    Monteee - October 26, 2012 8:26 pm
    It is a fact that people do good works on account of their religious beliefs. They build schools and hospitals, they care for children, they obey the law, and they don't lie, cheat, steal, or kill. They also create great works of architecture, music, and art....all in the name of their beliefs. We can also cite all the bad things that people do on account of their religious beliefs.

    What we should recognize is that people do good and bad things on account of ANY ideology - be it religious or secular. There is no escaping the good/evil of human existence. The essential problem, then, is the people themselves. WE choose to do good or evil, so what difference does it make what beliefs we have? Eliminate one belief system, and another one will pop up and take its place.....and the Good and Evil will continue.....
  4. Monteee
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    Monteee - October 26, 2012 8:14 pm
    Don't you superstitious sheeple have somewhere to share your fears and ignorance with each other? No, wait, you do have somewhere......;-) ;-)
  5. Redwall
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    Redwall - October 26, 2012 7:43 pm

    I see the atheists, Madison wingnuts, and "freethinkers" are present and accounted for.

    Don't you nutcases have a meeting to go to so you can share your frustrations with each other?

  6. Napoleon
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    Napoleon - October 26, 2012 12:48 pm
    Everybody has a right to believe whatever superstitious idiocy they want, but, again speaking to the aesthetics, why does it all have to sound so dumb? Every religion, everything they say: just absolutely dopey! Talking snakes, food falling from the sky... all this stupid nonsense! C'mon religion, keep up with the times! Lie to us, yes, but put some panache into it! Get with the times!

    "We just need to treat religious people with kindness and love, in the same way you'd treat a child running around saying: "I'm a helicopter!"" — Simon Amstell, Grandma's House

    "You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that we are the ones that need help?" [Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith]
  7. Napoleon
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    Napoleon - October 26, 2012 12:40 pm
    You've said that already. 100 times. Are you stupid or something?

    If there's anyone around here who needs filtering it is you: you contribute absolutely nothing to this comment board. No ideas, no thoughts, just more dull one-line tiresome snipes at others. I challenge you to do better. Really, you can do better. You're one of the worst posters we've ever seen here. You're like a remora, a tiny little fish picking parasites off the big fish as it clings to their tails.

    You're a one-trick pony!

    Paul Simon 1980 One Trick Pony
  8. Buggs Raplin
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    Buggs Raplin - October 26, 2012 8:23 am
    It's understandable why most Christians and Muslims believe. They're threatened with eternal torture if they don't. Still, it's a free country. Believe what you want in terrms of religion. Just keep it out of the public domain, please.
  9. anthony
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    anthony - October 26, 2012 8:14 am
    Oh, skycake. Why are you so delicious??
  10. Seriously Now
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    Seriously Now - October 26, 2012 6:58 am
    Nappy, we'd heard all thin in your previous incarnations. Forum needs a filter.
  11. Napoleon
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    Napoleon - October 26, 2012 12:37 am
    The year is 2012, not 1312, therefore it's time for adults to cast off their belief in religious fairy tales. It's time for our species to grow up. Religion is harmful first and foremost because it is flat-out NOT TRUE!!!

    Let's face it, we space aliens from Planet Earth are pretty horrible. We're biological monstrosities made of atoms, cells, skin, eyeballs, hair and teeth. Yuck! We devour the other monstrosities that share the planet with us: we eat cows, birds, goats....we're cannibals upon the animals, creatures as disgusting to a god as us. No real god would create such a cesspool of a planet on purpose: a real god would do better. Think how awful this planet really is: animals chewing upon animals, defecating beasts covered with ticks and insects.

    A real god would have a sense of aesthetics, would create a world of beauty, not horror. On these grounds alone, atheism is the only way.

    Richard Feymann on religion:

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