Rational Evangelism

by aarongertler2 min read26th Feb 2014151 comments

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Personal Blog

Not "rationality evangelism", which CFAR is doing already if I understand their mission. "Rational evangelism", which is what CFAR would do if they were Catholic missionaries.

 

If you believe in Hell, as many people very truly do, it is hard for Hell not to seem like the world's most important problem.

 

To some extent, proselytizing religions treat Hell with respect--they spend billions of dollars trying to save sinners, and the most devout often spend their lives preaching the Gospel (insert non-Christian variant).

 

But is Hell given enough respect? Every group meets with mixed success in solving its problems, but the problem of eternal suffering leaves little room for "mixed success". Even the most powerful religions are stuck in patterns that make the work of salvation very difficult indeed. And some seem willing to reduce their evangelism* for reasons that aren't especially convincing in the face of "nonbelievers are quite possibly going to burn, or at least be outside the presence of God, forever".

 

What if you were a rationalist who viewed Hell like certain Less Wrongers view the Singularity? (This belief would be hard to reconcile with rationalism generally, but for the sake of argument...) How would you tackle the problem of eternal suffering with the same passion we spend on probability theory and friendly AI?

 

I wrote a long thought experiment to better define the problem, involving a religion called "Normomism", but it was awkward. There are plenty of real religions whose members believe in Hell, or at least in a Heaven that many people aren't going to (also a terrible loss). Some have a stated mission of saving as many people as possible from a bad afterlife.

 

So where are they falling short? 

 

If you were the Pope, or the Caliph, or the supreme dictator of some smaller religion, what tactics would you use to convince more people to do and believe exactly the things that would save them--whether that's faith or good works? Why haven't these tactics been tried already? Is there really much room for improvement?


Spreading the Word

 

This post isn't a dig at believers, though it does seem like many people don't act on their sincere belief in an eternal afterlife. (I don't mind when people try to convert me--at least they care!)

 

My main point: It's worth considering that people who believe in Very Bad Future Outcomes have been working to prevent those outcomes for thousands of years, and have stumbled upon formidable techniques for doing so.

 

I've thought for a while about rational evangelism, and it's surprisingly hard to come up with ways that people like Rick Warren and Jerry Lovett could improve their methodology. (Read Lovett's "contact me" paragraph for the part that really impressed me.)

 

We speak often of borrowing from religion, but these conversations mostly touch on social bonding, rather than what it means to spread ideas so important that the fate of the human race depends on them. ("Raising the Sanity Waterline" is a great start, but those ideas haven't been the focus of many recent posts.)

 

I'm not saying this is a perfect comparison. The rationalist war for the future won't be fought one soul at a time, and we won't save anyone with a deathbed confession. 

 

But cryogenic freezing does exist. And on a more collective level, convincing the right people that the far future matters could be a coup on the level of Constantine's conversion.

 

CFAR is doing good things in the direction of rationality evangelism. How can the rest of us do more? 

 

 

Living Like We Mean It

 

This movement is going places. But I fear we may spend too much time (at least proportionally) arguing amongst ourselves, when bringing others into the fold is a key piece of the puzzle. And if we’d like to expand the flock (or, more appropriately, the herd of cats), what can we learn from history’s most persuasive organizations?

 

I often pass up my chance to talk to people about something as simple as Givewell, let alone existential risk, and it's been a long time since I last name-dropped a Less Wrong technique. I don't think I'm alone in this.** 

 

I've met plenty of Christians who exude the same optimism and conviviality as a Rick Warren or a Ned Flanders. These kinds of people are a major boon for the Christian religion. Even if most of us are introverts, what's stopping us from teaching ourselves to live the same way?

 

Still, I'm new here, and I could be wrong. What do you think?  

 


 

* Text editor's giving me some trouble, but the link is here: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/evangelism-interfaith-world 

 

** Peter Boghossian's Manual for Creating Atheists has lots to say about using rationality techniques in the course of daily life, and is well worth reading, though the author can be an asshole sometimes.

 

 

 

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A related anecdote: Recent months I am translating Sequences to Slovak, because I expect written word to be more effective recruitment tool than my person; simply because my time doesn't scale, but I can write put a free PDF online and link it from a blog or facebook or mention it in e-mail. (Also, I believe that Eliezer did think and discuss with other smart people about spreading rationality much more than me; so if he considered writing the Sequences an efficient use of his time, some of those reasons probably apply to using my time to translate it. Sure, the audience is much smaller, but so seem to be my opportunity costs, at least at this moment.)

So, I was talking with a friend, a religious girl, and although there is only epsilon chance of ever converting her, I told her about my already completed parts of translation anyway, simply because it didn't cost me anything. And she was like: "Yeah, translating is cool. I am translating this book by Chesterton." And I felt like: Damn, whatever tools of conversion I try, religion is already doing it, and much better. But then I realized I could treat this as an evidence that I am probably doing something that works, so it's... (read more)

3ChristianKl7yI'm not sure that the target audience that can be won for LW that lives in Slovakia speaks no English. My guess is that you would be more effective by putting more energy into your LW meetup and seeing that audiences like the computer science department of your local university know that the meetup takes place is more important. Put your energy into making the meetup great. A great meetup with people who like being at the meetup also gives you manpower. Connections to the local university can help to have a good location to hold the meetup and be able to invite speakers on topics of rationality for interesting talks. Berlin is a bit special but in Berlin I found that it makes more sense to hold a Quantified Self event in English than in German because more of the people in the target audience speak no German than there are people who speak no English. Finally I believe that HPMOR is a much better recruitment tool than the sequences. If someone starts reading HPMOR they get hooked on it and spend a lot of time being exposed to our memes. Getting hooked at dense material like the sequences is harder. HPMOR is the ideal entry material. If someone comes the first time to your meetup it might be a lot more efficient to get them hooked on HPMOR than to try to get them to read the Sequences.

I'm not sure that the target audience that can be won for LW that lives in Slovakia speaks no English.

Well, how else could I answer this question? But my expectation is that most people in the target audience will have English skills somewhere at level: "can read a longer text, but it's uncomfortable, and wouldn't decide to read hundreds of pages just for curiosity". Translation can overcome an inconvenience for these people and possibly reach some other people.

(Fun fact: Out of curiosity, my Mom recently started reading my translation, and so far she seems to like it. Which I would never expect. She is completely not the audience I would try to reach. Well, I'll see what happens when she gets to the "politics is the mindkiller" and the "quantum physics" parts. The book has a chance to reach an unexpected audience. And who knows, maybe she will forward the PDF to her friends. And somewhere along the chain a person I could never reach can be converted.)

And I completely agree that at this point it would be more efficient to find new audience at universities. Not sure how difficult it would be to find speakers on rationality-related topics. (Need to fi... (read more)

4ChristianKl7yIf I understand right you have a meetup that meets occasionally. What's the level of English abilities of those people? What kind of people exist in your city that you want to have at your meetup and which would enjoy your meetup? What do other people at your meetup think about where you could find those people? Another issue, why the medium of a PDF instead of a website with Google Analytics that can be founded via Google? I think that time spent on a HPMOR translation is likely to be higher utility than time spent on translating the sequences. However I don't know whether it's a good idea to translate HPMOR before it's finished. Eliezer often foreshadows events. Take the talk about the centaur in the first chapter: The interactions with the centaur in one of the last chapters got foreshadowed. It might be hard to translate the sentence I quote well without knowing what it's supposed to foreshadow. Religions do a lot of that but when it comes down to it the average sermon is boring. We don't have access to comparable manpower as religions but we can think more clearly about strategy then them. We don't have to do busy work. LW's franchise model of meetups is good. Different cities can experiment with different strategies and we can talk together about what works. We don't have to get everything right next year or even in the year afterwards. If we just keep on improving there a good chance that the whole enterprise runs in ten years better than popular religions do. If we are better at learning from feedback about what works, we might just win in the long run. && I had here something about the Czech republic but I just noticed that you are from Slovenia
2Viliam_Bur7yI don't have precise data, but I estimate that of 10 people, 3 can't speak English fluently, and at least one doesn't speak English at all. These are good questions and we should probably have a separate meetup about this. (And probably a separate discussion on LW, because we are hijacking another debate here, but these things could also be useful for people in other places.) At the end, I would like to have both. At this moment, I have the first 100 translated articles of the Sequences on my website [http://bur.sk/sk/lesswrong] ... and it doesn't seem to have any impact. Of course, there are things I could improve there, too. No, it's Slovakia. We are 200 km away, and our flag has five different pixels. :D There is a chance someone from Czech Republic would come here to make a lecture. And there is a big chance some people from Slovakia are debating on Czech web fora. Okay; I will contact the organizer of QS meetups in Prague, and he might give me other contacts. EDIT: By "200 km away" I meant 200 km from Slovenia, but coincidentally it also happens to be 200 km from Germany (where ChristianKl is). However the difference of five pixels is only between the flags of Slovenia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Slovenia] and Slovakia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Slovakia]; well, depending on the resolution.
0ChristianKl7yOkay, in that case I understand the desire to translate material. I really need to improve my understanding of East Europe ;)
3garabik7yEspecially since people in Slovakia prefer to be called "Central Europe" :-) Since from this point of view East Europe starts with Ukraina - and there is crime, mafia, poverty, hunger and an occasional civil war.
3seez7yInteresting. Anecdotally, I got my father (who works in politics) interested specifically in "politics is the mindkiller." I think it spoke to his experiences and concerns more than other sequences. HPMOR will probably be more effective with youngish people who a) have read Harry Potter, b) are familiar with the concept of fanfiction and c) feel comfortable reading long documents on the internet. Seems a bit limiting, although still a very good tool.
4aarongertler7yTargeted quick reads are great! That's one reason I like the quote threads so much--almost anyone will be fond of a few good rationality quotes, and that's a good way to introduce them to specific LW material.
2garabik7yExactly. I've already disseminated some carefully selected translated Sequences to people who would not read the English original, because it is too uncomfortable (they would, if they had to), and I've got some positive feedback.
2trist7yLess time required to reach a given number of people who are going to join in, agreed. Yet the translation can help raise the sanity waterline of a group of people that would not even consider coming to a 'rationality meetup'. I go to meetups because of the sequences, because it's worth a three to five hour journey to hang out with people who share that.
6buybuydandavis7yYes. The sequences are a toolkit. HPMOR evokes emotions. No one would have ever given two hoots about Objectivism if Rand hadn't written novels and embedded her philosophy in them. Some people are moved by the fiction, and thereby associate with the memes.
0[anonymous]7yThe converse happened to me! (But I happened to find the sequences at a time when I was already like “yay Bayesian probability theory, boo cognitive biases”, and I knew hardly anything about canon HP beyond having watched the first film when it came out and fallen asleep while trying to watch the last one, so I'm not a representative sample of the population.)

Speaking as a former Evangelical Christian, I was always perplexed by why my particular sect—which was pretty damned radical about spreading the Gospel—wasn't much more radical. In my mind, it was very rational to be radical with our 65-90 year temporary lifespan on earth in order to "save" as many people from infinite torture as possible (sell all possessions, focus money in unevangelized areas, etc.)...but many people didn't seem to behaving in ways that signalled they understood this.

In retrospect, here is why IMO that happens:

  • They don't understand (50% of people) - Eternity just doesn't register conceptually. They see hell as bad, but cannot fathom the degree of badness, certainly not enough to be radical about "witnessing" to others.

  • They don't care (10-40% of people) - They don't think spending their lives helping others get saved is that important because it benefits them relatively little. (No one ever says this out loud.) It seems to me to be an empathy disposition issue.

  • They don't think being radical will be effective (10-40%) - Some in this group are sincere—they believe a more nuanced, patient approach to evangelism will yield the best results.

... (read more)
6buybuydandavis7yDon't some want the wicked to suffer eternally?
3fubarobfusco7yA number of Christian theological sources hold that the blessed in heaven will witness the suffering of the damned in hell, and that the suffering of the damned shall contribute in some regard to the satisfaction or pleasure of the blessed. The nature of this contribution is a matter of some dispute, though. Some theological sources take it to be a contrast: heaven looks even better if you know the alternative exists. Some take it to be satisfaction with the perfect justice of God. And for some it's pretty stark schadenfreude. Across these sources, though, the blessed are seen as incapable of experiencing pity, because pity is a form of suffering and they are incapable of suffering. For a number of sources on the subject, see this master's thesis in theology [https://www.rts.edu/Site/Virtual/Resources/Student_Theses/Johnson-Seeing_Hell.pdf] . William Lane Craig disagrees, though, [http://www.reasonablefaith.org/knowledge-of-the-fate-of-the-damned] holding that God may shield the blessed from awareness of the suffering of the damned.
1buybuydandavis7yWhich shows that Craig is more the politician than the Christian. Whatever happened to "Thy will be done!"? It's God's will that the majority of mankind gets tortured eternally. If you don't approve, if you aren't eager to pour on the hot coals yourself, you're not a real Christian. His will be done!
0Brillyant7yYes. Some view it as an inseparable aspect of an eternal God's holy character that evil be punished forever. "The wails of the damned are a testament to God's love" said some old brimstone-type preacher/theologian (Jonathan Edwards?). Most in the Evangelical movement see Hell as a place not intended for man. It's a necessary evil—or rather a necessary punishment for evil. God hates it and wish it weren't so, but... yada, yada. Some seem to get a smug satisfaction from the idea their enemies will end up losing so hard. Christians do—more so everyday— take a bit of an intellectually beating for continued belief in the face of mounting evidence. It isn't surprising that they get some consolation from that fact their enemies are gonna get it. And, statiscally, some are sociopaths and sadists who get warm fuzzies over the idea of the eternal conscious suffering of people in human ovens. It's a potpourri, really.
2buybuydandavis7yHow did the all powerful guy who created the universe knowing exactly what was going to happen become a helpless little waif in the face of some human masturbating? What transparent rationalization. Poor little helpless God is powerless to prevent people from going to Hell and being tortured forever, because you know, he created the universe exactly that way knowing exactly how it would turn out. The grown up conclusion is that he wanted to torture a bunch of people. It's all part of the plan. But if they were grownups, they wouldn't believe in invisible all powerful wizards in the first place. Ugh.
0Brillyant7yIt's a pretty fascinating study in how you can get good people to believe, endorse and argue for sadistic and irrational things. "God is perfect. Merciful, loving, just, etc. He loves you more than anything. And He will burn you. Forever. Because He has to. No, He can't use His power to change the circumstances. That would be outside of God's consistent character. Anyway, people choose to go to hell, God doesn't send them there. God loves us enough to preserve our free will to choose Him, or reject Him. All you have to do is accept His free gift of salvation. Remember, He loves you and He wants you to escape the torture chamber He created." To be fair, there is a theological strain called open theism that posits God only knows the range of possibilities in the future, rather than some exactly determined course. More broadly, there is a "softening" of hell in Christianity that makes it more of a metaphorical creation of people intent on rebeling against God than some kind of literal, God-created torture chamber. The interpretation is up in the air.
0aarongertler7ySounds like Jonathan Edwards, or maybe Timothy Dwight. Both of them have Yale residential colleges named after them. No one cares much about the Hell stuff here, though, probably because John Calhoun (another college namesake) was an infamous slaveholder.
1buybuydandavis7yIsn't it also that much of the assent to the dogma is basically just signaling that one is part of the tribe. I don't think a lot of people care about what is true - but they do care about their membership in the club.

I have the impression that a lot of people convert to religions while finding the doctrinal content of those religions to be almost an afterthought. They make the identity claim after clearing some threshold that sets the one religion apart from other live options, then find out what their new "we" believes and what their new "we" is supposed to do about it on a day to day basis, up to a lay member's understanding without detailed theological contemplation of any kind. This serves a few purposes for the growth and stability of the religions:

1) Domino effect - if you get enough or a significant enough part of somebody's in-group, it's much easier to shift their "we".

2) Marketability - if practicing the religion requires irritating practices or sacrifices, you can introduce them later after you've got commitment.

3) Some ability to operate as a bloc - whoever's producing or interpreting doctrine can say "we believe X" without a thousand amateur theologians bikeshedding the details based on their own understanding.

4) Ability to appeal to the general population - if you look hard at even the most popular religions, they are complicated, detailed... (read more)

0aarongertler7y"These advantages are real, significant, and probably even replicable for a more secular memeset - but I think if we tried it, we'd be missing our own point." Interesting. I think that could be true of whatever our "point" is right now. But eventually, that point is probably going to have to involve something that people at the IQ 100 level can pick up and use with some success in their daily lives, the same way so many already do with religious principles. (Though LW principles can hopefully avoid most of the negative downsides that come with living religiously.)
2Alicorn7yI agree that we should aspire to eventually appeal to the IQ 100 population with as many of our concepts as we can. I don't think we should use the identity-claim-but-no-deep-thought technique to do it.
3aarongertler7yI agree with avoiding identity-claim aspirations. When I use the Ned Flanders example, what I'm thinking is: I know Christians who say that belief in Jesus and being determined to love others will make life better, and they express this better-ness in their incredible patience and kindness--to the point where I wish I were equally patient and kind. I think we could get to a point where Less Wrong members can say "living with a strong awareness of your own biases and a desire to improve yourself will make your life better", and express this better-ness by being good conversationalists, optimistic, and genuinely helpful to those with questions or problems--to the point where non-members wish they were equally cool/smart/fun/helpful, or whatever other values we hope to embody.
-3[anonymous]7yThe point is to win, isn't it? You can win with a long sword or you can win with a short sword. And to carry the analogy further, it doesn't much matter what you've been stabbed with; you'll still bleed. Also, don't the LW surveys consistently show that there isn't a large IQ increase in less wrong readers? You definitely won't get any normal people to get into the rationality tent if you refer to them as "IQ 100s" for pretty obvious reasons. One of the growth factors you didn't mention is an atmosphere of acceptance once inside the ingroup, rather than the adversarial atmosphere of LW.
3Alicorn7yI wasn't trying to make a complete list of growth factors. I was making a list of advantages yielded by the "prompt identity claim, only then introduce details of doctrine, if at all" order of operations. An atmosphere of acceptance has no direct relationship to that habit and it's something we could adopt comparatively unproblematically. I have no idea what your stabbing analogy is supposed to get at.
0[anonymous]7yThey're correlated; if your membership test is much more complicated than identity, you'll get people that curry favor by calling out others for not being true believers. (This is the case in cults, but not so much in mainstream religions.) Whatever the point is of the nascent social movement MIRI and affiliates are trying to launch, presumably the people executing it want to be successful. If lowered barriers to identification causes rationality to win, I'm not sure I care if that ordering matters. To rephrase, would you rather live in a world where the only people who were signed up for cryonics were the less than one percent of the population who could both afford to, and had been convinced of the merits of cryonics on purely logical grounds; or in a world where everyone was signed up for cryonics from birth, as a standard part of medical care, because that's what people who identified as Rationalists did and they didn't think very much about it? The latter world may have "missed the point," but people are dying in the former world. Once you're dead, it doesn't really matter how you got there; conversely, it seems a little petty to refuse to use any tool you can to fight it.
2Viliam_Bur7yPerhaps there should be two levels of membership. Membership in the outer group would only require people to accept the identity; and there would be a social pressure to do the rituals recommended by the inner group. Membership in the inner group would require hard work and proving one's rationality by successfully completing some tests. As usual, the religion already has it. The outer group is called "believers" and the inner group is called "priests". In a hypothetical world ruled by rationalists, the priests would do the rationality training and try to be as free of bias as possible, and the believers would be advised to sign up for cryonics.
0Alicorn7yI feel rather like you're patronizing me; please take that as rebuke if you are and an attempt at helpful feedback on composing your communiques if you are not. I would rather decouple cryonics from rationalism enough that it could be a standard practice without having to win over the population with an identity claim. Even if the identity claim -> doctrine order of operations helps, that doesn't make it foolproof, or whichever religion figured it out first would be universal by now.
0[anonymous]7yWell, the secrets cults are dead, and the three religions that figured that out first in their respective regions captured pretty much the entire market to the point where there's a stalemate. People tend to have ideas at around the same time, and ideas spread slower back then, but the religions of modernity are universal for precisely that reason.
0gjm7yMaybe I'm misunderstanding, but if you mean "... that there isn't a large difference between the IQs of LW readers and those of the general population" then no, the surveys appear to show the exact opposite: so far as one can tell from these surveys, the LW population appears to be something like 3 standard deviations above average. For the avoidance of doubt, this is perfectly consistent with its being a really bad idea to be dismissive about people with average IQs -- though as it happens I don't think Alicorn actually was, and in particular she didn't refer to anyone as "IQ 100s".
1shminux7yWhy nitpick terminology without addressing the substance?
4ChristianKl7yAddressing semantics is important if you want to have a healthy garden.
-7Viliam_Bur7y

We speak often of borrowing from religion, but these conversations mostly touch on social bonding, rather than what it means to spread ideas so important that the fate of the human race depends on them.

I think you underrate the importance of social bonding. It's the most important thing. Creating more LW meetups and making sure that the people on those meetups have a great time so that they come back is more important than trying to convince strangers with no previous interest.

When it comes more to advertising to the outside I think HPMOR is a good too... (read more)

4aarongertler7yHPMOR is really cool, but I've also known several people who can't stand it. Too long/too Gary Stu/too strange for devoted fans of the original series. Luminosity is just as good, but suffers from some of the same issues. I think we need more short stories that have reasonable, non-utopian endings, things people can pick up and read in an hour. Though I say this knowing I likely won't be in a position to write any of these stories for a while...
1buybuydandavis7yI think HPMOR is by far the most important thing EY has or ever will do. He's given the world a vision of loving life and loving the rest of humanity, of a tremendous possible future, and the joy of fighting for that future. Transhumanist Jihad.
1Viliam_Bur7yThe "joy of fighting" without awareness of the whole "politics is the mindkiller" stuff could lead to shitty outcomes.
0buybuydandavis7yThe key is to be fighting for that future, not against other people. Keep your eye on the prize.
0Viliam_Bur7yI believe this message is more clearly expressed by the Sequences. Although it can be found in HPMOR too, e.g. Harry trying to convert Draco instead of automatically considering him an enemy (as Ron would).
2buybuydandavis7yNote that Draco behaves similarly in this respect. It's not about being good or bad, it's about being effective.
0Lumifer7ySounds exactly like Jesus.
4ChristianKl7yThe difference between HPMOR and the bible is that the bible really isn't that fun to read. Many Christians have never read the full bible because the book is so boring.
4Salemicus7yWell hang on, I assume you (like me) have only ever read a translation of the Bible. You might have a wholly different view of its "fun-ness" were you a native speaker of ancient Hebrew, etc. But more to the point (and note that I'm not religious), I find the Bible, meaning the King James Authorised Translation, an awesome book to read. The language is sublime and compelling, and the origin of so many of the phrases in our language that have passed into everyday use. But then, I love Shakespeare for many of the same reasons, and I've heard it remarked several times around here how Shakespeare isn't fun to read, so I guess there's no accounting for taste. You find the Bible boring. I tried HPMOR, and found it insufferable and incredibly boring. These are facts about ourselves, not about the books.
0ChristianKl7yNo, when I say the Bible is boring then I'm referring to the fact that there are a lot of self professed Christian who can read but who still haven't read it. I'm not referring to the fact that my personal experience of reading the bible was boring. I never had any interest in reading the bible cover to cover. Whether or not the original version of the bible is interesting when you are a native speaker of ancient Hebrew is irrelevant for considerations of which movements win in the battle over followers in the modern Western sphere of ideas.
0Salemicus7yYes, but you have to set that against all the non-religious/non-Christian people who find the Bible beautiful and fascinating. The King James Bible is generally regarded as one of the greatest literary works ever produced in the English language. There is no book that everyone likes.
2Nornagest7yI'm not sure we can trust general critical consensus in this case, if there is such a thing as objective literary quality that we can attribute to a work. There's a massive halo effect with its finger on the scale here, no pun intended. Not even just for Christians; the Bible and particularly the King James Version is so basal to English-speaking culture that the two are hard to disentangle. Note also that literary quality and significance are often confounded in e.g. reading lists, and the KJV's unquestionably a hugely significant part of the English canon. That said, there are parts of the King James Bible that I find fascinating and beautiful and generally of high literary quality. I'm just not sure we can say the same for the work as a whole, which I find frequently turgid or repetitive or painfully clunky -- particularly in the Mosaic books past Exodus, and in the Pauline epistles of the New Testament.
0buybuydandavis7yIt's funny, but I bet a greater percentage of atheists have read the bible cover to cover. I have.
4ChristianKl7yIt might be what made them atheists. Reading the old testament and actually taking it seriously should raise a few flags with any clear thinking person. Atheists in general can name more of the 10 commandments than the average Christians.
4CAE_Jones7yI was minding my own business, reading 1Samuel, then suddenly God ordered the extermination of an entire ethnicity that hadn't even appeared for several books (and generations, in-universe), then turned on Saul when he went soft and saved the livestock and took the king alive. Even as far back as Pseudo Philo, there were (not even half-hearted) attempts to explain what the hell happened, there. If only that were an isolated incident. One interesting theist writer [http://bible-truths.com], who is notable for dissolving Free Will and refusing to accept arguments that let God off the hook for evil and not rejecting scientific evidence because he wasn't a complete idiot, when asked about old testament genocides, bluntly admitted that explaining those commands of God is one of the hardest parts of taking the Bible seriously. (Pseudo Philo is basically first-century Old Testament fanfiction, which covers from Genesis through the end of 1Samuel. It's much more fun, tries to make females stronger characters, and is much lighter on all the genocide and rules-to-become-obsolete. In particular, Pseudo Philo's version of Kenaz, a throw-away side-character in Judges, gets an epic upgrade, including the introduction of the seven artifacts of doom and what amounts to a Bankai [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SuperMode]. As a bonus, the important characters almost always take their access to a picky-but-omniscient being at least halfway seriously (they never ask for instructions on how to solve the world's problems, but they at least ask questions and expect answers, and request replication of a variety of miracles before agreeing to anything.). Were I to write a RATIONAL! Old Testament while still trying to claim God is good, I'd probably use Pseudo Philo as the main source material.)
2buybuydandavis7yHow is it possible to read the Old Testament seriously? I still get the giggles every time I think about "Stoned to death with stones! Their blood is upon them!" I picture a recurring Monty Python skit like the Spanish Inquisition, but in this one, they run in singing the tag line, stone someone to death, and run out.
2Lumifer7yEasily. It is just one of the most influential writings in the history of the Western civilization, probably second only to the New Testament.
0buybuydandavis7yAnd that's why I read it. But I could't repress the giggles. Can you?
0Lumifer7yWhy, yes, I can, actually my standard reaction tends to yawns rather than giggles :-P
0ChristianKl7yThat's my point. The attempt to read the Old Testament seriously might be a few unbelievers. If you are discussing Christianity with a Christian and they have never seriously read the Old Testament that's the perfect thing to tease them about. I mean if you have read the bible cover to cover and just couldn't take it seriously and the Christian you are talking to never actually read his holy book from cover to cover, they are in a hard position that's very difficult to defend.
2buybuydandavis7yWe are not a phyg! We are not a phyg! We are not a phyg!
0somervta7yThere are legal issues around HPMOR T-shirts
2ChristianKl7yIt seems that they aren't sold anymore on http://rationalattire.com/ [http://rationalattire.com/] . Is the backstory written down somewhere?
0somervta7yThere were no specifically HPMOR-related shirts there - the quotes were not related to the 'HP' part (and IIRC were all also from the Sequences), which was what I meant (things like "What Would Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres Do?"). I believe that RA just only did one-maybe-two run of shirts, and Katie isn't AFAIK planning to do another soon, perhaps for demand reasons.
0ChristianKl7yThe point of a TV-Shirt would be that people ask you about it and then you have your story to tell about how HPMOR is awesome. It doesn't need to have Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres on it to work for that purpose.

I've met plenty of Christians who exude the same optimism and conviviality as a Rick Warren or a Ned Flanders....what's stopping us from teaching ourselves to live the same way?

Availability bias. How often are you actually visualizing that future? Focusing on it? Experiencing it? Then again, likely some people just have a greater capacity for that kind of thing than others.

I watched a series of interesting youtubes from a woman who is an atheist now, but grew up in a pentecostal family, and was very devout. The interesting thing here was that she shar... (read more)

4WalterL7yI've seen that sort of thing. A couple of folks in my frat were pro wrestling fans when I was going through college. They watched every show, traveled to a few ppv's, etc. They had to bear with an endless parade of helpful souls informing them that it wasn't real.
3fubarobfusco7yI'm trying to come up with an analogy into my own experience for this. The best I've come up with so far is if I were reading a novel or watching a movie, and people kept coming up to me and telling me that the story was made up and didn't really happen. That would be really freakin' annoying. People can be excited by fiction, and deeply emotionally engaged with it, without mistaking it for everyday reality. Belittling their sense of the distinction seems like a pretty unfriendly thing to do. OTOH, applying this to religion seems harder. I'm not sure that most religious people want their religion to be mapped in the category of "fandom".
4savageorange7yHowever, some of the things that religion proscribes are also pretty unfriendly things to do. (arguably religion itself is an unfriendly thing to do). So until they stop doing such things, they can reasonably expect to cop retaliation for their own hostility. (in proportion to their craziness, IME -- for example Buddhism doesn't cop much flak, whereas Christianity does) Putting yourself in the position of being significantly opposed to reality cannot be rationally viewed as a friendly, or even just not-unfriendly, thing to do... You just never can constrain the effect to yourself. You tend to end up doing things that it is interesting for a character to do, but destructive in real life. And all in pursuit of mere 'good feelings'.
0buybuydandavis7yYeah, that's the problem. If somebody wants to have some invisible friend who loves them, they can knock themselves out. If they say it makes them happy, I probably won't even be a snide dick about it. But if your invisible friend makes you a dick, don't expect me to just take it and not respond.
3Salemicus7yBut to the contrary, most Christians aren't [insulting word]. In fact, as the OP says: Christians don't just get a fake invisible friend who loves them, they get a fake invisible friend who makes them caring, generous and trustworthy. I think their beliefs are silly, but I'd much rather have a committed Christian for a neighbour than a militant atheist, and it's not remotely close.
4buybuydandavis7yThat's stacking the deck against atheists by considering militant atheists. What does that mean to you? Do you prefer militant Christians over militant atheists? Militant Muslims over militant atheists? Or, a fake invisible friend who makes you hate a lot of people. Who makes you miserable about your sin. Who makes you afraid of eternal torment. The kind of Christian you meet depends on who you are, depends on where you are. Being an atheist myself, and therefore in league with Satan, I won't get the best out of a Christian. But I often gravitate to a certain type of serious Christian, and they gravitate to me. In my experience, atheists and serious Christians are largely the same people. What is true matters to us. That's the real dividing line. Christians who have a real loving personal relationship with their invisible friend can be wonderful people. I call them egoistic Christians - they're concerned about their salvation and their love for their invisible friend, as opposed to social Christians who are more concerned with the state of society, and the sin around them. This kind of Christian is rare, and often an outcast in their own Church. Egoistic Christians have an advantage over atheists in terms of general positivity. They have the disadvantage of compromised judgment, including fatalism (it was God's will...), and some guilt/hatred/fear from dogma. I was recently thinking that the ideal is someone who grew up devout, knowing that they had an all powerful loving protector, but then overcame the faith in the doctrines and became an atheist as adults. The positivity seems to abide long after God is gone.
-1Salemicus7yAll I meant was an atheist who is as invested in his belief as the committed Christian is in his religion. My committed Christian friends go to church regularly, read the Bible frequently and attend study groups on it, have a strong preference to marry a fellow Christian, and so on. They identify primarily as Christians. I suppose the atheist equivalent would be someone who is a member of the BHA or atheism+ or similar, reads Richard Dawkins, whatever, and strongly identifies as an atheist. These people are not rare, and are in fact overrepresented on lesswrong. There are also people who don't believe in God in the same way that he doesn't believe in unicorns, and gives the two ideas the same amount of thought. Or indeed, the Christian who never thinks about God. I don't perceive much difference between these two. Yes, anything is theoretically possible. And it's a big old world, so no doubt there are even one or two people like that. But in point of fact, the way it works out is that Christianity tends to make people more generous, caring and trustworthy than atheism does. So it goes. EDIT: To be fair, if you are arguing that the reason committed Christians are nicer than committed atheists is that professed Christianity attracts nicer people whereas professed atheism attracts jerks, then this is also consistent with observation, but I prefer the causal story.
7fubarobfusco7yIt remains hilarious that people use "Islamic militant" to mean someone who kills civilians with bombs, and "militant Christian" to means someone who shoots gynecologists (or fantasizes about doing so, anyway) ... and "militant atheist" to mean someone who gets in a lot of arguments.
3Salemicus7yTo be fair, you should not compare "Islamic militant" to "militant atheist." You have flipped the verb and the noun, and changed the meaning. "Atheist militant" is equally some guy who goes around murdering priests, e.g. in Spain in the 1930s. To me, a "Christian militant" is someone violent, as you say, whereas a "militant Christian" is someone who goes around aggressively proselytizing. Or at least that's how I would understand the terms. A "militant Muslim" is a terrorist, yes, but that's just because of the general hatred of Muslims that is so common in the West so the language gets blurred.
0Eugine_Nier7yNo that's because there are a lot more Muslim terrorists than Christian terrorists. Otherwise, I agree with your comment.
4savageorange7yBut this is not in point of fact. Citation very much needed. I don't disagree that (strong, ie. 'God does NOT exist' rather than 'there is no evidence that God exists') atheism attracts some jerks, btw. Any belief that is essentially anti-X has the problem of attracting at least some people who simply enjoy punishing belief in X.
2Jayson_Virissimo7yWhere I live self-identifying as Christian doesn't carry much information on its own, but sure, I'd sooner live next to a high-religiosity Mormon or Jew than an atheist if that is all the information I have available to me (not sure about Christians in general though, I'd have to revisit some statistics first).
0buybuydandavis7yExactly my point. What's the compelling reason not to have an imaginary invisible all powerful friend who loves you? Seems like there are a lot of benefits. Similarly, why not engage in weekly worship theater? It wouldn't feel respectful to do it in a room where others earnestly believed, but it could be satisfying with others similarly engaging in conscious fiction.
0aarongertler7yWhen I visualize Bjorn Lomborg's "Indonesia 2100 should have the same GDP per capita as Denmark now" future, I start to glow on the inside. There are many things about LW that give me that glow. I just wish I were better at expressing the glow at the right times without sounding weird about it.
1buybuydandavis7yI think that's lowballing it by a wide margin. If Indonesians in 2100 only live as well as the Danes now, some catastrophe hit the earth in the interim.
0CellBioGuy7yI think it's highballing it by a wide margin. There's no way that much cheap energy can possibly be available.
0Lumifer7yWhy not? The most obvious possibility is fusion reactors.

The evangelism techniques of unspecified "religion" are actually pretty ineffective. Religions have a poor record of converting new believers who are already adults; religions spread by being the religion of the oppressor (so that the oppressed can join and gain more political power), focusing on children, and/or the precursor memes of the society that one is evangelizing in already point towards some of the religion's tenets. What religions do have are thought patterns and social sanctions that prevent one from thinking too far outside of that r... (read more)

3fubarobfusco7yOne counterexample is South Korea, which is about 30% Christian [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_South_Korea], and where Christianity seems to have spread largely peacefully.
2Nornagest7yChristianity's fairly common in sub-Saharan Africa, too, which did get colonized by European powers but which I think is fair to call culturally independent of Rome if India is. Conversely, North Africa was under the direct jurisdiction of the Roman Empire for a lot of its history, and it's now overwhelmingly Muslim (though small Christian minorities still exist; e.g. the Egyptian Copts).
2Salemicus7yThis is highly questionable sociology. It would be as true to say that religions spread by being the religion of the oppressed - i.e. people taking on religious identity and practice in opposition to dominant societal forces. This is, for example, how Iraq became majority Shi'i. But frankly the claim is so vague and value-loaded as hardly to be a claim about the world. "The oppressor"? C'mon. It really just boils down to "boo religion." Your comment has many good points, but too much of it is like this, which means that the interesting parts get lost. Yes, in raw numbers, but the world population was approximately 5% of what it is today, so the comparison is flawed. A significant proportion of the world's population was Christian in 300 AD. The growth is particularly impressive when you consider the much greater difficulties in communication in those days. The article you link is particularly dishonest because it lists various advantages that early Christianity had over present-day Mormonism, but neglects to consider all the many disadvantages. That isn't fair. In what way are, say, Scandinavia and Russia descended from the Roman Empire? Never part of the Roman Empire, never colonised by a country in the Roman Empire. In what way are the Philippines an indirect descendant of the Roman Empire that doesn't also apply to India? Even more fatally for your argument, look at England. Christianity died out there after the Romans left and the country went pagan, but then the new people converted to Christianity. It's only after they became Christian that the Anglo-Saxons started seeing the Roman Empire as part of their cultural heritage. It looks to me like your causation is precisely backwards.
0randallsquared7yRussia is a poor counter-argument, given that the ruler of Russia was called Caesar [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsar].
2Salemicus7yNo, Russia is an excellent counter-argument. Why was the ruler of Russia called Caesar? Because a some culturally Roman guy conquered them, as in JQuinton's narrative? No. Rather, because they converted to Christianity, and so they greatly respected the (Eastern) Roman Empire and saw it as part of their world, and so their rulers started calling themselves Caesar to invoke that heritage. In other words, they took to the Roman (Byzantine) cultural heritage because they became Christian, they did not become Christian because they had Roman or Byzantine heritage.
0[anonymous]7yI thought the link went to The What-You’d-Implicitly-Heard-Before Telling Thing [http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/06/17/the-what-youd-implicitly-heard-before-telling-thing/] on Slate Star Codex.
0Nornagest7yThere's something strange going on here; they're claiming a huge effect size (six times the compliance rate in the letter test) after 15 minutes of gaming, which doesn't seem to pass the giggle test to me. And if you crunch the numbers on compliance, the most likely totals look to me like 6 of 31 vs. 1 of 29, so they must have some huge error bars. I can't properly analyze this without access to the original paper, but there's definitely a suspicious odor about it. I'd like to have seen a longer-term follow-up, too. (That said, people temporarily assuming some of the mentality of characters in media does tally with my experience. And the OSU study looks a lot better.)

I can't find the comment of Eliezer that inspired this but:

The "If-you-found-out-that-God-existed scale of ambition".

1) "Well obviously if I found out God exists I'd become religious, go to church on Sundays etc."

2) "Actually, most religious people don't seem to really believe what their religion says. If I found out that God existed I'd have to become a fundamentalist, preaching to save as many people from hell as I could."

3) "Just because God exists, doesn't mean that I should worship him. In fact, if Hell exists then G... (read more)

0garabik7yThe God Engines by John Scalzi

A master was once unmoved by the complaints of his disciples that, though they listened with pleasure to his parables and stories, they were also frustrated for they longed for something deeper. To all their objections he would simply reply: "You have yet to understand, my friends, that the shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story."

You need a good story. That's all. A good story.

2 things come to my mind as examples:

The first one is about the past and comes from a novel called "Quo Vadis" which is about early christ... (read more)

2Lumifer7yNotably, both are fiction. And what exactly would make that story "rational"? Pray to St.Bayes to discover the power of love? X-0
2savageorange7yI find I can always count on you to make pointlessly snarky comments. I would prefer to be more specific, and say 'understanding, acceptance, confidence, control, and love' (with clear definitions for each, probably similar to the ones in the GROW Blue Book). Not all of these things can be used to make clever, snappy remarks to wow outsiders, but they are all necessary for a satisfying life, and therefore must be addressed effectively by any sound philosophy of life. The parent comment was only vague, not wrong.
2Lumifer7yOne of the services I provide :-P I don't see how understanding, acceptance, and love follow from rationality. Confidence and control are more reasonable. Are you saying that rationalism is a "philosophy of life", even leaving the soundness aside for a minute? The parent comment said: "You need a good story. That's all. A good story." That's not vague. That's wrong.
0savageorange7yThey do not follow from it, they are necessary to it. * You need to relate well to yourself and others (love) in order to actually accomplish anything worthwhile without then turning around and sabotaging it. * If you discover something, you need to accept what is actually going on in order to come to understand it, and understand it in order to apply it. No. But a story that is trying to have broad appeal needs these things, whether it's a story about rationality or about watching paint dry. A story conveys a sense of life. That depends on what you think 'good' is supposed to imply there. If 'convincing' is the intended connotation, then yeah, wrong. If 'consistent' is the intended connotation, that is not obviously wrong, People need stories to help them get stuff done, even though stories are overall pretty terrible. Science, for example, has methods, but overall science is a story about how to get accurate data and interpret it accurately in spite of our human failings. The way that the elements of that story were obtained does not make it any less of a story. History itself is a story, no matter how accurate you get, it remains a narrative rather than a fact. Reality exists, but all descriptions of it are stories; there are no facts found in stories; Facts are made of reality, not of words.
0terasinube7yI think a fidelity to the truth will make the story rational. I would love a story without slips into magikal thinking.
0Lumifer7yWhat do you call "the truth" in the context of a fictional story?
-2terasinube7yThe truth I was referring in the previous comment is Scientific understanding. Also, when I said story I did not meant a work of fiction but more like an work of vision. Something like a reimagining of what life could be for the human race and the commitment to implement that vision as expressed by the people telling the story and living the story.
-2Lumifer7yI don't understand what these words mean to you. I still don't understand. What does "fidelity to the truth" mean in the context of ideology? Science doesn't tell you what your values should be.
-3terasinube7yThink about a SF movie like Gravity, fidelity to truth is making sure the details are coherent with the way reality works, with the way we currently understand reality to work. In a certain regard this is true. Science doesn't tell you if you should be a sociopath of a pro-social person. However, once the pro-social stance has been selected, science can point at what values have a track record of providing this pro-social outcome. Cooperation, compassion, forgiveness... this have documented outcomes. There are scientific studies regarding what is conducive to happiness and meaning. There is the whole field of eudaimonia studies that is clearly pointing towards specific values. It doesn't tell you how to prioritise them but it sure points at what they should be. Greed, altho a value to some... is not something that has pro-social outcomes (not to my knowledge).
0Lumifer7ySo, a simpler word would be "realistic". That's an interesting choice of values. Links? Then the success of capitalism must be a complete mystery to you.
-2terasinube7yStart here: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/ [http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/] Wouldn't be more useful to just provide a valid counter example instead of mocking me?
6Lumifer7yThe success of capitalism is a valid counterexample.
-7terasinube7y
0ChristianKl7yHPMOR [http://hpmor.com/] is a good rational story. I think a rational story in which the protagonist uses CBT from The Feeling Good Handbook to become happy and end his depression, would be a good project. I don't think it's an easy project but there a possibility for high impact. In case anybody feels the call for writing that story and wants help with getting the narrative right, I would be happy to do it as a joint project or just advice. The problem is that a lot of the people in this community don't like the idea of emotions let alone deep ones like love [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jqq/is_love_a_good_idea/]. This community would have to shift quite a bit. Dave Chapman's article going down on the phenomenon [http://meaningness.com/metablog/going-down-on-the-phenomenon] illustrates an ideal of love for science that I consider worthy of being spread. Getting the narrative right to make that ideal of love is acceptable to the average LW person is a hard task.
3blacktrance7yFeeling Rational seems to be endorsed more often than not, and straw Vulcans are often condemned.
2ChristianKl7y"Rational" is not a word that correspond to something that commonly considered an emotion. You can feel love, you can feel anger but you can't really feel rational in the same sense. You do endorse the idea of feeling but the fact that you speak about feeling something that's no emotion illustrates the core issue. There a lot of talk about utility functions that people supposedly use and Bayesian calculations, when in reality humans usually make decisions based on emotions. When challenged by Dave Chapman that maybe Bayesianism isn't the one true solution, few of the senior LW people that responded to him even got what he meant. I highlite the "going down on the phenomenon"-post because it's what Chapman wrote at the end after his critique of Bayesianism. On a superficial level quite a few people admit that emotions are important but they don't take them seriously. LW as it currently exists is no place that radiates love and peace. There are cool people at meetups but on the level of what story LW tells at the moment there's no love and peace. Certainly not enough love and peace to compete on that level with an established religion.
0blacktrance7yI was referring to the post Feeling Rational [http://lesswrong.com/lw/hp/feeling_rational/], which I've found the community to generally agree with. Rationality and emotions aren't necessarily opposed, because emotions are often something that the truth can't destroy.
0ChristianKl7yI think the way the post ends is quite telling: That's the core problem, on a philosophical level many agree that emotions are a good thing, but they still feel badly speaking about emotions. You can reason perfectly well that emotions are okay and rationality and emotions aren't opposed. That doesn't mean that you like them. Of course recognizing that you feel bad about the concept of emotions requires you to notice what you feel.
2savageorange7yBut this is not a specific problem of rationalists.. It's a broader problem with Western culture. Feeling strongly about things is not 'cool' or impressive. Plenty of people enjoy complaining, but passion makes you an alien.. perhaps an inspiring one, but ultimately an alien.. a person of whom people say 'oh, I could never do that', even if in the other breath they praise your passion and dedication. I hesitate to assign a definite cause for that, but I am willing to comment that Western society somewhat deifies disaffected sociopathy, through its presentations in media, and also that I have a strong impression that most people have encountered enflamed evangelists, and they don't want to be that person. Whether they recognize it as ugly or not, they treat it as ugly, though spectacular.
1ChristianKl7ySport fans do have strong feelings while watching basketball and that's socially acceptable. As a result children want to go into the NFL instead of becoming scientists. Yes. That means that if you manage to have community where having strong positive feeling is the norm, all sorts of people should have an interest into joining that community. If you manage to succeed at that task you have a pretty big lever on your hand to produce large societal changes. The problem with evangelism is that it's usually targeted at outsiders. Instead it's much better to target people who are receptive to your message and give them a narrative that allows them to feel more positive emotions by being part of your cause. As your cause grows and people who are unhappy with their lives have a valid reason to come to your movement and believe your narrative to become happy. You don't go to them and force your narrative on them but you let them come to you. If a journalist comes and wants an interview and you have 2-3 free hours you gives them his interview but you don't really need to go out and try to persuade outsiders. The most important work is getting the community itself right.
0terasinube7yWell... it depends on what you point at. Love, as I view it is not something that can be easily defined. To me it's a way of being into this world. This video describes it [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxbgtVxrrR8]. As for emotions... why would anyone dislike the joy of figuring things out? the post flow feeling of accomplishment? They are wired into our positive reinforcement system and as long as the thing they are reinforcing is a thing worth investing in, why not let nature run its course?
1ChristianKl7yThat just means that you don't have a well defined concept of the term you are speaking about. I would guess the same is true for most Lesswrongers for most emotions. But as far as your link goes, I would predict that most people on LW won't be receptive to that kind of talk. I would be very surprised to be proven wrong. If you want a fancy answer: Second-order cybernetics. A simple answer would be because you can't feel a strong emotion while wearing a mask. It requires you to give up control and get out of your head. I mean something specific with the phrase "get out of your head", but I would guess that a good portion of LW don't know exactly what I'm talking about and I know of no way to make it clear via this medium. I could probably come up with a bunch of more reasons if I would invest time.
0terasinube7yGood point. It made me realise that I haven't investigated this more seriously lately.
0[anonymous]7yFeeling Rational [lesswrong.com/lw/hp/feeling_rational/] seems to be endorsed more often than not, and straw Vulcans are often condemned.

At the risk of sounding naive, we have one big advantage, which is that our core dogma doesn't sound batshit ridiculous on its face.

When you're competing to get people to believe in (and fund) your invisible goblin over the other guy's invisible dragon, you're going to need to rely on violence, intimidation, social pressure and anti-epistemology.

When you're just trying to convince people that the sky is in fact blue, and then go on to show them that you can build rockets and Internets out of such simple facts, and that goblins and dragons don't actually fi... (read more)

At the risk of sounding Deeply Wise, I'm unconvinced that having a core dogma that doesn't sound batshit ridiculous is an advantage.

Getting money for the invisible goblin doesn't need violence or intimidation. You tell your followers that the goblin commands we help those less fortunate, and they open up their wallets. You tell them that the goblin must have churches, and they vote to set aside land and exempt you from taxes. You may call this social pressure or anti-epistemology if you want, but they want a goblinist present when they die, and they want to be buried on the goblin's soil.

It isn't about proving that the sky is blue. The goblin doesn't dispute that. Rockets and Internets probably won't kill religion any more than boats and telephones did. The man in the lab coat can invent as much stuff as he wants, and the people will buy it and use it and go to the man in the goblin outfit every Holy Day to hold their snake sticks aloft. They don't see a contradiction. (For the most part. Obviously their are a few dragons whose priests forbid modern technology to their followers, but they are not usually your competition).

Atheist says The God Of Physics can tell you everyth... (read more)

1Lumifer7yGiven that historically that has never been so I don't see why do you think the future will be any different. As an aside, "rockets and Internets" look pretty pale in comparison to the unconditional love of a god and the promise of eternal life :-D
0Oscar_Cunningham7yWell I'm sure it must be true on average that it's easier to convince people of true things. After all, here we all are; believing a bunch of true things.
2Salemicus7yNo, it's easier to convince people of false things. After all, here we are, believing a bunch of false things. How would you tell?
0Lumifer7ySo, which percentage of the world population is religious and which is atheist..?

Maybe this is off-base, but it seems like a lot of the people who one might want to preach rationality evangelism to, like liberal science-supporting policy-makers and upper-class liberals are very wary of anything that sounds like prosthelytizing (I am not talking about atheist technophiles who haven't found LW yet. That's an easier audience). A lot of them are vague atheists/agnostics who have a vague sense that extreme doctrines about a vastly different future for the human race are scary and weird and fanatical. I think they would strongly reject re... (read more)

3ChristianKl7yYou target the people who are now at university and do the policy in ten or twenty years.
1seez7yThem too, although I think they (social science and liberal arts majors from rich families at top schools, maybe?) would have similar reaction.
1ChristianKl7yThere a lot in that sentence. It's basically that you don't expect the kind of people reached by LW to win and get in positions of power. I don't have the pessimism. I don't think that pessimism is healthy. The top donor for Obama's political campaign was members of the University of California. Then people affiliated with Microsoft and Google on places two and three. Given that's were the money is, why give the money to elected somewhere who's not from that memespace? It makes much more sense to funnel that money into politicians which come from the right background and get them elected. If you are a rich 35 employee at a tech company than supporting that fellow who wants to run for office that you meet ten years ago at a LessWrong meetup makes more sense then funding some politician with a liberal arts background who doesn't really push your agenda. Don't focus on winning people who are too far away. Focus on building a community of like minded people that has power.
2seez7yIt's not exactly that I don't think people on LW could win political power, but the impression I've gotten is that not very many are interested in it or have tried it. Working up through layers of government requires one to leverage a lot of very different skills than the ones emphasized on LW, which doesn't mean LWers couldn't do it but adds to the number of skills one would need to practice and excel at. Sure, if you're a rich techy, support an LW candidate, IF you can find one. Good luck with that. Politicians still need to win over the support of a political party, spend their time networking and building alliances with others in power, reaching out to a large constituency, etc. People doing that travel all the time and work exhaustingly long days. Are they going to go to an LW meetup in their spare time? I think it's unlikely, and to my knowledge (and correct me if I'm wrong) it has not happened extensively in the past. What expressed wasn't pessimism. I think it would be both possible and productive to reach out to new memespaces (hopefully avoiding the term "memespace" in the process). Even if a huge fraction, say 20%, of the people on LW moved into political positions, that would still only be 320 (using the most recent survey results) scattered around the whole world (obviously concentrated in some areas). I don't think it is too bold to claim that the main memespace LW recruits from (youngish technophiles, mostly in America) have focused their lives thus far on different skills than the ones needed to reach political power. That's not to say they can't switch, but it makes it a little more difficult/unlikely. ChristianKI, do you not think reaching out to other groups would be successful? Edit: My main question is, do you think it is easier/more likely for a LWer to reach political power, or someone in power to be converted to LW? I think the latter would be easier if a LWer knew that person well.
0ChristianKl7yI attended one local LW meetup till now. Out of less than 10 people there was one person with interest in a political career and I did my best to provide him an idea of how to go about starting it. That basically means LW is too small at the moment and the community needs to grow in strength. I think that's what's important. Growing is easier when you focus on people that are easy to win for LW's message. Smart colleague students who are likely to have resources in a decade because they are actually playing to win are good. In the US you need to raise enough money to buy television ads to win a district to get into congress. That means you have to network with people who are likely to fund your campaign. If there are a lot of rich techies who aren't really satisfied with the people whom they are at the moment giving their political donations, then building relationships with those rich techies would be the ideal way to network. I think it's plausible that being at LW meetups is exactly the right place to be to network. At the start of wanting to create a Quantified Self (QS) community in Germany I chose to make the first meetups in German to reach a larger audience. That turned out to be a mistake. Nearly nobody that came did speak no English and quite a few people who move within the startup scene of Berlin speak no German and did come to English meetups. We did make a point of emphasis that part of the idea of QS is having meetups while doing TV interviews, but most of the people that came to our meetups didn't came because of mainstream media contact. The kind of people who are actually receptive to the idea are unlikely to watch much TV. That doesn't mean that I avoided speaking with mainstream media as it still reaches some people but the person who watches mainstream media programs just isn't likely to go to a QS meetup. I think there are quite a few people with a hacker mindset that make decent public speakers. Julian Assange did manage to tell a st
0buybuydandavis7yDo you really believe this? From my egoist* perspective, progressives proselytize and worship all day long. One small example, as seen on a coffee cup: "Made from recyclable materials. It's not just good tasting, it's good for the environment." They've turned buying a cup of coffee and throwing away the cup into a sacrament. * egoist in the Stirnerite egoist tradition.
-1seez7yI think I see what you mean, but I would not consider that proselytizing. Or a sacrament. That seems more like really liking to signal that you care about the environment, and really not liking to feel guilty about drinking your cup of coffee. When intense "tree-hugger" types tell them to throw away their cars and buy a cabin in the woods to save the environment, or lie down in the road in front of the trucks going to build the Keystone Pipeline, they usually nod awkwardly then go back to their lattes. Prosthelytizing and evangelism takes fervency and the commitment of resources. That's not what I've seen from wealthy liberals so far.
-1buybuydandavis7yAnd wearing a cross is signaling that you really love Jeebus, and going to confession and doing penance for your sins is really not liking feeling guilty about your sins. Commitment of resources? No way. Besides time, proselytizing and evangelism only takes flapping your gums. That's one of the reasons it's such a popular past time - talk is cheap.
[-][anonymous]7y -1

It's worth considering that people who believe in Very Bad Future Outcomes have been working to prevent those outcomes for thousands of years, and have stumbled upon formidable techniques for doing so.

Judaism has a formidable technique. If someone tries to get you to worship another god, "thou shalt surely kill him, thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death." D'varim 13:6-10

Christianity has a formidable technique. Jesus said: "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them b... (read more)

8Darklight7yUh, I don't know about the others, but that Jesus quote is taken way out of context. It comes from a parable that goes like this: As you can see, it's not Jesus saying to kill actual people in front of him as the quote taken out of context makes it sound like, but rather he is describing what the king in the story is saying. It's part of a parable, and probably meant to be a metaphor for Jesus/God eventually judging non-believers or demons and sending them to Hell. You could maybe argue that the threat of Hell is like a threat of violence, but it's not the same as suggesting that Jesus wanted to have his enemies killed in front of him.
1[anonymous]7yWe agree for the context of the story and the threat it implies. But for it to be only a metaphor (about future violence) one must ignore what Jesus said. Jesus said: "he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one" (Luke 22:36) and "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34).
3Darklight7yRegarding the "buy a sword" quote, he said that to his disciples, and then later says to them that two swords are enough. The most common interpretation of this [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sell_your_cloak_and_buy_a_sword] is that he needed to fulfill a prophecy, and also so as to get him arrested by the authorities for "leading a rebellion". Two swords are obviously not enough to win a rebellion, so it seems like the purpose of this wasn't to convert people through violence. There is a scene later where Peter famously cuts off one of the ears of the people sent to arrest Jesus, and then Jesus goes "enough of that!" and promptly heals the ear, and allows himself to be taken into custody peacefully. Regarding the "not peace but a sword" quote, it's arguable that this is an obvious metaphor for ideological conflict [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/But_to_bring_a_sword]. Again, taken out of context, these verses can sound a lot more aggressive than the context would suggest. Jesus also said things like "Those who live by the sword, die by the sword [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_by_the_sword,_die_by_the_sword]," "Turn the other cheek [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turning_the_other_cheek]," and "Love your enemies [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_your_enemies]". So there's at least as many quotes from Jesus to support an argument for pacifism as there are to suggest otherwise. And arguably as those more pacifist quotes come from his core teachings like the Sermon on the Mount, it is more suggestive of his actual positions. In the context of his overall ministry, and the fact that the Christian martyrs in general were known for their pacifism and willingness to sacrifice their own lives for what they believed in, I would argue that early Christianity spread more because of its non-violent tendencies, and the violence that its opponents inflicted on them. Of course, after Constantine's conversion and the politicization of the Church, things changed, and you could
3[anonymous]7yFor me to say more would be a movement too far away from the original post, and so I will close by saying thank you for your criticism.
6shminux7yThat's one of the worst strawmen imaginable... Sure, many popular religions advocate violence in certain circumstances, but by no means all, and probably none use it as a main way of proselytizing.
-1RolfAndreassen7yBoth Christianity and Islam spread, to some extent, by fire and the sword while they were small. They renounced violence - more or less - when they became top dogs. It could be worth considering whether this is a useful pattern for small movements to follow.
8ChristianKl7yWhile Christianity was small it was mostly a minority religion. Do you really think it spread by the sword in 250 AD?
4Viliam_Bur7yMuhammad also didn't threaten his first few followers with death. So the pattern could be a little more complex: Start friendly, gather believers among nice people. You would lose all violent battles, which is why you don't even try them, and instead rely on your image of a nice person attacked by assholes. At some moment you are strong enough to try a violent coup [http://lesswrong.com/lw/uu/why_does_power_corrupt/]. (If your estimate was wrong, bad luck, you become a very short lesson in history.) Invent a plausible story about why you have to kill the infidels for greater good. You can use the fact that your enemies are perceived as assholes and your friends as nice people, as a leverage. Go and kill, kill, kill! At another moment you have to slow down because you are already too big. You have to focus on developing internal bureaucracy to prevent the whole system falling apart. Your original story of nice people "proactively defending" against the powerful assholes starts seeming less plausible. You have to focus on fighting internal competitors, which leaves less energy for fighting outside enemies. Also it becomes in your interest to preserve the status quo.
4ChristianKl7yChristianity didn't become the official religion of the Roman empire through a violent coup. On the other hand once Christianity did become the official religions the barbarians came and destroyed the Roman empire. Somehow those Barbarians did take Christianity back home. That's the dark ages.
0buybuydandavis7yNo, they didn't renounce violence, they just no longer needed to go to war against already conquered and captive populations. But violence was used to keep them on top, and stomp out the competition. That's been on the decline in Western Christian countries for centuries, at least in terms of enforcing generally recognized Christianity.
0DanielLC7yIt was, but then times changed, and the practice largely died out. If it still worked, then religions that still use it would spread more.