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Feminism with atheism: two great tastes that go together

FeminismReligionScience

Image by Kate O’Brien.

It’s been fascinating to me, as someone who takes an interest in skeptical and atheist activism, to watch the growing feminist/egalitarian consciousness rising up in the movement, as women and people of color have started to protest their marginalization. This series of posts is well worth reading; I’d like to gently suggest to PZ that the problem that I see is more than benign neglect.  When I was at The Amazing Meeting, what was immediately obvious to me was that the movement is afraid of what they’d do without libertarians, in terms of numbers, and the problem with attracting libertarians is that you can’t offend their sexist/racist beliefs without them threatening to take their ball and go home.  But because of this, the movement is missing a great opportunity to recruit women and people of color.  It’s also inculcating an analysis of religion and belief in the supernatural that’s off-base, because it doesn’t incorporate feminism. 

I went to the movie “Religulous” and enjoyed it; however, it’s more than a little bit counterproductive to have a raging misogynist like Bill Maher be a leader in an atheist/agnostic movement.  This is because you can’t really understand the rising tide of fundamentalism if you ignore its anti-feminist reactionary aspects.  It’s far from a coincidence that fundamentalism rose up after women worldwide started to taste freedom of the likes we have not traditionally had and that fundamentalists are preoccupied with using the fear of female sexuality as a scare tactic to give them cover to oppress women.  Someone like Maher can only get as far as resenting that fundies want to restrict his access to sex as part of the program, but he’s disinterested in going further, because to do so is to admit that women are that important.  Christopher Hitchens is an even bigger dingbat, because his racism against non-white people has caused him to treat Islam as if it were a special threat.  But history shows that all religions have the power to help rationalize violence and justify oppression, and his racism prevents him from taking this truth seriously enough, and he gives atheists a bad name.  Luckily, Maher’s star is falling as he continues to plug his irrational fear of vaccines and “Western” medicine (does he think that if you go to the East you won’t find medical doctors and scientists?), but if people had been paying attention to his irrational sexism, they would have been less surprised.

Because sexism is irrational.  PZ Myers gets this, and I’d argue that not only does Richard Dawkins get this, but a lot of his atheist ideas stem directly from feminist analysis, sometimes radical feminist analysis.  For instance, Dawkins’ special focus on children’s rights is some radical shit, but the idea that children are oppressed and denied the right to conscience within the family unit is something straight out of radical feminist critiques of the patriarchy.  Dawkins has also forwarded arguments against the objectification of animals in a way that echoes feminist critiques of the mistreatment of animals that fall in line with the objectification of women.  Dawkins has fallen into the trap of focusing on modest dress over other issues at times; men should be careful around that issue, because of the danger of sending the signal that you’re more interested in seeing more female flesh than you are liberating women from the shackles of patriarchal religion.  PZ Myers is pretty good at handling this sensitively; he often blogs about the way that religion is used as a cover to devalue female lives and bodies in ways that are often deadly.  I’d also like to offer a shout out to Austin Cline, who has always put a feminist and anti-authoritarianism spin on his atheism, and has always seen religion’s power to coerce and control as central to its popularity.

During The Amazing Meeting---and I think I blogged about this before---some sexist and alienating jokes were made onstage.  Female skeptical bloggers protested, and were met with a combination of claims they were overreacting and jokes about how of course the men in the movement want more women, because that increases their visual pleasure and chance at getting laid.  These jokes are intended to defuse women’s anger through flattery, but they do neither, because jokes like that dismiss women’s concerns and also suggest that the main thing women bring to the world is sex---and that women the joke-maker doesn’t find sexually attractive might as well not exist at all.  I wanted to reassure the women making the complaints that I’ve seen this sort of thing get really ugly in the past, but that progress actually occurred because of it.  Nowadays, women are better represented in the netroots, and feminist concerns are much less likely to be treated as second tier by male bloggers. 

And the latter is what I think feminists in the skeptical/atheist movement need to angle for as much as reaching for better representation. For liberal men, getting to the point where you start to really believe that the opposition is strongly motivated by sexism can be a painful journey, for reasons I don’t quite understand, but I’ve nonetheless seen enough men make the journey to sympathize with how hard they worked to get to the point where they were willing to accept that a lot of our politics in this country go back to the struggles in the hearth between women who want more power and men who fear it.  (And women like Sarah Palin who side with sexist men because they think they’ll go further that way.) The struggle may be even more painful for a lot of the men in the skeptical/atheist movement who have not thought much about the importance of sexism in our country, and the amount of energy that sexists put into defending it.

But I believe you cannot understand religion’s enduring popularity without understanding its role in systems of oppression. The belief that some people are lesser than others, and should be relegated to a servant class, is unscientific and irrational, and so religion is better for defending these beliefs than science.  Oh, people try with pseudoscience, they really do.  And I’m a fan of resisting armchair evolutionary psychology aimed at rationalizing racism and sexism.  But on the ground, most people skip even trying to come up with something that sounds rational to defend their bullshit, and go straight to “god said so”.  The stampede into evangelical churches that aim at shutting down the brain seems to be a straight up reaction to women/non-white people/gays and lesbians making serious gains in our society.  Overt racism has slipped out of vogue from the pulpit, but that’s a recent innovation, and I’d argue that the surge of a Christianity that’s about putting a religious gloss on right wing ideas functions to reinforce racist systems. 

Obviously, that’s not the whole story, and there are a few small Christian churches that are genuinely dedicated to social justice, demonstrating that the situation is very complex.  But if you take the feminist/anti-oppression lens off the table, you’re going to be bad at understanding the big picture.

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Posted by Amanda Marcotte on 10:15 AM • Permalink

Racist, sexist, etc, and the plutocrats who love them will always take *any* idea that has currency and social power and misappropriate according to their needs.  Bashing religions for such people has always been a waste of time, when we should bash the people directly.

Comment #1: shah8  on  11/23  at  12:14 PM

No, shah8; unlike other ideas with “currency and social power,” religion has specific, doctrinal, sometimes ‘infallible’ dogmas that insist on female subordination and loathsomeness.  Other ideologies can be used incidentally to bash women, but religion puts misogyny at its core.

Comment #2: Unree  on  11/23  at  12:25 PM

This is very exciting! You are well on your way to being a first rate postmodern deconstructionist.
Soon we need to start talking about the social deconstruction of gravity, as it is a very oppressive force which inversley privileges mass. This is not acceptable in a just universe!

Comment #3: ayutokamina  on  11/23  at  12:27 PM

shah, you’re missing the point.  The point is that religion puts a value on irrationality, which makes it the perfect tool for promoting irrational beliefs like misogyny.  Other ideologies can be challenged with evidence and reason, but religion is allowed a pass by most people. And that’s why it’s especially dangerous.

Comment #4: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  12:29 PM

ayutokamina: It is impossible for someone to miss the point so thoroughly because of mere ignorance, so I will assume you are dodging it on purpose.

Comment #5: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  12:35 PM

Sorry, ayuto, but religion simply isn’t gravity.  I can choose not to believe---see, doing it now!---and yet I can’t choose to give up being pulled into the gravitational force of the earth.

Comment #6: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  12:38 PM

The funniest part about ayuto’s shit fit is the most articulate critiques of postmodern excess come from skeptics and science people.

Comment #7: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  12:41 PM

Taking on religion is really, really hard… for believers, even our allies among the believers, it cuts to something deep that they leap to defend.

Once, in school, I made a casual comment about the political expediency of the Virgin of Guadalupe to a gay, Latino professor… he was very gentle with me as he pointed out that I was being offensive, and he’d fucking cut me. I didn’t realize someone so progressive could still be deeply Catholic.

I don’t really know how to engage on this topic, but I am guessing ayutokamina’s complaint might be typical of anyone who believes religion is something other than a construct designed to perpetuate oppression, a believer… but if we’re actually going to talk about this, what other conclusion makes sense?

Comment #8: humanadverb  on  11/23  at  12:44 PM

Well, gee, equality isn’t necessarily rational.  It’s a good thing, it’s the right thing, but it isn’t prima facie required for best functionality.  Plato would argue for the philosopher-king / benevolent dictator, etc.  Equality is a fuzzy idea while gravity, as you point out, isn’t.  Therefore, perhaps a fuzzy / emotional / subjective system is the best way to promote it.

Of course, that’s all theoretical.  In reality you have to be batshit to believe it batshit ideas.

Comment #9: Magis  on  11/23  at  12:57 PM

I’ve done a quick Google search on “ayutokamina” and all I got were a bunch of anti-Obama, anti-healthcare reform shit from comment areas on various left-leaning/progressive blogs.

My guess is he’s one of them ‘libertarians’ Amanda was talking about, for whom the criticism of organizations that claim to champion science is automatically an attack on science. Or who can be counted upon to bombard the Skeptical Inquirer with hate mail anytime they post favorably on scientific organisations that have the audacity to say that, yes, global warming might have something to do with CO2 concentration and human effect…

Comment #10: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  12:58 PM

In my more forgiving moments, I feel that most libertarian/atheists are so committed to the ideal of how things “should” be that they miss the bigger picture of how things “are,” and that demanding that women give up religion ignores the fact that being active in the church is about the only way a lot of women feel that they can have power and purpose in their communities (even if it’s a false power and an obnoxious purpose). And there are times when I get the impression that libertarian/sexists Maher really believes that women should be in control of their own sexuality (I don’t know if you caught his rant against the people who signed the polanski petition or not) but that he’s sort of ignoring the reality of the situation for a lot of women and just operating in this sphere that we’re all masters of our own sexual reality so there’s nothing wrong with him making obnoxious sexual comments of the “show your tits” variety.

Those moments don’t last long, but they do happen.

Comment #11: Mighty Ponygirl  on  11/23  at  12:59 PM

The sad thing is that plenty of religions (including/especially christianity) that started out as religions of the oppressed had a fair amount of proto-feminist analysis and practice in them. It took a lot of work to extirpate that.

Comment #12: paul  on  11/23  at  01:00 PM

Once, in school, I made a casual comment about the political expediency of the Virgin of Guadalupe to a gay, Latino professor… he was very gentle with me as he pointed out that I was being offensive, and he’d fucking cut me. I didn’t realize someone so progressive could still be deeply Catholic.

I don’t really know how to engage on this topic...

I might be taking you out of context here, and if I am, I’m sorry.  But in my opinion, as a non-atheist who is as skeptical of the role of Religion as you are, the best course of action is to tread lightly with people whose specific stance you’re not absolutely sure of.  It’s generally a better course of action in life than offending everyone because you winning an Atheist Cookie is more important than others’ feelings.

There are plenty of politically progressive, even radical, people who don’t have the same militantly atheist stance that you do.  Not everyone has to think exactly the same as you.  Furthermore, not everyone who thinks you are being offensive when you speak about religion is some kind of ultra-conservative fundamentalist throwback.  They might be every bit as atheist as you are, but happen to also hold the opinion that you’re acting like an ass and should STFU.

Comment #13: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  01:01 PM

Well, gee, equality isn’t necessarily rational.  It’s a good thing, it’s the right thing

If something is right it is rational, and vice-versa.

Comment #14: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  01:01 PM

“For liberal men, getting to the point where you start to really believe that the opposition is strongly motivated by sexism can be a painful journey, for reasons I don’t quite understand, but I’ve nonetheless seen enough men make the journey to sympathize with how hard they worked to get to the point where they were willing to accept that a lot of our politics in this country go back to the struggles in the hearth between women who want more power and men who fear it.”

I don’t know how hard that is.  I don’t think it’s any harder than, for instance, coming to be an atheist.  For some it’s very easy.  I became an atheist the moment I began to examine the belief in gods.  It struck me as irrational from the beginning.  I became a feminist the moment I began to examine sexism.  It struck me as irrational from the beginning.  What I find most interesting about sexism is the cognitive dissonance involved, the inability to see what is right in front of you.  Speaking as a man (my penis makes it difficult for me to speak as a women), I could tell from a very early age that women were more than talking vaginas.  I’m not sure why “getting to the point” etc. would be difficult for liberal men except, and I think this speaks to the point of the article, that they might not be rational men in all areas.  That is, people, male or female, are sometimes rational in some things and irrational in others, which I would guess is the reason that it is sometimes difficult for “liberal men” to reach the offered conclusion.  The thing of it is, logical conclusions are pretty inescapable and require a lack of rationality to escape them.  The real question is not “why is it difficult for liberal men” etc., but rather, “what is it that is threatening or scary in seeing this conclusion?”

Ah, that was fun, but I have no idea if I made any sense or not.  I have a head cold and I’m not grokking perfectly.

Comment #15: DBK  on  11/23  at  01:16 PM

Going along with what Paul (#12) said, I think there’s real value still left in religion - it just requires some doing to pull it out from under all the woman-hating bullshit. I guess that’s easier with my faith (Reform Judaism) due to the lack of any central governing body dictating theology to the masses or any central catechism beyond the belief in God (which, truth be told, is also somewhat optional among Reform Jews). It’s a lot easier to think and interpret the Bible for yourself when your religious tradition actively encourages you to do so. I guess what I’m getting at is if people are presented with a wide range of interpretations of holy texts and then allowed to interpret these texts on their own, it’d certainly neutralize religion’s negative effects on gender equality. Hell, the right biblical interpretation would even be able to use religion as a positive force to promote gender equality…

(Not to mention the fact that a few thousand years of scholarship leaves plenty of room for interpretation, and provides plenty of different existing interpretations. For example, while much rabbinic law is clear about a woman’s proper role in a marriage, other rabbinic law is actually fairly progressive with regards to a woman’s rights in a marriage - essentially, if she’s not getting what she wants sexually or materially, it’s okay for her to “get” out. It’s not a clearly pro-feminist line, but it certainly could be used as a jumping-off point to demonstrate that the correct Biblical interpretation is one that treats men and women as equals...)

Comment #16: Jeff  on  11/23  at  01:18 PM

If something is right it is rational, and vice-versa.

Nuh-uh. It’s perfectly rational for a bunch of people at the top of the pyramid to rewrite the rules so that they, their heirs and assigns will reap disproportionate benefits from the labor of all, and to figure out ways to disguise that fact so that the people in the lower tiers don’t gripe too much and don’t try too hard to change their relative position.

Comment #17: paul  on  11/23  at  01:18 PM

BlackBloc:

If something is right it is rational, and vice-versa.

Consider the following from Transcendence and Reason

Let’s begin with a discussion of the limits of reason. If one fails to understand that reason is grounded in something that transcends reason, one renders oneself intellectually blind and spiritually deaf, or an autodeceiver. As Schuon explains, there are two conditions that always condition the effectiveness of our reasoning, one of which is internal, the other external.

The internal factor is “the acuity and profundity of the intelligence” involved. This factor obviously transcends reason, as it varies dramatically in the human mom & population. Shallow and deep thinkers are equally capable of reasoning. For example, in the hands of a shallow intellect such as Charles the Queeg, reason simply confirms its own shallowness, and searches no further. Reason encircles itself and closes up shop, just waiting for the dirt to fall or fire to consume.

The goodness of equality is probably a transcendent truth, not necessarily a rational one.

Comment #18: Magis  on  11/23  at  01:27 PM

It’s generally a better course of action in life than offending everyone because you winning an Atheist Cookie is more important than others’ feelings.

When a person who happens to be an atheist says something casually, in line with his or her privately held beliefs, that runs counter to the privately held beliefs of another, that is NOT demanding an “atheist cookie.”

Unless you consider yourself to be demanding “believer cookies” every time you express a thought in line with your own belief system.

Comment #19: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  01:30 PM

Amanda, I think your generosity to the atheist/sceptic blogosphere crowd is unwarranted. Of course PZ Meyers and Daniel Dennet themselves are not raving mysoginists, but they certainly can be mysoginists by neglect. PZ occasionally posts super sexist stuff on his blog, and the antifeminist shit storm I’ve reaped in trying to highlight it and make it stop has more or less put me off commenting on there for ever. And then you’ve got guys like Hitchens and Maher, not to mention lesser antireligionist luminaries like Martin Amis. There’s a lot of penis inches invested in the cleverer-than-thou stance of New Atheism; as a sub-culture it’s very heavily weighted towards the Smart Guy(tm) crowd, and is rife with antifeminist landmines.

Atheists are different from feminists in that they have an easily recognisable enemy with a face to it, wheras feminists are shadow boxing against a whole social paradigm. They’re not really as much into dismantling religion as a system of oppression as they are into slamming religious people, and too many of them define their identities by that dichotomy to make me comfortable that they’re not just pro-science bigots. That’s not an argument against atheism (I’m still an atheist, Hitchens or no), but I do think that they’re not the natural fellow travelers to feminism that you think they are.

Yes, the other night when someone on a thread there called rape “a mere inconvenience” and dismissed it as “20 seconds and we only have her word for it”, he caught hell. But that was in the 400’s of an almost thousand comment thread, and a lot of horrible shit got under the wire prior to that by not being quite offensive enough to trigger outrage. It wasn’t a bad showing on the whole for the community, but mostly because of the surprising growth in articulate and passionate feminist voices, not because the rank and file are undergowing some sort of growth process.

Comment #20: TheLady  on  11/23  at  01:41 PM

When a person who happens to be an atheist says something casually, in line with his or her privately held beliefs, that runs counter to the privately held beliefs of another, that is NOT demanding an “atheist cookie.”

Considering that the speaker was criticizing a Latino cultural icon to a Latino professor, I think that the offense is not strictly religious, but also cultural.  Along the lines of, “Oh, you foolish Latinos with your silly veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe—we Anglos know better and you should, too!” Particularly since, IIRC, the Virgin of Guadalupe is often a symbol of resistance to oppression, especially cultural oppression.

That’s the tricky line when you get into criticizing religion—it’s very, very easy to slip into, say, anti-Arab rhetoric when criticizing Islam or anti-Latino talk when criticizing Catholicism, and saying, “But I was only criticizing the religion!” doesn’t get you a free pass for saying something assholish about Arabs.

Comment #21: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  01:48 PM

There’s a lot of penis inches invested in the cleverer-than-thou stance of New Atheism; as a sub-culture it’s very heavily weighted towards the Smart Guy(tm) crowd, and is rife with antifeminist landmines.

Quoted for truth.

Comment #22: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  01:50 PM

Bill Maher is yet another example of women being asked to “take one for the team”.  The idea is that atheism is so important that it’s OK to support a raving misogynist to promote it, and “don’t worry ladies, we’ll worry about you after we take care of the important stuff, honest.”

Comment #23: catgirl  on  11/23  at  01:54 PM

Opo @ #13:

Do I actually understand you correctly?  Are you really saying that atheists should be very careful to moderate any discussion of their beliefs so as to avoid hurting the feelings of anyone present who doesn’t share them?

What is special about religion that you would place this restriction on an atheist, when I’m sure you wouldn’t place it on a feminist, a gay-rights activist, or a member of any other minority group struggling for equality?

Comment #24: Seraph  on  11/23  at  01:57 PM

Considering that the speaker was criticizing a Latino cultural icon to a Latino professor, I think that the offense is not strictly religious, but also cultural.

And I agree with you. But the cultural offense was NOT what opoponax slagged off as looking for an Atheist Cookie.

Comment #25: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  01:58 PM

paul:

Nuh-uh. It’s perfectly rational for a bunch of people at the top of the pyramid to rewrite the rules so that they, their heirs and assigns will reap disproportionate benefits from the labor of all, and to figure out ways to disguise that fact so that the people in the lower tiers don’t gripe too much and don’t try too hard to change their relative position.

Garbage in, garbage out. The ideology of dominance is not based itself on anything rational, which is why they need to hide it under ideological legerdemain. Now if your arguments (or actions) are all rational but you start from garbage, the conclusion is still garbage.

1) A implies B
2) A
3) therefore B

is a perfectly valid argument, but if either ~A, or ~(A implies B), then the conclusion is erroneous.

Comment #26: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  01:58 PM

There are plenty of politically progressive, even radical, people who don’t have the same militantly atheist stance that you do.  Not everyone has to think exactly the same as you.  Furthermore, not everyone who thinks you are being offensive when you speak about religion is some kind of ultra-conservative fundamentalist throwback.  They might be every bit as atheist as you are, but happen to also hold the opinion that you’re acting like an ass and should STFU.

Hrm, I feel like you’ve over reacted. The historicity of religion is an academic subject, and it can’t possibly be wrong to discuss an academic subject with a professor. The professor was the one who was acting unprofessionally in this context. I didn’t get any hostility from ha’s comment at all.

Comment #27: Entomologista  on  11/23  at  01:58 PM

(Sayeth the atheist who feels perfectly capable of expressing her lack of belief in a deity without somehow turning it into an anti-Arab slur.)

Comment #28: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  01:59 PM

The goodness of equality is probably a transcendent truth, not necessarily a rational one.

Transcendent? Ugh. I’m sure the goodness of equality can be argued from purely utilitarian reasons.

Comment #29: pablo  on  11/23  at  02:07 PM

Amanda-I disagree that Hitchens is a liability to the atheist movement because of his focus on radical Islam. Ayan Hirsi Ali also focuses on Islam as a special threat, and at this time I believe they are correct to do so.

Comment #30: pablo  on  11/23  at  02:09 PM

As someone who takes pleasure in being clever, I reject the idea that competitive cleverness is automatically anti-feminist. That comes uncomfortably close to suggesting wo
en cannot be clever, witty, or competitive.

Comment #31: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  02:10 PM

When a person who happens to be an atheist says something casually, in line with his or her privately held beliefs, that runs counter to the privately held beliefs of another, that is NOT demanding an “atheist cookie.”

I guess it would depend on the specifics of the conversation, but in general I feel that it’s not polite to offer up your opinion on someone else’s religious background (even if you assumed they weren’t devout), as an outsider.  Regardless of whether you’re an atheist, a member of a different religion, or whatever.  Just as I think it’s not a great idea for atheists to offer up reductionist analyses of religions they don’t belong to, I think it’s also not a great idea when Christians offer up reductionist analyses of Judaism, or Jews offer up reductionist analyses of Islam, or Hindus offer up reductionist analyses of atheists.

Saying, “The Virgin Of Guadalupe is really just a tool of the Catholic church to reinforce patriarchy and keep people oppressed...” is not you talking about your own beliefs as an atheist.  It’s you passing judgment on someone else’s beliefs.  People don’t take kindly to that, even if they themselves aren’t very religious*.  It’s rude.  It’s practically the dictionary definition of “rude”.  It’s something you just don’t say to someone unless you’re willing to own the potential social faux pas.  In that situation it’s not a failing of religious people to succumb willingly to reductionist criticism, it’s a failing of the arrogant atheist who put her foot in her mouth.

*It also gets a lot hairier when the religious belief in question has strong ties to a racial, ethnic, or class community that the listener belongs to and the speaker does not, as seems to be the case with Ha’s example.

Comment #32: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  02:11 PM

Nowadays, women are better represented in the netroots, and feminist concerns are much less likely to be treated as second tier by male bloggers.

I must respectfully disagree.  Along with feminist blogs, I also follow a lot of skeptical blogs.  When I try to bring a feminist perspective to an issue in the comment thread, it is often met with hostility.  I was recently surprised how bad it really is.  In a comment, I suggested that rather than teaching our daughters that they might not be able to have both a good career and a good family, we could instead teach our sons to do their share of unpaid domestic and childcare work (but paraphrased for non-feminists).  I even went so far as to suggest that we teach our daughters to expect their husbands to contribute.  A few people, including some women, politely disagreed with me, and that was fine.  Then some guy went off on a rant about how terrible feminism is, and how we’re just selfish middle-class women who want to have careers and not be objectified, all at the expense of the poor “real” women.  He claimed that we don’t care about poverty, access to birth control, or minimum wages.  Sadly, no one bothered to refute him, so I ended up looking like some crazy feminist when I explained that he was completely wrong.

There are plenty of other blogs where I usually don’t even bother to comment on typical misogynist stuff, because I know that everyone will tell me it’s just a joke.  Occasionally I’ll point out that we don’t need to insult Ann Coulter by calling her ugly, because there are plenty of legitimate things to criticize her about.  I’ll get some support for that, but that’s about as far as I can go.

Comment #33: catgirl  on  11/23  at  02:13 PM

Bill Maher is yet another example of women being asked to “take one for the team”.  The idea is that atheism is so important that it’s OK to support a raving misogynist to promote it, and “don’t worry ladies, we’ll worry about you after we take care of the important stuff, honest.”

How are you being asked to take one for the team? Men didn’t appoint Maher to be Atheist Pope. Anyone can speak for atheism. You can’t kick someone out of the atheist club for doctrinal reasons. You don’t have to watch his show or read anything he publishes.

Comment #34: pablo  on  11/23  at  02:13 PM

Are you really saying that atheists should be very careful to moderate any discussion of their beliefs so as to avoid hurting the feelings of anyone present who doesn’t share them?

Since when is “your religion is dumb and oppressive” a reflection of one’s inviolable personal beliefs? 

If I come over to your house and say, “damn, you have horrible taste in furniture,” that’s not me “sharing my beliefs”.  That’s me being an asshole.

Comment #35: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  02:14 PM

Also, when I say sexism is irrational, I’m not saying that people who wish to retain privilege are irrational for this. I’m saying that sexism itself---the belief that women are inferior and/or fundamentally so different from men they should be relegated to a separate sphere---is irrational. There is no evidence for this inferiority, and overwhelming evidence that men and women have more in common than not.

Comment #36: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  02:15 PM

Opoponax- What if i insist on redecorating your house? Then it might be necessary to tell me that my taste sucks.

Comment #37: pablo  on  11/23  at  02:17 PM

Are you really saying that atheists should be very careful to moderate any discussion of their beliefs so as to avoid hurting the feelings of anyone present who doesn’t share them?

Speaking only for myself, I do think that, with the important caveat that I also think that religious people should be very careful to moderate any discussion of their beliefs so as not to make people who don’t share those beliefs uncomfortable.  Being an asshole about your beliefs is still being an asshole, even if you’re being an asshole for the “right” reasons, whether those reasons are “saving a soul” or “correcting ignorance.” And “they started it” isn’t any better of an excuse when you’re an adult than it was when you were a first grader.

Comment #38: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  02:18 PM

Also, re “atheist cookie\”—I’m referring to the habit of feeling the need to share your observations about why everyone else’s religion is wrong, so as to be patted on the head for being a good atheist who is totally right about everything all the time.  Not all atheists do this, btw.  But I’ve certainly seen it happen. And going up to your Latino professor and spouting a half-baked reductionist outsider’s theory about oppression and the Virgin of Guadalupe is a great example of that sort of behavior.

Comment #39: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  02:19 PM

Catgirl, I think you misread the statement. I was pointing out that when feminist bloggers started to agitate against sexism in the netroots, we made significant gains. And so I think that feminist skeptics should not be discouraged. That you encounter sexism now is beyond a doubt. But it’s also true that this poor situation can improve.

Comment #40: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  02:20 PM

Combination of what Amanda said and what TheLady said.

On Amanda’s point, yes, the marriage is quite natural, not only because of the intersection of oppressions, but because some of the best arguments against religion is their intense anti-woman stances that tend to go even beyond whatever state of sexism held by the general society they infest. And a large portion of the arguments against women’s rights tend to be religious arguments because the pseudo-science arguments tend to look really stupid upon investigation in the same way as Intelligent Design talking points look idiotic at examination.

And jumping on BlackBloc’s point, he’s right. I mean, one can argue that oppression could bring a benefit to the dominant pair and thus in the rational interest of one party, but this argument has significant problem. First of all, “rational self-interest” a) often isn’t but more importantly b) doesn’t account for global rationality. What one gains by not focusing on oppression tends to be greater and one has far more people able to operate in the system, which is better for the society as a whole. It also ignores that it is not rationally based in that there is no good arguments on why one person deserves less basic rights than another or for rights to be applied inconsistently along lines of oppression.

And of course, there’s the critical point that oppression sucks for oppressors. By limiting options for another group supposedly for benefit, their potential roles in society are similarly limited though to a comparably less degree. See men in a sexist society where they are constantly under stress and pressure to be an ill-defined idea of a “real man” to which they always seem to be failing. The “gain” is illusory in that it only creates a gap between the sexes one can feel superior about while in actua having less options and rights than in a hypothetical fully egalitarian society where they’d be free to pursue all roles without fear of censure.

And most importantly Amanda’s point is especially seen in comparing here to European societies where secularization of society has aided (incompletely) feminist consciousness and ideas on the rights of women and vice versa what with the socialist-feminists being a strong protest movement.

But that all said, atheism like all new organizations that aren’t specifically female focused, it is having the traditional problem of being dominated by men and thus being dominated by the soft sexism of society. And TheLady is right in that the Libertarian breed of atheist is more invested in the emotional glow of being “smarter than everyone and thus more worthy of rights” than actually looking at how reality works. There is also a number of science-minded skeptics who have been marinating in years of culture that not only dismisses female voices, but also that has been continuously selling the humanities as worthless feminine things while the “hard sciences” are all masculine and smart. So their investment in the same toxic masculinity soup is invested in dismissing any examinations of culture that point out the inequalities that exist and the existence of systems of oppression.

That and the Libertarians often run off female skeptics from most forums and speaking engagements in the same way as the wanna-be frat beta-male types in the geek community often run off potential female geeks by being hostile or creepy.

I suspect Amanda is right that these problems will be addressed like every minority movement. The active inclusion of marginalized voices inside the community will provide more viewpoints and aid the movement as a whole as well as balancing the excesses of when the community was male-dominated.

Seeing people like PZ and Dawkins try to incorporate feminist consciousness and promote female, gay, and black atheist voices is a good sign as is the pushback on those sites against libertarians, Hitchens, and Maher. There is still the infestation of those who are openly hostile to various other groups, but the atheist community is starting to become more embarrassed by the libertarians than the communists and I think that’s an important transformation.

Comment #41: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  02:20 PM

Blackbloc:  it might not be rational to believe all the reasons that have been cooked up for why kings/barons/bankers should get all the goodies, but it’s rational as hell for kings/barons/bankers to try to get other people to believe. Not right, but rational.

Comment #42: paul  on  11/23  at  02:21 PM

What if i insist on redecorating your house? Then it might be necessary to tell me that my taste sucks.

In the example given (professor who happens to be Latino minding his own business), that doesn’t seem to be the case. 

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses knock at your door, say whatever you want.  Belittling a friend’s beliefs is still rude.

Comment #43: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  02:22 PM

How are you being asked to take one for the team? Men didn’t appoint Maher to be Atheist Pope.

When certain atheist claim that I should forgive Maher’s stance on feminism and support him anyway because he’s good for the atheist movement, those people are asking me to take one for the team.  It doesn’t have to be a systematic thing.  Some of them (though not most) are asking me to put my silly feminist opinions aside to promote atheism.

Comment #44: catgirl  on  11/23  at  02:28 PM

I’m pleased that my impolitic comment to the Latino professor has done so much to stir conversation. Additional details:

It was an on-topic comment during a class discussion of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I didn’t run up to a guy no the street and tell him his God is a lie, his breath stinks, and fuck him for being brown. We all agree that would have been wrong of me. As it was, I thought the political expediency of the Church was relevant, though I brought it up in a flippant way that I quickly realized was offensive. He told me to shut it down, and I learned something about dealing with people.

Can we refocus, though? This is important stuff, for us to discuss and to spread the Good News. How do you do that without alienating believers? Atheists are good at talking critically about their core beliefs, because we tend to have arrived there through a critical process… religion isn’t like that, but people still very very deeply about it.

Comment #45: humanadverb  on  11/23  at  02:30 PM

The ideology of dominance is not based itself on anything rational, which is why they need to hide it under ideological legerdemain.

I’ve gotta disagree with you there, BlackBloc.  The ideology of dominance is based in something eminently rational:  I want my group to have more power than any other group.  You can say that the excuses and explanations for that dominance are not rational, but the basic reasoning ("I want more power") is completely rational.  Which is why “rational” and “moral” are not synonyms.

Comment #46: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  02:31 PM

Saying, “The Virgin Of Guadalupe is really just a tool of the Catholic church to reinforce patriarchy and keep people oppressed...” is not you talking about your own beliefs as an atheist.  It’s you passing judgment on someone else’s beliefs.

Except that making a statement like that isn’t passing judgment. There is evidence to support the idea that the Virgin of Guadalupe is an amalgam of one or more Native American goddesses and the Virgin Mary. And this isn’t exactly the first time the Catholic Church has used pagan deities for their own purpose. If you find that offensive, the problem is with you. You’re asking people to lie, to ignore evidence, to stifle discourse, and to engage in intellectual dishonesty all for the sake of a few hurt feelings. Nobody has the right to be insulated at all times from anything that might challenge their beliefs. It’s actually good for you to have your ego bruised and your feelings hurt in that way. If you’re going to make the case that religious ideas deserve special protection, you’re free to do so. But you’re going to need some good evidence to back up that assertion.

Comment #47: Entomologista  on  11/23  at  02:34 PM

32-

Also gets dicey in that religions culturally are given carte blanche to interfere in every aspect of human endeavor. Medical procedures are interfered with because some religious ignoramous has ill-informed “moral objections”. Civil legal procedures are blocked for the same reason. Our very teachings over the basic foundations of an entire field of science have been curtailed because a segment of religious want the entire society to hide knowledge away from them so they can pretend it doesn’t exist.

And shit like Stupak written by the Catholic Bishops or C Street or the theocracy movement which seeks to essentially criminalize everything not approved, the censoring of art especially in Hollywood which is partially done by religious officials (see the film Not Yet Rated).

And that’s before the definition of culture in a lot of ways which is the way so much racism and sexism is culturally not a big deal, but people who speak up against that are unhinged or rude.

The example you comment on is a good point. Yes, it was partially culturally insensitive, but shit like that also informs a host of equally offensive views re: treatment of women, atheists, and the gays that are shrugged off. And the anger towards an atheist who is “rude” to a believer on an issue of faith is considered far far worse than anything a believer can say.

Which is why there’s an entire movement popularizing the assassination of the president and the cultural outrage is incredibly muted, because we are trained to passively accept religious terrorism in this country as long as its the correct religion.

Comment #48: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  02:35 PM

paul @ 42-

It’s rational for the king, yes. But to convince the far more numerous peasants to accept that lot without using their numbers to organize for fairer treatment one requires irrational arguments.

Just because something is good for one, potentially rational to one, doesn’t mean it can be rational for all without a nice coating of bullshit.

Comment #49: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  02:38 PM

Let me give two examples of where “rational” doesn’t always intersect with “feminist”:

1) Evo psych.  Even people who attempt to be rational are never completely rational.  For the men who truly want to believe that women are inferior to them, they turn to pseudo-science rather than religion.  Incidentally, this is one reason I don’t like to blame religion itself for sexism.  People are good at adapting any philosophy to their pre-set conclusions.

2) This is a more common case.  Recently there was a discussion that for most families, it’s more rational for women to cut back on their careers to take care of children, because they tend to make less already.  If that couple decides to have a stay-at-home parent, it makes sense to them individually to lose less income by deciding that the wife should quit.  Of course, this is cyclic, because then the woman has even less chance of making more than her husband.  The idea is that until women get wage equality, it’s more rational for them to sacrifice their careers.  The problem is that women can’t get wage equality as long as employers are expecting them to quit more often than men.  On top of that, some men will see this pattern and choose to only marry women who make less than them.  Because of our cultural insistence that women land husbands, this could discourage some girls from achieving to much, because they scare off too many men.  It’s not intentionally “keeping women down”, and it really is the more rational solution for many families who can’t afford to give up over half of their income.  But accepting the status quo isn’t necessarily a feminist position.

Comment #50: catgirl  on  11/23  at  02:39 PM

Mnem, I don’t buy the argument that personal empowerment in a reasonable substitute for actual feminism.  Women in anti-feminist organizations like Concerned Women or any number of anti-choice groups feel very powerful and respected, but they are objectively Bad For Women because they are against women’s equality.

Religion is probably one of the biggest obstacles for women, if not the biggest.  There are two ways to fight this: from within or without.  Within people are those who join the sadly still small feminist religions, or those who fight to remake their own religion so that it’s not misogynist.  Or you can fight it from without, like I do.  There’s arguments to be made on both sides, but what is clear as could be to me is that if you actively support a misogynist religion because you personally benefit, that is not a proper substitute for real feminism.

Comment #51: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  02:40 PM

Has it yet been considered that there is literally nothing an atheist can say about religion, or their lack thereof, that isn’t considered offensive by the religious?

Feminists are well used to being told to play nice or people won’t listen to them, won’t support them, etc.  isn’t this just another round of that game with different contestants?

“Belittling a friend’s beliefs is still rude. “

funny how it’s only a one-way street though.  I went through some major surgery at the beginning of the summer.  People who know I’m an atheist were telling me “I’ll pray for you” - knowing that I a) don’t care (b) don’t want to hear about it and c) think prayer is an entirely useless, selfish activity.

But, of course I can’t say anything about their belittling my belief re: prayer. I have to plaster a nice fake smile on my face and say “thanks!”

Belittling a friend’s beliefs is only considered “rude” when its a theist objecting.

Comment #52: Gypsy Lee  on  11/23  at  02:41 PM

The ideology of dominance is based in something eminently rational:  I want my group to have more power than any other group. 

You’re mixing up the desire with the ideology.  You describe the desire.  But the ideology is, “My group is superior to yours.” And that is not something that is scientifically demonstrable, but you can always claim that god said it.

Comment #53: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  02:42 PM

There is also a number of science-minded skeptics who have been marinating in years of culture that not only dismisses female voices, but also that has been continuously selling the humanities as worthless feminine things while the “hard sciences” are all masculine and smart.

It can happen even to people who aren’t doing it consciously:  our very own PhysioProf got a little sneery about pop culture and the arts in the Runaways thread below.

Comment #54: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  02:43 PM

Since when is “your religion is dumb and oppressive” a reflection of one’s inviolable personal beliefs? 

If I come over to your house and say, “damn, you have horrible taste in furniture,” that’s not me “sharing my beliefs”.  That’s me being an asshole.

I find it interesting that, absent any specifics from ha, you assume that hir comment was childish, unsubstantive, and phrased to be a direct attack on the professor in question.

Speaking of which, your “furniture” analogy would only be valid if religion was, in fact, a private matter.  It’s not.  Churches are wealthy and powerful organizations that control education, health care and political ideology for countless citizens.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of religion’s impact on society.  Something with that kind of influence needs to be criticized, but religion has a privileged place in our culture.  People can commit terrorism - George Tiller’s murder, Amanda and Melissa McEwan getting stalked and run out of their jobs - and the public is very careful not to say anything that might be interpreted as criticism of the religious groups the terrorists came from, because that would be offensive.  Hell, even supposedly-progressive people tell you that you’re being an asshole if you hurt their feelings in re. their religions.  What else in our culture gets that kind of free pass?

Comment #55: Seraph  on  11/23  at  02:43 PM

Indeed, the skeptic community in American seems to be heavily centered on white dudes. I went to Skepticon II this Saturday (and had a blast!), but I couldn’t help but notice the lack of anyone other than whites. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any at all. But then, it may also be because it took place in SW Missouri which is really whitewashed to begin with.

However, there were lots of women, including myself, which was heartening.

Comment #56: kaje  on  11/23  at  02:43 PM

I don’t read skeptical/atheist blogs even though I’m as atheist as they come.  Usually I say it’s because it’s really, really boring to read/talk about the manner in which things like god and heaven don’t exist.  Religion bores me, even as an academic subject, because I don’t care that god doesn’t exist.  There’s also something about the tone of the bloggers who discuss atheism.  There’s some kind of haughty snootiness that’s a real turn off.

Reading about how mainstream atheism rejects feminism, though, I think the core of that snootiness is that so many men need to be loudest loudmouth disparaging anyone who disagrees with them.  I put Bill Maher in the same category as James Dobson; they both speak as though the person who disagrees with them isn’t worth their notice to begin with.  So of course Bill Maher isn’t going to be open to feminism, anyone who contradicts a thing he says just proved that he wasn’t talking to them so he doesn’t need to listen.

The tendency for men to be in control at all times and need to have their voices being the only ones that people can hear isn’t unique to priests and deacons and popes.  Unfortunately, living in such a hierarchical world where we all recognize spokespeople for various movements, it’s hard for more humane, intelligent atheists to have their voice heard.  Hell, I’m trying to quickly brainstorm and I actually have no idea what a group of atheists would do in a room together *but* talk about how stupid religious people are because this has been the standard procedure every time I went to an atheist meeting of sorts.  It’s also why I’ve disengaged from any kind of atheists groups.  It’s so fucking boring.  Simply doing some secular charity work would go a long way to improving the reputation of atheists on so many levels. 

It kind of bothers me that I don’t have the language to discuss my lack of belief in a god except in hostility towards those who do.  I’m sure this is in part because I don’t care enough to come up with it, again, I’m really not that impressed with myself for not believing in a god to think about it that often, plus religion makes it really easy to feel hostile towards.  But the other side of that is my own lack of creativity and needing the written word to mull over while I learn how to articulate it myself.  There is a gap in the discourse where a polite, moralistic atheist should fill it.

Comment #57: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  02:44 PM

though I brought it up in a flippant way that I quickly realized was offensive. He told me to shut it down, and I learned something about dealing with people.

Thanks for the clarification.  Sorry to blow it out into something it wasn’t.

Though I do think the bottom line comes in when you think of it as “spreading The Good News.” Just like I’m not interested in being converted to Christianity (or any other religion for that matter) and can smell it coming a mile away, I’m not too interested in being converted to any specific brand of atheism/agnosticism/non-belief, and can smell that coming a mile away too.  Don’t think of people as souls to win to your cause.  Think of them as people.  Respect their beliefs as you would want them to respect yours.  Don’t make assumptions about people based on their politics, or their ethnicity, or their sexuality.  Don’t be surprised when people take offense to statements you know are potentially offensive.

If, after speaking to people this way, some of those people you spoke with later have their minds changed or come around to your way of thinking, great.  If not, whatever.  Personally, my beliefs about a lot of this stuff have changed in the time that I’ve been exposed to Internet Atheism.  But it was respectfully listening to ideas presented in good faith that did it*, not anyone Spreading The Good News to me.

*And I’m still nowhere near even remotely calling myself an atheist or subscribing to some of the ideas presented by people like Dawkins, PZ Meyers, et al.  Its more that these conversations have inspired me to do a lot of thinking about my own beliefs, which have adapted over time.

Comment #58: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  02:45 PM

As it was, I thought the political expediency of the Church was relevant, though I brought it up in a flippant way that I quickly realized was offensive. He told me to shut it down, and I learned something about dealing with people.

As I said, I don’t think he was necessarily offended only by the flippancy about religion.  I think that the flippancy about the mixture of religion and minority culture what probably what pissed him off.

Comment #59: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  02:46 PM

The fact that atheists are an oppressed minority is really demonstrated by the fact that every thread on the internet ever about atheism involves discussions about how atheists need to moderate their tone.  Anti-oppression bloggers have noted forever how “tone” arguments are used to negate the content of their arguments in threads.  That’s always a difficult one for me, because it’s both true that complaints about tone are used to silence, and that some people are really assholes.

Comment #60: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  02:46 PM

And that is not something that is scientifically demonstrable, but you can always claim that god said it.

You can also claim that Evolution said it.  It doesn’t make it any more correct, but it is a bit harder to disprove since you have to provide your own experimental data.

Comment #61: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  02:47 PM

50-

Evopsych is not science. It relies on the same fallacies as religions and among actual scientists it is hated and reviled to an enormous degree. If you want to make a biologist apoplectic, either bring up creationism or evo psych (for evolutionary biologists) or bring up how an embryo is totally a fully grown baby (for microbiologists).

But I think there is a good point in that libertarians have muddied the waters of “rational” so much that we are asked to approach “rational self interest” as rationality, instead of cultural rationality or the rational idea of the scientific method as a means of increasing data, building knowledge from that data and examining its impact on the real world.

Just because something might be a good idea for one person, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea overall. Systems of oppression are irrational, because there is no good argument for it other than “I want to be more powerful than you” and it cannot be consistently applied and more importantly those fucked over have no incentives to remain in the system without irrational arguments that give them reasons why they should love their lower options and station.

Comment #62: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  02:47 PM

What Amanda said @ #60.  Perfect.

Comment #63: Seraph  on  11/23  at  02:50 PM

Has it yet been considered that there is literally nothing an atheist can say about religion, or their lack thereof, that isn’t considered offensive by the religious?

Oh, I’ve come to this conclusion a long time ago. Even when the discussion is strictly academic, we’re the bad guys.

Comment #64: Entomologista  on  11/23  at  02:51 PM

funny how it’s only a one-way street though.  I went through some major surgery at the beginning of the summer.  People who know I’m an atheist were telling me “I’ll pray for you” - knowing that I a) don’t care (b) don’t want to hear about it and c) think prayer is an entirely useless, selfish activity.

But, of course I can’t say anything about their belittling my belief re: prayer. I have to plaster a nice fake smile on my face and say “thanks!”

So when a friend gives you an ugly handmade gift that you don’t want, you throw it back in their face and insist that they give you something you like instead?

Comment #65: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  02:52 PM

You can also claim that Evolution said it.

That’s a scientific claim that can be examined and put the test.  I’m not interested in stifling people, per se.  But there’s a giant gap between claiming on faith---which can’t be refuted---and making a scientific claim that can.  Of course people who have no argument hide behind religion.  Because any other kind of claim is fair game for analysis.  You can’t just pout off that this is what you “believe”.  You don’t “believe” a scientific theory.  You prove it.

Comment #66: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  02:53 PM

The fact that atheists are an oppressed minority is really demonstrated by the fact that every thread on the internet ever about atheism involves discussions about how atheists need to moderate their tone.

And yet the fact that I said that religious people also need to moderate their tone is completely erased from the conversation.  Huh.  Amazing how that happens every single time this topic comes up.

Comment #67: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  02:54 PM

Mnem, I don’t buy the argument that personal empowerment in a reasonable substitute for actual feminism.

I don’t think I argued that—can you please point out to me where I did?

Comment #68: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  02:55 PM

And that, for what it’s worth, is why I think religion will always be dominated by those seeking to oppress and control.  There’s a reason that spreading democracy and social justice has resulted in people drifting away from religion.  Without its function of rationalizing injustice, it doesn’t seem to hold many people’s interest.

Comment #69: Amanda Marcotte  on  11/23  at  02:55 PM

60-

Yes, this. It’s especially due to the moral majority movement and like that basically made swearing, uncouth behavior, or simply lacking the proper penis, lack of melanin, and religion to be a serious person more hideous crimes than statements that do undermine or dehumanize someone.

So if I say fuck, my argument is meaningless or brusque, but someone who argues “civilly” about how all rape victims secretly want it must be treated as a serious person. It of course privileges the person with the least amount of day-to-day oppression in the conversation, though it is interesting how what is offensive always gets defined by the more dominant person.

But yeah, some people are assholes, and more critically, some people are unmovable on opinions and exist entirely to gain an emotional benefit by tearing someone else down by dehumanizing language and spotting them by the tactics they employ can save a lot of time otherwise spent on “Someone is Wrong on the Internet” to which we have all been sucked into.

It can also be used to figure out the actual motivations behind the oddly stubborn and obstinate “stated reasons” which the arguer does not seem to be as motivated by as they claim to be. Doing a clinical analysis of tone and word usage as a methodology rather than a debate tactic can figure out for instance that when anti-choicers rant about innocent babies, they seem to be deliberately using word choices and arguments based on how a woman who has unapproved sex must be punished.

Comment #70: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  02:58 PM

So when a friend gives you an ugly handmade gift that you don’t want, you throw it back in their face and insist that they give you something you like instead?

Bad analogy. A better analogy is if I got my vegan friend a package of Omaha Steaks for his birthday. When you say you’ll pray for somebody you know is an atheist, that’s a passive-aggressive douche move.

Comment #71: Entomologista  on  11/23  at  03:00 PM

Churches are wealthy and powerful organizations that control education, health care and political ideology for countless citizens.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of religion’s impact on society.  Something with that kind of influence needs to be criticized, but religion has a privileged place in our culture.

Oh, I absolutely agree with this.

I just also am aware that religions (unfortunately, I suppose) aren’t just big oppressive institutions.  They’re also belief systems.  A lot of people very genuinely hold those beliefs, and a great many others were raised to respect them.  It’s personal to a lot of people.  And, so, yes, they will take it as a personal attack when you insult their religion. 

I don’t think religion is “sacred” in that regard - it’s just personal.  I wouldn’t, even in “context” or in a polite tone of voice, tell you that you smell funny, dress bad, are bad at your job, or that you are stupid.  And likewise I think it’s rude to go around telling people that they are dupes for having respect for Religion X.  Especially because religion is so heavily tied to culture and to personal identity.  You can very easily find yourself insulting someone’s heritage or cultural background, or at least find your comment being taken that way.

Comment #72: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  03:01 PM

65-

You state that for your birthday that you don’t want some tacky offensive thing, you make it clear to them that you find it offensive though you respect their ability to like it.

Then for your birthday, you find the most tacky, offensive version of that you have ever seen in your life. The person then says they bought it for you because they thought you might have changed your mind about it considering something bad recently happened in your life.

Yes, the “ettiquette” is that you are supposed to grin and bear it, which is why the person involved did so in the real world analogy.

But that action is passive-aggressive assholery of an immense level.

Comment #73: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  03:02 PM

I chose my words carefully with “spreading the Good News.”

You are saying I shouldn’t proselytize my beliefs because I might offend people who belief in proselytizing?

But it was respectfully listening to ideas presented in good faith that did it*, not anyone Spreading The Good News to me.

I think you just described what I meant… though I have no idea what you think I meant.

Comment #74: humanadverb  on  11/23  at  03:03 PM

very thread on the internet ever about atheism involves discussions about how atheists need to moderate their tone.

I think that, if someone in a blog comment thread asks how best to talk to non-atheist fellow travelers, it is fully within the rights of non-atheist fellow travelers to give advice in this regard.

Being a religious minority does not entitle one to be an arrogant prick, or obligate members of the majority to pat you on the head for behaving that way.  If you offend people, they’re unlikely to say, “omigod, you’re so right! my entire belief system is a sham! my culture is internalizing oppression via the lies we’re being fed by our religious overlords!  what was I thinking?!” They’re going to tell you what a dick you’re being and politely ask you to stop before you say something you’ll really regret.

Comment #75: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  03:06 PM

Oh god, that bullshit about praying for people drives me nuts.  I just smile and say okay if it’s directed towards me (I don’t thank them because I’m not thankful for it).  But I’ve cultivated my own “I’ll pray for you” type of good intention that actually has a demonstrably better outcome than simply talking to yourself (and is quite creative, if I do say so myself):  “I’ll do a good deed in your honor”.  Though it’s just as useless as prayer is as far as the person you’re talking to is concerned, it literally does make your community/world a better place. 

I don’t always *tell* people that I will do the deed for them, but when my grandmother’s in the hospital or when I’m worried about my sister or something, I let people cut in line in front of me, I’ll donate twenty bucks to medical research of some kind, I’ll bake cookies for my office, etc.  It doesn’t do anything for the person I’m necessarily thinking of, but it makes someone else’s day better and that other person is someone’s sister/friend/grandmother/whatever and maybe they’ll pay it forward.  If the least I can do for my family is treat someone else’s family how I want my family treated, then I’m doing a hell of a lot more than the person who’s praying for my family.

I suppose this is the type of thing that I wish the atheist movement would support:  doing actual good when actual people are actually not well instead of mental masturbation about how lame those lame-o theists are lamely being.  And then *claiming* it as a good, worthwhile thing to do.

Comment #76: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  03:06 PM

Rachel (#57):
That’s pretty much how I feel about discussions about atheism.  I’ve been an atheist so long I can’t remember exactly when it occurred to me that I was one, and it never seemed like a big deal to me.  I did once try to talk about it with a Catholic priest (I attended a Catholic high school).  His response was, “Well, then what created everything?  For there to be existence, something had to start it.” I just looked at him and decided he wasn’t capable of having the conversation I was trying to have about it.  I still haven’t found anyone capable of having that conversation, and all the other conversations about atheism tend to bore me.

“The tendency for men to be in control at all times and need to have their voices being the only ones that people can hear isn’t unique to priests and deacons and popes.”
Yeah, we do kinda suck that way.  I became aware of my own tendency to dominate conversations a few years ago and started listening more and shutting up more.  Talking is a hard habit to overcome, though.  I try.

Comment #77: DBK  on  11/23  at  03:07 PM

And Mnemosyne keeps pointing out that it was probably a cultural factor that irked the prof, not a religious one… yes, probably. But that’s just why religion is such a sensitive topic.

By attacking your church, I’m attacking an awful lot of legitimately good people who have given you comfort, support, advice through the years. I’m telling you that your parents and grandparents who brought you to the church were rubes. I’m telling you that all of those Christmases with family were a silly delusional exercise.

I’m not going to say all of that, but there is no way around that inevitable implication. You can’t separate a conversation about religion from culture, ethnicity, or even family. That’s part of why religion is such a powerful thing.

Comment #78: humanadverb  on  11/23  at  03:08 PM

You are saying I shouldn’t proselytize my beliefs because I might offend people who belief in proselytizing?

No.

I’m saying that people in general don’t like being proselytized to.  If you’re serious about wanting to communicate with people, or wanting to have a dialogue about progressive issues, oppression, and religion, you’re going to have to speak to people as if they’re human, not as if they’re prey for a pyramid scheme. 

Not to mention that one thing atheists hate about religious types is that they’re so keen to convert nonbelievers.  So taking the same numbers-game approach seems a little hypocritical if you ask me.

Comment #79: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  03:08 PM

A better analogy is if I got my vegan friend a package of Omaha Steaks for his birthday. When you say you’ll pray for somebody you know is an atheist, that’s a passive-aggressive douche move.

Really.  Telling someone who’s about to have major surgery that you’ll pray for them is a douche move.

Again, we’re not talking about the passive-aggressive “you did something I disagree with so my comeback will be to say I’ll pray for you.” We’re talking about your friend being sick, being concerned about them, and saying that you’ll do something that they don’t think will affect them anyway.  Telling your friend that you’re concerned about them and hope they’ll get better is a “passive-aggressive douche move.”

So if a member of your family dies and your acquaintances send sympathy cards that include religious references, I assume you’ll send them back with a note reminding them that you’re an atheist and you don’t need any of their sympathy for your loss that includes religion, right?

Comment #80: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  03:09 PM

“And then *claiming* it as a good, worthwhile thing to do. “

Where “it” is a pronoun for “doing actual good for actual people”.

Comment #81: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  03:10 PM

75-

It definitely is. We’re just pointing out that there is a cultural imbalance of power which you seem to deny as existing.

So yes, you have a right to tell a minority group how to talk to a majority to be taken seriously.

And we have a right to tell you that that is a very familiar construction for minority groups.

Comment #82: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  03:11 PM

So when a friend gives you an ugly handmade gift that you don’t want, you throw it back in their face and insist that they give you something you like instead?

Depends.  Are they well aware that I not only didn’t want it but believe that such items are harmful or immoral to have, but they’re giving it to me anyway because they want me as a patron of their handmade-gifts shop, and they know I’m too polite to refuse a gift?

Comment #83: Seraph  on  11/23  at  03:14 PM

“We’re talking about your friend being sick, being concerned about them, and saying that you’ll do something that they don’t think will affect them anyway.  Telling your friend that you’re concerned about them and hope they’ll get better is a “passive-aggressive douche move.” “

This is one thing I absolutely love about atheism:  I’m allowed to be honest and simply say “It’s frustrating that I can’t do more but tell you that I hope you get well soon.  I’ll be thinking about you.”

Comment #84: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  03:16 PM

80-

No they’ll suck it up as they did in the other example. It is still highly offensive though. Just like if someone bakes a vegetarian a meat pie for a funeral celebration it’s offensive, but in the circumstances it’s just not worth it to argue.

Comment #85: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  03:16 PM

Okay, Opopnox… we’re just talking past one another at this point. I’m in no way advocating some kind of atheist “pyramid scheme.” You say I should try to spread my beliefs by treating people like they are human… I agree completely!

My point, and I think that of other commenters who are tut-tutting our conversation about tone, is that standing up loudly and vocally for your position isn’t a bad thing. Folks, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think standing on a street corner and screaming about the church’s role in perpetuating oppression is quite what anyone here has in mind.

Perhaps you could detail a few of the specific behaviors you find objectionable.

Comment #86: humanadverb  on  11/23  at  03:19 PM

I should point out that we’ve all accepted offensive gifts at one point or another ambivalently and with forced smiles and then thrown it out, donated it, or hidden it in storage out of obligation.

It was still an offensive gift.

Comment #87: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  03:20 PM

By attacking your church, I’m attacking an awful lot of legitimately good people who have given you comfort, support, advice through the years. I’m telling you that your parents and grandparents who brought you to the church were rubes. I’m telling you that all of those Christmases with family were a silly delusional exercise.

Yep.  I understand that people who have had to firmly reject their family’s religion may feel like they have to equally firmly reject any manifestation of religion anywhere they find it, but those of us who just kind of drifted away don’t generally have the same compulsion to stomp down.  I was prepared to walk out of my cousin’s wedding last year if the priest had said anything about Prop 8 but, barring that, it wasn’t a big deal for me to sit in a pew and zone out while her wedding Mass was going on.  It’s pretty easy for people to call me a hypocrite for sitting through my cousin’s wedding since they don’t, you know, have to deal with any of the family fallout from not doing it.

Comment #88: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  03:21 PM

A better analogy is if I got my vegan friend a package of Omaha Steaks for his birthday.

Or this analogy: someone I’m very close to, whose feelings I care very much about, recently gave me a vintage fur.  I don’t wear fur and am not sure I think it’s OK even to wear the fur of an animal that died decades before I was born.  Wearing fur, to me, represents a lot of things I feel very much against, even outside of the animal rights issue (elitism, status symbols, crass commercialism, gender conformity, the stereotypically feminine gimmie gimmies...) While I don’t necessarily want this “gift”, I am bound by general politeness and respect for the giver not to say, “I’m sorry, I think it’s wrong to wear fur” hurl it back in her face. 

The interesting thing about this situation is that it actually does make me feel similar to the way I used to feel when my dad would give me a copy of the bible.  Or the way I would feel if someone gave me the “gift” of a copy of The God Delusion.  Uhhhh, thanks...... But it always ends up in the back of my closet, and I have to force myself not to donate it to the used bookstore.

Comment #89: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  03:21 PM

You can also claim that Evolution said it.  It doesn’t make it any more correct, but it is a bit harder to disprove since you have to provide your own experimental data.

Most claims that evolution said it are pretty easy to disprove on their face for being ridiculous.

Okay, let me be more clear. Most claims that evolution said it are pretty easy to disprove because a counter-example of human behavior exists and is easy to find, or because the conclusion logically makes no sense, or because correlation and causation have been confused, or because the study was obviously flawed, or because the conclusion did not follow from the observations, or because there is a glaring and evident bias in the work.

For instance, a study that says that men take more risks in the presence of women is kind of useless if it is conducted on white American college males. The bias is that the experience of 22-year-old men can be generalized to all men, that the experience of people in a dominant, privileged culture can be generalized to all people… and, to a certain extent, in asking the question that way at all, because if you say “men take risks in the presence of women” it doesn’t mean the same thing as “humans take more risks in the presence of an attractive mate”, but if you don’t test to see if *women* take more risks in the presence of *men*, you can’t actually tell which of the two your results has given you. To then extrapolate from such a study to say that this proves that women are more likely to sexually respond to men who take risks is completely fallacious, because you’re assuming that the behavior exists because it is beneficial, but that goes against an accurate understanding of evolution. A deleterious behavior can exist indefinitely if it’s not deleterious *enough*.

But you don’t actually need to be a scientist to figure any of this out. In fact, all you need to do is be willing to look at the study logically. The fact that so many evolutionary psychologists are not applying simple, basic logic to their study designs is a massive flaw in the discipline as a whole; then there’s all the information they conveniently leave out. You cannot do evolutionary psychology accurately without incorporating anthropology, sociology, history, archaeology, and primate behavior. Basically, if you identify a human behavior as having come about by evolution, you have to be able to say that that behavior predominates in all human cultures, and that there is evidence for it at the primate level. The *moment* you hit a human culture that doesn’t do it that way, you’ve just proven that the behavior is cultural, not biological, and therefore did not come about via evolution. Evolutionary psych theories about women evolving to like pink are hysterically funny because in our *own* culture, a mere century ago, pink was a man’s color, but there are less obvious knee-slappers that are not as easy to get at because you’d have to look at a different culture—for instance, the belief that women are not as well represented in engineering as men are because they’re biologically not as good at it falls apart when you notice that the ratios are much, much closer to equal in Russia.

Comment #90: Alara J Rogers  on  11/23  at  03:22 PM

We’re talking about your friend being sick, being concerned about them, and saying that you’ll do something that they don’t think will affect them anyway.

Why is it always so inconceivable to believers that non-believers have actual feelings, too?

It HURTS when your beliefs are discounted, as you (Opo, Mnem, et al) have amply demonstrated. So when people know about your atheism and profess to care about you, but run roughshod over your (non)belief, IT FUCKING HURTS.

I’m reminded of the anti-choice protesters who constantly badger us clinic escorts over how Planned Parenthood doesn’t pay us. They believe fervently enough to stand there and be assholes for free, but somehow we can’t possibly have actual opinions on the subject, we must just be exploited.

Comment #91: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  03:23 PM

Belittling a friend’s beliefs is only considered “rude” when its a theist objecting.
THIS.  Why should I respect a religion that continues to oppress people, esp. women, and certainly doesn’t respect my beliefs? Indeed, I’ve been called a devil worshipper and a freak. I do have respect for the ones out there at least trying to make things better (a Jesuit priest in East L.A. who works with L.A gangs for one), but they seem to be a tiny majority.

Comment #92: pitbullgirl65  on  11/23  at  03:25 PM

I’m in no way advocating some kind of atheist “pyramid scheme.”

Maybe it’s just flashbacks to my bible belt childhood, but when I hear the expression “spread the good news”, what I hear is “arrogantly talking at you about religion because hearing the correct line will do this misguided heathen good”. 

Hearing it out of the mouth of an atheist in reference to how they can get more people to be atheist, it just sounds that much more hostile, because most atheists I know claim to hate that sort of behavior.

Comment #93: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  03:26 PM

Well, what? - That’s hilarious!  When I was escorting, the protesters would tells us how horrible it is that we were willing to kill babies just for a little bit of money and how much money are they paying us and we must be making a mint because why else would we wake up so early to stand in the cold.  Someone finally gave in and was all “we’re volunteers, we’re not getting paid” and without waiting a beat they started in on why can’t we see how these abortion doctors are exploiting us and they’re so evil they’re making us work without pay and we should be enjoying ourselves, not being treated like slaves.

Ah memories.

Comment #94: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  03:28 PM

Evopsych is not science. It relies on the same fallacies as religions and among actual scientists it is hated and reviled to an enormous degree.

That is exactly my point.  Even skeptics are never completely rational, and it’s really easy for people to buy into evo psych if it validates their beliefs.  Even people who base their entire life on being rational can do some hugely irrational things.

Comment #95: catgirl  on  11/23  at  03:29 PM

No they’ll suck it up as they did in the other example. It is still highly offensive though. Just like if someone bakes a vegetarian a meat pie for a funeral celebration it’s offensive, but in the circumstances it’s just not worth it to argue.

I guess I just don’t think a non-material offer like “I’ll pray for you” or “You’re in my thoughts” to be on the same level of offensiveness as actually giving someone an object that they don’t want that will require them to store it or throw it away.  Unless you think you’re actually going to be physically affected by a person praying for you during your surgery, why does it matter?

As I said, I understand why people get pissed off when someone says after an argument, “I’ll pray for you,” because that’s an active insult.  I don’t understand the insult of telling someone who’s ill that you’ll pray for them.  I avoid saying to people myself, because I’m an agnostic, but I wouldn’t be insulted to the point of wanting to break off the friendship/family relationship if someone said it to me when I was sick or if one of my family members had died.

I really like Rachel II’s idea of doing a pay-it-forward deed in honor of the person instead of offering a prayer or other intangible.  It has a bit of a karma feel to it (OMG! Religion! Kill it!  wink but I think that’s what I like.

Comment #96: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  03:29 PM

Yeah, it’s also worth pointing out that one of the “deeply held beliefs” of an appalling number of parishes is that atheists and other nonbelievers by virtue of no other aspect than that is what they are DESERVE to be punished for all eternity in the fires of Hell and that believers should thus treat them as a lower status to themselves in all interactions.

But it’s the atheists who have the ego problem?

Seriously?

Comment #97: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  03:29 PM

Why should I respect a religion that continues to oppress people, esp. women, and certainly doesn’t respect my beliefs? Indeed, I’ve been called a devil worshipper and a freak.

It’s not the religion that people are asking you to respect.  It’s the people. 

And it’s not even that anyone is asking you to respect religious people - we’re just reminding you that if you are hostile, arrogant, or reductionist about people’s religious beliefs (or even beliefs that people were raised to respect but may not set much store in themselves), they may well be offended or think you are rude.  No amount of being “right” gets you a get-foot-out-of-mouth free card.

Comment #98: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  03:30 PM

To the people who are saying atheists shouldn’t ever say anything against someone’s religion, I have to ask why religion gets this special “pass” when nothing else does?  And to someone who reduced any questioning to saying “your religion is dumb and oppressive,” I must point out that such an argument is NOT what I am talking about, and that is not the kind of “argument” that flies in any other arena. 

Consider, if you tell me you think, say, vaccines are dangerous, it’s perfectly acceptable for me to say “why do you believe that? what evidence supports your position? what is the logic underlying your reasoning? do you see this contradiction in your reasoning? How do you reconcile that contradiction? etc” We can critically examine, in that way, just about every topic on the planet EXCEPT religion.  For some reason, I’m not even allowed to raise the question of why you believe something, or to ask you to defend that belief in the same way I can acceptably ask you to explain and defend every other belief you hold. 

So, why?  Why does religion get a special pass?  I do agree with Richard Dawkins that even “moderate” religions are damaging to society by discouraging rational thought and emphasizing that just taking things “on faith” (i.e., with no evidence whatsoever) is a VIRTUE!  Again, I must ask WHY that should be a virtue… oh, wait, I’m not allowed, because it’s about someone’s RELIGION…

Furthermore, it seems that the special overblown indignation religious people feel whenever faced with any question about the faith is kind of a giveaway as to how fragile their belief system really is.  The things I believe in, I don’t fear facing questions about and I’m not afraid to argue for them.

Comment #99: CalliopeJane  on  11/23  at  03:30 PM

Oh, and re the “being called a devil worshipper and a freak” bit, which I forgot to address:

Yeah, and so have I.  Atheists don’t have a monopoly on being hated by religious fundamentalists.  Feeling self righteously put upon doesn’t give you a license to be a dick.

Comment #100: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  03:32 PM

While I don’t necessarily want this “gift”, I am bound by general politeness and respect for the giver not to say, “I’m sorry, I think it’s wrong to wear fur” hurl it back in her face.

Why?  If you’ve made it clear that you think that wearing fur is wrong for all of those reason, and they give it to you anyway, they’re not being polite, and they clearly have no respect for you.  In fact, such a “gift” is actually pretty spiteful.  If you decide not to make a fuss about it because the social fallout would be more than it’s worth, that’s one thing - all members of oppressed groups have to choose their battles - but that person has just proven by their own actions that there is no respect or courtesy in your relationship.

Comment #101: Seraph  on  11/23  at  03:33 PM

96-

You’ll do well at the surgery, they didn’t send one of those nigger brutes to butcher you like they did with Aunt Mae, you have a nice clean proper doctor.

Is this non-offensive, because you don’t have to store it and you believe properly that anyone who would say something like this is an ignorant moron not worth your time and that their beliefs have no real impact on care or anything important.

Seriously, how are people obtuse to what people find offensive, when it is a minority group explaining what they find offensive?

Comment #102: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  03:33 PM

but I wouldn’t be insulted to the point of wanting to break off the friendship/family relationship if someone said it to me when I was sick or if one of my family members had died.

Nobody to my knowledge has said anything to the effect of CUT THE PRAYING BASTARDS OFF. Being hurt /= disowning, just like criticism /= censorship.

I guess I just don’t think a non-material offer like “I’ll pray for you” or “You’re in my thoughts” to be on the same level of offensiveness as actually giving someone an object that they don’t want

I would also like to note that nobody has objected to “you’re in my thoughts.” Because as you might have noticed, mere thinking is not restricted to those with a belief in the supernatural. Nor is it identical to prayer.

Comment #103: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  03:33 PM

Well that definitely makes sense, and I certainly didn’t mean that…

My guiding ethic in this is just to never smile and nod. I politely object and explain why when I have a problem with something… religion, feminism, Ronald Reagan, etc. I feel the way I do because I’m fucking right, and if you disagree, show me how I’m wrong through a critical process. And I’ll do the same for you.

But, sometimes I step on toes through carelessness… just like I think I stepped on yours with my phrasing. Apologies. You should have seen the time I tried to explain that Orson Scott Card is more of a heterosexist than a homophobe… I ended up with an entire discussion thread dedicated to beating me up.

Comment #104: humanadverb  on  11/23  at  03:34 PM

Seriously, how are people obtuse to what people find offensive, when it is a minority group explaining what they find offensive?

Same ol’ privilege song and dance. Spare me the lectures about how your particular snowflake religion is Not Like That and We’re Totes Not Privileged. If you KNOW you’ll be up against the wall with me, if the dominionists have their way, then quit fighting their fights.

Comment #105: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  03:35 PM

It’s not the religion that people are asking you to respect.  It’s the people.

But as you prove, it’s impossible to criticize the religion without the people feeling that they’re being disrespected, which leaves “sit down and shut up” as the only option open to atheists.

Bug or feature?

Comment #106: Seraph  on  11/23  at  03:36 PM

Belittling a friend’s beliefs is only considered “rude” when its a theist objecting.

Sort of.  Most people recognize that it’s rude for a Christian to insist on giving a Christmas ornament to a Jewish person or to tell a Muslim that eating halal is stupid.  But I guess that also falls under the rubric of the theist objecting since the objection is that one theist isn’t respecting another theist’s beliefs.

In my book, it would be incredibly rude for a Christian to tell a Muslim or Jewish friend not to pray for them when they go into surgery because they’re not praying to the right God, and I think most people would agree.

Comment #107: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  03:37 PM

In my book, it would be incredibly rude for a Christian to tell a Muslim or Jewish friend not to pray for them when they go into surgery because they’re not praying to the right God, and I think most people would agree.

Sigh.

We’re not trying to pass a law against praying for sick people or something.

We’re just reminding you that if you are hostile, arrogant, or reductionist about people’s lack of beliefs (or even lack-of-beliefs that people were raised to respect but may not set much store in themselves), they may well be offended or think you are rude.

Sound familiar?

Comment #108: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  03:41 PM

Sigh again. Just realized that was Opo, not Mnem. Though both are arguing pretty much the same thing.

Comment #109: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  03:42 PM

Mnem @ #80:

Yes, that is ABSOLUTELY AND ENTIRELY a douche move. In fact just reading your description of it made me mad!

If someone you care about is in a difficult situation that you can’t do anything practical about, and you want to offer them some emotional support, you give THE SUPPORT THEY WANT. You do NOT get to decide what is and isn’t supportice to them. If you know someone is a committed atheist, offering to do something “for them” that will make YOU feel better is so monumentaly douchey I can’t believe we’re even discussing it.

Which is why the meat pie/ugly mug thing is a rubbish example; there was actual human effort involved in both cases and that complicates the question. But to offer someone psychological succour via a medium that you know doesn’t do anything for them is like trying to bring someone to orgasm by masturbating, then being all offended when they point out that that was maybe a bit on the selfish side. Fie, fie.

Comment #110: TheLady  on  11/23  at  03:43 PM

We’re just pointing out that there is a cultural imbalance of power which you seem to deny as existing.

You’re barking up the wrong tree.  I’m part of the same cultural imbalance of power as y’all. 

Another hurdle to the “how do we talk to progressive fellow travelers who aren’t explicitly atheist” issue is that a great many atheists (at least the ones on the internet, though I’ve seen it in real life) assume that anyone who isn’t exactly in lockstep with them is a devout Christian, probably Evangelical or conservative Catholic.

Comment #111: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  03:44 PM

a great many atheists (at least the ones on the internet, though I’ve seen it in real life) assume that anyone who isn’t exactly in lockstep with them is a devout Christian, probably Evangelical or conservative Catholic.

I assume no such thing. While being fully aware of your non-mainstream religion, I still find you to be startlingly forgetful of your progressive principles where atheists are concerned. And offensively dismissive of experiences not-your-own-precisely.

Comment #112: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  03:46 PM

108-

Shh, don’t tell them about the no praying allowed bill that is totally the core belief of the Darwinist Religion headed by Pope Christopher Hitchens.

95-

We are swimming in the swamp. Life may be explained rationally. Human actions may even be explained rationally, but why humans choose those actions often has little to do with rationality. While we may aim for rationality, we all are steeped in mysticism and cultural norms and training. We all have impulses and damages, comfort zones and repeated patterns, and weight from culture as a whole that there is a right and wrong way to act and be.

I would not expect any atheist to be fully cleaned and pure of the swamp we all swim in and the irrational aspects we all just “know” without any rational basis.

Comment #113: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  03:46 PM

We can critically examine, in that way, just about every topic on the planet EXCEPT religion.

Well, let’s take the topic that I actually think is closer to religion than vaccination:  art.  Apply all of your questions to the art exhibit that you and your friend just saw.  Would you insist that you have the “correct” answer and that any of your friend’s answers that are different are just proof that s/he is ignorant of art and needs you to explain why s/he is wrong?  Or would you accept that different people see things differently and that your friend may have a much different reaction to what the two of you just saw even if your view is “correct” according to most art critics?

Note, please, that the above construction applies to both atheists and theists.  As I’ve said over and over, ad nauseum, in this thread, I’m not saying that this is something that only atheists should have to do.  I frequently have this argument with theists as well, pointing out that they have to respect the religion or non-religion of other people and not insist that they’re always right and everyone else should have to at least pretend agree with them.

Comment #114: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  03:47 PM

You’re barking up the wrong tree.  I’m part of the same cultural imbalance of power as y’all. 

Another hurdle to the “how do we talk to progressive fellow travelers who aren’t explicitly atheist” issue is that a great many atheists (at least the ones on the internet, though I’ve seen it in real life) assume that anyone who isn’t exactly in lockstep with them is a devout Christian, probably Evangelical or conservative Catholic.

For whatever reason, you seem to feel the need to defend the religions that oppress you against rude atheists.  The confusion isn’t our fault.

Comment #115: Seraph  on  11/23  at  03:47 PM

To the people who are saying atheists shouldn’t ever say anything against someone’s religion, I have to ask why religion gets this special “pass” when nothing else does?

1.  I don’t see anyone in this thread saying that.

2.  Religion is by no means the only topic it’s rude to be presumptuous about.  In fact, many comparable topics have been brought up in this very thread.  You wouldn’t insult someone’s home, or their clothes, or their family, or their job.  You wouldn’t throw a gift back in someone’s face out of displeasure.  You wouldn’t tell someone that their culture’s cuisine is disgusting, or that their (non-religious) beliefs are backwards, or that their cultural symbols are stupid.

3.  The issue here is HOW TO TALK TO A NON-ATHEIST FELLOW TRAVELER.  If you honestly want to start a conversation with someone, “you are an oppressed dupe” is probably not a great way to lower their defenses.  If all you want to do is go around telling people how dumb they are, you are welcome to - it’s just not going to make you any friends.

Comment #116: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  03:50 PM

For whatever reason, you seem to feel the need to defend the religions that oppress you against rude atheists.

I’m not defending anybody’s religion.  I’m explaining why someone might be offended when an atheist tells them that their religious/cultural symbols are oppressive and wrong (especially if that person is speaking as an outsider), and how that’s probably not the best way to start a dialogue about this sort of thing.

If one is at home with being rude, or has no desire to converse meaningfully with others who do not share one’s beliefs, one can act however one chooses.

Comment #117: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  03:54 PM

The issue here is HOW TO TALK TO A NON-ATHEIST FELLOW TRAVELER.  If you honestly want to start a conversation with someone, “you are an oppressed dupe” is probably not a great way to lower their defenses.

As people have been trying to tell you, we often find that just identifying ourselves is offensive to religious folks.

If someone reads “I am an atheist” as “you’re an oppressed dupe,” then the problem is theirs, not mine.

Comment #118: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  03:55 PM

Not to mention that one thing atheists hate about religious types is that they’re so keen to convert nonbelievers.

I don’t know any atheist that hates this about religious “types.” Indeed, the whole point of having a position that makes sense to you and you think should be put into practice - like, say, a political position - is that you try to convince people to come around to your point of view. What’s the point of being a liberal, for instance, if you’re not trying to effect liberalism in our politics by (among other things) making more liberals?

No, what we hate about religion is when they’re not trying to convert nonbelievers - what we hate is when they’re using force to force nonbelievers to believe, or attempting to coerce them into belief. When the religious are just trying to convince people, with argument or appeals to emotion - what could I possibly object to about that? It’s when they try to force conversion by social pressure, or by deceit, or by outright physical violence, that atheists get upset. But it makes no sense to try to privilege religion as the one thing that it’s not ok to try to talk someone into or out of.

The worst excess of religion is hardly that they try to talk people into it. Personally, I think all the killing is worse, but that’s just me.

Comment #119: Chet  on  11/23  at  03:57 PM

Mnemosyne:  “I really like Rachel II’s idea of doing a pay-it-forward deed in honor of the person instead of offering a prayer or other intangible.  It has a bit of a karma feel to it (OMG! Religion! Kill it!  wink but I think that’s what I like.”

What you call karma, I call chaos theory.

Comment #120: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  03:58 PM

If someone reads “I am an atheist” as “you’re an oppressed dupe,” then the problem is theirs, not mine.

War on Christmas, anyone?

Though, honestly, I do love rubbing my secular family Christmas in fundies’ faces when they get all huffy about “Jesus is the reason for the season.” (Which I read as them starting it, so fair game to be a dick.) “No, the reason for me is hanging out and drinking with my family, lots of Mexican food, and heaps of presents. And I’m going to enjoy it more than you, because I won’t be stuck in church tonight.”

Fa!

Comment #121: humanadverb  on  11/23  at  04:02 PM

If you’ve made it clear that you think that wearing fur is wrong for all of those reason, and they give it to you anyway, they’re not being polite, and they clearly have no respect for you.

Just to clarify - this person did not know that I officially Don’t Wear Fur when she gave me the coat.  And, in fact, prior to this experience I didn’t have a very well-formed Stance On Fur, because it was just totally not an issue for me.  Much like, I imagine, it is for most atheists who don’t grow up in fundamentalist families or the bible belt.

Comment #122: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  04:02 PM

The issue here is HOW TO TALK TO A NON-ATHEIST FELLOW TRAVELER.

I don’t see how that’s a question. There are two types of religious progressives; those that care more about their religion than their progressive, and those who don’t.

The first are not fellow travelers of mine. The second I can say what the fuck I want because they’ll still stick by me in the face of ‘teh Struggle’.

Simple. Efficient.

Comment #123: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  04:03 PM

Would you insist that you have the “correct” answer and that any of your friend’s answers that are different are just proof that s/he is ignorant of art and needs you to explain why s/he is wrong?

To the extent that the claims about the art she was making were subjective in nature, no, probably not.

To the extent that my friend begins to claim that we had not gone to an art museum at all, but instead to Radio Shack, and that the statues we had seen were actually made of cheese and not marble, then yes, I would assert that I had the correct answer, that her claims were wrong - demonstrably so - and that the sheer fact that she would make them indicates that she is dishonest, ignorant, mentally deficient, or some combination of all three. And I would certainly explain these things to her, for her own good.

Religion includes a bunch of subjective claims, sure, but many, many more of the claims of religion are inherently objective in nature and therefore aren’t subject to “what’s true for me may not be true for you” respect of alternate viewpoint. There’s no possible viewpoint where God exists for you and doesn’t exist for me; God, which is defined as an entity all on its own, must either exist for not exist. Must exist for everyone or exist for no one. To disagree on this fundamental point isn’t just a difference of opinion, it’s a difference in being informed or being ignorant.

You know, I learned - was taught - to tell the difference between claims of fact and claims of opinion in first grade. Why have so many faitheists and theists failed to apprehend the basic difference?

Comment #124: Chet  on  11/23  at  04:06 PM

If someone you care about is in a difficult situation that you can’t do anything practical about, and you want to offer them some emotional support, you give THE SUPPORT THEY WANT. You do NOT get to decide what is and isn’t supportice to them. If you know someone is a committed atheist, offering to do something “for them” that will make YOU feel better is so monumentaly douchey I can’t believe we’re even discussing it.

The next time my grandmother offers to pray for me, I’ll make sure to tell her that she’s being a douche by even offering.

Comment #125: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  04:07 PM

we often find that just identifying ourselves is offensive to religious folks.

Sure, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. 

Not to mention that, to a certain sort of religious folk, identifying yourself as anything but their specific sect is offensive to them.  I grew up Episcopalian in the bible belt, and got accused of being a devil worshipper.  It’s something you just have to have a thick skin about.

Comment #126: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  04:07 PM

Opoponax-

Ok, you keep claiming to want to be discussing this topic, so fine, here’s why a believer reacts negatively to critiques of religion:

a) People of privileged positions don’t like it being pointed out. Discuss the privileges of whiteness to a white person, the privileges of maleness to a male person, the privileges of heterosexuality with a heterosexual. 7 times out of ten they’ll flip out, react negatively regardless of whether one is flippant and rude or deferential and disarming. The point is that people don’t like examining unfair advantages they have gained because they feel it assaults their idea of themselves as one who earned things fairly and got to where they did without taking advantage of people.

b) It’s not done. It’s rarity makes it seem exceptional and since people out of politeness often do not even offer consistent condemnations of even historical atrocities, someone condemning the whole damn structure feels like an assault, because it interacts negatively with their expectations of dominance. It’s like the backlash that occurred once people started realizing in Christian modern society that these poofters weren’t just going away, that they existed and existed in numbers that were undismissable and possibly even unmurderable. They started saying things about what love could look like and made people start thinking about sexuality in a way they didn’t even know they were avoiding and the conclusions they were making were uncomfortable, which brings me to

c) Thinking bad. A number of religions have problems of construction that rely on a majority of the parish just not thinking about the contradictions or the silly premises. You are supposed to sit down, shut up, and follow in these religions. Another large set utilizes the weight of numbers to keep followers in line. Talk to a fundamentalist. They felt trapped as children, because one had to be a member of the Church no matter what and their whole support network was held as threat if they ever wished to part. If a critical mass left for any reason, this “you have to stay” spirit breaks down and people can make choices more true to their ACCURATE beliefs whatever they may be.

d) Which brings up, habit. People who are raised and indoctrinated with a worldview are going to carry scars. My partner does not believe in Catholicism. But she was raised in it. Against her will, she still is haunted by ghosts from that abusive raising environment whenever she is trying to do something for herself, meet her sexual needs or do right by others and also love herself. Catholic habits inhibit her ability to be the best her she can. Many people carry this who didn’t leave as violently. They stay around even though they have no real belief because it’s easier than going through the agony of years of deprogramming just to be able to live a normal life. There’s already habits formed.

e) And yes, there are also those who just like the social aspects or have cultural connections and even those who just earnestly believe one thing and don’t bug other people. They don’t get much attention because they are largely innocuous except for when they side on the wrong side in a discussion of privilege. Course, these people also often drift. They often are far more secular than their counterpoints, often gain a large amount of their morality through secular ideas of fairness, and usually eventually end up either agnostic or atheist, spiritual, or cob together their own religious identity based on what they actually do or do not believe.

The emotions behind these will be harder to solve than just being deferential to religion or any other easy solution as the trajectory echoes most every minority group struggle in existence.

The evidence can be seen especially in how atheism was hated far more before it became “militant” and rude than afterwards, in the same way that queer rights picked up when they started fighting for their rights than back when they were quiet and apologetic.

Comment #127: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  04:13 PM

Mnem and Opop, here’s Greta Christina’s response to your arguments:

Where does this idea come from that persuasion is a mean and bad thing to do?

Where does this idea come from that debate, expressing disagreement, saying “I really think you’re mistaken about this,” and making a case for why you think you’re right, are somehow acts of disrespect, and intolerance, and even violation?

We’re not talking about expressing disagreement at Thanksgiving dinner here; or ranting about it to people you’ve buttonholed at parties; or screaming it into bullhorns on the street. We’re talking about expressing it in legitimate public forums of discussion and debate: forums that people are free to listen to or not, as they choose. Where did the idea come from that this is an act of ugly, dogmatic bigotry, a flatly unacceptable part of modern civilized conversation?

I’ve been in a number of debates on Facebook lately (btw, if you’re on Facebook, friend me!), with several Wiccans, neo-pagans, New Age Christians, and other practitioners of woo spirituality. And I’ve been running into a baffling new version of the “Shut up, that’s why” argument—one that basically says that any attempt to persuade someone that you’re probably right and they’re probably mistaken is a form of bigoted intolerance, and a slippery slope to violent oppression.

When it comes to religion, anyway.

As the kids say, read the whole thing.

Comment #128: themann1086  on  11/23  at  04:13 PM

This thread is a classic example of the uses and misuses of the word ‘rational.’

Comment #129: Loneoak  on  11/23  at  04:15 PM

God, which is defined as an entity all on its own, must either exist for not exist. Must exist for everyone or exist for no one. To disagree on this fundamental point isn’t just a difference of opinion, it’s a difference in being informed or being ignorant.

But, from your own point of view, isn’t that like arguing whether or not a vampire can be killed by a stake through the heart?  And yet if you told a group of people who were discussing Twilight or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that it was stupid of them to even talk about how to kill a vampire and they should focus only on scientific reality where there is no such thing as vampires, they would rightly look at you as an asshole.

Comment #130: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  04:17 PM

Religious people have no problem with telling the rest of us we’re going to hell for our beliefs or our lifestyles.  I have no problem telling them that they’re deluded and ignorant.  I don’t believe them and they don’t believe me.  That would pretty much even things out except they want to use the power of the government to make me live according to their belief systems. 

I wouldn’t try to deprive them of their right to believe, but they have no problem depriving me, or anyone else, of our right not to. 

The next time someone says they’ll pray for you tell them that you’ll sacrifice a chicken for them to the dark lord and see if they treat your offer with politeness.

Comment #131: G Porgey  on  11/23  at  04:22 PM

psychological succour via a medium that you know doesn’t do anything for them

You know, a lot of the time when I know someone who is going through a rough time and want to send moral support their way, I’m not entirely sure off the top of my head exactly what their religious beliefs are and exactly what the way to phrase my moral support would be.  I’d never say “I’ll pray for you”, of course, because I don’t believe in prayer and thus would be lying.  Usually my first impulse is to say “I’m sending good energy your way”, but what if that’s too hippy-dippy for them?  So I’d go with something general and inoffensive like “You’re in my thoughts”, but that’s really bland and doesn’t convey much emotion at all. 

I can totally understand why someone who is religious (even nominally religious) would just default for something like “you’re in my prayers”, especially if they didn’t necessarily know you were atheist.  mega-especially if you’re living in a part of the world where Christian religious practice is hegemonic, and they just assumed that everyone is down with that way of expressing oneself, even if they themselves are not religious.

Comment #132: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  04:23 PM

Well, apart from what The Opoponax has said, another reason why I hate these sort of discussions in the blogosphere is the shear frikkin’ ignorance that gets passed around in these threads.  This one is hella better than the last religion thread (I was steaming for weeks).  Part of the reason I get so short-tempered is that there is a Paulian That’s not even wrong response and I don’t know where to start or how I can argue otherwise.  It can be deeply fustrating to deal with bad positivist thought in “modern” times.

First of all:
Theology is an intellectual enterprise, and religions often (and all *serious* religions) have a rigorous intellectual component in its enterprise.  It is, in fact, possible to have a productive discussion based on religeous text and customs.  It is also possible, in fact, to denounce--correctly so--bad religeous thought that leads to bad outcomes, and not just in a taboo sense.  I dare you to read material by, say St Augustine, who always was the prissy logician even after his conversion.

Second of all:
All major religeons/sects with a major role in secular life relies on scripture that has had major elements invalidated so as to assist a ruling party.  Islam is a pretty good case.  It was created, in a large sense, to be more “rational” than the previous monotheist religeons, and it was rather massively progressive (and spread *because* of its early progressive sentiment--especially in law) for its time, with respect to women, slaves, and general all around egalitarianism.  When most of the leading lights had left the scene (especially after the battle of the camelback), Islam was systematically undercut through the technique of introducing bogus hadith (sayings of Mohommed) meant to appeal to the popular prejudices that Mohommed tried to stop in the first place because that made the early Caliph sit easier on his authority.  More close to modern times, if I am correctly aware, Shi’ite Islam affirms separation of mosque and state pretty authoritatively, and the current leadership has a studied, squirmy ignorance of both that, and the fact that the current Ayatollah doesn’t really deserve his rank. 

What I have said with Islam, you can do with St Paul/Constantine and Jesus or the conflict of Therevada State-Buddhism with not-so-state Buddhism--so forth an on.

Thirdly:
One can say that religeon nurtures the irrational because it makes claims that are verifiably false or unprovable.  I respond by saying that we know *very* frickin’ little about where we are, what we are, and even who we are.  One does not need a God of the Gaps type argument to say that God exists.  If you do, you really don’t know much about how much we don’t know, and the grave difficulty of finding that knowlege.  Just take, for example, gravity.  We know absolutely nothing about what it is, but we know a helluvalot about what it does.  Mebbe one day we’ll find a graviton or something someday, but gravity is only the most notable of many major questions.  Meanwhile, we go with what we know based on sound reasoning. 

Lastly:
The damage that religeon does is not because it is based on irrational premises.  Much of science is the same way if you go back far enough, and most scientific discoveries were as much or more intuition and narratives as it was scientific processes.  What science, properly done, does most enthusiastically is tell you that you’re an idiot for ever thinking such-and-such was a good idea.  The use of religeon to flatter yourself that you really mean something in the greater universe does the damage.  That sort of self-flattering mentality is just not foreign to any other intellectual enterprise, be it science, arts, or engineering.  I’m just too familiar with human nature to think that getting rid of religeon is the answer.  We’ll just get “scientific” stupidity instead (of which I can cite MANY examples), and harangues by people who don’t know a thing about a topic just gets my back up because I percieve it as a sneaky sort of anti-intellectualism even though I’m atheist.

That’s why I’m not shocked that there are problems with sexism in vocal atheist ranks.  The same atheist will spout stuff about how God doesn’t exist and then use essentially religeous mindset to craft a spurious “scientific” reason for why woman has to bear the costs of “morality”.

Respect for all quality thought, whether that be about God, Melting Clocks, elegant equations and bridges, or a possible GUT should always be present in a happy society.

Comment #133: shah8  on  11/23  at  04:24 PM

Religious people have no problem with telling the rest of us we’re going to hell for our beliefs or our lifestyles.

Please stop assuming “religious people” = “Fundamentalist Christians”.

Comment #134: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  04:25 PM

Mnem-

Why are grandmas expected to be fragile flowers incapable of ever seeing another point of view?

This construction has always bothered me, because it seems to smack of that old trope that women are delicate flowers who need to be protected from the real world. It bothers that an old woman is not considered a fully real person. That since she is too old to rear children, she lacks a purpose and that we are now just waiting for the deluded old bat to die.

My surviving grandma grew up a fighter single mother as a school bus driver, lives with her daughter who is married to a man of a different race and was the first defender they had and is immensely proud of her and all her grandchildren. When her son turned out to be a prick, she gave love and support to my mother despite this requiring her to radically adjust her emotional investment in the child she raised to adulthood. But she turned to feminism instead.

There are a number of old firecrackers who have fought for equality their whole lives or have remade their whole self-image at various stages of life. To say, oh, you’re too old to learn anything new. You need to be protected from evidence of how life works, that there are gays in the world, that there are atheists, that they may be in the family.

It’s not only writing these people off as not fully human. It’s also just bad practice. Old people always vote. If we want young person values passed on, then convincing our grandparents to love us regardless of their religious training is a crucial thing, even if this risks stepping on some sacred cows of cultural notions of the constitutions of old women.

Comment #135: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  04:25 PM

I love that analogy, Mnemosyne, even though I disagree with your point.

I had the same “vampires don’t *sparkle*” reaction that every good Buffy fan had when Twilight came out and immediately checked myself because, duh, vampires don’t exist.  If someone wants to create a story where they do sparkle, that’s fine.  I enjoy a good novel and I’ll read/watch something about sparkley vampires if it’s a decent story because I like being entertained.*

However, two factions of people start arguing about the right and wrong way for a vampire story to be written makes about as much sense to me as religious people arguing what god does and doesn’t want.  God and vampires do and don’t do whatever you want them to because neither exist and having an academic argument about what they want is really, really stupid and anti-intelligence.

If you want to have a vampire argument, argue on the literary/artistic merits of the story because *that* will help you develop your skills as a writer/reader.  Not the non-facts of garlic v. crucifixes.

*Twilight is not a decent story and I am not entertained by it.

Comment #136: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  04:28 PM

But, from your own point of view, isn’t that like arguing whether or not a vampire can be killed by a stake through the heart?

Um, no, it’s like arguing whether vampires exist. Talking about the specific theological claims - does God have this nature or that one, does God want this or that - which form the entirety of our debate about religion and even inform entirely secular questions, like whether people should die from diseases they can’t afford to have treated - that’s like arguing whether staking a vampire is enough to kill it (for my own part, I favor staking, followed by decapitation by axe, filling the mouth with salt and holy wafers and sewing it shut, and then burying the corpse and the head on two different sides of a crossroads. Just to be sure.)

And yet if you told a group of people who were discussing Twilight or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that it was stupid of them to even talk about how to kill a vampire and they should focus only on scientific reality where there is no such thing as vampires, they would rightly look at you as an asshole.

The most amazing, topsy-turvy thing about being an atheist is that while Twilight and Buffy fans know that vampires don’t exist, God-fans don’t. When God fans talk about the specifics of their fictional character, they don’t think its fiction. And the most amazing thing is this - if Twilight/Buffyism was a religion, the Twilight fans would come into my house and confiscate my stakes and mallet so that I couldn’t kill Edward with them. And when I said that was bullshit, because there’s no such thing as vampires - I’d still be viewed as the asshole. Even though quite obviously they were.

Comment #137: Chet  on  11/23  at  04:29 PM

The Opponax, I am not assuming religious people mean Fundamentalist Christians, you are assuming that I do.  Why you assume this is your problem, not mine.  I despise all religions equally.

Comment #138: G Porgey  on  11/23  at  04:32 PM

Please stop assuming “religious people” = “Fundamentalist Christians”.

If you don’t believe that the existence of your God, and the degree to which you and others live your life according to its desires and strictures actually matters, in terms of consequences to you and them in both this life and what may come afterwards, then it’s not at all clear in what sense you could possibly be “religious.” If you live your life as though God doesn’t exist, or exists but has no power to punish or reward you for your attitudes or behavior, then in what sense are you not an atheist?

If you believe that God exists only as a metaphor for a combination of certain human traits - fellowship, community, self-knowledge, the sense of wonder, etc. - then in what sense do you believe that God actually exists? Metaphors have no existence.

Comment #139: Chet  on  11/23  at  04:33 PM

themann1086:

Well, she’s definitely right about this part:

They just don’t have a context for people who think that other people’s religions are mistaken… and are nevertheless passionate about the right to religious freedom.

Very few people in this thread seem to have any interest in religious freedom.  Apparently, if they don’t get to confront theists at every turn to tell them they’re stupid and wrong, they’re being oppressed.

I realize that a big chunk of the problem here is the issues that Western religion brought on itself about 150 years ago when it started insisting that its beliefs were objectively true, that if we found Noah’s Ark that would somehow be proof positive that everything in the Bible was true.  This is actually a very recent religious belief mostly from Protestant Christians, and yet somehow it’s come to represent all religions everywhere for all time.

It does seem to be the case that there may have been a guy who lived in the Middle East whose name was Jesus (or, actually, Joshua) who was executed for rebelling against the Romans.  If it turns out that this guy did exist, is that proof that he was in fact the Son of God and everything in the Bible is true?  If that’s the case, then why aren’t Islam and Buddhism and Scientology automatically true?  After all, we know who founded those religions, so if the requirement for a religion to be true is that we know that the guy who founded it actually existed, then they must all be true religions, too.

In case it’s not coming across, the people who insist that their religion is somehow objectively true and can be proven by material means bug the crap out of me, because it’s just not so.

Comment #140: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  04:36 PM

If you believe that God exists only as a metaphor for a combination of certain human traits - fellowship, community, self-knowledge, the sense of wonder, etc. - then in what sense do you believe that God actually exists? Metaphors have no existence.

uh oh. total thread collapse in 10...9...8…

Comment #141: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  04:36 PM

I have a problem with the basic central idea of all religion, the opponax, not just Christianity and not just the snake handlers.  Believing that there is an outside force guiding your life is fine, as long as you don’t try making me believe it, or living my life in a manner that you approve of.  My life is none of your business, and I don’t like the idea that I should be polite to anyone who believes it is, especially those who would deny me basic human rights, or even kill me if they got the chance.

Comment #142: G Porgey  on  11/23  at  04:39 PM

Opoponax-

On the back of the constructive conversation you wanted to have, I would point out that atheists as a discriminated minority group often talk more exclusively about fundamentalist christianity (which has in experience been a group containing not only southern baptist, but episcopalian, all evangelical sects, catholicism, mormonism, a number of flavors of islam, and the conservative sects of judaism) than other groups is because those are the loudest groups as well as the groups directly countering them personally and targeting them out for oppression.

They are less forgiving towards moderate religions, because in their experiential history, these groups often fail to come to their aid or often stab them in the back owing to unknowingly malign uses of benign privilege. They like all minority groups feel that one doesn’t quite get off the hook for that in the same way a man can’t say “I don’t personally rape” in order to get out of a discussion on what male privilege he nonetheless possesses.

When a “good” Christian group does not make much of a stink about the said obviously bad fundamentalist sects that claim to speak for them or a good religious group has few words about the use of religion to aid oppression not only historically, but undeniably in cases like Stupak or Prop H8 where a certain number of supposedly progressive religious people obviously voted in a way directly discriminatory because of religious excuses.

And when they seem to rally and save their greatest hatred for atheists, atheists as a minority group do not feel that separating them out in every conversation is worthwhile, especially when the person they are arguing against deliberately ignores that the majority of people they are arguing with have been specifically noting the existence of exceptions and praising specific examples.

It also gets tricky. My dad wanted to join a Christian Church a while back (was going to fail because he’s not exactly Christian, more just spiritual), but his main objection was the difficulty in finding one which wasn’t objectionable. He tried to join one that was young and hip and supportive of a variety of minority groups and for social and environmental justice and non-evangelical and supportive of non-believers. He left when the pastor ranted about how evolution is a lie.

Now, yes, there are the unitarians, but besides them, most of the christian sects in the USA have problematic elements these days. And we talk about them, because they are the dominant culture of the dominant culture. They define most of the customs we have to live with against our desires and wills.

Comment #143: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  04:39 PM

The point is that people don’t like examining unfair advantages they have gained because they feel it assaults their idea of themselves as one who earned things fairly and got to where they did without taking advantage of people.

I suppose this is probably true if the person in question is of a religious persuasion that can be said to have privilege over other stances.  Also, I’ll fully admit that I’m not up on what the rationale is for saying that people who believe in god have “privilege” over atheists - is there a blog entry somewhere you can send me to?  I’m not trying to be hostile to the idea, I’m just not familiar with what the basis would be.

. If a critical mass left for any reason, this “you have to stay” spirit breaks down and people can make choices more true to their ACCURATE beliefs whatever they may be.

This kind of implies that there are no non-atheists who genuinely believe what they claim to believe.  I can promise you that some sort of cultish community coercion is not what is keeping me from declaring myself an atheist.  Shit, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has the same religious beliefs I do, so there’s nothing to threaten to take away if I defect - I’d have more shared (non)spiritual affinities if I were an atheist.  Back when I was a more straight-up pagan, I would often go LOOKING for religious community, but I never really found it because I wasn’t into having purple dreadlocks and working at Ren Faire.

People who are raised and indoctrinated with a worldview are going to carry scars.

There are plenty of people who voluntarily left the religion of their upbringing, or decided to become a “lapsed Catholic” or non-practicing whatever.  It’s hardly rare, or unique to people who decide that they are atheist.  Though I’ll agree that this is probably where the offense comes from when talking dismissively about religion to someone who never came off as particularly religious in other conversations.  You start messing with stuff people grew up with, even if it’s something that they themselves would disavow, and it pokes a lot of scar tissue.

Comment #144: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  04:42 PM

If we want young person values passed on, then convincing our grandparents to love us regardless of their religious training is a crucial thing, even if this risks stepping on some sacred cows of cultural notions of the constitutions of old women.

And, again, this is where I get to the point where I really don’t understand why insisting that someone has to reject their own beliefs in favor of yours is supposed to be a positive good for everyone, especially since that’s what fundamentalists seem to demand, too.  But since you seem to view religious beliefs and racism as basically the same thing (wrong thought that has to be corrected), I guess that’s where the confusion comes in.

Comment #145: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  04:44 PM

It has nothing to do with confronting theists at every turn, Memnosyne, at least not for me.  All I really want is to be left to my own beliefs.  I think that the world would be better off without religion.  We’d certainly be better off without the fundamentalist strains of Christianity and Islam, those are not only dangerous to personal freedom but to actual people’s lives.  Christians may not be burning people yet, at least not in the church yards, but they have a long history of it.

I am perfectly willing to not confront theists.  Tell them to stay out of the front of the bars I frequent, the women’s wellness centers and the funerals of my friends.

Comment #146: G Porgey  on  11/23  at  04:45 PM

Christopher Hitchens doesn’t single out Islam as a special threat because of racism, he does it because it is by far the most violent religion on the face of the earth. I dare you to name one that has had more acts of violence committed in its name in the modern world.

Comment #147: Sidwood  on  11/23  at  04:46 PM

I am not assuming religious people mean Fundamentalist Christians, you are assuming that I do.

Fundamentalist Christians are the only religious believers I’ve ever encountered who believe in the concept of “hell” wherein everyone who doesn’t believe exactly what they believe is going to go there after they die to face eternal torment.

And I know a lot of people who are religious (or not) in a lot of different ways.  Including knowing some quite devout Muslims and Jews. 

So if you generalize “religious believers think I’m going to burn in hell”, I’m going to assume you’re generalizing that all religious believers are fundamentalist Christians.

Comment #148: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  04:47 PM

Opoponax, why do you assume that the correct thing to do is spontaneously come up with a statement of support that will be inoffensive? You’re right, I don’t believe in positive energy any more than I believe in karma or god. Telling me that you’ll be sending some my way is not going to do the trick if I’m in a really sticky emotional situation and all you want to do is expres your support.

Here’s a radical idea for those advocating respectful dialogue between people with different ideologies: why not start by opening a dialogue? If you care about me and are concerned about me, you can say “I’m really concerned about you. It makes me sad that you are sad. I wish there was something I could do to make you feel a little better”. And now, the kicker: ask “is there anything I can do to make you feel any better?”

I know, crazy.

Granted, I could be in a situation like that and ask a question like that and get the answer “pray for me” or “send me lots of positive energy”. Tricky, but that would be a separate ethical dilemma to grapple with. In the situation you are describing, you’ve probably already done all the good you could possibly do (in terms of letting the other person feel your concern and sympathy) by just asking the question. And if they answer with something that you’re actually able and happy to do for them, so much the better for all concerned.

Whichever way you slice that particular pie, blurting out “I’ll pray for you” (or the Pagan/Wiccan equivalent) is showing unexamined privilege - assuming that what is acceptable to you is acceptable to all and anyone who’s offended by it is just a boor with no manners. To do that to people who are in the midst of a difficult situation is doubly cruel!

Comment #149: TheLady  on  11/23  at  04:48 PM

Mnem, the better analogy here wouldn’t be Buffy or Twilight fans analyzing their favorite fictional vampires within the context of those stories, it would be Buffy or Twilight fans who are under the impression that their favorite fictional vampires aren’t actually fictional at all.

Comment #150: Kathleen F.  on  11/23  at  04:48 PM

Sorry, the Opoponax, I guess I should have listed names.

Comment #151: G Porgey  on  11/23  at  04:49 PM

Of the myriad people that have come to find out that I am not an atheist, I have only encountered one atheist who went on a bit of a rant about Christianity upon learning that I was a Christian. It was a husband of a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, it was I believe the first time we’d met and I casually mentioned that I was a Christian and he went off.

I didn’t get offended, because there is a particularly obnoxious, toxic, evil stripe of Christian in that town that bugs the shit out of me, too. And to be fair, he wasn’t being a dick to me personally, he just had an axe to grind against “the church” and I can respect that. Other than that, of all the people that I have talked to who have discovered that I was a Christian despite being atheist themselves, none of them have given me shit for my beliefs.  Hell, one of them even married me.

Now, as far as the shoe being on the other foot, we recently said goodbye to a member of the family who had been struggling with health issues for a very long time. The last couple of months of his life were quite miserable, and despite struggling to keep going, a decision was made that he should have a DNR order so that no extraordinary means would be taken to keep him alive when he was suffering so much. Shortly thereafter, he had to be put in isolation because he had contracted H1N1. This was very traumatic for him, as he would have preferred to die at home with his wife rather than alone in a hospital room (he did miraculously recover from H1N1 despite the odds, but at the time, we assumed the worst). While he was in isolation, someone from the (secular) hospital’s billing department let herself into his room and began to “spread the Good News” to him, against his will, urging him to rescind the DNR order because he would go to Hell and that God loved him, and the doctors wouldn’t treat him properly if he had a DNR order and didn’t he want to live so that he could be saved by Jesus? She harassed him to the point where he was near hysteria (he had difficulty speaking and moving, so he was literally trapped and couldn’t tell her to fuck off and leave him alone), and when his wife was able to visit him next, it took a long time to calm him down. The hospital has refused to fire this woman, because you know, “religious tolerance” despite the fact that she used her job, and the access that it gave her to confidential patient records to assault a dying man and preach at him. And not to put too fine a point on it, but I’ve experienced shit like that from people that I’m supposed to be “of the same faith as” far more than I’ve experienced the occasional atheist rant. 

It’s not the Episcopalians or the Lutherans or even most of the Catholics that the atheists are so upset about, and as Christians we know this. We know what and who the problem is, but we refuse to address this because we’re too busy feeling attacked by the mean atheists. It’s time to nut up and accept that we are our brother’s keeper, as it were, and if there are a bunch of Christians out there acting like hooting dickholes, it makes us all look bad.

Comment #152: Mighty Ponygirl  on  11/23  at  04:49 PM

Apparently, if they don’t get to confront theists at every turn to tell them they’re stupid and wrong, they’re being oppressed.

Uh, yeah, exactly. Because the theists do get to confront us at every turn to tell us that we’re stupid, selfish, dangerous, immoral, and can’t be trusted in any position of power. Can’t be considered citizens or even human beings.

That lack of parity - that religion enjoys a substantial protection from contradiction that other wrong ideas don’t enjoy, and that freedom of religion applies to everyone but those who don’t have one, and that the crimes of the religious as part of their religion don’t count as “real” crimes - is part of the oppression. How can you not be getting that?

This is actually a very recent religious belief mostly from Protestant Christians, and yet somehow it’s come to represent all religions everywhere for all time.

Absolute horseshit. Catholics certainly believe that God really existed and that Jesus was really a real man who really died for our sins. They certainly believe that the miracles of the saints are real events that actually happened - they insist on documentation of them for canonization! Buddhists believe that the enlightenment of Siddhartha really occurred. Hindus certainly believe that the universe is uncreated and eternal and even dispute the scientific reality of the Big Bang as a part of that.

St. Augustene never would have entertained the idea that God was just a metaphor or a cultural artifact; the real existence of God was something on which so many of his views were predicated on it. Otherwise why did he spend so much time trying to prove that God existed?

For someone who’s constantly up our asses about being wrong about religion, Mnem, why don’t you seem to know anything about it? Like this:

It does seem to be the case that there may have been a guy who lived in the Middle East whose name was Jesus (or, actually, Joshua) who was executed for rebelling against the Romans.

How can you not know how untrue this is? That there is, in fact, no independent evidence for the existence of Jesus at all?

In case it’s not coming across, the people who insist that their religion is somehow objectively true and can be proven by material means bug the crap out of me, because it’s just not so.

Oh, shit! Don’t you know how rude it is to say something like that? Don’t you know that’s no way to talk to the religious! Shhhh before somebody hears you being so offensive!

Comment #153: Chet  on  11/23  at  04:49 PM

Would you insist that you have the “correct” answer and that any of your friend’s answers that are different are just proof that s/he is ignorant of art and needs you to explain why s/he is wrong?

While I certainly agree with Chet’s assertion about facts vs. subjective aesthetic opinions, that actually goes far beyond my original point.  No one would suggest I had transgressed in some terrible way if I were to just ASK my friend what she liked about it, and WHY she liked it, and explain why this other painting is “better” in my opinion.  We can have that discussion.

When it’s religion, just trying to have the conversation is forbidden.  It’s somehow rude to even bring it up.  And I’m still awaiting a satisfying answer of why that should be so.

Comment #154: CalliopeJane  on  11/23  at  04:54 PM

When a “good” Christian group does not make much of a stink

See, and here you go again.

THERE ARE BILLIONS OF PEOPLE ON THIS PLANET WHO ARE NOT CHRISTIANS.  Of any stripe. 

You cannot reduce “people who are not explicitly atheist in exactly the same way I am atheist” to “Christians”.  It just doesn’t work.  And it’s not at all like the “good men” who don’t rape.  It’s like there were dozens of other possible sexes/genders to belong to, and men were simply an especially squeaky wheel. 

It sucks that Christians in the US tend to be such a squeaky wheel.  And yeah, of course, there are fundamentalists in all religions, and even the non-fundamentalist religious people often have a lot of problems, especially wrt the right of people to not believe in god or practice any religion at all. 

But when you say things like “all believers want to kill me”, you don’t effectively communicate much beyond “Mom says I can stay on the computer till 9 o’clock as long as I get my homework done”.

Comment #155: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  04:55 PM

Oh and just to be clear, I’m not advocating opening a dialogue with theists. I am profoundly uninterested in any kind of arrogant “enlightenment” project wherein I prove to people they are wrong and should think they way I think about spirituality. All I want is to be left alone to live according to my principles and to not be coerced by biased legislation and custom into compromising them.

But if somebody is advocating respectful dialogue, then they should surely be asking more questions than making statements, at least when they’re not sure what the other person believes, no?

Comment #156: TheLady  on  11/23  at  04:55 PM

No, you see, she is not an Atheist, Chet--therefore she isn’t attacking them personally. Only expressing an opinion about an Idea. It’s completely diff....oh wait.

Comment #157: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  04:55 PM

I was thinking about this while I was microwaving my lunch and I just realized that, in my perfect world, when your grandmother found out you were going into surgery, she could say, “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry to hear that.  Is it okay if I pray for you?” And she wouldn’t be offended if you said, “You know, I’d rather you didn’t.”

But I’m a horrible atheist-oppressor for even thinking that theists and atheists should be treated the same.

Comment #158: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  04:58 PM

Mnem-

Shit, I must have missed the giant argument up thread where people were stating that they should go into the Unitarian Church service and yell no gods, no masters in the back for the entire duration, going up and down the rows to yell in people’s faces.

Cause in my reality, the discussion was on whether a group of people (atheists) have the right to express their (lack of) beliefs at all. Whether they were allowed to affirm their lack of faith and to criticize the religion of those who brought it up or critique historical events or artifacts and defend their viewpoint.

Which is as I said, familiar. Every minority group has gone through this where stating life experiences that are foreign to the dominant is taken as an attack, especially when they critique the dominant culture. Public Enemy was seen as vile and unwarranted. Andrea Dworkin was publically pilloried for her criticisms of the rape culture. The Christian Theocrats have been ranting for decades now that gays don’t deserve equal rights because they are “shoving their lifestyle down our throats”. The list goes on. For the minority group, even in a system of no active oppression, there is a level of basic level of passive oppression. One aspect of this is that every minority group’s statement about itself is seen as intrusive, upsetting, or rude in a way that the dominant group’s actions are not.

For instance in the terms of religion, we are to be polite in all interactions and we are expected to listen to them talk about their religious beliefs, even push them into secular areas of society with a smile on our face, but an atheist is not seen as fully right if they respond in kind or talk about their lack of faith or argue their position.

In fact, in this thread, a number of people have said one is to engage in the religious at all times from the standpoint that their Holy Book is privileged. But the discussion is supposedly one of reality. Why must an atheist adopt their Holy Book to even broach the issue? Would a Jew be expected to adopt the Bible to discuss religion with a Christian or would they argue either from a standpoint of each sticking to their own holy book or relying on secular arguments about real-world effects? The answer is the latter.

It’s also an offensive misread of power. If an atheist was rude to every Christian they met in the most Paultard terms imaginable, they’d be far below even your average evangelist Christian. There is a differential of power that is ignored. An atheist ranting at every Christian is a ludicrous notion in a world where most atheists are silent to deferential or politely refuting considering that society at large is overwhelmingly Christian and privileges that viewpoint. It’s like ranting about that uppity feminist and how rude her tone is and how she’s supposedly arguing for the right of women to rape men with impunity just because she is discussing the imbalance of power and the existence of the patriarchy.

This really shouldn’t be this hard.

Are there assholes that are atheists, of course. But there also exists a grand difference in power and atheists and atheist expression are definitely bound to the same problems as every minority group.

Comment #159: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  04:58 PM

“I’m really concerned about you. It makes me sad that you are sad. I wish there was something I could do to make you feel a little better”. And now, the kicker: ask “is there anything I can do to make you feel any better?”

The main reason I tend not to go this route is that it makes the conversation about me, not the person I want to support. 

So I usually just stick to “I’m thinking about you” or “I’m sending good thoughts your way”.

Love the fact that, on the one hand, if someone inadvertantly says they’ll pray for you or send healing energy your way, this is tantamount to converting you at the point of a sword.  But, on the other hand, I should apparently not give any thought to phrasing my well wishes in a tactful way that will appeal to the person I’m trying to give my support to.  I mean, what am I supposed to do?  Never speak to anyone whose beliefs I don’t have carved in stone?

Comment #160: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  05:01 PM

But if somebody is advocating respectful dialogue, then they should surely be asking more questions than making statements, at least when they’re not sure what the other person believes, no?

But of course it’s the asking of questions that is considered the rudest behavior of the atheist; questions like “what’s the evidence your God even exists?” and “what’s the reason even people who don’t believe in your religion should be forced to adhere to its strictures?” and “why do you insist that I’m a bad person just because I’m not convinced of the existence of your God?” are sufficient to mark you as a “militant” who can’t possibly be considered a good or full person. Asking questions is the one thing religions can’t allow. Anybody who went to Sunday School as a child knows that.

Comment #161: Chet  on  11/23  at  05:02 PM

Mnem, I firmly believe that we can’t get to your perfect world without ruffling the feathers of believers a bit. But you don’t seem to want that to happen, even if the end result is the result you want.

Comment #162: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  05:02 PM

Fuck’s sake, Mnemosyne, are you even reading what you’re writing?  Don’t you even notice what you’re sounding like?

Comment #163: Seraph  on  11/23  at  05:02 PM

The main reason I tend not to go this route is that it makes the conversation about me, not the person I want to support.

But offering help in the form of Your Own Personal Belief System isn’t making it about you at all. Nope. Nosirree.

Comment #164: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  05:04 PM

Look, when people tell me they’re going to pray for me, I try to remember it’s in a spirit of charity - but it’s hard not to hear that as “man, I’m so sorry that something bad happened to you, but I can’t be arsed to actually do anything about it.”

Comment #165: Chet  on  11/23  at  05:04 PM

Very few people in this thread seem to have any interest in religious freedom.  Apparently, if they don’t get to confront theists at every turn to tell them they’re stupid and wrong, they’re being oppressed.

Problem is, Mnem, religious belief has had millennia to fix and lock in both it and its conduct and expectation structures “normal” and to to rig itself as the every default setting in literature, culture, society, government and ordinary inter-social conduct.  A quote like yours above reminds more more than just a tad of folks complaining that anti-racists or feminists are perpetual outrage machines and can be dismissed for that reason.  When the whole game is rigged against a given thing then a certain degree of confrontationalism is inevitable and the “shush and be polite” folks often act, however involuntarily, as a brake on progress.  Think of all those nice, well-meaning white liberals that told King to stop with the boycotts and the marches and all that other stuff, by way of one example.

Comment #166: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  05:06 PM

I really have nothing to add to Cerberus’s posts because s/he’s said it all already, but thought s/he might like a note of support.  So:  you are awesome.

Comment #167: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  05:07 PM

And does anyone really think we atheists are going around flipping people the bird when they pray for our chemo treatments to work? This isn’t even a strawman, this is a fucking dryer lint doll.

Look, when I am in trouble and my mom says she’ll pray for me, EVEN SHE will admit there’s a subtext of, “because someone has to do something about your wayward ass,” as well as a note of pity ("oh, and if you had faith you’d feel so much more capable of dealing than you do right now. Too too bad").

It’s nonetheless well-intentioned, because she’s my mom. But not purely so, because my atheism pisses her the fuck off.

She’s your brand o’ sort-o-pagan, too, Opo.

Comment #168: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  05:08 PM

If we’re going to use “Twlight” as a metaphor for religion (and it’s not a bad one), that creates some useful parallels in re. this thread:

Twilight-Atheist behavior:

A) Telling Twlight fans that Twilight is stupid because vampires don’t sparkle = pointless rudeness (telling them it creates all sorts of literary problems to make the Sparklepires as powerful as traditional vamps - more, really - and strip them of their primary weakness = ?)

B) Saying that Twilight is socially toxic because it romanticizes stalking for a whole new generation of young girls = Important statement of belief, resisting a “Twilight"-dominant system.

Hospital Gifts: 

A) Giving a copy of Twilight to a hospitalized friend, unaware that they dislike it and thinking they might like a good read = polite “I’ll pray for you”

B) Giving a copy of Twilight to a hospitalized friend, knowing they don’t like it but certain that the awesomeness of Twilight will overcome their stubbornness.  After all, it’s not like they have any of their other books with them = Douche-move “I’ll pray for you”.

Responses to Hospital Gifts:

A) Violently throwing the copy of Twilight back at the giver, shouting insults and telling them why you didn’t want the horrible thing = pretty damn rare, on the edge of Strawmanhood

B) Accepting the book with a “thank you”, while quietly vowing to throw it in the nearest wood chipper as soon as the opportunity presents itself = much more common, as a result of 1) Wanting to be polite to someone who gave you a gift for reason “A” or 2) Choosing your battles against a privileged individual who gave you a gift for reason “B”

Acting as if all B’s were A’s = Opo and Mnemosyne

Comment #169: Seraph  on  11/23  at  05:08 PM

Er, no, Opo, I’m actually suggesting that assuming that you’re not a mind reader who can guess what people want to hear and asking a fuckin question is the tactful thing to do. And no, “how can I help?” doesn’t make it all about you. “I will express my concern for you in some canned way I think should be a fits-all rather than make a potentially uncomfortable effort” makes it all about you, because you’re just discharging a social obligation (to make yourself feel like a good person) and not really engaging with the other person’s emotional needs.

Comment #170: TheLady  on  11/23  at  05:09 PM

Chet, St Augustine’s argument for the existence of god essentially amounts to God==elegance in the mathematical sense.  It’s really not that bad a proof, compared to things like Pascal’s Wager.  It’s also essentially some kind of a pan-X-theist sentiment.  As much as I ever made of it.

Comment #171: shah8  on  11/23  at  05:11 PM

@Seraph: fucking brilliant.

Comment #172: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  05:12 PM

“Fundamentalist Christians are the only religious believers I’ve ever encountered who believe in the concept of “hell” wherein everyone who doesn’t believe exactly what they believe is going to go there after they die to face eternal torment.” the opoponax, #

Am I mistaken or doesn’t the Koran mention hell?  Catholics believe in hell, I know this because I have Catholic friends.  Other Christians besides the fundies believe in hell too.  The Zoroastrians believed in a place of punishment, or is your objection just to “everyone who doesn’t believe exactly what they say?

The denial of communion to Patrick Kennedy wasn’t done by a fundamentalist Christian after all.  Where does the bishop think Kennedy will spend his eternity if he doesn’t change his beliefs?

There are holy wars going on all over the globe.  Atheists haven’t started a single one of them.

As far as speaking to people about their religious beliefs, why do you think that’s important.  I could get by quite well without talking to anyone about their or my beliefs.  I don’t care if people pray for me, or if they don’t since I doubt the power of prayer, but I don’t like people shouting at me or insisting that I live like they want me too.

Comment #173: G Porgey  on  11/23  at  05:14 PM

Absolute horseshit. Catholics certainly believe that God really existed and that Jesus was really a real man who really died for our sins. They certainly believe that the miracles of the saints are real events that actually happened - they insist on documentation of them for canonization!

There’s a difference between “God really exists” and “We can scientifically prove that God exists.” As a fallen-away Catholic, I can tell you that most priests will tell you that it’s stupid to try to go out and find scientific proof that God exists because there is no such thing.  You can try to infer it through things like miracles, but God is never going to hold a press conference to prove he exists.

How can you not know how untrue this is? That there is, in fact, no independent evidence for the existence of Jesus at all?

Unfortunately, I’m at work and can’t post the links, but I’ll try to do it later.  Yet I am not surprised that you completely missed my point:  if they were, in fact, able to prove that the guy who founded Christianity really existed, does that mean that Christianity is really true and you would immediately become a believer?  Or would you—rightly—point out that the fact that the guy existed doesn’t constitute proof that he was the Son of God?

Comment #174: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  05:14 PM

“The next time my grandmother offers to pray for me, I’ll make sure to tell her that she’s being a douche by even offering. “

No you won’t.  That was the point, despite the fact that many atheists find an offer to pray for them offensive the deference paid to religion means that atheists are considered beyond the pale for asking people not to pray for them.

Comment #175: Fatman  on  11/23  at  05:15 PM

But offering help in the form of Your Own Personal Belief System isn’t making it about you at all. Nope. Nosirree.

Except that I’m not - as I’ve said, I tend to go with “My thoughts are with you”.

In line with what others have said about knowing more Christians who have hangups about all this than atheists, I’ll say that it happens far more often that the facebook wall posts saying “I’ll pray for you” are piling in, and I’m the lone secular jerk who writes “I’m thinking about you and your family, let me know if there’s anything I can do”.  I more often feel pressure to write something vaguely Christian than I do to eliminate any trace of belief from my consolatory message.

Comment #176: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  05:17 PM

If any of you from other states can name a few professed atheists who have been elected to something higher than dogcatcher, please let me know. I’m not sure it’s happened in Texas.

As for us atheists (or, in my case, apathetic agnostics) who have maintained semi-cordial relationships with family members and childhood friends who happened to be religious, let me say that the anonymous comment whinging about propriety and such has not contributed to my understanding of the issue one iota. As it hasn’t the past 2854 times such threads have (d)evolved.

Comment #177: norbizness  on  11/23  at  05:18 PM

Acting as if all B’s were A’s = Opo and Mnemosyne

I think you mixed up your B’s and A’s in the hospital gifts example, unless you’re arguing that there’s no such thing as a person who would pray for you without realizing you don’t want them to so therefore a polite theist is a strawman on the level of throwing a gift in someone’s face and all of them do it so they can be passive-aggressive douchebags.

Comment #178: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  05:18 PM

Except that I’m not - as I’ve said, I tend to go with “My thoughts are with you”.

No, not you personally. But you don’t seem to think being prayed for when you’re an out atheist should be offensive.

And yet, if you feel that the approach of asking someone how they’d like to be supported is too “Me Me Me”, how can you feel that “here’s how I think and feel, lemme throw it atcha” is somehow less so?

And if you think that facebook posting reads as “hey i’m a secular jerk fuck you hahahaha!” I think I begin to understand why you feel atheists are Way Too Rude.

Comment #179: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  05:21 PM

Mnemosyne: There is a clear difference between “I’ll pray for you” and “Is it okay if I pray for you?”, and if there’s one place I don’t think I need to explain the distinction it’s on a feminist blog.

If you find a Snarling Mad Atheist that has a problem with “Is is okay if I pray for you?”, please direct me to him or her.

Comment #180: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  05:21 PM

Am I mistaken or doesn’t the Koran mention hell?

I think the Koran does, but I think that’s a mark of later Christian influence since the Bible doesn’t mention Hell at all.  Even the New Testament doesn’t talk about there being a specific Hell—they talk about being burned in flames on Judgment Day, but the punishment is that you die permanently and don’t have an afterlife at all, not that you end up in separate afterlife in Hell.  Hell is what they came up with later to keep the rubes in line.  And don’t even get me started on Limbo in Catholicism.

Comment #181: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  05:26 PM

Just this past weekend, my local Secular Humanist Society had a screening of “The Genius of Charles Darwin,” hosted by Richard Dawkins.  And Dawkins, on the way to visit/interview an atheist friend (wish I could remember his name, sorry) who had had a terrible medical crisis but did survive, told of the friend’s response to well-wishers who said they had prayed for him: “ah, but did you also sacrifice a goat?” What a great way of showing up the arbitrary social-construction of the “correct” petitioning of deities! I’d love to use that reply in the future, wonder if I’ll actually have the nerve…

Comment #182: CalliopeJane  on  11/23  at  05:27 PM

Oh, do get started on the Babieeeees, Mnemosyne!  What happens to all those people who’ve never heard the good news!  They shouldn’t burn in hell, should they?

Comment #183: shah8  on  11/23  at  05:27 PM

There’s a difference between “God really exists” and “We can scientifically prove that God exists.”

No, there’s not. There’s absolutely no difference at all. To claim that God is real, that God exists, and that it matters if God exists is to be making a scientific claim, for which evidence is required for acceptance.

It’s just that socially, we allow religion to make scientific claims without meeting the burden of scientific evidence. It’s another privilege of religion.

You can try to infer it through things like miracles, but God is never going to hold a press conference to prove he exists.

Of course, the Bible says pretty clearly that he has, and will, do just that. Doubting Thomas, remember?

Yet I am not surprised that you completely missed my point:  if they were, in fact, able to prove that the guy who founded Christianity really existed, does that mean that Christianity is really true and you would immediately become a believer?

If there emerged overwhelming evidence of the inerrant truth of the events detailed in the Bible, then yes, I would have to become a believer. Immediately. If, indeed, Jesus was who the Bible says he said he was, and did the things that the Bible said he did, then yes, Christianity must really be true. Conversely, if there was no such person as Jesus who never did such things and created such philosophy as the Bible states, there’s no more reason to call oneself a Christian - no matter how much one may esteem that fictional character - than to call oneself a Santa Clausian or an Easter Bunnian (and though I do love Cadbury eggs, that’s just no reason to worship the fictional character said to lay them.)

Comment #184: Chet  on  11/23  at  05:28 PM

There are holy wars going on all over the globe.  Atheists haven’t started a single one of them.

Wars are a bad thing to bring up in this context, because then fundies get to throw the gigantic body counts racked up by Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot in your face as being totally worse than the Inquisition.

Comment #185: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  05:29 PM

From what I understand the references to hell in the Bible can mostly be translated into things like “garbage dump.” I’ve never read it in the original though, not being able to read either Hebrew or Aramaic, and the word hell is used in the King James Bible, which the local protestants use. 

I have really enjoyed this thread and wish I could stay but I have to go home now.  Have a good Thanksgiving everybody.

Comment #186: G Porgey  on  11/23  at  05:29 PM

Am I mistaken or doesn’t the Koran mention hell?

I’m pretty sure Muslims don’t believe in hell in the exact same way that a certain stripe of Christians does. 

Catholics believe in hell, I know this because I have Catholic friends.

Yes, Catholics who espouse a belief that everyone who isn’t Catholic is going to burn in hell for eternity are a brand of Christian fundamentalist.  Some Catholics don’t believe this at all, though.  (I’ll agree that most do, and that the Vatican advocates this belief, again, they’re fundamentalists.)

Other Christians besides the fundies believe in hell too.

Could you please give me some sort of clear proof that moderate Christians who are not religious fundamentalists really do believe that everyone who isn’t of their particular denomination is going to hell? 

As a kid growing up Episcopalian, I was taught that A) hell is not an important aspect of Christian belief, B) nonbelievers are not going to hell simply for not believing, if hell exists you go there because of being an evil person, and/or C) hell does not exist.  Depending on who you talked to and how pointed your questions were.  And we were not even particularly liberal Episcopalians.

The Zoroastrians believed in a place of punishment

Again, to my knowledge Zoroastrians did not believe that anyone who was not Zoroastrian was going to burn in hell for not being “saved”.  What I know of Zoroastrianism does not emphasize hell in the way that Evangelical and Catholic Christianity does.

Comment #187: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  05:31 PM

#178.

Mnemosyne, your reading comprehension is much better than this, so I have to assume you’re being malicious.  To make it clear:

Only one of the three A’s is a strawman.  Polite theists exist (happy you got me to say it?), as do rude Twilight-haters.  However, you and Opo have chosen, for your own rhetorical purposes, to act as if all B’s (Principled Twilight-resisters, Passive-aggressive Twilight-Givers and unhappy-but-polite Twilight Receivers) were actually A’s (Pointlessly rude Twilight-haters, Polite-but-Clueless Twilight-Givers, and Violently Rejecting Twilight-Receivers).

Congrats to both of you, btw, for taking yet another thread that mentions atheism in some way and turning it into yet another lecture about how atheists should watch their manners if they want any help from whites men theist “fellow-travelers”.  I know to expect that from Opo, but I’d thought better of you.

What a waste of time.

Comment #188: Seraph  on  11/23  at  05:31 PM

Opoponax-

Forgive me if I am wrong, because I remember you making good points on other threads, but here you seem invested in deliberately misreading my sentences. I decided to give you what you asked for, the debate you said you wanted, and the reasons you were asking for and your responses are of the flavor most comparable to a dude saying “shut up, there is no rape culture”.

Christianity is privileged in this (US and Western society in general) in an undeniable way. The existence of other religions doesn’t change that it is given a large platform to define what our culture thinks and says. Congress is nearly unanimously made up of those who believe in one form of Christianity or another. There are some jews, I believe one muslim, and as far as I can remember no out atheists though I might be mistaken (the number is not very high). A recent poll stated Americans have a worse view of atheists than both muslims and gay people and a majority of Americans believe that an atheist cannot be a moral person. An out atheist could not be elected president and most offices of government have a de facto religious test even though that is illegal if made explicitly manifest.

A number of atheists have been physically attacked for their viewpoints, run out of towns, fired from jobs, etc… There is a consistent history of bigotry against them and cultural bias against them or their voices.

So yes, Christianity (in the Western World, esp America) is the dominant group, atheist the minority group. The fact that the response to atheist self-expression versus evangelical christian self-expression is an especially good illustration of that. Something mostly tame, critiquing specific aspects of power, oppression, and behavior is treated like vile invective, when most shrug off the endless rants of the “supposedly outlier” psychos whose words not only are vilely sexist, racist, and homophobic, but are often inherently anti-democratic and inflammatory towards specific illegal action (but still I would argue protected free speech). The point was more about cultural response.

In my points on why people get testy. I pointed out the various reasons. These are not “atheism is great” reasons. Only points of why people get antsy and angry when an atheist expresses themselves and why that expression’s tone really doesn’t matter as much as is claimed. The reasons for bristling are often unstated reasons. The types of which I listed.

For instance, I will note rather most strikingly that the ones who bristle the least about atheism or other religions in general are often those who have earnest faith in their current religion. They as you think I have not claimed repeatedly, exist, hence why I used accurate faith, the faith they actually hold rather than the one they feel they HAVE to be a part of. Is that atheism, wicca, evangelical christianity, buddhism, or more likely something personal and non-hierarchal? Who knows. But that dissonance can be one of the big reasons the response to atheism is so violently antagonistic versus the response to other supposedly arrogant philosophies.

To the scar tissue, that would be my fucking point. Again, you supposedly wanted to discuss why people don’t want to discuss atheism. I thought that was what you wanted to talk about, so I gave you a post on that topic considering you spent so fucking long ranting against the mean old atheists who didn’t get that. One of the reasons people don’t like atheists talking about things is because of goddamned scar tissue or because it makes them confront their lack of belief and it feels harder for them to leave and confront that scar tissue than to stay where at least everyone else is scarred. This is the same whether they are actually atheist or actually Norse Pagan like my male best friend when he painfully left his fundamentalist christian raising.

Comment #189: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  05:32 PM

To your point at 155, Opoponax, my point was about the flipside, why an atheist would respond the way they would and why they would as you whine about conflate all religion with the dominant and loudest expression of Christianity as expressed by the catholic, mormon, and most of the various sects of evangelical christian.

You asked for that explanation, I gave it to you. One of the statements by atheists is that moderate Christians and natural allies like those of minority religions act like National Democrats due about gay rights. They make a lot of noise about being allies or less vile than the loudest expression of religion in America, but that when push comes to shove, they often rail louder against Richard Dawkins than they do against James Dobson.

Now, this impression can be disagreed with. I don’t share it, because I believe in people being imperfect allies and accept what I can get, but it explains why emotionally, they might be prickly about trusting the supposed claim that most religious people are totally on their side re: secularism and respect for non-believer self-expression. Same as other minority groups are often hesitant about stated allies from dominant groups at first because one doesn’t know how much privilege they’ve figured out and whether they will soon use it offensively as a supposed ally.

But apparently, you instead did want to argue atheism versus theism after all rather than improve dialogue by understanding motivations and sore spots. I am sad to see the dichotomy in your stated reasons versus your actual reasons and continue to state for my own benefit and for the benefit of clarity that the denial of the dominance of a dominant power and a denial of the voice of an oppressed group are old common tropes of oppression of dominant group against minority group.

Also, infantalization of the minority groups requests to speak for itself is also in that sector.

P.S. I am not actually an atheist. I have my own private belief system but have grown over the years to despise a number of orders of organized religion for its stances against the equal rights of a number of groups, a number of whom I belong to.

Comment #190: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  05:32 PM

Exactly, Seraph, it’s just a big waste of time.

Buiding civil society>>>>>anti-religeon.

Comment #191: shah8  on  11/23  at  05:34 PM

Wars are a bad thing to bring up in this context, because then fundies get to throw the gigantic body counts racked up by Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot in your face as being totally worse than the Inquisition.

There is a difference between individual atheists doing bad things and doing bad things in the name of atheism.  Wars are waged in the name of religion and religion is what gives them the moral justification for the war.  Atheism does not give such moral justification for war.  I am reminded of the quote by Steven Weinberg: “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.”

Comment #192: CalliopeJane  on  11/23  at  05:34 PM

And does anyone really think we atheists are going around flipping people the bird when they pray for our chemo treatments to work? This isn’t even a strawman, this is a fucking dryer lint doll.

Gypsy Lee is a strawman?  It was her comment at #52 that she was insulted that people would offer to pray for her when she went into surgery that started that whole line of discussion, and several people have backed her up and said that they are, in fact, offended when people offer to pray for them in a crisis.

I’m not sure who’s making the strawman argument here since I was arguing with what people said they believe.

Comment #193: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  05:36 PM

Mnemosyne, re Paul Pot, etc:
The obvious counter to that argument is that there is a different between a secular issue and a rational one.  Nazi Germany, Leninist Russia and Khmer Rouge Cambodia were notionally anti-religious but they were at their evil cores anti-rational, shifting every emotion and psychotic human BS need onto a secular concept rather than a religious one.  Stalin was especially adept at this.

Comment #194: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  05:37 PM

As far as speaking to people about their religious beliefs, why do you think that’s important.

This whole thing started with Ha’s post about how it’s just totally unfair that when she made a reductive and dismissive comment about the Virgin of Guadalupe to someone she had pegged as a fellow athiest, they got all offended and asked her to stop.  She then mused that she just doesn’t understand how to get progressive fellow travelers involved in a dialogue about the issues that Amanda writes about in her original post. 

My point to her was that, if one wants to engage in real dialogue about religion’s role in maintaining patriarchy and other oppressive systems with people who aren’t on exactly the same page as you, one ought not start with dismissive comments.

Comment #195: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  05:38 PM

difference.

Comment #196: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  05:38 PM

Wars are waged in the name of religion and religion is what gives them the moral justification for the war.

What religion gave Pol Pot moral justification for doing what he did?  Or are you going to go all fundy and claim that Communism must be a religion because he did everything in the name of Communism?

Many, many nasty things have been done in the name of religion, but don’t try to pretend that mass murder has never happened in the name of atheism, because it has.

Comment #197: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  05:39 PM

Yes, Opo, this:

But, of course I can’t say anything about their belittling my belief re: prayer. I have to plaster a nice fake smile on my face and say “thanks!”

Is exactly the same as flipping them the bird.

Fer fuck’s sake.

Comment #198: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  05:40 PM

Gavel Down, ah shucks, thanks! I’m a transwoman by the way if you want to use a specific modifier.

Comment #199: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  05:41 PM

Many, many nasty things have been done in the name of religion, but don’t try to pretend that mass murder has never happened in the name of atheism, because it has.

Not just in the name</I of religion, though. <i>Because of, as an expression of, religion. In the name of atheism, perhaps - though the supposedly secular Soviet Union believed that Stalin had the magical powers to see through his paintings or watch you through your TV, doesn’t sound very atheist to me to ascribe supernatural powers to your potentate - but never as an expression of atheism. Never because of atheism.

Comment #200: Chet  on  11/23  at  05:43 PM

I think it very regrettable that people from all walks of life presume to score rationality points by blowing up at women.  Why are there no studies done on this from an evolutionary perspective?  Of course if merits a lot of attention, because thowing a temper tantrum and gesticulating wildly is supposed to convince others that a particular woman has no rationality at all, and that you’re the only one who has got any of it. 

Of is Australian culture just different from the rest?

Comment #201: scratchy888  on  11/23  at  05:44 PM

On a positive note, I must say I am pleased to even see discussions like this.  I love that I’m alive to see this time when two social categories of which I am a member (gays & atheists) are starting to stand up and be heard and reckoned with by the larger society!  Twenty years ago, I never would have thought we’d be actually seeing gay people get married or see a book like “The God Delusion” spend weeks on the bestseller list.  Sure, there’s pushback, but there always is for any minority group that begins to come into its own.  What exciting times!

Comment #202: CalliopeJane  on  11/23  at  05:44 PM

“Congrats to both of you, btw, for taking yet another thread that mentions atheism in some way and turning it into yet another lecture about how atheists should watch their manners if they want any help from whites men theist “fellow-travelers”.  I know to expect that from Opo, but I’d thought better of you. “

For serious.  This is probably another unexamined reason I avoid identifying as an atheist to the extent I identify as a feminist.  I can’t talk about my issues within atheism or difficult scenarios with family or whatever without defending my beliefs/practices from the strawatheist who’s a total dick.  And I *am* a total dick atheist (my response to “I’ll pray for your grandmother” is always “eh, if you want, it won’t do much if the doctors can’t help her anyway") but somehow my dick atheism is never as egregious as the strawatheist constructed.

Comment #203: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  05:45 PM

193-

Others have pointed this out Mnem, but I would hope that as a feminist you would understand why it’s a bad thing to tell people what they can feel privately about an action done by another. Gypsy feeling offended by a prayer is not the same as her angrily throwing it back in their faces. She even said she swallowed it unhappily. And she did that for the same reason women have smiled and thanked male relatives when they’ve said “don’t worry, you’ll find someone to make you an honest woman someday”, blacks have thanked bosses complimenting on how “they’re not like most blacks they’ve known”, or homosexuals have held back bitter laughs when someone asks them why someone as pretty or handsome as them isn’t married yet.

Their right to go home and rant about that would I hope by something any anti-oppression activist would stand up for, as would their right theoretically to stand up for themselves and correct the record if they so chose.

Comment #204: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  05:47 PM

This whole thing started with Ha’s post about how it’s just totally unfair that when she made a reductive and dismissive comment about the Virgin of Guadalupe to someone she had pegged as a fellow athiest, they got all offended and asked her to stop.

Wow, except what Ha said was that although startled, she/he was NOT offended, and found it an interesting and enlightening experience. Which led to musings on better ways of communicating with believing fellow-travelers.

The post:

As it was, I thought the political expediency of the Church was relevant, though I brought it up in a flippant way that I quickly realized was offensive. He told me to shut it down, and I learned something about dealing with people.

Comment #205: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  05:48 PM

The problem with “I’ll pray for you” is that it’s more often than not used as a backhanded way of shutting down disagreement, the same way prefacing something with “Bless his/her heart” is used as a way of saying something particularly nasty about someone.

Too often, evangelical fundamentalists will respond to the reasonable arguments of skeptics with “I’ll pray for you.” It’s obnoxious, dismissive, and about as patronizing as you can get towards another person. They would, of course, declare that they were offering their promise of prayer because they would pray for anyone in trouble, even if the person “didn’t know it at the time.”

In fact, if I were being wheeled into surgery and someone said “I’ll pray for you” to me, I would absolutely bristle: saying “I’ll pray it goes well” or “I’ll pray for your speedy recovery” at least indicate that the person is thinking of you fondly, that they are sending their best wishes that you mend fast (after all, what is a prayer except a wish that is directed toward God, whether or not God is real?) But to say “I’ll pray for you” is loaded, because it’s not indicating why the person is praying for you. It could be that they are praying in all good intentions for your speedy recovery, they could in fact be praying that you don’t die and go to Hell you inveterate sinner. Maybe it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Comment #206: Mighty Ponygirl  on  11/23  at  05:48 PM

Christianity is privileged in this (US and Western society in general) in an undeniable way. The existence of other religions doesn’t change that it is given a large platform to define what our culture thinks and says.

Of course it is.

But “religion” and Christianity are not equivalent, so....?

Comment #207: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  05:50 PM

CalliopeJane-

Indeed, I may be young, but I’m full of hope for the slow transformation of society over time. It won’t ever be fast enough, but I remember only 5 years ago telling a friend who is now sadly dead that we’d be seeing gay acceptance and marriage rights start to be supported at large and become legal slowly and surely and I remember as a young child standing up for Darwin and evolution against a large group of children telling me I was going to Hell and angrily defending a radical idea of Christianity. In my teens, most of my friends were fundies. Now, they’ve all been falling out and there seems to be more messages out there that it’s okay not to believe. I would not have believed that we’d see pro-atheist bus campaigns in America even 5 years ago.

Things change for the better.

Comment #208: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  05:53 PM

er, i should say, that Ha did not find the experience “soooo unfair!!! ZOMG” at all. The professor clearly was offended.

Comment #209: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  05:53 PM

But “religion” and Christianity are not equivalent, so....?

So when you talk about “God” or spirituality in general without mentioning that you worship Thor, you’re going to get the deference and respect generally accorded to Christianity, because everyone assumes that’s what you mean.

Comment #210: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  06:00 PM

“So when a friend gives you an ugly handmade gift that you don’t want, you throw it back in their face and insist that they give you something you like instead?”

There’s a world of difference between someone having ACTUALLY DONE SOMETHING by making a handmade gift, and the selfish, arrogant uselessness that is prayer.

“ Telling someone who’s about to have major surgery that you’ll pray for them is a douche move.”

Yes, it is.  It’s a selfish action performed solely for the purpose of making the theist believe they took part in something they had nothing to do with. 

If one wants to pray for me (i.e. talk to themselves so that they feel like they’ve participated), so be it.  Telling me that you are, when you know how I feel about it, is a douche move.

“In my book, it would be incredibly rude for a Christian to tell a Muslim or Jewish friend not to pray for them when they go into surgery because they’re not praying to the right God, and I think most people would agree.”

I never said I deliberately told them not to pray – for me or otherwise. I simply thought - mistakenly as it turned out – that they respected me enough to respect my thoughts on the matter (i.e. not to tell me about it). 

“ Gypsy Lee is a strawman?  It was her comment at #52 that she was insulted that people would offer to pray for her”

Yep.  Notice what I did NOT say however, that I told them so, told them I was offended, etc.

You conveniently chose to ignore the bit where I said I am forced to grin and bear it and instead have repeatedly attempted to paint me and everyone who agreed with me of being insane misanthropes who respond with psychotic rage at any mention of religion. 

A one way street. And you’ve made it perfectly clear which way the sign points.

Comment #211: Gypsy Lee  on  11/23  at  06:06 PM

207-

So now we talk about interlocking oppressions. Christianity is the dominant cultural narrative as is heterosexuality and cisgenderism and being a sexual.

Now, similarly religion in general is privileged. As I pointed out before, one is more liked and respected and able to gain public office if one is part of a hated religious minority than if one rejects the system entirely. But more importantly, religion is assumed to be a default. All of the culture assumes one has a religion, that one personally believe in some existence of the supernatural and often that one has at least one god to whom they petition or otherwise complete a formalized ritual for.

When one encounters instead a void, they bristle. It’s unfamiliar and we have few cultural narratives to encapsulate it. Just as Christianity is privileged, it’s privilege also contains the privilege of being religious at all, even though non-dominant religious face a lack of privilege extended to Christians in general and just like non-dominant Christian sects such as mormonism and catholicism face a lack of privilege enjoyed by episcopalians and fundies.

Similarly a cisgendered heterosexual male not only has heterosexual privilege, but also cisgendered privilege, male privilege, and sexual privilege. He expects that public displays of sexuality will be numerous and conforming to his desires and that the gender presentations of them will match his own and won’t trigger him that way. He enjoys these privileges.

Someone who is a gay male, would lack heterosexual privileges, but still have cisgendered prvileges, male, and sexual prvileges.

And so on and so forth, of course even the transgendered lesbian may still be privileged in conversation and the cultural discussion assumptions in that it is known that she has a sexuality, a privilege not shared by asexuals who must always correct the record that they are not a part of the sexual system.

Anyways, the point is that privileges stack (and if you time them right you can unleash them for massive acid damage) (Sorry for the gamer joke)

And further why am I needing to give a Privilege 101 talk to you of all people?

Comment #212: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  06:06 PM

Congrats to both of you, btw, for taking yet another thread that mentions atheism in some way and turning it into yet another lecture about how atheists should watch their manners if they want any help from whites men theist “fellow-travelers”.

Yes, by saying “atheists and theists both need to be polite,” what I’m really doing is oppressing the poor, innocent atheists who think that because they got kicked in the shin, they should be allowed to poke people in the eye.

A big part of my perspective on this is that I have yet to see a convincing case where being rude to people made them change their minds and agree with you after all.  I know it feels better to lash out at people who’ve been assholes, but it doesn’t actually do anything other than give you a temporary boost in mood and get them to hunker down even more fiercely because now they’re the injured party.  I’m in the middle of reading Nixonland and it’s very frustrating to see people advocating the exact same methods that they did 40 years ago, especially since it was the backlash against those methods that brought Nixon to power.

Fundamentalism of all stripes irritates me, whether it’s fundamentalist theism or fundamentalist atheism.  Switching from a militant belief in God to a militant disbelief in God doesn’t seem like much of a switch to me.

Comment #213: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  06:06 PM

One of the statements by atheists is that moderate Christians and natural allies like those of minority religions act like National Democrats due about gay rights. They make a lot of noise about being allies or less vile than the loudest expression of religion in America, but that when push comes to shove, they often rail louder against Richard Dawkins than they do against James Dobson.

For some reason you seem to be assuming that I’m arguing from a place of “but some Christians are not crazy conservative fundie wackjobs!”

When in fact I’m arguing more from the place of “religions that are not Christianity not only exist, but have billions of members”.  When you generalize that all people who are not atheist think you’re going to burn in hell, or would kill you if given the chance, you look like a dumbass because the reality is that the vast majority of non-atheists in this world honestly don’t give half a turd whether you believe in god or not. 

The only religions I’m even aware of that care whether you believe in god and what sort are Christianity, Islam, and a certain very specific brand of Judaism.  And of those three, only Christianity is actively a proselytizing religion, and only a few subsects of Christianity believe that nonbelievers are destined to burn in hell.  And in that, they don’t make exceptions for atheists - they think Methodists and Lutherans are going to burn in hell, too.

In this line of argument, the atheist line seems to be that Christianity is the enemy, not that belief in any nonmaterialist or supernatural dimension is the enemy.  And I’ll agree, by the way, that the US is dominated by Christians, and especially dominated by the kinds of Christians we can all agree to hate.  I might even agree that Christians have a certain sort of “privilege” over non-Christians.  But I won’t agree that the real problem is that some yogini somewhere believes that she can meditate to send healing energy to her dying grandmother’s Chakras.  As I said upthread, this can’t easily be mapped to a “rape culture” analogy, because it would be as if there were dozens of different sexes, only one of which, men, were prone to rape.

Comment #214: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  06:08 PM

211-

Bah, it’s not like you filthy atheists have real feelings. It gets in the way of all the time you have hating God because of your arrogant anarchism and trying to destroy Christmas by which we hope everyone will take that to mean being against secular Christmas the day of family bonding, giving presents, and decorating.

You should be ashamed of yourself. I will now pray for your immortal soul and thus remind myself that I’m better than you.

Comment #215: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  06:12 PM

the atheist line seems to be that Christianity is the enemy, not that belief in any nonmaterialist or supernatural dimension is the enemy.

Honestly I feel that both are harmful, but neither are “The Enemy.” My only enemies are individuals who act specifically to harm me or restrict my liberties. Those individuals can have any ol’ belief system. Some of them are even atheists who don’t think women are quite human. (Hm! Shades of the point of the original post....)

Do I still get to be an atheist, now that I’m not toeing “the atheist line”? You conflating all atheists together is no better or more effective a tactic than conflating Christianity with religion in general.

Comment #216: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  06:14 PM

A big part of my perspective on this is that I have yet to see a convincing case where being rude to people made them change their minds and agree with you after all.

I’ve been a witness to it at least one time. So, whatever. The case in question was a Stalinist posting on some forum or another and as an anarchist I take it personally to be snarky and rude to every Stalinist… I’m a sectarian like that. raspberry I pointed out stuff like Krondstadt and the Spanish Civil War as examples of Stalinist betrayal of revolutionaries, and I made my points very rudely in fact. Months later I received a PM from the guy saying that I had been a wake up call to question some of the stuff that he got fed at his meetings and that he’d switched to anarchosyndicalism.

So… whatever. Again. Most people don’t even have an incentive to come tell me how my berating them made them realize they were blind about certain things, so I assume it’s not the only time that’s worked out but I just never heard back. Note also that effects are not immediate. Took him months to process the dissonance I brought through my chaotic method of debate. But consider that I personally never saw someone admit to changing their mind after a *formal*, civil debate either…

Comment #217: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  06:16 PM

“Switching from a militant belief in God to a militant disbelief in God doesn’t seem like much of a switch to me.”

The fact that this was typed in comment #213 makes me wish I could take this thread out behind the barn and shoot it.

Comment #218: norbizness  on  11/23  at  06:17 PM

Many, many nasty things have been done in the name of religion, but don’t try to pretend that mass murder has never happened in the name of atheism, because it has.

What? “There is no God and His Name is Richard Dawkins”?

I have no problem with the idea that atheism (especially as practiced by certain kinds of skeptics) can be a religion; there are plenty of religions that aren’t monotheistic, or don’t even rely on the existence of gods, or of omnipotent gods. But generally atheism isn’t a religion, it’s a statement of fact. Typically the mass murders that have been committed by people who profess themselves atheists are committed in the name of something else—socialism, marxism-leninism, anti-intellectualism—that is in its workings indistinguishable from a religion.

Comment #219: paul  on  11/23  at  06:19 PM

Amanda:

For liberal men, getting to the point where you start to really believe that the opposition is strongly motivated by sexism can be a painful journey, for reasons I don’t quite understand, but I’ve nonetheless seen enough men make the journey to sympathize with how hard they worked to get to the point where they were willing to accept that a lot of our politics in this country go back to the struggles in the hearth between women who want more power and men who fear it.

They seem to have a much harder time getting to the point where you start to really believe that a shitload of Liberals are strongly motivated by sexism.  Maybe even themselves.

Comment #220: oldfeminist  on  11/23  at  06:22 PM

213-

Seriously? Seriously?

No, fuck you. I’m sorry, but you really want to make the claim that the backlash was a response to feminists, anti-racists, and homosexuals just being too mean and rude to the dominant groups that caused the backlash?

Really?

The problem that caused the backlash was that they were visible at all. By gaining rights, standing up for themselves, no matter how politely, those who had taken privilege for granted mobilized a backlash fed on the decades of inaction and dominance and their unwillingness to let any power go without a fight.

Pride and ACT-UP didn’t cause gay-bashing. It gave gays a safe home to stand up for themselves and educated America on what was going on with the AIDS crisis. Did people already against them use these as the supposed reason they were against them all along, of course. But they were against them all along. Just as these groups have always hated women.

The only thing meek deference gets is nothing. People were respectful and deferent for generations about the South and the treatment of blacks, but nothing ever moved without years and years of fraught and attacked struggle. And none of those forces supported anything that occurred until it was too late.

It’s the same with gay rights. 8 years ago, you couldn’t get a civil union bill passed to save your life with the Christians saying it was an abomination. Now they all say they were for it. Gays have only gotten more adamant in that time.

Women have only gained rights when feminists had power and women everywhere stood up for themselves. Even under backlash, they still have net gained rights and it is the overly deferential tactic that has emboldened our enemies to now start chipping away at contraception access as well as abortion access requiring us to need to start mobilizing all over again.

The same is true with atheism. Where was the big atheism love in 5, 10, 20 years ago? Was there some golden age or are their claims only now being heard, the pushback against creationism ramping up in earnest now that more and more people feel comfortable standing up for their lack of belief?

I really hate the argument that if the oppressed group was just nicer than the dominant would give them their rights, because it has never been true. The only way to be heard is to speak out. The only way to feel safe is to feel as if one is not alone. This is 101 on how movements grow and outreach and passionate defense wins allies and support for a minority cause in a dominant system.

Comment #221: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  06:23 PM

Not just in the name of religion, though. Because of, as an expression of, religion. In the name of atheism, perhaps - though the supposedly secular Soviet Union believed that Stalin had the magical powers to see through his paintings or watch you through your TV, doesn’t sound very atheist to me to ascribe supernatural powers to your potentate - but never as an expression of atheism. Never because of atheism.

In other words, atheism has never failed, it can only be failed.  Gotcha.

Is anyone still wondering why I get annoyed at people preaching to me about the perfection of atheism and how it can never be wrong and why can’t I just understand that in the perfect way they do?

Comment #222: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  06:28 PM

For liberal men, getting to the point where you start to really believe that the opposition is strongly motivated by sexism can be a painful journey, for reasons I don’t quite understand, but I’ve nonetheless seen enough men make the journey to sympathize with how hard they worked to get to the point where they were willing to accept that a lot of our politics in this country go back to the struggles in the hearth between women who want more power and men who fear it.

I don’t understand this, either. After having this pointed out to me a couple of times and doing a little thinking and reading, it became abundantly obvious to me that it is undeniably correct.

Comment #223: PhysioProf  on  11/23  at  06:30 PM

Cerebus, #221, QFT.

Comment #224: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  06:31 PM

Atheists are different from feminists in that they have an easily recognisable enemy with a face to it, wheras feminists are shadow boxing against a whole social paradigm. They’re not really as much into dismantling religion as a system of oppression as they are into slamming religious people, and too many of them define their identities by that dichotomy to make me comfortable that they’re not just pro-science bigots. That’s not an argument against atheism (I’m still an atheist, Hitchens or no), but I do think that they’re not the natural fellow travelers to feminism that you think they are.

Er, what? “Atheists,” as a group, aren’t part of a crusade against religion. Atheism is what you believe, or do not believe.

But to offer someone psychological succour via a medium that you know doesn’t do anything for them is like trying to bring someone to orgasm by masturbating, then being all offended when they point out that that was maybe a bit on the selfish side. Fie, fie.

I like this analogy - in part because praying makes someone feel good about themself. For what it’s worth, I might say to the person, “I don’t believe in a God, but I appreciate being in your thoughts.”

One can say that religeon nurtures the irrational because it makes claims that are verifiably false or unprovable.  I respond by saying that we know *very* frickin’ little about where we are, what we are, and even who we are.  One does not need a God of the Gaps type argument to say that God exists.  If you do, you really don’t know much about how much we don’t know, and the grave difficulty of finding that knowlege.  Just take, for example, gravity.  We know absolutely nothing about what it is, but we know a helluvalot about what it does.  Mebbe one day we’ll find a graviton or something someday, but gravity is only the most notable of many major questions.  Meanwhile, we go with what we know based on sound reasoning.

Sure, but when your holy text says the sun revolves around the earth, that’s not about subjective experience.

And, again, this is where I get to the point where I really don’t understand why insisting that someone has to reject their own beliefs in favor of yours is supposed to be a positive good for everyone, especially since that’s what fundamentalists seem to demand, too.  But since you seem to view religious beliefs and racism as basically the same thing (wrong thought that has to be corrected), I guess that’s where the confusion comes in.

I’d say that insisting a grandmother abandon her belief that gays/atheists/pagans will go to hell and should be disowned is actually a positive good for everyone, but especially for her gay/atheist/pagan granddaughter, which is what I got the impression the previous comment was about.

Comment #225: Rebecca  on  11/23  at  06:33 PM

On reading what I wrote, perhaps not, depending on the person - but definitely “I appreciate being in your thoughts.”

Comment #226: Rebecca  on  11/23  at  06:38 PM

214 opoponax-

I feel like I said something about this. Something perhaps about the dominant system in the US and The West being Christianity. Somehow, forgive me if I am being dense, but I naturally took that to mean that I acknowledged that there existed other parts of the world, ones where a different religion was dominant.

Of course, similar rules apply there too. Except for a handful of exceptions where there is an ill-thought out attempt at forced atheism statewide that often calls for a worship of a secular leader instead, most of those dominant religions have unearned privileges extended to the dominant religions and all religions regardless of being dominant have a privilege not extended to the non-religious.

This is most manifest I have often thought in that what will align a number of religions with enmity are usually two things. Hatred of a minority group (like gays or women) or condemnation of the non-religious (responses to God Delusion, treatment of atheists). There is a privilege on top of that given to the dominant religious group given to all religious groups.

The why is simple. One cannot give one religion dominant social position, without also stating the importance of being religious to begin with. Just like a dominant social position that women are worth less than men cannot abide a system wherein people can change their sex or date members of the same sex, because allowing that undermines a core foundation of the other.

The rape culture analogy does hold actually oddly enough, because it breeds a culture where not only one can target women for rape, but says men who are more woman-like than male are open season as well. This leads to jokes and incidents of male-on-male rape to humiliate and dominate a boy you want to enforce as less than or rather more womanly than oneself. My high school had two incidents along those lines.

Of course rape of women is far more common, which is why we are also focusing as people in the West on Christianity and particularly antagonistic Christianity, because that Christian dominated meta-privilege is doing the most damage, but standing up for atheism does work against both systems of dominance, both Christian-dominated and religion-as-a-whole-dominated.

Comment #227: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  06:38 PM

In other words, atheism has never failed, it can only be failed.  Gotcha.

Is anyone still wondering why I get annoyed at people preaching to me about the perfection of atheism and how it can never be wrong and why can’t I just understand that in the perfect way they do?

Ummm, because your argument is facile and refuted already?  People haven’t said that atheism is perfection.  They’ve pointed out that:
* any system which ascribes supernatural powers or blessing to a given norm or purported destiny isn’t really atheism [Chet @ #200]; it might be secular but it isn’t atheist, it’s merely dressing up an essentially anti-rational and faith-driven concept in statist clothes;
* there’s a difference between rationalist thought and antirationalist, with atheism usually being in the former camp and religion usually being in the latter.  This is where failure to clarify the terms of the debate is often the problem because people are very careless about interchangeably using the terms “secular”, “humanist”, “rational” and “atheist”.  (It’s also confusing to mix up “religious” and “spiritual”, something that The Opoponax has, to my memory, tried to address on a similar thread many months ago.)

Atheism can fail, certainly.  Any human concept can fail.  It’s possible to be an atheist and candidly concede that one of the driving forces of the starvation and mass murder factory that was the USSR was its removal of the notion that the individual had any value in and of his or her self: no soul = no need to respect the person, to oversummarize.  However it’s also apropos to note in response, for example, that deeply religious Russian Czars had no compunction about vast swathes of corpses if it suited their grander purpose: St. Petersburg is often called a city built on bones for a reason.  Likewise Nazi Germany, which was secular in that the fixation was on the nation state and a definable (at least in theory) ethnic group, but was in fact antii-rational, emotional and, yes, faith- and destiny- and saviour-driven and those are very much religious concepts applied to a secular end.

Human betterment begins with the ending of self-delusion so I don’t see a conflict between not being deluded by a magic sky man on the one hand or your fellow humans on the other.

Comment #228: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  06:50 PM

So when you talk about “God” or spirituality in general without mentioning that you worship Thor, you’re going to get the deference and respect generally accorded to Christianity, because everyone assumes that’s what you mean.

Not really, no.

Firstly, in my experience as a non-Christian who is not only a religious minority in that regard, but a religious minority in a much more extreme regard than even atheists are, I find that not being Christian, with a possible exception for members of other major world religions who are lucky enough to live in an enclave of coreligionists, you simply are encouraged not to mention religion at all. 

Aside from the fact that ethnically I’m a goy*, I don’t really get any assumption about what religion I must be.  Mainly because I don’t talk about religion.  I send out Holiday cards that say “season’s greetings” or “peace on earth”, though in reality my beliefs align more with “Happy Solstice”, because then I would have to explain my beliefs to EVERYONE, not just the fundie relatives who are going to think any card that doesn’t mention Jesus is an affront.  I once threw a Samhain Party - that fell pretty flat, so I’ve stuck to costumes, alcohol, and The Monster Mash ever since.  I don’t pepper my speech with casual references to religion like “you’re in my prayers” or “I have faith that...” It honestly kind of irks me that I subconsciously exclaim “oh my god!” in moments of shock or delight, since god has nothing to do with it. 

*i.e. in the New York pecking order, it’s assumed that, because I’m white and not obviously Jewish, I must be of some sort of Christian heritage.

Comment #229: The Opoponax  on  11/23  at  06:50 PM

No, fuck you. I’m sorry, but you really want to make the claim that the backlash was a response to feminists, anti-racists, and homosexuals just being too mean and rude to the dominant groups that caused the backlash?

You should probably read the book.  It was the rioting, for the most part, that caused a lot of people to freak out and backlash.  Seeing inner cities in flames, for better or for worse, did cause a lot of white people to freak the fuck out, decide that the rioters they saw on TV were telling the truth when they said that they were getting ready to come burn down the houses of white people, and got the hell outta Dodge.

Are you saying that Martin Luther King didn’t really accomplish anything because, after all, he and his followers politely (and non-violently) insisted that they get the same rights as everyone else and what they really should have done was get into people’s faces and scream at them?

Women have only gained rights when feminists had power and women everywhere stood up for themselves.

Again, by “standing up for themselves,” do you really think that Valerie Solanis issuing manifestoes about killing men advanced feminism more than the dozens of lawsuits that women patiently shoved through the courts?  You seem to be having trouble drawing a distinction between politely demanding your rights and violently doing so.  ACT-UP didn’t do squat except make people feel good about themselves for pushing back at “the man.” In fact, a lot of the resistance to gay rights within the Catholic Church dates from those days when ACT-UP activists would disrupt religious services.  But their cause was just so everything should be forgiven, right?

Sorry, but I can’t go along with Goldwater’s construction that extremism in defense of your beliefs is no vice.

Comment #230: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  06:50 PM

Rude, in-your-face atheism/feminism/LGBT rights activism has another purpose too - it moves the Overton Window.  Since Dawkins is out there, the tepid criticisms of the “polite” “moderate” activists is not seen as one end of the spectrum, but as a reasonable compromise.  Would there have been an MLK Jr. without the Black Panthers showing just how mad people could get if you didn’t listen to them?  Probably not.

...on the flip side, we wouldn’t be seeing “moderates” agree to expand the odious Hyde Amendment if it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of Dobson etc. making the “polite” “reasonable” bigots seem like a compromise. 

In short, calls for being more polite and less confrontational?  Counterproductive.

Comment #231: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  06:53 PM

I feel like my atheism isn’t a decision I made.  It’s something I realized about myself.  I don’t believe in God.  I don’t have any great rationalization for it.  If I ask myself, “Do I believe in God?”, the answer is no. 

I don’t like the word “atheism”.  I don’t like defining my beliefs in terms of what I don’t believe, or in terms of how my beliefs compare to someone else’s.

I don’t think there’s anything perfect about my atheism.  It is what it is. 

I do think atheism can be a religion.  I think, especially in the wake of Dawkins, there has been an emergence of evangelical atheists, with an orthodoxy for what atheists have to believe on topics like indoctrinating your children with your own beliefs (boo!!), and whether the church can ever not be evil (never!!).

Comment #232: Wallace  on  11/23  at  06:54 PM

Ummm, because your argument is facile and refuted already?  People haven’t said that atheism is perfection.

Chet has, several times and not only in this thread.  For him, any belief system other than atheism is automatically wrong and must be stamped out.

As I’ve said, I don’t like extremists, even when they’re nominally on my side.

Comment #233: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  06:57 PM

The Opoponax

And I was raised atheist in liberal Newton, MA and never had any problems either.  Our personal experience is not typical at all.  There’s a reason most fundie teens, when leaving their religion, claim to still believe in some form of spirituality or pick another religion (the norse/pagan religions are a favorite) - so they can still claim the respect engendered by talking about faith, even if that faith is so vague as not to constitute anything at all.

Comment #234: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  07:00 PM

I for one am really fucking sick and tired of being labeled “militant” and “fundamentalist” for insisting that I see no evidence for your particular supernatural opinions (and no, saying that they’re really just metaphors won’t assuage me) and asking you to back up your opinions.

Militant would be bombing churches.  Militant would be assaulting Jews. Fundamentalist would be pushing for laws that outlawed the practice of various religions, and gave preference to organizations who are explicitly atheist.  Fundamentalist would be starting sectarian fights over what True Atheism actually is.

Saying that religious beliefs are wrong is not militant or fundamentalist, and trying to convince people of that isn’t either.

Comment #235: themann1086  on  11/23  at  07:02 PM

Mnemosyne, 230:

Are you saying that Martin Luther King didn’t really accomplish anything because, after all, he and his followers politely (and non-violently) insisted that they get the same rights as everyone else and what they really should have done was get into people’s faces and scream at them?

If you look at two of the most successful nonviolent activists, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi, you realize that they were working against regimes which, while oppressive and invested in the status quo, were greatly concerned with their international image and unable to bring themselves to meet peaceful resistance with lethal violence, or to countenance use of lethal violence by local authorities. Not all movements are as lucky in their enemies.

Counter this with the example of the American, French, and Russian Revolutions, all of which were fought against absolutist regimes which had no intention of conceding any ground. (To be fair, the British government was not absolutist in itself, but it was quite pigheaded on the American question.) Negotiation and reform had failed repeatedly, and violence became the only recourse.

The old saying “Violence isn’t the answer” isn’t really accurate, because it all depends on the question.

--cumaeansibyl, here.

Comment #236: XtinaS  on  11/23  at  07:03 PM

Any belief in a god *is* automatically wrong and maybe doesn’t need to be stamped out, but certainly shouldn’t be respected.  That doesn’t make atheism *perfect* because facts don’t take on such qualities.  But there is no god and people who don’t believe in such things are more right than people who don’t.

Comment #237: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  07:04 PM

<blockquote>Would there have been an MLK Jr. without the Black Panthers showing just how mad people could get if you didn’t listen to them?  Probably not.<blockquote>

Since the Black Panthers didn’t come along until 11 years after MLK led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, I think you’re getting your chronology mixed up.  The Black Panthers were a development of the feeling that MLK wasn’t moving fast enough, not a movement that got him started.

The other place I’m coming from is that we have this incredibly destructive romanticism about “revolution” hanging over us from the 1960s.  All those middle-class white kids who decided it was romantic for Che Guevara to be shooting his political enemies in the head in South America, which led to middle-class white kids deciding it was romantic for them to blow up buildings to try and stop the Vietnam War.  Lots of supporting “the revolution” even when it was destructive to the places that got to have “the revolution” on their doorstep.  Lots of Americans financially supporting the IRA even through the 1980s bombing campaigns in London because they were fighting back against their oppressors and how could that ever be wrong?

At this point, I’m allergic to revolutions.

Comment #238: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  07:05 PM

For him, any belief system other than atheism is automatically wrong

I’m not about stamping out anything. But now apparently I’m not even supposed to actually believe what I believe anymore?! Anything approaching a conviction in my theories makes me a hateful fundamentalist?

I take it you do not actually believe in your professed system either, then? Or you simply believe that everyone is correct! all the time!

Comment #239: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  07:06 PM

At this point, I’m allergic to revolutions.

That’s it! No more revolutions, they’re boring and annoying. If you ain’t got yer rights now, too bad.

Comment #240: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  07:08 PM

Fuck. This. Running.

Comment #241: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  07:08 PM

Since the Black Panthers didn’t come along until 11 years after MLK led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, I think you’re getting your chronology mixed up.

Probably - however, the formal founding of the party was hardly the first cry of radical black activism, so, I don’t really think that disproves my overall point, that a backdrop of radicalism makes the moderates look more reasonable by comparison, and makes it more likely that their concerns will be addressed.

Comment #242: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  07:10 PM

Sexual liberation and atheism go together.

Comment #243: mnsr  on  11/23  at  07:10 PM

Counter this with the example of the American, French, and Russian Revolutions, all of which were fought against absolutist regimes which had no intention of conceding any ground.

The American Revolution turned out pretty well, in large part because the Americans were interested in creating a good international image for themselves.  The French and Russian Revolutions, not so much, unless your definition of “good” includes the slaughter of thousands.

Comment #244: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  07:13 PM

That’s it! No more revolutions, they’re boring and annoying.

Yes, those people in mass graves in Cambodia were bored to death by Pol Pot’s regime.  It wasn’t his fault at all.

Comment #245: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  07:15 PM

230-

MLK Jr was a communist, attacked with hounds and firehoses. They lynched those who fought with him and considered him the Anti-Christ. The evil mean old Malcom X was responding only in kind to what was the standard social message about the treatment of blacks. Think it’s bad now? It was unimaginably worse back then in the message about blacks and the riots were triggered by the continuous murder of blacks by whites with aid and support by the police.

Again, they were against from the start, the riots were the excuse.

On women’s rights. Andrea Dworkin is misquoted as a man-hating monster. Betty Friedan was a man-hating harpy lady come to overwhelm easily confused women to work against their best interests raising a family at home. Hell, we saw it even today. People like Amanda and Jessica and Melissa are considered Satan x3. Listen to Phyllis Schaffley’s speeches during the push against ERA. An insane woman’s barely read book 30 years ago, compared to an entire movement selling books to men on how to date women by treating them like interchangable vaginas to trick into giving up the prize? And again, listen to Phyllis during ERA or hell, watch Mad Men or just any television show or documentary of the era. Hell, read The Feminine Mystique. It was so much worse back then and women were treated even worse.

Again, they were against from the start, a few chosen quotes, a couple of unhinged authors were the excuse.

ACT-UP was during an era where everyone, literally everyone knew that AIDS was the gay plague and that they deserved to die for sinning against God. The Catholic Church even today has been against contraception, the most critical means by which to prevent infection by any disease and their muscle over Africa has lead to the worsening of a crisis that cripples most of the population of an entire continent. Similarly Stonewall was just breaking up their nasty lifestyle and Harvey Milk had a disgusting lifestyle that could not be tolerated in City Hall and gay teachers were a threat to our way of life. Hell, just look at Sal’s character in Mad Men or heck read the Kinsey Report or other examinations into the secluded closeted culture of the 1950s or the late 19th century and how even until very recently homosexuality was actually considered a criminal offense in some states. But somehow a Catholic Church that cheered the death of dying gays while covering up child molestation in their churches was supposed to have been so offended by ACT-UP that they retroactively hated the gays?

Again, they were against them from the start, ACT-UP and Pride just provided an excuse.

It is the same with atheism. Hell, people like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers are very much like MLK Jr and Harvey Milk in their speeches. They are reasonable, civil, but firm in their convictions and open to levity in the face of absurdity. But again, we are to assume that people against atheists, who have been using it as a scare-tactic to get religions to become even more conservatism are somehow just now suddenly against atheism because Chris Hitchens is a douchebag?

Laughable.

And even more laughable to the point above on privilege that none of these worst cases, these most heinous abuses even measures up halfway to the accepted cultural narrative at that time. Then as now, the rape culture dismisses all female rapes and diminishes the importance of women who have been murdered by sexist men. Then as in now, black men are shot by police with no recourse and for no reason. Then as in now, queer people are murdered at appalling rates and driven to teen suicide.

But we better watch ourselves otherwise we’ll lose people who when we tell them all this decide its less important than we talked to them at all or that they once heard there was someone else in the group who was once mean to the dominant group.

Cause, they weren’t going to bolt either way, no sir. Just as I’m sure that Catholicism wasn’t going to speak against gay rights and women with the election of the Fuhrer Pope. Uh huh. Yup.

Given excuses that have no connection to reality. It is perhaps true that rudeness provides an excuse, it does not provide impetus. As any examination of the 50s, 60s and 70s well reveals.

Comment #246: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  07:16 PM

You should probably read the book.  It was the rioting, for the most part, that caused a lot of people to freak out and backlash.  Seeing inner cities in flames, for better or for worse, did cause a lot of white people to freak the fuck out, decide that the rioters they saw on TV were telling the truth when they said that they were getting ready to come burn down the houses of white people, and got the hell outta Dodge.

You’re the one who compared being vocally atheist to the methods used by activists 40 years ago. If you meant that it’s like MLK, I don’t see the problem. If you meant that it’s like rioting, what the fuck?

Comment #247: Rebecca  on  11/23  at  07:19 PM

The point being that an atheist saying, “Why do you believe what you do” is NOTHING THE FUCK LIKE POL POT. All revolutions are not the same. The revolution for gay rights--is this as repugnant to you as Cambodia also?

Comment #248: Well, what?  on  11/23  at  07:26 PM

Shorter me:

Those who we “all” know as good and moral and civil towards those they had no reason to be were at the time considered radicals, extremists, etc… for just speaking up. Read the literature back then and you would assume that Ghandi wanted to destroy the British Empire completely and was ordering bomb threats. You would assume that MLK was plotting a communist takeover to enslave white people. It is only the victories of outrageous self-expression that created a world where they are revered for their peaceful behavior.

Any minority speaking up for themselves encounters this themselves. Feminists and anti-racists have noticed that they receive the same complaints about tone regardless of whether they are civil and respond with undue respect or just bitch and drop the f-bomb.

It is worth noting here. Mnem is now ranting about revolutions and violence and how tired of radicalism, blah blah, but the overton window of this conversation was pushed radically. We started with Mnem and Opop stating how grievous it was for atheists to think prayer sucked and to stand up for historical accuracy without realizing how far-reaching those who take it personally are.

There are no atheist organizations to my knowledge arguing for violent revolution and for the street to run red with the blood of the worshipful. But there is a popular new movement hoping to popularize the assassination of the president supported by an entire network of our Mainstream Media. There is a Church trying to dictate what laws will and will not pass with their permission and directly writing bits of legislation. There are many organized movements calling for a theocratic revolution and many more saying various groups are deserving of death for not being fully human.

But atheists act like a God is an imaginary playmate and that’s Hitler times 10.

How did we get here and how does this illustrate the principles we are discussing. I think it notes that the problem isn’t tone. A number of people were unduly polite on the tail of the theocratic motions being made on a national level recently, but the response was the same and has escalated all the way to “of course, I’m against Hitler” and willing to deny the veracity of the entire progressive movement. And to pretend like privilege can’t exist.

Damn.

This is an illustration of something very important.

Comment #249: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  07:30 PM

248-

Unfortunately, frighteningly, apparently so. Because an atheist was mean.

This does not mean that the progressivism was fragile, oh no.

She made me hit her when she wouldn’t stop bitching.

Praise the Lord.

Comment #250: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  07:33 PM

You’re the one who compared being vocally atheist to the methods used by activists 40 years ago. If you meant that it’s like MLK, I don’t see the problem. If you meant that it’s like rioting, what the fuck?

I compared the people on these threads who are insisting that all religious people are the enemy to rioters in the 1960s.  If you think that declaring an entire segment of the population to be your enemy is the best possible way to win them to your side, you’re as naive as the SDS members who thought that calling the cops “pigs” to their faces was going to win them over.

Comment #251: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  07:33 PM

At this point, I’m allergic to revolutions.

Well that’s all fine and good, since this revolutionary is allergic to you.

Comment #252: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  07:33 PM

If you think that declaring an entire segment of the population to be your enemy is the best possible way to win them to your side, you’re as naive as the SDS members who thought that calling the cops “pigs” to their faces was going to win them over.

I’m about as interested in ‘winning over’ the religious as the SDS *really* were interested in ‘winning over’ cops.

Comment #253: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  07:35 PM

Maybe you’re the naive one if you still think politics is about winning people over and not winning *over* people.

Comment #254: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  07:36 PM

Mnemosyne, I think that you’re making a flawed assumption that the choice is between passive, quiet, near-Hardy-Boyish acceptance of the status quo on the one hand and talking-to-the-wallpaper psychopathic fruit loops like Solanis or pathetic poseur clean-nails revolutionaries like Ayers on the other.  There is scope for a more overt, open and, yes, Overton-window-shifting activism which doesn’t descend into pointless violence, screaming or (shudder) Che t-shirt wearing.

Comment #255: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  07:36 PM

Frankly though, I am disappointed thoroughly. Mnemosyne and Opoponax.

I don’t care much that you are religious progressives, I am myself and Fred Clark is a gift to us all.

But I am appalled. Absolutely appalled that you were willing to swallow and regurgitate so many out-of-character conservative frames on every issue, even ones I thought you held dear just to continue putting your fingers in your ears regarding atheism and the right to be a vocal non-believer.

What the hell?

I would never have expected before to need to give Opoponax an Intro to Privilege Lecture, nor to hear Mnemosyne accept the “bitch made me hit her” theory of social justice activism.

Never.

Comment #256: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  07:37 PM

The revolution for gay rights--is this as repugnant to you as Cambodia also?

It’s not a “revolution.” You can try to make yourself feel important and insist that it’s a revolution just like the French Revolution, but it’s not.  Unless the fundies are right and there really is a “secret gay agenda” to enslave all of the heteros and put gay people in charge of everything, it’s not a revolution.  If there isn’t a secret agenda, then it’s a movement, not a revolution.  If you’re doing things through the ballot box and the courts instead of shooting people, it’s not a revolution.

You can call it a revolution all you want, but until the Pink Army starts shooting people in the head, it’s not one.

Comment #257: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  07:39 PM

Yes Mnem, thinking you are wrong means we think you’re an Enemy.

Jesus fucking Christ, there’s this thing called nuance.  Look it up.

Comment #258: themann1086  on  11/23  at  07:41 PM

This is an illustration of something very important.

That people like to play My Little Revolutionary on the internet?

Comment #259: FlipYrWhig  on  11/23  at  07:42 PM

Respect their beliefs as you would want them to respect yours.  Don’t make assumptions about people based on their politics, or their ethnicity, or their sexuality.  Don’t be surprised when people take offense to statements you know are potentially offensive.
Comment #58: The Opoponax on 11/23 at 02:45 PM

I think it’s as silly for you to tell me to be respectful as it is for me to tell you to be dismissive.

Argue the way that works for you, and you’ll offend some people, fail to convince some people, and convince others.  My approach will get a different crowd to “come over.”

If you offend people, they’re unlikely to say, “omigod, you’re so right! my entire belief system is a sham! my culture is internalizing oppression via the lies we’re being fed by our religious overlords!  what was I thinking?!” They’re going to tell you what a dick you’re being and politely ask you to stop before you say something you’ll really regret.

A big part of my perspective on this is that I have yet to see a convincing case where being rude to people made them change their minds and agree with you after all. 
Comment #213: Mnemosyne on 11/23 at 06:06 PM

It might get their friend or son or daughter or spouse or someone else who hears you thinking, “I always thought that too, but everyone in my family and church thinks atheists are the devil.  But Opoponax seems smart and is an atheist, wow!  Maybe there really is no God!”

And if you post on a web site, the person who’s questioning her faith might find resonance in mockery that they don’t find in the pleasant and polite “well you may be right” stuff.

That so many of *us* enjoy the mockery indicates that others might love it, too.  Just because you don’t, doesn’t make it universal.

the atheist line seems to be that Christianity is the enemy, not that belief in any nonmaterialist or supernatural dimension is the enemy. 
Comment #214: The Opoponax on 11/23 at 06:08 PM

Not this atheist’s line.  I’ve publicly stated that believing in a supernatural force for good
(or force for evil, or any supernatural force at all) leads to a corruption of rationality, a desire to be on the “right” side of that force or understand that force so as to align with it, and a subtle hatred/pity/rejection of those things that don’t align or believe in that force.

Comment #260: oldfeminist  on  11/23  at  07:43 PM

Mnemosyne, I think that you’re making a flawed assumption that the choice is between passive, quiet, near-Hardy-Boyish acceptance of the status quo on the one hand and talking-to-the-wallpaper psychopathic fruit loops like Solanis or pathetic poseur clean-nails revolutionaries like Ayers on the other.

Er, no, people are assuming that I think the only possible way to have a social movement is to sit back and wait for people to hand it to you.  I’m not quite sure how the Civil Rights Movement and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. got characterized as wanting “passive, quiet ... acceptance of the status quo” but it seems to have happened in this thread since people have completely rejected non-violence and passive resistance as viable methods of action.  And that kind of scares me.  I know that BlackBloc is looking for a full-on bloody battle with the authorities but I didn’t realize how many other people were, too.

Comment #261: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  07:44 PM

257-

Fine, fair enough, whatever. But see here in the real world. The Dawkinses when compared speech wise to the MLKs and Ghandis were just as adamant and outspoken. MLK didn’t just sort of slump and say, well, the whites are really great guys and we really respect the way they deny us equal rights. Ghandi made some damn cutting speeches on the violent nature of British rule and aired some exceedingly revolutionary ideas, which was good considered he was trying to foment a peaceful revolution. Harvey Milk had some highly invective speeches.

But see, it’s all speech. And hearing the other side during the time of these struggles, that speech was seen as treasonous, was conflated with the minor actions. We see it today with as you point out “the gay agenda”. You don’t think it was the same in the 60s, in pre-independent India, in apartheid South Africa? The invective and excuse-making were all the same. Sure afterwards, they can point their fingers and say, it wasn’t me, there was that one bad guy who mixed me up, but the actions and statements of the time paint a different picture.

And how are atheists standing up for their lack of beliefs, being as vocal as say an Evangelist is, equal to the worst of the other side when the other side actually does call for violent revolution and those threaten the other with death on a regular basis and has made many examples of that threat carried out? How is that anyway comparable to the revolution you are so patiently forestalling?

How is this sane?

Comment #262: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  07:48 PM

Fred Clark is a gift to us all.

Amen.

Comment #263: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  07:49 PM

Revolution: Sociology. a radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure, esp. one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence.

Often != Always.

Comment #264: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  07:52 PM

OK you know what, Mnemosyne? You really are full of motherfucking shit right now. People have “completely rejected non-violence”? Are you high? We started off at being quietly offended by the unthinking condescension of religionists, and the fact that 200 comments later you still haven’t won the argument on points means that we’re a bunch of bloodthirsty slavering genocide monkeys?

Seriously, you need to get away from this conversation. Go get a latte or something. You’re letting yourself down.

Comment #265: TheLady  on  11/23  at  07:53 PM

259-

Call me silly, but I didn’t realize that I’ve been arguing revolution, rather that there is a minimum standard of speaking to ones experiences and beliefs needed for any social activism of any kind. All movements start at organization-building and visibility, because people need to understand who you are before anything can occur.

In silence, nothing continues and if a number of life-experiences are off-table for discussion, they won’t be discussed.

This is largely non-revolutionary by the typical standards, I would assume.

Of course, it is largely unsurprising in a general sense, in that minority groups are always held to higher standards and considered militant especially when they are at the stage where the dominant group realizes they exist on a large level.

It says something however that even among highly progressive people, there is an instant drop-off in actual progressivism on all issues, not just one issue and an instant unassailable belief that the other side in this one issue is arguing the right to shoot people like them, when they are asking to speak their peace.

This worries me as someone who dislikes the general direction of organized religion in this country.

Comment #266: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  07:58 PM

In other words, atheism has never failed, it can only be failed

Atheism can never make people commit atrocities, yes. In fact, atheism can’t do anything at all. Atheism isn’t about getting people to believe things. Indeed, atheism is about getting people to believe in as little as possible.

Comment #267: Chet  on  11/23  at  07:58 PM

264-

Yeah, I was thinking about that in the example of Gandhi used. Wasn’t it hailed because it was a remarkably non-violent REVOLUTION?

Comment #268: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  08:00 PM

I’m about as interested in ‘winning over’ the religious as the SDS *really* were interested in ‘winning over’ cops.

Or the cops were in being won over, for that matter.  Like BlacBloc notes, you have to win.  Mentally winning over is necessary, but not your first step.  Take Canada’s example: gay sex was made legal not because decent people started winning arguments with cops or prosecutors or their neighbours but because people who believed that prejudice shouldn’t be the criminal law became key players in government.  The social attitudes adjusted over time after that, not before. 

If you want an illustrative example, look at marijuana.  Most folks are convinced that it shouldn’t be a crime; it’s socially acceptable and people can nod and accept the joint or smile, shake their heads and pass it on without anger or offence going either way.  It fits Mnemosyne’s example of rational debate and personal experience and mutual friendliness to a T… and it is far, far, far behind gay rights in political acceptance and legality.

Comment #269: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  08:00 PM

Yes Mnem, thinking you are wrong means we think you’re an Enemy.

Jesus fucking Christ, there’s this thing called nuance.  Look it up.

Nuance?  Nuance died around comment #19 when Opo and I got accused of evilly oppressing atheists by pointing out that blowing up at people might not be the best strategy.

Comment #270: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  08:01 PM

I’m a lifelong atheist—and I have real issues with the adoption of civil rights rhetoric on this.  It smacks to me of jumping on the oppression bandwagon.  I don’t think I’ve had it rough for being an atheist (I guess I’d have an issue if I wanted a political career).  I’ve been judged, sure; I’ve felt squirmy at gatherings where relatives said grace and such.  But in the end I feel like it’s been about as alienating as being a fan of the “wrong” sports team.  And not even that far wrong, either, just odd.  Like being a Tigers fan in Los Angeles.

Comment #271: FlipYrWhig  on  11/23  at  08:03 PM

You lost it when you automatically assumed that ha was making the comment in bad faith and didn’t have reason to believe that his professor would agree with him.  Like ha, I also assume smart people don’t believe in a god so sometimes I’m a little less stringent about monitoring what I say and have accidentally insulted people a time or two.  That doesn’t change the fact that religion is an opiate of the masses, it just subtly changes the level of respect I have for a person’s moral compass.

Comment #272: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  08:08 PM

(I guess I’d have an issue if I wanted a political career).

Right.  Just because we’re saying something is the same kind of injustice doesn’t mean we’re saying it’s as bad.  As everyone is quick to point out when it’s racism v. sexism, it really doesn’t matter who has it worse.  Injustice is injustice and they should all be talked about.  And it is the same kind of injustice.  Like sexuality, gender, or race, religion is something that would be either impossible to change, or repugnant for the government to require us to do so, the standard for equal protection.  Again, we in our liberal little enclaves may not see much pushback for being atheists, any more than we do for being gay/black/female, but that is not true for everyone.

Comment #273: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  08:09 PM

I’m just wondering what has Bill Maher done that is so sexist?  Other than his infamous breastfeeding monologue?  I watch his show once in a while and I haven’t seen anything that strikes me as sexist.

Comment #274: AnglScarlett  on  11/23  at  08:10 PM

Comment 13, by The Opoponax, quoting ha:

Once, in school, I made a casual comment about the political expediency of the Virgin of Guadalupe to a gay, Latino professor… he was very gentle with me as he pointed out that I was being offensive, and he’d fucking cut me. I didn’t realize someone so progressive could still be deeply Catholic.

I don’t really know how to engage on this topic...

I might be taking you out of context here, and if I am, I’m sorry.  But in my opinion, as a non-atheist who is as skeptical of the role of Religion as you are, the best course of action is to tread lightly with people whose specific stance you’re not absolutely sure of.  It’s generally a better course of action in life than offending everyone because you winning an Atheist Cookie is more important than others’ feelings.

There are plenty of politically progressive, even radical, people who don’t have the same militantly atheist stance that you do.  Not everyone has to think exactly the same as you.  Furthermore, not everyone who thinks you are being offensive when you speak about religion is some kind of ultra-conservative fundamentalist throwback.  They might be every bit as atheist as you are, but happen to also hold the opinion that you’re acting like an ass and should STFU.

What I got from this is not that The Opoponax was being reasonable.  What I got from it was that she thought that ha was “blowing up at” their professor, when what I get from ha’s comment is that they made a comment about a religious thing.

Somehow, this is reasonable?  Somehow, ha was being militantly atheistic in casually referencing “the political expediency of the Virgin of Guadalupe”?  I cannot possibly follow this line of logic.

Comment #275: XtinaS  on  11/23  at  08:11 PM

Opo, comment #13:

[I]n my opinion, as a non-atheist who is as skeptical of the role of Religion as you are, the best course of action is to tread lightly with people whose specific stance you’re not absolutely sure of.  It’s generally a better course of action in life than offending everyone because you winning an Atheist Cookie is more important than others’ feelings.

There are plenty of politically progressive, even radical, people who don’t have the same militantly atheist stance that you do.  Not everyone has to think exactly the same as you.  Furthermore, not everyone who thinks you are being offensive when you speak about religion is some kind of ultra-conservative fundamentalist throwback.  They might be every bit as atheist as you are, but happen to also hold the opinion that you’re acting like an ass and should STFU.

Well, what?, comment #19:

When a person who happens to be an atheist says something casually, in line with his or her privately held beliefs, that runs counter to the privately held beliefs of another, that is NOT demanding an “atheist cookie.”

Mnem, comment #270:

Nuance died around comment #19 when Opo and I got accused of evilly oppressing atheists by pointing out that blowing up at people might not be the best strategy.

Reading comprehension: Ur Doing It Rong

Comment #276: themann1086  on  11/23  at  08:11 PM

270-

You have privilege as a religious person. You’re a feminist, we shouldn’t be needing to explain the nuance of that to you of all people.

I mean, take a big breath. We’re not out to take away your faith. We’re not here to attack you. But listen to what you are becoming and remember your deeply held views re: social justice.

What would you say to a man who said that re: feminism. Replace all the male words with religious and the female words with atheist. Repeat it to yourself and drink some chai tea.

I have a suspicion that we’re triggering you all over the place and I want to know how I can help you.

Comment #277: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  08:12 PM

FlipYrWhig, I’ve been tossing this around in my head all day.  I don’t feel oppressed necessarily either, but I think it might be because I know people who believe in a god just aren’t that very smart when it comes to such things and the pity I feel towards them on that level counteracts any oppression they would try to hand me.

On the other hand, the oppression I *do* suffer from the hands of religious people comes in the form of gender, race, class, and orientation oppression because they are forcing their beliefs into the legal system.  So do we fight them on the grounds that you can’t outlaw abortion because it’s not fair to women or because atheists don’t believe in a bible with which to justify the outlaw of abortion?

Comment #278: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  08:12 PM

Opo and I got accused of evilly oppressing atheists by pointing out that blowing up at people might not be the best strategy.

Nobody thinks “blowing up at people” is a successful tool for dialog. Your problem is that you and Oppo view any questioning of religious truth as “blowing up.” It’s the old slur, “fundamentalist atheist”, which is always applied - as you applied it - to any atheist who won’t apologize for being one.

You’re embarrassing yourself.

Comment #279: Chet  on  11/23  at  08:12 PM

Mnem, 270-

Comment got eaten, but I wanted to say this. We are talking about you having privilege as a religious person. You are a feminist, you should know the nuances of that and shouldn’t be acting like a man trying to deny the institution of sexism.

I fear we are triggering a separate issue and I want to help. We are not against you, no atheists think that someone can’t be religious and a good person. No one thinks you are unworthy and no one is going to take away the aspects of organized religion that you find solace in.

Relax, drink some tea and regain your head as the person we all love and respect.

Comment #280: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  08:15 PM

Having fun with all the enemies talk?  Friends into enemies?

That’s what happens when we focus on the badness of religeon.  It’s a fucking distraction and a discussion that never freakin’ ends.  Not least because everyone is slipslidin’ around on muddy arguments and personal perspectives.

We have to push religeon out of civil society.  Depower all the privileges in discourse that religeous people have, and much more.  I’m all in favor of you believing whatever the hell you like and I won’t ever ridicule you for it, unless it’s just that funny, but you can’t say shut up just in a conflict.

KISS

Comment #281: shah8  on  11/23  at  08:16 PM

Like ha, I also assume smart people don’t believe in a god so sometimes I’m a little less stringent about monitoring what I say and have accidentally insulted people a time or two.

Agreed, and to add to that, religious people believe and act in the exact opposite way - they assume all smart/moral people are religious and act accordingly, and then when they’re surprised, they alter their opinions of the other’s moral compass.  Whether that’s bad or good, it’s equally bad/good/rude when religious people do it and nonreligious.

Comment #282: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  08:16 PM

Bah, comment reappeared. Never mind.

Comment #283: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  08:16 PM

And how are atheists standing up for their lack of beliefs, being as vocal as say an Evangelist is, equal to the worst of the other side when the other side actually does call for violent revolution and those threaten the other with death on a regular basis and has made many examples of that threat carried out?

Actually, my original response was to Chet’s assertion that atheism has never caused any harm in the world, unlike religion.  (A stance which he seems to be maintaining, by the way.)

And when I tried to point out that that is patently untrue (ie Cambodia, the Soviet Union), all of a sudden I’m a horrible person for even daring to point out that, no, it’s not correct to say that atheism has never been complicit in tragedies.

Are you also arguing that, unlike theists of all stripes, atheists have never, anywhere in the world, in the history of the world, been responsible for mass killing or violence of any kind, ever?  Because that’s what Chet is arguing:  it’s impossible for atheists to be responsible for doing bad things for atheist motives because atheism isn’t a religion and people only do bad things in the name of religion, QED.

Comment #284: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  08:17 PM

Nuance died around comment #19 when Opo and I got accused of evilly oppressing atheists by pointing out that blowing up at people might not be the best strategy.

Hmmm… 19, you said?

It’s generally a better course of action in life than offending everyone because you winning an Atheist Cookie is more important than others’ feelings.

When a person who happens to be an atheist says something casually, in line with his or her privately held beliefs, that runs counter to the privately held beliefs of another, that is NOT demanding an “atheist cookie.”

Unless you consider yourself to be demanding “believer cookies” every time you express a thought in line with your own belief system.

This doesn’t say what you say it says.

Seriously, Mnem, people have been talking about not rolling over, not deferring to the status quo, moving the Overton window, pushing the issue in manners that the established society finds uncomfortable, unacceptable and paints as rudeness or confrontationalism not necessarily because it is but because the mention of it at all is considered rude and offensive.  You careen off to talk about these folks as if they’re beating people with copies of The God Delusion while dressed as the Joker and that kind of mischaracterization is s getting more than a little old. 

Old or no, however, you’re very helpfully proving the point, which is “if we want things to change then we’re accused of being dangerous radicals and that false perception of our radicalism is what’s used to dismiss our point, not the reality of the point that we’re making or the way we’re making it”.

Comment #285: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  08:17 PM

Just because we’re saying something is the same kind of injustice doesn’t mean we’re saying it’s as bad.  As everyone is quick to point out when it’s racism v. sexism, it really doesn’t matter who has it worse.

That’s a good principle, but I’m not willing to go so far as to say that anti-atheistic bigotry belongs in the conversation with racism, sexism, homophobia, even newer -isms like ableism and sizeism.  I think it ranks more with, like, food preference.  Having this quality makes life somewhat more difficult and being accommodated is nice.  But if someone offers me a peach, which I don’t like and don’t even like to think about, I don’t feel like turning it down is on the continuum of revolutionary acts.

Comment #286: FlipYrWhig  on  11/23  at  08:21 PM

274 - re: Bill Maher’s sexism and homophobic douchebaggery are well documented. (My shortcut to finding Maher’s Greatest Misogynist Hits is to google “Shakesville Bill Maher”. I’m kind of surprised Melissa hasn’t given Maher his own series post, a la Assvertising or Sexism Watch.)

Comment #287: PixelFish  on  11/23  at  08:22 PM

eating people with copies of The God Delusion while dressed as the Joker

You realize I’m going to have to do this now, right?

Comment #288: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  08:22 PM

284-

Chet has already stated clearly and for the record that one can be a believer and a good person and an atheist and a bad person.

So to repeat for you, because I’m suspecting that you are being triggered by something, you are not a bad person for being religious. Being religious does not mean you are automatically a bad person in the eyes of atheists. They are not equivalent to fundamentalists. And atheists are not automatically good people, people can lack stated faith in a god while still guzzling gallons of the toxic sea of racism and sexism we all swim in. See Libertarians.

Comment #289: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  08:24 PM

FlipYrWhig at 271:
When was the last time that a VP and soon-to-be POTUS said
“I don’t know that Tigers fans should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots”?

Comment #290: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  08:25 PM

I think it ranks more with, like, food preference.  Having this quality makes life somewhat more difficult and being accommodated is nice.  But if someone offers me a peach, which I don’t like and don’t even like to think about, I don’t feel like turning it down is on the continuum of revolutionary acts.

Again, just because you personally don’t experience much prejudice over atheism doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  This would be a really obnoxious comment if it was, say, over anti-semitism.  Freedom of religion is one of the first things we thought important enough to protect in this country.  We didn’t get around to race or gender for far longer, and yet you’d think those were far less changeable and more worthy of protection.

Comment #291: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  08:28 PM

286-

Actually there’s a long history of outspoken atheists receiving death threats, shot and killed, and run out of various towns, often small towns in the South and a number of suicides because one was no longer the same religion as one’s parents and was cut off from the family.

There actually is some dead in the game, but I would argue that it is a system of privilege rather than an overt system of oppression. Of course, since it’s all the same damn game, it’s sort of elementary what we call it. Passive or active, benign or malicious, it affects the minority group and all minority groups in similar and dissimilar ways and often have similar origins.

Comment #292: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  08:28 PM

I fear we are triggering a separate issue and I want to help. We are not against you, no atheists think that someone can’t be religious and a good person. No one thinks you are unworthy and no one is going to take away the aspects of organized religion that you find solace in.

Do you, personally, think that?  No.  But you do have people in this thread who are assuming I’m an idiot who just hasn’t thought things through because if I had, I would be an atheist just like they would and if I have looked at the same evidence and not come to the same conclusion, it must be because I’m an idiot.

And, hey, most of them seem to be d00dz like Chet.  Huh.  Almost takes us right back to Amanda’s original point that there’s a certain misogynist streak in a lot of atheist discussion.

The funny part, of course, is that I don’t actually belong to an organized religion.  I don’t belong to a religion of any kind.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t understand that people can get emotional support from a religion that is otherwise oppressive and that telling them that they have to reject that emotional support and go it alone can be very threatening to them.

When you tell people that they should leave their church, they’re not just thinking about the building.  They’re thinking about their friends, their minister, their kids’ Sunday School teacher.  In many cases, you’re also telling them that they have to break ties with their families.  You’re telling them that they have to break apart their entire social network so they can go it alone in the world, and we already live in a country where our social ties are very tenuous.

Do you really, honestly, not get why people would be hostile to that?

Comment #293: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  08:28 PM

beating people with copies of The God Delusion while dressed as the Joker

You realize I’m going to have to do this now, right?

I was totally unaware that anybody could be so mad, mad, mad as to take my rhetorical comment seriously and act on it.  I disavow it utterly, my hand firmly placed on my biography of Henry II.

Comment #294: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  08:29 PM

And when I tried to point out that that is patently untrue (ie Cambodia, the Soviet Union), all of a sudden I’m a horrible person for even daring to point out that, no, it’s not correct to say that atheism has never been complicit in tragedies.

I don’t think you’re a bad person and I’ve never said that. But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that you’re not an honest person, just one more Pandagonian who finds what I have to say apparently so troubling (or maybe boring) they’re forced to make up things I never said to refute, instead.

I don’t know what it means to say that “atheism has been complicit in tragedies.” Is atheism a thing that can take actions? I know that, in the specific cases you’ve mentioned so far, a terrible human cost came from a lust for power and a desire to eliminate powerful rivals - like churches - to men who believed themselves, and were believed by others, to possess supernatural power, influence, and wisdom. Not because people were so overly rational they refused to accept propositions for which insufficient evidence had been provided. To my knowledge, there have never been millions killed as a result of being too skeptical to embrace ideas for which there are no evidence.

Comment #295: Chet  on  11/23  at  08:31 PM

@ seeker6079:  Yeah, I remember that, and I didn’t like it much.  But I don’t remember it affecting my life in a tangible way either.  And I know about the polls that say people would be less likely to vote for an atheist than many other non-normative demographics.  But I still think that when it comes to job discrimination, hate crimes, etc., there are _so many_ groups ahead of atheists.  Like the H1N1 policy:  I want high-risk groups to get it first.  If my life experience is at all typical, claiming for atheists the mantle of discrimination feels like intersectionality run amok.

Comment #296: FlipYrWhig  on  11/23  at  08:33 PM

And again, I hate to be repeating myself so often, but I think it’s important to note that every conversation for every minority group on even liberal threads so often ends up devolving into Privilege 101 discussions. I think for dominant groups, it is easier to try and deny and disavow knowledge of a system of oppression or privilege than to have to face that the group of which you identify has unfair and unwanted advantages that one can spend a lifetime battling against.

Or maybe it’s just that we’d all ignore it if we could, but being a minority group makes it a lot harder than being a majority group.

Don’t know, but there’s an immense psychological pressure there.

Comment #297: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  08:33 PM

No one’s calling you an idiot.  Yeah, on the scale of who’s right and who’s wrong, the person who doesn’t believe in a god is more correct and smarter on the issue than the person who does.  But frankly, Mnemosyne, I think you’re *terrifyingly* brilliant and I cyber-groupie you as much as I do Alara Rogers, skimming comment posts only to read what you write, that type of thing.

On the sociological level, I don’t think it’s possible for people to give up their beliefs in god unless we give them something better, which atheists are lousy at supplying in part, I believe, because douche hounds like Maher and Hitchens make it so unfriendly to create a social bonds with people based on atheism.  I think maybe feminism ends up filling that gap.

Comment #298: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  08:38 PM

You’re telling them that they have to break apart their entire social network so they can go it alone in the world, and we already live in a country where our social ties are very tenuous.

That religion can be conflated with family and community in this manner is another of its unfair privileges, and one that we’re trying to change by our unmistakable, unignorable public presence. You don’t have to leave your family to leave your religion if atheists are already in your family. You don’t have to sever ties with your community to leave your religion when you realize that atheists are tied to your community, too.

Do you get it, yet, Mnem? Why it’s not about rudeness and confrontation - it’s about not being shamed. It’s about not being in the shadows, able to be tucked away out of sight. It’s about being here.

Comment #299: Chet  on  11/23  at  08:40 PM

I’m not going to argue with you on that point, FlipYrWhig.  Petulant debates over hierarchies of oppression don’t appeal to me either.

Comment #300: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  08:41 PM

Again, just because you personally don’t experience much prejudice over atheism doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  This would be a really obnoxious comment if it was, say, over anti-semitism.

Well, I wouldn’t say that about antisemitism, because antisemitism is easy to see harming people both outwardly and insidiously.  I think the degree of harm really _is_ significant.  And, frankly, even on the spectrum of religious freedom, Muslims and Sikhs are currently suffering much more in the way of discrimination, bigotry, and other obstacles to full participation in civil society.  I know that nobody likes the “Oppression Olympics,” but I also don’t think that means everyone has the right to put on the uniform.

Comment #301: FlipYrWhig  on  11/23  at  08:46 PM

293 Mnem,

I think I detailed in 127 exactly why religious people are hostile to atheists speaking out and that’s on the list. I understand why that’s upsetting and it’s perfectly rational to be upset at that categorization. Atheists run the gamut on the weight of the belief, some think it’s stupidity, others think it is cultural training (this is the position of Dawkins and PZ Myers) and familial expectations, and others think what you said, that the weight of walking away is too much upheaval to engage in.

They don’t agree that any of that makes religion true, but that is the shared extent of their beliefs on the matter. A good number simply don’t care as long as you aren’t trying to influence secular society to reflect those beliefs in the same way you and I hate how fundies are trying to do so re: women and queers rights.

And no one wants to rip away families from each other. What many are commenting on is a system of particular religion in this country where people are shackled by it. Where the price of leaving a religion is the loss of all of one’s friends, the conditional love of their families, and a support system.

I am aligned with atheists in that I don’t think that’s a good system and I despise the organized systems that make such choices manifest. And since atheists come from everywhere, I can imagine that an atheist from a church where that was the dynamic would be upset at having their support network ripped away by conditional love and threats.

It’s not a healthy family, it is the requirements of an abusive home and I dislike that that dynamic is so pervasive in American society.

As a realist I recognize that it is and as such, I would never demand people take the plunge against their wills and I will sometimes give undue respect to ease the Bends, but I do hate the system behind that oppressive culture and pointing that out isn’t the same as bombing a clinic.

I hope you can see that too.

Comment #302: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  08:46 PM

Also, thinking about the thread above, I suspect most people here who started off with a religion at all were Protestants.  Yes?

It’s sometimes very hard to explain to outsiders, but being a Catholic is much more like being Jewish than it is like being a Methodist or a Baptist.  It is a subculture.  We have weird rituals that bind us together, and I often find I have more in common with a black or brown Catholic than I do with a white Protestant, even if neither of us have set foot in a church for years.  It’s very much tied in to our identity as Italian-Americans, or Irish-Americans, or Mexican-Americans. 

That’s why Catholicism is harder to leave behind than other religions—it’s part of your ethnic identity.  If you leave Catholicism completely behind, you’re also leaving behind your Irish or Italian or Mexican ancestors, not just a church that pissed you off.  And the people calling you stupid for still clinging to that identity are calling you stupid for being proud of your ethnicity.

Or, as “The Simpsons” put it, there’s a Protestant heaven and a Catholic heaven and they’re very different.

Comment #303: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  08:52 PM

298-

Would definitely agree about that. I think because religion of a certain type has managed to insist that following the dogma of the church is one’s only access to community, love, family, etc… combined with the insistence that one must love one’s family even if their love is conditional and abusive is a very coercive system against general religious freedom.

I think feminism is part of fixing that. I think also simply encouraging alternative ideas of family are also crucial, like how the gay community became family to various gay teens thrown out of their homes. The atheist community could probably do a lot of good by helping form a place to come home to when their families hate them or kick them out. Another reason we need to move away from the Libertarian aspects of public atheism.

Comment #304: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  08:54 PM

But frankly, Mnemosyne, I think you’re *terrifyingly* brilliant and I cyber-groupie you as much as I do Alara Rogers, skimming comment posts only to read what you write, that type of thing.

Aww, thank you.  Based on everything else you’ve said on this thread, if I grow up to be an atheist, I want to be one like you.  grin

Comment #305: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  08:55 PM

TheLady, are you serious? Saying “I’ll pray for your recovery” to a sick atheist is cruel? On what planet?

I’m an atheist, and I have no problem with atheists being polemical, angry, aggressive, etc.

But for crying out loud, it’s not cruel for a religious person to tell you they’re going to act on their beliefs, which is exactly what praying for you is. Is prayer going to hurt you? No. Does prayer imply that you’re a bad person for being an atheist? No. At most, it implies that the praying person believes you’re wrong about your atheism. Big deal. Atheists aren’t such fragile flowers as that, are we? If a believer prays for me while I’m sick, that gives them peace of mind and doesn’t hurt me--so why should I care?

Comment #306: LR  on  11/23  at  08:56 PM

Re #303: I was raised Catholic by my Irish-American family.

Comment #307: themann1086  on  11/23  at  08:57 PM

This is a little meta, but I think it’s kind of fucked up in a brilliant way (brilliant in a fucked up way?) that this thread has devolved into a screaming match about religion and the Pharyngula thread over the weekend devolved into a screaming match about rape. My intrawebs stomping grounds are bleeding into each other! Soon it will be one gigantic, glorious Web Of Prog everywhere!! Now if only I could make sure that Delia Smith’s website is synched in to that, that would make it perfect…

Comment #308: TheLady  on  11/23  at  08:57 PM

Cerberus:  being a minority group makes it a lot harder than being a majority group.

Undoubtedly, but very often I get the feeling (much more common online) that everyone wants to claim membership in a minority group, so that they get to call out Big Privilege too.  It’s tempting for me:  that way I get to be a straight white married man with education and a decent job, but thanks to my atheism, I’ve got minority status, and now I’m part of the struggle.  It’s the logic of slumming.  I have issues with that move.  People who can use those intersectional links to build atheism onto other non-normative statuses, great, cool, and that was the point of Amanda’s OP.  But atheism-as-minority in and of itself still kinda rankles.

Comment #309: FlipYrWhig  on  11/23  at  08:58 PM

I don’t know what it means to say that “atheism has been complicit in tragedies.” Is atheism a thing that can take actions?

Is religion a thing that can take actions?  That’s part of the problem here, Chet—you talk about atheism as an abstract and religion as a tangible thing that can take actions.  Therefore, if Pol Pot rejects God, becomes a Communist, and slaughters people, it’s totally abstract to talk about “atheism” as being involved in his decisions.  But if a guy kills an abortion doctor, then suddenly “religion” is a thing that can take actions.

Comment #310: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  09:00 PM

303-

Ah, that makes a lot of sense. My partner escaped a Catholic family. The thing about catholicism is how much it fucks up your head. My partner was raised by a lapsed catholic. She’s been atheist most of her life. But all the training about guilt and sexuality just hits one like a Mac ton truck. No religion is harder to leave than catholicism. Even my fundie best friend had less baggage and he was raised wingnut Southern Baptist where they are denied all non-approved culture for fear of the devil.

You have my everlasting sympathies.

I am Irish-American and Italian American by heritage. Both grandparents went through Ellis Island, one was even born on the boat over here. My partner is Scot-Irish. I know well of what you speak and the scars that linger. From what I can tell, it takes about two generations to fully leave. I’m just lucky and immensely unfairly privileged that my grandparents were the ones that left the Church.

The level of dirty tricks that the Catholic Church has mastered over leaving, shudder. I have hated few organizations more than that one for the damage it has done not only to me by theology, but to many of my friends in lingering abusive frames of familial and cultural obligation and the marriage of religion to culture in a toxic way.

Again, my deepest sympathies.

Comment #311: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  09:04 PM

That’s part of the problem here, Chet—you talk about atheism as an abstract and religion as a tangible thing that can take actions. 

Um, no, I don’t. Remember how you keep arguing with things I’ve only said in your imagination?

Religion is a thing that can make people do things, like commit atrocities. It does this by getting them to accept as true things for which there is not any good evidence. For which there may even be ample evidence against.

Atheism doesn’t do that. Atheism is about doing the exact opposite of that, which is why there are no millions dead as a result of people being too skeptical about the supernatural.

Comment #312: Chet  on  11/23  at  09:04 PM

Also, I strongly disagree that religious people per se have “privilege” over atheists.

The religious majority--which in America is Christian--has privilege over all religious minorities, including atheists. But I don’t see atheists as being generally any worse off than Sikhs or Hindus or Muslims. In fact, I think atheists who come from a culturally Christian background are far more “privileged” than believers of minority religions.

I don’t see any important economic or political privileges that are generally given out to religious people per se and denied to atheists per se. Nor do I see any important punishments that are doled out to atheists per se, which religious people generally do not suffer. I do see punishments doled out to believers in minority religions--Muslims, for instance.

Comment #313: LR  on  11/23  at  09:05 PM

I’m an atheist, feminist, and cultural Catholic.  I do not berate my grandparents even when they make the whole (enormous, Irish-Catholic) family shut up and listen to a prayer on Thanksgiving.  I participate in the singing of Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas morning, which I understand is an oddly American-Catholic thing to do.  I also sat quietly and was polite when my aunts were throwing me a wedding shower and talking about how hyped-up they were about the campaigning they were doing for BHO when I was a HRC supporter, I just whispered to my aunts that I’m most friendly with, and we all changed the subject.  That’s because those aren’t appropriate venues to discuss such things.  Right here, right now?

The Catholic church can fuck off and die.  Especially, right now, Pope Nazi, but also every single minute of my Catholic upbringing.  I am actively hostile against the Catholic church, and I feel it was actively hostile against me.  Ever since I was five years old and noticed being indoctrinated into this bizarre cult and just *knew* it was wrong, I’ve been told I was wrong.  Loudly.  Repeatedly.  By everyone I knew.  People I respected.  People I believed in.  People who espoused the liberal values I first learned in the cradle myself, about loving thy neighbor and respecting the lives of others even if they didn’t share your beliefs.  I’m lucky.  My Catholic grandparents embraced their gay son and his husband and don’t actively try to prevent my right to choose when to bear children, should I choose to do so.  I still scorn the church.  Many of us have legitimate grief and anger against the various churches we were raised in.  When does my anger become righteous?  When is it allowed?

Oh yeah, it’s not allowed.  How dare I be angry and speak out.

Comment #314: Mimi  on  11/23  at  09:11 PM

Um, no, I don’t. Remember how you keep arguing with things I’ve only said in your imagination?

Religion is a thing that can make people do things, like commit atrocities.  It does this by getting them to accept as true things for which there is not any good evidence. For which there may even be ample evidence against.

You really have no idea that you just contradicted yourself, do you?  I repeated back to you what you said—religion is a tangible thing that can take actions ("make people do things")—and you came right back and said, “Nuh-uh, what I said was that religion can make people do things!”

I’m really not getting the difference here.  Either religion can “make” people do things, which makes it a tangible thing that can take actions, or it’s an abstraction that can’t take actions.

Comment #315: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  09:13 PM

Comment #184: Chet on 11/23 at 05:28 PM

To claim that God is real, that God exists, and that it matters if God exists is to be making a scientific claim, for which evidence is required for acceptance.

What makes it a scientific claim?  By whatever token you’re using, is “murder is evil and you shouldn’t do it” also a scientific claim?

It’s just that socially, we allow religion to make scientific claims without meeting the burden of scientific evidence. It’s another privilege of religion.

You know, we allow plenty of scientists to make real scientific claims on really flimsy grounds.  Science isn’t as great as institution as you’re making it sound—though I’ll take it over religion, I’ll admit.

Comment #187: The Opoponax on 11/23 at 05:31 PM

Yes, Catholics who espouse a belief that everyone who isn’t Catholic is going to burn in hell for eternity are a brand of Christian fundamentalist.  Some Catholics don’t believe this at all, though.  (I’ll agree that most do, and that the Vatican advocates this belief, again, they’re fundamentalists.)

I don’t think it’s true at all; most don’t believe it and it’s not church doctrine.  There’s a sizeable, powerful contingent that wants to roll back Vatican II, yet I don’t think they want to go that far.  I certainly was taught at Catholic school that non-Catholics can be saved.  It was in the official Catholicism textbook of the archidiocese, actually.

Comment #316: sacundim  on  11/23  at  09:14 PM

I’m really not getting the difference here.

Yes, that’s obvious, since you keep missing the point. Step one to improve your comprehension would be to read my posts in a spirit of understanding what they say, not in a spirit of trying to play “gotcha.”

Either religion can “make” people do things, which makes it a tangible thing that can take actions, or it’s an abstraction that can’t take actions.

Religion is a reason why people take certain actions. In particular, the action they take is to believe certain things even though there’s no good reason to do so. This leads to other actions, like atrocities.

The opposite action - not believing things for bad reasons, and requiring good evidence before belief - has not ever led to an atrocity of any kind. Unless you have an example of millions dead from warranted skepticism?

Comment #317: Chet  on  11/23  at  09:18 PM

Many of us have legitimate grief and anger against the various churches we were raised in.  When does my anger become righteous?  When is it allowed?

My father left the church because he felt they didn’t give him enough support while my mother was dying, and he even got some of those 1970s mumbles of, “well, if she had been a good person, God wouldn’t have given her cancer.” And yet he was still going to Mass on Good Friday and worrying that my niece was going to end up in Limbo if she didn’t get baptized.  It gets into your head.

My issue only comes up when someone’s completely legitimate anger specifically against the religion they were raised in turns into anger against all religions and all believers everywhere because they’re all the same.  It’s the “they’re all the same” that raises my hackles.  I know too many genuinely religious people to declare that Pope Benedict is Rev. King is Mahatma Gandhi.

(Not that you did that, or said that, but that’s the example that came to mind.)

Comment #318: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  09:21 PM

Mimi-

(((((BIG HUG)))))

I’ve hand-held so many people recovering from the way that the Church fucked them up in their youth. I swear I never used to despise the Catholic Church, but I’ve learned to the hard way. You have my deepest sympathies and e-support.

Comment #319: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  09:21 PM

What makes it a scientific claim?

It’s a claim about physical reality and what exists inside it. If God exists, and more importantly, if God matters, then that has a detectable effect on physical reality. It’s a claim that would result in different outcomes if it were true than if it were false. The world where God exists is a very different place than the world where he doesn’t.

That’s why it’s a scientific claim.

You know, we allow plenty of scientists to make real scientific claims on really flimsy grounds.

“We allow”? Scientists don’t “allow” it, generally. And we certainly allow people to tell them they’re wrong, and to demand the evidence for their claims, and reject those claims when the evidence falls short.

Science isn’t as great as institution as you’re making it sound—though I’ll take it over religion, I’ll admit.

It is the best means humans have to discern truth about reality. That’s as “great” as I think it is, which is pretty good, but I don’t view it as a perfect font of knowledge, but I don’t need absolute certainty to live my life. That’s a failing possessed mostly by the religious.

Comment #320: Chet  on  11/23  at  09:25 PM

I must say that I’m mostly with The Opoponax on this discussion.  I’m an atheist, yet I find that the most visible atheists are assholes that go around being rude to people.  This is not to mean that I think this is most atheists, but rather, that it’s the most visible ones.  It’s also just as true for religious folks—the manic proselytizers are just as annoying.  (And BTW, the answer to “Christians are always being assholes to me because I identify as an atheist” isn’t “I should have the right to be an asshole to people who identify as Christians”; it’s more like “I have the right to be an asshole to people who are assholes to me.")

This is not because I somehow believe that religions and other belief systems should be exempt from criticism—but rather because I believe that some groundwork must be laid down to have a fruitful argument with somebody about what one finds wrong with their belief system.  I mostly don’t find value in arguing with somebody who’s not going to listen to you and take your criticisms seriously.  If you’re in that situation, you really have to ask yourself why the hell you’re having an argument with that person.  If that person is oppressing you directly or indirectly, well, you need to find non-argumentative ways of making them stop.

The other thing that bugs me is the professional atheists like Dawkins and Dennett, whose scientistic brand of philosophy I very, very much disagree with.  They’re peddling false certainty just as much as the nastier religious types do.  Hell, I’d very much rather read good theology than Dawkins.

Comment #321: sacundim  on  11/23  at  09:26 PM

As I’ve said before, I’m an ends justifies the means type of person and I think most people are as well, whether they admit it or not.  My proof on this is that people only belong to the church that espouses their own beliefs.  A gay person isn’t really going to attend the parish that quotes Leviticus every week and entreats people to donate for anti gay marriage statutes.  A violent woman-hater isn’t going to just be happy in their Unitarian church and say “well, my church says that women should have the right to choose so I can’t really lobby against it”. 

I think it’s along these lines that religious murders occur.  It’s pretty intertwined, obviously, but the violent aspects of them appeal to people who were going to be violent anyway, they just needed a way to settle their cognitive dissonance so that they can continue to think they’re doing good work.  When it comes to atheist regimes, maybe (huge maybe, like, this is totally off the wall, just throwing it out there) Stalin and Pol Pot the true sociopaths and they didn’t need to find a way to reconcile their desire to be a good person with their desire to do violent acts.

Comment #322: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  09:29 PM

Also, thinking about the thread above, I suspect most people here who started off with a religion at all were Protestants.  Yes?

It’s sometimes very hard to explain to outsiders, but being a Catholic is much more like being Jewish than it is like being a Methodist or a Baptist.

What. Utter. Bullshit. I was a Catholic. Maybe you American Catholics have a different experience because you were yourself a religious minority, but where Catholics aren’t they’re the fucking worst thing on Earth. At least some of the Protestant sects have a history of progressivism. The Catholic church has publicly defended fascism and being in general a force for regression over the entire planet.

There’s a reason my comrades burned churches in Spain.

Comment #323: BlackBloc  on  11/23  at  09:31 PM

Comment #320: Chet on 11/23 at 09:25 PM

It’s a claim about physical reality and what exists inside it. If God exists, and more importantly, if God matters, then that has a detectable effect on physical reality. It’s a claim that would result in different outcomes if it were true than if it were false. The world where God exists is a very different place than the world where he doesn’t.  That’s why it’s a scientific claim.

Frankly, your answer seems to be no better than “because I say so.” If there truly is an non-physical afterlife where people will be judged for their sins and then rewarded with an eternity of bliss or punished with an eternity of torment, then (a) this only has a detectable effect in the afterlife, and (b) it matters a hell of a lot, assuming that none of us would like eternal hellfire.

And you dodged the other question.  Is “murder is evil” a scientific claim?

“We allow”? Scientists don’t “allow” it, generally.

You’re really idealizing these folks. 

And we certainly allow people to tell them they’re wrong, and to demand the evidence for their claims, and reject those claims when the evidence falls short.

Not as reliably as you’d like to think.  Though again, I’ll take it over the alternatives that I’m aware of.

It is the best means humans have to discern truth about reality. That’s as “great” as I think it is, which is pretty good, but I don’t view it as a perfect font of knowledge, but I don’t need absolute certainty to live my life. That’s a failing possessed mostly by the religious.

That’s a failing possessed by many of the most vocal pro-science types, I say.  And don’t underestimate the religious folk, BTW.

Comment #324: sacundim  on  11/23  at  09:34 PM

The opposite action - not believing things for bad reasons, and requiring good evidence before belief - has not ever led to an atrocity of any kind. Unless you have an example of millions dead from warranted skepticism?

Eugenics was considered a completely legitimate science and was used to form public policy in both the US and Europe.  They really thought they had good scientific evidence for their beliefs.  They had reams of studies and papers and experiments.  And yet they were completely, 100 percent wrong.

But I know you won’t accept that line of argument because your belief is that science is never wrong.  Only failed, never fails, etc.

Comment #325: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  09:42 PM

Undoubtedly, but very often I get the feeling (much more common online) that everyone wants to claim membership in a minority group, so that they get to call out Big Privilege too.

309 - Yes, but the experiences of people like Mimi are more important than the mild irk of everyone claiming oppression.  At least they’re learning about it and may be able to apply it to others someday.

That’s the point.  When you break from a religion, any religion, you’re going against your own family.  It’s a lot like being gay in that respect, that everyone you love may well throw you out upon learning.  Cut you off from everything.  We can’t force people not to treat their atheist kids like that, but they can know they’re not alone.

Comment #326: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  09:44 PM

Maybe you American Catholics have a different experience because you were yourself a religious minority, but where Catholics aren’t they’re the fucking worst thing on Earth.

I didn’t realize that Catholic-majority modern-day France and Italy are utter hells on Earth, but I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.

And, yes, I was speaking specifically about being an American Catholic, which is very much tied up with the immigrant experience (No Dogs No Blacks No Irish and all that).  That’s the only Catholic experience I can talk about since this is where I live and where I grew up.  YMMV, since it apparently wasn’t obvious that I wasn’t talking about Roman Catholicism worldwide.

Comment #327: Mnemosyne  on  11/23  at  09:49 PM

Comment #320: Chet on 11/23 at 09:25 PM

It is the best means humans have to discern truth about reality. That’s as “great” as I think it is, which is pretty good, but I don’t view it as a perfect font of knowledge, but I don’t need absolute certainty to live my life. That’s a failing possessed mostly by the religious.

I can’t help but add that you seem absolutely certain about that.

Comment #325: Mnemosyne on 11/23 at 09:42 PM

Eugenics was considered a completely legitimate science and was used to form public policy in both the US and Europe.  They really thought they had good scientific evidence for their beliefs.  They had reams of studies and papers and experiments.  And yet they were completely, 100 percent wrong.

But I know you won’t accept that line of argument because your belief is that science is never wrong.  Only failed, never fails, etc.

Exactly.  Cue retrospective “no true Scotsman” fallacy in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, ...

Comment #328: sacundim  on  11/23  at  09:51 PM

Mnemosyne-

Bad examples. France owes most of its progress and progressivism to a very active communist-feminist-atheist marriage and community which made its claim with the overtly violent Student Riots which shut down the country. Spain, the Church backed Franco and as such much of the youth and Catalonia have rather nasty memories of it and there is again a communist-atheist-feminist movement devoted entirely to giving them hell for all time. Italy, the Catholic Church is currently backing with all of its energy a Fascist and the Fascist Party.

Bad examples. Again, all owe progress to active marriages between atheism, socialism, and feminism.

Comment #329: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  09:58 PM

The difference being, science is open to being wrong. Faith generally is not.

Comment #330: banisteriopsis  on  11/23  at  10:01 PM

I have a friend who is a libertarian/atheist, but even more than that, also a hedonist and a bit of a nihilist.

I once had a very interesting debate with him about global warming.  He is not an irrational denier, and absolutely believes in the warnings that the science community has given regarding the topic.  He firmly believes that without a strong plan to fundamentally address the issue by reducing our global carbon emmissions, that eventually the planet will become uninhabitable to human beings.

The problem is… he just doesn’t care.  He doesn’t believe that the end of the world, no matter what causes it to happen, is necessarily a bad thing.  And he’s not a rapturist whacko.  His argument is that if our actions today lead to the extinction of humanity, then that’s that, and humans won’t care, because we’ll all be gone.  And it just won’t matter.  He opposes all attempts to place restrictions on people’s environmentally harmful behaviors which may prevent their maximum enjoyment of life, however they define that enjoyment.  And for him, it isn’t a matter of explicitly wishing harm upon future generations, it’s the belief that he’ll long since be dead before any widespread suffering will occur, and once he’s dead, why should he give a shit what happens to everybody else?  He’s dead.  He doesn’t believe in heaven or hell or any sort of afterlife… it is his opinion that when he dies, he will cease to exist entirely - not just his physical body, but his entire awareness ceases to exist as well.

He created an unwinnable argument… no matter what angle I tried to approach him with, his answer was always the same - he agreed that yes, global warming will destroy the planet, and yes, humans could very well be extincted in the process.  And if that happens, it doesn’t matter in his opinion.  He argues that humans haven’t existed since the beginning of time, and maybe humans aren’t supposed to exist until the end of time, either.  If all of humanity dies off, then it all dies off.  And nobody will be around to get upset about it, because we’ll all be dead.  And that’s it.

Now how do you debate that?  I told him he was an asshole for thinking that way, and his response was, “Why?” And again I came back to needing to care about the welfare of future generations, and his response again was, “Why should I care about people who won’t even be born until after I die, when I will no longer care about anything?”

I had no answer.  Because really, why should an atheist libertarian give a shit about the welfare of people who won’t be born until after long after the atheist libertarian is dead?

Where I got really lost was when he fired back, “Why do you care what happens to people after you die?  You’re dead, so what difference does it really make?  Your legacy may mean something to those who are still alive after you’re gone, but once you’re gone, you’re gone, and whatever people think about you won’t really matter anymore.  At least, it won’t matter to you.  Because you’re dead, remember?”

His basic attitude is that you should get absolutely everything out of life that you can while you’re still alive, because once you’re gone, you’re gone.  He has no concern for whether or not his actions could adversely affect life for people who are going to be born in 2100, because he knows that he’ll already be dead.  And since he believes that death is the finality of individual human existence, anything that happens after you die is totally irrelevant, no matter how bad it might be.

I think he’s completely wrong, but I have to admit that I can’t really poke any holes in his reasoning, twisted and immoral as I believe it to be.

But it does raise an interesting question… why should we care even slightly about what happens in the world after we’re dead?  Why would anyone care about how they are remembered after they are dead?  Once we’re dead, why would we care even slightly what happens to even our own family members?  If I cease to exist entirely once I die, then the worst things imagineable could happen to my loved ones, and it will have absolutely no impact on me whatsoever.  It won’t make me angry or sad, because I won’t exist.  Dead or more specifically non-existent people can’t have emotions.  Why should any of it matter even slightly to us, since we’ll no longer exist?

I don’t have the answer to those questions.  Which is why I consider myself agnostic as opposed to strictly atheist.  Because I don’t know why I care about generations who won’t be born until long after I’m dead… but for whatever reason, I do care.  Not that all atheists share my friend’s perspective, certainly many don’t.

Comment #331: DTG in STL  on  11/23  at  10:09 PM

They’re peddling false certainty just as much as the nastier religious types do.

When you say “false certainty”, are you saying that in the knowledge that Dawkins considers himself only a 6 on a scale of 7 in regards to his certainty in the nonexistence of God - that is, he’s only mostly certain, is willing to revise his stance in the light of new evidence, and admits that there are certain conceptions of God he can’t prove or disprove?

Or did you not know that’s his position on certainty?

Comment #332: Chet  on  11/23  at  10:11 PM

Um, DTG, I think there’s a simple explanation.  Your friend is what moral philosophers call “a dick.”

Comment #333: FlipYrWhig  on  11/23  at  10:17 PM

331-

Most don’t and the reason is your friend is a sociopath (the clinical condition).

It is indeed holy rational in that it accepts facts and data and the consequences of those facts and it can’t be blamed on anything intellectually inaccurate in his construction, but it is wrong in that it is the mindset of a sociopath who has zero empathy for any other human being. He is hypocritical in the fact that he is a parasite. He is relying on a complex system of aiding others that we call civilization in order to gain the life he is accustomed to and is hoping to ride out. If everyone thought accordingly, there’d be no society and he’d be fucked.

His notion is flawed in that he assumes that only future generations are screwed so so what, given that those who value future generations would choose to deny him those comforts with zero compunction if they knew his desire to reject the idea of civilization wholesale and further, it is thanks to the sociopathy of others that it might not be a matter of 2100 being fucked, but his and mine generation and his ability to enjoy himself with full freedoms may be drastically constrained by other sociopaths having the same idea of running out the clock.

Comment #334: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  10:18 PM

DTG:
Really (and I’m not advocating this!) the best way to poke a hole in his argument is to shoot a hole through him.  And as he’s gasping out his last breath say, “dude, I get a fantastic satisfaction out of looking out of future generations, that’s my way of getting absolutely everything out of life!  Why should I have given a shit about you?  You’re dead, and that’s it, and I’m one person closer to getting what I want!”

Comment #335: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  10:19 PM

If there truly is an non-physical afterlife where people will be judged for their sins and then rewarded with an eternity of bliss or punished with an eternity of torment, then (a) this only has a detectable effect in the afterlife, and (b) it matters a hell of a lot, assuming that none of us would like eternal hellfire.

Being judged in the afterlife is hardly the limit of the interventions regularly ascribed to God. Even if God only punishes or rewards us in this life, it only stands to reason that he would communicate his strictures to us in this life, or else it’s a pretty arbitrary form of “judgement.” And if he’s communicating to us in this life, that’s an effect on reality that must surely be scientifically accessible.

And you dodged the other question.  Is “murder is evil” a scientific claim?

Dodged? I didn’t realize you were serious. Anyway as written I can’t answer the question. What does “evil” mean? “Bad”? What constitutes murder? I’m pretty sure murder is bad but that’s a judgement, not a scientifically verifiable claim about reality.

They really thought they had good scientific evidence for their beliefs.

As do the religious. But they don’t. It’s not sufficient to merely think you have good evidence. You must actually have it. That seems pretty obvious to me, and I suspect it will be to you as well once you stop trying to play these absurd word games.

I can’t help but add that you seem absolutely certain about that.

As certain as a memory - but I don’t completely trust my memory. On the other hand I can’t live my life acting like I’m definitely wrong about everything, as you and Mnem seem to expect anyone who is not religious to do. And, you know, we can play the stupid turnaround game all day - you seem absolutely certain that I’m absolutely certain!

Comment #336: Chet  on  11/23  at  10:20 PM

Because I don’t know why I care about generations who won’t be born until long after I’m dead… but for whatever reason, I do care.

Isn’t that “empathy”?  It’s pretty deep within us and basic to human existence.  If your friend is capable of watching a movie for more than just the sheer visual stimulation of the images, he has it, and if he cares at least a little bit about imaginary people, he cares at least a little bit about real people he’ll never meet, and he’s just blustering through the rest because that’s what trolls do.

Comment #337: FlipYrWhig  on  11/23  at  10:22 PM

If I am absolutely certain that the sun will rise tomorrow or I tied my shoes this morning, does that make it a religion?

No.  Because I could be proven wrong.

Comment #338: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  10:25 PM

331 - Yeah, that’s a sociopath. God has nothing to do with empathy for others and the belief that their life is as valuable as your own.  I would stop talking to that person.

It really frightens me how many people seem to think that basic morality is entirely a religious experience.  And people are saying there’s no bias against atheists.  Fiddle-faddle.

Comment #339: Gavel Down  on  11/23  at  10:29 PM

So let’s see, what tropes have we hit from Bronze Dog’s Doggerel Let me know if I missed any!

Science Is Just Another Religion!
Science Made The Bomb! (Eugenics)
Science Doesn’t Apply To [Woo]! (God)
You Want To Disprove Love! (Prove that murder is evil with science!)
But [Famous Scientist] Believed In [Woo]! (MLK and Gandhi were religious!)
Fundamentalist Atheist
Who Are You To Criticize Someone’s Belief?
You Just Think You’re Smarter Than Everyone Else!
You Argue As Loudly As A Fundamentalist!
Science Has Limits!
But [Woo] And [Wooism] Have Contributed To Science! (Religion to society)
Certainty
What Makes You So Sure Science Can Find The Answers?

I should make a bingo game out of this.  It’s the same thing everytime…

Also, when you’re reduced to using creationist talking points, maybe it’s time to step away.

Comment #340: themann1086  on  11/23  at  10:31 PM

That’s why Catholicism is harder to leave behind than other religions—it’s part of your ethnic identity.  If you leave Catholicism completely behind, you’re also leaving behind your Irish or Italian or Mexican ancestors, not just a church that pissed you off.  And the people calling you stupid for still clinging to that identity are calling you stupid for being proud of your ethnicity.

I’ve come to accept that something is wrong with me, because I cannot comprehend this at all. Most people I know have some sort of attachment to ritual or ethnicity, but I don’t. I’m white, and from some country in Europe, and was raised Catholic. But I don’t know exactly where my family is from, and I honestly don’t care. I am me. I don’t understand why I need any attachment to a group, or to take part in rituals to symbolize that. I hate all rituals. They creep me out. I did not go through my graduation ceremony for either high school, college, or for my master’s degree. I do not want to have a wedding, because of all the loaded sexist symbols therein. The only ritual symbol I really don’t mind is Christmas trees, because they improve the atmosphere.

I realize that some part of me has to be at fault, since nobody else seems to share this view. In a way, I hope I never find out where my family is from, because it’s so unimportant to me that I’m glad it’s vague and ill-defined. But I try hard to understand it, if only I could figure how it works, since it seems to be such a vital part of so many peoples’ identities.

Comment #341: Seebach  on  11/23  at  10:36 PM

Cereberus -

But why should he care about future generations who won’t be born until after he is dead?

Because it is a good thing to care?

Says who?

And why should what people who haven’t even been born yet think matter to him?

I told him he was an unempathetic asshole (I didn’t call him a sociopath), but his response was that empathy is completely useless once an individual is being eaten by worms.

As fucked up as I think his views are, they made sense to me, in a really twisted sort of way.  Because why should I care about anything that happens to anyone after I am dead?  I’ll be dead, and I will no longer care about anything, right?

I want to assure you that I’m playing devil’s advocate here.  I know plenty of atheists who are eco-friendly and ethical people.  And I do care about what happens to this blue marble after I’m gone.  But I can see how an atheist could justify not caring at all about future generations who won’t be born until after the atheist is dead.

Because there is no logical purely scientific reason to care if humanity becomes extinct.  I mean… if it becomes extinct, it becomes extinct, right?  So what?  Bad things will happen?  Says who?

Why is it a bad thing?  From a purely scientific standpoint, what makes the prospect of it such a bad thing?

Comment #342: DTG in STL  on  11/23  at  10:40 PM

themann, I see you that list and raise you “what would GOD need with a STARSHIP?”

Comment #343: Mighty Ponygirl  on  11/23  at  10:42 PM

I want to assure you that I’m playing devil’s advocate here.  I know plenty of atheists who are eco-friendly and ethical people.  And I do care about what happens to this blue marble after I’m gone.  But I can see how an atheist could justify not caring at all about future generations who won’t be born until after the atheist is dead.

But you could argue the same thing about Fundamentalists. What do they care what happens after the Rapture? They’re in Heaven watching the sinners burn. In fact, their actions have shown they are just as sociopathic as your acquaintance.

You help people so you’re not a fucking asshole. It never took much thought for me.

Comment #344: Seebach  on  11/23  at  10:45 PM

Isn’t William Shatner God?

Comment #345: seeker6079  on  11/23  at  10:45 PM

I compared the people on these threads who are insisting that all religious people are the enemy to rioters in the 1960s.  If you think that declaring an entire segment of the population to be your enemy is the best possible way to win them to your side, you’re as naive as the SDS members who thought that calling the cops “pigs” to their faces was going to win them over.

Honestly, I don’t give a fuck. Rudeness != violence.

Comment #346: Rebecca  on  11/23  at  10:47 PM

But why should he care about future generations who won’t be born until after he is dead?

Why does it matter when they’re born? Does he care about people now? People who are alive, now? If so, why are they better, more valuable, or more worth caring about just because of an accident of chronology?

When he says “but I’ll be dead”, how does that make any sense? He’s not being asked to care after he’s dead. He’s being asked to care now while he’s alive.

Comment #347: Chet  on  11/23  at  10:54 PM

Isn’t that “empathy”?  It’s pretty deep within us and basic to human existence.  If your friend is capable of watching a movie for more than just the sheer visual stimulation of the images, he has it, and if he cares at least a little bit about imaginary people, he cares at least a little bit about real people he’ll never meet, and he’s just blustering through the rest because that’s what trolls do.

It is empathy.  And my friend is capable of being empathetic, but only to those who have existed concurrently with him in the present, not those who don’t yet exist.  If my friend dies in 2050 and a child is born somewhere in 2060, to him, that child does not and will never exist, at least not in any meaningful way that should matter to him, in his opinion.  Because before the child will have even been conceived, my friend will have completely ceased to exist ten years prior.

For instance, if problems from global warming were something that would pose an imminent danger to the existence of enormous swaths of humans who are alive TODAY, he says he would care about the issue more.  But since most of the really, really bad stuff (like, the sorts of things that might kill a few hundred million people in a single day) isn’t likely to happen for at least a few centuries, he doesn’t believe he has any moral obligation to care.  Because he’ll be dead long before it happens.  And he doesn’t believe he has any moral responsibility to care for people who have not even been born yet.

He doesn’t see any purpose in being empathetic to future generations.  I’ve tried making moral arguments, but his contention always comes back to the idea that whatever happens to future unborn generations means absolutely nothing to him.  He neither wishes harm on them, nor does he wish good on them.  He does not care one way or another.  His belief is that death is final, and that there is absolutely no rational reason to care even slightly about what happens to anyone or anything after you are dead.  If he dies tomorrow and the world is completely destroyed a week later, he says he wouldn’t care.

And he always gives the same question when asked… “Why should I care?”

Comment #348: DTG in STL  on  11/23  at  10:56 PM

But the Virgin of Guadalupe *was* politically expedient. That’s rather obvious. And it was used as a weapon to control a conquered people. I know it’s very hard for some liberal believers to understand that they can in fact be part of the problem, but they very much can be. If I were to say, “ your religion is silly,” that would be an unnecessary insult. If I were to say, “your religion is used as a weapon of oppression, and here’s the evidence to back that up,” well that can be very necessary to say.

Comment #349: Theron  on  11/23  at  10:59 PM

he agreed that yes, global warming will destroy the planet, and yes, humans could very well be extincted in the process.  And if that happens, it doesn’t matter in his opinion.

Well yeah, in a finite system, we need periodic die-offs. It’s like trimming a tree. We know it’s happened at least twice before. We have planetary maps discovered in Russian permafrost that suggest we had the power of flight at least once before. If people kept reproducing without limit, we’d eventually be shoulder to shoulder across the globe. So occasionally some shit happens, and we start over. If we didn’t, we’d overwhelm the planet. You and I may die, but humanity will rebuild. We always have.

Comment #350: banisteriopsis  on  11/23  at  11:01 PM

DTG the answer is, “So fine, don’t stop me while I slit your throat.” His desire to stop you is your rebuttal.

Comment #351: banisteriopsis  on  11/23  at  11:03 PM

Thanks Pixelfish!

Comment #352: AnglScarlett  on  11/23  at  11:03 PM

And he always gives the same question when asked… “Why should I care?”

At that point, I would say, “Well, I don’t anymore,” spit in his face, and never speak to him again.

Comment #353: Seebach  on  11/23  at  11:03 PM

342-

Actually there is oddly enough a secular reason that I tried to note in my earlier response.

We all rely in very complex ways on the social contract of others to continue enjoying the fruits of what we consider civilization. We essentially rely on the kindness or at least non-sociopathy of strangers whenever we drive our cars, go to a grocery store for food, go to a job, get medical care, etc…

For his medicines for instance. He is relying on scientists working together simply to provide knowledge and continue knowledge accumulated over a long time often by people who are dead and the integrated functions of a thousand projects to provide the tools and information a lab needs in order to make a discovery. He then requires a hospital and scientific community that cares about testing the therapy and insuring its safe and cares enough about those who they won’t likely be. He then relies on the doctors to provide him with that medicine when he drastically needs it and to be educated about that information by those who felt it important to share it with others younger than they were even though they weren’t them. He also relied on paramedics or a friend to get him to the hospital in the first place rather than turning him over for his wallet.

Most of all, he relies on people not assuming the system was broken and thus doing things like kill him for being a ginormous douchebag.

In short, he is parasite upon society relying on everyone but him to continue to value people who are not them in order to enjoy the comforts of civilization he takes for granted. If everyone thought like him civilization would be impossible, but the social contract can take a small percentage of bad faith actors and continue to run because of the empathy of the majority of participants.

It’s another big reason that the Rapturists are really frightening. The system is straining against a large-yield of those made sociopathic by a really nasty religious doctrine and that level of checking out against the social contract is leading to breaking points such as the stalling of movement on the Global Warming Problem.

But yeah, the short answer is he can only be a empathyless tool because of the good graces of others who recognize that they’re freedoms and ability to enjoy themselves are largely based on the shared empathy of the culture.

Those who are a member of a minority group understand even more that any action towards equality allows one even more freedoms and that one’s ability to live a life of these benefits is due to the hard work of previous generations. Your douchey friend is relying on the good graces of those who went before and his ability to enjoy freedoms and joys beyond the paltry level of today requires the hard work of today’s activists.

Like I said, the system can support a percentage of parasites, which include your friend. I’d side with FlipYrWing though and say, he’s a dick.

But yeah, civilization is based upon a majority doing things for people they will never be in the assumption that others will do the same. We couldn’t have people not working as farmers if this basic fact wasn’t true.

Comment #354: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  11:06 PM

And he always gives the same question when asked… “Why should I care?”

He should care because though his actions he is actively harming the wellbeing of future generations. Even if those people are not alive today, it is certain they WILL be alive in the future, and through his current actions he’s causing them (potentially more than likely irreparable) harm.

Furthermore, there ARE things alive on this planet RIGHT NOW that will be affected adversely by climate change. Rainforests and arctic ecosystems will be irreparably damaged. Trees that lived for thousands of years face death and extinction. Animals that live well over 200-1000 years face the same problem

One further thing, we have until 2015 to curb emissions or risk catastrophic runaway greenhouse. (see “The Age of Stupid, or 6 Degrees Could Change the World).

He might be dead, but it’s his moral duty to clean up the mess he caused. To think otherwise is sociopathic.

Comment #355: Paladiea  on  11/23  at  11:08 PM

348-

Ask him why he’s so sure he’ll be able to run out the clock.

Seriously, the biggest answer for the devoid of empathy and imagination is to ask them why they are so sure they won’t be. I mean, given some of the problems, he probably won’t die before some bad shit happens and some major harshes to his mellow crop up. Already weather is way more chaotic than it was to frightening consequence in places like California. So it’s not an academic worry about future generations. He is the future generations.

Comment #356: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  11:09 PM

And my friend is capable of being empathetic, but only to those who have existed concurrently with him in the present, not those who don’t yet exist

If I said that I was capable of being empathetic, but only to those of the same race and gender as myself, would you recognize that as empathy?

Comment #357: Chet  on  11/23  at  11:12 PM

Therefore, if Pol Pot rejects God, becomes a Communist, and slaughters people, it’s totally abstract to talk about “atheism” as being involved in his decisions.  But if a guy kills an abortion doctor, then suddenly “religion” is a thing that can take actions.

The only thing that links atheists together is a lack of a belief in God, god, gods, etc. It’s like all the people who are not Jewish - all they have in common is that they are not Jewish. Or all the people who are not Taoists - all that links them together is they are not Taoists. Atheists have no common doctrine, no common moral code, no common master plan. Pol Pot has in common with any number of mass murders the fact that he was not a practitioner of Santeria. Will we then argue that his actions were governed somehow by his failure to properly honor Chango? Well we could, but I’m not sure what the point would be.

Comment #358: Theron  on  11/23  at  11:13 PM

I’m not sure your friend is a sociopath, DTG.  I’m inclined to say he’s depressed, if anything at all.

You care because your life needs to have meaning of some kind.  If he can find happiness in non-destructive ways, great.  But if he’s just sitting around saying “what’s the point of anything” then he either needs to accept he’s not a 13 year old goth kid or see a therapist or something.

Comment #359: Rachel,II  on  11/23  at  11:13 PM

359-

I must strenuously object.

I haven’t yet met a goth who was that much of a douche. Hell, most goths I have met (and I have met QUITE a few) become goths especially when they are younger because they are heavily empathic kids who are really hurting to be seeing so much injustice and cruelty in the world because they can’t stop caring.

DTG’s friend just wants to be a sociopathic parasite.

Comment #360: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  11:20 PM

Comment #332: Chet on 11/23 at 10:11 PM

When you say “false certainty”, are you saying that in the knowledge that Dawkins considers himself only a 6 on a scale of 7 in regards to his certainty in the nonexistence of God - that is, he’s only mostly certain, is willing to revise his stance in the light of new evidence, and admits that there are certain conceptions of God he can’t prove or disprove?  Or did you not know that’s his position on certainty?

No.  He’s falsely certain of the solidity of the philosophical underpinning of his attitude toward science and religion.

Dawkins’ advocacy of science is based on naïve epistemology and naïve philosophy of science.  He assumes a much too simple relationship between human agency, society, theory and evidence.  His thinking about science implicitly requires that theories be straightforwardly supported or disproven by evidence, when one of the major themes of late 20th century philosophy has been that evidence never does that (e.g., the Quine-Duhem thesis raises doubts that it’s even logically possible to disprove hypotheses).  Dawkins also totally ignores the institutional context in which scientific research is done.

I get the feeling I’ve told you this in other threads, but you need to read more.  Putnam’s Realism with a Human Face, Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Feyerabend’s Against Method, those are all good (and often at odds; Rorty and Putnam in particular are big critics of each other).

Comment #336: Chet on 11/23 at 10:20 PM

Being judged in the afterlife is hardly the limit of the interventions regularly ascribed to God. Even if God only punishes or rewards us in this life, it only stands to reason that he would communicate his strictures to us in this life, or else it’s a pretty arbitrary form of “judgement.” And if he’s communicating to us in this life, that’s an effect on reality that must surely be scientifically accessible.

Basically, you’re arguing that, given the premise that God must communicate his strictures to us in this life, then the existence of God must be “scientifically accessible,” by which presumably you mean that it can be proven or disproven by empirical evidence.  Well, there are two problems with that argument:

(a) The actual empirically observable artifact of what’s claimed to be God’s message is not something anybody actually denies.  By which I mean that there’s no people running around claiming that the Bible or the Koran don’t actually exist.  What people deny is that a given artifact, that’s said to be God’s message, is actually God’s message.  How is the claimed “effect on reality” of the existence of God “scientifically accessible,” then, beyond the trivial observation that the Koran exists?

(b) We don’t have to accept your premise anyway.  It’s a silly premise that only distracts from the issue: there’s nothing empirical about the claim that God will judge us in the afterlife, because there’s no grounds for demonstrating this or otherwise as living persons.  Sure, a world where God judged you in the afterlife without ever sending you a message with his strictures would be a perverse world, but the argument is about whether the existence of God is an empirical claim, not whether God is fair (for whatever you think “fair” should mean).

It’s not sufficient to merely think you have good evidence. You must actually have it. That seems pretty obvious to me, and I suspect it will be to you as well once you stop trying to play these absurd word games.

...and voilà, here we have our No True Scotsman fallacy, as I predicted.  If they were in fact wrong, no matter how honestly they applied the scientific method, then they were simply not True Scientists, so their failure doesn’t count.  And before y’all go ‘round judging scientists, remember to borrow Chet’s empirical omniscience hat.

Comment #361: sacundim  on  11/23  at  11:23 PM

You help people so you’re not a fucking asshole. It never took much thought for me.

I agree, we should help people so as not to be assholes, but why does it matter if we’re assholes?  What scientific argument is there against being assholes?  The need to preserve the species?  Why do we need to do that?  Is there any scientific need to preserve our species?  I mean, I get that most non-sociopaths want to preserve the species, including, I hope, most of us here… but I don’t know specifically why we want to do that.  By that what I mean is, I can find no solid scientific reason why it matters one way or another.  What bad thing happens if humans become extinct, aside from us being extinct?  And why is that, from a purely rational persepective, an inherently bad thing?

What if everybody simultaneously stopped caring about everyone and everything tomorrow?

What if every single human being simultaneously said fuck it all, and we went to hell in a handbasket and earth was destroyed a week later?

So what?

Why do we fear death, when we know that it is inevitable?  There are only two inevitabilities in all of human existence.  All of us have been born, and all of us will eventually die.  Those two things will happen to each and every last human who will ever exist.  So why are we so scared of something that is going to happen absolutely, positively no matter what to each and every last one of us, no matter what color we are, what gender we are, what political persuasion we are, what our socioeconomic background is?  I mean, if you think about it, it’s a totally irrational thing to be afraid of.  And yet, the vast majority of human beings are scared to death of death itself.  It’s like being afraid that if you sit down, you are 100% likely to be in a sitting position.

All those whys are precisely why I can’t say with certainty that I’m an atheist.  I’m definitely anti-religious, and I’m not really a theist, because I lack conviction in any belief in a deity.  I believe that it’s entirely possible, and perhaps even likely, that the atheists are 100% correct, and that there absolutely is no God.  I also believe that it is entirely possible that they may be completely wrong, and that perhaps there is a God.  My answer isn’t that I believe that there definitely is or isn’t a divine force, but that I really truly don’t feel like I know for certain one way or the other.  I feel as though the existence of God has neither been absolutely disproven, nor absolutely proven.  I am filled with doubts, on both sides.

Comment #362: DTG in STL  on  11/23  at  11:28 PM

DTG, I have thought something similar as your friend or “friend”.  However, my reasoning is a bit different in that I think there is a 60-70% chance that we’ve screwed the pooch.  So, carpe diem, because tomorrow has a good chance of not coming.

Generally, such nihilism is best answered with social constructivist answers in the mein of overcoming Kierkegaardian levelling processes.  Put simply, you exist to create meaning, and part of creating meaning is creating assumptions about the world that you share with the world around you, including the people as well.  Those assumptions were loomed in PastTime, and will unravel and meet other looms in FutureTime.  The space that you’re you are in now, the assumption that nothing means anything beyond what you live through, is a kind of nihilism that many people go through, levelling, absorbing the idea that values and ideals are irrelevant to you after the end of you.  People generally work through that, because staying in that place is dang dinghy, and few people can support the habit with other people’s empathy…

Comment #363: shah8  on  11/23  at  11:30 PM

His thinking about science implicitly requires that theories be straightforwardly supported or disproven by evidence, when one of the major themes of late 20th century philosophy has been that evidence never does that (e.g., the Quine-Duhem thesis raises doubts that it’s even logically possible to disprove hypotheses).  Dawkins also totally ignores the institutional context in which scientific research is done.

Or, as I do, he simply disagrees. Philosophy, including philosophy of science, is a field with no rigor. Whatever one philosopher may say about science another may disagree, and philosophy itself, unlike science, has no method by which these disagreements may be resolved.

Dawkins also totally ignores the institutional context in which scientific research is done.

Unlikely, given his work in that very context.

I get the feeling I’ve told you this in other threads, but you need to read more.

And you need to do more. Specifically, do some science. Like the sources from which you draw you’re woefully ignorant as to how science is actually done, what it is, what it means.

What people deny is that a given artifact, that’s said to be God’s message, is actually God’s message.  How is the claimed “effect on reality” of the existence of God “scientifically accessible,” then, beyond the trivial observation that the Koran exists?

If the Koran or the Bible or any other supposedly-divine scripture actually was divinely-inspired, it would be very different than the Koran or the Bible we actually have. Generically, a book that is of divine authorship and meant to be our guide to these strictures would be very different than a book that is not. And, indeed, if the Bible is divinely inspired, why is there a Koran? If it’s the Koran, why is there a Bible? There should not be multiple, equal competing scriptures if God is the author of scripture.

It’s a silly premise that only distracts from the issue: there’s nothing empirical about the claim that God will judge us in the afterlife, because there’s no grounds for demonstrating this or otherwise as living persons. 

But again, a God who only observes and judges is not “God” as the term is commonly understood. Why, then, do people pray? Why do they read the Bible? Because they believe in a God who answers prayer and communicates inerrantly through the Bible. These are scientifically-accessible claims that have been tested and found false.

Sure, some conceptions of “God” are conceptions that imply no scientific claims. These are rarified, fringe uses of the term “God” and hardly relevant to atheism. Indeed, to live as though God does not communicate, does not intervene, and only judges on the basis of a set of strictures you can’t possibly have any knowledge for is to live as an atheist!

...and voilà, here we have our No True Scotsman fallacy, as I predicted

You seem to have the contours of the fallacy wrong. When you present Abdul, who is not from Scotland, has never lived in Scotland, doesn’t eat haggis, won’t wear the tartan, the kilt, or the tam-o-shanter, it’s not the No True Scotsman fallacy to assert he’s no Scot. The No True Scotsman fallacy is a fallacy of begging the question and equivocating on terms, which I have not done. Merely identifying that one does not meet the qualifications for inclusion in a group is not fallacious in any way. Even in the heyday of eugenics there was an abundant number of critics who saw that the evidence presented for specific eugenic positions was not sufficient or good. Christ they were drawing unibrows on people in photos to support eugenics. The proponents of eugenics did not have good evidence for their positions.

Comment #364: Chet  on  11/23  at  11:39 PM

DTG-

Uh, answered that. Hellloooo?

Civilization requires systems of empathy in which goods, services, and knowledges are preserved and transmitted to people one doesn’t know who are younger iterations down the line and potentially people one will never meet.

Striving for a more egalitarian, more free society provides more freedoms and protections for yourself as well as those in the future and you enjoy the freedoms by the hard work of those previous. The very mechanism of science requires a very advanced system of interlocking empathy and sharing of knowledge in order to advance the possible and provide additional answers and thus additional technologies, medicines, etc…

Whether we have a civilization or not depends on a system of interlocking empathy and from that empathy derives its secular moral good.

Why being a dick is looked down on is because it wants to take from the system and pay in shit and by jamming up the gears. One threatens the machinery one relies on for the quality of life those of us in the First World expect as our right and hell, even third world nations rely upon. If everyone is potentially a murderer and there are no systems of empathy, you end up with something like Somalia but much much worse.

After you are dead, you may be dead. Certainly this is true even if you believe in an Afterlife or Reincarnation. No matter your belief structure, this life on this Earth with these memories is the only one of its kind you will ever have. If you die and are worm food, this is true. If there is an Afterlife, this is true. If you are reincarnated, this is true. But we all each of us rely on a system where we strive for the betterment of ourselves and future generations. We call the system civilization and we rely on the work of thousands upon millions of others who built it up to the behemoth we take for granted. The knowledge of a thousand scientists means we can expect lifespans well in advance of 30, women can look forward to not dying in childbirth, gays no longer have to hide for fear of life and death, blacks aren’t kept as slaves, and douches like your friend didn’t die as child labor in some company town or sweatshop or stuck on a farm tilling soil and living one’s life according to the whims of the elements and various invaders.

So to enjoy this life to the fullest, one requires it.

Yeah, basically I answered your question three times already.

Comment #365: Cerberus  on  11/23  at  11:41 PM

I mean, I get that most non-sociopaths want to preserve the species, including, I hope, most of us here… but I don’t know specifically why we want to do that.

Because species that don’t want to survive typically don’t. Nobody is the descendant of someone who failed to reproduce.

Comment #366: Chet  on  11/23  at  11:41 PM

DTG’s friend just wants to be a sociopathic parasite.

I actually told him that he had a totally parasitic attitude, and again his response was essentially, “So what?  Everyone of us is a parasite in some way or another.  People who practice eco-friendly behaviors mainly do so because they want to tell themselves that they are good people, and they want others to praise them for being good people.  While it might feel warm and fuzzy to hear those things while you are alive, it won’t matter once you’re not.” He really truly doesn’t care.

He also once said that he doesn’t think that Martin Luther King, Jr. gives a leaping fuck that Barack Obama is POTUS.  His logic is that since MLK died over 40 years ago, he couldn’t possibly care one way or the other, as he is totally unaware of Obama’s election.  The word “legacy” is laughable to him.  He believes that funerals and memorial services are utterly ridiculous, and that a posthumous legacy is something that matters a whole lot to everyone except the person whose legacy is being celebrated.

And he sees no need to care about any of these things, because he believes that the only things that are relevant are the things that will be experienced while we are alive.  Everything that takes place after we die should be completely inconsequential to us, because he thinks there is no rational reason to care about the welfare of the planet after we are dead.  Do what we can to prevent imminent danger to ourselves, and let future generations worry about it when they are alive.

It got kind of heated, and I told him, “So how about if I take a shit on your grave after you are dead, if you die before me?” He said, “Be my guest.  Hell, string my corpse up and smear feces all over it.  I’ll be decomposing and totally unaware of any of it.  You can even tell everyone that I’m the worst human being who ever lived.  It won’t matter.  I’ll be dead, and you can’t hurt a dead person.”

Comment #367: DTG in STL  on  11/23  at  11:49 PM

Scandium, I think you’re getting caught up in the minutia. The simple fact is that the knowledge generated by science is largely reliable, and increases in reliability over time, while the “knowledge” generated by faith, revelation, etc. is all but indistinguishable in quality from the knowledge generated by imagination.

The knowledge generated by religion says that there is a God. The knowledge generated by science says that there is not. Since scientific knowledge is more reliable than religious knowledge it’s most reasonable not to believe that there is, in fact, a God.

Quite simple, and it takes no “absolute certainty” in the accuracy of science or in any epistemological method or anything. No absolute certainty. It merely takes a simple and practical assessment of the reliability of knowledge from different sources. Science wins not because it’s perfect, but because it’s better.

Comment #368: Chet  on  11/23  at  11:53 PM

While it might feel warm and fuzzy to hear those things while you are alive, it won’t matter once you’re not.

But he’s alive now, which, again, is when he’s being asked to care. What does it matter that he’ll die sometime in the future?

I just don’t understand why he thinks his future death obviates him from caring in the present.

His logic is that since MLK died over 40 years ago, he couldn’t possibly care one way or the other, as he is totally unaware of Obama’s election.

Of course not. But MLK isn’t being asked to care about Obama’s election. He was asked to care about the plight of black people when MLK was alive, and he did. We’re not asking your friend to care after he’s dead, that’s impossible. We’re asking him to care now, while he’s alive. Of what possible relevance could his future death be to that? It makes no sense.

Comment #369: Chet  on  11/23  at  11:57 PM

@FlipYrWhig

That’s a good principle, but I’m not willing to go so far as to say that anti-atheistic bigotry belongs in the conversation with racism, sexism, homophobia, even newer -isms like ableism and sizeism.  I think it ranks more with, like, food preference.  Having this quality makes life somewhat more difficult and being accommodated is nice.  But if someone offers me a peach, which I don’t like and don’t even like to think about, I don’t feel like turning it down is on the continuum of revolutionary acts.

It is great that you don’t feel you have been oppressed for being an atheist, but I do.  When I was younger and very depressed, I tried to kill myself and would up (multiple times) in a mental hospital where I was told repeatedly that my depression was a direct result of my non-belief in God.  (I have been told this same thing in other contexts, but there is nothing like hearing it from both patients and staff.) I would be fine and happy if I just accepted Jesus.  I was also told by lots of people that they would pray for me (rather than say actually listen to what I was saying).  It sure would have been nice to be “accommodated” in my lack of belief, but maybe you are right, this is absolutely nothing like if I’d gone in and the doctors and patients had blamed my uterus.

Comment #370: Atheist, A Feminist  on  11/24  at  12:00 AM

DTG-

Indeed this person is a dick.

He recognizes the system can tolerate a certain percentage of sociopaths and is hoping to game the system. Nothing to do with a belief in a beyond or anything else. Just he is a douche.

Does MLK care right now about Obama? No, he’s dead. Would he have if alive? Duh. Would your friend care if you shit on his grave? No, he’s dead. Is he relying on a system of empathy from killing his worthless libertarian ass? Oh Hell Yeah. As he is relying on a thousand systems of empathy to gain knowledge, gain technology, gain medicine, etc…

Struggles though occur, because rights are not gained in the hear and now without struggle. There is the benefit also that other later generations won’t have to struggle, just as he doesn’t have to struggle over a thousand things to enjoy the rights he does (the right to engage in free sexuality, the ability to access the technology, medicine, and drugs he relies on for entertainment and life, the ability to traverse large distances quickly and cheaply, being able to rely on indoor plumbing, being able to use condoms or birth control, being able to have a job of his right, the right to marry the partner he falls in love with if he should fall in love, the ability to not be a peasant, and many many more).

But yeah, immense sociopathic tool. Likely the only way one could ever get through to him is either by having something bad happen to him naturally that reminded him of the very concrete ways in which he relies on the kindness of others or to shoot him and remind him that his continued life and thus the prevention of the curtailment of his enjoyments is requisite upon most not sharing his sociopathic idea of the social contract.

Sadly, this means there is nothing one can do but derive him of those he would call friends. Some people are just sociopaths.

Nothing about God in that.

Comment #371: Cerberus  on  11/24  at  12:03 AM

Comment #364: Chet on 11/23 at 11:39 PM

Or, as I do, he simply disagrees. Philosophy, including philosophy of science, is a field with no rigor. Whatever one philosopher may say about science another may disagree, and philosophy itself, unlike science, has no method by which these disagreements may be resolved.

Your claim that science has a method by which disagreements may be resolved has questionable consequences, precisely of the form I mentioned before.  You can’t escape this by saying “philosophers boo hoo hoo.”

If the Koran or the Bible or any other supposedly-divine scripture actually was divinely-inspired, it would be very different than the Koran or the Bible we actually have. Generically, a book that is of divine authorship and meant to be our guide to these strictures would be very different than a book that is not.  And, indeed, if the Bible is divinely inspired, why is there a Koran? If it’s the Koran, why is there a Bible? There should not be multiple, equal competing scriptures if God is the author of scripture.

I don’t see anything here remotely resembling an argument, just a bunch of bald assertions.  Why would the divinely inspired book have to be empirically different than the one that isn’t?  What if the uninspired book is a bad, distorted translation of an earlier inspired one; wouldn’t that mean that the uninspired book is very similar to the original, inspired one?  And why do you think there couldn’t be multiple divinely inspired scriptures, anyway?  Is it the fact that they’re “competing,” i.e., that they apparently contradict each other?  But maybe divinely inspired doesn’t mean 100% clear, and many religious thinkers have elaborated on the great difficulty of correctly understanding scripture.  How does one know for sure that the two supposedly “competing” scriptures are really in contradiction in a divinely-relevant way?

I don’t actually expect an answer to those.  My point isn’t to defend the notion of divinely inspired scripture, after all.  My point is that an assertion does not an argument make, and you’re making a lot of loaded assertions here.

But again, a God who only observes and judges is not “God” as the term is commonly understood.

You’re not allowed to pretend that deists have never existed.  You’re not allowed to pretend that there aren’t tons of people who believe in a God that created the material world and gave it regular physical laws that he doesn’t break, but also gave people souls, and spiritual and moral guidance, and the promise of a reward for righteousness and a punishment for wickedness in life.  You may disagree with it (as I do, for that matter), but you sure as hell are not allowed to pretend this isn’t a common form of religious belief.  To pretend so is a really, really crass strawman.

Why, then, do people pray? Why do they read the Bible? Because they believe in a God who answers prayer and communicates inerrantly through the Bible. These are scientifically-accessible claims that have been tested and found false.

ORLY?  I must’ve missed that issue of Nature.

Even in the heyday of eugenics there was an abundant number of critics who saw that the evidence presented for specific eugenic positions was not sufficient or good. Christ they were drawing unibrows on people in photos to support eugenics. The proponents of eugenics did not have good evidence for their positions.

And that’s really easy to point out when you have the benefit of decades not just of hindsight, but of demonization (most of it deserved!) of eugenics.  But the gambit this sort of thinking affords you is just silly: whenever any group of people who are scientists by all reasonable contemporary standards go terribly wrong, and it is only discovered later, you can comfortably sit back and say that they weren’t really scientists, because true scientists wouldn’t have been wrong.  True scientists are the people who are right, as judged retrospectively, so true scientists are always right—the little problem is that we don’t know who are the true scientists among us.

Comment #368: Chet on 11/23 at 11:53 PM

The simple fact is that the knowledge generated by science is largely reliable, and increases in reliability over time, while the “knowledge” generated by faith, revelation, etc. is all but indistinguishable in quality from the knowledge generated by imagination.

No, this is not a fact, it’s a value judgement.  I largely share your value judgement here, mind you (though I don’t agree with the “increase in reliability” claim; the scientific community simply likes the new stuff better, there’s really not much more to it), but neither you nor I can produce an argument that logically compels others to share it.

Comment #372: sacundim  on  11/24  at  12:46 AM

I agree, we should help people so as not to be assholes, but why does it matter if we’re assholes?  What scientific argument is there against being assholes?

Again, self preservation. It is logical to cooperate. The world bank has even published papers on it. The most successful societies are loose democracies. The reason to preserve society is the same reason you don’t want to die. If you ascribe the same amount of agency to every human as yourself, you must allow them to seek life. (Philosophies must be internally consistent if we are to consider them seriously.) People cooperate in societies because it preserves their lives. You care, because it assists you to do so. To preserve society (your support network), you do things to help people keep going. From that universal health care, human rights, etc., extrudes. Because you want them also, to not die. If they disagree, “so why stop me from killing you?”. Their desire to live is the reason to not be an asshole. If you’re not able to extend every person the agency you desire, you’re full of shit and your philosophy fails, because it doesn’t work as a “philosophy”.

Comment #373: banisteriopsis  on  11/24  at  12:48 AM

Chet -

The work MLK did in the 1960s had an immediate impact on improving the lives of those he was helping.  The biggest benefits of his work were realized by future generations, but there’s no disputing the immediate impacts much of his work had on the day to day existence of people who were alive in the 1960s.

What is the atheist libertarian supposed to care about in the present that might affect him, and us, in the present when it comes to climate change issues?  The effort to address the climate change crisis is mostly framed as a matter we must resolve to prevent a global catastrophe… that will not happen until way down the road in the future.  All of the talk about why it needs to be dealt with is because of the impacts that not addressing it could have on FUTURE generations, not present generations.  While there have been climate related issues that have impacted those of us alive in the present, they have been relatively small in their overall impact, when compared to the whole of humanity.

If you live in an industrialized nation, the odds are that not addressing climate change issues for the next 50 years will probably have very little direct impact on your day-to-day life.

While the science has presented a pretty frightening picture of what will happen if we don’t deal with climate change, almost all of the science is pointing to a very grave future that will be well beyond most of our lifetimes.

Sure, there are some present threats that have occurred and will occur over the next century or so, but nothing really of the magnitude of the most alarming future predictions that have been made.  Hurricane Katrina was an epic disaster… but as huge as it seemed, 99.999% of earth’s population wasn’t directly impacted by it, at least not in any major life-altering ways.  For most of us, it was something awful we witnessed on television.  It led to more than 1,000 deaths, which is horrible, but it also means that 6,999,999,000 people WEREN’T killed by the storm.  The most dire predictions don’t project massive global deaths happening anytime in the foreseeable future.  And by massive, I don’t mean 1,000 people or even 100,000 people.  I mean hundreds of millions of people dying in a very short span of time.  Like 100 million deaths caused by a climate change event all happening in the span of one week.  Or even one day.  There’s no reason to believe that any climate related event is going to literally kill even 0.1% of the human population all at once anytime soon.

And since it is not an immediate grave danger - meaning it isn’t something that is going to wipe out a large percentage of the human population anytime soon - but rather a future grave danger, he says he has no personal reason to be concerned about it.  It’s easier to feel ambivalent about the world ending centuries from now than it is to feel about the world ending in the next 5 years.  He believes global warming will not kill him, nor will it kill anyone he knows or cares about.  He believes it is something that could kill our great-great-great grandchildren… and since none of us will be alive when they are alive, there is no rational reason to care about what happens to them, as we won’t even be aware of their existence.

He realizes that widespread apathy to climate change issues will only help to bring it about faster, but even then it’s unlikely that it would be something that would lead to an immediate catastrophic epic global disaster resulting in millions and millions of deaths.

Basically his thinking is this… yes, global warming will kill humanity if it isn’t dealt with, but it won’t kill massive numbers of humans for a long, long, long, long time and since everyone who is alive now will long since be dead when it happens (as will all of our children, in all likelihood), then we who are alive in 2009 have no personally vested interest in caring about it, because we won’t personally gain anything from caring about.  Future generations would benefit, but those of us alive in 2009 will all be long since dead by the time they reap the benefits, and we won’t care one way or another that they are reaping the benefits.  Because again… we will have all died a long time ago when that day comes.

And if we don’t do anything and humanity becomes extinct in the year 3000… none of us will give a shit, because we all died more than 900 years before it happened.

Comment #374: DTG in STL  on  11/24  at  12:57 AM

Again, self preservation. It is logical to cooperate.

Of course if we wish to survive, then cooperation is necessary.

But why do we wish to survive?  I mean, why do we care one way or another whether or not we survive beyond the generations that exist in close proximity to our own lifetimes, especially if human extinction isn’t something that would happen in any of our lifetimes?

What if the entire global scientific community were to tell us today that we’ve gone beyond the point of no return on mitigating the effects of climate change, and that human extinction is an inevitable certainty that is set to occur sometime around the year 2500, but absolutely not anytime within the next four centuries?  And I’m not talking just a scary fringe hypothesis, I’m talking about virtually every scientist on earth collectively agreeing in unison that human extinction is a certainty, as certain as they are of the laws of gravity, and that it is roughly 500 years away from happening.  All of humanity is resigned to this assessment.

If this were to be reported in every news outlet in the world tomorrow morning, would you care?  I mean, beyond the initial shock we would all have, would it be upsetting to you?

And if so… why?

Comment #375: DTG in STL  on  11/24  at  01:14 AM

DTG: While I personally have sympathy for your friend’s arguments (that’s why I’m a revolutionary, I don’t care about anarchism happening in 100 years, I want to live in an anarchist society NOW while I’m alive) he’s obviously an idiot. Global warming has ALREADY caused problems to people living NOW (increased number of tropical storms in the past few years, for instance). And the pessimist pre-Kyoto predictions for the speed at which global warming would happen ended up being *too optimistic*. Things have been degrading faster than even the pessimists predicted. So, whatever.

Comment #376: BlackBloc  on  11/24  at  01:15 AM

What bad thing happens if humans become extinct, aside from us being extinct?  And why is that, from a purely rational persepective, an inherently bad thing?

There really isn’t any scientific reason why it’s bad. In certain ways, it’s probably better if humans go extinct.

We personally know less than 1% of the current earth’s population. All of the rest are just imaginary constructs. People are dying and being born all of the time. I guess he can choose to feel that the current people are somehow more “real” than the future people, although it sounds to me like he doesn’t really care about the real people he can’t detect now.

I see he also likes to play the “There’s no such thing as goodness. You just act good so you can feel good about yourself” game.

I’d suspect the most logical explanation would be using Rawls’ veil of ignorance, but with time as a factor. You’d hope that people would care enough to make the time you were born in livable, and to a certain extent, he’s lucky the people he no longer cares about didn’t strangle him in his crib. But I’m sure he’d answer “So what. They’re dead now. They don’t know me and don’t care if I’m alive.”

So, it basically sounds like he has a whole web of complex rationalizations set up as to why he can be a dick and that’s totally cool and you all are hypocrites and I’m awesome.

He must tell a mean joke because he sounds like a joy to be around.

Comment #377: Seebach  on  11/24  at  01:28 AM

@ Atheist, A Feminist #370—I appreciate that you shared your story about being treated cruelly for being an atheist.  And I wish that hadn’t happened to you.  And I’m glad that nothing similar has happened to me.

I might still contend that individual stories of discrimination and cruelty visited upon atheists don’t quite amount to proof that _as a class_ atheists are disadvantaged or deprived of rights, but I’m grateful to hear anecdotes--and regret their occurrence.

Comment #378: FlipYrWhig  on  11/24  at  01:32 AM

@ DTG:  For someone who professes radical uncaring, your friend sure seems to like being talked about.

Comment #379: FlipYrWhig  on  11/24  at  01:33 AM

If this were to be reported in every news outlet in the world tomorrow morning, would you care?  I mean, beyond the initial shock we would all have, would it be upsetting to you?

I can answer this because I already pretty much think that this is going to happen. There’s no way we’re going to get any curbs to carbon emissions up in time. The process is too slow, and we don’t have the will. For several years, I was depressed. But you kind of learn to cope, just like any other death. I also figure I’ll be dead for the most of it, or at least hope to be, since living through endless disasters and extinctions doesn’t sound fun.

So, in a way, I could be the mirror image of your friend. We agree on what is going to happen. He thinks it’s perfectly cool, and I think it’s a tragedy.

Comment #380: Seebach  on  11/24  at  01:34 AM

Your claim that science has a method by which disagreements may be resolved has questionable consequences, precisely of the form I mentioned before

The claim has consequences? Or the method has consequences. And what did you mention? I don’t follow. Even if the method is not 100% reliable it exists, which is more than is the case for philosophy. Rorty and Kuhn and the rest are free to make arguments, but philosophy itself gives us no way to judge if they’re correct.

What if the uninspired book is a bad, distorted translation of an earlier inspired one; wouldn’t that mean that the uninspired book is very similar to the original, inspired one?

Well, look. The world where the divine inspiration has been lost from scripture is the same world where that never existed in the first place - the atheist world. If that’s what you really believe happened, you might as well be an atheist - you live like one.

Remember when I stressed a God that matters? That’s the God theists promote. The God you keep setting up isn’t one that matters - isn’t one whose presence or absence has consequences - so it’s not clear what the relevance of your examples are. If this is the God you claim to believe in, you’re an atheist.

You’re not allowed to pretend that deists have never existed

Deism is, in practice, atheism. I don’t pretend they don’t exist; indeed, I claim them.

You’re not allowed to pretend that there aren’t tons of people who believe in a God that created the material world and gave it regular physical laws that he doesn’t break, but also gave people souls, and spiritual and moral guidance, and the promise of a reward for righteousness and a punishment for wickedness in life.

The existence of a soul is a testable scientific claim. The presence or absence of this guidance is a testable claim. Ergo these cannot be claims of deism as you seem to want to define it.

Either God does not matter, or God is defined in a testable way. There’s just no other way about it.

You may disagree with it (as I do, for that matter), but you sure as hell are not allowed to pretend this isn’t a common form of religious belief.

Yes, atheism is quite common. A great many people live as though God doesn’t matter. Surely that’s not a contentious claim? All religions make the exact same claim. And belief in interventionist God is also quite common.

But the rarefied faith that squares the circle - that believes God is interventionist but undetectable - exists only in theory, and never in practice. It’s a logical contradiction. It’s an invention of theologians, offered only as a target dummy, to complain that Dawkins doesn’t address “real faith” when he ignores a faith that no one, in practice, actually holds.

I must’ve missed that issue of Nature.

Are you just being snarky, or are you seriously standing up for Biblical inerrancy?

And that’s really easy to point out when you have the benefit of decades not just of hindsight, but of demonization (most of it deserved!) of eugenics.

Even judged by the standards of the time, eugenics was wrong and poorly-supported. It’s adherents knew they were fabricating data, because they were the ones doing it - how could they have been convinced they had good evidence?

I largely share your value judgement here, mind you (though I don’t agree with the “increase in reliability” claim; the scientific community simply likes the new stuff better, there’s really not much more to it), but neither you nor I can produce an argument that logically compels others to share it.

Which is a failure of logic and its ability to apprehend truth - not a failure of the scientific method. The innovation that rectifies this flaw of logic will probably be the innovation that grants rigor to philosophy.

Comment #381: Chet  on  11/24  at  01:41 AM

What is the atheist libertarian supposed to care about in the present that might affect him, and us, in the present when it comes to climate change issues?

What is the atheist libertarian supposed to care about anything but himself? Indeed, what is he even supposed to care about himself? Why should the atheist libertarian take a single step to prolong his own life instead of dying of exposure, starvation, and dehydration?

Perhaps he does not want to die, but why should he care about his own wants and desires? Why should he care about anything? Why should he do anything but beg for immediate, merciful death?

I don’t understand why someone needs to be talked into caring, or how they could be. What’s the intellectual argument for him to care about his own life? It’s his? What’s so special about him?

Comment #382: Chet  on  11/24  at  01:45 AM

Because again… we will have all died a long time ago when that day comes.

I still don’t understand. We’re not being asked to care then, we’re being asked to care now, and we’re very much alive now. What does it matter that we’ll be dead then?

Comment #383: Chet  on  11/24  at  01:49 AM

No, this is not a fact, it’s a value judgement.  I largely share your value judgement here, mind you (though I don’t agree with the “increase in reliability” claim; the scientific community simply likes the new stuff better, there’s really not much more to it), but neither you nor I can produce an argument that logically compels others to share it.

Yes, the reason I use my AFLP machine is because it’s shiny.

Comment #384: Entomologista  on  11/24  at  01:54 AM

DTG, what are you asking from us? We can’t give an argument from authority.

The best argument I could offer your friend would be to ask him to consider how much he’d like a world in which everyone treated him with as little consideration as he offers them. He might decline to tip because he’ll never visit that restaurant again, but they’ll also spit in his soup because they know that he won’t tip. This generalizes across generations, to some degree. We pay taxes to educate kids because educated workers make us all better off. The elderly might beg off, claiming that they won’t benefit from the next generation, but we don’t permit that, noting that a debt was incurred from the previous generation.

This is, roughly, Kant’s categorical imperative and Rapoport’s tit-for-tat: everyone ought to act the way they’d like everyone else to act. You don’t actually have to, of course, but we’re all better off when everyone does, and we can and should punish defectors.

If this doesn’t convince the friend, perhaps you could try introducing him to other like-minded people. It might work as aversion therapy.

Comment #385: bad Jim  on  11/24  at  02:35 AM

@FlipYrWhig

While I realize this is still only my experience (and maybe I have been profoundly unlucky), but I wonder if perhaps you missed the multiple times in (and I realize I was unclear, but also multiple) mental hospitals and other contexts.  This is not a one time, or one doctor, or one patient, or one well-meaning stranger.  “Know Jesus, Know Peace.  No Jesus, No Peace.” is, in my experience, often applied to mental health.  To a certain extent there were a lot of oppressions at work and I think I was dismissed and condescended to in large part because I was young, female, and “mentally ill.” However, the explicit reason given for discounting me was that I was an atheist.

I cannot understand the value in attempting to respond to and critique/overcome the unspoken reasons (of which the latter two categories, IMO, should without question field teams in the Discrimination Olympics) without addressing the spoken one.  “Out” atheists, who are unashamed of what they (don’t) believe, seems to me the best way of addressing that, but how can someone be an “out” atheist while allowing others to assume a belief in Christianity (or any other religion)?  If I realize that someone has assumed I am Christian, I correct them.  Apparently (judging from the thread), if I do this after I am told that someone will pray for me, I am “rude,” “militant,” and “refusing a gift.” (A quick googling of atheist fired seems to imply that I may be unemployed, rude and militant.)

I fail to understand how discriminating against a minority group (___) on the basis of membership in that group, and encouraging the belief that the majority group in power (___) is better and the default status, becomes okay when those blanks are filled in with atheist and theist respectively.

Comment #386: Atheist, A Feminist  on  11/24  at  02:39 AM

I might still contend that individual stories of discrimination and cruelty visited upon atheists don’t quite amount to proof that _as a class_ atheists are disadvantaged or deprived of rights, but I’m grateful to hear anecdotes--and regret their occurrence.

I agree. Being an atheist, for most of us, isn’t like being female, dark-skinned, or gay. No one wants to take away atheists’ right to live as full citizens or control their own bodies in a non-hypothetical, lawmaking manner. I definitely sympathize with people who suffer real pain as a result of their lack of religious belief, but the worst most of us have to deal with is frustrating ourselves by having endless empty arguments with believers, which we can always choose to walk away from. The threat that magical thinking currently poses to science and rationality hurts believers as much as it does atheists. We all suffer equally living in a society that chooses to be stupid on purpose, whether we’re atheists or not. It’s really not about us as a group in this case, so I don’t call it oppression.

Comment #387: junk science  on  11/24  at  02:45 AM

Global warming has ALREADY caused problems to people living NOW (increased number of tropical storms in the past few years, for instance).

He acknowledges that.

But the stuff that’s happening now is relatively small potatoes, compared to the cataclysmic shit that’s predicted to happen way ahead in the future.

Again, I point to Hurricane Katrina.  Or even the tsunami a few years ago.  Both massive tragedies.  But “massive” only in a relative sense to what we’ve seen in the past few centuries.  99% of the earth’s population wasn’t gravely impacted by either of these climate-related events.

The damage that has already been done is minimal compared to the likely damage that scientists are talking about way, way, way down the road.  1,000 people dying in a hurricane (and the deaths were mostly caused by the flooding, which was largely due to human engineering failure) is a big deal, but nothing like 100 Million people being simultaneously extinguished in a matter of seconds by a massive tidal wave.

Since the Michael Bay movie sized disasters are still a long, long, long way off, even if we do nothing right now, he doesn’t see why he should be motivated to care.

Comment #388: DTG in STL  on  11/24  at  02:48 AM

I’m a little disappointed by the direction this thread has taken, because I had a fairly inane comment I wanted to make about feminism and atheism, but I am awed by the energy that Mnemosyne and the Opoponax have exhibited here, even though I think it was misguided.

What I wanted to say is that it’s not exactly surprising that the atheist movement is dominated by men. What isn’t? Two things are surprising, though. One is that there is an atheist movement at all. That’s progress. The other is that there’s already a concern that it isn’t free of sexism, so it appears to be generally liberal after all.

Comment #389: bad Jim  on  11/24  at  02:53 AM

I still don’t understand. We’re not being asked to care then, we’re being asked to care now, and we’re very much alive now. What does it matter that we’ll be dead then?

The question is… why should we care now about what will happen 500 years from now?  Even if we know that our actions today could have a direct impact on really bad shit happening in 500 years, why should we care?

It can’t be “just because we should”.  That’s not an answer, at least not a scientifically sound answer.

What purpose does caring about preserving the future serve, other than the possibility that we might be motivated to act in such a way that we preserve the future?

The best answer I can come up with is that we should care about the future because we should care about the future.  But that’s not really much of an answer.

So why should we preserve the future?

Why is it right or good to preserve the future?  Or conversely, why is it wrong to not care if our actions today might lead to the world’s destruction in 500 years?

How can we care about people who don’t exist in the present, and will never exist, in any form, in our lifetimes?  And why should we care about them?

For what moral reason should we care?

Would the extinction of humanity be an inherently bad thing?  And if so, why is it a bad thing?

The bottom line of his thinking is this - there is no inherent purpose served in preserving the human species indefinitely.  On what philosophical grounds is that belief wrong?

If we all die off, then we all die off.  Why does that matter, and why should we care, scientifically speaking?

Comment #390: DTG in STL  on  11/24  at  03:03 AM

It can’t be “just because we should”.  That’s not an answer, at least not a scientifically sound answer.

“Why should we care?” isn’t a scientific question in the first place. Science doesn’t offer value judgments. The ultimate explanation is that we do happen to care about other people because natural selection favors social organisms who care about the survival of their relatives and allies over the ones who don’t care, and our brains are able to misfire and project our empathy onto more than just those people whose survival directly affects our own particular genes. We do seem to have a harder time projecting that empathy into the future after we’re dead, which is why we ask such questions and have a hard time coming up with answers even if we aren’t true sociopaths.

Comment #391: junk science  on  11/24  at  03:27 AM

@ DTG:  For someone who professes radical uncaring, your friend sure seems to like being talked about.

The truth of the matter is that this conversation happened a few years ago, at a point in my life when after I had stopped being Catholic, and considered myself a staunch atheist.  And this friend and I got into a talk about atheism, which drifted into morality, and somehow we wound up on global warming.

And when he revealed his position to me, I was kind of appalled.  But he challenged me, and said that since I too was an atheist, that it made no rational sense for me to care about what happens to earth centuries after I’m dead and gone.  It makes sense to care what happens now or even for several decades after I’m gone, but once the last person who was born on the day I die has died themselves, then I will no longer have any connection to the present reality at that time.  In 150 years, every single person who is alive at that time will not have been alive today, and every single person who is alive today will have died off by then.  I will have literally no direct connection to any person walking the earth in the year 2159.  He believes that we have a moral imperative to be concerned for the welfare of people who are alive when we are alive, but not those born after we die.  As such, we should care if our actions today adversely affect the world 5, 10, perhaps even 50 years from now… but we have no logical reason to care if our actions today harm the world 200 years from now.

I couldn’t come up with any logical reason why I should care about what happens centuries from now, but at every turn, I found myself saying, “No, it wouldn’t be OK for us to allow the destruction of the climatological planet even 5,000 years from now if we could do something today to avert it.”

And he kept saying “Why?”

And all I could come up with, internally, at the end of the debate was that I believed that it was possible that there is some great answer to why all of this is, some greater meaning to our lives that transcends any living connections we have to our fellow humans, that there is some divine mystery to our existence, that there is some purpose for life above and beyond what is directly observable and measurable.  There is some reason why I care about what happens to people in 500 years, but I don’t have a purely rational scientific answer as to why I care about the welfare of a group of beings that I will never personally know.

So he said, “So you’re really NOT an atheist.”

And I said, “No, now I don’t know what I am.  I don’t believe in any man-made conception of a deity, I don’t believe in any of the basic tenets of world religions… and yet, I don’t know for certain that there isn’t some bigger divine meaning to all of this.”

So, here I am.  I don’t know if there is a divine force in the universe or not.  I was once an absolute believer, then an equally certain non-believer, and today I am neither an absolute believer nor a certain non-believer.

The only thing I believe about what many call “God” is that I don’t believe that I know for certain whether or not such a thing or entity exists.  I am completely open to the idea that maybe there is a God.  I am also completely open to the idea that maybe there is no God, and that it’s all just a placebo that most of us have been swallowing throughout our history.

I just don’t feel like I “know” one way or another, except that if there is such a thing as “God”, it is something completely beyond my human understanding.

Comment #392: DTG in STL  on  11/24  at  03:33 AM

Atheist, a Feminist:  I fail to understand how discriminating against a minority group (___) on the basis of membership in that group, and encouraging the belief that the majority group in power (___) is better and the default status, becomes okay when those blanks are filled in with atheist and theist respectively.

I don’t want to be understood as saying that it’s ever OK to discriminate against people for what they believe (or, for that matter, who they love, or what they look like). 

I just think that there are a lot of minority:majority relations that few people think of via the frame of “rights talk,” including things like left-handed:right-handed and vegetarian:omnivore.  And my feeling is that the degree to which those particular minority group members suffer for their identity—a non-zero amount, to be sure—doesn’t rise to the level at which a social-justice movement for their interests quite makes sense. 

I know I’m being nebulous, and I have no idea where I’d set the threshold for mass-political-sense-making.  But I’m resistant to the idea that all “minority groups” cohere and get political in similar ways, and I still think I’d put the line somewhere beyond where atheist:theist resides.

Comment #393: FlipYrWhig  on  11/24  at  03:41 AM

But he challenged me, and said that since I too was an atheist, that it made no rational sense for me to care about what happens to earth centuries after I’m dead and gone.

I honestly don’t get the connection of eighth-grade nihilism to atheism. You should care about other people because a god exists and you think he wants you to? What if you don’t care what that god thinks? What if you’d rather burn in hell if it means you get to be a defiant snot? If you really don’t care about other people, how are you going to force yourself to instead of just pretending to care to please that god, and what good will that do you if he’s omniscient?

In any case, saying that atheists have no reason to be moral pretty much immediately reveals a person as a either a mercenary liar if they believe or a sociopath (or at least an attention whore) if they don’t, so it’s a useful thing to hear.

Comment #394: junk science  on  11/24  at  03:41 AM

“Why should we care?” isn’t a scientific question in the first place.

True.

Which leads to the question… “How can non-scientific questions even exist, if everything is science?”

Obviously, none of this is proof of the exitence of a divine being.  But it does make me wonder if there is more to all of this than just what is observable and measurable, in purely scientific and rational terms.

I mean… why do we do completely illogical things?  Like, all of the time?  What purpose is served?

And why do we have moral codes?  Even basic obvious ones, like the idea that it is bad to kill each other?  Why is that bad?  Why are we programmed to try to survive as a species?  What logical purpose is served by our survival?

We clearly aren’t purely rational beings.  Because we’ve done tons of things that aren’t rational, and will likely continue to do so for the rest of our existence as a species.

But the admittedly non-scientific question that begs is… WHY aren’t we 100% rational beings?

Comment #395: DTG in STL  on  11/24  at  03:45 AM

@ DTG:  I don’t think we need to have a “divine” meaning.  I sort of feel like caring IS the meaning.  Instead of turtles all the way down, it’s empathy.  I’m distinctly antisocial and dislike actual people rather rapidly.  And yet I feel like I feel for people in the abstract or collective sense.  Why?  I dunno.  Does it have to be “rational”?  If you learned that somewhere in the middle of nowhere there had been living a whole complex civilization that never had any contact with the outside world, but yesterday it was all incinerated by a volcano, wouldn’t you feel bad, at least vaguely, even thought it’s of precisely no immediate consequence to you? 

I mean, why is there something rather than nothing?  I can’t answer that.  But there it is, being something.

Comment #396: FlipYrWhig  on  11/24  at  03:50 AM

even *though*, not “even thought.” Guh.  Why are there typos rather than nothing?

Comment #397: FlipYrWhig  on  11/24  at  03:52 AM

DTG-

Duh huh? A libertarian was a sociopathic fucktard and thus you can’t be atheist because you believe in the cooperation principle, something practiced by apes? What that higher principle is is called empathy. Most people have it. One doesn’t need God for it and I gotta suspect that the Libertarian douche is carrying some major religious baggage to whole-heartedly back the idea that no god means no need for empathy.

But yeah, that idiot had no clue what atheism was, he was just a sociopath who happened to use atheism as an excuse to avoid being a human. Empathy for those we don’t meet is a learned trait which has been evolutionarily selected for because of its tendency to produce creatures with higher survival ratings. Indeed the proof of the success in humans is in our construction of the society we know today where we have almost fully eliminated whole methods of death in the First World.

The answer for the why is a sociological one. We care because we trust and assume others would care for us. For a great example of what happens when that trust breaks down, let’s look at inner-city response to cops. Because the promised social contract for protection and the law whites take for granted is often abused, covered up, and ends with few punishments for those who violate rights, and contains slow responses and often apathetic investigation or response for non-drug-related offenses, the inner city loses assumptions that cops are on their side at all and will protect them when needed. This exacerbates problems already caused by poverty. See also the horrified reaction to how Bush let New Orleans drown for another example.

We trust that those who are not us will back us when we need it and thus we pitch in our share. This is true for people in another city you will never visit or people 500 years in the future. Why? Because we trust in the civilization system that those 500 years hence would have done the same for us. Already we see the problems re: global warming in that a number of old fucks tried to break the contract and run out the clock as far as they could before changing over. This makes others think selfishly and threatens to overturn the applecart. Seeing how a number of disasters have already befallen this short-sighted stupidity, it affects us directly to break the social contract.

There are few actions which are perfect for your example. An event which will destroy us in 500 years, but can only be stopped now by definition pretty much will be a slow boil to disaster and these events often have ripple disasters along the way.

Empathy is a human emotion, a byproduct of imagination (that which allows us to imagine demons and gods and sparkly vampires). It exists because we have all seen it, experienced it, charted how it has aided the construction of empires and civilizations.

That there will also be sociopaths is also part of the system and any system. There are those who can’t empathize, those who shut it off deliberately with hateful ideologies or hierarchal systems of oppression, and those who are just being cute with their assholery. But they are all sociopaths who do not want to accept that they owe the social contract a certain amount of “you get to live”, “you get the continuation of knowledge” because they are indebted to the previous generation for the same. What is the proof?

We have a civilization. We have knowledge to pass on. If the previous generation hosed out of the contract, we would not have these, because they wouldn’t have trained people not them in what they have discovered so far so they could build on it, wouldn’t have archived the data of previous generations, wouldn’t have forestalled slow disasters where they could. The why?

Because the same was done for them and because these gains made in their lives made their lives experientially better and because society can only function where empathy for those who are not one’s self is a founding value. If people were motivated only with running out the clock, you get well, what we got after Reagan’s and people like your douchbag friend got done implementing their libertarian fantasy state. The decay of infrastructure, the collapse in the social contract, a great American city drowned.

And the infrastructure is key. Much of what was built, that we coasted on for 50+ years was built because previous generations had empathy for us and wanted us to have an easier time than they did. The fact that we wasted it and must repeat their effort just to regain it in our own lifespans doesn’t matter. It aided them and it was a big gift to us. This is what humans do to each other. It is what makes a social animal and it is what enables humans to become so powerful their sociopathic members can threaten everything.

Comment #398: Cerberus  on  11/24  at  04:10 AM

DTG in STL,

I don’t see what the stuff about morality and value has to do with atheism. Suppose it’s true that value judgments can’t be scientifically proven. OK, fine, how does that cast doubt on atheism? How does it lend any support to theism?

Also, your claim that fear of death is irrational is itself a value judgment. By your own lights, it can’t be scientifically proven. And I don’t see that you’ve backed it up with any plausible reasons.

Comment #399: supplementfacts  on  11/24  at  04:16 AM

DTG in STL,

Also, about your friend’s views: ranking reasons of self-interest higher than altruistic reasons is itself a value judgment. Giving reasons of self-interest any weight at all is a value judgment. That means it’s subject to the “Why care? Why think that matters?” challenge.

Being a global nihilist is one thing, but arbitrarily privileging self-interest over altruism is another.

Comment #400: supplementfacts  on  11/24  at  04:21 AM

Yeah, empathy is a function of imagination.

Humans are irrational. I’m not sure this suggests a paranormal explanation. There are great material reasons for why we are fucked up. Hell a lot of the ways we’re fucked up actually occurs in nature with much greater violence. Meaningless wars between two tribes of ants that slaughter everyone? Apes that beat each other to death with bone clubs? Hell, a number of species actually throw a tantrum in captivity.

There is science behind sociology which looks at how we’re fucked up altogether. It takes data from the real world, develops hypotheses and tries to construct a means of understanding the behavior and even try and figure out what does and doesn’t work and why. Anthropology also looks into how we construct societies and why we’re neurotic basket cases often driven by our curiosity and empathy as well as our fears of being impotent against an uncaring and random universe.

Psychology looks at some of the direct chemical causes of the imbalances and the way emotional responses or cultural narratives can make us work not only against our best interests, but sometimes our given behavior prior to a certain stimulus.

And a number of other humanities have tried to look at many other complex aspects of what we are and why as well as the numerous methods we invent to try and define meaning in our lives or disentangle ourselves from the ill-effects of poor choices in the past (turns out enslaving a bunch of people to pick your cotton was a really bad idea).

We are irrational, that does not mean we are divorced from the rational or that we have aspects of ourselves free from the material. It is our materiality from whence derives the crazy in all its myriad and exciting ways. We are fully understandable in our insanity. Our insanity is fully understandable.

It sadly does not make us special except that we have a far more developed sense of imagination which allows far more nuanced levels of familial creation and civilization building.

Comment #401: Cerberus  on  11/24  at  04:25 AM

There’s a problem with the discussion centering on ‘rational’.

The term can be used in a general commendatory sense, as a term of praise, roughly like ‘reasonable’ or ‘appropriate’. In this sense, there’s nothing irrational about emotions or empathy, and there’s nothing particularly rational about oppressing others.

But the term can also be used in a sort of cold technocratic sense, where the ideal is a sort of emotionless successful/efficient achievement of objectives. But of course, in this sense, ‘rational’ is not a term of praise, but a purely neutral term of classification.

The problem is that if you conflate the two senses of ‘rational’, you’ll start assuming that cold technocratic rationality is automatically reasonable/appropriate, with emotions/empathy standing in need of justification.

Comment #402: supplementfacts  on  11/24  at  04:39 AM

Also, it’s worth noting the ill effects of dysfunctional actors are often consequences of positive effects.

Imagination that allows empathy can also create voices that tell you to kill people. Ability to form narrative can create art and a cultural voice as well as restrictive societies and books that order you how to behave. An ability to form societies to pool resources can lead to stability and that stability can lead to allowing the existence of bad actors who refuse to add any resources and threaten instead to tear it all down. It can also lead to a system that will support an oppressive hierarchy where an overlord can be provided with food, shelter, and protection without personal physical investment. The cohesiveness can also allow oppressive systems and short-term exploitation of previous generation’s gains or shortcuts exploiting the cohesive efforts of neighboring tribes. The ability to organize to defense is the ability to organize for aggressive war. Etc… The ability to gain knowledge by recording the wisdom and data of old in records can aid endeavors like science and the humanities. It can also clue people seeking self-centered dominance with an easy way to dominate over others simply by limiting access to it or seeking to corrupt it.

We are dysfunctional because the overall benefits we gain, like all benefits in nature are not wholly clean and allows the formations of negatives that do not outweigh the positives enough to be threatening to what has grown already.

Comment #403: Cerberus  on  11/24  at  04:45 AM

402-

Very well put.

Okay, I’m retroactively changing my uses of irrational above for emotions to rationally chaotic. Emotions are describable and arise from the material world and are often rationally constructed. That they have the ability to express themselves chaotically doesn’t mean they are anti-rational or removed from the rational world and I don’t want to ever suggest that is the case.

Comment #404: Cerberus  on  11/24  at  04:52 AM

Addendum to me at 404-

Ignoring the emotional is also just bad scientific pursuit of knowledge. To understand what is, especially as pertains to humans and their motivations, one must accept all possible data in order to understand what is. Something that ignores the emotional can never have any possible means of explaining human endeavor in any rational format.

Comment #405: Cerberus  on  11/24  at  05:05 AM

DTG, your friend (as represented here by you) is a bit of an asshole, but more importantly he’s a bith of an idiot. What he’s basically conned you into doing is creationism in reverse:

Creationists are people who took scientific questions about the origin of the world and life and forcibly folded them into a moral system. Religion can, in responsible hands, be a good quide to ethical principles, because it contains the distilled moral thinking of milennia. But it’s frankly rubbish at doing things like building airplanes. It’s not a good fit, which is why creationists talk a load of guffaw indusing crap when they try to circumscribe scientific questions with religious thinking.

Science on the other hand is the sine qua non of building airplanes and really quite dreadful at answering moral questions. This has been a long-recognised by people like Hume and his naturalistic fallacy, so it’s not like some esoteric and startling insight here. Folding ethics into science is going to produce results that are about as sensible as folding science into religion, hence you friends perverse and counterintuitive moral stance on individual ethical responsibility.

You keep asking us “but what is the scientific reason to not be a dick?” and of course the answer is that there is no scientific reason. There are ethical reasons, which we can discuss separately, but so far you’ve rebutted all the beginnings of discussion in that direction. If you only accept scientific things as real, then you’re going to have a problem. For example, money is a social construct (the use of which is governed by a combination of ethical, political and scientific thinking), not an objective measurable entity that freely and naturally exists in the universe. But you don’t go to the sho and are all like “yes but what is the scientific price of this pound of potatos?”. It’s nonsensical, and your friend is being nonsensical as well if he managed to convince you (as others have pointed out) that in order to be a “good” atheist you have to submit to being amoral/immoral. It and both/and, not an either/or.

Comment #406: TheLady  on  11/24  at  08:59 AM

Yikes, that was a truly dreadfully typed and spellchecked post. Must not debate ethics during meetings!

Comment #407: TheLady  on  11/24  at  09:12 AM

“That’s part of the problem here, Chet—you talk about atheism as an abstract and religion as a tangible thing that can take actions.  Therefore, if Pol Pot rejects God, becomes a Communist, and slaughters people, it’s totally abstract to talk about “atheism” as being involved in his decisions.  But if a guy kills an abortion doctor, then suddenly “religion” is a thing that can take actions.”

Its not a problem at all. Religion has dogma, laws, ritual, rules, etc. and people whose job it is to enforce and reinforce these things.  Atheism does not.  Religion has been, is and will continue to be a reason people commit horrible acts of cruelty and violence because it condones it, offers justification for it and offers rewards for it.  Atheism doesn’t. 

If a guy kills an abortion doctor, the likelihood of him being religious and having found justification and reward within his religion for his act are pretty high.  This is because there’s excuse, justification and reward built in to compel or support him.  Atheism is merely the lack of beliefs in deities.

A despot isn’t doing anything because he’s an atheist.  He (and those like him) do it out of a religious-like devotion to an ideology. 

I totally understand the desperate need to pretend we’re just as bad as mass murderers – you know, cuz we speak out and won’t argue with your strawmen. So horrible! – but, this painful strawman has been burnt to death.

Comment #408: Gypsy Lee  on  11/24  at  10:12 AM

And why do we have moral codes?  Even basic obvious ones, like the idea that it is bad to kill each other?  Why is that bad?  Why are we programmed to try to survive as a species?  What logical purpose is served by our survival?

The “purpose” of our survival is an end in itself. We’re here because our ancestors were better at surviving, and we want to survive because creatures who want to survive will usually be better at it. What if there were a “logical purpose” served by our survival? What would that purpose have looked like? How would it have come to be? What would be the “purpose” of that purpose? At what point would anything be an end in itself?

I wish we had a satisfying answer to “Why is there something instead of nothing?” The reality is that we might just not have brains that can grasp the answer to a question like that, or brains that can recognize that it’s a nonsensical question to begin with.

We clearly aren’t purely rational beings.  Because we’ve done tons of things that aren’t rational, and will likely continue to do so for the rest of our existence as a species.

But the admittedly non-scientific question that begs is… WHY aren’t we 100% rational beings?

Because natural selection didn’t favor beings who were 100% rational, whether or not perfect rationality could have evolved in the first place through gradual adaptive mutations. Maybe perfectly rational beings would have overthought themselves out of existence.

The problem is that if you conflate the two senses of ‘rational’, you’ll start assuming that cold technocratic rationality is automatically reasonable/appropriate, with emotions/empathy standing in need of justification.

Good point. We probably need a word like “arational” for emotions to make that distinction.

Comment #409: junk science  on  11/24  at  11:52 AM

“How can non-scientific questions even exist, if everything is science?”

Sorry I missed this, but damn that’s nonsensical. Who said “everything is science”? Science is a method of getting the answers to factual questions about the real world. “Is the sky blue?” “What causes gravity?” “If I throw this rock at someone’s head, will they probably hit me back?” “Was the universe created by an intelligent, conscious being who actively cares about its inhabitants?”

That science can’t give you a definitive answer to “What should I eat for lunch today?” or “Should I build my nest in this tree or the next one?” doesn’t mean those aren’t valid, meaningful questions. They’re just not scientific.

Comment #410: junk science  on  11/24  at  12:10 PM

Why are we programmed to try to survive as a species?  What logical purpose is served by our survival?

Maybe you’ve heard of this thing, evolution? Where individuals that survive are able to reproduce and those that don’t, aren’t?

How long do you think we’d survive if, as a species, we didn’t want to? How many such species do you think there must therefore be, now, after one billion years of iterative natural selection?

What “logical purpose”? I think you put way too much stock in logic and its ability to discern truth. Indeed, like most people, I think you assume that logic is the sole path to and from truth. But logic is just meant to be a way to mechanically derive true statements from premises that are not proven, but merely assumed to be true. AND, OR, IF/THEN. The reason that we can program computers to use logic is because logic can be done without reference to what it’s statements actually mean.

But that has a great deal of limitations. One is that the scientific method, logically speaking, is fallacious. Generalizing from the specific (one or several experiments) to the general (the entire universe) is logically fallacious. Another is that logic itself is incomplete; there are statements you can derive according to logical principles, from obviously true premises, that are nonetheless completely false.

Comment #411: Chet  on  11/24  at  12:27 PM

I’m kind of surprised to see how this comment thread has developed on a site like Pandagon.

Anyway, there’s still a question I’ve had from reading way back at the start of the thread that I’m curious about. Opopomax has said several times that atheists shouldn’t be surprised when they tell people their religion is stupid or they’re idiots for believing it. Religious people have to be treated like people, not numbers to be converted.

Okay, I agree. Personally, I don’t care how many atheists there are because I don’t believe all religious people are evil or even delusional, as long as they are decent people. But what IS the appropriate way to engage on issues of religion and atheism? Is merely bringing up the subject of atheism or attempting to enter a discourse about religion necessarily offensive? Should atheists always just shut up and be quiet, even though religious people (not all, since there are minor religions which are also denigrated, but this scenario is less likely due to the popularity of Christianity in America) are free to talk about their religious beliefs and criticize atheists?

It seems to me that Opopomax and Mnemosyne find the very discussion of religion in a non-believing sense to be offensive. Why is that? Correct me if I’m wrong, of course. I may be misunderstanding your posts, since there are a lot here to read. I ask you, do you believe there is ever an appropriate time or place to have that sort of dialogue? Isn’t it a good thing to politely give people other views to think about? When I talk about my own atheism, I do not criticize religion but instead give my own personal opinion about atheism and why it works for me. Should I not even do that, for fear of offending someone? It seems like you both have very specific ideas of what atheists are like or how we go about talking to religious people. But in a polite, academic discussion of religion or a personal account of my own atheism, is that being offensive just by nature of what it is?

What do you think atheists should do? How do you think we should engage in discussions about religion (or should we not at all?) Why do you have the particular view of atheists that you do? Is talking about religion from a non-believer’s perspective at all, in any context, offensive? Is it right for religious people to be able to criticize atheists while atheists should not criticize religion because they are “being rude?” These are my main questions, because they will help me understand your positions a little better, I think.

Also, a parallel cannot be drawn between making critical analyses of religion and being a militant radical. It just can’t. It’s closer to the actions of MLK or Gandhi, to be precise.

And yes, I know jerk atheists. I belong to my local Freethought Society and most of the members appear to be extremely intelligent and thoughtful people. I became good friends with a guy from my college who is a liberal feminist as well as an atheist. And I know an atheist who is self-centered and dismissive of feminism. Stereotypes are bad. I know good religious people, and I know asshole fundamentalists. I’m not trying to convert anyone. I like good discussions, so I don’t mind discussing religion, but I don’t automatically jump into Atheist Mode as soon as I find out someone is religious.

Comment #412: ArtOfMe  on  11/24  at  01:34 PM

DTG:

Mostly we are rational creatures.  Rationality means weighing the evidence and accepting the conclusion.  We err because we don’t have, and can’t have (generally), all of the information.  Some people wilfully shut themselves off from information so the things they use to come to conclusions are limited.  They may be being rational in the strict sense of the word, but they are still wrong.  That is why rational does not necessarily mean correct. 

If you don’t read both the Bible and Origin of Species your rational faculity is denied the data required to enter the argument about Creationism.  Simplistic, but…

The chances of a rational conclusion being the correct conclusion are proportional to the completeness of the data set.  But there is no guarantee.

The rational faculty might lead two people to the same conclusion regarding reality but one may judge that as a good thing and the other may judge it as a bad thing.  A rational person would have to admit that minorities are an increasingly important part of the electorate.  Some chose to embrace the fact and some people chose to hide from what they know to be the truth.

Comment #413: Magis  on  11/24  at  02:12 PM

These great tastes fail to go together today on Pharyngula where PZ presents a snippet of anti-woman “comedy” and, in the same post, tells women to lighten up about it and remember it’s supposed to be funny.

PZ is usually much better than this, but today’s post left me wanting to stop reading his blog.

Comment #414: Mandolin  on  11/24  at  05:40 PM

ArtOfMe: “It seems to me that Opopomax and Mnemosyne find the very discussion of religion in a non-believing sense to be offensive.”

Actually it seems they think it’s okay to say you’re an atheist if you include “but I could be wrong” in there every time.

I’d like to know whether it’s the actual certainty in belief, or just saying you’re certain, that’s the problem.  There are a whole shitload of religious and spiritual people who say *they’re* certain there’s a God or Supreme Being or some kind of spiritual thingy, because they’ve felt it or seen it.

Comment #415: oldfeminist  on  11/24  at  07:07 PM

Actually it seems they think it’s okay to say you’re an atheist if you include “but I could be wrong” in there every time.

I thought it was more that you should use normal, default levels of conversational politeness in dealing with religious subjects, because the person you’re dealing with might be kind of sensitive.  I don’t know how Don’t Be A Dick keeps getting read as Must Genuflect Before Jesus, but I guess people are spoilin’ for a fight on this thread.

Comment #416: FlipYrWhig  on  11/24  at  10:39 PM

If I said that I was capable of being empathetic, but only to those of the same race and gender as myself, would you recognize that as empathy?

No. Because, like the first rule of SF, if you’re not internally consistent, your philosophy isn’t worth a damn. Philosophy is about working out rules for existence. If your rules don’t work across the board, they are not useful, because they only apply to you.

Comment #417: banisteriopsis  on  11/24  at  11:22 PM

Actually it seems they think it’s okay to say you’re an atheist if you include “but I could be wrong” in there every time.

I thought it was more that you should use normal, default levels of conversational politeness in dealing with religious subjects, because the person you’re dealing with might be kind of sensitive.  I don’t know how Don’t Be A Dick keeps getting read as Must Genuflect Before Jesus, but I guess people are spoilin’ for a fight on this thread.
Comment #416: FlipYrWhig on 11/24 at 10:39 PM

But then I read all this stuff about “smugness” “arrogance” “you just think you’re right.” As if there’s something wrong with thinking you’re right and saying so, and arguing on the basis that you’re right, and not being all “you could be right” is arrogant rather than just sticking to one’s beliefs.  Would an Xtianist be required in polite society to say, “yes, you could be right that Satan is really a better master than Jesus, I just have a different opinion”?

That’s why I’m asking if certainty is the rudeness, or expressing certainty is the rudeness, or is it something else. 

You’re not really helping here, because you have only answered with essentially “just don’t be a dick, stop acting like we’re sticking your head in the baptismal font until you give in.” I’m certainly not claiming I’m forced to worship Jebux (typo, but I like it) to be in polite society. 

I’m claiming that religious people can be as positive as they want, but I can’t.

If it’s the certainty, then why is it not a problem for people to be positively certain about a God or Supreme Being or Cosmic Muffin in polite company?

Comment #418: oldfeminist  on  11/25  at  12:10 AM

I’m claiming that religious people can be as positive as they want, but I can’t.

True, to a degree.  I don’t know that many religious people who are as effusive about it in public as they probably are in their consciences, so something restrains even joyously religious people from expressing that sentiment throughout the day.

If it’s the certainty, then why is it not a problem for people to be positively certain about a God or Supreme Being or Cosmic Muffin in polite company?

I dunno, probably for the same reason I don’t walk up to some random guy wearing a Redskins shirt and tell him that his favorite team sucks and has a racist mascot.  Even though both are true.

I’m an atheist and I don’t like Christmas and it grates on me every year to see people make a big deal out of it.  I have the only house in the neighborhood with no lights.  I don’t know what my neighbors think.  If one of them asked why I didn’t put up lights, I would explain myself and hold my ground.  He’d be being rude, but I would keep the conversation going as long as I could stand it.  If I asked my neighbor why he _did_ put up lights, considering that it’s an immediate waste of money in the service of perpetuating a holiday whose premise is lying to children and buying unnecessary garbage, I would be asking for trouble.  Why can’t I speak my mind as freely as he can?  Because liberalism involves high levels of toleration of other people’s nonsense, tolerance that isn’t necessarily reciprocated. 

You’re right, it’s not a level playing field, and I am in fact suggesting that atheist grievances should be handled differently from the grievances of black, gay, Latino, disabled, and/or fat people, mostly because I think as a class atheists don’t suffer discrimination and casual indignities to the same degree as _very many_ other classes of people actually do.  I don’t know where the line is for determining which group has suffered enough to leap to the next level of justified in-your-face-ness, and that probably seems arbitrary to you, and possibly even offensive (because it’s essentially validating the Oppression Olympics concept of sifting through who has suffered what and to what degree). 

But I think I’m going to stay on the “civility” model, even though it could read as complicity or deference, rather than adopt the “righteous confrontation” model for atheists (like myself), for the only partially-coherently-articulated reasons herein.

Comment #419: FlipYrWhig  on  11/25  at  01:49 AM

Thanks, FlipYrWhig.  I don’t agree, but I appreciate the explanation.

Comment #420: oldfeminist  on  11/25  at  02:32 AM

I don’t know how Don’t Be A Dick keeps getting read as Must Genuflect Before Jesus, but I guess people are spoilin’ for a fight on this thread.

Because, apparently, “being a dick” includes “not genuflecting before Jesus.”

Hrm. Feels like told you that several times, now. Nobody’s advocating that atheists be rude; the problem is far too many people view any expression of atheism as inherently rude. That it’s offensive to religious sensibilities simply to be told that some people exist who don’t believe in God. Like all those people who complained about the atheist bus ads.

But I think I’m going to stay on the “civility” model, even though it could read as complicity or deference, rather than adopt the “righteous confrontation” model for atheists (like myself), for the only partially-coherently-articulated reasons herein.

That’s really what you think we’re talking about? Bands of atheists, roaming the streets challenging the religious for proof of their God? What an imagination you must have! Where do you people get this stuff? What we’re talking about are ads on buses that say “atheists exist, and we’re good people too.” For some reason, the faithful and their defenders find such a statement to be the utter height of incivility, to the point where suits have been filed and busses have been forced to remove such ads.

Comment #421: Chet  on  11/25  at  02:45 AM

FlipYrWhig, #419:

I thought it was more that you should use normal, default levels of conversational politeness in dealing with religious subjects, because the person you’re dealing with might be kind of sensitive.

Why is it that the default level of conversational politeness is to assume that the other party is religious?

Why is it that the other party, the religious party (83.1% [pdf] chance of being religious, in the US, as of 2007), is so sensitive that they cannot hear a casual comment about, say, the political aspects of a religious symbol of theirs without becoming upset?  Not a “Your team sucks and you suck for liking it” statement, as pleasing as that straw must be.  Just a comment on a thing.

I suppose it never occurred to me that religion informs so much of a person’s life that one not of their religion cannot make any kind of comment on any aspect of it, lest offense be given.

(I am getting snarky.  It’s been known.)

I can see the argument for being calm in an argument—I’ve been rewriting a(n unrelated) letter for a week now to get all the swear words out for this very reason—but I do not agree with your definition of conversational politeness defaults.  That definition seems to involve, to require, atheistic folk (minority folk, hi there) not talking about their own beliefs.  Because we can’t be offending the overwhelming(ly sonsiteev) majority, after all.

I am not arguing for the etiquette to be adjusted so that shouting “Your team sucks and you suck for liking it!” becomes okay by Ms. Manners.  I’m more arguing that hey guess what: you’re in the majority.  If you go by the stats on religious believers versus not (so including pagans, theistic Buddhists, &c;), you’re in the vast, vast majority.  So pardon me if I’m not too terribly saddened if a person in the majority is offended by one in the minority reacting to the world in a fashion that the privileged person finds upsetting.

Not every instance of “As an atheist, I view it thusly” is a personal attack on a religious person’s belief structure.

--

What is peculing me right very now is I cannot recall ever seeing any discussion like this happening between parties of two differing religious belief systems.  I’m willing to believe (har) that it’s confirmation bias on my part, but I’m curious now.

Comment #422: XtinaS  on  11/25  at  03:47 AM

From way back in #32

Just as I think it’s not a great idea for atheists to offer up reductionist analyses of religions they don’t belong to

This would effectively render atheists unable to criticize any religion.

Comment #423: atheist  on  11/25  at  07:35 AM

FlipYrWhig @ 419 -

I think we need to separate being rude from giving offense here. The complaint from many of the people on this thread as I see it (and mine as well) is that atheists often seem to give offense without having been rude. If you take ha’s example that set this whole ball rolling, and substitute sports teams or music preferences for a religious icon, it becomes immediately evident that the remark, while flippant, was not by the common standards of everyday politeness “rude”, and that the reaction was overblown.

It’s the double standard that rankles. Or I should say triple standard - one for common or garden variety everyday politeness, one for liberal/atheist speech (100% of which is by definition rude and cause for automatic and hysterical pearl clutching) and one for conservative speech (100% of which is never racist sexist bigoted or hateful, even in the presence of guns).

It’s something that is deeper than just normal rules of politeness and cuts across more areas of life than just religion vs. atheism. Gay people I’m sure sometimes feel that simply existing is seen as bad manners. And that is not OK, and we’re right to rebel against it. If the price is pissing off some people who are already pissed off simply because we’re alive, well then, I don’t see that it’s much of a price.

Comment #424: TheLady  on  11/25  at  08:35 AM

Stop trying to divide those who oppose political Islam. We should be standing up for all western values and that includes sexual liberty and freedom of expression - things that some feminists oppose. Feminists of your ilk are NOT the great defenders of progress you seem to believe. In some ways radical feminism is as oppressive as radical Islam.

Comment #425: Keypointist  on  11/25  at  10:33 AM

Hoo boy. Yes, believing women are people and upholding sexual empowerment for women is just like forcing women to conceal their bodies and teaching that men own them.

...Wait, feminists suppose sexual liberty and freedom of expression? Am I misunderstanding the definition of “feminist?”

Comment #426: ArtOfMe  on  11/25  at  11:49 AM

No, ArtOfMe, you’re just over-estimating keypointist’s thought process.

Comment #427: atheist  on  11/25  at  12:12 PM

Chet:  Nobody’s advocating that atheists be rude; the problem is far too many people view any expression of atheism as inherently rude.

TheLady:  The complaint from many of the people on this thread as I see it (and mine as well) is that atheists often seem to give offense without having been rude.

XtinaS:  Not every instance of “As an atheist, I view it thusly” is a personal attack on a religious person’s belief structure.

I don’t know who these people are, the ones who view being in the presence of an atheist a shocking personal affront.

IMHO a religious person would be Being A Dick to feel offended at the presence or expression of atheist views if those views were voiced in terms of “this is what I believe.” Which is what most people do, including myself, when the occasion arises, and it doesn’t usually arise.  Clearly “as an atheist, I view it thusly” should offend no one, because that’s what civil society is like, we all have a range of beliefs and ought to be able to express them freely.  Chet’s bus ad example seems pretty egregious to me, because it’s a neutral sentiment and exactly the kind of thing that a nation based on classical liberalism should be capable of tolerating.

But my experience has not been that atheists are monitored, judged, and seen as rude for existing.  In this thread there’s a lot of rhetoric about how as atheists we should get to speak out and refuse to be silenced and remind the world that we exist.  I don’t think the world of religious believers is that offended by our existence.  I don’t think they care much at all.  I haven’t had very many confrontational or even non-confrontational exchanges with people about religion in my life.

There _are_ a large number of people who take “this is what I like/believe” and feel it as “what _you_ like/believe is stupid,” but that’s not limited to religious views, as we see on every music thread.  And that’s what was happening in ha’s example about the Virgin of Guadalupe:  it was a claim that religion was oppressive and deceptive, expressed at someone who didn’t appreciate that judgment.  It wasn’t a neutral claim or a personal statement; it had the ring of “everyone knows that it’s nonsense.”

Similarly, I felt bad when I was telling a friend about what a nightmare my wife’s job was, and that her coworkers were a bunch of idiots, and none of them had even gone to college--and I didn’t know that my friend hadn’t gone to college, so he called me on that.  I don’t want make religious people feel that way, so I try to watch myself and be respectful.* I don’t want atheists to feel that way either, so I’d advocate the same treatment to a forum of religious people wondering what was the best way to talk to an atheist, but I can’t think of a social situation in which I’ve been made to feel diminished for being an atheist, so I’m not worrying about that side right now.

* In fact, my personal rule for social interaction is to presume that people are gay and vegetarian until they indicate definitively otherwise.  I guess I haven’t presumed anything about default religiosity.

Comment #428: FlipYrWhig  on  11/25  at  03:02 PM

“It’s far from a coincidence that fundamentalism rose up after women worldwide started to taste freedom of the likes we have not traditionally had and that fundamentalists are preoccupied with using the fear of female sexuality as a scare tactic to give them cover to oppress women. “

Seems like you are asserting something that would be hard to prove and it better falls into the truthiness category than an obvious fact.  Fundamentalism has been around for a long time - it seems to have been the dominant belief system for most of western history.  Do you have any actual evidence that the main reason particular societies are becoming more fundamentalist is in reaction to women getting more power?  I can see someone with an anti-imperialist bent seeing the rise as a reaction to western aggression.  Others would see it as a reaction to whatever their particular subject of interest is.

Comment #429: hminsf  on  11/25  at  07:50 PM

Quick, look over there, there’s five middle aged fat white guys talking amongst themselves! ZOMG! Pastry Archy! First off, I’ve also noticed that Libertarians sneak in their politics inappropriately in the Atheist/Skeptic ‘Community. Shermer and Penn Gillette do it all the time and try to twist the tools of Skepticism to fit their political leanings. That needs to be addressed. But Atheists are of all political stripes, quite a few being apolitical, with the only commonality being a lack of belief in a deity or deities. This ‘demand’ of yours that it be about Feminism (et al) is really out of place, as much as it is for the Free Marketeer crowd or any other cause. A lot of Atheist are looking for people to relate to in an environment where they feel they can express their views without suffering some kind of fall out as would be the case in their own communities. The effort to make them feel like they’re not alone should be paramount, not using Atheist events to promote your pet causes. Before you march me off to the re-education camp, let me be clear that my gripe is with *anyone* who thinks this issue is about their politics. Ok, I’ll go quietly now.

Comment #430: cbeach  on  11/25  at  08:03 PM

FlipyrWhig, that’s a great comment, and I sign by it wholeheartedly.  I do the same thing.  I say that I’m atheist when the question comes up, and I answer a few more questions, and that’s largely the end of it, in what is a profoundly religious workplace.  I believe in the presence of atheism, and not the assertion of atheism, and I have little tolerance for people who set themselves up as public victims because I see the racial version of that already wrt PC.

Comment #431: shah8  on  11/25  at  09:01 PM

There’s one aspect of DTG’s thought experiment about “why do/should we care about people way in the future” that I haven’t seen mentioned yet:  Humans’ ability of foresight.  Combined with empathy, it makes sense that I’d care if actions I take now will improve the lives of others in the future, because I “know” that those actions will do just that.  Therefore, my “knowledge” of a time that will actually occur after I’m dead has changed.  It’s still true that, per DTG’s friend, I’ll never know what actually happens, but humans can’t just turn off foresight (and the conversation presumes a lack of ignorance about the world that would prevent it from occuring), so I’ll still know what’s likely to happen, and what I may be able to do to influence that outcome.

Note that this desire to influence the future because we can imagine it is morally neutral.  I may wish the future to be free of disasterous climate or 1000 year Reich; both derive from the same human abilities.

Since I’m already here, I’ll chime in on the other hot topic:  Given no other information, someone saying “I’ll pray for you”, even after knowing you’re an atheist, is barely different from “I’ll keep you in my thoughts”.  The only things you know from the scenario are:  1) The person is thinking about you and 2) The person has some form of religion in their life (but even that could be very tenuous).  Sure, if you know the person has you on their Need To Convert list, “I’ll pray for you” has a very different connotation, but a defensive reaction should be the result of known antagonism towards your non-belief on the part of the other party.  Assuming that antagonism just seems like, well, a dick move.  There was an awful lot of conflation with joining a movement to improve atheism’s stature with mistaking an expression of sympathy worded in a religious fashion as a teachable moment.

I guess I also just don’t see it as inconsiderate (for the record, I’m one of those Reformed Jews who is agnostic).  If you don’t think the prayer will do anything for you (and frankly, I don’t think most religious people think that, either), then it doesn’t matter.  At that point, it shouldn’t matter to you that someone else is doing something that you think is silly, unless you think it’s OK to force people to stop doing things by themselves that have no impact on anyone else, and I’m positive that’s not the interest of anyone involved in this argument.  I’m really trying to understand the arguments from Gypsy Lee et al:  Does “I’ll pray for you” actually mean “Sometime in the future, I’m going to do something religious, something you would never do, and there’s nothing you can do about it!

Chet, I don’t know if you’ve actually read Kuhn, but if you did you should notice that he uses the history of science itself to establish that a linear theory of the acquisition of scientific knowledge isn’t supported by that history (eg, corpuscular theory of light, involving “ether").  It’s not just “philosophy” (at least not in the genrically understood sense, which seems to be how Chet understands it as well), it uses real-world examples to build that theory.

Re Nixonland and backlash:  This being a both/and blog...well, you know the rest.  Standing up for the rights of the oppressed will always be provacative in and of itself, so a backlash will arise regardless, but I agree with Mnemosyne that coming across as obnoxious hurts your movement way more than it helps.  There seems to be this confusion that respect for all human dignity, the oppressed and the opressors, is a weakness, and regarding opressors as inhuman, and therefore unworthy of empathy, as a strength.  That attitude is what lead to the terrors in France and Russia which, if I recall correctly (and it’s way too late, with way too few possible readers this far down the thred for me to look it up), were internecine struggles:  The monarchies had already fled.  So the idea that “violence sometimes works” doesn’t seem to apply to those two revolutions, as the original commenter had supposed.

Comment #432: NY Expat  on  11/26  at  05:14 AM

This being a both/and blog...well, you know the rest.  Standing up for the rights of the oppressed will always be provacative in and of itself, so a backlash will arise regardless, but I agree with Mnemosyne that coming across as obnoxious hurts your movement way more than it helps.  There seems to be this confusion that respect for all human dignity, the oppressed and the opressors, is a weakness, and regarding opressors as inhuman, and therefore unworthy of empathy, as a strength.  That attitude is what lead to the terrors in France and Russia which, if I recall correctly (and it’s way too late, with way too few possible readers this far down the thred for me to look it up), were internecine struggles:  The monarchies had already fled.  So the idea that “violence sometimes works” doesn’t seem to apply to those two revolutions, as the original commenter had supposed.
Comment #432: NY Expat on 11/26 at 05:14 AM

I am not seeing any atheists here looking to use violence against believers.  I as an atheist do not consider the believers (oppressors en masse just as men are oppressors en masse) as inhuman or unworthy of empathy.  They do not, however, deserve coddling.  That would not be respect.

Look, I am perfectly able to discuss religion without scorn.  I choose whether I do based on the situation, the participants, and how I feel at that moment.  As do believers.

To think that those who are saying here “we have the right to say religion/belief is stupid” are running around screaming this at anyone who looks like they go to church is beyond ridiculous.

It’s as if atheists are supposed to never be rude or mock anyone.  In public, in private.  When speaking to a professor and students *on-topic*, or when writing a book.  Never.  Because some people won’t like it, and will reject it.

There are others who write more nicely that may convince them.  There’s no point in choosing exactly one tone and sticking with it.  Different tones meet different requirements.

As I said way up there a couple of days ago, when an atheist is less than pleasant to a believer, it often encourages *other atheists* and would-be atheists who are listening to not be so afraid of expressing their opinions.  When there’s not so much pressure against it, it will be easier to just say “I’m an atheist” without having the walls fall down.  The vehemence with which society responds is a big reason why an atheist statement sometimes comes out so vehemently.

When you tell someone you’re an atheist, you hear, “no, you’re not!  you’re a nice person, you’re just having a bad time, who hurt you so badly you had to reject God, because God still loves you.” Sometimes you have to be pretty persistent for people to actually believe you.  You have to explain why, and then you’re yelled at for explaining why.  It’s lose-lose for us.

If I really do think that belief in the supernatural is ridiculous, I should be able to say so some fucking where, right?  Not just say it to myself or to other known atheists?

Comment #433: oldfeminist  on  11/26  at  03:35 PM

Chet, I don’t know if you’ve actually read Kuhn, but if you did you should notice that he uses the history of science itself to establish that a linear theory of the acquisition of scientific knowledge isn’t supported by that history.

Who ever said that science was a process of linear acquisition of knowledge? Who ever said that science doesn’t chase dead ends and wrong theories? And, sure, luminiferous ether seems hokey now, in the light of special relativity - though I doubt too many people here could explain exactly how we know there’s no luminiferous ether after all. And it’s worth pointing out that luminiferous ether theory was a more accurate description of the propagation of light than the corpuscular models that it replaced.

It seems like you could cherry-pick examples of scientific progress or non-progress to support whatever philosophical argument you like. Or does Kuhn apply any statistical methodology to his analysis?

Chet’s bus ad example seems pretty egregious to me, because it’s a neutral sentiment and exactly the kind of thing that a nation based on classical liberalism should be capable of tolerating.

Of course it’s egregious, and more importantly, it’s completely typical of how believers respond to the mere existence of atheism. These buses were in goddamn England, after all! If even our most liberal cultures can’t inculcate true pluralism in the believer community, is it really the fault of atheists? Is our speech really the one that needs to be restrained, measured, and most importantly, conducted at so low a volume as to be ignored? Seems like we tried it that way for, oh, several thousand years. Can we please give in-your-face, not-going-anywhere unabashed atheism a try, now?

Comment #434: Chet  on  11/26  at  03:55 PM

This is what I just don’t get from people like oldfeminist

No-one deserves coddling, and the use of the sort of language like “respect” “supposed to never be rude or mock anyone” and slippery slope arguments is more suggestive of a concern for heirarchy than illustrating a genuiine problem.  It also masks the extraordinary amount of individual autonomy (and all the privilege that entails--like getting a genuine liberal arts education rife with surveys of religion and philosophy etc etc) that strong atheism tends to require for existence.  Without an understanding of this, you have a clear misapprehension of why most people believe in something while you don’t--and miss the degree of class warfare that is embedded in the rhetorical war between some atheists and believers.  Celsus was Richard Dawkins a helluva long time before Richard Dawkins was born, and he already said all that needed to be said about the crappyness of Christianity--with a huge focus on the class status on Christians and how Christianity made people, um, anti-social.  At the end of the day, Celsus, Richard Dawkins, oldfeminist, FlipYrWhig and I are all cosmopolitan people who can go out and read some crazy Spinoza when the odd fancy takes us, and maybe have a one-in-three chance of understanding every third sentence because of our good educations.  We have the psychological time, free from social strictures, to think about God and its absence.  We are allowed to be “more than human”, given the mix of talent and resources--from athletes to philosophers.  Christianity has always had an anti-metropole angle, and its adherents have always been enthusiastic class war participants, and yes, atheists are always top of the list in the eat the rich category.  Always has been, and always will be.

Backbiting with christianists is always going to be a fundamental waste of your time.  Do you really understand?  TAR!...BABY!  THEY WANT YOU TO LOOK DOWN ON THEM!  And in a way, yes, we should, because the loudmouths always has been the losers.  The rest?  It’s a message to those of us who are more class conscious, history and philosophy conscious, that people don’t *ever* really get the space to question, to craft a theory of the world that helps them make it personally.  That people have to take what they are *given*.  That our charge is simply to be there, to offer an atheist viewpoint with grace *and* with force.

And mebbe to not lump all religions with the monotheism that we’re all too familiar with.  There are philosophical traditions that are functionally religions like various sects of budhism, taoism, and stoicism.  There are shake ‘n bake grab-bag paganism that has always been wildly diverse within the general idea of the religion.  At least don’t say that Ooooooh!  I read greek and norse myths and realized that people sincerely believed they existed!  People have never been stupid, and people are no wiser today than they have been in the past.  Ancient people went pretty quick into God as Metaphor whenever facts hit them in the head as well, just like the Jewish approach to the Torah, even waaaaaaay back when.

Comment #435: shah8  on  11/26  at  04:34 PM

“For instance, if problems from global warming were something that would pose an imminent danger to the existence of enormous swaths of humans who are alive TODAY,”

See, the thing is, it *is*.  The sea level will rise by probably 1-2 meters by 2100—lots of people alive today will still be alive then.  It will cause the deaths of millions by flooding most of the coastal cities in the world.

And that’s just the most obvious one.  The shifts in climate are already causing drops in farm production, which *will* lead to famines.  Ocean acidification will probably shut down major fisheries within the next century, doing the same thing.

So forget about his weird philosophy and hammer him with the facts.

Comment #436: neroden  on  11/27  at  07:08 AM

Re 372:
“You’re not allowed to pretend that deists have never existed.”

sacundum, you’re not allowed to pretend that Deists are relevant to a question of theism.  Try harder.

(Chet):
The simple fact is that the knowledge generated by science is largely reliable, and increases in reliability over time, while the “knowledge” generated by faith, revelation, etc. is all but indistinguishable in quality from the knowledge generated by imagination.

(Sacundum):
No, this is not a fact, it’s a value judgement.  I largely share your value judgement here, mind you (though I don’t agree with the “increase in reliability” claim; the scientific community simply likes the new stuff better, there’s really not much more to it), but neither you nor I can produce an argument that logically compels others to share it. “

You’re just wrong.  The entire schema of science is designed to create increasingly reliable theories.  Are you alleging that quantum mechanics isn’t “more reliable” than Newtonian mechanics?  (Hint: it is more reliable.)

And the way we convince people in science is not by producing a logical argument, but by producing empirical evidence.  An entirely different thing.  And it is not a value judgment that the value of knowledge generated by scientific methods is better than that generated by other methods—it’s testable empirically, and it has been tested, and it is better, in the sense of “more accurate”.  Which is rather the *point*.

Comment #437: neroden  on  11/27  at  07:31 AM

Dawkins is a huge supporter of evolutionary psychology, and said on Pharyngula that women were innately more monogamous than men.

Also, he’s kind of a creep, on a personal level, which I found out when debating him: because he didn’t like my description of Helena Cronin’s “Pity Poor Men” editorial (to which I included a link for anybody to see for themselves), he suggested I was guilty of libel. Now even knowing how extreme British anti-libel laws are, it was completely absurd and dickish.

And he also used Pharyngula to share a piece of second-hand gossip about Stephen Jay Gould (someone Dawkins knows claimed that Gould once snubbed her) which seems to be part of the evolutionary psychology program of attacking Stephan Jay Gould by any means necessary - although the usual approach is to say his scientific opinions on evolutionary psychology should be discounted because he was a leftist.

And he seems to get along just fine with Hitchens.

Sorry, I’m not impressed by Dawkins.

Comment #438: Nancy  on  11/27  at  05:20 PM
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