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Religions without gods?
January 18, 2012 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Atheism 2.0: Alain de Botton reviews some of the often-overlooked values that religion can have for secular society.

[First post: Am I doing this right?]
posted by Misunderestimated (187 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
de Botton is going over ideas that others have explored. In the book Darwin's Cathederal David Sloan Wilson looks at how religion is, to a considerable degree, there because it is socially useful rather than because it is true.

All the angry atheists who attack religion don't really seem to realise that for many people religion provides social value rather than truth and they'd rather not be reminded about the possible or probable incorrectness of what they believe. (Atheist here BTW).

de Botton is making a good point.
posted by sien at 12:47 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can have social and ethical constructs w/o the untrue, painful, retarding baggage of religion: see Secular Humanism (non wiki link here)
posted by lalochezia at 12:53 PM on January 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


angry atheists

Oh, for Christ's sake. Stop hitting yourself already.
posted by klanawa at 12:59 PM on January 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


Terry Eagleton had a pretty negative review of de Botton's book, which is worth reading, if only to decide how you disagree with it.
posted by dfan at 1:00 PM on January 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd buy pretty much anything this guy tried to sell me. Could listen all day.
posted by Askr at 1:01 PM on January 18, 2012


Alain de Botton's Twitter feed is reason enough to sign up for Twitter, if you haven't. His posts are consistently thoughtful and well-said.
posted by jbickers at 1:02 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


One wonders whether Botton posts this kind of thing strictly to inspire people like Terry Eagleton to write brilliant retorts to.
posted by anewnadir at 1:09 PM on January 18, 2012


I disagree with Terry Eagleton on a lot of things - but his guardian review of this book was spot on.

Sample quote:
What the book does, in short, is hijack other people's beliefs, empty them of content and redeploy them in the name of moral order, social consensus and aesthetic pleasure. It is an astonishingly impudent enterprise


I am conflicted about his work as a whole: because he interviews well and seems like someone I should like from the blurbs of his books. Contraiwise, his actual books I have found unrelentingly terrible - middlebrow "comfort philosophy" that does its utmost to avoid engaging the brain of the reader. Particularly bad was his book on "the sorrows of work" - an ambitious subject for the heir of a millionaire banking estate at the best of times.

In the end I decided to follow him on twitter and ignore everything else that he does. I suspect he is the perfect example of someone able to form an interesting idea in 140 characters but for whom it all falls down if he goes much beyond that.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:09 PM on January 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


[First post: Am I doing this right?]
posted by Misunderestimated

obligatory "eponysterical"

Looks good to me, but I've been here 11 years and still sometimes get it wrong (sometimes intentionally).

And, back on topic, don't forget the hundreds of millions of people who love their religion because it tells them they are superior to others either for doing things that really have no impact on anything, or through pure non-obligatory "grace". The most important step in my personal road to Non-Belief was realizing I am NOT a special snowflake.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:10 PM on January 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Weird, the previous comment didn't register my link to Eagleton's review of Botton's 'theory'.
posted by anewnadir at 1:10 PM on January 18, 2012


I am an atheist but find the social functions of religion research agenda interesting. Certainly religion does not function solely to dispense facts about the world; it's other functions have probably always been more important.

But when people talk about forging religion-like groups for atheists, i.e. non-theist social collectives that will fulfill some of the roles of religions, I worry. Just as people don't join religions primarily because of (meta)physical truth, people do not become atheists just because they find religious doctrines unconvincing. People, I am convinced, often become atheists because they are immune to or alienated by the non-truth functions of religion, too. People become atheists because they are not joiners, even because they are deficient in communal feeling, relative to the norm.

Now some people are going to think I'm attacking atheists here. I'm a lifelong atheist, and the child of atheists, most of my friends seem to be atheists, etc. I'm not attacking atheists. I'm sure these generalizations don't apply to everyone, but they fit my experience reasonably well.

And so when someone comes along -- this guy, Dennett? -- with some kind of pro-group religion-substitute for atheists, they're going to have a rough time of it, because any kind of warm group relation is going to be a tough sell for atheists. As I wrote elsewhere:
(Part of the reason atheism looks the way it does now, and is so lacking in warm fuzzies like "Love and Completeness are Your Spiritual Right," is because it is a refuge for people who think warm fuzzies are bullshit.)
posted by grobstein at 1:12 PM on January 18, 2012 [20 favorites]


@lalochezia

thanks for mentioning that. i won't go as far as decani did but it is sure unsettling to see this need increasing and know what will probably fill it


also @jbickers i don't think you need to sign up for twitter to read it
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:14 PM on January 18, 2012


Thanks for not raking me over the coals on my first try.

I realized some of the ideas put forth aren't exactly new, but the thing that struck me in particular was the point that "We have secularized badly" -- something I've often felt was true and have never, ever heard from the Dawkins-Hitchens fundamentalist atheism movement.
posted by Misunderestimated at 1:16 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


tocaty theres always gangs

or rock music

or bronyism
posted by beefetish at 1:18 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that most "angry atheists" realize that religion provides a social function in a world that is becoming increasingly fractured. But to them, such an argument is rather against religion than for it. If all it does is provide a social outlet, then it could be replaced with a Sunday Morning kickball league.

People become atheists because they are not joiners, even because they are deficient in communal feeling, relative to the norm.

This makes a rather small umbrella. I enjoyed going to church every Sunday, and youth group every Wednesday, when I could ignore what my heart was telling me about the philosophy contained within.

Some theists are joiners. Some aren't. Some atheists are joiners. Some aren't.
posted by muddgirl at 1:24 PM on January 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


yeah i said it was unsettling
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:24 PM on January 18, 2012


I attend local services about 40-44 times a year (in a good year). I enjoy coming together with thousands of like-minded individuals to celebrate our shared faith. I usually sit next to people I don't know but often get to know a bit during the 2 hour service. The congregation makes a great effort to give back to the community throughout the year. Feeding the homeless, giving coats to poor children, etc. The leaders (admittedly all male) serve as role models for many of the youth who attend.

Yes, I'm a dedicated pro sports fan. The Portland Trailblazers are my gods.

Religion is just another form of entertainment. Storytelling is entertainment. That's how we learn the culture's morals.
posted by perhapses at 1:25 PM on January 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


You can have social and ethical constructs w/o the untrue, painful, retarding baggage of religion: see Secular Humanism

I've seen Humanism up close. I worked in the offices of the Washington Ethical Society and if you think Humanism doesn't have painful, retarding baggage...hoo boy.
posted by mikoroshi at 1:36 PM on January 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


The suggestion that sports teams are sufficient -- even half-sufficient -- substitutes for religion-as-cultural-foundation seems like the best endorsement of de Botton's argument.

If we're looking for common cultural inspiration to a bunch of overpaid mutants performing impossibly trivial feats of athleticism, we are well and truly fucked as a civilization.
posted by Misunderestimated at 1:39 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we're looking for common cultural inspiration to a bunch of overpaid mutants performing impossibly trivial feats of athleticism, we are well and truly fucked as a civilization.

Agreed. But not half as fucked as actually believing in an afterlife and/or apocalypse.
posted by perhapses at 1:43 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]



I've seen Humanism up close. I worked in the offices of the Washington Ethical Society and if you think Humanism doesn't have painful, retarding baggage...hoo boy.


Look. Everyone has baggage.

Institutionally, I'll take the carry-on of secular humanism over the corpse-strewn, science-and-reality-denying, racism-enabling, power-cosseting, child-abuser-protecting, sexism-justifying, status-quo-promulgating gross metric fuckton of most organized religions any day.
posted by lalochezia at 1:44 PM on January 18, 2012 [33 favorites]


I've seen Humanism up close. I worked in the offices of the Washington Ethical Society and if you think Humanism doesn't have painful, retarding baggage...hoo boy.

I think I knew someone who belonged to that group (or whatever the verb is). That or a really similar group in the same area.

If that was the group she belonged to, I would recommend they expand their ethical agenda to include "why you shouldn't send office wide emails that featured animated GIFs of smiley-faces throwing dollar bills at smiley-face male strippers." I mean, it was a hell of an ice cream party for the interns, but it wasn't like that.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:47 PM on January 18, 2012


I loved De Botton's first book on Proust, and his second one about philosophers. But, even though I have read his subsequent books, I haven't been too impressed with them. Perhaps he had one big thing to say, said it well in his first book, and is now out of things to say.

Of course, as a dead philosopher, maybe I am just jealous because people READ his books...
posted by wittgenstein at 1:47 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would begin by distinguishing between the word and idea RELIGION and SPIRITUALITY
I suspect all religions exist to confront the prospect of DEATH. Then they go on to other things.
posted by Postroad at 1:49 PM on January 18, 2012


The Eagleton review is highly entertaining, not least for the comment thread underneath, where the atheists queue up to complain that Eagleton is being weally weally howwid.
posted by verstegan at 1:51 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


de Botton's point is that we don't have to limit ourselves to either soulless secularism or theistic fundamentalism: We can contemplate the transcendental without the necessity of an afterlife. We can and should create cultural mechanisms that encourage people to reflect on the things that make people better than themselves, and the things that are bigger than all of us, without resorting to dogma.
posted by Misunderestimated at 1:52 PM on January 18, 2012


I've said before, I recognize the social power of churches, and the lack of such power in other, more worthy (IMHO) institutions. I find it a shame that all this time and energy is spent towards, in essence, a hoax. Of course there are positive side effects to religions, but imagine if the core of the belief system was an actual, tangible goal: "The Church of Cancer Eradication", "The Church of Colonizing Mars", etc., where Joe/Jane Schmoes meet every week to align themselves with the goal of cancer eradication, Mars colonization, etc. They make weekly donations, sing songs about it, the whole deal.
posted by LordSludge at 1:52 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


All the angry atheists who attack religion don't really seem to realise that for many people religion provides social value rather than truth and they'd rather not be reminded about the possible or probable incorrectness of what they believe.

Speaking solely for myself: I am an "angry atheist who attacks religion", and I do realize this. I simply don't think it makes up for the rest of what religion is and does. There are many, many human organizations which provide social value rather than truth; that describes most of them, actually. It's not like religious people whose primary need is social value can't join the Lions or Kiwanis, or volunteer with their favorite charity, or even start an entirely new group. The idea that atheism necessarily implies "living in a spiritual wasteland under the guidance of CNN and Walmart" is laughable, and I challenge the idea that an atheism filled with forms and traditions which have been "stolen from" religion is the only alternative. We have a fantastic opportunity to forge new values for ourselves, each and every one of us -- why should the old ones be the only thing on the anvil?

The real problem for those who insist that religion should have special value is to explain why religious "forms and traditions" are necessary to foster "connection, ritual and transcendence", particularly given the existence of alternatives like Burning Man, psilocybin, joyous headbanging, art slams, rock climbing, all-night dance parties, volunteer organizations, nature trips, sky-watching, and on and on. Human beings experienced feelings of connection and transcendence long before the first shaman created a specific ritual to trigger them, so why are we pretending as if we can't have connection and transcendence without the shaman and his ritual?

It's long past time to admit that we don't need the feather to fly.
posted by vorfeed at 1:55 PM on January 18, 2012 [30 favorites]


I suspect all religions exist to confront the prospect of DEATH. Then they go on to other things.

I suspect spirituality exists to bilk money from idle dupes. Then they go on to alcohol.
posted by perhapses at 1:55 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It must be exhausting to go through life trying to get the benefits of the boring parts of Christianity while trying to believe none of it.

To paraphrase Chesterton, it's a lot of fun and intellectually satisfaction to actually be a Christian, but if not that at least be a viking or pirate or hedonist astronaut or something else that's satisfying in a different way.
posted by michaelh at 1:59 PM on January 18, 2012


On preview: nothing about this is "without resorting to dogma". Botton is suggesting that we adopt a new dogma, complete with special calendars and moon-viewing festivals and "education" in which one watches the same videos again and again. Strip the dogma out (and, of course, the assumption that staring at the moon while chanting Plato! Plato! Plaaaaaato! is inherently "good" for everyone), and you have little or nothing left over.
posted by vorfeed at 1:59 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought his "Book Status Anxiety" was not bad but then I tried to read "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" and god it was terrible, condescending prattle, and just canot seem to stand his pretentious blathering on since.

Something about his whole thesis just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe its that well, its bloody obvious.. Atheists generally don't complain about the evils of religious 'get-togethers' or the horror of family Christmases. Its all the other stuff...

at some point, while the pope continues to block say 'condoms' in AIDS ridden countries, while US presidents quote bible passages to justify stealing oil from other nations, while evangelists embezzle funds while preaching the greatness of jesus and money and so on.. you just have to say "enough is enough".

I just don't think another community tea party can make up for all that other stuff at this point.
posted by mary8nne at 2:04 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the book Darwin's Cathederal David Sloan Wilson looks at how religion is, to a considerable degree, there because it is socially useful rather than because it is true.

The fact that any human social institution -- religion, commerce, science, sport -- can only persist if it has enough social utility to keep it going is trivially true and orthogonal to questions about whether or not it contains "truth."
posted by straight at 2:04 PM on January 18, 2012


Botton is suggesting that we adopt a new dogma.

We seem to disagree on the definition of the word "dogma."

At no point in the talk did I hear de Botton advocating for an unassailable doctrine of secular precepts. Instead, he suggested that we examine some of the forms that religious expression has taken, and consider whether we can retrofit those forms to accommodate (positive) secular ideals instead of (negative) religious mystification. That seems like an important distinction.
posted by Misunderestimated at 2:06 PM on January 18, 2012


I thought communally inclined atheists just became Unitarians? There's a large number at my UU church, and we're much more about community gardens and food drives and meditation than dogma.

I mean, yes, there are pagans and some new agey types and spirit-y types too, but there's no obligation to be one or the other or believe in a God or Whoever. But we do go down to the gay pride parade and march, which anyone can do by themselves, but that really is more fun in a group.
posted by emjaybee at 2:06 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


To paraphrase Chesterton, it's a lot of fun and intellectually satisfaction to actually be a Christian, but if not that at least be a viking or pirate or hedonist astronaut or something else that's satisfying in a different way.

But then elsewhere Chesterton claims he tried to be a rebel and invent his own romantic intellectual path and found himself rediscovering Christian orthodoxy.
posted by straight at 2:07 PM on January 18, 2012


I would consider my self a Catholic that does not believe in god or an afterlife. Or judgment. But I do like colorful windows, incense and candles. I feel lucky that I was born in to a tribe that has buildings that welcome me almost everywhere in the world. I can sit and contemplate or take part in services that are pretty much the same in any language, as a kind of comfort thing.

So although I probably am an atheist, I don't really fit. And since I was brought up in a leftist- liberation theology catholicism, I have a lot of love for what religion can bring. The knee-jerk anti-theists make me uncomfortable since their world view doesn't fit my experience.
posted by readery at 2:16 PM on January 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suspect all religions exist to confront the prospect of DEATH. Then they go on to other things.

Everything dies, baby, that's a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.

I don't understand what more needs to be said on the subject.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 2:21 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am conflicted about his work as a whole: because he interviews well and seems like someone I should like from the blurbs of his books. Contraiwise, his actual books I have found unrelentingly terrible - middlebrow "comfort philosophy" that does its utmost to avoid engaging the brain of the reader. Particularly bad was his book on "the sorrows of work" - an ambitious subject for the heir of a millionaire banking estate at the best of times.

I am kind of ambivalent about his nonfiction but adore his first book, On Love, a "novel" (really more of a fictional essay, if there can be such a thing), that absolutely and completely nailed dozens of the details of falling into and out of love that you are convinced have happened only to you. I might not find it quite so brilliant now that I am in my 40s instead of my 20s, but it really bowled me over at the time. He wrote a couple more novels in that vein (The Romantic Movement, Kiss & Tell), probably unnecessarily, before moving on to straight essaydom.

I did lose a bit of respect for him after the whole "I will hate you till the day I die" episode in response to a negative review, especially since he seems to sell such a calm-and-wise persona. I don't know if he's responded to Eagleton's review of his latest yet...
posted by dfan at 2:22 PM on January 18, 2012


It must be exhausting to go through life trying to get the benefits of the boring parts of Christianity while trying to believe none of it.

I think this is one thing these sorts of arguments get very wrong: it simply isn't. What many atheists seem to be fighting against are a very specific type of American Fundamentalist Evangelical Protestant Christianity.

For the majority of American Christians your statement is perfectly true: they "get the benefits of the boring parts of Christianity while trying to believe none of it" without it being exhausting at all, because they get more social value out of it than using it as a source of Truth. This is certainly true of most European Christians; Denmark has an official state church to which most people belong and yet it's not a nation of theocratic literalist fanatics.

You can argue till you're blue in the face about how this is illogical, how it doesn't make sense to pick and choose what you want, how objectively it's untrue, etc but you ignore the fact that regardless, that's exactly how the vast bulk of the religious operate, in this grey zone of embracing some parts and taking comfort in the tradition and ritual. readery above reflects the same attitude a lot of my Catholic friends hold: not mindless fanaticism and strict adherence to Church dogma, but viewing the Church far more as a cohesive social center.

The real problem for those who insist that religion should have special value is to explain why religious "forms and traditions" are necessary to foster "connection, ritual and transcendence"

The answer, though you won't like it, is simply that they're old and already here. Religions are an organic, historical part of communities. The people above asking why sports teams or social clubs can't fill the social void miss this. You can't create cultural cachet and integration out of whole cloth. Religion provides social value precisely because it is so woven into the community and comes with so much tradition and ritual. You simply can't replicate the immense historical, social, and cultural importance and place these institutions have without the result feeling incredibly false and hollow because it lacks any true, organic, social value in the community.

Not that I'm an atheist, I just also get tired of this "religion is all illogical and evil and must be eradicated" nonsense because many of the things argued, even in this very thread, are demonstrably untrue. The example of Denmark above, or Japan, show places where religion is woven into the fabric of daily life and believed in to a greater or lesser degree without the ugly dogma that atheists rail against.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:23 PM on January 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


We seem to disagree on the definition of the word "dogma."

Yes, we do. You seem to believe that we can identify one single set of "(positive) secular ideals" which we should inculcate in all our little children, and you seem to think that this does not constitute dogma nor a "unassailable doctrine of secular precepts". I disagree. I see plenty of secular dogma all over our society -- much of what we believe about living and dying "well" is built on straight-up lies and/or unchallenged and unchallengeable assumptions -- and I see no reason to drape society's beliefs in ritual in order to make people even less likely to question them.

Eagleton had it when he mentioned Nietzsche. A hundred years later we still can't deal with what "God is dead" really means, so we're still clutching at his corpse...
posted by vorfeed at 2:26 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


While the Eagleton review is probably well deserved, I think he places a bit too much emphasis on the issue of faith/belief as central to religion, and of course, the abuse of poor old Nietzsche as the last word on atheistic values. It's the TAG in a nutshell, belief in God or nihilism. It's missing the fact that there are religious traditions that start from metaphysical doubt and skepticism and end with a proposed orthopraxy. de Bottom isn't particularly new or innovative here.

But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.

I don't want to be buried, in a pet cemetery.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:27 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Er, that should be "note that I'm an atheist". I'm not religious myself at all.

I'm also reminded of a friend of mine who is an atheist living in small town outside Lyon, France. Despite not believing, she attends Catholic services every week, and when she came to visit me in the US she sought ought a church where she could attend Mass.

She said she finds Mass to be beautiful and soothing, and finds that it helps her connect with the people in her community, especially the older generations.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:28 PM on January 18, 2012


Two anthropologists visited a tiny island nation. This island was created by a volcano that was still active. The people who lived on this island worshipped the volcano. They all believed that they had to do whatever necessary to keep the volcano happy.

Hundreds of years ago, the volcano had erupted, killing almost half of the island's population. The king survived and decided that he must institute changes to prevent such a horrific catastrophe again.

The king called on volunteers of all the young people between the ages of 14 and 18. A competition would be held to select the best and brightest of all the youth who agreed to participate in the competition. Before they could participate, they had to agree with the prize and get consent from their parents. The prize was being sacrificed to the volcano to prevent it from erupting again. The rules and parameters were laid out clearly and yet dozens of youth agreed to participate.

This annual ritual had been performed for hundreds of years and the volcano had not erupted since. On the day of the sacrifice, a huge party and parade was held. It brought the community together and instilled pride in everyone as they watched the sacrifice.

One anthropologist said that they must tell these people what really causing volcanic eruptions so that will stop killing the best and brightest of their youth. The other disagreed. He felt that the truth would destroy their community, but he was also distraught at seeing the sacrifice. He came up with a solution. He thought they could convince the island's leader that they didn't need to kill the winner of the competition but that a body part would calm the volcano.

The other anthropologist still disagreed. He felt it was still causing unnecessary harm to an innocent individual. So the anthropologist convinced the island's leaders that the winner of the competition only needed to piss into the volcano to calm it. No one would be injured and the island's rituals would still remain.

The other anthropologist still disagreed. He said that the island's rituals, even if it includes the winner pissing in the volcano, would still bring them harm one day. The volcano would undoubtedly erupt again and the island's population would be unprepared to deal with it because they have wasted their time on creating and maintaining a myth rather than focusing on how they can best prepare themselves for an eruption.
posted by perhapses at 2:33 PM on January 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I would consider my self a Catholic that does not believe in god or an afterlife. Or judgment.... I can sit and contemplate or take part in services that are pretty much the same in any language, as a kind of comfort thing.

An important part of the Catholic service is recital of the creed. I'm just curious: those that go but don't believe, do you still recite the full creed even though you don't believe it? I found myself going through the motions at a family mass a little while ago and had to consciously skip quite a few lines of it. It didn't feel right to say it just because everyone else was.
posted by rh at 2:34 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like Spinoza's idea of a state-operated church. This would perhaps meet the need for rites and social communion, and foster democratic dialogue on spiritual matters.
posted by No Robots at 2:35 PM on January 18, 2012


think he places a bit too much emphasis on the issue of faith/belief as central to religion

I think it's unfair to lay this on Eagleton. There are lots and lots and LOTS of religious people (in the US, at least) who rightly contend that faith/belief is central to their religion, and furthermore resist any attempts to separate the cultural from the metaphysical. For example: The "War on Christmas." "Keep Christ in Christmas." "Jesus is the Reason for the Season."

If evangelicals tell me that "Jesus is the way" for them, isn't it insensitive for me to say, "That's all bollocks, but I like the drama of that little Passion Play you put on in the spring!"
posted by muddgirl at 2:35 PM on January 18, 2012


> Botton is suggesting that we adopt a new dogma, complete with special calendars and moon-viewing festivals and "education" in which one watches the same videos again and again ...

Yeah. I'm wondering if de Botton's heard of August Comte and the Religion of Humanity. (I would link to Wikipedia ... )
posted by nangar at 2:35 PM on January 18, 2012


angry atheists

Why is this a thing?

I spent some time in some Protestant Christian denominations when I was much younger, they spent a lot of time telling their congregation that all other religions were wrong, evil, etc.

I rarely hear angry Christians used seriously in conversation. Being against something doesn't make one angry. Talking about how your are a non-believer or against a religion is also not part and parcel with being "angry". Look what happened when someone wanted to open a mosque near Ground Zero. And atheists are still consistently chracterized as "angry" or "militant" just for having an opinion. Someone erects a billboard about atheism? Angry. Militant. Or just downright evil. Meanwhile most atheists live in communities rife with religious symbols - churches, synagogues, mosques, signs about god and anti-abortion nutters, people knocking on doors to spread the "word". Etc. I never say shit about that, most atheists don't. I, for one, recognize that people are free to believe whatever they want to and that they should be able to do that without being demonized with language.

It's OK for atheists to talk about how they feel religion is wrong, incorrect and whole multitude of other things. It's OK for atheists to not believe. It really is.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:37 PM on January 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


But then elsewhere Chesterton claims he tried to be a rebel and invent his own romantic intellectual path and found himself rediscovering Christian orthodoxy.

Yes, he did that. Interesting guy.

You can argue till you're blue in the face about how this is illogical, how it doesn't make sense to pick and choose what you want, how objectively it's untrue, etc but you ignore the fact that regardless, that's exactly how the vast bulk of the religious operate, in this grey zone of embracing some parts and taking comfort in the tradition and ritual. readery above reflects the same attitude a lot of my Catholic friends hold: not mindless fanaticism and strict adherence to Church dogma, but viewing the Church far more as a cohesive social center.

It's not exhausting or social to be a nominal member, but it is exhausting to disbelieve yet participate fully or even partially. Danes don't go to church much. Non-believing Catholics don't go to church much either.
posted by michaelh at 2:37 PM on January 18, 2012


I agree with vorfeed that he seems to be setting up a false dichotomy of having to choose between a soulless life and at least the trappings of religion. I also think he overestimates the value of some of the religious behavior.

He complains that education doesn't teach people how to live but from my admittedly upper middle class experience with good schools, it certainly did. Must of the literature I read, even in elementary school, was about the human condition and history showed how those concepts played out in the real world.

There are many secular lectures that are about changing lives rather than just presenting information - that is what TED is about. Just as some sermons merely repeat the same concepts again and again rather than truly attempting to affect change in the congregation.

I'm not sure citing the brainwashing/propaganda type techniques of churches that feature repetition and constant call backs as a way to improve people's lives is the way to go. I've been in those churches and the effect is "this is creepy, they aren't thinking about what they're saying" goes through my head, not, "these people are truly gaining enlightenment." I attended a religious funeral service recently where there was constant interaction between the celebrant and the congregation but it was clear that almost everyone (priest included) was merely on autopilot and repeating the same phrases they'd been saying all their lives.

Similarly, saying the Catholic church is a model to emulate is bogus - the Catholic church was been an institution very concerned with power for well over a millennium now. It's a massive corporation whose primary product is self help therapy with the advantage of having customers who are indoctrinated in its product from birth. McDonalds would kill for the ability to do that to their customer base.

Religion has to use indoctrination and brainwashing because so much of it is very old superstition that must be taken on faith. The rational lessons of a more enlightened age shouldn't need to use those techniques. As an example, we don't need to say that god will be displeased if you eat pork because we can now say not to eat undercooked pork because of food safety issues and here's how to do it properly.

And lastly, I'll disagree with his definition of art. Most of what he talks about that's in churches is illustration - that is, something that makes something clear. And there's nothing wrong with illustration. To me, the purpose of art is to provoke some level of thought, and that requires that there is a certain level of ambiguity. However, if he thinks that museums and galleries are just filled with strange and understandable pieces placed willy nilly, he's been going to the wrong ones. Most of what I've experienced have been well curated, sometimes grouped by theme like he wants, and with a variety of information and sources about the artist's intent and what other people think about them available.
posted by Candleman at 2:38 PM on January 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


muddgirl: I think it's unfair to lay this on Eagleton.

How so when it's the central focus of Eagleton's critique of de Bottom's ideas of secular ritual? Eagleton's not making a descriptive claim about the dominant form of religion in what is a foreign country for him (or at least, that of his publication). He's making a prescriptive claim that de Bottom's proposed rituals are empty because they lack religious "content."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:42 PM on January 18, 2012


What he's doing is pointing out that de Botton is one in a long line of writers who think that "other people" need religious traditions to keep them in line, and that such thinking is pretty insulting and elitist.

Also, made-up rituals ARE empty, until we imbue them with purpose.
posted by muddgirl at 2:46 PM on January 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seconding emjaybee....

Is Unitarianism mostly a US phenomenon? Because from what I can gather in this TED talk, that's pretty much what he's describing.
posted by graphnerd at 2:47 PM on January 18, 2012


I thought communally inclined atheists just became Unitarians?

All of the communally inclined atheists I know go to conferences, and dance parties, and hot-chocolate-and-games parties, and dinner get-togethers, and movie nights, and so on. They don't seem to have any trouble at all finding community or making it. We're lucky in that we live in the Bay Area, so it's not like they have to make community with the two other atheists in a 100-mile radius (neither of whom they like), but I find the notion that without a church, you have no community or ritual! to be very strange.
posted by rtha at 2:49 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


(In other words, many people here are talking about how they value the aesthetics of Catholicism, while de Botton is talking about the value of the social conformity that Catholicism engenders).
posted by muddgirl at 2:49 PM on January 18, 2012


"for many people religion provides social value rather than truth"

And many people find that it provides a great source of both, fides quaerens intellectum.
posted by oddman at 2:52 PM on January 18, 2012


It only takes three to form a community. Then two can form a clique and ostracize the third.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:58 PM on January 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


The answer, though you won't like it, is simply that they're old and already here. Religions are an organic, historical part of communities. The people above asking why sports teams or social clubs can't fill the social void miss this. You can't create cultural cachet and integration out of whole cloth.

This is obviously false, because at some point human beings did create cultural cachet and integration out of whole cloth. That's how religions got here. Likewise, the rise of New Religions puts the lie to your claim. Mormonism, for example, has created a great deal of cultural cachet and integration for its adherents despite being only a handful of generations old. In Japan -- yes, the country where "religion is woven into the fabric of daily life" -- Soka Gakkai and other new movements have achieved tremendous influence and social cachet in just one generation. Social clubs have done the same around the world, to the point where many were a major force in local if not national politics at one point.

In short: I agree that cultural cachet and integration cannot be created simply by asserting that they should exist, but history strongly suggests that they can be generated in many different ways, even within a single human generation. Organizations do not have to be "old and already here" to matter, and matter deeply.

Religion provides social value precisely because it is so woven into the community and comes with so much tradition and ritual. You simply can't replicate the immense historical, social, and cultural importance and place these institutions have without the result feeling incredibly false and hollow because it lacks any true, organic, social value in the community.

The alternatives I mentioned earlier do not necessarily "feel incredibly false and hollow", and they do have true, organic, social value in many communities. Hell, some of them are actually much older than religion. You may not acknowledge their value, but I assure you that others do.
posted by vorfeed at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I loved De Botton's first book on Proust, and his second one about philosophers. But, even though I have read his subsequent books, I haven't been too impressed with them.

The Art of Travel was superb, I thought.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2012


In the U.S., at least, religion's "social value" is political power. The ongoing political battle over science, primarily on the issue of evolution, is a stand against removing a foundation stone of the Christianity's narrative.
posted by perhapses at 3:02 PM on January 18, 2012


What he's doing is pointing out that de Botton is one in a long line of writers who think that "other people" need religious traditions to keep them in line, and that such thinking is pretty insulting and elitist.

That's not the only critique that Eagleton is making, certainly not in the context of name-dropping Nietzsche.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:07 PM on January 18, 2012


Oh man, just read a great quote on his Twitter: "Half the fear of failure is of the judgement of false friends we feel compelled to impress but don't even like."
posted by Askr at 3:09 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Religion/atheism is a false dichotomy.

While I do appreciate many of the goals and ideals Alain de Botton is trying to promote, I strongly question the premise that organized religion is the main place to look for inspiration and guidance to "fill the gaps" in Atheism, or that Atheism is necessarily the proper banner for the advancement of these goals/ideals.

For example, there are myriad opportunities and outlets for a sense of "community" outside of religion, or some contrived atheist analogue: civic groups, charitable organizations, fraternal orders, society groups, being a sports fan, and of course the most obvious associations of family, friends, and co-workers/colleagues.

And why, exactly, would you contrive an atheist pilgrimage and what exactly would it be? If you're interested in science, you could take a 'pilgrimage' to CERN; if you're interested in space, Cape Canaveral; ancient history, Rome, Egypt, Athens, etc.; nature, the Amazon, Yosemite, etc.

If you want a sense of awe, exposure children and adults to the wonders of our planet and universe and let them find the wonders that match their own tastes.

Certainly morality is trickier. Having a book that you can point to as a source of moral guidance has a certain tangible appeal for such intangible concepts. However, the deliberately overlooked fact is that the 'morality' we derive from the bible/koran is very selectively cherry-picked, and even then ignored as expedient (slavery, genocide) such as to render it little more than a blurry mirror of contemporary societal values.

It is more correct to credit our sense of right and wrong to our species: morality is partially innate, party learned from parents, friends, family, and society as a whole. Indeed the bible is just a man made attempt to codify the prevailing beliefs of the time. Why on earth would we want to repeat the exact same mistake with an atheist analogue of the same?
posted by Davenhill at 3:14 PM on January 18, 2012


Here is the context for "name-dropping" Nietzsche:
It took the barefaced audacity of Friedrich Nietzsche to point out that if God was dead, then so was Man – or at least the conception of humanity favoured by the guardians of social order.
Emphasis mine. This is exactly part of his argument - that we can have an atheism that rejects not just the metaphysical belief in, say, the ressurection of Jesus, but also in the more mundane beliefs about the nature of man.
posted by muddgirl at 3:15 PM on January 18, 2012


Atheists shouldn't denigrate religions, they should steal from them.--de Botton tweet

But it shouldn't be just the material forms. The spiritual core should also be sucked dry.
posted by No Robots at 3:15 PM on January 18, 2012


Likewise, the rise of New Religions puts the lie to your claim. Mormonism, for example, has created a great deal of cultural cachet and integration for its adherents despite being only a handful of generations old. In Japan -- yes, the country where "religion is woven into the fabric of daily life" -- Soka Gakkai and other new movements have achieved tremendous influence and social cachet in just one generation

Actually, they reinforce what I'm saying.

Mormonism and Souka Gakkai are odd examples for you to use here, because their success and power derives from building on existing religious structures (the Christian tradition and Buddhism, respectively). They developed as new spins or continuations of older traditions, which helped them achieve power. They were not attempts to generate entirely new communities based on non-religious values; they were, especially the Mormons, explicit attempts to create different communities within the religious sphere.

What you are talking about seems to be attempts to generate new communities from scratch, untethered to any sort of historical or cultural roots, which the above "New Religions" most certainly are not.

In fact, look at the actual new religions, the ones that try to break from older traditions like Scientology. They are viewed as false and bizarre.

Social clubs have done the same around the world, to the point where many were a major force in local if not national politics at one point.

Social clubs supplemented but didn't and weren't intended to, supplant religion's place in society. In fact, many of the more powerful social movements were heavily tied to religion.

What you're asking for is the wiping away of religion's place in society and its replacement with something else, and none of your examples do that. It would be something entirely new, and I think it is pointless to demand a complete removal of religion's place in the community. It can't be replaced in the manner you're asking for.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:15 PM on January 18, 2012


Institutionally, I'll take the carry-on of secular humanism over the corpse-strewn, science-and-reality-denying, racism-enabling, power-cosseting, child-abuser-protecting, sexism-justifying, status-quo-promulgating gross metric fuckton of most organized religions any day.

Oh, quit your envy. You guys might not have not started playing the game until the Cult of Reason, but you've racked up quite an impressive score in megadeaths with the advent of Marxism, and hey I wonder how many kills objectivist-libertarianism will make before civilization bowls over to ecological and economic collapse caused by extreme laissez-faire policies promoted by secular policymakers. There's plenty of atrocity and stupidity for human beings of all beliefs and unbeliefs to go around. Rest assured, organized irreligion will have as many depredations as organized religion by the end of humanity.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:16 PM on January 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: someone able to form an interesting idea in 140 characters but for whom it all falls down if he goes much beyond that.
posted by spitefulcrow at 3:39 PM on January 18, 2012


The word yoga means "union of" in the sense of a unified system, or body, of knowledge. So what we in the West call Yoga is a religion without gods. The only belief that matters is Practice Makes Perfect; everything else (e.g. invocations to Shiva) are marketing fluff employed by yoga schools to seem more shanti than the competition.

On another note though, what exactly is a god? Are we really just talking about anthropomorphic sky men, and not Love, Money, the Omega Point, Infinity, et. al.? Any big juicy abstract symbol can be considered a deity, and any deity can be considered a symbol. That's how thrice-intelligent people use religion, at any rate...
posted by solipse at 3:40 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Emphasis mine. This is exactly part of his argument - that we can have an atheism that rejects not just the metaphysical belief in, say, the ressurection of Jesus, but also in the more mundane beliefs about the nature of man.

Certainly. And that's the bog-common argument from Nietzsche that in the absence of a belief in God that any atheistic attempt to construct morality, ethics, social structure, or even claims about the universe are inherently empty. His concluding paragraph:

"What the book does, in short, is hijack other people's beliefs, empty them of content and redeploy them in the name of moral order, social consensus and aesthetic pleasure."

This statement doesn't make a lick of sense if Eagleton's really arguing that both Catholic and de Bottom's proposed rituals are inherently just about moral order, social consensus and aesthetic pleasure.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:41 PM on January 18, 2012


Asia has been doing this for centuries. It's called Confucianism.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:43 PM on January 18, 2012


There's plenty of atrocity and stupidity for human beings of all beliefs and unbeliefs to go around. Rest assured, organized irreligion will have as many depredations as organized religion by the end of humanity.

It would probably advance the discussion if we noted that atheist does not equal secular humanist or even rationalist. Apocryphon's point is absolutely true, but to throw Marxism/Objectivism in the faces of secular humanists is kind of like going to Amish people to complain about the Spanish Inquisition. Secular humanists are a sect, so to speak, of atheism, and I think it's acceptable to note that they have succeeded in not killing anyone yet. Not all atheisms are equal in terms of their moral or social value, anymore than all religious groups are equally harmful/helpful.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:43 PM on January 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Confucianism worships Law as a psuedo-deity; Taoism worships Chaos in the form of a yin-yang. Cute, isn't it.
posted by solipse at 3:47 PM on January 18, 2012


True, but if you're going to say that secular humanism is but a subset of atheist worldviews, than it's not very fair to compare all of organized institutional religion to it. As you say, not all religious groups are equally harmful/helpful. I think many anti-theists of the internet lose track of that.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:48 PM on January 18, 2012


What you're asking for is the wiping away of religion's place in society and its replacement with something else, and none of your examples do that. It would be something entirely new

Forget social clubs or "new religions" - this is precisely what 19th and 20th century nationalism (and later fascism and Communism) were designed to do, and they pulled it off pretty effectively, too. And while it wasn't explicitly irreligious, the American founding documents put forward a set of secular premises (inalienable rights, liberty and justice, the individual as the measure of society) which have, through the weight of time and tradition, gathered to themselves powerful loyalties among most Americans. I don't think that it's possible to maintain that

It can't be replaced in the manner you're asking for.

Because it has, on the scale of entire societies. Whether or not the Dawkins brand of ultra-rationalist secular humanism could pull that off is another matter - a case can be made that any movement which aspires to such success will need to incorporate a great many ideas and values which are not scientifically provable or disprovable, and will thus always be open to the accusation of irrationality and manipulation. Because we are not perfectly rational creatures living in a perfectly rational world.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:55 PM on January 18, 2012


I suspect this argument--all of them, really, all the subtly different arguments that semi-demi-hemitheists have with one another--would end rather quickly if they used words that have definitions that describe the things under discussion. "Religion" could describe any sufficiently venerated practice. In fact, when really serious fanboys describe science fiction as their religion, I don't think they're wrong. Surely, if you've got to bend the word "religion" to include the Japanese custom of buying paper blessings for your new baby or car or business, it makes as much sense to apply it to those cell-phone keyfobs that notionally prevent cancer, and so if enough Transformers fanatics practice transforming things in order to command their Spark, well, why shouldn't it be religion? The cartoons were aping old religious concepts all along, anyhow.

Arguing about atheism as opposed to theism rather than religion is a little better, but only insofar as you can agree on what it means to "believe" something. Scientifically minded people tend to assume that you've got to use your beliefs to predict the future and make plans about it that might not work if your beliefs are false, but it's quite common to believe in Truth, Justice, and the American Way without doing any of that. Perhaps, then, you can exclude those kinds of belief on the basis that believing in an ideal is a different thing than believing in an assertion--it's the "ought" to the scientists' "is", and you just want to discuss the "is". That still leaves a wide variety of beliefs that have predictive power but don't operate using precisely the kind of literalism that you have in mind.

Take for instance the concept of "personality". When you've known someone for a while, you're familiar with their likes and dislikes and the way they react to a variety of situations. On this basis you can pretty well predict how things are going to go if you see them in such-and-such a situation, so you figure you know what they're like. There are lots of confounding factors that, if changed, could make a person act quite unlike the "them" you're familiar with, but they don't come up much because you rarely have occasion to see a person when their family is in danger, or they stand to get rich quick. Even so, we flatter ourselves to think that we "know" our friends. If this is false or incomplete, it doesn't seem to matter much, because it's a very useful lie.

There's an essay in William Gibson's nonfiction collection, Distrust That Particular Flavor, where he argues that we are all melded with technology as literally as any cyborg. The tools we use determine what we can do all day, how we think, how we feel, and they connect to us by physical phenomena like light and sound that work quite as well as a cranial implant for day-to-day purposes, thank you. That kind of augmentation isn't what transhumanists and general-purpose sci-fi fans normally have in mind when they talk about cyborgs, but does that mean that Gibson's speaking in metaphor, or the transhumanists are? Perhaps they're just speaking different languages.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:56 PM on January 18, 2012


I don't disagree, Apocryphon. Blanket statements about the moral or societal benefit/harm of "religion" as well as "irreligion" are generally a good sign of a satisfied and well-maintained ignorance.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:57 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This statement doesn't make a lick of sense if Eagleton's really arguing that both Catholic and de Bottom's proposed rituals are inherently just about moral order, social consensus and aesthetic pleasure.

I don't think he is arguing that Catholic rituals are inherently just about moral order etc. etc. That is just the one part of the ritual that de Botton values. He doesn't value reasons why that ritual is conducted, which is what gives rituals content.

When I went to Sunday service on Communion Sunday (once a month in my protestant congregation), my pastor would stand behind the offering table, and explain that we are sitting at the table of Christ. Then, on Easter Sunday, he would stand in front of the table and call it an altar.

De Botton wants the table, but doesn't understand that without the Last Supper, and without the sacrifice, it isn't more than an ordinary wood table.
posted by muddgirl at 3:58 PM on January 18, 2012



I don't disagree, Apocryphon. Blanket statements about the moral or societal benefit/harm of "religion" as well as "irreligion" are generally a good sign of a satisfied and well-maintained ignorance.


Notice my phrase: "most organized religions", not "all religions". Most organized religions have fulfilled one or more of my characteristics in spades: corpse-strewing, science-and-reality-denying, racism-enabling, power-cosseting, child-abuser-protecting, sexism-justifying, status-quo-promulgating.

Secular humanism has not. You can argue that this is because secular humanism hasn't had the reins or the ear of those who do. Well great: give them a chance...,...
posted by lalochezia at 4:01 PM on January 18, 2012


What the book does, in short, is hijack other people's beliefs....

Given the number of self-identifying fundamentalist Christians who will cheerfully explain that the poor are poor due to a moral failing on their part, I think it's a little late to get huffy about people hijacking the beliefs of others at this point.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:02 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those psuedo-deities are hell to keep clean.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 4:05 PM on January 18, 2012


Secular humanism has not. You can argue that this is because secular humanism hasn't had the reins or the ear of those who do. Well great: give them a chance...,...

Quite honestly, I think secular humanism, in most popular forms, is designed in a such a way that it won't necessarily fall into such traps. But that's no real comfort; a religion such as, say, Unitarian Universalism, or the Amish or Quakers (Nixon excepted, not that he was a crusader for his denomination) don't really lead to the adherents of themselves to gain enough power in society to go off on wars of religion. Secular humanism, by design, will likely likewise stay out of office and away from the capacity of killing and harming others.

No matter, the powers that be can just as effectively bomb other nations under the excuses of things valued by secular humanists- political tolerance, freedom of expression, freedom of or from religion, and so forth. The play is the same, even if the actors and motivations have changed. History is a sordid theater.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:10 PM on January 18, 2012


I suspect this argument--all of them, really, all the subtly different arguments that semi-demi-hemitheists have with one another--would end rather quickly if they used words that have definitions that describe the things under discussion.

Speaking as someone who's had glancing contact with the field, the scholars who work in religious studies have been tearing their collective hair out by the roots over precisely this problem for a century or so. Religion, as a word and concept devised in the West and in reference to Western cultural distinctions, is barely useful in its own natural habitat, and its value declines to nil outside of it.

Many secular humanists deal with the issue by simply not bothering to talk about religion and instead attack irrationality - which includes, religion, pseudoscience, New Age spirituality, the Force, car keychain fobs, and (among the less reflective) any viewpoint with which they are unfamiliar or uncomfortable.

Secular humanism has not. You can argue that this is because secular humanism hasn't had the reins or the ear of those who do. Well great: give them a chance.

Let's bloody well not, actually. Instead of letting each group have its turn at the wheels of power, why not aim for a society in which no group has the capacity to enforce its views on everyone else via state power, thus avoiding the joy of comparing piles of corpses. I devoutly hope, for the sake of secular humanists as well as of their opponents, that they never "get the reins."

We don't need to see what secular humanists will do with such power, because we've already seen countless other groups, religious and secular, which started out with nice friendly goals (love they neighbor as thyself, the Rights of Man, ending class-based social injustice, national self-determination) turn into the next round of nightmare-purveyors as soon as the power and prestige offered the temptation to do so.

Let's take the reins away from those who have it and abuse it right now (fundamentalist Christians and their cynical manipulators) and fucking burn them.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:12 PM on January 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Burn the reins, that is.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:13 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Confucianism worships Law as a psuedo-deity; Taoism worships Chaos in the form of a yin-yang. Cute, isn't it.

I don't think that's quite accurate. But in any case, I'm wondering of Confucianism, as well as Robespierre's Cult of the Supreme Being, or the American "Moralistic therapeutic deism" are all examples of a vaguely atheistic form of religion that would fit what Botton is advocating be created to replace the old faiths and gods of yesterday.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:16 PM on January 18, 2012


De Botton wants the table, but doesn't understand that without the Last Supper, and without the sacrifice, it isn't more than an ordinary wood table.

Which is exactly my point. Eagleton's argument hinges on the idea that the content (the Last Supper) is central to the ritual (Communion). Not all religions work that way and not all atheistic philosophy agrees that Nietzsche or the Existentialists got it right.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:19 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


God I love religion threads.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:24 PM on January 18, 2012


You mean irrationality threads.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:26 PM on January 18, 2012


What you are talking about seems to be attempts to generate new communities from scratch, untethered to any sort of historical or cultural roots, which the above "New Religions" most certainly are not.

No, it is impossible to create a new community "from scratch, untethered to any sort of historical or cultural roots". Human beings don't work that way. That said, one can certainly create a new community which breaks from a specific subset of historical and cultural roots. This has happened over and over throughout human history. From hunter-gathering to human sacrifice to slavery to absolute patriarchy (and, on preview, AdamCSnider has some other great examples), our societies had practices which were once considered essential to meaning, religious or otherwise but are viewed as far more "false and bizarre" than Scientology is today. Likewise, Mormonism and SGI were themselves viewed as false and bizarre when they started, which is why I used them as an example. The fact that they're viewed today as just another "community within the religious sphere" is a consequence of their power and success, not the cause of it.

Likewise, how is the idea of non-religious community not a "new spin or continuation of older traditions"? The Enlightenment was three hundred years ago, and its roots go right back to the Greeks and Romans. Hell, organized religion as currently practiced is itself new, at least when measured against all of human history. You may as well claim that we cannot have true, organic, social value unless we're living in groups of no more than 150 related individuals whose animistic beliefs are centered around on following the Aurochs herds across the plains.

What you're asking for is the wiping away of religion's place in society and its replacement with something else, and none of your examples do that. It would be something entirely new, and I think it is pointless to demand a complete removal of religion's place in the community. It can't be replaced in the manner you're asking for.

And yet hundreds of millions of people are living without it, and are creating deep and meaningful social connections which don't involve religion.

In short: we shall see.
posted by vorfeed at 4:38 PM on January 18, 2012


No, it is impossible to create a new community "from scratch, untethered to any sort of historical or cultural roots". Human beings don't work that way. That said, one can certainly create a new community which breaks from a specific subset of historical and cultural roots. This has happened over and over throughout human history...

That really odd failed state-religion they tried to create at the end of the French Revolution is a good example.
posted by ovvl at 5:05 PM on January 18, 2012


bomb other nations under the guise of......political tolerance, freedom of expression, freedom of or from religion, and so forth.

While I agree with the istory as sordid theater example, I'd love a cite or two.... I have plenty from religion.
posted by lalochezia at 5:06 PM on January 18, 2012


I could say what E.O.Wilson said (paraphrase): "If you don't like religion, it isn't going away. Religion is a function of tribalism, and tribalism is a natural part of human societies."
posted by ovvl at 5:11 PM on January 18, 2012


SGI was actually pretty well-respected until PC graphics cards caught up with their rendering speeds.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:23 PM on January 18, 2012


While I agree with the istory as sordid theater example, I'd love a cite or two.... I have plenty from religion.

Look around you. Look at the policy western liberal democracies have often pursued throughout the 20th century.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:29 PM on January 18, 2012


bomb other nations under the guise of......political tolerance, freedom of expression, freedom of or from religion, and so forth.

While I agree with the istory as sordid theater example, I'd love a cite or two.... I have plenty from religion.


From the "bomb other nations" bit I kind of assumed the intended reference was Vietnam (or Iraq, maybe). Pretty much every move by the Cold War superpowers was prefaced by endless talk about human rights and freedoms and the guarding thereof against either their rival's machinations or third parties (the Iranian revolutionaries, Afghanistan's pre-Communist government, various African neutralists, etc.).

Go back farther and you can see the French Revolutionary massacres in the Vendee, or the way in which anarchists and Communists turned on each other during the Spanish Civil War in the name of guarding human rights and dignity from each other's attempts to undermine it in the face of fascist assault, or the pseudo-"progressives" who took up the "scientific" cause of eugenics and sterilization back around the turn of the 20th century. If you look at the history of secular ideologies since 1789, the only groups that haven't done something horrible at some point have been those who never achieved sufficient social oomph (Comte's Religion of Humanity, which was a flash in the pan) or those who explicitly abjured violence and ideological coercion (people like Bertrand Russell). Secular humanism has very strong tendencies in the latter direction, fortunately.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:42 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


> What you're asking for is the wiping away of religion's place in society and its replacement with something else, and none of your examples do that. It would be something entirely new, and I think it is pointless to demand a complete removal of religion's place in the community. It can't be replaced in the manner you're asking for.

And yet hundreds of millions of people are living without it, and are creating deep and meaningful social connections which don't involve religion.


What's wrong with the people who want to find it in religion being allowed to do that, and the people who don't want it creating social connections without it? Why can't we have both so both groups are satisfied?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:45 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is exactly my point. Eagleton's argument hinges on the idea that the content (the Last Supper) is central to the ritual (Communion). Not all religions work that way

So every time we talk about mainstream Western religion, we have to address every single other religion out there? After that, we'll have to address every single theist's (or religionist's) personal conception of their religion. It's very tiring and not very conducive to discussion. Maybe instead of refuting Eagleton's points by pointing out that some religions differ from the tradition he is addressing (which is sort of a given), people could refute his points by giving concrete examples.

and not all atheistic philosophy agrees that Nietzsche or the Existentialists got it right.

It's not accurate to go straight from "Eagleton quotes Nietzsche" to "Eagleton thinks Nietzsche got it right" for all values of it.
posted by muddgirl at 5:51 PM on January 18, 2012


Feeling a bit low? Knock up a bookshelf! That is excellent advice, thank you Terry Eagleton.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 5:58 PM on January 18, 2012


Nope nope nope.

Religion is my six fingered man. I won't rest until it is *dead*.
posted by smcameron at 7:17 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


So every time we talk about mainstream Western religion, we have to address every single other religion out there?

I was not aware that we're talking about mainstream Western religion. I thought we were primarily talking about atheist praxis (to steal a phrase I recently read from Cornel West.) Something that perpetually frustrates me is the insistence on treating my praxis as a reaction to or mirror image of Christianity, and that's not how I roll. My atheism is grounded in the claim that a relationship with a monist universe can provide the "content" for an atheist praxis.

I don't think that Eagleton or de Botton are quite so simplistic as to only be referring to "mainstream (Christian) religion." If they were, then they are worthy of the same critique that Eagleton so gracefully gave to Dawkins: religious thought is more diverse than what you account for. For a concrete example, meditation just works. Belief in a Brahman, Tara, or Goddess and God as something ontologically independent of our psychology is entirely optional.

It's not accurate to go straight from "Eagleton quotes Nietzsche" to "Eagleton thinks Nietzsche got it right" for all values of it.

Of course not. It is accurate to say that Eagleton faults de Botton for not accepting Nietzsche's argument that atheism demands a moral and social absence of values. It's an argument that seems to be ubiquitous in modern criticisms of atheism. The thing is, the people faulting atheists for defying Nietzsche's moral skepticism are themselves, moral realists who defy Nietzsche.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:21 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's wrong with the people who want to find it in religion being allowed to do that, and the people who don't want it creating social connections without it? Why can't we have both so both groups are satisfied?

I think we can have both. I'm arguing that religion is not a unique, special snowflake without which all is "incredibly false and hollow" -- but that doesn't mean people can't prefer it.

Whether religion, areligion, or some mix of the two is optimal for society or for human beings in general is left as an exercise for the reader (as is developing a personal definition for "optimal", for that matter).
posted by vorfeed at 7:27 PM on January 18, 2012


I think we can have both. I'm arguing that religion is not a unique, special snowflake without which all is "incredibly false and hollow" -- but that doesn't mean people can't prefer it.

Hmm. Okay. Others have called for the abolition of religion, though, so I apologize for confusing you with them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:51 PM on January 18, 2012


Of course not. It is accurate to say that Eagleton faults de Botton for not accepting Nietzsche's argument that atheism demands a moral and social absence of values. It's an argument that seems to be ubiquitous in modern criticisms of atheism. The thing is, the people faulting atheists for defying Nietzsche's moral skepticism are themselves, moral realists who defy Nietzsche.

Nietzsche's argument was that atheism demands a moral and social absence of absolute values. This does not necessarily imply an absence of all value, especially since Nietzsche was absolutely clear on the need to develop new values to replace the old. To him the question of values was made open by the death of God, not closed; nihilism was only one (unfortunately likely!) possible destination.

Indeed, we philosophers and "free spirits" feel, when we hear the news that "the old god is dead," as if a new dawn shone on us; our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, premonitions, expectation. At long last the horizon appears free to us again, even if it should not be bright; at long last our ships may venture out again, venture out to face any danger; all the daring of the lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again; perhaps there has never yet been such an "open sea."
posted by vorfeed at 7:52 PM on January 18, 2012


100+ Comments on a thread about a book review?

Is this what happens when http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/ is closed for the day?
posted by midmarch snowman at 7:56 PM on January 18, 2012


Rest assured, organized irreligion will have as many depredations as organized religion by the end of humanity.

I take issue with this statement is because it doesn't separate abused cultural norms from stupid cultural norms. Human will always abuse power and gain favor by playing into populist belief systems, whether they are religious or political or whatever.

The difference is that religion will hold on to horrible ideas even in the absence of abuse by corrupting forces. That's why people are dying of AIDS right now in Africa and Latin America: the Catholic Church has made the unscientific, idiotic, despicable decision that while dying of AIDS may be a bad thing, using a condom is worse. The only reason it's not such a huge issue in the United States is because educated Catholics know not to listen to the Catholic church when it comes to issues of health (or anything else that is actually important). There's no politician threatening the Catholic church, or military force holding a Pope at gunpoint. This idiocy is entirely their own.

And when you break that down, it means that the Church is scaring people away from condom use by threatening them with hell. Obey this bizarre moral line we have invented and suffer for the rest of your life so you can avoid the invented suffering we also believe in. But don't forget, God loves you.

If you can find a comparable idiocy in the secular humanist world, I'd be interested to know about it.
posted by deanklear at 8:03 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Perhaps secular humanism is a worldview that is structured in a way to avoid idiocies- again, like the Amish, or Quakers, or Universalism or what have you it does not lead to any particularly violent or oppressive beliefs. However, my comment was that atheism and irreligious worldviews in general are not immune from such "idiocies." I mentioned atheist ideologies aside from secular humanism.

In any case, the distinguishing between "abused" and "stupid" cultural norms doesn't seem to be much help. Suffering is suffering. And stupid by whose point of view? That of an enlightened educated twenty-first century first-worlder? Perhaps by one view that suffering looks "clearly" stupid. But what about the points of view of those who are suffering? Maybe they themselves chose to tow the moral line on their own volition. Maybe they choose to put their faith in the religious institutions. And the suffering that ensues is tragic, but what use does "stupid" have in it? Calling it an idiocy seems to be a very subjective and emotional response. A tragedy is a tragedy and there's no need to make further value judgments on it. By all means, protest the Catholic Church's role in it, but making the distinction between "abused" and "stupid" seems pointless.

I think perhaps instead of "stupid" what you're really thinking of is "irrational." The anti-condom policy goes against medical practices and standards elsewhere, and so is unscientific. But honestly, I think religious depredations are just low-hanging fruit. It's easy to point at a centuries-old institution with roots in a Bronze Age faith and laugh or gasp aghast at its anachronisms. But I don't see how secular schools of thought get to have any high ground. Neoconservative foreign policy or Austrian economics can induce as much suffering in other forms, and they rely on no beliefs in a deity. To me, calling it stupidity is a matter of aesthetics.

So yes, perhaps secular humanism does not contain such an idiocy. But secular humanism isn't all of atheism. And even if atheist worldviews contain less irrationality or stupidity- then so what? They still have the same capacity for causing suffering. Oh, so the suffering is based on less arbitrary and mystical and archaic reasons? What satisfaction does that give to the sufferers?

Finally, "religion" moderates over time anyway, like any other human practice, so horrible ideas change over time and perhaps disappear.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:52 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hmm. Okay. Others have called for the abolition of religion, though, so I apologize for confusing you with them.

To clarify: I absolutely support the death of organized religion. If it were to die out I'd consider that a positive thing for humanity.

That said, religion certainly can exist in the same society as atheism... and in a world without magical religion-deleting buttons, I think religion-as-just-another-thing-people-are-into is about the best we can hope for, as I said here. If it weren't for its massive effect on society I'd probably still view religion as harmful, but I'd be hard-pressed to want to end it; I believe that people should be free to enjoy harmful things as long as they're not getting said harm all over everyone else.

The sooner that becomes true of religion (and, on preview, Neoconservative foreign policy and Austrian economics) in general, the better.
posted by vorfeed at 9:11 PM on January 18, 2012


Yea - I grew up in the church not singing, not hanging out with the other kids and generally hating the entire experience. Then I realized it was a bunch of malarky - so it wasn't so hard to go do my own thing. Some people like all that stuff so even if they don't buy what it's "based on" they stick around for the refreshments.

Those people are still bad - they are aiding and abetting the others, not to mention being credulous to some dogma/doctrine which is irrational - but I doubt they (just the lazy ones - not the evangelical or prosthelytizing ones of any flavor) are any worse on average than any other irrational person.

The goal is to get rid of bias and irrationalism in all forms. That however means people would have to significantly alter how they reason and view the world writ large to include redefining biological social mechanisms. It's a slow process that IMO is impossible without some major neural intervention. So for now I just go with the live and let live - so long as someone isn't putting their religious or otherwise crap on me then it's all good.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 3:31 AM on January 19, 2012


De Botton's Religion for Atheists: community without commitment:
He says he wants the ritualistic and communal aspects of religion without the doctrine. That reminds me of Oscar Wilde loving the incense and costume of Catholic mass without caring at all for its values. It is - or could easily become - a form of dandy-ish aestheticism.

It seems an individualistic, lonely project, for all De Botton's longing for community. If you want the community of religion, then you need to commit, as a group, to a particular set of ethics, beliefs, or 'doctrines'...

Of course you can set up an ethical community which isn't theistic - but that community would still needs to decide what ethics it follows, what it demands from its followers, and decide what is the end it is striving for...

De Botton's School of Life, by contrast, does not offer people a particular ethics for them to commit to. That's why it is so far from a church, despite its 'Sunday sermons'. It is a philosophy shop - people pay to listen to various ideas, without having to commit to any of them.

A genuine 'religion for atheists' would have to decide: what does it demand from its members? It would have to go beyond the rather easy market liberalism of the School of Life, and actually ask its members to make ethical sacrifices and commitments. Without that shared ethics and commitment, the community you end up with is inevitably going to be shallow, with much weaker ties than a genuine religion or philosophical movement. Not really a community at all, more a loose collection of strangers...

De Botton seems horrified by the thought of committing to particular beliefs, values, doctrines. He wants to move beyond market liberalism, but he's afraid to, perhaps because he's afraid it would put off his audience and make him seem Victorian and Thomas Carlyle-esque. He wants to keep his tongue in his cheek and his audience chuckling along. He wants to keep it light. No doctrines here, tra la la.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:11 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't realize how much Dawkins et. al. had poisoned the intellectual well.

We've replaced religious fundamentalists with secular fundamentalists.

Atheism is used as a stick to beat other people into submission. Atheism has become dogmatic. Being an atheist myself, atheists are becoming insufferable. There seems to be a growing trend for atheists to endlessly congratulate themselves for being intellectually courageous, championing the cause of reason; I've even heard people talking about atheism in the U.S. as one of the final frontiers of civil rights, persecuted community that they are.

Which is utterly ridiculous. Atheism might not be popular, but its "courageous" standard-bearers are a bunch of white upper-class men. Atheists are some of the most socioeconomically privileged people in our society -- and they're whining about discrimination. What's more, they cheer themselves on for triumphing intellectually over a group of people who, by and large, are members of that group because they've been socioeconomically disenfranchised. Atheists take critical thinking for granted. Critical thinking isn't a gift: It's a skill. Undereducated people who come from poor communities often don't have the tools, the time, or the inclination to think critically about traditional beliefs. They don't lack the ability, but they often lack the opportunity. There but for the grace of God money go the rest of us.

Religion is not the problem: Poverty and education are the problem. Not all theists are members of disenfranchised populations, but many of them are; theism often goes hand-in-hand with a narrow, reactionary view of the world, and the best antidote for that is empowering people to improve their circumstances. Give people a good education and a good job and I guarantee the Pat Robertsons of the world will have a severely diminished following.

But nevertheless, many atheists are perfectly content to continue treating religious people as inferior and re-asserting, over and over, how fucking right they are.

In other words, mainstream atheism holds a set of beliefs that it holds as unquestionable. It claims the need to defend itself against persecution; at the same time, it insists that the world would be perfect if only everyone would adopt its beliefs, and it treats anyone who doesn't completely share its views as inadequate. Sounds familiar.

The comments on this page are a perfect illustration of secular dogmatism: Here's a guy saying "Hey, maybe not everything about religion is bad!" And in response you have a bunch of people, hissing and spitting, saying "How dare you. Everything about religion is utter shit. Every trace of religion must be destroyed completely, and our beliefs raised up in its place."

I recognize that not all atheists are like this -- but atheism is being tarnished by an increasingly bellicose minority. (Again, familiar.) I rarely tell people I'm an atheist anymore because it's turning into shorthand for "self-gratifying douchebag."
posted by Misunderestimated at 6:54 AM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I see the "every trace of religion must be destroyed completely," but I don't see the "our beliefs raised up in its place". That is, unless you're counting the lack of belief as a belief, which is a fallacy.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:00 AM on January 19, 2012


I've even heard people talking about atheism in the U.S. as one of the final frontiers of civil rights, persecuted community that they are.

Which is utterly ridiculous. Atheism might not be popular, but its "courageous" standard-bearers are a bunch of white upper-class men.


There's exactly one atheist member of congress.

Religion is not the problem: Poverty and education are the problem. Not all theists are members of disenfranchised populations, but many of them are; theism often goes hand-in-hand with a narrow, reactionary view of the world, and the best antidote for that is empowering people to improve their circumstances.

Eastern Europe is pretty overwhelmingly atheistic. The richest country in the world, the United States, is 84% religious.

"How dare you. Everything about religion is utter shit. Every trace of religion must be destroyed completely, and our beliefs raised up in its place."

No one is saying anything of the sort, and I'm really curious as to what beliefs I'm forcing on these newly de-religionized people.
posted by unigolyn at 8:02 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alright, since it seems there's some confusion, let's have everybody come out and say what they think should be done about religion.

I'd like there to actually be no laws respecting any particular religious organization. No tax exemptions for any of them, save insofar as you can form a non-profit organization and get your exemptions that way. "Religious" should not be a meaningful adjective to apply to an organization, though if they want to call themselves that anyway, that's fine. Anti-discrimination laws that prohibit employers from considering the religion of their prospects are also fine, because those laws already refer to "creed," which is a great deal less ambiguous and culturally variable than "religion" as a concept.

It would sure be nice to deconvert a lot of people, but using the law or any kind of force for that purpose would be morally indefensible and probably not even very effective. Far better would be to fund more science education.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:12 AM on January 19, 2012


Alright, since it seems there's some confusion, let's have everybody come out and say what they think should be done about religion.

Nothing, save for having a stern talking-to with the conservatives and fundamentalists of ALL stripes that "look, I know you'd rather we heathens all convert around to your way of thinking, but that's NOT going to happen, so we're not passing laws that enforce your personal dogmas, got it?"

I'd like there to actually be no laws respecting any particular religious organization. No tax exemptions for any of them, save insofar as you can form a non-profit organization and get your exemptions that way. "Religious" should not be a meaningful adjective to apply to an organization, though if they want to call themselves that anyway, that's fine.

Same here.

Anti-discrimination laws that prohibit employers from considering the religion of their prospects are also fine, because those laws already refer to "creed," which is a great deal less ambiguous and culturally variable than "religion" as a concept.

The only place where I can see this would be a problem is if a Buddhist tried to offer his services as a mohel or something like that. Pretty far outside the realm of possibility, but there ARE some distinct positions within certain religious organizations in which it'd be pretty damn weird to NOT take the applicant's religion into account. However, I allow that those positions are few and far between.

It would sure be nice to deconvert a lot of people, but using the law or any kind of force for that purpose would be morally indefensible and probably not even very effective.

Agreed. It's also why I've always found it weird that some take this approach - "wait, doesn't it bug you that some holy-rollers want to do that to you? So why act like them?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alright, since it seems there's some confusion, let's have everybody come out and say what they think should be done about religion.

Phrased that way, nothing.

What I'd like from religion is a discussion that goes beyond the usual stereotypes and arguments I see most frequently deployed.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:29 AM on January 19, 2012


There's exactly one atheist member of congress.
And presumably that's the biggest problem with Congress. The point is that, in the scope of all the things that are wrong with the world and in need of a solution, atheism ranks with Rights for Madonna Fans. We have bigger problems. But (some) atheists insist on treating it like it's an urgent crisis of civil liberties. Please.

No one is saying anything of the sort
Well, for starters, there was this:

"Nope nope nope.

Religion is my six fingered man. I won't rest until it is *dead*.
posted by smcameron at 7:17 PM on January 18 [2 favorites +] [!]
"

Quite a lot in a similar vein on this thread. Which, lest we forget, was in response to a man who was not advocating for theism at all, but merely suggesting that secular society could take some cues from religion apart from theism in the way that it structures human interaction.

and I'm really curious as to what beliefs I'm forcing on these newly de-religionized people.
I don't know about you personally, but there seem to be plenty of people on here in favor of "EVERYTHING ABOUT RELIGION IS BAD. REJECT RELIGION COMPLETELY. DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS. DO IT NOW."
posted by Misunderestimated at 8:42 AM on January 19, 2012


Atheism might not be popular, but its "courageous" standard-bearers are a bunch of white upper-class men. Atheists are some of the most socioeconomically privileged people in our society -- and they're whining about discrimination.

Yeah. Fuck that kid in Rhode Island who sued her school to get the prayer banner removed (she won), and is now being called an "evil little thing" by a Rhode Island pol. She's just some overprivileged snot who should STFU, amirite?

Also? As a non-atheist who reads a bunch of atheist blogs (some of my best friends etc.), all the blogs I read are written by women and people of color. Maybe *your* atheist standard-bearers are upper-class white dudes; mine aren't.
posted by rtha at 8:44 AM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


How many of *your* atheist standard-bearers pay constant homage to Dawkins and Hitchens?

I'd be interested to see a demographic break-down, but my (admittedly uninformed) impression is that most vocal atheists are white, male, and at least semi-privileged, despite your availability heuristic. I could be wrong.

And there's a difference between what I'm talking about and making a legitimate claim to the separation of church and state, which is the case in Rhode Island.

No need to be snarky.
posted by Misunderestimated at 8:51 AM on January 19, 2012


No need to be snarky.

No need to make sweeping, inevitably inaccurate generalizations, which you then have to follow up with phrases like "admittedly uninformed" and "I could be wrong."
posted by rtha at 8:53 AM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh christ. You really don't want to be civil about this, do you.

Do you have any data to back that up? If it's a "sweeping, inaccurate generalization," show me the numbers and prove it. Like I said, I'd be genuinely interested to see the demographics. I was referring to Dawkins and Hitchens specifically and the people I've come across more generally. I didn't intend it to be an ironclad case, although I suspect it's true. You can do the legwork and prove me wrong if you're so interested in litigating this.

Your unfounded assertion doesn't trump mine. Sorry.
posted by Misunderestimated at 9:02 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


LogicalDash: "Far better would be to fund more science education."

Honestly, I think this direction is the best in terms of furthering the goals of atheists. Misunderestimated reminds me of a point that has been bothering me throughout this thread, namely that there are many people for whom rational thinking is not a strong suit. And this is a big monster to fight as it isn't just socioeconomic but also cultural and possibly even biological. More and better science education would probably result in the best bang for the buck - that's why you see so much combat from fundamentalists about teaching evolution.
posted by charred husk at 9:08 AM on January 19, 2012


Here. This should be enough to start with. If you want to quibble about wikipedia as a source, feel free to produce something better.
posted by Misunderestimated at 9:12 AM on January 19, 2012


In its quest for free spiritual expression, the spiritual Left has mistakenly assumed that all anti-religious forces are its ally. The spiritual Left must recognize that its opponent, the materialist Right, comes in two flavours: religious and anti-religious.
posted by No Robots at 9:20 AM on January 19, 2012


...that kid in Rhode Island who sued her school to get the prayer banner removed (she won), and is now being called an "evil little thing" by a Rhode Island pol.

That seems excessive. She's probably at most a "naughty little thing."
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:21 AM on January 19, 2012


I rarely tell people I'm an atheist anymore because it's turning into shorthand for "self-gratifying douchebag."

Well, I'd say that not acting like one would go a long way for reducing this impression. How does getting angry and ignoring a good chunk of the conversation in this thread help with that? I'm not remotely interested in talking about Dawkins, Hitchins, or anti-theism. I might be interested in talking about ideas regarding atheist praxis, which I thought might be the seed of de Botton's lecture.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:30 AM on January 19, 2012


And the suffering that ensues is tragic, but what use does "stupid" have in it? Calling it an idiocy seems to be a very subjective and emotional response. A tragedy is a tragedy and there's no need to make further value judgments on it. By all means, protest the Catholic Church's role in it, but making the distinction between "abused" and "stupid" seems pointless.

Stupid, meaning pointless. There is literally no upside to telling someone not to use a condom other than believing it offends God. You're right, I should stick with irrational because that's really what it is. There is no way to rationally argue that people who are going to be having sex anyways shouldn't use a condom.

But I don't see how secular schools of thought get to have any high ground. Neoconservative foreign policy or Austrian economics can induce as much suffering in other forms, and they rely on no beliefs in a deity.

They at least rely on a failed rationality. I can point to capita per GDP, dominated by strong government and regulation, and make a strong case against libertarianism based on data. The other party may not like my conclusions, but at least they have to present a counter argument. Once you say, "God spoke to me, and we should do X" then there's no argument to be had.

So yes, perhaps secular humanism does not contain such an idiocy. But secular humanism isn't all of atheism. And even if atheist worldviews contain less irrationality or stupidity- then so what? They still have the same capacity for causing suffering. Oh, so the suffering is based on less arbitrary and mystical and archaic reasons? What satisfaction does that give to the sufferers?

Finally, "religion" moderates over time anyway, like any other human practice, so horrible ideas change over time and perhaps disappear.


In my opinion, there are hardly any Christians in the United States. Perhaps there's thousands or tens of thousands who honestly believe that everything in the Bible is true, and follow it word for word. The rest claim it for the sake of tradition and ignore it, as any modern human should. When their child is sick, they take them to a doctor, because science and medicine work. When they want something, sure they might pray about it, but then they go to work and then to the store or website because science and technology works. If they are blinded in an accident, they don't go around looking for someone to lay hands on them and magically heal their vision, they go to a medical specialist, again, because science works.

It has nothing to do with religions getting better. It has to do with people getting smarter by ignoring their religion, even if they don't like to admit to that.

I'm a somewhat spiritual person — I wonder if God has spoken to me through certain coincidences and moments of elation that I have experienced. But there's a difference between seeking out the answer to this question as a matter of personal growth and knowingly causing suffering because you believe that you know what God thinks.

Religious people like to pretend they are pious and humble, but it takes an incredible kind of arrogance to say that out of all of the books that have ever been written, and thoughts that have been put to paper, you have discovered the one set of ideas that are above rational criticism. And it's only a happy accident that those same ideas say that you're going to live in paradise forever after you die, and that all of your enemies will burn or be dead forever. That's quite a set of convenient coincidences...
posted by deanklear at 9:31 AM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your unfounded assertion doesn't trump mine. Sorry.

My assertion is not unfounded, as I was speaking of my personal experience ("all the blogs I read", and not making a generalization about All Atheists. If I personally have any standard-bearers when it comes to atheism, they are the people whose blogs I mentioned, not Dawkins et al.
posted by rtha at 10:03 AM on January 19, 2012


CBrachyrhynchos: You're right, that is a more interesting conversation. I was hoping to cut short any further Atheist Pride "six-fingered man" flag-waving in the hopes that the discussion would shift in that direction.

But frankly, I'm significantly less interested in contributing to that conversation if you're going to accuse me of being a self-serving douchebag, so maybe I'm not the best person to ask.
posted by Misunderestimated at 10:03 AM on January 19, 2012


The unfounded assertion I was referring to was the accusation of "sweeping, inaccurate generalizations." It looks like my sweeping generalizations are supported by the data, so I'm not sure how your criticism could be valid.
posted by Misunderestimated at 10:13 AM on January 19, 2012


You're right, that is a more interesting conversation. I was hoping to cut short any further Atheist Pride "six-fingered man" flag-waving in the hopes that the discussion would shift in that direction.

You generally get the kinds of conversations you engage in. If you're really interested in minority flag-bearers for atheism, perhaps you should should be talking about Mehta, Hutchinson, and Ali, along with a score of feminist atheist writers and bloggers.

But frankly, I'm significantly less interested in contributing to that conversation if you're going to accuse me of being a self-serving douchebag, so maybe I'm not the best person to ask.

Then perhaps you should be more cautious about leveling that accusation at everyone else in the room.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:13 AM on January 19, 2012


Everyone else in the room: I'm sorry, I was not calling you all self-serving douchebags. I apologize for any offense. I thought it was clear that I was referring to the "bellicose minority" making atheism look bad; apparently I was mistaken. Please forgive me.
posted by Misunderestimated at 10:17 AM on January 19, 2012


Civil? Aren't you the one who said that atheism is "turning into shorthand for 'self-gratifying douchebag'"?

As for your "argument", let's see: atheists are classist and racist, because They're All Rich White Men -- this is why there cannot be meaningful discrimination against them. (Anyone who claims that atheists are not All Rich White Men has to prove it). Critical thinking is a skill, not a gift... but instead of speaking out and advocating for it in the public sphere, atheists should be quiet and "support education" (as if speaking out about atheism and fighting for critical thinking are entirely orthogonal goals). And the mere existence of other, more serious problems means that discrimination against atheists is exactly equivalent to getting made fun of for enjoying Like A Prayer, so everyone should just shut up about it already.

No. It's far too late to put this genie back in the bottle. You cannot buy another generation of silence and open discrimination through these bullshit appeals to the majority... and since when doesn't the majority oppose vocal atheism, anyway? Like I said here, staying silent lest you become a "douchebag" is a Catch-22 -- all it does is reinforce the idea that religion is unquestionable and that disliking it is inherently unacceptable... and, thus, that you and everyone like you are a bunch of douchebags, doubly so if you ever talk about what you (don't) believe.

Great. That's really going to do so much more for atheism than Hitchens and Dawkins.
posted by vorfeed at 10:20 AM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Did you read what I wrote?

I wasn't saying "all atheists." I was referring to "some atheists."

I never said "all atheists" were racist and classist. Actually, I wasn't saying anybody was racist or classist. I was saying that appeals to discrimination against atheists was ridiculous because atheists are predominately Rich White Males, a demographic whose position in society certainly doesn't need to be defended.

Again, the plight of people who feel they aren't allowed to publicly disbelieve in something imaginary should be of exactly no concern to anyone with any sense of perspective. Lets wait until we take care of fixing education, income inequality, full enfranchisement for the LGBTQ community, curing AIDS, curing cancer, etc. etc. etc. etc. before we start bemoaning the rights of people to not believe in something.

Atheism has no significant bearing on any of those issues. They are structural problems that require structural solutions. The right to have a fucking show of hands on who believes in the imaginary magical man and who doesn't is going to do precious little to advance those solutions. So let's stop talking about atheism like it's a priority.
posted by Misunderestimated at 11:02 AM on January 19, 2012


They at least rely on a failed rationality. I can point to capita per GDP, dominated by strong government and regulation, and make a strong case against libertarianism based on data. The other party may not like my conclusions, but at least they have to present a counter argument. Once you say, "God spoke to me, and we should do X" then there's no argument to be had.

I think that's the difference here. To those believers who have a different worldview, it really isn't a pointless matter. It isn't a trivial guideline, it has important ramifications. So honestly, labeling it "stupid" or "pointless" seems in of itself pointless. People have different value systems. Perhaps you can argue by the inherent Progress of Man and Science and so on that their value system is flawed. To me, I think that's a pointless distinction to make and will just get those who you're trying to help to reject you. Suffering is suffering. There's no need to make aesthetic judgment about "oh this injustice is so more superstitious and dumb than this other one." "This idea is stupid because it came from a medieval era institution rather from the University of Chicago, and uses Thomistic reasoning or Augustinian ethics or papal doctrine to support it instead of heterodox economics." If the end result is suffering, then who cares? Where's the satisfaction in being more outraged that one injustice is more irrational than another? Human beings are inherently irrational, and if religion was to blow away tomorrow we'd just find some cause equally irrational to induce suffering with.

It has to do with people getting smarter by ignoring their religion, even if they don't like to admit to that.

I think you're underestimating both the ability for many world religions to conform with the times and adapt to changing cultural surroundings, and the ability for people to have cognitive dissonance. We might also be treading on "what exactly is a religion" territory again.

Religious people like to pretend they are pious and humble, but it takes an incredible kind of arrogance to say that out of all of the books that have ever been written, and thoughts that have been put to paper, you have discovered the one set of ideas that are above rational criticism. And it's only a happy accident that those same ideas say that you're going to live in paradise forever after you die, and that all of your enemies will burn or be dead forever. That's quite a set of convenient coincidences...

I think that's quite an overgeneralization. But that's neither here nor there.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:17 AM on January 19, 2012


And it's not about "staying silent so as not to become a douchebag." If every atheist was vocally supporting constructive solutions to society's problems, that would be fine. I fully support that. But there are far, far, far too many atheists who do nothing but try to beat people down with their Very Well-Reasoned Beliefs. I haven't read any Dawkins lately, and maybe I should, but I remember his whole schtick being little more than an eloquent version of the LOL XIANS AMIRITE bullshit you get over at /r/atheism.

Some people -- some of them here -- are fond of flaunting their "FUCK RELIGION" credentials like it's some kind of intellectually laudable position. It's not. At bottom, it's divisive, it's self-serving, and it doesn't help anybody.

And maybe those people aren't representative of atheism as whole, but they're certainly the most visible.
posted by Misunderestimated at 11:19 AM on January 19, 2012


Again, the plight of people who feel they aren't allowed to publicly disbelieve in something imaginary should be of exactly no concern to anyone with any sense of perspective.

About whom are you speaking? Because there are lots of atheists and non-majority-religion believers who get shit all the time - illegal, unconstitutional shit - and when they try to change it, they get death threats and more. Or is that not a plight to be concerned about?

You are doing a great job at doing what you say you don't want to do, which is generalize. Not all atheists are Rich White Guy Dawkins, with power and influence and lawyers.
posted by rtha at 11:33 AM on January 19, 2012


Again, the plight of people who feel they aren't allowed to publicly disbelieve in something imaginary should be of exactly no concern to anyone with any sense of perspective. Lets wait until we take care of fixing education, income inequality, full enfranchisement for the LGBTQ community, curing AIDS, curing cancer, etc. etc. etc. etc. before we start bemoaning the rights of people to not believe in something.

Illegal discrimination on the basis of religion is still illegal under U.S. law. Are you saying that we should ignore the Civil Rights Acts until we cure both AIDS and Cancer?

And it's kind of a nonsense argument. Not everyone needs to have the same focus in terms of activism, and many of us can walk and chew gum at the same time in our activism. I can participate in an interfaith congregation to reduce stereotypes about atheists, march with them on gay pride day, and build housing for the poor with them.

I haven't read any Dawkins lately, and maybe I should, but I remember his whole schtick being little more than an eloquent version of the LOL XIANS AMIRITE bullshit you get over at /r/atheism.

I've quickly come to the conclusion that /r/atheism isn't the kind of culture I'm interested in participating in. And having a few publications and a thesis on the subject, I know that online sites can't be called representative of much more than the set of people who participate in them.

And maybe those people aren't representative of atheism as whole, but they're certainly the most visible.

Yes, and ignoring everyone else to complain loudly and rudely about them probably doesn't help much.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:47 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ok. Maybe I'm wrong. Enlighten me: Where and how are atheists so grievously discriminated against? I haven't heard of any atheists getting chained to car bumpers and dragged to death recently, but I guess I might have missed something.

And again, I'm complaining "loudly and rudely" about the FUCK RELIGION types because they were loudly and rudely complaining about religion in the thread -- and, it seems, just about everywhere else I go. They seem to think they have the bully pulpit by virtue of being logically superior, and I don't see many people challenging them. On the contrary, most atheists seem more than happy to validate them.

But I'm less interested in that than I am about the discrimination thing. Seriously. Give me some examples.
posted by Misunderestimated at 11:59 AM on January 19, 2012


Suffering is suffering. There's no need to make aesthetic judgment about "oh this injustice is so more superstitious and dumb than this other one." "This idea is stupid because it came from a medieval era institution rather from the University of Chicago, and uses Thomistic reasoning or Augustinian ethics or papal doctrine to support it instead of heterodox economics." If the end result is suffering, then who cares?

Think about it this way: let's say you have the beginning of a famine on your hands. Every moment you spend praying is a moment that could be spent actually preparing for the famine. Even if praying worked some of the time, it's pretty clear that no one knows how to make it work every time. So, turning to supernatural events that have never been shown to reliably do anything is, at it's core, pointless and stupid. (That's not to say I don't have empathy for people who make that mistake, but I don't believe sugarcoating the effect is helping anybody.)

The second thing religion does is obliterate the importance of questioning authority, and I'd put almost 100% of avoidable suffering directly at the feet of blind loyalty in the absence of skepticism.

I think you're underestimating both the ability for many world religions to conform with the times and adapt to changing cultural surroundings, and the ability for people to have cognitive dissonance. We might also be treading on "what exactly is a religion" territory again.

You're asking religions to accept that they were wrong in the first place. Wrong about slavery, wrong about corporal punishment, wrong about the nature of the universe, wrong about homosexuality, wrong about pretty much every disprovable claim they have made. And not even the most progressive Lutheran will say that Leviticus doesn't mean anything to them. They're still forced to say that at some point God thought slavery was no big deal. So while I applaud the real progress made by religious organizations that have changed their ways, and even the progressive elements that have truly spearheaded progress, what's the point in dragging along the corpse of dead doctrines? If the Catholic church ignored just a few more verses, millions of people would stop suffering without any other effort required. So when you're talking about low hanging fruit, I absolutely agree: the dogmas still wreaking havoc across the earth are the easiest stupid ideas to fix.
posted by deanklear at 12:07 PM on January 19, 2012


Indiana: Denial of parental visitation rights to atheist parent.
Michigan: Denial of services to atheist group by convention center.
Illinois: Denial of services to atheist group by public university.
Colorado: Persistent problems of religious bias and compulsory religious observance at Air Force Academy.
Rhode Island and Mississippi: Retaliatory discrimination against atheist student making discrimination complaint.
U.S. Armed Forces: Creation of a psychological fitness test with religious observance section.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're a weird duck, Misunderestimated. You make a post on Metafilter about atheism and about how atheists should behave. It's an interesting topic, even if the post is a little thin.

Hundreds of fire-breathing words later, we find you denouncing the concerns of atheists as so piddling that they do not deserve to be discussed.
Atheism has no significant bearing on any of those [truly important] issues. They are structural problems that require structural solutions. The right to have a fucking show of hands on who believes in the imaginary magical man and who doesn't is going to do precious little to advance those solutions. So let's stop talking about atheism like it's a priority.
You're responding, really, to your own earlier comment, about whether atheism is "one of the final frontiers of civil rights" -- a position you yourself introduced into the thread. So you created in this thread a forum for discussing atheist concerns. You get angry about the way the thread is going. Now you circle round to frothing dismissals of atheist concerns.

What the fuck?

You say you're an atheist, so I suppose your bigotry is somewhat complicated. But it's bigotry nonetheless. You minimize and dismiss injury to other people with specious arguments and factual distortions.

You repeatedly claim that atheism is a belief of white males and that therefore the rights of atheists don't matter. First you say that atheist "standardbearers" are white males, then when that doesn't suit your rhetorical purposes so you claim that "atheists are predominately Rich White Males."

So far as I know, this isn't true. Although the citation upthread does indicate that men are more likely than women to become atheists, this does not show that atheists are "predominately" men, i.e. that there are so few women atheists that you can just ignore them. As to the nexus to race and wealth, I see no evidence.

But even if you're right about this demographic point, you're wrong. If the visible standardbearers for gay rights were "Rich White Males," would that mean gay rights weren't important?

And more subtly, if most visible atheists are Rich White Men, what does that tell us about the pressures faced by atheists who are not Rich White Men? Atheism doesn't travel with the Rich White Man genes. The tendencies that lead to atheism are probably present in all demographic subgroups, which means that somewhere out there are a lot of (e.g.) Poor Black Men / Women atheists or would-be atheists. We don't hear about them because atheism is even less socially acceptable for them than it is for Rich White Males. I personally don't face a lot of negative consequences for being an atheist, because I live in a secular social bubble. But when I come to Metafilter atheism discussions I'm constantly reminded that many of my fellow atheists live in something like a low-grade state of siege, and perceive themselves as constant targets of judgment or proselytism or (especially if they speak up) even the threat of violence. Atheists are generally distrusted. In the United States, Pew surveys show that most voters would vote against an atheist presidential candidate just because he is an atheist -- atheist candidates do worse than gays, blacks, Jews, etc.

If it looks to you like atheists are mostly Rich White Males who live securely in liberal enclaves, that should get you thinking: why do you need to be in a position of privilege and safety to come out as an atheist? Could it have anything to do with the prevalence of hostile attitudes towards atheists? HMMMMMM.

You believe that all of atheists' concerns add up to
[t]he right to have a fucking show of hands on who believes in the imaginary magical man and who doesn't[, which] is going to do precious little to advance . . . solutions [to AIDS, cancer, and gay rights].
I'm tempted to get bogged down in speculation here, and talk about how increasing the status of atheism could help solve the problems that you do deign to regard as important -- for example, much opposition to progress on AIDS and gay rights is religious. But the real howler here is your conflation of every challenge face by an atheist with being unable to "have a fucking show of hands" on if there's a god.

People openly tell us that they distrust atheists, wouldn't vote for one for President, wouldn't want their daughter to marry one, wouldn't want one as a business partner, etc. Do you think these attitudes have no effect?

All of a sudden you claim to be curious about discrimination against atheists, although you suggest that any discrimination short of being dragged to death is not worth worrying about. (Does that mean we shouldn't have worried about gay marriage? the right of black people to use public accommodations? the right of women to vote? None of those deprivations are as bad as being murdered.) When you are given examples, I assume you will minimize them, too, although if you faced them in your own life I suspect you would regard them as important.

I don't really want to get into this (can you believe a group is pervasively distrusted but that that somehow has no consequences?). But I'll give you my favorite example:

Denial of custody to atheist parents after divorce / separation: courts often cite one parent's atheism, or lack of religious belief / practice, as grounds for awarding custody to the other (more believing) parent. Eugene Volokh has covered this subject many times; this article has tons of examples (see App. A). How do you respond to this? You could assume those parents are Rich White Males who have lots of advantages and thereby don't deserve access to their kids. You could point out that no one is being dragged behind a car. Okay. Good for you.
posted by grobstein at 12:35 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I'm gonna back out of this thread slowly....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:37 PM on January 19, 2012


You know, grobstein, honestly, I don't know how I got here either.

Maybe we can start over in a more civil way, because this is genuinely something I want to hash out. I'm sorry if I offended anybody with the douchebag comment: I've come across a lot of thoughtless religion-bashing lately, and I guess I was reacting to that.

I'd like to try this again. Can we do that?
posted by Misunderestimated at 12:55 PM on January 19, 2012


Yes -- I'm a bit abashed my way of responding was that thousand-word behemoth, too. Thanks.
posted by grobstein at 12:57 PM on January 19, 2012


Thank you.

So the argument is that atheists are a discriminated minority who deserve to be protected. Atheists tend to be male, as we've established. I think the wikipedia entry I cited substantiates the claim that they tend to be white. I don't have any data on hand to back this up, so I concede that it's an unfounded assertion, but my impression is that atheists tend to be upper class: atheism tends to correlate with higher education, and religiosity tends to correlate with disenfranchised communities. Maybe this isn't a factually accurate picture of atheism as a whole, but it's reinforced by the fact that two of the most visible (at least in my mind) representatives of contemporary atheism are Hitchens and Dawkins -- white, well-educated, upper-class men. So the first stumbling block that I (and perhaps other people) come across when talking about atheist rights is "atheist" = "somebody like Dawkins." It automatically brings to mind a demographic that, atheist discrimination aside, has historically done pretty well for itself. The immediate question is "Why the hell does Richard Dawkins need a leg up?" It's probably inaccurate, it's stereotypical, but there it is.

Conversely, when I think of, say, a gay black atheist being discriminated against, the first thing that springs to mind isn't "atheist rights": Members of those (gay and black) communities are still facing such dire straits that any discrimination they encounter because of their intellectual identity seems like a distant afterthought. And I think it's safe to say that many people in that situation would agree: I'd guess (and this is only an impression) that a theoretical person like that would identify with being gay and black first and foremost, with atheism being incidental -- as a gay person of color who happens to be atheist, as opposed to an atheist who happens to be gay and black.

And I think that gets to the heart of the issue: Being discriminated against for being an atheist is not the same thing as being discriminated against for reasons of race, gender, or sexuality. Those things are an indelible part of people's identity: race, gender, and sexuality constitute the fiber of a person. Atheism is mostly concerned with a person's inner life; while it might not be a "choice" per se, it's more of an attitude than an identity. Even religious discrimination is more insidious, because religious discrimination -- real religious discrimination -- prevents people from participating in a rich cultural tradition with which they identify. It's not just about what you believe, it's about how you live. Atheism doesn't have that kind of cultural significance, and so it seems less serious.

At bottom, talking about rights for atheists doesn't seem wholly different from talking about rights for Republicans. I live in a very liberal college town; if I was a vocal Republican, I'd probably find a lot of doors closed to me. Is that right? No. Does it mean we need to mount a nation-wide campaign to draw attention to Republican discrimination? Probably not. That seems more like a personal issue than a civil issue: There are lots of personal preferences and opinions that can cause problems for people because of prejudice or misunderstanding. But when it comes to opinions and preferences -- a person's inner life -- rather than "true" "external" identity, getting around them is more a matter of understanding how to get along with people than fighting for rights.

But still, we have people justifying a wholesale war on religion in those terms. It's us or them. And given that the people who are most visibly prosecuting that war seem to be otherwise comfortably appointed, it begins to look more like cynical pedantry than a genuine concern for people's rights. Hitchens is a good example: A staunch supporter of the rights of people like him to think what they want, but absolutely loathsome when it came to, say, women. Or the humanity of Iraqi people.

Basically, the whole thing comes down to what de Botton said in the last two minutes of the video: We are better served by learning to politely disagree with each other, which sometimes means keeping our opinions to ourselves, than we are by waging an ideological Us vs. Them scorched-earth campaign. If we treat religion as the enemy of decent thinking people, we miss out on a lot of the rich cultural resources that religion offers -- resources that can benefit society enormously regardless of theism.

In any case, that's just my opinion, and even if it's not intellectually valid, it's a data point regarding the prejudice that people have towards atheism as a movement. I'm sorry I reacted emotionally earlier and I hope I didn't offend anyone irreparably. Please forgive me for getting carried away. It's something I feel strongly about.
posted by Misunderestimated at 2:00 PM on January 19, 2012


And it's not about "staying silent so as not to become a douchebag." If every atheist was vocally supporting constructive solutions to society's problems, that would be fine. I fully support that. But there are far, far, far too many atheists who do nothing but try to beat people down with their Very Well-Reasoned Beliefs. I haven't read any Dawkins lately, and maybe I should, but I remember his whole schtick being little more than an eloquent version of the LOL XIANS AMIRITE bullshit you get over at /r/atheism.

This has not been my experience with outspoken atheists, on this site or elsewhere. These are thoughtful human beings; of course they "vocally support constructive solutions to society's problems". Dawkins is a great example -- his science writing has done more to advance the cause of science education than you or I have or ever will, and he's by no means a single-issue writer (among other things, he was a fierce opponent of GWB and the war in Iraq.) The idea that his "whole schtick" is cribbed from /r/atheism is ignorance, plain and simple.

Also, as I pointed out earlier, atheists are not "predominantly rich white men". Not when nearly 30% of those polled in some states reported "no religion", and not when one of five reasons for the rise of atheism and agnosticism, given by the director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism at Trinity College in Hartford, is "The rise in immigration. While some immigrants do seek out religious communities, many, he said, "are running away from places with too much religion," and don't affiliate."

Thus, unless the "predominant" amount of 20-30% of the population in many states and lots and lots of immigrants are rich, white men, your argument is bunk. And as grobstein pointed out, the rich-white-male thing is not much of an argument even if it is true (and on preview: defending it with things like "It's probably inaccurate, it's stereotypical, but there it is" does not help your argument).

As for "give me some examples", at least one mefite has been fired over this, and there are a few other examples of mefites who've run into hiring discrimination (in the first two cases this discrimination was probably illegal; a third person reported legal discrimination regarding "most of the available jobs" in their area and field). The job thing is a very big deal in some areas; when ordinary people feel as though they have to pretend to be religious in order to find work, this is not just an imaginary problem.

Lastly, atheism is not an "intellectual identity". It is not "more of an attitude than an identity", it is not a matter of "opinions and preferences", and it is not a matter of "inner life". It is merely a lack of belief in god(s). The idea that this requires an active belief system a la Republicanism is false. The people above were not discriminated against for holding a specific belief system -- they were discriminated against because they don't. Simply the act of being who they are -- i.e. not-religious, not-a-Christian -- was enough to cost them employment.

In the case of atheists facing discrimination, "keeping our opinions to ourselves" either means pretending to be religious or allowing others to think we are. It means keeping everyone from finding out that we are not religious. How is that just "understanding how to get along with people"? Answer: it's not. It's being in the closet about who you are, and it's no coincidence that many of the exact same arguments were (and still are) made about gay people.
posted by vorfeed at 2:45 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


That seems more like a personal issue than a civil issue:

When people are discriminated against because of their (lack of) religion, that is a civil rights issue. I don't care if it's Donald fucking Trump - if he gets fired, or denied custody of his kids, because of his (totally made up for the purpose of this point) atheism, then he absolutely deserves the full protection afforded him by the Constitution.
posted by rtha at 2:49 PM on January 19, 2012


vorfeed, rtha: Listen, I don't know what else to say. I apologized for what I said earlier. I tried to lay out my opinion as respectfully as possible, and I feel like you're still being antagonistic. I'd like to talk about this because it's something I'm interested in, but if I'm going to get dog-piled again I guess I can't. Being aggressive really doesn't make me want to understand your point of view at all. If you just want to be right, fine, you're right. You win. But it seems like a hollow victory if you haven't persuaded me of anything.
posted by Misunderestimated at 2:59 PM on January 19, 2012


Why speculate about how queer and POC atheists live when there are more than enough of them who are visible and publish about the relationships between different forms of oppression? As a queer man, I find harmful assumptions made about my sexuality and my philosophy to be equally painful and damaging.

Why do you consider my identity, beliefs, and practices not "true?" Have you sat by my bedside at the hospital? Shared meditation with me? Shared ritual with me? Shared mourning with me? Shared exploration of the 2,300 years of philosophical history of atheism and agnosticism?

While I might disagree with the beliefs of another person, I'm not one to trivialize them on the basis of a distant relationship.

You also seem to be arguing a false dichotomy between getting rights and getting along. The gay rights movement has demonstrated that the most powerful form of activism for getting rights, is coming out of the closet and getting along. However, coming out does not mean accepting treatment as a second-class citizen.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:59 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why? Because I don't know any better, obviously. I should think that's apparent. So are you interested in helping me understand, or do you want me to flagellate myself a little more for my ignorance?

The three of you: What exactly are you looking for in this conversation? I'm still in this because I'm trying to understand things better. But from your tone it seems like you're only interested in seeing me pilloried for having a different perspective than you. I don't see how that's constructive.
posted by Misunderestimated at 3:07 PM on January 19, 2012


But from your tone it seems like you're only interested in seeing me pilloried for having a different perspective than you.

No, that's not my interest, and I tried to scale back the rhetoric. So let's just leave it at the fact that the atheism you criticize is not the atheism I practice or experience.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:24 PM on January 19, 2012


Because I don't know any better, obviously. I should think that's apparent. So are you interested in helping me understand, or do you want me to flagellate myself a little more for my ignorance?

There is a universe of blogs out there written by people of color who are atheists, and women who are atheists. You could start there. (I think someone linked to some upthread; I am too irritated to go look right now.)

And you can really, really stop with stuff like this: And I think that gets to the heart of the issue: Being discriminated against for being an atheist is not the same thing as being discriminated against for reasons of race, gender, or sexuality. Those things are an indelible part of people's identity: race, gender, and sexuality constitute the fiber of a person. Atheism is mostly concerned with a person's inner life; while it might not be a "choice" per se, it's more of an attitude than an identity. Even religious discrimination is more insidious, because religious discrimination -- real religious discrimination -- prevents people from participating in a rich cultural tradition with which they identify. It's not just about what you believe, it's about how you live. Atheism doesn't have that kind of cultural significance, and so it seems less serious.

Why? Because it's insulting, and incredibly wrong. You are universalizing your experience (where it's clearly an inner life thing to you) and leaping to the conclusion that it's that way for everyone else. You're also flat-out telling non-white, non-male atheists that their interpretation and experience of discrimination is less valid because you say so.

If I'm coming down as mean on you, it's in no small part because I have had way too many times in my life when someone has told me that my experience is not as bad as X, or it didn't really happen that way, or it didn't happen at all, or it's not that big a deal, and on and on. As a woman and as a person of color, you'd think I'd be used to it, but somehow, no.
posted by rtha at 3:26 PM on January 19, 2012


What exactly are you looking for in this conversation?

At this point I would like it if you'd respond to what's been said, rather than people's "tone" and "aggression" and whether or not you believe their argument to be "constructive". Nothing anyone has said is remotely out of line, or even all that different from your own tone throughout this thread. That goes double for CBrachyrhynchos' comment -- I have no idea why you think it is reasonable to use a tone argument with respect to what he said, nor why things like "flagellate myself a little more for my ignorance" have any place in response to it.

I don't think your own tone has been very constructive here, yet I've done you the favor of rebutting your actual claims. As far as I'm concerned, it's your choice as to whether you'd like to return the favor, or end things here.
posted by vorfeed at 3:31 PM on January 19, 2012


Welcome to MetaFilter, Misunderestimated! Same as it ever was...
posted by Crabby Appleton at 3:34 PM on January 19, 2012


CBrachyrhynchos: Fair enough. Can you explain the bit about sexuality and philosophy being equal? Because, to me, that's shocking, and I'd like to understand it better.

vorfeed: I think I already conceded that my perception of atheism as a movement was just that -- a perception, as a starting place for a discussion. I don't think it was necessary to point out that it was "ignorance."

As far as your anecdotal evidence for "hiring discrimination" -- I think you could find something more convincing. Two of those were people talking about possible jobs; two of them were talking about jobs at churches; one of them was talking about a job s/he was quitting. As for the one about the person who was explicitly fired for being an atheist, I think it's equally likely -- based on the caliber of the comment -- that the person was fired for being out of her/his mind, and then chose to attribute it to being an atheist. Not altogether convincing.

And as somebody pointed out in the comments, that's less a problem of atheist discrimination and more a problem of living in a country where we have practically no worker protections. In the United States, you could be fired for being an atheist -- or for wearing the wrong color shirt on the wrong day, or any other reason your employer feels like. I could fire somebody just because I don't like their face and nobody could stop me, because to have any recourse as a worker, you need ironclad proof that you were fired for discrimination. That's not religion's fault: That's corporatism's fault.

Again, as an atheist myself, I have a hard time understanding why this is such a big deal for people. I've been an atheist since I was in eighth grade. I just don't feel the need to proclaim myself an atheist to everyone. I've hitchhiked across the Bible Belt, had several long conversations about faith with Born-Again Christians, and never felt like I was being persecuted. If religion is going to stand between me and a good job, I'll say I don't go to church because I practice my faith at home; if anybody feels the need to Save me, I'll listen politely and seriously and tell them I'll think hard about it. I've done it before and I'll do it again. When people say they'll pray for me I thank them and mean it, because they mean well by it. I don't feel persecuted, and my response doesn't feel like any kind of cowardice: That's just the price of getting along with people. If they need to think I agree with them for the sake of harmony, I'm fine with letting them, because I know the truth and that's enough for me. And if anybody wants to accuse me of being a coward or a traitor to my beliefs -- well, I guess I'd rather get along with the Christians than you.
posted by Misunderestimated at 4:08 PM on January 19, 2012


I don't feel persecuted, and my response doesn't feel like any kind of cowardice: That's just the price of getting along with people.

I think that's totally fine and great - whatever lets you live your life the way it works best for you.

What's not totally fine and great is that because you get along fine living this way, you seem to be saying why doesn't everyone do this? It is a big deal for some people because for them, the best way to live a life that works for them is to live it differently from you. That may mean being more out as an atheist; that may mean being unwilling to say "I practice at home" in order to get a job. And honestly, as fine as you are with this theoretical, no one should be forced to pretend that they are religious if they're not.

That you don't feel persecuted doesn't mean that people aren't, in fact, persecuted for their lack of belief. Like that kid whose story I linked to upthread - she's getting actual death threats. For exercising her civil rights.
posted by rtha at 4:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


you seem to be saying why doesn't everyone do this?

Pretty much. But not as in "Everyone else should think and behave exactly the same way as me" -- as in "I'm really trying to understand why everyone doesn't do this, and so far I haven't been able to."

I still can't quite wrap my mind around how this is more akin to being a closeted homosexual than it is to being a socialist who doesn't talk politics at Thanksgiving. But I'm trying.
posted by Misunderestimated at 4:53 PM on January 19, 2012


Because closets are closets, and they all suck. Whether you're in one because of a "choice" or because you were "born like that", they suck equally. They are psychologically and emotionally damaging for lots and lots of people. To a lot of people, being closeted feels like lying, and it's intolerable.

You don't need to agree, or to walk around in a t-shirt that announces your atheism. Just believe when people tell you that they can't live that way that they are telling the truth. And perhaps acknowledge that atheists do suffer real, measurable harm because of their atheism, and that's wrong.
posted by rtha at 6:12 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fair enough. Can you explain the bit about sexuality and philosophy being equal? Because, to me, that's shocking, and I'd like to understand it better.

I didn't write that they were equal. What I wrote was "equally damaging and painful." Although that's an oversimplification because they are different aspects of my life. Both are important in different ways. Part of it is a moral and ethical system that's been a key part of some painful family conflicts, led to two career changes, influences my choices of housing and food, and is something I probably spend too much time thinking about. Another part of it is a deep and beautiful relationship with the Universe that includes spiritual and mystical experiences.

So in short, it is both how I believe and how I live. You trivialize one, you trivialize both.

In the United States, you could be fired for being an atheist...

Well, that shouldn't happen because arbitrary religious discrimination is a violation of employment protection of the Civil Rights Acts.

As for the rest of the response, you're making a ton of assumptions about your fellow atheists here. None of them appear to have any relevance to atheism as I practice and experience it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:20 PM on January 19, 2012


As far as your anecdotal evidence for "hiring discrimination" -- I think you could find something more convincing. Two of those were people talking about possible jobs; two of them were talking about jobs at churches; one of them was talking about a job s/he was quitting. As for the one about the person who was explicitly fired for being an atheist, I think it's equally likely -- based on the caliber of the comment -- that the person was fired for being out of her/his mind, and then chose to attribute it to being an atheist. Not altogether convincing. And as somebody pointed out in the comments, that's less a problem of atheist discrimination and more a problem of living in a country where we have practically no worker protections.

Hiring discrimination often happens with regards to "possible" jobs (in fact, I'd say that all forms of discrimination are much more common during the hiring process than afterward, which is precisely why asking about church attendance during an interview is illegal). Discrimination on the job often leads to quitting, but it's still discrimination. Likewise, a lack of worker protections does not cause discriminatory actions nor make them nondiscriminatory; it only makes them easier to get away with.

If you really need more evidence that discrimination against atheists exists (including some cases in which US courts awarded damages), try here, here, here, or here. As a bonus, those last two stories are great examples of how "getting along" at work may not prevent discrimination from happening if you are outed.

As for other posters being "out of her/his mind": this is not convincing me that you're concerned about "getting along" and "understanding others". In fact, I think it's equally likely -- based on the caliber of your comments -- that you never had any intention of giving vocal atheists the slightest benefit of the doubt.
posted by vorfeed at 10:03 PM on January 19, 2012


I have every intention of giving vocal atheists the benefit of the doubt. I have no intention of giving hateful people the benefit of the doubt. I realize that I might get carried away with some of the comments I make on the internet -- but that person went way beyond what I'd consider reasonable. That's straight-up hate. "I got fired by a group of asshole Christians for the crime of not believing in their hate god" -- vitriolic, spiteful, childish, and completely unreasonable. It sucks that s/he lost the job, I guess, but there's no justification for that. I don't care how much you identify with your atheism: There is no defense for that kind of thinking. And you're picking that for your atheist poster child?

In fact, that's exactly the kind of bullshit that I started out talking about in the first place. "The Christians ruined my life, man, FUCK THE CHRISTIANS and FUCK RELIGION, yeah!" That's not the language of progress. That's the sound of someone who just wants to win. And then people like you rush to his/her defense, holding them up as another poor victim martyred by the International Christian Hate Campaign. Us versus Them.

Treating Religion as some monolithic thing and then ascribing all these problems to The Theists isn't going to make the world a better place: It's just a new kind of dogmatism, and it just gives people like sotonohito something to screech about. And personally, I've got some good friends who are devout believers; although I'm an atheist, if it comes down to a choice between supporting people like sotonohito or defending Theism, I'll be with the Christians.

And speaking of discrediting your cause -- I took issue with your tone because I thought I made it clear that I was trying to understand your point of view. In response, you've treated me like I'm just some ignorant asshole who needs to be taught a lesson by your Benevolent Reason. As far as I can tell, you've made no attempt to understand where I'm coming from -- which plays right into the "atheists as self-righteous pedants" stereotype we started out with. "Doing me a favor"? Please.

You're really not doing anything to make the atheist movement look good. But I guess if you just want to get your intellectual rocks off, carry on.
posted by Misunderestimated at 8:31 AM on January 20, 2012


rtha, CBrachyrhynchos: Thanks for the insight. I appreciate it.
posted by Misunderestimated at 8:32 AM on January 20, 2012


I think that if you're going to rationalize religious discrimination, you loose the right to complain when the targets of that discrimination fail to respond by offering a hug and singing "Kumbayah."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:56 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have every intention of giving vocal atheists the benefit of the doubt. I have no intention of giving hateful people the benefit of the doubt. I realize that I might get carried away with some of the comments I make on the internet -- but that person went way beyond what I'd consider reasonable. That's straight-up hate. "I got fired by a group of asshole Christians for the crime of not believing in their hate god" -- vitriolic, spiteful, childish, and completely unreasonable. It sucks that s/he lost the job, I guess, but there's no justification for that. I don't care how much you identify with your atheism: There is no defense for that kind of thinking. And you're picking that for your atheist poster child?
Misunderestimated, you're engaging in misdirection here. Vorfeed did not post soto no hito's story to show that soto no hito was the Gandhi-like figure who would lead atheists to freedom, or any kind of "atheist posterchild" (really?!). Vorfeed posted that story (along with several others which you ignore) to show that discrimination against atheists is very real and hurtful, something you have bizarrely continued to deny.

All of your complaints about the rhetoric soto no hito uses on a pseudonymous Internet forum are not only shockingly uncharitable, they are not to point. He(?) was fired because of his beliefs. It doesn't matter what you think of his reaction. This is the sort of discrimination that is widely decried as unacceptable, is illegal, and (most wonderfully) whose existence you have steadfastly denied. No matter what you think of his(?) character, his story shows that atheists are mistreated just for being atheists. soto didn't ask to be a spokesperson for atheist civil rights, he(?) asked to have a job without pretending to be something he was not.

Now, for most people, gross mistreatment does not breed charity. It's not just atheists who get pissed off when they are illegally fired for no good reason(!!). "Turn the other cheek" is an aspirational teaching, not a description of usual human behavior (yes, even for Christians). If you held other groups to the standard you are now holding atheists, you could easily dismiss all of their concerns. "Oh, Muslims? Well, I thought they deserved civil rights, but then one Muslim guy got angry after being mistreated! That set me straight!" You might think you are a better kind, whose "getting along" skills are so great that you can respond to slights by turning them into friendships. That's wonderful. But to tell a whole group of people that they have to be groovey like you, unless they want to be fired or worse, is shockingly unfair. It's not unlike saying, "Oh, if you gay people would just tone it down a bit in public, stop with the kissing, I'd be much more accepting." It might be a rational coping strategy to tone it down in public, but it is an unfair and soul-distorting demand for a majority to make of a minority.

I am not a fan of Dawkins and I stay away from /r/atheism, and I don't agree with soto's angry remarks on religion -- I sympathize with some of your reactions. But you insist on giving yourself over completely to these reactions, ignoring much that is important. Get out of your head a little. Just because you don't think you would be fired for being an atheist doesn't mean it doesn't matter when someone else is. Etc.
posted by grobstein at 9:36 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've seen as much or more straight-up hate from you than from anyone else in this thread. Your argument seems to be that vocal atheists are hateful, insufferable, whining, self-important douchebags who just won't "learn to get along"... yet you are also claiming that nothing hurtful ever happens to people who admit to being atheists. No one ever faces real discrimination due to this non-hateful "perception" of yours -- they're all just crazy, or they're just plain wrong about it, or they're making it up... probably because they hate people so much.

That is not reasonable. It's not the language of progress, either: it's the language of disgust and anger, the very same language you are denying to others.

I'm not picking anyone for an "atheist poster child" (in fact, that's what you're doing, and have been doing throughout this thread). I made myself perfectly clear earlier: atheism is a lack of belief in God(s). That's it, that's all. Being an atheist does not require vocal anti-theism, or "getting along", or taking cues from theism, or any other specific action or belief system. I think the entire idea of picking "poster children" "for atheism" is stupid; I simply chose an obvious handful of examples of real people from this site who claim to have been discriminated against. Sorry one of them was upset about getting fired.

And by the way: sotonohito is a good guy who's been on this site a long time, and he really does not deserve to be insulted and argued over like an inanimate object in a thread he's not even in. I meant that link as nothing more than one example among others, and now I regret it; I'd appreciate it if we could drop the subject here.

All I'm doing is pointing out that the things you assert don't happen, do happen, and that your eagerness to stereotype and insult the people it happens to is just as much a case of "Us versus Them".
posted by vorfeed at 9:55 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you held other groups to the standard you are now holding atheists, you could easily dismiss all of their concerns.

....It strikes me that the people practicing the type of discourse being singled out in this thread actually do this very same kind of standard-holding to the moderate theists.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:56 AM on January 20, 2012


It's with deep disappointment that I note that, out of all the interesting ideas in de Botton's talk, it's evidently just a hook to go into a tired rant about Dawkins-like antitheism. Personally, I'm more interested in the fact that seems to have stumbled across some interesting ideas from cognitive psychology such as mutlisensory learning and reinforcement. I'm also skeptical of his views on art.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:07 PM on January 20, 2012


Ok. You're right, I'm sorry. I take it all back. You've convinced me. I see that I was wrong now.
posted by Misunderestimated at 12:09 AM on January 21, 2012


Just for fun: Take sotonohito's soundbite -- ""I got fired by a group of asshole Christians for the crime of..." -- and substitute "Christians" with "blacks" or "Jews."

Example 1: "I got fired by a group of asshole blacks for the crime of..."
Example 2: "I got fired by a group of asshole Jews for the crime of..."

Honestly assess how those statements would make you feel if they had been said by someone else in another context.

Now ask yourself if it's valid that the sentiment is perfectly acceptable and defensible when directed at one group, but constitutes clear-cut hate speech when directed at a different group. If so, why?
posted by Misunderestimated at 9:33 AM on January 21, 2012


It doesn't strike me as hate speech. "Asshole" reads to me as a qualifier - so, not *all* Christians fired him. The ones who are assholes did.
posted by rtha at 9:41 AM on January 21, 2012


Really? And you'd be willing to give someone else the same benefit of the doubt in a different context? "I got fired by a group of asshole blacks" wouldn't shock your conscience? You can honestly say that your first thought would be, "Oh, he's not talking derogatorily about black people as a group -- he's clearly only talking about the black people who are assholes."

I'm not being snarky. It's a sincere question.
posted by Misunderestimated at 9:57 AM on January 21, 2012


I'd say context like power and illegal discrimination matters. And are my interests in engaging in discussions about praxis and meaning as an atheist and religious humanist really to be held hostage because someone said something bad on the internet?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:19 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we're going to consider context, can we consider the historical context of these United States, and her history of institutionalized discrimination and persecution of blacks and Jews, and the lack thereof of Christians? (Christianity when taken as a whole, that is.)
posted by rtha at 10:23 AM on January 21, 2012


Now ask yourself if it's valid that the sentiment is perfectly acceptable and defensible when directed at one group, but constitutes clear-cut hate speech when directed at a different group. If so, why?

This is a distraction.

There's no good reason for this thread to be a referendum on the character of a Mefite who isn't even reading the thread. Even if we were all convinced this person was a bigot, it wouldn't matter: so there are atheist bigots -- that doesn't suddenly give you license to ignore all atheists' civil rights. Y'know, there are black bigots, gay bigots, Jewish bigots -- there are bigoted people in every group. But pointing them out doesn't make the rights of the group less important.

You really need to stop picking on this one person -- who neither you nor I know, who isn't here to speak for him(?)self -- based on a handful of remarks they made on the Internet immediately after being illegally fired. It isn't relevant and it reflects poorly on you.
posted by grobstein at 11:18 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is not a distraction.

Comments like sotonohito's are entirely to my point. Atheists, like sotonohito and many of the other people who commented in this thread, feel entirely justified in saying -- essentially -- "I hate Christians, I hate religion." And other people, like yourself, feel entirely justified in defending them. Again: If somebody had said "Judaism is my six-fingered man, I will not rest until it is *dead*" the response would (hopefully) have been outrage. This is one of the only contexts where hate speech is not only accepted -- it is defended and encouraged.

So why is that?

Ostensibly, it's because atheists feel that they are the oppressed and theists are the oppressors. They seem to think that since they're being discriminated against, it's acceptable to talk openly about their hatred for the people who are doing the discriminating. Fair enough.

But in order for that claim to hold water, the accusation of discrimination must be valid. You think this is a foregone conclusion; I don't, which is why I'm interested in examining it.

I'm just talking about ideas. This is harmless speculation. Let's all calm down.
posted by Misunderestimated at 11:40 AM on January 21, 2012


Comments like sotonohito's are entirely to my point. Atheists, like sotonohito and many of the other people who commented in this thread, feel entirely justified in saying -- essentially -- "I hate Christians, I hate religion." And other people, like yourself, feel entirely justified in defending them. Again: If somebody had said "Judaism is my six-fingered man, I will not rest until it is *dead*" the response would (hopefully) have been outrage. This is one of the only contexts where hate speech is not only accepted -- it is defended and encouraged.


Is the notion of defending someone's civil rights even if you don't like their opinions so alien to you? The opinions of the group -- even if they are odious -- are not relevant to whether they deserve civil rights. The Communist Party must be allowed to organize even if it is calling for the overthrow of the United States. Neo-Nazis can march in the streets if they get a permit. Saying "kill whitey" doesn't and should not deny you any of the protections of the law.
posted by grobstein at 11:48 AM on January 21, 2012


... which is why I'm interested in examining it.

No you're not given your near complete refusal to address documentation of examples. But here again, why do you think that pillorying a member of metafilter who isn't in this discussion is more important than the mostly civil relationships atheists have with people of faith, atheist participation in interfaith community, or the themes of de Botton's talk?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:59 AM on January 21, 2012


Look -- people who have been mistreated are often bitter. It's a natural response. There are bitter blacks, bitter gays, bitter women, etc. etc. -- people who react to real grievances by lashing out perhaps unreasonably. The Gandhis and MLKs of the world are unusual. To hold someone to account for being less forgiving than Gandhi is a little unfair.

To point to a handful of people's bitterness to discount the claims of a huge group is very unfair.

In fact, it's more than a little like the behavior you're decrying. Some Christians think everyone else must be killed or converted. Some atheists focus myopically on this segment and denounce all Christians. Now comes you, who focuses myopically on this segment to denounce the concerns of all atheists.
posted by grobstein at 12:00 PM on January 21, 2012


This is one of the only contexts where hate speech is not only accepted -- it is defended and encouraged.

Nonsense. You yourself said it: I have no intention of giving hateful people the benefit of the doubt. As long as an entire group of people are "hateful" then you get to say whatever you want about them, including hateful things. And they don't get to point out that others are hateful to them, because that's not an excuse... for them. After all, they can't prove that their accusations of discrimination are valid (even though US courts have, in actuality, awarded damages for it).

Not that you even have an accusation of discrimination, of course -- you just have an "impression" that entire groups of people are self-important douchebags. Well, I have an "impression" that Christianity is harmful to society; funny how that works.

Also, note that sotonohito's entire quote was "I got fired by a group of asshole Christians for the crime of not believing in their hate god" (emphasis mine). He is explicitly pointing out that these are "hateful people". Feel free to explain exactly why you get the right to revoke the benefit of the doubt from people like that, but he doesn't.
posted by vorfeed at 12:50 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


By the way, this is why "hate" is a stupid metric to use to judge others. Everybody's "hateful" toward somebody; society itself is chock-full of poisonous hatefulness towards all sorts of people and ideas, all of which is most certainly "defended and encouraged". Look around you. We're running the single largest prison system in the world, one which has a massive disproportionate effect on minorities, and you want to talk about atheist "hate speech" like it matters? Whatever happened to cancer and AIDS being bigger problems?

As rtha points out, what matters is power and its ability to cause harm, especially institutional harm. When atheists start arranging society so that it inherently inconveniences and even hurts religious people, maybe then I'll care; until then, "it's hate speech!" is just another convenient way to declare anti-theism off-limits, now that "it's blasphemy!" isn't quite cutting it anymore.
posted by vorfeed at 1:01 PM on January 21, 2012


But in order for that claim to hold water, the accusation of discrimination must be valid. You think this is a foregone conclusion; I don't, which is why I'm interested in examining it.

Exactly how many links to court decisions need to be dropped in this thread? Because there have been several. If those don't count for you, please explain why various US courts declaring that the civil rights of nonbelievers have been violated doesn't have any bearing on the validity of discrimination claims by nonbelievers or non-Christians.
posted by rtha at 1:03 PM on January 21, 2012


Going META: I'm unwilling to pass judgement on anyone in that discussion because

1) many of those people are not participating in this discussion,
2) it's four years old,
3) at least two of the people involved have distanced themselves from those kinds of arguments since then, and
4) people often say stupid things on the net, and I'm pretty convinced that a call-out culture is not a good way forward.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:06 PM on January 21, 2012


Misunderestimated: Check this out.
31-year-old Alexander Aan faces a maximum prison sentence of five years for posting “God does not exist” on Facebook. The civil servant was attacked and beaten by an angry mob of dozens who entered his government office at the Dharmasraya Development Planning Board on Wednesday. The Indonesian man was taken into protective police custody Friday since he was afraid of further physical assault.
American atheists may not face the same punishment as people in other cultures, but like any self-identified group, they are aware of what their peers experience around the world. And as an agnostic, I'm with them in making sure we don't allow our society to slide backwards just so we can appear to be nice.
posted by deanklear at 12:00 PM on January 22, 2012


(via slashdot)
posted by deanklear at 12:00 PM on January 22, 2012


And from one of the comments there, here's the persecution of Jessica Ahlquist:
"Jessica Ahlquist may have won her case, but she's going straight to hell #Godovereverything"

"Hmm jess is in my bio class, she's gonna get some shit thrown at her."

"'But for real, somebody should jump this girl' lmao let's do it!"
Those are tweets from her classmates in high school.
posted by deanklear at 12:07 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


More de Botton

He's starting to annoy me because he seems to be taking credit for inventing ideas about non-theistic culture, place, and ritual that have a history in things like ethical culture, religions of practice, and humanist movements within UU, Judaism, The Society of Friends, and Buddhism among other places.

But the fact that his ideas seem to make his religious critics flip out and expose their prejudices about belief, practice, and the lives of atheists makes me extremely sympathetic for the moment.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:18 AM on January 26, 2012


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