The voice of reason... in Washington, DC?!
March 23, 2012 11:17 PM   Subscribe

Organized irreligion! This weekend , Washington, D.C. will be invaded by the voice of reason. A free rally featuring Tim Minchin, Paul Provenza, Richard Dawkins, Eddie Izzard, Adam Savage, James Randi, Bad Religion, and many others, in what is anticipated to be the largest gathering of non-believers in America.
"If we don't organize, we will be the only ones not organized. Religion will be organized. We won't be organized. That means we lose... and they win."
posted by markkraft (489 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Imagine... all the important critical thinkers in one place... where they can be easily rounded up and sent way...
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:45 PM on March 23, 2012


One of the cool things about Atheism I've found is this: I pretty much decided to be an Atheist on my own (what I mean is, no outside forces convinced me, I just "came to the conclusion") and through no apparent intent, I have tended to gravitate to / respect / listen to other Atheists, despite ZERO discussion of religion at all. I daresay it is MORE of a way of life than even hardcore Hassidem / Muslims / Franciscan Monks / insert (quote-unquote hardcore religious faction here) groups, because I did not have to be indoctrinated.

It just turned out, I happened to think like these people in general (on other matters) and lo and behold, we had one more thing in common.

I like Paul Provenza because he is funny. I like Adam Savage because he debunks myths (an hobby of mine) and he makes a damn interesting TV show. I like Eddie Izzard because he is entertaining. I like James Randi because he's great at magic (another hobby) and isn't afraid to expose huxsters (another hobby) I like Bad Religion because they fucking rock. None of these people, when I first became fans, were overtly "atheists" (except maybe Bad Religion, eh) yet somehow there was common ground. I didn't have to ask them where they stood on certain issues, because that was beside the point.

Frankly, given science's track record vs. religion (one works "every time" vs. another which works "when it works,) I'm surprised science isn't the more popular option at this point. Granted, it's fairly popular, but let's face it: science-based stuff breaks down every so often, whereas faith is, by definition, infallible. (Jesus can fix airplane engines, etc.)
posted by ShutterBun at 11:47 PM on March 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Fantagonistic!
posted by stbalbach at 11:49 PM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


As much as I hate hearing factoids that suggest atheists aren't trusted by the majority of Americans, I just can't hang at these kinds of events. I don't hate Dawkins or Bad Religion or Eddie Izzard. They're cool. But I'm lucky; I live in a place my atheism can be private and there's not much reason to get in anyone's face. It means I don't have to affiliate with smug ignorant douchebags like Zombie Mohammed and the like. "Reason" doesn't drive me to make loud public displays mocking the beliefs of others, who by and large acknowledge it's faith anyways and not a question of reason to begin with. I hope these guys are respectful, because too often atheist events leave a bad taste in my mouth. Events like this remind me to remember how lucky I am fundies don't have the influence here they might elsewhere, and I can go about my life without ever really broaching the subject of religion. Good luck to you if you think this can gain atheism some acceptance.
posted by Hoopo at 11:50 PM on March 23, 2012 [29 favorites]


Sadly, the forecast calls for rain. And a chance of scattered thunderbolts, no doubt.
posted by chomarui at 12:07 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Frankly, given science's track record vs. religion (one works "every time" vs. another which works "when it works,) I'm surprised science isn't the more popular option at this point. Granted, it's fairly popular, but let's face it: science-based stuff breaks down every so often, whereas faith is, by definition, infallible. (Jesus can fix airplane engines, etc.)

Science isn't the more popular option because people like you are the voices touting the superiority of science.

Must say this again, science and religion are not mutually exclusive, no matter what the extremes at either end shout.
posted by Dagobert at 12:10 AM on March 24, 2012 [22 favorites]


This sounds like about as much fun as going to a Billy Graham revival.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:10 AM on March 24, 2012 [20 favorites]


"Reason" doesn't drive me to make loud public displays mocking the beliefs of others, who by and large acknowledge it's faith anyways and not a question of reason to begin with.

How much is airfare to your utopia?

Here 'Merika, we need every bit of verbal atheism we can get. And I'm okay with some sharp elbows if that gives us some breathing space.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:12 AM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


"But I'm lucky; I live in a place my atheism can be private and there's not much reason to get in anyone's face."

I don't think it's about getting in people's faces. Rather, there is a growing movement towards atheists getting the level of recognition and representation, politically and societally, that the religious right have. That means urging people like you to come out of the closet, and seek recognition.

Claiming that you can go about your business without having to broach the subject of religion doesn't do a thing to counter the efforts of the religious right to impinge upon your freedoms, to deny science, to undermine policies, to transvaginally state rape women, etc.

Your nice quiet life has unfortunately helped to enable those who most certainly won't be silent.
posted by markkraft at 12:14 AM on March 24, 2012 [39 favorites]


The point that is often missed by atheists (see, in particular, Richard Dawkins) is that religion is not so much about a particular belief in a particular deity, but rather about a common set of values. In other words, it tries to give answers to lots of questions, such as, Is it OK to kill someone? Is it OK to beat your wife? Who should be the one in power? How should women dress? (Different answers given by differnt religions to each of these questions.) The answers to those questions, i.e. the set of values, is what holds the religious group together, not the rationalization through religious dogma. By contrast, the main common ground among atheists appears to be the rejection of the rationalization through religious dogma and not some clear set of values. But simply rejecting "the great wizard in the sky" and arguing that science is clearly superior to religion if you only think about it hard enough misses the point of religion entirely.

Secondly, organized religion is significantly about gathering and socializing, and in that sense it fulfills a deep human instinct. I daresay that half of the people attending mass every Sunday don't give a rat's ass about Jesus and his teachings, but go to church anyway because they enjoy the company, the after-church events, and meeting people who are similar to them. In that sense, doing a rally like that is on the right track, but to really compete with religion, atheists need to do weekly events to come even close to being a serious alternative to religion. And if you throw in the necessary set of values, however rationalized, then that does make them just another religion.
posted by sour cream at 12:18 AM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I live in a place my atheism can be private and there's not much reason to get in anyone's face.

In my town, by contrast, atheism is required to be constantly loudly proclaimed.
posted by telstar at 12:19 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I read an interesting observation as to the US's religiosity in that while the rest of the world was coming to terms with Darwinism, the US was experiencing a civil war.

If atheists were attempting to organise on my part of the world - well it wouldn't rate a mention.
posted by mattoxic at 12:22 AM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Your nice quiet life has unfortunately helped to enable those who most certainly won't be silent.

It's this sort of attitude that has turned me off of organized religion, and it's a shame that you chose to use the word "enable". If you want to march in a parade, that's great, but don't think any other "atheists" owe you anything.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:23 AM on March 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


If atheists were attempting to organise on my part of the world - well it wouldn't rate a mention. west coast of Canada. I was astounded a few years ago when I realized my son had no idea who this "Jesus" fellow was, or the concept of "god". We do make sure he pays his respects in front of the Buddhist altar on our trips back to Japan, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:25 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we don't organize, we will be the only ones not organized.

...and?
posted by Roman Graves at 12:27 AM on March 24, 2012


If we don't organize, we will be the only ones not organized.

...and?

No cakes
posted by mattoxic at 12:28 AM on March 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


I think there's some confirmation bias there, ShutterBun. Chances are that you like a lot of other people who in some fashion or another believe something; you just notice the atheists more because you have that in common. I'm not an atheist but think a lot of these people have very interesting things to say, both on this topic and others. I think if you're just generally a progressive person who is interested in science and so on, that you're going to end up a fan of a number of people who aren't religious, and given the tone of the world today, at least a few of those people are going to have to be outspoken about it.

The organizational aspect is interesting even with liberal religious groups, who are now coming to the realization that generally being non-evangelical and non-confrontational has put us in a position of being run over by the fundies in the spiked shoes. I think, given the experiences of my friends who are agnostics/atheists, that there'd be a lot of benefit from having organizations not just on the large scale but locally to provide the sort of community and support that churches typically have, but I'm not sure how reasonable that really is, as expectations go. A lot of the most conservative churches prey heavily upon lonely people that way, though. Integration as a community is an inoculation against extremism.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:30 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The unwavering belief that there are no deities seems just as faith oriented as the unwavering belief that there are. Agnostic atheists seem a tad more reasonable to my eyes.
posted by zeoslap at 12:33 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Science isn't the more popular option because people like you are the voices touting the superiority of science.

Oh. Well, I'll be happy to stay out of the way, and let better voices do whatever "touting" they want.

science and religion are not mutually exclusive

That's a popular trope, and no doubt there is a long list of names of "famous scientists who were also religious." There are probably plenty of sub-sects whereby one could resolve oneself to accepting both the scientific method, as well as articles of faith. I'm fully willing to admit that my failure to see a clear resolution between the two is somehow a failure on my part, as opposed to a compromise on the other side.

But seeing as how you're calling me out on it, I'd be interested to learn of a particular article of faith that gels with the scientific method without requiring me to prove a negative.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:35 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Atheists are just so precious when they talk like they think they're the only ones who use Reason (especially when they capitalize it).
posted by straight at 12:37 AM on March 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


unwavering belief that there are no deities

How about reasonable standards for proof? Like actual physical evidence maybe? And the more unreasonable your conclusion is, the better the evidence has to be.

What's more interesting is the Hitchen's approach to questioning the full on moral basis of religion: that the idea of a eternal celestial dictatorship is foul on its own merits and totally repugnant.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:38 AM on March 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


"If we don't organize, we will be the only ones not organized."

...and?"


"That means we lose, and they win. That means this country becomes a Christian nation. That means your children will have fewer rights than you have right now. That means taxes will go up so that churches pay none. That means our lifespan will continue to be dictated by the whims of holy men, who want to restrict scientific process and scientific progress. That means our kids will grow up thinking that "God did it" is a valid and viable scientific explanation."

"It's this sort of attitude that has turned me off of organized religion."

And unions? And minorities? And political campaigns? And perhaps anything that smacks of putting forth an actual effort to achieve intended results?
posted by markkraft at 12:40 AM on March 24, 2012 [31 favorites]


I think there's some confirmation bias there, ShutterBun.

Oh, no doubt. And it was probably more due to eagerness on my part: "Hey! all these great people who I look up to, also happen to agree with me on this issue! I must inform Metafilter!" so there's that.

But looking a bit deeper, I tend to discover that it's often a case* of "they arrived at the same conclusions I did, via similar means = we're buddies!" as opposed to "ah, they happen to like mint chocolate chip ice cream, just like me!"

*and yep, there have probably been a lot of other people I respect/admire who would be totally at odds with my opinions on religion/politics/etc. So yeah, confirmation bias is likely in full effect. Nevertheless, there were a pretty good percentage of people on the list in the FPP that rank way high in my personal favorites.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:42 AM on March 24, 2012


ShutterBun: But seeing as how you're calling me out on it, I'd be interested to learn of a particular article of faith that gels with the scientific method without requiring me to prove a negative.

What the hell are you talking about? Religion is not about "proving a negative". Or proving anything, for that matter. It's about getting together. Cakes after church. Telling people what to do. Doing charitable acts. Meeting the right mate. Shunning and shaming people who don't do what we want them to do. Running hospitals. Justifying power.
posted by sour cream at 12:47 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Being an atheist doesn't mean that you have an unwavering belief that there are no deities.

Rather, it literally means "not theist"... not a theist.

Frankly, we're all atheists.

Seriously, when was the last time you made a proper blood sacrifice to Supai, The God of Death? Don't you know that your lack of a sacrifice could mean that he will take you next?

What? You worship God instead, but ignore Supai, Minerva, or Zeus? Why is that?!

Atheists are like you. They have no rational basis to worship Supai, Minerva, or Zeus. They just have followed this rational belief to its logical conclusion.

If you really want to change their mind, it's pretty simple. All you have to do is put forth some really solid, absolutely convincing evidence to change their minds.
posted by markkraft at 12:52 AM on March 24, 2012 [25 favorites]


I heard the cake is a lie, anyway.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:55 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


(You don't have to come up with the evidence right away, either. We can wait, just so long as you don't try pressing the issue until you have the definitive proof. Perhaps we can spot you a couple thousand years?!)
posted by markkraft at 12:56 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Frankly, given science's track record vs. religion (one works "every time" vs. another which works "when it works,) I'm surprised science isn't the more popular option at this point.

It's the single most popular belief system in the West / the modern world.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:59 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


With that one glaring exception...
posted by Chekhovian at 1:02 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


And unions? And minorities? And political campaigns? And perhaps anything that smacks of putting forth an actual effort to achieve intended results?

Unions exist to champion the rights of workers. Groups supporting people of colour exist to support people of colour. Together and enmeshed, they tackle a broad set of tightly linked issues called "social justice" which, while hanging together with similar principles speak to specific materialistic issues.

Brights-style atheism toys with specifics, but is mostly about opposing a set of beliefs that people have used to justify great harm and some good, and which are mostly held by reasonable people, many of whom are pretty smart. These people are the enemy, to be pitied, or to be regarded as slightly to greatly stupid because of something in their head that cannot be proven to cause any actual harm. Class oppression and racism cause actual harm. Religious bigotry causes actual harm. Just being religious probably doesn't.

I sure do think atheists should be respected and not discriminated against, and that society needs a secular basis with a mice mix of reason and pragmatic tradition. I think that if people need to rail against something that doesn't exist and causes demonstrably great harm, they should probably start with the rational actor of economics.
posted by mobunited at 1:02 AM on March 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


"It's the single most popular belief widely used system in the West / the modern world."

... but not particularly popular, because science doesn't fix everything, or bend comfortably to allow us to do everything we would like to do in life, with no consequences whatsoever.

In comparison, God is a nebulous, malleable, Etch-a-Sketch thing that you can shape to be or do whatever you want, who can support your every action and fulfill your every wish. The only problem being, if you actually want him to do anything to help, you might have to be prepared to wait until after you're dead first.

...and that's why the hospitals of this world are filled with believers.
posted by markkraft at 1:08 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]



In comparison, God is a nebulous, malleable, Etch-a-Sketch thing that you can shape to be or do whatever you want, who can support your every action and fulfill your every wish. The only problem being, if you actually want him to do anything to help, you might have to be prepared to wait until after you're dead first.

...and that's why the hospitals of this world are filled with believers.


Do you have persuasive evidence of this, or did you just make it up?
posted by mobunited at 1:15 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


if people need to rail against something that doesn't exist and causes demonstrably great harm, they should probably start with the rational actor of economics.

They are somewhat convolved, eh? Did you see the Alexandra Pelosi Mississippi Video?
posted by Chekhovian at 1:17 AM on March 24, 2012


(People's ideas of God, I should say. I have absolutely no evidence of there being a God at all... but people have used their ideas of God to justify no end of diametrically-opposed opposites, from being nice to people to killing them, respecting science to rejecting it, empowering women to making them chattel, protecting the environment to strip-mining it, etc.)
posted by markkraft at 1:21 AM on March 24, 2012


And zooming out to the strategic level, its these sort of discussions that make me secretly wish I was a conservative...they can fucking organize and get things done. Its always herding cats with (us) liberals.

And if someone tries to even stick the periscope above the water with something like this rally...well liberals that should be supporting it go all "You're just as bad as those other people that wield actual power and use it to do terrible things".

I mean...FUCK.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:23 AM on March 24, 2012 [15 favorites]


And if someone tries to even stick the periscope above the water with something like this rally...well liberals that should be supporting it go all "You're just as bad as those other people that wield actual power and use it to do terrible things".

I mean...FUCK.


Why should any community support a rally arguing that the majority of its members are fools?
posted by mobunited at 1:25 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The rational actor is like the ideal gas or the perfect black body, it's an assumption that is made in order to build mathematical models; it's not meant to be taken literally.
posted by Pyry at 1:31 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks, I should have said:

[secular progressive liberals] that should be supporting it go all "You're just as bad as those other people that wield actual power and use it to do terrible things".

And frankly, conservatives [at least before this last presidential cycle] used to pull together and get things done, even when they didn't agree with each other 100%. It was still better than the other option. So even religious Dems should be supporting these kind of activities. Us liberal atheists are still better than the alternative.

And plus, isn't supporting a hated minority group the thing they're supposed to do? Not everyone in a gay pride parade is gay right? There are straight people that march just to help, and because its the right thing to do.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:32 AM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Just being religious probably doesn't [cause harm]

True enough. It only tends to become a problem when combined with "being human."
But seriously, my main problem with religion/belief in god is that "there's no reason TO believe in god, anymore than there is a reason to believe that there is a tree that grows mattresses somewhere in the universe."

But yeah, for me, there's no getting around the old expression of "how the hell do you know who your daddy is? Cuz your mamma told you so!" I haven't DNA tested myself against my dad's DNA, so obviously I'm prepared to accept certain things on faith/facts/and evidence. I guess that makes me a bit of a hypocrite? Entirely possible, though I'd like think that, in the absence of "proof," I at least have a "preponderance of evidence" on my side.

But I'm always interested to see one side "put their money where their mouth is" vs. the other. Granted, lie detectors are about as nebulous as science gets, but I've always been curious to see a fundamentalist vs. an avowed atheist on a polygraph machine regarding what they really believe.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:35 AM on March 24, 2012


There are straight people that march just to help, and because its the right thing to do.

The strongest voices in the queer community don't write books about how heterosexual desire is contemptible.
posted by mobunited at 1:37 AM on March 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


The rational actor is like the ideal gas or the perfect black body, it's an assumption that is made in order to build mathematical models; it's not meant to be taken literally.

It's a good thing those mathematical models have never been used to make disastrous decisions, then.
posted by mobunited at 1:38 AM on March 24, 2012


Why should any community support a rally arguing that the majority of its members are fools?

Well, Socrates (at least, historically speaking) seemed to get pretty good mileage out of that whole "I know one thing: that I know nothing" idea.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:40 AM on March 24, 2012


it's not meant to be taken literally.

So, it could refer to any manufacturers of dairy products, then?
posted by ShutterBun at 1:41 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The strongest voices in the queer community don't write books about how heterosexual desire is contemptible.

Well, nitpicking this analogy isn't exactly breaking new ground in the debate, but what the heck. My view is that this rally is a lot like a pride parade. The point is to make space for the public existence of something...and, well a little bit of outrageous behavior helps a lot. What's needed is a multipronged offensive on all fronts, polite, impolite, everything.

Right now, we have so very little of anything.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:42 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, Socrates (at least, historically speaking) seemed to get pretty good mileage out of that whole "I know one thing: that I know nothing" idea.

He didn't follow it up by saying that taking your kids to the Parthenon was child abuse.
posted by mobunited at 1:42 AM on March 24, 2012


He didn't follow it up by saying that taking your kids to the Parthenon was child abuse.

Of course not! That was the Gymnasium!
posted by Hoopo at 1:44 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Us liberal atheists are still better than the alternative.

Well, yeah. I'll take a liberal atheists over any conservative any day (and there are secular conservatives). That's what is so maddening, why people who band together in most threads on MetaFilter suddenly go at each other's throats when theist vs. atheist comes up. In terms of what we want for our country, we want the same things. But there's so much fucking SNIPING that goes back and forth. "Invisible sky wizard!" "Angry atheists!"
posted by charred husk at 1:44 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


While we might be treading in the areas of Kuhn and Godel, science is not a "belief system". That's what threatened theists tend to call it, but it's far more accurately called a "method" or a "truth-seeking mechanism".

Science is what works and continues to be true even when you refuse to believe in it.

We can debate whether or not science and religion are overlapping majesteria, but it's fairly clear that the majority of the theistic population of the US feels that science is a direct threat to religious belief.

> The answers to those questions, i.e. the set of values, is what holds the religious group together, not the rationalization through religious dogma.

I would have to disagree. If what you say was remotely true, then it would follow that it would be disagreements over the answers to those questions - "is it right to kill the infidel?" - that would lead to schisms. Under those conditions, a Christian faith could never be born. In reality, it is doctrinal shifts - theological questions over salvation through acts, not grace; veneration of icons; which holy person carries a particular bloodline - that leads to new religious groups forming.

That fragmentation also points to the weakness of your point. One would expect that the superior values of a true religion, if one existed, would be self-evident: believers would flock to its particular banner. In fact, the opposite occurs: there are over 20,000 identifiable separate sects today in Christianity alone, many of them violently antithetical towards each other.

> but to really compete with religion, atheists need to do weekly events to come even close to being a serious alternative to religion

On this point I absolutely agree. We're getting some way towards it, with events like Skeptics In The Pub, but in an ideal world it would be "Okay, family - let's go down to the multi-million dollar public MakerSpace this Sunday and learn science!"

Personally, I think the rally is a great idea. Rather like other invisible minorities that cannot be immediately identified by external appearances, and being aware of the potential social costs of being out as a non-believer, atheists have tended to assume that they were alone, or at least rare, and have largely remained silent. The internet has made a big change in that over the last two decades, but there is nothing like seeing boots on the ground to forge self-awareness, pride, and an active political voice.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 1:45 AM on March 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


Well, nitpicking this analogy isn't exactly breaking new ground in the debate, but what the heck. My view is that this rally is a lot like a pride parade. The point is to make space for the public existence of something...and, well a little bit of outrageous behavior helps a lot. What's needed is a multipronged offensive on all fronts, polite, impolite, everything.

Right now, we have so very little of anything.


Getting out in numbers? Yeah. Go for it. But Pride is a reaction to specific material problems. People beat queer folks up, imprison them and throw them out of the house. These material issues have a common theme that was not about how heterosexuality itself is a social poison, but that heterosexism is. These are two different things.
posted by mobunited at 1:48 AM on March 24, 2012


We can debate whether or not science and religion are overlapping majesteria, but it's fairly clear that the majority of the theistic population of the US feels that science is a direct threat to religious belief.

Do you have evidence for this, or did you just make it up?
posted by mobunited at 1:49 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The point that is often missed by atheists (see, in particular, Richard Dawkins) is that religion is not so much about a particular belief in a particular deity, but rather about a common set of values. In other words, it tries to give answers to lots of questions, such as, Is it OK to kill someone? Is it OK to beat your wife? Who should be the one in power? How should women dress? (Different answers given by differnt religions to each of these questions.) The answers to those questions, i.e. the set of values, is what holds the religious group together, not the rationalization through religious dogma.

This is why I'm an antitheist. I'm stuck living in a society which may never seriously re-evaluate many of its values because they are "sacred" -- and it's not just one society, it's all of them, an entire species which isn't asking important questions of itself (or, at the very least, isn't open to hearing certain answers). I think that's "actual harm" enough, and it always has been... especially to those whose answers don't match up with those of the locally-dominant religion.

Lest we forget, there are real people who are still being hurt, ostracized, and sometimes even put to death for transgressing against arbitrary social values that are rationalized through religious dogma. Millions of people in this country alone have to hide part of who they are or risk suffering, as a direct result of this oh-so-important set of "shared" religious values. And for what? Why shouldn't we challenge the idea that we exist to obey somebody else's values?

Why should any community support a rally arguing that the majority of its members are fools?

Why should any community support a religion arguing that the majority of its members are sinners, or weak and base, or locked in a cycle of suffering?
posted by vorfeed at 1:50 AM on March 24, 2012 [29 favorites]


Do you have evidence for this, or did you just make it up?

Seriously? Have you ever seen a poll about evolution? Or talked to someone that supports Santorum?
posted by Chekhovian at 1:51 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


You use the best models you have; what's the alternative, flipping coins for your decisions? Relying on gut feelings? Right now the models aren't very good, but that isn't because economists aren't trying hard enough; we don't trash the entire field of meterology when it rains contrary to predictions.
posted by Pyry at 1:52 AM on March 24, 2012


Seriously? Have you ever seen a poll about evolution? Or talked to someone that supports Santorum?

You're asking me if I've seen a poll that is not about the claim, and about anecdotal experiences regarding a guy who doesn't have the support of most people? That's some strict reasoning.

Honestly, having a crank belief about evolution is not a chastisement of the whole of science any more than having any number of crank beliefs is a broad assault on anything. In fact, the very inconsistencies of the commitment -- if I hate evolution but believe in organic chemistry -- are prime ways to attack that crankery.
posted by mobunited at 1:57 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd be there if I could. Especially now Izzard's on the bill.
posted by Decani at 1:58 AM on March 24, 2012


The strongest voices in the queer community don't write books about how heterosexual desire is contemptible.
posted by mobunited at 9:37 AM on March 24


Probably because, unlike religion, it isn't.

Get in!
posted by Decani at 1:59 AM on March 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


You use the best models you have; what's the alternative, flipping coins for your decisions? Relying on gut feelings? Right now the models aren't very good, but that isn't because economists aren't trying hard enough; we don't trash the entire field of meterology when it rains contrary to predictions.

Meteorologists don't recommend rainfall to effective rainmakers based on models that assume that water will be utilized ever more efficiently so that it never runs out, according to the demands of people they assume will always ask for exactly the amount of rain they need.
posted by mobunited at 2:00 AM on March 24, 2012


Probably because, unlike religion, it isn't.

Do you have a rational moral argument that religion is contemptible, or are you just making it up?
posted by mobunited at 2:02 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]



How much is airfare to your utopia?


It's Vancouver, and utopia it ain't
posted by Hoopo at 2:03 AM on March 24, 2012


Why should any community support a religion arguing that the majority of its members are sinners, or weak and base, or locked in a cycle of suffering?

I would think that it's because they are comforted by a framework that provides a metaphor for a sense of unease that they probably feel by virtue of being human, and that framework includes advice that, when they follow it, often makes them feel better about that unease.
posted by mobunited at 2:05 AM on March 24, 2012


Do you have a rational moral argument that religion is contemptible, or are you just making it up?
posted by mobunited at 5:02 AM on March 24 [+]


Dude, could we really try not to do this here? I've been trying to type something up about the rally but I'd feel like a douche if I did it while you're here pissing in the atheist swimming pool.
posted by charred husk at 2:06 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Do you have a rational moral argument that religion is contemptible, or are you just making it up?

Can I answer this one too? Because its so much more interesting than the tired old creationism vs evolution is or isn't a refutation of science point.

So, its a permanent celestial dictatorship. That's why. You do what the sky father says or he will hurt you. Maybe a lot, maybe forever. Maybe he'll outsource the hurting to some offshore/underground outside vendors, but he's still the one that setup the rules.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:07 AM on March 24, 2012 [15 favorites]


Why should any community support a religion arguing that the majority of its members are sinners, or weak and base, or locked in a cycle of suffering?

I dunno, because that much is generally true?
posted by Hoopo at 2:08 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


husk, Lol, sorry.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:08 AM on March 24, 2012


Dude, could we really try not to do this here? I've been trying to type something up about the rally but I'd feel like a douche if I did it while you're here pissing in the atheist swimming pool.

I keep saying it because it keeps mattering.

When you say that a certain metaphysical position is not only true, but makes you a better person than the majority of people on the planet, you're making a pretty drastic claim. When the support for that claim consists of a series of anecdotes and just-so stories, then you have *shitty evidence*.

If you condemn most people's moral and/or intellectual characteristics based on shitty evidence, that's bad. Don't do it! Condemn other people who do it, no matter their beliefs in sky people or memes!
posted by mobunited at 2:17 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, its a permanent celestial dictatorship. That's why. You do what the sky father says or he will hurt you. Maybe a lot, maybe forever. Maybe he'll outsource the hurting to some offshore/underground outside vendors, but he's still the one that setup the rules.

Now we're getting somewhere. Certainly, that's an effective argument (but maybe not; see below) against a lot of popular American Christianity, but not all of it. It's not the model of the universe used by most religions, or even most Christian sects.

Within this limited claim, you have a pretty strong argument. There are great supporting points about the other destructive effects of this setup hindering human rights and environmental protection. There's lots of evidence there.

Now Hitch's way of going about it is basically wrong, because it argues that something should be tossed out if it is structurally morally repugnant. Unfortunately, there are lost of structurally morally repugnant things that can generate a whole bunch of utility. Hitch didn't want to get rid of the US military apparatus as long as it was bombing people he thought ought to die for everyone else's benefit. On a less controversial note (because Hitch was a chickenhawk asshole) morally repugnant structures crushed the Nazis, and that was a good thing.

So I think the morality of the setup isn't enough. You need specific material things, and claims that don't overstep their bounds. Isn't that rational?
posted by mobunited at 2:27 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


"If we don't organize, we will be the only ones not organized. Religion will be organized. We won't be organized. That means we lose... and they win."

Didn't know it was a competition. Like the Crusades or Jihad, I guess. But its different because of the freethinking and all.
posted by karathrace at 2:29 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here 'Merika, we need every bit of verbal atheism we can get. And I'm okay with some sharp elbows if that gives us some breathing space.

I really don't understand the difference really vocal atheists and really vocal religious people.
posted by karathrace at 2:31 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, its a permanent celestial dictatorship. That's why. You do what the sky father says or he will hurt you. Maybe a lot, maybe forever. Maybe he'll outsource the hurting to some offshore/underground outside vendors, but he's still the one that setup the rules.

Do you really believe that people flock to churches and religious gatherings because of a fear of the wrath of God? If anything, the opposite is true and they go there because of the message of hope that they hear.

The rules, of course, were made up by man, in the context of the social mores at the time. The stuff about how God handed them down to Moses or Muhammad or whoever is just the justification, and the stuff about going to hell is just a bit of reinforcement to make it stick. And frankly, hardly anyone is buying this last bit nowadays, so it's wearing off heavily.

But be that as it may, what are your beliefs and where do they come from? The closest atheist belief system that I can think off on the fly is Ayn Randian psychopathic Darwinism, which is not an appealing alternative, I must say. In other words, say what you want about organized religion, at least it's a fucking ethos.

Which is not to say that the rally organizers aren't on the right track...
posted by sour cream at 2:38 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really don't understand the difference really vocal atheists and really vocal religious people.

One group has power and an organized following and uses those to (among other things) marginalize the other group.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:39 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really don't understand the difference really vocal atheists and really vocal religious people.

Well, you're not going to hear atheists advocating the multilation of children, forcing people to wear silly underwear, or really getting up in anyone's faces about sex stuff in general.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:41 AM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


or really getting up in anyone's faces about sex stuff in general.

Except in a consensual awesome way that is.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:41 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I keep saying it because it keeps mattering.

We've had massive MetaTalks because theists couldn't have a discussion about a theistic subject without having to defend first principals over and over again. Now a post about a rally for atheists has devolved into debating first principals...

on preview, fuck it. Go ahead and rehash the same old shit for the millionth time and get all het up. I'm to bed.
posted by charred husk at 2:42 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Certainly, that's an effective argument ...most religions...

My argument was meant be concise rather than thorough. So we can "one true scotsman" our way through every religions ever, but that's really not very interesting is it?

[should] something should be tossed out if it is structurally morally repugnant. Unfortunately, there are lost of structurally morally repugnant things that can generate a whole bunch of utility.

Then it becomes a question of utility balance. I think raising animals for meat is repugnant. I still eat meat. I don't know. I guess I shouldn't, but its hard to argue with the utility it provides me in my diet. [I know there are better options and hopefully I'll manage that someday]
posted by Chekhovian at 2:49 AM on March 24, 2012


I would think that it's because they are comforted by a framework that provides a metaphor for a sense of unease that they probably feel by virtue of being human, and that framework includes advice that, when they follow it, often makes them feel better about that unease.

Likewise, people who carry anti-tiger rocks are comforted by a framework that provides a metaphor for a sense of being stalked by invisible tigers that they probably feel by virtue of being human, and that framework includes advice that, when they follow it, often makes them feel better about being stalked by invisible tigers.

Or, in other words, this strikes me as a classic example of begging the question. The part about the "sense of unease that they probably feel by virtue of being human" assumes that people need religious metaphors to relieve a feeling which is constantly reinforced by religious metaphors themselves, often starting before children are old enough to read and write. It's a vicious cycle, and that's my point -- we do not even seriously question whether our particular cultural hang-ups come into existence "by virtue of being human", we simply assert that they do (and, on preview, we tend to insist that specific religious dogmas which have not always been believed by all people at all times -- or even in our time -- are "generally true", and that other widely-held religious dogmas, like the need for sacrifice, are not).

If this kind of cultural myopia is what you want from your society, go for it... but I will condemn it. If you want the ability to label some things as "bad" then I'm afraid you'll have to accept the possibility of hearing that word applied to other things, including religion.
posted by vorfeed at 2:51 AM on March 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


We've had massive MetaTalks because theists couldn't have a discussion about a theistic subject without having to defend first principals over and over again. Now a post about a rally for atheists has devolved into debating first principals...

No, each case is specific, but develops from the same error. They were not references to the elementary skepticism. They were general statements about what posters thought religious people believed and how they behaved because . . . they just kind of thought that.

Now I'm guilty of the same thing, in that I expressed my opinion about why people turn to religion. But at least I qualified it as an opinion, not a firm statement about why hospitals are full of religious people or somesuch.

Nothing I responded to was about whether atheism was valid or true or anything. They had fuck-all to do with anybody's first principles. They were all about claims made by popular atheists about religion as a damaging moral force and as an anti-intellectual force. Certainly, it isn't necessary to believe either of these things about religion generally to be an atheist. But as I said upthread, these are extraordinary claims, and the rhetoric used to defend them is weak, and relies on terrible evidence. This is quite different from saying that Scientology or Catholicism is damaging. There's actual ground to argue upon there.
posted by mobunited at 2:54 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm an atheist. It doesn't really matter. My family and the vast majority of the people I know are religious. It doesn't really matter. We pretty much all agree that we shouldn't be dicks, that no matter what happens after we die, we have a fairly short time together, so we should--at the very least--not make it any worse for each other, and if we get a chance, make it better.

Atheists, don't let the shouting fundamentalist minority make you think that all religious folks are full of hate and intolerance; religious folks, don't assume that just because someone doesn't believe in a deity they are predisposed to murderous, lecherous revels.

If someone already said this in the comments, sorry, but I've had a few drinks and reading just isn't as easy as it was a few hours ago.

Also, sorry about the dodgy punctuation.
posted by Ducks or monkeys at 3:04 AM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


The point that is often missed by atheists (see, in particular, Richard Dawkins) is that religion is not so much about a particular belief in a particular deity, but rather about a common set of values. In other words, it tries to give answers to lots of questions, such as, Is it OK to kill someone? Is it OK to beat your wife? Who should be the one in power? How should women dress? (Different answers given by differnt religions to each of these questions.) The answers to those questions, i.e. the set of values, is what holds the religious group together, not the rationalization through religious dogma.

I disagree with your statement, for the following reason: If you start attending a Christian church in the US, and profess the same values as the congregation, except you claim that Zeus/Thor/Mohammed is the reason you choose those values, how many churches will see that as fitting in seamlessly? Unitarians, maybe.
posted by dubold at 3:07 AM on March 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


We've had massive MetaTalks because theists couldn't have a discussion about a theistic subject without having to defend first principals over and over again. Now a post about a rally for atheists has devolved into debating first principals...

Actually I view these "derails" as a natural extension of the point of the post. Something like that rally is about providing breathing room and public acknowledgement of atheism. This arguement does the same thing. So sure we refight the same battle over and over again. That's the point. Eventually we'll win.

You don't stop doing math problems after you've grasped the basic principle.

So Mobunited, thanks for being the boogerman here.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:07 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Likewise, people who carry anti-tiger rocks are comforted by a framework that provides a metaphor for a sense of being stalked by invisible tigers that they probably feel by virtue of being human, and that framework includes advice that, when they follow it, often makes them feel better about being stalked by invisible tigers.

Sorry, it's not the kind of thing that can be damaged by this sort of thought experiment. A general fear of death is, for example, universal in the way a particular fear of death is not.

Or, in other words, this strikes me as a classic example of begging the question. The part about the "sense of unease that they probably feel by virtue of being human" assumes that people need religious metaphors to relieve a feeling which is constantly reinforced by religious metaphors themselves, often starting before children are old enough to read and write.

No, that doesn't work. You can say that particular fears are caused by particular dogmas, but religion exists in virtually every society, and human beings have many common sources of unease that also appear in virtually every society: distress over a lack of purpose, mortality, physical pain, the unreliability of the senses and the categories in which we place people and objects -- lots of stuff. You can criticize particulars like the invisible tiger but you can't say "Therefore, being afraid of dying is irrational, and was probably the Pope's fault."


It's a vicious cycle, and that's my point -- we do not even seriously question whether our particular cultural hang-ups come into existence "by virtue of being human", we simply assert that they do (and, on preview, we tend to insist that specific religious dogmas which have not always been believed by all people at all times -- or even in our time -- are "generally true", and that other widely-held religious dogmas, like the need for sacrifice, are not).


Particulars are, but we can see enough people in enough places to sense certain patterns, and it isn't particularly adventurous to claim that these patterns suggest common anxieties and ways of thinking. From here, you may be thinking I'm arguing why religion is *true*, but I don't care about that. I care about its utility and usefulness as a framework people use to organize their thoughts and feelings. If you're believe that evolution is as strong as Dawkins does, religion's near-universality suggests that it provides some kind of utility for our genes and to a lesser extent, ourselves. The funny thing is that Dawkins kind of realizes this bind he's in, and heads for wild just-so stories so demonstrate that religion is gene-fit but Still Bad For You because, y'know memetic-peacock males blah blah blah.
posted by mobunited at 3:08 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


To paraphrase most anti-religious arguments: 'but it's not a rational position! There's no evidence! Dudes, it totally doesn't make sense!'

Every time I see appeals to logic in discussions like this (ie. every time I see a discussion like this) I lose a little more hope that people are actually thinking this through. Has anybody using that argument ever even spoken to a person with religious beliefs? Rationality doesn't enter into it; that's why it's called faith.

People have done both good and bad things in the name of religion and non-religion. Bad people using religion as an excuse =! Believing is bad. Can't we just focus on the institutions that do bad things instead of on the superficial differences between us?

On preview, what ducksormonkeys said.
posted by omnikron at 3:13 AM on March 24, 2012


Living in the Bible Belt, it is almost necessary to be a sharp-elbowed atheist or you will just get run over by the Jesus truck. I try not to ridicule people's faith. I try to understand that it is something important, perhaps essential, to them.

But when my state legislators start writing bills that are basically Faith-Based Legislation (cf, teaching "creation science" alongside evolution in high school biology classes, requiring women to be shamed and violated before getting access to necessary healthcare, chipping away at the rights of people whose faiths or skin color happen to differ from the White Christian Paradigm), well....

You gotta say something. You gotta yell to be heard. You can't back down, you can't cede the conversation.

And that means you'll get called an Angry Atheist and told you should just be polite and quiet and don't worry your pretty little head about it.

But last I checked, saying "please" and "thank you" never advanced the progressive agenda nor did any of the Powers That Be willingly give an inch out of the goodness of their hearts.

They aren't going to start now.

I'd much rather live and let live. But down here in the Bible Belt, they just aren't gonna let me.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:16 AM on March 24, 2012 [42 favorites]


My argument was meant be concise rather than thorough. So we can "one true scotsman" our way through every religions ever, but that's really not very interesting is it?

That's a ridiculous caricature of my point because I never claim there's a true Christianity and agree that the description you provide is accurate for a lot of influential Christians.

Then it becomes a question of utility balance. I think raising animals for meat is repugnant. I still eat meat. I don't know. I guess I shouldn't, but its hard to argue with the utility it provides me in my diet. [I know there are better options and hopefully I'll manage that someday]

Now we've got a problem that can be attacked with utilitarianism. This is good, but also terrible in that utilitarian arguments can justify all kinds of fucked up things. And of course, this gets us back to why tolerance and secularism are good things, and why we cannot confidently claim moral superiority because of an opinion on sky people or mind virii.
posted by mobunited at 3:17 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and as it turns out, a friend of mine is a volunteer at the rally. I think he's manning a t-shirt booth. So if you're there, and you buy a t-shirt from a short guy with light brown hair who looks like he lifts weights, tell him I said hi.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:19 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually I view these "derails" as a natural extension of the point of the post. Something like that rally is about providing breathing room and public acknowledgement of atheism. This arguement does the same thing. So sure we refight the same battle over and over again. That's the point. Eventually we'll win.

You don't stop doing math problems after you've grasped the basic principle.

So Mobunited, thanks for being the boogerman here.


I think these discussions are interesting in that people always assume I must be fighting for some religion or other, or I'm attacking the concept of atheism. I mean, I could go there. I don't believe in God but as someone who could be called an extreme nominalist, I find recent Western atheism mind-blowingly gullible in its casual scientism, personality cults and other stuff which would be pretty complicated to explain.

My arguments here revolve around one proposition: That you, a random atheist person, are probably not any smarter, stupider, moral or immoral than a random religious person. Though I must say that I do doubt the moral credentials of anyone who says that a very vague intellectual position about sky people, pro or con, imparts any kind of moral superiority over most humans.
posted by mobunited at 3:28 AM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Typical atheists, holding it on Shabbos.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:30 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


That's a ridiculous caricature of my point because I never claim there's a true Christianity and agree that the description you provide is accurate for a lot of influential Christians.

Sorry, I'd meant that as a response to the probable next step of your argument, not what you'd actually said. Anyway.

but also terrible in that utilitarian arguments can justify all kinds of fucked up things. And of course, this gets us back to why tolerance and secularism are good things, and why we cannot confidently claim moral superiority because of an opinion on sky people or mind virii.

So you're saying that we can't throw things out just because they are structurally morally repugnant and nor can we throw things out because of their utilitarian calculus...so no one can be against anything for any reason? Is this the dreaded moral superiority you keep referring to?
posted by Chekhovian at 3:31 AM on March 24, 2012


I mean, I could go there. I don't believe in God but as someone who could be called an extreme nominalist

lol, so more typical secular self-flagellation. Then this isn't a derail! But exactly the thing we're arguing about in this thread, why is the left so bad at doing anything? (And I mean the royal self here)

imparts any kind of moral superiority over most humans.

Should I be free to swing my arms around in giant circles? Yes, so long as they don't hit any noses. Religion in politics these days is all about restricting that arm swinging even in the abscence of nose breaking.

So fuck yeah, I am morally superior to any regressive shitbird that wants to impinge on the modern progressive notion human freedom for the sake of some made up bronze age bullshit. If you don't want to pick my pocket or break my arm, or mutilate your children for the sake of that bullshit, then go fuck off and do whatever you want.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:38 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Note: Also a a royal fuck off ;-0, not anything directed at any specific person.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:39 AM on March 24, 2012


So you're saying that we can't throw things out just because they are structurally morally repugnant and nor can we throw things out because of their utilitarian calculus...so no one can be against anything for any reason? Is this the dreaded moral superiority you keep referring to?

What makes you think that you *can* make a correct moral judgment on these generalities? You can step in and stop some cases but not all of them. You can act based on some rules, but they won't work all the time.

The terrible thing is that you have to tolerate people you disagree with and compromise within rights-based, democratic and cultural structures that members like to come to the least unsatisfactory solution. We will always be unhappy and wrong a lot, but at least we can stop being assholes about it over some silly opinions about sorcery, one way or the other.
posted by mobunited at 3:40 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe I am late to the game in asking this, but are there any atheist gatherings that are not sausage-fests?
posted by JLovebomb at 3:42 AM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


atheist gatherings that are not sausage-fests?

I think you're going to hit a limitation based on sample size there, given how few atheistic gatherings there are...

It would be interesting to see how atheism breaks down along gender lines though, 50/50 or something else?
posted by Chekhovian at 3:46 AM on March 24, 2012


What makes you think that you *can* make a correct moral judgment on these generalities?

There is an arrow of progress to human history. At first the greeks didn't think greeks in other cities were people, then they didn't think non-greeks were people....etc etc...Next I think we will realize that most animals are much more intelligent and feeling than we ever imagined.

Your moral relativism is bullshit. There, sliced that Gordian knot for you.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:49 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


lol, so more typical secular self-flagellation. Then this isn't a derail! But exactly the thing we're arguing about in this thread, why is the left so bad at doing anything? (And I mean the royal self here)

I don't consider American liberals to be substantial leftists because they have no working social democratic political base. I'm not an American though, so I don't feel your cultural pain except when you choose to export it -- which you generally do. Shit, the very idea that atheists are automatic leftists because Jesus runs the Republican Party is your problem.

So fuck yeah, I am morally superior to any regressive shitbird that wants to impinge on the modern progressive notion human freedom for the sake of some made up bronze age bullshit.

You do know the modern progressive notion of human freedom has some strong religious influences, don't you?

If you don't want to pick my pocket or break my arm, or mutilate your children for the sake of that bullshit, then go fuck off and do whatever you want.

But do you still feel superior to the people that choose to fuck off and do whatever, or not?
posted by mobunited at 3:52 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


But do you still feel superior to the people that choose to fuck off and do whatever, or not?

If they don't do me or mine any harm, then whatever. We're all just naked apes running around with caveman brains.

Though we can get into the tricky question of child rearing. If a religious family wants to mutilate their baby daughter because of their religion or deny them medical care, do you think the state should intervene? Do you feel morally superior to the baby genital mutilation because of bronze age burning bushes crowd?
posted by Chekhovian at 3:59 AM on March 24, 2012


There is an arrow of progress to human history. At first the greeks didn't think greeks in other cities were people, then they didn't think non-greeks were people....etc etc...Next I think we will realize that most animals are much more intelligent and feeling than we ever imagined.

Your moral relativism is bullshit. There, sliced that Gordian knot for you.


Of course, I never said I was a moral relativist. You're tossing that in because that's the kind of easy target you've been equipped to deal with. Utilitarian problems include intractable problems. Denying they exist . . . that's just a kind of faith. It's the kind of thinking that leads to the idea of an "arrow of progress" where things like the colonial legacy don't matter, because of a reflexive appeal to some net utility that happens to fit your experience as a guy who probably enjoys all the privileges of that legacy. I enjoy them too, but I live near large groups of people who probably disagree with the whole "arrow or progress" thing because my ancestors stole their territory, did terrible things to them, and chose to discount all the people we extinguished when doing the ol' moral calculus.

This is a problem. When you refuse to engage in particulars you make these mistakes, and it doesn't matter what metaphysical allegiance got you there. We ought to use tolerance to account for out tendency to make mistakes like that, and exercise caution with our own moral agency.
posted by mobunited at 4:02 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


But be that as it may, what are your beliefs and where do they come from? The closest atheist belief system that I can think off on the fly is Ayn Randian psychopathic Darwinism, which is not an appealing alternative, I must say. In other words, say what you want about organized religion, at least it's a fucking ethos.

Why is this even a question? Why do you assume a prescribed system is necessary? Do you have any idea how insulting that is? My beliefs come from observation of the world around me, my interpretation of my own place within society-at-large, a reasonable reading of history, and an understanding of how and why religions initially evolved and were used by the eariliest states as a means of taxation and social control in addition to providing an explanation for how the universe works. I don't need a "fucking ethos" to navigate the world of morality intelligently. And if you or any other theist actually needs to be threatened with damnation or 3-fold karma in order to refrain from killing others (for example), then I think there is a bigger problem here.
posted by Eumachia L F at 4:06 AM on March 24, 2012 [14 favorites]


Though we can get into the tricky question of child rearing. If a religious family wants to mutilate their baby daughter because of their religion or deny them medical care, do you think the state should intervene? Do you feel morally superior to the baby genital mutilation because of bronze age burning bushes crowd?

I don't care about their justifications at all. But by examining the particulars I can do a better job than someone who decides that the main motivation should be to discourage this as part of a larger campaign to discourage religion. For example, I can criticise the family through their tradition, and can engage members of their religion to provide a cultural bridge to not doing harm.

Or I can act like Dawkins and use it as the basis of a pornographic scrawl in a blog comment because I really care about fighting that Bronze Age mythology. What do you think works better?
posted by mobunited at 4:09 AM on March 24, 2012


Seriously, when was the last time you made a proper blood sacrifice to Supai, The God of Death?

Isn't that what Friday nights are made for?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:11 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


My beliefs come from observation of the world around me, my interpretation of my own place within society-at-large, a reasonable reading of history, and an understanding of how and why religions initially evolved and were used by the eariliest states as a means of taxation and social control in addition to providing an explanation for how the universe works. I don't need a "fucking ethos" to navigate the world of morality intelligently.

Then you haven't though hard enough, because if you believe your moral judgments are just coming from your natural rational brain with no societal ethical influences, you're a fool.
posted by Snyder at 4:17 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


baby genital mutilation

For example, I can criticise the family through their tradition, and can engage members of their religion to provide a cultural bridge to not doing harm.


Wow. Wishy-washy-mealy-mouthed bullshit some?

the basis of a pornographic scrawl in a blog comment

Like this one? You're welcome :-)
posted by Chekhovian at 4:23 AM on March 24, 2012


How is it that I still haven't seen Tim Minchin live? I'll pay good money to go to whichever atheist event contains the highest concentration of Tim Minchin.

(The only organised atheist event I went to had PZ Myers, but he didn't do any singing.)
posted by anaximander at 4:25 AM on March 24, 2012


Snyder, did you miss the part where I included "society-at-large" and "a reasonable reading of history" as additional influences?
posted by Eumachia L F at 4:26 AM on March 24, 2012


Must say this again, science and religion are not mutually exclusive

Up to a point, lord Cropper Dagobert. Quite obviously, more than a few scientists have been deeply religious, Newton being the most famous example, but as obvious is the idea that once you do have a scientific explenation for why lightning happens, you no longer need a thunder god.

When you have science putting serious doubts on the existence of an omniscient, all powerful creator god, any religious society which derives the fundaments for its morality from said god will feel threatened and not without reason. Abrahamic religions in particular, who derive their whole worldview from the idea of god the creator have lost a lot of their credibility and moral authority as science marches on.

Because it's one thing to have your taboos and morality imposed from on high by the son of god, quite another if it turns out it was just another Jewish religious fanatic.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:30 AM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Abrahamic religions in particular, who derive their whole worldview from the idea of god the creator have lost a lot of their credibility and moral authority as science marches on.

Really?
I think the Catholic church has lot much more moral authority in recent years due to all those pedophile priests and the covering up and general handling of that than they have due to any particular advances in science.

Also the moral authority in that other great Abrahamic religion in the middle east seems to be unaffected by advances in science. Just think of Iran for example. (Needless to say, that moral authority doesn't extend beyond national borders.)
posted by sour cream at 4:44 AM on March 24, 2012


I think the Catholic church has lot much more moral authority in recent years due to all those pedophile priests and the covering up and general handling of that than they have due to any particular advances in science.

Yeah! And in the last couple years global temperatures haven't risen suddenly. That means global warming is wrong!
posted by Chekhovian at 4:47 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


All right. I'm tired of being afraid of having this fight with you guys. Let's start from the top.

Granted, it's fairly popular, but let's face it: science-based stuff breaks down every so often, whereas faith is, by definition, infallible. (Jesus can fix airplane engines, etc.)

Faith is, literally, the absence of certainty. Your belief that it confers infallibility demonstrates the same ignorance as the people against whom you are arguing.

I hope these guys are respectful, because too often atheist events leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I hope these guys are wholly disrespectful. There is nothing about religious belief that requires respect, nor anything about the absence thereof that can only be taken seriously with the proper doffing of caps. I hope these guys rock our fucking faces off.

Rather, there is a growing movement towards atheists getting the level of recognition and representation, politically and societally, that the religious right have.

I am deeply saddened that you only see "atheists" and "religious right", because there's no other kind of "religious" in your conception.

I read an interesting observation as to the US's religiosity in that while the rest of the world was coming to terms with Darwinism, the US was experiencing a civil war.

While the US was going through a civil war, the rest of the world was under the thumb of colonialism and empire-sanctioned genocide. Your sense of superiority is unearned and historically inaccurate.

The unwavering belief that there are no deities seems just as faith oriented as the unwavering belief that there are.

It isn't. This is the easiest dodge of the atheist issue available, and like most easy ideas it is basically incorrect. Atheists in the US are largely responding to the dominance of a very narrow and specific strain of political conservatism masked as religion, and their arguments are largely political arguments, which is why those arguments are very good politically and very bad theologically. Atheists don't generally know anything about religion. But whatever their arguments are, they aren't some masquerading faith that has not yet found a home; none of them are Saul on the road to Damascus, and treating them as such is the highest form of condescension.

What's more interesting is the Hitchen's approach to questioning the full on moral basis of religion: that the idea of a eternal celestial dictatorship is foul on its own merits and totally repugnant.

This conception of religion is rooted in a very specific, very local notion of divinity. It is by no means universal, and while it may be the one with which you are most familiar and the one with the most local impact on your life, it would be nice if you weren't so provincial. It would have been nice if Hitchens wasn't either, but he was both an imperialist and an asshole, so I have no difficulty believing that he saw in the sky his own image.

(You don't have to come up with the evidence right away, either. We can wait, just so long as you don't try pressing the issue until you have the definitive proof. Perhaps we can spot you a couple thousand years?!)

Quantum mechanics. Superstring theory. The invalidity of logical positivism. I will give you another couple thousand years to come up with your next argument.

That's what threatened theists tend to call it, but it's far more accurately called a "method" or a "truth-seeking mechanism".

Science is what works and continues to be true even when you refuse to believe in it.


This is precisely what religion is also. You do not approve of the methodology, and that's fair enough, but it doesn't cease being a methodology due to your distaste. I think your unwavering submission to empiricism demonstrates an insufficient comprehension of the malleability of the senses in cultural and temporal context and the location of the observer, but that doesn't invalidate the methodology of science as a whole.

Probably because, unlike religion, it isn't.

Get in!


Ooh, hit the post and stayed out! He'll be disappointed with that.

You gotta say something. You gotta yell to be heard. You can't back down, you can't cede the conversation.

Absolutely correct. I hope you will continue to be sharp-elbowed. The world is hard enough without people of conscience fighting for justice, and in our current political climate the atheist struggle is one of the most important ones around. There is too much dogma for any of us to be quiet; it is late, and things aren't getting better.
posted by Errant at 4:50 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think your unwavering submission to empiricism demonstrates an insufficient comprehension of the malleability of the senses in cultural and temporal context and the location of the observer, but that doesn't invalidate the methodology of science as a whole.

It's going to take me about an hour to figure out whether I agree with you or not.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:56 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow. Wishy-washy-mealy-mouthed bullshit some?

Nope. I wonder why this offends you so much? Is anybody's dignity worth more than the babies this kind of practical interaction might help?

A couple of years ago I met a guy from Saudi Arabia. He was a decent dude except for the fact that he was rabidly anti-Semitic, despite never having knowingly met any Jews. If I was you, I suppose I could metaphorically stick my dick in his ear and spout the superiority of skeptical thinking, but this would have been stupid. Instead, unlike you, I asked him where he learned what he did, which eventually narrowed it down to a set of popular Hadiths. We talked about how lots of Hadiths were unreliable, and he could think of a few he believed in when he was a kid that seemed silly now. Over a while he eventually stopped hating Jews and in fact, got along with them pretty well.

The moral here is that particulars matter and work better than your lofty bullshit. The demonstrate that you recognize someone else as a fellow human being and moral agent, not something to be encompassed by your Big Idea. Over the course of my activist and professional life (where I work with people coming through various crises) I meet people with extreme beliefs all the time. I even meet people who not only believe terrible things but have done some pretty awful things, too. When people in my situation apply the sort of global judgment you keep reaching for, they fail to engage these people. In my job, engaging the particulars is even recommended when it comes to talking people out of the idea of killing you. I had to take a course on that, actually. They gave me a card.

So yeah, my mealy-mouthed bullshit, while damaging to my dignity, has the advantage of actually working.

the basis of a pornographic scrawl in a blog comment

Like this one? You're welcome :-)


No, I'm talking about the time Dawkins left a quote in PZ Meyers blog where he fantasized about a hypothetical Muslim woman's genital mutilation to intimidate an atheist who came forward and complained about sexism at an atheist conference.
posted by mobunited at 5:05 AM on March 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Really?
I think the Catholic church has lot much more moral authority in recent years due to all those pedophile priests


Really.

We're living in a post-religious era, in which anybody religious has to come to some sort of understanding with science and how it explains the universe we're living in. Some flee into a gods of the gaps, where anything not yet explained through science becomes god, others are completely cool with the ideas of evolution, the big bang undsoweiter as explenations of the world we live in but still hold to an omnipowerful creator at the heart of it, others attempt to refute science completely, but none can ignore it.

Meanwhile if you look back at how people thought and lived before the scientific revolution, how much their particular religions shaped their lives and behaviour when said religion is the only thing that can explain their world, you see how different that sort of belief is in the absence of science.

Sex scandals and abuse of power meanwhile have always been part and parcel of any organised religion, but when disgust with such gets too big, what you normally get is protestanism, not atheism.

(The above is all horribly simplified of course.)
posted by MartinWisse at 5:06 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The audio's not up on the site yet, but I literaly just heard NPR's Scott Simon do a supportive commentary piece about the rally.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:19 AM on March 24, 2012


It's going to take me about an hour to figure out whether I agree with you or not.

Good. Actual thinking has been largely and sadly absent from this thread, replaced by the usual practiced sloganeering. I'd rather you think and disagree or agree; then maybe we can have a conversation and not just trade routine lines.

(The above is all horribly simplified of course.)

It is, in that the experimental method is not a uniquely Western contribution but developed in accordance with advances in mathematics, anthropology, ethical philosophy, and theology throughout most of human history. So I assume that by "simplified" you mean "wildly inaccurate and presumptive of the notion that the Enlightenment was the beginning of all relevant human knowledge because it took Europeans that long to figure some shit out."

I mean, you guys know that atheism has a long and respected history for, like, 6000 years or more, right? It didn't just show up when the Bunsen burner did? Skepticism is not the local creation of the Scots, no matter how good David Hume was at it, and he was pretty damn good.

I'd love to be able to say this only once, but that's up to you. Religion =/= creationism. Please stop saying otherwise. If you want to argue against the latter, I'm all for it, I'll even make you a reusable sign with rainproof ink. I'm not very good at sign-making and my handwriting is shit, but I try to do my part.
posted by Errant at 5:30 AM on March 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


We're living in a post-religious era, in which anybody religious has to come to some sort of understanding with science and how it explains the universe we're living in.

No.
You are making the same mistake as most people trying to invalidate religion on logical grounds: That the purpose of religion is to provide a coherent framework to explain the world. But that is the job of science. In other words, you guys are confusing science with religion and than declaring triumph because you succeed in proving that science does offer a coherent explanation of the world and religion doesn't.

But religion is not like science. Religion is about establishing and enforcing values and possibly forcing those values on others. Scientific arguments to invalidate religion don't work because religion isn't even the same game.
posted by sour cream at 5:34 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Actually sour cream, your argument completely validates my point; the idea that religion isn't there to explain the world is a post-scientific revolution one.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:50 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


it would be nice if you weren't so provincial

Dude, this is a post about atheism in AMERICA. Which in large part has surfaced recently to counter religion in AMERICA.

he was rabidly anti-Semitic, despite never having knowingly met any Jews. If I was you, I suppose I could metaphorically stick my dick in his ear and spout the superiority of skeptical thinking, but this would have been stupid.

Alright Counselor Troi, so your empathetic senses have determined that the Romulans don't like us? Or was it their plasma bolts hitting our shields?

But seriously, you seem to be saying that you implicitly hold yourself to be morally superior, given that you might try and fix their beliefs through clever dialog while simultaneously condemning any explicit discussion of what might be wrong in absolute terms. That hair seems awfully finely split.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:58 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw Adam Savage (and Jamie Hyneman) last night at the Beacon, and was incredibly impressed. Wish I could go down to DC today, but it's sunny and beautiful in NYC, and it's my birthday.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:04 AM on March 24, 2012


the idea that religion isn't there to explain the world is a post-scientific revolution one.

Precisely. Religion and other supernaturalism in the modern world is directly opposed to the purpose of religion in the pre-scientific context, but religion was not always directed toward the purpose of obfuscating practical and spiritual questions. Times and contexts change. We do not need to copy the detritus of dead religions in the name of "Atheism 2.0" (vomit), we need to embrace the energy and determination directed toward explanation and exploration that animated religion before it died.

God is dead, playing with his corpse won't bring him back to life, and is in kinda bad taste. If we want to carry on as spiritual beings we need to face up to reality, terrifying though it may seem, not bury our fears under a pile of comforting self-deception.
posted by howfar at 6:19 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Conservative Protestant Christianity is not the only religion in America. It is not even necessarily the most popular strain of religion, though it may be the most vocal. So, dude, be clear about your terms. If this is a post about America, try to keep in mind that we're a country with religious variety enshrined in our basic governing document, and presuming that that's a sop to grant political cover to Judeo-Christian values is granting the argument of your political enemy before you even start. This country wasn't founded on those values, and anyone who says so is selling you something. It's up to you whether or not you're buying.
posted by Errant at 6:22 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the best thing atheists can do is to join synagogues, preisthoods, and mosques, etc. and subvert them from within. A man who acts like he has faith is indistinguishable from one who has faith. How great would it be if the pope turned around and said "I'm an atheist". A lot of eyes would open then.
posted by Renoroc at 6:27 AM on March 24, 2012


requiring me to prove a negative.

the burden of proof is on the group that supports the fantasy in the first place. Otherwise, I could also ask you to prove Santa doesn't exist, otherwise he does!
posted by Tarumba at 6:31 AM on March 24, 2012


Also, the idea that the goal of faith is to provide comfort is so radically antithetical to the very notion of faith that I can't believe how often it is promulgated. Faith is fucking terrifying. My life would be far more comfortable without it. To admit faith is to be alone with doubt as your only companion, to be unguarded before uncertainty. There's nothing pleasant about it.
posted by Errant at 6:36 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


If faith was what you all described id be tempted to be atheist myself.

I don't find it to be, myself.

Oh and we are gonna have Dawkins here in town this month as Fort Bragg is having an atheist concert. Interesting to see how that plays out.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:38 AM on March 24, 2012


What gets me about the conservative right in America, is that it's not that they don't trust science or scientists. Because they do, they just don't know it. Every time they go to the doctor, or drive their car, or listen to Rush, or watch Fox News, or cook an egg, or comment on Metafilter, or do basically any normal human activity they are showing that not only do they trust science, they depend on it, like everyone else. It's mainly evolutionary biologists (and of course climate scientists) that they don't trust. What they fail to grasp is that methods and standards that allow them to drive to the hospital in their Hummer and get a chest x-ray on their way to he driving range to to work on their short game are the same methods scientists used to prove evolution or the green house effect. As someone said upthread, science is the most used system in the world and (pick your fundamentalist) believe in and take advantage of 99% of the scientific discoveries made in the past few hundred years. It reminds of the Dawkins quote that goes something like "human beings have stopped believing in 99 of 100 of all Gods who have ever been thought up, some people need to go one more."
posted by holdkris99 at 6:40 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


To admit faith is to be alone with doubt as your only companion, to be unguarded before uncertainty.

What do you think the rest of us are doing when we strive to understand morality, justice and injustice, our purpose, our desires and our obligations? Do you think we just don't care? No, we live with your terror, and we don't get to tell ourselves that maybe, just maybe there is a loophole where we'll get the answer in the end. We know there is no chance of getting the answer and we have to keep on looking for it anyway. The only remaining "knights of faith", to employ Kierkegaard's terminology, are those who reject the teasing possibility of supernatural redemption and struggle on regardless.
posted by howfar at 6:47 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the problem with this discussion is that while the spectrum of beliefs is a sort of bell curve, the spectrum of people who evangelize about their personal beliefs is anti-bell curve. So the loudest voices on any side seem to be by definition the most radical/reactionary adherents.

I just wish the loud atheists would quit focusing on smugly mocking believers' faith, and instead focused on the actions of *some* people who proclaim faith as their reason for pushing people around.
posted by gjc at 6:50 AM on March 24, 2012


instead focused on the actions of *some* people who proclaim faith as their reason for pushing people around.

Perhaps you should read some Sam Harris.
posted by holdkris99 at 6:51 AM on March 24, 2012


but let's face it: science-based stuff breaks down every so often

[citation needed]
posted by odinsdream at 6:52 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just wish the loud atheists would quit focusing on smugly mocking believers' faith, and instead focused on the actions of *some* people who proclaim faith as their reason for pushing people around.

I actually wish the moderates of either affiliation would team up and all go after the loud guys on both sides to say "dudes, you don't speak for the rest of us."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:55 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just wish the loud atheists would quit focusing on smugly mocking believers' faith, and instead focused on the actions of *some* people who proclaim faith as their reason for pushing people around.

I would hope any decent person, atheist or not, would do this. Atheism is a metaphysical position, not a moral or political one. Of course, one's metaphysical beliefs are involved in one's morality, and many atheists are indeed politically and morally opposed to religion, but looking to make the political the heart of atheism seems to miss the point by a country mile.
posted by howfar at 6:58 AM on March 24, 2012


>I really don't understand the difference really vocal atheists and really vocal religious people.

One would say bless your heart, the other would say you're going to hell.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 7:03 AM on March 24, 2012


but let's face it: science-based stuff breaks down every so often

[citation needed]


My father-in-law likes to use the argument that "well scientists used to believe the world was flat" to which I argue that a) these people back then weren't scientists in the way that we mean the word today and b) technology did not exist to allow for better answers.

And so what if new discoveries come along to challenge and eventually disprove what people once thought was fact. That's the entire point of the scientific process. Religious belief stymied humankind's development for centuries, for a millennium and a half more or less and while it has gotten demonstrably better once the fear of death for using reason and logic to solve solvable problems was eliminated (for the most part) but we still have a way to go, especially in America. One needs to look no further than the debates on stem cell research, where (some) people of faith make it extremely difficult for progress to be made because of the way they interpret the Bible.

Any good system of thought or action improves on itself and changes and adapts to the times and religion has not done that and is built to prevent that from happening. And I don't mean all religious people, I mean religion as a system in general.
posted by holdkris99 at 7:05 AM on March 24, 2012


What gets me about the conservative right in America, is that it's not that they don't trust science or scientists. ... It's mainly evolutionary biologists (and of course climate scientists) that they don't trust. What they fail to grasp is that methods and standards that allow them to drive to the hospital in their Hummer and get a chest x-ray on their way to he driving range to to work on their short game are the same methods scientists used to prove evolution ...

The conservative right believes in a certain order of things. This order is modeled on the relation between God and God's children. In the family, the role of God is that of the (patriarchical) father. Just like God is not to be questioned, the word of the (patriarchical) father is not to be questioned either. On a different scale, there also used to be the belief in a certain order among races. This has largely been overcome (although you can still see some traces of that in some quarters), but there is still the issue of (perceived) American exceptionalism.

So, it is not like they fail to understand that if you regard A as true you must also hold B as true. Rather, they think they need to stand their ground in an increasingly hostile world. And thus, every time you try to convince them that evolution is a scientific fact, you may be thinking "Gah, how can they be so stupid as to not understand evolution." But all they hear is "We will destroy your families, we will destroy your authority at home and in the world."
posted by sour cream at 7:06 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The forecast calls for dangerous thunderstorms in the DC area including lighting, hail and tornados. This God they don't beleive in is very serious about the whole Keep the Sabbath Holy command. Other commandments meh.
posted by humanfont at 7:11 AM on March 24, 2012


In an odd inversion of the stated purpose of the meatspace rally, this thread has served as a gathering of the insecure religious types of Metafilter.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:17 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


My father-in-law likes to use the argument that "well scientists used to believe the world was flat"

No reasonably educated person since the Greeks has believed that the world was flat. There are whole books on the myth of the flat Earth. Tell your father-in-law to pop that in his pipe and see how it burns.
posted by howfar at 7:20 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The conservative right believes in a certain order of things.

Yes. This.

When I read liberal pansy-waist comments about "respecting religion" and that we can somehow perturbatively chip away at the individual beliefs of these conservative religious types, what they don't realize is that the right has already declared total war on liberalism. That happened thirty some years ago.

They know that science and reason will destroy religion eventually, if it is allowed to progress. They know this. That is why they are fighting as hard as they can.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:22 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some religions believe their truth is the only truth, is absolute and final and thus they see science as a threat, and act as a threat to science. These are the shoutiest, most obnoxious, most visible religions and a lot of athiests assume they are religion.

Other religions -- albeit not the shoutiest ones in our culture -- inherently believe that their truth is a parallel to scientific truth, not a replacement. That it is meant to be personally meaningful or enlightening or encouraging, and not the explanation for everything. Some of those religions have multiple myths that seemingly contradict each other, because each one is meant to stand in its own context -- its own frame of reference, if you will -- rather than form a single coherent system of belief about how the world works. Some of those myths are even just campfire stories that take advantage of characters already well known to their audience.

For the second set of religions, complaining that "myth" is a poor form of science is like complaining a sandwich is a poor building material. Of course it is! That's not what it's for, and they didn't mean it that way in the first place.

A lot of people supposedly belonging to the first set really belong to the second set in their personal view, and wish the first set would just stop making them look bad.

Religion can be a tool to make one's life better, and for some people it works pretty well. It can be a tool to understand how the world works, but frankly it sucks in that role.
posted by Foosnark at 7:22 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The proselytizing in this thread alone is enough to illustrate my dislike for capital A Atheism, but I do like talking about atheism and world religion (and Bad Religion and Eddie Izzard). I lean more toward humanism and things like Bokononism, skeptical Buddhism and secular spirituality appeal to me quite a bit. I think world religion has contributed a lot of beauty and meaning--many of the best poets were deeply spiritual, however idiosyncratically; Blake, Rumi--to the world, and organized religions can offer a sense of community and even be vehicles for positive social change. I've helped some churches--as basically an atheist--with a few small projects in my own community to feed people during the holidays. Churches and religious organizations have in the past been centers of civil disobedience, civil rights protests and union organizing. They're not a homogenous block of evil.

I guess what bothers me about capital A Atheism is that it's almost entirely focused on fighting its enemies, who are mostly imaginary. The capital A Atheist conception of religions is just wrong. It's totally fine and reasonable to demand physical proof of deities and supernatural events when someone has made a literal claim about them, but most religions and religious people don't do this. A lot of what religion is about--in a very broad sense--is having a symbolic framework that enriches your life in a meaningful way, and being able to share that with other people. "Belief" and literal interpretations of canonical writings really aren't the focus at all, for many people, and the philosophies and ideas that spring up around religious communities are typically things that can't or shouldn't be addressed by an empirical approach. That doesn't make them meaningless; there's considerably more to life than physically measurable and repeatably demonstrable things.

I get this sense from a lot of Atheists that they're just as extreme and just as literal as the kinds of people who are making literal claims, and the only reason they're not just as dangerous is because they don't have the same political/economic/social influence. I just can't support extremism and ideologies that are all about crushing other ideologies, even if the ideologies being crushed aren't things I can support either.
posted by byanyothername at 7:43 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's weird that so many people think they know the secrets of the universe, be it religious and scientifically based. Such desire to definitively know the truth.

Just be a nice, curious agnostic. You'll find out the truth of it all five seconds after you're dead, so why worry about it until then? Live a good live, full of wonder and beauty and send me $100 for teaching you this truth.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:44 AM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


I wanted to check this out, if only for the speakers. And then I saw there was no food but a snarky reference to beware the guy with Loaves and Fishes... And then I read the forums where would-be Church/State separation allies who just happen to be Christian are dogpiled for no good reason. Defining your culture with regards to what you despise is exactly what makes the Christian Right so insufferable. This sounds like a case of becoming the monsters you fight to me. Y'all are going to have to try some new strategies if you want to win over the non-evangelical atheists and agnostics. Here's a hint: Religion is not powerful because of its exclusivity. It is powerful despite that. Religion is powerful because of the fellowship and a quick, easy way to build fellowship is to literally break bread. And the way to avoid fanaticism is to allow every ally to the table (minus maybe disruptive geek fallacy triggerers.)

Also: the mobile version's link to the schedule is broken so I don't know when Adam Savage is speaking.
posted by Skwirl at 7:45 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You'll find out the truth of it all five seconds after you're dead, so why worry about it until then?

.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:48 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


send me $100 for teaching you this truth.

Paypal address?
posted by holdkris99 at 7:54 AM on March 24, 2012


I became a Christian partly because of "Billy." I've never had a chance to see Bad Religion live, though. Sounds like a good lineup. The only one I really don't care for is Izzard. Some of my college friends just loved him but I couldn't get into it. I don't find much monologue comedy funny, though.
posted by michaelh at 8:02 AM on March 24, 2012


capital A Atheist conception of religions is just wrong

You make some good points that aren't made often enough in athiest literature, but I think you are missing a big one that is, and that is the debate of the net effects of religion as a system. I don't think any Athiests deny that there are good qualities to religion or that religions does not effect a lot of people in a positive way, but do those positives outweigh the cumulative negatives? No need to list them here, we all know them. That is one of the most important questions to me, and probably one that is likely unanswerable in a meaningful way because everyone on both sides has a lot vested in the outcome of that inquiry. But, what athiests like Harris and especially Dennett argue is that it's a question that needs to be asked and explored in every possible way and what Conservative Christians in America see as a personal insult to their faith to be asked at all.
posted by holdkris99 at 8:03 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only one I really don't care for is Izzard

Perhaps if he wasn't a transvestite?
posted by holdkris99 at 8:05 AM on March 24, 2012


Perhaps if he wasn't a transvestite?

You don't like transvestites?
posted by michaelh at 8:11 AM on March 24, 2012


When I read liberal pansy-waist comments about "respecting religion" and that we can somehow perturbatively chip away at the individual beliefs of these conservative religious types, what they don't realize is that the right has already declared total war on liberalism.

Well, while I think it's delightful that your own liberalism doesn't stand in the way of you calling someone a pansy, I feel I must point out that the religious right is not all of religion. It's not even all of Christianity. But of course the religious right is opposed to liberalism! It's the right.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:11 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quantum mechanics. Superstring theory. The invalidity of logical positivism. I will give you another couple thousand years to come up with your next argument.

What in the world? Are you serious?
posted by adamdschneider at 8:12 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You'll find out the truth of it all five seconds after you're dead, so why worry about it until then?

No you won't. That'll be after you have (in the wise words of Spock on Star Trek) "ceased to exist". It may appear counter-intuitive, but the acceptance (NOT belief) that Death Is Death has allowed me to accept my own mortality during my own near-death experiences. But the people I've known who believe in "life after death" were so much more willing to fight for any shred of continuing existence regardless of its lack of "quality of life" or its cost to those around them, while others like me who accept (NOT believe) that this life is all there is have an easier time with facing the end. Based on statistical evidence, the Deeply Religious United States spends more on "end of life" medical treatment - delaying their Ascent Into Heaven for a few days or hours - than any other nation on earth. And from my anecdotal evidence, the "deathbed conversion" is as much a myth as the God it is used to support.

Religion is so often just an attempt for people to avoid the truth of their own mortality with dreams of Heaven Beyond, but it appears to most often fail miserably.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:14 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


How great would it be if the pope turned around and said "I'm an atheist".

I'm fairly certain that the entire path to the Vatican is festooned with features designed to prevent anyone capable of saying that from getting there. It's probably more likely that you'd hear him claim to be the Easter Bunny.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:18 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Must be nice to live in the America where there isn't a growing movement to turn the country into a Christian theocracy.
posted by Legomancer at 8:19 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks to MobUnited and Errant in particular for making this thread an interesting read, for me. Most of these threads aren't. I enjoyed reading your comments.

I don't find the sarcastic and condescending comments to be interesting. No big deal. They are fun to write, I know, and others like reading them. But I think even condescending sarcasm can "succeed" without invoking homophobic language.
posted by cribcage at 8:23 AM on March 24, 2012


No you won't. That'll be after you have (in the wise words of Spock on Star Trek) "ceased to exist". It may appear counter-intuitive, but the acceptance (NOT belief) that Death Is Death has allowed me to accept my own mortality during my own near-death experiences. But the people I've known who believe in "life after death" were so much more willing to fight for any shred of continuing existence regardless of its lack of "quality of life" or its cost to those around them, while others like me who accept (NOT believe) that this life is all there is have an easier time with facing the end. Based on statistical evidence, the Deeply Religious United States spends more on "end of life" medical treatment - delaying their Ascent Into Heaven for a few days or hours - than any other nation on earth. And from my anecdotal evidence, the "deathbed conversion" is as much a myth as the God it is used to support.

Religion is so often just an attempt for people to avoid the truth of their own mortality with dreams of Heaven Beyond, but it appears to most often fail miserably.


In other words, if there is life after death, Heaven is going to be just INFESTED with squirrels.

Anyway, I think religion's life after death myths are just as much for helping people to accept the deaths of others as they are for helping us accept our own death. It is a palliative.
posted by gjc at 8:35 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps if he wasn't a transvestite?

You don't like transvestites?


Perhaps you would like him more if he wasn't a transvestite, because it's a fact that he's hilarious.
posted by holdkris99 at 8:37 AM on March 24, 2012


Here's why the old red herring of atheism and skepticism being a religion doesn't hold water. In skepticism, there is no hierarchy. There is no basis for any unquestionable ultimate truths. There isn't any magic or special sequence of words which automatically carry authority by some merit other than their meaning. There is no Dawkins 5:15 which states that God does not exist, period. Even Dawkins must admit that as far as we know God does not exist. And if the evidence for that hypothesis changed, the science would change as well. The Bible is entombed in it's own claims of being true forever.

By contrast, there are a handful of true fundamentalist Christians in America, and by that definition they are insane. If they attempt to beat their children for disrespecting their elders, they are — or should be — arrested. If they murder someone for being a witch, or celebrate infanticide in the Psalms, they are regarded with horror by nearly everyone, including people who claim to be fundamentalist Christians themselves.

Biblical literacy is at an all time low because most of it isn't relevant to people living in the 21st Century. Sure, America has plenty of church goers reading about the good bits, with some scary bits thrown in so the fascist loving elements of the organization can have some hate to righteously express to people trapped in their homes by empty threats of hell and claims of the superiority of men as the head of the household. But for many Christians, Church is where they meet their friends in a nice air conditioned building and ask how the kids are, and how business is, and then they have some emotional outlet since the rest of their week is filled with pretending that everything is alright because God is at the wheel.

And why is Biblical literacy so poor? Because, in the 21st Century, people do not care about intent or claims of effectiveness. We care about results (at least for the very important things). So while some snake oil salesmen have corrupted the whole of the Bible into meaning that God wants you to be rich, and America's righteousness allows it to break every principle outlined by Christ when it comes to non-violence, and the righteousness of money allows us to flaunt every principle Christ outlined when it comes to helping the needy, they can't change the bits about swallowing poison and handling dangerous snakes, or having God murder children because they made fun of a prophet. They can't reconcile the naked support of genocide that God displays hundreds of years before His Son says that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword, so they simply ignore most of it. It's good for the pretenders, like TD Jakes and Joel O'Steen, because they can continue to vacuum up millions of dollars in their superdromes full of books and DVDs and coffee shops and prayer cloths while lightly skipping over the fury of Christ as he yelled at the money changers in front of the temple: "Make not my father's house a house of merchandise."

So, as follower of Christ the Philosopher, holding no belief in supernatural anything, I think that Christians should read the Bible and defend their lives in that light. And if they decide to be truthful with themselves and admit that the content of that book has nothing to do with the content of their Sunday, I'm fine with that. Continue with the tradition of whatever religion you like, but let's stop telling people that the Bible is the infallible word of God if no one is reading it. Stop telling people that it hasn't changed a bit in two thousand years, when you're a Protestant and you don't read the Apocrypha. There are some passages that justify unspeakable acts of violence and depravity, and that can only be defanged by the final admission that the book isn't supernaturally special. It's a book of ideas, which should carry, in any skeptical and enlightened society, no more weight than any other book of ideas.

And despite claims that religions and science don't conflict, that may be true for some religions, but it can't be for the Bible. The Bible claims the best cure for leprosy is the ritualistic sacrifice of a bird. The Bible claims that Jesus fasted without water for forty days, but we know that even people in a coma perish after 10-14 days without water. Those claims are simply not true, and no amount of pretending in utopian spiritual Alzheimer's will make it so.

When it comes down to it, even the most devout to go a hospital when they are scared of death. While having someone lay their hands on you may feel good and hopeful, they know their best chance is through the medicine achieved by science, and virtually all of them act accordingly. Forget the quip about atheists in foxholes. There are no truly fundamentalist Christians anywhere in the United States.

Despite these unavoidable realities, some of them insist that their faith should be forged in secular law, because they are terrified of people making decisions for themselves. They are terrified of a world where people are accepted for who they are, because that means that they will have less authority and less importance and less money. Someone has to hold them accountable for their self-centered desire for fear and superstition that is harming our society, and rotting away at the core many of the principles they would believe in, if they bothered to read the Bible in the first place. It's time for them to grow up or be exposed for the charlatans that they are. No amount of pouting should stop the rest of us with moving on with the ideas that made Christianity so special in the first place: charity, hope, and love for all people, regardless of how powerful and sacred the materialistic hypocrites claim their laws to be.
posted by deanklear at 8:38 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


edit windowwwwwww
posted by deanklear at 8:40 AM on March 24, 2012


Perhaps you would like him more if he wasn't a transvestite, because it's a fact that he's hilarious.

Call me a skeptic, I guess. He's funnier than, say, Dane Cook. I'll give you that.
posted by michaelh at 8:41 AM on March 24, 2012


The lack of an edit window is an unavoidable reality.
posted by howfar at 8:42 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you are following Christ the Philosopher you are following a madman. I agree with C.S. Lewis that that is a position that one just cannot take.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:42 AM on March 24, 2012


The problem with Lewis's argument is that there is no Christ the Anything. Biblical Christ is a constructed figure, not a historical person, and hence the question of whether the historical Christ was a madman is pretty much irrelevant.
posted by howfar at 8:46 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Perhaps if he wasn't a transvestite?

Personally I think it's because he's covered in bees.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:48 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you are following Christ the Philosopher you are following a madman. I agree with C.S. Lewis that that is a position that one just cannot take.

Really? So everything that Christ is saying is insane unless he's the son of God? I don't think I agree with that at all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:48 AM on March 24, 2012


If you are following Christ the Philosopher you are following a madman. I agree with C.S. Lewis that that is a position that one just cannot take.

I am sad to say that your invented false dichotomy appears to be a convenient way to avoid confronting difficult questions. The truth is in the details.
posted by deanklear at 8:53 AM on March 24, 2012


>"It's this sort of attitude that has turned me off of organized religion."

And unions? And minorities? And political campaigns? And perhaps anything that smacks of putting forth an actual effort to achieve intended results?


Ah, yes, because I object to "atheists" using social pressure and coercive language to join a movement I must therefore be against unions and political campaigns.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:56 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


your invented false dichotomy

I believe you mean trichotomy, and invented is redundant.
posted by michaelh at 8:58 AM on March 24, 2012


Well, it's implicit; perhaps redundant. I think it's important to point out that it was invented, but that's just me.
posted by deanklear at 9:03 AM on March 24, 2012


Well, it's implicit; perhaps redundant. I think it's important to point out that it was invented, but that's just me.

As rhetoric only, I can see your need for the word. A false choice has to be invented because the choice does not actually exist as presented. And you can't mean St. Alia invented it because she said it is borrowed from Lewis.
posted by michaelh at 9:19 AM on March 24, 2012


I suppose I can drop this here, as apropos:

Yesterday, as a substitute teacher, I was supervising a 4th grade boy who is bright, but possessed of some fairly serious behavior problems. As such, he was exiled to my temporarily empty classroom in order to complete some work he had. He kept asking me about different songs--whether I'd heard them or not. Which I hadn't because I'm not in 4th grade and I don't really listen to pop music. At any rate, he finally asked if I'd ever heard the song "Joy to the World." I said, "Sure. It's a nice song."

Boy: Yeah, I heard it in church. What church do you go to?

Me: I don't go to church.

Boy: Why? Don't you believe in God?

[I don't recall if I've ever been asked this so directly in a classroom full of kids, but I believe that generally I have answered that one's faith is a private thing and changed the subject. However, this time I answered simply and honestly.]

Me: No.

Boy: [completely shocked] What! You have to believe in God!

Me: Well, I'm a Buddhist.

Boy: Do you believe in a different God?

Me: No, not really.

Boy: [horrified and backing away] But you have to believe in good things!

Me: [laughing a little, trying to reassure him] I'm not going to hurt you, you know. I do believe in lots of good things. How about this: I believe that the Universe is like a god.

Boy: That's not the same! I believe in God!

Me: I'm glad you believe in god. Everyone should have the right to believe in whatever they want, right? It's not nice to try to tell someone they have to believe what you believe. Now, can we get back to work?

Boy: You know, that song is a gospel song!

Me: Yup, it's nice, isn't it?

Now, this is a pretty innocuous conversation, but because I live in America, I have been a bit worried. He could go back to his teacher and announce to her, "That lady said she didn't believe in God!" or his parents, and it could blow up into me attempting to indoctrinate him into my god-denying ways. Now, while I know that generally speaking there's not much in the way of consequences, I'm a bit paranoid. I know that substitute teachers are *very* expendable... easily replaced. I could, entirely without my knowledge, be placed on a "do not call" list. That anxiety sucks.

So, I'm glad that atheists organize and try to get publicity. Because having to be anxious about a simple little conversation like that is fucking stupid.
posted by RedEmma at 9:21 AM on March 24, 2012 [22 favorites]


Atheists are just so precious when they talk like they think they're the only ones who use Reason

Some of us use Logic or Ableton Live, some people use Audacity, and other people still use a variety of trackers. We're a very diverse group.
posted by fuq at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


I really don't understand the difference really vocal atheists and really vocal religious people.

Fundamentalists are fundamentalists, regardless of ideology.

but let's face it: science-based stuff breaks down every so often

[citation needed]


Jonah Lehrer: The Truth Wears Off: Is There Something Wrong with the Scientific Method?
posted by Miko at 9:28 AM on March 24, 2012


So, I'm glad that atheists organize and try to get publicity. Because having to be anxious about a simple little conversation like that is fucking stupid.

You should get involve with groups like NSTA.
posted by michaelh at 9:29 AM on March 24, 2012


*I say that with the understanding that not all atheists are fundamentalists.
posted by Miko at 9:30 AM on March 24, 2012


Biblical Christ is a constructed figure, not a historical person, and hence the question of whether the historical Christ was a madman is pretty much irrelevant.

This. There's pretty scant independent evidence that Jesus even existed apart from that one line in Josephus that is rather rumor-y; Jewish messiahs have not at all been uncommon.

I mean, it seems like pretty good odds that someone going by that name existed but I'm little more confident of it than I am of, say, Achilles having for certain been a living historical figure. It seems pretty unlikely to me that the particular details about him which have been filtered out about him as canonical are true.

If you look at scriptures that didn't make the cut into the Roman Church's canon like the Gospel of Thomas there was a great deal of variety in the earliest depictions of him.
posted by XMLicious at 9:33 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, I meant to tack on, also looking down through the broad variety in worshippers of Christ across the millenia he has pretty much been whoever they wanted him to be.
posted by XMLicious at 9:34 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, I'm glad that atheists organize and try to get publicity. Because having to be anxious about a simple little conversation like that is fucking stupid.

Well, my perspective as a former teacher is, that was a teachable moment that I would have handled differently. The point is not that you get to tell the kid that you don't believe in god or whatever, the opportunity there was to explain to the kid that we don't ask other people about their religion, because we have the freedom to believe whatever we want to believe.

Personally, I don't think you should have the right to talk about our religious beliefs (and I'm classifying atheism as a religious belief) in the classroom. We should be teaching kids that we need to respect others' beliefs, but not focus on the actual beliefs until with have demonstrated respect for religious freedom.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:39 AM on March 24, 2012


No reasonably educated person since the Greeks has believed that the world was flat. There are whole books on the myth of the flat Earth. Tell your father-in-law to pop that in his pipe and see how it burns.

And to share that pipe!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:39 AM on March 24, 2012


Paypal address?

iwantyoutobehappyandyoushouldpaymeforhelpingyoubethatwaybecauseilikeagoodbottleofwhineeverynowandthen@gmail.com
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:50 AM on March 24, 2012


We should be teaching kids that we need to respect others' beliefs, but not focus on the actual beliefs until with have demonstrated respect for religious freedom.

It's a bit like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" isn't it? If a group of people is dominated by any particular practice, arguing that no-one should discuss whether they subscribe to that practice or not is likely to have the effect of forcing them into invisibility. If everyone assumes you believe in God and you don't, you are not on an equal footing with someone who does believe.

The idea that tolerance of difference can be learned without actually having to tolerate difference seems like wishful thinking to me.
posted by howfar at 9:57 AM on March 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


When I read liberal pansy-waist comments about "respecting religion" and that we can somehow perturbatively chip away at the individual beliefs of these conservative religious types, what they don't realize is that the right has already declared total war on liberalism.

A lot us believe very strongly in freedom of religion. Freedom to hold different beliefs (religious and otherwise) is necessary to have anything resembling a democracy, and to be able to live in a multiethnic society. You don't have to look very far to see what intolerance looks like.

Truth is not established by aggression.

I'm all for opposing Christian conservatives' political agenda in the US politically. But the problem with them is that a lot of them aren't very tolerant of other people's right to have beliefs and practices different from theirs. I have no problem with Christian conservatives existing and believing what they believe, as long as they don't impinge on other people's right to not accept their beliefs and practices, and as long as people who grow up in their communities are free to leave their communities and reject their beliefs if they chose to.

I would also oppose the idea of setting up some kind of liberal atheist dictatorship for the same reasons I would oppose a Christian conservative one. And such a system would not be "liberal" in any current or historical sense of the word. Fortunately, the idea of doing something like this seems to be mostly a pipe dream of a small minority of US atheists, though this sort of thing has occurred in reality elsewhere − so back to worrying about states where Southern Baptists are a majority or significant plurality.

I would think that atheists would be more supportive of the idea of religious freedom than most people, because we've had a history of persecution, and I suspect most of us are, actually. It's sad, though, that some atheists would advocate forcible suppression of others' beliefs, as if they had no understanding of history and the forms that forcible elimination of other people's beliefs have usually taken.
posted by nangar at 10:00 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I hope these guys are wholly disrespectful. There is nothing about religious belief that requires respect, nor anything about the absence thereof that can only be taken seriously with the proper doffing of caps

Nothing that requires respect? Fuckin atheist fundies.
posted by Hoopo at 10:04 AM on March 24, 2012


Do you have a rational moral argument that religion is contemptible, or are you just making it up?

Religion is a non-starter - philosophically, aesthetically, and intellectually. Philosophically, it is pretty shallow (moral behaviour is moral because this book says so.) Aesthetically, it is pretty ugly (whether your god is angry and punishing or benign and helpful, s/he is still a dictator.) Intellectually, it answers nothing rationally (it merely asserts.) I don't know if all that makes it contemptible, but it makes it irrelevant in my life.
posted by binturong at 10:04 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


That is, irrelevant except when god-believers make their beliefs into laws that affect me.
posted by binturong at 10:05 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


moral behaviour is moral because this book says so

But if this is your characterization of the moral reasoning of all religious people, your understanding of that reasoning is inadequately shallow. I think this is generally true for a lot of fundamentalist athiests and is the reason that in these kinds of discussions, I've decided to kind of lop off the opinions of the loudest and angriest and most self-congratulatory 10% and listen to all the reasonable, kind and thoughtful people in the rest of the bunch.

I do really support the ideas nangar just presented. Athiests should have the same freedoms of thought and expression that anyone else would, and proposals for the political arena should be taken or discarded on their own merit.

The idea that tolerance of difference can be learned without actually having to tolerate difference seems like wishful thinking to me.

I think you can certainly teach the ideals of a civil society without forcing everyone to detail their personal set of beliefs. We have a system of democratic values that is pretty time-honored and agreed upon, and it's not teaching nothing to teach that. Not every kid grows up in a racially or economically mixed environment, and yet we still (in general) teach the expectation of tolerance on those points without having to import an example of the Other. I think we have the opportunity to teach the tolerance of difference very often, but we don't always recognize the opportunities. Discussions of religion in the classroom in a personal sense are indeed something that would make me, as a parent, uncomfortable. Discussions of religion as a topic in a discpline-based study as part of a larger conversation would be a different thing.
posted by Miko at 10:13 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


...are there any atheist gatherings that are not sausage-fests?

There's the upcoming Women in Secularism conference. The atheist community has begun discussions addressing sexism, racism, and other prejudices within the community. See the work of Ophelia Benson, Sikivu Hutchinson, Greta Christina, and Natalie Reed.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:15 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I would also oppose the idea of setting up some kind of liberal atheist dictatorship

So, then, you support setting up a liberal sloppy thinking and tolerance for oppressive moral codes dictatorship.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 10:21 AM on March 24, 2012


Not every kid grows up in a racially or economically mixed environment, and yet we still (in general) teach the expectation of tolerance on those points without having to import an example of the Other.

But aren't there, in fact, examples of the Other all over the place, even in apparently homogeneous communities? We don't need to import the Other, just allow it to speak. I wouldn't, and didn't, suggest for a moment that anyone should be forced to detail their beliefs, just that people should be allowed to express them if they wish. Freedom of expression is an important liberal (or democratic if you prefer) value too.

As far as your factual claim goes, I would like to be convinced that American schools already do a sufficiently good job of teaching tolerance, but there does seem to quite a lot of evidence to the contrary.
posted by howfar at 10:24 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As always, Ron Swanson shows us all the way.
posted by Talez at 10:25 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's why the (in general).

I agree that discussing a teacher's religion in a classroom is something I'd consider out of bounds as a parent who believes in public school being a nonsectarian environment.
posted by Miko at 10:26 AM on March 24, 2012


Think of the different ways allowing that discussion could unfold with different teachers and different classrooms across the country. Not every teacher is a benign liberal Buddhist.

When I was a teacher I was lucky enough to be trained in a program where this was a resource and to teach in a school at which the staff wholeheartedly embraced it as a principle of school and civic culture. In general, we do teach tolerance as a civic value. It's overtly written into most state curriculum standards, and achools generally are not places where legal discrimination can take place. We don't do it thoroughly or with full effectiveness, though, and it often either fails or is overlooked - not surprisingly given our (idiotic) tradition of local control and the impossibility of granular, consistent single-classroom oversight.
posted by Miko at 10:31 AM on March 24, 2012


Religion is organized superstition.

A thousand years from now some academic will write a paper on how humanity threw off the fetters of obfuscation and mind control. Can't happen soon enough.

I find it depressing that some modern humans are still wallowing in this nonsense.
posted by jet_manifesto at 10:37 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


A thousand years from now some academic will write a paper on how humanity threw off the fetters of obfuscation and mind control

I see nothing in human history or nature to suggest that this is remotely likely.
posted by Miko at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would think that atheists would be more supportive of the idea of religious freedom than most people, because we've had a history of persecution, and I suspect most of us are, actually. It's sad, though, that some atheists would advocate forcible suppression of others' beliefs, as if they had no understanding of history and the forms that forcible elimination of other people's beliefs have usually taken.

Who are these atheists who want to forcibly suppress the beliefs of others? I keep hearing this repeated, and I haven't read or heard that idea from any notable atheists or agnostics that I know of.

There is a huge gulf between forcibly suppressing belief and demanding an equality of ideas and pluralism. If your belief involves forcing others by law to obey morality that has no common moral ground among many or all religions and the non-religious, then you are asking for special treatment of your religion, and that is plainly unconstitutional.

We have already established that American values are based on independent moral judgements that have some things in common with Biblical values, but when it comes down to it, our society decides our morality independent of what is in religious texts or previous laws, because that's the essence of democracy. Our laws are based on what we decide, not solely on the content of the Bible or the Qu'ran or the Bhagavad Gita. We decide for ourselves with our vote. Our fate should not be decided for us by any foreign force, or by any domestic force by way of paternalism, tradition, fear, or violence. If there is an American ideal, that is it.

When religious people claim their ideas are the only valid ideas, and then they try to have them enshrined in Law because they are terribly and obviously insecure about them, that's not atheism or agnosticism trying to suppress religious freedom. It's the assertion of the fact that what they are trying to do is establish religious tyranny, and religious tyranny is no more tolerable than any other kind.
posted by deanklear at 10:41 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see nothing in human history or nature to suggest that this is remotely likely.

I'm afraid you may be right, but I hope you are wrong.
posted by jet_manifesto at 10:57 AM on March 24, 2012


Snyder, did you miss the part where I included "society-at-large" and "a reasonable reading of history" as additional influences?

You claim you have no ethos. I can only presume that means you believe that you have some innate, non-formal, and universal method of making moral decisions that somehow sprang from your head with no outside influence in the first place. This gave you the ability to interpret society and an understanding of reason. Again, with these interpretations and readings that you arrived at without any kind of ethos in the first place, you move throughout your life making moral decisions not based on any guiding beliefs or systems derived from other humans, but purely created from your own will. This is absurd.

Perhaps it's not universal, in which case you believe that you have some special ability that other humans do not have, or will not exercise.
posted by Snyder at 11:00 AM on March 24, 2012


Religion is a non-starter - philosophically, aesthetically, and intellectually. Philosophically, it is pretty shallow (moral behaviour is moral because this book says so.)

Congratulations on describing one interpretation of two or three of the world's religions! Now how about the rest?

Aesthetically, it is pretty ugly (whether your god is angry and punishing or benign and helpful, s/he is still a dictator.)

Perhaps true of religions, and interpretations of religions, where one is expected to obey divine decrees. What of all the religions where this does not happen? (In mine, deities say their job is not to micromanage humans and take all our decisions and responsibility and power away from us; that'd be terribly boring for them and shitty for us so why bother?)

Intellectually, it answers nothing rationally (it merely asserts.)

Three times you have made the same mistake as Judeo-Christian fundamentalists:

1. You have assumed that there is only one basic religion that matters and all religion comes out of a book.
2. You assume that God is a small-minded being that wants to rule over ever smaller-minded human cattle.
3. You assume the role of religion is to provide answers.
posted by Foosnark at 11:03 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know what? I generally agree that my religious beliefs are not up for discussion in the classroom. As I said, I have previously changed the subject. If this had been a full classroom, I think I would not have been so open. I omitted the part of the conversation where I told him that generally speaking, it isn't good for a teacher to share her religious beliefs because it gives them false authority. He thought that was stupid, and as a kid who never listens to a damn thing his teachers tell him, I think he's safe. I would never go into detail about my personal beliefs, however, and I think there's a difference between indoctrination and a simple statement of identity.

I *know* that teachers frequently will reference having gone to church in front of children, because it is a big part of their lives. In fact, I have been made aware several times of teachers using their religion to *blatantly* indoctrinate children. And the goddamned pledge of allegiance, which is *mandated* in the classrooms I substitute in references god. (I stand up respectfully but do not say the pledge, and no student has asked me to explain, though I have had to defend a student who refused to stand up--other students told him he had to stand up, and I informed them that he most certainly did not have to stand.) They sing religious songs at Christmas time (with a bevy of other cultural songs). So while religion most certainly has a presence in the public schools, it is invariably Christianity or at least some generic amalgam God-thing that encompasses Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Being church-going is assumed. So when a student asks me casually if I go to church, I do not feel there is harm in saying I do not attend one. I get a little tired of answering just about everything with "none of your business," because frankly there is room for learning in friendly conversation.

I agree that a teacher should be very careful of being an authority figure, and I have taught in every grade and every type of class. In fact, I would challenge anyone to spend large swaths of time with children and avoid having personal conversations that end up touching on your personal beliefs.

I will admit that I don't think it was the wisest thing, and that I was essentially caught off guard. However I do not think it is awesome that the default *everywhere* is theism and I do think that kids should be able to put a face on atheism that isn't solely provided by the television or their pastors.
posted by RedEmma at 11:10 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's probably a cultural disconnect going on here, at least for me. I live in a multicultural and, for the time-being (we'll see what 5 years of Conservative troglodyte majority rule does) society, so Evangelicalism hasn't really been an issue for me. Churches, notably the Anglican and United denominations, are actually going out of business here, although I'm not sure about the status of Baptist, Evangelical or other charismatic denominations.

So this entire "proud to be atheist" thing seems, at least to me, to be a bit of a moot point, although I can understand that for others it is not.

Still, I would urge "militant atheists" to focus more on freedom of religion, rather than freedom to discuss religion with 9-year-old boys.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:13 AM on March 24, 2012


I think one thing you're missing is that I'm not at all a militant atheist. I am merely a person who happens to not believe in god, and doesn't feel I should have to conceal that fact in a community where the default position is religious belief. No one else has to conceal their affiliations in fear that someone will criticize them. Why should I?

Is there a difference between "I am a Lutheran" (believes in god), "I am Jewish" (believes in god), and "I am a Buddhist/Atheist" (does not believe in god). That was, after all, the extent of our conversation.

I did not say "there is no god." And we did not discuss the particular beliefs of my philosophy. So how is that "discussing religion with 9 year old boys"?
posted by RedEmma at 11:28 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


3. You assume the role of religion is to provide answers.

Why are we here? What is my purpose? Why is there evil and suffering? What is moral behaviour? Aren't these questions that religion purports to answer? That may not be its only role but it is a role. What do you say is the role of religion?
posted by binturong at 11:31 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Okay... unless you consider, "I think of the Universe as like a god" is a particular belief assertion. I guess I'd like people to be able to discuss their affiliations in the context of: We all have different beliefs that must be respected, and they are obviously not Big Scary Secrets that Must Not Be Mentioned."

A conservative Muslim teacher might wear a scarf to cover her hair. In the United States at least, we don't tell her she may not. Another might wear a necklace that is a cross. We don't tell people they may not wear such things to their jobs. Kids are curious creatures and they will ask what they are sometimes. It is pretty difficult, in my opinion, to treat those things as if they are Unmentionable or off limits to conversation. A simple explanation in the context of "we are all different" should be all right.
posted by RedEmma at 11:51 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would urge "militant atheists" to focus more on freedom of religion, rather than freedom to discuss religion with 9-year-old boys.

Just be polite and change the subject and don't worry your pretty little head about it, RedEmma. I'm sure someone will come along soon and tell you when it's appropriate to discuss your lack of faith.

Gah.

It is absolutely 100% OK to say "I don't believe in God" to ANYONE, ANYWHERE, PERIOD.

Anything less is to acquiesce to a set of assumed values designed to marginalize (if not outright demonize) free thought.

I'm tired of having this battle. I'm tired of the endless wankfest that is any discussion between believers and skeptics. Didn't y'all hash this out over beer and bong hits in your dorm rooms? Do we have to do this AGAIN? "Belief" and "knowledge" are two different things. When an atheist says "God" and a Christian says "God" they have two different referents. We are essentially, fundamentally talking past one another.

And all that talk is taking up time you could be spending doing something more worthwhile, like petting your cat or making love with your partner or teaching your daughter the bass line to "Purple Haze".

But this moment is forced upon us, the freethinkers, by a sliver of the faith community that wields a disproportionate amount of secular power. And don't be mistaken: they intend to use it. Christian Dominionism is real, it is happening, and it is antithetical to the plurality of Americans values. But because it comes with a cross and a friendly smile, it seems benign to lots of middle-of-the-road churchgoers.

Fundamentalism is NEVER benign. It is the enemy of thought. It is the enemy of freedom. It is the lead weight on the billyclub.

And if the people in the faith community aren't going to stand up (and some are) and resist, well, who is? Us atheists, I guess. Dammit.

So it IS a political argument, as someone pointed out above. It is a DESPERATELY IMPORTANT political argument. I wish it were not framed as a theological argument masquerading as Epistemology 101, but there you go.

Maybe this rally will move the conversation off of dorm-room irrelevancies and onto POLICY, which is where our attention and efforts need to be focused. But I have my doubts. Because the people who most looooove to talk about God are atheists, dammit. Like a dog with a favorite bone, we just keep digging that shit up just to have the pleasure of re-burying it. It's a waste of time.

What we should be doing, IMO, is allying with people of faith, networking with the VAST MAJORITY of the community of believers who aren't CRAZY FUNDAMENTALISTS and if we can make inroads there we can start to shape policy, we can act as a deterrent. We can speak freely and be heard respectfully.

And that's really it. As an atheist, I don't claim to be more reasonable, more enlightened, more intelligent than people of faith. What I DO claim, though, is my ABSOLUTE RIGHT to speak my mind and to have a voice in the ongoing conversation.

And I don't want to waste my breath talking about God.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:17 PM on March 24, 2012 [20 favorites]


I think the whole "no historical Jesus" argument is a) stupid, and b) doomed to fail.

It's stupid because it's not provable, and there are plenty of examples where individuals because religious leaders, e.g., Buddha, Joseph Smith, etc. In fact, to apply Ockham's razor, it's much more likely that Yeshua bar Yosef existed and the religion grew up around him than a bunch of people got together and invented him for the sake of creating a movement.

It's doomed to fail because it has nothing to do with religion vs. atheism and faith vs. science.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:17 PM on March 24, 2012


Must be nice to live in the America where there isn't a growing movement to turn the country into a Christian theocracy.

Yeah, it's called "America." You know, the one where non-Christians are also opposed to the Dominionists, and would be probably happy to have allies in the fight except for that bit where some people are saying things like "religion is organized superstition" and so they're not too cool on joining forces after all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:19 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


What we should be doing, IMO, is allying with people of faith, networking with the VAST MAJORITY of the community of believers who aren't CRAZY FUNDAMENTALISTS and if we can make inroads there we can start to shape policy, we can act as a deterrent. We can speak freely and be heard respectfully.

That. When it comes to organization, I am less interested in proselytizing, or attending a rally where a bunch of charismatic white dudes stand on a stage and presume to speak for my beliefs, and more interested in participating in an interfaith push to support the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:39 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I came down to see Eddie Izzard and Bad Religion, but I liked this line: "I have a personal relationship with reality." -Cristina Rad
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:44 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can only presume that means you believe that you have some innate, non-formal, and universal method of making moral decisions that somehow sprang from your head with no outside influence in the first place. Again, with these interpretations and readings that you arrived at without any kind of ethos in the first place, you move throughout your life making moral decisions not based on any guiding beliefs or systems derived from other humans, but purely created from your own will. This is absurd.

You seem to be deliberately ignoring what I am saying, even while quoting the actual words I used. I have never claimed to exist in a vacuum. By referring to society and history, I am literally placing myself within local-cultural and historical spheres of influence. Let me rephrase in a way that is hopefully more clear. I feel that I, personally, do not require any kind of dictated set of life-rules in order to function as a moral being. I am especially sceptical of those that have evolved from folk tales handed down over thousands of years for purposes of governance disguised as spirituality. There are plenty of observable examples from which I have learned that my actions have tangible, measurable, real-time effects on me and my immediate surroundings. Such examples include my own personal experience, the experience of others in my life, classical and popular literature in all its forms, historic texts, ancient mythology and other allegories, biology, natural and physical laws, etc. Whether you think it absurd or not, it is actually possible to make individual choices and moral descisions one at a time after actual consideration of the possible repercussions of those choices, without consulting some kind of inherited and prescribed mental map of right vs wrong. I put that in bold italics because I don't want it get lost here. What I'm saying is that I choose to make my own map based on what I have observed about how the world works in a number of contexts. For the record, I do not claim to have special knowledge of the workings of the universe. I can only speak from my experience and interpretations. I do not claim to know exactly how my actions ultimately will affect myself or others, but that's why life requires active consideration for the duration. I do strive to have the least negative net effect, but it does not always work out that way. I do not believe I am alone in this.

Perhaps it's not universal, in which case you believe that you have some special ability that other humans do not have, or will not exercise.
I absolutely do not think there is anything special about paying attention to cause and effect or taking responsibility for one's choices and behavior. I freely admit that I believe many people happily surrender any and all responsibility for their own lives, including successes and failures, in the name of religion for reasons I will never understand.
posted by Eumachia L F at 12:52 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


a chat log!

Me: This weekend , Washington, D.C. will be invaded by the voice of reason yt . A free rally featuring Tim yt Minchin yt , Paul Provenza yt , Richard Dawkins yt , Eddie Izzard yt , Adam Savage yt , James Randi yt , Bad Religion yt , and many others, in what is anticipated to be the largest gathering of non-believers in America.

Me: oops ignore every 'yt' its the alt text for tiny images

Friend: more like an accurate descriptor of every presenter and attendee
posted by p3on at 12:53 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


In fact, to apply Ockham's razor, it's much more likely that Yeshua bar Yosef existed and the religion grew up around him than a bunch of people got together and invented him for the sake of creating a movement.

Indeed, which is why the discussion is about the historical reality of the Biblical Christ, not Yeshua bar Yosef. There almost certainly was a historical Jesus, but that is not the same thing as saying that the Biblical Christ is that person.

It's doomed to fail because it has nothig to do with religion vs. atheism and faith vs. science.

You're correct. However, it has plenty to do with C.S. Lewis' specific argument against the specific belief in "Christ as Philosopher", which was the context I raised it in. I presume you're familiar with that argument and have something you're leading up to in relation to it. Yes?
posted by howfar at 12:57 PM on March 24, 2012


It is absolutely 100% OK to say "I don't believe in God" to ANYONE, ANYWHERE, PERIOD.

What you seem to be skipping over is that in this particular context—a teacher conversing with a fourth-grade student—there isn't necessarily an ethical difference between saying, "I don't believe in God" versus saying, "I do believe in God." It isn't acquiesc[ing] to a set of assumed values that could be problematic, but engaging the conversation at all.

Lots of things are not okay to say to various people at various times. "I don't believe in God" is not special in that regard.

(Apologies if that's contributing to a derail.)
posted by cribcage at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2012


It's doomed to fail because it has nothing to do with religion vs. atheism and faith vs. science.

Doomed to fail at what? It's just a question of history.

It looks like part of your comment got cut out there but like Achilles it seems just as feasible to me that Buddha or say Confucius didn't actually exist either. Like I said, I think the odds are that some person who at least inspired the story of Jesus existed, I just don't think that there's much likelihood we currently have much of any accurate details about him and unlike you I don't think it's stupid to consider the possibility that he may well have not existed at all.

I was sort of second-hand responding to St. Alia's comment that "following Christ the Philosopher" is a position that one just cannot take. It doesn't seem to me any more untakeable than the other attitudes toward Jesus that exist now two millenia after the era he's from.

C.S. Lewis is cool and all, Mere Christianity is an awesome articulation of the common values of the Christian sects of his time and place and I absolutely loved The Screwtape Letters, but the dude also wrote books about a decapitated head possessed by the spirit of a demon taking over the world. (Albeit fiction.) I don't feel compelled to take him as a particular authority on the matter, and actually in reviewing his argument (which evidently is referred to as his "trilemma") it's pretty unconvincing and melodramatic and requires you to accept as absolutely true some of the statements quote by authors we don't know the names of and which much of modern academia thinks never actually met him in person and may have been writing as much as a century after his death.
posted by XMLicious at 1:02 PM on March 24, 2012


Other things kids ask me all the time: my political affiliations, who I'm voting for, whether I believe in ghosts, whether I believe in aliens, whether I think the world is going to end in 2012...

Guess what, teachers share this sort of information all the time. I don't share my vote or my political affiliation, though I know *many* teachers who do, hopefully in the context of "This is Democracy." I have been known, in some contexts, to say that I'm a Green. I've also said that I tend to be liberal.

The most horrified reaction I ever got was when I told an entire classroom of first graders that I didn't believe in ghosts. Oh well, go ahead and sue me. There certainly are plenty of religions who have ghosts as part of their beliefs.

I do tend to brush off little kids who ask me if I believe in Santa Claus, because I don't want to get yelled at by parents.
posted by RedEmma at 1:11 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just be polite and change the subject and don't worry your pretty little head about it, RedEmma. I'm sure someone will come along soon and tell you when it's appropriate to discuss your lack of faith.

Gah.

It is absolutely 100% OK to say "I don't believe in God" to ANYONE, ANYWHERE, PERIOD.


Talking about your personal personal religious beliefs with students is inappropriate and unethical. Teaching your students about respecting others' beliefs is not.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:15 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The irony is that atheism is precisely what any supreme being would honor or favor in their meaningful absence (whether an actual god, or an unknown alien viceroy destined to appear). So there is no reason to emphasize any god's non-existence. Atheism is best defined as absent-diety-ism because partial absence is already widely acknowledged for any diety's physical body* and spirituality was partly conceived to explain it. The idea that a supernatural power wills or causes disasters comes only after a hidden or partially absent creator is assumed. Anything said about theism doesn't need to address physical nature at all, but the will behind it instead. One can reasonably claim that a willfully absent god is not in hiding to see who will beg for favoritism, although anyone can claim absolute truth in his complete absence, so there is no point in deciding which idolatry is best. A truly supreme being cannot be jealous, nor would he stew over grudges, and he doesn't require humans to test their blind obedience when he could have made robots instead.

*For example, from Greek: apemi: "I am absent." Apeimism therefore asserts a self-willed absence.
posted by Brian B. at 1:16 PM on March 24, 2012


"It's weird that so many people think they know the secrets of the universe, be it religious and scientifically based.. . . Just be a nice, curious agnostic. You'll find out the truth of it all five seconds after you're dead, so why worry about it until then?"

Again: atheist... as in a-theist. As in "not a theist"... which defines most agnostics. As in A-gnostic. Not gnostic. Which is not particularly

Being an atheist doesn't mean that you are certain there isn't a god. It means that you have no convincing evidence to suggest there is -- or -- even if there were -- which god(s) would be the right one.

I have identified as agnostic before, and still contend that I don't know with any certainty whether there are gods or not, though it seems highly unlikely to me that a god exists in any recognizable form that matches up with people's beliefs and expectations. But frankly, being an open skeptic and atheist, and as transparently reason-based as possible is more true to me, and a far more vital in today's world, than sitting on the fence, amenable to everyone until death.

Why? Because, there is no convincing evidence that we have more than one life, but there is plenty of evidence that irrationality and religion are either provoking major problems in society, or helping to impede solutions -- some of which are absolutely existential and essential to humanity's future as a whole.

As for being "nice, curious...", that would describe the great majority of atheists that I know. Curious, in many cases, to a degree that seeks out and often finds answers to questions that have never been solved before, or asks questions that previously weren't asked.

Being nice isn't turning a blind eye to those who think global warming or environmental pillaging is okay, because God will sort it out. It isn't not standing up for the rights of women, when the government wants to violate their bodies, or not standing up for children, raped or abused by organized religion. It's not denying aid, medicine, and comfort to the people of Africa, if part of that aid includes simple, inexpensive latex devices shown to stop HIV transmission in the vast majority of cases.

These, frankly, aren't fights that I ever wanted to have to fight. You would think that the larger religious community would police their own, and take an issue on the side of the vulnerable, as their beliefs indicate that they should... especially when they claim to be responsible players, who hate being lumped in with those in their midst who are not.

But, in truth, they can't even be counted on to do anything meaningful, open, organized, and effective to even stop targeted murders against those who run abortion clinics, much less on major political issues where religion is being badly misused. They certainly do nothing organized to stop some pretty ugly, brutal, faith-based legislation. They have utterly failed to police their own.

So, yes, by all means... let's be nice. But let's be nice by realizing that sometimes a friend has to tell another friend that they're making the wrong choices, not only for themselves, but for the rest of humanity as a whole. And if that friend continues upon a self-destructive path, they should be stopped. Because, ultimately, that's far nicer and kinder than the alternative.
posted by markkraft at 1:18 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Talking about your personal personal religious beliefs with students is inappropriate and unethical.

You seem to be universalising a cultural peculiarity here. The idea that schools are profoundly secular environments is largely an American cultural phenomenon.
posted by howfar at 1:20 PM on March 24, 2012


And, it IS NOT TRUE. It has NEVER been true. Prayer has not been eliminated from all schools, everywhere. The social pressure to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which contains "under god," is pervasive. Teachers are allowed to wear religious symbols and so are students.
posted by RedEmma at 1:23 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is absolutely 100% OK to say "I don't believe in God" to ANYONE, ANYWHERE, PERIOD.

And this is slightly off-topic, but from a pragmatic point of view, it is just not a good idea to insert personality into the classroom - the focus of the classroom should never be you, your life, your personal beliefs, your likes or your dislikes, because then determining success becomes a referendum on your popularity.

The fundamental rule of classroom management is to take the focus off the teacher, and keep it on the students and whatever is being taught. There are teachers who develop a cult of personality, but it's a real risky tightrope to walk, and ultimately is not pragmatic or productive.

In other words, who cares what your political beliefs or spiritual views are in the classroom? Irrelevant. But the Constitution is.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:24 PM on March 24, 2012


It's a good job no-one else here has any teaching experience or knowledge isn't it? Otherwise a lot of this might come across as crossing the line into unwarranted condescension.
posted by howfar at 1:26 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You seem to be universalising a cultural peculiarity here. The idea that schools are profoundly secular environments is largely an American cultural phenomenon.

I taught in Canada and in Japan, so, yeah, I understand this. In Japan, teachers are required to teach "morals". However, the approach is outlined in the curriculum, which is develped by the Education Ministry, which is ostensibly accountable to the electorate. The teachers don't just get to wing it.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:26 PM on March 24, 2012


And yet there are many countries that aren't either of those two, in which discussion of individual religious belief is not just tolerated but accepted and even encouraged. You declaring at an ethical absolute does seem a little silly in a global context.
posted by howfar at 1:34 PM on March 24, 2012


It's stupid because it's not provable

That's funny. The non-existence of Jesus as a historical person "is unprovable," so clearly it makes more sense to believe that he existed. You've got that completely backwards. You just cut yourself shaving with Occam's Razor.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:46 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are plenty of observable examples from which I have learned that my actions have tangible, measurable, real-time effects on me and my immediate surroundings. Such examples include my own personal experience, the experience of others in my life, classical and popular literature in all its forms, historic texts, ancient mythology and other allegories, biology, natural and physical laws, etc. Whether you think it absurd or not, it is actually possible to make individual choices and moral descisions one at a time after actual consideration of the possible repercussions of those choices, without consulting some kind of inherited and prescribed mental map of right vs wrong.

No, it is not. It is absurd to say that your judgments of the effects of your actions and your experiences, literature, physical laws etc. come from a place of pure reason and are not heavily predominately effected by the ethos of your culture. The moral assumptions we grew up with are huge and far-reaching, and are easily assumed to be part of our internal, innate makeup.

You, like all of us, are heavily and profoundly influenced by, as you say, inherited and prescribed mental maps, in ways you don't even realize. This is true of everyone. No one can completely remove themselves from the axioms they inherited from birth, and anyone who says they have is a fool.

To say that because you have read a lot that you created a moral framework for yourself completely separated from unconscious and unknown influences, that your feelings on, say, community, right action, individuality, and equality are not partially created by the ethea of your culture is arrogance.
posted by Snyder at 1:54 PM on March 24, 2012


I don't know how many times I have to say this but I am literally placing myself within local-cultural and historical spheres of influence. Do you not understand what that means or are you simply ignoring it so you can keep insulting me?
posted by Eumachia L F at 1:59 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is no Dawkins 5:15 which states that God does not exist, period.

I'm pretty sure that you're wrong about this. mobunited alone has complained about him in at least four comments in this thread, so I'm guessing Dawkins must be at least the cardinal of the atheists -- maybe even the pope?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:16 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't know how many times I have to say this but I am literally placing myself within local-cultural and historical spheres of influence. Do you not understand what that means or are you simply ignoring it so you can keep insulting me?

Then how can you say you have no ethos?
posted by Snyder at 2:19 PM on March 24, 2012


Rather, that you have no need of one? Because if all I'm doing is rephrasing you, that you have no need of one?
posted by Snyder at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2012


Shit. I mean, if all I'm doing is rephrasing you, I have no idea why you would say that in the first place.
posted by Snyder at 2:21 PM on March 24, 2012


Frankly, given science's track record vs. religion (one works "every time" vs. another which works "when it works,)

Except that it doesn't. Work every time. Science is constantly revising itself, over and over again. Scientists in all fields are re-testing and re-working previous theories and hypotheses. Science is NOT an absolute and is NOT always right. If this were so, we would have had the theory of evolution from Day One and no one would be arguing about how to reconcile Newtonian physics with the laws of relativity because we'd already have figured it out.

If science really worked every single time, it would have rendered itself obsolete. Why would we still need scientists if we already had the answers?

I agree that science is a better method than faith for observing the universe. I do not agree that science is always right. Science itself would disagree with that one, given that it was not so very long ago that disease was attributed to "bad humors" by doctors. If you look at just the history of medicine alone, the things that science has figured out only very, very recently is staggering. Just imagine for a second how much more we're wrong about before getting all cocky about science working every time.

For the record, this is not an argument for religion. I am not arguing that religion is better. It's not. I'm merely pointing out that science is imperfect. Which, around here, I know is - kind of ironically - tantamount to heresy.
posted by sonika at 2:21 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know that "science" has ever made any claims so it's a little weird to say it's not always right.
posted by ODiV at 2:34 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the record, this is not an argument for religion. I am not arguing that religion is better. It's not. I'm merely pointing out that science is imperfect. Which, around here, I know is - kind of ironically - tantamount to heresy.

To clarify, I'd say that it's correct to claim that the shared, independent, and repeatably observable base of knowledge we call science is far superior to the actual hearsay (and heresy to any enlightenment thinker) that is what we call faith, at least the sort of faith found in Abrahamic religions.

Science never claims it is sacred. It never claims that hypothesis X, Y, and Z will be forever eternally true in the whole universe. It says that hypothesis X, Y, and Z are what we know right now from what we are capable of observing. Science is based on doubt used to critique collected objective evidence, and faith — again, I'm generalizing about monotheism here — is absolute certainty that what cannot be known is known and has supernatural consequences. You couldn't pick two more opposites world views, and that's why one feels threatened by the other.

I think arguing that fundamentalist monotheism and Buddhism are the same thing called "religion" is something that really needs to change in these discussions. I can imagine Buddhism as fully compatible with science, or my brand of philosophical Christianity (for lack of a better term), but not fundamentalist monotheism.
posted by deanklear at 2:35 PM on March 24, 2012


Sonika, I think it's important to point out that "science" is really nothing more than a method, a means to find explanations rather than the explanation itself. It's not (S)cience reworking itself, but rather scientists finding fault and retesting earlier works that no longer make sense for any number of reasons. The very fact that scientific advancement continues (i.e. the evolution of old hypotheses into new ones) is evidence that the system works. The process of questioning the status quo is built-in rather than discouraged or disallowed, as is the case in many religions.
posted by Eumachia L F at 2:36 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The non-existence of Jesus as a historical person "is unprovable," so clearly it makes more sense to believe that he existed.

Obviously it does, given the context. If I said "did Obmiskander P Bumblefratz exist?" and there was no direct evidence either way, then Ockham's razor would suggest not. But why argue over the existence of Jesus vs. Socrates, for example. All evidence of Socrates comes from third parties, who you could say used him simply as a rhetorical device.

The simplest explanation that satisfies the facts is that both Socrates and Jesus existed. That says nothing about whether or not they are correctly represented by those who wrote about them
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:48 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So what about Achilles? Or, say, Apollo and Athena, who also appear in the Iliad?
posted by XMLicious at 2:56 PM on March 24, 2012


All evidence of Socrates comes from third parties, who you could say used him simply as a rhetorical device.

Nobody's spending their lives waiting around for the second-coming of Socrates.
posted by Brian B. at 3:03 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or, for another example, how about the shooter on the Grassy Knoll? That actually happened within the last half-century and forget third-hand accounts, there were actually people who claimed to have seen him in person. Per Occam's Razor should we assume that he existed and consider it stupid for anyone to entertain the possibility that he did not?
posted by XMLicious at 3:09 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


religion vs. atheism and faith vs. science.

I'm just going to put this out there that the latter is flawed. Science and faith are not mutually exclusive and by casting science as the other side of the coin, you are putting science on the same pedestal as faith - demanding the same adherence to it that the religious demand to faith.

Unfortunately, science isn't perfect and I very much wish that discussions of could hinge on "religion vs. not" instead of always coming down to casting science as the opposite of religion when not only are they not mutually exclusive, but science is not perfect and does not have all the answers. Science has been flat out wrong over and over again throughout history, so which version of science are you extolling? The medieval version in which the blood of criminals was thought to cure epilepsy? The version in the 1950s that saw lobotomies used to treat depression? The science that caused birth defects by prescribing thalidomide for morning sickness?

Science has a hell of a lot to answer for over the course of history and to pretend otherwise is, well, an act of faith.
posted by sonika at 3:17 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Talking about your personal religious beliefs with students is inappropriate and unethical. Teaching your students about respecting others' beliefs is not.

Please send this memo to my state legislators who are as we speak drafting a bill to teach "creation science" in public schools.

Please forward copies to the teachers in my state who are as we speak participating in and leading after-school prayer groups on public school grounds, while not allowing LGBT student organizers similar accommodation.

Please also send copies to the administrators who invite far-right zealots to preach fundamentalist Christian dogma at public school assemblies.

Now is not the time to be silent, to be polite, to be quiet. Now is the time to speak up, and I'm sorry if that seems rude or inappropriate to you.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:18 PM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't know that "science" has ever made any claims so it's a little weird to say it's not always right.

You missed the quoted first sentence in which I responding to a claim that science "always works."
posted by sonika at 3:20 PM on March 24, 2012


The process of questioning the status quo is built-in rather than discouraged or disallowed, as is the case in many religions.

Reform Judaism and Buddhism are two examples off the top of my head in which the questioning of the status quo is actively encouraged. Buddhism itself teaches that anything that does not stand up to rational scrutiny - even the teachings of the Buddha - should be discarded as false, no matter what.

I'm not arguing against science. What I'm arguing against is putting science on the same pedestal as religion. Science should not be held up as the opposite of religion and certainly shouldn't be implied that those with religious belief can't also value the contributions of science or the scientific method.

Examining religious belief vs. atheism should be exactly that - not examining religious belief vs. science. The fact that the latter occurs every time there's a post about the former is one of the things that really makes me bats as it very much reads as elevating science to a religious status, which I don't think is anyone's actual point - but it becomes a huge tangent as anyone with religious belief has to defend themselves lest they be branded as unbelievers in science.
posted by sonika at 3:28 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


would be probably happy to have allies in the fight except for that bit where some people are saying things like "religion is organized superstition" and so they're not too cool on joining forces after all.

Its like the people that say that they would support the homosexual agenda, you know, if only "they weren't so in our faces about it". Its the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" equivalent.

You seem to be implying that the only way atheists can improve their lot is by not talking about their atheism. That didn't work for the last several thousand years and its not going to start working magically tomorrow.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:48 PM on March 24, 2012


Buddhism itself teaches that anything that does not stand up to rational scrutiny - even the teachings of the Buddha - should be discarded as false, no matter what.

Like reincarnation?
posted by adamdschneider at 3:57 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like reincarnation?

Yes. I don't have time right now - my son needs to be put to bed - to get into a whole digression in this, but suffice to say - a belief in literal reincarnation is not inherent to practice Buddhism.
posted by sonika at 4:08 PM on March 24, 2012


The whole science versus religion thing is an enormous red herring IMO. You don't need science to know that religion is bullshit, you just need religion.
posted by Summer at 4:17 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


sonnika, I think what you might be reading is the reaction to the statement of "Science is just another form of belief" - which you haven't made, but which has been floating around this entire discussion - and a statement that many theists (and post-modernists) make. A lot of believers set up science as the "faith" of atheists.

When you make the claim "science has been wrong!" we need to be very careful about what context we're talking about:

- is "science" any attempted explanation of the natural world throughout history? If that is the case, you can say science was wrong because of astrology, or humors, or belief in demons.
- does the perverse application of science mean that science itself is to blame? In which case you can say science was wrong about lobotomies (which, while terribly misused, were the only effective (albeit brutal) medical treatment for a lot of mental conditions before the discovery of psychoactive drugs). You could also say science was responsible for the Holocaust (and people have, and continue to do so), or that it's the cause of plane crashes.
- or is "wrong" a question of accuracy? Right now, our best estimates of the age of the universe are that it is 13.75 billion years old, give or take a few million years. If that number is later modified, or given more accuracy, was science "wrong"?

I'm pretty sure you'd answer no to all the above. In which case, I think that we can agree on the statement that since the firm establishment of the scientific method, pure science has tended towards an increasingly accurate description and explanation of the natural world: in other words, truth.

Contrast this with most religious faith. Let's start with a challenge: name one thing that science had the faintest glimmer about in the last 500 years that religion had more information on, or was ahead of.

Religion is not truth. If it was, it's thousands of years of development would tend towards a single answer or set of values. But that's the exact opposite of what we see: religions become more diverse over time, not less. And increasingly, believers have set themselves up in opposition to science: you may not see a clash, but they do:

- 44% of Americans are young earth creationists. (you might say "well, it doesn't matter what they believe" - but if that belief includes an understanding that a Supreme Being created the Earth exclusively for man's dominion 10,000 years ago, and if that same being is going to sheperd us back to an eternal paradise Any Day Now, then that really starts to influence people's thinking on the environment, use of natural resources, overpopulation, etc).
- objection to stem cell research was based almost entirely on religious grounds, not on any rational basis.
- sex education, safe abortion, availability of birth control - all delivered as part of the scientific process - are objected to on religious grounds.

There are absolutely people who can mentally seperate their faith from the scientific process. One of my personal idols is Pamela Gay, who is both a great astronomer and science communicator, and who happens to be a Christian. But a good majority of believers can't - it's their faith or nothing. (interestingly, they're usually very eager to compromise their beliefs and accept science when it comes to life-threatening illnesses, or if it's something useful, like a cellphone. But if the findings of science implies that their actions are bad, or harmful, or contradictory, then it's Back To The Good Book, and "science has been wrong!")

Science is the best tool we have for discovering objective truth about the universe. Religion, by its very definition, creates a subjective experience for every adherent. That is fine... the problem occurs when people's subjective experiences or a shared myth become a foundation of policy.

Science - as slow and imperfect as it is - should not be castigated because it works within error bars.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 4:20 PM on March 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Religion is not truth.

I agree. Never said it was.

Contrast this with most religious faith. Let's start with a challenge: name one thing that science had the faintest glimmer about in the last 500 years that religion had more information on, or was ahead of.

I'm not saying religion is right. Nowhere have I said that.

Nor do I believe that we should be contrasting science with religion. In trying to pick apart my comment, you're doing exactly what I'm saying that I find wrongheaded and infuriating: using science as the "opposite" of religion.

think that we can agree on the statement that since the firm establishment of the scientific method, pure science has tended towards an increasingly accurate description and explanation of the natural world: in other words, truth.

What "truth?" What is this truth that you're describing? Science is constantly making new discoveries and turning over old ones, day after day. What's thought to be true is years later overturned for a more complete understanding. If we're to follow the scientific method to its ends, the only truth we can come up with is that there is no truth. We can not accurately describe and explain all phenomena, or even most phenomena. Hell, we can't even accurately describe or explain why on earth human beings have an appendix - let alone finding the Higgs Boson or understanding dark matter. What science doesn't know is far, far vaster than what science can explain.

I'm not saying religion has those answers. It doesn't. I'm saying that science =! truth.

You're having exactly the kind of discussion with me that I'm pointing out as counterproductive. In attempting to pick apart my problem with the idea of science being the ultimate be all and end all, you're casting me as being for religion, which I most definitely am not and never claimed to be.
posted by sonika at 4:31 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes. I don't have time right now - my son needs to be put to bed - to get into a whole digression in this, but suffice to say - a belief in literal reincarnation is not inherent to practice Buddhism.

See, there's a fundamental lack of straightforwardness to religion. You see scientific findings reversed because they can be reversed, because they are stated straightforwardly enough that others can come along and say, "Um, no." Not so with religion. The "it's a metaphor" defense can be used to handwave a vast panoply of non-falsifiable interpretations.
posted by adamdschneider at 4:38 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


See, there's a fundamental lack of straightforwardness to religion. You see scientific findings reversed because they can be reversed, because they are stated straightforwardly enough that others can come along and say, "Um, no."

By pointing out that the Buddhist belief in reincarnation can be thought of as a metaphor, I was not intending to argue in favor of it. I was merely intending to answer a simple "yes/no" question. Again, I was hasty because I was in a hurry to calm a tired toddler and I probably should have waited to respond until I had more time.

I am not arguing in favor of religion. I don't know how often I can repeat that.

I am not arguing in favor of religion.

If you cast my comments as coming down on the side of religion, you are misreading me.
posted by sonika at 4:41 PM on March 24, 2012


I'm not saying that, just stating an idea. The funny thing is, the article you posted reads a lot like Incognito by David Eagleman. Good book. It also sounds a bit like The User Illusion, which has been on my to read pile for a couple years (along with dozens of other things; please stop writing books for a while, everyone).
posted by adamdschneider at 4:43 PM on March 24, 2012


Ah, purity of science and its veneration of Truth. So much better than the perverse application of science. Nature abhors the perverse application of science in deviation of its True Purpose. It's something that man was not meant to do.

I certainly think that science is a fundamentally different thing from religion but the way it's spoken of sometimes can make it difficult to argue that it doesn't stand in for religion in at least some parts of some peoples' psychology.
posted by XMLicious at 4:46 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The funny thing is, the article you posted reads a lot like Incognito by David Eagleman. Good book.

Oh man, that does look good. I'll have to add it to my to-read list.

Which, let's be honest, I'm going to need several lifetimes to finish.
posted by sonika at 4:47 PM on March 24, 2012


Do you have a rational moral argument that religion is contemptible, or are you just making it up?
posted by mobunited at 10:02 AM on March 24


No, I don't have a rational moral argument that religion is contemptible. I have hundreds of them. But I no longer waste time spelling them out to people who are still too obtuse to see it for themselves. Sorry about that. Try someone younger and more fond of whaling on dead horses.
posted by Decani at 4:49 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


it's spoken of sometimes can make it difficult to argue that it doesn't stand in for religion in at least some parts of some peoples' psychology

I'm not sure that it does that, but it certainly has sown salt into many of the grounds where religion used to grow. Let's investigate:

Lightning:
(A) The work of Thor
(B) A result of electrical buildups between the atmosphere and the earth

Disease:
(A) A sign of god's displeasure
(B) The work of bacteria or viruses

...

Want to go on?
posted by Chekhovian at 4:59 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, I don't have a rational moral argument that religion is contemptible. I have hundreds of them. But I no longer waste time spelling them out to people who are still too obtuse to see it for themselves. Sorry about that. Try someone younger and more fond of whaling on dead horses.

I strongly suspect that what you really have are various anecdotes related to one religion or another. But these are unimportant unless you can string them together into a general argument about religion. It's possible to identify destructive religions and religious beliefs, definitely.

See, the thing about reason, especially when you want to use science as your model, is that you need to limit your claims to what the evidence tells you, instead of what you would really, really like to say about something big, because everybody thinks saying big things is cooler.
posted by mobunited at 5:05 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Want to go on?

I think the point is that a lot of people cling to the scientific method as a way of obtaining "truth" in the same way that others use religion. It occupies the same brain space w/r/t the mysteries of life. Reading this thread is a perfect example. Comment after comment after comment, including yours, holds up science on a pedestal as the "other side" of religion and commenters are clinging to science as the ultimate holder of truth in the same manner that devout religious adherents declare that [deity] knows all.

You're doing it right here, and I'd like to point out that your second example is lacking. The number of diseases that science can't explain is staggering. Bacteria and viruses only scratch the surface. There are hereditary conditions, autoimmune disease, and let's not forget the gigantic asshole that is cancer - and how it can be caused by everything from smoking to just shitty luck. There are new diseases being found all the time and science just scratches its head - see f'rinstance Nodding Disease. Is that a bacteria or a virus? Possibly a parasite? What the hell is it? It's not the wrath of a vengeful god, for sure, but science can't explain what it is, how it's spread, or how it can be cured. What we can't explain with science makes what we can explain look like a grain of sand.

Science is a better way of investigating the world. Science does not, however, provide a full understanding of the world. Saying that all questions that can't be answered by religion can be answered by science is facile and remarkably naïve as to the limitations and sketchy history of science.
posted by sonika at 5:16 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Want to go on?

Somehow I don't think that you're applying the scientific method to your investigation.
posted by XMLicious at 5:16 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Comment after comment after comment, including yours, holds up science on a pedestal as the "other side" of religion and commenters are clinging to science as the ultimate holder of truth in the same manner that devout religious adherents declare that [deity] knows all.

Any atheist who ever gets involved in these discussions will say that science isn't a world view, it's a method. This has actually been pointed out several times in this thread.

Science is a method that produces data. How we interpret that data, in terms of world view, values etc, will vary massively from scientist to scientist and from person to person. The only thing these people may have in common is that they trust the method as one way of forming and refining their world views. But it is only one. I was an atheist (in terms of the Christian god) before I even knew what science was, because I could see the blatant inconsistencies of Christianity. No science needed.

This is why I think religion vs science is a massive red herring.

The number of diseases that science can't explain is staggering.

Who in the world thinks that science has explained everything? As strawmen go, this one really takes the biscuit.
posted by Summer at 5:31 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


The number of diseases that science can't explain is staggering.

Lol. How about this?

Disease:
(A) The result of mechanistic processes
(B) Magic
posted by Chekhovian at 5:43 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


sonika, the difference between many religions and science is that religions tend to claim they know everything, when it's obvious that they don't, and science claims to know nothing, unless it's obvious that it does.

Your example perfectly illustrates the differences in response to the question of what causes nodding disease:

Science
I don't know, but let's see if we can figure it out. The cause is definitely something physical that can at least be isolated and examined, if not cured. Let's use whatever resources we need to to get to the bottom of this through tried and tested medical procedures and examinations.

Religion
I know! You've pissed off God! The cause is definitely the way you arrange your dinner plates, and the abomination of wool blends that have displeased Him. Perhaps we should spend our resources on more buildings that praise Him until He forgives us.

It's a little bit tongue in cheek, but more or less accurate if religion has to rely on faith instead of evidence.
posted by deanklear at 5:45 PM on March 24, 2012


Let's start with a challenge: name one thing that science had the faintest glimmer about in the last 500 years that religion had more information on, or was ahead of.

I'm intrigued by this challenge. Can we state it in more defined, scientific terms so that we can actually discuss it intelligently and come to some rational agreement about what the answer is? What, exactly, is the hypothesis here?

I think it would be fascinating to flesh this out, but the challenge must be well-defined first.
posted by The World Famous at 5:47 PM on March 24, 2012


the difference between many religions and science is that religions tend to claim they know everything, when it's obvious that they don't, and science claims to know nothing, unless it's obvious that it does.

Can you point me to a specific example of a major world religion that explicitly claims to know everything?
posted by The World Famous at 5:48 PM on March 24, 2012


Isn't the Pope infallible?
posted by Summer at 5:51 PM on March 24, 2012


Can you point me to a specific example of a major world religion that explicitly claims to know everything?

You can't be serious, can you? If not on omnipotence and being the ultimate judge of righteousness, what is God's supposed right to decide who lives forever in heaven, and who suffers forever in hell? Is he fallible? Then how is he God?

On preview — Summer, apparently only on a special chair...
posted by deanklear at 5:53 PM on March 24, 2012


Not even in theory.
posted by ODiV at 5:53 PM on March 24, 2012


Remember when the pope got that SMS from god saying that limbo didn't exist, and that for all the thousands of years that they had told mothers that their unbaptized babies would spend eternity chilling there...well it was kind of an "ooopsie daisey".

Yeah, that was hilarious.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:05 PM on March 24, 2012


But yes, while several enthusiastic theists have no doubt extolled the virtues of their religions by claiming, "It has all the answers," I doubt such a statement generally makes it past the PR departments of any current major world religion.
posted by ODiV at 6:05 PM on March 24, 2012


Wikipedia has told me that the Pope is, in fact, only infallible when it comes to certain well defined matters. Unlike Wikipedia of course, which does know everything.
posted by Summer at 6:11 PM on March 24, 2012


for all the thousands of years that they had told mothers that their unbaptized babies would spend eternity chilling there

I think they were teaching this for millions of years, IIRC. But then, I don't bother to even check Wikipedia for the basic facts concerning what I'm talking about.
posted by XMLicious at 6:27 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not a big fan of the phrase "fundamentalist atheist" as it's not entirely fair to either fundamentalists, who may just as easily be soft-spoken pacifists, or to atheists who don't have a single set of principles to call fundamental.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:09 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The true divide between science and religion is over the question of cause and meaning. Religions all posit an ultimate cause of one sort or another. Either its god's unknowable will, or its the cycle of rebirth or whatever new age pablum you prefer. But there is a reason for everything.

Science isn't afraid to say maybe there isn't meaning. Maybe it just is. And the question of ultimate causation in science is becoming more and more interesting. Some new reasoning suggests that perhaps the big bang was just a quantum fluctuation, not something that happened for a reason. It just happened.

Isn't that soooooo much more interesting than saying "God did it"?
posted by Chekhovian at 8:24 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chekhovian: many of the scientists who discovered and are researching the Big Bang, quantum physics, and other such mysteries of the universe are theists. They've found ways to keep the two fields distinct in their heads -- because the true divide is indeed over cause and meaning, as you say; except, as these scientists know, by "cause" they mean "how it happened," and by "meaning" they mean "emotional support for our reaction to that cause.".

Isn't that soooooo much more interesting than writing off all theists as simply believing "God did it"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I just can't respect in so man of these criticisms of theism is the ignorant shallowness on which they're built. In so many cases it's abundantly clear there's been no sincere investigation of theism, no understanding of the difference between religious dogma and religious practice, and no goodwill.

Again, not all atheists are so unsophisticated as to take part in this project. Many of them understand that the kinds of questions explored in religion and the kinds of questions explored in science are vastly different questions - one is not a weak substitute for the other. But many of the loudest protestors do.
posted by Miko at 8:42 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I find that it helps if I try to just ignore any criticism of religion that does not adhere to sound scientific principles. I'm not always successful in following my own advice in that regard. But it has worked fairly well for me in this thread.
posted by The World Famous at 8:50 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Excellent idea.
posted by Miko at 9:01 PM on March 24, 2012


The World Famous: I find that it helps if I try to just ignore any criticism of religion that does not adhere to sound scientific principles. I'm not always successful in following my own advice in that regard. But it has worked fairly well for me in this thread.

Interestingly I try to ignore any criticism of atheism from someone who I don't consider a part of my spiritual community.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:10 PM on March 24, 2012


by "cause" they mean "how it happened," and by "meaning" they mean "emotional support for our reaction to that cause.".

This seems to be pure semantic BS. I had written a long digression on the physics of a ball rolling down a hill, and the roll of cause/how/why etc, but whatever, it was boring.

What I just can't respect in so man of these criticisms of theism is the ignorant shallowness on which they're built. In so many cases it's abundantly clear there's been no sincere investigation of theism, no understanding of the difference between religious dogma and religious practice, and no goodwill.

So much of theology is like reading pre-newtonian physics. Its a waste of time. Angels on the heads of pins circle jerks. Why bother? And then if you read the actual history of any real church in the world, well wow. The Khmer Rouge even had its Buddhist defenders. After all, those that died, well they must have been bad in previous lives.

any criticism of religion that does not adhere to sound scientific principles

And clearly you don't need to bother clarifying any of those errors, because your point is just so self-evident. Psssh. Is your source private revelation from your deity?
posted by Chekhovian at 9:15 PM on March 24, 2012


So much of theology is like reading pre-newtonian physics. Its a waste of time. Angels on the heads of pins circle jerks. Why bother?

....To sound like you know what the fuck you're talking about for a change?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:17 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


In so many cases it's abundantly clear there's been no sincere investigation of theism, no understanding of the difference between religious dogma and religious practice, and no goodwill.

It's hard to find goodwill when some religious people are trying to remove my bodily autonomy by force of law. And if someone doesn't believe that god/s exist, how does investigating theism help them gain acceptance for that lack of belief? I'm very familiar with the (often very large) difference between dogma and practice in the Catholic Left environment I grew up in. But how does learning more about the subtle differences between dozens of American flavours of Protestantism do anything to help women being forced to have transvaginal ultrasounds? Or gay teens prevented from having meetups during on-campus prayer sessions? Even the most knowledgeable theists are rarely experts outside of their own sect, why are atheists held to a higher standard?
posted by harriet vane at 9:19 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


....To sound like you know what the fuck you're talking about for a change

Lol. See I really don't want to know more esoterica about religious thought. I wish I knew less in fact.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:20 PM on March 24, 2012


I just want religion to go away. Do whatever you want in the privacy of your own skull. Keep it out of the public sphere.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:21 PM on March 24, 2012


It really does bear a strong similarity to the way women can't criticise a sexist statement/video/etc unless they do it politely in terms that the sexists approve of. So they can be ignored or dismissed on technicalities while the larger problem is ignored.
posted by harriet vane at 9:23 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


See I really don't want to know more esoterica about religious thought. I wish I knew less in fact.

So...you LIKE ignorance.

I just want religion to go away. Do whatever you want in the privacy of your own skull. Keep it out of the public sphere.

Maybe if you stopped telling people that what goes on in the privacy of their own skulls makes them "soooooo less interesting", then maybe you wouldn't be making them so defensive and they WOULD keep it to themselves.

And then you can continue to live in ignorance and pretend everyone's just like you. Good luck with that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:28 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So...you LIKE ignorance.

Lol. I'm ignorant of many things. One of my friends has vast reams of knowledge about the Warhammer 40K universe. I am thankfully ignorant of that. Religious fairy tales are cut of the same cloth, except of course, they don't include paintable miniatures. Just sodomy by old priests.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:35 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find religious "esoterica" pretty fascinating, actually. But maybe that's from growing up going to mass and attending a Catholic high school. And it's certainly a bit dickish of me, but I can't help thinking it's a bit funny when I run into people belonging to a religion who don't seem to know much about it or sometimes are even ignorant of the beliefs they purportedly hold.

many of the scientists who discovered and are researching the Big Bang, quantum physics, and other such mysteries of the universe are theists.

I'm likely projecting a fair bit here, but there's often immense social pressure to appear theist, though that's lessening. From the perspective of someone who was raised Catholic but never believed, the amount of people I knew for whom Confirmation wasn't a free choice was definitely significant. People often join/convert to a religion they would not otherwise to marry the person they love. And those are just examples off the top of my head. There's also a fair bit of painting scientists as theists postmortem.
posted by ODiV at 9:36 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


You can't hang that on all religions or all theists, Chekhovian.
posted by ODiV at 9:42 PM on March 24, 2012


I find religious "esoterica" pretty fascinating, actually.

Yeah, the latin mass sounds pretty cool. The rituals look cool. I went to an eastern orthodox wedding once. Lots of standing and sitting while listening to some greek babbling I didn't understand. At one point the bride and groom had wreaths on their heads that were connected. And they circled around each other. It looked cool. Not worth all the, you know, everything else religion has caused.

You can't hang that on all religions or all theists, Chekhovian.

You mean the child rape? A low rhetorical blow, I'll admit. But similar things are not unknown in many other religions.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:45 PM on March 24, 2012


Chekhovian, you sound really young, so maybe you haven't figured this out yet, but there are a lot of really vile things people do that have nothing to do with religion at all, and in the absence of religion, they would -- I assure you -- find another justification for them. If you really think bad human behavior would go away if religion did, then I would wager that religion's not the only thing you don't know all that much about.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:48 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lots of standing and sitting
I was once visiting my Aunt at around age 12 and accompanied her to mass. I asked her, "How do you know when to sit and stand?" because at all the masses I had been to the priest gave directions. She replied, "God tells us."

some greek babbling
Come on now.

I don't think you'll find a single Catholic that agrees with the shit you're referencing. I don't like how it was handled by the church, no doubt, but I also don't think that religion caused it.
posted by ODiV at 9:52 PM on March 24, 2012


No, sadly youth is not my excuse, just a general lack of maturity :-0

vile things people do that have nothing to do with religion at all, and in the absence of religion, they would -- I assure you -- find another justification for them.

Lets keep talking about the Catholics then.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:52 PM on March 24, 2012


Imagine there were a global corporation known to be engaging in a vast enterprise of child rape. And that those in charge worked to suppress it, that they protected the beasts responsible, etc etc.

And that the leader lived in some vast fortress in Italy?

What would happen?

Navy Seals would be sent to shoot him in the face.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:54 PM on March 24, 2012


rather suppress public knowledge of it, etc
posted by Chekhovian at 9:54 PM on March 24, 2012


It would not constitute a rational argument against the existence of corporations.
posted by The World Famous at 9:56 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lets keep talking about the Catholics then.

I'm not even sure what this means. Whatever it is you're associating with Catholics, though, I promise it's not behavior that's limited to Catholics, common to all Catholics, or a thing that would go away if Catholicism went away. It's not that simple, I'm sorry.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:58 PM on March 24, 2012


Well, if corporations were able to get away with child rape, I would argue against corporations.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:58 PM on March 24, 2012


Dude, go sleep it off. Great googly moogly.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:59 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dude, its more amusing than anger generating that all the recent counterattacks seem to be along of the lines of: "well there's just this secret truth and beauty that you can't understand, and its not my responsibility to explain it, and it justifies anything" Lol.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:06 PM on March 24, 2012


I'm pretty sure no one is arguing that religion justifies everything. But there's religion, and then there's people. I'm not a Bible scholar, but I don't think there's a biblical passage that's all, "Yea, and he said unto thee, go forth and bone kids and lie about it, it's all good sayeth the Lord." That's people. There's similar corruption in any power structure, because people who have power often use it for criminal ends. This is all kind of 101 material, to be honest.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:15 PM on March 24, 2012


Videos from the Reason Rally today...
posted by markkraft at 10:18 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's similar corruption in any power structure, because people who have power often use it for criminal ends.

But you miss my point entirely. They are shielded by public perception of religion. Name another (non-religious) power structure that could get away with these sorts of things on the same scale for as long and not be hunted down and destroyed for it.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:18 PM on March 24, 2012


"I'm pretty sure no one is arguing that religion justifies everything."

...or denying that it has been used to justify basically anything, presumably.
posted by markkraft at 10:19 PM on March 24, 2012


Mark, thanks. I was hoping some noble soul would do that leg work.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:21 PM on March 24, 2012


But you miss my point entirely. They are shielded by public perception of religion.

I tend to think they're shielded by enormous sums of money, primarily.

...or denying that it has been used to justify basically anything, presumably.

That's kind of a vague, windy statement. It's been used to justify a lot. So have a lot of things that are not in and of themselves positive or negative things.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:23 PM on March 24, 2012


From the videos:
Maher: "Atheism is a religion in the same way that abstinence is a sex position"
Lol.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:31 PM on March 24, 2012


EC: ....To sound like you know what the fuck you're talking about for a change?

I'd prefer not to discuss religious beliefs at all outside of my circle, except that religious people seem to make a weird habit of lecturing me on the poverty and artlessness of my experience, the futility of my moral convictions, and the terrible meaning of the things I honor. Demands for knowledge always strike me as perpertually one-sided.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:33 PM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Navy Seals would be sent to shoot him in the face.

Yeah, I remember when Green Berets killed the president of Dyncorp. Or not.
posted by mobunited at 10:40 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"It's been used to justify a lot. So have a lot of things that are not in and of themselves positive or negative things."

*nods* Religion can be a force for good, just like other systems with similar power structures, such as patriarchy, totalitarianism, dictatorship, fascism, etc.

Sure, structurally, they inherently lend themselves to abuse of power and violation of people's most basic rights, either by dictat or by followers who feel empowered to do evil, supposedly in the name of the order... but the potential for good is there in all of the aforementioned systems, and that's what you feel matters most.
posted by markkraft at 10:43 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So...you LIKE ignorance.

That's an incredibly uncharitable way of interpreting his statement. And yet no-one's explained yet why atheists have to know the esoterica of every religion they might encounter while religious people don't have to make any effort to understand anything except their own.
posted by harriet vane at 11:06 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


What I just can't respect in so man of these criticisms of theism is the ignorant shallowness on which they're built.

I think you've got this arse about face. This thread is announcing a meeting of notable atheists, and so the tone of the thread, right from the very beginning was 'Fucking atheists -- who the hell do they think they are, standing up and expressing their goddamn views in this Christian country of ours. What business have they got, undermining our right to faith with their pernicious lack of belief!"

It's a fairly standard response whenever there's an atheism thread on Metafilter. What's peculiar about it is that so many of the people who engage in it also claim to be atheists.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:31 AM on March 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


Yeah, it's nice that we managed to avoid the standard debate over how mean Dawkins is, but for an event with James Randi and MeFi's Own Adam Savage I wish we could have talked about them a bit more. You know, as a change from having to defend ourselves from accusations that we're antagonistic and disrespectful for daring to meet in a public place, which came up in the first handful of comments. But it's probably more important that we make sure that religious people are comfortable expressing their low opinion of us before we ask them to have any idea about what a secularist gathering might represent.
posted by harriet vane at 2:49 AM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Harriet - you're completely right. So, on-topic - I like many of the people on the bill, and I think they can be guaranteed to be both entertaining and thoughtful rather than GRAAR RELIGION, especially the likes of Izzard and Tim Minchin.

But I think they're missing the sweet spot. Us lefty atheists are already on-side. The people they need to grab are the religious and agnostic fans of secularism who don't support attacks on abortion, contraception, homosexuality etc. There are a lot of those people both on left and right and I think they get forgotten and alienated in the binary argument.

Secularists need to keep on-topic and get religion out of the public sphere. Issues of who is right and wrong in their personal beliefs come second. The fact this is called the 'Reason Rally' leads me to believe it's going to be about personal beliefs first, and political activism second.
posted by Summer at 3:43 AM on March 25, 2012


This thread is announcing a meeting of notable atheists, and so the tone of the thread, right from the very beginning was 'Fucking atheists -- who the hell do they think they are, standing up and expressing their goddamn views in this Christian country of ours. What business have they got, undermining our right to faith with their pernicious lack of belief!"

For whatever it's worth, which is likely not much given the turn this thread has taken, I did not have anything to say about the original post or the original discussion because it wasn't about me or any of my beliefs, and it was about people whom I greatly respect discussing their values amongst themselves. To the extent that my contributions have derailed from that endeavor, I apologize.

For the record, as a theist of some stripe, though not one frequently recognized: I believe that the atheist voice is one of the most important public voices in the current political climate. I believe that it is all of our responsibility to combat fundamentalism wherever we find it. I am sorry that this conversation has become another religious v. atheist battle, because it should not have been.

I do wish you generally would seem to know more about what you decry, and I wish that your wholeness did not require me to feel like shit for being the person I am. But that's a small complaint compared to the massive damage perpetrated upon all of us by the tactics of the politically-motivated conservative segment. I accepted a long time ago that my feelings were going to be a relative casualty in that war. It's one worth fighting, and I hope we all continue to do so. I might not be talking to you much at the end of it, or even from this point, but you don't need me here to continue your efforts, so please: keep on keeping on. It's a good fight.
posted by Errant at 4:06 AM on March 25, 2012


I do wish you generally would seem to know more about what you decry, and I wish that your wholeness did not require me to feel like shit for being the person I am.

Hang on. You decry atheists for lumping all theists in with that small bunch of loudmouthed fundamentalists, and then do exactly the same thing yourself -- suggesting that it's all atheists who are making you feel like shit?

For a group that's the dominant majority by a huge margin, theists are really, really good at playing the victim. In a country where it's only possible to get elected to political office if you happen to be a theist -- and mostly a theist of a certain stripe, that's kind of rich. Perhaps because they've spent most of the last couple of thousand years persecuting each other, so they can't quite believe that atheists don't want to round them up and coerce them into giving up their beliefs -- as your lot have historically done to us -- and still do in much of the world. (Will the real muslim apostates please stand up?)

We might not share your beliefs, or even have respect for them -- but I don't think I've ever met an atheist who disagreed with your right to hold them, no matter how silly they seem to us.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:20 AM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


I am not suggesting that it's all atheists who make me feel like shit. All atheists are not in this thread. Most atheists in this thread do not make me feel like shit. If you read any of my comments in this thread, never mind all of them, I have difficulty understanding how you would think that's what I meant, but I'm willing to be enlightened.

I have spent precisely zero time in this conversation, or indeed any conversation, characterizing anyone as "you lot". I gather that you perceive this to be your big chance to turn the tables of righteousness, and I won't even say that you're out of line to do so, because god knows atheists have been persecuted enough, so if you want to take your shot, here I am.

I do not believe that I am the victim in this conversation. My point is only this: I have never met anyone, theist, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Bright, who has disagreed with anyone's right to hold any belief, except for here on this site. Whatever else this place may be, it isn't one of tolerance, and if this thread is anything to go by it would preferably become less of one. You can go back through my comments here and find the places where I have claimed no common cause with "you", since apparently you speak happily for the superset.

I don't speak for anyone but myself. I do not claim to be, nor would I be accepted as, a spokesman for any entity but myself. You want to talk to me, I'm right here. You want me to be the representative for all theology, 99% of which I disagree with, I hope that effigy burns the way you want it to. But I'm not a symbol for anyone, and I'm uninterested in playing that role for your amusement.
posted by Errant at 6:01 AM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


And I immediately wish I had thought a second longer and not posted that, because that's also a derail from atheists discussing their own rally. My temper got the better of me, and I apologize. I will back off. My memail is open. I wish you guys and girls success.
posted by Errant at 6:06 AM on March 25, 2012


As an Athiest, this thread, and every conversation about religion ever, is exactly why I stopped discussing any of this in any seriousness with anyone ever ever.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 6:14 AM on March 25, 2012


And yet no-one's explained yet why atheists have to know the esoterica of every religion they might encounter

If an atheist is going to make claims about the esoterica and doctrine of a particular religion then simply cross-checking on Wikipedia to verify before making those statements will make it look much less like ignorant bigotry.

As an Athiest, this thread, and every conversation about religion ever, is exactly why I stopped discussing any of this in any seriousness with anyone ever ever.

Amen.
posted by XMLicious at 6:16 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


My father-in-law likes to use the argument that "well scientists used to believe the world was flat" to which I argue that a) these people back then weren't scientists in the way that we mean the word today and b) technology did not exist to allow for better answers.

Actually, some dead Greek dude managed to not just reason that the Earth was a sphere but also get within spitting distance of its circumfence just by knowing the angle at which a stick threw a shadow at noon in two different places as well as the distance between these two places.

Columbus was a dope not because people thought he would sail off the edge of the Earth, but because he had obviously fudged his figures to sell his go to Asia the western way project; the original overtly optimistic salesdroid.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:34 AM on March 25, 2012


Here's Adam Savage's speech at Reason Rally.

"I am a very non-confrontational person. I am most of the time the very definition of a reasonable man. I don't like telling people things they don't want to hear. I want people to get along .I want people to like me. I want to find good things in people. I want to understand viewpoints that differ from mine. I want my tombstone to say "He was nice to work with."

Damn radical atheists, right?!
posted by markkraft at 6:50 AM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Smug, shrill fundies.
posted by Summer at 6:55 AM on March 25, 2012


The people they need to grab are the religious and agnostic fans of secularism who don't support attacks on abortion, contraception, homosexuality etc....

It's difficult to attribute one goal (or even a main goal) to an event sponsored by so many different groups and attended by so many individuals, but I don't think the Rally intended to reach this audience for the purpose of building common cause in maintaining secular government.

Instead, the rally sought "to unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative opinions held by so much of American society." "Secular" is a bit of a tricky word, because it is used to describe both religiously-neutral government and people with non-religious worldviews (e.g. atheists and agnostics). In the context of the Rally, "secular" seems to refer to the latter meaning.

Atheists are widely despised in part because people don't know there are atheists among their friends and family, as suggested by research including this paper from the University of Minnesota Dept. of Sociology. The Reason Rally helps make atheists more visible as concrete individuals instead of as a stereotype.

As Greta Christina says, if those who attended this rally simply identify as atheists publicly, that small act would go a long way to creating an America in which atheists can be seen as just as potentially good (or bad) as their theist compatriots, instead of as immoral, cantankerous, and mean-spirited.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:58 AM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't speak for anyone but myself. I do not claim to be, nor would I be accepted as, a spokesman for any entity but myself. You want to talk to me, I'm right here. You want me to be the representative for all theology, 99% of which I disagree with, I hope that effigy burns the way you want it to. But I'm not a symbol for anyone, and I'm uninterested in playing that role for your amusement.

And that is the way many atheists/agnostics/spiritualists feel every day as children in US schools. My grandmother was a Jehovah's Witness, and I didn't stand for the pledge. I can't tell you how strange it was to know the scripture I was obeying while classrooms full of Baptists and Evangelicals looked at me with disgust for disrespecting the iconography of the United States, and refusing to pledge allegiance to a nation. I knew (and thought I understood) my commandments. But no one ever asked me why I did't stand. They ridiculed me instead.

I'm glad I had that experience because it taught me the truth about conformity in this country. It taught me that many people believe that obeying authority is more important than knowing or even seeking the truth, but that's a slight derail. The point is that conformity in the United States involves having a God of some kind. We are an hysterically religious nation when compared to the rest of the modern world, and that has to change, because we are changing. How many self-identified Christians actually go to church every Sunday? How many bother to even read the Gospels? And why do they think that entitles them to pass legislation based on morality they don't even try to understand?

That's not based on what I perceive to be as a huge gap in biblical literacy. That's just a fact:
Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can't name even five of the Ten Commandments. "No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don't know what they are," said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? "Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate."

Multiple surveys reveal the problem in stark terms. According to 82 percent of Americans, "God helps those who help themselves," is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better--by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one's family.
That's why it's time to call this bluff, and put an end to the idea that a nation that doesn't bother to read it's own religious texts can force minority citizens to follow their imaginary superior morality. It's not about making fun of religious people, or superficially disrespecting someone's religion. It's demanding the freedoms we are guaranteed as citizens, and as human beings, to be treated equally.
posted by deanklear at 8:06 AM on March 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


Damn radical atheists, right?!

Dude, Adam's not the one who accused all theists of mindlessly saying "God did it". That's why no one is complaining about him.

And I've never had any beef with atheists. I only have a beef with assholes. There are assholes on all sides. Some of 'em are in this thread. From both sides. I may show signs of being one myself (that's why I bowed out for a while).

that's what frustrates me about this, is that it's not even religion that is causing the discontent in this country -- it's ASSHOLENESS. It's ASSHOLENESS that makes some Christians lecture you about "your immorality" and bullshit like that. If they were Jewish instead, they'd be JEWISH assholes, if they were Republicans they'd be Republican assholes, if they were progressives they'd be progressive assholes. The problem isn't that they're Christian, the problem is that they're assholes.

And it would make SO much more sense if, if someone's been harmed by assholishness, they didn't become an asshole themselves. It would make so much more sense if theists and non-theists alike joined forces to say "look, it's the assholishness that's the problem on both sides, let's put a stop to that."

But that can't happen if we keep sniping at each other all "Christians are all like this amirite" or "you think atheists are all like this amirite", and we all, instead of jumping to the conclusion of "you're telling me I can't say things like that just because I'm an atheist," we spent a minute looking at ourselves and checking, "wait....am i acting like an asshole?"

If someone's being an asshole, I don't think anyone cares what it is they're being an asshole about. The real problem is...they're being an asshole.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I agree with EmpressCallipygos that the rule "don't be an asshole" is necessary for a pluralistic society. The problem is that the definition of asshole behavior differs across groups.

The simple expression of atheist identity can be perceived as aggressive or confrontational (i.e. being an asshole). Positive atheist ad campaigns stating "Millions of Americans are Good Without God" or "Don't Believe in God? You're Not Alone" have been seen as aggressive attacks on Christians. These messages are intended to counter stereotypes of atheists and send a message of solidarity to isolated nonbelievers. Yet these positive, consciousness-raising messages are read as hostile to Christianity by some Christians. For example, in 2010 the Dallas Coalition of Reason ran the "Good without God" ad on city buses. A local pastor called it a "blatant disrespect of our faith."

When a position that has enjoyed social privilege (including the privilege from open criticism) is faced with dissenting positions, it can try to protect itself by claiming that the critics are being too strident, aggressive, that they are assholes, etc. For example, male privilege saw advocates for women's suffrage and equal pay etc. as being too aggressive. Something similar, I suggest, is happening in the interchanges between Christians that enjoy social privilege and subordinate atheists attempting to fight prejudice and discrimination.

As an atheist, I think it important to note that when a theist perceives asshole behavior, she or he may be experiencing a kind of ideological self-defense mechanism that is trying to isolate their beliefs from challenge by casting the atheist as acting beyond the pale. The arbiter of asshole behavior, then, cannot be either the theist or atheist alone, but acting together in conversation.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:16 AM on March 25, 2012 [12 favorites]


"wait....am i acting like an asshole?"

I think if your political practice seems to involves a lot of irresponsible claims about different perspectives in order to style yourself an "anti-asshole" moderate, then you probably are one.

I'm happy to consider religious liberals allies on just about every political issue. But when it comes to talking about religion, that's when I check out.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:37 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


As usual, we start off with the claim that religion is important because it fulfills deep human instincts by providing shared value and community, and we end with the idea that it can't be harmful because it's merely "used to justify" things which bad people (or, on preview, assholes) were going to do, anyway.

It seems to me that you can take one from Column A or one from Column B, but not both. Either religion is important with regards to human value and community, in which case it can obviously be a sincere motivation for harmful action, just as other values and communities can be... or religion is no more than an excuse for harmful action, in which case there's little reason to believe that it's all that important with regards to human values or community. It always blows my mind to see so many people insist that religion doesn't have tremendous influence on people's behavior.

Also, it's funny how we don't see lots of people arguing that hospitals or charities aren't "really" religious. By the same argument, wouldn't the people who created these institutions have found another justification for them without religion? But no, this argument only ever runs one way: good things are truly religious and bad things are just "religious", to the point where the two tend to swap whenever a religion turns away from beliefs and practices it previously spent decades or even centuries espousing. Highly convenient, that.
posted by vorfeed at 11:47 AM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's worth mentioning that a lot of the growth in atheism has been traced directly to the growth of politically partisan religion, which is partly why the cause is taken up by the young with such force in the Millennial generation. By using religion to justify their politics, theologically conservative Republicans have conveyed the message to young liberals that they must reject religion in order to reject that politics.

That's why a lot of the talk at the Rally yesterday sounded like banal moderate liberalism: increasingly for this generation, that's what it means to be an atheist. If you're in favor of gay marriage, and you look around the world and see all that most objections to gay marriage come from religion, you conclude that you have to chuck God, too. The same thing for environmentalism, feminism, and the Occupy movement: once upon a time, God was being used on both sides of these arguments. Increasingly, it's hard for progressive theists to be heard and understood as both progressive and theists, and young people have decided that if they must choose between those two identities, they'd rather be progressive.

As an older atheist and progressive, I remember the days when most of my conversations with fellow progressives had to dance around my atheism. That was because I knew a lot of wonderful, caring theists who were smart, committed, and reasonable. Those people still exist, but as we've grown older they've either grown more disillusioned with their faith or more disillusioned with their youthful activism. Clearly there was a way to make those things compatible, and just as clearly something has changed in the larger culture that's pointing out an inconsistency in the psychic lives of individual citizens. When your co-religionists are Success-Theology, Federalist-Society, Dominionist-Ideology SocialConservatives, you've got to acknowledge that faith isn't a necessary condition for a commitment to social justice like you thought it was. Neither is lack of faith, of course: there were lots of Ron Paul supporters at the Reason Rally, as well. But once you decide that faith is irrelevant to the things you thought you cared about, where do you go from there?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:05 PM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


And there's something really weird about using an inoffensive quote to launch a rant about "asshole" atheists" anyway. Weird as in "I can't understand it" not weird as in uncommon, because "assholes" appears to be the universal response to even the most inoffensive discussion of atheism.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:05 PM on March 25, 2012


As for "assholishness", I'll start caring about how theists feel about vocal atheism the minute religions stop telling billions of people that they are living wrong. Until then, it's hard not to notice that our standards for "mean" behavior are just a tiny bit one-sided.

"It would make SO much more sense if, if someone's been harmed by assholishness, they didn't become an asshole themselves" -- seriously? If this were the case then Angry Atheists™ would be doing a lot more than holding rallies and putting polite signs on buses, and if you don't get that then you might want to re-think the extent to which people have been hurt and are still being hurt by religion worldwide. Being told by a minority group that your belief system is not A+++ WOULD ADOPT AS THE ONE TRUE WORD just doesn't compare.
posted by vorfeed at 12:35 PM on March 25, 2012


I'll start caring about how theists feel about vocal atheism the minute religions stop telling billions of people that they are living wrong.

This attitude of "I'll be nice to them when they stop fucking over everybody else" really, really saddens me. It's the line from being an atheist to being an anti-theist and it's just as disheartening as hearing theists do the same thing: "I'd respect them but they're going to hell."

G-ddamnit, babies, you've got to be kind. Even if the other person is an asshole.
posted by sonika at 12:57 PM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


from being an atheist to being an anti-theist

No, the technical definition is when one not only believes in no god(s), but also holds that even the effects of religious belief itself are harmful. Mark me down in that column.

Regarding the religious left, I constantly hear this refrain that if we shrill atheists would only stop being assholes about our atheism all the time, then they would come out of hiding and make a difference in the world. It makes one imagine small terrified woodland creatures, you know, the kind that will startle at any sudden movements or loud noises and sprint away into the underbrush never to be seen again. So to me, if the price of actually making our movement known is alienating a few of these bambis and thumpers, well, I don't think they were ever going to be all that useful anyway.

I was going to end this with the communion wafers quote from the D-kins speech at the rally, but then all we'd do is argue about whether he was an asshole or not. Notice my hyphen usage. I'd like to propose that become the new way to spell his name.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:24 PM on March 25, 2012


I constantly hear this refrain that if we shrill atheists would only stop being assholes about our atheism all the time, then they would come out of hiding and make a difference in the world.

My point is that everyone should stop being an asshole, but I'm a rampant idealist that way and I accept that this is just as likely as everyone in the universe simultaneously agreeing on a pizza topping.

What I hate seeing - from both sides is "I'll stop being an asshole when they do." In which case it becomes a game of asshole-chicken and no one ever wins.
posted by sonika at 1:27 PM on March 25, 2012


What if contempt is the proper way we should treat religion? If I told you that I could cast spells on you for both good or ill, and that if you came to my house once a week and sang with me, that would be the only way to guarantee that they were good spells?

But anyway, I'm sorry, back to the actual rally. Is there going to be a formal well produced video version? The audio on the Izzard and Savage talks was good, but on the Maher and D-kins talks it was very poor.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:39 PM on March 25, 2012


This thread is starting to sound a lot like the Twitter thread from a couple days back.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:03 PM on March 25, 2012


For example, male privilege saw advocates for women's suffrage and equal pay etc. as being too aggressive

Still do. Check out the Twitter thread from a couple of days back.
posted by Summer at 2:08 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


sonika: I was sympathetic to complaints about "asshole atheists" the first few dozen times it was used to either attack atheists as a whole, or to shut down discussion about other atheist perspectives (or even completely unrelated issues). Now I'm highly skeptical whenever this pops up. Especially now that I'm living in a world where just the word "atheists" has been deemed too confrontational to put on the side of a bus.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:09 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


What if contempt is the proper way we should treat religion? If I told you that I could cast spells on you for both good or ill, and that if you came to my house once a week and sang with me, that would be the only way to guarantee that they were good spells?

This only makes sense if I believed that your spells had any power over me. Otherwise, why on earth would I care if you were casting ill spells on me? In this case, being an asshole to you because you're going to be an asshole to me just creates a net gain in assholery, nothing more. If I just let you go about your ridiculous spell casting and maybe tell you that I think it's ridiculous and leave you alone, you're still going to cast your spells and my blood pressure stays within normal limits.

On an interpersonal level, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by countering jerkishness with more jerkishness.

I was sympathetic to complaints about "asshole atheists" the first few dozen times it was used to either attack atheists as a whole, or to shut down discussion about other atheist perspectives (or even completely unrelated issues)

I'm not talking about asshole atheists. I'm talking about assholes. Of any stripe. I don't care what your beliefs are, I don't think there's anything to be gained by being malicious.
posted by sonika at 2:20 PM on March 25, 2012


Still do.

Apologies. Didn't mean to say it's not ongoing. I was thinking about suffrage when starting that sentence, thus the past tense.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:25 PM on March 25, 2012


Have you ever seen James Randi attempt homeopathic suicide by taking an entire bottle of homeopathic medicine at once?

Is he an asshole for mocking those medication manufacturers that way? What if he had profaned an entire congregations worth of communion wafers?

The role of mockery and contempt here is to break the normative privilege that religion holds for most americans (Yes I know that you lucky blokes in many parts other parts of the world don't have to deal with that, but this is a threat about america).

I'm not sure how to profane all of your sacred things without being an asshole, nor do I really care to try.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:33 PM on March 25, 2012


errr, thread about america that is, just my hostility leaking through again :-)
posted by Chekhovian at 2:35 PM on March 25, 2012


What I hate seeing - from both sides is "I'll stop being an asshole when they do." In which case it becomes a game of asshole-chicken and no one ever wins.

This is exactly why I've always favored reciprocal altruism, a.k.a. tit-for-tat with forgiveness, over the Golden Rule. Sure, if you define "wins" as "everyone should stop being an asshole", then a game of asshole-chicken means that no one ever wins. In reality, "the more tit-for-tat agents that there are in the described game, the more advantageous it is to use the tit-for-tat strategy." Or, in other words: if lots of people are already playing asshole-chicken, then a cooperative strategy which punishes assholery with the same is often better for everyone who buys into it than eschewing punishment is.

This may be roughly the way altruism developed as a survival strategy, so you'll excuse me if I don't buy the idea that "no one ever wins" by employing it.
posted by vorfeed at 2:36 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have you ever seen James Randi attempt homeopathic suicide by taking an entire bottle of homeopathic medicine at once?

Is he an asshole for mocking those medication manufacturers that way?


That's not being an asshole and that's in no way what I'm talking about. Do you not see the difference between disagreeing with someone and disproving an untrue assertion and lobbing personal attacks?
posted by sonika at 2:52 PM on March 25, 2012


Taking apart a creationist argument and demonstrating that it can not possibly be true is not being an asshole. Telling a creationist that they're an idiot for believing what they do is.

Telling your friend about your religious conversion is not being an asshole. Demanding that said friend also convert to avoid supernatural consequences is.

Advocating for respectful treatment of children and working to end systemic abuse that occurs in religious communities is not being an asshole. Declaring that anyone who brings their child to church is a child abuser is.

Asking someone if you can pray for them when they're having a rough time isn't being an asshole. Doing so despite their wishes is.

Demonstrating that homeopathic medicine doesn't work isn't being an asshole. Telling anyone who uses said methods anyway that they're a moron is.

There's a very distinct difference between disagreement and jerkishness.
posted by sonika at 2:58 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a very distinct difference between disagreement and jerkishness.

Alright, Mobunited, I'm sorry I referred to you as a "boogerman", I'll get out my D-kins beads and do 25 hail Darwins for penance.

FYI, there's a very good editorial in the Times today, Frank Bruni on a religious classmate of his who became an atheist abortion providing doctor: Rethinking His Religion

Some good parts:
"He grew up in the South, in a setting so homogeneous and a family so untroubled that, he said, he had no cause to question his parents’ religious convictions, which became his....he figured out that I was gay, and yet I didn’t conform to his prior belief that homosexuals were “deserving of pity for their mental illness....He also read books on church history and, he said, “was appalled at the behavior of the church while it presumed to teach all of us moral behavior.” How often had it pushed back at important science? Vilified important thinkers?....“Religion too often demands belief in physical absurdities and anachronistic traditions despite all scientific evidence and moral progress,” he said....They speak of life’s preciousness when railing against abortion but fail to acknowledge how they let other values override that concern when they support war, the death penalty or governments that do nothing for people in perilous need."
posted by Chekhovian at 3:56 PM on March 25, 2012


sonkia: I'm talking about assholes.

You certainly are. And I don't want to talk about assholes. I want to talk about the Reason Rally, Baggini's heathen manifesto, this ongoing issue about religious-diversity education in Ireland, love, hope music, nature, multifaith community, difficulties maintaining a meditation practice, the impending mortality of loved ones, and probably a few dozen other things aside.

In fact, I'd rather not talk about assholes with you at all unless you're my doctor, or my lover, and I'm fairly certain that you're neither.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:06 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


...the difference between disagreeing with someone and disproving an untrue assertion and lobbing personal attacks?

The problem is that when I disagree with someone's long and deeply held beliefs about the fundamental nature of existence, s/he may perceive that as a personal attack or at least as being beyond the bounds of propriety. The bounds are set by a privileged social position, which, in the US and regarding religion, is Christianity (or more precisely the various Christian sects that are socially dominant).

Take, for example, a bus ad recently rejected for being too "controversial." The content of the ad? One word: "Atheists" (plus the sponsoring organizations names). Only in the context of privilege can a subordinate population's very existence be deemed controversial.

Any discussion of whether atheists are engaged in personal attacks or other uncouth behavior should take into account this double standard (announcing one's Christianity is seen as normal, announcing one's atheism is seen as controversial). And this point is besides the, to me, very compelling argument that progressive movements need to engage in behavior that mainstream society sees as unseemly in order to fight social stigma (e.g. protests, sit-ins, and other confrontations). Greta Christina has a good essay on this point.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:12 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sure, but the real "problem" is not jerkishness or assholery, or verbal personal attacks or people's feelings about the same -- it's actual, systemic harm, and on that score it's very, very hard to claim that asshole atheists are as bad as asshole theists. So we talk about politeness and respect as if they matter more than real-world consequences, and we excuse away the harm: "well, but look what religion does for us" and "well, that's not religion it's just bad people", and "well, it's not all religion that does this", etc.

Take away the assumption that religion is inherently positive, and excuses like these start looking inadequate to explain why so many should suffer for it... which is one of the reasons why people are branded "assholes" whenever they question that assumption. In doing so we pretend as if questioning a form of bias is just as bad as the bias itself, simply because it upsets people who have a lot invested in that bias. I wish I could say that this is surprising, but it's really just par for the course when issues of privilege come up... somehow we've convinced ourselves that being "angry" and "mean" is equivalent to ruining people's lives, just because the people who are doing the latter are also doing the former.

Stop it. Look at what's actually happening to people in the name of religion. It does not matter whether people intend to cause any harm, or whether they do so with "jerkishness" or with a smile -- what matters is the harm, and the fact that it continues to go on while we argue over whether it could possibly have anything to do with religion.

I am beyond tired of talking about issues like these as if they're all about feelings.
posted by vorfeed at 4:15 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


audi alteram partem/vorfeed, unfortunately, I've debased the value of my favorites by giving them away very freely, but if I could I would have favorited your comments a 1000 times. Maybe I'll get a sockpuppet, Chekhovian's Super Favorites, or something, just so I can favorite excellent comments like yours.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:23 PM on March 25, 2012


Baggini's heathen manifesto,

Thank you for linking to that, CBrachyrhynchos. It's quite brilliant in many respects, and addresses quite a bit of what is being said here in very good ways. In fact, I just about would consider myself to be a "heathen" under the terms of that manifesto. I don't really like that use of the term "heathen," though. The manifesto's explanation of the choice of terminology is reasonable, but ignores the history of the meaning of the term in ways that I think are a bit problematic.
posted by The World Famous at 4:24 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the excellent Greta Christina link brought up earlier:

"let firebrands be firebrands, and to let diplomats be diplomats...both these approaches used together, synergistically, are more powerful than either approach alone...Some folks are better able to hear a quiet, sympathetic voice. Others are better able to hear a passionate cry for justice. And the "good cop/ bad cop" dynamic can be very effective...street activists got attention, got on the news, raised general visibility and awareness. The polite negotiators could then raise a more polite, nuanced form of hell, knowing that the people they were working with had at least a baseline awareness of our issues. And when the street activists presented more hard-line demands, that made the polite negotiators seem more reasonable in comparison. The line between an extremist position and a moderate one kept getting moved in our direction. We see this working today: the same-sex marriage debate has made supporting civil unions seem like the moderate position, even the conservative one -- which wasn't true ten years ago."
posted by Chekhovian at 4:43 PM on March 25, 2012


Yeah, this has devolved into straight Language of Privilege territory. It's been pretty eye-opening for me, personally, and I like to think I will approach all privilege issues differently from now on. The arguments against asshole atheists in these threads are exactly the same arguments against uppity women I've seen here and I can only assume they are exactly the same as arguments against angry black men used to be. It's surreal.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:02 PM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't really like that use of the term "heathen," though. The manifesto's explanation of the choice of terminology is reasonable, but ignores the history of the meaning of the term in ways that I think are a bit problematic.

Hell, it ignores the current meaning of the term. Heathenism is an ongoing religious movement, one with far more influence than a "this is what the 'best' form of atheism should be like" blog post will ever have. Way to google a word before you appropriate it, I guess.
posted by vorfeed at 5:07 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The arguments against asshole atheists in these threads are exactly the same arguments against uppity women I've seen here and I can only assume they are exactly the same as arguments against angry black men used to be. It's surreal.

I'm sorry if you feel like my contributions fit this theme, but I'm absolutely not talking about atheists being "uppity" or "angry." I'm talking about not denigrating people because they don't agree with you, no matter who you are or who they are.

I'm being rampantly misunderstood, and perhaps it's because I haven't been making myself clear or what I'm saying in my head isn't translating to text - that's possible. So, I'm going to make one last comment explaining where I'm coming from and then I'll bow out.

I'm not an apologist for religion. I know first hand the harm that religious belief can do when it goes out of hand. I do not speak from a position of religious privilege as I don't hold any - I'm a non-theist living a Christian country. I'm not defending Christianity or the religious right or the religious anything. I did not mean to have my words taken to be in defense of any systemic abuse - I meant only to speak of interpersonal interactions and the sort of drive-by sniping that I've seen in this thread and other places on MetaFilter when the subject of religion comes up. That was all. If it came across as anything else, I apologize as that was not my intent.

My life has been personally ruined by other people's religious belief. My biological father is a born again fundamentalist Christian. When I was being born, he told my mother that she was in pain because Eve had sinned. When I was a baby, he emptied their joint bank account to some evangelist. Later, he refused to take me to the doctor for pneumonia as he said Jesus would heal me. When I was two and my mom had (wisely) left him, he came to her house and tried to kidnap me. After that, he left and went traveling around the country preaching the word of Jesus with some random guy for four years and I didn't see him again until I was six - at which point, he came back into my life and on one of his visits, he told me my mother was going to hell. He filled me with so much fear in my childhood that anytime he didn't answer the phone, I feared the rapture and come and I'd been left behind.

It got worse from there. He refused to pay any of my college tuition on the grounds that my school was a hotbed for Satanic activity. I developed epilepsy. He told me that it was Satanic possession and I would be cured if I prayed hard enough. I prayed. I wasn't cured. Far from it. I was told I merely hadn't asked properly and Jesus would cure me when the time was right and in the meantime, I should stop taking my medication because doing so was a sign that I didn't have faith. When I was broke and going through a divorce, my father refused to help me pay for my copays on my prescriptions as I didn't really "need" them.

Don't presume to tell me I don't understand about the harm religion can do.

I've yelled. I've screamed. I've gotten angry. I've defended myself. I've quoted scripture. And all of it? Only made it worse. Only increased my own anger. None of it came close to getting my father to treat me with respect. The only thing ever helped was firmly saying that we disagreed and that I wasn't going to argue with him. The only thing that ever created a moment's peace between us was my letting go of my own anger because he sure as hell wasn't letting go of his.

I stood up for myself. I tried to work things out with my father, but his views on the world are poisonous and I have a young son. The only sane and reasonable thing I could do was to stop allowing him to contact me as I was not going to have him put my children through one ounce of the pain he caused me. I have nothing against Christianity. My other parents are Catholic. My husband's parents are Catholic. My son will be not be raised in any church, but will be familiar with Christianity and I won't ever say a word against it. My objection is to being an asshole - whether for Jesus or for Buddha or for no one at all.

So please, don't presume to tell me that when I say "don't be an asshole" I'm saying "don't defend yourself." Don't presume to tell me that I don't understand that actual people are actually harmed by religious belief. I didn't mean to go on such a tangent - I see a lot of remarks made in threads like this that make me sad and angry that religious people get tarred with such a brush that I know plenty of people with religious belief who seriously won't even COMMENT on MetaFilter anymore and I understand why.

So please, continuing fighting systematic oppression. But fighting each other doesn't help.
posted by sonika at 7:20 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Great remark sonika. This is less profound, but I hoped to catch you before you evaporated.

Yeah I don't know. Adam's remark may have been the absolute best here:
...Language of Privilege territory. It's been pretty eye-opening for me, personally, and I like to think I will approach all privilege issues differently

From that perspective I've made rather retrograde asinine comments about other privilege issues (I'm not retracting my religious firerbrandism, make no mistake ;-P ). I'm not prejudiced (except against YA lit), and I don't feel particularly regretful of any one thing I've railed against, but I don't know. But from the 50,000' perspective, adding it all up, I don't know.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:49 PM on March 25, 2012


I'm not fond of Baggini's use of the phrase "heathen" as a former pagan, and I need a bit more time to think a bit more about it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:10 PM on March 25, 2012


The arguments against asshole atheists in these threads are exactly the same arguments against uppity women I've seen here and I can only assume they are exactly the same as arguments against angry black men used to be. It's surreal.

Please specify actual arguments in this thread and note similar racist arguments.
posted by mobunited at 8:10 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ugh, this fucking [citation needed] thing again, seriously. Boogerman apology retracted.

This is what always pisses me off in religion thread, here's the kabuki version:
Atheist: "Religion is bad for these general reasons"
Theism Defender: "You're not being specific enough/Not in my special snowflake religion"
Atheist: "Okay, here are reasons specific to your thing"
"Theism Defender: "But those aren't general reasons to hate religion!"
posted by Chekhovian at 8:16 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Alright, Mobunited, I'm sorry I referred to you as a "boogerman", I'll get out my D-kins beads and do 25 hail Darwins for penance.

Instead of mocking the possibility that you might uncritically assent to what people say out of an allegiance-based sense of ritual, I would prefer you to actually not do it.
posted by mobunited at 8:17 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bringing back the Nodding Disease example for a moment, it seems completely bizarre to me to suggest that "religion" has, or should have, or even purports to have, an answer for the cause of it. I would venture to guess that most religious authorities these days would probably agree with Chekhovian that the answer is "the result of mechanical processes." It's not really a question that modern religion is terribly concerned with in the first place.

A question that modern religion probably would be concerned with is "why did Alice, and not Bob, contract Nodding Disease?" I don't mean the mechanisms of infection here, but rather to put it another way "why did God choose to infect Alice rather than Bob?" This is a moral, metaphysical question, and obviously there's not much for science to say here, nor is there any way that an atheist can provide a sensible answer since he or she disputes the grounds of the question in the first place. I think this distinction is what sonika was getting at upthread when she objected to portraying science and religion as opposite sides of the same coin.

I'd also like to briefly address this question: no-one's explained yet why atheists have to know the esoterica of every religion they might encounter.

I certainly don't think atheists need to know the esoterica of every religion. But I wish that some would manage to read a little bit of esoterica about arguments for and against the existence of god. Honestly, these are philosophical topics that are part of a tradition that goes back to the ancient Greeks and probably before, and belonging as they do to the realm of metaphysics, they don't have much to do with science or the scientific method.

Also, sorry but Metafilter: a game of asshole-chicken and no one ever wins
posted by whir at 8:32 PM on March 25, 2012


Atheist: "Religion is bad for these general reasons"
Theism Defender: "You're not being specific enough/Not in my special snowflake religion"
Atheist: "Okay, here are reasons specific to your thing"
Theism Defender: "But those aren't general reasons to hate religion!"


I'm honestly not seeing how Atheist hasn't lost the argument at this point. I mean, I guess what you're saying is that for every possible religion X you can come up with [reason that X is bad]? I think you'd either have to prove why that assertion holds for all X, or else come up with a more general case. Or did I miss something?
posted by whir at 8:44 PM on March 25, 2012


it seems completely bizarre to me to suggest that "religion" has, or should have, or even purports to have, an answer for the cause of it.

Lets talk about it. And by it I mean anything. Why there is something and not nothing. Every other question we have which ultimately trickles down from that question. Well maybe pure math doesn't. But everything else does.

Remember after the big band theory came out the pope said: "Aha, clearly this is evidence of god's creation". And scientists were mostly like, well, we're not sure we can talk about why the big bang happened. Well now there's accumulating evidence that we can, and that no god is even necessary for a big bang to have happened. Scientific reasons why something came from nothing for free. Its crazy. Religious people should be terrified by this idea. What would be left for god?

If you want to talk about actual philisophical issues in religion, I think MartinWisse was the closest here:
Some flee into a gods of the gaps, where anything not yet explained through science becomes god, others are completely cool with the ideas of evolution, the big bang undsoweiter as explenations of the world we live in but still hold to an omnipowerful creator at the heart of it, others attempt to refute science completely, but none can ignore it.

I would love to focus mostly on the philosophy, I tried to judo the thread into that point several times, but to no avail.

I'm honestly not seeing how Atheist hasn't lost the argument at this point.
Sorry, I should have said:

Atheist: "Religion is bad for these general reasons"
Theism Defender: "You're not being specific enough/Not in my special snowflake religion"
Atheist: "Okay, here are reasons specific to your thing"
Theism Defender: "But those aren't general reasons to hate religion!"
::Repeat::
posted by Chekhovian at 8:48 PM on March 25, 2012


Why would Atheist keep missing the point like that?
posted by The World Famous at 9:13 PM on March 25, 2012


So you want reasons that are simultaneously general and specific? There should be a font for when you're just funning with someone.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:43 PM on March 25, 2012


The point is that Theism Defender is just doing the Fabian Strategy:
While avoiding decisive battles, the side employing this strategy harasses its enemy through skirmishes to cause attrition, disrupt supply and affect morale. Employment of this strategy implies that the weaker side believes time is on its side, but it may also be adopted when no feasible alternative strategy can be devised.

We can beat you at any scale of logical or emotional argument. So all you can do is deny battle. So you're left with irrelevant non-sequiturs and statements like "well you're just not capable of understanding the point", or "you're wrong for even trying to argue this issue".
posted by Chekhovian at 9:50 PM on March 25, 2012


Who is we and who is you?
posted by The World Famous at 9:51 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lol. That depends on what your definition of "is" is.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:52 PM on March 25, 2012


Well, I mean maybe Atheist shouldn't keep repeating the general assertion about all religions after Theism Defender just provided a counter-example which proved it wasn't the case for all religions. I don't think you've shown how Atheist has beaten Theism Defender in the logical argument (to say nothing of the emotional one, which I'm not really sure what that means anyways).
posted by whir at 9:57 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dude, clearly the Atheist follows with Queen to bishop three, bishop takes queen, knight takes bishop, mate.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:10 PM on March 25, 2012


whir: "A question that modern religion probably would be concerned with is "why did Alice, and not Bob, contract Nodding Disease?" I don't mean the mechanisms of infection here, but rather to put it another way "why did God choose to infect Alice rather than Bob?" This is a moral, metaphysical question, and obviously there's not much for science to say here, nor is there any way that an atheist can provide a sensible answer since he or she disputes the grounds of the question in the first place. I think this distinction is what sonika was getting at upthread when she objected to portraying science and religion as opposite sides of the same coin."

I'd strongly disagree that science has nothing to say about such questions. If something like disease or natural disasters actually preferentially targeted certain moral characteristics or behaviors, this would show up in the statistics, and thus be amenable to scientific analysis. The only things not amenable to scientific analysis are those that have no measurable effects whatsoever.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 10:27 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ugh, this fucking [citation needed] thing again, seriously. Boogerman apology retracted.

There's no need to retract an insincere apology.

This is what always pisses me off in religion thread, here's the kabuki version:
Atheist: "Religion is bad for these general reasons"
Theism Defender: "You're not being specific enough/Not in my special snowflake religion"
Atheist: "Okay, here are reasons specific to your thing"
"Theism Defender: "But those aren't general reasons to hate religion!"


Well no. Your problem is that you have from the start been impoverished in the first point. You yearn to have a rational reason to hate religion in general, and to consider the religious inferior intellectual and moral agents, but you don't have any good utilitarian arguments against being a religious person. You can think of specific instances where you are indeed a more moral, reasonable person than adherents of certain sects and certain figures. You could do a great deal of good by homing in and acting with specificity.

Instead, you cannot seem to let go of this desire to win, to affirm some kind of broad superiority. The fact that I'm not looking to win for a side must seem slippery and attrition-based to you, but this is a function of my relative lack of ambition. It will always be more difficulty or you to argue that most people are your moral and intellectual inferiors becuase they are religious than it will be of me to argue that they're no better or worse. I don't care whether God is real and think it probably isn't, though it is highly entertaining. I'm pretty sure that arguing over God's existence, and will or lack thereof is one of the chief ways educated people prevent themselves from doing anything useful, though.

Why argue it? Easy. The idea that you can condemn large numbers of people not on the basis of their actions but how they think is contemptible. It's shitty when people of any intellectual allegiance do it, and it's historically associated with terrible things. It's always worth opposing.
posted by mobunited at 10:42 PM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Seriously, I don't care about abstract notions of superiority. My goal is the end of the pain and suffering humanity continues to inflict upon itself. Much of that pain and suffering is couched in religion, promulgated through religious teaching, justified for religious reasons etc etc etc. Therefore I attack religion. I don't want to attack people for having religious ideas. Attacking your ideas is not the same as attacking you.

Say we were arguing about gun control, and I said: "Hey we should prevent people from owning machine guns so that can't shoot each other at 600 rounds/min". It seems like you would say: "Why bother? they'll just use knives instead. And furthermore, machine guns should have just as much right to be purchased as knives. Why are you trying to be such a knife-elitist?".

So drop this fucking moral superiority nonsense of yours. Its bizarre.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:00 PM on March 25, 2012


The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, has a recap of the Rally.

Re: the "sausage-fest" comment, you can see women both on stage and in the crowd. Though, as I noted above, gender imbalance and sexism continue to be problems facing the atheist community.

You'll also see Jessica Ahlquist in the coverage. Ahlquist, an atheist, recently won a suit against an unconstitutional prayer banner displayed in her high school. During the controversy she received online threats from her classmates and her state representative called her an "evil little thing" on talk radio.

Ahlquist's story has received a lot of coverage in the freethought community, but hers is just one example of the prejudice and discrimination that atheists face in the United States. I think events like the Rally and the activism of individual atheists (whether they are seen as behaving badly or not) are vital to ending atheists' despised minority status.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:48 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chekhovian, I hope even you can see how absolutely ludicrous it is for you to proclaim your valiant struggle to end the pain and suffering of humanity (which is carried out through attacking religious ideas, just not if that involves making the effort look up those religious ideas on Wikipedia) and follow that up with "So drop this fucking moral superiority nonsense of yours. Its bizarre."
posted by XMLicious at 7:22 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Monday-morning coverage of the event is spectacularly disappointing: DAWKINS, DAWKINS, DAWKINS, Silverman, and thousands of others.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:11 AM on March 26, 2012


XMLicious, mobunited, any other concerned parties.

To the extent that this thread has never really been on track, it now seems to be farther off track than ever before. So lets shift any personal issues to memail. I'll hit you up when I have a moment to expound.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:33 AM on March 26, 2012


I'm not an apologist for religion. I know first hand the harm that religious belief can do when it goes out of hand. I do not speak from a position of religious privilege as I don't hold any - I'm a non-theist living a Christian country. I'm not defending Christianity or the religious right or the religious anything. I did not mean to have my words taken to be in defense of any systemic abuse - I meant only to speak of interpersonal interactions and the sort of drive-by sniping that I've seen in this thread and other places on MetaFilter when the subject of religion comes up.

This is why I said that this is not about intention. Your story is really moving, and I'm sure you don't mean any harm to anyone, but these threads are almost always primarily about mean atheists and whether they should/should not be able to say the things they do, and your argument plays right into that -- whether you mean it to or or not. We're not discussing atheism or religion or this rally or any other topic, we're having a meta-argument about "assholes" which only exists because of religious privilege... again.

If this were just about how "no one should be an asshole", we'd have this same conversation in every thread. But we don't. This same trope always appears in threads about atheism, usually within the first ten comments or so, even when no one in the thread or the FPP has been an asshole. That's a huge sign that this is not just about assholery: it's about atheist-assholery, and you don't get an entire society which believes that those words go together to such an extent without privilege.

At this point it's a lot like calling feminists "shrill" -- you may honestly believe that some of them are shrill, and you may be 100% sincere in your concern about whether or not that's the best way to advocate for feminism, but bringing it up in threads about feminism still plays into a biased dynamic.

I don't think there's anything to be gained by being malicious. [...] On an interpersonal level, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by countering jerkishness with more jerkishness. [...] So please, continuing fighting systematic oppression. But fighting each other doesn't help.

You keep saying that "jerkishness" is entirely ineffective, but you have yet to give me a reason to believe it. If this were true then so-called "jerks" like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens would not have made atheism into a mainstream issue which is frequently discussed on television... yet they did. If this were true then no one would ever alter their actions or way of thinking after a good old-fashioned telling-off... yet sometimes they do. If this were true then adversarial politicians and talk-show hosts would never gather a large amount of support... yet this happens all the time. And if this were true you wouldn't see "asshole" theism as official policy among the most powerful religions on Earth, since it doesn't "help" the cause... yet you do see it and it often does seem to help raise their profile and power.

Whether you like them or not, it's clear that aggressive arguments can be effective, from friends and acquaintances on up. audi alteram partem linked to a great explanation of this above, and my own experience dovetails with it -- I've had people go out of their way to personally thank me for being in-their-face about religion, even years after the fact.

If you believe that systematic oppression should be fought without ever insulting people and/or beliefs, that's fine, but not everyone agrees with you, nor should the discussion always be about how they have to to agree with you. There's room for more than one strategy here.
posted by vorfeed at 11:18 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


You keep saying that "jerkishness" is entirely ineffective, but you have yet to give me a reason to believe it. If this were true then so-called "jerks" like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens would not have made atheism into a mainstream issue which is frequently discussed on television... yet they did.

....However, it strikes me that atheism is most commonly featured in "what is up with these crazy radical atheist folks anyway" types of stories. So, um, congratulations?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:29 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Indeed. I'd also note that while it is true that people "sometimes" change their behavior "after a good old-fashioned telling-off," there is a pretty well-known maxim about honey and vinegar, and it's well-known for good reason.
posted by cribcage at 1:41 PM on March 26, 2012


Because some people like flies?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:04 PM on March 26, 2012


There are so many more people using Religion as an excuse for assholish behavior ("I'm okay because my God says I am") than any other excuse that the whole issue of "assholish atheists" should be irrelevant. Except that assholish behavior is required by most media in order to be an acknowledged 'Opinion Leader' of any stripe.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:08 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


EC: However, it strikes me that atheism is most commonly featured in "what is up with these crazy radical atheist folks anyway" types of stories. So, um, congratulations?

I was not aware that media bias should be naively treated as confirmation of your own. Atheists just can't win on the media front. Our participation in religious community is hypocrisy. Our careers are invisibile. And our community participation framed as confrontation. I'm wondering why we're obligated to challenge media stereotypes of religious faith, and accept those of atheists in this case.

cribcage: Indeed. I'd also note that while it is true that people "sometimes" change their behavior "after a good old-fashioned telling-off," there is a pretty well-known maxim about honey and vinegar, and it's well-known for good reason.

Certainly. If the sum total of your interactions with atheists appears to center on using the word, "asshole" a lot, I'm going to think your spiritual convictions shallow, your appeals to interfaith liberalism suspect, and your manner foul.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:16 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are so many more people using Religion as an excuse for assholish behavior ("I'm okay because my God says I am") than any other excuse that the whole issue of "assholish atheists" should be irrelevant.

Except to those of us who do not wish to be grouped in with the assholish behavior or be represented by it.
posted by XMLicious at 2:35 PM on March 26, 2012


And here is where I reveal that I have unrealistic expectations. I'm no saint, I'm not perfect. But if you want to lecture me about my beliefs, my relationships with religion, or my spirituality, you're politely invited to do so...

... AFTER you've spent a few weekends sharing my practice and my community.

Until you do so, you're bickering from what I see as a position of ignorance, and I can't see that as an ethical form of speech.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:18 PM on March 26, 2012


I was not aware that media bias should be naively treated as confirmation of your own.

Actually, you're making the ASSUMPTION that that's my bias. I'm a theist who WANTS atheists to have greater visibility. THAT'S why I wish so fervently that the handful of people who are making prats of themselves would shut up because they're hogging the media attention and skewing the public perception from what I know to be true myself.

And lest you make further assumptions: I also wish this of the Christians who are making prats of themselves, the feminist who are making prats of themselves, the Republicans who are making prats of themselves, the anarchists who are making prats of themselves....etc., etc., etc.

If the sum total of your interactions with atheists appears to center on using the word, "asshole" a lot, I'm going to think your spiritual convictions shallow, your appeals to interfaith liberalism suspect, and your manner foul.

If you read what I said more carefully, you will note that I took pains to state that the epithet "asshole" applied to people on both sides. I even applied it to my own self.

But if you're that determined to remain in the belief that you are being put upon simply because I said "people on both sides of the argument sometimes can be assholes and maybe that in itself is the problem," then I don't know what to tell you.

(Well, I can think of something quite delicious, but I'd be an asshole for saying it so I won't.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:38 PM on March 26, 2012


THE FORMS OF KANLY HAVE BEEN OBEYED!

(Note that if you did not receive a proper Kanly Form, and feel that you were owed one, please form a line at the back at the designated dispensation location. You'll find it just outside the Shield Wall, next to the rhythmically thumping pistons.)
posted by Chekhovian at 3:40 PM on March 26, 2012


Except to those of us who do not wish to be grouped in with the assholish behavior or be represented by it.

There are plenty of atheists who don't wish to be grouped in with or represented by a bunch of people who get the vapors whenever someone says mean things about religion, either. Why should your wishes take precedence over theirs? For that matter, why should anyone's wishes take precedence over someone else's? Why can't everyone just play their own hands and let the chips fall where they may?

Read the article audi alteram partem linked to -- it discusses all of this stuff, and gives very good reasons why both diplomatic and confrontational approaches work best in concert. Each may think the other is a bunch of assholes, but the idea that we've got to drive out one camp or the other in order to achieve "effectiveness" is self-defeating.
posted by vorfeed at 3:45 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


EC: This conversation reminds me of my favorite Peanuts strip:

Linus: It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Charlie Brown: Some people would disagree.

Lucy: CURSE YOU DARKNESS!

Out of a rally that had almost a dozen speakers, and a convention that had dozens more, what are you choosing to talk about exclusively?

If you wait for other people to "shut up," you're never going to have the conversations you want. If you want to promote dialogue between atheism and religion, then start citing, quoting, and referencing the atheists who agree with you. Cursing the darkness here isn't going to create the kinds of community you claim to want.

Sure, you can continue to rant about "assholes." You can even pretend that you're being even-handed about it. I'm not going to feel welcome regardless of who you apply it to. That's not the kind of interfaith community I want to be associated with, and perhaps I have unrealistic expectations there. But that's how it is.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:12 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe I misinterpreted something, but didn't oneswellfoop say that the issue of an excuse for assholish behavior by atheists should be irrelevant? I don't see how me finding it relevant to talk about such assholish behavior not always being excusable would somehow involve my wishes taking precedence over anyone else's. I don't consider myself part of the group described by the article you linked to vorfeed, which is talking about activism and a movement that the author wants to be "stronger, larger, better at reaching more people." I'm just an atheist.
posted by XMLicious at 4:21 PM on March 26, 2012


There are so many more people using Religion as an excuse for assholish behavior ("I'm okay because my God says I am") than any other excuse ...

I'm not sure that's the case, but there aren't many militant atheists at present. When militant atheists have been in power (e.g., during the French Revolution, or the Soviet Revolution, or many other Communist revolutions) their behavior has been every bit as bad as their religious counterparts.

I think the real problem is that people behave badly when they think they are justified in doing so. The impulses that lead to this sort of inter-group persecution aren't religious; they're a regrettable part of the human psyche.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:24 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, CBrachyrhynchos, were you talking to me when you said something about having to spend weekends in your community? I wasn't clear.
posted by XMLicious at 4:24 PM on March 26, 2012


Also, CBrachyrhynchos, were you talking to me when you said something about having to spend weekends in your community? I wasn't clear.

No it's a general rule, one that I consider for myself as well. It is, in all probability, an over-reaction to seeing the most absurd arguments about atheism and atheists make their way into print (or edited electronic copy) from people who will insist that atheists lack a perspective to make informed criticisms of faith.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:35 PM on March 26, 2012


Read the article audi alteram partem linked to -- it discusses all of this stuff, and gives very good reasons why both diplomatic and confrontational approaches work best in concert. Each may think the other is a bunch of assholes, but the idea that we've got to drive out one camp or the other in order to achieve "effectiveness" is self-defeating.

It's an interesting article, vorfeed. It makes me wonder whether there is a critical disconnect in this thread and elsewhere as to what objective is being sought. For example, it was contended repeatedly in this thread over the last couple of days that the goal of the rally and others like it is to advance the cause of the right of atheists to the same level of religious freedom (i.e. freedom to worship or not as they wish) that the dominant religions in the U.S. enjoy. But that article poses a different goal - the goal of converting religious people from belief to atheism. Those are two very different goals - freedom from persecution versus converting others.

Underscoring that point, the article expressly compares the LGBT rights movement's encouragement of closeted gays to come out on the one hand with atheists' attempts to convert people away from religion and to atheism on the other hand. That comparison simply does not hold water. Is it about freedom, or is it about evangelism? When you, vorfeed, talk about being "effective," do you mean effective in achieving equal rights and freedom from persecution, or effective in converting people?
posted by The World Famous at 4:39 PM on March 26, 2012


Adam Lee over at Daylight Atheism has (part one) of another Rally wrap-up. Some of the comments address the question of atheist approach (too confrontational? etc.) that has cropped up in this thread.

Commenter Rieux discusses the importance of "com[ing] out of the closet, mak[ing] our case unashamedly, and organiz[ing]" for fighting religious privilege and anti-atheist prejudice. Rieux has done yeoman's work addressing religious privilege in various freethought fora. I'd recommend tracking down his discussions for those interested in the topic.

As for your point, The World Famous, I'm curious why you read Christina's article as having "the goal of converting religious people from belief to atheism." Christina talks about the atheist community welcoming atheists who come out of the closet. I'm not seeing any argument about converting people. Could you cite a sentence or two to help me understand your reading of her essay?

On your larger point, I don't think the two goals are at cross purposes. Ideally, we should have a society where theist and atheist could engage each other in arguments about which position is right. But, as I've discussed above, the cultural context of the US historically privileges particular Christian perspectives, creating an uneven playing field when it comes to discussions of (a)theism. The mere expression of atheist identity is at times taken as an affront, a violation of decorum.

Public arguments in favor of atheism help raise the visibility of atheism, make atheism seem less alien and indecorous in the context of religious privilege. The more normal atheism seems, the less stereotypes will hold sway.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:59 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


That didn't read to me like conversion was a goal of atheists at all. The closest thing to it was, "We need to remember that when we encourage people to re-think religion and consider atheism, we're asking a lot." And that was in terms of providing welcoming spaces for atheists who otherwise might not have a community. Can you point out which parts you thought might talking about conversion, because I really didn't see it in there.
posted by ODiV at 5:01 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Underscoring that point, the article expressly compares the LGBT rights movement's encouragement of closeted gays to come out on the one hand with atheists' attempts to convert people away from religion and to atheism on the other hand. That comparison simply does not hold water.

I disagree. The article is about encouraging people to come out as a-religious, not about "conversion" (whatever that even means with regards to atheism -- there's no belief system there to convert to). The only thing in it which could be taken as advocating "conversion" is this: I think one of the things we can learn from the LGBT movement is to remember how difficult coming out is. We need to remember that when we encourage people to re-think religion and consider atheism, we're asking a lot. [emphasis mine]

is "encouraging people to re-think religion" really tantamount to advocating "conversion", even when it's explicitly discussed in the context of coming out? Or is it a simple acknowledgement of the fact that most people have not even considered the idea that they might actually be atheists, because religion is treated as the default and atheism is treated with such stigma?

When you, vorfeed, talk about being "effective," do you mean effective in achieving equal rights and freedom from persecution, or effective in converting people?

Effective in whatever goal an individual atheist happens to have, up to and including no goal at all. I don't view atheism as a unified movement, nor even a movement which should be unified, though some organization(s) might be nice. All atheism is is a lack of belief in god(s), which is why I get frustrated by people who claim that we all have to adopt the same moral framework lest we fail to be "effective".

And that's the point of the article, too: we need to let godless people use whatever language they want to define themselves.
posted by vorfeed at 5:09 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Asking people to re-think religion and consider atheism sounds exactly like evangelism to me, as it would if it said "ask people to re-think atheism and consider Christianity. "

But yes, most of the article seems focused on the goal of providing a welcoming community fir those who are already atheists but who do not feel comfortable publicly identifying as such.

I just sometimes wonder what arguments against religion have to do with the goal of true freedom of conscience and societal and legal acceptance of atheism on par with any other conviction about religious matters. If the goal is freedom from persecution and recognition of rights, why do arguments against religion matter to that goal? If the atheist movement is to learn from the LGBT rights movement, is it of note that the LGBT rights movement, even in its most vocal of forms, does not demonize its opposition on the basis of sexual orientation, but on the basis of discrimination?

For whatever it's worth, I see the same problem with many religious groups that advocate for religious freedom issues, where their interest in the issue seems to exist solely as a means to advance their own proselytizing efforts.
posted by The World Famous at 5:15 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, on non-preview, vorfeed, I think I see your position, and I generally agree.
posted by The World Famous at 5:18 PM on March 26, 2012


Also, I can appreciate that talking openly about atheism and encouraging other non-believers to be honest about their lack of belief might be viewed as conversion, especially to their religious family members. There's immense societal pressure built in to some religious communities, often to the point where non-believers are forced through the motions to keep up appearances. And when someone is promoting the idea that you shouldn't have to do that, it's viewed rather negatively.

Asking people to re-think religion and consider atheism sounds exactly like evangelism to me, as it would if it said "ask people to re-think atheism and consider Christianity."

Maybe I've only met shitty evangelists, but I have never had any of them suggest I "think" about anything. Mostly they have tried to win me over with the promise of "the Truth", their friendly community, and my impending mortality.
posted by ODiV at 5:32 PM on March 26, 2012


Yes, you've only met shitty evangelists.
posted by The World Famous at 5:37 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now I'm interested. Do you have any LDS evangelism manuals I could look at? My Google fu is weak currently and I'm only really finding material geared to converting people from LDS, which while entertaining is not quite what I'm after.
posted by ODiV at 6:37 PM on March 26, 2012


Like XMLicious, I also wasn't entirely clear about who was being addressed in one of CBrachyrhynchos' comments (which had quoted me). So just for the record, I don't believe I have referred to anyone as an "asshole" in this thread, atheist or otherwise.
posted by cribcage at 6:46 PM on March 26, 2012


I don't, odiv. I'd have to google it, too. I'm not real big on evangelism. When I was an LDS missionary, we really didn't have evangelism handouts to speak of. There was a missionary manual, which has now been replaced with a revised version of some kind. Officially, the Mormon approach is generally to offer People information and then ask them to ponder and pray about it. There are, of course, some Mormons who are more aggressive about it than others. I'm probably on the extreme non-aggressive end of that continuum, to the extent that I'm on it at all.
posted by The World Famous at 7:21 PM on March 26, 2012


cribcage: So just for the record, I don't believe I have referred to anyone as an "asshole" in this thread, atheist or otherwise.

I was agreeing with you that honey works better than vinegar.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:41 PM on March 26, 2012


Explicit and disturbing examples of the Christian/atheist double standard can be seen in the Dept. of Defense. For example, the considerable opposition that has faced the atheist event scheduled for this Saturday at Fort Bragg: Rock Beyond Belief.

Sgt. Justin Griffith decided to organize the event after a conservative Christian event intended to proselytize was provided with substantial government resources. Griffith had opposed government resources going to support such an event, but, failing to stop it, Griffith pursued equal support for an atheist event. He has faced no little opposition to his pursuit of equal treatment.

One longer-term goal Griffith has for the event is to advocate for equal treatment of religious and non-religious groups on post. Currently, religious lay groups (e.g. prayer meetings) can make use of chapel spaces, but atheists cannot.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:45 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not an anti-theist. In fact, I'm a Humanist ala Manifesto I (which was mostly written by ministers and one Rabbi). Defining "moderates" by a willingness to fire attacks at both atheists and other religious groups strikes me as insular and self-defeating. It's the equivalent of sitting on a tiny island and burning all your bridges around you. I'm emphatically not interested in trading one embattled identity for another one.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:07 PM on March 26, 2012


[Some comments deleted. Chekhovian and mobunited, don't bring email to the thread, and just leave each other alone now.]
posted by taz at 10:10 PM on March 26, 2012


If you wait for other people to "shut up," you're never going to have the conversations you want. If you want to promote dialogue between atheism and religion, then start citing, quoting, and referencing the atheists who agree with you. Cursing the darkness here isn't going to create the kinds of community you claim to want.

But lots of atheists AND theists in here are already doing that, and being drowned out. We keep lighting candles, but the handful of aggressive few in here blow them out.

So now what? Just leave them to it? Abandon all hope of such a discussion? Keep lighting more candles?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:04 AM on March 27, 2012


So now what?

For me, the surprising lesson here is the truly insidious nature of "normative privilege". Had you asked me about it before this thread, I would have rolled my eyes and scoffed, I considered it something more appropriate for Portlandia sketches than serious discussions.

I've been on the "these new comers, even though they're fighting for the oppressed, they're assholes"/"their firebrand assholes need to go away side" in other nonreligious contexts. Most of the time I was quite I even strongly in favor of the principles for which those "assholes" were fighting, but I still spent much of my time berating them for being "assholes".

Now I have some better insight into how that sort of "help" really does drain the oxygen out of a conversation. I'm not sure what different contributions I should have made to those different topics,... I don't know I could have made any serious contributions to helping those oppressed groups....other than sympathy and good emotional support.

Keep in mind these are groups whose goals I wholly supported etc. But being from the side of the "Norm" relative to them made it very hard for me to contribute anything truly positive.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:34 AM on March 27, 2012


Keep in mind these are groups whose goals I wholly supported etc. But being from the side of the "Norm" relative to them made it very hard for me to contribute anything truly positive.

I didn't find it hard at all to be on the side of the "norm" and still contribute something I thought would be appreciated.

It is possible I"m misunderstanding what you mean, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 AM on March 27, 2012


to contribute anything truly positive

I mean in the context of a critical and heated discussion/argument. Pointing out supplementary resources is great and all but its rather peripheral to the [fiery] issues that dominate these sorts of threads.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:20 AM on March 27, 2012


Then I'm really not sure what you mean. When you say that you have "better insight into how that sort of 'help' really does drain the oxygen out of a conversation", what is it you are saying is "that sort of help"?

I think that may be the crux of the argument right there: I am not certain whether you're saying statements like "I'm fed up with [foos] saying [bazzes] like me are bad" is this kind of unwanted "help," or saying things like "I think all [foos] are stupid" is this kind of unwanted "help," or saying things like "I know some [foos] are after us, but saying all [foos] hate us will just piss them off" is this unwanted "help."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:28 AM on March 27, 2012


"that sort of help" means what I thought was honest, constructive criticism of the movenment(s) or their methods, that I was certain would seriously boost there cause, if they took it to heart. It was mostly well intended advice (perhaps partially sourced from some minor irritations I'd experienced), but it was never all that well received, and I never quite understood why.

I said things to the effect of "if only those assholes would stop being assholes, then I would support their movement more". Speaking for myself, it was definitely well intentioned, but it had the effect of poisoning the dialog anyway. Tricky huh?
posted by Chekhovian at 7:46 AM on March 27, 2012


A half-dozen posts yelling about "assholes" strikes me as extremely aggressive, and isn't a form of religious liberalism I want to be associated with.

So now what? Just leave them to it? Abandon all hope of such a discussion? Keep lighting more candles?

Yes, yes, no, yes.

One of the things I've learned is that, as an outsider to most religions, my opinions about them are likely to be shallow, and it's simply not my place to tell them how to live. If you're not a ___, then I don't see that you have standing or credibility to dictate our discourse. It's as absurd as me lecturing lesbians about their subculture.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:48 AM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Chekhovian: I said things to the effect of "if only those assholes would stop being assholes, then I would support their movement more". Speaking for myself, it was definitely well intentioned, but it had the effect of poisoning the dialog anyway. Tricky huh?

The tone argument is based on the fallacy that a group would have credibility if only they were less offensive negotiators. But we live in a world where the word "Atheist" coupled with a Web address has been deemed too controversial for advertising, and the way in which religious commenters (many of them self-described "liberals") tripped over each other to mock de Botton's reinvention of religious humanism makes that claim dubious in my eyes. (I agree with Chris Steadman that interfaith work is important, but I disagree that interfaith work is a magic bullet that will change stereotypes of atheists.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:55 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking for myself, it was definitely well intentioned, but it had the effect of poisoning the dialog anyway.
This was about my comments directed to other groups on other threads.

I disagree that interfaith work is a magic bullet that will change stereotypes of atheists

You don't need to persuade me. I am somewhat dispirited though, as I thought I'd earned my stripes as the most outrageous atheistic firebrand still contributing to this thread. I'll have to try harder :-)

And you should forgive EC some of her wroth. I think her "asshole" complaints mostly started after some attempt at pithiness on my part and some residual priming from prior interactions between the two of us.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:07 AM on March 27, 2012


I said things to the effect of "if only those assholes would stop being assholes, then I would support their movement more". Speaking for myself, it was definitely well intentioned, but it had the effect of poisoning the dialog anyway. Tricky huh?

Thanks for explaining.

For the record, my position was never "if only those assholes would stop being assholes, I would support their movement more." I know my position, and I know my beliefs and I ain't gonna be swayed off by assholes. I'm more, "if only those assholes understood that being assholes is making them into the very thing they hate, and is making things worse."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 AM on March 27, 2012


EmpressCallipygos, I do appreciate your link to media coverage (sparse as it has been--a sparseness that further illustrates the power differential facing atheists in US culture).

However, the question of tone remains problematic. I don't think the discussion in this thread has adequately acknowledged how perceptions of indecorous behavior change across audiences, especially when those audiences have access to different levels of privilege.

There is unfair summary on all sides. Atheists can overlook the complexity of religious ideas, just as theists can create strawman atheists. However, as vorfeed has pointed out, if we aspire to social justice and pluralism, we can't treat these two groups equally when it comes to (purportedly) bad rhetorical behavior. When religious belief is criticized as wrong and harmful, that may be painful for believers to hear. When theists repeat stereotypes about atheists, such as that we're immoral and untrustworthy, that talk reinforces the subordinate position of atheists in society.

These are difficult questions. I'm pleased that this thread hasn't generated a metatalk discussion as some atheism threads in the past have, and I think that we should continue to pursue discussion and light candles.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:15 AM on March 27, 2012


However, the question of tone remains problematic. I don't think the discussion in this thread has adequately acknowledged how perceptions of indecorous behavior change across audiences, especially when those audiences have access to different levels of privilege.

I accept that the whole "tone argument" thing is a sticky wicket. I also agree that describing a statement like "the way theists treat atheists just really pisses me right the fuck off" as having a "tone" is unfair.

However, I'm not sure that I see how statements writing off entire groups of people as "stupid" or "brain-damaged" or "deluded" are doing any good. Maybe they provide a moment of catharsis for the speaker, but....there's tone and then there's outright insult, you know?

I'll admit, though, that any kind of "if only everyone thought foo and no one thought baz it would fix EVERYTHING" or "every foo is right and every baz is just stupid" statement is just a sore spot with me anyway, no matter what you're saying "foo" or "baz" is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:25 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


my position was never...I would support their movement more
I'd meant this as shorthand for whatever "interfaith" alliance thing you were hinting at.

I'm more, "if only those assholes understood that being assholes is making them into the very thing they hate, and is making things worse."

This does rather put the cart before the horse doesn't it? For us to become the things we hate would require broad social adoption of our values, such that we had implicit control of all the levers of power in society. If we have this thread 100 years in the future and its impossible for a religious person to be elected to public office, well then your point would be valid.

Right now its just smoke, and serves only as ammunition in the fight against our meager and small goal of "not being vilified" at every turn.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:30 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not seeing where entire groups of people were called stupid. Mobsunited raised the same argument, in response to nothing I can see. Controversy about coming out as atheist was called stupid, as were the hypothesis that Jesus never existed and the idea that teachers shouldn't talk about personal religion the the classroom. "Brain-damaged" and "deluded" only appear in the last post by EC.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:40 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd meant this as shorthand for whatever "interfaith" alliance thing you were hinting at.

Okay, I'm confused again, as I'm not aware I was "hinting" at any "interfaith alliance". Can you clarify?

For us to become the things we hate would require broad social adoption of our values, such that we had implicit control of all the levers of power in society.

....I'm not quite sure I follow. But I draw a distinction between relgious-right, Dominionist behavior -- which is the behavior I see most commonly complained about -- and....well, I'm not even sure.

What I mean is: yes, the bulk of people in this country are theists. But it's only the religoius-right and Dominionists who I see making a huge-ass stink about things, and I attribute that to their own assholishness; their Christian-ness isn't the problem, it's their insistence that "everyone must do like we do!" that's the problem. That kind of behavior, from anyone, is what offends -- it's what I see most often complained about in these threads, from all quarters. And it's that that I'm referring to when I say "becoming what they hate" -- if it's one person saying "everyone must do like we do" that's the problem, how does it help to just turn around and say, "no, everyone must do like we do!"

Again, though, I'm not really aware of other demonstrations of theist privilege. About the only thing I can think of is if there's a church group that gets to use a meeting hall, but an atheist group applies and is turned down; and I agree that's unfair. But it just seems that when I trace most examples of discrimination against atheists, it's the dominionist assholes that ultimately are behind it, whereas average-joe-yutz-theist is thinking "....actually, no, I don't think it's a problem if the atheist group wants to use the VFW hall, why would that be a problem?". Whether that's me being unaware of things in general, or misunderstanding who's driving some situations, I don't know.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on March 27, 2012


there's tone and then there's outright insult, you know?

I understand that people are insulted by some atheist arguments, and maybe those arguments aren't doing any good. I think they are doing net good in the vein of Greta Christina's dual approach. But even if I'm wrong on that point, I would still make the argument that whatever harm occurs in insulting religious beliefs is far less than the harm of ongoing prejudice and discrimination against atheists.

...writing off entire groups of people...

I'm seeing a breakdown in communication here. The atheist writers I read criticize ideas, not people. Could you explain how you see people "written off"? Atheists are quite comfortable with the fact that people often hold incorrect beliefs--even we atheists are not immune. I don't see it as writing off people to critique their beliefs. I see it as treating them as fully human.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:48 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"interfaith alliance". Can you clarify?

Your point has been before IIRC, that treating religion with anything but the softest of kid gloves has the chance to alienate religious leftists, who could be potential allies to atheists in the political sphere, right? That's all I was talking about.

their insistence that "everyone must do like we do!"

I'm content with everyone doing whatever they want so long as it doesn't hurt other people. As Jefferson said, if you neither pick my pocket nor break my arm, then do what ever you want. I would also add destroy the education of my children, and also probably harm your own children through religiously inspired mutilation or denial of medical treatment.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:53 AM on March 27, 2012


I actually wish the moderates of either affiliation would team up and all go after the loud guys on both sides to say "dudes, you don't speak for the rest of us."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:58 AM on March 27, 2012


I'm seeing a breakdown in communication here. The atheist writers I read criticize ideas, not people. Could you explain how you see people "written off"? Atheists are quite comfortable with the fact that people often hold incorrect beliefs--even we atheists are not immune. I don't see it as writing off people to critique their beliefs.

I also see the bulk of atheist writers critiquing ideas. I dig that, in fact. That's why I confine my complaints to the ones who DO critique people. There are indeed folks who describe theists as "deluded". Only a small handful, though. And it's not even their beliefs that's the problem, only their writing off of people. Which is just the same problem I have with the dominionist Christians. Becuase it's not belief that i quibble with, it's actions.

Your point has been before IIRC, that treating religion with anything but the softest of kid gloves has the chance to alienate religious leftists, who could be potential allies to atheists in the political sphere, right?

This is a miscategorization of my position which is quite whumping.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're talking about the wrong burden of proof. This isn't atheists' problem, it's theists' problem.

According to a new study by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, "20-somethings in 2012 are much more likely to reject all religious affiliation than their parents and grandparents were when they were young — 33 percent today, compared with 12 percent in the 1970s."

One-third of all young people have rejected religion because it has been co-opted by the Republican Party. I’m not particularly excited about that, as it doesn’t seem to lead to the world I want, where religion doesn’t play an important role in politics. I don’t care enough about atheism to want people to join me at it, but I care enough about public reason to wish we could have more of the discussions that matter without bad biblical exegesis, Christianist dog whistles, and silly claims about the incommensurability of secular and religious reasons.

One-third of all young people have rejected religion because it has been co-opted by the Republican Party. I’m not particularly worried about that, but theists probably should be. So, theists: what are you going to do about it?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:51 AM on March 27, 2012


One-third of all young people have rejected religion because it has been co-opted by the Republican Party. I’m not particularly worried about that, but theists probably should be. So, theists: what are you going to do about it?

Not vote Republican. Anything else you'd like me to do?
posted by The World Famous at 10:07 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are fewer people, and especially fewer young people, at progressive churches than there used to be. You don't have to do anything about it if you don't want to, but it's going to be mighty lonely in those progressive churches if this keeps up.

I don't care enough about atheism to want others to join me at it: being an atheist doesn't make you a good person any more than being a theist does. But I do want there to be more progressives, and I worry about the loss of civic associations among progressives in general. Maybe we'll adapt. Maybe we'll go back to neighborhood associations and the Hull House model. Probably, even. But what if we don't?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:18 AM on March 27, 2012


That's why I confine my complaints to the ones who DO critique people. There are indeed folks who describe theists as "deluded". Only a small handful, though. And it's not even their beliefs that's the problem, only their writing off of people.

I'm still not clear on what actions constitute writing people off, so we may just have to disagree on this point. I wouldn’t use the term delusion, because it pathologizes beliefs that people come to by enculturation. But I would agree with atheist critiques that various conceptions of deity and transcendent reality have no evidence and do not correspond to empirical reality as we understand it.

I'm not really aware of other demonstrations of theist privilege.

Religious privilege can be difficult to see for a couple reasons. I probably can't do the idea justice in a comment, but here's how I see religious privilege playing out.

Like other social privileges (such as white and male privilege as described by Peggy McIntosh [pdf]), privilege is often invisible to those who hold it. Privilege takes positions of dominance that occurred by pure chance (e.g. patriarchy) and portrays them as the natural way things are. Thus, for example, patriarchy is seen as normal, not as privileged, and men who hold privilege can have difficulty seeing their privilege.

Addressing privilege can also be difficult for those who lack privilege in one area but hold it in another. See, for example, the long struggle feminist women have had dealing with racism in the feminist movement.

As for religious privilege, various Protestant Christian groups have historically held positions of power in our culture and government. There is considerable local and regional variation (different sects being dominant in different places and times), but on the whole theism (usually a variety of Christian theism) is taken as normal and other religious identities as abnormal, with atheists at the extreme end of abnormal (see this article on anti-atheist prejudice).

This privilege reveals itself in ways already discussed in this thread. For example, RedEmma’s colleagues see it as normal to share their Christian faith with students, but it is a violation of decorum for RedEmma to share her atheist identity.

Your VFW example isn’t really privilege, as the VFW is a private group that can rent out their hall as they will. However, there are cases where government buildings are rented preferentially to religious groups (such as churches that set up in schools on the weekend and parks rented to the Boy Scouts) for nominal fees that aren’t granted to other, non-religious groups.

Little League Baseball has an oath that begins “I trust in God,” which their President sees only as instilling “character and respect.” This is religious privilege par excellence: virtue itself is inextricably connected with theism.

Sgt. Griffith’s experience in the Army shows that religious groups were given funding as a matter of course, but an atheist event had to fight tooth and nail for equal treatment.

The word atheist was deemed controversial and unfit for a public ad.

And as a last example, parent’s atheism may play a role in custody hearings when judges see the religious as being able to provide a better environment for children than non-religious parents, because the religious parent is inherently more moral than the atheist.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:45 AM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a miscategorization of my position which is quite whumping.

Then explain what your position actually is. Or not. Whatever. I'm not terribly interested in allies on the religious left as I see spending any serious energy courting them would be no more useful than all the time Obama spent trying to woo Sen. Olympia Snowe on health care.

That's why I confine my complaints to the ones who DO critique people. There are indeed folks who describe theists as "deluded"

I've never seen this on a Metafilter discussion of religion. You criticized me for being careless with facts about religious details. Guilty. The fine structure of the claims of papal infallibility or the historical evolution of the idea of limbo, these things don't matter to me. They're as useful to me as trivia about 3 season episodes of Friends. That reflects my contempt for the logic behind religious thought. Not any contempt for religious people. Criticizing someones ideas is not the same as criticizing the person, or "writing them off". I'm still not clear what that means to you exactly.

Because it's not belief that i quibble with, it's actions.

And yet you spend all your time quibbling with our beliefs, not our actions. What actions have we taken that deserve this special animosity? Held a rally? Made jokes about sacred things?

This was the point I was trying to make about my special lesson in normative privilege. I think you mean well, but your actions are unintentionally preventing us from actually discussing the things we're here to discuss.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:47 AM on March 27, 2012


Not any contempt for religious people.

No, wait, I do have contempt for priests that rape children. And for priests that protect priests that rape children.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:49 AM on March 27, 2012


No, wait, I do have contempt for priests that rape children. And for priests that protect priests that rape children.

Presumably, you hold similar contempt for non-religious people who engage in that same conduct, no?
posted by The World Famous at 10:51 AM on March 27, 2012


Then explain what your position actually is. Or not. Whatever.

My position is:

"There is a middle ground between 'doing nothing to assert your rights' and 'saying that religion is universally harmful and that all theists are delusional and that they all believe this very narrow set of specifics.' Moreover, if you meed a theist, it doesn't make sense to assume that they believe in that very narrow set of specifics unless you ask them first."

Period.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:51 AM on March 27, 2012


Presumably, you hold similar contempt for non-religious people who engage in that same conduct, no?

Doesn't that go without saying? I think that probably I hold more contempt for a child rapist priest than a child rapist stranger though, as the priest is in a trusted and "holy" position. Just as I would posit that rape by a family member is worse than rape by a stranger. Each is a more profound violation of trust. But anyway, enough of that tangent.

'saying that religion is universally harmful and that all theists are delusional and that they all believe this very narrow set of specifics.'

What's funny is that you need a middle ground in the statement about which you said we needed a middle ground.

1. religion is universally harmful Yeah I believe that.
2. all theists are delusional No, I never said I believe that. Nor has anyone else in this thread, to my best recollection.
3. they all believe this very narrow set of specifics Isn't that self-evidently wrong? I personally derive great enjoyment from watching theists quibble over their doctrinal issues.

Have you ever heard of the "off by one month precession problem" in astrology? Maybe there's a more succient way to describe that, but it relates to how astrological signs are assigned relative to the calendar. There's a big split, and the two sides hate each other. Man its so funny. Religious disagreements amuse me in the same way.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:00 AM on March 27, 2012


I'm still not clear on what actions constitute writing people off, so we may just have to disagree on this point.

What I mean is: you've said that most of the writing you've seen critiques the ideas. There are a handful of people who go on to critique the PEOPLE. There's a difference between "religion doesn't make sense to me" and "people who believe in God are stupid sheeple." Saying "theists are stupid sheeple" is what I mean by "writing people off" -- they're attacking the believer rather than the belief.

Your VFW example isn’t really privilege, as the VFW is a private group that can rent out their hall as they will. However, there are cases where government buildings are rented preferentially to religious groups (such as churches that set up in schools on the weekend and parks rented to the Boy Scouts) for nominal fees that aren’t granted to other, non-religious groups.

Yeah,it was the government buildings I was thinking of, but this was the case I was talking about. Confusion about which was in or out on my part.

And yet you spend all your time quibbling with our beliefs, not our actions. What actions have we taken that deserve this special animosity? Held a rally? Made jokes about sacred things?

Well, for starters, you made a sweeping generalization that accused theists of writing off scientific inquiry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:03 AM on March 27, 2012


....YOu know what, I'm not helping things; sorry all, I'll butt out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on March 27, 2012


Jonah Lehrer: The Truth Wears Off: Is There Something Wrong with the Scientific Method?

I appreciate the link, but the headline doesn't do the article justice at all. The issue ends up being all about human cognitive biases and bad procedures, not a failing in the basics of the scientific method.
posted by odinsdream at 11:15 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"theists are stupid sheeple"

Why are you debating things that no one on this thread has said? Sure there are yahoos out there that say stupid things. Haven't we disavowed them sufficiently?

theists of writing off scientific inquiry.

You mean this part right?
Religions all posit an ultimate cause of one sort or another. Either its god's unknowable will, or its the cycle of rebirth or whatever new age pablum you prefer. But there is a reason for everything.

I guess I've never heard of modern religions that don't assign the role of creation to the deity they worship. I mean I guess the greeks and other ancient religions didn't have Zeus or Odin personally responsible for making the universe right? I read a little factoid that in the Hawiian creation myth, universes grow, age, then blow up, and get replaced by new universes. Apparently they considered the Octopus to be a refugee from the last universe that got destroyed. I haven't tracked down any more details though. But it sounds cool.

So does your religion not assign the ultimate creation of the universe to god/gods/*fill in the blank* that you pray to? Did god just stroll along and find our universe already full of suns and planets and people?

I've also never heard of a modern religion that didn't posit some sort of reason for why bad things happen. The old timey ones didn't really bother, its true. Their default position was more that bad things would happen unless you appeased the gods right, as a generality?

The bad things happen reason usually breaks down into "they derserved it because they were bad people, maybe in a past life" or "its god working in mysterious ways that we can never understand", or "suffering is holy". Am I missing a general class of causality?
posted by Chekhovian at 11:16 AM on March 27, 2012


the headline doesn't do the article justice at all

Yeah, I read that article sometime ago, but didn't bother to comment again. As I recall, couldn't you also describe it as: "modern problems are really hard and subtle because we've solved most of the easy ones, and science takes a bit longer to grind through them"
posted by Chekhovian at 11:18 AM on March 27, 2012


There's a difference between "religion doesn't make sense to me" and "people who believe in God are stupid sheeple." Saying "theists are stupid sheeple" is what I mean by "writing people off" -- they're attacking the believer rather than the belief.

Who are you quoting here?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:24 AM on March 27, 2012


There's a difference between "religion doesn't make sense to me" and "people who believe in God are stupid sheeple." Saying "theists are stupid sheeple" is what I mean by "writing people off" -- they're attacking the believer rather than the belief.


A couple points. First, I agree that there are atheists who attack the believer, and it isn't behavior I advocate, but it seems far less of a problem than the systemic prejudice and discrimination facing atheists. Second, theists can perceive an attack on their person when no such attack is made, as we saw when the Dallas pastor read the claim 'atheists can be good' as an personal attack in Christians.

This is why I think it important to quote specific words and sentences and link to evidentiary text as much as possible in these discussions. That way we can see the different ways in which different audiences read particular arguments.

[On preview:] I'm not helping things; sorry all, I'll butt out.

I don't think your contributions have hurt the discussion. I just think we're some distance apart in the way we see atheism in the US.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:30 AM on March 27, 2012


I guess I've never heard of modern religions that don't assign the role of creation to the deity they worship.

What do you mean by "creation?" Different religions have different conceptions of what "creation" really means. Within those religions, the individual adherents and scholars of those communities have myriad views on the matter, as well, which diverge from the overall community view.

So does your religion not assign the ultimate creation of the universe to god/gods/*fill in the blank* that you pray to?

What do you mean by "the universe?" My religion, to give just one example, has a varied history of from-the-pulpit speculation, doctrinal explanation (often symbolic and/or vague), and lay scholarship on such issues, much of which is heavily informed and influenced by scientific inquiry, including heavily-disparate views of church leaders that are sometimes deferential to science and sometimes the opposite. To even begin to tell you what my religion currently believes or has historically postulated with regard to the origin of the universe, I would first have to know what you mean by "the universe," just as you would have to explain what you mean by "create," as well.

Did god just stroll along and find our universe already full of suns and planets and people?

One possible interpretation of the prevailing doctrinal explanations within my religion could be that God's involvement in our universe began sometime after the Big Bang. But that's just one possible interpretation. We honestly don't spend a whole lot of time expouing on the mechanics and particulars of the origins of the universe, galaxies, solar system, etc. It's not really our focus. We're more concerned with how we ought to treat each other as fellow humans, both in and out of our community.
posted by The World Famous at 11:34 AM on March 27, 2012


What do you mean by "creation?"
I mean, why is there something rather than nothing.

which diverge from the overall community view
But ultimately, isn't there a unifying notion that god chose for there to be something? So sure they diverge, but probably not on the core issue, correct?

What do you mean by "the universe?"
something rather than nothing, with stars, planets, trees on those plants, people and squirrels beneath those trees, etc.

explain what you mean by "create," as well
Umm, will into existence, maybe labor for 6 days before resting, the ancient egyptians believed that universe arose out of semen from god masturbating. Which raises a whole host of other questions...

God's involvement in our universe began sometime after the Big Bang
You don't worship Galactus, right? Okay, just checking.

We honestly don't spend a whole lot of time expouing on the mechanics and particulars of the origins of the universe, galaxies, solar system, etc. It's not really our focus.
A shame that. Isn't it hard not to look up at the night sky and wonder?
posted by Chekhovian at 11:43 AM on March 27, 2012


It seems weirdly argumentative to belabor a point when most people are apparently in consensus, using examples that have not been expressed in this discussion.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:46 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, why is there something rather than nothing.

Where? If some entity (e.g. God) existed to create something, then there wasn't nothing, was there?

Really, though, my religion does not, as far as I'm aware, doctrinally address the question of why there is something rather than nothing. There may be speculation on that question, either based in or ignorant of science. But it's really not a tenet of my religion, as far as I'm aware.

But ultimately, isn't there a unifying notion that god chose for there to be something? So sure they diverge, but probably not on the core issue, correct?

No, actually. Not in my religion, at least.

something rather than nothing, with stars, planets, trees on those plants, people and squirrels beneath those trees, etc.

Ah. Assuming (and yes, it's a huge assumption) that some deity exists, wouldn't he, she, or it also be part of that definition of "universe?"

Umm, will into existence,

Yeah, my religion doesn't believe God willed the universe into existence.

maybe labor for 6 days before resting,

What does that even mean? To the extent that it is a description of God's involvement in the formation of the world as we know it, I and my religion contend that it is an incredibly simplified and heavily symbolic description. I mean days? How can "day" have any meaning if the planet doesn't exist yet?

the ancient egyptians believed that universe arose out of semen from god masturbating.

Again, that's really not a definition, is it?

Which raises a whole host of other questions...

Indeed.

You don't worship Galactus, right? Okay, just checking.

So you're making fun of my religious beliefs because they do not conform to the belief that you reject and that you previously assumed was the belief of every modern religion?

A shame that. Isn't it hard not to look up at the night sky and wonder?

Who said we don't? In fact, we do - a lot. And most of us that I know do so through the method and means of science. I pointed out that my religion - by way of its religious beliefs - does not spend a whole lot of time expounding - in terms of doctrine - on the mechanics and particulars of the origins of the universe, galaxies, etc. And you're saying that's a bad thing? That my religion should be in the business of telling people those things?

I'm not sure what you can say to convince me that the role of religion should be that of providing technical explanations for natural phenomena. I'm surprised that you would take that position, frankly.

I and many others like me are both religious and deeply fascinated by and curious about the world around us. We embrace science and reason. Why are you trying to convince me not to do so?
posted by The World Famous at 12:01 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyway, I think we're ultimately talking past each other here. You don't really think it's impossible for a religious person to be curious about and interested in learning about the universe unless his or her religion teaches about it from the pulpit. And there's no point in arguing about what all religions must or must not believe. The point is that not all religions, and, indeed, not all religious people within those religions, believe the simplistic models of creationism typically held up in effigy in threads like this. I certainly do not.
posted by The World Famous at 12:12 PM on March 27, 2012


Galactus
So you're making fun of my religious beliefs
Just gentle teasing dude. :-) And IRRC one of the backstories of Galactus was that he survived the last universe in a "cosmic egg", then awoke after things had settled following our big bang, then started cruising around. Its not exactly a reach to note the parallels there if you describe to me a god that appeared at some point during history.

Are you going to tell me I can't make dumb Galactus jokes? Because EC got mad at me earlier for noting that her perspective seemed to be that religion had to be handled with kid gloves only. Either dumb jokes profaning the sacred are allowed, or criticism of the rule preventing the sacred from being profaned must be allowed.

And you're saying that's a bad thing? That my religion should be in the business of telling people those things? I'm not sure what you can say to convince me that the role of religion should be that of providing technical explanations for natural phenomena

No I wasn't trying to persuade you of that, sorry for the confusion. My only point is that it surprises me that you can put forth a god that you don't hold responsible for anything around us. Usually the scale of the hypothesis somehow correlates with the scale of the question right? So why posit an all powerful being if he doesn't use his powers for something?
posted by Chekhovian at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2012


not all religions, and, indeed, not all religious people within those religions, believe the simplistic models of creationism

But most do. On a pragmatic level what I care about is just how policies in government develop. That process reflects the beliefs of the people, at least indirectly. So when large fractions of them believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, or that it will end in revelation in our life time, well that affects me.

On an intellectual level, its an interesting point to debate isn't it? Certainly its more interesting than why Atheists are mean, and why won't they stop being mean already.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:18 PM on March 27, 2012


Either dumb jokes profaning the sacred are allowed, or criticism of the rule preventing the sacred from being profaned must be allowed.

Dumb jokes are allowed. So is discussion in good faith. I'm not mad or anything. Your response just seemed insincere.

My only point is that it surprises me that you can put forth a god that you don't hold responsible for anything around us.

Ah. I think we may have a misunderstanding there. You were specifically referring to the creation of the universe - defined as everything in existence ever. I did not understand you to also be referring to god being responsible for anything else other than, as you put it, willing the universe into existence.

So why posit an all powerful being if he doesn't use his powers for something?

Aside from the inevitable disagreements about what "all-powerful" really means to various people and groups, I think this goes back to our misunderstanding. You were talking expressly about one specific alleged act of God: Willing the universe into existence. I did not understand you to be referring to both that single alleged act and every other possible thing that someone might believe God does or might do.

But most do.

I'm not sure whether or not that's actually true. But that's beside the point, which was my response to your assertion: "I guess I've never heard of modern religions that don't assign the role of creation to the deity they worship."

On a pragmatic level what I care about is just how policies in government develop. That process reflects the beliefs of the people, at least indirectly. So when large fractions of them believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, or that it will end in revelation in our life time, well that affects me.

I agree. I care about that, too.

On an intellectual level, its an interesting point to debate isn't it?

It really is, yes.

Certainly its more interesting than why Atheists are mean, and why won't they stop being mean already.

Indeed. On the other hand, I think it's important to frame the issues as being based around the critical issue of freedom of conscience and practice independent of influence by the religious beliefs of others, rather than on pointing out that a specific group of religious people are mean and why won't they stop being mean already.
posted by The World Famous at 12:30 PM on March 27, 2012


a specific group of religious people are mean and why won't they stop being mean already

Mean is one thing. Criminal is another. And a lot of that criminal behavior is protected because of the traditional respect we accord religious institutions. So what do you do about it?

And what about religions enjoying tax-exempt status, yet spending heavily to influence politics? That should be criminal, even if it isn't already.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:44 PM on March 27, 2012


Mean is one thing. Criminal is another. And a lot of that criminal behavior is protected because of the traditional respect we accord religious institutions. So what do you do about it?

I think I may not quite get what you mean by "criminal." If conduct is legally protected (i.e. not illegal), it's not criminal, by definition. If people who are religious are committing crimes but are not being prosecuted because of prosecutorial bias in favor of religious people, what you do about that is band together both religious and non-religious people opposed to that process and work to influence the system to not be corrupt in that way. If it's a question of opposition to conduct that is illegal for everyone except a specific religiously-defined class of people, I guess I'd need to know more specifics as far as what conduct you're referring to.

And what about religions enjoying tax-exempt status, yet spending heavily to influence politics? That should be criminal, even if it isn't already.

I'm not sure that the legislative history of tax exemption of religious institutions would support the notion that the reason for such exemption is grounded in political neutrality. Nevertheless, U.S. tax laws with regard to certain types of institutions does have express provisions regarding the extent to which political involvement by those institutions is legally permitted. I wholeheartedly agree that those laws - which already exist - should be enforced uniformly and fairly. However, I see no rational or logical basis whatsoever for converting them to criminal statutes. What's your basis for that argument?
posted by The World Famous at 12:52 PM on March 27, 2012


And a lot of that criminal behavior is protected because of the traditional respect we accord religious institutions.

I'm still harping on catholic priest child rape. And so much of the protection they get isn't even formal prosecutorial bias or anything in a specific law. Just the fact that the media refers to it as "abuse" rather than rape (which is what it is), is part of the normative bias automatically afforded to religion.

band together both religious and non-religious people opposed to that process and work to influence the system to not be corrupt in that way.

Part of the problem here is that working to change system in this will be equated as an "Assault on Religion". Remember that whole kerfuffle over employer medical insurance and birth control? That was labeled an assault on religion. So actually trying to arrest these monster priests? I'm hard pressed to imagine that it would be as easy as you say.

No Public Religion always portrays itself as the victim, and somehow people buy that, even non-religious people. We've seen it in microcosm here in this thread. Various people were continually saying that we atheists were just trying to demean religious people, or puff ourselves up at their expense or whatever.

I see no rational or logical basis whatsoever for converting them to criminal statutes. What's your basis for that argument?

I was employing the term "criminal" rather loosely in that part. I just think it shouldn't be allowed.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:05 PM on March 27, 2012


Part of the problem here is that working to change system in this will be equated as an "Assault on Religion".

Not if that work is done by atheist and religious groups working together. The assault on religion is when Richard Dawkins says "Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place." You want to fight against priests getting away with rape? Then distance yourself from people and organizations who are clearly - and openly - more concerned about the impossible task of eliminating religion itself than they are about the realistic task of bringing criminals to justice.

So actually trying to arrest these monster priests? I'm hard pressed to imagine that it would be as easy as you say.

I didn't say it would be easy.

Various people were continually saying that we atheists were just trying to demean religious people, or puff ourselves up at their expense or whatever.

Yes, they were. And I agree that it's an unfair and false generalization.
posted by The World Famous at 1:18 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then distance yourself from people and organizations who are clearly - and openly - more concerned about the impossible task of eliminating religion itself than they are about the realistic task of bringing criminals to justice.

That's a low blow. You're implying here that the actions of Dawkins and the others are inadvertently delaying the arrival of justice for these monsters. No. That's ludicrous.

In fairness lets give Dawkins a little more time and context, since you brought him up with:
"Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place."

Here's the full piece. Some interesting excerpts:
{
I have had a letter from an American woman in her mid forties who was brought up Roman Catholic.....
"Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a 7 year old) as 'yuchy' while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, immeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest ? but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell. It gave me nightmares."

I am sure her experience is far from unique. And what if we assume a less altruistic child, worried about her own eternity rather than a friend's? Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place.
}

So you've spun this as if Dawkins is just a rapid unthinking hate filled being. When all he was doing was repeating the reflections of the actual victim on her assault. Be fair.

Now here's the interesting part:
{
Happily I was spared the misfortune of a Roman Catholic upbringing (Anglicanism is a significantly less noxious strain of the virus). Being fondled by the Latin master in the Squash Court was a disagreeable sensation for a nine-year-old, a mixture of embarrassment and skin-crawling revulsion, but it was certainly not in the same league as being led to believe that I, or someone I knew, might go to everlasting fire. As soon as I could wriggle off his knee, I ran to tell my friends and we had a good laugh, our fellowship enhanced by the shared experience of the same sad pedophile. I do not believe that I, or they, suffered lasting, or even temporary damage from this disagreeable physical abuse of power. Given the Latin Master's eventual suicide, maybe the damage was all on his side.
}

So congratulations, you've managed to make his admition of being abused by a priest as a child into some evidence of his heinous religion hating strident shrill atheism.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:33 PM on March 27, 2012


Disliking religion -- even telling other people that it is very, very bad -- is not "an assault on religion". It's just talking. Universal respect is not guaranteed for religion (or anything else).

Besides, people say similar things about my philosophy all the time; so do many religions, for that matter. As far as I'm concerned, as long as concepts like "sin" are still in play then Catholicism has very little grounds to complain about the moral conclusions others choose to make.
posted by vorfeed at 1:46 PM on March 27, 2012


That's a low blow. You're implying here that the actions of Dawkins and the others are inadvertently delaying the arrival of justice for these monsters. No. That's ludicrous.

No, I don't think Dawkins and others fighting Dawkins' fight are delaying the arrival of justice for these monsters. I am, however, saying that Dawkins and others are clearly fighting a different fight than you are proposing. And, to the extent that you're worried about the fight against priests raping children being perceived as an attack on religion, I'm pointing out that Dawkins and others are expressly and openly attacking religion and making absolutely no bones about the fact that they think religion itself is worse than child rape.

So congratulations, you've managed to make his admition of being abused by a priest as a child into some evidence of his heinous religion hating strident shrill atheism.

Oh for crying out loud. I'll address that sentence, but it contains so many misleading elements that I'm going to have to take it apart:

1. his admition of being abused by a priest - Is a Latin master a priest? I admit that I'm not familiar with the term if it is an honorific title, and I understood it to be referring to a school teacher of Latin, not a priest. Regardless, he clearly and unashamedly states that he thinks raising children Catholic in the first place is worse than if children are physically abused by priests. He could not have stated it any clearer than he did.

2. some evidence of his heinous religion hating strident shrill atheism

a. Evidence: I have proposed his statement (and, indeed, the entire article) as evidence that he prioritizes his open fight against religion as a whole (and particularly against Catholicism) over and above his concern for bringing child-molesting priests to justice. There is no question that that is both his express contention and his plain intent. It is further evident by the entire body of his work. How is this even at issue?

b. "Heinous": Nonsense. I never said that anything about Dawkins is heinous. He is typically very polite and soft-spoken and, though I disagree with some of his conclusions and find his analysis to, at times, be based on false or incomplete premises, I don't think I would ever call him heinous.

c. "religion hating": Well, come on, now. There's no question that he hates religion, is there? Dawkins hates religion. This is as undisputable a statement as I can imagine. Even setting aside his article about how the mental abuse of raising children in the Catholic church is worse than priests' raping them, there is absolutely no question that all evidence points to Richard Dawkins hating religion. Honestly, do you dispute this?

d. "strident": I don't recall ever calling him that. Even if he is, so what? I'm strident in my opinions, too.

e. "shrill": I wouldn't call Dawkins shrill, either. He's very soft spoken and polite in manner. Every once in a while, his emotions get the best of him and he says something staggeringly stupid and so unscientific that it hurts, but even then, he's very polite and not at all shrill.
posted by The World Famous at 1:50 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every once in a while, his emotions get the best of him and he says something staggeringly stupid and so unscientific that it hurts, but even then, he's very polite and not at all shrill.

Alright, fair enough. I clearly mistook your mentioning of him as something more of an invocation of the dawkins devil figure. I do want to point out that had any other person made that quote and noted his own abuse, he would be accorded a lot more leeway than many people* did when they responded to that quote.

*not implying that you're one of the people that jumped on him for it.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:02 PM on March 27, 2012


Sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I really like Dawkins for a variety of reasons, and I agree with him most of the time.
posted by The World Famous at 2:04 PM on March 27, 2012


I had really wanted to type up as section of his speech from the rally, but I figured it would just provoke the usual haters to hate.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:07 PM on March 27, 2012


FWIW, I thought his speech from the rally was very good.
posted by The World Famous at 2:08 PM on March 27, 2012


The problem that this thread has chewed over, as far as I can see, is less the problem of different brands of atheism and religion specifically, but rather the more general philosophical problem of how relativists talk to realists. What is interesting to me is that all the relativist pragmatism in the thread has been raised in defence of religion, or at least respect for religious conviction. The conflict here does not appear to be between theism and atheism, but rather post-theism and atheism. I suspect that this is more indicative of the long-term prospects of theism than any gathering of atheists will ever be.
posted by howfar at 2:26 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whenever I read/get into a discussion on the existence of God, I can't help thinking First, assume a frictionless God with no mass.
posted by ODiV at 2:52 PM on March 27, 2012


The conflict here does not appear to be between theism and atheism, but rather post-theism and atheism.

Why is that surprising? Nietzsche pointed it out a hundred years ago. We're just boxing with god(s)' shadow, that's all.

This is pretty much what Dennett means by belief in belief, also.
posted by vorfeed at 2:54 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dennett means by belief in belief

Thanks, I'd been meaning to look this up again:
"I would say, with few exceptions, that the most hysterical and vitriolic criticism of my book have been from people who, declare themselves not religious, they don't need religion, but they are the self appointed defenders of religion, and they believe in belief in god, and they view me as mounting an attack on this, and in a way, I am. The belief in belief in god is really what's standing in the way. it what's doing all the work."

Sounds like this thread huh?

I always tend to forget about Dennett, relative to the other 3 horsemen. Which of course I shouldn't. He's awesome: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:07 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right. Hysterical and vitriolic criticism. Against your valiant crusade to end human pain and suffering. Exactly like this thread.

I think we can pretty readily say that this sounds like how you would describe this thread.
posted by XMLicious at 3:38 PM on March 27, 2012


[Cut it out.]
posted by cortex at 4:21 PM on March 27, 2012


Why is that surprising? Nietzsche pointed it out a hundred years ago

I don't find it surprising. However, it's interesting that Nietzsche's analysis is borne out so strongly while, at the same time, his madman would still be too early if he arrived today. I have no particular problem with modern atheism, but I think its unfortunate tendency is rather toward too great a modesty, rather than the overweening ambition its self-proclaimed moderate critics attack it for. It sometimes seems like there is too much relaxed scientific realism and not enough desire for a reevaluation of all values, if that doesn't sound too impossibly pompous.

I just want a joyful atheism, I suppose. We've reached a point in history where it is possible to see we're making it up as we go along. Realising we can make anything we like is more than a little daunting, but it's fairly fucking amazing too.
posted by howfar at 4:35 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


100% agreed, howfar.
posted by vorfeed at 5:14 PM on March 27, 2012


A pseudonymous blogger reflects on the subordinate position of atheism that keeps many in the closet:
It’s almost like we’re surrounded by a structure that holds those of us with religious families or religious upbringings or even simply living in highly religious communities in the closet. It’s like a hand over our mouths, a door that only swings one way, or simply an irrepressible feeling of the need to stay muffled. It’s a structure set up so that disbelief is punished and those who step out of line feel the consequences. And the weird thing is, it’s an organic structure. It’s not like there’s a pope or bishop in charge waiting to excommunicate us or force us out of the community. But it’s there nonetheless, as those of us who are entangled in it understand mroe (sic) than most.
The full post includes stories from closeted readers.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:38 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ugh, many of those are really tough stories. The ones where someone has raised their kids to be religious and then has to explain to them that their parent has become an atheist must be especially hard.
posted by XMLicious at 6:57 PM on March 27, 2012


"Dawkins and others are expressly and openly attacking religion and making absolutely no bones about the fact that they think religion itself is worse than child rape."

That's an unsupported argument, but obviously every major religion has faced problems where many young people have been seriously psychologically scarred by their experiences, completely outside of sexual abuse.

Catholicism, for example, killed someone in my life, as surely as a priest pulling the trigger. Another friend of mine fled the Mormon faith, which traumatized her so badly in her youth that she has since been diagnosed with PTSD and dissociative disorder.

Here is an expose video and a couple of promotional videos for a program a friend of mine was sent to in Texas.
She went through their various programs regularly, for a little over a year, and it left her badly broken and traumatized for years afterwards.

Some of the tactics used to break the students -- in her words -- included:
- Sleep deprivation - we were actually encouraged to see how little sleep we could survive on, the leader of the Honor Academy boasted he slept only 4 hours per night. "You'll sleep when you're dead"
- Removing you from your support system - we lived there, in dorms and were chastised if we visited home too much, saying we needed to rely on God more.
- Arbitrary control over friendships and relationships. At any time, any one of your leaders/advisers could tell you not to hang out with anyone.
- Shaming by leadership. You were constantly egged on, told you were a loser if you didn't rise to their standards and expectations. We had a points system where points were assigned to how many quiet times (pray/read Bible) you had, how much you exercised, how much you worked, how much you volunteered. If you didn't earn enough points, you were put on probation.
- Threat of dismissal and losing position. I could go on all day about this one. There was a constant fear that if you messed up enough, you would be sent home early, not to complete your 1 year commitment. All that fundraising you did to pay to be there, all those folks in the church that gave you money or prayed for you or supported you would know that you were a complete and utter failure if they sent you home. If you didn't want to face large scale humiliation and reputation ruining, you had to cooperate.
- Authoritarianism - if you didn't agree with the leadership, you weren't a "good fit," if you questioned them you were "rebellious." I was passed up for a leadership position because I was "too familiar" with the leadership, aka I talked to them like human beings instead of putting them on a pedastal.

Basically, it destroyed the student's self-esteem entirely, and left them basically at the mercy of those running the program.

So... what happened to this group, once former victims spoke up and the mainstream media reported on numerous allegations of severe physical, mental, and psychological trauma done to minors?! Here they are... still doing what they do. "One of the largest Christian youth ministry organizations in the United States"... still promoting even their most extreme, abusive events.

Really... is it any wonder why Dawkins and others might think this potentially a far larger, greater crime than even the incidents of child sexual abuse?
posted by markkraft at 10:52 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Atheist Symbol Rejected By Capital One, But Jesus Is Preapproved
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:28 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


the more general philosophical problem of how relativists talk to realists.

And interestingly, this is the same problem we have when relativists (theist or nontheist) talk to hardline religious fundamentalists who are obsessed with insisting upon the significance of the truth they construe. That's why you see a lot of attention paid by people who espouse more relativistic viewpoints to the odd bedfellows fundamentalists of all stripes make.
posted by Miko at 9:53 AM on March 28, 2012


Doesn't that depend on the relativism invoked? Religious relativists, in my experience, have an ugly habit of playing hokey pokey with their universalism. Everything is a spiritual path toward understanding god or the divine, except for mine which is soulless, amoral, impoverished of meaning, love, or poetry, selfish, spiritually blind and deaf, and in need of some good psychotherapy.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:57 AM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


But realism and fundamentalism aren't the same thing, or even points on the same continuum. Believing in mind-independent reality is not the same thing as believing that one has any particular knowledge of it. I'm not really sure that fundamentalism is a particularly useful term in this discussion, except as a handy stick to beat those one disagrees with. The idea that realism and liberalism are incompatible seems to me a potentially dangerous misapprehension.
posted by howfar at 10:59 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


And as I get older, the less comfortable I am either using fundamentalists as the boogeymen or in making glib comparisons between atheism and fundamentalism.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:10 AM on March 28, 2012


I mean, I can think of worse things in life than to be compared to brave men and women of peace who routinely face discrimination and sacrifice convenience in order to do their best to live what they see as a moral life.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:34 AM on March 28, 2012


But realism and fundamentalism aren't the same thing,

No they're not; but they can co-exist in the same person.

Religious relativists, in my experience, have an ugly habit of playing hokey pokey with their universalism. Everything is a spiritual path toward understanding god or the divine, except for mine which is soulless, amoral...

Not all of them will. Relativism as a broad concept doesn't presuppose a particular framework.S ome religious relativists might say this about you, others wouldn't.

Universalism means something different, unless it's meant to signify the universality of a specific concept.
posted by Miko at 6:35 PM on March 28, 2012


Though you've probably encountered the conundrum that some relativists would say that anything that says "mine is the one true belief system" has to be wrong because from their perspective there is no one true belief system.

But in fact that belief is indeed as valid under a relativist system as any other - it's just that a relativist will not accept it as their own, nor would they accept any other absolutist belief system as their own. They're arguing against adopting the belief, but they understand that you might hold that belief. This is consistent and is, in fact, kind of how I look at hardline materialists.
posted by Miko at 7:17 PM on March 28, 2012


Mississippi was identified as the most religious state in Gallup polling.
posted by Brian B. at 7:45 PM on March 28, 2012


Though you've probably encountered the conundrum that some relativists would say that anything that says "mine is the one true belief system" has to be wrong because from their perspective there is no one true belief system.

Relativism is so uninspiring. It just seems like such a gray world full of constant hand-wringing and fear that someone somewhere might have an opinion on something. I understand its modern development as a counterpoint to the excesses of the middle 20th century. Philosophical antibodies as were, but now those issues have mostly passed and its become an autoimmune disorder. It leaves us weak and crippled and unable to really progress because any step forward is a huge push against the meaningless friction it generates.

Ironic really, that what was really meant to curtail the excesses of the conservative-moralizing-preaching-inequality endorsing 50's has become a tool to protect those same interests.

"You can't be allowed to stand up for your rights, because to do so, you'd have to hold the opinion that your rights were worth something to start with"
posted by Chekhovian at 5:08 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Relativism - Its like Nihilism on Prozac!
posted by Chekhovian at 5:20 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Miko: But in fact that belief is indeed as valid under a relativist system as any other - it's just that a relativist will not accept it as their own, nor would they accept any other absolutist belief system as their own.

1) The arguments being made by religious liberals are often not "I can't adopt atheism" it's that atheists are morally, spiritually, and/or psychologically lesser people for adopting atheism.

2) "Absolutist belief system," is something of a bad stereotype that doesn't reflect the beliefs of most atheists.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:22 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


And there's something deeply weird about the project of building inter-faith collaboration networks, and starting out by scapegoating atheists who may very well be a part of those religious communities. "Atheists are bad (but not our atheists)," isn't exactly welcoming.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:30 AM on March 29, 2012


But in fact that belief is indeed as valid under a relativist system as any other - it's just that a relativist will not accept it as their own, nor would they accept any other absolutist belief system as their own.

I think that the problem here is you're in danger of mixing up different orders of claims about truth. Simply saying "I don't believe in any absolutist belief system" doesn't really seem like a relativistic account of truth to me, but more like an abandonment of epistemology entirely. I can see the appeal of doing so, but I think it's difficult when you're simultaneously talking about a "relativist system", any form of which will presumably provide some account of truth, even if it is an extreme deflationary position that posits no truth whatsoever. The epistemological framework of a relativist position is surely not compatible with the claims of realist epistemology being true in the sense that the realist intends.

Relativism is so uninspiring. It just seems like such a gray world full of constant hand-wringing and fear that someone somewhere might have an opinion on something.

Sometimes, perhaps, but I'm not sure that it is necessarily so. Nietzschean perspectivism is at least anti-realist and subjective, and yet does not concern itself unduly with hand-wringing about the equality of viewpoints (quite the opposite, I think); Wittgenstein's therapeutic approach in the Investigations is arguably about presenting an account of truth that liberates us not just from absolutism, but also from the hand-wringing about why different people believe differently; Quine's epistemological holism is certainly not wholly realist, and yet attempts to engage with the "tribunal of experience", rather than the mediation session of negotiated middle-grounds; Rortyan neopragmatism attempts to free people to pursue their chosen goals etc etc.

Both realism and relativism have unattractive forms and proponents, but mischaracterising realists as "absolutists" and relativists as "hand-wringers" probably isn't a particularly good way to move dialogue forward. Any honest thinker with an understanding of the issues should acknowledge the strength (and probably more importantly weakness) of arguments on both sides. I think we really do need new and better ways of characterising the world and our place in it, which is why I tend to find myself opposed to the "whatever you believe should be respected" relativists in their defence of intellectually conservative positions, but the need for development and change is, in reality (ha!) just as much of a challenge to realists as to anyway.
posted by howfar at 6:19 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


*anyone
posted by howfar at 6:19 AM on March 29, 2012


the need for development and change is, in reality (ha!) just as much of a challenge to realists as to anyway

Well I think any realist worth his salt needs to have iteration, induction, and limit cycles in mind when they approach the "real" world. Upthread there were various attacks on science, which mostly seem to originate from the misconception that science is static object, rather than a process.

There is process behind human history. Its not an indistinguishable gray mass of bland equivalence. What we see is the continuing expansion of what it means to be human. As I said before, when the greeks started out only other wealthy greeks males in the same city were truly human, then they generously determined that other greeks in other cities could also be human, but the Persians definitively weren't, and step by iterative inductive step human freedom and human value was expanded century by century. We're still working on that today. The process is far from over.But the point is that there is a direction to the way things are going, and that direction is toward a new birth of human freedom.

And I think the next huge change is going to be expanding the definition of "humanity" beyond just humans to include most of the higher mammals.

This is the scientific method at work. Do we understand everything? No. But we're working on it and while that happens, there are some basic things that we can say with tremendous certainty.

So do we have an absolutely complete morality? No, its still developing, but there are basic freedoms we should support with our complete strength.

Relativism is the rejection of the great story of human history. Its the moral equivalent of rejecting Thales and his conjecture that the universe is in fact understandable by man.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:40 AM on March 29, 2012


Relativism is the rejection of the great story of human history

In the end I'm enough of a realist to not be as bothered about this as I am about whether it is correct or incorrect to be a relativist. With my philosopher's head on, I see too many flaws in both realist and relativist accounts to ever be happy on one side of this badly made fence.
posted by howfar at 6:59 AM on March 29, 2012


From Maryam Namazie's "Seriously, we are intolerant!?"
In this talk I want to focus on why secularism is so important – not just for us heretics and apostates – but for everyone, including the religious.

In that sense – secularism is not anti- the religious. In fact it’s a precondition for freedom of religion and atheism because private beliefs are not the concern of a secular state. It’s not for the state to enforce religion or atheism. The state is not involved in the business of religion (and it is a business).

Whilst secularism is good for people – even religious people, it’s not good for the religion industry because don’t forget religion in the state, and educational and judicial system has nothing to do with personal belief; it has everything to do with political power. And therefore, the fight for secularism is also a battle against religion in political power.
From vjack's Atheist Revolution on "Mockery Could Be Valuable"
Suppose that ridicule and mockery could be shown to make some religious fundamentalists more entrenched in their beliefs. Would that mean that it should be avoided by those of us in the reality-based community? Not necessarily. It depends what one's goal is in ridiculing and mocking the beliefs. It might also depend on whether the religious beliefs in question are public or private.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:39 PM on March 29, 2012


When it comes to politics and culture, religious liberals are my strongest allies.

When it comes to religion and spirituality, they seem to range from open-minded fellow-travelers (rare), to ignorantly short-sighted in hurtful ways, to painfully over-general in anger, to explicitly malicious.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:28 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


A few concluding reflections on the Reason Rally. Starting with Greta Christina discussing diversity in the atheist community:
The news reporters noticed. Some of them, anyway. And that means that every woman, every young person, every person of color seeing those reports noticed. Every woman, every young person, every person of color who’s questioning their religion, or who’s already an atheist but is afraid to tell anybody, and who read those news reports, now knows that they can come out, and that atheism might be an okay place for them to land.
Richard Wade discusses arrogant atheists:
Someone who knows that I’m an atheist was curious about what the speakers said, and their very first question was, “Were they arrogant?”

Arrogant. Of the several tens of thousands of adjectives in the English language, I was being asked, yet again, about this one adjective that some atheists have earned once in a while, but which is far more frequently tacked onto their noun as if it’s a grammatical error to leave it off.
And from Hemant Mehta's speech at the Rally:
But not every conversation has to begin with, “Hi, I’m Hemant, and I’m an atheist.” And not every declaration of disbelief has to be a big deal.

When you’re on the flight home and the person next to you asks why you were in D.C., tell her you were at a rally with thousands of other atheists. And smile while you say it.

If you’re on a date, and religion comes up, tell the person you’re with you don’t believe in a god. And watch for the reaction. That’s good dating advice right there.

You don’t have to yell or scream or type in ALL CAPS. You just have to be honest with people. Treat them with respect, but if their ideas are bad, don’t be quiet about it. If you do that, you may even convince other people to come clean about their own religious doubts.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:50 AM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


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