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Inside an American Atheists convention.
April 7, 2002 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Inside an American Atheists convention. "Ellen Johnson herself touted a recent City University of New York survey showing that the proportion of Americans who do not adhere to any religion grew from eight percent to 14.1 percent during the past decade. (However, Johnson did not share another finding with the delegates — that just 0.4 percent of Americans consider themselves atheists.)" Could Atheist activist rhetoric and harsh attitudes towards the religious be responsible for this discrepancy? It looks like agnostics and non-religious people may not want to join what they see as an agreeable but fringe group.
posted by skallas (70 comments total)

 
Interesting. Even as a deist that "Who Want's Jelly Donuts?" made me laugh out loud.
posted by jonmc at 8:51 PM on April 7, 2002


Interesting article. Unfortunately, I have a hard time believing that atheism will sweep the nation until it becomes hip. Sure it's sound in principle, but who wants to profess "freethought", "rationality", "reason", and "evolution" when they can profess love and heaven and fluffy clouds? The American Atheists -- and atheists in general -- are just too cranky to spearhead a movement, regardless of their collective intelligence. Also, since the members are presumably all atheists themselves, getting together to bitch aboue Jesus is just preaching to the choir. The author was effectively saying "I pretty much agree with everything they're saying, but this is so boring." And until the atheist groups figure out a way to be not only persuasive but relevant, they'll be shit out of luck.
posted by Succa at 8:53 PM on April 7, 2002


-- and atheists in general --

er, atheist groups in general...sorry....
posted by Succa at 8:57 PM on April 7, 2002


I agree with succa. They should take a more creative approach to the issue. Instead of asking "Why?" they should ask "Why not?" Give me a plotline, some hellfire, and a free beer and I'll join the movement.
posted by bloggboy at 9:06 PM on April 7, 2002


I don't see the problem as marketing as much as these groups are acting just like the ones they decry. They're dogmatic, at least "hard" atheists, in the way that demands you believe scientific cosmology as the only truth. To a lot of these extremists one is either a quack or an skeptic that defends the scientific status quo. That neatly dismisses agnostics and non-religious people who do not want to read endless CSICOP bitchfests about Miss Cleo or Magnetic Bracelets. Worse, the victim mentality puts a lot of these atheists on the offense and that's hardly a way to win friends. From my experiences with "hard" Atheists, if you don't have a bone to pick with the religious you just won't enjoy the company.

Its a shame, they have good ideas, but then again there's nothing they don't say that liberals, the ACLU, etc haven't already said. These extreme groups function more like an organized belief system then they care to admit.
posted by skallas at 9:15 PM on April 7, 2002


Atheism needs an L. Ron...

I smell money.
posted by NortonDC at 9:17 PM on April 7, 2002


"There is no God, everything you know is wrong, and you are doomed to poof into non-existence in the very near future... so may I have all your money?"

Do elaborate, NortonDC...
posted by Jeremy Bowers at 9:38 PM on April 7, 2002


I think that, all things (pedophile priests, warmongers etc.) the number of people not adhering to any religion is a little bit higher than %14.1...
posted by Settle at 9:38 PM on April 7, 2002


these groups are acting just like the ones they decry

Absolutely. Atheism - if you're serious about it - is a religion - it's a conscious choice to adopt a particular set of beliefs, and conduct your lifestyle choices in accordance with that set, to the exclusion of all others.

How is that different from any other religion?
posted by yhbc at 9:50 PM on April 7, 2002


I'm surprised there's such a disparity between the percentage who consider themselves non-religious and those who describe themselves as atheist. I generally identify as an atheist, though in situations where someone may take offense (you know, someone's wedding, or whatever) I'll just say "I'm not religious" if asked. I wouldn't bother going to an atheist conference, but events I would go to would probably often have a higher percentage of atheists than the general population (liberal academic lectures, e.g.).

I smell money.

the problem is the premise of atheism doesn't allow for you to collect on promised benefits worth all yr cash after you leave town.
posted by mdn at 9:54 PM on April 7, 2002


Atheists, after all, think of themselves as superior beings, as rationalists who have succeeded in rising above the superstition and prejudice that so blight the lives of their fellow citizens. Shouldn’t such virtue be its own reward?

lol.

Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken railed against religion, with Mencken calling it "so absurd that it comes close to imbecility." People don’t write or talk that way anymore,[...]

Sure they do. I've seen these kinds of comments on Metafilter. It's probably part of Free Speech - but we can't be quite sure anymore.

Just queries - why is belief/faith often derided as a form of 'mind-control,' but not atheism? And why is speech that derides religion not characterized as intolerant or hate-speech, as religion in general is criticized?

"Sometimes I shake my head," Ellen Johnson said during her keynote address. "I am actually the president of an organization that lobbies on behalf of reality."

I'm shaking my head too.
posted by alethe at 9:55 PM on April 7, 2002


And until the atheist groups figure out a way to be not only persuasive but relevant, they'll be shit out of luck.

They are in danger of becoming neither. The real problem with American Atheists - and this is why I have never considered joining them - is that they lead two agendas. One is focused, and rightly so, on public policy. This includes positions on school prayer, faith-based legislation, and discrimination against atheists by media outlets and politicians. (Yes, you heard it here first, the Fox News Channel is conservative.)

The other agenda is, simply, evangelism. Jesus never existed. The guy in St. Peter's tomb isn't St. Peter. Mormons are racist. Christian Scientists are cultist. Noah's flood is a geological impossibility. And on, and on, and on.

Talk about preaching to the choir - O'Hair even blasts agnostics. How does making fun of your closest public policy allies help your cause?

While "Who Wants Jelly Donuts" is amusing, and a lighthearted poke at a current fundamentalist trend, the reporter from the Phoenix - who, as she admitted, went into the convention with a favorable view of the group's mission - came out of the convention ready to distance herself from the group.

It's all about tolerance, people. Church and state should be absolutely, irreversably separate in this country, no doubt about it. But in reality, church and state live down the street from each other. How about a message that promotes mutual understanding, rather than apartheid?
posted by PrinceValium at 9:56 PM on April 7, 2002


Any -ism is bad, to paraphrase Farris Buller.

Shit, man, they still burn witches in the smaller parts of Texas, don't they? I live a good two hour drive away from a not too tiny place full of people willing to put rattlesnakes in their pants to prove themselves before god. All the cops I run into have fucking crusifxes on. That's really welcoming to any sort of theocratic debate, huh? Mirrorshades, a dead naked hippie stapled to a cross, and a gun.
Isn't that a Johnny Cash song?

Point is, I've heard the occasional martyrifc rumblings from the faithfull about the rise of agnosticism lately, and I only wish I could believe it.
posted by dong_resin at 9:58 PM on April 7, 2002


Not that I'm an agnostic, since it's an ism, but at least it seems like a start
posted by dong_resin at 9:59 PM on April 7, 2002


Uh, I was editing that when I posted it. I meant to tie it in to a rejection of atheism, but now I can't be bothered.

What Yhbc said.
posted by dong_resin at 10:01 PM on April 7, 2002


adopt a particular set of beliefs, and conduct your lifestyle choices in accordance with that set, to the exclusion of all others.

Under that definition, pretty much everything that involves "preference" becomes "religion". My preference for milk over juice is now a religion. I'm a milkist.

How is that different from any other religion?

Religion: "relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity" according to Merriam-Webster (actually, I looked up "religious" there but whatever).

Atheism is more an opinion about religion, a rejection of the entire institution. It's not a religion.
posted by Succa at 10:02 PM on April 7, 2002


I'd say the gap - between the 0.4% who call themselves atheists and the 14.1% (probably higher) who do not adhere to any religion (statistics, BTW, from the article, and applying only to America) - are mostly composed of people who while they feel spiritual and would not hesitate to say they believe in "god" are simply not willing to intellectually or practically adopt the teachings of any of the so-called "organized" religions.

My wife and I want to form an "unorganized" religion. We're thinking about calling it "Now and Zen"; problem is, we haven't been able to get people together, everyone's schedule is really full ... maybe someday, we'll get organized.

And, on preview: Succa, your milkism doesn't change the way you feel about the juice-drinkers. If milkism were equivalent to atheism, you would shake your head at all the deluded juice-swillin' fools.
posted by yhbc at 10:08 PM on April 7, 2002


Jeremy Bowers - Do elaborate, NortonDC...

Not a chance. Get your own fake religion.


Proposition: Atheism is a theism, a belief system concerning the supernatural.
posted by NortonDC at 10:14 PM on April 7, 2002


Succa, your milkism doesn't change the way you feel about the juice-drinkers. If milkism were equivalent to atheism, you would shake your head at all the deluded juice-swillin' fools.

True, but my milkism doesn't lead me to believe in a higher, Holy Cow of Being.

Not all atheists are hostile, cranky, mouth-breathing elitists. PrinceValium makes a good point about tolerance, which is something the atheist "movement" should be aiming for. Scornful indoctrination will do nothing but reinforce the well-established atheist stereotypes, no matter how much fun it is to rant about who's being brainwashed by what.
posted by Succa at 10:14 PM on April 7, 2002


Proposition: Atheism is a theism, a belief system concerning the supernatural.

Buh? The "A-" of "Atheism" is a negation, a refusal of theism. I'm not sure what you mean.

And even if it is a belief system, it's still not a religion (in case someone was itching to throw that in).
posted by Succa at 10:16 PM on April 7, 2002


How is that different from any other religion?

It is different. Atheism is a religious position, not a religion, but their organizations and zealotry makes it hard to tell sometimes.

The problem is that the extreme end of Atheism is reactionary and worse its not a valid philosophical position on its own. To say what you don't believe in isn't very telling, fortunately there's people like Dawkings to fill in the blanks. Modern Atheism is something of a front for scientific materialism. So the inquistive non-religious types or agnostics that don't consider Dawkings a secular saint are sent away as new agers or quacks.

It really is about tolerance, like someone mentioned. Don't get me wrong, there are many problems with religion in our society and I don't think the common complaints of Atheists qualify as hate-speech. Unfortunately, a reactionary group by its nature is going to be negative.

Someone once said the problem with religion is organized religion. Take that as you like - as an indictment against power structures or evangelism, but the same could be said about some Atheist organizations, especialy these guys.
posted by skallas at 10:22 PM on April 7, 2002


Proposition: Atheism is a theism, a belief system concerning the supernatural.

Counterproposition: Atheism is the absence of belief. Most atheists simply do not believe in supernatural beings, and don't spend much time thinking about it. This can change in one of two ways:

Politically motivated atheism seeks to prevent the embedding of belief structures in public institutions, and like any other minority group succeeds only in alliance with other politically disparate groups who find consensus on specific issues.

Theologically motivated atheism seeks to disprove the existence of a god, and succeeds about as often as theists do proving the existence of a god.

NortonDC, you lump all atheists into the latter category. That's not factual nor is it responsible.
posted by PrinceValium at 10:22 PM on April 7, 2002


Atheism is the absence of belief.

err.. i should say, the absence of belief in god.
posted by PrinceValium at 10:25 PM on April 7, 2002


even if it is a belief system, it's still not a religion

Well, dangit, it is a belief system - maybe that doesn't make a it a "religion", but that's too close a quibble. It's also a particularly egocentric belief system, that says "I not only have figured everything out, but all the rest of you are wrong". I'll be among the first to make jokes* about religions of all stripes, and I don't pretend to believe any of their dogma, but saying you have it all figured out and there is NO higher power or order in our lives seems a wee bit presumptious to me.

* I'd love to accomodate the "Holy Cow of Being" into my church, when I get around to forming it.
posted by yhbc at 10:25 PM on April 7, 2002


Counterproposition: Atheism is the absence of belief. Most atheists simply do not believe in supernatural beings, and don't spend much time thinking about it. This can change in one of two ways:

Atheism is the absence of religious belief, not just belief. An atheist's cosmology is a declaration of belief. Things like evolution and abiogensis are staples of this belief system.

Agnosticism is the philosophy that tries to break away from belief in general. No declarations of belief, just shades of gray and probabilities with nothing to evangelize other than its most likely impossible to know anything well enough to be completely sure of it.
posted by skallas at 10:31 PM on April 7, 2002


The author of this article should have spent some time in Oklahoma (where I grew up) saying that he/she doesn't believe in Jesus. Then, he/she might see that persecution of atheism really does exist, and really does effect the daily lives of "good" Americans.

I went to a public high school where they prayed to Jesus at every football game (this is in the $#@%ing 90's), had prayers on the intercom, & I almost got expelled for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. Bigotry can work in many ways.
posted by password at 10:31 PM on April 7, 2002


It's also a particularly egocentric belief system, that says "I not only have figured everything out, but all the rest of you are wrong".

Why are you saying this is only a problem in atheism? The theist makes the same declaration about his or her belief system. Do you really think the religious doesn't think this way? They've gotten it so figured out and picked from thousands of possible religions to the point where they believe it whole heartedly, attend church, follow scripture, etc.
posted by skallas at 10:34 PM on April 7, 2002


but saying you have it all figured out and there is NO higher power or order in our lives seems a wee bit presumptious to me.

You're referring to "strong atheism", the subgroup that believes that a god is not possible. The other side of the spectrum is "weak atheism" (which I've heard referred to as "apathism"), which rejects the existence of a god but doesn't necessarily rule out the possibility, providing that solid evidence is presented (none of which exists, according to them).

Did I get those right?

Anyway, I don't like the terminology and I didn't invent it, but there is it. I don't think atheists claim to "know" the answer, or that they have it "all figured out". It's more a refusal of religion based on the lack of evidence.
posted by Succa at 10:35 PM on April 7, 2002


skallas: I'm not saying that's only a problem in atheism. Like I think you said somewhere up above, the problem with religion is organized religion.

Succa: Agreed (although I don't know the terminology either), although what you're defining as apathism sounds closer to what I'm saying the majority of (at least) Americans believe and act upon on a daily basis. I just don't think that these folks necessarily "reject" the existence of a god as much as admit they cannot comprehend or understand the nature of him/her/it, and so go about their lives as best they can, trying to do the best they can. That's, of course, assuming that they really think about the question at all.
posted by yhbc at 10:44 PM on April 7, 2002


Password: I grew up in Oklahoma, too. I thought football was a religion.
posted by yhbc at 10:45 PM on April 7, 2002


what you're defining as apathism sounds closer to what I'm saying the majority of (at least) Americans believe and act upon on a daily basis.

Well, not quite, because apathism is still a rejection of god and religion. It's still atheism. The difference is that strong atheism is an anti-creationist stance: it argues that a god is not possible (from a scientific standpoint). Apathism rejects god but still allows the possibility, given demonstratable evidence.

Even between these groups, there are distinctions. It's more of a continuum than a black-and-white set of opinions. The terminology needs to be refined a little.
posted by Succa at 10:52 PM on April 7, 2002


Agnosticism is the philosophy that tries to break away from belief in general. No declarations of belief, just shades of gray and probabilities with nothing to evangelize other than its most likely impossible to know anything well enough to be completely sure of it.

There is a little distinction to be made here... An agnostic is someone who does not claim knowledge pertaining to the existence or nonexistence of God. At the same time, an agnostic may or may not believe that God exists.
posted by epimorph at 11:13 PM on April 7, 2002


I'd always heard it like this:

"strong" atheist - believes it is not possible that God exists
"weak" atheist - believes the issue is undecidable on evidence, but that the only reasonable default position is that God does not exist
agnostic - undecided on the existence of God
apathetic - sees the issue as being unimportant, since if God exists He does not seem to make an objectively measurable difference
deist - God exists, and created the universe, but does not intervene in it, or has abandoned it

On this scale, I'm a "weak" atheist to the extent that I'm not apathetic.
posted by kindall at 11:26 PM on April 7, 2002


epimorph, I think my definition is more accurate. From m-w.com:
: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and prob. unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
Its not the lack of knowledge like you suggest its that certain knowledge is unattainable or unattainable to the proper degree to become a belief at this time.

At the same time, an agnostic may or may not believe that God exists.

If an angostic does believe in a god then that person is no longer an agnostic. Short but good definition at religioustolerance.com Exceprt:
Agnosticism is a concept, not a religion. It is a belief related to the existence or non-existence of God.

An agnostic is a person who feels that God's existence can neither be proved nor disproved, on the basis of current evidence. Agnostics note that theologians and philosophers have tried to to prove, for millennia, either that God exists or that God does not exist. None have succeeded.

Are they Theists? No, because Agnostics do not believe in a God or a Goddess.

--snip

An agnostic usually holds the question of the existence of God open, pending the arrival of more evidence. They are willing to change their belief if some solid evidence or logical proof is found in the future.
posted by skallas at 11:31 PM on April 7, 2002


Skallas - My take on the whole business is colored by my significant philosophical training (I have a degree in philosophy). As such, I say it is desirable to clearly define the key terms being used. In this case, "belief" and "knowledge" are such terms. In the entire body of philosophy on the subject that I have read, "belief" is defined as a particular state of mind. Whereas, for a person X to know that the proposition Y is true at least two conditions must be met:
1) Y must be true
2) X must believe that Y is true.

Thus, on this view, knowledge is a much stronger condition than belief because it presupposes something about the world in general, and not just the mind of the person in question. I realize that such definitions of "belief" and "knowledge" do not exactly correspond to colloquial usage, but if we are going to have a serious discussion about religion, then precision is desirable, as I see it, and this is the best way to make things more precise (that I have seen).

Your quote from M-W actually is consistent with the distinction between "belief" and "knowledge" that I am drawing. It says that agnosticism pertains to knowledge, and as far as belief, agnosticism does not commit one to believing one way or the other. Thus, one may actually believe in God (or not) and still be an agnostic - the quote implies as much.

Furthermore, just for kicks, I suggest that you look up the etymology of the word "agnostic". It actually has the same root as the word "knowledge", plus the prefix "a-".
posted by epimorph at 12:01 AM on April 8, 2002


Thus, one may actually believe in God (or not) and still be an agnostic - the quote implies as much.

Sorry if I don't get pedantic too, but in any practical application someone who believes in god(s) falls into theist categories. What would an agnostic base her belief on god on? At that point she fails to be an agnostic as beliefs are usually the product of knowledge. It looks like you're saying that its technically possible to be both agnostic and believe in god on purely semantic terms and ignoring normal or colloquial definitions of those concepts. Its also possible for a Buddhist to be an atheist but we non-philosophy majors like to think as Buddhism as a religion and as such not having much in common with the modern atheist movement.

Yes, its common knowledge that gnosis means knowledge. You really come off sounding pretty condescending there, epimorph. Also, just as there are different types of theists and atheists there are also different types of agnostics. I would be surprised if one definition could ever include them all, so for the sake of communication we use colloquial terms and understanding.
posted by skallas at 12:23 AM on April 8, 2002


beliefs are usually the product of knowledge

Not sure I understand you here... I made explicit what I take the terms "belief" and "knowledge" to mean. On my view, knowing something presupposes believing it, not the other way around. You obviously understand the terms to mean something else. I wish you'd clarify your position.

its technically possible to be both agnostic and believe in god on purely semantic terms

Well, the differences between terms like "atheist" and "agnostic" are subtle. Maybe a little bit of technicality is called for. Btw, I claim that my definitions of "belief" and "knowledge" are not too far from the colloquial ones, just a little more precise.

You really come off sounding pretty condescending there

My apologies.
posted by epimorph at 1:06 AM on April 8, 2002


Well, the differences between terms like "atheist" and "agnostic" are subtle.

Are they really? In the context of the article and this thread its already been established that we're dealing with the more extreme or "hard" brand of atheism. Agnosticism has also been fairly established too. Sorry, but I'd rather not derail this into a pedantic investigtion into the etymology of every term. We're pretty far off the rail as it is.

What is important, I think, is how the American Atheists and the modern atheist movement is perceived and why with so many people describing themselves as non-religions and politically in-line with the American Atheists and other atheist groups just refuse to join their ranks. I don't see this as a semantic problem. I see the attitudes from noteworthy atheists, their almost dogmatic belief system, and their religious-bashing to be counter-productive and these things simply turn a lot of people off. The statement about "lobbying for reality" just shows an enormous amount of hubris and the AA look like any other religious group that seems to have all the answers and isn't afraid to yell them from the rooftops.
posted by skallas at 1:23 AM on April 8, 2002


Oh boy. So many arguments on mefi about religion...

First, as a long time atheist who's done the research, including a thorough read of a the bible, I'm going to start off with a couple of definitions that are generally accepted in many part of the online atheist community.

The differences are subtle, and largely semantic, but in a debate/argument, they can be very important.

generic atheism - an absence of belief in a supernatural, omnipotent, omniscient being, usually referred to as "god". If someone says they are "atheist", then this is all you can know for sure. You do not know if they are a weak or strong atheist or if they're just agnostic and don't know what they're talking about.

weak atheism: again, an absence of belief in "god". specifically, weak atheists are not making a statement about the state of the universe; they are making a statement about their beliefs as a result of what the universe has shown them.

strong atheism: the belief that god does not exist. Strong atheists tend to be the crankiest of the lot. The problem with strong atheism is that it's logically indefensible - because you can't prove that god doesn't exist without being one - ie., being able to look everywhere for it.

agnostic: one who holds that the question of god's existence is either unknowable, or meaningless. The agnostic viewpoint holds that there is know what that we can know if god does or does not exist, or if in fact, god was that bowl of jello maquerading as your lunch. A typical agnostic line of reasoning is so: God is generally defined as being "super-natural", super meaning above or outside of; nature meaning the universe as we know it. If god exists, then it's outside of the universe as we know it so.....why bother?

Note: it is possible to be an agnostic catholic, or an agnostic weak atheist. I'm not sure that strong atheism is compatible with agnosticism, though - as most self-labelled strong atheists think that agnostics are pussies that can't make up their minds.

The important difference between strong and weak atheism is where the burden of proof lies. With both agnosticism and weak atheism, the burden of proof lays with the religious. With strong atheism, it belongs on the atheist.

The devout says to the weak "God exists", the weak atheist replies "I don't believe you, prove it"....

The devout says to the strong atheist "god exists", and the strong atheist says "No he doesn't, here's why...."

The devout says to the agnostic "god exists", and the agnostic asks what's for lunch.

I tend to fall into the weak atheist category, because I prefer that the burden of proof rest on the religious. In any case, I think religious people are insane. Functionally insane - but I wouldn't trust my children with them.

Now, why do we care about this so called "repression" ?

Let me tell you. That article really did a very poor job of explaining much of anything.

Consider this: every time you sneeze, someone says "bless you" or "god bless you". It's not much. But you have 3 options. 1. ignore them. 2. say thank you. 3. tell them to shut up.

"bless you" bothers me for two reasons. First, it's a pavlovian response. People don't even realize they're saying it, so it's not like they have any real well wishes behind it. Second, it *requires* a response. If you don't respond - you're an asshole. If you tell them to stop it - you're an atheist - and what, you can't just say thank you? Thank you for what? Your pavlovian program for well wishes? The blessing of an imaginary friend I don't believe in?

Sure it's not a big deal - but if you've got allergies and it's ragweed season...you'll hear the words bless you more than anything else.

Church and state are not separate. The President is sworn in on the Christian bible. THe current president's father - the former president once made the statement in a press confernece - while president - that atheists were not fit to be American citizens. Shrub probably feels the same. When I testify in court, I have to swear on a book I don't believe in that I will tell the truth.

Laws about sex, marriage, drugs, and what time you can buy alchohol are all the result of religion influencing the law. Homosexuality is still illegal on many states books - because it is a sin. Marriage - a religious ceremony at it's heart - the only way to get a domestic partnership recognized in most states. Drugs? Illegal because of religion.

911 - that was about religion. THe middle east conflict - that's about religion.

Here's a little story to consider if you think that church and state should mingle about a state that was the church and how it fell apart:

The great roman empire was a Catholic empire for the most part - at it's height. I can't remember which side was which - but eventually there came to be split in the Roman church about the whole Duality vs. Trinity argument regarding the nature of god/jesus. One side believed in the father and the son. The other side believed in this father, son and holy ghost business - the "trinity". One was the N.West half of the empire, the other was the S.East part of the empire. Eventually, it became such a big argument that the church, and therefore the government, split down the middle. Unfortunately, the roman empire didn't have the resources to survive a split down the middle, so it fell.

It fell because they couldn't decide whether to genuflect with two fingers or three.

Let's keep church and state separate folks.
posted by jaded at 1:29 AM on April 8, 2002


Crikey - forgot a couple of small things - one of the issues so many atheists have with religion isn't it's existence. If you want to believe in god - fine - great.

But, religion is assumed, expected, and ubiqitous. It affects nearly every aspect of daily life in some way. It's that those who are religious are so hell-bent (if you'll pardon the expression...) on converting you and saving you. You don't have the atheist-witnesses knocking on your door early sunday mornings trying to convert you to godlessness. You don't have nearly every channel on TV turn to atheist rhetoric every sunday morning. The reason you can't buy liqour before noon on sunday is not because an atheist thought it was a good idea.

I have one president telling me I'm going to hell, and another one telling me to pray, and everyone who finds out that I'm an (oh gosh!) atheist thinking I have no morals.

And you know what? They're right - morals are generally derived from religious principles. It's moral to hold slaves and stone prostitutes to death, btw.

I do have ethics, though. And ethics keep me from doing bad stuff to people alot better than morals keep catholic priests from molesting little boys.
posted by jaded at 1:43 AM on April 8, 2002


According to Merrian-Webster:

BELIEF may or may not imply certitude in the believer . FAITH almost always implies certitude even where there is no evidence or proof .

And Atheism : 2 a : a disbelief in the existence of deity b : the doctrine that there is no deity

So atheism is about saying they don't believe in God existence, while many people heavily into religion has faith ..completely different thing. Faith isn't based on any evidence because it doesn't need evidence.

Now that we have a better understanding about the things we're discussing, I say that there is nothing wrong with atheism or religion, or faith or belief.

But Zealotry (eccess of devotion) is to be condemd because It's causing too much damage ; it doesn't need to be based on religion, there's zealotry also in people that proclaim communism/capitalism is THE way to go.

I also have doubt regarding proselytism ; I think it's wrong to impose complex, different religious point of views to childs in elementary school or kindergarten, because they don't already have enough elements to discern and they're completely open to anything they're exposed to. They first need to learn about logic, freedom and limitations to freedom, expressing feelings and respecting each other belief while being allowed to argument different topics.

About the influence of religions on governments ..well there should be none , and religious people working in government/law enforcement should abstain from promoting/enforcing their point of views at work, otherwise we may have serious trouble with, for example, and officier that doesn't apply or apply law the wrong way to some people and not to some other.

I think there is something very wrong with a President that wants to give funds/support to each and every religious organization in his country ; he should be fighting bureaucracy while he fight zealots , not indirectly giving funds to bureaucracy-like organizations.

posted by elpapacito at 1:54 AM on April 8, 2002


> why with so many people describing themselves as
> non-religions and politically in-line with the American
> Atheists and other atheist groups just refuse to join
> their ranks.

Because it doesn't matter.

Religion is a bubble. People who have it think they're different because of it, but they behave like all the atheists I know. (Or, if you prefer to look at it that way, the atheists behave like the religious people.)

If everybody became an atheist, it wouldn't, as many of the religious like to proclaim, change morals or the rates of suicide, murder, crime in general, out-of-wedlock births, divorce, or abortion. Nothing would happen. The religious are already as fucked up as they could get. Religion is a security blanket the religious are afraid to drop.

As long as they stay out of my hair -- and generally they do -- I care very little that hoards of people still believe in fairies and so on.

I don't worry much about maintaining the separation of church and state because conflicting religions already do a pretty good job of it. Jews and Christians and Muslims (and, to a lesser extent, members of other religions and activist atheists) sharing space around you make sure you don't have to look at a corpse on a stick all day.

The day the major religions all agree on something that significantly affects how I have to live might be the day I start worrying, but how soon do you think that day is coming? The religious would more likely kill one another than agree on something.
posted by pracowity at 1:58 AM on April 8, 2002


IANAL, but I believe if you don't believe in the bible you can request a non-religious swear-in in a court case.

Also, I would like to take this opportunity to announce the formation of The Church of The Latter Day Milkists Who Turned Out To Be Lactose Intolerant. Our religious war begins at 3pm sharp, bring tea and Swiss Miss.

"Death to the heathen milk drinkers and juice swillers!"
posted by owillis at 2:30 AM on April 8, 2002


Whoever bitched that I was painting all atheists with the same brush, you're right, because even after reading all of this I see no difference between agnosticism and "weak atheism" (which is new to me). The only way any distinction between ag and wa makes sense to me is if wa posits supernatural stuff other-than-and-excluding god(s).

Given that this is still my understanding, I do still posit that atheism is a theism in that it has a belief system regarding nature of the supernatural, while agnostics do not.
posted by NortonDC at 5:17 AM on April 8, 2002


No, it's not a belief system, it's one belief. Actually I prefer the word opinion. One opinion about one thing does not add up to a belief system. I'm an atheist and that's been a constant in my life since I was very young, but my opinions about the nature of the world (or belief system) change all the time based on experience.
posted by Summer at 5:31 AM on April 8, 2002


Which of these individual beliefs is not consistent with the label of "atheism":

There are no gods.
There are no devils.
There are no demons.
There are no angels.
The human body is not occupied by a pre-existing spirit.
The creation of a living human does not also create a spirit that survives the death of the body.
Miracles do not happen.
There is no afterlife.
There is no reincarnation.

I think there's room to call that a belief system.
posted by NortonDC at 7:20 AM on April 8, 2002


Only if your disbelief in, say, leprechauns and vampires and werewolves and Zeus and Odin and magic healing crystals and copper bracelets is itself a belief system apart from any other belief system you claim to follow. The "Selective Fantasy System"?

An infinite number of non-things can be imagined. These things do not exist outside the imagination. You cannot arbitrarily select a small subset of them and claim that disbelief in that subset a belief system.

I also do not belief in three-headed elephants. How does that fit into your little labeling scheme?
posted by pracowity at 7:42 AM on April 8, 2002


[Crappy typing -- "subset is a" -- "do not believe in" -- maybe more -- must drink coffee.]
posted by pracowity at 7:51 AM on April 8, 2002


Good points. Let me try another approach:

There are no disembodied beings.
The creation of a living human does not also create a spirit that survives the death of the body.
Miracles do not happen.
There is no afterlife.
There is no reincarnation.

I think those are all distinct.
posted by NortonDC at 8:22 AM on April 8, 2002


To reduce it to one:

No supernatural phenomena.
posted by LionIndex at 8:26 AM on April 8, 2002


Drugs? Illegal because of religion.

Wha? Huh? Plenty of drugs are taken as *part* of religious rituals. Your assertion is tosh on stilts.
It gets very tiresome reading people talking about 'religion' as one all-embracing uber-class of thought. Each sets its limits on human knowledge and what a person is expected to believe. I'd probably label myself as agnostic, although that hardly does justice to the idiosyncrastic way of looking at the world that I possess... like every 'Christian', 'Buddhist', 'Athesist' etc makes, to a greater or lesser extent, an individual interpretation of their chosen faith. For the most part I can admire the moral lessons of the New Testament and explore the psychological aspects of Buddhist thought without necessarily accepting wholesale everything either religion teaches. Choosy shoppers like myself can take the whole shebang if they want an Inscrutable Immutable watching their ass but can't decide on which God to side with.
I'm off to write an anti-Church of the Latter Day Milkists tract now. Their position is completely untenable and the world will be a better place when it has been cleansed of all feeble-minded lactophiles. It's Juicism or nothing, I'm afraid.
posted by RokkitNite at 8:27 AM on April 8, 2002


pracowity made a brilliant post about religion et al on easter.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:30 AM on April 8, 2002


I think there's room to call that a belief system.

Who gives a damn what you call it? Didn't take long for this to turn into a dorm-level semantic debate.
posted by Skot at 8:33 AM on April 8, 2002


I do have a belief system. It's much wider than just atheism though. I call it "believing in the evidence." I do not currently believe that the human body is ocupied by a pre-existing spirit. I also do not currently believe that a statue of Elvis constructed out of green cheese may be found on the surface of the planet Mars. I find both propositions unlikely, given what I do know about the world, but I'm totally prepared to believe either one if presented with convincing evidence.

I also have another belief system, which is based less on outside evidence as much as an a priori philosophy on how to relate to other people. I call it "treating other people the way I'd like them to treat me." I don't want religious types attacking my worldview in an arrogant way, so I don't attack their worldview in an arrogant way. I might not be so relaxed about it if I thought that religion really caused the dangerous lunacy often associated with religion, but I don't think that's the case. The dangerous lunacy comes from being human. Convert all the religious to atheists overnight, and they'd be just as likely to do nutty things or great things, but now the rationales would be different.
posted by tdismukes at 8:35 AM on April 8, 2002


From the article: "I was taught that because there was not God there was no such thing as right or wrong," Murray says on his Web site."

Ha. That's what most atheist-bashers just LOVE to imagine...that all atheists are somehow hedonistic, amoral, pleasure-mongers.

One of the most common misperceptions religionists have of atheists is that we are somehow "immoral," or have no principles. I suppose some atheists fit that category, but none that I know. In fact, I'm one of the more"principled" and moral people that I know. There is very clearly "right" and "wrong" in this world, and I always try to place myself firmly on the "right" side of living. The difference is that I have determined which principles and morals to live by, and it wasn't by thumbing through the bible or koran or torah, or accepting (blindly or not) the ravings of a minister or priest or rabbi or mullah or any other "man of the cloth." Leprechauns, vampires, ghosts, eskimos, gods, trolls...all the same to me. Oh, wait...trolls DO exist sometimes. :-) And the eskimo dig was a Homerism, in case you missed it.
posted by davidmsc at 9:00 AM on April 8, 2002


LionIndex
To reduce it to one:

No supernatural phenomena.


I think there may be wiggle room, especially regarding reincarnation, but it's not worth the fight.

So working with LionIndex's definition of atheism, what invalidates calling that another belief on the nature of the supernatural?

Skot - Save the whining for after you've contributed anything but.

davidmsc - Some wag defined Puritanism as the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere was having more fun than you.
posted by NortonDC at 9:41 AM on April 8, 2002


Just queries - why is belief/faith often derided as a form of 'mind-control,' but not atheism? And why is speech that derides religion not characterized as intolerant or hate-speech, as religion in general is criticized?

Actually, religion in general is rarely criticized as hate-speech. Foolish, yes. Improbable, certainly. A waste of time, definitely, but most atheists I know believe that most religious people are good people regardless of their religion.

Sorry if I don't get pedantic too, but in any practical application someone who believes in god(s) falls into theist categories. What would an agnostic base her belief on god on? At that point she fails to be an agnostic as beliefs are usually the product of knowledge. It looks like you're saying that its technically possible to be both agnostic and believe in god on purely semantic terms and ignoring normal or colloquial definitions of those concepts. Its also possible for a Buddhist to be an atheist but we non-philosophy majors like to think as Buddhism as a religion and as such not having much in common with the modern atheist movement.

Agnostic Christians tend to say that belief in God must be based on an improbable leap of faith. Examples of this argument include Pascal's wager (when in doubt, pick the option that promises the least severe consequences).

"bless you" bothers me for two reasons. First, it's a pavlovian response. People don't even realize they're saying it, so it's not like they have any real well wishes behind it. Second, it *requires* a response. If you don't respond - you're an asshole. If you tell them to stop it - you're an atheist - and what, you can't just say thank you? Thank you for what? Your pavlovian program for well wishes? The blessing of an imaginary friend I don't believe in?

While we are picking nits, it's not Pavlovian. Classical conditioning opreates on involuntary responses. It might be classical conditioning but most likely it is one of those things that really can't be explained well by radical behaviorism.

But addressing what you are getting to. I've never quite understood why "bless you" is an issue, even as an atheist. What it means is that the person wants me to believe that she or he wishes me well. I was raised on "gesundheit" myself which as an atheist makes more sense because I value good health more than the blessings of a non-existent deity, but still I can't see how the proper response can be anything but "Thank you." I treat it the same way I treat pre-printed greeting cards, I may find the method of delivery and form to be unforgivably tacky, but ultimately I appreciate the thought.

On the difference between weak atheism and strong atheism, I think the difference is so subtle that it really does not matter that much to outsiders. Bertrand Russel once said that although he is philosophically an agnostic (in that he did not believe the "god" question was answerable) he also identified as an atheist because politically there was very little distinction between not knowing if god exists, but doubting that god exists, and believing that god does not exist.

The difference comes down to burden of proof. Strong atheists take on the burden of proof to demonstrate that certain forms of god cannot exist. Strong atheists say, "god does not exist because..." Weak atheists place the burden of proof on theists. Weak atheists say, "I don't believe that god exists, because no reliable evidence for God exists." For an analogy, a strong disbeliever in cold fusion would say that it is impossible with our current understanding of the universe, a weak disbeliever would say that the evidence for cold fusion too weak and unreliable to support belief in it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:58 AM on April 8, 2002


Re: Milkists/Juicism -

"Follow the gourd! The Holy Gourd of Jerusalem!"
posted by yhbc at 10:05 AM on April 8, 2002


I don't believe the existence of God can be proven or disproven. Nor can the existence of Metafilter or Jelly Donuts. But I experience all three and that's good enough for me.
posted by Foosnark at 10:07 AM on April 8, 2002


Skot - Save the whining for after you've contributed anything but.

Oh, ouchie.

Whining? You have a remarkably sensitive detection device. Your sneering over contributing to the topic is amusing, given your predilection for straw men and useless labelling. ("Ah ha! You have a belief system! I am triumphant!") I doubt anyone cares if you feel a burning need to ascribe a particular mindset to certain people, but it sure seems like you care. So knock yourself out!
posted by Skot at 10:09 AM on April 8, 2002


Rokkitnite: about the drugs - you're right - I should have clarified.

There are many "tribal" cultures that use drugs on a regular basis. That happens to be, in fact, part of the reason that drugs are illegal. The dominant faith in the US happens to be Christianity (in it's various forms). Christianity says that to come closer to god, you must come to church, and pray, etc. That is threatened by the more earthly religions that allow you to get closer to god by running around in the forest tripping your ass off on shrooms.

And why go to church if you can find "god" on your own? Hence, xianity is threatened by psychotropic drugs and outlaws them.

I have no truck with "tribal" religions - shamanism, wicca, etc. I think they're a little kooky - but many of their practices work - whether you believe in them or not.

I do have a problem with a dominating religion taking over every aspect of government. Theocracies *always* fail.

Sorry for the misunderstanding.
posted by jaded at 10:46 AM on April 8, 2002


Both of these quotes are from Succa:

>Religion: "relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity" according to Merriam-Webster (actually, I looked up "religious" there but whatever).

>Atheism is more an opinion about religion, a rejection of the entire institution. It's not a religion.



>Proposition: Atheism is a theism, a belief system concerning the supernatural.

>Buh? The "A-" of "Atheism" is a negation, a refusal of theism. I'm not sure what you mean.

>And even if it is a belief system, it's still not a religion (in case someone was itching to throw that in).



I think you've missed something crutial in the definition, atheism is a relegion but it's not theistic. Note the words "faithful devotion". Any atheist who declares definitively that there cannot be nor is there a god is invoking faith. The possibility of _proving_ that no higher being is pulling the strings, that the big-bang was not invoked from outside, etc. is pretty much nil. That's a possibility that is basically impossible to prove. As is proving that a diety did do all of the above.

So as an agnostic, I reject atheism because I see it as a religion (faith based) but not theistic and thus cut from the same cloth as any other religion.
posted by johnmunsch at 11:35 AM on April 8, 2002


I think you can be an agnostic who sees mystery everywhere and thinks the universe is a wonderfully enigmatic place, and who because of this pursues lines of philosophical and scientific knowledge to better understand it, and then there's the agnostic who looks around at the all the warring factions and the arguments and counter-arguments and proofs and disproofs, and just goes 'Feh', shrugs, and plods off to the kitchen to see what's in the fridge.
I place myself firmly in the latter category, btw. There would, of course, be no milk-based products in my fridge, but that is by the by.
posted by RokkitNite at 12:15 PM on April 8, 2002


I don't belong to American Atheists, not because I don't want to, not because I don't agree with their positions. I don't join because I just don't care enough. I don't care if there is a GOD, I don't think that God exists, but that's my opinion. If people want to:
>Go to church and pray to some dude on a cross. I don't care
>Carve up goats,wear diapers and worship Baal. I don't care
>Screw hookers and beg for money on TV. I don't care
>Kneel on a rug facing a certain direction now and again. I don't care
People do weird stuff. I don't care. Leave me alone.
posted by patrickje at 12:29 PM on April 8, 2002


I think you can be an atheist who sees mystery everywhere and things the universe is a wonderfully enigmatic place, and who because of this pursues lines of philosophical and scientific knowledge to better understand it.

Because the universe is, in all regards, a damn interesting place to be, and one can't help but boggle at the immensity and complexity of it all. Boggle, and still not believe that there has to be a supernatural reason for it all.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:49 PM on April 8, 2002


NortonDC: davidmsc - Some wag defined Puritanism as the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere was having more fun than you.

What is that supposed to mean? I've heard that too, with the word "Republican" or "conservative" in place of Puritan. But - what the hey does that have to do with my comment?
posted by davidmsc at 3:16 PM on April 8, 2002


"tolerance, which is something the atheist "movement" should be aiming for."

but if you're an atheist and willing to be tolerant of others' views there are already places to go, the author said he was unitarian, unitarians are fine with atheism, so you could go to church there if you like going to meetings. or if you don't like going, then just don't. to join a group like this implies you have a problem with how some other people think. in the case of political atheism maybe that problem has more to do with theists enforcing their views on you, but even then i would argue that the ACLU does a better job than atheists of america. so whatever your views, there are better outlets than groups like this, and i'd say that's probably why they're all so small.

oh, and another fun thing for WWJD is "who wants jack daniels" from my scary time at a church school
posted by rhyax at 3:18 PM on April 8, 2002


davidmsc - The imagined other.

Ha. That's what most atheist-bashers just LOVE to imagine...that all atheists are somehow hedonistic, amoral, pleasure-mongers.
posted by NortonDC at 3:20 PM on April 8, 2002


Gotcha -- thanks NortonDC.

And BTW -- it's amusing how many times people have asked me, "So...you worship the devil?" when I reveal to them that I don't believe in god/a god. Any other MeFi atheists have that happen?
posted by davidmsc at 6:51 PM on April 8, 2002


tosh on stilts..

Did I miss a slang meeting? This has to be the funniest thing I've read today. [picturing Peter Tosh wobbling around on a pair of sticks].

If Atheism is a religion, count me in. Being one of the mellower atheists, I sleep til noon, eat pork and work on Sundays. Name one religion that allow that.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:37 PM on April 8, 2002


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