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Polly Toynbee
December 28, 2008 3:30 AM   Subscribe

My Christmas message? There's probably no God.
posted by chuckdarwin (165 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why is it that Atheists feel the need to tell everyone they don't believe in anything? I quietly go about my business, content in keeping my agnosticism to myself, and I'm blasted in the face by blowhard Atheists shoving their agenda down my throat..
posted by mediocre at 3:39 AM on December 28, 2008 [11 favorites]


Probably? So there's, like, 20% chance of god? That's some weak-sauce atheism.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 3:39 AM on December 28, 2008


I would ride the atheist bus - I love that idea.
posted by sfts2 at 3:39 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, the whole thing read like an excuse to use the word antidisestablishmentarianism in a context other then "What's a really long word?"
posted by mediocre at 3:40 AM on December 28, 2008


Nah, Saucy Intruder, that's just British reserve. The original slogan proposal was "God? Yes, very nice."
posted by No-sword at 3:58 AM on December 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


Why is it that Atheists feel the need to tell everyone they don't believe in anything?
In Ms Toynbee's piece she's offering some concrete examples of why it's necessary to remind the UK government that the vast majority of its citizens are secular and agnostic at best. She notes the rising influence of the religious in education - the academy schools are particularly vulnerable to take-over by some very whackjob evangelists it seems - and the undue role religion is afforded in our public life and on the airwaves by our public media. Religious figures have, at official invitation, an influence on public policy questions that far outweighs the constituency they represent.
But that said it's a bit thin as a post I reckon chuck, not just because it is an opinion piece but also because she's touching on issues in UK public policy that most readers here would need some background on before forming a view (me included).
posted by Abiezer at 4:10 AM on December 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Or more succinctly, the atheists are definitely on the side of the angels here.
posted by Abiezer at 4:12 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why is it that Atheists feel the need to tell everyone they don't believe in anything?

They aren't telling people they don't believe in anything -- they're telling people that they don't believe in God. And presumably, they do it because -- like the religious, they believe that people will be better off by following their example.

Why is it that people complain about atheists evangelizing, but don't complain about the much more ubiquitous evangelism from the religious? When atheists start disturbing me as I go about my daily business by knocking on my door to 'bring me the good news', then perhaps I'll give a shit about them doing it. Until then, it's still the God-botherers who'll continue to get on *my* tits.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:15 AM on December 28, 2008 [69 favorites]


Right, especially in this [gag] "holiest of seasons," it's the atheists who are blaring their astoundingly insipid agenda in your face every waking moment in every imaginable place.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:19 AM on December 28, 2008 [19 favorites]


Also: choosing to deliberate click on links titled 'There's probably no God' hardly counts as 'being blasted in the face by atheists'.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:27 AM on December 28, 2008 [15 favorites]


Why is it that people complain about atheists evangelizing, but don't complain about the much more ubiquitous evangelism from the religious?

Because atheists are a threat to religion in a way that religion isn't to atheism.

It's like they have open-sourced morality and are undermining the business model of religion.
posted by srboisvert at 4:34 AM on December 28, 2008 [37 favorites]


Probably? So there's, like, 20% chance of god? That's some weak-sauce atheism.

(My) Atheism isn't a positive statement that God definitely doesn't exist. It's the statement that it is a hypothesis that is not required by any existing data and therefore should be rejected by Occam's Razor. But that leaves some wiggle room for unneeded entities or entities needed by future otherwise-unexplainable events.

There's also some probability that the speed of light isn't really the effective max limit. That probability is a lot higher than God's existence, IMO.
posted by DU at 4:37 AM on December 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


You Brits are so cute worrying about the Queen's Christmas message. Here in America, where real men live, we worry about the President of Iran's Christmas message.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:38 AM on December 28, 2008


Why is it that Atheists feel the need to tell everyone they don't believe in anything? I quietly go about my business, content in keeping my agnosticism to myself, and I'm blasted in the face by blowhard Atheists shoving their agenda down my throat..

Here is my response from the last time we talked about the Atheist Buses. As far as agnostic versus atheist goes - it's a silly argument that mostly about words. If you fear god(s)'s wrath (or look foward to their grace) for some circumstances, I'd put you in one category, if you aren't actually concerned I'd put you in another. Self-described atheists/agnostics are in the latter category, and the difference in terminology seems mostly based around whether you want to talk about it or not.

If you really want to get hardcore, I'd place myself in the category of theological noncognitivism - I don't think most people's use of words like God has any "logical meaning" at all (it doesn't convey a proposition). Colorless green gods sleep furiously! Ironically, the child's view of god as a big guy in a white robe who lives above the clouds is a much more serious one, in a way. As we grow in to adults there is a tendency to realize the tenuous nature of such concrete views (Where are all the angels? Can't we take the plane higher?) and get more abstract. When you're done abstracting, I'm not so sure much is left intact except words use to describe feelings of transcendence, of deep intuitive ineffable sort of grokking, which get commingled with religious tradition.
posted by phrontist at 4:47 AM on December 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


god almighty! this is tiresome stuff. My mommy taught me that there was a tooth fairy, a god, and santa clause. My daddy told me to read the classics so I discovered that Homer had lots and ots of gods and we later folks were short changed. I really got pissed and stopped believing in any of that crap. Now I know that there is only the Easter bunny.
posted by Postroad at 4:57 AM on December 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


I'm blasted in the face by blowhard Atheists shoving their agenda down my throat..

Absolutely! Just two days ago in fact I went out to buy a packet of fags and I couldn't find an open shop for the life of me - it turns out the nasty Athiest Cabal have a law which punishes shopkeepers for opening on December 25th, which no doubt is Dear Leader Dawkins' birthday.
posted by dydecker at 5:03 AM on December 28, 2008 [25 favorites]


PeterMcDermott: Because I've never found myself wondering if there were too many evangelical Christian links making it to the front pages of MetaFilter, Reddit, and other sites I frequent.
posted by punishinglemur at 5:04 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think it's fucking weird that England pretty much shuts public transport down not only on Jesus' Birthday but also on The Day After Jesus' Birthday.

Why do Christians hate urban mobility?
posted by cmonkey at 5:15 AM on December 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


punishinglemur: Exactly. It's not door-knocking, but incessant internet chatter is just as if nor more so ubiquitous then door-to-door. If anything, it's MORE annoying and invasive because at least the Christians don't actively enter your home. Whereas the Atheist blogosphere do their damndest to get their message all over the most popular link aggregators. Christian propaganda gets filtered into my Spambox, Atheist agitprop gets MeFi'd, Fark'd, Redditt'd, Dugg, etc..
posted by mediocre at 5:18 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


For those who never RTFA, the first link is Elizabeth's annual Christmas message, which this year included:
I hope that, like me, you will be comforted by the example of Jesus of Nazareth who, often in circumstances of great adversity, managed to live an outgoing, unselfish and sacrificial life. Countless millions of people around the world continue to celebrate his birthday at Christmas, inspired by his teaching.

He makes it clear that genuine human happiness and satisfaction lie more in giving than receiving; more in serving than in being served.

We can surely be grateful that, two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, so many of us are able to draw inspiration from his life and message, and to find in him a source of strength and courage.
Fair enough, considering it's a bloody Christmas message, but remember that she's supposed to be the head of state and the head of the state church. At the other link, newspaper columnist and humanist Polly Toynbee offers an alternative Christmas message in which she discusses the ways in which religion is intertwined with government in the UK. Toynbee finishes with a reminder that there has been great support for the UK advertising campaign that puts the message "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" on the sides of city buses.

When atheists start disturbing me as I go about my daily business by knocking on my door to 'bring me the good news'...

Don't forget the church buildings. When atheists start building large clubhouses with slogans on signs out front, and when they put towers on the roofs and fill the towers with large noisemakers that they sound several times a day, that's when I'll start worrying that atheism is "always in my face" or "just another religion" or whatever the latest complaint is.

Certain atheists are just pushing back a little, and that feels strange to people accustomed to having religion everywhere while atheists remain relatively invisible.
posted by pracowity at 5:22 AM on December 28, 2008 [8 favorites]


Goddamn, I sure do hate Polly Toynbee.
posted by atrazine at 5:27 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh c'mon atrazine, what could be more traditional for a British Christmas than the mellifluous sound of wringing hands?
posted by Abiezer at 5:32 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hey guys? I didn't pay my five dollars for this. Not the post, which is thin at best and which I would not miss were it to be deleted, nor the antagonistic pissing match over not much of anything to which the conversation has so far been limited.

If possible, please re-rail this thing into something interesting. Please?
posted by Nonce at 5:50 AM on December 28, 2008


Yes, shut up you loud cranky atheist and go cut down a tree to celebrate my gods zombie son.
posted by pwally at 5:50 AM on December 28, 2008 [22 favorites]


Being that this is a News post that is very localized, I don't think that this topic had much "rail" to start with..
posted by mediocre at 6:11 AM on December 28, 2008


If anything, it's MORE annoying and invasive because at least the Christians don't actively enter your home.

Bollocks.

When the Christians come a knocking on my door -- which they do regularly -- I have to get up from whatever it was I was doing, lose my train of thought, listen to the first five seconds of their bullshit and then go to the trouble of telling them to fuck off and leave me alone.

When an atheist posts a link that I've got no interest in, I just don't click it.

Claiming that the latter is more intrusive than the former is just patent nonsense.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:12 AM on December 28, 2008 [19 favorites]


No, YOU'RE a towel!
posted by mediocre at 6:17 AM on December 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


True, it is embarrassing to be the only western democracy that has theocracy built into its legislature. The 26 bishops in the Lords interfere regularly: they are a threat on abortion, and their campaign sank the Joffe bill, giving the terminally ill the right to die in dignity. Of course they should not be there, when only 16% of people will grace the pews on Christmas Day, and Christian Research forecasts church attendance falling by 90%. But a dying faith clings hard to its inexplicable influence on public life.

There, now no one has to RTFA.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:17 AM on December 28, 2008



Being that this is a News post that is very localized


Funny how no one says that when it's a post about American religion.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:21 AM on December 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


Personally, I'm sick to death of the blowhard gamers, pushing their computer gaming agenda in my face on Metafilter. Who the fuck are these people, thinking we give a shit about Alternative Reality Games and the like?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:22 AM on December 28, 2008 [7 favorites]


Probably? So there's, like, 20% chance of god?

More like a .000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% chance
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:25 AM on December 28, 2008


So.. you're saying you could be wrong?
posted by mediocre at 6:30 AM on December 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


Funny how no one says that when it's a post about American religion.

You mean guns, cars, fast food and war?
posted by srboisvert at 6:35 AM on December 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


They should have went with Negativland's more succinct slogan: "Christianity is stupid. Give up."
posted by Manhasset at 6:36 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


PeterMcdermott - You choose to open the door. You could just as easily see that it is someone you don't know, carrying a bible, or wearing a LDS nametag and simply ignore them. But you don't, you choose to be annoyed by them. Just as I am choosing to be annoyed by internet atheists. You can choose to ignore the street preacher and the public monument, but you don't.
posted by mediocre at 6:39 AM on December 28, 2008



Why is it that Atheists feel the need to tell everyone they don't believe in anything?


In this case they're a subset of white people with money who, like all white people with money, feel you would err terribly if you didn't have access to their message that God doesn't exist, or God exists, or you should trust them to do all of the things that consume wealthy white people in the absence of actual problems.

(I'm sure there are atheists who are not white people with money, by the way. I have never seen anybody pay much attention to them.)

Apparently all these moneyed white people were asleep at the fucking switch when there were plenty of irrational economic fictions flying around. Where the fuck was the "There's probably no security in mortgage-backed investments" bus ad?
posted by mobunited at 6:41 AM on December 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think MetaFilter isn't necessarily about an even sampling of what exists so much as what is supposed to be interesting. Jesustime? Yeah, we've had several centuries of it. Aside from the occasional snake-handling lunatic and raids on compounds ranches, it's just no longer worthy of comment.

And, really, it's so ubiquitous that it's hard to notice unless you go actively looking for it. For example, drive as I might through the area, I cannot find any multiple-story buildings, dramatically lit and visible from a great distance, that are devoted to having clusters of atheists show up at assigned times and chat about how they don't believe in God.

We're seeing the atheist closet door creak open, and that's noteworthy.
posted by adipocere at 6:46 AM on December 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Oh goody, another excuse for annoying atheists and people annoyed by annoying atheists to fling poo at each other for several hundred comments. Best of MeFi!
posted by languagehat at 6:49 AM on December 28, 2008 [11 favorites]


(I'm sure there are atheists who are not white people with money, by the way. I have never seen anybody pay much attention to them.)

The poor Black atheists, like all Black people with no money, are too busy committing robberies and murder.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:49 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


So.. you're argument is "OMG, they have churches. HOW DARE THEY INFRINGE ON MY RIGHTS AS AN ANGRY INTERNET ATHEIST WITH THEIR ARCHITECTURE?!?!!?!?!:"!;/1oj;1r23jo;r12"
posted by mediocre at 6:49 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't see anything wrong with the message pracowity highlighted in his post; the queen said nothing about the church, she simply said some people draw inspiration from the teachings of Jesus. Rabindranath Tagore wrote,

Leave out my name from the gift
if it be a burden,
but keep my song.

posted by Restless Day at 6:52 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


How about both atheist and religious group stop knocking on my door? I prefer to draw my own conclusions through life experience, and not endless, unprovable debates.
posted by scarello at 6:55 AM on December 28, 2008


Personally, I'm sick to death of the blowhard gamers, pushing their computer gaming agenda in my face on Metafilter. Who the fuck are these people, thinking we give a shit about Alternative Reality Games and the like?

GAME OVER
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:00 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is funny how these ouroborosian arguments rarely feature any actual religious individuals. Just loudmouth atheists and apathetic atheists.
posted by mediocre at 7:01 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


PeterMcdermott - You choose to open the door. You could just as easily see that it is someone you don't know, carrying a bible, or wearing a LDS nametag and simply ignore them.

Don't be a bonehead. I work in the back of the house. My front door is at the front of the house. The doorbell rings, and so I go to open it, assuming that it's a lovely delivery from Amazon, or a registered package of some sort that has to be signed for.

I don't actually get to see who it is until I open the door.

If I could tell who it was beforehand, do you *really* think I'd be getting off my arse for all manner of people trying to persuade me to change my gas and electricity supplier, buy double glazing or read the Watchtower?

I've never had an atheist come knock on my door though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:01 AM on December 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


You're the bonehead if you answer the door to someone you can tell beforehand isn't welcome. Are you expecting a delivery? Are you expecting company? Is there any reason why anyone would come to your door? No? Then DON'T ANSWER IT. That's what I do. But then, I'm not looking for reasons to be annoyed with religion. Angry internet atheists are a much bigger presence in my life then any preaching Christian, because I just ignore them. Whereas angry internet atheists make sure to shoehorn their point into any unrelated conversation they can.
posted by mediocre at 7:07 AM on December 28, 2008


Oh goody, another excuse for annoying atheists and people annoyed by annoying atheists to fling poo at each other for several hundred comments.

So was that a poo-fling? Or not? I can't really tell.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:08 AM on December 28, 2008


Eponysterical!
posted by EarBucket at 7:08 AM on December 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


I feel like I've read this 100,000 times. 50,000 of them in the Blue. (But somehow, I keep comin' back...)
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:09 AM on December 28, 2008


i sense this is just a much a republican as it is an atheist article, but she doesn't want to come out and say that, as that would be really daring
posted by pyramid termite at 7:10 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why is it that people complain about atheists evangelizing, but don't complain about the much more ubiquitous evangelism from the religious?

this is Metafilter
posted by jpdoane at 7:11 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


i still remember stealing five bucks from my old mans wallet so i too could fling poo
posted by pwally at 7:11 AM on December 28, 2008


Man.. I must be bored if I am really getting into this circular argument for the billionth time.. I'm going to go to sleep..
posted by mediocre at 7:16 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're the bonehead if you answer the door to someone you can tell beforehand isn't welcome. Are you expecting a delivery?

I'm always expecting deliveries. Driving to the Post Office to pick up packages that I've missed is a pain in the arse. I'm also a good neighbour. My neighbours might knock on my door for any number of reasons. Finally, I keep open house for my friends and family. Any of them are perfectly at liberty to knock on my door unannounced or uninvited.

But then, I'm not looking for reasons to be annoyed with religion.

Yet you deliberately chose to intervene in a thread that was clearly labeled as being about atheism, so you're obviously looking for reasons to be annoyed with atheism. Don't we call this 'thread-shitting' when atheists do it in religious threads?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:18 AM on December 28, 2008 [13 favorites]


I WISH YOU GUYS WOULD JUST BECOME OBJECTIVIST EPISTOMOLOGISTS! Ayn Rand is the only true way to heaven.

There. Now we've been 're-railed', right?
posted by Bageena at 7:24 AM on December 28, 2008


I'm new to Metafilter, so I always click the link to listen to people excoriate steampunk. At work, no one even knows what steampunk is, so I can't complain about it without first explaining it, and then I get a reputation as someone with too much time on my hands. But I've only been aware of steampunk for a few years. Imagine what it's been like to spend my ENTIRE life in a religious society. And since I've been part of an invisible and polite minority, wherever I've worked or lived, I've had to shut up and live with it. Can you imagine how happy I am to listen to rude atheists complain? It's paradise, I tell you. Paradise.
posted by acrasis at 7:25 AM on December 28, 2008 [31 favorites]


Dear AskMetafilter: So TV have asked me to do a Christmas message, and I chose for my topic "selflessness". Any thoughts on how to illustrate this? I was thinking of a cutaway to shots of Doctors Without Borders immunizing wretches in Burundi, but then I remembered Prince Harry had that chat to a wheelchair kid. Wondering if the latter won't look a bit, er, "selfish". Obviously i'd prefer to use it because it's better PR for the family.

Sincerely, The Queen
posted by dydecker at 7:26 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Richard Dawkins keeps knocking on the door, demanding that I let him in.

It's really, really annoying, except that's it's his house and I had the locks changed.

I never knew he liked playing the Xbox.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:27 AM on December 28, 2008 [8 favorites]


Godhead look on us today
purse your lips as if to say
Something wise, deep and profound
but from its head comes not a sound
and none would hear it anyway
if Jesus were alive today
I wonder what he'd miss most
a woman, or the unspoiled coast?
the good old days are in the past
human woes have been recast.
And if Satan strolled the streets right now
no one would hear him anyhow.
Lonely gods will now retreat
drowned out by endless human feet
Zeus may lay a comforting hand
As Yahweh joins their ranks to stand
amongst forgotten gods long past
Humanity stands alone at last
Now raise up your glass and toast
the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
They shone so brightly in olden days
Scarce are now their golden rays
Gods of love, wisdom, storm, and squall
now I wonder if they were there at all.



As long as we're slinging ideological poo around, it may as well be in verse.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:27 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why is it that Atheists feel the need to tell everyone they don't believe in anything? I quietly go about my business, content in keeping my agnosticism to myself, and I'm blasted in the face by blowhard Atheists shoving their agenda down my throat..

I'm sorry, I was molested by Christianity as a child, and it's a cycle of abuse I cannot stop.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 7:28 AM on December 28, 2008 [8 favorites]


How about this:

[the scene: a college student standing on the sidewalk with a binder of pictures of Carl Sagan]

"Excuse me, do you have a minute for atheism?..." "Excuse me, do you have a minute for atheism?..." "Excuse me, do you have a minute for atheism?..." "Excuse me, do you have a minute for atheism?..." "Excuse me, do you have a minute for atheism?..." "Excuse me, do you have a minute for atheism?..." "Excuse me, do you have a minute for atheism?..."
posted by fuq at 7:38 AM on December 28, 2008


Silly people! Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive! I am both! I am quite certain there is no God, but I also recognize the entire lot of it as an unfalsifiable hypothesis! It is quite impossible to know the existence of God, and thus I am agnostic. Atheism deals with your belief in the presence of a God, agnosticism deals with the ability to know if there is a God.
posted by GoingToShopping at 7:45 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Even more excitingly, atheism and religiosity are also compatible, unless certain Buddhists of my acquaintance are in fact just pulling my chain (of causation).
posted by Abiezer at 7:49 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think that treating it like a zero-sum game is stupid. There's probably no Christian god, but there's probably not nothing either. It's fun (for a while) to watch the extremists have a tug-of-war over who's right, but seems pretty unlikely that either of them are.
posted by hermitosis at 7:50 AM on December 28, 2008


Aha! This is the secret pincher attack in the War on Christmas, isn't it?
posted by maxwelton at 8:06 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Because atheists are a threat to religion in a way that religion isn't to atheism.
It's like they have open-sourced morality and are undermining the business model of religion.


So Atheism is like Firefox and Christianity is like IE? That works for me.

How about both atheist and religious group stop knocking on my door? I prefer to draw my own conclusions through life experience, and not endless, unprovable debates.

HERETIC!!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:10 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hah, I read mediocre's post as a joke and was all prepared to laugh, but apparently not.

Well, in the real world, your changes of hearing anything from atheists, agnostics or any other unbeliever are zero compared to the endless indoctrination by theists you experience your whole life.

The only reason non-believers run ads is to point out that despite all the shouting by theists, there are a lot of us and we're not monsters.

Honestly, if you guys just left us alone to live our lives, you'd never hear from us again.

Non-believers are responsible for zero of our wars (no, Hitler, Stalin and all those bad guys weren't non-believers, they were "Communists" or "Socialists" or the like, committing crimes in the name of a deep belief in their cause - you aren't going to get people excited by a lack of belief), form a disproportionately small group of prison goers, underage mothers and the like - and yet we're constantly being told that we're immoral, evil people who'll face an eternity of infinite torture no matter how good our actions are, essentially disenfranchised from public office in most parts of the country, and forced to pay our money to support other people's beliefs to boot.

If you live in such a tiny little world that the tiny "Atheism 2.0" movement on the web occupies such a large part of it, surely you need to get out more?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:45 AM on December 28, 2008 [9 favorites]


Metafilter: Endless, unprovable debates

So Atheism is like Firefox and Christianity is like IE?

What happens if you run Firefox under Ubuntu Christian Edition?
posted by lukemeister at 8:48 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you hate Christmas so much, why don't you go to work that day?
posted by Stynxno at 9:00 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why is it that Atheists feel the need to tell everyone they don't believe in anything?

I don't feel any such need at all, generally. At least partly because there are things I do believe.
posted by longsleeves at 9:13 AM on December 28, 2008


Because a day off is a day off?
posted by empath at 9:13 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


A 2005 study by Gregory Paul looking at 18 democracies found that the more atheist societies tended to have relatively low murder and suicide rates and relatively low incidence of abortion and teen pregnancy.
Despite this,
According to a 2007 Gallup poll, a majority of Americans say that they would not vote for an otherwise qualified atheist as president, meaning a nonbeliever would have a harder time getting elected than a Muslim, a homosexual, or a Jew.
It's no longer fashionable to say that blacks shouldn't vote, that women should stay in the kitchen, or that gays should stay in the closet. These things are no longer said (publicly, at least), not because Good Christians had a change of heart, but because blacks braved firehoses and police dogs, because women marched and because gays rioted, all to insist that they had human rights and human dignity. You can't abolish Jim Crow, pass the Nineteenth Amendment, or secure gay marriage by sitting still and relying on your oppressors' decency to change their hearts.

People who insist that atheists sit down and shut up know this; that's why they tell us it's so unseemly to see us standing up for our rights and our human dignity against these pious bigots.

Well, screw you. We aren't asking you or your preachers to shut up, in most cases we aren't trying to convert you;we just want to live our lives. But we're not going to quietly sit at the back of the bus, return to the kitchen or the closet, and listen to your pious lectures that question our morality and attempt to deny us our rights (or even question our citzenship, as President Bush 41 did).
posted by orthogonality at 9:14 AM on December 28, 2008 [43 favorites]


If you hate Christmas so much, why don't you go to work that day?

What crazy person goes to work when they're told they don't have to?
posted by cmonkey at 9:15 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's probably no Christian god, but there's probably not nothing either.

Sure, let's compromise with theism. Put witches in tanning beds instead of bonfires, have a pope who just doesn't get laid very often, teach that Jesus' body twitched a bit three days after the crucifixion. I can live with that.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:15 AM on December 28, 2008 [10 favorites]


It's like this, fellas. The world is like a movie theater, and the movie playing is Life. Most of us watching the movie have some opinion of how it's going and what it's all about. Proselytizing Christians and Atheists are the jackasses who feel the need to talk through the whole thing, loudly expressing their opinions about the movie and how it's going to end.

The Christians might be right. The Atheists might be right. The point is, the rest of us don't care. We just want you to shut the fuck up and stop pestering everyone else in the theater who's just trying to enjoy the movie.

The main problem with both of you groups of annoying twats is your overwhelming sense of self-importance. You apparently both believe that you're doing something extremely significant by spouting your views -- every aspect of which has been already been hashed, rehashed, and packed away, taken out, warmed in the oven and then hashed a few more times, over the past couple of millennia -- to a world that for the most part neither asked for or particularly gives a rat's ass about what you think. But your proselytizing is of no interest to anyone but yourselves and your equally rabid opponents.

Everyone has heard your arguments. They add nothing new or interesting to the global conversation. Go do your tiresome arguing about the hereafter in some online club devoted to atheist/religious debates.

As far as the question of which-proselytizing-camp-is-less-irritating goes, though, I have to give the edge to Christians, since they at least believe they're commanded to do so by some higher power, whereas Atheists are motivated primarily by their own desperate craving for self-justification.
posted by Byun-o-matic at 9:16 AM on December 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


That's a long post from someone who doesn't particularly give a rat's ass!
posted by applemeat at 9:27 AM on December 28, 2008 [11 favorites]


Stalin and all those bad guys weren't non-believers, they were "Communists" or "Socialists" or the like, committing crimes in the name of a deep belief in their cause

Part of that belief was that religion needed to be abolished. And so he, along with Mao, and Pol Pot, and plenty of others, did blow up temples, did send people into labor camps and exile, did execute people for believing. So don't double-standard this. If you can blame religion for war, crime, and underage mothers (?), at least own up to the way atheism - enforced politically in much the same way the religious have tried to enforce religion - was used as a justification for genocide.

And I emphasise used as a justification for - not caused. most of my friends are atheists, and they cite their atheism as part of the reason why they have a fascination with the natural world, or why they're exploring the mind sciences, or philosophy. If that's what they draw their inspiration from, if that's what makes them the wonderful people I know today, then I don't see a problem with it. So no, I wouldn't compare any of them to Stalin.

By the same token, faith can also be drawn upon to do good works in the world, and a lot of great people have cited their faith as their source and inspiration for the good they do. Faith is a tool that can be used to create both embetterment and harm - compare, for example, Fred Phelps and Jimmy Carter.

My point is that faith, or lack thereof, are by themselves neutral. It's what a person does with those things that matters. There's been a fair amount of shoutyness and accusation in this thread, but I think the author of the article makes a number of decent points. So thanks for the post.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:32 AM on December 28, 2008 [13 favorites]


I desperately want a t-shirt that says: Antidisestablishmentarianism is on the march!
posted by Kattullus at 9:34 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's funny, I was just talking about these atheist bus things the other night as the figgy pudding was produced. Everyone at the party (religious and non-) came to a similar conclusion about why they bothered us, which is I laid out as follows in a less Scotch-infused but kind of prolix and perhaps totally naive way:

These buses, as well as some of Dawkins' radio and television interviews, treat religion as a big scary logic flaw. They point out that the core element of theism (big invisible God) is unprovable and that if we allow unprovable statements to be made willy-nilly, we can easily see the arbitrariness of, say, the Christian God being accepted as any sort of premise. This is all fine as an intellectual exercise.

The problem with this in practice comes for me with the fact that it is very, very hard to live your life as a product of a logically impervious axiomatic system, based exclusively in premises you can lay syllogistic hands on. Without any artificial heuristics, like "the people I love are generally not lying about unverifiable things like their love for me". Without any unprovable statements. I find it extremely hard to believe that Dawkins does live such a life.

Additionally, if you're treating life as a logic problem, what are you solving for? Seriously: Life is being lived by millions of people who don't know what they're solving for. And even if you know what you're solving for, (and if you do tell me how you did it, honest question, I would actually like to know, mail me) you're going to have to interact with people who don't.

David Foster Wallace said it much better than I could in his commencement speech:

"Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you."

Saying "There's probably no God" is a funny PR move that's guaranteed to help move lots of Dawkins book-units, but it's absolutely condescending, dismissive and cold. It communicates zilch to those who practice religion.

Maybe if you're a considerate atheist and you have relatives or friends who believe in some goofy invisible higher power in a way that perplexes you, instead of being silently repulsed (as to be fair I often did just after I had lost faith in the Reconstructionist Judaism I was brought up with) you could ask them, as sincerely as you can: How does this help you?
posted by goldfinches at 9:44 AM on December 28, 2008 [15 favorites]


Non-believers are responsible for zero of our wars

there are no such things as "non-believers"

---

The world is like a movie theater, and the movie playing is Life.

and people are mere passive observers and consumers of it, content to be entertained - what an sad commentary on our current society that an analogy like this can be made and sound reasonable

a point that has nothing to do with belief in religion, by the way ...
posted by pyramid termite at 9:45 AM on December 28, 2008


whereas Atheists are motivated primarily by their own desperate craving for self-justification

If I don't get a constant dose of self-justification, I get the shakes real bad.

Who doesn't love the double standard? There are countless Christian political organizations whose only purpose is to diminish our freedoms, whereas atheists who point this out are called jackasses.

Those poor, threatened apathetics. All these people going around caring, but no one cares for their beliefs!
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 9:47 AM on December 28, 2008 [7 favorites]


It is funny how these ouroborosian arguments rarely feature any actual religious individuals. Just loudmouth atheists and apathetic atheists.

Which are you?

The problem with this in practice comes for me with the fact that it is very, very hard to live your life as a product of a logically impervious axiomatic system, based exclusively in premises you can lay syllogistic hands on.

There seems to be a vast expanse between "living your life as a product of a logically impervious axiomatic system" and choosing a specific religion as an axiomatic system. There are plenty of people who can find ethical justification for what we consider "good behavior" without relying on an authority figure to tell them what it means to be good.

My point is that faith, or lack thereof, are by themselves neutral.

I think that Dawkins' point is that faith is not neutral. It is demonstrably bad, in that it leads people to do things for irrational reasons. While I find Dawkins and many atheists annoying, there is something to be said for the basic argument that surrendering your self-control to something so amorphous as faith is asking for trouble.

David Foster Wallace said it much better than I could ...

I know everyone here loooves DFW, but that was bullshit. There are plenty of people who just live, without worshiping anything at all. I suspect this includes most religious people, who pay lip service to their gods but don't constantly think "what would God want me to do."
posted by me & my monkey at 10:01 AM on December 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also:

i sense this is just a much a republican as it is an atheist article, but she doesn't want to come out and say that, as that would be really daring

I think there's some truth to that. I'm not British, and don't live in Britain, but it would annoy me to no end that a wealthy, sheltered family should be given certain hereditary powers in a supposedly advanced democracy. Tell us, British Mefites: how seriously does the average Brit take the Queen's Christmas message, anyway?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:02 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course there's no god. Actually, I am a militant agnostic. I don't know, and you don't either. But secretly,I do know. I do.
posted by newfers at 10:02 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think that Dawkins' point is that faith is not neutral.

Well, I'm not arguing with Dawkins, though. I'm aware of his position and I disagree with it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:04 AM on December 28, 2008


I hope some unknown god of some tribe buried deep in the wilderness comes down and stamps his foot and sends us all into burning hell for eternity for not knowing the one true god.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:11 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


If there is one thing I hate, it is having to move about my house. Fuck religion!
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:20 AM on December 28, 2008


Tell us, British Mefites: how seriously does the average Brit take the Queen's Christmas message, anyway?
It comes on in the afternoon after you've just had your massive blow-out dinner. You slump half-pissed on dubious sherry on the settee, paper hat askew, and doze through it. At most your mum comments on how well Her Maj is holding up for her age and no-one listens to a word of it. Committed republicans may take the opportunity to make a few wisecracks.
posted by Abiezer at 10:22 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


This lady is a little shrill but her point is not "Hey you guys did I mention I'm an atheist??? You ought to be one too!!!" but "Religion has excessive influence on the laws made in this country," a statement which I wouldn't think MeFites would find all that controversial. But since that wouldn't give us much to argue about, we can totally keep up the tired debates about whether Stalin is the fault of atheism or not.
posted by naoko at 10:22 AM on December 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


But since that wouldn't give us much to argue about, we can totally keep up the tired debates about whether Stalin is the fault of atheism or not.

Since I just received a rather nasty MeMail asking me about this as well, I'll repeat what I said, for emphasis:

"If you can blame religion for war, crime, and underage mothers (?), at least own up to the way atheism - enforced politically in much the same way the religious have tried to enforce religion - was used as a justification for genocide. And I emphasise used as a justification for - not caused."

I'm not saying atheism caused Stalin, in any way, shape or form. I'm saying he used it as a reason for doing bad things. As I said, faith or the lack thereof is a tool. Just as I wouldn't blame the Ginsu Corporation for the stabbing death of some guy down my street. Thanks!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:31 AM on December 28, 2008


it is very, very hard to live your life as a product of a logically impervious axiomatic system

Can I beat on that strawman when you're done?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:42 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hmmm "we're constantly being told that we're immoral, evil people who'll face an eternity of infinite torture no matter how good our actions are".

I think this is a personal problem. I'm an atheist & I just don't get that. Could it be you've got a huge chip on your shoulder? Didja see the column in the NYT about how a majority of American Christians believe you go to heaven based on goodness not "accepting Jesus" and this applies to people of all religions and non-believers?

Anyway, the idea that Stalin doesn't count as an atheist because he believed in Communism is, like the bar, extra nutty. 'Cause I didn't know that as an atheist I wasn't allowed to believe in philosophy, ideology or political dogma. But I'm not a good atheist because I like living near churches. So far pretty harmless. I even vote in one. My friend goes to one and sometimes afterwards we have lunch together. Mmmm.... lunchtime.
posted by Wood at 10:43 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just as I wouldn't blame the Ginsu Corporation for the stabbing death of some guy down my street.

Ginsu owners' manuals don't celebrate Ginsu customers' long history of murdering the users of other brands of knives.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:44 AM on December 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think I agree with Toynbee but that writing style is so repulsive.
posted by bhnyc at 10:44 AM on December 28, 2008


Ginsu owners' manuals don't celebrate Ginsu customers' long history of murdering the users of other brands of knives.

Thanks for utterly missing my point in order to sneak in a little jab at the Bible.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:55 AM on December 28, 2008


Thanks for utterly missing my point in order to sneak in a little jab at the Bible.

The point is that they're different kinds of things, and that you cannot analogize between them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:58 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The point is that they're different kinds of things, and that you cannot analogize between them.

In so far as they're both tools which can both be drawn upon to justify doing evil, or to inspire someone to do great things and put some good in the world, yes, I can.

See, this is why I felt the need to emphasise that in my experience, the atheists I know are great people who cite their disbelief in God as a motivation for wanting to learn more about the universe or the human mind (not to say religious people don't also want to learn more about the universe and the human mind, of course). I felt it necessary to preface my point in this way so as to show more clearly where I'm coming from and, in part, to avoid this kind of knee-jerk defensiveness, e.g., I'm saying atheism caused genocide. That's rubbish and wasn't remotely what I was talking about. My point was just that they are both tools for action, and the actions are the sum.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:06 AM on December 28, 2008


Committed republicans may take the opportunity to make a few wisecracks.

Do we even have any committed republicans in the UK since the late Sir Thomas Dalyell of the Binns, 11th Baronet (Eton, Cambridge) gave up the ghost? As someone else pointed out, the article had less to do with republicanism, and more to do with the fact that we have a single established church -- the Church of England -- at the centre of our state. Which means that a bunch of bishops get automatically appointed to the second chamber of our parliament, solely on the basis that they happen to be associated with one particular church. It's an anachronism in a modern, multi-faith and multi-cultural society, and we do it that way because that's how we've always done it. Perhaps we should start appointing an equal number of unelected Muslims and Jews to the House of Lords to provide religious parity?

That said, there are those who don't believe that being an atheist is any bar to being a Bishop in the C of E, so make of that what you will.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:17 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


So this British person is up in arms because the supreme and consecrated monarch of a democracy mentioned Jesus in a Christmas missive, and her argument is that RELIGION is archaic? I love it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:18 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


In so far as they're both tools which can both be drawn upon to justify doing evil, or to inspire someone to do great things and put some good in the world, yes, I can.

Well, sure, but you could also blame you cereal having too much sugar in it. You can claim that just about anything is a cause of doing evil, but that doesn't mean that all things can be analogized between them. What's a Christian doing make such postmodern arguments?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:18 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Marisa, I understood what you meant (and thought it was very well-phrased), and you're right, I oversimplified what you said. If you look at any MeFi (or elsewhere) thread on religion ever, though, you'll notice that the Stalin/Mao debate has really been done to death. That's all I'm saying.
posted by naoko at 11:21 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, Polly Toynbee is an elitist hypocrite -- complete with a villa in Italy -- and a Labour apologist. For her, they can make mistakes, but do no wrong.. or at least do no wrong that they deserve to be held accountable for.

She feels that Liberal Democrats should be subordinate to Labour, but embraces all of Labour's obvious mistakes, and never looks for better solutions.

Really, the term "champagne socialist" was made for her... or rather, she was born into it.
posted by markkraft at 11:23 AM on December 28, 2008


Well, we've got strawman and ad hominem fallacies going nicely. Anyone care to take a crack at post hoc ergo propter hoc?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:33 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


So this British person is up in arms because the supreme and consecrated monarch of a democracy mentioned Jesus in a Christmas missive, and her argument is that RELIGION is archaic?

Which British person? Polly Toynbee never even mentioned the Queen's speech, and her argument was that it's archaic to have an established religion at the centre of a modern parliamentary democracy.

Now she may be the very worst of all of our elitist champagne socialists (and it may just be me, but give me a champagne socialist over a champagne conservative, any day of the week) but can there possibly be a single rational person in this thread that disagrees with her fundamental point? Is there even one (aside from chuck darwin, who summarized it way upthread for those of you to lazy to bother R'ing the Fing A) capable of even reading it, for that matter?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:35 AM on December 28, 2008


If you look at any MeFi (or elsewhere) thread on religion ever, though, you'll notice that the Stalin/Mao debate has really been done to death. That's all I'm saying.

That's certainly fair enough. I don't like seeing that kind of attack on atheism, either, because these are my friends we're talking about. People I really care about. Not Stalin and Mao, that is.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:38 AM on December 28, 2008


As a dedicated agnostic, I find it increasingly harder in life to not favor Chiristians over Atheists when it comes to these kind of quarrels.

Christians are people of personal faith, who accept God despite their lack of reason.

Atheists are people of reason, who deny God based on an act of personal faith.

At least the Christians are consistent.
posted by markkraft at 11:41 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Christians are people of personal faith, who accept God despite their lack of reason.

Atheists are people of reason, who deny God based on an act of personal faith.


And begging the question enters the race with a strong showing by markkraft! But we're still looking for a strong post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, if anyone's got it in them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:46 AM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


She never once mentioned resurrecting the dead on planet Jupiter.
posted by Tacodog at 11:46 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Polly Toynbee never even mentioned the Queen's speech, and her argument was that it's archaic to have an established religion at the centre of a modern parliamentary democracy.

I'm personally glad she said it. I always feel reluctant to cross the subject because I wasn't raised under such a system, and figured that Britain being a democracy that can be changed by the people, maybe they just like having a state church. Or don't feel the state church is that big a threat to their democracy. I honestly don't know what the discussion has been like in the UK with regards to this. She says there will be a very low percentage of people in church on Christmas Day, and that church attendance is expected to fall, but what percentage of British citizens support a separation of church and state?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:48 AM on December 28, 2008


Anyway, the idea that Stalin doesn't count as an atheist because he believed in Communism is, like the bar, extra nutty.

I think the main problem with using Stalin as an example of an atheist that committed horrific crimes is that he came to epitomize the cult of personality. He held himself up to his subjects as an infallible object of worship. Stalin was a self-anointed god-king who declared himself the living embodiment of a perfect ideology. That's pretty far from contemporary atheism in most of the world outside North Korea.

Besides, this whole line of argument doesn't make any sense. Why do Stalin, Hitler and Mao always have to come up in these discussions? Are there atheists who claim that religion holds a monopoly on insane murderous ideology? Communists and theocrats alike scare me. I don't care if Communists share my lack of belief in gods, I still consider them dangerous lunatics because of their devotion to an infallible utopian ideology which has inspired and justified untold harm in the past.

I simply hope we can bury this non-sequitur for good.

Now, if there was an FPP about how cults of personality are the new liberal democracy, I think Stalin, Hitler and Mao might be relevant cases.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:54 AM on December 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Sorry about that, P.G. I will try a bit of post hoc ergo propter hoc for ya...
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mrs. Toynbee herself points out that church attendance in Britain is down sharply, and yet acknowledges that atheists in Britain are becoming far more outspoken.

Clearly, this shows the decline of religion as a major factor in British life will do absolutely nothing to silence the increasingly obnoxious behavior of its critics. Indeed, quite the opposite / more of the same seems likely.

If these "outspoken atheists" were on the internet, we'd call them trolls. But they are Britain's effete elite, so we call them intellectuals.

But really, isn't it just trolling-for-dollars at this point?!
posted by markkraft at 12:11 PM on December 28, 2008


(Or trolling-for-pounds.... depends on whether you're talking about Christopher Hitchens or not, really.)
posted by markkraft at 12:14 PM on December 28, 2008


I simply hope we can bury this non-sequitur for good.
You might need a slightly less Mickey Mouse version of Soviet history to achieve that, but I'd agree it's a whole other argument.

markkraft - as PeterMcDermott points out (whilst failing to notice I'd tried to make a similar point earlier *sniff*) it's fairly hard to disagree with her basic line whatever you think of the woman; religion plays a far larger part in our public life than its constituency supports. I've no time for her commentary usually but it's not her fault here that the discussion has been our regular re-hash rather than a response to what she wrote.
posted by Abiezer at 12:17 PM on December 28, 2008


The evil shared by Communists and Christians alike is that there is a deterministic goal to history. They both believe that because the end is just and preordained, the means are not subject to moral restraint.

It's pretty difficult to twist atheism this way, despite the strident efforts of its enemies.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 12:18 PM on December 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


But really, isn't it just trolling-for-dollars at this point?!

*claps*
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:20 PM on December 28, 2008


Frankly, if Labour had the inclination for constitutional reform, first priority should be ending our disastrous first-past-the-post voting system.

Smart one, there. Very few bother to assume that our underlying systems of social choice actually determine the social milieu.
posted by Brian B. at 12:26 PM on December 28, 2008


I know everyone here loooves DFW, but that was bullshit. There are plenty of people who just live, without worshiping anything at all.

Not by Wallace's conception of worship. If you mean there are plenty of people who don't devote themselves to any of the popular conceptions of deity, sure. But there are a lot of things to devote yourself to besides those, and most of us do, the prayer wheel of the routines of our lives whirling out a bit of worship every day, our habits of thinking becoming the creeds we recite and see the world through. And that's pretty much half of Wallace's point, the other half being that it's the default human condition to gravitate towards Youth or Beauty or Sex or Wealth or Power or Intellect or Achievement etc etc etc, and it takes some work and often a good framework to opt out of that trap and into a discipline that will keep the places for the lower-case versions of all those things in your life.

I agree Wallace may have stumbled by using the term "atheist" here because one may indeed be an atheist and still worship something that's not a religious deity. And it's pretty clear you don't need to be a theist to see this problem -- there are non-theistic eastern religions and parts of western philosophy that engage it.

But I don't think he stumbled using the term worship and implying that everyone does it. It isn't particularly controversial to state that worship isn't so much your religious profession as it is the focus of your habits and devotions.
posted by weston at 12:30 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Penn of Penn and Teller on evangelism:
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:35 PM on December 28, 2008


And that's a totally dishonest use of "worship" that seeks to confuse the issue and disguise the fact that religious worship is fundamentally different from other modes of feeling a certain way about something. It endlessly pisses me off the way religious people are constantly redefining religion- not in order to suit their needs and purposes but for the purpose of asserting that their beliefs and activities are somehow integral to the human condition and that the non-religious are just as bad as they are. I do not feel about anything the way Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or other faiths feel about their gods. I do not come to ethical principles or metaphysical positions the way religious people do.

We are not like you in this area, and the constant stream poorly-reasoned, nose-in-the-air, condescending bullshit to the effect that we're just as bad is infuriating.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:38 PM on December 28, 2008 [8 favorites]


Although I would admit to having a small shrine to Gabe Newell, and offering him offerings and prayers.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:50 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The evil shared by Communists and Christians alike is that there is a deterministic goal to history. They both believe that because the end is just and preordained, the means are not subject to moral restraint.

Which is to say, theism and atheism are more or less orthogonal to the real issue, which is whether or not one has principles that would restrain the means, and whether the lure of ideological purity leads one to sacrifice them on the altar of the ends.

It's pretty difficult to twist atheism this way, despite the strident efforts of its enemies.

Atheism's critics are frequently guilty of leveling incorrect accusations about a lack of moral compass, but when Mao and Stalin come up, they're rarely an attempt to tar every last atheist as an endorser of death squads, mass graves, and general totalitarian oppression. Rather M&S come up as a response to a certain stripe of atheism that isn't shy about a reverse accusation. And in this context, they're fairly handy demonstrators that theism itself is not necessary to produce war, oppression, and death.
posted by weston at 1:05 PM on December 28, 2008


Hey guys? I didn't pay my five dollars for this. Not the post, which is thin at best and which I would not miss were it to be deleted, nor the antagonistic pissing match over not much of anything to which the conversation has so far been limited.

Holy shit, we're not meeting Nonce's standards. We're going to get fired! Oh wait, that's right.
posted by bonaldi at 1:05 PM on December 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


And that's a totally dishonest use of "worship" that seeks to confuse the issue

PG, I can see from your comment that you dislike that construction, but I can't see any construction of what an "honest" use of "worship" would look like. In what way do you think it's genuinely misleading to suggest that worship isn't so much your religious profession as it is the focus of your habits and devotions?
posted by weston at 1:06 PM on December 28, 2008


Are there atheists who claim that religion holds a monopoly on insane murderous ideology?

yes - and it's been posted here several times, although not in this thread

---

And that's a totally dishonest use of "worship" that seeks to confuse the issue and disguise the fact that religious worship is fundamentally different from other modes of feeling a certain way about something.

actually, wallace was pointing out a deep truth about humanity - that you deny it says more about yourself than it says about him

I do not feel about anything the way Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or other faiths feel about their gods.

as a person who doesn't believe in those gods, how can you know that?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:11 PM on December 28, 2008


Most religious people, particularly where I live in the American South, don't worship at all according to Wallace's weasely redefinition. Sure, they see their friends at church, they feel comforted by the afterlife, and they like having certainty on complex moral issues, but they don't really devote themselves to anything.

Well, maybe football. And NASCAR.

I guess what I'm saying is, religion doesn't leave a whole lotta room for other abstract nouns. It answers all the hard questions and leaves you more time to get on with more the pressing matters of living. To redefine worship in this way is to say that only those intellectuals who ascribe to an ethos are capable of worship.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 1:13 PM on December 28, 2008


"it's fairly hard to disagree with her basic line whatever you think of the woman; religion plays a far larger part in our public life than its constituency support"

Her basic line being?

- "There's probably no God"
- It is "neither emotionally nor spiritually deficient to reject religions"
- Religions "infantilise us with impossible beliefs"

... and yet, what does she point to as the only such issue being looked at by the Labour Party? A move to end the 1701 Act of Settlement, thereby allowing Catholics to take the throne again in Britain. She also points to the House of Lords as a religious -- and not primarily a classist -- problem, albeit one that Labour isn't dealing with aggressively.

Of course, Polly Toynbee -- the great-granddaughter of Lady Mary Howard, daughter of the 9th Earl of Carlisle, isn't exactly in a great position to bring up the classist argument which underlies her single biggest complaint about the religious underpinnings of the British system of government.

"How can this happen in a country where "only 16% of people will grace the pews on Christmas Day", she says... and yet she doesn't point out the fact that the 2001 census showed that 72% of British people identified themselves as Christians. Those other 56% of Britain's Christians don't count?

Are these 72% of British Christians *really* holding their country back, and "infantilizing" the rest of the British public with their beliefs? Or rather, are they far more likely than not to be supportive of reform for the House of Lords, which is primarily stymied by classism and by those who do not easily relinquish their power?

Really... how many percent of British people are really complaining that religion is having too big of an influence on their government, to the point that it's one of their major issues? Frankly, I would bet that they'd be far more concerned about the negative impact of religion in politics if they lived here in "liberal" California, as opposed to anywhere in Britain.
posted by markkraft at 1:34 PM on December 28, 2008


I prefer to draw my own conclusions through life experience, and not endless, unprovable debates.

Most ironic comment in the thread. (Plus it wrongly assumes that endless, unprovable debates are not a part of "life experience".)

Metafilter: I prefer to draw my own conclusions through life experience, and not endless, unprovable debates.
posted by spock at 1:37 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most religious people, particularly where I live in the American South, don't worship at all according to Wallace's weasely redefinition. Sure, they see their friends at church, they feel comforted by the afterlife, and they like having certainty on complex moral issues, but they don't really devote themselves to anything.

Well, maybe football. And NASCAR.


There are wide swaths of Christianity and other religions that are actually quite concerned with the problems this conception of worship presents, pretty much as you raise them: the problem of the devotion to Sport displacing devotion to God, and the problem that going to church, as the old saw goes, doesn't make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car. So this is not merely a rhetorical construction to subject atheists under consideration with regards to the term "worship." It's quite likely that these ideas are discussed as they apply to Christians over a pulpit and inside homes near you.

Not that I think the usefulness of the consideration stops at the bounds of religion, which is what I think Wallace is actually trying to point out.
posted by weston at 1:46 PM on December 28, 2008


Her basic line being?
Ah, Christ, don't make me read her turgid prose again. I took her basic line to be the undue influence of religion in our public life and its institutionalisation without democratic mandate.
The 72% of people who identify as Christians I'm presuming she's set aside because that's going to be a problematic figure (and no help to her argument, of course) that could be cultural as much as theological identification and she prefers church-going as a measure of active Christianity.
Any road, it's not these people who are holding us back or infantilising us, but rather certain (often self-appointed) representatives who claim to speak for them on issues such as abortion or euthanasia, where again the poll numbers don't show support for Christian moral positions. Representatives whose views are privileged over equal or larger constituencies.
Personally, and I live abroad now so can't say how widely this concern is shared, I do also dislike the interference in educational provision that you get from people of faith in the new academy schools. They've also been subject to the influence of corporate interests, which in my view is of a piece with this general thrust in policy of handing over provision of what should be state services to anyone willing if they've got the cash regardless of democratic considerations.
posted by Abiezer at 1:50 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


To redefine worship in this way is to say that only those intellectuals who ascribe to an ethos are capable of worship.

I should clarify this to say that they are capable of worship at the same level as the religiously devout.

Which reminds me, that is the premise of Neal Stephenson's latest novel.

All of this underscores the absurdity of saying "in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping."

The first sentence contradicts the second, because if we are to define devotion as worship, then atheism is not just a philosophical position but an artifact of an empirical worldview that influences the daily lives of millions of people. This worldview is in direct conflict with the fundamentalist religious worldview, for which these God vs. atheism debates are just a proxy.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 1:58 PM on December 28, 2008


To clarify, I shouldn't say "those other 56% of Britain's Christians" and simply say... "those other 56% of Britain's people". In reality, it's more like 78% of Britain's self-identified Christians who don't go to church for Christmas.

Really, I can't see how her article is in the least ways helpful, balanced, or even focused towards clear goals that British people would find important. It's provocation without any real substance, and is in poor taste, especially considering the timing involved.

Maybe she should wait until right before Ramadan, and then tell everyone that Islam is probably a fraud, and that Britain needs to adjust its system accordingly, to remove undue influence from what is, after all, a small minority? Would we even be debating whether the purpose of such an article was primarily to inflame and incite people... and to sell newspapers?

So, yeah... she's an atheist. Big deal. Last I heard, that's a pretty small minority too. That doesn't mean she should be needlessly provocative, manipulative, and rude about it.

She wants to take God out of the House of Lords? How about taking classism out of it... and money out of politics while she's at it?!
posted by markkraft at 1:59 PM on December 28, 2008


PG, I can see from your comment that you dislike that construction, but I can't see any construction of what an "honest" use of "worship" would look like. In what way do you think it's genuinely misleading to suggest that worship isn't so much your religious profession as it is the focus of your habits and devotions?

Worship is a specifically religious concept which describes man's proper relation to the divine. The idea that somehow devotion to a hobby or an ethos or whatever is also worship is an inappropriate use of an inherently religious word which serves to, conveniently enough, reframe religion and worship so loosely and so broadly that there is nothing special about them. It abuses language and cheapens both religion and worship.

Excessive devotion to, say, sport could hinder the proper worship of God. Until people start building altars and churches to sport, start praying to sport, and start taking metaphysical and ethical precepts from sport, calling it "worship" is facile and dishonest.

Of course, Polly Toynbee -- the great-granddaughter of Lady Mary Howard, daughter of the 9th Earl of Carlisle, isn't exactly in a great position to bring up the classist argument which underlies her single biggest complaint about the religious underpinnings of the British system of government.

That's stupid and ridiculous. Next tell us how white people don't have any room to talk about how bad racism is. If anything, the upper class have a better position to deal with classism from, being as they're largely the perpetrators of it and nobody can accuse them of class envy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:05 PM on December 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


How about taking classism out of it... and money out of politics while she's at it?!
Or immensely privileged people from priority access to the op ed pages of the Guardian.
I'm with you on all of that, markkraft. Polly Toynbee would not be the person I chose to lead me into the breach for the Enlightenment and I honestly don't lie awake at night worrying about Jesus-freaks under the bed. But I do share her some of her concerns: in the case of those academy schools I mentioned you're seeing creationism on the curriculum for the first time in the modern era, I understand. And there is a tendency in the current government to identify "community representatives" for often largely fictitious social groupings and deal with figureheads for these rather than engage in democratic debate amongst citizens.
posted by Abiezer at 2:12 PM on December 28, 2008


Well, screw you. We aren't asking you or your preachers to shut up, in most cases we aren't trying to convert you;we just want to live our lives. But we're not going to quietly sit at the back of the bus, return to the kitchen or the closet, and listen to your pious lectures that question our morality and attempt to deny us our rights (or even question our citzenship, as President Bush 41 did).
posted by orthogonality at 12:14 PM on December 28 [17 favorites +]


Ah, how MeFites love to hear someone ranting about how glorious atheists are and how evil and deluded religious people are! What's that phrase... oh yes, "preaching to the choir."
posted by languagehat at 2:17 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Pyramid termite, feel free to provide an example. I don't think one could argue that religion is unique among ideologies as insane and murderous, unless one defines religion so broadly as to include practically any ideology. Under any broadly accepted definition of religion, if as weston says "in this context, [Stalin and Mao are] fairly handy demonstrators that theism itself is not necessary to produce war, oppression, and death", then the context is probably a strawman.

I don't claim that religion is a necessary condition for "war, oppression, and death", I don't even claim it's a sufficient condition either. I don't care about religion, unless the religious try to exercise worldly power to force me to act or believe in a certain way, which is really what the FPP was about. Ironically, what Polly Tonybee was lamenting is the rise of antidisestablishmentarianism and other religious backlash against secularism in the face of an insignificant voice for the godless in a country where they outnumber the faithful. More specifically, she notes that religion, and specifically English Protestantism, wields government authority totally out of proportion with its popularity. She also alludes to fears that outspoken athiesm is becoming a disqualification for high political office, like it is in the USA.

The religious are permitted wide latitude to evangelize and proclaim the supreme truth of their beliefs, and do so while asking for money to support their evangelism on billions of TVs, and in millions of houses of worship. Why is it that atheists are deemed arrogant for voicing the belief that "none of the above" is the null hypothesis and they see no compelling evidence to support any belief about specific gods?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:22 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


I just want to say that it is awesome to use antidisestablishmentarianism in a sentence because it was actually the only appropriate word in that context.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:25 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Atheists are people of reason, who deny God based on an act of personal faith.

One must conveniently assume that God exists in order to claim that disbelievers go out of their way to deny his existence by faith. It's a common projection based on the fear of disbelieving, that one must have faith they won't be destroyed. However, I don't believe in Santa Claus because I simply can't credit it, not because I deny it against any concerns that might give me pause. I would that people consider that a jealous supreme being cannot exist as such, so they have nothing to fear either way.

Ah, how MeFites love to hear someone ranting about how glorious atheists are and how evil and deluded religious people are! What's that phrase...

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
posted by Brian B. at 2:30 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's an article I bookmarked ages ago from a Christian philosophical magazine on the messianic aspects of the Maoist cult of personality. They look at Lenin, Stalin and Napoleon inter alia earlier in the series iirc but must admit only read the one linked. Wasn't particularly expecting to take part in any discussion where it might have been even tangentially relevant.
posted by Abiezer at 2:33 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pyramid termite, feel free to provide an example.

here's one

oh, look, more

there's more

feel free to do the rest of your homework yourself - clearly this argument's gone around and around for a good long time, as other people have noted
posted by pyramid termite at 2:44 PM on December 28, 2008


It's some specific religious people who want to influence "your" government. Just like it was some specific African-American people who voted for prop 8.
posted by Wood at 3:05 PM on December 28, 2008


Well, screw you. We aren't asking you or your preachers to shut up, in most cases we aren't trying to convert you;we just want to live our lives. But we're not going to quietly sit at the back of the bus, return to the kitchen or the closet, and listen to your pious lectures that question our morality and attempt to deny us our rights (or even question our citzenship, as President Bush 41 did).
posted by orthogonality at 12:14 PM on December 28 [17 favorites +]
(emphasis yours)

Ah, how MeFites love to hear someone ranting about how glorious atheists are and how evil and deluded religious people are! What's that phrase... oh yes, "preaching to the choir."
posted by languagehat at 2:17 PM on December 28 [1 favorite +] [!]
(emphasis mine)

Help me out here. Would more favourites of your comment render your statement less or more valid?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:16 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pyramid termite, I didn't find any examples there. The first link asks a question, and makes an unsupported claim that unnamed atheists, and possibly Dawkins have argued this. A few people in that thread make a tepid claim that most wars have a religious element, but nowhere do I see the assertion that religion is unique as an insane and murderous ideology, or that it is a necessary condition for "war, oppression, and death", which taken literally is a pretty absurd proposition.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:27 PM on December 28, 2008


"If anything, the upper class have a better position to deal with classism from, being as they're largely the perpetrators of it and nobody can accuse them of class envy."

And yet, Polly Toynbee didn't bring up the classist argument, although clearly classism is a bigger part of the problem with the House of Lords than religion.

It's not that she can't bring it up... it's that she is, as Abiezer said, "not be the person I chose to lead me into the breach for the Enlightenment and I honestly don't lie awake at night worrying about Jesus-freaks under the bed".

She's a *REALLY* bad person to argue for just about any major issue regarding what government should be doing, largely because she's so far removed from its impact... and out of touch with what really matters to them. You may not like all of her rivals -- I certainly don't -- but even they see gaping flaws in her being a spokesman on what others ought to do, especially when she is widely known for playing fast and loose with her facts.

Really, it is a lot like listening to Christopher Hitchens lecture Americans about how they should support the war in Iraq. Ultimately, he's not the one who has to pay the price for that decision.
posted by markkraft at 3:43 PM on December 28, 2008


When atheists start disturbing me as I go about my daily business by knocking on my door to 'bring me the good news'...

When churches start paying taxes . . .

That's my beef with religion. We have "established" religion in the USA too, if you consider tax exemption a governmentally granted dispensation.

Why the hell someone's business should be tax exempt because it charges people for fairy tales instead of widgets is beyond me, but as an atheist I should be able to open a tax exempt business too.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:06 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


mediocre is a towel.
posted by tehloki at 4:10 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


We have "established" religion in the USA too, if you consider tax exemption a governmentally granted dispensation.

There are a couple reasons why religions are tax exempt. The idea was LBJ's brainchild. 501c3 tax exempt was granted to churches on the condition that they recuse themselves from lobbying (hence the main argument for taking away the Mormon Church's tax exempt status). Also, as non-profit organizations who sustain themselves on donations and do charitible works, removing their tax exempt status would endanger the 501c3 status of the American Red Cross, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, and the United Way.

If the problem is that religious groups are lobbying, then the tax law needs to be more strictly enforced. But wiping out the tax exempt status of all religions across the board would do more damage to small parishes who run local soup kitchens than it would to megachurches with an evangelical bent.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:26 PM on December 28, 2008


Pyramid termite, I didn't find any examples there.

first link

The first link asks a question, and makes an unsupported claim that unnamed atheists, and possibly Dawkins have argued this.

so, you're accusing the question asker of lying?

how utterly pointless and rude of you
posted by pyramid termite at 5:11 PM on December 28, 2008


Why is it that people complain about atheists evangelizing, but don't complain about the much more ubiquitous evangelism from the religious?

I've...read....plenty of complaints about religious evangelism. Where are you hanging out that you DON'T see them complained about?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:46 PM on December 28, 2008


so, you're accusing the question asker of lying?

Maybe that "AskMefi" question is genuinely being asked. Or maybe I'm a dreamer.
posted by mek at 6:48 PM on December 28, 2008


The religious are permitted wide latitude to evangelize and proclaim the supreme truth of their beliefs, and do so while asking for money to support their evangelism on billions of TVs, and in millions of houses of worship. Why is it that atheists are deemed arrogant for voicing the belief that "none of the above" is the null hypothesis and they see no compelling evidence to support any belief about specific gods?

because nobody likes you.
posted by generalist at 7:26 PM on December 28, 2008


"There's probably no God." Wow, the next "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." And that essay! Gawdawful. Hey, you know a humdinger of a way to kick off your essay? The most obtuse wordplay ever committed to paper! "Only the faintest whiff of disestablishmentarianism," oh SNAP! I love you atheists but your marketing is atrocious.
posted by nanojath at 9:15 PM on December 28, 2008


Atheism has a marketing problem. It needs rebranding.
posted by chinston at 9:24 PM on December 28, 2008


Atheism has a marketing problem. It needs rebranding.

I Can't Believe It's Not Religion!
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 9:33 PM on December 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


Atheism has a marketing problem. It needs rebranding.

Religion has bred itself by commandment for thousands of years. Genetically, there is no reason to believe that a rebranded atheism would ever appeal to most people. But it may make some less hostile when their only acknowledged reason for living is challenged.
posted by Brian B. at 9:43 PM on December 28, 2008


-Atheism has a marketing problem. It needs rebranding.

-Religion has bred itself by commandment for thousands of years. Genetically, there is no reason to believe that a rebranded atheism would ever appeal to most people. But it may make some less hostile when their only acknowledged reason for living is challenged.


I think - and I might be going out on a limb here - that the "marketing problem" remark was meant to be humorous.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:02 PM on December 28, 2008


I think - and I might be going out on a limb here - that the "marketing problem" remark was meant to be humorous.

Atheism does have a marketing problem.
posted by Brian B. at 10:07 PM on December 28, 2008


Atheism does have a marketing problem.

Eh, I don't know. Atheism seems to be doing just fine, even if shouting buses don't help. I don't think the problem - when it comes to religion or atheism - lies in marketing so much as in communication, i.e., how can we talk to each other and share this planet without it devolving into cockfencing yellfests?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:41 PM on December 28, 2008


Atheism's marketing problem begins with the fact that religious authorities insist that it will be punished with eternal agony. Nothing Dawkins or Hitchens can say could possibly be as effective as that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:11 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile in today in the Guardian, a spot of athiesm-bashing, just for balance. Let's rescue Darwin from the clutches of those tiresome athiests
posted by dydecker at 11:20 PM on December 28, 2008


If the problem is that religious groups are lobbying, then the tax law needs to be more strictly enforced. But wiping out the tax exempt status of all religions across the board would do more damage to small parishes who run local soup kitchens than it would to megachurches with an evangelical bent.

We're going to have to agree to disagree here. Yes, damn right the tax laws need to be more vigorously enforced, but by that standard we'd have thousands of churches losing their tax exempt status for involving themselves in electoral politics directly, as so many do. I personally know of two catholic churches -- one in New Mexico, and one in Connecticut -- where parishoners heard from the pulpit that they should vote against John Kerry in 2004 because he was pro-Choice. So who should lose their tax exempt status here, those two churches? Or the entire Catholic church in the US, since those episodes are representative of a widespread flouting of the supposed "laws" on this subject? Does anyone believe either big megachurches or small evangelical churches are mostly staying out of politics? If so, there's this bridge in NYC I'd like to interest you in . . .

I don't believe church based charities or social service organizations are all that significant in the big picture of social welfate, certainly not enough to warrant exempting them from property taxes or income taxes that could be used to fund secular, state-based programs to do the same things without the filter of religion. Yet churches get to pick and choose whom they hire based on religious discrimination; whom they serve based on religious discrimination; and whom they do business with based on religious discrimination. They are assumed to be "non-profit" and "charitable" de facto and a priori because they *are* churches. (Pretty much Polly Toynbee's point in the linked article -- oh, religion, it must be good!)

And frankly, getting right down to it, I don't favor tax exemption for secular "non profit" organizations either, including such entities as the university I work for. A life of experience tells me that most of the time, "non-profit" is a covering term for a wide range of activities that do indeed "profit" those who undertake them, with nice offices, salaries, homes, cars, and jobs. Or they intend to. Because they don't work on the same model of profit as a private "for profit" business doesn't mean they don't make a profit. They just call it "expenditure."

A church is an economically viable operation if it makes income in excess of its expenses for operating in its primary capacity. Missionary work or charity work that also includes proselytizing is a means of developing market share and penetration, not just of "helping" people with no expectation of return. Many churches -- not just megachurches -- realize capital gains on their property holdings, lease property to commercial businesses, etc. That's not income from charitable donations, and merely to hold a piece of commercial property and rent it at market rates is a profit-making enterprise, no matter what you spend the profits on. Where churches compete with other businesses -- private schools, for example -- they enjoy significant economic advantages through a series of exemptions for religious organizations that we would never tolerate for secular ones, including such things as relaxed standards for teacher certification. Yet in many communities, public sector money is used to fund religious education (and it would be more broadly true of many in the "voucher" advocacy community got their way).

Atheist that I am, I just think we'd all be a lot better off if all churches disappeared tomorrow. We'd lose some good things, of course, but on balance, we'd lose a lot more bad things. Or haven't y'all noticed what side of the political divide most churches and their congregants have been on in recent years?

They should be on NO side of the political divide. Instead, they deepen it every Sunday.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:32 AM on December 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


Put another way: if churches had to pay taxes, far more economically efficient and democratic alternatives for the social services they (supposedly) provide would emerge from the private sector. They already have.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:34 AM on December 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Or a third way: right now, churches have an unfair competitive advantage in the provision of their supposed social benefits over secular organizations that seek to provide the same benefits. Not only are they tax exempt; they also enjoy greater protection for hate speech, political activism, and the bullshit claim that religious people speak on behalf of "morality" in general (remember "values voters?" -- what the f*ck do I vote based on, if not my atheist "values"). Which means we end up having to view those benefits as intrinsic parts of "religion" in the circular argument for the ages.

Or: religion gets a nice fat pass because, supposedly, God is on its side. So if there is no God, the special status of religion, or any given church, is just as much bullshit as if I opened a doctor's office and started doing surgery for a fee despite having no medical training.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:40 AM on December 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


Well, I'm not arguing with Dawkins, though. I'm aware of his position and I disagree with it.

You stated your point as if it were clearly based on obvious facts. Those facts are not so obvious to the rest of us.

Not by Wallace's conception of worship. If you mean there are plenty of people who don't devote themselves to any of the popular conceptions of deity, sure. But there are a lot of things to devote yourself to besides those, and most of us do, the prayer wheel of the routines of our lives whirling out a bit of worship every day, our habits of thinking becoming the creeds we recite and see the world through. And that's pretty much half of Wallace's point, the other half being that it's the default human condition to gravitate towards Youth or Beauty or Sex or Wealth or Power or Intellect or Achievement etc etc etc, and it takes some work and often a good framework to opt out of that trap and into a discipline that will keep the places for the lower-case versions of all those things in your life.

...

But I don't think he stumbled using the term worship and implying that everyone does it. It isn't particularly controversial to state that worship isn't so much your religious profession as it is the focus of your habits and devotions.


I mean that there are plenty of people who don't worship anything, according to Wallace's own conception of worship. There are many people who are simply not driven by (or to) anything; they simply live day-to-day. They aren't gravitating toward anything beyond the next day. To take that a step farther, I believe that's the case for the vast majority of people who have ever lived. Being able to devote yourself to anything beyond simple contentment or even survival is a luxury that most people have not had. So, yes, I stand by my claim that Wallace's statement is bullshit.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:34 PM on December 29, 2008


Atheism's marketing problem begins with the fact that religious authorities insist that it will be punished with eternal agony. Nothing Dawkins or Hitchens can say could possibly be as effective as that.

And those crafty Discordians:

The SOCRATIC APPROACH is most successful when confronting the
ignorant. The "socratic approach" is what you call starting an argument by
asking questions. You approach the innocent and simply ask "Did you know
that God's name is ERIS, and that He is a girl?" If he should answer "Yes."
then he probably is a fellow Erisian and so you can forget it. If he says
"No." then quickly proceed to:
THE BLIND ASSERTION and say "Well, He Is a girl, and His name is
ERIS!" Shrewedly observe if the subject is convinced. If he is, swear him
into the Legion of Dynamic Discord before he changes his mind. If he does
not appear convinced, then proceed to:
THE FAITH BIT: "But you must have Faith! All is lost without
Faith! I sure feel sorry for you if you don't have Faith." And then add:
THE ARGUMENT BY FEAR and in an ominous voice ask "Do you know what
happens to those who deny Goddess?" If he hesitates, don't tell him that he
will surely be reincarnated as a precious Mao Button and distributed to the
poor in the Region of Thud (which would be a mean thing to say), just shake
your head sadly and, while wiping a tear from your eye, go to:
THE FIRST CLAUSE PLOY wherein you point to all of the discord and
confusion in the world and exclaim "Well who the hell do you think did all
of this, wise guy?" If he says, "Nobody, just impersonal forces." then
quickly respond with:
THE ARGUMENT BY SEMANTICAL GYMNASTICS and say that he is absolutely
right, and that those impersonal forces are female and that Her name is
ERIS. If he, wonder of wonders, still remains obstinate, then finally
resort to:
THE FIGURATIVE SYMBOLISM DODGE and confide that sophisticated people
like himself recognize that Eris is a Figurative Symbol for an Ineffable
Metaphysical Reality and that The Erisian Movement is really more like a
poem than like a science and that he is liable to be turned into a Precious
Mao Button and Distributed to The Poor in The Region of Thud if he does not
get hip. Then put him on your mailing list.

posted by empath at 5:25 PM on December 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


Well, jumping back a bit as to why these kinds of advertising campaigns are needed. My partner and I both have similar backgrounds as adult non-believers who grew up in small-city religious communities in the midwest and south, and while reading and talking about This American Life's podcast on the Reverend Carlton Pearson who was abandoned by evangelicals for not believing in hell, we realized we had something in common in our backgrounds.

These subjects have been talked to death on metafilter and perhaps elsewhere on the Internet, but we both grew up in circles where serious questions about religious faith, doctrine, and ethics were taboo. In our relative isolation we both pondered the same hoary old philosophical problems as adolescents in relative ignorance of the philosophical traditions that developed the same arguments centuries ago. For that matter, Pearson in the podcast talks about the same sort of isolation in the religious community he grew up. Because the realities of social networks is that work, school, and church determine who you know in the United States to an astonishing degree.

And come on here, to say that atheists should sit out competition in the marketplace of ideas is rather foolish. The AHA spent $40,000 on bus advertisments for about a month. Family Theater Productions boasts 100,000 Christian billboards in 138 cities in 38 states.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:35 AM on December 30, 2008


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