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The New Atheism is Destructive
April 2, 2009 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Julian Baggini, British philosopher and author of Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, on the destructiveness of the New Atheist movement.
posted by Roach (93 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have long contended that being an atheist doesn't require me to be contemptuous of Christians. I've never understood just why so many of my fellow atheists thing that atheism implies anti-theism.

What I believe isn't a Christian's business. And what he believes isn't any of my business, either. I don't want to be "saved" by him, and I don't feel any need to try to save him either.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:17 PM on April 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


(via The Daily Grail)
posted by Roach at 3:18 PM on April 2, 2009


That was delightfully sensible.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:23 PM on April 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: "What I believe isn't a Christian's business. And what he believes isn't any of my business, either. I don't want to be 'saved' by him, and I don't feel any need to try to save him either."

A great sentiment. However, virtually no Atheists are demanding a stop to religious teaching in religious schools. Meanwhile, there are legions of theists demanding a stop to secular education in secular schools.
posted by mullingitover at 3:25 PM on April 2, 2009 [47 favorites]


A Reply from George Williamson, in case anybody missed it. Worth reading for the meow! hiss! factor alone.
posted by Sova at 3:25 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I liked the old atheists, back when they were cool and no one else listened to them.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:28 PM on April 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oh my god! I finally get it! I totally totally finally really get it. Everyone ready?

I hate this guy even though I'm an atheist!

I've been waiting years, years!, to be able to state that I'm an atheist but that I hate some other atheist! I'm cool now! I did it! What do I get?!
posted by birdie birdington at 3:31 PM on April 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


ChocoPickle, I've often wondered that myself. I think a lot of Atheists from families that are religious feel a deep down sense of betrayal. As if, like Santa Claus, a giant trick has been perpetrated on them. That combined with frequent prejudice against Atheists by believers makes most Atheists feel defensive and besieged. Never mind that it is the same thing that Jews, Muslims, and Christians have all had to fear from one another.

While I'm perfectly happy if people have a belief in God, I have a sneaking suspicion that my Atheism will cause me problems if I profess it openly. I cannot count the number of times when the subject has come up that people have assumed that Atheism equates to a total lack of moral framework, or a devotion to hedonism. They also believe that I've somehow set myself up in opposition to all Christian beliefs. It's one of the few relatively unexamined areas of intense prejudice left in this country. The first time I heard someone say that they wanted to kill Atheists was a bit of a jolt. So in that sense, I'd be able to feel more open about my Atheism if I could destroy our culture of belief. I'd rather set myself to educating people as to what Atheism is about though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:31 PM on April 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


Right, because it's the *atheists* who are stirring up trouble.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:32 PM on April 2, 2009 [13 favorites]


I DON'T WANT TO BELIEVE
posted by mattdidthat at 3:36 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was delightfully sensible.

That's right. Now stand by while Metafilter tears this guy a new asshole, attacks Christians while ignoring other, more radical religions, and generally proves Baggini to be entirely correct. Then St. Alia is going to show up and the party will really get going.
posted by Krrrlson at 3:38 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


When the religiobots stop shit-stirring, then we will shut up and keep to ourselves.

Until such time as they keep their religion where it belongs without trying to push it into places in society where it doesn't belong, we will keep telling them how full of shit they are and how much religion does not belong in politics or schools.
posted by kldickson at 3:39 PM on April 2, 2009 [11 favorites]


Tripe.
posted by nzero at 3:40 PM on April 2, 2009


I think that most atheists base their belief that the universe couldn't possibly be the design of a benevolent and caring God because enjoyable atheists like Carl Sagan, Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut are all dead while Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens were left to annoy the Hell out of everyone.

Certainly, it's been a test to my faith.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:43 PM on April 2, 2009 [34 favorites]


BrotherCaine, that reminds me of the time some fundie said he thought I was a member of a group which is in no way related to atheism and actually does some extremely antisocial and in fact harmful things when he saw my Scarlet A shirt.

At least the people around me knew the guy was full of shit and I gave him a disgusted look. Then again, he was also senile, old, and he listened to gospel music through headphones.

I find it hilarious that in many ways we atheists tolerate this treatment of us more than the bots tolerate our criticism of them.
posted by kldickson at 3:43 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I loathe the dripping scorn that seems to be the M.O. of a number of the more outspoken "New Atheists", but in the US at least it's been obligatory to profess (and profess and profess) belief in mainstream religion for so long to play any role in politics that it seems like a purely healthy development that so many atheists have "come out of the closet" in response to the raised profile of atheism. Which I think is to some extent attributable to the shouty atheists.

I wish that the new and surprising development of a US head of state giving a nod of the head to atheists in an inaugural address would be taken as an opportunity to tone down the rudeness and back off from the self-satisfied tone, and get a little more relaxed about the idea that a lot of people want a life in which the supernatural plays a role and others don't. There are plenty of religious people who don't want religion to dictate governance, and they are natural allies for atheists who crave a public square with less kowtowing to some very specific religious beliefs. Being scornful isn't going to help that to come to pass, IMO. I don't believe in capital-G God but I like my culture with a diversity of weird beliefs, including mainstream mysticism.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 3:44 PM on April 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


After I comment and take a nap, I'm off to a Brights meeting - a bunch of atheistic college kids in Kentucky who talk about philosophy for an hour or two every Thursday night. One of the biggest problems we had in starting that group was to make clear that we weren't the anti-christian club. A fair number of people showed up expecting some sort of group therapy where everyone would just make snide comments about how intolerably stupid the religious are. Others seemed to need constant reassurance that god was, in fact, a childish delusion.

We now have a specific topic to discuss each night to prevent it from becoming endless "LOL XTIANS AMIRITE"... lately we've been doing ethics: where do you get them if not from the divine?

I actually have the I want to believe poster hanging above me right now.
posted by phrontist at 3:47 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Old meme is old.

Does anyone really believe there is an atheist using the internet today who hasn't already heard about the failure of their character? Who hasn't heard that they're smug assholes who think they're better than everyone? Really? There is someone somewhere who still thinks there's an atheist left who needs to hear it because they haven't already?

WE HEARD YOU.
posted by birdie birdington at 3:54 PM on April 2, 2009 [16 favorites]


Love the idea of a secular discussion group. I do think, though, that the "Brights" nomenclature certainly promotes the idea that atheists think religious people are dim bulbs. And no, I don't have a better idea; why do you ask?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:54 PM on April 2, 2009


I sympathize with him but think his specific complaints about the "new atheists" are off. Are they arrogant in their application of reason? What else do we have?

Rather, we are and must be making a pragmatic judgment about balancing the competing goods of spreading the truth and things like freedom and human flourishing. Sometimes, this requires railing against religion, sometimes it requires accommodation. He makes the point here:
Constructive engagement can yield good results. For example, in the UK, the Accord Coalition has been formed to resist the spread of religious schools. Its member include the Hindu Academy, a Christian think-tank, Ekklesia, and The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

It is sometimes argued that this kind of desire for engagement with moderates is dangerous, since the liberals merely provide cover for the extremists. I find this as unpersuasive as the argument that talking to democratic socialists only encourages the communists, or that negotiating with Fatah is a sop to jihadists. The best way to disrupt such continuities as there are between moderates and extremists is to encourage them to see the greater continuities they have with moderates they disagree with.
All very good.

At the same time, though, we must acknowledge the concrete goods the new atheists have done. In particular, I think (ironically?) a loud atheist voice has energized atheist communities and thereby made people feel more ready to identify themselves as atheists, because they have a group to fit into. It may even be that the loud new atheists have made it possible for conciliatory new-new atheists to emerge, where they simply wouldn't have been relevant before. I'm thinking in particular of Harvard's Greg Epstein, a man for whom I don't have any particular intellectual respect, but who may be important as a community-builder. Coverage here and all over the place. The guy would be invisible if the news wasn't looking for alternatives to Dawkins.
posted by grobstein at 3:56 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was delightfully sensible.

Criticizing four books you haven't read is sensible?

How can he criticize the books if he doesn't know what they say?

And he's saying the authors need to be more intellectually modest?
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:04 PM on April 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Baggini's book is my favorite on the subject. But if the worst that can be said about atheists is they leave a bad impression, I'd say we're still doing better than any alternative.
posted by eccnineten at 4:07 PM on April 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Criticizing four books you haven't read is sensible?

How can he criticize the books if he doesn't know what they say?

And he's saying the authors need to be more intellectually modest?


I haven't read any of them either but, in my experience, most atheists read them for the LOLXTIANS bits rather than the arguments they present.
posted by minifigs at 4:08 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I haven't read any of them either but, in my experience, most atheists read them for the LOLXTIANS bits rather than the arguments they present.

Huh? Whether or not "most atheists" don't read the books for the arguments, how does that excuse Baggini from criticizing the books without reading them?

It's one thing for you to (superciliously) assume most readers don't read the books very thoughtfully, but Baggini has an ethical obligation as a writer to read them thoughtfully, and certainly to read them at all, before criticizing their contents.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:15 PM on April 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know what pisses me off about atheists is how Dawkins pickets the funerals of Christian homophobes with busloads of followers.
posted by fleetmouse at 4:15 PM on April 2, 2009 [13 favorites]


I haven't read any of them either but, in my experience, most atheists read them for the LOLXTIANS bits rather than the arguments they present.

OK, so you haven't experienced reading the books, but you have experienced other people reading the books. Miraculous!
posted by dydecker at 4:16 PM on April 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


Sometimes I wonder, is atheism a modern idea? Were there "caveman atheists," so to speak? Does atheism even need science, let alone rationalism? I'm inclined to believe it doesn't. So it always strikes me as odd when people invoke rationality as the cornerstone of atheism.

I think one of the points the author tries to make is that the rationality arguments are used to attack religion, not to defend atheism. I think that's an interesting idea, and one I agree with.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 4:21 PM on April 2, 2009


Does anyone really believe there is an atheist using the internet today who hasn't already heard about the failure of their character? Who hasn't heard that they're smug assholes who think they're better than everyone? Really? There is someone somewhere who still thinks there's an atheist left who needs to hear it because they haven't already?

WE HEARD YOU.


HEARING AND LISTENING ARE NOT THE SAME THING.
posted by dersins at 4:28 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


"How does it get atheism wrong? When I wrote my own book on the subject, I believed that atheism was widely misunderstood as being primarily a negative attack on religious belief, on which it is parasitic.

But this can’t be right. Imagine for one moment that atheism triumphs and belief in God is eradicated. On the view that atheism needs religion, then this victory would also be atheism’s extinction. This is absurd.

It is only because of historical accident that atheism is not widely recognised as a world-view in its own right. This world view is essentially a very general form of naturalism, in which there are not two kinds of stuff, the natural and the supernatural, but one. The forces that govern this substance are also natural ones and there is no ultimate purpose or agency behind them. Human life is biological, and thus does not survive beyond biological death.

Such a worldview needs defending, and a special name, only because for various reasons, it is not the one that most humans have adopted. But the view itself is true whether or not there are people who disagree with it. In a totally atheist world, we may stop noticing that it is a view at all, in the same way that most people do not notice that they believe objects exist whether we perceive them or not. But it would still be a view..."

"But if very intelligent people are so easily led astray by such things, then shouldn’t the new atheists themselves be more sceptical about the role reason plays in their own belief formation? You cannot, on the one hand, put forward a view that says great intelligence is easily over-ridden by psychological delusions and, on the other, claim that one unique group of people can see clearly what reason demands and free themselves from such grips."

Sure you can, you just have to have fai...oh.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:33 PM on April 2, 2009


I hate to see Dennett put in the same group as outrageous assholes as Hitchins and Dawkins, even if he is 'outspoken'.
posted by echo target at 4:36 PM on April 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


that's outrageous assholes like Hitchins and Dawkins

where's that edit feature, anyway?
posted by echo target at 4:37 PM on April 2, 2009


From the third link in the FPP:
I have not read any of their books. That does not, however, disqualify me from having an opinion about them.

In that spirit I will forego reading the rest of his essay so that I may have time to post my thoughts before I have to cook dinner. I live in the Bible belt and generally keep quiet about matters of religion; although friends and family know I am an atheist/agnostic/nonbeliever/freethinker/apostate (I describe myself as all of these depending upon the situation) many co-workers and acquaintances assume I am Christian, just like them. So I get to hear all about how evolution is a communist plot, atheists cannot possibly be moral, public schools were ruined when they "kicked God out", and so on. It is a routine occurrence for the parents of my patients going into surgery to ask me to pray with them; from time to time they will even ask "Do you believe in Jesus as your saviour?" to which I generally respond "I don't discuss religion with my patients, but I will believe whatever you need me to believe" or some other waffling answer. (I have pondered posting an AskMe about how to deal with this situation). Christians are the only ones who conflate my religious beliefs with my ability to deliver good medical care. Although I live in a smallish southern town, we have a big military base and a large medical community here, and the resulting diversity means that I take care of and work with Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists (including a Buddhist monk from Thailand for whom figuring out how to pronounce his name was more difficult for my western tongue than deciphering his medical history) and who knows what else. The local country club (no, not that one) for decades excluded anyone who wasn't white and Christian.

So for an atheist living in a cosmopolitan environment it might be hard to understand why those of us living in the hinterlands feel oppressed and angry. They have not had to make the choice of sending their child to a private school where freedom of religion is not an abstract concept versus public schools where teacher led prayers are routine and evolution disclaimers are in all the biology texts (and agitating to stop them would result in ostracization and death threats). I would be interested in hearing from Languagehat in this thread, since Baggini seems to share his point of view.
posted by TedW at 4:39 PM on April 2, 2009 [33 favorites]


I haven't read any of them either but, in my experience, most atheists read them for the LOLXTIANS bits rather than the arguments they present.

How did you experience this, how many atheists were present and reading the book during this experience of yours, how did you determine what they read it for, and by what measure did you determine that "most" atheists were involved in this experience of yours?
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:48 PM on April 2, 2009


Interesting perspective, but I dislike the undercurrent that somehow we atheists not only have a duty to indulge the (often intolerant) majority; but to also apologize for having the courage to accept (and, one hopes, embrace) the sometimes depressingly pragmatic reality of a science-based life on Earth.
posted by applemeat at 4:49 PM on April 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


I agree entirely with George Williamson's rebuttal: "But there has never been a congenial relationship between believers and non-believers to be spoiled." Exactly. Even before Dawkins made waves with The God Delusion and atheism got more of a spotlight, atheists were already seen as assholes and terrible people. I can't speak for anyone else's experiences, but this is what I can say: when Dawkins first came out with the book, I was a theist -- only vaguely Christian, my parents were both disillusioned by their respective denominations and had never sent me to church and didn't put any particular stock in the Bible per se. I even disliked organized religion. I just believed in god, is all, even if such beliefs had no regular place in my life. I even had some atheist friends, but I told myself it was "okay because they were Buddhist."

When The God Delusion came out in 2006, I was 21 or so. Dawkins was all over television promoting it. And even though Dawkins hadn't said anything in particular that was objectionable, even though he would speak fondly of some religious people that he knew and respected despite their differences in belief, I hated him. I thought he had to be a huge asshole to say people were wrong to believe in god. In other words, the reason I disliked Dawkins was simply because he dared say he disagreed and argued his case. It wasn't because he was a dick about doing it, because he wasn't, really. And I thought all atheists were assholes for the same reason, and it took some mental gymnastics to somehow not feel that way about my atheist friends. Why was I able to tolerate them? Because my atheist friends were too weakened by social pressure to talk openly about their atheism. For me not to blow up at them, they had to be practically closeted. And that is not cool.

Richard Dawkins hadn't done anything to me. I wasn't part of the particularly negative things he felt organized religion was responsible for, and as a very liberal person I even agreed with his criticisms. But I still hated him simply because I believed in god and I could not stand to have that belief questioned by anyone. In other words, it was complete irrational sensitivity on my part. And remember that belief in god was a very minor part of my life. I can't imagine that people who are more religious wouldn't be inclined to feel much more defensive. I felt attacked and he wasn't even attacking me. Whose fault was that? It was mine. If you had told me then that one day I would read The God Delusion and find it not only persuasive, but kind and sympathetic, I would have said you were crazy.

I actually think Dawkins is quite nice to religious people who are willing to talk to him without getting defensive, and if Baggini had read Dawkins book, or watched some parts of the Root of All Evil, that would be clear. When religious people are civil to him, he is civil in return. Clips of Dawkins getting irked with people, at least all the ones that I have seen, have always stemmed from others getting snippy with him first. (I haven't seen every single clip of him so perhaps he's a jerk unprovoked sometimes; it just hasn't been my impression.) Sam Harrison and Christopher Hitchens can kind of be dicks, though, granted. That's regrettable. As Williamson said, sometimes in media clips they perhaps don't present their work in the best light, and Baggini is more arguing about that perception than the actual content on their books.

But the thing is, I don't think it would make a huge difference if they were nicer, because when I saw Dawkins on the media circuit being civil it made zero difference to me. I didn't later seek out Dawkins's book because I thought he had been a decent guy; I still hated him when I cracked the cover. I was just having an existential crisis and he was the only atheist whose name I could remember. The problem is much more that they're talking about atheism at all than they're being jerks about it. Insofar as they're sometimes jerks, yeah, that ought to stop. But I think Baggini is fooling himself if he thinks atheists can openly discuss their opinions without people feeling attacked. In my experience, I felt attacked regardless. You can't question a belief that deeply held and intrinsic to someone's view of existence without there being a huge risk they'll get angry about it. I can't speak for everyone but I know of many theists who have found the change of view to atheism to be incredibly painful at first, including myself. Arguments of who's right and who's wrong aside, you simply can't ask someone to consider something so painful without them being likely to get angry at you and demonize you merely as a coping mechanism. I know I sure as hell did that.

I see the recent backlash against atheism as an inevitable response to its increased coverage; even if everyone had been on their perfect manners people would be raging about it. And as someone who definitely feels from experience that being an atheist is a lot more socially damning than being a theist, I think it's good that the "new atheists" are being open and vocal. We shouldn't shut up and keep quiet just because theists are prone to get upset. And, as Williamson notes, it's not as simple as "live and let live" when there are pushes for religiously-motivated policies that directly effect atheists. In an ideal world, I'm sure we'd all love to leave each other alone about it, but we don't live in an ideal world.
posted by Nattie at 4:51 PM on April 2, 2009 [51 favorites]


If Atheists Ruled the World
posted by homunculus at 4:52 PM on April 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think the idea of "respecting someone's beliefs" when what's actually meant is "don't argue with them" is ridiculous and counterproductive.

It's not as if it's either / or. One can "disrespect" a belief without being a total dick about it. I can have complete respect for a person and totally disagree with one of their beliefs. It's the fact that religious beliefs are so heavily intertwined with a person's life that makes it difficult to disagree with them without implying disrespect for the person.

But the fact that it's a difficult discussion makes it all the more important that we do respectfully disagree.
posted by lucidium at 4:52 PM on April 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Not to belabor the obvious but Julian Baggini talks about how he's not reviewing the books but talking about the tone of the "new atheists" right at the beginning of the article:
Not reading The God Delusion, God is Not Great, Breaking the Spell and The End of Faith is perfectly reasonable. Why on earth would I devote precious reading hours to books which largely tell me what I already believe? These books are surely mainly for agnostics and open-minded believers. In fact, I think atheists who have read these books have more of a responsibility to account for their actions than I do my inaction. As the posters on the sides of British buses rather simplistically put it, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” God's non-existence is a fact atheists live with, not something that they should obsessively read about.

But if I haven't read these books, surely I should have no opinion about them? I think you’d be less sure of this if you had read How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard (or even not read it). In any case, my opinions are not so much about these books as the general tone and direction the new atheism they represent has adopted. This is not a function of what exactly these books say, but of how they are perceived, and the kind of comments the four horsemen make in newspaper articles and interviews. All this, I think, has been unhelpful in many ways. In short, the new atheism gets atheism wrong, gets religion wrong, and is counterproductive.
It's not a bookreview.
posted by Kattullus at 4:54 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


a loud atheist voice has energized atheist communities and thereby made people feel more ready to identify themselves as atheists, because they have a group to fit into.

I am, for many reasons, fascinated by "New Atheism," and this point is one that I don't quite understand. I remember Dawkins' introduction to the paperback The God Delusion in which he says a word or two about organizing atheists. He says that doing so is like "herding cats," since atheists are free thinking and resist characterization. I believe atheists are hard to organize, but not for Dawkins' self-congratulatory reason. Atheists do resist characterization, but are hard to organize because the term itself a negative, like Julian Baggini says in this article, and refers to too broad a field of individuals to have any import. I guess I just haven't understood how organizing a "community" of self-identified atheists, then, has enough positive content to look like anything at all. Dawkins tries nonetheless, and this is why I think the whole enterprise becomes reflexive, where the badge of honor "atheist" becomes an end in itself. In reality, a whole slew of intellectuals and non-intellectuals are atheists, but it would be misleading to say they are "atheist" thinkers. I remember Terry Eagleton making this point in his critique of Dawkins: countless thinkers, artists, and intellectual movements are "atheist," but produce positive content beyond that (incidental) negative descriptor. While lack of belief in God might inform your intellectual production, I'd prefer to hear about that production itself, in an assertion about, say, human rights, than the empty qualification of "atheist." Organizing atheists around the pure description of atheism seems to me to wind up in the same identity politics that fideistic religion plays, where identification with the tribe trumps genuine thinking. I hope I'm not mischaracterizing New Atheism on this one.
posted by Dia Nomou Nomo Apethanon at 5:06 PM on April 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Does atheism even need science, let alone rationalism? I'm inclined to believe it doesn't. So it always strikes me as odd when people invoke rationality as the cornerstone of atheism.

No, I don't believe it does either. I think the atheism I grew up with was associated more with the cultural value of 'live and let live', self-governance, or whatever you want to call it. Priests and overtly religious people were seen more as busibodies and presumptuous, rather than irrational or unscientific. Perhaps the root cause of atheism - for my family and potentially many more belonging to the working-class - was to escape middle-class oversight/value imperialism. Proselytising atheism would be kinda contrary to how these people thought, and probably impossible because of the lack of a coherent belief system to replace theism.

I understand the worth in actively standing up against theism however, as my parents and grandparents (and me), have all had to keep quiet and not push the issue while many people around us did the god bit. I went to a Catholic school, and having the teacher ask in front of the whole class which parish I belonged to, and then proceed to draw out from me saying 'none' that I was shock!, unbaptised and double shock!!, not even a nominal Christian or other religion. The kind of atheism I knew as an eleven year old didn't prepare me to reply or rebut that kind of treatment, but only to put up with it and try to shake it off later. Some kind of intellectual tool or properly formed ideology would have been useful.
posted by Sova at 5:12 PM on April 2, 2009 [3 favorites]



How did you experience this, how many atheists were present and reading the book during this experience of yours, how did you determine what they read it for, and by what measure did you determine that "most" atheists were involved in this experience of yours?


By "most", I meant most of the atheists I know who have read one of these books. The "experience" was being in the same room as them while they were reading it and having them chuckle and say "listen to this (irrational thing some christians somewhere did)" over and over again. Given that these were the only things they ever mentioned about the book, I assumed that LOLXTIANS was what they were getting out of it. But as I said in a clearly doomed attempt to ward off exactly this kind of criticism in my original comment, that was my experience. Your experiences of other's experiences of Dawkin's experiences are obviously different to mine.

I don't know what supercillious means
posted by minifigs at 5:25 PM on April 2, 2009


Attempts at reason are amusing when they go astray.
posted by oddman at 5:35 PM on April 2, 2009


But if we demonise all religion, such coalitions of the reasonable are not possible. Instead, we are likely to see moderate religious believers join ranks with fundamentalists, the enemies of their enemy, to resist what they see as an attempt to wipe out all forms of religious belief.

I disagree and I think he gets religion wrong too.

Fundamentalism is a movement to modernize religion by bringing it to the center of a modern culture without giving up anything necessary to modernity at all. What confuses the issue is that they seek to replace the least concrete humanistic tendencies that aren't deemed necessary to modern life today, but which may have succeeded thus far thanks to modern developments (such as democracy). Fundamentalism knows that humanistic ideas are vulnerable and believes that if it's just a matter of our opinions to live by, then we may as well live by theirs. Fundamentalism can fill any relativist void rather easily because it simply crowns itself king as usual, then demonizes all other religion as superstitious, including moderate religion.

So-called moderate religion is typically based on the nostalgic assumption that old religion can be understood to make sense if it can be interpreted correctly by modernistic means, which is basically anathema to religious fundamentalism.
posted by Brian B. at 5:36 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


But if we demonise all religion, such coalitions of the reasonable are not possible. Instead, we are likely to see moderate religious believers join ranks with fundamentalists, the enemies of their enemy, to resist what they see as an attempt to wipe out all forms of religious belief.

I disagree and I think he gets religion wrong too.


I was mulling over pretty much the same thing. I think I would need more evidence to buy the fact that atheists talking about atheism makes moderate religious people more inclined to become fundamentalists. It sounds plausible on paper but when I think about real-life moderate religious people I know, they're moderate because they look at the fundamentalists and think they're unreasonable. If someone, say, believes in evolution and gay rights and freedom of religion, it's going to take a lot more than atheism to drive them towards fundamentalism. And at least some religious moderates pride themselves simply on being moderate; they look at atheism and fundamentalism as two "extremes" on a spectrum, and they're glad not to be extremist.

I just don't see how a snarky quote from Sam Harris would influence their beliefs in that regard at all. The moderates I know usually regard things like that as, "Yeah, he has a point, but he doesn't have to be such a dick about it." I think one would have to have a rather uncharitable view of the intelligence of religious moderates to think they aren't reasonable about such things. That part of Baginni's piece, more than anything, made me wonder who really has the low opinion of religious people.
posted by Nattie at 5:53 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


You think it's hard being an atheist? Try being a weak agnostic.
posted by Talez at 6:05 PM on April 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is a pretty good response to the question of why we're angry and vocal.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 6:37 PM on April 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Brian the atheist dog on 'Family Guy' hits home for demonized nonbelievers
posted by homunculus at 6:40 PM on April 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


And remember that belief in god was a very minor part of my life. I can't imagine that people who are more religious wouldn't be inclined to feel much more defensive.

If you mean more pious, it's been my experience that people with the most conviction are the least defensive in the face of my professions of atheism. That's not to say they can't be hostile, but only in the sense that they may see me as an opponent in a holy war, rather than as a challenge to their faith.

having the courage to accept (and, one hopes, embrace) the sometimes depressingly pragmatic reality of a science-based life on Earth

Courage, really? I never chose Atheism. I did choose the label, but my lack of faith was not a choice , it's just part of my nature. I chose the label of Atheist rather than agnostic, because once you admit the even infinitely small possibility of God's existence to people, they always want to waste your time arguing that you should get off the fence. After replying on several occasions that the only reason I don't claim to be an Atheist is because I'm not omniscient, and explaining that I'm an agnostic about God the same way I am about unicorns, leprechauns, little green men, etc... I realized it'd be a lot less work to just embrace the label Atheist.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:45 PM on April 2, 2009


I had a fascinating conversation once with a reasonably strict muslim man at a political discussion group who seemed amazed that I was an atheist. We had a long debate about some facet or other of religion interfering with politics and near the end he asked "...but why don't you believe in God?!" I struggled mentally with this question for a minute and said "...because I have no evidence to suggest a god exists. Why do you believe in a god?"

I'm very much anti- "New Atheist". I share nothing with other atheists except a lack of belief.

I'm also not convinced by arguments that religion is the 'root of all evil' so even that angle doesn't convince me to ally myself with other non-believers.

aside: if the comment above about the Scarlet A tshirt was implying that anarchists were some kind of evil, 'antisocial' group then I suspect you don't know many anarchists. Also, many anarchists would probably laugh at being called a group. Anarchist shouldn't be a euphemism for violent.
posted by knapah at 6:51 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


From an Amazon.com review of Baggini's Short Introduction:

Another very positive aspect of the book is that it has such a pleasant, uncritical tone. This (plus the price) makes it an excellent book for atheists to give as gifts to believers. Much of the negativity regarding atheism would be dispelled if this book were widely read.

Baggini--not havng read any of the books he deplores, the mark of a lazy intellectual, IMHO--appears to believe that atheists should refrain from saying anything that might upset the rubes, who, presumably, might be converted from their folly by pleasant, uncritical argument--such as his, of course. I suggest the ancient Scottish verdict--Not Proven--for this line of reasoning. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.. famously wrote: "A man cannot be argued into liking a glass of beer."

The antitheological works of Dawkins, et al., are, by their nature, tendentious, aimed more at raising the consciousness of non-believers than converting the devout--barring the odd religionist knocked off his or her ass on the road to Damascus. A reciprocal criticism can easily be lodged at any work that proselytizes, irrespective of the topic. Pleasant, uncritical argument is unlikely to win many converts, either, but it doesn't frighten the horses or the children.

I agree completely with the notion that one should not insult people for their religious beliefs, provided that they do not involve cannibalism or the abuse of those less fortunate. Good taste is timeless. Nor would I ever, however, donate a book on atheism--either by Dawkins or by Baggini--to a confirmed religionist of any stripe.
posted by rdone at 6:57 PM on April 2, 2009


Thanks for posting that, Midnight Rambler. I wanted to link to it in my own reply, but couldn't find it before real life intruded.

I share nothing with other atheists except a lack of belief.

Don't be so dogmatic; I would be happy to share a cab to the airport with you, if the opportunity arose.
posted by TedW at 6:59 PM on April 2, 2009


I don't know what supercillious means

In the time it took you to write this, you could have looked it up online and seen that it describes your attitude toward most people who read the anti-religion books.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:02 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not to belabor the obvious but Julian Baggini talks about how he's not reviewing the books but talking about the tone of the "new atheists" right at the beginning of the article:

He's written a whole article attacking the approach of Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc. If you want to know what that approach is, your main source is the books they've written on religion. It's not clear what his source is. Their TV interviews? Those just give a very vague hint of what's in the books.

Bragging about not reading books is anti-intellectual.

It'd be a different thing if he were saying that, for instance, astrology is wrong for such-and-such reasons, and disagreeing with pro-astrology books without reading them. Then he could simply rely on his general critique of astrology, as long as he knew the books supported for astrology. But if you actually agree with the object of your criticisms, and you're just criticizing something as intangible as "tone" or "approach," you should know exactly what you're talking about. I've read some of the books he's talking about, and I've read his article, and his article doesn't really have much to do with what those books actually say.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:09 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


The idea that Atheists would cease to exist once religion was eradicated is like saying that Greek philosophy ceased to exist as soon as the earth was discovered to be spherical. I think a giant sigh of relief would be sounded, and we could carry on with progress of our civilization and quit spending all this useless time distracting each other with such a ridiculous argument - on both sides. I am an Atheist... only for one reason - I don't believe in any non-proven phenomenon. Period.
posted by lexpattison at 7:15 PM on April 2, 2009


So what are you if you believe it's possible there is a creator of the universe, but it doesn't matter? If I say I'm atheist it sounds like I have some evidence this creature doesn't exist. If I say I'm agnostic it implies that I'm sifting through the evidence trying to discern whether such a creature exists.

I mean, sure, maybe there is some unknowable intelligent being that kicked off the universe, but it doesn't seem reasonable that an intelligence on that scale would be much concerned about the daily goings on of creatures on a tiny planet lost in the mix of things. I'm sure such a being doesn't write books or appear in burning bushes or enter people's consciousness to tell them what to do. I'm mean, this creature could make it crystal clear instead of working through dubious old books, pedophiles in white collars, and fake-grinning TV preachers. So, big guy in the sky isn't monitoring my behavior on his god-scope like Big Brother in 1984 and has nothing to do with my choices to behave in a moral fashion. So how is this "god" relevant to anything I do or say?

I guess I'd have to say that I'm an apathetic when it comes to religion.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:08 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mental Wimp, what makes you think God doesn't have enough bandwidth to care for each and every one of us? I can't see much point in believing in such a limited God, either.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:16 PM on April 2, 2009


I don't believe in God, yet the utterances of atheists more often than not offend the crap out of me.
Yep, it's true, I really, really, really don't believe in God, but when most atheists start talking I feel like I'm on another planet. It would be impossible for me to believe in God any less than I do, and still it hurts my ears to listen to most atheists.
That's definitely 'most', not 'some'. Maybe there are large numbers of silent atheists I will never hear from, but the majority of self-identified atheists manage to communicate bad fucking vibes.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 8:27 PM on April 2, 2009


We often confuse the ideas in our heads for the real world; our abstractions, in many ways, blind us to reality. If you're holding a flashlight, you probably aren't thinking of it as a drinking cup, but if you unscrew the top, take the batteries out, and fill it with water, it'll serve perfectly well. Or you can fill it with dirt and make it a planter, or use several of them as legs to lift something off a table. The important thing here is that if you're looking at it with one idea, you simply aren't seeing the others; it takes active effort to see the flashlight's other possible roles.

Now, combine that tendency to see only what we expect to see with things that have no concrete existence, and there's nothing to correct you if you get it wrong. You can go absolutely off the rails, and there's nothing to stop you. Truth, beauty, justice, God -- all these things can be very useful concepts, but there's no physical reality to fix our definitions if we go astray. Many ideas appear to have no absolute truth at all.

If you get a group of people whose existence is based on defining a particular non-physical thing in a particular way, that group can become dangerous, because it doesn't have any sanity check. That's true of religions, which are clusters of people who define a Supreme Being they can't see or interact with as having particular motives and demands. But it's also true of countries: nationalism, patriotism, "promoting freedom" -- any time you have a group of people who are oriented around pushing a truth that has no concrete reality into the world, those people can become violent and dangerous.

That's why the separation of church and state is so important; there's nothing more dangerous than a church with guns, because they don't believe they can be wrong. Moral certainty and weaponry are a toxic brew. Any non-concrete idea can substitute for religion; Communism comes to mind.

When I first realized this, about fifteen years ago, I remember thinking, "Geeze, that means even the US could be a real force for evil in the world; we're a group of people oriented around a particular definition of 'freedom'." I shied away from the thought at the time, being rather naive and idealistic, but as I've learned in later life, that's entirely true; look at the horrors we've committed worldwide, particularly in Latin America, in the name of 'spreading freedom'.

ANY group that's based on a definition of something non-concrete, and is willing to resort to violence to support that definition, is deadly dangerous. The Church had its Inquisition; Stalin had his Great Purge; Mao had his Great Leap Forward.

It's not a religion problem, it's a human problem.
posted by Malor at 8:58 PM on April 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


“for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.” - depends on how you define evil I suppose, but within the common usage of the word evil that may be the dumbest thing I have ever read.
posted by jcworth at 9:02 PM on April 2, 2009


Despite the fact that the "new atheists" can be annoying, uncouth and ugly, it is very valuable to have outspoken people telling budding atheists in religious communities that it is ok to not believe and even more so, that it is acceptable to criticize religion. And if incivility is a trade off they have to make to get higher visibility, I think that is a trade off that is acceptable to make.
posted by afu at 9:15 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dude try being an atheist and a vegetarian.

WORST. DINNER PARTIES. EVER.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:16 PM on April 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


What a dreadful article.

"an atheist without a bishop to bash is like a fish without water." I don't believe in God, and I don't collect stamps. If email wiped out postal mail, I would continue not to collect stamps.

"I have not read any of their books" - so I should read his article?

"Why on earth would I devote precious reading hours to books which largely tell me what I already believe?" So you can legitimately write an article about them?

"This world view is essentially a very general form of naturalism, in which there are not two kinds of stuff, the natural and the supernatural, but one. The forces that govern this substance are also natural ones and there is no ultimate purpose or agency behind them. Human life is biological, and thus does not survive beyond biological death." These are very strong statements. I have some sympathy with them, suspect they might be true, but am definitely not sure. I'm certainly not sure in the way that a theist is "sure" about their beliefs.

"[O]nly through stupidity or crass disregard for reason could anyone be anything other than an atheist." There is a saying in Christianity, "credo quam absurdum" - I believe because it is ridiculous. All religions require you to believe in miracles - things you'd simply not believe if it wasn't a religion. Things like Buddhism and Daoism that don't require you to believe in miracles simply aren't religions at all in my book.

"The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not." (Eric Hoffer)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:34 PM on April 2, 2009



Chocolate Pickle: "What I believe isn't a Christian's business. And what he believes isn't any of my business, either. I don't want to be 'saved' by him, and I don't feel any need to try to save him either."

mullingitover: A great sentiment. However, virtually no Atheists are demanding a stop to religious teaching in religious schools. Meanwhile, there are legions of theists demanding a stop to secular education in secular schools.


A "stop to secular education"? It would be more correct to say that some theists are insisting on the inclusion of certain religious teachings in public schools. The comment above makes it sound like secular ideas are entirely unwelcome in religious schools and that a great number of theists want Bible study to outright replace subjects like American history and geometry--not a very precise assessment of religious activism at all. Indeed, this comment demonstrates almost exactly the kind of wildly exaggerated characterization of the religious that the article criticizes.

It's obvious to me that this kind of bluster is unnecessary in opposing religious teaching in public school, and I am compelled to agree with Mr. Baggini overall. Incidentally, his article mentions a number of religious organizations taking part in a coalition to resist the spread of religious schools.
posted by millions at 10:24 PM on April 2, 2009


Ahh, yes, MeFi's two minute hate.
posted by rodgerd at 11:24 PM on April 2, 2009


I generally prefer to call myself a Humanist, when pressed:
.
"Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality."

When met with the usual 'huh?', I summarize it as 'somewhat like Christian values, but without a belief in God or the supernatural.' - which isn't particularly true (abortion, gay rights), but it's close enough for casual inquiry.

If pressed further, 'Yes, it's a form of atheism, with a desire to build a more humane society through reason and scientific enquiry - the greeks came up with it'.

It's very helpful, as it's not only what I've believed since I was a teenager, but heads off most of the usual negative preconceptions people have of atheists. It's certainly true that many religions people assume that rejection of God is also rejection of any moral framework; atheism is a form of satanism or hedonism in their eyes.

I respect Dawkins though. He's prepared to take on the persistent religious dogma that permeates society, including British society, and the automatic assumption that religion should have a part in government (26 Bishops in the House of Lords) because of inertia and tradition. He also takes on those who attack him with full vigour and logical argument righ on back. Yes, he gets flak for being strident, but atheists have just as much right to their world view as Christians. Christians plaster the buses with adverts for churches constantly, yet one one poster campaign 'there's probably no God - now stop worrying and enjoy your life' causes uproar amongst the fundamentalists and bus drivers refusing to drive buses with the poster on. No reports yet of atheist bus drivers refusing to drive Buses with Christian or Islamic adverts on.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:38 PM on April 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


In my middle school yearbook there were pictures of all the clubs. Speech, Journalism, Christian Atheletes, Greek, Anime, Computers, a whole bunch of random ones. It was a very clubby school, as long as a student could find a teacher to sponsor his club then it would be included in the yearbook.

I remember when we got it, after we'd gotten all of our signatures exchanged, my friend and I looked through the back. It was the last day of school, there was maybe an hour or so of class left, and we were just killing time.

I remember feeling as if my heart stopped when we saw an atheist club. My friend (a Mormon, incidentally), laughed, because there was only the teacher pictured. The kid who'd requested the club didn't want his photo taken, I guess, and no one else had joined. I laughed, too, because it was just weird to me. I hadn't grown up particularly religious, but saying you're an atheist in Texas is like saying you want to eat babies. And here was this science teacher proclaiming that he liked to eat babies. We laughed, and we called him a loser, and the next year a lot of kids switched out of his class because parents didn't want their kids instructed by the weird atheist dude.

What an awesome guy. This is a part of the country where teaching evolution is a battle, and he put his career on the line in order for some kid he probably barely even knew could feel okay about not believing in god.

I wish that these new atheists would be a little bit more like him. Instead of arguing with religious people they could just let others know that there are other people who don't believe in god, and that they're not amoral satan-worshipping pedophiles. Probably.
posted by jnaps at 11:43 PM on April 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


My wife is always saying, "Have the courage of your lack of convictions!" in response to my closeted Atheism.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:10 AM on April 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'd love to be an apatheist ("I don't know and I don't care"), but the in-your-face attitude of some Christians who insist I must have a standpoint on this forces me to say that I don't believe their faith and think their story-book has no basis in reality, and I guess that makes me an atheist instead.

People who believe in the FSM, Zeus, Allah, Thor, or whatever, but never bother me with their faith will never hear from me on this subject.

Note also that there's plenty of religious people who go about this in a very decent way, check this for an example.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:18 AM on April 3, 2009


Atheists. Are. Not. Lions.
posted by srboisvert at 2:06 AM on April 3, 2009


It's interesting the way modern atheism seems to be dividing into sects. Perhaps the Dawkinsites should create an Inquisition to root out the Bagginsian Heresy?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:45 AM on April 3, 2009


as long as he knew the books supported for astrology...

Yikes, I mean "supported astrology," of course. Could we please get an edit feature on Mefi?
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:51 AM on April 3, 2009


Personally, I don't like evangelicals of any stripe.

On the other hand, a friend's mother once found out I was an atheist and asked me why I hated God. I found it a bit sad that she thought atheists "hated God."

There is, I suppose, a fine line between education and evangelism.
posted by moonbiter at 4:07 AM on April 3, 2009


HEARING AND LISTENING ARE NOT THE SAME THING.

True. Christians might LISTEN to Jimi, but only Atheists can really HEAR him.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:42 AM on April 3, 2009


Dude try being an atheist and a vegetarian.

WORST. DINNER PARTIES. EVER.
posted by turgid dahlia



I'm with ya.

"You know, God put the animals here for us to eat!"

"Hey, put down the knife, buddy...I'm not a carrot!.....heh....really, wait....NOOO!!"
posted by orme at 5:02 AM on April 3, 2009


Not reading The God Delusion, God is Not Great, Breaking the Spell and The End of Faith is perfectly reasonable. Why on earth would I devote precious reading hours to books which largely tell me what I already believe?

This is far and away the dumbest thing I have read this week.

Protip: if you're going to write an article that purports to attack the intellectual dishonesty of a platform, don't out yourself as an intellectually dishonest anti-academic nutbag in the second paragraph of your article, you miserable shitweasel. Hey, this book just affirms what I already think I know about its subject matter, so there's no reason to read it, when I can instead broadly generalize what I think its points are! Try pulling that shit in a high school science class, and you'll get exactly the dressing down you deserve; I'm not sure why no one's calling him out on it here.
posted by Mayor West at 5:50 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, you people with your rationalizations. On both sides!

Christ, what assholes!
posted by Eideteker at 5:55 AM on April 3, 2009


You know, I'll just say, I have quite a few friends who are pretty religious (sorry) followers of the four listed in the article, but mostly Dawkins and Hitchens, and I have to say, although I tend to agree with a lot of the article's points, it didn't touch upon what my biggest objection to those who follow the aforementioned writers--almost each and every one of them, that I have met, seems to have an unbelievably simplistic view of how religious works, and how it affects people, that is really, fundamentally, based in Christianity, especially more right-wing and evangelical sects of christianity. Now, without getting into whether the viewpoint that has been put forth to me of "All religions are, essentially the same, and we can use Christianity as the universal standard," is implicitly anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim, as well as anti-any-non-christianity, its application often has a really dark strain of this in it--especially when international politics gets involved. Now, for the record, as an atheist Jew, from a really lefty reform community, I can't help but feel a bit annoyed or offended when the position is put out there that religion and intellect are oppositional, or that religion is just a way for people to exert social control, or believe in "fairy tales" to justify a right-wing agenda--I can understand my parents' desire to preserve a religious tradition, which, to them, is the basis of a social philosophy centered around civil rights and other forms of social justice, as well as (again, to them) the centerpiece of a cultural tradition which they know their parents, grandparents, etc, worked incredibly hard to make sure still existed for them. Usually, when I've presented my Dawkinsite/Hitchenite friends with this, it's regarded with either skepticism, or explained away as an exception that need not be addressed, or they insist that somewhere, in there, is a core that resembles those things that they've generalized from "Christianity" to "Religion."

The worst, however, is when I've wound up talking about various points of international politics with them, usually centered around Israel/Palestine. Somehow, the analysis of "the issue here is that people believe in crazy, violent things, and that's what's at the core of this" doesn't do it for me--this is at the extreme of the things I've heard, but there is often a general tone that seems to buy into the idea that, in the end, the real issue at hand here, or the real motivating factor, is religion--and specifically, a 2-dimensional analysis of religion. As an anti-Zionist who's dedicated a lot of time to reading up on these issues, as well as doing a good amount of organizing around these issues, this view is insultingly stupid, and a complete misrepresentation of what's going on in Israel/Palestine, where, I would say, the discourse on race and ethnicity is probably far more applicable than that of religion--if that is even applicable. In the end, most of these issues are, pretty fundamentally more about land, history, access to resources and power, than a blind trust in god. Now, this might be a set of beliefs that is unique to the people I've known or met, but when I read posts in the most recent Israel/Palestine thread that state, unprompted, "...if god gave Jewish people the "holy" land, I think that some proof of that should be forthcoming. It's utter bullshit to cling to this moronic voodoo notion that some invisible being somehow granted the modern state of Israel to the exclusive use followers of the Jewish religion" I somehow doubt it.
posted by Subcommandante Cheese at 6:07 AM on April 3, 2009


S. Cheese: Holy derail attempt Batman!
posted by ZeroAmbition at 6:24 AM on April 3, 2009


Mental Wimp: So what are you if you believe it's possible there is a creator of the universe, but it doesn't matter? If I say I'm atheist it sounds like I have some evidence this creature doesn't exist. If I say I'm agnostic it implies that I'm sifting through the evidence trying to discern whether such a creature exists.

I actually find these misconceptions about atheism and agnosticism, promulgated in just about every discussion about this topic, to be almost as distressing as the assumptions by theists, that I'm angry, bitter, and unrooted in my ethics.

Jaltcoh: He's written a whole article attacking the approach of Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc. If you want to know what that approach is, your main source is the books they've written on religion. It's not clear what his source is. Their TV interviews? Those just give a very vague hint of what's in the books.

Um, there are other venues where these debates are taking place. Dawkins for example, is a regular contributor to The Humanist and Free Inquiry, and having read many of his essays, my primary criticisms of him are that he hangs far too much analysis on the assumption that ideas are just another form of gene, and can be explained using population genetics, and that in the focus on belief, community and practice seem to disappear from his analysis. Religion is not just about God, and hanging the entire criticism on the justifiability of belief in God opens up your flank.

Which is why I think that Schermer and Wilson's discussions of religion hit closer to the target, and are ultimately much more powerful. (Although Wilson, to some extent share the folly of memetics.) Schermer considers the psychology of religion as, well, psychology rather than biology, and properly points out that even if subjective experience is objectively false, it's still extremely powerful and can't be easily rationalized away. Wilson points to other facets of religious belief with the suggestion that critique of religion needs to be more multifaceted than just an attack on the irrationality of belief in god.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:22 AM on April 3, 2009


I stopped with religion the day I got the old "bad things happen because humans have free will schtick."

So let's get this straight: God is omniscient and omnipotent and yet at his very first go, Adam and Eve, it all goes pear-shaped and he doesn't think a fresh approach might be a better idea. After millennia of bitter conflict he still thinks the whole free will and random misfortune thing is a good model

The God [devout] Christians would have you worship makes catastrophically poor decisions and acts like teenage schoolgirl if you don't worship him.

Thanks, but no thanks. I'll take my chances that on the offchance God exists he'll judge me on my actions and not my slavish devotion.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:37 AM on April 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I stopped with religion the day I got the old "bad things happen because humans have free will schtick."

Here's my take (and Bertrand Russell's) on that argument. (relevant self-link)
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:18 AM on April 3, 2009


I'd love to be an apatheist...

Perfect!
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:06 PM on April 3, 2009


I haven't read any of them either but, in my experience, most atheists read them for the LOLXTIANS bits rather than the arguments they present.

You know, in terms of LOLXTIANS, there are quite a few works that are significantly higher than anything produced by Dawkins. Off the top of my head are nine:

The Bible
Chick.com
Godhatesfags.com
Collected Papal Encyclicals
Televangelists (pick just about any)
Answers in Genesis
The Book of Mormon
Left Behind (in particular as deconstructed by Fred Clark (himself an evangelical Christian) at Slacktivist)
Numerous links from the Christian website Ship of Fools


Or in short for LOLXTIANS, the XTIANS themselves provide far more than Dawkins ever does (or even can).

Actually knowing something about the people you are criticising always helps...
posted by Francis at 2:55 PM on April 3, 2009


I think because "Atheist" has a negative definition (not meaning "bad" but a definition that does not actually define something rather it defines a lack of something) that much of what atheists talk about will also be negative (again, not "bad"). Your average atheist rarely espouses to whoever is nearby how great it is to watch a sunset because there is no god, they don't think that way. Since religion isn't a part of their lives, anything they have to say about it and how it relates to themselves will most likely be critical (constructive or otherwise). The eventual détente that will hopefully be achieved some day will be of the form of "as long as your beliefs (or lack of them) doesn't harm others then it's ok with me" on all sides. Currently the abuse for differences of belief choices is so far greater on the side of the believers than the atheists that it's clear which side has more work to do before this is settled. It reminds a lot of the people who, when talking about homosexuals, say "I guess it's ok if they're like *that* but why do they have to be so flamboyant about it?". Same goes for atheists, "why can't they keep it to themselves?"

p.s. Nattie, thanks for your comments, I really enjoyed reading them
posted by sineater at 3:31 PM on April 3, 2009


Holy shit, you people with your rationalizations. On both sides!

Christ, what assholes!


My shiny metal ass: let me invite you to bite it.
posted by grobstein at 4:31 PM on April 3, 2009


Holy shit, you people with your rationalizations. On both sides!

Christ, what assholes!


Buddha, what assholes!
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:35 PM on April 3, 2009


FSM, what assholes!
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:36 PM on April 3, 2009


I would like to take this opportunity to commend Metafilter for an 80+ comment thread about atheists that doesn't once spell it as "athiest". You guys are the athiest spellers ever.
posted by dersins at 4:37 PM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


dersins gettin' all athier than thou
posted by grobstein at 4:40 PM on April 3, 2009


I'm not sure why no one's calling him out on it here
So, your criticizing the man for not reading the books, but at the same time you did not actually read the thread you are complaining about? There are multiple mentions of this issue in this thread.
posted by davar at 2:02 AM on April 4, 2009


I would encourage atheists to adjust their position slightly if they haven't already. Rather than deny the existence of God, or assert disbelief in God's existence, they might simply argue against the active presence of a supreme being, here and now. Why? If theists limit the qualities of any supreme being that atheists must deny, then atheism is irrelevant to the problems of theism, and is merely personal, theoretically weak, and vulnerable to persecution by way of critical subordination. For example, there could always be a more powerful race of beings somewhere to become our God-like rulers, who fit someone's theistic set of low expectations. And since colonial theocracy can be generalized across the universe, I prefer a non-theism that is prepared for even the accidental theism.

In brief, here is such an argument. If God is consciously aware of the injustice, pain and mishap on earth, he is willfully allowing it (also known as the "problem of evil"). As such, theists worship an apparently jealous and angry God to prevent his wrath upon them, which is a form of idolatry. The problem with their reasoning, however, is that a supreme being cannot be jealous, or even angry at his own control over us, nor torment us without having an inferiority complex. Furthermore, if God was doing quality control for his creations, he would be testing for independence instead of cowardly obedience. This is because independence is a quality that requires his absence, while robotic obedience not only requires his presence, but is also a simple failure of his powers of creation. This is especially true if religious confusion is allowed to reign, as it obviously is.

The conclusion here is that theists don't stand a chance with any real supreme being. They won't be tortured for being foolish and afraid, but since their fear and praise of God are based on selfish idolatry, they would disappoint any honorable being who isn't a fraud. And since faith is never needed, not now or in the presence of such a being, they've likewise learned nothing worth saving. Therefore, an absent God defeats the demand for theism.
posted by Brian B. at 2:53 PM on April 4, 2009


This week in religion and politics: The culture wars aren't coming to a close, "common ground" isn't common at all, and "abortion reduction" is still misleading rhetoric.
posted by homunculus at 2:32 PM on April 8, 2009


This week in religion and politics: The culture wars aren't coming to a close, "common ground" isn't common at all, and "abortion reduction" is still misleading rhetoric.

If you think this is relevant to the discussion, you should explain yourself. Neither the headline nor the article suggests any connection to atheism, "new" or old, except insofar as it criticizes the politics associated with Christian fundamentalism. Mostly it sounds like the blather of a culture warrior who can't tell she's "embedded" with a culture war vanguard; she reports from her entrenched position as though she has a bird's-eye view.
posted by grobstein at 2:42 PM on April 8, 2009


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