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December 20, 2010 10:40 AM   Subscribe

So what does the question "Why don't you believe in God?" really mean. I think when someone asks that they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking "what makes you so special? How come you weren't brainwashed with the rest of us?"

Ricky Gervais explains why he's an atheist.
posted by swift (309 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
"from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe"

This is in fact false.
posted by oddman at 10:47 AM on December 20, 2010


The Santa lie kind of predisposed me to believe that God was a lie too. Much later in life I have a more nuanced understanding of faith, doubt and deception, but still if you want that unwavering conviction in your children you might consider giving the Santa thing a miss.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:50 AM on December 20, 2010 [11 favorites]


gah! I think he is missing the point. Again and again I see the same tired arguments played out.

Science has nothing to say about religion and, for its part, religion cannot intrude upon the baldfaced horror of mechanism.

And so we go tumbling down the rabbit-hole, each side presenting the verbal queues that indicate only the arguments of the other side.

And all around, self-satisfaction in heaping portions.
posted by kuatto at 10:52 AM on December 20, 2010 [11 favorites]


and, for its part, religion cannot intrude upon the baldfaced horror of mechanism.

If that's another way of saying "vice versa", that's very rarely a given.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:54 AM on December 20, 2010


Science has nothing to say about religion

It certainly has a lot to say about creation myths, however, which gets some people very, very upset.
posted by Malor at 10:55 AM on December 20, 2010 [63 favorites]


You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.

QFT.
posted by headnsouth at 10:55 AM on December 20, 2010 [19 favorites]


As an atheist, I am really tired of this celebrity atheist trend, in which books are written and people go on talk shows to discuss why they're an atheist and, by implication, why all reasonable people should also be atheists.

Why don’t you believe in God? I get that question all the time.

Really? Because I've never gotten it that I can remember and none of my Christian family or friends think I believe in God. I don't understand why it's necessary to tell the world what you believe or don't believe about the origin of the universe and the basis for your moral worldview. Isn't being a good, tolerant person enough?
posted by something something at 10:55 AM on December 20, 2010 [12 favorites]


I propose a new term: Yaytheist.

For all those who feel the need to foist upon others their understanding of the special snowflakeness of their personal relationship to faith.
posted by chavenet at 10:56 AM on December 20, 2010 [89 favorites]


So what does the question "Why don't you believe in God?" really mean

I totally agree with him that this is a ridiculous (and potentially very personal) question, and the whole piece is framed as if this is something that he is asked regularly. Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot? It just seems like a silly question -- NOT believing in something doesn't really seem to demand a reason, and so framing the whole piece around this question feels a bit strange to me.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:57 AM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Isn't being a good, tolerant person enough?

It should be enough, but I get asked about it by family as well, and I enjoy startling them with my steadfast morals, community-mindedness, and ethical code.
posted by theredpen at 11:00 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. ... You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.

Ricky, I think there are plenty of spiritual people that will agree with you on this. Hinduism and Buddhism are the 3rd and 4th largest religions in the world, respectively.
posted by naju at 11:00 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

It's possible that Gervais fields a greater number of obnoxious personal questions than the average atheist.
posted by swift at 11:01 AM on December 20, 2010 [20 favorites]


If I were a celebrity, and someone asked me to publish an essay on the causes of the decline of the Roman Empire, I'd say "Huh? Why me? Can't you get an expert on that to do something? I'd just add a lot of imprecise noise to the discussion." Same thing on atheism/theism.

Loved "The Invention of Lying" though, so I'll let this ridiculousness pass.
posted by bluejayk at 11:01 AM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot? It just seems like a silly question -- NOT believing in something doesn't really seem to demand a reason, and so framing the whole piece around this question feels a bit strange to me.

Not only have I had this asked, the guy who asked me went on to conclude, over my protestations and explanations, that the reason was because "I just wanted to be able to sin".
posted by vorfeed at 11:01 AM on December 20, 2010 [28 favorites]


How do such people even know you're an atheist in the first place? My close friends and family know I'm not religious, but in general I find it best to just not talk about it. I'm certainly not going to get all up in someone's face - whether it's my grandma, a coworker, a stranger, whomever - and tell them I don't believe in Jesus. To me it's the same as discussing one's views on abortion or vegetarianism; you're never going to change anyone's mind either way, so why discuss it?
posted by something something at 11:06 AM on December 20, 2010


I think when someone asks that they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking "what makes you so special? How come you weren't brainwashed with the rest of us?"

Yeah, that's always a good way to approach things.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:06 AM on December 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


Not only have I had this asked, the guy who asked me went on to conclude, over my protestations and explanations, that the reason was because "I just wanted to be able to sin".

Whoa, holy shit, then I am super-glad I asked because holy hell that's nuts (not that I don't enjoy a moderate amount of sinning myself).
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:07 AM on December 20, 2010


Man, look at those comments! And countless threads like this one spawning from that one article! Gervais is King of the Trolls!
posted by dickasso at 11:08 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

I don't discuss it with friends anymore and I've not known strangers to be so forward. Pity really, I'd quite enjoy the debate.
posted by Skorgu at 11:09 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

Not if you only hang out with other atheists.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:10 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


NOT believing in something doesn't really seem to demand a reason

Do you know any religious people? What they assume and what they demand are not entirely based on logic or eason.

I am asked that question regularly fairly often. My answer is similar to Gervais's answer. This makes most people leave me alone.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 11:10 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

Usually they don't ask. Most of the time they laugh and tell me how narrow minded I am because I don't believe in whatever god they know in their hearts is the right one to believe in.

To be fair, just as many atheists are total dicks too.
posted by bondcliff at 11:10 AM on December 20, 2010 [13 favorites]


I enjoy Gervais's comedy, so I'm not going to read this interview, because I'm sure I'd be annoyed by his 'yaytheism.' I used to be an atheist myself, and I don't find discussions of 'why I am an atheist' to be all that interesting.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 11:11 AM on December 20, 2010


I guess all the tumbling-over-themselves-to-say-we-should-keep-(non)faith-private defensiveness in this thread is a good thing in the sense once espoused by a wise man: I'm glad that religion now needs defense rather than rationalism.
posted by DU at 11:12 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


The whole "belief in God/gods" thing is interesting to me because of the world "belief". If I ask you, "Do you believe in aliens?" I'm asking you whether or not you think they exist. If I ask you, "Do you believe in me?" I'm asking whether or not you trust me, which is an entirely other thing. The question, "Do you believe in God?" is always phrased with the existence-belief, with an implicit assumption that if you think It exists, you'd also trust-belief... but an Almighty of some variety could appear in a thunderbolt before me, now, and I'm pretty sure I still wouldn't trust It. The trust-belief angle is a way more interesting question.

Anyone have linguistic insight into this question in other languages?
posted by curious nu at 11:12 AM on December 20, 2010 [29 favorites]


kuatto: "Science has nothing to say about religion and, for its part, religion cannot intrude upon the baldfaced horror of mechanism. "

Well the tricky thing here is how one defines religion. Most people who practice a religion use it not only as a set of ethical norms, but also as a framing for building a community, and as an indicator of how the world works, how things all got started in the first place, and what makes things happen. It may be helpful not to ask "what religion is", but instead "what religion does", and it does many things in many different domains. Regarding ethics alone, you could be right, there is at least an argument to be had. Regarding social cohesion and community also. Regarding many of the other things religion does, science pretty much completely replaces it.

I will take the baldface horror of modern hygeine and antibiotics and modern understanding of nutrition and agriculture over the comforting spiritual power of prayer and the certainty of religious codes from the likes of deuteronomy, thanks.

Yeah I am aware I can have both but I really don't want that religious stuff.
posted by idiopath at 11:12 AM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


you’d pop a leach down your trousers

mums didn’t hope as high as their kids growing up to be doctors

It seems that Ricky Gervais doesn't believe in editors, either.
posted by Camofrog at 11:14 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not only have I had this asked, the guy who asked me went on to conclude, over my protestations and explanations, that the reason was because "I just wanted to be able to sin".

What a perfect reason! I love it and will use it if asked (I'm another who's never been asked).
posted by Dragonness at 11:14 AM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


I love the answer "I just wanted to be able to sin," and will use it from now on.
posted by Babblesort at 11:14 AM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

I think one time some door-to-door religion people might have asked me that, but I was too busy trying to shut up my barking dogs to really have a conversation about it. Aside from that I can't really think of someone who's asked that, but at the same time I don't really talk that much about what I don't believe in. Especially about religion in mixed company.

I don't really see the value in having conversations about something that no one is going to change their opinion of, and the social downside of coming out as an atheist is always looming. If asked I tell the truth (I don't believe in a God or gods, that's cool if you do and aren't screwing up the world because of it) but maybe I don't get that question because it doesn't come up in my day.
posted by revgeorge at 11:15 AM on December 20, 2010


Do you know any religious people? What they assume and what they demand are not entirely based on logic or eason.

I'm moderately religious as is my husband and my mother is an Episcopal priest so I'd say yes (although there are those who would say that doesn't count). In general I try to avoid people who are huge pains in the ass which might be why I haven't encountered this question so much.

I do more or less understand why this sort of thing comes up and I'm happy to have this type of conversation with people (whether or not they believe in God) but the espousing of "sides" always feels very strange to me; I understand why we'd want to discuss, I just don't get why anyone would feel a need to convince.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:15 AM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


So what does the question "Why don't you believe in God?" really mean

Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?


A lot, no. But the question of "Why don't you believe in God?" or its subtle variants comes up sometimes and you never know where things go from that point. In my special snowflake existence, it led to me getting black-sheeped by my extended family. Most of my dad's side, Roman Catholic, consider me to be somewhat of a traitor to the family name for not only moving 2000 miles from all-glorious Ohio but also not giving a crap about what Father Drunky1 had to say at Sunday's sermon. My aunt, uncle, grandparents and some cousins all hit me with the question at one time or another, and none liked my responses which varied through the years.

My sister is probably the hardest to deal with because the subject always comes up when I see them, and especially at the holidays. Despite growing up together she became a born-again Southern Baptist, and I can't even be bothered by religion. As a result, much of my family outside of my parents talks to me rarely at best. It's a damn good thing I've got many friends in the same boat.

1 - Father Drunky. I don't remember his name, but he is my fondest and most hated memory out of the handful of times I got stuck into going to church with my grandparents. In that classic joke where the new priest gulps the vodka rather than sips it, well, this guy was the punchline. One time, he managed to confuse 12 Commandments and 10 Apostles. Before the sermon he's usually on his third or fourth vodka, and despite vodka having "no aroma" you could smell it from the altar to the balcony. The best one he pulled was during one of my cousins' first communion. During the sermon that day they had all of the children lined up in front of the congregation. Father Drunky decided that it was the perfect day to have his sermon about sexual abuse of children by priests.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:16 AM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

Well, I've found that believers tend to assume I'm a believer too, and in conversation that sometimes leads to me correcting the assumption, and the question of how that came to pass is a pretty common followup.
posted by padraigin at 11:16 AM on December 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


How do such people even know you're an atheist in the first place?

In my case, the asker was a campus proselytiser. He asked if I was religious. I told him "no, I'm an atheist". I've had similar reactions since, though never quite to the sheer gold standard of "LOL SIN!"

I don't play the "oh, I'm not very religious" card anymore -- the idea that I should have to tiptoe around my own beliefs is ridiculous. If people ask, I tell them.
posted by vorfeed at 11:16 AM on December 20, 2010 [13 favorites]


This is in fact false.

How do you get around the old omniscient and immutable thing?

The Santa lie kind of predisposed me to believe that God was a lie too.

Same here. I think it's fascinating that kids are told of two omniscient, fatherly, largely benevolent supernatural beings with the capacity to reward and punish, and expected to stop believing in only one of them at age five. Seems like a total own goal from the religious point of view.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 11:17 AM on December 20, 2010 [35 favorites]


"I don't talk about religion" is always an option. I don't considering it "tiptoeing around my beliefs," but rather saving myself a really annoying unnecessary conversation. There is nothing less interesting to me than hearing somebody else talk about their religious beliefs.
posted by something something at 11:20 AM on December 20, 2010



I propose a new term: Yaytheist.


I think you can do better than "yay theism".
posted by Space Coyote at 11:23 AM on December 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


Padraigin said for me. People so often assume I'm just like them. I work in show biz, so I must be a liberal Democrat. My kids went to Catholic schools, so I must be religious. With strangers and slight acquaintances, I smile and nod, no need to enlighten them.
Oddly, I believed in Santa with a burning fanatical faith, but I don't ever recall believing in god. I was pretty sure Jesus was fictional as well, until I was in high school, I think. Of this trinity, I'd love for Santa to be real.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:24 AM on December 20, 2010


"I love the answer "I just wanted to be able to sin," and will use it from now on"

Well, if you don't, then Jesus died for nothing.
posted by sidereal at 11:24 AM on December 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


I've been asked that question a number of times.

Also, a huge proportion of Orthodox Jews seem to assume that anybody who stops believing does so solely for the sex and bacon and any talk of other reasons is just rationalizing.

Grating to see Metafilter's defend religion from the evil atheists (or "yaytheists" in this case) crowd come out again. Just because the religious people you know are liberal and barely distinguishable from actual atheists doesn't mean most are. 40% of Americans are still young-Earth creationists. A majority would not vote for an atheist. Young people are still taught every day that if they question God's existence, they're literally going to be tortured for eternity. Why do you need to bash the very, very few famous atheists who are willing to speak openly about their lack of faith?
posted by callmejay at 11:25 AM on December 20, 2010 [80 favorites]


"I don't talk about religion" is always an option.

And if one wants to be a stylish sort, one could say: "I'm sorry - I don't talk about politics after three drinks, or religion before."
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:26 AM on December 20, 2010 [15 favorites]


a little headband I put around my throat: "Seems like a total own goal from the religious point of view."

I always figured that the invention of Santa was a false flag operation by secret atheists trying to undermine the place of religion in society from within. That and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.
posted by idiopath at 11:27 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, it's always seemed to me that the big disconnect between religious people and atheists is the level to which beliefs (or lack thereof) factor into our daily lives. Many religious people I know seem to feel that atheists must spend as much time thinking about a lack of god as they do thinking about their religion. This has never been true for me - I don't remember the last time, before this thread popped up, that I sat down and thought about my lack of religion - and it's why I find public statements of atheism so irritating. Like these American Atheist billboards that are going up to protest Christmas - it just makes me cringe. What is the agenda there? It is so bizarre to me that anyone, Christian or atheist or Muslim or what have you, thinks it's a good idea to spend their time proselytizing. It's just obnoxious.
posted by something something at 11:28 AM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

Part of my family is from The South, and I used to live there, so I know many people from round those parts. It is a very religious area.

I get this all the time. The idea of an Atheist to them is crazy, because of burning in Hell.

Kind of weird, but the asking part is double-special. I imagine that they feel they get some kind of Brownie Points to be redeemed at the church on Sunday when they get to "save" somebody, so they're always constantly trying to do this.

I hope this isn't snarky, it is just the way it seems to me. I'm probably as much of an asshole when I find somebody that thinks Lady Gaga is a legitimate musical artist.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:28 AM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


What ever happened to not discussing politics and religion in polite company?
posted by entropicamericana at 11:28 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


sidereal: "Jesus died for nothing"

(miss)QFT
posted by idiopath at 11:29 AM on December 20, 2010


entropicamericana: the Internet is not polite company.
posted by idiopath at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2010 [10 favorites]


Same here. I think it's fascinating that kids are told of two omniscient, fatherly, largely benevolent supernatural beings with the capacity to reward and punish, and expected to stop believing in only one of them at age five.

The difference is once the kids no longer believe in Santa they can sit back and have a laugh with it about the adults instead of the adults going their whole lives telling the kids they'll burn in hell or are otherwise doomed if they don't believe in Santa.

Also, I don't think too many laws have been created or wars fought in the name of Santa. Unless you count the time Burgermeister Meisterburger took away all the toys in Sombertown.
posted by bondcliff at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


I propose a new term: Yaytheist.

For all those who feel the need to foist upon others their understanding of the special snowflakeness of their personal relationship to faith.


I love this! Can we make one for gay people who show public displays of affection? Or women who are always going on about how they should get paid as much as men for doing the same work? There's just not enough marginalization of proponents of minority viewpoints these days and it makes me sad.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:31 AM on December 20, 2010 [102 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

Yes, it does. I live in a fairly religious family and get asked that question a lot by my family, I used to be Christian and my old Christian friends and acquaintances ask the same question when they find out.

It's not something I get asked by total strangers in the street, but that's probably more a function of total strangers not knowing I'm an atheist than anything else.

And as Vorfeed replied, the conclusion that atheism is just a cover for a sinful nature is common enough.

When my youngest brother was about to head off to Thailand as a Christian missionary the whole family went to his church where there was supposed to be some kind of going away prayer and celebration for him during the service.

The sermon that day was about why atheists aren't really atheists, why we actually "know" that God exists but choose to live in denial for our own nefarious purposes. Had it not been a special church service for my younger brother I might have been tempted to heckle the twit, or at the very least tell him after the service what a stupid sermon it was.

This wasn't an overly crazy fundamentalist church by the way, just a run of the mill evangelical church with a congregation of young people.

And of course if you've ever been on YouTube and seen the religious discussions there, you won't have to wait long until some theist idiot claims that the true cause of the Holocaust, the deaths in the Soviet Union under Stalin, Pol Pot etc was atheism and that atheists need to be suppressed to prevent a recurrence.

That Hitler was a God-toting Roman Catholic who wrote in great detail about his religious beliefs in Mein Kampf and other places and that he said many nasty things about atheists and the need to indoctrinate children in Christianity so as to create a moral society does not bother anyone who makes that point, nor does it occur to them that atheism is not the same thing as communism.
posted by Mokusatsu at 11:32 AM on December 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

Oddly enough, every time the issue of my belief has come up, it's because I did something nice for a complete stranger; bought them a soda when they didn't have change for the machine, helped them with something they'd dropped, gave a handout to a person in need. "Oh thank you! You must be a Christian!" or "Thank you! You're so kind.. what church do you go to?" or "Thank you-- I believe in the Lord Jehovah, sister, and I know God blesses you--" With the first one (the "you must be Christian!") lady, I said that actually I was agnostic-- and got a ten-minute argument on how I could possibly be nice to someone if I didn't believe in God and how I was going to Hell and she was worried about my immortal soul, as she stood there drinking the soda I'd bought for her. (We were in line for something, or I'd have left).

The second time, I just said "I don't---" and got another lecture and in invitation to her Church and she tried to find where I lived so she could send me some pamphlets.

The third time I just kept my mouth shut. Really, I should do that more often.
posted by The otter lady at 11:32 AM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


idiopath: Oh, believe me, I know that. I'm talking about these people who are constantly accosted on their lack of beliefs.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:32 AM on December 20, 2010


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

Two, three, times a year. And I would imagine, based on the fact that he did an entire stand-up routine based around mocking the bible, Gervais gets the question rather more.

And I find it interesting that so many people get in an absolute lather when any public figure discusses their atheism. Are we not allowed to talk about it? Because I have to say, public figures discussing the reasons for their faith seem to be given a pass.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:32 AM on December 20, 2010 [32 favorites]


The whole "belief in God/gods" thing is interesting to me because of the world "belief". If I ask you, "Do you believe in aliens?" I'm asking you whether or not you think they exist. If I ask you, "Do you believe in me?" I'm asking whether or not you trust me, which is an entirely other thing. The question, "Do you believe in God?" is always phrased with the existence-belief, with an implicit assumption that if you think It exists, you'd also trust-belief... but an Almighty of some variety could appear in a thunderbolt before me, now, and I'm pretty sure I still wouldn't trust It. The trust-belief angle is a way more interesting question.

That's the original meaning of the word 'belief'. It was, in fact, a performative, like saying 'I hereby pronouce you man and wife.' To say 'I believe in God' was a little ritual in which you avowed your faith, and you couldn't say 'He believes in God' any more than you could say 'He hereby pronounces you man and wife.' I think you're right that these meanings get conflated. I'm planning to submit a cartoon to the New Yorker playing on this ambiguity: Santa's on an analyst's couch, saying 'My parents never believed in me.'

I'm a little sad that atheists apparently can't publicly discuss their atheism without everyone jumping down their throats. I like Ricky Gervais, and I was curious to hear what he had to say about the matter, just like I'd be curious to know whether he's vegetarian or had a rough childhood.
posted by painquale at 11:33 AM on December 20, 2010 [13 favorites]


This wasn't an overly crazy fundamentalist church by the way, just a run of the mill evangelical church

To me, this reads as "This wasn't an x, just an x," FWIW.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:34 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


As someone who was an atheist until the age of 35, I'm something of a novelty in my small-town Lancaster County church. It's provided me a wonderful opportunity to provide a window into an atheist world view for folks with no frame of reference for it. I've found it to be very helpful in the Sunday School classes that I teach.

Those among my friends who tend towards the atheist end of the spectrum tend to suspect that I must have suffered some sort of sharp blow to the head. :)
posted by DWRoelands at 11:34 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Santa lie kind of predisposed me to believe that God was a lie too. Much later in life I have a more nuanced understanding of faith, doubt and deception, but still if you want that unwavering conviction in your children you might consider giving the Santa thing a miss.
My Christian parents actually took great pains to explain to me -- roughly as soon as I understood that Christmas was happening -- that Santa wasn't real. They were concerned that I would grow up to think that Jesus wasn't real, either.
Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?
I've been contacted by colleagues, stopped at conferences, and had friends of family members (people I didn't know) contact me out of the blue to ask me "Why?" In some cases there is a veneer of interest with an undercurrent of "I'll bet I could be the one to convince you." That's the part that's frustrating. I'm not trying to argue anyone out of theism, and that's a matter of personal respect and discipline rather than tentativeness. I appreciate the same courtesy, but there are a lot of places where it doesn't work out that way.

It's not hard for the subject to come up once in a while if you do any substantial commenting or discussion online, or if people ask you casually what church you go to as a way of being friendly, or if people you know simply assume that you're like them and get halfway through a discussion of some religious or social issue form a Christian perspective before realizing that you don't share your presuppositions.

There are absolutely lots of people that it doesn't come up with, but I'd have to change families, social groups, and nations to make the answer "never."
posted by verb at 11:36 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


How do such people even know you're an atheist in the first place?

In Gervais's instance, a big part of his most recent show is questioning the Bible and God, so this article is probably a significant part of his tour promotion.
posted by shen1138 at 11:36 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm totally cool with atheists explaining themselves, and I like reading about it too. I just wish it wasn't framed as "this is why I don't believe in God" when nearly every one of these ends up being "this is why I don't believe in the Judeo-Christian conception of God." There is a whole universe of belief outside of "if you sin you go to hell", so making this one of the main thrusts of your argument just seems like a strawman to those of us who are spiritual but didn't grow up Christian in particular. Maybe I just need more caveats or something. Or maybe I shouldn't let it bother me.
posted by naju at 11:38 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Like these American Atheist billboards that are going up to protest Christmas

They aren't protesting Christmas, they're reaching out to atheists who may feel lonely.

If you look at what some of those billboards actually say, the message they are giving is "there are lots of people who are atheists". If you're an atheist in a redneck state you may feel particularly isolated at this time of year with all the religiosity on display. The atheist organisations putting up posters are basically about encouraging lonely or secret atheists with the thought that there are a lot more people out there like them than might appear, and if they're interested in finding out more about secularist groups they can call the numbers or visit the websites on the posters.
posted by Mokusatsu at 11:38 AM on December 20, 2010 [10 favorites]


Because I've never gotten it that I can remember and none of my Christian family or friends think I believe in God.

Then count yourself lucky. I can't imagine what would be said if my family knew my religious, or non-religious views.
posted by justgary at 11:39 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

It's happened to me a few times. I think my favorite was from, weirdly, a couple fellow actors who (one of which is a Wiccan) grilled me about my lack of belief and then managed to conclude that I really did believe in (some sort of ill-defined) God but wouldn't admit it to myself. The amount of projection and mental gymnastics involved in that argument was pretty much a solid 10.

That said, I've got no problem with y'all God-botherers as long as you leave me be. The only people who annoy me are the ones who get up in my face about this shit, and that goes for you too, professional atheist scolds who won't shut the fuck up about their enlightened viewpoints.
posted by Skot at 11:42 AM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

Yes, because...

"I don't talk about religion" is always an option.

Not in a world where the religious won't shut the fuck up about it. Or try to pass and keep laws whose sole justification is their special snowflake take on it.

But pardon me for interrupting the usual "get down the back of the bus" from the priveleged folks.
posted by rodgerd at 11:43 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


I love this! Can we make one for gay people who show public displays of affection? Or women who are always going on about how they should get paid as much as men for doing the same work? There's just not enough marginalization of proponents of minority viewpoints these days and it makes me sad.

You know, there's a world of difference between allowing people to live their lives as they choose and informing others that yours is the only right way to do things and if they disagree they are - I believe the word Gervais used was "brainwashed." Honestly I'm perfectly comfortable marginalizing a minority viewpoint if the viewpoint in question is that anyone who sees things differently in this field just hasn't thought about it / is too dumb / is brainwashed / whatever. But we already have a special term for these people: They're assholes. And being an asshole isn't endemic to being an atheist, or religious, or really any one group.

Having said all that - I thought the word "brainwashed" was troublesome, and not really in keeping with the spirit of the following passage, but I also think it's only one word and there's no real point in picking it out when this selection says so much more:

As an atheist, I see nothing “wrong” in believing in a god. I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm. If it helps you in any way, then that’s fine with me. It’s when belief starts infringing on other people’s rights when it worries me. I would never deny your right to believe in a god. I would just rather you didn’t kill people who believe in a different god, say. Or stone someone to death because your rulebook says their sexuality is immoral.

More or less everything else he wrote could have been excised painlessly, but this is gold, and there's nothing here with which I can imagine a reasonable person disagreeing.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:43 AM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


"I don't talk about religion" is always an option. I don't considering it "tiptoeing around my beliefs," but rather saving myself a really annoying unnecessary conversation. There is nothing less interesting to me than hearing somebody else talk about their religious beliefs.

That's fine for you, but it's not for me. As far as I'm concerned, we already have more than enough people who "don't talk about religion", but we could use a few more atheists.

Then again, I'm a "yaytheist" (thanks, guys, we really needed a word for atheists who aren't sufficiently ashamed of themselves!), so what do I know?
posted by vorfeed at 11:45 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yaythiest? Really? What the fuck.
posted by setanor at 11:46 AM on December 20, 2010


naju: "I just wish it wasn't framed as "this is why I don't believe in God" when nearly every one of these ends up being "this is why I don't believe in the Judeo-Christian conception of God." There is a whole universe of belief outside of "if you sin you go to hell", so making this one of the main thrusts of your argument just seems like a strawman to those of us who are spiritual but didn't grow up Christian in particular."

There is no singular cross-religion definition of a god (not to mention non-religious spirituality). One cannot coherently say much meaningful about the whole list at once, other than broad generalizations like "I don't believe in any of them" or "I only believe in one of them". In a predominantly Christian society, it makes sense to address the Christian god. I personally try to say "I don't believe in any gods" instead of "I don't believe in God" to make my awareness of non Christian religions clear.
posted by idiopath at 11:47 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


yaytheist

What should we call black people that just won't shut up about being black or those damned Jews who are always talking about themselves? Don't even get me started on women or The Gays.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:48 AM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


but an Almighty of some variety could appear in a thunderbolt before me, now, and I'm pretty sure I still wouldn't trust It.

I think it's meant to be trustworthy by definition- all-mighty, as you said, all knowing, all good, and so on...
posted by mdn at 11:48 AM on December 20, 2010


Actually Yaythiest must be to delineate who is deserving of a facial punch, yes? Man, those fucks.
posted by setanor at 11:48 AM on December 20, 2010


We did it Rage-Kage, we beat the bastards of City Hall!
[laughs] But now what will we do?
We must rebuild. But who will lead us in the rebuilding process?
Man, it's got to be someone with the know-how
and the elbow grease to lead us to a new land.
No, not me and KG, we don't have the cognitive capacity to lead...
Alright, we'll do it!
...
[JackBlack:] Um, do you believe in God?
[KG:] I believe, I believe.
[JB:] You do?
[KG:] I believe in God. I believe in God.
[JB: (laughs)] Y'do--
[KG:] I believe in God.
[JB:] Do you?
[KG:] I believe in God.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:49 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also I like to say "I don't believe in any gods" because lumping monotheists in one group with polytheists kind of bugs monotheists sometimes and it is fun to see them fume at that.
posted by idiopath at 11:50 AM on December 20, 2010 [11 favorites]


Then again, I'm a "yaytheist" (thanks, guys, we really needed a word for atheists who aren't sufficiently ashamed of themselves!)

The way I understood it, "yaytheist" was proposed to refer to anyone trumpeting their flavour of theism or atheism.
posted by Dragonness at 11:51 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Really? Because I've never gotten it that I can remember and none of my Christian family or friends think I believe in God.

That's because you're not famous. No one cares.
posted by Malice at 11:53 AM on December 20, 2010


"I just wanted to be able to sin".

"Yes, that's correct. And I'm really looking forward to stealing your car and fucking your wife!"

Yeah, that would be caught by the mouth-filter, but damn what an awful thing to say to somebody.
posted by LordSludge at 11:53 AM on December 20, 2010


The way I understood it, "yaytheist" was proposed to refer to anyone trumpeting their flavour of theism or atheism.

I wasn't aware of the requirement for promotion of minority viewpoints to stick to only nebulous generalization. I am, however, aware that the most well-received social defenses in the 21st century are the most abstract and non-specific, so it's all good.
posted by setanor at 11:53 AM on December 20, 2010


I don't use the term 'atheist' because it tends to be such a loaded word. "I'm not religious" is usually all that's needed to get the message across, since it makes it pretty clear that I eschew superstition without getting into arguments about belief. Plus most of the people I know who are nominally members of some religion or another aren't wildly religious themselves, and they relate on some level.

I'm glad that religion now needs defense rather than rationalism.

QFT. I feel pretty lucky that this is the case, and that I'm not getting persecuted or burned alive like I would be if I'd been born in nearly any other century.
posted by mullingitover at 11:54 AM on December 20, 2010


You know, there's a world of difference between allowing people to live their lives as they choose and informing others that yours is the only right way to do things and if they disagree they are - I believe the word Gervais used was "brainwashed." Honestly I'm perfectly comfortable marginalizing a minority viewpoint if the viewpoint in question is that anyone who sees things differently in this field just hasn't thought about it / is too dumb / is brainwashed / whatever. But we already have a special term for these people: They're assholes. And being an asshole isn't endemic to being an atheist, or religious, or really any one group.

This is such nonsense. You basically just told the world that a) there's a world of difference between allowing people to live their lives as they choose and talking about the reasons why one thinks one's own way is better and b) those who do the latter shouldn't be allowed to live their lives as they choose.

I've got a "special term" for people like you: hypocrites. Please, feel free to explain why talking about my anti-theist beliefs is incompatible with "allowing people to live their lives as they choose", yet talking about religious beliefs (which are just as opposed to anti-theism) is fine.
posted by vorfeed at 11:54 AM on December 20, 2010 [11 favorites]


I recently read a blog post entitled, "Why I don't do Santa." Putting aside the double entendre, one of the reasons the blog's writer, a Mom, gave why she didn't mention Santa Claus to her kids was that she wanted to celebrate the "true meaning behind Christmas," the birthday of Jesus. And then she went on to say that if her child questioned Santa, he might question Jesus, so she had chosen not to tell her kids about Santa (makes you stop and think, that last bit, doesn't it?).

In my comment on the post, I remarked that we "do" Santa, and always have. As our kids got older, and began to ask about Santa, we answered them honestly and said, "Who do you think actually brings you the presents?" By this time, they had logically decided that their Dad and I did. That's right, we told them. We ARE Santa for them, as are other parents to their kids. One day, they will be Santa to their kids and bring them all the magic and wonder and surprise of Christmas, too. To us the "true meaning behind Christmas" was about giving to others, gathering family together, and sharing in the celebration.

So I agreed with the blog poster that we were both arriving at the same place, we'd just chosen different myths to get us there. Her Jesus was my Santa Claus.

My kids used to believe in Jesus, too. My youngest would probably say he's an agnostic--he's a big believer in the scientific method, and he knows the earth is not 5000-6000 years old, but he doesn't feel comfortable openly declaring himself an atheist, as many of his friends are Christians and he feels it would be a bit rude. He also holds open the possibility of science not knowing yet all there is to know. My oldest is a staunch atheist and unapologetic about it. Both came about their process of discovery after learning about all the religions out there--my oldest admires the conviction of the Jain monks who will not even harm an ant--and logically deduced, on their own, that Christianity was a lovely myth based on parables written about an exceptional man, Jesus, who taught tolerance and love, but that organized religion has a lot to answer for (for example, they are strong proponents of gay rights).

My husband was raised Catholic. I think this is why he cannot make himself now voice his own doubts and is uncomfortable with their, I don't know, their openness, about their lack of belief.

But I think it bodes well for the future that they choose, as Gervais says, to be good, even though they don't believe they are going to heaven (or hell if they falter).

Oh, and I do think Gervais gets this question a lot. His stand-up comedy is full of irrelevance (which I love), and it naturally leads people to question where he is coming from once they've heard his performance.
posted by misha at 11:55 AM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


I read the article. I didn't see anything assholish in it at all; I saw a personal story of transition and reflection on what it means to believe. He didn't call anyone an idiot. He was actually quite kind to faith, admitting that it played a comforting role in a harsh world and he could see how people were drawn to it.

The very definition of atheism has a "you're wrong" element built in to it. So does every religious belief -- if you believe in a god that rewards good deeds, you're telling people who believe in a god that only rewards faith that they're wrong. The distinctions between every individual perception of god are so small that theists generally seem willing to "round down" that gap to zero and think that their fellow theist isn't contradicting them. Atheism is far enough away that people can tell your views are in strict contradiction, so even stating your belief aloud makes you an asshole, even though any two theists implicitly think each others' beliefs are just as wrong.

Atheism doesn't have the luxury of only making assertions the way theism does. Next time you shout down an atheist for having the gall to declare that other people are gasp wrong, please remember that every single theist on the planet does the exact same thing every time they make a statement about what god is, how god works, or what god said. "God rewards those who believe in him" is just as much of an asshole-you're-wrong statement as "God doesn't exist".
posted by 0xFCAF at 12:02 PM on December 20, 2010 [51 favorites]


I've got no beef with atheists. My own father is an atheist. God knows (ha!) that I'd far rather have a dinner party, a vacation, a book group, a support group, or eternity stuck in a hotel room with atheists than with whackadoodle religious nutjobs. But when atheists go out of their way to tell me how stupid, deluded, unthinking, or brainwashed I am, you know what? that is an asshole move, and that's the kind of behavior that I think deserves the tag "yaytheism." Gervais isn't participating in it in this interview, but I've definitely been subject to it.
posted by KathrynT at 12:04 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


There is no singular cross-religion definition of a god (not to mention non-religious spirituality). One cannot coherently say much meaningful about the whole list at once

I disagree on the second sentence, and I believe someone out there has something insightful to say about why they don't believe in any or all gods, including pantheism, panentheism, non-religious spirituality, etc. Perhaps at that point you'll be working your way through some real philosophical and theological conundrums, but I think anyone who wants to think about and opine on the (non-)existence of God would be rewarded by digging deep into those puzzles. (Honestly, anything else is probably going to be a waste of a read to me, because like most everyone else, I've heard the same arguments for and against [fundamentalist-leaning] Christianity a million times by now.)
posted by naju at 12:06 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


My husband was raised Catholic. I think this is why he cannot make himself now voice his own doubts and is uncomfortable with their, I don't know, their openness, about their lack of belief.

Funny, I was raised Catholic and I think it made it very easy to leave it all behind. I sometimes go to my wife's church when My son is singing in the choir, it's a very liberal congregational church where people are, you know, happy and loving and not crazy-bigoted hypocrites like the ones in the church I grew up in and I often think if I were raised in that church I may still believe in God today.

I still find a lot of it creepy but at least they make it seem like something you should want because it's awesome, rather than something you have to do or else you burn in hell.
posted by bondcliff at 12:07 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


From another, perhaps more positive, perspective: Shout of Hope in the Dark.
posted by bhamrick at 12:11 PM on December 20, 2010


I read the article. I didn't see anything assholish in it at all; I saw a personal story of transition and reflection on what it means to believe.

I didn't either (see anything assholish), though the personal story of transition was hilariously abbreviated:
Oh…hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour, I was an atheist.
Score one for Christian upbringing, eh?
posted by furiousthought at 12:12 PM on December 20, 2010


I'm noticing more and more that people's objections to atheism aren't because it's wrong, but because it makes people uncomfortable.

In general, the reason atheists have the appearance of bludgeoning people with their ideas is simply that their ideas have more weight that religious ones. It's easy to avoid atheist evangelism if, for example, you don't click on web links about why Ricky Gervais is an atheist. It's not so easy to avoid religious preaching, especially in late December.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:15 PM on December 20, 2010 [14 favorites]


And of course if you've ever been on YouTube and seen the religious discussions there, you won't have to wait long until some theist idiot claims that the true cause of the Holocaust, the deaths in the Soviet Union under Stalin, Pol Pot etc was atheism and that atheists need to be suppressed to prevent a recurrence.

of course, if you've ever seen any discussion on you tube you won't have to wait long for some idiot of some variety to claim pretty much anything you can think of.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 12:16 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


of course, if you've ever seen any discussion on you tube you won't have to wait long for some idiot of some variety to claim pretty much anything you can think of.

Of course, if you've ever seen any discussion on the internet, you won't have to wait long for some idiot of some variety to link to an XKCD comic barely related to the subject.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:17 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is such nonsense. You basically just told the world that a) there's a world of difference between allowing people to live their lives as they choose and talking about the reasons why one thinks one's own way is better and b) those who do the latter shouldn't be allowed to live their lives as they choose.

Hmm. I'm re-reading the post you're referring to but not seeing any mention of what folks should or shouldn't be allowed to do. All I'm seeing is that I don't think we need a special label for people who believe that anyone who has a different opinion from them can only have one due to being stupid, or brainwashed, or whatever. Anything else you're reading into it might be more a product of whatever baggage you're bringing into this discussion, which is fine but I am not a mind-reader and cannot help you there.

When I said there is a world of difference (etc) it was to delineate the situations given, as they were not in any way analogous. I believe that people who can't stop talking about the superiority of their beliefs and the inferiority of others' (regardless of what those beliefs are) are kind of annoying. I don't believe that this requires I also be a homophobe.

I've got a "special term" for people like you: hypocrites. Please, feel free to explain why talking about my anti-theist beliefs is incompatible with "allowing people to live their lives as they choose", yet talking about religious beliefs (which are just as opposed to anti-theism) is fine.

I'm sorry but I cannot explain a statement I didn't make and don't agree with.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:22 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Athiests, just shut the fuck up and maybe they will leave you alone huh?

If I were asked in a presidential debate about my beliefs and I answered thuthfully would I have a shot?
posted by Ad hominem at 12:23 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was looking for my dose of smug today--the coinage of the term "yaytheist" and the favorites it garnered has fulfilled that, thanks!

Otter Lady, sounds like you bought a soda for our next door neighbor.
posted by maxwelton at 12:25 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is in fact false.

Okay, prove it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:29 PM on December 20, 2010


i'm vocal about my atheism only to the extent that believers continue to attempt to require all of us to live within the guidelines of their fantasy. the massive influence of mormons and catholics in the california prop 8 campaign should, all by itself, shame anyone who would condemn atheists as too vocal.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 12:30 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


How about the opposition being "ChristiARGHs"?

I find "yaytheists" pretty offensive, actually. If religious celebs are ok to stand up on the podium and thank God for willing a Oscar/Emmy/whatever, then why can't an atheist be happy to share their beliefs?

I grew up Christian, but changed churches a lot. I was baptized Anglican, then spent a bunch of time with the Baptists and eventually the Pentecostal church. I stopped believing and stopped attending the day I was told I was asking too many questions and was no longer welcome to attend the Pentecostal church. This was at about age 11, and during Sunday school. I was pretty devastated by this...if the representatives of God didn't want me; didn't want to teach me; then it was basically God abandoning me. I was 11, of course this is how I considered it...I learned that Christians generally do a piss-poor job of emulating their savior.

Took me years (decade plus) to find something I "got", and that was no god at all.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 12:30 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


willing=winning
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 12:31 PM on December 20, 2010


"Yaytheist" isn't a remotely new term. A blog by that name has two entries (...total), and they both date from 2008. Peruse other results at your leisure.
posted by lumensimus at 12:33 PM on December 20, 2010


was told I was asking too many questions and was no longer welcome to attend the Pentecostal church.

That right there is fucked up and awful and wrong.
posted by KathrynT at 12:33 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


you’d pop a leach down your trousers

mums didn’t hope as high as their kids growing up to be doctors

It seems that Ricky Gervais doesn't believe in editors, either.
posted by Camofrog


I believe he used "mum" on purpose here as he's British.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:34 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jeeezus...I thought we were 'brights' now ???
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:35 PM on December 20, 2010


I like "yaytheist" because it sounds so positive and uplifting. It's like, "YAY! I don't believe in myths and magic and the known universe is profoundly beautiful and filled with mystery! YAY! Particle physics!"
posted by fuq at 12:36 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


How do such people even know you're an atheist in the first place?

To put it simply, religious people bring it up. I live in the US South, so I regularly get asked things like "what church to you go to?" etc. In most social gatherings, the subject comes up sooner or later, even in university settings. Religious people go out of their way regularly to let me know they are religious and they expect me to be as well. There are many, many other ways in which a religious orientation is regularly assumed by the people I meet. In other words, it is their regular assumption that it's okay for them to talk about their religious beliefs and to assume that I share them that is the main reason why people end up knowing I'm an atheist. Plus, word gets around when there's a weirdo in town–I've had a number of situations where people I'd never met came up to me and asked me to explain my viewpoints.
posted by williampratt at 12:39 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

It's not so much that someone outright asks you if you believe in God, or why you don't – it's the natural assumption that you do. It's when you correct someone or inform them that that you don't in fact attend church, or have your child baptized, or care what the pope's views on things are, that I totally understand Gervais's stance that the burden of proof is on the believer.
posted by danherwig at 12:40 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


As someone who used to be an evangelical atheist, I'd just like to recommend other atheists do some self-directed reading on eastern philosophy and spirituality, middle path, etc.. Yes, the way most people believe in Jesus is pretty similar to the way we believed in Santa Claus as kids, and it's nice you've realized that and realized you can still give presents to your friends rather than raping and murdering them. I know believers in many believers in Abrahamic religion still go around making absurd claims about the universe and need to be stopped from enforcing their antiquated moral codes on the rest of us

Most of the rest of us sane, intelligent people know this too. But check out that eastern thing, because it might be that just agreeing about how science is good and Jesus is make-believe isn't the be-all-and-end-all of truth in the universe
posted by crayz at 12:43 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


There is a whole universe of belief outside of "if you sin you go to hell", so making this one of the main thrusts of your argument just seems like a strawman to those of us who are spiritual but didn't grow up Christian in particular. Maybe I just need more caveats or something. Or maybe I shouldn't let it bother me.

Yes, you're right, of course. Most often in these threads the assumption is we're talking about Judeo-Christian types of theism. Most of us are somewhat puzzled by the other religions, for at least two reasons. The first is our lack of familiarity, which makes it difficult to debate any specifics. The second is the uncertainty about the qualitative aspects of those beliefs in regard to literality; that is, how specifically do those beliefs relate to the material world. In the Judeo-Christian traditions (by and large; I recognize that some of you have forged a conceptualization of a deity that avoids this problem) there is a conflict between the professed religious view of the material world and what science has discovered about that same world (the example of omnipotence was given by someone else earlier). Buddhism may permit or even encourage its mythology to be taken only as metaphor, but it still has a lot of superstitious behavior inherent in some sects, to my understanding. Hinduism I know next to nothing about, but the wearing of specific garments or grooming in a particular way, as Sikhs, Jews, and Muslims of certain stripes do, not because they are comfortable or stylish, but because you hafta or you're not a good ___ rubs a lot of us the wrong way, since it suggests more than a metaphorical relationship with the world. Even if you say you don't believe that, but just dress this way because it "reminds" you of your faith, it's still bending to the implied threat with a dose of rationalization thrown in.

I, myself, question whether a religion that is essentially indifferent about the relationship of whatever deity(ies) to the material world are (theistic) religions. A philosophical or moral system that relied on mythology to communicate its content would necessarily have to be a religion in the usual sense of the word. In any event, if such religions profess belief in reincarnation or any other unobservable phenomena, they seem to be guilty of the same sins of conflict with the observable universe as the Judeo-Christian axis. In my perhaps-not-so-humble opinion.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:44 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've been asked the "Why don't you believe in God?" question, but mostly from people who are genuinely curious in a non-judgmental way, and with whom I've been able to have real conversations about it.

Most of the religious people I know have always associated atheism with some vague sense of "evil" (even if only subconsciously), so there's usually a real cognitive dissonance for them to know that there's someone in their lives whom they like and respect (and who, in myriad other ways, is "just like them") who also happens to be a non-believer.

I've had some really meaningful debates and I haven't lost any friends over the issue so far. With the few people (usually just peripheral acquaintances) who've gotten a little condemny and weird, I wrap things up by saying some variation of "If I end up in Hell when I die, I promise I'll ask for a brief furlough to come back to congratulate you on being right" (when said with a warm smile and a laugh, it goes a long way toward breaking the tension).

I haven't changed anyone's mind about their own religious beliefs (and they've not changed mine), but it's nice to think that I've at least broadened some horizons in terms of my religious friends and neighbors being able acknowledge that non-believers can be good people too.
posted by amyms at 12:45 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm totally cool with atheists explaining themselves, and I like reading about it too. I just wish it wasn't framed as "this is why I don't believe in God" when nearly every one of these ends up being "this is why I don't believe in the Judeo-Christian conception of God."

Well for one, the US is overwhelmingly comprised of Christians. Personally, I would be very interested to hear from Christians why they don't believe in, say, Sikhism (or other religions).
posted by revgeorge at 12:46 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's not so much that someone outright asks you if you believe in God, or why you don't – it's the natural assumption that you do.

Hmm, yes, I wonder why they would assume that.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:47 PM on December 20, 2010


I'm fine with people practicing religion and believing in God as long as they respect my right to not do that.

I'm fine with people being atheist as long as they respect my right to believe in God.

The thing that bothers me about either one is the right/wrong dichotomy that comes with it. The real danger about religion isn't faith or belief in God, but the idea that We are the only ones with the right answer. Atheism still carries that same danger, it's just marginalized enough right now that it's not apparent.

We'd all do well to remember that it doesn't matter who is right or wrong about the existence of [an] entity/ies who by definition can't be proven to exist/not exist, and just try to treat other human beings with a basic sense of respect, regardless of how faithless or irrational they are.
posted by girih knot at 12:48 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Trying the last paragraph again, with, I hope, more coherence:

I, myself, question whether a religion that is essentially indifferent about the relationship of whatever deity(ies) to the material world are is a (theistic) religion. A philosophical or moral system that relied on mythology to communicate its content would not necessarily have to be a religion in the usual sense of the word. In any event, if such religions profess belief in reincarnation or any other unobservable phenomena, they seem to be guilty of the same sins of conflict with the observable universe as the Judeo-Christian axis. In my perhaps-not-so-humble opinion.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:48 PM on December 20, 2010


I don't think we need labels like "yaytheist" or "ChristiARGH." Yes, there are plenty of non-believers who get in your face about it, and plenty of believers who do the same, but we already have a word for those people: "asshole."
posted by Zozo at 12:49 PM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


40% of Americans are still young-Earth creationists.

I have trouble with these kinds of polls as I and everyone else I know tend to respond to them with declarations of our eternal worship of Pachamama and Pacha Camac.
posted by elizardbits at 12:50 PM on December 20, 2010


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?

I'd like to say that I really enjoyed reading the comments that responded to this question: They were all, to a one, honest, and addressed to someone with different opinions on theism than the commenters, yet managed to be respectful and adult.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:54 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


How do such people even know you're an atheist in the first place?

In some parts of America, religious belief is so prevalent that it's often taken for granted. Everywhere I have ever lived or worked, schoolmates and coworkers would sometimes discuss what Christian bands they listen to, stories from the Bible, or of course what church they go to. In smaller towns where "everyone knows everyone," that's a frequent first question when two people are introduced. "What church do you go to?" Imagine meeting someone for the first time, as an atheist, and having to answer that question.

I've also been outed by being ignorant of the local Christian radio station (someone made a joke about me, I didn't get it, and I asked) and by not attending the impromptu company prayer meeting that was held on 9/11.
posted by heatvision at 12:55 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


but still if you want that unwavering conviction in your children you might consider giving the Santa thing a miss.

For some kids, I'm sure this is true. Others? Well...

True story, me at age four. Someone asked me "Do you believe in Santa?" I thought about it and answered in complete sincerity:

"I'm going to believe in Santa until I'm nine, then I'm not going to believe anymore."

It was pretty obvious to me that Santa was for kids and at some point, you outgrew Santa. So, I drew a cutoff point. Did I have similar feelings about G-d? Well, I certainly don't think he works in the ways a lot of Christians think that he works - if "he" exists at all - but the narrative of Santa in no way affected my thinking on "G-d" and it seemed totally absurd to lump the two together. I mean, if my parents lied about Santa then they lied about G-d? Ok, I guess, but then they could have been lying about any number of other things as well. Like broccoli. That shit's totally not good for you.

For my own kid: we'll do Santa because Santa makes Christmas fun. He can go to Catholic mass with his grandparents if he wants. Whether or not he ever accepts any kind of "G-d" is totally up to him. And if he blames me for ruining his life with Santa, well, I suppose it could be worse.
posted by sonika at 12:55 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised at the "yatheist" backlash. The comment specifically bolded "all" there; it wasn't directed at anyone in particular, it seemed, but the kind of behaviour that causes unfortunately socially-maladapted Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft players to spend the next two hours talking to you about their characters at the drop of the hat.
posted by curious nu at 12:57 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


UGH. This is not a good post. (So why do I comment? ... hm.)

I enjoy startling them with my steadfast morals, community-mindedness, and ethical code.

That always seems like a canard to me. My in-laws are seventh day adventists who know I am atheist. In no way are they surprised that I am a good person who does good deeds. They do think that I am going to hell, but that's a different story of course ...

What ever happened to not discussing politics and religion in polite company?

My poker group has a pretty strict no politics/no religion rule, and I like it much more than I expected to, even though I agree with everyone politically and religiously, and I generally like talking about politics and religion.

You can agree completely with what someone is saying and be bored to death by or hate the way they frame it. And with poker you're kinda stuck at the table. (I wish the rule was extended to "No Xmas music" or "No Rush.")

The Santa lie kind of predisposed me to believe that God was a lie too.

Yep. First grade was when I stopped believing in either.

if you want that unwavering conviction in your children you might consider giving the Santa thing a miss

(One of) The last thing(s) I want from my daughter is unwavering conviction, but I still wish I could skip the Santa Claus myth. Family/spousal considerations (cousins, etc.) make that impossible, unfortunately, so my goal is to imply constantly (from age 1) that mommy and daddy are Santa Claus until she gets it. Every mention of Santa Claus is accompanied by a giant [WINK].

Why do you need to bash the very, very few famous atheists who are willing to speak openly about their lack of faith?

Because we've heard it many, many times before. What is new here from Gervais? It's a freshman-dorm conversation. Again, a pretty bad post.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:57 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


To put it simply, religious people bring it up. I live in the US South, so I regularly get asked things like "what church to you go to?" etc.

This is true. In DC where I'm from, the typical icebreaker question is "what do you do?" Newcomers to the south are welcomed with is "are you affiliated?" which means "have you chosen which Christian church you're going to regularly attend yet? Because mine is awesome, let me tell you about it." It's assumed that you are Christian, and the questions is presented not as a personal question but as light chitchat among new acquaintances. You can't not respond, but it's difficult to respond honestly without offending people who are polite to the core but probably don't want you babysitting their kids once they know you're not a believer.
posted by headnsouth at 12:59 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Because I have to say, public figures discussing the reasons for their faith seem to be given a pass.

Please link to all the MetaFilter posts with public figures discussing the reasons for their faith. That would be just as shitty. (Not saying it doesn't happen; I just haven't seen it.)
posted by mrgrimm at 1:00 PM on December 20, 2010


Hmm. I'm re-reading the post you're referring to but not seeing any mention of what folks should or shouldn't be allowed to do.

You said: "You know, there's a world of difference between allowing people to live their lives as they choose and informing others that yours is the only right way to do things and if they disagree they are - I believe the word Gervais used was "brainwashed." Honestly I'm perfectly comfortable marginalizing a minority viewpoint if the viewpoint in question is that anyone who sees things differently in this field just hasn't thought about it / is too dumb / is brainwashed / whatever. But we already have a special term for these people: They're assholes."

You're essentially saying that yours is the only right way to do things, and if others disagree they are assholes. And you're the one who claimed that there is, and I quote, a world of difference between that behavior and "allowing people to live their lives as they choose".
posted by vorfeed at 1:04 PM on December 20, 2010


Personally, I would be very interested to hear from Christians why they don't believe in, say, Sikhism (or other religions).

I wouldn't say that I don't believe in Sikhism, really. Any more than I don't believe in Catholicism. There are elements of Sikh theology that are consistent with my own, and then there are elements that differ from my own faith or conception of God, but I would definitely not say that Sikhs are wrong. Rather I would say that God, as an infinite being, is not containable in full by any finite mind, and that it's understandable and expected that different people would have a different understanding of God.
posted by KathrynT at 1:05 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like "yaytheist" because it sounds so positive and uplifting. It's like, "YAY! I don't believe in myths and magic and the known universe is profoundly beautiful and filled with mystery! YAY! Particle physics!"

Hehe agreed! Can we preemptively co-opt this term and just skip the pejorative stage? Hot damn, I'm a yaytheist!
posted by LordSludge at 1:07 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I make Santa real. December 25 I put fake reindeer tracks and sleigh in the yard, ring sleigh Ella outside the kids door and say ho ho ho. My kids come running down stairs all bleary eyed and excited to see the cookies and milk gone, stockings stuffed and presents under the tree. I think that myths are just a part of the human psychology. They are like feelings and passions, you can't actually supress them. So I've chosen to create the mythic landscape for my children's imagination.
posted by humanfont at 1:07 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


You're essentially saying that yours is the only right way to do things, and if others disagree they are assholes.

How is this different from the old "You're not tolerant of intolerance" canard? People who sneer and deride other people's faith or absence thereof ARE assholes, and I don't think it makes me a hypocrite to say so.
posted by KathrynT at 1:08 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm totally cool with atheists explaining themselves, and I like reading about it too. I just wish it wasn't framed as "this is why I don't believe in God" when nearly every one of these ends up being "this is why I don't believe in the Judeo-Christian conception of God." There is a whole universe of belief outside of "if you sin you go to hell", so making this one of the main thrusts of your argument just seems like a strawman to those of us who are spiritual but didn't grow up Christian in particular.

Yeah, this is more like Why I Am Not a Christian, except not worth as much:

The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

There are Gods and gods that are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. There are also the Gaiaists, who seem to believe that the universe is God. My wife doesn't believe in an omnipotent old man, but she does believe in "God." I don't.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:09 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


From "Hogfather" by Terry Pratchett:
'All right,' said Susan. 'I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."
"REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE"
'Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little- "
"YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES"
'So we can believe the big ones?"
"YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING"
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:12 PM on December 20, 2010 [17 favorites]


You're essentially saying that yours is the only right way to do things, and if others disagree they are assholes. And you're the one who claimed that there is, and I quote, a world of difference between that behavior and "allowing people to live their lives as they choose".

You know what, you caught me. I have been caught, red-handed, dipping into the cookie jar of hypocrisy, because I believe that "The only reason anyone would disagree with me is that they're brainwashed or stupid" is an asshole thing to say.

And you're right! I claimed that there is a world of difference between the following two things:

1. Believing that it's asshole behavior to assume that no intelligent person, or anyone with personal agency, could have a different opinion regarding religion than you do

and

2. Thinking that gay people shouldn't engage in PDAs because

Well hell, hoss, once again I guess you got me. I claimed that the difference between #1 and #2 is vast - worldlike in size, even - but I guess I never figured that anyone would highlight the absurdity of this claim by quoting the things I said back at me.

Man, and I had just cleaned this petard, too...
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:15 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


How do such people even know you're an atheist in the first place?

I live in the southern US, and it is the home of the nosiest fucking people on earth. They want to know everything about you all the time as a form of social control. And so one of the first questions that you get from new people you meet is 'Where is your church home?' or some equivalent.

I really feel sometimes like I'm in a sort of atheist closet, because I outright lie to avoid having the serious stigma of atheism attached to me at work. You can't specify a church, you see, or the odds are good that you will get caught out by someone actually going there. I usually smile and say I was raised Church of God, which sometimes holds people off. But if they press, I name a road and say the Baptist church on that road. Since you can't throw a brick without hitting a Baptist church here, it has the slippery desirability of being vague and specific. If someone goes to a church on that road, well, I go to the OTHER Baptist church on that road, hahaha. It has not failed me yet, particularly since I change the subject as quickly as possible.

Fortunately I was actually raised Church of God, so I can bluff the Bible knowledge and sing all the songs with the best of them. That is another way people can get caught out, too, because people will make Biblical allusions or sing hymns at you. Yes, this is a thing in the world.
posted by winna at 1:17 PM on December 20, 2010 [11 favorites]


He lost me at "science is humble".
posted by Leta at 1:17 PM on December 20, 2010


To put it simply, religious people bring it up. I live in the US South, so I regularly get asked things like "what church to you go to?" etc.

I also live the US South, and I'm from the ruralest of the rural parts of northwest Missouri. I must have some kind of weird aura, because honestly I've never been asked any questions about where I go to church. I'm sincerely surprised this is an issue for so many people.
posted by something something at 1:20 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oops. That should read:

2. Thinking that gay people shouldn't engage in PDAs because they're shoving it in my face by existing
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:20 PM on December 20, 2010


As our kids got older, and began to ask about Santa, we answered them honestly and said, "Who do you think actually brings you the presents?" By this time, they had logically decided that their Dad and I did. That's right, we told them. We ARE Santa for them, as are other parents to their kids. One day, they will be Santa to their kids and bring them all the magic and wonder and surprise of Christmas, too. To us the "true meaning behind Christmas" was about giving to others, gathering family together, and sharing in the celebration.

Did they ever ask why you lied to them? Yeah, my parents ARE/WERE santa for me, and yeah, I HAVE to be Santa for my daughter, but I still don't see the benefit.

"This year my mom don't have much money to spend on Christmas gifts so I'm writing to you," Cesar told Santa. "It would make us very happy if you and your elves would bring us toys and clothes."

...

Tough times are shrinking the number of Secret Santas, Fontana says. Meanwhile, "the percentage of people who need help has increased," says Mark Reynolds at the Postal Service's Chicago district, and about half the letters won't get answered.



Fuck you, Santa. You're always giving the coolest toys to the rich kids anyway.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:21 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


How is this different from the old "You're not tolerant of intolerance" canard? People who sneer and deride other people's faith or absence thereof ARE assholes, and I don't think it makes me a hypocrite to say so.

A big part of my own absence of faith is speaking openly against religion. If that makes me an asshole, fine, I'm an asshole... but it also means that you are more than willing to sneer at and deride people like me for our beliefs. 0xFCAF explained exactly why theism is no less sneering than anti-theism -- you expect me to stand silently and watch people fill society with messages which tell me I'm wrong, because telling them they're wrong makes me an "asshole"? No.

You can brush this off as "the old 'you're not tolerant of intolerance' canard" if you like. Personally, I think your use of that phrase explains a great deal about how "tolerant" you actually are.
posted by vorfeed at 1:22 PM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


“How dare you say I’m a fool and I’m not going to heaven, f— you!”
Funny story: a priest said something along the same lines at my grandmother's funeral. The fool/not going to heaven thing, I mean. Okay dude, you just told my entire, still-believing Catholic family that I won't be in Heaven with them. Thank you for comforting us while we're mourning.

Ever since I read Sagan's Gifford lectures (The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God), I have been even more certain that the God I was taught to worship does not exist. We're not the center of the universe. We haven't been on this planet all that long. This planet wasn't made specifically for us. There could be life (or could have been) on other planets, and I believe it unlikely that other life is somehow less important to God. I believe it is unlikely that intelligent life elsewhere would also be "made" in God's image, as the Bible says.

All of this was basic knowledge for me, except the "center of the universe" thing. It's rough when you're reminded that there is there is nothing special about humans, but every person is unique - never existed before and never will exist again. To feel like you're full of yourself because you're actually insignificant.

So now, when confronted with an ethical dilemma or a spiritual crisis, I try to think of what Fred Rogers or Carl Sagan would do, respectively. The Fred Rogers thing probably comes off as a bit silly, as he was a minister, but he was a good person!

I really need a blog again.
posted by giraffe at 1:22 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't use the term 'atheist' because it tends to be such a loaded word.

I find that level of atheism I project is directly proportional to the person confronting me about my lack of belief. It goes from my standard baseline of a quiet "Meh, I don't really think about it" all the way up to the 11 that is "Militant atheist taking on all challengers".

If it's a loaded word, I'm taking it back and turning off the safety.

I prefer not to talk about it. I prefer to live and let live, as it were. But there are some people who refuse to let that be my option, and I'm not going to let them take my silence as acquiescence.
posted by quin at 1:23 PM on December 20, 2010 [18 favorites]


Gervais doesn't really speak for me here. His reasons are different from my reasons. I do find it surprising that his essay hasn't engendered the usual nonsense about "fundamentalist evangelical atheists," a phrase that's an double-oxymoron. And it's interesting how people are cherry-picking "brainwashed" out of context from a set of ridiculous questions that "Why don't you believe in God?" might really be asking.

FAMOUS MONSTER: You know what, you caught me. I have been caught, red-handed, dipping into the cookie jar of hypocrisy, because I believe that "The only reason anyone would disagree with me is that they're brainwashed or stupid" is an asshole thing to say.

Um, who are you quoting here?

Leta: He lost me at "science is humble".

You mean, it's not? Realistic science fiction starts with "once upon a time, there was a graduate student," reaches a dramatic climax with "there's a 5% chance I could be wrong" and a denouement with "more research is necessary to..."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:26 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Please link to all the MetaFilter posts with public figures discussing the reasons for their faith. That would be just as shitty. (Not saying it doesn't happen; I just haven't seen it.)

What? I wasn't claiming anything about Metafilter. I was talking about everywhere all the time. Truth be told, and I'm not necessarily proud of this, if the blue was a place where people held forth about their religious beliefs all the time, I probably wouldn't be here.

But hey, there are people in this very thread talking about their religious beliefs and I'm fine with it. I just don't get why the knee-jerk reaction of every person, and not just here, is that whenever a public figure talks about being atheist they're branded as being some kind of shouting maniac.

I often feel like in this country because we have such an unusually large amount of religious people for a modern, developed country, we have some sort of unspoken rule about talking about religion. That to bring it up at all is automatically considered rude. It probably has to do with our founding as a country where we wanted religion to be a totally private thing and out of public life entirely.

My point is, if someone posted an article where a public figure said "I am a thoughtful christian and it informs my life thusly", probably the first posts wouldn't be calling her/him names for even mentioning it.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:27 PM on December 20, 2010


I find public statements of atheism so irritating. Like these American Atheist billboards that are going up to protest Christmas - it just makes me cringe. What is the agenda there? It is so bizarre to me that anyone, Christian or atheist or Muslim or what have you, thinks it's a good idea to spend their time proselytizing. It's just obnoxious.
Atheists are one of the most openly and widely reviled groups of people in America. I don't remember the exact numbers, but I remember seeing some Bush-era poll that was something like:
Would you be willing to vote for a presidential candidate who is:

(A) Black (Yes: 80%)

(B) Gay (Yes: 50%)

(C) Muslim (Yes: 30%)

(D) Atheist (Yes: 10%)
I imagine that there are a large number of people - millions - who play the part of a believer, and keep to themselves the fact that they simply don't believe. Out of fear of being frowned upon, shunned, or worse. Especially in highly publicly religious regions of America.

Given this, I think that there's some value in letting people know that they're not alone, and I find it difficult to see doing so as "obnoxious".
posted by Flunkie at 1:29 PM on December 20, 2010 [17 favorites]


You know what, you caught me. I have been caught, red-handed, dipping into the cookie jar of hypocrisy, because I believe that "The only reason anyone would disagree with me is that they're brainwashed or stupid" is an asshole thing to say.

And you're right! I claimed that there is a world of difference between the following two things:
1. Believing that it's asshole behavior to assume that no intelligent person, or anyone with personal agency, could have a different opinion regarding religion than you do
and
2. Thinking that gay people shouldn't engage in PDAs because


I never said anything about gay people. I said that you're clearly willing to assume that no non-asshole person could have a different opinion regarding religion than you do, and that the only reason anyone would disagree with you is that they're an asshole.
posted by vorfeed at 1:30 PM on December 20, 2010


Cuh! Those celebrity atheists! Why do they feel the need to push their lack of faith on everyone? It's so annoying!

Meanwhile, somewhere in religion land...
posted by Decani at 1:34 PM on December 20, 2010


Oh, and if you're wondering why Gervais gets asked a lot, it's because of stuff like this.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:34 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't remember the exact numbers, but I remember seeing some Bush-era poll that was something like:

Does anyone know where to find this? I like reading numbers.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:37 PM on December 20, 2010


Like these American Atheist billboards that are going up to protest Christmas - it just makes me cringe. What is the agenda there? It is so bizarre to me that anyone, Christian or atheist or Muslim or what have you, thinks it's a good idea to spend their time proselytizing. It's just obnoxious.

I wasn't all that thrilled with the billboards, but after watching yet another holiday season in which atheists are scapegoated for largely illusionary slights against Christmas and Santa, I've changed my mind.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:38 PM on December 20, 2010 [9 favorites]


big part of my own absence of faith is speaking openly against religion. If that makes me an asshole, fine, I'm an asshole... but it also means that you are more than willing to sneer at and deride people like me for our beliefs.

How am I deriding anybody? Atheism is a perfectly reasonable and consistent position, FAR more reasonable and consistent than faith. Nobody is less of a person, or less of a good person, because they are an atheist.

0xFCAF explained exactly why theism is no less sneering than anti-theism -- you expect me to stand silently and watch people fill society with messages which tell me I'm wrong, because telling them they're wrong makes me an "asshole"? No.

0xFCAF explained why some forms of theism are pretty sneery. But there's nothing about theism that makes it INHERENTLY sneery.
posted by KathrynT at 1:38 PM on December 20, 2010


I don't remember the exact numbers, but I remember seeing some Bush-era poll that was something like:
Does anyone know where to find this? I like reading numbers.
Here's a summary of various polls along these lines.
posted by Flunkie at 1:41 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


What faith is Obama? What faith is Joe Lieberman? What faith was John F. Kennedy? What faith was George Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan? How do we know this?
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:42 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Flunkie.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:44 PM on December 20, 2010


I guess I'm agnostic but I have a 2 year old and the DH wants to start teaching him about heaven, God, the afterlife, etc. I'm not to peachy keen on the whole sci fi fantasy discussion because really, how do you explain things of fantasy to a 2 year old? He, though believes it's important yet he's not practicing Catholic (we were both raised as such). And that is hypocritical (so was baptising him). I told him I rather teach him about ALL religions so he has a good base yet is tolerant of other's choices. He rather go Christian/Jesus route.

So his grandma started the whole thing with her Veggie Tales (he's terrified of the talking book) and some Bible that featured boils, locusts, and other plague stories. I told him while we're into scaring him, lets just throw the Necronomicon at him and be done with it.

And I'm sure when I die, God will say "remember that Necronomicon quip?" and then I"m toast.
posted by stormpooper at 1:46 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


ThIs makes me happy.
In my neck of the woods, people say "merry christmas" like it's a challenge, a test to see if you are on the team. Happy Holidays, well that's for atheist liberal punks.
Fuck it all.
Celebrity atheists are as important in the world as celebrities who won't be shamed by their sexuality.
posted by docpops at 1:48 PM on December 20, 2010 [10 favorites]


Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?


hahahahaha... you're not from the South, I take it. I once had a job interview in Arkansas that started out - first question, mind you - "So what church do you attend?"

At least two family members will ask this question of me before the holiday is over.
posted by bradth27 at 1:53 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


How am I deriding anybody? Atheism is a perfectly reasonable and consistent position, FAR more reasonable and consistent than faith. Nobody is less of a person, or less of a good person, because they are an atheist.

Sure, but you're claiming that I'm less of a good person (an "asshole", in fact) because I'm anti-theist, and won't stay silent about it. To be a good person, I apparently have to either respect religion or pretend to respect it. Funny how theists aren't required to respect my position, though... because hey, why should they when I'm such an asshole!

0xFCAF explained why some forms of theism are pretty sneery. But there's nothing about theism that makes it INHERENTLY sneery.

If there's nothing INHERENTLY sneery about "there is a God or Gods (and thus, those who don't believe in God(s) are implied or stated to be wrong and/or deluded)", then there's nothing INHERENTLY sneery about "there are no Gods (and thus, those who believe in God(s) are implied or stated to be wrong and/or deluded)". What 0xFCAF actually explained is the reason why the latter is always taken to be sneery, while the former rarely is.
posted by vorfeed at 1:54 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I never said anything about gay people.

Wow. Seriously?

I am going to hold your hand real gentle-like and walk you through this, because I am a sweet MONSTER, and kind, and patient. And loving. And famous.

Here is what happened:

1. Someone suggested the term "yaytheist" to denote people who - direct quote here - "feel the need to foist upon others their understanding of the special snowflakeness of their personal relationship to faith."

2. Someone else said, sarcastically, that maybe we should also have a special term for - once again, direct quote - "gay people who show public displays of affection."

3. I was then struck by the absurdity of comparing one group to the other. I also felt that there wasn't much to be gained by inventing new terms which ratchet up the level of divisive language in an already troublesome topic. I also didn't love the word "brainwashed" that Gervais used, in the context he used it in, because it added nothing to the discussion and made him sound kind of like a dick amid the good points he was making. So...

4. Our monstrous hero then made a post illuminating these important thoughts. In this, I said that the attitude invoked in #2 was very different from the attitude invoked in #1, but that we didn't need a special term for people of that sort, because there already is one: assholes. I then sat back beatifically, and meditated on my ineffable correctness, humming as one with the tune and pulse of the universe.

5. Oh, but what's this? It is you, barfing up this gem: "You basically just told the world that a) there's a world of difference between allowing people to live their lives as they choose and talking about the reasons why one thinks one's own way is better and b) those who do the latter shouldn't be allowed to live their lives as they choose." Which, of course, I did not. As I have explained at least once, whatever baggage you're bringing into this discussion is causing you to read a lot into this, and more or less arguing with someone who isn't me, and exists only in your mind. Party foul!

So no, you never said anything about gay people, but that was a part of the discussion you traipsed into. In my first reply to you, I said: "Anything else you're reading into it might be more a product of whatever baggage you're bringing into this discussion, which is fine but I am not a mind-reader and cannot help you there." Quod erat demonstratum.

I said that you're clearly willing to assume that no non-asshole person could have a different opinion regarding religion than you do, and that the only reason anyone would disagree with you is that they're an asshole.

For the record, since I fear you'd injure yourself if I left you to wrestle with it, here is the opinion we're discussing:

I believe that if you have a religion (regardless of what it is), and you believe that the only possible reason anyone would be an atheist is that they are too stupid or brainwashed not to see things exactly the way you do, you're an asshole.

I believe that if you're an atheist, and you believe that the only possible reason anyone would have a religion (regardless of what it is) is that they are too stupid or brainwashed not to see things exactly the way you do, you're an asshole.

I don't think this can be put in plainer terms without the use of puppets. Any further (or, let's face it, past) extrapolations you might care to make beyond what I've actually said are a product of your own fertile imagination, and though of course you should trouble me with them if it brings you pleasure to do so, I don't expect it will be especially edifying for us.

The end!
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:00 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?"

Yes, until I started working for engineers and scientists, and avoiding most theists socially.

"How do such people even know you're an atheist in the first place?"

In my experience, a lot of religious people like to ask, "Which church do you go to?" as one of their stock "getting to know you questions" (e.g. "what do you do for a living?" "where are you from?" "do you have kids?" etc.).

If you reply you don't go to church, they'll usually invite you to their church. Many get very pushy about it. The more they like you, the more they fret about your soul. So you either have to explain very firmly that you're an atheist and have no interest in going to church with them or the pestering never ceases.

Religious people also like to invite others to pray with them for various things. They think they're just being nice and inclusive, but again, this leads to having to either lie and fake it or explain why it is you don't pray.

However, once you convince them that no, really, you really are an atheist, and you're quite sure and it's not just because no one has ever shared the "good word" with you before, many freak out and conclude that you must be evil. Religious people tend to distrust and be bigoted against atheists a lot more than they distrust and are bigoted against members of another religion. Numerous studies and polls have found that we're the most discriminated against group in the U.S. "Godless" is almost always used as a slur and not as a neutral or positive term.

"In my special snowflake existence, it led to me getting black-sheeped by my extended family."

In my case, my in-laws tried to talk my Christian husband out of marrying me because of my atheism. Yet to my face they tell me how much they love me. So irritatingly two-faced.

"...when nearly every one of these ends up being "this is why I don't believe in the Judeo-Christian conception of God.""

In the U.S. and Western society in general, most people are members of one of the Abrahamic religions, so the Judeo-Christian-Islamic concept of God is the one that atheists are most likely to have to explain our disbelief in.

"I don't use the term 'atheist' because it tends to be such a loaded word. "I'm not religious" is usually all that's needed to get the message across"

In my experience, "I'm not religious" just invites the "come to my church" pestering I described above, because it sounds like maybe you've just not thought about it or the right person hasn't tried the right persuasive techniques on you yet.

These days, I'm experimenting with using the self-description of "freethinker" because that is a more explicit description of what I believe. To quote Wikipedia, "Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or any dogma." I've met a lot of atheists who believe a lot of other silly woo, like astrology, blank-slateism, communism, etc., and I like to further distinguish myself from those people.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:02 PM on December 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


hahahahaha... you're not from the South, I take it.

One thing I am getting from this conversation is a reinforcement of the saying "Texas is not part of the South" and my god am I getting gladder and gladder about that every time I read one of these stories. I mean, every now and then you get people asking you what church you go to, which is annoying of course, but it's nowhere near on that level. Corroborations anyone?
posted by furiousthought at 2:03 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sure, but you're claiming that I'm less of a good person (an "asshole", in fact) because I'm anti-theist, and won't stay silent about it. To be a good person, I apparently have to either respect religion or pretend to respect it. Funny how theists aren't required to respect my position, though... because hey, why should they when I'm such an asshole!

Well, what do you mean by anti-theism, exactly? It's clearly different than just plain old not believing.

I have no requirement that you respect religion to be a good person. I do, however, have a requirement that you not go out of your way to specifically tell someone that the fun thing they enjoy is stupid and sucky, and that they're stupid and sucky for enjoying it. If that's a cornerstone of your existence, then yep, you're an asshole. I utterly respect the fact that you don't believe, and maybe even your anti-theism (though I'd have to know more about it to be sure), but sorry, no, I don't respect anyone who butts into other people's lives to tell them that the things they love are stupid. Whether those things are "singing in the church choir" or "playing Minecraft" or "knitting my own socks" or anything else.

If there's nothing INHERENTLY sneery about "there is a God or Gods (and thus, those who don't believe in God(s) are implied or stated to be wrong and/or deluded)", then there's nothing INHERENTLY sneery about "there are no Gods (and thus, those who believe in God(s) are implied or stated to be wrong and/or deluded)".

Never said there was. And actually, I take exception to the idea that me saying "I believe in God" necessarily implies that anyone who doesn't is wrong or deluded.
posted by KathrynT at 2:04 PM on December 20, 2010


I totally agree with him that this is a ridiculous (and potentially very personal) question, and the whole piece is framed as if this is something that he is asked regularly. Could atheists tell me (I'm asking this in a non-snarky way, I'm not an atheist so I don't know) if this is something that happens a lot?
Speaking for myself personally, not a lot, no, but it's not terribly uncommon.
How do such people even know you're an atheist in the first place?
Again, speaking for myself, most of the time it's because someone assumes I'm a theist, and I mildly indicate that I am not.

I'm lucky to have grown up and lived in an environment where I have never had much fear of doing so, and I've never suffered to any significant degree due to having done so, but I think that a lot of Americans are probably not so lucky to have grown up in my area, with my family, and my friends and acquaintances.

I'll tell you this, though: I currently work for a company wherein I am genuinely afraid that if a customer finds out that I am an atheist, it will have a significantly negative effect on the company's bottom line.
posted by Flunkie at 2:05 PM on December 20, 2010


"I do, however, have a requirement that you not go out of your way to specifically tell someone that the fun thing they enjoy is stupid and sucky, and that they're stupid and sucky for enjoying it."

Your favorite God sucks?
posted by Jacqueline at 2:08 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


The level of rhetorical blandness being demanding of Gervais here is beyond belief. He used the word "brainwashed" in an obvious crescendo of hyperbole, not as a core descriptor of believers, but you'd think from reading this thread it was the only word he used in the entire article.

It's all sort of irrelevant anyway - even the most placid, milquetoast, personalized description of atheism will get lumped in with Hitchens and Dawkins by the STFUatheists crew, so why even try to be nice about it?
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:12 PM on December 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


Personally, I would be very interested to hear from Christians why they don't believe in, say, Sikhism (or other religions).

Really? I think that would be a fairly uninteresting discussion. Either you'll get people like me (as a Christian myself, I am sure that a huge part of why I follow the spiritual path I do is because I was raised in this tradition, and I imagine the same thing is true for most Sikhs), or people who are all "Jesus is the One True Lord, and all those Sikhs are wrong!" and that's not very productive of fascinating talk.

I mean, pretty much everyone who is religious is either "My religion is right and all the other religions are wrong" or "All of us humans are trying to understand the ineffable truths of life through the filter of our own cultural heritages" and both are pretty dead-end in terms of discussion.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:16 PM on December 20, 2010


even the most placid, milquetoast, personalized description of atheism will get lumped in with Hitchens and Dawkins by the STFUatheists crew, so why even try to be nice about it?

Who's doing that, exactly? And yes, if the only reason you would ever want to be nice is to curry favor with people whose favor you don't think is worthwhile, then there's no reason to be nice.

posted by KathrynT at 2:17 PM on December 20, 2010


sigh. Italics fail.
posted by KathrynT at 2:17 PM on December 20, 2010


Now that atheists are getting upitty enough to publicly declare their world view, the response from many god-believers is "why do you have to shove it in our faces? It's a private matter." This is the same defense used by bigots towards gay activists. Religious and straight majorities have been so used to getting a free pass from criticism that they don't know how to deal with a radically opposing position and would rather bury any discussion that makes them question matters (the goodness of faith, the superiority of heterosexuality) that were previously unquestioned. Not to mention the hypocrisy of the "keep it private" response.
posted by binturong at 2:18 PM on December 20, 2010 [20 favorites]


The level of rhetorical blandness being demanding of Gervais here is beyond belief. He used the word "brainwashed" in an obvious crescendo of hyperbole, not as a core descriptor of believers, but you'd think from reading this thread it was the only word he used in the entire article.

I thought it was a poor choice of word which undercut an otherwise worthwhile article, and which didn't do much to serve what he was saying. It didn't strike me as an obvious crescendo of hyperbole, but that is me, and your mileage and all that.

But with its inclusion it made me think of that article which was posted here (and quickly deleted) from a religious guy asking for peace and tolerance and understanding between atheists and the religious - an elevated discourse - and his contribution to the elevated discourse was to say that no one's really an atheist, for whatever ridiculous reason. In terms of shooting oneself in the foot, it was light-years beyond what Gervais said, but my reaction was the same: reading an article and being glad that someone was finally talking some sense, and then annoyance that they couldn't resist a little jab.

That's all. Really. I'm sorry if the discussion has rankled you so.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:19 PM on December 20, 2010


Not to mention the hypocrisy of the "keep it private" response.

My guess is that the people in this thread who have said 'keep it private' are not the same people who have been proselytizing for their own worldview(s). They may ascribe to the same or similar worldviews as the proselytizers, but I don't think that, in itself, is hypocrisy.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:22 PM on December 20, 2010


Religious and straight majorities have been so used to getting a free pass from criticism that they don't know how to deal with a radically opposing position and would rather bury any discussion that makes them question matters (the goodness of faith, the superiority of heterosexuality) that were previously unquestioned.

Ha. I grew up as an atheist bisexual feminist in Houston, TX, attending a religiously-affiliated school. (I came to faith in adulthood. Still a bisexual feminist, tho.) I'm used to a lot of things, but "getting a free pass from criticism" isn't one of them.
posted by KathrynT at 2:22 PM on December 20, 2010


Sounds to me like many of you still endorse Don't Ask Don't tell, but only for atheists.

"Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against [atheists], but why do they have to be so flamboyant about it? Couldn't they just keep it to themselves?"
posted by dialetheia at 2:26 PM on December 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


I thought it was a poor choice of word which undercut an otherwise worthwhile article, and which didn't do much to serve what he was saying. It didn't strike me as an obvious crescendo of hyperbole, but that is me, and your mileage and all that.

WTF? If you're going to criticize the inclusion of the word "brainwashed," at the very least consider it in the rhetorical context of the sentence and paragraph in which it appears. It's part of an escalating set of absurd questions that theists might be privately asking about him, not a blanket statement describing theists.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:26 PM on December 20, 2010


"Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against [atheists], but why do they have to be so flamboyant about it? Couldn't they just keep it to themselves?"

I don't see anyone saying that. The parallel to the discussed behavior would be heterosexuals complaining about gay people telling them how wrong and stupid and brainwashed mixed-gender attractions are. If telling people "Your beliefs are stupid and wrong, and you are stupid and wrong for having them" is unacceptable for Christians -- and it is, by every reasonable standard of behavior -- then it's unacceptable for atheists too.
posted by KathrynT at 2:29 PM on December 20, 2010


WTF? If you're going to criticize the inclusion of the word "brainwashed," at the very least consider it in the rhetorical context of the sentence and paragraph in which it appears. It's part of an escalating set of absurd questions that theists might be privately asking about him, not a blanket statement describing theists.

I assure you I have lent it more than a little consideration! I'm aware of the context. I don't think this is actually a huge deal; having been one of the people who mentioned his word choice, I felt like answering the claim that I was demanding a level of rhetorical blandness of Gervais, let alone one beyond belief. That's all!
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:30 PM on December 20, 2010


This is the same defense used by bigots towards gay activists.

It's also a little like white privilege: invisible to anyone who has it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:32 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've met a lot of atheists who believe a lot of other silly woo, like astrology, blank-slateism, communism

woah, there! They're not the ones who need an invisible hand to explain how their economic system works.
posted by Hoopo at 2:36 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why do you need to bash the very, very few famous atheists who are willing to speak openly about their lack of faith?

Puerile, insulting proclamations of any sort invite dismissal, if not "bashing." Particularly when uttered by celebrities, who after all should pay some price for assuming anyone gives a shit about what they think about anything, much less something (as in Gervais' case here) they know next-to-nothing about.
posted by generalist at 2:44 PM on December 20, 2010


"A big part of my own absence of faith is speaking openly against religion. If that makes me an asshole, fine, I'm an asshole... but it also means that you are more than willing to sneer at and deride people like me for our beliefs."

Fine, fuck it, yeah, I'm willing to sneer at you and deride you for your beliefs, specifically your belief that everyone around you needs to be told about your absence of faith. No, not your lack of belief in God, I'm fine with that.

You know what else? When people make it a big part of their faith to hector those without, or with the wrong one, about religion, they're assholes too. But fuck you for acting like somehow your asshole behavior is somehow justified or welcome.

These are the same fucking arguments every fucking time. Yeah, Santa, man, Gervais, that was a good one. Oh, you just believe in one fewer God? I can only hope someone records these trenchant zings, lest they be lost to the sands of time!

But help, help, the atheists are being repressed! Just like the gays, atheists can't marry. And like black people, they deal with an institutional legacy of slavery. Back of the bus? Can you hear yourselves? Truly, it was only a generation or two ago that atheists were forced to drink from separate fountains and weren't allowed to vote. And don't even get me started on the shameful wage disparity.

Oh, but wait, a bunch of Americans wouldn't vote for you for president. So the fuck what? I mean, perish the thought that the reason why folks might not be wild about voting for an atheist (which I've happily done and will likely do again) is because the only atheists they know tell them that they're brainwashed or call them lunatics?

Of course, the only reason why people feel hectored is because of the truth of the arguments, and atheists don't have to worry about tone unlike anyone else trying to persuade in the history of human interaction, you know, because atheists are oppressed or something.

If you want to have these pissing matches in your private life, fine, but this is fucking MetaFilter and we've gone through them eleventy-billion times before — we're not the ones oppressing you, and being your fucking bile dump is obnoxious.

posted by klangklangston at 2:46 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yawn. He's got nothing on Woody Allen or Rowan Atkinson.

As a cleric, I admit I find few lay people and fewer colleagues who actually believe in the God he disbelieves in. If anything, they would cheer his elevation of truth. The gospel is clear: the truth will set you free. Augustine himself said that there can be no separation of theological and scientific truth.

If Gervais thinks that non-participation in religious institutions implies enlightenment, rationality or wisdom, he's quite optimistic. And I also suspect disbelief in any sort of higher power does not immediately liberate one from the need of social approval. I'm glad he doesn't believe in an anthropomorphic God, of any sort, but in a poll of every single one of my parishioners, not a single one of them do either.

Empirically and scientifically speaking, personal identification as a member of a faith is only superficially explained by adherence to propositional statements or creeds. Historically, Christians were considered atheists for precisely the reasons he mentions. Plenty of theologians have argued that theologically, a vulnerable, crucified God is much more like the absence of God than a physical God at all.

To read this makes it seem like Atheism is the new black. Again.

I already wear black.
posted by john wilkins at 2:47 PM on December 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


Regarding the question about Texas, I used to live in a small Texas town (hello, Corsicana) and heard it there a lot, plenty of "Which church do you attend?," but I can't recall encountering it in Austin or Galveston.

(I've had the occasional born-again Christian in California broach the subject and a few people in the Middle East encouraged me to learn more about Islam, consider becoming a Muslim.)
posted by ambient2 at 2:49 PM on December 20, 2010


I don't believe in any God. I think about it a little bit sometimes. I've read a bit about it but I don't really care all that much. However, occasionally, I have doubts, crises even. I am very self aware, and during these crises I think, perhaps irrationally, that there is a manifest higher power and that my atheist position is affected or one of rebellion against the idea that I have no control of my own destiny i.e. I'm faking it.

Faking it is of little benefit to me. I don't often share my beliefs, and I'm cagey when I do. Most of my family and friends would be unmoved if I suddenly presented as religious. For the most part, non-belief beats out belief in my mind. Which makes me think. How many religious people have similar crises? How many of those people are in positions of religious influence? How different would the world be if they felt comfortable being honest?

---

... but sorry, no, I don't respect anyone who butts into other people's lives to tell them that the things they love are stupid. Whether those things are "singing in the church choir" or "playing Minecraft" or "knitting my own socks" or anything else.

How do you feel about heroin or child porn? At some level, it's all arbitrary ... something something Euthyphro dilemma.
posted by doublehappy at 2:52 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wait, Santa isn't real?
posted by panaceanot at 2:54 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was looking for my dose of smug today

You came to the right place.
posted by ambient2 at 2:54 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


One thing I am getting from this conversation is a reinforcement of the saying "Texas is not part of the South" and my god am I getting gladder and gladder about that every time I read one of these stories. I mean, every now and then you get people asking you what church you go to, which is annoying of course, but it's nowhere near on that level. Corroborations anyone?

I've indicated to various religious people over the years that I am not religious. Over the course of my entire life I can recall precisely two times when it's been an issue, and both times it has happened in Louisana when dealing with my family. I can't recall anyone caring in Southeast Texas (of all places); people's reactions have ranged from amused to mildly disaproving to curious to completely understanding. But I've never had anyone openly reject my views or feel that I'm not entitled to them, even when they strongly disagree. I'm sure my experiences are far from the norm, but there's some anecdotal data for you.
posted by kryptondog at 2:55 PM on December 20, 2010


Wait, Santa isn't real?

Next you'll tell me Big Bird's a puppet.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:57 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think religion is the thing that needs a Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
posted by notmydesk at 3:04 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fine, fuck it, yeah, I'm willing to sneer at you and deride you for your beliefs, specifically your belief that everyone around you needs to be told about your absence of faith. No, not your lack of belief in God, I'm fine with that. [...] If you want to have these pissing matches in your private life, fine, but this is fucking MetaFilter and we've gone through them eleventy-billion times before — we're not the ones oppressing you, and being your fucking bile dump is obnoxious.

That's a pretty funny juxtaposition, especially coming from somebody with more bile in that one comment than I've got in an entire posting history.

Well, what do you mean by anti-theism, exactly? It's clearly different than just plain old not believing.

It means that I'm against theism, specifically Christianity, because I think it's actively harmful to our society and civilization. It means that I'm unwilling to remain silent on this issue, even out of a sense of politeness, just as many Christians are unwilling to remain silent on the issue of sin, many people in MADD are unwilling to remain silent on the issue of drinking, and many people in the Democratic Party are unwilling to remain silent on the issue of abortion protesters.

In short, it means that I am indeed willing to "tell someone that the fun thing they enjoy is stupid and sucky, and that they're stupid and sucky for enjoying it". Far from being "unacceptable by every reasonable standard of behavior", this is actually a major part of human discourse (see above), and I'm not going to stop doing it simply because you think certain beliefs should have a get-out-of-opposition-free pass.
posted by vorfeed at 3:13 PM on December 20, 2010 [10 favorites]


"In short, it means I'm part of the problem."
posted by entropicamericana at 3:16 PM on December 20, 2010


It's fun to occasionally be in the group who have a problematic level of self-righteousness.
posted by docpops at 3:21 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I believe that if you have a religion (regardless of what it is), and you believe that the only possible reason anyone would be an atheist is that they are too stupid or brainwashed not to see things exactly the way you do, you're an asshole.

I believe that if you're an atheist, and you believe that the only possible reason anyone would have a religion (regardless of what it is) is that they are too stupid or brainwashed not to see things exactly the way you do, you're an asshole.


Thanks so much for saying this, FAMOUS MONSTER. Can we put it on a billboard, or in an additional note added beneath the comment box on every Metafilter thread about atheism/religion?

The whole analogy between atheists and oppressed minorities is interesting to me. I think it's certainly true that, in the U.S. at least, there is such a thing as Christian privilege that's akin to white privilege. But I think that this analogy suffers (as does the conversation in general) from too much of a focus on Christianity vs. Atheism. It seems like there's this tendency to lump in all forms of religion/spirituality with Christianity as some kind of homogeneous force that is oppressing atheism. Personally, I think it's more like conservative Christianity is a force seeking to oppress all non-Christians. Not just atheists feel pressured to conceal their beliefs, especially in predominantly Christian areas, but so do Muslims and Buddhists and Pagans and Hindus and Jews and Sikhs and probably even less common types of Christians, such as Quakers. So, what I'm saying is, yes, there is Christian privilege, but this doesn't automatically mean that all religious people get that privilege. It rubs off to greater or lesser degrees, sometimes, especially for the other Abrahamic religions, but the Muslim congressman who was blasted by Fox News, etc., for being a Muslim was definitely suffering the effects of not having Christian privilege.

So, rather than framing it as atheism versus religion, I'd like to frame things as hegemonic Christianity versus a broad coalition of people who believe in the freedom of everyone to believe, practice, and speak about whatever they want (which would, I'm sure, include some open-minded Christians). Wouldn't it be great if atheists and agnostics stuck up for the right of that Muslim congressman to practice whatever religion he wanted (even though their own beliefs were different)? Wouldn't it be great if Muslims and Witches and Buddhists stuck up for the right of atheists to speak publicly about their own perspective?
posted by overglow at 3:24 PM on December 20, 2010


It means that I'm against theism, specifically Christianity, because I think it's actively harmful to our society and civilization.

ALL theism? How so? Merely by its existence, or because of the way it's practiced?

Look, I'm a Christian, though there are those on Metafilter who have told me that I'm not, really, because I don't fit their idea of what a Christian is. I don't believe in sin, or hell, or -- frankly -- in heaven. I don't believe in an omniscient, omnipotent God. I don't believe that Jesus is the only path to salvation, and I don't believe that Jesus believed he was, either. What I believe is that there is a force beyond my comprehension that wants us to be good to each other, and that Jesus was a guy who had some pretty solid ideas about how best to be good to each other. And that's it.

I don't think that any belief has a get-out-of-opposition-free pass. But I believe that there are circumstances under which raising that objection is, yes, rude and boorish. I'm talking stuff like this:

Person A: "What are you doing tomorrow?"
Person B: "Well, I have church in the morning, and then I'm going out to lunch with my family, but after that --"
Person A: "Church?! Are you still wasting your time on that bullshit?"

That's rude and uncalled for. And, yes, it's happened to me, and more than once. There's no law preventing such a response, nor would I want one, but I see no reason not to call it impolite.
posted by KathrynT at 3:25 PM on December 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


"The parallel to the discussed behavior would be heterosexuals complaining about gay people telling them how wrong and stupid and brainwashed mixed-gender attractions are."

What atheist in this thread said anything about religious people being "wrong and stupid and brainwashed"? Cite please. This (as well as the many anecdotes about "how atheists were mean to you that one time") is a total straw man argument; there is no sentiment of the sort expressed in the op-ed, and I haven't seen anybody in this thread imply anything like it, either.

In fact, here's the paragraph from the article (including context) that includes the word "brainwashed", since that has caused so much gnashing of teeth in this thread already. I trust that you will note that he doesn't say that religious people are brainwashed, only that they often respond to atheists as though the atheists themselves have asserted this, simply by having the gall to be open about what they believe. Also note that this phenomenon has already occurred multiple times in this thread already!
"So what does the question “Why don’t you believe in God?” really mean. I think when someone asks that they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking “what makes you so special? “How come you weren’t brainwashed with the rest of us?” “How dare you say I’m a fool and I’m not going to heaven, f— you!”"
This thread has a lot of people making the tone argument rather than discuss the content of the article. It is really tiresome, and I know that most of you know what the tone argument is and why it's hurtful because it gets called out instantly when it happens in discussions about feminism or what have you (and hooray for that). Obviously nobody is saying that atheists have faced the oppression that other minorities have, only that privilege often defends itself using the same rhetorical tricks.

Lots of atheists have spoken up in this thread to point out the ways they feel marginalized by others, or feel the need to hide their beliefs to minimize trouble in the workplace or family. Do we really have to answer their stories by saying "hey, at least you aren't being beaten or killed, so shut up"? My dream is that I could tell somebody that I'm an atheist and they would react as though I had simply said I was a Presbyterian, rather than acting like I had just proudly declared my undying love of coprophagy. Atheists should not have to feel ashamed or hide who they are. Most movements with this sort of goal go through a sort of confrontational stage where people are perceived as being a bit too, er, militant about their identities; why shouldn't atheism?
posted by dialetheia at 3:32 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


I will take the baldface horror of modern hygeine and antibiotics and modern understanding of nutrition and agriculture over the comforting spiritual power of prayer and the certainty of religious codes from the likes of deuteronomy, thanks.

You say history owes you something?
posted by kuatto at 3:34 PM on December 20, 2010


If telling people "Your beliefs are stupid and wrong, and you are stupid and wrong for having them" is unacceptable for Christians ... then it's unacceptable for atheists too.

Some brands of Christians say this about other brands of Christians and Muslims say it about non-Muslims etc. I think it's good policy for everyone to live and let live but the problem is that society does not provide a level playing field. Atheist tax-payers must subsidize religious education. Atheists have every right, if not duty, to put their voices into the public arena and if that involves arguing why god belief is a delusion so be it. Instead of saying that's impolite, believers need to provide counter-arguments. Of course this will never work.
posted by binturong at 3:38 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Given this, I think that there's some value in letting people know that they're not alone, and I find it difficult to see doing so as "obnoxious".

I think this is a very important point. I was afraid to tell anyone when I realized I was an atheist because of the attitude you mention (more reviled than Muslims! jackpot!). I generally think people should keep their lights under a bushel and do some more thinking before talking, but on this point the mouthing off doesn't bother me. I do think it's unlikely to actually change anyone's mind, but we need upstanding atheists to come out of the—not closet, maybe the barn?—and show their faces so that the stigma is lessened somewhat over time. IMO.
posted by theredpen at 3:44 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, I specifically said that Gervais wasn't pulling this sort of whiny bullshit. It's outrageous and horrific that lack of belief faces such discrimination in so many arenas, and I'm not being sarcastic here. This country claims to be areligious, and frankly ought to start fucking well acting like it.

But I am not oppressing you simply by believing in something you don't. You're not going to get anywhere in the public arena arguing that "the god belief is a delusion," because the issue isn't whose beliefs are right, the issue is that everyone's beliefs are equally respected in this country, right or wrong, ridiculous or not ridiculous. If you try to prove that you should be respected because you're right and that God doesn't exist? You're going to lose in this country, because believers radically outnumber non-believers, and that's why that's the wrong fight. Atheism absolutely deserves its militant confrontational stage, but it's no less eye-rolly and cringe-inducing than any other movement's.
posted by KathrynT at 3:48 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I do think it's unlikely to actually change anyone's mind, but we need upstanding atheists to come out of the—not closet, maybe the barn?—and show their faces so that the stigma is lessened somewhat over time. IMO.

And with this, I completely agree. It's one reason I'm glad that Dawkins has so much prominence, and that Gervais gives interviews like the one in the OP. There's a hugely entrenched social network for people of faith to find each other, and there needs to be a parallel network for atheists.
posted by KathrynT at 3:51 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


each side presenting the verbal queues

Is a hairy tongue an example of such?
posted by Neiltupper at 3:54 PM on December 20, 2010


Obviously nobody is saying that atheists have faced the oppression that other minorities have, only that privilege often defends itself using the same rhetorical tricks.

A belief that one chooses does not confer privilege or lack thereof. Christians are not privileged. Atheists are not oppressed. Unpopular belief is unpopular, OMG!

Atheists should not have to feel ashamed or hide who they are.


Why not? Some people don't like atheists, so what? No one has the right to be liked.
posted by generalist at 4:04 PM on December 20, 2010


This thread has gone all sorts of random ways. Interesting reading, but it's certainly not progressing to a goal (NTTAWWT).

Another aside to this, perhaps with a purpose. As an atheist, I often wish I could have faith in something bigger. It would simplify things for me. It would give me purpose and meaning where the answer inside me says there is none. Being an atheist can be extremely lonely. My wife suffers more for it than I, though I certainly have my moments. We were watching "2012" the other day and at the end she started crying strongly. It wasn't because of the sad ending, but that she doesn't have faith, doesn't have community, doesn't have some defining "thing in the forefront of her mind" that she's able to share with others and find comfort in. She was weeping for herself and for our daughter, who likewise won't have that. I've detailed my case above, and my wife is an ex-Catholic who never really felt that connection to religion. My daughter? I strongly suspect she won't ever feel that, never having started with a religion in the first place.

The very interesting part of what I feel while writing the above paragraph is that if I was to explain that to anyone I knew/know who was religious, their first instinct would be to attempt to bring me to God. That may even be the feeling that some people writing in this thread are thinking. But that's absolutely NOT what I want or need. I don't think I can explain why that is to anyone who is not an atheist, the same way I cannot ever see someone who believes in a God could truly make me understand why they have that faith.

Humans have a tremendous capacity for faith. The problem, as I see it, is that they have no outlet to put it except the mystical.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 4:08 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Look, I'm a Christian, though there are those on Metafilter who have told me that I'm not, really, because I don't fit their idea of what a Christian is. I don't believe in sin, or hell, or -- frankly -- in heaven. I don't believe in an omniscient, omnipotent God. I don't believe that Jesus is the only path to salvation, and I don't believe that Jesus believed he was, either. What I believe is that there is a force beyond my comprehension that wants us to be good to each other, and that Jesus was a guy who had some pretty solid ideas about how best to be good to each other. And that's it.

Serious question...if you have all of the above, what part of that makes you a "Christian"? It seems you defy the very core definition of the word. I'm not in any way being snarky, I really am confused by what you stated.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 4:11 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also live the US South, and I'm from the ruralest of the rural parts of northwest Missouri. I must have some kind of weird aura, because honestly I've never been asked any questions about where I go to church. I'm sincerely surprised this is an issue for so many people.

My family was from central Missouri. Though I didn't grow up there (it's not far from the church featured in Jesus Camp), my parents did. My mom says it was simply inconceivable growing up that anyone would be anything other than religious. My aunt and uncle are still there. They and a bunch of others left their church a few years ago to start a new one because their church was going to add to its mission statement that it was a "loving and welcoming" church. Meaning, of course, that it wasn't going to teach the truth that "goddam faggots go to hell."

I mention this because I think there's a tremendous false dichotomy in saying that there are "assholes" on both sides of this. I have never heard any atheist say anything as offensive and intolerant as what my uncle said (at least not as an expression of his/her atheism). And that's far from the worst of the kind of thing which gets expressed regularly where I live now (and not just here). You'd have to take the most offensive thing said by Hitchens and multiply it by a thousand to get to the level of things constantly said by religious people specifically as expressions of their religiousness.

When you combine that with the massive social approbation (often outright requirement) for expressions of religiosity at so many different levels and areas of social, political and economic life in the US, I tend to find the expressions of dismay at the impact and supposedly asshole-ness of atheists to be just so much whining.
posted by williampratt at 4:20 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Look, I'm a Christian, though there are those on Metafilter who have told me that I'm not, really, because I don't fit their idea of what a Christian is. I don't believe in sin, or hell, or -- frankly -- in heaven. I don't believe in an omniscient, omnipotent God. I don't believe that Jesus is the only path to salvation, and I don't believe that Jesus believed he was, either. What I believe is that there is a force beyond my comprehension that wants us to be good to each other, and that Jesus was a guy who had some pretty solid ideas about how best to be good to each other. And that's it.
Serious question...if you have all of the above, what part of that makes you a "Christian"? It seems you defy the very core definition of the word. I'm not in any way being snarky, I really am confused by what you stated.
Thomas Jefferson, as I understand it, felt the same way -- in fact, he wrote his own version of the New Testament which removed all miracles, the resurrection, and any indication that Jesus was anything but a man -- and so perhaps you'd like to hear his answer to your question:
To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.
posted by Flunkie at 4:25 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


With one sister a born-again Christian and my brother being an Islamic Imam family gatherings are always interesting. I need to use the 'I don't talk about religion' line.
posted by sfts2 at 4:27 PM on December 20, 2010


and that Jesus was a guy who had some pretty solid ideas about how best to be good to each other

Yeah whoever wrote the New Testament was onto something. Whats funny is that so many who proclaim their faith the loudest, especially here in the U.S., pretty much display through their actions an almost direct contradiction to Sweet J.C.'s words.

This rankles me and makes me want to be vocal about my opposition to their "faith." Mere belief in the Biblical Christ is not a free ticket to heaven when you are disparaging the least among us. Whether they be of a different religion, color, financial background, gender identification or any other modifier we use to separate the lot of us.

I have done good things for strangers been asked about my belief and when I replied "I don't believe" been looked at askance almost as if what I had just done was somehow evil.

We all try to be as helpful as we can, when the litmus test of "belief" affects the equation, it seems to me, a non believer, that someone needs to read their fucking Bible again.
posted by Max Power at 4:32 PM on December 20, 2010


A belief that one chooses does not confer privilege or lack thereof. Christians are not privileged. Atheists are not oppressed. Unpopular belief is unpopular, OMG!

Speaking as a Christian, this is complete bullshit.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:47 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Christians are not privileged.

Really? As others have said, try running for office as a vocal atheist. Now try it as a vocal Christian. You might notice a difference.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 4:48 PM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


"Why are you an atheist?"

"God made me that way."

I'm sorry, but that's funny.
posted by bwg at 5:01 PM on December 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


"The whole analogy between atheists and oppressed minorities is interesting to me."

Analogy? WTF? We are an oppressed minority.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:04 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Serious question...if you have all of the above, what part of that makes you a "Christian"? It seems you defy the very core definition of the word. I'm not in any way being snarky, I really am confused by what you stated.

What part of it doesn't? Given an infinite God, who therefore cannot be known completely, I choose to deepen my relationship with the aspect of God described by Jesus. I try to model my life and my heart after Jesus' examples; I try to walk as Jesus talked; I pray as Jesus suggested. Frankly, I think it'd be pretty frickin disingenuous to call myself anything other than a Christian.
posted by KathrynT at 5:04 PM on December 20, 2010


Serious question...if you have all of the above, what part of that makes you a "Christian"? It seems you defy the very core definition of the word.

Everything that KathrynT says has been stated publicly by bishops of the various denominations embraced by the Anglican Communion, including at least one Archbishop of Canterbury.

So perhaps your "core definition" of the word "Christian" is off a bit? It seems like any definition of "Christian" should include 80 million people who self-identify as same.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:06 PM on December 20, 2010


In a way they are asking "what makes you so special? How come you weren't brainwashed with the rest of us?"

The issue I take with this bit isn't his choice of language, but the implied assertion that nobody who self-identifies as a religious person has come to that standpoint after deep examination of their views.

But Ricky Gervais will have to go some to be more of a jerk to me than Penn Jillette, who said to me that despite my seeming like a perfectly intelligent person, I must have some serious delusions to believe in God. Still love Penn's magic, despite that moment of interpersonal doucherie.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:09 PM on December 20, 2010


klangklangston: If you want to have these pissing matches in your private life, fine, but this is fucking MetaFilter and we've gone through them eleventy-billion times before — we're not the ones oppressing you, and being your fucking bile dump is obnoxious.

How refreshing it is of you to drop the phony ecumenical pretensions for once and openly scolding.

generalist: Puerile, insulting proclamations of any sort invite dismissal, if not "bashing."

Really? I found his statements to be downright conciliatory.

overglow: So, rather than framing it as atheism versus religion, I'd like to frame things as hegemonic Christianity versus a broad coalition of people who believe in the freedom of everyone to believe, practice, and speak about whatever they want (which would, I'm sure, include some open-minded Christians). Wouldn't it be great if atheists and agnostics stuck up for the right of that Muslim congressman to practice whatever religion he wanted (even though their own beliefs were different)?

Many of us do, and do so quite publicly.

Wouldn't it be great if Muslims and Witches and Buddhists stuck up for the right of atheists to speak publicly about their own perspective?

And many of them do.

KathrynT: hat's rude and uncalled for. And, yes, it's happened to me, and more than once. There's no law preventing such a response, nor would I want one, but I see no reason not to call it impolite.

Why is this relevant with respect to a philosophical statement by someone who you admit is not doing this? I'm getting a bit tired of tone scolds derailing discussion because some atheist somewhere was mean to them.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:12 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I am not oppressing you simply by believing in something you don't.

Absolutely nobody is arguing this! Seriously, I have no idea who you think you're arguing with here, especially since you seem to agree that the playing field is seriously slanted toward Christians and appreciate the need for atheists to have a safe space and the ability to build public community without fear of harrassment (which they currently can't do very easily because of social stigma). If you are arguing that you find some unnamed atheists annoying, well, consider the point taken.
posted by dialetheia at 5:14 PM on December 20, 2010


You Might Be an Uncle Tom Atheist If...
posted by Jacqueline at 5:16 PM on December 20, 2010 [10 favorites]


KathrynT: But I am not oppressing you simply by believing in something you don't.

Pointing out that you have privilege does not mean that you, personally, are putting atheists on the rack and torturing them into conversion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:18 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Absolutely nobody is arguing this!

Anybody who's arguing that the issue is theism, or Christianity, or even Conservative Christianity, rather than the ACTIONS of people who believe, is in fact arguing this. Anyone who believes that the only way to level the playing field is to publicly debate the god delusion is arguing this. Otherwise, you're not an anti-theist, you're an. . . anti-religious-oppressionist, I guess, though that's a horrifically clumsy phrase. And if you don't want people to think you're attacking their beliefs? Maybe start by not attacking their beliefs.

And yes, that was the point behind my first post in this thread, waaaaay up there, is that I find some unnamed atheists annoying and worthy of the "Yaytheist" moniker.
posted by KathrynT at 5:19 PM on December 20, 2010


"The issue I take with this bit isn't his choice of language, but the implied assertion that nobody who self-identifies as a religious person has come to that standpoint after deep examination of their views."

But this isn't at all what he's implying. He's saying that a person who sees the need to incredulously ask a nonbeliever "why don't you believe in god?" must have some unacknowledged doubts about their own faith. He doesn't imply anything whatsoever about believers as an overall group.

"Anybody who's arguing that the issue is theism, or Christianity, or even Conservative Christianity, rather than the ACTIONS of people who believe, is in fact arguing this.

And who are you referring to here? Who, precisely, is arguing this? You still haven't said, despite multiple requests.
posted by dialetheia at 5:26 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


And who are you referring to here? Who, precisely, is arguing this? You still haven't said, despite multiple requests.

Vorfeed.
posted by KathrynT at 5:32 PM on December 20, 2010


Pointing out that you have privilege does not mean that you, personally, are putting atheists on the rack and torturing them into conversion.

Saying that the fact that I believe in a god is actively harmful to our society and civilization is a leeetle different than pointing out that I have privilege. I know I have privilege, it angers me, and I try to act in ways that both mitigate that privilege and are consistent with my faith.
posted by KathrynT at 5:36 PM on December 20, 2010


Living in NYC you don't get a lot of religious nut jobs all a' godbothering. But when they do, I always say, Jesus died for someone's sins, but not mine.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:47 PM on December 20, 2010


I think using the language of identity politics to deal with religious differences is inapposite and unhelpful for a number of reasons – chiefly because religious (or irreligious) views are malleable & communicable in ways identity issues are not, and everything that stems from that; it's fundamentally more fluid.

Protocol-wise, Metafilter people have been guilty of derailing threads on religious subjects in the past with vocal proclamations of atheism & such... but, the forum consensus seems to be shifting, because here it's been the other way around, and a bit of overreaction on the non-atheists' part I think. But mainly the disconnect has always been atheism in real life (pretty marginalized) versus atheism on Metafilter (vocal majority, historically) – you have atheists on Metafilter fighting real-world religious people in their comments, and non-atheists on Metafilter fighting atheists on Metafilter. It's two very different social contexts.
posted by furiousthought at 5:47 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I try to model my life and my heart after Jesus' examples;

I wonder exactly how the teachings of Jesus differ from, say, the doctrines of Epicurus -- apart from the "praying to god" bit. There are many ancient philosophers who have proposed what is essentially the Golden Rule (Do unto others etc.) and god is an unecessary extrapolation of this commonsense guide to living. There is no supernatural wisdom necessary for "Thou shalt not kill or steal" and, as Hitchens has pointed out, early Christians thought these injunctions applied only to their own tribe and not to humanity in general. Not such a great example to follow after all.
posted by binturong at 5:48 PM on December 20, 2010


Saying that the fact that I believe in a god is actively harmful to our society and civilization is a leeetle different than pointing out that I have privilege. I know I have privilege, it angers me, and I try to act in ways that both mitigate that privilege and are consistent with my faith.

I guess since I'm used to having by beliefs attacked on those grounds on a daily basis, I don't see the relevance. At the end of the day, I don't agree that your beliefs are categorically good. We can either learn to live with this irreconcilable difference of opinion, or not. But demanding that everyone give you a cookie and endorse the inherent goodness of your beliefs isn't going to get you very far.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:48 PM on December 20, 2010


[on a less flippant note, I'll believe in the enduring beauty of Christ's message when I see the Xians in the street for something other than wanting to dominate women or kill brown people. It really is that simple. You people are all about the martyrdom, so what happened, got all lily-livered on us here nowadays? And don't even try to bring that tiny Amish/Mennonite shit to this party; to few, too powerless, too even willing to get arrested nowadays.]
posted by digitalprimate at 5:51 PM on December 20, 2010


He's saying that a person who sees the need to incredulously ask a nonbeliever "why don't you believe in god?" must have some unacknowledged doubts about their own faith.

I don't think that's accurate (and nor do I think it's appropriate for people to ask questions like that outside of a place or time when the people involved have expressed an interest in discussing those questions).
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:53 PM on December 20, 2010


when I see the Xians in the street for something other than wanting to dominate women or kill brown people

Did you miss the entire US Civil Rights movement? The Quakers, as a denomination? Liberation theology?
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:55 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


If as a curious, passionate kid if I had had the chance to hear more atheists talking about their view of the world, it would have saved me a lot of grief. I did feel isolated, not because I considered myself an atheist (I wouldn't dare), but because I had doubts and questions.

So, I think it's positive that more of the atheist discourse is out there. I hope many religious people agree with that, but I'd guess most don't.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 5:55 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


What atheist in this thread said anything about religious people being "wrong and stupid and brainwashed"?

Vorfeed doesn't use those EXACT words, but "actively harmful to our society and civilization" seems like a pretty strong thing to say about something that many fellow MeFites care strongly about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:58 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I'll believe in the enduring beauty of Christ's message when I see the Xians in the street for something other than wanting to dominate women or kill brown people."

The churches of Seattle turned out huge numbers of their members to the anti-war protests in 2002 and 2003, and opened their spaces to anti-war activist meetings.

But the key word in that sentence might be "Seattle." :D
posted by Jacqueline at 6:00 PM on December 20, 2010


Vorfeed doesn't use those EXACT words, but "actively harmful to our society and civilization" seems like a pretty strong thing to say about something that many fellow MeFites care strongly about.

Then please call him out for being an asshole, don't imply that he is representative of all atheists.
posted by dialetheia at 6:04 PM on December 20, 2010


Newcomers to the south are welcomed with is "are you affiliated?" which means "have you chosen which Christian church you're going to regularly attend yet? Because mine is awesome, let me tell you about it."
posted by headnsouth at 2:59 PM on December 20


Oh my God (ha), thanks for saying this. This explains so many conversations I had when I first moved to Tennessee. People would say, "are you affiliated?" and I, not imagining that this question had anything remotely to do with religion, would say something like, "Um... I volunteer at the public library?"
posted by joannemerriam at 6:07 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Atheism doesn't have the luxury of only making assertions the way theism does. Next time you shout down an atheist for having the gall to declare that other people are gasp wrong, please remember that every single theist on the planet does the exact same thing every time they make a statement about what god is, how god works, or what god said. "God rewards those who believe in him" is just as much of an asshole-you're-wrong statement as "God doesn't exist".
posted by 0xFCAF


This is my favorite post in this thread, because of the truth of it. I said something a long time ago about hating a political figure (a truly vile one, who it is does not matter), and my co-worker stated, "Oh, believe me, he'll get his in hell someday." Well, how to respond to that? I don't believe in hell. I don't believe in any afterlife. But the surety of her statement, her willingness to share that as if it was FACT, is the kind of thing that galls me beyond belief. I wouldn't consider myself a atheist, but I'm surely not in the same boat as many around me of faith. Those sure statements of FACT are incredibly rude and bothersome to those of us who do not share whatever flavor of faith the person who stated it believes in.

I'm all for people keeping it to themselves. And I'm so exhausted of hearing about Jesus. Sometimes I wish I could go one day without hearing or seeing one christian reference, but it's impossible - it's in the dang crossword, the billboards, etc. So I love the atheist billboards, and I appreciate the Ricky Gervais' of this world - please, PLEASE, another viewpoint, any! All!
posted by agregoli at 6:09 PM on December 20, 2010 [10 favorites]


At the end of the day, I don't agree that your beliefs are categorically good. We can either learn to live with this irreconcilable difference of opinion, or not. But demanding that everyone give you a cookie and endorse the inherent goodness of your beliefs isn't going to get you very far.

Why would you agree that my beliefs are categorically good, if you don't share them? I'm not sure I'd even say they're categorically good. But surely there's some distance between not thinking my mere belief is harmful to society and civilization and wanting an endorsement of inherent goodness.

when I see the Xians in the street for something other than wanting to dominate women or kill brown people

Dude, which streets are you looking at? There are churches represented in every major Pride Parade. The anti-war protests have HUGE religious representation. Some folks from my own church were represented in Crosswalk America, a group of people who walked from Phoenix to DC in an attempt to spread the word that not all Christians are like the ones you see on Fox News.

But even if the Pat Robertson Christians were the only kind. . . Christianity is not Theism. There are literally more than a billion non-Christian theists on this planet.
posted by KathrynT at 6:09 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then please call him out for being an asshole, don't imply that he is representative of all atheists.

No one was saying that he WAS representative of all atheists. In fact, people were indeed saying precisely THAT such actively-speaking-out against others for any reason WAS" being an asshole."

So....now that we've established that people are doing precisely what you've hoped we're doing, then...we're good here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:13 PM on December 20, 2010


Then please call him out for being an asshole, don't imply that he is representative of all atheists.

Of course the tone trolls will agree that he's not representative of all atheists. But him and unnamed other meanies are the only ones that KathrynT, klangklangston, and EmpressCallipygos consider worthy of a metafilter discussion, even if they have to repeatedly piss in the thread to do so.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:13 PM on December 20, 2010


Kirk, I'm not sure what you're getting at by calling me out like that. Can you clarify?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:14 PM on December 20, 2010


thinking my mere belief is harmful to society and civilization

Did he say it was the mere belief that was problematic? I assumed he meant the things which have been undertaken in the name of Christianity, not the beliefs themselves. Either way, this is all a bit of derail if Vorfeed doesn't want to engage this particular argument, since he's the only one making it. Everyone else has been saying much more nuanced, interesting things about the subject, thankfully.
posted by dialetheia at 6:16 PM on December 20, 2010


KathrynT: Why would you agree that my beliefs are categorically good, if you don't share them? I'm not sure I'd even say they're categorically good. But surely there's some distance between not thinking my mere belief is harmful to society and civilization and wanting an endorsement of inherent goodness.

I don't see much of a difference there.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:17 PM on December 20, 2010


Kirk, I'm not sure what you're getting at by calling me out like that. Can you clarify?

It's the second time this week you've selected to hijack threads about inoffensive statements about atheism to grind an axe about things you claim to be uncivil. The fact that this appears to be a habit belies any claims to tolerance in my observation.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:23 PM on December 20, 2010


Dude, which streets are you looking at? There are churches represented in every major Pride Parade. The anti-war protests have HUGE religious representation. Some folks from my own church were represented in Crosswalk America, a group of people who walked from Phoenix to DC in an attempt to spread the word that not all Christians are like the ones you see on Fox News.

I suppose you missed the part about living in NYC for ten years and hence seeing most of the major protests. The Christians in those marches are far, far too few and more importantly far, far too unrepresentative of Christians in this country in general. Christianity in this country is a will-to-power game, plain and simple, for 95% of self-decribed Christians.

Yes, I know Unitarians and even a few Friends, but they are a tiny, insignificant minority. Put it this way: plenty of christians are willing to shoot abortion doctors or blow up buildings; how many modern modern martyrs to Christian peace are there? Very, very few.

"Christians," silent dissenter or otherwise, have a real and baneful affect on how my children are educated and the world they will inherit. Use your sky daddy's writings to embolden the majority of Christians to fix this shit then I'll consider taking you somewhat seriously.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:32 PM on December 20, 2010


It's the second time this week you've selected to hijack threads about inoffensive statements about atheism to grind an axe about things you claim to be uncivil.

I think there's a difference of opinion about whether "actively harmful to our society and civilization" is "inoffensive". If I hadn't seen that in the thread, I wouldn't have commented. I have no issue with Gervais' statement, only with vorfeed's, and it got here first.

That's THIS thread. I haven't a clue what the other incident you're referring to is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 PM on December 20, 2010


wow! this thread got really long, really fast. so, since am noticing people's stories about coming out as an atheist, let me share two of mine:

back in the day i was one of the most high profile latina bloggers in the United States. there's more now, but back in 2002-2003, i was an oddity. so, some newspaper sends a rookie to interview me for hispanic month or something, and i kid you not, the guy asked me something to the effect: "you write about many controversial subjects but i found out you actually have said you're an atheist. how can you be a puerto rican and be an atheist?"

*sigh*

my mom thought i was joking about us raising my kids as atheists. when she came to take care of THING1 while i was giving birth to THING2, she did the "mom" thing of imposing her will over saying grace. the father of my children looked at me with "dont say a word" look and i was there at the table ready to explode. not a moment passed after she was done that THING1 with all his 2.7 year-old self, turns to me and says: who is this god guy she's thanking?

i about died. i laughed so hard i thought my water broke. never again did she bring up the religion issue... until this year. 10 years after the fact, she turns to me while i was at home visiting her and she says: well, looks like you didnt need that god to raise your kids well after all.

and that's my life as a puerto rican atheist :D
posted by liza at 6:34 PM on December 20, 2010 [14 favorites]


As a cleric, I admit I find few lay people and fewer colleagues who actually believe in the God he disbelieves in. If anything, they would cheer his elevation of truth. The gospel is clear: the truth will set you free. Augustine himself said that there can be no separation of theological and scientific truth.

Sounds like you need to send the memo to the evangelicals.

For myself, I occasionally get asked about my beliefs. Depending on the weather, I have a few responses, the most fighty of which is that I don't believe in god(s). (Which really shouldn't be taken as fighty at all.) I spent a number of years practicing Zen Buddhism, which I think is pretty orthogonal to the whole debate. Thus, when I'm feeling less fighty, I answer that I'm Buddhist. This tends to lead to a pile of other questions, but the answers amount to a strong argument for atheism. Indeed, one of the things I really like about Zen is that it really does't ask you to take anything on faith; it's an explicitly experimental approach to... well, whatever it is that it approaches. And furthermore, I'm not asked to believe anything just because it's written down.

---

I'm a bit worried, as I may be moving to Kenya next year, where Christianity is _huge._ It's not quite as bad as in some of the neighboring countries (people don't rail against condoms as an abomination against god, for example), but it could be an impediment to my work there. We'll see.

In any case, Christianity in Africa is problematic to say the least. Christianity was brought to Africa mainly by missionaries serving a dual purpose. On the one hand, spreading the Gospel let them feel that they were doing good work for god, and on the other hand, making them easier for the colonists to control. It's much easier to control people, after all, if they believe that you hold the keys to their salvation. The work of those missionaries served to alienate people from their own cultures, implementing a racist ideology that held that black Africans were inherently inferior to white colonists. God, after all, had not chosen the Africans as his people or the recipients of his messenger. While racism amongst colonialists isn't exactly the problem today that it was fifty years ago, Christianity continues to be problematic in Africa, via failed abstinence-only (or, if you prefer, faith-based) sex education policies, and by feeding rampant homophobia.

One cannot help but notice that the Old Testament God - the one who wrote those commandments - is explicitly culturally supremacist. This is why those missionaries showed up in the first place, and why the Mormons still send out missionaries today. This cultural supremacy is simply not acceptable in a modern ideology. While certain strains of Christianity have adapted and become very willing to coexist with other religions and philosophies, other very large strains have not. I feel that those who have abandoned the more toxic forms of Christianity are not nearly vocal enough in getting the message across to those who have not. Indeed, in Africa it seems to be the loudest Christians with the most aggressive messages who have dominated the discourse, and it should come as no shock that these were not Unitarians.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:37 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's THIS thread. I haven't a clue what the other incident you're referring to is.

Oh for fuck's sake.

Neither Ivo nor I were talking about this instance.

You took a thread off-topic to grind your axe, and you admitted you were doing it as you were called on it.

I think there's a difference of opinion about whether "actively harmful to our society and civilization" is "inoffensive".

Where did Gervais say this? That's right, he didn't.

If I hadn't seen that in the thread, I wouldn't have commented. I have no issue with Gervais' statement, only with vorfeed's, and it got here first.

And that's exactly the problem.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:02 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Use your sky daddy's writings to embolden the majority of Christians to fix this shit then I'll consider taking you somewhat seriously.

I'm working on it, frankly. Partly by speaking up about my beliefs and making it clear to others who may feel the same way that they're not alone.
posted by KathrynT at 7:06 PM on December 20, 2010


kaibutsu: My flirtations with Buddhism usually come up against two issues that I never could wrap my head around: lineage and Karmic rebirth. Granted, I lived in a city where Tibetan Buddhism was all the rage and I'm a bit bemused at how the Dalai Lama has tried to undermine his own cult of personality. I half expect him to say something along the lines of "fuck it, I'm just a guy, I'm not coming back, and try to be nice to each other, ok?"
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:09 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I'm getting a bit tired of tone scolds derailing discussion because some atheist somewhere was mean to them."

Sure, if we axe all the comments from atheists complaining about some god-botherer bothering them about God.

But then you wouldn't get to pretend that your magic special atheist reasons are so amazing and deep, nor would you get to smugly dismiss comments from good faith members (no pun intended).

So, hey, Kirk, what's so great about this article that we need to discuss it? What's the great stuff this conversation is churning out? And how much shit are you willing to pick through for each kernel of corn?

I mean, since the "tone" discussion's fruitless and it's totally cool for atheists to be assholes and if anyone calls them on being an asshole, it's exactly like segregation. (Hey, you wanna talk about privilege? How about a resoundingly elite group taking on the rhetoric of the downtrodden — that's more privilege than stealing rap music!)
posted by klangklangston at 7:15 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems like this thread is in danger of sliding into one of those "who actually inspiried the Holocaust" debates.

So let me try clarify a couple things.

One, myself and many other Atheists have become more vocal over the last ten years because other people's beliefs have been more and more impinging on our lives. From 9/11 to biology textbooks, to murdered doctors, to every damn election, we can't miss this long conversation about what REAL religion is vs whatever it is that the speaker thinks is real religion. So, there are a lot of us who don't, at core, care what you believe. Only what we're forced to live with thanks to those beliefs.

Two, even if you convinced me that every historical atrocity was caused by someone becoming an atheist that would hold no claim of the truth value of religious claims. I have read most of the world's major religious texts out of curiosity. They are, as a whole, 90 percent obvious crazy bullshit. Sure, Jesus had some nice things to say. He also claimed special privilege on them because he was the son of god. God who created the world. But he had pretty small amounts of useful information about the world. Imagine if the bible had a recipe for soap. I would have found it much more compelling.
posted by lumpenprole at 7:18 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


kirkjobsluder:
Yeah, lineage (as I understand it) is bit less of a thing in Zen, which I interpret as similar to lineage in the academic sense of who advised your phd... I believe it has mostly served as a mark of authenticity, to keep Joe Rando from trying to start a Buddhist center without having actually experienced Buddhism first. It's also historically been used as a way to claim that a given school of Buddhism actually goes back to the Buddha, though it's hard to say how truthful these claims are. In Tibet, there was a ruling class of priest-kings, which made lineage and Karmic rebirth serve not only as signs of religious but political authenticity. This is, I think, why these concepts are so much more emphasized in the Tibetan tradition: the traditions needed to prevent people from setting up rival political institutions.

And as for a lot of other things associated with the Tibetans (like, say, telepathy and ultra-marathons), Zen - especially in its American and/or Soto adaptations - contains a lot less of the 'spooky stuff,' as Alan Watts calls it. It doesn't translate well to the liberal American tradition, though it makes for some great stories, and probably played a big role in the way Buddhism has shaped up in non-Asian American communities.
posted by kaibutsu at 7:33 PM on December 20, 2010


"One, myself and many other Atheists have become more vocal over the last ten years because other people's beliefs have been more and more impinging on our lives. From 9/11 to biology textbooks, to murdered doctors, to every damn election, we can't miss this long conversation about what REAL religion is vs whatever it is that the speaker thinks is real religion. So, there are a lot of us who don't, at core, care what you believe. Only what we're forced to live with thanks to those beliefs. "

Having worked for about a year out in the public canvassing for gay marriage, I can tell you that not only have I seen the total blackness of religious hatred, but that many, many theists feel exactly the same way as you do. They don't care what you believe, or what others believe, as long as they're not hurting anyone. That includes murdering doctors, 9/11, biology textbooks and denying LGBT folks equal rights.

And, though it's kind of fucked up that I have to say this, I tend to really respect atheists in terms of spiritual beliefs. They've usually given more thought to things than a lot of folks who profess to be religious, and it's certainly easier to be religious. I'm happy that people want to be open about their atheism, and I think we're better as a society for it.

But yeah, in a pluralistic democracy, you're going to have to live with people who believe in God. Right now, you'll have to live with a whole bunch of them. In a pluralistic democracy, we try not to be assholes to one another.

And as an aside, the most abhorrent "atheist" atrocity statement I ever heard came from a LaRouche-ite who said earnestly that Jews brought about the Holocaust because of their religious faith, both in their superiority and their inability to fight back. I don't think atheists believe that, but my God was it an awful thing to blurt out when you're trying to corral college kids at the student union.
posted by klangklangston at 7:39 PM on December 20, 2010


I mean, since the "tone" discussion's fruitless and it's totally cool for atheists to be assholes and if anyone calls them on being an asshole, it's exactly like segregation. (Hey, you wanna talk about privilege? How about a resoundingly elite group taking on the rhetoric of the downtrodden — that's more privilege than stealing rap music!)

So christians in the U.S. AREN'T an elite group? And they DON'T use their standing to , I dunno, undermine the fucking constitution? And of course I've NEVER heard a fucking christian complain about how persecuted they are here in secular America.

This kind of smarm is why I want to shove your god right down your fucking throat. You may not be like the likes of Pat Robertson, or Bill Donohue but THEY are the ones representing YOU. And if you haven't noticed they affect U.S. policy, culture and law.

They are YOUR representatives whether you like it or not. And your acquiescence only furthers their political goals.
posted by Max Power at 7:42 PM on December 20, 2010


Can we just skip to the end and start calling each other Hitler now?
posted by Jacqueline at 7:44 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


My name Jesus Hitler. Wanna dance?
posted by kaibutsu at 7:48 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


The whole "tone argument" is so much warmed-over bullshit. Far too many people on Metafilter believe that because they're right, they don't need to be polite or respectful, man, because anyone who disagrees with them about some issue is obviously flawed to begin with! Especially the parts where they accuse others of pissing on threads.

You want to be all abrasive and in-your-face, fine, but you can't then get all huffy when people respond to that and be all "You tone trolls can't even respond to the content. I'm obviously right, why don't you just acknowledge that, instead of making irrelevant comments about I or someone else talks like an asshole?"

klang can be pretty abrasive sometimes, I know I've been obnoxious, but you don't see him doing that and trying to ignore people commenting on his tone by saying civility doesn't apply to him because he's obviously right. It's one thing to be obnoxious, it's worse to say your immune to criticism about how you write or speak because you're right and people who disagree are just privelaged.
posted by Snyder at 7:53 PM on December 20, 2010


You may not be like the likes of Pat Robertson, or Bill Donohue but THEY are the ones representing YOU.

hey, lots of theists also call other asshole theists on THEIR bullshit. I know I do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:53 PM on December 20, 2010


Can we just skip to the end and start calling each other Hitler now?

Some of my best friends are Hitler! Wait a minute... I did that wrong.
posted by ob at 8:15 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


You may not be like the likes of Pat Robertson, or Bill Donohue but THEY are the ones representing YOU. And if you haven't noticed they affect U.S. policy, culture and law.

Yeah. That's why I and other progressives are speaking the fuck up and saying hey, listen assholes, you don't speak for me. You don't own Jesus, and you don't own the Bible, and you don't own Christianity, so shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down.

Of course, then we get called god-botherers and told that we're pushing our faith on people. So which is it? Do we get vocal and disclaim the assholes who are making a mockery of things we hold sacred, or do we stay quiet so as not to bother anyone? Because people who believe as I do have been so quiet out of fear of giving offense for so long that people literally don't think that people like me exist. Like, somehow you can go to a Christian church and pray the Lord's Prayer and read the Bible and try to do Jesusy things, but it doesn't count because I don't believe in a bunch of crap that has nothing to do with Jesus.
posted by KathrynT at 8:17 PM on December 20, 2010


Oh good, we made it all the way to the Oppression Olympics!

"it's totally cool for atheists to be assholes and if anyone calls them on being an asshole, it's exactly like segregation. (Hey, you wanna talk about privilege? How about a resoundingly elite group taking on the rhetoric of the downtrodden — that's more privilege than stealing rap music!)"

Nice one. I don't think anyone has ever called me "resoundingly elite" before. I hope somebody can remind me of all the great privileges I enjoy as an atheist in US society so I can raise a toast to my newfound power and influence!

You want to be all abrasive and in-your-face, fine

Who is arguing that they want to be abrasive? I brought up the tone argument because the thread pretty much instantly derailed over Gervais' use of the word "brainwashed" in the middle of an otherwise conciliatory declaration of his atheism. The article was really pretty innocuous and respectful toward believers, I thought, and so I was dismayed to see the whole thing derailed because the one word was taken out of context by a couple of commenters and used as an example of how "all atheists are so abrasive".

Do we get vocal and disclaim the assholes who are making a mockery of things we hold sacred, or do we stay quiet so as not to bother anyone?

This is such a false choice, I don't even
posted by dialetheia at 8:21 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


klangklangston: Sure, if we axe all the comments from atheists complaining about some god-botherer bothering them about God.

Since the topic of Gervais's essay is about how he responds to the question, "Why don't you believe in God?" most of the comments along those lines are on-topic. And we were having some great discussion there.

But then you wouldn't get to pretend that your magic special atheist reasons are so amazing and deep, nor would you get to smugly dismiss comments from good faith members (no pun intended).

No, I've not dismissed any comments from people acting in good faith. I'll happily dismiss comments that ignore the linked post for the purpose of grinding a personal axe about the bad behavior of "some" atheists. Especially when that's the only behavior that's deemed worthy of comment.

So, hey, Kirk, what's so great about this article that we need to discuss it? What's the great stuff this conversation is churning out? And how much shit are you willing to pick through for each kernel of corn?

I thought we were having a great conversation about how we're questioned or not about our lack of belief before you proceeded to lay your own turd.

I mean, since the "tone" discussion's fruitless and it's totally cool for atheists to be assholes and if anyone calls them on being an asshole, it's exactly like segregation.

Straw man.

But by all means, if you want to talk about atheists being assholes, surely there's something by Meyers, Dawkins, Hitch, or the NJ billboard you can link to instead of a guy who says, "As an atheist, I see nothing “wrong” in believing in a god. I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm."

In a pluralistic democracy, we try not to be assholes to one another.

Yes, and part of being in a pluralistic democracy is actually listening to what other people have to say without letting grudges get in the way.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:29 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


This started off as a decently respectful thread, and now everyone is just shouting at each other. Mostly people seem to be shouting about how shitty it is to get shouted at.

Huh.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:31 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Snyder: The whole "tone argument" is so much warmed-over bullshit. Far too many people on Metafilter believe that because they're right, they don't need to be polite or respectful, man, because anyone who disagrees with them about some issue is obviously flawed to begin with!

Straw man.

Especially the parts where they accuse others of pissing on threads.

Well yes, if you insist on being off-topic for the purpose of grinding your pet socio-political axe, you're pissing on the thread. It's not that hard to comprehend.

You want to be all abrasive and in-your-face, fine, but you can't then get all huffy when people respond to that and be all "You tone trolls can't even respond to the content. I'm obviously right, why don't you just acknowledge that, instead of making irrelevant comments about I or someone else talks like an asshole?"

This is the third time I've seen this happen this month. Atheists march in a Christmas parade humming Jingle Bells? Becomes a discussion about how atheists are assholes. Atheists run an inoffensive advertising campaign in Fort Worth, TX? Yeah, that's not offensive but atheists are assholes. Gervais says he has no problems when people believe in God? Yeah, that's not offensive but atheists are assholes.

You want religious pluralism, you need to be willing to engage with people doing the inoffensive things in addition to jumping in to flame the assholes.

It's one thing to be obnoxious, it's worse to say your immune to criticism about how you write or speak because you're right and people who disagree are just privelaged.

Straw man, and strawman.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:47 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


"I'm not religious" is usually all that's needed to get the message across

You should talk to my little brother the evangelical Christian missionary. He insists, as is common among evangelicals, that he's not religious. Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship with Christ.

They go on to say that it was religious folks that nailed their savior to the cross etc etc.

So no, "I'm not religious" is not sufficient to explain to all folks that you don't believe in gods etc. To be clear about what you mean, it's often necessary to use more precise language. If people have difficulty understanding the difference between an atheist and a satanist or a rage filled anti-theist, explain that the "a" prefix means the same thing in "atheist" as it does in "apolitical", it's a simple negation of theism and nothing more.
posted by Mokusatsu at 8:51 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Everyone here needs a hug. Since I can't actually hug you, here is a video of kittens and puppies.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:54 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


EC: hey, lots of theists also call other asshole theists on THEIR bullshit. I know I do.

There's a time and a place for it. I try not to make a habit of jumping into threads about religions I find to be inoffensive to denounce Donahue or Phelps, who are about as relevant to that particular topic as abrasive atheists are to this one.

KathrynT: Do we get vocal and disclaim the assholes who are making a mockery of things we hold sacred, or do we stay quiet so as not to bother anyone?

A whooping false dichotomy here.

I'm not an antitheist but I don't see that the antitheist position that religious belief is a bad thing to be more offensive than John 3:16, the Decalogue, or the Tibetan Buddhist version of Pascal's Wager. I can tolerate the view that I'm going to hell without assuming that the person is an asshole for expressing it, because they usually are not.

But you shouldn't need to declaim that you're not Robertson or Donahue in every single thread about religion either.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:06 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I never believed in Santa as a literal entity. I always got that it was a happy fiction that people shared and that it was powered by people going along with it and making the presents (and etc.) happen. My big Santa disappointment was that I had thought the cool thing was that even stodgy and unimaginative adults would play pretend for this one thing. And then I found out that, no, those adults weren't playing with me, they thought they were putting one over on me.

It still parallels with my (lack of) feelings about Jesus, or more accurately, mainstream Christianity in general. It was supposed to be this great thing that made people work together and love their neighbor and all that amazingly good stuff... and then I ran into the people using it as a vehicle for hatred and I was just crushed.

Sometimes I still pretend about Santa, and sometimes I still pretend about Jesus, because I really wish it could be the way it's supposed to be.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:13 PM on December 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


"This kind of smarm is why I want to shove your god right down your fucking throat."

That ain't my God, asshole. Now get your hands off my fucking throat.
posted by klangklangston at 9:14 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I use it for fucking.
posted by klangklangston at 9:16 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


So no, "I'm not religious" is not sufficient to explain to all folks that you don't believe in gods etc. To be clear about what you mean, it's often necessary to use more precise language. If people have difficulty understanding the difference between an atheist and a satanist or a rage filled anti-theist, explain that the "a" prefix means the same thing in "atheist" as it does in "apolitical", it's a simple negation of theism and nothing more.

I don't really get asked about my religious beliefs on a regular basis. I have an uncle who I speak with in depth about them on an infrequent basis, but unfortunately we're not as close as we used to be.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:23 PM on December 20, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about this lately, having taken a deeper interest in the Universe and where we come from.

I was raised Catholic, so there was a lot of guilt and baggage I was carrying around for a long time. As I grew older I jettisoned organised religions as a whole for being dangerous and counterproductive to humans helping one another; I saw more hatred and exclusionary policies than love (although that's not to say that people within these groups all behaved the same, because of course that's not true).

The rational part of my mind fully accepts the Big Bang theory and evolution and the Laws of Nature, but deep inside I still feel that there ought to be a Creator of some sort. It might just be chemical processes in my brain, but it might also be the spark in my soul.

I like the idea that all the possibilities in our Universe (or other Universes, according to Quantum Theory) stem from a power or mind so vast as to be beyond comprehension. I can't prove the existence of God, but I also cannot disprove it. Science cannot solve this issue other than to say it is highly improbable that God exists, but that's not the same as proof a Creator does not.

It is the great unknowable thing, which is why I cannot be an atheist. It also precludes me from being agnostic, because again, I think something is out there. But I don't begrudge atheists or agnostics their opinions, just as I don't hold knock folks for their beliefs, be it Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, what have you.

The world and the human condition would be much better if people would simply adhere to the concept of respect for others, but we have a long long way to evolve before our brains accept that paradigm as the norm, if we don't destroy ourselves before then. So yeah, I'm not keen on arguing about it: believe, disbelieve, do whatever you want.

Just treat me well and I'll do the same to you.
posted by bwg at 10:17 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Our ability to live together is reliant on our patience and willingness to try to not only hear each other, but to attempt understanding... it is hard, as we all speak with different words, and our words may change, grow, as if in dialect, based on the 'places' we come from, and gone to; but I'd tell you, given willingness to learn about another, the words do exist to share our common thoughts. By this discussion, I am reminded of an old story;

A Persian, a Turk, and Arab and a Greek were traveling to a distant land when they began arguing over how to spend the single coin they posessed among themselves. All four craved food, but the Persian wanted to spend the coin on angur; the Turk, on uzum; the Arab, on inab; and the Greek, on stafil. They were not able to agree, and the argument became heated, and there were insults passed between them.

A linguist passing by overheard their quarrel. “Give the coin to me,” he said. “I undertake to satisfy the desires of all of you.”

Taking the coin, the linguist went to a nearby shop and bought four small bunches of grapes. He then returned to the men and gave them each a bunch.

“This is my angur!” cried the Persian.
“But this is what I call uzum,” replied the Turk.
“You have bought me my inab,” the Arab said.
“No! This in my language is stafil.”

At this point the men realized that what each of them had desired was in fact the same thing, only they had not known yet how to express themselves to each other.

posted by infinite intimation at 10:19 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


The world and the human condition would be much better if people would simply adhere to the concept of respect for others

Look, that's a statement that almost no one would disagree with. I.E. it's kind of meaningless in this kind of debate.

See it goes like this: I think respect for another person means not forcing them to be pregnant if they don't want to be. Religious person A, who I would otherwise get along with in the cafeteria line just fine, believes that there is a human life at stake and that outweighs my argument. I say, okay, but it's not a human life yet, it's just the possibility of one. RA says "no there is a soul there". I am pretty much unable to respond to that argument because there are no logical tools that interact with some person's belief in a soul.

So now what? I can't discuss this rationally, because to me, Mr. Rational has left the building. And RA can't discuss this compassionately with me because to them, I'm willing to be a murderer.

We can be compassionate, and we can respect each other, and FSM knows I try. But what we are really arguing over is whether the universe is composed of things that we can both interact with. It would seem like reality would be the most easily accessible common ground, since we all have to live in it, but we can't really agree on what that is.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:49 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wow, it's like privelege denying dude suddenly became privelege denying chick.

I'd find a sudden concern with the value of "tone arguments" a little more credible if the people making them were expressing the same concern every time it comes up around civil behaviour with respect to arguments over race, gender, et al.
posted by rodgerd at 11:59 PM on December 20, 2010


I can't tell who you're referring to, rodgerd - who is "privilege denying chick" supposed to be?
posted by dialetheia at 12:14 AM on December 21, 2010


But help, help, the atheists are being repressed! Just like the gays, atheists can't marry. And like black people, they deal with an institutional legacy of slavery. Back of the bus? Can you hear yourselves?

Oh, but wait, a bunch of Americans wouldn't vote for you for president. So the fuck what?

Can you hear yourself?

It's great that people don't get murdered for atheism, that religion doesn't claim special moral rights and clarity. It's great that in your parallel universe the former Prime Minister of the UK doesn't identify irrelegious folks as being as dangerous as al-Qaeda. Life sounds pretty good over there. I guess there aren't any countries with mandatory tithing to churches, and no at-will employment states where people are fired for lack of religious belief, either.

If you want to have these pissing matches in your private life, fine, but this is fucking MetaFilter and we've gone through them eleventy-billion times before — we're not the ones oppressing you, and being your fucking bile dump is obnoxious.

Oh, hey privelege-denying dude is back!
posted by rodgerd at 12:14 AM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


of course, if you've ever seen any discussion on you tube you won't have to wait long for some idiot of some variety to claim pretty much anything you can think of.

It's more than that. The "atheists are responsible for all the great genocides of the 20th century and therefore atheism is dangerous" argument is not just made by silly people on YouTube, some of the most popular religious leaders and apologists have made that claim.

Like who? Well, Pope Benedict for a start, William Lane Craig, Ray Comfort, Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum etc.
posted by Mokusatsu at 12:45 AM on December 21, 2010


People who think the only realities worth discussing are the ones objectively present in the universe are missing out on worlds of metaphor and myth that can lead you to all sorts of thoughts and conclusions that you don't get if you stick only to the cold, hard truth and refuse to walk down any path with the least bit of imagination.

Of course, people who are so selfish as to think that their own preferred imaginations are the only ones worth respecting are even worse; it can be hateful and violent and dehumanizing. (This applies to religion, but it also applies to literary canons and console wars and any other choice where fans of one side feel the need to hurt or belittle the fans of the other sides.)

I find that religion and religious discussions lead frequently to insights that I can apply to other aspects of my life, my art, my work, my friendships. On top of that religion is frequently beautiful and often creates loving, caring communities that wouldn't exist otherwise. (Many of those communities are inclusive and welcoming and wouldn't dream of forcing their beliefs on outsiders. I don't want to say "most" because a pessimistic part of me doesn't think "most" would be accurate, but certainly many.)

I don't believe in a literal God but I believe in many metaphorical lenses that happen to resemble the gods other people believe in. Among other things I frequently call myself a pantheist, because I think the universe or universes are such vast, incomprehensible, and gorgeous constructs that they resemble the gods my truly devout friends believe in. I've met many people whose beliefs were shallow and selfish and hateful, but they're not the people I think of when I think of religion.

Though I've got to say it provides me no end of ugly amusement when people who think worshippers are intolerant name-callers respond to the people offering a more reasoned view with intolerance and name-calling. There are just as many people in this thread insulting atheists and anti-theists and Ricky Gervais, of course, so it's not like we even have one righteous side.

I didn't find this article particularly engaging on its own, though it was well-written. It was by Ricky Gervais however and so I give it a pass. Ricky Gervais is as close to a Messiah as I believe in and I'd deny people who prefer the US to the UK Office the right to get married, join the army, vote, or basically do anything else. Everybody's got a sticking point, I suppose.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:49 AM on December 21, 2010


People who think the only realities worth discussing are the ones objectively present in the universe are missing out on worlds of metaphor and myth that can lead you to all sorts of thoughts and conclusions that you don't get if you stick only to the cold, hard truth and refuse to walk down any path with the least bit of imagination.

Argh.

No we're not. We're simply asking that if we point out the parts of the metaphor that don't bear close examination because of inconvenient facts, you don't get to call us assholes. Is that so wrong?
posted by lumpenprole at 3:02 AM on December 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm lucky to live in a place where Christianity is pretty muted.
When I get asked why I don't believe in God, I say, "Hm...I guess I never found the reasons people give convincing. Why do you believe in God?"
Usually, the other person has no more of an idea why they believe than I do why I don't, and will say something like, "I don't know, I just always did. It feels right to me, you know?"
And then we'll nod like idiots and move on to more important stuff.

If I had to defend my views, I'd have to sharpen up, but so far it doesn't seem necessary.

From my ignorant point of view, I can't even parse the sentence "why don't you believe". Clearly, if God had been convincing to me, I would!

I think that "atheist" is a fighty word in the same way "feminist" is. It's unfair, but other people often take those words as an attack - "atheists denigerate believers", "feminists are manhaters". I realise that's not what these words mean, but if you use them, you usually have to go through tons of explaining and arguing just to make clear what you actually mean or don't mean. So I don't call myself an atheist, because I don't know enough about my atheism actually argue it. I just tell people I can't make myself believe in God when I don't.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:11 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rory Marinich: People who think the only realities worth discussing are the ones objectively present in the universe are missing out on worlds of metaphor and myth that can lead you to all sorts of thoughts and conclusions that you don't get if you stick only to the cold, hard truth and refuse to walk down any path with the least bit of imagination.

I find it often the case that it's assumed my appreciation of metaphor, myth, and imagination are stunted by my atheism. Worse, I've run into turf wars over metaphors. How dare we use poetry or metaphoric to talk about the things that are important to us? How dare we?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:39 AM on December 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


People who think the only realities worth discussing are the ones objectively present in the universe are missing out on worlds of metaphor and myth that can lead you to all sorts of thoughts and conclusions that you don't get if you stick only to the cold, hard truth and refuse to walk down any path with the least bit of imagination.

This conviction is distasteful. To learn from (and even enjoy) a religion's myths and parables one does not have to embrace them--or embrace those of any religion at all.
posted by maxwelton at 3:40 AM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


So I don't call myself an atheist, because I don't know enough about my atheism actually argue it.

I call myself an atheist as I realized "agnostic" was inaccurate for how I'm wired. The only way I would be convinced that someone's religious beliefs were The Truth would be if their god(s) stood before me, throwing thunderbolts and what-not...and in that situation, there's no faith involved at all. Big bearded dude in robe, check.

At that point "god" just part of the universe, and, more to the point, an exciting avenue for scientific investigation. (If "god" stands on a scale, does he weigh anything? If he doesn't, if he picks up a car and stands on the scale, does it at least register the weight of the car? Etc.)
posted by maxwelton at 3:57 AM on December 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I call myself an atheist as I realized "agnostic" was inaccurate for how I'm wired.

Just so it's clear for anyone not sure...

A "theist" is a person who believes in a god or gods.

An "atheist" is someone who is not a theist. Nothing is contained in the statement "atheist" by itself to indicate whether the person is sure there is no god, can prove there is no god, or simply hasn't thought about it.

An "agnostic" is a person who says that if gods possess the characteristics often ascribed to them, such as great supernatural power and an unwillingness to manifest themselves in the material universe in a manner suited to scientific study, then there is no way to prove or disprove the existence of any gods.

Agnosticism is a word describing one's beliefs ABOUT gods, not one's beliefs in them.

A person can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist, in fact most atheists and theists are agnostics.

Agnostic does NOT mean that you aren't sure and haven't formed any opinion about whether any gods might possibly exist. It only means you believe there is no way to prove that they exist, or don't.

While there may be some people who sit on the knife edge of not having formed an opinion either way, most people have formed some opinion on the subject and therefore can be classified as theists or atheists.

People who are actively opposed to the idea of gods, regardless of whether they believe in them or not, are antitheists.

Christopher Hitchens is an avowed antitheist, he finds the idea of a "celestial dictator" to be appalling and would prefer it if there were no gods. I guess that king who was tearing down all the temples at the start of the "Clash of the Titans" movie could also be described as an antitheist, though without question he believed that the gods did exist.
posted by Mokusatsu at 4:29 AM on December 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


People who think the only realities worth discussing are the ones objectively present in the universe are missing out on worlds of metaphor and myth that can lead you to all sorts of thoughts and conclusions that you don't get if you stick only to the cold, hard truth and refuse to walk down any path with the least bit of imagination.

One can have all kinds of interesting philosophical discussions without invoking any religions, or if one must, by considering the myths of dead religions like Roman or Greek mythology.

I'd love to hear some specific examples of thoughts and conclusions one could only arrive at if one embraced religious thinking.

I know many religious people and my experience of them has been that they are LESS open to the wonders of the universe, the intricate and strange world of quantum mechanics, the oddness of relativity, the elegant simplicity of evolution by natural selection etc. Instead they often tend to look at the universe through IMHO a much blander lens of anthromorphic beings poofing a vast universe into existence for no other purpose than to provide a testing ground to work out the minority of people who deserve to spend eternity groveling before god in unending worship vs. the majority who will be tortured for all eternity for failing to believe in the right beliefs, chant the right prayers or ask too many questions.
posted by Mokusatsu at 4:36 AM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


To me the argument isn't about the existence or nonexistence of a particular deity. That's a ridiculous argument, no more meaningful than discussing the existence of Santa Claus. You say he doesn't exist, I say, well, his spirit infuses our Christmastime giving and we're at a standstill. We're not even speaking the same language. Boring. What is important is the philosophy and attitudes driven by religious beliefs. These I do have a problem with and you who defend theism must own up to the huge swatches of believers who use their religious beliefs to justify intolerance against others, to the point of wars and persecution, not to mention the more routine suppression of dissent. Look at the numbers of American Christians who are willing to force their version of law on us. Look at the number of Muslims in the link given upthread who want Sharia law, including cutting off of hands and stoning to be the law of the land across the world. These are not trivial matters and it is irrelevant how evolved and nuanced your particular thinking about a magic sky being is to this crucial and urgent matter. If you're just sitting around chanting or praying and doing nothing more about this problem, your intellectual efforts to craft this being that escapes all the logical conundrums created by the more canonical version of "god" that 90% of the believers in the world are fed and hang on to are not really very impressive.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:40 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not just atheists feel pressured to conceal their beliefs, especially in predominantly Christian areas, but so do Muslims and Buddhists and Pagans and Hindus and Jews and Sikhs and probably even less common types of Christians, such as Quakers. So, what I'm saying is, yes, there is Christian privilege, but this doesn't automatically mean that all religious people get that privilege

Absolutely agreed.

I'm not an atheist, but I'm not a theist either. As a Buddhist, my mention of my religious beliefs - when asked about them - seriously confuses most people. They don't know what to do with that information. Most of the time, I get blank stares and the topic changed as quickly as possible. Most memorably though, I was asked if I have any religious affiliation during an appointment with a lawyer (I guess it was relevant? Maybe? This was a discussion of family matters and some potential inheritance, not like, criminal law or anything fancy.) and I told her that I'm a Buddhist and she responded with "Oh, so, none then."

This was the point where I stared blankly. No, if I had meant none, I would have said none, but whatever. I just let it go. It's all the same void, man.

But yeah, non-Abrahamic religions are as baffling to the majority of Americans as atheism - if not more so. A lot of people in "middle America" can understand being Jewish or Muslim if you're not Christian, or not believing in the YHWH flavor of G-d, but most can't quite grasp believing in something else entirely. I might as well have said that I worship Zeus.

I'm a bit bemused at how the Dalai Lama has tried to undermine his own cult of personality. I half expect him to say something along the lines of "fuck it, I'm just a guy, I'm not coming back, and try to be nice to each other, ok?"

I've seen him speak and he pretty much said exactly this. Nearly verbatim. He's already opened discussion as to whether or not he'll be reborn - which, ok, gets into the woo-woo aspect of Tibetan Buddhism - but he's definitely put it on the table that "Maybe this reincarnation thing isn't for me, this time."
posted by sonika at 6:00 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Reincarnation reminds me of a couple of lines from The Tragically Hip tune Don't Wake Daddy:

Sled dogs after dinner close their eyes on the howlin' wastes
Kurt Cobain, reincarnated, sighs and licks his face
posted by bwg at 6:19 AM on December 21, 2010


I think it's funny how religious people are often completely baffled by a lack of (their own) religion.

One day, I volunteered to work at a phone hotline for troubled people. I was at a good point in life, wanted to give something back, figured I could be good at this and looked forward to the schooling involved. Because it was the biggest and the one with the best reputation, I chose one run by the protestant church.

The problem of course: I don't have a religion. My parents never bothered to give me one and I never needed one, the topic never came up.

However, I figured it might not be a deal breaker because the phone line emphasizes that they do not mention religion at all unless the person at the other end wants it. They also said that the only requirement is a belief in a god of some kind and, at the time, I qualified.

I was upfront about it and told them at the job interview. They asked why on earth I had no documented religion. I explained. They were baffled.
They were used to rejecting people who had left their church. They would have welcomed with Catholics, Jews or Moslems. But this "no official relgion" thing and for no particular reason just completely confused them.

The lady who did the interview called the resident pastor in, who also scratched his head and said nothing like this had ever occurred to him.

So they let me do the entry exam anyway, and I had my interview.
Afterwards they told me that I had scored 99 percent and judging from my attitude in the interview I would be the perfect person for them. They would do their darndest to get me into the program because they really really wanted me.

A few months later I got a rejection letter. (I shrugged and moved on to do other things. It seemed a bit of a pity!).
posted by Omnomnom at 6:20 AM on December 21, 2010 [7 favorites]


Why don't you believe in God?

Oral Roberts.
posted by Twang at 7:47 AM on December 21, 2010


I find it often the case that it's assumed my appreciation of metaphor, myth, and imagination are stunted by my atheism. Worse, I've run into turf wars over metaphors. How dare we use poetry or metaphoric to talk about the things that are important to us? How dare we?

This is what I got a lot even before I left my faith. At the tail end, it was blindingly obvious to me that large portions of Scripture were useful and fascinating as metaphors, as profoundly meaningful myths about important human realities. But when I tried to understand them in that way, I had to hide it from most of the other Christians I knew and connected with: what I thought was beautiful, and meaningful, and quite profound, was regarded as A Satanic Assault on the Truth of Scripture.

I understand that not all Christians are like that, but my own experience of the faith for roughly two decades is impossible to separate from that bristly defensiveness. As you note, I feel that my ability to read Scripture and engage with imagination is far greater because I'm not terrified of "opening the door to Satan," as my parents, pastor, and other Christians put it.

But yeah, non-Abrahamic religions are as baffling to the majority of Americans as atheism - if not more so. A lot of people in "middle America" can understand being Jewish or Muslim if you're not Christian, or not believing in the YHWH flavor of G-d, but most can't quite grasp believing in something else entirely.

Many Christians (not all, but many) regard engagement regard atheism as the fundamental "opponent" of Christianity. The thinkers that dominate Christian apologetics spent their time fighting "unbelief," not "otherbelief," and this is demonstrated by fondness for things like Pascal's Wager, the works of C.S. Lewis, and Josh McDowell videos about how Scripture is more reliable than Shakespeare.

Many Christians and Christian leaders have lived in a primarily Christian environment where atheism and apostasy are the big ideological threats. Many demonstrate a fundamental disconnect -- the kind you describe -- when they try to engage with the ideas of other faiths because all of their explanations, all of their evangelism training, centers around ways of convincing people that "You Have Done Bad Things" and "Someone Is Out There." Once that point is reached, it's all but assumed that someone will go with Christianity because, well... Ummm. Judaism is just "incomplete" Christianity and everything else is paganism, right?

One of the breaking points for me at my last church was when the pastor delivered a holiday sermon on the importance of Christ. Among other things, he addressed what made Christianity different from other faiths -- by announcing victoriously that "Buddha never died for anyone's sins." I was stunned, and it took me a bit to comprehend just how messed up that was. Later, when I was asked what I thought of it, I replied that Jesus, unfortunately, had never achieved Nirvana.
posted by verb at 7:50 AM on December 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Jesus, unfortunately, had never achieved Nirvana.

You may or may not be interested to know that this is actually debated in some Buddhist circles with the hypothesis that Jesus was at least a Bodhisattva, if not a Buddha in his own right. Buddhists don't claim to have any kind of monopoly on enlightenment - just that Buddha was a dude who achieved it and he described how other people could do it if they wanted to, and hey, if they want to go down that particular 8 Fold Path, that's cool. Buddhists tend to regard Jesus, Mohammed, and other religious figures as on par with the Buddha and it's actually totally possible (if also a little weird) to be both Buddhist and Christian at the same time - at least, from the Buddhist point of view. The Christians would be the ones to object on that one.
posted by sonika at 8:01 AM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Buddhists tend to regard Jesus, Mohammed, and other religious figures as on par with the Buddha and it's actually totally possible (if also a little weird) to be both Buddhist and Christian at the same time - at least, from the Buddhist point of view.

Yeah... In the years since ten I've realized there was more complexity to it, and the statement itself was one I knew was a cheap shot right from the get-go, but it was the only way I could think of to respond, other than saying that the Bears have never thrown a no-hitter, either.
posted by verb at 8:17 AM on December 21, 2010


Sky Cake!
posted by fantodstic at 8:26 AM on December 21, 2010


Salon: But when Gervais says, "no one owns being good," it's not a putdown. It's an expression of hope. Because if no one owns being good, then all of us can, whether we're atheists like Gervais or Sunday school teachers like Stephen Colbert. And if a guy can laugh at the absurdity of organized institutions, speak out against hypocrisy and intolerance, and still possess boundless compassion and the most wickedly infectious giggle on the planet, he may not win any converts, but he can surely open a few minds.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:57 AM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Agnostic does NOT mean that you aren't sure and haven't formed any opinion about whether any gods might possibly exist. It only means you believe there is no way to prove that they exist, or don't.

That ship sailed in the 1800's. The only time you see it these days is when some stupid, pompous little whore on the internet decides to play "outreach" by using definitional games to lump in a bunch of people with his science fanboy cow buddies. Nobody takes kindly to it, or is persuaded by it, so you may as well use words to describe viewpoints that actually exist in some numbers.
posted by furiousthought at 10:25 AM on December 21, 2010


I'm agnostic, but imma let you finish.

FANTASTIC THREAD! +1!
posted by mrgrimm at 11:45 AM on December 21, 2010


I'm an agnostic apatheist: don't know, don't care.
posted by walrus at 1:45 PM on December 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Obviously nobody is saying that atheists have faced the oppression that other minorities have, only that privilege often defends itself using the same rhetorical tricks.

Why is this obvious? I see atheism as almost exactly analogous to homosexuality in the 30s and 40s. Sure there isn't a lot of oppression, because most of us are too afraid of repercussion to come out of the closet. For every outspoken anti-theist, there are the other 90-99% not so out there. Yes, there are areas of the country and social groupings where I'm much more likely to be comfortable outing myself as an atheist, but I'll always think of such declarations as very slightly raising my chance of being beaten, doused with gasoline and set on fire. Not because people have a nuanced objection to atheism, but because I'm gonna get lumped in with Wiccans, Satanists and child molesters by someone who's basically using their ostensible piety to indulge in sociopathy. If you've never talked with someone who wanted to kill you because of your beliefs or lack thereof, then I'm happy for you.

The sad thing is that if all of us were out of the closet, I have little doubt the route to acceptance would be a lot smoother than for any other despised minority.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:18 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


BrotherCaine, I wholeheartedly agree with you about the "atheist closet", and I'm really thankful to have seen the atheist community really coalesce over the last 10 or so years thanks to the internet. I was raised an atheist, but my parents were always very uncomfortable with the subject, so I've often felt really isolated on these issues. Religion has always been fairly baffling to me, since I was hardly ever exposed to it as a kid, and I would have loved to have access to the communities that exist today; it would have been far less lonely. When I said nobody is arguing that atheists are oppressed as badly as some other groups, I was just trying to deflect klangklangston's straw man argument - though in retrospect, I probably ought to have left that vitriol well enough alone.
posted by dialetheia at 5:44 PM on December 21, 2010


Oh, hey privelege-denying dude is back!

Oh, hey, response ignoring dude, does someone have privilege and subsequently deny it because they are a theist, or because they disagree with you? Because it might shock you to know, I agree with klang's statement you quote there, and yet, I am not a theist!
posted by Snyder at 5:46 PM on December 21, 2010


No one in the current era in the US has been lynched or beaten to death for being an atheist. Discrimination against non-believers is more subtle and insidious. It is almost impossible to run for elected office, for example, so the representation in government is nonexistent. Public discourse ignores our existence, so we have things like "God Bless America" being sung at baseball games, "In God We Trust" stamped on our coins, and "...one nation, under God,..." slipped into a "Pledge of Allegiance" (don't get me started on baseness of that whole "pledge" concept). The amount of nonsense based on Christian fiat is amazing if you step outside the Christian viewpoint. No liquor sales on Sunday? WTF?
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:51 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a non-Christian, I gotta say that Christmas music pisses me off to no end. It's trite and, worse, completely unavoidable for two months of the year. I become a hermit during December to minimize my exposure to the shit. Today I was subjected to a hefty dose after sitting down to work in a coffee shop that wasn't playing Christmas music when I went in. Had they been, I would have left immediately. But as it was, I was knee-deep in some ideas, and didn't want to move right away. Ra-pum-pum-fuck-you, drummer boy!
posted by kaibutsu at 7:14 PM on December 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


As a Christian, I am quite possibly exposed to even more Christmas music than you are, and let me tell you I am about to fucking kill every last motherfucker I see near a stereo.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:35 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


No one in the current era in the US has been lynched or beaten to death for being an atheist.

Larry Hooper, and John Leslie McDonald. Granted, there aren't a lot of documented examples.

To add to my earlier statement that I see atheism as almost exactly analogous to homosexuality in the 30s and 40s, I mean in the sense of public fear and hatred. I don't think it's as burdensome emotionally to be secret about one's atheism as it is to be secret about one's homosexuality, nor do I wish to be drawn into a who is more oppressed discussion. It's enough to say that atheists are feared and despised, and the object of prejudice without getting into how burdensome that is or is not. Personally, I'd like to live in a society where I felt more free to say I don't believe in God and leave it at that without an endless discussion of my lack of endless hedonism and/or immorality.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:06 PM on December 21, 2010


"Larry Hooper, and John Leslie McDonald. Granted, there aren't a lot of documented examples."

Jesus Christ, what do your gay friends tell you when you trot this shit out? Two in the world in the last ten years? You do know that things are better for gay folks today than they were in the '30s and '40s, right?

Atheists are no more feared and despised than vegans or communists. Come down off the cross.
posted by klangklangston at 11:19 PM on December 21, 2010


"As a non-Christian, I gotta say that Christmas music pisses me off to no end."

Even Santasweatlive? Aww.
posted by klangklangston at 11:24 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


> You may or may not be interested to know that this is actually debated in some Buddhist circles with the hypothesis that Jesus was at least a Bodhisattva, if not a Buddha in his own right.

Oddly enough, and totally not having much to do with Gervais, many Islamic sufis are of the mind that the Buddha (one of them anyway) was a prophet.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:30 PM on December 21, 2010


Atheists are no more feared and despised than vegans or communists.

Yes exactly the same as communists, but a lot more than vegans.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:19 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Come down off the cross.

What so you can have it to yourself?
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:22 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry, that was flip. But I know how you act when any other minority on this site has their personal experiences of oppression questioned in a derail, and I'm kind of surprised that you have blinders on over this issue and want to play the "I'll tell you who's more oppressed than you" game. Frankly I'd defend anyone against prejudice regardless of how they stack up against my own experiences, whether they were generally privileged except for one particular area of their life or experience or if their whole life was a constant struggle. I'm sorry if you feel like you can only take the high road for whatever class you feel is a true underdog.

You see poll numbers saying that Atheists are still less trusted than Muslims in this country, and you think that number exists in a vacuum? That there are for some reason people who commit violence against Muslims and Sikhs mistaken for Muslims without there existing the same impetus to violence against atheists when we're lumped in with satanists? That number is a quantifiable representation of the fear and mistrust in which we are held, and I've known at least one person who made me believe he'd like to kill me for my lack of belief.

I don't care about all the times I've been told to go to hell, or that I'm nothing for not believing. I care about the potential for violence spilling over onto my loved ones (who are mostly believers).
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:42 AM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ok, some examples of privilege:

1: Workplaces are routinely closed to accommodate Christian holidays while personal and other religious holidays are special accommodations or chew up vacation time.

2: The Fort Worth, TX transportation board revised policy to ban all religious advertising from city buses in order to block a non-confrontation ad purchased by an atheist group.

3: Investigations of religious discrimination complaints at the Air Force academy discovered systematic bias in the promotion of Evangelical theology.

4: Atheists in the U.S. armed forces were not recognized up to the past decade in spite of special consideration given to multiple Christian denominations, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.

5: Illegal workplace discrimination and bias in hiring and promotion.

6: Bias against atheist parents in child-custody hearings.

7: The mythical "War on Christmas" is blamed on atheists, even though there has been no legal court case pushing for "Happy Holidays," no atheist activism, and little evidence that businesses are shy about dropping the word "Christmas" in advertising.

Sure, there is no equivalent to Stonewall, but I'm struggling to see which of the above forms of bias are so trivial that they can't be discussed.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:52 AM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


But Ricky Gervais will have to go some to be more of a jerk to me than Penn Jillette, who said to me that despite my seeming like a perfectly intelligent person, I must have some serious delusions to believe in God.

As an atheist, I try not to go around saying things like that to people. I'm sorry, it sounds very hurtful.

Jillette can and has been a bit more articulate on the subject.

Now I'm off to spread humanistic holiday cheer and peace and good will and also to do some laundry. Happy Whatever, MeFi!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 10:19 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


You may not be like the likes of Pat Robertson, or Bill Donohue but THEY are the ones representing YOU. And if you haven't noticed they affect U.S. policy, culture and law.

'The View' Slams Bill Donohue.
posted by ericb at 2:54 PM on December 23, 2010


Ricky Gervais follows up his original article by answering questions from readers.
posted by Bonzai at 9:17 AM on December 24, 2010


They are not looking down on me but they live in my mind and heart more than they ever did probably. Some, I was lucky enough to bump into on this planet of six billion people. Others shared much of my genetic material. One selflessly did her best for me all my life. That’s what mums do though. They do it for no other reason than love. Not for reward. Not for recognition. They create you. From nothing. Miracle? They do those every day. No big deal. They are not worshiped. They would give their life without the promise of heaven. They teach you everything they know yet they are not declared prophets. And you only have one.

That's beautiful.
posted by KathrynT at 10:20 AM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


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