Quantcast

«

»

Jan 08 2009

On the same page: another atheist criticizes the FFRF

Just tripped over this editorial by atheist David Gleeson over at the Denver Post, where he lambastes the FFRF’s Christmas sign for most of the same reasons I did. Some good points here.

My wife’s mind is not enslaved when she lights the Hanukkah candles and sings the blessings that have been handed down to her through the generations.

She is simply taking part in a tradition that is important to her identity as a Jewish woman.

Religion certainly can harden hearts and enslave minds, but so can atheism.

The FFRF is taking the very worst that religion can muster and using it to paint everyone with the same bold brush strokes, a tactic perfected, ironically, by radical religious groups seeking to brand all nonbelievers as immoral devil-worshipping heathens. How easily the FFRF stoops to the same level. Pot, meet Kettle.


After some discussion in the comments, I must qualify my position on Gleeson’s piece. I do think that atheists can be hard-hearted people; anyone can be. I do not agree, though, that atheism itself can “enslave” a mind. Atheism is nothing more than not believing in a god, and there are no dogmas or creeds one must subscribe to, no requirement that one throw evidence to the winds in determining how you learn about the world. A person, however, can be atheist for irrational reasons, such as simple rebellion towards or hatred of religion and religious people. Most atheists I know and have had the pleasure of working with base their atheism on a rational critique of religion’s claims, but there are foolish people in any group. And if your atheism is rooted in unreason rather than reason, then yes, you can be a hard-hearted person whose mind is enslaved to anger and emotionalism, instead of being liberated by reason.

27 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Isherwood

    Must we always take statements like this to infinity? Of course religion hardens hearts. Look at Prop h8.Of course it enslaves minds. Look at the state of science education in this country. No one said it hardens every heart, and no one said it enslaves every mind. But it does so to plenty, and that affects all of us in this country, religious or not. I agree with those who argue that the notion that we must all believe in Jeebus or burn is far more insulting and hateful. The FFRF is just stating facts. Love the show.

  2. 2
    autofyrsto

    I used to listen to FFrF’s Freethought Radio “religiously”, but lately I’ve been falling out of the “habit”.It’s the way they frequently recite their mantra that the Founders created our government to be secular. When you consider the complexity of the founding of our nation, and the century-and-a-half it took to incorporate the First Amendment onto the states, claims like that just don’t withstand scrutiny. It makes me wonder what other claims of theirs are misleading…I still like the show to keep up with the ‘theocracy alerts’, but when they get to preaching, I just hear “yadda, yadda, yadda…”

  3. 3
    Zurahn

    Religion certainly can harden hearts and enslave minds, but so can atheism.Actually, no, it can’t.I understand in terms of the PR angle of how the sign affects the public view of atheism, it wasn’t going to help.While I don’t know what the intent of the sign was, I wholeheartedly support the outcome. I think it served the exact purpose for which it should have been created, which is to demonstrate why secularism is important, not atheism.It’s like using the negative image of atheism as a tool of demonstration.

  4. 4
    Eric Ross

    Gleeson’s article mostly flails at straw men. Stating “there are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell” does not imply absolute certainty; nor does his wife’s lighting of Hanukkah candles and singing make her a believer in the God of the Old Testament.In a comment to the previous post I gave my argument as to why I support the FFRF sign as written. Quoting myself:First, I do agree that there is a place for the “softly, gently” approach. It is the best way to reach some people, and as Martin has noted, the FFRF has taken that approach many times.However, I think that most believers who are potentially convinceable (there is no point in trying to reach the raving fundies) tend to suffer from social complacency and intellectual insecurity. These are the obstacles we must overcome, first and foremost.The social complacency comes from the fact that by being religious and conforming to social expectation, the believer attains acceptance. Thus, he/she is reluctant to consider an atheist message, for this jeapordizes social status. Furthermore, the believer thinks that regardless of what’s true, religion is good for people (i.e. Dan Dennett’s belief in belief).The intellectual insecurity derives from knowing, at some level, that one’s beliefs just don’t add up. Thus leads to an unwillingness to discuss religion with anyone who might disagree, lest those insecurities be exposed. How many people have you known who simply change the topic when you bring up religion?The only way to break through the complacency and insecurity is with a forceful, in-your-face message. The “softly, gently” message essentially tells this person, “If you want to ignore us atheists, that’s perfectly OK.” Ignore that message they will. The forceful message is more likely to have a real impact in the long run, even if the person initially reacts with hostility or disgust. If the goal is to spur critical thinking (rather than to simply disarm reflexive hostility), I think a figurative whack on the head with a 2 by 4 is more effective most of the time.

  5. 5
    Chris

    This is definitely a point at which you and I disagree and I most definitely disagree with the man you quoted. As has already been pointed out, atheism can’t harden hearts anymore than not collecting stamps can give you paper cuts. The fact is that atheists are getting lambasted because we are the fasting growing group, this country is finally liberalizing(thereby leaning more towards secularism), and atheists are becoming much more vocal and outspoken. There was nothing wrong with the sign that was posted by the FFRF and it’s very disheartening to see so many protest frank public discussion. Every single atheist I have ever met would agree with the statements on that sign they just don’t think it should be said in quite that way. It’s time we start sticking our necks out there and taking risks in order to actually fix the crap that’s going on.@ autofyrstoAs for the claim that Freethought Radio is preaching some sort of unsupportable dogma about the First Amendment, well, it’s simply not true. Go look at the many writings we have from several founders and you will find the claim is exactly accurate. Not to mention the Treaty of Tripoli, Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists, etc. This is and always was meant to be an entirely secular nation.

  6. 6
    PNerves

    As much as I think the FRFF went too far, I think Gleeson is doing the whole ‘I’m an atheist, but…’ thing to pander to the taboo of the hands off nature of speaking up against religion in his editorial. And, in case you want to take the time- here’s the latest flap we have going in Denver.http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_11401013?source=pop_section_news

  7. 7
    Hammered Thor

    “Religion certainly can harden hearts and enslave minds, but so can atheism”Actually in my case it’s my lack of belief in fire breathing dragons which has hardened my heart and enslaved my mind. /end sarcasm

  8. 8
    Improbable Joe

    I’ve got a small problem with the statement from a general standpoint, but it is a complete failure from a PR standpoint. The FFRF has not only described their version of atheism to be an irrational/illogical religious viewpoint, but also an arrogant and militant religion to boot. Nice job, douche-nozzles. If they had combined a couple of other atheist-sponsored signed, and said “There’s probably no God, so be good for goodness’s sake!” It is a little bit confrontational, without making an absolute claim or being an overt attack. This is why I don’t “play nice” with the larger atheist/freethought/whatever organizations.

  9. 9
    Hammered Thor

    The FFRF sign was factually true and I’m glad it pisses Christians off. I’m also offended. I don’t like their cult propaganda on public property or on money. Christians don’t get to put their views in our faces without giving that same right to everyone else. It’s all or nothing. It’s obvious that none of that belongs on public property. Maybe some day they’ll get it.

  10. 10
    DagoRed

    Zurahn said: While I don’t know what the intent of the sign was, I wholeheartedly support the outcome. I think it served the exact purpose for which it should have been created, which is to demonstrate why secularism is important, not atheism.I couldn’t have said it better myself. All these purely emotional reactions to the sign itself are missing the real meaning here. Time will tell if this was a well-thought out strategic plan that is beneficial to making things more secular — or if it falls short. Blustering over the wording and the sign’s social effects is small potatoes. The lasting effect, if the “sign” did its job, will be in permanently changing state government policy to a more secular one. In this aspect — so far — it was genius.

  11. 11
    -C

    They’re allowed to say ‘All morality is from religion and you need God’s love.’We’re allowed to say ‘You’re all wrong.’That’s how it works, hey

  12. 12
    Hammered Thor

    DagoRed I totally agree.

  13. 13
    Curt Cameron

    If the purpose of the sign is to send the public a nice message at solstice-time, it’s a big FAIL.However, I think the FFRF’s goal with this was to make people uncomfortable about putting religious messages on public property, and for that they did OK. I especially liked how it unleashed a flurry of other people wanting their own messages, from Festivus to the Phelps message of hate.I think it really make the point that cities should not have these displays, because they can’t, and don’t want to, please everyone.

  14. 14
    Martin

    Some folks have said that atheism cannot harden hearts, and I have to disagree with that. I have met atheists who are just as emotionally reactionary towards theists as Christians are towards atheists and gays. Ed Brayton recently reported on giving a talk to an atheist group where he met a lady who boasted that she wouldn’t even allow any believers into her home. This is her right, but also stupid. What does she do if she needs a plumber? Vet the guy for his religious beliefs first? “I have to ask you, do you believe in God? Because, you know, if you do, well, I just can’t have you fix my sink.” And really, how is her attitude any different than a theist who says he won’t allow an atheist into his home, or a racist who says he won’t allow any blacks into his home?And I don’t think Gleeson is doing the old “I’m an atheist, but…” weaseling simply for pointing out that he thinks the FFRF’s sign is a bad way to send a message. Look to guys like Matt “Don’t Say Anything Ever to Offend a Theist” Nisbet for an example of “I’m an atheist, but…” Gleeson’s point was the same as mine: The sign was a bad example of spreading an atheist message, because it was worded in a confrontational way in a venue where a more positive message would have been more effective and successful. There are any number of venues to be confrontational and in-your-face. A sign placed next to a creche isn’t one, especially a sign that’s so easy to interpret as a simple “fuck you,” in my view.And to the folks who take the view “I’m glad the theists were offended, they offend me all the time so fuck ‘em!” well, I think you miss the point. We’re supposed to be the ones who are better than that.Remember, I don’t dispute the factual nature of the sign’s message. But there are ways to deliver an atheist message to a mainstream audience well — and I’d suggest the current atheist bus ads in the UK are a fine example of how to do it well — but this sign wasn’t it. I respect the folks who defend the FFRF sign, but people should take care not to let themselves fall into the trap of thinking that atheists are always out of line if they criticize other atheists.

  15. 15
    Hammered Thor

    Atheism is a single position on a single claim is it not? How does it cause a heart to harden or enslave a mind?Just because an atheist hates religious people doesn’t mean that was caused by their lack of belief. Why can’t that lady’s hatred of all things religious be caused by her observation and experience of religion?By the way Martin, I think you do a great job on the show and blog.

  16. 16
    Martin

    Just because an atheist hates religious people doesn’t mean that was caused by their lack of belief. Why can’t that lady’s hatred of all things religious be caused by her observation and experience of religion?I’d still consider it to be an irrational reaction. Some religion, especially religious fundamentalism, is deeply malevolent. Some religion is merely silly. Some religious people are offensive bigoted ignorant assholes. Some are very friendly and sweet. If her “observation and experience of religion” is such that she won’t even let a theist into her home, then either that observation and experience is deeply skewed, or she’s making the very mistake that Gleeson points out, that theists so often make: making a sweeping condemnation of a whole group of people based on her limited experience. That’s irrational. It’s like someone saying they’re using their “observation and experience” of black people — to wit, that they were once mugged by one — to justify their racism.Atheists are human beings, HT, fallible as anyone. They can be warm and wonderful and friendly, and they can be hard-hearted, reactionary haters. Atheism, like theism, can inspire one set of behaviors in one individual and and entirely different set in another. Let’s not fall into the “no true atheist” trap, okay?By the way Martin, I think you do a great job on the show and blog.Thanks, and thanks for being a reader!

  17. 17
    Hammered Thor

    These guys make my argument better than I can. ;)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBVF_k8jUCw&feature=channel_page

  18. 18
    Hammered Thor

    I agree atheists can be irrational etc. We can be anything a theist can be (other than a god believer). I`m just trying to reject the claim that atheism hardens hearts or enslaves minds. An atheist can certainly have an enslaved mind but it wouldn`t be *because* of their lack of a belief in a god. That`s all I`m saying.

  19. 19
    Martin

    An atheist can certainly have an enslaved mind but it wouldn`t be *because* of their lack of a belief in a god. That`s all I`m saying.Once more with feeling: sure it can. As you yourself stated, atheists can be irrational. I’d say most atheists do have an atheism rooted in intellectual rigor and a careful examination of religion’s claims. Then again, some atheists are pissed off people who just hate religion and religious people. If a person’s atheism is an irrational atheism (and it should be noted that just because a certain point of view, like atheism, might be factually sound, doesn’t mean it can’t be held by a person for irrational reasons), based solely on emotionalism and hatred, then yes, you could say that their atheism (the irrational kind) has led to a mind enslaved by hate and anger.I don’t see this kind of irrational behavior in very many atheists at all, it should be noted. Indeed, nowhere near the frequency with which you see it in theists (after all, it’s not atheists out there supporting such things as Prop 8). But there’s no rule that says it simply cannot happen. And that’s all I’m saying.

  20. 20
    Hammered Thor

    “you could say that their atheism (the irrational kind) has led to a mind enslaved by hate and anger.”I think it’s the irrational reasons behind their lack of belief in a god rather than the mere position of not believing which enslaves them. Merely not believing in a god doesn’t enslave anyone. Not believing in a god because of some irrational blind hatred sure could but then it’s not really atheism to blame is it? In that case it’s the irrationality and the hatred which is to blame. Anyways, it’s your blog so I’ll try to stop and let you have the last word if you want. :)

  21. 21
    tx

    Martin: “The sign was a bad example of spreading an atheist message, because it was worded in a confrontational way in a venue where a more positive message would have been more effective and successful.”Actually, those are the exact words of Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899) – the guy was a reason-based atheist, back when atheism wasn’t cool. I really love his writings.See: http://www.theinfidels.org/zunb-robertingersoll.htmI'll have to agree with Thor , he makes a great point: “it’s the irrational reasons behind their lack of belief in a god rather than the mere position of not believing which enslaves them”.Love the show and the blog! You’re doing a great job, Martin.

  22. 22
    Martin

    subShift: Yes, well, recall I said I didn’t challenge the factual content of the sign’s wordage, only its appropriateness as a fitting atheist message to put on a sign as part of a holiday display. It’s all about context, boys and girls.(Thanks for the kudos as well!)Thor: Precisely. And remember, merely believing in a god doesn’t enslave anyone either. Theism is different from religion, in that the latter describes a specific set of practices that accompany said belief. A person could believe that a god likely exists, but do nothing beyond that; not pray, go to any church, etc. There’s nothing inherent to theism that enslaves a mind to hate, ignorance, fear, what have you. It’s how a person chooses to practice their theism (and most choose to do so through organized religion) that the irrationality and mental shackles come in.Similarly with atheism: there nothing whatever in not believing in a god that makes anyone do anything. It’s in what inspires a person to be atheist, and how they choose to act as one. Fortunately, atheism, having no dogmas or creeds, doesn’t lend itself to irrationality as much a religion does. But a person can still be an unbeliever for bad reasons, and behave irrationally thereby.Anyway, I think we’ve got the hair-splitting down pretty well here by now. :-)

  23. 23
    Doug Farmer

    PR success has to be judged according to its goal. Sacrifice offending the atheistic middle (who will forget the offense quickly) to give closer groups a perceived sense of belonging/membership. More membership = more legitimacy, an asset when recruiting from the middle again after the offense has been forgotten. The reason this strategy works is that people remember the sense of belonging more than they remember offensive ads. The FFRF has snatched up the almost-full atheists, adding to their ranks. Later, after people have forgotten any offense they felt, the FFRF can go back to the middle with their increased size and legitimacy and snatch up more conciliatory, middle-ground atheists. It’s a victory with a small sacrifice in a much larger battle of attrition.

  24. 24
    Chris

    @Doug FarmerI never thought of it that way and I don’t know if that’s how it will play out but it is an interesting concept. Really, the main point that should be restated since most people seem to have forgotten this, is that the sign wasn’t meant as a representation of a cheerful atheist solstice greeting. The whole point of the sign, as explained by Brown and Gaylor(Co-Presidents of the FFRF), is to point out how inappropriate it is to have any religious displays on government property. They were TRYING to be abrasive to show how it cuts both ways and it’s better to just not allow it at all. I think we can all agree the sign does accomplish this and hopefully it will cause some consideration of the way we deal with religion as a secular society and help to push us back onto the right path.

  25. 25
    Martin

    They were TRYING to be abrasive to show how it cuts both ways and it’s better to just not allow it at all. I think we can all agree the sign does accomplish this and hopefully it will cause some consideration of the way we deal with religion as a secular society and help to push us back onto the right path.I agree the sign accomplished what you say. I also think anyone who believes this will “cause some consideration” is indulging in off-the-charts wishful thinking. Seriously, how many Christians do you think saw the FFRF sign and thought, “Gee, that’s an offensive sign. Maybe it’s trying to tell me something though. Perhaps the people who put it up were offended by the creche. Maybe it’s wrong for religious displays to be in front of public buildings, because it sends a message of favoritism that also violates separation of church and state. I really need to spend some time thinking about this.”I’ll give you a hint: fewer than one.

  26. 26
    Christoper

    @Martin: I have to disagree that atheism hardens hearts and minds. While there can be close minded atheists it cannot be because of atheism. Only beliefs can lead to actions or positions, not a lack of belief. This is the same incorrect correlation that theist draw when saying atheism lead to Nazi Germany, or attribute some mass murder to atheism. These actions we’re based on other beliefs completely independent of atheism (since atheism is not a belief but only a rejection of one)The difference is that when a christian has these close minded views they are based on the dogma of Christianity. This is not the case with atheists because their simply is no dogma. There is nothing in atheism that says you must fear or hate believers (though you may choose to for other reasons). Contrarily, there is a lot in Christianity that says you should fear and hate non-believers. Its not about sighting examples of close minded atheists or open minded Christians, its about what the dogma of Christianity promotes and the lack of any dogma or belief system accompanying atheism.

  27. 27
    -C

    It is possible however to _create_ a dogma under the banner of atheism, call it anti-theism or a reverse dogma, if you will.Atheism is a position more than a belief, but someone could still create a Church of Atheism and indoctrinate its followers to think the Christ-lovers are evil and must be stoned to death, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite="" class=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>