We don’t play nice


Basically this post could be a big “What PZ said“: The notion that there is anything “new” about “New Atheism” other than having the boldness to speak out is ridiculous; but the notion that there is a newer, better atheism that doesn’t like to make waves against religion is far more ridiculous.

I am occasionally baffled by emails such as this one that we received two days ago (as per an earlier post, this is just an excerpt):

I was going to call in to ask what you guys think about the following. Some of my friends have suggested that the “militant atheism” strategy pursued by scientists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc., may turn out to achieve precisely the opposite of its goal. The strident, aggressive stance taken by these “atheist preachers” can easily be seen by many theists as offensive, and consequently strengthen their faith and encourage the formation of a stereotype which sees the atheist as “the enemy”.

How can anyone wonder what we think of those guys? We are those guys. Oh sure, we’re not bestselling authors or anything, the crowds we draw are much smaller, comparatively speaking (although fairly high if we’re allowed to count “every single person who eventually watches each show” as part of a crowd).

But really, the entire draw of the Atheist Experience is that we are out there every single week being a walking, televised billboard saying “Hey look, here are some guys who think that it’s irrational to believe in God. Call us and argue. PLEASE.” I mean, sure, we try to do so in a manner that is polite and respectful — most of the time. (Then again, Jeff’s rants are legendary.) But in generally I try to follow a guideline something like “People deserve respect and dignity. Their flawed claims do not.”

Are we abrasive? Are we offensive? Sometimes I don’t know how to answer that question. But I will certainly say this: it is offensive to me to claim that there are ideas out there that are beyond the scope of public dispute.

Comments

  1. says

    I agree that we shouldn't be taking it easy on any irrational claims, be it theology, ufology, numerology, astrology, exobiology or any other claim that people slap an "ology" on the end of and expect it be considered a valid field of work. HOWEVER,It should be noted that many of these are the things by which people define themselves. It is such an intrisic part of how they identify themselves that when you attack the belief, they take it as an attack against themselves.Perhaps some kind of awareness campaign would be in order to get the message out. Something along the lines of "Hey stupid, we're not calling you stupid; just your stupid beliefs; stupid." And if need be we can slap it on a picture of a kitty, or a rainbow or whatever cuddly thing we can come up with (I vote anomalocaris, they're cute, right?).

  2. says

    This whole deal with atheists who don't want to criticize religion is kind of annoying. To me, it just seems like these are atheists who don't care enough about people to tell them when they're wrong. I mean, look at Tracie's last post, about your email. People LOVE it when they finally come to grips with reality. Why would you deny that to people?I think the best course of action is to keep arguing. Be polite when you can, but keep arguing. So what if you turn someone away? They'll either think about it honestly and lose their faith, or they won't, and kowtowing to their religious beliefs is only going to encourage them to keep doing what they're already doing.So, let the wishy-washy "3.0" crowd go fuck themselves. What are they going to do, get offensive? Argue? I have a hard time believing they'd win.

  3. says

    I think arguing is a great thing. I'm also a huge fan of mockery, which sets me apart from some other atheists. On the other hand, I think The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are more effective at educating than all the cable news channels combined.

  4. says

    Really my first step was Chuck Dixon. I'll do a write up on the process on my own blog but to summarize it was the realization that it was insane to tolerate intolerance if it was under the cloak of "religious belief". After all the Klan have a religious belief and they should be mocked.

  5. says

    "So, let the wishy-washy "3.0" crowd go fuck themselves. What are they going to do, get offensive? Argue? I have a hard time believing they'd win."A variant on the old "we'll blame the mime's they won't talk" joke.

  6. says

    What the folks like Dawkins are doing, in my opinion, is preaching to the choir (so to speak.) The real progress in demolishing religion is done by education in math and science. As increasing numbers of students learn that the world does not, and cannot work as is described in the various sacred texts, they question and find those texts wanting.

  7. says

    I'm getting tired of the "New Atheism needs a New Voice" folks, whether by "new voice" they mean more minorities, more women, or more polite folks. Don't get me wrong — I think the movement would benefit from as many diverse points of view as possible, including (or especially) those of minorities, women, and, sure, why not some more accomodationalist voices, too? But what is annoying is how atheists are complaining that Dawkins and Hitchens don't represent their point of view, and therefore they should step aside and let new people talk. It's not Hitchens' or Dawkins' role to represent your point of view — their role, and one they've performed admirably, is to punch a big hole through a sensitive issue and draw fire for it, allowing the rest of us to step through and speak openly. So, now that they've done that, it's time that the person who could best represent your point of view step forward and do it. That would be you! If we're all speaking out in favour of a rational, evidence-based worldview, it's going to become that much harder for the irrational and faith-based folk to insist upon their wacky superstitions as "the norm."

  8. says

    "Some of my friends have suggested that the "militant atheism" strategy pursued by scientists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc., may turn out to achieve precisely the opposite of its goal."Ok. What sort of person thinks that Christopher Hitchens is a scientist? Gah.

  9. says

    When our very existence is offensive to them I have a hard time caring very much if our words are.Bingo. Being both an atheist and a homosexual, I have seen the face of accommodation and it goes like this: "We don't want to even accept that people such as you exist. The only way to gain our support is to abandon your principles and hide your deviance from us." My ability to openly state that I'm gay owes a huge debt to "We're here, we're queer, get used to it." Frankly I think atheism needs to be more visible and in-your-face. We're here, without fear. Get used to it.

  10. says

    Strange. I wouldn't have put TAE in the New Atheist camp. I suppose this might be a bandwidth issue (for me): you've got fans, and obviously people watch your show, but it doesn't have the tone of a group trying to appeal to society on how to run a tighter ship. You seem to be saying (again imho) "atheism isn't bad, it's actually quite good, isn't this religion thing silly".New atheism, it seems to me, evangelizes on ways to improve society. "Here's what we need to do to fix things…"—For decades now, I've been arguing (correctly) that there's no "belief system" in atheism. Once you begin evangelizing, however, I think those lines are blurred. If the new atheists represented the majority of all atheists, it would no longer be valid to claim that atheism is simply a lack of belief in God. Making positive assertions about the way society needs to conduct itself, and doing so under the label of Atheism renders it a belief system.That's not bad, of course. But it is a significant change.

  11. says

    Funny, I talked about this to my wife yesterday, she asked me why I get so worked up by religious people, creationists especially, but in general evangelising Christians. I told her that defending a vision of moral based on faith is potentially quite dangerous and that their proselytism can be quite harmful. If they want to share their belief, if they want to convince us that their belief is good, then they have to expect to be questioned challenged, criticised. If they don't want to, then their ideas are not worthy of being called ideas.

  12. says

    Guillaume:I concur. It's funny that a religion that proselytizes as a rule appears to only want to proselytize to people who accept and don't question. The more and harder you question, the less of an explanation you then receive. You get handed cookie cutter apologetics, and you're supposed to agree. Not agreeing, and instead questioning, results in hiccups in the program that can be quite funny and surreal. When a theist has to go "off script"–then you just start to get wild and wacky justifications. The script is supposed to "work." When it doesn't the apologist either starts making things up fast and furious (and this is where errors and fallacies really start to surface)–or he throws up faith and walks away.

  13. says

    I agree with Dawkins when he says that any negative comment on religion is considered militant. "Don't believe in God ? You are not alone" … perhaps the most innocuous, atheist billboard out there .. and still gets complaints. Tell people you are an atheist … nothing more and they feel attacked. In most theist view any atheist is a militant atheist I try to be polite to people, but don't worry to much about their reaction . But here is a question I have, why don't people say the same thing to preachers and televangelists ? They don't hold back telling people they are gong to burn in hell ? Or that we are all sinners ?? That isn't militant ??? Feh … no worries … say what you want without the intent to be rude and it is all good

  14. says

    "Guillaume:I concur. It's funny that a religion that proselytizes as a rule appears to only want to proselytize to people who accept and don't question. The more and harder you question, the less of an explanation you then receive. You get handed cookie cutter apologetics, and you're supposed to agree. Not agreeing, and instead questioning, results in hiccups in the program that can be quite funny and surreal. When a theist has to go "off script"–then you just start to get wild and wacky justifications. The script is supposed to "work." When it doesn't the apologist either starts making things up fast and furious (and this is where errors and fallacies really start to surface)–or he throws up faith and walks away"From my convos with Seth R the alternative/complimentary strategy seems to be that plus being as obtuse, stubborn and frustrating as possible in refusal to actually make a point, and then play the "victim card" when someone gets frustrated/upset/uses naughty words.

  15. DavidCT says

    There is an old saying that " the squeaky wheel gets the grease". You don't make much progress in the real world by being silent. Quietly sitting at the back of the bus or in the closet only works to keep the status quo. When we have former Presidents who don't think that atheists should be allowed to be citizens, just how offensive can anything we say be? Pushing religion by any means even lying has been a standard for believers, but we are expected to be polite and respectful. Compared with the likes of Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, how could anyone consider AETV to even in the same league of offensiveness. Not every atheist should be like Pat Condell but we need to open about who we are and let other people know we exist. As a group we have a lot to be proud of. Most of us are better educated, more moral and better citizens than those that criticize us. Nobody is going to know this if we don't tell them. If this offends some people – so be it.

  16. says

    But in general I try to follow a guideline something like "People deserve respect and dignity. Their flawed claims do not."I can certainly agree with that.

  17. Martin says

    Yes, Warren does deserve condemnation. He has refused to condemn, or even offer a statement on the new Ugandan law that makes homosexuality a capital crime, and will even imprison people who speak out for gay rights. He is a moral coward who will not face up to the consequences of the homophobia he has espoused in the past, even to the minimal extent of saying something like "while I still disapprove of homosexuality, Uganda has gone too far."

  18. says

    @Martin: "while I still disapprove of homosexuality, Uganda has gone too far."I disagree, I don't think he's obligated to say any such thing. It's not his problem, and wouldn't do any good anyway.

  19. Martin says

    For fuck's sake, Bberryman, gay marriage is not Rick Warren's "problem," but he's perfectly happy to condemn that. But suddenly, ask him if he's willing to condemn a "kill the queers" law, and the best he can manage is mealy-mouthed, dishonest, hypocritical flack-speak bullshit about he never "takes sides"?Dude, the extent to which you're willing to tie yourself into knots defending dishonesty and hypocrisy and moral cowardice like this doesn't speak well to your own moral courage. Are you so determined to avoid unpleasantness of any kind in your life that you'll just keep cutting and cutting and cutting slack until there's none left to cut?

  20. says

    "I disagree, I don't think he's obligated to say any such thing. It's not his problem, and wouldn't do any good anyway."Really? It's not a "Christian's" duty to try to help persecuted people? Why do they take so much credit for helping jews in the 40s then?Also yes it is his responsibility, he has contacts with the people who pushed the law both American and Ugandan.

  21. says

    Seriously, Berry, does Pat Robertson have to be caught dismembering hookers with a chainsaw before we can criticize him? He not only has stupid ideas but he's a nasty nasty person to boot.

  22. says

    "People deserve respect and dignity. Their flawed claims do not."And when people are caught time and time again defending and advocating claims that have so many times been proven not only flawed but in many cases downright detrimental to the well being of society and other people in it, then what?At some point or another, you are forced to conclude that people like that just aren't deserving of your respect. Not doing so in the case of religion divorces the people from the faith in a way that I find irrational, like claiming that religious faith is some outside influence not in any way a product of human consciousness, and that people ultimately aren't responsible for actions taken 'under the influence'.

  23. says

    There is a difference between giving them the minimum human dignity they have by right, and compleatly disrespecting them due to their character. Again if someone displays a monsterous character they don't deserve respect.(let's start the post count to invokeing Godwin now….1)

  24. says

    What a shock–I'm over the word limit. ;-) So, this is part uno…>At some point or another, you are forced to conclude that people like that just aren't deserving of your respect.I have to say this depends on what we're calling "respect" and where the source of that "respect" is located.There is a fable I recall about a man who held a door for a woman. The woman turns to the man and says, "You needn't hold the door for me just because I'm a lady." The man replies, "I didn't. I held it because I'm a gentleman."For me, as part of my personal character, treating others disrespectfully is simply never a good choice–even if it is a necessary choice. Even if someone were to assault me, and I felt I would have to disrespect them (physically assault them) to protect myself, I would still consider that my actions were barbaric, rude and disrespectful toward the other person. And I will feel badly that my personal values were compromised due to my only two choices both being crap. I can either be harmed or harm someone else to avoid being harmed. Neither action is good; but I will have to live with one or the other.I didn't have a "right"–in my framework of how I perceive my relationship to others–to harm that other person. I simply found it necessary based on the fact that in that situation I placed higher regard on my own personal welfare than on the other person's. I can come up with all sorts of ways to explain why I choose particular values over others. And in some cases–probably this one–most people will agree it's the better choice to protect myself. But that doesn't mean that what I did was "good." Assaulting other people is not "good," even if it's considered justified or necessary–again, based on my personal values and character. This is only a description of how I view this for myself and what it means when I say that everyone deserves respect, even if I don't respect their opinions or actions. I'm not saying "they deserve respect from you." I'm saying that based on my values, I hold they deserve MY respect–from me.With regard to greater society, I find that there have historically been times when certain groups justified why it was acceptable to disrespect other groups. And here is what I meant by "what do you mean by respect?" being important.Is anyone disputing that human beings should be treated with certain dignity–regardless of who or what they are or have done? In other words, would we be in agreement that a mass murder, imprisoned, should not be subjected to abuse or torture? Or is that not agreed?Again, for me, I would hold that I could not maltreat the person–even if I wanted to keep them separate from society for society's welfare. The moment I abuse someone else, I am saying "abuse is justifiable." Then it becomes only a question of when and whom we can justify abusing.

  25. says

    Part dos…And I'm not able to define those parameters without conceding that others can define other parameters.Society does set such parameters. I can clearly think of societies where people are routinely and legally abused. But I would be loathe to be on the receiving end of that stick for (1) being a woman, (2) being gay, (3) being a slave, (4) having broken some law, (5) having expressed the wrong ideas.This is how it wraps up in my own head. I get that not everyone reasons it out this way. And I don't go around telling others "you shouldn't disagree with me on this."I have routinely supported rude response from other hosts–saying that different modes of communication have different impact, and I simply use the one I prefer and leave others to do the same. And even though I would agree that particular talk constitutes "verbal abuse"–I would have to maintain that my value of free expression outweighs that. Words can only harm us to the extent we allow. They are different than physical violence in that regard.If by "disrespect," a person means that they would withhold basic human dignity from someone, that would be an attitude that disturbs me personally; and if it caught on in society, it would concern me sufficiently to take action against it. However if by disrepect we mean "don't talk mean to people," I really can't see myself getting up a petition to outlaw that…?

  26. says

    Interesting discussion here…I view this "respect" issue a bit like the old boy who cried wolf fable. But, to raise a point which probably sides with the "people deserve respect" opinion, I'll make a small change.Village boy cries wolf. Villagers come running, no wolf is found, everyone grumpily goes back to their Guinness.Village boy cries wolf. Villagers shake off the hangover, run to the boy. No wolf is found. Boy is dunked in the local swimming hole, then back to business as usual.Village boy cries wolf. Villagers ignore the boy. 5 villagers are eaten.Who's responsible for the tragedy? First and foremost, the wolf. However, the boy's credibility provided surety that there was no imminent danger, and he definitely bears some of the responsibility. However, if a single villager had erred on the side of caution, the tragedy would have been avoided as well.So – just because a person is an idiot doesn't mean that person can't be saying something valid.—Yes, this is me playing the Devil's Advocate. In reality, I would have been first in line offering to flog the kid in the village square…

  27. says

    @ TracieI wasn't argueing for the abuse of anyone, as I stated I think most people do deserve human dignity. But there is a point where a person shows a character so aweful we shouldn't pretend we like/respect them. I mean I'd probably still be polite/as civil as I can be to most fundies, but at some point talking to say Warren if there's no chance to change his mind or help anyone else through makign deals with him the best I could do is give him what for, the right bastard. That's the big difference really, most people even if you disagree you don't lay it all out at them, shysters like Warren deserve to have their reputation spread. Basically, people need to know he's an asshole to limit his social power.

  28. says

    @WhatevAt that point some of the blame goes to the villagers. Who's dumb enough to put that kid on guard duty after that bullshit. TWICE!? That's really what i was talking about, Tracie. People like Warren, Robertson are off guard duty.

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