Patrick wants your opinion

Patrick Greene called in to the show on Sunday. The episode is now posted on Google and you’re free to listen to Patrick make his case (with interruptions and clarifications from your rather perturbed host).

While we’re all aware that public opinion is irrelevant to truth, he’d like to hear from you. If you think he’s done the right thing, let him know. If you think he’s made a huge mistake that makes the rest of us look bad, let him know. If you aren’t sure, let him know.

Evidently, he’s just not getting enough email. So, here’s his e-mail address:

peewee_91762 [at] yahoo.com

Patrick Greene checks in

Patrick Greene, the San Antonio atheist who got all up in Ray Comfort’s shit about a stupid bumper sticker, has sent an email to us once again. (He also left a comment here, which I rejected, because it contained his phone number. After the Yomin incident, in which both his and Matt D.’s phone numbers appeared in comments, I have a new policy of no phone numbers on the site at all, even if people wish to post their own. It’s too easy a thing people can abuse, whether through the placing of inappropriate calls, or the wild accusations and blame-assignment of same.)

Patrick’s letter is as follows:

I read your web site and wish equal time on your show.
I want to tell people the truth about the Walmart experience.
And I want to tell everyone about the bumper sticker thing.
By the way, so far Kirk Cameron hasn’t gotten back with me yet.
If I was really screwing up, they would never have taken the sticker off the site.
I have taken all I am going to take from Christians. My wife and I have taken their crap for 30 years.
Call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX any day from noon to 5:00p.m.
Patrick Greene
And you have my written permission to use my full name and e-mail address on everythingyou write about me.
I am not in the closet about anything.

Well, that’s great you’re willing to stand up for yourself, Patrick, though I suspect that Matt will not be terribly sympathetic to your “equal time” request, you having called him “such an asshole” and all. Seems to me you’re just an attention-seeker, quick to fly off the handle not only at any perceived slight to your atheism, but also to anyone who fails to validate your sense of victimhood and join the drill team cheering your fight for justice. And if you really believe that, as you said, “if I was really screwing up, they would never have taken the sticker off the site,” you’re as naive as you are reactionary. Ray Comfort is already making fun of you, and most absurdly of all, he did so simply by repeating the same insipid creationist non-arguments that he’s been using all these years to impress the uneducated. All he had to do was quote you sounding pissed off, which you did, then he simply replied with the stupidest arguments in his arsenal in a calm tone. And he comes out of it looking like a million bucks. Good job, Pat old boy. When you lose the high ground to a clown like Coke Can Man, you’re in bad shape.

As for the “crap” you’ve been put through for so very long by Christians, good grief, what are you talking about? Sounds to me like you’re nursing a persecution complex the size of the Alamodome, though I confess I wasn’t around all those decades Christians were making your life miserable, denying you jobs and killing your dog and peeing on your shrubs and flicking boogers at your car or whatever it was they were doing.

You’d think you would have, at some point, figured out that the majority of the populace in this country were religious, that that fact was unlikely to change in the near future, that some of those religious people will be normal and easygoing to get along with and that some will be offensive and stupid, and simply chosen to live your life accordingly. What horrible history of injustices have you suffered at their hands for so long, that the camel’s back was finally broken by the straw of Comfort and Cameron’s dopey bumper sticker? “That’s enough, goddamn it! I’m suing!”

Dude, we all find it infuriating, the things Christians get up to in this country. Undermining science education, denying fundamental rights to gays and lesbians, covering it up whenever their priests rape children, filling school boards with unqualified ideologues to promote their superstitions as facts to impressionable students, distributing propaganda movies calling scientists Nazis, what have you. What we do about it is try to come up with some positive pushback, through the efforts of such groups as Texas Citizens for Science and the NCSE, through outreach to other atheists via our media efforts, through getting people active at the polls (the stupidity of Ellen “Don’t Vote” Johnson notwithstanding.)

There’s a thing about picking your battles wisely. Making a spectacle of yourself over the imagined injustice of a bumper sticker doesn’t qualify under the “wise” category. “Petty,” “childish,” “shallow” and “over-sensitive”? Yeah, those, sure, all day long. Let me repeat this: you gave Ray Comfort, of all people, an opportunity to make himself look good. If that doesn’t spell E-P-I-C F-A-I-L, nothing does.

Seriously, man, you’re pulling a Yomin big time.

But if you really want to come on the show and undergo the dubious pleasure of being dressed down to your face by Matt Dillahunty…well, as I said, scheduling the guests is no longer my duty on the show. Though I suspect, if you did come on, it would be an experience you’d not forget in a hurry, and would probably become one of the show’s most popular downloads ever.


PS: Right before I posted this, Patrick replied to my reply to his original email, with examples of all the horrible injustice he’s endured at the hands of Christians. Seriously, I don’t know how the man has survived.

Try being denied an apartment because we are atheists.

So find a better apartment complex. There has to be more than one in your town. And why would your atheism need to come up while apartment hunting at all?

Try being given death threats because we are atheists.

I used to host the TV show, fer cripessake. I probably got 20 death threats for your every one.

Try being denied payment for a taxi trip, because I am an atheist.

Hardly compares to the rack or the stake, but I probably would find that annoying. So were you the cab driver in question here? Again, why would your atheism have come up? How many cabbies get ripped off every year by ride jumpers for reasons having nothing to do with religion?

Those are only the beginning.

Remember that scene in Reservoir Dogs with Steve Buscemi and the World’s Smallest Violin?


Addendum, Sunday: Patrick says he’ll call the show today, and sent us a lengthy letter explaining why he was turned down for an apartment (which, to hear his description, is one incident 20 years ago), and assuring us that he is shocked — SHOCKED! — that other atheists would dare criticize him! Which, obviously, means that we are ashamed to be atheists and afraid to defend ourselves. Which should be plain as day to anyone who’s watched the TV show and read this blog, right?

He also added:

My lawsuit was going to be based on the fact that they [Comfort and Cameron] were taking an opinion [on the bumper stickers], and making it a fact to all believers.
Dumbshits believe that.

Yes, Patrick, you’re absolutely right.

An irrational atheist

Today a gentleman whose privacy I’ll respect by not revealing his name sent an email to the TV show address with the subject line “Victory for atheists.” I’m afraid it’s anything but. Indeed, it’s a textbook example of how to fumble the ball.

The fellow in question had sent an irate letter to the Laurel and Hardy apologetics team of Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, complaining about an insulting anti-atheist bumper sticker they were selling online. Boasting to us that his letter had persuaded them to remove the offending sticker from their site, he went on to quote himself in full, and he doesn’t start off badly.

Your Item #500 Atheist Day bumper sticker is a very un-Christian insult to all atheists. Just because your Bible states something, does not mandate that you use this information to insult atheists like me.

I am not a fool, and I want you to change the wording of your sticker. The average driver can easily read the words:

NATIONAL ATHEIST’S DAY
APRIL 1ST

But the words of Psalm 14:1, which are below these words, cannot be easily seen by any motorist.

Then, as the letter progresses, you can see his emotions starting to run away with him.

My life as an American Atheist has been unalterably changed by your bumper sticker. I would never be elected to any political position in our country, because your bumper sticker has poisoned most believers minds.

I demand that you use your own savior’s command to Love your neighbor as yourself, and change your bumper sticker to read something like this:

PSALM 14:1 SHOULD BE READ

Well, the inability of atheists to make much headway in American politics, despite the Constitution’s ban on a religious test (a ban that is openly violated by the constitutions of a number of individual states, like Texas), is rooted in a religious bigotry against unbelievers that was in play long before Frick and Frack decided to sell a stupid bumper sticker online. But then our writer starts to run right off the rails…

I understand that the U.S. Constitution guarantees you freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. However, that does not give you unlimited license to publicly insult those who do not share your beliefs.

Uh…well, yeah, dude. It does.

Free speech is exactly that. Insults are not illegal. There are actionably libelous and slanderous remarks that one can make that are not Constitutionally protected. But merely lobbing an insult at somebody doesn’t qualify. And there is no Constitutional protection against having your feelings hurt. Here, our writer is simply making as big a fool of himself as the Catholics who have been throwing a colossal group shitfit these past several days over PZ Myers’ mocking of the Eucharist cracker.

Regrettably, our writer, figuring “in for a penny, in for a pound,” wraps everything up with an Oscar-worthy exercise in shark-jumping.

If, by August 23, 2008 your bumper sticker has not been changed on your web site, I will file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, in San Antonio, and have a restraining order issued to order you to change your sticker.

Insert sound of screeching tires, a loud crash, followed by a sustained explosion.

Hmm, what does this kind of pissy, bully-boy rhetoric remind me of? Certainly it’s nothing I’d attach the word “rational” to, and indeed, no offense to our writer here (though I can’t imagine I’ll avoid it), while Psalm 14:1 does not apply to atheists or atheism as a philosophy, it applies like hell to his behavior here.

It’s one thing to sue or threaten to sue if you have actually been harmed, or if an actionable offense has been made. But threatening legal action simply as a means of stifling the speech of someone who simply holds a view different to your own, and who has only made remarks that have bruised your feelings, is reprehensible behavior, full stop. And if you were dumb enough actually to file such a suit, expect not only an immediate dismissal but quite possibly a Rule 11(b) ass-reaming on top of it.

As Matt has pointed out to this fellow, not only has he moronically validated the bigotry Cameron and Comfort hold against atheists by being such a reactionary hothead over something as banal as a bumper sticker, but, if they did indeed remove the sticker from their site in response to his email, then this is simply something that we can fully expect them to use, in their next blog posts and podcasts and whatever else they do, to paint themselves as the calm, reasonable ones, the charitable, kind Christians who out of the goodness of their hearts will honor this poor unsaved person’s feelings, despite his hostile and bullying tone, which is, of course, just the way you are when you’re godless and lost. In other words, this dumbass has just handed the two most dishonest and inept apologists in all of pop-Christianity a three-pointer.

So let this be a lesson to atheists everywhere. We’re human, and certainly can’t expect to be entirely rational and unemotional when things affect us as humans, and cause us to feel a level of hurt. But unlike PZ’s Catholic mob, we ought to have a perspective they lack. Nothing here that was “holy” or inviolable to atheists was damaged by this bumper sticker. And I cannot for the life of me think how this writer can prove he’s suffered any kind of harm because of its mere existence. As rational beings, we must know that we live in a world of many differing and often hostile views, none moreso than those between religious believers and skeptics. Some people we’ll have civil disagreements with, others will be more heated and emotional. But we all have a right to expression, and to use bullying threats to silence someone’s opposing views while claiming bogus “harm” is something no rationalist can or should countenance.

If our writer thought he’d find a sympathetic ear and support when he emailed us to boast of his “victory,” I’m afraid he got a rude surprise, one which I’ll happily make ruder by exposing his foolishness here as an epic fail for which he should feel duly embarrassed. I expect this kind of thing from extremist religious ideologues. I expect better from atheists, as we should always be guided by reason, even when we’re a little bit cranky that day. Atheists who go four-alarm-irrational will find themselves thoroughly hosed if we hear about it.


Addendum: The original writer has finally been reduced simply to calling Matt “such an asshole” in response to Matt’s explanations as to why he did the wrong thing. That says all that needs to be said about the guy’s character, I do believe. I wonder if he’ll threaten to sue next?

Aggressive Atheist Extremists

Maybe you’ve seen the PhillyCOR billboard recently? Floaty clouds on a blue sky, with the text “Don’t believe in god?” on top, and “You are not alone,” on the bottom. It’s an invitation to disenfranchised atheists to get in touch with local humanist, atheist, free-thought or secular organizations in their areas. And it’s as inoffensive a message as I’ve ever seen from any atheist group. No attack on religion. No invitation to anyone to reconsider their beliefs. Just a note to those who already don’t believe, who think they’re on their own, to encourage them and let them know there are like-minded people “out there” who would like to get to know them and offer them camaraderie and community involvement. PhillyCOR actually even works alongside religious organizations to support charitable endeavors.

So, here again we have the age-old question: Is there any way—at all—that an atheist can express his opinion that won’t be considered an attack on or offense to believers?

The answer, PhillyCOR has now made clear, is “no.”

In an interview with Fox News, Family Research Council’s own Peter Sprigg had this to say about the board:

“This billboard in Philadelphia seems to represent a trend—a new assertiveness, even aggressiveness on the part of atheists.”

You heard right. Putting up a billboard to let like-minded people know you exist—people who often think they are utterly alone—is “aggressive.” The billboard represents—is part of—a trend of “aggressiveness.” Am I to assume that Sprigg has never seen a Christian billboard before? He should come to Austin, where he would be able to see several in a five mile stretch in any direction. And they don’t just appeal to other Christians—they appeal to everyone to come to church, accept Jesus, believe in god, convert to Christianity. Would Sprigg label Christians as a “hyper aggressive” group, then? I’m guessing not—but to be consistent, he actually would have to. If atheists today are “aggressive,” I can’t see how Sprigg doesn’t consider Christians to be hovering over the edge of “dangerous.”

Further, this man who claims atheists are being “aggressive” has the following to add:

“Atheists are very vigorous in promoting the separation of church and state, but with the extreme way that they interpret that concept, you would basically eliminate every mention of god from the public square, and that would amount to the establishment of atheism.”

First of all, it’s not about eliminating the mention of anything from any “public square.” People in the public square, speaking as private citizens, can say whatever they like. It’s people and institutions that are in any way representatives of government that cannot, and should not, promote any religious perspective—including the existence or nonexistence of any god or gods. That’s a little different, and perhaps a subtlety that is lost on people like Sprigg—although, if I am to speak frankly, I don’t believe it’s lost on him at all. I believe it to be an intentional misrepresentation—a strawman—intended to rile religious masses, because Sprigg knows that an accurate representation would not be nearly as compelling and effective in attaining that goal.

Free advice: When someone misrepresents their case, always, always, always ask “why?”

And while I am on misrepresentations, another interesting fact that Sprigg seems to conveniently have misplaced, is that one of the most active entities promoting separation of church and state is a group headed by the Reverend Barry Lynn, who often speaks on behalf of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Since Sprigg’s group is so very interested in separation issues, I can’t imagine he is unaware of this. And yet, he promotes separation as an “atheist vs. theist” issue, in order to launch an unfounded attack on atheists and rally undeserved support to his own agenda to use the government, openly and unapologetically, to promote a worldview that just happens to align with conservative Christian religious ideologies.

Asking Sprigg to not use our government as a vehicle to push his religion onto others is somehow an “establishment of atheism.” I have pointed out before, but perhaps not at this blog, that asking that the government remove “under god” is in no way the equivalent of asking them to add “without a god” to the Pledge. Ensuring everyone, theists and atheists alike, is free from government sanctioned, promoted, or imposed religious ideology allows everyone, theists and atheists alike, the freedom to exercise their religion, or no religion, as they wish, by putting all religious ideologies on the same playing field—a field that is, and ever should be, found exclusively in the court of private practice.

The level of projection Sprigg employs is at least as bad as anything I have seen from any theist so far. He effortlessly scales the heights of hypocrisy as he accuses others of stepping out of line who are not, while he is guilty of absolutely all that he accuses. Ironically, even if atheists were guilty of all he accuses, they would be doing no more or less than their Sprigg-encouraged Christian counterparts, in so far as pushing their agenda via government and posting and promoting their ideology as far and wide as possible. So, how could Sprigg possibly criticize, even if atheists were guilty, without showing himself up as a raging hypocrite?

The real issue here is that Sprigg wants Christianity to enjoy special privilege and treatment from society, as well as from the government, without being able to actually explain why special status is merited. I would never advocate promoting atheism using the government. And yet, if I did, any criticism from Sprigg could be nothing less than stunning, as I’d be doing no more than he and his organization and religion are doing already (and have been doing for quite a long time).

It’s actually competition Sprigg fears—not competition from others asking government to endorse their religious views, too, but the competition that would exist if his own religious view was no longer allowed to use the government as a prop—if it had to exist, horror of horrors, on the same level upon which all other religious views and ideas are now safely relegated—far beneath his own. It isn’t that he thinks it’s wrong to empower and utilize the government to promote religious views at all. His actions illustrate that he very much supports using government to promote religious views and policies. They also illustrate, in no uncertain terms, that his real beef is that he wants his particular brand of religion to be the only one that gets to do it.

Shalini in some kind of trouble?

Shalini Sehkar, whose blog Scientia Natura is full of hilariously foul-mouthed rants against “theistards” (she certainly embraces the “bad cop” role in atheist blogging with gusto), has been locked out — see for yourself — and some commenters over at Larry Moran’s Sandwalk are indicating that some theists have allegedly gone off the deep end at last and are doing things to make her life miserable. As always, the lack of details being offered means the rumor mill is going to be churning overtime, and it would be nice to nip that in the bud if possible. So if anyone knows any real details (of the kind that can actually be spoken of, in the likelihood there are legal issues in play here), and how we can help her out if possible, please let us know.

Why do atheists speak out? This is why.

The post-Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens backlash continues as more petulant Christians come out of the woodwork with their increasingly desperate smears of the character of atheists. Here’s a typically asinine screed from some Christian prat writing for some news site in Arkansas. It was so full of perfect bilge that I felt compelled to take off the gloves and haul this little turd out to the woodshed, which I did in the following letter to the editor. It’s too long for them to print, surely. My hope is it will be so deliciously ranty that whoever it is on their editorial staff who reads these won’t be able to resist forwarding it to the writer, one John Terry. In any case, once your stomach has recovered from reading his twaddle, enjoy my bitchslap which follows.


Having just read John Terry’s ignorant and reactionary screed against atheists posted to your website on 9/22, this atheist felt he simply had to respond. I have often pitied people who hold the kinds of blinkered and philistine views Mr. Terry holds. But I am not the sort of person to let his calumnies go unanswered. Hopefully he will find this letter educative and instructive, though I doubt it. The fundamentalist mind is nothing if not hidebound. It is, however, precisely the kinds of views Terry expresses in his editorial that have prompted long-silent atheists to feel motivated to speak out and say “Enough is enough!”

Terry first begins by deriding atheism as a belief in “nothing.” Right from the start, in doing so he ensures his entire editorial will be based on false premises and baseless preconceptions of atheists rooted in ignorant stereotypes. Terry, blind to anything but his own indoctrination, asks, “If no God exists, what is there to get passionate about?” Golly gee…how about a little thing called real life? Perhaps Terry ought to get off his knees and up on his feet. He’ll be able to see reality a lot more clearly from up there.

Atheism is simply the rejection of the belief in deities. The alternative to believing in invisible sky gods is not “nothing,” it is everything. It is an appreciation of the beauty and wonder of the natural world as revealed to us by science and reason. As Mr. Terry’s religious indoctrination sadly seems to have blinded him to these beauties, one can pity him. But he shouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume that those who do not believe in his superstition of choice are de facto nihilistic. As I and other atheists of my acquaintance have discovered, once one emancipates oneself from the shackles of religious dogma, whole new vistas of intellectual wonder open up to you. You are free to question and explore and learn, but most important is what you are freed from: irrational fears.

Terry does say one thing partially right, when he mentions, “Contrary to the apparent belief of atheists, their nonbelief is not a danger to Christianity, nor to individual Christians. Nor does it change the existence of God.”

Actually, I don’t know of any atheists who consider atheism a “danger” to Christianity, though all atheists do recognize the danger religion poses to rationalism, independence, education, human rights, and peace. Sadly, we understand all too well the degree to which Christianity’s dogmas and delusions have become woven into the very fabric of modern culture, and that it will take nothing short of another Enlightenment to turn us away from our present slide into a new Dark Age. Terry is also right in that atheism does not change the existence of God. It simply acknowledges that Terry’s God’s existence is no more plausible than the existence of Zeus, Thor, Shiva, Amun-Re, or Cthulhu. If Terry wishes me to renounce my atheism and join him in being what he gushingly calls “a child of God,” then he ought to offer rational arguments and evidence for this being’s existence, rather than spewing supercilious invective and facile emotional appeals. Maybe the fool does say in his heart there is no God….but the wise man says it out loud.

Terry is so ignorant and myopic on the subject of atheism that he offers up examples of perceived problems atheism poses which are simply risible.

First, he seems to think there is something bad about an atheist being left with “no wisdom but his own (except the wisdom of men) and no hope of a life beyond this one.” That Terry and believers like him so fear death that they must cling to such a hope is, I suppose, understandable. But part of the process of reaching emotional and intellectual maturity is understanding that life is a finite experience, and that finitude is precisely what makes life precious. It is important to remember here that Terry’s entire life has been informed by his indoctrination into one particular set of religious superstitions that enforces its authority over its followers through fear and guilt. Thus it is difficult, if not entirely impossible, for him to comprehend that there are millions of rational nonbelievers in the world who simply aren’t wracked by the same existential fears that plague him. In any case, for the atheist, the “problems” Terry thinks we face aren’t problems of any kind.

As for relying on the wisdom of men: well, without any proof of a God’s existence, why should I rely on anything else? By relying on their own intellect and reasoning, atheists possess the capacity to learn from mistakes, to adapt to new circumstances and be receptive to new knowledge and discoveries. This would seem to me to be a better way to live one’s life than to adopt the strident dogmas of a religious belief founded only on wishful thinking and “faith” (a process which seems to be all about the glorification of one’s ignorance), buttressed by fear.

If, as Terry implies, it is the God of the Bible whose “wisdom” I should prefer, I confess to being puzzled by the idea that I should consider a being who consigns anyone who does not worship him to his satisfaction to an eternity of agonizing torment as “wise,” when my own, pitifully inadequate notions of human wisdom tell me that a being like that is by definition a horrendously wicked and evil tyrant. Any God who refuses to make his existence unambiguously clear, and then is willing to consign individuals to eternal torture simply for doubting his existence, can only be unutterably evil, and the fact that Christians think that such a God is a paragon of all that is good is a view that quite simply perverts any meaning the notion of “goodness” could possibly have. For a Christian to hold such a view and still think he is “better off than the atheist” reveals the intellectually and morally corrupting force of Christian “faith” more powerfully than any atheist critique ever could.

Second, Terry laughably asserts that “the atheist may be able to persuade others (I knew of one situation like this where an older man concentrated on young people) that his unbelief is really true. This might consign those he persuaded to the same fate that is in store for him.” What fate is this, I wonder? The Christian “hell,” a concept that — as I have explained in detail above — could only be the creation of a morally bankrupt and evil belief system that seeks to ensure compliance through terror and intimidation because it lacks actual facts to support it? If this is what Terry means, then color me unimpressed. Threatening atheists with punishments that do not exist does not, to put it mildly, carry a lot of weight, and if anything, simply confirms what we already know to be religion’s most egregious moral failings. To stifle free inquiry and a person’s curiosity and sense of discovery by telling them that rejection of the received dogmas is punishable by damnation is perhaps Christianity’s most loathsome crime against humanity. However, if, as Terry asserts, I can persuade someone that nonbelief is the way to go, then I can only be happy that I’ve done my part, however small, in helping someone liberate themselves from superstition’s crippling shackles.

Finally, Terry makes an assertion that is simply dispicable. He implies that, lacking belief in God somehow
means atheists all somehow think they are their own gods, and thus “without restraint, he may become a pedophile, a murderer, a thief, or any other kind of a deviant you can think of. Or he might just become one who lives inward, with no concern for the people or things around him. There are tragic examples of such people.”

How dare you, sir?

MAY I remind you that the most recent pedophilia scandal to shock the world was not perpetrated by atheists, but by the Catholic Church? MAY I remind you that the people who crashed airplanes into buildings were not atheists, but fanatical Moslems? MAY I remind you that virtually all racist hate groups operating in the United States today are religious in focus, from the KKK all the way down to such groups as the “World Church of the Creator”? As for atheists as people turning “inward, with no concern for the people or things around him,” who are these people? Who are the “tragic examples” that you claim to have heard of? Since, by your own admission, you say you have only known “no more than two dozen” atheists, how can you possibly feel justified in smearing the character of hundreds of millions of atheists worldwide, in particular smearing them by accusing them of the very crimes that have famously been committed in recent years by the religious?

I’ll tell you how you can feel justified in doing it. Your beliefs are misanthropic and divisive. Religion enables hate by convincing one group of people that, because they are the devoted followers of such-and-such an invisible sky fairy, that all non-followers of said being are by definition evil, and must be viewed with suspicion, dread and loathing. The nonstop invective against atheists you spew in your article is a testament to such brainwashing. You don’t know any atheists, you say (except for a small handful against whose disbelief you lamely shield yourself by flattering yourself that they’re really believers who just won’t admit it), but somehow you know we’re all “deviants”. Gee, thanks very much. That must be some of that “Christian love” I keep hearing about.

Terry’s pomposity and arrogance know no bounds. He stupidly asserts that “unless the avowed atheist is prepared to account for the universe, for man in all of his complexities, and life in general, he certainly is not prepared to declare that ‘there is no God,'” while completely overlooking the fact that he is in no position to declare that there is a God unless he is able to account for that God…and account for it with hard, independently verifiable and testable evidence, not just a string of Bible quotes. Remember, just because there are certain questions that science has yet to answer does not mean the religionist is justified in slapping down “Goddidit” as the all-purpose default “explanation”. An explanation that has no explanatory power is no explanation at all.

Terry here is simply committing the common logical fallacy of “shifting the burden of proof.” Despite what he thinks, it is not my responsibility to demonstrate to him that his deity of choice does not exist. It is his responsibility to demonstrate to me that it does. If he fails to do so, I will continue to refrain from believing in this being, just as I refrain from believing in Zeus, Thor, Set, et al.

Remember, the only claim atheism makes is that we do not believe in a God. Every time a believer asserts there is a God, and fails to meet his burden of proof, the atheist successfully meets his. In point of fact, science actually does offer a great deal of what Terry says atheists must offer as explanations — though I suspect that, as a religious fundamentalist, Terry reflexively rejects most modern science. Still, there is much left to learn, and the joy of learning, much less the freedom to learn, is one of the greatest benefits from living the rational, secular life, away from the simple-minded catch-all non-answers of religious dogma.

One difference I can say with confidence I have observed between atheists who are scientifically-minded and religious fundamentalists is that the atheists almost always have a passion for knowledge and a profound degree of dedication to understanding the truth about the world as the discoveries of science can reveal it, while the more religious a person is, the less intellectual curiosity about the world they generally have, smugly satisfied that their ancient holy book has it all figured out for them.

This is painfully evident all throughout Terry’s editorial. Nowhere in the piece does Terry give atheists any indication that being as devout a Christian as he is does anything to satisfy intellectual curiosity and provide a fulfilling understanding of life and the world we live in. However, Terry’s editorial does show a surfeit of smarmy, egoistic preening. Terry’s Christianity may not tell him anything meaningful about the real world, but it allows him to puff himself up and declare himself a superior breed of human to all of those “deviant” atheists, and that’s all he requires from it. Thanks, but I’d rather be a proud adherent to rational, secular philosophies that encourage my intellectual growth, than to a shallow superstition that acts as a band-aid to my insecurity by letting me say “Nyah nyah, I’m better than you.”

As for Christians being the only people who help others, well, this is simply more snide self-flattery on Terry’s part. He does not know me, but if he did, he would know of all of the charitable work I have done in my life (in terms of both money and personal time donated), how I have gone out of my way to be supportive of my friends and a good and productive member of my community. The atheist organization to which I’ve belonged for years does regular charitable works, inculding highway cleanup and participating in blood drives.

As Terry clearly does not wish to be disabused of his anti-atheist bigotry, then if he did know about atheists doing those things, he would probably make up some twaddle about how this shows we’re all really godly people at heart, or something. I have news for Terry. A truly moral and philanthropic person does not engage in charity and acts of helpful human kindness simply because one hopes for a bright, shiny reward from one’s sky-father. One does so because virtue is its own reward. The smile on someone’s face I see when I have helped them at a time they could not help themselves is all the reward I need. And it is so much more meaningful than the reward Terry imagines his God will bestow upon him in some dreamed-of afterlife. Because, unlike the promises of Christianity, a person’s smile is real.

I feel highly confident that I am not “misguided in my thinking” to hold these views, any more than I am “misguided” not to believe in invisible sky gods. If Terry still thinks I am misguided, then he is welcome to persuade me. However, on the slim chance he reads this, I must advise him that the way to persuade me will be through strong arguments which apply rigorous standards of evidence, and not pitiful, self-aggrandizing cheap shots and empty rhetoric that do little to prove Terry’s points to the thinking skeptic, though they certainly seem to do much to shore up Terry’s ego. I can imagine, what with all of us “deviant” atheists finally willing to come out and stand up to the ignorance and sanctimonious posturing of the religious, Terry’s ego needs a lot of shoring.

Episode #512: Intolerance

I have gotten some requests for show notes on occasion. In response, I’m going to begin posting summary notes to the blog, so that when requests for notes come in, I can just point them here. Thanks, Martin.

The word “tolerance” has two very distinct meanings that can, but do not always, overlap. One is to respect others or their actions and beliefs. The other is to merely allow others to act and express their beliefs—regardless of whether or not I, personally, respect them, their beliefs or actions.

It is unreasonable to expect that no one will disagree with my opinions or ideas. In fact, there are many ideas that are so widely disrespected that they are almost universally disdained. The ideas expressed by Hitler or NAMBLA not only lack widespread acceptance; they are openly disparaged by the general population; and the actions they promote are legally prohibited. So, in either sense of the word, they are not “tolerated.” The ideas they espouse are not generally respected; and the actions they endorse are not allowed. No society exercises absolute tolerance by either definition. And expecting any belief, value or idea to be universally respected is simply unrealistic.

The goal in the United States—and I realize it’s not always achieved—is to allow the individual the right to believe and act freely insofar as his/her actions do not compromise the rights of fellow citizens. We value, in this country, the right of Freedom of Speech—aka Freedom of Expression. We all have the right to express our ideas and opinions to the extent we don’t violate someone else’s rights. Freedom of Speech can violate someone else’s rights when, for example, I seriously threaten to harm or kill someone for exercising a legal action or expressing an idea or opinion.

My right to say what’s on my mind is limited when it forcibly stops others from exercising legal actions or expressing ideas and opinions. In the public forum, I can disagree, disparage, ridicule, challenge, even insult; but I cannot try to silence the free expression of others. I must tolerate (allow) all expressions, in the sense that I must respect—not the expression itself, or even the person expressing it—but the right of other person to express. And that freedom extends to responses as well. In the real world, no idea, opinion or belief is universally respected or accepted. If I don’t want my ideas challenged, then I should carefully consider whether or not I want to express them in a public forum; because the public has a right to respond, and I need to respect that right, even if I disrespect the content of the responses I might receive.

In the show, I referenced the following:

http://www.powers-point.com/2006/10/intolerant-atheist.html
-Karen Powers

“I always like to point out to my many atheist friends that I have never tried to convert them or ridicule their beliefs, but have been on the receiving ends of dozens of rants against my belief system…something that feels a lot like the person is trying to “convert” me to their way of life (atheism) all the while accusing religious people of being intolerant.”

Here Karen equates attempts to convert with intolerance. First of all, an attempt at conversion does not impede Karen’s right to believe or act. No matter how badly someone wants Karen to do X or believe X, simply talking to her about X cannot force her to do either. She is correct, though, that it can show a level of disrespect for the beliefs she holds currently when someone tries to change her mind. Atheists understand this from dealing with apologists; just as Karen understands this from her atheist friends. But I’m free to respond that I disagree with them, as is Karen, and also to express why I disagree, as is Karen. I’m also free to not listen to them if I so choose, as is Karen. No harm, no foul.

Karen’s post was not the only one addressed, but it was representative of what is found when you look up “atheist intolerance” on the Internet. The main complaint is that atheists don’t publicly respect theists or theism. But, again, that’s the case with any belief—none are universally respected. I’m unsure, though, why that’s a problem. No one requires my stamp of approval in order to do or believe whatever they want. If I express that what someone else does or believes is silly or stupid, it has no impact whatsoever on their right or ability to continue to do or believe it. There is, in fact, no reason whatsoever for anyone to care what anyone else thinks about what they do or believe—if the assessment extends no further than a mere personal opinion.

Fortunately, with regard to atheists, most of the people I know in the community really don’t care what Christians “believe,” despite the fact we get weekly letters asking us why it bothers us so much that other people believe in god. It actually doesn’t bother most atheists that theists believe in god. What tends to bother atheists is when any particular religious group tries to impose it’s beliefs upon the rest of the population—either via legislation or via other means of policing public policy (legal or otherwise). When theists try to dictate my behavior so that it is in line with their theistic doctrines, this imposes on my individual rights and freedoms—granted to me by the Constitution. Constitutionally, I have as much right to choose my beliefs and actions as any other citizen in this country.

The show included numerous readings from theists who felt that atheists should not exercise their Freedom of Speech. Perhaps the best example was the transcript of a Paula Zahn Now! show:

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0701/31/pzn.01.html

In this episode, real venom was aimed at atheists and atheism. I don’t mind people aiming venom. Again, so long as they let others live their lives, I don’t care what they think or how vehemently they think it or express it. But a line is crossed when they begin telling others to “shut up.” Attempting to demand that others stop expressing ideas, opinions, and beliefs—is the beginning of intolerance. Criticize ideas however you like—but don’t tell others they need to stop exercising their Constitutional right of Freedom of Speech. Each of us has as much right to express our ideas as anyone else has to criticize them. I’m happy to dialogue—but “shut up” isn’t a dialogue. It’s an expressed wish to monologue publicly, without public challenge or response. And that’s the way to shut down public debate—which is simply hypocritical, cowardly and not in the best interest of maintaining a free and open society.

One particularly interesting statement made on the program was when Karen Hunter said, “Don’t impose upon my right to want to have prayer in schools, to want to say the pledge of allegiance…”

First of all, nobody can impose on anyone else’s right to “want” something. But as far as her right to actually have it—nobody has imposed on that, either. Anyone is legally allowed to pray and say the Pledge of Allegiance in any nondisruptive way, and I have yet to meet any atheist who opposes this. However, theists are not Constitutionally allowed to impose prayers upon nonadherents, and they are out of line to add narrow religious statements into a pledge that is intended to be used by the entire nation. This imposes a pledge to monotheism/religion upon all citizens who would like to also be able to say the Pledge to their nation. There is no reason the Pledge should not be accessible to all citizens equally. It should not apply only to those citizens who adhere to the idea of a monotheistic deity. Again, Karen’s right to express her beliefs should end where the right of others to express themselves begins. According to Karen, it’s perfectly acceptable for me to have to choose
between pledging loyalty to her religious beliefs and pledging loyalty to my country. But if no mention of god was contained in the Pledge, there would be no imposition to either theistic or atheistic Americans. That’s the difference. The insertion of the monotheistic god into the Pledge was a move in the 1950s that continues to alienate some very patriotic citizens in the U.S. to this day. And it is logical that a national Pledge should as much as possible unite, and not divide the citizenry.

I ended with a reading of several articles, all published in the last month, that gave examples of Christians being intolerant by attempting to disallow others to exercise legal actions or express beliefs. Examples included death threats to J.K. Rowling, threats of harm to a library for a summer program that included workshops on astrology, a bomb planted at a women’s clinic, a man who murdered another man because his victim was gay, attempted book bannings at a school library by one mother, an attempted ban on Sunday liquor sales, and a disruptive protest during a Hindu prayer before the U.S. Senate. There were more articles, but we didn’t have time to address them all.

While I acknowledged on the show that this behavior is not representative of the vast majority of Christians; it is fair to ask why, when this sort of religious thought-control and behavior-control intolerance is covered in the U.S. media, it appears to be almost exclusively attempted by Christian adherents? And why, if that is the case, are atheists the ones consistently labeled as “intolerant”—most often merely for legally exercising their Freedom of Speech by criticizing ideas with which they disagree?

Skatje Myers nailed it

PZ Myers’ teenage daughter explains two methods of successfully discussing atheism:

It’s moderate atheists’ job to speak nicely to theists and get them to hear the message, but it’s the militant atheists’ job to get the moderates out of the closet and active. Do they scare away some theists entirely? Probably, but those are most likely the most unchangeable anyway. And it still doesn’t outweigh the need for angry atheists and their “rudeness”.

Of course the two styles are both very familiar to me. The first is The Atheist Experience, and the second is The Non-Prophets.

Edit: Updated to include a link to the original post in the first sentence.