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Prioritizing agreement

Let’s try this again. I keep seeing discussions of Chris Stedman and his new book that complain of how personal and hostile and unfair the criticisms of him are. Let’s see if I can spell out my dissent without sounding (or even being) personal and hostile and unfair. Religion News Service has an interview with him, so that provides an occasion.

On the blog NonProphet Status, and now in the book, Stedman calls for atheists and the religious to come together around interfaith work. It is a position that has earned him both strident — even violent — condemnation and high praise. Stedman talked with RNS about how and why the religious and atheists should work together.

One. Calling for atheists and the religious to come together around interfaith work seems to me (and others) to be a strange project, because it seems to be a rejection of the very idea of basic disagreement. On the one hand, atheists and the religious already do unite to work together in various contexts, because that’s just how these things work. People work on various things without interrogating each other about beliefs and world views. There’s no need to stipulate that atheists and theists work together; they’ll do that on their own. On the other hand, if he does mean that people should make a big thing about being one or the other and getting together around some kind of work – then I really don’t see why I have to. I’m happy to shut up about my atheism and do things with other people who shut up about their theism. I’m not happy to do a big “let’s weave the two together” dance.

Am I getting too personal and hostile and unfair already? Maybe. Maybe. I think that’s because I never can manage to grasp exactly what Stedman has in mind. I don’t understand why he’s not satisfied with the fact that atheists and theists do naturally work together all the time, just as liberals and conservatives do, women and men do, gays and straights do, tall people and short people do. I don’t understand why he wants to take that first step of having everyone identify as one or the other – atheist or theist – and then make a big deal of working together.

That first step is what makes the whole thing so dubious. If theism and atheism are just left aside, then we can work together. If they’re made central – then I have disagreements, dammit, and no I’m not willing to suppress them.

And then there’s interfaith work. Again: no. Work, yes; interfaith work, no. Why does it have to be interfaith work? Why can’t it just be work?

Two. This is the interviewer’s doing, not Stedman’s. Violent is the wrong word to use. It’s offensively wrong. Strong, even strident disagreement with Stedman isn’t violent.

Q: What does the term “faitheist” mean? Is it a positive label or a derisive one?
A: It’s one of several words used by some atheists to describe other atheists who are seen as too accommodating of religion. But to me, being a faitheist means that I prioritize the pursuit of common ground, and that I’m willing to put “faith” in the idea that religious believers and atheists can and should focus on areas of agreement and work in broad coalitions to advance social justice.

Ok. Here’s where we differ. There already is plenty of common ground. But there is also substantive disagreement, and that had been as it were de-prioritized for a long time before the recent renaissance of outspoken atheism. It is only in the last few years (at least in the US) that it has become somewhat normal for atheists to say how and why they differ from and disagree with theists. I think that’s a healthy shift, and I find it unfortunate that other atheists already think it necessary to “prioritize” what was already the conformist majoritarian approach, which was not so much the pursuit of common ground as the dominance of one view at the expense of the other. Prioritizing the pursuit of common ground, in a country where the vast majority is religious and where religion is in some ways compulsory, is really just prioritizing the continued dominance of the majority view.

In other words I don’t want to focus on areas of agreement, because that was all that was available to me for years and years until quite recently. Saying that people with differing views should focus on areas of agreement frankly amounts to an endorsement of whatever the status quo majority view is. It’s a way of saying hide your dissenting views. It’s that dressed up as being kinder than other people. I have problems with all of that.

Some people have suggested I think atheists shouldn’t critique harmful religious beliefs, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

But that doesn’t work. Saying that “religious believers and atheists can and should focus on areas of agreement” is saying that atheists shouldn’t critique harmful religious beliefs. The areas of agreement obviously rule out things like criticism of harmful religious beliefs.

Maybe Stedman doesn’t realize that. Maybe he doesn’t recognize a tension between his avowed project and a commitment to open criticism of harmful religious beliefs. There is such a tension.

Q: You write that the atheist community is often defined by the “New Atheists” and their aggressive stance against religion. Isn’t the term atheist a negative by definition?

A: When I first became active in the atheist movement, I was taken aback by the degree of hostility I saw directed toward religion and, in many cases, religious believers. It has often felt to me that atheism and anti-theism are treated as synonyms by many segments of the atheist community, when they are in fact different.

You see there it is again. Hostility toward religion is and ought to be permitted. Stedman dislikes it. Ok but then he ought to admit that, and realize that he does indeed think atheists shouldn’t critique harmful religious beliefs.

Q: If atheists by definition don’t have faith, why should they seek to be included in interfaith work?

A: Interfaith work seeks to humanize religious diversity and erode tribalistic divisions. It promotes religious literacy and freedom of expression and conscience, and if atheists don’t participate, we risk not being included in interfaith efforts’ vision for a pluralistic world. The term “interfaith” may be imperfect, but in my experience it does not exclude atheists — and when it does, that’s something we should work to change.

But if what you’re talking about is actually pluralism, then it would be better to call it that.

There. My attempt to be impersonal, non-hostile, and fair.

Comments

  1. aziraphale says

    I was inspired to do a quick search of organizations describing themselves as “interfaith” in the UK. Two things became clear:

    Their aims often include increased understanding between the religious and the non-religious.

    Their membership, without exception, is drawn entirely from the organised religions.

  2. julian says

    You see there it is again. Hostility toward religion is and ought to be permitted.

    May I ask what you mean by this? Personally I think hostility to religion is something we need because of the effect it has on our society. It encourages bigotry, legitimizes the denial of rights, and acts as a handicap to science and scientific thinking publicly.

    But private religion is something a little different from. I still think we should be critical, at least in discussions, but hostility and the more severe criticism we use isn’t warranted.

  3. rnilsson says

    But you fail again, Ophelia. Because while being impersonal and non-hostile may be perceived as pretty benign, being not only factual and analytical, but at the same time correct, is what dooms it as an abject failure. Objectively speaking. From a male perspective, you see.

    It does not matter that you are right (as almost always); on the contrary. Well I’m sorry but there you are.

    Notwithstanding, I completely agree with you of course.

    Perhaps Stedman could try for a fresh start by talking less obsessively? Or, perish the thought, less – period. Wallop to the wallet, though.

  4. says

    Mostly on what you talk about in “one”:

    Making a big deal of pointing out areas of agreement plays a rhetorical role. Chris works with lots of young folk, as far as I can gather. I regularly talk to and work with 19-25 year-old’s who are wondering how to further atheist/secular/skeptical etc. causes, and their programming seems to incline towards being hostile.

    If they were to be told, or find out, that a collaborator was religious, then a large amount of energy would be expended in antagonism rather than finding things that are common cause. Assuming that my South African experience translates sufficiently to a North American context, I’d suggest that potential collaboration of a fruitful sort is put under threat by the background assumption that people are enemies of some sort. And yes, in some respects they are (at least antagonists, I mean) – but in many they are not. Stedman is trying to shine a light on the non-antagonistic elements of the interaction, and this seems a reasonable rhetorical strategy to me.

  5. says

    It encourages bigotry, legitimizes the denial of rights,

    Yes, and if it went away those same people would be doing the same things. Religion is a tool of social control, for better or worse, and you wouldn’t change a whole lot on this by removing it. Liberally minded people follow liberal religions, bigots follow bigoted ones. Oppressed people typically go to religions friendly to them.

    Re: OP

    What would we have to talk about with an interfaith commission, exactly? Meh. I’ll work with religious people on useful things, but not to the extent that I’ll faff about doing nothing but singing their praises. Not exactly useful in my book.

  6. Kevin K says

    Whenever someone says the term “interfaith”, I can only think of sitting around the camp fire, joining arms and singing “kumbaya”.

    Blech.

    Interfaith work specifically involving atheists AS atheists (and I’m also someone who works with the religious a LOT – no biggie) always, and I mean always is a way for the religious to show me just how pious and happy and “faithful” they are. It’s a demand for respect for their nutty beliefs just because they happen to be nice people. Which, for the most part, they are. Because the “interfaith” crowd tends not to draw the crazy evangelicals.

    It’s the insistence that faith comes ahead of humanity that I object to. As well as the fact that their kind-hearted, liberal, fuzzy inter-faith “faith” provides cover for the assholes who aren’t there.

    Sorry. No. I see no purpose in an “interfaith” anything except maybe a burning of all of the holy books ever written, followed by a conversion of all of the places of “worship” into community centers and other facilities for non-religious, useful purposes.

    You tell the interfaithers that when they can all decide that a woman’s body is her own — especially her reproductive rights — then we can start having conversations. When they can all decide that marriage equality means equality, then we can talk. When they can all decide on whether or not I have to wear a hat inside or not. Or whether the bacon cheeseburger is double delicious, or doubly damning. Figure all that all among the faithful, then I’ll join your little tribe.

    Not until then.

    You can’t build bridges when the person on the other side is hiding a knife under their cloak.

  7. says

    Jacques – thanks – that helps to clarify.

    I still wonder though. Will people who are working for a cause generally find out that a collaborator is religious? Will it normally come up? Is that more usual than people just concentrating on the cause more than on each other?

    Maybe I have a cognitive bias toward the second picture because I don’t like to blather about Me Me Me a lot and especially not to people I don’t know well, so I assume that most people don’t go all confessional while working with others for a cause. Maybe I’m wrong.

  8. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    One of the most annoying things I keep seeing is the word ‘violent’ being bandied about as a descriptor for various types of speech. ‘Violent disagreement’. ‘Violent condemnation’.

    You know what a violent disagreement is? It’s when I punch you in the mouth. Has anyone punched Stedman in the mouth – or struck him or physically harmed him in any way – over his silly book? No? Then he has not met violent disagreement, at all, ever, over his book.

    There are plenty of atheists and feminists and trans-people and PoC (and sometimes atheistic feminist trans people of color) who receive actual violent disagreement over their views (or even their existence). When you describe ‘someone saying mean things about you on Facebook’ as ‘violence’ – and not even violent threats (which are a form a violence) but just ‘Oh that Stedman, what a tool’ – you minimize people who are actually suffering from actual violence.

    I’m not doing the ‘oh these people have it worse so you can’t complain’ thing. I’m objecting to the use of the word ‘violent’ to describe things that contain no actual violence. It’s a nasty bit of rhetoric that needs to stop.

  9. Matt Penfold says

    Stedman sounds very like those Anglicans who put unity and getting people to agree ahead of allowing women to become bishops, or allowing gays to be ordained. It puts being “nice” (of course nice is the one thing it isn’t) as being more important than treating women and gays like people.

  10. says

    Just to quickly butt in and address a few points, because I’m happy to see some thoughtful engagement of Chris’s work.

    I too am a bit bothered by the use of the word violent, and I myself prefer to talk about pluralism rather than interfaith (partly for the reason you mention, and mostly because it’s a broader philosophy for how we should engage with other people, rather than a specific and potentially narrow kind of group action we can engage in). I also think it’s a good point that atheists and believers work together without putting their religion or lack thereof at the forefront.

    But a lot of the case Chris makes for identifying around religion or atheism is that it helps solve a few problems. First, people are distrustful of atheists, so getting to know and see atheists in a positive light working from their values challenges anti-atheist stereotypes. More so at least than you would get just working with your neighbor with no idea about their atheism. Similarly, I think there are a lot of atheists who hold a lot of prejudice and misconceptions about believers (particularly among islam and muslims).

    Also I don’t agree that Chris doesn’t think criticism is permissible, he even says in his interview:

    “I do, however, think that atheists should be responsible, fair, accurate, and specific when offering robust criticisms of religious dogmas.”

    I think it’s a completely reasonable critique to say that often times atheists might go too far in their critiques of religion, paint with too broad of strokes (I recall Dave Silverman tweeting that Islam is barbaric), act too dehumanizing in their language, and so on.

    At any rate, I’m happy to see this post and sincerely appreciate that you took the time and made the effort to be charitable.

  11. Sastra says

    Some people have suggested I think atheists shouldn’t critique harmful religious beliefs, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Well, I think it could be further from the truth because Stedman seems to want us to divide religious beliefs into those which are “harmful” and those which are not — and thereby avoid the discussion on religious belief itself being harmful. A moral behavior which is based on one’s faith is like a moral behavior which is based on one’s pseudoscience: the intention may be good but there’s no telling where this intention will go. Does Stedman think that people with harmful religious beliefs know that they’re the bad guys? They don’t have skulls on their helmets. They, like the good religious, have a sacred symbol — and sincerity — along with their good intentions. The coin flipped the other way.

    It is only in the last few years (at least in the US) that it has become somewhat normal for atheists to say how and why they differ from and disagree with theists. I think that’s a healthy shift, and I find it unfortunate that other atheists already think it necessary to “prioritize” what was already the conformist majoritarian approach, which was not so much the pursuit of common ground as the dominance of one view at the expense of the other.

    Well put.

    Stedman’s faitheism reminds me forcibly of Greta Christina’s description of the Argument from Shut Up. In her experience, one of the most popular defenses of religious faith has nothing to do with providing evidence or reasons for believing in God. Nor does the apologist seek to criticize atheism. Instead, the defender focuses on giving reasons why the atheist ought to shut up. Not here. Not now. Not in this forum. Or that one, either. Not over here. Not over there. Not to people. Not to us. Not to me.

    Can’t we just get along? Why do you have to be so angry?

    Faith involves “choosing” what you want to believe, who you want to be. Every single religious and spiritual tradition holds that the person who wants to be an atheist is an ugly, narrow, mean sort of person, arrogantly telling others they are wrong. Not YOU, of course. But in general.

    Stedman apparently wants to support this in order to undermine it. If enough atheists just agree to disagree and focus only on the BAD religions and the BAD religious ideas — then the good religious will like us! We’ll have changed the stereotype.

    But those good religious define themselves not just against those who are not good and religious, but those who are not religious. They create the atheist stereotype to justify the importance of faith and the significance of God. And this negative caricature doesn’t disappear if only they can find a few faitheists who don’t even seem like atheists at all.

  12. says

    I think it’s actually pretty reasonable of atheists to suspect, whenever they hear someone telling them to ‘get along’ that what they’re really being told is ‘shut up’.

    Because it kinda goes with the territory, for an unbeliever, being told to shut up, a lot of places. Whether it’s the hard/backed by law ‘shut up or go to jail’ version you get where there are still active blasphemy laws, or the softer/backed by social sanction ‘shut up or we’ll shun you/label you straightway dangerous’ version that prevails a whole lot of elsewhere.

    And the ‘violent’ smear is of a piece. Excuses will be found to call your discourse ‘violent’ merely if you insist upon speaking up and saying you believe a given religion is hogwash (which, yes, incidentally, they generally are), or even, if they can get away with it, if you say clearly enough and visibly enough ‘I just don’t believe this’. And again, for the same reason.

    The point is: it’s reasonable to see certain sorts of pressure as one more way of saying ‘shut up’ because, frequently it really is just ‘shut up’. In this case, ‘shut up or we’ll smear your insistence upon not actually being effectively invisible as violent’.

    Religions are practiced at this, I think is the thing. They’ve probably always had dissenters in their own ranks, kids who blinked when first told this wasn’t all just meant to be taken as metaphor and fairy stories and said ‘Wut’, adults who grew out of it, converts who thought better of it, so on. And as institutions built largely to create cohesion in groupings larger than the pre-nation-state tribes, they wouldn’t, seriously, have been much good for their original purpose if they weren’t good at this.

    … and, of course, if you can actually enforce it, and people are forced by social convention regularly to attend your rituals, or if they’re just so ubiquitous they can’t entirely avoid them, it has additional utility: speech you rule out of bounds becomes, ultimately, thoughts people have a hard time even thinking, and, this is probably part of the point. And so the long game is: get people not to deny the creed today, to whisper or mouth the creed tomorrow, to say it out loud, next, and finally to convince themselves they actually believe it.

    … which, of course, is just one really good reason why atheists should, generally, when told to shut up, make a point of not doing so.

  13. says

    … and I’d like to point out that I wrote and posted my thing entirely without seeing Sastra’s, which wasn’t there when I began, so, umm…

    … I guess read it with that understanding, if the bits about the argument from shut up come up a mite repetitious in that new context, is all.

  14. Tim Harris says

    I think that what irritates me most is Stedman’s unexpressed, sentimental and wrong assumption that atheists are just another sect in the religious ‘marketplace’.

  15. Rodney Nelson says

    Stedman quoted in the OP:

    When I first became active in the atheist movement, I was taken aback by the degree of hostility I saw directed toward religion and, in many cases, religious believers.

    Stedman says that “harmful religious beliefs” should be critiqued but what if one (me, for instance) thinks all religious belief is harmful? Belief in delusions is harmful, especially if the theist acts on that belief. It’s not just the fundamentalists who believe harmful things. I had a quite liberal Christian explain to me that the Catholic bishops should be allowed to opt out of paying for insurance coverage of contraception because “it was against their beliefs.” The term for this type of theist is “enabler” and I have contempt for that sort of enabling.

  16. says

    Vlad – I bet I know why you “recall Dave Silverman tweeting that Islam is barbaric” – I bet it’s because Chris Stedman has criticised him for saying that in at least three articles.

    Also, of course, Islam is in many ways barbaric. There are Muslims who refect the barbaric parts, certainly, but that doesn’t make Islam totally non-barbaric.

  17. says

    Ophelia, I’ve actually written about it myself, but it was just a readily available and easily referenced example.

    I don’t deny that many aspects of islam, particularly as practiced in the middle east, is in fact very problematic. But can you see how it’s troublesome to characterize an entire religion practiced by nearly two billion people as barbaric? That maybe that’s overreaching and unjustifiable, and that it could in fact be very harmful and help to even further marginalize muslim communities in the U.S.?

    So I think it’s very easy to say “that type of criticism is broad, overly reductive, and harmful” without saying we shouldn’t argue that, for example, “how Imams talk about women in Saudi Arabia is oppressive.” That’s how I read Chris’s point, and I don’t think it’s fair to say he’s against criticism, or for telling atheists to shut up.

  18. says

    Vlad, I think it’s complicated. I don’t actually think that numbers should make a difference. Have you considered that perhaps numbers should make a difference in the other direction? The more people who “practice” Islam, the more dangerous the barbaric aspects become?

    It’s not just the Middle East, either. Have you not noticed that Pakistan has its unpleasant aspects? That Indonesia is getting more conservative, going in the wrong direction on FGM, etc? Somalia is not in the ME; neither is northern Nigeria; neither is northern Mali; neither is Afghanistan; etc.

    So no. I don’t think the fact that Islam is widespread should be used as a lever to make people say nice things about it.

    On the other hand yes, I do think there are risks of sounding like xenophobic nasties and doing more harm to Muslims in the US (and other places where Muslims are minority immigrants as opposed to the majority). But I don’t think Dave Silverman’s one tweet had much chance of doing that, and I think Chris’s repetition of it is itself a bit bullying.

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    My attempt to be impersonal, non-hostile, and fair.

    No good deed goes unpunished.

    I tremble to think of the consequences of this one.

  20. says

    Ophelia,

    I think we may disagree about specifics, but my point is only that at least it’s a defensible position for Chris to have– that criticism in principal is totally fine, but it can go too far (he even describes what he thinks appropriate criticism looks like). Whether this specific criticism goes too far might be up for debate (I’m happy to argue about it if you’d like; if you don’t just skip the next paragraph).

    I think it’s a fair concern to worry about numbers, and I certainly didn’t mean for my middle east comment to be exhaustive. And to be fair, FGM concerns aside, the countries with the most muslims in the world like Indonesia and India (for the most part) and Pakistan (less so, but all things considered impressively so) have very peaceful and relatively liberal and nonviolent muslim populations. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement, but its exactly those critiques that you’re making, (i.e. Indonesia is acting problematically with regards to FGM) that neither Chris nor I have a problem with. But to say “Islam is barbaric” is to either generalize an entire religion based on specific problematic aspects not all of its members adhere to (there are some very liberal muslims in the west, is their Islam barbaric??), or to treat religion in an essentialist way, where a religion just is its holy book (which no religious scholar would seriously consider, and I have trouble taking seriously as an argument).

    And come on, Ophelia! You of all people should know that criticizing bigoted comments doesn’t count as bullying! I don’t consider your criticisms of MRA’s bullying, and I truly do think Silverman’s comments are harmful towards Muslims (I feel uneasy about self-promotion, but if you care to read more about why I think it’s problematic, I wrote about it here. I suspect Chris sees them as problematic, too, which is why he cites it. I don’t think it’s fair to call that kind of criticism bullying at all.

  21. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    because I’m happy to see some thoughtful engagement of Chris’s work.

    Oh, stuff your backhanded compliments, Vlad. Is it your shared interest in passive-aggressive commentary that binds you and Chris as BFFs?

    You don’t like criticism of Chris that’s sharp, pointed, and uncompromising. By definition for you, that type is Not Thoughtful.

    Since everyone is striving hard to be dispassionate, I’ll be the Id in this thread. I think Stedman is not only wrong, I think he has a fundamental character flaw (this is nothing I haven’t said before). He’s a narcissist and a self-promoter. Logical and ethical coherence of ideas come second to him after promotion of Chris Stedman. His affectedly aw-shucks-I’m-nice-golly veneer is so thin and so transparently a device it regularly stuns me how many people are taken in by it, how many take it at face value.

    I’d trust Stedman less than I’d trust a declared enemy. Really. I know where they stand. To know if it’s safe to turn my back on Stedman I’d have to spend more time weighing the possible contextual outcomes for His Brand in any given situation than I have time to spare.

  22. says

    Pakistan, Vlad? Are you joking?

    There are liberal Muslims there, of course – Malala Yousufzai’s father being a lovely example. I’m friends with lots on Twitter. But the population? If you think that you really need to learn more.

    There’s a lot of exaggeration about how “liberal” and “moderate” places such as Indonesia are. (I don’t see anybody claiming that Pakistan is moderate these days.) But then you read Human Rights Watch reports and you realize what a low standard for “moderate” is being used.

  23. says

    I don’t know what was backhanded about my comment. I normally stay out of discussions about Chris’s work, because most comments come out like yours. I was legitimately appreciative of Ophelia’s post because I felt it was something I could seriously engage with. Contrast her post with your comment, which seems to be little more than vitriol and character attacks based on little that I can see, and I think my appreciation for Ophelia’s post makes sense. There’s nothing backhanded or passive-aggressive about that.

    There wasn’t a single argument or bit of evidence in that whole rant. But I’m not sure if I’d expect anything other than name-calling from you, Josh, anyway.

    Talk to anyone who knows Chris personally and they’ll say Chris is about as genuine as they get. No narcism, no golly-gee fronts. Even PZ says about as much

    He was a very nice guy, and he told some very nice stories, and he was just generally nice. Nice. Lots of niceness. A whole afternoon of nice.

    I have no idea why you seem so set on interpreting him as some narcissistic monster.

  24. says

    Ophelia,

    Certainly, I don’t think we disagree as much as you might think. My point is just that it’s far from barbaric, and that comments like Silvermans are legitimate to criticize, and such criticism doesn’t make you anti-criticism or pro-atheists shutting up.

    I think I’m about as sympathetic to Chris’s position as anyone can get, and I can’t agree with your criticisms about Indonesia or Pakistan more. But I don’t take those criticisms as indicative of Islam as a whole, and I don’t think it’s responsible to treat criticisms of specific aspects of religion to be generalized into something to condemn something broad.

    But again, this is all somewhat beside the point, because we can argue where the line is coherently. The fact is I hope we can agree that there is a line, and asking people not to cross it is not asking people not to criticize at all.

  25. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    which seems to be little more than vitriol and character attacks based on little that I can see,

    Vitriol? Not so much tonight (mind those exaggerations). Character attack? Yes. I am explicitly calling Stedman’s character into question. I get that you were going for an accusation of “ad hominem”, but I’m not questioning Chris’ character as a diversion to soften him up for another barb. My very point is questioning his character. Why does this shock you?

    But I’m not sure if I’d expect anything other than name-calling from you, Josh, anyway.

    I’m afraid you’ll have to do better than that. Name-calling is: “You dumb asshole,” “You moron,” etc. And it’s not always out of line.

    Asserting that someone is a narcissist obsessed with promoting his brand is not “name-calling,” Vlad. It’s acid, yes, and it’s not very nice; it’s not meant to be. But it isn’t name-calling.

    You need to understand that the stridency with which someone criticizes another is not inversely proportional to how reasonable the critique may be. You seem to confuse, “I don’t like this at all because it’s out-of-bounds in mainstream conversation to be that brutally honest and harsh” with “You’re emoting at a child’s level and offering no substance, so Serious People can dismiss what you say.”

  26. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Even PZ says about as much

    He was a very nice guy, and he told some very nice stories, and he was just generally nice. Nice. Lots of niceness. A whole afternoon of nice.

    Vlad, serious, honest question: do you know you have trouble detecting nuance and subtle dissaproval?

  27. says

    How presumptuous can you be, Josh. I wasn’t going for an accusation of “ad hominem” because there was no argument you put forward to distract from. I’m not assuming you have no good reasons for your judgment just because you say it angrily, but instead because it’s flatly false and based on little if anything that I can tell.

    I’m amazed you don’t think calling someone a narcissist isn’t name calling. You’re being the self-proclaimed Id of this thread, being “acidic,” but you don’t see that as vitriolic?

    I have no interest in arguing over just how mean you are. I’m hardly being passive aggressive. I’m hardly being backhanded with my compliments. And I think this exchange makes it clear why my appreciation for Ophelia’s post was sincere. Was her post not “sharp, pointed, and uncompromising?” What was it then? Frankly, insofar as your first comment gave me something to engage with, it was wrong. Insofar as it didn’t, it was vitriolic and pointless, and frankly I don’t have much interest in continuing a conversation. Not only aren’t you arguing in good faith, you started the entire conversation by painting me as backhanded and passive aggressive.

    And serious answer. PZ disapproves of how nice Chris is, but as far as anything I’ve read suggests, he doesn’t doubt his sincerity. But I’ll avoid speaking directly and confidently about his feelings.

  28. says

    Stedman calls for atheists and the religious to come together around interfaith work.

    And there’s my problem in a nutshell. If I’m engaged in anti-poverty work, I’m happy to come together with theists around that work. If I’m fighting racism, I have zero issue working with theists to fight racism. But… what business does any atheist have doing “interfaith” work? What the hell is that, anyways? Why would I as a nonbeliever do anything to bolster belief? And if the work isn’t about belief, why would it be labeled “interfaith”?

    We all know what it is, though. “Interfaith work” is the sort of thing where an ambitious glad-hander can be the token atheist and get invited to all of the big gatherings, asked to write articles as an atheist who reassures theists, and even get a book deal. It isn’t about building ANYTHING besides a personal reputation, for personal gain.

  29. fido darfbarker says

    I still wonder though. Will people who are working for a cause generally find out that a collaborator is religious? Will it normally come up? Is that more usual than people just concentrating on the cause more than on each other?

    Depends on the religious person. A couple examples from my own circle. My mom was religious and also did a lot of volunteer work. I don’t think anyone working with her would get any “religious” vibe. She just thought that helping people was a good thing, and she was good at it. She got it from her mother, and her sisters also did lots of stuff like that. They were often critical of local churches of their own demonination whose parishioners didn’t do anything except show up to be seen on Sunday (grandma even switched demoninations for a while because of this).

    Someone else of my acquaintance, OTOH, would be sure to announce within an hour or two at most that she was Christian, with some “Jesus Christ Our Lord” type proclamation, uttered loudly. (Funny thing about that sort of thing: at my mom’s memorial service the preacher used that phrase literally 6 times in 5 sentences as he began his remarks; I can’t remember mom ever saying it outside of a church-led prayer.)

    I’m with you on the working together business. Because it can’t be “interfaith” and include atheism. Stedman sidestepped that question I notice. Having atheists do “interfaith” work means atheists should join in church-led work. Fine if they want to, but instead why not just ask people to drop the personal for a bit for the good of a project?

  30. says

    Oh, and stipulate for the sake of argument that 80% of Muslims are moderates. Shit, go 95% for the sake of argument. Doesn’t matter. Islam IS barbaric.

    My parents are good people, hard working and self-sacrificing. They have bent over backwards for friends and family for decades, co-signing for deadbeat relatives and allowing family to stay with them for years on end rent-free. They donate to charity even though they don’t have any money, they don’t cheat people and they try to make the world a better place.

    They are also Christians. Christianity is barbaric.

    It doesn’t mean my parents are barbaric, any more that Islam being barbaric means that all Muslims are barbaric. But it also means that if they were to ask me to do something to support Christianity, I would say NO. If they insisted on wanting me to help them do a good thing in the name of Christianity, I would say NO. Because “interfaith” is support for barbarism, and I’m just not interested.

  31. Rodney Nelson says

    Vlad,

    I haven’t read Stedman’s book nor do I have any intention of doing so. However I read his Salon article. Narcissistic is a reasonable term to describe the author of that screed. Holey socks and unidentified canapes and golly gee willikers this is an impressive party. He certainly was proud of how humble he was. He spend a lot of verbiage describing how unassuming and modest he was compared to those noisy, uncouth, imposing New Atheists he was contrasting himself to. And did you notice the dialog read like an imitation of an Ed Wood movie? Do people actually talk that way? Not in my experience and I’m way older than Stedman.

  32. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    I’m amazed you don’t think calling someone a narcissist isn’t name calling.

    Vlad, this isn’t kindergarten. We have a more elaborated system of ethical judgments. Once again, because this is hard for you, accusing someone of having a serious defect in character—no matter how harsh that accusation—is not equivalent to “name-calling.”

    It’s known as criticism.

  33. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    And serious answer. PZ disapproves of how nice Chris is, but as far as anything I’ve read suggests, he doesn’t doubt his sincerity. But I’ll avoid speaking directly and confidently about his feelings.

    There are two possibilities, Vlad:

    1. You’re really that naive or stupid. Can you possibly have gotten through your undergraduate education with so few critical reading skills?

    2. You’re pretending to be unaware of the context and backstory of PZ’s criticism of Chris (actually, I know you are aware of it because you pop upped in it often like a Whack-a-Mole) so you can pretend you don’t see that quote is expressing doubt about Chris’ sincerity.

    Are you that dumb, or are you lying?

  34. says

    Vlad, numbers tell us nothing about how barbaric a particular belief system is. As Ophelia said, just because many (perhaps most… maybe) Muslims reject the barbaric aspects, that does not mean it is barbaric.

    That is something judged not by numbers, but by the religions themselves.

    I for one would argue that all three Abrahamic religions are barbaric. That is, Christianity, Islam, and even Judaism (which I identify with as a culture [though not the religion, obviously]) are barbaric.

    They are not Barbaric because of Christians, Muslims, and Jews. They are barbaric at their very core. Their holy books are barbaric. The cores of the religions set out in those books are barbaric. Their history is barbaric (except in the case of Islam, where the fanatics are barbaric now as opposed to ancient history; they gave us much in ancient history, after all).

    The followers can be as modern, loving, accepting, left-wing, and non-judgmental as they want; it doesn’t change the religions themselves, and that’s what’s barbaric.

    So when someone says Islam is barbaric, they aren’t talking about Muslims. They’re talking about Islam, and the Quran. And it is barbaric, regardless of how many forward, left-wing, accepting, non-bigoted, anti-Jihad Muslims you find. The ritual-habits of Muslims don’t change how barbaric Islam itself is, and the same holds true for Christianity and Islam.

  35. says

    Well, I guess we’ll get to see how sincere/smart Vlad actually is, since he’s had the whole “Islam is barbaric doesn’t equal Muslims are barbaric” thing explained very well by several people from several different angles.

    Will we see an admission that Vlad was wrong? Please?

  36. says

    Don’t be so melodramatic, Joe. I never made that conflation and if you read what I wrote you’d know I was arguing against generalizing a religion, not its adherents (though it certainly doesn’t help when those adherents are so stigmatized…). The criticising a religion, not its adherents is an appeal I’m well familiar with. I’m addressing what is and isn’t an appropriate and justifiable criticism of religion.

    I’m about to run out the door, but if anyone has any interest I’m happy to catch up or elaborate more tomorrow morning.

  37. says

    That type? Are you serious, Joe? I answered your “criticism,” which was a call for me to admit I was wrong for a claim I didn’t make. And are you honestly suggesting I lied about leaving to avoid answering you? First, don’t flatter yourself. Second, based on what evidence, exactly, are you calling me sad, a liar, and “that type?” Or do you often make gross accusations based on nothing?

    That you think it’s unlikely that a college-aged student visiting home for thanksgiving wouldn’t be seeing friends says much more about you than it does me. It says much more about how sad you are than it does me. It says much more about how condescending and presumptuous you are than it does me.

    I came here with a good faith effort to address Ophelia’s criticisms that I saw to be in good faith, and in response, commenters have done little more than provide responses to straw-men and personal attacks in return.

    You don’t know me, Joe. You don’t know what type I am. You don’t know how I spend my time when I’m home for the holidays. Get over yourself.

  38. says

    Vlad, I’ve got your number. You focused on a tiny bit of what I had to say, in order to avoid the larger point that everyone is making. You decided to respond to me PERSONALLY, and ignore all the points I and others have made.

    You probably think you’re a deep thinking and a really special person. You’re not. You’re the same as everyone else we deal with on the Internet who have more ego than evidence and try to substitute one for the other. So feel free to come at me on a personal level, and prove that you can’t address any of the intellectual points that smash you into the ground.

    “Good faith” my pasty white ass. You can’t honestly address criticism, because you lose.

  39. says

    Cut it with the arm chair psychology. Again, you don’t know anything about me.

    I was literally rattling a quick comment off before I left the house. I responded to you, “PERSONALLY,” because it was the most recent comment, it called me out, “personally,” and was egregiously and obviously wrong enough to address briefly. Do you want to admit you were completely off-based when you suggested I didn’t appreciate the difference between criticizing beliefs and believers? Because your comments suggest you didn’t actually understand what I said.

    Again, get over your self. Neither you nor anyone else has “smashed me to the ground” And I can’t honestly address criticism? What do you think I’ve been doing here? Did you conveniently skip the fact that Ophelia and I actually had a discussion about the issues here, and I responded to her posts?Did you read anything before you came in here asking me to admit I was wrong for a point I didn’t make?

    It’s obvious you have no interest at all in seriously engaging me, but rather want to call me names and shoehorning me into some preconceived box you have of me based on no evidence whatsoever. (I’m a type that lies about going out? You asked me to admit I was wrong for an argument I didn’t make? You think I can’t address any intellectual points or address honest criticism?) Try harder to lazily stereotype me, please, but excuse me while I pass, since you obviously have no interest in having an actual conversation when you’ rather try to fit me into some preconceived narrative of who I am.

  40. Snoof says

    I was literally rattling a quick comment off before I left the house. I responded to you, “PERSONALLY,” because it was the most recent comment, it called me out, “personally,” and was egregiously and obviously wrong enough to address briefly.

    [observation]
    And now you’re back and you still haven’t addressed any other point.

  41. John Morales says

    Q: What does the term “faitheist” mean? Is it a positive label or a derisive one?
    A: It’s one of several words used by some atheists to describe other atheists who are seen as too accommodating of religion. But to me, being a faitheist means that I prioritize the pursuit of common ground, and that I’m willing to put “faith” in the idea that religious believers and atheists can and should focus on areas of agreement and work in broad coalitions to advance social justice.

    But to me, a faitheist is an atheist who respects religion; i.e. one who sees no problem with religious faith per se.

    (And its original meaning was someone who has faith in faith)

  42. says

    I hope you won’t blame me that I got sidetracked by addressing someone who implied that I was a liar feigning a social life to avoid debating such a formidable author as himself, with intellectual points that “smash me to the ground.”

    So what have I got to respond to, exactly? Joe ignored any of my previous arguments to just call all abrahamic religions barbaric. Rodney just called Chris a narcissist based on the fact that Chris wrote about feeling uncomfortable and out of place at an atheist event (and considering how we know it’s not unheard of for them to tend towards the old, stuffy white men demographic, is it seriously that unbelievable?). Josh calls me some more names. Nate gives more of the same about all religion being barbaric while also taking me to have made an argument I didn’t (I never implied that Silverman was criticizing muslims.

    Because the only actual semi-argument I could make out was put forward a few times: how about we judge a religion based on how it’s practiced. Some muslims practice a barbaric Islam. Most don’t. Some Christians practice a barbaric Christianity. Most don’t. I see no reason to treat any Abrahamic religion as a monolithic entity perfectly encapsulated either solely by its holy book or by the worst practices of its most extreme adherents.

    So really. Someone please fill me in on where the heavyweight arguments I’m running from are. I very well might have missed them.

  43. John Morales says

    Vlad:

    So really. Someone please fill me in on where the heavyweight arguments I’m running from are. I very well might have missed them.

    I refer you to Sastra and AJ Milne above.

  44. John Morales says

    Vlad:

    I see no reason to treat any Abrahamic religion as a monolithic entity perfectly encapsulated either solely by its holy book or by the worst practices of its most extreme adherents.

    Here’s one: They are entirely based on Revelation*, the which historically has been (and currently is) interpreted by their priestly caste to suit their own predilections.

    * Someone’s unsubstantiated say-so.

  45. 'dirigible says

    “Stedman calls for atheists and the religious to come together around interfaith work”

    Atheism is a minority religious identity, you see, and minority identities banding together to challenge hegemony is good. Therefore atheists that refuse to support interfaith work are both evil and mendacious.

    I really, really, really wish I was making that argument up.

  46. Rodney Nelson says

    Vlad Chituc #45

    Rodney just called Chris a narcissist based on the fact that Chris wrote about feeling uncomfortable and out of place at an atheist event (and considering how we know it’s not unheard of for them to tend towards the old, stuffy white men demographic, is it seriously that unbelievable?).

    That’s not what I wrote. I did touch on Stedman feeling out of place but I mainly wrote about how he went out of his way to explain how humble and “just plain folks” he was compared to those haughty, contemptuous, supercilious New Atheists who didn’t hold religion in the same high regard as he did. After all, the nerve of some people, not willing to kiss theist ass like good old Chris thinks it should be kissed. Do you know some of those New Atheists don’t even think religious ass is kissing sweet?

  47. says

    On the earlier thread (I still haven’t completed my response to Croft), I described the position I’d like to see them take, seeking to confirm that Croft shared this view:

    You recognize our anti-faith work as positive and worthwhile, and understand – even agree with – the arguments for why it’s a political, ethical, and psychological priority. You don’t think labels are important. You don’t think we should be vilified for this, painted as not acting from positive values, accused of fomenting prejudice against ourselves, or told that we need to reevaluate and change course.

    Is that correct? If so, then, as I said, the person you should be arguing with publicly is Stedman. Because if these are your views, you should strongly object to his public statements (and those he endorses from others) about us and our anti-faith work.

    He replied that he does hold that view, and then went on to make this claim about Stedman:

    To me, what he does and says is generally compatible with the view you describe in the penultimate paragraph of your comment. I see his view and that view as non-contradictory. And, as such, I can with complete consistency defend him against a certain sort of criticism AND hold the views described here. In short, I see Stedman as criticizing a small subset of New Atheist activism for specific failings, not the general enterprise in which they are engaged. I do not think he prioritizes anti-faith activism very highly, but nor doo I think h lacks a commitment to its value: people can hold the same fundamental values yet prioritize them differently based on their own temperament and skillsets.

    Now, I ask you, does the evidence support the claim that Stedman has a commitment to the value of anti-faith work? That he supports it, thinks it’s rooted in humanistic values? I and others have already presented a good deal of evidence to the contrary. If he’s criticizing a small subset for specific failings, who and what are these, and how is he preventing people from generalizing from specific examples to the whole movement?

    At this point, in the face of Stedman’s history, in order for me to believe Stedman agrees with that statement I would have to hear him say so himself and see him follow it up with action consistent with that view. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

    Croft had also earlier claimed that anti-faith activism was among the activities HCH engaged in. I said I’d love to hear more about this, though it seemed inconsistent with the faithy interfaith statements and activities. Croft asked:

    Finally, on your view of what the HCH does re: anti-faith activism, a simple question: on the basis of what data are you making your judgment? How many of our events have you attended? Are you on our email list? Have you spoken with our members? On what basis do you make your judgment?

    I’d already said that my information might be incomplete, so asking about the basis for my “judgment” isn’t productive. If it’s really among HCH’s suite of activities as an organization, just provide evidence of it. That seems simple enough.

  48. says

    Some people have suggested I think atheists shouldn’t critique harmful religious beliefs, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    I’ve said several times that my problem is with the fact that he thinks that atheists shouldn’t argue against religious belief – against faith. He continues to dodge this basic point by trying to make it entirely about the content of specific beliefs.

    This “face” of atheism estranges many atheists who do not agree with the strategies and positions put forth by some of the more visible atheists. I believe it is counterproductive, and often harmful, to assume that being an atheist means you should focus your activism on trying to bring about the end of religion.

    Here he is explicitly saying that prioritizing opposition to religion is counterproductive, often harmful, and alienating. That’s not a specific criticism of specific alleged failings of a specific subset of atheists, but an explicit condemnation of a general enterprise in which many people are engaged. Especially when the next sentence tries to contrast this focus with his own:

    My top priorities as an atheist and a Humanist are promoting pluralism, education, and compassion

    He simply refuses to recognize the positive values at the heart of our (prioritizing our) opposition to religion/faith, despite these having been explained numerous times. Greta Christina has published a whole book about it, and there’s no justification for Stedman’s continuing to ignore all of these public statements.

  49. says

    John,

    Fair point on the revelation bit. I don’t think it’s quite so cut and dry, or that all abrahamic religions behave that way, but for the sake of argument let’s grant your point. That hardly seems grounds to call something barbaric, and that wasn’t the argument any of the commenters were putting forward.

    As for AJ and Sastra above, I already addressed the idea that this is asking atheists to shut up (it isn’t). I understand the apprehension, but I think it’s ultimately unfounded, and I didn’t read anything to convince me. As for Sastra’s first point that Chris wants to divide up religious beliefs, I think Sastra is treating religion a bit reductively, and I don’t think it’s quite a fair representation of Chris’s views. At least how I see it, it’s less harmful/beneficial religious beliefs and more moderate/fundamentalist believers. Interfaith work aims to curb fundamentalism, promote tolerance and secularism, and reinforce positive moral values. I think it’s somewhat of a bizarre concern to worry about whether believers with moral values will suddenly drastically shift their values to be harmful, just because fundamentalists with problematic beliefs have good intentions.

    Rodney,

    Chris never calls himself humble. He never talks about how great believers are. He never asks anyone to kiss anyone’s ass. He asks people to work together. Even if I grant that those things are true, that’s hardly grounds for calling someone narcissistic. And since it’s not true, and you seem more keen on caricaturing Chris rather than engaging with the substance of his position, I have a hard time taking your critique seriously.

    I think that’s all that needed responding to. Now are any of you willing to admit that Chris isn’t a narcissist? Or that Joe, you were extremely out of line and offensive to suppose you had my number, or type, and suggested I was dishonest and sad, faking a social life to run away from arguments. And, at this point, is anyone willing to admit that I’ve done nothing to avoid any criticism that, as Josh put it, is “sharp, pointed, and uncompromising.” Is anyone willing to admit that I’ve not been passive aggressive or backhanded?

    Because the latter half of this thread seems to me to be a long string of interspersed and weakly supported accusations about Chris and my character. If Joe, you’re going to call me out to “see how sincere/smart” I am, based on responses to an argument I didn’t even make, I think it’s only fair to expect the same from the comenters here.

  50. says

    Yes, I’ll agree that people jumped on you too hard. I think that’s because you have a history, and they were addressing that as well as the specifics of this thread. It’s much the same with Chris – he has a history, and we his critics are often addressing that as well as the specifics of any given article or blog post or book excerpt. I think that makes sense overall, especially with someone like Chris whose agenda and practice are pretty consistent…

    …but still, on this thread, let’s make an effort to err on the side of dispassionate argument, if only to show that we know how.

  51. says

    Thanks for the comment, Ophelia.

    I can’t help but feel it’s less a history and more of an association. I rarely go into comment threads such as this for precisely because of what has happened here (I can think of maybe 3 FtB threads I’ve gone into in the last year, two being yours in the past month or so, Ophelia). The fact that I support Stedman gets all this baggage suddenly tied to me, and unless I address every minute detail or absurd charge I’m somehow dodging or dishonest.

    And I don’t expect you or the commenters to treat each new discussion like it’s somehow an isolated bubble with no context whatsoever, but when the common narrative about Chris and his work is so distorted (exemplified in this thread by suggesting that he’s a narcissist who’s against criticism and for asking atheists to shut up), it’s frustrating to have that following any new discussion.

    So I’m becoming quite appreciative of the dispassionate approach, if only because it leaves some of that (to my mind unwarranted) baggage somewhat aside.

  52. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Vlad, you can’t avoid the fact that for some (me, for instance), Chris’ character is the issue. If I don’t trust his motives and I think they’re self-serving, why do you expect that not to color the commentary about him and his work?

  53. says

    Vlad, I think in turn you should try to understand that people do have reasons for thinking for instance that the Salon excerpt from Chris’s book is marred by a lot of self-flattery.

    You know him, and you’re very confident that in reality he’s not like that. Fine. But his writing does give that impression to more than one person. We’re not just making it up.

    Writing is writing. It makes an impression. What was Chris doing with all that stuff about the fancy appetizers and the shabby clothes and the rest of it? He was creating an impression. I think he did a pretty bad job of it because it’s so unsubtle, but maybe I’m wrong, because there are plenty of unsubtle readers in the world. But at least in my terms, he did do a bad job of it. He made it way too obvious that he was loading the dice in his own favor. He does that a lot (in his writing). It’s an irritating habit.

    So no – the “narrative” (and I say it isn’t a narrative, it’s an analysis or discussion) is not distorted. Chris’s own narrative of self may be what’s distorted – he may present himself as more self-flattering and self-conscious than he appears in real life. But that’s not the fault of his critics.

  54. says

    Josh,

    First, you came into this thread throwing insults and character attacks at me, before you even addressed Chris. Are you willing to admit those were ungrounded and out of line? I’ve responded to nearly every charge you’ve put against my character, and you conveniently move on to address something else. I’d appreciate it if you’d back up and address it. Am I passive aggressive? do you still think I shy away and don’t appreciate pointed criticism? Do you think I’m backhanded? an idiot? a liar?

    At least in this thread, all you’ve done is say how much you dislike and distrust Chris in various creative ways. You haven’t actually provided any reason to take your character assessments seriously. “I think Chris is a narcissist and don’t trust him” really isn’t a productive addition to a new conversation, “I think Chris is a narcissist because x, and this should frame this new information in y way” is.

    So if you expect me to take the (patently false) idea that Chris is a narcissist seriously, then back it up. Here’s the DSM criterion for narcissistic personality disorder. Go at it

    1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
    2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
    3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
    4. Requires excessive admiration
    5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
    6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
    7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
    8. Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
    9. Shows arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes.

    The most I’ve seen anyone point to is that he’s a “self promoter” (how so, exactly? Any more so than anyone else who has just written a book? he doesn’t exactly go around kissing ass to his detractors just so they like him and will recommend his book). Or that he expressed an “aww shucks” attitude when he grew up poor and was at an atheist event in Chicago, which, again, can be stereotypically stuffy and geared to the affluent old white men demographic. Am I seriously supposed to take a charge that a friend of mine I know personally is a narcissist based on that?

  55. says

    Ophelia,

    That’s fair, but I think it’s a far cry from “he’s self-flattering” to “he’s narcissistic.” And considering it’s a memoir, at a first atheist event that I don’t doubt might have been particularly bad, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize him for feeling out of place, harping about the holes in his socks, or the pretentiousness of the people at the party, when he did grow up poor, and he was a college-aged broke hipster. I don’t think it’s a front at all.

    I certainly may not be reading it impartially and objectively, but I think it’s fair to point out that the narrative that chris was a self-obsessed ass-kisser who wanted atheists to shut up existed long before that Salon essay. I think it’s completely fair to note that people came out Chris originally very harshly with off-base preconceived notions (I remember years ago you said you thought Chris wasn’t actually an atheist. I don’t doubt you’ve changed your mind, but I think its’ fair to point out that knee-jerk reactions to Chris’s work aren’t necessarily or that often rooted in what he actually writes or believers).

    So even if there is some truth to the interpretation of his writing that I might be incapable of seeing because it’s colored by my own interpretation of Chris as a person, I think his writing hardly justifies charges of narcissism.

  56. says

    Vlad – narcissistic does not equal having narcissistic personality disorder. It’s just an ordinary language adjective for being too interested in oneself. Stedman’s writing does betray a lot of interest in himself and his self-presentation.

    He could have said he felt out of place and that the people seemed pretentious, without saying it so clumsily and obviously self-flatteringly. Really: he could.

    The “narrative” has been around for awhile (it’s not all that long – he hasn’t been around all that long) because of things he wrote. It’s not something that just popped up out of nowhere.

  57. says

    Also – you talk of preconceived notions. That’s absurd. How could they be preconceived? The notions came from reading what Stedman wrote. Nobody had any preconceptions about him, on account of not having ever heard of him before reading what he wrote.

  58. says

    Ophelia, point well taken. Psychology research has me perhaps a bit too literal-minded about words like narcissism. I disagree that he’s a narcissist in the ordinary-language way, but it was silly of me to expect a clinical diagnosis from Josh.

    But if it exists in his writing, it’s something I haven’t noticed and would like to see cited. If his description at a party clumsily focused on how uncomfortable and folksy he was, I still think that’s far from narcissism.

    The point of my last comment was just to point out that these narratives very well may be based on his writing, but I think it’s clear that a lot of points about Chris tend to come more from preconceived biases or knee-jerk reactions. Do you think your charge that Chris wasn’t an atheist was based on a fair reading of his writing?

    So I think it’s fair for me to be suspicious of particularly extreme claims about Chris.

  59. says

    That’s fair, but I think it’s a far cry from “he’s self-flattering” to “he’s narcissistic.”

    Not really, and his buddies who insist every single flaw can’t possibly be real don’t help that perception one bit, frankly.

    hipster.

    Just an fyi, that word usually means ‘rich person pretending to be poor’, not ‘poor person’.

    who wanted atheists to shut up existed long before that Salon essay.

    This part, at least, has been supported by people already, though, so I don’t know why you’re listing it with allegedly untrue narratives.

    I think his writing hardly justifies charges of narcissism.

    …it’s not a capital offense, nor do people mean narcissistic personality disorder (I should hope), it’s a personality flaw. Of note, it’s one well evidenced by writing yourself as a Mary Sue who is only disliked by Bad People, with only endearing flaws…

  60. says

    Also preconceived meaning fitting Chris into an archetype he doesn’t exist in. That is, reading Chris superficially and just saying, oh, he’s one of those types, then making up your mind and shutting down.

    There has been pushback against “believers in belief,” or atheists who tell other atheists to shut up and never criticize believers, and so on, for a while now. It’s easy to just gloss over the nuance in Chris’s writing to just shoehorn him into that stereotype. That’s what I mean by preconceived notions. Sorry if I expressed that clumsily.

  61. says

    Psychology research has me perhaps a bit too literal-minded about words like narcissism

    You know what ‘literally’ means narcissistic personality disorder? Narcissistic personality disorder. The adjective long predates the disorder.

    But if it exists in his writing, it’s something I haven’t noticed and would like to see cited. If his description at a party clumsily focused on how uncomfortable and folksy he was, I still think that’s far from narcissism.

    Again, writing yourself as Mary Sue and presenting it as the unvarnished truth of the real world is actually really narcissistic.

    but I think it’s clear that a lot of points about Chris tend to come more from preconceived biases

    I’d never once heard of him (and remembered him) until the salon excerpt.

    So I think it’s fair for me to be suspicious of particularly extreme claims about Chris.

    “You’re a narcissist” is not extreme.

    It’s easy to just gloss over the nuance in Chris’s writing to just shoehorn him into that stereotype.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/11/prioritizing-agreement/#comment-355156

    It’s easy because he writes to it. As if he were actually doing it. Because he is.

  62. says

    Ophelia, I’m not saying that all of Chris’s detractors came to their positions like that. But just saying “these narratives came from somewhere” doesn’t mean that it all is grounded in a fair reading of his writing.

  63. says

    When you wrote:

    Writing is writing. It makes an impression. What was Chris doing with all that stuff about the fancy appetizers and the shabby clothes and the rest of it? He was creating an impression.

    I think it’s fair to say he was creating an impression. I don’t think you can get to an impression of narcissism without some preconceived baggage.

    Similarly, you can read his writing that’s critical of some atheist criticisms of religion, and get an impression. I don’t think you can get from that impression to the idea that he wants atheists to shut up and never criticize believers without some preconceived baggage.

    I’m not saying there’s no grounding at all for any criticisms of Chris, but I think many are marred by baggage that isn’t in his writing.

  64. says

    Vlad, I suggest you do a search for Stedman’s name and Ophelia’s blog, and read the sorts of things we’ve been responding to from Stedman and his guest bloggers over the past couple of years. I’ve quoted from and linked to them in my posts addressed to James Croft, and I don’t have time to go through them and reiterate my objections again now. The fact is that he’s spent many months not only bashing us but using this bashing as a means to promote himself as the good, ethical atheist. The fact is that he doesn’t deign to respond to our replies to this public condemnation and misrepresentation, but instead lets people like you and Croft show up to whine about how horribly mistreated he is by the mean gnus and claim he’s not saying what he plainly and consistently has been saying for months. The fact is that the story he tells in his excerpt doesn’t ring true, and that what does shine through in it is that he arrogantly went into his first atheist event as a young student hoping primarily to condescendingly educate people with more experience and knowledge than he has. The fact is that the HCH web site’s “About” page asks readers to “Imagine [humanist centers] led by gifted individuals who have been trained as experts in Humanist thought and best practices, using collaboratively developed how-to road maps for developing such centers.” That comes across as remarkably arrogant. The fact is that Stedman’s vaunted compassion and pluralism haven’t seemed to extend to gnu atheists (the titles of the guest posts I linked to above are “Why do we need new atheists?” and “A newer atheism,” and their calls for us to shut up or change our ways are clear…and clearly arrogant).

  65. says

    Vlad. You need to stop saying that, or else explain exactly where any “preconceived baggage” could have come from if it didn’t come from Stedman’s writing.

  66. says

    Ophelia,

    It can come from a lot of places. It could come from stereotypes about accomodationists. It could come from a place of defensiveness–it’s hard to read attacks with nuance. There are a lot of places it can come from. I don’t feel particularly interested in or justified in playing armchair psychologists over why Chris’s detractors hold such strong opinions.

    I asked where you got the idea that he wasn’t an atheist. That might provide some insight. I’m not trying to say where these came from though, just that baggage like this always exists and it influences how we interpret anyone’s writing. Are you suggesting that any judgement of anyone is based solely on their writing? That we never make any assumptions or knee-jerk reactions? I didn’t realize it was so controversial a claim to make, I’m sorry if it offended.

    I’ve certainly read some writers with preconceived ideas of what they were arguing, when they were actually putting forward a more nuanced position. It happens.

  67. aziraphale says

    I’ve re-read Stedman’s article in Salon. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the description “narcissist” would have occurred to me if it hadn’t already been raised here. I thought he was being open and honest about his experiences. Except, perhaps, where he writes

    ‘They raved: “Wasn’t it wonderful how intelligent the panelists were and how wickedly they’d exposed the frauds of religion? Weren’t they right that we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths?”’

    Clearly he is not quoting anyone’s actual sentences, so his use of quotation marks is misleading.

    That said, there is a lot wrong with the article, some of which Ophelia covered well at the start of this thread. I don’t recognize his description

    “this so-called New Atheism — the kind that singles out the religious lives of others as its No. 1 target”

    as applying to Dawkins or Dennett. Dawkins in particular seems to be concerned with two questions: firstly, is religion true? and secondly, what effect do peoples’ religious beliefs have on the lives of others – including their children?

    How can you be an atheist and not have those concerns?

  68. says

    I’m certainly saying that any judgement of anyone who is a complete stranger and unknown quantity has to come from writing if writing is the only source. I knew nothing of Chris Stedman until I read something he’d written.

    Where did I say he wasn’t an atheist? If I knew that I could probably tell you what I was thinking.

  69. says

    So to drudge up old history, it just really struck me at the time.

    I’ve had a look at Chris Stedman’s blog, NonProphet Status. It becomes clearer why he’s so hostile to atheists: he’s not an atheist himself, and he’s the religious kind of humanist as opposed to the non-religious kind

    Some of the rest of your writing seems like you’re on the fence, but you go on to say in the comments


    See? He specifically doesn’t say he’s an atheist, and he’s all over religious believers like a bad rash. I say he’s not an atheist.

    And I didn’t mean to direct it at you personally, but have you never misread an argument as saying something stronger than it was? I often find myself and try to stop myself from doing that. there have been a few times where I’ve started reading and saying “oh, he’s making this kind of argument” when really it’s more nuanced.

  70. says

    Stedman says that “harmful religious beliefs” should be critiqued but what if one (me, for instance) thinks all religious belief is harmful?

    That’s a good, relevant question.

    And yeah, religion, not just religious belief, in my mind, is intrinsically harmful. Perhaps less so if the surface social values taught are less brutally regressive, but still bad news, even when you’re teaching a lovely little flowers and rainbows peacenik god, as opposed to the traditional old testament genocidal hairy thunderer.

    And note also that pure, unadulterated flowers and honey peacenik gods are probably fairly rare anyway, even in the comparatively tamed ‘mainstream’ Christianity of the west. There, at best, you tend to get a rather more confused picture, with the hairy thunderer still turning up, just somewhat less regularly, and you rarely get as clear a picture of just who invited him, exactly, anyway. But it’s kind of hard to avoid this, when the theoretical doctrine is that the canon is the revealed word of the god, in some form or other, and that charming murderer of firstborns is all through the mess of it. You can soften this (and give yourself wiggle room to explain it while still maintaining doctrine miles and millenia away from this history) with official dogma suggesting human understanding distorting some we-promise-you much lovelier cosmic truth on the way to the vellum, but a kid growing up in the faith is still pretty likely to wonder just what the hell (if you’ll pardon the expression) the official story is, and may well not get a particularly straight answer, anywhere, as these are complicated, evolving practices and groups, and rarely forthrightly throw out anything so much as conveniently seem to forget it, as outside social practice makes it more and more uncomfortable to defend.

    And, of course, the more literalist and extremist faiths are still pretty much omnipresent, anyway, merrily insisting that if you fail to believe the official story, and do not obey the god we present, you’re going to hell for eternity, quite possibly with graphic descriptions of this experience. Nor is this necessarily the usual bad actors and minority sects and NRMs it happens to be most socially convenient to blame: you can get a lovely, (un)healthy dose of that right in a mainstream Catholic congregation.

    It’s a mite inhumane, if a kid takes it at all seriously, you might just want to suggest, and, of course, those unruly gnus have suggested it, irresponsible troublemakers as they are.

    But again, effectively, I’m digressing there, anyway: the point is, even when or if this is properly put out to pasture, and the religion starts teaching, oh, okay, our god doesn’t do that, our god is an energy field made up of love and puppies and cuddly hamsters, and honestly, would never, ever torture anyone for eternity, pinkie swear, and look, this isn’t even our bible, whoinhell brought this hoary, blood-soaked old relic in here anyway, you still have a problem.

    And the problem isn’t minor. The problem is, when you start concocting energy fields made up love and puppies and hamsters, you still have the epistemological problem of just where that energy field came from, whyinhell you ever imagined that in the first place, just how you know it’s there. And at that ugly interface with the real world, where teens, especially, start to ask awkward questions about transparent, wishful thinking stuff like that, things frequently get a mite unruly.

    A guy in a thing I was at about a week ago was pointing this out (oh, and by the way, I worry in an I assure you sincerely and deeply and gushingly concerned aw shucks fashion that our rough, naive prairie flower Stedman would have been terribly uncomfortable there, as I recall many of us even used silverware and everything), it so happens: that it’s very often adolescents who show up as the canary in the coal mine, there. The adolescents who get kicked out of the house or disowned or forced to shrug along in sullen silence until they can move out and generally treated like trouble because they refuse to go along. And, again, in the actual theocracies and places that are close enough to have those living, breathing blasphemy laws around, they’re also the ones frequently running afoul of those on Facebook, getting themselves jail sentences, so on…

    It seems to me, and has long seemed, that religions are fundamentally inhumane, almost no matter what they teach, for generally this reason. Teaching revealed wisdoms with an authoritative lash ready to herd back inside those who notice it doesn’t add up, it’s naturally going to lead to misery the world could do without, and regularly does.

    And even without the lash–and honestly, again, this is probably a purely hypothetical and nearly useless thing to imagine, as it tends not to happen much in the real world, and for reasons probably generally surrounding the ongoing social role of religions, but anyway–even without that lash, it seems to me, they’re still generally pretty hard on the brain. Look at the Anabaptist sects where it’s theoretically the case the adolescent can choose to live English, and frequently don’t, but then look at why. When the outside, secular world is a strange place you were never much introduced to, and in which you have no community, and you’ve been told your whole life the holy way is our way, this winds up not much of a choice.

    The reality is: as a point of adherence/mark of belonging for a community, a revealed dogma at odds with the evidence of the world presents a lot of messy problems. You can argue there may have been (and may still even be) particularly ugly reasons for this, even: that a badge of belonging that merely requires you to swear to the self-evident (imagine a Nicene Creed in which it is declared only that the sky is frequently blue) doesn’t require much commitment from the individual, nor is it much of a show of the surrender of their independent discernment as a demonstration of loyalty, and so does not serve much function.

    Either way, teaching a religion, in my mind, is intrinsically unethical, and there is a certain underlying cruelty therein. And it’s not about specific religions, so much, as about the fact that they are religions, and that this is how religions work.

  71. says

    It can come from a lot of places. It could come from stereotypes

    Indeed. Like when Karla McLaren determined that The God Delusion was written “not just with anger, but with rage; not just with sadness, but with despair; not just with fear, but with gut-wrenching terror.” Since there’s no evidence of this in the work itself, it probably derives from some deep prejudice or agenda of hers (or maybe from her not having actually read the book…).

    But when you have strong public evidence that people have been responding to explicit public statements and writings, it doesn’t make much sense to speculate about alleged psychological sources of their views.

  72. says

    Sure, SC. I’ve not pretending it’s something only the other side does. In fact I think I’ve been pretty open with the fact that it’s something I find myself, doing, too.

    I just think it’s important to be cognizant of the fact that often times we read more into the writing than what’s there.

  73. says

    And I think we’re all cognizant of that, Vlad. It’s when you attempt to tell others that their impressions are likely rooted in their psychological or cognitive failings rather than recognize that they could well be rooted in real experience that you run into problems. You can dispute the evidence, but you shouldn’t just assume you have all of the relevant evidence or the only correct interpretation and that others must be reading into it.

  74. says

    Well it seems like Ophelia is arguing that biases don’t creep in if we’re just interpreting writing. That’s all I’m arguing for.

    I don’t think Chris’s writing supports the idea that he’s a narcissist or thinks atheists should shut up and that religious criticism is always bad. But when Ophelia says that these notions come from somewhere and that place is his writing, I can only point to the fact that sometimes we read into things that aren’t there. I’m not assuming I have all the relevant evidence, or that I have the only correct interpretation.

  75. says

    Vlad @ 73 – well speaking of baggage and not reading impartially and so on…

    You left out all the context, the comment where I made it clear that I was interpreting, and so on. You left out this comment -

    Michael says Stedman is an atheist, but Stedman doesn’t call himself an atheist on his About page.

    http://nonprophetstatus.com/about-the-author/

    A graduate of Augsburg College with a summa cum laude B.A. in Religion, Chris is a blogger for the The Huffington Post Religion, where his work is among the most commented in the site’s history, and is the youngest panelist for The Washington Post On Faith. His writing has also appeared in venues such as Tikkun Daily, The New Humanism, and more. Previously a Content Developer and Adjunct Trainer for the Interfaith Youth Core, Chris is a secular humanist working to foster positive and productive dialogue between faith communities and the nonreligious.

    That’s a lot of religion-stuff for an atheist, do admit.

    Chris was raised in a secular home but converted to Evangelical Christianity after being invited to church by friends at 11 years old. After years of wrestling with Evangelical theology and his sexual orientation, Chris left the Christian tradition and spent some time exploring. Eventually he recognized that he was a Secular Humanist, and today he works to advocate for the mutual respect of religious and non-religious individuals.

    See? He specifically doesn’t say he’s an atheist, and he’s all over religious believers like a bad rash. I say he’s not an atheist.

    My point was that he apparently didn’t self-identify as an atheist and that he shied away from the word. Maybe he’s stopped doing that now, but he apparently was doing it in January 2011.

  76. says

    Well it seems like Ophelia is arguing that biases don’t creep in if we’re just interpreting writing.

    I don’t think that’s what she’s saying. (And on the subject, I want to be clear that I brought up McLaren not to point out that “the other side” does that, but to give an example of a case when the evidence very obviously refutes a reading and it becomes useful to look for the reasons someone has wrongly interpreted something. That isn’t the case here.)

    I don’t think Chris’s writing supports the idea that he’s a narcissist or thinks atheists should shut up and that religious criticism is always bad.

    Other than the first, those aren’t really correct versions of what people are saying. With probably a few exceptions, people are saying that Stedman has been suggesting that gnu atheists shut up or stop doing what we’re doing and change our priorities and that he condemns our vocal and sustained prioritized opposition to religion and faith in general (as opposed to what he deems the most harmful specific beliefs and practices). People have provided evidence for all three of these. That you don’t recognize that as a reasonable interpretation of Stedman’s public statements and endorsements most likely results from your friendship with him.

    :)

    But when Ophelia says that these notions come from somewhere and that place is his writing, I can only point to the fact that sometimes we read into things that aren’t there.

    But that’s a general statement. The problem is that you’re misapplying it here. There is evidence you know is available that she’s long been responding to his words. She quotes them and responds. That’s true of others of us as well. Sometimes people do read in things that aren’t there, but if you think that’s what’s happening here (overall – not in isolated instances) then you need to address the actual material that’s been responded to and the responses themselves.

  77. says

    A graduate of Augsburg College with a summa cum laude B.A. in Religion, Chris is a blogger for the The Huffington Post Religion, where his work is among the most commented in the site’s history, and is the youngest panelist for The Washington Post On Faith.

    Narcissist.

  78. says

    Yikes. God. It certainly is.

    This in particular –

    the Emeritus Managing Director of State of Formation at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue

    Emeritus director?? Of a blog?

    Well in that case I’m the Royal Emperor Admiral Chief Justice CEO Archbishop Dictator Supreme of Butterflies and Wheels. So ha.

  79. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    It’s laughable that the charge of narcissism is what has Vlad so worked up. Dude, do you fucking read the florid prose Chris writes about himself? It’s embarrassing. And your refusal to see it and instead keep crying about unfair “character attacks” is embarrassing, too.

  80. Rodney Nelson says

    Emeritus Managing Director

    The guy just can’t hold a job.

    Seriously, I have no problem with Stedman growing up poor. My father was a commercial fisherman (he didn’t own a boat but was hired on a per trip basis). After I graduated from high school I did commercial fishing as well.* Canapes were not something found in the Nelson household or places frequented by Nelsons but holey socks were.

    Fortunately for me I was drafted into the Army in the late 1960s and afterwards went to college on the GI Bill. My degree is in accounting, not because I have any fascination with accounting but because I knew I could get a decent job as an accountant.

    Stedman isn’t the only one who grew up poor.

    *Jon Campbell discussed the financial aspect of being a commercial fisherman in his song “Keep On Fishing”:

    You think you’d died and gone up to Heaven
    If you could get a job at 7-11.

  81. says

    Ophelia, I don’t think it’s fair to accuse me of biased reading. If I left out context, it was for the sake of brevity. I simply quoted the relevant sentences and linked for context.

    But I think my reading was a very natural one. It’s weird for you to say that he’s a “religious” humanist, that he’s “not an atheist,” that his bio is steeped in religion, and so on, when you’re actually trying to say he just shies away from the term. And when you say he doesn’t seem to use the word, you seem to be marshaling that as evidence that he’s not really an atheist.

    It also seems like your interpretation is a position you come to later in the comment thread, where you say “Well, ok, I guess, maybe…but an atheist who is reluctant to identify as such and does so only when pushed.” At least how I read that, it seems like you accept that chris really doesn’t believe in God, but doesn’t like to admit it.

    If you didn’t intend the post that way, can you at least see how the way you worded it might be confusing?

  82. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Vlad,

    Certainly, I don’t think we disagree as much as you might think.

    What is this, the catch-phrase of the accomodationist?

    ***
    Fuck but I am sick of the insistence that all those who criticize The Great Stedman must be doing so, not on the basis of what they have read from him, no, no no, but rather from some misreading, preconception, or bias. That MUST be the case, since if we actually understood what the not-at-all-narcistic Emeritus Managing Director was saying, then we would all find ourselves in agreement.

    It is so fucking insulting. As has already been pointed out. Cut it the fuck out.

  83. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Was there ever any response given to this?

    Stedman says that “harmful religious beliefs” should be critiqued but what if one (me, for instance) thinks all religious belief is harmful? Belief in delusions is harmful, especially if the theist acts on that belief.

  84. says

    Woo,

    It was specifically in reference to Ophelia’s criticism of FGM in Indonesia. My point was only just because I think it’s wrong to call Islam writ large barbaric, doesn’t mean I don’t disagree with specific criticisms like that. Perhaps I framed it in a trite way, but I don’t think it expresses the same cliched “accommodationist” sentiment you’re referencing.

    And I don’t know if anyone responded, but Chris said this in the interview:

    “I do, however, think that atheists should be responsible, fair, accurate, and specific when offering robust criticisms of religious dogmas.”

    So if you think all religious belief is harmful, criticize it in a way that’s fair, accurate, and specific. I might disagree, but I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with expressing criticism about religion writ large, but at least in my experience, more often times than not, such critiques get overly reductive and lazy. But this is more an issue of practice not principle.

  85. says

    Oh, blargh, Vlad. It’s not “weird.” It’s certainly no more weird than your insistence that nobody could possibly simply read what Stedman writes and reasonably think it’s tendentious and badly argued.

    You’re not the best possible witness on the subject, you know, given that you blog at Non Prophet Status.

    It was almost two years ago and I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking. I’m not sure if I was saying he wasn’t an atheist, just factually, or if I was saying he’s not really an atheist even if he thinks he is.

    Given his relentless hostility to overt atheism, I don’t think it’s a bit weird to conclude that he distances himself from atheism in general lest he be mixed up with the overt atheists. I also think if he is an atheist he shouldn’t be that hostile to overt atheism, unless he’s the kind of atheist who longs to be able to believe (but people like that generally don’t call themselves atheists).

    It’s not weird. You just think it is because you think Stedman is so close to perfect that he shouldn’t be criticized or disputed.

  86. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    And yes, Chris has relentlessly been hostile towards overt gnus. Despite the fact that he sometimes makes remarks along the lines of, “I think criticizing religion is valuable”, he still spends an awful lot of time criticizing vocal anti-theists.

    If he wants me to accept that he values anti-theism, he needs to stop shitting on it.

  87. says

    Come on, Ophelia, I’ve been trying to do my best to be fair here and engage you and the rest of your commenters in good faith. I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that I’m some Stedman-worshipper wanting to shield him from all criticism.

    I’ve never said Chris was close to perfect. I never said he shouldn’t be criticized or disputed. I don’t have issue with people reading Chris and thinking its tendentious and badly argued. I have a problem with people reading Chris and drawing far-out and unjustifiable conclusions. Narcissism and being anti-criticism are two I’ve mentioned a few times now, only because they’re most readily available.

    I’m obviously fine with people criticizing Chris–I didn’t come in here asking you not to criticize him, but I engaged with you, appreciative of your fair and dispassionate treatment of his position. I’m happy to see Chris’s ideas challenged, because I think they’re good ideas, I care about them, and they’re ideas I support. What I’m not happy about, though, is to see any discussion of Chris’s work inevitably descend into jabs at his personality or writing style. Or now the contents of his “About” page.

    My only point about your questioning whether Chris was an atheist was that sometimes a knee-jerk reaction of someone’s writing can lead you to weird conclusions. I think it’s entirely understandable to have a knee-jerk reaction to an atheist criticizing atheists and working with the religious. If you had such a weird conclusion (as I read you to have), it’s certainly straightened up over time, and I’m glad for that. I’m not suggesting that all critics of Chris’s work are misreading him, or jumping to conclusions, or are just going off some knee-jerk reaction. But it happens. We can disagree about how often, but that was my only point.

  88. says

    Woo,

    If Chris thinks gnus are harmful and wrong, would you expect him not to criticize them? I’ve noticed something of a double standard, where criticism is meant to be the way you show respect to someone you disagree with. But when Chris criticizes atheists, he’s “shitting” on them, or “throwing them under the bus,” or something else like that. Chris isn’t doing anything to gnus that you wouldn’t expect him to do (or criticize him for not doing) to believers he thinks are wrong or with harmful beliefs.

    As for his purported hostility, I don’t think Chris has shown a fraction of the hostility towards gnus as they’ve shown to him (or to believers, for that matter). If strident criticism is something gnus value, then they should be able to accept it in return without crying foul.

  89. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    If Chris thinks gnus are harmful and wrong, would you expect him not to criticize them?

    So which is it, does Chris value anti-theism, or does he think it is harmful and wrong?

  90. Rodney Nelson says

    If Chris thinks gnus are harmful and wrong, would you expect him not to criticize them? I’ve noticed something of a double standard, where criticism is meant to be the way you show respect to someone you disagree with.

    Stedman is the one requiring criticism to be “responsible, fair, accurate, and specific” but his criticism of gnu atheists doesn’t meet these specifications. Rereading his Salon article I notice Stedman is good at passive-aggressive sneers at gnu atheists but weak on specifics.

    Stedman says he wants to build working relationships with theists. That’s fine, go for it Chris. But he certainly does not have the same attitude toward other atheists, particularly those who don’t share his enthusiasm for actively building bridges with theists.

    I’ve noticed one major difference between gnu atheists and accommodationists like Stedman. The gnu atheists are willing to let the faitheists suck up to theists, kiss their asses, and otherwise roll in the mud with them. However the accommodationists won’t let us do our thing. Accommodationists like Stedman are all in favor of playing nice with theists but won’t play nice with us. Tell me, Vlad, why is this? Why doesn’t your hero give gnu atheists the same consideration he does to theists?

  91. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    I’ve noticed something of a double standard, where criticism is meant to be the way you show respect to someone you disagree with.

    The double standard is in your head. For fuck’s sake, I don’t think Chris is out of bounds in criticizing gnus. I disagree with his criticisms. Not that complicated.

    I am not “crying foul” at the idea of being criticized. I am disagreeing with his assertions.
    ***
    The “Chris is shitting on gnus” comment wasn’t meant to chide Chris for criticizing gnus. It is meant to point out that the facile claim that gnus and accommodationists are actually all in agreement about everything, and that Chris is all for hearty anti-theism is false. By his actions, Chris is an opponent of anti-theism.

  92. says

    Woo, why can’t it be both?

    Here’s a passage from the Salon article

    Although I believe that many New Atheist critiques of religion are correct and have helped many people find liberation from oppressive beliefs, some of these critiques have also often neglected to account for the full range of religious expression and have resulted in segregation that has parsed the religious and the secular into opposing camps.

    On my reading, he sees the value in it and is criticizing the harmful aspects. I was of course too general by saying gnus, he doesn’t criticize all gnus and I think made it pretty clear what he sees as the problem.

    Rodney,

    My hero? Could you please tone down the melodrama. Chris gave specifics in the passage I quoted above, and in the interview where he laid out what he thought proper religious criticism looked like.

    And would you accept “we believers are happy to let you atheists do your own thing, so why can’t you return the favor to us?” Of course you wouldn’t, because if you see something as wrong and problematic, you’d make an effort to fix it. I still can’t help but see this as a double standard–they expect their behavior to religion not to apply right back to them. They expect Chris to do what they deride him for supposedly doing to believers–shut up with te criticism and just let them continue being wrong and problematic just so everyone can get along.

  93. says

    I don’t think Chris is out of bounds in criticizing gnus. I disagree with his criticisms.

    Woo, you said

    Chris has relentlessly been hostile towards overt gnus. Despite the fact that he sometimes makes remarks along the lines of, “I think criticizing religion is valuable”, he still spends an awful lot of time criticizing vocal anti-theists.

    If he wants me to accept that he values anti-theism, he needs to stop shitting on it.

    How am I supposed to interpret that exactly? Because it sounds like you’re objecting to him spending his time criticizing anti-theists. Does “shitting on it” mean something other than criticism? Because my reading of that sentence is something like “chris should stop being critical of anti-theists,” which seems fair to me since Rodney’s comment criticizes Chris for not having the same attitude towards gnus as they have towards him–a “you do you” type thing.

  94. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Re-read that last sentence of mine that you quoted. Here, I’ll help you comprehend by bolding it a bit.

    If he wants me to accept that he values anti-theism, he needs to stop shitting on it.

    Do you still need me to explain how you are missing my point?

    Bash ant-theism all you want. I will not necessarily agree with your criticisms, but of course, if you think it is harmful, say so and justify that claim. Just don’t shit on anti-theism and tell me that you value it at the same time.
    ***
    Seriously, Vlad, you find this response persuasive?

    Woo, why can’t it be both?

    Name something that you believe is harmful and wrong but that you also value. I am curious.

  95. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Because my reading of that sentence is something like “chris should stop being critical of anti-theists,”

    Then your reading skills are atrocious. You think my statement,

    If he wants me to accept that he values anti-theism, he needs to stop shitting on it.

    is equivalent to, “stop being critical”? No, it means, stop telling me you value X, while constantly publicly criticizing X.

    It makes you look dishonest.

  96. says

    Woo,

    I think I made it pretty clear. In practice, he sees some anti-theist criticisms to be problematic and harmful. He sees the value in it, though, and he praises it while noting the problematic aspects. He criticizes those in the hopes that the problematic aspects would be fixed.

    I still can’t help but see this as a problem with being criticized. I can say “the education system in the U.S. does a lot of good and I support it, but I find our method of standardized testing problematic,” without being contradictory at all. That doesn’t mean I’m shitting on the education system, but just criticizing the system of standardized tests.

  97. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    I’ll be extra-redundant for the hard of reading. Yes, one may criticize anti-theism. I accept that it is respectful to criticize someone’s view that you think is harmful. That doesn’t mean I have to accept any given criticism and agree with it. Disagreeing with some line of criticism does not mean I disagree with someone’s right to criticize, or with the concept per se of criticizing one my my pet-issues.

    Stedman shits on anti-theists. This is all fine and dandy (the fact that he is criticizing. I still do disagree with many of his specific criticisms). But, it is NOT alright to shit on anti-theists and at the same time pretend that you are buddy-buddy with them, value them, actually are not very much in disagreement with them anyways.

    Piss. Leg. Raining.

  98. says

    I have a problem with people reading Chris and drawing far-out and unjustifiable conclusions. Narcissism and being anti-criticism are two I’ve mentioned a few times now, only because they’re most readily available.

    Dude. He wrote himself as a Mary Sue. You are going to have to do a lot better to deflect that he is a narcissist than “I say it’s unsupportable”. It isn’t. I mean for fuck’s sake, he calls himself an emeritus director, which is reaaaaaally fucking arrogant, but that’s entirely secondary in my book. He held himself up as someone who only has lovable flaws.

    If Chris thinks gnus are harmful and wrong, would you expect him not to criticize them? I’ve noticed something of a double standard, where criticism is meant to be the way you show respect to someone you disagree with.

    “Harsh criticism of thee, but not for me” is the norm for Chris, why shouldn’t we extend him the same courtesy?

    I’ve got no issue with harsh, substantive criticism directed at gnus. Chris, IME, is notably lacking the ‘substantive’ part.

    Woo, why can’t it be both?

    Because you can’t find the entire approach wrong and harmful, and also insist it has ‘value’.

    How am I supposed to interpret that exactly?

    Was that unclear? Generally people don’t spend their time hammering in flaws in things they value; even fewer are so quick to distance themselves from something they like while constantly demeaning it.

    And while I could perhaps accept Stedman was a generally hostile, cranky person if I didn’t know him at all and had NEVER seen any of his writing, the face he puts on to the religious puts the lie to this notion. He treats us fundamentally differently, and it isn’t a friendly kinda different.

    Chris gave specifics in the passage I quoted above,

    That is the opposite of fact. A specific would be “This exact thing was done wrong, and here’s why’. What you quoted does not detail a particular thing.

    and in the interview where he laid out what he thought proper religious criticism looked like.

    If ‘proper’ religious criticism looks nothing like what gnus do, and is the only way to do it, do you not see how that would seem to preclude ‘gnus have value’?

    I still can’t help but see this as a double standard–they expect their behavior to religion not to apply right back to them. They expect Chris to do what they deride him for supposedly doing to believers–shut up with te criticism and just let them continue being wrong and problematic just so everyone can get along.

    This’d be far more thrilling if he were actually hammering gnus on real problems gnus have, but he ain’t. I’d love if there were more folks like Sikivu or Crom who can say “Uh, gnus, you are being racist assholes”, for instance, but he’d rather wring his hands over white christians.

  99. says

    Woo,
    I’m not saying accept all criticism. But it doesn’t make any sense to respond to criticism by saying it’s equivalent to throwing gnus under the bus or shitting on them. And you may be fine with Chris criticizing gnus, but that seems to be exactly what Rodney’s criticism was.

    And I’m not sure when Chris said any of that. He in fact says hes supportive of critique. It seems strange to expect that he must accept ever aspect of anti-theistic critique in order to find it valuable. He can say “it’s valuable, but not in these cases” without being contradictory at all. And that’s basically exactly what he said in the Salon article.

  100. Rodney Nelson says

    My hero? Could you please tone down the melodrama.

    When your hero stops talking about his socks then I won’t call him your hero anymore.

    Chris gave specifics in the passage I quoted above

    I suppose you’re referring to this:

    …some of these critiques have also often neglected to account for the full range of religious expression and have resulted in segregation that has parsed the religious and the secular into opposing camps.

    That is the least specific example of specificity in captivity. What’s the “full range of religious expression”? Give specifics! Then have your hero explain exactly where lies the dividing line between religious expression which may be criticized and that exempt from criticism. Then he should explain why atheists and theists aren’t in opposing camps. They specifically believe in gods, we specifically don’t. That seems pretty divisive to me.

    and in the interview where he laid out what he thought proper religious criticism looked like.

    Oh yes, he was “taken aback by the degree of hostility” gnu atheists (that’s who he was talking about) direct towards religion. So what? I’m taken aback by the degree of hostility your hero directs towards other atheists. Of course we’re not the “good” atheists who do the “interfaith” thing with theists. Maybe we don’t do interfaith because we don’t do faith and have nothing but disdain for those who do do faith.

    Perhaps you missed my post #17 (the pertinent part has been quoted a couple of times since then):

    Stedman says that “harmful religious beliefs” should be critiqued but what if one (me, for instance) thinks all religious belief is harmful? Belief in delusions is harmful, especially if the theist acts on that belief.

    I have criticisms of all of religion. Every part of it. Without exception. And I specifically reject atheists trying to find commonality with theists on faith. As others have explained, that doesn’t mean atheists can’t work with theists on non-religious projects. But “interfaith”? Atheists don’t have faith. It’s one of the qualifying marks of atheism.

  101. says

    When your hero stops talking about his socks then I won’t call him your hero anymore.

    That is actually one of the biggest nonsequitors I’ve ever read in a while. “Unless this person stops doing this thing that’s actually not really a big deal, I’m not going to stop making an unrelated claim about you that’s dismissive and totally false.”

    I have criticisms of all of religion. Every part of it. Without exception. And I specifically reject atheists trying to find commonality with theists on faith

    Great. Then criticize Chris for that. Don’t criticize him for criticizing some gnus for “not letting you do your thing” when he thinks they’re just as wrong as you think he is.

  102. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    But it doesn’t make any sense to respond to criticism by saying it’s equivalent to throwing gnus under the bus or shitting on them.

    Fucking read what I write. I am not responding to his criticism by saying he is shitting on anti-theism. I am responding to his claim that he values anti-theism by pointing out that he shits on anti-theism.

    This is the last time I am going to correct your obnoxious misreading of this simple point.

  103. says

    And I’ve said just as many times that he’s not shitting on anti-theism, he said straight out that it’s valuable, but he criticized some aspects of it as how it’s sometimes practiced as problematic. I’ve said about three times by now that you can see the value in something while criticizing an aspect of it.

  104. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    It’s so bizarre how Chris has these tenacious (if not very effective) defenders but he rarely rarely responds to any criticism himself.

  105. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    It’s so bizarre how Chris has these tenacious (if not very effective) defenders but he rarely rarely responds to any criticism himself.

    Wherefore art thou Croft?

  106. Rodney Nelson says

    That is actually one of the biggest nonsequitors [sic] I’ve ever read in a while.

    It was a non sequitur. So what? Your hero’s interview was full of them. Why can he indulge in non sequiturs and I can’t? Oh yeah, that’s right, he does the interfaith thing and I don’t. So he’s above criticism and I’m not.

    BTW, free spell checkers are available on the internet. You might consider using one.

    Great. Then criticize Chris for that.

    I have. I invite you to read my post #17 in this very thread.

    Don’t criticize him for criticizing some gnus for “not letting you do your thing” when he thinks they’re just as wrong as you think he is.

    As Sastra (#12) and AJ Milne (#13) point out, Stedman isn’t criticizing us. He wants us to shut up because we’re oppressing the persecuted, downtrodden, dispirited theists who quake in fear every time a gnu atheist says: “Where’s your evidence for gods?” I know in #52 you claimed that’s not what your hero wanted but I don’t think you really understand what Grand Interfaith Atheist Chaplain Stedman wants. He really, truly wants us to shut up.

  107. says

    Rodney,

    What am I meant to get from your comment exactly? I’ve asked you twice now not to refer to Chris as my hero because it’s false and dismissive, and you respond by continuing to do it while needlessly pointing out a modest typo (I notice you didn’t correct Woo’s misuse of “wherefore”). You readily straw man me as saying Chris is above criticism, when I’ve been saying this entire thread I don’t think that’s true. You claim Chris is telling you to shut up, when I’ve addressed the idea a half dozen times by now.

    Frankly, this is little more than bullying on your part. I’ve done noting at all to earn abuse from you or anyone else here. If you’re not going to even pretend to have a respectful dialogue I won’t waste my time.

  108. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    I’ve said about three times by now that you can see the value in something while criticizing an aspect of it.

    And I have said that one can claim to value something, but by their actions* show that they do not value that thing.

    Piss. Leg. Raining.

    *in this instance, constantly bashing anti-theists

  109. says

    ? I’ve asked you twice now not to refer to Chris as my hero because it’s false and dismissive,

    You know what would have helped a lot in avoiding that? Not referring to calling Stedman a narcissist as ‘unsupportable’. Now, I understand you disagree, what with being a friend. That’s one thing. It’s entirely another thing to look at the incredibly arrogant things he writes, and then say it’s unsupportable from those things? You’re not going to leave people with the idea that you can brook criticism of Stedman.

    Frankly, this is little more than bullying on your part.

    No, it’s at the point of mocking. Bullying requires a little more than making fun of your points or even your character. Especially if you want that word to carry the weight of recent national conversations on bullying.

    This crap is why I had to stop saying atheists were alright with the gay.

  110. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Oh fuck, I just re-read Ophelia’s “Just a shy kid with holes in his socks post”.*

    I forgot just how absolutely terrible Chris’s writing is. Can anyone honestly read Chris’s story, as quoted in the below link, and not see him as narcissistic, arrogant, and dishonest? That dialogue is the most unbelievable, self-serving, obviously made-up, excrement that I have ever read**. How that fuck can anyone stomach, much less believe, that trite shit?

    The claim that Stedman is narcissistic is extraordinary, is it? Bullshit.

    * http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/10/just-a-shy-kid-with-holes-in-his-socks/

    **Wait, second worst, I once read parts of Glenn Beck’s Overton Window, just for the giggles and shits.

  111. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    This dialogue rings true to you?
    Emeritus Managing Arch-champlain Grand Master Bridge-Bilder Stedman,

    I had never heard the word “faitheist” before, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.

    I blushed and ran my hands through my short hair — a nervous habit — and cleared my throat, asking if it was intended to be an insult.

    “Yes,” he said without inflection. “There’s nothing worse than a ‘faitheist.’”

    ***

    “You’re not a real atheist. We’ve got a name for people like you. You’re a ‘faitheist.’”

    ***

    I introduced myself and asked what they’d thought of the panel. They raved: “Wasn’t it wonderful how intelligent the panelists were and how wickedly they’d exposed the frauds of religion? Weren’t they right that we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths?”

    ***

    I was stonewalled: “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost,” said the woman with a flick of her hand that suggested she was swatting at an invisible mosquito.

    ***
    This last, bolded one, rivals Ed Wood. This is so bad, if I didn’t know any better, I would think it was supposed to be facetious. No? He actually wants us to believe his story? Bullshit.

  112. screechymonkey says

    Woo@118:

    This last, bolded one, rivals Ed Wood.

    Oh, I’m going a step farther. I’d say we’re in Ayn Rand territory. Those “quotes” from the meanie atheist types sound a lot like Rand’s dialogue for the evil moocher villains in her novels.

  113. Rodney Nelson says

    Fine, I won’t refer to Stedman as “your hero” any more. Too bad “your lord and master, whose writ is law and who must not be doubted in any way” is too much of a mouthful.

    You readily straw man me as saying Chris is above criticism, when I’ve been saying this entire thread I don’t think that’s true.

    Actually you haven’t been saying that. In fact you’ve been deflecting all criticism away from Stedman, claiming that we’re not being fair to him, we’re misinterpreting him, and despite all evidence to the contrary he’s not in the least bit narcissistic.

    You claim Chris is telling you to shut up, when I’ve addressed the idea a half dozen times by now.

    I’ve reread all your comments on this thread and despite your claims to have refuted it, #52 is the only place where you actually address the “shut up gnu atheists” claim. Here’s the totality of what you said on the subject:

    As for AJ and Sastra above, I already addressed the idea that this is asking atheists to shut up (it isn’t). I understand the apprehension, but I think it’s ultimately unfounded, and I didn’t read anything to convince me.

    “No he’s not” is not a convincing refutation. Sastra’s post #12 lays out the case for Stedman wanting us to shut up quite well. AJ Milne’s #13 reinforces Sastra’s eloquence.

  114. says

    So if you think all religious belief is harmful, criticize it in a way that’s fair, accurate, and specific.

    How is this supposed to make sense? I’m criticizing religious belief as such. Of course, specific beliefs can be independently and specifically criticized, but in the context of opposing faith a key point is to not discriminate amongst beliefs on the basis of content. It’s about belief as an epistemic practice and relationship.

    Chris isn’t doing anything to gnus that you wouldn’t expect him to do (or criticize him for not doing) to believers he thinks are wrong or with harmful beliefs.

    The Sojourner episode gave him an opportunity to show his views (or just remain silent). Here’s what he did.

    And I’ve said just as many times that he’s not shitting on anti-theism, he said straight out that it’s valuable, but he criticized some aspects of it as how it’s sometimes practiced as problematic. I’ve said about three times by now that you can see the value in something while criticizing an aspect of it.

    Read my #51 above.

    Stedman:

    I believe it is counterproductive, and often harmful, to assume that being an atheist means you should focus your activism on trying to bring about the end of religion. My top priorities as an atheist and a Humanist are promoting pluralism, education, and compassion

    Lovley, in his guest post:

    If atheist activists care about progress and the betterment of the human condition, perhaps the ‘deconversion’ of theists should not be prioritized, but instead the promotion of humanistic values. Our socio-political agenda should not include or be premised on the universalization of our atheistic world-view.

    Both of these quotes say that prioritizing opposition to religion – open, vocal opposition to religion/faith and the active promotion of atheism – are wrong and contrary to positive values. They are explicitly condemning our priorities and activism as such. You can continue to ignore this, but it’s perfectly consistent with what Stedman’s been saying all along.

    Or now the contents of his “About” page.

    That page is plain evidence of narcissism.

    You need to stop making claims that are contrary to the evidence we’ve seen for a couple of years. It’s making you sound dumb, Vlad.

  115. says

    What’s fascinating about the Sojourners episode, on later reflection, is how apt it shows the title of this post to be. In that case, it appears that many of those Stedman criticized were progressive religious people who wanted nothing to do with condoning bigotry or leaving it unchallenged. So it wasn’t really about religion vs. atheism, but about a fixation with abstract accommodation itself. When your commitment to ecumenicalism, accommodation, and avoiding conflict overrides your basic commitment to real people and opposing bigotry, you have a serious problem, especially if you want to call yourself a humanist.

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