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Feb 29 2012

The (un)Friendly Atheist

I like Hemant Mehta. I really do. He’s a passionate advocate and organizer who regularly makes significant and positive contributions to the secular/atheist community (far more than, say, someone like me does). His blog is a regular read for me, which is saying a lot because these days I barely have time to read this one. He’s actually been gracious enough to offer me a guest post in response to what I thought was a particularly terrible contribution by an ISSA member. Gallingly, however, Hemant posted something today that was so uncharacteristically incurious as to drive me to take out my ass-kickin’ boots again. I don’t like ragging on people who I (otherwise) respect and like, but this piece was beyond the pale:

If you read the blog posts and Twitter comments about Chris [Stedman], though, you’d think he was a religious man in atheist clothing. Or that he’s delegitimizing our work. Or that he’s undermining our goals. He’s not. He’s as much of an atheist activist as the rest of us. He just practices it by focusing on cooperation and conversation with people of faith instead of beating his chest with both fists and proclaiming his superiority.

Some day, and I hope it’s soon, we will finally be able to take this straw atheist who beats its chest and bellows defiance (instead of providing reasoned argument in opposition to a thoroughly-debunked meme) out behind the woodshed and put it out of its misery. Then maybe, just maybe, folks like Hemant will be able to muster up the restraint to stop attacking it.

I don’t know Chris Stedman, I’ve never had any interactions with him, and I don’t really care if I ever do. The same goes for Alain de Botton. I say this to forestall any accusations that I am getting personal – this argument could be about anybody. The problem with the approach that guys like Stedman and de Botton take has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they want to co-operate with believers. This has been pointed out so many times it’s hard to pick just one example to link to, so I will let you pick your favourite. Sure, were I in a particularly uncharitable mood I’d suggest that collaboration with an oppressive force like religion is a good way of preserving privilege in exchange for token concessions, but I recognize the willingness of many believers to counteract bigotry even when it comes from within their own ‘camp’.

The problem I (and others) have with Chris Stedman is that he spends a good chunk of his time shitting on the rest of us for doing it wrong. It is the same with Alain de Botton’s latest sack of excrement, so ably taken down by JT. Stedman and de Botton whine in endless paragraphs about how we “New Atheists” attack a caricature of religion instead of addressing what people actually believe (made more ironic by the fact that they actually do believe that shit), then pivot on a dime and spout lie after lie after lie about us instead of… y’know… addressing what we actually say. And it appears Hemant has no more restraint than they do:

de Botton later made headlines when he said “the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is ‘true.’” WHAT?! BUT THE TRUTH IS ALL THAT MATTERS! said a bunch of atheists in response. They seemed to ignore the part…

Now I’m not above a little hyperbole for the purpose of illustration or ridicule, but I’m also aware that if I am going to disagree with people who are otherwise my friends, it’s usually not a good idea to straw man their position. Go ahead. Read those posts and identify for me the part where Martin or JT or PZ say that unless religion is scientifically proven it accomplishes nothing. I’ll wait (no I won’t, that would be stupid – this is a written document). The point that they make, pretty clearly, is that believers repeatedly assert that not only are their beliefs true, but that facts that don’t fit their beliefs must be wrong. If it were the case that nobody actually thought Jesus was the son of God, that Mohammed was the final prophet of Allah, that Yahweh granted the land of Israel to the Jews –  if any of those things were generally true, then Stedman and de Botton would have a point. But it isn’t. So they’re idiots.

These last two paragraphs were so twisted backward that I had to re-read the whole piece 4 or 5 times to make sure I didn’t miss Hemant’s thesis:

They’ll call you names* or take your statements far more literally than you intended so that you’re thoroughly humiliated in front of people who will never read your works for themselves. (Though, to be honest, if you offer an opinion of any sort online, people are going to go after you.)

Why am I saying all this? Because it’s not necessary to treat these atheists like they’re not on our side. They’re not hurting our cause. They’re with us. They’re not the enemy.

Hemant. Buddy. You’re talking to the wrong people. You’ve held the arrow and fired the bow. You’ve pulled the grenade and thrown the pin. It is Stedman and de Botton and their ilk who (along with you, perplexingly), have decided to demonize your own allies. We criticize Stedman and de Botton for the same reason we criticize Ray Comfort and Ken Ham – because they have shitty arguments that don’t make sense once you think them through. The reason why we go apoplectic on them is because they have decided that the quickest way to grant legitimacy to their positions is to go after other atheists. We are never the ones who are starting it, and I gotta tell you Hemant, I’m a bit hurt that you chose to chastise us for responding to an attack and hold up Chris Stedman as the paragon of reasoned discourse.

I am, by the way, not hostile to the idea that the secular realm can borrow from traditions that have been developed by religious institutions. This has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I agree with Mr. Stedman or Mr. de Botton. This is about an attempt to ritually sacrifice people who are advocating for you because you think there are points to be scored for looking ‘reasonable’. This is about shitting on your friends, and then turning around in the next breath and accusing us of ‘dividing the movement’. This is about the hypocrisy of declaring that we don’t listen to our opponents, while all the while spinning elaborate fables about our positions.

I’m disappointed in you, Hemant. I thought you were better than this.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

*And can we please untwist our knickers about name-calling? This isn’t the schoolyard – nobody gets a time-out for using a bad word. You want to make a name-caller look foolish? Call hir on it and refuse to reciprocate. Done.

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  1. 1
    Martin Wagner

    The short version is that Hemant’s (a guy I admire myself) and others’ rebuttals to our posts attacking Stedman and de Botton is that they amount to little more than tone trolling. Why are we militant atheists so angry!?!?

    I’ve had to tell people many times on our blog: If de Botton’s only position was as benign as his defenders insist it is — that there are some practical benefits religion offers most people’s life experiences that secularists could stand to emulate — he wouldn’t be drawing so much ire. What’s made me and PZ and so many others chamber our sidearms is the way de Botton has shored up his argument: by making a blanket devaluation of the lives of all atheists and secularists as barren, sterile wastelands devoid of joy, warmth, human connection or anything like wonder and awe. And that we are bereft of those things because we’re hung up on a “boring” little irrelevancy like truth, being cold and emotionless Mr. Spocks. We have no appreciation of art, gratitude, or even morality. And while those may not be things unique to religion, we don’t have them because we’ve willfully closed ourselves off to them and have no desire to establish secular alternatives to them.

    Frankly, with such a contemptible set of foundational falsehoods rooting his whole agenda, I’d say I was being quite charitable in only calling Alain de Botton a “f–king moron” three times in my blog. Or was it four? Who’s counting…except the tone trolls?

  2. 2
    The Nerd

    I’m a member of a nontheist unchurch 100 years older than I am. http://www.ethicalstl.org/ The problem Ethical Societies around the globe have is that people are either talking about us in Chris Stedman-like terms or not at all. Not that nobody’s doing any talking. It’s just that there seems to be prejudice from religious types that we’re all watered-down or going to hell, as well as from anti-theist types that we’re all boosting up religion or sheltering nonsense. Typical reactions when I mention the Ethical Society to people is that they’re amazed they never heard of it before and wish they had one near them, or else “ew, church” (which I can understand how it might be triggering to some). But the fact remains that people everywhere keep calling for the invention of an institution that already exists and is just being ignored. The need is there, but nobody is able/willing to connect the people to the fulfillment of that need.

  3. 3
    WilloNyx

    Fantastic post. I was not too surprised by Hemant’s position on this and it won’t make me stop reading him. However, I still find is disappointing. No one is perfect though.

  4. 4
    Crommunist

    It would take a lot for me to stop reading Hemant. It doesn’t take nearly as much for me to criticize him though.

  5. 5
    Desert Son, OM

    Thank you.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  6. 6
    WilloNyx

    This. In two sentences you surmised one of the things I love about skepticism. I don’t deify anyone. I weigh their relative utility based on their past and present behaviors, and I make no bones about criticizing people I may otherwise respect when they stray into positions I do not respect.

    Hemant is a pretty smart fellow and I hope will take this criticism for what it is. A criticism of position and not an attack on his character.

  7. 7
    Crommunist

    I don’t deify anyone

    You should feel free to deify me, if you want. I promise to be a benevolent Supreme Being, and I promise to have a better track record of answering your prayers than the leading national competitor.

  8. 8
    WilloNyx

    I can worship your mad prose skills and pray that some of them rub of on me as I grow as a writer. That and offer some otter vids as a tribute to your awesomeness.

    However if I happen to disagree with you, I will surely let you know. (If it is something more serious than general aesthetic preferences of course.)

  9. 9
    Crommunist

    INFIDEL!

    Which, coming from me, is a compliment.

  10. 10
    Carlie

    I’ve noticed that the people who are the most accommodating and the most likely to take up the mantra of “the most important thing is to agree and work together and find the good in religion, and everyone else is soiling the bed” are the people who don’t have a lot to lose if religious people get their way.

    They’re mostly not overly poor, so the ideas that God Hates Communism and we have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and how Jesus said the poor would always be with us are things they can wave away as a bit of disagreement. They’re overwhelmingly not female, so having reproductive choice taken away is just a thought experiment to them. They are mostly from larger metropolitan areas where they haven’t experienced the shunnning and isolationism that can be forced on a person who doesn’t agree with the majority religion in the town.

    In short, they have the privilege of being able to treat religious people nicely and “get along” so well because they aren’t under direct threat. Fine, go ahead, play nice and hopefully it gets them a ways. But please, accommodationists, stop throwing the rest of us who actually do have parts of our lives at stake under the bus.

  11. 11
    WilloNyx

    In our home we call talk like that foreplay.

  12. 12
    Crommunist

    I should hang out at your house more often then!

  13. 13
    WilloNyx

    As soon as you find out that I am in Tennessee, you might change you mind.

  14. 14
    Crommunist

    Your powers of prognostication are considerable.

  15. 15
    WilloNyx

    What can I say? I got skills.

  16. 16
    mynameischeese

    Strawmen are boring. It’s weird to see people saying that atheists should study religion and know what they’re arguing against, when those same people don’t even read the new atheists before arguing against them. Double standard?

    And: “collaboration with an oppressive force like religion is a good way of preserving privilege in exchange for token concessions”

    That’s basically what I think when I see self-haters, like John Humphrys.

  17. 17
    JT Eberhard

    I’m buying you a pizza.

  18. 18
    Crommunist

    I LOVE pizza.

  19. 19
    Findcaster

    That’s not a Straw Man. That’s PZ Myers. And he proudly declares himself superior. And, he is.

  20. 20
    lancefinney

    Hey, I go there, too! We should get together sometime ;)

  21. 21
    Laurence

    I understand why people use harsh language but don’t be surprised when people do not react well when it is used, especially towards people who disagree with you. It doesn’t seem fair to call Stedman and de Botton “idiots” when they merely disagree with you. Smart people can make terrible arguments. Smart people can also disagree with other smart people.

  22. 22
    Crommunist

    It doesn’t seem fair to call Stedman and de Botton “idiots” when they merely disagree with you

    Not everyone who disagrees with me is an idiot. Everyone who disagrees with me for an idiotic reason is. If you’re bringing me a “fool-proof” proof of creation that ends with “…then why are there still monkeys?”, you’re an idiot. I’m not going to mince words and act like we just see things differently and there are good points on both sides – your reasons for your position are stupid, and if you weren’t an idiot you would have bothered to think before speaking.

  23. 23
    The Nerd

    Along with what Lawrence is saying: http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd/2012/02/27/ableism-in-atheism/

  24. 24
    Laurence

    It really doesn’t seem like you are trying to be at all charitable to de Botton’s work. I don’t know if I agree with a lot of what he’s saying (I’ve only seen the TED talk and haven’t read the book), but he really doesn’t seem like an idiot. Maybe his argument is bad, idiotic even, but I don’t think that you have enough evidence to legitimately call him an idiot.

    And come on, it’s pretty silly to compare what he’s talking about with creationist nonsense.

  25. 25
    Jessie

    I agree wholeheartedly – it is just privilege. At what point do accommodationists actually challenge the religious status quo? Is it only when their own interests are threatened?

  26. 26
    Crommunist

    Why on EARTH would I try to be charitable to a man who completely misrepresents me and the scores of others who believe and write as I do? His arguments are there for you to read. I link to JT’s takedown – go read it.

    What makes it silly to compare them?

  27. 27
    Crommunist

    I disagree with your assertion that “idiot” is ableist, and I am not going to let this get derailed into a conversation about name-calling. In a post that is longer that 1100 words, I use the word ‘idiot’ ONCE.

  28. 28
    James Croft

    We should so talk about Ethical Culture sometime. I would be SO up for a reinvigoration and resurrection of Ethical Culture if I thought it possible, but when I offered to train as an Ethical Culture leader I was told 1) get tot the back of the line and 2) don’t bother anyway becaus the Society is on the way out. And this form Ethical Culture leaders themselves. I REALLY want to speak with Ethical Culture leaders about this, because they have such resources at their disposal which are not always as well-used as they might be. And it’s a proud tradition. They deserve to hold their head high again.

  29. 29
    Carlie

    The real problem is that you used a period at the end of almost every sentence in your post. Everyone knows periods are confrontational.

  30. 30
    Crommunist

    How foolishly provocative of me :(

  31. 31
    James Croft

    No. And this is precisely the point where I disagree. Having idiotic reasons for a belief doesn’t make you an idiot, and it doesn’t make it acceptable to call someone an idiot. It CERTAINLY doesn’t make it acceptable to call someone an “Uncle Tom”, an “Uncle Mary”, a traitor, a pearl-clutching madam with a case of the vapors, sickening, despicable, vomit-inducing, spineless, a stooge, a closet theist, a bootlicker, an enemy.

    And THAT is the language which is used. If you want to defend these voices against Hemant’s criticism, defend THAT. Be honest enough to recognize the actual language used to attack people like Chris and, to a lesser extent, me.

  32. 32
    James Croft

    But name-calling is part of the issue. It is what Hemant is talking about, partly, in his post. How we talk to each other, online or elsewhere, matters. It matters a LOT. And some of the names are extremely derogatory and foul.

  33. 33
    Crommunist

    If you’re trying to rally me to the side of the “don’t use mean words” camp, then you’re seriously mistaking my position in the “tone” debate. If I am forced to choose between style and substance (which is what I see you imploring me to do), then substance is going to win every single time. Honestly – if the best refutation of criticisms launched against you is “they use mean words”, then you should spend more time looking at the quality of your position.

    You and I share many beliefs, James. Prioritizing “civility” over content is not one of them. It is only out my respect for you that I am responding to this comment. This will be the last time I acknowledge ‘tone trolling’ on this thread with anything other than derision.

  34. 34
    James Croft

    Your distinction between “tone” and “content” is completely meaningless. This IS about content. When you use sexist and homophobic slurs like “pearl-clutcher” to feminize and demean a gay man with whom you’re disagreeing, that is a content issue. When you use the language of the race-traitor to shame and exclude other voices, that is a content issue. If you want to use the fake whine-term “tone-trolling” as a fig-leaf to excuse bigotry and bullying, go ahead. But you sacrifice a lot of moral authority when you do so.

  35. 35
    Crommunist

    I hope that whoever the “you” that you’re referring to is also a reader of this blog, otherwise your fine paragraph is wasted.

  36. 36
    The Nerd

    Phew, this was almost looking to be a productive conversation! Glad we nipped it in the bud.

  37. 37
    James Croft

    The “you” is a less formal way of saying “one”, and it is those posts you seem to be defending. And I think that is part of the CONTENT of what they are saying. I am tempted to make a compendium of attacks that have been levelled against Stedman to ask you what you think about it. Why is it unacceptable to rule out certain language from our discourse.

  38. 38
    Stephanie Zvan

    James, if you’d like to give someone a lecture on calling names, how about you pay attention to the substance of the post you’re currently commenting on–and give the bleeding lecture to Stedman and de Botton. It would make your stance here more consistent, at the very least.

    Otherwise, you’re not talking about calling names; you’re talking about which names you’re fine with, regardless of how accurate they are. And that’s not a very “tony” place to be standing.

  39. 39
    redmcwilliams

    I think at least part of Crommunist’s point is that he and PZ and JT etc. get called out for using “mean words” (when chastising believers and wrong thinking nonbelievers) yet Stedman et al use the same kind of language when criticizing Crommunist and PZ etc. and they don’t have any problem with that.

    Another part of his point, as I see it, is that Stedman seems to use derision of other atheists as a way to ingratiate himself with believers. “See, I yell at other atheists, so it’s cool to hang out with me”.

  40. 40
    Anthony K

    Doh! Now I remember James Croft.

    He only ever shows up to defend Stedman.

    I’ll write ‘fuck’ here so he has more fodder for his little compendium.

  41. 41
    Crommunist

    I don’t care much, to be totally honest, if someone calls me a fucking moron for thinking that all forms of religion are bad. Honestly. I wouldn’t enjoy it, obviously, but that is immaterial to the fact that they’re not dealing with the arguments I make or the position I hold. My frustration comes from having elaborate illusions woven about what I think and why I think it, and having the multitude of counter-arguments I’ve offered dismissed entirely because the speaker would rather joust with a hologram of me.

    I should point out that very few people criticize me, per se. I’m a pretty small fish, and I rarely get mixed up in the kinds of fights where anyone notices me. Plus I don’t often use anything that even comes close to mean language. Just not my style. Others use it to great effect, which I enjoy.

  42. 42
    Crommunist

    James and I are (other than on this issue, I imagine) on friendly terms. Anyone and everyone is free to disagree with his statement and/or behaviour, but I want it made clear that I do not support any attacks on him as a person. I’m not accusing Brownian or anyone else of doing that, I am just hoping to make it explicit before this spirals out of control.

  43. 43
    Anthony K

    Fair enough. I’ll take that as a gracious warning.

    I’ve only ever interacted with James on this one issue (hence my comment), so I don’t have any other context for him.

    But I can see that it was unfair and inflammatory. My apologies to you James and to you, Crommunist.

  44. 44
    Stacy

    Brownian, James contributes lots of excellent comments on Butterflies and Wheels. He’s not a one-note guy and he’s worth listening to.

  45. 45
    Stacy

    Sorry. Never mind. Queen of cross posting, here.

  46. 46
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Someone I know from an activism group invited us to a meeting of The Ethical Society to hear a political speech. I should have Googled the org, I suppose… I didn’t expect churchiness, complete complete with crappy piano and voice at the beginning. I got up and left just as the, uh, “service” started, causing some huffiness in a few people because the space was too small and cramped to permit discreet escape. Oh, well, too bad.

    (Sure, I could have Googled on TES, but it would have been considerate for the inviter to fucking tell me what to expect.)

  47. 47
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    I’m really not surprised that someone who printed up “Team Elevator Guy” t-shirts is a tone troll.

  48. 48
    Crommunist

    Source?

  49. 49
    Anthony K

    Not sure why you retracted that.

    Yes, I think I let my confirmation bias run roughshod. I do recall many well-reasoned arguments from him.

    I was out of line here and am duly chastised.

  50. 50
  51. 51
  52. 52
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    Thanks for this post, Crommunist. Hemant is wrong, wrong wrong when he says:

    Why am I saying all this? Because it’s not necessary to treat these atheists like they’re not on our side. They’re not hurting our cause. They’re with us. They’re not the enemy.

    As you said, most of us who criticize Stedman and de Botton do so because of their repeated shitting on us militant atheists. Unless you agree with the idea that strong, vocal atheists are harming atheism (which would make you an idiot unaware of the history of progressive movements), then Stedman and de Botton, by essentially telling us to tone it down, are harming our cause.

    Accomodationists who attack militant atheists are my enemy. Militant atheists are helpful in promoting atheism. Attack them, you are doing harm.

    Be a weak-ass, accommodating, make-nice, non-confrontational, friendly atheist all you want. But don’t tell me not to be loud and obnoxious about what I find to be an important issue. Loud and obnoxious people get heard and are hard to ignore.

  53. 53
    Crommunist

    Well that’s just not a good idea. He has “Team Rebecca” shirts too… I don’t know if that helps. I’d love to see some context for why he made this choice.

  54. 54
    SallyStrange

    *gasping with laughter*

    Oh lawdy that was brilliant.

    Can I join the Cult of the Crommunist? I will donate my life savings if necessary… all $82.47 of it.

  55. 55
    Crommunist

    I won’t ask for your money, not even as a joke. But if I ever write a book and you want to go door-to-door with it asking people if they’ve been “saved”, I will absolutely not stop you.

  56. 56
    'Tis Himself

    If two intelligent people have an argument where both are using facts and logic to support their points, then neither one is idiotic. If one or both people are using logical fallacies, presenting opinions as facts, and attacking an caricature of their opponent, then they’re idiotic.

    De Botton is using special pleading, begs various questions, and offers zero facts to support his arguments. He’s arguing against a straw atheist which exists only in his mind. In short, he’s an idiot. QED.

  57. 57
    'Tis Himself

    Well said, Woo_Monster.

    If someone wants to cosy up to goddists, pat them on the head, and tell them that their religion is okay except possibly for the gods part, then let them do their thing. My only objection is when accommodationists whine at us gnu athiests because “you’re not helping!”

    Don’t attack me and I won’t attack you. Attack me and I’ll response in kind.

  58. 58
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Replying to Crommunist here:

    ….

    Are you fucking kidding me? Like it was the Maple Leafs vs. the Canadiens?

    If you were a woman at an atheist convention, how would you feel if you walked into a room and saw a guy wearing that shirt?

    Even more, if you were a woman at an atheist convention, how would you feel if you walked into a room and saw several guys wearing that shirt, standing and talking together? And if you were the only woman in the room?

    There aren’t “two sides” to this. There’s “gives a shit about women feeling comfortable in the greater skeptic/atheist community,” and “doesn’t.”

  59. 59
    Crommunist

    Like I said, I disagree with his choice to have that shirt made. I’d really like to see if there was a larger point he was trying to serve when making this shirt before making an assumption as to why he did it. If he thought it was just a funny joke, then that’s absolutely a dick move. And yes, if I saw someone wearing that shirt I’d be in their face immediately about it (regardless of my sex). My point is that I don’t know anything other than “this shirt exists”. I disapprove of the existence of the shirt. I think the shirt should not exist, and I question why someone would make it exist.

  60. 60
    Ingdigo Jump

    I’m baffled at how TFA can see De Botton dehumanizing atheists by saying they don’t understand gratitude, beauty, or art, and thinks that he’s on “our side”.

    No Hemant, in case you missed it he actually very politely called you sub-human.

  61. 61
    John Morales

    Quoth James Croft:

    Having idiotic reasons for a belief doesn’t make you an idiot

    True; that person could just be irrational or an ignoramus. :)

    (And when they persist in that belief after it’s noted that its basis is idiotic, what exactly does that make them?)

  62. 62
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    If Hemant did produce this shirt, that concerns me more than his ignorant support of Stedman and de Botton. It pisses me off that he is approving of people who explicitly attack gnu/militant atheists. It is more outrageous that he would side with people dismissing half of the population. “Team Elevator Guy”? You’ve got to be fucking kidding. I agree whole heartily with Ms. Daisy Cutter,

    There aren’t “two sides” to this. There’s “gives a shit about women feeling comfortable in the greater skeptic/atheist community,” and “doesn’t.”

    There is no context that justifies this stupid shirt, which side with sexists trying to beat up on and silence a valuable contributor to the atheist and skeptical community. I don’t give a fuck about his intent. It’s vile.

  63. 63
    Rieux

    Ian:

    Sure, were I in a particularly uncharitable mood I’d suggest that collaboration with an oppressive force like religion is a good way of preserving privilege in exchange for token concessions….

    Bingo. (I wish that word had more syllables so I could add a “freakin’” to the middle of it. “Bing-freakin’-O” doesn’t really work.)

    As I pointed out over there, Stedman has attacked Hemant himself (over Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, a controversy Stedman is very fervently on the wrong side of) in much the same slimy terms as he’s gone after outspoken atheists in general. I really don’t know what Hemant was thinking in posting this.

  64. 64
    Rieux

    Oh, no. That’s really disappointing.

  65. 65
    Rieux

    I still think that has to be a joke. I mean, no one (among FTB commenters!) could actually mean that, could they?

  66. 66
    Anthony K

    This is so OT as to be actionable, but in skimming the recent comment list my little brain mangled your name/nym with woo_monster’s, and for a brief instant John Woo was a commenter here.

  67. 67
    Rieux

    James wrote:

    Having idiotic reasons for a belief doesn’t make you an idiot, and it doesn’t make it acceptable to call someone an idiot. It CERTAINLY doesn’t make it acceptable to call someone [1] an “Uncle Tom”, [2] an “Uncle Mary”, [3] a traitor, [4] a pearl-clutching madam with a case of the vapors, [5] sickening, [6] despicable, [7] vomit-inducing, [8] spineless, [9] a stooge, [10] a closet theist, [11] a bootlicker, [12] an enemy.

    Well, hellooo!

    Because terms 1, 9, 11, and 12 are clear references to my comments on Hemant’s thread, I’d just like to say that I have explained (at length) my reasons for using those terms in comments over there.

    “Having idiotic reasons for a belief” is not among those reasons, which I submit renders James’s references to those terms entirely irrelevant to this James-Ian exchange.

    The same goes for at least numbers 2 and 4, which stem from disparate contexts as well. In fact, quite possibly all twelve are entirely irrelevant to this particular dialogue. (Numbers 3, 6 and 8 are terms James himself has introduced to the conversation today… and isn’t #7 from Rick Santorum’s attack on JFK?)

    That’s all; please carry on.

  68. 68
    Spartan

    Militant atheists are helpful in promoting atheism. Attack them, you are doing harm.

    Absolutely true. But of course you can replace ‘militant atheists’ with ‘accommodationists’ and it’s equally true. Do you chastise militant atheists when they attack accommodationists since they likewise are doing harm? Or is that okay because militant atheists are just defending themselves? Or alternatively is it that you don’t think militant atheists ever attack accommodationists?

    Be a weak-ass, accommodating, make-nice, non-confrontational, friendly atheist all you want.

    Hmmm, I guess we might be able to scratch the last question; some accommodationists just might take ‘weak-ass’ as an attack, but ymmv as does mine. Regardless, “weak-ass” doesn’t belong with any of the other adjectives except ‘non-confrontational’. It’s easy to be a weak-ass, venting, whiny, dissocial atheist, especially online; it’s harder to be friendly and accommodating to theists in the face of the absolute insanity they actually believe is true and feel no need to honestly rationalize.

  69. 69
    SallyStrange

    Which is exactly why tone objections are generally bullshit.

  70. 70
    John Morales

    Crommunist wrote:

    I’m disappointed in you, Hemant. I thought you were better than this.

    You write:

    I really don’t know what Hemant was thinking in posting this.

    Heh. Me, I grokked what Hemant is a while back.

    (So I’m hardly disappointed or bemused by this little example)

  71. 71
    MichaelD

    I like to think of it as idiotic on X. Even smart people can have complete blind spots where they say/believe something stupid.

  72. 72
    WilloNyx

    Shit, I totally remember this and it was so early on in Elevatorgate that the implications were not fully realized yet by Hemant in making such a move. If I recall correctly, he made it clear from the start that that being on the side of EG was certainly not the right side of the debate. Still yet, in the hindsight of seeing a ridiculous number of privileged assholes defending EG’s trampled rights, we can see how this was in the poorest of taste.

    I am still not sure that am so against the idea of sexist douchebags wearing such an obvious label depicting their douchbaggery is the worst thin in the world. I kind of like the idea of assholes wearing shirts that state “I’m a _________” (fill in the blank with the proper descriptor of rampant bigotry, in this case “sexist”).

  73. 73
    Cafeeine

    Bingo. (I wish that word had more syllables so I could add a “freakin’” to the middle of it. “Bing-freakin’-O” doesn’t really work.)

    Try spliting the ‘i’. “Bee-freakin’-ingo”

  74. 74
    JesseW, the Juggling Janitor

    Here are the blog posts that Hemant wrote about Elevatorgate, as context for the shirts.
    His initial post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/07/02/everyone-needs-to-calm-the-fuck-down/

    His second post, where he introduced the shirts: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/07/04/pledge-your-allegiances/

    A relevant quote from that post: “In case it’s not clear, I’m kidding. Stop taking sides.”

    His third and final post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/07/05/a-few-more-thoughts-that-are-sure-to-be-uncontroversial/

    I’m not sure what the most relevant quotes would be from his other two posts, because I don’t fully understand what Hemant is being accused of by having made the shirts. So please add whatever quotes you feel are relevant as replies to this post.

  75. 75
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    There’s another T-shirt there that says “If you talk to me I’ll blog about it”, together with the depiction of a cup of coffee.
    Chiming in with the “Rebecca Watson abused her powers and was mean to a poor guy”.
    If he had any sense he’d pulled them off by now, especially considering who is “Team EG” by now…

  76. 76
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Nobody is on my isde just for not believing in any gods.
    It only means that we agree on the non-existence of gods.
    End of story.
    And if those people hold views and promote views that I not only find wrong but also actively hurting me (like sexism and misogyny, libertarianism, supporting religious excemptions for reproductive rights), they are not on my side.
    And I’m not going to be nice to them about it.

    Sorry, but your atheism means shit to me.
    Pretty is who pretty does, and if somebody means it’s more important to cuddle theists than to take a firm stand for human rights they can get lost.

  77. 77
    Carlie

    I remember seeing an article once indicating that there are actual syntactical rules for how an interjection gets put inside of a word that everyone follows, albeit subconsciously. Searching for it sent me here, where it’s described as an “infix”. From the text:

    A weaker definition of an infix might be one or more morphemes which are added inside a word to form another word. Such infixes are said to occur in English since, in colloquial speech, swear words can be inserted into other words, e.g. I hate this bloody university can become I hate this uni-bloody-versity. In English, such ‘infixes’ can apparently only be inserted before a stressed syllable.

    So “Bee-freakin’-ingo” would indeed work. :D

  78. 78
    WilloNyx

    @ Giliell He is still selling them? If so he should fucking know better by now. I usually view his site from my phone. Can you link me to where his stuff is sold?

  79. 79
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    WilloNyx, here you go
    Looks like they’re still on sale to me.

  80. 80
    rorschach

    Read those posts and identify for me the part where Martin or JT or PZ say that unless religion is scientifically proven it accomplishes nothing.

    I certainly did not say that ! Oh, wait, you weren’t talking about me after all…
    As to the other thing, big fat meh, just par for the course really.

  81. 81
    Eamon Knight

    He’s got a “Team —” shirt of pretty much everyone involved* in that fracas, plus “I don’t a shit”. So I take it as meta-comment satirizing the way the whole thing went down (a sentiment I’m sympathetic to, regardless of my in-fracas sympathies).

    *Except ERV, which really would be too low.

  82. 82
    James Croft

    He never said any of these things though. That’s kind of an important point.

  83. 83
    James Croft

    I missed you comment, Stephanie Zvan. All I’d say is, were De Botton or Stedman engaging in similarly extreme uses of demeaning language as the language used against them, I would. I’ve already called-out De Botton for one case in the past, when he responded very excessively to a bad review. I think I’m an equal-opportunity critic here.

  84. 84
    James Croft

    LOL now I put that comment in the wrong place – my apologies to all. I just wanted to say here that I am grateful for the apology but in this instance I wasn’t offended by what was said. It’s false (I comment on other issues all the time), and it’s a classic example of a form of cognitive bias, but I didn’t think it demeaning.

    If you want to see where I do most of my writing, check out http://harvardhumanist.org – I’d be interested to hear what you think.

  85. 85
    Leon

    I know I have.

  86. 86
    WithinThisMind

    Many of my friends and family members are religious, and we get along just fine. A friend I’ve known for years only learned I was an atheist a couple months ago when she asked if I’d be attending a particular religious function with my mother. She inquired a bit on what led me to atheism and then, upon realizing I’d made an informed decision for myself, dropped the subject.

    And yet, I’m often accused of being a ‘Christ-hater’, or ‘Angry Atheist’. I’m told I want to burn churches and that I won’t be satisfied until religion is outlawed.

    Folks like Stedman don’t seem to get where the disconnect occurs. They see my anger and blame me for being angry, without ever asking themselves WHY I am angry.

    How is it I can get along with so many deeply religious folks (and not limited to just Christians) and still be ‘angry’?

    Well, for starters, the people I get along with don’t try to force their beliefs on me. It’s really that simple. They don’t demand I change myself to suit their religious views.

    Take, for example, a friend of mine who is devoutly Jewish. He keeps Kosher. He keeps the Sabbath. But you know what he doesn’t do? He doesn’t demand I rearrange my entire kitchen to suit his diet. He doesn’t demand we keep to the Sabbath. He doesn’t freak out and call me a horrible person upon noticing a ham in my refrigerator. In short, he doesn’t make me angry.

    Stedman doesn’t get it. He sees the beehive all stirred up and stinging and talks about how horrible bees are, blind to the kid standing there whacking away with the stick.

  87. 87
    John Horstman

    Naw, sometimes it’s after a couple semesters of Women’s Studies and Global Studies classes introduce one to the concept of privilege and make one aware of how one’s own functions. Of course, that change also necessitates a preexisting worldview that values others, or more specifically not oneself above others irrespective of the imbalance in the trade-off between one’s gain and others’ loss/suffering. Basically, one has to accept that privilege exists and not be a self-important prick who revels in privilege, something that is sadly untrue of a lot of prominent atheists (consider Penn Jillette, who loves his privilege more than anything).

  88. 88
    lancefinney

    That’s really interesting, because I don’t see that at the St. Louis Society. There’s definitely an older core that is dying out, but the current leader is young (around 40) and there’s a growing group of young adult members with a very active Sunday School.

    Perhaps St. Louis is really different from other Societies, or perhaps I just don’t see the bigger picture.

    You should come to St. Louis some time and check it out. Maybe on the way to/from the next Skepticon ;)

  89. 89
    WilloNyx

    Yeah that puts one notch in the “wtf is he thinking” column. I find that incredibly disappointing.

  90. 90
    Deepak Shetty

    It is Stedman and de Botton and their ilk who (along with you, perplexingly), have decided to demonize your own allies.
    Hemant criticized you(us) and you criticized him back.
    As far as I can see he doesn’t agree with Stedman or de Botton (but he’s making the tired old there are more harmful people we can criticize rubbish). But that’s a far cry from demonizing you(us).
    far too often someone says something we disagree with and it becomes an attack on us or demonization or general raising of the stakes – you say it as well “providing reasoned argument in opposition” – You may not agree with Hemants reasoning and kudos for a well written rebuttal , but lets not (yet) group Hemant with Stedman.

  1. 91
    Truth Is Not Boring | Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] the sound you’ve been hearing over the last couple of days has been the tops of atheists’ heads coming [...]

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