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How is religion like delicious yummy corn?

Disclaimer: the central metaphor of this post is scatological, so if you have a particularly weak stomach, might I suggest you watch this video instead.

There is a far-too-common meme that exists among a subset of the nonbelieving community that goes more or less like this:

Well of course religion has led people to do bad things. Nobody is denying that. And I certainly don’t believe there’s any truth to it, but some people believe sincerely and do good things. It’s therefore neither fair nor is it accurate to paint all expressions of religion with the same brush. Religion has inspired people to do great good, as well as great evil.

Perhaps one of the most celebrated of those holding this opinion is Chris Stedman, who has published an excerpt from his upcoming book ‘Faitheist’ at Salon:

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.’”

It was my first experience with the atheist movement, and for at least a moment I thought it might be my last. I’d been an atheist for a while, but I had hesitated to seek out a community of nonreligious people. I imagined that secular folks would be difficult to organize; that assembling atheists, agnostics, skeptics, freethinkers, and other nonreligious individuals would prove tricky because our common thread—that we are not something — underscores only what we donot believe. But as I progressed in my work as an interfaith activist, I noticed that one of the things that actually made people good at it was a groundedness in one’s own identity. That, paired with my longing for a community of common belief, led me to begin searching for an organized community of nontheists.

(snip)

I hoped I might even serve as a bridge between two communities that are so often pitted against one another, to offer my insights as a nonreligious person working in an interfaith environment.

That aspiration was quickly curtailed. Throughout the program, religion — and religious people — were roundly mocked, decried, and denied. I’d arrived hoping to find a community bound by ethical and humanitarian ideals. Instead, I felt isolated and sorely discouraged.

Now if Chris’ point was simply that universally being smug dicks about religion is not a great way to advance the political goals of organized atheism, then I think he’d find very little opposition even from those ‘New Atheists’ he decries in his post. There was an air of self-congratulation at the Imagine No Religion 2 conference that a number of fellow attendees found quite offputting – this is not new information to us. Some people think that getting one thing right makes them (us) somehow superior beings. Those people are annoying, even to those who share their nonbelief.

However, that wasn’t Chris’ point. This was:

I was not naïve then, nor am I now, to the atrocities committed in the name of religion around the world. I do not pretend that religion has not played a sizable role in a great many conflicts since people first began to conceive of it, or that it does not do so today. Historically, religion has been at the center of many atrocities — this is an undeniable, important fact. But I also know that at various points in history religion has been an enormous force for liberation. Religion has changed, reformed, and revolutionized the world, and it will continue to do so as long as it is central to the human story.

(snip)

I saw that my approach to religion had been distorted. I’d been thinking narrowly about the texts, not about some of their positive applications; of the one-sided stereotypes, not the diverse spectrum of beliefs and practices. It was only after I observed the actual actions of religious communities — and, more importantly, engaged with religious people and their stories — that I was able to see the benefits of working across lines of religious difference.

(snip)

In a culture that increasingly asks us to check our religious and nonreligious identities at the door — to silence the values and stories we hold most dear — the “New Atheist” brand of secularism isn’t helping. 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.

Or, to strip it down to its relevant bullet point “New Atheism is counterproductive”. Yes apparently it’s already the return of 2008 and we’re having the “confrontation vs. accommodation” fight again – a fight where one side accuses the other of just being super mean and undermining the whole enterprise, and the other side sighing and explaining for the umpteenth time that a variety of approaches are needed, and that we may not all be speaking to the same audience. For a group of people who are so consumed with the idea of ‘working with people who have different beliefs’, they certainly don’t seem to a) follow their own advice, and b) listen to the responses to their hectoring.

There’s no need for me to re-litigate the whole fight. If you’re new to the conversation, you can feel free to check out some posts I wrote on the topic. The bullet point is that the strongly anti-theist position may in fact not be speaking to those who value pragmatic co-operation above philosophical consistency. It is foolhardy to expect every atheist to either work with religious believers or shut up, which is the logical conclusion of Stedman’s argument.

The part that particularly chaps my ass is this idea that religion can be repurposed for good, and therefore we mustn’t criticize it or hurt its feelings. The fact is that good acts performed for bad reasons still deserve scrutiny. Someone who feeds a starving person out of a belief, however sincere, that a intergalactic space moose is going to fellate them in the afterlife is certainly doing a nice thing, and that’s just fine. That being said, when the same Alcesiest belief structure can be used to justify scooping out the eyeballs of cancer-ridden orphan children, it behooves one to stop and ask if we might not be better off disposing of moose-reverence altogether. Indeed, since most of the hungry-feeders would do it regardless of the possibility of moose-BJs, would we not all be better off if there was a general understanding that moose-worship was a generally nutty concept?

But not for Chris Stedman*. Chris Stedman and those who follow his line of reasoning can be likened to a man staring into a recently-used toilet bowl and marveling at what he has found: delicious corn.

“That’s not corn, Chris” the rest of us say “that’s a lump of shit”.

“Yes,” coos Stedman “but if you look closely, you’ll see that there’s lots of little pieces of corn in there! It’s not all shit! How dare you say that this is completely shit!”

“But Chris,” we say “there are much easier, safer, and tastier ways to get corn. Come over here – we’ve got whole ears just waiting to be shucked and devoured.”

“No!” says Chris, horrified “people have been eating this shit for generations! It’s because it’s full of delicious maize-y goodness! Sure, parts of it are foul and disgusting, but all you have to do is pick the corn out from those parts and you’ll find it’s quite tasty!”

I’m all for building alternative social structures to religion. If they work and if there’s a need for it, I’m even happy to see certain elements of religious practice re-claimed for secular purpose. Gun to my head, I’m even happy to enthusiastically endorse trans-faith co-operation to achieve humanist purposes when there is agreement on a specific issues between theist and atheist groups. I think we need to face the fact that sitting around and simply sneering at religious believers in a fit of self-congratulatory collective masturbation is a fast track to obsolescence, and certainly does not reflect the feelings of all atheists as a whole. I get it, I really do.

But there’s no way in a non-existent hell that I’m going to be made to eat any more of Chris Stedman’s corny shit.

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*Whose name I keep mis-typing as “Christ Edman”, which is a fun Freudian thing to ponder.

UPDATE: James Croft thinks I am skewering a straw Stredman. Then again, he thinks Chris is “self-critical”, so take that for what it’s worth. Read his post though. I may have been too busy having fun to have made clear the crucial part of my critique: that Stedman’s criticism of “New Atheism” introduces an irrelevant and inaccurate label to criticism of a specific behaviour that is not a necessary or sufficient component of what I understand New Atheism to be.

Comments

  1. jhendrix says

    Well I have to agree, ever since I became an atheist I’ve thought that religion was pretty shitty….

  2. says

    But there’s no way in a non-existent hell that I’m going to be made to eat any more of Chris Stedman’s corny shit.

    Perfection in a closing line has been achieved. And I am delighted to have survived to see this day come.

  3. says

    For a group of people who are so consumed with the idea of ‘working with people who have different beliefs’, they certainly don’t seem to a) follow their own advice, and b) listen to the responses to their hectoring.

    This has been my experience, yes.

    I’m all for building alternative social structures to religion. If they work and if there’s a need for it, I’m even happy to see certain elements of religious practice re-claimed for secular purpose.

    I was chuckling about them recently, though – how they seem to regard any positive practices as the exclusive province of religion. I was wondering what century they think we’re in, but of course even in centuries of the distant past around the world there have been nonreligious sources of community, music, art, celebration, and so on. It’s especially amusing for them to talk about building or providing alternatives to religion at Harvard. Possibly nowhere in the world provides more options for secular community and projects, including social justice activism, than Cambridge, MA. Is this all completely invisible to them? It’s also funny that they refuse to recognize the online atheist-freethought community as a real community (unless they’re vilifying it, in which case it’s a fundamentalist monolith).

  4. says

    This is a particularly sticky point for me, because I don’t disagree with either the goals or methods of the Harvard Humanist project (as far as I understand it). They’re trying stuff out, something akin to a laboratory, so that groups elsewhere that would like to try something out don’t necessarily have to start from scratch. I don’t see any harm in that, provided that there is no compulsory aspect to what HH is doing.

    I’m also keenly aware of how unsatisfying the online community is for many nonbelievers. The internet has rules and norms that many people find offputting. The internet is also specifically biased away from people whose literacy in English is less than full. There’s also the missing aspects of physical interaction – a key component of interpersonal relationships. While the online atheist community does amazing things and absolutely is a community, it would take very little to persuade me that there are a lot of unbelievers out there whose needs simply will never be met that way. To the extent that they vilify the online community they’re wrong, but to the extent that they say it’s not sufficient, they’re not.

  5. says

    They’re trying stuff out, something akin to a laboratory, so that groups elsewhere that would like to try something out don’t necessarily have to start from scratch. I don’t see any harm in that, provided that there is no compulsory aspect to what HH is doing.

    I wouldn’t have a problem, either (well, I’d still find the “gifted individuals…trained as experts” part pretty funny), if they didn’t present it as a matter of religion or them, failing to recognize the many other nonreligious communities out there from which they could learn and borrow and with whom they could work.

    I’m also keenly aware of how unsatisfying the online community is for many nonbelievers.

    Oh, I’m not saying it is or should be everyone’s choice. Quite the contrary – my point is that there’s a rich diversity of communities that respond to people’s needs. If the HCH people want to mine religious groups for ideas on which to base secular practices, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t pretend that they or religion are the only places people can find these. I’ve found that they want to emphasize that some people find the online community unsatisfying or unsuited to them, while failing to appreciate that others don’t and that it’s a community with many positive aspects.

  6. says

    Who is vilifying the online community?

    I know you don’t want me to link to your earlier comments about Pharyngula again, James. I think I recall that you apologized, but they still exist. I am glad to see your post from a few days ago.

    And how are our continual collaborations with local Cambridge groups representative of obliviousness to the offerings on our doorstep?

    This is disingenuous. We had an entire discussion in which I challenged your public focus on “interfaith” efforts. Your response was to raise the hypothetical of a student approaching you with an interest in charitable work or activism surrounding hunger and these very strange hypothetical reasons she would inevitably be led to work with a church group. I pointed out to you the numerous charitable and social justice organizations that do work surrounding food issues right on your doorstep, including the biggest in the state.

    I hope you do work with and connect students to a variety of secular organizations in the area,* but what I’ve seen from you all in your public presentation is a lot of talk about the importance of reaching out in specifically interfaithy ways. I’m simply pointing out that this focus is skewed in a particular direction. I’m not saying you shouldn’t work with religious groups, or that there are no religious groups doing good things; I’m just saying you should be clear that this focus is a choice and not a necessity.

    *(though I suspect you work with few toward the radical end of the spectrum)

  7. jflcroft says

    This, again, is simply false. We spend a lot of time investigating entirely secular organizations for inspiration as well (I’ve recently been visiting women’s groups and local activist organizations, and we made a visit to the Boston Occupy encampment were Chris did some work). And we work closely with a number of secular organizations including gay rights groups, women’s rights groups, shelters, food banks etc.

    Your perception is skewed because most of your information is gleaned from what people take exception to on Freethought Blogs. You don’t see what doesn’t come to the attention of bloggers here, and so you have an unrealistic view of our priorities and how we spend our time.

  8. jflcroft says

    Criticizing one blog for its manifest failings as a “community” is not equivalent to criticizing the Internet community as a whole. There’s no point for you there.

    The rest is based on your skewed perception of our work. Perhaps what you’ve seen leads you to a skewed perception, but you have seen very little, most of it filtered through this blog network. Your information sources are themselves partial.

    This is clear because your description – both of my activities and of our priorities at HCH – are wrong.

  9. says

    Criticizing one blog for its manifest failings as a “community” is not equivalent to criticizing the Internet community as a whole. There’s no point for you there.

    If you consider what you did simply valid criticism (those comments from the old blog aren’t there yet, so I can’t link, apparently), then I wonder why you apologized. But regardless of what you’ve said, Stedman has been consistent in his disdain for the gnu community, online and off. You even appear to have agreed with the criticisms of these attacks, so I don’t know what you’re talking about now. I recognize that you don’t agree with everything Stedman says and have disagreed publicly more than once, but that doesn’t cancel out his pronouncements.

    The rest is based on your skewed perception of our work. Perhaps what you’ve seen leads you to a skewed perception, but you have seen very little, most of it filtered through this blog network. Your information sources are themselves partial.

    This is clear because your description – both of my activities and of our priorities at HCH – are wrong.

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about. The first bullet point under “Outreach” on your web site is “Increasing understanding and cooperation between Humanists and the religious through interfaith dialogue and social action.”

    From the description of Stedman’s book:

    His own religious beliefs might have fallen away, but his desire to change the world for the better remained. Disdain and hostility toward religion was holding him back from engaging in meaningful work with people of faith. And it was keeping him from full relationships with them—the kinds of relationships that break down intolerance and improve the world.

    In Faitheist, Stedman draws on his work organizing interfaith and secular communities, his academic study of religion, and his own experiences to argue for the necessity of bridging the growing chasm between atheists and the religious. As someone who has stood on both sides of the divide, Stedman is uniquely positioned to present a way for atheists and the religious to find common ground and work together to make this world—the one world we can all agree on—a better place.

    And I won’t even start about your religious terminology, which has already been discussed at length. Again, the work you all do with other secular groups is great. But the public identity that important people in your organization have taken care to develop is one defining yourselves as centrally secular-interfaith activists in opposition to us. It’s generally made for a good deal of denigration of us and a lot of mischaracterizing of what we’re about.

    ***

    By the way, just to make sure… You did see my post addressed to you, right?

  10. jflcroft says

    What I don’t understand is why you think I disagree with anything you’ve written. I’m particularly baffled by your view that HCH / I promotes service (true) but not radical reconceptuallzation of society and challenging structures of oppression (false). Where do you get these notions?

  11. jesse says

    One thing I think that get a bit lost in this: for some people — I count myself in this group — the problem with the gnu atheist folks I see, largely online, is that they don’t see that being a smug jerk about how atheism makes you a superior thinker also duplicates the kind of power relationships that religion makes even worse.

    That is, it’s been often discussed here how the face of atheism is white and male. I’d say that not only has it often been white and male but there has been a strong libertarian-ish streak as well (understandably).

    So you get people who don’t think things through saying that OMG ALL RELIGINZ IS STOOPID and not thinking about something like, say, liberation theology. When it comes to some political movements I don’t see this largely white and male group of atheists able to engage. If your position is that you are a superior thinker because you are a non believer I can’t imagine how the hell you’d even start to build an alliance with, say, the Native people whose position that you shouldn’t carve a mountain in the Black Hills into a likeness of four presidents was an explicitly religious one, but one that ties into all kinds of issues of self-determination. Or how you’d be able to politically engage with say, a black church that is trying to register people to vote.

    Crommunist, you yourself have brought this up a lot — I think it was you who said that you can’t just treat religious black folks, for example, as “silly false consciousness negroes” (correct me, that might have been over at Black Skeptics?). And while I agree with you about how Stedman is wrong, I also would say that if you care about social justice you almost have to be a wee bit of an accomodationist by definition. But I’m quite willing to cop to the fact that I am thinking in terms of political strategies and also in term of my experience with three generations of leftists in my family, who were all atheists, basically.

    (I also admit that atheism for Jewish people is a less contentious issue in some ways. Nobody in my family is particularly hung up on the religious aspect of Passover — we call it the first ever strike action — it is more a time to get together and kibitz).

    Anyhow, the off-putting stuff for me is when I see people do the same thing I used to do as a teenager and a college student — assume that my atheism made me really smart. That attitude probably alienated a lot of people and it’s more common then folks are willing to admit.

    Most important, I think a lot of atheists — I have read a few on FreethoughtBlogs, even – sometimes seem to have trouble with the idea that there is just a world of difference when you criticize Christianity, which is in a privileged position, and say, Navajo religion (which is an interesting topic in itself. Supposedly there is no translation of the word “religion” into Diné). The problems the two present are not equivalent, but I have interacted online with more than one atheist s who treat them as such and pulls out the “I criticize all religions equally” thing.

    To sum up: I think Stedman is wrong in some ways for the reasons you state, but I wonder if we are really articulating the underlying problem well also.

  12. smrnda says

    I’ve spent most of my entire life around non-religious people and I always saw lots of secular organizations, both driven by shared interests and by commitment to social justice. For a while I was volunteering every week at 4 different organizations, and all four of them were totally secular. none of these organizations excluded religious people from volunteering or even working there, but they all felt solidly secular and were a great way of meeting social justice minded people.

    Also, the people I met there were more against religion in the sense of being against religion as an oppressive institution, and this carried over into other modes of oppression as well. Someone is against religion and racism as modes of irrational and oppressive ideas.

  13. says

    I think it was you who said that you can’t just treat religious black folks, for example, as “silly false consciousness negroes”

    That doesn’t sound like me, but I understand the sentiment.

    The problems the two present are not equivalent, but I have interacted online with more than one atheist who treat them as such and pulls out the “I criticize all religions equally” thing.

    This is a fair point, and again I’m all for having a nuanced and targeted criticism of religion. I took a number of people to task for jumping on the “blame Islam” bandwagon after the “Innocence of Muslims” protests. We critics of religion need to be precise and honest with our criticisms, and I have no problem with people repeating that. However, there is a difference between criticizing a behaviour and criticizing a group that may or may not engage in that behaviour. And when that criticism comes bundled with a bunch of inaccurate descriptions of the position of those you’re criticizing as part of a career built on distancing yourself from “those people”, it comes across as shockingly disingenuous.

    I wonder if we are really articulating the underlying problem well also.

    Probably not. Hopefully as we integrate these other topics into the mainstream atheist lexicon, we’ll become better as a whole.

  14. jesse says

    Yeah I think it might have been over at Black Skeptics. Can’t remember the full context, but I recall it was about the kind of engaging I am talking about, and understanding how PoC women can still be in churches even though it isn’t in their interest.

    Anyhow, understand I think about this in terms of my own family too. My wife’s family is from the Philippines and the parents, anyhow, are pretty religious, and her sister is marrying a guy who is explicitly a Christian (and I should say one of the nicest and most laid-back guys I know — he is very low-key about his religion. I like hanging with him because we both dig comics).

    So, I just can’t get on board with crowing about how awful religion is when confronted with real human beings who see the community in it as a real, salient and important part of life. Like, I am not going to call them a bunch of superstitious ignorant boobs and such, you know? That just strikes me as completely counterproductive and makes me a jerk. It shows that I am really out of touch with the realities that make up their day.

    I have found a rule I can follow that helps: Would you say X about religion to a PoC standing in front of you, without sounding racist? If the answer is no, then re-think.

    And I did remember your bit on Islam. I think you were right on, and it’s why I find someone like Hirsa Ali problematic, or even, sometimes, Maryam Namazie (though her critiques are obviously from a very different direction).

    As for Stedman, again, I feel like in a way he is trying to deal with the problem I mentioned above, but he is kind of doing it in an orthogonal way, if you see what I mean, so he ends up caricaturing the gnus (though like all caricatures, there is an element of truth in it).

  15. carlie says

    When I was really religious, if someone had told me that I was wrong but I deserved to be respected and have all the good parts of my beliefs pointed out, I don’t think that would have given me any reason to question my beliefs.

  16. Rodney Nelson says

    The problem I have with Stedman (and others of his kidney) is although he’s an atheist he really likes religion. He likes it so much that he attacks other atheists who don’t share his admiration for religion and religious organizations. He dislikes gnu atheists a lot because we’re quite disdainful towards religion.

    There are atheists who go overboard in their antipathy towards religion and some of these people are quite vocal about this animus. However Stedman doesn’t confine himself to objecting to them. He rails against any atheist who shows a lack of respect for religion.

    There’s another point. Most gnu atheists are willing to let accommodationists like James Croft do the interfaith thing. It’s probably not too harmful and there might be some positive fallout from such efforts. But Stedman shrieks like a wounded banshee about gnu atheists’ “strident militancy.” We’re willing to let accommodationists do whatever it is they do but many accommodationists, Stedman is hardly a lone example in this, refuse to let gnu atheists do our thing. He and his ilk spend almost as much time being hostile to other atheists as they do sucking up to the religious.

  17. ImRike says

    I think Rodney is making the point: let the accommodationists accommodate, but there is no reason for them, as Stedman does, to call the efforts of the gnu atheists “toxic, misdirected and wasteful”.
    Now that, in my opinion, is misdirected and wasteful.

  18. says

    Stedman would argue that he’s not calling ALL gnus “toxic”, he’s referring to a very specific kind of nose-in-the-air smugness (and ignoring that irony for a moment) that he thinks is toxic, and misattributes to New Atheism for reasons that I suspect are political.

  19. jflcroft says

    There’s another point. Most gnu atheists are willing to let accommodationists like James Croft do the interfaith thing.

    Would you please explain to me what an “accommodationist” is and how I qualify?

  20. says

    Jesse,

    I think you’ve basically created a strawman.

    I can’t think of any sane atheist who does any of that. The one who I can think of, Ernest Perce, is criticized by the gnu crowd as much as by anyone else.

    We don’t go to churches and picket them and say “your god is a fiction!” at their houses of worship. We don’t go door to door spreading the godless word. We don’t crash religious facebook pages and discussion forums and tell people that we’ll wish really hard for them that they see the True Path and give up god.

    And I can say that I, personally, don’t call my catholic father a pedophile supporter for remaining in the church, or try to proselytize him, or tell him to his face that his religion is a crock of shit.

    In short, the overwhelming majority simply do not do what you’re speaking out against.

    As Paul W., OM points out at B&W, the term “faitheist” didn’t even exist until 2009.

    Further, what he attended was not an open party. It was a gathering of atheists. This was not public discourse.

    I’m going to draw from Avicenna and make a parallel to his story about in-jokes in the medical profession. Imagine Stedman were a medical student, attending a reception following a seminar on a surgical procedure. He then responds to a crude joke about some disorder with an exhortation that “shouldn’t we respect these conditions?”

    I’m willing to bet that if that party actually happened, Stedman didn’t get the brush off because of his views. He got the brush off because he killed the mood.

  21. jesse says

    Nathaniel — go read the threads and comments — even here on FreeThoughtBlogs — that cropped up (Crom has a link above) when criticism of Islam happens. Too often it starts to shade into simple bigotry and racism. (i.e. Islam makes people violent).

    And man oh man, how many times have I seen (read) stuff like “well, religion makes people stupid” or stuff to that effect, in public fora (I assume a blog comments section counts).

    And yes, I get that religion should be criticized. But I have seen far too many “sane” atheists engage in the kind of behavior I am talking about — and I would submit that it is directly related to issues of race privilege and sex privilege.

    I’ll give an example: Over at Ed Brayton’s old space I took him and a few other people to task a bit because he said he didn’t understand the concept of an eruv and thought it was silly. OK, fine. But he also used language that came a bit too close to calling the people who live in that community stupid. Another Jewish guy reacted a bit (and I must say rather mildly). The commentariat there (some anyway) piled on, and failed to understand that they were often coming from a place of privilege. And that there is a difference between saying “I find this idea alien” or “here are some things that are problematic” and “These people are superstitious idiots.”

    Also, most of the time people (atheists I see around here) assume that ignorance is the reason people are religious. The assumption is that only if those other folks were as smart as we were, as educated, they wouldn’t be religious. Um, no. That isn’t the way it works, any more than terrible working conditions automatically mean people vote for the Communist party. Humans don’t operate in single-factor fashion like that. I mean, plenty of smart and well-educated people vote Republican, you know?

    Now re: Stedman — I said I agree that he is wrong, but I think in one sense he is trying to deal with a problem that is a bit beyond the simple factual matters of religious claims. That’s the easiest thing to deal with. Stedman seems to be trying to do something that frankly, more atheists of any stripe should do, and that’s to get into the heads of people who are believers that aren’t the extreme and pretty easily caricatured folks.

    I say this for the same reason it’s vital to understand why for instance, the South votes Republican. How did the GOP get all those poor whites (those who resembled say, Lyndon Johnson) to vote against their interests? It’s easy to caricature them as unrepentant racists and blame it on the Civil Rights Act. I’ve done it, and it’s even partially true. But there’s a lot more going on that made the political shift possible. If you just go with the “they were racist jerks” your understanding will fall short, and if you try political organizing on that basis you are going to get politically stomped into the ground. You’re also going to leave yourself no way “in” to get those folks to vote for you on important issues, you know?

    If working class whites think that Northern educated people hold them in contempt, then in what freaking universe should they vote for you? Support you? I mean how much sense does that make? You end up with openings for the crazy wing of the GOP.

    So this doesn’t mean you don’t criticize racism — but with that, you sometimes try to work with people a little. You have to say what you are for rather than just against.

    That’s where I am approaching this from. It’s why I feel that some self-proclaimed atheists fail at social justice. This very blog has gone over that many times.

    And again, I think part of Stedman’s critique is right, but I think he doesn’t seem to approach it in a way that gets very deeply into the problem, just as (largely white and male) atheists / skeptics who spend their time railing about bigfoot and UFOs are not.

  22. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Apologies if this comes off snarky – it’s not intended to be such.

    Isn’t this the point of accomodationism, though? To make the theists “like” us, “tolerate” us, “stop hating” us, “work with” us, etc. Isn’t the point to NOT challenge their beliefs and make them comfortable with non-believers (as long as the non-believers has sufficiently brown noses, that is). . . okay that was a little snarky.

    Or have I misunderstood?

    Accomodationists don’t actually believe that such a weak, flaccid position is going to “recruit” more over to the atheist side . . . . do they?

  23. says

    Once again, I think you’re conflating “public spaces” with “private spaces”.

    I’m sure that a lay person visiting a forum for medical professionals might very well be shocked at some crude humor. I’m sure that a religious person might find some of the blogs here insensitive.

    The fact remains that these blogs are not targeted at them. Your description of “taking Ed Brayton to task” sounds rather like tone trolling.

    I fully expect cops to make insensitive in-jokes amongst cops. I fully expect medical professionals to make insensitive in-jokes amongst medical professionals. And I fully expect atheists to choose not to employ the most diplomatic language when expressing the frustrations and trials in dealing with theists on a blog network made by, run by, staffed by, and provided for the atheist community.

  24. Rodney Nelson says

    You’re part of the Harvard Humanists. Chris Stedman is one of your co-workers (assistant chaplain IIRC). According to the Harvard Humanist website interfaith is one of the organization’s bailiwicks. I notice on the front page of the interfaith section there’s an article by you and Chris Stedman’s Faitheist book launch. That’s the connection between you and interfaith. Since you’re involved in interfaith work, you qualify as an accommodationist.

    Accommodationists are those willing to “confer, converse, and otherwise hobnob with” theists (10 points for identifying the paraphrased quote). Accommodationists, like every other grouping, come in various flavors. On one extreme there’s the rabid anti-gnu atheists like Stedman and on the other there’s the people who see no harm in working with religious groups in social projects and there’s a vast spectrum in between. You’re probably closer to the non-Stedman extreme. At least you’re not loudly and stridently anti-gnu atheist like Chris.

  25. carlie says

    I guess I’m not sure what the end game of the accommodationists is. I was thinking of the religious people who barge in and sniff that they MIGHT have been thinking about listening to us, but now that we’ve insulted them OF COURSE they will not, and shouldn’t that make us feel bad to have driven off someone like that?

  26. jflcroft says

    Wait, your definition of “accommodationist” is, essentially, “anyone who is willing to converse with theists”? So, like Richard Dawkins when he does his debates, or Sam Harris when he does his debates, or…

    What piffle.

  27. Rodney Nelson says

    No it isn’t nor did I say it was. Accommodationists are who cluster around the theists, inviting yourselves into their enclaves, being chummy with them, not uttering a syllable about their theist delusions, and grateful for every scrap of acceptance you can glean from them. In other words, an ass-kisser.

    I was trying to be nice to you, James, but since you’re being smug and superior, it’s wasted on you. Also I read your blog post where you pretended that Stedman wasn’t trying to suck up to theists by throwing gnu atheists under the bus. I was unimpressed by your arguments.

  28. John Horstman says

    I read it too, and the problem I keep coming to has to do with this: “The whole point of the extract is to ask whether there are ways to combine robust critique of the problems of religion with appreciation of its potentials and value.”
    See, there simply is no value in believing wacky shit for the sole reason that someone in an organized social hierarchy says so. If you’re not talking about that, if you’re instead talking about something like gathering together to sing songs in order to create a sense of community, you’re not talking about religion, you’re talking about ritual, which all (nearly all? I’m pretty sure it’s all) religions use, but which is not and has never been exclusive to religion. If that’s what you actually mean, then you’re blaming us for not reading your mind but actually listening to the words you’re using. Do a better job of expressing your thoughts accurately and unambiguously.

    As for people engaging in pro-social behaviors because of a thereat of eternal damnation… well, if you’re in favor of that, you should really support an authoritarian police state with constant surveillance of the population, since that’s what religion is creating in the mind of the believer. I think that’s really fucked-up: it’s simply not okay to lie to people in order to coerce their behavior – it’s psychological abuse. All of those “good parts” – people doing good specifically because of religious prescriptions to do so, not just doing good that may be congruent with specific religious prescriptions because it’s right – rely upon both disingenuous behavior and authoritarian control, the same factors that are used to oppress and harm, as Ian points out. I take a pretty dim view of humanity, but I’m constantly astounded by people who think even less of most people but try to wrap condescending calls for unethical social engineering programs in a cloak of concern for the common man, who’s thus constructed as obviously too stupid or fragile to handle reality. It’s just concern trolling; knock it off and stick to outreach.

  29. Sili says

    belief [...] that a intergalactic space moose is going to fellate them in the afterlife

    I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Where may I send a tenth of my income?

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