How To Be An Ally with Atheists


This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post on being an atheist in the queer community. But I think it will be of interest to anyone, individual or organization, who wants to be an ally with atheists and the atheist movement.

Scarlet letter
So what do atheists want from their allies?

And how can progressive non-atheist people and groups be good allies with the atheist movement?

Yesterday, I posted a piece about how difficult I was finding it to be an out atheist in the LGBT community. Since I don’t like to gripe for the sake of griping without offering any solutions, today I’m offering my suggestions for what atheists want: my prescription for how progressive believers can, if they want, be supportive of atheists, and allies with the atheist movement.

A quick disclaimer first: While I suspect that a lot of atheists will more or less agree with much of this list, I really am speaking only for myself here. Atheists are notoriously independent, and they don’t like having other people speak for them. (Any atheists reading this: If you have disagreements with this list or things you’d like to add, please speak up in the comments.)

The-Atheist
1: Familiarize yourself with the common myths and misconceptions about atheists — and don’t perpetuate them.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding and ignorance about who atheists are and what we do and don’t believe. Needless to say, these myths and misconceptions are wrong. Don’t believe them. Don’t perpetuate them. Don’t let them infect the way you speak and act, and please speak out against them when you hear them. Find out what we actually think and believe and do, instead of what anti- atheist propaganda says about what we think and believe and do.

Sam Harris has written a pretty good list of the most common myths about atheists, with short arguments against them. There’s a touch of needless snark in the piece, IMO — Harris can’t quite resist the temptation to get in a few digs against religion when he should probably just be explaining atheism — but overall, it gives a good, concise view of the most common misconceptions about atheism, and why, exactly, they’re mistaken.

I’m just going to add one quick thing to Harris’s list before I move on: The myth that atheists are 100% certain that there is no God, with a dogmatic attachment to that belief.

In reality, I’ve encountered almost no atheists who thought that God’s existence had been definitely disproved. Atheism doesn’t mean being 100% certain that God doesn’t exist. It just means being certain enough. We’re about as certain that Jehovah doesn’t exist (or Yahweh, or Allah, or Ganesh, or the Goddess, or any of the gods that are commonly worshipped today) as we are that Zeus doesn’t exist. If you don’t think you’re close-minded for not believing in Zeus, then please don’t accuse atheists of being close-minded for not believing in your god.

Atheist_sign
2: Familiarize yourself with what it’s like to be an atheist, both in the U.S. and in the rest of the world.

Discrimination against atheists, in the United States, and around the world, is very real. It doesn’t look exactly like other forms of discrimination — no form of discrimination looks exactly like any other — but it is real.

Here are just a few examples.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, asking Americans who they’d be willing to vote for for President, atheists came in at the very bottom of the list: below blacks, below women, below Jews, below gays. Below every other marginalized group on the list. With less than half of Americans saying they’d vote for an atheist. Unless you live in a incredibly progressive district, being an out atheist will effectively kill any chances you have at a political career.

Atheists in the military have been illegally proselytized at, berated, called a disgrace, denied promotion, had meetings broken up, and been threatened with charges… all by superior officers, and all because of their atheism.

Dole atheist flyerIn her recent Senate campaign, Elizabeth Dole issued a series of campaign flyers and videos, centering on the fact that her opponent, Kay Hagan, had attended a fundraiser hosted by two atheist lobbyists… a campaign that openly referred to atheists as “vile,” that treated the very existence of atheists as an abomination, and that used language about atheists that would have raised a tidal wave of shock and denunciation around the country if it had been aimed at any other religious group.

And especially in small rural towns, anti-atheist bigotry can turn truly ugly. Being an out atheist means risking ostracism and worse. Out atheist teenagers have been kicked out of public school programs, and then kicked out of public school. Out atheists have been the targets of vandalism and death threats. Even believers can be targeted with anti- atheist ostracism, threats, and vandalism, if they’re perceived as being atheists because of their stance on separation of church and state (such as the anti- intelligent- design activists in Dover, Pennsylvania).

And I’m just talking about the U.S., where atheists are, at least in theory, guaranteed equal protection and freedom of non-religion under the 1st and 14th amendments. I’m not even talking about overt theocracies, where denying the existence of God will earn you a death sentence.

This stuff is real. And there’s a lot more. These examples have barely scratched the surface. We are pissed off for a reason. Please don’t trivialize it.

Handshake_icon.svg
3: Find common ground.

Religious believers might think there’s no way for them to be allies with atheists. Aren’t atheists trying to do away with religion? How can you be allies with someone who thinks your most cherished beliefs are a myth, and wants to rid the world of them?

Okay. First, not all atheists are trying to do away with religion. Many atheists are fine with religion, as long as it’s respectful of people who don’t share it. They just don’t believe it themselves, and just want to be left alone to give what they have to the world and to practice their lack of faith in peace. If all religions minded their own business, if religions didn’t have the depressingly common habit of demonizing people who don’t agree with them and shoving themselves down everybody else’s throat… most of us wouldn’t care about it very much.

FirstAmendment
Second: Even the atheists who would like to see religion disappear, and who are actively working to make that happen, still passionately support religious freedom. We don’t want to make religion disappear by law, or coercion, or even social disapproval. We want to make religion disappear by persuasion. We want to convince people, in an open marketplace of ideas, that religion is mistaken. Even the most strongly and rudely anti- religion atheists I know are passionate in their defense of religious freedom, and of people’s right to believe whatever crazy bullshit they want as long as they don’t inflict it on other people.

And even though atheists obviously think religion is a mistaken idea about the world, and believers obviously don’t… well, we don’t have to agree about everything to work together. Atheists and progressive believers have a lot of common ground: a passionate support of religious freedom, a fervent belief in the separation of church and state, an intense respect for diversity. The fact that we don’t agree about the existence or non-existence of God doesn’t mean we can’t work together on issues we share.

Bullhorn
4: Speak out against anti-atheist bigotry and other forms of religious intolerance.

If you’re white, it’s important to speak up about racism. If you’re male, it’s important to speak up about sexism. If you’re straight, it’s important to speak up about homophobia. Etc.

And if you’re a religious believer, it’s important to speak up about anti-atheist bigotry and ignorance. Familiarize yourself with the common myths about atheism and the truth about those myths (see above)… and when you hear someone repeat the myths, speak out.

Common ground5: Be inclusive of atheists.

Remember that not everybody is a religious believer. And I don’t just mean that not everybody belongs to a traditional religious organization. Many people have no religious or spiritual beliefs at all. So if you’re talking to a group, don’t ask people to pray. Don’t talk about “our Creator.” Don’t talk about the spirit that moves within all of us. I don’t have a creator, and I don’t have a spirit, and I don’t pray.

If you want to talk about your own religious beliefs, then please, by all means, go ahead and do so. Say that you’re going to pray. Tell us about your creator. Talk about the spirit that moves within you. But don’t assume that everyone you’re talking to shares your beliefs, or indeed has any religious beliefs at all. Don’t — as a commenter in this blog observed at a No on Prop 8 rally — talk about the wonderful work churches are doing for your movement, and the wonderful work being done by people who don’t go to church but still believe in God, and neglect to mention the people who don’t believe in God but still passionately support your cause. In the same way that (I hope) you try to remember that there are probably people in your audience who aren’t white, or college-educated, or able-bodied, or whatever, please try to remember that there are probably people in your audience who aren’t religious or spiritual.

(And don’t do fake inclusion, either. Saying, “No matter what your religious beliefs or lack thereof are, let’s all pray or meditate,” is like saying, “No matter what your religious beliefs are, let’s all give thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” No matter how good your intentions are, it’s not inclusive. It’s a back-handed slap.)

Cut
6: Don’t divide and conquer, and don’t try to take away our anger.

Don’t divide us into “good atheists” and “bad atheists” based on how vocal or angry we are. Don’t say things like, “Well, you seem reasonable — but that Richard Dawkins and that Christopher Hitchens, they’re just so mean and intolerant!”

I hope I don’t have to tell you about the ugly history of dividing activists for social change into “the good ones” who are polite and soft-spoken and easy for the privileged power structure to get along with, and “the bad ones” who are angry, rabble- rousing trouble- makers. I hope I don’t have to explain about the not- no- subtle message behind it: “We’re fine with you as long as you don’t speak up too loudly, and don’t make us too uncomfortable, and don’t ask for too much.”

Like every other movement for social change I can think of, the atheist movement has its more diplomatic members and its more confrontational ones. And like every other movement for social change I can think of, the atheist movement needs both. It’s more powerful with both. Both methods together work better than either one would work on its own.

Besides, we all know that Hitchens is an asshole. It’s not news to us.

Lack_of_respect
7: If you’re going to accuse an atheist or an atheist group of being intolerant — be careful, and make sure that’s really what they’re being.

Atheists often get accused of being intolerant for saying things like, “I don’t agree with you,” or, “You haven’t made your case,” or, “I think you’re mistaken — and here, exactly, is why.” Atheists often get accused of bigotry when, in fact, they’ve been very careful to criticize specific ideas and actions rather than insult entire classes of people. Atheists often get accused of being close-minded for firmly stating their case and saying that, unless they see some good evidence or arguments to the contrary, they’re going to stand by it. Atheists, as Richard Dawkins recently pointed out, often get accused of being insulting or hateful for discussing religion in the kind of language that is commonly accepted in political opinion pieces or restaurant reviews.

It’s totally fucked up. Please don’t do that.

Here’s the thing. Atheists see religion as (among other things) a hypothesis about the world: an explanation for how the world works and why it is the way it is. We think that, as such, it should be willing to defend itself in the marketplace of ideas, on an even playing field. And we see the “criticism of religion is inherently intolerant” trope as one of the chief ways religion avoids having to do that. It totally gets up our nose.

As someone whose name I can’t remember recently said: Religion has been discussed in hushed tones for so long, that when people talk about it in a normal tone of voice, it sounds like we’re screaming. But most of us are not screaming. Most of us are talking in a normal tone of voice… for the first time in our lives.

Fundamentalism
8: Do not — repeat, DO NOT — talk about “fundamentalist atheists.”

If you think an atheist or an atheist group is being intolerant, or bigoted, or close-minded, then by all means, say that they’re being intolerant or bigoted or close-minded. But please, for the sweet love of all that is beautiful in this world, do not call them “fundamentalist atheists.” The “fundamentalist” canard makes most atheists want to scream and tear our hair out. It’s a problem for three reasons:

1: It’s inaccurate. Atheists do not have a text or a set of basic principles to which they strictly and literally adhere… which is what the word “fundamentalist” means. (See “common myths about atheists” above.)

2: It perpetuates the myth that atheism is just another form of dogmatic religious faith… which it most emphatically is not. (Again, see “common myths about atheists” above.)

3: It divides the atheist movement into the “good” ones and the “bad” ones: the good ones who keep their mouths shut, and the bad ones who speak their opinions loudly and firmly. (See “don’t divide and conquer” above.)

Think of the phrase “fundamentalist atheist” as an epithet. If you insist on using it, you should expect that no atheist will listen to anything else you say.

Finally — and I think this may be the hardest for a lot of people, especially in the LGBT community:

Privilege
9: Be aware of how religious belief gives you a place of mainstream and privilege.

This is a lot less true for believers in minority religions, like Jews and Muslims in the U.S. But even though the specifics of your belief marginalize you, the fact that you have belief at all does give you some privilege that you may not be aware of.

The assumption that everyone believes in some sort of God is so widespread as to be practically invisible. And the assumption that morality must stem from religious faith is incredibly pervasive. Many religious believers — even the more hard-core ones, maybe especially the more hard-core ones — are more trusting of other religious believers whose beliefs they don’t share than they are of atheists. (Look again at “what it’s like to be an atheist” above… and look again the Gallup Poll about how atheists are considered less qualified to be President than any other group that was polled about.)

Mount-royal-cross
And if you are a Christian? Forget about it. If you are a Christian in the United States, then — when it comes to this particular area of the “privilege/ marginalization” palette — your Christianity puts you squarely in the “privileged mainstream” category. Christians are in the clear majority in the United States, and they are in the clear mainstream of politics and culture. You’re not being thrown to the lions anymore. You haven’t been thrown to the lions for almost 2,000 years. You are in the group that is running the show.

And that’s fine. That doesn’t make you a bad person. When it comes to the “privilege/ marginalization” palette, most people have some of both. I am privileged as a white person, a college- educated person, a middle- to- upper- middle class person, a more or less able bodied person, an American. I am marginalized as a woman, a queer, a bisexual, a fat person, an atheist. And my privileges don’t confer wickedness onto me, any more than my marginalizations confer virtue.

But my privileges do confer some responsibilities. They confer the responsibility to educate myself about the experiences of marginalized people, and the myths about them. To speak out against bigotry, even and especially when it isn’t against me. To not assume that everyone is just like me. To remember that passionate anger is as important to a movement as gentle diplomacy. To learn what kind of language people prefer when talking about them, and what kind of language totally sets their teeth on edge. (Which is just good manners anyway.) To tread carefully when I’m criticizing marginalized people, and to make sure I know what the hell I’m talking about.

And to not act like a victim when my privilege is questioned, or indeed simply pointed out.

Hand_shakeI do think progressive movements — the LGBT community, as well as others — should be making alliances with the atheist movement. If for no other reason, I think it’s a smart choice pragmatically. Like I said yesterday, the atheist movement is just beginning to get off the ground, and it’s already come very far in a very short time, both in terms of numbers and in terms of visibility. IMO, in the coming years and decades, it’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. You want to get in on the ground floor here, people.

And it’s also, you know, the right thing to do.

If you want to do that, I think this is a good place to start.

What do you think?


Addendum: I have, alas, had to turn off the comments on this post, as the comment thread has gone both completely off-topic and completely toxic. I’ve opened a new post — How To Be An Ally with Atheists: The Actual Thread — for anyone who wants to discuss the actual topic of this post. (And yes, I am all too aware of the irony of this particular post being the one where the comments went toxic.)

Important note: Please do not use the new comment thread to revive this original shut-down thread. Any attempt to do so will result in being banned from this blog. Thank you.

Comments

  1. jove says

    I think it’s a good start.
    Honestly, it sounds so much like every “Queer 101 Guide” or somesuch that in many places, if you replaced “atheist” with “gay” at every turn you’d almost have a great one of these guides.
    This is why I completely agree with your previous post about being queer and an athiest (being both myself).
    Although I still have to say – I don’t see why you’re surprised that the LGBT community doesn’t welcome its atheist brothers, sisters, (and those in between!) with open arms.
    I mean, when you get down to it, atheism is a direct attack on a person’s moral code (in their view), and this is the meat of why people don’t side with the atheist movement.
    People of faith are by definition irrational, choosing to believe in something they have no physical evidence for. On the other hand, atheists are typically very logical people and have “thought” their way to atheism.
    To me, this is why there’s an imbalance between why atheists accept the LGBT community and why the LGBT community is reluctant in many cases to accept atheists. As I said on the other page, LGBT rights are a natural extension of secular humanist thought, while atheism is a whole other game to most people in the queer community.
    In my own personal experience as an atheist in the queer community, I haven’t had to fight with much systemic discrimination, but you better bet that you’ll have to explain yourself to anyone who asks why anyone would ever choose to become an atheist. It’s not nearly the violent reaction you’d get out of a religious fundamentalist (as gay religious people are typically not very fundamentalist), but it’s there.
    I would guess that there is a much higher percentage of non-religious people in the queer community, due in my opinion to the incompatibility of Christianity and homosexuality in many denominations. It seems like religion typically loses the gays, but the gays don’t always lose religion.

  2. Bruce Gorton says

    On the whole morality issue, I actually came up with a counter to the claim that morality is based on faith a while back:
    http://blogs.thetimes.co.za/onthemoney/2008/10/30/its-faith-that-got-us-into-this-fix/#comments
    Which also should disabuse a lot of people of this idea that uncertainty leads to God. Faith is all about knowing, lacking it is all about not knowing.
    So, back on topic:
    One of the big things that the religious should do in order to ally with atheists is this: Don’t be a reasonable liberal.
    Now, what is a reasonable liberal? It is someone who uses incivility to excuse indecency.
    If someone does something which legitimately enrages us, don’t lecture us about how rude we are being speaking up about it.
    Don’t try to shut us up by making even talking about a subject impolite, don’t try to make the discussion about the sorry state of our manners, and frankly, don’t get suprised when you do that if we tell you to go out, buy a book on common etiquette, and shove it up your backside.
    Just like you feel absolute contempt for people talking about issues you care about (Like say, torture) saying you should be “more polite” about it, we feel absolute contempt for you.

  3. says

    #6 is a good point, and there are many atheists who are guilty of the same crime. I know atheists who will introduce themselves as atheists and then distance themselves from the “hardcore” atheists.
    Matthew Nisbet comes to mind.

  4. Eclectic says

    Jove: actually, atheism is definitely not a direct attack on anyone’s moral code. It is a repudiation (an attack, if you will) of the rationale for that code, but I’m not saying that the code is itself wrong; it’s quite possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason.
    Indeed, I suspect that religion as a meme, for all its parasitic aspects, has been adaptive for a large part of human history. Convincing people to work together in large groups is one of the crucial prerequisites for civilization even if that work consists largely of making war on other groups.
    It’s obviously not that deleterious for the hosts, as there don’t seem to be any shortage of them.
    So I think there’s a lot of value in the moral codes of popular religions. I just thing we have better tools for sorting the useful from the useless bits than “Hank will kick your ass if you don’t do this”.
    So much so that I’ll tend to go by parts of that code if I haven’t come up with a good reason to do otherwise. “It’s enabled people to live together for a few thousand years” is a good place to start.

  5. J. J. Ramsey says

    I don’t think you are going to be able to get rid of the division of “good atheists” and “bad atheists,” since there are atheists who do act badly. IMHO, the whole “good cop, bad cop” idea is superficially descriptive but glosses over real problems. What you can do is move people away from the idea that good atheists keep their mouths shut, and move them toward the idea that atheists can criticize believers without thinking that they are necessarily stupid or crazy.

  6. says

    This is absolutely awesome and brilliant and many other good things, and I intend to bookmark it so I can point people to it when I catch them breaking the rules left and right.
    I disagree with exactly one word in the entire post, and that’s really just my personal pet peeve rather than a point of substantial disagreement. Here’s the sentence that bugged me, with the word in bold:

    …a campaign that openly referred to atheists as “vile,” that treated the very existence of atheists as an abomination, and that used language about atheists that would have raised a tidal wave of shock and denunciation around the country if it had been aimed at any other religious group.

    Please, delete that ‘other’! Atheists (or secular humanists or whatever) should occasionally be considered a “religious group” in a purely hypothetical sense for the purpose of articulating the equality of religious belief and non-belief before the law, but in a broader context it always gets up my nose a bit when atheism is referred to as a religion, even by implication.

  7. says

    Hey Greta
    Couldn’t agree more, both with this post and yesterday’s. Since I started following godless politics three years ago I’ve noticed many, many parallels with the lbgt community and this makes me feel glad it wasn’t just me who thought so! However, I was surprised to hear that even amongst the lbgt community, the faithless are demonised – like you I just assumed we’d all be natural & positive & comfortable allies in the battle against ignorance.
    In this post I think point 9 may be one of the most important: lbgt Christians may be lbgt, but they are still Christians and in the US, more than anywhere else, that puts them a good measure above any nonreligious person in the eyes of society at large. Apart from Islamic theocracies I don’t think any country demonises atheism or even secularism the way the US does (ironic considering the unmistakeable secularist intent of Jefferson & co. when founding the nation) – you just have to look at Bill O’Reilly’s ridiculous ‘War On Christmas’ hysteria as a starting point.
    Misconceptions about atheism have long troubled me as well, so if you have five minutes, my post here (http://dangerousintersection.org/2008/09/22/why-i-am-not-an-atheist/) lays out my position pretty clearly and soberly. If you have 20 minutes, read the comments thread – that’s where shit gets lively and a bit less sober!
    Cheers & happy, um, Festivus
    Hank

  8. Patrick says

    Very good post. I particularly appreciate your treatment of the “certainty” fallacy about atheism, voiced by the otherwise intelligent Bill Maher in his recent promotion of his film “Religulous”. How can you make an entire film critical of religion and not understand atheism?

  9. Todd says

    The problem with the word fundamentalist as a pejorative, is that fundamentalists are proud to call themselves fundamentalists. Having been brought up a dispensationalist (the original fundies), I’m always amused when someone tries to use it as an insult.
    I’m less upset being called a militant atheist. In fact, I always get a twinge of hope that we’ll get uniforms and medals. That would be fucking cool. I’m going to go practice my goose stepping now.

  10. Rieux says

    Fabulous as always.
    In Section 2, as an example of how atheists are mistreated, it might be helpful to add a link to this Eugene Volokh post (and thereby the law review article of his he’s summarizing). Volokh found a large number of published court decisions from the past thirty years in which an atheist, skeptical, or religiously apathetic parent lost custody of his/her children, and the court specifically cited the parent’s irreligiosity as grounds for the custody decision. Nonbelievers cannot be trusted to give our children a “proper religious upbringing,” as a shocking number of judges have openly ruled.
    The parallels with gay parents are obvious, of course–but anyway, in my experience that example goes a fair distance toward showing that atheists can have a really tough time in modern America.

  11. jove says

    Eclectic: I understand that, but the people who are confronted by atheism don’t. So until you’ve convinced them that atheism isn’t an attack on their moral fiber, that’s how the vast majority of the world (the religious) sees it.

  12. says

    We’re fine with you as long as you don’t speak up too loudly, and don’t make us too uncomfortable, and don’t ask for too much.
    Brilliant, Greta! I’m going to remember that one – it’s such a devastatingly accurate summary of what people are really saying when they complain about nasty, mean “fundamentalist” atheists.
    Regarding your point #2 and Rieux’s excellent comment above, I’d like to add another example of anti-atheist discrimination: the torrent of raving hatred, bigotry and threats that inevitably arise whenever a public figure identifies themselves as non-religious, or when a non-religious person speaks out in the media.
    For instance, a reporter named Bob Norman who covered Michael Newdow’s lawsuit against the Pledge of Allegiance noted that not only had Newdow been attacked and threatened, he himself became a target of the threats as well, just for giving Newdow coverage. Norman said that he had written about mobsters, dirty politicians and rogue cops many times in the past, but he had never been threatened as viciously as he was by religious people who despised him merely for discussing Newdow’s case.
    Former religion reporter William Lobdell (himself now an atheist) noted the same phenomenon, observing that when he wrote articles that touched on controversial topics, “I traditionally never got more vicious hate mail than from people of the faith… This is a phenomenon attested to by religion writers across the country”.

  13. says

    Hey! You mentioned me twice! I feel special. Firstly when you referred to my comment on your previous post, and secondly here:
    As someone whose name I can’t remember recently said: Religion has been discussed in hushed tones for so long, that when people talk about it in a normal tone of voice, it sounds like we’re screaming.
    That was me in a comment on Daylight Atheism here, quoted by Ebonmuse here. That’s right, meeee! Me me me me meeeeeee!
    Ahem.
    Now if I could just bring myself to update my own blog with any regularity . . .

  14. says

    :Do not — repeat, DO NOT — talk about “fundamentalist atheists.”
    If the shoe fits, “fundamentalist atheists” can wear it. . .
    OTOH Atheist Supremacist makes a fine alternative to the term “fundamentalist atheist”, possibly even a *superior* and more fitting one. ;-)

  15. says

    :Think of the phrase “fundamentalist atheist” as an epithet. If you insist on using it, you should expect that no atheist will listen to anything else you say.
    You had better tell that to the atheists I know who use the term “fundamentalist atheists” themselves when they want to distance themselves and disassociate themselves from intolerant and obnoxious “fundamentalist atheists” aka Atheist Supremacists like Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers et al. . .
    You can read more about what I have to say about this the ‘Supporting Atheists As Anti-Oppression Work‘ thread on Unitarian*Universalist Atheist Steve Caldwell’s Liberal Faith Development blog which references this post.

  16. vel says

    First, I am an atheist that thinks at least the Christian God does not exist 100%, if he is as described in the Bible. Other deities, I am, as was said “certain enough” that they don’t.
    I like #4. However, to get a supposedly liberal theist to speak out against their hateful brethern is just about impossible. They circle the wagons, as if actually recognizing that “good theists” can be hateful idiots would destroy their faith. And well it might, this understanding that their deity seems to tacitly agree with such hate.

  17. Justin says

    I think this is a terrific list.
    One addition I would make is to ask people not to assume we’re unhappy or have been hurt by “bad Christians.” Most atheists are just as happy as anyone with their life and worldview, and have rationally evaluated the claims of religions before rejecting them.

  18. Rieux says

    Greta wrote:

    Think of the phrase “fundamentalist atheist” as an epithet. If you insist on using it, you should expect that no atheist will listen to anything else you say.

    And Robin Edgar responded:

    You had better tell that to the atheists I know who use the term “fundamentalist atheists” themselves when they want to distance themselves and disassociate themselves from intolerant and obnoxious “fundamentalist atheists” aka Atheist Supremacists like Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers et al. . .

    You’re correct, Robin, that some of the people who complain about “fundamentalist atheists” are themselves atheists.
    I think it’s clear, though, that that kind of response is a common feature of oppressed groups as well. First, the “Uncle Tom,” the minority member who attacks or betrays his or her own kind in order to curry favor with the powerful majority, is not a new concept. And second, of course, the existence of atheists who disagree with Greta does not refute her points. Atheists can be wrong, too.
    I can’t say I agree with every word I have ever read from Richard Dawkins or P.Z. Myers, but it is absurd to call either one of them an “atheist fundamentalist.” (Which, sadly, doesn’t stop a large number of people from doing so. …To the justified frustration of Greta and many more of us.)
    For lurkers: Robin is a minor celebrity within the world of Unitarian Universalism (a denomination I recently left, in large part because I’d had enough of UUs who desperately need to learn the things Greta is trying to get across in this post).
    Robin’s experiences within UUism make for a very interesting story; you can read one media report here. Two UU bloggers (who are not very friendly to Robin) give a their reactions to Robin’s online activity here and here. And Robin’s YouTube channel, in which he chronicles his long-term protest vigil in front of the Montreal UU congregation that he believes wronged him, is here.

  19. J. J. Ramsey says

    Rieux: “the ‘Uncle Tom,’ the minority member who attacks or betrays his or her own kind in order to curry favor with the powerful majority, is not a new concept.”
    One doesn’t need to be an “Uncle Tom” to find the phrase “fundamentalist atheist” attractive. As I noted awhile back:
    “I think what is happening is this. Real fundamentalists and people like Dawkins act somewhat similar because they are both ideologues. People pick up on the real similarities between them, even if they can’t quite nail down what they are, but instead of calling both of them different flavors of ideologue, they liken one kind of ideologue to the other, and the irony in calling an atheist a ‘fundamentalist’ is just too tempting.”
    In case you are wondering why I called Dawkins an ideologue, it is because he can be blindly partisan, which he shows by not being careful with the facts.

  20. Rieux says

    One doesn’t need to be an “Uncle Tom” to find the phrase “fundamentalist atheist” attractive.

    Perhaps that’s true, but it’s notably difficult to find such an animal in the real world. I can’t say I’m aware of a single atheist who (a) finds “fundamentalist atheist” attractive but (b) is not a blatant Uncle Tom.

  21. Pig says

    J. J. Ramsey
    No, you call Dawkins a ideologue because you find it politically convenient.
    Dawkins is perfectly fine with his facts, but he is a conveniently public atheist, so calling him an ideologue and hinting at him being dishonest, helps you curry favour.
    You come across as a blatant Uncle Tom.

  22. J. J. Ramsey says

    Pig, you could have easily checked if Dawkins was “perfectly fine with his facts” by clicking at the link I provided and working from there.

  23. says

    Not to belabor the obvious, but isn’t calling someone an “Uncle Tom” because they don’t agree with your anti-namecalling stance sorta goofy?
    CC

  24. Richard Wade says

    This is an excellent list. Since the only act anyone can clean up is their own, we should immediately apply the general idea of it to ourselves to set the example.
    Alliances require mutuality. For theists to adopt Greta’s suggestions, the atheists to whom they are reaching out must reciprocate with the same courtesy and respectful treatment. Atheists must conduct themselves towards theists in the same spirit of the suggestions or there will be no alliances.
    Yes, we have our injuries and our anger, but we must use those as reasons for building the alliances rather than let them continue to be obstacles that tear them down. It takes a great deal of maturity to get past our sense of well-justified resentment and contempt, and instead to focus on a positive mutual goal. Are we up to it?
    I’m no (ahem) saint, but I’m willing to try. I hope that I can be a part of such an alliance.

  25. Rieux says

    Not to belabor the obvious, but isn’t calling someone an “Uncle Tom” because they don’t agree with your anti-namecalling stance sorta goofy?

    And this “you” is supposed to be who?
    Or perhaps atheists are a single undifferentiable mass?

  26. J. J. Ramsey says

    Robin Edgar, “Atheist Supremacist” is an over-the-top way of likening an atheist to white power rangers (to borrow a turn of phrase from Orac’s Respectful Insolence). How does that put you any less in “Hitler Zombie” territory than Dawkins’ Neville Chamberlain comments? This is not good.

  27. says

    Quoting Christina: “6: Don’t divide and conquer, and don’t try to take away our anger. […]
    Don’t say things like, “Well, you seem reasonable — but that Richard Dawkins and that Christopher Hitchens, they’re just so mean and intolerant!”
    An analogy I love to make: I am involved with disability issues and sit on my town’s disability commission.
    Most people know of Helen Keller. She was the Christopher Reeve of her day. If The Onion was around then it would have called her “Inspirational Cripple of the Year” (as they did Reeve a few years before his death).
    People love it when “good” disabled people come out and be role models or ideals or heroes or “ambassadors” of their conditions. Reeve never needed the ADA, since everyone loved him!
    Keller was idolized like that, except when she became a committed socialist (which was and is as much an epithet as “atheist”.) She knew the difference between the praise she had for being a “role model” and the scorn she got for talking “politics” in the 1920’s during circumstances not much different from today’s.
    I know about being put up on a pedestal. I don’t worry about being taken down if I play “bad cop” at our meetings and in my blog as I usually do. I’m a person and not a “good disabled” person or “bad disabled” person.
    Or a “good atheist” for that matter.

  28. Pig says

    I read your link: You actually don’t make a case.
    You take what are statements of opinion and then try to spin them into being statements of fact.
    You do not even demonstrate that those opinions are wrong.
    You are just trying to curry favour by calling prominent atheists liars, and lying to do it.
    If you want to point to atheist groups that actually are more “liberal with the truth” you could point to the atheist kiddies movement known as the Rational Response Squad, but they are not taken as seriously as PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins – and thus you don’t come across quite as much as a “atheist on our side” to the religious when going after them.

  29. Jim Robinson says

    I am an atheist. I am also anti-theistic in that I want religion gone from the world. And I’m sorry, but even my extremely pig headed and often insultingly angry dismissal of religion simply cannot accurately be called “fundamentalist” or “dogmatic” or “rigid”. I dance to my own tune, and while I do dance hard I will change that tune at the drop of credible evidence.
    PS Christopher Hitchens is still my very favorite atheist asshole.

  30. Bruce Gorton says

    Some more that would help religious members of other groups ally with atheists:
    1) Give credit where it is due, and don’t try to distance yourself from those who helped you.
    This is what prompted this pair of blog posts by Greta, the LGBT community gave more credit to the very people who came out en masse in favour of Proposition 8 for opposing it, than people who actually opposed it.
    If you want to be our ally, sometimes that includes acknowledging when we do something to help you.
    The same goes for other religious minorities. Disagree with our view of the universe all you like but when we march for secularism, we are in part marching to protect your rights too.
    You do not want an overtly Christian state banning your worship of say, Vishnu or Woden, and we don’t want an atheist state banning worship in general.
    2) Understand our aims.
    Realise that modern atheists do not demand that you agree with them, they demand the freedom to disagree with you.
    And it is this right that a lot of the religious right and left strive to kill.
    That is why the fundementalist label, or Robin’s frankly idiotic supremacist label pisses us off, because we do not demand that you agree with us.
    We are well aware that a person may agree with us on a lot of issues, and disagree with us on a few issues, without this awareness none of us, atheist or theist would function.
    Once we have achieved at least that, then the argument turns to conversion, and it is an argument not a civil war. We don’t propose violence, we propose the idea that competing ideas be given a level playing field.
    The only reason this would threaten you, is because you think we are right. If you thought you were right, you would engage the discussion, not try to make counter arguments instantly “Rude.”
    Which brings me too…
    3: If you want us to be polite, stop taking our arguments personally.
    Let us express our side of the argument, and if you think we have a point, so be it. If you think we don’t, so be it.
    But don’t pretend that us merely presenting an argument is offensive to you.
    That is what is building anti-theist sentiment, you yammer on at us about faith 24/7, we can’t get a word in edgewise because somehow disagreeing with you is seen as insulting you.
    You have the Uncle Toms (Though I prefer the term “Reasonable Liberal”, which amounts to much the same thing) saying we shouldn’t insult you, well how the heck are we supposed to not insult you?
    You guys take offence at people saying they are atheists, while wearing religious symbols around your necks.
    For civil conversation to exist, it must first be possible, and right now, it isn’t.
    And you know the funny thing? If the state of affairs existed where civil conversation was possible, a lot of us, particularly the more militant atheists like myself?
    We would slowly stop talking about religion. Not because religion would suddenly be right, but because it would no longer be seen as the threat it is now.

  31. J. J. Ramsey says

    Pig: “You take what are statements of opinion and then try to spin them into being statements of fact.”
    If you are going to say that, I suggest that you at least show an example. And saying that I am “just trying to curry favour” is mind reading.

  32. Pig says

    Okay Ramsey
    One from PZ Myers.
    
one of the things that really annoys me about my side of the debate is that so many sit in such terror of making anyone unhappy that they avoid any vigor in the arguments; they seem to blanch in terror that whomping down hard on the stupidity of their so-called “allies” will cause them to run away. Their strategy is to toady up to creationists and fencesitters and pious twits and ignorant theologians and little old ladies who faint at the sight of monkeys, and hope that mewling softly will win them over.
    Here PZ Myers is expressing his opinion a certain type of scientist he has experience of.
    But, you take this expression of dislike, and turn it into an example of PZ Myers being an ideologue – well kiss my ass.
    You come with the example of Dawkins referring to the “Neville Chamberlain” school of evolutionary biology. Now, do you actually know what motivated Neville Chamberlain?
    He thought it better to make concessions then end up with conflict. He wasn’t a bad man, he wasn’t evil in any way, he just thought that you must set aside what you think is right, for the sake of peace. This is precisely what you preach atheists should do.
    Not, “Lets put our best arguments forward” or even “I disagree with this person” it is “Lets not rock the boat.”
    What Dawkins is talking about is the guy who says “Differing magesteria” to try and avoid rocking the boat, the guy who lets his science suffer because he is afraid it might offend people.
    It isn’t the guy who disagrees with him about what the evidence points to, it is the guy who agrees with him but allows political considerations to come before the science he is practicing.
    Now, the situation is a clear analog to another –
    http://www.sadlyno.com/archives/002710.html
    And it is my opinion of precisely how your arguments come across. If you aren’t trying to toady up to religious people you are damn good job of pretending to.
    Instead of actually arguing a case, you argue that as much as you think the religious might be wrong, us atheists we are rude and that is unacceptable to you.
    When Dawkins talks about the Winston Churchill school of science, he says “Is it right? Yes? Who cares if it results in conflict, it is right.”
    And that school includes evolutionary theorists who disagree with Dawkins on the implications of evolutionary science.

  33. says

    (((Or perhaps atheists are a single undifferentiable mass?)))
    That was me neither dividing nor conquering.
    To me, this “Uncle Tom’ is a legitimate term, but
    ‘fundamentalist atheist’ is a slur” stuff sounds a lot like “You need to respect the people who are more radical than you, but you can be as nasty as you want to anyone less radical than you.”
    Again, goofy.
    CC

  34. says

    Besides, talking about religious people as an undifferentiated mass is just as weird if not weirder and there are lots of examples of that in this thread.
    For example,
    (((This is what prompted this pair of blog posts by Greta, the LGBT community gave more credit to the very people who came out en masse in favour of Proposition 8 for opposing it, than people who actually opposed it.)))
    CC

  35. J. J. Ramsey says

    Pig:

    Here PZ Myers is expressing his opinion a certain type of scientist he has experience of.

    He is also making a testable statement of fact, that that those who are on Myers’ side are toadying up to creationists as part of their strategy, and I pointed out that this just isn’t true. When have you seen the NCSE toady to Duane Gish or William Dembski?
    Pig:

    You come with the example of Dawkins referring to the ‘Neville Chamberlain’ school of evolutionary biology.”

    Yes, as an example of demonization, in this case, likening one’s adversaries, even the “moderate” and “sensible” ones, to the Nazis. (The scare quotes are Dawkins’.) Now if you think that the moderate religious are really on par with one of the greatest evils of the 20th century, then I suggest that you go to the Simon Wiesenthal center and buy a clue.
    BTW, Orac from Respectful Insolence wrote two posts on the problem of the whole Chamberlain nonsense. I already posted a link to the first one in my response to Robin Edger, so here is the second:
    The Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists, revisited one (hopefully) last time

  36. Pig says

    Ramsey
    I would kindly suggest you buy a clue.
    Neville Chamberlain was not a Nazi.
    He is used as an example of the dangers of making concessions, when concessions are not warranted and those you are making concessions to, aren’t going to be appeased.
    He was a guy who put aside what he thought was right, to try and buy peace.
    And ultimately, with all of these concessions, Chamberlain failed. What could have been stopped in the Rhine, went on to cause a world war that would be ended by two nuclear bombs.
    If the science is good, and you are making concessions out of political concerns, then aren’t you doing precisely what Neville Chamberlain did?
    And with the constant threat of people who drag the US into court every five years or so over their attempts to teach creationism as science, the stakes are high here.
    Now one can’t say the creationists are like the Nazis, but one can see the same basic escalation coming, where concessions to religion just lead to more demands for concessions, when what are concessions actually doing?
    Taking good science, and replacing it with rubbish – which can have disasterous consequences.
    And that is why I see what you preach, as the Neville Chamberlain school.
    There is no need to concede things, to limit scientists to certain topics beyond which they may not venture. Scientific study should be free to examine the universe, not shackled by what is politically correct.

  37. Mark says

    “…country if it had been aimed at any other religious group.”
    Be careful with this kind of wording. I know you didn’t mean to state that atheists are a religious group but many of us have to debunk the “atheism as a religion” argument so often we don’t wouldn’t want any prominent atheist bloggers providing ammunition to our adversaries.
    Thanks
    -Mark

  38. Pig says

    Oh, and a funny thing, what you are arguing in favour of, what you are defending in your argument against “Ideologues” is scientific dishonesty.
    Because those statements are not against guys who honestly disagree with them, it is those guys that agree with them, but are too afraid of conflict to come out and say so.

  39. Rieux says

    That was me neither dividing nor conquering.

    Nor paying attention. On the actual thread we are participating in here, there has been one person (albeit a very important one) who has announced what you have described as an “anti-namecalling stance.” Approximately two participants–who happen to be different people than the very important one with the announced “anti-namecalling stance”–have indicated support of the concept of “Uncle Toms” in this context.
    In response, you sneered that “calling someone an ‘Uncle Tom’ because they don’t agree with your anti-namecalling stance” is “sorta goofy.” You apparently failed to notice that there isn’t a single person here who has both adopted an “anti-namecalling stance” and called anyone an “Uncle Tom.”
    Evidently you weren’t paying attention. Apropos of an earlier comment, you desperately need to learn the things Greta is trying to get across in this post.

  40. J. J. Ramsey says

    Pig:

    Neville Chamberlain was not a Nazi.

    No kidding, Sherlock.

    He is used as an example of the dangers of making concessions

    Yes, concessions to Nazis.

    Now one can’t say the creationists are like the Nazis, but one can see the same basic escalation coming, where concessions to religion just lead to more demands for concessions, when what are concessions actually doing?

    Are we even in the same universe here? The creationists have been beaten back in every major court case since Scopes, and when they’ve been beaten back, they’ve either diluted or further tried to hide their agenda, or both. And guess who has been beating them back? The very people that Dawkins calls “appeasers.”

  41. Pig says

    Ramsey
    No, it has been people who were anything but appeasers taking the local school boards to court.
    Where both sides ended up weighing in, the creationists have been forced to admit their theory is non-scientific and the theory of evolution has won on the evidence.
    Professionalism in the court system has saved the science classroom, not a policy of appeasement.

  42. J. J. Ramsey says

    Pig:

    No, it has been people who were anything but appeasers taking the local school boards to court.

    Pig, you are missing the point. Obviously the people taking on the school boards, including the NCSE, aren’t really appeasers by any reasonable standard. My point is that didn’t stop Dawkins from calling them appeasers anyway, because they worked with people like Ken Miller to help them win court cases and have argued that evolution isn’t a fatal blow to religion.
    Pig:

    Oh, and a funny thing, what you are arguing in favour of, what you are defending in your argument against “Ideologues” is scientific dishonesty.

    Evidence? Again, if you are going to make such a charge, substantiate it.

  43. Pig says

    J. J. Ramsey
    Dawkins is referring to people as appeasers because they bastardise their science in order to make it inoffensive to the religious.
    What he is arguing against is scientific dishonesty. You are using the fact that he uses strong language to try and defend scientific dishonesty.

  44. J. J. Ramsey says

    Pig:

    Dawkins is referring to people as appeasers because they bastardise their science in order to make it inoffensive to the religious.

    Bastardize it how, Pig? Even the so-called appeasers insist on methodological naturalism, and compromise neither on the facts on the ground or evolution as a theory.

  45. says

    (((You apparently failed to notice that there isn’t a single person here who has both adopted an “anti-namecalling stance” and called anyone an “Uncle Tom.”))))
    Well, actually, given what I see as the sheer obviousness of the “namecalling makes even good arguments sound stupid and in general is unproductive” point, and the fact that on a thread full of people pointing out their disagreements with each other no one had bothered to disagree with it, I did kind of think it was more or less consensus.
    But OK, I would love to hear an explanation from either you, Rieux, or Pig about why namecalling is a reasonable thing to do and a valid approach to this conversation about anti-oppression.
    CC

  46. J. J. Ramsey says

    And another thing, Pig. Dawkins wasn’t just “referring to people as appeasers,” he was making an argumentum ad Naziium. The implication, whether he wanted it to be there or not, is that these so-called appeasers are capitulating against an ever-encroaching, murderously evil foe. The evidence of capitulation is sketchy, as I pointed out above, and as for evil, we’re talking creationists, not people who spear babies on bayonets. Dawkins’ analogy is grossly inflammatory and doesn’t make that much sense when viewed closely.

  47. J. J. Ramsey says

    Me: “as for evil, we’re talking creationists, not people who spear babies on bayonets.”
    Actually, it’s even more skewed than that. Since it is the more sensible religious who are being appeased, we aren’t even talking creationists here, but about believers who are already fairly liberal.

  48. Pig says

    J. J. Ramsey
    Argument ad naziam?
    No he didn’t. He compared people to Chamberlain, who wasn’t a Nazi – something you already admitted.
    As to how it is scientifically dishonest: It is in essence a choice to silence how the science contradicts the book of Genesis, specifically the concept that creatures of the land, air and sea all developed in seperate periods, rather than the more mixed development that occurred according to evolution, where some sea creatures developed into land animals, only to develop back into being sea animals (Such as the dolphin.)
    Even the Catholic argument of “What is a day” cannot account for how while animals of say, the air were developing, speciation and evolution still happened in the sea.
    Instead this major contradiction is overlooked, in favour of not offending religion. Where religion makes material claims, and those claims are contradicted by science, there has to be honesty in stating that.
    Instead of this honesty, we get “Differing magesterium” which serves to immunise those religious claims – thus allowing creationism to flourish even as the evidence against it mounts.

  49. J. J. Ramsey says

    Pig:

    Argument ad naziam?
    No he didn’t. He compared people to Chamberlain, who wasn’t a Nazi

    Never mind that Chamberlain has a bad reputation not only because he appeased, but because of who he appeased.
    Pig:

    As to how it is scientifically dishonest: It is in essence a choice to silence how the science contradicts the book of Genesis … Even the Catholic argument of “What is a day” cannot account for how while animals of say, the air were developing, speciation and evolution still happened in the sea.

    There are far more options than the day-age argument, such as treating Genesis as some vague metaphor or just throwing out Genesis altogether, both of which avoid the difficulties that you mention.

  50. says

    And yet another reminder to everyone: Please keep this debate civil. This is not Pharyngula: I expect a basic level of respect, courtesy, and non- personal- name- calling in my comments. The next person who uses a personal insult towards another guest in this blog will be disemvowelled.
    (I’d like to ask you to keep it on topic as well, but I suppose that’s a lost cause. Before you comment, however, I would like you to ask yourself what it is you’re saying to the rest of the people reading this thread about what atheists are like as allies.)

  51. Rieux says

    But OK, I would love to hear an explanation from either you, Rieux, or Pig about why namecalling is a reasonable thing to do….

    Of course, that is not remotely the proposition at issue. Straw-man arguments get us nowhere.
    Here’s the first time that the term “Uncle Tom” came up in this thread–from yours truly:

    First, the “Uncle Tom,” the minority member who attacks or betrays his or her own kind in order to curry favor with the powerful majority, is not a new concept.

    Which, on its face, is merely a statement that collaboration–the “Uncle Tom” phenomenon–is real. That it is a real-life phenomenon that educated observers should expect to encounter when a minority group finds itself oppressed by a majority.
    As a result, the fact that a handful of members of an oppressed minority are (as Robin noticed) willing to join the ignorant/bigoted majority in bashing their fellow members of the minority fails to show that the in-group bashers are correct.
    That collaboration exists is a simple fact, regardless of whether anyone in particular deems it acceptable to say so. Anyone who is actually interested in dealing with the problems that oppression causes will recognize that.
    Then, to the “namecalling” trope, here’s our hostess:

    Just a reminder, people; Disagreement in these comments is fine. Personal insults and attacks are not. Please keep the tone civil. Thanks.

    Clear: a plea for a particular tone in the comments thread of her own blog.
    But then, here she is in the OP:

    If you think an atheist or an atheist group is being intolerant, or bigoted, or close-minded, then by all means, say that they’re being intolerant or bigoted or close-minded. But please, for the sweet love of all that is beautiful in this world, do not call them “fundamentalist atheists.”

    Now, goodness, wouldn’t calling an atheist or an atheist group “intolerant, or bigoted, or close-minded” be name-calling? Of course it would–which suggests (as do the actual reasons she gave for her “no ‘fundamentalist atheist’-calling” stance) that Greta’s point is something other than the absurd “No name-calling EVAR” she has been straw-manned into.
    The invocation of “Uncle Tom” here has not been simple name-calling, and Greta’s position is not simple opposition to name-calling. It would be nice if this thread involved actual nuanced discussion of the real oppression Greta identified and the consequences it has, rather than bad-faith strawmen that serve only to distract attention from the issues she raised.

  52. Pig says

    Ramsey
    Would it have been better if he called them Mbekis?
    Okay, if aren’t follow events in Zimbabwe, you might miss the reference, but it amounts to the same thing.

  53. Pig says

    There are far more options than the day-age argument, such as treating Genesis as some vague metaphor or just throwing out Genesis altogether, both of which avoid the difficulties that you mention.
    Posted by: J. J. Ramsey

    The first doesn’t work due to how the Jesus myth* played out. The perfect man had to die for the perfect man’s sins, which ties the OT to the NT, and dying for a strained metaphor doesn’t cut it.
    The second, makes the Bible fallible, thus not the word of God, and thus questionable in its authenticity as a whole.
    *Okay, just to clarify, I figure there probably was a guy called Jesus who developed a following in that period who got crucified, however enough got added, subtracted, redacted, altered in translation, spun and victimised by poetic license to make his story more myth than fact. Besides, nobody is ever quite the way stories portray them.

  54. says

    Now, goodness, wouldn’t calling an atheist or an atheist group “intolerant, or bigoted, or close-minded” be name-calling?

    There is a difference between criticizing actions and beliefs — even harshly criticizing actions and beliefs — and issuing personal insults. It is a line that has been crossed in some of the comments in this comment thread. I’m asking you all to please refrain from doing that, and to dial down the toxic tone.
    The commenters in this blog are, of course, free to take and to foster whatever tone they like in their own blogs. But I try to maintain a basic tone of respect, civility, and cutting one another slack in my blog. Please respect that. Thank you.

  55. Pig says

    But OK, I would love to hear an explanation from either you, Rieux, or Pig about why namecalling is a reasonable thing to do….

    The use of a name can provide a form of shorthand if the meaning is clear, such that an argument that appears to bear the characteristics of being an “Uncle Tom” argument, can in fact be called as such.
    Neville Chamberlain also serves such a function (Which is sort of the worst possible fate for a politician may I add) as he has come to symbolise appeasement at the expense of what is right.

  56. Rieux says

    Quoth our hostess:

    There is a difference between criticizing actions and beliefs — even harshly criticizing actions and beliefs — and issuing personal insults.

    Absolutely–a big difference. A word like “name-calling” tends to bury that distinction.

  57. J. J. Ramsey says

    Pig:

    The first doesn’t work due to how the Jesus myth* [i.e. the orthodox religious views of Jesus’ life] played out. The perfect man had to die for the perfect man’s sins, which ties the OT to the NT, and dying for a strained metaphor doesn’t cut it.
    The second, makes the Bible fallible, thus not the word of God, and thus questionable in its authenticity as a whole.

    I think you’d be surprised at the, um, creativity of moderate/liberal theists in dealing with these issues. (You might also wonder why they bother with such creativity, but …)
    Anyway, trying to get back on topic …
    I think, Greta, that this has been your sticking point:

    Don’t divide us into “good atheists” and “bad atheists” based on how vocal or angry we are. Don’t say things like, “Well, you seem reasonable — but that Richard Dawkins and that Christopher Hitchens, they’re just so mean and intolerant!”

    I’m sure that you did NOT mean to send a message like this: “Your reasons for finding Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. are illegitimate and sinister and you should stifle your complaints about them.” Unfortunately, that’s pretty much what you ended up doing.
    Hitchens, in his original edition of God Is Not Great, repeated the anti-Semitic canard about Orthodox Jews having sex through a sheet. I already mentioned Dawkins’ encounters with the Hitler Zombie. Taner Edis has criticized Sam Harris for being atrociously bad at understanding the Muslims that he lambasts. Given that prominent atheists bring some pretty shoddy stuff to the table, it’s pretty unreasonable for you to expect theists not to complain about this stuff and not to praise atheists who make a good faith effort to not be shoddy.
    Furthermore, it looks like you are trying to minimize the real concerns of theists by saying that they are just a masked way to complain about atheists being more vocal. Sometimes it is a mask, but not always. Sometimes it’s a case of atheists falling into the Gadfly Corollary trap and theists responding likewise.

  58. J. J. Ramsey says

    Errm, the above should read “Your reasons for finding Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. ‘mean and intolerant’ are illegitimate and sinister ….”

  59. Pig says

    Ramsey
    I don’t accept the Dawkins Hitler Zombie argument – Chamberlain wasn’t a Nazi and isn’t used simply to reference Nazis, but rather to reference the concept of appeasement.
    That said:
    Well, here is the issue:
    Criticise them, fine.
    But what I see Greta as saying is closer to this: don’t lump very different atheists together, who are united in only on thing – how vocal they are as atheists – as bad atheists.
    Don’t make being a vocal atheist, what qualifies somebody as a bad atheist.
    An atheist can be a bad person, just like any member of any minority can be a bad person, but being vocal isn’t what makes them bad.
    The RRS is an example of vocal atheists who have a lot wrong with them, but it isn’t that they are vocal that makes them a problem, it is that they get their facts wrong and claim airs which they haven’t earned yet.
    If you are going to criticise them, criticise them as individuals or as individual groups even, don’t divide atheists into the “Good atheists” who keep schtum, and the “Bad atheists” who speak out.

  60. Jim Robinson says

    J.J. Ramsey,
    YOU are the one going on about Nazis, just saying.
    Also, while I would not bring Nazis into it myself, I don’t think you get to say for free that Nazis are somehow categorically more evil than creationists (or even moderate religionists.) When I follow your writing here I see you repeatedly and inaccurately restate other people’s arguments and with each restatement make them seem more absurd.
    This may be all well and good when the point is to win rather than arrive at some sort of truth or understanding. Otherwise it is just a pain in the ass.

  61. says

    I had a great experience in a social justice training where I shared my experience of exclusion as an atheist child in a very Christian community in the form of being silent during “under god” of the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterward, a participant who is my colleague and also is a minister came to me and told me it had been a life-changing moment. He told me “I said to God ‘God, I’m in the room with atheists.’ And God said, ‘You’re right where you’re supposed to be.'” And it really made me cry.

  62. J. J. Ramsey says

    Jim Harrison, I’m going to give you the same sort of advice as I did Pig. If you want to claim that I “inaccurately restate other people’s arguments,” then show examples.
    Indeed, some theists (and atheists) would look at the attempts by you and Jim Harrison to defuse the Neville Chamberlain analogy as downright desperate, especially since it wasn’t a habitual Dawkins-basher who brought them up in the first place. It looks like an attempt to sweep real problems under the rug.
    Pig: “But what I see Greta as saying is closer to this: don’t lump very different atheists together, who are united in only on thing – how vocal they are as atheists – as bad atheists.”
    That may be what Greta is trying to say, but it comes across as saying, “You’re not mad at the ‘bad’ atheists for actually being bad. You’re just mad at them for being vocal.” Again, it looks like an attempt to sweep real problems under the rug.

  63. Jim Robinson says

    Jim Harrison, I’m going to give you the same sort of advice as I did Pig. If you want to claim that I “inaccurately restate other people’s arguments,” then show examples.
    Gosh JJ, good point. Where to find examples … oh, hey how about right here? My name is not Jim Harrison, you can check. A trivial but utterly unambiguous inaccuracy. I will count it against you because I believe it was you who were the first to cast a “fast and loose with the facts” stone. Or how about:
    Indeed, some theists (and atheists) would look at the attempts by you and Jim Harrison to defuse the Neville Chamberlain analogy as downright desperate, especially since it wasn’t a habitual Dawkins-basher who brought them up in the first place.
    for two more. I have made no attempt (and more to the point, have no intent) to defuse the Champerlain analogy. I have simply pointed out that it is you who want to make it about Nazis. You then go on to make an irrelevant and fallacious argument from authority. Irrelevant because I have never argued for or against the validity of the Chamberlain analogy. Fallacious because it makes no difference to the validity of the Chamberlain analogy if “who brought them up in the first place” is “a habitual Dawkins-basher” or not.
    Bonus observation: you also seem to cherry pick your “arguments” in a way that lets you avoid discussing anything of substance at all. e.g. While asserting that I have failed to meet some specious burden to “show some examples” (specious because, really, the examples are obviously right here already) you have failed to address my substantive critique. I’ll restate it here:
    Even if I grant your assertion that the Chamberlain analogy is an argument ad Naziem you must still go on to demonstrate that such an analogy is fatally flawed by distinguishing religionists from Nazis in a way that invalidates the analogy.
    I’m not writing here to persuade you, JJ, because I have concluded that you are not really open to reasoned persuasion. I’m writing in the hopes of making it easier for others to see what hand waving and bad faith arguments look like and I thank you for providing such clear examples.

  64. Pig says

    Ramsey
    1: Whether the person who first came up with the argument was a Dawkins basher or not, it doesn’t change my basic argument that it is not an argument ad Naziem, as Chamberlain, not being a Nazi, did not represent the Nazis.
    The Nazis and Chamberlain don’t even represent the same ideas in common usage. They represent opposing ends of the spectrum, Chamberlain being someone who tolerated something that shouldn’t have been tolerated and the Nazis being warlike fascists.
    It is closer to being an argument ad anti-Naziem.
    As to how Greta seems to come across to you, well that’s because you aren’t trying to understand what people are actually saying, you are trying to find nits to pick so you can come across as “reasonable”.

  65. J. J. Ramsey says

    Jim Robinson: “My name is not Jim Harrison”
    Sorry about that.
    Jim Robinson: “While asserting that I have failed to meet some specious burden to ‘show some examples’ …”
    Asking for evidence is never specious. However, using my absent-mindedness to avoid giving them is.
    Jim Robinson: “Even if I grant your assertion that the Chamberlain analogy is an argument ad Naziem you must still go on to demonstrate that such an analogy is fatally flawed by distinguishing religionists from Nazis in a way that invalidates the analogy.”
    I’d already pointed out to Pig that the so-called appeasers haven’t done much in the way of actual appeasing. As for the idea that I should point out how “Nazis are somehow categorically more evil than creationists (or even moderate religionists),” well, I suppose that’s only fair, although I’m a bit surprised that it isn’t blindingly obvious to you. We certainly don’t generally have creationists advocating mass murder, for example.

  66. says

    :Robin Edgar, “Atheist Supremacist” is an over-the-top way of likening an atheist to white power rangers (to borrow a turn of phrase from Orac’s Respectful Insolence).
    Some Atheist Supremacists make White Power Rangers look like Boy Scouts J.J. Even if that was not the case the fact remains that Richard Dawkins and other like-minded atheists believe that atheists are superior human beings to what they call “Faith-heads” and that makes them Atheist Supremacists even if they do not attempt to use violence to impose their Atheist Supremacist ideology on other people.
    :How does that put you any less in “Hitler Zombie” territory than Dawkins’ Neville Chamberlain comments? This is not good.
    Surely that question is much better addressed to Rieux regarding his “Uncle Tom(s)” comments. . .

  67. Pig says

    Robin
    Reading what you just posted I can only conclude that you are a bigot.
    There is no other word for it. You are a bigot. This is why you got slammed in the UU. This is why you get called names from both sides.
    You are a bigot. You are a bigot because ultimately while playing the victim you refuse to see the difference between people just coming out and saying “We don’t agree with you” or even “We think our ideas are right, and are better than yours” and people who threaten with violence for not agreeing with them.
    You are the precise reason why I say the softly-softly approach to handling religious bigots has not worked.
    You are the precise reason we need the Dawkinses and the Harrisses, because you preach a line which is basically hatespeech – and you do it, while whining about what a victim you are.
    And you are the precise reason why J.J. gets called an uncle Tom, because his line of reasoning ultimately is there to try and shield you from the scorn and condemnation you would recieve if you had said the same thing about blacks, the same thing about Jews, the same thing about gays, the same thing about any other minority.

  68. J. J. Ramsey says

    Robin Edgar:

    Some Atheist Supremacists make White Power Rangers look like Boy Scouts J.J.

    White Power Rangers are the sort of people who’d pound my head into the sidewalk if they knew my mother was Jewish … and they might do it even if they didn’t know. The worst that so-called “Atheist Supremacists,” to borrow your turn of phrase, would do is pile fallacy upon fallacy, which is annoying but hardly life-threatening.
    Pig:

    And you are the precise reason why J.J. gets called an uncle Tom, because his line of reasoning ultimately is there to try and shield you from the scorn and condemnation you would recieve if you had said the same thing about blacks, the same thing about Jews, the same thing about gays, the same thing about any other minority.

    Pig, you are making no sense here, especially since I was hardly shielding Robin Edgar. My line of reasoning is straightforward: Crappy argument and bigotry don’t get a pass, no matter who they are from. If anything, atheists ought to be especially careful about making sure their arguments make sense, since traditionally they have not merely advocated against belief in God but for reason and skepticism. As pointed out in the Bad Idea Blog, “anyone claiming to defend reason as a method is going to come under especially close scrutiny as to their own usage of it: being fun and flippant isn’t going to come off well.”

  69. says

    I’m sorry, everybody — but I’m pulling the plug on this thread. It has, in my opinion, become irredeemably toxic, and is clearly going nowhere. It’s too bad — the actual topic of the post is one on which I would like to hear people’s comments — but the thread has clearly gone completely and unsalvagably off-topic, so I am closing the comments.