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Jun 18 2010

Atheist Meme of the Day: Criticizing Ideas /= Attacking People

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Atheists often get accused of intolerance and disrespect for saying things like, “I don’t agree with you,” “I think you’re mistaken,” “What evidence do you have to support that?”, “I think your reasoning is flawed, and here’s why.” Criticizing ideas is not the same as attacking people — and religious ideas are no exception. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    Lenoxus

    This theistic meme is recursive, too. “Stop attacking me for thinking that attacking ideas means attacking people!”
    One theistic meme that almost-always can’t help but attack atheists as people is, in one word, Hell. The only exceptions are if you don’t think atheists go to Hell, or you don’t think they deserve to — but that second one implicates whichever supernatural entity you believe is responsible for having people go there.
    So long as a theist maintains Hell-belief, she does not have the high ground.

  2. 2
    llewelly

    The theist habit of mistaking an attack on the ideas as an attack on the person dovetails nicely with the theist habit of using ad hominem arguments.

  3. 3
    Corbin

    My guess to the reason they’re like that is because you’re not just questioning some little factoid, you’re challenging their whole world view. That’s not all though, because atheists can have their own world view challenged without claiming persecution. If they’re wrong about what they’re arguing, then, in their minds, there’s absolutely no reason to continue living.
    It’s a fundamental difference between mindsets, but it’s a HUGE, key difference. The goal is not only to convince a theist they’re wrong, but also to show them there’s practically all the same meaning and happiness in a godless world, possibly even more. The word I always hear from new atheists is “free”, that they feel a hell of a lot freer than before. I can’t imagine the amount of physical pressure lifted from the body when making a smooth transition.

  4. 4
    Techskeptic Techskeptic

    Geek programming gripe
    != means: does not equal
    /= means: is divided by
    is also understood to mean does not equal.
    Or perhaps you were looking for this : ≠

  5. 5
    Freak

    Geek programming countergripe
    /= means: is divided by in C (and related languages)
    /= means: does not equal in LISP

  6. 6
    Techskeptic Techskeptic

    Lol!
    It makes total sense to use nomenclature from one of the most annoying (my opinion) and unused languages ever developed on a cutting edge blog. I’m surprised it doesnt require a few parentheses to get the point across.
    Perhaps we should use COBOL: NOT= :)

  7. 7
    DSimon

    Math gripe:
    *ahem*
    ≠
    “Not-equals” has looked like ≠ ever since well before machine algorithms were just a twinkle in Ada Lovelace’s eye.
    However, weird symbols like ≠ can cause trouble on Facebook, blog software, etc. So, a good compromise is to use /=, because it looks like ≠.
    What does != look like to non-programmers? It doesn’t look like “not-equals”. It looks like an emoticon for a squinty guy wearing the bottom half of a Darth Vader mask.
    /= = ≠
    != ≠ ≠

  8. 8
    llewelly

    Greta, outed as a lisp programmer. Do you draft your articles in emacs, Greta?
    C’mon, admit it, you’re one of us!
    One of us! One of us!
    One of us! One of us!

  9. 9
    Greta Christina

    Greta, outed as a lisp programmer. Do you draft your articles in emacs, Greta?

    My cat’s name is Mittens.
    Lisp? Emacs? Cobol? I have no idea what any of you are talking about. I saw the “/=” used somewhere on the Interwebs as an equivalent of the “does not equal” sign, and it looks close enough to “does not equal” sign for most people to be able to recognize it as such, so I stole it. Pretty much for the reason DSimon gave: weird symbols get mucked up and turned into garbage on many web browsers, so I avoid them. That is the extent of my tech-head-ness. Sorry.

  10. 10
    Rieux

    I submit that this is perhaps the most important notion ever to have made it onto Greta’s Atheist Meme of the Day. If we could just get a critical mass of people to recognize this one, I suspect atheists would have vastly fewer problems in the world.

  11. 11
    Kim

    I have been toying with a theory lately. I think that that defensiveness is rooted in cognitive dissonance. I think that at some level (maybe a really, really, REALLY subconscious one), it’s that voice inside that realizes this criticism is valid. That it makes sense. That their religious views, when all the shit is peeled away, really *don’t* make sense. That, well, not be glib, but, *whispers dramatically* There’s a good chance we’re right. And that is where the frothing, angry, defensive, how-dare-you hissing comes from. Because, do you ever notice, the more calm, rational, polite, and level-headed the argument and the arguer, the more vitriolic the reaction?

  12. 12
    Joshua Zelinsky

    Mathematicians also sometimes use != when something has to be text only with minimal symbols. /= is very rare. I didn’t realize that any language used it as “not equal.”

  13. 13
    PeteMObie

    I’m a Christian and in the minority of society, if recent population stats here in Australia are representative.
    From my experience (yes I did an academic Theology Degree at a university), most criticism that causes Christians to feel the other party is “intolerant” or “disrespectful” of their beliefs comes not from Atheists, but from other Christians. Do I need to remind us of rival popes facing each other across battle fields in pre-medieval Europe?
    Personally, when confronted with valid criticisms of my beliefs, I wonder if there is an element of “damn I’ve been wrong and living a lie for all these years” so it is easier to deny it than face the prospect of admitting you’ve been living under false beliefs. Or the shame that you may feel at being conned by the Televangelist who appeared so convincing. So it appears to be a pride issue and denial that prevents most of us from facing up to criticism. So have we narrowed it down to “don’t criticise me as I will then have to take personal responsibility and face up to your valid challenges that show errors in what I consider to be the absolute truth”?
    With so many bible verses commanding death (ultimate act of intolerance) towards those who disagree with “The Chosen Ones”, is it little wonder that Christians are generally so intolerant and take criticism so badly. Often equating the critic with “The sperm of the devil” or an allegiance with “The Prince of Darkness”.
    Most of the church cannot differentiate between “Atheist” and “AntiChrist”, that is “Without god” and “Against god”. The mere term “against god” ought to give believers a clue that this implies a believer in God who wants to challenge God, not a person who does not even believe in any deity.
    How do things improve without criticism? If I were not reading criticisms of Christianity I would become complacent and blinkered, conveniently forget all those verses that contradict what I think I might believe”. It’s funny how Atheists have a better understanding of what it means to be a Christian than most Christians. Surely I’m not the only Christian who does not see Atheism as a threat, but instead as a neutral voice offering a different perspective on things, and dare I say, a catalyst for change perhaps?

  14. 14
    Nurse Ingrid

    Wow, PeteMObie.
    I think that might be the most thoughtful, honest, and sincere response from a believer that I have ever seen on an atheist blog.
    Seriously. Thank you for that. From this atheist.

  15. 15
    PeteMObie

    Nurse Ingrid
    Thanks for the comments and the welcome. I was fortunate to have some good experiences, teachers and friends along the way. I’m also an Astronomer and into sciences, so knew the approximate age of the planet and the universe. It was Astronomy that got me into God in the first place. OK that and a girl I liked who went to church.
    I think we have to consider the differences between how we come to be a Desit/Theist or Atheist. The majority of Athesist I know and meet seem to have done a lot of personal invesitgation and questioning before coming to a reasoned decision about becoming an Atheist. A person of faith however, often makes an emotional spur of the moment decision. Just look at the number of new converts who leave their new religion once the dust has settled. Now the difference is that an Atheist knows why they don’t believe in a deity because they’ve already reasoned things through, whereas the newbie Christian who is apparently “born again” must now go off and learn about what their denomination believe. I’m generalising I know. What you really learn in church, and their Bible College, is not what the text actually states, but what your pastor/vicar/minister believes about the text. No debating! Nothing!
    It was frustrating having the Theological and Astronomical knowledge to sit through “us and them” type sermons that demonstrated their ignorance and immutable mindset, regarding both spiritual and scientific matters. I accepted that macro evolution was possible, but didn’t see any directly observed, empirical evidence, for what seemed like speculation based upon circumstantial evidence. However, I liked the way Darwin’s Theory of evolution pulled everything together, so whilst I was agnostic about whether it was 100% accurate, did appreciate that it was the best explanation we had about the origins of life.
    The only people who I could talk to about science and NOT get ridiculed or charged with “compromising my faith” were Atheists!! One of my “Red Pill” moments was when two Atheists “criticised” what I believed and why. They were both Biologists and I knew they were honest scientists. We laid our cards on the table about the origins of the universe. They were surprised that a Christian was interested in the science, and I was shocked that they didn’t laugh and they were impressed with a 3,500 year old poetic creation account that listed the right elements, but not necessarily in the right order. I was impressed by how their scientific knowledge filled the blanks, complimenting what I already thought I knew, as they explained the various processes, even honestly admitting difficulties. Suddenly our ideas didn’t seem a million miles apart, compared with when we started.
    All this came from them “criticising” my beliefs. I don’t think it is so much in the exact words of the question but more how you ask the question that will determine the reaction.
    As you can probably tell, I’m currently at a cross roads in life, reassessing my beliefs in the light of new convictions and recurring truths about the sick condition of my religion. I used to rationalise that most church leaders had not had the privilege of my education, so I tended to overlook their ignorance. Well I can no longer make excuses for what I see going on around me, so something’s got to give.

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