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Echo Chamber or Picking Fights: Atheists Just Can’t Win

If atheists spend time in religious public forums, and engage with religious believers… we’re picking fights.

And if atheists don’t engage with religious believers, and spend most or all of our time with other atheists — we’re living in an echo chamber.

Is there any way we can win?

There was a recent piece in the Religion section of the Huffington Post by pastor/ chaplain Eliot Daley: Welcome, Atheists. But, Really, Why Are You Here? Daley seemed puzzled by the phenomenon of atheists who read his columns and comment critically on them. So in this piece, he asked atheists, “I mean, really, what are you doing cruising the Religion department?”

I’m going to leave it to someone else to do the line-by-line fisking of this piece. I’d love to do it myself, but my time is even more crunched than usual this week, and I just can’t manage it. (Oh, okay. When you bat your eyes at me that way, I can’t resist. The very quick- and- dirty version: 1: Our disagreement is with the harm done by religion as it often plays out — and with the truth claim that God exists. 2: An interventionist God is not a straw man — it’s believed in by billions of believers. 3: Yes, we’re familiar with the notion, most famously stated by Arthur C. Clarke, that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic — but that doesn’t mean it’s actually magic. 4: Yes, reason and emotion/ intuition are connected in many ways — but that doesn’t make the distinction between them “obsolete.” If you think it’s obsolete, then the next time you’re seriously ill, go to a faith healer instead of a medical doctor trained in rational methods of determining what your illness is and how it can best be treated. 5: If God is really real and atheists are simply tone-deaf to his existence… then show us some good evidence that he does exist. You can show deaf people evidence that sound exists — but believers have yet to offer any good evidence that God exists, either to atheists or to other believers with radically contradictory notions of what God is. And finally, 6: Atheists engage with religious believers for lots of different reasons. See below.)

But I really can’t do a thorough, line-by-line critique of everything this piece gets wrong about atheists and atheism. I just don’t have time today. And the main point I want to make is this:

When it comes to this question of engagement with believers, there is absolutely no way atheists can win.

If atheists don’t engage with religious believers — if we spend all or most of our time hanging around with other atheists — we routinely get accused of being an echo chamber. We get accused of living in a bubble, cutting ourselves off from anyone who disagrees with us. The mere fact that we even have atheist communities, both in the flesh and online, gets us accused of this.

And if atheists do engage with religious believers — if we spend some of our time hanging around with religious believers in public forums, making a case for why the god hypothesis is probably mistaken — we get accused of picking a fight. Of raining on the parade. Of, in Daley’s words, playing “the proverbial skunk at the garden party.” Of enjoying the spectacle of a bloodbath: in Daley’s words, “perhaps they are like the small percentage of NASCAR fans who freely admit that they go the races primarily in hopes of seeing a really hairy wreck.”

We can’t win.

Actually, come to think of it, I suppose there is a way we could win. We could engage with religious believers — without ever disagreeing with them. We could spend lots of time in religious forums — and only ever say nice, positive, uncritical things. We could stay out of our own bubble — and spend all our time in the religion bubble, and never, ever stick a pin in it to try to make it pop. Is that really what you want, Mr. Daley? If so, I suggest you express your ideas elsewhere. The Religion section of the Huffington post is not a private garden party, with a few uninvited skunks wandering in and ruining things for everyone. It is a public forum for the discussion of ideas.

Daley does propose, as one possible answer to why atheists spend time in the Religion section of the Huffington Post, the option that atheists “are sincerely trying to free others up from wasting their time so they can live more fulfilled lives devoid of God.” But he rejects this as an unlikely, “excessively charitable speculation.” He claims to ask this question out of curiosity and not disrespect — and yet he rejects the answer that is not only the most respectful, but the most obvious.

So let me try to answer both of these accusations: the accusation of the echo chamber, and the accusation of picking fights.

Many atheists spend time with other atheists — i.e., in the supposed “echo chamber” — because we need respite. We need community. There is real bigotry and discrimination against atheists, and we need emotional and practical support. We spend time in atheist communities for the same reasons LGBT people spend time in LGBT communities, for the same reasons African-Americans people spend time in African-American communities. What’s more, atheism and theism are, in many ways, radically different ways looking at the world… and like most human beings, we need and want the companionship of people whose values and visions we share. (And in any case, the notion that in the United States, atheists even could live in a religion-free bubble is absurd. We are surrounded by religion. As Daley himself acknowledges, atheists are generally very well-educated about religion — more so than believers, on average. We’re soaking in it. We couldn’t live in a bubble if we tried.)

And many atheists spend time engaging with religious believers in religious forums — i.e., “picking fights” — for lots of different reasons. Some are, in fact, obnoxious trolls just looking to pick a fight. Some are simply curious and want to understand how religious people think. There are probably lots of other reasons.

But for many of us, we engage with religious believers because we think religion is a mistaken idea about the world that does significantly more harm than good, and we want to talk people out of it. We debate with believers for the same reasons Democrats debate with Republicans, environmentalists debate with global warming denialists, supporters of same-sex marriage debate with its opponents, etc. We think we’re right.

If you think we’re wrong — convince us.

But don’t accuse us of picking fights, or being a skunk at the garden party, or being ghouls who just want to watch a bloodbath, because we’re trying to convince you.

Comments

  1. Sajanas says

    I’ve gone and posted around the Washington Post’s On Faith section from time to time, and the reason I do it is mostly out of frustration with the arrogance of some of the article writers, and because when I was growing up, I never met or communicated with an atheist at all, and I never heard any of the really good counter arguments for religion.

    I remember one conversation I had in their comment section, where I pushed and pushed this one commenter for what his proof was for God, since he claimed to have some, and finally s/he suggested it miracle of weeping statues and the ‘spiritual’ feeling s/he got while praying. Honestly, s/he had never heard of how easy it is to make a weeping statue, so I posted that, and the link to buy your own weeping statue, and s/he ended the conversation right there.

    So many people who post on those places, article writers included, seem to live without anyone calling out their beliefs which are often patently wrong, or contradicted by their other beliefs. Rabbi Wolpe posts a lot on On Faith, and he would talk a good game about how circumcision was part Jewish culture since the time of Abraham and Moses. Except…. at other times he has gotten into a public debate on his own position, namely that Abraham and Moses never existed, because archaeology offers no proof of them. But someone reading that article would never know that he was essentially using *what he knows as nonsense* to give some extra authority to his position on circumcision.

  2. says

    Theists often get offended by the very idea that we even exist. It’s as if the fact that we’re not buying what they’re selling means that we must be the worst kind of evil. Surely we must go around committing depraved acts if we don’t believe someone is watching us.

    They base everything off of two assumptions and build from there. The first being “my god is real and everybody else is wrong.” The second follows the first, “If my god is real, then everyone who doesn’t believe in him is committing an act of evil just by claiming to disbelieve.” I say claiming there because I’ve run into many theists who don’t believe in disbelief. Once you start from those bad assumptions you can come up with all sorts of silly conclusions.

    Naturally we are either picking fights or hiding from believers. We’re wrong and everyone knows it. So if we’re going to argue against a god we apparently secretly know exists, then clearly we’re looking for a fight. If we avoid talking to those who know the secret mystical truth of he grand high mucky muck in the sky, then surely we’re hiding from the truth.

    I don’t know if this is Daley’s reasoning, but I figure if he’s allowed to speculate about us, I might as well return the favor.

  3. says

    “I mean, really, what are you doing cruising the Religion department?”

    -For a good laugh at the absurdity of faith, and to cry at the tragedy of belief-based thinking. Yep, the Religion department has it all.

  4. says

    “It’s as if the fact that we’re not buying what they’re selling means that we must be the worst kind of evil.”

    Well, yeah. It’s bad enough that we’re not in their club, but we actively reject membership in it. There must be something terribly wrong with us!

  5. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I enjoy discussing goddism and atheism with goddists. They’re both interesting topics, particularly “why are you a goddist/atheist?” The major problem I encounter is not someone asking why I’m talking to goddists (or on a goddist forum) but people trying to proselytize at me rather than discuss things with me.

    But for many of us, we engage with religious believers because we think religion is a mistaken idea about the world that does significantly more harm than good, and we want to talk people out of it. We debate with believers for the same reasons Democrats debate with Republicans, environmentalists debate with global warming denialists, supporters of same-sex marriage debate with its opponents, etc. We think we’re right.

    This is another reason for talking to goddists. I have no problem with Aunt Tillie who says grace before every meal, goes to church every Sunday, and believes fervently but quietly. I have a great deal of difficulty with folks who fight against same-sex marriage or want mythology taught in schools instead of science because “that’s what gawd wants.”

    If you feel you have to believe in a 6000 year old universe because otherwise gawd will spank your bottom for all of eternity, then I’ll think you’re a deluded wackaloon* but you can believe it if you must. It’s when you insist that everyone else believe it that I have a problem.

    *And I’ll call you a deluded wackaloon to your face. But I’m one of those rude, strident, militant Gnu Atheists.

  6. Gordon says

    I comment on the (awful) Christian Post. I’m even a “Top Commentor” over there. But I only ever comment when the story is about atheists or atheism.

    Inevitably someone will reply to one of my comments saying “what are you doung on a CHRISTIAN site?” and I’ll direct their attention to the word atheist in the article’s title.

    Someone was kind enough to challenge me back when I was a believer. I have a moral duty to pass the good deed on.

  7. The Christian Cynic says

    When it comes to this question of engagement with believers, there is absolutely no way atheists can win.

    I would modify this slightly: When it comes to this question, there is absolutely no way atheists can win with some theists – that is, some (perhaps many) theists won’t be satisfied with any type of engagement other than (as you note) entirely uncritical comment. For many theists, I think, atheists commenting on religion is inappropriate simply because of their “outsider” or “Other” status. I don’t condone any of that, but I think it’s a realistic assessment. When it comes to these people, I say: screw ‘em. There’s no reason atheists should care what these people think since they will never be swayed.

    But as a theist, I would absolutely encourage atheists to continue engaging theists, which can be productive in terms of changing the minds of some theists on some issues under the right conditions. I would point to myself as something of an example, even though I’m probably an outlier: I started out in the typical apologetics circles, and it was the engagement by non-Christians (but I think more accurately, atheists) that led me from mostly insular Christian communities to mixed or atheist-dominant communities, and coupled with a somewhat innate interest and some education in philosophy (again, part of why I would call myself an outlier), the logical arguments of many atheists have shaped my beliefs enormously, even while I have not rejected theism.

    I guess I can also easily relate to this dilemma: the same criticism could be levied at me for hanging around FTB. I think any reasonable person should see past this, though, and recognize that there are reasons for communities of like-minded people as well as reasons to engage in other forums, and certainly the actions of unreasonable people shouldn’t motivate any change in approach.

  8. Maria says

    There is a way to engage with theists while only staying in atheist places online, you just have to wait! I’ve never said a single word in any theistic place online ever, but I’ve talked to quite a few theists anyway. They come here!

    I don’t think we’re at a risk of getting stuck in an echochamber, even when we do only want to spend some time with other atheists, since most atheist spaces online that has a comment section, or a forum, or the like, usually have theists coming there. All atheist venues I have visited were open for all!

    But yeah, I guess that won’t stop them from accusing us of such things…

  9. Azkyroth says

    They do want us to engage with their ideas and even debate them.

    They just don’t want us to WIN.

  10. says

    One old associates who found out from his near death father that he was a Jew and turned to Judaism has accused me of being dishonest because I state the fact that this nation was not founded as a Christian nation. I gave up corresponding with him. There is no satisfying his mindset.

    Rabid theists don’t want a discussion. They only want conversion and recantation. They don’t want anyone muddying the waters with contrary opinions and questions on their sites but consider it their duty to accost us horrible unbelievers anywhere at anytime. They have to “witness.” It’s commanded.

  11. says

    Actually I really wish you could elaborate on this subject. Because the few paragraphs written here were enlightening in themselves.
    I especially like the point about community. Most of these religious people share a rich community. Atheists are especially excited to be part of a community considering we are so far and few between.
    But when you try to express your views to the religious they get defensive. My sister actually accused me of being just like a door knocking evangelist. I told her I just wanted to know why they taught and believed in a god as evidently true, when there is no evidence to show it. Which predictably led to the faith and comfort card.
    It’s not right that they don’t ponder the question of their faith.

  12. says

    Whilst I agree with the gist of your post, I have to say I can also see the other side of the argument. Religious believers who post on atheist forums are also accused of picking fights, as are believers in alternative medicine, the paranormal, conspiracy theories etc when they post on skeptic sites. If these people stuck to their religious and woo-forums, they too are accused of living in an echo chamber, and when they branch out into forums of dissenting opinion, they’re accused of trolling or picking fights.

    That’s not to say that some believers aren’t deliberately trolling the forums of the opposite site of the argument, but then again some atheists who post on religious forums are also deliberately trolling. Both sides of the debate need to be mindful that when they express a dissenting opinion, people are going to interpret it as an attack unless you are careful with your approach. Conversely the members of the forum in which they are posting need to be aware that other people have differing views, and just because they express them it does not mean that they are picking a fight.

  13. says

    So in this piece, he asked atheists, “I mean, really, what are you doing cruising the Religion department?”

    Things like this are why I stopped reading anything at Huffington Post. If it wasn’t someone directly putting down atheists, it was moderators deleting the comments of atheists that countered religiosity and spirituality. They really seem to want the Huffington Post to be the home of unquestioned ignorance.

  14. Azkyroth says

    Religious believers who post on atheist forums are also accused of picking fights,

    Really? Like where?

    I see them accused of being boring and trite, of bringing up tiresome and blatantly flawed arguments – and of throwing temper tantrums when their arguments are shot down and regulars voice their displeasure, and being asked why they expected their unsupported and internally illogical ideas to get a free pass.

    But “picking fights” would be a new one to me.

  15. Ariel says

    Daley does propose, as one possible answer to why atheists spend time in the Religion section of the Huffington Post, the option that atheists “are sincerely trying to free others up from wasting their time so they can live more fulfilled lives devoid of God.” But he rejects this as an unlikely, “excessively charitable speculation.” He claims to ask this question out of curiosity and not disrespect — and yet he rejects the answer that is not only the most respectful, but the most obvious.

    The most respectful, certainly. But the most obvious? Not to me. Initially I would suspect a wide range of motivations; among them: to show off, to have giggles, to engage in disputes just for the love of it, to kick these irritating religious chaps … and so on, and so on. Perhaps the fight for Truth and Freedom is also on the list, but to treat it as the most obvious reason? Giving such an answer is a nice move in a propaganda game (irresistible, isn’t it? Quite excellent for a TV commercial) but I’m certainly not ready to swallow this as obvious.

    And you know, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with these mixed motivations. In fact I’m inclined to think that (with some reservations, see below) it’s not that important why the people discuss; it is how they discuss that is crucial. For a start, consider science. Why do scientists engage in their investigations? Because they want to know the Truth? That’s “the most obvious” answer in your opinion? Again, not to me. The reasons will vary. For some of them the primary motive will be a career building – gaining prestige in their milieu. Others are puzzle solvers (I met a couple of guys of that sort) – they treat scientific questions like chess puzzles, with truth being really secondary, the main satisfaction coming from puzzle solving for its own sake. Hell, I know even a guy for whom the main motivating force for doing science seems to be his wife! And now, is there anything wrong with that? Should editors write in their letters “we are sorry to inform you that your paper has been rejected because of your improper motivation for scientific work”? No way. Motivation is not important here; what’s important is how they are doing science. It’s the effects that matter.

    Now, I’m aware that the analogy with the scientific work has its limitations. On an internet discussion forum it is also personal relations between the users that have some degree of significance, and that’s where motivational issues may become relevant. But let’s not exaggerate the import of this – we are talking about a discussion forum after all, not about a dating site! And on a discussion forum, I favor the approach: you may even be a monkey who came here to mock us, humans. As long as your comments are interesting, I don’t care. You want to play? Play then, just obey the rules. Your personal motives (boredom perhaps?) are not very important, as long as you have something sensible to say. We, atheists, have a right to take part in (open) religious discussions for whatever motives, as long as we obey the rules. You, believers, have the same right and I will be the last person to question your motives. As for me, that’s all there is to it.

    We debate with believers for the same reasons Democrats debate with Republicans, environmentalists debate with global warming denialists, supporters of same-sex marriage debate with its opponents, etc. We think we’re right.

    I totally applaud the first sentence. I’m very unhappy with the second. The second is a good public policy, the stuff a Democrat could say on TV. Irresistible :-) And I’m not buying it.

  16. Steve Jeffers says

    Again, it’s the double standards: we live in an echo chamber, they live in a vibrant community; They evangelize, we hector.

    Sorry to put it this way, but atheists read religious websites for the same reason that the CIA read Muslim fundamentalist ones. To know where the next attack is coming from. To see which formerly extremist ideas have now hopped through the Overton Window into mainstream politic discourse. To see, in other words, what shit they’re going to try to pull next.

    I read theology websites to get a sense of what theology is up to. I got banned from Prosblogion, in fact, for asking what I thought was a perfectly sensible question: a ‘leading theologian’ told me that 2+2=4 for God as much as anyone else, because God was not just reasonable, he was reason. I asked him if E=MC squared for God, he said ‘yes’. I said ‘what about the conservation of energy’ and he said ‘what’s that?’ and I said ‘you don’t know, it’s pretty basic science’, he got huffy, I explained, he said ‘God isn’t bound by that’ and I, well, I did suggest in less than respectful tones that his position made no sense.

    Just point this out: much-published theologian at one of the major theology colleges … hadn’t even *heard* the phrase ‘conservation of energy’ before. By the way … he’s contributed to a book about how religion and science are perfectly compatible.

    We’re on those boards to call these people out.

    I spent a couple of years on theology boards simply because the critics were right … I was calling them out without investigating them. And, yeah, you don’t need to study that much to conclude the Emperor has no clothes or that homeopathy is a high-margin division of the bottled water industry, but theology is a big, venerable field of study.

    Here’s my conclusion: it’s a parlor game, that’s all. A very diverting one. But you set rules, lay down definitions, then try to Mad Lib an explanation. There are no tests or right answers, the prize goes to the most persuasive and ingenious. And that’s … fine, I guess. But it’s like arguing why Khan recognizes Chekhov, when Chekhov wasn’t in Space Seed.

    The function of theology departments is this: ‘I’m going to pat you on the head and assure you that some very smart people have asked that question, and their answer is: X’. That’s all. Raze the theology departments, make them car parks. Every university needs more car parking, right? No need to sack the professors, every car park needs attendants.

  17. hoverfrog says

    I don’t think there’s ever been a reliable scorecard that would create a balance sheet between the good things done in the human community prompted by God-related inspiration vs. the bad things. My guess is that the good stuff wins.

    Religion is a Curate’s Egg. There are bad parts and there are good parts. I cannot stomach an egg that is half rotten and I cannot stomach a religion that is dotted with bigotry and hatred even if it can occasionally do good.

    The bad parts far outweigh any small benefit that religion imparts. Nor are the good parts unique to the faithful. Communities are pulled together through all kinds of things that have nothing to do with faith. Charities without any kind of religious influence prosper and help millions.

    Why do we bother engaging them? Well I find it fun and I want to test the arguments. I’ve never been a believer but my reasons are many. I want to see if any of their arguments can convince me that my conclusions are wrong. So far they haven’t and I’ve been actively looking for just over 10 years.

  18. Steve Jeffers says

    “I want to see if any of their arguments can convince me that my conclusions are wrong. So far they haven’t and I’ve been actively looking for just over 10 years.”

    Exactly the same here. And it’s not just that they haven’t it’s just that … the arguments are *pathetic*. They start the argument with ‘this is a rock solid proof’ then reel it off and you say ‘but if that’s true, then that would be true and it isn’t’ and they fold, usually gracelessly, with a ‘I never said *I* found it convincing’.

    The proofs they offer … you can find lists of all of them, and click through to why it’s a bad proof, but if you’ve got an ounce of wit, you’ll have worked out what the problem is before that page has loaded.

    OK. Anyone reading this, save yourself the bother. Here’s my conclusion: ‘if you hold the position that “God exists” is axiomatic, you can have no meaningful conversation with someone who doesn’t’.

    *If* God exists, the ‘first cause’ proof is a very neat, logical demonstration of that, and it works.

    If you are trying to *test* whether God exists, it’s a heap of steaming shit a five year old can see through.

    The thing that surprised me most about theology – it’s *not* about whether God exists. It’s taken as axiomatic, for sake of argument at least (and in practice, virtually every English-speaking theologian is a fanatic Christsucker), that he does.

    The fundamental question addressed by atheism ‘does God exist?’ is of no interest to theologians, any more than ‘does Kirk exist?’ is to a Trekkie. They don’t even see the question as relevant.

    Philip Pullman once said that when he’s studied theology in the past, he’s surprised that if you just scratch the surface there’s a ‘howling void’ beneath. And this is my experience. There is no value in theology at all, no insight, nothing that can illuminate the world. It’s a bunch of white, Christian men wanking on at each other about how a non-existent perfect being would behave.

  19. screechy monkey says

    Actually, come to think of it, I suppose there is a way we could win. We could engage with religious believers — without ever disagreeing with them. We could spend lots of time in religious forums — and only ever say nice, positive, uncritical things. We could stay out of our own bubble — and spend all our time in the religion bubble, and never, ever stick a pin in it to try to make it pop.

    And somewhere, Chris Mooney, Chris Stedman, S.E. Cupp, and dozens of other faitheists are nodding vigorously.

  20. says

    They really seem to want the Huffington Post to be the home of unquestioned ignorance.

    HuffPo’s one of the biggest purveyors of woo and quack science on the internet. It wouldn’t do for their audience to be skeptical.

  21. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Steve Jeffers #18

    Philip Pullman once said that when he’s studied theology in the past, he’s surprised that if you just scratch the surface there’s a ‘howling void’ beneath. And this is my experience. There is no value in theology at all, no insight, nothing that can illuminate the world. It’s a bunch of white, Christian men wanking on at each other about how a non-existent perfect being would behave.

    Let’s consider Christian theology, since that’s the one best known to most of us. The basis of the theology is the Bible, consisting of:

    ● The Old Testament, the musings of bronze-ago goat herders’ shamans, with additional commentary from later periods.

    ● The New Testament, the story of a nice guy, Jesus, who goes around telling people to be nice to each other. Because he’s a nice guy, Jesus gets killed but to quote Mad Max “he’s only mostly dead” and recovers from being mostly dead. There’s also fanfic about some of Jesus’s companions and a bunch of letters from various sect leaders telling sect followers how to behave.

    Basically the Bible is the product of multiple imaginations. It’s been compiled, revised, amplified, emended, redacted, abridged, fine tuned, and otherwise mucked about with to meet various sociological, political, and philosophical agendas.

    Then the theologians get into the act. They tease bits and pieces out of the Bible to support their agendas. For n theologians there are n+1 theologies because theologians do change their minds from time to time. As Gertrude Stein explained (admittedly about something else), “there’s no there there.” People are pulling doctrines and dogmas out of their asses, using the edited products of imaginations of people from a long-dead culture.

  22. Kagehi says

    Sigh.. I love sites that limit the size of posts, arbitrarily. I wanted to point out what I thought intuition really was, and why using it to prove anything is completely absurd, but its hard to cram 520 words into 250… Especially when adding on other comments, like about the silly “technology = magic” gibberish.

    My thought on the subject is that memory gets “recorded” like someone cutting out all the “important” bits of a photo, then “filing” them in cabinets, with a web of strings trying them all together. To “recover” a memory, you start at the first cabinet that sparks a response, then just follow all the strings around, looking for all the pieces. You don’t necessarily end up with a final picture that is the “original”. In fact, its probably the case that you will *never* do so. But, its close enough.

    So, intuition is following hundreds of strings at one time, all different directions, trying to get to a final result, and ending up with some set of connections that may or may not have any logical connection with reality. This can produce the next great movie monster, out of the fragments of prior experience, or it can land you with “feelings” that something is “out there”. Some modern AI, especially in linguistics, attempt this, allowing the AI to create links between terms, on its own, based on presumptions of similarity, and weight them, sort of like strengthening memories, or weakening them. Such systems a) do not have emotional attachments to their prior assumptions, b) require outside intervention, to correct serious mistakes, or form the baseline experience, from which to try to build reasonable connections, c) tend to assume that any term “could be” connected to any other term, with perfect recall, so can form any possible connection, not just the more obvious ones, and finally d) never “delete” connections, even if they become almost totally useless.

    Obviously, (a), (c) and (d) are completely inhuman, and (b) has the same damn problem we have, in that it relies on the assumption that the outside source, from which to verify a connection, isn’t either lying, confused, or just flat out wrong.

    But, emotion is probably our biggest Achilles heel. It strengthens connections, even when it shouldn’t, due the connection producing positive experience, it can cause a complete loss of one, if the connection is too negative (in the survival sense, since this can also sometimes, if it promotes the appearance of possible better survival, actually strengthen the connection, such as with phobias), and, in the case of long held beliefs, strongly held ideas, etc., the single most disturbing, and thus aversion inducing, thing possible, is to have to recognize that your whole mental map is 100% dead wrong, about something.

  23. says

    One way to win: talk positively about our values much more prominently and don’t let the religious control our agenda. Better to make them come to our sites and post responses than the other way round. This way we perpetuate religiocentrism and relies privilege, just as Sam Harris predicted a few years back…

  24. andrea says

    nice essay. Currently on an atheist forum, I’m debating with a, well, I’m not sure what he is, believer maybe in the last throes of belief? The topic is what should you do in this situation: atheist in hospital is told by theist that they will pray for him. The original atheist said that they replied, in esscence “thanks but you are wrong”. The beleiver I’m debating is shocked, shocked! that someone would dare tell the believer something like this and horrifed that the atheist would dare question such “innocent concern”. Of course, the believer can’t possibly imagine there being any other intent behind this, or accept that it’s perfectly okay to tell someone that they are wrong, especially when you preface it nicely. They insist this is trapping the theist who would never ever expect such “disrespect” in such a situation (which I pointed out, who’s in the hospital here?)I’ve asked repeatedly “when is it acceptable/respecful/etc? and have of course got no answer. It’s this damned if you do, damned no matter what attitude of idiot theists that really gets me. How dare atheists even exists!

  25. Steve Jeffers says

    “The believer I’m debating is shocked, shocked! that someone would dare tell the believer something like this”

    Yeah. I gave five dollars to a woman in the street the other day. It was cold, she needed it more than I do. And she started praising Jesus and saying I was an angel, and she’d been praying this morning.

    Now, I really did want to say something along the lines of ‘how’s that Jesus bullshit working out for you?’, but it did seem a little churlish. I compromised with ‘I’m just a person, Jesus had nothing to do with it’, and she looked shocked and disappointed.

    In the end … well, I gave her five dollars because it will do her more good than me. I won’t offer libations to the family shrine for her, wank over the magic sigil, say a prayer or whatever it is Christians do. I didn’t do it for a heavenly reward. Good luck to her. It does … annoy me a little to think that she’s almost certainly seamlessly integrated this into a story of how she prayed to Jesus and a stranger gave her money.

    But, ultimately, it annoys me more to be told by other people that me giving someone money is some random act, but if I was a Christian it would have been some part of a charitable life and that’s so much richer.

    I feel a little self conscious about mentioning the fact I gave money to someone, I’m certainly not boasting. It would seem a little insecure to want to. But it seems to be what God’s followers think he does as a matter of routine. He’s like some caricature parent who finishes every sentence with ‘… which I paid for, and don’t you forget it’.

    I think one of the main reasons I’m an atheist is that I keep being told God’s a wonderful guy, but everything I hear about him makes it sound like his dream job is running North Korea.

  26. Anonymous says

    Does anyone notice the bizarre tendency of religion writers to craft whole articles around a question? Here’s a novel idea – why don’t you find out the answers and *then* write the article. That’s sort of the idea of “journalism”, to do the work of finding things out and then informing people, it shouldn’t just be a blog for your ignorance. It’s like if the food critic wrote whole articles around questions like “everyone keeps telling me about this new restaurant, but I haven’t been there. Do you think it’s any good?”

    He says “Actually, I don’t ask out of disrespect. I ask out of genuine curiosity,” but only pretending to ask the question (in a forum where he’s sure to ignore the answers) shows neither respect nor curiosity, especially when he’s laden those rhetorical questions with subtle little insults like a passive-aggressive twit.

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