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What Are The Goals of the Atheist Movement?

you know it's a myth american atheists billlboard“It doesn’t do any good for atheists to argue with believers about religion, or to make fun of religion, or to insult it. In fact, it’s counter-productive. It actually hurts our cause.”

We see this argument a lot among atheists. And my usual response is to say, “Does not!” I usually point to history, and point out how effective it’s been to have both confrontationalism and diplomacy in a social change movement. I point out the effectiveness of the “good bad/ bad cop” dynamic (hey, there’s a reason cops use it!). I point to the Overton window — the idea of moving the center, and of extremists making centrists look more reasonable by comparison — and I argue that confrontationalists are actually making diplomats’ job easier, not harder. I point out that firebrands are very good at getting visibility… and that visibility is crucial to community building as well as to countering myths. I point out that different people have different temperaments, and are more likely to be moved by different methods of activism: some people are better able to hear a calm, sympathetic voice, while others are better able to hear a passionate cry for justice, and still others are more likely to hear a mocking, satirical jeer about how the Emperor has no clothes. And I point out that activists also have different temperaments, and that even if polite diplomacy were, on average, more effective than fiery confrontation, that’s not very helpful to activists who excel at confrontation and suck at diplomacy. (And vice versa.)

Today, I want to respond somewhat differently.

Today, I want to ask: “What goals are we talking about, exactly?”

I don’t think all atheists — even all atheist activists — have the same goals. And I think this may be the source of some of this conflict and debate that we’re having.

millions are good without god billboardFor many atheists, the primary goal of atheist activism is to reduce anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination, and to work towards more complete separation of church and state. Their main goal is to get people to see atheists as happy, ethical, productive members of society, with full and equal rights and responsibilities. They want to see atheists be fully accepted into society, and to have our atheism recognized as legitimate. They want to counter myths and misconceptions about atheists. And they see angry, confrontational, firebrand atheists as feeding into those myths, and alienating religious believers, and thus making everyone’s job harder.

But not all atheists see this as their main goal.

For many atheists, our main goal is persuading the world out of religion.

god is not great how religion poisons everything book cover christopher hitchensI mean, yes, of course, most atheist activists would love to see anti-atheist bigotry disappear, and are working towards that. But many of us — I’m one of them — see that as only one of our goals. Many of us don’t just want a world where believers and atheists get along and let each other practice their religion or lack thereof in peace. Many of us want a world where there’s no religion. We don’t want to see this happen by law or violence or any kind of force, of course. But we think religion isn’t just mistaken. We think it’s harmful. Some of think it’s appallingly harmful. Some of us think it’s inherently harmful: that the very qualities that make religion unique are exactly what make it capable of doing terrible harm. What’s more, we see religion as not just hurting atheists. We see it as hurting billions of believers. So we’re working towards a world where it no longer exists.

And some of us — I’m one of them — actually think persuading people out of religion is a more achievable goal than persuading believers to tolerate and accept atheists. We think that the very nature of religion makes it difficult for believers to accept people with different beliefs… and damn near impossible for them to accept people with no beliefs. (Daniel Dennett argued this very eloquently in “Breaking the Spell”: the very fact that religion is unsupported by any good evidence, paradoxically, makes people cling to it more tightly, and defend it more passionately.) We see ecumenicalism and tolerance among believers as the exception, not the rule. And we think that, if atheists want a world in which atheism is more widely accepted, we’re way more likely to get that by creating a world in which atheism is a whole lot more common.

Now. Even if I accepted that anti-atheist bigotry and church-state separation were our primary goals, I’d still argue for confrontationalism being a valuable part of our strategy. For visibility and the Overton window, if for no other reason. I will say, though, that if those really were our sole goals, or our primary goals, I might well be advocating that we prioritize diplomacy more than we do, and dial back on the confrontationalism a bit. If our main goal is convincing the world that atheists are nice, then getting in people’s faces might not be our most effective tactic.

But convincing the world that atheists are nice is not our main goal. Not for everyone. For many of us, getting legal rights for atheists and making sure they’re enforced — such as the right to organize high school groups, or the right to keep custody of our kids, or the right to not have religious ideas taught to our kids in public schools, or the right to be soldiers in the U.S. military and not have religion shoved down our throats — is our top priority… regardless of whether people think we’re nice along the way. And for many of us, persuading more people out of religion and into atheism is our top priority. We think that’s the best strategy for achieving our other goals. And we think it’s a hugely worthwhile goal just for its own sake.

Now. If you disagree — either about the best tactics for reaching any of our goals, or about whether persuading people out of religion is a worthwhile goal in the first place — then by all means, let’s have that conversation.

But if you’re arguing that confrontationalism — arguing with believers about religion, or making fun of it, or insulting it — is hurting our cause, then before you pursue that argument, I think it’s worth asking: Which cause, exactly, are you talking about?

Because we may not be talking about the same one.

Comments

  1. Katherine says

    Upon first hearing this idea (making fun of or insuling religion) put forth, I thought it was a terrible idea for reasons you outline in your first paragraph.

    However, after exploring the idea more, and seeing this excellent example by Sam Harris, it’s clear to me that this is an excellent strategy if executed properly. In the following clip, Sam Harris equates religious belief with the belief that Elvis lives. The concrete, humorous example is, I think, ideal:

  2. LadyBlack says

    I think you have more of a reason to fight religion than I do. It does not affect me in the same way that it affects you – directly. I have friends who are religious who I would be sad to lose because I have differing views – I feel that we can exist and be friends despite a radically differing view point on something so important to them. I even have ‘Bible discussions’ with one of them since she argues that the Bible is difficult to understand and often wishes to clarify certain points. So, in the same way I would discuss the tragic death of Nigel from the “Archers” or have an informed discussion over whether the presence of hats near cattle causes small black holes in “Angel”…..long story…..I discuss the implications of certain statements in her book of fiction.

    Of course the fact that discussing the Bible logically might suggest to her that it is full of contradictions and illogic in no way inspires me to commence these talks in the first place….

    Having said that, I understand what you are saying, and there are things you discuss which make me so angry, I would remove religion tomorrow if I had the power. I just want to be sure of the way to go about it. So. Being militant and angry about it MIGHT have a detrimental effect depending on who you are talking to. Discussing paedophilia with a catholic person on my doorstep with a view to converting me would merit a hugely sarcastic, dripping with venom, retort, whereas a discussion about “I don’t believe, but perhaps there could be something” would involve deep thinking and serious reflection.

    Telling my boss he encourages a religion which supports diddling with small children may get me fired.

    I think there is a sense that some people who are wavering over the whole issue might be quick to support religion if atheists seem to be the ‘unreasonable’ ones. Having seen the amount of wriggling and logic bending employed by some believers, it’s difficult to be the calm person in the argument (try arguing with Peter Hitchens sometime) but I always feel that we should be (and Greta, your talks discuss anger, but you always seem to be sort of not angry. I listen to you talk and you still seem approachable, rather than when I get angry, people start hiding sharp implements). We are not the ones banging our fists on the desks and we are not the ones picking up firebombs and guns in support of our cause. And I feel we shouldn’t give the impression that that will be our next step. When you run out of words, where do you turn?

    OK, all that has been written off the top of my head, and is a done without revising it 26 times before finally deleting it without posting, and this is entirely up for discussion, rather than being anything confrontational. Please be gentle with me.

    A quick plea now? Are there any atheists in the UK reading Greta’s column, and how do I get in touch with you? I’ve tried Googling, and all I get are dating agencies or David Icke. I would love to meet up and maybe set up a group, but I am concerned about putting my head above the parapet. Normally, I’d keep quiet but I want to do some charity work which does not involve me spreading the word of god to the homeless.

  3. den1s says

    This is what has continued to piss me off at what Phil Plait said at TAM; that we should be nice to the poor theists. In fact, I haven’t read one article by Phil since. I totally agree that we have to be confrontationalists. Confronting their utter nonsense is what is working for us, not wilting into the background as Phil would like us to do. We’re only starting to ramp up the volume on these religious cranks as far as I am concerned.

    My personal journey involves more than just religion though. I am all about getting people to develop their bs detector and become a skeptic as well as an atheist. To me, stopping the spread of woo is the primary goal…. which includes religion. We will not get anywhere if we are ‘nice’ to those who spread nonsense. Being nice only empowers them.

    just my 2 cents

  4. Ariel says

    Only a general statement of my position. The details, if needed, can be discussed later on.

    I guess I belong to the first of the groups you discussed. With some reservations, of course. Here is your characterization of the first group.

    Their main goal is to get people to see atheists as happy, ethical, productive members of society, with full and equal rights and responsibilities. They want to see atheists be fully accepted into society, and to have our atheism recognized as legitimate.

    The reservation is that I would be more cautious with phrases like “happy” and “ethical”. Of course I don’t like the stereotypes “atheist are unhappy and unethical”, but for me the formulation is a bit too strong. The people don’t have to see the atheists as happy and ethical. They don’t have to substitute one stereotype for the other. From my point of view, it would be quite enough if the negative association was dropped. In this respect I’m more modest; as for the rest, no quarrel.

    The second group wants to “persuade the world out of religion”. And I do not belong here. My main worry is that religion offers consolation in a cruel world (is there any other world for sale on the market?) and I don’t see any that far reaching alternatives to religion. I don’t want to take religion away from the people in a dire need of it. Whether by force or by persuasion.

    But we think religion isn’t just mistaken. We think it’s harmful. Some of think it’s appallingly harmful. Some of us think it’s inherently harmful: that the very qualities that make religion unique are exactly what make it capable of doing terrible harm.

    I’m not with you in this. I haven’t seen so far any really good arguments supporting the claim of the “unique harmfulness” of religion. (Btw, I don’t like the “lack of reality checks” argument – it seems to me that I gave my reasons for that a couple of times; if the discussion moves in this direction, I may repeat them of course.)

    We think that the very nature of religion makes it difficult for believers to accept people with different beliefs… and damn near impossible for them to accept people with no beliefs.

    As I understand, it’s again about the “lack of reality checks” (something similar to the “non-overlapping magisteria” doctrine). I don’t believe it. I think that reality has a lot to say also in religion, inasmuch as religion manifests itself in worldly practice and concerns the mundane affairs. And inasmuch as it doesn’t, who cares???

    On the other hand, I tend to agree with what Greta said about “good/bad cop” dynamic – I admit that confrontationalism can be useful and has a role to play.

    Ok, that’s it. A lot of issues here, this was just a general statement – that’s more or less where I am.

  5. says

    Great article. One thing I’d like to add: it’s not enough to show that the “angry atheist” stereotype is wrong, and atheists can be nice. We need to show that we too are allowed to be angry, without having it reflect negatively on all atheists.

  6. kaorunegisa says

    Actually touched a little on this with a friend of mine in the comment section of my blog. In the Hitch tribute I wrote, I quoted him talking about religion as “toys” and how he doesn’t care if people play with their toys at home, but not to force him to play with their toys. I hedged by saying that it was insulting, but horrendously accurate.

    Suffice it to say, a friend of mine who is a theist (a polytheist at that) commented saying how much she liked the quote and wished she could use the reference in discussions with fundamentalists, to which I asked why she couldn’t. A part of her is afraid of being rude and of people not talking to her for being insulting, but I think it’s worth the risk. First of all, it’s rather pointless to argue with somebody who thinks quoting scripture is “proof” of anything, and you then have to have a long discussion on why that counts as an authority. Secondly, some people need to be confronted rather than coddled. I created a blog for myself specifically because I was trying to find a place to confront people without spamming my friends’ G+ stream.

    Confrontation and argument are how we sharpen our ideas. Diplomacy has its place, no question, and I love me some Socratic method in order to gently bring people to your side, but if you’re looking for alliance instead of mere agreement, passion is the tool to use.

  7. Shawn says

    Yeah, while it is important to have the atheistic voice protected by law, I dont think we want to become like some minor religious sect to which society benevolently supplies equal rights. Seems to me the focus should be on breaking the cycles of indoctrination and one way of doing this is to point out repeatedly how ridiculous are religious beliefs. There is a great mass of people out there who are religious only by default and these are the people that matter. All others are either unconvertable or the choir. The confrontationalist approach is best I think because it brings into the public psyche the idea that the automatic acceptance of religious ideas is not rational. The reason that polls in the west show that ~90% of people are religious in some sense is because for generations this was just the normal, expected way of being. It is because of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and the like that a new generation of young people are arising who now realize there are other options; that it is not abnormal to not believe in nonsense.

  8. says

    I don’t get confrontational or insulting about religion in theological debates with friends and aquaintances.I do rather wear my atheism on my sleeve however so my more religious friends know what they’re getting into if they broach the subject. I do however get quite sarcastic when confronted by doorstep or high street evangelists and see them as fair game for all the ridicule I can muster, as far as I am concerned they are just asking for it. I don’t think I pull punches on my blog either.

    @LadyBlack: I’m a Brit, you can contact me via my blog if you like. Atheist MC

  9. says

    @LadyBlack in #2:

    I have friends who are religious who I would be sad to lose because I have differing views

    But ask yourself this: if you would lose them because of your different views, would it be because you can’t stand their views, or because they can’t stand yours?

  10. says

    @Ariel in #4:

    My main worry is that religion offers consolation in a cruel world (is there any other world for sale on the market?) and I don’t see any that far reaching alternatives to religion.

    Even if you consider it a fake consolation yourself? Even if all it offers is false hope?

    I don’t want to take religion away from the people in a dire need of it.

    I don’t remember ever liking this argument. What makes you think they really need it in the first place? Are they really less capable than you in dealing with the world? If not, they need religion no more than you do. If so, why not teach them?

  11. kaorunegisa says

    @Ariel #4:

    Those are noble concerns, but based on the idea that religion is necessary to achieve that level of comfort, and it really isn’t. When I was a small child and afraid of monsters, my mother had a water bottle that she used to go around my room at night with “spraying for monsters.” I was convinced this monster repellent would keep me safe at night. As I grew older, I abandoned this because the only monsters in the world are human and they won’t be so easily repelled. I was better for abandoning the fear of imaginary enemies and realizing who my real enemies were.

    Similarly, I have this discussion often with one of my best friends who is also an ex-boyfriend. He is very much a part of his Catholic faith, and I don’t understand how that’s possible. He feels like he needs the Church, even if he disagrees with most of what they claim to believe. Often I’ve had to point out that he’s softening rather hard line Church doctrine to make himself feel better about it, such as that a couple of bisexual men like us will never be accepted as anything other than unclean. Still, he clings to that faith hard and since he is such a good friend and I love him very much, I accept it while still trying to convince him to abandon it for something better. In this case, I know that being a firebrand won’t work, but I also know that it tears him up when he thinks that he is dependent on an organization he disagrees with so much. It’s a drug, one that we can live without.

    Ultimately, I kinda agree that it’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world if people believe silly things, but where I differ is that I would prefer that people not play with dangerous toys. If they play with them themselves, I’ll accept it, but I would rather they simply played with better toys, ones less likely to lead to needless suffering and death.

  12. treppenwitz says

    I agree that we’d be better off without religion and the influence it has on public policy, and I agree that confrontation is necessary to make any real headway. My only reservation is that, while the we’re-people-too side of things is clearly a job for atheist activism in particular, I’d like to see the bigger-picture goals like doing away with religion come from a broader push for skepticism and critical thinking.

    There’s a lot of overlap, of course, especially on a site like this one, but there are plenty of people who are sort of incoherently atheistic, who have rejected the god of their parents but who haven’t necessarily gained critical thinking skills along the way. To make a somewhat strained analogy, the number of computer users has risen a lot faster in the past couple of decades than the number of people who understand computers.

    Maybe I’m just splitting hairs, especially since we don’t all have to follow a single strategy, but I’d prefer the rise of atheism to be a fortunate byproduct of better education rather than a primary objective in its own right.

  13. divine rebel says

    Atheism’s sole goal is to abolish or sweep away all religions from the world..Not less,no more..that’s all!

  14. says

    Ariel –

    My main worry is that religion offers consolation in a cruel world (is there any other world for sale on the market?) and I don’t see any that far reaching alternatives to religion. I don’t want to take religion away from the people in a dire need of it. Whether by force or by persuasion.

    The first problem with this is the assumption that religion actually provides the comfort you seem to believe it does. While I am sure that it does provide some comfort for some people, that really only applies to a relatively small proportion of the population. Most people tend to be pretty ambivalent at best about religion. For some people, religion not only doesn’t provide comfort, it is actually a source for discomfort or even pain – it certainly was for me.

    But even where it is cause for some comfort, we come to the second problem with your comment: The assumption that religion is the only plausible comfort. I am not sure where you get this idea, except to assume that quite unfortunately, you are missing such comfort. While it may not be that we can apply any of the myriad sources of similar comfort to groups the way that religion can, there are virtually limitless sources for comfort and meaning.

    One of the big ones for me is love and loving others. Of all the biblical tenants that had an impact on me, I don’t think any became such an important part of my life (I would note that this is doesn’t have to come from religion, it just happened to in my case) as the admonition to love others. No matter how bad it gets (and between mental illness, only parenting two boys who have issues and working towards a PhD it gets really rough sometimes), I have my passion for humanity to help sustain me – not to mention my children.

    I know a lot of atheists who have found meaning and comfort in a number of ways. Another comfort for me, though like everything else, it has always been comforting and meaningful, is the nature of reality. I love that the whole of human existence is just a tiny, short little blip – in a tiny, relatively short lived corner (ok, not really a corner) of a nondescript galaxy that is surrounded by the vastness of the universe. I love that everything we are, everything we can see and every other thing in the universe that we can’t see was all once scrunched together in a little ball of incredibly dense matter. I love that out of all of the vastness of time and space, our tiny planet – in our tiny solar system – found just the right portion of the sun’s gravity well and all the other conditions were just right for life to evolve, including us.

    This is all very elegant and beautiful to me. It’s exciting to try to wrap my mind around it all – including that I have a brain such as this. Because of all the wonderful aspects of our universe, one of the most interesting to me is our human brains – enough so that I am working on a PhD in the intersection of behavior and the brain.

    It’s even comforting to me – and many others I know, to know we are such insignificant blips in the whole of time and space.

    What is important about everything I have just described is that nearly all of it was just as important to me before I shed my Christianity. Every atheist I have talked about this with, who was once religious, has asserted that the things that give them meaning and comfort have always done so. I don’t know many people who find their religion comfort enough or fulfillment enough, though I know many who just extend their faith into what actually does comfort and fulfill them.

    And there is no question that religion drags some very ugly, poisonous baggage into whatever perceived good it might be doing.

  15. CBrachyrhynchos says

    My objection to “don’t be a dick” is that the most vocal people in the discussion will 1) treat you like a dick anyway based on prior prejudice, and 2) are not interested in having their stereotypes of atheists/agnostics/non-theists challenged.

  16. Ganner says

    My biggest goals, in order (2a and 2b are a tie, can’t decide):

    1: Protect separation of church and state, and promote government based on science, logic, and reason.

    2: Eliminate religious fundamentalism (be it evangelical Christians, radical Muslims, ultra-orthodox Jews, or others who hold a strict literal interpretation of their faiths and put this above any reason, human compassion, or anything else). See things like this marginalized to the point that they have little to no influence on society.

    3: Improve the public image of atheists and eliminate bias and bigotry toward us. I struggled with where to place this. It affects us personally a lot, but I feel like we have a greater benefit overall from achieving the above 2, and also feel that achieving 2 makes achieving 3 so much easier.

    4: As a skeptic more than an atheist, see scientific thinking and skepticism become the norm in society. Some irrationality is just annoying, but some (like anti-vax and alt-medicine) can be objectively harmful.

    5: See religion get to a point where even if you have religious faith, it’s something that isn’t talked about publicly and isn’t organized to influence government and society at large. Essentially, make “atheism” as irrelevant as “a-unicornism” is.

  17. LadyBlack says

    Many thanks for the replies, I’ll have a look when I can get back on the internet.

    Re : losing my friends….well, one is militantly religious and would brook no argument against it, so I know he would definitely flounce off in a huff if I dared to question his beliefs (I’m not making fun of him, this is exactly how he would behave). We touch on it, but in that awkward, “We’re not talking about this” kind of way.

    The other two….well, I would probably be able to build bridges but I guess…it’s something that has been touched on before, that they feel so strongly that we atheists have to be sensitive to the believers that we could end up arguing before they would really consider their stance. And because I know that, do I provoke an argument I know won’t end well, or do I hold to my views, and hope that they will reconsider as time goes on? I suppose it comes down to which result you see as working.

    Right, must go, I’m on holiday now!!!!! Oh no, holiday! Can’t use that word :-).

  18. says

    And while we work toward a world where religion has largely faded away, in the meantime, there’s an intermediate stage that I’m very keen on. I think we’re also working for a world where religious believers understand that their reasons for belief are not intellectually respectable.

    I would really really like to see that world come into being soon. I would really like to see believers a lot more shy and modest about what they believe, because they grasp that it’s all just assertion. I would like to see them understand that they can’t expect other people to join them in their belief, or even consider it sensible or reasonable, because it’s all just an old story that has hung on for many centuries. I would love to see that.

  19. stonyground says

    @LadyBlack #2
    I live in the UK and subscribe to the hard copy of thr Freethinker. The magazine contains a list of contacts to local atheist and humanist groups all over the country. You can subscribe via the Freethinker blog http://freethinker.co.uk/ or I think you may be able to get a free back copy which will have the listings in it.

  20. says

    Ultimately I’d like a world of rational people. The moment I realized religion has run roughshod over humanity for pretty much the existence of civilization I changed. With absolutely no evidence they tortured, killed, forced and maimed people into their damned abusive beliefs.

    I changed. I am fucking angry. These are my rational sisters and brothers they did this to. While I sheepishly fight for the next step of equal rights, my insides burn for the ultimate death of religion. Tactically and strategically I will confuse and confound the religious. Set asunder their ways, while giving them a net of rational thought to land in.

    I avenge the great Hypatia and Galileo. I burn at the thought of the science missing in between their century. Rationality will be redeemed. Atheism will win the day at last.

  21. otrame says

    To me, in order of importance:

    1. Prevent the use of religion to deny civil rights and prevent the teaching of religion in public schools. To the extent that theists want to teach religion in science class and deny civil rights to my fellow citizens, they are my enemies. This will be a major ongoing fight for some time to come in the U.S., but I think even in Europe there will be continued trouble though not as bad, from both Christians and Muslims.

    2. Improve the degree to which atheists can operate in society without flagrant abuse and flouting of civil rights. I believe that the more atheists that come out to everyone the more this will happen. In some cases, and in some micro-cultures, this is down-right dangerous to one’s relationships with family, to one’s job, and in some cases, to one’s safety, so I can understand people who are not ready to make that step. But each one who does makes it easier for the next one.

    3. Encouraging the removal of religion from human affairs. I truly believe the way to do this is to push skepticism and critical thinking. It will be a slow process and the fanatical religious, who are really starting to feel the pinch now, will get more and more fanatical as their numbers shrink. I honestly don’t have a problem with most theists, as individuals, as long as they are not directly supporting the denial of civil rights or the teaching of religion in public schools, but religion, over all, is a poison in society and the sooner we convince most people to let it go, the better society will be. Not a utopia, of course–because we are talking human beings here, folks–but fewer excuses to behave in a hateful way that is socially acceptable, because religion is no long given a free pass.

    Some of the efforts to accomplish these goals will be political, some social, but in the long run, the way to get to #3 will be one person at a time. Both confrontation and diplomacy have their places in the discussion, because different atheists have different styles just as what works for convincing each theist to let go of god will be different. The only thing that must forever remain off the table is coercion. Not only because that would be wrong, but because it wouldn’t work.

  22. F says

    There’s a movement?

    I have to keep asking this for the reasons you have just described.

    I don’t think all atheists — even all atheist activists — have the same goals.

    No. Kidding.

    And the people who like to insist that there is “a movement” are quite like those who like to insist that “you aren’t helping”, as far as that mechanism goes. It is even in the title here “the Atheist Movement”, capitalized, even.

    I see movement. I also see movements. But I wish people would quit insisting that there is A Movement or The Movement because they aren’t in charge of anything, don’t get to define anything, or tell anyone else how to do anything. Fucking delusional is what they are. So just fucking stop it, singular-with-a-capital-m-movement people.

  23. says

    It baffles me when people pull out the ‘angry atheists’ argument. There are things (misogyny, bigotry, diversity) that the atheist movement/secularist movement has problems with, but I don’t think anger is one of them. I think it’s the shock that people are passionate about believing in nothing. I know it wasn’t brought up in this post, but I remember Gretta saying at her SSA talk about how we should be careful not to attack believers but to attack the idea of religion. When I was a believer, someone called me stupid, which is something I have never been. I just put religion behind a wall of ‘can’t question it, just part of who you are.’ Religion should be treated as an idea. You can judge if it’s a harmful idea or not. I think a lot of fundamentalists are helping with that argument because they’re pushing religion even further into the public sphere, so now we get to show how terrible a theocracy and the blurring of the line of church and state actually is for everyone. Hoorray wingnuts?

  24. says

    My goal is simple: to work toward ending religion.

    Why? Because religion is the single biggest obstacle to the establishment of a truly egalitarian and peaceful society. I think that’s a worthy goal – everyone has a right to a healthy, happy, and peaceful life.

  25. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Religion is too entrenched in Western culture for it to disappear easily or rapidly. But it would be nice if the more extreme forms of religion were to go away. I’d like to see people get generally laughed at and scorned for justifying their homophobia with “Gawd thinks what GLBTs do in bed is icky.” I’d like the Pope to realize that supporting and protecting child rapists is immoral, no matter how hard he pretends Jebus is okay with the practice. I want the creationists/IDers to know their 2500 year old mythology cannot beat reality. That sort of thing is my goal.

  26. says

    #1 Even if there were no such thing as the atheist movement, we’d still be required to argue with religious people. It’s required of us as honest people. Those ideas are wrong, and we’d have to call them wrong (this is just what enlightenment philosophers did- and they weren’t atheists, really).

    #2 After deciding we need and should have confrontationalism as a method (and I fully agree to this), it is not that case that any particular confrontationalist is doing it *well*. Confrontationalists in past social reform movements made some big mistakes which caused great damage to their own movements. We should be able to make such distinctions between good and bad (effectiveness-wise) firebrands and for that matter, good and bad diplomats.

  27. Jeffrey Soreff says

    Counterintuitively, in Finland, at least, one of the factors
    in getting religion out of politics and in increasing the
    number and visibility of atheists appears to be, of all things,
    the existence of a state church.

    The discussion on lesswrong is here

    Quoth Kaj_Sotala:

    A prevailing theory is that this acts as a sort of an inoculation against more radical strands of religion. Religion is that traditional thing you grew up with, with neat rituals that bring some comfort and you’ll likely believe in at least some of what they say, but that’s about it. It’s been mostly relegated to the position of “those nice people who provide nice traditional rituals for a few special occasions in everyone’s life”. And once you’re used to the thought of that being the church’s function, any church or religion that gets more involved in the daily lives of its followers will seem radical and fanatic in comparison.

    Unfortunately, this probably isn’t usable in the US -
    but it is what amounts to a harm reduction
    technique used elsewhere.

    Also note that it isn’t that everyone in Finland even winds up
    “believing some of what they say”. Wikipedia gives the fraction of Finnish atheists as 16%

  28. Kelly Bodwin says

    Great post as always, Greta. You make a great point about the different causes in our movement. But I want to try, at least, to make a case that the “nice,” nonconfrontational approach is the best Battle Strategy for the cause of eradicating religion.

    What it boils down to is this: You’re going to win more people away from religion if you offer an appealing alternative.

    I think the secular movement, on the whole, tends to underestimate how much religion is tied into people’s identities. To us, it seems easy to carve all that crap out of your life and move one. But to someone for whom religion has been at the core of their life experience, it isn’t so easy. Cut out religion, and you leave behind a void.

    A lot of folks on the “softer” side of the atheist movement are doing really good work in this regard. The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard is a great example – they have meditation, Sunday discussions, service trips, etc. They are essentially emulating the good things about a religious community without including any of the bullshit. To the ex-religious, this is a tempting offer: you can still get that feeling of community, of being part of something bigger, of doing good. It makes swapping over simple; you have to check God at the door, but you can take with you everything else that religion brought to your life.

    Now, I know secular community work and confrontation of religion are not mutually exclusive. However, if you start getting nasty about it (a la American Atheists), you paint your group as something people don’t want to be part of. Even if a religious person does, under fire, accept that they are wrong, they won’t want to be aligned with the people who insulted everything they once held dear.

    The point is this: Presenting atheists as “nice” is not just about societal acceptance. It’s about making “atheist” something people want to be. I have only anecdotal evidence to support this, but in my experience there are a huge number of people who don’t really buy into the dogma of their religion. They stick with it because the alternative is being a – gasp! – nonbeliever. If saying “I’m a Humanist” was as easy as saying “I’m a Methodist”, and it came with a similar community, I wager you’d get a huge number of people jumping ship.

    So, I’ve gone and written a huge post (whoops), but in conclusion: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. If we really want converts, we need to be better salespeople, and hold our tongues from time to time even in the face of the rage-inducing idiocy of religion.

  29. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Kelly Bodwin #29

    You and your accommodationist buddies can suck up to the goddists all you want. Have a nice time. Tell us from time to time how many goddists you’ve converted to reason. You have my blessing (sorry, couldn’t resist). The only thing I ask, and I mean THE ONLY THING I ASK is that you don’t try to shut us up when us gnu atheists don’t follow your tactics. Do your thing and let us do ours.

    Incidentally, Mythbusters did a segment on drawing flies with honey versus vinegar. They determined that flies were slightly more drawn to honey than cider vinegar but that balsamic vinegar drew many more flies than honey did.

  30. sunnydale75 says

    >As I understand, it’s again about the “lack of reality checks” (something similar to the “non-overlapping magisteria” doctrine). I don’t believe it.<


    -Given how eloquently Greta has laid out her argument for religion lacking a reality check, I’m puzzled how/why you don’t believe it. All the negative things done in the name of religion have no system of checks and balances. There’s nothing within religion to keep atrocities from spiraling out of control.
    We hear stories of people killing their children through faith healing. Where is the internal system that calls out these people and holds them accountable for their actions? Where is the system that tells them (and any others doing the same)what they are doing is wrong?
    After the horrific acts of Sept. 11, one of the most important aspects of the attacks-the ridiculous religious beliefs held by all those involved-were *not* attacked (to any meaningful degree). They should have been. But religion is immune to criticism (in the eyes of many). The minute one tries to be critical of a religious belief, they are attacked. Critics of religion are called intolerant, disrespectful or rude. If religion had a reality check, or allowed for some form of critique when its tenets violate human rights, perhaps something truly effective could have come out of the attacks. Instead, the elephant in the room sat there-almost invisible and inaudible- while a “war on terror” began.
    The atrocities committed by the Catholic Church (whether we’re talking about selling newborns to families they deem worthy*, or signing a treaty with Germany virtually giving the stamp of approval to the Third Reich**) are not addressed properly and swept under the rug. With a reality check…some way of judging the harm done by religion…some way for religion to be held accountable, there would be no sweeping.
    I don’t believe that if religion had a reality check (be it an independent internal one-though is such a thing possible-or, preferably an external body) no atrocities would be done in the name of some deity. I just believe that it would be much more difficult to hide atrocities behind religion. I believe that those who perform atrocities in the name of religion would be held accountable for their actions. Of course a “reality check” isn’t likely to happen from within as believers cite “it’s god’s will” and that’s enough for them. An external “reality check” might be just as difficult, since believers would assert that no rule would trump god’s will. This doesn’t change the fact that some system of accountability *should* exist.

    Tony
    *http://www.newsytype.com/12834-catholic-church-stole-babies/
    **http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichskonkordat

  31. sunnydale75 says

    >I think the secular movement, on the whole, tends to underestimate how much religion is tied into people’s identities. To us, it seems easy to carve all that crap out of your life and move one.<

    -I think you’re wrong here. Given how pervasive religion is across the planet, there are a great many atheists who know its *not* easy to get rid of the crap and move on. There are many atheists and secularists who have firsthand knowledge of the connection between religion and identity.
    I don’t think there’s any “one right way” to persuade people out of religion. Whether its accommodation or confrontation, both have their merits and both are going to work on different people. I think confrontation (vocal, non violent confrontation) works better in the long haul as it doesn’t call upon anyone to accept that religion is here to stay and we just need to work with that (which is how I see accomodation; live and let live). I agree with Greta that religious beliefs are inherently harmful, overshadowing any of the good deeds performed in religions’ name.
    That said, I do recognize that confrontation isn’t always the best way to reach people. I wonder if there might be a third recourse available (though I’m not creative enough to come up with one; I’m sure someone out there can).

    Tony

  32. says

    As atheism and secularism expand, you’re going to see a change and a shift in attitudes. Confrontation people are needed, but you’re seeing a wide range of atheist who don’t actively argue against religion. I’m not going to be the Next Great Debater, but I’m not going to stop people from debating religion. It needs to be done. Not everyone who comes to call themselves an atheist or a secularist is going to have to debate and be confrontational. Because a lot of people are coming from Christian backgrounds, it does make sense that some elements of ‘church community’ might slip into secular groups. I think that’s very different than being an apologist.

  33. Kelly Bodwin says

    #30 – Nobody is interested in censorship, of course. But I’m not going to stop criticizing atheist groups when I think they cross a line, or trying to convince the “gnu atheists” to try different tactics. As for Mythbusters – I am indeed aware of it, and I almost mentioned it in my post. Should have known it would be brought up. The sentiment of the idiom remains.

    #32 – You’re right; I didn’t mean to imply that atheists can never appreciate the pervasiveness of religion. I’m just shocked when people think they can belligerently attack someone’s beliefs, and they won’t be bothered by it because we are right, dammit.

    I don’t think we need to accept that religion is here to stay in the long term. In the short term, though, we should recognize that religious groups exist, and it’s to our benefit to work with them even as we criticize them. It’s not about being satisfied with the status quo; it’s about being realistic in our approach.

    My feeling on confrontation is that it’s okay when it’s invited. If a friend asks me my opinion on their religion, I unleash. But I’m not going to bring it up every time I see someone wearing a cross. Similarly, there is a place for people like Hitch – anyone reading “God is Not Great” ought to know what they’re getting themselves into. What I oppose is the in-your-face attitude that takes every uninvited opportunity to insult religion – which becomes even worse when you couple it with pseudo-racism and misinformation.

    At any rate – thanks for a thoughtful response!

  34. Greta Christina says

    Kelly Bodwin@ #29: You’re making a lot of unwarranted assumptions. And one of the biggest is that everyone wants the same kind of community that you do.

    I think it’s awesome that some atheists are creating nice, friendly, softer humanist communities with Sunday discussion groups and so on. But I sure as hell don’t want to join one. It would bore the crap out of me. I actually LIKE the rough- and- tumble of the more edgy gathering spots for atheists. And lots of people apparently feel the same. Pharyngula is the most popular blog in the atheist blogosphere — by a couple of orders of magnitude. There’s a reason for that. A lot of people think Pharyngula is fun.

    You’re arguing that more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar. I suggest you talk to PZ Myers, and ask him how many emails he gets every month from people telling him that his harsh, snarky, insulting blog changed their minds about religion. I can tell you his answer: Hundreds.

    And I think you’re mistaken about confrontational atheists underestimating the power of religion. Believe me, we’re aware of it. We just disagree about the best way to undermine that power. Or rather: We don’t think there’s just one best way. That’s one of the most striking things I’ve noticed about the “confrontationalist/diplomat” debates. The confrontationalists are generally saying, “Yes, we need lots of different approaches, we need snarky badasses and sweet community builders, and if you want to be a sweet community builder, that’s awesome — just quit telling me to stop what I’m doing.” It’s the diplomats who are more prone to say, “Our way is the best way, the only way, everyone else should do it our way, and the confrontationalists should stop doing what they’re doing because they’re making our job harder.” We’re not. We’re making your job easier. We’re moving the center; we’re drawing attention; we’re making you seem more reasonable by comparison. Please stop trying to get in our way.

  35. sunnydale75 says

    Kelly @35
    -I think your post came out in italics because you quoted me. As of yesterday, I began explore the various ways to quote others and I’m still not certain the most effective way (assuming there’s just *one* way that’s best).

    Tony

  36. sunnydale75 says

    Greta:
    >We’re moving the center; we’re drawing attention; we’re making you seem more reasonable by comparison. Please stop trying to get in our way.<


    -Ultimately the “confrontational” atheists aren’t really doing anything terribly extreme. Talking openly and honestly, calling out believers on the crap they believe, holding religion and its adherents accountable, and asking for reason, logic and empirical evidence to be the guides for understanding our world don’t strike me as terribly confrontational, to be honest. It’s just that religion has gone for long stretches of time without any major, sustained criticism. With the Internet and the access to information (once you weed out all the DISinformation), atheists are able to speak up louder and longer. I say get rid of “confrontational” and replace it with “outspoken”.

    Tony

  37. Beth says

    Let me alter a portion of your post to the opposite side:

    Many of us don’t just want a world where believers and atheists get along and let each other practice their religion or lack thereof in peace. Many of us want a world where there’s no atheism. We don’t want to see this happen by law or violence or any kind of force, of course. But we think atheism isn’t just mistaken. We think it’s harmful. Some of us think it’s appallingly harmful. Some of us think it’s inherently harmful: that the very qualities that make atheism unique are exactly what make it capable of doing terrible harm. What’s more, we see atheism as not just hurting believers. We see it as hurting millions of atheists. So we’re working towards a world where it no longer exists.

    That’s fairly close to what some religious leaders actually say. What do you think of the religious leaders who say things like that?

  38. Kelly Bodwin says

    @Greta – I’m not assuming everyone wants the same community. Frankly, I have no interest in these communities either; I rarely attended HCH events and instead stuck to the “beer and South Park” undergraduate community. I am arguing, rather, that these “softer” communities are more attractive to the otherwise religiously inclined. Selfishly I prefer the rough-and-tumble ones; strategically, I support the “nice” ones.

    As to Pharyngula: Like “God is Not Great”, anyone who seeks out and reads it knows what they’re looking for. I’m sure he has been instrumental in de-religioning people, but these are people who were already questioning, or at least researching, and who wanted a kick in the pants. As I said, there’s a place for that. But what outspoken blogs are not doing is reaching out to the average entrenched religious person. And that’s where “nice” atheism comes in – it can get through to the religious where hardhitting attacks cannot.

    (I should add, although it’s not directly relevant to our current topic, that I have my reasons for not liking PZ’s blog. Yours is “snarky, harsh, and insulting” to religion – and I love it. PZ makes a habit of insulting people rather than beliefs and unfairly generalizing groups, and for that I’m not his biggest fan.)

    I think it’s rather unfair and a tad arrogant of you to say confrontationalists welcome all approaches and diplomats are the censoring ideologues. First of all, in my experience the reverse is the case. (Speaking of PZ, if you followed the recent spat between him and Chris Stedman, I noticed it was PZ and JT throwing out the personal insults, and Chris taking the high road.) But regardless, I can’t get behind this faction-ing that seems to be going on. I came in here to make a case for the effectiveness of “nice” atheism – I didn’t even say anything against outspokenness – and suddenly it’s “WE vs. YOU”.

    We secular folk are all in this together, and this question of “naughty or nice” should only be a debate about how to effectively use our resources and energies. Occasionally there will be bigger disputes – when diplomacy becomes weakness or confrontation becomes hate speech, it’s our job as teammates to let each other know we’re out of line.

    So in case I’ve buried my position in a couple long responses, let me be clear: I think “soft” atheism is a more effective way to win hearts and minds than aggressiveness. I think brazen criticisms of religion are also very important, in proper context. Finally, I think prejudice and hate speech against any group, atheist or religious, is never okay.

  39. Greta Christina says

    Kelly Bodwin @ #40: I’m sorry, but when you say, “I didn’t even say anything against outspokenness,” I think you’re being somewhat disingenuous. You said in #29 that “You’re going to win more people away from religion if you offer an appealing alternative”; that “if you start getting nasty about it (a la American Atheists), you paint your group as something people don’t want to be part of”; that “Even if a religious person does, under fire, accept that they are wrong, they won’t want to be aligned with the people who insulted everything they once held dear.” That’s saying things against outspokenness. That looks very much like an attempt to persuade confrontationalists to knock it off.

    And you aren’t just making a case for nice atheism. If that’s all you were doing, I wouldn’t be arguing — I am entirely in favor of nice atheism working side by side with harsh atheism, and have said so many times, including in this very post. You’re making a case that, quote, “the ‘nice,’ nonconfrontational approach is the best Battle Strategy for the cause of eradicating religion.” That’s not a proposal of a multi-pronged approach. That’s a proposal that the nice approach is the best one, period. And that’s exactly what I’m disputing.

    I’m not arguing that harsh atheism is better or more effective than nice atheism. I’m arguing that both are important. I think community building, and replacing the social support structures people lose when they leave religion, is hugely important. I just don’t see confrontationalism as antithetical to that. Or rather: Sometimes it probably is, but sometimes it isn’t. And unless you have good evidence to show that the off-putting effects of confrontationalism far offset the attractive effects, I don’t understand why you’re trying to talk people out of it.

  40. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Kelly Bodwin #40

    I think “soft” atheism is a more effective way to win hearts and minds than aggressiveness.

    Fine, believe that all you want. However please don’t insist your way is The Only Way™ and folks who don’t follow your way should shut up. That’s all I’m asking and I don’t think it’s too much to ask, especially since the vast majority of gnu atheists, including PZ Myers and JT Eberhardt, will extend that courtesy to you.

  41. Steve Schuler says

    Given that I do not self-identify as an Atheist, it is probably no surprise that I have no interest in being part of an “Atheist Movement”. Of course that is not to say that I am a religionist. I can assure you that I am not.

    From my perspective Greta, and those who tend to agree with her in this discussion, derive a somewhat shallow sense of purpose and identity as adherents to a position of pugilistic self-rightousness in which they enjoy a certain sense of smug superiority over their less gifted adversaries.

    I find nothing in Greta’s celebration of her willingness to engage in her own variety of self-righteous ideological warfare that appeals to my, very subjective, sense of propriety.

    When Greta admonishes Kelly Bodwin with these words, “We’re moving the center; we’re drawing attention; we’re making you seem more reasonable by comparison. Please stop trying to get in our way.” I have to agree that Kelly IS far more reasonable than Greta, although I wonder why Greta perceives Kelly as “getting in our way.” I think it may have something to do with “zealotry”, but I could be wrong…

    Peace

    Steve

    PS

    I think Beth’s re-wording of Greta, posted above, is pretty revealing.

  42. articulett says

    Ugh–

    If only the accommodationist crowd would hang out with each other and quit with the “hey everybody– you should be nice like me!”

    We aren’t going to their blogs and lecturing them to quit kissing theist ass– they can coddle religion all they wish… but can they do it without fomenting anti-atheist bigotry or giving us their goofy opinions about flies and honey? As I recall flies are tremendously attracted to shit too– probably more so than honey! Why this desperation to convince everyone else to tone it down… on freethought blogs even! If we cannot exercise our freedom of speech on the internet– on forums where no woo ever need tread– where else can we? Why aren’t the accommodating crowd trying to get Fred Phelps or Pat Robertson or theists to “tone it down”? Wouldn’t that be more beneficial to their nebulous goals? Why aren’t they using their “diplomacy” skills to encourage Christians to keep their baby Jesus displays on private grounds– like churches?

    Do these passive aggressive Tom Johnson whinings really ever win anyone over to reason? If so, I have yet to see the evidence– just a lot of silly platitudes about flies and honey. I think they are an underhanded way of fomenting anti-atheist bigotry in an attempt to make the accommodationist look like a “reasonable” alternative. Are any theists biting?

    Why are the biggest accommodationists so much less likable than those they criticize? Why do they imagine themselves experts on communication when they suck so much at it? Why not offer advice to those who seek advice from them instead of offering it to people who don’t really want to be more like them? Or, since they are dealing with skeptics, why not offer evidence that their efforts work better for some goal than those they are so eager to put down? One wonders if an accommodationist can accommodate without insulting new atheists?

    Myself, I much prefer the new (gnu) atheists to their self-righteous accommodating counterparts. I doubt any of them go to accommodationist blogs to tell the accommodationist crowd they are “doing it wrong”. It’s not the accommodating that I find so annoying as the passive-aggressive putting down of the more outspoken atheists and those that are critical of faith. Sometimes I think that there is a streak of jealousy there– some sour grapes. These accommodaters are so sure that everyone should want to be more like them… that everyone should see what a glorious help they are to some “cause”. But instead it’s the those surly “gnu atheists” that are winning so many over to reason. I think it’s because they latter speak the truth undiluted; whereas, the accommodationist engages in the equivalent of the courtier’s reply.

    My goals are not to make religionists feel more comfortable and entitled. Respecting faith gives the faithful and their accommodationist buddies the illusion that faith is something worth respecting. I think “faith in faith” just prolongs and ennobles magical thinking. I want no part of it. My goal is to get religionists to be as private with their magical beliefs as they want those with conflicting viewpoints to be. I want them to be embarrassed to flaunt their woo the way the would be to flaunt their fetishes or their bowel habits. I want to be able to assume everyone is rational until they open their mouth and spew woo. I want the freedom of speech and the freedom to associate with like minded people just as religionists do. I want the freedom to criticize all woo that each woo grants themselves when critiquing conflicting woo.

    And what have the mean “gnu atheists” done other than exercise their freedom of speech? They don’t march into churches and scream there is no god. I bet most of them don’t even go to woo blogs nor accommodationist blogs and inflict their opinions upon others the way the woo and their accommodationist buddies feel so free to do on blogs like this.

  43. Bruce Gorton says

    I want mental anarchy

    To overthrow authorities
    And recognize expertise
    To liberate morality
    And bring about equality
    To observe, think and act
    Shape opinion with fact
    To set us all forever free
    From considerations of me
    It is ideas that matter
    The rest is idle chatter

  44. Kelly Bodwin says

    @ Greta – I apologize, I think I’m using “outspoken” and “confrontational” to mean two different things and I’m muddling the issue.

    First of all, we have comments like the American Atheists recent anti-Muslim diatribes. These are rhetorics that I believe are harmful and offensive, and I’m ashamed to be associated with them. This is something I will “get in the way of,” and try to prevent in any legitimate way I can. (By legitimate, I mean not censorship.)

    Next, we have overly aggressive attempts for conversion. In this category I place some of AA’s harsher billboard campaigns and folks who will bust into any religious conversation with insults and arrogance. I don’t oppose this on principle; I simply think it is alienating and ineffective. This is what I would call “confrontationalist.”

    Finally, we have what I would call “outspokenness.” I would put you, Hitchens, PZ (sometimes), etc in this category. It’s the rashly antitheist, “snarky and insulting” approach. I don’t usually agree with the strength of your language or opinions – and I might dispute them – but I think it’s important to have that voice in the arena.

    So. I would like to “stand in the way of” the first, “talk people out” of the second, and “not say anything against” the third.

    Yes, then. I advocate a one-pronged (or maybe 1.5) approach. I do think accommodation is the best strategy. But I’m not in any way trying to quash criticism – even criticism I find overly harsh. I am merely trying to convince you (or, more realistically, your readers) that we should pour the majority of our resources into the “nice” movement. I tried to make my case about why it is indeed the better tactic; you are unconvinced, and that’s fine. It’s a good conversation to have regardless.

    I hope I’ve been a bit clearer – I was trying to outline the positives of the soft approach more than search for negatives in the harsher one (with the exception of a few extreme cases). I have no interest in dumbing down the antitheist rhetoric; I simply think we should recognize its limited role and make humanist-type things our bigger priority. Fair? Even if you disagree?

    @ OM #42 – Once again: I’m not trying to censor anyone or get on a high horse. Just trying to attack religion as effectively as I can, and get people on board with my strategy. And while most “gnu atheists” are indeed as courteous as you say, you chose pretty terrible examples in JT and PZ, who both very recently told Chris Stedman to, in essence, “shut up.”

    @ articulett #45 – I don’t wish to feed the troll, but I’ll remind you that Greta said this: “If you disagree — either about the best tactics for reaching any of our goals, or about whether persuading people out of religion is a worthwhile goal in the first place — then by all means, let’s have that conversation.” I took her up on the offer, and I for one have greatly enjoyed the resulting discussion. But if Greta feels my comments are intrusive, I’m happy to back out. It’s just the internet, after all…

    Also, if you think I haven’t had conversations like this with the so-called “accommodationists” as well, you’re wrong.

    Aaaaaand that’s more than enough for tonight. Thanks everyone for the conversation!

  45. Bruce Gorton says

    Steve Schuler

    First, please recognise that not everybody reading your comments is from America, so terms such as “Zoe’s law” need explaining. My guess from your use of it is that it is in some way insulting, but given that I am not familiar with the said law, I cannot say for sure what you mean.

    Now as to your argument on how you think atheists are getting a shallow sense of purpose and identity – may I direct you to a very good comic on that very subject – XKCD.

    If you don’t want to click the link, the quote in question is “Well the important thing is you feel superior to both of them.”

  46. Bruce Gorton says

    Kelly Bodwin

    I would argue that the “nice” approach is generally the least productive in just about anything.

    Consider the Republicans versus the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party tries to play the center – and thus ends up largely impotent once it gets into power.

    For two years the Democratic Party held both houses and argued that it couldn’t get anything done without the Republican Party’s support. This came off as a lame-duck excuse and in the mid-terms the Democratic Party lose the one house because a big chunk of its supporters were dissallusioned and thus didn’t pitch up.

    The result of the Democratic bi-partisanship (or ‘be nice’) drive has been that in elections with low turn-outs the Republicans consistently do better because the Republicans play to their base.

    They play a strong hand towards the right and thus the right shows up to vote for them. This also makes them far more effective* legislators than the Democrats.

    When the leftwing base stopped catering to the ideal of bi-partisanship on the other hand, there has been movement. Occupy Wall Street changed political debate in Washtington and the US as a whole for a recent example.

    Greta herself has raised the point that one of the major milestones in the LGBT movement was in fact a riot. Gay pride marches are confrontational, and they are highly effective.

    In fact if you look at the peaceful resistance movements of the civil rights movements they preached against non-confrontation. It is important to note they argued for peaceful confrontation, and a big chunk of what reduced racism was portrayals of racists as stupid hicks with a penchant for incest or Nazis.

    It didn’t make those racists feel good, but it sure as heck got people into not wanting to identify with them.

    And finally consider Islam. Why is it so unacceptable amongst so many of the left to draw a picture of Mohammed? Because Islamic extremists get very confrontational about it.

    By adopting a “nice” approach I am afraid we simply stymie effective action. I do not see in the history of any civil rights movement a tendency for being nice to actually work.

    Being correct works, and it is important to note that our actions must remain honest to avoid unwanted effects, but being nice appears only to maintain the status quo.

    *What I mean by that is they are more likely to get the legislation they want than the Democratic Party. Not that such legislation is good.

  47. Ariel says

    Some answers to posts directed to me.

    Deen #10

    Even if you consider it a fake consolation yourself? Even if all it offers is false hope?

    Yes, even so.

    I don’t remember ever liking this argument. What makes you think they really need it in the first place? Are they really less capable than you in dealing with the world? If not, they need religion no more than you do. If so, why not teach them?

    The key question is whom do we mean by “they”. I leave it for later (see below); here let me say only: I sincerely hope that “they” will be more capable of dealing with the world than me (I’m not a particularly good example here). I don’t feel also that I have much to teach “them”. Apart from some dry and not very helpful stuff.

    DuWayne #15

    The first problem with this is the assumption that religion actually provides the comfort you seem to believe it does. While I am sure that it does provide some comfort for some people, that really only applies to a relatively small proportion of the population.

    I can’t claim to know the truth here, therefore I will say only: even so, this provides a basis for keeping religion at bay, not for eradicating it. Unless you are ready to sacrifice this “relatively small proportion of the population” as collateral damage. I gather that’s not what you are aiming at, given your next passage …

    we come to the second problem with your comment: The assumption that religion is the only plausible comfort. I am not sure where you get this idea, except to assume that quite unfortunately, you are missing such comfort. While it may not be that we can apply any of the myriad sources of similar comfort to groups the way that religion can, there are virtually limitless sources for comfort and meaning.

    … and given the rest of your comment, which is quite personal (I appreciate that). Yes, you are right that the sources of my conviction are also personal – no hard data. When I was a teenager, I saw my grandmother dying. She lived with us for the last years of her life, stuck in her bed, and I observed her becoming more and more detached, more and more otherworldly. We brought to her our everyday affairs, and she listened … sort of. But her mind wandered in the past; as for the future, it contained just death, and a preparation to die. In effect it was the past and religion that really kept her. She had her rosary, she had her visits of the priest (she became always more lively after such a visit). There were no “myriad sources”, she was left with those two: the past and religion. As for us – the loved ones – it seemed in the end that our role was to make these two comforts fully accessible to her. I hope we did well. And I wouldn’t want to take it away from her, no way. Nor from the people like her.
    The second experience was with my university teacher and friend, an outstanding mathematician (an atheist all his life, but it’s not important here). I spent some time with him in a hospital before he died. I will always remember him sitting in a hospital chair, so small and isolated, repeating just one phrase: “I will not prove anything more”. It was very hard to get through to him, to counter and to overcome this one horrible phrase. I don’t think I did well. I didn’t have anything to offer him apart from friendship, and friendship was not enough. (Oh, it probably doesn’t mean much, since I’m awful in interpersonal relations.) Eventually a priest was called and he made a conversion. And whatever you think of it, I don’t want to take it away. I don’t want to do it to anyone. Never. So yeah, it’s personal.

    Kaorunegisa #12

    When I was a small child and afraid of monsters, my mother had a water bottle that she used to go around my room at night with “spraying for monsters.” I was convinced this monster repellent would keep me safe at night. As I grew older, I abandoned this because the only monsters in the world are human and they won’t be so easily repelled. I was better for abandoning the fear of imaginary enemies and realizing who my real enemies were.

    I’m still afraid of monsters. Not only the human ones. There are so many things which can make you an outcast. You don’t believe any more that your pillow can grow teeth and bite your face off? Yeah, I still believe it :-) And I hope you will fail in your plan of eradicating religion. I hope religion will stay there, if only for the outcasts. Perhaps the difference between me and (many of) you is that whenever you hear the slogan “eradicate religion!”, your mind’s eye sees a big mouthed preacher with a Rolex on his wrist (I understand such an association – don’t think that I don’t!) And whenever I hear this slogan, I see someone with his face bitten off (by his pillow, maybe). Doctor’s pills don’t help. The relatives and the loved ones have faces, how can they understand? And the cripple has nowhere to turn.

    sunnydale75 #31

    Given how eloquently Greta has laid out her argument for religion lacking a reality check, I’m puzzled how/why you don’t believe it.

    There was some discussion e.g. here. I’m not sure whether it’s worth coming back to this now; I leave the decision to you. Anyway, it seems to me that all this talk about religion “lacking a reality check” sounds good on a general level, but becomes very problematic as soon as you turn to the details.

  48. Bruce Gorton says

    Ariel

    I am not sure that comfort is in and of itself a good thing.

    Take the example of Matthew chapter 6 – it is all very comforting to tell people not to worry about where their food or drink is going to come from, but it doesn’t stop them starving to death. Not worrying about tomorrow – has a nasty tendency to leave you unprepared for it.

  49. sunnydale75 says

    -Deen, thank you! I have been playing around with these tags and haven’t been able to get the hang of them yet.

    Tony

  50. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    And while most “gnu atheists” are indeed as courteous as you say, you chose pretty terrible examples in JT and PZ, who both very recently told Chris Stedman to, in essence, “shut up.”

    Well, Kelly, since I personally have little use for Chris Stedman and think he’s a whiny ass, I have no problem with people telling him to shut up. I wish he would shut up so people aren’t exposed to his whining. But that’s me. Obviously you like his whining.

  51. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Kelly,

    I want you to notice one thing. Neither PZ, JT nor I have gone to Stedman’s website and told him to shut up. We expressed opinions on Stedman at other places, but even then we didn’t say “Chis STFU.” It’s not like Stedman toady who sent an email to JT’s boss essentially saying “Tell JT to STFU.”

    Stedman can write his vacuous kvetchings without us telling him to shut up. It’s just my opinion that he’s a whiner and if he stopped writing today then nobody, except you and the other Stedmen fans, would miss him in the least.

  52. Steve Schuler says

    @Bruce Gorton

    Hey Dude!

    Sorry for the use of an unfamiliar expression and to compound the problem I wrote “Zoe’s Law” when I should have written “Poe’s Law”, so even doing an internet search on the term I used would have been futile. From Wikipedia:

    Poe’s law states:

    Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.[2]

    The core of Poe’s law is that a parody of something is by nature extreme. That makes it impossible to differentiate from sincere extremism.

    A corollary of Poe’s law is the reverse phenomenon: legitimate fundamentalist beliefs being mistaken for a parody of that belief.[2]

    A further corollary, the Poe Paradox, results from suspicion of the first corollary. The paradox is that any new person or idea sufficiently extreme to be accepted by the extremist group risks being rejected as a parody or parodist..

    So you were correct in your sense that my comment was intended as an insult in response to articulett’s fundamentalist rant. Of course a fundamentalist rant isn’t necessarily so obviously a fundamentalist rant to a fundamentalist, and there is always the possibility that such rants are actually parodies, hence Poe’s Law.

    Thanks for the link to the XKCD cartoon. There is definitely a bit of truth in the message of the cartoon as pertains to me, but I generally don’t take myself so seriously, or without a healthy sense of humour, that I lose sight of my own foibles even while pointing out others follies.

    Peace

    Steve

  53. Steve Schuler says

    @Ariel

    I very much appreciate your input into this conversation and find myself very much in accord with what I understand your perspective to be. We live an exceedingly mysterious universe that is often brutal and frightening. I think that for many people their religion and faith is the only thing that affords them the ability to survive in the face of hostile and cruel circumstances. I think that it is very narrow-minded and naive to presume that Earth sans religion would necessarily be a better place for most people to live.

    But what do I know…

    Peace

    Steve

  54. says

    Ariel –

    My point is not to take away people’s comfort, but to help them replace it – or in most cases, help them see that what comforts them doesn’t require religion to make it work. The bottom line is that religion is poison and there are better ways to derive comfort and meaning – ways that don’t actively harm others.

  55. articulett says

    Steve Schuler–

    I think you should look up the word “fundamentalist”, and I’m not a dude.

    Kelly,

    The only time I heard of or read Chris Steadman was when he was promoting Karla Mclaren’s “Tom Johnson” rant about how there are militant atheists who are hurting “the cause” and need to tone it down. (The usual accommodationist spiel)

    I don’t doubt that you folks really believe this. However, you haven’t defined the “cause” you imagine is being harmed, much less shown evidence that those you criticize are any more harmful or less helpful than yourselves regarding said “cause”.

    I think those you criticize are furthering my goals better than the accommodationist crowd– plus they seem so much more honest, straightforward, intelligent and funny then those who whine about how they should be nicer; I realize this is my opinion, but if you compare the followers of outspoken atheists to folks like you, it appears to be lots of people’s opinion as well– most of whom were former believers! Maybe your method isn’t as much of a winning strategy as you imagine. Or maybe, as Greta noted, there are all sorts of methods that work for furthering the various causes we have. Recruit your allies from those who think like you rather than trying to “tone down” those who do not.

    Remember, my goal is get people to be private about their woo– I don’t want them shoving it in my face and demanding respect. I think it’s shameful to manipulate people into belief by promising them salvation or –worse– threatening them with hell for non-belief. It’s abusive to do this to children. I don’t go to woo blogs or purposefully seek out woo. But I want the freedom to give my opinion of the “woo” who share their opinions on skeptic blogs. I keep my opinions about religion private in my daily life, and I want religionists to do the same. I don’t like feeling like I have to walk on eggshells because I might hurt the feelings of someone who doesn’t care about my feelings. I’m eager to see humanity grow up, and I think religion is the main hindrance to such progress. Are the accommodationists helping further my goals?

    Maybe, just maybe, if theists don’t want to share a forum with atheists or those with conflicting faiths– then they’ll keep their “woo” in their churches and amongst themselves instead of inflicting their mind virus on the masses… and the superstitious thinking promoted by religion will fade. Fewer people will think of faith as a virtue.

    If you don’t like the more outspoken atheists, don’t hang around them! Do the same thing you do when it comes to outspoken theists you think are hurting some cause! If you still feel compelled to “tone down” those atheists you fear may be harming some cause, then define the cause, amass the evidence, and present the case. Show us how your solution works better. Be aware of the unimpressive nature of anecdotes and “Tom Johnson stories” however.

    I’m glad to have people of all types fighting for rational thought and working to overcome the magical thinking of generations past– but I do wish the accommodationist crowd could do it without insulting fellow atheists or trying to manipulate them into being more like the accommodationists. From my perspective such accommodationists seem to be furthering anti-atheist bigotry while pretending to be diplomats and moderators.

    We all understand that you think that your way is better and that things would be super duper if everyone was more like you. We just disagree.

  56. articulett says

    Nobody is interested in censorship, of course. But I’m not going to stop criticizing atheist groups when I think they cross a line, or trying to convince the “gnu atheists” to try different tactics

    Good– then I’m sure you’ll understand when we criticize accommodationists who seem to be furthering anti-atheist bigotry in order to win over the hearts of theists. (Hey, if you really want to win over a theist– tell them they will live happily ever after if they believe a certain unbelievable story and that they’ll be tortured forever if they don’t! Oh wait, their religions got there first.)

    What I oppose is the in-your-face attitude that takes every uninvited opportunity to insult religion – which becomes even worse when you couple it with pseudo-racism and misinformation.

    Examples? Pseudo racism and misinformation? What are you talking about? Is your example of “in your face” atheism the American Atheist signs? And PZ’s blog?! Is that what you mean by “taking every uninvited opportunity” to insult religion!? Or are you thinking about that evil cabal of militant unnamed atheists shouting “forced laughter” at religionists at conservation events? That turned out to be an accommodationist lie– and yet there persists this rumor about these unnamed militant atheists doing horrific things and hurting the unnamed “cause”. It sounds to me like you are confirming your biases and promoting anti-atheist bigotry rather than actually basing this comment on anything real.

    But perhaps I’m wrong, give us the most egregious examples of what you mentioned above– the worse of the worst… so we can see if we agree with your characterization. Remember it has to be “in-your-face”, an “uninvited opportunity to insult religion” preferably coupled it with “pseudo-racism” and “misinformation.”
    Since, so many of “gnu atheists” are doing this at “every opportunity”, you should have no trouble linking or cutting and pasting exactly what you are talking about. And do tell us what cause you think it is hurting as well.

    If you do not, then forgive me if I consider this yet another “Tom Johnson” story and dismiss your complaints similarly.

  57. says

    Beth@39 –

    Let me alter a portion of your post to the opposite side:

    *snip*

    That’s fairly close to what some religious leaders actually say. What do you think of the religious leaders who say things like that?

    Can’t speak for Greta Christina or any of the other commenters, but here’s my take: I’m not surprised by religious leaders who say things like that; it is nothing more than what has historically been sought and enforced by their side.

    But people like you, who engage in these third-grade level exercises in cut-and-paste rhetoric? You are engaging in the most base and transparent false equivalency.

    There is no equivalence. Not intellectually, not ethically, and not certainly not historically. For swapping out the word “religion” for the word “atheism” to give this exercise any substantitive meaning, atheism would have to have been deeply entranched in our culture all along, be an institution (or set of same) unto itself, wield tremendous political and economic power, and use that power to declare itself above not merely criticism but also above the law. I’m sure others can provide additional points, but these are more than sufficient to demolish any pretense that your question is in any way a meaningful one.

    Oh, and one more thing: this line – “We don’t want to see this happen by law or violence or any kind of force, of course.” – is one of the most important differences between religious movements/institutions and the herd of cats that passes for an atheist movement. Law, violence, and force are EXACTLY what the other side has always used to further their aim and continues to do so today. That they can’t do so to the same degree that they used to is a source of bitterness for them, and one of the reasons they hate the “outspoken” side of modern atheism so much.

    And your attempt to draw an equivalence between people like them and outspoken atheists like Greta Christina is why I now offer you this dead rotting porcupine I brought over from Pharyngula. I’m sure you’ll know what to do with it.

  58. Wendy says

    Is there an internet law about how long atheist can have a discussion before someone is accused of being a concern troll?

  59. articulett says

    Wendy– it’s not about length… (try the internet– it’s a fabulous source of information.)

    Sarah– it’s weird to post links without giving any reason for why you are posting them; in any case, PZ has a new post up about the articles she linked.

  60. Kelly Bodwin says

    @Bruce – You make some good points, but I think our movement differs from Democrat vs. Republican or even the civil rights movement in many key ways. With respect to politics, the world of legislation does indeed rely on confrontation. When our legal rights as nonbelievers are threatened, I’m all about fighting back with vigor. Similarly, civil rights movements have had largely legislative goals – voting rights, ending segregation, marriage rights, etc. Agitation becomes somewhat necessary in the face of LEGAL discrimination.

    What we are dealing with, though, is emotional discrimination. We are, for the most part, protected by law. Our goal, then, is more akin to the current LGBT movement than the 80s one. Currently, “nice” strategies like Glee, “It gets better”, and coming out campaigns are (in my opinion) making huge strides in public acceptance. Of course, there’s still a legislative battle on the table for marriage rights, but we’re seeing LGBT move towards a campaign of acceptance rather than a battle for freedom.

    Then you have Cause 2: We (some of us anyways) don’t just want to be respected, we want converts. We’d like to wipe out religion entirely, by peaceful means of course. For this, we can look to your Dem/GOP example. You’ll find that while Republicans are more effective in Congress, their “pander to the base” tactics further alienate liberals, and it’s costing them public support. Same goes for the Dems, on a lesser scale: partisanship chases away supporters. Political parties have to balance political clout with public appeal. We, for the most part, don’t, and so we can afford to be a bit less Spartan about it.

    @OM – I do like Chris, though I don’t always agree with him. But that’s beside the point. I’m only disputing your claim that all confrontationalists will extend a courteous, “Live and Let Live” attitude towards accomodationists. JT and PZ basically said that Stedman was getting in the way of progress and should step aside – the same thing I am saying about certain American Atheist tactics. (By the way, your understanding of the “Stedman toady” situation tells me you haven’t read both sides of the story. But it’s not my place to get involved at the moment.)

    I’d also like to reiterate, as I said to articulett, that I don’t seek out blogs to crash uninvited. I read the ones I like, and occasionally when I disagree, I comment. In this case, Greta specifically asked for conversations from anyone who disagreed.

    @articulett – You ask good, specific questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

    However, you haven’t defined the “cause” you imagine is being harmed, much less shown evidence that those you criticize are any more harmful or less helpful than yourselves regarding said “cause”.

    The cause is, in the long term, eradictaing religion from society.
    You’re right that I don’t have solid statistical evidence – neither side does. (Perhaps we should do a survey of ex-religious? I’d be interested.) What I have is (a) arguments I hope are persuasive (b) my observations of similar historical movements, and (c) the anecdotal evidence of my own experiences, which are what convinced me to work on the “nice” side in the first place.

    I believe I’ve covered (a) and (b) – as for (c), I found that my more aggressive approach caused people to back off and not even have the conversation. Afterwards, when I put together Secular Service Day, I had five people (three family members from a very religious side, one adult family friend, and one peer) confess to me in confidence that they, too, were atheist. That was a pretty big shock to me, that after all my failed crusading, I just had to back off and set a good example, and these people who I had thought were Super Theists came out of the woodwork for me. So yes, very anecdotal, but that’s what I’ve got for you.

    Recruit your allies from those who think like you rather than trying to “tone down” those who do not.

    I only want to “tone down” a few select messages. I “recruit my allies” from secular activists, when the opportunity presents itself – as it has here.

    But I want the freedom to give my opinion of the “woo” who share their opinions on skeptic blogs… I don’t like feeling like I have to walk on eggshells because I might hurt the feelings of someone who doesn’t care about my feelings.

    I would never want to take away that freedom. You should have places where you don’t need to walk on eggshells. In public, though, there’s always a balancing act between sticking to your guns versus not causing unneeded conflict. (See: “Do these pants make my butt look big?”)

    I do wish the accommodationist crowd could do it without insulting fellow atheists or trying to manipulate them into being more like the accommodationists. From my perspective such accommodationists seem to be furthering anti-atheist bigotry while pretending to be diplomats and moderators.

    I wish that too. To be honest, I’m not a big reader of so-called “accommodationist” blogs, so I’m in no position to defend them uniformly. I do think it’s possible to oppose each other’s message without personal insults (see: JT rather than PZ on Stedman) or anti-atheism.

    Examples? Pseudo racism and misinformation? What are you talking about? Is your example of “in your face” atheism the American Atheist signs? And PZ’s blog?! Is that what you mean by “taking every uninvited opportunity” to insult religion!? Or are you thinking about that evil cabal of militant unnamed atheists shouting “forced laughter” at religionists at conservation events?

    Sure, examples.

    After 30 minutes I still can’t find AA’s original facebook post. (I don’t know if facebook took it down or I am technologically incompetent.) But it was incredibly demeaning to Muslims – not just the religion, but the culture. I believe the phrase “terrorist culture,” or some variant thereof, was included. This is not okay with me.

    As to the AA billboards, I don’t oppose them like I do their slurs on Islam. I simply think that “Are you good without God?” is a more effective message than “You KNOW it’s a Myth.”

    PZ’s blog is not my cup of tea, and I’d like it better if he would be more respectful. That said, I have no desire to shut him up.

    By “taking every uninvited opportunity,” I’m talking about the people who use every platform to insult religion. That is to say, if a prominent atheist is given TV time, I’d much rather see them use that time to say, “Check it out, we atheists are good people too” than to say “Religion is stupid for reasons X, Y, and Z.” Like the billboards, this falls under the category of Methods I Find Ineffective rather than Offensive Comments. The “uninvited opportunities” also applies on a personal level to those atheists – we’ve all met them – who don’t know when to attack and when to move on in social settings. Something I have been guilty of on several occasions, and I’m trying to be better.

    I’m not familiar with your final example, so I can’t comment on it. IF something like that did happen, then yes, I would include it in the “uninvited attack” category – not immoral, but counterproductive.

    But perhaps I’m wrong, give us the most egregious examples of what you mentioned above– the worse of the worst… so we can see if we agree with your characterization. Remember it has to be “in-your-face”, an “uninvited opportunity to insult religion” preferably coupled it with “pseudo-racism” and “misinformation.”

    I wish I could find that original AA facebook post. But, okay, here’s an example: http://blueollie.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/victor-stenger-bus-science-flies-you-to-the-moon-religion-flies-you-into-buildings.jpg?w=480&h=320

    Bus signs are an opportunity to get a message out to the public. It’s in your face, it’s uninvited, and as such we should handle it delicately if we want it to win anyone over. The message we could be getting out is (from the same campaign) “Stop worrying and enjoy life”. Instead, this one went for “Religion flies airplanes into buildings.” This is implying that religion = terrorism. I can’t see a religious person walking past that and going, “You’re right! My beliefs are no better than those of Islamic terrorists! I’m cured!” It’s clever and fun, but not effective.

    Since, so many of “gnu atheists” are doing this at “every opportunity”,

    Minor objection – that’s pretty out of context. I said I don’t like it when people take every opportunity to attack, not that all gnu atheists do that.

    We all understand that you think that your way is better and that things would be super duper if everyone was more like you. We just disagree.

    Yup. Hence, fun internet debates!

  61. Greta Christina says

    articulett: Can you please dial back on the personally insulting and inflammatory language? I welcome and encourage lively debate in this blog, but I want it to be conducted in a civil manner. Thanks.

    And for the record: I don’t want people advocating accomodationism and/or diplomacy to stay out of my blog. As Kelly points out: I specifically invited discussion on this topic.

    Kelly: Thanks for clarifying. Now that I understand that you are, in fact, advocating a one-pronged approach to atheist activism and that you think we should put the majority of our resources into “nice” atheism, I can argue against that. You haven’t made your case: all you’ve done is express an opinion. And the evidence doesn’t support that opinion. A huge number of people have been persuaded into atheism — and have been inspired to become more open and more activist about their atheism — by confrontationalists. And your opinion also isn’t supported by history. The history of social change movements clearly shows that a multi-pronged approach — confrontationalism, diplomacy, community-building, visibility — is far more effective than any one prong alone.

    Are some people better persuaded out of religion by calm, sympathetic voices? Yes. And we should have those voices. But some people are better persuaded by passion, anger, mockery. We should have those voices, too. And if you’re going to try to persuade people out of using the voice that comes most naturally to them, in favor of using a voice that doesn’t, because you think that voice is the one that most people will find persuasive… you’re going to have to provide better evidence for that case than you have.

  62. Kelly Bodwin says

    Greta, fair enough. I think I’ve given a bit more than “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.” But I’ve probably reached the limits of what I can contribute, so I’ll leave it to better folks than I to make a more solid case.

    In the meantime, I remain unconvinced of the effectiveness of confrontationalism, but I’m willing to do my homework. Can you recommend any readings for me – in particular, ones about how similar movements succeeded? I’ll ask my buddies on the soft side the same question.

    Thanks everyone.

  63. Wendy says

    Greta, your thoughts on loud voices within a movement have been a pleasure to read and think about.

    What I don’t understand is how to have a discussion about tone. I’m grateful for those outspoken atheists who represent me by protecting my rights as a citizen and by normalizing the idea of atheism. But sometimes Richard Dawkins is off putting. He’s human, right?

    Is there any discussion to have about tone? Or have we moved on, and I need to catch up?

  64. Greta Christina says

    Kelly: Since you brought up the LGBT movement and the “It Gets Better” project, I encourage you to read virtually anything at all about the history of the LGBT movement — especially the history of its early years. The LGBT movement in the ’50s and early ’60s was very polite and non-confrontational — and for the most part, not very effective. It wasn’t until the movement became more confrontational in the late ’60s and early ’70s that it began to really take off. And the event that is generally considered to have sparked the modern LGBT movement, and its more visible/ vocal/ activist incarnation, was an actual, literal riot — the Stonewall riot.

    Today, the movement is well served by projects like “It Gets Better” and other friendly, welcoming voices (although there are still certainly confrontational voices in it) — but that’s after decades of activism on all fronts, including confrontationalism, diplomacy, community building, and visibility in a variety of stripes. I hope you don’t think that “It Gets Better” is the single most important or effective event in the history of LGBT activism. It isn’t.

  65. says

    Kelly Bodwin@66 –

    articulett said: Or are you thinking about that evil cabal of militant unnamed atheists shouting “forced laughter” at religionists at conservation events?

    Kelly replied: I’m not familiar with your final example, so I can’t comment on it. IF something like that did happen, then yes, I would include it in the “uninvited attack” category – not immoral, but counterproductive.

    As articulett mentioned in her original comment, that example was of a wholly fictitious tale invented early last year by a person using the pseudonym “Tom Johnson” in order to smear outspoken atheists and justify their condemnation, and was trumpeted by Chris Mooney and other accomodationist spokespeople with no attempt at confirmation and snide dismissal of any who asked for same or pointed out inconsistencies in the tale.

    When it was finally exposed as a fraud, Mooney and company wrung their hands over how this made them look and offerdd not a hint of apology to people who they had smeared, derided, and banned for the horrible crime to asking for facts to support the account and pointing out obvious flaws in it.

    Though one might think this would give the accomodationist side some pause and reflection when composing essays regarding atheists and the ideals and tactics of differing groups within atheism, this has not been the case. Back in April, one Karla McLaren published an essay at Chris Stedman’s site that was built on the same rhetorical techniques as the “Tom Johnson” story, a long twisting sneer built entirely on vague insinuation and unsupported allegations (and far shorter on specifics than “Tom Johnson”, which was quite an achievement). When called on it she professed to simply not understand how anyone could possibly think there was anything wrong with any of the evasive assertions that she had offered in place of substance, and followed that up with another essay expounding on that theme.

    It was not well-received.

    It may be that you already know all this, in which case much of what you’ve had to say is… puzzling. If not, now you have a better handle on where articulett and some of the other commenters are coming from.

  66. stonyground says

    In the UK, and I think to some extent the US, late eighteenth and early ninteenth century campaigners against religious privilage used ridicule of the Bible as a tool. Those in power, the government, the Monarchy and the clergy, used the idea that the Bible was the word of God to justify their authority and keep the proles in line. The likes of Charles Bradlaugh and G. W. Foote drew attention to the barbarisms, contradictions and absurdities contained in the Bible, in order to undermine the authority of these people.

    Attacking and ridiculing the Bible is a really obvious weapon against those who would use the Bible to justify their homophobia. All of them are guilty of breaking hundreds of God’s sacred laws. (Take a look at those ultra-orthodox Jews if you want to know just how difficult YHWH wants your life to be).
    They can ignore all of these laws while claiming that the one law that allows them to persecute a minority is non-negotiable? If YHWH’s orders had been followed the lot of them would have been stoned to death centuries ago.

  67. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    I’m only disputing your claim that all confrontationalists will extend a courteous, “Live and Let Live” attitude towards accomodationists. JT and PZ basically said that Stedman was getting in the way of progress and should step aside – the same thing I am saying about certain American Atheist tactics. (By the way, your understanding of the “Stedman toady” situation tells me you haven’t read both sides of the story. But it’s not my place to get involved at the moment.)

    I didn’t say all gnu atheists extend a “live and let live” attitude to accommodationists, I said “most” do. I trust you did notice I fall into this group. Your thanks, while not expected, are appreciated.

    You apparently think Stedman is not getting in the way of progress. There are other people, PZ, JT and me, who have a completely different opinion about Ol’ Chris. I’m sorry if this does not meet with your approval.

    I have read both sides of the “Stedman toady” situation. I saw a guy admit that he sent an email to a friend of his (who just happened to be JT’s boss) complaining that JT had stepped out of line and was not helping the cause. Again, you and I have differing opinions about what happened. Our opinions are probably influenced by you being a Stedman fan and me having no use for him.

    American Atheists, a group which I do not belong to, said some nasty things about Muslims. Oh. How unkind of them. Tsk-tsk. They should all be spanked. And then the oral sex.

  68. Kelly Bodwin says

    Greta – Thanks, I’ll definitely look closer into the ineffective attempts of the 40s/50s. And yes, of course I’m aware of the Stonewall Riot. I just think the atheist situation is more comparable to the current LGBT situation than that of the 60s-80s. After all, the police aren’t raiding AHA conferences. My understanding of the movement is that agitation was necessary in the early days, but for the current atmosphere the gentler approach (e.g. It Gets Better) is more popular. But again, I’m willing to read further into it and potentially be proven wrong.

    Eric – Thanks for the explanation. I guess it just goes to show that there are people willing to take things too far on both sides of the spectrum.

    OM – You’re welcome to think what you like of Chris. I simply fail to see how me saying “AA should tone down their rhetoric” and you/PZ/JT saying “Chris should get out of the way” are different. Why is yours “Live and Let Live” while mine is arrogant and meddling?

    Let me remind you that you said this

    However please don’t insist your way is The Only Way™ and folks who don’t follow your way should shut up. That’s all I’m asking and I don’t think it’s too much to ask, especially since the vast majority of gnu atheists, including PZ Myers and JT Eberhardt, will extend that courtesy to you.

    and then this

    Well, Kelly, since I personally have little use for Chris Stedman and think he’s a whiny ass, I have no problem with people telling him to shut up.

    You’re entitled to the latter opinion, but it’s in direct conflict to your former one.

    Speaking of Chris, he has a piece up on HuffPo about this. While I’m not with him on all counts, I think he does a much better job than me of highlighting some of the harms of confrontationalism.

  69. says

    Kelly Bodwin@74 -

    Eric – Thanks for the explanation. I guess it just goes to show that there are people willing to take things too far on both sides of the spectrum.

    Um. You’re welcome, but no. The “both sides go too far” position is one of false equivalence. What it actually “goes to show” is that the reason you’ve been getting pushback here is because when accomodationists have offered up “criticism” of confrontational gnus, they have relied entirely on vague ill-fitting generalizations, deliberate misrepresentations, clumsy logical fallacies, and outright lies. And it has been made abundantly clear that this is a deliberate strategy on their part; that they seek to make themsleves look better by casting as villians a significant portion of the same group in whose interests they claim to be acting. That portion of the atheist population is never going to be okay with that, and frankly shouldn’t be. Positioning yourself as an apologist for such people will not earn you any credibility or goodwill with those who’ve been so asininely maligned by them.

  70. articulett says

    Kelly,

    What do think of these Brazilian atheist ads: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/08/01/these-atheist-billboards-in-brazil-get-right-to-the-point/

    Judging from the comments, many atheists think they are great.

    I’m not involved with American Atheists, but I’ve heard David Silverman speak and I think they have a very valid point. Their goal is not to convert theists to atheism, but to gather atheists who have been silent, and now want to be part of a movement– they want the more outspoken crowd. http://alstefanelli.wordpress.com/tag/american-atheists/ They aren’t trying to offer people a nicer, kinder alternative to church like you want them to do. They want atheists to have the same rights as others and they are tired of having the church-state separation of our constitution continually and audaciously breached. I know they have disagreements amongst themselves as to what their signs should say and how much is too much. But I don’t think their signs are harming their cause. And their leader seems to be uniting atheists of all stripes which is something I haven’t seen his critics do: http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2011/11/11/atheists-talk-david-silverman-on-reason-rally-2012/

    I suspect American Atheists is achieving their goals better than your methods could. And they never try to get atheists like you to be more like them. Nor do they claim to speak for you. They know they are considered the “bad cops” in the atheist movement and that is fine by them.

    I doubt American Atheists have fewer members than the Human Chaplaincy at Harvard nor do I think that both groups have similar goals.

    I think we can agree that it’s best if atheists found the groups and forums that work for them. I think it’s also best if they refrain from repeating the myth that there is a militant group of atheists “out there” that are doing all kinds of nasty things to sweet and innocent theists and, thus, harming some nebulous cause– at least until the cause is defined and the evidence has amassed. I think furthering this little trope hurts any cause I want to be a part of more than anything supposed “militant atheists” are putting on buses or writing in their blogs or whatever. It reminds me of secretly gay Republicans fighting against homosexual rights.

    Maybe what is really going on is that atheists are exercising their freedom of speech in a way that religionists have always felt entitled to and people just aren’t used to it. They are used to religious superstitions getting special respect and deference and so that any criticism seems much more “strident” than it actually is. I’m glad we are moving forward and away from that paradigm. Perhaps it will encourage theists to be as private as they want those with conflicting faiths (or no faiths at all) to be.

  71. Kelly Bodwin says

    Whoa, okay, sorry dude.

    I’m disappointed, but cynically unsurprised, to hear tales of dirty tactics on the accommodationist side. Just as I am disappointed when people I respect, like JT Eberhard, say things like “Muslims are pedophiles.” Lines are being crossed on both sides and it’s good to stay aware of that.

    Positioning yourself as an apologist for such people will not earn you any credibility or goodwill with those who’ve been so asininely maligned by them.

    That’s wildly unfair, I never volunteered to speak for or defend anyone but myself. I have one position here, and it is: Kind, community-based atheist projects are more effective than firebrand atheism for gaining acceptance and winning converts. To be totally frank, I’ve never even heard of Chris Mooney or Karla McLaren; I have no interest in speaking on behalf of all so-called accommodationists (a word I only learned yesterday).

    If people want to cite previous harms from writers I have no connection to as their excuse for being dismissive and/or insulting to me, that’s their problem. I’m not going to engage. Obviously, there’s been more than enough real discussion to keep me busy here.

  72. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Kelly,

    There’s a difference between me saying all accommodationists should shut up and Chris Stedman should shut up.

    Speaking of Chris, he has a piece up on HuffPo about this. While I’m not with him on all counts, I think he does a much better job than me of highlighting some of the harms of confrontationalism.

    It’s appropriate a waste of space like Stedman writes on a waste of pixels like Huffpro. If you give a link I’ll read Stedman’s article.

  73. articulett says

    Kelly

    Where did JT call Muslims pedophiles? Mohummed was a pedophile according to the Quo’ran (though a Muslim might not use that word), and I know that child brides are very common in some parts of the world, but I don’t believe that JT made the comment: “Muslims are pedophiles”. Many Muslims are certainly apologists for pedophiles just as many Catholics are, of course.

    I don’t find a hit for JT and the phrase you put in quotes when I use google; This is the best I can do: http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd/2011/12/14/defending-horrors-to-build-bridges/

    If you are mischaracterizing what he actually said then you are committing the kind of dishonesty that “Tom Johnson” did and it doesn’t really further any goal as far as I can see. You are hearing things that were never said.

    Lots of people don’t like religion referred to as magical thinking. And yet, that is what it is. I understand that many people have problems with those that point out that the emperor is naked (or worse– they mock his exposed genitalia), but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true– or that it’s better to make nice and point out that he truly might be wearing special invisible fabrics that only the chosen can see!

    As I recall the god of Abraham is omnipotent and shouldn’t need defending by his believers nor those who feel the desire to protect their feelings.

    Please give us JT’s actual quote or admit that you allowed your bias about “atheists who harm the cause” to shade what you quoted him as saying.

  74. Kelly Bodwin says

    Oh man, I really need to start getting my actual work done, so I’m probably out after this.

    Articulett – I think (am I getting predictable yet?) that the Brazilian ads are awesome, but bad strategy.

    Your point about drawing nonvocal atheists out of the woodwork is well taken. That’s a different goal than getting the religious to admit (or discover) their atheism, and different tactics may well be required. I hope you see, though, that confrontationalism can alienate other atheists as well as the religious. It can make people more inclined to stay quiet and not associate themselves with something they see as too harsh. Perhaps the tradeoff – encouraging activism in some while alienating others – is worth it, but we need to tread carefully.

    As to uniting all groups, all the main players – AA, AHA, SSA, CFI – deserve praise for being willing to come together frequently despite their differences of opinion.

    And they never try to get atheists like you to be more like them.

    This is also a good time to address something I keep seeing in this conversation, which is the “Stop trying to make people be like you” objection. I’m not interested in winning people to my side so I can pat myself on the back and say, nice job, right again! What I’m worried about is limited resources.

    We have only so much money for ads and billboards, only so much TV time allotted to us, and only so much patience from theists listening to our case. We need to be careful how we use it. So when I say that AA should tone down their billboards, I’m not saying, “That David Silverman, if only he were a nice person like me.” I’m saying, “Hey guys, we could have used that money to put up a different, more effective message.”

    I think we can agree that it’s best if atheists found the groups and forums that work for them. I think it’s also best if they refrain from repeating the myth that there is a militant group of atheists “out there” that are doing all kinds of nasty things to sweet and innocent theists and, thus, harming some nebulous cause– at least until the cause is defined and the evidence has amassed.

    I’ll agree to those things, with the caveat that occasionally the “militant” side does cross the line and we should be prepared to call them out on it. And the further caveat that I reserve my right to, within the limits of debates on tactics amongst ourselves, to argue that “out there” atheism may be counterproductive. Deal?

    OM –

    There’s a difference between me saying all accommodationists should shut up and Chris Stedman should shut up.

    Just as there’s a difference between me saying all confrontationalists should shut up and me saying that AA could stand to be a little nicer.

    The link to the article is in the post above yours, if you’re still interested.

  75. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    I have read Stedman’s screed (thank you, Ophelia, for giving a link). I was particularly impressed with how he quoted Al Stefanelli and PZ Myers out of context. Even better was his whining about atheists being mean to various goddists and how this went against his desires to suck up to all goddists, no matter how vile they might be.

    But best of all was Stedman’s utter rejection of the goal of doing away with religion. Instead he wants to work with goddists to do something or other, he’s not quite sure what but he knows it’ll be great, especially if the confrontationists would just SHUT UP!

    In short, a typical, unimpressive Stedman rant. Yawn.

  76. Kelly Bodwin says

    The exact quote is: “Muhammad was a pedophile, which has resulted in several Muslims continuing the practice.”

  77. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    I’m not saying, “That David Silverman, if only he were a nice person like me.” I’m saying, “Hey guys, we could have used that money to put up a different, more effective message.”

    No, what you’re saying is “we could have used that money to put up a message I like better.”

    Just as there’s a difference between me saying all confrontationalists should shut up and me saying that AA could stand to be a little nicer.

    So you do understand my point and that I wasn’t being hypocritical as you almost but not quite accused me of being. Bit by bit progress is made.

    Incidentally, I don’t go by “OM.” It’s an honorific given to me by the Pharyngula readership. I’m usually referred to as “Tis.”

  78. says

    The exact quote is: “Muhammad was a pedophile, which has resulted in several Muslims continuing the practice.”

    Which is very different from “Muslims are pedophiles.”

    It’s also perfectly true. Conservative clerics in for instance Yemen have protested raising the legal age of marriage for girls on the grounds that Mohammed married Aisha at an earlier age than that in the law.

  79. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Stephanie Zvan has a response to Stedman’s Huffpro piece: The Alternatives to Confrontationalism

    In addition to the examples above, Stedman apparently needed to misrepresent Greta Christina’s post from yesterday on the diversity of goals within the atheist movement.

    Furthermore, I disagree with Christina’s claim that “confrontationalism” is “the best strategy for achieving our other goals.” Focusing one’s activism on criticizing a caricature of religion does nothing to improve atheism’s image; in fact, it actively hampers attempts to improve the conditions of life for nonreligious people.

    First off, that’s not at all what Greta said. But you could tell that from the fact that he had to put two quotes together to make his point, right?

    I missed Stedman’s quotemining of Greta, although I did notice his quotemines of Al and PZ.

    I agree with Stephanie’s conclusion:

    So, when it comes right down to it, Chris Stedman is offering us two different alternatives to confrontation: passivity and some weird passive aggression with an honesty problem.

    Either of those sound appealing to anyone out there?

  80. articulett says

    Kelly, what about when the accommodationist side steps over the line like Chris’ article patting himself on the back and furthering atheist prejudice while pretending to be a spokesman for atheism? That’s all fine with you, eh? That wins the theists over, does it?

    I think Chris Stedman is more harmful to the causes I support than the people he criticizes.

  81. Kelly Bodwin says

    No, what you’re saying is “we could have used that money to put up a message I like better.”

    Um, yes. But I like it better because I think it is more effective, not because I am a secret theist in hiding.

    So you do understand my point and that I wasn’t being hypocritical as you almost but not quite accused me of being.

    You are (or were) chastising me for doing the exact same thing you have done: Asking people in the movement who we deem ineffective to change their tune. I’m sure you’d be a lovely person if I met you, but your arguments are coming off a bit hypocritical, yes. Either what I’m doing is okay (suggesting that AA tone it down) or what you’re doing is not (suggesting that Chris Stedman cut it out). Can’t have it both ways.

    Kelly, what about when the accommodationist side steps over the line like Chris’ article patting himself on the back and furthering atheist prejudice while pretending to be a spokesman for atheism?

    I don’t agree with you that Chris is over the line, but yes, you are absolutely welcome to make that case if you believe it.

  82. sunnydale75 says

    Kelly:

    As to the AA billboards, I don’t oppose them like I do their slurs on Islam.

    -I fail to see how openly and frankly discussing the vile tenets of Islam could be considered a slur.

    Tony

  83. julian says

    not to interrupt your conversation but

    I don’t agree with you that Chris is over the line

    As several posters have pointed out, Mr Stedman quote mined many of (all really) the atheists he quoted in his piece removing their quotes from the context they came in and giving them a sinister appearance. How is that not unjustly prejudicing people against atheists?

  84. julian says

    trying again….

    not to interrupt your conversation but

    I don’t agree with you that Chris is over the line

    As several posters have pointed out, Mr Stedman quote mined many of (all really) the atheists he quoted in his piece removing their quotes from the context they came in and giving them a sinister appearance. How is that not unjustly prejudicing people against atheists?

  85. Kelly Bodwin says

    (Clearly I am terrible at existing a conversation properly. But since I’m waiting for a friend to show up and have nothing better to do…)

    I fail to see how openly and frankly discussing the vile tenets of Islam could be considered a slur.

    If that’s what was happening, I’d be okay with it. But to me this (http://atheists.org/blog/2010/04/29/a-point-was-missed) is too much, and I would call the part about “barbaric” a slur.

    As to Chris, I’m not interested in being his bulldog and defending him all over the internet, especially since I’m ready to move on from this debate. You can take it up with him. Sorry, I’m not trying to weasel out of your challenge, it’s just not one I want to take on at the moment.

    Aaaand gotta run! Bye all!

  86. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    In other words, you want AA to SHUT UP because they’re not nice people and you only want nice people to represent atheism.

    But you’re right in one respect. I do want Chris Stedman to shut up. I prefer to be represented by honest people and Stedman has failed to achieve this standard.

  87. Sheesh says

    Wait, wait, before you go, how about that admission:

    Please give us JT’s actual quote or admit that you allowed your bias about “atheists who harm the cause” to shade what you quoted him as saying.

    It looks like you found the correct quotation, but still let your previous false quotation stand without apology or retraction.

  88. Randy says

    “This is what has continued to piss me off at what Phil Plait said at TAM; that we should be nice to the poor theists.”

    I heard the same speech you heard Denis but did not think Phil was telling us to be nice to theists. Rather he was saying that one can be confrontational without being dickish. Call theists all manner of extremely rude foul names if you must, but I don’t think for a moment that this is constructive confrontation. I am an aggressive atheist but choose not to employ gutter talk when criticizing theists. Disagree with Phil if you like, but I don’t think his point was out of line. You seem to have developed a personal dislike of Phil simply because he said something you didn’t like. I think there is some language that is inexcusable, such as calling a person a fuckwad. Harshly criticize the arguments but the line is crossed when one employs venomous, nasty personal ad hominens. And I think this was what Phil was addressing.

    Excellent post Greta. Different atheist do have different goals at different times. I agree that both confrontation and diplomacy are necessary and that each has its place. Some circumstances call for one method while others require a different approach. And the goal is a determining factor in the approach employed. I think all the goals you mentioned are worthwhile and that some situations require focusing on one goal while other situations demand attention to a different goal.

  89. says

    Ok, tons of stuff here, fascinating conversation.

    First, a personal anecdote, for what very little it’s worth. I would not be involved in any atheist OR humanist movement without the confrontational style. The methods that you advocate, Kelly, didn’t work, and wouldn’t have worked. For example, had the billboards gone up in my area before I became involved (in however minor a way I’m involved), seeing “Are you good without God?” would have gotten a shrug and a mental ‘yea, so?’ On the other hand, seeing “You KNOW it’s a myth,” would have actually made me pause, at least momentarily, and ponder the why of that. In other words, the second one, which you don’t think effective, is the only one of those two with a chance of reaching someone similar to me.

    Even if you consider it a fake consolation yourself? Even if all it offers is false hope?

    Yes, even so.

    Ok, seriously Ariel, can you help me understand that? At least try? Because I would, by far, rather be terrified of harsh reality (and I do fear death, whether it’s rational or not, and have yet to come to any sort of peace on the matter), than to have a false hope. And I would rather that the person who knew my hope was false made the effort to tell me so, than to let me die believing falsely. This has value in itself, but also because knowing reality is our only genuine hope of changing reality. NOT being satisfied with false hope is what gets people to pump effort into things like smallpox vaccines, and AIDS research. Why would you want to let someone hide from reality?

    I’m still afraid of monsters. Not only the human ones. There are so many things which can make you an outcast. You don’t believe any more that your pillow can grow teeth and bite your face off? Yeah, I still believe it And I hope you will fail in your plan of eradicating religion. I hope religion will stay there, if only for the outcasts. Perhaps the difference between me and (many of) you is that whenever you hear the slogan “eradicate religion!”, your mind’s eye sees a big mouthed preacher with a Rolex on his wrist (I understand such an association – don’t think that I don’t!) And whenever I hear this slogan, I see someone with his face bitten off (by his pillow, maybe). Doctor’s pills don’t help. The relatives and the loved ones have faces, how can they understand? And the cripple has nowhere to turn.

    I can’t tell if that smiley face means the bit about pillows with teeth was a joke or not. The comment about doctor’s pills makes me suspect it wasn’t. If it wasn’t a joke, then I truly hope you’ve made every effort to seek help from professionals.

    As to my image when I say or hear “eradicate religion!”, I see my grandfather, my grandmother, and my mother. My grandfather is one of the best men you could ever meet. He’s hard working, kind, funny, caring, respectful of others, and will keep his word. His example for integrity is something I hold dear, and look to as an inspiration. I never met my biological father, and grandpa stands as the closest thing to a father figure I have, and he’s a good one. He doesn’t have much money, never has, and doesn’t seem to want or need it. He is also a pastor in the Apostolic Lutheran denomination, leading a small congregation in a small town in middle Minnesota. The Apostolic Lutherans are one of the more fundamentalist groups out there. No divorce, no dancing, young earth creationism, gays are disgusting, hell is real and part of God’s plan, etc. Gramps won’t perform wedding ceremonies if one of the engaged has been divorced, not even for his own children (but he has accepted the new spouses into the family unreservedly once the marriage was accomplished, so there is that). Faith is the very foundation of his life, and his career.

    And if I could, if I thought that I could succeed, I would eradicate that faith. I would do this despite knowing that he undoubtedly takes comfort from his faith when he thinks of the loss of my aunt, his daughter, to cancer last year. I know he takes strength from his faith, but I would rather see him realize that his faith is like Dumbo’s magic feather, and that his strength is his own. I love my grandfather dearly, but his faith is wrong.

  90. says

    Damn it! I forgot to preview those blockquotes!

    Ok, let me try this again:

    Ok, tons of stuff here, fascinating conversation.

    First, a personal anecdote, for what very little it’s worth. I would not be involved in any atheist OR humanist movement without the confrontational style. The methods that you advocate, Kelly, didn’t work, and wouldn’t have worked. For example, had the billboards gone up in my area before I became involved (in however minor a way I’m involved), seeing “Are you good without God?” would have gotten a shrug and a mental ‘yea, so?’ On the other hand, seeing “You KNOW it’s a myth,” would have actually made me pause, at least momentarily, and ponder the why of that. In other words, the second one, which you don’t think effective, is the only one of those two with a chance of reaching someone similar to me.

    Even if you consider it a fake consolation yourself? Even if all it offers is false hope?

    Yes, even so.

    Ok, seriously Ariel, can you help me understand that? At least try? Because I would, by far, rather be terrified of harsh reality (and I do fear death, whether it’s rational or not, and have yet to come to any sort of peace on the matter), than to have a false hope. And I would rather that the person who knew my hope was false made the effort to tell me so, than to let me die believing falsely. This has value in itself, but also because knowing reality is our only genuine hope of changing reality. NOT being satisfied with false hope is what gets people to pump effort into things like smallpox vaccines, and AIDS research. Why would you want to let someone hide from reality?

    I’m still afraid of monsters. Not only the human ones. There are so many things which can make you an outcast. You don’t believe any more that your pillow can grow teeth and bite your face off? Yeah, I still believe it And I hope you will fail in your plan of eradicating religion. I hope religion will stay there, if only for the outcasts. Perhaps the difference between me and (many of) you is that whenever you hear the slogan “eradicate religion!”, your mind’s eye sees a big mouthed preacher with a Rolex on his wrist (I understand such an association – don’t think that I don’t!) And whenever I hear this slogan, I see someone with his face bitten off (by his pillow, maybe). Doctor’s pills don’t help. The relatives and the loved ones have faces, how can they understand? And the cripple has nowhere to turn.

    I can’t tell if that smiley face means the bit about pillows with teeth was a joke or not. The comment about doctor’s pills makes me suspect it wasn’t. If it wasn’t a joke, then I truly hope you’ve made every effort to seek help from professionals.

    As to my image when I say or hear “eradicate religion!”, I see my grandfather, my grandmother, and my mother. My grandfather is one of the best men you could ever meet. He’s hard working, kind, funny, caring, respectful of others, and will keep his word. His example for integrity is something I hold dear, and look to as an inspiration. I never met my biological father, and grandpa stands as the closest thing to a father figure I have, and he’s a good one. He doesn’t have much money, never has, and doesn’t seem to want or need it. He is also a pastor in the Apostolic Lutheran denomination, leading a small congregation in a small town in middle Minnesota. The Apostolic Lutherans are one of the more fundamentalist groups out there. No divorce, no dancing, young earth creationism, gays are disgusting, hell is real and part of God’s plan, etc. Gramps won’t perform wedding ceremonies if one of the engaged has been divorced, not even for his own children (but he has accepted the new spouses into the family unreservedly once the marriage was accomplished, so there is that). Faith is the very foundation of his life, and his career.

    And if I could, if I thought that I could succeed, I would eradicate that faith. I would do this despite knowing that he undoubtedly takes comfort from his faith when he thinks of the loss of my aunt, his daughter, to cancer last year. I know he takes strength from his faith, but I would rather see him realize that his faith is like Dumbo’s magic feather, and that his strength is his own. I love my grandfather dearly, but his faith is wrong

  91. Kelly Bodwin says

    It looks like you found the correct quotation, but still let your previous false quotation stand without apology or retraction.

    I meant to shorthand reference JT’s blog post and others like it, not put exact words in his mouth. You’ll notice there was a preceding “things like” in my sentence. But if it came across as me inventing a false quotation, you have my apology. It wasn’t my intention.

  92. Greta Christina says

    Either what I’m doing is okay (suggesting that AA tone it down) or what you’re doing is not (suggesting that Chris Stedman cut it out). Can’t have it both ways.

    Kelly Bodwin @ #88: There is a big difference between saying “I have a problem with this particular example of confrontational/ diplomatic activism,” and saying, “I have a problem with confrontational/ diplomatic activism in general, and think we ought to abandon/ limit one and focus entirely/ primarily on the other.” The latter seems to be what you’re saying, and I don’t agree with it.

    If you object to a specific form of activism by American Atheists — by all means, speak up. And if someone else objects to something Chris Stedman says — then they should speak up. But it is possible to object to a specific action on the part of AA, and still recognize and support the value of confrontational activism generally. And it is possible to object to things that Chris Stedman says, and still recognize and support the value of diplomatic activism generally. Chris Stedman does not represent all diplomatic atheist activism, and many people who have tremendous problems with him support diplomacy, community building, and even alliance-building with religious believers.

  93. sunnydale75 says

    Kelly:

    If that’s what was happening, I’d be okay with it. But to me this (http://atheists.org/blog/2010/04/29/a-point-was-missed) is too much, and I would call the part about “barbaric” a slur.

    -Honestly, as I clicked the link you provided, I was almost completely certain that you had misinterpreted something in the blog post.
    I was wrong (thank you by the way; though I like being right-who doesn’t-, being wrong affords me the chance to acquire new knowledge).
    My belief is that we should consider Islam (the religion) separate from Muslim (the person who follows the religion of Islam). I’m aware that one’s identity and their religion are tied together (for some, they’re tied together tremendously). Following that belief, I feel that the author of that post conflated Islam and Muslim (Islam is definitely a religion where the belief system is massively tied to the believer).
    I agree with you that the use of barbaric was wrong (saying Islam is a belief system that calls for barbaric actions is not wrong; saying Muslims are barbaric is wrong).
    I don’t know who wrote that post, so I don’t know if this individual is bigoted, or if they have conflated Islam and Muslim. Statements like

    One thing we need to keep in mind is that Muslims are particularly barbaric and primitive, even more so than their competitive mythologies.

    make me think the writer is bigoted. Attributing barbarism to an entire group of people falls into a category worse than slur. I was rather ticked off by that post by the time I finished.

    Tony

  94. sunnydale75 says

    Kelly:
    -I have a question for you.
    As I understand it (please correct me if I’m wrong) you feel that ‘soft’ or ‘diplomatic’ atheist activism is more effective than ‘confrontational’ (or ‘outspoken’, as I prefer) activism for the purpose of persuading people out of religious beliefs. Do you have anything to back up that belief? Are there studies to show that ‘soft’ is better than (oh, wow, I have to go here, it’s just too easy; and I didn’t plan this; honestly) ‘hard’? Are there studies to show that outspoken atheists are less effective at converting theists than diplomatic atheists?
    I don’t think the atheist community has been organized *and* recognized long enough for major studies to have been done. Thus, I suspect we don’t know which approach is the better (assuming-which isn’t necessary-that there are only 2 options). I suspect that perhaps it’s your hope; your wishful thinking projected onto the approach you prefer.

    Tony

  95. Ariel says

    Very quickly, since I’m engaged in a full scale Christmas campaign.

    Steve Schuler #58
    Thanks, your comment means a lot to me. It feels better to know that I’m not alone in this.

    NathanDST #97

    Ok, seriously Ariel, can you help me understand that? At least try? Because I would, by far, rather be terrified of harsh reality (and I do fear death, whether it’s rational or not, and have yet to come to any sort of peace on the matter), than to have a false hope. And I would rather that the person who knew my hope was false made the effort to tell me so, than to let me die believing falsely

    I value truth, but I do not worship it. From my point of view, having false beliefs is not the worst thing that may happen. If someone gave me a magic pill saying: “if you don’t take it, your daughter will die; if you take it, your daughter will live, but you will always believe (falsely) that she died”, I would take the pill without any hesitation. Truth is just one of the values. Not the only one, not even the most important one. That’s how I see it.

    I can’t tell if that smiley face means the bit about pillows with teeth was a joke or not

    Oh, it meant that it could just as well be your mattress, and not a pillow! :-)
    (Sorry, that was too tempting.) In earnest now: no, it wasn’t a joke, and the smiley’s only role was to indicate that the intended meaning was not literal. But I was quite serious about it, yes. Not very calm writing my last post, either.

    The comment about doctor’s pills makes me suspect it wasn’t. If it wasn’t a joke, then I truly hope you’ve made every effort to seek help from professionals.

    I truly hope that the whole fragment was not intended to dismiss someone because of his (suspected) mental problems. I try to keep my own problems separated from the content of what I write. It’s not always possible, not with all the topics, I acknowledge that. But I do not approve of that sort of a dismissal applied to anyone; I try also not to do it myself. (If your intention was different, which is quite possible, please treat what I’ve just said as simply irrelevant.)

    Ok, that’s it. You know, guys and girls, Christmas are coming and I’m baking cakes today! See you in a couple of days!

  96. says

    @Beth in #39. Bit late to the party but no one else seems to have addressed this. Some quotes cannot be reversed, as you did there, and retain equivalent value. Let me make it simpler for the purpose of demonstration.

    A) I wish to remove all magical and unreasoned thinking from the world.
    B) I wish to remove all evidence based and reasoned thinking from the world.

    Reversing A to B does not create an equally valid and supportable statement.

  97. Sheesh says

    I gather we’ve all moved on from this, but it shouldn’t be necessary to say outspoken atheists say things like all Muslims are pedos in order to make the case that only ‘nice’ atheism should be used. That’s a giant straw-man based on the crudest of hasty generalization. So why mention things like at all? Why not just mention actual facts rather than imagining and then voicing those things that seem alike to you? That should be the foundation of your opinion anyway, actual facts, not some hearsay about things like.

    I meant to shorthand reference JT’s blog post and others like it, not put exact words in his mouth. You’ll notice there was a preceding “things like” in my sentence. But if it came across as me inventing a false quotation, you have my apology. It wasn’t my intention.

    Thank you for the apology.

    I consider it an ethical transgression when words are described as a quotation — what with the quotation marks — but are in fact fabrications. (That’s why I waded in.) It’s pretty much like a lie to me, here’s this thing someone said, trust me, I’m quoting him, that’s what these little marks mean, etc. If you intend for me to understand JT says all muslims are pedos you don’t need to bother quoting that — just type JT said all muslims are pedos! and we can take it as the innuendo that it is.

    Shorter, why bullshit us when people are taking you seriously and engaging you honestly?

  98. says

    Dan Dare –

    @Beth in #39. Bit late to the party but no one else seems to have addressed this.

    I addressed it at 62, but your response was far more succinct and elegant. Tip o’ the hat to you, sir.

    @Kelly Bodwin in 77 –

    If people want to cite previous harms from writers I have no connection to as their excuse for being dismissive and/or insulting to me, that’s their problem.

    Oh, brother. Re-reading this thread makes it abundantly clear that what has been happening here is far, far from that simple.

    You say that you know Stedman, but don’t know anything about McLaren et. al. Okay, I’ll take you at your word and assist you. Here are some links, which means this comment will probably get stuck in moderation for a while…

    First the original post by Karla McLaren that I mentioned upthread, introduced with glowing praise by Chris Stedman –

    http://nonprophetstatus.com/2011/04/26/why-do-we-need-new-atheists-cant-we-just-spruce-up-the-old-ones/

    In this post, Karla erects absurd caricatures of the people and groups she wishes to criticize and oozes smarmy condescension throughout. She is initially met with the gushing praise of her fans, but when other commenters show up to cut her arguments apart she discovers that she doesn’t like criticism when directed at her.

    Next, a post by one Christopher Michael Luna which offers less argument and more condescension than the previous McLaren post. Rieux, a well-known and widely respected individual in the on-line atheist community, attacks his bloviation with deadly and surgical precision, causing Luna to say “Oops” and try to walk it back. Rieux gives no quarter, leaving Luna with only the scraps of straw he built his essay from –

    http://nonprophetstatus.com/2011/04/28/the-parable-of-the-madman/

    And then, McLaren’s attempt to annswer her interlocutors by demonstrating that she was incapable of understanding a single thing they said –

    http://nonprophetstatus.com/2011/05/23/in-defense-of-anger/

    I should point out that articulett, with whom you have crossed blades in this thread, is one of the interlocutors on these linked threads. Note that the kinds of assertions proffered by these authors are eerily similar to much of what you’ve said here.

    The recent HuffPo piece by Stedman is also worth mentioning, if only to note, as others have already pointed out, that in it he employs the same tactic for which the above authors were mercilessly deconstructed: He criticizes gnus by lying about them.

    Finally, for a sharp and concise summary of where those who disgree with you are coming from, I refer you to “Comment 29″ by one Paul W. at Ophelia Benson’s site -

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2011/comment-29/

    Read these. Let them sink in. Digest them. And then, the next time you engage in a discussion with those atheists who are labeled, or self-identify, as “New”, “Gnus”, “confrontationalists”, “vocal”, “outspoken”, or whatever badge or insult serves to distinguish them from from the Stedmans and McLarens and Lunas and Mooneys and – perhaps – Bodwins of the world, remember that there are some things that simply will not fucking stand: They will not stomach being lied about, either directly or via the yellow journalistic practices of half-truths, insinuations and quote-mining. Especially not as part of a campaign of self-aggrandizing ingratiation with theists by people who allege that they are acting in the interests of atheists. That’s utterly inexcusable and intolerable.

    And when someone enters a forum and begins using arguments and rhetoric that appear to echo the material deployed by those listed above… it may well be that they know nothing of these campaigns and have no part of them, nor intention to add to them.

    Fortunately, ignorance is a curable condition. I’ve made a fair stab at doing so, I think. Hopefully, you understand now and see where the discussions here went wrong for you. CITOKATE, and all that. If not, well, you do not. All I can do is try.

  99. Beth says

    @Dan in 104 and Eric in 62

    I asked what people thought about the religious leaders who make statements of that nature. A question, I note, that has not been answered by anyone. My point was to get people to think about the kind of people/organizations who make such statements.

    I am NOT trying to establish equivalence between the content of the two statements. Yes they are different. But they are similar enough to make people like yourselves uncomfortable with the implications. The implications regarding the speakers are not negated because of the differences.

    If someone doesn’t like religious leaders and organizations with such attitudes and goals BECAUSE of those attitudes and goals – and I am one such person – why would I want to associate myself with atheists espousing similar sentiments from the opposite side?

    Such attitudes are one of the reasons I prefer the label agnostic as opposed to atheist. I don’t wish to be associated with people or organizations that advocate intolerance towards those with different beliefs and values.

    @Ariel

    You are not alone. You can count me as someone who agrees with what you have been saying here.

  100. says

    *sigh*

    @Beth in 108 –

    I asked what people thought about the religious leaders who make statements of that nature. A question, I note, that has not been answered by anyone.

    Me in 62 –

    Can’t speak for Greta Christina or any of the other commenters, but here’s my take: I’m not surprised by religious leaders who say things like that; it is nothing more than what has historically been sought and enforced by their side.

    It is quite clear in that statement what I think of such people. Perhaps it wasn’t the answer you were looking for, but to pretend you have not been answered is dishonest of you.

    I am NOT trying to establish equivalence between the content of the two statements.

    But the only way you can make a valid question out of that comparison is by establishing equivalency, and that is not in any way a subtle point. Neither is the fact that such equivalency cannot be established.

    But they are similar enough to make people like yourselves uncomfortable with the implications.

    No. They really, really aren’t. We are not “uncomfortable with the implications” because there aren’t any that logically proceed from the comparison. We’re uncomfortable with fatuous blowhards stuffing logical fallacies full of straw and then pretending that they’ve scored a point.

    The implications regarding the speakers are not negated because of the differences.

    Yes, they well and truly are. I dealt with that reasonably well, and Dan Dare demolished it with a precision strike. I reiterate: If atheism had the same kind of history, cultural entranchment, and power as religion you would have a point, but it isn’t so you don’t.

    I don’t wish to be associated with people or organizations that advocate intolerance towards those with different beliefs and values.

    Based on your correspondence in this thread, I find that a somewhat dubious claim.

  101. Sarah says

    articulett–I’m sorry. I wondered if that would be weird, but I figured the words in the link would say enough, and there’s so much to read here that I didn’t want to add more. (#63 and #65). I’ll go read PZ’s post. I posted that because I am enjoying and learning from this discussion(as I always do from Greta’s column and the comments), I hoped the article would provide fodder to keep it going, and I thought this article fit into this topic. Here’s a sample:

    “One way, then, that Christians can practice Jesus’ teachings of love, tolerance and charity this yuletide is by resolving to reassure folks like Muslims that we’re not like the Florida Family Association. That we’re committed to the code of Christmas — “Peace on earth to people of goodwill” — trumpeted by the same angels we place atop the trees in our living rooms.

    That’s also one of the best ways to answer Hitchens as well as other angry atheists like Richard Dawkins and quite a few members of my own hypersecular profession. It’s a fairly widely accepted maxim that atheist fundamentalists, as I call them, can be just as intolerant as religious fundamentalists. And the problem they share is that both take religion way too literally. Just as Christian fundamentalists insist on a literal reading of the Bible, angry atheists tend to insist that belief in God qualifies you as a raving creationist.” (end of sample)

    My 2 cents: The confrontationalist approach has been VERY comforting because it reinforces my justification for my own anger. It opens my eyes to the severity and breadth of oppression against atheists here in Florida and in the United States. This approach arms me with statistical and anecdotal awareness of the atrocities committed by priests against innocent children. Greta’s, Hitch’s,Dawkins’s,etc. writing gets me good and pissed off, and add that to my own anger at what the Catholic church had to say about my having undergone in vitro fertilization, where it became personal, and I have the conviction to open my mouth when my Catholic father attacks atheism (as if he didn’t know, or at least suspect, that I am an athiest). For me, that’s where it’s important to be bolstered by angry atheists’ indignation. I can get in the faces of strangers. I can spew all I want online. It gets scary when the ones I am confronting are my family members and friends. When my father says, “You have an unhealthy view of the Church, and that’s unfortunate,” I need to know that I’m the one with the healthy view, that when you strip away the pretty stained glass windows and the lovely music and rituals, you are left with an enormous organization of SHIT. Some fucked up men in dresses living like royalty while claiming to be champions for the poor, perpetuating the image of woman as weak and unimportant, counseling couples on love and sex when they’re not having any, keeping condoms out of AIDS-scourged Africa, and contributing to the self-loathing of homosexuals. Keeping the system intact by poisoning the pure minds of very young children into the fear that the Church, their sole lifeline to protection, has everything under control, and that the bottom will fall out and drop them all into hell if they ask questions or raise concerns, even if it’s in regard to the betrayal of sweet children who hold them in the highest reverence. PLEASE BE CONFRONTATIONAL. PLEASE MAKE ME FEEL READY TO VOMIT IN THE WAY THAT MIKE McQUEARY’S ACCOUNT OF HEARING SKIN SLAPPING AGAINST SKIN IN THE SHOWERS DOES. I find a little discerning accommodation understandable in the sense that I know Christians who have reinvented their religion for themselves in a way that I could live with, and even if they have cherry-picked the Bible to death, what they stand for looks just like Humanism with some Bob Ross-like God and an afterlife reunion of loved ones and happy little trees in accompaniment. Unitarians don’t bother me, either, because I don’t see them doing anything to hurt anyone, and I DO see them embracing everyone, including us, and helping a LOT of people. Also, if some are looking for the soft place of a community in which to fall, the Unitarian organization would help them while not hurting us. They are a model for my goal which is (get my roses, tiara, and sash ready) world peace. These organizations won’t bother me as long as they never stand in the way of a confrontationalist whose campaign is clearly justifiable. In some cases, I agree that it’s the belief that should be targeted, not the believer, such as the preceding example about Muslims and barbarism, but not always. I think humor might be the most powerful vehicle of confrontation, as it allows a caustic message to be sent which is softened a bit by comedy for the sensibilities of those who may be secretly questioning their beliefs. Ricky Gervais and The Daily Show’s “This Week in God” come to mind. I like seing the ridicule of those weird old men who pray on their carpeted megachurch platforms with tightly-shut eyes, looking like they’re having seizures, because they’re as annoying as those Trekkies who flock together and speak Klingon and those over-the-top Dungeons and Dragons types–adults who miss playing pretend, but they’re far worse because they’re hypocrites, plugging a religion that claims to care for the poor and meek while putting money that could help the needy into their opulent megachurches and preying on the anxieties of elderly and defeated people whom they convince to send them what little money they have.

  102. Beth says

    Original Question:

    What do you think of the religious leaders who say things like that?
    Eric in 62 –

    Can’t speak for Greta Christina or any of the other commenters, but here’s my take: I’m not surprised by religious leaders who say things like that; it is nothing more than what has historically been sought and enforced by their side.

    That doesn’t answer my question. You aren’t surprised, fine. I’m not surprised that there are atheists with anti-theist attitudes espousing similar calls for intolerance of other people’s beliefs. That doesn’t tell me what you think of the people who do that.

    Then you went on at some length about something I can now only recall that I felt was unrelated to my question. [Scrolls back and rereads Eric's post]. Oh yeah, it was followed by an insult and a bunch of explaining about how it’s different when the person expressing intolerance isn’t in the majority.

    Now, you don’t have to answer my original question. Diversion is a perfectly acceptable tactic. But please don’t call me dishonest for saying that it wasn’t an answer to my question.

    Regarding your original point about differences due to minority/majority status in society. I don’t buy that argument from blacks who express intolerance of other races. I don’t buy it from the fundamentalist Christians. I’m not buying it from atheists either. BTW, I haven’t noticed regimes founded by atheists being any less hesitant to use their power to enforce their belief system on the populace than religious leaders, so I’m not exactly sold on the idea that getting rid of all religious beliefs will make the world a better place.

    Now, I’m not responding to most of your post. We simply disagree regarding how important the differences are for the implications of switching the argument to the other side.

    Eric said:

    Based on your correspondence in this thread, I find that a somewhat dubious claim.

    My apologies. I’ll rephrase in the hopes of making myself clearer.

    I do not wish to be publicly associated with or as supportive of people or organizations that advocate intolerance towards those with different beliefs and values.

    I support Greta’s goal #1 fully, but I do not agree with goal #2. To me, it’s basically relying on an unspoken assumption of something along the lines of The world would be a much better place if everyone believed as I do. I’m not in agreement with that statement no matter who says it and what they believe about religion.

    Now, I’m not sure that Greta is actually advocating intolerance. Most of the stuff of hers I’ve read is about acting positively. I’ve liked it for the most part. But not all of those Christian leaders who say similar things are advocating intolerance either. But it does tend to come across that way.

  103. says

    It’s strange that, here in the USA, superstition is so prevalent. One would think that it’s mostly restricted to third-world countries due to ignorance and lack of education, but that’s clearly not the case. For whatever reason, here in this country, a clear majority of the people willingly allow their lives to be governed by superstition. It’s even worse when those people seek public office and govern over constituents in the same manner.

  104. Greta Christina says

    I support Greta’s goal #1 fully, but I do not agree with goal #2. To me, it’s basically relying on an unspoken assumption of something along the lines of The world would be a much better place if everyone believed as I do.

    Beth @ #112: ?????

    Do you think that about every attempt to persuade people that they’re mistaken about something? Do you think that about attempts to persuade people that global climate change is real; that vaccines are safe and effective; that deregulating the financial industry is economically disastrous?

    And if not — why is religion different? Why is it that efforts to persuade people that you’re correct and they’re mistaken are acceptable when it comes to science, politics, medicine, philosophy, economics, ethics, etc… but it’s “intolerant” when it comes to religion? Religion is a truth claim, a hypothesis about how the world works. It’s one that, IMO, is not only mistaken, but does serious harm. If you disagree, we can have that conversation — but you seem to think that we shouldn’t be having that conversation at all, with anyone. And I see no good reason why.

  105. Steve Schuler says

    Hey There Eric!

    Or might it be better if I started this comment with a *sigh*?

    As I acknowledged in my initial post on this thread, I do not identify myself as a participant in the ‘Atheist Movement’. This may very well be due to deficits of character on my part, but of course I would prefer to think that is not the case. Considering myself as somehow being outside the “Movement’, perhaps I have no place commenting on the topic of appropriate strategies and tactics the ‘Movement’ ought, or ought not, embrace and employ, but when Greta advised Kelly to, “Please stop trying to get in our way.”, I thought that there was such rich irony in that statement that it deserved commenting on. Yep, “You are either with us or against us Girl, now which is it going to be?” This may be entirely acceptable rhetoric within the ‘Movement’, I don’t really know, but to me it smacked of the use of a false dichotomy that is a typical rhetorical device employed by ideological zealots. It appears that, somewhat predictably, my criticism (which was presented with a fairly pugnacious bit of dramatic flourish) spawned a ‘Troll Alert’, which came as no surprise.

    It was also in that comment that I paid a compliment to Beth for her re-wording of some of Greta’s wholesale inditement of religion. I read your response to Beth’s post and you said, “But people like you, who engage in these third-grade level exercises in cut-and-paste rhetoric? You are engaging in the most base and transparent false equivalency.” I thought that you were being particularly arrogant in dismissing Beth’s post as being “third-grade level” and totally missing Beth’s point as, mistakenly, being a “false equivalency”. Anyhow, I probably have spent more energy in this enterprise than it deserves, but I do not feel that our difference in perspectives warrants me dismissing you as being some sort of a cretin, either by using a dismissive *sigh* or accusing you of utilizing elementary school rhetoric. Hey, call me generous if you must, but that’s just the kind of guy that I am!

    Peace

    Steve

  106. Kelly Bodwin says

    Tony,

    My belief is that we should consider Islam (the religion) separate from Muslim (the person who follows the religion of Islam).

    Well said, that’s a good summary of what bothers me.

    And you’re right – I’m not aware of any rigorous studies supporting EITHER side. I’m a statistics person, so naturally I would love to see that. In the meantime, what we have is anecdotal evidence, theorizing, and allusions to history. Of the three, my argument from history is by far the weakest, which is why I plan to use some of my time this break researching further and (if necessary) revising my opinion.

    Sheesh,

    I know you take false quotation very seriously, as you should. I’ve apologized for accidentally giving that impression. As I’ve explained, I wasn’t trying to bullshit anyone, I was trying to make a quick allusion to the recent flurry of anti-Muslim posts. I’ve used quotation marks in a similar fashion throughout this conversation, mainly because last time I used italics it converted my entire post. Please, try to understand that I wasn’t trying to trick anyone.

    I gather we’ve all moved on from this, but it shouldn’t be necessary to say outspoken atheists say things like all Muslims are pedos in order to make the case that only ‘nice’ atheism should be used.

    Refer to my post at #48 for more, but: I am saying two things. One is that ALL confrontational atheists say things like (not a direct quote from anyone I’m aware of): “Religion is a fairy tale for the weak.” And, well, yeah, they’re right, it is. But those are the messages that I assert are less effective than “You can build a better life without religion” – so when we have an opportunity to speak in the public arena, we should favor the latter message.

    SOME outspoken atheists have implied that Muslim culture inherently encourages pedophilia, and I think generalizations like that are not just bad strategy, they cross a line.

    Eric,

    You say that you know Stedman, but don’t know anything about McLaren et. al.

    Just to be clear, since you seem to find this odd: I know Chris from the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy. I have read many, but not all, of his posts since he links them from facebook. I’m not a regular reader of NPS. As I’ve said, for all that I support the “nice” battle plan, my personal inclination in private is towards the harsher side.

    Thank you for all the links, although for the sake of discussion I did take you at your word and assumed they were as bad as you claimed. I promise to read them all, although I won’t promise to have a discussion about them here.

    Anyone who feels they have been misrepresented absolutely should speak up and be angry about it. And it’s not just the “confrontationalists” who are victims of yellow and/or lazy journalism. Chris Stedman has been misrepresented on several occasions, usually of being against criticizing religion. (Sorry to keep going back to Chris, it’s simply the example I’m most familiar with. Usually I don’t follow these internal spats too closely.) You’re right to be angry about unfair accusations, but don’t make the mistake of assuming one side – in ANY debate – is free from error.

    And then, the next time you engage in a discussion with those atheists who are labeled, or self-identify, as “New”, “Gnus”, “confrontationalists”, “vocal”, “outspoken”, or whatever badge or insult serves to distinguish them from from the Stedmans and McLarens and Lunas and Mooneys and – perhaps – Bodwins of the world,

    Okay, I’m going to get a bit rant-y, and it’s not directed at you. What the frak is the deal with all these labels??? Greta asked if anyone disagreed that the confrontational approach was a good strategy for the goal of eliminating religion. I came in with the position that yes, I disagree, I think community-building is actually better for that goal. Suddenly, I am an “accommodationalist” (like I said, never heard the word before) who is obviously Out to Get all gnus/outpokens/confrontationalists.

    I think slurs against a culture are a blight on our society and our movement. I think the world would be a better place without religion. I think being harsh on religion in public settings (as opposed to in blogs or books) drives more people away than it attracts. I think Greta Christina’s Blog is more fun to read than NPS.

    By all means debate me on those points, as most people here have, but please for the love of all that is good STOP lumping me in with groups and messages I did not advocate. The closest I’ve come to categorizing myself is expressing my support for HCH, but even then you can ask Greg Epstein or John Figdor how many times we’ve had a difference of opinion, and you’ll get a list longer than my (quite wordy) posts on this blog.

    So, okay, rant over. I just feel like I’ve spent as much of my time on here defending myself as my position, which is unfortunate.

    Sarah,

    I know it wasn’t intended for me, but your post helps clarify for me how a confrontational approach can, in fact, attract people. Thanks for that.

  107. Kelly Bodwin says

    Hey again Eric,

    I read your links, but I don’t want to start yet another tangential thread in here. If you’re interested in discussing, my email is kelly(at)bodwin(dot)us. That actually goes for all of you – feel free to email, I love these kinds of discussions and I’m happy to engage as much as time allows.

    The short answer re: the articles is that I only kept reading since I promised you. Anyone who calls Dawkins “uninformed” or Harris “polemic” is unlikely to say much worth reading.

    Comment 29 is another story, and since it IS relevant to our current discussion, I’ll address a piece of it: As I understand it, the Overton Window argument is that confrontationalists pull the extreme out further, leaving room for stronger moderates. Essentially, it boils down to, “Even if we’re wrong, we’re doing you a favor by setting up a contrast.” Then, why would you be annoyed if the moderates then denounce the extreme position? From a purely Overton perspective – that is, NOT arguing that your approach is correct, but that it makes our lives easier – doesn’t the “nice” side HAVE to denounce it for it to work?

    Accept for a moment – for the sake of argument, I won’t hold you to it – that being overly confrontational is nonideal. Then, tell me why the Overton Window theory means I’m wrong for criticizing confrontationalism. Help me out here; I can see why Overton favors a two-pronged approach, but I can’t see how it is used to tell accommodationalists to stop distancing themselves from confrontationalists. In fact, I think it demands the opposite.

  108. sunnydale75 says

    Ariel:

    Such attitudes are one of the reasons I prefer the label agnostic as opposed to atheist. I don’t wish to be associated with people or organizations that advocate intolerance towards those with different beliefs and values.

    -It is certainly your prerogative to make that decision. However, I think you make the mistake many have made by treating agnosticism as belonging on the spectrum of belief. Agnosticism doesn’t relate to the belief or non belief of the subject. An agnostic would state I don’t know if Zeus does or does not exist. An atheist would say I don’t believe in the FSM. There certainly are atheists who also say they know there is no god. They would be gnostic atheists (I would consider myself an agnostic atheist, for the most part. I can’t say with certainty there is no god, but I think it’s incredibly likely there isn’t).
    As for your comment about intolerance towards beliefs, I’m curious what type of beliefs you’re talking about. I find many religious beliefs to be ridiculous:
    -not being able to work on Sunday
    -not being able to work from sundown Friday til sundown Saturday
    -not being able to eat pork
    -not being able to dance

    On the basis of reason and logic, what makes these beliefs remotely reasonable? My being critical of these beliefs would make me intolerant in your eyes I suppose.
    Then there are those religious beliefs which bring actual harm to people:
    -spare the rod spoil the child has resulted in the deaths of children as young as 6 months old
    -homosexuality is a sin (one I have a *personal* problem with)
    -women can’t drive/get an education/not have a male chaperone
    -stoning or killing someone for a minor infraction
    These are beliefs that I find not only ridiculous but the opposite of virtuous. They’re abominable beliefs. I not only have no use for them, I believe it is our duty to speak out against them. Does that make me intolerant?
    Then of course, the reverse of my beliefs would be someone who is tolerant of all of the above.
    Why on earth would anyone be *tolerant* of bigotry and discrimination against gays and women? Why would anyone be *tolerant* of child abuse/neglect and murder? Why would anyone be tolerant of a belief system that says you can’t dance (especially when there’s no good reason not to)?
    I feel the beliefs we hold need substance to them beyond “do this because you’re told to”. YMMV.

    Tony

  109. articulett says

    Sarah,

    Jerry Coyne also linked the post you linked– http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/time-magazine-gets-everything-wrong-about-atheism-and-a-lot-wrong-about-religion-too/

    Clearly you have a good eye.

    And I am right there with you and your anger. The new atheists gave me a voice. I was raised Catholic and I took this idea that life was pass/fail test for eternity very seriously… it caused me a lot of angst when I realized that different religions had different “recipes” for avoiding eternal damnation–

    I wish I had been exposed to some of these brilliant new atheists when I was younger so that I wasn’t under the allusion that every one believed in heaven/hell– so it must be true. I feel like I wasted a lot of brain power trying to figure out which “woo” was true.

    I think many people are very lucky today to have a chance to stumble across a post of Greta’s or PZ’s or Dawkins or one of the other brilliant new atheists and to be able to participate in conversations with them and I look forward to hearing more of what you have to say as well.

  110. sunnydale75 says

    Sarah (this isn’t directed at you, I’m responding to the quoted portion of your post in my rant below):

    It’s a fairly widely accepted maxim that atheist fundamentalists, as I call them, can be just as intolerant as religious fundamentalists.

    -This is definitely an trope about atheists I would _love_ to see done away with.
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fundamentalist

    1. A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

    Atheists don’t have a central doctrine. Atheists don’t have strict adherence to a set of principles.
    Atheists don’t have a central authority.
    In short, there is no such thing as atheist fundamentalism.
    The rigidity with which some atheists hold their non-belief is probably why some people like the term. Any intolerance held by atheists toward theism doesn’t follow from their lack of a belief in god. The intolerance held by theists directly follows from their religious beliefs. I’d like to think that all atheists are also rationalists who would alter their non-belief based upon evidence, but given human nature, I don’t think that’s the case. However, just from looking around FtB, I see a lot of atheists that *would* believe if presented with evidence. In contrast, a religious fundamentalist will *not* change their beliefs.

    Tony

  111. sunnydale75 says

    Beth:

    To me, it’s basically relying on an unspoken assumption of something along the lines of The world would be a much better place if everyone believed as I do.

    -You don’t think the world would be better if people embraced rationality rather than irrationality? You don’t think the world has gotten better through secular ideas vs religious ones?
    The status of women in various parts of the world has been improved in large part due to secular efforts. Religious beliefs would still have women staying at home, cooking, cleaning and making babies if their views held sway like they once did.
    Black people in the United States would still be unable to marry outside their race if not for secular views. Religious views didn’t want that.
    Secular beliefs are part of the foundation of basic human rights. Religious beliefs work against the advancement of human rights.
    Secular beliefs call for justice to be had for the victims of Catholic priest rape and abuse. The religious beliefs of Catholicism help them justify covering up their actions.
    Religious beliefs call for young boys and girls around the world to have their genitalia butchered. Secular views would have none of that.
    Religious beliefs are trying to force creationism into biology classes and call for an end to the teaching of evolution. Secular views call for continuing to teach evolution and are opposed to the teaching of creationism in biology classes.
    The examples abound (the Crusades, Salem witch hunt, 9/11).
    I am not saying the world would be perfect without religion. People will still find ways to hurt one another and justifications behind them. However, without religion–without a system of beliefs that are rooted in irrationality and unseen forces–those actions won’t be protected by the armor of religion.
    I do believe that our world will be much better when religious beliefs are no more.

    Tony

  112. sunnydale75 says

    Kelly:

    In the meantime, what we have is anecdotal evidence, theorizing, and allusions to history.

    -So we don’t have sufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of either approach to persuading believers out of religion. Without empirical proof, we aren’t left with much worth mentioning. I’m not going to cite anecdotal evidence as proof. Sure anecdotes can enhance the evidence-to a degree-but they don’t work as evidence in and of themselves (if anecdotes worked as true evidence of efficacy then acupuncture would be a valid form of therapy for alleviating physical problems).
    So when you say you feel that diplomacy is better than confrontation (and likewise when anyone says confrontation works better than diplomacy) without a body of facts to support that view, we’re left with wishful thinking.

    Tony

  113. Beth says

    Greta, it’s nice of you to respond personally to my post. Thank you.

    Do you think that about every attempt to persuade people that they’re mistaken about something? Do you think that about attempts to persuade people that global climate change is real; that vaccines are safe and effective; that deregulating the financial industry is economically disastrous?

    I think that about anyone who believes The world would be a better place if everyone else believed as I do. Vaccines, climate change, god, whatever. I think it’s very important for people to be able to voice any opinion they wish.

    Attempts to persuade others of the rightness of your views is and should be allowable for everyone, whether they are advocating for or against vaccines, for or against the reality of global warming, etc. The only hitch is that everyone else has the right to judge for themselves who is worth listening to, believing, acting on their advice, etc. You seem to be fairly attuned to that, so I don’t see it as an issue for you.


    And if not — why is religion different? Why is it that efforts to persuade people that you’re correct and they’re mistaken are acceptable when it comes to science, politics, medicine, philosophy, economics, ethics, etc… but it’s “intolerant” when it comes to religion?

    I hope that I’m making it clear that it IS acceptable to criticize religion. Also vaccines. Also Global Warming science. Also Lady Gaga and whoever or whatever else you want to criticize. That isn’t what I disagree with you about. It’s the belief that the world would be better without religion – i.e. The world would be a better place if everyone else believed as I do. That’s what I find intolerant. It doesn’t matter to me whether the person thinks that about their Mormon faith, their Muslim faith, their Catholic faith, or their Atheism.

    Further, I don’t think that it’s true. I think the world is a richer place for having a large variety of religious beliefs and traditions.

    So I’m not saying you aren’t allowed to promote what you believe and attempt to persuade others that you’re right. You have every right to do so, just as those who say such things about atheism do. Just as I have the right to attempt to persuade you that you’re wrong about goal number two and letting you know that I consider such a goal not only extreme, but harmful. It is one I would actively work to persuade others that it’s NOT a good idea to pursue.


    Religion is a truth claim, a hypothesis about how the world works.

    For some religions regarding some tenets or creeds, yes. But many of their claims are not testable or falsifiable.

    It’s one that, IMO, is not only mistaken, but does serious harm. If you disagree, we can have that conversation
    Yes, I disagree. Yes, we can have that conversation, but I doubt either of us with be able to convince the others. There simply isn’t evidence available regarding whether the sum total of harm done is greater than, the same as, or less than the sum total of good done.

    It’s not a simple comparison. Reasonable people can disagree about what results are attributable to religions. Different people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions if they use different evaluations of various harms and goods that are associated with religions.

    I look at the harm done whenever someone in a position of power attempts to force their beliefs on the populace. I don’t see atheists as being any better than the religious.

    What do you consider the harms of religion and how do you attempt to weigh them against the good that religions do?


    but you seem to think that we shouldn’t be having that conversation at all, with anyone. And I see no good reason why.

    No, you were mistaken about that. I hope I’ve cleared that point up for you.

  114. Beth says

    Sorry, I messed up some of the italics above. The following was my response to what Greta said and should not have been italicized

    Yes, I disagree. Yes, we can have that conversation, but I doubt either of us with be able to convince the others. There simply isn’t evidence available regarding whether the sum total of harm done is greater than, the same as, or less than the sum total of good done.

    It’s not a simple comparison. Reasonable people can disagree about what results are attributable to religions. Different people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions if they use different evaluations of various harms and goods that are associated with religions.

    I look at the harm done whenever someone in a position of power attempts to force their beliefs on the populace. I don’t see atheists as being any better than the religious.

    What do you consider the harms of religion and how do you attempt to weigh them against the good that religions do?

  115. articulett says

    I think it’s noble to fight irrationality and superstition wherever it exists– and religion is the is the biggest promoter of this idea that faith to a “salvation worthy” virtue– plus, it sets itself off limits to scrutiny.

    I agree with those who think Beth is engaging in a false equivalency and then patting herself on the back because she thinks she’s being ultra tolerant or reasonable or highlighting something deep. It reminds me of those believers eager to call atheism another faith. That doesn’t make sense. Is non-belief in Scientology a faith? Is trying to get rid of Scientology the same as trying to shut-up those who are trying to get rid of Scientology?

    I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say my goal is to eradicate religion, but I sure won’t mind when today’s religions have become tomorrows myths. The watered down new agey versions seem pretty harmless to me, but it’s still woo– it promotes magical thinking over reason… and gives credence to this idea that faith is good or that you can “feel” the truth.

    This is why the new atheists speak to me and for me in a way their mealy mouthed counterparts never could. I’m interested in what is true. And clearly there’s a growing community of people who feel as I do.

    I think getting rid of magical thinking is a noble goal and religion IS magical thinking– often it’s the most intractable because people are told they are SAVED for believing some unbelievable story and DAMNED for doubt. If any woo is worth fighting against, this has got to be the most important one. This is why I’m a fan of the people the Stedman types are the quickest to criticize.

    I want people to keep their magical beliefs as private as they want those with conflicting viewpoints to keep theirs. In fact, I think it might be good if they feel a little embarrassed to air them in public because of what rational people might think. I want all religionists to know that I consider them as wrong, misguided, and goofy as they consider the Scientologists. I think you SHOULD be embarrassed if you are an adult and you believe in invisible beings– I don’t care if you call them angels or fairies or souls or Thetans. It’s goofy. I also think you should be embarrassed if you think god wrote a book– and especially embarrassed if you think the Bible, The Quoran, or the Book of Mormon was that book!

    I also want religionists to stop demanding deference and respect that they would not give to other woo– the Scientologists, Wiccans, Voo-doo practioners, etc. While believers might deserve respect– these beliefs do not. It’s not my fault that people have been indoctrinated to believe things that are not true, and I want no part in furthering the delusion.

    I want science teachers to be able to tell kids that they share a common ancestor with their pets and the trees without the religious nuttards going crazy. I think the fact that all life is connected is beautiful– and it’s true. The accommodationist crowd don’t seem to care so much about what is true.

    For these reasons the “new atheists” are the ones who I see as most helpful in achieving my goals. From my perspective, the “accommodationists” or faitheists or Stedman types only further religious privelege and anti-atheist bigotry. They may be achieving their goals, but I don’t see evidence that they are achieving mine. I don’t think of these people as being the “critical thinkers” they imagine themselves to be.

  116. articulett says

    Beth @ 124

    It’s the belief that the world would be better without religion – i.e. The world would be a better place if everyone else believed as I do.

    Oopsy– another false equivalency. These 2 statements are not the same even though I know in your brain they are and they always will be.

    Suppose she had said the world would be better without superstition or magical thinking? Is that the same as saying “the world will be better if everyone else believed as I do.”?

    Most rational people will conclude these are not the same.

    Religion IS a superstition… it IS magical thinking…

    In a sense, you are dishonestly paraphrasing what was actually said to make it more fitting with the point you are trying to make. That’s dishonest.

  117. Steve Schuler says

    Just a little food for thought for anyone who might be interested.

    From the “University of Chicago Chronicle” July 14 2005:

    “The first study of physician religious beliefs has found that 76 percent of doctors believe in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife. The survey, performed by researchers at the University and published in the July issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that 90 percent of doctors in the United States attend religious services at least occasionally, compared to 81 percent of all adults. Fifty-five percent of doctors say their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine.”

    Granted, this might not be sort of information you would want to present in making a case for atheism and I am not sure what conclusions, if any, this might lead someone towards. In any event I found this very interesting. The entire article can be seen at:

    http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/050714/doctorsfaith.shtml

    Steve

  118. Steve Schuler says

    Hey articulett!

    It warms my heart to see such a dedicated champion of truth!

    You speak so boldly and confidently when you say, “I think it’s noble to fight irrationality and superstition wherever it exists…”

    You know, I do too! And that’s why I think it would be a great, and noble, show of courage and comittment on your part to go down to your local hospital and confront the physicians that you find there on the matter of their religious beliefs. Try to set aright the superstitious beliefs that something like 76& of them hold.

    I’ll be looking forward to hear how it went!

    Peace

    Steve

    PS

    You know, the more I try this ‘confrontational approach’, the better I like it! Sure, it probably doesn’t do much good, but it sure feels good doin’ it! Know what I mean?

  119. articulett says

    Steve,

    I thought this was interesting from that article:

    Physicians are 26 times more likely to be Hindu than the overall U.S. population (5.3 percent of doctors vs. 0.2 percent of nonphysicians). Doctors are seven times more likely to be Jewish (14.1 percent vs. 1.9 percent), six times more likely to be Buddhist (1.2 percent vs. 0.2 percent) and five times more likely to be Muslim (2.7 percent vs. 0.5 percent).

    But I already knew this:

    Only 39 percent of all scientists (declare) a personal belief in God. Belief among “leading” scientists, however—defined in this case as members of the National Academy of Sciences—was far lower: only 7 percent in 1998. Curiously, among scientists, mathematicians were the most likely to believe in God and biologists the least likely.

    I’ve heard that belief is much, much lower in neurologists and psychciatrists than other specialties. I also bet it’s much lower for doctors (in general) in healtheir countries. I suspect it’s even lower in America today thanks to the new atheists. (Certainly people are less afraid of admitting to being a non-believer.) The study you linked was done in 2005 before the New Atheist books hit the scene. That is also when this study showed that religiosity is associated with societal dysfunction while secularity was associated with societal health: http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2005/2005-11.html As you can see that is even more true today: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/ (see graph) So chances are the doctors in the healthiest countries are much more likely to disbelieve in a personal god than their American peers.

    Yes, it’s true– America is sadly more superstitious than the healtheist countries: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/the-world-map-of-skepticism/

    But there’s reason to hope: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197 The new atheists are making progress and I’m sure in time we’ll see this lessening of superstition and increase in societal health in America too. We just need to unhinge this huge and ugly hold religion has in our country.

    Greta’s doing her part!

  120. says

    @Eric #106 Sorry I overlooked your response to Beth. It is less succinct than mine, but makes some important points mine lacks. Thanks for the compliment.

    @Beth

    I don’t wish to be associated with people or organizations that advocate intolerance towards those with different beliefs and values.

    I am not intolerant of people with different beliefs or values. I am critical of those beliefs and values where they are demonstrably bad. I aim to try and get those that hold them to change their minds.

    Holding beliefs that are unfalsifiable is fine until you require others to follow those beliefs, or you follow those beliefs yourself and cause harm to others. Holding unfalsifiable beliefs is symptomatic of accepting the irrational and it would be better for them and everyone else to convince such people to deal with their beliefs differently.

    Of course this thread is not about dealing with a few people who hold some unfalsifiable beliefs, its about religious beliefs. Religious beliefs are large packages that involve methods of thinking, social authority systems, and alter peoples attitudes to themselves and others.

    You may wish only to remove deleterious beliefs and not bother to argue against “benign” religious concepts. I don’t think there is any such thing since such concepts require religious thinking and religious thinking is basically irrational and very easily leads off to unchecked fanaticism.

  121. Steve Schuler says

    My apologies, articulett.

    Upon a moments reflection, I realize that it is entirely unfair of me to single you out for such harsh treatment, not that I think you don’t deserve it, it’s just that you should not be singled out as the sole recipient of such a blatantly snide and condescending ‘confrontational’ bit of sarcastic wit, such as it is.

    No, I think it far better and more appropriate to invite Greta Herself to undertake the “Schuler Challenge” for committed atheist. So far my ‘confrontational approach’ has yielded no comments from Greta Herself, and I’ve no reason to think that this jab will fair any better. Still, to be fair to Greta I should give her another chance at responding to my overtly ‘confrontational approach’. If nothing else it would be nice to hear from her about how it feels to be on the receiving end of somebody playing “Bad Cop”. Not too good I would imagine. If Greta’s response, so far, is typical of how her adversaries respond to the “Bad Cop” tactic one might conclude that they simply shut it out and ignore it. And perhaps well they should, and perhaps well she should as well…

    Peace

    Steve

  122. John Morales says

    OK, we’re well over a hecto-comment’s worth into this thread, so I can duly state:

    I am not a joiner.
    I am not an activist.
    I have no set goals, I’m merely reacting to my environment, and commenting on blogs and in social situations.

    In short, I’m in no formal ‘movement’, other than in the most general sense, to wit: I am an atheist, a rationalist and a skeptic — one of many individual voices that together form a symphony (or cacophony, depending on perspective).

    When I hear bullshit, I react accordingly.

    (Theism is bullshit; religion is bullshit)

  123. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Steve Schuler:

    So far my ‘confrontational approach’ has yielded no comments from Greta Herself, and I’ve no reason to think that this jab will fair[sic] any better.
    [...]
    If Greta’s response, so far, is typical of how her adversaries respond to the “Bad Cop” tactic one might conclude that they simply shut it out and ignore it. And perhaps well they should, and perhaps well she should as well…

    Greta has standards, which I choose to respect best as I can.

    (Please come to Pharyngula, which is a little less constrained.
    You’ll get a response, alright!)

  124. Steve Schuler says

    On second thought, Greta can’t really respond to my question of how it feels to be the recpient of “Bad Cop” tactics, at least on the basis of how little I’ve said in this thread. Had I set out to play the role of “Bad Cop” in this discussion I would have been relentless in my assault on Greta’s positions. I’m really not ‘wired’ that way and I have no regret that I didn’t exercise some kind of malicious strategy to drive a somewhat insignificant point home to her by means of example. In my Ideal World there are no “Bad Cops”. It wouldn’t have been a nice or honest thing to do, and I think that being nice and being honest help make the world a better place for everyone. Perhaps that’s incredibly naive of me, but that’s what I think. Do I contradict myself somewhat? Probably so, but who doesn’t?

    Steve

  125. says

    @Steve Schuler: If you are going to be judging Greta for her silence toward you, perhaps you should consider what time you posted your comments, and what time it is in San Francisco, where she lives. Not everyone is up into the wee morning hours.

  126. Steve Schuler says

    @NathanDST

    Hey Dude!

    Truth be known, if I were the recipient of my comments to Greta I might very well choose silence as the best response!

    Steve

  127. says

    Beth:

    It’s the belief that the world would be better without religion – i.e. The world would be a better place if everyone else believed as I do. That’s what I find intolerant.

    That, however, is also an intolerant attitude. Intolerance of some sort is not possible to avoid, while still being ethical. I believe the world would be a better place if everyone believed that it’s ok to be Takei (i.e., gay). Do you disagree? Is this belief of mine intolerant? If it is intolerant, is that a bad thing? Truly? I believe the world would be a better place if everyone believed the fact that global warming is real, and happening. Again, do you disagree? Am I bad for holding that belief? I believe the world would be a better place if everyone believed the following: biological systems are best explained by the theory of evolution via natural selection, and medicine makes the most sense under that paradigm; beating children is bad; women are not property, and are the equals of men; homeopathy doesn’t work; a woman’s opinion has equal weight to a man’s, and should be judged on its merits, not her gender; non-whites are the equal of whites; rape is never the victim’s fault, regardless of circumstances such as the victim’s state of inebriation, clothing, past sexual history, etc.

    Tell me Beth, why am I wrong for holding and stating the belief that the world would be better if everyone believed those things? How is my intolerance of any view contrary to those -religious or otherwise- a bad thing?

    As to your original cut-and-paste job, many religious leaders do have such attitudes it seems. Huzzah for them. Their reasoning is crap however, and often morally suspect. But, if they genuinely believe that I’m going to hell for not believing, or that I can’t be happy without believing, then it certainly makes sense for them to desire my conversion. I’m ok with that. I shall simply have to persuade them they are wrong on both counts. Now, is that the kind of answer to it you wanted?

  128. articulett says

    Oops… I gave a wrong link above…

    I had meant to link Jerry Coyne’s graph showing the inverse correlation between religiosity and societal health: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/time-magazine-gets-everything-wrong-about-atheism-and-a-lot-wrong-about-religion-too/

    I had to link it with his post because the post describes the graph which you have to scroll down to see. (I noticed a positive mention of Greta in the comments section.)

    In any case, I know that Steve’s link was trolling and a derail– but I do think it would be interesting to find out what sort of an effect the “gnu atheists” (and perhaps shows like House might be having on doctors– especially younger doctors. My guess is that if you did the study today, there’d be significantly more doctors who admit to non-belief in a personal god. (I can think of 2 who were believers back in 2005, but aren’t now because of the New Atheists). Of course the study he linked was about how doctors attended religious services… not really about belief in a personal god. And, thankfully: Although doctors are more likely than the general population to attend religious services, they are less willing to “apply their religious beliefs to other areas of life,” the researchers found. Sixty-one percent of doctors say they “try to make sense” of a difficult situation and “decide what to do without relying on God,” while only 29 percent of the general population say the same (I’m willing to assume my doctors are rational so long as they don’t bring up an “woo” they may believe.)

    The gnu atheists have made it possible to talk about the harms of religion and to question it in a way that we never could before. And the internet spreads the good news.

  129. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Steve Schuler:

    … if I were the recipient of my comments to Greta I might very well choose silence as the best response!

    Yeah, but that’s judging others by your own standards — Greta ain’t either cowardly or inarticulate.

    (About as good a rhetorical tactic as your argumentum ad populum, that is)

  130. says

    @Ariel:

    I value truth, but I do not worship it. From my point of view, having false beliefs is not the worst thing that may happen. If someone gave me a magic pill saying: “if you don’t take it, your daughter will die; if you take it, your daughter will live, but you will always believe (falsely) that she died”, I would take the pill without any hesitation. Truth is just one of the values. Not the only one, not even the most important one. That’s how I see it.

    True, false beliefs is not the worst of all possible things that could happen. And in the scenario you propose, I would swallow the pill as well (if I ever have a daughter). Truth might not be the most important value, and values often come into conflict with each other, but it is one of the most important. Frankly, I would place comfort significantly lower than truth, and hope somewhere between the two. The benefits of truth overall outweigh the benefits of comfort or hope, I think.

    I truly hope that the whole fragment was not intended to dismiss someone because of his (suspected) mental problems.

    Never.

  131. says

    articulett at 102, the comic about Norway: does anyone have a source for the stat given about the percentage of non-believers? I’ve seen that comic before, but when I looked for verification of that statistic, I could not find anything to back it up. I found a higher percentage than in the US, certainly, but not that high.

  132. Steve Schuler says

    @articulett

    Hey Dudette! (Note the corrected gender-specific salutation!)

    I was just thinking about writing you a complimentary note on how well you responded in your last post in response to the “Schuler Challenge” to trot down to your local hospital and spread the “Good News” amongst the religiously maligned physicians (about 76% of them anyhow), when you inform me that the link I provided constituted “trolling” and an attempt to “derail” this discussion to nowhere.

    My, My, My!!!

    If I were easily offended, I would be.

    But I’m not, so I aren’t!

    Peace Out

    Steve

  133. articulett says

    Nathan @ 144

    I can’t find a link that shows atheism at 70% though I see the studies that only 32% of the population believed in god in 2005. I know that Philip Zuckerman has published more recent statistics, but I’d be surprised if 70% of Norwegians consider themselves atheist. My guess is that they just don’t think about religion very much. (I don’t remember any of my Scandinavian friends ever mentioning religion come to think of it.)

  134. Steve Schuler says

    @John Morales

    Good Dude to you, as well!

    When you said, “Yeah, but that’s judging others by your own standards — Greta ain’t either cowardly or inarticulate.”, am I to take that as an accusation from you that I, unlike Greta, am cowardly and inarticulate?

    If so, I’ve got to tell you that really pains me deep in my soul (metaphorically speaking, that is) especially coming from somebody as esteemable as you.

    Well, maybe not…

    And

    I wasn’t using the rhetorical tactic argumentum ad populum by inviting, no Challenging, comitted Atheist to visit their local physicians and say, “Physician, heal thyself!”, in a manner of speaking.

    I know, I really should try to be nicer to more people, more often, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. I trust you’ll forgive me. Or not.

    Peace Out

    Steve

  135. Steve Schuler says

    @John Morales

    Sorry Dude, I was composing my last little diddy to you when you asked me about my atheism. Yes, by most definitions I meet the criterion of being rightfully called an atheist. I don’t usually refer to myself as an atheist, but that would require a pretty detailed explanation to adequately discuss. But yeah, the short answer is that I do not believe in a God or gods or supernatural powers, hence atheist is appropriate, I think.

    Steve

  136. John Morales says

    Steve Schuler, so, are you an atheist?

    (I am)

    I wasn’t using the rhetorical tactic argumentum ad populum by inviting, no Challenging, comitted Atheist to visit their local physicians and say, “Physician, heal thyself!”, in a manner of speaking.

    No, you were using it by adducing cherry-picked, country-specific evidence of a study purportedly showing that “The first study of physician religious beliefs has found that 76 percent of doctors believe in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.”

    (It’s quite fallacious, not that you want to go there.

    The relevant metric would in any case be the ratio of doctors believing in God or some sort of afterlife compared to the general population. What do you think that ratio is? ;)
    How do you imagine belief in magical sky beings correlates with educational level, or with intelligence, for that matter?)

  137. John Morales says

    Steve Schuler, we cross-posted.

    So…

    Yes, by most definitions I meet the criterion of being rightfully called an atheist. I don’t usually refer to myself as an atheist, but that would require a pretty detailed explanation to adequately discuss. But yeah, the short answer is that I do not believe in a God or gods or supernatural powers, hence atheist is appropriate, I think.

    Hm… I don’t know of any definitions where not believing in gods or the supernatural doesn’t make you an atheist.

    So. Are you pro or contra theism?

    What are your goals?

  138. Steve Schuler says

    @John Morales

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’ve had to reboot my computer and modem twice to be able to update this page. But now I’m back. Plus I am a very slow writer, so thanks for your patience.

    Did you read the article that I linked to? If not, here it is again:

    http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/050714/doctorsfaith.shtml

    I came upon that article about a week ago when I was pondering, what else, the religious beliefs of physicians. Frankly, I was a bit stunned to discover, at least in this study, that the results were more than entirely opposite from what I anticipated. I expected there to be about 60% non-religious and 40% religious, maybe even 70/30. As you have seen, this apparently is not the case. It doesn’t really cause me any kind of distress to discover this, it’s just not what I expected. I am in no way trying to use this information to promote religion.

    I am not particularly anti-religious. Like a couple of other commenters on this thread, I do question whether simply eliminating religion will ensure a better tommorow for humanity. I think that many people ‘need’ religiion to make any sense of life, perhaps the relatively high rate of religiosity amongst physicians might lend support to that notion.

    I make a very poor leader and an even worse follower, so participation in any support of a ‘movement’ doesn’t jibe well with my personality. I think that, not unlike religion, many people need the sense of purpose that identification with something larger than themselves, as can be found through identification with a ‘movement’, can provide and enhance their lives in ways that I seem to not require.

    In any event, whatever virtues are afforded by a rational approach to life and living, and they are manifold, without at least an equal measure of compassion in one’s heart, relying on reason alone can lead to much suffering. There is a certain amount of personal experience and observation upon which I have come to this tentative conclusion.

    But I acknowledge that I could be completely wrong, seriously.

    Peace Still

    Steve

  139. John Morales says

    Steve:

    Like a couple of other commenters on this thread, I do question whether simply eliminating religion will ensure a better tommorow for humanity.

    But neither I nor most gnus want to eliminate religion, we just want to put it into perspective — like astrology, if people want to have it as a hobby, it’s no skin off my nose — what I want to see happen is a cessation of this automatic respect that faith in faith garners, where believing stuff without evidence is considered a virtue, where obeying authority figures whose authority is claimed to come from a magical being is is inculcated into children, and where morality is dogmatic and supposedly comes from tradition and revelation, rather than from reason and from empathy.

    I think that many people ‘need’ religiion to make any sense of life, perhaps the relatively high rate of religiosity amongst physicians might lend support to that notion.

    People are taught to think they need religion, when what they want is social acceptance; religion plays into our instinct to see agency in the natural world (teleonomy) and is a handy tool for manipulating society. Everything that is good about religion can be found in philosophy, without the supernatural mumbo-jumbo.

    In any event, whatever virtues are afforded by a rational approach to life and living, and they are manifold, without at least an equal measure of compassion in one’s heart, relying on reason alone can lead to much suffering.

    You imagine one needs some sort of Kolinahr to be rational?

    If so, you have bought into a Noble Lie.

    (Compassion is orthogonal to reason, no less than any other emotion)

  140. Bruce Gorton says

    Steve Schuler

    That study you have got linked there is from 2005, US stats. The 2009 ARVIS figures on the US show that about 15% of the population is non-religious, and about 2% actively states that it is atheist.

    So why the heck would you expect nons to be about 60 to 70 percent of doctors? That the non-religious account for 24% of doctors means that the non-religious community is already punching way above its weight in the medical professions.

    Not only that, but the same study you have linked to shows that most doctors do not apply their religious beliefs to their professional lives.

  141. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Kelly Bodwin n#116

    Refer to my post at #48 for more, but: I am saying two things. One is that ALL confrontational atheists say things like (not a direct quote from anyone I’m aware of): “Religion is a fairy tale for the weak.” And, well, yeah, they’re right, it is. But those are the messages that I assert are less effective than “You can build a better life without religion” – so when we have an opportunity to speak in the public arena, we should favor the latter message.

    So your complaints about confrontationists boil down to personal preference. You’re happier singing “Kumbaya” with goddists than telling them there’s no evidence for their god(s). There’s nothing wrong with that. But it is pure and simple personal preference on your part. Other people have different preferences.

    Since you have zero evidence to support your contention that singing “Kumbaya” is more effective than telling goddists they aren’t going to Heaven when they die because there is no Heaven, then why don’t you do your thing and stop complaining about people trying to do what we think is effective? Or is that too much to ask?

  142. Steve Schuler says

    @John Morales

    I’m not quite sure how to respond to you. I don’t think that either of us knows the other well enough to allow for to many presumptions about the others perspective. That is, when we become pretty familiar another person we gain some sense of their genenral outlook on the world and over time we may develop a pretty good sense about how, and what, they actually think, and yes, even how they feel. I think that you may be making too many presumptions about what I think and believe, but I’m not sure. Of course feelings are even more difficult to sense through writing, which further complicates communication.

    I don’t know too much about the Gnu scene, although from my limited exposure to it, and knowledge of it, it seems to have a pretty strong vein of staunchly anti-religious sentiment running through it. Maybe I’ve just been exposed to more of the “Bad Cop” atheist, I don’t know. I don’t consider myself to be opposed to ‘The Movement’, but I am pretty skeptical about any ‘movement’. Partially it’s just my nature as well, I’d like to think, that I’ve learned something after trodding this planet for 55 years. I’ve been a non-believer since about the age of 12 despite having a Christian upbringing. Does that make me an Auld Atheist? Who knows?

    Anyhow, what initially got my attention in Greta’s article was her notion that some sort of “Good Cop/Bad Cop” dynamic ought to be employed by activist to help them acheive their goals. Apparently in a previous post Greta had promoted the use of this strategy/tactic and hoped to ellicit discussion herein to clarify what those goals might be.

    No offense to anyone intended, but when people want to play “Good Cop/Bad Cop”, we’re probably talking about a party I don’t belong in. Of course, I don’t mind taking in a bit of the scene-ry even if it doesn’t seem like my cup of meat.

    My Goals? How about some Universal Peace, Love, and Understanding for starters. Now, if that’s not a load of Hippie Bullshit straight out of the mouth of an Auld Hippie, I don’t know what is.

    Peace and Out!

    Steve

    PS

    What does Vulcan psychology and right angles have to do with anything I care about? Never mind, forget that I asked.

  143. Steve Schuler says

    @Bruce Gorton

    From the article I linked to:

    “These results were not anticipated. Religious belief tends to decrease as education and income levels increase, yet doctors are highly educated and, on average, well compensated. The finding also differs radically from 90 years of studies showing that only a minority of scientists (excluding physicians) believes in God or an afterlife.”

    That’s why.

    Peace Always

    Steve

  144. says

    @Kelly Bodwin in 117 –

    Kelly, thank you for checking the links. When you said that you were going to simply take my word without reading the cited sources I mentally prepared a long post that was essentially a more articulate version of “NNNNOOOO!!!! AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!” Because making assertions WITHOUT citing evidence for them is one of the huge problems that I and many other commenters here have been railing against in this thread.

    I would add: Even though you quickly saw the superficiality of them I would urge you to read them in their entirety as well as the comments, since much of the ground we are covering here was covered there by more capable and articulate people than I. Though I do have things of my own to say, and your quick take on Paul W.’s Overton perspective is one that does merit a response. I have been, and will continue to be, busy this weekend for the obvious reasons, but I will respond to you in depth when I can. I would prefer to do so in the open in this thread since it is an important conversation and I’m sure others will have worthy contributions; but if you would prefer to keep it offline in email I will accede to your request.

    To most everyone else; Happy Solstice-y Days and thanks your parts in all this.

  145. Kelly Bodwin says

    Tis –

    Once again: I do not, personally, love chilling out with “goddists.” I would much prefer to be verbally destroying them from every angle. But I limit myself, because in my observation, that chases people away rather than attracting them.

    I’d like to think I haven’t been “complaining” about confrontationalism, except for the slurs on Islam. What I have been doing is trying to be persuasive about my opinion. The lack of rigorous statistical evidence does not imply that no reasonable discussion can be had – good points have been made on both sides, and it’s given me a lot of food for thought. I intend to think very hard about this over the next few weeks/months: While I still think the community/interfaith approach is underestimated as a battle strategy, I myself may be underestimating the importance of “in your face” outspokenness.

    So yes – if you’re asking me not to have these sort of enlightening conversations/debates with intelligent people, it is too much to ask.

    Eric -

    When you said that you were going to simply take my word without reading the cited sources I mentally prepared a long post that was essentially a more articulate version of “NNNNOOOO!!!! AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!”

    I would never have referenced them without reading them. You were asserting that accommodationalists had rubbed people the wrong way in the past, and that was why I was getting some aggressive pushback. I was willing to accept, for the sake of conversation, that something like that had indeed taken place.

    I did read the articles in their entirety, as well as the majority of the comments. I don’t mind discussing them here if you’d like, I was just wary of derailing the thread. Your call.

    Unrelatedly….

    articulett –

    Your first post came out swinging, and I wrote you off as someone looking to pick a fight. Since then, you’ve given me an excellent debate, and your post at 126 is brilliantly written (though I disagree with the final paragraph). So, I just wanted to say sorry for assuming you were trolling, and thanks for the debate.

  146. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Kelly #159

    Once again: I do not, personally, love chilling out with “goddists.” I would much prefer to be verbally destroying them from every angle. But I limit myself, because in my observation, that chases people away rather than attracting them.

    Okay, you don’t like singing “Kumbaya.” You’d rather be telling goddists the truth about their beliefs but you shy away from doing that because it wouldn’t be as effective as…um…doing nothing.

    I’d like to think I haven’t been “complaining” about confrontationalism, except for the slurs on Islam.

    You have been complaining about confrontationalism. You’ve stated more than once, including in the beginning paragraph of your last past, that you think it’s less effective than doing something you think would be more effective, whatever that might be.

    What I have been doing is trying to be persuasive about my opinion.

    I have some bad news for you. You have failed to be persuasive in causing gnu atheists to turn away from The Dark Side.

    The lack of rigorous statistical evidence does not imply that no reasonable discussion can be had – good points have been made on both sides, and it’s given me a lot of food for thought. I intend to think very hard about this over the next few weeks/months: While I still think the community/interfaith approach is underestimated as a battle strategy, I myself may be underestimating the importance of “in your face” outspokenness.

    I try not to underestimate the community approach as a strategy. I recognize that being polite to people is apt to get them to be polite back. I also know there’s anecdotal evidence that being “in your face” causes some people to examine the basis for their beliefs.

    In meat-space I tend to be a polite, soft-spoken person. I spent years as a high-level Federal bureaucrat who had to be nice to ignorant congresscritters pushing a political agenda they didn’t really understand or comprehend what the ramifications might be. So I’ve had a lot of experience at telling people “you’re wrong” in excruciatingly polite terms.

    I’m a Pharyngula regular. As you’re aware, that blog is one of the rougher neighborhoods in the blogosphere. I have been known to be rude, crude and disagreeable while arguing with some of the more outrageous goddists who wander by. But I’m also polite when I think politeness is called for. In short, I’m a situational arguer. For instance, I recognize you’d be less likely to listen to me if I were unpleasant (plus Greta has her standards which I try to abide by) so I’m polite, more or less, to you. I go with whatever I think works.

  147. articulett says

    *Greta actually linked that post, Tony, in her original piece– along with other great posts; I hope that Kelly read them.

    Kelly– Are you saying that you think that outspoken atheists, such as Greta, should be more like Stedman?

    And you think this will help achieve which goals?

    Do you think more people have become atheists through Stedman or the people he misrepresents in his piece?

    Do you think Stedman has converted more people to atheism OR made more foes in the atheist community because of this perception that he is dishonest, passive-aggressive, mealy-mouthed, and furthers misinformation about supposed “strident” atheists that are hurtings some cause?

    When you read how Stedman quoted Greta and compare it to what she actually said, do you think he gave an honest representation of her viewpoint?

    Do you think it was more honest or less honest than what you quoted JT as saying versus what he ACTUALLY said?

    If Stedman has a good argument, why the need to put others down? Is he incapable of doing his accommodating without criticizing other atheists? Do you think he is afraid no one will pay attention to him unless he stirs up shit?

    What do you think was the main point of his huff-po piece?

    Nobody here is trying to get you to be more like the people Stedman criticized– but do you really think others here want to be (or should be) more like Stedman– is this what you were trying to communicate in your first post on this thread? Is this what you imagine “catches flies” or whatever? Is this an example of “nice” to you? –Nice to whom, exactly? He sure isn’t “nice” to other atheists.

    I don’t see how that would further any of my goals. I agree that it takes all kinds of approaches and that we have different goals, but I don’t think you’ll find many people persuaded to take the Stedman approach here for obvious reasons. He’s dishonest and he furthers prejudice against his fellow atheists to make himself look good. Moreover, his main point often seems to be– “Stop being a dick and be like me!”

  148. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Steve Schuler:

    I think that you may be making too many presumptions about what I think and believe, but I’m not sure.

    Applied adaptive heuristics.

    (Much as Himself noted above: “I’m a situational arguer”.)

    That’s why.

    It remains unclear to me how the results not being anticipated are significant and relevant, and how so.

    It would help me if you cared to be more explicit and explain both your inferential process and your conclusion.

  149. Kelly Bodwin says

    Tis,

    You’d rather be telling goddists the truth about their beliefs but you shy away from doing that because it wouldn’t be as effective as…um…doing nothing.

    First of all, I do tell them the truth about their beliefs – in as polite a way as I can – when the context makes it appropriate. But I try not to engage unless I’m invited.

    And no, definitely not doing nothing. Getting a message out their about positive atheism is very important; I’m a huge supporter of CoR’s “Good Without God” billboards. Then there’s community building, as I’ve mentioned: Service events, philosophical discussions, and the like.

    You have been complaining about confrontationalism.

    I’d like to think there’s a significant difference between complaining, as if confrontationalism has somehow hurt me personally, and asserting that it’s less effective in the public sphere.

    I try not to underestimate the community approach as a strategy. I recognize that being polite to people is apt to get them to be polite back. I also know there’s anecdotal evidence that being “in your face” causes some people to examine the basis for their beliefs.

    I am definitely very glad to hear that. In return, I’m trying to keep an open mind about the possibility that I am underestimating the “in your face approach.” I am not, however, ready to revise my entire opinion over one blog debate, nor do I find there’s enough evidence in here to persuade me. I am willing to keep thinking about it, though.

    Tony,

    Funny you mention Greta’s Armor of God post – I just linked that to my dad today to support my side in a “Is religion bad for society?” debate. Safe to say that I support that post wholeheartedly.

    Articulett,

    Are you saying that you think that outspoken atheists, such as Greta, should be more like Stedman?

    Careful with the specifics, now. I won’t ever say “Greta should be more like Chris.” I like Greta as Greta. I will say that I would prefer atheists, except perhaps those who are uniquely talented or called towards firebrand writing, to devote their energies community type projects as Chris does. I definitely think there is an important niche for outspoken atheists, but I think the niche is more than full and I’d like to see more work being done on the Humanist side.

    I also disagree with Chris on the point of whether we should aim for pluralism. I would prefer to get rid of, or at least marginalize religion. (Although I do recognize the necessity of working with and respecting religious people as part of that process.) Rather than Stedman/Christina or other individual comparisons, a better thing to say would be, “I think that groups like AA should be more like HCH.”

    And you think this will help achieve which goals?

    I think this will help achieve the goal of building a society where religion is powerless. I think the vast majority of religion’s social power derives from it’s appeal to certain basic human needs: community, the sense of being part of something bigger, the search for meaning, etc. If we offer something Godless that also fulfills those needs, we can take that power away and expose the supernatural part for the sham that it is.

    The Horsemen and other New Atheists are crucial to this project, because they provide the basis of argument that “chases” people out of religion and into the loving arms of Humanism. However, the role of these outspoken folks is to provide reasoned arguments when they are sought out. Hitchens as a writer is my favorite of the Horsemen. Hitchens as a speaker, on the other hand, is my least favorite, because he is prone to extreme comments that come across very off-putting.

    I think the Hitch example illustrates my position fairly well, actually. First Contact (e.g. TV spots and billboards) should be the “nice” kind. We need people to feel like atheism/Humanism is something they can be proud to be part of. We need them to feel that they can swap sides without betraying their family, their history, or their morals. Then, once you have their attention and acceptance, you slowly but surely introduce the myriad of arguments against religion to pull them away, while still dangling the appealing alternative of nice comfy Humanist groups.

    Do you think more people have become atheists through Stedman or the people he misrepresents in his piece? [...] Do you think Stedman has converted more people to atheism OR made more foes in the atheist community because of this perception that he is dishonest, passive-aggressive, mealy-mouthed, and furthers misinformation about supposed “strident” atheists that are hurtings some cause?

    Again with the Stedman, we don’t have quite the same goals so the comparison is not entirely valid. I also am not entirely comfortable guessing at numbers I don’t have.

    What I will say is this: I believe that the number of people converted (or outed) by the Humanist Chaplaincy, relative to the number exposed to their message, is larger than the number converted by AA. Chris’s interfaith work is a part of the Chaplaincy efforts, but nowhere near the defining element. With regard to writings, if someone seeks out atheist blogs on the internet, they are likely already questioning and looking for some hard arguments. Therefore, my guess would be that Chris’s WRITING (as opposed to his work) is not as effective in conversion as PZ, etc.

    Again, though, these are just conjectures.

    When you read how Stedman quoted Greta and compare it to what she actually said, do you think he gave an honest representation of her viewpoint?

    As I’ve said, I’m not volunteering to be the Defender of Chris. I think he is a good person, and a genuine one, and he’s doing good, important work at Harvard. I don’t believe he would ever purposefully misrepresent someone. If you think his quotes were taken out of context, you can take that up with him.

    My reading of his reference to Greta was that he was agreeing with her – not all atheists have the same goals. He was going on record as NOT being on board with her second listed goal (by contrast, I am). The only parts I can find that don’t entirely jive with my understanding of Greta’s post are:

    those who do not prioritize [criticizing religious belief] should allow that it is an important element of atheist activism as a movement.

    I don’t think Greta ever asked non-antitheists to accept the fight against religion as an “important element” – only that they recognize that the goals of antitheists differ from their own. But it’s a minor distinction, and not one Stedman belabors.

    Furthermore, I disagree with Christina’s claim that “confrontationalism” is “the best strategy for achieving our other goals.”

    He’s using “confrontationalism” wrong here. He’s using it to mean “trying to get rid of religion,” when in fact it ought to mean (I think) the “in your face” “harsh truths” approach.

    Do you think it was more honest or less honest than what you quoted JT as saying versus what he ACTUALLY said?

    Look, I’ve explained that I didn’t intend that to be a direct quote from JT. I’ve apologized for making it seem that way. I’m not sure what more you hope to accomplish with passive-agressive rhetorical questions like this one.

    I also am not fond of this “honesty” theme. I have been wrong before, and clearly I’ve accidentally given false impressions; I’ve never deliberately misconstrued anything. And while I’m not going to unilaterally defend Chris (I haven’t read and analyzed everything he’s ever written), I have a very difficult time believing he would ever do so either.

    If Stedman has a good argument, why the need to put others down? Is he incapable of doing his accommodating without criticizing other atheists?

    Can you give me an example of where he puts others down?

    And he is within his rights to criticize atheists who he disagrees with, as you folks are within your rights to criticize him. Personally, I agree with his objection to broadbrush generalizations of Muslims, and I disagree with his objection to the “anti-religious” movement. But I fail to see how him raising these objections – whether or not I agree with them – is wrong of him to do.

    Do you think he is afraid no one will pay attention to him unless he stirs up shit?

    To be honest, I think just about everyone who has ever written about anything is guilty of bumping up their rhetoric because Drama Sells.

    What do you think was the main point of his huff-po piece?

    I think he had two main points: One, to state that he is not interested in eradicating religion, as many atheists are, and to give his reasons for that. Two, to suggest that when we criticize religion, we ought to avoid dangerous generalizations like the ones he quoted.

    Nobody here is trying to get you to be more like the people Stedman criticized– but do you really think others here want to be (or should be) more like Stedman– is this what you were trying to communicate in your first post on this thread? Is this what you imagine “catches flies” or whatever?

    No. I was trying to communicate that I want our PUBLIC image to be more like HCH, and to some extent Stedman. I was suggesting that we base our Recruitment Strategy (so to speak) on the “nice” persona, since I believe that will catch more flies/goddists/whatever.

    Is this an example of “nice” to you?

    Interfaith communication and service projects – which are what Chris spends most of his time one – are examples of parts of the “nice” approach.

    Nice to whom, exactly?

    Nice to the religious people, the less aggressive atheists, and the “nones” who will, I believe, react positively to a gentler message.

    I think I answered everything that ended in a question mark. Your further issues with Chris are not really my mantle to take up.

  150. Steve Schuler says

    @John Moarales

    Howdy Again, Dude!

    Hey, I’m glad to see in this post that you are using Earth language instead of Vulcan terminology, but if you want me to have any understanding at all of how you think “applied adaptive heuristics” has any, even remotely, reasonable connection to my comment then you are going to have to flesh that out quite a bit. Good luck!

    And speaking of ‘fleshing things out’; if you go back and read the post made by Bruce Gorton to which I responded with (more) quoted text from the (previously linked) article, which provided the most convenient and cogent information to (hopefully) answer Bruce’s question pertaining as to ‘why’ the level of the physicians religiosity in that study was surprising to Me Myself, as well as the researchers who conducted the study, it should become abundantly clear to you that when you stated, “It remains unclear to me how the results not being anticipated are significant and relevant, and how so. It would help me if you cared to be more explicit and explain both your inferential process and your conclusion.”, that you completely misunderstood Bruce’s question and/or the content of the quoted text and mistakenly think that I ought ‘flesh out’ my thought process, which I am more than willing to do when appropriate, but in this case, upon further consideration and reflection on your part, I am sure that you will agree it is not necessary and that you would (probably) like to apologize for being such a ‘blockhead’ and not reading and thinking more carefully.

    And yes, the preceeding statement is built entirely of One Single Sentence, handcrafted by me just for you, Amigo!

    Hasta Luego

    Steve

  151. Beth says

    I’m sorry, I don’t have time to respond to everyone who have responded to my posts.

    @ Tony

    -It is certainly your prerogative to make that decision. However, I think you make the mistake many have made by treating agnosticism as belonging on the spectrum of belief.
    Yes, I am aware of the origin of ‘agnostic’ and that definition. Language is a living thing. Connotations and even definitions can change over time. One reason I prefer agnostic is because of the current connotations of those words. Atheist has connotations of being very confrontational about religion if the person cares to explore further – a “religion is for the weak minded” mindset. Agnostic has connotations of being more tolerant and respectful of other people’s religious beliefs.
    As for your comment about intolerance towards beliefs, I’m curious what type of beliefs you’re talking about. I find many religious beliefs to be ridiculous:

    It isn’t about tolerating any particular religious belief. What I find intolerant is setting a goal of eliminating all religious beliefs different from your own.

    BTW you are under no obligation not to criticize, mock, ridicule or otherwise embarrass and shame the person believing in whatever it is you are making fun of. Go right ahead and criticize their beliefs in any way you like.

    You see, I’m in agreement with Kelly regarding the effectiveness of such techniques. Since I’m in disagreement with you about goal number two, I’m got no problems with you doing so because I think it makes accomplishing that goal less likely.

    The only problem I see is that such behavior does reinforce the current connotation of atheist. While it may draw some to your banner, it repels folks like me. I don’t know if you consider that a good thing or a bad thing, given the disparaging remarks made about people who don’t agree with goal number two.

    -not being able to work on Sunday
    -not being able to work from sundown Friday til sundown Saturday
    -not being able to eat pork
    -not being able to dance

    On the basis of reason and logic, what makes these beliefs remotely reasonable?
    Those aren’t my beliefs and I’m not going to defend them as reasonable. As an adult in our society, I don’t have to chafe under such rules unless I chose to impose them on myself. If others in my society choose to do so, that is their right. What is the problem with tolerating other people choosing to live under such rules?

    My being critical of these beliefs would make me intolerant in your eyes I suppose.
    No
    Then there are those religious beliefs which bring actual harm to people:
    -spare the rod spoil the child has resulted in the deaths of children as young as 6 months old
    I agree that such beliefs can lead to problems, but I don’t see them as being the source of such problems but merely one influence among many leading to such behavior. We rightly have laws against child abuse, not the religious beliefs.

    -homosexuality is a sin (one I have a *personal* problem with)
    -women can’t drive/get an education/not have a male chaperone
    -stoning or killing someone for a minor infraction
    These are beliefs that I find not only ridiculous but the opposite of virtuous. They’re abominable beliefs. I not only have no use for them, I believe it is our duty to speak out against them. Does that make me intolerant?

    No. Speak out all you want against such wrong thinking. I’ll support your efforts. The belief that the world would be better off without anyone holding religious beliefs is where we part company.
    Why on earth would anyone be *tolerant* of bigotry and discrimination against gays and women? Why would anyone be *tolerant* of child abuse/neglect and murder? Why would anyone be tolerant of a belief system that says you can’t dance (especially when there’s no good reason not to)? How does not agreeing with goal number two imply tolerating child abuse/neglect and murder? Hey, it doesn’t! I think you’ve gone overboard here.

    I feel the beliefs we hold need substance to them beyond “do this because you’re told to”. YMMV.

    I agree.

    You don’t think the world would be better if people embraced rationality rather than irrationality?
    I do not equate being atheist with being rational. I see no reason to suppose that the rationality of average person would change if no one held any religious beliefs. What evidence do you have to support such a supposition?

    You don’t think the world has gotten better through secular ideas vs religious ones?
    I have no idea. I’m not studied the history of ideas, which ones were the most beneficial and how to determine which ones were secular and which religious.

    The status of women in various parts of the world has been improved in large part due to secular efforts. Religious beliefs would still have women staying at home, cooking, cleaning and making babies if their views held sway like they once did.
    Certainly the dominate religious beliefs of our past culture were very limiting for women. That has been changing over the past 50 years. However, I don’t see atheists as being on the far end of the continuum regarding feminist attitudes. They are better than some religious organizations, worse than others. This does not inspire me to conclude that a world without religion would be better in this regard.
    The examples abound (the Crusades, Salem witch hunt, 9/11)…
    Sure, lots of examples abound. But those bad examples aren’t inherent to religion. In fact, they seem to me to be common to large human hierarchical organizational structures. I don’t find your argument convincing for that reason. Sure, it might be better, but it’s not a given.
    I am not saying the world would be perfect without religion. People will still find ways to hurt one another and justifications behind them. However, without religion–without a system of beliefs that are rooted in irrationality and unseen forces–those actions won’t be protected by the armor of religion. I think such behavior would continue to be protected by the law or some other excuse. I don’t expect the rich and powerful to behave differently. As far as irrationality and unseen forces goes, such words can describe science’s quantum mechanics and dark energy as well as myths and religious beliefs.

    I do believe that our world will be much better when religious beliefs are no more.
    You are entitled to your belief as I am entitled to mine. I think we’ll simply have to leave it there.

  152. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Kelly #165

    As I’ve said, I’m not volunteering to be the Defender of Chris. I think he is a good person, and a genuine one, and he’s doing good, important work at Harvard. I don’t believe he would ever purposefully misrepresent someone. If you think his quotes were taken out of context, you can take that up with him.

    A good, genuine person does not go out of his way to misrepresent those with whom he has a dispute. I don’t blame you for Stedman’s faults, but those faults are out in the open for anyone to see. It’s one thing to have a disagreement. You and I disagree but we’re being polite and respectful towards each other. Purposeful misrepresentation is neither polite nor respectful.

    It appears Stedman is willing to be accommodating towards everyone except other atheists whose tactics he doesn’t like.

  153. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Steve Schuler @166, I asked for clarification, not condescending obfuscation.

    (Clearly, I had already read your response to Bruce, else I’d not have quoted from it!)

    Again: why is it “food for thought” in regards to the topic (What Are The Goals of the Atheist Movement?), of what should it inform us, and how did you arrive at that conclusion?

    Here is an actual study from the same period, (J Gen Intern Med. 2005 July; 20(7): 629–634):
    Religious characteristics of U.S. physicians: a national survey, which doesn’t accord with the article about a study which you cited.

    (Table 2 is of particular interest)

  154. articulett says

    I have no idea of where Steve was going that link either though I guess in his head it makes sense. I am curious to see how the landscape has changed since 2005 when “new atheism” started getting a foothold… as that IS germane to this discussion.

    Similarly, I’m guessing that the defenders of Stedman aren’t able to see how he has been dishonest, because they are blind to it– in the same way they are overly sensitive to any criticism of religion. They see such criticism of religion as “angry” or harmful to some cause no matter how sweetly it is stated. They do not stop to ask themselves if it’s TRUE. Conversely, maligning atheists through quote mining or dishonestly paraphrasing what they said doesn’t even make a blip on their conscience! A display like Stedman’s comes across to them as “nice” because THEY are this kind of “nice”. I think the difference may be in how one prioritizes the truth.

    The commenters on Stedman’s site have been pretty clear as to problems they had with his self-congratulating post as have numerous people here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2011/12/22/the-alternatives-to-confrontationalism/
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2011/12/you-did-ask/
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/entequilaesverdad/2011/12/23/pathological-accommodationism/

    I find it heartening that many people had the same reaction I had.

    Naturally I prefer to support those atheists who are able to be nice and charitable without promoting anti-atheist bigotry or the self-congratulations of Stedman: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/12/24/how-did-the-second-harvest-food-bank-charity-drive-go/

    http://thecaudallure.com/2011/12/23/atheists-donate-200000-to-doctors-without-borders/

    There are lots of interfaith activists such as Michael Dowd or Eugenie Scott who never engage in this sort of atheist smear campaign. Stedman may wish to take a cue from them. Of course, then who would pay attention to him?

    As for the goals various atheists have, Hement Mehta links to an article in the USA Today that shows a huge rise in people who just don’t care about religion: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/12/25/apatheists-the-people-who-just-dont-care-about-religion/

    I think this is a definite step in the right direction of undoing this disturbing hold religion has had on people in America, and I credit the new atheists. It’s becoming increasingly embarrassing to identify as religious in America, and I think that is a very good thing.

    I don’t find Stedman and other faitheists (those who “believe in belief”) are particular good spokespeople for rational thinking; Rather, I think those he’s complaining about do a much better job. I’m glad he provided links to their posts so that people might judge for themselves. I bet that Greta and others mentioned will find themselves with even more fans.

  155. Steve Schuler says

    @John Morales

    Merry Christmas, John!

    John said:

    Steve Schuler @166, I asked for clarification, not condescending obfuscation.

    Steve now says:

    Which is somewhat ironic because (seriously) I could not make sense out of what you were asking me to clarify in #163 and thought you might be deliberately (or not) misunderstanding or obfuscating what I had said or what was presented in the article. Sitting here now I sincerely have no idea what it is that you would like me to clarify. Please feel free to offer me a specific question and you can be sure I will do my best to oblige you and respond to it. I could I possibly clarify someting when you have not made clear what it is you do not understand? Unfortunately, I am not a mind reader.

    From Comment #163:

    Steve Schuler previously said and was quoted in 163:

    “I think that you may be making too many presumptions about what I think and believe, but I’m not sure.”

    John said:

    Applied adaptive heuristics.

    (Much as Himself noted above: “I’m a situational arguer”.)

    Steve now says:

    As I already said in #166 “if you want me to have any understanding at all of how you think “applied adaptive heuristics” has any, even remotely, reasonable connection to my comment then you are going to have to flesh that out quite a bit. Good luck!”

    At present I still have absolutely no idea what you mean or meant by making such a laconic, vague, and ultimately incomprehensible statement such as that. How else could I respond to that statement other than as I did (with the exception of ignoring it entirely), making note that you are presently accusing me of obfuscation whilst ignoring my previous request for you to provide me with some clarification to work with your ‘riddle’. If that isn’t asking too much of you, although I think you are going to find that an exceedingly difficult challenge to realize. As I’ve already said, Good Luck!

    Moving on: John said in #169:

    “Again: why is it “food for thought” in regards to the topic (What Are The Goals of the Atheist Movement?), of what should it inform us, and how did you arrive at that conclusion?”

    Steve now says:

    What’s it to you, John? Are you a self-appointed “Hall Monitor” trying to make sure the thread stays on topic at this stage of it’s life? Whatever… If the article is of no interest to you just ignore it, if it was of interest to somebody else, that’s fine as well. I’ve already demonstrated the connection between the article and possible goals and tactics for ‘Serious Atheists’ in previous posts I’ve made in this thread. If you want to know the answer to your questions you can go back and read them. If not, then don’t. Somehow, I think you won’t.

    And finally

    John said in #169:

    “Here is an actual study from the same period, (J Gen Intern Med. 2005 July; 20(7): 629–634):
    Religious characteristics of U.S. physicians: a national survey, which doesn’t accord with the article about a study which you cited.”

    Steve now says:

    Well lo and behold, Johnny-Boy! That is, in fact, the very study from which the article I linked to was derived! If the article doesn’t accord to the study, then the fault can be attributed to the appropriate parties at the University of Chicago who both conducted the study and published the article. I’m sure they would love to hear your criticisms and have you point out the discrepancies between the study and the article that you have found. The University of Chicago has a reputation for excellence and I’m sure your corrections would get their full attention. If you don’t mind, please include a few of the most egregious errors you have discovered in the study which conflict with the article I linked to when you write back.

    I hope I’m not asking too much of you to provide the clarifications, discussion of your ‘riddle’, and the article/study discrepancies I have asked from you.

    Looking forward to hearing from you, John!

    Peace On Christmas Day,

    Steve

  156. Steve Schuler says

    @Beth

    Hey There Sister Sister!

    I just want to let you know that I have been very inspired by what you have written in this thread. I seem to be in total agreement with everything that you have said, and can only wish that I had as calm, cool, and collected a head as you apparently do. If not for your’s and Ariel’s presence in this discussion, I would be leaving here with considerably less optimism than I am. I could go into some detail as to the many areas of shared concerns and perspectives, but for now I hope that you knowing that I think your voice has represented my own thoughts and feelings better than I could have myself might provide you a little engouragement.

    Thanks

    Steve

  157. John Morales says

    Steve:

    That is, in fact, the very study from which the article I linked to was derived!

    What a coincidence, eh? ;)

    The slant of that write-up and your presentation was that doctors were surprisingly religious, but the way I read it is that they’re significantly less-so than the general population, and moreover much, much less likely to “rely on God” than the general population.

    (Also that, generally, physicians aren’t scientists)

    Please feel free to offer me a specific question and you can be sure I will do my best to oblige you and respond to it.

    In what way is those results not being anticipated by those who wrote the article to which you linked significant and relevant to this discussion, and how do you justify that opinion?

    [OT]

    At present I still have absolutely no idea what you mean or meant by making such a laconic, vague, and ultimately incomprehensible statement such as that [Applied adaptive heuristics].

    It was a response to your supposition, which I quoted, and pretty straight-forward. It was also an unimportant aside.

  158. DSimon says

    As far as irrationality and unseen forces goes, such words can describe science’s quantum mechanics and dark energy as well as myths and religious beliefs.

    Quantum mechanics makes very specific predictions which can be (and have been, repeatedly) verified to extremely high levels of precision. We know QM is true the same way we know that any other part of physics is true; it’s not mysterious, just counter-intuitive.

    Dark energy is a little different; it’s a hypothesis for explain a flaw in earlier physics models, which is that they didn’t predict that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. It’s the leading contender among several other possible explanations, but since we can’t detect it in a lab (yet), its existence is still appropriately considered to be an open question.

    So unseen I’ll grant you, at least in the literal sense (although keep in mind that that is also true of gravity, atoms, and the smell of flowers). But how are they irrational? Belief in these two things is justified in proportion to the amount of evidence available to support them; no more and no less. What could be more rational than that?

  159. Steve Schuler says

    @John Morales

    You haven’t come through with the goods, John. Am I surprised? No, not in the least bit. What I asked you to accomplish were three ostensibly simple tasks, derived entirely from what you have recently written in the course of our ‘discussion’, such as it has been. I say “ostensibly simple tasks” because they were only superficially simple. It had become very clear to me that you are fairly adept at, in the vernacular, talking out of your ass, and that you had blabbered yourself into a corner from which there was no retreat or escape. I knew full well that you were not capable of coherently responding to the requests that I made in my last post to you. If you had acknowledged your predicament, at least to yourself, and chosen to ignore my post and not to respond to it that would have been the end of it… game over, finis. Instead you have elected to offer up this mealy mouthed response and I feel obliged to send this final note to you.

    Bear in mind, my friend, that it was you, not me, who initiated and who has pursued this conversation to ‘Nowhere’.

    In any event, this dance is over.

    Peace

    Steve

  160. Steve Schuler says

    @John Morales

    Thanks for the links, John.

    The idea that I was hoping to get across by pointing out the level of religiosity amongst American physicians is that they could make the perfect target group for those who promote a confrontational approach to deconverting the religious in America. It’s easy for me to conjure up an image of hardline atheist activists in some manner targeting religious physicians as primary recipients to “argue with believers about religion, or to make fun of religion, or to insult it” (quoted from Greta’s blog post above). Of course such a stategy/tactic is absurd beyond comprehension, and I hope most people would see the sheer folly of it. Still, it is entirely consistent with Greta’s theses which might cause one to give pause and reflect further on the wisdom of what Greta is advocating.

    Fortunately there are more people who ‘talk the talk’ than ‘walk the walk’, so I don’t give much weight to, or have much concern over, this sort of empty pontificating.

    Peace to You, John, in the New Year!

    Steve

  161. sunnydale75 says

    Beth:

    It isn’t about tolerating any particular religious belief. What I find intolerant is setting a goal of eliminating all religious beliefs different from your own.

    -I find this baffling. In my post I listed several ways in which religious beliefs-beliefs specific and unique to various religions-that are either irrational or bring harm to others. My position is that harmful beliefs should definitely be confronted by strong, persuasive arguments to help people make more rational, reasonable decisions. I don’t want to make religion illegal. I don’t want to make decisions for people. I want people to understand that religious beliefs (by and large) are NOT beneficial to humanity. Rather, they are detrimental. Seeking to help others view the world through more rational eyes, rather than superstitious rose colored glasses is a goal worth working towards. I do not respect beliefs that bring harm toward others. I do not respect beliefs that are completely divorced from reality, yet seek to inform human actions.

    ME: Why on earth would anyone be *tolerant* of bigotry and discrimination against gays and women? Why would anyone be *tolerant* of child abuse/neglect and murder? Why would anyone be tolerant of a belief system that says you can’t dance (especially when there’s no good reason not to)?

    YOU:How does not agreeing with goal number two imply tolerating child abuse/neglect and murder? Hey, it doesn’t! I think you’ve gone overboard here.

    -Not in the slightest. You’ve stated that it’s intolerant to seek to eliminate religious beliefs. The cover up by the Catholic Church of all the children raped and molested is *definitely* tolerated by many. The murder (and yes, I consider it murder) of children through the spread of HIV/AIDS-strongly aided by the Church’s continued condemnation of condom use- in Africa is tolerated. Such actions would not continue if people did NOT tolerate them (or even, ::shudder::, embrace them). A belief system that tolerates vast amounts of child rape, molestation and murder is extremely harmful to humanity. The lack of humanity in those that tolerate such actions is horrible.

    ME: Then there are those religious beliefs which bring actual harm to people:
    -spare the rod spoil the child has resulted in the deaths of children as young as 6 months old
    YOU: I agree that such beliefs can lead to problems, but I don’t see them as being the source of such problems but merely one influence among many leading to such behavior.

    -I find it almost disturbing that you refer to religious beliefs that lead directly to the deaths of children to be “problems”.
    http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/08/fundamentalist-christians-spanked-daughter-to-death-in-the-name-of-god/
    It doesn’t get more plain than parents saying they regularly spank their children because they believe God told them to.

    I do not equate being atheist with being rational.

    -I did mistakenly give the impression that I feel this way. I’m sorry for that. You are quite correct that being rational isn’t unique to atheism, nor is it hand in hand.

    I see no reason to suppose that the rationality of average person would change if no one held any religious beliefs. What evidence do you have to support such a supposition?

    -Once more, I have to apologize. I mixed two arguments into one. I do believe that religious beliefs are harmful (some to a greater degree than others). I also believe that one’s beliefs and actions should be informed by logic, reason and rationality. Religious beliefs are too often irrational. However, they aren’t the only ridiculous beliefs that are harmful. There is/are (?) a lot of woo that harms people (whether physically or financially). Perhaps helping to develop rational thinking in others should be a goal of atheists as well, not just persuading people out of harmful beliefs.

    ME: The examples abound (the Crusades, Salem witch hunt, 9/11)…
    YOU: Sure, lots of examples abound. But those bad examples aren’t inherent to religion. In fact, they seem to me to be common to large human hierarchical organizational structures. I don’t find your argument convincing for that reason.

    -Ok, back to baffled. The Salem Witch Hunt wasn’t inherent to religion? The terrorist attack on the United States by religious extremists wasn’t inherent to religion?

    You are entitled to your belief as I am entitled to mine. I think we’ll simply have to leave it there.

    -I believe that my opinion is strongly informed by the direct, detrimental consequences of religious belief upon humanity. I get the impression that you don’t see religious beliefs as “all that bad”. The pervasiveness of superstitious belief is scary.

    Tony

  162. sunnydale75 says

    GAH!
    I’m still getting the hang of blockquotes, so the above response didn’t quite come out right.

    Tony

  163. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Steve:

    It’s easy for me to conjure up an image of hardline atheist activists in some manner targeting religious physicians as primary recipients to “argue with believers about religion, or to make fun of religion, or to insult it” (quoted from Greta’s blog post above).

    Oh, it’s much more general than that. Those doctors (no less than psychiatrists, counsellors, teachers and others who have influence over vulnerable people) pushing religion are themselves a symptom, not just a cause.

    No, it’s not so much about deconverting the religious, more about restraining them so they can properly compartmentalise. Religion should be a part of one’s private life, not about one’s professional life (obviously, the latter is problematic, where someone is a professional religious).

    Any antagonism is more properly applied in combating the disease than in ameliorating the symptoms (not that the latter ain’t worthwhile).

    cf. Atheists and Anger

    PS re: “argue with believers about religion, or to make fun of religion, or to insult it”; try changing ‘believers’ to ‘non-believers’ and ‘religion’ to ‘atheism’; ever see any examples of such? ;)

  164. articulett says

    No, Steve, just because you imagine Greta is advocating something bizarre that no one is actually doing doesn’t mean that Greta nor anyone else would go up to people minding their own business and ask them what magical things they believe in so that we could mock them. I know you imagine that there are atheists doing the equivalent of this– but I doubt anyone is. You should avoid the confrontational approach as well as “bad cop” because you have very poor communication skills. Stick to whatever works for you and whatever goals you wish to accomplish. I don’t think anyone here is going to be looking to you for communication advice nor how to achieve our goals as atheists.

    Did you read Stedman’s piece? The atheists that are being complained about write blogs and books– they speak at public events and do debates– but because people are not used to hearing religion being criticized, many people perceive them as being “confrontational”. Usually religionists come to them and not vice-versa. I don’t know of many new atheists purposefully seeking out religious folks minding their own business. I bet you some of the doctors in the study may have read some of their books or blogs of the “confrontational” atheists since that study and become atheists even! So you’ve really let your imagination go wild and it makes you look a little “out there”.

    If you want to know the affect that the more outspoken atheists have had on society, then we ought to survey doctors today– or just look at the healthiest societies– they are also the ones with the greatest number of non-believers. Scientific ignorance seems to be strongly correlated with both religiosity and social dysfunction, but it’s hard to know which causes which. I suspect the new atheists you have worried so much about have made many many people less superstitions– more secular, skeptical, and rational. These are qualities you may wish to work on in yourself. You aren’t really coming off as the peaceful well-reasoned guy you seem to imagine you are. If we want to understand the effect of the new atheists, we can find out by comparing studies from before 2005 (when the new Atheists came on the seen and more recent studies).

    Your bizarro link and imagined point only seems to make sense in your head. You have argued a straw man. No atheist is doing what you suggest nor would they. It’s a “Tom Johnson” story; it makes you feel like you are fighting for diplomacy when you are using an example that only exists in the minds of people like you. Your “suggestion” of what we ought to do is what the imaginary cabal of militant atheists are doing. But if you ACTUALLY look at the most confrontational thing any of the purported “confrontational new atheists” are doing, you might grasp how insane you sound to the rest of us. Even the “most confrontational” such as Hitchens wouldn’t do as you suggest.

    Why should we have to know or care what magical things our physician might be “into” any more than physicians should be asking their patients about such things? (Unless they were a psychicatrist and checking for delusion.)Shoudn’t this be the kind of thing that is kept private? It’s only when doctors are unable to keep their magical beliefs private that something needs to be said. I will assume my doctor is rational like me unless s/he feels compelled to reveal otherwise. I once had a dentist who revealed he was a creationists after I told him that (per a podcast I was listening to) genetic studies had just shown that the closest relative of a hippopotamus was the whale. I didn’t say anything upon learning of his delusion (he had sharp instruments in my mouth), but I did get a knew dentist. I don’t want a dentist that thinks hippos and whales poofed into existence as is. I want a doctor that I can respect.

  165. articulett says

    Oops– I got a “new” dentist– not a “knew” one.

    (My New Years resolution will be to proofread before hitting send.)

  166. sunnydale75 says

    Articulett:

    No, Steve, just because you imagine Greta is advocating something bizarre that no one is actually doing doesn’t mean that Greta nor anyone else would go up to people minding their own business and ask them what magical things they believe in so that we could mock them. I know you imagine that there are atheists doing the equivalent of this– but I doubt anyone is.

    and

    The atheists that are being complained about write blogs and books– they speak at public events and do debates– but because people are not used to hearing religion being criticized, many people perceive them as being “confrontational”.

    -It’s funny you say this. As I typed a response to Beth earlier, I wondered if the diverging conversations in this thread would converge, and I think with your post here, they have. I agree with you that people simply aren’t accustomed to hearing religion criticized. It’s become so ingrained in our culture (forgive me if you’re not an American; though religion pervades other societies as well) that it’s hard for people to realize that the “New Atheists” aren’t doing anything more than calling out religious beliefs and asking for those that hold them to be accountable for them (I’m reminded of an episode of ANGEL, where Buffy tells Angel that “…asking for help is saying HELP in a loud voice”; criticizing religion is nothing more than being vocal about it whenever its detrimental effects are felt…which sadly, are all too frequent). In the marketplace of public ideas, criticizing any belief is perfectly valid. Criticizing religion is made even more valid since religious believers accept unverifiable, untestable, unseen forces that *supposedly* violate the laws of nature (or physics if you prefer). I think religious beliefs have become accepted by so many people that even some non believers think those beliefs are innocent or harmless. Or they don’t see the benefits to guiding our actions based on verifiable, testable, observable forces.
    If many people still believed the world was flat, and confrontational atheists actively tried to persuade/convince people otherwise, would accommodationist atheists feel that’s going too far (I also wonder if it’s intolerant to attempt to persuade people-based on the available evidence-that acupuncture is no more effective than a placebo or that homeopathy is so fundamentally backwards that there’s no way it would work)?
    The silly beliefs of theists leads to creationism seriously being discussed alongside evolution. The silly belief in a likely non-existent higher power leads some people to think praying for rain has any chance of success. The silly beliefs of theists has directly resulted in discrimination of women and gays. The list goes on. Attempts by accommodationists to minimize the impact of religion are a strong reminder of the insidious nature of supernatural belief systems.

    Tony

  167. John Morales says

    sunnydale75,

    If many people still believed the world was flat, and confrontational atheists actively tried to persuade/convince people otherwise, would accommodationist atheists feel that’s going too far

    Huh.

    (Pithy)

  168. John Morales says

    [meta]

    PS Tony, why not change your display name on the dashboard, so you don’t need to sig your posts?

    (You can have spaces and caps)

  169. Tony says

    John Morales:

    PS Tony, why not change your display name on the dashboard, so you don’t need to sig your posts?

    (You can have spaces and caps)

    -Thanks for the advice. Just tried it out so we’ll see how this post works!

  170. Steve Schuler says

    @articulett

    Hey She-Dude!

    A funny thing just happened. I had composed a pretty long and somewhat detailed response to you in which I blabbered on about satire, literalist, polemic handwavers, entrenched ideologues, my own counterproductive rhetorical style and so on and so forth, when one of my cats jumped up on my keyboard and and sent all of my carefully crafted pontifications straight to Cyber-Hell. Perhaps it was an act of No-God, I don’t know, but it did force me to reconsider just what I wanted to say to you, which is something like this:

    If you, Greta, or anyone else wants to be an ‘Angry Atheist’ there is actually very little that I can do to alter that. Still, what I ‘ought’ to do is, of course, an open question. If I can infer from what Greta previously said to Kelly earlier in this discussion, she might respond to that query with something like, “Please don’t get in our way.”, as she steadfastly pursues ‘The Great Cause’. Who knows? In any event, one thing that I think that we all can agree on is that we do live in a Very Angry World. A question that I often pose to myself is this; In what ways do I contribute to the perpetuation of anger in the world? And likewise; In what ways can I help diminish anger in the world? Of course this presupposes the notion that a Less Angy World is, in itself, desirable, a theses which Greta Herself apparently would reject given her explicit regard for anger as a virtue. No doubt, some religionist have made great strides in innitiating and perpetuating Anger in our world, which is one reason I would personally like to see Bad Religion fade away and the sooner, the better. On the other hand, it is very difficult for me to see the sense in perpetuating anger, and the tactics of the ‘Angry’, under any banner whatever ‘Noble Cause’ with which it is adorned.

    These are merely the musings of an Auld Hippie, so take them for what they are worth, which might not be very much.

    Peace, Love, and Understanding,

    Steve

    PS

    For a little musical interlude in your day, and if you are a Neil Young fan, go here now to see Neil’s video, “Angry World”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uDwvJK0YdI

    If you are not a Neil Young fan, don’t go there now and spare yourself the pain.

  171. Tony says

    Steve:

    If you, Greta, or anyone else wants to be an ‘Angry Atheist’ there is actually very little that I can do to alter that.

    -I don’t know how many of Greta’s posts you’ve read (me, I soaked up post after post by her for weeks until I’d read most of them), but I’d hardly characterize her as an “angry atheist”. I don’t consider myself one either. Yes, there are many things in the world that make me angry. So I do find myself mad from time to time. Royally pissed off once in a while. Most of the time, however, I’m not angry. I’m usually a pretty mellow, easy going person prone to self deprecation, introspection, and way too much thinking (and not enough doing).
    Although I’m still new here, I have yet to see any so-called “angry atheists” do anything more than talk about their frustration with religion. Vocally, to be sure. Loudly speaking about the ills of religion does not automatically make one angry. I get the feeling the label is applied largely because so many people have been indoctrinated into religion, and even those that have broken free of that grip still maintain some of the trappings of religion. One of those appears to be a toleration of religion. Or perhaps, they don’t agree with the perception that religious belief is harmful. Either way, to one who prefers to “live and let live”, those atheists that are vocal get mis-characterized as angry.
    Let me state: Being outspoken and loud about the negative impact of religion does NOT equal being angry.
    (As well, anger is a natural human emotion. It does have uses, just like all other emotions. That atheists get angry over religious B.S. doesn’t mean that anger is misplaced. In fact, much of the crap done in the name of religion by deluded believers should make people angry. For many, however, when atheists call out those actions, they get labelled as angry. As if getting angry about human rights violations, child abuse and murder, and the degradation of women isn’t justified. The result can often be a diversionary tactic.)

  172. articulett says

    Those who imagine themselves “more-tolerant-than-thou” will see any criticism of religion as evidence of “atheist anger”.

    To me, they come across as passive-aggressive and not particular tolerant of atheists. I think their criticism of atheists makes them FEEL better about themselves… which may, in fact, be their goal, come to think of it. Perhaps they see themselves as peacekeepers of a sort and are peeved because no one else seems to see them as such. They then project this “anger” on to atheists and, in calling atheists “angry”, they start to feel like the “tolerant” diplomatic people they imagine themselves to be.

  173. Steve Schuler says

    @Tony
    (formerly sunnydale75 for anyone who missed the name shift)

    I hear you, Bro!

    Believe me, I’ve done my share of verbally deconstructing (euphemistically speaking, bashing is the word I would use if I wasn’t trying to be considerate) Bronze Age religious notions which continue to persist in our world and significantly impede a lot of potential progress that is critical for the betterment of life on our ever-shrinking planet. I also can appreciate the need for other people to vent their frustrations with brutal and primitive religious ideas and practices. In post #177 I said, “Fortunately there are more people who ‘talk the talk’ than ‘walk the walk’, so I don’t give much weight to, or have much concern over, this sort of empty pontificating.” So I clearly do not consider Greta’s rhetoric to pose much of a real threat to anyone. I also am no stranger to the emotion of anger, although I think that it is an emotion that needs to be acknowledged and then transformed and transcended before any good came come from it. If my experience in accomplishing that (transformation/transcendence) is any indicator, it is MUCH easier said than done!

    Although I was raised as a Christian I’ve been a non-believer since at least the age of 12 (I am now 55) as I can remember a specific incident in which I advised a Chinese friend of mine that I did not think he ought to convert from Buddhism to Christianity. My family was living in Taiwan at the time and a Chinese friend asked me if I thought it would be a good thing for him to become a Christian. Of course I can’t recall exactly the course of our conversation, but one way or another, I told him that I did not think that Christianity was the Truth. I guess that if were a Gnu Atheist at that time I would have advised him that he needed to drop religion altogether, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t. I am not at all sure how it was that I came to reject the religion of my family, although I suspect that reading “Hucklberry Finn” when I was about 10 may have set my little mind to thinking. I don’t know.

    I’ve never felt like I needed to conceal my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but at the same time, I’ve never felt compelled to challenge other people on their religious beliefs, or lack therof.

    If I’m understanding Greta correctly she is advocating, perhaps even as a moral imperative as Dan Dennett has explicitly stated, that at least some people ought to directly challenge ‘believers’ on their ‘beliefs’. I would like to know how many face to face encounters Greta has engaged in with real flesh and blood religious people, those whom she would like to deconvert, and how those ‘in your face’ engagements turned out. I would love to hear from Greta Herself as to her frontline experience in the war against religion, and she may have many battle scars to show for it for all that I know, but I am not holding my breath.

    Later Dude,

    Steve

  174. articulett says

    By the way, I don’t agree Steve that we live in a very angry world. Maybe Steve’s world is angry, but mine is fairly peaceful. We certainly live in a much more peaceful world than when religions ruled the land –according to Steven Pinker we live in the most peaceful time in human history. Currently the average human lifespan is the longest ever– thanks to reason and science. And the societies with the greatest peace as well as the greatest health and longest lifespans are the least religious. Decreasing religious superstition is a very noble goal, and clearly doesn’t lead to the horrors that religionists have been lead to fear.

    It certainly would be a much better world if more people handled their “anger” the way “new atheists” are– by writing books and blogs and speaking publicly using humor, honesty and reason– and not being afraid to call a spade a spade.

    I think religions have taught people to fear criticism of their faith with this idea that not having faith can lead to eternal damnation. The “new atheists” seem to have found a way to break through this brainwashing in a way that few others have and most people find it very freeing. And for those who are unable to be swayed– at least they are becoming quieter; they are learning to keep their religious beliefs private or amongst their own as they should.

  175. articulett says

    Steve, I don’t know any atheists that would challenge believers the way you seem to imagine it would go down in your head. Why don’t you look at the actual things the “gnu atheists” have said or done and see if there is ACTUALLY something you have a problem with or something that you think harms some goal… instead of letting your imagination run wild. Or ask them what they’d do if their friend asked about becoming a Christian– rather than imagining you KNOW what anyone would advice.

    All the critiques of the “more tolerant than thou” seem to be based on imaginary things that the “new atheists” are doing or advocating… not anything that is actually happening nor anything any one is actually advocating.

    When you argue against scenarios that only occur in your imagination, you are fighting a straw man. Why would Greta (or anyone) want to engage such a person? Neither she (nor any atheist as far as I can tell) seem to be anything like the “new atheist caricature” that exists in your mind.

  176. articulett says

    And for the record,I had a Taiwan exchange student who just wished me a Merry Christmas via e-mail. When he was here,we seldom discussed religion though he said he had met some Christian missionaries (I think he assumed all Americans were Christian)and he said they seemed nice. I just nodded my head and smiled. I have no idea what his religious beliefs, if any, were. He left housewarming presents for me that included a charm that was female and he said it was one of their gods or something like that– I believe it has to do with Japanese ancestor worship or something. I hung it on my Christmas tree and that will probably be the extent of any “religious” conversation I have with him.

    And I consider myself a new “gnu” atheist. I think you need to stop imagining what other atheists would do in various situations. Stick to what they actually do.

    I’m never the first to bring up religion in real life. But when people start a sentence: “Of course we are all born in original sin…” (as a theist once did), I’ll make sure to let them know that lots of people (including me) don’t believe such a thing. I think it’s important for religionists to stop assuming that everyone believes as they do– and to quit thinking of their supernatural beliefs as facts. As far as this atheist is concerned Christians are as off base as they think the Muslims, Scientologists, and believers in Greek myths are. I think that there are some who would truly want to know if they were wrong and so would go for the more truthful approach of the new atheists versus the garbled “courtier’s reply” of those who feel the urge to protect “faith”.

  177. Steve Schuler says

    @articulett

    Aloha Again, Duderina!

    I am starting to consider the possibility that we are, in fact, living in different worlds as you suggested in post #193. I live in an Angry World, you live in a (fairly) Peaceful World. I live in a world where the written word means one thing, you live in a world where the same words mean something entirely different. For example, Greta opened her article in this blog post thusly (with the opening statement being that of an ‘accomadationist’):

    “It doesn’t do any good for atheists to argue with believers about religion, or to make fun of religion, or to insult it. In fact, it’s counter-productive. It actually hurts our cause.”

    We see this argument a lot among atheists. And my usual response is to say, “Does not!”

    And Greta closed her article thusly:

    “But if you’re arguing that confrontationalism — arguing with believers about religion, or making fun of it, or insulting it —is hurting our cause, then before you pursue that argument, I think it’s worth asking: Which cause, exactly, are you talking about?”

    Which, with my perhaps idiosyncratic understanding of the English language, I take to mean that Greta is advocating direct confrontation, explicitly including “making fun of” and “insulting” religion, in conversation with ‘believers’. Now, on Planet articulett these same words and phrases apparently are not to be taken literally but perhaps rather as metaphors or it could be that the entire composition is actually an allegory. On Planet Steve I have to take what Greta says at face value.

    I’m sure Greta Herself could shed some light on the real meaning of her words and thereby take the burden off of you (and Tony) as you try to speak, admirably, in her defense, but I do not think that it is fair of Greta to leave this task to you guys (using “guys” in a gender neutral sense, much the same as I usually use “Dude”, unless someone objects).

    P3ACE

    Steve

  178. Tony says

    Steve (apologies to you and anyone else who reads this, as it’s a bit long winded):

    I am starting to consider the possibility that we are, in fact, living in different worlds as you suggested in post #193.

    -I don’t think it’s different worlds. I think it’s about different goals. To avoid more confusion on my part, what is your goal, if indeed you have one?

    I’m in agreement with Greta about seeking a world without religious beliefs, or at least one where atheism is far more prevalent. I would add to that, however, and state that I would like the people of the world, one day, to embrace the concepts of rationality, logic, and reason. I’m aware that it’s an uphill battle. I know that we’re practically wired to think illogically and irrationally. However, I do not feel irrationality is-in the long term-beneficial to our species. Seeking to eliminate religion is a huge step in that direction, as religious belief is innately irrational and illogical. I believe that woo of all kind (from religious beliefs to homeopathy) will decline as more and more people embrace reason, logic, and rationality. At this point in my life, I don’t feel I’m in the position to pursue this goal to any great degree (educating others is where I feel I can be most effective; thus, furthering my education is of utmost importance). However, since discovering FtB, I’ve discovered that these are goals I embrace. I think they’re goals worth living and fighting for. For the record, I do not advocate violence of any sort in the pursuit of this goal. Now, enough of me.

    Which, with my perhaps idiosyncratic understanding of the English language, I take to mean that Greta is advocating direct confrontation, explicitly including “making fun of” and “insulting” religion, in conversation with ‘believers’.

    -I agree with your understanding of her words, but I think you misinterpret the actions that she undertakes in pursuit of her goal. I’m not attempting to speak for her, merely expressing how I interpret her words. When you think of “direct confrontation”, what comes to mind? Do you envision Greta walking up to a random stranger, asking their religious preference, and then making fun of or mocking them? Do you think she randomly inserts ridicule of religious belief into any conversation? I don’t know if she does, but based on reading many of her posts, I do not think this is her approach. Yet, I get the feeling that accommodationists imagine that this is the approach. As someone who agrees with her, I can say that when a conversation turns to a religious topic, I’ve found myself being more outspoken about my opinions. The key is in waiting for the appropriate time. Not randomly starting confrontations. If the subject of politics comes up in conversation, I’m likely to speak up. I will let people know my extremely low opinion of the entire slate of Republican candidates. I will let people know that I don’t think President Obama is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but that he is far and away a better option than what the Republican party has put forth. Why should voicing your opinion (as well as your reasons for said opinion) and informing others that you disagree with them-when the subject has been brought up in conversation-be considered off limits? If the topic of religion comes up, why should anyone speak softly? Out of respect for the beliefs of others? Perhaps those beliefs are not worthy of being respected. In the wake of Christopher Hitchens’ death, there were people that discussed his opinion on the Iraq War. People did the same while he was alive. His opinion of the Iraq War was something many found intolerable and not worthy of respect. If an individual voices their opinions or beliefs in public and anyone disagrees, should that belief be respected? I do not think so. It would be dishonest to feign respect where none is felt. When Rick Perry publicly asked for a day of prayer for rain in Texas, was it disrespectful or intolerable to make fun of it? Some people say yes. These people may feel that this belief is off limits. That no matter how ridiculous the belief, it belongs to an individual and one must respect the belief *and* the individual. I do *not* respect Rick Perry, nor do I respect his beliefs. Am I supposed to remain silent with my disapproval? If I speak up, am I supposed to whisper? Should I send him an email? Should I scream out from the crowd? I think the answer each person comes up with will illuminate one of the key differences between “accommodating atheists” and “outspoken atheists”.

  179. Tony says

    Steve:

    but I do not think that it is fair of Greta to leave this task to you guys

    -Btw, I don’t for a second think this is what’s occuring. It is the holiday season and it’s entirely possible she is simply too busy to respond. Perhaps she’s read all the comments and hasn’t had time to respond to them all. Perhaps she feels she’s responded enough. Perhaps…you get the idea. More to the point, I’m not defending Greta per se. I agree with her points and I’m giving my own personal opinions which happen to be seen as defending her beliefs.

  180. Tony says

    Steve:

    I’ve never felt like I needed to conceal my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but at the same time, I’ve never felt compelled to challenge other people on their religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

    -I should have read this first before those long winded responses above. The fact that you don’t challenge the beliefs of others-for whatever reason-is where you and I (along with others) disagree. If the beliefs of others, when voiced publicly, were not harmful (which I believe religious beliefs are), I can’t imagine I would say anything. If someone holds the belief that chocolate cheesecake is the best dessert, and I disagree (which I do, btw; give me a plain old brownie with vanilla ice cream), the discussion really doesn’t have anywhere to go. Now if someone thinks it’s a great idea to feed chocolate cheesecake to a dog, I’m sure as heck to voice my opinion that it’s wrong. When the beliefs held by others-especially irrational beliefs-bring harm, I’m likely to speak up. I feel there are too many examples of religious beliefs bringing harm to others. Challenging those beliefs and attempting to show why they are harmful (incidentally, I don’t just mean harm to myself, but others, even people I don’t know) as well as mistaken is something I believe in.

  181. articulett says

    I think Greta has been more than clear. But because you still seem lost:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2009/12/09/atheism-and-diversity/

    I have a feelings she’s having fun spending the holidays with her new kittens and can’t be bothered to respond to your assorted straw me.

    I don’t see her advocating going up to people minding their own business and keeping their supernatural beliefs to themselves as they do in your imaginary scenarios– how would anyone even know people believe in supernatural things unless they make a display of such? I tend to assume people are rational until something clues me in to the fact that they are not. I’ve never known any atheist to act as they do in your imagination– not even the super “strident” (ha) ones like Dawkins. But I’ve seen the accommodationist crowd drag out the caricature over and over.

    I think it’s obvious that what Greta is advocating is treating religious claims and religious superstitions the way we treat other “out there” claims about reality rather than giving them special respect. Belief in a 3-in-1 god is really no more worthy of respect than belief in demons or fairies. You are free to treat it as if was a belief worthy of deference, but why should anyone else? Is there any ACTUAL thing “confrontational” atheists are doing that you object to? Or is it just the stuff you’ve imagined Greta is advocating?

    Catholics can respect blessed crackers and Mormons can respect magic underwear– but why should we? For many former members of these religions, goofing on such beliefs is freeing.

    Do you think it’s a good thing that people are no longer sacrificing virgins to gods? Is it a good thing that fewer people believe in witches and spells and curses? If someone is praying rather than seeking medical attention for their sick kid, shouldn’t somebody try and talk sense into them?

    There’s no such thing as invisible/magical beings (or rather there is no more evidence for the ones we call gods than there are for the ones we call fairies)– when should this become a part of common human knowledge? How long are we going to let people manipulate others into believing these things are real? How long are we going to let people claim to speak to gods or threaten children with hell? Don’t you think it’s sad and twisted that so many people imagine that their eternity depends on what they BELIEVE? Shouldn’t they be more interested in the truth that is the same for everybody no matter what they believe? And yet their religions have made them afraid of that truth. I advocate being a “candle in the dark”. I think the “confrontational” atheists are much better at illuminating the way than their critics.

    Not everyone wants to play along with the lie or pretend that it’s good to believe such things. Many of us are glad that the conversation is out there– thanks to the “new atheists” and their “confrontational” books and blogs (which no theist ever need to read if their feelings are too easily hurt.)

    *The Chinese Goddess hanging on my fiber optic Christmas tree is named Mazu.

  182. Steve Schuler says

    @Tony

    Hey Again, Bro-Dude!

    As I’ve followed your comments throughout this discussion, particularly this last one directed to me, I get the sense that your head is screwed down tight and that you are going in the right direction.

    Marilyn Manson titled his autobiography “The Long Hard Road Out of Hell” which I think is an appropriate metaphor to describe the progress of humanity in general and in some cases it may even be useful to describe the course of an individual’s life. Bad Religion has certainly made it’s contribution to creating and perpetuating Hellish conditions on Earth. Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia (all of them arguably secular religions, a modern invention) also made enormous contributions to realizing Hell on Earth for many people, not least of whom were traditionally religious people targeted by anti-religous, atheistic zealots. Typically you might encouter this observation in discussion with Christian apologists and your reflexive response might be to dismiss consideration of it’s implications entirely, however I think that would be a mistake. I think that it is important for us to try to sort out just what it is within us that drives us to engage in cruel and barbaric behaviors. Primitive religions certainly play their role, but I think it is very mistaken to focus too much emphasis on their elimination as being a primary goal which will allow the spontaneous advancement of civilization. While it may not be an entirely appropriate analogy, simply ousting Saddam Hussein’s regime as an oppressive and tyrantical force in Iraq has not resulted in it’s desired goal of creating the spontaneous flourishing of secular democracy, even after 8 years of war, thousands and thousands of lost and mangled lives, and I think over a trillion dollars ‘invested’ in the enterprise.

    I realize that your goals are essentially grounded in a secular humanist ethic, as are mine, and I think most people who identify as ‘atheists’ in America as well, so my excursion into the land of “Beware” as presented above may seem, or may even be, entirely unwarranted. Still, I think it worthwhile that we keep some of these thoughts in mind, particularly when a ‘confrontationalist’ advises a more moderate activists to, “Please don’t get in in our way”. I don’t know about you, but where I come from ‘Them’s Fightin’ Words, Cuz’!

    Oh Yeah, I almost forgot! My goals? As I stated in a previous post; Peace, Love, and Understanding. I like to keep it simple, if not easy!

    P3ACE,

    STEVE

  183. Steve Schuler says

    @articullett

    Fe-Dude!

    I find it difficult to believe that you actually read my last comment to you. Please turn your brain on first, then read!

    No need to respond.

    Later, Maybe Much

    Steve

  184. Steve Schuler says

    @Tony

    When I said:

    “I’ve never felt like I needed to conceal my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but at the same time, I’ve never felt compelled to challenge other people on their religious beliefs, or lack thereof.”

    I wrote that knowing that it was a gross over-simplification and thought about qualifying my outlook but didn’t.

    I was very good friends in high school with a fellow (Doug Groothuis) who went on to become a born again Christian, attain a Phd. in philosophy from a secular university (University of Oregon) and has authored 12 books, the most recent a 780 page text on Christian aplogetics. He teaches philosophy at the Denver Seminary as well as working as an adjunct professor of philosophy in secular universities. I have engaged with him at a reasonably high level of discourse, of course it has been to no avail for either of us to persuade or convert the other. I am no stranger to philosophical and religious discussion, although I am far from being Pro at it. Of course you couldn’t have possibly known this if I hadn’t told you. Now I have.

    Laterer Dude,

    Steve

  185. harkonnen says

    I don’t like lying. So I’m going to say what I think about religion. This may insult some people, but they will eventually get over it and maybe even think about it. It is easy to get offended. I think it is also a matter of intent. My intention is not to insult, but enlighten. I actually believe I show respect to people by not lying or misleading them.

  186. Bruce Gorton says

    Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia (all of them arguably secular religions, a modern invention) also made enormous contributions to realizing Hell on Earth for many people, not least of whom were traditionally religious people targeted by anti-religous, atheistic zealots.

    Just a nitpick but…

    Taoism is a secular religion, and Hinduism includes secular schools. Secular religion is not actually a modern invention by any means. It is thoroughly ancient.

    This is one of those things that it is important to remember, that the Western Abrahamic religious concept isn’t universal throughout history. It is one of the reasons why the argument that religion is universal is so weak – religions often end up so different that they have about as much in common with atheism as they do to each other.

  187. Steve Schuler says

    WHO IS CHRIS STEDMAN?

    I couldn’t get that question out of my mind. Was he some sort of an Atheist counter-part to the ellusive John Gault made famous in “Atlas Shrugged”?

    I had to know. I needed to get to the truth. I needed to find out for myself. Was this mysterious character a bearer of light and reason in the smoke filled world of polemic anti-theism where heat is valued over light and poorly rationalized bigotry trumped sound and compassionate reasoning? Or was he, as others had proclaimed, a contemptible and pathetic traitor to the true atheist cause?

    Search Terms: STEDMAN ATHEIST CONTROVERSY

    First hit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-stedman/atheist-activism-problems_b_1164399.html

    YOU READ-YOU DECIDE

  188. Steve Schuler says

    @Bruce Gorton

    Good points, Bruce!

    I think that there are a lot of self-proclaimed atheist who have very little knowledge of the incredible range of religious diversity that has, and does, exist in the world. Some could probably be better described as A-God of Abrahamist, as that is the extent of their knowledge of religion and philosophy. Anyhow, the subject of human religions is pretty broad and deep and the further you delve into it, the more complex it becomes. Personally I think that ‘religion’, in one form or another, is going to persist for a very long time, and with good reason. The example of totalitarian communistic cultures is but one example of many possible secular religions.

    Thanks for your correction!

    Steve

  189. frankstonehouse says

    Thanks Greta

    The main goal as I see it is saving defenseless and gullible children from being born into or indoctrinated into a lifetime of supernatural beliefs. No one should have the power to force this on children. At first, as a young child, I like so many other went along with what seemed normal. Then as I got older I realized how wrong it was and that I was forever trapped .. at least until I got out of the house. It’s a form of forced slavery. Many youth never reach the realization that I did and other nonbelievers that have escaped the clutches and evils of religious myths. I think we owe it to the children .. they are stand alone human beings that should have more rights than they currently do.

    Just as smoking is against the law for minors, so should religious indoctrination. Let them choose a path forward as adults when their critical thinking skills are at a higher level. We don’t force children into the military, into a life of smoking, into sexual relations, etc. Why? because these things can be potentially harmful to their development. Children are individuals with rights. Children are NOT the property of their guardians. Just as everyone contributes towards the education of all children … so should we about other aspects of their welfare.

    If starting tomorrow, children were forced to believe in voodoo or witchcraft, the entire country would charge in and fight against it … but we treat religion with kid gloves. But, there is no real difference between religion and voodoo and witchcraft and on and on.

    It is time to stop abusing children, period. There should be ZERO tolerance from all human creatures!

    :) Frank in Mexico

  190. Josh says

    This is full of so much irony it’s entertaining. I believe the real issue is that reasonable people, regardless of what they believe, find many atheists as annoying and irritating as any theist. In fact, atheists are not as far removed from the religious people they ridicule; both sides are zealous in their beliefs and argue with such fervor that his point of view is the correct point of view.

    I will never understand why people put so much time and energy into something that isn’t even real — on both sides.

  191. Bruce Gorton says

    To me, atheist activism is not simply about atheist rights or atheists being accepted in the larger community. The main goal, and reason we want greater skepticism in the world is not about us, it is about giving people the tools to protect themselves against predators who use universal cognitive weaknesses to prey on them.

    Those same tools, can also help people avoid following dictators. It is not atheism that is the heart of the cause, but doubt.

    In America you have the odd occasional child dying because his or her parents didn’t go to a doctor. In this same society you have constant harangues to have faith, you even have it on your currency. You have TV personalities talking about how those who do not have faith have no morals, you have politicians using religion as an election vehicle and it is not just the rightwing in this.

    Those parents I pity because they do what American society as a whole tells them to do, tells them is the ultimate moral good to do, heck argues it is immoral not to do, and then when the inevitable happens, when their child dies, they become a sick carnival attraction, freaks and idiots, nevermind their grief.

    We are the voices that howl “Can’t you see what is wrong with this?”

    We are the voices that say “Stop believing, take your kid to the doctor.” We are the only ones willing to give that warning. It is not just about us, it is not just about being able to eat ice-cream at Skepticon. While that actually does matter, it can’t be where our activism ends. Nor can it end at atheism.

    We have a lot of people telling us to be nice, to stop being so confrontational.

    We never once see those same people actually dealing with the Michael Pearls of the world. They talk about compassion, well where is it? There is just a polite tone telling people to care less.

    Apathy isn’t empathy.

    The thing about nice guys is, they are not actually nice. The thing about nice guy atheism is, it isn’t either. We aren’t out to convert people, we are out to deconvert them. To convince people that they do not need a “higher authority” but to instead be their own authorities.

    We do not need agreement, we need thought. We want people to recognise their own doubts not as failings, but as strengths. To see the good in taking the time to examine why they believe things.

    A confrontational approach I think works for this because when we talk about confrontation what we actually mean is “Putting an argument across without apologising for it.” We mean raising our doubts freely and honestly, we mean responding to arguments that are put to us, and making a few of our own.

    We also mean having the temerity to recognise silencing tactics for what they are, and slamming those who use them. We also mean having the temerity to call those who lie to us liars, to point out with relish the flaws in an argument and to raise alarm bells over abuse.

    Tone matters – but that doesn’t mean an aggressive tone is the wrong one to use. You don’t have police sirens blaring lullabies.

    Sometimes being noisy and objectionable is precisely the right way to go, because anything else is just going to be ignored. When Madelyn Murray O’Hair died, the accommodation movement celebrated and declared they could at last make such great progress.

    And under a decade later the US saw an evangelical nutjob in the oval office, the introduction of “Spiritual fitness” to the military, abstinence only requirements in US government sex ed programs, almost no progress on evolution education etc…

    Great progress?

    About the best progress that has occurred had come after the rejection of such “politeness” by writers like Richard Dawkins, and the damage from those years of politely doing nothing has accumulated. That police siren worked while the lullaby did nothing.

  192. Tony says

    Josh:

    I will never understand why people put so much time and energy into something that isn’t even real — on both sides.

    -Read Bruce’s post @212 and you will see why it is imperative to combat religion. I would say that perhaps you do not see the harm done by and in the name of religion. Hence, why you fail to understand why atheists would seek to combat it.
    If there was no negative impact of religious belief, I can’t imagine many atheists would waste their time arguing against religion. Unfortunately, we live in a world where that’s not the case. Whether it’s indoctrinating children at a young impressionable age, spreading harmful ideas about sex and sexuality, ostracizing those who don’t agree with them (to the point that people lose their jobs, their community, and sometimes their family), forming political policies based on imaginary beings in the sky, or touting faith as being of the utmost importance, the pervasiveness of religion is apparent in every day life. Here in the United States, we live in a society that rarely criticizes religion. That’s why the issues I just listed-issues that are deliberately not of the “brings physical harm to the individual” type-go unnoticed by many.
    Why do we not question George W Bush when he asserts that he’s doing god’s work in his “war on terror”?
    Why do we not question forcibly imprinting religious belief upon an impressionable child (I’ve found in some cases that parents will assert that they give their child the opportunity to “choose” a religion. Of course, this is after many, many years of instilling their one, chosen, “true” belief, thus nearly insuring that their child will not seriously consider another religion to be valid)?
    Why do we not question the ethics or legality of someone being fired for being atheist or being treated as the black sheep of the family for not believing?
    Why is the truthfulness of religion not questioned in matters of sex? If god tells us that being gay is wrong, why does no one question whether or not there *is* a god to say that in the first place?
    When people start to realize how deep religious belief is embedded in the culture here in the US, they will start to understand why atheists choose to speak up. Until one understands that religion intrudes upon the lives of far too many people (even in ways not readily apparent, such as those places that are not open on Sundays), they will not understand why it’s necessary to combat superstitious beliefs.

  193. Steve Schuler says

    @John Morales

    Thanks for the links, Dude!

    I knew that there had been a conflagation surrounding Stedman a few days ago in this thread, but I didn’t realize that it was a current event. I only discovered the Huff-Po article by Stedman today, my first introduction to anything that he has written Yeah, well behind the curve is my typical status on most things. Oh well, there may be other laggers following this thread who will benefit from my link.

    Later Broster,

    Steve

  194. Josh says

    I understand it is an effort to protect humanity from the injustices of organized religion, but that does not seem to have been the agenda for many atheists. It seems many are resigned to simply pointing out that belief in god is juvenile and without merit and merely stop at that.

    What say those who have a belief in god but reject the tenets of many organized religions? There are those who make a distinction between theism and organized religion. Do they not deserve the same respect for their beliefs that you demand from others? It seems that, if the agenda is to rid the world of the plague of religion, the technique would be better suited to attacking the religious establishment than whether or not god actually exists.

    “Let humanity be free to think as each individual desires, so long as he believes how we think he should”

  195. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Josh:

    There are those who make a distinction between theism and organized religion. Do they not deserve the same respect for their beliefs that you demand from others?

    To whom do you address this, and to what “respect for their beliefs” do you refer?

  196. Steve Schuler says

    @Josh

    Welcome to the mosh pit, Brolio!

    Judging from your comment above you are a sophisticated enough thinker to appreciate the depth and diversity of philosophical theistic and non-theistic, or anti-theistic, thought as well as the complicating sociological factors of both secular and relgious considerations. Correct me if I am wrong in making such bold inferences from the little you have written, though.

    If so, let me caution you that you have entered a forum in which such considerations apparently ellude most of the participants.

    My old pal, John, has invited you to ‘dance’. Before you take him up on that offer I suggest that you scan back through the comments above and see how my own ‘waltz’ with John progressed. My experience of “Dancing With John’ is that he will taunt you with somewhat vague or cryptic questions, respond with amorphous or incomprehensible statements and include even more questions of dubious value or significance. In the end, after the nature of his game and his own inability to coherently respond to my questions became abundantly clear, I had to advise him, “In any event, this dance is over.”

    Now, don’t get me wrong, John is a true Broster. Just don’t let him fuck with you, and believe me he will if you let him.

    P3ACE

    STEVE

  197. says

    To be honest, I don’t quite understand what you are saying here.

    If you are pointing out that atheists don’t all have the same goals, fine, that’s stating the obvious. But if you are telling me that standing up for the cause and to be strong and forceful about it is wrong and will not help, I must strongly protest.

    The only way to get things done in this country is to put your message in the limelight. That’s why instead of keeping quiet about our atheism, we should push it into society so that it can finally be accepted. T.V adds, Cabel T.V appearances, etc. are what we need. If you are actually suggesting that such controversy is bad for any of the atheist causes, I honestly think you are part of the problem not the solution. Atheists should stand up for what they believe in, just like pastors and churches do for their own causes.

    The link below provides a better, more thorough argument for what I am trying to say.
    http://jesusmustbestopped.blogspot.com/2011/12/religion-is-biggest-insult.html

  198. Bruce Gorton says

    Do they not deserve the same respect for their beliefs that you demand from others?

    Hang on one minute.

    Imagine for a second a scientist demanding, in serious scientific research, that the absence of evidence contradicting the existence of the subject of his or her research one can reasonably assume it exists.

    Imagine if the argument raised for the lack of evidence contradicting that subject, was in part due to how vaguely that scientist actually defined the given subject.

    And upon it being pointed out that his argument has no evidence for it, that scientist then went on to proclaim belief in his subject not existing to be just as unfounded as belief in it existing.

    What I have just described is basically liberal religion in a nutshell. That is the reasonable deist style religion and tell me it wouldn’t be laughed out of any debate if it wasn’t about God.

    Actually lets dial that back a bit – imagine any religious claim subjected to the same scrutiny one reads a newspaper article. A journalist is trained to subject all claims to scrutiny except in the field of religion.

    Imagine the same scenario up above, but a journalist talking about say, a random event. The editor would laugh that journalist out of his or her office, and probably call a disciplinary hearing.

    We actually ARE treating religion with the same level of respect we demand for our own beliefs. The trouble is, religion has been so privileged for so long that its proponents aren’t used to this equal respect, and don’t quite realise that such a concept does not in fact equal being nice.

  199. says

    Anonymous @221: Say what? Um, read the original post again. Greta’s in agreement with you. I have no idea how you got the impression she might be saying something so totally opposite of what she actually said.

  200. says

    The problem with trying to persuade people out of religion is that you’re trying to argue against what is coming to be seen as a basic biological imperative, in other words humans are for the most part “wired” to put their faith in something unseen and unknown. Maybe many of us are, like those who exhibit orientations beyond the norm, “missing” that wiring or more likely have it present but wired in a different way, as a belief in “non-belief” might still be a belief in and of itself.

    I think the Atheist movement needs it’s Malcom X’s… but we also need a Martin Luther King or two as well.

  201. Bill says

    Most movement can be resolves with legislation. Civil right movement gave us the Voting Rights Act. Suffrage gave women the right to vote. But you cant legislate away religion and even if you try. It wont work. Religion is a idea and killing a idea is almost impossible. I dont see religion going away. It might change and become more moderate. But that’s about it. Some have turned to christian universalism. As agnostic. I really could give a rats ass about who is right. In my opinion there not enough evidence to prove it either way and all this talk is nothing but semantics. But i get sick of Atheist acting like assholes to people of religion or Religious acting like assholes to atheist. Ive seen it on both sides. How are you going be respected. If you offer none in return.

  202. says

    1. Accommodationists are working to convince the religious to treat infidels more fairly. Their goal is secular public policy, protect minorities, agree to disagree.

    2. New Atheists are asking non-churchgoers to pick a side between academia and spirituality. Their goal is to influence private beliefs. That professors know more than holymen do about earthy matters and the divine.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] (I suppose one response could be: Is it fruitful for believers to be activists about religion, but:) Chris Stedman asks, at Huffington Post: The question of how atheist activists should address religion is a recurring hot topic among atheists. Yesterday, it was brought to light by prominent atheist activist Greta Christina, who wrote an important blog post titled “What Are The Goals of the Atheist Movement?“ [...]

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