Token Skeptic Interview – On Faitheism With Chris Stedman

The latest Token Skeptic podcast is now out! Thanks to everyone who has been very patient while I’ve been busy with studies, checking that the podcast is ready to be released – and not keeping a very regular schedule with the show.

There should be two more Token Skeptic episodes at the very least coming out in April, but since there’s also at least three conferences in quick succession over the next two months (including my MC role at the Global Atheist Convention!) – well, I’m not promising a lot of action on the podcast-front until April is well and truly over.

I do have some news though – I’ll be involved with the Media 140 Digital Futures three day event here in Perth, but I’ll hold back on all the details until things have been properly finalised and some meetings and networking have been completed. I’ll certainly be focusing my podcasting efforts on producing more information about the tri-partite conference that’ll be happening from the 26-28th April in central Perth – called Digital Me, Digital Family and Digital Business.

Until then, enjoy the listen and remember to sign up for the Fringe events for the Global Atheist convention, especially the Road Less Traveled fringe event of the Global Atheist Convention, with PZ Myers, Chris Stedman, Leslie Cannold and Meridith Doig.

Chris Stedman is the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University and the Managing Director of State of Formation, a new initiative at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. Chris received an MA in Religion from Meadville Lombard Theological School at the University of Chicago, for which he was awarded the Billings Prize for Most Outstanding Scholastic Achievement. A graduate of Augsburg College with a summa cum laude B.A. in Religion, Chris is the founder and author of the blog NonProphet Status. His soon-to-be-released book is called Faitheist: How An Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious and he speaks on it regularly both by invitation and as a member of the Secular Student Alliance Speakers Bureau.

Here’s a partial transcript as to how the interview went (mp3 download here):

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The Stedman paradox

Ah, Chris Stedman. He visited Morris today, and gave a presentation at the Federated Church before sending people off to community activities. He was a very nice guy, and he told some very nice stories, and he was just generally nice. Nice. Lots of niceness. A whole afternoon of nice. So I will restrict myself to entirely constructive criticisms.

  • Why in a church? This was an event organized by Morris Freethinkers, representing their interest in promoting positive community interactions. I would have been more impressed if it were held in a secular venue, if it were made clear that these were atheists doing good, and challenging community Christians to join us. Instead, by putting it immediately under the umbrella of religion, the impression was made that we are following, not leading.

  • I’ve been in churches before, and this talk was indistinguishable from anything that might be said in a liberal Christian church anywhere: be kind, charity is rewarding, it’s good to help your fellow human beings. Aside from saying that he was an atheist a few times, there was nothing to make this talk stand out…absolutely nothing to explain why atheists also find virtue in kindness and charity and goodness. It does not make a case for atheism if you blend into the religious woodwork so thoroughly.

  • It didn’t help that, when describing his background, Stedman talked about being a religious studies major, a seminarian, doing interfaith work, hammering on his associations with the faithful. Oh, and by the way, he’s an atheist. Yeah? This is a guy who’s been neck-deep in Christianity his entire life, hasn’t removed himself from it at all but has made a career of immersing himself ever deeper in Jesus’ pisswater, and occasionally waves a tiny little flag that says “atheist” on it. I’d like to see Stedman actually challenge his audiences and make a real case for rejecting faith, while supporting good works, but I don’t think he could do it.

  • I was entirely sympathetic to the planned community activities (assisting in the art gallery in town, visiting the elderly, doing a highway cleanup), but I couldn’t do them as part of a church group, as a matter of principle. Who was going to get credit for this work? The church, of course. I will not and can not do that; it’s providing support for beliefs I consider contemptible. What would have been better is something to inspire freethinkers to do these works without the framework of a church. We are free of that bogus crap, let’s not promote the illusion that charity is part of religion.

  • Please don’t ask me to participate in anything held in a church again. It felt icky. I really don’t like temples to ignorance, even liberal ignorance.

I know the students mean well. I know the students want to do good for entirely secular reasons. What we need, though, are tools and ideas and inspiration to do so that don’t fall back on the trappings of religion, which simply reinforce the entirely false notion that morality is a function of the church. That’s how we got into this cultural trap in the first place, by perpetually promoting the belief that goodness equals godliness, and Stedman’s approach provides no escape hatch.

PZ Myers, Leslie Cannold, Chris Stedman – The Road Less Traveled Fringe Event

I’m going to see if I can get more information about what they’ll be talking about precisely – but here’s the details and tickets are going fast! Do get one if you’re around after the Global Atheist convention!

Can believers and atheists work together for the common good? Join Chris Stedman, PZ Myers & Leslie Cannold in conversation with Meredith Doig. An oficial fringe event of the 2012 Global Atheist Convention.

Monday, April 16, 2012 – 6:00pm until 8:00pm
Elisabeth Murdoch, University of Melbourne
Tickets: Standard $22, Students $12
Order online: http://roadlesstraveled.eventbrite.com/

It’s on the Monday AFTER the Global Atheist Convention, and if you’re unable to afford the event – especially if you are a student – this is a fantastic way of getting to see three presenters (with the MC Meredith Doig, who was at the 2010 GAC) with lots of discussion and interaction. With PZ and Chris and Leslie – for two hours! This is a real bargain, quite frankly!

Me vs. Chris Stedman

How do I get myself talked into these things? I have two events with the slithery Chris Stedman coming up: first, he’s speaking at the Midwest Science of Origins Conference in Morris next week. He’s scheduled for April Fools’ Day, so I’m hoping the student organizers are just going to hand him an exploding cigar and then put out his flaming hair with a swirlie…but I suspect they’re actually going to take him seriously and give him time to annoy me.

Second, the day after the Global Atheist Convention, as part of their fringe events, I’m speaking at this event: PZ Myers, Leslie Cannold, Chris Stedman – The Road Less Traveled, in which I’m supposed to talk about whether believers and atheists can work together for the common good. My answer is simple: sure they can, but faith isn’t in the common good, and we have to work against it.

You know, one of my concluding lines in my Reason Rally talk was that I want to be bad without god. And by bad, I mean defy the bogus religious morality that the majority want to impose on us, and fight against the status quo.

Dogmatism is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

beware-dogma

In light of the recent terrorist attack in Brussels, I’m sharing a blog post I wrote a few months ago shortly after the Paris attack.

Remember that thing I wrote the other day, about how everyone thinks their interpretation of reality is the right one? At best, this mentality leads to petty arguments on the Internet, but at its worse it leads to yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris.

I really don’t want to debate whether Islam is “a religion of peace” or “a religion of dashing your enemies to pieces” because a) I’d rather have ex-Muslims like Heina Dadabhoy and Sadaf Ali tell their stories instead of talking over them, and b) neither statement tells the full story. Like the Christian Bible, there are several ways to interpret the Quran, ranging from liberal Islam to Islamism. However, just like with fundamentalist Christianity, fundamentalist Islam has its roots in scripture. So I don’t agree with Reza Aslan; religion did play a part in yesterday’s attacks, along with other factors.

Instead I want to talk about the one thing that ties Christian fundamentalism, Islamism, and other dangerous ideologies together: dogmatism.

Google defines dogmatism as “the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.” Most people use the word fundamentalism as a synonym for dogmatism, but there’s a slight difference. Fundamentalism, as Google defines it, “upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.” This is why, as James Croft explains, there’s no such thing as a “fundamentalist atheist” because atheism has no Bible.

Dogmatism, on the other hand, can happen with any ideology, whether it’s religious or secular. It’s what happens when one is so sure that one’s own interpretation of reality is the right one, and everybody else is wrong. Of course not all beliefs are automatically dogmatic. After all, as the diagram below illustrates, when use beliefs and truths to gain knowledge:

Epistemology

However, sometimes our beliefs do not align with the facts. I can believe all I want that I’m a millionaire, but one look at my bank account will show that’s not true. But what if I refuse to acknowledge the facts? What if I still believe that I am a millionaire, and I keep spending money like one? Eventually I won’t have any money left, and I’ll be shit out of luck. That, my friends, is how dogmatism works.

This is why epistemology and skepticism are so important: they remind us that we could be wrong. It’s scary to think we could be wrong because we wrap our entire identities around our beliefs. But as Ricky Gervais famously said, “Beliefs don’t change facts. Facts, if you’re rational should change your beliefs.” Plus, with the events of Paris and Beirut, the only alternative, dogmatism, is literally killing us. As Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith, “If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith”

Problems with the Mental Illness Model of Religion

Meme image that says when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity, when many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion, attributing it to Robert PirsigI posted over the past week several criticisms of Peter Boghossian that generally put me off him (especially this). I think he’s not a very good philosopher, and is far too wrong about far too many important things. Yesterday I expanded on one of those criticisms (his failure, perhaps even refusal, to study and thus understand contemporary feminism, expanding on my remarks in Why Atheism Needs Feminism). Today I introduce another, which is another special reading I had prepared for students of the class I co-taught with Boghossian last year (on his book A Manual for Creating Atheists). As with yesterday’s reading, he didn’t interact on the matter, so I don’t know what he thought of it. But again it’s time I just published this for everyone’s benefit, too, and as another corrective to his book.

Many have criticized Boghossian (and not just him, but many others) for arguing that religion should be classified as a mental illness. I believe some of those critiques have merit, and some do not. And those that have merit are largely only apt in what they have to say about the problems of vocabulary, presentation, and lack of nuance and sensitivity in treating the issue. Here are my thoughts on the matter. [Read more…]

Talk about free speech but don’t mention Raif Badawi

See update at the end.

Chris Stedman wrote a public Facebook post a couple of days ago about a little misunderstanding between him and the people at The National, an English-language newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates. They invited him to write an opinion piece.

I decided to use this opportunity to look at what I think are the most constructive aspects of a UAE-sponsored UN resolution that calls for interfaith dialogue, free expression, and the open debate of ideas.

I would still rather see more secular dialogue (which of course religious people can perfectly well engage in) than interfaith dialogue (which excludes non-religious people). But if the UAE is a fan of free expression and the open debate of ideas that has to be a good thing. Maybe they can exert some pressure on their neighbors to let Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair out of prison.

Oh wait. [Read more…]

Into the secular tent

From a conversation Chris Stedman had with Phil Zuckerman about the rise in “nones” in the US and whether or not the pugnacity of people like Dawkins and Bill Maher is the chief cause:

CS: What are some of the most important things nontheists can do right now to support the growing number of nonreligious Americans? What should we prioritize?

PZ: In my opinion, the best thing atheists can do right now is to make the world a better place. That means fighting inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, and global warming. When life is hard—when people face suffering—religion tends to be strong; it offers comfort in the face of life’s troubles. But when life is more manageable and secure, people can find meaning and purpose in the here and now.

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