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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.

Comments

  1. Ichthyic says

    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.

    “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.”

    -F. Burns

    Totally 100% agree that it’s time to push for secular venues for organizing outreach. It’s the very misbegotten concept that all charity i organized around religion that lead to the idiotic “faith-based initiatives”. It’s past time we need to educate by example.

  2. says

    I really don’t like temples to ignorance, even liberal ignorance.

    This ^ over and over and over and over until it penetrates those religion plated skulls. I do not want to be associated with a church of any kind and I’m perfectly capable of doing good within a completely secular environ.

    I’m really weary of the Stedmans, Figdors and Scofields of this world telling me that working with the religious is a good thing. It’s not.

  3. 'Tis Himself, hopeful monster says

    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 keep thinking about how Stedman’s group, the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, want to set up godless chapels so atheists can have all the trappings of religion without having religion. Stedman et al like religion, they’re just kind of iffy about gods.

  4. mizbean says

    I am sick to fucking death of teh nice. I haven’t kept my mouth shut all these years because it makes my lip line prettier. We have the opportunity now, and the space. SPEAK OUT. And any church makes me itch.

  5. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Children–Daddy’s going to his friend’s house to have lobster and scallops. When he comes back he expects you to have set this thread on fire, having lured in a Figdor or a Croft to play with.:)

  6. says

    When he comes back he expects you to have set this thread on fire, having lured in a Figdor or a Croft to play with.:)

    I can already see it… whining about how this is the barbaric midwest, and thus all good deeds have to be organized through a church, because there’s nothing else and there cannot ever be anything else… blah blah blah…

  7. camelspotter (cited 34 times) says

    There is a problem with going too far in the anti-nice direction though. People shouldn’t be insulated from the truth as such, but sometimes we might be better off communicating that truth with maximum… empathy.

    For example, in Dawkin’s recent debate with Archbishop Rowan Williams, when asked “why does bad stuff happen” (or similar), he responded something like “It’s tough! Stuff happens!”. Which is totally true, and better than some fluffy answer about God’s mysterious plan. But equally, there has got to be a warmer, more human response than that. Such as: science tells us that the universe itself is coldly indifferent to our feelings and hopes. That’s why our relationships with our fellow human being are all the more important, and why, as a society, taking responsibility for our own welfare is so important.

  8. says

    camelspotter:

    There is a problem with going too far in the anti-nice direction though.

    Bullshit. This isn’t about “yell at religious granny on her deathbed!”. It’s about speaking the truth and refusing to shelter under the umbrella of religions.

    There’s nothing wrong with reality and more people need to face it. If you wish to make it your life’s mission to find warm ways to impart reality, that’s great – who is stopping you?

    I prefer a clue by four.

  9. says

    Countdown to Figdor…

    Since he was rambling about religious soup kitchens last time he was around, I’ll point out to Jonathan that today was a Food Not Bombs’ day of action. I mentioned FNB in the previous conversation, but he ignored it. Many FNB people are anarchists, and they share vegan/vegetarian food in solidarity (not charity) with homeless people around the world. For this, they’re often harrassed and arrested, while religious organizations that supply food are embraced. Double standards abound.

  10. Sastra says

    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.

    This whole “let’s just agree to disagree and move on to something more positive so we can work together” approach is fine if the task at hand is a neutral one held on neutral ground and that’s what everyone is there for in the first place. But asking a despised minority to drop the controversy and join in what the majority in power claims to be their positive territory is counterproductive. It only reinforces the prevailing view that the minority view is a despicable one — but hey, not everyone who holds that view acts like they do.

    The underlying problem isn’t just that faith divides people — it’s the way it divides people. You hold the view you do because of the kind of person you are. You open your heart … or you don’t.

    Stedman should try a little experiment. Without revealing that he is an atheist, he should ask a religious group of people to give some of the reasons why ‘some people’ don’t believe in God. Write them all down.

    And then he should ask them what sorts of things they would expect an atheist to do. How is this different than what a Christian does? Write down the suggestions.

    Now, tell them that he’s an atheist. And ask: “If I tell you I do good works and care about many of the same things you do, would you think I was lying? Would you think you were wrong about atheists? Or would you think that some atheists can act they believe in God, even if they don’t — and why would that be true? Write down what they say.

    Final step: Stedman should go home and think over those answers. I have my suspicions on what they’d be.

    Consider this analogy: if someone thinks that some black people can act white, and there are white people who act like they’re black — are they still racist?

  11. says

    I’m really weary of the Stedmans, Figdors and Scofields of this world telling me that working with the religious is a good thing. It’s not.

    Hmmm…. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, as a blanket statement. I think there are circumstances in which humanists can and should work with the religious on areas of common agreement. For instance, in campaigning for immigrants’ rights I’ve come across faith groups like the New Sanctuary Movement; and liberal faith groups like UUs and Quakers are heavily involved in the immigrants’ rights movement, the LGBT movement, and other forms of social justice activism. As a humanist, I’ve often found myself in the same campaigns, at the same rallies, and working for the same goals as these people; it makes sense to me to work with them.

    That said, I’m not suggesting that such cooperation always works. Sometimes there are irreconcilable disagreements. And there are times when I would not be able to work with particular religious groups even when I happen to agree with them on a specific issue, because I find their other beliefs morally offensive. For instance, Catholic Charities does some important work on asylum and refugee rights issues, but I would never be able to work with them, on principle, because of their homophobic positions.

    I hasten to add that I’m certainly not expressing any agreement with the likes of Be Scofield; I thought his personal attacks on Greta Christina and Natalie Reed were execrable nonsense, and I said so at the time. And I certainly don’t agree with the kinds of people who turn up here and demand that PZ be “nicer” in discussing religion.

    All I’m saying is that, for me, whether to work with religious people and groups on issues of social justice has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but sometimes it is both productive and necessary. That’s just my personal position; I’m not trying to lecture anyone, nor am I saying that everyone should adopt the same approach that I do.

  12. camelspotter says

    > This isn’t about “yell at religious granny on her deathbed!”

    So you’re agreeing that doing that would be going too far in the anti-nice direction?

  13. says

    Me three. I’d sooner lend my name or efforts to NAMBLA.

    Really? I don’t think you mean that. Or, at least, I hope you don’t.

  14. robro says

    @PZ — They let you in a church!? On Sunday!? On PALM SUNDAY even!? And the world still turns? God forbid!! Did you find some crackers?

    @camelspotter – Dawkins’s response seems nice, warm, and human enough to me. It’s clear. It’s honest. It’s simple. I’m sure he was thinking the more prosaic “shit happens” but he niced it up, nicely.

  15. says

    Walton:

    I think there are circumstances in which humanists can and should work with the religious on areas of common agreement.

    If you want to do that, great. As I said, who is stopping you? Myself, I am so fucking weary of hearing how atheists really, really need to mimic religion* and we really, really need to work with the religious, because that way, the religious will tolerate us and stuff. I’m beyond tired of that crap.

    I do not want some sort of faux legitimacy because I mimic religions a/o work with them. I shouldn’t need that at all. I want atheists and atheism to be accepted as normal, which it should be.

    *Yeah, atheist chaplains! atheist temples! interfaith, interfaith, interfaith! Bleargh.

    For instance, Catholic Charities does some important work on asylum and refugee rights issues, but I would never be able to work with them

    That’s how I feel about all of them.

  16. Sastra says

    Walton #18 wrote:

    All I’m saying is that, for me, whether to work with religious people and groups on issues of social justice has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if you got almost 100% agreement on that. It’s not the issue.

    The problem is not whether we can work with religious people and groups for good causes. If there’s a MS Walk, I doubt very much that any gnu atheist would drop out if some of the teams are church teams, for example. The problem only occurs when the Good Work is explicitly associated with a religion upfront — a church or interfaith group telling the community they are putting their love for God into action by holding a special MS walk, say. Do we join in? That’s dicey.

  17. says

    Sastra:

    It’s not the issue.

    No, it’s not. In different charitable stuff I do, I know there are theists involved, however, it doesn’t come up because the charitable function isn’t church or religion based.

  18. magistramarla says

    Fellow members of the horde,
    I’ve been reading all of the April Fool’s Day posts of all of the other FTB bloggers, and PZ’s lack of one is ominous.
    I can’t help but wonder what he has up his treacherous sleeve today!

  19. says

    There is no problem with the charitable part.

    “HELP FEED THE POOR!” is good. I can participate in that, side by side with any Christian or Moslem.

    “IN JESUS’ NAME, HELP FEED THE POOR!” is screwed up. Is your goal to feed the poor, or to praise Jesus? I won’t do that, ever.

  20. MG Myers says

    A secular venue for organizing community service events, rather than a church, might also increase inclusivity of theists who aren’t Christians. Morris, like many other midwestern towns, includes non-Christian theists who value community service.

  21. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Several posts went up today that seem to be fool-bait. I think it’s deliberate.

    I still haven’t forgiven you, Squidly OL, for last year’s little prank.

  22. magistramarla says

    Caine,
    My ***** internet provider does not provide me with enough speed to watch videos, so that post by PZ made absolutely no sense to me. And here I thought that he was in on some conspiracy with the rest of them, and was planning something really big for us. I wish that I could watch videos!
    Thanks!

  23. camelspotter says

    @robro Dawkins’ response was better than what we got from the Archbishop.

  24. says

    a church or interfaith group telling the community they are putting their love for God into action

    I always think the same thing when I read or hear claims that people are inspired by their religion and/or god to do good work, fight for justice, promote environmentalism, and so on: the flipside of this is that they wouldn’t do this if they came to believe their religion/god was false. They either don’t recognize sufficient secular reasons for this work or they’re just gratuitously throwing in the alleged but totally superfluous religious motives to be faith boosters. Pretty bad, either way.

  25. says

    magistramarla:

    My ***** internet provider does not provide me with enough speed to watch videos,

    I know how that goes, it wasn’t long ago I was singing the dial-up blues. The vid was about using human face recognition software and adapting it to translate octopus gestures into language. The octopus, Pearl, was saying things like “I want to choke the human out of you!” and “You just bought 8 tickets to the gun show”. :D

    /derail

  26. Sastra says

    Sometimes I think the accomodationists don’t quite understand where we’re making distinctions. If there’s a benefit brat fry for the Art Center put on by the Chamber of Commerce, a gnu atheist or atheist group isn’t going to refuse to work side-by-side with a church group, or decline to take over a shift from them, or anything of that nature. I mean, there may be some outliers here and there — or there may be a particular grudge with a particular church over a particular issue — but not in general. Not just because they believe in God.

    And yet, to hear some of the gnu critics rail on about our presumed “unwillingness” to cooperate with the religous, that’s apparently exactly what they think we’d do. Or, perhaps, they think we’d agree to help keep the condiments full only if we can argue the validity of the Bible with the Christians wiping off the tables and chairs.

    They need to listen to us better.

  27. Sastra says

    SC #32 wrote:

    Pretty bad, either way.

    I agree. The same alternatives always occur to me, too. When I can, I like to ask them, specifically, which one they mean.

  28. says

    Josh:

    Children–Daddy’s going to his friend’s house to have lobster and scallops.

    Ooh. We can haz doggie bag?

    SC, of course he ignored it. He’s all about “charitable actions,” which help people for one meal or one day and make them obliged to the “charitable giver,” rather than put them on an equal footing with the “giver.” Has he ever responded to this shitfuckery, either?

    Mareeds, that was a rather vile statement to make, even as hyperbole. Care to defend it?

    Sastra:

    If there’s a benefit brat fry…

    Is that anything like an atheist baby BBQ?

  29. says

    Sastra: While I agree with the distinction you’re drawing, and I don’t particularly disagree with anything you’ve said, I’m thinking more about the shades of grey around the edges. (I’m sorry that my earlier post was a bit vague; I should have been more specific about what I’m arguing.)

    I’ll say, first of all, that I’m thinking more about advocacy, rather than about charitable or service work. I’m not thinking primarily about feeding the poor, but, rather, about campaigning on highly controversial social issues like immigrants’ rights, reproductive rights, marriage equality, ending the death penalty and so forth. In these circumstances, the nature of the arguments being made is particularly important, because we’re trying to convince the public and policymakers to do the right thing.

    Now, I understand entirely that you’re not arguing that atheists and humanists shouldn’t participate in progressive social and political movements in which religious people also participate. I don’t think anyone here was arguing that, and I apologize if it seemed like I was constructing a strawman. Rather, I’m thinking more of how far one should be willing to ally oneself expressly with interfaith initiatives, faith-based advocacy coalitions and the like which are promoting social causes which one agrees with. I’m thinking particularly of groups like People of Faith Against The Death Penalty, the New Sanctuary Movement, and so on – groups that are promoting progressive causes that humanists can (and should) agree with unequivocally.

    Of course, you can argue that this kind of group, even if it isn’t tied to any specific religion, has the negative effect of promoting the idea of faith as a generic virtue, and contributing to religious privilege. And that’s clearly a sound argument. But this cuts both ways; precisely because religion in the US enjoys a certain degree of (entirely unearned) privilege and deference, they can be very effective advocacy groups for progressive causes. It’s a tricky issue.

  30. camelspotter says

    This thread reminds me of the time I accidentally donated a pound to a lady from the Salvation Army.

  31. Sastra says

    Walton #39 wrote:

    Of course, you can argue that this kind of group, even if it isn’t tied to any specific religion, has the negative effect of promoting the idea of faith as a generic virtue, and contributing to religious privilege. And that’s clearly a sound argument.

    Yes, and it’s even an even better argument if the thrust of their position against the problem is that God is on their side (or, if they’re passive-aggressive, they are on God’s side.) As gnu atheists have pointed out again and again, using a bad reason to get to the right conclusion is eventually going to be counterproductive, whether they’re claiming evolution is consistent with the Bible or insisting that God loves transexuals. To echo SC’s incisive point:”the flipside of this is that they wouldn’t do this if they came to believe their religion/god was false” — or that God wanted something else.

    Which means the OTHER side should continue — but only as long as they think their religion is true. As long as they manage to hold on to their faith, which of course one must always do, if you’re part of a faith-based initiative. The issue has shifted how to do the right thing, to who is right about God. And however hard the initial problem is, this new one is unresolvable.

    But I agree with you that it’s a tricky issue. I’ve had it easy so far; when I have joined with the religious to advocate for a good cause it’s never been a group initiated by the religious. So I don’t know. Considering it on a case-by-case basis sounds like a cautious plan.

  32. says

    Sastra:

    I’ve had it easy so far; when I have joined with the religious to advocate for a good cause it’s never been a group initiated by the religious.

    That’s honestly nice. Here in ND, it’s difficult finding any sort of advocacy or charitable function which isn’t religion based or funded. Things are getting better though, which is yet another reason to keep pushing the secular side.

  33. Sastra says

    Oh, wait. I have done volunteer work with the Unitarians.

    But they practically don’t count. And I didn’t actively join their ‘Fellowship.”

    The UU’s value faith — but they’re willing to stretch the definition of ‘faith’ out so it includes anything an atheist might believe. They’ll also do the same with “religion.” And “God.” And pretty much any word that might exclude someone who meets their humanist understanding of “good.”

    They’re very nice. And I mean that in the nicest way.

  34. says

    The UU’s value faith — but they’re willing to stretch the definition of ‘faith’ out so it includes anything an atheist might believe. They’ll also do the same with “religion.” And “God.” And pretty much any word that might exclude someone who meets their humanist understanding of “good.”

    They’re very nice. And I mean that in the nicest way.

    At the moment I’m intermittently attending a UU church, and it’s through them that I’ve been getting involved in immigrant rights activism in the local area (including the campaign against Massachusetts SB 2061). I find that I’m very comfortable in UU circles – given that belief in a god is optional, and that they’re united by progressive social and moral values rather than by a creed.

    Of course, it isn’t to everyone’s taste; I just find it suits me. When I abandoned Christianity and became an atheist, I really missed the experience of churchgoing. I find that UU churches provide the things I liked about church, without the dogma or the silliness of the (mostly Anglican) churches I grew up in.

    As gnu atheists have pointed out again and again, using a bad reason to get to the right conclusion is eventually going to be counterproductive, whether they’re claiming evolution is consistent with the Bible or insisting that God loves transexuals.

    Sometimes – but is that always true, in every situation? Suppose that a few state legislators were to be persuaded to oppose the death penalty, after, say, a leader in their church condemned the death penalty as inconsistent with Jesus’ teachings. Of course you’re right that this isn’t the ideal reason, and that promoting these kinds of arguments has bad long-term collateral effects, in the form of promoting unsound reasoning and unsound epistemology. But it also may have the extremely good positive effect of getting the death penalty abolished in that state – and I’d say that’s clearly a net benefit. In that moment, in that situation, I’m less concerned about epistemology and intellectual honesty than I am about stopping the state from killing people. Which is not to deny that epistemology and intellectual honesty are important; but I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis. It has to depend, first and foremost, on the seriousness of the evil we’re fighting, and how valuable faith-based initiatives are in fighting it.

    IOW, while I agree with your arguments against faith-based reasoning in principle, I think there are times when, in the short term, getting people to accept the right conclusion for the wrong reason is the best we can hope for. I don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  35. says

    Of course you’re right that this isn’t the ideal reason, and that promoting these kinds of arguments has bad long-term collateral effects, in the form of promoting unsound reasoning and unsound epistemology.

    By which I mean, of course it would be ideal if our hypothetical state legislators opposed the death penalty for a more rational reason. But I’m willing to settle for them opposing the death penalty for any reason, so long as the immediate effect is that the state stops killing people.

  36. Sastra says

    Walton #46 wrote:

    IOW, while I agree with your arguments against faith-based reasoning in principle, I think there are times when, in the short term, getting people to accept the right conclusion for the wrong reason is the best we can hope for. I don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    I agree. “It depends” is a cautious approach, but probably a wise one. In the case of the death-penalty, it could literally be a matter of life and death.

    I find that I’m very comfortable in UU circles – given that belief in a god is optional, and that they’re united by progressive social and moral values rather than by a creed.

    What made me uncomfortable was that belief in science was also optional. Many of the members embrace alternative medicine, the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and other pseudoscientific and secular-sounding forms of supernatural woo. And individuals happily used UU to promote, advocate, and express their personal experiences of said woo, as part of what they saw as ‘progressive social and moral values.’

    And I was also made uncomfortable that they seemed to be made uncomfortable by anything which made anyone uncomfortable. Meaning, they don’t like someone telling someone else they’re mistaken about pseudoscientific or secular-sounding forms of supernatural woo. Pursue truth honestly and fearlessly — but respect all paths. Even tactful dissent is discouraged. I got discouraged.

    But I know enough about the UU to know that they vary quite a bit, even within the same fellowship/church. If you’re happy, then either you haven’t seen that problem, or don’t care about that problem as much as you care about other things … which eventually does come down to taste and preference, I think.

  37. magistramarla says

    Caine,
    Sadly, ours is not a dial-up system. We live on an Army installation, and our internet service is with the lowest bidder that won the contract with the Army. It’s some sort of wi-fi system that the entire neighborhood shares, and when everyone is home playing games and downloading movies, we get kicked off randomly.

  38. says

    It is my firm belief that whenever atheists go out en masse to do good works, they should wear T-shirts that make it CLEAR they are atheists.

    Here are two of my favorite slogans for such shirts: “Hands that help are better than lips that pray,” Robert Greene Ingersoll; and “Get off your knees and get to work,” Me.

  39. says

    I agree. “It depends” is a cautious approach, but probably a wise one. In the case of the death-penalty, it could literally be a matter of life and death.

    Yep. I think we’re in complete agreement there.

    What made me uncomfortable was that belief in science was also optional. Many of the members embrace alternative medicine, the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and other pseudoscientific and secular-sounding forms of supernatural woo. And individuals happily used UU to promote, advocate, and express their personal experiences of said woo, as part of what they saw as ‘progressive social and moral values.’…

    But I know enough about the UU to know that they vary quite a bit, even within the same fellowship/church. If you’re happy, then either you haven’t seen that problem, or don’t care about that problem as much as you care about other things … which eventually does come down to taste and preference, I think.

    Indeed. Personally, I haven’t yet run into any alternative medicine or pseudoscience stuff. But of course congregations vary a great deal: UUs have congregational polity, so every church is independent and self-governing (indeed, as you mentioned above, some opt to call themselves “fellowships” rather than “churches”). I’ve heard that they’re very different in different parts of the country, I don’t doubt that alt-med woo is more prevalent in some congregations.

    In any case, I haven’t officially become a member, since I’m returning to England in a couple of months and won’t be living here any more. But I find that the UU outlook and mindset – including the firm commitment to “the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings” – reflects my own philosophy well; and I love their outspoken progressive activism on LGBT rights, immigrants’ rights and immigration reform, peace, and environmental justice. Still, I agree with you completely that it’s not for everyone.

  40. says

    This seems an apt time to remind folks that There’s no such thing as a liberal Christian.”.

    Your link is broken. And I’m curious about what it was supposed to lead to, since “There’s no such thing as a liberal Christian” is, taken literally, obviously not true.

  41. simonsays says

    Since this was a university group organizing, do you know if an adequate venue at the school was easily available to the group?

  42. consciousness razor says

    Sometimes – but is that always true, in every situation? Suppose that a few state legislators were to be persuaded to oppose the death penalty, after, say, a leader in their church condemned the death penalty as inconsistent with Jesus’ teachings.

    That’s fine, but what do you have to do with it? They’re being persuaded by this church leader rather than you, and there’s nothing stopping you from making better, more rational arguments. Those could offer a reason why the death penalty ought to be opposed, which isn’t rooted in religious garbage and which will be consistent with lots of other important ethical issues. Of course, there’s no obligation to oppose those who are against the death penalty for the wrong reasons; but you also don’t have to make their arguments for them, as if you actually believed them and as if you didn’t have a better argument.

  43. andersk3 says

    Having been to Morris a couple of times I’m interested to know why the auditorium wasn’t used? To small, already in use, or more sinister, the school wouldn’t support it?

  44. says

    We used the science auditorium — a good room, especially now that it has new and quite comfortable seats. Shubin was in the high school auditorium, because we wanted to increase the likelihood of getting more community people to show up. Many of them have an aversion to the university.

    We had the rooms we wanted in every case.

  45. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Many of them have an aversion to the university.

    What the hell? Why? Let me guess: the Good Townies don’t like that ‘leetist book-larnin’ university.

  46. chigau (違う) says

    Are you telling me us that the Townie/University rivalry is real?
    Not just some shit made up for movies?

  47. says

    That’s fine, but what do you have to do with it? They’re being persuaded by this church leader rather than you, and there’s nothing stopping you from making better, more rational arguments. Those could offer a reason why the death penalty ought to be opposed, which isn’t rooted in religious garbage and which will be consistent with lots of other important ethical issues. Of course, there’s no obligation to oppose those who are against the death penalty for the wrong reasons; but you also don’t have to make their arguments for them, as if you actually believed them and as if you didn’t have a better argument.

    Yes, this. And I’d go a bit further. First, the apparent condoning of Biblical (or religious more generally) rationales for policy is dangerous in terms of consequences.* This is an “I choose X because the Bible tells me to,” but we know that when that’s accepted in any way there are a ton more “I choose Y because the Bible tells me so” that will likely result in much more suffering and death. So you can’t consider the struggle in a vacuum, as cr’s comment about consistency alludes to.

    Second, this calls to mind my recent post about Resentment’s Virtue. Though in many ways the situation isn’t comparable to the aftermath of atrocities, some of the basic issues are the same, as I recall from following your links to some of these organizations. Their framework is about redemption and forgiveness; the first of these is questionable in a secular context, and the second can in practice serve to disregard or pressure victims. People can oppose the state death penalty without forgiving or believing in (or caring about) redemption, and it seems to me callous even to suggest, much less demand, that victims be more “like Jesus” (whatever version of this character the religious group believes in).

    *Seems also to border on unconstitutional, possibly, but I could well be wrong about that.

  48. says

    Yeah, it’s real. But don’t inflate it: it’s more like townie uneasiness than active hostility. Also, we have multiple big complicated buildings, and they’re confusing to simple folk.

    Ooh, that sounded a bit condescending.

  49. Pteryxx says

    Generally it’s a lot harder just to park and find one’s way around a university than a high school, even a gigantic high school. Little high schools are as easily accessible as movie theaters.

  50. consciousness razor says

    Yes, this. And I’d go a bit further.

    I would too. :) We seem to agree; this I know, because the Bible tells me so.

  51. Mattir says

    Where I live, one of the biggest problems is that the only groups that provide very inexpensive meeting space are churches. Libraries, community centers, schools and hospitals have been so devastated by tax cuts that they are forced to charge way more for meeting space than a shoestring nonprofit can afford, and often have policies that prohibit regularly scheduled meetings or those where a hat is passed to raise money for the rent (like addiction recovery meetings) or meetings that aren’t open to the public (addiction recovery, book discussion groups, classes, etc.) The whole situation is a perverse consequence of the privileging-religion tax policies and the refusal to invest in secular community resources. Pisses me off. I try to take the Walton approach and work with the most liberal and non-theistic groups around when necessary. Sigh.

  52. says

    Their framework is about redemption and forgiveness; the first of these is questionable in a secular context, and the second can in practice serve to disregard or pressure victims. People can oppose the state death penalty without forgiving or believing in (or caring about) redemption, and it seems to me callous even to suggest, much less demand, that victims be more “like Jesus” (whatever version of this character the religious group believes in).

    Now that’s an important point, and one I hadn’t thought to address here. Of course in a literal sense I don’t believe in redemption, because I don’t believe in sin, nor in the belief that there is some kind of cosmic justice that needs to be placated by sacrifice.

    Nonetheless, the language of redemption and forgiveness resonates with me, because, in our culture, it’s usually cast as the alternative to vengeance. It tends to be used to encourage people to empathize with the person who the state is about to kill, and to feel kindness and compassion towards that person, even if that person has genuinely committed horrific crimes. In itself, this seems to me to be unambiguously a good outcome.

    But I agree with you that the religious terminology which is used in these contexts is extremely problematic, because it rests on assumptions – the idea that people “sin”, that their sin need to be “redeemed” by sacrifice, and so on – that we really ought to be opposing. I don’t know how to create an effective secular alternative to this language that will have the same effect of promoting empathy and opposing the idea of vengeance.

    Of course we can (and should) talk about the endemic ills of the criminal justice system, miscarriages of justice, institutionalized discrimination against the poor and racial minorities, and so forth – and I do talk a great deal about these things – but that only gets us so far, because it doesn’t help encourage empathy with those people who have actually committed unambiguously serious crimes, and about whose factual guilt there is no doubt. Likewise, utilitarian arguments only get us so far. We can argue that the death penalty is not demonstrably effective in deterring crime, and it isn’t, but the problem with that argument is its implication that the death penalty might be acceptable if it were demonstrably effective in deterring crime: the argument hangs by a single empirical thread. That doesn’t get us far enough, because I want to establish that the death penalty is so abhorrent that there is no circumstance in which it should be even considered.

    So, beyond empirically-grounded arguments (important though they are), I think we need secular, inclusive language to express the view that every single person, whatever xe may have done in hir life, is deserving of life, kindness and human dignity; that every human life has value; and that deliberately taking the life of a living, thinking, feeling human being is an act that we should not be able to contemplate. These aren’t empirical claims that can be tested against the evidence; rather, they appeal to our empathy, to our compassion and to our sense of our common humanity. I don’t think this is uniquely the territory of religion, and I don’t think it’s ground that should be ceded to religion; but we need a secular way to achieve the same thing.

  53. says

    That’s fine, but what do you have to do with it? They’re being persuaded by this church leader rather than you, and there’s nothing stopping you from making better, more rational arguments. Those could offer a reason why the death penalty ought to be opposed, which isn’t rooted in religious garbage and which will be consistent with lots of other important ethical issues. Of course, there’s no obligation to oppose those who are against the death penalty for the wrong reasons; but you also don’t have to make their arguments for them, as if you actually believed them and as if you didn’t have a better argument.

    That’s true, of course. And I would not go around saying “We should end the death penalty because Jesus preached peace and nonviolence”. Aside from anything else, such a statement would be rather obviously disingenuous coming from a non-theist, and it wouldn’t help anything. (I might talk about Jesus’ teachings in this context only to display the hypocrisy of right-wing fundamentalist Christians who don’t actually follow them.)

    But I’m thinking more about the act of explicitly allying oneself with, and sharing a platform with, interfaith groups that work on these issues. I have actively done so, over the last year, on immigrants’ rights issues; when these things come up, I find it appropriate to explain why I’ve made that choice. Of course, on immigrants’ rights issues it’s almost always the case that the arguments themselves are entirely secular, and every rally I’ve attended has been a broad coalition of community groups and immigrant advocates; so many of these issues haven’t really come up.

    (As a side note, I do sometimes, in discussions about gay rights with Christian family and friends, point them to liberal Christians’ theological arguments – Whosoever magazine, Gene Robinson and the like – on the subject of gay rights and the Bible. Not because I believe those arguments myself, and I don’t pretend to, but because it’s sometimes useful to point out to Christians that people within the Christian community are making arguments for an LGBT-friendly position. Anecdotally, I know several Christians who have come to a more liberal position on gay rights in the last few years, after coming to the view that gay rights are compatible with their faith. Of course, there’s a big difference between me pointing them to arguments that Christians have made, and me making those arguments myself as though I believed them; the latter course of action would be intellectually dishonest and not very credible.)

  54. consciousness razor says

    These aren’t empirical claims that can be tested against the evidence; rather, they appeal to our empathy, to our compassion and to our sense of our common humanity. I don’t think this is uniquely the territory of religion, and I don’t think it’s ground that should be ceded to religion; but we need a secular way to achieve the same thing.

    It is an empirical claim that we have such values. They’re founded on our experiences and what we find meaningful, which are entirely real, not on imaginary beings. Putting it in such metaphysical terms may not be necessary most of the time; but in any case, rather than being a problem specific to secular normative claims, this highlights one of the main problems with religious ones. Yet, by concluding that “we need a secular way,” you make it sound (if I’m not being too uncharitable) as if we don’t already have secular ethics that achieve a better result than religiously-derived ethics. This “better result” doesn’t mean more people will be easily persuaded by it; but it is better in terms of being logically, empirically and ethically defensible. So if you don’t want a quick-and-dirty solution to the death penalty (for example), then you should advance a better one.

    Of course, there’s a big difference between me pointing them to arguments that Christians have made, and me making those arguments myself as though I believed them; the latter course of action would be intellectually dishonest and not very credible.

    Then I’d reevaluate this statement:

    In that moment, in that situation, I’m less concerned about epistemology and intellectual honesty than I am about stopping the state from killing people. Which is not to deny that epistemology and intellectual honesty are important; but I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis. It has to depend, first and foremost, on the seriousness of the evil we’re fighting, and how valuable faith-based initiatives are in fighting it.

  55. says

    Now that’s an important point, and one I hadn’t thought to address here. Of course in a literal sense I don’t believe in redemption, because I don’t believe in sin, nor in the belief that there is some kind of cosmic justice that needs to be placated by sacrifice.

    Nonetheless, the language of redemption and forgiveness resonates with me, because, in our culture, it’s usually cast as the alternative to vengeance.

    It is – by religion. That doesn’t mean that these are the only two possibilities, as Brudholm discusses.

    It tends to be used to encourage people to empathize with the person who the state is about to kill, and to feel kindness and compassion towards that person, even if that person has genuinely committed horrific crimes. In itself, this seems to me to be unambiguously a good outcome.

    I don’t agree. I don’t think people, especially victims, should be encouraged to empathize with the person who’s victimized them. In fact, I find that somewhat obscene, and agree with Brudholm that there can be an ethical stance of nonforgiveness.

    I don’t know how to create an effective secular alternative to this language that will have the same effect of promoting empathy and opposing the idea of vengeance.

    I don’t think empathy, as I understand you to mean it, is necessary to a solid objection to the death penalty for “ordinary” (not mass/genocidal) crimes.

    Of course we can (and should) talk about the endemic ills of the criminal justice system, miscarriages of justice, institutionalized discrimination against the poor and racial minorities, and so forth

    Yes!

    – and I do talk a great deal about these things – but that only gets us so far, because it doesn’t help encourage empathy with those people who have actually committed unambiguously serious crimes, and about whose factual guilt there is no doubt.

    For those few there remain the argument that no government – let alone one with the history of the US or other governments that continue to practiuce it – should have that power, because the possibilities for abuse are just too real. (Arguments can certainly be made to this, but that would be a different discussion.)

    That doesn’t get us far enough, because I want to establish that the death penalty is so abhorrent that there is no circumstance in which it should be even considered.

    I don’t.

    So, beyond empirically-grounded arguments (important though they are), I think we need secular, inclusive language to express the view that every single person, whatever xe may have done in hir life, is deserving of life, kindness

    I disagree with this.

    and human dignity;

    I agree with this, but don’t find it inconsistent with the death penalty in some cases (e.g., Josef Mengele).

    that every human life has value; and that deliberately taking the life of a living, thinking, feeling human being is an act that we should not be able to contemplate.

    I disagree with this. And again, I don’t think it’s necessary to opposition to the death penalty. Nor do I find the sentimental concern about “every human life” particularly convincing from people (I don’t mean you) who couldn’t care less about the tens of billions of nonhuman animals killed for food alone each year. Take “human” out of that last sentence, and people could have a real discussion. For the most part, this is off the radar of most religious people. (Is it ever discussed in your UU or other meetings? I would love to know.)

    These aren’t empirical claims that can be tested against the evidence; rather, they appeal to our empathy, to our compassion and to our sense of our common humanity [gah :)].

    I think my (and Brudholm’s) empathy with the victims/survivors of mass atrocities appeals to these things, and the Tutu line contrary to them in important ways and sort of inhuman in its demands. Again, I don’t think it’s necessary, and respect people’s prerogative to forgive harms done to them or the people they love or to refuse to do so.

  56. says

    Walton:

    It tends to be used to encourage people to empathize with the person who the state is about to kill, and to feel kindness and compassion towards that person, even if that person has genuinely committed horrific crimes. In itself, this seems to me to be unambiguously a good outcome.

    And this is where you veer completely off the road. Fuck empathizing with those who commit horrific crimes. I don’t have one drop of empathy for the monstrosity that tried to murder me and successfully murdered others. They have no empathy or compassion and I’m not the least bit interested in listening to them rattle on about how “I’m a Christian now” or any other kind of crap.

    I am opposed to the death penalty, however, this “kindness and compassion” business? No. This is where you are not only buying into the religious paradigm lock, stock and barrel, you’re pushing a distinctly religious viewpoint.

  57. says

    Yet, by concluding that “we need a secular way,” you make it sound (if I’m not being too uncharitable) as if we don’t already have secular ethics that achieve a better result than religiously-derived ethics.

    Well, neither “secular ethics” nor “religiously-derived ethics” are at all homogeneous. I’ve encountered plenty of atheists who support the death penalty, for instance, and who support immigration restrictions, and so forth. And although I can argue against those views on empirical grounds, my point was that such arguments only go so far. (As I said earlier, for instance, we can argue that the death penalty is not demonstrably effective in deterring crime, and it isn’t, but the problem with that argument is its implication that the death penalty might be acceptable if it were demonstrably effective in deterring crime: the argument hangs by a single empirical thread. We can argue that the criminal justice system is biased and produces miscarriages of justice, which is true, but this doesn’t help us in cases where there is no actual doubt about a person’s factual guilt. And so on.) There is a point at which I have to fall back on emotional values of love and compassion, which are, ultimately, not susceptible to argument. I don’t think the religious have a better answer to this, though. I think it’s a problem for everyone. (But I’m struggling to string words together, because it’s late here and I need to go to bed. And I’m aware that I’ve veered from the original topic.)

    This “better result” doesn’t mean more people will be easily persuaded by it; but it is better in terms of being logically, empirically and ethically defensible. So if you don’t want a quick-and-dirty solution to the death penalty (for example), then you should advance a better one.

    Well, I’ll go with a “quick-and-dirty” solution now to stop the state from killing people, using any arguments that will work.

    But in terms of a long-term strategy – not just to end the death penalty in the immediate future, but to end the whole mindset that legitimizes punitive state violence and state-sanctioned killing in general – SC’s arguments about the problems of the religious language of redemption and forgiveness seem to me to have force. And so I thought it useful to discuss the need for an alternative secular language which emphasizes compassion and the inherent right of all human beings to life and dignity, without indulging any problematic religious assumptions.

    Then I’d reevaluate this statement:

    I don’t think I’ve contradicted myself. If I were to conclude that deliberately misrepresenting my own beliefs was the most effective means of bringing an end to the atrocity of the death penalty, or to achieve better protection for gay rights, or to achieve any other overriding social justice objective, then, on a cost-benefit analysis, it would be right for me to misrepresent my own beliefs. Honesty matters, but it isn’t the only overriding value. There’s no reason to suppose that that’s actually the case in this instance, however.

  58. mnb0 says

    Why does a church feel icky? A church is build of stone or whatever material is used. Qualities like icky and spiritual are products of human imagination.
    For a hardcore atheist a church or any other so called holy place should not mean anything. So I suspect a remnant of christianity is at work in PZ’s mind …..

  59. says

    Well, neither “secular ethics” nor “religiously-derived ethics” are at all homogeneous. I’ve encountered plenty of atheists who support the death penalty, for instance, and who support immigration restrictions, and so forth.

    This doesn’t really respond, though. The argument was that such a secular ethic exists – not that it’s shared or understood by all atheists.

    There is a point at which I have to fall back on emotional values of love and compassion, which are, ultimately, not susceptible to argument.

    What makes you think love and compassion are distinct from secular ethics, or from scientific knowledge? Love and compassion are real-world senses, grounded in evolutionary history and real social life. They have zero to do with superstition, and values are susceptible to rational argument. All religion does with its nonsense is interfere with this.

  60. says

    SC’s arguments about the problems of the religious language of redemption and forgiveness seem to me to have force. And so I thought it useful to discuss the need for an alternative secular language which emphasizes compassion and the inherent right of all human beings to life and dignity, without indulging any problematic religious assumptions.

    It seems like the problem is that you see only two options: a specifically religious “love and forgiveness” framework or a secular alternative that adheres to your specifications.

  61. consciousness razor says

    Well, neither “secular ethics” nor “religiously-derived ethics” are at all homogeneous.

    Of course they’re not homogenous, but it is a meaningful to categorize them as such. Secular ethics qua secular ethics are better, for the reasons I’ve stated, among others.

    There is a point at which I have to fall back on emotional values of love and compassion, which are, ultimately, not susceptible to argument.

    One’s emotions aren’t immutable. So how do they change? To what are they susceptible, if not “argument” (which I’ll interpret broadly as rational discourse)?

    Well, I’ll go with a “quick-and-dirty” solution now to stop the state from killing people, using any arguments that will work.

    Are you concerned about one particular case of a death-row inmate right now, or are you concerned about all of them? Turn this into a trolley problem if you like. Is compromising one inmate’s life (assuming a non-religious may compromise it in a situation) worse than compromising many others by forwarding a less rational and less ethical argument?

    Honesty matters, but it isn’t the only overriding value. There’s no reason to suppose that that’s actually the case in this instance, however.

    There isn’t, but it’s not just a matter of honesty as a personal trait. It distorts the issue: if you’re talking about social activism, then you’re implicating wider consequences than simply feeling personal guilt for fibbing about your beliefs. There’s no reason to do that if the cause is worthwhile.

  62. jfigdor says

    Is there video or audio of the event? It would be interesting to hear. FWIW, I take PZ’s comments seriously about the framing problem of hosting such an event in a church. I would be disinclined to do so. There are plenty of secular “common ground” locales. That said, we Harvard Heathens do enjoy taking over Memorial Church to host our lifetime achievement award. There’s something fun about packing a church full of atheists to hear Bad Religion and talk about biology…

    PS: Thanks for the pre-hate.

  63. John Morales says

    [meta]

    jfigdor:

    PS: Thanks for the pre-hate.

    You just couldn’t resist, could ya? ;)

  64. says

    jfigdor:

    Thanks for the pre-hate.

    You’re mistaking bone weariness and annoyance for hate. Your constant sermonizing and inability (or unwillingness) to comprehend what anyone else has to say makes any discussion with you beyond tiring. If someone disagrees with you, the only response you have is to repeat the same sermon, all while doing the ‘lalalalalala, I can’t hear you!’.

    You do seem to have a serious wish to come off as persecuted, though. Something else you have in common with religious types.

  65. KG says

    There is a point at which I have to fall back on emotional values of love and compassion, which are, ultimately, not susceptible to argument. – Walton

    So, how is it that the values you espouse have changed so comprehensively over your time posting here?

  66. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Caine to jfigdor,

    You do seem to have a serious wish to come off as persecuted, though.

    He kinda is, here.

    (It ain’t delusional)

  67. camelspotter says

    @mnb0 #78

    Why does a church feel icky?

    I suspect PZ feels something akin to the aforementioned time I accidentally donated a pound to a lady from the Salvation Army. Try it yourself: do something that can be construed as legitimatizing something you feel is based on ignorance and is in someway harmful to things you feel passionately about.

  68. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    We don’t hate either stedman or you figdor. We hate his and your ignorance, egotism, and inability to articulate atheist thinking without needing religious trappings. Both of you need to the learn how to shut the fuck up and listen, just like any arrogant MRA needs to learn how to listen to women instead of arrogantly telling them what they should think.

  69. says

    John:

    He kinda is, here.

    No, that’s not persecution. If he actually wanted to receive less criticism, all he’d have to do is stop preaching and listen. That doesn’t seem to suit him, though.

  70. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Caine, I think he thinks he groks gnus.

    (How’s it working for him?)

  71. says

    Hey, Walton, how about a response to Caine? Why, precisely, should she attempt to be “empathetic” and “compassionate” toward the man who tried to murder her and who murdered several other women? Because, seriously, people who call for such a thing are typically damned privileged in terms of not having suffered serious abuse at the hands of others.

  72. echidna says

    Why does a church feel icky?

    Can’t speak for PZ, of course, but I know people who can’t look at a cathedral without seeing the blood that was spilled in the course of building them. Towns where the people were literally starving to death, and the churches were decked in gold.

    And then there was the time I was dragged along to an ID lecture in a church. At the end, the smarmy slime-bag passed around a plate, and tapped into “put-money-in-the-plate-at-church” habit that people have. Even though I had been vigorously arguing the anti-science position with the guy during question time, I got evil glares when I didn’t give him money. This guy was using the church environment to encourage people to accept what he said uncritically, as they do a sermon, and then give him money.

    Even without this, churches are a monument to ignorance. What self-respecting educator who sees this would not feel icky?

  73. echidna says

    Compassion and forgiveness have been preached too often to encourage the downtrodden and abused to accept their lot without complaint.

    Forgiveness is a dangerous meme.

  74. says

    Why does a church feel icky?

    Last time I was in a church was for a communion service. I was completely and utterly anxious while there, not because of the thoughts of “I really believe this shit” but for the fact that I was surrounded by about a thousand people, the majority of whom would spit in my face for learning who I was. If I went up to the head pastor and told him I was pansexual and transgender, he would be telling me to change myself rather than be myself. They were all delusional people who would think I was irrational for believing in reality.

    That’s why church is icky.

  75. quoderatdemonstrandum says

    Why does a church feel icky?

    Because churches are, architecturally, projections of the authority and power of the church and its clerics over people.

    The best example may be the Vatican. Everything is gigantic, imposing, looming. Nothing is to human scale; human beings are dwarfed by the size of the buildings. It was designed to make humans look small and insignificant, it was meant to awe, it was meant to project wealth and power, both temporal and “spiritual”. It says “behold the power of the catholic church: do not fuck with us”

    The small, rural, protestant, white clapboard church is the same thing with less funding. The spire may still be the highest man made thing within eyesight. It often has a privileged position in the centre of town. It is often the largest “public” building in town. It is a reminder that God and his clerics are present and watching over the community.

    So yeah, despite often being beautiful testaments to the creativity, artistry and engineering skills of long dead men, churches are still icky.

  76. julietdefarge says

    Having used churches for dance workshops over the years, I don’t see a problem with using the facilities. Indeed, it has a nice desecrate-y feel to it. Getting permission to use other large floor spaces, like school gyms, is onerous and expensive.

    I would take part in community projects with the religious only if I were wearing a t-shirt or something that clearly identified me as an atheist. And, I would expect some seniors and needy people to be terrified that my presence would jinx them in some way.

    What really chaps my ass is when the only place in a district to set up election polls is a church. It happens.

  77. A. R says

    Eh, I’m rather ambivalent on churches. I see them as being either monuments to bad architecture and stupidity, or beautiful works of architecture built for the purpose of stupidity. And regarding the deaths involved in cathedral construction, remember that every major building constructed in that time period is responsible for many deaths. Versailles is a good example.

  78. Brownian says

    There’s something fun about packing a church full of atheists to hear Bad Religion and talk about biology…

    Maybe, but it’s a juvenile, “Ha-ha! Let’s put a whoopie cushion under teacher’s chair” kind of fun. It’s only because churches and church-like institutions have so damn much unquestioned authority that it’s fun to thumb your nose behind their back.

    Hey, Walton, how about a response to Caine? Why, precisely, should she attempt to be “empathetic” and “compassionate” toward the man who tried to murder her and who murdered several other women?

    I’ve seen this conversation before. Compassion emotion good; vengeance emotion bad. Since they’re both emotions and not subject to support via argumentation, you just have to have faith.

  79. Brownian says

    It’s only because churches and church-like institutions have so damn much unquestioned authority that it’s fun to thumb your nose behind their back.

    Forgot to add that it’s also authority that the the Harvard group accepts and supports by aping such institutions. Claiming rebel status while anointing yourselves ministers and chaplains smacks of hypocrisy. You’re like Mercedes Marxists or Satanists, propping up the very structures you claim to dislike.

  80. christdenier says

    •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.

    In Charlotte (Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics), we’re doing this now. We’ve actually adopted a city street – in time for the DNC, I should add – and we’ve started a Youth Secular Organization. We’re looking out for ways to reach the community to put a positive face on atheism.

  81. Mattir says

    Compassion is a personal decision. I have compassion for the man who molested me because I know some of what his childhood had been like that led him to be a man who would rape a child. I do not forgive his actions, and my life has not become all fuzzy unicorns as a result of this compassion, but I think having some bigger perspective about the influences that produce people who hurt others is quite useful. It’s certainly helped me put my own experiences in perspective, which has made me a lot more patient with myself when confronting how much I lost because of his crime.

  82. Just_A_Lurker says

    And this is where you veer completely off the road. Fuck empathizing with those who commit horrific crimes. I don’t have one drop of empathy for the monstrosity that tried to murder me and successfully murdered others. They have no empathy or compassion and I’m not the least bit interested in listening to them rattle on about how “I’m a Christian now” or any other kind of crap.

    I am opposed to the death penalty, however, this “kindness and compassion” business? No. This is where you are not only buying into the religious paradigm lock, stock and barrel, you’re pushing a distinctly religious viewpoint.

    This. I couldn’t agree more. I seriously hate how the “Now, I’m a Christian, you must forgive me or you’re the bad person” shit. That bullshit gets pulled all the time. You see it will Catholics dealing with the Church scandals. You can’t get parole unless you are religions and claim that you’ve reformed. It’s a shield to protect them when they don’t live up to their own standards and used to bash down the people they hate; the people that don’t conform, minorities, the poor, the other.
    Fuck their forgiveness. I don’t need and I don’t have to give it. I don’t have to empathize with those who’s ignorance destroy lives and society. And certainly don’t have to forgive or feel compassion for those that are actively knowingly destroying it.
    Starting out ignorant may not be their fault but staying ignorant is. This is why we need more secular outreach. We need to take back schools and science. We need to give a helping hand to those who need it without the religious trappings. Accepting all apologies and forgiveness included.

  83. Just_A_Lurker says

    Mattir

    but I think having some bigger perspective about the influences that produce people who hurt others is quite useful.

    This is true. Bigger perspective doesn’t need or equal to feeling compassion toward them though.
    —–
    My 106 is quoting Caine talking to Waltion.

  84. 'Tis Himself says

    Brownian #103

    Forgot to add that it’s also authority that the the Harvard group accepts and supports by aping such institutions. Claiming rebel status while anointing yourselves ministers and chaplains smacks of hypocrisy. You’re like Mercedes Marxists or Satanists, propping up the very structures you claim to dislike.

    We saw this recently with de Botton’s proposed atheist temples, his Sistine Chapels for the godless. The Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy wants all the trappings of religion including their own dogma. Granted, it’s a godless dogma, but they’re preaching it to anyone who’ll listen.

    We’re all heretics for not falling in line with the HHC dogma. We don’t respect their priesthood, we aren’t interested in their rituals, and we are unimpressed with the authoritarian hierarchy they want to impose on us. But HHC isn’t really interested in what the peasantry wants. They know what’s right for atheism and we obviously don’t, or else we’d agree with them.

    The problem is quite simple. HHC wants a top-down atheism, with them at the top. Most of us gnu atheists prefer a bottom up situation. The line is drawn.

  85. crissakentavr says

    Alas, churches are usually cheap venues. Your other options are usually altars or offerings to capitalism, which isn’t much better. They don’t generally give discounted rates for charity events that don’t help their capitalist endeavors.

    Hey, weren’t you just poo-pooing making a church replacement? Well, here’s a function churches serve that we’ll want to replace.

    My home town had a convention center for such things, but my current town has few secular venues that can be used – even the Veterans’ center has been partially condemned due to earthquake damage they’re unable to repair.

  86. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    I like churches. They make such lovely art galleries/pubs/flats (or “apartments” if you insist)/music venues/theatres/film-club cinemas/dance halls/community centres … once you’ve got rid of all the priests and vicars and suchlike, of course.

    There are several within a mile or two of where I live that have been converted into flats or arts venues and one which is now a pub, and it always gives me pleasure to see these pretty buildings being put to good use.