Grumpy takes on atheist sayings

Inspired by a comment I made in my last article, I’m making a listicle of common atheist sayings, many of which I had objections to even when I was involved in the atheist movement.

I want to stick to quotes that I’ve actually heard atheists repeating and paraphrasing multiple times.  And, it’s pretty hard to come up with a list like that, because any search for atheist sayings just turns up much more obscure quotes, voted up by… whoever hangs around websites that collect quotes.  So, I’m sure I missed a few, and if commenters identify a bunch then I might make another listicle.

Before I get to the list proper, let’s start with a grumpy take on atheist quotememes.  This is an image search for “atheist sayings”:

Results of an image search for atheist sayings. Mostly images of black and white faces next to quotes.

Atheists sure like quotes in overwrought fonts next to shadowed grayscale faces of celebrities.  This felt worthy of parody, so I amused myself by making a Pikachu meme.

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In (reluctant) defense of the atheist movement

Something I hear people say, is that self-identified atheists, and “new atheists”, are terrible. They’re racist and sexist, and their main mission is to bring about the death of religion through a series of trite “gotcha” arguments. Now, as someone who was involved in “new atheism” from 2007 to 2017, and then quit for some of those very same reasons, I always want to say, “Yes, but also no.”

Yes, the atheist movement is terrible, but no it has not always been so, and is not wholly so. In particular, you should not assume that every self-identified atheist is just a Dawkins fanboy armed with a series of atheist proverbs. I mean, I participated in the atheist movement for a decade and I was in fact never a Dawkins fan, and I spent many years complaining about atheist proverbs myself. Yes, be critical of the atheist movement, but be careful that it doesn’t veer into stereotyping and sweeping generalizations.

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Retrospective on Hobby Lobby

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2014, on the (then recent) Burwell v Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, which ruled that owners of for-profit corporations could withhold certain healthcare benefits (i.e. contraceptives) if their owners had religious objections.  I was reminded of this one because of Trump’s recent rule allowing federal contractors to discriminate based on religious views.  While only tangential to the present issue, I thought it was a good explanation of the rationale behind the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and how one might argue around religious exemptions.

As I may or may not have mentioned before, my boyfriend has a law degree.  So I get to hear a lot of lawyerly opinions on the recent Burwell vs Hobby Lobby decision, both from him and his friends.  And they seem to contrast with the opinions I get from atheist blogs, where there’s lots of panicking about the consequences, but very little explanation of the mechanical details of the decision.

The Hobby Lobby decision was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law from the 90s.  The RFRA says,

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

Laws specifically targeted against religions are already unconstitutional, but the RFRA adds religious protection from neutral laws.  For example, if a company bans hats among employees, that is a neutral rule that disproportionately affects certain minority religions which mandate wearing hats.
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Intrinsic value of choice

I know that this question has practical and political implications, but for now, I’m treating it as a “just for fun” philosophical question.  Just wanted to be upfront.

What is the value of freedom of choice?  Does it have intrinsic value, or is its value purely instrumental?

A thing has “intrinsic value” if it is valuable in itself.  It has “instrumental value” if it is valuable because it is a means to get something else of value.  For instance, suppose we have a choice between mushroom and cheese pizza.  This choice has instrumental value, because it’s a means for people to have the kind of pizza they most prefer.  But does the choice also have intrinsic value?

Under an initial analysis, I thought the answer was “no”.  If I’m presented with a one-time choice between A and B, and I choose A, did the other option B do any good?  At least within a consequentialist ethical framework, it sure doesn’t seem like it.  After all, option B had no bearing on the consequences.

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Guns, terrorism, and distortion

Generally I prefer not to comment on “news”, and I will continue that trend here. But we all know gun violence in the US is bad, right? You don’t need to pay attention to the news to know that! You can just read Wikipedia. (And I’m being lazy in my research to demonstrate just how easy it is to find this stuff.)

In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries (23.2 injuries per 100,000 persons), and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” (10.6 deaths per 100,000 persons). These deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides, 505 deaths due to accidental or negligent discharge of a firearm, and 281 deaths due to firearms use with “undetermined intent”.

This is vastly higher than it is in other wealthy countries, and it’s only gotten higher in recent years.  I used to think that the death rate by guns must be dwarfed by that of car crashes, but no, it’s actually quite comparable (although with a lower injury rate):

In 2010, there were an estimated 5,419,000 crashes, 30,296 deadly, killing 32,999, and injuring 2,239,000.

Here’s what’s not comparable: number of deaths by mass shootings. If you only pay attention to mass shootings in the news, this will vastly underestimate gun violence in the US.

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Link Roundup: August 2019

Plugs

I wrote two essays for The Asexual Agenda:

Labels must be allowed to die – It’s about those really obscure orientation labels, some of which are used by more people than you think, and some of which are effectively dead.  I’m not against obscure labels, but I make the case against preserving dead labels.

Lisa Orlando, Author of The Asexual Manifesto (1972) – A historical account of an old essay written in the context of second wave feminism.  We first heard about the essay last year, and we were all wondering what was inside it.  We finally found the essay, and its author, and it’s so exciting.

Articles

The Cotton Ceiling: The best argument that TERFs aren’t feminists? – The “cotton ceiling” is about how people are unwilling to date trans women even when they like trans women.  It’s a reference the feminist concept of the “glass ceiling”, but TERFs seem completely ignorant of that fact.  Yeah, so I’ve argued that TERFs are feminists before, but their competency with feminism is pretty bad.  Just the other day, I saw on twitter a leading TERF philosopher claimed that trans lesbians only had the “chutzpah” to self-define into existence in the last 10 years.  She apparently wasn’t familiar with Janice Raymond, who dedicated a whole chapter to complaining about trans lesbians in The Transsexual Empire in 1979.

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What drives walking sims?

“Walking simulator” was originally a derisive term, coined in the days of gamergate, referring to a set of minimalist games where you simply walked around 3D environments. By now, a lot more games in this category have appeared, and while not universally beloved, they’re more or less accepted as a part of the video game landscape. And I find that I rather like this genre myself. I’ve played quite a number of walking simulators over the years, and still others I’ve watched on video or have seen critical discussions.

The question I’d like to ask today is, what is the appeal of walking simulators? What drives them?

I am thinking in analogy to drone and ambient music, which strips away many of the components that people conventionally enjoy in music. But what motivates drone/ambient music varies greatly depending on the work. Contrast Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, which wants to blend into the background, with Sunn O)))’s Monoliths and Dimensions, which wants to mesmerize. Walking sims are also a genre full of contrasts, and I’d like to identify several different goals that they may have.

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