Uh-oh…we aren’t being nice and respectful of the faithful

I’m afraid I won’t be doing much posting live from the Global Atheist Convention; I’m busy, I’m having fun, my dancecard is full, and whenever things slow down a little bit some new person comes up to say hello. But have no fear, I’ll put up some comments afterwards, and also, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has dispatched a crack team of ace believers to cover the convention and scowl primly at us all. You can get the fun-house mirror version of the conference from those weirdos…and much amusement. I find it very funny that, for instance, that they can complain about how the GAC is unfair in not representing religious believers, and comparing us unfavorably to the Parliament of World’s Religions meeting, all without noting that the PWR got buckets of money from the government here, while the GAC got doodly-squat. It’s silly to demand that we respectfully engage the clownish buffoons of religion, and at the same time insist that we must use our limited resources to give a pulpit to said buffoons.

They are also a bit snooty about the fact that the opening night was a festival of comedy. How dare atheists think that the appropriate way to cope with the follies of faith is by developing a sense of humor! But then, I find this guy hilarious: catch this juxtaposition.

The night finished with Catherine Deveney and “God is Bullshit. That’s the good news.” In your face, yes. And no surprise to those who read her columns in The Age. Her milder lines included, “The only person who takes the Pope seriously is Tony Abbott.” And: “If there is anybody out there who is not an atheist, don’t worry: it’s an intelligence test and you will be eventually.” I met Catherine at the bar before the program started and after chatting she agreed to ‘an interview’ on Sunday.

My thoughts so far? As a Christian I am appalled and ashamed of the crimes, victimisation and discrimination committed in the name of Christ or by those who bear his name. To make light of them through humour is risky. And to stereotype religion in such a way is akin to taking Stalin or Pol Pot as your stereotype atheist.

I’m a little worried about Australian religion and politics now. Chris Mulherin apparently believes that making fun of the Pope and Tony Abbot is like making them the equivalent of Stalin and Pol Pot.

Nobody is making light of the horrors perpetrated in the name of religion — I do appreciate the fact that the first defensive reaction to criticism of religion is a sense of shame, at least — but the goofiness of religion is a wonderful target for humor. To whine that making a joke about one of their poorly regarded pious politicians is stereotyping them as evil tyrants suggests that their guilt and embarrassment is even deeper than I suspected.

Don’t expect much favorable coverage from this lot (and by the way, it’s also hypocritical to complain about the lack of religious apologists on the stage when the ABC blog doesn’t include even a token atheist). They’ve got an agenda that is going to be disappointed, and I predict they will continue to complain in their oblivious fashion. They’re out there in the audience, watching, hoping, and maybe even praying that someone will say something nice about their superstitions; their definition of a good convention is one that reassures them that we don’t think their bliss-ninny belief system is an unsalvageable stew of raw sewage spiced with smug ignorance.

That despite all the terrible things we know about religion – the oppression of women, the paedophilia, the social control, the violence and cruelty perpetuated in the name of one faith or another – there’s a niggling truth that millions of good, decent, hard-working people around the world are sustained, guided, and comforted by their beliefs. Instead of merely bagging religion, maybe we should be trying to understand why this is? In other words, can you have a new awakening without fully knowing what you’re waking from?

Oh, yeah, there’s that guilt again. Aside from the violence and oppression and child-rape and cruelty, how can we possibly consider taking away the baby’s dummy? That’s a fairly common argument for religion, you know — it’s the old “opiate of the masses” defense. It’s not much of a defense. When you’re amidst a group of people who have seen how swaddling minds in ignorance leads to nightmares of stupidity, it’s no defense at all.

We know that millions of good people cherish their delusions. We don’t care; that a lie makes people feel good doesn’t make it a truth. We also understand religion far better than a group of people immersed in it, making a living from propping it up, and desperate to deny that they’re wasting their lives worshipping a phantasm.

I imagine the ABC team sitting out there in the sea of the happy godless, busily taking notes, hoping for some little morsel of acknowledgment that maybe they aren’t idiots and fools for believing in a magic man in the sky who will reward their intellectual blindness with fluffy comfy chairs in a celestial paradise, or at least won’t set their immortal souls on fire for eternity. They aren’t going to get that validation. Which means we already know everything they’re going to say about the conference.


  1. Brownian, OM says

    They believe in a kind of “God” that is no more objectionable than the Easter Bunny; and while we might laugh indulgently at someone who holds a private belief in the Easter Bunny (while supporting reason, science and decency in every other aspect of his or her life), we wouldn’t devote our time to systematically critiquing their ideas.

    Who’s “we”?

  2. Caine, Fleur du mal says


    why should we be in any way opposed to their beliefs?

    The problem is that all the people who believe in a god[s] or some sort of higher authority/deity/woo shore up the platform of all religious belief, no matter how virulent it may be; it also adds to the growing number of those who think that belief in belief is crucial in human life.

    While some of these belief systems are mostly de-fanged and appear harmless, they aren’t. People simply don’t keep their beliefs private; those beliefs inform their thinking and their lives.

  3. Josh, Official SpokesGay says


    Your attempts at self denigrating humor are also dodges. So you’re coming off as a quasi-charming stoner/pie-eyed Sunday school teacher who’s trying to sell me a junk car. Focus Bro, focus

    Thank you. “Nice” “liberal” fuzzy-headed theists are used to getting a discursive free pass, because no one wants to criticize “nice” people. Their ideas as just as ridiculous (if not as directly alarming) as fundies, and they need to get used to some conversational hard knocks.

  4. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    @ Caine:

    While some of these belief systems are mostly de-fanged and appear harmless, they aren’t. People simply don’t keep their beliefs private; those beliefs inform their thinking and their lives.

    Just so. Not only that, but they make common cause (even though they deny it and get really angry when it’s pointed out) with more aggressive and politically sinister religionists, by the mere fact of waving the I’m A Good Person Whom Society Respects Because I Have Faith flag.

  5. IaMoL says

    Ohh, dammit. I missed the fallen from perfection/paradise plea. *shakes head*
    just when I thought he couldn’t be any more naive…
    So how do you explain those horrible cataclysmic collisions of galaxies where, for all we know, inhabited planets are being wiped out wholesale on a level that makes a supernova seem pathetic?

  6. Celtic_Evolution says

    It may be an irrational thing to do on its face, but if it makes people happy, and it doesn’t do any harm, why bother calling them out on it?

    Walton, you’ve been coming here for how long and you don’t understand the problem with this sentiment?

    It does do harm, whether directly or indirectly, by means of the rejection of reality on favor of ignorance and superstition, and the embracing and propagation of such a mentality.

  7. Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM says

    What do you guys find in Mr Fuzzy-Wuzzy that I am missing?

  8. Caine, Fleur du mal says

    Josh OSG:

    I’m A Good Person Whom Society Respects Because I Have Faith flag.

    Oh yes. While atheists remain (at least in the U.S.) the most despised minority, mean, evil, petty minded people who want to murder god. Feh.

  9. Caine, Fleur du mal says


    What do you guys find in Mr Fuzzy-Wuzzy that I am missing?

    A brain made of rose-coloured fuzz.

  10. Brownian, OM says

    So how do you explain those horrible cataclysmic collisions of galaxies where, for all we know, inhabited planets are being wiped out wholesale on a level that makes a supernova seem pathetic?

    “Hey Xthlothorpe, you know that one krensleot of all the krensleots in the garden whose ripened ovaries YHWH told us not to eat of?”
    “Yes Merkllath, what of it?”
    “Well, I was talking to one of those slithery chsonoctons, and–”
    “Please tell me he did not convince you to eat of it!”
    “No, of course not. He convinced me we should make sweet, passionate blontho in it.”

  11. IaMoL says

    What do you guys find in Mr Fuzzy-Wuzzy that I am missing?

    The same thing a cat finds in a Toxoplasmosis infected mouse.

  12. Louise says

    Just a note that the ABC blog above is adding some audio now of the speakers at the GAC. I would like to hear the presentation of Taslima Nasrin but that one is not up yet.

    We’re adding audio from the Convention: first to appear are Tamas Pataki (sadly without that important question and answer re Scandinavia – we didn’t record it) and Ian Robinson. You can find Tamas Pataki here and Ian Robinson here. Scroll through to the foot of each post. More audio will be added tomorrow.

    Maybe there are other sources for audio or podcasts that others here may know about.

  13. Sastra says

    rudy #464 wrote:

    “… there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it.”
    … is ok but I’d leave out “deliberately designed”.

    Intelligence and consciousness are activities of a brain: they’re not things themselves. Given what we know about how the brain creates our minds, does the existence of any sort of disembodied “intelligence” seem likely to you?

    There’s also this problem:

    “Mental things, brains, minds, consciousnesses, things that are capable of comprehending anything — these come late in evolution, they are a product of evolution. They don’t come at the beginning. So whatever lies behind the universe will not be an intellect. Intellects are things that come as the result of a long period of evolution.” (Richard Dawkins)

    Mind is a complicated thing. We can understand how complicated things might get that way from simpler things. But it makes no sense to start out complex, and shaped against no environment, with no background. Instead, that looks like the careless habit of a mind that sees itself in everything it looks at.

    Minds are cranes, not skyhooks.

    God is my conscience, who’s telling me what the right thing to do is, and who is telling me that I haven’t got it right, and who sometimes reassures me when it’s quiet, or at Meeting, and is the friend I don’t want to disappoint, even when no one else will notice.

    Isn’t it more probable that the “voice in your head” (I’m assuming it’s not an actual voice) is simply your own voice, and the audience is one you mentally visualize for yourself?

    If this is indeed the case — and what’s going on is going on internally, in your mind — would it really matter? It’s just as effective, either way.

    I would like to know what took you to Meeting, just out of curiosity (lots of people show up and don’t stay) and what you drew you to the atheist community.

    The proximate cause was that I moved out of state; the long-term cause was that I was honestly searching for an understanding of spirituality, and how it fit into life and the world. What I enjoyed most about Quaker meeting was the people, the atmosphere, and the respect for quiet contemplation. I decided to pursue the latter on my own, and serious contemplation eventually took the supernatural aspect right out of humanism.

    Fatal questions: “What does that really mean? Is this really true? Is it consistent? Could there be a better explanation?” And, of course, “does truth matter?”

    When you are trying to figure things out, because truth does matter (and absolute isn’t possible), you will approach the world differently, than you approach it when you’re trying to find support for the way you figure things ought to be — and comfortable certainty matters more than truth.

    I was drawn to the atheist community by the challenge, and the intellectual excitement. And, of course, the bacon, lesbians, and squid (inside joke).

  14. Brownian, OM says

    And, of course, the bacon, lesbians, and squid (inside joke).

    These are a joke?! False advertisers!

    *Flounces haughtily from Pharyngula, never to return*

  15. Owlmirror says

    made decisions whose long-term outcomes may very well have led to the war, civil war, tyranny, and mass-murder that troubled Athens and the rest of the Peloponnese during his lifetime

    Although saying “led to” is probably overstating the case (and his influence).

    More like: “possibly contributed to”.

    Or maybe even more qualified: “possibly contributed to, and certainly did nothing to prevent”

  16. rudy says


    I said thank you for what you said before, and I meant it. You are over analyzing what I said, and the pointless abuse is just that, pointless. Whatever. Just let’s say the guinea worm broke it, and leave it there. I googled it just now and hope I can put some $ into it next month. I have a friend from Ghana (one of the affected countries, though wikipedia says it’s getting better there) but I had not heard of it, not that there’s a shortage of tropical diseases to fix.

    @Josh, no problem.

    @Sastra, I understand what you are saying about intelligence. It seems like a more abstract quality to me, something I *could* imagine disembodied, and there’s a lot of wiggle room in “superhuman intelligence”, after all.

    I agree it’s here, in the only physical case we know of, as a result of evolution. People for good reasons or bad have an intuition God is similar to us, only more so (the 99 names, merciful, just, etc. only apply to us some of the time, and maybe we are the only physical instantiations of those too. It’s a nice collection of names to keep in mind.)

    Maybe it doesn’t matter where I think my inspirations are coming from. I’ll practice thinking that and see how I like it (I did say religion was research). Thanks for coming back to the thread, enjoy the bacon, lesbians, and squid (I knew about the squid).

    Now I’ll STFU.

  17. Pope Maledict DCLXVI says

    It seems a long while since I looked in on this thread, and I’m interested to at long last see something in the way of a definition of God from rudy @ #464, in the “still small voice” that personally “speaks” to him, internally in the processes of his mind.

    Now it would be presumptuous to state it as a fact, but since we know that the brain is very complex and internally connected in ways that we are as yet far from unraveling and understanding in full, it would seem more parsimonious to suggest rudy’s conscience is in fact an artifact of his own cognition, which he has failed to recognise as originating from himself. (Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” cites a fascinating (or crackpot?) book called “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” by Julian Jaynes, which apparently hypothesises the human invention of gods as owing to the lack of self-perception to identify an internal “voice”.)

    Also, the idea that “superhuman intelligence” can be *imagined* as disembodied seems like yet another piece of wishful thinking devoid of evidence (cf. thread above and the “soul”), however much one would like it to be proved – what natural process would support cognition and where would the intelligence’s memory be stored? If we have to go to the supernatural, that’s again unsatisfying based on the world as it’s generally known. (And although lots of people claim there are other “ways of knowing” counter to empirical rationalism, we haven’t seen anyone win the Randi million dollar prize!)

    Another poster identified a particularly interesting, if weak argument for disposing of this type of minimal-interventionist “god”, that is, one that doesn’t perform miracles, but is omniscient and presumably able to communicate supernaturally with the brains of living organisms (“Her creatures”? Anthropo-centrism strikes again!). That we fail to get warnings of future bad events – that handhold I’m reaching for on the cliff-face won’t support my weight, or I shouldn’t sail on the Titanic’s maiden voyage – seems to suggest something against either the omniscience or omnibenevolence of this supposed being.

    In any case, aside from that, the “god” that just “let[s] the good times roll” by inventing the universe and then allowing things to happen according to natural cause and effect is just Deus otiosus, a lazy god that far from being concerned with the fate of cells, ants, or humans, planets, stars, or galaxies, has no justification to even exist – and it would be quite a leap of logic to suggest that despite creating the universe, such a lazy god is concerned with the “after-life” of creatures that “He” (for want of a pronoun) appears to be quite disinterested in otherwise.

    [Cutting this post here to avoid the tl;dr issue; more to come]

  18. Pope Maledict DCLXVI says

    The rest of rudy’s views that follow after first imagining a “God” and then imputing “His/Her/Its” properties to extend to “creation” (such as the argument from beauty, or the grandeur of nature, or that “God made the universe good”) have rightly been criticised as being rose-tinted and also, fundamentally owing to not being properly thought out, are wishy-washy. Its mere frippery and prettification around the corners of a badly-designed idea – meaningless theorems derived from a false axiom. That the initial idea is weak would be shown by pessimists being able to argue the case for “God made the universe bad” and having ample evidence to demonstrate it, as well as that in case of the “grandeur of nature”, nature seems to be grand independently without any sign of deistic involvement.

    All of these arguments are also completely subjective, which is probably why you (rudy) seemed to lightly toss off the argument I presented briefly @ #376, by incorrectly dubbing it the “argument from tinyness”, and made the irrelevant observation that “go[ing] by powers of ten in both space and time, people are kind of in the middle of the scale”. So what?

    Its proper title is the argument from mediocrity, and the fact is most religions despise it because they are so wedded to a solipsistic view of the world that places humans squarely at its centre, not realising that there is something wrong with this picture.

    It’s also why you later imputed an aim to evolution, although I think you half-heartedly realised the wrongness of this by admitting that “God would have been just as happy I’m sure with smart dinosaurs” @ #464. Your thinking is so obviously anthropocentric. Now we’ve had the Copernican revolution and dispensed with geocentrism (and it was Einstein, with the general theory of relativity, that put the final nail in the coffin of earth and the centre of everything that had been gradually boarded up by Kepler and Newton). We need another revolution to get people out of the habit of thinking “it’s all about us”.

  19. Pope Maledict DCLXVI says

    earth and being at the centre of everything

    And a few other apostrophes required. Sheesh.

    For the people who aren’t inclined to read the tl;dr posts above, a quick question.

    Has anyone heard inner cognitive voices that they suspected didn’t belong to them, and how did you rationalise them?

    (In my own case, I’ve suffered chronic depression from time to time, and during the worst episodes noticed both unbidden and uncontrollable thoughts that sounded like they were “not me”, but which I rationalised as being a little bit crazy and in need of medication of the SSRI variety.)

  20. Caine, Fleur du mal says

    Pope Maledict, the closest I get to that is “talking things over with myself”. Sometimes, in my head, I become two of myself, twins, you could say. Happens now and again when I really need to mull something over.

  21. Pope Maledict DCLXVI says

    Hi Caine,

    cue the inevitable joke:

    “The first sign of madness is talking to yourself; the second is answering back.”

    I sometimes have problems remembering where things are (e.g. where I left my keys, or such) and I find that asking the question of myself aloud is sometimes more helpful than worrying about it in my head – though it could be a case of confirmation bias, I have something of a personal theory (i.e. relating only to myself and the way I notice my brain work) that using the verbal part of my brain to frame the question (where are my keys?) sometime helps with the desired memory retrieval (my keys are to be found…). Sincethere is really interesting research going into active MRI on the brain to find the way specific parts of the brain are activated when certain thoughts are brought to mind, I suppose this may not be a total surprise.

    (And dman, siht, one of my posts is held up thanks to the frakking Euphemism vegimete ccok-sucking mooneybaum.)

  22. John Morales says

    Pope Maledict DCLXVI,

    Has anyone heard inner cognitive voices that they suspected didn’t belong to them, and how did you rationalise them?

    Nope, so I didn’t need to. I’ve never felt that an external agency was responsible for my thoughts.

    (Mind you, as a young child I fully hoped for such, inculcated as I was. Self-honesty won out.)

  23. Brownian, OM says

    Has anyone heard inner cognitive voices that they suspected didn’t belong to them, and how did you rationalise them?

    I have, though I don’t recall anything more coherent than a vague, déjà vu-like feeling/memory that I’d just heard someone whisper my name or shout something. I’ve never felt the need to rationalise them as they just seemed the neurological equivalent of the body’s mystery aches or pains, and so required no rationalisation. (I also get brain zaps, which would certainly defy any attempt to construct a meaningful or coherent theology out of. For those who have never experienced such things, mine manifest themselves as a sudden flash of light and loud sound in my mind’s eye/ear, as if I’ve just been struck hard in the head. Does God want me to know that he’s always there, waiting for me to try to fall asleep so he can invisibly rabbit punch me?)

    Oh, and once I managed to speak with a second, demonic voice in addition to my own. Really freaked the GF and me out. I exorcised it with a glass of water.

    I’m troubled by the thought that someone might have had similar experiences and tried to attach meaning to them. Do people really treat all their perceptions as infallible? Doesn’t anybody drop acid anymore?