More Discussion from Atheists of the Proposed Ohio Holocaust Memorial

In the video above you can see me talk with Mark Nebo of Be Secular about the various projects I’m working on, including your chance to study philosophy with me online without enrolling in any school, or to talk out your life problems with me that you think my philosophical advice could help with. Then you can learn a little bit about how I deconverted from Christianity. Finally, I had the chance to verbally summarize most of the points of my opposition to the recent decisions of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Atheists to come out against the design plan for a proposed Holocaust memorial in Ohio.

Tomorrow night from 9:30-11pm Eastern Time, the second season of The Camels With Hammers Show premieres with a special discussion about the proposed Ohio memorial. Tune in just by going to my YouTube page.

I have reached out to a number of people on both sides of the issue throughout the atheist community and will have a very well-balanced line up of participants including a representative from American Atheists, Dave Muscato. I have reached out to the Freedom From Religion Foundation by e-mail, phone, and through a mutual contact in order to give them every chance to appear and speak for themselves. Tonight once the line up is finalized, I will provide more details.

[Update, the show is now completed and can be watched below and/or read, in transcript form, here.]


Or watch this other version (they’re identical) if that one doesn’t work for you.

In the meantime, related to the memorial issue, here are some links I recommend:

Tonight at 7pm Eastern Time, Miri Mogilevsky and Chana Messinger, two of the brightest young stars of the atheist movement will be talking about what it means to be a Jewish atheist. Go here to watch that discussion and feel free to share Your Thoughts on it live in the comments section of this here post tonight.

There is a post from the spring with very informed and important criticisms on the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s general legal strategy. It makes an important case that choosing the wrong cases to fight, even when we’re in the right, is creating potentially too much precedence to overcome should the Supreme Court ever become more secular friendly again. The post is called “Suing Ourselves in the Foot” and it’s posted by at the blog for the University of Northern Iowa and Freethinkers. The post is not just negative, it suggests a legal strategy that could lead to more success in the courts than the FFRF’s approach, while acknowledging in the end that FFRF’s work in getting settlements without going to court makes their overall track record look better than their straight up win/loss record.

Hemant Mehta defended the FFRF’s basic strategy, with particular reference to their opposition to the Ohio memorial, just last week.

Skepchick‘s Heina Dadhaboy came out today saying when she was a Muslim she was briefly a Holocaust denier. But as much as she is ashamed of that and repudiates Holocaust denial, she thinks the FFRF and AA are right to fight this memorial for not being inclusive of all the Holocaust’s victims. My argument on this has always been that even if the memorial should be more inclusive, that doesn’t make it a 1st Amendment issue worth the attention of FFRF and AA since the reason that it is not more inclusive has nothing to do with the state endorsing either Jewish belief or practice or religious practice in general. And even if we could paint it as though that’s the case on technical letter of the law grounds, we should not because that violates the spirit of what the 1st Amendment should mean.

And, perhaps more consequentially, as Orac documents the ways in which anti-Semites have a long and ugly history of trying to minimize the importance of the Jews to the Holocaust and people are rightly sensitized to such memes being perpetuated. Representatives of the atheist movement should be far more cautious than they have been in flirting in making this about the Jews wanting too much attention for the Holocaust. There are other ways to advocate for greater recognition of others heinously murdered by the Nazis without participating in rhetoric that tries to minimize the importance of the Jews to the Holocaust and play into anti-Semites’ despicable hands. For the life of me I do not see the wisdom of atheists embroiling themselves in this issue when it is not a 1st Amendment one.

I understand American Atheists’ willingness to be seen as offensive when standing up for principle, as Adam Lee defends. But I think they should spend pick their fights and spend them challenging false religious claims to truth or goodness, and not attacking the “religious” side of just any given debate, even when that “religious” side is Jews (religious and irreligious alike) who have exceptionally good reasons to see that the ways they were distinctly singled out and scapegoated for centuries and then were distinctly singled out for murder as a prime motivation for the Holocaust. That fight does not help the causes of atheism or secularism at all. It could actively hurt us.

James Croft has an exceptional piece making the point that even as we have great secular protections in law in America we have a culture or, at least, large and virulently vocal and voting subcultures that are actively hostile to the robust kind of secularism that our 1st Amendment should make possible. While quite often I see the point of challenging that culture in ways that risk great unpopularity if we really want to have a secular culture that can safeguard our secular laws and make for flourishing secular values in all areas of life, I think that a PR war over a Holocaust memorial in which our leaders try to minimize Jewish importance to the Holocaust in a tenuous 1st Amendment case we’d be likely to lose on precedent is the wrong way to change hearts and minds. Challenging the Star of David in a Holocaust memorial could win us at best a pyrrhic victory and I think should be seen as Constitutionally wrong even were we able to win it because I don’t think memorializing religious victims of genocide with their symbol is at all tantamount to endorsing their religion.

For more of my views on this issue see my initial post about it from Friday that has gone viral now and sparked a lot of discussion.

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • OhioAtheist

    As someone who literally works about two miles from the Statehouse, this has gone way too far. Let the memorial be. There are far better fights to fight.

  • John Kruger

    As Dan says, specifically in the case of the holocaust, the Jewish identity was very much ethnic. The ideology of the Nazis was not nearly as concerned with eliminating Jewish religious ideas or de-converting people from the Jewish religion as they were with eliminating people that identified as Jewish ethnically. Judaism is somewhat unique in that it is so closely tied to genetics, largely due to strict marriage requirements over a long period of time, but the Nazi persecution was very much racially motivated. Becoming “un-Jewish” was not an option, and most of the demonization revolved around assertions that completely dehumanized the people (Jews having tails or other dehumanizing/scapegoating attributes) that had next to nothing to do with their ideology.

    So in a holocaust memorial, the symbol is very much an ethnic one, and in no way a separation of church and state issue. It would perhaps be a good idea to include other ethnic symbols of other people that suffered from genocide as well, but excluding the star on the grounds that it also has religious meanings is unfounded.

  • http://BigOmahaSEO.com/ Solomon Kleinsmith

    This really is an embarassment for atheists and agnostics. It mirrors so many of the discriminating activities that religious groups foist upon us… really sad to see this atheist group stoop so low.


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