Clearing the Ground

A recent comment by Sastra on EvolutionBlog made me laugh:

When atheists make their arguments against fundamentalist forms of God, the moderate believers both approve and disapprove. They agree with what they say, they can’t stand the extremists either, but of course there’s no reason for atheism as a reaction! Those people may be in the majority, but they don’t represent real Christianity at all. So atheists are seen as being just as extreme as the fundamentalists. No God on one side, Too Much God on the other — and then the sophisticated, reasonable, Just Enough God in the middle.

I’m still chuckling over “Just Enough God”. But this remark also reminded me of an observation I made last May, in “The Golden Mean“: the tendency of people to believe that the truth always lies in the middle, as if the correct position on any issue could be found by taking the average of the two most extreme positions. In religion, just as in politics, there are many who think this way, even if few would state it so explicitly.

This is why it’s so important, if we want to build a robust, organized, effective atheist movement, to cast our net broadly. We need to criticize all religion and all faith if we want to carve out a space in which atheism can flourish and grow. If we confined our criticism to the religious terrorists and other hate-spewing fundamentalists, believers would say that, yes, those people are wrong and it’s all well and good to refute them, but faith in general is still a good thing that should be encouraged. If we hold back and refuse to criticize all faith, whether out of fear or a misguided desire to be popular, we leave ourselves defenseless against this assertion and will be unable to explain why one should be an atheist rather than a believer.

In fact, as Sastra insightfully observed, we are regularly chastised for focusing our fire on the crude, belligerent literalism of the fundamentalists, rather than the allegedly more subtle and sophisticated conception of God held by many believers. Then, when we do give arguments that apply to these views, we’re accused of being nasty, bomb-throwing atheists attacking moderate believers who never did anybody any harm, and why don’t we focus on the fundamentalists who are stirring up all this trouble?

The only aim of these complaints is to silence us, and we should disregard them. Most of the people who decry atheists’ supposed incivility and extremism were never going to join us anyway; in other words, they are concern trolls. We do not need to argue them down, and it shouldn’t be our aim to do so. Instead, we should be concentrating on the basic steps of building a movement: reaching out to those who already agree with our goals, as well as those who sympathize but have yet to declare their allegiance.

At the same time, we should be taking a strong and principled public stand against all forms of religious faith, thereby shifting the Overton window and making atheism a more familiar and acceptable position in public discourse. This is quite possibly the most important step, contrary to the misguided fears of those who think our alleged radicalism will alienate the public. On the contrary, it will move atheism into the mainstream, and very likely will win over a large number of people who might never have considered it as an option otherwise. Criticizing only the fundamentalists will do nothing to establish atheism as a good, acceptable option. To do that, we must clear the ground of all forms of faith and show by argument and example that nonbelief is a defensible and respectable position.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • OMGF

    Cue up JJ Ramsey.

  • Jerryd

    Ebon said: “At the same time, we should be taking a strong and principled public stand against all forms of religious faith, thereby shifting the Overton window and making atheism a more familiar and acceptable position in public discourse.”

    I agree, and we also need to develop ways to show that atheists are working toward the betterment of mankind. How do I make a donation to people in need that is funneled through a non-theistic organization? The “Religious Wrong” always seems to get the high ground in this domain. Dogmafreeamerica.com’s podcast this week features a young woman who is donating freethought books to prisons. We need more such people, and we need them to develop strong charitable foundations that provide atheists and other freethinkers an outlet for our charity. By doing so, those receiving the donations will realize that people don’t need belief in an imaginary god to be good.

    One other thought that I had regarding donating books, if I could only give just ONE BOOK that would explain why someone should eschew religion and become an atheists/freethinker, what book would that be? One that tells the who, what, were, why, when, and how, and not in a 1,000 page treatise, but a short readable summary. I hate to use the word, but something like the Freethinker’s Bible. But certainly not written as the obvious fairy tale the other Bible is, rather a short, sweet description of why one would want to examine his/her religious beliefs and compare them to those of the freethinker, then see the superiority of the freethinker’s rationale. Something so powerful that if you see it in the drawer at your motel/hotel, you would immediately question your old religious beliefs and want to start using your mind for its intended purpose of critical reasoning–not as a rubber stamp for dogma.

  • http://aloadofbright.wordpress.com tobe38

    The “just enough God” comment is genius, and I fear I will remember it tomorrow in work and laugh out loud spontaneously, prompting concerned looks from my colleagues. I love this part too:

    In fact, as Sastra insightfully observed, we are regularly chastised for focusing our fire on the crude, belligerent literalism of the fundamentalists, rather than the allegedly more subtle and sophisticated conception of God held by many believers. Then, when we do give arguments that apply to these views, we’re accused of being nasty, bomb-throwing atheists attacking moderate believers who never did anybody any harm, and why don’t we focus on the fundamentalists who are stirring up all this trouble?

    Damned (as it were) if we do, damned if we don’t.

  • OhioAtheist

    Heh. “Just Enough God” is a pretty clever characterization. I think I just might start calling moderate believers followers of “Goldilocks religion.”

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hello All,

    I think that one thing that would strongly help the acceptance of atheism into the mainstream is a concerted effort by the proponents to respectfully oppose religion. As it currently stands, there is much vitriol against religion. I think a more moderate approach which relies on strength of argument more than force of words or emotion would greatly aid the cause.

    Also, a more subtle approach will be more effective. This is especially so in a one-on-one basis. In my experience of “witnessing” it is more effective to simply be yourself and strive to be a good person. When the matter of religion comes up, you can simply answer questions and give your point of view. In short, it is important to be genuine. If people sense that you have an agenda to “convert” them, it is a huge turn-off.

    Just some thoughts from the other side of the fence,

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Mrnaglfar

    matt,

    to respectfully oppose religion. As it currently stands, there is much vitriol against religion. I think a more moderate approach which relies on strength of argument more than force of words or emotion would greatly aid the cause.

    Also, a more subtle approach will be more effective.

    The problem is that any opposition is rarely taken as respectful, whether it was meant that way or not. Simply questioning it most times is enough to draw the call out of “attacking too violently”. I don’t see why it’s the fault of atheists because religion has no real answers to any questions; after all, if religion deserved ‘respect’ (which I really don’t feel it does, not more than any other idea), it should at least be able to stand up to questioning, which it plainly fails time and again.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    I think that questioning is fine and I also note that it is very easy to elicit a strong reaction with reasonable questions. Do not read my comment as a condemnation of the behavior of atheists. We are all human and it is natural to become passionate about one’s beliefs. I have done so many times. I also have noted that if one grows too passionate and says regretful things, that naturally casts a pall over ideas espoused by that individual. This is not necessarily logical as ideas should stand or fall on their own regardless of their proponents, however humans are not completely logical and will act emotionally.

    after all, if religion deserved ‘respect’ (which I really don’t feel it does, not more than any other idea),

    Perhaps the ideas do not deserve special respect, but the people do deserve respect. In the same way that “hate the sin, love the sinner” does not work, speaking poorly of religion is a natural affront to religious people because it is a way of life and a defining characteristic. In the same way that attacking homosexuality is offensive to the homosexual, attacking religion is offensive to the religious person. Regardless of whether the idea is “right” or not, we should be sensitive to the person’s feelings and present arguments in a respectful and thoughtful way.

    Cheers,

    Matt
    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Perhaps the ideas do not deserve special respect, but the people do deserve respect. In the same way that “hate the sin, love the sinner” does not work, speaking poorly of religion is a natural affront to religious people because it is a way of life and a defining characteristic. In the same way that attacking homosexuality is offensive to the homosexual, attacking religion is offensive to the religious person. Regardless of whether the idea is “right” or not, we should be sensitive to the person’s feelings and present arguments in a respectful and thoughtful way.

    If this is true, then we are all effed. If criticizing religion really is out of bounds, then who is going to be the voice of reason that keeps us from blowing ourselves up over who has the better god?

  • http://aloadofbright.wordpress.com tobe38

    @ Matt,

    In the same way that attacking homosexuality is offensive to the homosexual, attacking religion is offensive to the religious person.

    There are two important differences.

    First, religion is a choice, no matter how difficult or restricted that choice is. Sexual orientation isn’t.

    Second, sexual orientation doesn’t cause any harm, directly or indirectly to anyone. Religion does, frequently and severely. This doesn’t mean that all religious people are harmful, but it does make the circumstances around the discussion of religion very different from something like homosexuality.

  • Jack Seaton

    I’m an atheist as regards the “God” of the Bible, but I believe there is a Supreme Being, an Ultimate Wholeness that both engenders the universe and functions as the origin of us all at this very moment. I found my way to this belief (which I confess is to me more than a belief) over a long lifetime of searching (I’m working on my 79th year). I believe that as thinking individuals, we have the obligation to ourselves and to humanity to ask such fundamental questions as: Where do I come from? Where am I going? What’s it all about. And to engage in the search for our own answers. The answers I came to for myself turned out to correspond closely with many of the precepts of “The Perennial Philosophy.” It is a vision as old as humanity itself. And while it has always stood on its own ground apart from religion, it can be found as the esoteric core in many of them, including the mystical core of the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I wonder if anyone here knows of some spot on the internet where I with my views would be welcome.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    I think that it is fine to criticize religion as I think it is fine to criticize anything when one has good reason. What I am proposing is that in matters as personal and dear to people’s heart as religion, one should take care to criticize in a respectful and considerate manner, especially if one is trying to win people to one’s cause. Observe:

    Think of how you feel when an evangelical Chrisitan appears on this site and condemns everyone to hell for foolish unbelief. I wager it does more to reinforce your position than make you question it.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    tobe,

    There are two important differences.

    On the contrary, the differences you brought up are quite superfluous and peripheral to my point. Regardless of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of religion or homosexuality, both of those issues are very dear to the hearts of people. They define who people are and to a large extent effect how they interact with others. Ideas which are so special to people should be treated carefully because to callously address them can be very hurtful to people holding those views. So it is common courtesy to disagree with such ideas in a respectful and considerate manner, and if you are truly trying to win people to the cause of atheism, then offending them unnecessarily is certainly not a good idea. Debate, disagree, question, by all means, but I urge you not to insult.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    No one is effed, and I think it is fine to criticize. As you do so, though, I would urge you to do so thoughtfully for two reasons. First, I think it is courteous to be thoughtful of ideas which are important to people, and second, I think that if you are truly trying to convince people to become atheists, then offending them will not help the cause. It is better to ask respectful questions and gently point out inconsistencies, if you are trying to win hearts and minds. We can all learn a good lesson from the mess in Iraq in this department. :)

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    If being religious is truly part of the definition of who someone is, in the way that being gay is, then we are incapable of criticizing religion without criticizing the person. How does one do that in a “respectful way”? Fortunately for us, religion is not the same as being gay. As others have pointed out, what religion one decides on is made by choice. One may identify oneself by a religion to the same extent that one will identify oneself as a fan of a sports team, and however much one might identify with their favorite sports team it is still a choice.

    True, some religionists will automatically get defensive and offended if one tries to criticize their religion, but this tactic is really only to stifle the debate. It is not, nor has it ever been wrong to criticize religion, and those who try to make it so need to pull their heads out. I will not apologize to those people for that, because it is they who are in error. I will rightly point out their errors instead.

    So, to your point, of course I will try and be thoughtful, but if that means that I am not allowed to criticize at all, then too bad for them.

  • http://asmalldarklight.blogspot.com/ Matt Sunderland

    We should allocate our time based on proportionate harm to society.

    If fundamentalists cause 90% of faith based loss of human dignity/rights,
    and Unitarian Universalists cause 0%,
    don’t ideologically focus half your time on the problems of moderate faith.

  • http://aloadofbright.wordpress.com tobe38

    @ Matt

    I think we probably agree for the most part. I try not to needlessly offend anyone at anytime, but sometimes things just need to be said. For example, if a fundamentalist Christian believes that all homosexuals deserve to be tortured in Hell for all eternity, I will condemn that view in clear terms – and offending the Christian who holds that view will be the very last, and I mean the very last of my concerns.

    As has been said before, we should try to be respectful as far as possible, but time is too short and the stakes too high to worry about it too much. There are also too many religious people who will label any criticism as an offensive, undeserved attack. I think, when weighing it up, the priority has to be getting the message across, even if you risk repelling people from that message in the process (you’ve lost nothing if they would never have received it anyway). The harm of being offended is negligible compared to the genuine harm that religion causes.

  • Alex Weaver

    Jack:

    We’ll certainly listen here, though your views would be rather in the minority. In terms of communities with a theme more consistent with your perspective, I’m not sure about online communities, but based on what you describe I’m guessing you’d probably be fairly comfortable hanging out with Unitarians. You might see if there’s a local organization.

  • James Bradbury

    tobe38:

    if a fundamentalist Christian believes that all homosexuals deserve to be tortured in Hell for all eternity, I will condemn that view in clear terms – and offending the Christian who holds that view will be the very last, and I mean the very last of my concerns.

    Predictably I agree that such homophobic views are utterly reprehensible and I don’t think there’s any moral leeway to be given to those who hold them.

    However, I would still try not to offend them. No, not because I think they might have a collection of hand grenades for their “self-defence”. Maybe they even deserve to be insulted, if anyone does, but that doesn’t make it worthwhile.

    Especially when talking in person offending them will prevent them from listening to your arguments and reinforce their misconception that all atheists are evil. Going in with the atheist equivalent of “Repent, sinner!” will engage their (possibly overdeveloped) confrontational side.

    Instead I suggest appealing to their sense of compassion. Encourage them to put themselves in the hated one’s shoes and see them as an individual rather than a group or label. All these things make hatred harder to maintain. Genuine psychopaths are thankfully in the minority so most people have some compassion somewhere if you can reach it. Who knows, if you can make someone see the immoral hatred of their leaders from a different perspective, maybe it will cause them to re-examine their beliefs from the ground up?

    Granted this is easier said than done. I mention it because I’ve previously failed to take into account the feelings of the person holding the opposite view because I was too wrapped up in the arguments, points of logic etc. As a result the person avoided the topic from then on and I lost an opportunity.

    I don’t think people believe in god(s) because of faulty logic. My guess is they believe it out of habit, out of fear, to fit in. Social reasons, emotional reasons. It’s strange, but you’ll make more headway by being reasonable, honest, speaking your mind politely, listening and understanding and being an all round decent atheist than with the best logical arguments in the world.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    Those silly religious moderates, trying to stake out the middle ground!!! Well, they can’t have it — that’s my spot!!! ;^)

    Please see my latest: my passionate secularism

    Seriously, though, if I had any religious moderates coming around telling me that true religion promotes love, not bigotry and violence, I’d respond: “Why are you tellimg me that? Why not tell them that? I’d like to see some evidence that you’re out there telling theocrats, homophobes, and Bush-supporters that they have no business claiming Jesus supports their hateful position. Otherwise it starts to look like you think that accepting Jesus is what’s really important, and using his name to do evil is a minor error compared to not believing. If you can demonstrate that you’re working to keep religion from being used for evil, then we’ll talk…”

  • Steve Bowen

    Hi. The problem with moderate religion is that it provides a smokescreen for the extreme. As long as the “just enough God” position is acceptable to the majority, the door will always be open to I.D ers and creationists etc. As atheists we should always be prepared to challenge the centre ground. Also the definition of “moderate” changes with religion. A moderate Christian would say something like “I don’t really think about it, but I admit some denomination on census forms and go to church on high days and holidays”. A moderate Muslim on the other hand would say “I believe every word of the Koran is the holy writ of God, but I’ll leave jihad to someone more devout”. Muslims are easier to offend for this reason. Atheism of course is never moderate;any amount of God is always much too much.

  • http://salemmassblog.blogspot.com/ David Moisan

    If sexual orientation is not a “choice” and religion or not-religion *is* a “choice”, what’s to stop a theist from saying, “Now, choose God now and I won’t shoot you!”? I find it hard to criticize a theist for their “choice” (often deep habit/desire to bond to relatives, etc.) so long as I’m reticent to “come out” as an atheist knowing I won’t really be respected for my “choice”.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “As others have pointed out, what religion one decides on is made by choice.” — OMGF

    This sentiment, and others expressed above, may not be the case, if my experience is normal. I was raised a Southern Baptist. Why? I certainly didn’t choose it; my parents did. In a sense, I inherited their religion.

    My point is butressed by the geography of religion. Sects, denominations, and entire churches tend to cluster. Thus, Baptists in the Deep South, Catholics in Italy, Buddhists in Southeast Asia, etc. (although modern transport is breaking this down.)

    And so far as courtesy is concerned, Mom used to always say, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar”, to which I would add, “but you’ll clean the window better with the vinegar.” While we should all strive to be courteous to our fellow humans, at the same time one man’s rudeness is another’s frankness. The religionists who cry “Rudeness!” at every question should consider the rudeness of having my tax dollars support a god I do not accept. To trot out another homely quote, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

  • Pi Guy

    “In the same way that attacking homosexuality is offensive to the homosexual, attacking religion is offensive to the religious person.”

    Inherited? Choice? Doesn’t matter. While it is reasonable – that is, logically defensible – to be homosexual, it is not reasonable to be religious.

  • hereigns

    This is why it’s so important, if we want to build a robust, organized, effective atheist movement, to cast our net broadly. We need to criticize all religion and all faith if we want to carve out a space in which atheism can flourish and grow.

    Instead, we should be concentrating on the basic steps of building a movement: reaching out to those who already agree with our goals, as well as those who sympathize but have yet to declare their allegiance.

    Build an “effective atheist movement”? I must of fallen asleep at the wheel here. What movement are Atheists trying to build? Can someone speak for Sastra here, why does he/she feel the need to critcize all religion, to “carve out a space in which atheism can flourish and grow? “Agree” with “our goals”, what goals?

    Rob

  • OMGF

    David Moisan,

    If sexual orientation is not a “choice” and religion or not-religion *is* a “choice”, what’s to stop a theist from saying, “Now, choose God now and I won’t shoot you!”?

    This has happened and continues to happen. It’s part of the reason that I feel the need to speak out.

    I find it hard to criticize a theist for their “choice” (often deep habit/desire to bond to relatives, etc.) so long as I’m reticent to “come out” as an atheist knowing I won’t really be respected for my “choice”.

    I’m not sure why you would say this. You don’t want to criticize a theist because you think they won’t respect you regardless? Huh?

    Thumpalumpacus,

    This sentiment, and others expressed above, may not be the case, if my experience is normal. I was raised a Southern Baptist. Why? I certainly didn’t choose it; my parents did. In a sense, I inherited their religion.

    I fully agree that most people end up inheriting their religion from their parents. And, though I fully understand that one can not simply choose to believe in Zeus all of a sudden, one does have the choice to examine one’s beliefs or not. Not really thinking about how one came to their religion is a choice in itself. For those who have examined their belief, they have made the choice to allow themselves to be swayed by irrationality and emotional needs (i.e. they let their emotions dictate to them what the actual world is composed of.)

  • OMGF

    Build an “effective atheist movement”? I must of fallen asleep at the wheel here. What movement are Atheists trying to build? Can someone speak for Sastra here, why does he/she feel the need to critcize all religion, to “carve out a space in which atheism can flourish and grow? “Agree” with “our goals”, what goals?

    Equal rights would be one goal. How about an actual separation of church and state and not a system where our lunatic president gets us into a bad war because he believed that god told him to do it? Mainstream acceptance of freethought would be nice as well. An end to religious violence perhaps?

  • hereigns

    OMGF,

    Equal rights would be one goal

    What’s your definition of “equal rights”? Are you refering to equal rights in regards to religion or non-religion terms? If so, do you not now enjoy this right in America?

  • hereigns

    Jerryd,

    I agree, and we also need to develop ways to show that atheists are working toward the betterment of mankind…

    …those receiving the donations will realize that people don’t need belief in an imaginary god to be good.

    Exactly, how are atheists working toward the betterment of mankind? By offering someone a “freethinkers” bible will help someone see that atheists are “good”?

  • OMGF

    hereigns

    What’s your definition of “equal rights”? Are you refering to equal rights in regards to religion or non-religion terms? If so, do you not now enjoy this right in America?

    No, atheists do not enjoy equal rights in America.

    My definition of equal rights would be that atheists are not discriminated against and that the government protects my rights from being infringed upon by the religion element of our country. That I can not spend coin in my own country without advertizing for your god, that I can not pledge allegiance without also pledging allegiance to your god, etc. etc. etc. (Ebon also touches on a lot more in the post I just linked to above.)

    As to your question, “Are you refering to equal rights in regards to religion or non-religion terms?” I profess that I don’t know what you are asking.

  • OMGF

    Exactly, how are atheists working toward the betterment of mankind? By offering someone a “freethinkers” bible will help someone see that atheists are “good”?

    Atheists support and perform science which helps mankind. Atheists also give money towards charity. Atheists don’t support religious holy wars which work against the betterment of mankind. I’m sure there are other examples, I believe that Ebon has written a lot of posts on this very topic.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hi Pi,

    Inherited? Choice? Doesn’t matter. While it is reasonable – that is, logically defensible – to be homosexual, it is not reasonable to be religious.

    Maybe you would clarify your point here for me? I am compelled to think that since my analogy compared religion and homosexuality as two personal things which should be treated with respect, and you declare homosexuality to be “logically defensible” while religion is not, that you may be saying it is not important to treat the matter with respect in order to prevent offending people. Is this the case?

    Also, by logically defensible, what do you mean? Perhaps you meant something along the lines of “God’s existence cannot be conclusively proven through logic and empirical data”? This statement is more supportable. To lump all religious beliefs held by all people for all reasons in one “illogical” category is very narrow minded. For one thing you neglect the fact that one can, through using incorrect premises, arrive at an incorrect conclusion through impeccable logic. Here is what I mean:

    Consider a person in a primitive tribe with little understanding of science. Try to put yourself in this persons place. It is very logical for this person to be religious.

    But perhaps you meant something else.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    For one thing, atheists are working toward the betterment of humanity by helping a great many people realize that they can be much happier and more peaceful when they are free of religion.

  • OMGF

    Matt,

    For one thing you neglect the fact that one can, through using incorrect premises, arrive at an incorrect conclusion through impeccable logic.

    Huh? Your example of this doesn’t really seem to fit, so I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean to say that “logic” is only the path that one takes from premise A – no matter how flawed – to outcome B? If that is your meaning, then I must protest, because the choice of premise A can be fallacious all by itself, hence the reason we have a fallacy called “Begging the question.”

  • hereigns

    OMGF,

    …the government protects my rights from being infringed upon by the religion element of our country. That I can not spend coin in my own country without advertizing for your god, that I can not pledge allegiance without also pledging allegiance to your god…

    As I’m sure you’re well aware this country was formed on judeo-christian beliefs. It is because of this fact that America has been blessed, ironically by the God you curse! For over 200 years America has enjoyed tremendous freedom, safety, and opportunities, the likes no country or kingdom had or has ever had the pleasure of receiving. So now you come along and want to try and remove God because you don’t believe in Him and because of some hatred filled people want to kill others in the name of religion. In your narrow-minded view of the world/America you want to throw the baby out with the bath water because you can’t see the spiritual battles right in front of you!

    Atheists support and perform science which helps mankind.

    What science are atheists supporting/performing that helps mankind, exactly?

    Atheists also give money towards charity.

    Anyone, whether they are atheists, muslim, or Christian should be commended for giving money to charities.

    Atheists don’t support religious holy wars which work against the betterment of mankind.

    Based on the comments on this site I strongly protest this comment. Atheism wants to erradicate the world of all faiths that do not line up with theirs, which is obviously a very hostile stance for all other faiths. Remove God and you most definitely are not bettering mankind!

  • Steve Bowen

    hereigns

    Atheism wants to erradicate the world of all faiths that do not line up with theirs, which is obviously a very hostile stance for all other faiths. Remove God and you most definitely are not bettering mankind!

    Atheism seeks to bring about an evidence based approach to society. Society on the basis of mutually contradictory belief ultimately fails everyone as it leads to irrational conflict. The assertion that America has enjoyed the freedom it has because of Its judeo christian past, and that it is blessed by God as a result is exactly the stance that leads to the problems in the middle east.You assume a moral correctness that is not based on anything other than faith and mysticism. America’s strenghth and prosperity is built on the back of the enlightenment, science, technology and the industrial revolution. Fundementalist elements are in danger of turning their back on these strengths and substituting hard won knowledge for superstition.

  • James Bradbury

    hereigns:

    Atheism wants to erradicate the world of all faiths that do not line up with theirs, which is obviously a very hostile stance for all other faiths.

    Absolutely not! I’m willing to bet the atheists here will agree that freedom of belief is a basic human right, but one which most religions would like to deny (“You shall have no other gods before me”, etc).

    What atheists object to (and you’ll see some examples in recent posts here), is discrimination based on belief and abuse of religious authority. Disagreeing is fine, but when someone starts saying, “You must be a Catholic for your children to attend this school” or “My beliefs are worthy of special accommodation or funding because they’re religious beliefs”, then we have a problem.

  • OMGF

    hereigns,

    As I’m sure you’re well aware this country was formed on judeo-christian beliefs. It is because of this fact that America has been blessed, ironically by the God you curse! For over 200 years America has enjoyed tremendous freedom, safety, and opportunities, the likes no country or kingdom had or has ever had the pleasure of receiving.

    Actually, I’m not aware of it at all, because it simply is not true. The Constitution was derided as an atheist document, not one formed on “judeo-christian beliefs.” This nation was founded as a secular country where no one religion would have reign over others. Also, I would like to see some evidence that America has been blessed by the god that I supposedly curse.

    So now you come along and want to try and remove God because you don’t believe in Him and because of some hatred filled people want to kill others in the name of religion. In your narrow-minded view of the world/America you want to throw the baby out with the bath water because you can’t see the spiritual battles right in front of you!

    Actually, I’m advocating that the church be separate from the state. You can pray to god all you want, you can have churches, etc. I simply want god out of my government. This government was instituted by the people, for the people, not by god and/or for god. And, before you claim that “for the people” should include god, I will note that it means for all the people. The only way for a government to be for all the people is to be religiously neutral.

    What science are atheists supporting/performing that helps mankind, exactly?

    One example would be stem cell research.

    Anyone, whether they are atheists, muslim, or Christian should be commended for giving money to charities.

    We agree, although I will note that I wish less religious charities out there would “give” by spreading their message. People in need want for food, water, clothes, etc, not prayers.

    Based on the comments on this site I strongly protest this comment. Atheism wants to erradicate the world of all faiths that do not line up with theirs, which is obviously a very hostile stance for all other faiths.

    Which comments are you referring to?

    I do not seek to eradicate all faith by fiat or by point of the gun. I do not seek to compel you in any way to give up your religion, unless it is by the force of my logic and my good arguments. If people gave up their religion because I argued well, or Ebon argued well, or whoever, then that would be great. I do think religion is a destructive force, so I would like to see it thrown in the garbage bin of history, but only by reason and logic, not by force. I do not see this as a hostile stance by any stretch.

    Remove God and you most definitely are not bettering mankind!

    Do you have evidence to back this up or an argument to offer for it?

  • A.L

    As I’m sure you’re well aware this country was formed on judeo-christian beliefs. It is because of this fact that America has been blessed, ironically by the God you curse! For over 200 years America has enjoyed tremendous freedom, safety, and opportunities, the likes no country or kingdom had or has ever had the pleasure of receiving.

    =============

    A few points out of a long list:
    Segretation?
    Native American Indians?
    Does God also bless the foreign policy and by extention Pol Pot, Mobutu, Ceauşescu etc?
    So if being the most powerful country in the world is down to God’s blessing, then he must of blessed, Rome, Carthage, China, Egypt, Mesotopmia…
    Germany was founded on judeo-christian beliefs, it was after all the Holy Roman Empire. If God blessed them with freedom, safety, and opportunities he also blessed them with Hitler?
    Safety – Hurricane Katerina, levees, draining of the marshes?
    God = freedom, safety and opportunities = economic and social developement. Therefore God is more important than education, technology, infrastructure, developing institutions, clusters, checks and balances to developing a country. How does that explain the state of the blessed Philippines compared to its godless neighbours?
    And in the reverse “Remove God and you most definitely are not bettering mankind!”. So if we have all the above factors for development but if we don’t have God, then there is no hope of bettering kind?
    If what is meant that God is only one factor amongst all those other factors. Then the astonishing economic growth achieved by Japan, China and those Asian tigers could have been greater if they added God to their development plans?
    Health – US is 42nd in the world rankings behind judeo-christian countries such as Japan and Jordon. Within the US the segment of population with greatest life expectancy are Asians. Or does God’s blessing’s not extend beyond safety and opportunity to health?

  • hereigns

    Steve Bowen,

    Atheism seeks to bring about an evidence based approach to society. Society on the basis of mutually contradictory belief ultimately fails everyone as it leads to irrational conflict.

    “Society…ultimately fails everyone”, boy, talk about a mouth full. Sounds like a comment made out of fear rather than truth. The list of people/organizations/countries, religious and non, who have brought conflict, wars, turmoil as well as peace and hope, are obviously too numerous to name.

    James Bradbury,

    What atheists object to (and you’ll see some examples in recent posts here), is discrimination based on belief and abuse of religious authority. Disagreeing is fine, but when someone starts saying, “You must be a Catholic for your children to attend this school” or “My beliefs are worthy of special accommodation or funding because they’re religious beliefs”, then we have a problem.

    Odd, I thought it was for this reason America was formed, it’s called freedom. You can choose NOT to bring your child to a Catholic school.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    As I’m sure you’re well aware this country was formed on judeo-christian beliefs.

    Here’s an excerpt from the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, which was unanimously ratified by the Senate, signed into law by President John Adams, and widely reprinted in major newspapers of the day:

    “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

    Evidently, the founding generation of the United States of America did not agree that this country was “formed on Judeo-Christian beliefs”. I think they would know.

    For more on this topic, see my essay “The Wall” on Ebon Musings.

  • hereigns

    Ebonmuse,

    Guess we could just simply go round and round the merry go round on your John Adams quote. Please allow this side for a moment but please let’s not go down the path of “my brothers bigger than your brother”.

    You can conclude after the clause “Christian religion”; or it may be read in its entirety and concluded when the punctuation so indicates. “the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion”, this is a true statement since it is referring to the federal government.

    Our forefathers openly described America as a Christian nation. They included a constitutional prohibition against a federal establishment; religion was to be left up to the individual States and not the federal government. Our Christian forefathers setup our government to ensure all people living in the United States would be free to worship in the way they so choose.

    If the article is read as a declaration that the federal government of the United States was not in any sense founded on the Christian religion, such a statement is not a repudiation of the fact that America was considered a Christian nation.

    Since you used him, it was John Quincy Adams who said the following, John Adams, Works, Vol. X, pp. 45-46, to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813.

    The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were. . . . the general principles of Christianity. . . . I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature.”

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    Huh? Your example of this doesn’t really seem to fit, so I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean to say that “logic” is only the path that one takes from premise A – no matter how flawed – to outcome B? If that is your meaning, then I must protest, because the choice of premise A can be fallacious all by itself, hence the reason we have a fallacy called “Begging the question.”

    That is exactly what I am saying. I am saying that just because something is logical, it can be incorrect.

    My point in bringing up the primitive person was to show a situation in which a person could use impeccable logic but arrive at a conclusion which you and pi guy would think was false. To this hypothetical primitive person, religion is logically defensible, but (in your opinion) still false because he started with either invalid presuppositions or he did not have enough information. Allow me to elaborate:

    Let us consider a man who lives in a primitive culture and lacks insight into the complex workings of our world. He may start a reasoning process regarding God’s existence like this:

    1) I observe many creatures around me
    2) I observe the world around me
    3) I have the ability to create things

    From 1,2, and 3, the man may reason that there is another being greater than himself who created everything. He may call this being God.

    This man followed a logical process which is valid. Now, if God does not exist, the man is wrong not because he used faulty logic, but because he was unaware of the non-God related processes which resulted in the creatures and world around him.

    You will notice that the man is not “begging the question”, just reasoning from the observations which he has. It is a sound logical decision for a man in his position. Indeed many atheists think that this is just how the whole concept of God came to be.

    My point was to show that Pi Guy is overstretching by calling all religious belief “not logically defensible”. Logic is just a process and only through the validity of premises can conclusions be correct. A logical deduction does not necessarily guarantee validity because premises could be incorrect or there could be missing information.

    This is what I was trying to communicate.

    It is also noteworthy that this is a two-way street and the atheist’s arguments, even if they are logically ironclad, which they occasionally are, can still be incorrect because of incorrect presuppositions or a lack of correct knowledge.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Since you used him, it was John Quincy Adams who said the following…

    First of all, hereigns, you did know that John Adams and John Quincy Adams were two separate people, right? If you didn’t, then I politely suggest you have a touch more humility when making claims about what America’s founding fathers believed.

    Second: John Adams, who said the quote you cite, was not the orthodox believer you seem to think he was. This is a common tactic among today’s evangelical Christians: they produce a quote from one of America’s founders in which that person declares their allegiance to Christianity, and assume that by this they mean the same form of Christianity as it is practiced by born-again Christians today. This is a very ill-advised thing to do.

    Although some of the founders were orthodox Christians who’d find common ground with today’s believers, many others – including some of the most prominent – were not. They called themselves Christian, and considered themselves Christian, but their beliefs were very unlike those of most mainstream creeds. Their beliefs have been termed “theistic rationalism” – they believed in a God who could be known through reason and an afterlife of reward and punishment, but denied the Trinity, denied the ideas of special revelation and miracles, and denied the idea of Jesus’ divinity. They also believed that almost any world religion, including Hinduism, Islam and Native American religions, could be another path to God. (Typically, they called themselves Christian because they saw their beliefs as “true” Christianity, shorn of all the superstitious encrustations that had developed over the centuries.)

    Thomas Jefferson, for example, kept a Bible from which he had cut out all of Jesus’ miracles and left only the parables and moral teachings, and asserted that telling the difference between the two was as easy as telling “diamonds from dunghills”. John Adams also falls into this category. Adams considered the Bible so poorly preserved that he doubted it had the original version of the Ten Commandments. He also said this about the crucifixion:

    “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

    —Letter to Thomas Jefferson (1816-09-03), published in Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (UNC Press, 1988), p. 488.

    He also believed that the Bible, far from being inerrant, had been thoroughly corrupted and altered by human beings:

    “We have now, it seems a National Bible Society, to propagate King James’s Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better, to apply these pious subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the corruptions of Christianity, than to propagate these corruptions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America!”

    —John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, November 4, 1816. Taken from James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 143.

    But I’m dwelling on irrelevancies here, to be honest. In point of fact, it doesn’t matter what any of the founders personally believed, because they did not write their personal beliefs into law. What they did write into law was the Constitution, and that was a specifically secular document, containing no reference to the desires or will of God, but only the will of the people.

    You insist that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation”, but what exactly is that supposed to mean? In the trivial sense that the USA has always been populated mostly by Christians, that is true, but meaningless. In the sense that Christianity was intended to enjoy some special status or privilege under the law, that is undeniably false. In the sense that Christianity provided the original idea or inspiration which led to the founding of America, that too is false. After all, the Bible is hardly a blueprint for democracy – its preferred model of government is an absolutist, divine-right hereditary monarchy. That is the very thing our founders were rebelling against when they brought forth this country!

  • James Bradbury

    hereigns:

    Odd, I thought it was for this reason America was formed, it’s called freedom. You can choose NOT to bring your child to a Catholic school.

    This may be more relevant in the UK than the US. The point is, consider that the best public school in the area is a Catholic one. Non-Catholic parents may with to send their children to the best school possible. Now how would they feel if that school gives its last few places to children of Catholic parents in preference? In the UK religious schools are currently granted exemption allowing them to discriminate on the grounds of religious belief (or lack thereof) when selecting prospective pupils.

    It’s that kind of issue that atheists have a problem with.

  • Steve Bowen

    hereigns

    “Society…ultimately fails everyone”, boy, talk about a mouth full. Sounds like a comment made out of fear rather than truth. The list of people/organizations/countries, religious and non, who have brought conflict, wars, turmoil as well as peace and hope, are obviously too numerous to name.

    I’m not sure if you left out “on the basis of contradictory belief” for economy or obfuscation. Whichever, most of the bloodiest conflicts that spring to my mind stem from religious intolerances. I am British and lived a lot of my life in the shadow of the IRA terrorist campaigns; the middle east conflicts are all at heart religious ones. The “truth” is that although there may often be economic and political contention between regions, a religious divide will often be the spark for war. My “fear” is that living as we do in a world of growing fundementalism, both Christian and Islamic, we may all be sacrificed for the sake of irrational beliefs.This is why the “just enough God” brigade, apparently harmless as they appear, should be challenged by atheists. Tolerence of religious motivation in government allows Bush to “crusade” against Islam(ic terrorism)and Iran to openly call the West “Enemies of God”. When a nation believes that it is God’s own chosen people, all other people become less than human in their eyes.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “For over 200 years America has enjoyed tremendous freedom, safety, and opportunities, the likes no country or kingdom had or has ever had the pleasure of receiving.” — hereigns

    Of course, this plenty and safety has NOTHING to do with two oceans guarding the majority of our frontier, nor with possession of the fourth-largest territory in the world, with all the resources therein. Of course not.

  • hereigns

    Ebonmuse,

    First of all, hereigns, you did know that John Adams and John Quincy Adams were two separate people, right? If you didn’t, then I politely suggest you have a touch more humility when making claims about what America’s founding fathers believed.

    I stand corrected, how big a bite of some humble pie shall I take? :) I was aware they were two different presidents, our 2nd and 6th, but I didn’t investigate which of the two was involved in the Treaty of Tripoli. Obviously I’m not a historian and do not pretend to be one but I’m well aware of where our forefathers stood in regards to faith, including Thomas Jefferson.

    …it doesn’t matter what any of the founders personally believed, because they did not write their personal beliefs into law. What they did write into law was the Constitution, and that was a specifically secular document, containing no reference to the desires or will of God, but only the will of the people.

    We agree! And in response to your other comments, I’ll just simply say, let’s agree to disagree so I’m not accused of moving anyone off topic or “preaching”.

    Thanks!

  • hereigns

    Steve Bowen,
    I see where you’re coming now, thank you. Let me preface my comment with, I realize we are probably at different ends in regards to God, but…in my mind all conflicts are spiritual battles. Oftimes people (individuals and groups) say they are doing “Gods” work but in-fact they are carrying out the devils plans.

  • Entomologista

    As I’m sure you’re well aware this country was formed on judeo-christian beliefs. It is because of this fact that America has been blessed, ironically by the God you curse!

    No, it wasn’t. Why don’t Christians ever learn history?

    For over 200 years America has enjoyed tremendous freedom, safety, and opportunities, the likes no country or kingdom had or has ever had the pleasure of receiving.

    Only if you’re a straight white male. It wasn’t too long ago that I wouldn’t have been allowed to vote, own property, attend school, etc. Come to think of it, a lot of us still aren’t free. Maybe once black kids can sit under a tree without being threated with lynching and arrested, then you can say we’re all free. Until then, you sound like a troll.

    What science are atheists supporting/performing that helps mankind, exactly?

    Something like 60% of biologists are atheists.

    Atheism wants to erradicate the world of all faiths that do not line up with theirs, which is obviously a very hostile stance for all other faiths. Remove God and you most definitely are not bettering mankind!

    Atheism is not a monolithic belief system. There may be some atheists who do wish to eliminate all religions, there may be some who don’t. Most atheists probably don’t care if you believe that the sky is pink and the clouds are made of cotton candy – just don’t legislate it. Remove the gnomes from our assholes and you are most definitely are not bettering mankind!

  • OMGF

    Obviously I’m not a historian and do not pretend to be one but I’m well aware of where our forefathers stood in regards to faith, including Thomas Jefferson.

    Then you know that the majority wanted a separation of church and state (TJ especially) and that many of them were not xians and would not agree with your statement that this country was formed on judeo-xian beliefs.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    And in response to your other comments, I’ll just simply say, let’s agree to disagree so I’m not accused of moving anyone off topic or “preaching”.

    If you wish to discuss the matter further, I’d be happy to create an open thread. In the meantime, however, I’ll just say that the notion of “agreeing to disagree” over a matter of objectively verifiable fact is absurd – a point ably covered by a friend of mine at A Load of Bright.

  • miller

    I’d like to say that you make a much more compelling case for attacking religious moderates than does Sam Harris. From what I can tell, Harris thinks that moderates “enable” extremists, which is just ridiculous. Moderates don’t like fundamentalism any more than we do.

    The real reason to attack moderate religion is that if we don’t, we are open to criticism that we seem to think all religious people are fundamentalists. The courtier’s reply (which states that atheists ignore “sophisticated” religion) arises because atheists have not been arguing against moderate religion openly enough; instead, atheists seem to dismiss it without justification.

  • OMGF

    From what I can tell, Harris thinks that moderates “enable” extremists, which is just ridiculous. Moderates don’t like fundamentalism any more than we do.

    I don’t know why you would think this is ridiculous. Moderates “enable” extremists by not speaking out against them. They think they can hide behind the old, “Well, my god is different,” routine and we should just accept that? But, when the chips are down, many of them find that it is more important to be on team god than to do what is right, if what is right means siding with the dreaded atheists.

  • Denis Loubet

    The very existence of atheists is considered an insult to theists. Obviously, if we don’t agree with them, then we must think they’re mistaken or deluded, and they can’t stand that. They enter the conversation with that chip on their shoulder, and it shows in their snippy comments.

    We have to remember that, at least with fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, they enter the conversation agreeing with their god that atheists DESERVE to be tortured forever.

    So yes, we may enter the discussion thinking they’re a little deluded, but they enter it thinking that we deserve infinite torture.

    Yikes.

    Denis Loubet

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    OMGF: “Cue up JJ Ramsey.”

    If you insist. :-)

    Anyway, you wrote, “Moderates ‘enable’ extremists by not speaking out against them.” Have you not heard of the Sojourners’ campaign, “God is Not a Republican (Or a Democrat)”? Heck, you seem to be forgetting the whole evangelical left. In the JREF forums, tkingdoll pointed out that moderate Muslims had put up billboards against suicide bombings in Birmingham, right in the hot spots where racial tensions run high and other Muslims, for example, put up “kill Jews” posters:

    http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?postid=3004356#post3004356

    Don’t assume that the moderates aren’t speaking out just because you haven’t heard them.

    Denis Loubet: “The very existence of atheists is considered an insult to theists.”

    Depends on the theists. The ones in Midwest churches, maybe, but depending on the crowd, you may invite pity rather than scorn, which is irritating, too, but beats a boot in the head. That seemed to be the reaction, too, of many Seattle churchgoers picketed by ApostateAbe from IIDB, who apparently managed to keep a smile on his face as he held a “God is Fake” sign in front of their churches. The theists at Ship of Fools vary widely in their attitudes toward atheists.

    Denis Loubet: “Obviously, if we don’t agree with them, then we must think they’re mistaken or deluded, and they can’t stand that.”

    Right, because thinking that someone is mistaken means not being able to stand his/her presence.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X