The Real Enemies of Free Speech

Liberty magazine, a publication of the Seventh-Day Adventist church, has recently published “Faith Attack“, a polemic by Clifford Goldstein against the New Atheists. The entire article is little more than repetition of the modern equivalent of the medieval blood libel: that atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett want to take over the world and outlaw religion.

I’ll offer some more specific criticisms, but what should be noted is that Goldstein presents no evidence whatsoever that this is in fact what atheists want. He tries to gloss over this point by calling such tyranny the “logical outgrowth” of our views – as if criticizing a belief was equivalent to wanting to ban that belief – but offers nothing more in the way of substantiation.

In The New Republic, author Damon Linker expressed concern about what he called the “illiberal” and “brutally intolerant” proselytism of the new atheists. Among them are ideas that, if taken to their logical conclusion, would wreak havoc on the free exercise of religion.

Since, again, no examples are presented to demonstrate the point, there’s nothing of substance to refute here. Again, we merely see Goldstein insinuate that this is the “logical conclusion” of atheist activism, which is like saying that the logical conclusion of pro-literacy efforts is the rounding up and mass slaughter of everyone who doesn’t know how to read. The new atheists want to defeat and eradicate beliefs, not people!

As far as Linker’s criticism, this snippet doesn’t explain what he finds so troubling about atheist broadsides, so it serves little purpose other than as an echo. I’ll note only that, for many religious believers, “tolerance” and “respect” are code words for submission, and attack labels like “intolerant” are used against anyone who does not genuflect to their beliefs and treat them with deference they have not earned.

The comparison with [Madalyn Murray] O’Hair — for decades the ultra-nasty den mother of American atheism — isn’t, however, limited merely to the intellectual paucity of their apologetics. O’Hair didn’t just attack religion as religion; she went after practice and expression as well.

Whatever one can say about the tone O’Hair chose to take, there’s one thing that needs to be remembered, and that this article tries hard to forget. The way Goldstein depicts it, O’Hair was the oppressor and religious believers the oppressed, when in fact the reverse was true. The case at issue in her most famous lawsuit, Murray v. Curlett, was whether school officials and lawmakers could institute mandatory Bible readings and prayers in public school. One would think a magazine purportedly founded to defend religious liberty would be on O’Hair’s side in this. Perhaps they only support the fight for religious liberty when it’s being waged by the right people.

Next, some predictable inanities about Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins:

But Harris is promoting an assault not just on action, not just on speech, but on belief itself. Who would have thought that Orwellian “Thoughtcrime” would be taken out of the realm of political satire and promoted by someone deemed liberal, or progressive?

Apparently Liberty‘s editors hold the bizarre notion that people’s thoughts are sacrosanct and no one can ever be justly punished for what they merely believe. In the real world, we routinely punish people who hold and intend to act on certain thoughts; this is the crime called “conspiracy”. Intent to do harm and violence is a crime, and it is an actual crime, not a thought crime. In context, this is clearly Sam Harris’ point.

Certain bizarre views can, at times, get special protection under the principles of free exercise jurisprudence, but that’s part of what religious freedom costs. That Dr. Dawkins — who is opposed to all religious belief — finds that too costly proves only the shallowness of his worldview.

Despite their insulting rhetoric, in this passage Liberty has completely conceded our point: that religious beliefs get not equal protection, but “special protection” – additional privileges not available to other groups or belief systems. And I agree: this is too costly. Religious believers and churches should have the same rights as every other individual or organization; no more, no less. They should not be exempt from any generally applicable law. They should not have any freedom or privilege that is not also available to nonbelievers. When the laws are written to accommodate irrationality, it is all the rest of society that pays the price.

Next, Liberty adopts the language used by the atheists which they decried as “brutally intolerant” a few paragraphs above;

The new atheists, then, would teach their children — what? That we’re created by chance, with no ultimate purpose or destiny, and that more conscious thought went into someone spray painting graffiti on a wall than went into our existence?… Child abuse, Dr. Dawkins, can come in myriad forms.

This is the same article that, in its introduction, fearfully fretted that “parents could be charged with ‘child abuse’ for giving their offspring a religious education”. Since they appear to have an identical proposal with regard to atheism, should we conclude that the author is actually engaging in projection and accusing atheists of what he himself wants to do? Why could one not conclude, after reading this passage, that Liberty‘s editors want to ban atheism and then berate them for their advocacy of oppression and thoughtcrime?

And finally:

Their most damaging impact might be, instead, the fertile fodder they provide the Christian Right, long trying to convince the flock that their religion is under attack by secular elites and that the only way to protect themselves is for Christians to gain the reins of political power.

Dominionist Christians have been trying to seize the reins of political power for a long time, and they needed no atheists to help them. They were around, and had the same goals, long before there was ever an atheist movement to speak of. What’s different is that now there is an opposition to them – a forceful and effective opposition, one that doesn’t stop at tepid platitudes but goes further to attack dangerous, irrational faith at its root.

The religious right does not want compromise. In fact, they violently spurn compromise. They have said so themselves, many times, and they are still saying so. Their goal is a world run by them and ruled according to their specific conception of God’s will, and they are not going to shake hands and settle for something less if only we approach them in respect and good faith. On the contrary, they view any retreat or concession as simply an invitation to push for more.

I have a message for Clifford Goldstein and Liberty magazine: If you’re truly concerned about freedom of expression, why do you obsess on the entirely hypothetical scenario of atheists taking away your right to speak, when large, militant religious groups are right now attempting to stifle and outlaw criticism?

At the U.N., 56 Islamic nations are pushing through resolutions to combat “defamation” of religion. In Russia, Christian evangelical groups, with assistance from state prosecutors, are pressing to ban TV shows that “insult the feelings” of believers. Even in the U.K., Christian complainers are trying to bring back blasphemy prosecutions.

These are the real enemies of free speech – not atheists, but crusading religious believers. They, not we, are the ones who want to outlaw criticism and satire and take away the right of dissenters to speak their minds. They, not we, are the ones waging war against the liberties we hold dear.

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.

  • Leum

    I have a message for Clifford Goldstein and Liberty magazine: If you’re truly concerned about freedom of expression, why do you obsess on the entirely hypothetical scenario of atheists taking away your right to speak, when large, militant religious groups are right now attempting to stifle and outlaw criticism?

    My guess is that Mr. Goldstein doesn’t really have any worries about secularism leading to his vision. What he wants to do is paint atheists as people who can be readily ignored. There seems to be an extreme fear of atheism in many religious circles (not all, maybe not even most), and Goldstein is trying to assure the frightened by saying that we’re so insane, so utterly evil, that our ideas will never catch on. He’s also trying to drive people who are sitting on the fence away from atheism/atheist activism.

    Since there aren’t any crushing arguments against atheism, the apologist has three choices: to remove God from the realm of evidence (i.e. C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity), to declare that atheism is intellectually bankrupt, or to declare that atheism leads to nihilism and totalitarianism.

    We see the latter two in this article. Goldstein says: We’re not talking here, then, about the heirs of Lucretius or David Hume but, rather, the intellectual kin of Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Meaning that, unlike those atheists in the good old days who were incomprehensible to most people or were nihilists (or, more commonly, are now seen as nihilists), modern atheists are stupid and refuse to accept what Mr. Goldstein and his peers have deemed the inevitable consequences of atheism.

    The third argument comes in the typical two-pronged attack. Nihilism:

    The children will also learn that they themselves, and all their hopes and dreams and desires, will also one day be forever gone—with no hope of redemption, no hope of having the hard questions answered, no hope of anything but the pain and suffering of this life, followed by the eternal blackness of a cold and dead universe.

    And totalitarianism:

    Picture this dystopia: in the name of rationality, reason, and science—religion is severely pro-scribed. Some religious beliefs— beliefs —deemed so dangerous that those holding them should be killed.

    The fact that totalitarianism and nihilism are logically incompatible is irrelevant. The point is to discredit atheism using rhetoric, not using logic.

  • Brad

    The new atheists want to defeat and eradicate beliefs, not people!

    And not just eradicate beliefs, as Goldstein would also put it, but in a free and open manner that does not constitute oppression and intolerance. Goldstein’s point, presumably, is more about how the “new atheists” believe religion shouldn’t be institutionalized. Goldstein seems to be among the people who would say this is tantamount to banning religion, and this is the point needing to be proven wrong.

    I don’t think the comment on Harris and thoughtcrime should be given the response that was given in this post. Sure, some thoughts like “conspiracy” deserve punishment and regulation, but that seems only slightly relevant to the real point. The real point being made was that the new atheists are inherently supporting a totalitarian method of eradicating religion. If you counter that sometimes its okay to regulate thought, then you appear to give credence to the original point.

    Sure, we have freedom of religious belief. But this needs to be stressed to the high heavens: this is positive freedom, not negative freedom. We can believe what we want, but our beliefs earn no special protection from criticism and pressure. And in order to establish negative freedom of religion, there needs to be a vacuum of religion in the state. Some see this as officially atheistic (it is), and therefore one-sided (it isn’t). Weak atheism, aka agnosticism, is not a side at all, hence it being known as a fence position. When the state has no position, then we do not officially have to abide by any position, therefore ensuring positive freedom.

  • Cerus

    That second to last paragraph worries me some, it would be a horrible thing for the world to get dragged back into the dark again, when we’ve come this far…

  • Alex Weaver

    These are the real enemies of free speech – not atheists, but crusading religious believers. They, not we, are the ones who want to outlaw criticism and satire and take away the right of dissenters to speak their minds. They, not we, are the ones waging war against the liberties we hold dear.

    Yes, but unlike secular humanists, these other groups actually ARE dangerous and have a history of using more than just harsh language against their critics. I think in large part what we’re seeing is purely displacement behavior, and I think this angle needs to be played up (have I mentioned this before? It may have just come to me).

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    I suspect the problem is largely that people are so used to whispering around religion that an everyday voice sounds like a shout. People aren’t used to having their beliefs challenged directly and bluntly, so it scares them more than it should, so they assume they have reason to be scared and start attributing positions to outspoken atheists that those atheists do not actually hold.

  • Gene

    But Harris is promoting an assault not just on action, not just on speech, but on belief itself. Who would have thought that Orwellian “Thoughtcrime” would be taken out of the realm of political satire and promoted by someone deemed liberal, or progressive?

    This is especially rich, coming from a guy who venerates a being who would subject the broad majority of humanity to horrible and unending torment just for believing the wrong thing.

  • bestonnet

    Original Post:

    Since they appear to have an identical proposal with regard to atheism, should we conclude that the author is actually engaging in projection and accusing atheists of what he himself wants to do? Why could one not conclude, after reading this passage, that Liberty’s editors want to ban atheism and then berate them for their advocacy of oppression and thoughtcrime?

    It certainly looks like projection to me.

    Though when one considers the history of how Christianity spread (i.e. mostly through coercion) it’s easy to see how they could just assume that our attempt to replace it with something else (many other things actually) will proceed in the same way that Christianity became dominant.

  • Valhar2000

    This is just another guy who lives religiously and simply cannot imagine that it is possible to live in a different way. That is what he means when he talks about the “logical conclusion” of modern athiestic ideas; he is taking his own axioms, deducing form them, and then substituting terms, and since he is completely unable to imagine that other axioms may exist, he thinks his analysis is airtight, when in fact it is pure fantasy.

    Of course, since it is fantasy, he’ll sooner be shot in the head than part with it.

  • Steven

    It continues to puzzle me that anyone who believes that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God is “on their side” would be troubled in the least by atheism. If one’s faith is unassailable, what is there to worry about?
    It’s like getting upset about someone telling you the sky is blue when you know in your heart that it is green. Of course, the problem is that the sky really is blue and believing otherwise doesn’t change that in the least.
    I have to suspect that many theists know at some level that there is no reason or evidence behind their beliefs and that faith is not a virtue but a willful decision to accept mythology as the truth.

  • DamienSansBlog

    The most probable response to empty rhetoric is equal and opposite empty rhetoric. What’s so surprising about this?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Empty rhetoric? Are we really going to do this again?

  • Polly

    which is like saying that the logical conclusion of pro-literacy efforts is the rounding up and mass slaughter of everyone who doesn’t know how to read.

    Not only is it funny, it’s a perfect metaphor. We really are trying to spread KNOWLEDGE, not a belief system. If he has a problem with information, take it up with reality.

    Russia, Christian evangelical groups, with assistance from state prosecutors, are pressing to ban TV shows that “insult the feelings” of believers.

    Ironic. Every time I get to watch Russian SAT TV (I don’t have it at home), it annoys me that the ONLY thing ever on is religious programming.

  • Mr.Pendent

    Perhaps they only support the fight for religious liberty when it’s being waged by the right people.

    As I said, I always ask them if they support the teaching of Satanism, the reading of the Koran in school? Or do they think that religious freedom means Christian Religious Freedom?

    As you might guess, I rarely get an answer beyond a glaring look and pursed lips.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Their most damaging impact might be, instead, the fertile fodder they provide the Christian Right, long trying to convince the flock that their religion is under attack by secular elites and that the only way to protect themselves is for Christians to gain the reins of political power. In short, the extremism of the new atheists will only feed the extremism of the Christian Right, each side pushing the other further in a direction that neither needs to go.

    You’ve got to love the concern trolling here too. “The worst thing you could do is speak up for yourselves because that just makes us fundies hate you more, so you should just sit down and shut up and everything will be OK.”

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Well done Ebon! I will see if I can e-mail the jerk and give him my two cents worth.

  • Leum

    And not just eradicate beliefs, as Goldstein would also put it, but in a free and open manner that does not constitute oppression and intolerance.

    But this is what makes us so dangerous. If we wanted to use oppression or intolerance, we would be a real threat that the government and hatewatch groups could (and should) muster their forces against, the media could condemn us as being a lunatic fringe (more so than now, I mean), and we would have no credibility among other groups seeking to separate church and state. It’s the fact that we aren’t a threat to people’s freedoms that makes us a threat to their ideologies.

  • Trevor

    I would just like to add something. I am an atheist now, but grew up in the Seventh-Day Adventist church. Not to defend Mr. Goldstein’s rhetoric, but he is coming from a unique point of view. According to SDA teachings, before the end of the world, laws will be passed outlawing worshiping on Saturday, which is the day SDAs worship. While growing up, it was generally thought that the president would conspire with the pope to bring this about. Obviously, as time marches on, this appears more and more ridiculous. But SOMEONE has to outlaw it. So, of course, the atheists are the new scapegoat.

    Oh, and to be fair in response to a comment above, SDAs don’t believe in Hell as a place of eternal torment. According to them, unbelievers will die, and remain dead forever, while the believers live forever.

  • bestonnet

    Trevor:

    According to SDA teachings, before the end of the world, laws will be passed outlawing worshiping on Saturday, which is the day SDAs worship.

    Laws against worship seem to be pretty common to religious doomsday fantasy so I don’t think that’s specific to that particular sect.

  • Christopher

    Let these bastards wring their hands in fear and spew all the shit they want – they know that their days of dominance in our culture is coming to an end, so they seek to prolong their days just a little longer. Their little “god” is about to be crushed underfoot and they are starting to see how impotent they truly are…

  • Gene

    Trevor: I stand corrected. Guess I ought to check Wikipedia before making my next snarky post.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Let these bastards wring their hands in fear and spew all the shit they want – they know that their days of dominance in our culture is coming to an end, so they seek to prolong their days just a little longer. Their little “god” is about to be crushed underfoot and they are starting to see how impotent they truly are..

    Whoa.. is that a prayer? or just wishful thinking? :)

  • http://www.synapticplastic.blogspot.com InTheImageOfDNA

    To expand Steven’s point:

    Since religious beliefs have no source of objective verification, the primary source of validation for them come from other people. It comes from the intuitively powerful, yet epistemically void reasoning of “Since everyone at church believes what I believe, my beliefs can’t be wrong” or alternatively, “Since 90% of people believe in a ‘Higher Power,’ there must be something there”. This is a natural outgrowth of the self-referential method of belief validation that is epitomized with the “Bible says Bible is true, therefore Bible is true” applied to the realm of people “John, Jim, Mary, and Jane all believe Jesus rose from the dead, therefore I can safetly believe it too.”

    This, I think, is the reason why so many panties get tied in so many knots when atheists are speaking and visible. We are a visible source of disconfirmation to someone whose belief-validation methodology is as vacuous as the average religious believer’s. I think it was Durkheim who referred to religion as “socially constructed reality.” When we as atheists actively challenge this “social construction,” believers get unduly alarmed (if their beliefs really were true) – unwittingly exposing the weakness of their basis of belief. Who gets worried when someone says the sun doesn’t exist? That’s the point.

  • bestonnet

    Steve Bowen:

    Christopher:
    Let these bastards wring their hands in fear and spew all the shit they want – they know that their days of dominance in our culture is coming to an end, so they seek to prolong their days just a little longer. Their little “god” is about to be crushed underfoot and they are starting to see how impotent they truly are…

    Whoa.. is that a prayer? or just wishful thinking? :)

    I suspect it is rather close to the truth.

    The simple fact of the matter is that the religious aren’t doing a very good job at keeping their children in the faith (with about a third of them leaving with most just becoming non-religious) and some of them seem to know it.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I suspect the problem is largely that people are so used to whispering around religion that an everyday voice sounds like a shout.

    What a beautiful, eloquent way to put it. Lynet wins the thread for that comment. :)

  • mikespeir

    This, I think, is the reason why so many panties get tied in so many knots when atheists are speaking and visible. We are a visible source of disconfirmation to someone whose belief-validation methodology is as vacuous as the average religious believer’s.

    It’s also why many believers must insist that, in fact, there’s no such thing as a real atheist. We too believe; we just deny it.

  • Valhar2000

    The simple fact of the matter is that the religious aren’t doing a very good job at keeping their children in the faith (with about a third of them leaving with most just becoming non-religious) and some of them seem to know it.

    And yet, McCain is probably going to win the next election, religious terrorism is on the rise all over the world and islamic countries are taking over the UN to exercise tyranny over the world.

    Something isn’t quite right with your analysis, it seems to me.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    I don’t want to take over the world and banish religion, I just want to make fun of it until the religious realize just how ridiculous they are.

  • bestonnet

    mikespeir:

    It’s also why many believers must insist that, in fact, there’s no such thing as a real atheist. We too believe; we just deny it.

    Yes, though I often wonder whether they truly believe what they claim to, given how they often act like their beliefs can’t take care of themselves.

    Valhar2000:

    And yet, McCain is probably going to win the next election, religious terrorism is on the rise all over the world and islamic countries are taking over the UN to exercise tyranny over the world.

    Something isn’t quite right with your analysis, it seems to me.

    Islamic countries are in the minority at the UN and aren’t likely to actually get anywhere other than a few token gestures towards appeasement.

    McCain probably won’t win the next US election and even if he did congress will be democratic (the only way the Republicans can win that would be to rig the elections) and so the house majority leader can become the US prime minister and the president can become a symbolic position.

    Religious terrorism is actually what I’d expect to see as religion dies, after all, a wounded animal is most dangerous.

  • mikespeir

    And yet, McCain is probably going to win the next election, religious terrorism is on the rise all over the world and islamic countries are taking over the UN to exercise tyranny over the world.

    At this point I won’t even guess who will win the election, but I’m generally more optimistic about the eventual irrelevance of religion. I think it’s on the way down. Like the sales chart of a failing business, it may not be consistently down. It’ll take the occasional jog upward. But the tendency is down.

    But it all depends on how things go. If we have another world war of if the economy takes a catastrophic downturn, religion will bob to the surface again. Basically, when troubles are such that no human power can obviously solve them, people look to superhuman powers–even if they have to invent them.

  • Wayne Essel

    To Quote…
    “Apparently Liberty’s editors hold the bizarre notion that people’s thoughts are sacrosanct and no one can ever be justly punished for what they merely believe. In the real world, we routinely punish people who hold and intend to act on certain thoughts; this is the crime called “conspiracy”. Intent to do harm and violence is a crime, and it is an actual crime, not a thought crime. In context, this is clearly Sam Harris’ point.”

    Thoughts do appear to be sacrosanct (not free of critizism, but free of prosecution) in both our constitution and our legal system. To prove intent, there seems to need to be a form of action accompanying the thought, though not necessarily the ultimate action. So, to prove intent to murder, the authorities need to find the procurement or use of a weapon or other actions or witness tying that action with the ultimate act. To prove conspiracy, the party has to be caught in the ACT of conspiring (meetings, phone calls, emails, etc.), not just thinking about it.

    Holding a belief is not the issue. It is the actions that stem from the belief that are the issue. Truly hateful or deadly actions should be illegal regardless of the beliefs of the perpetrator.

    Criticize beliefs all you want. Do not outlaw them. Outlaw particularly dangerous or damaging actions that might stem from those beliefs.

    Just my two cents…

    Wayne

  • Christopher

    Steve Bowen,

    “Whoa.. is that a prayer? or just wishful thinking? :)”

    Niether prayer nor wish – the forces of the relgious fundamentalists are losing ground every day in the culture war. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a couple decades they were no longer culturally relevent – pieces like those mentioned in the article are but deperate attempts to remain in the limelight as their faith is choking to death around them.

    They are just supplying more rope with which to hang themselves with, so there’s no cause for alarm here…

    Leum, I just noticed you post here…

    “Meaning that, unlike those atheists in the good old days who were incomprehensible to most people or were nihilists (or, more commonly, are now seen as nihilists), modern atheists are stupid and refuse to accept what Mr. Goldstein and his peers have deemed the inevitable consequences of atheism.”

    You have that much correct, but even if it *did* lead to Nihilism – so what? I always hear (both from religious and non-religious folks alike) that somehow Nihilism is a “bad” thing, but no one ever elaborates as to *why* it’s such a “bad” thing beyond the usual “it destroys the underpinnings of ‘morality’” or some such bullshit (of course, such arguments assume that somehow “morality” is intrinsically “good”). Basically, these lines of “reasoning” operate under the assumption that Nihilism = “bad” a priori.

    So even if his implication was true and Nihilism was the logical outcome of Atheism (which I personally find to be true in my life, but that’s just one man’s opinion there…), it’s of no consequense – as I see no reason why Nihilism should be considered a “bad” thing (and thus something to be avoided) in the first place…

  • Christopher

    Valhar2000,

    “And yet, McCain is probably going to win the next election, religious terrorism is on the rise all over the world and islamic countries are taking over the UN to exercise tyranny over the world.”

    1. Who cares if McCain wins or loses? No matter who gets into the White House the special interest groups will use him/her/it as a puppet to further their own pet causes. The political class are nothing but mouthpieces for their lobbyist masters!

    I suggest that our countrymen either (a) don’t vote or (b) vote for fictional characters to mock this sham of a republic we live in.

    2. Let the fundies beyond our shores blast themselves into oblivion – so long as they don’t do it on our soil or near our interests (ex. nations we import oil from), I could care less what mound of dirt they fight over.

    3. The U.N. is a joke – even the Secretary General was bewilldered to learn how little actually gets accomplished in this organization! Even if those Islamic fundamentalists did get a significant foothold in that glorified shithole of a beaurocracy they would be able to do more than cry like babies over how ineffective it is at enforcing their own brand of Islamic law over the rest of the world.

  • Leum

    You have that much correct, but even if it *did* lead to Nihilism – so what? I always hear (both from religious and non-religious folks alike) that somehow Nihilism is a “bad” thing…

    I don’t actually think Nihilism is a bad thing in and of itself, I just don’t think it’s the correct (or inevitable) conclusion of atheism. More specifically, I think that creating meaning in our lives isn’t much different from meaning being inherent in existence.

    I guess it’s sort of Nihilism+. Yes, life has no intrinsic meaning, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t create meaning.

    Holding a belief is not the issue. It is the actions that stem from the belief that are the issue. Truly hateful or deadly actions should be illegal regardless of the beliefs of the perpetrator.

    Criticize beliefs all you want. Do not outlaw them. Outlaw particularly dangerous or damaging actions that might stem from those beliefs.

    I agree with you, Wayne. We shouldn’t criminalize thoughts/beliefs. Realistically, people who hold truly dangerous beliefs either commit atrocities or discuss committing them in sufficient detail to be arrested on incitement. Outlawing dangerous beliefs just sends them underground, where persecution drives people to extremism.

  • http://www.BlueNine.info Blue Nine

    The new atheists, then, would teach their children — what? That we’re created by chance, with no ultimate purpose or destiny, and that more conscious thought went into someone spray painting graffiti on a wall than went into our existence?… Child abuse, Dr. Dawkins, can come in myriad forms.

    This seems to be a common criticism of atheism: That life would have no purpose without god, there would be no ultimate, absolute, objective truth.

    What I don’t see discussed very often is: Why does there need to be any ultimate truth or purpose? Why is this considered good or necessary?

  • bestonnet

    They just assume it to be so because they don’t know any other way.

  • Jim Baerg

    Christopher: Re – Nihilism

    Does the 2nd last panel of this cartoon come close to your attitude?

    http://www.qwantz.com/archive/000014.html

  • Brad

    I think Christopher speaks mainly of moral nihilism. I’m pretty sure he’d agree everyone can create their own little islands of “meaning.” And I think xkcd has the more “cheerful” nihilism that dinosaur comics’ Utahraptor speaks of.

    (Yes, I revel in off-topicity.)

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    “He tries to gloss over this point by calling such tyranny the “logical outgrowth” of our views”
    He’s externalizing. It’s what he’d do if he could. This is why so many members of Christian Right shout “No homo!”, then get caught doing the gay mansex.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    “should we conclude that the author is actually engaging in projection and accusing atheists of what he himself wants to do”
    Wups. Ignore my earlier comment. I should pay closer attention when I read. People tell me that I’m unfocussed and easily distra-Hey! A shiny thing!

  • Crotch

    Just to be clear, Brad, the xkcd character you’re referring to is called “the existentialist” on Wikipedia and elsewhere.

    Conversation derailing contest?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    On point, here’s a story about an Italian comedienne who faces five years in prison for lampooning the Pope. But watch out! Nasty atheists might hypothetically try to take away your free speech rights at some point in the future!

  • Christopher

    Brad,

    “I think Christopher speaks mainly of moral nihilism. I’m pretty sure he’d agree everyone can create their own little islands of “meaning.” And I think xkcd has the more “cheerful” nihilism that dinosaur comics’ Utahraptor speaks of.”

    I am a “moral” Nihilist, but also an existential Nihilist – I hold that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, but like you said we can create meaning for ourselves.

    My question is why people like Goldstein (and other folks – some of them on this site) consider this such a “bad” thing. Even if the accusation is true that atheism leads to Nihilism (which I think it does if some one follows it through to its logical conclusion, but I admit that can be debated) why is that so dreadful that people feel the need to avoid it at any cost?

  • Leum

    My question is why people like Goldstein (and other folks – some of them on this site) consider this such a “bad” thing. Even if the accusation is true that atheism leads to Nihilism (which I think it does if some one follows it through to its logical conclusion, but I admit that can be debated) why is that so dreadful that people feel the need to avoid it at any cost?

    I believe the logic runs that since God created morality, morality is a Good Thing, so if nihilism denies God and morality it is a Bad Thing. Because, of course, good and bad are completely arbitrary designations with no meaning besides that which God gives them. This is, of course, completely different from when humans designate things good and bad, because that designation is entirely arbitrary and does not rest on God’s will.

    And if you understand that, congratulations, because I don’t.

    On point, here’s a story about an Italian comedienne who faces five years in prison for lampooning the Pope. But watch out! Nasty atheists might hypothetically try to take away your free speech rights at some point in the future!

    But Ebon, don’t you see? This is an example of righteous judgment against evil people. Atheist censorship would be malicious persecution against good people! It’s not the action that matters, it’s the intent. And if we happen to make some tiny mistake we can always apologize or canonize the victim a few centuries later. Don’t worry, God will know his own.

  • Leum

    This may be a double post. I think my first attempt got auto-deleted for having too many links. Apologies if it was just in moderation.

    On point, here’s a story about an Italian comedienne who faces five years in prison for lampooning the Pope. But watch out! Nasty atheists might hypothetically try to take away your free speech rights at some point in the future!

    But Ebon, don’t you see. The above is an example of righteous judgment against evil God-hating blasphemers. Atheist censorship would be malicious persecution of good God-fearing worshipers! Intent matters far more than consequences. After all, if the Church makes some tiny little mistake (Galileo, Bruno, Joan of Arc), she can apologize or canonize the victim a few centuries later. Don’t worry, God will know his own. On the other hand, the victims of atheist persecution might never receive a posthumous apology and atheists are notoriously unwilling to canonize.

  • bestonnet

    Leum:

    I believe the logic runs that since God created morality, morality is a Good Thing, so if nihilism denies God and morality it is a Bad Thing. Because, of course, good and bad are completely arbitrary designations with no meaning besides that which God gives them. This is, of course, completely different from when humans designate things good and bad, because that designation is entirely arbitrary and does not rest on God’s will.

    And if you understand that, congratulations, because I don’t.

    It’s called moral relativism.

  • Preston

    I find this article highly ironic. I hope you can see the ironic position you’ve put yourselves in by deriding Goldstein for believing that atheists “want to take over the world and outlaw religion.” What a silly and ridiculous notion! It sounds like something right out of a conspiracy theory.
    Then, in the concluding paragraphs, it is very clearly stated that “Their (Christians’) goal is a world run by them and ruled according to their specific conception of God’s will.” Nothing remotely ridiculous about that statement, no sir!
    I hope you can see how silly you’ve made yourselves look.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    You clearly didn’t read the last three paragraphs of this post, Preston.

  • Robin
    I suspect the problem is largely that people are so used to whispering around religion that an everyday voice sounds like a shout.

    What a beautiful, eloquent way to put it. Lynet wins the thread for that comment. :)

    I agree, brilliantly put, Lynet!


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