Tinkerbell the Accommodationist

Because we New Atheists haven’t been told to shut up nearly often enough, Matt Nisbet has an editorial on BigThink this week. I was so glad to read it, because it had been a disturbingly long time – possibly as long as a whole day – since we’d last heard from someone saying we need to be shoved back into the closet (and the closet door nailed shut). Thankfully, this essay ends that worrying drought, calling it a “strategic blunder” that the Council for Secular Humanism gave a speaking spot to P.Z. Myers at its recent L.A. conference.

Nisbet begins with that much-used and much-loved rhetorical tactic, the false dichotomy:

On one side, “accommodationists” argue that non-believers should build bridges with others around shared values in order to work on common problems such as climate change and failing schools. On the other side, “confrontationalists” argue that they should close ranks and engage in relentless attack and ridicule against all forms of religion…

Nisbet has an enviable advantage when arguing against us: he’s not confined by petty limitations such as the truth. Does he actually provide any citations of people saying this to substantiate the razor-sharp line he draws?

Let me see if I can straddle that line. I’ll freely admit to the charge of being as fiery, uncompromising and New an atheist as you’ll meet. I also attend a Unitarian Universalist church and, in the past, have given money to liberal religious charities. I can only presume that Nisbet, if presented with this contradiction, would start stammering “Does not compute” and then we’d see sparks shoot from his ears, like those androids in the original Star Trek whose computer brains couldn’t cope with people doing things that didn’t make sense.

Before the accommodationists’ brains melt down entirely, let me solve the paradox for them: what New Atheists actually believe is that we can work together with good-hearted religious people on areas where we share common cause, but without surrendering the right to criticize them when it comes to other areas where we disagree. We can join with theists on, say, climate change, but still maintain – and advocate – the opinion that faith is more harmful than helpful. In Nisbet’s black-and-white world, you’re either someone’s servile ally or their sworn nemesis, with no gradations in between.

The accommodationist mindset must be like being Tinkerbell from the original Peter Pan, who’d get homicidally jealous of any girl flirting with Peter because she was too small to contain more than one emotion at a time. Similarly, Matt Nisbet seems to think that because we criticize religious groups, it must mean we categorically refuse to associate with religious individuals. Fortunately, our brains seem to be just big enough to allow us to hold both those concepts in mind together.

The Council for Secular Humanism — and its parent organization the Center for Inquiry – erred considerably in giving Myers a forum. His appearance and remarks have gained news attention, but at what price?

This is not about censoring Myers, but about making wise choices relative to the public image of the organization and the future of the movement. There will always be a need for iconoclasts and pundits such as Myers who exceed the boundaries of civil discourse and who grab attention by saying foolish and embarrassing things. But that doesn’t mean that major organizations should affiliate with him by making his remarks the news that comes to define their annual meetings.

An aside: Can we now put to bed, once and for all, the canard that accommodationists aren’t just trying to shut us up? What is this if not a naked plea that secular groups not invite people who disagree with Matt Nisbet to come and speak?

It strikes me that if the Center for Inquiry erred by giving P.Z. Myers a platform, and worse, by making his speeches the news that defines them, then Matt Nisbet has committed that very same error, only in even greater magnitude. If you follow the writings of Nisbet or his ilk, like Chris Mooney, you’ll soon see that practically their sole avocation these days is constant complaining and bellyaching about how impolite the New Atheists are. Reacting to us is the sole thing that’s come to define them.

It’s incredible how single-mindedly focused our critics are on us. Scan the headlines, and what do you see? Religious fundamentalists assaulting, murdering and terrorizing people who hold different beliefs; bombing buses and slashing throats; enslaving women and brutalizing gays; working to dismantle democracy and erase culture and history; and spreading ignorance about basic truths of life, the world, and human biology. And what have we, the New Atheists, done in response that’s so terrible? Our catalog of crimes consists of the following: drawing cartoons, writing books, speaking at conferences, and occasionally being rude to inanimate objects.

Daniel Dennett asked why these people aren’t “equal-opportunity sneerers“, but I’d take it a step farther: their myopia makes them ridiculous. Their umbrage is wildly disproportionate to our actual deeds. It has nothing to do with what advances justice or freedom for humankind, and everything to do with whether they’ll feel comfortable at cocktail parties.

Much like the current appeal of the libertarian movement and Reason magazine, the sharp iconoclasm of Myers and others appeals to young people seeking something novel and anti-establishment, an outlook easily captured in a T-shirt and expressed as an identity by way of a label such as atheist.

I’m sure P.Z. Myers, a happily married university professor with several grown children and a recent heart ailment, will be very pleased to find out that he’s now numbered among the “young people”. Doesn’t this guy sound just like those snide, smarmy religious apologists who insist to our faces that our atheism is just a youthful phase we’ll grow out of?

As I discussed in a Big Think video interview earlier this year, the Center for Inquiry and its magazine Free Inquiry were relatively slow to invest in Web-based content and applications. This in part created a vacuum online and the opportunity for bloggers such as Myers to rise to global prominence and gain a following.

I absolutely love that paragraph; you can practically taste the bitterness seeping through the page. It must be anathema for Nisbet to consider that people have flocked to P.Z. Myers or Richard Dawkins’ banner because they agree with them, because they’re saying the same things that many more people were already thinking and doing it loudly and fearlessly. No, it couldn’t possibly be that – it must have been some sneaky, underhanded New Atheist trick we pulled to hypnotize people into agreeing with us! If only they’d listened to their betters, like Matt Nisbet and the Templeton Foundation, they’d be in their proper place: sitting quietly at home and not making any trouble.

Young people are also deeply supportive of science, especially when science is connected to progress, a system of values and ethics, and the solving of social problems. Secular humanism can offer a positive message about science as progress. In contrast, confrontationalists tend to celebrate the “poetry of science” while simultaneously using it as a rhetorical bludgeon against religion.

Yes indeed! It’s a very efficient and clever strategy called “killing two birds with one stone”. Although it must come as a grave shock to Tinkerbell over there, we can celebrate the beauty and the transcendence of science while also firmly believing that it tells against ancient and primitive religious superstitions, which are, by comparison, laughably small, simplistic and human-centered.

The bitterness and resentment evident in this column are proof of one more thing: this is a fight the accommodationists have already lost. Since their goal is to silence us, they can only win if they persuade us to stop talking or other atheists to stop listening. Given the evident popularity of the New Atheist movement which Nisbet decries, they’ve failed on both counts. All they have left is insult and jealous sniping, neither of which will accomplish anything more than make themselves look foolish.

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.

  • Stacey Melissa

    I, for one, think the whole “accommodationist” vs. “New Atheist” infighting has been blown way out of proportion, and is getting really old. Can we please move on to something more interesting and important?

  • Valhar2000

    Much like the current appeal of the libertarian movement and Reason magazine, the sharp iconoclasm of Myers and others appeals to young people seeking something novel and anti-establishment, an outlook easily captured in a T-shirt and expressed as an identity by way of a label such as atheist.

    I have not been able to ascertain Matthew Nisbet’s age, but judging by the photographs I have seen in his blog and the faculty profile page the American University hosts for him I doubt he is older than 40. It must be a terrible thing to be an old man at such a young age.

  • Dan L.

    I, for one, think the whole “accommodationist” vs. “New Atheist” infighting has been blown way out of proportion, and is getting really old. Can we please move on to something more interesting and important?

    Democrats lost white house races in 2000 and 2004 because they didn’t effectively answer uninteresting and unimportant criticisms. Unfortunately, as lame as this whole business is, NAs need patient, credible spokespeople to point out the lack of any real justifications for the kind and volume of criticism heaped on them.

    Thanks for fighting even the boring, trivial ones Ebonmuse. The importance of doing so is all too easily overlooked.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com/ themann1086

    I did a spit-take to the libertarian comparison. Uh, what? Has Nisbet read Myers? He skewers libertarians every so often (and it is awesome).

  • L.Long

    I don’t understand this nonsense. I’ve listened to all the loud and soft atheist and as a group they are well spoken and try not to insult any person, but when a point of belief is brought up then they have no problem putting a spear thru the heart of it.
    We all know there is only one group that wants us to shut the pluck up, and that is the theostards that don’t want us upsetting their money/power cart or the delusional dream world of their flock with nightmares of reality.
    We all know that this discourse would end tomorrow if they all would keep their faith to themselves and stop shoveling their BS down everyone throats.

  • http://sacredriver.org Ash

    I, for one, think the whole “accommodationist” vs. “New Atheist” infighting has been blown way out of proportion, and is getting really old. Can we please move on to something more interesting and important?

    The discussion might have become dramatized, but the underlying issue is very important: is it okay to criticize faith itself and behaviors done in the name of belief? On the whole, the “accommodationists” say “No” while Gnu Atheists say “Yes!” Not only yes, but that such criticism is vital to the well being of the planet going forward.

    It is possible that this difference reflects two philosophical positions on the value of faith. I suspect that most Gnu Atheists have come to believe that faith has a net negative effect in the world and should therefore be reduced, while “accommodationists” think that faith is fine, perhaps even beneficial, or at least something that should be protected from rational assault.

    And so, while this fight might seem petty, it is grounded in fundamental differences that need to be addressed. As a Gnu Atheist, I think it is vital that we not only tear down the paper house of supernatural beliefs, but forward the notion that it is worthwhile doing so. As long as people argue that faith should be protected we need to keep explaining why it shouldn’t.

  • Grimalkin

    I read a blog recently that had a great point about this (http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2010/10/missing_the_point_in_the_accom.php).

    There’s room for the accomodationists. I do agree that they are needed, but they will achieve nothing alone. Being willing to enter into dialogue with the religious is great, but the religious won’t hear to you if you’re speaking softly from inside a closet.

  • AC

    In my view Nisbet and others who make similar arguments are basically promoting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Atheism.

    Our mere existence is offensive to some religious believers and essentially any expression of atheism, no matter how tame, is at least an implicit criticism of religion.

    I think there is value is both confrontational and conciliatory approaches, but I’m not sure Nisbet et al. are in favour of either. They clearly don’t care about the truth – I’m frankly at a loss as to understanding what motivates them.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I, for one, think the whole “accommodationist” vs. “New Atheist” infighting has been blown way out of proportion, and is getting really old.

    I sympathize with that position, Stacey Melissa, truly. I’m trying to spend less time responding to the accommodationists, not just because they never have anything new or interesting to say, but because I strongly suspect they’re just trying to capitalize on the success and popularity of the New Atheists as a way of getting their own names in the headlines.

    Still, I thought this particular piece was worth highlighting, if only because Nisbet’s tone was so egregiously insulting, and his call for secular groups to censor the New Atheists was so clear and explicit. Usually, the accommodationists are much more evasive about what they actually want. And I have to admit, I was amused to see how bitter and resentful it was, and I wanted to point that out as well. But as long as Nisbet and his like have nothing new to contribute, which they don’t, I anticipate spending less and less time on them in the future. I’ve already said just about everything I want to say about their position, and I agree that there are more worthwhile topics to discuss.

    There’s room for the accomodationists. I do agree that they are needed, but they will achieve nothing alone.

    Well said, Grimalkin. I think there’s plenty of room in the atheist movement for real accommodationists – that is, not people who spend all their time trying to shut their fellow atheists up, but people who can serve as the friendly face of nonbelief, people who think religious groups can be constructively engaged. For example, some atheists think that the theory of evolution disproves all traditional religion; others think it shouldn’t pose a threat to any faith beyond the most absurd literalism. Some think we should work together with religious charities, others that we should shun them under all circumstances.

    And it’s OK for atheists to have these debates among ourselves; I’m totally down with that. Of course we’re not all going to agree, so all the different opinions should be heard. Let everyone make up their own minds! And that’s an asymmetry that’s worth pointing out: Nisbet and his allies are trying to shut us up, but we’re not trying to do the same to them. We only want to express our own views; they want only their own views to be heard. That’s an enormously important difference.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    This battle is persistent because it is the *only* battle the religious sympathizers have left to fight. If you think about it, this also encompasses the relativism vs. science conflict. Relativists/accommodationists think it matters more how people think or feel or what traditions they may have than the pure truth of their existence. This thread of sentimentality also runs through the conflict between those who think morality is culturally defined and those like Sam Harris et al who think it can be objectively quantified: with respect to creating an environment conducive to the flourishing of living beings.

    Bottom line, how does it help humanity for science to advance if we don’t talk about it or implement it?

    On a side note, I recently had the *dumbest* conversation with someone who thought the presence of priests at the Chilean mine rescue, and the strong faith of the miners was somehow important and a *good thing.* I quoted PZ Myers’ article, where he said next time let’s withhold the drilling crews and let the charlatans wave their hands over the mine to ‘rescue’ the miners.

    That this absurdity is not universally recognized shows how much heaping doses of mockery are still needed. And we should provide them at every opportunity. We need more conversation at cocktail parties, more laughing, more poking fun, more liberal use of phrases like, “Come on, really? Seriously?”

    Accommodationists are locked in a losing struggle to maintain their grip on the human narrative. In this effort, it would be easier for them if science would just go away. Barring that, they want to impede its widespread acceptance and continue their blurring of fantasy and reality as long as they can. Because it’s easier for a lot of people that way. After all, the truth hurts in some way most of the time. As knowledge keeps up its inevitable and relentless assault on unreason, they will fail at controlling the narrative. This non-conversation will gradually fade.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com Spanish Inquisitor

    Well, it’s beginning to sound like the terrorists have won. ;)

    As long as atheists can be split into two camps, arguing about how they are supposed to make their point, rather than what the point actually is – that there is no meat in religious belief – the terrorists (read “theists”) have won. Theists must be standing on the sidelines rubbing their hands together with glee.

    It’s like watching a hockey game for the fisticuffs, rather than the final score.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    SI wrote

    Theists must be standing on the sidelines rubbing their hands together with glee.

    Not a chance. The Disco ‘Tute’s recent frantic campaign against theistic evolutionists (see their new Faith and Evolution site) or Ken Ham’s feud with Francis Collins’ BioLogos (see here for an example) is substantially more divisive than anything within the secular movement.

  • Grimalkin

    Indeed, RBH. If there’s one thing we can count on theists for it’s schisming! And with a drop of several thousands of years on us, they’re much better at it than we are.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Oops. Forgot the Disco ‘Tute’s recent roadshow and accompanying book God and Darwin, also attacking theistic evolution and evolutionary creationism.

  • Joffan

    That second link RBH, God and Darwin, is hilarious in its description of the God and Evolution book, for anyone who is used to seeing evidence as the standard for choosing between hypotheses. Their standard is basically whatever will fit best with previous arbitrary pronouncements of churches and churchmen – consistency with scripture rather than reality. Chance of progress – zero.

    Meanwhile, I’m impressed by Nisbet’s doublethink that supposes that PZ Myers somehow opportunistically captured the on-line browsing market. Given the incredible obscurity of the site name, it’s an atheistic miracle that he has any readers at all.

  • Valhar2000

    Given the incredible obscurity of the site name, it’s an atheistic miracle that he has any readers at all.

    Mark Hoofnaggle once pointed out this substantial error to Nisbet: PZ Myers (and Dawkins) have a greater audience than does Nisbet, by at least an order of magnitude. If Nisbet really were as interested in and effective at communication and persuasion as he says he is, he would be cozying up to both of them and attempting to persuade them. Instead, he is merely alienating them and their readers. Really, the only way Nisbet’s behavior makes any sense is if one assumes a staggering degree of obliviousness, or a staggering degree of dishonesty (i.e., he wants the Templeton Foundation to pay him and is working to that end). Chris Mooney has already collected, if I am not mistaken.

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    Huh. How… Awful. Really. We have religious people going apeshite every day, constantly trying to take over the world every day like an endless episode of Pinky and the Brain, and are seemingly trapped in a nightmarish scenario where only we are -reasonably- sane. It is nuts that we have to trip over this stupid nonissue instead of facing what we have to deal with. And it is a NONISSUE. Particularly when compared to the problems we have to overcome! Outspoken brethren: keep up the good work! Accomodationists: I know you mean well but take your own advice and shut it! You have better things to do, don’t you?!

  • Alex Weaver

    There’s room for the accomodationists. I do agree that they are needed, but they will achieve nothing alone. Being willing to enter into dialogue with the religious is great, but the religious won’t hear to you if you’re speaking softly from inside a closet.

    I think there’s a place for more diplomatic and circumspect atheists in the movement. Fratricidal maniacs like Nisbet and Mooney, however, don’t contribute anything.

  • efrique

    I’m a non-accomodationist middle-aged atheist-of-a-quarter-century. I, too, give (substantially) to religious charities as long as I can be reasonably convinced the money is used substantially for the purpose it’s collected for and isn’t used to proselytize. Religious people are among my friends, family, coworkers and neighbors, and I know perfectly well how to “get on” and co-operate with them all for a common purpose — when it goes both ways.

    Just going through a phase, eh? Oh, well, maybe I’ll get better when I am finished growing up.

    Just because religious people are my allies in many things doesn’t mean that when they say something stupid I won’t tell them clearly. Come to think of it, my atheist allies never seem to miss a chance to tell me when I am wrong, either … thankfully.

    I’d hate to think of the muddled moron I’d be if nobody ever game me a hard time over the dumb stuff I’d probably still think made sense if I hadn’t had the kick up the arse necessary to take a step forward and really think now and then. Once I believed in all manner of woo. Fortunately, there was always someone who didn’t pander to my beliefs and told me exactly what they thought. They were right to do so, because it started the long process of examination of why I believed it in the first place. And slowly but surely, I came to figure out how to think about claims and how to evaluate them. I came, in short, to appreciate the same ideas that underlie science. Old school confrontationists long ago made me more of a scientist than years of science class did (which taught me plenty of facts but not much science).

    Vive la confrontation!

  • http://www.darwinharmless.com Darwin Harmless

    What’s to accomodate? How can I accomodate somebody who denies the validity of my world view? Either you believe in a physical reality, the scientific method and real evidence, or you don’t. Religious people demand the right to be heard, on billboards, on the sides of barns, on the radio, on television, on the Internet, and, if they can get away with it, in the classroom. Meanwhile we’re told to keep quiet. It may be boring, but it’s an important issue. Whose side are you on? Seems like a no brainer to me.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    As long as atheists can be split into two camps, arguing about how they are supposed to make their point, rather than what the point actually is – that there is no meat in religious belief – the terrorists (read “theists”) have won.

    Theists might believe that, by definition they have a party line and an ordained manifesto. The strength of the atheist “movement” is that it is diverse. All it needs to succeed is an expansion of critical thinking and skepticism, traits that can be acquired and expressed in a variety of ways. The fact that some atheists are criticising others is largely irrelevent and if anything might serve to attract more attention to the fact that religion needs questioning somehow, regardless of style. So accomodationists want us to tone it down? so what? it ain’t gonna happen. It just means theists have to argue on more than one front.

  • Scotlyn

    Who is this Matt Nisbet, and why does he matter. Has he contributed anything useful to atheist discourse? Is he an atheist? I hadn’t heard of him, so I googled “Matt Nisbet” Templeton, and found nothing on the first 5 pages of hits other than criticisms of his position (including this one at the very top of page 1).

    I’m all for pushiness, bolshiness, and confrontational criticism of religion, and do not see any of this as contradictory to the building of bridges. It is important to realise, though, that we do not need to build bridges between sets of incompatible ideas, but between people. People, who often have varying over-lapping ideas in common, even when they differ in other respects.

    I did eventually come back here to find the link to Matt Nisbet’s actual words. And I have to laugh at one of the parallels he drew. He described William F Buckley as an “accommodationist” conservative in the following passage (to illustrate that Sarah Palin, et al. are the GNU CONs compared to him)…

    On one side are gentleman intellectuals in the Buckley tradition who argue for the need to offer a positive vision of conservative values that translate into a policy agenda designed to solve society’s problems and that has wider appeal to centrists.

    I don’t know much about this Mr Buckley, but I do have a clear memory of the class of ’80 (two years ahead of me in college), ending up with no commencement speaker, after vigourously protesting his nomination in that role. By the time he bowed to pressure and withdrew, it was too late to book anyone else. (He memorably called this class a bunch of “ferocious illiterates”, which of course ended up on the T-shirts proudly worn to graduation by most of the class. If he is now considered a “centrist,” then it looks as if someone has moved the centre quite a bit since my youth.

    And the moral of that story (there has to be one!)is that in 20 or 30 years PZ Myers may be fondly remembered as the calming, centrist voice of the atheist movement, while Matt Nisbet has faded into the woodwork of forgotten history.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com/ themann1086

    Scotlyn,

    The dead or long-irrelevant are often looked back upon fondly. Accomodationists frequently cite Sagan as being on their side. Er, wut? Have they read Sagan?

  • http://nssphoenix.wordpress.com drdave

    R Joseph Hoffman, whose posts I sometimes find very interesting, has one up today on Atheist Tantrums about Blasphemy Day and how inane it was. Some good points and some bad. He certainly dislikes PZ, to whom he says nobody listens (check the traffic count before making assertions).

  • locker51

    For some of us, Buddhist in particular, there is a middle way. There is a way to approach religion without being an asshole or accommodationist. To judge someone to be some sort of soft collaborationist misses the point completely. The process kickstarted by walking the zen path doesn’t make marshmallow minds. The confrontation with yourself is, for most of us, horrible, but effective. There is a place where all of this dualistic horseshit stops and understanding begins. I guess all this arguing is a necessary starting point. I know I was posting the eminent decline of Christianity 15 years, or so, ago. It’s got nothing to do with being weak and everything to do with how you perceive reality. Anyway, whatever type of reasoning we choose to utilize, go for it. Just don’t judge me and preferably no one else. Peace

  • Lion IRC

    Deep rifts?
    Welcome to the party pal!
    Its a religion. Get over it.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    *Hugs Lion, in a purely heterosexual way so as to not alienate him* I missed you.

    I think it is great to be a part of a group where disagreement and throwing crockery at one another is considered par for the course. After all, if the only thing that unites us is that nothing unites us, we won’t really get along all the time, will we? Its part of the whole experience!

  • 2-D Man

    Does anyone else get the feeling that locker51 is a random-phrase-generator robot? Reading that statement was like listening to Sarah Palin, without the fear-mongering.

  • Lion IRC

    posting the “eminent” decline of Christianity 15 years, or so, ago..?
    …in China?
    …in Africa?

    I firmly believe that New Atheism (Old atheism having a spasm attack) is actually responsible for a revival in theism.

    Thanks Mr Hitchens. Thanks Mr Dawkins. Thanks Ebonmuse.

  • Harle

    I firmly believe that New Atheism (Old atheism having a spasm attack) is actually responsible for a revival in theism.

    We are! Its the last resort. They can’t fight our arguments with reason so they increase the crazy jeebus chatter,trying to drown us out in noise. How dare we point out that the emperor is naked. Sticking to the emperor theme, Accommodationist want us to prertend that the clothes are there and talk about the colours and feel of the silk and the lovely patterns. BUT THERE IS NOTHING THERE!
    I refuse to sit and pretend. Suspending reality and imagining them to be there does nothing to the real world except take valuable time away from important things that are here in reality. We’re through being quiet.
    We’re furious and pissed off and we’re not going to take it any more!

    So thank you Mr Hitchens. Thanks Mr Dawkins. Thank You Ebonmuse, Sagan, Rand and all the other Gnu atheist.
    Thank you all very much

  • Nes

    Lion says:

    I firmly believe that New Atheism (Old atheism having a spasm attack) is actually responsible for a revival in theism.

    Well, when you believe in one fantasy, it’s much easier to also believe in other fantasies

    I think that what you believe is a “revival in theism” is in actuality a minority (typically far right Christians) using a louder bullhorn… because they realize that they are, in fact, losing.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com/ themann1086

    A Buddhist calling dualism “horseshit”? Now that is funny!

  • Alex Weaver

    I firmly believe that New Atheism (Old atheism having a spasm attack) is actually responsible for a revival in theism.

    You firmly believe the all-powerful ruler of the universe was unable to forgive his creations for being imperfect, the way he made them, without sacrificing one part of himself to another part of himself, except he didn’t really die. What else you believe is kind of superfluous after that.

    Anyway, yes, theism is getting louder. Death throes tend to have that effect.

  • kennypo65

    Say it loud. I don’t believe and I’m proud.(With apologies to James Brown.)

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    During the discussion that spawned his response, someone said (either a question or panelist) that this was about defining a common identity for atheists, and I think that that’s the main point that’s getting ignored. The “accomodationists” are saying that they don’t want atheism to be associated with the side that seem — at least to them — to be exceptionally rude and confrontational. And there’s some good reasoning behind this. Do you really want average, every day people thinking that atheists arein-your-face, railing-against-religion-every-chance-they get, or that atheists are basically the guy who lives next to you that you just happen to disagree with on one or a set of beliefs? For atheists “coming out of the closet”, the latter is better, and the former identity has been counterproductive (see, for example, what happened when this occurred for feminism; there are still a large number of women (and men) who believe in equality but refuse to call themselves feminists).

  • Thumpalumpacus

    There’s a big difference between “Please use courtesy” and “Shut up.”

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Thumpalumpacus,

    However, since neither “Please use courtesy” and “Shut up” are direct quotes, we only have people’s interpretations for what the people really mean. That’s not a good thing.

    Also, there’s a middle ground: “Please shut up about that for ONE BLOODY SECOND so that we can get this out of the way!”. It’s a reaction I have when I’m in an interesting conversation with someone about what certain purported attributes of God would mean if God existed and someone walks in — and someone invariably does — and say “Well, you have no reason to think that God exists. You have to prove that first!”. Um, for the purposes of that sort of discussion — teasing out the details of the concept and seeing what it would mean if true — no, in fact, I explicitly don’t and it doesn’t work if I had to. In other cases, it might, but things would go a lot smoother if that third person would just shut up for a second and let us get on with our discussion.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I’m sure you’ve heard of “paraphrasing.”

    Also, every single communication ever made by humans is subject to interpretation. In the event, boiling down to the essence serves as a sort of shorthand.

    Finally, I’m very happy to accept the existence of a god or gods for the sake of argument. However, our interlocutors are not stipulating the last conditional clause. Therefore, asking them to demonstrate their god’s existence is perfectly acceptable. So long as I’m being beaten over the head with a Bible and advised to abjure questions, I have every inclination to view those advising acceptance of such treatment to be, if even unconsciously, party to it.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    “I’m sure you’ve heard of “paraphrasing.”

    Also, every single communication ever made by humans is subject to interpretation. In the event, boiling down to the essence serves as a sort of shorthand.”

    I wasn’t accusing you of misquoting anyone, and in fact my main point was directly related to the fact that you were, indeed, paraphrasing. The point was that you have to be careful when paraphrasing and interpreting to ensure that you get what THEY mean by the statement, not what it means to you. They don’t agree that they are telling people to “Shut up”, and think that their point is far more in line with the “Please use courtesy” line. Whose interpretation is right? And shouldn’t we be spending more time figuring out what each side is actually saying than attacking them for saying things that some people think they are saying but that they are saying they aren’t saying?

    “So long as I’m being beaten over the head with a Bible and advised to abjure questions, I have every inclination to view those advising acceptance of such treatment to be, if even unconsciously, party to it.”

    The problem is that a lot of the accomodationist flap is over accomodationists who defend religious people who DON’T just beat people over the head with a Bible and tell them not to ask questions, but people who are taking a good, hard look at the objections of atheists and are willing to engage in debate over the issues. The accomodationists would have a point that treating these people like the ones you talk about is both a) probably wrong and b) not likely to get those people thinking kindly of atheists.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Without trying to derail into communication dynamics, if they cannot see what it is that they’re advising, they’re unworthy of my attention anyway. All messages must not only take into account not only what one is trying to say, but how that is likely to be interpreted.

    And as Adam pointed out in his OP, the matter under discussion was a criticism of the Council for Secular Humanism in allowing Myers a forum. And in the original article, Nisbet’s mischaracterization of Myers’s, and others’, rhetorical style gives rise to suspicion in my mind concerning his message, and is one reason why I interpret his message as “shut up” — or, at the very least, “Please tiptoe, these eggshells are quite fragile.”

    I’m all for treating everyone politely, except when courtesy is defined as “not questioning my views,” as is so often done by religious proselytizers. At that point, the option is to agree, or be silent. It surprises me that Nisbet Mooney et al don’t see that. I’ve yet to see any theist who commands any sort of audience announce his willingness to be swayed by evidence. Would you give me three or four names so that I can balance that part of my reading?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    The problem is that a lot of the accomodationist flap is over accomodationists who defend religious people who DON’T just beat people over the head with a Bible and tell them not to ask questions, but people who are taking a good, hard look at the objections of atheists…

    I’d also like to know who is doing this.