Stereotypes Make Perfect Sense

I saw the image above on FunnyJunk and liked that it took the caricatures that some Christians and atheists offer of each other, and placed them side by side. I doubt there are many who would genuinely recognize either description as an accurate portrayal of their own worldview. But that doesn’t seem to prevent them from sharing caricatures of their opponents.

But the fact that anyone stereotypes in this way is truly despicable, and contributes to the demonization and dehumanizing of others who are like themselves.

It is better not to stereotype at all. But if you cannot avoid it altogether, then apply the Golden Rule: stereotype others the way you would want to be stereotyped.

  • AWRM

    Help! Help! I’m being overwhelmed by my own biases!
    Sorry – but I confess that I belly laughed at the atheist caricature and snorted defensively at the Christian one. (“It’s not the actual eating of the flesh that… oh, never mind!)
    Maybe there isn’t any hope for me!
    Okay for penance, let me make up my own Christian caricature…
    First of all, you must genuinely profess that there is one God but um, part of that one that is separate from that One but isn’t really separate in any understandable way… came down for a visit. He had to come. You see, the one God Who is Three had told us the magical rules of how we are to conduct ourselves in this thing called existence which is intrinsically impossible to explain… but stay with me for a bit. Although we didn’t know what, who and why we were, we figured that we knew better so we broke these rules. For reasons that we cannot begin to understand, breaking rules meant some kind of mysterious bad thing (lots of opinions here so we’ll just skip on by…) would happen to us unless somebody could pay the bribe to let us off the hook. The only somebody that could do that was a part of God that was not separate. And This Part couldn’t just reach in His pocket or just twinkle His (or Her… but, again, that’s just going to open up another long story) nose. He had to become one of us. The only way this One God Who is Three could figure out how to make this happen was, um… This might be a good time to excuse the kids to go to Sunday School…
    Ya. So the way He had to come was through the vagina of a women who had never had sex. He conducted His existence as one of us in a unfathomable way that is called “perfect” which meant that He broke some of the more nit picky rules that He Himself had ostensibly created. It kind of looks like He did this just to annoy some to the local power boys. He was a notable person because He was so completely nice all the time and he did these super crazy tricks. Anyways, the mysterious bad thing that was supposed to happen to us had to happen to Him for us to be freed from…
    oh… I forgot to tell you that a bad guy who used to be okay but now is not at all okay… anyways we don’t really know why he became bad out of some kind of place that wasn’t bad but um, well… this is getting too long.
    Where were we. Oh yeah. The bad guy demanded that The Part pay our full price by physically dying and having the mysterious bad thing fully happen to Him. Except it couldn’t. You see, being a Part of the One God, He was bigger than the bad guy and the mysterious bad place and He went back to be with the One God. No wait! Before He went back there, he came back and showed everybody – er, everybody in this little backwoods part of this little place on this particular planet – that He had whupped the force of badness. So… if you telepathically send the message to the One God Who is Three that you’re going to trust in all the above, even though you can’t really come close to understanding most of it, then you get to be best buds with One God Who is Three… forever and ever amen.
    Oh… and I forgot the part about voting Republican. You have to do that too. But we can get to that part when you come back to church next week.
    Er, wait. Maybe we’ll talk about that the week after. There’s this thing about money we need to talk about…

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    I found the atheist caricature to be a bit roughly sketched and needing improvement, but I found the Christian one to be witty and needing only one small change.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      And a Christian will often feel the same way, but in reverse. And so presumably you can see the problem.

      • David_Evans

        I’m an atheist but I found the atheist caricature rather closer to the truth than the Christian one. Each could be markedly improved by the omission of just one word (“Zombie” and “magically”)

        • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

          Nah, not “zombie” and “magically”. It’s the implication that most Protestants accept the eucharist as necessary for salvation, and (now that I think about it), the “remove an evil force from your soul” statement.

          • Mike Mayer

            Agreed. To make it more accurate, the communion reference should be replaced with baptism. One of the most common questions asked to see if someone’s soul will be saved (often a child/baby) is, “Was he baptized?” Or if made as a statement, “At least he was baptized,” or “It’s so sad he wasn’t baptized.” As a progressive Christian, the notion that this magical act (initiated and performed by humans) can influence how God feels about an individual always rubs me the wrong way.

            • Jack Collins

              How about: “…you can live forever if you get wet.” Like Gremlins.

              • Mike Mayer

                So no communion after midnight?

        • Jack Collins

          Indeed, we’ve already established that “zombie” is inaccurate: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2013/10/jesus-was-not-a-zombie.html

  • Preston Garrison

    Hey, stereotypes are o.k., as long as it is cross-eyed stereo – that I can see without messing with a viewer. It’s walleyed stereo that causes the problems – you have to be some kind of mutant to look at them without a viewer. :)

  • Bob

    I think an Atheist would need to believe that absolute nothing is an impossibility, kinda like a Christian would for that matter.

    • David_Evans

      Not sure about that. When asked “Why is there something rather than nothing?” I usually reply “I don’t know”. I don’t even know what, if anything, existed before the Big Bang. If the answer is “nothing”, that would violate our intuitions about causality, but those intuitions were formed within the universe and may not apply outside it.
      A Christian would probably claim to know more than that – that God is the reason for the universe’s existence and that God is a necessary being.

      • Bob

        When I get asked that question, I usually reply with “What do you mean by nothing?”.

        Even trying to describe nothing immediately makes it something, perhaps a something that is nothing, but a something none-the-less.

        Needless to say, I don’t find it a difficult stretch to believe that “an absolute nothing” is probably impossible, or was at least never an actual state of reality.

        For the theist; God exists and can not, by definition, not exist, so “absolute nothing” is again, impossible.

        • Mike Mayer

          Just curious… where is the justification that God has always existed. The only source I can find is the Athanasian Creed… but there is so much wrong with that in my opinion that I would not consider it to be an authoritative statement. All the other texts that come to mind refer to God being at the beginning and at the end (e.g. alpha and omega). If I show up at the beginning of the work day and leave at the end, it does not mean that I have always been and always will be at work (although some days it feels that way).

          I’m not trying to be argumentative. I really am trying to determine if the statement about the eternity of God has any basis other than traditional Judeo-Christian thought.

          • Bob

            The Principle of Sufficient Reason pretty much demands it.

            If God did not always exist eternally, than God would need a reason for it’s existence, but God is a necessary existent, thus can not depend on anything at all for it’s existence.

            • Jack Collins

              In short, God has to exist because God has to exist. That clears it up.

              • Bob

                Work on your subtlety.

                God exists, necessarily, as the ultimate explanation of change.

                • Jack Collins

                  They don’t call me subtle Jack for nothing. Or at all. But that doesn’t make it any less special pleading.

                  • Bob

                    The theist will argue that God is not specially plead into existence, but that God’s existence necessarily follows from the correct application of logic and reason to the question of change.

            • David_Evans

              The principle of sufficient reason implies that there must be a reason why any particular radioactive atom decays today rather than yesterday or tomorrow. Quantum mechanics says that there is no such reason – that the decay is truly random. Do you know better?

              • beau_quilter

                You see, Bob?

                Radioactive atoms decay, therefore, God!

                Understand, now?

                • Bob

                  Not really.

                  • beau_quilter

                    Yeah, me neither. :-(

              • Bob

                The PSR would seem to imply that such an interpretation of QM was incorrect.

                • David_Evans

                  Scientists more knowledgeable than you or I have thought long about this. Their consensus is, as I say, that quantum mechanical events are truly random – that there are no “hidden variables”. In view of the spectacular predictive successes of the theory (without which the PC on which I am writing could never have been built) I think you need strong evidence to go against that consensus.

                  • Bob

                    Perhaps, but this really has nothing to do with the fact that the PSR would seem to imply that such an interpretation of QM, even given the unanimous consensus of experts, is incorrect.

                    • David_Evans

                      Let me be clearer. What evidence have you that the PSR is correct?

                    • Bob

                      The PSR simply means that there are, in principle, no unexplainable facts. So the question is not whether one can demonstrate the PSR to be correct, but how exactly would one demonstrate the PSR to be incorrect.

                    • David_Evans

                      True, it can’t be demonstrated to be incorrect. That “in principle” clause makes it unfalsifiable. In scientific contexts this is generally considered a bad thing. If in addition you can’t give me any evidence for it, well…

                    • Bob

                      Welcome to the world of metaphysics.

                    • David_Evans

                      I am familiar with that world. It’s fun to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

                    • Jack Collins

                      “The PSR simply means that there are, in principle, no unexplainable facts.”

                      You know, except the one…

                      PSR assumes a system of causality that may be intrinsic to human cognition, but it does not appear to be intrinsic to the universe. Uncaused things HAVE to happen in QM. And yet, QM can produce predictive data that is, in many cases, far more accurate than that produced by conventional notions of causation, locality, or logic. Spinoza didn’t have a large hadron collider.

                    • Bob

                      Again, the PSR would imply that such an interpretation of QM (one leading to actual uncaused events) is incorrect. The PSR would simply say that the cause may be unknown, or even unknowable, but that there must be a cause none-the-less.

                      No amount of heads banging against walls will help… believe me…

          • arcseconds

            In traditional theology, God is normally understood to be a necessary being (see the ontological argument, for example), so they can’t not exist.

            It would be like 2 + 2 = 4 starting to become true at a certain point.

            • Jack Collins

              2+2=4 did start to become true at a certain point. At the super-ordered, low-entropy state of the early universe, any concept of difference (and thus numerence) would have been meaningless. (And how do we know this? Mathematical models! The universe is weird!)

              And also there was nobody there to count.

              • arcseconds

                What a bundle of strange ideas you have.

                Mathematical structures are not normally understood to require physical models to be considered meaningful, let alone true. And for many mathematical propositions, it’s hard to work out what would even count as a physical model.

                Moreover, even statements about the physical that don’t correspond to anything physical aren’t generally thought to be meaningless. They’re just false!

            • Mike Mayer

              So, your answer to my question is, “It is the product of Judeo-Christian thought, not scripture.”

              • arcseconds

                Are you actually asking ‘what is the origin of the idea of the eternity of God?’ ?

                Because that’s how you’ve paraphrased my answer, as an answer to a history question. That wasn’t what you asked for initially, which is for a justification. They’re too quite different things: generally speaking the origin of an idea is quite different from it’s justification (e.g. Kekulé apparently dreamed of the ring structure of benzene, but obviously we don’t believe it has that structure on the basis of his dream).

                And of course the history of the justification itself is different from the justification.

                Also, what is ‘it’ in your statement above? It sounds like you’re asserting that ‘the idea that God is eternal is a product of Judeo-Christian thought, not scripture’, which is not what I said, and it’s not true.

                • Mike Mayer

                  I am actually asking both. But in both cases, (historical origin of idea and current justification), the answer boils down to thought (theology, philosophy, whatever you want to call it…) The reason I was asking was to avoid putting my foot in my mouth before making a follow-up comment (who’s time is well now past) to someone who based their argument on the unequivocal statement that God has always existed.

                  I no longer have an interest in responding to the comment. But, I am now curious about the notion (the “it” in my last comment) of the (temporal) eternity of God. Note that I am not talking about the existential eternity of God.

                  • arcseconds

                    OK. I’m not entirely certain that I understand what you’re getting at with the ‘existential eternity’ of God versus the ‘temporal eternity’ of God. My guess is that you mean you’re wanting to know about God’s lasting throughout all time, and not having a beginning, rather than their being outside of time?

                    Anyway, I’ll tell you what I know.

                    The situation at the start of Genesis is similar to the creation myth of many cultures, especially those of the Ancient Near East (which of course genetically speaking it is a part).

                    It’s quite hard to get a handle on what exactly they were thinking here. Partly because reasoning about the beginning of everything is not actually an easy thing to do, even if you’re pretty much just pontificating without data. But it’s also difficult for us because we have a tendency to import either entirely modern notions (i.e. from the 1600s) or ‘traditional’ theological notions which aren’t quite that new, but are still a lot newer than the text. And of course it’s likely the picture was not all that clear even to the original authors.

                    However, the picture does not seem to be that literally nothing existed, and then there was something. In most of the ANE/mediterranean accounts, there’s a primordial ocean, out of which everything else arises. This concept still seems to be present in Genesis.

                    And there does seem to be an assumption that space and time were still there are a container for stuff to happen in.

                    The pre-existing stuff is quite explicit in Plato’s TImaeus, where the elements already exist prior to the activities of the maker, and the maker actually starts to run out of stuff during his creative endeavours. It’s also pretty clear in later pagan philosophy, where (in some older translations at least) they have phrases like ‘before the world was adorned’ (i.e, before it was ordered – note the etymological link between ‘cosmos’ and ‘cosmetics’.)

                    So while maybe we can detect some acknowledgement that ‘the beginning’ is the beginning of meaningful events and the passage of time in a meaningful way, there’s also a notion here that some unformed stuff existed prior to that, and always had existed.

                    What makes Genesis unusual is that God is also there with the primordial stuff. In other ANE accounts, the gods have a definite beginning, emerging out of the primordial ocean.

                    So there is scriptual support for this notion. It’s not utterly explicit, but it does seem pretty strongly implied. God’s already there at the beginning, he’s given no origin story, and there are other phrases like ‘from everlasting to everlasting, you are God’ (Pslam 90). I’m not sure we could expect a lot more clarity, as I don’t think the writers had a worked-up notion of eternity.

                    Greek philosophy, however, was a lot clearer about this sort of stuff, and it’s from there that we get the priniciple of sufficient reason, and in fact a lot of the traditional theological notions. So the more sophisticated and articulate reasoning and defenses surrounding this don’t really come from ‘later Judeo-Christian thought’ exactly, it’s really ultimately from pagan philosophy, in particular the Platonic tradition (with some strong Aristotelean influences).

                    The pagan neoplatonists not only thought that the divine being was eternal, but also that the world itself was eternal. One argument they deployed against Christians was the priniciple of sufficient reason: there was no reason for God to create the world at 9am on Tuesday rather than at 3:30 on Saturday, so it couldn’t have begun at all!

                    This stuff was already creeping in to Judaism around 1 A.D. . Philo in particular is a kind of Jewish proto-neoplatonist. And the Gospel of John shows a marked influence from neoplatonic philosophy.

                    • Mike Mayer

                      Wow! Thanks for taking the time to put all that into writing. To attempt to clarify what I meant by the temporal and existential adjectives.

                      I believe most people attach the notion of eternity exclusively to time. I have, however, heard people extend the notion to mean time, space, and whatever other (meta?) dimensions of reality (Do not restrict yourself to physical dimensions here.) I was attempting to clarify that I was simply talking about time.

                      Existential reality deals with that which is accessible/applicable to human existence/thought. Anything outside this realm is irrelevant and we need not concern ourselves with discerning its truth. I was attempting to clarify that I was referring to the bigger truth… that which is beyond the intersection with human experience. (Which is an interesting point of view for me to take as normally, I don’t care about that which is not existential.)

      • Jack Collins

        I think that’s one of the key differences between naturalistic and supernaturalistic epistemologies is the difference between saying “I don’t know” and saying “I don’t know, so it’s magic.”

        • arcseconds

          While that’s a nice snappy formulation, in the heads of many theists, the attraction is that they don’t have to say ‘I don’t know!’ — they ‘know’ that it was magic.

          They see it as a failing of science that science is uncertain about things of which they wish to be certain.

  • Jack Collins

    If you replace the “for no reason” and “magically” with “for reasons, some of which we don’t understand,” I’ll accept that one. Because reasons.


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