What Do You Think About Them?

Maria, a liberal Catholic commenter on this site, had a few questions she wanted to pose to readers:

Recently, several books have been written about atheism. The three main authors that we have heard about most have been Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. What is everyone’s opinion on each of these authors? What do you like/dislike about them, what they have said, and their books? Do you feel their tones are too strident or not forceful enough, and why do you feel this way? What do you think are the good points they have made and the mistakes (if any) they have made? No doubt there has been much controversy over all the books and the authors, some good, some bad, and some mixed. What are you feelings/opinions on that? How fairly do think they have been characterized in the media? Has anyone met or directly spoken with any of these authors, and if so, what was that like?

Also, what do you think about the Rational Response Squad?

Here’s my answer: I greatly appreciate the authors. There has been more discussion about atheism in this country than ever before thanks to them. There are also plenty of new authors (I include myself in this group) writing about atheism who may not have had that opportunity if the interest in atheist literature not been there.

It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say. For example, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens both talk about how teaching religion can be considered child abuse. In some cases, I agree. Teaching children that God created the world in six days, or that people who think differently from you are going to spend eternity in Hell, could rightfully be considered mental child abuse. At the same time, I know that I was taught a lot of religious lies (like the concepts of reincarnation and prayer), and I know I wouldn’t considered myself abused. So maybe they do take that concept too far…

Still, despite that, there are people who have never heard their arguments before. It’s wonderful to have those ideas put in their heads. What they do with those ideas is up to them. But everyone should learn to critically think about their religious beliefs and that’s what these authors have forced some people to do.

These authors are passionate about their (non) belief and, as a result, they mistakenly get criticized as being too “fundamental” or “militant.” Without getting into that whole debate myself, they have done more for atheism than perhaps any force in history, so there is something to be said for the tone of their rhetoric. But now, we do need atheists who can communicate their ideas in a “friendlier” way to those religious people put off by the authors’ strong stances.

I’ve met Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens before… I’ll tell my stories and then get to the point I want to make.

During a particular conference overseas, I saw a group of people walking on the same path I was on. A friend of mine was in that group and she introduced me to the people she was with. The last person, she said, was Richard Dawkins. (Of course, I knew this, and was just speechless, because he’s like a hero to me.) He simply said, “Hello, I’m Richard Dawkins” in his British accent and shook my hand… and I don’t know what I said in response because I was dumbfounded. Later that evening, I saw him again, was re-introduced to him in a more formal way, and I asked him if he would autograph some of his books I had brought with me (it was nearly half my luggage). He graciously signed all those books. I remembered that in the preface to one of his books, he mentioned how when one of his new books came out, people would line up at book signings and have him sign, not the new book, but his first book, The Selfish Gene, which sometimes frustrated him. His wife would console him by saying that once they read the first book, they would work their way up to the latest book. To try and say something that would impress Dawkins, I told him (honestly) that the first book I read of his was The Ancestor’s Tale and that was what got me interested in his writing. He seemed genuinely pleased by this. The rest of the conference, every time I saw him, he appeared to carve out time for everyone who wanted to talk to him and he always had a smile on his face.

When I met Christopher Hitchens, it was also at a conference (The Amaz!ng Meeting 5). He showed up at a hotel party that was for the members of the James Randi Educational Foundation forums– I don’t think anyone wanted to kick him out, though. When I got a chance to talk to him, he was (as usual) holding a small glass of liquor. I asked him to tell me the best dirty joke he knew. He was Christopher Hitchens– He had to know a hilarious one. He said he knew one, but it was very long. We had time. So he started telling the story. A crowd began to gather and after a *very* long setup, Hitchens told the punchline. It caused one of the girls in the crowd to slap the contents of the glass of liquor out of his hands and onto his shirt. That was pretty funny (moreso than the joke, anyway)… once he cleaned himself off, he was seen having debates with various people on subjects such as why women weren’t funny, Mother Teresa wasn’t good, etc.

My point is this. I think if you see Christopher Hitchens in an interview, what you see is what you get. In person, he acts pretty much the same way he does on TV. So criticisms (and praises) of his personality are usually in the ballpark of being accurate.

Richard Dawkins, on the other hand, gets a bad rap for reasons unknown. He was unbelievably nice to me, and other atheists I know have said the same thing. He’s one of the kindest guys you’ll ever meet. He may come off strong in The God Delusion, but it’s only out of his passion for the subject, not because he has horns growing out of his head.

As for the Rational Response Squad, I think the Blasphemy Challenge was a wonderful idea because it focused on the “Challenge” (not necessarily the “Blasphemy”) of coming out publicly as an atheist. There were a few horrible videos made, but mostly, they were positive and exciting to see. Obviously, they got a lot of publicity as well and atheism was exposed to many more (often young) people as a result.

You may not agree with the tactics of everyone I just mentioned, but I do think it takes all kinds. I think most atheists are on the same page with their goals– and I quote from the Secular Coalition for America’s mission statement– to “increase the visibility and respectability of nontheistic viewpoints in the United States.” Sometimes, atheists will hurt that cause, but for the most part, atheists help it. And sometimes, it’s just the reaction to our very existence that gets out of hand and ends up reflecting poorly on us.


[tags]atheist, atheism, Catholic, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Rational Response Squad, God, child abuse, religion, The Selfish Gene, The Ancestor’s Tale, The Amaz!ng Meeting 5, James Randi Educational Foundation, Mother Teresa, The God Delusion, Blasphemy Challenge, Secular Coalition for America[/tags]

  • Miko

    Richard Dawkins, on the other hand, gets a bad rap for reasons unknown. He was unbelievably nice to me, and other atheists I know have said the same thing. He’s one of the kindest guys you’ll ever meet. He may come off strong in The God Delusion, but it’s only out of his passion for the subject, not because he has horns growing out of his head.

    I think this must be based to some extent to the medium in which one reads the God Delusion. Written words convey so little of emotion, compared to a voice. On the other hand, listening to the audiobook version, Dawkins comes off extremely friendly, passionate, intelligent, and caring. And the fact that he alternates passages with his wife makes the whole thing sound like a loving family affair. The problem with the atheist position is that it is essentially based on things like logic, observable evidence, historical trends of absue in religion, etc. in addition to being on a topic where most people hold fairly strong views. The words can sound cold without the personality behind them.

    As for the Rational Response Squad, I think the Blasphemy Challenge was a wonderful idea because it focused on the “Challenge” (not necessarily the “Blasphemy”) of coming out publicly as an atheist.

    I agree that this was a terrific idea. It’s ironic that people find the idea more offensive than, say, reciting the Nicene Creed. That’s the real reason that it’s necessary, also: there are so many people out there who think that atheism doesn’t really exist or that the mere statement of our beliefs offends theirs. That sentiment will never be countered without a large bloc of people willing to make a simple statement like this.

    As for the RRS in general, they seem rather amateur to me. Take the home video they released of their trip to the debate with Comfort and Cameron: we have a few people in a car shaking a video camera around, swearing and talking about getting drunk. RRS may have nailed the debate, but they certainly lost the pre-debate.

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

    I actually haven’t read any of these books (except yours), yet I have an opinion anyway…

    I’m glad these ideas are on the table of public discourse.

    One thing that seems completely clear to me from observing people is that people don’t spontaneously question (or even recognize) their basic assumptions without external motivation to do so. People in a majority religion are often practically incapable of questioning the belief that their religion is the source of all virtue and that imposing their religion on others is a great kindness. This is why I almost always like people from minority religions better than people from majority religions: they have some concept of what freedom of religion means. It’s not a question of intelligence, it’s a question of experience.

    If you’ve heard rumors of some of the arguments against Christianity, then you’re more likely to think about questions like whether the Bible is good and right, and merely being aware of these questions is beneficial in terms of realizing that imposing religion on others requires justification — it is not a self-evident good.

    That said, I think the goal of “deconvert the world” can be a hindrance for succeeding at more important goals, as I’ve discussed here: Is religion the problem?

  • diana

    Maria, (I address this to you since you asked the question)

    I appreciate all three for their clear, forceful statements against religious obscurantism, in their no-holds barred broadsides against religious hucksterism, and their unwavering insistence that there is no such thing as a supernatural explanation of a natural phenomenon. There are no miracles. Period. I’m grateful to them for saying that.

    My criticisms of all three can be extended to most atheists: a tin ear for human emotion. A stone heart, too. They are deaf to the reason why religion is successful: religions give people a replicable means of affiliating with other people. They appeal to the emotions in a way that atheism doesn’t. They bind people together. That is no mean thing.

    The Rational Response Squad is a perfect example of my problem with other atheists. To me, their stunts amount to “Atheism for Adolescents.”

  • miller

    With the disclaimer that I’m too apathetic to read any of their books, I think they all deserve credit for giving atheism some media attention. Dawkins seems to receive much more criticism than he deserves. He rarely agrees with the extreme positions attributed to him. The RRS is a much better example of “extreme” atheism, but don’t expect me to hate them just so I look better in the eyes of moderates. As for Hitchens, no one seems to agree with him, at least not among liberals. Perhaps there are libertarian atheists who like him a lot?

  • UnboundSet

    Wonderful wonderful response Friendly Atheist!

    I think ultimately Hitchens will get more publicity precisely because he is not as sharp and Dawkins is.

    Dawkins’ intelligence makes him Teflon. No one can beat him in a debate. What choice do theists have but to villainize him with vague dismissals and faces of distaste.

    Hitchens on the other hand is easily stumped by theist arguments that are as old as the concept of God itself – arguments that he should already know and be ready for.

    Hitchens is by far the sweeter target and thus will end up with more air time, shaming us all. Our very own Anne Coulter.

  • http://barefootbum.blogspot.com The Barefoot Bum

    Dawkins: I’ve read most of the TGD, seen him on video a few times and live once; I know his scientific work mostly by reputation. He’s gentle and soft-spoken in real life, even when provoked, but he says what he thinks and never bullshits. His scientific reputation is flawless (although, like all scientists, he’s not always right). I get the sense that he truly loves people, but he loves the truth more. He’s a solid but not ground-breaking philosopher.

    Hitchens: God is not Great is a polemical masterpiece. My admiration for his polemics does not, however, at all transfer to any admiration for his politics. There’s no atheist party line, and he has a right to his opinion supporting the war in Iraq, and, much as I despise Islam (my wife is a Muslim apostate) I have a just as much right to hold him in contempt for that opinion, which I do. Still, no one, not even Dawkins, so thoroughly and mercilessly exposes religion’s hypocrisy, contempt for happiness and indifference to the human dimension of suffering even among the so called religious “liberals”.

    You missed Daniel Dennett: The best philosopher I’ve ever read, bar none. If there were a God, Dennett would be Her prophet.

    Harris: I’m glad that his work has provided a lot of exposure to atheism, but he’s a naive philosopher, even by my own amateur standards. I consider many of his positions not only mistaken but also stupid.

    I don’t really care how strident or conciliatory anyone’s tone is. Everyone has to use his own voice. Dennett is the most conciliatory, Dawkins the most strident. All but Harris are pretty much spot-on as far as the truth goes. Neither do I much care for how people are portrayed in the media; the media is dominated by talentless hacks sucking up to the economic elite who couldn’t spot a blatant contradiction if it bit them in the ass and didn’t bite them in the ass.

  • http://barefootbum.blogspot.com The Barefoot Bum

    Sorry… Hitchens is the most strident, not Dawkins.

  • Mriana

    I’ll do the Rational Response Squad question first. I think they have their place and for the most part they put out rational and educated information. At times I think they go a bit overboard and become a bit distasteful- ie the Blasphemy Challenge. Other than that I highly support what they are trying to do.

    Now for that other questions:

    What is everyone’s opinion on each of these authors? What do you like/dislike about them, what they have said, and their books? Do you feel their tones are too strident or not forceful enough, and why do you feel this way? What do you think are the good points they have made and the mistakes (if any) they have made? No doubt there has been much controversy over all the books and the authors, some good, some bad, and some mixed. What are you feelings/opinions on that? How fairly do think they have been characterized in the media? Has anyone met or directly spoken with any of these authors, and if so, what was that like?

    I appreciate Dawkins and Harris’s ideas (I haven’t read Hitchen’s yet), but I think it could be psychologically damaging to yank the rug out from under religious extremists. It needs to be gradual and they need to learn alternatives to their current beliefs. To suddenly take this security blanket from them would be to cause them great anxiety and they would not know what to do with themselves. If someone suddenly convinced you that you cannot worship your god, you cannot speak of your god, you cannot attribute anything to that god, you’d be going nuts trying to figure out what to do with all those things, if they did not show you alternatives.

    Very few people become atheists, non-theists, or agnostic overnight. It is a gradual thing which, for a lot of people involved questioning their beliefs, researching, asking questions, more research, until what they thought they believed they realize that they don’t believe it. I grew into my Humanism and I am still growing, but I learned an alternative along the way and I’m still learning.

    Alternatives are the key to human fulfilment. Simple, but minor example- human life passages (or rites of passages). In churches one has baptism, marriage, and death. If you gave up religion would you have any clue of knowing that there are non-religious alternatives to those passages unless someone told you? Or would you be dreading dealing with rites of passages because you know no other place to turn to but the church to fill those needs?

    Harris leaves those little life things out in his book “End of Faith”. Dawkins makes no mention of them from what I’ve seen and read. The Rational Response Team leaves them out entirely.

    Human Beings have social and personal needs that need fulfilling and to suddenly pull the rug out from religious extremists, or anyone for that matter, could be disturbing if they don’t know of alternatives to fill those needs.

    Given this, they lack some human compassion concerning human fulfilment and in that respect they are too forceful. However, they have pointed out what is irrational and supernatural about religious beliefs in the age of post-enlightenment and scientific discovery. They have shown what is harmful to human beings as a society concerning religion. They have pointed out that they are very spiritual in light of being non-religious and how. These are good things, but they lack explaining how human needs can be filled without religion and until that is done, no one will see that life without a belief in the supernatural can be more fulfiling and rewarding than the shame, guilt, and indignity religion puts on people. The good life can be had and be very fulfilling without feeling bad about one’s self, belief in a supernatural being, or belief in an afterlife.

    I’m not sure they have been portrayed fairly in the media though. In all honesty, they are not the diabolical trio.

    As for meeting them, I have not, but I know Bishop Spong has met Dawkins. He spoke very highly of Dawkins and said that Dawkins believes in the same god he does. Now don’t be confused, this is not the Christian God, a supernatural being, or anything like that and to explain it more fully would take up a lot of space in one post and you may still not understand it. :lol:

    I hope that answers your questions and if you have more, I will be glad to answer them, but beware, my answers will be humanistic, as is a lot of what I have said here is.

  • Mriana

    Dang it! My reply didn’t post again! :cry:

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I love Dawkins’s and Harris’s books. When I first read “The End of Faith” I had to stop in the middle of the first chapter to tell my husband, “OMG, someone GETS it.” I could not believe that someone had the guts to actually say what I was thinking about so many issues. I don’t agree with everything either of these authors says, but so what? I don’t agree with everything any author says. I have to give them credit for coming out so boldly and stating their beliefs (or lack thereof) so forcefully and honestly.

    I think the term “militant” is completely misused regarding these authors because, although they are not beating around the bush in any way, they are only talking and writing. They are not committing or endorsing any acts of violence. They’re not even advocating civil disobedience. They are merely advocating free speech and equal treatment for everyone, regardless of whether they adhere to any faith or not.

    Bravo! is my reaction.

    I also enjoyed Hemant’s book and Nica Lalli’s “Nothing: Something to Believe In” for their more personal takes. Not everyone is interested in scientific arguments or any type of debate and I think there’s a place for personal narratives that foster discussion and show that we are all human and we all bleed the same color blood and cry the same salty tears when we are hurt by others who don’t respect us. As one person commented above, sometimes emotion is left out of the equation in some of the more academic books, and that cuts off a huge part of the potential audience. Most people like to hear human interest stories and see how other people live and feel and that’s the best way to touch their hearts, usually a required first step before reaching someone’s mind.

    I think Hitchens is an entertaining ass, but I haven’t read his book.

  • Mriana

    I give up! It’s up to you, Hemant, if you can find it. If not, I can try later to repost it- I think. If the blog will let me. :(

  • Vincent

    I’m afraid the only thing I’ve read along these lines is “The Blind Watchmaker” and it’s a spectacular book for explaining how evolution is understood to work.
    It’s not about atheism, but it’s definitely worth reading.

    Why wasn’t Hemant Mehta on your list?

  • UnboundSet

    The Barefoot Bum said “You missed Daniel Dennett: The best philosopher I’ve ever read, bar none. If there were a God, Dennett would be Her prophet.”

    Oh Barefoot Bum you beat me to it. Yes “Consciousness Explained” was a paradigm shifter for me. Great book!

  • Darryl

    I agree with Dawkins and Hitchens that teaching children religion is a form of child abuse. It’s inherently divisive, self-defeating, and takes up space and focus that should be reserved for facts and useful knowledge. Children don’t know how to maturely use that teaching, so they often end up using it as a weapon. The non-religious see this; the religious do not. I personally regret the religion I taught to my children in my ignorance. Luckily for me, it did not prevent them from finding their own way with respect to religion, just as my brainwashing—though it was difficult to overcome—didn’t prevent me from working my way to the light.

    Are these authors too tough; too strident? Do we rather need a softer approach? It takes all kinds of approaches to meet all kinds of people. In my view, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris are strong medicine, and they are the urgent treatment of our national illness. What threatens us now is not the moderates and progressives among religions, but the fundamentalists. These authors are a response, perhaps a reaction, to the idiocy that has for too long gone unchallenged. They provide cover for the silent—I hope–majority who have needed a champion, a David to confront our Goliath.

    Diana said:

    My criticisms of all three [authors] can be extended to most atheists: a tin ear for human emotion. A stone heart, too. They are deaf to the reason why religion is successful: religions give people a replicable means of affiliating with other people. They appeal to the emotions in a way that atheism doesn’t. They bind people together. That is no mean thing.

    I doubt that the authors are unaware and unsympathetic to the human needs for community and emotional support. If I had to guess, I would say that, at least for Dawkins and Harris, that their atheism is not the locus of their connectedness and emotional experience. Dawkins is a family man; I don’t know about Harris except that he is studying meditation. These men are not stone-hearted, but may seem cold because they are making rational, evidential arguments, not appeals to emotions. In my view, once the rational matters are put to rest, one may explore the other ways of building community and connectedness to the world and life. Religion is not necessary to be fully human and fully alive.

    UnboundSet, you said you think Hitchens is

    Our very own Anne Coulter.

    That is loose talk, and a slander on anyone. Give the man his due. For me, he’s honest; she’s not. He’s educated; she’s not. He’s no hypocrite; she is. He’s right; she’s wrong. Their only commonality is that they both love to sell books.

  • Mriana

    Oh there it is. Thanks Hemant. :D You are a dear.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Dawkins. I’d love to go into EP but I’ll repeat that any scientist who thinks you can apply probability models to the supernatural claims of religion needs to go back and study just what it is math and science can do. I’ll also point out that he has ridiculed the other side for doing exactly what he did. His claims applying evolutionary concepts (the evolved God nonsense) is even more pseudo-scientific. It has quite literally no basis in logic or science. None. That some atheists who claim to be interested in reason and science cheer when he does this doesn’t do much for their credibility. His signing that petition to outlaw teaching children under the age of 16 about religion (which he recanted in the face of criticism) didn’t surprise me.

    No more than that Hitchens, a neo-neo-conman, would do the same. How easily he seems to be forgiven for his lies about Clinton and his promotion of the illegal invasion of Iraq. I’d imagine he might well be calling for war crimes prosecution of Clinton if he had invaded another country like Bush did. I’m pressed for time or I’d try to find out what he said about Clinton’s Kosovo intervention.

    Harris, actually I think someone above said it all. Maybe he should finish his degree and show us some science, then we’d know if there’s anything to that. Other than that, he’s just another hate monger.

    Dennett, if he’s the best philosopher you’ve ever read you couldn’t have read much. I’d suggest John Dewey or Paul Weiss or any of about a thousand others.

    James Randi, now that old fraud is an interesting case. But you haven’t asked about him. I’ll just say that anyone who cares about science and also believes that most of his debunking is valid as science is also not thinking. Just about any experimental science, certainly just about all of psychology including some EP would fall even more easily under the same standards. You do realize the man’s never produced a line of science in his life, don’t you?

  • UnboundSet

    Darryl said,

    He’s no hypocrite; she is. He’s right;

    I don’t know. In this interview where he stumbles around quite a bit he claims to “know Evil and to have felt its presence.” Sounds like supernatural talk to me. Can you still call yourself an Atheist if you believe in Spirits and Magic?

    I will agree with you about his being “Right.” He’s not always correct, but he does indeed swing “Right.”

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    it did not prevent them from finding their own way with respect to religion, just as my brainwashing—though it was difficult to overcome—didn’t prevent me from working my way to the light.

    Darryl, you do know that this contradicts your claims that religious teaching is harmful, don’t you? Do you also advocate keeping children from watching TV and movies and reading junk and playing video games because I can guarantee you that the large majority of children in the West do a lot more of those than are exposed to religion of any kind.

    So, I guess that’s it for that First Amendment stuff, huh?

  • Darryl

    olvlzl, no ism, no ist,

    You’re coming on a bit strong there fella. You mean you have nothing positive to say about these guys?

  • Darryl

    Darryl, you do know that this contradicts your claims that religious teaching is harmful, don’t you?

    Only if you’re a shallow thinker. You have to read my posts very carefully.

  • Darryl

    he stumbles around quite a bit he claims to “know Evil and to have felt its presence.” Sounds like supernatural talk to me. Can you still call yourself an Atheist if you believe in Spirits and Magic?

    Educated people know the literature and can use metaphors all day long–isn’t that amazing?!

  • Maria

    Why wasn’t Hemant Mehta on your list?

    Good question! I just assumed everyone here had read and liked Hemant’s book. I did. :) So, what did you all think?

  • Maria

    Why wasn’t Hemant Mehta on your list?

    Good question! I just assumed everyone here had read and liked Hemant’s book. I did. :) So, what did you all think?

  • marty

    Dawkins — Read TGD and Ancestor’s Tale now, and thought they were very good. He’s in my heroes list for sure.

    Sam Harris — I’m reading End of Faith, and finding it well written and interesting.

    Hitchens — haven’t read him. I did see a copy of the Penn & Teller Mother Teresa episode that he was in: if he’s like that in real life he better get his liver checked regularly. I don’t know about him at all, and the pro-Iraq war stance seems so badly thought through.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    You’re coming on a bit strong there fella. You mean you have nothing positive to say about these guys?

    Dawkins, No.
    Hitchens, No, no.
    Harris, No
    Dennet, No
    Randi, There was that fake faith healer he exposed by picking up his wife talking to him through a hidden radio reciever. Other than that, no.

    There are altogether more admirable atheists out there. I’m just sorry to see people going for these guys instead. Paula Poundstone.

  • Darryl

    There are altogether more admirable atheists out there. I’m just sorry to see people going for these guys instead.

    You’ve got to take your food where you find it.

  • Mriana

    Maria said,

    June 6, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Why wasn’t Hemant Mehta on your list?

    Good question! I just assumed everyone here had read and liked Hemant’s book. I did. So, what did you all think?

    You can find a link to the review I wrote about his book some where around here. :D scroll up and click on Book Reviews on the menu on the right.

  • UnboundSet

    Educated people know the literature and can use metaphors all day long–isn’t that amazing?!

    LOL! Yes but do they “feel its presence.” Your putting meaning into his text is starting to remind me of a Christian interpreting the Bible Daryl.

    Its always interesting to watch someone come face to face with the clay feet of their idol.

  • Tao Jones

    Disclaimer: I haven’t yet read any Harris or Hitchens. I have read a few reviews of Harris’ work but that’s about it.

    After reading “The God Delusion” I felt a little disappointed. “The Selfish Gene” changed the way I looked at the world but, to me, there was nothing new in “The God Delusion.” Richard Dawkins is obviously a genius so I was expecting something with a little more nut-meat. Sure there were a few factoids and anecdotes that were new to me (FSM, IPU) but I was expecting something mindblowingly deep and fresh and new — not The Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit.

    In terms of his tone, I think Dawkins can be a little harsh. The tone of his books certainly do nothing for the arrogant atheist stereotype. After reading “The God Delusion” and participating in the Blasphemy Challenge, I wondered if there were any “friendly atheists” out there. So I Googled the term and that was how I found this site. :)

    Perhaps Dawkins can be forgiven, he is a scientist. And British. For his science, I have no criticism for Dawkins. However, as an advocate for atheism, I do have some criticisms. First and foremost, I don’t think Dawkins understands the full power of religion. Whether referring to the sense of community (hence, “Communion”) or the sheer memetic hold religion has over its adherents, I don’t think Dawkins really gets it. If he did get it, I don’t think he would expect his “why God almost certainly doesn’t exist” to convert anyone. The idea of God, amung many other things, has this unfortunate characteristic of being in infinite regression. “God is the mathematicians X.” “God is von Neumann’s Catastrophe to the Nth degree.” Some theists accept natural selection, they say evolution is how God does it. It’s going to take a lot more than the Flying Spaghetti Monster to get rid of the God-meme.

    As for the Rational Response Squad and the Blasphemy Challenge, where to start? I seriously think they are a bunch of clowns. The Blasphemy Challenge was their big joke. Yes, some of the Blasphemers made good videos, but the majority (subjectivity alert!) of them were kids being kids. I was going to link to a news report done on the Blasphemy Challenge but it was removed from blasphemychallenge.com. In it two reporters were asking why kids would do this and it was easily dismissed as “kids being kids and not knowing what they’re saying.” This is the image of atheism that is going to get us respect in the media? From what I’ve seen of the RRS members, they are kids themselves. I think “anger” is a stage of atheism (like the 5 Stages of Grief) and I think it’s the stage the RRS members are stuck in.

    What Dawkins (and Harris from what I’ve read about his books) and the Rational Response Squad are missing is a Grand Strategy. Yes, because of them atheism is in the news, it’s a hot topic, it’s trendy. It will be up to an author or atheist group to seize the moment with a solid strategy, reasonable goals and a defined plan.

    Lets show them what the biblical stories were probably really about originally.

    Lets show them how the idea of God can be so powerful without God having to exist.

    Forget about trying to explain how God would have had to have evolved and show them how the IDEA of God has evolved from the (simple) Animistic gods prior to the Agricultural Revolution to the (complex) Abrahamic God (amung others) we have today.

    There are plenty of approaches us atheists can take that would be far more strategic. Lets figure them out and do them.

    Incidentally, I mentioned earlier that I had participated in the Blasphemy Challenge. Here is what I had to say. Hemant gave it two thumbs up! :)

  • Darryl

    Unbound,

    You’re a good sport. I like the “feet of clay” thing; although it dates you. Hitch is not my idol; Miko is.

    cheers

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Its always interesting to watch someone come face to face with the clay feet of their idol.

    You so know that “feet of clay” has its origin in the Bible, don’t you?

  • HappyNat

    I don’t know. In this interview where he stumbles around quite a bit he claims to “know Evil and to have felt its presence.” Sounds like supernatural talk to me. Can you still call yourself an Atheist if you believe in Spirits and Magic?

    Sure you can. You can also believe in big foot, UFOs, the lochness monster, esp, ghosts, etc. none of those things depend on god(s).

    There are altogether more admirable atheists out there. I’m just sorry to see people going for these guys instead. Paula Poundstone.

    She is the one that tells unfunny jokes about her cats right? :)

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    HappyNat, consider what the post says about Hitchens’ joke telling ability. How about Barbara Ehrenrich? I adore her.

    I’ve wondered how Harris gets on with the Kurtz cult, him being somewhat a heretic of their Index of Prohibited Ideas. And I’d like to hear more people on what Dawkins said to Randi about having to pay up on his phony challenge. Maybe the Kurtz cult is going off the old fraud.

  • Mriana

    Maybe the Kurtz cult is going off the old fraud.

    olvlzl, I still don’t get where you get the idea that there is a Kurtz cult. I really wish for that to stop. The man is recoverying from heart surgery. Give him a little break. :(

  • UnboundSet

    olvlzl said: You so know that “feet of clay” has its origin in the Bible, don’t you?

    Actually I did not know that, but that’s ok – so does my distaste for religion.

    Thank you Darryl. I’m just frustrated with how many young men seem to have Man Crushes on that guy.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    UnboundSet, I’m probably old enough to be your grandfather and Darryl and I sort of have a dialogue going. If you don’t think I’m going to answer someone who implies I’m a “shallow thinker” you are mistaken.

    Mriana, sorry as I am to hear that he’s having health problems that changes nothing about his history or the various groups he’s set into motion. He and his colleagues have had no qualms about going after other people whose only crime is violating their rigid ideology, causing them pain and distress, some of whom were simply doing their jobs as scientists. As to my talking about his cult, it’s kind of ironic given the ease with which atheist fundamentalism identifies cults all over the place. I am finding his name or presence in just about every place I look, it’s not in my power to find the full extent of that presence but it certainly seems to be pervasive.

  • OsakaGuy

    Great post! I loved the story about Hitchens.

    As for the main question, I don’t have any problems with Harris, Dawkins, or Hitchens in terms of their atheism, but then I’m horribly biased. As for the RRS they can be a little juvenile, but they aren’t that bad. There are groups within the larger Christian community, like those “god hates fags” people, that hurt Christians much more than groups like the RRS hurt other atheists. Every group has it’s eccentric characters, extremists, or bad apples but I’m glad to see that in general atheists seem to lack the truly dangerous fanatics, unlike other groups.

  • Mriana

    Mriana, sorry as I am to hear that he’s having health problems that changes nothing about his history or the various groups he’s set into motion.

    I don’t know about their rigid ideology, but it sounds to me as though you have an axe to grind. Did you ever take it to the CFI board or something? I don’t know, you just remind me of someone.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Mriana, I wouldn’t take anything to them and it’s impossible that we have crossed paths in real life. I wouldn’t want anyone you might believe to be me to suffer through misidentification.

    My reason for looking into these things is exactly what I told you. One of his lackies attacked me earlier this year and refuesed to correct the lies he told about me. On finding out the connections I decided to start researching Kurtz, which led me to Corliss Lamont. They have also led me to research CSICOP and the other organizations that have been sending me lurid come-ons for decades. I’ve never belonged to any of those groups having always thought they were kind of dodgy and rigid. I have been finding that a lot of the more extreme atheist fundamentalism on line is directly related to them and a lot of it certainly seems like an echo of them. There are other, less well supported atheist voices who are more in favor of free thought. I would like to encourage anyone who promotes free thought.

  • Mriana

    Well, until I see differently, I will continue to be a card carrying member of CSH and AHA. I’ve never been treated badly by them yet. Nor have I seen anything wrong with Corliss Lamont- of course, I don’t think he is alive anymore.

  • Darryl

    Izzy,

    I don’t think you’re a shallow thinker, but I think sometimes you’re so anxious to rejoin that you’re not careful. You do seem to have some axe to grind. Why are you so negative?

    I would like to encourage anyone who promotes free thought.

    Anyone? Then why not Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens? Iconoclasm is a kind of freedom of thought in my view.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Corliss Lamont- of course, I don’t think he is alive anymore.

    Quite long gone. You don’t see anything wrong with Corliss? Maybe you haven’t gone through what’s known of his younger days. He was a rather bigoted fanatic.

    And I’d never advocate anyone not being a member of any group they’d want to be in.

    Izzy,

    I hope that’s I. F. Stone, one of my heros.

    I never advocated that Dawkins, Harris or even Hitchens not say what they wanted to, just that they not get away with having the last word as some kind of authority unable to make total fools of themselves on occasion. That’s what fundamentalists do to their heros, not free thinkers.

    You know I’ve been told that I’m too coldly logical on occasion, maybe I’m balancing it out here.

  • Mriana

    Maybe you haven’t gone through what’s known of his younger days. He was a rather bigoted fanatic.

    No, all I have by him is the Philosophy of Humanism.

  • miller

    Olvlzl,
    You should explain your opinion of Randi and/or CSICOP on your blog. I’d be interested enough to read it. Here, we only get little scraps of your reasons, and an overall impression that you have an axe to grind.

  • Mriana

    While you are at it, what do you think about Robert Price, who is with CSER, which is a part of CSH?

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    miller, I’ve written this piece about pseudo-Skepticism which actually has quite a bit of my problem with that phenomenon. I’ve also written a bit more on the topic. Actually it was a rather harmless statement I made about Penn Jillette which led to some rather nasty flames that prompted me to write the piece. I’ve followed up on the topic in other posts. It’s kind of long but the arguments leading up to the conclusions are sufficiently novel that I thought it was a good idea to repeat them several times. I’d write the same piece today, though differently. The comment thread is a pretty good indication of the kind of hate mail I get and of the fact that some people don’t do a very good job of reading what was right in front of their eyes. You will notice a point I had to make to a “Whispers” who claimed that atheists were the target of the piece, the word “atheist” doesn’t appear once in the piece. It was exactly this lie by “Whispers” that was repeated by one of Kurtz boys and which he refuesed to retract. The lying blogger mentioned the comment specifically but neglected to mention my correction of it.

    The reason that Dawkins was used as an example in the pice was because he is the most famous current member of CSICOP, not specifically because he’s also the most prominent atheist. Interestingly enough, it was my pointing out that some reviewers of his book had found , as I did, that Dawkins hadn’t done much research for his most recent book. Call me innocent but it’s pretty shocking that a book that badly researched, written by an Oxford professor could win such acclaim. I would have liked to link to the review in Harpers, by far the best review I’ve read of it, but it didn’t really fit the theme of my post.

  • Karen

    Randi, There was that fake faith healer he exposed by picking up his wife talking to him through a hidden radio reciever. Other than that, no.

    James Randi has done more for “the least of these” – the poor, gullible, sick, uneducated and disenfranchised of our society – than 99% of religious people will ever do in their whole lifetimes. He has exposed numerous scam artists like Peter Popoff, Sylvia Browne, Uri Geller, Ernest Angeley and myriad others who rip off vulnerable people and give religion a black eye.

    I don’t know what kind of pissing contest you’re in with him, but he’s a hero to me and he was to my dad also.

  • Darryl

    Izzy,

    I read your piece that you cite above, and I picked out this paragraph for comment.

    In short, people in their daily lives should be free to believe what they believe without pretentiously positivist people bothering them. That is if they don’t try to force their beliefs on the unwilling. In the end it isn’t the pretended security of our knowledge that will save us from horrible consequences, it’s our tolerance and fairness that will.

    You touch upon three subjects in this paragraph the second of which is the central topic of your piece: freedom of belief, positivism and your general negative view of it, and what I assume is human fate or some future state.

    Allow me to restate them:

    1. People should have freedom of belief and not be harassed by positivists about the content of their beliefs. You qualify the positivism of the harassers, but they are positivists none the less.

    2. People should have this harassment-free freedom of belief if, or so long as, they do not attempt to enforce their beliefs on the unwilling.

    3. Not certainty about our knowledge will save us (from what you don’t say), but our tolerance and fairness.

    The first idea is of course two ideas: 1) People should have freedom of belief and 2) believers should not be harassed by positivists about the content of their beliefs. I assume you accept both ideas. May I assume that you did not mean to limit the obligation to not harass believers for only positivists but for anyone?

    Concerning the second idea, did you mean to say that believers may be harassed by positivists (or anyone) if the believers are enforcing their beliefs on the unwilling?

    There’s a lot in your piece that I can agree with, but I think its central point about positivism is, so far as I know, a given among philosophers of science, and is actually trivial in light of our present national and global circumstances.

    I agree that people are free to believe as they choose, and this freedom of mind should not be denied them.

    Except for committed philosophical positivists, which I think are rather rare, positivism is usually a sign of the novice, or someone who is not a professional scientist, or, in general, someone who does not understand the limits of knowledge.

    What I think is an unrealistic condition in your argument is “if they don’t try to force their beliefs on the unwilling.” When in human history have the religions that are the particular focus of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and others not tried to enforce their beliefs on the unwilling? We are confronting horrible fundamentalism out of necessity. Freedom of belief and the limits of knowledge have little to do with our present challenge.

    I must take issue with your third idea. Certainly an unrealistic certainty about unknowables is a problem that can lead to turmoil and division, but a practical trust in factual knowledge and experience is the only thing that will save us from any future disaster. Under the condition that you named, we ought to be tolerant and fair with all people, regardless of their beliefs, but tolerance and fairness are only extended to those who are tolerant and fair. This is a grand bargain we have struck. Intolerance cannot be tolerated. Injustice cannot be abided. Tolerance of the intolerant, and fairness with the unfair are the ingredients of a disaster, and they will not save us. This is the grave mistake that the English are making.

  • miller

    Olvlzl,
    That actually wasn’t so bad. I can agree with the general point that skeptics need to be held to the same standards as everyone else. But your general tone comes off as pretty angry. It’s like saying “I’m tolerant unlike all you hateful people.” I’ll be the last one to try to discern tone on the internet, where everyone sounds angry, but just fyi.

  • Crystal

    Just had a question: what is Dawkin’s position on religious moderates/progressives/liberals? I ask b/c in his book, he seems to say that he thinks moderates are part of the problem (if he means that they haven’t spoken up enough, I agree with him. If he thinks they are as bad as extremists just b/c they have beliefs, I must disagree-I’ve met plenty of decent moderates who support separation of church and state and other freedoms). But I’ve constantly seen him talk with moderates-from Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford (and in the interview he is very quick to point out that Harries is nothing like the Ted Haggards of this world), to Alister McGrath, to others. He’s always very polite and decent about it (which is good). I’ve also seen him say in an interview when someone asked him “do you think all religious people are stupid, even the moderate ones?” He said “no, of course not”.

    He seems very much to want to engage in peaceful dialogue with them and seems quite happy when they agree with on evolution. He obviously thinks they are worth talking to and dialoging with, and while I’ve noticed him often be puzzled as to why they still believe in God, I’ve never seen him attack any of them for their beliefs or try to make them change their minds. What I’m saying is, his words in his book when he talks about moderates seem much more strident than his actions when he is actually with them. I’ve heard some say that this is because he’s very passionate about what he’s writing about so it comes across as more strident than he actually is. I guess that makes sense to me. I am just wondering what is everyone else’s opinion on this?

    I thought that those of you who have read more of his books and seen more of his interviews might be able to provide some insight into this. I’ve only just started reading the God Delusion. I’m an agnostic myself, but I do have several friends who are liberal but religious. We get along. As long as they don’t push their beliefs on me I really don’t care what they believe. Many of them have asked me what Dawkins thinks about people like them and I find myself saying “well, I’m not quite sure”, for the reasons mentioned above.

    Also, does he say anything about beliefs such as Wicca/New Age? I noticed he seems to go after the “big 3″ more than anything else, but Wicca/New Age people are by no means atheists and do believe in something, some believe in more than one god. Just curious. Any answers would be great, thanks.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Darryl, there are so many different varieties of positivism or scientism around these days that the list needed to name them all would have been prohibitively long. I used “positivist” to stand in for all of them. I do find that in the culture of the left these days that the thought police most often encounted fall into that general category. I believe this is the signal success of CSICOP and other of Paul Kurtz propaganda efforts. The target of the piece were the pseudo-Skeptics, afterall.

    Anyone who wants to talk about something to other people is free to say it but they don’t have the right to force other people to listen against their stated or demonstrated unwillingness. I’m saying that people have the right to express even the most eccentric ideas and people who want to hear those ideas have the right to do so without the thought police jumping on them. That isn’t granting them a license to preach to unwilling listeners. On a blog comment thread it’s easy enough to scroll past things you don’t want to consider.

    Positivism shouldn’t be a given among scientists because it isn’t an idea that can be validated by the methods of science. It is prevalent in the culture of science, as is scientism, but both of those are not only unsupported by science, the more you consider them the more unlikely they appear. Very little in life, even most of the important questions of politics and law are the product of the lessons of history, dealing with the world as is manifested in real life communities. You can read the last post on my blog to see that even someone who is favorably disposed towards evolutionary psychology sees that there are dangers in applying theories of science to these areas. The writer of that piece has a stake in EP, I think his view of those dangers is unrealistically dismissive. I think that like other aspects of scientism they are already having a damaging effect on democracy and liberty. I believe they are the reason that large numbers of educated people don’t seem to think that freedom is possible or necessarily a desireable assumption. Democracy can’t exist with an educated class that dismisses its essential precursors. That is the only reason I deal with these things. Otherwise I’d rather be talking up universal free education, radical enviornmental protection and progressive taxation.

    Miller, about the angry tone. I grew up in a large and very verbal family. I’m used to raising my voice to be heard. It actually takes a lot to make me blow my top. Though that is possible. I do have a deeply negative view of some of the people mentioned in that piece. And it was in response to an obnoxious fan of Penn Jillette.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    That should be

    Very little in life, even most of the important questions of politics and law are the product of science but result from the lessons of history…

    Karen,

    He has exposed numerous scam artists like Peter Popoff, Sylvia Browne, Uri Geller, Ernest Angeley and myriad others who rip off vulnerable people and give religion a black eye.

    any of this list who were bilking people of their money is a fair target of debunking, Randi, however, went a lot farther than that. His “debunking” if applied to most empirical science would “debunk” it just as effectively. He’s a magician, like Geller, if he didn’t make fraudulant claims and post fraudulent “challenges” against legitimate scientists I’d never touch the guy. That famous “challenge” of his is a fraud, you now. He’s said that he always has an out. He’s become quite well off apparently, like Geller, you think that some of those folks handing over money aren’t falling for his schtick?

  • Mriana

    olvlzl, who do you like? It sounds like you don’t care fore anyone. It also sounds like that if people don’t live up to what you think they should, you can’t stand them. Anyone involved with CFI, you don’t care for them. :( There are some great people there and I’m sorry you have an axe to grind with them.

  • Darryl

    Positivism shouldn’t be a given among scientists because it isn’t an idea that can be validated by the methods of science. It is prevalent in the culture of science, as is scientism, but both of those are not only unsupported by science, the more you consider them the more unlikely they appear.

    I challenge your notion that positivism is a given among scientists. I have never had a scientist espouse or defend positivism to me. Most scientists are working not philosophizing.

    I think that like other aspects of scientism they are already having a damaging effect on democracy and liberty. I believe they are the reason that large numbers of educated people don’t seem to think that freedom is possible or necessarily a desireable assumption. Democracy can’t exist with an educated class that dismisses its essential precursors.

    This idea confounds me. It is not scientism (whatever you think that is) but ignorance (as always) that is the danger to liberty. It is not an over-confidence and over-dependence upon science that is our problem, but a combination of ignorance about what science is, and the mindless application of it.

    Who are these large numbers of educated people that dismiss freedom? Where are they? Are they the average people–those that have little or no knowledge of science, who, polls tell us, believe God created the Earth less than 10,000 years ago? They haven’t the foggiest notion about evolutionary psychology, and just the word “evolutionary” puts them on guard. They haven’t got to the table yet–they don’t even know the questions being considered. They’re concerned about paying the electric bill this month, and filling the truck with gas this week. That accounts for at least half of our population.

    Maybe these large numbers of educated people are the liberals who voted for John Kerry in 2004, who are royally pissed off at the present administration for undermining our constitutional form of government, ignoring the rule of law, and curtailing the protection of our civil liberties?

    Perhaps the people to which you refer are the few, the proud, the intellectuals. Those that dwell mostly on college and university campuses, or in think tanks, or that make their living selling books designed to impress the masses or their ‘base.’ Of those, a good number are prepared to nuke another country in defense of liberty and freedom, so I guess they’re not the ones. Others of them are considered so far out of the mainstream that they are by contrast regularly vilified in the media and used as ratings-boosters. Understanding nothing about these “radicals” and “extremists” and their views, the average people know them with the help of Fox News and dismiss them out of hand. Knowing this, the pandering politicians side with their constituents and rail against these dangerous radicals that are corrupting their children. Education is everywhere being threatened today. Who is endangering liberty and democracy more?

    Help me out here: locate these educated people for me. Help me to understand why and how they are such a threat to liberty that your obsession with them is warranted.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Darryl, as a sometimes visitor of Sciencblogs I’d say you should go there to see some of the popular version of those two philosophies. A few weeks back on one of them quite a swivit was had when I suggested that science was not the only means of finding the truth and that a lot of important things were entirely outside the range of science, the separation of church and state, specifically. Your statement about the general ignorance of scientists about philosophy is all too true, starting with the various philosophies of science. This leads to a quite childlike form of scientism in too many of them.

    Positivism and scientism are curious cases in philosophy because the strictest logical analysis and scientific investegation don’t support them. According to their basic tenets, both of them have to be false.

    olvlzl, who do you like?

    Mriana, I believe in this thread alone I’ve identified I. F. Stone, Barbara Ehrenreich and Paula Poundstone. You’ll have to narrow the range a bit before I can give you an answer that will satisfy you. I adored Bertrand Russell and had a deep regard for Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin among many dozens of others I could name off the top of my head. And we haven’t even gotten to religious believers yet. I believe Gould was a member of CSICOP as had been the CSICOP heretic, Marcello Truzzi. Who I also liked though I though his most famous idea was quite absurd. Carl Sagan stealing it and rephrasing it didn’t do anything to make it less false. I’m hard put to think of a single member of that group these days who I find appealing.

  • miller

    I’ve heard Randi say on occasion that he always has an out: he’s right. I also heard him say that if he lost, he would be happy to give away the money, for he would have discovered something wonderful. I’m not exactly sure what’s wrong with that. Even if the challenge is truly rigged, I don’t think there are any evil intentions going on. I am of the opinion that people don’t need to be perfect to be called skeptics.

  • Mriana

    Except for Russell and Poundstone, I have no idea who you are talking about, Olvlzl.

    Personally, I’ve always admired Sagan. Sagan, Hawkings, Roddenberry, and a few others. Almost everyone you have said you do not care much for, I’ve always adored. Something tells me the issue here is a matter of preference, who we can agree with even a little, and other little things like that. It’s a matter of preference as to who we don’t care much for also because we don’t agree with them. Basically petty little things that come natural to all humans when they decide what and/or who they like or don’t like.

  • Darryl

    as a sometimes visitor of Sciencblogs I’d say you should go there to see some of the popular version of those two philosophies.

    The operative word there is popular. You cannot get a measure of anything by looking at blogs, for reasons that are well-known.

    Your statement about the general ignorance of scientists about philosophy is all too true, starting with the various philosophies of science.

    That is not what I said. I have no idea of the levels of ignorance about philosophy among scientists. What I suggested was not their ignorance, but their disinterest. They’ve got better things to do with their time.

    You’re making assertions for which you provide no evidence. If you state opinions, then fine, but you’re making statements in the form of facts.

    I don’t find you credible on this subject.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    A scientist who is disinterested in the philosophical basis of science, defining what it is, what it can and can’t do, what it’s methods do and are for, is an oddly incurious scientist.

    Mriana, I. F. Stone, Barbara Ehrenreich, Stephen J. Gould, Richard Lewontin, these aren’t nobodies. They will be read and discussed when Sagan and Roddenberry are trivia items.

    And as for Marcello Truzzi, don’t you think it’s kind of odd that I’d know more about the history of CSICOP than you would? Could that indicate that I might just know what I’m talking about? Darryl’s skepticism not withstanding?

  • Mriana

    Mriana, I. F. Stone, Barbara Ehrenreich, Stephen J. Gould, Richard Lewontin, these aren’t nobodies. They will be read and discussed when Sagan and Roddenberry are trivia items.

    OK then why haven’t more people heard of them?

    I seriously doubt with so many people seeing Sagan and Roddenberry as heroes, they will be more than JUST trivia. Gene had many awards under his belt as well as being distinguished and decorated in WWII. He maybe in trivia, but I believe he will be a lot more than just trivia. He has influenced so many lives, in a variety of ways, on top of all of that.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    I have to say, to be honest… it was a Roddenberry quote that tipped me into atheism.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    I have to say, to be honest… it was a Roddenberry quote that tipped me into atheism.

    Sort of a road to Damascus experience?

    Mriana, my guess would be that there are a lot more people who have heard of Pat Robertson than have heard of Sagan or Roddenberry. Certainly more who have heard of Mohammed or Jesus or Moses….. The limits of the Kurtz celebrity machine are going to turn out to be quite limited. And that’s even with Sagan’s last wife joining in the effort.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com Mike C

    Back to the original question…

    I’m not going to sit here and trash guys that many of you clearly view as heroes. However, for those of you who are interested in the honest opinion of someone who is not already an atheist, if this is your goal:

    to “increase the visibility and respectability of nontheistic viewpoints in the United States.”

    most of these guys are not helping.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com Mike C

    BTW, just FYI for those who care, the “mental child abuse” thing is extremely offensive and I was sad to see that even Hemant seems to agree with it. If that’s your honest opinion then I suppose it’s no use arguing about it – I certainly can’t change your mind. But I will say that if there’s anyone here who values genuine dialogue and cooperation between the religious and non-religious then I’d advise you to stop using this line of argument as soon as possible. There is no way any religious person is going to take it as anything but an insult and a threat.

  • Darryl

    BTW, just FYI for those who care, the “mental child abuse” thing is extremely offensive and I was sad to see that even Hemant seems to agree with it. If that’s your honest opinion then I suppose it’s no use arguing about it – I certainly can’t change your mind. But I will say that if there’s anyone here who values genuine dialogue and cooperation between the religious and non-religious then I’d advise you to stop using this line of argument as soon as possible. There is no way any religious person is going to take it as anything but an insult and a threat.

    Unavoidably, there are some lines that must be drawn at specific points. Mike, this is one of them. What today may seem self-evidently normal to you will tomorrow likely be seen for what it is–a barbarous sidetrack on the path to tomorrow.

  • Mriana

    Mriana, my guess would be that there are a lot more people who have heard of Pat Robertson than have heard of Sagan or Roddenberry. Certainly more who have heard of Mohammed or Jesus or Moses….. The limits of the Kurtz celebrity machine are going to turn out to be quite limited. And that’s even with Sagan’s last wife joining in the effort.

    Olvlzl, Robertson is the most vile and hateful man I’ve ever heard of. I personally cannot stand him and it saddens me that he will go down in history. However, I think Sagan and Rodden berry will too. If it had not been for Gene, I don’t know what my life would be like right now. He has been so influencial to people, I can’t see him not going down in history. Not that he’s perfect, he’s not, but he was not afraid to admit it.

    BTW, just FYI for those who care, the “mental child abuse” thing is extremely offensive and I was sad to see that even Hemant seems to agree with it.

    Mike, I agree, it is extremely offensive, but the thing is, I went through a lot of it at the hands of Christians growing up. I’m sorry if you take offense to it, but it is not directed at any particular (Christian) person, just those Christians who do such things.

    But I will say that if there’s anyone here who values genuine dialogue and cooperation between the religious and non-religious then I’d advise you to stop using this line of argument as soon as possible.

    Mike, I’m sorry, but I can’t- if it is directed towards me too. If a person asks me about my religious experience, I am not going to lie about the abuses I endured at the hands of Christians. I am not going to lie and say t he Jesus Camp is not abusive- it is abusive. The list of tragedies done by the religious is long. I did not excuse all atheists though. If you note, I ran into one, who was my own father, that was most evil and sinister, because he was physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive.

    No, I did not attribute any one vile thing to a particular group of people, but to humans. Humans are the root of everything good and bad, IMHO. I even said there were good Christians, non-theists and atheists.

    Surfice it to say though, I have experienced more mental abuse from Christians then atheists and non-theists. I have experienced more compassion from non-theists, atheists, and Humanists. I’m not going to tell you to wake up, but I wish you would and take a good look around.

  • Darryl

    Mriana, you are right without a doubt, and you have my sympathies for what you have suffered.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Mriana,

    I’m very sorry for the genuine abuse you have suffered. But that kind of real abuse is not what Dawkins is talking about when he calls it child abuse to simply teach Christian beliefs to one’s kids. In fact, I think Dawkin’s rhetoric should be offensive to those who have suffered actual abuse. To claim that religious instruction is the same as physically, sexually, mentally and emotionally abusing a child is to diminish the experiences of people who have suffered such things.

    Case in point, my own parents raised me to believe in the doctrines of Christianity (including 6-day Creationism) but in no way shape or form were they abusive parents. For Dawkins and others here to imply that they were is deeply offensive to me and an insult on the good name of my loving and self-sacrificial parents. I have worked with kids who really have been abused, and there is nothing at all similar about my upbringing and their experiences.

    Not to mention that there is an implied threat in calling religious instruction child abuse. If someone is abusing their children you don’t just shrug and ignore it, nor do you simply try to argue them out of it. No, you report them to the authorities, have them arrested, and have the children sent to foster care. Now Dawkins, et al. might say that they’re not advocating going to that extreme, but if they really truly think that religious instruction=child abuse then wouldn’t they have a moral obligation to do exactly that? Wouldn’t they have to push for legislation to have kids removed from Christian homes where religious instruction was taking place?

    I’m not at all a fan of Christian fundamentalists who have a persecution complex and think that all the secular atheists are out to get them, take their children away from them and put them in re-education camps – but with this kind of rhetoric coming from people like Dawkins, it’s understandable why they might think their paranoia is justified.

  • Karen

    I’m not at all a fan of Christian fundamentalists who have a persecution complex and think that all the secular atheists are out to get them, take their children away from them and put them in re-education camps – but with this kind of rhetoric coming from people like Dawkins, it’s understandable why they might think their paranoia is justified.

    I agree with you. This is exactly what they’ve been “warning” people about for years – the atheists are going to come and take your kids away from you! – and it’s ludicrous (to say the least). Hearing this rhetoric from atheists plays directly into their fears and gives their leaders more power over them because they can point to it and say, “SEE!? This is just what we’ve been telling you they’re going to do, and here they are doing it!”

    Very counterproductive. I’m all for teaching kids to think objectively, ask questions and so forth, but I don’t think we’ll ever succeed in trying to block parents from giving their children religious instruction. Certainly not in my lifetime, for sure. I think it’s a huge tactical mistake to pursue that avenue.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    BTW, just FYI for those who care, the “mental child abuse” thing is extremely offensive and I was sad to see that even Hemant seems to agree with it.

    Mike– I think teaching a kid that the world was created in 6,000 years (instead of the proper answers of “I don’t know” or “13.7 billion years”) is the equivalent of teaching them a pencil is really a chair, or 2 +2 = 5, or the letter “a” is pronounced “heee.” You’re messing with the child and in some cases, the kids taught the Earth is young never grow out of it like you did. At the same time, when kids are taught everyone else they know who’s not the same type of Christian they are are going to hell, that can be traumatizing. Dawkins brings up the story of the woman who was molested by her piest as a child, but the trauma from that was nothing compared to the torment she grew up with being taught her best friend was eternally doomed.

    Yes, I do consider those things mental child abuse. I’m surprised other people don’t. It might be a different story if kids were able to grow out of it (like they do Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny), but too many people don’t.

    I don’t care so much if Christians are taught the lessons of Jesus or even that he’s divine. It doesn’t affect anyone else too much. But the idea of instilling fear and (scientific or otherwise) lies into children’s mind is just cruel.

    You don’t agree?

  • Miko

    Not to mention that there is an implied threat in calling religious instruction child abuse. If someone is abusing their children you don’t just shrug and ignore it, nor do you simply try to argue them out of it. No, you report them to the authorities, have them arrested, and have the children sent to foster care.

    It depends on the extent of the abuse and the level of realization on the parents part. If they don’t realize they’re abusing their children, the first step is to point out their actions. If that doesn’t work, you start trying to determine the severity of the abuse (was the child sent to bed without dinner or was the child’s arm broken in seven places?). If the abuse is above a certain level of severity, then you’re correct that there’s definitely a moral obligation to do something about it.

    Case I: Parents force child to sing a song about how great God is. Level of abuse: none or close to none.

    Case II: Parents constantly belittle child and threaten with hellfire, teach child that all of his/her friends are hated by God for being a different sect within the religion, leading to child becoming desondant and isolated, eventually leading to child’s comitting suicide. Level of abuse: High.

    And’s let not forget that it’s not always confined to mental abuse. Circumcision could be physical abuse. Some churches distribute pamphlets to parents on the proper ways to disciple their children by beating them (completely with Biblical citations). Some churches don’t trust medicine and are willing to let children die rather than give it to them.

    But I will say that if there’s anyone here who values genuine dialogue and cooperation between the religious and non-religious then I’d advise you to stop using this line of argument as soon as possible. There is no way any religious person is going to take it as anything but an insult and a threat.

    As you stated, child abuse is an issue of morality. That’s far more important than establishing dialogue. Every radical idea is viewed as an insult and a threat in its time, but every radical idea also eventually becomes either accepted fact or a forgotten bump in the dustbin of history. If we didn’t care enough about this issue to bring it up despite the possibility of oftending someone, we wouldn’t have brought it up in the first place. Since it’s on the table, it’s now subject only to rational argument (as far as I’m concerned, at least). If you want to argue that religious indoctrination is unequivocally never child abuse, I’m sure we’d all be willing to listen to your reasons. But I’ll warn you that that’s going to be a hard sell.

    But that kind of real abuse is not what Dawkins is talking about when he calls it child abuse to simply teach Christian beliefs to one’s kids.

    I thought I recalled having seen you say you’d never read (much of) Dawkins.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Friendly Atheist, what if a child finds it horrifying to be taught that her friend rots in the ground and is eaten by worms as she is “returned to her base elements”? What if a child is terrified to be taught that she isn’t anything but a conglomeration of molecules whose every thought is nothing but the results of selfish genes fighting to reproduce themselves?

    I read the petition that Dawkins signed, and then recanted, it didn’t mention specific religious beliefs that would, one assumes, be told to children under pain of criminal prosecution.

  • Miko

    what if a child finds it horrifying to be taught that her friend rots in the ground and is eaten by worms as she is “returned to her base elements”?

    Are you objecting to the wording or to the idea? Death is painful to survivors, but it does occur and thus it must be dealt with. Answering the question “Why do people die?” with “They don’t” is just an inanity.

    What if a child is terrified to be taught that she isn’t anything but a conglomeration of molecules whose every thought is nothing but the results of selfish genes fighting to reproduce themselves?

    These are both kind of straw-man arguments, aren’t they? No one actually teaches these things. And there’s no denying that we are, in fact, made up of molecules. That’s not really such a scary thought. We’d have to be made up of something. The fact that it’s molecules teaches nothing but a bit of vocabulary. And as for our thoughts being genetic, well, they almost certainly aren’t. Consider the fact that people think in a language they know how to speak and that language is cultural.

  • Mriana

    Yes, I agree with you Mike, but back in the 70s everyone turned their backs. I know this because my childhood friends, some from Christiand homes, said that their parents felt something was very wrong in my home and would not let them come to visit unless their parents were there. I literally yelled at one and said, “Your parents KNEW and did nothing to help me?” It wasn’t my friends’ fault though, they were children themselves, but it is still maddening.

    I also understand that you feel what Dawkins says is not true child abuse. I see your point, but sometimes it is taken to extreme by not allowing the child to think for themselves. Freethought is important too. My internal unvoiced thoughts was the one thing adults could not take away from me.

    I also see Hemant being very right in what he is saying too. The case in point he made:

    At the same time, when kids are taught everyone else they know who’s not the same type of Christian they are are going to hell, that can be traumatizing. Dawkins brings up the story of the woman who was molested by her piest as a child, but the trauma from that was nothing compared to the torment she grew up with being taught her best friend was eternally doomed.

    This too is emotionally traumatizing. Instilling fear and guilt is abusive, even Bishop Spong has agreed about that one and Christians, at least many of the ones I know (not all), are notorious for such things.

    Religious instruction like the Jesus Camp IS abuse, IMHO.

    However, it could be scary for a child to imagine being eaten by worms upon death too, BUT at the same time, those who live on farms or out in the country see it often with animals. Death is a common thing to see when one lives in the country. To lie to them and say it only happens to animals sounds educationally neglectful, but not necessarily abuse.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Miko, to assert that teaching a child a belief in hell is child abuse because of the mental torture it imposes and then to discount that the trauma resulting from strictly materialist orthodoxy is dishonest. It is no more a fact that there isn’t an immortal soul that lives on than it is that there is an eternal hell. A lot of religious people don’t believe in an eternal hell, there are quite a number who believe in universal salvation. If the question is the mental trauma to a child why not require they be taught at least the possibility that there is eternal salvation for all sentient creatures?

    The assertions of biological determinism are no more facts than either of the above. There is no way that science can answer the questions of ultimate causality of behaviors and consciousness, to do that they would have to go where science can’t get.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I think we need to be really careful about throwing the word “abuse” around so casually. There are many, many views that I disagree with, both among religious and non-religious people, but just because I think a belief is wrong, even repellent, does not mean it should be labeled “abusive”. Creationism may be wrong, but it’s not abusive. Even a belief in Hell may be offensive, but it’s not abusive. Real abuse is a very serious thing, and should not be trivialized by saying that religious beliefs we happen to disagree with are abusive.

    The thing is, we all hold many beliefs that others would consider false, and we’ve all grown up being told things that we believed at the time that we’ve later rejected. If we start saying that merely holding and teaching these false opinions and beliefs (whether religious or non-religious) is abusive then we are on the edge of a very slippery slope. Who gets to decide whose sets of beliefs are false and therefore abusive? This seems very dangerous to me. I value living in a pluralistic society where we have freedom of thought and speech too much to say that we should have anything like “thought police” telling us what kinds of beliefs are acceptable and what we’re allowed to teach our children. Do you want fundamentalists telling you that you are abusing your children by teaching them that there isn’t a God and threatening to take them away? If not, then don’t threaten them with the same thing.

    In my opinion (and to answer Miko’s examples), ideas themselves are not abusive, it’s what is done with them. If ideas are used to physically or emotionally harm a child, then yes, that’s abuse. But as olvlzl points out, this can be done with just about any set of beliefs, not just religious ones. There are many truths in the world that would be emotionally disturbing to a child (this is why the nightly news tends to be on after kids go to bed), but it just depends on how the parents present them. For example, if parents use their belief in hell in the manner that Miko describes in his “Case II” then that is possibly bordering on abuse. But you know what? My parents taught me about hell too, and they also taught me that because of this I should love my non-Christian friends and tell them about Jesus. I don’t consider that abusive.

    Again, in most cases (there will always be exceptions), it’s not the beliefs but the behavior that should be labeled abusive. Otherwise we are in grave danger of undermining such essential values as freedom of speech and freedom of thought. To paraphrase Voltaire, “I may I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it… and your right to teach it to your children.”

  • Miko

    It is no more a fact that there isn’t an immortal soul that lives on than it is that there is an eternal hell. A lot of religious people don’t believe in an eternal hell, there are quite a number who believe in universal salvation. If the question is the mental trauma to a child why not require they be taught at least the possibility that there is eternal salvation for all sentient creatures?

    I’ll agree that there is no conclusive evidence that consciousness doesn’t survive death. However, I’d question whether people believe it because they find it likely or because they find it comforting. I don’t think that sheltering a child is abusive, but it isn’t necessarily the best policy either. The problem with teaching the possibility of salvation is that it has to be compatible with what we know about the brain. Luckily, we happen to know very little about the brain, so that isn’t overly hard to do. However, we do know that brain injuries can affect memory, opinions, preferences, etc. Thus, it’s safe to conclude that these things wouldn’t survive the destruction of the brain. And this in turn means that life after death would have to involve either: 1) people walking around as rotting corpses, or 2) people surviving, but losing all functions handled by the brain, such as memory, opinion, preference, and sensory perception. Either of these sound much scarier than death to me.

    Now, I’ve talked about life-after-death above. Salvation is a slightly different issue, since it suggests that we need saving. That’s the kind of thing that could damage a child’s sense of self-worth. If you’re talking about universal salvation, I’d suggest that salvation isn’t really the word you want.

    That said, of course death is a scary thing. If I die only to awaken again to burn in torment in hell forever, I’ll probably consider it an improvement over the alternative.

    The assertions of biological determinism are no more facts than either of the above. There is no way that science can answer the questions of ultimate causality of behaviors and consciousness, to do that they would have to go where science can’t get.

    Think of where science is today and where it was 1,000 years ago and I’m sure you’ll reconsider the word “can’t.” The only epistemic system that I know of that could determine whether or not science could get there is science itself, and I haven’t heard it give a conclusive answer either way on either the question or whether the question is answerable.

    In all events, it comes down to the difference between teaching children what to think and teaching children how to think. The hell-idea is scary and abusive solely because it’s being taught as fact. Likewise, teaching that we’re all biological robots would suffer from exactly the same problem. The issue at hand isn’t what group holds the particular beliefs taught, but what the teaching is being based upon and what it’s purpose is. Take the “hell house” plays: their purpose seems to be teaching “Do what I say or you’ll be tortured forever.” If that were said in any nonreligious context, it would immediately be recognized as abusive.

  • Miko

    Who gets to decide whose sets of beliefs are false and therefore abusive This seems very dangerous to me. I value living in a pluralistic society where we have freedom of thought and speech too much to say that we should have anything like “thought police” telling us what kinds of beliefs are acceptable and what we’re allowed to teach our children.

    It’s not merely the fact that the belief is false that makes it abusive. Teaching creationism in itself doesn’t need to be abusive, but it could be. Now that there are colleges that cater to “Christian homeschoolers,” it’s possible that someone could reach 22, say, without even really knowing about the alternative ideas. That doesn’t seem very pluralistic to me. Children don’t have any say in who their parents are, so it seems rather unfair that their path in life be so completely shaped by the beliefs of their parents. Despite a few examples like Hell, Dawkins main gripe with the religious teachings are that they are teaching a child that he/she is a Christian, a Muslim, etc. just because of what their parents are. His standard analogy is to politics: you may be willing to teach your child to be a Christian, but would you do the same thing with a political party? (He seems to think that most people won’t. Perhaps not in Britian, but I’m less sure of that in the U.S.)

    To take what I see as an extreme example, it’s customary in some Buddhist countries that the second-born son become a monk. I think that that’s wrong and I would hope that you do too. How cruel and arbitrary to determine the future course of a child’s entire life solely by their position in the birth order. As a being independent from his/her parents, doesn’t the child have a right to make choices on his/her own?

    I agree with you completely about the importance of pluralism. The abusive element isn’t so much what children are being taught as what they are not being taught. It’s accepted that malnourishing a child’s body is a crime. I would suggest only that the same apply to some extent to the child’s mind. Parents are asserting the right to only teach their children one side of an issue and I see that as a grave disservice to the child. It doesn’t even really matter which side of the issue is being taught. Telling a young child that he/she’s an atheist because his/her parents are is just as bad as telling that child that he/she’s a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, or a Pastafarian because his/her parents are.

    But you know what? My parents taught me about hell too, and they also taught me that because of this I should love my non-Christian friends and tell them about Jesus. I don’t consider that abusive.

    And I don’t know enough about your circumstances to say whether I do or don’t. (Telling you that non-Christians go to hell and as such you should be Christian and pity those that aren’t could be borderline; depends exactly how it went.) The point isn’t that all children are being abused in this way, but that some are. As you said, abuse is a moral issue. The fact that not all children are abused by priests doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do anything about priest abuse. If it’s happening at all, we have an obligation to deal with it.

  • Darryl

    To mentally abuse your child by shouting angry words, by terrifying, capricious actions, and by imposing guilt feelings upon them is abuse. Ask a child of an alcoholic. To physically abuse your child by beatings and whippings is abuse. How many of us have suffered that kind of abuse?

    Brainwashing your children with lies that retard, confuse, and alienate them socially is to do them harm to some extent. Conditioning your child to trust in groundless belief and gut feeling rather than reason and knowledge is detrimental to their success in life. These are kinds of abuse. If you object to the word, then find another, but don’t miss the point. And if you were raised this way, don’t allow your love and respect for your own parents to get in the way of seeing these things for what they are.

    Karen, I don’t care about atheist PR or wise “tactics” in this regard. If you were a Christian, and I said that spanking your child with a leather strap till their butt is black and blue is abuse would that give you a cause to think that I’m persecuting you for your faith? If you think so, you haven’t got a clue.

    Izzy, you’re again making no sense.

  • Darryl

    Those people who live in Pasadena, California have some of the worst smog in the country. On a bad day (and there are lots of them) you can barely see the hills against which the city rests. For these people, it is normal to live with this kind of air–they are used to it. For people like me that did not grow up in a place like Pasadena, when I first saw it I was shocked. I thought to myself, how can anyone bear to live in this. I could barely breath that air. It hurt my lungs.

    Our planet is Pasadena. The air we all breath has been tainted with the pollution of religion, and it has hurt us all. We are used to it; it is normal for us, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t taken its toll on us; and that doesn’t mean that we cannot imagine a life without that kind of pollution. Who would say that the people of Pasadena are not abusing themselves and their children by breathing that air? The health stats tell the truth.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    I’d question whether people believe it because they find it likely or because they find it comforting. I don’t think that sheltering a child is abusive, but it isn’t necessarily the best policy either. The problem with teaching the possibility of salvation is that it has to be compatible with what we know about the brain.

    The matter of a particular belief being comforting is irrelevant to the truth of the thought. The example I gave here a while back of A.J. Ayer’s reported “near death experience” and the report that he claimed to “have see the Supreme Being” didn’t seem to comfort him. He, himself, had “comforted” Somerset Maugham at his deathbed by reassuring him that he wouldn’t survive death.
    We don’t have any idea if consciousness exists apart from the physical brain, Susan Blackmore’s silly assertions aside. It would be impossible to know since a consciousness outside of the physical brain would be beyond the ability of science to observe or measure. If we care to try to study a question like that (and please don’t mistake such a study as ‘science’) we are entirely reliant on reports of people who have had personal experiences that are suggestive one way or another. In order for it to be studied scientifically you would have to get to the other side of the physical universe to objectively observe it and that is impossible. None of that means that you have to believe it’s there, just that you can’t honestly say that you know that it isn’t. People who choose to believe either their own experience or the reports of other people are free to do so and to talk about it, even with children they have authority to discuss such things with.

  • Ash

    probably haven’t read enough of Dawkins to comment, but i will anyway…and herein lies the danger. if you were to ask Dawkins of his stance on the religion as child-abuse thing, i’m sure he could explain it in logical, reasonable terms, citing examples. as a layman, there is no guarantee that i would understand his basis, and simply parrot this term as a ‘proof’ why religion is bad. it’s become another tag-line, and yes Mike C., i can see why it would be offensive.

    i think there’s a huge difference between child abuse, and a potentially abusive situation for a child. i worry about council estate kids, but just because they are at higher risk of abuse and becoming tomorrows criminal, does not mean they will be. and you can’t remove kids/sterilize the parents just in case. that would be abusive.

    i realise the case is often worse in america, but in england, most faith raised kids are open to different ideas, don’t preach to people, don’t believe they belong to an exclusive ‘better’ group or run the risk of a stunted intellectual growth because of their parents belief. i’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but frankly most people here are stupid and/or fucked up for entirely different reasons than faith.

    i think an overtly religious upbringing (and nothing but) could be condusive to child abuse, and such cases need looking into, you can’t pretend it never happens. however, as nearly every parent does something that could fit the child abuse criteria of modern times (letting them out on their own, keeping them in to protect them, not feeding them the right food etc), i find it a highly misleading charge to level at anyone but the extremists.

  • Miko

    It would be impossible to know since a consciousness outside of the physical brain would be beyond the ability of science to observe or measure.

    Not necessarily. It might be possible to observe interactions between the two. It might be possible to explain the brain at the quantum level to show that it has no external component.

    People who choose to believe either their own experience or the reports of other people are free to do so and to talk about it, even with children they have authority to discuss such things with.

    Who gives them this authority? Who has this authority? Is it limited to parents or does it take a village to raise a child? I’m not suggesting that parents shouldn’t be allowed to talk to their children obviously, but instead asking what gives some set of people this right that is denied to to others. As a fellow sentient being, I find it hard to deny the idea that the child has rights as well.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I agree with you completely about the importance of pluralism. The abusive element isn’t so much what children are being taught as what they are not being taught. It’s accepted that malnourishing a child’s body is a crime. I would suggest only that the same apply to some extent to the child’s mind. Parents are asserting the right to only teach their children one side of an issue and I see that as a grave disservice to the child.

    I agree that exposing kids to many different viewpoints is a good thing and a healthy way to raise a child. However, failing to do so IS NOT child abuse. I’m sorry, it’s just not. I’ve seen child abuse, and raising a kid to follow the beliefs of their parents is not it. To equate the two just seems absurd to me.

    Besides we weren’t talking about whether it’s abusive to not expose your kid to other views, we were talking about whether it’s abusive to instruct your kids in your own religious beliefs, period.

    Full disclosure: I have a 2 year old daughter and I fully intend to tell her about God and teach her to love Jesus and to follow his way of love and compassion in this world. Is that abusive? Truthfully. Do you think I’m abusing my child by doing that? Dawkins would say yes. What do you say?

    Frankly this whole thing seems like the atheist equivalent of telling people that they’re going to hell. You know how you guys feel when an evangelical Christian is all nice to you, but you know that inside they think you’re going to hell and they’re just trying to convert you? That’s exactly how this comes across to me. You guys can act all “friendly” and talk about valuing atheist-Christian dialogue, but really, inside, you think we’re all just a bunch of child abusers.

    At least Darryl has the balls to just be completely honest about it. All us “faith-heads” are just pollution to your environment, brainwashing kids with our lies. That’s the one thing that’s refreshing about fundamentalists of whichever variety – whether it’s “You’re going to Hell!” or “You’re a child abuser!” at least you know right away what they think of you.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    Mike– Interesting point about comparing the child-abuse statement to Christians saying we’re going to hell.

    I don’t know if Dawkins would go as far as saying what you’re doing is child abuse (maybe he would). But I’m certainly not. I think what Ash said about the child abuse being limited to the extremists might hold true for me.

    And to just reiterate, I’m not comparing the religious “abuse” to actual, physical child abuse. The latter is (obviously) far worse. But I do think it’s wrong to tell a child the very opposite of things we know to be true in our world, and that is getting back to the Fundamental Christian points of view (that the universe is only a few thousand years old, that being gay is “abnormal,” etc.)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Hemant,

    I’m fine with saying that such things are “wrong”. I agree with you about that. I think it’s wrong too. “Wrong” means we can have a conversation and you can try to convince me why it’s wrong. Calling it “abuse” is different. “Abuse” doesn’t let you have a conversation. “Abuse” means you have to call the cops.

    Thanks for clarifying.

  • Mriana

    Full disclosure: I have a 2 year old daughter and I fully intend to tell her about God and teach
    her to love Jesus and to follow his way of love and
    compassion in this world. Is that abusive?
    Truthfully. Do you think I’m abusing my child by doing
    that? Dawkins would say yes. What do you say?

    No, Mike it is not, as long as you don’t get upset when she chooses to learn about something else and explore other philosophies. I don’t think a parent should demand a child sticks with his/her own family’s beliefs either. There comes a time when people start exploring other alternatives. We all do. It’s only natural, but to take the literature away and sternly said, “This is not Christian” and then dispose of it, is not appropriate IMO either.

    My older son is currently Buddhist. I say currently because a couple years ago he was a Sufi and before that I was taking him to the Episcopal Church, even though I considered myself a Humanist, which is not unusual when you look at Spong or Price or a few others.

    So, my sons have been exposed to many views, except Evangelical Fundamentalism. The only time they run into those views is when they visit their grandmother or she comes to us. Other than that, I have made every effort to shelter them from that.

    You guys can act all “friendly” and talk about valuing atheist-Christian dialogue, but really, inside, you think we’re all just a bunch of child abusers.

    Please calm down. :( I don’t think that. Spong is not. Schori is not. Ok so they are Christian Humanists or Humanistic, but I can name some less known people who are Christians and not Episcopalians, yet they are liberal Christians. So, please don’t get the impression that we all think that. I, however, reserve the right to watch and see what others do with their beliefs before I speak to them.

    I do believe religious extremists an be abusive and/or neglectful. I have yet to meet one who does not end up acting abusive to others.

  • Mriana

    I want to point out, I get the impression of inclusiveness with some posts. That’s why I keep point out that I do not feel that way regardless if the same person keeps saying, “I didn’t mean you.” It is the tone and the wording that gives me the impression of all inclusiveness. This is troublesome, because I know I am not the only one sensing this from the wording and I am not the only one who does not mean everyone either when views are expressed.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    No, Mike it is not, as long as you don’t get upset when she chooses to learn about something else and explore other philosophies. I don’t think a parent should demand a child sticks with his/her own family’s beliefs either. There comes a time when people start exploring other alternatives. We all do. It’s only natural, but to take the literature away and sternly said, “This is not Christian” and then dispose of it, is not appropriate IMO either.

    No worries there Mriana. While we will raise Emma within our faith, we will also eagerly expose her to other philosophies as well (we’re already planning trips to the local Hindi temple and Jain temple – the same one Hemant grew up going to – when she’s old enough), and give her total freedom to make her own choice when she’s ready to.

    As I’ve said before, I totally agree that exposing kids to multiple views is the best way to raise a child. However, I don’t think it’s “abuse” to not do this. I think it’s unhealthy and unwise and I will encourage parents to not shelter their kids whenever I can, but I won’t say it’s criminal to want to protect your kids from what you think are false views (even as you say you shelter your kids from their grandmother’s Fundamentalist views). Foolish perhaps, but not criminal.

  • Miko

    I agree that exposing kids to many different viewpoints is a good thing and a healthy way to raise a child. However, failing to do so IS NOT child abuse. I’m sorry, it’s just not.

    My dictionary defines abuse (as a verb) as “to use so as to injure or damage: maltreat.” Perhaps the word often has a stronger connotation in practice, but if we’re going by what it’s defined to mean, I think that there’s a fair case for it.

    Besides we weren’t talking about whether it’s abusive to not expose your kid to other views, we were talking about whether it’s abusive to instruct your kids in your own religious beliefs, period.

    To extend Hemant’s example of teaching gay-bashing–even if you don’t think that is abuse in general–what if the child happens to be gay? I can think of quite a few circumstances in which teaching a child to believe certain things could be classified as abuse.

    But are you sure we weren’t talking about this? I’m not sure what Dawkins thinks privately, but his public comments on the matter are a step closer to mine than to what you seem to think they are.

    Full disclosure: I have a 2 year old daughter and I fully intend to tell her about God and teach her to love Jesus and to follow his way of love and compassion in this world. Is that abusive? Truthfully. Do you think I’m abusing my child by doing that? Dawkins would say yes. What do you say?

    I’m not sure what Dawkins would say, but I would say probably no, mainly on the grounds that you seem to be a good person. But since telling her those things has nothing really to do with what I’m calling abuse here, I couldn’t say definitively. What happens if she doesn’t see things your way?

    You guys can act all “friendly” and talk about valuing atheist-Christian dialogue, but really, inside, you think we’re all just a bunch of child abusers.

    My definition has nothing to do with any particular set of beliefs and hence nothing to do with any particular religion or nonreligion. Since I’m applying exactly the same standard to atheists, it’s kind of hard to argue that I’m picking on Christians. It has nothing to do with any religion (except possibly Scientology): it has to do with individuals.

    Now, how about the Islamic people who have become suicide bombers? Is the fact that almost all of them went to Hamas schools a coincidence or proof that there are ideas that are downright wrong to teach your children (whether you want to label that as abuse or not)? There were 246 documented children deaths during the First Intifada, many of them combatants. 241 of them were on the Palestinian side. Was the fact that their parents taught them to hate Jews abuse?

    As I’ve said, I seriously doubt that you’re planning on doing anything with your daughter that I’d consider abusive. The question, then, is do you want to provide cover for those that are? I realize that I have a much stronger view of children’s rights than the average person, but I can’t agree that we should all be free to tell our children whatever we choose, no matter what the consequences. Fred Phelps’ family provides a good example of the sort of the nonlethal harm that can result. And of course no discussion of the issue could be complete without mentioning rebirthing (the wiki article doesn’t do it justice: here’s another if you have a strong stomach).

    So, no, Mike. You seem like a good person and I like you. I don’t think you’re going to mental abuse your child by your teachings. But I think the reason for that has to with what you’re choosing to teach her: I forthrightly admit that there are things you could try to teach her or that you could try to withhold from her that I would consider to be mentally abusive.

    And while child-raising can be a touchy subject, we are all (for the most part) friendly here. If I were really harbouring such thoughts about you, I would just ignore your comments entirely.

    With agape,
    Miko

  • Miko

    While we will raise Emma within our faith, we will also eagerly expose her to other philosophies as well (we’re already planning trips to the local Hindi temple and Jain temple – the same one Hemant grew up going to – when she’s old enough), and give her total freedom to make her own choice when she’s ready to.

    That’s what I was referring to in my 9:51 comment, by the way. Freedom is the key word. I applaud you for going out of your way to expose her to other ideas, but even that isn’t really necessary to escape my definition of abuse. The biggest problem I see is when parents not only decline to expose their children to other ideas but also actively plot to prevent them from seeing anything else. A child that isn’t free to do that is essentially a caged animal, and I feel justified in calling that sort of treatment abusive.

  • Ash

    Mike C – say, for arguments sake, you + your wife had to leave your daughter for a week. say further that you entrusted her care whilst you were absent to a fundamentalist friend. say you came home to find her terrified, scared and upset by constant threats of eternal damnation, of a god that hated most, including her, of people that told her her friends and family were evil and doomed. imagine someone hurting her like that. this would be a form of child abuse, and to use your terms, this is where you would pick up the phone and call the cops + social services. should it matter if it is their child rather than your own?

    to clarify,

    Full disclosure: I have a 2 year old daughter and I fully intend to tell her about God and teach her to love Jesus and to follow his way of love and compassion in this world. Is that abusive?

    no, in my, honest, opinion it is not.

    no, my opinion is not shared across the board, but i am as responsible for others views as they are for mine; i.e. not.

    i also feel that even if you did not teach your child about any other other religious/non-religious viewpoint, you would not damn, or threaten her with god, for asking. i further believe that you would not deny teaching her basic human skills such as respect, compassion and reason in order to subjugate her to your will. some people do this to their children. and call it love.

    i found it interesting to compare my views on this to that of abused wives. some abused wives are never physically touched, they lose themselves, their opinions and free wills to a man who will dominate, threaten and control her. it can take years to recover, if ever. if you now put a child in the place of the woman – still never physically touched – the situation becomes even more scary.

    btw, if you didn’t get it, i appreciate you being here, and mean no offense to you.

  • Ash

    you guys type too fast…

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    even with children they have authority to discuss such things with.
    Who gives them this authority? Who has this authority?

    Their parents or guardians and such persons as who the parents or guardians allow to say such things to their children. Who do you think should have it? As children get older they can start deciding these things for themselves.

    Not necessarily. It might be possible to observe interactions between the two. It might be possible to explain the brain at the quantum level to show that it has no external component.

    It isn’t as of yet and even if it was, you would be only observing what could be seen physically, there would be no way to directly observe any non-visiable or detectable part of the phenomenon. So you wouldn’t ever be able to know if any theories you developed about what you could observe were complete or even entirely accurate. This would be particularly true since you would have no way to know the nature of the non-observed, non-physical aspects of the thing so you wouldn’t even know what to look for. You can’t do science in the absence of these things, you would be at the level of guessing. In that, your best information would have to be what a person having the expeience could tell you about what they had experienced.

    It’s interesting how the claims of materialists working in the fields of behavioral science have talked people out of the simple fact that a person who has an interior experience is the only possible witness to what they experienced. It’s my belief that people used to realize the truth of that better without the mumbo-jumbo of these arrogant philosopher kings.

  • Maria

    i realise the case is often worse in america, but in england, most faith raised kids are open to different ideas, don’t preach to people, don’t believe they belong to an exclusive ‘better’ group or run the risk of a stunted intellectual growth because of their parents belief.

    I had this type of upbrining. I’m not very religious today, but I certainly don’t consider myself abused. I think I benefitted a lot from learning about all the different faiths in the world. I never thought anyone was “better or worse” than me, just different.

    Mike– Interesting point about comparing the child-abuse statement to Christians saying we’re going to hell.
    I don’t know if Dawkins would go as far as saying what you’re doing is child abuse (maybe he would). But I’m certainly not. I think what Ash said about the child abuse being limited to the extremists might hold true for me.
    And to just reiterate, I’m not comparing the religious “abuse” to actual, physical child abuse. The latter is (obviously) far worse. But I do think it’s wrong to tell a child the very opposite of things we know to be true in our world, and that is getting back to the Fundamental Christian points of view (that the universe is only a few thousand years old, that being gay is “abnormal,” etc.)

    I agree.

    I do believe religious extremists an be abusive and/or neglectful. I have yet to meet one who does not end up acting abusive to others.

    Very true

  • Miko

    It isn’t as of yet and even if it was, you would be only observing what could be seen physically, there would be no way to directly observe any non-visiable or detectable part of the phenomenon.

    Since the brain has physical components, any non-physical component would have to interact with it in order to affect its behavior. It’s like aether: through attempting to measure quantities related to it, we accidentally proved that it didn’t exist (in any meaningful sense of the word exist).

    So you wouldn’t ever be able to know if any theories you developed about what you could observe were complete or even entirely accurate.

    It depends on the level of knowledge one has. If I have the source code to a computer program that prints out the string “Hello, world!” and exits, I can carefully go over it line-by-line and conclude that the computer program had no consciousness. Now, we’re getting somewhat close to simulating a mouse brain on a computer. If we succeed in that, we’ll have a complete algorithm that can do everything a mouse can do. If we complete the simulation and end up with something that isn’t a mouse brain, we’ll know that modeling the physical isn’t sufficient. Either way, we’ll get an answer eventually, even if it’s too complicated to be practical in any applications.

    It’s interesting how the claims of materialists working in the fields of behavioral science have talked people out of the simple fact that a person who has an interior experience is the only possible witness to what they experienced.

    I can’t find the link right now, but there’s a group of researchers that are having excellent results in determing what a person is thinking about from a predetermined list of topics through the use of an EEG. It’s obviously much more difficult to do, but there’s no reason to think that these things are forever out of the reach of physical observation.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Since the brain has physical components, any non-physical component would have to interact with it in order to affect its behavior.

    But you presuppose that the mind is dependent on the brain when we don’t know that, for a start. And you also assume a comprehensive knowledge of the brain so as to know if this is true, when that is unlikely. It wouldn’t change my point about not even knowing what to look for since the nature of any non-physical part of the situation couldn’t be known.

    I can’t find the link right now, but there’s a group of researchers that are having excellent results in determing what a person is thinking about from a predetermined list of topics through the use of an EEG.

    First, I don’t doubt that there are congnitive scientists who assert this kind of thing, often based on not much data. There are other congnitve scientists who are more responsible about what they have accomplished. Second, they would have been dependent on the reports of test subjects for their initial hunches. Third, they might be able to ballpark the areas but that is a far cry from actually knowing what is experienced. None of this would change the fact that they are not observing the experience that the person being subjected to the EEG was having, they would be guessing at what that was. There are other points but I’m tired and am going to bed. Good night.

  • Mriana

    and give her total freedom to
    make her own choice when she’s ready to.

    That’s good and I also hope you don’t do like my mother who is climbing the walls because my older son is “not a Christian”. :roll: I still have not told her that I’m a Humanist and I’ve tried to keep her from preaching to my older son- the Buddhist. Although, she requested the “path to salvation” be preached at my grandmother’s funeral- in hopes to save a few souls. :roll: I’m thankful the minister did not have an alter call, but even my mother thought she was going to have one. Mind you, my son agreed to be pallbearer, so she knew he was coming.

    The preaching did not stop when we returned to what was now my aunt’s home (was my grandmother’s). My son said I came close to getting into a religious dispute with them at the house. I still managed to keep the peace, even though I came close to loosing it.

    Mind you, my son and I were both eager to get the hell out of there and get home as soon as we could. We declined staying and going to church with them Sunday morning- had to get home and feed my cats, which was true. We left with the sunrise after we had a good night’s sleep.

    My older son did not like it one bit either (in case you’re wondering, my younger son is in a home- PDD, a form of mild autism which became more difficult for me when he became a teen and bigger than I am).

  • http://blurper.blogspot.com/ Zeolite

    I was raised in a very average, healthy, happy christian home and attended a typical christian (lutheran) school for eight years.

    While the whole hell and damnation thing was rarely talked about I had nightmares of hell, the devil, and demons until well into college.

    Also, I constantly worried about sin and berated myself over every little decision knowing that I should have been more generous or selfless. I would pray for god to forgive my sins like a thousand times a day.

    To burden a child with these worries is definitely abusive.

    I also would like to add that knowing that “jesus loved me” (which I deeply believed) or that people who died “went to heaven” did very little to comfort me or alleviate the guilt and fear. It was a very polar existence.

    I think I’m a good example of a person raised in the average christian home and I was pretty messed up by that.

    I’m really not sure that there is a way to raise children as Christians (with the whole heaven/Jesus and hell/devil thing) without burdening them with guilt and fear.

  • Darryl

    At least Darryl has the balls to just be completely honest about it. All us “faith-heads” are just pollution to your environment, brainwashing kids with our lies. That’s the one thing that’s refreshing about fundamentalists of whichever variety – whether it’s “You’re going to Hell!” or “You’re a child abuser!” at least you know right away what they think of you.

    Mike, I doubt you lack a wide enough vocabulary to accurately describe my position, so I assume you just can’t resist falling backing on the name calling. Unlike the fundamentalists, I see in degrees–in fuzzy logic, and not in 1s and 0s. You discredit yourself by making such wild comparisons. Like Hemant, I would not think to put serious physical child abuse on a par with milder forms of religious indoctrination. But, to extend my metaphor, just as we can live in Pasadena, we can, and have, lived with the various degrees of mental abuse that religion inflicts upon children. Nonetheless, they are abuse. You think your brand of religion is innocuous, that it poses no real threat, just like the air in Pasadena, but consider some of the more obscure groups like the Mormons of Colorado City in Arizona. Such groups not only indoctrinate their children into false beliefs, but condition them into an isolated, us-them vision of the world that distorts reality and stunts their emotional and social progress. How is this not abuse?

  • Mriana

    I’m really not sure that there is a way to raise
    children as Christians (with the whole
    heaven/Jesus and hell/devil thing) without burdening them
    with guilt and fear.

    That’s why I tried to teach my sons to think for themselves. I think the older one does a pretty good job of that. Sometimes too well.

    I worry about my younger one. Since I sent him to get more help than I can give him by myself, I have butted heads a time or two with them concerning them taking him to an Evangelical church. It’s a State ran facility and I THOUGHT I have made my opinion on such things clear.

    He’s asking, “Mama, what is the rapture?” and other Fundie questions. After explaining what it was and him laughing about resurrected bodies as well as my opinion it- It’s not gonna happen- I asked him where he was hearing all of this from. “Oh we went to such and such a church.” I was not happy. Now they are telling him he can’t go because I got mad. No, I did not get mad, just restated my opinion and that I did not want him attending such churches. Now they are filling his head with Creationism! :mad: I am NOT happy! What the hell is a State run facility doing teaching such crap? Don’t tell me, it’s in the Bible Belt, so they do what they want. :roll: He thinks there was a world wide flood now. :roll:

    These kids have enough issues already and no State ran facility shold be scaring them into behaving as they should, I don’t care if they have mild autism, OCD, ODD, or whatever. IMHO, it will just compound their issues, not make them better.

    On top of it all, do they not know what the first amendment says? I could go another round with them, remove him from the facility, or take them to court to make them do their jobs. Of course IF I do the last, I might as well do the second too, but that opens a whole lot of cans of worms.

    BTW, they have scared him too. When my older son and I were trying to convince him that Creationism/ID was bogus, his eyes got wide and he said, “You don’t believe in God?” That’s not what we said, but ok, let’s go with that- no, at least not not a supernatural deity he is now invisioning. Whatever they are teaching him, they left out love, REASON, and compassion, and replaced it apparently with guilt and fear.

    Tell me that is not starting to cross the line in abuse? Not you Zeolite, I have a feeling you will agree with me- but correct me if you don’t agree.

  • http://blurper.blogspot.com/ Zeolite

    I agree 100%

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    I’m really not sure that there is a way to raise children as Christians (with the whole heaven/Jesus and hell/devil thing) without burdening them with guilt and fear.

    I don’t have any problem with a bit of guilt. And some kinds of fear are good. Hell, many liberal Christians either don’t believe in it any more or believe it to be of less than eternal duration (the earliest Christians were largely universalists, it was after Tertullian and Augustine that eternal damnation became dominant). The devil, I like the Buddhist version of Mara much better. If the medieval devil was real we’d be in a lot more trouble than we are.

    I am sure there is a way to raise a child as a Christian without burdening them with superstition. I’ve seen it done hundreds of times.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Mike, I doubt you lack a wide enough vocabulary to accurately describe my position, so I assume you just can’t resist falling backing on the name calling.

    Darryl, I don’t know what you’re getting so upset about. I didn’t describe your position, I only repeated your own language about religion back to you – “pollution”, “brainwashing”, “lies”. You may not think that your own statements were offensive or at all similar to the kinds of things Christian fundamentalists say about people who disagree with them, but from my perspective that’s exactly how it comes across. I wasn’t “namecalling”, I was just being honest.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    My dictionary defines abuse (as a verb) as “to use so as to injure or damage: maltreat.” Perhaps the word often has a stronger connotation in practice, but if we’re going by what it’s defined to mean, I think that there’s a fair case for it.

    No, we’re clearly not going by the dictionary definition. “Abuse” has far stronger connotations in our society than just to “injure or damage”. There is (rightly) an intense negative stigma attached to the term “child abuse”. You can’t call someone a “child abuser” and think that it’s just a mild term. By your dictionary definition every parent on earth is a child abuser – but that’s obviously not how most people use it. You can’t weasel out of the offense that term gives by trying to say that you don’t mean it the way everyone else means it.

    As for the rest of the examples you give Miko (Phelps, gay-bashing, Islamic fundamentalists), of course we can point to many examples of how religious beliefs can be used in abusive ways (as can any set of beliefs). I don’t deny that at all. But the issue, at least with Dawkins’ quote and with the way others tend to use it (not necessarily you), is not whether some religious beliefs might be used abusively, but whether teaching any religious beliefs at all to children is inherently abusive.

    I’m not exaggerating this position (though I realize it might not be the position you hold). Dawkins himself has said

    “Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place.”

    So simply raising someone as a Catholic is worse than sexual molestation? I’m sorry, but that is an extreme statement, and offensive to me as someone who has close friends that have been victims of sexual abuse, and other close friends who have been raised in loving Catholic homes. To claim that the latter is worse than the former is absurd, false, offensive, and frankly despicable.

    I will completely agree with you that some religious teachings can be harmful and yes, abusive. But that’s not my issue here. My issue is with those who say that any religious teaching, as such, is inherently abusive. (And it’s not just Dawkins. We had this discussion many months ago on the Off the Map boards and several of the atheists there took it to that extreme as well.) If you’re not making that claim then I have no argument with you. But I would again advise atheists to reserve use of the term “abuse” only for those extreme cases that truly merit it.

  • Miko

    But the issue, at least with Dawkins’ quote and with the way others tend to use it (not necessarily you), is not whether some religious beliefs might be used abusively, but whether teaching any religious beliefs at all to children is inherently abusive…. So simply raising someone as a Catholic is worse than sexual molestation? I’m sorry, but that is an extreme statement, and offensive to me as someone who has close friends that have been victims of sexual abuse, and other close friends who have been raised in loving Catholic homes.

    Fair enough. I’ll agree that Dawkins went too far there. I’d actually forgotten about that one and was thinking of some milder things he’d said on the subject. That said, I’ve heard horror stories of mental abuse from religous upbringing as well, so I do think that it’s an important issue.

    I will completely agree with you that some religious teachings can be harmful and yes, abusive. But that’s not my issue here.

    I understand that it hasn’t been in the above, but speaking in general, is it your issue elsewhere? Dawkins may be taking an Orestes A. Brownson approach to it, but that’s no reason not to take on the issue from a George Ripley perspective. (And since that reference is, aside from describing what I’m thinking perfectly, probably too obscure for almost everyone here, I mean that Dawkins is taking the militant abrasive approach and the rest of us should take the appeal-to-better-nature approach.) One frustrating thing from an atheist’s perspective is that so many of our attempts to bring about social justice are shot down because our audience doesn’t want to listen to atheists. I, for one, don’t really like putting things in legalistic terms, but it seems almost necessary sometimes when our other options just aren’t working.

    But I would again advise atheists to reserve use of the term “abuse” only for those extreme cases that truly merit it.

    Deal. If you’ll agree that the extreme cases do exist, I’ll agree to reserve the term for them.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Orestes A. Brownson

    Named after one of mythologies most famous matricidal killers, ironically enough.

    If the issue is abuse of children then there is all kinds of that, religion in itself isn’t the unique or even a necessary component of it. John Watson, the bastard, was one of a number of rather horrible child abusers. The infamous stuttering inducement “study”
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9505E4D8163EF935A25750C0A9659C8B63

    maybe they should look into behavioral scientists and their role in child abuse, there’s a definite history with records kept.

    Too much generalization turns into bigotry. I’m saying that on my own authority, Darryl. Just in case you think I’m trying to slip something in unauthorized.

  • Darryl

    Mike, I’m not upset, but I am surprised at your disingenuousness. You clearly called me a fundamentalist:

    At least Darryl has the balls to just be completely honest about it. All us “faith-heads” are just pollution to your environment, brainwashing kids with our lies. That’s the one thing that’s refreshing about fundamentalists of whichever variety – whether it’s “You’re going to Hell!” or “You’re a child abuser!” at least you know right away what they think of you.

    This is a matter where you and I will simply have to disagree, and if my view disturbs you, there it is. I’m not willing to censor myself for your peace of mind. Please try to keep in mind that my statements come from a man that raised his own children, and made his own mistakes, and yet is not too proud or too unfeeling to admit the mistakes, and to be self-critical. Your language clearly expresses your frustration because this is not a theoretical matter (like your theism), but cuts too close to the bone. Not that it will necessarily help you at all, but you might contextualize this matter as just another correlative of our fundamental disagreement: you believe in imaginary beings, and I quit doing that years ago.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Yes Darryl, I called you a fundamentalist. If you don’t want to be equated with one then I’d advise you to stop acting like one. Honestly, I don’t know how else to read your little “Pasadena” allegory. You said:

    Our planet is Pasadena. The air we all breath has been tainted with the pollution of religion, and it has hurt us all. We are used to it; it is normal for us, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t taken its toll on us; and that doesn’t mean that we cannot imagine a life without that kind of pollution. Who would say that the people of Pasadena are not abusing themselves and their children by breathing that air? The health stats tell the truth.

    Change “religion” to “secular humanism” and you’d have exactly the kind of thing a fundamentalist Christian might say.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C
    But I would again advise atheists to reserve use of the term “abuse” only for those extreme cases that truly merit it.

    Deal. If you’ll agree that the extreme cases do exist, I’ll agree to reserve the term for them.

    Of course I do. I’ve seen real spiritual abuse and it’s not pretty. I’ve had friends that have had to been rescued out of cults and friends whose stories are very similar to Mriana’s. That’s part of why I don’t like to see Dawkins et al. conflating real abuse with people just teaching their kids things they just don’t happen to agree with. It’s not just the difference between a militant vs. light approach. It’s the problem of labeling two unlike things by the same name and thereby confusing the real issues. Doing that is not going to help any of us solve the real problems – in fact, it’s going to make it harder because that kind of offensive rhetoric will end up driving a wedge between potential allies in the fight.

    BTW, for evidence that Christians are aware of and are fighting religious abuse, I’d recommend this book. It does a good job of describing healthy vs. abusive religious settings.

  • Darryl

    Mike, I was trying to choose my metaphor carefully. Polluted air does not kill on contact; neither is it healthful to breath. The air over our cities has a variable ‘air quality’ in a range running from not-bad to don’t-drive-today-and-don’t-use-your-fireplace-and-stay-indoors-if-you-can. As I said, I see things in degrees. If this comports with your idea of fundamentalism, so be it. If to say that religion is a kind of pollution means I’m a fundamentalist, then I wear the name proudly.

    Now, what new name will you have to find in order to slam me next time?

  • Mriana

    Change “religion” to “secular humanism” and you’d have exactly the kind of thing a fundamentalist Christian might say.

    I hate to be the one to say this, Darryl, but Mike has a point. :(

  • Darryl

    Mriana, it’s just too easy to paint in black and white. Fundamentalists do that; I do not. If I don’t provide enough nuance in my posts then call me on that and I will supply it. But, please do not use pejoratives in the place of argument. Mike objects to my view of religion–I can understand that. But, name-calling has no place here.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    If to say that religion is a kind of pollution means I’m a fundamentalist, then I wear the name proudly.

    Now, what new name will you have to find in order to slam me next time?

    My intention was never to slam you. I was just calling it like I see it. If you have no problem with the label fundamentalist then that that one will suit just fine.

  • Mriana

    No, Darryl, I’m just saying that the far-right does replace the word religion with Secular Humanism. They have said the same thing with that one change. C. S. Lewis was notorious for replacing the word religion with Humanist. :roll:

    I don’t believe in extremism of any kind though. I am a happy middle of the road Humanist.

  • Miko

    That’s part of why I don’t like to see Dawkins et al. conflating real abuse with people just teaching their kids things they just don’t happen to agree with.

    Okay. But we are talking about one word that gets used two or three times in a 416 page book. (Plus he’s English: they speak a whole different language over there. Maybe it has a different connotation there. ;-) )No matter how civil one’s trying to be, it’s not possible to write that many words without saying something offensive, especially when you don’t get reactions until copies are available in bookstores everywhere. Writing for both a religious and a non-religious audience simultaneously just makes things more difficult. I don’t follow Dawkins too closely, so I’m not sure how he’s responded since publication, but in general I have to see fighting things like that as not being worth the effort.

    To everyone: If I may be a canary in the mine for a second, this thread is becoming really unpleasant to read. I’m going to count to ten and try to stay in a constructive frame of mind when I come back. Please feel free to join me.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Well, like I said, it’s not just Dawkins. This particular quote from him has become an increasingly popular anti-religious sentiment among atheists in my experience. In his terms, it’s a “meme” that is particularly good at reproducing. (Though for the record, I think the whole idea of memes is rather ridiculous and misguided.)

  • Karen

    Karen, I don’t care about atheist PR or wise “tactics” in this regard.

    Well, I think that’s very unfortunate. Non-religious people, as a small minority, do need to be concerned about tactics and practical strategies for gaining increased acceptance in an overwhelmingly religious society. Those who are absolutists on every single issue, and tactics be damned, do us no favors in terms of achieving that goal.

    If the non-religious are going to call loving parents who take their children to Sunday school or baptise them as infants “child abusers,” I’m afraid we will continue to be marginalized for many generations, and our positive messages will not be heard.

    If you were a Christian, and I said that spanking your child with a leather strap till their butt is black and blue is abuse would that give you a cause to think that I’m persecuting you for your faith?

    As others have pointed out, it’s a matter of degree. Of course there’s a big difference between delivering a severe beating with a strap, and giving a willful child a spank on a well-diapered butt. The law already acknowledges this, and rightfully so.

  • Karen

    Okay. But we are talking about one word that gets used two or three times in a 416 page book. (Plus he’s English: they speak a whole different language over there. Maybe it has a different connotation there. ;-) )No matter how civil one’s trying to be, it’s not possible to write that many words without saying something offensive, especially when you don’t get reactions until copies are available in bookstores everywhere.

    It’s not the thrust of the entire book, but it’s one of the major points he makes near the end, and Mike C. is right that it’s been picked up by others in the atheist community.

    Words are important, particularly fighting words like “child abuse” and I think we need to be judicious with the terms we throw around. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out that the emotional manipulation commonly employed at Jesus Camp isn’t healthful for children. But extending that accusation to ordinary churchgoing parents is just silly and offensive.

    Dawkins isn’t American and he isn’t familiar with conservative evangelical culture, but this is a HUGE hot-button issue in that community. Long before Dawkins ever raised it, fundamentalist religions have worried about secular humanists taking away their “right” to raise their children with religion.

    There’s a deep paranoia at the heart of any fundamentalist group (Orthodox Jews, Islamists, Christians) and making this an issue plays right into it.

  • Miko

    (Though for the record, I think the whole idea of memes is rather ridiculous and misguided.)

    As long as were not talking physical existence, I’ve always found it to be a rather self-evident thing. A meme is reproduced every time any person transfers any idea to any other person. It may be so banal that it’s a rather worthless concept to talk about, but denying the existence of the process is just silly.

    This particular quote from him has become an increasingly popular anti-religious sentiment among atheists in my experience.

    Oversimplification is indeed the doom of modern civilization. I blame the invention of the soundbite. :-)

    There’s also the issue that we can’t even agree on what behaviors are abusive in the cases that we should be considering. For example, some ideas that I think could be abusive in practice (although not all of them necessarily are in theory) are:

    1. Gender inequality, “role of a woman”
    2. Blood libel
    3. Hamitic argument used against any group (most recently responsible for the Rwandan genocide)
    4. Hell as a place of eternal everlasting punishment
    5. Original Sin
    6. Anti-gay rhetoric
    7. “God is a Republican.” “God is a Democrat.” “God is on our side.”
    8. Being Amish. This is the most debatable on the list, but the fact that no one who isn’t Amish chooses to become Amish should hint that something fishy is going on.
    9. Homeschooling for the purpose of censorship

    Among theists, I’m sure that there would be disagreement with some or most of these (although I’d hope that most would agree with 1-3, 6, 7, and 9). Among atheists, I’m sure that there would still be some additions or deletions (for example, I haven’t mentioned YEC on the list; that’s stupid, but it isn’t abusive). I also haven’t mentioned the proposition that God exists, or that Jesus is said to have done some good things, or anything whatsoever about the social message that should be drawn from these ideas; some of these are probably worthwhile ideas even if I think that cloaking them in religious language is silly.

    Note also that this is a varied and general list. Actions may fall into a category above without being abusive (some Amish people undoubtably prefer that lifestyle) or may miss the above and still be abusive. Also, each category needs a specific type of solution. I think that 1-7 should be adressed by getting people to see why these things aren’t a good idea and that 9 should be prevented by the state (although demonstrating purpose is a tricky thing). On 8, I don’t even have the slightest idea of what should be done.

    So I’ve written about 30 lines on types of situations I think may potentially enter into the abusive. Dawkins summed his view up in under 30 words. A poor choice on his part, but that sadly seems to be the direction the world is moving in.

    Words are important, particularly fighting words like “child abuse” and I think we need to be judicious with the terms we throw around. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out that the emotional manipulation commonly employed at Jesus Camp isn’t healthful for children. But extending that accusation to ordinary churchgoing parents is just silly and offensive.

    And the larger problem is that the okayness of the latter stops many people from thinking about the former. Dawkins’ book suffers from the fact that it’s half about why god doesn’t exist and half about why religion can be bad. He sometimes seems to conflate the two ideas and suggest that belief in god is the sole reason that religion is bad and that all religion is bad as a result.

  • monkeymind

    Jumping in late on this discussion.

    The idea that children can somehow be raised “neutrally” with regard to religious ideas “until they’re old enough to decide for themselves” reflects a pretty limited knowledge of child development. Children are wrestling with Big Ideas and Big Feelings about the nature of existence, the problem of evil, death, etc. from a very early age, way before they can articulate any of this very clearly. And naturally the people they look to for examples and guidance are the people closest to them. And naturally, we don’t always rise to the task as well as we would hope.

    Whether a child can develop the capacity to think critically and creatively is not only affected by explicit instruction from the parents but also from the messages implicit in the environment where the child is raised – does the child feel safe to explore, make mistakes, make a mess?

    I taught school for 5 years and have been a parent volunteer in my daughter’s school for 6 years. It is always perfectly obvious to me which kids have been raised with pretty much unlimited access to mass media. These kids have less curiousity, are either very passive or very aggressive (both compensations for an underlying fearfulness) and are less creative. I think we should be much more concerned about that than calling parents who baptize their children “abusive.”

  • monkeymind

    Re Miko’s list:

    1. Gender inequality, “role of a woman”

    We should outlaw Disney movies, old sitcoms, and stick to wooden blocks instead of the aggressively gender-specific marketed toys at ToysRUs if you are serious about this principle.

  • Miko

    does the child feel safe to explore, make mistakes, make a mess?

    Feeling safe is a big part of what it’s about, and why I don’t consider merely teaching stupid stuff like creationism to be abuse. The problem comes when a child is literally afraid to explore an idea because of how his/her parents/god will react to it.

    It is always perfectly obvious to me which kids have been raised with pretty much unlimited access to mass media.

    I’m not a fan of mass media, but what does it have to do with stifling exploration?

    I think we should be much more concerned about that than calling parents who baptize their children “abusive.”

    Moving away from mental abuse for a second, what about parents who circumcise their children?

  • Miko

    We should outlaw Disney movies, old sitcoms, and stick to wooden blocks instead of the aggressively gender-specific marketed toys at ToysRUs if you are serious about this principle.

    Not necessarily. For one thing, the kid’s movie genre is already doing a reshpae on its own. Shrek’s Fiona isn’t quite the typical fairy tell princess and the whole industry is moving away from the hackneyed end-up-with-the-prince scenario. More importantly, it’s possible to entertain an idea without accepting it and each individual should have a right to make a personl decision. The main problem comes when you insert the words “God wants you to…” in front of it. For example, 1 Timothy 2:15 is commonly interpreted to mean that women achieve salvation solely through having children, leading to some wonderfully enlightened sentiments like:

    “Any woman who acts in such a way that she cannot give birth to as many children as she is capable of, makes herself guilty of that many murders.”
    – St. Augustine

    “Women should remain at home, sit still, keep house and bear and bring up children.”
    – Martin Luther

    “If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it.”
    – Martin Luther

    I think it’s not unfair to say that we shouldn’t be reinforcing ideas like these today.

  • monkeymind

    I’m not a fan of mass media, but what does it have to do with stifling exploration?

    Mostly its an opportunity cost. Time spent in front of the screen is time not spent making mudpies or playing dress-up. Even so-called educational media is worthless for under 5′s IMO. Use it if you need a break, as down time after some energetic activity, but don’t fool yourself that it is of much benefit.

    Also it’s been my experience that the Pre-K boys who have been exposed to what I consider overly violent media and who always wear the superhero t-shirts, are often quite agressive with other kids but can be fearful and timid about handling animals, climbing the monkey bars, etc.

    I can see that I am in imminent danger of hijacking this thread for my own personal views about child-rearing.
    With regard to the hypocrisies and absurdities and hidden cruelties that parents can unwittingly inflict on children, I think personal stories like Julia Sweeneys’s will have more impact than accusations of “child abuse.”

    the whole industry is moving away from the hackneyed end-up-with-the-prince scenario.

    The whole industry is moving toward whatever will make the most money while paying lip service to critiques of their “message.”

    We do watch movies sometimes and Shrek is a fave, but we do just fine without TV.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C
    (Though for the record, I think the whole idea of memes is rather ridiculous and misguided.)

    As long as were not talking physical existence, I’ve always found it to be a rather self-evident thing. A meme is reproduced every time any person transfers any idea to any other person. It may be so banal that it’s a rather worthless concept to talk about, but denying the existence of the process is just silly.

    Listen, my undergraduate degree was in philosophy (i.e. the history of ideas) and my grad degree was in intercultural studies – and since I went to a liberal arts school I also studied sociology, history, etc. My problem with the whole “meme” thing is that it is a gross oversimplification of the intricate complexities of human societies and how ideas and philosophies have been handed down throughout history. It comes across to me as a ham-handed attempt to try and subsume the humanities into the sciences by making a lame biological analogy between “genes” and “memes”. But I’m sorry, ideas are not the same as genes and do not function the same way within human societies or among individuals. It’s just a bad analogy. And as much as scientists would like to encroach on the humanities’ turf, it can’t be done. Human realities will always be far more complex than the hard sciences can handle. You can’t reduce poetry to an equation, or a whole culture to silly things like “memes”.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    There’s also the issue that we can’t even agree on what behaviors are abusive in the cases that we should be considering. For example, some ideas that I think could be abusive in practice (although not all of them necessarily are in theory) are:

    I still think we need to make a distinction between things that we consider “wrong” and things we call “abuse”. Some of the things you listed I would consider abuse. Some would depend very much on the context. And some are simply beliefs I disagree with but which I think others ought to have the right to hold and practice in a free society.

    The thing is Miko, if and when you become a parent (and please don’t read this as condescending in any way), you’ll soon realize that there are many, many different ways to parent and many of them you will not agree with at all – most of which won’t have anything to do with “religion” per se. But you can’t go around condemning all other parents who do things differently from you as child abusers.

    monkeymind thinks it’s very harmful to expose kids to too much TV, and yet I’m not sure she’d call me a child abuser because I let my daughter watch 2 hours of Dora the Explorer each day. My wife and I are adamantly against any form of spanking, and yet I can’t tell all the people in my play groups and in our church that they are child abusers because they use light spanking as a form of discipline. In fact, my wife and I are against the use of rewards or punishments at all to coerce behavior in our daughter (yes, we’ve been very influenced by Alfie Kohn’s books) and yet I can’t call my friends child abusers because they put their kids in time outs or use desserts as rewards for good behavior.

    And that’s just differences within our own culture. Like I said, my grad degree was in intercultural studies, and I have to admit that in many ways I am a cultural relativist when it comes to these kind of issues. There’s a saying in that field “Different is different, not better or worse.” Hemant for instance, thinks that it is abusive not to teach kids the theory of evolution – and yet there are hundreds of cultures who have little to no access to Western science at all. I would like for them to be able to learn about evolution, but I don’t think that they are being abused because their tribal chieftains teach them their own creation myths instead.

    Likewise being Amish is not a choice I would personally make, but I have a great respect for them because I think they realize something about the toxic social and spiritual effects of our modern technological and consumeristic society that we often are oblivious to. Honestly, I often envy them their commitment to a simpler lifestyle. And frankly, when global warming and the ecological cost of our unsustainable lifestyles finally catches up to us, we’re probably all going to be dependent on the Amish to teach us how to live more simply and more in harmony with the land and with our neighbors.

    Dawkins’ book suffers from the fact that it’s half about why god doesn’t exist and half about why religion can be bad. He sometimes seems to conflate the two ideas and suggest that belief in god is the sole reason that religion is bad and that all religion is bad as a result.

    That’s a good analysis.

    Moving away from mental abuse for a second, what about parents who circumcise their children?

    I’m circumcised and not for religious reasons. Back then it was recommended for medical reasons. It’s no big deal. I don’t see any justification for even considering it child abuse, especially not if you happen to have any Jewish friends. Given the history of anti-Semitism in the West, I don’t think you want to start treading on that territory.

  • Miko

    It comes across to me as a ham-handed attempt to try and subsume the humanities into the sciences by making a lame biological analogy between “genes” and “memes”. But I’m sorry, ideas are not the same as genes and do not function the same way within human societies or among individuals. It’s just a bad analogy.

    That’s because you’re thinking of genes as biological entities. Memetics is the study of the flow of information. Genes also involve a flow of information. The connection is the pattern that they share; not a biological analogy. Dawkins’ discussion of the concept of memes goes into great detail how they differ from genes.

    And as much as scientists would like to encroach on the humanities’ turf, it can’t be done. Human realities will always be far more complex than the hard sciences can handle. You can’t reduce poetry to an equation, or a whole culture to silly things like “memes”.

    That’s completely missing the point of the meme. As I said above, it doesn’t study the information content but the flow of information. The two ideas are completely unrelated.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    The connection is the pattern that they share; not a biological analogy.

    What’s the pattern?

    That’s completely missing the point of the meme. As I said above, it doesn’t study the information content but the flow of information. The two ideas are completely unrelated.

    No, I get the point. I am referring to the flow of information, i.e. the “history of philosophy”. My point is that ideas (whether religions, or cultural ideas and norms, or philosophies, etc.) spread for many complicated reasons (geography, economics, climate, warfare, politics, key individuals, the random and unpredictable fortunes of history, etc.). Memetics, to me, seems like an attempt to reduce all these complexities to one overly simplistic mechanism… though I confess that I haven’t studied it in depth and I’m only reacting to the way I’ve seen the idea of “memes” used here and on other atheist sites.

  • Darryl

    And that’s just differences within our own culture. Like I said, my grad degree was in intercultural studies, and I have to admit that in many ways I am a cultural relativist when it comes to these kind of issues. There’s a saying in that field “Different is different, not better or worse.” Hemant for instance, thinks that it is abusive not to teach kids the theory of evolution – and yet there are hundreds of cultures who have little to no access to Western science at all. I would like for them to be able to learn about evolution, but I don’t think that they are being abused because their tribal chieftains teach them their own creation myths instead.

    It makes no sense to compare facts with myths. If people want to be left to their ignorance, that is their choice, but that is not in any way a moral equivalent with the choice to be enlightened once access is gained to learning. Ignorance is a sin against the mind.

  • Miko

    And some are simply beliefs I disagree with but which I think others ought to have the right to hold and practice in a free society.

    Unless you want to provide more detail, there’s not much I can say there except that I disagree. As I mentioned, I’m not advocating that we go looking for all of these things legalistially, but they all should certainly be considered as a factor in cases of child welfare.

    Like I said, my grad degree was in intercultural studies, and I have to admit that in many ways I am a cultural relativist when it comes to these kind of issues. There’s a saying in that field “Different is different, not better or worse.”

    Sounds like an attempt to justify oppression to me. Sure, they have six-year-olds working in sweatshops overseas, but that’s not better or worse; it’s just a cultural difference. Niqab? No problem. Slavery, well if that’s how those in power want to live their lives who are we to complain?

    I’m not suggesting that our culture is always the best: there are definitely things we should adopt from other states. But to claim that the differences don’t matter? I don’t buy it. Social justice is incompatible with cultural/moral relativism.

    But you can’t go around condemning all other parents who do things differently from you as child abusers.

    I don’t. I came up with a list of specific categories and acknowledged that there is gray area within some of them. If I were just listing things I thought were wrong or that I disagreed with, or not limiting myself to religion, the list would have been quite a bit longer.

    Likewise being Amish is not a choice I would personally make, but I have a great respect for them because I think they realize something about the toxic social and spiritual effects of our modern technological and consumeristic society that we often are oblivious to. Honestly, I often envy them their commitment to a simpler lifestyle.

    I support the lifestyle. Simplicity is great. The problem I see has to do with choice. They refuse to let their children receive education beyond the 8th grade level (sometimes having them repeat the 8th grade as necessary to comply with education until age X sort of laws). They engage in practices in violation of child labor laws. They isolate children from the outside world. By the time a child has a chance to get out, the chance is already gone. They may originally have opted for the lifestyle, but the current generations are stuck in a spiral of ignorance and poverty. You’d support poverty reform or education reform without worrying whether you were destroying a ‘culture of destitution.’

    And frankly, when global warming and the ecological cost of our unsustainable lifestyles finally catches up to us, we’re probably all going to be dependent on the Amish to teach us how to live more simply and more in harmony with the land and with our neighbors.

    Modern refrigerators are more energy efficient than kerosene powered ones.

    It’s no big deal. I don’t see any justification for even considering it child abuse, especially not if you happen to have any Jewish friends.

    I didn’t start it. The idea’s been around. There are over 939,000 hits on Google for “circumcised child abuse.” Let’s be realistic: you may be used to it, but it’s physical mutilation of the body. If that’s not child abuse, nothing is.

    And how about the recent convert who wants to circumcise his 12 year-old son against his wishes?

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18366778/site/newsweek/

  • Karen

    The problem I see has to do with choice. They refuse to let their children receive education beyond the 8th grade level (sometimes having them repeat the 8th grade as necessary to comply with education until age X sort of laws). They engage in practices in violation of child labor laws. They isolate children from the outside world. By the time a child has a chance to get out, the chance is already gone. They may originally have opted for the lifestyle, but the current generations are stuck in a spiral of ignorance and poverty.

    Not to mention that their separatism has narrowed the gene pool of certain groups to the point where their children suffer from hideous inherited birth defects. That’s not a very encouraging “sign from the Lord” about the validity of their values and lifestyle.

    My other main beef (as long as we’re here ragging on the Amish ;-) ) is that the most extreme groups practice “shunning” if a young person decides to leave the community. It’s a kind of “you’re-dead-to-me” idea that forces a Hobbesian choice between the outside world and the only community, family and friends they’ve ever known. That’s not a proper choice, and the Amish can hardly be called “forgiving” if they will never make amends with one who leaves.

  • monkeymind

    Are the Amish really stuck in a cycle of poverty?? Their cash incomes may be below the poverty line but are they starving or applying for welfare in large numbers?
    I don’t want to idealize the Amish (my parents were raised in a Mennonite community so I know some of the highlights as well as the low points) but I think we must acknowledge that they are successful at many things for which we have lost the knack – such as supporting a family with a family farm.

    Darryl, Miko, etc, science and reason are wonderful things but at present they are tied to a technocratic/socio-economic order that is destroying the planet and dis-empowering far more people than it empowers. We all know that science is being gamed by corporations who fund studies on the condition that any findings inimical to corporate interests will not be published.

    I am for the cause of human liberation but criticizing other cultures from the outside is not helpful. Up with appropriate technology and the pedagogy of the oppressed, down with cultural imperialism.

    Listen to me, I am such an old hippie! :-)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    monkeymind basically said what I would have. so yeah, ditto that.

  • Darryl

    Darryl, Miko, etc, science and reason are wonderful things but at present they are tied to a technocratic/socio-economic order that is destroying the planet and dis-empowering far more people than it empowers. We all know that science is being gamed by corporations who fund studies on the condition that any findings inimical to corporate interests will not be published.

    I am for the cause of human liberation but criticizing other cultures from the outside is not helpful. Up with appropriate technology and the pedagogy of the oppressed, down with cultural imperialism.

    This is our challenge, isn’t it? The democratization of technology over time may shift the balances of power. It’s almost certain that the poorer nations are not going to abide this state of affairs forever. Justice, I hope, is coming; my concern is that science will not be slighted in the process.

  • Miko

    What’s the pattern [between memes and genes]?

    I don’t have enough time to get into this properly right now, but basically: selection. Genes are naturally selected based on environmental characteristics. Memes are artificially selected based on social characteristics. For example, I can’t analyze whether a sonnet is good or not mathematically, but I could pretty easily write a computer program that would determine whether a particular piece of writing *is* a sonnet or not. Now, there was never a steering committee that created a set of rules for what a sonnet was and published it in their version of the MLA handbook. Rather, you had some poets developing the form organically and other poets trying to figure out what was going on and developing slight variants of the sonnet in the process. Another good example is languages: a family tree of languages looks fairly similar to a family tree of species. The underlying processes are different, but they end up doing sort of the same thing.

    Memetics, to me, seems like an attempt to reduce all these complexities to one overly simplistic mechanism… though I confess that I haven’t studied it in depth and I’m only reacting to the way I’ve seen the idea of “memes” used here and on other atheist sites.

    It is an attempt to reduce all of the complexities to a simplistic mechanism. That’s what all of science is: an attempt to make complicated stuff simple enough to understand by looking for general trends in your data. But I wouldn’t trust what nonspecialists say about memes on atheist sites any more than I’d trust “What the Bleep Do We Know” for information on quantum mechanics. (To be fair, I’m not a specialist on memes either, but I’ve worked with people who are closer to that, so I have a passing familiarity with them. Personally, I don’t think they’re as useful as some people seem to think they are, but they do a decent job of modeling the availabe data, which is all we can ask of any scientific theory.)

  • Miko

    Are the Amish really stuck in a cycle of poverty?? Their cash incomes may be below the poverty line but are they starving or applying for welfare in large numbers?

    Yes, they are. The word poverty changes in meaning over time. Fifty years ago in meant living in a shack with no electricity. In today, it still means the same thing in many countries (and you don’t want to know what it mean fifty years ago in those places). Being poor doesn’t have to mean starving or applying for welfare. In nine cases out of ten, poverty is just a symptom of ignorance, and they’re intentionally ensuring that their children are ignorant.

    Darryl, Miko, etc, science and reason are wonderful things but at present they are tied to a technocratic/socio-economic order that is destroying the planet and dis-empowering far more people than it empowers. We all know that science is being gamed by corporations who fund studies on the condition that any findings inimical to corporate interests will not be published.

    Science is capable of being used by all sides. Like it or not, it’s a part of our lives these days. If you want to achieve your aims, you have to choose if you want to do so by working with science or by working against it. It’s really a hard issue to be neutral on. Whether you think it was right or wrong, the reason communist economic policy failed was because most of the people who came along after Marx understood the social side of the issue but didn’t want to bother learning how the economic side worked. Science is the same way: it can work for both sides and it’s really useful. If one side thinks that it’s more important than the other side does, that side wins by default in the long term.

    And if you think that the only studies that get published are those favorable to corporations, ask yourself how you know that smoking isn’t healthy.

    I am for the cause of human liberation but criticizing other cultures from the outside is not helpful. Up with appropriate technology and the pedagogy of the oppressed, down with cultural imperialism.

    As I said, there are things are culture should and, eventually, will adopt from others. But there are other things that other countries are going to have to learn from us as well. There are good things that can’t be spread this way (Bush’s plan for democracy in Iraq comes to mind, although democracy isn’t unquestionably a good thing anyway), but there are good things that can. When people talk about culture, they’re really talking about the desires of the oppressors. When a woman is stoned to death because some man thought that her face wasn’t sufficiently covered, you have a choice: you can call it a cultural difference that you shouldn’t interfere in, or you can call it oppression of the weak by the strong and intervene on principle. And not that I normally make Corpus Christi style arguments, but which would Jesus have done? Was he a cultural relativst? ;-)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Miko, no one is arguing that the extreme examples of cultural oppression are not injust or that cultural relativism would mean tolerating them. It seems pretty obvious that’s not what we were saying, so I’m not sure who you’re arguing against.

  • Miko

    Miko, no one is arguing that the extreme examples of cultural oppression are not injust or that cultural relativism would mean tolerating them. It seems pretty obvious that’s not what we were saying, so I’m not sure who you’re arguing against.

    Monkeymind said:

    criticizing other cultures from the outside is not helpful

    If we’re not even criticizing the other cultures, we’re going far beyond tolerating anything they do, no matter how extreme. Now, there are many things that other cultures do that I couldn’t care one way or the other, such as which side of the road they decide to drive on. And if they want to teach that the sky is fifty miles up and was put there by the Rainbow Serpent during the Dreamtime, well, they’ll be wrong, but I won’t care too much about that either. But when another culture starts to cause harm, I’m going to criticize it, at the very least. Liberation won’t come any other way.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I think monkeymind and I both agree with you. But as you say, it comes in degrees, and oftentimes the things that seem oppressive to you (circumcision, belief in hell, or living without electricity for example) are not viewed as such by the culture you’re critiquing – indeed, they often view your lifestyle and cultural assumptions as oppressive.

    And even if you are adamant that the other culture definitely is oppressive, one still needs to be wise about how to go about changing things – in many cases criticism from the outside is not helpful towards actually making a difference. Change has to come from within, and that usually doesn’t happen when a culture feels attacked from without. (Our current situation in Iraq or in Iran being a case in point.)

  • Darryl

    Mike said:

    Miko, no one is arguing that the extreme examples of cultural oppression are not injust or that cultural relativism would mean tolerating them. It seems pretty obvious that’s not what we were saying, so I’m not sure who you’re arguing against.

    Miko said:

    If we’re not even criticizing the other cultures, we’re going far beyond tolerating anything they do, no matter how extreme. Now, there are many things that other cultures do that I couldn’t care one way or the other, such as which side of the road they decide to drive on. And if they want to teach that the sky is fifty miles up and was put there by the Rainbow Serpent during the Dreamtime, well, they’ll be wrong, but I won’t care too much about that either. But when another culture starts to cause harm, I’m going to criticize it, at the very least. Liberation won’t come any other way.

    It’s easy to say that cultural relativism is a value only when we don’t include the extreme examples of cultural oppression, but it casts doubt upon the very idea. It’s always the particulars that screw up any idea like relativism.

    How far are we willing to tolerate the superstitions and backwardnesses of cultures? Knowing that we’re constantly bumping up against each other and that this is only likely to increase, at what points do our culture’s values and initiatives run counter to those of the other cultures that we are supposed to respect and tolerate? It’s naive to think that by even doing humanitarian work in behalf of the poorest and neediest that we will not be, to some degree, changing and influencing other cultures. Globalization alone is rapidly transforming cultures that have been monotonous for centuries. How can we even begin to catalog the social and physical evils that exist around the globe, throughout cultures, before we recognize that it is futile to hope that they won’t be changed, altered, or eradicated by our influence or well-intended aid?

    The diversity of cultures arose through some form of isolation that was sufficient to permit differences of language and lifestyle. That kind of isolation is almost gone. We can use that as an opportunity to come together, to be able to understand each other, and work together. I don’t think we can tolerate every culture. Some cultures will end, as history has shown. I can think of a few that we will be better off without. Who was it that said that any given culture that survived long enough to differentiate itself deserved to persist?

  • monkeymind

    Bother, I just lost a long philosophical response to Miko’s post by pushing the wrong button. See, I told you technology is evil. :-)

    First of all, on criticizing other cultures from the outside: Obviously making people aware that certain practices shock or disgust people from other cultures can help to change attitudes. Pressure from other countries can be brought to bear to get certain practices like FGM outlawed. (Though outlawing is not the same as ending) I fear, though, that the US has squandered most of its credibility as an advocate for human rights on the world stage.

    Mostly though, those messages about how other cultures need to change is handed to them together with a package of development that amazingly enough, winds up benefiting the wealthier society more than the poorer one.

    Judging from the outside is even less helpful when you are dealing with people one on one. I have done some cross-cultural harm reduction work with refugees. You really can’t remain on the outside looking in and judging if you want to help the victims. And it all gets messy and heartbreaking and you just do the best you can to decrease the sum total of suffering.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I was listening to Jimmy Carter on “Speaking of Faith” earlier and he said something that I thought was a perfect metaphor for what I’m trying to say here about how we relate to other cultures who have different values and beliefs than we do – some of which we find repellent.

    President Carter said:

    When I look around for a metaphor for the relationships between nations or societies or individuals, the most obviously comprehensible relationship is between a husband and a wife, that on a daily basis, maybe on an hourly basis on occasion, there’s going to be a difference of opinion between people that are forced to live intimately. As in generic terms, we are forced to live intimately with the people in Africa. And you are involved with them permanently and inseparably, so you have to learn to accommodate the idiosyncrasies — or from a personal point of view the faults and mistakes of another person — and to do it without ceasing.

    He’s exactly right. Intercultural (and inter-religious/non-religious) understanding is a lot like marriage. You don’t always agree, but you’ve got to learn to handle your disagreements with grace because you have to live together and the other person (ideally) has just as much claim to respect and self-determination as you do.

  • Maria

    I certainly don’t consider myself “abused” b/c of my religious upbringing, even though I am not very religious now. And I know MANY others who feel the same way. I would ask that before you make a blanket statement about “all religious education being child abuse”, get to know someone like me who doesn’t consider themselves to have been “abused”, to at least get a clearer picture. I realize this is difficult in the bible belt (and I do think much abuse does go on there, and yes I know there IS religious abuse, I’m just saying there are several cases when it is NOT so), but it is possible to find people like me and others in big cities and/or blue states.

  • Miko

    Didn’t see the last few responses until today. I imagine this thread is about dead, so I’ll be brief(ish).

    I think monkeymind and I both agree with you. But as you say, it comes in degrees, and oftentimes the things that seem oppressive to you (circumcision, belief in hell, or living without electricity for example) are not viewed as such by the culture you’re critiquing – indeed, they often view your lifestyle and cultural assumptions as oppressive.

    I fully agree. I understand your position perfectly, as I used to be a cultural relativist to a somewhat extreme extent. I used to think that attempting to stop FGM would be hypocritical, since we in the U.S. seemingly had no problem with something like male circumcision. After all, aren’t the two basically the same idea, if taken to different degrees? Of course, I’ve since come to realize that instead of making them both correct, this makes them both wrong. The reason they’re oppressive has nothing to do with the individual beliefs, but in that people don’t have a choice in whether to adopt them. That’s why these issues apply most strongly to children: the baby can’t make an informed choice about circumcision and the yound child can’t decide whether its parents views on Hell are correct. If an adult wants to circumcise him/her-self or believe in a place of unending torment for minor crimes, that’s his/her perogative. (And I wouldn’t label lacking electricity as oppression–just as potentially undesirable; depending on lifestyle it might not even matter at all.)

  • Darryl

    Intercultural (and inter-religious/non-religious) understanding is a lot like marriage. You don’t always agree, but you’ve got to learn to handle your disagreements with grace because you have to live together and the other person (ideally) has just as much claim to respect and self-determination as you do.

    Metaphors are tricky, but to extend this one, marriage is founded upon a contract between two parties. They agree to live together, to work together, to resolve their disagreements, to respect each other. For those that take the marriage vows seriously they have made a commitment to each other that they intend to fulfill. This is usually not the case with culture clashes. The only agreements that we make with countries whose cultures give us concern, if we make them at all, seem to be economic not social. What agreements or even understandings do we have with Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or Egypt, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or the Palestinians, or North Korea, or China, etc.? Nuclear arms agreements, armistices, or non-aggression pacts are not exactly the kind of agreements that produce results of the kind you seem to have in mind. Agreeing not to bomb your neighbors is hardly even the beginnings of a first step toward mutual understanding and respect.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    he only agreements that we make with countries whose cultures give us concern, if we make them at all, seem to be economic not social. What agreements or even understandings do we have with Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or Egypt, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or the Palestinians, or North Korea, or China, etc.?

    The more basic “agreement” that we all have to share this planet and that what each one does affects us all. Whether we like it or not we’re all connected. We all have to live together.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I used to think that attempting to stop FGM would be hypocritical, since we in the U.S. seemingly had no problem with something like male circumcision. After all, aren’t the two basically the same idea, if taken to different degrees? Of course, I’ve since come to realize that instead of making them both correct, this makes them both wrong.

    I think there’s a substantial difference between Female Genital Mutilation and infant male circumcision. First, IMC is done to babies before they’re old enough to know or care about the difference, while FGM is done to adults who do know and care and should have a say in the matter. Secondly, FGM severely damages the sex organs, destroying their normal function and making it difficult for women to enjoy sex. Male circumcision does not. Circumcised or uncircumcised, it really makes no difference health wise or function wise.

    Many cultures have some kind of body-modification as part of their identity (e.g. tatooing, ear piercing, etc.). It’s a mark of pride and inclusion. As long as the procedures have no serious negative physical effects I see nothing wrong with it.

  • Darryl

    The more basic “agreement” that we all have to share this planet and that what each one does affects us all. Whether we like it or not we’re all connected. We all have to live together.

    Since an agreement requires all sides to assent, we have no such agreement.

  • Miko

    I think there’s a substantial difference between Female Genital Mutilation and infant male circumcision. First, IMC is done to babies before they’re old enough to know or care about the difference, while FGM is done to adults who do know and care and should have a say in the matter.

    I’d say that mutilating someone who’s not old enough to even realize what’s going on would be even worse. And although it’s less common, parents of teens who convert to Judaism have tried to force their children to be circumcised as well, so it’s not exclusively an issue with babies. (In most states, parents can force their children to undergo such procedures against their will up to age 16.)

    Secondly, FGM severely damages the sex organs, destroying their normal function and making it difficult for women to enjoy sex. Male circumcision does not.

    As I said, there is a difference in degree. And there’s more than one type of FGM, some of which are quite a bit closer to a male circumcision. And there’s debate as to what the exact effects of FGM are. But the underlying principle is the same.

    Many cultures have some kind of body-modification as part of their identity (e.g. tatooing, ear piercing, etc.). It’s a mark of pride and inclusion. As long as the procedures have no serious negative physical effects I see nothing wrong with it.

    Some are worse than others, but with each you’re causing bleeding, opening the way to infection. With tattooing, allergic reactions can occur as well, not to mention problems cropping up from the use of heavy metals in the ink. I don’t have the numbers, but those practices do lead to deaths, especially in countries that don’t have good methods for sterilization or that lack the knowledge that reusing ‘needles’ between individuals is a bad idea.

  • monkeymind

    Re: FGM and male circumcision: anti-FGM campaigners really hate it when this subject comes up. There really is no comparison. There are sometimes bad accidents w. male circumcision but with FGM destroying the normal functioning of the genitals is the purpose. Thats why they changed the name from “female circumcision” to “female genital mutilation”. Some campaigners are pretty cynical about this – even with something horrific as this, somehow the male experience takes over the conversation.
    BTW, have heard recently that they are recommending male circumcision for health reasons again to stop the spread of AIDS.

  • Miko

    There are sometimes bad accidents w. male circumcision but with FGM destroying the normal functioning of the genitals is the purpose.

    There’s some evidence that it may be an effect, but it’s definitely not the purpose in most cases. Many tribes view the foreskin of the male as the “female part of the body” and the clitoris or the clitoral hood as the “male part of the body,” and so perform both forms of circumcision for the same purpose of “identifying” a person’s gender.

    Some campaigners are pretty cynical about this – even with something horrific as this, somehow the male experience takes over the conversation.

    That’s mainly because it’s not always being opposed even by the people who care about the issue. If they made it a gender-neutral issue, such dominance of one or the other in conversation would go away.

    BTW, have heard recently that they are recommending male circumcision for health reasons again to stop the spread of AIDS.

    Many flaws were identified in that study. For one thing, they stopped the study long before it was originally planned to end and officially stated that they had done so specifically because the circumcised group was “winning” at that particular moment. In fact, they stopped it so soon after the initial circumcisions that some have speculated that the difference in infection rates (if not coincindental from such a short trial) may have been caused by the fact that there’s a period after circumcision in which those males were unable to have sex. In any event, the first complaint is a game stopper. If you end the study early because the side you want to win took the lead briefly, it’s no surprise that your side won. So in the end, that study proves nothing either way. The fact that some people are currently recommending circumcision (although there’s no known medical reason why it should be effective at preventing HIV infection) rather than condom distribution says more about the religious ideology of those recommenders than anything else.

  • Miko

    I should also add that that study was only studying partner-to-male HIV infection (since they weren’t keeping track of sexual partners and testing them as well), so suggesting that circumcision is an effective result on the basis of it would have been dangerous even if the study had been done properly, since it would still have been possible that males would still infect their partners at the same rate, or even at a higher rate.

  • Mriana

    FGM is not the same thing as male circumcision. Like Monkeymind said, it ruins the chance of any woman having sexual pleasure, unlike a man being circumcised. He can still enjoy it after he heals. So you cannot compare the two.

  • Miko

    FGM is not the same thing as male circumcision. Like Monkeymind said, it ruins the chance of any woman having sexual pleasure, unlike a man being circumcised. He can still enjoy it after he heals. So you cannot compare the two.

    According to Hanny Lightfoot-Klein in her study Prisoners of Ritual: An Odyssey into Female Genital Circumcision in Africa, most women report that they are able to achieve orgasm even after FGM. Those anti-FGM and pro-male-circumcision have exaggerated one for the purpose of justifying their contradictory positions. Now, FGM is bad. And FGM is usually worse than male circumcision. Even a ‘Sunna circumcision’ is possibly worse. But it’s a difference of degree, not a difference of kind. The point of comparing the two shouldn’t be to suggest that FGM isn’t bad: it should be to suggest that MGM is bad too.

  • monkeymind

    Miko:

    It certainly makes for a tidy ethical system if we can put FGM and removal of the foreskin in the same box and put them on the shelf labelled “BAD”.

    In the real world, practices like infibulation have such serious life-long health consequences that I don’t think it is helpful to equate the two. When you do that, it minimizes FGM because until relatively recently circumcision was a routine medical procedure here in the US. It also brings into the FGM discussion all kinds of concerns about religious freedom, which don’t belong there because FGM is not mandated by Islam.

    In practice, your way o f thinking actually harms the cause of ending FGM. People decide against donating to anti-FGM causes because they had heard the equation of FGM with male circumcision, and they felt that outlawing male circumcision would be anti-Semitic religious persecution, so therefore, they were not going to write a check.

  • Miko

    In the real world, practices like infibulation have such serious life-long health consequences that I don’t think it is helpful to equate the two.

    Are you asserting that circumcision doesn’t?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_analysis_of_circumcision
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioethics_of_neonatal_circumcision

    It also brings into the FGM discussion all kinds of concerns about religious freedom, which don’t belong there because FGM is not mandated by Islam.

    That’s a disputed claim, depending on your definition of ‘mandated.’

    http://www.islamqa.com/index.php?ref=82859&ln=eng&txt=female%20circumcision

    And it’s not just Islam. It’s a religious practice in many of the tribal traditions in Africa.

    People decide against donating to anti-FGM causes because they had heard the equation of FGM with male circumcision, and they felt that outlawing male circumcision would be anti-Semitic religious persecution, so therefore, they were not going to write a check.

    It’s not anti-Semitic, however. We can’t be basing our decisions on the fear that some people might attempt to use bad arguments. Since the practices are typically performed for the same reasons (outside of Judaism, which advocates one but not necessarily the other, for unclear reasons), asking a person why they support one but not the other is certainly a valid question.

    The facts are simple: they are both intentional mutilations of the body performed without consent, they both can have negative medical, psychological, and sexual consequences, they both arguably serve no purpose in most cases, and they both cause needless deaths (most recently, http://www.canada.com/cityguides/ottawa/story.html?id=cb3b8281-4134-46ba-85d3-b076072bda75&k=25810 ). If you’re against one, you should be against the other.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Since an agreement requires all sides to assent, we have no such agreement.

    By “agreement” I meant “facing reality”. It doesn’t matter whether all sides assent (or any side really). Different cultures and different religions have to coexist on this planet whether we like it or not. Unless you want to take the jihadist approach, I think we all have no choice but to learn to live with one another.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    In practice, your way o f thinking actually harms the cause of ending FGM. People decide against donating to anti-FGM causes because they had heard the equation of FGM with male circumcision, and they felt that outlawing male circumcision would be anti-Semitic religious persecution, so therefore, they were not going to write a check.

    I agree. FGM is far worse than male circumcision, and if we really want it to end we can’t equate the two. Trying to outlaw all types of circumcision is a total non-starter and would stop the whole movement in its tracks. Even if male circumcision is a big deal (which I don’t really think it is), to force Jews to give up this symbol that has been a part of their identity and heritage for over three millenia would be a far greater injustice; and given our history of anti-Semitism in the West, I don’t think we even want to go there right now. If you want to think of it in terms of the lesser of two evils, then I would say that male circumcision is the far lesser of the two.

  • Miko

    Unless you want to take the jihadist approach, I think we all have no choice but to learn to live with one another.

    There’s a large faction on the other side that’s choosing the jihadist approach.

  • Miko

    I agree. FGM is far worse than male circumcision, and if we really want it to end we can’t equate the two. Trying to outlaw all types of circumcision is a total non-starter and would stop the whole movement in its tracks.

    It’s actually the only way change will come. Most cultures that practice FGM practice MGM as well. Our current strategy is to tell them “you should stop FGM because it’s wrong. But don’t worry about mutilating your males, since that’s perfectly fine. In fact, we do that too.” And then the other cultures call us hypocrites and ignore us.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    There’s a large faction on the other side that’s choosing the jihadist approach.

    To extend Carter’s analogy then, those would be equivalent of spousal abusers – rather than living together and respecting our differences, they just want to beat other cultures into submission.

    And frankly, I don’t think Bush’s policies are much better. It’s still just cultural domination and an Imperialistic neo-colonialism.

  • Miko

    And frankly, I don’t think Bush’s policies are much better.

    They aren’t. The fact that nuts have so much power on both sides is what makes it so scary.

  • Maria

    They aren’t. The fact that nuts have so much power on both sides is what makes it so scary.

    I so totally agree………

  • Darryl

    Mike, you’re begging the question when you speak of “facing reality.” Some of the nations/states/countries in our world are not and will not “face reality,” and they will not work with us–that was my point about agreements. Some folks choose not to agree with us and instead would like to see us go down in flames. No matter how willing we might be to offer the olive branch, some folks just will not make peace with us.

  • monkeymind

    Miko:

    How can you compare removing the foreskin with removing most of the vulva and sewing the labia minora almost all the way shut? I just do not get it. It has serious consequences for maternal and child health. A circumcised dad is not going to affect labor and delivery but an infibulated woman is twice as likely to die during childbirth. Yes there are health implications with male circumcision but the incidence and severity is so many orders of magnitude lower. BTW, one of your wikipedia articles did not even meet their standards for objectivity, whereas the other article cited studies that have shown that circumcision has either a protective effect or at least no adverse effect on the incidence of HPV, penile cancer, and a bunch of other conditions. The only clear adverse effect shown in the non-flagged article you cited were the risks associated with the procedure itself and epidydimitis. The most that can be said is that protective effects of circumcision may have been exaggerated in some of the studies, and that these protective effects do not outweigh the risks. Compare that to the undisputed adverse effects of FGM here: http://www.path.org/files/FGM-The-Facts.htm

    In regards to your argument that equating FGM with circumcision is the only way that change will come – I’m finding it hard to be polite here. It’s so totally bogus. I have worked with Somali refugees in the US and heard the stories from health workers who have assisted at the delivery of infibulated women. I have corresponded with people who are working to stop FGM in Africa. They totally hate when male circumcision enters the discussion, and in my experience it always Westerners who do this. Attitudes are changing with education, with traveling theater troupes and other types of interventions. As I said before, this FGM/MGM bogus argument is a hindrance to fundraising for these efforts that have demonstrated good effects.

    Miko, it’s been said before: the perfect can be the enemy of the good. I am not an advocate for circumcision or genital mutilation of any kind and had decided against it if my child had been a boy. But, please read the articles you cite and get an idea of what is happening on the ground with the campaign against FGM before you make these types of arguments.

  • Miko

    BTW, one of your wikipedia articles did not even meet their standards for objectivity,

    I’m aware of that. It’s Wikipedia, after all. Wikipedia itself acknowledges that it isn’t a reliable source. It’s a quick source. If you want reliable, scroll down to the references and check the ones that aren’t web links. (Note also that that particular article was flagged for word choice, not for content.)

    whereas the other article cited studies that have shown that circumcision has either a protective effect or at least no adverse effect on the incidence of HPV, penile cancer, and a bunch of other conditions.

    I’m not denying that there are potential medical benefits. Penile cancer is the most certain one. The others seem to have studies that go in both directions (for example, there have been studies suggesting that HPV rates are higher in circumcised males, as well), so there’s not enough information to really say. There are also some specific conditions in which circumcision is a valid medical option, such as in response to severe phimosis. The problem I see comes from using it in situations in which there is not a valid reason for its use.

    Compare that to the undisputed adverse effects of FGM here:

    I don’t recall ever denying that FGM has adverse effects as well.

    Miko, it’s been said before: the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

    And the good can be the enemy of the perfect. There are a (small?) number of gay rights activists against civil unions because they see them as an impediment to acknowledging the legality of gay marriage. There’s a real threat that we’ll never get the perfect if the good unites against it. As Franklin said, “Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” (It doesn’t quite fit, but the idea is the same.) Now, my position is not as extreme, since I’m not opposed to anti-FGM work. But the fact that you only want to stop one problem is not going to stop myself or anyone else from talking about other problems as well.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Some folks choose not to agree with us and instead would like to see us go down in flames. No matter how willing we might be to offer the olive branch, some folks just will not make peace with us.

    Sounds like an argument the Bush administration would make.

    By contrast, I appreciate Carter’s pragmatic peacemaking approach that he describes later in that same interview with Krista Tippet:

    Mr. Carter: You know, [Kim Il Sung] was a leader of North Korea whom I despised because I was in the submarine force when he was creating the death of more than 50,000 of my fellow people in the service. But I saw that he was a key to that policy so I went to talk to him. And we, I went earlier, in 1989, to meet with Mengistu, who was a communist dictator of Ethiopia, and I had talks with him. And Colin Powell and Sam Nunn and I went down to Haiti to talk to General Cedras, who had overthrown an elected leader, Aristide, and so forth. But if we see that at certain person is involved in a way, we try to be courageous enough to go in and talk to that person, try to get them to see the error of their ways. And one of the positive factors in it is that that person, quite often, will respond favorably if someone from the outside world will acknowledge their existence or deal with them in an honest and respectful way. And they’ll change their ways, which Kim Il Sung did, which Cedras did, which Mengistu did. It doesn’t always work.

    Ms. Tippett: Right.

    Mr. Carter: But if you isolate someone who’s perpetrating crimes against his own people, the likelihood is that in his isolation, he’s going to be even more abusive, to stamp out any vestige of criticism or the crying out in pain.

  • Miko

    Sounds like an argument the Bush administration would make.

    It is. But as good a guide as that is, that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. ;-)

    If someone is more concerned with a supposed afterlife than with their actual life, you’re not going to make peace with them. Luckily for us, most people (including a fair number of Islamic terrorists) aren’t thinking this way. There are other worthwhile methods to pursue, but back in the bunker we need to be keeping an eye on Plan B too.

    By contrast, I appreciate Carter’s pragmatic peacemaking approach that he describes later in that same interview with Krista Tippet

    It’s a good sentiment, if a little one-sided. Sometimes the problem is us. Now, we can’t just go around not doing things because the other side won’t like them (for example, bin Laden has stated that he views the intervention in the Sudanese genocide as an attack on Muslims), but we still should realize that some of their complaints actually are valid.

    That said, even if stopped doing the things we shouldn’t be doing, there are going to be people paranoid enough or jingoistic enough to view our legitimate actions as unprovoked attacks. And most of these people are not going to be associated with nation-states. We can put pressure on nations, but we need to consider other tactics too in order to protect ourselves against individuals.

  • Darryl

    I second Miko.

  • Darryl

    I caught the video of the Harris/Hedges debate about Religion, Politics and the End of the World. Most of what Hedges said in his opening remarks seemed to have little that was germane to the topic. Hedges made the obvious point that the character of a religion, of itself, will not determine how people will behave, and circumstances do matter. Certain pressures upon humans can impel them to extremism.

    What was not made explicit enough to Hedges and Sheer by Harris was the role that a particular religion and its doctrines play when its adherents are pressured by outside forces and become desperate. Harris could have taken up the examples that Hedges and Sheer raised and refuted their argument with those examples.

    No attempt was made by Harris or Hedges to join their two points into a summary statement about conditions that we know exist in the real world. What we were left with was Harris making his point and Hedges making his point and the impression that the two ideas are irreconcilable.

    Sheer was a biased moderator. He should have let someone else moderate. The debate turned into an opportunity for Hedges and Sheer to let Muslims off the hook for their insanity and violence by contrasting them with the dirty deeds of the Imperialist U.S. This is a fallacious argument.

  • Karen

    I caught the video of the Harris/Hedges debate about Religion, Politics and the End of the World.

    Can that be found online someplace, Darryl? I was looking for it at one point and couldn’t find it.

  • Darryl
  • Karen

    Thanks!

  • Maria

    As for the Rational Response Squad and the Blasphemy Challenge, where to start? I seriously think they are a bunch of clowns. The Blasphemy Challenge was their big joke. Yes, some of the Blasphemers made good videos, but the majority (subjectivity alert!) of them were kids being kids. I was going to link to a news report done on the Blasphemy Challenge but it was removed from blasphemychallenge.com. In it two reporters were asking why kids would do this and it was easily dismissed as “kids being kids and not knowing what they’re saying.” This is the image of atheism that is going to get us respect in the media? From what I’ve seen of the RRS members, they are kids themselves. I think “anger” is a stage of atheism (like the 5 Stages of Grief) and I think it’s the stage the RRS members are stuck in.

    They do tend to come off that way.

  • John

    How is it “mental child abuse” to teach your own children that God created the universe in 6 days? Your objection may be less about the 6 days, and more about what can/cannot God do. If you accept the idea that there is an omnipotent God (as the Bible teaches) you should ask yourself, “Could He create a universe and everything in it in 6 days? 3 days? 1 second?”

    If, in your opinion, teaching your own children that God created the universe in 6 days is “mental child abuse” I think you probably have to go so far as to say that teaching your children that there is an all-powerful God would probably be “mental child abuse” as well.

    Sorry to deviate from the topic at hand, but I couldn’t get around early comment. It seems more than odd to me.