Interviewed at Dale McGowan’s The Meming of Life

Dale McGowan, the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, has a nifty interview with me over at his site.

You get to hear my thoughts on what an optimistic vision of the future looks like for atheists, Dale’s new meme (I’m blushing), and the Heckler story.

About that story… let me add a couple more thoughts on it.

The speech I was giving that night was the first time I had spoken about the “soul-selling” auction to an atheist audience. I wasn’t sure about what the response would be. Julia Sweeney was sitting at the front table. I never get nervous when I speak in public… but I was hoping everything would go as I had planned. All of a sudden, near the end of my speech, the Heckler started cursing out loud (everyone stopped watching me and turned to him). I don’t remember what I said in response to him, but in retrospect, I wish I had smiled and calmly said, “You’re proving my point about why atheists have a bad reputation.”

Definitely one of the more memorable conference experiences for me…

Dale’s piece on all this is here.


[tags]atheist, atheism, I Sold My Soul on eBay, Hemant Mehta, Atheist Alliance International[/tags]

  • http://kathrynpetroharper.com/mindfullife Kathryn

    I’ve just learned about you from Dale’s blog. I’m so intrigued about your book that I’ve posted about it as well. Kudos to you for your work and your attitude. I look forward to exploring your blog archives.

  • Aj

    I’m not going to give up the ridicule of religion if they’re going to say and believe in hilarious things. Religion doesn’t need special protection (inline with Harris’s article on the danger religious moderation in The Times, and Dawkins’s thoughts on the protection religion enjoys in the God Delusion), that’s the problem for me, and we’re not going change that by respectfully accepting their demands. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where people wouldn’t creat the FSM and related research into global warming because it would insult people.

    The smut for smut campaign was a great idea. It’s not necessarily intentionally insulting, or antagonistic. I didn’t get that impression from reading their site. The Bible is an awful guide to ethics, I’m allowed to say that. Sure, it’s going to upset some people who think it’s the bestest book in the world, and they would never want to read another. Some crazy lady shouted at them because she was against porn! We can’t give out porn now because she is insulted by its existance?

    There’s a difference between throwing paint over fur coats and shouting that killing animals for fur is wrong. If you think it’s wrong, shout it, even if some people are going to feel insulted.

    I leave you with a track from Rasputina:

    Very many years ago, the Bolivians were starving so,
    They had rats as big as ponies there. They asked the Pope
    To declare them fish.

    Chorus:
    We thank the Pope for granting us this wish.
    When Friday comes, we’ll all call rats fish.
    We catch them with a net, kill with the gun.
    We’ll call it all forgotten when we’re done.

    They didn’t look like rats at all, but like some horrendous horse doll.
    Still they had to eat this thing.
    In gratitude, the Pope-they kissed his ring.

    Chorus

    We’ll call it all forgotten when we’re done.

    Be thankful I didn’t post Rasputina’s Christian Soldiers

  • HappyNat

    we’re not going change that by respectfully accepting their demands.

    Who is accepting “their” demands? The idea is we can change things by respectfully NOT accepting their demands. Telling people they are idiots has a place (and can be fun) but where is it really going to get “us”.

  • Polly

    Trading Bibles for porn. I can just hear a preacher somewhere whipping his congregation into a frenzy over this and calling for them to “take back America.” (I presume this was in the US)

    Forget about winning friends, but I see no advantage in making more enemies. I am not anti-theist. I accept that religion will probably be with us for all time.
    I think we should strive to limit the number of wackos extremists through better science and critical thinking education and preserve the separation of church and state. Beyond that I don’t care what other people believe as long as they aren’t harming anyone else.

  • Aj

    Who is accepting “their” demands? The idea is we can change things by respectfully NOT accepting their demands. Telling people they are idiots has a place (and can be fun) but where is it really going to get “us”.

    They’re demanding religion be respected. If you’re going to complain about things like the Smut for Smut campaign, who’re you pandering to? Religious moderates who demand religion be respected. Can you sell your soul twice?

    Where does this “telling people they’re idiots” come from, who’s doing that?

    I’d argue that religious moderates aren’t harmless, and it’s not just about “personal beliefs”. How do memes spread? We’re just going to give up on promoting rationalism now? Won’t someone think about the children! These people are going to be parents and will have to make decisions for their children, like medical decisions, where superstition just won’t do.

    I’ve seen the most incredibly lame arguments against abortion from Atheists, and I personally don’t support gay marriage. I’m sure libertarians don’t support funding for stem cell research. Pelosi said something like “Jesus would want us to fund stem cell research”. So it’s not about the social issues, it’s about what the processes in those decisions are. If they’re making the right choices for the wrong reasons, how long is that going to continue?

  • PrimateIR

    Where does this “telling people they’re idiots” come from, who’s doing that?

    Me. :D

    There are two good things that mockery accomplishes more effectively than courtesy – it stems the spread of religion (The secret biscuit club doesn’t seem quite so cool when it causes your friends to giggle into their beer.) – and it elicits passionate debate which gets the whackery out on the table and dealt with.

    Courtesy is what we have had for the last 40 years and the end result is that the people in this country with the highest IQ’s cannot run for office – that is a pre Hitchens statistic, not a post Hitchens statistic. Behold the power of good manners Ladies and Gentlemen.

  • HappyNat

    Religious moderates who demand religion be respected. Can you sell your soul twice?

    I don’t need to respect religion (I don’t), but I also don’t need to piss off religious people every chance I get. I’ll sell my soul as long as people think I have one to sell. :)

    Where does this “telling people they’re idiots” come from, who’s doing that?

    A lot of people but specifically from your comment “I’m not going to give up the ridicule of religion if they’re going to say and believe in hilarious things.” Sorry if your ridicule doesn’t involve calling them idiots, but I think it is the same idea.

    I’d argue that religious moderates aren’t harmless, and it’s not just about “personal beliefs”. How do memes spread? We’re just going to give up on promoting rationalism now?

    Ironically this is a very un-rational statement based on my post. I stated we can respectfully disagree and get our point across. In most cases I would rather start the dialogue in a calm manner instead of calling a book they believe in smut.

  • Aj

    You’re adding motive that just wasn’t there. I don’t *need* to piss people off. I make the same arguments for people who believe in “tolerance” and “respect”, meaning completely different things than I think they mean. They think they mean we should try to not to make people feel insulted. I think we should not try to, but if they get insulted because of what you do, fuck ‘em.

    Ironically this is a very un-rational statement based on my post. I stated we can respectfully disagree and get our point across. In most cases I would rather start the dialogue in a calm manner instead of calling a book they believe in smut.

    The rationality of my statement is not related to your posts. Whose idea of respect are you using? What’s uncalm about calling a book smut? It’s completely related to their beliefs. Is that what you’re calling respect? Then what if they believe you shouldn’t call their beliefs wrong, irrational, or ignorant? That’s their idea of respect. I don’t agree with your idea, or their idea of respect. It’s going to be hard to argue for rationality if you don’t masturbate because someone else believes “God kills a kitten”. Someone else thinks the Bible is great, or divine, or something, I think it’s smut. I can’t promote that idea because it’s going to offend someone? Sod that.

    There were people who said that cartoons of the prophet Mohammad shouldn’t be in newspapers. They’re using the same authority that says that homosexuals and adulterers should be stoned. I’d say it’s a good idea to ignore them completely, and if you want to express an idea, do it.

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

    Aj: “What’s uncalm about calling a book smut?”

    It’s a grossly inaccurate claim. The sexiest part of the Bible is too good to be called smut, and the sex that is elsewhere is pretty close to soap opera fare. The violence is about on par with the Iliad, which doesn’t deserve to be called smut either. The closest thing to smut is a just-so story meant to make fun of Israel’s adversaries. And if you think Ecclesiastes or the Sermon on the Mount are smut, then you have a serious blind spot.

  • Aj

    It’s a grossly inaccurate claim. The sexiest part of the Bible is too good to be called smut, and the sex that is elsewhere is pretty close to soap opera fare. The violence is about on par with the Iliad, which doesn’t deserve to be called smut either. And if you think Ecclesiastes or the Sermon on the Mount are smut, then you have a serious blind spot.

    That may be so, although that’s surely a subjective claim. That has little to do with calmness. There’s rape and incest inside. What’s too good to be called smut about it?

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

    Aj: “There’s rape and incest inside.”

    There’s rape and incest on Law & Order:SVU, too. That doesn’t make it smut.

    Aj: “There’s rape and incest inside. What’s too good to be called smut about it?”

    Errm, do you even know what the sexiest part of the Bible is?

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

    The Begats table?

  • monkeymind

    J.J. – with people like Aj, you have to just say in reassuring tones “What a bold, fierce atheist it is!” and go back to your regularly scheduled activities, such as saving the world, reclaiming American politics, promoting world peace, etc….

  • Aj

    Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.

    And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.

    The need for seed.

    Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.

    I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine
    of the juice of my pomegranate.

    Juicy! She’s the garden btw.

    No, I don’t know what the sexiest part of the Bible is. Do tell.

  • PrimateIR

    Yet she increased her prostitution, remembering the days of her youth when she engaged in prostitution in the land of Egypt. She lusted after their genitals as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions.

    Funny, from Landover

    After working with several church pastors for the better part of two years, James Montrose, principal of Landover Elementary School, announced last week that an abridged KJV Bible, omitting all references to illicit and deviant sex acts, has been finalized for use at the school next year. Montrose formally proposed to the Board of Deacons that the new Bible, roughly the size of a theater program, be required reading in all classes in place of the salacious unabridged version.

  • Claire

    To a certain extent, this reminds me of the problem I have with elderly people who were raised with different standards. If an older person says something bigoted (racist or some other fashion) do you speak out or not? Do you keep quiet because as an older person they deserve respect (not sure why that is supposed to be so, but that seems to be the rule) in the form of not being contradicted? Or do you speak up and say that what they said was bigoted and wrong? What’s the real respect here, keeping silent -or assuming they aren’t too old to learn?

    So what’s the respectful thing to do with the religious? Not speak up when they say something irrational or bigoted? Or give them the benefit of the doubt, assume that they can learn, and speak up loud and clear?

    And the other half of the question – will the religious see this as respectful? I think few of them will, the older people rarely did. If someone wants to confuse respect for them as a person with respect for their beliefs and insist that both deserve equal respect, well, sorry, they really don’t. Perhaps we can borrow from parenting skills to explain it to them (“I still love you, but I don’t like what you said”) or perhaps even take a leaf from their book (“Love the stupid, hate the stupidity”).

    If “respect” requires keeping silent in the presence of things that should not be allowed to pass unchallenged, then there are more important things at stake than that kind of respect.

  • Crystal

    For those of you who are talking about keeping “silent”…….

    no one said anything about keeping silent. this is handled really well in the interview. I suggest you read it if you haven’t. Hemant is getting a lot accomplished with his approach, whether you think so or not. I totally agree with the interview and think it was well done.

    J.J. – with people like Aj, you have to just say in reassuring tones “What a bold, fierce atheist it is!” and go back to your regularly scheduled activities, such as saving the world, reclaiming American politics, promoting world peace, etc….

    pretty much. there’s just no arguing with some people. sounds almost dogmatic in some ways. I’m glad thought that people like Hemant are getting to be more in the majority.

  • Aj

    pretty much. there’s just no arguing with some people. sounds almost dogmatic in some ways. I’m glad thought that people like Hemant are getting to be more in the majority.

    That’s funny given your record of not wanting to debate anyone on any subject you dogmatically hold irrational beliefs on. It’s number two for me, but I’m sure others who have visited this site longer have come across you more times.

    How does one “sound almost dogmatic”?

    If I’ve misinterpreted what Hemant was saying about Smut for Smut, I’m sure he’ll clear things up. Lets hope someone is making progress.

  • Maria

    They’re demanding religion be respected. If you’re going to complain about things like the Smut for Smut campaign, who’re you pandering to? Religious moderates who demand religion be respected. Can you sell your soul twice?

    Sometimes if you demand respect, you have to give a little-you don’t have to respect the beliefs, but you do have to respect the people at least somewhat if you want it in return. Are you saying only atheists deserve respect?

    I think the interview was great and I hope more people adopt Hemant’s style. My favorite quote from the interview was:

    “No marginalized group in history has gained a place at the table by telling the majority it is too stupid to live, or by closing its eyes and telling the majority you better damn well be gone before I count to ten. Imagine the dead end that gay rights would have encountered if the movement spoke of working toward a world with no heterosexuals. Imagine the grinding halt to civil rights legislation if black Americans insisted that white be recognized as inferior to black. By instead seeking nothing more or less than a shared place at the table, these movements moved. Until we realize the same thing and extend a far friendlier hand to the more reasonable representatives of the (most likely shocked and surprised) religious majority, we will be deservedly stuck on the margins.

    Don’t worry. People like Hemant just might manage to save us from ourselves.”

    Very well said.

  • Aj

    Sometimes if you demand respect, you have to give a little-you don’t have to respect the beliefs, but you do have to respect the people at least somewhat if you want it in return. Are you saying only atheists deserve respect?

    There’s a difference between respecting the person and respecting their beliefs, I respect the people. I’m perfectly aware that Nazis and Fundamentalist Christians can be highly intelligent, polite, and generally kind people, and I would try to be civil to them. However, I am unable to treat their beliefs with respect, not for a second.

    I think damn hard for my beliefs. The nature of skepticism. And when I get called on them in debate, I can’t just say “it’s my faith”, or “god did it”.

    Atheism is the only rational position. The Atheism like Dawkins or Russell wrote about. You can call it Agnostic, because we don’t claim to know, but we think it’s highly unlikely any theistic God exists, and if a God did exist, it won’t be explained away with “he’s beyond time”. All belief in God is through faith, so not worthy of respect. For this reason Agnosticism, both sides are of equal worth, is also not worthy of respect.

  • PrimateIR

    test

  • PrimateIR

    Sometimes if you demand respect, you have to give a little-you dont have to respect the beliefs, but you do have to respect the people at least somewhat if you want it in return. Are you saying only atheists deserve respect?

    When someone says at the next Christmas party I go to “lets bow our head and say thanks.” Probably it will be done by a “moderate Christian.”

    That person won’t have checked to see what the beliefs of the other diners are. That same person would be horrified if I demanded that we all prostate ourselves to the East or just talk over him while he thanks his sky fairy for the meal some chick slaved over. That same person will remain noticeably silent when a stricter Christian says that they would never vote for an Atheist.

    I will sincerely consider their “demand for respect” (like that ever worked), when THEY start showing some. They are long over due.

    People don’t give up power without a bit of a fight. The Christian moderate discomfort, is a sign of their loss of power. Its a positive thing, not something to be fixed.

    They want to return to the bad old days.

    Claire, your older person analogy is great, but when your Grandma uses the N word, you tell her not to do that because it hurts people’s feelings and if she keeps doing it you tell her it hurts your feelings. If she’s a nice person she will stop, and if she’s an a!#@$% you just bought a great excuse for not having to visit anymore.

    Crystal, JJ, Monkeymind, show me when coertesy has ever eliminated bigotry.

  • Jen

    Atheism is the only rational position. The Atheism like Dawkins or Russell wrote about. You can call it Agnostic, because we don’t claim to know, but we think it’s highly unlikely any theistic God exists, and if a God did exist, it won’t be explained away with “he’s beyond time”. All belief in God is through faith, so not worthy of respect. For this reason Agnosticism, both sides are of equal worth, is also not worthy of respect.

    been lurking for a while, felt like commenting. Yeah but you seem to think that your version of it is the only rational position. and for someone who claims to be rational, you seem unwilling to consider other’s point of view. as for agnostics, there are plenty who would disagree with you, and I’ve actually seen several agnostics blogs that are getting tired of being bashed for not being atheists. There are non-religious who don’t agree with you-many-and you’re just going to have to get used to that.

    People don’t give up power without a bit of a fight. The Christian moderate discomfort, is a sign of their loss of power. Its a positive thing, not something to be fixed.

    They want to return to the bad old days.

    Primate-really? are you actually saying all moderates want to do this? how do you explain these then? http://www.newprogressivealliance.com/? or these http://www.au.org/site/PageServer?pagename=fld_religious_listing? certainly there are those who claim to be moderate who are just as bad as fundies, but for you to label and say all moderates want to return to the “good old days” is ridiculous. Am I going to say all atheists want to deface churches b/c of the crime those atheist teenagers committed? why don’t you stop putting and labeling people in boxes? As for the Christmas party, it depends on the circumstances. It depends where and how. If it’s a holiday party done by a company, at an office, then no religion should be mentioned. If it’s done at someone’s home, then that person has the right to invoke whatever they like, especially if the majority of the people there believe in a god-just like you have the right in your home to not do it, and to say whatever you like against religion if you wish. You can’t make a broad generalization like that. People have the right to their beliefs in their own homes. Period.

    How does one “sound almost dogmatic”?

    Aj, you probably strike some people as bordering on dogmatic in that you think you are right and that’s that, that all religious people deserve ridicule no matter what, that they are all the same and stupid, that all religious upbringing is child abuse, that agnostics don’t count, and that atheists who don’t ridicule them are going about it all wrong. And funny, the only person I’ve seen crystal really have a problem with is you, so this “other people” doesn’t apply much. Maybe some people don’t debate you b/c they know you’ll dismiss anything they say you don’t agree with anyway, so why bother? Your mind is made up-all religious people should be made fun of until they agree with you. So I really don’t think you should be getting on anyone else’s case for being stubborn in their beliefs. Someone telling you they think you are wrong, as I’ve seen many people on this site do, or not agreeing with you, is not “irrational”. You’re entitled to your opinion of course, but you’re going to have to accept that there will be several who won’t agree with you. I for one, am glad that there are people like Hemant. I live perfectly fine side by side with religious people for the most part-and I see no need to ridicule them unless they try to force their stuff on me or make laws in their favor against me, as too many fundies and evangelicals do. Privately I don’t care what anyone believes, and I don’t think anyone should waste their time on it. I know a pagan who worships trees. I find it well-odd to say the last. But as long as she’s not trying to force me to believe that trees have magic powers, or trying to get a state law passed saying we have to worship trees, or stop promising research b/c it would upset the trees, she can worship trees all she likes, and I’m not going to bother her over it. Why should I waste my time? Like there isn’t enough trouble in the world??

    Crystal, JJ, Monkeymind, show me when coertesy has ever eliminated bigotry.

    See the quote about civil rights made above from the interview. It’s unfortunately impossible to completely eliminate bigotry-but you can get it down. Groups can fight for their rights without trying to take away rights from other groups. Believers and non-believers seem to co-exist pretty decently in Western Europe for the most part. Can you make a good argument against the civil rights quote? The civil rights movement would not have gotten very far if white people hadn’t helped and worked with black people.

  • monkeymind

    First of all, I want to apologize to Aj for the comment about his needing reassurance that he is indeed a “fierce, bold atheist.” It wasn’t an example of me being the change I want to see in the world.

    As an educator and a teacher, I can see that shame and ridicule can be effective ways of getting people to change their outward behavior, but they are seldom good tools for effecting real change in individuals and society.

    Crystal, JJ, Monkeymind, show me when coertesy has ever eliminated bigotry.

    I don’t think bigotry has ever been eliminated by more bigotry. (Calling people faithheads and christards)

    I’ve been an uppity woman in my time, and hope to be a raging granny one day. I’ve marched, protested, and testified with religious people of all persuasion for peace, social justice, environmental causes and better education. Like Jen, I don’t really recognize the “religious moderate” some of you are portraying. For instance, even Hemant apparently did not know that a religious person (Ed Myers, a Mennonite) had filed a lawsuit in Virginia against the compulsory Pledge of Allegiance as a violation of church/state separation and his sons’ civil rights.

    I’d certainly feel free to tell James Dobson to his face to focus on his own damn family, but I might approach one of his followers who is just trying to figure out how to live in this confusing world a little differently.
    I realize that some people in the Bible Belt are surrounded by true believers at home and in the workplace and may feel their boundaries are constantly being challenged in situations like the one PrimateIR describes. I think you should not compromise your integrity, but there are ways to accomplish that that can lead to more openness and truth rather than name-calling.

  • Aj

    Jen,

    Aj, you probably strike some people as bordering on dogmatic in that you think you are right and that’s that, that all religious people deserve ridicule no matter what, that they are all the same and stupid, that all religious upbringing is child abuse, that agnostics don’t count, and that atheists who don’t ridicule them are going about it all wrong. And funny, the only person I’ve seen crystal really have a problem with is you, so this “other people” doesn’t apply much. Maybe some people don’t debate you b/c they know you’ll dismiss anything they say you don’t agree with anyway, so why bother? Your mind is made up-all religious people should be made fun of until they agree with you. So I really don’t think you should be getting on anyone else’s case for being stubborn in their beliefs.

    You’re right, I think I am right, shocking I know. I do not claim to know whether a God exists or not, but if the evidence was presented I would be persuaded otherwise. I do believe indoctrination of children is child abuse. You’re wrong, I don’t think people “deserve” ridicule, or think that Atheists should ridicule them. If people think I’ll dismiss them if I don’t agree with them, they are wrong.

    That’s not exactly dogmatism. Actually, I would say that’s the opposite of dogmaticism. So these charges of dogmaticism, should either be backed up by argument and cited cases, or you should cease them. If you truly think I’m dogmatic, I would really like to know what beliefs you think I am dogmatic about.

    Someone telling you they think you are wrong, as I’ve seen many people on this site do, or not agreeing with you, is not “irrational”.

    It is not, and I never claimed that was a factor on a rational argument. I haven’t called anyone irrational on this topic, because I don’t believe people have been. On other topics, people have been, and I will stand by that claim, it is obvious, honest, and logical to me, and I was willing to give those people plenty of explanations as to why. At some point, I’m going to have to disengage, dismiss irrational arguments, because they’re not profitable.

    You’re entitled to your opinion of course, but you’re going to have to accept that there will be several who won’t agree with you.

    I accept that others might disagree, from my perspective it’s you and others that don’t. I’m willing to debate the point, but if others aren’t, I won’t comment anymore.

  • Claire

    Claire, your older person analogy is great, but when your Grandma uses the N word, you tell her not to do that because it hurts people’s feelings and if she keeps doing it you tell her it hurts your feelings. If she’s a nice person she will stop, and if she’s an a!#@$% you just bought a great excuse for not having to visit anymore.

    Actually, my grandparents and parents are both long gone, and none of them would every have said or thought such a thing, being good decent forward-thinking liberals from before that became a bad word (the religious and the non-religious ones both). My more recent problem with old folks comes from my friends’ relatives, which is actually harder – speak up and suddenly you have two people giving you the stink-eye instead of just one.

    The Christian moderate discomfort, is a sign of their loss of power. Its a positive thing, not something to be fixed.

    I actually thought this was a good way to look at it – kinda gives me some hope.

    are you actually saying all moderates want to do this? how do you explain these then?

    Well, it kind of depends on what you consider moderate, doesn’t it? They may call themselves moderate, but they sure look a little further along the continuum toward the progressive to me.

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

    Aj quoting Genesis: “Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.”

    That’s from the just-so story mocking Israel’s enemies.

    And considering that you just quoted from the sexiest book of the Bible, it’s surprising that you don’t know what it is: the Song of Solomon. You know, the erotic poetry smack in the middle of the OT.

    PrimateIR: “Crystal, JJ, Monkeymind, show me when coertesy has ever eliminated bigotry.”

    I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do-nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.

    Letter from Birmingham Jail, MLK

    Actually, the whole letter is a great example of how to be both frank and courteous all at once.


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