God and the New Atheism

Pastor Mike Clawson here again.

For those interested in thoughtful Christian responses to atheism and especially the “New Atheism” characterized by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al. (as opposed to the kind of responses you might get from say, Ray Comfort or Ken Ham), you might be interested in this new book by Dr. John Haught, a distinguished theologian at Georgetown University. According to Wikipedia:

[Haught's] area of expertise is systematic theology, with a special interest in issues of science, cosmology, ecology, and reconciling evolution and religion…

Haught, who established the Georgetown Center for the Study of Science and Religion, is the author of several important books on the creation-evolution controversy, including Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution, God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution, and Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution. A theistic evolutionist, he sees no conflict between science and religion because they explore different levels of explanation. Therefore, “Science and religion cannot logically stand in a competitive relationship with each other.”

His new book, God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris & Hitchens, attempts to take a serious and philosophical look at the New Atheists, whom he calls “soft-core atheists”, claiming that their contemporary brand of anti-theism is not nearly as deep or as challenging as that of past generations, for instance the great atheist-existentialist thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre or Albert Camus, and thus presents little challenge to the more noteworthy theologians of our own time. According to Publishers Weekly:

Haught… argues that there is nothing really new about the New Atheism; it is instead a rehashing of antireligious arguments that are as old as the Enlightenment. In fact, Haught criticizes the New Atheism as being theologically unchallenging, its all-or-nothing thinking representing about the same level of reflection on faith that one can find in contemporary creationist and fundamentalist literature. Haught draws upon theologians such as Tillich, Bultmann, Ricoeur, McFague and Pannenberg to refute some of the New Atheists’ most common contentions.

Just speaking personally, I’ve had essentially the same reaction to the New Atheists as Haught. Their level of dialogue seems about right for a critique of fundamentalist religion (Sam Harris vs. Rick Warren in Newsweek, or the RRS vs. Comfort and Cameron on ABC seemed like fairly appropriate match-ups), but I honestly can’t see Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens going toe to toe with the likes of NT Wright, Nick Wolterstorff, Miroslav Volf, Jack Caputo, Walter Bruggeman or even John Haught.

Granted, I’ve not yet read Haught’s book to know for sure how he does, though I have added it to my list. I’ll let you know if it doesn’t live up to my expectations. However, if you want to read a little bit more of his perspective now, there is an interview with Haught up on the God’s Politics blog. No doubt most of the atheists here will still disagree with his conclusions, though, if you’re not entirely a fan of the New Atheists and appreciate someone who is calling for a deeper level of dialogue and encouraging atheists that they can do better than these popular-level critics, you may want to take a look at Haught’s book.

  • Maria

    sounds interesting, I’ll take a look. hopefully people will actually try and pay attention to what is being said and the issues and not bash mindlessly.

  • QrazyQat

    In other words, you and Haught offer the Courtier’s Reply. Not impressed.

  • http://t3knomanser.livejournal.com t3knomanser

    anti-theism is not nearly as deep or as challenging as that of past generations

    We need offer but one challenge: “Where is your evidence?”

  • Aj

    Yeah, as soon as one of these “theologians” comes up with some evidence or reason get back to me. Deeper level of diagoue include a lot of psychobabble like the stuff you posted before?

  • http://www.SecularDignity.net Secular Dignity

    Yeah, what t3knomanser said!

    I honestly can’t see Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens going toe to toe with the likes of NT Wright, Nick Wolterstorff, Miroslav Volf, Jack Caputo, Walter Bruggeman or even John Haught.

    I have to admit, I have never heard of these guys. I have heard of Comfort, Warren, et al. Maybe theists need to look at theism today before criticizing the New Atheism. What is in the lecture halls is not what is in the megachurch. (Your quote from Publisher’s Weekly touches upon this.)

    I have heard of (and met a few) believers like Haught who respect science and have belief. I think a lot of people here are probably closer in some ways to Haught than fundamentalists.

    Also, I went to the wikipedia link. I found this sentence interesting:

    The difference being, according to Haught, that the atheism proposed by Nietzsche,Camus, and Sartre realized the devastation the absence of religion would cause,whereas the “New Atheists” do not.

    Wrong, chief, try again. I do not need religion. Maybe you do. That’s your problem. Stop projecting that onto me.

  • http://www.SecularDignity.net Secular Dignity

    Another thought (I do not want to clutter one post.)

    There is diversity in religion. Why not have diversity in atheism?

  • mikespeir

    Dialogue is good. If that really is Haught’s goal, kudos to him. But I wonder. Does he lobby as hard among Christians, encouraging them to open up to an understanding of our positions? I rather doubt it. I suspect that, really, he wants a rather one-sided “dialogue.”

    Unless he’s got evidence so compelling for the Christian faith that it justifies telling us we have to turn our lives upside down to accord with it, that if we don’t we’re in league with transcendent evil and will rightly suffer one brand or other of eternal unpleasantness, then you’re right. We will disagree with his conclusions. And unless this guy’s heads and shoulders above every other apologist I’ve ever read or heard, he won’t be able to do that. Or come anywhere close. Really, why should I suppose he’s got that kind and quality of evidence?

  • mike

    … contemporary brand of anti-theism is not nearly as deep or as challenging as that of past generations, for instance the great atheist-existentialist thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche …

    Often times, the essence of this kind of comparison comparison is basically:

    “Old” atheists argued that the logical conclusion of atheism is moral nihilism. This was easy to argue against. New atheists don’t buy into nihilism. Now we can’t use our old arguments that atheists are just looking for an excuse to be immoral. So, let’s just call the new arguments less philosophically sophisticated.

    So I hope this book does more than simply criticize “new atheists” for not concluding with nihilism, or any other setup for an argument from consequences.

  • Jen

    Yeah, as soon as one of these “theologians” comes up with some evidence or reason get back to me. Deeper level of diagoue include a lot of psychobabble like the stuff you posted before?

    it wouldn’t matter if they did. you’d still find something wrong with it. you want to hate anyone who isn’t your type of atheist, it doesn’t matter what they actually say. how about Mike C and all other theists publicly impale themselves? would you be happy then? probably not.

    sounds interesting, I’ll take a look. hopefully people will actually try and pay attention to what is being said and the issues and not bash mindlessly

    dream on. I think we should do a test-let’s have Mike C post something blank and say nothing-and I bet you people will still find something to insult him about.

  • Ron in Houston

    Here’s one thing he said in the beliefnet interview:

    How do you respond to the new atheists’ claims that all faith is irrational?

    They define faith very narrowly as “belief without evidence.” To be rational, they claim, we must empty our minds of any ideas for which scientifically accessible “evidence” is in principle unavailable. Since religions can claim no such evidence, they must be irrational. However, the claim that science is the most authoritative way to truth is itself a belief without evidence. If all faith is irrational, then so is the new atheism, by definition.

    He has a very valid philosophical point here. I think a lot of what he’s saying is that it’s very easy to just say “I’m an atheist.” It’s a whole lot different to wrestle with the philosophical implications.

  • Siamang

    We could put this whole matter to rest quite easily. I propose a deep philosophical debate between Dawkins and Yaweh.

    If either participant fails to show up, debate over.

  • http://faith2truth.org Mike

    To say the arguments of modern day Atheists are “rehashing of antireligious arguments that are as old as the Enlightenment” certainly has some truth to it. After all, theistic points are also as old, so it’s not surprising that for some points, the alternative position wouldn’t change. However, we now have much more information that definitively contradicts many other points of old school theism. This is the reason for most of the changes to theism over the years. Theists would rather underscore the old more philosophical arguments, and dodge the conversation that includes the newest scientific evidence, that clearly wasn’t present in “old” arguments, like modern dating techniques, advances in exposing charlatanism, ERVs, etc, etc., that have shown many old school arguments to be ridiculous.

  • http://www.SecularDignity.net Secular Dignity

    I read the interview on BeliefNet. He does state (though not too strongly) that the New Atheism is not necessarily Improved because of the Current Theism. I agree with that.

    I agree with him that some of the New Atheists are pretty intolerant. Once again, like Jesus said to the Pharisees, I say, “Look who’s talking.” (If religious people can lump me in with Stalin, I can lump all of them together. Get your own house in order, Haught.)

    I disagree that atheism has seismic implications. Here is his first response:

    The true atheist must be willing to risk madness (Nietzsche) and embrace the absurd (Camus).

    So another religious person is trying to define atheism for me. Not this again. And I would say that religion is absurd.

    As far as evidence, well you had better have some pretty good reasons for trying to tell other people what to do with their lives.

  • Siamang

    He has a very valid philosophical point here.

    Straw, actually, I think.

    However, the claim that science is the most authoritative way to truth is itself a belief without evidence.

    Is this really a claim of all new atheists? I think not.

    I think many have made the point that it’s merely the most reliable we’ve found so far… and we have actual evidence of reliability in daily life.

    If all faith is irrational, then so is the new atheism, by definition.

    Here he calls equates the spiritual “belief without evidence” definition of faith with the strongly held view among atheists that evidence should be proportional to a claim made.

    It seems Dr. Haught has employed the old trick of arguing against an imaginary absolute. It’s the old ‘You can’t know ABOSOLUTELY 100% solid fact in all cases that science is the total and infinte best way of knowing anything, therefore YOU KNOW NOTHING!!!’ trick.

    But really, all we’re saying is that having evidence is better than having no evidence, and to make a big claim. Actually a giant claim… the most extreme claim ever made by man… that evidence should be proportional. Heck, I’d settle for non-proportional. Heck, I’d settle for a scrap.

    He claims that actually holding this view takes “faith”. He declares it’s faith by fiat… but has he done the work to show that we should have actually equal “faith” in claims without evidence that we have in claims with evidence?

    If we meet two people who claim to have visited the moon, one’s name is Neil Armstrong and the other is a swami named Yogi Baba, are we to take these claims equally?

    No they are absolutely not equal claims, because the evidence is not equal.

    In this way, I’m not clear exactly what methodology Dr. Haught proposes we employ to evaluate the “equal” claims of lunar visitation by Armstrong and Baba and find out which is true, if either.

    If Dr. Haught proposes that evidence shouldn’t be a prefered criteria over “I felt it in my heart” I’d like to stack that criteria’s track record against the scientific method’s.

  • http://www.skepticalmonkey.com Ted Goas

    Wait a minute! You say this book is aimed at soft, or agnostic athiests (read: NOT hardcore or gnostic atheists)? But Haught describes the thinking of soft atheists as all-or-none and compares them to fundamentalists?

    Maybe it’s fair to describe gnostic atheists are all or none, but not agnostic ones.

    Regardless of this confusion, the topic is intriguing. I plan on adding this to my reading list.

  • http://www.wayofthemind.org/ Pedro Timóteo

    Please read this: Daylight Atheism on John Haught.

    Greta Christina’s comment on that post is also great:

    And what I find interesting is that the atheists he considers “serious” don’t just demand radical transformation of society. They’re also depressing as hell. One of the hallmarks of the so-called “new atheism” is that it’s generally very life-affirming: passionate about life, optimistic, even upbeat.

    No wonder he doesn’t want to teach it. It not only doesn’t fit with his assumption that a) atheism must be morally nihilistic, b) the “new atheists” aren’t morally nihilistic, therefore c) the “new atheists” aren’t serious and haven’t thought through the implications of their atheism. It also doesn’t fit with his assumption that a) atheism must be depressing and meaningless, b) the “new atheists” aren’t depressed and lacking in meaning, therefore c) the “new atheists” aren’t serious and haven’t thought through the implications of their atheism.

  • http://www.primordial-blog.blogspot.com/ Brian Larnder

    The difference between fundamentalists and liberal Christians is that the fundies actually believe that the stuff in the bible literally happened. All these “deep” theological arguments basically consist of admitting that it’s not literally true, but…. (insert deep methaphysical speculation here).

    I’ve never understood how a liberal christian can babble on about the christ-myth and the metaphorical meaning of the gospels, yet get so upset when the “new atheists” point out exactly the same thing – that their religion is not really true. It’s just that we have decided not to waste our lives on something so patently false.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com Efrique

    Mike,

    I’m sure many atheists (many of whom are firmly intellectual) would love the debate to be at a higher level, but that’s not where the danger lies.

    I have no major quarrel with more sophisticated, thinking theists – sure, I don’t think their beliefs are right, but typically sophisticated theists aren’t trying to destroy education or legislate what goes on in my bedroom, so I’m happy to live and let live.

    It’s the extremely unsophisticated theists that worry me.

    When Chris Comer is getting sacked for passing along information about a talk, when “academic freedom” bills that promote nonsense are getting passed, when government is promoting one religion at the expense of others (or an absence of it), then sophisticated debates, as desirable as they are, must wait. When unsophisticated theists are blowing themselves up to take a few dozen people with them, when unsophisticated theists are associating evolution with Nazism, our problem is not with sophisticated argument.

    It’s like arguing about the colour of the drapes while the house is on fire.

    Mike, maybe you don’t get the all-caps emails from drooling YECs written in 14 point purple Comic Sans with a hundred exclamation points. A lot of us do. Sophisticated arguments don’t cut it there, and they’re the ones driving us all down the toilet right now.

    Let’s work together to get us all to the point where we can even have a sophisticated argument. I believe that will require some unsophisticated arguments first…

  • julie marie

    The difference being, according to Haught, that the atheism proposed by Nietzsche,Camus, and Sartre realized the devastation the absence of religion would cause,whereas the “New Atheists” do not.

    I find this quote interesting. One of the books I read this year is The Origins of Pagan and Christian Beliefs by Edward Carpenter. He looks at the evolution of religion as the result of psychological evolution, beginning with the man’s first realization of consciousness. That the “fall of man” was realizing his individuality: the first time he thought “I AM.” Prior to that, he lived in a golden era of one-ness with the rest of his world.

    It sounds arrogant to me to say some people need their religion in order to face the isolation of “I AM”, as if that were a weakness. (may be my own personal cross – I hate to need.) But the fact is, if people aren’t getting something out of their practices, they tend to stop. And if someone needs religion to help them access the higher parts of their nature, and to keep them from diving headlong into the lower parts of their nature, then I would say that the absence of religion would be devastating. Not just for them, but for society as well.

    The saddest (and scariest) thing though,is when religion runs amok and people use it to fuel their basest instincts [my god says you are evil and must be destroyed, god told me 15 year old Suzie should be the fifth wife of 50 year old Sam].

  • Ron in Houston

    Brian Larndner

    Being an ex liberal Christian, and having a lot of experience with that group, I can tell you that many of them don’t get upset at all with atheism.

    There was a comment somewhere about “sects” of atheists. There are clearly “sects” of atheism. Atheists exist on an atheism-agnosticism continuum. Even Dawkins places himself on that continuum.

    Then there are people like me who just give up on trying to place their beliefs on that continuum and say, “I don’t give a crap.”

    So, I guess I’m the sub-species of apatheists in the species of atheists.

  • Ron in Houston

    julie marie

    “I AM” Isn’t that a mind boggling philosophical question? In many ways I have more respect for Dennett as an atheist than Dawkins. Dennett is a philosopher who has wrestled with the whole issue of “consciousness.”

    In many ways Haught is making the case that a philosophical atheist is better than a scientific atheist. I’m not saying I agree with that, but wrestling with concepts like “I AM” and consciousness does tend to strengthen one’s atheism.

  • Aquaria

    The true atheist must be willing to risk madness (Nietzsche) and embrace the absurd (Camus).

    This proves that Haught doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    Anyone who has studied Nietzsche is aware of how his father also went mad at a young age (“softening of the brain” per his physician). Even before he wrote one word, Nietzsche was known for having persistent health problems, particular migraines, vision problems and vomiting, to a degree that he had to quit teaching. There was a possibility it was syphilis as well. Haught makes no reference to a physical reason for Nietzsche’s madness. Nope. The atheism did it!

    And good grief, the man is deliberately attempting to mislead his readers that Camus advocated absurdity in the layman’s sense, and not reflected on the absurd in the philosophic sense. I’m no big fan of Camus, but even I don’t think he wanted or expected anyone to be ridiculous.

    Two bald-faced misrepresentations = one stunning case of fuckwittery.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com Efrique

    (followup to my earlier comment)

    I was not impressed by the level of argument in “The God Delusion” because I knew Richard Dawkins to be capable of higher level debate than that… until I realized it was not trying to present the most sophisticated arguments – that’s not where debate is required right now.

    You’re standing on one side, politely asking for a more sophisticated argument. On the other side is Monique Davis. On the other side is Ken Ham. On the other side is Dinesh D’Souza. On the other side is Ben Stein, Fred Phelps, Don McLeroy, and a whole crowd of others. They’re shouting at us, trying to shut us up, trying to replace education with ignorance, comparing us to nazis, radical muslims, killers, demons – all at the same time. Their arguments are not sophisticated. Try meeting “You’re a danger to our children!” with a truly sophisticated argument, and see where it gets you.

  • Samuel Skinner

    There isn’t really “sects” of atheism. What that refers to is how antitheist someone is and wheter or not they make a positive claim (God doesn’t exist). Also, wheter or not someone is a materialist, a naturalist and a rationalist. Seriously folks I think you should go for those things- but it isn’t mandatory to being an atheist. This is what happens when you group together people by their lack of belief… you get an odd mix.

  • Siamang

    I think that what Dawkins, Hitchens and the rest of the crew have succeeded admirably in is to GET us to the point where theologians are begging to have a sophisticated philosophical discussion about atheism.

    I take this as a very positive sign… we are starting to be invited to the discussion table rather than ignored, demonized or as Nietzsche, branded as holders of a philosophy that consigns us to nihilism and madness.

    We must take every opportunity to engage this discussion. YES, Ben Stein paints us as Nazis. But there is no reason why we can’t treat Stein as the idiotic creationist propagandist that he is, and at the SAME TIME other atheists can’t engage thoughtfully in our halls of academia with the great theologians of our time. (Assuming these theologians are at public universities and other open forums and not at any of the more dogmatic religious colleges that disallow dissent).

    It’s not either/or, people. Folks who love discussing philosophy can do that. I’m looking at you, Chris Hallquist. I’d LOVE to see a debate between the Uncredible Hallq and Dr. Haught. I think Chris would wipe the floor with him. This is do to my concern that religious philosophers and theologians have of late encapsulated themselves in an intellectual bubble of co-believers. Their reluctance to engage the more rigourous arguments for skepticism has left their lines of reasoning a bit weak.

    Folks who want to fight the pop-culture fight for atheism can rally behind Dawkins. It’s not either/or. Let’s broaden and diversify the discussion!

    Excelcior!

  • Raghu Mani

    Mike,

    I haven’t read anything by Haught other than the interview that you linked to (though I have read a some other theologians) but I have read quite a few summaries of his opinions on the web. My impression is that he believes that atheism implies nihilism. If that is what you believe as well then I can say that this dialog between believers and atheists that Hemant has been trying to get going is pointless – we’re on two drastically different wavelengths.

    The problem is that Haught is deciding what atheists “ought to be” rather than looking at who they really are. It is a fact that most atheists are not nihilists. The Scandinavian countries have a very large percentage of atheists. They are most definitely not hotbeds of anarchy. Why not take a look at what most atheists really are like and work backwards from there rather than trying to work out what the theoretical implications of an atheist world view ought to be?

    I criticize Dawkins et al for being too shrill and strident at times but at least they try to take a look at what actually exists – the actual views of a lot of religious people and their interpretation of their religious texts – and use that as the starting point for their books. Of course a more sophisticated interpretation of these holy books does exist but my impression is that it is a minority view. Even if they are not intolerant fanatics, most people have a rather simplistic view of their faith. I have no hard data but I am quite confident that a far greater number of religious people take the Rick Warren view of their faith than the John Haught view. Would you disagree?

    When faced with the criticism that he is going after only fundamentalist religion, this is what Dawkins says

    If subtle, nuanced religion predominated, the world would be a better place and I would have written a different book.

    That is precisely the point. All the theorizing in the world is pointless unless you can connect your theory to something in the real world. Criticism of religion (and atheism) ought to start with on-the-ground realities. My problem with Haught’s and his ilk are that they can’t connect their theories about atheism to anything that the average real atheist actually believes.

    Raghu

  • BZ

    Question for Mike: What in your opinion is the most sophisticated book (or article) that makes an argument for the truth of Christianity? Also on the topic of sophisticated philosophical arguments, I’m sure that their are philosophers who argue for atheism, can any atheists here name some good books/articles by them?

    Also, on a tangent here, Secular Dignity said:

    If religious people can lump me in with Stalin, I can lump all of them together. Get your own house in order, Haught

    This is a very unproductive view to take. Haught is not responsible for the behavior of Christians who do this, any more than we are responsible for all the random dicks that happen to be atheist, or who are dicks when arguing with Christians. It isn’t hard to find someone being a jackass, it doesn’t justify being a jackass to other people who follow a very different version of the same religion.

  • Jacob Dink

    Granted, I’ve not yet read Haught’s book to know for sure how he does

    http://www.amazon.com/review/product/066423304X/ref=cm_cr_dp_hist_2?%5Fencoding=UTF8&filterBy=addTwoStar

    He has a very valid philosophical point here. I think a lot of what he’s saying is that it’s very easy to just say “I’m an atheist.” It’s a whole lot different to wrestle with the philosophical implications.

    No he doesn’t. Everyone accepts certain faith claims: confidence in induction/deduction, confidence that the outside world exists. But theists and atheists share these alike, so the even ground he’s trying to create is abolished when they accept extra faith claims, like religious ones, which can actually potentially conflict with the ones above. This is what the New Atheists are criticizing.

    As for the idea that confidence in science is a faith claim: again, nonsense (at least on principle). It’s based on induction: science has been trustworthy in the past, it’s led us to many incredible discoveries, therefore we trust it in the future. It’s a conclusion based on an axiom common to all, not a separate faith claim. This is a HUGE and annoying misconception.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Well, if “new atheism” is philosophically unsophisticated, it’s because the movement is primarily trying to effect change in the real world, not in the ivory towers. If they avoid the best of theology, it’s because that’s not the theology that most desperately needs changing. Trying to engage “new atheists” in advanced theology is completely missing the point.

    Haught? I think he’s wrong in so many ways. I mean, have you heard the things he claims? See this earlier interview. His primary argument is that existentialist, nihilistic atheism is the only defensible kind. He also says that scientific naturalism is based on faith in the same sense that atheists use the word “faith”. He declares, based on scientific discoveries, that the purpose of the universe is “the intensification of consciousness”. He claims that a camera would not have been able to see the resurrection.

    It’s great and all that he is calling for a deeper more serious conversation, but it doesn’t help that a lot of what he says can either be answered with stock arguments (ie nihilistic atheism) or is just plain implausible (ie intensification of consciousness). Don’t get me wrong, I respect “sophisticated theology” in a way that most new atheists wouldn’t. But if I were to look for a deeper discussion, Haught is not the person I would ask.

  • Kyle

    Wow, like minded people agree. Brilliant! /Guinness voice.

  • kevin

    but I honestly can’t see Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens going toe to toe with the likes of NT Wright, Nick Wolterstorff, Miroslav Volf, Jack Caputo, Walter Bruggeman or even John Haught.

    Hahaha it’s those very Christian philosophers (and you left out a BIG one: Plantinga) who helped me as a Christian and a philosophy student to see clearly the inability to justify religious belief.

    And Sam Harris is definitely down with philosophy, and of course Dennet can run circles around any of them, as others have already mentioned.

  • Jen

    (The normal Jen here, not the other one from upthread)

    Mike, I do wonder what these arguments are that are so sophisticated and amazing? Maybe when I have some free time, I will let Google show me, but as of now, I have to say I haven’t seen any sophisticated viewpoints that made me reconsider my viewpoints.

  • Aquaria

    Dawkins, et al., have definitely moved Overton’s window further than all the highbrow philosophy of the past 20 years. And they weren’t even all that scathing about it.

    Theists have become too complacent, and far too spoiled since the “sophisticated” atheists” took over the debate,. Both would have been clutching their pearls (or even pissing their pants) if they’d gone into the arena with a fire-breathing dragon like Madlyn O’Hair. Now that was a militant atheist. Hitchens is a pussycat next to her, and Dawkins looks like a dotty old professor who might tend his peonies on Sunday afternoons.

  • Russell

    The fundamental problem with the stance you take, Mike, is that you (and these theologians) make the a priori assumption that the supernatural can and does exist. You also conflate atheism as a philosophy and atheism as a recognition of reality.

    Even if there were an incontrovertible argument demonstrating that the recognition that there are no gods is the source of all suffering in the world it would not change the reality that there is no evidence for the supernatural, including and especially for god(s). Hence religious apologetics are no different than arguments that we should live according to the Star Trek Prime Directive. Those interested in having such an argument should please enjoy doing so, but should also please avoid thinking that the score of these argumentative sessions have any bearing on reality. One can construct a quite lovely and intricate philosophical proof, but if that proof is inconveniently at odds with reality its value is the same as any other expertly crafted piece of imaginative artwork.

    Perhaps the “new atheists” don’t meet the theologians’ standards for “quality philosophy” because they see no reason to spend time discussing the intricacies of a fantasy. This may be like the criticism leveled by a courtier against the dualist that ignores the rules, customs, and niceties of the sport and simply defeats his opponent while the spectators are aghast at the “cheating.” “New” atheists aren’t playing the game by rules set up by theologians anymore.

    In order to continue being relevant, theologians should consider making the argument that, even though we know there are no gods, we should continue to delude ourselves into behaving as if there were so we can continue to reap the benefits of a religious life. That would be a philosophical argument worth having. I might even be on your side of that one.

  • http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/ Larry Moran

    Mike Clawson says,

    Just speaking personally, I’ve had essentially the same reaction to the New Atheists as Haught. Their level of dialogue seems about right for a critique of fundamentalist religion (Sam Harris vs. Rick Warren in Newsweek, or the RRS vs. Comfort and Cameron on ABC seemed like fairly appropriate match-ups), but I honestly can’t see Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens going toe to toe with the likes of NT Wright, Nick Wolterstorff, Miroslav Volf, Jack Caputo, Walter Bruggeman or even John Haught.

    I’m just one of those stupid miltant atheists who haven’t studied the latest versions of religious superstition. I’m not familiar with any of the names you mention.

    Perhaps you could give me a quick summary of their evidence for the existence of supernatural beings? I assume it’s some sort of super sophisticated argument that Dawkins missed?

    I already issued a challenge to the religion columnist in our local newspaper when he reviewed Haught’s book [Erudite critic takes on new atheists]. I got no response from him but I’m sure you will oblige.

    Remember, most of us aren’t the least bit interested in religion. All I care about is whether supernatural beings exist or not. Arguments about the problem of evil and whether you feel depressed when you find out that your religion is wrong are of no interest to me.

  • Slut

    Studying the “best of theology” is like studying the best research on alien abductions. Or studying Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Why would I waste my time on it? All you’ve got at a “higher level” is a more cryptic vocabulary and convoluted way of talking to try to camouflage the fact that religion has still got nothing but fantasies and wishful thinking.

    How do you know anything about any god? If you don’t accept the Bible (and/or other “holy” books) as literally true, then it is “inspired”. So you end up with mere feelings and intuition, neither of which is a reliable source of information.

    The evidence of the universe just does not support the omnipotent benevolent god hypothesis.

    Maybe after you read the book, Mike, you can come back and explain to all of us – in simple terms, of course – what it was we were missing.

  • http://mytensmakt.blogspot.com/ BryanJ

    Allow me to guess… These theologians have views of a god that a strong believer in any of the Abrahamic faiths would find unacceptable.

  • Claire

    Mr. Haught seems to feel that he has the right to define what serious, intelligent, thoughtful atheism is.

    He doesn’t.

    Even worse, he wants to define it as it as a bleak, dark, depressing and hopeless view of the universe. That may make him feel better, but he doesn’t get to make that call.

    Haught’s real problem with the more modern atheists seems to be that they see atheism as a positive force and aren’t all torn up and depressed about the lack of god. That despair didn’t make the old guard any more ‘deep’, except possibly in an angst-is-cool high-schoolish way.

    The modern anger over the havoc of religion in public life seems a great deal healthier than the hand-wringing Mr. Haught prefers us to do.

    In our (admittedly threatened) secular society we are getting the first heady taste of what true freedom from religion might be like. Yeah, it’s good, and it just makes me sorry that those who came before didn’t realize what joy we could eventually find in that freedom.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    Therefore, “Science and religion cannot logically stand in a competitive relationship with each other.”

    Then he must believe Jesus was just a man who did not rise from the dead or perform miracles. Or that science is ignoring quite a few observations and most of science is wrong.

    Their level of dialogue seems about right for a critique of fundamentalist religion

    Absolutely. That was the objective.

    someone who is calling for a deeper level of dialogue

    Like there aren’t materialist philosophers and such that DO play on the non-fundamentalist level? A.C. Grayling, Owen Flanagan, Daniel Dennett spring immediately to mind.

    Reading the interview…atheism is not easy to pull off without seismic implications? Horseshit. I ‘pull it off’ without anyone having a clue unless they ask. Haught is revealing the limits of his imagination / empathy.

    However, the claim that science is the most authoritative way to truth is itself a belief without evidence.

    And Haught’s interview is being displayed on the internet…

    Show me the computer network being run off knowledge obtained by this other way to truth, please?

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

    The problem with Haught’s your criticism is that there is no “deeper” position for atheists to address. Yes, modern atheists are recycling Enlightenment arguments against god because Hume nailed the case in the 18th century and (perhaps other than evolution, although Hume nailed even the argument from design) there’s been nothing new and interesting since then.

    The “the great atheist-existentialist thinkers” were primarily existentialist thinkers who happened to be atheists; existentialism has only a peripheral connection to atheism. (And identifying Nietzsche as an “existentialist” stretches the boundaries of the term.) It’s worth noting that Nietzsche, Sartre or Camus themselves added nothing to Hume’s refutation of apologetics. These thinkers essentially asked, “OK, God is dead, we can’t console ourselves with fairy tales any more, what now?”

    Atheists, as slut mentions, are not typically interested in theology; they’re interested in apologetics. And what little post-enlightenment apologetics we’ve seen (e.g. Plantigna, Van Til, Swinburne) is such utter bullshit that it’s barely escaped the halls of academic philosophy and has found almost no traction whatsoever in the general population of theists, much less atheists. Go on any message board or blog — theistic or nontheistic — which features apologetics and you’ll get the same arguments, almost in the same order: First Cause, Pascal’s Wager, Paley’s Watch, and then, “You’re not being sincere; if you were sincere you’d be a believer by now.”

    No prominent atheist has ever claimed that each and every religious person is a violent fundamentalist, so the observation that there are theologies which are not violent or fundamentalist is of no relevance. The actual claim is that violent fundamentalism requires anti-skeptical, authoritarian thinking, and the world’s religions all promote that sort of thought. Just the fact that some people, even a lot of people, can remain asymptomatic when infected does not argue against the germ theory of disease.

    The further claim, made explicitly by Harris and implied by Dawkins and Hitchens (Dennett barely condemns religion at all) is that the moderate religious provide intellectual and political cover for the violent fundamentalists. By supplying an irrelevant, fallacious arguments to protect the violent fundamentalists from prominent atheists’ explicitly targeted and well-supported attacks, you and Haught are both doing precisely what Harris explicitly condemns.

    Has Haught written any books drawing upon theologians such as Tillich, Bultmann, Ricoeur, McFague and Pannenberg to refute some of the fundamentalists’ claims? (That’s not a rhetorical question; I don’t pay much attention to the intramural disputes of fairy-tale believers.) If so good for him, but I’ll have to see it to believe it.

    I honestly can’t see Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens going toe to toe with the likes of NT Wright, Nick Wolterstorff, Miroslav Volf, Jack Caputo, Walter Bruggeman or even John Haught.

    This is sixth-grade trash talk. Who cares what you can and cannot “see”; we’re interested in what you can argue.

    Have all the authors you mention all together sold a tenth as many books as the fewest of Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens alone? I could just as easily say I can’t see the Pope going toe to toe with me, or Hemant or the sacred slut, or even PZ Myers. So what?

    Are these guys apologists? If they’re theologians, why should any atheist go toe to toe with them? We freely admit we have no skill whatsoever in fraud, bullshit, mendacity and reconciling the mythology of barely literate savages with a modern humanistic ethic.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    Some good posts here. I will second BZ’s request:

    Question for Mike: What in your opinion is the most sophisticated book (or article) that makes an argument for the truth of Christianity?

    And give a partial answer for another:

    Also on the topic of sophisticated philosophical arguments, I’m sure that their are philosophers who argue for atheism, can any atheists here name some good books/articles by them?

    I’ll say that I found Owen Flanagan’s The Problem of the Soul: Two Visions of Mind and How to Reconcile Them really good. It hardly brought science into the discussion. All it really did was ask you to frame things in your head in terms of ’caused’ or not-’caused.’ Michael Shermer reviews it here.

    Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism was pretty good, though the author went on about things I didn’t care about.

    I’ve heard good things about A.C. Grayling and Daniel Dennett’s books.

  • http://emergingdesign.blogspot.com Jim RL

    I’m sorry, but I stop paying attention whenever someone uses the “new atheists = fundamentalist” argument because it’s uncreative and completely untrue. It’s actually funny for someone to critique the “new atheists” as unoriginal using the least original criticism of their work. Please show me, where new atheists want to take away the rights of women or homosexuals. Show me where they want to indoctrinate children with unscientific superstitions. Oh yeah, they don’t do anything like that at all. No one with anything insightful to say uses the “new atheists = fundamentalists” argument.

    I think the problem is the new atheists don’t take theism on its own terms. The fundamental argument of Dawkins, Dennet et. al. is that religion and theology in general deserve no more respect than any other ideas. A lot of theologists become defensive at this and won’t dare debate them in terms of evidence because they know they don’t have any.

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William

    The theologians argument is kind of like saying you have to have an advanced degree in the Klingon language before you can argue that Klingons are fictional. Otherwise, you’re just ignoring the sophisticated arguments for their existence.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    So for whatever reason, I decided to look up “Platinga”, one of the names that keeps being thrown around, and I was not impressed. He apparently created the “free will defense” to the problem of evil, invented a new kind of epistemology specifically for the justification of God, used one of the worst ontological arguments I’ve ever seen, and argued that evolution contradicts naturalism. I also found him arguing the fine-tuned principle using the flatness problem, which is more than bad theology, it’s bad physics.

    So this is two for two. First Haught and now Platinga. Looking at these folks, I think, has changed my view. Now I almost think the new atheists are right to dismiss theology offhand.

  • Theo Doersing

    I don’t like labeling the current generation of atheist activists as “new” atheists. Atheists are atheists just as christians are christians. There are varying opinions on a myriad of different issues in both worlds (atheism/religion), but to say today’s atheist is better or worse than previous generations is missing the point entirely, just as christianity has been making the same ludicrous claims for generations in various differing arguments and methods.

    Any atheist or christian/apologist must work within the current framework of the times. Harris, Dawkins et all would have had to present their cases differently 150 years ago. Anyone on any side would only have the facts at the time to use at their disposal. That is why arguments and the way the arguments are given change. It is a simple concept that hasn’t eluded the current apologists. They (and I am lumping them all together here) know full well the differences and changes in philosophy, science and social acceptance throughout the years, but ignore these simple facts because these facts do not support their arguments. You can’t really call these “arguments” anyway, because current apologists’ claims are usually invented to mislead people, antagonize their opponents and to generally draw attention away from the important subject- the lack of evidence of any biblically-based arguments and the like concerning God and His existence.

    The only thing of importance that has changed about the way atheists debate religion is the degree to which they can openly attack religion without fear of physical and social harm. That is why atheists had to design their arguments more carefully centuries ago, and it is a testament to the progress of our societies as a whole that all we have to endure are ad hominem attacks from apologists once their arguments and strawmen are shredded on the various recorded media for all to see and dissect.

    The current uproar by apologists is a good sign that atheists are winning ground morally and intellectually as average people are starting to see through the same tired arguments dressed in different apologetic clothes.

    I think it is a good idea on the apologists’ part to want a more “sophisticated” debate simply because the more cerebral the conversation, the less their target audience will understand it and have to accept it on faith, just like everything else they are trained to accept on faith.

    The problem the apologists can’t handle though, is that most atheists can handle most any debate no matter how high or low brow it may be. That is something atheists are quite used to because we’ve seen all the same stupid arguments phrased and rephrased again and again ad nausiem.

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

    QrazyQat: “In other words, you and Haught offer the Courtier’s Reply.”

    Careful there. Bear in mind that to MikeClawson, the reply looks like an intellectual cheat. The metaphor presumes that Dawkins easily proved his case, that is, showed the clothes (read “God”) didn’t exist, and that further discussion of imperial fashion (again, read “God”) is irrelevant. The catch is that showing that God doesn’t exist isn’t as easy as pointing at dangling bits, and whether Dawkins has really proved his case is questionable. To be fair, it isn’t too clear what relevance Tillich, Bultmann, Ricoeur, McFague and Pannenberg have on the arguments pertaining to the existence of God, so the Courtier’s Reply may be relevant, but don’t presume that pointing to the reply is all that useful.

    BTW, the Courtier’s Reply thread shows me at a relatively low point, unfortunately, :( but I got better.

    Slut: “Studying the ‘best of theology’ is like studying the best research on alien abductions.”

    So if you were writing a book debunking claims on alien abductions, you wouldn’t cite the best research on the topic in order to show that even the best case for abductions doesn’t hold? Then again, Dawkins is accused of being similarly lax.

  • Adrian

    claiming that their contemporary brand of anti-theism is not nearly as deep or as challenging as that of past generations

    It doesn’t take much sophistication to observe that there are no good arguments for the existence of a god and many good reasons to think no god exists. Frankly, I think even this level of discussion gives too much credit to the oily, fallacious apologetics for God. Any extra attention is just out of respect and deference to the apologists.

    Perhaps this means that people are less inclined to show (undeserved) respect for people who are pushing beliefs without evidence.

    The metaphor presumes that Dawkins easily proved his case, that is, showed the clothes (read “God”) didn’t exist,

    Actually no, it doesn’t require that presumption. It mocks the responses of theists who refuse to present any argument to undermine Dawkins or present any positive argument for the theistic case, but instead sneeringly say that Dawkins isn’t sophisticated or learned enough, yet refusing to state how any learning would change anything. So it is a very apt metaphor, and one that is very, very relevant to Haught and the other fleas.

  • Chris

    They define faith very narrowly as “belief without evidence.” To be rational, they claim, we must empty our minds of any ideas for which scientifically accessible “evidence” is in principle unavailable. Since religions can claim no such evidence, they must be irrational. However, the claim that science is the most authoritative way to truth is itself a belief without evidence. If all faith is irrational, then so is the new atheism, by definition.

    Haught argues that while it is true there is an unproven assumption in religion, there is one in science too. So it is an even tie–both are irrational!
    But he is wrong about the significance.
    Religion begins with an unproven premise–that God exists. From there theology produces a whole slew of unsupported assertions, none of which can be verified and usually, in principle, can’t be falsified. Then it tacks on the weight of AUTHORITY to make sure that it is hard to challenge. The few areas where religion even approaches testability (for example, prayer) it fails utterly when tested using even the weakest scientific scrutiny.

    Science too, he argues also has an unproven premise, that it is the most authoritative way to truth. But he is wrong. This is not the working assumption in science, at least not in the sense that it is required for science to work (not in the way that belief in God is required for religion.) So this is a straw-man argument. Science works pragmatically. It is the best and most practical way to discover truth (defined roughly pragmatically). It just works. Every bridge you drive over, building you work in, drug you take to keep you healthy, owes its existence to science. If you want something that works, you look to science, not religion. Using science, we carefully observe, make clear predictions, test said predictions, and modify when needed. One corollary of science is that you eliminate as many ad hoc assumptions as possible. One could safely argue that theology is little more than ad hoc arguments put into a neat package. If religious people want to show a better way to get from A to B than science then they should produce it.

  • kevin

    Slut: “Studying the ‘best of theology’ is like studying the best research on alien abductions.”

    So if you were writing a book debunking claims on alien abductions, you wouldn’t cite the best research on the topic in order to show that even the best case for abductions doesn’t hold?

    Maybe that’s just not the best analogy. To be truly equivalent, it would have to be something like ‘the psychology of aliens’, or ‘the reasons for alien abduction behavior’ (i.e., what causes the aliens to want to abduct us?). How about this one:

    “Studying the ‘best of theology’ is like studying the best of pink unicorn psychology.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Kevin,

    I don’t think you’re going to rescue the analogy. I understand that you’re trying to say advanced theology is basically advanced study of arcane conclusions based on a single highly questionable premise. But at least some of theology tries to defend said premise, so you can’t so easily declare it all irrelevant. If theology is irrelevant, it’s either because of poor quality overall, or because it’s not really representative of religion anyway.

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

    kevin: “How about this one: Studying the ‘best of theology’ is like studying the best of pink unicorn psychology.”

    The analogy is unflattering, but does it work? One can say that the best of theology is the theology that is the trickiest to refute, and that doesn’t have a good analogue to “pink unicorn psychology.”

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    In the post I said:

    if you’re not entirely a fan of the New Atheists… you may want to take a look at Haught’s book.

    This was who my post was aimed at, and was intended to be merely informative, not argumentative (i.e. if you’re intrigued by Haught’s arguments, pick up his book; if not, I’m not going to bother defending him here since I haven’t yet read it myself). However, judging from the majority of comments here, I guess my audience for this was small. It’s intriguing to me how many folks here at a supposedly “friendly” atheist blog seem to essentially agree with the “New Atheists’” anti-theist approach. I’d be interested in seeing a survey of how many atheists really feel like the New Atheists do in fact speak for them. It feels to me like the numbers are growing, though that could simply be because the recent tone of Hemant’s posts and the comments here have driven away the “friendlier” atheists who do not consider themselves anti-theists.

  • kevin

    It’s intriguing to me how many folks here at a supposedly “friendly” atheist blog seem to essentially agree with the “New Atheists’” anti-theist approach.

    These are two separate things. An atheist can be perfectly friendly while still highly critical of theism. Intolerant of bad ideas, but tolerant of people.

    And of course online communication always tends to be harsher, even coming from people who are otherwise nice and friendly people in person.

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

    It’s intriguing to me how many folks here at a supposedly “friendly” atheist blog seem to essentially agree with the “New Atheists’” anti-theist approach.

    Part of this is that the “New Atheists” have raised the profile of atheism, and there is hope that they will break the ice and help make atheism more acceptable.

    Bear in mind, too, that it is far easier to pick at the arguments of those with whom you disagree. Now I came to be an atheist by working around the crappy arguments from other atheists, so I don’t feel much kinship with other atheists and was primed to be suspicious of the so-called “New” Atheists from the get-go. I am rather unusual in that respect, though.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “It’s intriguing to me how many folks here at a supposedly “friendly” atheist blog seem to essentially agree with the “New Atheists’” anti-theist approach.”

    These are two separate things.

    Not from my perspective. A “New Atheist” and a “Friendly Atheist” are inherent opposites IMHO. I can guarantee that no one who adopts the methods, attitudes, and rhetoric of the New Atheists is going to be perceived as “friendly” by theists. If you still think they’re basically right and want to emulate them, that’s fine, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that will make you appear at all friendly towards those you disagree with.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    I’d be interested in seeing a survey of how many atheists really feel like the New Atheists do in fact speak for them.

    Friendly to people =/= non-critical of ideas. In general, the ‘new’ atheists come fairly close to speaking for me, but Dennett is the only one who (to me) gives religious arguments the credit they deserve.

    Until someone shows me how you use ‘theology’ to arrive at more and more accurate conclusions over time, any and all of theology can be dismissed as easily as astrology. What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Show me how you, a Muslim, and a Mormon can all use ‘theology’ to arrive at the same (or very similar) conclusions in the same way scientists have been using ‘science’ to arrive at a consensus. It looks to me like everyone’s just making up stuff that may or may not contradict what we already know from other methods.

    I am NOT friendly to nonsense. I AM friendly to people. Write a light post about the NHL playoffs or something and you’ll see all sorts of small talk. But if you write a post claiming Haught is saying something worthwhile and/or correct, don’t be surprised if the blog commenters say otherwise.

    Why do you care if we continue to think theology is nonsense? Is it necessary to pretend otherwise to be friendly?

  • Adrian

    I can guarantee that no one who adopts the methods, attitudes, and rhetoric of the New Atheists is going to be perceived as “friendly” by theists.

    Which says a lot more about the way that theists react to any perceived criticism of their beliefs, and not about whether others are friendly or not.

    How can you tell someone that their deeply held beliefs are irrational, unfounded and possibly harmful and still be perceived as friendly? It seems to me that it is sufficient to be an honest atheist to be perceived as unfriendly by theists.

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

    benjdm: “I am NOT friendly to nonsense.”

    Which is why I’m NOT friendly to much of what the New Atheists offer. I am not friendly to someone who doesn’t give enough of a damn about the facts to check if a quote from John Adams was taken way out of context, or someone from Oxford University who acts like he is from the “University of Google.” I am not friendly to someone whose response to Scott Atran’s call to get some data and not rely on intuition is a complete non sequitur. I am not friendly to someone whose crap filter is so poor that on matters of politics he supports an unsupportable war and on matters of religion repeats an anti-Semitic urban legend. I am not friendly to people who offer cutesy rhetoric and a half-assed case.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    I am not friendly to people who offer cutesy rhetoric and a half-assed case.

    I would agree that the books by Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins do not make a particularly good case for religion being harmful. Hitchens’ book was especially sloppy.

  • Russell

    All of the theology that I’m familiar with that is directed at the question “does god(s) exist?”, rather than embellishments explaining the reason for various features of a particular religion, come down to the argument from personal incredulity. I am personally uninterested in the embellishments since they presume that god(s) exist without providing evidence, so I do not engage or follow those arguments.

    J.J. says “the best of theology is the theology that is the trickiest to refute.” I accept his statement if this is how theology would like to define its “best” and theologians would like to strive to be more and more tricky to attain that best. The best science, IMO, is the science that is easiest to reproduce and, when published, everyone *smacks forehead* and says “of course, why didn’t I see that?”

    Scientists aren’t interested in creating tricky arguments that are difficult to refute. They are interested in demonstrating evidence that as many people as possible can access and appreciate. This seems the fundamental difference between theological argument and “new” atheist argument. Dawkins addresses evidence for the probability of the existence of, primarily, the Christian God and finds, functionally, none. To argue that he ignores all the “trickiest” arguments that try to say, functionally, “ignore the evidence because you can’t resolve this really tricky word game” and therefore he should be dismissed doesn’t change the fact that there is no good evidence. For those of us interested in evidence, therefore, these “tricky” arguments are unpersuasive.

    Now I said “that I’m familiar with” and I freely admit that I do not have a degree in theology, religion, or philosophy although I’ve taken 200 and 300 level courses in two of the three fields. Here’s where the friendly part comes in: I’m willing to listen and be educated. Like others have said here, if someone thinks they have found a superior argument for the existence of god(s) please post it. One caveat: to convince me it will need to have some evidence, not just be another argument from personal incredulity.

  • Slut

    J.J. – you’re right, that was a poorly worded example. I meant something like kevin said. Naturally if I were going to research alien abductions, I would want to look at the evidence closely to see whether there was any truth to it. However, once you’ve established that there is not, continuing to study the minutiae of abductees’ fantasies seems pointless unless someone has new evidence to introduce.

    Mike C, if you were met with a certain hostility, I think that’s largely due to the condescending tone of your post, which basically derides atheists’ intelligence and intimates we’re not intellectual enough to appreciate the subtleties of advanced theology.

  • Russell

    Mike,

    I must admit I’m pretty disappointed. I’d been impressed that Hemet was able to find a theist that was willing to engage on an atheist blog, but it seems that your skin is about as thin as most other theists when your beliefs are challenged. you said:

    in the post I said:

    if you’re not entirely a fan of the New Atheists… you may want to take a look at Haught’s book.

    This was who my post was aimed at, and was intended to be merely informative, not argumentative (i.e. if you’re intrigued by Haught’s arguments, pick up his book; if not, I’m not going to bother defending him here since I haven’t yet read it myself). However, judging from the majority of comments here, I guess my audience for this was small. It’s intriguing to me how many folks here at a supposedly “friendly” atheist blog seem to essentially agree with the “New Atheists’” anti-theist approach. I’d be interested in seeing a survey of how many atheists really feel like the New Atheists do in fact speak for them. It feels to me like the numbers are growing, though that could simply be because the recent tone of Hemant’s posts and the comments here have driven away the “friendlier” atheists who do not consider themselves anti-theists.

    Here’s how I read this: You haven’t read Haught’s book but you suggest that some of us read it. Some of us have read it or have read other stuff by Haught and don’t think much of his work, and say so. Maybe the critics are correct. You can’t know because you haven’t read the book but then you take offense at the criticism, although the reason for offense is not made clear. Because the criticism is offensive to you, you decide that perhaps the commenters aren’t very friendly, and all the friendly commenters you expected to find have been driven away. I.e. it is your critics fault that you are wrong, not yours. This smacks of “I’ll take my bat and ball and go home.” Not a position likely to impress people with your interest in constructively engaging.

    you then proceed:

    A “New Atheist” and a “Friendly Atheist” are inherent opposites IMHO. I can guarantee that no one who adopts the methods, attitudes, and rhetoric of the New Atheists is going to be perceived as “friendly” by theists.

    Sounds to me like you define “new atheist” by how they present themselves, not their arguments, engage them on these appearances rather than the merits of their arguments, and then assert that by definition a new atheist cannot be friendly and therefore they lose. I agree that it is important to be polite, but that does not necessarily mean gentle. Polite to me is not engaging in ad hominem attacks or deliberately being rude. Pointing out forcefully that an argument is fallacious might make someone uncomfortable but is not impolite. It sounds like you want to define friendly atheists as those that don’t disagree with you, or at least not too much. Sorry, but this atheist, at least, isn’t interested in being a theist’s pet to be brought out in front of everyone so they can feel secure that atheists, while dangerous in wild form, can be domesticated and kept about the theist’s house without fear. You may define that atheist as “friendly,” but I’d call him a sycophant. Perhaps you are finding that their are no “friendly atheists” here because you’ve defined them out of existence.

  • Raghu Mani

    MikeClawson said,
    It’s intriguing to me how many folks here at a supposedly “friendly” atheist blog seem to essentially agree with the “New Atheists’” anti-theist approach. I’d be interested in seeing a survey of how many atheists really feel like the New Atheists do in fact speak for them.

    I am not always on board with the methods of Dawkins, Hitchens et al. I think they are too shrill and strident and too intent on bashing all religion rather than the truly dangerous part of it (and that is a cause which most reasonable theists would be happy to join).

    In the end, I don’t believe the problem is belief in a god. The problem is unquestioning belief in some rigid, inflexible dogma and in demagogues who try to use such dogma to gain power over others. Such dogma is all too often religious but can be atheistic as well – as in the case of communism. It can also be rooted in ethnic/tribal prejudice or in politics. In fact, the two worst conflicts of the last few decades have had nothing whatsoever to do with religion – in Rwanda both sides were mostly Catholic and in Darfur both sides are Sunni Muslim.

    However, one thing I share with the new atheists is a disdain for most theology. It seems to me that theologians live in this ivory tower, utterly divorced from anything that the vast majority of people actually believe. Take a poll of Christians on the street and I bet you’ll find that the majority will have a rather simplistic view of religion that bears little resemblance to what the theologians talk about. For all my disagreements with the methods of the new atheists, I do appreciate the fact that they are trying to address what actually exists in the world today.

    Raghu

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    Also, I will definitely say that Dawkins doesn’t attempt to defend any particular epistemology in his book. I found his book tedious and have never finished it. But I’m not the intended audience.

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

    I’d be interested in seeing a survey of how many atheists really feel like the New Atheists do in fact speak for them.

    Nobody speaks for me. I speak for myself. I have my own blog and everything. Speaking for others is a religious concept, and reveals an authoritarian mindset.

    I agree with a lot of what Dawkins, et al. have to say, but I don’t agree with everything. From time to time I even agree with some things Hemant has to say.

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

    I honestly can’t see Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens going toe to toe with the likes of NT Wright …

    Some thoughts on Dawkins versus Wright:

    On the one hand, N.T. Wright likely would not be too impressed with “The Argument from Scripture” section in The God Delusion. The parts of the section that happen to be correct can be answered with apologetics with which Wright would be familiar, since Dawkins failed to bring up any of the problems with those apologetics. Worse, there are some bits where Dawkins is flat wrong, such as in the places where he overplayed the parallels between pagan and Christian myths, and Wright would have a field day with that. On the other hand, Dawkins and Wright probably agree more than they disagree on their definition of God, and they would agree that religion makes claims about the real world, so it’s not as if Dawkins would be dealing with a crypto-Deist, so to speak.

  • Samuel Skinner

    By definition atheists can’t speak for other atheists. After all, the term means a LACK of belief- which is basically personal.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    @MikeClawson:

    I can guarantee that no one who adopts the methods, attitudes, and rhetoric of the New Atheists is going to be perceived as “friendly” by theists.

    Then you are convincing me that Harris is right about moderates being a large part of the problem. You identify with your beliefs and do expect them to be exempt from criticism.

    Freethinking is a whole different mindset. Listen to a Non-Prophets podcast by the Atheist Community of Austin, where the hosts disagree with each other very strongly for a large part of every show. This is not a problem to them – they still perceive each other as friendly. Or this story:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/04/coyne_and_wray_at_the_oregon_s.php
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/04/when_scientists_battle.php

    “So that’s the context for this evening, with both sides represented in back-to-back keynote talks.

    First up was Jerry Coyne, with the provocative title of “Give me just one cis-regulatory mutation and I’ll shut up!” He also showed off his t-shirt, which said “I’m no cis-sy”. Spoiling for a fight, he was…

    The second keynote was by Greg Wray, and he took a very different approach. (Oh, and a different t-shirt: “Exons, Schmexons”.) He listed more examples of developmental genes and argued that the evidence of their importance in evolution was stronger than Coyne let on…”

    In the end, did the two end up being offended by each other? No. They do not identify with their ideas. They are not tribalistic about their ideas. They got their picture taken clasping hands while still wearing the T-shirts.

    Once you consider yourself a primate with all the cognitive biases and perceptual illusions that come from being a naturally evolved animal, you know you could be wrong about anything. The only way to find out is by putting your ideas out there and having the holes picked in them.

    As I continue to interact with theists, the more I think religion is about tribalism much more than about arriving at accurate beliefs. There is no interest in having the ideas criticized to find out which ones are wrong.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    FWIW, I reserved a copy of the book from the library about the time I made my first comments here.

    I also asked my wife to read your post to see what she (as a non-’partisan’) thought you meant by it and what kind of responses you would expect to get. She said basically what you said in your first comment, that it seemed more of a ‘this is what’s out there’ informative post instead of expecting debate about Haught’s ideas. We apparently have some self-selection going on in who posts here – more likely to jump into argument and debate than to let things go unchallenged.

    I’ll post my thoughts somewhere after I read the book. I’ve already read Ken Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Russell:

    Maybe the critics are correct. You can’t know because you haven’t read the book but then you take offense at the criticism, although the reason for offense is not made clear.

    At what point did I say I was offended? I am not. I think you are reading too much into my comment.

    In fact, in my first comment here I said that I was “intrigued” and “interested”. I would think that the emotion you ought to infer from that is curiosity, not offense. At least, that is what I was trying to convey. I’m sorry if I came across as otherwise.

    I.e. it is your critics fault that you are wrong, not yours.

    Pardon me for not following you, but wrong about what? I wasn’t making any claims in that post that I was intending as issues for debate that could be “wrong” or “right”. As benjdm’s wife picked up on, it was simply intended as an FYI post. If you want to argue against Haught, feel free, but I have no stake in that fight.

    (Of course, in the interest of literal accuracy, I did make the claim that I thought Haught was right in saying that the New Atheists are better matched against popular level Christian apologists and not against serious theologians. If you want to argue contrary to that point, feel free. I wasn’t putting it out there as a major point of debate and I couldn’t care less whether any of you agree with me or not on that particular personal observation.)

    Sounds to me like you define “new atheist” by how they present themselves, not their arguments

    No, I define them according to both. A “New Atheist” is not simply an atheist, but an anti-theist. I.e. someone who doesn’t just think that I am wrong, but that we’d all be better off if people like me didn’t even exist. Perhaps you agree with them, but I still don’t think you can blame me for finding that opinion a tad “unfriendly”.

    It sounds like you want to define friendly atheists as those that don’t disagree with you, or at least not too much.

    Not at all. I have absolutely no problem with someone who disagrees with me about the existence of God (the definition of an “atheist”). Frankly, there are days when I’m not sure I believe in the existence of God either. It’s when people tell me that I’m stupid, irrational, brainwashed, immoral, or abusive for disagreeing with them about the existence of God that I start to have a problem. For me that’s the difference between an atheist and an anti-theist.

  • Russell

    Mike,

    I inferred from the tone of your 4:32pm post that you were offended, primarily from your use of the word “supposedly”. In re-reading that post and your response of 10:46 pm I will concede that “offended” was the wrong word since you object to it. It still seems to me, however, that you are more interested in using the label “unfriendly” in an argumentative way and as a dismissal of the various criticisms put forth in the comments rather than engage with those criticisms constructively.

    I agree that the second block quote of mine isn’t clear. I think I broke it when editing. Not very effective editing, I guess. In any case, I was, as you surmise, responding to your claim that Haught is correct in his assessment of the intellectual value of the “new atheists”. Perhaps you didn’t intend to make it a debating point, but clearly there were several of us that thought otherwise. The fact that you “couldn’t care less whether any of [us] agree with you” suggests that you’d like to pick and choose which criticisms of your position are acceptable to make. This is, as I said, not a position likely to impress people with your interest in constructively engaging. I respectfully suggest that if you don’t want your statements questioned in ways that you disapprove of that you refrain from making them in a public forum, or at least in a public forum that allows unmoderated comments.

    While I agree that it is unpleasant to deal with impoliteness, the fact of the impoliteness does not have any bearing on the validity of the argument. So long as you maintain the position that you simply won’t engage with those who you find “unfriendly” without at the same time passing judgement on the validity of the argument I won’t criticize much. I will, however, quibble with your labeling. Why not just define the people who think we’d be better off without religious people as anti-theists and let the “new atheist” moniker go? There are a lot of atheists who think the “new” appellation is pointless anyway. Your writing would be much clearer if you stuck with anti-theist.

    FWIW, although you’ve already pretty much closed out this conversation by indicating that you don’t really care what I think, I think belief in god(s) has given humankind some wonderful things. Unfortunately, while I don’t think your maintenance of a belief in God makes you inherently stupid, immoral, or abusive and you seem too able to question your belief for you to be brainwashed, I do think your belief in God is irrational, particularly in light of the fact that you seem to want to cling to it even when you have “days when [you're] not sure [you] believe in the existence of God either.” Why do you keep going back to that belief, if I may ask a personal question?

    I’ll have to think about whether I agree that I’m an anti-theist by your definition. For that self reflective question I sincerely thank you.

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

    A “New Atheist” is not simply an atheist, but an anti-theist. I.e. someone who doesn’t just think that I am wrong, but that we’d all be better off if people like me didn’t even exist.

    I’d be careful here, if by “people like me,” you mean religious people in general. One can have a thought process like this:

    Premise 1: Religion is incorrect.
    Premise 2: It is bad that people believe wrong things.
    Conclusion: It is bad that people believe religion.

    One need not have a virulent hatred of theists to think this way.

    You are far more on point here:

    It’s when people tell me that I’m stupid, irrational, brainwashed, immoral, or abusive for disagreeing with them about the existence of God that I start to have a problem.

    Here, though, for me, it is also an issue of facts. As human beings, it is almost inevitable that even reasonable people are wrong about some things, and presuming that someone is stupid for having wrong beliefs, especially commonplace wrong beliefs, is a sign that one isn’t thinking that straight. I don’t think it’s an accident that Bill Maher is both an altie and someone who thinks that religious believers have an “electrical fire” in their heads. Both stances require arrogance and ignorance. I like the way Simon Blackburn put it in his article “Religion and Respect”:

    I think that intuitively we understand that beliefs are contagious. So if someone goes along with the herd and follows one of the major surrounding religions of their culture, this need not demonstrate much of a defect. But if someone gets taken in by a minority cult, there is less excuse. It might seem more or less wilful, or the result of an unfortunate stage of life at which they were especially at sea. Other things being equal, someone who believes that Jesus walked on water is not, in our culture, so many bricks short of a load as someone who believed that the Hale-Bopp comet was his vehicle to heaven. Holding the first belief is excusable, given that so many people have been repeating it to you since childhood, whereas you have to go out of your way to pick up the second.

    The whole article is worth reading. You may want to pay special attention to the parts about “respect creep,” which some see you trying to encourage.

  • Karen

    I like the way Simon Blackburn put it in his article “Religion and Respect”

    I’m commenting on this just to bring it up to the top again. This article that JJ linked to, above, is really good.

    For all of us who are frequently stymied about how/why criticism of the religious is so often taken as a personal affront (you atheists are mean! why are you calling me stupid!), I would say this is required reading.

    He really makes a thoughtful examination of “respect,” the various gradiations of it, how emotion and attitude play into believers’ reactions to criticism and more.

    The final part of the article, which talks about how atheists can have “spiritual” responses without a supernatural orientation, is particularly interesting.

    Thank JJ – I’m bookmarking that one!

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Mike,

    My impression is that the part where you really seem to agree with Haught is where he says “new atheists” are intolerant, and that we should call for a middle ground. That’s great and all, but you’re implicitly endorsing the rest of what Haught says too. And the rest of it is implausible and/or condescending. Comparing the current atheist movement to existentialists is misguided to say the least. Saying that existentialists are more sophisticated than the “pale imitation” that is the modern atheist movement is like me saying that liberal believers like yourself aren’t as true to religion as are the Biblical literalists.

    By the way, if we were to use this simplistic “friendly” vs “new” atheist spectrum, I would consider myself a moderate.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 Ben

    I have the book from the library, will post my thoughts here or at least a link here to wherever I write them up.

  • Claire

    benjdm said,

    Then you are convincing me that Harris is right about moderates being a large part of the problem. You identify with your beliefs and do expect them to be exempt from criticism.

    For someone (me) who is often accused of being a ‘new’ atheist, it’s beginning to become an embarrassment that I have never read them…

    Anyway, benjdm – that second sentence, about identifying with beliefs, is that what Harris maintains is the how and why of moderates being part of the problem? That’s different from what I thought.

    I’m curious because I do find that attitude a major stumbling block in most conversations with believers. The whole attitude of “respect me, respect my beliefs” falls apart for me when those beliefs are not worthy of respect. Usually it shows, too, and then the conversation is abruptly over.

  • Claire

    Karen said,

    For all of us who are frequently stymied about how/why criticism of the religious is so often taken as a personal affront (you atheists are mean! why are you calling me stupid!), I would say this is required reading.

    Thanks for calling attention again to this article that JJ first referenced. I’ve read it once, but it’s pretty dense with ideas, so I’m going to have to read it again.

    From my first reading, it did give me some more insight into why this is so, but unfortunately, despite the author’s best efforts, I’m not sure it really helped on a practical level. Knowing that the highest degree of respect that I can see fit to extend to them is not something that they will see as respect at all may give me some personal clarity, but I’m not sure how to use that to make a conversation possible.

    I really liked the concept of ‘respect creep’ though, that by itself is a little gem.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 Ben

    Anyway, benjdm – that second sentence, about identifying with beliefs, is that what Harris maintains is the how and why of moderates being part of the problem? That’s different from what I thought.

    I would say it is mostly different from what Harris maintains. Harris criticizes that moderates consider religious beliefs exempt from criticism but (if I recall correctly) didn’t go into why very much. The whole tribalism aspect of it has only become apparent to me in the last year or two.

    See http://www.friendlychristian.com/index.php/mockingrational-approach/#comments – starting with my comment 11, mostly between me and kwrigh5. It’s a blog post from January.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    For all of us who are frequently stymied about how/why criticism of the religious is so often taken as a personal affront (you atheists are mean! why are you calling me stupid!)

    No, it’s not just that the New Atheists are merely mean in calling all of us stupid for holding religious beliefs. It is that they are also wrong.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    It still seems to me, however, that you are more interested in using the label “unfriendly” in an argumentative way and as a dismissal of the various criticisms put forth in the comments rather than engage with those criticisms constructively.

    Again, you’re reading too much into my words. I’m neither intending to dismiss nor engage with any of the various criticisms at all in my comments. I’m not at all interested in debating whether or not you guys agree with anything Haught said. And “unfriendly” is merely what I consider to be an accurate descriptor. You seem to want a fight and I’m trying to simply say “Sorry, not interested.”

    The fact that you “couldn’t care less whether any of [us] agree with you” suggests that you’d like to pick and choose which criticisms of your position are acceptable to make.

    Uhhh, what? Again, I’m not following you. Feel free to make any criticisms you want. My statement that I “couldn’t care less” merely means that I’m not really that interested in debating the issue right now since it’s honestly not that important to me. So you don’t agree with me that “Haught is correct in his assessment of the intellectual value of the new atheists”… big deal. Am I supposed to spend a lot of time and energy trying to convince you that I’m right about what is essentially a really minor issue? It’s no skin off my back if you don’t agree with me. Think whatever you like.

    While I agree that it is unpleasant to deal with impoliteness, the fact of the impoliteness does not have any bearing on the validity of the argument.

    Again, as I thought I said before, it’s not just that they are impolite, it’s also that they are wrong. They can call me stupid or irrational all they want, but I personally know those claims to be false. I may be wrong on some of my beliefs, in fact I often am, but that’s not the same thing. Intelligent, rational people are capable of being wrong occasionally, even consistently at times.

    I will, however, quibble with your labeling. Why not just define the people who think we’d be better off without religious people as anti-theists and let the “new atheist” moniker go? There are a lot of atheists who think the “new” appellation is pointless anyway. Your writing would be much clearer if you stuck with anti-theist.

    Fine, whatever dude. It’s not my terminology. I didn’t come up with the label “New Atheists”. If you don’t like it, take it up with Wired magazine who (afaik) invented it, and with all the rest who keep using it. I was just following conventions for clarity’s sake (and cause that’s how Haught refers to them, and this post was about his book after all).

    Why do you keep going back to that belief, if I may ask a personal question?

    I appreciate the honest question, but quite truthfully, that is far too big of a topic for me to address in the comments of this thread and way more than I have time to deal with right now anyway. Sorry to disappoint.

  • Russell

    Mike,

    I was looking for a discussion, not a fight. Since you aren’t interested in either, I can’t understand why you include opinion in your posts. If you are going to put your thoughts out in a public forum that allows commentary, common sense, and common courtesy, would seem to dictate that you would expect this to open a dialogue. While I can understand that you may have accidentally opened such a dialogue with your initial post, certainly posting wildly unsupported assertions along the lines of “new atheists aren’t just mean they are wrong” or “belief in God can’t be irrational” cannot fail to generate rebuttal.

    Best of luck to you, Mike, in whatever other endeavors prevent you from dealing with the discussion generated by what I can now only characterize as a drive-by comment grenade. I won’t expect anything further from you and won’t waste our time by responding to any of your claims.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    If you are going to put your thoughts out in a public forum that allows commentary, common sense, and common courtesy, would seem to dictate that you would expect this to open a dialogue.

    Discuss and dialogue all you want, I’m just saying that I don’t have much stake in the conversation, and hence not much to contribute. You can negatively characterize my post as a “drive-by comment grenade” if you want, but I think I said quite clearly several times that this is all I ever intended the post to be. It’s an informative “hey check this book out if you’re interested” post. Feel free to discuss the merits or demerits of the book with anyone here who is interested in the topic, but I don’t see why you need to direct those comments towards me. If you’re upset that I included my own opinion in the post, then fine, I apologize. As I said, it’s really not that important to me.

  • Karen

    Claire:

    Thanks for calling attention again to this article that JJ first referenced. I’ve read it once, but it’s pretty dense with ideas, so I’m going to have to read it again.

    Yes, it is. I’ve bookmarked it and plan to read it again also.

    From my first reading, it did give me some more insight into why this is so, but unfortunately, despite the author’s best efforts, I’m not sure it really helped on a practical level. Knowing that the highest degree of respect that I can see fit to extend to them is not something that they will see as respect at all may give me some personal clarity, but I’m not sure how to use that to make a conversation possible.

    It may be that the conversation is not always possible, actually. That’s what I took away as one of the top insights: We may not be able to continue the conversation, but we can perhaps better understand the religious person’s quickness to take offense. The part where he talks about how some people’s preferences become inextricably entwined with their self-worth – and disagreeing with those preferences amounts to insulting them – was illuminating for me:

    Kant thought that the judgement that something is beautiful instanced a paradox. Itself it is subject to no rule, no deduction or proof of the one right way in which it is to be conducted. So it seems to be nothing but the expression of wayward pleasure. The paradox is that this pleasure ‘can be demanded’ of others. Almost magically, it turns itself from a subjective expression of a personal reaction, into a public requirement. ‘Demand’ probably first seems to strong to us, twenty-first relativists, not very concerned about the diverse ways in which judgements of beauty bubbles up in others. But when we know ourselves better, it may start to seem right. If we go to the Grand Canyon, and my experience of awe and terror and elevation are only met by your indifference and wish for an ice-cream, the rift between us is serious. Of course, you may excuse yourself —you were tired, out of sorts, preoccupied, angry at something, had seen it often before—but unless you at least feel the need to excuse yourself, we are on the road to alienation and potential hostility. If you only see the Grand Canyon as an opportunity for starting franchises and tourist camps, then I would be disappointed in you. We might have to split up.

    He goes on to talk about how emotions can be separated from attitudes, and how making that distinction might be the key to continuing the conversation. (Emotions are private; attitudes are public.) The problem is that it requires the religious person to be able to separate their emotions from their attitudes. Some can do that (MikeC, Linda, others who interact with us regularly; others do not seem to be able to, and they are more likely to be hurt and disappear).

    I really liked the concept of ‘respect creep’ though, that by itself is a little gem.

    Definitely, as is the final section about finding meaning in this world versus focusing meaning on the afterlife.

  • Karen

    Ben:

    I have the book from the library, will post my thoughts here or at least a link here to wherever I write them up.

    Thanks, Ben. I’d be interested in that.

    MikeC:

    No, it’s not just that the New Atheists are merely mean in calling all of us stupid for holding religious beliefs. It is that they are also wrong.

    I wasn’t referencing the New Atheists or anything as obviously insulting as calling religious people “stupid.” I’m not at all confused about why religious believers would be offended by that. ;-)

    I was talking about how often it seems that blanket criticisms of religion itself – not religious believers – get religious believers’ dander up and they get all huffy and offended. Not when someone is using a personal insult, but when someone is criticizing the ideas of religion as being unsubstantiated by evidence, etc.

    The article in question talks about that phenomenon and thoughtfully dissects it, starting off with the dilemma of an atheist being asked to don a yarmulke (or something similar) during dinner at a religious colleague’s house. When the author refused to do so, it offended the colleague and provoked the article. I think you’d enjoy it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Sorry Karen, I guess I misunderstood the point you were making since in your earlier comment you said

    “For all of us who are frequently stymied about how/why criticism of the religious is so often taken as a personal affront (you atheists are mean! why are you calling me stupid!), I would say this is required reading.”

    I assumed you were talking about people getting offended at being called stupid, not simply about someone not wearing a yarmulke or debating whether or not religion is based on any evidence. I apologize for misreading you.

    I agree that it’s silly for people to get offended at that latter kind of stuff. Respect doesn’t mean forcing people to conform to your traditions or expecting them not to argue their points when they disagree with you. But, IMHO, respect does mean not assuming that just because someone doesn’t agree with you or argues a contrary point of view that they must necessarily be stupid, irrational, blind, vicious, etc. Perhaps this is too “postmodern” of me, but think it’s important to realize that rational, intelligent, good-hearted people can often look at the same set of evidence and reach differing conclusions. Rationality, at its root, is habit of mind and a set of epistemological virtues, not merely a mathematical process that will lead all persons to exactly the same answer every time.

  • Siamang

    I like the point in that article where he compares the situation to two people seeing the Grand Canyon, and the idea that if someone doesn’t show proper awe and respect upon gazing upon it, that there will be a rift between them and the one showing respect.

    That is a completely understandable analogy to me. I can see why we might come off as rude to believers merely for not responding with awe and wonder reflexively upon viewing the magnificence of the grand scope of the house that religion built. If it was the Grand Canyon, we’d look like assholes for having the Clark Griswold reaction.

    Mike Clawson said:

    No, I define them according to both. A “New Atheist” is not simply an atheist, but an anti-theist. I.e. someone who doesn’t just think that I am wrong, but that we’d all be better off if people like me didn’t even exist.

    Here I think you are using hypersensitized phrasing. To say that your ideological opponent says that the “world would be better off if people like you didn’t exist” is to extremize the discussion.

    Are any of the “new atheists” advocating oppression? Eradicating believers? Making religion illegal? No.

    Rather, I think they would say that “YOU would be better off if they could convince you through persuasion and consciousness-raising to change your views on religion, provided you wanted to take part in that conversation and read their books. And the world would benefit from more people’s consciousness being raised about the benefits of a skeptical attitude toward religion.”

    Mike Clawson, I take it you are anti-”New Atheism”. That’s pretty clear. Shall we phrase that as “The discussion between atheists and Christians would be better off if Dawkins’ book didn’t even exist, and Dawkins kept his views to himself”? Should we take it that you advocate a world without the book “The God Delusion” and take it that you advocate some form of censorship?

    HELL NO! I don’t think you feel that way at all.

    Rather I think, just like Dawkins, you would like the New Atheists consciousnesses to be raised to the idea that a better discussion could be had if people listened to your points and changed their discussion style.

    I think the dialog is helped with more and better discussion. We should resist the temptation to hypersensitize the language.

  • Claire

    Karen said:

    I was talking about how often it seems that blanket criticisms of religion itself – not religious believers – get religious believers’ dander up and they get all huffy and offended.

    If I had a dollar for everytime I have seen a religious person post a comment on this blog to the effect that “if you insult my religion, you have insulted me personally” I could take myself out for a nice meal.

    The follow-up after someone (often me) puts forth the idea that ideas are fair game and only people get some basic respect, is a restatement that the two are one and the same, and inseparable. And yes, then the accusations about meanness start…

    I think you are right, there are people you just can’t have a conversation with. But maybe a good start is (as you did) bookmarking the article and suggesting the huffy people might want to read it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Do any of you suppose that there are ways of expressing disagreement with other’s ideas that are less offensive than others? (What the Christian scriptures call “speaking the truth in love”.) If so, is it worthwhile to ever try and do this? And if so, would you any of you claim that the “New Atheists” are particularly good at doing this?

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    Yes, there are ways of being more or less offensive. I seriously question whether there is any way of expressing a disbelief in gods that will not be seen as offensive to a significant number of Christians. Do we really need to go over the number of Christians that have said that the mere acknowledgement of atheists is dangerous? Is Monique Davis such an aberration?

    And if so, would you any of you claim that the “New Atheists” are particularly good at doing this?

    Hitchens isn’t, that’s for sure, but he isn’t trying to be. Michael Shermer is, Dan Dennet is, and Sam Harris is pretty good. Come to think of it, Richard Dawkins is also quite good. The problem isn’t with their delivery, it’s with the message. There’s just no good way of pointing out some basic facts about the bible, the Christian God and theism in general without offending people. They’ve gotten their minds so badly twisted that the bible itself causes dissonance.

    (You can imply that this is somehow the fault of of the “New Atheists”, but you are wrong, which is your cue for restating that you aren’t interested in defending yourself or getting into a discussion…)

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I seriously question whether there is any way of expressing a disbelief in gods that will not be seen as offensive to a significant number of Christians.

    I can’t speculate about numbers, but as I’ve said above, I for one see nothing offensive about atheism per se. And I personally know plenty of other Christians who would also feel the same way.

    Michael Shermer is, Dan Dennet is, and Sam Harris is pretty good. Come to think of it, Richard Dawkins is also quite good. The problem isn’t with their delivery, it’s with the message.

    That’s an interesting perspective Adrian.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    I know you say that you don’t find atheism offensive per se, and I know you would never say anything as stupid as Davis did, but when confronted with an atheist that wishes to express himself, I feel like you’re still asking him to shut up, just doing it in a nicer way.

    If I read the bible and think that the God of the bible is tyrannical, megalomaniacal, cruel, whimsical, and evil, how do I express this in a way which is minimally offensive?

    If I don’t believe that there is any substantial difference between a belief in God and a belief in The Great Rainbow Serpent, Thor, Xenu or alien abductions, how do I express this in a way which is minimally offensive?

    If I review the arguments in support of a god and conclude that the best arguments are merely, as someone said “trickiest to refute” but undeniably refuted, how do I say that apologetics are fallacious, illogical, wishful thinking and question begging in a way which is minimally offensive?

    Dan Dennet devoted a book to these questions and tries to deal with them as fairly as I’ve ever seen, and in return he gets called offensive. In many ways, it sounds like we’re not being told to be kind, we’re being told to shut up.

    That’s an interesting perspective Adrian.

    Thank you, I hope that you’ll share yours as well.

  • Polly

    Unlike many on this blog, I really do think there’s some difference between studying the Bible-god vs. other myths. The other characters are more 2-D, either for lack of development over the centuries or because they were written more like comic book villains.

    There is a whole lot more thinking and philosophy behind the Bible, both from the Jews and the Xians. These philosophical musings have touched upon every other facet of human existence, from the sovereignty of the individual (and its limitations) to the ethics of war.

    Just because there is no god (AFAIK), doesn’t negate the value of
    trying to wrangle truth from the experiences and perspectives of all those ancient peoples and writings…if you’re into that sort of thing, I mean.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    Do any of you suppose that there are ways of expressing disagreement with other’s ideas that are less offensive than others?

    Definitely.

    If so, is it worthwhile to ever try and do this?

    I would say it usually is.

    And if so, would you any of you claim that the “New Atheists” are particularly good at doing this?

    I can’t speak for their motivations, but for myself, I try to, until I lose my temper. Which I do need to work on. But to a great extent it’s impossible with religion. It’s the first topic the New Atheists address in their get-together video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuyUz2XLp1E

    The only way I could not offend religious believers is to keep my mouth shut and not say I disagree and why I disagree.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    If I read the bible and think that the God of the bible is tyrannical, megalomaniacal, cruel, whimsical, and evil, how do I express this in a way which is minimally offensive?

    If I don’t believe that there is any substantial difference between a belief in God and a belief in The Great Rainbow Serpent, Thor, Xenu or alien abductions, how do I express this in a way which is minimally offensive?

    If I review the arguments in support of a god and conclude that the best arguments are merely, as someone said “trickiest to refute” but undeniably refuted, how do I say that apologetics are fallacious, illogical, wishful thinking and question begging in a way which is minimally offensive?

    All of those views are your perogative, and you’re free to hold them if you like. However, none of them are necessary or inherent to atheism per se. As I said, I find nothing about atheism, i.e. the lack of belief in God, offensive. And most of the beliefs you mentioned don’t seem particularly offensive to me either, though of course I mostly disagree. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t mistake the views you espouse, nor the even more virulently anti-theist views of Hitchens, et al. as necessarily “atheist”. And because they are not the same, I can find anti-theism offensive without finding atheism itself offensive.

    “That’s an interesting perspective Adrian.”

    Thank you, I hope that you’ll share yours as well.

    I’m pretty sure I already have.

  • Russell

    @MikeClawson said, April 21, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Wow. After (accidently or not) posting his opinion of the quality of rhetoric present in the works of Hitchens, Dawkens, etc, then telling me that he was much too busy to discuss and defend this position, Mike apparently has the time to toss out some more discussion starter questions, and the questions are about improving the level of respect in dialogue. The irony is thick. It’s as if he wants to be the Socratic professor, always asking questions and never defending his own opinions.

    So how about this for starters on ways to “speak truth in love”:

    1) When someone takes the time to offer his/her thoughts on a topic that you brought up have the common courtesy to respond in kind

    2) when you comment, engage and advance the dialogue in some way, not just say that you think a position is, for example, “interesting” and then nothing further. This is called passing judgement. Try to articulate why you find the position interesting and how it may have informed your thinking in some new direction or given you a different perspective, if it did. If it didn’t, try to explain why not.

    3) avoid being condescending. Giving people permission to hold a belief implies that you could also deny that permission. I already know that I can think whatever I want, thanks. Saying something along the lines of “you can believe whatever you want, but I personally know you are wrong” is not a position of argument since it offers no evidence and does nothing to advance the debate, although religious people often seem to think it is a trump card somehow.

    4) when someone you are in dialogue with requests that you explain a position further, try to do so. Claiming that you’ve already done so doesn’t help the discussion in any way. In fact it tends to cut it off.

    Personally, I’d much rather have someone say “I think your position is infinitely stupid and here’s why” then listen while I have my say than be subjected to the disrespect inherent in failure to observe the above suggestions. These failures suggest, ever so politely, that my thoughts are not worth anything and simultaneously prevent the opportunity for me to improve them if they do fall short. “Run along and play, I have better things to do” may be gentler than “shut up”, but it isn’t more polite.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I agree that this whole neo-Darwinism/ID debate includes a false dichotomy. Some in each faction (mainly the ID camp) like to present it like the following: Life is either
    1. all random chance, genetic memory, and selection
    or
    2. all created by God who actively engages His creation (answers prayers
    and smites the wicked) and ultimately sends you to Heaven or Hell based upon what you choose to believe in your life.

    The IDers (or creationists) make the mistake of rationalizing that weaknesses in the neo-Darwinism argument must mean that their own cherished religious beliefs must be true. The Neo-Darwinists dogmatically protect their own view for fear of returning to the days when the religious held sway over all aspects of society and repressed all forms of science and free thought. Thus we have this false dichotomy.

    Some may argue for a “middle way”. I argue for a third way. I personally believe that there are subtle tendencies in nature that favor
    self-organization of matter that solve the problem of certain statistical improbabilities cited by the ID crowd. These subtle tendencies can be
    considered as a FIRST CAUSE without the need to invoke a whole
    anthropomorphic theistic superstructure.

  • Siamang

    Except Jeff, those statistical improbabilities don’t actually exist. Creationists are committing Hoyle’s Fallacy.

    There may be indeed a first cause, but don’t go looking for it to solve math problems brought up by the ID crowd. They don’t do math so good.

  • Russell

    Jeff,

    I agree with you that the dichotomy you address is a false one. As someone said upthread there seem to be at least 5 sides to the debate.

    I’m curious about your third way, however. The tendency to organize isn’t necessarily subtle: proteins self fold, atoms and molecules bond in specific ways, bigger chunks of things are visibly organized by gravity. All these things can be or are in the process of being explained in detail by science. How does your third way or FIRST CAUSE (and what do you mean by FIRST CAUSE) fill gaps in this understanding? By invoking Darwinism it seems you are limiting your third way to evolutionary theory, or at least the field of biology, but the use of FIRST CAUSE seems to imply something grander and more universal than one small field of science. Can you expound on your thesis a bit?

  • Chris
    If I read the bible and think that the God of the bible is tyrannical, megalomaniacal, cruel, whimsical, and evil, how do I express this in a way which is minimally offensive?

    If I don’t believe that there is any substantial difference between a belief in God and a belief in The Great Rainbow Serpent, Thor, Xenu or alien abductions, how do I express this in a way which is minimally offensive?

    If I review the arguments in support of a god and conclude that the best arguments are merely, as someone said “trickiest to refute” but undeniably refuted, how do I say that apologetics are fallacious, illogical, wishful thinking and question begging in a way which is minimally offensive?

    MikeClawson said
    All of those views are your perogative, and you’re free to hold them if you like. However, none of them are necessary or inherent to atheism per se. As I said, I find nothing about atheism, i.e. the lack of belief in God, offensive. And most of the beliefs you mentioned don’t seem particularly offensive to me either, though of course I mostly disagree. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t mistake the views you espouse, nor the even more virulently anti-theist views of Hitchens, et al. as necessarily “atheist”. And because they are not the same, I can find anti-theism offensive without finding atheism itself offensive.

    But these three points are at the heart of the atheism of Hitchens, Dawkins, et al. And you don’t find these offensive but you do find the new atheists offensive? But, you really haven’t really answered the question. If these points are central to most atheistic arguments, and you find some of these atheists offensive, then exactly how should they present these not “particularly offensive” arguments in a way that you find acceptable? I am interested in how one gets accross the point that one finds the god of the bible “evil”, belief in him on par with belief in the “great rainbow serpent”, that his followers employ multiple fallacies, without offense. I want to know how you can believe these things without writing a book pretty much like Dawkins or Hitchens.

  • Russell

    Chris and others,

    It looks like these issues with MikeClawson are not new. Just thought you’d like to know before you got as frustrated as I did.

  • Chris

    Atheists were not going to get along with the fundies. It is hard to have much of a conversation with someone who believes even most Christians are going to burn in the everlasting fire of a loving God. But I think the moderates were taken aback by the popularity of the new atheists. This just won’t do at all. Atheists were OK in small numbers and when they were quiet. A moderate could be comfortable with an atheist on some political board as long as they don’t talk too much about what they believe. Actually, what I think moderates really want are some wishy-washy agnostics who are just not sure and won’t take a stand.

    Moderates were comfortable when atheists critiqued the specific social policies of the fundies. But it became a problem, when they started to really go after the whole question of belief in god and began to really look at the question of the logic of trying to pick and choose what passages of the bible to accept.

    So what to do? Moderates like to think they are open minded. So they can’t just say they atheists are bad, so they have to have a reason to dislike the new atheists. So they latch on to this meme: Atheists are just too darn mean. They just aren’t as devastated about their atheism as they should be. They just don’t respect theology like they should.

    So we get this ludicrous notion that the new atheists are not in the same league as those like Sartre and Nietzsche (as if theists gave these two any respect when they were alive.) But this is a mere veneer of fairness. How can we accuse a moderate of being unfair when they are a big fan of Nietzshe? After all, he is dead. Both Sartre and Nietzche are sufficiently “dangerous” (but obscure) to make them great candidates. They can’t tell us what it was really like or what they really thought about theology, now can they? I can’t wait for the moderate theist revival of that great free thinker, Bertrand Russell (nah, no way. Too many new atheists still quote BR. And that floating tea pot is just too darn mean)

    In the end, moderates will join hands with us in the brotherhood of ecumenical love as long as we stay at the back of the bus and shut our mouths.

  • Karen

    Mike C.

    I assumed you were talking about people getting offended at being called stupid, not simply about someone not wearing a yarmulke or debating whether or not religion is based on any evidence. I apologize for misreading you.

    Gotcha, no problem.

    I agree that it’s silly for people to get offended at that latter kind of stuff. Respect doesn’t mean forcing people to conform to your traditions or expecting them not to argue their points when they disagree with you.

    Exactly. I suspect that your education and your own extensive questioning of religion probably is at work here.

    It’s unfortunate that you and those like you who are able to tease out disrespect from disagreement seem so rare in the larger religious community. And it’s not just fundies – even moderates can become quite offended if their cherished beliefs are questioned by non-believers. It’s that veneer of special respect that’s accorded to religion, at least in the U.S., that makes it shocking and hurtful when someone dares to challenge religion’s validity in front of a religious person.

    Claire:

    If I had a dollar for everytime I have seen a religious person post a comment on this blog to the effect that “if you insult my religion, you have insulted me personally” I could take myself out for a nice meal.

    The follow-up after someone (often me) puts forth the idea that ideas are fair game and only people get some basic respect, is a restatement that the two are one and the same, and inseparable. And yes, then the accusations about meanness start…

    Yes, there’s no separation allowed between the belief and the person him/herself. Perhaps that’s due to the extremely personal nature of belief. Particularly for “born-again” Christians, who have “died to Christ” and actually believe he lives inside of them and represents their better nature.

    Or maybe it’s just that all of us like to have our good taste validated. As Siamang pointed out from the essay, if I took someone to see the Grand Canyon and extolled its beauty and wonder, and then that person responded with, “Meh – whatever” it would definitely sting. I hope I’d be big enough not to start whining about being offended, but not everyone can take opposing opinions magnanimously.

  • Adrian

    Karen,

    Or maybe it’s just that all of us like to have our good taste validated. As Siamang pointed out from the essay, if I took someone to see the Grand Canyon and extolled its beauty and wonder, and then that person responded with, “Meh – whatever” it would definitely sting.

    That’s a strange analogy. It’s true to an extent, and a similar sting is felt when someone slams a movie we love or a cherished book. But we recognize that these are opinions and we might think “what a philistine” or “ignorant boob”, but that’s the extent of it. I love backpacking and get a real charge from the mountains and natural scenery but I’ve met countless people that don’t care at all. We express our different opinions, accept them and move on.

    When you start talking theology, we aren’t talking about opinions, no matter how important. The existence or nonexistence of a god is a physical fact, the teachings of Jesus (whatever they may be) are a historical fact. We may disagree on the answers to these questions, but they are definitely not opinions.

    I think it’s a big mistake to say appreciating the Grand Canyon is directly comparable to believing God exists or not. Because even Christians know that the existence or nonexistence of God isn’t an opinion, then a disagreement isn’t something that can be waved away by saying to ourselves “different strokes”. We know that any disagreement means that something much more fundamental is going on, that we’re interpreting the evidence differently, our understanding of reality itself is different. By comparing this difference to an opinion, no matter how heartfelt, does a disservice.

    Sure, I think that Christians have good reason to feel attacked when atheists express themselves. They aren’t under attack, but they understand (correctly) that their reasoning is being implicitly attacked. The dissonant information leads to a very real sense of personal attack. It’s not our fault; if you hold dissonant beliefs, this is bound to happen, but we’ll get blamed for being the messenger.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Sorry for jumping in late, but I tried to catch up. Here are my thoughts, whatever they’re worth…

    Mike said,

    I’d be interested in seeing a survey of how many atheists really feel like the New Atheists do in fact speak for them. It feels to me like the numbers are growing, though that could simply be because the recent tone of Hemant’s posts and the comments here have driven away the “friendlier” atheists who do not consider themselves anti-theists.

    Me too. Just like any other group, including the Christians that were referred to on the Matt Taibi thread, I suspect that there are many who are not as willing to speak up and voice their opinions that differ from the more vocal ones or the (more intimidating) majority. Although I think Jen did speak up in the beginning of this thread.

    Raghu said,

    Take a poll of Christians on the street and I bet you’ll find that the majority will have a rather simplistic view of religion that bears little resemblance to what the theologians talk about.

    I must say… I absolutely agree with this.

    Russell said,

    I’m willing to listen and be educated. Like others have said here, if someone thinks they have found a superior argument for the existence of god(s) please post it. One caveat: to convince me it will need to have some evidence, not just be another argument from personal incredulity.

    What makes everyone think that we have to be “convinced” by each other? Can’t we just accept the fact that God exists in the eyes of the believer, and He does not in the eyes of the non-believer? Neither side can convince the other one to see it their way, no matter how many arguments are made, how many books are written, or even how many testimonies are given. The Atheists keep digging up the nonsense presented by the nut jobs and the misguided people out there and say, “look at how ridiculous they (Christians) are.” Is this a way to somehow validate to yourselves that it’s okay to reject God? Russell, I’m not addressing you in particular, and I don’t mean this to sound hostile. It’s just that your comment got me on this train of thought. (Please go easy on me) ;-)

    It sounds like you want to define friendly atheists as those that don’t disagree with you, or at least not too much.

    It’s the tone that one uses in disagreeing and the intention behind the words.

    I do think your belief in God is irrational, particularly in light of the fact that you seem to want to cling to it even when you have “days when [you’re] not sure [you] believe in the existence of God either.” Why do you keep going back to that belief, if I may ask a personal question?

    Since Mike declined to answer this, may I have a go at it? And I hope you don’t dismiss me as some lunatic. Even if you do, so be it.

    In my opinion, if any Christian can look at their faith honest enough, we all have those days. Time does not stand still. Any experience we have in our lives, as real as they are, fades away into our memory. Once God has revealed himself to us, in whatever way that is personal to each one of us, time keeps moving forward. We are put into a position of having to remember the experience. Remember… remember… Sometimes, though, the memory becomes so faint that we cannot remember.

    Have you ever lost someone and, after a time, found yourself not able to recall their face? Their voice? Their touch? Do you ever find yourselves having to go back to a photo album, a letter, a memento, a song, something to make them come back to you? And then the memory floods back… they are suddenly real again.

    Except with God and his believers, it’s spiritual, real, and not just a memory. He is constant, but we fade in and out and in and out. It’s not really explainable. All I know is that reality is not what it seems, and truth and lie can be very deceiving. But to those of you who need evidence in hand as proof, none of this will sound very rational at all. I know that. It doesn’t even sound all that rational to me, to tell you the truth. But it is what it is.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Adrian said,

    How can you tell someone that their deeply held beliefs are irrational, unfounded and possibly harmful and still be perceived as friendly? It seems to me that it is sufficient to be an honest atheist to be perceived as unfriendly by theists.

    Adrian, the way I see it, there is a difference between being honest with the intent of understanding each other and being honest with the intent of dismissing or disqualifying the other points of view.

    When you start talking theology, we aren’t talking about opinions, no matter how important. The existence or nonexistence of a god is a physical fact, the teachings of Jesus (whatever they may be) are a historical fact. We may disagree on the answers to these questions, but they are definitely not opinions.

    I agree that we’re speaking of facts, but I don’t think the existence of God is a physical fact. As I see it, there’s nothing physical about God, other than the fact that his expression is in all things that have life. God is spiritual, and his existence cannot be proven in any solid way that you are looking for. You keep asking for something that cannot be given.

    The following is your typical conversation between a theist and an atheist on any given day:

    Me: “God loves me.”

    You: “Don’t be ridiculous. There is no god. You have no proof.”

    Me: “I have changed. I am healed. I am free.”

    You: “No you didn’t. Where’s the proof?”

    Me: “But I’m the one who’s me. I know what happened to me.”

    You: “That’s so stupid. There’s no evidence.”

    Me: “But He’s real. My spirit is alive. I can feel it.”

    You: “Prove it.”

    Me: “But I can’t. I just know.”

    You: “See? You are irrational and delusional. And weird. On the other hand, I am smart and rational. Everything has to make logical sense to me for it to be true. If you cannot convince me of the validity of your experience according to my standards, then what you say has to be false. Therefore, God does not exist.”

    There has to be another way to approach the dialogue than the way that keeps repeating itself and never getting anywhere. Hmmm….

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Russell, thank you for your wonderfully condescending lesson on how I’m “supposed” to engage with you here. I’m sorry that you’re disappointed I won’t argue with you about Haught’s views, but you’re just going to have to get over it. I’m just not that interested in the topic, and your high pressure tactics to try to get me to debate with you are making it all the less likely that I would want to.

  • Claire

    MikeClawson said:

    However, none of them are necessary or inherent to atheism per se. As I said, I find nothing about atheism, i.e. the lack of belief in God, offensive. And most of the beliefs you mentioned don’t seem particularly offensive to me either, though of course I mostly disagree. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t mistake the views you espouse, nor the even more virulently anti-theist views of Hitchens, et al. as necessarily “atheist”.

    If I read this right, what you are saying is that it’s ok not to believe, but it’s not ok (or at least that it is sometimes offensive) to criticize religion or religious beliefs. Did I get that right, that an atheist who makes a non-neutral statement about religion, above and beyond simple disbelief, is crossing the line to anti-theist territory and therefore to ‘unfriendly’ atheist?

    If so, I can see why you are objecting to some articles and comments on this blog, but it doesn’t seem to be very realistic not to expect criticism of religion on an atheist blog. And I don’t see how it fits in with your other statement:

    Do any of you suppose that there are ways of expressing disagreement with other’s ideas that are less offensive than others?

    In this quote, you seem to be saying that it’s the tone or the phrasing that’s the problem, but in the first quote it’s the ideas and thoughts themselves that are the problem.

    I would like to be able to discuss ideas without people getting personally offended, but it doesn’t seem to be possible. I did hold out hope for a while that there were, as you put it, less offensive ways of disagreement, but I think I’m with Adrian, who said

    They aren’t under attack, but they understand (correctly) that their reasoning is being implicitly attacked. The dissonant information leads to a very real sense of personal attack. It’s not our fault; if you hold dissonant beliefs, this is bound to happen, but we’ll get blamed for being the messenger.

    Mike, Adrian asked you some questions, which you treated as rhetorical, and indeed he probably did mean them that way. I’m asking one of those same questions, but I would really like an answer if you have one. It was:

    If I read the bible and think that the God of the bible is tyrannical, megalomaniacal, cruel, whimsical, and evil, how do I express this in a way which is minimally offensive?

    So, I’m asking: if that is a person’s thoughts on reading the bible, is there a way to rephrase that so it’s less offensive? Is there any alternative but simply shutting up? Because as long as people (not you, but a whole lot of other people) can’t discuss things without feeling personally insulted, I’m not seeing any chance for dialogue.

    If there’s a way to state my opinions honestly but less offensively, and you have any ideas as to how, please, tell me what they are. If they exist, I want to know.

  • Russell

    Linda,

    I think perhaps the difference between your outlook and mine is that we are interested in different goals. I’m interested in testing ideas to see which ones most accurately reflect reality. That’s probably why I’m a scientist, and an atheist, too. I certainly won’t presume to speak for you as to what your goals are, you’ll have to tell me, if you so choose. Actually I think having now read other threads with MikeClawson commenting in them that this where our exchange of posts went wrong also. I have no idea what his goals are either, but they are clearly not compatible with mine.

    Can’t we just accept the fact that God exists in the eyes of the believer, and He does not in the eyes of the non-believer? Neither side can convince the other one to see it their way, no matter how many arguments are made, how many books are written, or even how many testimonies are given.

    No, I’m afraid that I can’t accept that God exists for some people and not others. I can accept that some people want to live their lives as if their god exists, while others do not, but this is not the same thing. The only way I can imagine that God would exist for some people and not others is to postulate, without any evidence, that this is just the way things are. Using this as a model for how to determine reality makes anything possible, and thus is entirely useless to me. As far as one side convincing another, just check out all the conversion/deconversion/reconversion stories out there and you’ll see that this is not only possible, but happens all the time.

    Is this a way to somehow validate to yourselves that it’s okay to reject God?

    Presuming that your antecedent points to the act of convincing rather than the act of quoting nut jobs: no. First, I don’t reject God, or any other gods. How can I when none of them exist. I reject the notion that god(s) exist. This may seem like a pointless line to draw for some, but implicit in the question “do you reject god?” is the assumption that god exists. No matter how I answer I accept that there is a god to reject. It’s the old “when did you stop beating your wife?” trap. Second: to address the broader question of why I think it is important for people to be convinced that there is no god (I’m not really sure you are asking this, but I suspect so) the simplest reason is that I think understanding the world we live in is, in and of itself, valuable because I think understanding how the world works allows us to make better decisions about how we live our lives. This is true if we are talking about the value of reading to our kids instead of plugging them into the TV, using antibiotics wisely to treat infections, or deciding how to treat each other.

    Thanks for answering the question that I originally asked MikeClawson. This, too, is part of my goal to test my ideas of how reality is, by the way. Since you are part of my reality now, I’m interested in understanding how and especially why you think the way you do so I can understand that reality better.

    I must admit that even after reading your explanation several times I’m not sure I quite get it. I hope you don’t mind my reflecting the story back to you as I understand it. This often helps me understand someone else’s view better when I put it in my own words, and it also helps when the other person corrects my version, so please feel free to tell me I’m totally off base. You think that God revealed himself to you at some point, and that when you question God’s existence it is because you’ve forgotten what that revelation was like, so you try to recapture or at least better remember that feeling of revelation to maintain your belief in God. Is that a fair paraphrase? I’ll have to think about this some more to try to understand better. This doesn’t sound irrational, necessarily, but I guess I wonder why you attempt to maintain your belief. From my point of view it sounds like the idea that there might not be a God is in some other way unacceptable and so when these thoughts occur you actively try to squash them. My response is different: when I wonder if, as you say, reality is not as it seems and that apparent lies/truths might be deceptive, I try to test the reality to determine if it actually is as it seems, or if not what the reality actually is, exposing the apparent lies/truths in the process.

    Sorry about the long post, and I’m pretty sure I went easy on you, and without even trying (now insert one of those smiley things that I don’t know how to code)

  • Claire

    Linda said:

    The Atheists keep digging up the nonsense presented by the nut jobs and the misguided people out there and say, “look at how ridiculous they (Christians) are.” Is this a way to somehow validate to yourselves that it’s okay to reject God?

    Russell already addressed the inherent assumption that makes that a trick question, so I’m going to tell you where I think you are close to the truth. I do think that it is a way for some people to validate a rejection of religion. Even if someone doesn’t believe in a god, we all have ideas on what helps and hurts society at large, and we all collect the stories that show we are right. So, if a person thinks religion is bad, those are the stories they are going to gravitate to and use as illustrations of the damage done.

    Yes, I know, I know: anecdotal evidence proves nothing, but we all do love our stories.

  • Russell

    @ MikeClawson April 22, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    Mike,

    You misunderstand me. My post was in no way intended as condescending or sarcastic. I honestly think you have a significant problem with this and was trying to help you out. After reviewing some of the other threads that you’ve posted on it seems that I’m not the only one who thinks so. Perhaps some introspection is in order if you don’t agree. Actually your post is another good example: none of your apologies or thanks that you direct at those who decent from your viewpoint seem remotely sincere, and that’s really pretty off-putting. If you want to tell me to pound sand, just do it. Best of luck. No worries about the Haught topic.

    Russell

  • Russell

    @Claire April 23, 2008 at 3:39 am

    Claire, I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but I think you are right. Probably everyone suffers, to some extent, from confirmation bias. I appreciate you picking up the point since I may have taken the topic in a direction Linda didn’t intend.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Claire:

    If I read this right, what you are saying is that it’s ok not to believe, but it’s not ok (or at least that it is sometimes offensive) to criticize religion or religious beliefs. Did I get that right, that an atheist who makes a non-neutral statement about religion, above and beyond simple disbelief, is crossing the line to anti-theist territory and therefore to ‘unfriendly’ atheist?

    No, that’s not what I’m saying. I have plenty of criticisms of religion and religious people myself. Why would I object if atheists also offer similar criticisms?

    I thought I made it pretty clear in my comments above what I consider to be offensive anti-theist comments. It’s when they universalize their criticisms to all religious people. It’s one thing to point out that religion can sometimes lead some people to do some stupid, irrational, and even evil things. But it’s quite another to claim that therefore all religious people are stupid, irrational, or evil (or whatever other insult you prefer) by the simple fact of their being religious.

    Now listen, if a person honestly believes this is true (i.e. that all theists aren’t just wrong, but are actually stupid or evil) then there may be no hope of being inoffensive. You’re just going to have to say it and face the fact that you’re probably not going to “win friends or influence people” outside of those who already agree with you.

    But if that’s how you really feel then don’t be surprised or blame us theists when we do get offended. Some of the comments here really seem like you guys (maybe not you specifically, I’m not sure) want to mock us as cry-babies when we get offended at comments that you yourself would probably admit are inherently offensive.

    Even still, I do think there are less offensive ways to say such things if you do in fact believe them. It is possible to point out flaws without being mocking or condescending about it. Yes, people will still take offense, but at least you will have taken the moral high ground. But personally I don’t think the “New Atheists” do this very well at all. From my perspective they are offensive both in content and in style. That is why you perceive me commenting on both.

    If I read the bible and think that the God of the bible is tyrannical, megalomaniacal, cruel, whimsical, and evil, how do I express this in a way which is minimally offensive?

    So, I’m asking: if that is a person’s thoughts on reading the bible, is there a way to rephrase that so it’s less offensive? Is there any alternative but simply shutting up? Because as long as people (not you, but a whole lot of other people) can’t discuss things without feeling personally insulted, I’m not seeing any chance for dialogue.

    I thought I was clear that I didn’t find that statement particularly offensive? There are times when God in the Bible comes across that way to me too. Again, that’s not the part of the New Atheist critique that I find offensive. It’s when they act like this impression is reflective of all religion and all religious people that it gets offensive.

    So I’m happy to discuss the concepts and ideas of religion like the one you mentioned without “feeling personally insulted”. But when the comments being made are intended as personal insults (e.g. “Faithheads”, “child abusers”, “delusional”, “poisonous”, etc.), then I don’t think anyone should be surprised when we take them as such and do feel personally insulted.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    I thought I was clear that I didn’t find that statement particularly offensive? There are times when God in the Bible comes across that way to me too. Again, that’s not the part of the New Atheist critique that I find offensive. It’s when they act like this impression is reflective of all religion and all religious people that it gets offensive.

    Now I’m really confused. When you talked about how offensive Dawkins (or Harris and Dennet) were, I had assumed that you were talking about the passages where they describe the Christian God in less-than-flattering terms. If that isn’t a problem, then I’m at a loss to think of what actually bothers you.

    Dawkins is clear about what religion he attacks, Harris is clear about why liberal theists are a problem, and Dennet seems allergic to sweeping statements. What do you think is offensive about what they say, because I can’t think of it.

    But when the comments being made are intended as personal insults (e.g. “Faithheads”, “child abusers”, “delusional”, “poisonous”, etc.), then I don’t think anyone should be surprised when we take them as such and do feel personally insulted.

    Apart from Hitchens (who seems to get a real buzz from insulting zingers), who uses these? I know that religion is described as poisonous, but that’s hardly a personal attack, and delusional seems to be a perfectly accurate if unflattering description of the belief.

    So if you did think that Christian belief was “a fixed, false belief, resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact” (the dictionary definition of a delusion) and devoted an entire book to demonstrating this, how do you express it in an inoffensive way?

    We seem to come to the same point where you just don’t like the message. These aren’t insults, they’re statements of unpleasant conclusions. So what’s the way of expressing this without being mocking or condescending?

    You say “delusional” is an insult, when Dawkins devotes almost an entire page to explaining exactly what he means by it in technical, inoffensive language. I’ll quote it in full to demonstrate the lengths to which Dawkins goes to use precise language and avoid personal attacks. He’s talking about what he sees as a real phenomenon and using the best word available:

    The word ‘delusion’ in my title has disquieted some psychiatrists who regard it as a technical term, not to be bandied about. Three of them wrote to me to propose a special technical term for religious delusion: ‘relusion’. Maybe it’ll catch on. But for now I am going to stick with ‘delusion’, and I need to justify my use of it. The Penguin English Dictionary defines a delusion as ‘a false belief or impression’. Surprisingly, the illustrative quotation the dictionary gives is from Phillip E. Johnson: ‘Darwinism is the story of humanity’s liberation from the delusion that its destiny is controlled by a power higher than itself.’ Can that be the same Phillip E. Johnson who leads the creationist charge against Darwinism in America today? Indeed it is, and the quotation is, as we might guess, taken out of context. I hope the fact that I have stated as much will be noted, since the same courtesy has not been extended to me in numerous creationist quotations of my works, deliberately and misleadingly taken out of context. Whatever Johnson’s own meaning, his sentence as it stands is one that I would be happy to endorse. The dictionary supplied with Microsoft Word defines a delusion as ‘a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of psychiatric disorder’. The first part captures religious faith perfectly. As to whether it is a symptom of a psychiatric disorder, I am inclined to follow Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, when he said, ‘When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.’

    Despite this, you seem to be engaging in just what Dennet describes in “Breaking the Spell”: making a big show of taking personal offence when your beliefs are challenged, seemingly to shut down legitimate discussion. You accuse Dawkins of intentionally making personal insults in order to silence him, yet the only thing insulting is his message.

  • Claire

    Ok, Mike, I think I see why your comments weren’t clear to me. It’s another place where a word means two things – the word ‘anti-theist’ can mean either someone who is against theists or someone who is against theism. I am not in the first category (as a general rule), but I’m firmly in the latter.

    I can understand the objection to blanket anti-theist-ist comments. The problem is that I do try to avoid them but it still gets me nowhere. Most people insist on taking offense at any anti-theism comments as though they were personal insults, and that’s where I’m lost on what to do.

    I thought I was clear that I didn’t find that statement particularly offensive?

    Yes, but I thought I was also clear that I didn’t mean you. What I was hoping for is some pointers on how to deal with the large number of religious people who do take personal offense to any criticism of religion. So I’ll ask again – any pointers/thoughts/help?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Russell,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and sincere reply. Yes, you did go easy on me (probably more than I deserved) ;) And since you asked… let me (once again) take off my Kevlar vest and be as open and honest as I can.

    That’s probably why I’m a scientist, and an atheist, too. I certainly won’t presume to speak for you as to what your goals are, you’ll have to tell me, if you so choose.

    Scientist… That’s wonderful! :) I respect scientists very much because they generally seem to be more open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things. They are not afraid to open new doors. My goal, or my hope, is that people of differing perceptions and opinions learn to accept, understand, and respect each other without judgment or hostility, not only on religious issues but in all aspects of life. It’s way too idealistic, I know, but that’s the direction that I always try to walk.

    No, I’m afraid that I can’t accept that God exists for some people and not others.

    That’s not what I said, actually. I said God exists in the eyes of the believer and does not in the eyes of the non-believer. It is my stand that God exists for all, but the difference is in our perception.

    You think that God revealed himself to you at some point, and that when you question God’s existence it is because you’ve forgotten what that revelation was like, so you try to recapture or at least better remember that feeling of revelation to maintain your belief in God. Is that a fair paraphrase?

    Let me warn you that in the past, I have been known to make less sense as I try to explain myself further. With that in mind, let me try to answer your questions. Yes, I did have an experience but not at all like what you would think. It was not a feeling. It was more like a moment of knowing. One minute things were foggy, and the next minute everything was illuminated. I don’t want to bore you with the details. The point is that I did not “feel” anything, nor did I “think” anything. I just suddenly knew that God was real. I didn’t pray a prayer, nor did I convulse, fall down or faint. It was not at all earth-shattering. It was just that I suddenly had clarity. But I cannot clearly explain it for the life of me.

    It’s not that I question whether the experience was real, but I want to remember the clarity of mind at the time of the revelation. My attempt is to reclaim that total freedom that came with the sudden knowledge of his grace. The knowledge is there and unchanging. The freedom gets twisted and misdirected with the bombardment of information (religious and otherwise) fed into the brain thereafter.

    I wonder why you attempt to maintain your belief.

    Here, I was tempted to say that the actual belief is never in question. But to be completely honest, there are moments when I forget. The best example that I can think of off the top of my head (I may be off base here) is the beam of light that comes from a projector. It’s real and present. You can see it clearly. But when something gets in the way of the beam, it seems to disappear. You have to remove the object to see the beam again. That’s where the struggle or the “attempt to maintain” comes in, I suppose. It’s the attempt to move whatever it is that is blocking the light so I can see the light again. Since I know the light is there, the moments of disconnect can make me a little (well, very) uneasy.

    when I wonder if, as you say, reality is not as it seems and that apparent lies/truths might be deceptive, I try to test the reality to determine if it actually is as it seems, or if not what the reality actually is, exposing the apparent lies/truths in the process.

    Of course! I wouldn’t respect you otherwise. My spiritual walk is not to try and impose my ideas on others but to constantly test and question everything, including my own ideas and actions. Having the courage to admit to mistakes and to throw away the parts that do not hold up is a huge part of growing in my faith.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I do think that it is a way for some people to validate a rejection of religion. Even if someone doesn’t believe in a god, we all have ideas on what helps and hurts society at large, and we all collect the stories that show we are right.

    Thank you Claire! That is the thought I was trying to point to. I’ve been here long enough to know that “rejecting God” is not a good choice of words, and it just slipped out.

    And thanks, Russell! I didn’t even know that the term “confirmation bias” existed. I think we all suffer from that at some level.

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

    Adrian: “You say ‘delusional’ is an insult, when Dawkins devotes almost an entire page to explaining exactly what he means by it in technical, inoffensive language.”

    Yet when he has a chance to say, “No, when I use the word ‘delusion,’ I don’t mean to imply a psychiatric disorder,” he declines to do so, and appeals to a vague Kwai-Chang-Caine-ism. He never quite lets go of the connotation of “delusion” as implying craziness. In short, he’s playing word games with the word “delusion,” milking its connotations while half-heartedly disavowing them. If Dawkins realize wanted to minimize unnecessary offense, he would have chosen a word like “mistake.” This would have been about as provocative–think of how jarring it is to call the Vietnam War a mistake–but would have avoided misleading connotations.

    Another thing …

    Imagine Adrian, if instead of writing this,

    So if you did think that Christian belief was “a fixed, false belief, resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact” (the dictionary definition of a delusion) and devoted an entire book to demonstrating this, how do you express it in an inoffensive way?

    you wrote this,

    So if you did think that atheists were pseudo-intellectual sophomores and devoted an entire book to demonstrating this, how do you express it in an inoffensive way?

    I chose this mirror-image example because both the idea that Christian belief is “a fixed, false belief, resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact” and the idea that atheists were pseudo-intellectual sophomores are gross overgeneralizations with kernels of truth, and it is impossible to express such things in an inoffensive way, because both the truth and the lie in such statements are offensive. What is happening is that you see the kernel of truth and gloss over the overgeneralization, while Mike Clawson takes offense at the overgeneralization while being painfully aware of the kernel of truth. (Indeed, the emerging church movement is somewhat of a reaction to that kernel of truth.)

  • Russell

    Linda,

    I may have to make this short–my daughter is sick, napping at the moment, but I might need to go at any time. In fact, if it seems like my responses are taking a while over the next day or so that’s probably why.

    I’m right there with you on the bringing people together front–I think prejudice is often the result of incorrect assumptions that I try to both recognize myself and help others to see. Some people will always dislike each other, but at least they can dislike each other for honest reasons rather than mistaken assumptions.

    I said God exists in the eyes of the believer and does not in the eyes of the non-believer. It is my stand that God exists for all, but the difference is in our perception.

    Sorry, I took “in the eyes” metaphorically. So do I understand you to say that God exists, but only some people, for whatever reason, recognize this?

    Your experience sounds like a very powerful one. Who knows, perhaps I would feel similarly if I had experienced an event that affected me as powerfully. Is it fair to say, then, that the weight of evidence from this experience leads you to conclude that God exists despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any other especially good evidence? I certainly can respect that, although I disagree with you–we all need to weigh evidence for ourselves. I guess where the evidence from personal revelation breaks down for me is when others are asked to use someone’s personal experience as part of their own evidence. I certainly believe you are sincere in your report of experience, but I obviously can’t know if I would have reacted to and interpreted the experience you had in the same way, so it doesn’t hold any weight for me what-so-ever. For me evidence needs to be broadly accessible so misperceptions can be corrected by the various observers. Sort of like open source software.

    Having the courage to admit to mistakes and to throw away the parts that do not hold up is a huge part of growing in my faith.

    I have a huge amount of respect for people of faith that are willing to question it. Most people seem to find that very hard to do. I hope I will always have the fortitude to question my beliefs, and that you will too.

  • Russell

    J.J.,

    I think whether discussing a fixed false belief or pseudo-intellectualism you avoid offense by offering evidence.

    Of course words have emotional value, all the more so in written form divorced from intonation and body language that helps people to determine intent, and it is important to try to be as aware of the emotion as possible, but ultimately evidence just is. Evidence is emotionally neutral, although the way it is presented may not be.

    A key difference in your examples, I think, is that the label “pseudo-intellectual sophomore” is pretty much a value judgement and is difficult to support with evidence, while it is easier to demonstrate that someone has a belief that is, or is very likely to be, false and that that person fails to change that belief when confronted with evidence that contradicts it. Part of this difference is that “pseudo-intellectual” describes the person directly, while “delusional” really describes the belief or the way someone responds to that belief. I suppose pseudo-intellectual could also describe an argument that someone is making, and then it would be more like your fixed false belief statement, but I didn’t get the impression that was what you meant since you say

    …if you did think that Christian belief was…

    Note the word “belief”
    v.s

    …if you did think that atheists were…

    note the direct implication of the person him/herself.

    It would be hard to make sense in standard English of a sentence like

    So if you did think that Christians were a fixed, false belief, resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact….

    unless you meant to suggest that someone was absolutely convinced that Christians exist when it could be shown that they did not.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Russell,

    I hope your daughter feels better soon.

    Sorry, I took “in the eyes” metaphorically. So do I understand you to say that God exists, but only some people, for whatever reason, recognize this?

    Yes, that is what I’m saying. The best thing that I can come up with at the moment to explain my thoughts is this hearing test that illustrates the different frequencies of sound. The low to high frequencies are there, but we hear them at different and varying ranges.

    Some can hear the sound and some cannot. The group that hears the sound loudly would leave the room. The group that hears the sound softly may get annoyed and scratch their heads. The group that hears nothing may go about their business as usual. This may be a bad example, but I find it somewhat relative and thought-provoking.

    For me evidence needs to be broadly accessible so misperceptions can be corrected by the various observers. Sort of like open source software.

    Yes, I guess that’s where the problem lies. We have no spiritual evidence that is broadly accessible. But what about neuro-science? You are the scientist. Can’t you come up with something that can play the spiritual frequency in the same manner as the hearing test? ;-)

    By the way, sometimes my fellow Christians think I’m nuts too! :lol:

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    J.J., thanks for your response to Adrian. You’ve pretty much said what I would have said in response. For Dawkins to claim that he was using the term “delusional” in some kind of literalistic, technical sense and didn’t mean to imply any offensive connotations is simply disingenuous. Sorry, but no one’s buying it.

    At any rate, I’m honestly not that offended by the New Atheists. I really couldn’t care less what Dawkins, et al. think of me or my friends. And of course I think they’re also simply wrong about a lot of things, especially when they generalize their criticisms of the bad parts of religion (most of which I share) to all religion, but ultimately it’s not really that big of a deal to me.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Now I’m really confused. When you talked about how offensive Dawkins (or Harris and Dennet) were, I had assumed that you were talking about the passages where they describe the Christian God in less-than-flattering terms.

    I don’t know why you would have made that assumption since I’ve never said anything about that.

    We seem to come to the same point where you just don’t like the message. These aren’t insults, they’re statements of unpleasant conclusions.

    Just because they think their opinions are true doesn’t make them less offensive. Yes, I don’t like their message. That’s the whole point. If a racist says that all black people are inferior to white people then that message is both wrong and offensive. If a Christian says that all atheists are immoral fools then that message is both wrong and offensive. And likewise if the New Atheists say that all theists are delusional, etc. then that message is both wrong and offensive. Just because you have reasons for your insults doesn’t make them less insulting.

    I’m not holding up the offensiveness of their message as a way of shutting down debate about why they are also wrong; simply stating a fact. I couldn’t care less whether they are offensive or not, but they should stop trying to pretend that they are not and acting surprised when people do get offended. This disingenousness insults all of our intelligence.

  • Adrian

    For Dawkins to claim that he was using the term “delusional” in some kind of literalistic, technical sense and didn’t mean to imply any offensive connotations is simply disingenuous.

    People are offended if they they’re called ‘delusional’. You know that, I know that, I’m sure Dawkins knows that. But if they are delusional, then it is better to tell the blunt, honest truth and shake them up than humour them.

    It is like calling people ‘ignorant’. Everyone is ignorant about something, but there are special classes of fools who pontificate about subjects despite their ignorance. You may offend them by telling them this, but you still are telling them the truth and are still doing a service.

    Is it intended as an insult? No. Are we aware of the connotations? Definitely. The connotations are negative because delusions and ignorance are negative, but the fault is not with the messenger.

    and likewise if the New Atheists say that all theists are delusional, etc. then that message is both wrong and offensive.

    May be taken as offensive, but it is not wrong.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    People are offended if they they’re called ‘delusional’. You know that, I know that, I’m sure Dawkins knows that. But if they are delusional, then it is better to tell the blunt, honest truth and shake them up than humour them.

    Perhaps so. But back to my original point in this conversation, if you agree with this assessment, then you’re not a friendly atheist. You may be right, you may even be right in telling people this, but you are not the kind of atheist that can expect to have good relationships with people of faith. An ideology that says that people who disagree with you are not merely mistaken but are actually delusional is not one that lends itself to constructive dialogue. I think those of you who feel this way should probably just stop expecting to have your cake and eat it too. You can be an anti-theist, or a friendly atheist, but you can’t be both.

    BTW, IMHO, a friendly atheist is NOT one who never disagrees with theists. Nor is it one who ignores the bad stuff done in the name of religion. IMHO, a friendly atheist, like a friendly Christian, is one who can look at another person’s point of view when it comes to belief in the existence of God and say “I disagree with your conclusions, but I can understand why you think the way you do and I can respect that (when those conclusions are not contributing to the harm or oppression of others).” That is what I say to atheists and that is the level of respect I hope for in return.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Hey Claire,

    What I was hoping for is some pointers on how to deal with the large number of religious people who do take personal offense to any criticism of religion. So I’ll ask again – any pointers/thoughts/help?

    Thanks for the honest question. You can’t always avoid giving offense, but the best advice I can give you is just to recognize the diversity that exists among religious people and not lump all of us in with the worst examples. Be willing to recognize that there is a world of difference between the Fred Phelps’ and the Bishop Tutu’s. Deal with people as individuals and let them describe their own faith to you. Don’t just assume that they necessarily fit your worst expectations of us. Give credit where it is due (i.e. acknowledge any good you see in religion as much as you point out the bad), and invite good-hearted religious people to join you in resisting bad expressions of religion rather than merely labeling them as part of the problem too. Many of us are more than willing to join with you in that if we feel like we’re not also in your cross hairs.

  • Claire

    MikeClawson said:

    You may be right, you may even be right in telling people this, but you are not the kind of atheist that can expect to have good relationships with people of faith.

    You’re dead wrong on that one. I AM that kind of atheist, and I have plenty of religious friends, some very close ones. I think they’re delusional, they know it, they think I’m going to hell, I know it, that doesn’t stop us from being friends who love and respect each other a lot.

    I really begin to think your definition of “friendly” is part of the problem. What you describe sounds more like how I treat coworkers and casual acquaintances. Friends are the people you are honest with, not the people you tiptoe around.

    So, I’m going to go on being my kind of friendly, and if it doesn’t meet with your approval, it’s the best I can do.

    Be willing to recognize that there is a world of difference between the Fred Phelps’ and the Bishop Tutu’s. Deal with people as individuals and let them describe their own faith to you. Don’t just assume that they necessarily fit your worst expectations of us.

    Thanks for the answer, but I don’t know why you assume I don’t already do these things. My problem is not with most religious people, all the ones I know are really decent people. It’s usually the ones I meet in print, on the internet, and see in the news that I have problems with.

    My big problem is with religion and faith, and yes, that is all times and places.

    I will keep in mind what you said, though, as I have on occasion made assumptions about people online. I am trying to get clarifications these days when I’m sure what they are trying to say.

  • Claire

    Whoops, make that NOT sure….

  • Claire

    Damn these glitches…. anyway, Mike, unless you think that there are different criteria for ‘friendly’ on the internet vs ‘friendly’ in real life? I suppose you could make a case for that. Hell, I might be able to make a case for that. There are different standards for face-to-face communications vs written communications, because of the things that are left out, such a voice intonations and facial expressions. Are you saying that ‘friendly’ might also have a different set of standards?

  • Claire

    Damn these glitches…. anyway, Mike, unless you think that there are different criteria for ‘friendly’ on the internet vs ‘friendly’ in real life? I suppose you could make a case for that. Hell, I might be able to make a case for that. There are different standards for face-to-face communications vs written communications, because of the things that are left out, such a voice intonations and facial expressions. So, ‘friendly’ might also have a different set of standards, but I’m not entirely sold on this one, being a big fan of plain speaking, but a person could make the case for it.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Claire,

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s been having trouble posting comments lately. :)

    Just for the record, Claire, I’ve always admired your honesty, sincerity, and frankness. And your boldness not to hold back any punches where appropriate. I generally don’t mind my faith being brutally questioned and attacked, because that’s the only way for me to test whether it’s strong enough to withstand such questioning. If it’s not, it’s not worth holding onto. I then have to re-evaluate my beliefs.

    I really begin to think your definition of “friendly” is part of the problem. What you describe sounds more like how I treat coworkers and casual acquaintances. Friends are the people you are honest with, not the people you tiptoe around.

    Well said, Claire. I always value that kind of friendship.

    And one last thing… I don’t know what it is exactly, but Mike does get attacked a lot every time he speaks up. I think the reason many of the atheists here are eager to engage in a debate/discussion with him is because they do respect him and want to further challenge him. I would be honored if that happened to me. Maybe I’m just naive… :-? *shrug*

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Claire:

    You’re dead wrong on that one. I AM that kind of atheist, and I have plenty of religious friends, some very close ones. I think they’re delusional, they know it, they think I’m going to hell, I know it, that doesn’t stop us from being friends who love and respect each other a lot.

    I really begin to think your definition of “friendly” is part of the problem. What you describe sounds more like how I treat coworkers and casual acquaintances. Friends are the people you are honest with, not the people you tiptoe around.

    That’s great. Let me ask, were you friends with these people before you started laying into them for their delusional religious beliefs, or did you start off on that foot right from day one? I would think that would make a big difference. Certainly you can be more honest with your close friends who will love you for other reasons despite your judgmentalism towards them (and theirs towards you), but will people who don’t know you perceive you as friendly if all they ever hear from you is attacks on their beliefs right from day one?

    unless you think that there are different criteria for ‘friendly’ on the internet vs ‘friendly’ in real life? I suppose you could make a case for that. Hell, I might be able to make a case for that. There are different standards for face-to-face communications vs written communications, because of the things that are left out, such a voice intonations and facial expressions. Are you saying that ‘friendly’ might also have a different set of standards?

    Yes, I would agree with this. In fact, I was primarily talking about these kind of public and online relationships, not relationships you have with close friends.

    Thanks for the answer, but I don’t know why you assume I don’t already do these things.

    I didn’t assume that. I was just giving general advice, which is what I thought you asked for. I have no idea what you already do or don’t do.

    One final question. You say

    I have plenty of religious friends, some very close ones. I think they’re delusional,

    Do you find it necessary to insist on using the word “delusional”, which clearly carries connotations of mental instability despite Dawkins’ half-hearted disclaimers? Is that what you are intending to imply about your friends? Why not simply use words like “wrong” or “mistaken”? Are those less offensive words somehow insufficient to communicate your disagreement with people you care about and (I assume) otherwise respect?

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    Despite the blog title, I’ve never argued that I was friendly. Friendliness is useful and desirable, but not to the exclusion of all else. I am friendly in many circumstances, to many people (including Christians), but I think there are some issues that are more important than trying to be friends with everyone. I understand that by merely disagreeing with someone on a subject, I jeopardize a friendship. I’m sure that we all can think of many examples of beliefs that should not affect a friendship, and some that should.

    That’s great. Let me ask, were you friends with these people before you started laying into them for their delusional religious beliefs, or did you start off on that foot right from day one? I would think that would make a big difference. Certainly you can be more honest with your close friends who will love you for other reasons despite your judgmentalism towards them (and theirs towards you), but will people who don’t know you perceive you as friendly if all they ever hear from you is attacks on their beliefs right from day one?

    Given the dialogues that go on here, I can understand why you might think that we might “lay into” people for religion whenever we meet them, but I really don’t and I bet no one else does either. Most of the time, I avoid the subject unless it starts to interfere with my life or I know the person well enough to know that we can have a friendly argument without making it personal (some people can never do this).

    Yes, I think they’re holding at least one delusional belief. Yes, I think that their minds are very compartmentalized and disciplined, but this is a common human failing. No one is helped by pretending it doesn’t exist.

    but will people who don’t know you perceive you as friendly if all they ever hear from you is attacks on their beliefs right from day one?

    If there’s any situation where I am discussing belief right from day one, it’s one where there are more important issues at stake than making friends. It’s one where I feel that their delusions aren’t just harming themselves but are starting to harm me and my family. At this point, honesty, rationality and evidence matter much more than any superficial friendliness.

    Do you find it necessary to insist on using the word “delusional”, which clearly carries connotations of mental instability despite Dawkins’ half-hearted disclaimers? Is that what you are intending to imply about your friends? Why not simply use words like “wrong” or “mistaken”? Are those less offensive words somehow insufficient to communicate your disagreement with people you care about and (I assume) otherwise respect?

    The words “wrong” and “mistaken” are not synonymous with “delusional”. They may be a diplomatic euphemism, but they don’t always cut it. While I don’t greet my religious friends and family by telling them they’re delusional, I would say that they do have fixed beliefs which are not affected by evidence or reason and so yes, are delusional. You might be surprised at how this goes over. If you explain what you mean, then it can be the start of a good conversation and in a couple cases when we’ve discussed the individual points, it has gone over well.

    We don’t like to think of ourselves as having a delusion, but many Christians are willing to admit that they can’t be reasoned out of their belief, and they can’t imagine any evidence which could possibly shake their belief. That’s almost the very definition of “faith”, but it’s also the definition of “delusion”. It’s an interesting consciousness raising activity to compare the two.

    Hate the message, not the messenger.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Despite the blog title, I’ve never argued that I was friendly.

    I never accused you of being such.

    Given the dialogues that go on here, I can understand why you might think that we might “lay into” people for religion whenever we meet them, but I really don’t and I bet no one else does either.

    No, and I doubt that Claire does either, but that’s why I asked. I think her assertion that she can call her friends delusional and still be friendly with them is a false analogy, since I doubt that she had dealt with them right off the bat the way she responds to theists here at this site. You can be friends with someone on other grounds and perhaps occasionally say things like that, but you can’t immediately starting ripping into someone on a blog, or write a book about how all religious people are delusional and then expect to be hailed as a “friendly atheist”.

    “but will people who don’t know you perceive you as friendly if all they ever hear from you is attacks on their beliefs right from day one?”

    If there’s any situation where I am discussing belief right from day one, it’s one where there are more important issues at stake than making friends. It’s one where I feel that their delusions aren’t just harming themselves but are starting to harm me and my family. At this point, honesty, rationality and evidence matter much more than any superficial friendliness.

    So you must feel like your interactions with me here on this blog is one such situation?

    The words “wrong” and “mistaken” are not synonymous with “delusional”. They may be a diplomatic euphemism, but they don’t always cut it.

    No, they’re not, that’s exactly my point. If Dawkins had merely meant that we held an erroneous belief, then he would have said that. He clearly meant to imply the further connotations of mental instability that most people would naturally associate with the term “delusional”. What I was asking of Claire is whether she also intends to imply this. Does she think that her friends are mentally instable because of their belief in God? Does she think that all theists are? And if not, then why not use a different term?

    That’s my issue here. “Delusional” doesn’t just refer to the beliefs in question, it refers to the people who hold the belief. You can say that a belief is “wrong” or “mistaken”, but if you say that it is a “delusion” then you are no longer just talking about the belief; you are talking about the mental faculties of those who hold it.

    We don’t like to think of ourselves as having a delusion, but many Christians are willing to admit that they can’t be reasoned out of their belief, and they can’t imagine any evidence which could possibly shake their belief. That’s almost the very definition of “faith”, but it’s also the definition of “delusion”.

    Not really, at least not for all (and I would argue, not even for most) Christians. That is what I’ve often heard atheists define faith as, but I don’t know many Christians who would define it that way. I think this is an example of what I was saying to Claire about listening to what people actually believe rather than imputing your negative assumptions on them or lumping all people of faith in with the worst examples of it.

    Hate the message, not the messenger.

    I don’t hate anyone. I could honestly not care less. I just think it’s sad that you’re not capable of imagining that a rational, non-delusional person could possibly come to a different conclusion than you about the existence of God. That, I think, is the essential key characteristic of both friendly atheists and friendly Christians: the recognition that reasonable, intelligent, mentally stable people are capable of looking at the same evidence and reaching different conclusions.

  • Adrian

    So you must feel like your interactions with me here on this blog is one such situation?

    I think we’ve all gathered here because we have some interest in topics of atheism, Christianity and church-state separation. I think it’s fair to say that by reading and posting comments, we are seeking conversation about these topics. Lively discussion, learning from one another and even challenging ourselves probably ranks higher than forming friendships. So yes, I would say that this blog would be one of those situations. Wouldn’t you?

    No, they’re not, that’s exactly my point. If Dawkins had merely meant that we held an erroneous belief, then he would have said that. He clearly meant to imply the further connotations of mental instability that most people would naturally associate with the term “delusional”.

    I quoted him pretty thoroughly. He said that Christians have a belief which is not merely wrong, but resistant to reason and evidence. If you take that as a sign of mental instability, that’s up to you. As you’ve demonstrated by your inability to come up with more suitable terms, “delusional” is the most accurate term, despite its connotations.

    I don’t think that all theists are mentally instable, no. I do think that virtually all Christians (probably all non-deists in general) have a belief which is delusional, in that it is resistant to reason and evidence, yes. There may be some Christians which simply have never thought about their reasons or evidence and would drop their beliefs through reason or evidence, so I guess there could be exceptions.

    That’s my issue here. “Delusional” doesn’t just refer to the beliefs in question, it refers to the people who hold the belief. You can say that a belief is “wrong” or “mistaken”, but if you say that it is a “delusion” then you are no longer just talking about the belief; you are talking about the mental faculties of those who hold it.

    We can say a belief is wrong, but when we discuss what can change that belief, then we are discussing the believer’s mental state. Nothing inherently wrong with this. If a person’s beliefs are immune to reason and evidence, then that belief is delusional. Why is it so unreasonable to discuss this?

    It may be impolite to point it out, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate.

    Not really, at least not for all (and I would argue, not even for most) Christians. That is what I’ve often heard atheists define faith as, but I don’t know many Christians who would define it that way.

    Words have many meanings. I don’t care if you generally use one meaning of “faith”, it doesn’t change the fact that faith as in “blind faith”, or “belief without sufficient evidence or reason” isn’t a perfectly good and valid description of Christian belief. So use “faith” as a synonym for “trust” all you wish, you still need belief without sufficient evidence.

    Again, if you have a better word, I’d be happy to use it.

    I think this is an example of what I was saying to Claire about listening to what people actually believe rather than imputing your negative assumptions on them or lumping all people of faith in with the worst examples of it.

    Conclusions, not assumptions. It is faith itself which is th problem, so I am talking about “all people of faith”, not just the worst examples.

  • Darryl

    “Delusion” is an offensive word to whomever is on the receiving end of it. So what? We all likely delude ourselves about something(s) sometime(s) in our life. We have the power of self-delusion; it doesn’t mean we’re crazy–it’s normal. But, wanting to be a friendly atheist doesn’t change my perspective of believers. They are self-deluded. What is more crucial than identifying mere delusion, is analyzing its depth and kind. Moderate Christians like Mike that believe and yet are compassionate and thoughtful, and haven’t lost a grip on rational thought, criticism, and logical discourse are one thing; Christians that are prepared to reject any idea that does not fit with a narrow, magical, totalitarian vision of the world, that hate certain types of people, are quite another. All delusions are not equal. Some delusions are valuable. Brace yourself: some delusions are true.

    The God Delusion is a fair and engaging title for Mr. Dawkins’s book. Live with it.

  • Darryl

    That’s my issue here. “Delusional” doesn’t just refer to the beliefs in question, it refers to the people who hold the belief. You can say that a belief is “wrong” or “mistaken”, but if you say that it is a “delusion” then you are no longer just talking about the belief; you are talking about the mental faculties of those who hold it.

    Mike, you must admit that you have thought about the religious mind–the mental state of some Christians wherein they resist rational argument but are open to ideas that fit with there beliefs however implausible.

    For example, why do so many Evangelicals not believe in evolution, and have no interest in investigating its validity? Why do they tout ID with no willingness to see it challenged?

    Why are they excited about the film “Expelled” and have no time to investigate its claims?

    Why do they assume that President Bush is a good Christian man?

    Why do so many Christians doubt Global Warming is real just because Al Gore is associated with climate-change awareness?

    Why did Jerry Falwell and John Hagey think that hurricane Katrina was an act of God punishing New Orleans for their sins?

    Why do many African-American Christians believe that the U.S. government has spread aids among its population?

    Why are some Americans willing to believe that the U.S. is a special, exceptional nation that God cares about?

    Why do some Christians reject any criticism of Israel, no matter what actions that country takes?

    Why do many Christians believe against all reason that homosexuality is a choice and that three weeks at a camp can make a gay man straight?

    Why are Christians around the world convinced that God has sent a sign when they see the face of Christ in a pancake?

    And so on. Tomorrow there will be another one of these Christian embarrassments for you to distance yourself from, and the day after that, and the day after that. Year after year Christians show themselves prepared to accept trash based upon nothing, but steadfastly refuse to be reasoned with: this is the religious mind. This is why it’s dangerous. This is why we attack it, and must defeat it. This is why it is in your interest, Mike, to work with us to defeat it.

    Think about this: isn’t it more important for you to work with fellow rational and well-meaning people like us to defeat evil thinking (and that’s what I have been discussing), than to spend time parsing the meaning of a word like “delusional?”
    When you do this you’re wasting a good mind and a good heart.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I do think that virtually all Christians (probably all non-deists in general) have a belief which is delusional, in that it is resistant to reason and evidence, yes.

    And this is precisely where I think you and Dawkins are dead wrong. If you want to argue that some Christians have a belief that is resistant to reason and evidence, then sure, I’m happy to agree with that. But to argue that all Christians hold their beliefs in such a manner is simply wrong and, as I said at the end of my last comment, displays an astonishing lack of imagination. Can you really not conceive of the possibility that some believers do in fact engage with both reason and evidence and simply come to different conclusions than you?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Mike, you must admit that you have thought about the religious mind–the mental state of some Christians wherein they resist rational argument but are open to ideas that fit with there beliefs however implausible.

    Darryl, we cross posted. If you read my post right below yours you’ll see that I completely agree with you that some Christians are exactly as you and Adrian describe. But the key word is “some”. What I take exception to is the universalizing claim made by Adrian (and Dawkins too I suppose) that all Christians are like this.

    Think about this: isn’t it more important for you to work with fellow rational and well-meaning people like us to defeat evil thinking (and that’s what I have been discussing), than to spend time parsing the meaning of a word like “delusional?”
    When you do this you’re wasting a good mind and a good heart.

    I agree, but how can we work together when guys like Dawkins, Adrian, etc. are labeling me as part of the problem, not part of the solution? By universalizing the claim to say that all religious people are delusional, they lump me in right along with all those other people you want my help in resisting.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    And this is precisely where I think you and Dawkins are dead wrong. If you want to argue that some Christians have a belief that is resistant to reason and evidence, then sure, I’m happy to agree with that.

    Well, whether we’re right or not is an interesting question but not what we’ve been discussing. You’ve been saying that merely expressing this conclusion is offensive and insulting which is the issue I’m most interested in at the moment.

    We can discuss the validity of this conclusion some other time, if you wish.

    Can you really not conceive of the possibility that some believers do in fact engage with both reason and evidence and simply come to different conclusions than you?

    I mentioned briefly that it is possible that some people have this belief because they were taught it but have never thought about it, never considered the evidence, and never reasoned through it. Perhaps some of these people would drop their belief when presented with evidence and reason. These people aren’t so much delusional as ignorant or negligent.

    I’ve been in this boat before. There are some pseudoscientific “alt med” practices that I thought were valid, but this was because I’d never looked into the issue in any detail.

    But that’s about it.

    displays an astonishing lack of imagination

    To paraphrase your earlier comment, you can say that a belief is “wrong” or “mistaken”, but if you say that it is an “astonishing lack of imagination” then you are no longer just talking about the belief; you are talking about the mental faculties of those who hold it.

    I’m sure that you said this to convey a serious point, and not to offend or insult me. Perhaps you would not mind if I was offended or insulted, but you had a deeper intent. You see, sometimes the mental state of others really is important.

    If my mental faculties are fair game for you, why should they be out of bounds for others?

  • Adrian

    By universalizing the claim to say that all religious people are delusional, they lump me in right along with all those other people you want my help in resisting.

    Yes, I understand that I’ve lumped you in with others that are far more dangerous and repellent than you. In fact, I bet you’re a very nice guy and I bet we’d see eye-to-eye on many issues. So what are you suggesting that we do about this?

    Should I pussy-foot around issues that may offend you (justly or not) so that I keep you on my side for other issues? If your commitment to these issues is so thin that you are not able to see me as an ally because we disagree on some other issues, then perhaps we wouldn’t make such a good team, no matter what I said.

    To me, it sure sounds like you’re trying to bully me into silence because you don’t like what I’m saying. You claim offence but don’t offer alternative, inoffensive ways of expressing the idea, and now you seem to say that we shouldn’t express the idea at all or we may lose your support on other issues.

    Why don’t we agree that reaching different conclusions and expressing them is a good thing, even if some people are upset or take offence, that some of the most important issues cannot be expressed without offending people?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    If my mental faculties are fair game for you, why should they be out of bounds for others?

    I never said they were “out of bounds”. I was merely pointing out that such statements are offensive, not whether or not you ought to make them. Whether or not you ought to is entirely up to you. If you think they’re true then perhaps you ought to; but just because you think they’re true doesn’t make them less offensive.

    And yes, I was commenting on your mental faculties, specifically your lack of imagination regarding the cognitive processes & abilities of religious people. If you want to take offense at that, go right ahead.

    We can discuss the validity of this conclusion some other time, if you wish.

    No, if you are correct in your assessment that all religious people are resistant to reason and evidence, then apparently we can’t. How could you possibly have a rational discussion about the validity of a conclusion relating to matters of faith with someone as obviously delusional as me?

    But that’s about it.

    Yes, I guess it is. If you are entirely unable to imagine that some religious people might in fact approach their beliefs in a rational manner, then there’s pretty much no room for further dialogue. Why even bother having a conversation with such an irrational bunch of people?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Yes, I understand that I’ve lumped you in with others that are far more dangerous and repellent than you. In fact, I bet you’re a very nice guy and I bet we’d see eye-to-eye on many issues. So what are you suggesting that we do about this?

    Should I pussy-foot around issues that may offend you (justly or not) so that I keep you on my side for other issues? If your commitment to these issues is so thin that you are not able to see me as an ally because we disagree on some other issues, then perhaps we wouldn’t make such a good team, no matter what I said.

    I’m going to go on resisting these things regardless of whether you guys want my help or not. Don’t turn this around. You guys are the ones rejecting us, not vice versa. By labeling us as part of the problem you are casting us as your enemies, not your allies, regardless of how much we might already be doing to resist such religious extremism.

    It seems you want us progressive Christians as your allies in the same way the US and Britain wanted Stalin as their ally against the Nazis. They were willing to work together with him against a worse enemy, but turned on him as soon as that threat was eliminated. The only difference is that you guys aren’t even waiting till the first threat is eliminated. You’ve already decided we’re the enemy and have not been shy about treating us as such.

  • Karen

    I agree, but how can we work together when guys like Dawkins, Adrian, etc. are labeling me as part of the problem, not part of the solution?

    It’s a good question. Maybe it’s impossible, or maybe it’s possible but we have to recognize from the outset that it’s going to be uncomfortable for both sides.

    For instance, even the most liberal religious people tend to think atheists are missing out, emotionally cold, uber-rational, anti-spiritual or somehow angry at god or god’s people. They may not think they’re going to hell, or immoral, as more conservative religious people do, but deep down they don’t agree with atheists or entirely approve of them. If they did, they wouldn’t be religious, right?

    I’ve heard many stories from atheists who want to work with religious organizations, but in order to do so they must stand quietly while prayers are being said, or hymns sung. Sometimes they must decline to take part, or wear certain garments, or whatever.

    These practices make them uneasy and can even make them feel disrespected. But if there’s a greater good involved, they will endure that disrespect in order to participate. Perhaps religious people who dislike it when atheists declare that god belief is delusional might have to do the same?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    By labeling us as part of the problem you are casting us as your enemies, not your allies, regardless of how much we might already be doing to resist such religious extremism.

    But…. we are part of the problem. We all are. *sigh*

    Two people of the world
    Standing guard – stale mate
    The self seeking and God seeking
    Looking within, looking without
    Time moves forward
    Uncaring, without reason
    Life lives with no direction
    Except towards tomorrow
    Where is the delusion -
    The night or the light?

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

    Russell: “I think whether discussing a fixed false belief or pseudo-intellectualism you avoid offense by offering evidence.”

    But that’s the thing. The positions that I gave as examples, that “Christians are delusional” and that atheists are pseudo-intellectual sophomores, have insufficient evidence to hold them up, so your solution of offering evidence doesn’t work. Indeed, attempting to offer evidence can backfire, because it comes across as either stretching or distorting the facts–which can just make people madder, especially if the distortion appears willful.

  • Claire

    Hey, Mike – I didn’t say this before, so let me say it now – kudos on the question about what we are all passionate about. I just realized while writing this why that was a really good thing to put here (more later).

    Let me ask, were you friends with these people before you started laying into them for their delusional religious beliefs, or did you start off on that foot right from day one? I would think that would make a big difference.

    Believe it or not (and I say that because I do sometimes find it less than credible myself), the answer is pretty much yes. We each knew where the other stood before the acquaintanceship turned in friendship. Becoming friends isn’t an overnight process, and we all developed ways of dealing with those differences on the road to that point.

    I think a big part of the issue of friendliness (or lack thereof) is that we are all here – atheists, agnostics, believers – on this blog to discuss the great big point on which we differ, rather than things in general. Without a basis of liking (established or incipient) underlying our conversations, it’s easy to see why they are less cordial than they might otherwise be.

    So, like I said, kudos on the question – common ground is a good thing. It might not be as useful as personal liking, but it’s probably as good as we’re going to get in this impersonal medium.

    In fact, I was primarily talking about these kind of public and online relationships, not relationships you have with close friends.

    Maybe then it should be the ‘civil atheist’?

    Truly, I’m a friendly but very outspoken person. It’s hard for me to switch gears, and I pretty much just have the one definition of ‘friendly’.

    Do you find it necessary to insist on using the word “delusional”, which clearly carries connotations of mental instability despite Dawkins’ half-hearted disclaimers? Is that what you are intending to imply about your friends? Why not simply use words like “wrong” or “mistaken”? Are those less offensive words somehow insufficient to communicate your disagreement with people you care about and (I assume) otherwise respect?

    I pretty much just borrowed the word from earlier posters, without thinking, because it was close to what I meant. Without that influence, I probably would have used ‘deluded’ instead. It means pretty much the same thing (capturing the idea of being deceived, either by others or one’s self), but without the psychiatric overtones, and it’s a lot more accurate than simply saying ‘wrong’ or ‘mistaken’. I do like words to be accurate, so I’m glad for the chance to correct that one.

    And, of course, I don’t constantly harangue my friends on their deluded beliefs anymore than they try to convert me 24/7. Friendship isn’t like that. Which goes right back to the point about how the people here are focused on the topics of religion and belief and god’s existence or non-existence, putting the spotlight on the things that we disagree about and which well may be the things we find most irritating about each other. Perhaps the degree of civility you are hoping for isn’t possible under the circumstances.

    I don’t know – has there ever been a topic posted here on how atheists interact with their real life believer friends? I would like to read it if there was, to see if their methods of getting along are anything like mine, but I wouldn’t know how to search for it.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    You guys are the ones rejecting us, not vice versa. By labeling us as part of the problem you are casting us as your enemies, not your allies, regardless of how much we might already be doing to resist such religious extremism.

    The problem? The problem?

    You are part of a problem, for sure. But I’ve no doubt you’re part of other solutions. If you want to position yourself as someone that isn’t a fundamentalist, that understands nuance, that thinks for yourself, then why adopt this extremist “with us or against us” mentality? Is it so important to you that your faith remains immune from criticism that you will refuse to deal with anyone that disagrees with you?

    It seems you want us progressive Christians as your allies in the same way the US and Britain wanted Stalin as their ally against the Nazis. They were willing to work together with him against a worse enemy, but turned on him as soon as that threat was eliminated.

    Talk about pushing the “militant” analogy to its irrational extremes!

    If you were campaigning to raise awareness for cancer research, would you care what their views were on religion or taxation or the Iraq war? I doubt it. Yet these same people might “turn on [you] as soon as that threat was eliminated”! Oh no, just think of it, how could you ever trust them?

    I hope that the fact you’re no longer addressing any of the points I’m raising means that we agree and not that you’re just raising distractions. You had implied that the “New Atheists” were being intentionally offensive and could express themselves much better, but bit by bit you’ve changed and said that they attacked the believers but then agreed that attacking the individual is justified and may be good, and finally we seem to be in agreement that some messages are inherently offensive but this shouldn’t prevent us from expressing them.

    It’s good to see that we’ve arrived at the question of political expediency. Given our differences, what’s the best way of achieving our goals, whatever those goals might be. Can we express our honest evaluation of another’s position and still work together to deal with other issues?

    You seem to be saying clearly that no, you will not work with people who disagree with you. If this feeling is shared widely, then it is important to understand it, but perhaps this can be a subject for another thread since it isn’t a simple issue. For instance, I think that the fight for rationality is deeper and more important than individual fights over Creationism, but I know many atheists who disagree with me.

  • Claire

    Karen said:

    These practices make them uneasy and can even make them feel disrespected. But if there’s a greater good involved, they will endure that disrespect in order to participate. Perhaps religious people who dislike it when atheists declare that god belief is delusional might have to do the same?

    Maybe putting up with equal crap is as good as we’re going to get, but I don’t see the louder kind of religious people in this country agreeing to put up with much. Or any, for that matter.

    Allow me to indulge in fantasy for a moment:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if people treated their spiritual lives like their sex lives, and didn’t talk about them in public? Not because it’s anything to be ashamed of, but just because it’s deeply personal.

    That, and keeping religion out of government, is all it would take to make this atheist a very happy camper.

  • Claire

    Gosh, Linda, **blushing now** ….

    You are so much more tactful than my real-life friends, they mostly just tell me I have a big mouth, usually too big for my own good.

    My friends are a lot like me :-)

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Given our differences, what’s the best way of achieving our goals, whatever those goals might be. Can we express our honest evaluation of another’s position and still work together to deal with other issues?

    You seem to be saying clearly that no, you will not work with people who disagree with you.

    Adrian, I’m honestly not following you at all. What “other issues”? We weren’t talking about cancer research or whatever. We were talking about the “problem” that you see with all people of faith as being delusional. Sorry, but I can’t really help you solve that problem since I don’t agree that we all are. I have been and will continue to work on plenty of other problems facing our world (including the problem of religious fundamentalism), and I am happy to work together with anyone and everyone who shares those goals regardless of whether they agree with me on other things. But no, I can’t help you with the problem of overcoming religious “delusions” across the board, since according to you, I’m part of the problem.

    I hope that the fact you’re no longer addressing any of the points I’m raising means that we agree and not that you’re just raising distractions. You had implied that the “New Atheists” were being intentionally offensive and could express themselves much better, but bit by bit you’ve changed and said that they attacked the believers but then agreed that attacking the individual is justified and may be good, and finally we seem to be in agreement that some messages are inherently offensive but this shouldn’t prevent us from expressing them.

    You’re misreading me. I agree your views about the mental faculties of theists are inherently offensive, and that you still have every right to express them. But as to whether expressing your views on this is “justified” and “good”, no I don’t think so. I think your views are just plain wrong, and that by expressing them you are doing an injustice to many religious people and a great disservice to the reputation of atheists. But again, it’s your perogative. I certainly can’t tell you not to express what you believe is true, however much in error and even harmful I think your beliefs are.

    But the harm being done to the reputation of atheists by anti-theists like yourself is quite honestly my main concern here. I’m not that concerned about my faith being offended. I’m really not that sensitive to such things. (Really, why should I care if some guy on a blog thinks I’m deluded?) However I am concerned about the reputation of my atheist friends. I like Hemant’s original goal for this blog, which was to improve the opinion people have of atheists in the general culture. However, I’m pretty sure that expressing the “inherently offensive” opinions (as you put it) of the New Atheists are not going to help much at all towards that goal, and in fact are going to severely hamper it.

    I would encourage anyone here who thinks agrees with these anti-theist opinions to try to give it some further thought and see if you can’t imagine even the remote possibility that reasonable, non-deluded people could reach different conclusions about the existence of God. Adrian, you’ve already made it clear that you can’t, but I find it hard to believe that most of the atheists here are incapable of considering that possibility.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    What “other issues”? We weren’t talking about cancer research or whatever. We were talking about the “problem” that you see with all people of faith as being delusional.

    I don’t recall talking about that problem. I’m sorry, we must have gotten off track. There’s a lot of conversation going on here and perhaps I lost the thread. I apologize for any confusion I may have inadvertantly caused.

    So, talking about the problem of religious people being delusion, you’re right that I would not look to you as an ally. I’ve said before that you are a part of that problem. Perhaps we can work together on issues of fundamentalism, Creationism, church-state separation and other issues, but we must remain divided on this bigger issue.

    I think your views are just plain wrong, and that by expressing them you are doing an injustice to many religious people and a great disservice to the reputation of atheists.

    Interesting that you want me to treat religious people as individuals, yet you think that my actions should affect “the reputation of atheists”. It’s interesting how the actions of a single minority tarnishes the whole, but majorities can stand alone.

    Be that as it may, I’m content that you should think I’m wrong until there’s a good time to discuss this in more detail. For the moment, I would just ask that you imagine being in my shoes, thinking that I am right, and see how your advice sounds. If I’m right, I am not doing any injustice, but trying to correct a much neglected problem. Given that, I must respectfully decline to take your advice to keep silent.

    However, I’m pretty sure that expressing the “inherently offensive” opinions (as you put it) of the New Atheists are not going to help much at all towards that goal, and in fact are going to severely hamper it.

    The way social change happens isn’t by staying silent, it isn’t by trying to make friends, it isn’t by avoiding offending others, it happens by speaking up. It’s wonderful that there are many friendly atheists who can show others that we aren’t all nasty creatures, but there is also a place for people to speak out against the problems of dogma and theology. You say this will severely hamper these goals but the history of every major social change and the current progress argues that you are wrong.

    I would encourage anyone here who thinks agrees with these anti-theist opinions to try to give it some further thought and see if you can’t imagine even the remote possibility that reasonable, non-deluded people could reach different conclusions about the existence of God. Adrian, you’ve already made it clear that you can’t, but I find it hard to believe that most of the atheists here are incapable of considering that possibility.

    I’ve said that I can imagine this possibility. Aren’t you listening? I imagine the possibility, I examine it, I considered the evidence and I rejected it.

    As with everything, I’m open to evidence that I’m wrong. So far, you and every other Christian I’ve met have demonstrated that a belief in God cannot be reached through a rational, evidence-based approach and so must be irrational and not subject to evidence which is the very definition of delusional. I wish I could believe otherwise, but I need some reason and evidence to accept that.

    This is an interesting topic, but perhaps one best left for another time, your call. For the present, I’m just interested in your views and advice for how to express these views in a way which is less offensive to others. From what I can see, you have no advice to offer.

    May suggest: if you cannot think of any way to improve the delivery of the message without significantly changing the content, then the message was delivered in as friendly and inoffensive a manner as possible. Several times you’ve said or implied that the “New Atheists” are doing a poor job at communicating and are needlessly offensive, but I think we’re seeing that they are, in fact, as inoffensive as it is possible to be. It is their message which you dislike and which you want to silence, not their delivery.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I’ve said that I can imagine this possibility. Aren’t you listening? I imagine the possibility, I examine it, I considered the evidence and I rejected it.

    No, that’s not what you said above. I said:

    “Can you really not conceive of the possibility that some believers do in fact engage with both reason and evidence and simply come to different conclusions than you?”

    And you said:

    I mentioned briefly that it is possible that some people have this belief because they were taught it but have never thought about it, never considered the evidence, and never reasoned through it. Perhaps some of these people would drop their belief when presented with evidence and reason. These people aren’t so much delusional as ignorant or negligent.

    I’ve been in this boat before. There are some pseudoscientific “alt med” practices that I thought were valid, but this was because I’d never looked into the issue in any detail.

    But that’s about it.

    Since your one “concession” had nothing to do with what I was suggesting, and “that was about it” for what you thought could be the case, I took that to mean that you were not in fact able to imagine anything further. I’m sorry if I misread you.

    It is their message which you dislike and which you want to silence, not their delivery.

    As I’ve said since the beginning, it is both. But fine, whatever. Maybe you’re being as inoffensive as possible. What does it matter since you clearly don’t care either way?

    I think we just have two very different ideas of how atheists and Christians ought to be able to interact. You see us as a problem to be fixed, people who need to be “converted” to your way of thinking, much the same way that conservative Christians view atheists. I, on the other hand, don’t see much problem with either atheism or theism as rational worldviews, and don’t see the need for one to convert the other, thus my hope is simply for mutual understanding and working together for shared goals.

  • Richard Wade

    Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends,
    Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
    One man likes to push a plough,
    The other likes to chase a cow,
    But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.

    Chorus:
    Territory folks should stick together,
    Territory folks should all be pals.
    Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,
    Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals!

    Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends,
    Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
    The cowman ropes a cow with ease,
    The farmer steals her butter and cheese,
    That’s no reason why they cain’t be friends

    (Chorus)

    I’d like to teach you all a little sayin’
    And learn the words by heart the way you should
    I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else,
    But I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good!

    (Chorus)

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I think a big part of the issue of friendliness (or lack thereof) is that we are all here – atheists, agnostics, believers – on this blog to discuss the great big point on which we differ, rather than things in general. Without a basis of liking (established or incipient) underlying our conversations, it’s easy to see why they are less cordial than they might otherwise be.

    Yes, I think you’re probably right about that Claire. Good observation.

    So, like I said, kudos on the question – common ground is a good thing. It might not be as useful as personal liking, but it’s probably as good as we’re going to get in this impersonal medium.

    Thanks. Again, I think you’re probably right.

    I don’t know – has there ever been a topic posted here on how atheists interact with their real life believer friends? I would like to read it if there was, to see if their methods of getting along are anything like mine, but I wouldn’t know how to search for it.

    I don’t know either. However, I don’t think I’ll be the one to post it since I can only imagine the flak and accusations of ulterior motives I’d get for it. Richard? You want to take this one on?

  • Karen

    Wouldn’t it be nice if people treated their spiritual lives like their sex lives, and didn’t talk about them in public? Not because it’s anything to be ashamed of, but just because it’s deeply personal.

    Actually this is pretty much how it was in my mom’s generation (according to what she used to tell me). She was a strong Christian, but I remember her being rather appalled in the 70s and 80s when “born-again” became a national obsession. She just thought that was way beyond the pale, and people ought to keep their faith to themselves. She was also not an advocate of “letting it all hang out” or “airing dirty laundry in public,” as I recall.

    ;-)

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    Since your one “concession” had nothing to do with what I was suggesting, and “that was about it” for what you thought could be the case, I took that to mean that you were not in fact able to imagine anything further. I’m sorry if I misread you.

    I’m able to imagine a lot of things. That example I gave was the only case I can think of which is consistent with observation. I’m open to other cases, but no one has ever presented one. I assumed that you would grant that I had the mental faculties to consider other scenarios as well and understand that I had considered and rejected them.

    Do you really think so poorly of me (and other atheists) that you think I lack the mental faculties to consider alternate explanations? I can spell, use correct grammar, articulate thoughts, respond to your points. How can you take these observations and conclude that I’ve got the brain of a six year old?

    I’ve said many times that I concluded that you and other Christians had a delusional belief. I chose the words carefully. This has nothing to do with my imagination, it has to do with the nature of faith and dogma, confirmed by the testimony of Christians, the bible itself, and apologetic arguments.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Wouldn’t it be nice if people treated their spiritual lives like their sex lives, and didn’t talk about them in public? Not because it’s anything to be ashamed of, but just because it’s deeply personal.

    Just speaking personally, but I’m very glad people like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu, Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day didn’t feel this way about their faith.

    (On the other hand, I sometimes wish people like Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps did.)

  • Chris

    Just speaking personally, but I’m very glad people like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu, Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day didn’t feel this way about their faith.

    (On the other hand, I sometimes wish people like Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps did.)

    Actually they spoke to real issues that people of any faith might (or might not) get behind. It wasn’t the power of their spiritual lives, per se, it was their message concerning the here and now.

    But it is interesting that you give a list of those who you want to hear from, and a separate list of those you don’t. Do you distinguish between the two groups because you know something we don’t about their spiritual lives, or because you either agree or disagree with how they apply their spiritualism in today’s world?

    I suspect you like King because of what he wanted for this world (and you assume from this he had a “better” spiritual life (and so you want to hear it.) You don’t like Robertson because you don’t like what he wants for this world, and therefore he had a “lesser?” spiritual life. Why not cut the whole thing out: Keep the spiritual stuff private. Let us see the rest.

  • Chris

    Just speaking personally, but I’m very glad people like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu, Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day didn’t feel this way about their faith.

    (On the other hand, I sometimes wish people like Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps did.)

    Actually they spoke to real issues that people of any faith might (or might not) get behind. It wasn’t the power of their spiritual lives, per se, it was their message concerning the here and now.

    But it is interesting that you give a list of those who you want to hear from, and a separate list of those you don’t. Do you distinguish between the two groups because you know something we don’t about their spiritual lives, or because you either agree or disagree with how they apply their spiritualism in today’s world?

    I suspect you like King because of what he wanted for this world (and you assume from this he had a “better” spiritual life and so you want to hear it.) You don’t like Robertson because you don’t like what he wants for this world, and therefore he had a “lesser?” spiritual life. Why not cut the whole thing out: Keep the spiritual stuff private. Let us see the rest.

  • Claire

    MikeClawson said

    Just speaking personally, but I’m very glad people like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu, Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day didn’t feel this way about their faith.

    I wasn’t really talking about people who are church officials, I can’t see how they could keep quiet about it. I was referring to those, mostly born-again types, who just can’t shut up about their deep personal relationship with Jeeeezus, even at the most inappropriate times. No, it’s not the majority of christians, but it’s more than enough to be irritating.

    I don’t badger them with details of my intimate personal relationships, and I don’t want to hear about theirs.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    It wasn’t the power of their spiritual lives, per se, it was their message concerning the here and now.

    Chris, I don’t personally make any distinction between the two.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I wasn’t really talking about people who are church officials

    I wasn’t either. Of that list, two at least (Wilberforce and Day) were not clergy at all, simply Christians whose faith was intricately intertwined with positive, and public, social transformation.

    I was referring to those, mostly born-again types, who just can’t shut up about their deep personal relationship with Jeeeezus, even at the most inappropriate times. No, it’s not the majority of christians, but it’s more than enough to be irritating.

    I don’t badger them with details of my intimate personal relationships, and I don’t want to hear about theirs.

    I feel you there. That annoys the hell out of me too.

  • Chris

    Chris, I don’t personally make any distinction between the two [spiritual/social].

    Sure you do. You want to hear the spiritual/social side of those you agree with but not those you don’t (I am not implying that you are trying to ban people from speaking).

    Look, your argument is that spiritual people should not remain silent about their spiritual side because that is intertwined with their social side. But we are not talking about people not using their sense of spiritualism to guide their lives. It is just we don’t see any necessary connection between being spiritual and being good. So, we don’t need to hear it. We have a tendency to apply a glossy veneer over anyone who seems profoundly spiritual. King did not discover an anti-prejudice God in the bible any more than Phelps found a hateful one (although Phelps did not have to look far). Both simply parsed the bible to fit their own pre-conceived notion of what was right and what was wrong.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Claire said,

    I was referring to those, mostly born-again types, who just can’t shut up about their deep personal relationship with Jeeeezus, even at the most inappropriate times. No, it’s not the majority of christians, but it’s more than enough to be irritating.

    then Mike said,

    I feel you there. That annoys the hell out of me too.

    Mike, really?

    I absolutely understand that coming from Claire, and I can sympathize with her, having been annoyed by the “Jesus freaks” myself before I became one.

    But coming from you, it’s quite puzzling. Mike, you wear way too many masks for me to figure you out.

    As a Christian, do you not see that if someone “cannot shut up about their relationship with Jeeezus,” it could be because they have just fallen in love? Like a newlywed who cannot shut up about their beloved, regardless of how annoyed people are at having to listen to them?

    I generally cringe when someone is that excited about Jesus and can’t stop shouting it to the world because I know how the world will perceive them… But they “annoy the hell out of” you?

    I am so confused…

  • Claire

    Linda said:

    Like a newlywed who cannot shut up about their beloved, regardless of how annoyed people are at having to listen to them?

    Linda, I’m not presuming to answer for Mike, but didn’t you maybe just answer your own question? Those newlyweds annoy the hell out of me, too, and I wasn’t objecting earlier solely to the religious content. Anyone who goes on at length, unasked and unwanted, about their own obsession is a public nuisance. If you can listen to them without wanting to smack them, regardless of topic, you are a far more patient person than I will ever be.

    I wasn’t surprised when Mike said that. I just thought how lucky I am to be able to tell those people, cheerfully and with no repercussions, to just put a cork in it. I doubt he has it that easy.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Yes, Claire,

    But you are neither a wedding planner nor a pastor.

    If you were a teacher and told me that kids who are excited about learning annoy you, I would equally be puzzled.

  • Claire

    There’s a difference between “excited about” and “obsessed by”. I get the former (it’s kinda cute actually), the latter is what I object to. Especially when they are sitting beside you on the train when you are trying to read, in line behind you at the DMV, or worst of all, dropping by your desk at work for the twelfth time that day.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I have no objections to your objecting to the obsession. ;)

    My question was to a Christian pastor who indicated that he is annoyed by those who are obsessed with Jesus. I was not defending anyone, nor am I trying to determine right or wrong. I was just confused as to who’s who, that’s all.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Hey Linda,

    It was mainly the “inappropriate times” part of what Claire said that I was agreeing with. I have no problem if a person wants to go on about their passion for Jesus in a church setting, or even if they’re in a conversation with someone who is genuinely interested. But it’s when people go on and on about it to strangers, coworkers or friends that really don’t want to hear about it, that I tend to cringe inwardly and wish they’d stop making Jesus look bad. A lot of Christians I have known feel like it’s their duty to insert Jesus into every conversation, or to talk breathlessly all the time as if Jesus was their hot new boyfriend, even when no one was asking and it’s making everyone around feel uncomfortable, even other Christians. (And no, no one wants to hear newlyweds go on and on about each other either… nor do they want to hear about your real new boyfriend. Those people are equally annoying.)

    1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

    That part “to everyone who asks you” is key here I think. I’m fine with people talking about their passion for Jesus, but not when they force it on people who aren’t interested. I don’t think that does any service to the mission of the gospel.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “Chris, I don’t personally make any distinction between the two [spiritual/social].”

    Sure you do. You want to hear the spiritual/social side of those you agree with but not those you don’t (I am not implying that you are trying to ban people from speaking).

    No, what I meant is that I don’t make any distinction between the spiritual and the social, between the spiritual and the “here and now” as you put it. I don’t subscribe to that kind of dualistic dichotomy.

    Let me put it this way: each of us has a set of beliefs and values that influences our actions in the world. How we live is affected by what we believe and value. This is true both of religious and non-religious people. So no, you don’t need religion to be good, but you do need some sort of beliefs and values, wherever you happen to derive them from. And in the case of the people I listed, they did in fact derive their beliefs and values from their Christian faith, whether for good or for ill.

    At any rate, my point, in response to Claire’s statement that she wishes people would keep their faith private, is that I’m glad when people don’t keep it private when their faith (i.e. the beliefs and values derived from their faith) leads them to work for social justice in the world. But you’re reading your own issues into my comment if you think I was implying that you have to be “spiritual to be good” or whatever. I didn’t say anything like that.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mike,

    Thank you, that’s a great verse. :)

    I don’t mean to be nitpicky, but didn’t this whole “delusional” thing start because the word could be taken as offensive?

    I would put “annoy the hell out of me” in that same category. I was not questioning what and why of what was said. Only that it sounded very dismissive and condescending coming from a person in your position.

    “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

    That part “to everyone who asks you” is key here I think.

    So… dodging the questions, when they are asked, claiming they are “too personal,” “offensive,” “rhetorical,” “too big,” or “inappropriate,” would be okay then?

    I’m sorry, Mike, please tell me if I’m out of line, but I can’t help but notice these inconsistencies. I’m only pointing out what I observe. Not to say that I’m all that consistent myself…

  • Darryl

    Chris said

    Look, your argument is that spiritual people should not remain silent about their spiritual side because that is intertwined with their social side. But we are not talking about people not using their sense of spiritualism to guide their lives. It is just we don’t see any necessary connection between being spiritual and being good.

    I’m going to cut this thing both ways: I see Mike arguing for his position by picking and choosing those displays of religiosity that he thinks are positive (e.g., Wilberforce’s, King’s, etc.), which only goes so far since we can all find as many or more negative displays as positive ones. As a result we have to conclude that religion is a mixed bag when it comes to outcomes. Mike would agree with this conclusion, but since he is working on the good side of this matter, he takes the position he does.

    On the other hand, Mike is right about this: one of the primary concerns of religion and religious people is justice, ethics, morality, compassion, care for the poor, etc.. When you want to know what institutions concern themselves with these things you really have to begin with the religious ones. It’s a fact. Christians and others do indeed see a necessary connection between being spiritual and being good. Wasn’t this one of Jesus’s main teachings? You can’t say you’re spiritual and be an asshole, and being spiritual is, in part, doing good. “By their fruits you will know them.” But, as you said, Chris, not all churches and Christians are on the same page when it comes to this. I applaud those ministers in our country who suffered for the civil rights of blacks and others and I denounce the Robertsons and Falwells. So it goes. But we cannot deny that the intention of almost all of them is to do good, not evil.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    I’m glad when people don’t keep it private when their faith (i.e. the beliefs and values derived from their faith) leads them to work for social justice in the world.

    I wonder if the Phelps clan think that they’re doing noble social work. I’ll bet they do.

    For myself, I don’t see how public discussions of faith ever help. If they’re doing good works then let that speak for itself and if they’re doing harm then no amount of religious salve can soothe it.

    Darryl,

    On the other hand, Mike is right about this: one of the primary concerns of religion and religious people is justice, ethics, morality, compassion, care for the poor, etc.. When you want to know what institutions concern themselves with these things you really have to begin with the religious ones. It’s a fact.

    Is it a fact? How do you know? What facts are you drawing upon and where is your data?

    Looking around, I see a mind-boggling amount of money being spent on aggrandizing the church rather than on any of these things you list. No doubt some money is being spent that way, but how much, what percentage of their income, and how does it compare to the money spent on proselytizing?

    I don’t think you have any way of answering any of those questions because the churches the world over are secretive and do not willingly disclose how their funds get spent. A few do, but the great majority do not. You may speculate, but it must be just speculation.

    On the other hand, secular charities do open up and disclose their financials and their work. Curious, no?

    But we cannot deny that the intention of almost all of them is to do good, not evil.

    Unfortunately, evil is often committed by those with good intentions but poor understanding. Intention isn’t enough.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Adrian,

    So… who decides what’s good and what’s evil? hmm… (okay. just one more poem.. then I’ll leave it alone.) I don’t know what’s wrong with me – maybe it’s allergies. :)

    Good versus evil
    Right against wrong
    Justice according to whom?
    The battles rage on
    Our future soaked in blood…
    Yet from a distance
    Earth remains unaffected
    Constant. Calm. Blue…

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I see Mike arguing for his position by picking and choosing those displays of religiosity that he thinks are positive (e.g., Wilberforce’s, King’s, etc.), which only goes so far since we can all find as many or more negative displays as positive ones.

    Oh c’mon Darryl, cut me some slack. I represented both sides, both the good and the bad. I mentioned Robertson and Phelps in the same comment that I mentioned Wilberforce et al., didn’t I? And in my further explanation didn’t I also say:

    And in the case of the people I listed, they did in fact derive their beliefs and values from their Christian faith, whether for good or for ill.

    I deliberately tried to acknowledge both the good and the bad done in the name of religion, so how can you accuse me of “picking and choosing” only the positive?

    Sheesh, I can’t win for losing around here. :roll:

  • Ben

    First installment about Haught’s book is up:

    http://rantsnraves.org/blog.php?u=310


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