The Angry Atheists vs. the Accommodationists

Lucy Gubbins, the co-founder of the University of Oregon’s Alliance of Happy Atheists, weighs in on the debate between “friendly” and “aggressive” atheists.

… I’m willing to take a leap of faith and concede that yes, if we want a strong, diverse community, we need both sides. But to make this happen, folks: we need to start practicing what we preach.

That means that if we want to continue touting the idea that the secular movement is one with diversity of opinion, and that the “Good Cops” and “Bad Cops” are equally welcomed, we need to act like it. We need to stop decrying the “accommodationists” and start supporting them, especially because they’re so underrepresented. When they’re the sole individuals encouraging polite, snark-less conversation with the faithful, let’s try to not storm out of the room in a huff. Like it or not, atheism desperately needs an image change, and this will only occur through the works of people willing to put anger aside and learn how to interact with religious people in a positive manner. Yes, we need the angry atheists too — but in my opinion, at a time of surplus in one area, let’s look to what we’re lacking in another.

Frequent commenter on this site, Hitch, adds in his two cents:

I don’t think we need angry atheists. We need honest atheists. And people are brilliant at framing honesty as anger. I do not want to be outraged when yet another atheist gets expelled from work or school simply for being. And I do not advocate that we should get angry. But I do advocate that we should not, in fact cannot be silent, even if people try to characterize that speaking out as being angry.

This debate isn’t going to end anytime soon… I agree with Lucy that we need both sides. Frankly, I’m not even sure which side I’m on anymore. It depends on the issue.

The truth is different religious people react to us in different ways. Some of them will be much more receptive to the kinder, gentler atheists. Some will be so stubborn that you need a more blunt approach to get through to them.

We need the angry, the sweet, the Brights, the Humanists, the Atheists-with-a-capital-A, the Blasphemy Challenge, the Muhammad drawings, the Secular Pinky Swear, and everything in between.

If you don’t like what a group does, then say so. We shouldn’t fear constructive criticism. But let’s always remember the focus of the particular issue. If religion is doing harm, we need to make people aware of it. If our rights are being threatened, we need to get that corrected. Some of us want everybody to become atheists while others could care less.

When a movement grows, there will be factions within it. But if we want to increase our visibility and respectability (to quote the Secular Coalition for America’s mission statement), we need to make ourselves known.

I fear that if we’re constantly fighting over tactics, we’re missing out on a golden opportunity to actually get something done.

Not to mention there’s so much we all (well, almost all) agree on — like the importance of coming out as an atheist. Again, we are atheists for different reasons. It’s not like one voice or one book or one tactic converted all of us. There’s no need to try to silence our own people if they’re speaking the truth, even if you don’t like the way they’re going about doing that.

  • Steve

    It may depends on which kind of believer you deal with. If it’s the foam-at-the-mouth wingnut, moderation doesn’t really help in most cases. Civil discourse is lost on them and completely alien to them.

    But that kind of approach will offend moderate Christians, who actually have some common sense.

    It just seems that in the media, the nutjobs get the most attention.

  • Tyro

    The bits about ‘accomodationists’ that I find most objectionable isn’t that they’re friendly, isn’t that they reach out to religious people, it’s only when they start saying things which I think are dishonest or at least very ignorant. These speeches about religion being compatible with science, science learning from religion and all that puffy, pink dung.

    And I’m sorry but I think it’s a little disingenuous to portray the anti-accomodationists as “angry” and to imply that the disagreement is about tone. That goes double when the accomodationists get to dodge the “angry” epithet despite hurling as many insults as anyone, they just don’t insult the religious people.

  • Greg

    Agree with steve on the attention gathering.

    To the original poster, I guess I’m living in another world (Canada). We’re a fairly secular, mellow country. In our circle of friends we have some Muslims, Christians, agnostics, atheists and we pretty much all get along. We have a “house rule” that we don’t try to convert/de-convert people and that we just live and let live.

    It’s pretty nice, to be honest. We had one or two strident atheists and we asked them to…not tone it down but to just kick back and relax, mostly. I guess it’s easier to laugh at ourselves when our southern neighbour is a massive superpower that could overrun us in a matter of hours, while we blisfully read The Hockey News and argue over long or short form census, heh.

    Aggressive atheists certainly do have their place, as some enclaves are intrusively religious. They just seem really oddball over here, where we’re largely secular with religionists that go about their business without bothering others.

    Cheers!

  • dominic charles

    Ignoring this recent, wretched collective neurosis for a second, this question seems bizarre to me. The answers are obvious.

    Sceptics & atheists should of course treat people courteously – even rabid opponents. It’s simple good manners. But who in their right mind would extend a similar courtesy to absurd ideas and opinions? Precisely how is something to be put to the sword with confetti & rose petals?

    I don’t know who this Lucy Gubbins is or why I should be interested in her opinion – she’s clearly not the most articulate or thoughtful amongst you. Nevertheless, the position she’s adopting is, along with Phil Plait’s, supremely craven and contemptible. So much for integrity!

  • Hitch

    Thanks for including my perspective.

    I have two things to add to this:

    1) The very fact that we talk about “image” highlights the problem. No group should be approached according to their image. No LGBT person deserves to be approached by an image, no woman, or man does, no minority does. This whole notion of “image control” misunderstands that (a) it’s impossible to control, people are people and (b) that it feeds into this notion that there even is an image, when we are people who should be approached as such. People who happen to have a different, perhaps critical, perspective. And that not all people with the label atheist are the same at all. We are diverse, as any group is. Any image is going to do somebody injustice.

    But if we do think in terms of image, then it’s quite simple to reflect what will actually help overcome image problems and what won’t. Labeling part of the whole as bad (no matter what part) is not going to be it.

    2) I for one do not believe in the “angry”/accommodation divide. PZ Myers and Dawkins have nice and accommodating things to say at times, and “accommodationists” get angry and feel they need to put some harsh label on somebody.

    In reality we just have different aspects at heart, different weights attached, different priorities. And a lot more people are contributing in helpful ways than the debate lets on.

    Chris Stedman likes many aspects of religion and wants to foster commonality. I happen to think that this is a really good idea.

    The problem comes along, where our preference, has to align or be applied to everybody. Everybody must think that prayer is good, or going to church has not yet been replaced by weekly humanist meetings. And perhaps everybody has to agree that atheists earned the bad reputation that we undoubtedly have and have had for centuries. And we have to agree that part of the fault is that we chose to draw Muhammad and got rattled by 9/11 and religious fanatism.

    But it goes for both sides. I don’t agree that everybody has to reject religion and want it transplanted, but I think that view should be speakable and considered honestly. And I don’t agree that everybody has to think religion has lots of great things in it, and that anything that causes friction has to be avoided at all cost, though I think that view should be expressible too and considered honestly.

    This universalizing of ones perspective is what isn’t helping when we are a diverse group.

    I really feel that Greta tried to articulate this nicely. Unfortunately it’s not working that well. Maybe there is just no way to avoid “in-fighting” simply because that is part of diverse personalities and preferences. But I am an not a pessimist.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    The problem being that to some religious types, even the most carefully worded argument is seen as the most terribleÚ blasphemy. For them, the only atheist opinion they’ll accommodate is “none at all”.

  • http://backwardsbuddhist.com barb fleming

    Having just discussed this issue, I found that my opinion needs some re- thinking. Am I simply not a theist atheist or do I see religion as a harmful element in society? To be truthful, I must admit I have been remiss in taking action to address what I see as clearly harmful. When truth is suppressed, physical violence done or other attacks are carried out on societal norms as in moral codes universally applicable beyond the presence or absence of god, it is time for me to speak out in defense of the oppressed. Whether it offends the believer is irrelevant. It has moved to the realm of compassionate responsibility of human to human. If god can motivate someone to address injustice, fine. I simply do not need the artificial construct to provide the desire to do what is to be done. I need to realize mself that at times I become an active anti-theist to address what I understand as injustice.

  • Hitch

    @PrimeNumbers: That is true. I think we need true diplomats. Those are people who explain what atheists do and experience outwardly. If an atheist gets angry over something, who rather than judge that anger, explains where it comes from, explicates the history, opens up the view what it is like to be an atheist in that position and so forth.

    And if someone is labeled unfairly as angry, just for having expressed a view that isn’t perfectly comfortable, I think we kind of have to defend the person from the labeled, not pile onto that person for having caused anger.

  • http://www.ryanrobinsononline.com Ryan

    Also in Canada, a Christian myself, as I’ve posted a few times before on this site. There have been a few posts, now including this one, which are eerily similar to many conversations I’ve heard between Christians. Christians have just as big of an image problem (in the States – as Greg said most Canadians are pretty chill about what everyone else thinks); we’re labelled as hypocritical, overly political, anti-homosexual, angry and exclusive in general, etc.

    My opinion for atheists is what I would say, and have said, for Christians. To use a biblical phrase, it is possible to “speak the truth in love”. Being honest does not mean you need to hate people who are different, or be angry that they think differently. Similarly being loving doesn’t mean you need to water down and be afraid of what you actually believe. I know Christians need to learn this, and one thing I’ve learned from this site is that atheists tend to go to one end or the other as well.

    In the same way that atheists won’t be converted by a yelling street evangelists telling you you’re going to Hell, Christians aren’t going to be converted by angry atheists telling us we’re stupid.

  • Tyro

    In the same way that atheists won’t be converted by a yelling street evangelists telling you you’re going to Hell, Christians aren’t going to be converted by angry atheists telling us we’re stupid.

    Who is doing that?

    And are you sure that ridicule isn’t effective? Mockery and ridicule pretty much destroyed the KKK, I don’t see why Christians should be any less immune to this than they were.

  • edwords

    I don’t think agnatheists’ main efforts
    are directed toward conversion.

    They want religion kicked out of politics.
    The major faiths have a lust for power
    and that makes us MAD!

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    I live in the American bible belt where being an atheist is like being a leper. A darwin fish will likely get your car vandalized so I have a skewed perspective. I want atheists to be contentious but I have to very diplomatic and selective of where I speak out. It’s a matter of self preservation; speaking out where it will do no good and only hurt myself is pointless. So what do you do with a situation like this? I try make oblique attacks against the enemy lines by introducing doubt where I can. I point out the fallibility of the bible and the immorality of it. I don’t let xians get away with hiding behind select verses and ignore others. I am never rude if I can avoid it and I never am openly confrontational but I also don’t back off.

    I think atheists need to keep the audience of the moment in mind and not let ourselves get baited into attacking. Ignore the stupidity when it can be and call attention to inconsistency, illogic, and factual failings in the claims of xians. You will never will them all but any doubt injected into their minds is a win. An honest doubt will undermine fundamentalism.

    I have said before on here that I believe that most anger from the natural zeal of the convert. When you are freed from the oppression of religion you want everyone to feel that and their resistance makes you angry. I went through it, my sister is going through it now… I am willing to wager that life long atheist are less angry than converts and the more seriously the convert took their prior religion, the angrier they are now… maybe we should have a convert’s (or is it de-convert) mentoring system to counsel through that

  • p.s.

    What to you mean by “angry”? If you are referring to atheists that get pissed off at the silly and hurtful things people do in the name of religion (ID in classrooms, faith “healing”, blatantly ignoring separation of church and state, etc) then yes, we definitely need those people, although I wouldn’t call them angry. What we don’t need, however, are people who are indiscriminately angry at all religious people. The people who say that atheists are inherently smarter than theists, who think all muslims must believe in sharia law, and all christians are either fundamentalists or dishonest. Those characterizations are not fair, not true, and not helpful.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    I’d like to offer up the probability that there are way more important differences than just angry and accomodationist.
    Even more striking to me is the difference in approach between the left and the right. Happily, there seems to be a growing centrist influence in the community. Although he self-identifies as a liberal/progressive, I see vjack of Atheist Revolution as being a balanced voice of centrist reason in a highly fractured community.

  • John

    I think this whole debate is unhealthy for us as a group. What theists are essentially doing when they call us ‘agressive atheists’ is employing a defense tactic psychologists call projective identification. Basically, they are provoking us to think of ourselves as guilty, flawed and worthy of blame as a means of attacking us. If you understand this concept, the enlightening thing to realize is that the person employing projective identification is actually doing so because they feel the blame and guilt for doing what they are trying to make you feel shame for.

  • Hitch

    Yes, I really do dislike the “angry” label. Detractors try so hard to have that label stick, and it’s really bad if we internally reiterate that branding as if it is legit.

    And nothing new. Just recall “angry” feminists.

    And note how other groups do not get that treatment. We don’t get repeated attempts to brand evangelicals as “angry” though there certainly would be ways to do it. That’s what it means to be in a stigmatized group. The powerful groups have leverage in having negative stuff stick. They really really do not need our help. They are quite capable of keeping us occupied, trying the fend the labeling.

  • Lucy

    It’s sad that my guest post on Chris Stedman’s blog (strange that Hemant didn’t mention that) was so taken out of context. It’s not about creating an “us” (accommodationists) vs. “them” (angry atheists) dichotomy, neither is it about which side or tactic is more effective. I have no interest in that argument.

    What I did try to convey is that I believe we need to encourage diversity of tactics. Many people say this movement needs both “accommodation” and confrontation, but in reality the accommodationists are very much the black sheep of the secular movement.

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    We have to be clear what we mean by “accommodationist” when having these discussions (which I think are healthy). To my mind, “accommodationist” refers to that narrow class of otherwise skeptical people who bend over backwards to give religion some kind of legitimacy, whether as a truth system (here’s where you get the NOMA-type arguments) or an ethical system. I don’t think it means “friendly” atheists like our esteemed host. No one argues that you can’t be nice to people. What is argued is that skeptics can’t suspend their skepticism and cede unearned ground to religion for the sake of sparing feelings or gaining some sort of tactical advantage. The opposite of “accommodationist” isn’t “angry,” it’s “uncompromising.” Which can be done in a very friendly, civil manner.

  • Gauldar

    Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster. And if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

    — quote by ‘you know who’

    I accept all Atheists of various points of view, and the day we all think exactly the same way and we all read from the same book is the last day I call myself an Atheist. I also think at all costs we should avoid turning ourselves into different sects, which result in all those different groups refusing to become involved with each other. Hmm… there’s a group of people just like that, but it seems to slip my mind what they were called.

  • http://www.AtheistsOfFlorida.org Rob Curry

    The terminology is not really edifying. Two cases:

    1) The so-called “angry” atheists are often just honest atheists, many of whom are effectively channeling their valid concerns into much needed action. As someone known for taking a calm and polite approach, let me be the first to say that we need more angry atheists.

    There are a lot of things for us to be infuriated and outraged over. I advocate greater understanding of others, but never excuses for the injustices committed by those we must sometimes understand better in order to oppose effectively in the real world. Whether we stand up to shout back, or we just stand up with quiet dignity, the important thing that unites us is that we are finally standing up.

    Remember, undirected or impulsive anger is an advantage only to one’s enemy. But anger acknowledged and controlled can motivate people to work together for the good of all.

    In any case, honest, open criticism of religious dogmas that we find untenable is our right, one that we should encourage everyone to exercise freely whenever and wherever needed.

    2) The so-called “accommodationists” are often just diplomatic atheists, many of whom are motivated by the same valid concerns while taking a different approach to promote change in a world where the inmates often appear to be in charge of the asylum.

    So please, let’s find ways to stop tossing labels at each other and start making a stronger commitment to listen to other atheists with a more open mind to the varied life experiences and unique personal talents we find reflected in our collective community at large.

    We already agree on so much, especially when it comes to the really big, vital issues, that it seems incredibly perverse to give a high priority to the “purity” of how anyone thinks atheism should or should not be expressed. We can, if we try, agree at least to thoughtfully prioritize our top goals before getting distracted by what so often turns out to be a tactical difference with respect to procedural details or a trivial, subjective matter of taste.

    In summary, if we must be angry, let us direct that anger appropriately instead of shooting one another; and if we must be accommodationists, let us accommodate the angry atheists, too. Better still, let’s put these artificial distinctions behind us.

  • Hitch

    Lucy, I think it is really simple. People like me don’t reject certain other people because they are in some other “camp”. I reject if people engage in harmful internal labeling.

    Nothing more and nothing less. That is, as far as I see it the only thing.

    As we all agree that we do not want the division, why do people keep up the very think that creates the division?

    I really want the division go away. Will you help? No more white supremacist comparisons, no more smiling stick figures are hatred, bigotry and swastikas, no more “angry” in lieu of “outspoken”. No more “accommodationist”, “soft” etc.

    And certainly no more “we earned our negative reputation”, when our historic distrust level is at over 40%.

    Lets just all drop the whole nine yards of labels that do nothing but separate people, put them on the defensive and place blame and guilt. Please?

    Or to put it another way, why can we not accommodate each other?

    Edit: Rob, well said.

  • muggle

    I don’t like the whole anti-theist movement but I would, by no stretch of the imagination, term myself an accommodationist unless by accommodationist, you mean people who would allow those who don’t agree with them on the god issue religious freedom.

    That’s precisely why I won’t align myself with the whole anti-theist movement. It’s like they want religious freedom for themselves and no one else. That’s not religious freedom; that’s tyranny. And they’re every bit as bad and wrong as the theocrats. Also, pretty fucking stupid for a religious minority to actively campaign against religious freedom but that’s what you’re doing if you say parents can’t raise their children in their faith or kids can’t wear crosses to school.

    Religion is open to criticism true. But so are we. I really don’t get why it surprises when we are however ineffectively. I find it a huge contradiction when we say freedom of speech, freedom of religion, but only want to apply it to ourselves. We can’t have it both ways. Either everyone’s free to criticize or nobody is.

    All that said, we need the loud voices and we need the soft voices. Ideally, all of us should develop an ability to be both, depending on the circumstances. Protest loudly when rights are violated but speak softly when it might actually convey more power to do so.

  • Steve

    Hemant, we need more posts like this.

  • Judith Bandsma

    The really hurtful part of this division among non-believers is that, for the most part, religionists paint us ALL as angry simply because we don’t believe in supernatural beings. First question (or close to it) that any of us get after saying that we don’t believe is “why are you so angry”.

    Believe in any other ‘god’ and you’ll get a simple “you’re wrong”; don’t believe and you get “you’re angry”.

    So why are we doing it to ourselves?

  • http://www.nutzak.org/ hnutzak

    Muggle, I guess I have never come across any of these tyrannical Atheists you speak of. I am aware of Atheists who state that religious indoctrination of children is harmful and should stop, but I don’t know of any who want to put an end to religious freedom. I would argue that indoctrination is the antithesis of freedom.

    Also, while greater diversity would be great, I’m not sure I agree that “atheism desperately needs an image change” as Lucy stated.

  • Karmakin

    What John said. So much of what is determined to be “anger” is just so much projection.

    My personal belief, is that I’m a diplomat. I don’t think religious folks are “delusional” (I think they feel something. They just mis-characterize what that something is), I don’t want to destroy religion. I don’t want to throw the baby out in the bathwater in other words. I’m really in the middle.

    But I can’t side with the “diplomats”. Not at all. Why? Because they have absolutely no sense of scale. They don’t understand that it’s not our tone that people find offensive. It’s the lack of belief itself that’s troubling.

    And they tend to use very insulting language themselves. I don’t like the hypocrisy. They’re not “angry”. They’re not “outspoken”. They’re just…speaking. That’s all. And yes. That offends a lot of people. Oh well.

    And above all, they don’t understand that the core problem with religion is the privilege we extend to it, and that what they’re doing is protecting that privilege.

    Are you going to convince the person you’re arguing with? Probably not. But that’s not the point. In a public forum, the goal is to convince the “jury”, that is, people who might be listening/reading. And I’ve NEVER seen anything…not just in atheism, but politics, movies, music, whatever…to lead me to believe that a “soft-sell” is more effective than a hard sell.

    Now, we shouldn’t go out of our way to be rude. But we need to see rudeness from our side. Not theirs. Because a lot of them think our existence is rude. That’s the long and the short of it.

  • Alex

    Part of the problem is the privileges given to religion in the USA and muslim countries. When was the last time that you have heard of a bowling league or some other civil group lead a charge for opening words or prayer at a government meeting? Do I have to be a bowler to be a good person? Maybe in Milwaukee.

  • Aj

    We are asked to accept accommodationists decrying atheists, but are asked ourselves to stop decrying accommodationists. Something to be expected from the accommodationists who save all their “tolerance” and diplomacy for when they’re talking to religionists. Instead, we atheists who are not accommodationists get lies, misrepresentation, and attacks from those who claim to be our allies or even part of “our” movement. Cooperation is not submission, does Lucy Gubbins want our arms open or bound?

    But the truth is that the “diplomats,” the “accommodationists” — the atheists who don’t view religious people as delusional imbeciles, and who are willing to be respectful of faith — aren’t so sexy.

    Imbeciles? This is the type of bullshit we have to put up with. That’s the defining characteristic of accommodationists? Many accommodationists don’t have respect for faith at all. I’d also suggest that it’s not exactly a choice, if you advocate evidence based knowledge then you don’t respect faith.

    However, I’m willing to take a leap of faith and concede that yes, if we want a strong, diverse community, we need both sides. But to make this happen, folks: we need to start practicing what we preach.

    Lucy Gubbins is going to concede this on faith? That’s not reassuring. Lucy Gubbins asks us to start practising what we preach, asking for welcoming and support, while she attacks us with a straw man.

    Are those that believe in belief, that respect faith, who don’t see gods as delusions really part of the same movement? I don’t think so.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Hemant said in an earlier thread that he is finding that sometimes he is just not the Friendly Atheist. Phil Plaitt said much the same in a PoI interview.
    What I see is a lot of second-guessing of fellow skeptic/atheists. When I get tough it’s justified – when you get tough, you are being rude & divisive.

    I think people are muddling up different goals – some people support science and don’t care about beliefs (Like the NCSE); some are defending church-state separation; some about networking & supporting of atheists (PZ); some work on conversion (Dawkins & Harris). Different goals call for different tactics.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I’m not an advocate of lots of qualifiers for the term “atheism”. Different people have different temperaments but the varying temperaments don’t really change the fact that they simply don’t believe in god.

    Let the religious people get all caught up (and differentiate themselves) in exactly what they believe and what qualifications are necessary for getting to their imagined afterlife. Not believing is simple. There is no need to differentiate it. It will probably take 2 or 3 more generations, but the “atheist” label won’t remain negative indefinitely. Times are a changing.

  • R9

    “What is argued is that skeptics can’t suspend their skepticism and cede unearned ground to religion for the sake of sparing feelings”

    But people’s feelings do matter to them, and trampling all over that just because you reckon your worldview is superior can be counterproductive.

    Well, sometimes. A lot depends on the context. Often it’s appropriate to drop the hammer on fundies for example. But I have a problem with Uncompromising Atheists and their need to be hostile to all belief, ever.

    So maybe I’m an accomodationist. I mean I’ll happily accommodate people who keep their faith to themselves and I don’t care if it’s irrational.

    I’d just hope we can work together when it really matters.

  • jolly

    I don’t understand all the hand wringing about being nice. Look at Faux News, they have a whole network based on being stupid, mean, disrespectful. Are you saying that doesn’t work for them? We need all types, even the worried about tone folks.

  • L. Vellenga

    so many things to say; where to begin? 1) all stereotypes are false, including this one. i don’t think all atheists are angry, or that they don’t have good resons to be s if they are. however, 2) i think many people (myself included) DO object to tone — among christians, atheists, and left-handed bagpipe players. i don’t take anger no directed at me personally, but don’t find angry rants all that persuasive. persuasion may not be the goal in everyone’s minds but angry (and/or dogmatic) people are unfortunately easily dismissed. 3) i suspect that atheism and/or secularism, like christianity is somewhat of a wide tent in that it has definable boundaries but room for lots of different folks under the big top. the problem comes when one subgroup doesn’t like being grouped with another whose message or methods they find wrong or disagreable (and this happens a lot to me as a christian). i’m curious (really — i’m not just trying to be snarky) as to what standard(s) the atheist big tent would appeal to in order to make the same statement (if indeed anyone would do so). does the “big tent” idea work as a framework for understanding secular humanists? 4) if persuasion to “convert” to atheism isn’t a goal of the secular atheist community i would think it ought to be. if my view of life, the universe, and everything is so wrong, i want to know and be convinced otherwise. i would think that others would think similarly. if not, why bother saying anything aloud except to commiserate with other like-minded individuals? we have opinions because we think we’re right; we share them because in part we think others ought to agree.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    jolly:

    I don’t understand all the hand wringing about being nice. Look at Faux News, they have a whole network based on being stupid, mean, disrespectful. Are you saying that doesn’t work for them?

    Define “working.” Sure, Fox Noise helps fire up the base, but it also encourages that base to be more rabid and unreasonable. We don’t need that.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    Lucy and Hitch are both right. We need all kinds, and people are brilliant at framing honesty as anger. Heck, just saying “I don’t believe in gods” often gets a response of “Why do you hate god?”.

    Furthermore, individual atheists can differ in their approach depending on a variety of factors (the situation, mood, people involved, etc.). There are times I’m quite amicable and willing to compromise, and others where I’m fighting mad. So it’s not always possible to categorize a particular atheist as “friendly” or “angry” since they don’t fit one mold at all times.

  • Patrick

    This makes me really mad.

    It’s “couldn’t care less”; could care less means the person cares about it some, which isn’t the point. GRRRRR!!

  • http://bob-kowalski.blogspot.com Bob Kowalski

    Accomodationism is self-defeating. Either belief in the local deity is of supreme importance or it is not.

    If it is of supreme importance a believer who would make nice with unbelievers believes himself to have more common ground with the most ignorant and close-minded fundamentalist. Why? They both recognise the supreme importance of belief in the local deity which separate them both from non-believers.

    If the believer who would make nice with unbelievers does not hold that belief in the local deity is of supreme importance, then something else is. Perhaps integrity, honesty, a sense of justice & fairness, and the like. Consequently, if the believer who would make nice with unbelievers were to tell ignorant & close-minded fundamentalists that they were ignorant & close-minded and that ignorance is a shameful insult to their deity, then maybe such a believer is really worth consideration.

    Absent criticism of whacko fundamentalists, the difference between a believer who would make nice & an ignorant & close-minded fundamentalist is that the believer who would make nice says “please” when he tells non-believers, “Sit down, shut up, & or else.”

  • cathy

    “The Tone Argument”, ah the familar thing which comes up again and again in discussions of oppression amoung northerners and midwesterners. The oppressed group members are told to mind their tone, that if they were just nicer, presented things in a way that the lazy minds of the oppressor wouldn’t have to do any effort to understand, etc, then the oppressors would just give up privilege so readily and easily, because that’s really how the world works (sarcasm here). This is just a way to tell people to shut up and insult them while being able to place the blame on the oppressed group rather than the bigot. ‘Oh, you pointed out that calling a black man a coon was racist and the person responded badly? You must have used the wrong tone’ This takes responsibility from the bigot (racist, in this case) and turns into a blame game and scrutiny of the oppressed group and its allies (ie ‘angry black people’). I just see the tone argument as a way to play on privilege and tell the oppressed people to stfu without actually having to say that (southerners tend to just say it, which is why I ommited them above).

    A disagreement about tactics is different, because that’s about what the person said, their argument, and not about policing the behavior of a socially oppressed group in a way that you don’t police the behaviors of the privileged group (somehow it’s always ‘angry atheists’ and ‘angry muslims’ but never ‘angry christians’ who need to watch their tone).

    Also, remember that oppressed groups don’t get to live without exposure to the privileged group and its ideas. Yes, I understand that there are religious people around me who have relgious beliefs, because I grew up around them, went to school with them, worked with them, have them in my family, and have had their supposed ‘right’ to unearned social privilege beaten into me since I was born. I would be really damned shocked to find an atheist who grew up in the US who couldn’t say most of those things as well. We don’t live in a little atheist bubble and we all know that, including the ‘new atheists’, ‘assertive atheists’, etc. Perhaps we know it most of all, because those that are injured the most by religion tend to be more vocal critics.

  • Aj

    R9,

    I mean I’ll happily accommodate people who keep their faith to themselves.

    Are there any that keep their faith to themselves? If they do is their anything to accommodate? It sounds like your suggesting if faith wasn’t a problem faith wouldn’t be a problem. I doubt you would get much disagreement there. Sadly it’s not reality.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    4) if persuasion to “convert” to atheism isn’t a goal of the secular atheist community i would think it ought to be. if my view of life, the universe, and everything is so wrong, i want to know and be convinced otherwise. i would think that others would think similarly. if not, why bother saying anything aloud except to commiserate with other like-minded individuals? we have opinions because we think we’re right; we share them because in part we think others ought to agree.

    Sure, but, as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I don’t understand why atheists should be out trying to deconvert people. There’s already ample information if people are interested in exploring atheism. If they really want to honestly engage the question of deities, the facts are readily available. People are not theists because they are unaware of other options. They’re theists because they want to be theists, and unless they are open to another way of thinking, trying to deconvert them would seem to be rather futile.

    Plus, I think it’s disrespectful. IMO, it’s meddling in other people’s affairs. I think theists are wrong, but if they know that I’m an atheist, then they already understand that. There’s no need to hammer the point home by badgering them to give up their beliefs. If someone is interested, I’m willing to have a dialogue. I’m willing to recommend books for them to read. However, I’m not willing to try to force people to consider atheism if they aren’t open to it. Coercion never works. It just drives the belief underground and reinforces it. If religion is ever to disappear, it must happen naturally and organically, not because people were pressured into giving up their deities.

  • nankay

    Oh Aj,
    LOTS of people keep their faith to themselves. My best friend of 25+ yrs is VERY Xian (her description) and knows well my lack of belief. She has rarely gone beyond a generic reference to her deceased dad in heaven.

  • Aj

    nankay,

    Do these people indoctrinate their children or let others do it? Do these people vote for politicians with religiously derived agendas? Do these people fund churches that proselytize? I was being hyperbolic for effect, but the answer is FEW people keep their faith to themselves. I also have anecdotes.

  • Richard Wade

    It’s important to not deliberately or inadvertently equate atheists who manage to mind their manners with “accomodationists.” It’s also important to not equate atheists who firmly and skillfully hold their position as being “angry.”

    As a “friendly atheist” I don’t make any concessions or compromises with any argument that I think is false or faulty. I don’t “accomodate” woo or superstition or unfounded claims. I’ll dismantle a faulty argument and challenge an unsupported claim every time I see one.

    I just manage to do it without calling someone an asshole.

    That’s all you have to do. Just refrain from the childish, inflammatory diatribe that has nothing to do with your argument. If you have to rely on invective, then either your argument is not strong enough, or your purpose for being there is not really about convincing someone of something.

    Ask yourself what you’re really trying to do when you engage with a theist. Are you trying to actually persuade them (or more likely an on-the-fence onlooker) to consider a different point of view, or are you just wanting to vent your own frustrations? If it’s the latter, it would be better if you jump up and down and scream Waaaah! Waaaah! in the privacy of your own home.

    I have never seen a “foaming at the mouth” theist be calmed down by a “foaming at the mouth” atheist. If the theist is that far into his emotions, nobody will reach him. But those who are listening will remember which person was polite and rational. That is far more important than matching your opponent’s two-year-old tantrum with your own two-year-old tantrum.

    Let’s back away from these absurd extreme characterizations, as if those are the only two “camps” where we can live. Being civil does not mean being “accommodationist,” and being strident, or firm, or a damn good debater does not mean being “angry.”

    Yes, there are a few atheists who accomodate, meaning they make concessions or compromises with theists that are not supportable by reason, and there are a few more atheists than that who are so into their anger that they aren’t really interested in anything other than expressing their anger. Neither are helpful to any effort for bettering the situation as a whole.

    When I talk with those few extremists, I am not going to either “give ground” that I don’t have to, nor am I going to insult, humiliate or shame them either. My using either of their tactics will not persuade them to try my way. I have to demonstrate my way, even as I talk about it.

  • Hitch

    OMFSM you just said asshole! Why are you so angry? ;)

  • http://www.Atheists.org/Texas_State_Page Joe Zamecki

    I’m one of those ‘angry Atheists’ or some have said so after watching my videos about religion.

    It seems to me that since anger is a normal human emotion, like joy, it has a natural and appropriate place in any cause movement. We’re humans working for the recognition of the rights of millions of humans, so all human emotions may arise in the course of our work.

    We see all the time preachers basically lying about ther supposedly all-loving flocks. Jerry Fallwel was a master of the full-time smile for effect for the cameras, as he said some of the most insane and hate-driven statements. He thought it made him seem like a nice guy, which worked with a lot of viewers, but to me, it only made him seem like a smug con-man.

    In my opinion, we Atheists need all manner of emotions available to us to display as they strike us, when we’re given the floor. One lie that’s often said about us is that we’re ‘soulless’ automatons whose emotions are simplistic: Hate, and dishonesty when attempting to show any emotion other than hate.

    The reason why some of us seem so angry is that we care about the harm that’s still being done by religious folks, and their efforts to avoid responsibility for their actions. As a tactic, they paint us all as crazy loudmouth malcontents.

    I believe they said the same about the various activists from ALL of the groups that have had to fight for their rights. What makes it seem like we’re being singled out for that tactic is simply the fact that most of those other groups won their fight for civil rights already, so they’re not fighting much now. Ergo they’re not being targeted so much now. Non-religious folks are one of the last groups to still have to fight. We’re still being targeted for that tactic.

    I’m proud to be an Atheist, capital ‘A’. Part of that for me is that I keep up with what theists are doing wrong, and naturally that leads to me getting angry about it. Remember that bumper sticker ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention’? It’s a strong sentiment that’s based in truth, I believe.

    I think we need to show our true feelings, whatever they happen to be at the time. Theists need to understand that we’re actual humans with feelings, and that religion does not have a monopoly on emotions.

    Thank you for bringing this discussion to your blog.

    Joe Zamecki
    Texas State Director
    American Atheists

  • L. Vellenga

    i’m with you, anna. coercion is right out; so is badgering (about anything). is it the right to exist in a legally badger-free zone (sorry, all of you Wisconsin fans) that is the goal? i can buy that. i also think the marketplace of ideas ought to be open to all ideas or none, atheists included. i think all ideas ought to be able to rise or fall on their own merits. i think that more speech is almost always better than less (fewer?) speech.

    maybe it’s not that i think atheists “ought” to be persusive in their speech; it’s that i think that speech, by definition, is declarative and persuasive. plus, if religion is truly as repulsive and dangerous as many here have claimed, then the humanist position, it seems to me, is to persuade others that the better, more moral viewpoint is that of secular humanism. in other words, that religionists of every stripe would be better off (and so would the world) not being believers. that, at least, seems to be the motivation behind saying such aloud.

  • L. Vellenga

    and i like hitch’s most recent comment, too.

  • ckitching

    When your only input into a situation is to criticize by saying, “you’re not helping”, it inevitably turns out that the person who is not helping is you. This is the core of the problem I have with many accommodationists, and too many of my other complaints stem from this. It’s always tempting to elevate yourself over others, and certainly many so-called “New Atheists” are guilty of this, too, but tu quoque is no excuse.

    I guess I also have a problem with the carte blanche “science is compatible with religion” mantra. It’s trivial to point out religious ideas that are incompatible with science (a 6,000 year old universe, for instance), but despite this, no one claims that there aren’t religious scientists out there.

  • edwords

    This is more a political problem than a philosophical one.

    If religion and its adherents would stay out of
    politics, there’d be no conflict other than
    the intellectual one.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    i’m with you, anna. coercion is right out; so is badgering (about anything). is it the right to exist in a legally badger-free zone (sorry, all of you Wisconsin fans) that is the goal? i can buy that. i also think the marketplace of ideas ought to be open to all ideas or none, atheists included. i think all ideas ought to be able to rise or fall on their own merits. i think that more speech is almost always better than less (fewer?) speech.

    Well, not a legally badger-free zone. After all, we do have free speech. If atheists want to go badgering Christians (and vice versa) they can do it. It just strikes me as counter-productive because I just don’t think being rude or intrusive makes people sympathetic to your point of view. I think it’s good to have atheists and theists stating their opinions and being willing to have honest discussions in both the public and private spheres, while at the same time not forcing those discussions on people who are uninterested.

    For me, personally, I’m a lifelong atheist who has had only peripheral contact with religion, so I’m more concerned with issues like separation of church and state. If individuals want to be religious, that’s up to them. I think they’re wrong, but I don’t want to interfere with their life, and I don’t want them to interfere with my life, either.

    maybe it’s not that i think atheists “ought” to be persusive in their speech; it’s that i think that speech, by definition, is declarative and persuasive. plus, if religion is truly as repulsive and dangerous as many here have claimed, then the humanist position, it seems to me, is to persuade others that the better, more moral viewpoint is that of secular humanism. in other words, that religionists of every stripe would be better off (and so would the world) not being believers. that, at least, seems to be the motivation behind saying such aloud.

    Well, sure. I believe the world would be a better place without religion and I don’t mind saying that, but I guess there’s a difference between saying it and then trying to bring it about. Realistically, there’s only so much atheists can do. We can write books. We can give talks. We can invite debate and discussion. But none of that means that religion will disappear. Maybe we can encourage people to leave behind the most harmful forms of it. I can support that goal.

    Not all forms of religion are dangerous, and while many are, religion won’t go away even if we have the most logical and well-reasoned arguments (as I think we do) against it because religion is mostly about emotions and cultural imprinting, and you can’t counter that with logic. The only way to “stop” religion is to stop the indoctrination of young children, but that interferes with the rights of parents to bring up their kids how they see fit, and I don’t think even the most strident atheists would get behind that.

  • L. Vellenga

    you make good sense, anna. it’s a complicated situation on all sides of the conversation, i think.

  • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

    I really can’t help but think that the perfect tone in this case was expressed by Ta-Nehisi Coates here, while speaking on a different subject:

    I have, in my writing, a tendency to become theoretically cute, and overly enamored with my own fair-mindedness. Such vanity has lately been manifested in the form of phrases like “it’s worth saying” and “it strikes me that…” or “respectfully…”

    When engaging your adversaries, that approach has its place. But it’s worth saying that there are other approaches and other places. Among them–respectfully administering the occasional reminder as to the precise nature of the motherfuckers you are dealing with.

    @Joe Zamecki
    I’ve seen you in videos man, you’re positively mellow compared to others. If you’re what’s described as ‘angry’, then we’re at an impasse.

  • jolly

    I don’t understand all the hand wringing about being nice. Look at Faux News, they have a whole network based on being stupid, mean, disrespectful. Are you saying that doesn’t work for them?

    Define “working.” Sure, Fox Noise helps fire up the base, but it also encourages that base to be more rabid and unreasonable. We don’t need that.

    J.J. Ramsey: I don’t think we need those tactics either but one of Phil Plait’s fears was we might scare away people if we are fierce and mean. Faux News isn’t chasing many people away so it seems that being rude isn’t a problem and since none of the worriers seem to be able to point to any evidence that shows rudeness chases people away, I thought I would point out an obvious example of the opposite happening.

  • Curious Atheist

    The truth is different religious people react to us in different ways. Some of them will be much more receptive to the kinder, gentler atheists. Some will be so stubborn that you need a more blunt approach to get through to them.

    Reasonable people are receptive to reasonable dialogue. Unreasonable people are not. But while reasonable dialogue won’t work on unreasonable people, hostile in your face confrontation won’t work on them either.

    Has any pro-lifer ever converted because of a heated in your face argument with a pro-choicer? No! If anything that just hardens your opponent’s resolve.

    So when is hostile in your face confrontation ever a good idea?

    I think some atheists just need to vent and then justify their venting by pretending that they are advancing some cause.

    Not to mention there’s so much we all (well, almost all) agree on — like the importance of coming out as an atheist.

    Got any stats to back that up? I don’t think almost all atheists agree on that at all. There’s a huge gap between the large number of atheists revealed in surveys and the number of atheists shouting their atheism from the rooftops. If most atheists are themselves hidden how can it be that almost all of them think that coming out is important? They don’t even do it themselves!

  • http://selfra.blogspot.com dantresomi

    I want to say this (and this goes for feminists, LGBT folks, Human rights advocates, etc.):

    people that ask critical questions will always be deemed as “angry” by those that want to uphold the status quo. I have heard people call individuals such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn as angry radicals when no one can produce a video or interview where they spouted violent epitaphs.

    I have encountered people who have asked why atheists are so angry. when i ask them if they know any atheist personally, they usually say no so I ask “how do they know that atheists are angry.” people say the same thing about feminists.

    why are we allowing how our opponents feel about us, when they are dead wrong 99% of the time, dictate how we view ourselves?

    okay I said a few things.

  • http://www.happyatheists.com Slickninja

    As a member of AHA and the current web guy, I disagree with our former president. The current wave of shock value atheists are necessary to pave the way for eventual acceptance of atheism. Its been likened to the gay rights movement that it takes a vocal minority to raise awareness to pave the way for future atheists.

    She and I disagreed on this issue. I never advocated Alliance of Happy Atheists take up drawing Mohammed as it didn’t fit within our group’s objective, however I did support such.

    Some people respond to shock value and some people take kindness. There’s too many different types of people in a non-structured, loose knit ideals to really sum up all atheists so we shouldn’t strive for one image of atheism. Our group has prospered taking on a lighter tone in the atheism movement but our famed boot protest (thanks to Tony) doesn’t fit within the scope of happy atheism but it certainly made a splash. So if you want to make ripples on the pond, you’re going to ruffle someone’s feathers.

    I do appreciate she is trying to advocate a more friendly approach to godlessness but I’d like her to accept us not-always happy atheists :)

    – Greg G.

  • Curious Atheist

    Some people respond to shock value and some people take kindness.

    Maybe I am misreading you but I take something very insidious from comments like this. The idea seems to be that ‘the atheist movement’ needs to find the most effective way to manipulate people to do what ‘the movement’ wants – that we need to take a cue from the Republicans.

    I prefer persuasion over manipulation. We should give people the facts and leave the choice of what to do with the facts up to them. ‘Our’ goal should be getting the truth out, not exploiting people as a means to achieve our ends. Otherwise we disrespect the very freedom to choose without ‘used car salesman misdirection’ that we demand for ourselves.

  • Justice Has No God

    As a member of AHA!, I find myself largely in concurrence with Lucy on this point.

    I actually think that the Boot Protest does fit within the scope of “happy” atheism since its objective was a form of demonstration via idealistic confrontation. It might be called passive aggressive, but I think it had more to do with the mockery of Brother Jed and his particular variety of “not-so-happy” theism. I viewed the Boot Protest as something akin to a sit-in or another form of non-confrontational demonstration. The objective as I saw it was to show how one absurd bigot’s rantings looked when cast into a different light, without the guise of piety as a means to cover his misanthropy and misogyny. It was a reprisal to a particular form of religious behavior, not religion generally, in my eyes.

    I was vehemently against Blasphemy Day and thought that drawings of Mohammed done in protest were a mass reprisal of a general religious tenant that a FEW extremists pushed an unjustifiable and absurd level. I will continue to oppose Blasphemy Day (except for in countries [i.e. Ireland] where blasphemy is grounds for civil punishment [as this is contrary to my confidence in a need for the strict separation of government and religion]) as I believe it is just as contrary to peaceful cooperation amongst the religious and non-religious as the fire and brimstone hate-speech of people like Brother Jed and his ilk.

    I believe in the notion of the vocal minority. Every revolution has its vanguard. However, near every revolution has also had its reign of terror. I see the rise of secularism as another idealistic shift in the American mindset and is quite young and growing slowly. Its a positive shift, but none the less prone to the same historical patterns that have befallen any widespread ideological movement or revolution. I feel that while its important to be vehement and confident in the significance of the secular position and the establishment of its recognition that this goal does not entail the “conquering” of religious positions. There are two basic reasons for this. First, that’s just another UN-NEEDED religiously based conflict when the entire driving force behind American secularism is freedom of conscience – and that means letting people believe in earnest the way that they see fit provided that they allow others to do the same and cooperate fairly in society. Second, that’s a war that CAN NOT be won and so shouldn’t be fought. It will only result in the consumption of the significant resources of the secular movement and a drop in our credibility.

    I think that the focus of the secular movement should be about the establishment of a place of legitimacy for the secular individual’s ideology. The placing of secular beliefs on the same level as religious beliefs. People are entitled to hear and believe as they wish; that’s their right as individuals. Anger is productive and necessary at times, but it must be warranted as a tool like any other form of force.

  • Deepak Shetty

    I completely agree with Hitch’s point i.e. that honesty/sincerity is important. However I’m not sure that being angry is such a bad thing. I don’t think I want there to be a day when I read that someone has systematically suppressed cases of child abuse and not feel angry. What exactly are you supposed to feel when this happens? What you feel is situational and anger is justified in some situations. and the whole profanity thing is overrated.
    @Richard

    I just manage to do it without calling someone an asshole. That’s all you have to do. Just refrain from the childish, inflammatory diatribe that has nothing to do with your argument.

    List the adjectives you will use for say the Pope (I’m assuming that we dont have to go over the laundry list of crimes, and remember that Hitch says honesty is important). Finally explain the difference between calling someone evil(I assume that isn’t childish) and calling him an a$$0.

  • Richard Wade

    Deepak Shetty,

    In the case of the Pope, the laundry list of crimes would speak for itself. Adjectives or nouns trying to sum it all up in one term would be unnecessary. Leave the overall label unsaid, hanging in the air, and it has a stronger effect.

    Address people about their actions, not their being. If they say a racist thing, tell them, “That was a racist thing to say,” rather than telling them “You are a racist.” If they do a rude thing, say “That was a rude thing to do,” rather than saying “You are rude,” or “You are a rude person.”

    Actions can be observed. Being cannot. Actions can be corrected. Being is always intangible. It is our behaviors that make us real.

  • GSW

    It is this if we lower ourselves to their level again isn’t it!

    Actually, lowering ourselves to become as aggressive as theists would mean:
    torturing blasphemers (there is no evolution)
    burning dissenters at the stake (hell exists)
    stoning heretics (got married in church!)
    crusading against religious education (kill R.E. teachers)
    No need to burn down churches, the mussles are doing that already.

    Since all we actually do is burst their bubble of superiority and god-loves-me delusions, I would say we are pretty restrained.

    So if anyone starts ranting about how all atheists are aggressive and confrontory, just tell them Lightening Rods on Churches (now was that Heinlein or Asimov?)

  • R9

    “Not all forms of religion are dangerous, and while many are, religion won’t go away even if we have the most logical and well-reasoned argument”.

    Pretty much sums up my thinking. Trying to win the “more rational than thou” contest won’t work and getting hostile about it – the “I don’t care what your religion makes you feel I want proof or it’s stupid” line at some point becomes just chest-beating. People aren’t going to rethink their worldview at that point, just naturally recoil.

    And I don’t like the idea of trying to convert all believers. Just aiming to make atheism a respectable stance to publicly hold is a more positive way forward I think.

  • http://nonprophetstatus.com Chris Stedman

    R9 and Curious Atheist (and others… it is early and I’m sleepy) — hear hear! Your contributions to this dialogue were greatly appreciated.

    Thanks all for reading Lucy’s piece on NonProphet Status (and yeah, Lucy, strange indeed…). Stay tuned for more guest posts coming up soon!

    Best,
    Chris
    NonProphetStatus.com

  • Hitch

    Sad that there has to be some underlying guilt-trip somewhere.

    John identified it perfectly:

    “Basically, they are provoking us to think of ourselves as guilty, flawed and worthy of blame as a means of attacking us.”

    There are two:

    “strange indeed”

    and

    “Your contributions to this dialogue were greatly appreciated.’

    Implying that Hemant did something wrong in not mentioning where Lucy’s post was hosted (even though he routinely does so, because it becomes tedious otherwise!)

    And implying that only some select opinions here are worth appreciating, the rest of the spectrum, by implication, not so much.

    I think to call this difference in strategy is mislabeling it. It’s a difference in inter-personal psychology.

    How about saying, here is a camp that does not want to guilt-trip others in the atheist community, and here are those that do want to do that? Yes that’s a guilt-trip. If anybody can tell me how to phrase that concern without making it sound like one, let me know.

    But it has to stop. Seriously. Smiling stick figures never were swastikas. And there was no hate and bigotry there. But the guilt this induces works as expected. People are upset. Then we can blame them for being unfriendly on top of it and we keep the machinery alive.

    Doesn’t that describe what NPS has been about with respect to the atheist community? Maybe my perspective is skewed but that’s how it looks to me.

    That’s what I keep begging that the labeling and blaming stops. So far not even a recognition that there may be a problem here, in fact blame keeps being an operative tool.

    I know plenty of religion and religion-friendly folks who don’t have to guilt-trip. Rev. Weyer was a great example. He’s the kind of person who does enable cooperation and dialogue.

    And that is what we really need, internal and external coperation, dialogue and doing productive forward-looking things.

  • Aj

    Anna,

    1) Faith is dangerous though, basing beliefs on authority or wish-thinking isn’t predictable or related to reality. Religions can change, Christianity was very different for the first few decades, and even Buddhism has taken on harmful forms.

    2) Children have a right to an education. A right to language, math, and logic. To know about other cultures and traditions. To know about science and how we gather reliable knowledge. Often this goes against what parents “see fit”, and they’re afraid of their children learning, I suspect they have good reason to be afraid, because education works. Children have rights too.

    3) It’s illogical to say the only way to stop religion is to forcefully stop indoctrination. Many parts of the world are becoming more secular without force.

    4) People against the movement often bring up a world with no religion as an impossible goal, and maybe it is, but that’s only the perfect achievement. Anywhere in-between now and there is a win. People trying to get there don’t talk about the end game of a world without religion much at all.

    5) I haven’t seen harassment or coercion advocated in the movement. The types of techniques religion uses are not used by atheists in the movement. In history it’s happened, and we get a lot of shit for that, but politically atheists tend to be either liberals or libertarians in the West.

    Curious Atheist,

    SReasonable people are receptive to reasonable dialogue. Unreasonable people are not. But while reasonable dialogue won’t work on unreasonable people, hostile in your face confrontation won’t work on them either.

    The comments to another post on this blog a while back had people anecdotally contradicting your claim. I personally revised my opinions after confrontations. So if your claim is that it never works, you are wrong. If your claim is that your way is more effective and should be the only way, then you need to back that up with some evidence, testing not just for efficacy of the two approaches, but also for how they interact.

    Justice Has No God,

    I was vehemently against Blasphemy Day and thought that drawings of Mohammed done in protest were a mass reprisal of a general religious tenant that a FEW extremists pushed an unjustifiable and absurd level.

    Are you saying that the religious tenant is justifiable and not absurd? You say that you support freedom, but apparently you only support it as long as people don’t break the arbitrary and authoritarian rules set by others. Freedom, I do not think that word means what you think it means. The concept of blasphemy, and the idea that we should submit to their laws regarding it, is contrary to peaceful cooperation amongst the religious and non-religious. Do you support freedom and reason or not? If you can’t tell the difference between blasphemy and hate-speech then I suggest you do not. Cooperation does not mean we submit to their unjust irrational demands, I was not involved in this “compromise” where they give nothing but we concede our freedom.

  • Deepak Shetty

    Richard Wade
    What if a person repeats his racist actions? What if he doesn’t change or learn? Isn’t that by definition a racist?

    Leave the overall label unsaid, hanging in the air, and it has a stronger effect.

    But this is subjective. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law which has a stronger effect?
    Hitler was a racist v/s Hitler committed many racist actions?
    Again I’m not disagreeing with you on principle , I agree you shouldn’t use these terms in most cases, but I think there are times when such terms are justified , even needed.

  • Hitch

    I think it’s helpful to be descriptive. Yes calling a wolf a wolf and not a sheep can be very necessary.

    But we have to be careful and clear. Explain why we came to the conclusion and present the nuance.

    Take asshole. I think, anti-social, unfriendly, mean, derogatory, oppressive, all are more descriptive than asshole.

    If someone does something assholeish often that’s the same as saying that something was intentionally mean.

    I have no problem pointing out to someone what specifically they do is mean and cruel and then add that I think it’s an asshole thing to do, say, or believe. But if we jump to that without having explained the context or the justification, well, it’s on thin ice at best.

    And frankly the strongest views are those that do not need colorful amplification.

    On NPS in the comment section, some people are really on my case. And that despite the fact that I dislike curse-words of all kinds and avoid them in my own discussion. And that is because a strongly articulated opinion is what matters, ultimately. If you curse, you are indeed dismissible. The dismissal may be unfair, but by not cursing you don’t even give grounds for that.

    If people have to dismiss you through your honest attempt of articulating your views, then they have to at least content with it, or as happen so often, switch to ignoring it, or cursing you down.

    But you didn’t help bring about the notion that you are just rude so easily (people will just say it anyway).

  • Deepak Shetty

    @Hitch

    But we have to be careful and clear. Explain why we came to the conclusion and present the nuance.

    Oh yes I take that as a given.

    Take asshole. I think, anti-social, unfriendly, mean, derogatory, oppressive, all are more descriptive than asshole.

    And why use five words when one suffices :)? For me the profanity is used to convey extreme disgust which none of the more descriptive terms convey suitably. Its to be used in rare cases and its to be used when other things fail.

  • Hitch

    Deepak I don’t think we have a disagreement at all ;)

  • Deepak Shetty

    @Hitch
    yep. I so totally agree with your honest comment right at the start. This seems to get lost in all the accomodation/new/angry/strident wars.

  • http://skepticon.org JT Eberhard

    I want several things as a skeptic.

    I want to foster an environment where people must think before making truth claims, lest someone in the present company may take the person to task. I want to be viewed as someone who speaks the plain truth, with emphasis on the evidence, without apology or reservation – not with offense as the goal, but without concern if somebody is offended in the process. I want to behave as somebody who respects believers enough to not codify them.

    I don’t worry about my image as I suspect it will be reflected in the pursuit of my ideals. Those are my concern – not how I’m viewed.

    JT

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Aj:

    1) Faith is dangerous though, basing beliefs on authority or wish-thinking isn’t predictable or related to reality. Religions can change, Christianity was very different for the first few decades, and even Buddhism has taken on harmful forms.

    Yes, of course. Faith can be dangerous. But knowing its potential for danger doesn’t make it go away. I happen to think many (perhaps most) religions are harmful to some extent, either socially or psychologically, but what’s the solution? Atheists can say that we think religions are false. We can try to persuade other people of our position, but that doesn’t make faith disappear. That’s all we can do. We can state our arguments clearly, but if people are going to deconvert, they’re going to deconvert because they’re open to exploring the issue.

    2) Children have a right to an education. A right to language, math, and logic. To know about other cultures and traditions. To know about science and how we gather reliable knowledge. Often this goes against what parents “see fit”, and they’re afraid of their children learning, I suspect they have good reason to be afraid, because education works. Children have rights too.

    When you make the above argument, what exactly are you proposing? Are you saying that you would like to make it illegal for parents to teach their children to believe in gods? That would be the best way to stop children from developing belief in deities. But if we start making laws like that, we start trampling all over people’s rights.

    In my ideal world, every child would have a broad, secular education. But, no, children don’t have a legal right to know about science and other cultures and traditions. They’re legally entitled to very basic things like food, water, shelter and to be free from abuse and neglect. Parents do not legally have to provide anything else, and they certainly should not be forbidden from teaching their children their own religion.

    3) It’s illogical to say the only way to stop religion is to forcefully stop indoctrination. Many parts of the world are becoming more secular without force.

    Of course, but I think it’s the only way to fully stop religion. If everyone stopped indoctrinating their children, all known religions would die out within a generation. I was merely pointing out the power of cultural imprinting and indoctrination. Having well-reasoned arguments may persuade some, but it won’t persuade most theists because they have intense emotions and cultural attachment to the beliefs that they were taught as babies and toddlers. That’s all I was trying to say.

    4) People against the movement often bring up a world with no religion as an impossible goal, and maybe it is, but that’s only the perfect achievement. Anywhere in-between now and there is a win. People trying to get there don’t talk about the end game of a world without religion much at all.

    I’m not against any movement, and I’m perfectly fine with working for a more secular world. I’d love to see religion decline and eventually disappear, but if it happens, it will have to happen naturally. I’m just against interfering or meddling in people’s private lives. I’m also against ridicule and hostility as tactics. I think there’s only so much we atheists can do. Like I said, we can give talks and write books. But we can’t stop people from believing if that’s what they want to do.

    5) I haven’t seen harassment or coercion advocated in the movement. The types of techniques religion uses are not used by atheists in the movement. In history it’s happened, and we get a lot of shit for that, but politically atheists tend to be either liberals or libertarians in the West.

    Well, you seemed to be on the verge of advocating it when you argued against my statement that parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit? Anyway, I was talking about harassment and coercion from both sides. My statement was in the context of saying that there’s only so much atheists can do to promote atheism. We can’t rely on coercion, and we shouldn’t (IMO) rely on ridicule and hostility. We should state our positions clearly. We should make information about atheism available. But beyond that, there’s nothing we can do to stop people from believing in gods because most of them believe because of factors (social, cultural, emotional) that are completely beyond our control.

  • Aj

    Anna,

    2) Even if we could, I don’t think it would be a good idea to make it illegal for parents to teach their children their religion, and I’d be ideologically opposed to it. I don’t think they have a right to do that, I think they have rights that allow them to do that, with competition from other rights. All indoctrination is abuse, but we can’t criminalize every indiscretion, it’s not pragmatic or ethical. There are limits, where competing rights should take over.

    Only in extreme cases would I support criminalizing this type of behaviour. If parents lock up their children, starve them of communication, such that they lack the ability to communicate, that might be how they see fit, but they should not have the right to do it. Indoctrination in some cases would also be intolerable, such as beliefs that cause self-loathing, unbearable anxiety, and depression, especially if this creates a risk of suicide.

    Here is where we disagree. I believe children do have a right to a broad secular education, one that goes above the rights of parents, the foundation of freedom and empowerment, important to all other human rights. Children are persons that have rights, parents are their guardians not their owners. This and consciousness raising and arguments against exercising this “right” to indoctrinate are what I’m proposing.

    4) Ridicule has a place, it’s the only appropriate response to absurdity. We may not like it but people are receptive to displays of emotion and provoking emotion. Ridicule can make people embarrassed to be open about their irrational beliefs, some religions adopt secrecy, and even those within religious communities can use it to provoke change. Unfamiliar beliefs seem more absurd, so if religions adopt secrecy to hide embarrassment, it comes back on them even harder. It also desensitises people to criticism of their sacred cows, ridicule is a good way to steal their power. Ridicule is a powerful tool, we have some talent for barbed wit but we also have many with strong intellect and good arguments, we rely too much on the later if anything.

    People don’t believe things because they want to, they might be biased towards believing things they want to be true. Yet many people are searching for the truth, they just need some help. Having arguments in the public sphere, reaching out to those in doubt, I don’t think we have to sit and wait to see if it happens, we can provoke change.

    I don’t think you’ll find much support for meddling or inference in private lives from atheists. Fighting against that sort of thing should only help us, since it’s the religious that are doing it.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Aj,

    Only in extreme cases would I support criminalizing this type of behaviour. If parents lock up their children, starve them of communication, such that they lack the ability to communicate, that might be how they see fit, but they should not have the right to do it. Indoctrination in some cases would also be intolerable, such as beliefs that cause self-loathing, unbearable anxiety, and depression, especially if this creates a risk of suicide.

    Who decides these things? Teaching children to believe in sin and hell can cause self-loathing, anxiety and depression. As immoral as I think those beliefs are, are you seriously proposing that we criminalize teaching children about them? Aside from the fact that it would be entirely unenforceable, we’d have to lock up or fine millions of Christians for doing so. We’d have to forcibly close down churches that believe in sin and hell, and that’s pretty much all of them.

    Starving children, beating children, or denying children medical care are grounds for government intervention. But I don’t agree with prosecuting people for “thought crime.” I think hell and sin are disgusting concepts, but if freedom of religion means anything at all, it means that people have the right to believe in them and to propagate that belief.

    Here is where we disagree. I believe children do have a right to a broad secular education, one that goes above the rights of parents, the foundation of freedom and empowerment, important to all other human rights. Children are persons that have rights, parents are their guardians not their owners. This and consciousness raising and arguments against exercising this “right” to indoctrinate are what I’m proposing.

    By all means, I think we should make our opinion known. I’m all for consciousness-raising, but religious people think that indoctrination is a good thing. If they have a right to practice their religion, then they have the right to teach their children to believe in their gods. If children truly have a “right” to a secular education, then how do you propose we bring that about? Outlaw parochial schools? Outlaw homeschooling? That would seem to interfere with the rights of those people to practice their religion.

    For me, claiming that children have a “right to a secular education” is rather similar to when anti-gay bigots claim that children have a “right to a mother and father.” Even if you think it’s best for them, no, they don’t. Legally speaking, children have very few rights. In our culture, children do have a right to an education, but I don’t see how the government can demand that it be a secular education.

    4) Ridicule has a place, it’s the only appropriate response to absurdity. We may not like it but people are receptive to displays of emotion and provoking emotion. Ridicule can make people embarrassed to be open about their irrational beliefs, some religions adopt secrecy, and even those within religious communities can use it to provoke change. Unfamiliar beliefs seem more absurd, so if religions adopt secrecy to hide embarrassment, it comes back on them even harder. It also desensitises people to criticism of their sacred cows, ridicule is a good way to steal their power. Ridicule is a powerful tool, we have some talent for barbed wit but we also have many with strong intellect and good arguments, we rely too much on the later if anything.

    People have the right to use ridicule. I just disagree about its effectiveness. In most cases, I think it’s counter-productive. It makes people angry. If you tell people that their beliefs are stupid, I think it just makes them more firmly entrenched in their position. I don’t know how many people become atheists because other people called them names or referred to their cherished deity as a “sky pixie,” for example. I would guess very few.

    I’m fine with criticism. I have no problem telling theists that I think their beliefs are entirely unsupported by evidence, and I’m perfectly willing to call out certain tenets of their religion as illogical and immoral. I just don’t want to be demeaning about it. I don’t want to ridicule them. I don’t want to convey the impression that I’m superior, and that they’re stupid for not realizing their beliefs are false.

    People don’t believe things because they want to, they might be biased towards believing things they want to be true. Yet many people are searching for the truth, they just need some help. Having arguments in the public sphere, reaching out to those in doubt, I don’t think we have to sit and wait to see if it happens, we can provoke change.

    Yes, I think it’s fine to provoke change. I’m totally down with atheist billboards and bus ads and books and lectures and blogs and articles. I think people should be made aware of the fact that atheism is a valid position, and that there’s no reason it should be stigmatized. People should absolutely have arguments in the public and private spheres.

    However, I don’t agree that people refuse to consider atheism because they’re looking for the truth. I think some people who are on the fence are interested in truth. I think most other people already have their minds made up (because of what they were taught at a very young age) and are only looking to confirm their own point of view. Not everyone is receptive to the truth. People have a vested interest in the religion of their society and culture, and they believe because they want to. They believe because it makes them feel good. It gives their lives meaning. When they’re part of the group, they feel like they belong. People like that aren’t open to what we have to say. We can make the information available, but I don’t think atheism has much of a chance with them.

    I don’t think you’ll find much support for meddling or inference in private lives from atheists. Fighting against that sort of thing should only help us, since it’s the religious that are doing it.

    For the most part, yes, but I have heard statements in support of meddling and interference coming from the atheist camp, too. I think it’s obnoxious when theists do it, so I think atheists should be careful not to do the same thing back to them. Obviously, it’s not a problem at the governmental level, but of course atheists don’t have political power at the moment. If we did, would we avoid falling into that trap? I’d like to think so, but of course we’re not perfect.

  • Aj

    Anna,

    No, I am not suggesting we criminalize teaching children about anything. I don’t think churches teaching about hell and sin is likely to have this effect. It would be negligent if it caused self-loathing, unbearable anxiety, and depression and they didn’t do what is reasonably expected to try to remedy the situation. I don’t actually have a case in mind which probably makes my explanation weaker, but I don’t think it’s sensible to say parents have an unlimited right to indoctrinate. It’s not about making thoughts crimes, it’s about not fucking up children’s minds. Parents are responsible for their child’s mental health as well.

    Children don’t have a right to a secular education because “no, they don’t” and “legally speaking”? You have persuaded me. Governments have prescribed what children should learn and tried to enforce it to the best of their ability. You have already conceded in our culture children already have a right to be educated, it would be very much like that. Do you really believe that wanting children to have access to knowledge is like anti-gay bigotry? I do think it’s best for children to have a secular education, I’m sorry I want children to be educated enough to make informed decisions for themselves.

    People are less likely to adopt beliefs that other people find ridiculous. They’re less likely to hold beliefs that they themselves find ridiculous, and they may not see this until they encounter them ridiculed. They’re more likely to be embarrassed about their beliefs when ridiculed. As with a world without religion, I don’t think an incredibly good outcome or nothing at all, is a good perspective, so not getting instantaneous conversions from calling someone’s god a “sky pixie” is not really argument against it. I’m not advocating ridiculing, demeaning, patronizing, or insulting anyone, only ideas. If you don’t want to do that, no one will make you.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Aj,

    No, I am not suggesting we criminalize teaching children about anything. I don’t think churches teaching about hell and sin is likely to have this effect. It would be negligent if it caused self-loathing, unbearable anxiety, and depression and they didn’t do what is reasonably expected to try to remedy the situation. I don’t actually have a case in mind which probably makes my explanation weaker, but I don’t think it’s sensible to say parents have an unlimited right to indoctrinate. It’s not about making thoughts crimes, it’s about not fucking up children’s minds. Parents are responsible for their child’s mental health as well.

    Of course, but you have to prove that the religious beliefs are doing significant physical or mental damage before the government steps in. That’s why it would be important to have a specific situation in mind. Not allowing children to receive medical care is a pretty clear case because it leads directly to physical and emotional suffering. But indoctrination at its core involves words, not actions, and that’s why it would be so difficult to regulate. I don’t believe the government should step in to regulate what parents are able to tell their children, even if the rest of society finds it abhorrent. I mean, heck, even neo-Nazis have parental rights. It sucks for the children, sure, but the government can’t just come in and take people’s kids away (or deprogram other people’s kids) simply because it’s an unpopular group. There has to be evidence of clear danger.

    Children don’t have a right to a secular education because “no, they don’t” and “legally speaking”? You have persuaded me. Governments have prescribed what children should learn and tried to enforce it to the best of their ability. You have already conceded in our culture children already have a right to be educated, it would be very much like that. Do you really believe that wanting children to have access to knowledge is like anti-gay bigotry? I do think it’s best for children to have a secular education, I’m sorry I want children to be educated enough to make informed decisions for themselves.

    So what are you proposing? That the government make religious schools illegal? To me, that seems like a rather egregious violation of people’s rights to practice their religion freely. I don’t think the government can or should be able to legally demand that all children be educated in a secular environment. I’m not conservative. Heck, I’m a Democrat who doesn’t mind “big government,” but it seems to me that the government would signficantly overstep its bounds if it got into the business of regulating what kind of schools are allowed to exist.

    That sort of meddling or interference is exactly the kind of thing anti-gay bigots do when they try to make laws against same-sex families. They don’t think it’s best for children, so they make up fictitious rights like “children have a right to a mother and father.” No, they don’t, and they don’t have a right to a secular education, either.

    People are less likely to adopt beliefs that other people find ridiculous. They’re less likely to hold beliefs that they themselves find ridiculous, and they may not see this until they encounter them ridiculed. They’re more likely to be embarrassed about their beliefs when ridiculed. As with a world without religion, I don’t think an incredibly good outcome or nothing at all, is a good perspective, so not getting instantaneous conversions from calling someone’s god a “sky pixie” is not really argument against it. I’m not advocating ridiculing, demeaning, patronizing, or insulting anyone, only ideas. If you don’t want to do that, no one will make you.

    Fair enough. It all comes down to tone for me. I don’t mind saying that I find a particular belief to be completely unsupported, even absurd, but we have a long way to go before the vast majority of people are even able to consider the idea that their deities are ridiculous on the face of it. I don’t think using rudeness or ridicule to point it out helps “the cause,” but other people can certainly go ahead and use those tactics if they think it will help.

  • Aj

    Anna,

    Yes, of course you’d have to prove that mental damage was occurring. This isn’t about unpopular beliefs, it’s about what indoctrinating those beliefs can do.

    Who said anything about a secular environment? I’m proposing a secular education, including teaching tools and actual knowledge. Some governments already impose a curriculum.

    We don’t believe a god granted a set of rights, and legal rights have changed in most countries in the last 50 years. Complaining about people who “make up fictitious rights” because you don’t like what they’re saying is nonsense.

    Do you think Monty Python’s Life of Brian helped or hindered “the cause”? Because if rudeness and ridicule are that damaging then that movie must have set us back centuries.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Aj, I’m still confused. So you are proposing that the government make religious schools illegal?

    What on earth is the difference between a secular education and education in a secular environment? It sounds like you want our government to mandate certain curriculum, which would prohibit private schools from using religiously-based textbooks. Is that right? If so, doesn’t that strike you as the government overstepping its bounds? The government can and does provide curriculum for public schools, but it does not regulate the textbooks of private schools. You want our government to impose curriculum on all schools, including parochial schools and homeschoolers?

    Yes, of course legal rights can and have changed, and they vary from country to country. In our country (I’m assuming you’re American, too) there is no right to a secular education. In that sense, yes, it is a fictitious right because it simply does not exist. If you want to change the law regarding education, you can certainly try, but I’m not on board with it.

    As for Life of Brian, that’s a good example of parody and satire. I’m not against that. As I stated before, I’m against using ridicule to offend religious people (in person, on blogs, etc.) by calling them names, implying they’re stupid, or calling their deities things like “zombie god” and “sky wizard.” I think it’s counterproductive. I realize other people have different opinions. You’re free to use whatever tactics you think are appropriate.

  • Aj

    Anna,

    I want all children to have access to a curriculum that gives them: a) the tools of language, logic, and math, b) knowledge of the scientific method and the importance of evidence, and c) knowledge of other beliefs systems presented in a completely unbiased way. Nothing more, nothing less, I don’t think that’s unreasonable. If parents actively shield their child from this education, then the child is unable to make informed decisions, not able to exercise their rights. I question whether there should be an absolute right for parents to control the beliefs of their children, even if that means they do this by denying the child an education.

    I’m not American, I’m not certain about the legal rights, or care much about it in a discussion on what should be rather than what is. I’m interested in why you wouldn’t be on board with it. It seems to me the law often treats children as property, and parents as owners, instead of children as persons with rights, and parents as guardians. I’d also suggest there’s something desperately wrong with the idea that if you have enough money, or your parents belong to a certain sect, that they’re able to do provide a censored education that would not be acceptable for other children.

    Satire involves ridicule, the Life of Brian ridicules, there’s serious mockery going on. I don’t think many people in the movement go around trying to offend people, although it does happen. Also implying religious people are necessarily stupid is also not good, because it’s not true. Making parallels of Jesus to a zombie, or Yahweh to a wizard is satire, it’s actually making a point, it’s doing exactly the same as Life of Brian, and if anything those terms are milder than the humour in Life of Brian, e.g. “Yes! We’re all individuals!”.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Aj, but you still haven’t answered my question of how you are going to give children this secular education. The only way to do it would be to have the government seize control of religious schools and homeschooling parents and demand that they use secular curriculum.

    Since you’re not an American, maybe it would be fine to do this in your country. Admittedly, I’m not an expert, but I’m not aware of any developed countries that do control the private school system to that extent. If some do, I guess that’s up to them. In the United States, I think it would be a pretty serious violation of the First Amendment, and, as such, would be unconstitutional.

    That’s the reason I’m not on board with it. It’s because I don’t think the government should be involved in deciding the ways that private citizens are allowed to educate their own children. This kind of thing can be turned against us very easily. What would happen if the government demanded that all children must be exposed to Christian indoctrination? We’re the unpopular minority, not Christians. It seems to me that we should be championing the rights of parents here.

    That said, I’d love for children to have more rights. Personally, I find it sickening that corporal punishment is still allowed in public schools in at least 22 states, and virtually all states allow private schools to hit students. Children should be protected from bodily harm. I don’t think parents or teachers should be allowed to strike children, and such punishment is very widespread here. Alas, I don’t think we’ll ever see American society get around to making some of the decisions that European countries have made regarding this issue.

    But teaching children to believe in gods and refusing to teach them objectively about other cultures and religions is not the same as bodily harm. We may consider it harmful, but the children are in no direct danger. It’s not proper for the government to intrude that much into people’s private lives. People are allowed to have ridiculous or offensive beliefs, and they’re allowed to teach their children those beliefs. Christian teachings are not the most offensive ones out there. Racists can teach their children racist beliefs. It’s awful for the children, but that’s the price of living in a free society.

    As for satire, surely you can see the difference between a movie and atheists going up to theists and calling their cherished deity “sky wizard” right to their face? No one has the right not to be offended. But should we be intentionally offensive? Should we as individuals mock people? Personally, I prefer to use softer, more neutral language, but that’s just me and my personality. Other people feel differently, and that’s okay.

  • Aj

    Anna,

    Demand, yes. “Seize control”, no. Regulated would be a better term. I’m struggling to understand how it would be fine to do something you consider wrong in one country but not another, unless of course you think morality doesn’t cross borders. I don’t see how “free exercise of religion” would stretch to controlling others unless you thought children were property. I don’t think it’s right to suggest that the opposite of a neutral secular education is a religious one, when the opposite would be anti-religious, people often make this mistake but it’s usually not atheists making it. I’m not suggesting that parents aren’t allowed to teach their children anything, that would go against the First Amendment, I’m proposing that children have access to a proper education as well. I don’t understand what you mean when you distinguish both harms in terms of “direct danger”, I wouldn’t say all corporal punishment is inherently dangerous in a way mental harm isn’t.

    Is there a difference between saying something face-to-face, and saying it in a movie? No, I’m concerned with the content not the context. Not everyone can afford to make a movie, if we can only express ourselves in certain forms of media that really limits that right. I don’t think it’s a good idea to be intentionally offensive if you want to persuade people. I think when people complain about this, what they mean is that people should filter and minimize offence, and I am completely against that. Your examples of “zombie god” and “sky pixie” are not intentionally offensive, they’re actually making points. Should we mock people? No. Should we mock ideas? Yes. There are reasons for being intentionally offensive, publicity (the low road) and breaking taboos. Doing it for publicity probably does more harm than good, but I don’t agree with the commonly accepted wisdom that all publicity is good. However, there’s always rebels intentionally breaking the rules of a society and publicly expressing what society finds offensive. I think this inspires others and desensitizes society to the breaking of rules, it’s an instigator for change. It’s not for everyone, but I think pushing boundaries is really important.

  • Paul

    Would someone please be more specific about (and perhaps give examples) of what is really meant by accomodationists? I ask because the main arena where I have seen this applied is where discussions about the philosophical compatibility between a faith based view of the world and a scientific/evidence point of view e.g. Jerry Coyne. In the case of that discussion I cannot possibly fathom what is “angry” about stating that faith based systems for establishing truth and facts is intrinsically incompatible for an evidence based system.

    Or am I missing another debate that is going on? And if so is there a danger that these various debates in the community are being conflated?

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Aj,

    What on earth is the difference between “demand” and “seize control?” If the government is determining the content of religious schools, there’s absolutely no point in having a private opt-out system. If the government prevents a Christian school from teaching its students that Christianity is superior, then they are not able to pass along their belief system. What country do you live in? I can’t imagine any developed country where the citizens would not kick and scream about the violation of their rights if the government demanded to be able to control the content of all schools, not just government schools.

    As for morality, who said anything about that? Lots of things that people consider immoral are perfectly legal. I believe it’s immoral to teach children to believe in hell. Christians think it’s immoral not to teach children about Jesus. That’s not a matter for the government. The government has a very specific function, and it’s not to control the minutiae of people’s private lives. These are private citizens setting up private schools for their own children. The content of those schools is not under government jurisdiction.

    I don’t see how “free exercise of religion” would stretch to controlling others unless you thought children were property.

    Of course children are not property, but they are minors who do not have the rights and responsbilities of adult citizenship. Until they come of age, they are under the care of their parents and guardians, who are free to make choices about their lifestyle and education. Children do not have the right to decide where they want to go to school, what clothes they wear, what food they eat, etc.

    I don’t think it’s right to suggest that the opposite of a neutral secular education is a religious one

    How are you defining neutrality? For a heavily religious parent, a secular education is anything but neutral. And how are you defining “proper education?” You mean one that’s free of religious bias? But there are no grounds for prohibiting religiously-biased schools. Children who attend those schools learn to read and write and are capable of passing the required tests in order to graduate. The government has no say in how they teach certain subjects.

    I don’t understand what you mean when you distinguish both harms in terms of “direct danger”, I wouldn’t say all corporal punishment is inherently dangerous in a way mental harm isn’t.

    Well, I think beating children with implements (which is how it’s done in most places) constitutes direct harm. I don’t think there’s a comparable level of harm in teaching children that Christianity is the only true religion. I don’t think that words and thoughts should be regulated, just actions. What kind of direct danger comes from teaching children words and ideas? In what specific way are they being harmed?

    Your examples of “zombie god” and “sky pixie” are not intentionally offensive, they’re actually making points. Should we mock people? No. Should we mock ideas? Yes.

    Okay, but I pretty much guarantee you that most theists are going to find those terms intentionally offensive. Most are so intertwined with their beliefs that they can’t distinguish between mocking ideas and mocking people. Someone using the word “sky wizard” is going to come across to them as extremely rude. That’s the kind of thing I personally would like to avoid.

  • Aj

    Anna,

    The government wouldn’t be running the school. I seriously don’t see how you can use the word “seize” to describe it. You imply that a reasonably small demand is dictating every single thing a school does. I don’t know where you’re getting your ideas from. Where did I write that the school can’t teach that Christianity is superior? If a parent thinks a secular education isn’t neutral, they’re wrong. I’m defining neutral as providing the facts, presenting different points of view, presenting the arguments. A proper education would be one that equips a child to use logic and understand arguments, to have knowledge, to test claims, and be able to seek knowledge, to make informed choices of their own.

    I think the discussion is actually centred on what the government’s position should be on The Truth(tm). I don’t understand how physical pain is a direct danger/harm but mental anguish isn’t, I’d say they both constitute suffering. Yes, mental suffering is bad, but in the interest of freedom we should consider hell a reasonably possibility, thus worthy of teaching children. My position is that it’s not reasonable at all, it’s not justified at all, it’s almost certainly not true. Yet, in the interests of freedom, parents can tell their kids about it, they can send them to schools who tell them about it, but they also are taught that not everyone believes that, here’s what they believe, and that there’s a really good way to get reliable knowledge that doesn’t rely on the authority of others. Not just because of the harm, but more importantly because children deserve the tools that can allow them to make informed decisions that actually makes their rights and freedom meaningful.

    Theists found the Life of Brian intentionally offensive, extremely rude, and that it was mocking them. Concerning yourself with what they can’t distinguish and what they found “extremely” rude only encourages them to be more offended. Taking offence and establishing standards of “rudeness” aren’t worthy of respect, it only re-enforces that behaviour. Those reactions are about protecting ideas that should not be protected. Ideas that aren’t religious don’t get that type of protection, and if you buy into the concept that religious ideas are worthy of this special protection against mockery, then you’re against great movies like Life of Brian, and you’re not challenging societal norms. If concepts aren’t challenged, they’re accepted by people, and they don’t change. It’s also limiting expression, so that our ideas aren’t open to the big market place of ideas that the religious are free to express themselves to as many people as they wish, but we’re not invited. I understand that some people aren’t up to the task, or so inclined, but to be against others doing it doesn’t make sense to me.


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