How Pushy Should Atheists Be?

When Mark Oppenheimer of the New York Times wrote an article that I wasn’t particular fond of, I was afraid I’d cringe reading his follow-up piece. The first article was about a minor issue — a squabble between the current and former leader of the Center for inquiry that really wasn’t an important story for national readers.

The new article looks at the debate between “accommodationists” and “confrontationalists” in our movement. (The words don’t make either side look good, but they’re the ones we’ve essentially chosen for ourselves, so no reason to complain there.)

At least this is a relevant piece. It notes an important issue in our world — which side are you on? — and explains those two positions for people who may not be aware of them. Was it the focus of the CFI conference? Nope, but that’s only the framework from which the reporter can talk about a larger issue.

Oppenheimer describes Chris Mooney as the accommodationist, wanting us to frame our arguments for science in a way that doesn’t alienate Christians.

PZ Myers is the confrontationalist who doesn’t hold back about how accepting science necessarily means accepting a godless world.

At the liveliest panel, on Friday night, the science writer Chris Mooney pointed to research that shows that many Christians “are rejecting science because of a perceived conflict with moral values.” Atheists should be mindful of this perception, Mr. Mooney argued. For example, an atheist fighting to keep the theory of evolution in schools should reassure Christians that their faith is compatible with modern science.

“They resist evolution because they think everyone will lose morals,” Mr. Mooney said. “Knowing this, why would you go directly at these deeply held beliefs?”

“I have been told that my position won’t win the creationist court cases,” Mr. Myers said. “Do you think I care? I didn’t become a scientist because I want to impress lawyers.

“The word for people who are neutral about truth is ‘liars,’ ” he added.

Mr. Myers and other “confrontationalists” surely do alienate some potential Christian allies. But they may also give comfort to people… who feel like an invisible minority. Mr. Myers is way out of the closet as an atheist — proudly, outrageously so. We’re here, he’s saying. And we don’t believe. And we have science and reason on our side. Get used to it.

Here’s the difference between the two sides: You know that courtroom phrase, “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”?

Both Mooney and PZ want to tell the truth about science and evolution.

Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.

Mooney thinks it’s bad PR for us to admit that — and he may be right — but it’s wrong to let Christians keep thinking science and religion are perfectly compatible when they really aren’t.

I’m clearly on PZ’s side of the spectrum, but I don’t think anyone could realistically call me a “confrontationalist.” I’m not looking to pick fights with theists, I frequently get invited by churches to help Christians understand our perspective, and I’m not calling religious people names just to underscore my point. PZ revels in that.

So the downside of the accommodationist/confrontationalist dichotomy is that it leaves a lot of people with no label. What do you call those of us who might lean to one side but aren’t in one camp entirely?

Where do you place yourself on the spectrum?


Incidentally, Jerry Coyne posted video of the panel in question.

  • Miko

    I think PZ tends to see “truth” in a lot of areas where the concept doesn’t really apply.

  • Maliknant

    I think PZ tends to see “truth” in a lot of areas where the concept doesn’t really apply.

    This makes no sense to me. Can you expand and clarify it a bit?

  • Steve

    There is one thing I didn’t like in the article:

    In his new best seller, “The Moral Landscape,” Mr. Harris argues that morality is a product of neuroscience. [...] Others believe morality is bequeathed by evolution, while still others would argue for ethics grounded in secular philosophy, like Immanuel Kant’s or John Rawls’s.

    None of those are mutually exclusive. You can argue that morality is partly or largely a product of evolution, expressed by neurobiology and that this inherent biological imperative is codified by society into laws and ethics.

  • http://www.examiner.com/skepticism-in-national/charles-mcalpin Charlie, SE

    “Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural. “

    Call me an accommodationist, but I don’t think the above sentence is true. Science doesn’t lead to that conclusion, at least directly, because it doesn’t speak to the supernatural. If gods are tampering with the universe, that tampering doesn’t have to leave evidence, so science can’t address the possibility.

    What science *does* do is address so many things that were previously explainable only by magic that it throws most religious reasoning into question. Science may put to death the “gods of the gaps,” but it can’t put to death every possibility of the gods themselves.

    At some point, the distinction may become irrelevant, but to say science disproves gods completely doesn’t seem accurate.

  • http://k0ks3nw4i.blogspot.com/ james

    Cue pharyngulation in 3, 2…

  • ollie

    I am with the “gnu” atheists. No, I am not going to picket a church or “desecrate” a blessed cracker on video, but I am going to call out ridiculous beliefs for what they are.

  • Jack

    What ollie said.

  • gski

    I think the atheist community would be well served by studying and discussing the gay communities’ methods and progress over the last few decades.

  • Stephen P

    I’m not voting on this because there are (at least) two different axes involved.

    There’s the accomodationist-incompatibilist axis. And there’s the firebrand-diplomat axis. On the first one I’m very close to PZ, on the second I’m not close at all.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.

    If you think that’s the whole truth, then you had better be prepared to defend it. Offhand, I haven’t seen anyone actually make that case. Make the case that science makes belief in the supernatural unnecessary? Sure. One can certainly say with Laplace that one has “no need of that hypothesis.” One can further note that science has disproved particular religious claims. However, the claim that you are making is stronger than that. For example, you’d be hard-pressed to support the claim that accepting science means ditching beliefs in all miracles. Simply saying that virgins generally can’t give birth or the dead don’t generally rise is hardly enough, since believers in such things as the virgin birth, etc., are well aware that they aren’t supposed to happen under normal circumstances; that’s why they’re supposed to be miracles in the first place.

    And I’m not impressed with the notion that the “confrontationalists” are more interested in truth than the accommodationists. Most of the arguments I’ve seen them make for faith-science incompatibility have treated science as if it were a competing worldview to religion, rather than a methodological toolkit usable by both religious and irreligious alike to discover facts about the world. Others have being more table pounding or unflattering similes rather than anything logical. Coyne’s latest and contradictory attempt at such argument comes to mind.

    What the confrontationists seem bent on doing is sabotaging the efforts of accommodationists such as the NCSE to get believers to accept evolution, even if that means that fewer people end up with ideas that are closer to the truth that the confrontationalists claim to care about.

  • Mee

    But religion isn’t compatible with modern science.

    I’m not even the least bit confrontational, I have yet to be caught in a debate over science and religion since I’ve realized my position. But I’d first call myself that than an accommodationist.

    And suggesting that believing in the evidence of evolution causes me to not have morals is disgusting to me. After having grown up in churches, I’d say my morals are more pure now than then.

  • Hitch

    I think it’s kind of a false dichotomy. PZ for example in the Point of Inquiry podcast with Mooney and Jennifer Michael Hecht makes the case for both-and not either-or. So PZ’s “confrontationalism” is actually an inclusive position, whereas “accommodationism” according to Mooney and Hecht is a confined position.

    I tend to agree with PZ that we need the full spectrum and in fact I think there is no choice. People are and do as they do. Even if people wanted to define how “atheists should act,” I don’t see any strategy relying on that being the case as working.

    In fact I’m very critical about it for other reasons too.

    How would a civil rights movement work that had as demand that crime by people of color has to be brought to zero because adverserial detractors exploit those.

    Or how would a gay rights movement work that had the demand that noone acted flamboyantly in public and that we should not do pride parades because again of how detractors use it to form a stereotype.

    In fact what I think we need are accommodationists with a sensibility for the spectrum and expression of disbelief. Embassadors who can translate the frustrations of the stigmatized group into positive, inclusive dialogue.

    Instead we have quite a group of “accommodationists” who are mostly busy trying to shut up a good part of their own.

  • cassiek

    I’m with Stephen P on this issue. When questioned on my position regarding religion, I would never lie or soft-pedal my reply, but I’m not in anyone’s face about my atheism unless they try to get in mine.

  • Jennifer

    When we are up against the Catholic church, the Mormon church, ‘Focus on the Family’ and ‘The Family Research Council’, with all their money, there is no time to try to debate. Their unreason is far too deeply intrenched to be rooted out with a friendly “I don’t agree and here’s why”. You don’t win bringing a knife to a gunfight. I’m for telling them straight up- “You’re argument has absolutely no basis in fact, therefore I will not waste my time with you. Keep your religion, and the hatered and unreason that go with it, out of government and out of my face!”

  • Christopher

    Believing that science and religion can be compatible opened me up to learning more about science. Over time, I figured out that I could only be a student of science and reason and a Christian by constantly making excuses for the ridiculous ideas in the bible.

    Eventually, I realized that I didn’t actually subscribe to any of the ideas that were supposed to make me a Christian. Then I knew I wasn’t a Christian anymore.

    Allowing the belief that the two can coexist can definitely create converts.

  • sailor

    Watching US politics for a time taught me something. Take what you want, take it to the extremes and keep talking. All the journalists will be happy to give your “side of the story” as balance. As a result you pull the middle of the road over to your side,and within a few years what was extreme becomes normal and center of the road.
    For this reason it seems to me shouting loudly and being shrill works better than being accommodating.

  • Troglodyke

    I’m with those who don’t actively confront, but definitely speak up forcefully when the issue comes up.

    I do it with a smile and a desire for dialogue, which, not surprisingly, believers usually opt out of, but I don’t back off for fear of offending.

    I think if you are going to posit untenable beliefs, it is not you who have any right to be offended when they are challenged.

    I don’t argue scientific principles, either. Those do not convince believers. I argue emotional ones. It comes across as less haughty, and tends to allow progressive people’s minds to relax a little so they don’t put an immediate wall up.

    I was just thinking yesterday how often we atheists allow things to go unchallenged. I think we are taking the high road by doing so, but silence doesn’t make inroads. And believers have no idea how often we do this (I probably do it 10 times a day at work, and unfortunately will continue to because I love my job and pissing off believers there will not help me keep it).

    They have no idea how often we bite our tongues and “go along.” We are the ones who should be offended, but since that involves a ridiculous victim mentality, I don’t go there.

  • ungullible

    Hemant – perhaps we can be called “situationalists”? Choosing to be confrontationalists or accomodationists depending on what the current situation calls for.

  • tim

    I wholly disagree. PZ has a version of the truth on many things. The problem is that outside of his main areas of expertise (biology) his version of the truth is often wrong, He opines on many topics in which he has no expertise (i.e. economics). He is a fundamentalist and no different than many evangelical wingnuts who attempt to apply their worldview to everything.

    Personally I wholly accept that there are people with a wide range of opinions on those topics. And I wholly accept that there is no way that the belief in a guy with a beard with a boom boom stick is ever going away. I also believe that science and religion can co-exist because they aren’t mutually exclusive. That is were PZ and yourself get it wrong. You pick fights where fights don’t need to get picked. Its called context. Learn in.

    Being gay I often get put into situations where I have to admit my sexuality. My approach is basic – be direct, polite, and honest. People are often shocked to find out I’m gay. But they get over it. The same goes for being an atheist. Don’t shove it in their face. That simple act has helped more for equal rights for gays in the last twenty years than all the lawsuits and gay pride parades combined. Prove that atheists are normal honest people just trying to get through life and you will achieve more than the “in your face” stupidity from the PZs of the world.

  • Chris

    Isn’t it easy to argue about phrases as incredibly vague as “accepting science”?

    Any of you confrontationalists with the “truth” care to explain what science is? And how does one go about “accepting” it? What about when our best scientists tell us about the rampant inflation of bad science? Whom do you “accept” then?

    Confrontationalists will never win because they are all hypocrites, and obviously so.

  • Alex

    This is the first I have heard the term “confrontationalist” in this discussion. I was liking being a simple Gnu. Anyway, this word is part of the accommodationalist straw man – who is going up to people leaving church and attacking them? Who is banging on doors on Sunday and telling the faithful they’re not going to Heaven? Not me. No one I know or see. All I see is uncompromising atheists telling it like it is, how reality shows us it is.
    To all the accommodationalists, why don’t you try accommodating me for a change?

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Almost everyone I have seen/read takes an extreme position about some aspect of skeptical/critical thought. Is Phil Plaitt “nice” when he talks about Bart Sibrel (who profits from telling blatant lies about the moon landings)? Does Dr Novella pull punches when he writes about anti-vaxers who lie about scientific studies? Nope. I have heard Mooney & Dr Price say dismissive things that they think are not “mean” but would offend a believing Xtain.
    Much of this debate is about second guessing the behavior of other skeptics. Essentially, “I can be rude to those I think deserve it in my pet area of skepticism; but you shouldn’t be rude to people in your pet area of skepticism.”
    Most “confrontationalists” are perfectly nice to the innocently duped but not very nice to the deliberate dupers. Which is exactly how the “accommodationists” act. So can we dump the debate about this supposed “dichotomy of behavior”? It doesn’t exist.
    What does exist is a split over the how much the skeptical movement should tolerate or push atheism. If PZ & Dawkins were trying to force every talk at a skeptical conference or every skeptical blog to include “You must be an atheist”, then they would be wrong. But they have every right to push that idea in their own venues (books, blogs & speeches) and expect that skeptical conferences don’t ban the issue.
    Yes, it must be tough to be a skeptical Xtain in a venue where your beliefs are confronted. But most of us have some pet beliefs that we would like to keep but don’t stand up to honest scrutiny. It’s not unique to Xtians.
    It seems that every blog discusses this only from their own bias. I would like to see are panels/discussions of the issue at these conferences that include all parties hashing this out.

  • Chas

    Don’t we all “confront” on issues and “accommodate” on the choice to believe or not? Are there really two distinct groups or just two tactics used when the situation calls for them? Why are some now insisting on a One True Scotsman template for atheism?

    I find this discussion has a lot of heat but no substance.

  • http://www.raywhiting.com/MyLife Raytheist

    I don’t think that I’m courageous, but I find it advantageous to speak aloud and be outrageous and hope my view becomes contagious.

    :-)

  • Mr Z

    Clearly, if you are not confrontational or accommodating you are just an atheist. There is nothing wrong with being just an atheist. I think there is something wrong with no calling out religion for all it’s ills and for not calling out the religious for all the ways their silly beliefs harm society.

    Was there ever a neutral position on slavery?

    No, it’s not the same kind of issue, though this does illustrate how sitting on the fence can be as bad as being on the wrong side of the fence.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Hypatia’s Daughter:

    Most “confrontationalists” are perfectly nice to the innocently duped but not very nice to the deliberate dupers.

    I’d disagree pretty strongly here. There’s nothing nice about Dawkins’ Chamberlain gambit, and it was aimed at those such as the members of the NCSE, who don’t really fit the “duper” or “dupee” mold. An insult like “faith-head” is also aimed more at the rank-and-file than at any deliberate liars. Come to think of it, one of the problems when dealing with religion is that there are few nice, neat “deliberate dupers.” L. Ron Hubbard probably fits the bill, but even the pope appears to believe what he says about the tenets of his own religion. (FWIW, the pope’s handling of child rape in the Catholic Church was disingenuous, though, and a betrayal of the Church’s own morality.)

  • Hermes

    Pushy? Very. That said, don’t take the bad bait pushed by many apologists and quite a few regular religious people.

    A few tips…

    1. You don’t have to defend anything that is already well supported. Doing that is just a waste of time.

    For example, when someone argues that evolution or science itself is false, brush it off and move on it is irrelevant. Modern biology let alone the other sciences are big boys and can take care of themselves. (Unlike the idea of gods that seems to require a vigorous defense from apologists. Deities seem to be the most mailable and fragile of ideas.)

    Apologists take advantage of the sciences including biology all the time, so them attacking it in general or narrowly is just a distraction.

    2. When it doesn’t matter, tentatively grant the apologist all sorts of irrelevant points while you focus on their specific claims.

    For example, naturalism. Just let them say that naturalism is faulty. That’s OK. It might be. Big deal. As with biology, naturalism can take care of itself. Conversely, though, there are specific details about reality that are typically described as natural. Does the apologist disagree with those specific details? I bet not.

    The important thing is getting them to support their case not go over their list of gripes. That brings us to …

    3. The focus should be on the claims that the apologist wants to make. All. The. Time.

    For example, if they are one of the great world wide flood of Noah being a literal event proponents, you can just ask them a few simple questions and wait for the inevitable dishonesty and distractions to show up. Don’t let them move on past that point.

    4. Keep it real.

    Don’t let them pile suppositions on top of suppositions about some abstraction that refers to nothing but another abstraction. Keep out of philosophical pissing matches.

    5. Chill.

    With very few exceptions, you’ve already won. Let them dig their own holes. Don’t throw your back out digging your own.

    If you encounter some people who have valid points, grant them those points.

    A basic example; I don’t claim to know there are no gods. I only say that I don’t believe there are any. While I can argue their dogmas and religious texts, I feel no need to do so. That brings me to a final point…

    6. It’s their god(s), not yours.

    Their gods are irrelevant in all ways. Talk about their claims.

  • Cheryl

    Confrontationalist? Yes. While I do point and laugh, I don’t have the fortitude of PZ or Eugenie Scott to do battle.

  • http:www.mountaintrail.us Joel Justiss

    I’m with Stephen P.

    There’s the accomodationist-incompatibilist axis. And there’s the firebrand-diplomat axis. On the first one I’m very close to PZ, on the second I’m not close at all.

    To me, Dr. Yonatan Fishman’s article Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews? provides a strong argument for incompatibility between science and supernaturalistic religion.

    But I try very hard to be diplomatic when I discuss religion with religious people. I was an active evangelical Christian until I was 55. I know I wasn’t stupid or hypocritical until then. And I know if someone had insulted me I’d have been less open to the possibility that my beliefs were wrong.

    It is far more important to me that people understand and accept science as the most reliable way to discover reality than that they reject all religion. In my opinion, that not only eliminates many areas of conflict between science and religion, but is a critical step toward accepting science as the ONLY reliable way to discover reality. I regard Francis Collins as a valuable ally in the search for truth, while at the same time regarding his arguments for theism as very flimsy.

    One lesson I learned when I abandoned religion was that there is no particular way things “ought” to be. I want to be diplomatic, but I have to accept that not everyone shares my values. Some might feel that it’s best to be a firebrand. I can explain why I prefer my approach, but I have no basis for pronouncing theirs wrong.

  • http://Www.actuallyspeaking.com Mike

    My goal is neither to retaliate nor accommodate… It is to educate. I prefer to allow people to make their own decisions. My role is simply to make sure they are “informed” decisions. I suppose that makes me an Educationalist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    The words don’t make either side look good, but they’re the ones we’ve essentially chosen for ourselves, so no reason to complain there.

    Who the fuck got to vote? I didn’t choose those words and I don’t like them. I find them rather inflammatory and biased.

    I voted somewhere in the middle. I’ll defend my disbelief but there’s no need to be nasty about it. If a theist is being nasty about their disbelief and we have to politically advocate for absolute church-state separation — for those two things, I get loud. But otherwise, no. Life’s too goddamned short.

    And okay, rah, science but I don’t really care about it a and b there’s a hell of a lot it doesn’t yet know and won’t in my lifetime either. Science is not God either and shouldn’t play substitute.

    Sure I think evolution debunks the creation myth but not everyone does and that’s up to them. I do think the more we know about realilty, the less superstitutious we’ll be. Hence, religion will die its own death eventually so there’s really no need to fear that it won’t. No, I don’t expect to see that in my lifetime. My grandson, maybe.

  • Drew M.

    I agree with Stephen P. as well.

    I’m not voting on this because there are (at least) two different axes involved.

    There’s the accomodationist-incompatibilist axis. And there’s the firebrand-diplomat axis. On the first one I’m very close to PZ, on the second I’m not close at all.

    I cannot stand PZ Myers because he’s arrogant and an asshole. I agree with him for the most part, but I don’t like his methods.

  • JB Tait

    Yes, more axes.
    Yes on false dichotomy and
    the survey is missing
    [ x ] All of the above

    And how about: Don’t push; just push back.

  • http://luckyatheist.blogspot.com Michael Caton

    I guess I’m confused as to why we have to use one rhetorical approach, with everyone, all the time. To think this whole debate is meaningful that’s the assumption you have to share. You want to advance evolution being taught in schools in a religious area? Starting out, you should avoid mentioning how it eventually undermines religious faith. You want to make an atheist out of a believer? Concentrate on people who are on the fence already and isolate them from their social group. The problem is that we have very little hard data on what inches people toward atheism, and it should disturb us more that we’re talking about how to approach these debates without the efficacy of the various approaches being mentioned at all. I’m just fine with obscuring my ultimate motives if I can get a Christian in the Deep South to accept evolution as a first step. If you’re waiting to convert everybody from fundamentalism to reason in one leap…you’re going to be waiting a long time.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.

    Mooney thinks it’s bad PR for us to admit that — and he may be right — but it’s wrong to let Christians keep thinking science and religion are perfectly compatible when they really aren’t.

    Mooney thinks it’s bad PR to admit that? I think it’s more likely that he simply doesn’t agree that it’s true.

    This whole “accomodationist vs confrontationalist” debate has been going on for years, since I first started reading atheist blogs, since before we ever used those terms. As long as I remember, the discussion has always been horribly mucked up by a conflation of truth and strategy. When Mooney says that science is compatible with religion, is he trying to speak truth, or is he using a political strategy? I’m not sure even Mooney knows.

  • Peregrine

    I pondered a little about this earlier, and it occurred to me that some of it might have more to do with being aware of our audience. I don’t think that PZ Myers, and a few others like him write for an audience of believers, or a mixed audience. They preach to the choir. Their audience is predominantly atheists, and they’re very aware of that. Not to single out PZ, but it’s no accident that he comes to mind.

    Some of PZ’s screeds aren’t necessarily about being confrontational, so much as they’re about rallying the troops. It’s not always about changing minds, and addressing arguments with reason and logic. Sometimes it’s about pandering to their cheering section.

    But there are others who think themselves bridge-builders, who have a cross-platform audience in mind, and choose their words and actions more carefully. The diplomats among us who carefully lay the foundations for dialogue, only to have some blasphemous tirade come along and try to build the roof and slam the door before the walls are up.

    I’ve skimmed the thread, but haven’t read it fully, so my apologies if someone’s mentioned something along these lines already.

    My thinking at the moment, and this might change later this afternoon if I have a chance to ponder it further, is that this division is another symptom of the haphazard organization of the atheist movement. Another example of the herding cats phenomenon. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

  • Richard Wade

    Where do you place yourself on the spectrum?

    I’m glad to see so many commenters here are refusing to step into Oppenheimer’s trap.

    Always be suspicious of any either/or choice that is defined by someone else. Very often it will be a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose proposition.

    What makes this a false dichotomy is that people are never going to stick to the narrow definitions of “accommodationist” and “confrontationalist” given above, a distinction that turns strictly on “telling the whole truth.”

    No, they’re going to react to all the connotations that go with those two terms, with images of ass-kissing, pandering sycophants on one side, and vulgar, brutal, feces throwers on the other side. So for most people, choosing where you stand on this spectrum is foolish because these two terms are never going to be free of extraneous connotations about personal conduct, integrity, manners, and courtesy.

    If I successfully get creationism out of the local public school science classes by arguing that it does not fit the definition of science, but I don’t follow up by saying, “Oh and by the way, your belief in a Sky Spook is bullshit,” that does not make me an “accommodationist.”

    If a Christian asks me my frank opinion about his religion, his beliefs and his behavior, I’ll answer him fully and frankly to the extent that I know him. That doesn’t make me a “confrontationalist.”

    Again, this is because these two terms are not generally thought of in the narrow, connotation-free meanings given above, so I won’t be placing myself somewhere on this absurd spectrum.

  • StarScream

    There are many good points being made here especially by Hypatia and Stephen P.

    Look at the range of responses just among the sample who chose to comment on this blog. Isn’t this evidence for the “both” model? Some people listen to “confrontational” rhetoric, others more to the diplomatic. People differ in their personal dispositions and the communicative styles they respond to.

    And, to mirror Hypatia’s comment, I divide this among issues as well. Generally speaking I’m very diplomatic when it comes to general claims about religion – gods, miracles, etc because these fall into the non-falsifiable category. However, I hit creationism when I come across it with a fusillade of ridicule and mockery because it is demonstrably false. I think this distinction is one that is often overlooked.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    @J. J. Ramsey: Thanks for being a voice of reason. It’s hard to get past all the fundamentalist atheism here.

    Instead we have quite a group of “accommodationists” who are mostly busy trying to shut up a good part of their own.

    @Hitch: I’m not sure that’s true, but if it were, so what? You don’t think mainline Christians would prefer that the Westboro Baptist Church shut the hell up? Just as the lunatic fringe Christians make the rest of the Christians look bad, the rabid atheists make the rest of us look bad, too.

    @sailor: There’s a reason people call it “cold reason.” It’s dispassionate. It is not polarizing. It is about stating the facts and letting them speak for themselves. When you join in a feces fight with the rest of the monkeys everyone comes out looking like shit. I choose not to participate in the feces fights.

    Prove that atheists are normal honest people just trying to get through life and you will achieve more than the “in your face” stupidity from the PZs of the world.

    @tim: That was beautiful! If only more online atheists could be like you.

    Other than confrontation and dialog remember there’s always the option of apathy. I don’t care about your religion any more than I care about your horoscope. Now let’s go get something to eat.

    To all the accommodationalists, why don’t you try accommodating me for a change?

    @Alex: What’s the word for someone who chooses to change the subject when religion or politics comes up? Why confront or accommodate when you can just talk about something else? Just like the bigots in this world will never change, neither will the ultra-religious. So why not use your energy on something more constructive?

    Clearly, if you are not confrontational or accommodating you are just an atheist. There is nothing wrong with being just an atheist.

    @ Mr Z: Is this really about confrontation vs. accommodation – or is it about pushy people getting in other people’s faces vs. people who leave other people alone? I think it’s about jerks vs. non-jerks. It’s about personality, not truth or strategy. Some people are just naturally assholes and other people are not.

    It is far more important to me that people understand and accept science as the most reliable way to discover reality than that they reject all religion.

    @Joel Justiss: Hear, Hear! I don’t get the bashing, or childish shit like ‘Draw Mohammed Day’. 90% (or more!) of your neighbors are religious in some way. Won’t it be better to convince your neighbors with evidence, or leave them alone if they don’t want to go there, than badgering them to death? When you pick a fight of 10 against 1, the 1 always loses. Use your head.

  • Hitch

    @Non-Litigious Atheist: But to be an outspoken atheist doesn’t make one the equivalent to the Westboro Baptists. It makes one equivalent to Douglas Adams or Mark Twain.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    Some of PZ’s screeds aren’t necessarily about being confrontational, so much as they’re about rallying the troops.

    Onward atheist soldiers!

  • Samiimas

    Don’t shove it in their face. That simple act has helped more for equal rights for gays in the last twenty years than all the lawsuits and gay pride parades combined.

    And once again Napoleon is proven right about history being a lie we agree on.

    Do you seriously believe the gay rights movements success in the last few decades has been because they didn’t ‘shove it in their face’? That we’ve almost gotten equality by being quiet and respectful? You know what was a polite and respectful campaign for gay rights? Proposition 8. Tell us about how successful that was because they didn’t ‘shove it in their face’

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    Do you seriously believe the gay rights movements success in the last few decades has been because they didn’t ‘shove it in their face’?

    @Samiimas: You’re kidding, right? The flamboyant parades were just more fodder for the bigots to make average Americans uncomfortable with homosexuals.

    It was the two mild-spoken women who wanted to get married in California but couldn’t, or the gay service members just serving their country kicked out because of their orientation, who eroded the current generation’s opposition to equal rights. Among the younger segments of the population the opposition to equal rights is quite low. Why? Because many young people have a live and let live attitude, not an in your face my way or the highway attitude.

    It wasn’t the partisans that made non-gays more accepting of gays. It was the people just living their lives like everyone else who weren’t giving other people a bunch of shit.

    Giving people shit simply for not agreeing with you about God only makes you enemies. It doesn’t make you any friends.

  • Hitch

    Well you are wrong. But frankly I have no patent to re”litigate” that point.

    We had lots of quiet atheism for decades. It got us a 40% distrust level, higher than any other stigmatized groups including muslims, gays and African-Americans. There is no evidence at all that outspoken advocacy hurts a stigmatized group. In fact distrust level of atheists has declined the slowest despite all the nice secular humanism and nobel prizes.

    I’m referring to the Minnesota study and the sociological work of Zuckerman.

    Like it or not. Flamboyant gays have rights too. To be flamboyant is not to be partisan. And to be outspoken isn’t partisan either. It’s who you are. To not tolerate that is indeed bigotry, and to blame the victims of bigotry for the attitude of bigots is reprehensible.

    Oh and recent outspoken atheists have doubtlessly contributed to people being more comfortable with who they are or even deconversions, no matter how much you claim it makes no friends.

    And don’t take that as an invitation for debate. Frankly I find your attitude ignorant and hurtful. Now go away.

  • cass_m

    @Non-Litigious Atheist Have you heard of the Overton Window. People who have the guts to be loud and proud become targets so the more mild mannered can *be* mild mannered and show they are not defined by one difference. It would be nice if the less compromising didn’t get stabbed with pointy things by allies but they probably know they’re going to be vilified by everyone, that’s the price of societal change.

    Those flamboyant gay parades were how homosexuals got seen. If society wasn’t forced to acknowledge that gay people exist those two mild mannered women getting married wouldn’t be news. And *still* you american’s can’t have the guts to get rid of your idiotic “marriage is one man and one woman” laws.

    The humanist/atheist movement has been around forever and look where it got them being quiet in the US – God on money, God in science class, revisionist Christian history, etc. PZ, Dawkins, Greta Christine et. al have taken lessons from both the gay and feminist movements and they’re using the internet to push back. They’re not out their to make friends, they’re out there to promote discussion and plants seeds. They save their friend making time for real life and like everyone else choose people with the same values they have.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    cass_m:

    The humanist/atheist movement has been around forever and look where it got them being quiet in the US

    You are assuming the movement has been quiet until the New Atheists came along. Take a look at when Bertrand Russell has been around, or when Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s been around. Heck, most fervent atheist and secularist organizations, such as American Atheists or FFRF have long pre-dated the New Atheists, and they’ve long had an Internet presence. The Internet Infidels, obviously, have had an Internet presence as well. Even the secular humanist organizations, such as CFI haven’t been bending over backwards. The idea that atheists were nice-nice and obsequious before the confrontationalists came along and showed backbone is utterly unhistorical.

    And you know who’s been pushing back the creationists? The ones forcing them to dilute their message from so-called “scientific creationism” to “intelligent design” to “teach the controversy”? It’s the “accommodationists.” Heck, it was even religious people who started the suit against the Dover school district for teaching intelligent design. If the “confrontationists” had their way, that wouldn’t have happened.

    Those flamboyant gay parades were how homosexuals got seen.

    Comparing the flamboyance of gays to the behavior of confrontationalists is a poor analogy. Flamboyance is not a statement that heterosexuals are inferior, and it can easily be lighthearted, even knowingly silly fun. The behavior of confrontationalists, however, includes, not only laudable things like reasoned argument (which you’ll also see coming from so-called accommodationists), but also name-calling and mouth-frothy rants with half-baked logic.

  • Brice Gilbert

    If confrontationalists had their way we wouldn’t have ID? Well there are two things here.

    1. Could it be possible that instead of ID we would have nothing at all? We would have erased the attempt to get creationism in school to begin with?

    2. I highly doubt PZ would dismiss Christians from helping getting ID out of schools. He’s even used the argument before that Christians have helped before. The whole point of keeping creationism out of school is that it’s not science. Confrontationalists are simply going to say “Creationism is not science, so keep it out of a science class”. There isn’t even any reason to bring up God anyways.

    I think it’s a misrepresentation of PZ and many others they they simply yell out whatever comes to mind in public. PZ does on his blog because that’s what the blog is about. Friendly Atheist is the same way.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    To the people who are trying to compare to the gay rights movement:

    I think the point of an analogy is to make a comparison to a simpler situation which we already agree upon. Who is to say that the “accomodationist vs confrontationalist” equivalent debate in gay rights is simple and long-settled? It’s not.

  • Steve

    @Non-Litigious Atheist
    You need to go back about four decades. To the late 60s and Stonewall. That was the birth of the modern gay rights movement. Before that people were rarely out. It was almost impossible (except in certain elite circles like artists). That changed after Stonewall and public perception slowly changed in the 70s and 80s because more and more people came out. Suddenly people knew gays and it changed their views.

    That trend increased significantly in the last 20 years and they can now afford to use other methods. But nothing would have changed without being loud and open about it first. It’s not like other approaches weren’t tried before.

    The gay pride parades were a way to increase that visibility. Today, you can certainly argue that they aren’t needed for that purpose anymore. That gays are visible just by themselves. However, there are also “normal” people marching there. The families with kids. It’s just the clowns in skimpy costumes get all the attention.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Brice Gilbert:

    Could it be possible that instead of ID we would have nothing at all? We would have erased the attempt to get creationism in school to begin with?

    I gather you mean that the confrontationalists would have rooted out religion by their confrontationalism and left no root for creationism to spawn? I’d say the likelihood that confrontationalists could have rooted out religion is about the same as the likelihood that they could have dug a hole to China with a spoon. Again, we had confrontational atheists back then; they just didn’t have much clout.

    I highly doubt PZ would dismiss Christians from helping getting ID out of schools.

    If the confrontationalists had their way, we wouldn’t have religious people protesting against the teaching of ID in schools. There wouldn’t be any Christians to dismiss.

    Confrontationalists are simply going to say “Creationism is not science, so keep it out of a science class”.

    Um, that’s what the accommodationists have been saying for a long time.

  • Dan W

    I’m more on the confrontationalist side, but I also haven’t ended up in situations where I’ve found myself arguing with religious people very often.

    I do think those of us atheists who agree with PZ Myers and other confrontationalists are more willing to cooperate with religious folks than many think. I get along fine with religious people when they’re accepting of others and don’t try to push their religion on me. I still think they’re wrong about the existence of god(s), though.

  • fmitchell

    While my leanings are toward the confrontational end, living in the garish buckle of the Bible Belt forces me to pick my battles. Opposing the Texas SBOE? Yes. Preaching the truth to elderly and fervently Catholic relatives and friends? What’s the point?

  • allison

    I think we need the whole spectrum, and would count myself somewhere in the middle. I’ll go ahead and use the terms used here although they’re not ones I particularly care for.

    Confrontational atheists do a lot of good for the movement. They play a vital role in getting people who are semi-closeted or sitting on the fence motivated to speak up and be open. Moreover, some religious people do react well to a more confrontational style, and the confrontational people are great people to have backing you up!

    Accommodating atheists are also important. It is very easy to see the more confrontational among us as villains, and the accommodating atheists come off as more human, the people up the road that don’t want to mess with you, they just want to live their lives. And, by the way, when you are doing things that would affect them, you might want to consider x, y, and z and how those things would affect them.

  • Samiimas

    Giving people shit simply for not agreeing with you about God only makes you enemies. It doesn’t make you any friends.

    ‘giving people shit’ being defined as ‘saying your right and those who disagree are wrong like religious people do every single day without being labeled radicals’.

    Also why did you not address my point about Prop 8? They went to absurd lengths to be ‘polite’ and not ‘shove it in people’s faces’ and they lost. Infact every single ‘polite’ gay marriage campaign has lost, it’s almost like our opponents want us gone, don’t give a damn how ‘polite’ we are and only ask that we refrain from calling them bigots as a first step to silencing us entirely.

  • Aj

    The quotes from the article are correct, the difference is honesty, both terms are the negatives associated with both positions. Accommodation refers to subservience or cowardice, and confrontation is self-explanatory.

    Accommodationists like to call themselves “diplomats” or “non-jerks”, although as can be seen in this very thread, they’re not either of those things. Anyone who uses the phrase “fundamentalist atheism” is a fucking jerk, because they obviously don’t understand what’s wrong with fundamentalism. One of the problems is intellectual dishonesty of repeatedly bring up Richard Dawkin’s phrase “faithhead” as an insult, when they’ve been shown more than once the context and a denial of intention to insult, with appropriate examples of non-insult suffix of “head”, such as “metalhead”, “motorhead”, or “gearhead”. It’s this type of dishonesty and jerkish behaviour that gives accommodationists their deserved reputation for being dicks. It’s implied that they want to reduce confrontation, but that only refers to religious people, they lust for confrontation with other atheists.

    Confrontationists like to call themselves “honest” and “passionate”, I don’t think that can be denied, and they also admit the downsides which is that it will turn some religious people off and it invites confrontation. They also admit that religious people can compartmentalize faith in the supernatural and scientific study. What they will not do, and I don’t think many accommodationists are stupid enough to really believe this (it’s a convenient “truth”), is say that science is fully compatible with religion. As endeavours practising both is incoherent, they’re opposing principles, but that’s never troubled humans. Claiming that they answer different types of questions, such as metaphysics or moral questions (NOMA) is highly dishonest, metaphysics is a different type of answer not question, and religion has never soley concerned itself with morals.

  • Fundie Troll

    Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.

    So in order to accept science we must dismiss the notion of God??? Hemant that is YOUR opinion and is unequivocally not true. Once again your unabashed hatred for those who profess faith in a god has caused you to mistake your opinion for the truth…

  • noel44

    While I agree with many of the previous posters that the choice is a tad simplistic (and possibly misleading), I come down on the confrontationalist side myself.

    As to the matter of content of the confrontationalist approach:
    I used to believe that science could not say anything about the supernatural but had my ideas changed by Victor Stenger. So, while I understand those who would argue that science and religion are compatible, I would now disagree with them.

    Moreover, as to the matter of style of the confrontationalist approach:
    It was not the polite recital of facts which broke my Christian faith. Rather it was the diatribes of an internet skeptic which shook my confidence in religion and helped me be honest with myself. So given that it worked for me, I advocate for the use of direct confrontation as a worth-while tool in changing minds.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    We had lots of quiet atheism for decades. It got us a 40% distrust level, higher than any other stigmatized groups including muslims, gays and African-Americans.

    The humanist/atheist movement has been around forever and look where it got them being quiet in the US – God on money, God in science class, revisionist Christian history, etc.

    @Hitch & cass_m: What a terrible fallacy to think one thing has to do with the other. Maybe psychopathy is the result of mustaches too, since both Hitler and Stalin had mustaches, right?

    All the things you mention are the result of Christian hegemony. They would’ve happened no matter what given that religious views in America have outnumbered antireligious ones by at least 10 to 1.

    If people are becoming more tolerant of atheists now (are they?) it’s not because of any newfound respect that non-atheists give atheists, but because more people are themselves becoming atheists.

    This would explain why atheist organizations devote almost no resources to addressing religious folks and almost all of their resources to addressing other atheists. They are only trying to bring existing atheists to their meetings, not create new atheists or create religious respect for atheists. When’s the last time you heard of any atheist organization addressing religious people? (I know Hemant has, but that was on his own time. No atheist organization would pay his way for something like that.)

    And to be outspoken isn’t partisan either. It’s who you are. To not tolerate that is indeed bigotry, and to blame the victims of bigotry for the attitude of bigots is reprehensible.

    @Hitch: No, what’s reprehensible is the intolerance that the outspoken show to the non-outspoken, like when they ask ‘Why aren’t you more outspoken?’ Well, ‘Why are you so outspoken?’ If this it merely an issue of who you are, basically you must think that the only people who are people are those that act and think like you.

    And of course you can’t be non-partisan while being outspoken at the same time. Only those that pick sides are outspoken about a side!

    BTW, blaming the victim has nothing to do with it. The bigots will be there no matter what you do. If you choose to put yourself in harm’s way, though, that’s a risk you took willingly. It’s not blaming the victim to advise against walking through a big city for 20 blocks at 3AM. It’s just good sense.

    Oh and recent outspoken atheists have doubtlessly contributed to people being more comfortable with who they are or even deconversions, no matter how much you claim it makes no friends.

    @Hitch: People being comfortable? Maybe. Deconversions? I doubt it. How shallow and unthinking would you have to be to believe (rather than pretend to believe) your religion until you hear someone else question it? Gee, I never thought about it before, but since Christine O’Donnell was once a Wiccan (and I know she really wasn’t), I guess I’m a Wiccan too! Give me a break.

    People who have the guts to be loud and proud become targets so the more mild mannered can *be* mild mannered and show they are not defined by one difference.

    @cass_m: Bullshit. You don’t have to wear your atheism on your sleeve so that other atheists can live their lives. Other atheists can live their lives with or without your activism. You make it sound like we live in some oppressive anti-atheist regime like Iran. Being unpopular is not the same as being oppressed. People don’t get death sentences or sent to labor camps for their atheism here. So quit being such a drama queen.

    You need to go back about four decades. To the late 60s and Stonewall. That was the birth of the modern gay rights movement. Before that people were rarely out. It was almost impossible (except in certain elite circles like artists). That changed after Stonewall and public perception slowly changed in the 70s and 80s because more and more people came out. Suddenly people knew gays and it changed their views.

    @steve: Not. Even. Comparable. Atheists are not being arrested for being atheists. Their homes or meeting places are not being raided by local police. They’re not being murdered like Matthew Shepard. You do a disservice to people who have suffered real oppression like this by comparing your mere uncomfortableness with their oppression.

    They play a vital role in getting people who are semi-closeted or sitting on the fence motivated to speak up and be open. Moreover, some religious people do react well to a more confrontational style, and the confrontational people are great people to have backing you up!

    @allison: You assume that coming out of the closet is a good thing. Maybe it is. But it would be nice to hear an argument for why it a good thing for a change. Just saying so doesn’t make it so.

    I’m not sure that many religious people react well to a more confrontational style. I know of not a single mainline Christian who is attracted to the Westboro Baptist Church because they like the way they present themselves.

    @Samiimas: What’s to address? Neither the ‘confrontationalists’ or ‘accomodationists’ or anyone in between opposed gay marriage. Those who would never listen to the ‘confrontationalists’ or ‘accomodationists’ or anyone in between are the ones who opposed it – dogmatic Christians, not atheists. The one thing has nothing to do with the other.

    Anyone who uses the phrase “fundamentalist atheism” is a fucking jerk

    @Aj: Care to defend that, or are you just floating?

  • Hitch

    “@Hitch: No, what’s reprehensible is the intolerance that the outspoken show to the non-outspoken, like when they ask ‘Why aren’t you more outspoken?’”

    I’m sorry but I’m going to call BS on this. Listen to PZ Myers (the posterboy of “confrontationalism” on the Point of Inquiry podcast. He is not at all intolerant towards non-outspoken. He says “all of the above”. In the podcast the intolerance is directed at the outspoken or those who at times pick confrontation over diplomacy.

    “When’s the last time you heard of any atheist organization addressing religious people?”

    Secular organizations “addresss” religious people all the time. It’s just that atheists don’t get credit when they do, because it’s secular not an organized world view.

    But let’s invert this: When was the last time a religious organization explicitly addressed atheists (and in a good way, not in a Pope “atheists are dangerous” way)? Hmm? Or are the only people to be held to that standard atheists? Well yes, it seems so!

    I do not think you actually apply fair standards.

    Oh and in case you don’t believe it:

    Anyone who uses the phrase “fundamentalist atheism” is a fucking jerk.

    Why? Because it’s a mischaracterizing smear, that’s why. If you do not understand that there is plenty of discussion on the blogopshere about it. I’m not going to nose-ring you about how to _not_ stereotype your own in-group.

    Frankly I am starting to think that you aren’t actually an atheist. You sound like an apologist who pretends to be one.

    “Deconversions? I doubt it.”

    Because clearly you have no clue, and pull made up explanations out of your ears:

    “How shallow and unthinking would you have to be to believe (rather than pretend to believe) your religion until you hear someone else question it?”

    A rather theistic apology… But yes, clearly you have not actually looked at deconversion stories. There are plenty on youtube if you cared. I have my doubts that you do.

    “All the things you mention are the result of Christian hegemony.”

    Well two answers to that: 1) Not completely and 2) so what. So bigoted phobias and intolerance are now OK because Christians do it? Nope.

    “The bigots will be there no matter what you do. If you choose to put yourself in harm’s way, though, that’s a risk you took willingly. ”

    That’s the definition of blaming the victim and apologizing the perpetrator as “natural”. Luckily I think you are wrong.

    Bigotry and hate crimes against African Americans has gone down. Women can wearing pants. Gays can be open and even by protected against discrimination by the law.

    It is much better already despite your nay-saying.

    We can set societal standards and expectations and we can change attitudes. That’s what all struggles of stigmatized groups is about. And we have plenty of evidence that it works!

    There is one strategy that pretty much guarantees no progress, and it’s for everybody to stay fearful and in the closet and people not standing up for their fellow man when they do get into rough water.

  • Lana

    I personally feel that if someone looks honestly at science and the history of religion (both broad, encompassing all religions, and narrow, encompassing specific faith histories), there is no other conclusion to come to than atheism. I have come to the conclusion that it takes a certain voluntary ignorance to be religious, which I personally find distasteful.

    That being said, my entire family (excepting my husband and son), both immediate and extended, as well as my in-laws, are all religious. In the interest of preserving familial relations, I had to rethink how I expressed my feeling to religion.

    Now when my family asks me if I think they’re stupid, or think less of them for believing, I say, “I don’t think having a source of spiritual comfort and support in your life is a bad thing. Some people find it necessary. If it helps someone live a happy, peaceful life, I see nothing wrong with it — it’s only when religious people start treating others with disrespect because they don’t share their beliefs that I start to think badly of a religious person.”

  • Pseudonym

    @miller:

    When Mooney says that science is compatible with religion, is he trying to speak truth, or is he using a political strategy? I’m not sure even Mooney knows.

    If you read his blog, you’ll find that he really believes this.

    There is nobody who seriously doubts that there are plenty of good scientists who are religious, and plenty of religious people who are pro-science and that they seem to live well-rounded lives without their brains exploding.

    Where people like Chris Mooney and people like PZ Myers differ is that Chris Mooney believes that this matters and PZ doesn’t. You can usually tell if someone is on Mooney’s side because they frame it as a PR issue without regards for whether or not it really is. You can usually tell if someone is on PZ’s side because they throw around words like “compartmentalisation” like they know what that means. (I’m yet to see that word used in this context by anyone who has any qualifications in psychology.)

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    @Hitch: ‘Why aren’t you more outspoken?’ (or something close to that) is the title of one of the posts here a few months ago. I wasn’t talking specifically about PZ but about a general mindset of a lot of ‘confrontationalists’. There are certain people who think that all atheists ought to be a certain way – their way – and then badger them for not being that way. If PZ is not that way, more power to him!

    I stick by what I said about atheist organizations addressing religious people. They simply don’t do it. True, religious organizations don’t usually address atheists except to demonize them. But they don’t have to because they have 9 out of 10 people towing their line, and atheism is a threat to their existence (‘Sleep in on Sundays’). When you only have 1 out of 10 people with your viewpoint it would be good sense to try to reason with or at least gain the respect of the other 90% of the population – instead of alienating them by attacking them merely for believing. That is unless you revel in being an outcast, as Madalyn Murray O’Hair seemed to do.

    “Fundamentalist atheism” is a loose term referring to a certain mindset – basically those atheists who get incensed that religious people are religious. They have the opposite of a live and let live view. I don’t get it, really, since so many atheists used to be believers of some sort. Who’s to say that today’s believer won’t be tomorrow’s atheist? And why do you care so much what other people believe when it doesn’t affect you? I’m not talking about people pushing for mandatory public school Bible reading. I’m talking about average Christians. Why is what they believe any of your business at all? It’s their belief, after all, not yours! So who cares – let them believe what they want, just as they let you believe what you want.

    And yes, I stand by another comment – it is shallow and unthinking to become an atheist just because some celebrity admitted to being one. Just like it would be shallow and unthinking to become a Scientologist just because Tom Cruise admitted to being one. And Scientologists are probably as mistrusted by the general public as any atheists are. But as before, unpopular does not mean oppressed.

    So bigoted phobias and intolerance are now OK because Christians do it?

    Talk about missing the point! Who ever said that? I never said they were OK – only that they were real. Big difference.

    BTW, advising people not to flash money around is not the same as apologizing for robbers. Classic straw man. What’s good sense is a different issue from whether behavior is excusable. If bad outcomes are likely it is sensible to do whatever you can to avoid them when you can anticipate them.

    Again with the drama queen stuff. No atheist has ever been lynched, or told to use separate bathrooms, or use different water fountains, or stand up to let a Christian sit down on the bus. Atheists didn’t gain the right to vote because of atheist suffrage. Atheists didn’t have to overturn laws against marriages between atheists or to non-atheists. These are not at all parallel and to pretend they are is a disservice to those who really did have to fight. Discrimination by the law is much more insidious than being disliked by most of the population. There are plenty of widely disliked groups that have no civil rights issues – ugly people, for example, or really thick people.

    Resisting opponents of ‘changing attitudes’ for the better is a straw man, as no one does that. That’s like saying we need to resist all those pro-cancer people.

    Atheists are stigmatized, no doubt about it. But the issue isn’t reducing or getting rid of that stigma – of course it would be a good idea to do that, if we can actually pull it off. The issue is whether badgering people just for having religious beliefs will actually achieve that. It think it’s rather self-evident that it will do the exact opposite. How could atheists become less looked down upon by non-atheists after giving non-atheists shit for not being atheists? Does not compute.

    The closeted issue is a different one. The issue here is whether the benefits of being ‘out’ really outweigh the costs.

    Right now, I personally think the costs are far too high, and the benefits too measly. The benefits seem to me largely symbolic, while the costs are largely tangible. And apparently a lot of other atheists think so too since most are still not ‘out’.

    And I’d say that the experience-based expectation that people as a general rule won’t stand up for their fellow man is a pretty good reason to be rationally fearful of the tangible consequences should you come ‘out’. As Giacomo Leopardi said, ‘Real misanthropes are not found in solitude, but in the world; since it is experience of life, and not philosophy, which produces real hatred of mankind.’

  • Rollingforest

    Why don’t we focus on criticizing the hard core theistic people like Pat Robinson for all of their mistakes and skip mentioning Francis Collins at all? Anyone who agrees with us about Robinson may come to agree with us about Collins in the areas where he and Robinson agree (Religion being a source of knowledge ect). However, by not mentioning Collins by name we would be able to work with him in the future in areas we agree in.

  • Rollingforest

    My above comment is in regards to public relations campaigns (billboards, ads ect). On personal blogs it might do well to have a variety of approaches to the above question so that we can bring in people to our side through various means.

  • Aj

    Non-Litigious Atheist,

    @Aj: Care to defend that, or are you just floating?

    The Fundamentalist movement was created in reaction to modernism, in part because of literary and historical study of scripture, and scientific discovers like Darwinism, geologic time, and the nature of astronomical objects, because they challenged the authority of five traditionally held dogmas or “fundamentals” traditionally held by Western Christianity. Theologically they weren’t and aren’t that controversial, evangelicals, and conservatives of the mainline often share this dogma, a difference is fundamentalism is isolationist hence the “fundamental” accepting of dogma. Fundamentalism as a movement is reactive to the progress of society, it’s against knowledge, it advocates wilful ignorance, and fights its battles in the political and academic arenas.

    Islamic and Hindu fundamentalism, who were named for the similarities between them and the Christian fundamentalists, are also reactionary against modernity and politically authoritarian in applying religious dogma.

    Whatever you think the atheists and the religious fundamentalists have in common, are not relevant, and are certainly unimportant compared to the very stark differences. The usual suspects who are ignorantly and maliciously labelled “fundamentalist” are either in favour of socialist democracies such as those in Western Europe, Japan, Canada, and Scandinavia, or are libertarians who admire the United States, both sets are admirers of the Enlightenment, and of the U.S. constitution. Who would you rather run your country, those unjustly maligned atheists or actual fundamentalists? You don’t have to imagine too hard what it would be like, Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia or Shi’a Islam in Iran, or in the past when the Roman Catholic Church was a military, judicial, and political force allying with monarchies, empires, and city states.

    Atheists face the same problem with the term “militant”. Religious people have to pick up a rocket launcher or assault rifle before they get labelled as such.

  • CF

    It seems many of the comments (or commenters, rather) are conflating two very different issues: activism and philosophy.

    On the activism issue is the debate about how, well, active we should be in promoting atheism. Clearly, that’s an individual choice, as not all are comfortable with being out, let alone vocal in their advocacy, for a variety of reasons.

    On the philosophy side is a much more interesting debate, which seems to boil down to (and yes, I’m oversimplifying a bit) the degree to which someone feels the tenets of science are (in)compatible with the tenets of religion/spirituality. While there are many opinions on how compatible they are, there’s no definitive answer yet, so we’re left with opinion.

    Personally, my activism depends on the context/moment and my philosophy leans towards very little compatibility, but I realize those are my own feelings and not ones I should necessarily impose on, or expect of, others.

    And yes, like most others here, I think the false dichotomy presented in the original poll is silly.

  • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com considerthe teacosy

    Am I the only one who finds it really weird that this poll hasn’t been Pharyngulated yet?

  • Hitch

    @Hitch: “If PZ is not that way, more power to him!”

    Great, I’ll take that as a reversion of your previously stated claim. Perhaps be more careful what claims you spread?

    “I stick by what I said about atheist organizations [..]”

    Read the Minnesota study. You repeat claims that don’t mesh with the published sociology.

    “When you only have 1 out of 10 people with your viewpoint it would be good sense to try to reason with or at least gain the respect of the other 90% of the population.”

    Again there is little actual evidence that it hurts. In fact indicators are that people not knowing atheists are most indicative of their distrust level, not whether they encountered someone critical.

    “That is unless you revel in being an outcast”

    Blaming the victim. Being outspoken has nothing to do with reveling in the reaction.

    ““Fundamentalist atheism” is a loose term referring to a certain mindset – basically those atheists who get incensed that religious people are religious. They have the opposite of a live and let live view.”

    Not at all. We don’t accuse religious who try to have their world view win of violating live and let live. But yeah, how much is it live and let live when the President says that atheists shouldn’t even be considered citizens…

    I don’t think you understand the “let live” part and that asserting to your right to live _and_ speak to your world view is what it really means. Else we do not have a marketplace of ideas but a mudhole of silence to the most dangerous views.

    “And why do you care so much what other people believe when it doesn’t affect you?”

    How do you know that it doesn’t affect others. You just made the case how it’s dangerous due to the hegemony of Christians, then you claim it doesn’t affect people? How is staying closeted out of fear of societal retribution not affecting people?

    “Why is what they believe any of your business at all?”

    See you mischaracterize again. Outspoken atheists I know are about speech and opinion in the public sphere. Opinion that affect people and policies and so forth. I don’t see outspoken atheists knocking at people’s doors with copies of the God Delusion trying to force their view on their neighbors (hello Mormons and Yehova’s Witnesses). However whenever religious views do interfer, there is agency to address it. Schools, job security, electability. Plenty of important issues that are affected by people’s beliefs.

    “So who cares – let them believe what they want, just as they let you believe what you want.”

    Again you’d be amazed that you say nothing disagreeable here. PZ Myers agrees and again he is posterboy confrontationalist.

    “And yes, I stand by another comment – it is shallow and unthinking to become an atheist just because some celebrity admitted to being one.”

    That is not what I said, but it reflects your biases. Dawkins actually makes *gasp* arguments that people can read and reflect on.
    People don’t deconvert because Dawkins is pretty or famous. In fact some deconversion stories come about as profound resistance to these writings and ideas. People want to disprove it and start reading scripture and other literature in depth… and after much digging they realize they cannot!

    Their strength of faith confronted with a challenge to their views is that leads to the deconversion.

    But you just stick to your stereotype what constitutes mechanisms of deconversion. But it’s just that, unfounded stereotypes. And that is the true shallowness here.

    “”So bigoted phobias and intolerance are now OK because Christians do it?”

    “Talk about missing the point! Who ever said that? I never said they were OK – only that they were real. Big difference.”

    Ah yes, the dodge. Look I said that distrust levels of atheists are real. You did not introduce the concept. As a justification you cited the hegemony of christians claiming it’s to be expected.

    But a group can be hegemonic and not have that attitude, as numerous European countries prove.

    It is not at all crazy to assume that you indeed imply an apology of the attitude.

    In fact virtually all of your arguments serve as some sort of apology that Christians just do fine or if they don’t the best is to hide from it!

    “Again with the drama queen stuff. No atheist has ever been lynched, or told to use separate bathrooms, or use different water fountains, or stand up to let a Christian sit down on the bus. Atheists didn’t gain the right to vote because of atheist suffrage. Atheists didn’t have to overturn laws against marriages between atheists or to non-atheists. These are not at all parallel and to pretend they are is a disservice to those who really did have to fight. Discrimination by the law is much more insidious than being disliked by most of the population. There are plenty of widely disliked groups that have no civil rights issues – ugly people, for example, or really thick people.”

    Ah yes. I guess there are no (unconstitutional) laws on the books anywhere that bar atheists from holding office… No civil rights issue at all. That the motto on money is exclusionistic towards unbelieve (and also unconstitutional for the very same reason) is no civil rights issue. I guess crushing social pressures don’t count! I guess that atheist kid that got shot didn’t actually get killed over an argument about religion. It wasn’t lynching, so… I guess kids that get bullied in school for being atheist, well you are just like the fat kid getting bullied!

    BTW, do you recommend to the fat kid to hide being fat too? After all that they get bullies “is to be expected” but let’s not talk about the bullies because “live and let live” but no that is “not blaming the victim”.

    Yes this is how crazy your arguments sound.

    As if concerns of stigmatized groups end with the legalia of civil rights struggles? Women have full equal rights yet not one has been president. Women just now staff 3 out of 9 on the SCOTUS. These are not civil rights issues, but they are deep societal issues.
    No, struggles against stigma end when the stigma itself disappears and along with it all forms of societal disadvantages. You basically minimize and ridicule the struggle and I find it rather distasteful.

    Yes the story of atheists is different than gays and African Americans. But that there is a real struggle that would be contemptible to ignore is without question.

    “Resisting opponents of ‘changing attitudes’ for the better is a straw man, as no one does that. That’s like saying we need to resist all those pro-cancer people.”

    Actually I do resist parents who refuse treatment for their kids. It’s a real issue. But I don’t think you are trying to make a serious argument. You are just trying to throw wrenches into wheels.

    “Atheists are stigmatized, no doubt about it. But the issue isn’t reducing or getting rid of that stigma – of course it would be a good idea to do that, if we can actually pull it off.”

    I would suggest you travel more. I’d suggest Europe.

    “The issue is whether badgering people just for having religious beliefs will actually achieve that.”

    Again you strawman. Noone is advocating “badgering people just for having religious beliefs” as a strategy. People say that criticism has to be speakable.

    “It think it’s rather self-evident that it will do the exact opposite.”

    It isn’t self-evident at all but it’s the conclusion you want, so.

    “The closeted issue is a different one. The issue here is whether the benefits of being ‘out’ really outweigh the costs.”

    Aka “be afraid” “it’s too dangerous” but don’t forget “live and let live” and also “what’s the big deal of just letting people believe, they do no harm” but don’t forget “be afraid”.

    How about expecting that believers actually “love thy neighbor”? I guess that’s too much to strive for.

    “Right now, I personally think the costs are far too high, and the benefits too measly.”

    Go ahead and be scared. Luckily there are people with spine who do the hard work for you. Enjoy the ride.

    Frankly I think you just want to apologize your own choices and attitudes are show little interest how to really improve things. You emphasize talking about risk and people staying in the closet, you talk about how the religious are fine and it’s no big deal, you talk about there being no civil rights issues and downplay (when opportune) the societal impacts.

    Well, it contributes nothing. Go stay in your closet. I support it. Everybody can and should make that choice for themselves. But you cannot even be supportive of those who do try to improve society, and take some risks to reduce the tangible risk for everybody. You yourself contribute nothing but detraction.

    Isn’t it funny how you criticize atheist for not speaking more to believers and then do this:

    “And I’d say that the experience-based expectation that people as a general rule won’t stand up for their fellow man is a pretty good reason to be rationally fearful of the tangible consequences should you come ‘out’.”

    I guess we should have closeted speakers. And let’s chastize atheists for first trying to create groups that are safe for atheists to belong to and be among sympathetic peers. So we do it wrong on all levels.

    Let’s stay not out because atheist organizations emphasize creating a space that is safe for atheists rather than talking to believers! Slam dunk in terms of twisting why people should stay closeted!

    You have you cake and eat it too all over again.

    I guess there is no way to win with those kinds of arguments now is there?

    Oh and for the record you did not even deny my charge that you may be a believer posing as an atheist. I’ll take that as a hint of sorts… but even if you are not, you are basically feeding straight into christian defense and apology for the status quo.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj:

    One of the problems is intellectual dishonesty of repeatedly bring up Richard Dawkin’s phrase “faithhead” as an insult, when they’ve been shown more than once the context and a denial of intention to insult, with appropriate examples of non-insult suffix of “head”, such as “metalhead”, “motorhead”, or “gearhead”.

    If the context wasn’t enough to indicate that Dawkins meant “faith-head” to be insulting, he himself admitted that the term was “a play on dope-head, crack-head etc.”

  • keddaw

    The first thing you do when conducting a scientific experiment is to throw out all ideas of supernatural forces. You assume that every effect on your experiment is somehow explicable by the natural universe and that there are no angels/demons/gods interfering.

    It doesn’t prove there are no gods, or require proponents to hold that belief, but it is explicitly incompatible with their existence.

  • Gryndyl

    The word “supernatural” is an oxymoron. If something exists/occurs then it is by definition “natural”. Therefore it has an explanation and is governed by laws. To suggest that something that is as yet unexplained might be the result of gods or magic is pure intellectual slop.

  • Samiimas

    What’s to address? Neither the ‘confrontationalists’ or ‘accomodationists’ or anyone in between opposed gay marriage. Those who would never listen to the ‘confrontationalists’ or ‘accomodationists’ or anyone in between are the ones who opposed it – dogmatic Christians, not atheists. The one thing has nothing to do with the other.

    A. the majority of christians hate gay people, not jut the ‘dogmatic’ ones.

    B. You’re just trying to dodge the point now. Don’t pretend like you didn’t get the comparison I was making by pointing out that gay rights activists are also told over and over to ‘tone it down’, not be so ‘militant’ and overall to stop being rude to their opponents. That the people saying this claim it’s the only way for gay people to be accepted when really though know it’ll just make us quieter and easier to stigmatize.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    Whatever you think the atheists and the religious fundamentalists have in common, are not relevant, and are certainly unimportant compared to the very stark differences.

    @Aj: Thanks for not blowing off my question.

    I take back my use of the term ‘fundamentalist atheism’. Given the specific historical/reactionary meaning of fundamentalist, I should have said ‘ideological atheism’. By that I mean atheism with some social/political agenda, rather than ‘mere atheism’. And that agenda usually has some deeper rooting (IMHO) in disdain for religious folks simply for being religious.

    I guess kids that get bullied in school for being atheist, well you are just like the fat kid getting bullied!

    @Hitch: What’s the difference? You tell me.

    BTW, do you recommend to the fat kid to hide being fat too?

    @Hitch: It’s kind of hard to ‘hide’ being fat. But in spirit, yes – better to lose weight than not. People will treat you better if you do. End of story. That’s not an apology for the mistreatment of fat people – it’s just a recognition of a little place called reality.

    Should fat kids be mistreated? Of course not. Will they be? Of course they will. Those facts should shape what you decide to do. It’s about making your quality of life better, not worse.

    Live and let live doesn’t apply to the bullies. Live and let live applies to the religious people that also live and let live.

    How about expecting that believers actually “love thy neighbor”? I guess that’s too much to strive for.

    @Hitch: Yes, I think it is. Human beings are universally hypocrites, and believers are human beings like everyone else. People universally judge others for the very same traits that they have displayed at one time or another.

    Let’s stay not out because atheist organizations emphasize creating a space that is safe for atheists rather than talking to believers!

    @Hitch: What the hell are you talking about? Atheist/humanist organizations have done jack shit to ‘create a safe space for atheists’. All they have done is collect their dues and put up billboards saying ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ so they can join in the media whoredom that every reality star seems to strive for these days.

    BTW, I didn’t deny being a believer because it wasn’t worth addressing – just like I didn’t address your misunderstanding that I was criticizing PZ . I quoted someone who mentioned PZ, but I quoted them in support of their point, not their attribution of that trait to PZ. I guess I should have cut off their quote at that point but I didn’t really think about it since the mention of PZ was incidental. You’re the one who blew it up into something else, not me.

    Anyway, I could address a whole bunch of your other comments, but I think it would be beating a dead horse at this point, since I’ve explained myself well enough the first time. You seem to have misunderstood a lot of what I said, so continuing to go at it will just multiply your misunderstandings exponentially.

  • Aj

    J. J. Ramsey,

    If the context wasn’t enough to indicate that Dawkins meant “faith-head” to be insulting, he himself admitted that the term was “a play on dope-head, crack-head etc.”

    Isn’t that the same with the terms I listed that are not insults? It refers to an addiction of sorts.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj, if you honestly think that likening a religious believer to an addict isn’t meant to be insulting…

  • Hitch

    “I’ve explained myself well enough the first time”

    True dat. You basically are a cynic who takes human-induced abuse as unavoidable and you are a anxiety-ridden hence advocate an extremely defensive position for self-protection. I think it’s a wrong-headed and hurtful attitude, because you do not contribute to addressing the perpetrators and mitigating the culture that allows them, but I have said my piece sufficiently too.

    As for bullies there is plenty that can be done about them and there are plenty of overweight kids who do not get bullied.

    You focus on telling people to hide and you refuse to address the problem, because, “it’s universal human nature”. But that’s defeatist and allowing the undesirable conditions to persist without even an attempt at change. I’m glad that people during WW2 did not have this attitude, because we are better for it.

    And I’m glad that by and large stigmatized groups do not agree with you and do strive to improve their condition.

    Similarly one can think up strategies that indeed work to counter bullies. Schools that care and act, parents that care and act, and peers that care and act(and are not defeatists like yourself).

    But why tell bullies to stop when we can tell the bullied to hide! Pretty much a guaranteed way to ensure that bullying attitudes do not have to change.

    And I’m glad that you are wrong with your “universal” claims. Luckily people are better and have more capacity than you make them out to be.

  • Aj

    J. J. Ramsey,

    Aj, if you honestly think that likening a religious believer to an addict isn’t meant to be insulting…

    It’s my understanding that they think faith is a virtue, like metalheads think metal is good music…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    in the real world atheists & agnostics as a group have no choice, we don’t have power. accommodation is the only game in town in a concrete sense. pz, jerry, etc., have a huge intellectual/media presence, but effecting change on the margins on a personal scale.

    i don’t find the new atheist aggression in words offensive, or dangerous, or even that counter-productive. i do find the new atheist presumption that religion is sui generis as a cultural phenomenon, and we as non-theists are in any position of symmetry of dialog a bit ludicrous.

  • TychaBrahe

    I honestly don’t see why there has to be a dichotomy. I think there are areas of study that honestly have nothing to do with each other.

    Science can’t explain why some people prefer milk to dark chocolate or red to white wine or rap to country & western. It can’t explain why someone should like baseball over football or the Cubs over the Sox. Science can’t determine whether you should knit in the English or Continental method, or whether you should write with Copperplate or Engrosser’s script.

    If someone wants to believe in God, and doesn’t use that belief to discriminate, deprive people of rights, or force their religious beliefs on others in any form, who cares whether they believe it or not? Is the belief in God any less rational than the belief that the Cubs will finally win the World Series again next year?

  • http://zheshiwoying.blogspot.com/ AwesomeCloud’s Mom

    I don’t want to be an -ist. I’m a freethinker – I’ll think freely about accommodation today and about confrontation tomorrow.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    @razib: I see that you’re a fellow anxiety-ridden cynic who takes human-induced abuse as unavoidable. Do you also advocate an extremely defensive position for self-protection? :)

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’d be up for walking through a big city for 20 blocks at 3AM. Because if you weren’t up for it, then it would become increasingly obvious that you’re just an anxiety-ridden cynic who takes crime as unavoidable.

    Why do something nearly impossible like putting metal bars on your windows when you can do something relatively simple like rehabilitating every single violent offender? (Or was it the other way around? Dammit, I can’t remember!)

    That’s the sort of irrationality we’d expect from an anxiety-ridden cynic like you. :)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp razib

    Maybe you’d be up for walking through a big city for 20 blocks at 3AM.

    i paid my dues walking the streets. i was an atheist activist as an undergraduate. additionally, i’m not personally shy about my atheism, something a little more dangerous for someone from a muzzie cultural background (even south asians from non-muzzie backgrounds like our host probably have to deal with the inordinate reverence for ancestral superstitions which south asians exhibit).

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ verbosestoic

    “Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural. ”

    Well, you need to define “accepting science fully” here. If it means arguing that science is the only way to get knowledge about everything, then the conclusion might follow but accepting science fully then is certainly not uncontroversial, and I think it pretty much wrong. If it doesn’t mean that, and you allow for other ways of knowing — like religion or philosophy — then that doesn’t logically follow from accepting science fully, although it may be true (I don’t think it is true).

    One issue here, though, is that there’s a lot of spinning over what will work better as a PR tactic with more moderate religious people. Mooney says that being nicer will work better. Some of his detractors will say that nothing will work. So … anyone thought about talking to moderate religious people about it? Speaking only for myself, I see a sharp distinction between “being outspoken” and “being confrontational”. I don’t mind atheists who are unapologetically atheist, and in fact one person in my group at work is such and would be a confrontationist, but he seems — at least to me — to not apply the views of fundamentalist and less rational theists to me, which works out. We can argue about these things but it seems like there’s at least a willingness for each of us to understand the other’s viewpoint.

    I think that more will be done to make atheism mainstream and allow atheists to “come out of the closet” by highlighting that there can be mutual respect between theists and atheists and that all that’s different about them are different beliefs. I don’t think the confrontationists are all that great at that because they over-generalize and lump anyone who is religious with the worst of the lot, calling them equally irrational. That’s probably their actual opinion, but it seems to me a perfectly irrational one that deserves criticism from atheists and theists alike.

    I’m willing to go on the record and stand beside atheists in pointing out that being an atheist doesn’t mean that you are or must be immoral or that being religious means that you’re automatically moral. I’m willing to stand with atheists and argue that science cannot be ignored by religion. And I’d do that more often if I wasn’t more concerned with defending my religious views from what I feel are irrational attacks that aren’t being addressed by atheists or even more moderate or philosophical theists. If I can get some support, I’ll have time to support you. And I wouldn’t even be lying, and might even be able to put it in a way that theists might be able to understand, being one myself.

    What’s wrong with that?

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    I am not afraid to speak up when something is particularly offensive, but I’ve learned to pick my battles. When you live with a deeply Christian mother, you just can’t be confrontational whenever you see or hear something religious. I have pictures of Jesus around my house and a plaque that says “Trust In The Lord” (to which I cut a rectangle of paper, wrote “science” and pasted it over the word “Lord”) as well as having to hear the religious videos and radio stations she checks out online. Being confrontational all the time would be very stressful and make life pretty unhappy. I’ve learned to just accept her choices.

  • JimboB

    I would consider myself a confrontationalist, although the label seems a bit off.
    Rather than a confrontationalism, which seems to imply an offensive strategy, I prefer to play defense.

  • Sean

    Some things that I think, based on my experience, would fill in the blank for the sentence “fundamentalists are on average ____ compared to moderate believers”:

    *ethically inferior (in terms of their effects on society, not personal character)
    *more clueless about the real world
    *more consistent and honest about their beliefs
    *more willing to attempt to support their beliefs rationally (and less likely to succeed)
    *more likely to come bother atheists by proselytizing
    *about as likely to deconvert to atheism over time (though probably for different reasons)
    *equally wrong about metaphysics

    Largely I think it’s a wash. I think fundamentalists are much more worth “fighting” (especially when I have my gay activist cap on), but I can’t see them as that much more wrong or that much stupider. I was a creationist Baptist for a while, then I moderated out, then deconverted, and now I’m a “confrontationalist”. At each stage I’ve had no problem making political allies among those who believe differently, but I do really believe that religion, all religion, is both incorrect and ethically inferior, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise just to be diplomatic.

    That said, on a personal level I’m neither venomous nor ingratiating. When people do or say really bad things, I get mad, when they say really silly things, I can’t help but laugh at them, and when they are calm and thoughtful I take them seriously.

    I mean, atheism is not magically different from other situations. It’s sort of unique in being tied up in skepticism and civil rights and metaphysics all at once, and emotions run high because people care about religion so much, but, really, the tone of what you do or say is just about how you want to interact with other people, not ideology.

    I don’t think the “let’s not focus on religion” bit that accommodationists do is so bad; diverse groups do have to get along sometimes. I think that pretending to think more highly of religion than you really do in order to make friends is dishonest (maybe on the level of a white lie, maybe worse), and some accommodationists seem to do this. I think it’s condescending to act as if religious people somehow can’t handle the truth, or are too irrational to take it without the truth being “packaged” in some flattering, personalized way. I think it’s narrow-minded to focus on acceptance of evolution as somehow the big atheist issue as Mooney and the NCSE folks sometimes seem to do.

    But mostly I think it’s just intensely annoying to hear accomodationists talking about confrontationalists hurting the cause. People represent themselves. They aren’t here to be pawns in some big planned-out atheist political maneuver. So let them go represent themselves.

    This is very much like gay rights in that there’s this well-meaning, often very useful, but annoyingly politically motivated group, telling other people what will help the cause. You can do that within your own organization, but you can’t do that for the community at large, which is a group of people with a lot of different goals, focuses, and personalities, in a lot of different situations.

    (By the way, if you want to insist on letting me know that being an atheist is not as bad as being gay, you can stick that comment somewhere uncomfortable. I do lots of GLBT community oriented stuff and I am well aware of the difference. The analogy doesn’t depend on the two being completely the same.)

  • allison

    @ NonLitigiousAtheist,

    While I don’t think being “out” is necessarily the right choice for everyone, I do strongly feel that more people being open about their atheism (not necessarily in a bash you over the head kind of way, just in a willing to admit it kind of way) helps us all. When we feel we have to hide it’s very easy for religious people to say that they don’t know any atheists and therefore that there’s nothing to worry about in those situations where they’re pushing religion. The more of us who are “out,” the more there’s an acknowledgment that we exist and that we might not be, by definition, evil.

    I don’t know — I’m “out” and pretty nearly always have been since I grew up a non-believer. In the situations where I’ve been closest to feeling I had to hide or where I’d not been open right off, usually it’s because I’ve had a lot of really aggressive religious people around me.

    I’m not saying that I normally agree with the more confrontational atheists out there, because I don’t. My primary focus is elsewhere. However, I find it nice to be able to discuss things that are happening to me with others without feeling as if I have to couch it in religious language. If we all hide, it’s hard to find support in those times when we need it.

    I’ve built my life in such a way that being open about my beliefs is not akin to walking in a dangerous part of town at 3 am. This took some work on my part, but part of the ground has been cleared by those who have put themselves out there far more than I have.

  • Sean

    “The behavior of confrontationalists, however, includes, not only laudable things like reasoned argument (which you’ll also see coming from so-called accommodationists), but also name-calling and mouth-frothy rants with half-baked logic.”

    This is the one straw-man that I always see from accommodationists that I absolutely cannot stand. Yes, if someone makes a half-baked, name-calling, mouth-frothy rant that’s confrontation.

    But a lot of “confrontation” doesn’t involve that. Sometimes I think a set of beliefs is stupid but I don’t call someone stupid for holding them. Sometimes I want very badly to dissuade someone from a set of beliefs because I think those beliefs are intrinsically very harmful (the fear of hell comes to mind) and not because I hate them.

    Mockery, of course, is the most misunderstood form of confrontation. Everybody Draw Mohammad Day was one of the best ideas ever, in my opinion (although unfortunately not so great for its originator). The idea that drawing a person is intrinsically wrong is silly. It’s doubly silly considering that there is old Muslim art from Muslims who themselves didn’t take it seriously. It’s triply silly considering the probable purpose of the “Don’t draw Mohammad” prohibition, being to prevent idolatry, which obviously doesn’t apply to people who don’t think he was a prophet anyway.

    When something is silly, you mock it. When people try to infringe on free speech by threatening others with violence, you should stand on the side of the threatened. It’s a straightforward and entirely appropriate response to absurd threats of violence.

    And yet it’s disapprovingly called “disrespectful”, as if we all signed up to some statement about being nice to one another 24/7, or as if civilization was going to collapse if one group of people showed that they thought another group of people was being stupid. Being nice is great. Being principled is, in my opinion, far better.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Sean:

    This is the one straw-man that I always see from accommodationists that I absolutely cannot stand. Yes, if someone makes a half-baked, name-calling, mouth-frothy rant that’s confrontation.

    But a lot of “confrontation” doesn’t involve that.

    For something to be a straw-man, it has to be untrue. Yes, there is confrontation that doesn’t involve logic-impaired mouth-frothiness, but that hardly negates that the mouth-frothiness is actually out there.

  • Sean

    “For something to be a straw-man, it has to be untrue.”

    Well, more precisely, for something to be a straw man it has to be a misrepresentation of your opponent’s actual position.

    Confrontationalists are not explicitly in favor of logic-impaired mouth-frothiness. To say that they are is obviously a straw man.

    Alternatively you may be saying that confrontationalists sometimes deliver logic-impaired frothy-mouthed diatribes despite not actually advocating such. To which I have to say that painting every confrontationalist with that brush seems like an association fallacy, and I’m not sure why anyone would care that much about the frothy-mouthed speeches anyway. There are crazy frothy-mouthed atheists and Christians and Muslims and Hindus and environmentalists and racists and conservatives and liberals and libertarians and communists and animal rights activists and civil rights activists and neo-Nazis and pro-lifers and pro-choicers, &tc. When there’s actual violence or harmful actions involved, that’s a problem, but if someone just wants to say crazy offensive things, and there’s no violence likely to be incited by that, I think the mature thing to do is to ignore them and proceed to actual issues, no? I don’t choose whether to push a political agenda based on whether or not there happens to be some crazy nutbag somewhere else who jumped on the same issue.

    The straw man I see is basically equating atheist “confrontation” in general with people who make incoherent hateful rants. As far as I can see, any incoherent hateful rants are being made by a minority of “confrontationalists”, mostly on the internet (where social constraints and empathy are weakened among people from every viewpoint), and often only when that minority is exceptionally pissed off by something. Given that, it’s grossly unfair to make this accusation.

    If you think you can actually demonstrate that confrontation in general tends to regress into mindless rage, and not just in an unfortunate set of fringe cases, you need to present the specific evidence that leads you to that conclusion. My experience with the “confrontational” suggests a completely opposite conclusion.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    @allison: Fair enough. As I’m in the ‘to each his own’ school I don’t have any problem with your choice. I just have a problem with people who think that being closeted makes you an inferior atheist. In the Bible Belt it might just make you a rational one.

    I think there’s probably some evidence in your own life to support this. I remember an old Seinfeld episode where Elaine introduced her boyfriend like this: ‘Oh, this is Ned. He’s a Communist.’

    The joke is that no one would introduce themselves that way. If you have any sense at all, at the very least you’d want to feel another person out for some time before volunteering that you’re a “dirty atheist,” as Teddy Roosevelt called Tom Paine. There’s good reason for needing to feel someone out first, and it’s the same reason some people never or rarely out themselves.

  • allison

    @NonLitigiousAtheist,

    Yes, I do have reason for having done some work to set up my life so that being out was less dangerous for me and for my children. I grew up in a quite small town with really only one church — a non-denominational evangelical (I’m pretty sure dominionist) church, and everyone knew whether or not you went. It was extremely unfriendly, and I check out any living situation I’m considering for friendliness before I move, as I don’t want my kids to go through what I went through. To me, being “out” now means that if someone’s talking about these things, I don’t shy away from the subject. I do see being able to safely do so without risking my livelihood, my close family, and a social life for my children to be a privilege.

    I do think, though, that there’s a certain amount of safety in numbers. It’s been my experience that when people see atheists less as these strange, possibly dangerous, unknowns and more as their neighbors and family members, well, it makes spaces less dangerous for others down the road. It you know Uncle Lou is atheist and he’s a nice guy, then you might be more inclined to be nice to the next atheist you meet or to think about how something someone says might affect him. So while I don’t think poorly at all of people who are not “out,” I do think that more people and a wider variety of people being open about their atheism is helpful in creating a better climate overall.

  • cass_m

    @J.J. Ramsey I would like to hear a time when you’ve seen an atheist actually deliver an unprovoked mouth foaming rant face to face about religion. It would be really awesome is you could show me that person *never* rants about anything else just to really prove your point. I’ve only ever seen inflammatory posts and video rants directed at a camera. I think anyone who would be like that in person is probably all sorts of jerk. Hermant has said some pretty blunt things yet still speaks at churches and there’s no indication that he’s changing his face to face style.

    I consider myself to be a confrontationalist (or whatever) and all that means is that I actually now state that I don’t believe in a personal god if someone insists on talking about religion and actively avoid religious ceremonies. And I do that because of people like PZ. I think the worst thing Mooney et al have done is created the strawman of militant atheists running after those poor, fleeing, religious people to harangue them into giving up their comforting god – oh and stealing candy from that baby on the way.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    cass_m:

    I’ve only ever seen inflammatory posts and video rants directed at a camera.

    So what? Logic-impaired mouth-frothiness doesn’t become acceptable simply because it’s on the Internet.

  • amazed

    “Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.”

    …Amazing to think that reality is defined by and limited to only that which we can measure/verify ourselves.

    “We”, in this case, being a small constituent of a greater whole. I find it amazing that atheists – confrontationists in particular – are so rigid in perpetuating this approach, as though reality is subservient to their axioms and not the other way round.


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