Humanist Tolerance is Nothing like Religious Bigotry

by Jesse Galef –

I swear, I thought I was used to the knee-jerk objections to nontheistic ad campaigns. We atheists and humanists come out with some of the most innocuous statements like “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” and people get upset. Our mere existence as proud nontheists is offensive. I’m used to that — people think atheists are immoral bastards, and I know it’s a misconception we need to fight. Business as usual.

But even I was surprised by the objection lobbed by USA Today’s Cathy Grossman. In a baffling move, she compares the American Humanist Association’s new ad campaign to Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Seriously:

But ditching the thoughtful-alternative concept approach for an in-your-face aggressive one just in time for Hanukkah and Christmas may be less a call to “reason” than the kind of irrational annoyance of a Westboro Baptist Church demonstration.

Those are the ones where the followers of Fred Phelps’ twisted version Christianity march around the funerals for war veterans saying their deaths are God’s retribution for society’s acceptance of homosexuals. The distance between a hateful message from Phelps that “God is your enemy” isn’t so far from saying God is hateful, is it?

Oh, for fuck’s sake, did we just get equated to Fred Phelps for promoting nontheistic morality?

The humanist ads promote tolerance and compassion, opposing religious literalism and extremism. The Westboro Baptist Church promotes bigotry and hatred, spouting a literal and extreme religious message. How much farther apart could those messages be?

The contrast should be obvious. The humanist ads point to people like Phelps and say “Some people believe that, but we believe something else — we prefer kindness and reason.” It’s not even close.

Grossman closes by asking: “Is it possible to lead an ethical life without disparaging people who believe — or think or both — differently than you?” I’m not sure where the “disparaging” accusation comes from though — the ads quote the religious texts in their own words. I don’t consider that belittling — if anything, it’s quite respectful. I could understand the charge if the ads said “Some people believe such crazy crap.” I could understand the charge if the ads had said “Christians believe” rather than “Some believe.” But the ads did neither.

This seems the best way to summarize my thoughts:

Some people believe that respectful disagreement is offensive and never appropriate.

Humanists think that calmly pushing back against harmful religious dogma is essential to move us toward a more compassionate, reasonable society.

Consider humanism.

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • Valhar2000

    I wish Cathy would tell me her secret: what do I have to do to get a job in which incompetence counts as a positive work ethic, like hers? I’m tired of working for a living.

  • Ali

    “Some people believe that respectful disagreement is offensive and never appropriate.”

    I agree.

    I think the comparison is merely a tactic to put Atheists in an unflattering light, once again. Just like the Hitler argument. They want people to associate Atheism with anything pernicious, even if the juxtaposition makes no sense at all!

  • http://camoo.freeshell.org Laura

    I like Christopher Hitchens, and I looked at Larry Taunton’s blog entry because of it. Larry Taunton is a christian.
    It was amazing to me how much he “beats up” on atheists in his blog entry: http://www.fixed-point.org/index.php/blog “Atheism poisons everything” entry.
    Christians are supposed to be about empathy and compassion. And he calls various atheists witchy and whatnot.
    A lot of people who call themselves atheists and are fans of Hitchens are survivors of religious indoctrination. That’s why they’re bitter about it.
    And you might hope that a christian would have empathy for their bitterness and their feeling of oppression and their anger, rather than calling them names.
    I don’t know how Hitchens can put up with this from a “friend”. It sounds like Hitchens has religious programming deep inside, and making friends with these christians is a way of trying to deal with it.
    I wasn’t brought up religiously, but I was exposed to religious people in college. And I had some of the mainstream religious attitudes, like that christianity is about being good to people and christians are better people, and I’ve noticed they can actually be worse than non-religious people. I’ve felt supported that I can be a good person even though I’m not a theist, by the “new atheism”. So I think we’re all religion survivors to some extent, even if we weren’t brought up religious.

  • Mike

    Can I just say that I hate the term/concept of “tolerance?”

    The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free
    – John Leland

    I’d love to hear someone come up with a far better term that didn’t imply that simply because someone is different from you or believes something different than you that the only option is to “tolerate” them.

    Any ideas?

  • http://cramandballwell.com Jerry Ballwell

    The only similarity between WBC and AHA is that they both expose scripture for being crazy and horrible.

    I wrote about this lady and Jeff Jacoby from the Boston Globe on my blog yesterday.

  • Pingback: Ateus lançam a maior campanha humanista de todos os tempos • Ateus do Brasil

  • billybobbibb

    As a fellow atheist and former Christian, I have to respectfully disagree with you on this issue. I think the current AHA campaign is ill-conceivedl, badly-timed and unnecessarily provocative.

    The AHA campaign places side-by-side two quotes: one of the most violently genocidal quotes of the Bible, and another innocuous feel-good quote from Einstein. This transparent straw-man tactic falls flat on its face. Despite the observation that literalist Christians lie about about how much of the Bible they actually believe, most of them instinctively know, even if they refuse to admit publicly, that their Bible is full of hyperbole. The only Christians who take the most heinous verses of the Bible literally are the Phelps gang and their ilk, and they represent a tiny minority of Christians. And even the Phelps gang is careful to operate within the confines of civil law.

    Let’s look at the net effect of this campaign on certain groups:

    Humanists – Secret schadenfreude, slight embarrassment, wondering WTF the AHA was thinking
    Fundamentalists – Anger, confirmation of their hatred for atheists, reasons to plot a revenge
    Moderate Christians – Disgust with humanists, sympathy for fundamentalists
    Apathetics – Ennui towards religion, disdain for AHA

    In my opinion, I think the writer is correct in her assessment of this campaign. I think that the teaching of tolerance is mandatory for the survival of the human race. I don’t think that this is a great way to go about it, though.

  • Tim

    This is just mainstream Christians whining because they already ignore some of the darker corners of their religion (which, as has been pointed out, is not their faith “maturing” or “evolving,” but reason slowly chipping away at their irrationality). The ads aren’t attacking those Christians, they’re against the people who actually believe those things.

    This is such twisted logic; the moderate Christians are using the fact that they don’t subscribe to every aspect of their religion to defend those who take it all literally. That doesn’t make a bit of sense, and they shouldn’t even be offended! They should be on our side!

    They just can’t imagine that an atheist could utter a word without it being against all Christians, not just the [most] insane ones.

  • Courtney

    @Mike

    The two words that come to mind for me are acceptance and respect.

    I propose morphing those into a single word, but neither accepspect nor resceptance seems quite right.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Well Christians need to stand up for and defend the supreme all powerful creator of all space, time, and matter because apparently the creator can’t defend himself. I guess He out-sources everything like a good multinational capitalist.

  • http://thesnideatheist.blogspot.com the snide atheist

    I find it hard to not disparage religious nutjobs, but that has more to do with me being an a-hole and a human, than an atheist and a humanist.

  • Darryl

    @Mike re: tolerance

    It’s a tricky issue, because tolerance seems to me about the best anyone can expect from those who hold opposing views. I expect theists to tolerate my atheism, but I cannot expect or compel them to like it or embrace it. Likewise, I tolerate a LOT of irrationality from the people in my life, in fact I’m downright diplomatic about it. I make my own position clear, but don’t deride others. To me, that’s tolerance, and I don’t see how I can be expected to do more. (Indeed, some in the movement would say that my diplomacy makes me too much of an accommodationist, and that I should be more assertive and aggressive.)

    Tolerance does indeed imply that one finds one’s own position superior to that which is being tolerated, but really, so what!? Anyone who confidently holds any opinion or world view feels that view is superior. We can’t really do anything about that. I can’t pretend that I find theistic world views of equal value. Tolerance simply means that I feel others have an equal right to hold those views. I don’t see a problem with that.

  • TerilynnS

    And what, praytell, would be a “good” time of year to reach out to those who may want to try Humanism? Every religion holds some kind of rite, ritual, or claim to pretty much every point in the annual cycle. Winter – it’s the alleged time of birth of the Christian deity, (when we all know the holiday was made up to hold sway over paganist winter rites) and Hannukah and Ramadan; Spring is Easter (which Christians claim is more spiritual than even Christmas); Regardless of when the Humanist organization decided to utilize the effort – some deist would consider it an offense.

    Atheism frightens them. Why? Because atheists are the living representations that they might be living a lie – and worse – that they might actually be wasting their time.

  • Sam

    The Bible: “The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” God, Hosea 13:16 (New International Version).

    Humanism: “I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own – a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.” Albert Einstein, column for the New York Times, Nov. 9, 1930.

    So just to put it out there, these are two of the quotes in the ad campaign.

    “The AHA is proud to announce the launch of their biggest advertisement campaign yet – Consider Humanism. Funded in part by the AHA and the Todd Stiefel Foundation, the campaign demonstrates that secular humanist values are consistent with mainstream America and that fundamentalist religion has no right to claim the moral high ground.”

    This in turn is the quote presenting the campaign on AHA’s website.

    ———-

    I’m a moderate agnostic, currently affiliated with Quakers. I first heard of this campaign in an article by Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post. With that said, this ad campaign doesn’t represent respectful disagreement. In the presentation of these quotes no effort is made to associate it purely with fundamentalists. It could be said the effort is self-contained because non-fundamentalists would not agree with that scripture. Certainly my affiliation doesn’t. That could be said, but it isn’t and that’s the issue. The ad campaign says none of that, it’s just a pair of quotes. Bias in selected quotation is an ancient practice, but must not be ignored. What about “love thy enemy as thy neighbor”? The ad campaign was worded to highlight the worst of the bible, despite the fact that many parts of the bible are in line with humanist values. If you spotlight only the worst and ignore the best, how would they not feel attacked?

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

    Where is the link to Cathy Grossman’s article?

  • Darryl

    The second link in the posting, which highlights the name Fred Phelps, will take you to the Grossman article.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @the snide atheist,

    Well, Samiimas might owe you a thousand dollars. ;)

    I kind-of agree with what TerilynnS said. Atheism frightens (or at least bothers)them for reasons quite different than the way Fred Phelps bothers people. Apples and oranges.

  • Laurie

    Maybe tolerance could be better expressed as “suffering fools silently”. Omnipotent imaginary deities obviously need human support, and the human compulsion to worship and proselytize proves it. Our Humanistic desire for doing what is good and right without rituals, faith in the unseen, worship, and texts obviously bothers them no end. And I’m not advocating anything. I believe foisting your beliefs on others is offensive, the way phone solicitors at dinnertime are offensive. So in a sense, I “hang up” on pushy religious zealots without a word.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    What is it about Fred Phelps’ version of Christianity that is twisted? As far as I can tell he is simply taking the scripture literally and obeying the commands that he sees written there. That this is unacceptable and even horrible to any reasonable person says something about the scripture surely? I’m sure that he would argue that everyone else has twisted what it means to be Christian.

    Anyway my view is that Humanism actually stands for something. It is a positive, naturalistic viewpoint that seeks to free humanity from superstition. It speaks of human rights and responsibilities, about cooperating and about making the world better for everyone. That these ideas contrast so thoroughly with selected verses from different holy books suggests that there is something wrong with the holy books. At least in some places.

    What Grossman is doing is the same as some religious commenters try to do and that is to bring the conversation down to their level, to make atheism (or humanism) equivalent to their religion. Well atheism isn’t a faith position. Humanism may share similarities in structure with religion as we both have tenets and ideals but Humanists don’t have a holy book or a divine authority. We don’t have rituals or traditional practices. Our morals come from reality and the best of human nature, not from mythology.

    I’m sorry that they don’t understand this.

  • mkb

    @Sam, you’re cherry-picking. You leave out the words “What some believe” which precede and appear in much larger font than the Bible quote and then you say that nothing associates the quote with fundamentalism. I do not understand your point.

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

    Unfortunately, this kind of thing is to be expected in a culture that values “believing the right way” more than finding the truth.

  • Sam

    @mkb, thanks for the heads up. It seems I didn’t dig far enough through the website to see the whole content of the ads. That said, What some people believe is just that next to a picture of a bible. If anything that strengthens it as a statement against the religious in general, instead of against fundamentalists in specific. Why not “What fundamentalists believe”? Or instead of “What some people believe . . .” and “What Humanists believe . . .” change it to something like, “The dangers of zealotry . . . ” and “The answers of Humanism.” That said the ad with Richard Dawkins I actually find non-offensive and well done. It’s directed more keenly on the difference between Humanists and the religious rather than on what can be ascribed to the religious.

  • Darryl

    @hoverFrog

    Phelps is taking a few select verses very literally, but he is in violation of other verses that call for humility, turning away from wrath, refraining from harsh words and so on. The fact is, the Bible does not contain a single, consistent point of view. Nobody but nobody is obeying every command, because that isn’t possible. Phelps stands out because he has narrowed in on one issue with unprecedented vehemence and maniacal focus. The hatred of homosexuals IS his gospel, all other topics, viewpoints and considerations are irrelevant. It cant’ even be called a world view. It’s just an obsession, one that the Bible provides a few handy verses to make him feel justified.

    Back when I was a fluffy liberal Christian, my peers and I liked to believe that we were living out the REAL gospel by helping to feed the hungry and clothe the poor. and those things are indeed in the Bible. But they are not the only thing there. The realization that the gospels did not really quite contain the humanistic Jesus of my imagination was an important a-ha moment.

    So, you can assemble whatever kind of Christianity (or Judaism) you like out of the Bible, and absolutely every version you come up with will require disregarding some things and elevating others. But I’ve never felt that it works to point out an especially disgusting brand of Christianity and say, hey look, THAT’S the real thing! None of them are the real thing. There is no real thing to be found.

  • http://camoo.freeshell.org Laura

    @hoverfrog I think Christianity is twisted even when it ignores the old testament.
    The christians had to turn the horrible death of Jesus into a victory somehow. So they had to rationalize torture, and eventually they came up with a grotesque doctrine of Jesus being sacrificed to save us from our sins. Sort of like a sacrificial goat, but a human being, being used in this way instead.
    This horror gives Christianity a sadomasochistic aspect that is quite central to it.

  • Darryl

    @Laura

    Yes! That realization was my other major a-ha moment! Behind all the “love your neighbor” homilies, there really does lie a horrible, primitive “sin requires blood sacrifice” idea that ought to repel any decent human. I cannot now imagine how it took me so long to see this, as it was presented to me in clear terms during my entire childhood.

  • Mike

    @Darryl.

    Thanks for the well thought out reply. I think you’ve helped me understand why I dislike the term so much.

    I expect theists to tolerate my atheism, but I cannot expect or compel them to like it or embrace it.

    But you can, and should, expect them to accept you.

    Tolerance does indeed imply that one finds one’s own position superior to that which is being tolerated, but really, so what!?

    I myself often think that my position is superior to others, but I never think that I am therefore superior to those others. I feel that far too often people make that transition. I think my dislike for the word stems from the fact that it is often applied to other people, rather than to their beliefs or characteristics. It implies that “they” are lesser beings.

    Perhaps I am over-interpreting, but that’s what using a catch-phrase like “Tolerance” makes me think.

  • http://skepticat.blogspot.com/ Skepticat

    I think an ethical person must take a stand against ideas and practices that are unethical. I’m not sure why this would be difficult for anyone to grasp.

    I also don’t understand why the concept of tolerance is so misunderstood and why there’s this idea that disagreeing is disrespectful. It’s gotten to the point where I think we’re going to have to offer Free Speech 101 classes.

  • Tyler

    @Sam, do you think humanists and atheists are the only people who cherry-pick parts of the Bible to prove their points? Christians do it all the time — the most common example is pointing to passages that support their views against homosexuality while completely ignoring nearby passages that go against common stuff like shellfish and certain clothing.

    As for the positive things said in the Bible, is the Bible the only source of such wisdom? Does it own a copyright to the golden rule or something? Let’s face it, it’s hard to NOT be able to cherry-pick something positive for your side out of any book. Fishing out the right parts can make anything from Mein Kampf to Twilight seem like the best path to enlightenment.

    And I apologize for the use of Godwin’s Law here. And Twilight.

  • http://camoo.freeshell.org Laura

    @Darryl Yes, and what bothers me about it most is that it ignores reality. Horror is horror and shouldn’t be covered up. The doctrine of atonement is a euphemism for a horrible abuse of power by the Romans. The Roman occupation seems to have been as cruel or worse than the Nazis. Crucifixion is worse than anything Mengele, the Nazi doctor, did to children.
    Once I told someone that it seemed to me grotesque that there were crucifixes all over the city on churches. These images of torture everywhere, displayed as emblems. He said “that’s how a Jewish person might see it”. And when christians wear crucifixes or see that symbol without thinking “excruciating pain” – they can only bear to wear a crucifix by being oblivious. The crucifixion shouldn’t be turned into something else. Glorifying it seems like a toxic glossing over reality.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    i cherish the world i live in, i know i’m spoiled. all my friends are atheists, and most of them are out queers. we take mocking the stupidity of religious belief not only for granted, but as necessary at good cocktail parties as good dance music and the right shoes.

    but i guess some people are very afraid of the religious, and with good reason i’m sure. they are a violent majority in much of this country and being too out can lead to violence and discrimination. to those atheists i say: make the safe choice, but never doubt that you have nothing to be afraid of, intellectually speaking. religion has no power over you, that is what it means to be an atheist and always remember that.

    the religious whine like no other group of not-really oppressed people. it’s so tired and tedious. all you “former” believers arguing that this makes “us” look bad? please. you came out of the haze, didn’t you? well, you didn’t do so because atheists were polite, quiet little sheep who never said anything “rude.” the interesting part of the propaganda against nonbelievers here? it’s directed at the *humanists,* and not actually snide, dismissive, arrogant, loud, militant atheists like me, who deserve your fear and contempt. i enjoy watching you people squirm. no, you attack those who would accommodate you in their ideal society. you make them feel wrong and foolish for saying “we can all get along if we’re just nice and logical.” and when you attack them, you push them closer to my cause. which really is the destruction of all organized religion. and i’m not in any way afraid to say that.

  • Rieux

    Darryl, I agree with much of what you’ve written here, though possibly not this:

    I’ve never felt that it works to point out an especially disgusting brand of Christianity and say, hey look, THAT’S the real thing! None of them are the real thing. There is no real thing to be found.

    I’m not sure if you’re implying that the AHA campaign is “say”ing that. I certainly don’t think it is; I see it merely pointing out (1) the existence of a few particular ugly stains on the scriptural record and (2) the fact that “some believe” those ugly things. There’s no assertion that the nasty stuff quoted in the AHA ads is “real”-er Christianity than some nice passage is. (Apologist complaints aside, though, it isn’t less real Christianity than “love thy neighbor” is, either.)

    Indeed, it’s precisely pointers like the ones the AHA is providing that allow folks like yourself to (for example) “realiz[e] that the gospels did not really quite contain the humanistic Jesus of my imagination.” And I agree very strongly that that’s an important fact that huge numbers of Christians, and even non-Christian Jesus fans, are totally unaware of.

    If you weren’t arguing that the AHA is making some kind of claim that the one “real” Christianity is Exodus 21:20-21 (etc.), then never mind. Applause for your remarks about your “realization”s. Would that more people had those.

  • http://www.atheistrex.blogspot.com Rex

    We use passages from THEIR texts, and then contrast it with something useful, positive and inclusive, and WE are attacking THEM?

    These people all need to reexamine their religious texts and step back and objectively look at them to see if that value system is truly the one that they want to embrace.

    Oh wait, I just used “religious texts” and “objectively” in the same sentence; never mind!

  • NewEnglandBob

    Cathy Grossman is a moron, working at a useless piece of trash, pretend newspaper.

  • Darryl

    @Mike

    I can see how, using the word in that sense, it is more difficult. (“I tolerate the Hispanics in my neighborhood” does really sound awful!) Used in that sense, tolerance would be an absolute minimum for a functioning society, but hardly the ideal.

    I am lucky that the people in my sphere tolerate my ideas (though they really dislike them!) but respect me as a person. I hope this is because of my usually calm and affable nature. I’m kind, smart and creative, and I value and encourage those traits in others. (I get a lot of this: “I would NEVER have guessed you were an atheist!” *sigh*)

    Tolerance for other people as people can be a lot harder to achieve if they live in ways that are materially different. Here in Florida, there is fast growing cultural and ethnic diversity, and I’m afraid even some of my “enlightened” friends show a little more WASP-y bias than I would like. (To be really honest, I find my own inner-WASPy bias does exist and shows itself from time to time, and I take deliberate steps to face that down!)

    But sometimes, different is disturbing. Sometimes, “other” people seem loud, rude, disrespectful, inconsiderate, or all kinds of things. (Why do some of my neighbors glare at me when I smile at them? Don’t they realize I’m a booster for racial equality? What possible reason could they have for distrusting a middle aged white guy!?)) Actively seeking to understand others requires some courage, humility, and real soul-searching. No wonder so few people bother!

  • Darryl

    @ Rieux

    The comment in question was certainly not pointed at the AHA campaign, which I heartily endorse. It was in response to another post which posited that Fred Phelps’ approach is truly Biblical. (Phelps, by the way, would say that is 100% true.) My oint being that no approach is truly Biblical. The bible isn’t unified, and no consistent set of practices or beliefs can be honestly culled from it without cherry-picking. Thus, saying that Phelps-ism is the TRUE Christianity in order to knock it isn’t really fair. And there are plenty of other, perfectly fair ways to knock Christianity.

  • Emily

    I just love that when ‘we’ say anything against them they recoil and act like they are constantly persecuted from the evil beings in the world and it’s all they can do to survive is cling to their beliefs in God. Do they not realize we group those fundamentalists in with them? That the Phelps group believes in the exact same God and reads the exact same bible that they do??

  • Rieux

    billybobbibb:

    The AHA campaign places side-by-side two quotes: one of the most violently genocidal quotes of the Bible, and another innocuous feel-good quote from Einstein.

    Really? Looking at the actual ads (ten of them), I see exactly three “quote[s] of [sic] the Bible” that involve genocide, plus exactly one quote from Einstein. That’s four out of twenty quotes, or 20%.

    This transparent straw-man tactic falls flat on its face.

    Bzzzt. Sorry. Every single one of the ads introduces to the religious text it quotes as “what some believe.” That’s not a straw man; it’s true. In each case there are “some” people who accept the quoted religious proposition.

    The ads do not contend that all or even most Christians or Muslims believe or live by the passages quoted. All that’s asserted is that (1) these ugly texts exist and (2) some people accept them. Both of which are indisputably true.

    So: sorry, but the straw man you see is a figment of your imagination.

    Despite the observation that literalist Christians lie about about how much of the Bible they actually believe, most of them instinctively know, even if they refuse to admit publicly, that their Bible is full of hyperbole.

    You’re quite a mind-reader. Do you do parties?

    The only Christians who take the most heinous verses of the Bible literally are the Phelps gang and their ilk, and they represent a tiny minority of Christians.

    That very much depends upon what you define as “the most heinous verses of the Bible”; do you seriously believe that only a small proportion of Christians accept the sentiments expressed in, say, I Timothy 2?

    And one might notice (though it appears you didn’t) that passages such as Hosea 13:16, one of those “genocidal quotes” you dismiss, describe God and his chosen heroes committing genocide, rather than orders to commit the same now. Whether you recognize it or not, the number of modern Christians who seriously believe that that genocide was morally justified is not “a tiny minority of Christians.”

    The Bible has numerous moral lessons to teach; many of them are heinously ugly; and your assertions notwithstanding, the number of Christians in our world who accept some of those lessons is not small at all. It is not illegitimate to call into question the moral legitimacy of the Bible—and, your refusal to consider the possibility notwithstanding, there are “moderate Christians” who will find the evidence the AHA has marshaled both newsworthy and troubling to their own conception of their religion.

    And even the Phelps gang is careful to operate within the confines of civil law.

    How very comforting. It’s a good thing that religious fundamentalists never violate civil law, huh?

    In the America I live in, there are numerous Christian fundamentalists who have no particular respect for, of all things, civil law. Your fixation on Phelps—while other fundies harass minorities, hack up the Establishment Clause, invade nations full of infidels, and kill innocent people—is hard to understand.

    Let’s look at the net effect of this campaign on certain groups:

    Oh, let’s do!

    Humanists – Secret schadenfreude, slight embarrassment, wondering WTF the AHA was thinking

    Perhaps you should keep the projection to yourself. Your confidence in your mind-reading ability aside, the “slight embarrassment” you say you feel is yours, not any other humanists’. Plenty of us think the campaign is very nice.

    You’re not a groundswell of opinion just because you pretend to be.

    Fundamentalists – Anger, confirmation of their hatred for atheists, reasons to plot a revenge

    Oh, well then. If you seriously think we should avoid doing anything that makes fundamentalists angry and provides them with “reasons to plot a revenge,” you’ve just demanded that every religious dissenter remain silent forevermore. No dice.

    Moderate Christians – Disgust with humanists, sympathy for fundamentalists

    Says you. You simply aren’t aware of the many different ways moderate Christians can and will respond to open criticism of religion. Your blinkers are not the AHA’s problem.

    Apathetics – Ennui towards religion, disdain for AHA

    And we should care about apathetics why?

    In my opinion, I think the writer is correct in her assessment of this campaign.

    Your concern is noted.

  • Ben

    I think the AHA missed the mark here. I agree with those who think the AHA was perhaps a bit over the top with equating all of religious faith with fundamentalism as evidenced by the selected quote. I know many many religious people who are very good and tolerant people. They tolerate my non-belief as much as I tolerate their dilusion. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t have to be smug or superior because I know I’m not. That would be arrogant of me. I’m not that type. So, what I really wanted to say is wouldn’t it just hav been easier to put up billboards with a simple message like “Don’t believe in a God, That’s Ok! American Humanist Association?” Why be overtly provokative?

  • Mike

    @Skepticat.

    I also don’t understand why the concept of tolerance is so misunderstood and why there’s this idea that disagreeing is disrespectful.

    Don’t get me wrong, Cat. I have no issues with disagreement. I think it is (usually) healthy and often the only way things get done. Disagreeing is not disrespectful, but sometimes the way someone disagrees is.

    @Darryl,

    Used in that sense, tolerance would be an absolute minimum for a functioning society, but hardly the ideal.

    That’s the sense I get when I hear things like “Humanist Tolerance…” :(

  • Sam

    @Tyler, did I say Humanists were the only cherry pickers? Yes a lot of people do it religious and non-religious. It doesn’t matter who does it, the practice is wrong. I’ve called out the religious for it, I’ll call out the atheists too.

    “Christians” don’t do anything all the time. There are a lot of Christian religions with vastly differing views. Generalizing them into one lump group is insulting.

    Also, when did I say the bible was the only source of wisdom? All I said was it has wisdom in it. In fact I noted that many parts of the bible were in line with Humanist values and thereby deny the claim of the bible as an exclusive source of wisdom.

    Your right it’s hard not to cherry pick the positive. It’s easy to dodge the negative though, if you’re trying not to attack your opponent. Compete on a level playing field. Pointing out that god is wholly unnecessary to leading a good life and having good values is a good and noble course. What AHA has done, intentionally or otherwise is to smear the religious in order to uplift Humanists.

  • Rieux

    Okay, Darryl. Then the implication I thought might have been in your comment wasn’t. No sweat.

  • Greg

    Seems to me that most of the criticism comes from people who can’t read ‘some people believe’ and thinks it means ‘all Christians/Muslims/theists/whatever believe’.

    Anyway, all the campaign is saying is that there are parts of the Bible that sane people find abhorrent. It doesn’t matter whether these are cherry picked, or not, we can all agree they are there, and that is all that counts.

    Hence, the argument goes, regardless of how many nice things might be in it, we should not be basing morality on a book which contains these things.

    Think about it – if you say we should base morality on a certain book, and then later say we shouldn’t accept certain things in that book, you’ve just contradicted yourself. You obviously have some outside morality to judge that book by, and hence you can’t be getting morality from that book.

    Then the ad suggests they investigate humanism instead, and look at basing their morality on that, as it already better represents their views than this religious text does.

    I really don’t see how that is disrespectful in any shape, manner, or form.

    For the record, I don’t self identify as a humanist.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    It seems people get the most upset at people who are only a little bit different while largely letting pass those who are a lot different.

    This theory explains the emotion seen with interactions between some atheists vs. humanists, atheists vs. agnostics, Catholics vs. Protestants, or Sunnis vs. Shiites… the list goes on.

    I think Cathy Grossman gets upset when humanists start to point out that they are just reasonable, regular folks. She probably wouldn’t have cared if some firebrand atheist sponsored an add about needing to destroy religion.

  • RollTheBones

    I can be tolerant of their beliefs, but that doesn’t mean I have to respect them.

  • Rieux

    Greg:

    Seems to me that most of the criticism comes from people who can’t read ‘some people believe’ and thinks it means ‘all Christians/Muslims/theists/ whatever believe’.

    QFT.

    It’s amusing, though also a little alarming, to see the purveyors of religious privilege scurry to figure out a reason, any reason, to silence any and all criticism of religious ideas.

  • Alexis

    Grossman closes by asking: “Is it possible to lead an ethical life without disparaging people who believe — or think or both — differently than you?” Isn’t Grossman’s entire article disparaging people who believe differently than her?

  • http://camoo.freeshell.org Laura

    @Darryl

    Actively seeking to understand others requires some courage, humility, and real soul-searching. No wonder so few people bother!

    I think empathy with other people is the foundation of morality. Not belief in God. People can do atrocious things because of belief in God, like burn other people alive. I don’t know how empathy could cause someone to do atrocious things.
    Meditation cultivates awareness and empathy, so I think it really does do good things to people.

  • Sarah

    All I can go with is personal experience here, but my father – who has gone from Jehovah’s Witness to nominal theist to uber Catholic and now is increasingly frustrated and fed up with religion – saw the ad in his local paper and fell in love. He has started looking at the AHA and asking me about my own deconversion and life as a secular humanist. So…they got one out of it!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    While the concern-troll outrage is to be expected, I’m especially bemused by comments like Sam’s which imply that the AHA campaign is somehow unfair:

    The ad campaign was worded to highlight the worst of the bible, despite the fact that many parts of the bible are in line with humanist values.

    “Many parts” is not “all parts”, of course, and that’s where the crucial difference lies. Yes, the Bible does contain some good moral instructions. It also contains dozens of verses advocating religious hatred, xenophobia, holy war, genocide, and tyranny in the name of God. And that’s just the point: a bad book might occasionally have some good parts, but a good book wouldn’t have so many bad parts. And a morally perfect book wouldn’t have any.

    The intent of the AHA’s campaign is to point that out and thereby puncture the aura of sanctity around the Bible, the automatic assumption that anything this book says deserves our respect and compliance. Our society will be much better off when that illusion is dissipated and allegedly holy books can no longer be used as a bludgeon – when religious believers will have to convince the rest of us through recourse to reason, and can no longer just quote scripture and expect that it will be accepted as authority.

  • Sam

    @Ebonmuse, many religious people already try honest engagement of others instead of just quoting scripture. As has already been noted numerous times, many religious people already claim not to follow biblical passages they disagree with. Fundamentalists are not the same as Christians, or the religious in general.

    I’ve pointed out countless times that those who claim the bible supports homophobia should also be open to selling their daughters into slavery and pretty much burning everything after they do anything whilst they are “unclean until the evening.”

    Even the religious criticize the parts of the bible that don’t make a goddamned bit of sense (pun intended). Not all the religious, but then I’m fairly sure not all Humanists are as well spoken or civil as Albert Einstein. This belief that the religious all live under the illusion of a perfect bible is just incorrect. At the very least, different religions disagree on different versions of the bible with different translations of scripture. Different religions also give it different weight (for example you may notice I don’t capitalize the word ‘bible’).

    I’m happy to engage anyone in discussions of theology so long as I feel I’m being respected. Your reply is one I may disagree with, but I don’t feel you’re insulting or attacking me. The ad campaign forced me to remind myself that I know several humanists, and that they respect my decision to be religious and accept me even if they disagree with my point of view. That reminder is missing in the ad.

  • gsw

    @Mike:

    Mistrust the term Tolerance? You are not alone.

    Many of us have been saying the same thing. If something is harmful one should not tolerate it. Whereas, if it is not harmful, it is none of your/my business.

    I prefer acceptance, as in, I find wearing a safety pin through your nose disgusting, but it is your nose and you are not insisting I pierce so I can accept your right to disfigure yourself.
    However, you must also accept my right to say “eeyuch!”.

    Watching someone teach their daughter that she is inferior, stupid, disgusting, a sexual object and will never be considered an adult – requires tolerance - which I do not have.

    We must retain the right to disapprove of something! And if it harms anyone to forbid it.

  • Alex

    @Mike:

    ” Can I just say that I hate the term/concept of “tolerance?”

    The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free
    – John Leland

    I’d love to hear someone come up with a far better term that didn’t imply that simply because someone is different from you or believes something different than you that the only option is to “tolerate” them.

    Any ideas? ”

    The Leland quote doesn’t really match your argument. I think you’re arguing that tolerance shouldn’t be the only option when faced with an opposing viewpoint. We should be able to oppose or snuff out unfavorable or dangerous perspectives.

    But I believe Leland is saying that “tolerance is despicable” because the term implies that there are some people in a position (real or imagined) that allows them to decide *whether or not* they should tolerate a particular person or ideology. Leland thinks “all should be equally free.”

    At least that’s my take.

  • AxeGrrl

    Darryl wrote:

    Tolerance does indeed imply that one finds one’s own position superior to that which is being tolerated, but really, so what!? Anyone who confidently holds any opinion or world view feels that view is superior. We can’t really do anything about that. I can’t pretend that I find theistic world views of equal value. Tolerance simply means that I feel others have an equal right to hold those views. I don’t see a problem with that.

    Nicely said Darryl :)

  • AxeGrrl

    Laura wrote:

    I think empathy with other people is the foundation of morality. Not belief in God. People can do atrocious things because of belief in God, like burn other people alive. I don’t know how empathy could cause someone to do atrocious things.

    It’s a shame that this is too long for a bumper sticker…..

    because it’s a sentiment that should be seen/read by as MANY people as possible, imo.

  • Rieux

    Sam:

    [M]any religious people already try honest engagement of others instead of just quoting scripture. As has already been noted numerous times, many religious people already claim not to follow biblical passages they disagree with. Fundamentalists are not the same as Christians, or the religious in general.

    So what? Why should any of that cast the AHA campaign, or any skeptic’s efforts to show the inhumanity within the Bible, in a poor light?

    The fact that “many religious people” say they discard the nasty stuff in the Bible does not obligate anyone to shut up about the existence of that nasty stuff. For one thing, those believers’ rationale for figuring out which parts are nasty remains questionable at best. Perhaps more to the point, one wonders why we should take any of the book seriously given the inhuman landmines strewn all over it.

    The overriding question is why we should be so deeply concerned about the sensitive feelings of religious believers whose attitudes toward scripture you happen to approve of. Surely, if those people are mature adults, they can handle open advocacy of other approaches?

    I’ve pointed out countless times that those who claim the bible supports homophobia should also be open to selling their daughters into slavery and pretty much burning everything after they do anything whilst they are “unclean until the evening.”

    Perhaps they should. That does indeed make a point about the hypocrisy of homophobic believers flogging Leviticus passages.

    Have you noticed, though, that that tactic also makes a point about the utter insanity of much of the material in the Bible? Perhaps you’re right, and even right-wing Christians are too loose and liberal about following The Real Rules set forth in scripture. You’ve scored a debater’s point against fundies; congratulations. But exactly how does that make the Bible itself look better? You’ve just made the book look even more like a moral cesspool that humanity would be better off filing with other examples of ugly mythology we made up in our more backward ages.

    Even the religious criticize the parts of the bible that don’t make a goddamned bit of sense (pun intended).

    Good for them. Then we can show that we have something in common—criticizing Biblical nonsense. Again, where’s the problem?

    This belief that the religious all live under the illusion of a perfect bible is just incorrect.

    What “belief”? What are you talking about? Who has asserted that “the religious all live under the illusion of a perfect bible”? You’ve just made that up.

    The AHA does not assert, nor do they need it to be true, that “the religious all live under the illusion of a perfect bible.” You are pretending to see a message that is simply not there.

    I’m happy to engage anyone in discussions of theology so long as I feel I’m being respected.

    Why should we care what conditions you demand for any “discussion of theology”? Your difficulty telling the difference between disrespect for you and disrespect for your ideas is an obvious product of the religious privilege that our society grants you—but no one else has any obligation to genuflect to that privilege.

    If (when) you see people attacking ideas or pieces of literature that you value, that is not in fact disrespect of you. Your insistence that all discussion of these issues adhere to your self-centered ground rules carries no actual weight.

    This discussion, like the AHA ads, takes place in a free marketplace of ideas. Ideas, unlike people, do not have rights here. If you don’t seeing like your favored notions and books attacked—too bad. That gives you no grounds to try to censure, condemn, or shut down inquiry and expression because it makes you uncomfortable.

    The ad campaign forced me to remind myself that I know several humanists, and that they respect my decision to be religious and accept me even if they disagree with my point of view.

    What a childish and privileged attitude toward free inquiry you attest to. Your pretense that anyone who argues something about religion that is not congenial to you has therefore wronged you is absurd.

    That reminder is missing in the ad.

    “That reminder” is something that you have no right to demand. The AHA has no obligation to soothe your privileged oversensitivity or flatter your inflated ego. Suck it up, grow up, and think for a minute about the difference between yourself and your ideas. Attacking the latter is not, no matter how strong your pretense, attacking the former.

    Arguments that religious ideas—including the ones you have accepted—are bad things are not personal attacks on you. They are the ordinary and justified traffic of a free marketplace of ideas. Would that you could see through the blinding fog of religious privilege to recognize the injustice of the straitjacket you are attempting to place skeptics in.

  • Mike

    @Alex.

    The Leland quote doesn’t really match your argument. I think you’re arguing that tolerance shouldn’t be the only option when faced with an opposing viewpoint. We should be able to oppose or snuff out unfavorable or dangerous perspectives.

    But I believe Leland is saying that “tolerance is despicable” because the term implies that there are some people in a position (real or imagined) that allows them to decide *whether or not* they should tolerate a particular person or ideology. Leland thinks “all should be equally free.”

    No, actually your interpretation of Leland is exactly the point I was trying to make. I am familair with the entire quote. I just trim it a little bit. Historically, like gsw above, I preferred the term, and concept, of “Acceptance.” Tolerance is just too negative for me.

  • Sam

    @Rieux

    I’m sorry I’ve made you so upset. That said if I can pick through enough of your post, there are some points to address.

    “What “belief”? What are you talking about? Who has asserted that “the religious all live under the illusion of a perfect bible”? You’ve just made that up.

    The AHA does not assert, nor do they need it to be true, that the “religious all live under the illusion of a perfect bible.” You are pretending to see a message that is simply not there.

    I was responding to this:

    The intent of the AHA’s campaign is to point that out and thereby puncture the aura of sanctity around the Bible, the automatic assumption that anything this book says deserves our respect and compliance. Our society will be much better off when that illusion is dissipated and allegedly holy books can no longer be used as a bludgeon – when religious believers will have to convince the rest of us through recourse to reason, and can no longer just quote scripture and expect that it will be accepted as authority.

    So no, I’m not making it up.

    Next if I’ve given you the impression that I’m against criticism of the bible then I apologize, that wasn’t my intention. What I’m against is the AHA ad’s inability to distinguish between fundies and moderates. The entirety of human history is strewn with “inhuman landmines” but no one’s suggesting we disregard that. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Good points in the bible are still good points, regardless of Leviticus or Deuteronomy or any other crap in there.

    Disagreement with someone’s ideas is not the same as disrespect for them. My friend is a libertarian. I don’t generally agree with his view points, but I like to engage with him to find where we have points of commonality. Through doing so I gain a better understanding of why I believe what I believe, though the beliefs rarely change much from where I began the discussion. Disrespect for a person’s ideas is disrespect for that person. Especially when you intentionally attach those ideas to people. If it’s as you say why say “some people believe” at all? Why not just put up the quote?

    I don’t like seeing any ideas “attacked.” I think all ideas should be challenged, tested, examined, but not attacked.

    “That reminder” is something that you have no right to demand. The AHA has no obligation to soothe your privileged oversensitivity or flatter your inflated ego. Suck it up, grow up, and think for a minute about the difference between yourself and your ideas. Attacking the latter is not, no matter how strong your pretense, attacking the former.

    It’s not about my demands, it’s about reaching a target audience rather than alienating them. Attacking ideas is the same as attacking people when you tie the two together, see above.

  • Rieux

    Sam:

    So no, I’m not making it up.

    Yes, in fact, you are. Ebonmuse’s comment did not assert any “belief that the religious all live under the illusion of a perfect bible.” You are radically misrepresenting his contentions. His statements say nothing about how “the religious all live”; instead, they describe a common treatment of the Bible in our society:

    …the aura of sanctity around the Bible, the automatic assumption that anything this book says deserves our respect and compliance. Our society will be much better off when that illusion is dissipated and allegedly holy books can no longer be used as a bludgeon….

    You read this and decided to pretend it said something about “the religious all liv[ing] under the illusion of a perfect bible.” It doesn’t. You made that up.

    What I’m against is the AHA ad’s inability to distinguish between fundies and moderates.

    Which is more fabricated nonsense. The AHA campaign never uses the words “fundamentalist” or “moderate.” It never says any of the things that your privilege is leading you to pretend it says. The ad campaign’s assertions that “some believe” various matters of freakish Biblical (and Qur’anic) inhumanity are simply true: some people do in fact believe those things. The campaign never says that all Christians (or Muslims) believe these things; it never says that one must believe those things in order to be Christian. You’ve simply concocted a host of nonsensical notions that you pretend the campaign includes. Those notions are, in fact, just your privileged imagination reacting to the citation of religious notions that you clearly can’t stand being cited—or, at least, cited without being accompanied by huge disclaimers stating that Superior Religious People like yourself have figured out reasons to ignore those ugly texts.

    The scriptural passages that the AHA campaign quotes are real. They are actually in the Bible and the Qur’an. Some people actually do accept, believe in and/or follow them. These are all indisputable facts, and they are the entire extent of what the ads assert. You are complaining about various other contentions that the campaign does not actually make, but that your privileged imagination leads you to pretend it makes. Your failure to deal with the actual campaign is not the AHA’s problem.

    Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    You can spout clichés all you’d like, but that doesn’t make it inappropriate for secularists to argue that humanity would be better off dismissing the Bible as another example of ugly mythology from backward eras, filing it on the bookshelf next to tales of Odin, Jupiter, Ares, and Huitzilopochtli.

    You think a handful of mealy-mouthed “good points” justifies continuing the Bible’s current favored position in societal discourse. Some of us disagree. You have no right to silence us just because you prefer to pretend that our position is a personal attack on you.

    Disrespect for a person’s ideas is disrespect for that person.

    False, wrong, and evil. That notion, if accepted, would destroy the free marketplace of ideas entirely.

    Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, some ideas are bad ideas. It is not immoral to call a bad idea a bad idea. The fact that you declare your own ideas good ones does not render them immune from criticism.

    Your pretense that disrespect for a person’s ideas is disrespect for the person herself is a direct attack on the very concept of free inquiry. It won’t work; we who think you’re wrong (and can explain why) will not be silenced.

    I don’t like seeing any ideas “attacked.”

    Too bad. In the grown-up free marketplace of ideas, that’s what happens. Necessarily. Heat, kitchen, etc.

    As Douglas Adams wrote:

    [T]he invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.

    It’s rather like, if you think back in terms of animal evolution, an animal that’s grown an incredible carapace around it, such as a tortoise – that’s a great survival strategy because nothing can get through it; or maybe like a poisonous fish that nothing will come close to, which therefore thrives by keeping away any challenges to what it is it is. In the case of an idea, if we think ‘Here is an idea that is protected by holiness or sanctity’, what does it mean? Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows, but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe, no, that’s holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we’ve just got used to doing so? There’s no other reason at all, it’s just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going it’s very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard [Dawkins] creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.

    Adams had you dead to rights.

    it’s about reaching a target audience rather than alienating them.

    I don’t recall the AHA, or critics of religion more generally, ever asking you what you think is the best way to reach our “target audience.” Indeed, given your opposition to the very idea of the free marketplace of ideas, it would seem that you’re just about the last person we should ask: your interests—protecting your hothouse-flower ideas from any attack—are directly opposed to ours. If you don’t like the AHA’s campaign, that’s a signal that it’s probably doing something right.

    It is difficult to avoid the observation that, whenever believers give advice to atheists on how to run our movement, it is always in the direction of telling us to be more quiet, to tone it down, to be less confrontational and less visible. I have yet to see a believer advise the atheist movement to speak up more loudly and more passionately; to make our arguments more compelling and more unanswerable; to get in people’s faces more about delicate and thorny issues that they don’t want to think about; to not be afraid of offending people if we think we’re right. I have received a great deal of advice from believers on how atheists should run our movement… and it is always, always, always in the direction of politely suggesting that we shut up.

    You’ll have to forgive me if I question the motivation behind this advice, and take it with a grain of salt.

    You’ll have to forgive me if I think your suggestions on making our movement more effective would, in fact, have the exact opposite effect. What’s more, you’ll have to forgive me for suspecting that this, however unconsciously, is the true intention behind your very kind and no doubt sincerely meant advice.

    And you’ll have to forgive me if I am less than enthusiastic about taking advice on how to run the atheist movement from the very people our movement is trying to change.

    Your concern is duly noted. Thank you for sharing.

    – Greta Christina, “An Open Letter to Concerned Believers

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Sam:

    As has already been noted numerous times, many religious people already claim not to follow biblical passages they disagree with.

    Yes, and good for them! If you’re among the moderates who already recognize that the Bible contains many evil, vicious, and morally unacceptable verses, then this ad campaign isn’t targeted at you. (Though I fail to see why such people would be offended by it. If they agree with us that these passages are wrong, then shouldn’t they concede that it’s entirely fair for us to criticize them?)

    But let’s get real here: The theists who hold that belief are a tiny minority. For truth’s sake, most American Christians can’t even name all four gospels. You really think there are tens of millions of people who hold to a theology as sophisticated as you describe?

    No, the truth is that the vast majority of American Christians are exactly what I described: people who don’t know much of anything about the Bible, but are nevertheless vaguely convinced that it’s a true and divinely inspired book containing the highest precepts of morality, and that anything it says should be obeyed. This campaign is aimed, at least in part, at those people, and is an attempt to shock them out of their complacency, cause them to question their assumptions, and get them to start investigating and thinking for themselves. Is that too ambitious a goal? Perhaps. Is it a tactic that’s somehow unfair or beneath us? Absolutely not.

  • Sam

    Huh, you know you’re right. Adams’ point is correct, and seen from that perspective I must cede my objection. It’s an awesome counterpoint.

    Rather I should view the ad campaign as a great jumping point from which Humanists can explain their objections to the bible and its use.

    As for the AHA, if they don’t want the decisions they make challenged they should read the message you just put up. Adams’ message is good and convincing, I wish I’d seen it sooner.

    Greta Christina’s open letter is interesting, but I disagree that speaking more loudly is speaking more productively. See reference: Rally to Restore Sanity.

    It’s easy to yell at people, call them names and treat them dismissively. It’s hard to sit down and actually talk it through. The questions I asked were never meant to be rhetorical.

    I also disagree with her suspicion since it’s just that. An assumption without proof serves no one, and that is scientific method.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Sam:

    Greta Christina’s open letter is interesting, but I disagree that speaking more loudly is speaking more productively. See reference: Rally to Restore Sanity.

    I’d agree that “louder” is not necessarily more productive, especially if by “loud,” you mean hysterical or hyperbolic, the sort of rantiness that Stewart had in mind. However, the AHA’s campaign is far from being hyperbolic. It’s as loud as it needs to be, highlighting the tensions between certain religious views and humanist ones without making the slapdash assumption that moderate believers subscribe to those certain religious views. The campaign may have some flaws, but indulging in Glenn-Beckish shoutiness isn’t one of them.

  • Sam

    @JJ You’re definitely right, I was more addressing the view in general in this case than the ad campaign in specific.

  • Sam

    @ebonmuse, Great link, I wasn’t familiar with that blog before but it’s a good entry. I didn’t have time to check, the survey data cited in the article that came from the Christian Paradox was specifically from people calling themselves Christian? Or just Americans in general? I’d guess it’s the former, but the wording had me a bit confused.

    The only part I’d disagree with is the assumption that most of those people unfamiliar with the bible believe that you should follow anything it says. I don’t know, perhaps it’s a fool’s hope for the intelligence of humankind, but alot of those polled might just be “bad christians” (in the sense of not knowing the bible, rarely attending, etc.) then blind sheep. They follow a religion because of whatever reason (the article suggested the need to be religious in our society) but don’t really get involved much in belief advocacy or care much for anything the church does beyond making them as individuals appear religious. Still you could be right, I honestly don’t know.

  • Rieux

    Sam, my goodness:

    Huh, you know you’re right. Adams’ point is correct, and seen from that perspective I must cede my objection. It’s an awesome counterpoint.

    Um, okay. I’m surprised and pleased with that response. Note to self: quote Adams earlier in comment threads.

    Greta Christina’s open letter is interesting, but I disagree that speaking more loudly is speaking more productively.

    Ramsey (another surprise!) has already addressed the oversimplification of the “more loudly” notion, but I’d beg your attention to the much more central point of Greta’s post: it is we, the members of this despised and small-but-burgeoning minority, who will decide what our aims are and what means we consider to be “productive” toward them. It’s not your job to lecture us on what is and is not productive, especially given that your goals and ours are not infrequently in direct conflict.

    You’re a member of a powerful and privileged majority, and as such it’s never going to be very surprising when you are opposed to atheists “speaking more loudly.” Those who benefit from the status quo rarely desire loud agitation from those who wish to upset it.

    Atheists (and humanists, skeptics, rationalists, you-name-it) will be loud when we think it’s a good idea to be loud. We’ll be quiet or deferential or diplomatic or complimentary when we, not you, think those approaches are warranted. These are not your determinations to make; they’re ours. As Greta explains, “you’ll have to forgive [us] if [we are] less than enthusiastic about taking advice on how to run the atheist movement from the very people our movement is trying to change.”

  • Sam

    @Rieux, I’m a Quaker agnostic. Both sides of the argument tend to get angry with me for sitting on the fence. Quakers neither benefit from the status quo nor would be much affected by its change. Our opinions on continuing revelation, alternative divinity and universal love don’t make us very popular in religious circles, particularly among more dogmatic religions. I should add that I’m an un-programmed Friend, as distinct from, shall we say, more zealous branches of the religion? If the religious hegemony fell apart tomorrow, I don’t imagine we’d be affected all that much. Still be the same factions claiming we’re not religious enough while others claim we’re far too religious.

    As an actual question though, why is it bad to listen to those you mean to change? If we cannot listen to those we wish to hear us, how can we in turn expect them to listen?

    Also please if I can carry one thing across it’s this. I really wanted to hear your point of view, so I kept listening. That’s hard to do with you calling me privileged, and childish. I want to keep listening. I messed up here and started talking more than I listened. Your points were stronger and rightfully won, but the names made it hard to stick through long enough to hear that.

  • Rieux

    Both sides of the argument tend to get angry with me for sitting on the fence.

    I haven’t gotten angry at you for sitting on the fence, nor would I. I have gotten angry at you for trying to enforce religious privilege—here, the notion that attacking a religious idea constitutes attacking the person who holds that idea. What your religious beliefs, if any, are is entirely irrelevant to my objections.

    If the religious hegemony fell apart tomorrow, I don’t imagine we’d be affected all that much.

    In light of your reactions earlier in this thread, I have a hard time believing that. It is precisely religious hegemony that allows (or perhaps allowed) you to insist that nonbelievers are obligated to do things like “respect your decision to be religious” or constantly specify that our criticisms of religion don’t apply to believers like you. Absent religion’s hegemony in our society, people would break those rules of yours rather more frequently. (As they have every right to.)

    Your arguments here have been very much the arguments of someone who benefits considerably from the religious-privilege status quo.

    Still be the same factions claiming we’re not religious enough while others claim we’re far too religious.

    That’s not what’s at issue here. What’s at issue is your authority to demand that everyone treat your religious ideas—or indeed Christianity or religion more broadly—in the manner you prefer. Regardless of whether your religious ideas are good or bad ones, you don’t deserve any such power, and your attempts to wield it (not that you’re the only one in our society making those attempts—far from it) need to be opposed.

    As an actual question though, why is it bad to listen to those you mean to change?

    That’s not what Christina wrote, nor is it what I’ve written.

    What we have written about is the authority that you have to tell atheists and other nonbelievers how we should and should not conduct ourselves—not to mention the conflict of interest inherent in any such lecture from you. (There’s also the question whether you actually know what you’re talking about when you assert that “louder” advocacy isn’t productive, but that’s at least a question of the merits of your argument, and we haven’t gotten there yet.)

    It is at the very least difficult for us to separate out your self-interest from your supposed concern for atheists and our expression; much of what you’ve argued appears to align very well with the former and questionably at best with the latter. As a result, it’s hard to avoid concluding that you want to persuade atheists to keep quiet because you prefer quiet (if not silent) atheists, not because you actually think quiet atheists are more successful at meeting our own goals. Christina put it this way:

    You’ll have to forgive me if I think your suggestions on making our movement more effective would, in fact, have the exact opposite effect. What’s more, you’ll have to forgive me for suspecting that this, however unconsciously, is the true intention behind your very kind and no doubt sincerely meant advice.

    You’ll deserve listening to when you give us a reason to believe that the things you advocate serve our goals rather than yours. Your goals are not necessarily our concern, especially when they conflict with ours.

    If we cannot listen to those we wish to hear us, how can we in turn expect them to listen?

    Sorry, but speaking truth to power is a fundamentally different thing than the powerful deigning to speak back. Rosa Parks’s objections to bus segregation deserved to be “listened to” rather more than did the orders the bus driver issued to her. (No doubt he had his own notions of what actions Montgomery’s African Americans could have taken that would have been more “productive.” But I daresay you wouldn’t argue that Parks should have been seriously interested in his thoughts on the subject.)

    I really wanted to hear your point of view, so I kept listening. That’s hard to do with you calling me privileged, and childish.

    First—and more-or-less as a case in point—I didn’t call you “childish.” Please read that exchange again:

    The ad campaign forced me to remind myself that I know several humanists, and that they respect my decision to be religious and accept me even if they disagree with my point of view.

    What a childish and privileged attitude toward free inquiry you attest to.

    I explicitly called your attitude “childish and privileged,” not you. And I said that about your attitude because childish and privileged is exactly what it was.

    But your disregard for the distinction between yourself and your religious attitudes (and ideas, and decisions, and so on) leads directly to the more fundamental point: your privilege. Evidently you don’t like being called privileged, but the reality is that you are. Your status as a religious person grants you significant unearned advantages in this society, not least of which is that our social discourse illegitimately grants you the power to demand that no one attack your religious ideas. (…A freedom from challenge you then describe as “respect[ing] my decision to be religious and accept[ing] me.”)

    It is, of course, an extremely common characteristic of possessors of privilege that they have no idea that they possess it—indeed, that they are hostile to the very notion. If you are heterosexual, white, male, able-bodied, or above the poverty line, each of those statuses grants you significant privilege, though millions of people who meet one or more of those criteria remain blissfully unaware of that fact.

    Religious privilege is no different in that respect from any of those species of privilege. As Adams pointed out, religious people in our society are automatically granted the power to say of their ideas and theirs alone, “Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!” A huge proportion of the criticism of atheists in the Western world is based on that simple, privileged notion—that it is morally objectionable to deal with religious ideas without kid gloves. We are constantly attacked (see, for example, the article Hemant links to in the original post here) merely for criticizing other people’s ideas and advocating our own. And that is outrageous.

    (It’s also worth noting that one does not have to be a member of the hegemonic majority in order to promote that majority’s privilege. The existence of misogynist women such as Phyllis Schlafly and Ann Coulter is widely recognized, of course—but there were also, for example, a non-negligible number of African Americans who thought and argued that Parks should have meekly retreated to the back of the bus. Whatever their rationale, they were de facto supporters of white privilege.)

    So the question becomes how to deal with overt assertions of unjust religious privilege. There are obviously myriad approaches to the problem, but the one I think is warranted in a case like this one is moral suasion and, at times, censure. The notions you were pushing at the beginning of this thread were heavily privileged and notably wrong. That is not, I think, a minor problem; I thought it deserved a strong response, so I provided one.

    I commend you for sticking with this dialogue long enough to run into Adams and change your mind to some degree. Even if you’d bailed out earlier, though, fundamentally I feel bound to call illegitimate privilege and abuse of hegemonic power by their right names. That’s what happened here, and I would do it all over again. My advocacy may be “loud,” but I think that’s justified.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X