Greg Epstein Responds to the Idea of ‘Transfaith’

This is a guest post by Greg Epstein. Greg is the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and the author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.

Some background: Greg’s piece is a response to Illini Secular Student Alliance leader Ed Clint‘s recent talk about “Transfaith” at the 2011 Secular Student Alliance conference. You can watch video of that talk below. — Hemant

***

At John Figdor’s prompting (ok, prodding) I watched and enjoyed Ed Clint‘s talk from the Secular Student Alliance conference last month — it is really worth watching. A few things:

  1. It should be very clear if you read my book but, to re-state, I agree with Ed that a positive approach to pluralism and sincere, passionate criticism of some religious ideas can go hand in hand. We need not shut up about what we disagree with in order to be generally positive people. My only issue would be if/when our actions and speech mainly reflect criticism of religion without significant effort to acknowledge common humanity, find some value in and some degree of mutual loyalty with religious people and institutions, and work together with them for common good.
  2. I have nothing against Ed’s renaming of “Interfaith” as “Transfaith” but I can’t say I’m for that; I think everything he advocates can be done wholeheartedly under the banner of Interfaith. I’d be delighted if the concept of “Transfaith” brings some people in who, for whatever reason, may feel turned off to Interfaith, but I hope that those strongly interested in this issue will consider that there may not be much (if anything at all) separating what is signified by the one term from the other.
  3. I still think that it was not a particularly good idea to put the Muhammad chalkings on the ground where they had to be stepped on — there is a taboo in Muslim culture against placing important things under foot that I feel it would be better for us to honor, even if one also feels a moral or creative need to draw Muhammad. But I think everyone knows everyone’s position on that issue by now and the most important thing is to move forward constructively, which Ed and his group seem to clearly have done.

So, congratulations to the Illini Secular Student Alliance. Hopefully, we can all learn from what they’ve done well! In particular, I hope there will be an increase in boundary-breaking service work where in the past there has mainly been debate; and as for Harvard, I think it would be great if we could see a continued surge in Interfaith service while also running debate (& discussion!) oriented programs a little more often than in the past.

P.S.: I’ve recently returned from the wonderful International Humanist & Ethical Union conference in Oslo, Norway, where I helped facilitate a workshop on International Humanism and Interfaith Work. Humanists in Europe are often working from a much stronger starting position, socially speaking, than we are in the U.S. From that strong position, almost all of the major European Humanist Associations and secular groups do some significant form of Interfaith work. But they, too, have trouble with the terminology. Alternative terms/phrases that came up there included: “Dialogue for Religious and Lifestance Communities;” “Inter-Worldview;” spiritual/existential, religion and belief, religious and secular lifestances, etc.

What we all agreed is that we need to keep doing the work of engaging constructively with a pluralistic world, though for now there may not be a perfect word for it. I hope we could all give one another a “rAmen” to that.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Tom

    Hey Greg!

    I like your line, “without significant effort to acknowledge common humanity”.  What an atheist believes can be extremely scary to think about for a believer, and the reaction of many are to become very upset.  One can lose sight of any kind of shared qualities, let alone kindness, when your entire worldview is being rocked.  If you aknowledge your humanity with the other person it will be comforting and can let them consider your points with reason.

    All the best!

  • http://twitter.com/jonathanfigdor Jonathan Figdor

    Good post, Greg.

  • Courtney Simpson

    “I have nothing against Ed’s renaming of “Interfaith” as “Transfaith” but I can’t say I’m for that…”

    To me, that reads like, “I have no actual argument against that, but I’m against it anyway.” Could you elaborate on your objections to more inclusive language? 

    More broadly, the word ‘interfaith’ erases any work atheists/nonbelievers do within such orgs. And on the ‘attracting participants’ end, a name that doesn’t adequately convey that non-believers are welcomed/allowed discourages atheists from even checking the group out.  

    • http://twitter.com/jonathanfigdor Jonathan Figdor

      Hey Courtney,
            I agree that there are some atheists who will be so turned off by the name “interfaith” that they won’t even show up.  However, there are also some atheists who are interested in working in close quarters with religious folks, fighting the lie that atheists are amoral/immoral, who don’t mind doing so under the banner of interfaith.  At Harvard, we support our students’ choices of terminology, and if a Harvard student asks me to help them plan a transfaith service project, I’ll do that just as happily as I’ll help them plan an interfaith service project.

      Cheers,

      JPF

      • Rieux

        I agree that there are some atheists who will be so turned off by the
        name “interfaith” that they won’t even show up.  However, there are also
        some atheists who are interested in working in close quarters with
        religious folks, fighting the lie that atheists are amoral/immoral, who
        don’t mind doing so under the banner of interfaith.

        Indeed. By the same token, if you were to rename the group “Boys and Big-Boobed Bitches Working for Charity,” presumably there would be some women who would be so turned off by that name that they won’t even show up… and other women who value the work the group does highly enough that they’re willing to join up notwithstanding the nasty misogyny in the title.

        Shockingly, though, the existence of members of a minority who are willing to overlook suffocating levels of majority privilege and bigotry and lower themselves to working under it does not justify said privilege and bigotry. Why interfaithy atheists are so apathetic about the support they’re giving to the people and tropes that marginalize and dehumanize us simply escapes me.

  • Atheist against “interfaith”

    What a lazy, arrogant prick. “Interfaith” = anti-atheist bigotry, no matter what the group under it’s exclusionary banner actually does. If it’s proponents are too lazy or apathetic to change their title, then they have to go.

    “Transfaith” is better than interfaith, but I think it still has many of the same problems. I’ve got a better one: “HUMANISM”. If “Interfaith” is supposed to be about our common humanity and what we have in common, they can join the club with those who have been doing the same thing for centuries. You can be a humanist AND a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, etc. It represents EXACTLY what the best of interfaith claims to stand for with none of the baggage. The only thing stopping this banner is, again, the anti-atheist bigotry that scoffs at any word that might even hint toward secularism.

    • http://twitter.com/jonathanfigdor Jonathan Figdor

      “”Interfaith” = anti-atheist bigotry, no matter what the group under it’s exclusionary banner actually does.”
      This is an assertion that may be true for you, but is not true for all atheists.  Some atheists have no problem doing interfaith work, as they have faith in the powers of science and reason to help us navigate reality.  Others just don’t get hung up on the terminology and prefer to focus on the result (that service gets accomplished).

      • Atheist against “interfaith”

        “Interfaith” means what it means, and when communicating a movement to the general public, they don’t get to invent or redefine their own words. The word “hammer” may mean a ham sandwich to me, but if I offer someone a hammer for lunch, I doubt anyone would know what the hell I’m talking about.

        I don’t have a problem with doing most of what people would call “interfaith” work either. My chapter of the SSA, at my urging, was one of the biggest participants in our Spiritual Life Council, because we chose to try to change the group from within. That doesn’t change the fact that “interfaith” is exclusionary, bigoted, and contrary to most of the values that “interfaith” groups claim to stand for.

        Words matter, especially titles and rallying cries. When those not familiar with the movement see the word “interfaith”, it is common for them to assume this is exclusive to religions. Furthermore, those inside and outside the movement use the name to justify exclusion of atheists and anti-atheist bigotry. There are plenty of “interfaith” groups that, depending on their membership and leadership, propagate the idea that all faiths are ok, as long as you have faith.

        • Rieux

          I’d QFT, but it would be silly to quote the whole comment. Suffice it to say that all of this is correct, and atheist advocates of “interfaith” activity studiously avoid all of these actual issues.

        • Edward Clint

          “That doesn’t change the fact that “interfaith” is exclusionary, bigoted, and contrary to most of the values that “interfaith” groups claim to stand for.”

          I’m curious what evidence you would cite to establish this claim. I am not calling you wrong, just wondering why you think so.

      • Anonymous

        “Some atheists have no problem doing interfaith work, as they have faith in the powers of science and reason to help us navigate reality.”

        Ugh. I don’t have ‘faith’ in science or reason because I don’t have to–they’re both testable.

        As far as ‘getting hung up on terminology,’ I guess to me the hangup is about why does the terminology need to be faith centered? Why can’t it be service centered, if that’s the actual point of the thing? Why is it AOK to turn off atheists with exclusionary language in order to privilege people of faith?

        (Courtney, posting using disqus because for some reason google isn’t working for me ATM)

  • Edward Clint

    Thank you very much Mr. Epstein for taking the time to view my video, and for the encouragement. I find very little space for whole disagreement with any of your points, (save perhaps the chalking protest, but this is ancillary to whether or not transfaith makes sense).  I will write a reply expounding on some of these issues where I think some detail will clarify our points of agreement and discord. 
    Thanks again,

    Ed Clint

  • Daniel Schiff

    I appreciate you sharing, Greg. I think Ed is right on point regarding transfaith – I know as an atheist student leader at Princeton U I don’t feel comfortable with the interfaith movement (funding-wise and the associations of the name itself).

    As for drawing the chalk images, I understand you have to be quite a good deal more tolerant as a faculty member. However, I would not actively support these superstitions – which appear similar to  immaterial/abstract dogmas. No graven images –> perfect god –> beyond reproach. But many atheists think religion and its (false) prophets, Mohammed not least of all, are NOT beyond reproach.

    Props though on having such an inclusive campus! Princeton’s Office of Religious Life wouldn’t even support bringing ‘controversial’ speakers like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens.

  • SG

    “Dialogue for Religious and Lifestyle Communities”? By “Lifestyle” I assume they’re talking about Swinging? No? Hmm.

    I had to laugh at this one. It’s just funny that people are trying to be so careful in crafting their words that they come up with phrases that don’t say anything very clearly at all.

    Is Lifestyle supposed to mean Atheist or Non-Religious? Why not just say it?

    Atheism isn’t even a lifestyle!

  • Anonymous

    “Transfaith” sidesteps some of the problematic implications of ” interfaith”, for sure. But — and here I’m being optimistic — perhaps we need be concerned with the longevity of this new term. As secularism expands, and pockets of theistic religion shrink, the relevance of “faith” as a root concept will decay.

    For that reason, I do try to use “lifestance” — though that term, admittedly, doesn’t trippingly roll off the tongue.

    When I’m working under the banner of Atheism, I’m doing so with a strict a understanding of the word: it explains, succinctly, my position on one very narrowly defined question, that is, the question of the existence of gods. And as often as possible, I take the chance to explain to others why I want them to know that “atheism”, as a label for me, goes that far and no farther.

    Anyone who needs to know what I think about morality, family life, the existence of the supernatural, the relation of science to humanity, the validity of evolutionary theory, my favorite kind of pasta, is given an apology: I’m sorry, I don’t have any convenient identity marker in which we may collude to pigeon-hole my personhood. In other words, I explicitly reject identity labels, for being a mechanism for simplifying and misunderstanding other people. My preference is to remind people that my views are a complex of positions. Ask me about each individually, if you want to avoid stereotyping and erroneous assumptions.

  • Daniel Lafave

    If nothing else, “interfaith” is a toxic brand now mainly because of Mr. Patel’s ridiculous criticism of the University of Illinois Muhammed depictions.  If I’ve learned anything from watching Mad Men, it’s that sometimes it’s better to ditch the toxic brand and start again.

    • Pseudonym

      It would be difficult for one person to undo over a century’s worth of worldwide interfaith dialogue and cooperation. It would certainly have to be someone more influential and well-known than that guy, whoever he is.

      For someone who doesn’t read a blog like this one or doesn’t have a perfect recall, chances are they you have no idea what you’re talking about.

      • Daniel Lafave

        Sure.  But as an atheist I already don’t feel welcome in “interfaith” (given that I have no faith) and when one of today’s most prominent interfaith activists tells me that I have to STFU and not depict Muhammed, I’m even more turned off.  If the point of interfaith is to do charitable works then there are already enough secular charities in the world for people to contribute to.  If the point is to get together to “agree to disagree” on matters of religion, then count me out.  That sort of post-modernist, we can all have our own truths nonsense is as pernicious as any fundamentalist religion. 

      • Daniel Lafave

        And my point is that it might not be a toxic brand with many people but it is a toxic brand with a lot of atheists who follow these issues.  If “interfaith” activists want atheists in their movement, where are the clear statements of the right to open discussion?  Where are the condemnations of religionists imposing their taboos on people outside their religion?  Where are the interfaith activist willing to condemn Mr. Patel’s remarks?

    • Rieux

      The brand was toxic to begin with, because the root word is “faith.” Ed Clint and his Illinois group have their collective heart in the right place, but they replaced the wrong portion of the word—it’s the root that’s the problem, not the prefix.

      Commenters at Pharyngula yesterday came up with “InterAction” as a considerable improvement on “transfaith.” (It’s especially good in light of the implied contrast with “interfaith.”)

      • Daniel Lafave

        I would go further and say that its not just the exclusion of the faith-less by “interfaith” that matters.  It’s the fact that it reinforces the absurd notion that charity is connected to religion.  It’s as absurd as the notion that morality is connected to religion.  Charity and morality have nothing to do with religion, except for the fact that religion has historically coopted them.  It’s time in the 21st Century to move on to secular, religion-ignoring conceptions of both.

        • Edward Clint

          “it reinforces the absurd notion that charity is connected to religion.”

          I hope it doesn’t. Conceptually, there is no tie, but in reality, there is. Let’s say I want to plan a charity event on my campus. Who shall I ask, among student groups, to join? The philosophy club? The bio folks? Campus Democrats? They don’t do that, nor do they want to. The only real options I have are religious groups and interfaith groups (which are chiefly, religious groups). This is a purely pragmatic observation. When we need to get things done, we involve those who can do that, whoever they are. 

          • Daniel Lafave

            Have you actually asked the other clubs?  A lot of people have charitable impulses and would love to be involved regardless of whether it was done under the Philosophy Club or not.  How about starting a group whose sole goal is charity?  How did interfaith dialogue get grafted onto charity in the first place.  There are plenty of purely charitable organizations in the real world.  The United Way isn’t a religious organization.  It’s a charitable organization.  If religious groups want to assist a campus charitable organization, then great, but that wouldn’t make it “interfaith”, no more than the Chess Club doing chatiable work make it “intergame”. 

            • Edward Clint

              Yes we have. Some are quite willing, but not many. Fewer still make it part of their group’s mission, which makes organizing a more laborious exercise. I agree with you totally that charity and religion are entirely separate things. This is one reason ISSA waged a “Good without God” bus ad campaign featuring two of history’s greatest philanthropists, the nonreligious Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. 

              We won’t start a charity-based group because we have many goals for ours beyond charity, including education and community-building. 

              “Faith” is part of the Transfaith word and concept for several other important reasons. One, outreach is a goal. That is, inproving the PR image of the nonreligious. Two, I’d include debate and discussion events as Transfaith events. These, by definition, include the religious groups. There’s one other reason we should not be annoyed about the “faith” substrate:

              Trans- is a negatory prefix. It means “beyond” or “opposite to”. Why do you not also rail against the word “atheist”? It’s also a negatory prefix a- (not) plus -theist. Why define your worldview in terms of theism? You are, whenever you use the word atheist, according to your logic.

              • Daniel Lafave

                If “transfaith” means beyond faith, then just call is secular charity and leave faith entirely out of it. 

                We need to work to correct the public’s misconception on the connection between religion and charity just as we need to correct the public’s misconception on the connection between religion and ethics.

        • Rieux

          Oh, I agree entirely.

      • Edward Clint

        The word “faith” in Transfaith reflects the fact that it is religious groups we are working with- and I’d argue that we need to work with for two reasons. One, it’s religious people who hold the negative views of atheists which we need to change (the reverse is also true- atheists often have untenable negative or stereotypical views of religious groups and they benefit from the experience). Two, it’s still largely faith groups who are willing to help or organize service and community projects. This is true whether we wish it to be or not. I will work with groups unrelated to religion (such as academic orgs and the Red Cross), but the fact is in my neighborhood they are small and few.

        If your goal is to isolate your actions from religious people/groups entirely, then I agree that Transfaith is not the correct descriptor.

        • Rieux

          The word “faith” in Transfaith reflects the fact that it is religious groups we are working with….

          Why? Why is it mandatory to put a plug for their silly illogic in the very name of the organization, emptied though you (mistakenly) think that word is by an obscure and confusing prefix?

          …and I’d argue that we need to work with for two reasons.

          I have no problem with your group, or any atheist group, “work[ing] with” religious people and organizations. I have somewhat more of a problem with deferring to those groups and their superstition. I’ve seen you claim repeatedly that “transfaith” doesn’t do that—but I’m afraid you’re wrong. The prefix simply doesn’t convey to the English-speaking public what you think it does.

          If your goal is to isolate your actions from religious people/groups
          entirely, then I agree that Transfaith is not the correct descriptor.

          That’s a strawman, and it’s beneath you.

          The “interfaith” defenders constantly parade out the false bifurcation that our only two choices are (1) bowing to religious privilege by placing absurd religious notions front-and-center in any attempt at collective action or (2) “isolat[ing ]our actions from religious people/groups
          entirely.” It’s baloney.

          Any group that puts “faith” in a title (unless, as Myers suggests, the prefix is anti-) has conceded the fundamental matter of labeling to religion and its privilege. There’s no need to do that. I can’t imagine that religious people and organizations are uniformly unwilling to work toward  human goods under a  a simply secular name—”InterAction” or what have you—but even if they are, then in that case they aren’t actually the allies our interfaithy friends pretend.

          • Edward Clint

            ” Why is it mandatory to put a plug for their silly illogic in the very name of the organization, emptied though you (mistakenly) think that word is by an obscure and confusing prefix?”

            It’s not a plug. It’s a normal synonym for religion in English. I am referring to religious groups, deliberately and specifically (but not exclusively). That means I have to use some word that refers to religion.  Obscure prefix? You mean words like transportation and attached to regions/objects like transpacific or transneptunian? Seems not that obscure to me. 

            “The prefix simply doesn’t convey to the English-speaking public what you think it does”

            I simply disagree. Right about now, I think it doesn’t mean much of anything to the “english-speaking public”. They’ve never heard of it. Which is great, actually, because it means we can give it definition through our actions and attitudes. Even if you were right, I still wouldn’t care. To me, the word is etymologically descriptive by any reasonable understanding of English. That’s all the denotation I need. The connotation I will provide and neither will change the kind of work we actually do or how well we do it, which is where our focus should be. 

            If it’s such a big deal to you, I can respect that. Don’t use it. Hell, I don’t have much mind to even debate the inter/trans bit.. I just wanted some way to skip the baggage and not get lumped in with folks who don’t share my views on criticism and protest. So make your own term, define your own vehicle, I think that’s terrific.

        • Rieux

          …I should add, Ed: as I’ve made clear, I think “transfaith” is a bad idea that simply doesn’t work semantically the way you think it does.

          But I should add that I’m a fan of pretty much everything else (that I’m aware) you’ve done with ISSA. Sticking to your principles regarding Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, even in the face of slimy garbage from privileged boors like Eboo Patel, speaks very well of you and your fellow group members. So does leaving the interfaith organization when it became clear that severe religious privilege was one of their ground rules.

          I disagree with you to a significant extent regarding the term “transfaith,” but I admire much of the rest of what you’ve done. Thought I should make that clear.

          • Edward Clint

            Thank you very much Rieux. I’d like to hear more about your perspective on interfaith and religious privilege. Please find me on FB or G+ if you’re so inclined.

          • Edward Clint

            Thank you very much Rieux. I’d like to hear more about your perspective on interfaith and religious privilege. Please find me on FB or G+ if you’re so inclined.

      • Edward Clint

        Where is this discussion @Pharyngula:disqus ?

  • Dan W

    Whether you call it “interfaith” or “transfaith”, I still don’t like it, because it supports faith. As an atheist, I am opposed to faith.

    • Leonine

      Of course you are. For example you don’t have faith that there is no Deist God. And you don’t have faith that we don’t live in the Matrix. You just believe these things without any evidence.

      And you certainly don’t have any political beliefs. That would be foolish, a purely faith based decision.

  • Rieux

    I agree with Ed that a positive approach to pluralism and sincere, passionate criticism of some religious ideas can go hand in hand.

    What a swell idea. Shame how Epstein torched it all of two paragraphs later:

    I still think that it was not a particularly good idea to put the Muhammad chalkings on the ground where they had to be stepped on — there is a taboo in Muslim culture against placing important things under foot that I feel it would be better for us to honor….

    So much for supporting “sincere, passionate criticism” of religion. It was a nice charade while it lasted.

    I fail to understand what possible reason any self-respecting atheist would have for taking Greg Epstein as a credible advocate on any issue regarding atheists and the way we act in the world. Epstein has spent years as the go-to mouthpiece for boot-licking Uncle Tom-ism, for pushing unbounded religious privilege at the expense of atheists’ ideas, identities, and autonomy. His role in actual attempts at voicing “sincere, passionate criticism of … religious ideas” has consistently been to stab us in the back.

    The snot he directs at Everybody Draw Muhammad Day in the original post here is characteristic: presented with a conflict between atheists’ “moral or creative need to draw Muhammad” and “a taboo in Muslim culture,” there is no contest: religious power, privilege, and sensitivities must be deferred to, and therefore atheists must be silent. How disgusting—this man’s program can lead to nothing but more power to religious bigots to define all of our lives and more hatred toward and marginalization of the atheists that Epstein publicly insults and seeks to gag.

    Speaking of which—hey, atheists: the next time some religious loon calls you an “atheist fundamentalist,” remember that you have Epstein to thank for the currency of that idiotic oxymoron: doing his usual back-stabbing job, Epstein barfed that line up to the Associated Press four years ago, sliming Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins with it. As P.Z. Myers pointed out, responding to a 2007 Newsweek article in which Epstein is up to his usual atheist-bashing tricks:

    [W]hat’s happening in the “atheist, humanist, freethinkers” community is more like what happens to any ideological or political group as it matures: the hard-liners knock heads with the folks who want to just get along, and the cracks are beginning to show.

    No, this is incorrect. The appeasers have always been with us, and have been dominant for a long, long time. The atheist community has been a splintered mess, mostly ineffective, and the “folks who want to just get along” have pretty much been the majority. What’s happening now is different. The internal conflicts are a side effect of a growing recognition that “just getting along” hasn’t worked at all, and in fact has allowed the country to proceed down a path towards insanity. The [Newsweek] writer, Lisa Miller, has it all backwards. This isn’t an old movement splitting in its age. It’s a new movement growing within an old and relatively moribund framework.

    Those cracks are what you see when an egg is about to hatch and discard its shell. Complacency is going to be thrown away and replaced with activism.

    But of course Miller wouldn’t get this message from the subject of her article: it’s Greg Epstein, who thinks he is the “center” of the controversy when he’s really just those clingy bits of leftover membrane and slime that we have to clean off after our emergence.

    At the center of this controversy is the humanist chaplain of Harvard University, a 30-year-old “secular rabbi” named Greg Epstein. In March, in remarks to the Associated Press, Epstein called the popular writers Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins “atheist fundamentalists.” He accused the best-selling authors–he now includes Christopher Hitchens among them–of being more interested in polemics, in tearing down and waging war on religion than in doing anything positive; his own responsibility, he says, is to speak out for the positive aspects of disbelief. “My problem with the atheists,” he told NEWSWEEK, “is not that they’re saying God doesn’t exist. What I’m saying is we’ve got to build something.” (Harris calls the term atheist fundamentalist “an empty play on words.”)

    Ugh.

    “Humanist chaplain.”

    “Secular rabbi.”

    “Atheist fundamentalist.”

    Notice a trend here? Epstein is one of those fellows who thinks inventing terse little contradictions is an exercise in profundity. He has turned being an oxymoron into a career.

    That last term, “atheist fundamentalist”, is revealing. I’ve never heard anyone use it who wasn’t also exposing themselves as someone who wants atheists to sit down and shut up and “just get along”—people who want atheism to be dead ineffective and irrelevant. Harris and Dawkins are not fundamentalist in any rational sense of the word, and definitely not in the pejorative sense that Epstein uses. The “new atheism” (I don’t like that phrase, either) is about taking a core set of principles that have proven themselves powerful and useful in the scientific world — you’ve probably noticed that many of these uppity atheists are coming out of a scientific background — and insisting that they also apply to everything else people do. These principles are a reliance on natural causes and demanding explanations in terms of the real world, with a documentary chain of evidence, that anyone can examine. The virtues are critical thinking, flexibility, openness, verification, and evidence. The sins are dogma, faith, tradition, revelation, superstition, and the supernatural. There is no holy writ, and a central idea is that everything must be open to rational, evidence-based criticism — it’s the opposite of fundamentalism.

    Here’s another oxymoron: Epstein claims his role is to “build something.” What has he built lately? The only way he gets any press is by his efforts to tear down the atheists who are trying to build and inspire a coherent community! I think that’s really the point here: Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al. aren’t being destructive of anything of value — their goal is to clear away the useless detritus of the supernatural and see human society redirect its efforts productively, towards some genuine progress. The people who fling around terms like “fundamentalist atheists” are defenders of kipple and trash, who uncritically demand protection for the unlovely excrescences of religion because they’re still hobbled by the fear that the priests have inculcated in us — that they are the guardians of morality and goodness, and exposing transubstantiation (or any of their other hallowed myths) as nonsense means we’ll all be turned into murderers and rapists.

    Don’t be fooled. Epstein and his ilk are just frightened little fellows trying to find a calm dark safe spot in the shadow of religion. Of course they are worried about anyone who wants to reignite the enlightenment.

    In light of the overwhelming damage that religious ideas do to the world, “sincere, passionate criticism of” those ideas, and indeed of religion and faith in general, is both our right and our duty. His disingenuous pretense aside, Greg Epstein is a consistent opponent of actual “”sincere, passionate criticism of … religious ideas.” A willing stooge for religious privilege and power is no friend to atheists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ophelia.benson Ophelia Benson

    “What we all agreed is that we need to keep doing the work of engaging constructively with a pluralistic world, though for now there may not be a perfect word for it.”

    What about “pluralistic work” then? It seems to be closer to what you say you mean than “interfaith” is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1285481603 Brad Feaker

    @Rieux
    Wow – your first comment was epic…you stated my feeling perfectly and much more eloquently than I would have – well said sir.
    @Greg,

    I still think that it was not a particularly good idea to put the
    Muhammad chalkings on the ground where they had to be stepped on —
    there is a taboo in Muslim culture against placing important things
    under foot that I feel it would be better for us to honor, even if one
    also feels a moral or creative need to draw Muhammad

    I will again defer to Rieux – but I just have to say I am freaking tired of being told I need to tiptoe around the feelings of Muslims.  Their religion and imaginary friend is just as idiotic as Christianity’s with the threat of deadly violence thrown in just for the hell of it.  I give my respect to those who have earned it – and this means I will show respect to any individual Muslim who shows me the same respect.  I will not defer to Islamic superstition anymore than I will to any other superstition…in fact, Islam falls to the very bottom rung of my respect ladder.  Any superstition that condones the  murder of  people for not adhering to their particular brand on nonsense is beneath contempt.

    Let me know Greg when your (and other appeasers) misguided ‘respect’ actually makes fundamentalist Muslims more tolerant and moderate Muslims more vocal – so far your record is one of utter failure.

    Good Day,

    Brad Feaker

  • Stephen Goeman

    Quoting the SSA’s Lyz Liddell: “I think we should spend more time arguing about labels.”

    • Anonymous

      I’m going to have to call “tone trolling” here, Stephen (which is not to say your comment wasn’t in good faith). What’s at stake is not just labels and how they do or do not conform to one’s sense of identity, but also the impression that the wider culture has of the secular community as some of its members operate one banner or another, and the support — institutional and financial — that is attracted to, or repelled by, one label or another. Words matter.


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