Toxicity and Truth: On ‘New Atheism’ and Interfaith Activism

This is a guest post by Chris Stedman. He is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and the author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious

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In the month following the release of my book, Faitheist, I’ve been deeply grateful for the interest in and engagement with the book’s ideas. However, I’ve also noticed a few misconceptions that I’d like to address: that atheist interfaith activists work with believers at the expense of other atheists and unfairly dismiss a “New Atheist” approach; that interfaith work is unnecessary because we regularly encounter people of different religious identities simply by living in a diverse society; and that interfaith work is at odds with the promotion of truth, or that atheist interfaith activists are more concerned with people getting along than with getting at the truth.

I. Addressing “New Atheism”

The discussion around Faitheist took a turn when an excerpt from the book was published by Salon with a headline and subtitle of their choosing. One sentence in particular sparked controversy:

“I believe that this so-called New Atheism — the kind that singles out the religious lives of others as its No. 1 target — is toxic, misdirected, and wasteful.”

Some people pointed to this line to suggest that I dismiss all self-identified New Atheists, or that I’m a traitor, throwing other atheists under the bus. While I understand how my intent may have been misunderstood, I’d like to make it clear that I intended merely to point to a specific set of behaviors, not New Atheism as a whole. I agree with New Atheists on many points, as when I wrote in that excerpt: “I believe that many New Atheist critiques of religion are correct and have helped many people find liberation from oppressive beliefs.” Additionally, I observed that the behaviors and memes I’m critical of in my book are probably promoted by a highly visible minority of atheists, not by all New Atheists. I take issue with a very particular sort of New Atheist activism: I believe that an exclusive focus on religion as the source of human problems is short-sighted, and that painting religious believers with sweeping generalizations is inaccurate and unfair. (I’ll address my concerns about this more later in this piece.)

I can’t fairly dismiss all self-identified New Atheists, and I wouldn’t want to, because I work closely with many. Chelsea Link is a friend and a coworker of mine at the Humanist Community at Harvard, and she holds the prototypical values of a New Atheist. In her own words:

I wish religion would go away. I think it’s wrong, I think it’s a net negative presence in the world, and if all else were equal, I would prefer a world without religion to one with it. I agree whole-heartedly with Voltaire’s warning that… whoever has the power to make you absurd can also make you [unjust.] I fully support “persuading more people out of religion and into atheism.” I am, you might say, an evangelical atheist.

But in addition to her atheist activism — she currently sits on the board of the Secular Student Alliance, a national organization that supports atheist, agnostic, and other nonreligious students — Chelsea has also become a leader in the interfaith movement, serving as an Interfaith Youth Core coach. Like me, Chelsea has one foot firmly planted in the atheist movement, and one in the interfaith movement.

While Chelsea is a self-identified “evangelical atheist,” she also shares my concerns about the efficacy and ethics of “confrontationalism” and the ways in which it is often carried out — and she sees great value in interfaith outreach. (For more of her thoughts, click here and here.) Though some atheists assume that interfaith dialogue demands compromising one’s atheism, Chelsea and I have discovered, as I noted in the Salon excerpt, that groundedness in one’s own identity is a prerequisite for effective interfaith work.

A few weeks ago, on a national conference call with the Secular Student Alliance and Interfaith Youth Core, I was reminded that atheists participate in and promote interfaith programs in many different ways. Some engage in spirited debates between atheists and people of faith that are built on trusting relationships and designed to create mutual understanding; others collaborate on meaningful service projects that promote human rights; still others host discussion groups where atheists are given an opportunity to explain the source of their ethics in environments that have historically been exclusively religious.

In Faitheist, I hoped to start a conversation by offering some ideas and stories from my own experiences as an atheist and interfaith activist, and I’m excited to see that conversation expand beyond the ideas I put forward. I did not intend, however, to denigrate New Atheists whose sincere desire it is to make the world a better, more rational place.

II. Why Interfaith Efforts?

A common critique that rises from this point is to question why we need interfaith efforts, specifically. Atheists work with believers every day — at work, in school, when volunteering. So why are interfaith events valuable? I lay out four primary reasons in Faitheist, so I won’t go into them in depth here, but I would like to share a particularly compelling example drawn from my experience facilitating workshops on atheism and religious diversity at colleges and universities.

At these workshops, one of the first things I do is ask participants what words or phrases come to mind when they hear the word “atheist.” Even at particularly liberal universities, the connotations are almost exclusively negative. When I ask why, participants generally cite two things: interactions with self-righteous atheists, and media messages from and/or about atheists that leave the impression that we are untrustworthy and unlikeable.

This exercise makes me cringe. As I’ve become more involved in the atheist movement over the years, I’ve heard a range of stories about how atheists are demonized and about the widespread anti-atheist bias people experience — and with each new account of exclusion and discrimination my stomach sinks. Even my mother tells me that when she visits her gym in rural Minnesota and she tells her fellow exercisers about her children, folks mostly respond without flinching to the fact that her son has written a book about his journey to self-acceptance as a gay man and that the book also advocates for American religious minorities such as Muslims and Sikhs. But when she tells them that the book is also about how and why he became an atheist, the reactions are almost universally negative.

Interfaith contexts present an opportunity to challenge atheism’s negative connotations because when atheists and people of faith meet face to face, preconceived stereotypes inevitably reveal their flaws. We then gain allies who return to their own groups and mobilize their own communities, speaking their own language.

Interfaith engagement is unique because it puts religious differences to the forefront. We can no longer be tokenized as the atheist neighbor who happens to be a good person; instead, with our atheism at the forefront, we show how our Humanist beliefs inspire us to be good people. We demonstrate not only our shared values and a sense of common humanity, but we help legitimize atheists as a moral community.

While I yearn for a more accurate label than “interfaith” to describe the work that I and other atheist-interfaith advocates promote, I believe that the language of interfaith will evolve as more atheists get involved. As I write in Faitheist, I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes many times, such as when an interfaith organization called Social Action Ministries changed their name to Social Action Massachusetts in order to better accommodate the nonreligious. But before that will happen more broadly, and before we can fairly ask for it, we’ll need more atheists at the interfaith table.

III a. What About Religion?

An atheist involved in interfaith efforts will have to grapple with what attitude he or she wants to take towards the religious beliefs of other participants. In that vein, it has been suggested that interfaith work asks nonbelievers to put their beliefs aside in order to get along.

I can’t speak for all atheist interfaith activists, but this is not the case for me. The pursuit of truth matters. I believe that a naturalistic worldview that prioritizes scientific skepticism provides the best lens to consider our world. I have often relished debates about the legitimacy of religious claims. My worldview includes a commitment to critical inquiry — for example, I write in Faitheist about a conversation I had with a professor who urged me to consider using the word God when talking about justice. She argued for its symbolic weight, but I couldn’t sacrifice intellectual integrity. Ideas and words have consequences. Blind confidence in unsubstantiated beliefs can directly contribute to the problems our society faces. Well-reasoned conclusions, not faith-based dogma, ought to be the basis for public policy.

Still, I think it worth asking: When we advocate for something we think is true, what is our underlying goal? What kind of world are we working toward? Is there enough value in persuading believers out of religion if this change in their beliefs doesn’t also change their approach to other important questions? It seems to me that I have more in common with someone who believes in God and who also values scientific progress and human rights than I do with an atheist who believes that women are inferior to men, or that not all people deserve equal access to education and health care, or that (as Sam Harris has said) eliminating religion would be better than eliminating rape.

Some have argued that the best way to fight injustice is by opposing religion, claiming that a world without religion would be a more just one. This argument is often supported with a quote from theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg: “With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” This idea neglects to account for the fact that religion has been cited as the source of both good and bad actions, and it’s an overly simplistic assessment of a complex issue. Basically good people do evil — or at least morally questionable — acts all the time, often without any religious influence at all.

Even for atrocities that seem to be religiously motivated, the data suggests that people’s motivations are complex. Research by social psychologists at the New School for Social Research and the University of British Columbia found that (PDF) “prayer to God, an index of religious devotion, was unrelated to support for suicide attacks.” Instead, they found that attending religious services positively predicted support for suicide bombing — because it builds coalitional commitment. But this same phenomenon is present in more secular groups. For example, Sri Lanka’s nonreligious, nationalistic Tamil Tigers have used similar mechanisms to recruit support for suicide attacks — and they are responsible for more suicide bombings than any other group since the 1980s. Additionally, an important Pew Report interview with Robert A. Pape challenges the supposed link between terrorism and religious extremism: “What more than 95 percent of all suicide terrorist attacks since 1980 have in common is not religion, but a specific secular goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory the terrorists view as their homeland.”

According to Dr. Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism and author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, where religious forces do become most relevant is in demonizing the enemy and building out-group hostility, which supports the idea that humanizing religious diversity — one of the primary goals of interfaith work — is vital. Thus, I am skeptical of the claim that we should focus on bringing about an end to religion. Instead, we should work with religious allies to directly tackle the very real problems of dogmatism, authoritarianism, rigid tribalism, and social pressure — and focus on promoting access to education.

III b. What About The Truth?

In one discussion around Faitheist, a commentator suggested that eliminating ignorance is more important than eliminating injustice or suffering, and that if eliminating a particular ignorance resulted in greater suffering, it would still be a net positive. I cannot bring myself to agree with that. (Interestingly, I find this statement reminiscent of Mother Teresa’s view that suffering was good if it brought people closer to God — for which the late Christopher Hitchens appropriately excoriated her.)

A commitment to knowledge is important, but it is not the only important commitment. In a world full of suffering and splintered by religious disagreements, I think we should sometimes prioritize the pursuit of justice over pursuing philosophical agreement — especially because hostile arguments over matters of truth frequently do little more than convince all involved of their own correctness. In the face of hostility, few people become more open; more often than not, we become defensive.

You can be honestly and strongly critical of religious beliefs and doctrines while acknowledging each individual’s right to his or her personal beliefs, even if they seem irrational to you. To quote Christopher Hitchens: “I propose a pact with the faithful… as long as you don’t want your religion taught to my children in school, given a government subsidy, imposed on me by violence, any of these things, you are fine by me.” This kind of attitude creates space for atheist-religious cooperation on important matters like secularism, education, and scientific and social progress, while also allowing everyone to be honest about their disagreements. I’m more concerned about whether someone shares most of my core values — such as pluralism, freedom of conscience, social cooperation, compassion, education — than whether they are religious or not. Many religious believers are at the forefront of efforts to promote human flourishing, and those shared concerns are more important to me than the fact that we don’t agree about the existence of any gods.

We shouldn’t deemphasize concerns about truth, but while we pursue truth together, we can work for justice now. While it’s unlikely that we’ll see a world without religious belief anytime soon, there are important issues of human suffering that we can work to resolve right now. By working together — religious believers and unbelievers — we can accomplish a lot more. At the same time, we can work for the destigmatization of atheists, which will eventually contribute to the decrease of ignorance. We can encourage a more civil and open dialogue about faith and reason, helping people come to terms with prejudices that might prevent them from considering alternate views.

I’d like to live in a more reasonable world, where people aren’t so defined, and divided, by religious differences. Increasing access to education and promoting critical thinking is vitally important. Critiquing unreasonable and dehumanizing beliefs and actions is an important tactic, too — but the spirit of that criticism makes a significant difference. Atheist activists and public figures who engage in generalizations and stereotypes that dismiss all (or a majority of) religious believers as roadblocks to social progress increase the divisiveness of religious differences. While I support efforts to denounce female genital mutilation in Indonesia, I oppose campaigns spearheaded by prominent atheists to characterize the entire religion of Islam as “barbaric.” Such sweeping claims are not only difficult to support — they don’t actually do much to address problematic practices in some Islamic societies, and they facilitate cultural divisions between Muslims and atheists. It’s hard to see such irresponsible generalizations as doing more than contributing to ignorance by promoting untruths (and atheists who respect and seek the truth should seek to be accurate in their pronouncements), and fueling the tribalistic divisions that inhibit inter-group communication and education.

Unfortunately, some prominent atheists wish to build the walls that divide our communities even higher — and it’s this tribalistic attitude that I critique in Faitheist. For example, PZ Myers is one of the most outspoken atheist writers and bloggers in the world. Earlier this year, he and I participated, with Leslie Cannold, in a public discussion on interfaith work for at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia. In our discussion, Myers declared that the religious are “a bunch of extreme assholes” who have “something wrong with their brains.” In order to build up the atheist movement, he said, we need to employ “us versus them” tactics against the religious. When he was asked when these in-group versus out-group walls would come down, he replied: “The walls will come down when religion is eradicated.” (After saying so, he paused and offered a more nuanced position, but he and others regularly point to the end of religion as their ultimate goal.)

I’ve been asked why I felt the need in Faitheist to not only put forward ideas about interfaith cooperation, but to also critique some ideas and actions promoted by other atheists. My answer is simple: some of the most visible atheist activism today, characterized by positions like Myers’, is counterproductive. In my eyes, it largely fails to advance the acceptance of rationality. It certainly makes the work of building religious-nonreligious coalitions that much harder. It is symptomatic of tribalism and totalitarianism — qualities responsible for some of the worst in religion. Worse still, it confirms the suspicions of atheism’s most ardent detractors, making it more difficult for outsiders to see atheism as a legitimate perspective. Some of our goals may be the same — reducing the harmful influence of religious fundamentalism and the unthinking totalitarian mindsets that support it — but I disagree with these methods. We need religious allies in order to further these goals, and I do not see them being won over by attitudes like Myers’.

There is, in my mind, only one word that adequately describes a vision so fixated on disagreements about truth that it violates fairness and empathy while alienating potential allies: toxic. But another kind of conversation about religion and atheism is possible — one that seeks to balance disagreement with accuracy, truth with compassion, and a focus on our very real differences with a desire to work together for a better, less tribalistic, more rational world.

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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/katherine.appello.5 Katherine Appello

    One of the reasons, besides agreeing in large measure with the Catholic social teachings and much of the theology, that I came back to it was that there was too much exclusion and harmful behavior in Protestant Christianity.  Faith is the cornerstone of America, what inspired the creation, so when humanists attack nativity scenes and say they wish to liberate us from our faith, it’s very offensive, as if you know more than those of faith, or science only is the answer to life, when it is not in many ways, never will be.  History shows that without clear moral, ethical, faith based precepts to guide etc…society, nations etc…fall apart morally etc..  I do think being right out hateful of any group is wrong, and judging everyone due to being an atheist, Catholic etc.. is also wrong.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Using-Reason/100002489435714 Using Reason

      “so when humanists attack nativity scenes and say they wish to liberate us from our faith”

      Actually we want to liberate the government from giving preference to a single religion and excluding all others.  You know, equality; it’s interesting that you find this offensive.

      • BlazeL

        Atheists have to start somwhere…nativity scenes are easy prey. Then they will go after parents teachering childredn about religion…after all, Dawkins says such parents are child abusers and that religious indoctrination is worse than sexual abuse.
        Then the will go after the parents in their homes, and take the kids away.
        And then when atheists have the power the Gulags will aririve.
        After all, that is what has always happened when atheists had the poltical power to do so.

        • Slow Learner

          Where do you get your ideas from? Getting the church out of the state is by no means the same thing as putting the state into the church; indeed, in many ways it is the opposite.
          And arguing, persuading and debating people out of religion (which is what Dawkins, PZ Myers and others argue for) is very different practically and morally from what you’re talking about.

    • Slow Learner

      And this…this is Mr Stedman’s target audience. That’s why I don’t like you Chris, you should care more about those who are prepared to be reasonable than faith-heads.

      • Pseudonym

        Because terms like “faith-heads” are rational and evidence-based.

        • Slow Learner

          Yeah, my bad. This article pissed me off more than I should have let it.

          On the other hand, it does seem clear that Chris Stedman values his connections with “interfaith” more highly than he does connections with other atheists; and he is prepared to throw other atheists off the sleigh in order to maintain his own position.

          • Pseudonym

            That’s one way to spin it.

            Another way to spin it is that Stedman cares more about whether you’re on the right side of important issues (e.g. separation of church and state, gay rights) than whether you’re theist or atheist. Being in favour of making the world a better place for atheists is far more important than whether or not you actually are atheist.

            Yet another way to spin it is that it’s often said of those from liberal religion that they don’t spend enough time criticising religion’s lunatic element, and it would be hypocritical if atheists aren’t willing to do the same.

            From the evidence presented, none of these scenarios are more or less likely than any other. Probably none of them are “correct”, but Stedman’s actual thinking is more nuanced than any simple spin can capture. Given the non-existence of mind-reading, critical thinkers should apply the principle of charity.

    • ortcutt

      You write this nonsensical utterly false crap and Stedman says “Let’s all hold hands, sing Kumbaya with Eboo Patel, and everything will be great”.  Utter baloney on both fronts.

    • Jim

      Atheists don’t attack nativity scenes, they attack the premise that an exclusionary portrayal belongs on land that is meant for inclusion. Far from “liberating you from your faith,” if anything, atheists strive to liberate others from the tyranny of your idea of faith.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7H7RPZW4GN34RATPUXO5TNGSG4 Jim

      >>Faith is the cornerstone of America, what inspired the creation
      Not really. One could argue the problems of faith was the inspiration for a secular constitution. 

      >when humanists attack nativity scenes 
      The government shouldn’t  promote a specific faith with the money taken from all faiths.  What about the pesky church-state separation? It is very offensive to non-Christians of this country when government spend my tax money to promote your faith or provides a platform only to one faith. >>History shows that without clear moral, ethical, faith based precepts to guide etc…society, nations etc…fall apart morally
      No evidence, and actually, there is evidence against it. Most of the happnations today are secular (various studies).  Even in the US, one could argue the crime has come down as the country has become less religious.  Also, the crime rates in most religions US states seems to be higher. How do you explain that? Note. You stated this religion is the cornerstone of morality ( and ignored all other factors as economy, education etc.). And please, don’t get me started about Hitler. 

    • smrnda

      I’m not sure that faith is necessary for societies to prosper. Some of the least violent societies with the highest standard of living have the lowest level of religious faith. They do have clear moral and ethical principles and put them into practice in how they run their nations, but these are based on evidence of what works, not faith. If the retort is that they then have faith ‘in something’ then we’re using words like ‘faith’ in too vague a fashion.

      On nativity scenes, plaster them all over your home and your church and your own private property. It isn’t like there are any shortage of churches around that can display a nativity scene – it’s just that it ought not to be displayed on taxpayer funded government land.

      On attacks on faith. If I believed that putting a crystal pyramid on my head would cure a disease, you would be right to attack me. You would be doubly right to attack me if I was encouraging others to do the same to treat their diseases because my belief in a falsehood is potentially harmful and dangerous. In the end, you can’t make my stop putting the pyramid on my head, but my own ideas (or yours) are not supposed to be immune from critique.

    • Baal

      [H]istory shows that without clear moral, ethical, faith based precepts to
      guide etc…society, nations etc…fall apart morally etc..

      My view on history is that countries fall apart when we fail to limit the people who intentionally break the system.  It’s extremely normal for the Adelson’s and Koch’s of any given country to want to be oligarchs.  The problem is that running a country for the few is invariably bad for the many.  Our founding fathers knew this and came up with separation of powers as a partial solution.  Faith is not the issue; so far as religious orgs. support authoritarianism they are part of the problem.

    • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

       The Euthyphro fallacy, articulated by Plato nearly 2,500 years ago. Is something good because god said so? Well, god could be capricious. (Hey, Abraham, take your only ['legitimate'] kid and kill him.) Are things good because good and evil are natural standards? Then they exist independently of god. Oh, and contra one liberal Xn who tried to claim otherwise, the Euthyphro dilemma applies to the one god of Xns just as much as the Greek Olympian panoply, which Plato didn’t likely believe in, anyway.

      • Pseudonym

        It would depend on what the specific liberal Christian said, but it’s possible that they were thinking in terms of ethical foundations.

        Both Jesus (assuming he was reported correctly) and Paul of Tarsus taught virtue ethics, not deontological ethics. To them, an action isn’t “good” because God said so, an action is “good” because that’s what a good person does.

        That’s not true of, say, the Levitical laws, where there are a bunch of arcane laws which seem arbitrary by today’s standards, and you have to do just because Yahweh wants you to. (In fact they’re not exactly arbitrary in historical context; they’re pretty clearly all designed to ensure that the ancient Hebrews were separate from those evil neighbouring peoples. But I digress.)

        It’s also not true of post-Paul Christianity, after it was recreated in the image of the Hellenistic world. And it’s definitely not true of post-Constantine Christanity.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t really make sense to talk about “the one god of Xns” in this context as if it’s a thing.

        But I could be wrong. The liberal Christian you’re referring to may just have been talking out a random orifice.

        • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

          This person didn’t specify what ethical school in which they were working. Re Leviticus, critical scholarship still differs on the reason they were all as they were. In some cases, priests might have been attempting “proto-Aristotelean” taxonomy or something.

          The random Xn actually is in a theology grad program at Harvard. He then started talking about Tililch (modern process theology is really a bucket of shite where I come from) and things went worse from there. For him, ergo, god wasn’t a thing. But, as I said, process theology in general and Tillich in particular is a bucket of shite, so …

          Re schools of ethics and the Euthyphro … I think the argument is “school-independent” on ethical schools. I think it’s also deity independent.

          Beyond that, someone who on one hand tries to claim god is not a person or thing, then on other that, whatever school of ethics is involved, utters ethical dicta/pronouncements/commands/guideposts or whatever like we expect a personal agent to do, has other logical contradictions floating in his/her head.

          So, in that sense, I would **rather** deal with a good old-fashioned fundy or conservative evangelical.

          • Pseudonym

            Life is so much easier if your opponent adopts a position that’s easy to argue against. I’m with you on that.

    • The Other Weirdo

       Do you mean to say that atheists deface Nativity scenes the way Christians routinely deface atheist billboards?

      If there’s one thing Christianity, and especially Catholicism, can’t really take is the high moral ground, having not displayed any sort of clear moral, ethical or faith-based precepts that have been used to guide societies and nations. I won’t even talk about what was done to the Jews of Europe over the centuries. I don’t have to; I just have to look at what one stripe of Christian has done to a Christian of another stripe, in Europe and North America, for example.

    • Pansies4me

      Any reply to you along the lines of the one from ” Jim ” or  “Using Reason” etc. etc. etc. etc….. also applies to how I feel …etc. 

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

      You agree with Catholic social teachings?
      Which social teachings are those? The teaching that child rapists should be hidden from law enforcement, shuffled away to other locations, and given a level of authority over a group of people, enabling them to rape again? Or the teaching that women deserve to die rather than allowing doctors to abort a dying / ectopic fetus, and if those doctors do choose to let a woman with a family and a history live, they should be excommunicated?

      The Catholic Church is the most evil organization on the entire planet. They claim a moral superiority and flash around these monstrously vile premises and beliefs. They harbor child rapists. They bless people who have signed into law execution orders on gay people. They claim a life of poverty and charity is noble while sitting on the largest pile of treasure in the entire world.

      And bullshit to your “clear moral, ethical, faith-based precepts.” What kind of ethical precepts do you have to outright LIE about what atheists and humanists want? You know exactly what it is that atheists and humanists are protesting with nativity scenes.

      You know what faith-based precepts get us? Authoritarians who think they are the cat’s pajamas. People who parade around telling us how blessed we are to be poor while they sit on piles of money. They’re the Scrooge McDucks of the real world. They foist their beliefs and principles on an unwilling populous.

      It’s faith-based precepts that have been behind nearly every evil idea out there. They’ve been behind the anti-choice movement. They’ve been behind the anti-gay movement. They’ve been behind the anti-miscegenation movement. They’ve been behind the anti-civil rights movement. They’ve been behind the slaveries, the genocides, the destruction of artifacts, the refusal to acknowledge the reality of our planet, the refusal to engage in science, the refusal of knowledge, rationality, and logic.

      Religion can go the way of the dinosaur for all I care. It’s an idea that needs to end, and I would not be sorry to see it go.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

    Anyone who’s seen the video able to post the timestamps for the PZ quotes?

    • Sami Hawkins

      Yes Chris, why don’t you post the time stamps for these awful quotes? Surely a ‘rational’ person like you doesn’t exect us to sit through an 80 minute video to find the context for these quotes you chopped out?

      Or would that ruin your narrative?

      Oh well, regardless I think I’m gonna throw on my nicest outfit and head to the local church. Since Chris assures me I’m being silly and ignorant by assuming religion is the source of so many awful things in this world I’m certain they’ll be just as accepting of my transsexuality as a group of atheists like this comments section would be.

      PS:  Thank you Katherine Apollo for reminding us exactly what type of person the new atheism bashers want us to work with. I’m sure Chris agrees with you that those aheists who think the government shouldn’t be explicitly endorsing your religion with a publically funeded display are meanie closes-mninded tribalists hurting our cause.

      • Slow Learner

        Uh Sami, the article is by Stedman, you’re responding to Hallquist. Diff’rent folks…

        • Sami Hawkins

          The real strange part is that my orginial post was assuming it was someone beside the author, then I actually read the name and thought it was the author, then I realized that it was a different Chris.

          So sick of editing…

    • VladChituc

      It starts at the 28 minute mark for the extreme asshole bit. Start at about 27 if you want context but it doesn’t help much. 

      At the 33 minute mark for the brain it. Chris did misquote PZ a bit. Chris wrote that  PZ said they “have something wrong with their brains.” In fact, PZ said that the religious “have something profoundly wrong with their brains.”

    • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

      See Vlad above 28/33 min.

  • vexorian

    ome of our goals may be the same — reducing the harmful influence of
    religious fundamentalism and the unthinking totalitarian mindsets that
    support it — but I disagree with these methods. We need religious allies
    in order to further these goals

    I am yet to understand why would anyone think so. Definitely this blog post just assumes this claim to be true and makes no effort to explain why.

    Where are the so-called non-fundamentalist religious when the fundamentalists graph the microphones? Has any major religious figure condemned the crazies for attributing the recent tragedies to homosexuality and abortion? For that matter, where were them when abortion was in the spotlight earlier this year?

    The thing is that these religious people with common goals with ours seem to be either too few or do not like speaking out. Either of those choices make them not really that useful.  Perhaps it is better to be a so-called “new” atheist. And make these moderate people realize that the religious label is a weight that is stopping them from speaking out against the fundamentalism.

    I considered myself a moderate religious back in the past, but now I admit I was merely a hypocrite. I liked the social benefits of religion whilst I turned my head whenever religion caused an injustice.

    • Librepensadora

       Thank you, Vexorian, for pointing out the silence of liberal Christians.  Yes, they should be speaking out and explaining they don’t think that their God is upset about the abortion and gay rights issues which are the cornerstones of the most conservative Christian political agendas.  Is it possible that they do not have media access because American news has to have viewpoints which contrast so markedly that only extremists are sought out?  Of course, not being invited to Fox News does not mean that the liberals do not have a means to speak up for the many reasonable and rational Americans who believe in any of the many kinds of Christianity not seeking political power.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      I know quite a few liberal Christians who are activists in these areas. However the news media has what I like to call a conflict bias. Especially television these days seems to involve putting two overly-emotive bloviators on the screen to argue with each other. 

    • Bethelj

      Do Christians have to be “of use” to you in order for them to be considered okay human beings?  Atheism presupposes no moral code, one assumes.  Are we rating people according to purely utilitarian purposes now?  And whose?

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        “Do Christians have to be “of use” to you in order for them to be considered okay human beings?”

        Who are you quoting those words from? 

        But if we’re going to share an “interfaith” (to use Stedman’s term) community, then it needs to be on equal terms. I’m not especially interested in being a part of a community in which my life and values are treated with ignorance and disrespect, or where ignorance and disrespect are tolerated. 

        “Atheism presupposes no moral code, one assumes.”

        Who assumes? Atheism, like theism, capitalism, vegetarianism, feminism, and pacifism describe diverse characteristics of a person or culture. That said, there are many schools of moral thought advanced or practiced by atheists, only one of which is utilitarianism. 

        Now personally, I have no problems in saying that Huckabee and Gingrich are speaking falsely for political gain, and therefore are engaged in a moral wrong. I’d hope that any community that claimed me as one of their own would be willing to say, “hey, that’s not right.” Just as they would with any other case where a religious or philosophical group are being made into political scapegoats. 

    • http://twitter.com/tribalscientist Mike McRae

       How hard have you looked? That’s not being disparaging – we all tend to be quite selective with what filters into our cultural bubbles. Mainstream media is also incredibly selective. But your assumption on religious folk not speaking out is unfounded – Chris has written before on this, in fact.

      In any case, the premise is finding those individuals with shared goals. You can claim there aren’t any – however that doesn’t make the premise wrong.

    • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

       I’ll partially disagree, at least, with people who want to cite media bias or whatever and claim that there is non-fundamentalists who pushback against fundies or conservative evangelicals that we just don’t hear about. Maybe it’s there, but it’s quiet.

      Look at the National Council of Churches website, for example. It doesn’t even have a blog! And, Bill Moyers on PBS, the On Belief program of NPR, are both obvious media outlets (tho they go more for long-form stuff) for more liberally minded Christians to push back.

      • Pseudonym

        First off, I don’t think you understand what the NCC is for. It’s for many things, but advocacy (of any kind) is not one of them.

        But that’s a small point. You’re right that liberal Christians have too much “nice”. In our defence, I’d like to point out that bringing guns to gun fights has been tried, and it failed. We know our history. Sectarian conflict never ends well.

        (By the way, that’s one reason why we try to send atheists that they probably shouldn’t do it: We tried it, and all it did was it dragged the debate down to their level. Perhaps atheists should interpret it as a compliment. We acknowledge that you’ve arrived, and we welcome you to the party. Please don’t make the same mistakes that we did.)

        Moreover, we’re more than a little scared at least some people would just use it as evidence that it’s impossible for Christians to be nice. You see, we have a reputation to protect. The reputation is that we’re a net force for good in the world. The church of which I am a member is the second-largest provider of social welfare in my country. (The largest is the government.)

        If we got a reputation for fighting with other denominations, donations would plummet as people get the idea that some of their donations might go to religious infighting. This would reduce how effective we can be in what we see as part of our core mission: making the world a better place.

        We honestly don’t get that much air time. Certainly not compared to the fundamentalists! We would never start a cable channel. What a waste of money!

        I don’t know how it works in the US, but I can’t imagine that most people listen to On Belief. Everyone is competing for attention span, so what we get has to be used wisely. We’d far rather use the time to encourage people to do some good in the world, rather than complain about how bad those people are.

        By the way… this thing we’re doing right now? It’s inter-faith (or possibly trans-faith) dialogue. Pretty useful, don’t you think?

        • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

          It once was about advocacy, in part. The 60s? Civil rights? Remember them? Don’t blame me if the NCC has become a bland amoeba since then, or has confined any remaining advocacy to one or two social issues. (This ignores that the stances of denominational headquarters and clergy in most NCC members vastly diverge from the men and women in the pews.)

          Perhaps “guns to gunfights” was too strong. But NCC members, if they are intelligent and activist, know that most of the denominations that might need calling out aren’t even NCC members.

          Useful? Maybe, to use a Southern US expression, moderately more useful than tits on a boar hog. How much more, I don’t know.

          Or, to riff on a FB comment I made, the likes of Chris could become Faith-e-o-Buddhists and detach from sharp elbows entirely?

          • Pseudonym

            I don’t remember the civil rights era. Not only was I not born in the 60s, I’m not from the US.

            But I do take your point. I checked, and the NCC does do some advocacy for social good. Today, it campaigns for fair wages, equality of women and evironmentalism.

            I’ll bet it could advocate for the rights of religious or non-religious minorities, including atheists. The only way to find out is to get into dialogue.

            • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

              Sorry for being a bit snarky. I saw in your earlier post that you’re not from the US.

      • Bob

        I’d suggest you read some of the religious blogs on Patheos, especially in the ‘progressive Christianity’ channel. Fred Clark of Slacktivist is a good example of someone who challeges the crazies on things like abortion and anti-gay hatepreaching. There are also orginisations like the Quakers who are social progressive. In the UK, they are one of the religious orginisations asking to be allowed to perform gay marriages.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7H7RPZW4GN34RATPUXO5TNGSG4 Jim

    I feel a strong stand is needed against repugnant argument from religious. Can we do it without name calling? At least can you consider they are humans too? Or should we lower our standards to the religious texts which – for the lack of a better word – demonizes non-believers? 

    Using the same PZ standard, would he change his profile to “born to the family of assholes”, since admittedly, he was brought up as a Lutheran?

      My point is, these are someone’s son, daughter, father etc. You should not paint with such a broad brush. My family is very religious. However, we have agreed to disagree and they now accept religion is not a factor in our relationship.  I would rather not use the language on my blog which is not acceptable in real-world.  

    • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

       On the flip side, Gnu Atheists, in trying to claim that atheists aren’t mass murderers, claim that Stalin wasn’t an atheist because he attended a seminary.

      By that same logic, neither John Loftus, nor I, nor many other people, are atheists, either. So, Gnu Atheist logic on this issue is selective at times.

      (Oh, and Stalin was an atheist and a mass murderer, BTW. So was Mao. Atheism is not a guarantor of morality, just like religion isn’t.)

      • amycas

        I’ve never heard or seen any atheist say that Stalin and Mao weren’t atheists.

        • VladChituc

          I’ve actually heard both Hitchens and Harris refer to Stalin and Mao as practicing the state sponsored religion of communism or stalinism.

          I very well may have made that up though, because I can’t remember where either said it. I just remember that I’ve heard it (for what little that’s worse).

          Anyway, it’s an argument I’ve certainly heard before.

  • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

    Chris, what about the other concerns that Davis raised, namely that it’s not “personal” enough, the memoir, or that you don’t reflect enough the influence of various teachers? (Also posted on your FB feed.)

  • GregPeterson

    Hi, Chris.  As Isaid at the reading you did in Minneapolis about a month ago, I love you, and I love PZ, and I think you’re both right–but context is everything.  I can be warm, tolerant, empathetic and understanding with religious believers who have honest questions and are interested in shared concerns and authentic dialog.  And I can verbally beat down an arrogant religious dogmatist interested only in telling other people what to think and who to look down on.  And I want to have that response range.

    You refer to a quote about religious people have something wrong with their brains.  If that’s the case, I’m not sure how those of us who thought our way out of religion were able to do so.  Is my brain STILL bad?  I’ve been an atheist almost as long as I was a believer now–is there some sort of statute of limitations after which my brain can go from bad to good?

    What I suspect is true, and perhaps what PZ meant, is that our information was bad and we did not yet know how to think critially about some of the ideas we held.  Because we had not been taught to do so.  But if anyone thinks that with the brain they have, they could never–if things had been a little different socially and in the family of origin–been a religious believer, she is simply mistaken. 

    • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

       Greg, this reminds me of AA, and its slogans about “powerlessness,” etc.

  • Jason Bonney

    Articles like this make me wish you could Google -1 a post.  

  • C Peterson

    As always, my complaint here is that this has nothing to do with atheism. I have no complaint with any “interfaith” arguments or communities, although I personally don’t choose to associate myself with them. And I agree that the “New Atheism” is toxic, and to be firmly repudiated. Because it isn’t about atheism. It is about anti-theism, and that’s the term that we should be using. I completely agree with Chelsea Link’s comment- and I wouldn’t remotely tie it to “New Atheism”. It is anti-theism, pure and simple, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we should not tie atheism to anti-theism, because they aren’t the same thing, and you can be the first without being the second. The concept of atheist activism or evangelical atheism is nonsensical.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    In an excerpt of his book published elsewhere, Christ Stedman described himself as “Minnesota nice“.  Yeah, that’s about right.

  • machintelligence

    Even at particularly liberal universities, the connotations are almost exclusively negative. When I ask why, participants generally cite two things: interactions with self-righteous atheists, and media messages from and/or about atheists that leave the impression that we are untrustworthy and unlikeable.

    Since the very existence of atheists is a challenge to fundamentalist beliefs, they will treat any atheist as self-righteous. Plus, when we point out the absurdity of their beliefs and mock them (however gently) for it, we will be perceived as unlikable. I am willing to accept this as a cost of doing business.

    • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

       Ahh, another Overton Window shifter. Chris didn’t say the campus reactions to atheists were from fundamentalists. He didn’t say they were from ANYBODY in particular. #fail.
      I’m not Chris, but stuff like this is why I use the label “secular humanist” if I’m to have a label. I prefer it to “atheist” for reasons such as this.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        …  but stuff like this is why I use the label “secular humanist” if I’m to
        have a label. I prefer it to “atheist” for reasons such as this.

        So there is irrational bias against people who overtly identify as atheists, and your response is to let someone else do the pushback. Thank you, brave Sir Robin.

        • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

           You ignored my critique of what you said in response to Chris. Obviously, it is because you know you created a straw man. Again, not surprising, not new. Answer a logical critique with innuendo, and “projection” …. in this case, projecting your own irrationality onto me. #fail, part deux.

          • Reginald Selkirk

            You ignored my critique of what you said…

            Not so. Your response was to someone else. I noticed something you said in there that I felt was worthy of comment, and I commented on it. The rest is you making shit up. You are a bad person.

            • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

              True on that my original response wasn’t to you. So, to be accurate, you ignored what I said to MachIntelligence, and the fact that my bias wasn’t irrational. You also misread me and put words in my mouth, my rational response is to Gnu Atheists peeing in the atheist punch bowl. The rest of what I said in response to you still stands. And, ohhh, I’m a badddd person. Gonna hit me on the nose with a rolled up PZ so I don’t pee on teh Gnu Atheist carpet again?

      • CottonBlimp

        Non fundamentalists have emotional beliefs too, and they don’t like those challenged either.

        As a lot of the unfortunate sexism in the atheist community has illustrated, what people react to is the idea that a member of a hated identity should have any self respect at all.  Anyone raised with privilege will see attempts to combat privilege as hateful attacks on their very person instead of attempts to rectify inequality.  That’s why women get called feminazis.

        The idea that you can make changes to mainstream culture without offending people is idiotic.  The point ought to be whether that offense is based in something legitimate rather than this purely political posturing.

  • Octoberfurst

     I have mixed feelings about this article. On the one hand I know that there are good decent people who are religious. (This includes most of the religious people I know.)  They go about their lives, not bothering anyone, and go to church on Sunday, etc.  They would give you the clothes off their back if you needed anything.  But yet they believe in fairy tales & part of me wants to challenge them as to why they believe such nonsense. On the other hand I wonder what good it would do other than to alienate them from me.
      Then we have the fundie types. The self-righteous, in-your-face believes who try to cram their religion down societies throat.   I can’t stand them and am more than willing to go toe to toe with them in verbal battles.  I have had many heated discussions online with these morons.
      I wish that religion would go away. We would all be better off for it.  But I think it is very important HOW you approach religious people. Most of the time I am very cordial and respectful when discussing religion with the faithful—and I think that is the best approach.  But there are also times when you need to Hitchslap them too.  It very much depends on the situation. I don’t agree with PZ Meyers that all believers are assholes. But a great number are and need to be dealt with accordingly.
      In closing I will point out one thing that really bothers me. Many people say liberal believers are our allies and to an extent that is true.  But yet, for the most part, they never challenge the right-wingers when they spew their bile.  They don’t correct them or stand up to them. So it makes me wonder, if push comes to shove, who will they stand with?  Just sayin’.

    • http://twitter.com/tribalscientist Mike McRae

       ” I don’t agree with PZ Meyers that all believers are assholes. But a great number are and need to be dealt with accordingly.”

      While I’m sure it’s not your point, the subtext to this statement is that religious assholes need to be dealt with, while non-religious ones get a free pass.

      Anybody who oppresses others and deprives them of the freedoms they themselves take for granted needs to be fought. If it’s a result of their supernatural beliefs, their patriotic ones, their scientific beliefs or, hell, their culinary culture…why should it matter?

      It seems the issue isn’t merely that there are religious assholes. It’s that their belief in something irrational offends you. I can sympathise (I happen to like science and rationality a whole lot), but merely being offended by a different belief – rational or other – doesn’t justify criticism. The consequences of those beliefs are where the fight’s at.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        Something I’ve noticed over the last few years is that apparently the way to promote interfaith dialogue where atheists are concerned seems to be to ignore things like morality, beauty, wonder, “spiritual” experience, community and praxis, and talk about assholes instead. 

        I’ll take it even further and say that many religious liberals are not only silent when it comes to marginalization of atheists, they often contribute to it by supporting the stereotype that we’re rude and angry. 

      • Octoberfurst

        What I meant Mike was that believers who are assholes need to be challenged and held accountable for their comments. I believe that anyone, secular or religious, who is acting like an ass needs to be confronted. In no way did I mean that non-religious people who are jerks get a pass.

    • amycas

      Until last week, I had quite a few of the nice “good decent people who are religious” as friends on my facebook. They were people who I thought were supportive of my beliefs, and who I thought just went about their daily lives and kept their religious beliefs personal. Then the shooting happened. All of these “nice” religious people threw me and all other secularists under the bus. One by one I had to delete friends from my facebook and send a little message to them explaining that no, atheists did not cause the shooting. My fight for secular schools did not cause the shooting. Putting prayer back in schools will not stop school shootings, but it will only alienate people more. These are the same people that I’m cordial to when it comes to religion, because they normally keep it to themselves, aside from a Bible verse post every once in a while. These are people who I’ve never seen advocate against lgbt or women’s rights. But, as soon as tragedy hits, they threw me under the bus. These are liberal believers, and they were not my allies. They chose to be divisive and ugly in a time when people should have been coming together during a tragedy.

      This is why I have a hard time thinking of seemingly nice religious people as allies. When push comes to shove, they shoved me. Instead of shoving back against the fundamentalists they normally claim not to be, they joined with them to attack me. Of the ten friends I lost last week and sent a message to explaining why, only one responded, and it was no apology, it was a double-down of the original insult–ending with a plea for me to accept Jesus.

      • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

        Plenty of “nice religious ppl” are pro-gun control.

      • Octoberfurst

        Sorry that you had to get rid of some of your Facebook friends. So far I have been lucky. After the shooting many of my liberal Christian friends just posted benign nonsense like “The children are all in Jesus’ arms now.” I have not seen any “blame the atheists” bullshit—thankfully. But if it comes across my feed I will respond to it.
        But I have noted a certain pattern with my Christian friends. They freely post religious messages and I just ignore them. But if I post anything even slightly anti-religious I get chastized for “mocking” their beliefs. They get “offended”. But they don’t seem to care if their religious postings offend me. So whether they be conservative or liberal Christians they hate to have their worldview challenged.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    I think this is falling into the tone argument fallacy that if only we communicated in a softer tone of voice, the stereotype bias would just vanish. I don’t think that’s the case as long as many religious liberals, conservatives, and “nones” alike both make a point of expressing that bias and patting themselves on the back for being the more polite party. 

    I’m shocked that today I actually saw a blog post suggesting that atheists might have a solid philosophical ideas about how to deal with tragedy. Focusing on atheist “anger” provides a convenient excuse for non-atheists to talk at us and not with us.  About the time that people start talking about “assholes” is about the time that I check out, because that’s the majority of what gets published about atheism these days, and it’s not terribly interesting or relevant to the lives of most atheists. 

  • jose

    *sigh* how about supporting those concerns about the efficacy of a particular approach with evidence that it’s actually harmful or even merely ineffective?

    New Atheists have provided abundant evidence of the failure of accommodationism, the Biologos Foundation being perhaps the most prominent among them. Not only they didn’t convince fundamentalists to quit rejecting evolution, they ended up arguing for a literal Adam and Eve. Talk about backfiring! So at least we have some substance upon which have an argument about efficacy. But concern without data isn’t worth a lot, is it?

    • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

       Really? What evidence? Besides, Chris didn’t say he was focused on working with fundamentalists. I see the Overton Window moving.

      • jose

        “Really? What evidence?”

        Exactly! ;)

        • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

          Sorry, thought you were defending the Gnu position the first time, not being sarcastic.

    • VladChituc

      Accommodationism is a broad word, and the work Chris does has nothing at all to do with reconciling evolution with the existence of God.

      What are you even talking about?

      • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

        Accommodationism has nothing to do with theistic evolution. What are YOU tallking about? Oh, and “accommodationism” is a four-letter word invented by Gnus.

        • VladChituc

          There’s accommodationism meaning reconciling science and faith. That isn’t what chris does. That’s what the biologos group does. That’s what jose was talking about.

          There’s the legal principle of accomodationism, where U.S. law accomodates religious beliefs (e.g. you can’t force a jewish postal worker to work on the Sabbath).

          Then there’s the four-letter “gnu” debate, where accommodationists are just people too nice to religion or something. I guess that’s what jose is accusing Chris of, but he’s conflating it with a different meaning.

          So yeah, it’s a broad term but that’s basically why it’s useless.

          • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

            I’m with you now, Vlad. That said, I think Jose was still being a sarcastic “Poe,” even if he confused uses of the word.

      • jose

        I’m talking about how angry and bitter I was until I accepted Chris as my personal savior, Vlad :)

  • CottonBlimp

    Chris, when people analyzed the story you related in the Salon excerpt, it turned out you had either embellished it with mean stereotypes or had made up the whole thing.  Not only does this call into question your quotes of PZ Myers, who, along with most Gnu Atheists actually, manages to be a lot more nuanced than you give him credit for, it calls into question the entire moral underpinning of what you’re doing.

    Atheists are a reviled, marginalized minority in American society.  Your whole book leads with mean (AND INVENTED) characterizations of atheists playing heavily into stereotypes.  It makes all your “interfaith efforts” seem much less about some larger concern about social justice and much more about elevating YOU above the position of other atheists, attaching yourself like a remora to the undeserved privilege of religion that Gnu Atheists attack.

    You are like a gay man who doesn’t think he’s gay.  Like Clarence Thomas, who hates blackness.  Like the rural poor Republicans railing against “moochers”.  (Closeness to religion is common in all those cases as well.)  You are acting out of a dislike of a fundamental aspect of your own character; your allegiance to privilege is, for them, validating their oppression of people like you.

    Lose your attitude of moral superiority.  You are a toady and not much else.

    • VladChituc

      What are you talking about? If you’re referencing Simon Davis’s review, it basically confirmed that all the main facts about the event, except that the cocktails they were drinking weren’t mint julips and the food they ate weren’t apparently that fancy. 

      But Chris admitted that he might miss some small details in his memoir. Because it’s a memoir. 

      Nothing substantive was invented. You can watch the video of the event if you think PZs quotes are fabricated or taken out of context. They’re not. Go to the 28 minute mark or 33 minute mark. 

      And you realize Chris is gay right? That entire analogy is absurd and offensive and really just demonstrates you don’t know the first thing about Chris or his work. So how about you drop all the invectives and false charges and actually familiarize yourself with the material instead of making inflated and dramatic comments. 

      • CottonBlimp

        The entire characterization of a social gathering of atheists as an elite gathering of snooty, classist dickholes when it was, in actuality, a t-shirt-and-jeans pizza-and-cheese casual get together was bullshit.  It was either bullshit invented intentionally to play into the prejudices of Chris’ audience or bullshit invented in his own memory to play into the prejudices of Chris himself.

        Those quotes ARE taken out of context, by the way.  PZ did not say that all religious people are extremist assholes with something wrong with their brains.  Everyone should feel free to watch the video at the points you listed, because shame on you.  Shame on you for lying.  Shame on you for attacking criticism of religious extremism.

        If anyone wants a picture perfect example of why interfaith communities are NOT our allies in curbing religious extremism, it’s because interfaith advocates are all too happy to take attacks on religious extremism personally as an excuse to take pot-shots at a vulnerable minority.  If we can’t even question the legitimacy of ARRESTING someone over their treatment of a communion wafer then fuck interfaith and fuck you too.

        • VladChituc

          Again, I have to ask what you’re talking about. Where are you’re getting that it was t-shirts and jeans? All Simon said is that dress was casual, meaning it could be anywhere from t-shirts and jeans to business casual, and knowing the demographics that tend to go to atheist functions, particularly a few years ago, I wouldn’t be surprised if it erred towards the more formal. I’ve been to my fair share of atheist events, and they can definitely run on the stuffy upper class white guy end. The point is, you don’t know how casual the event was, so it’s absurd for you to make a claim like that. And it’s absurd to pretend like Chris is somehow mischaracterizing atheists in this anecdote, because he never said “and this is what atheism is like you guys! All atheists are like this and this is why I do what I do!” He said “this is a thing that happened to me, and it highlights a problem I’m going to talk about.”

          And you know, just saying “they’re out of context” isn’t actually helpful, right? If you’re going to call me a liar, you better well back it up with more than just an accusation. By all means, put the quotes into context. What did PZ really mean to say when he said religious people had something profoundly wrong with their brains?

          “If we can’t even question the legitimacy of ARRESTING someone over their treatment of a communion wafer then interfaith is worthless.”

          Are you serious? That is your picture perfect example of why interfaith communities aren’t our allies? Where has anyone, let alone Chris, said anything to suggest something even vaguely like this? Did the IFYC issue a press release or something, saying PZ Myers should be arrested?

          • CottonBlimp

            The communion wafer issue WAS the context of the PZ quote you and Chris and a lot of other people were hating on. You would know that if you’d spent even a trifling amount of time watching the video; I made the mistake of assuming you had.

    • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

      I don’t think he’s “morally superior.” That said, I don’t think all of Davis’ blog post was wrong, either. I have not read it yet, but I want to if/when I see a copy. My thoughts and questions about the book, its ideas, Chris’ work and more (including reflections on this thread) are here: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2012/11/so-how-good-is-faitheist-whats-it-about.html

    • BlazeL

      JT EBERHARD calls him a “dishonest little shit”…on Nov. 7th on this blog.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot
    I observed that the behaviors and memes I’m critical of in my book are
    probably promoted by a highly visible minority of atheists, not by all
    New Atheists.

    Saying you’re criticizing only a minority of atheists is cold comfort to those of us who happen to, you know, like some of the things said by PZ Myers and others.  Now, not only are you criticizing them, you’re minimizing them.

    • VladChituc

      What’s wrong with criticizing something? Isn’t that what atheists are supposed to do with someone they respect and disagree with?

      And do you disagree that it’s a minority of atheists who agree with you and Myers? How is pointing that his criticism wasn’t meant to apply to everyone who self-identifies as a new atheist minimizing the people he criticized?

    • VladChituc

      What’s wrong with criticizing something? Isn’t that what atheists are supposed to do with someone they respect and disagree with?

      And do you disagree that it’s a minority of atheists who agree with you and Myers? How is pointing that his criticism wasn’t meant to apply to everyone who self-identifies as a new atheist minimizing the people he criticized?

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

        Vlad, the central problem with this critique (and others similar) is that it’s not at all clear who or what is being criticized. I think he is criticizing a group that includes me, because I agree with many things said by PZ Myers. At the same time, he also says that the objects of his criticism are the small minority who exclusively focus on religion as the source of human problems, and make sweeping generalizations of religion. He says he likes a few new atheists, like Chelsea Link, who spends a lot of time on interfaith efforts.

        Some of these things apply to me (I like PZ Myers, I don’t bother with interfaith stuff), but others don’t (I don’t believe religion is the source of all problems, or even a single entity). This leaves me feeling that Chris’s main method of criticism is mischaracterization.

        • http://twitter.com/SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly

          Well, PZ *does* make sweeping generalizations of religion. He and Coyne (and others) conflate “all varieties of Christianity” with “fundamentalism.” So, I see no mischaracterization. And, the way a number of PZ’s Pharyngulacs are even more vicious than PZ himself on his blog, y’all have no room to complain and mischaracterization, or mistreatment in general. (If it were happening, which it’s not.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shiari-Ryu/821884434 Shiari Ryu

    I am an atheist today because I found P.Z. Myers’ blog. I was already not christian at that point, but I quickly came to realise that all the arguments against and the mocking of christianity could as easily be about my own beliefs. That acknowledgement of the similarities made me really question those last few cherished beliefs… and I discarded them. Organised religion has never been anything but a force of ‘evil’ in my life. It has only brought me terror and estrangement. I wish fervently that someday religion will no longer exist.

  • Georgina

    God is a paper crutch. Most people carry it about in their pockets, convinced that – should they ever really need it – it will be there.

    Religion, on the other hand, is like those Japanese sandals, designed to keep a woman’s feet small and crippled. Even when removed, some damage is irreparable.

  • BlazeL

    Stedman, on this blog (on Nov. 7) JT EBERHARD called you a dishonest little shit.
    Now its true that PZ Myers and Harris let the cat of the bag and admit that they want to eliiminate religion. In the case of Harris this would undoubteldy involve force if he could get away with it. (After all, he says it may be ethical to kill people for beliefs. p52 TEOF.)
    But you also would like to see religion eliminated. You just want to be nice about it, but I wonder how long that would last if atheists acually had the power to do what they want.

  • Oriole

    I enjoyed this article and agree with all of it. I think if you care about the damage religion has done to the world, you should be in favor of interfaith events. One of the bad things about religion is that it often promotes tribalism, seperating people into the saved and the damned, the chosed and the goyim, the enlightened and the unenlightened. One of the best ways to defeat prejudice is to get the prejudiced person to work with people they are prejudice against on some common goal. If atheists meet people of many other faiths who have never met an atheist before, and they get along, that’s going to reduce prejudice towards atheists. That was one of the ideas behind Dawkin’s ‘coming out’ campaign. Less prejudice and more recognition of our commonality as human beings is a good thing for everyone.

    Another benefit of interfaith is that by meeting people who believe differently from you, you’re forced to question your own beliefs. Questioning their beliefs is how some religious people have become atheist. Anything that encourages questioning of beliefs has got to be a good thing. Questioning false beliefs is the first step towards getting rid of them. It also will teach atheists who engage in it how to be better debaters, which arguements religious people have heard before and how they deal with those arguements and which arguements are new to them and possibly persuasive.

    Also, pragmatically speaking, religious people are still in the majority worldwide. If you want gay marriage, if you want to protect free speech, if you want evolution taught in science class, if you want a secular state, it will be easier to get these things done if you work with religious people who want to achieve these same goals. Yes, those people do exist. Not every religious person is a fundamentalist nutter. It’s a shame and actually a little scary that it’s getting to the point where some atheists think all religious people are hateful bigots. That’s prejudice and it is harmful. Religion is extremely varied. For pretty much every cause you pick, there will be a religious person on your side.


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