Why “faitheist” Chris Stedman is so obnoxious

I said I wasn’t going to say any more about Chris Stedman, but Hemant recently posted an exclusive excerpt with an intro that I feel needs a response:

Chris Stedman is an atheist.

He works with the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University, where he is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain, and blogs at NonProphet Status.

And he’s the subject of a hell of a lot of negative blogposts… mostly because he believes strongly in the interfaith movement and that atheists ought to participate in it — and that the kind of “New Atheism” that tears down and mocks religion without offering anything in its place is bad for our movement as a whole. (I know, I know, how dare he suggest we find common ground with religious people without compromising our own values? Criticize ideas instead of people?! Ridiculous.)

I haven’t followed Stedman and his critics super-closely, but you don’t have to have seen much of the debate to realize this is a crude caricature of Stedman’s critics. To take just the issue of interfaith, here’s JT on Stedman’s interfaith work:

I have no issue with Chris’s interest in Interfaith (my personal misgivings about the enterprise, which pretty much mirror those of PZ Myers, aside).  My gripes are precisely what I said: I feel he shields religion.  Contrary to what Conrad said, I do not care if Chris Stedman criticizes religion.  I do not care because I do not demand that others criticize religion.  What I do expect is for those on my side not to play sentinel when others do make valid criticisms of religion.

You can read more of JT’s criticisms of Stedman here and here. Or, look at this post by Jen McCreight, which criticizes the “interfaith” label, but doesn’t remotely oppose finding common ground with religious people. Frankly, I’m surprised at Hemant, and think he owes Stedman’s critics some apologies.

But since Hemant isn’t the only atheist who can’t understand why Stedman is so disliked, I think it’s worth saying a it more about that. I’m just going to focus on what’s been posted in the excerpts from his new book, starting with a sentence from this excerpt that I had overlooked when I first read it: “With divisive religious fundamentalism on the rise, reactionary atheism that fixates on making antireligious proclamations is creating even more division.”

Now what is this saying? “Antireligious proclamations” calls up an image of rhetorical pomposity on the atheist’s part, but I don’t think pomposity is a particular sin of popular atheism. That suggests all Stedman really means by the phrase “making antireligious proclamations” is “saying things critical of religion.”

And “fixates” makes it sound like an unhealthy obsession that gets in the way of doing other things, but who does that describe? Dawkins had a three-decade career as a science writer before The God Delusion and went on to write more great science books after it. Harris got his start with two anti-religion books, but has since gone on to write books about philosophy and neuroscience (three so far, with more I suspect on the way). Even PZ Myers takes time off from bashing religion to post science cartoons and cephalopods.

So it’s very hard to avoid the conclusion that by “fixates” Stedman means “does quite a bit,” and “fixates on making antireligious proclamations” means “frequently says things critical of religion.” Hemant, you agree there’s nothing wrong with that, right? Stedman appears to think there is. That… or he’s complaining about how everything is being ruined by a category of atheists that doesn’t actually exist.

This is one of the frustrations of reading a certain kind of anti-atheist literature. The critic starts out by saying how those horrible atheists are ruining everything… and then when you point out their argument wouldn’t be a fair criticism of any prominent atheist you can think of, it turns out that it’s some other, totally unknown, atheists who are ruining everything. (How a small group of atheists no one has ever heard of could have the power to ruin everything is never clear.)

Out of the excerpt posted on Hemant’s blog, there’s one paragraph in particular I want to pick on: 

When I go out and speak with religious individuals and communities about atheism, the most common feedback I get is that many people have had very negative experiences with atheists. I hasten to reassure them that the majority of atheists are just like everyone else — kind, generous, interested in living lives of meaning and purpose — and that the image of atheists as mean-spirited, nihilistic, and intolerant is a stereotype. But the increasingly vocal and vitriolic subset of the atheist community has made my work of persuading people to abandon their negative preconceptions of atheists a lot more difficult, and it makes it possible for religious people who don’t know many or any atheists to tokenize me and others doing similar work — to see us as the exceptions, to see me as the “one good atheist.” This is the opposite of what I and others are trying to accomplish, and it frustrates me that some atheists enable and perpetuate the widespread mistrust of atheists.

Has Stedman been paying attention? We live in a country where many religious believers think it’s “offensive” for atheists to publicly announce our existence, and “intolerance” if they get criticized for opposing gay rights or thinking all Jews are going to burn in Hell. Once, I participated in a campus atheist group’s “ask an atheist” day, and one guy came up to us and informed us we were being “militant” by giving people a chance to ask us questions. When believers complain about their bad experiences with atheists, this is something that can’t be taken at face value.

As for being tokenized as the “one good atheist,” Stedman should know that that’s happened to me too, even though I don’t hold back at all in my criticism of religion. And here’s a quote from the first comment from that post:

My favorite example is how the Times of London praised Stephen Hawking’s recent remarks about a godless universe by contrasting him to Dawkins. The slam on Dawkins was unnecessary and gratuitous, of course, but look at it another way: A famous physicist came out and publicly said that one of the most cherished beliefs of billions of people was silly and unnecessary, and the relatively conservative Times praised him for it — but only because they could contrast him with their punching bag Dawkins.

What’s going on here is just this: it’s not, contrary to what Stedman implies, that most atheists (or even most atheists that believers have contact with) are bad. It’s that religious believers have prejudices about atheists that they want to justify, and if it’s convenient to acknowledge one atheist as “the good atheist” to better bash other atheists by contrast, they’ll do that, even if there’s no meaningful difference between their chosen token and the atheists they’re bashing. I’ve seen Bretrand freaking Russell used in the “good atheist” role, for crying out loud! Russel! (For those who don’t know, he once called religion “a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.”)

When Stedman uncritically repeats the statements of religious believers about those nasty “New Atheists,” he does far more to perpetuate stereotypes about atheists than Dawkins has ever done.

  • jose

    The little personality cult his webpage is gives me the chills, and the conversion stories his followers have been writing lately remind me of the Chick cartoons. Like, I spent my days being an asshole on reddit like a good new atheist but then I accepted Chris as my personal savior!

  • http://tuibguy.com Mike Haubrich

    It really pisses me that he thinks that healing the rift between atheists and non-atheists is *his* work. This is where the term “faitheist” is derisional, not that he makes friends with non-atheists and does his intergroup work.

    The faitheists are those “Uncle Toms” (hope that isn’t too offensive) who walk around saying that the uppity atheists are the ones causing all the problems.

    • Walker Bristol

      Yeah no it is too offensive but thanks for playing.

    • Christenstain

      “uncle toms”? You racist fuck.

  • ctcss

    I read Hemant’s blog entry, as well as the Salon article he cited. Quite frankly, I found Stedman to be refreshing since he seemed interested in having people of all stripes (believing, other-believing, and non-believing) find common ground to work towards shared goals of decency, caring, and compassion. Now granted, I am a Christian believer, so it may be easy to dismiss me as someone who likes the “turncoat” that Stedman seems to be characterized as.

    But I don’t like him because he is selling out atheists. I like him because he is more than willing to look at the larger picture and to acknowledge both the good and the bad of those of all stripes. All too often, I feel that vocal non-believers (just like vocal believers) focus on every imagined, perceived, or actual negative aspect of the “other” side and completely ignore anything positive. One cannot build bridges towards others if a foundation cannot be constructed or be even conceived as being possible on the other side of a perceived chasm. Just as atheists are put down “just because they are atheists”, I see theists put down for the same “just because they are” reason.

    Far too many non-believers take anti-religion stands when they should be taking anti-action stands. People (whether in groups or as individuals) should be judged by their actions, not their labels. Religion is not the problem. Bad approaches to religious thought and life are. People and groups who take a deeply thoughtful approach towards theological questions and practices, and who embody the qualities of a good neighbor, and express compassion and respect towards others should be no one’s declared enemy.

    Are there tragic instances of religious people doing terrible things? Sadly yes. And if their theology demands that they do those terrible things, then it is quite reasonable to criticize that religion’s theology and practice. But far too often, the theology says one thing and the group or the person do something rather different. Under those circumstances, the criticism should be directed at the person or the group for not living up to the standards in their theology. And criticism should not be leveled at other persons or groups who are trying to practice what they preach simply because there are others with the same religious label that have done something which is unacceptable. Very few of us are in a position to ride herd on everyone with the same affiliation, much less ride herd on those who simply appear to be in the same camp, but who actually are not. Living one’s own life and trying to adhere to high principles is often hard enough.

    The point is, I wish people (all people) would be specific in their criticisms and not just use a broad brush to tar large numbers of people with. (Saying that religion is the problem is not at all a specific criticism. It’s just a convenient and shallow way to vilify a whole sector of thought and it brings no light at all to discourse on the subject.) I feel that Stedman is at least trying to bring some sense of fairness to the public discussion of belief, different-belief, and non-belief. That’s why I find him (at least what little I know of him) to be refreshing.

    • baal

      “Religion is not the problem. Bad approaches to religious thought and life are. ”
      Actually, I think religion is the problem and bad thinking followed by bad acts is a necessary outcome of most mainstream churches. I agree, however, that criticizing religion writ large is like complaining about a title of a movie when what you’re really on about is the acting (or the direction or the set design or the dialog or what ever). The real compliants are the various bad acts that religious adherents engage in. Even better, complaints tied to specific harms are much stronger than apologetics or generic arguments.

    • MNb

      “judged by their actions”
      “Religion is not the problem”
      “Bad approaches to religious thought and life are”
      According to this logic communism shouldn’t be criticized for North-Korea or any other country.

      “the criticism should be directed at the person or the group for not living up to the standards in their theology”
      Yeah, tried that. The answer I get is “don’t confuse the message with the messenger.” Well, my standpoint is that there is something wrong with the message if the messengers aren’t able to live up to it. Christianity has failed just like communism has.
      Still it’s obviously possible that there are many good christians around – many communists are good people too.

      • ctcss

        Oddly enough, I think you are making my case. Communism isn’t necessarily bad as long as people have a free choice as to whether or not to engage in it. The problem with communistic countries is that they were very typically despotic and tyrannical. So yes, the North Korean’s practice/actions regarding their populace would cause them to be condemned, not the fact that communism was the form of government there.

        And as for your comment placing blame on Christianity for Christians not living up to the demands of Christ, I hardly think that is cause to condemn it. By your logic, anything too hard to do is simply unacceptable and unworkable. Thus the Olympics, under your scheme of thought, would consist of jumping jacks and tiddlywinks because anything that demanded something higher from the athletes would be considered completely unworkable. G. K. Chesterton already noted your complaint and stated “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried.”

        Any religion that is considered deeply and seriously by a person is going to place rather large demands upon its adherents. What you are commenting on is the human animal’s laziness when it comes to the need for a person to impose mental discipline on themselves. A shallow approach to religion (or any endeavor that requires effort) is going to make that endeavor look pointless and without merit.

      • baal

        I’m of the general opinion that religion does poison everything – if only by it’s constant pushing of magical thinking. I’m happy to target message and messenger both. Folks have some responsibility to not promulgate arguments and positions where they are entirely ignorant of the underlying facts and circumstances. Rush Limbaugh ditto heads are immoral for carrying out his message. I also agree with you that so many of the christian arguments are wrong, have been for a long time and that so many of them are wrong that we should just junk that entire endevour.
        That’s not liekly to happen anytime soon.
        I do better in arguments with specific individual Christians, however, when I express outrage at the RCCs efforts to stop condom distribution by US A.I.D. since condoms mitigate serious harm from AIDS and other diseases. When they reply with some pro-life BS, I get to ask them how their position is consistent with the deaths and suffering caused by blocking condom distribution. I get to ask them by which real world physical mechanism they are more right than I am. It’s just a lot easier to argue in specifics than in generalities to a hostile audience.

    • Nox

      Actions are informed by beliefs.

      All the most tragic examples of christians doing terrible things are (a) consistent with the bible (b) explicitly motivated by faith, and (c) endorsed or commanded by religious leaders.

      How many terrible things would christians have to do while declaring “I am doing this for god” and citing the bible as justification before you could entertain the possibility that christianity is actually the cause of their behavior?

      If your primary goal is to protect the teaching of science in schools, it makes sense to cooperate with liberal christians who share that goal. If your primary goal is to work for equality for gay people, it makes sense to cooperate with liberal christians who share that goal.

      If your primary goal is to create a more free and enlightened society where these problems solve themselves, it makes the most sense to address the underlying cause (ie the theology).

      • ctcss

        In every case you state, you are talking about people who have a very shallow understanding of what Jesus taught. (And yes, that can include religious leaders as well as followers.)

        People who are clueless about the meaning of scripture or of God’s nature are going to do clueless things in the name of scripture or of the God they think they know but don’t. Jesus pointed this out both to his theological opponents as well as his own disciples. Anyone who reads the gospel accounts and sees Jesus rebuking his own disciples for trying to destroy a Samaritan village under the auspices of religious righteousness and indignation, or sees that Jesus rebuked the disciple that cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant who was trying to take Jesus into custody for judgement and punishment, or who reads the sermon on the mount and realizes that Jesus didn’t just demand being loving to one’s neighbors, but to also be loving to one’s enemies, would have to realize that any effort they made to exact vengeance or violence on others is not at all in keeping with the concept that Jesus taught about God.

        And Jesus was more than happy to mix with the outcasts and the sinners of his day, expressing love and kindness towards them rather than despising or shunning them. He offered caring and acceptance to them and allowed them to decide for themselves if they were willing to forgo their former ways of living. He called many to follow him, but very few did. He did not condemn those that did not for doing so. And in fact, for those who seemed eager to follow, but were not fully considering what following him might entail, he was quite frank with them, once again allowing them to come to their own decision.

        Furthermore Jesus wasn’t at all concerned about the mortal and material elements of everyday life. He was more than willing to render unto Caesar the things that were Caesar’s, realizing that the demands of God called on a person to sacrifice something very much different from what the world might regard as precious. Jesus would have had no problems allowing schools to teach science since science doesn’t even touch the God question, any more than shoeing a horse or mending a wagon or a fishnet touches on the God question. Rendering unto God demands that one offer unto to God the things that are important to God, things like love, honor, justice, mercy, humility, etc.

        So it would seem that when people engage in venal, cruel, or self-righteous actions against others, they really are not acting according to the concept of God that Jesus preached about. Their actions are really not at all in keeping with Christian precepts (that is, the precepts that Jesus taught).

        Thus Christian theology is not at fault here. Rather, it’s the all-too-lame, self-righteous, shallow, often materialistic, and all too often cruel understanding of Christian theology which people use to justify and further their own goals, or the goals of their own group. As Jesus pointed out “the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” He was interested in redeeming humanity from their troubles and offering healing to them, not destroying them. And if theological differences seemed to cause people to want to reject the message Jesus was offering, his counsel was to part ways with them, not to start a war with them.

        Thus people who follow Jesus had better make sure that their thoughts and actions are in keeping with Jesus’ teachings and actions.

        • kagekiri

          Yeah, Jesus was so loving and forgiving!

          “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:30

          So, self-mutilation if this is literal, or about eternal punishment for sin otherwise. WOW. That’s super moral! Can you imagine a better standard of morality than “turn or burn” or “obey or be horribly punished forever”? Add the fact that Jesus made thinking/saying bad things sinning, and you get horrible self-hatred and self-repression to boot, because natural impulses are sins even if you don’t act on them! I know that much from personal experience.

          “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34
          “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

          Oh wow, he was ALL about being inclusive and peaceful! So pro-family, this cultish concept of rejecting your family if they’re not fellow believers and making sure to prioritize everything far lower than him!

          Luke 14: 12-14: “Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.””

          Wow, let’s defer your repayment into the afterlife so you can get rewards. SO MUCH LESS SELFISH than just giving without expecting any rewards! Wait, wait…no, it isn’t.

          “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5: 17

          Look, Jesus reaffirming all the undeniably horrible crap of the Old Testament! Genocide, rape is a-okay, kill the women adulterers but not the men (note that Jesus didn’t say stop stoning women for adultery, he only stopped 1 stoning he happened to get dragged into), slavery, etc. No corrections, no changes, no “you got it wrongs!” on any of a huge group of obviously immoral or factually wrong crap in the older scriptures. He argued within the law..and that law was horrible and full of junk. See Luke 17:20-37 for him implying that Noah and Lot were factual.

          “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.” That’s Luke 19:27, the Parable of the Minas, with Jesus or God obviously being the king in that parable. Man, he’s so loving!

          Matthew 7:22-28 “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
          Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
          He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
          The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
          He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
          “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
          Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.”

          Oh look, Jesus being a bit of a racist jerk, who wouldn’t heal someone’s daughter without her begging and insulting herself more than he insulted her. And best of all, he’s the one who supposedly MADE her an unworthy Canaanite! What a perfectly good person he was! This whole “choosing one small nation to save and damning the rest” of the Old Testament is totally reversed by Jesus, who only sent his disciples to Israelite towns….oh wait, no, God still condemned the vast majority of the population of the world into Hell even with Jesus’ ministry on earth. It was Paul (who brings all sorts of other horrible crap to the table, like homophobic bigotry and more misogyny and sexual repression) who made the transition to preaching outside of Israel.

          Matthew 9:20-24 “Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.””

          Yeah, Jesus said to just leave towns that refused his message….because God would bring far worse punishment on their heads for eternity than mere humans could. Man, that’s a wonderful message; save your vengeance so that God can torture those jerks who didn’t listen. Oh, and note how God knew the level of miracles that would have convinced and saved those previously destroyed towns, and apparently just decided they weren’t worth that much miracle juice to save them. Man, that’s what you call pure love! He was so willing to stay hidden and not mess with their free will that they’re all sure to burn in hell after being horribly slaughtered and burned alive on earth!

          I’ll hardly claim Jesus was 100% wrong (his “screw money, care about people” message is solid; well other than being for Jewish people only and not if they’re unbelievers who refuse to convert, but still, not all bad), but his morality still had so much room for improvement that glorifying it seems…short-sighted, to say the least.

          • ctcss

            I get the feeling that you came from (and departed from) a religious background that stressed Bible literalism. I didn’t. From your religious standpoint, I would guess that you might have come to the conclusions that you have. From my religious standpoint, those conclusions didn’t even come to mind.

            I never had a literal hell to believe in or escape from. I wasn’t trying to puzzle out physical instances of objects or events from metaphorical, allegorical, or figurative allusions. You saw something horrific to try to escape from. I was intrigued by by a message I found to be hopeful, positive, (and yes, often rather puzzling) that I wanted to understand more about.

            I think that people coming from different religious backgrounds (or lack thereof) often have a hard time understanding each others standpoints. I have no idea what Stedman sees from his vantage point, but I can at least applaud him for trying to bridge the gaps of misunderstanding that seem to divide each group from the other.

            We wont necessarily agree with one another. But it never hurts to try to discern what the other person or group “knows” from its perspective so that maybe we can find our commonalities, discern (and possibly even learn to appreciate) our differences, and hopefully all learn to live in peace with one another.

        • eric

          CTSS:

          People who are clueless about the meaning of scripture or of God’s nature are going to do clueless things in the name of scripture or of the God they think they know but don’t.

          If God’s nature was as you claim, we couldn’t be clueless about the meaning of scripture. Misinterpretation and lack of clarity in His message should not be a problem for a god that is (a) omnipotent and (b) wants to send us a clear message. Since you admit that people are clueless about the meaning of his message, which of (a) or (b) do you think is incorrect?

  • Parse

    I’m going to make the same comment here that I made on Hemant’s post:
    My personal impression of Stedman is that he’s That Friend. Just how there are people who say “I’m not racist, I’ve got a black friend!” or “I’m not homophobic, I’ve got a gay friend!,” he’s the one people think of when they say “I’m not anti-atheist, I’ve got an atheist friend!”

  • Tony Debono

    I think a quote from Theodore Roosevelt best sums up the situation:
    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    Chris Stedman is in the arena *every day*, daring greatly.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Huh? What’s this about an arena? I thought Stedman was some kind of hip activist dude, not a gladiator.

      Joking aside, this isn’t about criticism of Stedman’s activism. It’s about Stedman’s (bad) criticism of other atheist activists.

      Also, though not really relevant here, the Roosevelt quote has always struck me as having sinister overtones, coming from someone who was a a powerful political leader. It would make sense if action were always a good thing, and the only issue is ever whether someone is doing as much good as they could, but “strong men” often do things that are hugely harmful.

      • Tony Debono

        :) I appreciate the humor (:

        I shouldn’t drop quotes, and I also don’t want to appear as though I’m setting myself up to be an apologist for anyone here…I’m just saying that the work Chris does stems directly from the criticism you speak of. Far from intending to imply anything sinister, I think Chris recognizes that established faith communities are a valuable resource for partnership and achieving important common goals. This opportunity represents a powerful means for some atheist groups to establish credibility, influence, and acceptance in the world, while a focus on adamant anti-theism (or whatever people want to call it), however, isn’t as helpful. In some ways we need to get over ourselves and ask the question “So, what’s most important to us, and what do we do now that we know what we DO believe?” in terms of achieving the goal of helping people in real and tangible ways. Not every atheist group will agree on what’s most important, and that’s fine, but I don’t see the point in putting so much effort and energy into attacking someone who is ‘obnoxious’ at worst. Chris’s obnoxiousness in print is greatly ameliorated by seeing his values in action.

  • Amakudari

    “When I go out and speak with religious individuals and communities about atheism, the most common feedback I get is that many people have had very negative experiences with atheists.”

    Agreed that this is completely obnoxious. Seriously, if I ever hear this (I’m not public about my atheism), I ask for specifics, specifics that are never volunteered and rarely provided on request. These “negative experiences” are often little more than suppositions about how someone should feel to meet something as dreadful as an atheist.

    The fact is, most people who say nasty things about atheists are ignorant about the extent of irreligion. Atheists like me aren’t vocal precisely because we would rather find common ground, and I find myself doing more of that groundwork than religious friends. (Friends who, much as I love them, have at various points advocated revoking atheists’ citizenship, voting rights and, bizarrely, entrance into heaven despite granting it to all theists.) That means subjecting ourselves to vitriol from those oblivious to our beliefs and, often enough, those who just plain hate us. Most of grit our teeth. And somehow we have an atheist who goes around peddling the redeeming qualities of faith, affirming the prejudices of the faithful, and denigrating popular atheists not for the falseness of their ideas but for their tone of voice.

    There are no atheists yelling at you in the quad, no atheists demanding schoolchildren be taught there is no god, no atheists forcing their way into others’ marriage ceremonies. Heck, we’re radically underrepresented in government. The best he’s got are a few outspoken atheists and some folks who will whisper their prejudices in like-minded company: problems but not very big ones.

  • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com Bronze Dog

    I’ve had some encounters with theists who complained about me not being a faitheist, and implicitly asserted that arguing with theists (regardless of actual tone) on a forum about atheism was going to scare away all the secular theists when it comes to politics and separation of church and state. If I were still a secular Christian, I think I’d be insulted to read that, since it treats secular theists as delicate flowers who can’t put aside their differences to work with people. Secularism requires thick skin, and when religious freedom was on the line I could stand up for atheist rights even though I was uncomfortable in debates and with thinking about atheism. Despite the discomfort, I wanted those debates to take place because that’s one way ideas are tested and improved on. If religious freedom came under threat, it’d discourage free debate.

    I’m an atheist now, but I still have much the same position. I support religious freedom because it allows us to debate more freely. I need the freedom because I’m in a minority and that makes me vulnerable to discrimination and persecution if someone abuses the system. I recognize other people need the freedom because as far as I know, someone out there might actually have or develop an accurate, testable god hypothesis that proves me and my null hypothesis wrong. If I’m wrong, I want people to have the opportunity to show me, and religious freedom protects that opportunity.

  • smrnda

    Keep in mind that churches rely a lot on anecdotal accounts, and the tired trope of the smug, condescending atheist intellectual gets paraded around to the extent that members of congregations get this sense of outrage, as if the imaginary straw atheist the preacher is talking about actually walked up and personally insulted them. It’s like a light version of the 2 minutes’ hate from 1984 at times. This is probably why everybody seems to have had some negative experience with atheists but can’t name specifics.

    • ctcss

      Once again, a generalization. I don’t believe I ever heard anyone at my church ever talk about atheists of any sort. Our goal was to try to learn how to more effectively follow Jesus’ example, not to spend time worrying about or vilifying those who didn’t believe at all, or who believed differently from us. Trying to learn how to follow Jesus is more than enough to keep one’s thought occupied.

      • MNb

        Ever seen an atheist at the door of your church with a sign reading “there is no god”?
        No? Now watch christian propaganda again (at atheist meetings, on TV etc.), please, just to get a few things straight.

        • ctcss

          Rude behavior is rude behavior. I wouldn’t want to experience it from either camp. Belief/non-belief is a very personal choice and as such should be treated with respect, not animosity. All I was pointing out in my post was that in my church, the subject of atheists never came up. Smrnda should have said “some churches”, not “churches”. I was simply pointing out that generalizations are not helpful. Belief and religion are not monolithic entities. Citing specifics are much better when making a case for or against something. And yes, there are many rude people out there, some religious, and some non-religious. Their commonality lies in their rude and thoughtless approach to others, not their belief or non-belief stance.

  • BKsea

    It has always seemed to me that the Stedmans and the Dawkins of the world differ because they have very different goals. I view Dawkins (and PZ, etc.) as chipping away at the edges of faith, trying to pry away non-believers into the atheist fold. I think their approach is very effective. Stedman (and Hemant, to an extent), on the other hand, seems to want to increase acceptance of the atheist community within the faith community. Their approach is also effective.

    The problem is that the best methods of achieving these two worthwhile goals are going to come into conflict. Chipping away at faith will not endear you to the faithful. Treating the faithful with kid gloves may strengthen their grip. What we need is to decide what goal is most important. The problem is that we are arguing over methods when we should be arguing over goals.

    My vote, by the way, is firmly behing the “militant atheists”

    • ctcss

      “Chipping away at faith will not endear you to the faithful. Treating the faithful with kid gloves may strengthen their grip.”

      OK, these are straw-men. One does not chip away at faith. One critiques a less than solid approach to difficult and honest theological questions. Believers need to ask themselves these hard questions in order to solidify their stance vis a vis their faith in, and understanding of, God. Someone who has already confronted these difficult and honest questions and has arrived at answers that are satisfying to them don’t have to worry about what religious critics have to say. The only complaint I have about Dawkins et al is the dismissive attitude I see that contents itself with broad brush polemics and never really tries to understand why a believing person might seriously entertain their belief in God. And that answers the straw-man of kid glove treatment and the grip it may have on a person, as well. Anyone who is serious about their faith in God should realize just how difficult and tricky following such a pathway is. It is a very personal journey (even when done as a member of a religious group) because ultimately the question boils down to how well does each person understand and follow God. No one can do it for you. No one has their grip on you and you have no grip on others. It’s a voluntary journey where people of faith help one another, when asked, but realize that each must pursue their own journey.

      • MNb

        The main complaint I have about believers – and that seems to include you – is the dismissive attitude I see that contents itself with broad brush polemics and never really tries to understand why a non-believing person might seriously entertain his/her lack of belief in anything supernatural.
        I live in a country that is as religious as the USA, Suriname (4% atheists according to last census). We not only have christians (48%), we have muslims (20%), hindu’s (27%), buddhists, animists, jews and probably a few more. Moreover we have them all in several varieties.
        Now guess who are the most vocal? Who occupy most time on TV? Who place the most advertisements in papers? Who proselytize at my secular school (it’s legal here) now and then?
        In short, who are the ones to work hardest (admitted, not as hard as in the USA) to convert others?
        Your co-believers.
        Go criticize them, then come back. It’s people like you who push me to New-Atheism, even if I don’t like the books of Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens very much and moreover think PZM a bore.

        It’s simple.
        God is Love means nothing.
        Jesus was not the perfect embodiment of agapè (something like unselfish love).
        The Bible is not divinely inspired.

        I am not going to be silent on this just because of offended religious feelings.
        But if you want to cooperate to make our world a little better you’re welcome. I’m probably the only atheist at my secular school and that works out fine.

        • ctcss

          Where in my post do you see me dismissing non-believers for their non-belief? I am quite at peace with the idea that anyone who arrives at their belief/non-belief stance through careful consideration is worthy of respect.

          I think your beef is with believers who dismiss you and your non-belief just because they personally don’t like it. Any reasonably mature thinker is going to realize that there are many viewpoints in the world and that in order to have a society that has many viewpoints within it is going to require an attitude of live and let live from its citizens.

          Sorry to hear that your are a target where you live. No one should have to deal with that kind of behavior.

      • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com Bronze Dog

        I think it’s worth pointing out that one of the goals in “chipping away at faith” is to encourage rational thought, skepticism, critical thinking, scientific methodology, and such. These are positive values society needs more of. Faith in the sense of “belief without evidence” is the opposite, which is why it’s a popular target.

      • eric

        “ultimately the question boils down to how well does each person understand and follow God.”

        Well, as I said above, if God was as advertised, it really shouldn’t boil down to that. Not understanding someone is a sign that the person doesn’t want to communicate clearly or, due to some factor they can’t control, they can’t communicate clearly. Humans have the latter problem all the time. We accept potential misunderstandings as par for the course. But God is supposed to be omnipotent and omniscient. That is hard to square with the Christian claim that the bible is Him trying to speak to us, and the observable fact that each person does not understand what He is trying to say.

  • ctcss

    I have never subscribed to the concept that blind faith is a virtue. Personally, I have more than enough evidence for me to continue on my pathway towards (what I believe to be) God. The question that each person must ask themselves is whether or not they find the evidence (or lack of it) they encounter to be compelling enough in order to pursue a line of inquiry further. If they have not found anything compelling about God, that is fine and obviously without such compelling evidence, they are quite within their rights to not bother with any further inquiry. IRL I have shared bits of my story with others without them finding anything about it especially compelling. However, these instances of evidence in my life personally strike me as compelling, so that ignoring the concept of God is not an option for me. To each his own. (And that’s as it should be.)

    And I am all in favor of critical thinking and the scientific method. But the scientific method is only useful for inquiries of a certain sort. For instance, one does not use the scientific method when choosing one’s friends or one’s spouse. (To attempt to do so would probably ensure that one would have no friends or spouse!) Similarly, one identifies their favored type of music by experiencing it. So in terms of friends, one’s spouse, or one’s music, the choices are made by finding those who resonate and harmonize with one’s self.

    The conceptual model of God and God’s kingdom I was taught does not lend itself to testing since, among other reasons, God and God’s kingdom are not material in any way whatsoever, nor is one’s interaction with God in any way mechanistic. So trying to approach God (conceptually speaking) using the scientific method really is a non-starter from my perspective. And although I am guessing that would make pursuing the subject area of God a non-starter for some, I don’t personally have a problem with it any more than than I have a problem discerning who I like as a friend or a spouse or what kind of music I find enjoyable. Basically, pursuing the subject area of God in a manner similar to what one might use on a piece of matter that one wanted to find the chemical properties of (or atomic weight or mass or specific density etc.) strikes me as being a rather inadequate way to find out more about God. And just as one has to pursue the investigation of matter on its terms, one must pursue one’s investigation of God on God’s terms.

    For people like me who have an interest in the subject area of God, deciding to further look into it makes sense. To those who don’t have an interest in the subject area of God, deciding to ignore it makes sense. As I said before, to each his own.

    • Theory_of_I

      What you have described as your reasoning for continuing on your “pathway towards (what I believe to be) God” is nicely put, but, unless this god is purely your own invention as opposed to the invention of someone else having been imposed on you, the latter of which is true since you say you prefer the Christian brand to all the others, just as perhaps you may prefer an Audi to a Kia, then you have no true ownership in the god you refer to. IOW you have been sold a god and a prepackaged one at that.

      I will presume you dislike the term invention. An invention can be described as an idea initially formed in the imagination. In order to acheive fruition, an imagined idea must be expanded in practical terms of some kind. Before the automobile industry and the Audi, there had to be the invention of a wheel, which began, of course, as no more than an idea.

      So it is in the industry of politics, ideas which in the absence of a material product must be sold to people by persuading them there is a higher degree of rightness in a given platform of ideas.

      And so it is in the industry of religion which is unquestionably the largest industry in the world. For this industry to succeed, people must be sold an idea. Unlike the Audi, there is no product to test for construction quality, amenities, reliability or the validity of claims made. Unlike politics, there is no means of testing the factuality (fact check) of the rhetoric because in order to realise the benefits you bought and are expected to continually pay for during the remainder of your life, you must die.

      Religion has an interesting sales technique not available to other industries. It is their unique ability to persuade their subscribers to accept the guilt for all the troubles and sins of the world and then to threaten the believers with seriously bad consequences if they fail to keep their club memberships and subscriptions current. Well, the bad stuff is all after they die of course. What any other industry wouldn’t do th have that sales pitch going for them?

      Even life insurance companies are held responsible by the beneficiaries of the deceased and the law. Except for religion, no other industry would survive for even a day if they made the same kind of vaporous claims and refused any responsibility to make good on anything they said. That is what’s known as a confidence game and is a disgusting and illegal practice. But you bought the god package.

      Most reasonable, competant people base the significant decisions they make on the honesty or truthfulness, validity and reliability of the source of their information. Considering that in thousands of years and among thousands of gods, not even a shred of actual evidence of the factual existence of even one of them has been verified. That through the millenia billions of believers have “known” that their god(s) was(were) the only true god(s) and relegated all the others to the trash heap because they were unverified, unreliable, imaginary nonsense. But you “know” and you bought the package.

      I do not begrudge you the right to believe as you choose, but as demonstrated unerringly throughout history, due to the total lack of evidence of claims made by the many iterations of the industry of religion, to believe in a supernatural being can only be understood to be 100% unreliable, and 100% unreasoned, insuperable faith.

      What you have presented is an excellent definition of the terms gullibility and credulity, which describe those who would buy into a 100% unreliable invention.

      • Silentbob

        I was writing a longer response to ctcss but binned it. Yours is much better.

      • ctcss

        Of course religion is an idea, and people, when presented with ideas, either find them appealing or they don’t. That is hardly news, nor is it a reason to reject religion. People usually need to hear about ideas and concepts from others. We generally don’t come up with every concept or idea all by ourselves but share those that we find valuable, useful, or helpful. That’s how civilizations grow and prosper, by individuals examining, sharing, and adopting/adapting ideas. (And yes, I find my religion to be valuable, useful, and helpful. That’s why I have decided to keep with its study and practice all these years.) People are generally free to choose what religious faith (or lack of it) they feel comfortable following (as adults), at least in most parts of the world. Yes, it is true that choosing a religion to follow may cause our pathway to diverge from our family and friends when we make such a choice, but that is hardly a surprise, nor is it a reason to reject religion. New or different ideas have always had that effect on people. (For example, taste in music is a rather common example of different ideas causing division among people.)

        And I notice in your post you seem to be alluding to aspects of a Christian theology that I was never taught to believe in. (You certainly aren’t referring to all religions. Judaism, for instance, doesn’t teach original sin, nor does Orthodox Christianity, I believe.) So unless one is simply trying to put everyone into one big box (which is basically a straw man), this area of your post just focuses on one religious idea among many, about whose precepts most people are free to examine and choose to accept or reject. Once again, no news here.

        So your post actually boils down to one basic kind of question. “How do you know that what you believe in is true?” Well, I cannot tell for certain that what I have chosen to follow is absolutely true. But the absolute truth of something conceptual is always going to be an ongoing question because a great deal depends on how clearly one understands the concept in the first place. (The Bible narratives often illustrate a person’s (or even a group’s) growing and evolving understanding of God. That’s one of reasons I like the Bible. It makes me feel like learning to understand more about God is a very approachable and doable endeavor. Plus, it allows me to see both the positive and the negative examples of people grappling with this idea. I get to learn from both their mistakes and their successes.)

        However, the conceptual model that I believe I understand my religious instruction to have described is one that demands that I practice its precepts here and now. In fact, it tells me that unless I make my own efforts at practicing and growing, I won’t really begin to have a working grasp of it and thus will not be able to determine (to my own satisfaction) whether or not those religious teachings are something even approaching the truth. Blind faith in what I was taught is not an option. The demand is on me to come to my own conclusions. It does not tell me that I must wait until I die in order for me to determine the truth of it. And as noted above, a great deal depends on my correct understanding of the concepts I was taught. (A confused or an incorrect understanding of a concept will not help anyone, nor will it supply a useful principle to work with and that one can attempt to demonstrate in their own life.)

        So basically, my religious practice is a work in progress where I try to follow the example of Jesus (along with the religious precepts I was taught) and grow in my understanding of God as I do so. Yes, that means learning by my own successes and failures, as well as by others successes and failures. And just as in everyday life, I am also helped onward by others whom I have found to be knowledgeable and trustworthy and who have more experience in a subject area than I do, and thus can benefit from their input and help. And as I grow in my own understanding, I can in turn help others. Humans do this all the time in mundane subject areas. As far as I understand these things, the same process should work in one’s religious practice as well since, as you noted, religion is an idea and ideas can be examined and placed into practice to see how well they work.

        Granted, I doubt that any of this will satisfy all the questions of a skeptic, but I at least hope that it illustrates that I am not at all interested in “buying a pig in a poke” and simply placing blind faith in someone or something else. Faith on my part is required, that is true, but it is a reasoned faith (a reasoned trust) that I am trying to engage in, not a blind faith. Understanding (rather than mere belief) is very much a cherished idea in how I was taught. However, being that, in a human sense, we are all seeing through a glass darkly, I really don’t know all the answers yet. But I am more than satisfied that my efforts to learn and to grow God-ward have been useful to me so far, thus I continue on my path.

        • Theory_of_I

          >>”We generally don’t come up with every concept or idea all by ourselves…”

          While that’s generally true, it only denotes concurrance with a previoiusly imagined idea as opposed to the original invention. It is what is imposed and enforced by the industry of religion (IOR). It will not suffice in the case of the truly great thinkers thruout history who have made the greatest discoveries and advances in knowledge for the benefit of the world. To the extent that most would have found conventional thinking anathema they would have much cause to disagree. The concepts and dogmas of the IOR consist of mandatory closed-ended conventional thinking.

          >>”That’s how civilizations grow and prosper, by individuals examining, sharing, and adopting/adapting ideas.”

          If you were referring to unconventional and advanced conceptualization I could agree, but you refer to religion, which has contributed but little to the advancement of civilization, and more commonly acts to obstruct the acquisition of new knowledge.

          >>”New or different ideas have always had that effect on people.

          Where can you possibly find a single new or different idea in the archaic, superstitions written thousands of years ago by a grossly ignorant people?

          >>”And I notice in your post you seem to be alluding to aspects of a Christian theology…” “…that I was never taught to believe in…”

          Everything I alluded to is materially contained in the bible. If you wish to pick and choose only the parts that agree with what you think it should say, by all means, carry on! However, before I threw off my enslavement to the IOR, I was taught it was highly inadvisable to disregard the supreme authority of the bible and it’s teachings.

          >>“How do you know that what you believe in is true?”

          I think I can answer that for you…it’s because you were told it is so by those of the IOR who claim to be empowered to impose their system on you and by the parents, relatives, friends and acquaintences who are equally beguiled and enslaved by the IOR, and who unwittingly act on their behalf. You are savagely overwhelmed by the endlessly repeating disgorgement of the dogma from every quarter, but that does not prove a word of it true.

          >>”That’s one of reasons I like the Bible. It makes me feel like learning to understand more about God is a very approachable and doable endeavor.”

          I’m guessing that the essence of everything you have said in this thread can be condensed to …”I believe because it makes me feel good. EOD.” (thanks baal)

          >>”I won’t really begin to have a working grasp of it and thus will not be able to determine (to my own satisfaction) whether or not those religious teachings are something even approaching the truth.”

          How will you determine the validity of any of it if you concentrate your study on the bible which is nothing more than hundreds of pages of self-affirming circular logic, much of which is ‘borrowed’ from older religions that were trashed long ago?

          >>”The demand is on me to come to my own conclusions.”

          Well, yes, but in reading your lengthy endorsements of what you believe and why, it’s quite obvious you have concluded long ago that you aren’t about to let anything change your mind. That’s ok, but I’m puzzled that you seem to think that the members of an atheist blog haven’t already heard everything you have to say a thousand times before. That you appear adamantly opposed to changing your views, but that by repeating the dogma just one more time you will produce a mass conversion to your faith.

          >>”Faith on my part is required…not a blind faith.”

          How can faith in anything which is utterly incapable of being validated not be utterly blind? Faith is the belief in the 100% unsubstantiated, 100% unreliable and 100% insuperable. In the case of religion it is always blind.

          • ctcss

            I find it interesting that you have great confidence in your dour view of religion and at the same time I have a similarly confident (though opposite) cheerful and hopeful view of it. If one assumes that we each have personal experiences informing our opinions, then either we have rather different takes on the same experience (highly unlikely), or that we actually have had rather different experiences (highly likely), thus our differing views of the subject.

            Of course, you may have been looking at a collection of less-than-admirable religious practices (and yes, I agree that those definitely exist), while I probably am simply referring to the good experience I had with my own religious upbringing. It may very well be possible that if I had been exposed only to what you had experienced, I might have come up with the same views that you did.

            And although you included a few thoughtful remarks in your post, you largely make assumptions about my experience that are untrue. (Honestly, do you really think that all religious practices are identical in nature, and thus can be lumped together and treated with a broad-brush?) I am more than willing to grant that you have given me a fair and reasonably accurate evaluation of your own personal experiences with religion, but I would expect you to grant me the same about my own personal experiences with my own religion. For you to think that somehow, you can know what my experiences were composed of without having been there yourself to offer a competing view of the same events seems ingenuous at best, and more likely rather arrogantly incorrect, wouldn’t you agree? Honestly, do my posts strike you as having been composed by a thoughtless, blindly-accepting, party-line-spouting, dim-witted simpleton, thus allowing you to dismiss them (and me) without a backward glance? If not, then perhaps we can agree-to-disagree about the existence of God (as friends should when discussing contentious matters about hard to discern matters), but on other more mundanely and directly experienced matters, the intrinsic truthful character of the person should be a given fact, otherwise there is no point in participating in a discussion at all.

            Since you don’t know me, nor have you been around me during my life to provide an alternate view to everything that I have experienced, all that you can truthfully say is that your particular approach to religion ended up severely disappointing you and that was the reason you left it. I, on the other hand, have not experienced the same disappointment with my particular approach to religion, thus my reasons for continuing to stay with it. And I am quite certain that our approaches differed quite considerably since you appear to have come from a Bible literalist background, and were also probably an evangelical Christian of some sort. I was not and am not. In addition, I am also guessing that materialism of a sort was also a facet of your religious faith and the fact that physical science showed how material life could have evolved presented a challenge to your religious beliefs about life. I, on the other hand, was never taught to regard that one’s relationship with God depended at all on matter or on material life. After all, one’s relationship with God is seen as eternal, existing long before one’s physical conception and birth, and long after one’s death and physical dissolution. So if one’s relationship with God doesn’t depend at all on matter or material life during those periods not comprised by material existence, matter apparently has no part in forming or sustaining that relationship. Thus physical science, dealing as it does only with matter, offered no challenge at all to my faith in God. It simply wasn’t even a factor. So even as Christians, we were very far apart in our views of the Christian faith. And that’s perfectly fine as far as I am concerned.

            I would also like to point out that I have never posted anything anywhere suggesting that non-believers should adopt my beliefs or that they should abandon their own approach. As far as I am concerned, deciding to believe or not to believe is a very personal decision and each person should be allowed the dignity of thoughtfully choosing their own believing/non-believing pathway in life.

            Furthermore, in regard to Bible literalism, consider this. Humans express both their written and spoken thoughts in more ways than the literal. If a subject matter demands a viewpoint rather far removed from the everyday, literalism is simply not going to cut it as a way to bring about a greater understanding of that subject. Understanding is vital to a profitable study of any subject, thus interpreting (discerning) what an author has said about a deeply complex subject is very important. So it makes a great deal of sense to me to actually want to make the effort to understand more of what the writings in the Bible are all about and not just take them as literal, nothing-more-to-see-here transcripts of mundane facts and incidents. Jesus used everyday life, work, objects, and incidents to help illustrate what he was trying to teach but he certainly was not trying to talk about those mundane things. He was simply using them as a bridge to help illustrate concepts about God and God’s kingdom. And just to point out something that should be rather obvious, God is, conceptually speaking, an infinitely deep subject matter. The Bible, on the other hand, is manifestly finite in size. So trying to find out all that can be understood about the infinite subject area of God using only the literal content of a rather finite work is going to come up very short rather quickly. IMO the Bible serves as a wonderful start to learn about God, but the idea, at least as I understand it, is that one cannot gain a greater understanding of God without putting one’s religious knowledge to work in one’s life, thus deepening and broadening one’s grasp and understanding of God through growth and experience. So for me, it’s not just studying the Bible where I learn more about God, it’s applying what I learn from it that helps me gain in my understanding.

            And if it is not obvious by now, I would like to state that I am not someone who simply regurgitates what I was told. I have already pointed out that, in how I was taught, we were strongly encouraged to try to determine to our own satisfaction whether or not what we were being taught had any truth to it at all. And no, I do not entertain my beliefs merely because they make me feel good. I believe them because I have found their practice to bring about practical results for me. That said, do I have questions and some doubts (and even sometimes fear) concerning my faith? Of course I do! I think anyone who pursues their religious pathway seriously is going to encounter such things. But that’s why I continue to pursue my pathway. I want to understand more, not assume that any stumbling blocks I run into are a no-further-progress-is-possible-dead-end to my search. It’s not (as you mentioned) that I refuse to ever change my mind about God. It’s simply that I haven’t found enough evidence against God to make me want to abandon my pathway at this time. (And no, the world as we experience it doesn’t do it for me. Jesus said that the world needed to be overcome, not submitted to.) I am not so arrogant as to assume that what little I know so far is grounds enough for me to dismiss what I don’t yet understand completely.

            Finally, I just have to cite your closing comment.

            “How can faith in anything which is utterly incapable of being validated not be utterly blind? Faith is the belief in the 100% unsubstantiated, 100% unreliable and 100% insuperable. In the case of religion it is always blind.”

            Maybe such statements strike you as applying to the religious approach that you had personal experience with and felt you had to reject. (I can’t know this, not being you.) However, they certainly don’t strike me as applying to the approach I was taught to use. To the best of my knowledge and understanding (and as encouraged by those who taught me), I am very much pursuing a path that demands that I make efforts to substantiate and validate my faith through growth and experience. It’s true that perhaps nothing that I would consider to be substantive and helpful might move you to believe in God. However, that’s fine as far as I am concerned. Each person needs to personally be able to evaluate the evidence they encounter (or lack thereof) in order to be able to make such a call for themselves. I just think that we have simply walked very different paths from each other and encountered rather different experiences, thus our very different current positions.

          • Theory_of_I

            ctcss-
            You say:
            “…experience I had with my own religious upbringing.”
            “I…was never taught to regard that one’s relationship with God…”
            “…in how I was taught…”
            “…the approach I was taught to use.”

            You refer to your religious upbringing, what you were taught to accept, what you were taught not to accept and so on. These are all indicators that your ability to discriminate between natural reality and a supernatural (or, beyond reality) world view has been usurped by the Industry of Religion (IOR).

            As I stated in my first response to you, you did not originate the ideas you have about this god (thing you’ve been taught to believe exists beyond reality), you bought the pre-packaged god the IOR sold you.

            Your view that I must have had a negative religious experience is incorrect. I merely thought about the claims made by the IOR and realized the complete implausibility of most of the concepts they were peddling. What you see (what is functionally plausible) is what you get. No one has to worship an adult version of Santa to be a productive and respected member of society. No one needs to be teased and conned with the prospect of a future life in unreality or threatened with damnation for being human to know right from wrong.

            If you wish to continue to be conned by the IOR, I can only offer my condolences and wish you well.

    • Silentbob

      I’m curious as to how you distinguish this immaterial, undetectable god from a figment of your imagination, and how you propose to “pursue a line of inquiry” with respect to gaining more information about it.

      • Theory_of_I

        Fine question. What do you suppose are the odds you’ll get an original thought for an answer?

        • baal

          I keep looking for an original apologetics that I haven’t seen before and that hasn’t been refuted a thousand times. Each theist’s apology is slightly different but after a while, they reduce down to the same 10-15 things. I put the odds at ‘extremely unlikely’.

          The only good argument I’ve seen for god belief is the willfully irrational one. I believe because I feel better that way. Almost everyone I’ve talked to in depth (small sample I know but I suspect it’s part of normal psychology) has some beliefs are are wildly unfounded. The only exceptions were bench scientists and they had some odd beliefs but the foundations of them were solid (if occasionally on bad assumptions). I don’t think discarding rational thought is a good way to live but it seems to be a step up solution to cognitive dissonance caused by even crappier circumstances and horribly malformed thinking.

          • baal

            fwiw, if my nym isn’t known; I’m an atheist and prefer rationality and rational (or at least not internally inconsistent) thinkers. I don’t think god belief is a great solution only that a suboptimal solution is better than none for some. I also regret that that rational solutions (drugs & psychologists, a basic standard of living for everyone) are suppressed or made unavailable to many.

  • They Live

    JT, over at the “Friendly” Atheist blog, called Stedman “a dishonest little shit”. (Nov.)

    I love the smell of one little shit bashing another little shit in the morning.

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