Over at Strange Notions…

…we continue our look at the four senses of Scripture by looking at the moral sense.

Brandon Vogt continues to be the soul of common sense and civility with atheists. Meanwhile, the “Friendly Atheist” continues to be the hive mind for intellectual 14 year olds who think it’s highlarious to leave the rhetorical equivalent of a flaming bag of dog crap in front of church doors and call it “free thought”.

Speaking of which, Hemant Mehta, the “friendly” atheist just had a gift to a library turned down because they regard him as a member of a hate group. Hard to dispute that after spending time wading through the sewage lagoon of his thought. Hope he finds something to do with his time in the new year besides spitting on the Eucharist. The trouble with professional atheists is that they wind up literally having nothing to say. Dude. We get it. You don’t believe. Boring. Say something else.

I miss Leah Libresco’s kind of atheism.

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  • gusbovona

    Did Hemant actually spit on the Eucharist? I don’t know one way or the other.

    When you say his thought is like a “sewage lagoon,” do you have something specific that exemplifies that for you?

    I’m surprised you think Hemant has nothing to say. Can you explain that a little more?

    • chezami

      I forgot that atheists are fundamentalists with a radical incapacity to grasp figures of speech and non-literalist language.

      • gusbovona

        If you’re talking about the spitting on the Eucharist, the exact reason I asked was because I knew that it could have been a figure of speech, or it might not have been just a figure of speech (see PZ Myers). That’s why the responsible thing to do in a case like that is to *ask,* and not assume one way or the other.

        • orual’s kindred

          Well, shouldn’t Hemant Mehta be the best person to ask about that?

          • Lily

            Good grief! It’s an honest question, politely asked of the person who used the phrase. Asking “did you mean this phrase literally, and if so please provide details” is a perfectly legitimate question to ask, and the person who used the phrase is exactly the best person to ask.

            • orual’s kindred

              I apologize for the late reply, I only just saw this reply.

              pRinzler’s question was whether Hemant Mehta actually spit on the Eucharist. I don’t know if the question was honest or not, but it would seem more important to determine first whether it did happen. Focusing on Mark Shea’s use of literal vs figurative statements seem to be a bit beside the point when the question is about Hemant Mehta’s actions.

              • Lily

                Well, not really. Why would you bother asking someone to disprove hearsay about themselves, when it’s entirely possible that the person who told you it was using some weird figure of speech? And I would also generally ask the person making claims what their basis was for these claims, before bothering the accused with anything like “did you really do this?”.

                Isn’t this common sense?

                • orual’s kindred

                  If someone is using some weird figure of speech, then perhaps it would be simpler to say, ‘You’re misusing that figure of speech,’ or maybe even, ‘That’s a weird figure of speech.’ However, if someone is speaking hearsay, why not simply tell them (granting that such a discussion can reasonably expected to be fruitful), ‘What you’re saying seems rather like hearsay, because facts indicate otherwise’?

                  That, of course, would be hard to say if the facts were not already established. Perhaps even the question of hearsay is itself unclear. And perhaps there is reason to suppose that the person who may or may not be speaking hearsay is honest, whose intellect and good faith can be trusted. Then indeed they should be asked to support their claims. Nevertheless, I would think that the subject of said hearsay would have, at the very least, as much pertinent information regarding the matter in question. (I’m inclined to think that they have more relevant information than third parties making claims, but maybe that’s just me :-) )

                  By the way, referring to anyone in this discussion as being an accused party seems to be moving beyond asking for clarifications of unclear statements. Also, did my first comment appear as anything other than a question? It was a question. Was I asked to clarify? I may have missed that request, and I apologize.

                  • gusbovona

                    Seeing as it was my question, I might as well put in my two cents:

                    I think that if you ask someone a question, as part of a conversation, they should give an honest answer. I haven’t seen Mark reply at all on this thread, so if he is not interested in a conversation in this thread, that’s fine, and that’s as far as it goes (although if you want to keep discussing the issue, that’s fine too).

                    I would have been surprised if Hemant Mehta had done something like what PZ Myers did to a host (I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Hemant, but I’ve met Myers only briefly). I could imagine Hemant using words that might be sacrilegious regarding the host, but actions like Myers’ would be less likely for Hemant (though not impossible, I grant).

                    • orual’s kindred

                      Hi! I don’t disagree with what you say. I do think, though, that there are questions and there are questions.

                      Unless I am mistaken, you’ve met and spoken with Hemant Mehta, and are familiar with his writings. You say that you could imagine him using words that might be sacrilegious. Mark Shea, who professes to be Catholic, has stated that he has read his writings. He has, in fact, linked to a Friendly Atheist blog post, criticizing the content and the manner in which it has been presented. Given all this, asking him to then support the descriptions he used strikes me as going off-point (while also giving the impression that you are less aware of Hemant Mehta’s works than you possibly are in reality).

                      Mark Shea has a blog, as does Hemant Mehta, which both of them use as a means to present their views. I think there is material enough by which to understand the topics they write about and how they say them 😀 And yes, I don’t think either of them has the time to answer every question they are asked. If perhaps you are pondering the possibly sacrilegious terms you have in mind, and would like to confirm whether or not they are indeed sacrilegious (maybe get the point of view of someone who is a believer), perhaps you can ask specifically about those terms?

                      Well, I’ve said a lot already. We can certainly let this discussion rest, if you wish :-)

                    • gusbovona

                      Orual, I”m glad we can find some common ground. Anytime you want to bow out, that’s fine. Your reply above prompts me to continue at least for a little.

                      I guess I should now say what I think given the information in front of me (I was asking questions in order to get more information). “Sewage lagoon” would be the *last* words I would use to describe Hemant’s writings (not talking about commenters to his writings, but his writings themselves), and I can’t imagine Hemant literally spitting on the Eucharist, so the question remains out there exactly what Mark had in mind assuming Mark meant that phrase figuratively. [edited: I guess Mark means the post on the Eucharist linked to that wasn’t written by Hemant]

                      I acknowledge that some blog posts don’t have to have complete support and evidence for what they say. In that case, neither does a comment to blog post, so that allows me to say that “sewage lagoon” is *way* off base.

                      The link Mark used above is on Hemant’s blog, but he didn’t write the blog post. So no matter how you feel about that blog pst about the Eucharist, it’s wrong to characterize Hemant according to the content of that blog post. Writers, not publishers, are primarily responsible for writings (writers, for instance, often hold the copyright). Can anyone establish that Hemant specifically approved the post about the Eucharist? If not, then Hemant has little to do with it.

                      For these reasons, asking Mark for clarification is not off point at all, it is exactly on point.

                    • orual’s kindred

                      Hi! I’m sorry, I’m afraid I’ve been rather preoccupied for the past days (and I may continue to be). I’ll try to follow this discussion as best I can, though; I’m glad we can find common ground as well :-)

                      Now, I think there are a few things here that should be noted. I’ll start with the Friendly Atheist blog post. I don’t think neither I nor Mark Shea said that it was written by Hemant Mehta. And since Mark Shea has stated to have spent time ‘wading through the sewage lagoon of his thought’, I doubt that he is basing his description on a single (guest?) post.

                      (In passing, I also note that the Friendly Atheist is the venue for its being published. I haven’t seen any disclaimers regarding the post in question either. Certainly he may not have full control of the site, but I can’t say he has very little to do with what gets posted and what doesn’t.)

                      Now, I’ll focus on what you’ve said: that you think the term ‘sewage lagoon’ is ‘way off base.’ (This makes your question clearer actually :-) It’s not a general inquiry; you’re asking about it because you yourself find it very misapplied and are contending its use.) Mark Shea may not have time to elaborate on why he chose the terms he used, but for myself I can’t say that it’s *way* off base.

                      For the moment, I’ll give a (minor and possibly humorous) example. Hemant Mehta has a book called ‘I Sold My Soul on eBay.’ I’ll just focus on the title (as I haven’t read the book.) Perhaps it’s just meant to draw attention, but I hope I would not find myself in a situation where I would put something so precious for sale, let alone on eBay. If I thought that thing which believers call ‘soul’ is not real, then I have nothing to sell. I see the title as something that calls to mind a reckless act (from the perspective of a believer) or empty (from the perspective of a non-believer).

                      Again, the title is probably a play on words. Maybe you’ve read the book and can explain why he chose it. I admit that it even may not have been his idea. Nonetheless, it rather repels me. It certainly does not invite me to read further.

                      I don’t know if this helps. I hope it does. Either way, have a Happy New Year! :-)

                    • gusbovona

                      Orual, I agree that the one blog post reference was not written by Hemant. But it is clear in Mark’s OP that the sewage lagoon refers to the thought of Hemant, not the thought of his blog in general.

                      I also agree that Hemant retains some responsibility for anything that is blogged at his site by other bloggers. Unless he grants them free will as a gift, in which case he is not responsible at all for what they write. ; ) Just kidding.

                      Regarding the title of his book: (1) imagine writing a book titled “When I killed all the fairies,” which is about your experiences debated people who believe in fairies. That is a reckless title from the perspective of people who believe in fairies, but you wouldn’t call it empty from the perspective of people who don’t believe in fairies. The analogy is not exact (in fact, no analogy is), but the point still holds.

                      (By the way, this point about analogies is a pet peeve of mine, and I saw it laid out with mathematical precision for the first time the other day on some blog. Someone was pushing back against some atheist/liberal condemnation about someone’s analogy, and the person said “when you say that A is to B as C is to D, you’re not saying that B is like D, or A is like C,” which is exactly correct.)

                      In any event, given that the title does not encourage you to read the book, etc., I still don’t see how that translates into a sewage lagoon.

                    • orual’s kindred

                      :’-( Someone killed all the fairies?!!

                      Yep, I had that reaction :-) Also, since I don’t much get the arguments over free will, I’m afraid your joke sailed right over my head :-(

                      Ahhh! If I understand you correctly, you’re talking about the symbolism of the act. Or, perhaps more accurately, the act of killing the idea/illusion referred to as fairies. I think I can grasp the gravity of that–how fraught it is with significance. Combating an idea so dark, and alive, that defeating it almost amounts to killing. And that, perhaps, in fact, is an inadequate comparison. (Killing rather implies a physical mortality, after all.)

                      I’m not sure, however, of the basis for which fairy-disbelievers would hold to that view/attitude. The significance placed upon the act (destroying the idea of fairies) seems to be quite substantial. As such, I would have to ask what it gives meaning, and see whether it is a sound basis for it. Otherwise, I’m not sure how that act can be considered as not-empty.

                      And as to the title–it repels me, as sewage tends to do. It makes me avoid it, as sewage tends to do, and it seems to imply a wasteful act, which also can be likened to sewage. Again, the degree in which I hold the comparison may be different from the way Mark Shea applies it (probably much less), but I think, given the perspective by which we view it, both fall within a general range.

                      And yes, unless I’m mistaken, I do think that Mark Shea is referring to Hemant Mehta’s wider thought framework–which he (Mark Shea) gathered from more than just one post. Perhaps if he read more of his works, he may form a different appraisal. I can’t say definitely, though.

                    • orual’s kindred

                      Gah! ‘What it give meaning’ should be ‘what gives it meaning’. I am terrible at proofing >.<

                    • gusbovona

                      Er, it looks like my fairy analogy did not do the job I wanted it to. OK, let’s resurrect (hah!) all the fairies, they don’t have to die, and I’ll try again.

                      Some Muslims are outraged to hearing of visual depictions of their prophet. It may not be exactly the same feeling as you have with Hemant’s title, but please grant some similarity for the sake of argument. In both cases, let’s assume some type of revulsion or outrage or feeling sick or whatever against the idea of depicting Mohammed visually and the idea of selling one’s soul.

                      Here’s the analogy: your (lack of) reaction to seeing a drawing of Mohammed is to some Muslim’s reaction as Hemant casually selling his soul is to your reaction to him selling his soul.

                      In both cases, something sacred is being treated casually, which produces something like outrage or revulsion on another’s part. But the person perpetrating the supposed outrage doesn’t accept the fundamental basis on which the other person defines it as an outrage or disgusting. Would you think that the words with equal outrage to “sewage lagoon” should be applied to someone who draws a picture of Mohammed? I surely don’t, because I don’t believe that drawing Mohammed is any kind of disgusting thing, it’s just a picture.

                      (BTW, Hemant doesn’t believe he has a soul, so he didn’t “really” sell it, it’s just a catchy way to drive home the point that he doesn’t believe in a soul, so “selling” it wouldn’t matter anyway).

                    • orual’s kindred

                      Oh, I avoid having dealings with the netherworld, so no worries :-) Also, I rather doubt the existence of fairies hangs upon our discussion 😀

                      Well, first, I think the reasons for a non-Muslim to make a depiction of the prophet Mohammed are a bit scarce, especially given that practicing Muslims object to this. I myself can’t think of any at the moment. It must be a pretty dire thing indeed. (Would it be accurate, too, given the scarcity of references as well?)

                      I wouldn’t have the same reaction, I guess, but I think I could understand if they (practicing Muslims) did, given their perspective. I would contest the basis for their reactions. However, in so far as they profess what they do, I would wonder at them if they were in fact completely unaffected.

                      Are you making the argument that the non-Muslim should feel the same way as the Muslim would?

                      (And I did gather that he doesn’t believe in a soul. Yes, certainly it wouldn’t matter to him. Does that mean that a person, who does think that it is real and priceless, may not consider the act of selling it to be a waste?)

  • Brian Westley

    Well Mark, if you’re going to judge Hemant by commenters on his blog (and I’ve never known him to censor anyone, in contrast to many religious blogs that do), I’ll just have to judge you by other Catholics, particularly the ones who shielded child rapists.

    By the way, Hemant is on vacation; Paul Fidalgo posted the article about a McDonald’s that mixed Christianity with Mcnuggets.

  • James H, London

    Hey, I don’t know if anyone noted the ‘related’ headline on the Mehta story:


    Nice to see some legal systems have stones – now if they could just get round to supporting political freedom in Russia, they’d be away.

  • http://www.bewilderingstories.com/bios/thomas_r_bio.html Thomas R

    I think genuinely friendly tolerant atheists are often going to be people who don’t identify as atheist or at least not primarily as atheist. Identifying yourself by your atheism is, by definition, negative as it’s defining yourself by what you don’t believe. And that’s going by what an atheist told me before we got into this “God Delusion” crowd of the post-9/11 period.

    So the genuinely likable atheists are often going to be people who call themselves like Humanists, Pragmatists, Non-Theists (granted agnostics sometimes use that term), or even Unitarians as they no longer require a belief in God. I think this might be even more true now as “atheist” has come to have a connotation beyond just “doesn’t believe in any God or gods” toward something like “A disbelief and disdain for all supernatural or transcendental beliefs or belief-systems.” The majority of people who don’t believe in a God do not call themselves “atheist.”

    I do think there are people who are actually friendly and atheist. I’ve met such people online and in life. There are certain values you can glean by observing people and having empathy. The professional “Capital A” Atheist is the type that may not have that though.

    • gusbovona

      There is a great value in identifying oneself as an atheist: it raises awareness. For instance, the populace in general thinks that atheists are the most distrustful people, according to a recent survey, so if you never ID yourself to people as an atheist and you are trustworthy, that misconception will be perpetuated. When people know someone is an atheist, and that person is just as good as kind as anyone, that prejudice begins to erode, and it spreads the idea that atheism might not be such a horrible option.

      • http://www.bewilderingstories.com/bios/thomas_r_bio.html Thomas R

        I guess I could see that, but it’s still letting people define you by what you aren’t rather than who you are whatever that is. Maybe society requires that to some degree, or you feel a duty to others who don’t believe in God, but still it’s not all that descriptive.

        • gusbovona

          While it’s not necessary, many many atheists are also humanists, skeptics, fans of science, etc. Those things are mutually supportive and therefore also help define atheists in practice.

  • Eve Fisher

    Now, now. There are atheists and atheists. I’m actually not too worried about – or even offended by – atheists who are angry, “hate-filled”, spitting at God and all that – because why would they be angry if there wasn’t Someone to get angry at, i.e., secretly, they believe. (I don’t get angry at Thor or the Easter Bunny.) My father was an atheist, God rest his soul, but of the angry kind – things happened in his youth to make him absolutely furious with God and religion… So furious that you could tell his rage was all pain and fear and horror. I have great hopes that, after he died, God held him in His Arms and said, “There, there. Cry all you want in My arms. It’s all right. Now, come with Me.” I have similar great hopes of all like him. Let us pray.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Your comment reminds me of the father of a good friend of mine, who had always come across as the typical French “anti-clerical” vocal atheist. Some time, when he was 92 years old, he happened to tell his daughter that he had been abused by a priest during his childhood, something he had never mentioned before. I have been praying for him once in a while, and I like what you are saying in your last sentence about your great hopes for your father.

      • Eve Fisher

        Thank you. I do not know what fueled my father’s rage – he would never share it with me – but I believe profoundly in God’s unfailing love.

  • Marthe Lépine

    Maybe what you are calling “Leah Libresco’s kind of atheism” is actually a disappearing kind of atheism, since in her case her honest and open search led to her conversion. I think that most of the times you will come across this kind of atheism, you are going to end up with the same “sense of loss”, while rejoicing that a lost lamb has been found by the Saviour!