Parsons is Mean

Someone named Randal Rauser thinks I am being mean to fundamentalists:

http://randalrauser.com/2013/06/laughing-at-fundamentalists-lessons-from-john-loftus-and-keith-parsons/

I am. I ain’t a Christian. I don’t turn the other cheek or love my enemies or pray for those that say mean things about atheists.

What justifies ridicule? The ridiculous deserves to be ridiculed. Well, we should spare the innocent ridiculousness of those who cannot help it–the genuinely, pathetically dimwitted or uneducated. But pernicious, aggressive ridiculousness by smart, educated people who are attempting to foist their ridiculousness on the rest of us–that richly deserves ridicule. Those who attempt to use the power of the state to cram their fatuous, hateful ideology down the throats of everyone else–by having creationism taught in the public schools, say–are contemptible and fully deserving of contemptuous laughter. I heard Lewis Black do a terrific rant on creationism. Priceless.

The only interesting issue raised in Rauser’s post is how we define “fundamentalist.” Can we do no better than to say, after Alvin Plantinga, that a fundamentalist is a “stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine”? First, as to the “stupid” characterization: It may well be that most stupid people are fundamentalists, but it certainly is not the case that all fundamentalists are stupid. Some are very smart, or at least very clever. It is the clever ones we should ridicule. Chiefly though, it is the doctrine, fundamentalism, that should be ridiculed, not individual fundamentalists. What is fundamentalism? I identify it with the following doctrines/positions:

1) Biblical inerrancy: This is the view that the canonical books of the Protestant Bible (in the “original autographs”) are not only reliable in matters of morals or faith, but are scientifically, historically, and in every way true in every detail and contain no inconsistencies, discrepancies, or error of any sort. Lot’s wife really did turn into a pillar of salt. Sampson really did pull down that temple on the Philistines. There really was an earth-covering flood and an Ark full of animals. The walls of Jericho really did tumble down at the trumpet blast. The snake really did talk to the naked woman in the garden. Balaam’s donkey spoke, too. Jonah really was in the belly of the whale, er, great fish, for three days. The Nile really did turn into blood and the first-born of every Egyptian household was slain. Samuel really did tell Saul to commit genocide on the Amalekites. Elisha really did curse the children in the name of the Lord, and two she-bears mauled forty two of the children. Jesus really is coming back in glory to kick the Antichrist into hell. Really.

2) Extreme social conservatism. Marriage must be between one man and one woman (It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve). In fact, sexual love between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is sinful and morally reprehensible. Organizations should be allowed to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against gays. The Boy Scouts should not admit gays. Abortion is wrong under all circumstances. Even pregnancies due to rape or incest must not be terminated. (Oh, I forgot. Some fundamentalists believe that a woman’s body will shut down and prevent pregnancy by rape). Even contraception is suspect for some fundamentalists. A woman should not have the choice to terminate her pregnancy. In fact, women should mainly be wives and mothers, since that is their Biblically-appointed role. “KInder, Kuche, Kirche (children, cooking, and church)” as the Germans used to say. A wife should accept the authority of her husband and recognize that he is the head of the household. There should be sectarian prayer in the public schools. This country was founded on Christian (i.e. fundamentalist) principles.

3) Young Earth Creationism. The universe was created from six to ten thousand years ago in six literal days, as it says in Genesis. Macroevolution did not occur, and is, in fact, a Satanic lie. The geological record is explained by the Noachian Flood. Humans and the great apes are not related. Dinosaurs were on the Ark with Noah. T. rex was a harmless herbivore before the Fall of Man. There is no evidence for evolution. There are no intermediate fossils. There is no genetic evidence for evolution. Organisms were created of basically the same “kind” they are now. Human languages became diverse at the Tower of Babel. Evolutionary theory is only atheist ideology.

Now, if fundamentalism were only practiced by consenting adults, I might snicker at it in private with friends. But the advocates of such preposterous stuff are very, very aggressive in propagandizing for it f and in trying to get laws passed to impose it on everyone. Therefore, if public ridicule is an effective counter-measure, we need to go for it.

About Keith Parsons
  • Metacrock

    you are an idiot. what you say deserves to be ridiculed! do you like this? this is what your way of thinking leads to. You cannot justify yourself as the standard of rationality. you do not have the right to decide that you can step outside of the bounds of socially proper behavior you do not know best.

    • Keith Parsons

      “Metacrock?” No. Just “Crock.”

      • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

        Your rebuttal? “Lame”? No. “Metalame.”

        • MrModerateAZ

          har, good one…
          Randal, sunlight is the best disinfectant. As long as everyone is being so damn polite about the insanity of fundamentalism, we will continue to have Creationists push their agenda at our society’s expense. We do not have the time, nor is there a place in this world for faith healing, climate change deniers, young-earthers, etc. Sometimes ya’ gotta call it like you see it.

          • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

            I don’t know which is worse, a young earth creationist’s science or hermeneutics (or, for that matter, the surreptitious way that some attempt to get creationism included in public school curricula). But ridicule provides heat without light. That’s the problem. And Mr. Parsons’ self-serving definition of “fundamentalist” just serves to illustrate the problem.

            I’m politically progressive and consequently I think folks who vote for Obama are fundamentalists. (Folks who vote for the GOP are hyper-fundamentalists.) So should I start insulting Democrats because they voted for somebody who supports drones (both in the sky and in the populace under the NSA’s watchful eye)? Or should I reason with them?

            The minute you advocate a “start ridiculing your chosen group of fundamentalist” all bets are off. Next stop: we’re all characters in “The Purge”.

        • Keith Parsons

          I’m curious. John Loftus is someone whose opinion I normally respect. Yet he says that he has found some intellectual stimulation in interacting with Mr. Rauser. Sorry, John, I don’t understand that at all. I do not detect a scintilla of wit or intelligence. John, care to explain?

          • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

            Keith, Rauser is impervious to reason. When I engage him it’s to expose him as the culturally indoctrinated person that he clearly is. It’s to show to thinking people how badly he reasons because faith is unreasonable. I don’t remember saying that, but if I did it’s merely because I’m trying to figure out how to expose him as the culturally indoctrinated person that he is, and he is.

          • Victor_Reppert

            So, when you talk to him, you are really talking over him to other people, as opposed to actually talking to him?

            Nice.

          • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

            Last week Loftus said I am rational (though, he insisted, my beliefs are not!). Now he says I am “impervious to reason”. Sadly, he’ll say whatever he can to be on the in crowd, and at the moment Mr. Parsons is the in crowd.

          • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

            Randal, you utilize logic based on your faith. It’s your faith that is the problem. Your faith will even skewer your logic from time to time. For instance, many times you argue to your faith based on an informal fallacy and don’t even realize it because of motivated reasoning. You admitted having it and yet you do not apply the antidote, objective evidence.

          • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus
          • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

            No Vic, please make the needed distinction. I’m talking to him. But since I know he’s impervious to reason I know that what I say will be more important for others to see.

          • Victor_Reppert

            If you declare that someone is impervious to reason, and you are not trying to get that person at least to have more intellectual sympathy for what you believe, then that is exactly what I mean by talking over someone. Your are talking to outsiders, not to the person whom you are engaging.

          • Keith Parsons

            Thanks, John. I won’t waste breath on him..

          • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

            This comment bothers me. I disagree with a huge amount of what Randal believes, but I and many fair minded atheists and agnostics still find him clearly intelligent and intellectually stimulating. A comment like this just sounds factually wrong.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      I love Parsons’ definition of “fundamentalism”. How wonderfully self-serving. Or was this entire article intended as self-parody?

      • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

        Why are you defending fundamentalism, Randal? As Keith defines it you too should ridicule it given you are a progressive evangelical. Methinks you dost protest too much.

      • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

        Randal, my automatic associations with the word “fundamentalist” sort of go along with what Parsons describes. Can you tell me what is wrong with his definition?

        Edit: I wikipedia’d Christian fundamentalism to get a quick snapshot, and it also seems to cohere with Parson’s use of the word. I don’t think it is fair to call Parson’s definition self-serving.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          If you want the chart the socio-historical usage of the term “Christian fundamentalism” since Lyman Stewart first commissioned the 12 volume “Fundamentals” then Mr. Parsons hit some of the main points (though he also misses some, such as a commitment to a particular literalist hermeneutic which is the basis for the 6 day Genesis reading).

          But I take it that Mr. Parsons is not merely intending to ridicule the strand of Protestant fundamentalism that historians identify with the writing of “The Fundamentals” a century ago and which was galvanized around Scopes and the withdrawal from mainline seminaries. Instead, his critique also extends to modern evangelicalism, strands of Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam etc.

          In that case, by providing a partial and incomplete historical reference for the term “Christian fundamentalism” he has handily sidestepped the point at issue which concerns the criteria he invokes to ridicule those who are not part of this socio-historical trajectory.

          And in that regard, he has not advanced beyond Plantinga’s definition.

          • Blue Devil Knight

            Randal his definition is fair, and captures the features enough to fix his target. Whether people who are fundamentalists deserve ridicule is another question (and one he tried to address).

            My take is that to refrain from ridicule is almost never the wrong choice, while partaking in ridicule is often the wrong choice. I try to play it safe, but admittedly fail sometimes especially online. I definitely try to refrain from ridicule when I think I am around people who are actually sympathetic to fundamentalism. I’d rather be nice than offensive. Maybe this is a moral shortcoming of mine that New Atheists lack :)

          • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

            “Randal his definition is fair, and captures the features enough to fix his target.”

            Conservative Muslims and Mormons aren’t biblical inerrantists, but I take it that Parsons thinks at least some of them should be ridiculed.

            I think Parsons’ simple categorizations and the gross selection bias he has shown in this thread (e.g. affirming Loftus’ opinion but discounting Nolan’s categorically; never mind that I have many high level atheist readers like Jeff Lowder) evince the real troubling hallmarks of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism at its core isn’t about which beliefs you hold but rather how you hold your beliefs, and Parsons has shown himself to be a nasty fundamentalist.

            But I DON’T think he should be ridiculed. That’s why I’m here, to show him the error of his ways with gentleness and respect.

          • Blue Devil Knight

            Randal I agree that is laudable, and we should all be concerned that ridicule is not truth-indicative or truth-generative. When people start to advocate ridicule, this indicates they have made the move to the dark side, toward sophistry. I knew this was true about Loftus, but am a bit surprised by Parsons.

            That said, in your posts there is just too much focus on quibbling about his definition, which seems perfectly reasonable even if it would need to be qualified. The meat of the issue is whether this subset of people he is referring to deserve ridicule.

            Note also I am absolutely not above ridicule. When I am with a group of people I know are very sympathetic to secular, left-leaning causes, I will tear fundamentalist gun-sucking yahoos a new one rhetorically, and hold nothing back.

            I am just saying as a means of direct interaction with such people, I prefer to not be an asshole even if, in all honesty, I think their views are stupid.

            That said, perhaps these folks are right that my kind of attitude is exactly wrong, that treating them with baby gloves actually makes them think I don’t think their views are idiotic. Could this embolden them and unintentionally aid and abet their political aspirations?

            Which brings us to the fact that in political contexts, rhetoric is actually extremely important, and perhaps in that context a little ridicule is called for, just as it would be called for when dealing with over-the-top racists, anti-semites, or other less popular brands of stupid.

            Sorry for the ramble here, in the middle of important thing at work must run along…

          • Keith Parsons

            BDK,

            Thanks for your comment. It would be a proper rebuke that I was sliding down the slippery slope towards sophistry had I recommended ridicule when rational critique is called for. However, I think that ridicule is the justifiable response to dogmas or dogmatists who are impervious to rational critique. The intellectual case against Protestant fundamentalism was completed many decades ago. There is nothing to add to it now, except maybe mopping-up operations against the louder and more aggressive of its latter-day defenders. Biblical criticism made the fundamentalist view of scripture out of date before it was even articulated. Evolutionary biology and geology refuted their naive Biblical “science.” Protestant fundamentalism is religion as pseudoscience. When the intellectual critique is decisive, as it is, and well-known, as it is, yet the doctrine is vigorous and intransigent, as it is, ridicule may be one of the few effective weapons.

            You make an excellent point that it is often wrong to choose ridicule and seldom wrong to refrain from it. It would be prudent, then, to refrain. I mostly agree. The same thing could be said about the display of anger. As Aristotle noted long ago, it is easy to get angry; anybody can do that. It is hard, though, to get angry at the right time, and in the right place, and towards the right person, and, to the right degree, and for the right reason. That is why virtue is hard. Still, there are times for anger, and there are times for scorn. The example I used in my original post on this topic is, I think, a good one. In 2008, the vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket was a vacuous nincompoop who, if elected, would have been one heartbeat from the presidency. This was a very serious situation. Tina Fey did the country a great service with her devastatingly on-target lampoon of Sarah Palin. Similarly, when fundamentalists are in your state legislature and are using the power of the state government to take away abortion rights, relegate gay people to second-class citizen status, require pseudoscience in the public schools, and so on, ridicule can serve us well.

          • Blue Devil Knight

            Keith, good points. When it comes to politics, it would absolutely be naive and quixotic to try to use the same conventions as are in play for academic truth-seeking type contexts. I just know in my personal life, way back when I was a new atheist (not a New Atheist), I unintentionally hurt many theists by my mockery of religion. But the people I hurt weren’t in the public sphere saying stupid things. They were simply people in dorms overhearing me spout against religion.

          • Victor_Reppert

            I wonder if Fey would have been nearly so effective if she were not part of a long tradition of SNL lampooning everybody. If it were something devised in Democratic Headquarters, and if it had been perceived as such, I seriously doubt it would have been nearly so effective. Mockery as a STRATEGY for changing minds is, I think, misguided, unless you are targeting low-information types.

          • Steven Carr

            To be fair, Dawkins could learn a huge deal from religions about how to get the idiots to line up on his side. Dawkins is clueless about how to win over idiots.

          • JohnH2

            Everyone already ridicules Mormons, I should know, I am a Mormon. The degree of conservativeness has absolutely nothing to do with it. I believe the most popular thing out of Broadway is ridiculing (at least on the surface) the Mormons. I note that Randal does in fact criticize and ridicule Mormons on his blog, like last February it appears. Perhaps he would like to explain why ridiculing my beliefs is okay for him to do and not Parsons? I mean I would be fine if no one ridiculed my beliefs, but I am not comfortable with some groups having special ridiculing privileges when it comes to my beliefs, if it is to happen it should be an equal opportunity for all and those that choose not to can show their own moral integrity.

  • Victor_Reppert

    We might do well to look at a theologically informed account of what inerrancy means. If we do, we may find that it is not committed to quite the level and degree of lead-footed literalism that some suppose that it is.

    http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/icbi.html

    I’m not saying I endorse this position, but I think you have to get it right before you attack it.

    The big problem you are going to run into with ridicule is that it’s hard to ridicule something and represent it accurately at the same time. Think about what you would say about someone who ridiculed the theory of evolution. If you heard ridicule directed at evolution, it is likely that you would start looking to see whether the person ridiculing it understood it correctly, and I’m reasonably sure what you would find is that the person didn’t understand it.

    So if a defender of inerrancy thinks that your representation of her position is a straw man, then your ridicule is going to fall on deaf ears, at least those ears that are properly informed. (If you, like Dawkins, are targeting the equivalent of “low-information voters,” then this downside to ridicule will not be present.)

    Of course, you can again follow Dawkins by doing what he does in the Courtier’s Reply, by saying, in essence, that religious positions are so ridiculous that you don’t even have to understand them correctly to realize how stupid they are.

    If you can ridicule something while at the same time going to the bother of representing it correctly, then I suppose that can be effective, but it strikes me as extremely difficult to do. As a strategy of persuasion ridicule is going to get you into trouble. As entertainment, it can be a lot of fun.

    • Keith Parsons

      Victor,

      Thanks for, as always, a rational reply. Of course, recommending that ridicule and satire be employed against anyone is going to be controversial and needs to be justified. Ridicule is nasty and, as you indicate, tends to paint with a broad brush. Would the brush be too broad if directed at fundamentalists in the sense I indicated in my post, i.e. advocates of Biblical inerrancy, extreme social conservatism, and Young Earth Creationism? Let me address your specific qualms.

      First, I am sure that there are academic definitions of “Biblical inerrancy” that would not sanction the “lead-footed literalism” you mention. However, I have an unintentionally hilarious book, Dinosaurs by Design, by Dr. Duane T. Gish. Gish asks about the age of dinosaur fossils and concludes that they were formed rapidly merely thousands, not millions, of years ago, and that fossils and other earth features were formed by Noah’s flood. He concludes this section with “…I have never found anything to make me doubt the truth of God’s word, the Bible.(p. 15)”

      He later says that we know God created dinosaurs and, indeed, that dinosaurs were created on the sixth day along with humans (p. 20). Dinosaurs and humans therefore were contemporaries and, indeed, says Gish, the Bible indicates that there were still dinosaurs alive during Biblical times. The Behemoth spoken of in the Book of Job was probably an Apatosaurus or Brachiosaurus (p. 20). Quoting Genesis 1: 29, 30 Gish says that all creatures were originally herbivores since God had given them fruits and vegetables to eat. Only after the sin of Adam and Eve did dinosaurs like Velociraptor and T. rex become carnivores (p. 69). Pages 70 and 71 have an account of the Flood of Noah, with dinosaurs entering the Ark alongside lions, camels, and giraffes, which is only logical if dinosaurs were alive at the time. Dinosaur extinction occurred because when the dinosaurs emerged from the Ark, the world was so changed that they could not make it (pp. 76-77).

      Sounds like Dr. Gish’s views on dinosaurs arise from a Biblical hermeneutic we might reasonably describe as “lead-footed literalism.” But is not Gish an extreme case? Not so. Millions upon millions of people read the Bible just the way he does (I think about half of them are here in Texas). Academic definitions of “Biblical inerrancy” are fine, but millions of people, often wealthy, powerful, influential, and aggressive, espouse and practice a lead-footed literalism.

      Is it OK to ridicule the Gish types? Sure. There is an algorithm for ridiculing them: Quote them. How could that possibly be unfair? Who could possibly reasonably object when our satire consists almost entirely of pointing out what they really think?

      You worry though that in ridiculing the hard-core fundamentalists, we might tar those whose views are more nuanced. Could happen. Again, though most of the satire will consist of just pointing at them. Dinosaurs on the Ark? What satirist could top that? The powers of a modern-day Juvenal would be exhausted trying to exaggerate that. Further, those who do have more nuanced views have a burden of making clear to the rest of us just how different their views are from the lead-footed literalists. I suspect that, despite their protests, many might, in the end, not really be all that different. Scratch a self-described evangelical and you often get a fundamentalist. If evangelicals are scorched by the blasts of satire directed at fundamentalists, maybe they need to make it a bit clearer to everyone why they do not deserve it.

      • Victor_Reppert

        But you have to realize that in the atheist community today, following what I call the Dawkins model, any kind of religious belief is open to ridicule. Remember Dawkins’ famous speech at the Reason Rally. There the example he used was the doctrine of transubstantiation. Now, I don’t believe in transubstantiation myself, having decide against becoming a Catholic way back in 1975. But I know plenty of intelligent, serious people who do believe exactly that, going all the way to two of my best friends as an undergraduate. If you attempt to show that the doctrine is evidently self-contradictory, then you have to face some very serious work aimed at show this is not the case, from Aquinas in the 13th Century to philosopher of science Frederick Suppe in our time. Refuting such positions is hard work, but resorting to ridicule has all the advantages of theft over honest toil.

        Part of the Dawkins model involves presuming that committed religious believers are impervious to reason, but by showing how much contempt you have for their beliefs, you might peer pressure “fence-sitters” to think twice about believing as they do. That’s what I mean by talking over people, and I find it reprehensible.

        This is the statement I have in mind:

        Dawkins: Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

        You probably aren’t going to persuade real hard-core Gishites that there is something wrong with YEC by ridiculing them. So, what is the point? What do you hope to accomplish? Winning over low-information “fence-sitters” through what amounts to little more than peer pressure isn’t going to cause anyone to become a genuine critical thinker. So, ridicule of this sort has little value over and above entertainment.

        So long as all you have to do is quote them to generate the ridicule, that’s one thing. But there is an occupational hazard that everyone who uses ridicule faces, and that is misrepresentation and straw-manning. Dawkins, for example, is frequently accused not only of failing to understand the arguments he criticizes, but of not even trying to understand them . And his response was provided by P. Z. Myers in the Courtier’s Reply.

        http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/24/the-courtiers-reply/

        The trouble with this is that theists do have arguments for their position, not just theology which presumes the truth of their position. And if you put ridicule in place of a serious attempt to understand your opponent, then once again, you are taking a path that has all the advantages of theft over honest toil.

        • Chris

          Just out of curiosity, would someone who knows all the historical and modern arguments for and against transubstantiation – a Protestant with a PhD in theology, for example – THEN be allowed to •ridicule• the idea that a ritual cracker becomes the flesh of a god? Because your comment, while an admirable and proper defense of the goals of intellectual inquiry, seems to have as a background, unintentionally I imagine, a kind of standard patriarchal social inoculation of criticism of religious beliefs (only Aquinas-level criticisms are allowed). But this immunity from criticism is one of the sources of religion’s social power, to the detriment of society at large in the view of many atheists (myself included) and perhaps even of some theists. So it seems to me your view confuses, or shows a lack of awareness of, the difference between social goals and the goals of intellectual inquiry. And if one wants, like Dawkins, to effect •social change•, spending years studying and trying to refute Aquinas (keeping with that example) would be a complete waste of time, since any refutation of Aquinas’s views on transubstantiation would be meaningless in society at large (and how many theists can articulate complex views on transubstantiation?). At best one might get a paper in an obscure journal, and thereby make a ripple in the insular world of philosophy of religion. But by ridiculing transubstantiation, Dawkins, and/or those who share his goals, might •more effectively• promote that social change they are seeking.

        • Steven Carr

          Of course you are allowed to ridicule the idea that a priest can miraculously turn bread and wine into the literal flesh and blood of a Jew who died 2000 years ago, while at the same time the bread and wine look absolutely identical to before the miracle.

          If you can’t ridicule that, then what can you ridicule?

          Well, lots of other things, as Mitchell and Webb show here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDfoJ29CR4E

        • Keith Parsons

          Victor,

          David Hume told the following joke (paraphrased): A young Turkish convert was properly catechized in the Catholic Faith and given his first communion. The next day, just to make sure the lessons had stuck, the priest asked the young convert, “So, Mustapha, once again, how many gods are there?” “None at all,” he replied. “What?!?” the priest demanded, “How can you say that?!?” “Well,” young Mustapha innocently replied, “You told me that there was only one God and yesterday I ate him!”

          Was Hume a bigot for reporting this gentle mockery of transubstantiation? Is there anything about religious belief that should automatically exempt it from mockery? Is there any such thing as a right not to be offended? Is there some overriding moral principle that would exempt religion from even the gentlest jibes? To deploy a tu quoque: I have never noticed the least delicacy on the part of many religious people when it comes to mocking or censuring secular beliefs. Indeed, I think that quite a few Good Christians I have encountered must have a verse in their Bibles I cannot find in mine: “Love thy neighbor, unless he disagreeth with thee. Then shalt thou revile him utterly and deal with him scurrilously.” Are skeptics and atheists to meekly and humbly endure the slings and arrows of contumely while replying softly? Are we expected to be better Christians than the Christians?

          Dawkins and the other “New Atheists” are often out of their depth. I have enjoyed Dawkins’ books on evolution, but he clearly was in over his head in The God Delusion. Much of the most sever criticism of the New Atheists comes not from religious people but from secular liberals. The attitude of these people, who are no more likely to be caught at a revival meeting than drinking PBR and munching pork rinds at a NASCAR rally, is that the main problem with Dawkins, et al. is that they are just gauche. These secular liberals seem to think that atheist discourse is fine, but only if treated the way that proper Victorians treated talk about sex. You do it with lowered voice behind locked doors so as not to scandalize the servants. Well, as BDK thoughtfully notes in his above comments, you ought not to be rude. Pick on someone your own size. Don’t horrify your elderly aunt with blasphemies.

          But, goddammit, you just CANNOT have vigorous, frank public discourse without some feelings being hurt. If you are going to address something as inherently controversial and divisive as religion, you have to be willing to give and take some offense at times. If you can’t take the heat…Speaking personally, it makes my day when zealots get nasty with me. If I am offending those types, I must be doing it right. Therefore, I consider it wrongheaded and hypocritical for people to take the New Atheists to task because, unlike the proper, buttoned-down atheists of the past, they are willing to be frank even when it offends religious sensibilities. Again, it would be interesting and instructive for Dawkins to compile and publish the calumnies religious people have directed at him.

          But, you rightly ask, what is the good of mockery, other than satisfying personal rancor or vindictiveness? Mockery is indeed aggressive and hurtful; you cannot sugar-coat it. What justifies it? Obviously, as you note, you are not going to convert those whom you are mocking. That, of course, is not the aim. Further, you should emphatically NOT engage in mockery when the issue is one that can be fruitfully addressed with rational discourse. But when you have a pernicious, aggressive, expansive, and intransigent dogma–one impervious to rational critique–what do you do? Can mockery be effective against the armies of the night? Absolutely. From about 1925 to 1980, Protestant fundamentalism, though thriving in the hinter- and heartland, had very little impact on American public policy and discourse. Surely one important reason for that was the savage mockery (sometimes over the top) directed by H.L. Mencken and others at William Jennings Bryan (“The Tin Pot Pope of the Coca-cola belt.” Ouch.) and his followers at the Scopes Trial.

          In today’s Houston Chronicle there are two front-page headlines. One says that Gov. Rick Perry, who has convened a special session of the Texas Legislature, has given them the agenda of coming up with new legislation to restrict abortions. There is also the headline about the Southern Baptist Convention, which is currently meeting here in Houston. The headline says that Baptist leaders are calling upon the faithful to become “Green Berets for Jesus Christ” (I am not making this up) and to greatly step up the culture wars. Any modern-day H.L. Menckens waiting in the wings out there? Please step forward! Your country needs you!

          • Victor_Reppert

            I don’t know if mockery is going to stop the religious right. I think religious people distancing themselves might be more effective.

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christian-piatt/jimmy-carter-vs-the-southern-baptist-convention-a-sea-change_b_3015449.html

            Bryan, interestingly enough, was a Democrat whose motives were largely to eliminate the Social Darwinist justification for cut-throat capitalism.

          • Keith Parsons

            Victor,

            Satire is just one tool, but it can be a very effective one, especially when directed against the right kind of target. Hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and pomposity are particularly vulnerable to derisive laughter. I agree that it is very important for religious people to distance themselves from fundamentalism. Effective satire could help motivate that disassociation. Fundamentalism is ideologically an extremist, fringe movement, and it should be pushed back to the social and political fringe where it used to be.

            How could satire be effective today?

            Mencken made fundamentalism a byword for backwoods buffoonery–the religion of slack-jawed yokels. Of course, nobody wanted to be identified with such a hick image. Today, the task of lampooning fundamentalism would be harder. Today’s fundamentalist often doesn’t inhabit a tar paper shack on Tobacco Road, but a McMansion in an upscale Atlanta neighborhood. He does not wear battered overalls, but a tailored suit. He has Italian loafers on his feet, a Rolex on the wrist, a Lexus in the garage, and capped teeth whiter than the pearly gates. Solomon in all his glory was not decked out like some of these guys. Dismissing fundamentalists as rubes won’t work anymore.

            Actually, to be effective, satire need not be of Mencken-esque savagery. The Simpsons effectively pokes fun at their resident fundamentalist, Ned Flanders, while still treating him as a sympathetic character (you would have to sympathize with anyone living next door to Homer Simpson). Ned, indeed, is depicted as a genuinely good person who is sometimes misguided by his ideology, as for instance, when he opposed the science museum’s display on evolution. Ned’s zeal is too much even for his pastor, the Rev. Lovejoy, who once queried: “Ned, have you ever considered any of the world’s other religions?”

            Another effective but mannerly satire was the nice little movie “Saved” with Macaulay Culkin, about kids at a fundamentalist school. I loved it when the most self-righteous girl bounces a Bible off the head of another girl while loudly declaring “I’m just full of the love of God!”

            The wrong way to do it would be like Bill Maher in “Religulous.” When Maher was making fun of the truck stop church, I sided with the truckers. Maher only made himself look like a smartass and a bully. Sometimes the viciousness backfires.

            The upshot is that satire does not have to be caustic to be effective, and, indeed, sometimes the softer touch might be more effective. On the other hand, when the fundamentalist is loud, brash, aggressive, and powerful, as our Governor Goodhair, Rick Perry, I say let ‘em have the full Mencken.

          • Victor_Reppert

            Even with fundamentalism, you have to be careful. Originally in the documents which were called “The Fundamentals,” there was no full-blown attack on evolutionary biology or a defense of young earth creationism. This is what “The Fundamentals” actually said about evolution.

            http://www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/comm_view.cfm?AuthorID=16&contentID=4590&commInfo=20&topic=The%20Fundamentals

          • Victor Reppert

            That kind of mockery of transubstantiation may be entertaining, and not necessarily malicious, but if you really think it’s a reductio ad absurdum of the doctrine, that would show a lack of understanding.

            I can be entertained by someone mocking what I actually do believe, and am fully capable of continuing to believe it while accepting the mockery and enjoying it. I have even made up a Dennett lexicon entry for myself.

            reppert v. To enhance the reputation of a popular apologist by “finding” sophisticated arguments in his writings. “Who are they going to reppert next, Francis Schaeffer, or Josh McDowell?”

        • Steven Carr

          VICTOR
          Now, I don’t believe in transubstantiation myself, having decide against becoming a Catholic way back in 1975. But I know plenty of intelligent, serious people who do believe exactly that, going all the way to two of my best friends as an undergraduate.

          CARR
          I imagine they believe in Transubstantiation because they take the alleged words of Jesus totally literally.

          If Jesus said ‘This is my body’, then this is literally true.

          And like good fundamentalists, they take that literally , (whenever it suits them to take the Bible literally).

          So why is Victor defending this hyper-fundamentalism?

    • JohnH2

      Victor,

      You are right in suggesting that one needs to try to understand the position of ones opponents. However, ones opponents also needs to be able to explain their own position in clear and understandable and clearly defined terms. Hiding behind obscure language and claiming that the other party has not understood the position irregardless of the effort that has been put into it is a very real problem in discussions of religion. If one can only parrot the terms of Aristotle and Aquinas without being able to explain in modern language and clear terms then one has not explained anything and Courtier’s reply shifts from being the fallacy of not attempting to understand to being an appeal to authority and even a shield for ignorance of ones own position.

    • Steven Carr

      ‘If you can ridicule something while at the same time going to the bother of representing it correctly, then I suppose that can be effective, but it strikes me as extremely difficult to do’

      But that is easy with Christianity, which plainly states that Jesus flew into the sky on his way to Heaven.

      Gosh, Muhammad needed a horse with wings to do that, so obviously Jesus didn’t fly into the sky. No horse with wings – no flying prophets….

      And where did Jesus think he was going? Didn’t he know about space – the final frontier, and how it is not a portal to Heaven?

  • Eric Sotnak

    Sometimes a good polemic can be very rewarding. There is, for example, Galileo’s Assayer, which contains this gem:
    If Sarsi wants me to believe with Suidas that the Babylonians cooked their eggs by whirling them in slings, I shall do so; but I must say that the cause of this effect was very different from what he suggests. To discover the true cause I reason as follows: “if we do not achieve an effect which others formerly achieved, then it must be that in our operations we lack something that produced their success. And if there is just one single thing we lack, then that alone can be the true cause. Now we do not lack eggs, nor slings, nor sturdy fellows to whirl them; yet our eggs do not cook, but merely cool down faster if they happen to be hot. And since nothing is lacking to us except being Babylonians, then being Babylonians is the cause of the hardening of eggs, and not friction of the air.”
    But the irony here is that the ridicule was partially undeserved. The thesis in question was whether an object moving rapidly through air would heat up due to friction. Just ask a meteor whether or not this is true.
    I recently had a student ask me why people who lived in years BC counted years backward – why did they think the year zero was going to be so special that they were counting down toward it? As tempting as it was to hand out a “stupid question of the year” award, instead I explained to him where he had gone wrong in thinking there was a mystery to be solved here. One reason is that I knew this student fairly well, and I knew that in spite of having a few unpolished areas, he was generally curious and sincere about learning. In fact, he had often taken harder classes where he could have taken easier ones. If I had gone the route of laughter, I would have just been sending him the message that he had better be careful before asking questions.
    But this doesn’t mean that there are never circumstances where laughable assertions should be treated as laughable. I’m just not sure exactly when those circumstances obtain.

  • JohnH2

    Okay, given John Loftus and Randel Rauser then what is up with the whole academic study of theology (being they both studied it and one apparently teaches in it?)? It appears to be an complete joke and utterly lack any semblance of professionalism and apparently rigor.

    Some points of the extreme fundamentalist position do deserve mocking. The study of the natural world was, and by some is, and should be undertaken by those religious as an effort to understand the mind of God; one should not reject such a study because one doesn’t approve of what one has found out about the mind of God through such a study. A more healthy attitude in terms of seeking truth is to seek to understand why God would explain the creation of the world and etc. in the way that He appears to have at that time, and what that means for us. It is utterly ludicrous to assume (even in the case that one assumes the Bible to the inerrant word of God) that God was attempting to teach people about the exact nature of how He created the heavens and the earth in a detailed scientific perspective in the record in Genesis; Sure God created the heavens and the earth but I am not willing to presume to limit the power and ability of God in restricting Him as to How, in what manner, or in what time frame He did such a thing (even if the symbolic seven periods are to be adhered to). If the evidence I have gathered suggests a certain manner in which God may have accomplished His ends then that should inform our understanding of God and help us to know Him better, which is what Eternal Life is. To do otherwise is to either claim that God is not a God of Truth or to deny that one wants to know God better; If the first then there is no point in following such a being as the Truth is not in that being, if the second then the Truth is not found in us. If we are in either way then all means should be used so that some of us can come to a knowledge of the Truth, and therefore to know, follow, and become one with God.

    Now having said that, it is too easy to mock that which one does not understand or which one does not know. Mockery without an attempt to engage in dialogue and without a measure of respect serves to drive people away and informs more about the mocker than it does about what is being mocked.

  • Bee

    There seems to be an excessive polemic over the definition of fundamentalism, about self-serving opinions an so on. I can’t bring myself to appeciate it, maybe because I don’t have a philosophical background. The point is, does whoever holds demonstrably false and even potentially dangerous beliefs in the name of a strict observance of a traditional doctrine deserve to have his beliefs ridiculed, especially after repeated rejection of objective evidence of the contrary?

    • Keith M. Parsons

      Bee,

      My point exactly. Thank you.


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