Liberal Atheists

Adam Lee over at Daylight Atheism considers that fact that so many atheists are liberals.

All these data points show that, while there’s no necessary connection between atheism and progressive political views, in practice it usually does work out that way. I leave it up to you, readers, to weigh in on why that is. Are these the correct views, and atheists, being the most rational people around, are more likely to hit on them? (That’s obviously the most self-serving possibility.) Are we driven by an instinctive rejection of the political views that have most commonly been supported by religion? Absent a belief in heaven, do we put greater emphasis on compassion and fairness in this life? Or is there another explanation I haven’t considered?

I tend to think that the connection between atheism and liberalism is a product of our history. I think it’s telling that when we look back at American history, we see freethinkers, agnostics and atheists becoming most prominent during moments of great religious conservatism. The Freethinkers – call it the first wave of atheism – showed up during the Second Great Awakening. Frances Wright, Abner Kneeland and the rest argued for women’s equality and abolition as much as they argued against religion.

The second wave, with folks like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Robert Ingersoll, came during the retrenchment of conservatism following the shock of the Civil War. We shouldn’t forget that Ingersoll did speeches for the radical Republicans as well as speeches against Christianity, and Stanton is one of the more interesting thinkers in America’s liberal tradition.

And of course this current wave, if I can call it that, could be a reaction to the rise of the Religious Right.

It seems to me that it takes something to get atheists to join together and shout. The lack of a belief in God is not enough to rally the troops. It’s when religion is being used to perpetuate inequality that you really start to see some pushback.

American Christianity has been used to underwrite the status quo, with all of its little hierarchies and inequalities. As Corey Robin has pointed out, the preservation of these hierarchies has been the role of the people we call conservatives. As he put it in the NTY Review of Books:

Conservatism is a moral vision in which excellence depends upon hierarchy. Inequality is the means, not the end—that is a belief, I show, shared by everyone from Burke to Ayn Rand, the slaveholders to Ludwig von Mises.

It is not always true that, as Ophelia suggests, “god stands for hierarchy and obedience.” There have been radical egalitarian versions of Christianity. But it is true that the conservatives have generally carried the argument in Western society.

With Christianity being combined with conservatism, it’s not surprising that a rejection of religion should sometimes come alongside a rejection of conservatism. I suppose the rejection of both is part of the grand tradition of American freethought. It’s a tradition we continue as we fight for women’s equality and equality in marriage.

  • AshtaraSilunar

    I think the larger percentage of liberal atheists is linked to our increased awareness of how short life is. When I consider that this life is all I have, I want to work harder to make sure people are treated equally and fairly, and that they have the right to make choices about their lives and bodies. My political beliefs align more closely with libertarian policies, but since I have to pick one option in a dual-party system… liberal it is.

    • Paul

      I agree with the choice of liberal over conservative. I have a number of atheist friends who are libertarians but when forced to choose between liberal democrats or the religious right republicans there appears to be no choice but to vote democratic. My brother, also an atheist, is much more a progressive and votes democrat as well. Our sister, still a christian, votes republican.

      Sadly, both parties have little difference in action despite their election rhetoric. The bottom line for both means serving the big dollar contributors who invest in both parties to guarantee that their voice is heard above those of the who vote.

      The republicans sold their souls to the religious right starting with Reagan. This really made them go even further to the right and much more adversarial than before. The linking of support for the death penalty and opposition to abortion seems almost completely linked to the moral majority evangelical christians who the republicans need in order to win elections.

  • MountainTiger

    I suspect that, in contemporary America, most atheists are less inclined to strongly value national or sub-national solidarity than most religious people. I therefore expect more atheists to hold political views that emphasize either a universal good or individual autonomy. Liberal and libertarian politics make far stronger appeals to these types of principles than modern conservatives.

  • vasaroti

    I’ll echo much of what AshtarSilunar said, minus the libertarianism.
    We effectively had libertarianism back before the 1920s. Law enforcement and quality control of merchandize was “a sometime thing,” plus discrimination and environmental destruction was rampant. Don’t care to go back. We need lots of laws to allow us to live in our increasingly small shoebox without killing each other.
    I seem to have been born with an aversion to traditional authority figures, and I’ll cop to a childish element in disliking people telling me what to do “because I said so.” Hence, atheism.
    I’m a liberal because there is no viable Green Party. I’m also a liberal because I want strict financial regulations across all sectors. I’m able to sit here blithering away because I now make most of my money from investments, and there are thousands of dumb-ass people in the financial sector- I know, I’ve spent time in the company of MBAs and attended shareholder metings just for LOLs. Had one ask me what the capital of Scandinavia was- not making that up.

    • Len

      Capital of Scandinavia? Isn’t that Stockslohagen? Although some people may think it’s Helscoreystockslohavn. Easy mistake to make.

      • trj

        It’s whichever city has polar bears roaming the streets.

        • UrsaMinor

          That would be Nome.

          • vasaroti

            Or Churchill.

  • trj

    I think atheism to most of us atheists entails more than just unbelief. It’s a straightforward step from unbelief to looking at how religion is employed and what social issues it is used to justify.

    Religion, as it has been (and is) applied in societal laws and customs, doesn’t exactly have a record of being progressive or egalitarian. Gay rights, women’s rights, tolerance of other religions – these are obvious and current social issues, and it’s wearyingly commonplace to see how religious people and religious arguments work to prevent social equality or judge people or want to encroach on how people live their lives.

    Once you remove the argument from authority which religion represents there aren’t many arguments left for maintaining social inequality, if any at all. And since atheists don’t buy into religious authority, well… I don’t find it surprising we tend be on the liberal side.

    • Len

      I agree. Atheism is a starting point. Once you’ve taken the step to not bow down to religious authority, then everything else – eg, everything done in the name of religion (even when perhaps not obviously so) – is up for evaluation.

  • Revyloution

    I think if you removed the culture war talking points, that atheists would appear to be more spread across the range of liberal/conservative. I could be in favor of a balanced budget, small federal government, low restrictions on firearm ownership, states rights, etc, but as soon as I speak in favor of gay marriage, I become a flaming liberal. Same goes for abortion, school prayer, and wanting god off our currency. Both tribes in our political world have successfully tied the culture war ideas to the economic and military policies that either espouses.

    • Elemenope

      Indeed, it is only because religion has co-opted conservatism that atheists end up disproportionately as liberals. When the opposite was true (that short, short period between William Jennings Bryan and Jimmy Carter), conservatives were the ones that said scandalously anti-religious things in public, and atheists and agnostics were better tolerated by the Right than by the Left. You’d have Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft openly questioning the divinity of Christ and Barry Goldwater pointing out that religious “conservatives” aren’t so much conservative as they are crazed reactionaries.

      • trj

        religion has co-opted conservatism…

        Don’t you mean conservatism has co-opted religion?

        • Elemenope

          No, I meant what I said. When the religious rushed in, the conservatives rushed out. Good luck finding an actual dispositional conservative anywhere in the GOP today. There are no Eisenhowers or Tafts or Goldwaters, never mind Burkes or Oakeshotts. Conservatism is the clothes that the religious stole, the language and vocabulary they co-opted, in order to find their new home.

        • UrsaMinor

          I’m going to side with Elemenope on this one. You would be hard-pressed to find a self-described conservative in the GOP today who even vaguely resembles what has historically been called a conservative.

        • Paul

          I think both are true. Religion and conservatism joined hands and jumped off the cliff.

      • http://fugodeus.com Nox

        I suspect most of the current wave is a reaction to the rise of the religious right. But not just as a pushback against conservatism. Atheists will tend to be more progressive simply because they have less reason to hold regressive views.

        There is no necessary connection between atheism and progressive political views. Unless you happen to reside within a political spectrum where the more regressive political views are explicitly based on belief in a specific deity (like for example the established political spectrum in the U.S.). Many of the key rallying points of modern american conservatism are based entirely on a religious justification (has anyone ever heard a non-religious objection to gay marriage, or a non-religious reason why anyone anywhere would have considered voting for Rick Santorum). As right wing has become more synonymous with religious right in american politics, those who don’t consider “god said so” to be a good policy justification have drifted to the only available alternative.

      • Revyloution

        Elem, I would push past Carter well into the Reagan administration. The Religious Right surely had their start during that era, but Reagan was a far cry from a religious fundamentalist. It was during this time that my political mind was born.

        I’m not sure if your’e familiar with Oregon politics, but we had a Senator by the name of Mark Hatfield (R). His brand of conservatism is what led me to the Republican party as a young man. Add in the adolescent adoration of Ayn Rand, and you had a fertile mind ready to accept the conservative message. In hindsight, I can see the faults in my thinking, but I can also see how important the conservative party is in a body politic. In a healthy democracy, the conservative branch should exist to protect the interests of industry, and the left should protect labor. Finding compromise between the two should be easy, and concerns over issues like the environment, social issues, etc, should be found through science and good research. It’s the politicization of those issues that forces atheists like me to side with the liberals. I know that the government can’t produce anything, it only survives by taking from those who produce. I know that it needs to be kept in check by the conservative wing of the nation. Quite honestly, I think that Mitt Romney understands this, but he is shackled to a party that is foaming at the mouth over gays, abortion and making sure every kid has a bible at his school desk. I’m just as frustrated with the left wing, as they have tried to be everything to everyone. Pro business, pro environment, pro gay, pro Christian, pro everything, but advocating nothing. Im rambling, I’ve had too much to drink, and I’m due to work more overtime this Saturday and Sunday, so I’m failing to find a cogent thought… I guess I just wish our two parties would argue they way they did under Goldwater, Reagan or Clinton. It seems that the roles haven’t become reversed, but just.. scrambled.

        Hope that makes some sense. Im off for a bit of rack.

        • Paul

          While Reagan personally may not have been part of the religious right, it was his election team that invited Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et al off the bench and into the political arena. As well, you could cite LBJ as the marker for moving the democrats into the wider progressive/liberal sphere. Remember that in the 1860′s democrats supported the south’s withdrawal from the union as well as supporting slavery and republicans were working to preserve the union and to end slavery.

  • http://greghollingsworth.org Greg Hollingsworth

    We should remember that some of the most “liberal” leaders of the previous century were religious (Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, etc…). Religion isn’t necessarily, though it has become so, a conservative political motivator. That being said, since the 70′s (Nixon’s employment of the “Southern Strategy”) and early 80′s (Reagan & the rise of the “Religious Right), the Right has staked a definite claim to the politics of religion.

    All of that being said, one must not be religious to be conservative, I have many “conservative” friends that are atheists, or at the very least irreligious. Conservatism is, essentially, a fear of change, and progression. American culture is certainly deeply rooted in Judeo/Christian morality, and the progress towards a less faithful, more tolerant society runs contrary to the beliefs of the leaders of the religious organizations that have grown accustomed to wielding significant power and influence over the last 236 years.

    Atheists are more often on the left because they are far more inclined to be open to change, and to accept the fact that certain things they may have been taught as children, aren’t right simply because it’s what they were taught. They have gone through a process that has shown them that they can determine their own morality/ethics by digesting multiple sources of information, as opposed to falling back on “tradition” as the bedrock of their values.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      We should remember that some of the most “liberal” leaders of the previous century were religious

      I direct your attention to Freethinkers, by Susan Jacoby, for a different view.

  • kentuckyfreethinker

    This is very interesting. I’ll just come out and say what many liberals believe, but few actually state openly: the liberal view is the “correct” view — that is, the view that best reflects reality. As Steve Colbert famously quipped, “life has a liberal bias.” It should not be a surprise that people who are grounded in reality should choose a reality-based political view.

    • Elemenope

      I’m pretty sure everyone believes that they’re right, that is, believes that their beliefs are the ones that best correspond with reality. Somewhere along the line, it became impolite to admit that, which leads to some incredible silliness.

      • UrsaMinor

        There is much truth to that.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    On the “culture wars” issues (abortion, for example, or gay marriage), most of the arguments given are religious. What are the non-religious arguments raised against gay marriage? There are very few, and they are not very good. Even the calls to “tradition” tend to be tied together with religion (as well as being factually incorrect). So, if you throw out all the religious arguments, the decision is very easy in favor of the “liberal” position.

    • Elemenope

      There is an argument to be had (via Goldwater, among others) that abortion and gay marriage are not conservative issues at all, but rather baggage that got imported when conservatives decided to get cozy with the religious right. Nixon was pro-choice, people forget.

  • andyinsdca

    I’m going to get killed for saying this, but here goes: It appears to me that leftist atheists have simply replaced the god of God with the god of Government. They place the same blind faith in the ability of government to do things that they would place in God, and they also have the compulsion to control the actions of others. The leftist atheists know best how to live life and they’re bloody well going to tell you and control you, too.
    The “correct” position for an atheist is libertarian – live and let live. Do not muddle in someone else’s affairs for any reason, unless it’s causing you explicit, direct harm. Don’t control what they say, what they do, what they eat, or what they do with their money.

    • UrsaMinor

      You’re conflating atheism (a lack of belief in any god) with a philosophy (libertarianism), to the point where you are prescribing a political position that you think all atheists ought to adopt. Brace yourself for the piranha attack.

      • Elemenope

        I agree it is wrong to conflate them. The strongest one could make a statement relating the two would be that atheism as a social phenomenon depends for its existence on social space being carved out for people to think and say what they believe without official retaliation, and the political ideology most friendly to the maintenance and expansion of that space is libertarianism.

    • CoffeeJedi

      I’m sorry but I just don’t see it. “The leftist atheists know best how to live life and they’re bloody well going to tell you and control you, too.” is simply a Fox News straw-man. Can you show us some examples of liberals actually doing that?*

      I’m a very liberal atheist and I have no “faith” in the government, but in democracy. The difference between a god and a government like ours, is that you can vote out the people you disagree with, theists can’t elect a new deity.

      * Publishing healthy eating food guidelines or creating strict environmental regulations don’t count. Calling out offensive speech is not censorship either, unless the government is throwing someone in jail for saying something. The closest I can think of to your example would be the recent bans on large sodas or trans-fats that a few cities are trying to pass… but that’s about it.

      • ElynnKy

        “The difference between a god and a government like ours, is that you can vote out the people you disagree with, theists can’t elect a new deity.”

        I cannot vote out people I disagree with because I am not a majority. The most I can do is hope that enough people will vote the same way I do to get someone I don’t like out of office. My vote only counts if it is shared with a majority of voters. It is impossible for me to vote out majority opinion.

    • Yoav

      I spend a significant amount of time in the company of randroid libertarian types and the entire thing is based on magical thinking. Once you go past the slogans it all tend to crumble into a reality independent faith that the people living in the libertarian utopia will somehow not be the a*shole verity we know and love from the real world but some sort of magical being that will always respect the rights of other and will never try to cheat, and that the freemarket fairy™ will take care of the rest.

      • FO

        Faith is independent from reality by definition.

    • CelticLight

      “It appears to me that leftist atheists have simply replaced the god of God with the god of Government. ”
      It may be an over simplification, but they do certainly put a lot of “faith”/trust in big government. I think libetarian seems to be a better fit in general for many atheists.

      • dmantis

        Andy,
        The only “correct” view of atheism?! Uhhh…who are you to make this statement?

        Libertarianism does NOT boil down to “live and let live”. If your version does, then you are discussing the most squishy, milquetoast, generic version. We may as well be discussing “real” religion. There are not definitions nor clarifications that can be attributed to either to render a more serious discusssion.

        Libertarianism come in 2 primary varieties and both concern a faith in an institution that rivals the most devout Catholic.

        Version 1 worships the altar of the “free market”. One of the problems (and there are many) with this is that there has never been a truly free market anywhere in the world…ever. Every market is governed by entities operating from a position of dominance.

        Version 2 worships the all powerful and just Constitution. This version asserts that everything will be puppy dogs and chocalate if only our government would be constitutionally restricted. One of the problems (and there are many) is that our current government was the result of the constitution. It was a document designed and created by the wealthy and powerful, for the wealthy and powerful…to stay wealthy and powerful. To paraphrase a favorite blogger of mine, this line of thinking is akin to arguing that if only we could go back and re-light the fuse on the dynamite, that THIS time it won’t blow up and maime us all.

        In addition, atheism is the UNBELIEF of a higher being. Therefore, politics and the denial of the religious are mutually exclusive.

        Sorry if I sound harsh, but you put alot of blood in the water so its my nature to bite.

        • Elemenope

          Of the libertarian types, only anarchocapitalists truly worship at the altar of the free market. And constitutionalism as a brand of libertarianism is a very recent (and highly problematic) assignment.

          Of course, the *rhetoric* of the libertarians name-checks the constitution and has undue affection for the free market, mainly because those are handy levers for an American public primed to be moved by them. Ask any of those market-and-constitution worshiping folk exactly what makes those ideas and implementations “libertarian” and dollars-to-donuts they won’t be able to tell you. This distinguishes libertarians from the rest of the political/economic spectrum not at all. Ask your average liberal or social conservative and they generally can’t tell you anything about the ideas motivating their rhetoric either.

          I’d say it is always instructive to look at an idea both in how it was presented and justified philosophically, and how it is sold and used practically. They are never the same, and both matter for understanding just what the idea actually is.

          • ParietesConlabantur

            Etymologically speaking, does Elemenope boil his seed for consumption before he shouts his war cry, or after, or maybe during? The ancient Greeks had a saying : Λίθον ἓψεις;

            • Elemenope

              Ha! My sympathies lay more with Bdelycleon than his father.

    • dmantis

      ARRGH!

      Comment reply FAIL. My bad. Sorry!

      • UrsaMinor

        So you haven’t given up all imaginary friends, I see. ;)

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    On the other hand, speaking as an atheist, I personally don’t trust large swathes of liberal agenda. I don’t hold with Israel-is-always-wrong crowd(though, as a Jew, maybe I’m biased, but considering how many liberal Jews also hold this position maybe not). I don’t hold with the idea of modern education concepts, largely the creation of liberals. I don’t subscribe to the idea that war-is-always-the-worst-evil. I don’t believe that there is never a justification for violence, or that capital punishment is always wrong. I don’t hold with feminist ideas, though that doesn’t mean I want to see women subjugated. I don’t subscribe to the idea that all cultures and religions are equal. And many others. I am not a particular fan of global warming politics and how anyone who questions any part of it is shouted down as a shill for the Republicans or Big Oil(tm).

    For a Canadian like myself, I find the Conservative party the least evil of 2 choices as I refuse to vote NDP under any circumstances, and the Liberals… let’s just say there’s a reason they nearly collapsed as a party during the last Federal election. If I were a US citizen, I would be hard-pressed to give my vote to the Democrats let alone the modern-day Republicans.

    As an atheist, I find myself at the fringe of the atheist movement. With all the shrieking about how atheists must be this or that to be considered good atheists, I don’t think there is much, if any, room for me and my ideas.

    • vasaroti

      Basic feminist ideas:
      1. Equal opportunity in education and every other field of endeavor.
      2. No pre-adolescent or teen channeling into traditional roles.
      3. My body is MY body.
      4. Equal pay for equal work.
      Which of these feminist ideas do you disagree with?

      • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

        1. When I see women working construction jobs, digging up roads, operating heavy machinery, not just being white-collar engineers or standing on the side of the road twirling stop/slow signs, etc, I’ll consider it.
        2. When I see feminists caring about boys’ education as much as they care about girls’, I’ll consider it. It’s not called feminism for nothing.
        3. Yes, it is. So what?
        4. 77 cents on the dollar again? When I see actual, field-by-field $/hour comparisons between men and women with the same education, experience, ambition, drive and negotiation skills, I’ll consider it.

        • Noelle

          1. I treat women every day for injuries from hard labor jobs. They are also tearing up their backs, shoulders, and knees.
          2. Done. No gender-based shirking on education. I absolutely want my son to have as much education as my daughter. I am on him about doing his homework just as much as I am her.
          3. So that’s one of the feminist ideas you’re swell with.
          4. Even female physicians straight out of residency are paid less their male counterparts. This was even after correcting for hours worked, chosen specialty, etc. There’s no reason this needs to be. I do not have this problem personally, as my income is decided not by a predetermined salary, but rather a complex equation of the RVU’s I earn plus some other factors. None of those factors is gender. This works great. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it.

        • Noelle

          Also, I’m not sure where you live, but I drive past women doing road construction all the time. Even twirling them signs. I’m guessing you don’t live where I do.

    • Noelle

      I’m also a bit curious on which elements of my human existence Weirdo here would like to see limited based on my being dealt the XX combo card upon conception.

      • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

        Wow, paranoid much? Where did I say I wanted to limit anything about you?

        • Noelle

          I’m not being paranoid. I’m being a smart-ass. There’s a difference. You said “I don’t hold with feminist ideas”. Which ones?

        • dmantis

          “I don’t hold with feminist ideas, though that doesn’t mean I want to see women subjugated.”

          That’s kind of a loaded statement.

    • CelticLight

      You are like a breath of fresh air from the north. You are totally right about catastrophic global warming politics. If you point out that the most recent evidence does not seem to support the alarmist trends – you get hammered with “Fox News Talking Points, Rethuglican Shill, etc”. It is like suggesting we burn the holy book of any religion.

  • Ken

    Personally, I am always amazed at how religious “conservatives” often, not always, flock around Jesus, who was as flaming liberal as they came back in the year 32. Occasionally I will get roped into attending church and have long internal conversations about the magnificence of the building and the camel through the eye of a needle dichotomy. My mental catalog is long and damning to the “conservative” cause, but it does boil down to watching people in a continuous state of denial of their liberal roots. In a very odd and unintended fashion, atheists may actually be a lot closer to the “WWJD” model than many so-called “conservatives” of the religious persuasion. Of course they hate us if we represent a mirror to their “God needs money” hypocrisy.

  • Lxndr

    I think a part of it lies just in the definitions.

    “Conservative” means “advocating traditional values.”

    Given that ‘traditional’ and ‘religious’ go hand in hand, I think it makes sense that those who would question the traditional values would be more likely to be atheist.

  • genexs

    Something I’ve noticed is this: There are indeed conservative atheists out there in the US, but lots of them are in the closet about it. On the political stage, it would be something like suicide for one to come admit their atheism. Sadly, I see the same thing with scientists who lean Pagan. Coming out pro-Pagan subjects you to a public flogging from the so-called “new” atheists.

  • jerry lynch

    Great discussion, fun, and a well written piece to work from on this subject.
    I am a cradle Catholic, raised to live and believe that this is the “one, true faith” and have been liberal-bent, as is my family, all my life. Maybe that is because we are Irish Catholics more than Roman Catholics. The rebel shows. (My beliefs on this matter have shifted dramatically, but that is not relevant.)
    There is an academic article in these pages, which I meant to read and I feel would be of interest to all commentators here, that seems to have adherred to scientific guidelines and claims (with convincing research) that the appeal of the supernatural and of a higher power, otherworldliness, is part of the hard-wiring of our brain, as is language. This is, to me, a highly curious evolutionary addition. (Is it linked to the “herd instinct”?)
    My point? Rejecting what seems to be an innate propensity of our chemistry, our “traditional” genetic functioning, would naturally draw one to being liberal.

  • http://www.thereligionvirus.com Craig A. James

    It’s not really surprising at all. Both liberalism and atheism are correlated with, and partially products of, higher educational achievement.

    • Elemenope

      Oddly enough, that trend reverses somewhat if you look at education beyond a bachelor’s degree. It turns out that predicting political orientation from demographic factors is complicated because two factors rest in dynamic tension: people with more education (up to a point) skew liberal, people with higher income (up to a point, believe it or not) skew conservative, but more education directly correlates with higher income.

      • Noelle

        One doc I worked with as a student told me he was liberal as a young man, but became conservative later in life when he had a job with a sizable income.

        • Elemenope

          Apropos, the way the statistics are often broken down is by age cohort, to try to tease out the education effect from the income effect. Sure enough, when it is disentangled that way, it is easier to see the liberalizing effect of education and the conservatizing effect of income. What in turn tends to throw those analyses off is when a formerly liberal/conservative issue becomes an age cohort issue (in other words, when one side lost that culture battle and doesn’t yet know it), like gay marriage and marijuana legalization.

    • Bob M

      And the propensity for self-serving platitudes.

  • joe

    It is not that atheists are liberal. It is that liberals are more educated and where the ignorant need God to explain the mysteries of the universe, liberals use scientific descovery. Atheist are far more in tune with the ways of God than most Christians. Where Christians give God accolades without understanding the unimaginable beauty and complexity of the universe. Atheist stand awe struck at creation and not only want to learn God’s secrets, but duplicate His methods.

    • Elemenope

      I’ve met plenty of liberals who were all too happy to leap credulously into the arms of the newest New-Agey explanation for this or that phenomenon. And I’m conservative, and though I’m not by any means thoroughly educated with lots of letters after my name and such, neither am I particularly ignorant nor do I seek magical explanations for natural phenomenon.

      Your brushes, they are too broad.

      • Revyloution

        Elem, you don’t have lots of letters after your name? Academia is truly unjust. Ive met many a PHD who was less eloquent and succinct than you are. They really need do get some sort of ‘layman’s doctoral degree’ to indicate people who are strongly auto didactic and have acquired a large body of knowledge beyond traditional universities.

        • Elemenope

          Elem, you don’t have lots of letters after your name? Academia is truly unjust.

          Meh. Their job is to be guarantors of expertise, and they do that job pretty well. I don’t seek to be an expert on any one thing. I’ve always taken some inspiration from Heinlein’s point:

          A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

          Working on the list (well, the parts I agree with, anyway). I do think that in service to the demands of our economy, which has by-and-large served us very well, we have overemphasized specialization, and as a result many people don’t know how even to simply be effective citizens.

          • Noelle

            :) Sounds a lot like a conversation I sat in on when my cousin was quitting high school his senior year. His answer was similar, though not as poetic as Heinlein’s. There’s a 7 year age difference between us, so at the time I was already in med school. His mom looked to me to offer him advice, but his words gave me pause. I told him high school is stupid, but it’s a requirement for most jobs. And this is the only time anyone in his life would offer it for free. He shrugged off my advice. To this day he struggles with the finanicial responsibility of keeping a small family going. I never have asked him if he regretted his decision.

            Many of my genius friends from my adolescence also did not chase after the letters and honorifics that I did. Am I bound by my specialization? I don’t think so. Though it has required some effort on my part to relearn regular people-speak after years of medical jargon. I will say the pursuit was satisfyingly brainy. It’s great fun to be surrounded by intellectuals and to work out problems with them as you learn new stuff. And the letters after my name make it real handy for finding regular work.

            But whatever you like. I met some folks in their 40′s in med school who waited awhile before deciding they’d like some letters to shake things up.

            • Elemenope

              But whatever you like. I met some folks in their 40′s in med school who waited awhile before deciding they’d like some letters to shake things up.

              That’s my “plan”, though with the law instead of medicine. If I never get to a place where it makes sense to pursue the degree, I won’t be heartbroken, but I think nailing down at least one advanced field before I die would be worth it.

    • http://tulasipriya.com/ Tulasi-Priya

      Real religion doesn’t only seek to explain the mysteries of the universe, it seeks meaning for the existence of the universe, along with everything and everyone in it. Nor does science “explain” the universe, it only describes it, and incompletely and variously at that. Religion is a process, the result of wise people asking, why does anything exist? Why do I exist, when I might easily not have? Why must I and my loved ones suffer, get old, and die? Atheists might argue that those are not questions worth asking, but the fact that we DO ask them (unlike other species) is evidence that there is something beyond the merely gross physical and subtle mental realms. That those same wise people perceived that there was an intelligence, heart, and soul to the universe and beyond, that they perceived that there was Someone who created us and loves us, is not the idle speculation of people who don’t have anything to watch on TV. Regardless of whether one is atheist or theist, we all have to die, and the consciousness that questions and seeks meaning in that apparently meaningless state of affairs is the religious impulse. And that “the religious are ignorant” is itself an ignorant comment. Some of the greatest scientists and philosophers have been men and women who were not only religious, but for whom their faith was the axis of their lives and work. Shall I provide a list?

      • Elemenope

        Joe’s brushes may have been too broad, but yours are entirely too narrow. It takes a bit of chutzpah to start an argument by stating what “real” religion is supposed to be. I imagine that those folks who look to religion as a source of explanations for the things that mystify them in the physical realm feel their religion is every bit as “real” as the liberalized, metaphorically based religion you seem to favor, and I don’t see any good grounds to privilege your definition over theirs. If anything, when the holy texts of most religions were written, the purpose was at least in large part to attempt to answer those physical “how” questions, so if anything, such a person has a greater historical claim to “real” religion than you do.

        Likewise granting without independent merit the status of “wise” to those who have pondered religious questions historically. I would not dispute that many people one could classify as “wise” have appeared as religious leaders and scholars, just as many people who are not religious could likewise be easily classified as “wise”. Their wisdom, in short, has no necessary connection to their employment; further, there were and are plenty of unwise people who also opined (some, very influentially) in the religious realm. If they get to take credit for listening to the wise, do they also get blame for following the unwise?

        …why does anything exist? Why do I exist, when I might easily not have? Why must I and my loved ones suffer, get old, and die? Atheists might argue that those are not questions worth asking, but the fact that we DO ask them (unlike other species) is evidence that there is something beyond the merely gross physical and subtle mental realms.

        I don’t think atheists by-and-large think these are questions unworthy of asking so much as they are questions whose answers rest completely beyond the access we all have to any sort of fact, and so no answer can ever progress beyond being mere metaphysical opinion. And, heck, everyone has metaphysical opinions. The problem with religion tends to be when they decide that everyone should treat their answers and opinions as incontrovertible fact and throw violent, bloody tantrums when people with other opinions tell them to pound sand which you have to admit from history happens with religion a bit more than random chance would suggest; it is a built-in defect of religion, so to speak.

        And merely being able to ask a question does not in any way indicate that there is a sensible answer, or that the objects referred to in the questions are real. Scientists for a long time, due to their experience with waves of all sorts, opined that if light was a wave, it needs like all other wave-types theretofore known, to have a substrate. They asked themselves countless questions about what this substrate, which they called luminiferous aether, would be like. What is its nature? How does it carry light waves? What causes it to exist? And so forth. Of course, the punch line is they found eventually there is no luminiferous aether, they were barking up the wrong tree. Merely implying something from an observed effect does not ever give a person leave to assume the existence of entities that might explain the effect, except as idle speculation.

        And that “the religious are ignorant” is itself an ignorant comment.

        Some are, some are not. The point is more that filling one’s head with religious explanations for phenomena can get in the way when someone else tries to show a person the mundane explanations. So it doesn’t necessarily cause ignorance, but it sure doesn’t help.

        Some of the greatest scientists and philosophers have been men and women who were not only religious, but for whom their faith was the axis of their lives and work. Shall I provide a list?

        No need. Nobody here would deny it.

        • http://tulasipriya.com/ Tulasi-Priya

          Elemenope: I’ve never been accused of being short on chutzpah. :)

          »The problem with religion tends to be when they decide that everyone should treat their answers and opinions as incontrovertible fact and throw violent, bloody tantrums when people with other opinions tell them to pound sand which you have to admit from history happens with religion a bit more than random chance would suggest; it is a built-in defect of religion, so to speak.«

          That’s quite a sentence. :) Can you clarify for me who “they” are? I always have problems ascertaining who “they” are. Could you also clarify for me what religion is, in your opinion? And to reiterate, I never said religion doesn’t seek to explain the mysteries of the universe, but that it doesn’t only try to explain them.

          That said, I think it’s worth considering what “real” religion is. We can talk about bogus science, junk science, etc, but those things presuppose “real” science, or just: Science. Why can’t the same be done with Religion? That would clear up a great many problems, such as attributing to religion what is more rightly attributable to human nature. What is this “religion” that there is a problem with? I suspect it’s not religion that has the problem at all, and more than Science created weapons of mass destruction. The Bible, the Koran, or the Gita doesn’t do anything to anybody until someone picks up the book and interprets it to suit his needs. Of course, the same could be said of scientific books and principles, but that’s not the subject here. I would argue that Religion, like Science, is a universal principle, and that when you understand what it actually is, it enables one to understand many other things, in the same way scientific principles do.

          And I don’t know what you mean by “metaphorically based religion you seem to favor.” We suffer and we die. That’s real, and it’s ongoing for all of us. My understanding of religion is that it is meant to confront those facts and to give them meaning, in practical, here-and-now terms, as well as in any supposed afterlife.

          I have more to say in response to your response, but I think it would be to do it in installments.

          • Johan

            All religions are real. Religion caused plenty of problems before explosives and bullets. People got tortured for different beliefs. This is incontrovertible fact, yet you suspect religion isn’t the problem? Give your head a shake.

            Real science is verifiable and repeatable. Real religion is no more or less verifiable than unreal religions, assuming there was a distinction to be made at all.
            Religion doesn’t “allow understanding” of anything. Faith can be used to justify belief in anything. Believing something is true despite evidence to the contrary does not allow understanding, it limits understanding. It gives the illusion of understanding and that illuion blocks true understanding.

            If you would argue that religion is a universal principle then do it. You will fail, and you might learn something through your failure.

            Religion is a universal principle? No. Simply no. If you truly suspect that religion isn’t the problem then I suspect that you don’t understand what you are talking about.

          • Elemenope

            Can you clarify for me who “they” are? I always have problems ascertaining who “they” are.

            Who “they” ends up being really varies depending on the time and place. In some places, the institutionalized hierarchy of a religious community drives that behavior, while in others it is the laity who are more than happy to engage in mob action. But it is a consistent feature of “they” that they come to decide, quite naturally through the rules and strictures of their belief system, that everyone else should be made to believe as they do, or if not at least to know their place and be quiet. It is relatively an anomaly when religious groups and individuals choose otherwise, though of course it does happen every once in a while. Usually when it does happen it is abetted by forces external to the religious power structure (such as an intentionally secularized civil government, for example).

            Could you also clarify for me what religion is, in your opinion?

            That’s a doozy of a question. Religions are a diverse topic, and so one definition is likely to be a better fit for some than others. Nonetheless, they all seem to share particular characteristics in that they all seem to attempt to fulfill the same needs, so I’d say:

            Religions provide a set of practices that indicates a community with coordinated opinions on metaphysical, ethical, and natural matters; these opinions are believed to reflect a source of knowledge and/or wisdom that is considered by holders of the opinion to be trustworthy, that is to say, the teachings of a religion are revealed rather than discovered; these practices and structures are intended to guide and inform the wider structure of the society in which they find themselves implemented.

            I think that covers them all in a relevant way.

            And to reiterate, I never said religion doesn’t seek to explain the mysteries of the universe, but that it doesn’t only try to explain them.

            Sure, religion also has social regulations and ethical teachings and existential musings. But it certainly contains attempts (I can’t think of a major religion for which this isn’t true) to explain natural phenomena, and those explanations are invariably incorrect whenever we’ve actually bothered to check. As in, a truly astounding 0% success rate, with the explanation generously falling into the not even close category. When these religious texts were written (the Torah, the NT, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, et al.), one of their primary functions was to provide explanations for natural phenomena, and there was no separation between these (universally false) claims and claims of moral or spiritual knowledge. Attacks on these physical explanations were considered heretical just as attacks on those other aspects generally were.

            It is only after it became incredibly obvious that these natural explanations were utterly wrong that religious folks have fitfully attempted to distance themselves from them. Those attempts, as they generally involve reading literally-intended texts in a metaphorical way, complete with semantic gymnastics, seem to me a better candidate for “false” religion than those who hew closer to the text despite how obviously incorrect it may factually be.

            That said, I think it’s worth considering what “real” religion is. We can talk about bogus science, junk science, etc, but those things presuppose “real” science, or just: Science. Why can’t the same be done with Religion?

            Because there is a relatively straightforward set of criteria by which science is separated from pseudoscience and protoscience. The same is not true regarding religious practice. The best one can do, in regards to religious falsificationism, is to look to historical practice. Unfortunately, historical practice of religion varies so incredibly broadly that it doesn’t function very well to identify “false” religion, if that is even a coherent category.

            That would clear up a great many problems, such as attributing to religion what is more rightly attributable to human nature.

            The irony there is that regardless of who is right, there is no legitimate separation to be had between human nature and religion. If all religions are false in a factual sense, then religious practice is nothing more than an expression of human nature. If, on the other hand, one of the religions turns out to be accurate and true, then their description of human nature would be isomorphic with what it actually is.

            What is this “religion” that there is a problem with? I suspect it’s not religion that has the problem at all, and more than Science created weapons of mass destruction. The Bible, the Koran, or the Gita doesn’t do anything to anybody until someone picks up the book and interprets it to suit his needs.

            A big problem with this notion is that it only functions, rhetorically, if one completely ignores the intent behind the creation of those texts. They were written with the intent that they would be read, that their contents would be followed. Sure, a book is an inanimate object, but the program encoded in it is intended to be run on human hardware. That a person can pick up one of these books and take its contents in several contradictory directions only indicates that the program was written especially poorly.

            Of course, the same could be said of scientific books and principles, but that’s not the subject here. I would argue that Religion, like Science, is a universal principle, and that when you understand what it actually is, it enables one to understand many other things, in the same way scientific principles do.

            I think it might be helpful if you were a bit more specific about what this “religion as a universal principle” is, and what exactly it helps to understand.

            And I don’t know what you mean by “metaphorically based religion you seem to favor.”

            As in, you seem uncomfortable with the physical, factual claims of religions generally. I could be wrong; do you believe in Earth-encompassing floods and a very young planet? Does a day mean a day in your reading of Genesis, or does it mean a billion years?

            We suffer and we die. That’s real, and it’s ongoing for all of us. My understanding of religion is that it is meant to confront those facts and to give them meaning, in practical, here-and-now terms, as well as in any supposed afterlife.

            Then I suppose the important question is, does religion successfully “confront” those facts, and is the meaning assigned to them by religion any more correspondent to available truth than any other approach?

            • http://tulasipriya.com/ Tulasi-Priya

              To Elemenope and Johan: The vast majority of things I learn from scientists I can’t verify unless I get the same level of schooling they have. My acceptance of their dictates (dogma?) requires faith, sometimes blind faith, in what is a kind of priesthood in itself. A lot of the times that faith is misplaced. Thalidomide, anyone? On the other hand, religion has an experiential component built in right from the get-go, and without putting one into a hella student loan debt. Since I am a was not born into my religion, my skepticism was working overtime (and I haven’t put it on the shelf yet ) when I first looked into it, but the results speak for themselves. Scientists can’t even definitively explain just what consciousness is, but we all live with it everyday.

            • Kodie

              What results are you talking about? The tricks your mind plays on you confirms what you want to be true = true? Lol, the results speak for themselves. “A lot of times that faith is misplaced.” You’re going to throw out all of scientific endeavor and exploration and knowledge – yes – because they got thalidomide wrong? You’re going to throw that out in favor of wishful thinking because you feel nice and positive about your imagination?

            • Troutbane

              Thalidomide?
              Yes, but the difference is, science learns from its mistakes, usually pretty quickly. New data is brought forth, in this case birth defects, and what was once correct, is now incorrect.
              Religions will never do this. They pretty much only adapt to broad sweeping changes in culture, but they resist change by tooth and claw (and fire!). You can pose a question to a scientist, and he will test and answer. You can pose a question to a priest, and he will only come up with an explanation that makes him feel better about what he already “knows”.
              The basics of all sciences are pretty easy to grasp. Once you get these, it is possible for anyone to understand a layman’s version of anything: climate change, evolution, physics, etc. I strongly suggest you just check out Wikipedia (don’t STOP at Wikipedia, but it is a great starting point).
              It’s great you feel good about yourself, but ask yourself if that would be good enough proof coming from someone in another religion, say Buddhist? If not, how can you say that your perception is the “correct” one then? Remember, every religious person pretty much gets the warm fuzzies from their own religion.

            • UrsaMinor

              Science didn’t “get thalidomide wrong”. Thalidomide reliably, repeatably did the thing that science said it would do under the conditions for which it was tested. It turned out to do something else, too, under conditions that were not tested. The science of thalidomide was incomplete, but as far as it was conducted, there was nothing wrong with it.

              Scientists quickly changed their minds about the safety of thalidomide when new data came to light (note: not because the old data were wrong). If the ingestion of thalidomide had been a religious tenet, I imagine the response of the priesthood to the new data would would have been to blame the victims and insist that it was safe for true believers and the sinless, and tell everyone to keep taking thalidomide because Scripture doesn’t lie.

              Regarding having to take scientific findings on faith because you’re not a scientist: yes, but science at least rests on testable claims. Many of religion’s claims are completely untestable, so there is no way even in theory to be sure if you have placed your faith correctly. There is no training you can undertake, no experiment you can conduct, that can ever confirm or falsify such claims.

      • CelticLight

        I used to think the statement “the religious are ignorant” was meant only to inflame an arguement, but I now realize that many atheists actually believe this to be true. It is a very poisonous hinderance to any serious discussion. Someone who says this only advertises their own ignorance for all to see.

        • Johan

          Many believe it because in our experience it tends to be true and scientific studies have shown it as well. Those who takes faith over facts often find that they are ignorant of the facts and must remain ignorant in order to keep believing.

          Evolution deniers? Universally ignorant of what evolution is. Demon possession? I can’t find any way to describe belief in demon possession that doesn’t imply that the believer is horribly ignorant. Animal sacrifice? We can all see how nuts that is and yet there are religions that still do it.

          What truly hinders serious discussion is misrepresentation of facts, use of fallacies and outright lies, and refusing to concede a point when it is made. Anyone who has conversations with believers will see those behaviors from the vast majority of believers.

          If you want a serious discussion then we could have one. A level playing field, all religious claims treated equally, no use of fallacies or deception. It has been done before of course, and it isn’t the believers who win honest debates.

          The real hindrance to serious discussion is the tendency believers have to rely on fallacies and outright lies to get their point across. They lose honest debates and they know the only way they can avoid losing is either to not have a debate or to be dishonest.

          • CelticLight

            Evoluton deniers, and other examples you provided show that there are ignorant religious people – Yes I agree. What I have a problem with, is the blanket statement “religious people are ignorant” which brands anyone who believes there may be a God, a transcendant presence, etc as ignorant. And Yes there are atheists who state this and believe it to be universally true, I can’t tell if you are one of these.
            “Misrepresentation of facts, use of fallacies and outright lies, and refusing to concede a point when it is made” often applies to atheists as well based on my experience. I find this to be the case when debating certain progressive atheists, like those who post on the Daylight Athesim blog for example. I don’t see that as much on this blog though.

  • Noelle

    I’m a moderate independent. I prefer to vote for whoever and whatever policy makes the most sense. Sometimes my vote falls to a republican and sometimes it falls to a democrat. I find our current partisan set-up frustrating. There is no place for moderates, though many claim we are the majority. A more moderate Republican or moderate Democrat is easier to work with than an extremist from either side. Many republicans these days are too far from center to be able to use logic and reason. The Democrats are annoyingly out of touch sometimes, but there aren’t enough sane people to balance them. I’d prefer we scrap the whole sytem of name-branding someone with a party affiliation and make politicians work on their own merits, rather than appease their crazy friends.

    So I’m for logic and reason. Until there’s a party for that, it’ll look like I’m in the side least likely to kill me.

    • UrsaMinor

      My voting patterns are similar. In the past decade, though, I’ve voted for almost no Republicans, because they seem to all have climbed aboard the crazy train. Plus, they’re very vocal about wanting to make me a permanent second-class citizen. I wouldn’t vote for anybody seeking that outcome even if every other economic and social goal of theirs was perfect from my perspective. Often my vote for a Democrat is not because I like the candidate or feel he/she supports rational policies, but because the Republican candidate would, in my opinion, make an even worse choice, and given the binary nature of American voting, third-party candidates stand no chance of winning. In a practical sense, it’s D or R, or my vote is a purely throwaway symbolic gesture that leaves the actual decision to the other voters.

      I, too, would love to see the party system go away. I understand why we have political parties and why we probably always will, but I still don’t like them. I suppose it wouldn’t feel as much like a dead-end trap if we had more than two viable parties.

      • Elemenope

        The only viable way to achieve more than two stable parties is voting system reform. This is because of Duverger’s Law, which states that all single-ballot first-past-the-post systems will gravitate naturally toward a two party system.

        • UrsaMinor

          I see the chances of voting system reform in the U.S. as hovering somewhere between slim and none. Most voters don’t understand the concepts involved and will therefore not press for it, and in any case, it would require the existing two major parties to agree to sign away their own monopoly. Ain’t gonna happen.

        • Revyloution

          Oregon is getting closer to voter reform. We’ve always been ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the nation. I would expect to see some interesting reforms here in the next 4 to 6 years. Keep an eye on us, were doing good stuff.

          • Elemenope

            Cool beans. I have to check that stuff out.

          • Noelle

            Get Oregon to turn around in its anti-vaccine craze and I’ll be impressed.

            • Revyloution

              Working on it Noelle. It a problem, for sure, but not as bad as our neighbors to the north.

            • Noelle

              Keep up the good work Revy. I don’t expect you to handle the Seattlelites too.

              Ya know, India finally became polio-free not too long ago. The press releases on that business credited Muslim leaders for educating and facilitating immunization in areas where people held religious reservations about the shots. Perhaps something similar may work with the granola-crunchy anti-vaccine folks here. We must get to their gurus.

            • Revyloution

              That’s not a half bad idea Noelle. Not so much gurus, but liberal social leaders. I wonder if Yoga instructors have a guild or some organizing structure? Perhaps I should set up a booth at our farmers market!

              The possibilities are wide open, we need outreach to the granola munchers.

            • Noelle

              Buy one organic, free-trade, made with local ingredients, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free______. (I don’t know, apple?) and get an MMR for free? I like it.

              I’ve been trying the vaccines are homeopathic argument out. So far I’ve been met with quizzical stares. Maybe I’m not the right person for delivering this message. I need the hippie lady at the health-food store on my side.

      • Sunny Day

        Given the choice between getting screwed by the guy who claims to stand for everything I appreciate and the guy who speaks against it, I’m going with the liar cause at least I’ve got a chance that he’s telling the truth sometimes.

        • Noelle

          Like one of them logic puzzles? You’re at a fork in the road and meet two men and you want to know the way to town. One almost always lies, sometimes tells the truth, but has a different answer to all your questions. The other agrees with everything you say. How do you get to town?

          • Yoav

            Google maps.

            • Noelle

              :)

          • UrsaMinor

            Real men don’t ask for directions.

            • Elemenope

              If the answer comes through a series of tubes and is presented by a personal toy, it’s not really a question.

      • Troutbane

        “because they seem to all have climbed aboard the crazy train”
        I liked McCain in 2008, then Captain Crazy Pants climbed on board as the VP candidate, and then BOOM: Obama.

        • UrsaMinor

          McCain definitely had some positive points to him, but unfortunately he’s drifted further to the right over the years. Picking Sarah Palin as his running mate in ’08 was the nail in the coffin. While I admire her ability to field-dress a moose, I think her other qualifications for high political office are lacking.

          • Revyloution

            I agree completely. In 2000, I volunteered for the McCain campaign. I really wanted him over Bush. 1995-2000 was a politician I really respected, who could work with anyone irregardless of the letter after their name. Before it was neutered, McCain Feingold was a good looking piece of legislation. The last decade has just seen him board the crazy train, begging the conductor to let him blow the horn.

            • UrsaMinor

              Yup. McCain 2000 would have made an acceptable president. McCain 2008 was a guy who had drunk the Kool-Aid.

            • Custador

              I think the GOP saw Bush getting elected after 8 years of Clinton and decided that it must mean that religious zealotry was good. From an outsider’s perspective, Bill Clinton was the best PoTUS in a very long time. He was intelligent, articulate, funny and well liked. And yet the next PoTUS was GW Bush (notwithstanding voting machines found in Florida swamps). Now, personally I think there was a very special set of circumstances that allowed Bush to win the first time (again, not just the alleged ballot rigging) – A demotivated Democrat base being among them. Of course, the second Bush term was a lock. America doesn’t kick out war-time presidents.

              Now, the GOP base, they don’t seem to be able to think beyond a single thing at a time, and they all seem to think that correlation equals causation. Bush was a batshit insane zealot plus Bush got elected, to them mean Bush got elected because Bush was a batshit insane zealot.

  • http://www.ramshornstudio.com Beth Boyle

    The funny thing is I am a liberal Christian with allot of atheist and agnostic friends. I am a liberal and an artist and most of my friends are liberal. Honestly I am not kidding, without a doubt my atheists friends are the hardest drinking people I have ever met. If atheists value the life they believe is short and think it is the only life there is why do they abuse themselves with drinking and drugs so much? I don’t mean this to be smug, I really don’t get it. It makes me profoundly sad to see how some of my friends are drinking themselves to death and torturing their loved ones as well. I do not have on atheist friend or acquaintance that does not do drugs or drink. Not one.

    • vorjack

      I’d say that this is a question you have to ask your friends. Region, social class, stage of life, stress and so forth may have more to do with it than religious belief or lack thereof.

      For what it’s worth, my wife and I don’t drink. Most of my atheist friends drink moderately or not at all. Frankly, I was raised Episcopalian, and the atheist movement looks like a pack of teetotalers to me.

    • UrsaMinor

      How well randomized is your sample of atheists? I suspect not very. Your experience is quite different from mine. Most of the hardest-drinking people I know are Christians or theists of some flavor.

      Neither one of us personally knows a large enough cross-section of the atheist or theist populations to draw any valid conclusions about overall drinking/drug use patterns from that data. All we have are personal anecdotes about our own highly skewed, self-selected samples of friends and acquaintances.

      • Kodie

        Offline, I only know two other atheists than myself. I wonder how many people you have to know in what circumstances to know atheists from all walks of life. If you know as many as 5 unrelated atheists, I mean, I’m not saying other people don’t have all the social obligations and opportunities that I do not, but you have to know a lot of people or have some reason to be meeting all these atheists in particular (and not even be one yourself).

        So I’ve got a 1 out of 3 hard-living atheists from my own network, he’s basically a bottom-feeder anyway, I think this has nothing to do with his atheism, and probably everything to do with still believing things that aren’t true. If he can find an article to support what he believes, or jump to a conclusion, he believes it forever and never changes his mind. Pretty much the definition of willful ignorance. Using alcohol and other substances to pretend the world and oneself is different than they are, or a short-term solution, or to help out a girl in need. One of his best pot-smoking buddies is an accidental father who keeps getting thrown out of his girlfriend’s house and is Christian. The people who lived above me until last week were selfish, inconsiderate, unapologetic noise-makers, and they’re very devout Christians!

        I stand by my notice that Christians are pretty much assholes, except for those who aren’t, but behave normally according to social custom, not particularly free or unfree of substances, not particularly kind or unkind. I can’t believe you are calling out ATHEISTS for not sticking to a particular philosophy or love of life, when I can’t pick a Christian out from a crowd of other people unless they announce themselves. Belief in God does not enhance or arise in naturally better behavior. Not believing in god, we are free to live whatever life we want, if we want a hard-drinking one, or we want to live as long as possible, it’s up to us personally, it’s not up to some standard, which Christians many many many times fail to achieve. At least one Christian I just heard about makes judgment on people because they say they are atheists and then makes a generalization on their behavior. Perhaps they drink when you’re around because you’re dull and judgmental, and it gives you a false impression.

        Even if “all the atheists I know, from all walks of life” are hard-drinkers, you don’t say how many that is and, you know, do some kind of scientific study about why that may be. Be sure to include people of other faiths in your calculations, then your anecdotal experience would have some fucking meaning. Large sample size, well-written non-presumptuous questions, report your findings back when you get that.

        • dmantis

          “I can’t believe you are calling out ATHEISTS for not sticking to a particular philosophy or love of life, when I can’t pick a Christian out from a crowd of other people unless they announce themselves.”

          Very well said, Kodie.

    • Elemenope

      I do not have on atheist friend or acquaintance that does not do drugs or drink. Not one.

      Well, this is neither here nor there, but perhaps the link you’re making has nothing to do with religious orientation, but rather is more affected by other cultural effects? My mother and brother are both artists, and boy howdy do those communities tend to be hard-living. Among my friends I don’t have many teetotalers, but those that are tend to be atheists. In contraposition, three of my grandparents had drinking problems, all of them religious (two Catholics and one Presbyterian).

      Some folks around here are atheists and don’t consume any psychotropic substances stronger than caffeine. Others use to excess. I really rather doubt these attitudes towards substances have much to do with metaphysical opinions, and probably have more to do with cultural peer effects and a genetic propensity towards compulsive behavior.

      • http://www.ramshornstudio.com Beth Boyle

        I stand by my post and the hard drinking atheists I know are from many walks of life and besides being heavy pot users or drinkers most of them are divorced.

        • Jabster

          I stand by my post … regardless of how ridiculous it is being pointed out to me by multiple posters.

        • UrsaMinor

          Nobody here has disputed your assertion that you know a lot of hard-drinking atheists, Beth. We are simply pointing out that it is wrong to imply that “the behavior of the circle of atheists that I know” can be generalized to “the behavior of atheists”. For every personal anecdote that you can serve up, we can serve up a counter-example. The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that, like Christians, atheists are a diverse group who vary widely in their behaviors.

        • Custador

          And I stand by my conclusion that you are a liar who ought to save that “hell-bound atheist” crap for your normal group of friends. You know, the ones who do believe absurd stories and wild claims to authority. I’d bet dollars to pesos that “most of the atheists [you] know” either means “this one person I know”, or more likely “these people that I’ve heard all these absurd stories about from people who make similarly wild claims as me”.

        • Kodie

          When someone points out your error, just stick in harder, that’s how to win!

        • Yoav

          I’m sure they also sacrifice babies to satan and eat puppies. I’ll second Custador’s call of liar for jeebus.

          • UrsaMinor

            Meh. Could just be garden-variety cognitive bias.

        • dmantis

          Beth,
          You mentioned your an artist. Could it be that the majority of your atheist friends are as well? If that is the case, could it be that the incredibly competitive artistic environment they are in could be the contributing factor? Artists have a long and tortured history regardless of religious orientation.

          Most of the people I come in contact with are religious. They are ALL having marital problems if not already divorced. Some drink…ALOT. Some do drugs. All of them are petty, gossipy and otherwise nasty human beings. Nevertheless, I do not take this sample size as evidence to post that ALL CHRISTIANS ARE NASTY!

          I don’t feel like ripping your post apart anymore. I would rather go have a martini;)

  • Anthony

    I think a respect for authoritarianism is the link between religion and conservatism.

    see: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

  • keo akana

    Atheists, like Christians, often have the belief that they are right and all others are wrong. Atheism, is, afterall, a belief system, a “belief” that there is no divinity. Your article claims atheists are free thinkers, but I disagree. You are just as sold on your beliefs as conservative Christians are on theirs. Truly free thinking would acknowledge that no one actually knows whether or not there is a divinity, thus one should focus on what one can learn and know. We live in a world where both atheists and conservative religionists think they have the right answer. and often hate each other as a consequence. If we used the energy both sides do disagreeing and and put it to work learning how to get along and accept each other, we would have a much happier world.

    • Elemenope

      William James helpfully pointed out, whatever one’s pretensions, one can either live as though there is a God, or live as though there isn’t. All between-positions, when pushed, must cash out as one or the other, as we are, all of us, presented with problems that can only be resolved by acting as though the thing is true or false.

      I think if you actually bother to ask, you’ll find amongst atheists, as you’ll find among those who choose a different label, a rather complex continuum measuring strength of belief. Some are solidly convinced by their experiences, while some are more circumspect. Regardless, we are all forced to make a choice as to how to live. Truly free thinking, if there even is such a thing, resides in carefully maintaining the possibility–not the probability–that one can be convinced otherwise than what one believes. But as I said further up the thread, everyone thinks, if they are honest with themselves, that what they believe is correct. Everyone. Even agnostics who wish to claim some illusory moral high-ground by pretending not to choose what to believe (even as they must choose how to live) believe that their stance is superior to others, more enlightened, more correspondent to the facts of the matter.

      Spare us your false equivalency and your middle ground. Truly free thinking does not seek middle ground where there manifestly is none.

    • trj

      Truly free thinking would acknowledge that no one actually knows whether or not there is a divinity

      A true free-thinker would also acknowledge that even if a deity exists we know shit-all about what it wants, as demonstrated by the conflicting claims of tens of thousands of different varieties of religion.

      Which is why we should strive to keep religion out of social and educational and indeed any kind of policy-making. People are free to believe what they want in private, but their religious beliefs should not be imposed politically on others. When a religious person’s only real argument in shaping policies is “It’s against my belief” then he really has no argument at all and his opinion should be weighted accordingly.

    • http://fugodeus.com Nox

      Holy sh*t, christians and atheists both think they’re right? That explains all the disagreement.

      Uh Keo, everyone has the belief that they are right. You wouldn’t hold any of the positions you hold on any issue if you didn’t think that they were the right positions. The reason you are here and the only reason you typed out that post was because you wanted to tell others that they are wrong and you are right.

      And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      Sure it’s the exact behavior you’re criticizing. And you’ve provided no reason whatsoever to suggest your position is somehow more right than what you’re decrying (beyond baldly asserting that you’re right and everyone else is wrong). And you’re misrepresenting the position you’re criticizing with no concern for whether that criticism reflects reality.

      But to form a conclusion and try to convince others of that conclusion is not wrong. Ideally you should provide those you’re trying to convince with evidence for your position, and be willing to hear theirs.

      This is an all too common misconception, that to take any position is close minded. To have an opinion on the god question does not automatically equal fundamentalism.

      Sometimes people have reasons to conclude things. Sometimes one available conclusion is significantly more consistent with the evidence than all other available conclusions. Sometimes the most reasonable thing for an open minded person to do after examining all sides is to say “There is no good reason to think this entity exists. There are many good reasons to think it was made up. It explains nothing and adds nothing to the equation. Furthermore, belief in this entity has caused and is causing immeasurable harm to humanity as believers in this entity (who probably doesn’t even exist) attempt to force everyone to live according to its alleged will. It is time to start treating this entity as a non-entity”.

    • Kodie

      There’s no solid reason to believe in a deity or deities. If you bother to think it through, yeah, sure, nobody does know, but when most people make claims of this story of a deity, and try to put it into law, I want to know what is the purpose of a god we can’t see or know? You think you’re “correct.” You’re very adamant that you have the superior position. You see, what energy I put into not believing in god isn’t very much, but I also believe that unless there is a significant proof that some form of god exists (which no one ever has produced), I cannot just imagine that there are things I can’t see and can only guess. When they are sure that this has to be established via policies… for example, denying rising water levels by law. Ignore the measurements and the calculations, by law. Don’t prepare your communities and your citizens, just wait until it happens and be completely screwed. Do you like laws like that? I’m ok with individuals being silly about something, it’s just when it affects everyone that it’s not ok. To make laws that affect me or someone else living in this country based on a FANTASY – no, you do not have the higher ground. Pretending it’s all about peace and sharing is nonsense. Pretending to bridge the gap between belief and non-belief by saying it doesn’t matter? God, if it exists or not, doesn’t absolutely matter. The people who believe nonsense bullshit harmful mistaken “facts” and force themselves into lawmaking, FUCK THAT.

  • JD

    Keo says: “Truly free thinking would acknowledge that no one actually knows whether or not there is a divinity”

    That’s what I consider non-belief – what I consider to be my views as an atheist. Atheism is not a belief – it is a lack of belief. Like abstinence is not a sex position. Baldness is not a hair style. Give me solid proof that gods exist, and I may very well start “believing”.

    • dmantis

      “Atheism is not a belief – it is a lack of belief. Like abstinence is not a sex position.”

      I LOL’ed so hard. Good one sir or madam (whichever the case may be:). I am soooo gonna steal that.

  • Bob M

    In 1972 I voted for George McGovern. That may have been the only liberal thing I’ve ever done in my life. I was a pretty hardcore conservative and atheist until 1998 (empirical proof that this combination is possible at least in the short term). In 1998 I began to pay attention to what was going on and I could no longer ignore the fact that there is no evidence to support macro-evolution and that DNA and the irreducible complexity of cells is more evidence of intelligent design than I could comfortably dismiss. There was no way I could imagine that a lizard suddenly realized he needed wings instead of scales and set his mind to turning into a bird (over however many years his initial sense of urgency allowed him) and failed to leave a fossil record of the change. I really got suspicious when “serious” scientists proposed that maybe evolution happened suddenly, and that’s the reason there is supporting fossil record. It became clear to me that they would hold any position, regardless of how preposterous, as long as they didn’t have to admit that there was an intelligent designer.

    Having confronted the truth of creation I set out to learn about the Creator. I found the evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to easily meet the “beyond a shadow of a doubt” standard. Evidence of a Creator and a Redeemer was easy to see once I actually opened my mind. I no longer had to life a life of having faith in a theory (evolution) with no science to back it up. I remain conservative, but a kinder, gentler conservative.

    If you don’t believe that truth can be known (or don’t care to know it) then atheism and liberalism are a natural pairing.

    • LadyH42

      If that’s your understanding of Evolution no wonder you found it wrong. Something tells me your atheistic worldview was as well thought out.
      As for truth, I’ll put my money on science over anything that 2000 year old tribal leaders knew about anything anyday.

      • Bob M

        The theory of evolution is not supported by science. THINK ABOUT IT! Stop drinking the primordial Kool-aide.

        • Troutbane

          Well, other then all that pesky scientific research, experiments, published data, and consensus across multiple disciplines, you are spot on. I mean, how can all that compare to a 2000 year old Bronze Age myth?
          Well played Mr M. Well played.

    • http://fugodeus.com Nox

      When someone says things like “a lizard suddenly realized he needed wings instead of scales and set his mind to turning into a bird”, “scientists proposed that maybe evolution happened suddenly”, “irreducible complexity of cells” or “macro-evolution”, it gives the strong impression that person’s understanding of the concept of evolution comes mostly from creationist propaganda.

      If you were old enough to vote in 1972, and up until 1998 you were as you say living your life according to your faith in the theory of evolution, you should have had plenty of time to look up what the actual theory of evolution is.

      If you believe evolution happens by conscious choice within a single generation, it does not logically follow that there is no god. If you don’t believe evolution happens when a lizard decides to grow wings (which is not even close to what “evolution” means), it does not logically follow that there is a god.

      This is the same as if someone said they stopped believing in god because there is no way Jesus could deliver all those presents in one night.

      “I really got suspicious when “serious” scientists proposed that maybe evolution happened suddenly.”

      Citation needed on this one.

      “I found the evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to easily meet the “beyond a shadow of a doubt” standard.”

      Would you care to share any of this evidence? Cause I’ve actually looked into the matter a bit myself and found the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to easily meet the “there isn’t any” standard.

      • Custador

        “[He] found” = “his preachers says”.

      • Bob M

        Citation: Stephen Jay Gould “Evolution’s Erratic Pace” in Natural History 86 No.5 (May 1977)

        Evidence: 1. Jesus lived – In addition to the Gospels, at least two secular historians Josephus (a Jew) and Tacticus (a Roman) wrote of Jesus and the significant impact His followers were having. I think that’s significant corroboration to establish that there was in fact a man named Jesus who lived in and around Jerusalem in the 1st century.

        2. Jesus claimed to be God and predicted His death and resurrection. There is no extra-Biblical proof I can offer, and I doubt you’ll be accepting God’s Word for it. But, If Jesus was raised from the dead then what He said while He was on earth should be worth considering. Many regard Him as a great teacher and philosopher. But, He said He was God. If He arose from the dead, He probably IS God. If not, He WAS a lunatic or a liar.

        3. Jesus died. The secular historians agree that Jesus was crucified, Roman-style. He was placed in a tomb, guarded by Roman soldiers.

        4. Jesus arose from the grave. There is no denial in the accounts of the time that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb after the third day. If He didn’t rise from the dead, who took the body? The Romans had no motive. Their goal was to maintain the peace. It was better for them if Jesus was dead and His disciples wimped away. The Jews wouldn’t have taken the body.
        They wanted to prove that Jesus was a fraud; a dead fraud. There were no college fraternities playing pranks in those days, so the only special interest group still in play was Jesus’ disciples. This is an interesting possibility until you realize that the overwhelming majority of them were tortured and killed claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. People will die for a lie that they don’t know is a lie; but no one will die for a lie they know to be a lie. The disciples knew they had witnessed the risen Jesus and their behavior was evidence of that Truth.

        • Yoav

          Citation: Stephen Jay Gould “Evolution’s Erratic Pace” in Natural History 86 No.5 (May 1977)

          Gould’s punctuated equilibrium doesn’t say what you (or more likely the creoturd website you parrot) claim. It doesn’t mean a lizard suddenly turning into a bird it only mean that the rate of change is not constant, however change is still slow and gradual.

          Evidence: 1. Jesus lived – In addition to the Gospels, at least two secular historians Josephus (a Jew) and Tacticus (a Roman) wrote of Jesus and the significant impact His followers were having. I think that’s significant corroboration to establish that there was in fact a man named Jesus who lived in and around Jerusalem in the 1st century.

          Both Josephus and Tacitus are by no mean contemporary sources. The authenticity of the Josephus quote have been is questionable at best, Tacitus at best tell you that he’s aware that christian exist not that jesus did.

          2. Jesus claimed to be God and predicted His death and resurrection. There is no extra-Biblical proof I can offer, and I doubt you’ll be accepting God’s Word for it.

          You’re right about that.

          But, If Jesus was raised from the dead then what He said while He was on earth should be worth considering. Many regard Him as a great teacher and philosopher. But, He said He was God. If He arose from the dead, He probably IS God. If not, He WAS a lunatic or a liar.

          CS Lewis neglected the all important 4th L, legend.

          3. Jesus died. The secular historians agree that Jesus was crucified, Roman-style. He was placed in a tomb, guarded by Roman soldiers.

          Repeating a lie again and again does not a truth make. That’s cover your 4th point as well, until you can actually present actual evidence that jesus was crucified buried and that the body was actually missing discussion of what the missing body means is pointless.

          • Bob M

            Legend? Over the next several centuries the followers of the Legend (and those who claimed to be followers) changed the course of history and civilization. Usually for good: rescuing infants abandoned on the outskirts of the cities; caring for pagans whose family members abandoned them during plagues; significantly improving the status of women in society; starting the first hospitals; founding the first universities; advancing science, art and music; abolishing slavery shortly after the Roman Empire (built on the backs of slaves) fell; leading the fight against African slavery in England and the U.S. centuries later; and laying the ground work for the establishment of the rule of law. You may wish to focus on the shameful actions of nominal Christians or misguided Christians (Crusades, Inquisitions, witch persecutions, etc.) but at least admit that this “Legend” had more of an impact on the world than any other Legend, real or imagined. Don’t blame the Legend for the misbehavior of some followers. Go back and see how the Legend said we should live.

            • UrsaMinor

              An interesting take on history. Medieval serfdom was not materially distinguishable from chattel slavery. Chattel slavery itself was not abolished until the 19th Century, and yes, many Christians worked to abolish it- but those who owned slaves in Europe and America and supported the institution were universally Christian themselves, and pointed to the Bible (quite correctly; you might want to read it some time) for a justification of the practice. Religion doesn’t seem to have played much of a role in which side of the issue a person supported.

              No one doubts the impact of Christianity on history, but it’s hard to understand why you think this supports the truth of Christianity. One can make all of the same claims about Islam and its impact on Arabic society. Ergo, Islamic theology must be true by the same reasoning.

              Lastly, your No True Scotsman argument is a well-known logical fallacy.

          • Bob M

            Still – you cannot explain survival of the fittest until you explain arrival of the fittest.
            PE still doesn’t answer the “where is the fossil record?” question.

            Darwinism remains a desperate attempt to explain the world sans God, even if they have to throw science out along with God.

            • UrsaMinor

              Still – you cannot explain survival of the fittest until you explain arrival of the fittest.

              If by “arrival of the fittest” you mean the origin of life, evolutionary theory does not address that question, and does not claim to. The origin of life is outside its purview; it deals only with the diversification of life.

            • Yoav

              PE still doesn’t answer the “where is the fossil record?” question.

              That’s because this question doesn’t exist outside the imagination of creationists.

        • Troutbane

          I will now shamelessly steal from 27bslash6 (aka David Thorne), because he just damn well sums up a response to #4 so well:
          “I understand the importance the resurrection story holds in your particular religion. If I too knew some guy that had been killed and placed inside a cave with a rock in front of it and I visited the cave to find the rock moved and his body gone, the only logical assumption would be that he had risen from the dead and is the son of God. Once, my friend Simon was rushed to hospital to have his appendix removed and I visited him the next day to find his bed empty. I immediately sacrificed a goat and burnt a witch in his name but it turned out that he had not had appendicitis, just needed a good poo, and was at home playing Playstation.
          Someone probably should have asked “So the rock has been moved and he’s gone… has anyone checked his house?” I realise Playstation was not around in those days but they probably had the equivalent. A muddy stick or something. I would have said “Can someone please check if Jesus is at home playing with his muddy stick, if not, then and only then should we all assume, logically, that he has risen from the dead and is the son of God.”
          If we accept though, that Jesus was the son of an Infinite Being capable of anything, he probably did have a Playstation. Probably a Playstation 7. I know I have to get my offspring all the latest gadgets. God would probably have said to him, “I was going to wait another two thousand years to give you this but seeing as you have been good… just don’t tell your mother about Grand Theft Auto.”

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      Aside from everything Nox said, I just wanted to point out that evolution does happen suddenly in certain situations. Darwin’s finches of the Galapagos Islands are a case study in how environmental changes can lead to an evolutionary change within a generation or two. This isn’t magic and it takes some amazing hubris and lack of self-awareness to be so dismissive of something you don’t come close to understanding, for the sake of propping up a hypothesis that is far more magic-based. Selective pressure causing a sudden evolution in a species seems ridiculous to you, but “god did it all” is perfectly sound and supportable?

      • Bob M

        During seasons of drought, the beak sizes increased slightly. When the rains returned, the beak sizes went back to normal. That is adaptation within a species. The finches did not “evolve” into another kind of bird or anything other than a finch with a bigger beak. When the National Academy of Sciences put out a booklet on evolution for teachers, they conveniently left out the “returned to normal” part. Rather, NAS speculated that over hundreds of years a new species of finch would evolve. No one doubts adaptations within a species. It takes a lot of faith to call an adaptation within a species evolution.

        • UrsaMinor

          You don’t know the scientific definition of biological evolution that you’re attacking, and you’re presuming to dismiss the evidence for it? Wow.

          Evolution is the change in gene frequencies in a population over time. That is all. Speciation is a possible but not necessary consequence of this.

          Changes in the frequency of the genes controlling beak size within a population of finches in response to changing environmental conditions is evolution.

    • Johan

      Do a little research on what evolution actually is. Then ask yourself why your religious leaders would lie about it. If they had honest issues with evolution then they wouldn’t need to lie, and yet they choose to lie.

      Explain that. Seriously.

  • Troutbane

    Skipping to bottom, but will read the rest later.
    My two cents. Political ideologies are in the same boat as religion and musical preference: everyone thinks theirs is the best, everyone thinks everyone else should have the same preference because theirs is the best, they feel better because it is the best, and the annoying ones actively try and convert others to their cause using arguments (some good, many bad).
    I refuse to even label myself politically although I find myself on the left side of things…but not always. I like what works well and efficiently and trust science and non-biased studies to help guide the governments actions. I don’t believe in small government per se, but efficient government, which may be smaller and an open democracy to allow for course corrections. It just seems when you slap a label on yourself you start needing to either adopt a position you might never have held before (or believed the opposite in) or you have to start justifying WHY you don’t believe that particular ideal.

  • Troutbane

    Wow, it could just be me, but it looks like several derail trolls (or…just one who changed their name) stopped by.
    Rational sounding thought, rational sounding thought, rational sounding thought, rational sounding thought, rational sounding thought, rational sounding thought, rational sounding thought, EVOLUTION CANT EXPLAIN BANANAS, THEREFORE JESUS!

    • Elemenope

      It’s the Shyamalan twist of blog posts.

  • Jennifer Amy-Dressler

    As a liberal Christian, THANK YOU for sound reflection on history, and for acknowledging that I am not necessarily an oxymoron.

  • PermReader

    Rediculouse “rationalism” of the liberals ends with their sacred “equality”! Ayn Rand and von Mises are the examles of inequality ideology! Lenin,Chaves of course are the fighters for equality for the live and the dead. This shows as that all humans are heavily believers in anything. The sillies believe in LGBT , affirmative actions or the socialism. Hey, atheists common sence believers!


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