A response to Conrad – why I criticize Chris Stedman

In a post a couple of days ago, I sniped at Chris Stedman.  My primary gripe with Stedman is his stance that religion should be protected from offense, and in this way he nurtures and protects something I believe to be poisonous to humanity.

Then a friend of mine, Conrad Hudson, whose opinion I respect, came into the comments and left this.

If we are actually committed to the multiple approaches concept then whether he’s willing to criticize religion matters about as much as whether you’re willing to do interfaith.

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

But it got me thinking.  I am committed to the idea that our movement requires many types of activists.  It cannot thrive without the militant ones like myself, PZ Myers, and Greta Christina.  Nor can it do well without the soft, community-building diplomats (Lucy Gubbins comes to mind).  One thing I frequently harp on is how the majority of the most aggressive atheists will scarcely ever accuse the diplomats of harming our movement – a courtesy we are rarely returned.  We generally support the diplomats!  We want the Chris Stedmans of the world out being nice – in fact, we want them to stop wasting time complaining about the firebrands being a liability, which we clearly aren’t, and go fill their role as the nice guys.  They’d get a lot more accomplished.

Yet here I was in a post hammering on another atheist for their tactics.  Why was I doing this if I supported a multilateral approach to social change?  It took me a moment to identify the disconnect.  In short, I stand by my assessment: that our movement needs many types of activism, it simply does not need all types of activism.

Our movement contains a series of goals, one of which is a world where atheists are free of discrimination from religious people. This is a goal shared by virtually every atheist in the movement, and it is a goal for which a multitude of approaches works.  It needs the diplomats convincing people that atheists are kind, and it needs the firebrands forcing the hand of political change.  I think it is this goal that leaps to mind when people utter the phrase ‘the atheist movement’.

But we do not hold that goal to the exclusion of others.  Another goal, not necessarily shared by all of us (no goal is held universally in this movement), is to convince religious people that they are in error.  Both sides of the spectrum also contribute to this – the diplomats just tend to focus on correcting the error that atheists are evil while the firebrands tend to focus on changing their minds about all the unsupported garbage people believe about god (we tend to adopt the position that the idea that atheists are monsters will evaporate at that point).  There is also the difference in tone, but we’re all going about it in our own ways and all of those ways work (even if the degree to which they work will forever be in debate).

Anyway, the problem arises when our goals do not match up in critical ways.  I believe that irrationality is the cause of a large amount of senseless inhumanity and that religion preserves irrationality, even elevating faith as something of which to be proud rather than a point of embarrassment.  It is my not my goal to coexist with such ideas, but to actively work to eliminate them from the face of our species.  This means that anybody who views religion as beautiful or healing to humanity is unlikely to be my ally on this front.  They can be my ally for a host of other goals, and even in the atheist movement on the whole, but not on this.

It is here that I must go after Chris Stedman and the few like him who, I believe, take the concept of diplomacy to such an extreme that tact takes a back seat to deference.  It is a good thing that this criticism is being made.  One of the glories of this movement is that (ideally) we treat all ideas with the same expectations for soundness.  This is something we have so right that religion has so wrong.  Imagine if we never had to keep an eye on the Catholic church because they were competent at policing their own!  So when Chris or any other atheist is in error, we shouldn’t feel guilt born of some false sense of allegiance when we point it out.  My allegiance is to rationality, not atheism.

So go ahead: tell religious people that I’m a big, hulking meanie.  Tell them that not all atheists are so cruel as I.  Tell them that non-believers are nice, and good, and sweet.  Mop up whoever we don’t mow down.  This does not pick my pocket in the least.  I obviously have no issue being the bad guy and letting the religious people run to the ‘nice’ atheists for comfort after we’ve just reduced their beliefs to their component atoms.

But if you’re telling religious people that their offense is justified when we draw cartoons in response to the leaders of their religion threatening our lives for doing so, that’s a different story.  Chris Stedman has done this.  I was on a panel in Buffalo a year ago watching him do this.  This extends beyond offering sympathy for hurt feelings or treating religious people with kindness and becomes aiding in the protection of ideas that drive these kind of human rights abuses.  Criticize nicely if you feel so led.  Hell, don’t criticize at all if that’s your cup of tea.  But don’t tell them they’re in the right for being offended if we draw cartoons just because they believe it strongly.  They’re not.

Part of why people stay religious is because it is easy to do.  I seek to make it less easy.  I seek to create a world where people cannot open their mouths to tell someone about Jesus without wondering if, without the obligatory respect to which religion has grown accustomed, the target of their evangelism will make a public fool of them.  I dream of a world where irrationality knows no sanctuary and no quarter outside the cathedral.  To the end of creating a world hostile to holding lousy ideas for bad reasons, the people kowtowing to the offense of the believers cannot be my ally.  Even though we’re fighting for some of the same goals, I need not pretend as though someone trying to coexist with religious ideas can be my cohort in creating a scathing climate for religious ideas.

Chris often wants to treat religious people like they are trying to be reasonable and simply failing (and in my experience, he’s very wishy washy on the failing part).  But religious people are not always trying to be reasonable – oftentimes their goal is simply to defend their beliefs no matter what, not to evaluate them.  I see no need to treat those people like they are trying to play fair when this happens, but to instead to try and instill the shame somebody should feel when they exhibit no care for intellectual honesty.  And if that means I need to hurt their feelings by deconstructing their errors and hanging them up for public viewing, then I will.

Now, I’ve been told in the wake of all this that Chris Stedman is willing to criticize religion and that he has done so.  I’m doubtful, but that doesn’t even matter – I don’t require him to criticize religion.  I ask very little.  I merely ask that he does not stand between religion and valid criticisms levied by others while bending to their screams of offense.  (I would be more than willing to have a dialogue with him about this (and would love to hear it from his mouth), as to where he believes criticism is warranted and his defenses of that position if, as I am told, he truly believes religion should be criticized.  He even consented to a dialogue with me twice and then failed to follow through on both occasions.  Several other times he has promised clarifications and has not made them.  What is a well-meaning firebrand to do?)

Anyway, in summation, does the atheist movement need all types?  No.  It needs firebrands, it needs moderates, it needs diplomats, and it needs everybody in between.  It needs people who will give a shoulder to religious people after the aggressors have reduced their beliefs to cinders.  It needs activists working to coexist with the believers who have swallowed the poison in sub-lethal doses.  While some people need to be bludgeoned out of belief, others need to be coaxed out, and for that we need the softies (and I do not use that term derogatorily).  The movement needs atheists treating believers as though they have good intentions as well as the ones heaping shame on believers for not taking their beliefs seriously enough.  I stand by this statement.

What it absolutely does not need is people shielding opinions from criticism simply because those opinions arose from a religious impetus or because those opinions are cherished.  It does not need people telling the believers there is an iota of truth to their opinions when there isn’t because they feel the faithful may not like us otherwise.  Many of those opinions are not only anti-atheist but anti-human rights, as we saw with the Muhammad cartoons and as we presently see with situations like the religiously motivated crusade against LGBT rights.  It is not entirely bad people responsible for these things, but largely good people contaminated by shitty ideas, and those ideas will not go away because they are stroked, petted, and protected in order to convince religious people that we are amicable.  Individually we can coexist with irrationality, but not at the societal level – the story of human history confirms this.

Even an atheist can become so protective of religion that they stop being a champion of reason and become a champion of faith (S.E. Cupp, for instance).  It is my opinion that Chris falls squarely on that side of the spectrum and should be chided fiercely for it.

I will never criticize someone for being nice, but I will break out the claws in a minute when they give refuge to the evils I’m trying to unmake.

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    Could you give one concrete example where Stedman has said that religious ideas should not be criticized? A quote would be useful, rather than a vague reference to the SSA panel, which I just watched again and thought Chris gave a rather eloquent and intelligent response to your question (which itself is an important one). In his response Chris was very clear that one of his goals is to get religious people to question some of their assumptions. This seems far less antagonistic to your position than you paint him to be. So to what are you referring, precisely?

  • Beaux

    I shine light on the P.C. argumentation every chance I get. I can speak for myself and a flimsy one as Stedman would be the last person I’d give my ear to. I refuse to handle it with “kid gloves”. Oh, nice post BTW JT.

  • http://majesty-of-being.blogspot.com/ Serah Blain

    I deeply appreciate you, JT, but still think you are fundamentally misconstruing Chris’ position. There’s a difference between saying that religion should be protected from offense (which Chris hasn’t, to my knowledge, ever said), and saying that it isn’t inherently good to offend religious people if, essentially, the only outcome is bad-will rather than some productive, meaningful change in people’s perspective.

    I also take issue with the idea that the main focus of the diplomats is to make people think atheists nice. Actually, my main focus is to build relationships that enable us to change minds and hearts–and being nice helps achieve that.

    And finally, I don’t think we diplomats are really in the business of wasting time complaining about firebrands. Usually, we’re diplomatically defending the idea that there are different roles in the movement for different people who have diverse talents. Personally, I spend a lot of my time telling firebrands they’re fantastic (you’re fantastic, by the way). But most of my time is spent actually doing social justice work rather than telling anybody anything.

    Let’s talk about it over drinks (or protein shakes or whatever) sometime. <3

  • Laurence

    @James: Chris Stedman’s stance on the Sojourners’ decision not to air that “gay people aren’t terrible” ad seemed like an attempt to shield a group of believers from criticism. And before you say it, I know you disagree with him about that. ;-)

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    To say that one institution should not be damned for one stance on one issue is not to say that religion should be shielded from criticism per se. One can say “in this instance I do not believe that this institution/belief should be criticized in that way” and still believe that such institutions should be subject to criticism.

  • Conrad

    Thanks for taking the time to write out a thoughtful response my friend! I typed those original comments on a Kindle in sub-optimal conditions, so I’ll attempt to give a better idea of my original intent, without repeating too much, nor ignoring your clarification.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on whether Chris’ work and approach is what you describe and whether it causes what you suggests. That is of course a line that’s your prerogative to draw, much as it would be for a diplomat to suggest when firebrand tactics have gone too far (right?). When we talk about the spectrum of diplomat-firebrand It’s doesn’t have a definite ending point on the diplomat side but an open-ended scale on the other right? As though we can definitely point to where diplomacy becomes counter-productive, but no one has the right to draw such a line on the other end, or vice versa with no action being too diplomatic when firm rebuttal is needed.

    These lines are fuzzy, they always will be, even with sages such as Great Christina attempting to draw them. There is no one individual capable of drawing those lines for a diverse community movement, they only become darker with many people attempting to draw them, so we have to be ok with others occasionally drawing those lines across our canvases. I don’t think you should agree with all my lines, nor I with yours, we should be attempting to erase and re-draw them, while recognizing who is contributing to a picture of the world that’s marginally better or worse than where we are now.
    So my appeal to you is that you use your formidable eraser (and biceps) on the lines and not the artist. Your post here is actually a pretty great example of doing just that, for the most part. You clearly articulate why you see Chris as doing is harmful and why you stand against it. This is great! But then you go on to say:

    //It is here that I must go after Chris Stedman and the few like him who, I believe, take the concept of diplomacy to such an extreme that tact takes a back seat to deference.//

    There are some people whose influence is so vast, and personality is so intrinsically linked with their ideas that they need to be attacked personally. By your own statements, Chris is not even close to that category. He is not a movement, he a person. A person who does many things related to non-theist activism.

    Black and white thinking that leads to repeated general attacks, and blanket dismissal of is exactly the kind of dogmatism we’re all fighting in anti-atheist bigotry. If we start to approach the same thinking about each other, it means that we are also dismissing the things the other does that you would hypothetically agree with. In Chris’ case if someone comes up on your writings as a diplomat, they may mistake your writings as representative of the firebrand position and feel alienated if someone they respect is flippantly denigrated. The thing they’re thinking of and the thing you’re thinking of might not even be remotely similar! We need those people working together with us, and certainly don’t want them to defensively turn to similar attacks against your side.

    I hope you’ll continue to criticize Chris for specific and relevant action, and stand up against ideas that you see as harmful. (I’m doing it to you now, how oblivious to hypocrisy would I be not to encourage the same!). But I implore you to avoid making closely aligned (yes, he’s damn close to you in the broad picture) peers out to be intellectual piñatas made of bad ideas, worth smacking around at the slightest mention of relevant topics, for the bitter candy of creating smaller and small in-groups. Allowing personal vendetta’s to be a part of your public discourse is unnecessarily divisive. Surely you must admit Chris is not so far removed from your preferred spectrum of atheist activism so as to lack all merit?

    Let’s not get distracted from criticizing ideas. Take this comment. I’m defending a person. Shouldn’t we be talking about the idea? Yeah, but I feel compelled to discuss a specific person because I know and respect him, and see lots of good work he’s doing. So I have both reason and emotion motivating and distracting me. Give me an idea and I’m happy to weigh in. Your idea in this case, I believe is wrong. Many of your other ideas are extremely right, IMHO. That’s part of how I feel about you as a person and good friend I care deeply for, but the reverse is not true, so I find it irrelevant. Give me a general criticism of a person, and now I’m stepping in to defend a friend who I already know from personal experience has value, as I have done many times in various threads trashing you. When I defended you I did some publically when possible because what injustice it is to have a friend be maligned and let it go unchallenged, when probably such a discussion might have a better chance of sinking in, in private, at least in my opinion.

    If we’re telling religious people “People deserve respect, idea’s don’t” shouldn’t we be applying that at the very least with the same enthusiasm in our own ranks? I’m not arguing against naming names, rather for the deliberate and specific naming of names rather than turning someone’s name in to a euphemism for wrongheadedness.

    Do you think that distinction is relevant and worth making?

    This may be another point without an available consensus or compromise, so I hope I’m not belaboring it, nor coming across as though I’m trying to sway you to “my side” (my post on comparative advantage should eliminate incentive for that!) but I wanted to try and be more clear about where I see a chance for us in the atheist community to be better together (lolz, get it?!).

  • Felice

    I thoroughly agree with your description of the many types of activists and people we need for the atheist movement to go forward, to grow and most importantly of all to make non-believers more visible and accepted. That’s a pretty modest goal, as difficult as it can be to achieve in such a culture as ours. Personally, I too wish we could get people to evaluate their beliefs more seriously, especially the ones that specifically tell them that their religious text and god are absolutely true. We won’t eliminate religion, I think, but that less ambitious goal would make for a much more comfortable climate to live in, for everyone I think.

    One thing I’d add to your list of people we need in the atheist movement are the non-activists. This is true of every civil rights movement. We need a LOT of activists, people who are committed enough and capable of acting in a bigger and more public way. But if we’re really going to foster visibility and acceptance, one of the most important aspects of the movement is regular people interacting with their religious neighbors and friends. Proving that they’re nice, reasonable, friendly people, not monsters or antagonists just because of their contrary beliefs. And that includes those of us who DO engage and challenge others in day-to-day conversations – civilly but not deferentially, saying “it’s okay that you believe this, I’m not saying you’re wrong…”. The importance of the “out” and non-activist non-believer should never be overlooked. That’s why I love the RDF campaign so much.

  • Per-Yngve

    “I am committed to the idea that our movement requires many types of activists. It cannot thrive without the militant ones like myself, PZ Myers, and Greta Christina.”

    This is a bare assertion. There could in fact be a unique, optimal strategy to promoting atheism. (What Myers and Christina do for the most part is promote atheism and their respective cults of personality rather than critical thinking, which is what they should be promoting, but that’s a separate issue.)

    And if you are in favor of science and reason like you say you are, you should observe what is known reasonably well from social psychology, namely that being a “firebrand” is typically an ineffectual means of persuasion.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    There’s a difference between saying that religion should be protected from offense (which Chris hasn’t, to my knowledge, ever said)…

    But he has said it. He has spent a great deal of time criticizing other atheists for offending religious believers… even in the face of substantial evidence that the only outcome is most definitely not bad, and in fact it can have some very good outcomes.

    Also… correct me if I’m wrong, JT, but I don’t think JT is talking about diplomacy here. He’s talking about accommodationism. Those are not the same thing.

    And finally, I don’t think we diplomats are really in the business of wasting time complaining about firebrands.

    You might not be. But some of them are. And Stedman is one of them.

  • Per-Yngve

    “even in the face of substantial evidence that the only outcome is most definitely not bad, and in fact it can have some very good outcomes.”

    What systematic studies have you done on the efficacy of being an atheist firebrand and why is this (putative) effectiveness so exceptional given what is known about persuasion tactics in general?

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    I’ll ask the same thing of you, Greta, which I asked of JT – can you give an example of where Chris has said religious BELIEF or religion (as distinct from religious people or believers) should, in a general way, be protected from criticism? I note you equate “religion” with “religious believers” in your response to Conrad – it’s important not to do this, for reasons of clarity.

    I’d be grateful for a single concrete example.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    What systematic studies have you done on the efficacy of being an atheist firebrand and why is this (putative) effectiveness so exceptional given what is known about persuasion tactics in general?

    At no point did I say that firebrandism was exceptional. Simply that it could have good outcomes.

    Do I have systematic studies showing that firebrandism can have good outcomes? No. Although history certainly shows that it does. But I suggest you watch the video of Ed Clint’s talk at the Secular Student Alliance conference, in which he points out several specific, concrete examples of his student organization doing confrontational- type activism that not only didn’t interfere with later efforts at diplomacy and interfaith/ transfaith work with believers, but actually improved them.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNKokaFxYL8

    I’ll ask the same thing of you, Greta, which I asked of JT – can you give an example of where Chris has said religious BELIEF or religion (as distinct from religious people or believers) should, in a general way, be protected from criticism?

    His staunch opposition to Everyone Draw Muhammad Day is Exhibit A. His point was that atheists should not draw chalk drawings of Muhammad, because the Muslim faith forbids it, and doing so would offend many Muslims. And his defense of Sojourner’ s refusal to run a pro-gay ad is Exhibit B. His point was that Sojourner had a history of being good on LGBT issues, and therefore we ought not to criticize them when they did something messed-up, because Sojourner was trying so hard to cater to a wide variety of Christians, many of whom are homophobic.

    I don’t know of any instance where Stedman has said that religious belief, in general, should be protected. But he has certainly said that particular religious beliefs and practices should be protected – even when those beliefs do considerable harm. What good is it to say that you can criticize religion in general, but that you can’t criticize specific harmful examples of it?

  • Per-Yngve

    So, Greta, you basically have anecdotes. That’s pretty “scientific”.

  • JT Eberhard

    Per-Yngve,

    Snarky, aren’t you?

    This reminds me of something Heidi Anderson was droning on about in Buffalo a year ago (and for which she got taken to task): asking for scientific evidence that being a firebrand works and then, whenever evidence is provided, whining that it’s not scientific, as though historical evidence and the success of firebrands in the past at effecting social change is meaningless.

    Fortunately, the use of informal social controls as an influence on societal change is well-understood/well-documented.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_control#Informal_social_control

    We also know that shame, when applied to a relevant decision, does result in prosocial behavior (which, in the case of religion, includes the re-evaluation of one’s ideas).

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=8&ved=0CFoQFjAH&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.econ.upf.edu%2Fdocs%2Fseminars%2Fzeelenberg.pdf&rct=j&q=affects%20of%20shame%20study&ei=AcRWTrq3HoTh0QGGodCeDA&usg=AFQjCNEemzZoi9QtI8SBW9slNj5_xIuALA&sig2=zsNYwwttIonEIzZ-0rp7cA&cad=rja

    //So, Greta, you basically have anecdotes. That’s pretty “scientific”.//

    There are countless examples of where being a firebrand achieved positive results on college campuses, a few of which are in the talk Greta linked you and you ignored. Or how about when PZ Myers was asked on a panel at TAM how many emails he gets per month thanking him for changing the author’s mind about religion and he responded “hundreds”? Odd that people converted by the softies would write to thank PZ Myers, isn’t it?

    And it’s not just PZ. Greta gets those emails. I get those emails. Virtually every well-read outspoken atheist gets those emails. You may screech that this is not scientific, which is true – but then you probably shouldn’t believe that Martin Luther King Jr., a firebrand if ever there was one, was able to affect social change.

    And furthermore, changing minds is not our only goal. See the above link about informal social controls and see how that applies to what I wrote:

    //Part of why people stay religious is because it is easy to do. I seek to make it less easy. I seek to create a world where people cannot open their mouths to tell someone about Jesus without wondering if, without the obligatory respect to which religion has grown accustomed, the target of their evangelism will make a public fool of them. I dream of a world where irrationality knows no sanctuary and no quarter outside the cathedral.//

    I want to marginalize beliefs that cannot be defended as well, and being a firebrand is a great way (arguably the best way) to do this.

    Furthermore, if being a firebrand – in this case, giving no care if someone is offended – is so ineffective/unscientific, why the snark in your responses? Dying to be ineffective, are you?

    JT

  • Per-Yngve

    “We also know that shame, when applied to a relevant decision, does result in prosocial behavior (which, in the case of religion, includes the re-evaluation of one’s ideas).”

    We don’t know that people whose religion is ridiculed feel shame and, furthermore, from the article you just linked:

    “During informal sanctions, ridicule or ostracism can cause a straying towards norms.”

    Since when is atheism a “norm”? You didn’t even read what you linked.

    “There are countless examples of where being a firebrand achieved positive results on college campuses”

    The plural of anecdote isn’t data.

    “Furthermore, if being a firebrand – in this case, giving no care if someone is offended – is so ineffective/unscientific, why the snark in your responses? Dying to be ineffective, are you?”

    That’s an ad hominem tu quoque. Also I’m not terribly concerned with whether I’m convincing or not (nor am I encouraging anything comparable to obtaining Communion wafers fraudulently—something PZ has done, for example), I just want to see where the thread goes.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Per-Yngve, I truly do not understand your point. Are you arguing that firebrandism is less effective than diplomacy? Or that firebrandism is never effective?

    If we were arguing that firebrandism is more effective than diplomacy, then you might have a point about scientific data and or lack thereof. But we’re not. We’re simply arguing that it is sometimes effective. And to make that case, all we need are anecdotes. If thousands of people say they had their minds changed about religion by PZ Myers’ firebrand-y blog, then unless you think that every one of those people is lying or self-deluded (or that PZ is lying about this), we’ve proven our case. What PZ does is often effective.

    And he’s only one firebrand among many. How many atheists do you know who are now atheists, at least in part, because of reading The God Delusion, or The End of Faith, or God Is Not Great? I’ll tell you how many. Lots. I’m one of them.

    That’s an ad hominem tu quoque.

    Actually, it’s very much to the point. You’re arguing that diplomacy is effective in changing minds and snark is not — and yet you’re being snarky. Why would you be snarky if you thought it was always ineffective?

    Also I’m not terribly concerned with whether I’m convincing or not… I just want to see where the thread goes.

    In other words, you’re not actually trying to engage in a good-faith conversation, to try to change other people’s minds and/or allow yours to be changed. You just want to yank people’s chains to see the effect it has. Translation: You’re trolling. So why should we listen to anything you have to say, or have any confidence that you actually believe anything you say?

  • JT Eberhard

    //“During informal sanctions, ridicule or ostracism can cause a straying towards norms.”//

    Yeah, it is. But it’s not the only norm in question, nor the one I was going for. Another norm, or at least a norm people yearn for, is not looking like an idiot. Shaming someone because you sunder their ideas publicly has the same effect. It causes people to research and learn so as to avoid shame the next time around.

    Such as when you ask for evidence and then dance around every example provided.

    //The plural of anecdote isn’t data.//

    Think Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t effective then?

    //I’m not terribly concerned with whether I’m convincing or not (nor am I encouraging anything comparable to obtaining Communion wafers fraudulently—something PZ has done, for example), I just want to see where the thread goes.//

    You didn’t come here to convince anybody? Why ask for evidence then, just so you could dance around it? Why throw out arguments? Trying to waste peoples’ time?

    Firebrands may be harsh frequently, but we’re always harsh with a particular outcome in mind. If you’re not here to contribute and try to change minds, then you’re just here being demeaning because…you enjoy it? That’s just being an asshole and a troll.

    JT

  • Per-Yngve

    “Shaming someone because you sunder their ideas publicly has the same effect. It causes people to research and learn so as to avoid shame the next time around.”

    I want proper scientific evidence that firebrand atheism is effective relative to other methods.

  • JT Eberhard

    Per-Yngve,

    So you do think Martin Luther King Jr. was ineffective?

    Informal social controls. They are understood and apply perfectly to people who get their ideas stomped in public.

    You’ve had gobs of evidence handed to you, including a study on the prosocial outcomes of relevant public shame, and you’ve ignored every iota of it. Want more so you can keep up your waltz? You’ve already admitted, no, you’ve asserted you aren’t here in good faith.

    You’re a troll. Fuck off.

    JT

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I want proper scientific evidence that firebrand atheism is effective relative to other methods.

    And yet again I say: You are asking for evidence for a case that we are not making. We are not arguing that firebrand atheism is effective relative to other methods. We are not arguing that firebrand atheism is more effective than other methods. We are simply arguing that firebrand atheism is often effective.

    Here’s the thing. Even if I were persuaded that diplomacy was twice as effective as firebrandism, I would still pursue firebrandism over diplomacy. Why? Because I’m a good firebrand, and I enjoy it… and I’m a lousy diplomat, and I don’t like it. We have to do what we’re good at, and what we enjoy. If we don’t, we’re going to burn out.

    Now, if I were persuaded that firebrandism never works, and that it’s always antithetical to our purposes, that would be different. But that is clearly not the case. Firebrandism is sometimes effective. In fact, it is often effective. And I am therefore going to continue doing it… because it’s what I’m good at, and it’s what I enjoy.

    Now, I do, in fact, have evidence and research on my side. Mainly the Overton window, which has been studied and confirmed extensively. Diplomacy is less effective without firebrandism pushing the line of what’s considered moderate and what’s considered radical. But again, that’s not the point. The point is that what we are doing sometimes works. It often works. The two methods together work better than either method does by itself. And we’re not telling diplomats to stop being diplomatic. Why are so many diplomats trying to stop us?

    Oh, and to Serah: If you still think no diplomats are in the business of wasting time complaining about firebrands… please remember this thread.

  • Per-Yngve

    “including a study on the prosocial outcomes of relevant public shame”

    And I pointed out why it’s irrelevant because Joe Bob in Kentucky whose peers are all religious will not feel “shamed” into conformity to a “norm” that really isn’t a “norm” in his case.

    “You’re a troll. Fuck off.”

    Everyone who disagrees with you is a troll and just won’t listen to evidence. Whereas you have Absolute Truth. I see how it is.

  • Per-Yngve

    “We are simply arguing that firebrand atheism is often effective.”

    OK. How much damage does it incur?

    ps – you’re confirmation biasing.

  • JT Eberhard

    //Everyone who disagrees with you is a troll and just won’t listen to evidence. Whereas you have Absolute Truth. I see how it is.//

    Yes, it certainly not the part where you asserted you weren’t here in good faith (as I pointed out).

    JT

  • Per-Yngve

    “Yes, it certainly not the part where you asserted you weren’t here in good faith (as I pointed out).”

    Let’s face it: if I were to try to convince you of anything, I’d die a broken-hearted man. The best I can do is engage in debate, see where it goes, and hope that maybe, maybe a teensy tiny crack will open up.

    For the record I haven’t insulted any of you or anything like that.

  • JT Eberhard

    You just implied I was close-minded and then boasted you hadn’t insulted me. You did this to justify your assertion that you weren’t here in good faith.

    All of this in a thread where you’re trying to convince me that my tone is ineffective for being too brash.

    JT

  • Per-Yngve

    “You just implied I was close-minded”

    That’s more of a matter-of-fact statement than an insult. I don’t remember when you ever changed your mind about something major.

  • http://majesty-of-being.blogspot.com/ Serah Blain

    @Greta: I’m not entirely sure there ARE any diplomats on this thread!

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Greta: I’m not entirely sure there ARE any diplomats on this thread!

    Fair point. :-) But there is certainly someone claiming to be a diplomat, and advocating for diplomacy.

    And, to be serious for a moment: This is one of the points many of us firebrands have been making. The diplomats and accommodationists (and those are not the same thing) who do spend considerable time complaining about firebrands? They often do so in an extremely nasty way. A way that they would scream bloody murder about if it was directed at religion or religious believers.

    It’s almost as if they accept the assessment of so many believers: that religion is special and deserves special respect… while atheists deserve anything that gets handed to them.

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    Greta: Your examples are, as you accept, not evidence which supports the broader claim both you and JT have made, which is that Chris believes “religion should be protected from offense”. He has certainly disagreed with certain instances in which certain tactics were used, but that is quite a different matter. My point here is simple: limit your claims unless you can substantiate them.

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    Your latest comment is, I think, very insightful.

  • http://majesty-of-being.blogspot.com/ Serah Blain

    Greta: I completely agree with you on the nastiness of some people who, bizarrely, advocate for the diplomatic approach in the least diplomatic way conceivable. It’s unbelievably frustrating, because this is an extremely important conversation for us to have, and all the screaming distracts from being able to have the conversation. It’s essential that we all keep one another accountable as we work to advance reason, and I do find criticisms, like JT’s here, useful as I think about how I am going to interact positively with religious people while maintaining integrity about my atheism.

    I do however disagree with you that Chris’ criticism of Draw Mohammad Day was an example of saying religion should be protected from offense–or at least from saying so for the sake of protecting religion. The greater point, I think, was that this particular offensive action was counterproductive in terms of advancing reason–which is a rational concern. I’m not sure which position is ultimately correct on the Draw Mohammad Day controversy, but I feel like Chris should be able to raise the concern without being construed as an accommodationist, just as JT should be encouraged to raise concerns about the line between diplomacy and accommodationism without being construed as being divisive. This is how we keep one another honest–and effective.

  • http://majesty-of-being.blogspot.com/ Serah Blain

    PS “Firebrand” is a much sexier label than “diplomat.” I’m going to look into some kind of re-branding.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Greta: Your examples are, as you accept, not evidence which supports the broader claim both you and JT have made, which is that Chris believes “religion should be protected from offense”. He has certainly disagreed with certain instances in which certain tactics were used, but that is quite a different matter. My point here is simple: limit your claims unless you can substantiate them.

    James: I think I see what you’re saying now. You’re saying that Stedman is not defending religion as a whole against criticism — he’s defending specific ways that religion plays out, against specific instances of criticism.

    I don’t agree. And here’s why.

    When atheists critique specific ways religion plays out, Stedman’s doesn’t critique those critiques by saying they’re inaccurate, or unfair, or out of proportion. He critiques those critiques because they cause offense. That, in my view, constitutes a broad defense of one of religion, and one of the most pernicious pieces of armor in its armory — the idea that religion is a special category of idea, and we ought not to criticize it in ways that offend people who adhere to it.

    Again, I say: There’s not much use in critiquing the general notion of religion if we can’t critique specific instances of it.

    But I could be wrong about this. I’ve read only a limited amount of Stedman’s writing (since I don’t particularly care for it), and it may be that I’m being unfair. So now I’ll ask you for a counter- example: Can you show me instances where Stedman has criticized religion? Or actually — much more to the point for this conversation — can you show me instances where Stedman has defended atheists who have criticized religion? Can you show me instances where he has said, “Yes, this criticism of religion is harsh, and many believers find it offensive — but it’s accurate, and it’s fair, and the criticism is in proportion to the wrong being perpetrated, and I stand with the critics and support them”?

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Serah: I see your point. And if this were only about Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, I might agree with it. But this is a common pattern with Stedman: he criticizes other atheists for critiquing religion, solely because those critiques are offensive and upsetting to believers. I find his defense of Sojourner in many ways to be more objectionable than his critique of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day… since his point there was that it’s hard for Christian organizations to please all Christians and make nice with the homophobic branches of their religion, and we should understand how hard that is and not criticize them for doing it. Ew.

    Plus it seems that he spends a disproportionate amount of time going after other atheists who criticize religion, rather than actually doing the diplomatic “reaching out” work he says is so important. That feeds into the whole “shielding religion” trope JT and I have been talking about… which is not the same as diplomacy.

  • Revyloution

    S.E. Cupp? Her 15 minutes hasn’t run out yet? Seriously, I never understood why anyone paid any attention to her.

  • http://majesty-of-being.blogspot.com/ Serah Blain

    @Greta: Your question about whether Chris has defended atheists who have accurately and fairly criticized religion is a good one. I don’t know the answer to it, but I’m willing to check into it. He has certainly done so in private conversation, but whether he has written or spoken to this in a public forum, I can’t say. He has definitely written about how interfaith work creates excellent opportunities for the criticism of religion and indeed that is one of the goals of participating in such work (this piece comes to mind: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/4697/do_atheists_belong_in_the_interfaith_movement/).

    I disagree with Chris on Sojourners, but don’t feel like his position on this negates the rest of the outstanding work he does. I guess we’d need to get him to submit a time card or something for us to know whether he spends a disproportionate amount of time criticizing atheists versus diplomatically reaching out…I have a feeling both sides of this issues are victims of confirmation bias.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I guess we’d need to get him to submit a time card or something for us to know whether he spends a disproportionate amount of time criticizing atheists versus diplomatically reaching out…I have a feeling both sides of this issues are victims of confirmation bias.

    That’s a fair point. I mostly get made aware of Stedman’s writing when he’s criticizing other atheists. Which he does do a lot. But like I said, I’m not that crazy about his writing or his ideas, so I don’t follow his work closely, and it may be that he really does do loads of other work, and I just don’t see it.

    Your question about whether Chris has defended atheists who have accurately and fairly criticized religion is a good one. I don’t know the answer to it, but I’m willing to check into it.

    If he has, then I’d be willing to step back on this. I still strongly disagree with his positions on Sojourner and Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, and I still strongly disagree with much of what he’s said about other atheists. But I’d be willing to step back from my general criticism of what seems to be a consistent pattern of shielding religion from valid criticism, and focus on specific instances where I haven’t agreed with him.

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    Greta: Serah has said a lot of what I might have said (she tends to do that!), but I would add one thing. A lot of this discussion hinges on the concept of “offense”, and when it is legitimate or not to give it. I think this discussion is simply too narrow to encompass Stedman’s criticisms regarding, for example, EDMD. If you take a look at his articles on that issue, I think you’ll agree with me that his argument is a lot more nuanced than simply “this offends Muslims, therefore it shouldn’t be done”. Rather, he argues that the practice ostracized and potentially demeans Muslims (already a persecuted minority in the USA), making them feel less welcome and even less safe on their campus. This is quite a more complex and powerful argument than one simply about giving offense.

    The way I think about this is by filtering it through my own experience as a gay man. When someone yells “fucking faggot” at me when I’m walking down the street holding a lover’s hand (it happens even in Boston!), sure I’m offended. But offense, frankly, is the least if my worries. I’m more concerned at that moment with my personal safety, the reaction of my partner, and the general sense that I am not welcome on the streets.

    Clearly there’s a big difference between “fucking faggot” and drawing a stick figure labeled Muhhamad. But I think the form of the argument – that there’s a lot more than simply offense to consider here – is valid and deserves consideration.

  • John D

    Staying religious is easy??? You can’t be serious. You do the cause no service with nonsense like this.


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