Neal Larson can’t find real examples of discrimination in order to gripe about militant atheists.

Neal Larson can’t find real examples of discrimination in order to gripe about militant atheists. October 2, 2014
Neal Larson.  Not my favorite.
Neal Larson. Not my favorite.

I’m not sure what it is, but whether it’s Joshua Feuerstein or whoever else, I generally get inundated with articles and videos when they’re particularly crappier than the average.  Why do articles with extremely bad arguments go viral among the faithful?

Anyway, the one I’m getting a lot right now is by Neal Larson titled Militant Atheist Rears its Ugly Head.  Neal is upset, he thinks Christians are getting persecuted by “militant” atheists who are trying to purge Christianity from the public square and *gasp* try to change people’s minds.  The horror.

I’ll jump right in:

“I have a confession: I’m guilty of discrimination against militant, activist atheists. I simply don’t like them.”

Leave it to a Christian to utter the words “I’m guilty of discrimination” proudly.

“I would refuse to vote for a proud and vocal atheist for high office, regardless of any offsetting credentials.”

Yeah, vote for somebody less competent, that’ll show us.  And by “us” I mean everybody who lives in the United States and has to deal with a less competent, but more pious leader, as if piety were a substitute for competence.  If we’re lucky, the leader will be so incompetent that relying on prayer while doing nothing else will be an improvement over them doing things (see George Bush).

“I’m not talking about those who struggle with faith, or have simply resigned themselves to not knowing, or those who cannot reconcile the horrors and miseries that life offers at times, with the existence of a loving God.”

But for those who don’t think misery and horror are compatible with a loving god, your asses best get primed for some discrimination from Neal Larson.  Ok, so essentially you have no problem with religious people, it’s people who aren’t religious, regardless of other qualities, you have a problem with.

“Those are examples of unintrusive atheism.”

Being able to reconcile horrors and misery with the existence of a loving god is an example of atheism?

“I have good friends who are agnostic, and I enjoy their friendship. I do have a problem, however, with those who proselytize and demand that the rest of us cater to their unbelief, as though that unbelief is itself a virtue worthy of our nurture and respect.”

Yeah!  Yeah, why should people be respected for rejecting the idea that someone rose from the dead?  That’s like, not even hard.  Would you respect someone for running a thousand-minute mile?

And as you read the rest of this article, remember that Neal Larson actually wrote “I do have a problem, however, with those who proselytize…”  Remember it, because he’s about to throw in with people who proselytize.  A lot.

But what does Neal mean when he says that demand that others cater to our unbelief?

“Referencing Russian composer Pavel Tchesnokov’s “Salvation Is Created”, a high school marching band in Newark, Ohio wore shirts bearing the name of the composition. “Salvation” is too offensive a word for the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) which sent a complaint to the school’s superintendent, claiming even the word on the shirts is an unconstitutional violation.”

That’s because it’s a sectarian religious hymn.  Larson says that it’s the word salvation that’s an issue, but he’s either wrong or lying.  From the wikipedia, “the work is a communion hymn based on a Kievan synodal chant melody and Psalm 74.”  It includes the line “Salvation is made in the midst of the earth, O God. Alleluia.”  Tchesnokov was very open in his intent for the song to be used to worship Jesus.  The problem is that it’s proselytizing in a public school (and arm of the government) – and not only do we know that’s against the law, we know how much Neal Larson hates those who proselytize.

So yeah, this song belongs in a church, not in a school.  If the song were giving praise to Allah or any other god other than the Christian god then I imagine Neal Larson would be pissed – and rightly so.  This is why our government must remain secular, so it can’t be seen to be elevating one religion over another.  Also, school’s for learning.  Don’t get pissed because we won’t let you turn it into a place to proselytize.  If you would keep religion out of government when it’s not yours, don’t get angry with us – get angry with yourself for not being consistent.

“A professor at the College of Coastal Georgia banned students from using the phrase “bless you” in class, threatening to dock points from an offending student’s final grade. Keep in mind, saying “It’s 2014” has a more direct reference to deity than “bless you.””

Wrong.  The professor banned all disruption in class and only used “bless you” as an example.  From his syllabus:

According to the #6 under the “Behavioral Deduction” section of the syllabus, students’ grades will be lowered for: “Saying ‘bless you.’ We are taught that it is polite to say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes. However, if you say this while I am talking, it is NOT polite, it is very rude!”

The issue isn’t “bless you” it’s talking while the teacher is talking.  If someone had said “gesuntheit” or “there is no god” in response to a sneeze or “did you get any on you?” the same rule would’ve applied, and it’s obvious the teacher isn’t discriminating against any of them.  But religious people dying to feel persecuted latch on to the example the teacher used to claim direct persecution.

Earlier this month, high school cheerleaders in Tennessee led a football game crowd in the Lord’s Prayer after the ACLU and the FFRF forced the school to stop allowing prayers over the public address system. The whole crowd, home and away, joined in. Good for those cheerleaders. It’s good to see normal, middle-America types pressing back. We need everyone to do the same.

I notice that Larson didn’t give the name of the high school (Oneida High School), because then you might be able to look it up and find the whole story.  First, the school was reading sectarian Christian prayers before games over the loud-speaker.  This is flagrantly and unquestionably against the law.  But Larson didn’t talk about how they were breaking the law, just insinuating the school should be allowed to break it because Christianity.  This is confusing because we have it from Neal’s own pen (or laptop, or whatever) how much he has a problem with those who proselytize.

The reason that law exists, again, is because for religious liberty to exist the government cannot appear to endorse one religion over another.  Otherwise one religion could take over the government and impose their mores on everybody else (this seems to be what many Christians consider religious liberty to look like – the liberty to exist under the thumb of Christianity’s rules).  If enough Christians could imagine what it would be like to be in the minority, they would see the wisdom in this.  The founders of America could certainly see it because a big part of the reason they peaced out of Britain was because there was a state church and they wanted to worship in their own way.  This was the genesis of the first amendment.

So when Oneida high school was told they had to follow the law just like everybody else (which apparently is militant when the FFRF/ACLU rather than the police do it), did they accept that they should be subject to the same rule as everybody else?  Of course not.  They kept the prayer in the pre-game, because what unites a community like saying people of a certain religion should get to break the law?  You can even hear it in the interviews conducted about the situation:

“We just felt as long as no one here locally complained, we can continue to do it,” said Acres.

So the law is based on who complains?  “Why’d you pull me over officer?  Nobody was complaining that I was doing 30 over the speed limit!”  Yeah, that’d go over real well.

What’s more, his statement implies that as soon as somebody complained they’d be happy to stop.  Well, do you know why the school got letters from the FFRF and ACLU?  Because someone complained.  And do you know why those letters were sufficient to stop the school?  Because any competent lawyers would tell them the school would lose a lawsuit.  Is Neal Larson grateful that the FFRF and ACLU nicely asked the school to stop breaking the law instead of dropping the hammer?  Nope.  In his eyes these organizations are “militant.”

So the school instituted a moment of silence, which is non-sectarian.  It accommodates everybody.  This sounds like a win for me, but not for the head coach:

“I heard the moment of silence, but it was kind of a sick feeling in my stomach,” said head football coach Tony Lambert.

Yeah, how Christian is that?  A moment of silence where everybody can pray?  But that means Christianity isn’t being proselytized, and that just makes him uneasy.  He just had to proselytize, which should make Neal Larson furious because he said he has a huge problem with those who proselytize.  I know it can be hard to tell for some reason (probably because he seems to be all about those who proselytize so long as they’re on his side).

So yeah, the cheerleaders did the lord’s prayer (surely without any coaxing from school officials behind the scenes) and the crowd joined in.  That’s completely legal because the students did it.  Had the cheerleaders started chanting “there is no god ” or “there is no god but Allah” the crowd would’ve shouted them down and said this wasn’t the place for that.  Well, it isn’t the place for distinctly Christians religious messages either, but religious privilege has an amazing ability to make people short-sighted.  What of all the non-Christians in the crowd who got to feel uncomfortable at this?  Don’t confuse uniting the Christians with uniting the community, because only one is taking place there.

Is what the cheerleaders did legal?  Yes.  Was it a dick move?  Also yes.  But to Neal Larson this is “pressing back” not alienating everybody else.  But boy, he sure can’t stand those “militant” atheists.

Militant atheism is not entirely unlike a mullet, that paradoxical “business in the front, party in the back” haircut that never should have happened.

Yeah, what jerks protecting your religious liberty (and daring to protect the religious liberty of others as well) and making sure Christians don’t break the law with carte blanche.  How oppressed you are, Neal Larson.

“Instead, these strident unbelievers are more “angry in the front, pansy in the back””

Yeah, angry at Christians thinking they should break the law with impunity and contaminating school functions by trying to turn them into evangelism opportunities.  You’re damn right we’re angry, and we should be.  Also, it takes a real lack of self-awareness to call other people pansies when the lot you’re defending can’t even handle being equal with their neighbors.

  “– making testosteronal demands of compliance on the outside, because inside they have all the tolerance of a scared three-year-old girl when faced with the words “salvation” or “bless you.””

Boy, does this guy hate those who proselytize or what?

Your depiction of those scenarios was completely ill-informed (at best) or dishonest (at worst).  My disgust for that tactic isn’t disgust with Christianity, it’s disgust with dishonesty.

And those demands of compliance are demands that schools like Oneida high school comply with the law.  The demands are coming from centuries of judicial precedent (from Justices that are almost all some variant of Christianity).  We’re just reminding you that they apply.  If your outrage doesn’t extend to the Constitution and the Justices who interpret it, then pointing your pissing and moaning exclusively at atheists doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

“Indeed, they have created out of thin air a right to not be offended.”

You can offend me until you’re blue in the face.  You can’t break the law.  Nobody is arguing for what you say we’re arguing for.  It’s not that we’re offended by the marching band piece, it’s that it breaks established law to use the marching band at a public high school to proselytize.  It’s not that we’re offended by “bless you”, it’s that the teacher doesn’t like disruptions in his class.  It’s not that we’re offended by the lord’s prayer, it’s that the government cannot endorse religion (which is why nobody gave a shit when the cheerleaders were being jerks in the name of Jesus, but why letters were sent when the school did it).  To chalk all this up to “offense” rather than you misrepresenting all of these scenarios is pretty fucking lame.

If everyone asserts this manufactured right, we have created hell on earth.

You’ll find in America that it’s Christians arguing for their right to not be offended.  It colors what we put on TV, it prompts them to argue for exemptions to non-discrimination laws.  If your beef is with people who think they have the right to not be offended, turn it to the pews, not at us.

In recent years, atheism has tried creating the equivalent of what believers build to express their faith. Churches, hymns, missionaries, even a sort of clergy have cropped up as either an effort to elevate atheism to a place of acceptance and moral equivalence, or toss a big dose of mockery at those who truly believe in God – a deliberate muddling of what it means to have faith.

Yeah, because singing about what one believes is noble in the hands of Christians, but mocking when atheists do it.  You can sing about how atheists deserve hell for eternity, but when we laugh about it in song we’re in the wrong for mocking you.  Give me a break.

And why wouldn’t we gather, sing, and similar things that churches do?  Do you think churches came up with the idea of music or gatherings of like-minded people?  Fuck no.  Humans have always enjoyed these things, which is likely why religions co-opted them.  You don’t have the deeds to them.  We’ll sing and gather if we damn well please.

And what’s this about us having missionaries?  Ever had an atheist knock on your door to tell you god doesn’t exist?  No?  Imagine that.  And when atheists go over seas to interact with the destitute, we take food, not copies of atheist books.  That should tell you where our priorities lie.  It should also tell you a lot about the priorities of lots of religious people.  But mostly, it should tell you who thinks missionaries are a great idea.

While atheists are certainly capable of doing good works, those good works are not inspired by an absence of belief in God. How could they be?

For once Larson is 100% right!  We’re no more motivated by a lack of belief in god to do things than we are our lack of belief in unicorns.  Atheists do good just because it feels great!  It creates a better world!  Kindness matters to us, and we don’t need a god telling us to do shit.

In fact, if a person won’t do good without god telling them to, they’re probably not a good person.  Religion will never be s substitute for compassion.  In fact, in countless cases, religion has been used to mask a dearth of compassion.

If atheists do good, it is in spite of – not because of – their atheism, so let’s stop acting like not believing is just another super awesome way of believing.

In order to do good in spite of something, that something must be opposed to doing good in some way.  Atheism isn’t.  It just means we don’t believe there’s a god.  How can that hinder good works at all?

But I disagree with Larson – not believing in god is super awesome.  It’s awesome to not worry that hell might be awaiting you.  It’s awesome to not have cognitive dissonance over moral commands (god said gays are bad?  But they don’t seem to be hurting anybody…), and instead just do what is kindest.  It’s awesome to understand how the universe works without just thinking “god did it”.  It’s awesome to not have to exhaust myself doing mental gymnastics to convince myself someone rose from the dead.

And it’s awesome when a preacher says god wants me to give the preacher 10% of my hard-earned money to be able to say “Here’s an idea: why don’t you ask god for it?”

It’s also awesome not to live with religious privilege, so that when I’m not using a public school event to proselytize my religion it doesn’t feel like an affront to me.

“Particularly insidious are the atheists who get a sense of satisfaction eroding the faith of others and behave as though it is a favor to rattle another’s belief in a higher power.”

Insidious?  Encouraging people to be reasonable is a great thing!  If that rattles their belief in a higher power, then that belief should probably be discarded.

What’s more, Christians are all about evangelizing.  Hell, that’s what Larson’s whole article was about – how Christians should be trying to change people’s minds even when it’s inappropriate and even through intrusion into the government, despite the fact it’s illegal.  To then turn around and say it’s insidious if we try to convince you, at appropriate times, that you’re wrong is pretty ironic.

“More than one of my college professors would target the faith of young wide-eyed freshmen.”

I see your anecdote and raise you my own: I’ve never seen this, and I was in academia for seven years.  Plus, given how you’ve been unable to accurately describe the situations of supposed oppression in your article, I’m more inclined to think you’re alluding to a biology teacher not waffling on evolution and not to any “targeting” of anybody’s faith.  As dishonest as Larson has been in this piece, he’s lost the right to expect anybody to just take his word on what he’s seen college professors do.

“I still despise those lettered bullies who used a position of influence and authority to spew their own one-sided questionable dogma.”

The consensus of the experts in a discipline is now “one-sided questionable dogma.”  Again, it takes some real chutzpah for somebody who thinks you must either believe in his religion or spend eternity in hell to accuse anybody else of dogma.

“I’m sure somewhere — even if only in overestimated grey matter — exists a trophy case of fallen testimonies and faith renouncements.”

I keep a special folder in my inbox of people who have written to me to tell me I greatly changed their mind or deconverted them altogether.  It’s at 191 and counting and yes, I consider them a trophy.  No overestimations.  I helped people to live better lives, free of religious dogma, free to be themselves, and all of them are happier for it.  Why wouldn’t I be proud of this?

“Exploring the big questions is one thing — and should be encouraged because it expands the mind and augments various thought processes. Everyone at some point in life should put all philosophical options on the table and fearlessly explore them, then choose in good faith and forge ahead. But to deliberately aim to create confusion and chaos in those who are spiritually settled is despicable.”

So we should explore big questions like god’s existence, but if we help others to do this and it creates confusion in people who presently believe one way it’s despicable?  I wonder if Larson believes it’s despicable to create confusion and chaos in the mind of an atheist.  Check that, no I don’t.

Fucking double standards everywhere and not an ounce of shame for them.  You know what’s despicable, Neal?  Misrepresenting your examples.  Creating double standards for your own side while claiming to want us all on the same playing field.  I can’t tell if you’re ok with these behaviors because you lack any inherent personal aversion or because your presumably moralizing faith in Jesus tell you that you shouldn’t have to.  Either way, you’ve only succeeded in convincing me that you are despicable, not me or any other atheist.

I think we could all be more tolerant of unintrusive atheism, because who doesn’t have doubts?

Christians a lot of the time.  Ask them if they have any doubt.  Hell, ask them if their mind could be changed.  You’ll see what I mean.

And tolerant of unintrusive atheism?  You mean as long as we don’t make a peep and tacitly watch Christians break the law or stay mum if we think you’re trumping up outrage where no persecution exists, then we’re ok?  Fuck that noise.  You wrote a public article full of untruths and bad arguments.  I’m permitted to respond publicly and it has nothing to do with me being militant.

Likewise, you’re arguing for Christians to make public displays of their piety.  What’s good for the Christian goose is apparently not good for the atheist gander.

But let’s separate them from the purveyors and jihadists of Godlessness.

Jihadists?  Jihadists end lives.  We tell people we think they’re wrong.  Your use of hyperbole here makes you look ridiculous.

Don’t let them get you down. Don’t let them make you think for a moment that public displays of faith are somehow wrong or unconstitutional because someone chooses to be offended.

But if we make public displays of atheism then we’re attacking you?  If we tell you that the government can’t make sectarian displays of faith, then we’re attacking you?  You’re wanting special privilege and I don’t think I’m at all a bad person when I say that in America you don’t get it.  These repeated double standards don’t fly with me.

Instead, such public displays serve to identify the tantrum-prone entitled militants who are anything but tolerant.

You seem to have confused tolerance with permitting your double standard where Christians can break the law but non-Christians can’t; where Christians are noble when they try to convert, but atheists are cruel and militant for doing the same.  You wanted to make the idea of belief in god public the moment you threw in with the Oneida cheerleaders, we’re neither militant or intolerant by meeting you on the field you designated.

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