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mattbrowne's avatar

Aggressive atheism promotes religious fundamentalism - What are the pros and cons of this hypothesis?

Asked by mattbrowne (31466 points ) November 13th, 2009

There are three Christian scientists who wrote books about the topic and they support this hypothesis which is certainly debatable: Alistair McGrath (a molecular biophysicist and theologian) who wrote “The Dawkins Delusion”, John Lennox (a mathematician and philosopher of science) who wrote “God’s Undertaker – Has Science buried God?” and Kenneth Miller (a molecular biologist and science advocate) who wrote “Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution”.

I support this hypothesis not only because it makes a lot of sense to me, but also because of personal experience.

Several times I’ve encountered deeply religious people saying, oh, you know so much about science, you must be an atheist. I would reply, no, actually I’m a Christian. Really, they ask, how is this possible? Religion and science don’t go together, therefore I rather stay away from too much science. I don’t want to become an atheist. My response is: You don’t have to because despite what some atheists proclaim, I think modern Christianity and science can be compatible. There are astonished looks, then, hmm interesting, well, maybe I should know more about science. Yes, I would say, definitely. Try to understand cosmology and evolution and you will see the grandeur of God’s creation. Evolution can actually be seen as creation in progress. You know, our cosmos has a purpose and meaning and especially our planet is bursting with evolutionary possibilities. It’s a continuing creation in which the divine providence is manifest in every living thing. I do believe that.

What exactly is aggressive atheist fundamentalism? What is religious fundamentalism? We need to understand certain forms of religions and atheism. Recently I’ve tried to come up with a classification for the forms of atheism and some of the major world religions (it’s still work in progress and feedback is very welcome).

A1) Deism

In deism a divine entity is seen as the reason for existence and it created the cosmos (universe, multiverse) and its physical laws. Religious beliefs are optional. There is a theistic and atheistic interpretation of the cosmos. The existence of a deity is not a scientific question. Many deists reject religion, but they are to a certain extend influenced by the culture they grew up in. There are deists who do not consider themselves to be Christians, but they are influenced by some Christian values and ethics.

A2) Enlightened Christianity

Enlightened Christianity is a form of liberal Christianity with a strong focus on the Age of Enlightenment and interfaith dialog. In addition to deism, there’s the belief that the divine entity called God also sustains the physical laws and that our cosmos has a purpose and a deeper meaning. The orderly, biofriendly cosmos is the result of a deliberate act. God is beyond nature and should not be viewed as a god of the gaps. Science cannot explain the world, only phenomena which are observed within our cosmos. There is no magic, which means the supernatural doesn’t exist in our world. Natural sciences are consistent with both atheism and religious belief. Rationalism, critical thinking and spiritual progressiveness are core values of enlightened Christians. Rationality needs to be tied to moral decency. Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism. Holding on to superstitions is therefore wrong. Liberal Christianity in a more general sense uses a method of biblical hermeneutics, which is an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings.

The Christian religion has many levels of meaning and the belief in God is only one of them. Jesus Christ being the son of God has a symbolic meaning. Prayers are a form of meditation supporting our spiritual growth and finding our strengths. Dogmas arise in a social context and when the context changes, dogmas should change too or even be given up. Rituals are seen as a means to strengthen social groups. Christianity must not claim exclusive rights in defining truth and it is best seen as one world view among many. In-group/out-group morality models are discouraged. Liberal and enlightened Christians share many values with other belief systems and world views such as liberalism and humanism.

A3) Conservative Christianity

The true nature of God is beyond our understanding. God has the capability to directly intervene in world events and He does so from time to time. Religious miracles can be seen as spiritual reality. Dogmas lie at the heart of Christianity and they should be upheld. Dogmas and rituals are a direct consequence of divine revelation. Prayers are directly answered, sometimes by direct intervention. Conforming to Christian rituals and rules is seen as the best way to please God. Christianity is superior to all other faiths. Believing in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved.

A4) Christian Fundamentalism

The whole Bible is literally true and a direct result of divine revelation. Scientific findings and explanations must remain consistent with teachings of the Bible. Christianity is the only true faith. Muslims and Jews and followers of other religions as well as atheists are infidels and they will be punished by God.

Judaism

B1) Deism

Same definition, see above. Many deists reject religion, but they are to a certain extend influenced by the culture they grew up in. There are deists who do not consider themselves to be Jews, but they are influenced by some Jewish values and ethics.

B2) Enlightened Judaism

Enlightened Judaism is a form of Reform Judaism and Liberal Liberalism with a strong focus on the Age of Enlightenment and interfaith dialog. In addition to deism, there’s the belief that the divine entity called God also sustains the physical laws and that our cosmos has a purpose and a deeper meaning. The orderly, biofriendly cosmos is the result of a deliberate act. God is beyond nature and should not be viewed as a god of the gaps. Science cannot explain the world, only phenomena which are observed within our cosmos. There is no magic, which means the supernatural doesn’t exist in our world. Natural sciences are consistent with both atheism and religious belief. Rationalism, critical thinking and spiritual progressiveness are core values of enlightened Jews. Therefore holding on to superstitions is wrong. The individual Jew will approach this body of ‘mitzvot’ and ‘minhagim’ in the spirit of freedom and choice.

The Jewish religion has many levels of meaning and the belief in God is only one of them. Almost everything connected with Jewish ritual law and custom was of the ancient past, and thus no longer appropriate for Jews to follow in the modern era. Prayers are a form of meditation supporting our spiritual growth and finding our strengths. Dogmas arise in a social context and when the context changes, dogmas should change too or even be given up. Rituals are seen as a means to strengthen social groups. Judaism must not claim exclusive rights in defining truth and it is best seen as one world view among many. In-group/out-group morality models are discouraged. Reform-oriented enlightened Jews share many values with other belief systems and world views such as liberalism and humanism.

B3) Orthodox Judaism

The true nature of God is beyond our understanding. God has the capability to directly intervene in world events and He does so from time to time. Dogmas lie at the heart of Judaism and they should be upheld. The Torah and its laws are divine and were transmitted by God to Moses. They are eternal and unalterable. Prayers are directly answered, sometimes by direct intervention. Jews are chosen to be in a covenant with God. Jews are expected to observe all 613 mitzvot. Judaism is superior to all other faiths.

B4) Ultra-orthodox Judaism

Judaism is the only true faith. The true Jewish belief all religious practices extend back to Moses in an unbroken chain. The Halacha is considered a set of God-given instructions to effect spiritual, moral, religious and personal perfection. It includes codes of behavior applicable to every imaginable circumstance. Non-orthodox and modern orthodox streams of Judaism are unjustifiable deviations from authentic Judaism. Muslims and Christians and followers of other religions as well as atheists are infidels and they will be punished by God.

Islam

C1) Deism

Same definition, see above. Many deists reject religion, but they are to a certain extend influenced by the culture they grew up in. There are deists who do not consider themselves to be Muslims, but they are influenced by some Islamic values and ethics.

C2) Enlightened Islam

Enlightened Islam is a form of liberal Islam with a strong focus on the Islamic Golden Age, the Age of Enlightenment and interfaith dialog. In addition to deism, there’s the belief that the divine entity called God or Allah also sustains the physical laws and that our cosmos has a purpose and a deeper meaning. The orderly, biofriendly cosmos is the result of a deliberate act. Allah is beyond nature and should not be viewed as a god of the gaps. Science cannot explain the world, only phenomena which are observed within our cosmos. There is no magic, which means the supernatural doesn’t exist in our world. Therefore holding on to superstitions is wrong. Liberal Muslims do not necessarily subscribe to the more culturally-based interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadith. They view natural sciences as being consistent with both atheism and religious belief. Rationalism, critical thinking and spiritual progressiveness are core values of enlightened Muslims.

Islam has many levels of meaning and the belief in Allah is only one of them. Muhammad is an important messenger and prophet of God in a series of Islamic prophets. Prayers are a form of meditation supporting our spiritual growth and finding our strengths. Dogmas arise in a social context and when the context changes, dogmas should change too or even be given up. Rituals are seen as a means to strengthen social groups. Islam must not claim exclusive rights in defining truth and it is best seen as one world view among many. In-group/out-group morality models are discouraged. Enlightened Muslims share many values with other belief systems and world views such as liberalism and humanism.

C3) Conservative Islam

The true nature of Allah is beyond our understanding. Allah has the capability to directly intervene in world events and He does so from time to time. Dogmas lie at the heart of Islam and they should be upheld. Dogmas and rituals are a direct consequence of divine revelation. Prayers are directly answered, sometimes by direct intervention. Islam is superior to all other faiths. Muhammad is the last and the greatest law-bearer in a series of Islamic prophets as taught by the Qur’an.

C4) Fundamentalist Islam

The whole Qur’an is literally true and a direct result of divine revelation. The Qur’an is a book of divine guidance and direction for mankind. The legal framework within which the public and private aspects of life are regulated must be based on the Sharia. Everything in the daily life of a faithful Muslim is in strict conformity with the teachings of the Qu’ran and the verbal teachings and dialogues of the Prophet Muhammad. Scientific findings and explanations must remain consistent with the Qur’an. Islam is the only true faith and fatwas must be issued to protect the faith. Christians and Jews and followers of other religions as well as atheists are infidels and they will be punished by Allah.

C5) Islamist extremism

Jihad, the holy war, is a religious duty of all Muslims. It must be fought on a global level. The enemies of Islam must be destroyed.

Atheism

D1) Implicit Atheism

Implicit atheism is the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it. Weak atheism (sometimes also called negative atheism) refers to any other type of non-theism, wherein a person does not believe any deities exist, but does not claim that same statement is false. Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of the existence of deities and spiritual beings are unknown. There are non-spiritual explanations for the nature of physical reality and the meaning of good and evil.

D2) Enlightened Atheism

The cosmos might have a purpose and a deeper meaning, but the reason for this would not be related to divine power. There is a solid scientific understanding of our cosmos. Science can explain phenomena which are observed within our universe or multiverse. There is no magic within our world, which means the supernatural doesn’t exist. Being superstitious is wrong. Atheism must not claim exclusive rights in defining truth and it is best seen as one world view among many. There is no reason why religion cannot be compatible with reason or with the main body of accredited human knowledge. Antireligionism and antireligious dogmas are rejected and seen as counterproductive, but any religion worthy of belief should be consistent with human reason and knowledge.

Being spiritual does not necessarily mean being religious. In enlightened atheism in-group/out-group morality models are discouraged. A human-centered spirituality should be articulated in which atheists, agnostics and believers can feel equally at home. To live in a spiritually healthy way, people must be allowed to be authentically themselves, to realize their full potential, and to make their own moral and lifestyle choices. The focus is on human dignity and acting in good faith, bringing out and rehabilitating the innate goodness of humankind. The core values of enlightened atheism also include spiritual growth, compassion, generosity, nonviolence, humility, as well as inner and outer peace.

D3) Explicit atheism

Explicit atheism is the absence of theistic belief due to a conscious rejection of it. Strong atheism (sometimes also called positive atheism) claims that the statement ‘there is at least one god’ is false, which means gods or the God does not exist. There is nothing that cannot be understood at least in principle is a true statement. The reasonable nonbelief in God is based on the lack of evidence. It is therefore irrational to believe in supernatural beings. People believe in God, not because he exists, but because of other reasons. God memes offer a good explanation where memes are seen as elements of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which are transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. The gathering of all relevant knowledge is accomplished by employing the scientific method. Strong atheism shares many values with humanism, rationalism, materialism and naturalism. Atheism is seen as superior to religions.

D4) Atheist fundamentalism

The cosmos we observe has precisely the properties we should expect and there is no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. God or any other deities do not exist. Natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations. Natural science is capable of describing all reality and knowledge and when doing so it clearly leads to atheism. Therefore the belief in God is a delusion while religion should be seen as a obscurantist, dictatorial and oppressive force and the world would be a better place without it. Atheist fundamentalists typically reject classifications of atheism. They often also reject classifications of various forms of religions, as they are seen as minor variations of the same religious delusion. They argue that atheism and spirituality cannot coexist, because any concept of spiritual atheism is fundamentally flawed. The word spirit refers to the supernatural and has therefore to be rejected.

Sources: Wikipedia

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112 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Science doesn’t manufacture the polarity, Plenty of scientists believe in God. (Renal specialists are said anecdotally to be likely to believe in God because of the perceived perfection of the kidney!)

Religion, on the other hand, is constantly forcing a rift, viz. Galileo for just one example.

gggritso's avatar

Disclaimer: I am an atheist, and I’m studying to be an engineer. I take courses in the structure and nature of matter, so I consider myself reasonably close to science.

I don’t particularly like your classifications of atheism (har har Fundie). I strongly believe that a God does not exist, however I have nothing against other people being religious, and I don’t have anything against highly religious people studying science. I don’t believe that science has all the answers, what I believe is that science is making a consistent effort to find those answers. I studied religion in High School, so I’m perfectly aware of the classification. What kind of atheist am I?

Back on topic, I kind of agree with the statement. I think when the two sides in an argument start getting too aggressive they both start to dig in deeper and grow roots.

@pdworkin Wow, really? What’s so amazing about a kidney?

nzigler's avatar

This is absolute heresy-

Wikipedia is not a ‘source’.

dpworkin's avatar

I’m told that people who study kidneys find a kind of breathtaking perfection about the way they function. I wouldn’t know myself, and I’m fully prepared to believe that selective adaptation can be just as responsible for these wonders.

nzigler's avatar

@pdworkin I can understand that- I find a breath-taking perfection with the lungs.

muahaha

mattbrowne's avatar

@pdworkin – Constantly forcing a rift? Most modern churches have learned from the infamous Galileo case. At least for Germany I can assure you, inquisition does not exist anymore. And of course, both religious fundamentalists (rejecting evolution for example) and atheist fundamentalists (selling dark philosophical assessments as science) are creating rifts.

Religious fundamentalism promotes aggressive atheism. I support such a hypothesis 100% as well. What puzzles me is that despite the average IQ of aggressive atheists being twice as high as that of religious fundamentalists, they basically make the same mistake: claiming monopolies of truth and using aggressive rhetoric to insult people who hold different world views.

I wish atheist fundamentalism would go away as well.

Grisaille's avatar

Sounds like a fair enough philosophy. I’d personally argue that the dynamic is runs in both directions; that is to say, aggressive theistic ideology can also promote atheistic fundamentalism.

I imagine that you’ve intentionally kept far away from stating that radical atheism begets theistic fundamentalism, which is a good thing. I certainly see no flaws no major flaws in your argument, but would like to bring up a few points.

Firstly, we must consider one of the most basic, elementary characteristics that are innate in all of us: mental association. Whenever we see or hear something particularly unappetizing or traumatic, we associate that behavior or happening with the environment around the event. If I were to see lightning strike a puppy whilst walking down a street, chances are that I’m not going to walk down that block again. I’ve mentally associated that street with the traumatic event and, in effect, now view the entire environment, witnesses, scents, emotions, etc. with it.

That being said, radical or aggressive anything is, if you are the target or audience, will be a negative experience. One act of radicalism is enough for you to subconsciously associate that one unpleasant experience with the entire ideology, an all encompassing vilification. This is true if we are speaking about Islam vs. Christianity, for Judaism vs. Islam and is certainly true for Atheism vs. Religion in general, regardless of who is “attacking” who, or who the radicals are in these situations.

Secondly (prepare yourself for this one), I’d like to point out that atheism, as a whole, does not really have anything negative to say about the practitioners of a religion. Besides the “religion pollutes the general knowledge of mankind”, “corrupts science and education”, “you are intellectually devoid if you believe in a deity” and “your holy book is incorrect”, there are not that many attacks propagated by the atheist community. This is contrasted rather sharply with the all too common attack shaped by the theists: “You will burn for all eternity.”

(which is, as I stated in another thread, a horrid, horrid thing to say)

The point I’m trying to make here is that, as a whole, atheistic dogma is rather tame. Really, what was the last truly noteworthy attack you’ve heard from an atheist, outside of him attacking the logic of your argument (as opposed to you)? I’m sure you’ve heard some really crass stuff (we all have, from all shades on the gradient), but hearing the word “aggressive atheism” seems almost an oxymoron. Atheism, in the purest sense (ignoring the amorphism of the word itself), exists to question religion. If theism had a strong, credible and logical basis and ran coexistent with working science, then there wouldn’t be the vast schism there is.

The schism is instead supplemented with and is fueled by religious fundamentalism, in my opinion. The moment that science is brought into the equation, the theist’s main source of ammunition is “Hell.” If there is any true “aggressor” – in a very, very limited sense – it is religion. Attacking the logic of an argument is not aggression. Spitefully proclaiming with arrogance and glee that someone will burn, is.

Last point: I know and understand you, @mattbrowne, well enough to know that you are a truly empathetic, benevolent individual. I also imagine that you have a firm understanding of science, religion and philosophy.

That said, you should know full well that this is a failing case. That is… well, people are hard wired. They are not open minded and will fall back on (and, for the intents and purposes of this conversation, deeper into) what they know during times of controversy rather than meeting the debate halfway. This coexists well with what I said earlier: people don’t like being intellectually and philosophically challenged. Whether or not aggressive atheism promotes religious fundamentalism or not is a non-issue: the point is that, aggressive or not, people just don’t give two fucks about hearing the opposition. People, shame on me for saying this, exist within their egos and are simple-minded. Atheism and theism will never coexist as peacefully as it does within you (assuming that you are a Christian and have respect for cosmology and science). Somehow implying that if “atheism took a more subtle approach, everything would be peachy” does not change this. We are combative, associative and feral.

mattbrowne's avatar

@gggritso – Well, if you say you strongly believe that a God does not exist, that makes you neither a explicit atheist nor an atheist fundamentalist, because people of this group see the non-existence of God as a fact.

I believe that God exists, but I don’t think it is a fact that God exists. So you and I have something in common.

mattbrowne's avatar

@nzigler – I only used a few parts of Wikipedia’s definitions especially for terms like implicit/weak/negative atheism versus explicit/strong/positive atheism. Why is Wikipedia not a source?

I fact a few ideas are from a fellow Flutherite who I would consider an enlightened or spiritual atheist and I’m having debates with him in another online forum. I haven’t heard from him in a while, so I wasn’t sure whether I could mention his name in the list of sources.

Some of the expressions in my classification are actually from Richard Dawkins who to me is the dominant negative role model of an atheist fundamentalist. While being a brilliant biologist (and I admire him for this part) he wrote a highly distasteful book called the ‘God Delusion’ which is in fact so distasteful that most academic atheists in Oxford for example distance themselves from his views and aggressive approach. I think Dawkins’s book greatly helped the religious right in the US in their recruiting efforts, so sometimes I wonder if he might get paid by young-earth creationists who want him to continue his atheist crusade against religion.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Grisaille – Atheist fundamentalists are hard wired as well?

I have given up hope when it comes to existing religious fundamentalists. I’ve tried but I know it’s almost impossible to undo the brainwashing young-earth creationists have received. But we should slow down or stop their recruiting efforts. Atheist fundamentalists could help if they backed down. See my comment above about Richard Dawkins.

You said, you imagine that I’ve intentionally kept far away from stating that radical theism begets atheistic fundamentalism. See my earlier post before your post when I replied to @pdworkin. This should clarify things.

Fundamentalism begets fundamentalism. This applies to all directions. Islamic fundamentalism begets Christian fundamentalism. Look at Bush’s choice of words after 911: crusade.

All forms of fundamentalism are wrong in my opinion.

CMaz's avatar

There has to be an award for the biggest question.
You get a GQ just for all the work you put in.

CMaz's avatar

“the point is that, aggressive or not, people just don’t give two fucks about hearing the opposition. People, shame on me for saying this, exist within their egos and are simple-minded.”

Amen brother!

As far as hard wired goes… Not when it comes to faith. Stay in in a group long enough you will believe in unicorns.

And the “few” that are willing to hear the opposition are then expected to accept it.

I am always willing to and eager to listen and see all sides. But because you make a point, and so eloquent. Does not mean it will now make sense to me.
But, I will still respect you.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Grisaille – I just noticed when you were talking about the direction of “begetting” you might have meant something else. Promoting instead of begetting, correct? If yes, we can certainly observe that both fundamentalist atheism promotes fundamentalist theism and vice versa. Begetting might be a bit too strong of a word.

I thought a bit more about your other comments. You said that there are not that many attacks propagated by the atheist community. Well, some atheists really don’t distinguish between enlightened, liberal, conservative, fundamentalist etc. theists. Dawkins certainly doesn’t. Religious people are seen as being deluded. Now I would call this an attack and an insult. He also uses many other very aggressive words which are very insulting.

You also said that the theist’s main source of ammunition is “Hell.” Did you mean the conservative or fundamentalist theist? I’m a theist and I would never use any sort of ammunition. And neither would my fellow Christians in my local community.

whitenoise's avatar

@mattbrowne,

Interesting material, and I feel that you may be right in assuming that aggressive atheism may promote religious fundamentalism.

I feel, however, that this has more to do with the adverse affect of trying to push people into an opinion too hard. There is ample research available that shows that when people feel they are forced to a certain opinion, they tend to oppose that pressure. Even to the extent that they were initially inclined to agree to that opinion.

What I am saying is that it is not so much the atheism as well as the intolerance to other people’s beliefs and trying to tell people what to think.

I have a couple of issues, however, with your classification of atheisms.

You say that atheists reject god because they perceive a lack of evidence. Like me, many atheists may reject God(s) because they deem the concept to be flawed in itself. To me, for instance it is not so much that I am lacking evidence, I just think that theistic explanations seem illogical and unlikely. I am more than happy to accept a lot of things without proof. (Although I must admit I am probably more skeptical than most.)

You say that fundamental atheists have the opinion that ”there is no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference”. I don’t think you are right to claim good and evil as exclusive morals owned by religion. I feel even the most fundamental atheist will perceive good and evil. They will just not need Gods, devils or the like to allow for good and evil to exist.

I suggest you would be better of in classifying atheists in their willingness to allow other people other beliefs/opinions than their own. You say that the enlightened atheist will evaluate his own belief to be on par with those with religion. To me enlightenment is a far more positive label than the others and you seem to favor this view therefore.

From my experience, intolerance by atheists towards religions may just as likely be fueled by the negative approach towards them from religious people and institutions. Being an atheist, I observe one of the greatest risks to humanity to not be able to deal with the global challenges that lie ahead. Division between nations and their peoples is often fueled by religion. Our race has an enormous tendency to look at the world in terms of “us” versus “them”. Religions to me are an enormous threat for our survival as species.

You might understand, that I would welcome the day that people can embrace a strive for the purpose of good, without needing a God to tell them they are right, more right than others.

CMaz's avatar

“it is not so much that I am lacking evidence, I just think that theistic explanations seem illogical and unlikely. ”

That is right on! THAT is what the problem is.

Always trying to put mans face on “God”.

Qingu's avatar

Your details didn’t really support your hypothesis.

For “aggressive atheism” I’m assuming you’re talking about Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and on a smaller scale probably people like me on the internets.

What exactly is the mechanism for such people promoting religious fundamentalism? Or turning moderates into fundamentalists?

I’m unfamiliar with any examples in my personal experience (and I’ve argued with many religious people of varying stripes over the years). I don’t know of any cases where a reasonable religious person read Dawkins’ book and concluded that they should become a fundamentalist.

Grisaille's avatar

@mattbrowne Yep, I meant “promoting instead of begetting”. Any converse opinion will, unfortunately, stir up the masses and push them farther into their beliefs or ideology. It’s a shame. My point of pointing out your word usage was only in the best of intentions, I assure you. “Promote” implies a contradictory argument, one that argues against the being in question, yet is approachable – unlike “beget”, which forces.

Dawkins, being the great mind he is, is a bit of a stain on atheists that assume themselves to be empathetic, kindred creatures. He is an intellectual giant that is so quick to toss out his ethical standards for the sake of promoting free thought and discourse. Does that make him evil, or does it take away from any of his generally factual and grandiose knowledge? Nah. But it does make him a bit of an asshole.

Even still, I firmly believe that calling someone deluded or subservient because of their ideology is a far lesser evil than smugly proclaiming that the non-believer will burn for an infinite amount of time. Even if it were put in the most crude way imaginable (“You’re a stupid lunkhead who is slave to an imaginary talking sky god”, or whatever), that doesn’t even come close to wishing death and torment on non-believers (and, for the fundies, homosexuals, blacks, asians, mexicans, et al. as well – whomever they can successfully mistranslate scripture to fit for). We just, well. We ain’t got the imagination to do such a thing, sadly. We don’t have that to fall back on; I’m absolutely certain that, if it was discovered tomorrow that all theists would be sucked into a wormhole and be tormented to live forever in a finite space and time, we’d use that in a heartbeat. It’s human nature.

But it won’t happen. We don’t have that luxury. But theists – regardless of particular creed or level of belief – do. And will use it. Perhaps not you or your friends and family (I trust that to be true, too – as I said above, I know you well enough to know you are amazingly kind hearted and, most of all, reasonable) – but they are out there. And they smile with certainty that they are going to Heaven to spend an eternity in bliss whilst everyone else burns and burns.

@whitenoise I’m actually going to play devil’s advocate here and say that the atheistic fundamentalist does not believe that “good” and “evil” truly exists, but is empathetic towards their fellow ape. In reality, I’m certain that they behave as a normal human would and indulges in what society would categorize as “good” behavior, but believes it is subjective. They believe they are intangible, illusionary constructs; they believe in the progression of the species, and that is what motivates and drives them. Not “good” behavior. But I more or less agree – just wanted to be combative :P

@Qingu Do you believe in what I said above regarding association?

mattbrowne's avatar

@ChazMaz – Thanks. Glad you like the question! Regarding hard wiring: earlier, I already mentioned the sheer impossibility of undoing the brainwashing of religious fundamentalists. I know some conservative Christians who became liberal Christians. I also know some liberal Christians who became atheists. I wonder, are there cases of (hard wired?) atheists becoming Christians or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists etc?

Grisaille's avatar

(forgot to GQ earlier – this is a great question. Kudos.)

Qingu's avatar

@Grisaille, you said “Any converse opinion will, unfortunately, stir up the masses and push them farther into their beliefs or ideology.”

Can you support this rather sweeping assertion? I’ll admit it can happen but I don’t think it always happens, or even often happens.

“Dawkins, being the great mind he is, is a bit of a stain on atheists that assume themselves to be empathetic, kindred creatures.”

I don’t understand why people think Dawkins is such a dick, or lacks empathy. I think people see the word “delusion” in the title and conclude that he is “mean.” But religious people are deluded, as the word is defined. I honestly feel that religious people manufacture offense and hurt feelings from Dawkins as a defense mechanism so that they don’t actually have to interact with his arguments. Now, Dawkins is a dick when it comes to proponents of group selection theory, but that’s another story…

As a so-called “atheist fundamentalist,” I agree that empathy is the basis of morality. Not sure if every atheist fundamentalist would say so, though. Utilitarianism (i.e. what I just described) is probably more common among that group but not universal.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne I’m sure there are atheists who find fundamentalist religion in prison. It’s a great way to get lighter sentencing.

mattbrowne's avatar

@whitenoise – Very good points, especially your observation of the adverse affect of trying to push people into an opinion too hard. This might explain my own reaction to Dawkins ‘God Delusion’, but I’m still a liberal Christian and not a fundamentalist. There is no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference was a quote from Dawkins.

Well, when it comes to definitions of atheism in part I relied on Wikipedia, see for example

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Explicit_atheism

I’m sure not everyone will agree with these definitions. But Wikipedia articles can be edited.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – My details didn’t really support my hypothesis? What about my own experience? Especially this part: Religion and science don’t go together, therefore I rather stay away from too much science. I don’t want to become an atheist. My response is: You don’t have to because despite what some atheists proclaim, I think modern Christianity and science can be compatible.

If aggressive atheists tell Christians science and religion can never be compatible, some of them will be driven away from science, because the hold their religion dear. If people ignore or misunderstand science they can easily become fundamentalists.

How about promoting science without promoting either atheism or theism. The slogan ‘science leads to atheism’ is totally counterproductive and I submit this as evidence for my hypothesis. Your turn.

Qingu's avatar

I think, to put my counterargument another way, my problem with what you’re saying is that “aggressive atheism” is not on the same tier as actually “forcing” people to believe anything.

Obviously, if you use force to change people’s behavior, it is going to foster resistance. This is arguably why American foreign policy is creating so much fundamentalist Islam. However, writing books—even books with potentially offensive titles—isn’t “forcing” anyone to do anything. You don’t have to buy the book!

I said in the other thread that I actually think your brand of secularism is what pushes people into fundamentalist enclaves, moreso than Dawkins. I mean, look at American evangelical society. It is a parallel universe to secular society. They have their own music, their own TV shows, their own books, their own day care centers. Many have literally walled themselves off from the mainstream secular and “moderate” Christian world.

Why? It’s certainly not because of Dawkins. It’s because of subtle but pervasive messages in, for example, Sesame Street and the Teletubbies. Because of teaching that we evolved from primates in schools. Because of feminism. Etc. These are newfangled morals that are interwoven in most aspects of society, promoted by mainstream Christians, and they don’t want anything to do with it so they retreat into their own world.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, I don’t see how that has anything to do with “aggressive atheism.” It has to do with the broad overlap between science and atheism, which is just a fact (most scientists don’t believe in a personal god.)

Also, you yourself believe that religion and science can’t go together. Unless you are talking about your extremely secular pseudo-Deist “Christianity.”

I mean, did you tell your friend, “Sure, religion and science can go together. You just have to ignore everything in religion that contradicts science, interpret most of it as a metaphor, and call what’s left a religion.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Grisaille – You convinced me. The issue is about promoting not begetting.

And yes, those unkind deluded Christians are out there. I really wonder who their role model is. I’m afraid it isn’t Jesus.

And of course religious fundamentalists are worse than atheist fundamentalists. Dawkins doesn’t want anyone to rot in hell. That’s not the point. My point is what can be done to have less religious fundamentalists in the future? And my hypothesis is that if aggressive atheists back down and stay away from strong rhetoric and give up their claim of a monopoly of truth, there’s one less factor that promotes religious fundamentalism.

Grisaille's avatar

@Qingu

Re: sweeping generalization

No hard evidence whatsoever to support that. However, you have to submit that this is generally true with regards to the religious debate. Approach a theist layman and present fact and logic – it’s just a matter of time before he plugs his ears and delves farther into the bag of delusion. What is usually the end point, the coup de grâce of the argument? “God did it.” They retreat back to the simplest, most impervious facets of ideology and stick with it.

Generally. It’s an easily rebuttable statement, I know.

Re: Dawkins

He’s made his fair share of douchey statements, c’mon. That isn’t to say that he is not empathetic or is incapable of empathy towards a theist – not in the slightest. But with regards to his presentation, he can be a dick. If I’m not mistaken, – correct me if I’m wrong here – he’s called all that believe in a god to be neanderthals, which, to further this exercise, @mattbrowne certainly is not.

Your comment, “I honestly feel that religious people manufacture offense and hurt feelings from Dawkins as a defense mechanism so that they don’t actually have to interact with his arguments” – could be subject for an entirely different debate, haha. I’d be more than happy if a theist would debate against that. I would like to see it.

Qingu's avatar

@Grisaille, I’ve literally been arguing with religious people for years on internet forums. In my experience, it is not true.

Nobody will be convinced to abandon their entire worldview in a single debate. You are not going to convince a religious person to become an atheist by “winning an argument,” let alone on the internet. However, in my experience, arguing with such people hasn’t caused them to become more fundamentalist, and in several cases, eventually, some people I’ve talked to have actually given up their faith, citing (in addition to other things) our debates.

I agree with you that religious often tune out facts and logic (this is also true in political debates). I think most people generally see “debates” as this game being played where the things you say aren’t meant to be internalized, but are rather like lawyers fighting each other, or like rival chants at a sports game. This is unfortunate, but at the same time, reason and logic do provide a scaffolding for the underlying emotional foundation of religious belief. That said, it’s also important, when debating religious people, to appeal to their emotions and moral values. Oftentimes these are completely out of step with the content of their religion.

As for Dawkin’s deuchiness, I’m unfamiliar with the neandertal statement. It doesn’t sound like something he would say; I mean, he developed the entire concept of “memes” in part to explain why ordinary, intelligent human-beings could come to believe in religion.

Grisaille's avatar

@mattbrowne And I think that is perhaps the farthest I’m able to go, my friend. I simply can’t think of any reason why aggressive atheism is inherently bad or evil, other than it might promote the uninformed or delusioned further into themselves and belief. Atheism, in itself, has been kept in chains for the better part of history; I firmly believe that the time is now – that free thought, information and the betterment of science should all be encouraged.

I’m certain this isn’t your intention or message, but as an aside: placing the blame on a freethinker because his beliefs run contradictory to society’s is intellectually dishonest. Blame the fundies for killing abortion doctors, acts of terrorism both local and abroad, homophobia, racism etc., not those that think against them.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – Personally I don’t feel insulted by Dawkins. And if he thinks I’m a neanderthal, well, maybe I should give him a sample of my DNA.

Can we agree that you and I share a lot of values? Can we agree that you and I think the world can better prepare for the future if the number of religious fundamentalists goes down? If your answer is yes to both questions, then the next question is, what can we do? And one thing that could be done easily is avoid atheist fundamentalism. And I think we have a good chance, because these people are smart. And they are not brainwashed in my opinion, they are just emotionally charged. They could change their behavior. Could they not?

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, I absolutely agree with you that we share the same values, and that the world would be a better place without religious fundamentalism. Where we disagree is the strategy of combating religious fundamentalism.

For my part, I don’t think there’s any single strategy. I think the “Dawkins approach” actually works rather well in many cases; I’ve talked to Muslims who have seriously questioned their faith after reading the God Delusion. But at the same time, I think there is also a role for people like yourself who are trying to get Christianity (and other religions) to evolve into from the inside out.

But at the same time, I think we should be clear, because there is a flipside to me and you having the same values. The thing you want Christianity to evolve into is, functionally, very little different from atheism. And this “strategy” has its own flaws as well—because obviously, many, many religious people don’t want their religion to evolve into anything, let alone something that resembles my worldview.

dpworkin's avatar

I don’t think you would see any change in raw numbers of religious fundamentalists if all the atheists, aggressive or not were magically swept from the earth (by an act of God?)

I remind you of one of my favorite quotes from Goethe: “There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.”

The secret to reducing primitive beliefs is to spread education widely and freely, to support unfettered freedom of speech, and never, ever to conflate the State and the Church, even in minor ways.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Grisaille – Placing the blame on a freethinker? I’m a freethinker myself. If you like numbers, how about this? The contribution of atheist fundamentalism to religious fundamentalism is less than 20%. Maybe only 10%. So the major share of the blame goes elsewhere. But it’s a total unnecessary 10%. And because atheist fundamentalists are open to debate, I might actually convince some of them. Maybe some will back down. Maybe some will change their choice of words. Maybe some day even Dawkins will realize he made mistakes. And maybe some folks won’t become religious fundamentalists (later in their lives) if this whole thing gets defused.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – If enlightened Christianity is very little different from your form of atheism, I don’t have a problem with that at all. I don’t have anything against most of the atheists I know. It’s great they found a way in their life that works for them. If I can profess that Jesus’ resurrection is the single most important thing about my Christian faith without getting attacked by atheists I’m fine. As mentioned in the other thread, His spirit is alive today. Jesus was present when Christian Fuehrer and his fellow Christians in East Germany gathered in late 1989 inspiring millions to participate in demonstrations and bringing down the Berlin Wall. Peacefully. Without violence.

So if my form of Christianity does not claim that Jesus’ resurrection happened in a physical sense or in a poltergeist-style paranormal way, and you consider this to be very little different from atheism, wonderful.

And one more thing, if a borderline Muslim decides to become an atheist instead of a religious fundamentalist as you mentioned earlier this is absolutely wonderful. But if this Muslim decides to become an enlightened Muslim we should respect this as well.

Grisaille's avatar

@mattbrowne I was hoping you wouldn’t take that line personally, it was more a note on the situation in general

I think this merges well with what I said earlier: contradictory opinion will stir the masses. Hell, the existence of another religion alone is more than enough reason for someone to eradicate villages. The existence alone.

Even if you were correct about the 10–20% number… it won’t change a thing. If the mere thought of someone different than you is enough to make you want to kill, no amount of toning down language will do anything. There is no defusing this bomb.

But mayhaps you are correct, but in a different sense. I strongly believe that any aggressive language gets you nowhere in a debate and should be common decency to not allow yourself to devolve the argument into some caricature of the points you are trying to present. I’d love it if radical atheism didn’t exist, simply to progress society and, selfishly, to make the rest of us look better… just as I’m sure you’d love it if the fundie Christians would quit being jerks.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Grisaille – Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist. I believe in a better future. I believe in defusing bombs. And we need all the scientific talent we can get to deal with the challenges ahead. How can the Earth sustain 9 billion people and 8 billion are middle class in 2050 wanting cars and air conditioners and good food? It’s such a shame to lose innocent kids to religious fundamentalists. And not all of them will want to become atheists. There are religious alternatives. We need 10 times more scientists and engineers. We need to promote scientific thinking. We need kids who find science exciting. We need kids who love to learn about evolution.

DominicX's avatar

I can’t help but think that people who are “afraid of becoming atheist” are not confident in their beliefs in the first place. To me that translates into “science has the potential to prove that God doesn’t exist, therefore I’m going to stay away from it.” Shouldn’t a confident Christian believe God exists no matter what?

Anyway, I didn’t read the other comments; I just wanted to say that.

Flanders: Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends. Maybe there are things we don’t want to know. Important things!

mattbrowne's avatar

@DominicX – That’s exactly my point. There are borderline Christians who are not confident in their beliefs. And they know that science is very important. Once they are sucked into the black hole of religious fundamentalism, they are gone for good. Fundamentalists are very confident. But enlightened Christians are also very confident. They support science without giving up their belief. Their belief just evolves.

Just for the record, I think science does not have the potential to prove that God doesn’t exist. But this might be a subject about another debate.

Grisaille's avatar

@mattbrowne You’re speaking to a pessimist. An existentialist. We can’t provide food and water to the children around the world, instead letting them rot and die off slowly. When it doesn’t affect our immediate, comfortable lives, we don’t care. Our future is bleak.

Take a look at this.

You really think we’ll ever get our priorities in order? Religious fundamentalism is the least of our worries. Our nature is.

Qingu's avatar

I actually think that people “being afraid of becoming atheist” is a huge problem. Atheism is stigmatized. @mattbrowne‘s approach to religiosity, I think, indirectly supports this stigma.

You should believe basically every single thing that a secular atheist believes about morality, the universe, the truth-value of religious claims… but if you’re too scared to call yourself an atheist, you can just say you’re an “Enlightened Christian”!

ninjacolin's avatar

seems obvious that competition necessarily bolsters the competitive.
“atheism” is absolutely a competing view of reality to Christianity and other religions..
which, obviously to me, is evidence that atheism is itself a “religious” belief.

if it was not a religious belief, the competitively religious would have nothing to be either bolstered or offended by.
(sorry if that’s slightly to the side of the point you were trying to develop)

Qingu's avatar

@ninjacolin, re: atheism being a “religious belief,” that depends completely on how you define the word “religion.”

People such as yourself seem to think that religion means any system of beliefs or view of metaphysical reality. So I guess in that sense atheism sort of qualifies.

I personally think that’s way too broad of a definition for “religion,” as it can include almost any ideology. I prefer to classify atheism as simply a lack of a certain species of belief.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Qingu, I abide by the principal that unless you are speaking hypothetically, definitions aren’t chosen, they’re evident.

It is evident, that Atheism functions in the exact same way shape and manner as any other religious belief. For that reason, it would be conversationally impractical to pretend that it is not included as a religious belief. It would lead conversations into circles, as has been the case for centuries. Until people come to realize that the term “Religion” is misused and misinterpreted in common language, debates like this will have a very difficult time progressing.

“Aggressive fundamentalism bolsters competitive aggressive fundamentalism.” is absolutely true.
“Atheism is a religious view point.” also absolutely true.

What is the truth? What religion ought we follow? The answer is atheism. Atheism is, to the best of human knowledge, the most accurate worldview….... that I have ever come across. ;)

Matt would replace “Atheism” with Desitic/Christianity in the above sentence. Someone else would replace it with Judaism or Sikhism or Islam or what have you.. This is a fact as well: We all believe we are right about our perspectives of reality. We are all convinced.. we all have “faith” that we are right in our impossible to prove views.

So, look at the facts guys..

Since we are all convinced and unable to believe the other opinion at THIS precise moment in time… we can know, then, that the God described in the holy books as “loving” and “omniscient” would also know this to be a fact. He would know that we are UNABLE to freely decide to believe one anther’s opinions without the passing of time and the revelation of new facts and ideas. He would know that we can only believe what we CAN believe. Not merely what we want to believe.

Hence, there either is no God in the form described in the holy books who judges us based on our “choice” of beliefs, or else there is an entirely different God that we have not been formally introduced to. (i suppose it’s possible that there’s a god who still judges us though he knows we are unable to believe other than what we are forced to believe.. but he’d be a jerk)

/tangent.

Qingu's avatar

@ninjacolin, I don’t think it’s atheism that functions in the same niche as religious belief. Atheism signifies nothing more than the lack of belief in gods.

I think, rather, that a collection of ideologies—namely, secularism, empiricism/skepticism, and moral utilitarianism—is what you’re thinking of. If you drew a Venn diagram of atheists, most of them would also fall into these ideologies.

But atheism itself is not really comparable to a religion… anymore than the lack of belief in UFO’s is comparable to Scientology.

I like to define “religion” as “an ideology having to do with gods.” But no definition of the word is going to work universally. A few centuries ago, the word “religion” simply meant “Christianity”—as in “we’ve got to learn them Indians some religion.”

Also, I don’t really find your argument for atheism that convincing. Since most religions have a built-in caveat about how that’s why you need faith and/or grace.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Qingu I’ll have to ask for your definition of “God” or “Gods”

Throughout history, “religion” has sometimes been used to describe a thing that has no real god. for that reason, the definition you’ve provided is insufficient to encompass the whole idea of religion as it has impacted mankind. (Consider Sikhism and Buddhism for example.)

I think a more accurate (all encompassing) definition, which I submit for your critique is this:

Religion – “the etiquette by which one lives their lives based on that individual’s understanding of what is and is not real in the universe.”

Qingu's avatar

Throughout history? How long are we talking? Like I said, until recently, the word was a synonym for Christianity.

My definition of god is a supernatural being that has interacted with human beings and has an interest in humanity or human history. So this would rule out, for example, the Deist and Pantheist gods, which are basically indistinguishable from an atheistic universe anyway.

Ultimately, though, we are arguing semantics here. Which is usually quite pointless.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Qingu said: “most religions have a built-in caveat about how that’s why you need faith and/or grace.”

Most religious people are under the (often atheist-supported) delusion that their “faith” is somehow something more than plain old “confidence.”

I’ve been a devout christian with “faith”.. i know that it is not anything more special than confidence in something unproven. there’s nothing special about it, it’s based on and 100% subject to logic.

My advice to all atheists (in relation to matt’s warning about fundamentalism) is to stop trying to claim that religionists are somehow irrational in their beliefs. they’re not. you’re just giving them a false sense of pride about their “Faith” as if it competes with logic. It does not. Faith is a product of deductive and inductive logic. That is all.

All religious views whether they be atheistic, christian, islamic or satanic.. are products of deductive and inductive logic. The logic may be fallacious, but it’s still logic.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Qingu “how far back are we talking?”
Sikhism and Buddism are fairly modern, so not too far back. :)

Okay, Qingu you are choosing a definition of “religion” that is not most common. And that’s perfectly acceptable in a hypothetical conversation, but i feel that causes issues conversationally when the people you are talking to are using the word all-inclusively.

Myself, I like to pursue the broadest definition of things. That way, I don’t miss any heads when I bring the scythe of logical justice down upon my opponent’s arguments. :) hahaha

Qingu's avatar

@ninjacolin, you can certainly attack their positions as being logically incoherent. Like the Trinity, or like all the contradictions and inconsistencies in the supposedly inerrant Bible.

I don’t know that my definition of religion is less “common” than yours. It’s less broad, but that’s different.

My problem with defining things like atheism and evolution as “religions” is that this is most often just a rhetorical weapon used by religious people. Like “I know what you are but what am I?”

ninjacolin's avatar

^ which is how i feel about the “yea, but i have faith” scapegoat.

“I have faith” = “the evidence that i’ve observed and the conclusions i’ve reached because of it” in reality.

unfortunately, i find they believe “i have faith” = “i have something that defies all logic.” which is a myth that everyone perpetuates. and it annoys me because what they really have is a false conclusion, not a pass to defy logic.

you’re right though, my definition may not be any more common than yours. just different.

Kraigmo's avatar

Aggressive Athiest fundamentalism does seem to create religious fundamentalism in others. And vice versa. And we’ve all at one time, heard of Madeline O’Hare the strident atheist, who happened to have a Christian fundamentalist son. I don’t feel qualified to list pros and cons of this hypothesis, except I’ve personally noticed this pattern, as well. It reminds me of something Ram Dass said in his book Be Here Now: Cops create hippies. Hippies create cops.

dpworkin's avatar

I guess you mean Dick Alpert?

Kraigmo's avatar

@pdworkin, yeah same guy. A brilliant writer, and I came across him a few times in the woods.

dpworkin's avatar

I knew him before he became Ram Dass, but I am very old.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu -

I agree with you that people “being afraid of becoming atheist” is a problem. Atheism is indeed stigmatized and it should not be so. However, aggressive explicit atheism and atheist fundamentalism fuels the stigma. Atheists on average already have a high IQ and my point is that some of them should grow up and work on their EQ, their emotional intelligence. As said before atheist fundamentalism is a totally unnecessary phenomenon.

Repeatedly you’ve been trying to judge me @Qingu and among other things insinuating what kind of feelings I have. I’m not afraid of becoming an atheist. I was referring to people who lack confidence. People who often look for strong leadership. People who have a hard time dealing with ambiguity. There are people searching for religion, not because they are deluded, but because they to hope to find purpose and meaning and morality and community. Now if the only offer is religious fundamentalism we are in trouble. I think it’s a reasonable approach to search for better religious alternatives. For some people atheism offers an alternative and I never said that when choosing this path it’s impossible to find meaning and purpose and morality and community.

I’m a theist for good reasons. Somebody once said: ‘my present position as to the existence of God is that though it seems utterly fantastic, I accept it because the alternative seems even more fantastic.’

Atheists feel it’s the other way around. Fair enough.

mattbrowne's avatar

Thanks @Kraigmo and @ninjacolin for sharing your views!

ninjacolin's avatar

thanks, matt.. hopefully we didn’t stray too much.

@Qingu said: “you can certainly attack their positions as being logically incoherent. Like the Trinity, or like all the contradictions and inconsistencies in the supposedly inerrant Bible.”

logically incoherent.. impossible. if their beliefs were logically incoherent/inconsistent then they wouldn’t have them either. evidently, what they have as far as they are concerned is a flawless argument which justifies their beliefs and makes them wonder why you can’t get it. Just the same as you are to them. why else would they believe it unless it seemed to them just as obvious and/or self-evident as the things that you believe are true? sorry, i have no idea what point i’m making or whether i am making one. i may just be rambling..

Excalibur's avatar

Definately not. Disillusion with the lack of fruits expected from faith in the modern world has led to stricter adherence to religious texts in the hope that those fruits may be forth-coming in the near future. I think also that as people lose control over their lives in an increasingly competitive and expensive world, people search for fulfillment elsewhere. The political trend of the great religions also give people the feeling that they are contributing to and influencing political events and people from their own door-steps and thus gives them a much needed feeling of importance. So I think your hypothesis leaves much to be desired.

crazyivan's avatar

I immediately disagree with any system that co-classfies atheism with religions. There are certain fundamental differences such that as soon as you start lumpingthem together you end up with a mine field of misplaced assumptions and logical fallacies (many of which are present in this question). Atheism is not a “belief” and nobody has “faith” in it. Nobody convinced me to be an atheist and atheists don’t show up on your door to convert you.

Most important, though, is that even without interactions with others (say you were raised by wolves) you could logically come to atheism. There is absolutely zero chance that you would ever logically land on Christianity or any other organized religion without the believers in that religion there to push you.

I think all the venom being spewed on Dawkins should be tempered with the very important fact that he brings up again and again in his work. Religion is not just something he disagrees with from a logical standpoint. He argues (correctly, in my opinion) that religion is actively harming this world and the people in it and I think it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Take for example the recent new story about a Muslim mother who was told by an Imam that her son’s epilepsy was the result of some demon or another, told her to stop giving him the medication prescribed by his doctor, chain him up and read the Qu’ran over him. This kid spent SIX YEARS chained in a basement because his mother had “faith”. Quite a virtue there, huh?

Is this typical religious behavior? Of course not. Could this type of behavior happen without religion? Of course not. What else could convince a mother to do something so detrimental to the safety and well being of her son? I’m sure she was a good, moral and empathetic person but because her morals came from God rather than common-sense she could be convinced to do an immoral act without realizing she was being immoral.

I’m sorry if this comes off as off-topic, but I think the “classifications” at the top are such that the whole premise of the question is invalidated.

mattbrowne's avatar

@crazyivan – You seem to prove my point, as did others, see the D4 part above.

“Atheist fundamentalists typically reject classifications of atheism. They often also reject classifications of various forms of religions, as they are seen as minor variations of the same religious delusion.”

crazyivan's avatar

@mattbrowne So the fact that I disagree with something you said I’d disagree with proves the validity of that thing? I notice you aren’t trying to rebut the impetus behind my rejection, merely noting that I reject it. It’s like a cult that tells its adherents that their friends will reject the cult’s doctrine. When their friend reject the doctrine they say “wow… the cult leader was right!”

Predicting that the people you are trying to describe will disagree with your description might mean that your system is simply incorrect.

iamthemob's avatar

Spot on, @mattbrowne. The potential problem that I see with aggressive atheism is that it breeds an almost anti-intellectual approach to religion (not inevitably – but I’ve seen it happen). That led me to to ask this question, which was a mirror of a question about whether religion was the new four-letter word. It ignores evidence that Christianity relies on subjective interpretation, and seems to encourage a literal interpretation of the Bible, taken out of historical context and ignoring theological interpretations as to make any attempt to interpret the Bible as apologetics. @mattbrowne‘s response, @crazyivan, did rebut the premise behind your rejection. You claimed that aggressive atheism could not be lumped together, nor atheists in general, or you’d get misplaced assumptions and logical fallacies. But that’s what happens whenever you group anything where there’s a diverse expression of the beliefs – including religion. It results in confirmation bias as well as ignoring contrary evidence – you state that atheists weren’t knocking on the door, but they’re certainly blogging on my screen, many stating that they actively were trying to inform people so that they would become atheists, and that they would be “delighted” if people stopped believing in gods. It’s the aggressive atheists who do this frequently…and it seems similar to the fundamentalist attempts to convert regardless of the intentions behind it.

Further, when you state that religion is causing harm, you assume (1) that there is not concurrent good being done by religious institutions or religious people or people with faith, (2) that the harm would not have existed without religion (level, not specific harm), and (3) that religious institutions are peculiarly harmful when compared to other institutions when utilized in the wrong way. I tend to agree with (3) a good deal, but I also think that capitalism can arguably be pointed to as the cause of as much, if not a good deal more, of the worlds problems.

The intellectual limitations required from the “misplaced assumptions” of lumping the religious into a category and biblical literalism also means that complex rhetorical strategies and analysis are not required in the aggressive argument. You “prove [the] point” above when you rely on anecdotal evidence to demonstrate how religion is causing harm. People have done far more detestable things without any outside motivation – as shown by the Austrian man who kept his daughter in a basement for 24 years as a sex slave, fathered several children with her, some of whom were raised in the basement and never saw sunlight until the horrific crime was discovered. Mothers and fathers do not need anything to convince them to do horrific things to their children – they will very well do so to satisfy their own urges.

The problem of course with either example is that neither are proof…but aggressive atheism seems to often rely on quoting biblical passages and providing examples (particularly from the person’s own life – the worst kind of anecdotal evidence) instead of looking at trends. They also dismiss any benefit many times, and when benefit is suggested, I’ve seen the accusation hurled back that by mentioning the benefit, the person is asking that the atheist ignore all of the bad in the religion, which they refuse to do.

That’s the issue as I see it. Aggressive atheism employs tactics that it finds offensive when turned back on it, and positions itself in debate with fundamentalists only, and cannot engage in productive discussion when dealing with religious diversity much of the time. I think that it’s useful in the arena for which it seems best suited…but it’s not at all a nuanced approach to the problems of belief.

Significantly also, @crazyivan, you seemed to forget or gloss over the fact that @mattbrowne specifically stated that his categories were developing – essentially, he’s crowdsourcing the categories to us if we want to take a stab. The fact that people still disagree with the description is because they reject any description as inaccurate, but then say that it’s accurate to do that very thing to religion generally or religions individually without batting an eye at the supreme hypocrisy in that argument.

He wasn’t saying you were proving the point simply by rejecting. The quote he gave was exactly the behavior you exhibited – you rejected classifications of atheism, and then went on to lump the religions together because it doesn’t matter, they all cause the same harm. You fell committed the fallacies and stepped on the very mines you mentioned at the beginning! This doesn’t counter atheism generally, of course, but it does reveal a problem with certain atheist approaches. And the best way to highlight the problem is to break it down, and bullet point it into, viola,. categories!

crazyivan's avatar

@iamthemob and you seem to miss the point of my post altogether. It doesn’t matter how this dichotomy evolves. Comparing religion and atheism is like comparing night and dog food. There is no common thread to join the two. On the other hand, the common thread of faith unites all religions.

Atheism is not a system of beliefs, it is a lack of faith/superstition. Therefore religions can be reasonably compared with one another.

Atheism is also a universal. You are an atheist and so it @mattbrowne… you are atheists toward every religion except the one you believe. I do appreciate all the words you put in my mouth at the end of your post, though. It saves me the trouble of expressing my actual opinion on the matter and instead I can simply serve as straw man for your debate with yourself (master-debating, I call it).

I ask you to check your logic. Nothing in that final paragraph makes a lick of sense in context of the argument at hand.

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan – atheism doesn’t need to have a system of beliefs to have a common thread running through it. You’re stating that you can’t compare atheism to religion in any sense, because there is no common thread running through atheists to the religious. However, you can compare the religious because they have the common thread of lack of faith.

But you’re missing a key issue – you actually argue against yourself regarding common threads. You state that atheism is something – it is a lack of faith. Therefore (1) there is a common thread running through atheists, and (2) that common thread is the contrary of the common thread running through religion. You define atheists as being that which the religious are not. You define atheism by contrasting it to religion. You can’t do that unless there is a connecting thread between them. It’s not the same as saying “A couch is that which a book is not.” It is, however, similar to saying “Jews are those who follow the God of Abraham but do not believe what the Christians do about Him.”

The contrast is based around a single concept – faith. You can reasonably ask the religious, “What does your faith mean to you” in the same manner that you can ask “What does your lack of faith mean to you. And both are views of how one relates to meaning in the universe. Therefore, it is the same as comparing Democrats to Republicans, Anarchists to those supporting government, strict constitutional constructionists to those who believe in an evolving constitution. Without the concept of faith the definition of either means nothing, and resting on that connective thread, it is reasonable to draw comparisons between atheists and the religious.

I am confused, however, by your statement that atheism is universal. Are you claiming that atheism includes religious beliefs? That someone can be a bible-thumping Christian and therefore is an atheist as to all other religions, as well as atheists themselves? In relation to athiests, an aathiest? ;-) I have to be misinterpreting this, considering that you state that one comes logically to atheism, but one could never come logically to Christianity, and that it seems you think that lumping them together is impossible.

I’m unsure if I straw-manned you, but I very well may have – looking back it seems your concern was more along the lines of lumping atheism and religion together in the categories. The issue may be that atheism wasn’t lumped with religion…it was structured in its own separate groupings in a way comparing how the category would approach an argument about the nature and structure of the universe. A fundamentalist is going to base the argument on a set of rules from which they cannot stray. That’s not grouping the atheists with the religious in a way that relates specifically to their athiesm or religious observance…but more like grouping them by race. The fact that there are white atheists and white religious folks means that they are similar because they are white. The fact that there are fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalist Christians means that they are similar merely in that they will not accept arguments outside the set given, and that there are absolute right and wrong answers. Not lumping, just recognizing similar argument styles.

crazyivan's avatar

@iamthemob If you aren’t a Bhuddist, you are Atheism toward Bhuddism. If you don’t worship Jupiter, you are an atheist toward Jupiter, right? That’s what I meant.

But I think the notion that is lost on you is that atheism isn’t a system of beliefs. My “lack of faith” doesn’t mean any more to me than your lack of faith in Jupiter. It’s a superstition I don’t believe in.

And as for this sentence: “considering that you state that one comes logically to atheism, but one could never come logically to Christianity, and that it seems you think that lumping them together is impossible.” I can’t even begin to explain what a profound misunderstanding of my point this makes. I am not co-classifying the two, I’m comparing the two. I can compare night and dog-food, but it would be silly to coclassify them. Hope that helps.

And if you’re not sure about the straw-manning, look no further than the second sentence in the last thread. You attribute something to me that I clearly did not say then you throw a whole post behind it. Why not just argue with the point I actually made?

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan

No no, I get that one’s lack of faith in one thing doesn’t provide any understanding of a lack of faith in another thing. So absolutely true. But if that’s what you’re arguing, then there are religious atheists, and saying your an atheist means nothing more than saying your a Christian, as you could mean the same thing. Christians are atheists to everything but belief in Jesus Christ, hard atheists proper are atheists to everything but the belief that there is no god, etc. Ok. So Christians are atheists too.

Could you point me to a source, though, that fleshes that out? I haven’t seen anything that didn’t describe atheists as being a specific type of lack of faith – that of lack of faith or belief in god. If atheism is as universal in that way, how is it useful? Hasn’t all meaning been removed at that point? What would be the point in stating that one is an atheist as it would be always-already true…in the same way that there would be no point to stating “I breathe oxygen”?

crazyivan's avatar

@iamthemob I cannot begin to make sense out of that question.

You are an atheist to every religion except one. I am one religion more atheistic than you. My point is that in co-classifying them one is defining atheism incorrectly. The reason that I point this out is that it logically invalidates any attempt to co-classify atheism and religion. All such systems treat atheism as though it is a form of belief, but it is not. People do not have “faith” in atheism. Atheism is not based on doctrine, dogma or evangelism and thus classifying an atheist as a “fundamentalist atheist” is ridiculous. If atheism is a lack of faith, how can one be more or less lacking in faith? It’s like saying Bob doesn’t have any dogs and Tom really, really, really doesn’t have any dogs. There is no distinction between the two states of doglessness.

I hope that helps, but like I said, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of your previous post…

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan Okay – so I did understand what you were saying. What I’m saying is that atheism as a word is meaningless then. There’s no point in having it. Because everyone lacks faith in something, there’s no use for the word at all. If everyone’s an atheist, then there’s no point in stating that anyone is an atheist.

crazyivan's avatar

@iamthemob Nope. You didn’t understand it at all.

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan – then I need you to clarify how atheism consists of people who who are Buddhists and worship Jupiter as it generally refers to a “lack of faith,” and therefore includes anyone without faith in something (i.e., everyone), and yet still can be considered a term that somehow differentiates atheists from anyone else.

I’m confused because it seems that “atheist” literally translated is “without god,” and atheists that I generally speak to are specifically lacking faith in a god or gods, and how nearly every web definition, from wikipedia to athiest.org (e.g., this, this, and this) define atheism and atheists as lack of faith in god or gods. This isn’t simply that, because one believes in one god or the other and not all gods, they’re an atheist, but because of a specific rejection of the idea of god or gods.

mattbrowne's avatar

@crazyivan – When I created this classification I never said that atheism was a faith. In fact, I think it’s a world view. All I said was there are different types of atheism. I mentioned Wikipedia. Other people seem to have a similar view, see for example

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_and_positive_atheism

Although atheism is a world view, it’s aggressive form (for which I used the atheist fundamentalism) is actually helping religious fundamentalists in their recruitment process. We need to stop this dangerous trend. We have a common interest here.

Atheists should be open to criticism as well. Once in a while it makes sense to challenge your assumptions. It’s time for some atheists to remove the chip on their shoulder.

We are all human. We all make mistakes. And when we do, we should admit it.

Aggressive atheism is a mistake.

crazyivan's avatar

I think it’s pretty presumptive to blame atheists for what religious folks do. One might say it’s an attempt to wash one’s hands of their own sins. I never said you claimed atheism to be a faith so I’m not sure what that was all about…

It’s assanine and ridiculous to tell other people that they should clamp down on their own beliefs and act apologetically to the people that they honestly believe to be the biggest detriment to civilized society just because those people threaten to be even more destructive if they feel like their feelings are being hurt.

Aggressive atheism is long overdue. You’re part of the club so you worry about what the crazier folks in your ranks are doing, but don’t blame me because some of the people who believe in your imaginary friend take it too far. I don’t support any form of superstition and place the blame squarely on the feet of those who are apologetic towards religion. If more atheists stood up and said what they believed there might be more religious fundamentalism (by some tortured logic), but perhaps their insane voices would be more drown out amidst the chorus of logic and reason. Perhaps they’d be less capable of manipulating political policy or getting special exemptions from the law.

It’s a risk I’m willing to take.

And on a personal note, I love the fact that you end by imploring others to admit their mistakes in the midst of trying to hand off the mistakes of your religion on people who reject the religion to begin with.

But then again, should anyone be surprised by a Christian telling other people how to act or what to believe?

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan – talk about a straw man…;-)

@mattbrowne is not handing off the responsibility to anyone as the cause of fundamentalist harm. He’s stating that aggressive atheism is a tool which fundamentalism uses to assist in recruiting or convincing people of the merit of their position. When people are involved in a discussion with aggressive atheists, the inability of those atheists to listen to the other side (or at least perceived inability) can push them back even further into their beliefs.

That’s not saying that atheists are to blame for the acts of religious folks…it’s to show that there is a lot of potential damage in that approach to the argument.

However, I do think that aggressive atheism has a place in the argument. I think that it’s really only in a conversation with truly conservative and/or fundamentalists on the other side. (The debate between noted atheists and Kirk Cameron where “scientific proof of God” was presented in the form of a painting was an amazing example of how effective this debate can be). It’s simply when the approach is used toward everyone when it becomes damaging in the ways @mattbrowne mentions.

mattbrowne's avatar

Maybe this makes it easier to understand what I mean:

95% of the blame goes to the religious zealots themselves

5% of the blame goes to the aggressive atheists

crazyivan's avatar

So no blame at all for the non-zealots? No blame for the institutions that laid the foundation for the zealotry or continues to provide the base from which it selects it’s members?

@iamthemob I can’t see anywhere in my post where I created a “straw man”... are you familiar with the meaning of the term or am I missing something? What was the straw man in my point?

iamthemob's avatar

A straw man argument, as I understand it, is the misrepresentation of a person’s argument and an attack on the argument as defined by the person misrepresenting it.

And on a personal note, I love the fact that you end by imploring others to admit their mistakes in the midst of trying to hand off the mistakes of your religion on people who reject the religion to begin with.
I think it’s pretty presumptive to blame atheists for what religious folks do.
But then again, should anyone be surprised by a Christian telling other people how to act or what to believe?

(1) the OP was set up as a hypothesis, open for refinement, and asking for both the pros and cons of the proposition that aggressive atheism promotes religious fundamentalism. Therefore, it is not an attempt to hand off anything, but rather recognize a parallel contributing force to the problem, and to refine the nature of that force as well as determine if the “promotion” was outweighed by a benefit.

(2) Any blame was not directed at atheism, but aggressive atheism/atheists.

(3) Nowhere was @mattbrowne telling anyone what to believe or how to act, and at most was asking people to recognize how they contributed to the problem.

I think you do bring up a good point in your last post in relation to @mattbrowne‘s percentage example, though. I’m inclined to believe that the percentages were a response to your characterization that blame was being shifted, and to show that it wasn’t being shifted as the vast majority was on the religious fundamentalists head, so it wasn’t meant as an accurate example of the many contributing factors. However, for clarity’s sake, I think you’re right to point out that a good deal of the blame is properly directed at those who allow fundamentalist oppression through acts of omission.

crazyivan's avatar

So you don’t think the statement “agressive atheism is a mistake” is a statment telling anyone how to act? And you also see that statment as a question about the pros and cons of agressive atheism?

And knowing what a straw man argument is I find it curious that you’re still implying that one existed in my statement. Read back over his statment: “it’s aggressive form (for which I used the atheist fundamentalism) is actually helping religious fundamentalists in their recruitment process. We need to stop this dangerous trend”

Are you still implying that this is a question? Are you still suggesting that this isn’t an example of telling someone else how to act? Is this not an example of pushing blame? Of course, even if it was, that still wouldn’t make my point into a straw man argument, since I did not seek to invalidate the claim once I made it.

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan

Nope. Agressive atheism is a mistake is a statement about the tactic being less productive than productive, and alienating instead of successful. I don’t agree with it wholly, but it’s not telling anyone what to do, it’s an assertion on the overall value. And one that was more a boiling down of the whole argument in order to show you what he was trying to get at (I think).

I also referenced the OP, not the previous statement, statements, etc. Aggressive atheism is very problematic, but that may help overall. That doesn’t really undercut the factor that I think it’s regrettable that, at times, it’s necessary.

The statement you quoted was in response to your consistent denial that there wasn’t a way to classify atheists, atheist arguments, etc. You kept stating that everyone was an atheist, and @mattbrowne was being blunt to refer to the specific type he was talking about. In many ways, and this is amusing, he was forced to reduce the argument to assertions mandating behavior changes because of the ridiculous results of the belief underlying them – exactly what aggressive atheism does.

You’re cherry-picking parts of the argument, statements made in it, in just the same way aggressive atheists do with the bible instead of reviewing the argument as a whole. It’s not an example of pushing blame – earlier you said handing off – but it is an example of showing that aggressive atheism is not at all blameless in the increase or an increase in fundamentalism. That’s assigning blame where it’s due. It’s not saying anything about whether it’s the major contributing factor, but to not admit that is a willful blindness of sorts.

The overall argument does suggest the OPer wants a change in tactics. The original argument doesn’t mandate that. You stated that he was trying to hand of the mistakes of the religion after statements of how aggressive atheism was justified, etc. This was an attempt to invalidate the claim that atheists had any blame for an increase in fundamentalism and subsequent increase in fundamentalist damage, it seems.

The point is, aggressive atheism is partially to blame. If an aggressive atheist recognizes that, and think that it’s okay as they can see x, y, and z benefits from it, then that’s different. It seems that you’re stating (stop me if I’m wrong) that aggressive atheists shouldn’t accept any of the blame. In many ways, this is like arguing (LIKE, not THE SAME) that terrorists don’t deserve any blame if there is crack down on their organization because of terrorist acts they commit by the people they claim oppress them, because they were oppressed to begin with and therefore deserved to lash out.

crazyivan's avatar

Wow… it’s amazing how many misunderstandings you can multiply on one another. Let me go back to my first point (which you still don’t seem to remotely comprehend) from which all the others stem. I never said that you cannot classify atheism. I’ve even said that I never said that, but don’t let that stop you from pretending like I did in every post since.

The point I was making is that any attempt to co-classify (CO-CLASSIFY) atheism and religion is silly. Try this analogy. Let’s say for whatever reason you wanted to compare ketchup, mustard, mayonaise and weasels. You could subdivide the first three into, say, store-brand and national-brand versions. If you started off by also talking about store-brand and national-brand weasels, your comparison would be meaningless and thus any extrapolation from it would be meaningless.

This is an incredibly simple point. The one about everyone being an atheist to at least all but one religions is even simpler. I can’t simplify it with an analogy because it is already in its simplest possible form and I’m sorry that it still baffles you. Your continued nonsense about it seems almost willfully ignorant.

I think the problem your having is that you aren’t remotely paying attention to anything I’m saying (you tend only to comprehend the people that agree with you on every thread I’ve seen you on).

Now, let me point this one out because it’s so glaring it’s ridiculous. You fault me by saying that my point put words in MattBrownes mouth. Of course, those words were in his previous statement so I didn’t put them there. When I point it out, you say “Oh, I was referring to the original question, not the post you were talking about”... so how the hell am I the one cherry-picking? You’re taking a statement I said in response to 1 thing, accusing me of putting words in somebody’s mouth and then when I point you to the words (in the mouth of the person I was talking too) you say “Oh, I was referring to the original question)... which, of course, I was not.

iamthemob's avatar

(1) You insist on co-classification. This is the OP’s statement:

What exactly is aggressive atheist fundamentalism? What is religious fundamentalism? We need to understand certain forms of religions and atheism. Recently I’ve tried to come up with a classification for the forms of atheism and some of the major world religions

The classifications are based on how groups explain the nature of existence. It’s broken down into the methods by which people sharing a same basic approach to the reasons how and why argue or reason their basic position. This is totally valid. Additionally, atheism is consistently defined against theism, or deism, or a religious beliefs. Weasels are not defined against ketchup. If your problem is that it is co-classified against religions instead of theism, fine. But if we group theists together into a group where they approach the argument where there is a system of beliefs based on sacred doctrine which is thought to be unassailable and call those fundamentalists, we can do so with aggressive atheists who believe that objective evidence is unassailable and claims must be concrete and observable. The classifications also do not by necessity imply mutual exclusivity…they are meant to show how one group fuels the argument in another group. If you don’t like the method of classification, that’s fine. It stands that aggressive atheism is a thing, and fundamentalist religion is a thing, and that they are participating in a debate with each other.

If you disagree with anything in the last statement above, please let me know. I can’t really comment on your assertions about how I pretend, etc., of course. However, the point is that aggressive atheism provides fuel for fundamentalist arguments, and therefore aggressive atheism can be partially blamed for the acts resulting from an increase in commitment from fundamentalists. Please see my terrorism example above. Whether or not we agree or disagree on co-classifying is beside that point – do you have any supportable assertion that this is true, and do you disagree that there is blame that is assignable to aggressive atheism for that?

crazyivan's avatar

If I stand on the street corner every day screaming “Death to (whoever)” and the police try to stop me, the police are to blame for it. Makes sense to me.

And sure, you can co-classify the two groups if you want. You can co-classify anything if you want, but the extrapolations you draw will be meaningless in this case.

iamthemob's avatar

If I stand on the street corner every day screaming “Death to (whoever)” and the police try to stop me, the police are to blame for it. Makes sense to me.

I’m not sure what you mean by this, considering that the consequences aren’t really stated, and I don’t know if they’re even implied. However, no one is assigning blame to anyone for x happening, but discussing how multiple sources are to blame for the contribution. I use the terrorist example to show this, but it is problematic as, of course, the comparison clearly is meant to align aggressive atheists with terrorists. Looking at it again, it may be better to consider the aggressive atheists, using al Qaeda as an example, as aligned with the American people. The people generally wanted an increased quality of life. The U.S. policies in the Middle East made that possible. It also made the Middle East watch as much of their wealth was exported, and the people suffered under regimes supported by U.S. money. Radical fundamentalists used this to point blame at the U.S. instead of their own religiously-based governments to fully convert people who were already inclined to believe in the will of Allah to understand that the will was something specific – that the U.S. was the enemy. Al Qaeda gains strength, and we have the horror that is 9/11.

There are two ways this parallels aggressive atheism’s (AA’s) effect. First, obviously, is that the American people’s lack of consideration of the myriad effects of their desires ended up fueling a fire. This does not mean they are to blame for the reaction, but it does mean that they participated in the reaction. Direct blame lies on the direct actors, but to ignore how we contributed to making it possible is a dangerous thing. In this case, AAs are the people not recognizing the effect, and the fundamentalists are, well, the fundamentalists, and shows the harm attributed to AA.

Second, while no one should argue that Americans are the only ones to blame, some do. People in the U.S. are horrified by this reaction, and may wall up against any argument that al Qaeda has reasons thereafter. This may be until, of course, someone on a more moderate side of the argument explains to them why people are arguing that, show them the facts, and get them to think. The more reasonable approach seems even more reasonable by comparison. In this case, AAs are the people arguing that the American people are totally to blame (for AAs, religion), the people in the U.S. primed to blame al Qaeda are the religious people primed to go fundamentalist when presented with anger-prone atheism, and the moderates are some other form of atheists explaining where the anger comes from and why it’s justified. This shows the potential benefit of AA to the overall debate, but it doesn’t come necessarily directly from the AA position.

mattbrowne's avatar

Here’s one example of the damage caused by aggressive atheism:

http://www.fluther.com/93156/what-is-your-opinion-on-the-evolution-of-man/

A young woman brainwashed by creationists asked the Fluther community a question. And the aggressive replies made her delete her account.

I tried to analyze what went wrong, and it has to do with aggressive atheism. This is what I wrote:

“I slowly begin to understand why creationism is here to stay. I hate this say this, but I think we as a community have failed to properly communicate with @saraSKELLINGTON. Get into her mindset. Try to see the world from her perspective. Give her a chance to get out. All we offered was tough, confrontational scientific language. When people face difficult situations in relationships we use all our tactfulness. As soon as the word “God” appears somewhere in the details of a question this triggers insensitive knee-jerk overreactions.

I’m just really frustrated that somehow we can’t find a way to get people out of their creationist circles. And giving up is not a good option to me. Crocodile Dundee was able to find a way around New York City and the only world he knew was the Australian outback.

I am convinced that our approach can be optimized. We’re not doing enough to get into the creationist mindset. We still don’t fully understand how these people tick. Our language is way too confrontational.

Put yourself into her shoes and try to feel what it must be like to be when she reads these kind of comments: So many people think I’m completely stupid, might be one reaction. Will she open up? I doubt it.

It gets worse. There comes the cat with a rocket strapped to its back. Wow. She has still not replied. I like @Qingu‘s first answer. But this is followed by the cosmic Jewish zombie provoking anger and a whole set of strong negative emotions in creationists. What happens? They will reject evolution not because it isn’t true, but because they don’t have the personality or maturity to be able to agree with people who harshly insult or mock them. The small chance that this believer will open up gets destroyed. The “debate” becomes a fight. And keep in mind the young woman has still not said anything. She keeps reading these comments, adrenaline pumping through her system.

I won’t go as far as to say that some people with the IQ of a rocket scientist have got the EQ of a cynomolgus monkey, but well, EQ might be something worth looking into.

So I wonder, are we as a Fluther community capable of self criticism? How we deal with difficult people?

Shouldn’t we debate how we deal with next question asked by a novice Flutherite who seems to be a creationist? Use a more gentle initial approach until the creationist writes his or first response.

There can be hundreds of reasons why she didn’t reply to all of the posts on an individual basis. I’m pretty sure some of it was simply too complicated. Maybe the ridicule made her so mad that she couldn’t even focus to come up with good replies. People are different. You are an intellectual, my friend. You have never lived in a trailer. Let’s not assume that everyone feels and thinks the way you do or I do.

I think the problem with what went wrong in this thread is that we seem to be a crowd culture. It happens in real life. And it can happen on Fluther. One crowd against one young woman who is confused about the relationship of humans and monkeys. At some point, and this sometimes happens, when a creationist really becomes aggressive, it’s okay to be more direct and be clear that such behavior is not acceptable. But Sara never did this.

I didn’t check her Myspace page. I was trying to analyze this thread based on what she wrote in the detail section of her question and what happened afterwards before her first reply and also after her reply. Lack of maturity doesn’t go away by novice users deleting their accounts soon after they join. Yes, she has some growing up to do. And I fear Sara won’t find a way to become more mature on Myspace or in her creationist community. She might have had a small chance on Fluther.

I never put all the blame just on us. There are plenty of people to blame, for example the very intelligent ultra-conservatives who use the creationist movement for their political purposes with all their hidden agendas. A growing creationist movement will give them more votes.

As an 18-year-old woman Sara has to take responsibility for her own life. Of course.

But I think all of us should feel responsible for the culture of Fluther. Moderators can’t do this on their own.”

crazyivan's avatar

Came across this quip from Jason Rosenhouse that I thought was particularly applicable:

“In defense of the New Atheist strategy of creating tension and making atheism visible we have a body of research on advertising that shows that repetition and ubiquity are essential for mainstreaming an idea. We have the historical examples of social movements that changed the zeitgeist by ignoring the people urging caution, and by working around the people whose value systems put them in opposition to their goals. We know that hostility towards atheists was at a fever pitch well before the NA’s arrived on the scene, a time during which accommodationist arguments were common but vocal atheism was not. And we have the all-important verdict of common sense, which says that you don’t mainstream your view by getting down on your knees and pleading with people to treat you nicely.”

(and blame the creationists for the damage they do, not the people fighting against them… the whole point seems like a painful exercise in blame-shifting)

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan

You do understand that AAs are not having the blame shifted to them, but rather should understand that they are to blame for some of the harm that their arguments may cause. It’s been stated many, many times, and now a direct example has been given.

The quote is applicable, but it’s not an argument against the harm that AA arguments cause. An NA strategy of creating tension and vocal repetition, first, doesn’t necessitate hostility to the contrary argument. The fact that anti-atheism sentiment was at a fever-pitch, apparently, prior to NA appearing on the scene also doesn’t mean that an AA presence won’t compound the problem. And other social movements absolutely had radical and extremist arguments and have been successful – but I can’t think of any that have where there hasn’t also been an accommodationist or what have you sentiment working along side of it. For every W. E.D. DuBois there was a Booker T. Washington; for every Malcolm X there was a Martin Luther King, Jr. And so on.

I don’t agree that AA, as it is, is a mistake. But I think it has a limited place and has specific responsibility for harm it causes. Whether that is outweighed by it’s potential benefit to move forward discussion regarding religion, faith, objective reality to a point where we are approaching those questions better and more practically than before is something that remains to be seen…but to deny that AA causes harm is to ignore the evidence, and to not admit blame is to be intellectually dishonest.

crazyivan's avatar

What evidence am I ignoring? It is blame shifting in the above example as it was in the original question. It’s the only way that your little club can justify their continued adherence to an outdated, antiquated, mysogenistic tradition. It’s not our fault for facilitating the whackos by acting like unproven mystical superstition is okay, it’s the fault of the mean, angry people who cause people to build cacoons out of their ignorance.

That is ridiculous. Anti-gun advocates might prompt fence riding gun owners to join the NRA but it is patently absurd to suggest that any of the fault lies with the anti-gun folks. The problem is at the hands of the people that promote the organization itself. To argue otherwise is the pinnacle of absurdity.

iamthemob's avatar

@mattbrowne pointed to one example of someone who stopped listening because of the way she was treated. You just saw evidence of someone who will no longer discuss issues because of the way he’s been treated…and I was the one asking questions about the bible in that case. Its AA arguments and rhetoric like calling Christians “whackos” that does stuff like that. That doesn’t mean fundamentalism is caused by AA. It does, however, portray atheists generally as hateful and arrogant people who won’t listen and only want to shout.

I really can’t make it any clearer. If you say something like “It’s not our fault for facilitating the whackos by acting like unproven mystical superstition is okay” you sound like you’re foaming at the mouth…how are you any different from “the mean, angry people who cause people to build cacoons out of their ignorance”? If you have a belief, that’s cherished, but you’re willing to listen, this may turn you away. You’re reinforcing the cocoon.

It’s not AA’s fault that there are fundamentalists, but the style of argument causes harm. You’ve seen the way it can turn people specifically away. That is not their fault alone. It is also the people who wouldn’t let them breathe, and badgered them constantly, and called them “whackos.” Personally, I take issue admitting that my beliefs align with atheism because of statements just like that.

crazyivan's avatar

Wow… are you reading every third word or what? The “Mean, angry” people I was referring to were the atheists. How am I different from them? Why should I be? I was talking about people like me.

But I thought it was interesting that you brought up MLK earlier as a contrast with Malcom X. I find it interesting becaue MLK spent so much of his time fighting with people who were telling him the equivalent of what you and @mattbrowne are saying. People said he was too direct, too confrontational. He should back off and find more accomodating ways of delivering his message.

Took me a minute to find it, but this is a great quote from King about exactly that argument and while he was dealing with a far more pervasive (and far less coherent) objection, I think it is no less applicable:

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

And as for not calling Christian’s whackos… well, that’s just a double standard. If somebody was on here talking about a different invisible spaceman that secretly controlled the universe and listened to everyone’s mumblings at the same time, you wouldn’t have issue with me calling them whacko. In fact, legally speaking, a person who “hears voices” is insane, so if you’d prefer the term “insane” to “whacko”, that’s fine too.

The fact is that the spirituality that you and @mattbrowne seem to be advocating is not Christianity by the majority definition. The fundies and evangelicals are actually the ones remaining true to the faith and yours are the perversions. If you have to flip the whole religion on it’s head just to make it make sense to you personally, why adhere to it at all?

And by the way, for @mattbrowne‘s post to count as evidence, we would first have to show an identical (or nearly identical) thread where accomodationism caused a creationist to change their belief system. Until then it is assumptive and anecdotal. Scientifically speaking, it is inadmissable and evidence of nothing.

iamthemob's avatar

Ah! So, you’re saying that the argument @mattbrowne has is that “It’s not our fault for facilitating the whackos by acting like unproven mystical superstition is okay, it’s the fault of the mean, angry people who cause people to build cacoons out of their ignorance.”

Is that right? Also, where have I advocated spirituality of any kind? I’ve only spoken of different kinds of approaches the the argument, I believe.

You stated: “The “Mean, angry” people I was referring to were the atheists. How am I different from them? Why should I be? I was talking about people like me.”

But the thing is not all atheists are mean and angry. I don’t think that’s what you’re saying. AAs are atheists taking a very specific approach to the argument. I know that has been stated before. And I’m certain you’re not saying that all atheists are like you. So, when you say the above, what you meant to say was that the “mean, angry” people were the aggressive athiests, not atheists generally, right?

“The fundies and evangelicals are actually the ones remaining true to the faith and yours are the perversions.”

Of course, that requires that one take the perspective that they are stating the true faith, and any other expression is a perversion of the faith. If you are arguing that, you’re grossly overcharacterizing what faith is in any context.

And also, you’re making a claim about anything that I advocate as the way people should express their faith.

“If you have to flip the whole religion on it’s head just to make it make sense to you personally, why adhere to it at all?”

That’s anyone’s choice to do, and if the result of it is that someone has a personal belief that they’ve derived from one religion or another, and that’s how they best relate to their spiritual side…who cares?

“And by the way, for @mattbrowne‘s post to count as evidence, we would first have to show an identical (or nearly identical) thread where accomodationism caused a creationist to change their belief system.”

No, we wouldn’t. It’s direct evidence of the harm caused by the argument. Again, and again, and again and again, I’ve stated that there may be a place for AA in the overall atheist argument as a counter, and a productive one. But to ignore that it causes any harm is to deny evidence that’s right in front of you. It clearly supports that AA arguments shut down certain people and made them remove themselves from the debate. We don’t need to show anything about accommodationist arguments to demonstrate that the above happened.

crazyivan's avatar

So you’ve discovered some new-fangled method of evidence that doesn’t require a control trial. Interesting. I’ll notify the scientific community so they can go to work rewriting everything related to evidence collection ever written. Thanks.

And as for this unruly statement: “Of course, that requires that one take the perspective that they are stating the true faith, and any other expression is a perversion of the faith. If you are arguing that, you’re grossly overcharacterizing what faith is in any context.” well… I know it’s pointless but let me explain why this is ridiculous:

Your religion is based on the Bible. Right? Am I mischaracterizing your religion by saying that? Because if it is then any attempt to leave out or rewrite or de-emphasize this chunk while cherry picking this other chunk is (by definition) a perversion of the Christian faith. At least fundamentalists are consistent(ish).

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan – I am not Christian. I am not religious. Therefore, yes…you are.

I asked you to point out where I advocated any spirituality, or spoke of my own spirituality. You accuse me of not reading anything but the third word of what I said. Please, before you do, attempt to afford me the respect of reading my answers fully as well.

Also, you cannot have a control trial to prove this. You quoted a statement that argued: “We have the historical examples of social movements that changed the zeitgeist by ignoring the people urging caution, and by working around the people whose value systems put them in opposition to their goals.” You used MLK to support your argument. You haven’t subjected these examples to any sort of control trial, or seem to think it’s necessary to support your argument. These are less direct examples in fact, as it hasn’t been demonstrated that (1) the atheist movement is the equivalent of these previous movements, and (2) that aggressive atheism creates the kind of tension that MLK advocated. The examples provided in @mattbrowne‘s post and mine, however, showed real people being turned off by exactly the arguments under discussion – those referring to Christians as ridiculous, etc. Therefore, there is no need to call the scientific community.

crazyivan's avatar

Simply saying the point is invalid and then putting words in afterwards does not invalidate the argument. Seeing a person turned off by agressive atheism proves nothing until you can establish that soft-core atheism would have turned them away from creationism.

You could just as easily use your evidentiary prerequisite to “prove” that using a lot of words that begin with the letter “L” turns people to fundamentalism.

Besides, even your flawed evidence is easy to rebutt. The ridiculous premise this whole thread rests on is the notion that Agressive Atheism “promotes” fundamentalism. So to prove this (even if we subtracted the universal requirement of a control group) you would have to show me evidence of a person who wasn’t a fundamentalist becoming a fundamentalist because of the actions of an Agressive Atheist. Of course, even this, again, would be only anecdotal because it doesn’t include evidence of somebody not turning to fundamentalism because they were mollie-coddled by an apologist.

And sorry if I inferred your religion based on your unswerving dedication to arguing in its favor on every thread I’ve ever seen you on. Simply replace the singular “you” with a plural and more general “you”.

Standards of evidence are consistent across a number of disciplines. I see no reason why they should be abandoned for the purposes of this thread.

iamthemob's avatar

Seeing a person turned off by agressive atheism proves nothing until you can establish that soft-core atheism would have turned them away from creationism.

It proves that aggressive atheism has stopped people from listening to aggressive atheists. It’s unclear what you mean by creationism. If you mean creationism as opposed to evolution, you might be right with the examples presented.

The OP fleshed out his premise when he stated that he had had the following conversation several times:

Several times I’ve encountered deeply religious people saying, oh, you know so much about science, you must be an atheist. I would reply, no, actually I’m a Christian. Really, they ask, how is this possible? Religion and science don’t go together, therefore I rather stay away from too much science. I don’t want to become an atheist. My response is: You don’t have to because despite what some atheists proclaim, I think modern Christianity and science can be compatible. There are astonished looks, then, hmm interesting, well, maybe I should know more about science. Yes, I would say, definitely.

The only evidence that you can gather in these cases is anecdotal – of course, the more that you gather, the clearer the possible link. You’ll never show causality…but as in most studies that lean towards social as opposed to hard science (pretty much anything involving people’s thoughts and feelings) you’re not going to get to causality. You’re going to show trends that may get as close as you can to causality, but individual experience being unique you’re not going to be able to say “when this happens to a person, you can guarantee this in the end.”

If the goal of aggressive atheism is to convince people to abandon what they call superstitious beliefs and rituals, by turning these people off to what you’re saying, and having them “cocooned in their own ignorance”, AA is working against itself. AGAIN, this isn’t meant to prove that there isn’t a greater overall benefit in the end – but if AAs state that none of the blame for fundamentalism should be there’s it’s ignoring the distinct possibility that those who are turned off by being called whackos won’t turn more fully and deeply to those who accepted them to begin with, strengthening their resolve. Further, it ignores the fact that it promotes the idea that you have to remove any concept of god from the equation to accept scientific data. I’m appalled by that, and it’s not equivalent to any previous social movement, and is exactly the kind of oppressive demand for acceptance of a point of view that Christianity in its fundamentalist form requires. The problem is that there is no support for the statement “There is no god.” It is an unfalsifiable claim. As AA generally promotes this, whether as a fact or because religious people assume that’s what an atheist thinks because they are so aggressively negative towards religious or spiritual beliefs, it is inherently hypocritical if the AA is to demand that any claim about existence be subject to an analysis that is falsifiable.

In the end, this is how it can promote fundamentalism. If a religious person is to ask an atheist, “prove there is no god” the only reasonable response is “I can’t.” If they’ve been aggressively dogged about their beliefs, this has the dangerous potential to encourage them to dismiss previous claims by the atheist, regardless of the validity of the claims.

That’s where my concern is, and has always been. AA arguments seem to be practicing, in many ways, the exact opposite of what they “preach.” (used in the colloquial sense and not meant to connote any religious implications.)

PS – And sorry if I inferred your religion based on your unswerving dedication to arguing in its favor on every thread I’ve ever seen you on. You better be able to show an unswerving support of “religion” instead of a defense of certain theistic, religious, or spiritual principles against AA arguments. I’m pretty sure I’ve never argued in favor of religion in any sense except that if people want to follow one, they should be able to. I’ll be happy to discuss that with you, but if not I would ask that you, as you admit you already have done by assuming my beliefs about Christianity, stop misrepresenting what I believe, do, and state. It’s becoming tiresome, and you seem to take extreme offense when it’s done to you.

mattbrowne's avatar

We should also keep in mind that most atheists including aggressive atheists are intelligent, well educated and quite reasonable during debates, while most religious fundamentalists are not.

Most atheists are capable of challenging their assumptions and their behavior, while most religious fundamentalists are not.

Therefore I think it’s worth the effort to convince aggressive atheists to change their mind when it comes to debating religious people.

When you look at the Sara thread, some actually admitted later on, that nothing was accomplished by driving the young woman away. Over time, on Fluther she might have had a chance to grow and eventually challenge her assumptions about evolution being a theory of the devil. Now in the real world, her world, these chances are very low. She remains trapped. The creationists are nice to her. While atheists are not.

So here’s my wish:

My dear atheists, please reconsider your strategy when debating religious people. Aggressive atheism is counterproductive.

iamthemob's avatar

I agree. It’s difficult if not impossible to argue with the reasonableness of the majority of the arguments presented from an atheistic perspective. I would say, however, that there’s no need to reconsider the strategy as a whole by necessity…but there are clearly ways to start off better than others, and there are clearly times when it is failing when talking to a certain individual or individuals. It can be useful up to a point in some discussions, but when a person is clearly locking down, it may be best at that point to reconsider the strategy, and move to a “good cop” approach for a bit or for the rest of the discussion. It’s when it’s used in a “win by whatever means necessary no matter what and no matter with whom” that it can be extremely self-defeating.

crazyivan's avatar

Spectacularly put @mattbrowne, but I maintain my stance. I suppose that in many ways it isn’t about being nice at the expense of being honest. The fear is that being apologetic requires you to be intellectually dishonest and in so doing you are often left lending credence to things that don’t deserve as much as a second thought.

Until I see someone swerved from fundamentalism by any engagement with atheists I will contend that the agressive atheists are doing as much good or more as the “compassionate” atheist. You should consider that the real battle is not to turn back the fundamentalist (as often this is counterproductive or impossible), but rather to keep others from slipping into their brand of nonsense.

To this end, agressive atheism is probably more productive simply because it shows the fence riders where logic falls. A good analogy might be the Global Warming “debate”. One might take the tack of being apologetic and mollie-coddling the global warming denier and might actually change their opinion by not directly challenging their preconceptions (ie by tying it to a call for more nuclear power). On the other hand, one could be dismissive and brutish and not convince them at all.

The central issue in the above example is that the effort expended to reclaim one denier might have been better spent convincing 100 fence-riders (in the same number of man-hours) or, worse, the apologetic stance might reinforce the fence-riders into thinking that there is legitimate room for debate and the science is not overwhelmingly on the side of human caused global warming.

One could debate the efficacy of the two strategies, but what is not up for debate is that only the latter is intellectually honest.

As for the repeated assertion that agressive atheism is counterproductive, I feel like that makes a few huge assumptions, most notably what the point or intended outcome of the argument is. If my goal is to simply express me honest belief then it would be counterproductive to not be agressive as it stands between myself and my goal. If my goal is to help rewrite the social norm in such a way that religion is not given any special privelege in the law, being accomodationist stands between me and that goal.

The truth is that I don’t give a shit if I hurt somebody’s feelings. My goal is to to what I can to rid the world of all of the hate-mongering, superstition, sexism, backwards thinking and death by ignorance that comes as a direct result of religion and societies acceptance of it as a societal norm. By treating the anti-evolution (or anti-macro-evolution) theories as anything but junk science born of charlatans with self-promoting agendas, I am doing a disservice to my goal. By treating religious people as anything more than suckers who have been hood-winked by an outdated superstition, I am doing a disservice to my goal.

Now, going back to the “Sara thread”, I seriously doubt any amount of accomodation would really have made a difference, but somebody who was on the fence between religion and atheism might have seen the inherent stupidity in faith on that thread and been galvanized in favor of rationalism. Can we still say, then, that there was no benefit?

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan

The only problem I have is that you’re still trying to reduce the tactics into two sides, essentially: aggressive and accomodationist. There are a wide, wide range of strategies that are direct, unwaivering, and distinctly anti-accomodationist that are also not aggressive in the manner I (and I believe, but won’t state outright, @mattbrowne believes) am referring to. There’s no need to be apologetic. There’s no need to be intellectually dishonest. There’s also no need to, put it frankly, be a complete dick about it in order to be unwaivering, unapologetic, and intellectually honest.

Consider the Sara thread again. The following are statements I would not consider to be aggressive, as they state the side they argue for with clarity and honesty, without sugar-coating anything:

The theory of evolution does not say monkeys turned into man. You need to do a lot more reading about how it really does work before you form an opinion on it.

The fact that genes occasionally mutate is undeniable. The fact some genetic qualities improve ones chances of surviving to reproduce and others don’t is undeniable.

Don’t make up your mind about complex scientific issues before you have at least a basic understanding of what it is you’re accepting or rejecting, and preferably not even before you also understand all the advanced stuff. In this case, evolution does not mean what you think it means.
Here’s a clue: If this model couldn’t make sense of a fact as obvious as the continued existence of monkeys, then who in their right mind would have even come up with it in the first place?
Common descent of all life is a historical fact, with about as much evidence to back it up as the French revolution or the Holocaust. There’s the fossil record of past developments, there are genetic similarities that imply development, and there are physiological similarities that imply development, and they all independently show the exact same evolutionary family tree. There’s no more need for doubt. If you don’t believe me, ask any biologist. WIth a valid degree.

The below are what I do object to as aggressive tactics, as they depend on generalizations, straw man arguments, mischaracterizations, or however else you want to look at them, which are clearly dismissive at best, angry as perceived by many, and in fact intellectually dishonest in the way that they describe how certain people believe much of the time:

And yet Christians have no trouble believing that a cosmic Jewish zombie, who is his own father, had himself killed as a sacrifice—to himself—so that he could prevent his father/himself from punishing humans for disobeying the laws that he gave them (laws that mysteriously resemble ancient Babylonian laws), which were impossible for humans to follow in the first place, because all humans are possessed by an invisible evil force that we inherited from our mythical ancestor, because he ate a magical fruit at the behest of a talking snake.

Alright you’re in. Now there’s this cat that can fly anywhere, that’s about it. It’s crazy, everybody’s right, if everybody’s wrong. It all boils down to what your born into. Religion is for the poor, blind, or scared. The people in power know this. If you had everythinig you wanted, why would you need to have faith in anything.

Yup. Her mind’s made up. We just confused her with the facts.

This isn’t about choosing aggression over compassion, it’s about showing how your arguments are reasonable and rational with passion and without compromise. However, when turning to what they others believe, that’s where it can get ugly – and ugly in a way that seems irrational and unreasonable. Stating that “religion” is the reason for anything is to ignore that there are many religions that seem to have done absolutely no harm. It ignores that religion is used as a tool by people when harm is caused, and that religion by itself is a neutral concept in its most general form. To describe Christians as believing that Jesus is a “cosmic zombie” is much the same (as a rhetorical strategy) as stating that evolutionary scientists tell us that man evolved from a monkey.

To be aggressive in this manner has as much potential to make one intellectually dishonest as being fully apologetic. And to treat religious people as anything other than people, with misguided preconceived notions the same as any person has, is to make assumptions about a person before being presented with any evidence about that person. Sure, you may be right. But you may be wrong. The point is, you don’t know. So when you state that the aggressive tactics shown in bold above, or mentioned in this paragraph, are intellectually honest, I would ask how.

You don’t have to give a shit about what people feel when you’re making your argument. But acknowledge that there’s a difference between that and being flat-out offensive.

perhaps, @mattbrowne, there should be a new subcategory for “offensive atheism” separate but related to “aggressive atheism.”

crazyivan's avatar

The cosmic Jewish zombie line is one of my favorites and I do think it intellectually honest. The three words aptly describe the foundation of the Christian faith and do so in unapolgetic terms. Zombie, in the sense of a living dead creature and cosmic as in other worldly are exactly the terms one would rightly use to describe the faith if they were presented it for the first time as fully formed adults with fully functioning brains. The fact that people would describe it otherwise is a byproduct of the normalcy of such innane superstition.

The first paragraph of that bold paragraph is, in my estimation brutally honest. I think it’s justified and more intellectually honest than virtually any description of Christian mythology that I can come up with.

iamthemob's avatar

The problem is, still, zombie is a very, very specific thing – and even in the general consciousness, you can’t claim that a zombie is simply “the living dead” as it is a decomposing and brain-feeding version of that. In the literal sense it’s meaning is descriptive of a type of lifeless, listless behavior or it’s directly and inextricably linked to voodoo. It’s as inaccurate as saying “ghost” or “vampire” or anything along those lines.

Intellectual honesty shouldn’t be about whether, somehow, you can bend language in a manner or limit the description of a complex set of beliefs in a manner that, in some way, you can say “it’s true if” or “it’s true because.” Pat Buchanan says that white people built this country. It’s factually accurate, but it dismisses the massive contribution of minorities who were put to work to build America under a repressive white regime. However, many would and have deemed the statement to be intellectually dishonest in the way that it makes use of rhetoric to support an agenda, where the statement although true is a reduction of or biased characterization of the actual issue/belief/historical moment.

I reject any sort of general description of what a Christian believes as much as I try to reject any general definition of what an atheist believes. But it gets harder and harder when I generally see statements nearly identical to the one above, or more generally making blanket claims about “religion” and “Christians” to not assume that many if not most vocal atheists, who have no issue claiming anything about what another group believes but react with shock and disgust when someone says anything about atheists, for me not to remove myself from the atheist camp entirely for fear that I might be grouped together with people I myself see making such clearly intellectually dishonest arguments.

Definition of ZOMBIE

1
a : the supernatural power that according to voodoo belief may enter into and reanimate a dead body
b : a will-less and speechless human in the West Indies capable only of automatic movement who is held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated
2
a : a person held to resemble the so-called walking dead; especially : automaton
b : a person markedly strange in appearance or behavior
3
: a mixed drink made of several kinds of rum, liqueur, and fruit juice

or

zom·bie   
[zom-bee] Show IPA
–noun
1.
(in voodoo)
a.the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.
b.the supernatural force itself.
2.
Informal .
a.a person whose behavior or responses are wooden, listless, or seemingly rote; automaton.
b.an eccentric or peculiar person.
3.
a snake god worshiped in West Indian and Brazilian religious practices of African origin.
4.
a tall drink made typically with several kinds of rum, citrus juice, and often apricot liqueur.
5.
Canadian Slang . an army conscript assigned to home defense during World War II.

☆ zom·bie (zäm′bē)
noun
in voodoo cults of W Africa, the python deity
any voodoo snake deity, as in Haiti and parts of the S U.S.
in West Indian voodoo, a supernatural power through which a corpse supposedly is brought to a state of trancelike animation and made to obey the commands of the person exercising the power
a corpse so animated
SLANG
a person considered to be like a zombie in listlessness, mechanical behavior, etc.
a weird, eccentric, or unattractive person
an iced drink made with fruit juices, various kinds of rum, and, often, apricot brandy

zom·bie (zŏmˈbē)
noun
A snake god of voodoo cults in West Africa, Haiti, and the southern United States.
a. A supernatural power or spell that according to voodoo belief can enter into and reanimate a corpse.
b. A corpse revived in this way.
One who looks or behaves like an automaton.
A tall mixed drink made of various rums, liqueur, and fruit juice.

mattbrowne's avatar

@crazyivan – Well, you might perceive it as intellectually honest, however Christian mythology or any mythology is far more complex than many people realize. And I’d like to share two quotes with you:

Michael Shermer: Myths are about the human struggle to deal with the great passages of time and life—birth, death, marriage, the transitions from childhood to adulthood to old age. They meet a need in the psychological or spiritual nature of humans that has absolutely nothing to do with science. To try to turn a myth into a science, or a science into a myth, is an insult to myths, an insult to religion, and an insult to science.

Karen Armstrong: Religious truth does not stand or fall by the historicity of its scriptural narratives. It will survive only if it enables people to find meaning and value when they are overwhelmed by the despair that is an inescapable part of the human condition. When we are discussing the meaning of life and the death of meaning, the historicity of the flood becomes an irrelevant distraction from the main issue. We are dealing not with history or science but with myth. Today in popular parlance, a myth is something that did not happen, so to claim that a biblical story is mythical is to deny its truth. But before the advent of our scientific modernity, myth recounted an event that had – in some sense – happened once, but which also happened all the time. It was never possible to interpret a myth in terms of objective reason.

There were two ways of arriving at truth, which Plato called mythos and logos (reason). They complemented each other and were of equal stature; both were essential. Unlike myth, logos had to relate accurately to the external world: from the very earliest days, we used it to create effective weapons and to run our societies efficiently. But humans are also meaning-seeking creatures, who fall very easily into despair. When faced with tragedy, reason is silent and has nothing to say. It was mythology and its accompanying rituals that showed people how to acquire the strength to go on. As a result of our scientific revolution, however, logos achieved such spectacular results in the west that myth was discredited. By the 19th century, believers and skeptics alike began to read the biblical myths as though they were logoi.

But the biblical writers would have been astonished to hear about a scientific expedition to find the “real” flood. In the premodern perspective, mythos and logos each had its own sphere of competence. If you confused them, you had bad science – like that of the creationists. You also had bad religion. Until we recover a sense of the mythical, our scriptures will remain opaque, and our faith – as well as our unbelief – will be misplaced.

crazyivan's avatar

But Plato lived in a time when science couldn’t answer the questions it can answer now. Science and philosophy can pull people from the despair of their mortality as much as religion, but it can not as easily be employed to make good people do evil things like suicide bombings, neglecting medical care for their children or mutilating their children’s genitals. The vast majority of the (worldwide) effects of religion range from bad to demonic. The minor benefits it offers could just as easily be fashioned by an institution similar to a church that did not hang its authority on superstition, but rather on the collective benefit of such an institution.

The problem isn’t with our interpretation of the bible, it’s that we are interpreting the bible. If we made it one relic of religious writing that was given less credence to more modern spiritual scriptures, perhaps the religion would have some merit. If there was a lineage of increasingly salient works that would be one thing, but as long as the bible is held preeminent the religion cannot evolve (that’s funny) very far because it will constantly be subjected to a literal interpretation of an antiquated book of fables.

The fundamentalists are honest. That is an honest interpretation of the bible. When I went to Sunday school as a kid, nobody said “These are a bunch of fables to live your life by”, they said “This is the word of God.” Your very liberal and progressive take on Christianity is dishonest (as much as I like it). You’ve simply dressed up your existing moral code in the trappings of Christianity. If everybody is allowed to do that then “Christiranity” has no real meaning.

If, however, we treated Jesus Christ as a philospoher who did not rise from the dead and was not the son of God (but also God), perhaps we could simply absorb his philosophies and moral teachings. I don’t recall any historical instances of anybody blowing up a public square or beheading a tenth of a city in the name of Thoreau.

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan

I agree nearly completely. There’s nothing honest or dishonest in a desire to interpret the bible, as long as all claims are taken with an element of skepticism. I might say “I know that the garden and Adam and Eve aren’t facts, but metaphors. I don’t know that Jesus was the son of God – I have my doubts, but I find the teachings from a philosophical perspective to be productive at times. Him rising from the dead was probably a metaphor as well, so I’ll think of it that way until proven otherwise. I don’t know that there is a God at all…but I feel that there is at times” and don’t find anything dishonest about interpreting the bible in any of those statements (and not claiming any right now as personal ;-)).

I think that you bring up an interesting point in a blunt way. ;-). There is a reliance on the bible as primary source material. This is inappropriate. I believe that it should be given a position as privileged secondary source material. Because there isn’t clarity as to authorship, and most evidence particularly as I know in the NT points to no one who even really knew Jesus Christ, using it as a primary source isn’t supportable. I don’t think teaching it as a fable is appropriate as the authors weren’t clearly writing it as a fiction. But primary and sacred? I doubt I can be convinced of that.

crazyivan's avatar

Not only that, but it weakens the religion as a whole. Many people who turn away from Christianity do so because they find evidence to discredit the bible (like the fact that virtually every story in the New Testament predates the birth of Christ). If the religious leaders were honest up front with the fact that it is a collection of moral fables it wouldn’t be so easy to dismiss.

iamthemob's avatar

Agreed. And from a general standpoint, true. But from a basic standpoint, we can separate arguments about religion, religious leaders, the bible, Christianity, and god from each other – most religious leaders collapse them, but that doesn’t mean that anyone arguing from a point counter to the standard religious leader rhetoric should collapse them as well in general discussion. They should at times, but it doesn’t define the limits of the argument by necessity.

I feel like now we’ve moved away from that, and are getting to the actual problems with debating fundamentalism, and the myriad approaches to dealing with it, of which an offensive stance is a necessary, but dangerous at times, part of the debate.

crazyivan's avatar

I still feel as though the notion that this offensive stance is “dangerous at times” is an unestablished premise. I don’t see any evidence to support the supposition that started this question to begin with, but I’m glad to see that we’re coming closer to common ground.

iamthemob's avatar

Dangerous at times doesn’t mean dangerous most of the time. I don’t think it’s a mistake, per se, but I think it has a context that is specific. I also think that it produces harm.

Take this very conversation. The entire time, I’ve continued myself to respond because I was unwilling to believe that the comments you were making were an absolute understanding of religion, Christianity, etc. As we’ve gotten to the end, you’ve stated more specifically what you want religion to drop from the argument, and it’s all seemed more clear and reasonable.

I wanted to just shut it down several times, because the things being said were point-blank offensive. Not to me, but as a minority I’ve heard reductive arguments leveled at me before. As a vocal atheist, I’m certain the same is for you. And because of this, I’ve come to understand that no one has the answer when it comes to really complex social issues. When people seem to state that they do, I am more inclined to shut out the voice from the argument as ignorant.

We may in the end agree to disagree about the value of the style of argument, and that’s fine…as long as we are, and I think we have been, get at the real issues in the argument nonetheless. ;-)

crazyivan's avatar

Vaccines are dangerous at times. But the diseases that they vaccinate against are much more harmful. Net positive.

Agressive atheism can be dangerous at times (not sure how, but I’ll accept this unsupported claim for the sake of argument). The disease that agressive atheism attempts to vaccinate against is much more harmful. Net positive.

Look, the only offensive thing I see in this entire thread is the opening sentence of the question. A bullshit claim that @mattbrowne has never made any real attempt to support. But I challenge you to go back to any of my posts and find anything that is “just point blank offensive” without also being salient to the point at hand. If people are too fragile to have their beliefs called into question that is rather more a problem with them than the person calling their beliefs into question.

I don’t mind when people call my beliefs into question because I don’t mind defending them.

mattbrowne's avatar

On the contrary. The religious fundamentalists are dishonest and ignorant. According to them, the world is simple. Black or white. Good or bad.

It’s far more honest to argue that the Bible is a very complex book and very hard to understand for people born in the 20th century. The thinking of the Bible’s authors was quite different from today. The historical context was very different. Ignoring this is both dishonest and ignorant.

crazyivan's avatar

Valid to be sure, but aren’t they being told that the bible is “The Word of God”? I know that’s what they told me in church and I didn’t go to a fundamentalist, evangelical church. If that is what they are told as children, when they’re notions of the world are still being formed, how can anyone fault them for taking it literally?

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan

I’m not sure how you’re using salient in this context. Salience for me requires that it clarify the issue under discussion, not that it can be considered true taken at it’s most basic level.

If I say something like “faggots get AIDS all the time,” it’s supportable and true. Would I say it makes a salient point? Not how I look at it…but it’s possible. It it point blank offensive? I feel safe in saying yes.

Whether there is a net positive benefit to statements pointed out as extreme, and at times clearly offensive whether or not they are salient is also unsupported – until they’re shown to be effective in this particular cantext, this statement is simply not true:

Agressive atheism can be dangerous at times (not sure how, but I’ll accept this unsupported claim for the sake of argument). The disease that agressive atheism attempts to vaccinate against is much more harmful. Net positive.

It’s only a net positive if it works, which you haven’t done anything to demonstrate. Considering that the debate rages on, we won’t know until we’ve reached a much later point in it. This is the problem – you work under the assumption that it does work, when the contrary point is not (from me) it doesn’t work but rather it might not. And seeing some examples of how it doesn’t (people being turned off…and I am one of those people), it clearly has its drawbacks, and may only produce negative effects.

crazyivan's avatar

I never said it “worked”, whatever that means. The objective is not to sway anyones mind, but rather to aid those in the middle from falling into flim-flam.

Take the very succesful effort to rebrand smoking as a scourge rather than the dominion of the cool. This began in the nineties (for all intents and purposes) and has been radically succesful by almost any account. Very few people quit smoking because of the campaign, which sought to denegrate smokers and label them as enemies to health. It demonized tobacco companies in ways that many smokers considered to be offensive.

Did it work? Fewer and fewer kids are taking up the habit. If the effort had taken an accomdoationist approach and worried about the feelings of smokers or tobbaco execs, odds are pretty good that it would have accomplished far less.

But what is the negative effect of you being turned off of the topic? Are you now in danger of turning to Christian fundamentalism because of my “offensive” statements? You keep talking about these negative effects as though they are a given in the conversation. The only reason I keep coming to this topic is the hopes that at some point somebody will try to support this claim. I have yet to see more than a passing attempt at doing so.

The statement “Agressive atheism promotes religious fundamentalism” is absolute horse shit. It is a unveiled attempt to deflect the blame for something created entirely by Christianity and Christian accomodationists on the only group that is actively seeking to rid the world of such a scourge.

Aggresive atheism is a relatively recent phenomena and since its appearance the ranks of vocal atheist has grown at an incredible rate. Hearing people saying what you honestly think spurs atheists into action. Do you doubt that Dawkins and Hitchins have increased the national visibility of atheism? They certainly didn’t do so by pandering to the feelings of Christians. I’m sure that if you’re offended by my statments you have to take offense to about 33% of “The God Delusion”. Yet no reasonable claim can be made that this single book did an enormous amount to galvanize, unify and legitimize the cause of atheists.

That seems like pretty clear evidence that there is a benefit to agressive atheism. Statistics on the growth of atheism in national polls supports my claim. Is there any evidence that supports @mattbrowne‘s? Even the single infinitisimal shred of anecdotal evidence he did offer does absolutely nothing to support his claim. Your insistence that you might be offended away from atheism is, again, anecdotal, superfluous, untestable, uncontrolled and evidence of nothing.

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