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Two Thoughts on Atheism

January 12, 2010


This weekend, someone asked me if I am an atheist.  My reply was that I do not believe in gods, but I don’t really think of myself as “an atheist” for pretty much the same reason I don’t think of my self as “not a Bulgarian” or “not a sculptor.”  I think that in the future, I will continue to give that answer, though I would like to find a more elegant way to phrase it.


Daniel Dennett has a piece on the Washington Post web site addressing the question of whether Christians are currently treated unfairly in the media.  I was not terribly impressed by his comments, though one part stood out to me. 

The double standard that exempts religious activities from almost all standards of accountability should be dismantled once and for all. I don’t see bankers or stockbrokers wringing their hands because the media is biased against them; they know that their recent activities have earned them an unwanted place in the spotlight of public attention and criticism, and they get no free pass, especially given their power. Religious leaders and apologists should accept that since their institutions are so influential in American life, we have the right to hold their every move up to the light. If they detect that the media are giving them a harder time today than in the past, that is because the bias that protected religion from scrutiny is beginning to dissolve. High time.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Jonathan permalink
    January 13, 2010 2:53 am

    Well now, most not a Bulgarians I know don’t make blog posts about Bulgarians. In fact, I don’t know a single not a Bulgarian who writes about Bulgarians every other day. Likewise, I do not know a single not a sculpter who is very interested in writing blog posts about holding sculpters to accountability.

    Oh, and as far as the ‘holding to acountability’ goes, you are really just taking things done and said by individuals and fringe groups and applying these things to an arbitrary classification of people that doesn’t exist any more than “American Indian” or “Eskimo” exists.

    There are as many gays, gay groups, and liberal organizations that do and say fucked up things as there are christians and christian groups. The reason for this is that most of the outspoken people on earth are fucked up and retarded. This is true across demographics. It’s like saying all liberals are part of ACORN, or something.

  2. Jonathan permalink
    January 13, 2010 3:12 am

    Oh, and keep in mind I am pretty liberal. Anyway, here is an example of liberals doing stupid things:

    • Barry permalink*
      January 13, 2010 8:55 am

      Bulgarians don’t try to take science out of our schools, nor do sculptors disenfranchise entire swaths of the population. Anyhow, you’re missing the point. You seem to be using “atheist” as “not a member of a religion”, an ontological position. I use it as “not a believer in gods” an epistemicological position.

      Disbelief in gods is one of many positions I hold, and not particularly well-suited as a blanket label for me.

      Of the posts I write related to religion, the majority deal with bad acts by adherents. When I see Christians going out of their way to harm gays or Jews flying around Israeli airspace to ward off swine flu (oh sorry, in that country it’s “Mexican flu”), I despise the cruelty and condemn the superstition.

      I am not sure what to make of the second half of your statement: “Oh, and as far as the ‘holding to acountability’ goes, you are really just taking things done and said by individuals and fringe groups and applying these things to an arbitrary classification of people that doesn’t exist any more than “American Indian” or “Eskimo” exists.”

      As to the first half, you’ll notices that my blog posts are usually replete with citations and links to the sources of the quotations or ideas I use. For example, if the spokesman for Liberty Counsel says something, I will link to the article containing the quotation and often link to Liberty Counsel’s home page.

      I think what you’re saying about the arbitrariness /nonexistence of American Indians that prior to Europeans coming to North America, Pequots didn’t consider themselves to be part of a group that also included Chinooks. The umbrella term “American Indian” was clumsily thrust upon many unrelated groups of people, much like the term “Hindu” was used by the British to decribe a wide variety of beliefs and practices. As for “Eskimo”, my understanding is that it is a word the Cree people used to describe their Inuit neighbors, in much the same way “German” is the word we use to describe people who call themselves “deutscher”.

      It’s a little late in the game for you to say that American Indians don’t exist as such. First of all, we can agree that there were a lot of people in North America prior to its settlement by Europeans. The terms “American Indians” and “Native Americans” are imprecise but useful terms to describe those people. They seem to agree .

      While you’re correct that many of the worldviews we call “Christian” have little to do with one another, their designation is not arbitrary. A Christian, in the broadest sense, venerates Jesus. I don’t claim that members of the Westboro Baptist Church (the group with “God Hates Fags” as a motto that protests soldiers’ funerals and bar mitzvahs) speaks for anyone but themselves and their church. When I do talk about broad groups of Christians, it’s usually the white evangelical population of the United States. While they are not homogeneous, they share many attributes.

      Finally, as to your assertion that liberals do fucked up things: you’re exactly right, but I thought we were talking about religion here. Anyhow, you need look no further than my recent condemnation of Harry Reid to see that they have not escaped my attention. I have also wrestled with the liberal notion of religious sensitivity that gives cover to the attacks against the Danish cartoonists and Salman Rushdie.

  3. Jonathan permalink
    January 13, 2010 4:28 pm

    Well look, all I’m saying is that the loudest voice is often the smallest. The Lutherans, the Episcopalians, and the Anglicans all support gay rights and stuff. These are mainstream churches in the US. The churches you site as examples are often fringe groups, and while you do provide links to their comments, the conclusion you often come up with is a blanket ‘Christians bad’ statement.

    Anyway, if this is a religion V.S. LGBT thing, which is pretty silly, here is an example of an LGBT person saying stupid things:

    Anti-whatever this is article:

    Notice that in the anti-whatever this is article, the author is careful to distinguish between this group and LGBT groups that are not fucked up and retarded.

    Now, I don’t know enough about Bulgaria to comment, but I do know that Stalin had a lot of sculptors working for his regime. Nobody in their right mind would post a link to a sculpture of Stalin and use it to bash sculptors in general as being pro-pogrom.

    As for the link to the NCAI, this is a diverse group of people brought together by political necessity. There is such a thing as the European Union, but France and Germany are still culturally distinct from one another.

    I did see your post of Harry Reid, but this is a guy who claims to be a liberal and then goes and says some very un-liberal things. It seems you were going after the hypocrisy more than anything else.

  4. Barry permalink*
    January 13, 2010 5:34 pm

    The Episcopal, Anglican, and Lutheran churches have all developed deep internal rifts over the issue of homosexuality.

    My gripe with Christianity is twofold. Politically, I oppose the groups with whom I disagree just as I would oppose any other political entity. To the extent that the political aims of some churches are more in line than others with my own worldview, wonderful.

    But my second point of contention is that that moderate and even liberal religions – Christian or otherwise – are simply wrong in their beliefs. The object of their worship is as absurd to me as Poseidon would be to them. Like Dawkins says, “we’re all atheists with respect to Thor and Wotan; I just go one god further.”

    And my whole point in including the NCAI link was to show that what may have been an artificially-imposed category 500 years ago has developed into something different. I was responding to your original statement that “American Indian” is a false category.

    I have never said that liberals don’t do stupid things. This is a pretty small blog, and my editorial judgment doesn’t go too much further than “this story seems interesting, I will write about it.” People whining about Avatar doesn’t really make the cut. People taking rights away from others does.

    And frankly, your contention that the homophobia associated with Christianity is a fringe issue is absurd on its face. No popular election in this country has yielded favorable results to the GLBT population. Ditto for evolution, which is understood and accepted less in the United States than in any industrialized country but Turkey.

  5. Jonathan permalink
    January 13, 2010 6:16 pm

    I am aware that all three churches mentioned lost members based on their respective decisions to take a stance regarding same sex relationships, but this kind of strengthens my argument.

    To me it points to evidence that for the religious homophobe, homophobia comes first, and religion comes second. If it were vice versa, if people were homophobic because of their churches’ teachings, then they would have accepted their respective churches’ revised teachings, and there wouldn’t have been the mass exodus that has been documented.

    As for the links, I am not saying one thing is more important than the other, or saying that you should post them. I was just trying to point out the absurdity of applying the opinions of an individual member or sub-group of a macro-group onto the entire macro-group.

    While you do have the right to argue with groups that you have political differences with, your arguments often follow a pattern of starting out with the specific, and then ending with the general. There is a logical fallacy in it, almost like a backwards syllogism.

    As far as Christians being wrong in their beliefs, I don’t think there is such a thing. For somebody to be wrong in their beliefs there would have to such a thing as being right in ones beliefs. I have yet to meet or hear about such a person. I have though met and heard of many people who believe they are right in their beliefs.

    By the way, here is the Lutheran text that includes their most recent attitudes towards gay marriage. It is much wimpier than I thought it would be. I was in a Lutheran church this afternoon to take a test to work as a US census taker though, and I can report that there were pro-gay marriage fliers on the walls everywhere:

    • Barry permalink*
      January 13, 2010 6:47 pm

      I think you’re mistaken about religion and homophobia. It’s not that people are leaving Christianity when their churches liberalize on gay issues; they simply seek out more conservative congregations. With respect to Lutherans – I am willing to bet any amount of money that the church you went to today was a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. On issues related to sexuality, they represent the sane arguments as compared to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Yes, both sects are called “Lutheran,” but as the ELCA liberalizes, the LCMS exploits the prejudices of its disaffected members and welcomes them with open arms. Entire congregations have defected from ELCA to LCMS. Their religion and their homophobia are inextricable.

      When I wrote about Mississippi’s religiosity correlating with its poor performance in other areas, you read a causal argument where there wasn’t one. The closest you came was to quote a paragraph back at me and say “it’s in there somewhere”. I bring this up only to say that without you providing examples of precisely where I do what you accuse me of doing, I don’t accept your characterization of my arguments as fallacious. I believe that I identify bits of evidence and weave them into a comprehensive explanation. That’s not a fallacy.

      Finally, you mention that you don’t believe that people can be wrong in their beliefs. I disagree. There are plenty of statements one could make that would be factually untrue. To pick one entirely at random – one could argue that the world is flat. 😉

      Anyhow, I need to get back to studying.

  6. Jonathan permalink
    January 13, 2010 6:24 pm

    OK and as far as your last comment goes, not all homophobic people are religous. Homophobia in our culture has more to do with our culture’s basic definition of masculinity. It seems to me that any religous fixation with homophobia within this culture would naturally stem from this culture’s intrinsic nature.

    • Barry permalink*
      January 13, 2010 6:49 pm

      I never said all homophobes are religious. Ever. Anywhere.

  7. Jonathan permalink
    January 13, 2010 6:59 pm

    Barry wrote:

    “I never said all homophobes are religious. Ever. Anywhere.”

    Well now, you imply it right here:

    “And frankly, your contention that the homophobia associated with Christianity is a fringe issue is absurd on its face. No popular election in this country has yielded favorable results to the GLBT population.”

    The implication of this paragraph is that election results that disfavor GLBT issues are a result not of homophobia in general, but of homophobia associated with Christianity. Unless you think that only Christians can vote?

    • Barry permalink*
      January 13, 2010 7:18 pm

      You said that the groups I talk about are often fringe groups. I was speaking to the characterization of “fringe”. Homophobia is not a “fringe” issue. It’s pervasive. I am not out of line in noticing that the Bible condemns homosexuality in both the Old and New Testaments, nor am I out of line in acknowledging that the vast majority of the American population is Christian.

      Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, The National Organization for Marriage, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, American Family Association, The Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, and The American Center for Law and Justice are some of the groups on the forefront of the fight to deprive gays of civil rights. They are all Christian groups (or in their more permissive moments, they may describe themselves as “Judeo-Christian”.) This doesn’t mean that ALL Christians are homophobes or that ALL homophobes are Christians, but it certainly shows that Christianity and homophobia are highly compatible.

      The Christian denominations that are more tolerant of homosexuality have become that way not by adhering strictly to Christian scripture, but by departing from it. In a sense, these are the fringe movements, as they are the ones wandering ever further from the Bible – the central authority of the Christian religion.

      Are their Sikh, Zoroastrian, and atheist homophobes? I am sure there are, but they’re not the ones wielding clout in the society I live in and am thus most concerned about.

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