Bullshit Philosophy

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Just say it: Sam Harris is a racist warmonger

Posted by Kevin on August 23, 2012

…or something not easily or meaningfully distinguishable from a racist. As are several other major figures in the atheist movement. And the movement largely refuses to grapple with it.

Recently, Ian Murphy published a controversial article titled The 5 Most Awful Atheists, arguing:

Disbelief in a supernatural creator… in no way guarantees rationality in matters of foreign policy or economics, for example. Many notable atheists believe in some powerfully stupid stuff—likely owing their prominence to these same benighted beliefs, lending an air of scientific credibility to the myths corporate media seeks to highlight, and thereby eroding the credibility of all atheists in the long-term. In other words: The crap always rises to the top.

The people he singles out – Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Penn Jillette, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and S.E. Cupp – make the list primarily as a result of their economic libertarianism, neoconservative foreign policy views, and/or Islamophobia.* The atheist movement of course encompasses people with a wide variety of views and backgrounds and no one could or should dictate which viewpoints should disqualify one from membership in the Atheist Club, but I share Murphy’s concern that racist warmongers like Harris have come to represent atheism in the public eye (which is something I’ve written about previously). It’s incredibly disconcerting that, as Jeff Sparrow noted at Counterpunch, “leading representatives of the movement express ideas that otherwise we’d associate with the hard Right – and are celebrated for doing so.”

And in my experience, atheists haven’t done a good job of confronting that fact. It’s not clear how many atheists share such views (in fact, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest such views are far from universal), but it is clear that many atheists are loath to criticize people like Harris or Hirsi Ali (or even the late Christopher Hitchens, whose much more blatant and disgusting war cheerleading atheists and his other supporters were happy to excuse).

Let’s be clear on what I mean when I say that Harris et al. are racists and militarists. I don’t mean that they’re racists just for criticizing Islam or human rights abuses in Muslim countries, nor for doing so in impolite terms. What I do have a problem with is the stereotyping and demonization of Muslims, arbitrary discrimination on the basis of religion, and support for wars of aggression or for an imperialistic foreign policy as part of what they see as a noble effort to force the “savages” to accept “civilized” Western values. One might quibble that those things aren’t strictly “racist” because they’re based on religion rather than ethnicity or nationality, but to me that’s a meaningless distinction when we’re talking about a religion mainly practiced by black and brown people (foreign black and brown people, even). I’m sure Harris isn’t particularly fond of white Muslim converts like 9/11 truther Kevin Barrett, but that doesn’t render his arguments race-neutral.

A number of people have already pointed out the problems with the above atheists’ foreign policy views, so I won’t rehash them here. For an extensive critique of Sam Harris, see this excellent article by Theodore Sayeed at Mondoweiss that I highly recommend reading in full. See also the Jeff Sparrow article referred to above, Glenn Greenwald’s obituary on Christopher Hitchens, or my own prior post on the subject. Of the bunch, Hirsi Ali is likely the most overtly hostile to Islam (well, except possibly for Hitchens); she explicitly sees the West as being at war with Islam, which must be violently “crushed… in all its forms.” She also calls for closing Muslim schools, as well as restrictions on Muslim expression (perversely, she claims this is needed to preserve civil liberties). Granted, given her personal history I can’t exactly blame her for hating Islam, but that shouldn’t make her immune from criticism; atheists shouldn’t whitewash her positions by presenting her as merely a critic of Islam rather than an Islamophobe who would fit in pretty well with the likes of Pamela Geller.

Other atheists, even those more dovish than Harris or Hirsi Ali, responded very differently to Murphy’s article than me (although there does seem to be a consensus that Cupp, some self-hating Fox News atheist, belongs on the list). Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist had what I’ve come to regard as a typical atheist response when these issues come up – which is to dismiss or downplay the issue, then change the subject. Although Mehta has been willing to criticize Harris’s positions in the past (see Sam Harris: We Should Profile Muslims at the Airport), he denied that the people listed by Murphy were “bad atheists” on the basis that “those four people have done more to get people to stop believing in God than almost anybody else out there,” and argued that their success in promoting atheism outweighs their positions on what he called “side issues” which few people care about or are even aware of.

I understand why this type of argument is attractive to atheists. It’s natural to be uncomfortable with criticizing people on one’s own “team”, or to be afraid of forming a circular firing squad. It’s also understandable that many would want to keep the focus on fighting religion and not have the movement ripped apart by arguments over libertarianism or foreign policy (and I even sort of agree with them in regard to Jillette and Hirsi Ali’s libertarianism). In addition, I’m well aware that there was a time not long ago when books about atheism didn’t make bestseller lists, and that Harris’s The End of Faith changed that fact and in doing so played a key role in making atheism much more mainstream than ever before. But the suggestion that support for racism and imperialistic foreign policies are mere “side issues” that should be set aside in favor of joining hands and bashing religion together strikes me as fundamentally wrongheaded and incredibly callous. And I think it’s a moral obscenity that atheists are much more willing to criticize Harris for his embrace of mysticism (e.g. ESP, reincarnation; see the Sayeed article linked above) than his support for torture or aggressive wars.

The reason I get so worked up about about Harris et al. – and the movement’s response to him – is because I reject the notion that issues of religion can be safely compartmentalized from the so-called “side issues” described above. My own atheism both motivates and is motivated by my opposition to racism and imperialism, and my support for social justice. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think other atheists can reasonably come to different conclusions on those issues, but rather that it’s wrong to view the atheist project as one that “[begins and ends] with an expose of religious fallacies”, as Sparrow describes the mainstream atheist view.

The fact that so many atheists can so easily look the other way regarding support for racism and imperialism has deeply troubling implications, which arose most clearly in response to the death of Hitchens. Greenwald put it best [emphasis in original]:

There seems to be this sense that his excellent facility with prose excuses his sins. Part of that is the by-product of America’s refusal to come to terms with just how heinous and destructive was the attack on Iraq. That act of aggression is still viewed as a mere run-of-the-mill “mistake” — hey, we all make them, so we shouldn’t hold it against Hitch – rather than what it is: the generation’s worst political crime, one for which he remained fully unrepentant and even proud.

It was not always this way; as Sparrow explains in detail, there was once a vibrant and influential atheist Left that “identified the church as merely one amongst many institutions maintaining an oppressive status quo.” So-called “New Atheists” like Harris and Hitchens rose to prominence, he says, in response to the collapse of the traditional Left and in the context of post-9/11 hysteria over Islamic terrorism (with the former leftist Hitchens having “transformed himself from midlist radical journalist to international celebrity” by supporting Bush’s wars). In past time periods, atheists were much more suspicious of state power, “if only because they were usually facing its sharp end”; it may not be a coincidence that as atheism became more mainstream in recent years, its center of gravity shifted toward right-wingers, militarists, and police state supporters, with some of its most prominent figures coming to see military force as “morally justified to free the savages from their delusions”.

There are still likely many left-leaning atheists out there who are uncomfortable with the neoconservatism of Harris et al., and they need to become more vocal within in the movement. That means rejecting the false choice between advocacy for religious issues and “side” issues.

There are a couple related claims that I’d like to discuss before moving on, concerning the ways in which some atheists downplay the ugliness of Harris’s positions even when they admit that there is a problem. First, in a subsequent post, Mehta expressed disagreement with the idea that Harris is racist (after comparing Harris’s critics to “trolls” and accusing them of mischaracterizing Harris’s positions). “Racism implies an undercurrent of intolerance,” he argued, “and I suspect Harris has no problem with Muslims peacefully practicing their faith (other than the fact that their beliefs are wrong) or people like me sitting next to him on a plane.” Mehta made a similar claim in his earlier post on Harris’s position regarding racial profiling: “He’s making (what he feels is) a logical argument in favor of profiling. So if he’s wrong, focus on why his argument doesn’t make sense.”

Now, I realize that as a straight white male I’m on pretty thin ice when it comes to accusing a non-white person of misidentifying racism, but I think that’s the case here. Mehta seems to see racism as based on personal animosity, which I think is an incredibly narrow view of the issue. I may never have personally experienced racial discrimination, but I have known plenty of racists over the years, and with the exception of my late grandfather I don’t think a single one of them would flat-out admit that they dislike people of other races. If our definition of racism requires noticeable feelings of ill will toward people of other races, then hardly anyone would qualify. As Digby argued back in 2003 [emphasis added]:

Most anti-semites and racists don’t think they are anti-semites and racists. Sometimes it comes out in anger, when they aren’t thinking clearly and they kind of clap their hands over their mouths… and whisper, “did I say that?” Others think they are making reasonable observations and that those who object are being peculiarly sensitive. They search for justifications and usually claim victim status themselves at the hands of the PC police.

In Harris’s case, I would argue that, even though he doesn’t necessarily bear Muslims any personal ill will, racism is what allows him to see Islamic terrorism as an existential threat to the United States, despite the fact that, as Murphy points out, “You’re four times as likely to die of a lightning strike than you are from a terrorist attack”. Racism is what allows him to see “religious” profiling as a viable way to defend against terrorism, even in the wake of several mass shootings committed by white men (which, unlike cases of Islamic terrorism, don’t seem to be seen as representative of an entire people) and in the face of persuasive arguments that it doesn’t work. Racism is what allows him to see the people of the Muslim world as morally inferior and in need of “benign dictatorship”, and to explicitly oppose democracy in Muslim countries as a result. Racism is what allows him to embrace what Sayeed calls “the most extravagant conspiracy theories about the impending conquest of Europe by Muslims”, or to declare in Letter to a Christian Nation that “With a few exceptions, the only public figures who have had the courage to speak honestly about the threat that Islam now poses to European societies seem to be fascist.” Racism is what allows him to support aggressive, brutally destructive wars (potentially including a nuclear first strike against Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons **) or Israel’s apartheid policies while still insisting on America’s (and Israel’s) moral superiority and downplaying any ensuing “collateral damage”.

Racism, as Peggy McIntosh put it in her famous essay on white privilege, consists of more than “individual acts of meanness”, or individual feelings of ill will as I would add; it also includes “invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth.” Harris may be fine, on a personal level, with brown people sitting next to him on a plane, but he gladly embraces a number of racist policies. As Sayeed notes, “At the core of [Harris’s] political thinking is a curious dualism that maintains on the one end that Islam is the darkest villainy to afflict the race, and on the other that he doesn’t really hate Muslims after all.” In light of all this, I think it’s ridiculous to claim, as Mehta does, that Harris’s positions do not evince an “undercurrent of intolerance”. He may or may not hate Muslims, but he seems to have difficulty seeing them as fully human or entitled to full moral consideration. What more would it take before it’s deemed acceptable to call strident Islamophobes like him racist?

Second, regarding Harris’s support for torture, it’s no defense to argue, as Richard Dawkins does, that he’s not a “gung-ho pro-torture advocate” or that he’s merely raising uncomfortable questions like a moral philosopher. According to Dawkins, I’m supposed to feel sorry for Harris for the “vilification and viciousness” he has received as a result of the supposed mischaracterization of his views. Harris himself made a similar argument, in reference to Murphy’s article:

Predictably, this article refers to the fact that I have discussed the ethics of torture in the past — and it does so in order to brand me as a moral lunatic. From reading this piece, and hundreds like it, one would never imagine that my position on torture is more or less identical to the one prescribed in that handbook of evil, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Read the entry on torture there, especially the section entitled “The Beating,” and then tell me that being categorically “against torture” is a morally uncomplicated stance to adopt.)

One problem with this position is that Harris’s defense of torture relies on a highly implausible “ticking bomb” scenario. Others have already poked holes in this argument, so I won’t dwell on it here (see this pamphlet from the Association for the Prevention of Torture for an excellent response). I bring it up to show how support for torture in a “ticking bomb” scenario can easily be used to justify torture in general, as Harris himself demonstrates. Precisely because the real-life situations in which torture would be considered are rarely as simple as those presented in the average ticking bomb scenario, there would be naturally be a temptation to use it under much more ambiguous circumstances – e.g. when one doesn’t know for sure that there’s a ticking bomb somewhere, or that the person in custody has information on it. Better safe than sorry, right? Harris would seem to think so. As quoted by Sayeed:

Given the damage we were willing to cause to the bodies and minds of innocent children in Afghanistan and Iraq, our disavowal of torture in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seems perverse. If there is even one chance in a million that he will tell us something under torture that will lead to the further dismantling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talking.

Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a “gung-ho pro-torture advocate” at all, just someone who supports (very reluctantly, of course) using torture whenever it might lead to useful information. Harris is right that an absolute prohibition on torture is not “morally uncomplicated”, but it’s still the right position. Regardless of whether Harris is a casual or reluctant supporter of torture, atheists should stop making excuses for him on the issue.

All of this begs the question of what I propose we do about it. As I noted above, I’m not calling for ideological purges or litmus tests within the atheist movement, nor am I saying that Harris, Hirsi Ali and Hitchens are irredeemable scum with absolutely nothing positive to offer. I’m merely suggesting that atheists call them what they are – i.e. racist warmongers – and don’t attempt to minimize or dismiss it. Don’t treat support for racist policies or a foreign policy of mass murder as merely “mistakes” or “differences of opinion” that can be easily papered over. As Sparrow argued, when an atheist convention presented a posthumous panel on Hitchens titled “A Life Well Lived”, progressive atheists should’ve “point[ed] out that the author of God is Not Great devoted his well-lived life to apologetics for a military campaign that led to the deaths of perhaps a million people”. Currently, too many atheists admit to discomfort, like Mehta, but respond by asking what the objection has to do with atheism. It’s the silence of moderate, liberal, and left-wing atheists that has allowed our movement to become dominated (at least in terms of our public figures) by racist warmongers.

PZ Myers provides a good example of how I think more atheists should have responded to Murphy’s article. Although saying that “I refuse to believe that any of them are irredeemable” (with the exception of Cupp), he was willing to agree that Murphy’s arguments were valid. Further, he also made a great suggestion that Murphy “write a complementary article that lists the five best atheists in America, and what makes them good. Give us something to aspire to and set as a standard, instead of just taking potshots at a few big names (and one Fox News nobody).” *** Subsequently, he didn’t back down when criticized by Harris himself, going so far as to call Harris’s support for profiling “repugnant, irrational and unjustifiable”, and labeling him “an illiberal advocate for atrocious policies”.

My suggestion is merely that the atheist movement as a whole should be more open to discussion of issues like racism and imperialism, or other issues not directly related to religion. As Greta Christina argues, we don’t all have to agree on those things in order to take them seriously. “Skepticism,” she says, “has a tremendous amount to contribute to questions of social justice. Conversations about social justice issues are often, to put it mildly, not very evidence-based. They’re often based on preconception and prejudice, on deeply held beliefs with a strong emotional component.”

In addition, there are ways in which addressing issues like racism and imperialism more forthrightly could help the atheist movement. For instance, Sparrow notes the potential for left-wing atheists to “win people from religion by working alongside them against the forces of oppression in the world – and thus showing them in practice that religious consolations aren’t necessary – rather than by dismissing them as dupes and stooges.” Thus, he argues: “Atheists and others seeking to foster secularism in the Arab world might do so by, first and foremost, ending the military interventions that have brought so much suffering.” Also, more generally, broadening the scope of our concerns could allow the movement to attract a more diverse following, as Christina argues. People outside of the the “white, middle-class, middle-aged, college-educated men we’ve usually attracted” need to hear that atheism and skepticism are relevant to issues they care about, she says.

So don’t be afraid to just say it: Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christopher Hitchens, and Bill Maher are racists and warmongers. You’ll feel better, and you’re doing the movement no favors by staying quiet.

Postscript: While I was in the process of putting the finishing touches up this post, a very interesting discussion arose in the atheist blogosphere – mainly instigated by Christina and Jen McCreight – about the need for a new, social justice-focused wave of atheism, which some are dubbing “atheism+”. It’s highly relevant to what I’ve written here, and I hope to have some thoughts on the matter posted in the near future.

* In Maher’s case, Murphy focuses mostly on his embrace of anti-vaccine hysteria, but he could easily be included with neocons/Islamophobes like Harris and Hirsi Ali. One example that sticks out in my mind is how he provided an uncritical platform to far-right anti-immigrant Dutch politician Geert Wilders in his film Religulous; another is his expression of “alarm” over British babies being given Muslim names, which he claimed heralds the takeover of the West by Islam. For a more extensive takedown of Bill Maher’s imperialistic mindset, see here.

** I feel the need to point out that Harris supports a potential nuclear first strike against Iran despite the fact that there’s no evidence suggesting that Iran would use such a weapon offensively if it had one; his argument is based on the unsupported assumption that Iran’s leaders are too crazed by religion to think rationally. Indeed, in the context of American and Israeli aggression against Iran (e.g. economic warfare sanctions, cyberwarfare, assassination of its nuclear scientists, support for regime change, or threats of military action, all of the above in alleged response to a nuclear weapons program that hasn’t been shown to actually exist), one could hardly blame Iran or other Muslim states targeted by the American war machine for wanting nuclear weapons. Not that I think they should have nuclear weapons, just that, as Sayeed points out, Harris and other imperialists disingenuously use concern about nuclear proliferation as a means of disarming the enemies of America and Israel (both of which are themselves nuclear powers, and one of which has intentionally used nuclear weapons against civilians).

*** Given that the same criticism could be directed at me, I have to admit that I can’t think of many people to include on such a list. The most prominent left-wing atheists, as far as I can tell, tend to be intellectuals like Noam Chomsky who don’t specifically talk about religion all that much; this is likely because, as Sparrow notes, they tend to see religion as playing a much more complicated role in society that do neocon atheists like Harris, especially in the context of Muslim resistance to Western imperialism.


Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

On moderate believers in hardline churches

Posted by Kevin on May 4, 2009

[from atheistcartoons.com]

AlterNet recently had an interesting article by Tana Ganeva on new statistics about the attitudes of American Catholics: Most American Catholics Far More Liberal Than Church Leadership. From the article:

“The Catholic Church leadership continues to render itself more and more irrelevant with out-of-date and loudly proclaimed stances on abortion, reproductive rights, gay rights, AIDS policy, stem cell research… [but a new Gallup poll] shows that the views of practicing Catholics on a range of social issues are more or less in line with American non-Catholics.”

It’s of course heartening to see that so many Catholics reject church doctrine. But that to me raises the question as to why they still publicly identify with the church when they reject so many of its stances. I’m not surprised that they’re not embracing atheism, but I don’t get why they don’t at least switch to a more tolerant denomination, or even split off and form their own parallel church.

This brings be to the conclusion Ganeva draws from the data, with which I highly disagree:

“But it also points to the fact that often the most vocal spokespeople for a religion are not the most representative of that denomination’s adherents as a whole, but rather a crazy fringe given a platform by our sensationalist media. This is another pretty obvious point to bring up, but it is an important one, since often liberal reactions to the crazies is to trash all religious people — when many of them, as revealed by the Gallup poll, don’t give a damn about how other people choose to live their lives.”

It may be true that the Pope and the church hierarchy don’t represent the views of American Catholics. But it’s not “our sensationalist media” that keeps them in a position of power and influence; it’s the acquiescence of millions of liberal American Catholics who pay lip service to church leaders, keep going to Mass, and keep giving the church money, even as in private they completely blow off the church’s teachings. I’d be willing to cut liberal Catholics some slack if they were doing more to publicly oppose their leaders.

A little while back I stumbled on a great comment on this post at Pharyngula that perfectly illustrates my concerns here. The post was about this sickening story on a brutal Mormon prep school in Utah, and some of the commenters argued along the lines of, “Yeah, that’s horrible, but the majority of Mormons aren’t like that.” To which a user named asteranx responded:

“It simply doesn’t matter if a majority of Mormons are nice people – if the nasty ones are in charge, it’s because the nice ones are allowing an extremist minority to speak and act on their behalf. And just stepping up and saying ‘Most of us don’t agree’ is a rather impotent response while the ones you don’t agree with (after being elected by majority vote) are beating children in your name.”

I wouldn’t say I oppose religious moderates; I’d much rather people be that than fundamentalists. It’s more like I’m uneasy with the concept. There are many reasons for that uneasiness, but one of the main ones is the role moderates play in legitimizing religious fundamentalism/extremism. The primary way they do that is by refusing to oppose the extremists publicly and strongly; and by continuing the unthinking respect given to religion, the idea that it’s wrong and “intolerant” to criticize people’s religious beliefs, no matter how crazy or harmful. [for further reading on the latter point, check out this post from Greta Chrstina: Does The Emperor Have Clothes? Religion and the Destructive Force of Asking Questions]

Many moderate believers, when faced with criticism of their association with a hardline church, or more generally when people in mainline churches are confronted with crazy fundamentalism, think it’s enough to just politely say, “Well I don’t agree with that,” and then move on. I don’t think they should be let off the hook that easily.

Posted in Religion | 3 Comments »

On my semi-closeted atheism

Posted by Kevin on April 14, 2009

Lately I’ve been thinking about whether to come out as an atheist to my family. As I’ve written before, I don’t hide my beliefs from people, but I don’t really advertise them either. And yet I don’t think anyone in my family (aside from my in-laws) knows I’m an atheist, whereas pretty much everyone outside my family who’s in any way close to me does.

It’s mostly because they’ve never asked about it; I think for the most part they assume I share their beliefs, or at worst that I’m apathetic about religion. If they asked, I wouldn’t deny it. For instance, I came out to the pastor who was to preside over my wedding. Rebecca and I were meeting with him about the ceremony, and he asked me, “Oh, by the way, what religion are you?” And I told him. It didn’t seem to bother him at all, although my mother-in-law later mentioned that he said he was “shocked.” No negative consequences came of it, though, except possibly for the uber-long sermon at the ceremony. [BTW, it wasn’t my idea to have a religious ceremony. Long story.]

But still, I worry about what might happen if my family knew. I’m reasonably certain I wouldn’t be disowned or anything, but any atheist will tell you that there can be real social consequences for coming out, since a large number of Americans pretty much expect atheists to have horns and cloven hooves. I worry that they won’t understand, or they’ll think I’m a bad person. In some cases, I’m worried I’ll have to argue about it constantly.

So, why did I suddenly start thinking about this? It happened a couple weeks ago, when I went to a speech on campus by Cheryl Jacques, former Massachusetts state senator and president of Human Rights Campaign. She mentioned that one of the reasons gay rights and/or marriage are becoming more acceptable is because more Americans, especially young Americans, know (or know that they know) gay people than ever before, and once you know gay people it’s harder to not think of them as real people, rather than just negative stereotypes.

It occurred to me that maybe the same thing could apply to atheists, which got me thinking back to those all those right-wing chain letters I get from my dad and grandmother (a subject I’ve written about here and here). Sometimes I get ones demeaning secularists, as I briefly mentioned here.

Maybe the next time I get one of those I should write back saying that I’m an atheist and it’s incredibly hurtful when they forward me stuff like that. Maybe they’ll reconsider their positions. I have no illusions that any of them will let go of religion anytime soon, but perhaps it will dispel some of their myths about atheism. Or maybe they’ll just stop bashing secularists in earshot or filling my inbox with it. That in itself would be a nice change; at least then there would be a lessened sense of impunity for attacking nonbelievers.

Mostly, I’m tired of feeling like a coward, like my atheism is something to be ashamed of when I’m around certain people. It feels like I’m hiding a big part of my life from them. In all other aspects of my life I’m proud to be an atheist, and I’m not sure I have a justifiable reason for keeping it hidden in this case. How proud of it can I be if the people closest to me, whose opinion of me I value a great deal, don’t know about it? As I said, it’s not like I have to worry about being cast out. There are many people who have come out and suffered far worse consequences from their families than I would likely face. It’s kind of dickish of me to stay in the closet out of fear of a stern talking-to.

I don’t really know when or how I’m going to do it, but Rebecca suggested that I come out to my dad first as a sort of trial run; he would probably be a bit more understanding than my grandparents. I’m already used to all of them looking at me like a dog that’s just been shown a card trick when I speak my mind on political issues; this couldn’t be much worse.

Posted in Religion | 3 Comments »

Gay marriage wins in Vermont!

Posted by Kevin on April 8, 2009

Ok, I’m a day behind with this. But, as everyone reading this is probably well aware by now, the Vermont legislature voted yesterday to override Gov. Douglas’s veto and legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the first state to do it without a court order. I may not be a native Vermonter, but I’m incredibly proud of the state, and it was exhilarating to be able to play a small part in this.

This victory, along with the court decision in Iowa and the decision by the city council in Washington, DC, is a reminder, which I think we needed after recent years, that we’re on the right side of history, that it’s only a matter of time until we have marriage equality throughout the country. It may not happen anytime soon, and there are still going to be setbacks, but I’m hopeful that one day we’ll look back on opponents of gay marriage the same way we now look back on opponents of interracial marriage. Some people here wondered why the fundies were so angry when they seemed to have the upper hand, and I think now that the reason why is because they realize deep down that ultimately they’re fighting a losing battle.

Coverage is pretty easy to find, so I won’t link to it, except to point out this great article in The Nation. Also, if your blood pressure is too low today, Hemant has some reactions from the religious right over at Friendly Atheist.

I was in the House chambers that day – that’s one of the few advantages of being an unemployed househusband, that I could spend a day at the Statehouse waiting for a vote to come down. The place was packed with supporters; I was surprised that there weren’t any opponents in the crowd that I could make out, unlike pretty much every other day of the proceedings. I probably looked pretty confused as people in the gallery started murmuring “I think we got it!” while the roll call was being tallied. Honestly, I was surprised it passed; I didn’t think the House had the votes to override the veto. Needless to say, I was overjoyed to be proven wrong. I was afraid a loss here would be a big setback for the movement nationally – “Even those dirty fucking hippies in Vermont couldn’t do it; what the hell chance does my state have,” some might have argued.

As far as the Douglas’s veto goes, I agree with Jon Stewart when he reportedly asked during a speech at UVM, “Why is your governor such a shithead?” A shithead he is, probably because he’s trying to secure his right flank for election time. However, I think the veto was a net benefit for our side. The supermajority we got with the override probably gives the law much more legitimacy than it would have otherwise had. I can promise you that there are people wouldn’t have risked their seats voting for it if it hadn’t been for the need to override the veto. A few Democrats who voted against the bill even switched their votes on the override, in part because of pressure from party leadership but also in part to screw Douglas. And some House Republicans were publicly pissed that Douglas threatened the veto before they’d even voted on it.

So what’s next? Here in Vermont, the next step is making sure the legislators who voted for marriage equality keep their seats. The next dominoes to fall will likely be in New England as well. But it might take awhile for marriage equality to spread elsewhere, and from what I’ve heard, Prop 8 is likely to be upheld in California. There’s just too many places in the country held hostage by religious nutjobs and old people afraid of change.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Random thoughts on the Vermont gay marriage hearings

Posted by Kevin on March 20, 2009

As you may or may not be aware, a gay marriage bill is currently being considered by the Vermont legislature (an expansion of the first-in-the-nation civil union law passed in 2000). It’s probably going to pass; the main question is whether the Republican governor is going to veto it. He’s not especially conservative socially, but he’s on the record in opposition to the bill, calling it too divisive and a distraction from dealing with the economy. This despite claims from marriage supporters – including business groups – that it will actually help the economy. Just today the bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously.

On Wednesday I went to the public hearing on the bill in Montpelier, although I didn’t actually get to see the testimony; I got stuck in an overflow room because, as the Burlington Free Press reports, over 1000 people showed up, but there was an audio feed so we could still hear it. Among the part of the crowd I saw, the vast majority were marriage supporters; you could tell because each side passed out buttons and/or stickers. I was there with the pro- side, obviously, as were my wife and one of our friends. As for people testifying, from BFP again: “[the committee] heard from about 70 Vermonters, although about 200 signed up to speak. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears, D-Bennington, said there were 115 for same-sex marriage and 85 against on the list.”

This post isn’t intended to be all-inclusive of everything that happened at the hearing, just some general thoughts on things that stood out to me. The BFP link above includes video of some of the testimony if you’re interested in hearing more; the Valley News has good coverage as well.

Listening to the testimony, one thing that struck me about the opposition was that many of them didn’t even bother making a secular argument for their position, especially the clergy that testified (one of whom railed against the threat posed by “secular humanism”). They obviously didn’t feel they had to; it’s God’s will, so they think that should be enough justification to keep people stripped of their rights. Admittedly, these people were in the minority of those testifying against marriage, but that doesn’t mean that religion wasn’t a large part of the opposition’s case. It’s important to note that the main identifier for opponents that I saw was stickers that said “Don’t Change God’s Plan, 1 woman, 1 man.”

I was, however, surprised at how few people ranted against “the homosexual agenda,” or talked about homosexuality as being immoral. That doesn’t mean they don’t think that, of course, but it might hint that they think they’re on the losing side of that argument.

The other prominent theme in the marriage opponent’s arguments was respect for tradition. “It’s ALWAYS been one man and one woman! Surely civilization will collapse if gay marriage is legalized!” Similarly, some people talked about gay marriage as denigrating their marriages. How? They didn’t say. I think one could make a good argument that this sort of fear of change is an even bigger motivation for opponents of gay marriage than religion.

The obvious reply to this argument is that moral standards do change over time, otherwise we’d still be stoning disobedient children, for just one example. Even the definition of marriage has changed, and only the most ardent theocrats want to turn back the clock on the issue. Lisa Miller had a good article on this in Newsweek some time back. “[N]o sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else’s —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes,” Miller wrote.

Marriage opponents, and religious fundamentalists more generally, never explain why we should studiously follow scripture on the subjects of marriage or homosexuality even as they willfully toss out huge chunks that are incompatible with their lives in modern society.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Are You a Hardcore Atheist?

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 12/16/08]

[UPDATE: Hemant added a scale to the list, and my ranking apparently is: “11-20: You are, literally, a ‘New Atheist.’ But you now have something to strive for! Go for the full 50!”]

From Friendly Atheist:

How serious do you take your atheism?

Let’s find out.

Copy and paste the list below on your own site, boldfacing the things you’ve done. (Feel free to add your own elaboration and commentary to each item!)


If you’ve done more than 35 of those things, I’d say PZ Myers will soon be taking lessons from you.

Here’s the list, with my annotations in brackets:
1. Participated in the Blasphemy Challenge.

2. Met at least one of the “Four Horsemen” (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) in person.

3. Created an atheist blog. [Granted, not entirely, or even mostly, about atheism, but still…]

4. Used the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a religious debate with someone.

5. Gotten offended when someone called you an agnostic.

6. Been unable to watch Growing Pains reruns because of Kirk Cameron.

7. Own more Bibles than most Christians you know. [I don’t know enough to say for sure on this one. I do own three. And that’s not counting the various other religious texts I have.]

8. Have at least one Bible with your personal annotations regarding contradictions, disturbing parts, etc.

9. Have come out as an atheist to your family. [If you count my in-laws, as Rebecca says I should. That includes her devout Christian mom. No one in my actual family knows, though. I’m not hiding it, but I don’t advertise it, and they’ve never asked about it.]

10. Attended a campus or off-campus atheist gathering.

11. Are a member of an organized atheist/Humanist/etc. organization.

12. Had a Humanist wedding ceremony. [No, I got stuck with a religious one thanks to a pushy mother-in-law. Don’t get me started on that.]

13. Donated money to an atheist organization.

14. Have a bookshelf dedicated solely to Richard Dawkins.

15. Lost the friendship of someone you know because of your non-theism.

16. Tried to argue or have a discussion with someone who stopped you on the street to proselytize. [No, but Rebecca has! Back in undergrad there were people on campus handing out Chick tracts, and she debated them. “That made my day. I think I needed someone to try to convert me to Christianity,” she said.]

17. Hid your atheist beliefs on a first date because you didn’t want to scare him/her away.

18. Own a stockpile of atheist paraphernalia (bumper stickers, buttons, shirts, etc).

19. Attended a protest that involved religion.

20. Attended an atheist conference.

21. Subscribe to Pat Condell’s YouTube channel.

22. Started an atheist group in your area or school.

23. Successfully “de-converted” someone to atheism.

24. Have already made plans to donate your body to science after you die. [Much to Rebecca’s chagrin…]

25. Told someone you’re an atheist only because you wanted to see the person’s reaction.

26. Had to think twice before screaming “Oh God!” during sex. Or you said something else in its place.

27. Lost a job because of your atheism.

28. Formed a bond with someone specifically because of your mutual atheism (meeting this person at a local gathering or conference doesn’t count). [Actually, I don’t even think I know any other full-on atheists. A few agnostics, but that’s as close as it comes. Not even Rebecca’s an atheist, although she’s probably even more hostile to organized religion than I am.]

29. Have crossed “In God We Trust” off of — or put a pro-church-state-separation stamp on — dollar bills. [Ok, so I totally did that just now so I could mark this off. But in my defense, I read about this a few weeks ago, thought it sounded cool, completely forgot about it, then read it here and thought, “Yeah, I should actually do that.]

30. Refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. [Not specifically because of the “under God” thing, but more broadly because of my opposition to nationalism. But still…]

31. Said “Gesundheit!” (or nothing at all) after someone sneezed because you didn’t want to say “Bless you!”

32. Have ever chosen not to clasp your hands together out of fear someone might think you’re praying.

33. Have turned on Christian TV because you need something entertaining to watch. [Do Christian radio stations count?]

34. Are a 2nd or 3rd (or more) generation atheist.

35. Have “atheism” listed on your Facebook or dating profile — and not a euphemistic variant. [Technically, I have “Bright” listed on my Facebook profile, but I don’t think that falls under “euphemistic variant” because it’s a more descriptive term than atheism.]

36. Attended an atheist’s funeral (i.e. a non-religious service).

37. Subscribe to an freethought magazine (e.g. Free Inquiry, Skeptic)

38. Have been interviewed by a reporter because of your atheism.

39. Written a letter-to-the-editor about an issue related to your non-belief in God.

40. Gave a friend or acquaintance a New Atheist book as a gift.

41. Wear pro-atheist clothing in public. [I don’t really have any clothing, but I do have atheistic stuff on my car. Does that count? I don’t think it should; it’s not quite as direct and personal as clothing.]

42. Have invited Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses into your house specifically because you wanted to argue with them. [No, but my father-in-law has!]

43. Have been physically threatened (or beaten up) because you didn’t believe in God.

44. Receive Google Alerts on “atheism” (or variants).

45. Received fewer Christmas presents than expected because people assumed you didn’t celebrate it.

46. Visited The Creation Museum or saw Ben Stein’s Expelled just so you could keep tabs on the “enemy.” [Ok, not yet, but I’m marking this one anyway because Expelled is on my Netflix instant queue and I plan on watching it sometime when I need a good laugh. So it’s really just a matter of time]

47. Refuse to tell anyone what your “sign” is… because it doesn’t matter at all.

48. Are on a mailing list for a Christian organization just so you can see what they’re up to…

49. Have kept your eyes open while you watched others around you pray.

50. Avoid even Unitarian churches because they’re too close to religion for you.

So I have 18 out of 50, or a bit over a third of the list. Is it bad that now I want to use this as a checklist and try to check off more?

Posted in Blast from the Past, Religion | 1 Comment »

BLAST FROM THE PAST: “Militant Atheism”: An Atheist Critique of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 8/26/08]

Via Greta Christina comes the above amusing video from Al Sweigart. I agree with Greta that the newsreel parody at the beginning was a nice touch. The piece makes an argument similar to what I was aiming for in my essay on atheist fundamentalism, which is to say that both labels are meaningless ad hominems leveled at atheists whenever we say much of anything that distinguishes us from doormats.

But there’s one thing on which I disagree pretty strongly with Al. From the video: “So I’m a bit confused about the term ‘militant atheist’. This is a term that’s been bandied about recently, especially since Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and other authors have published very popular books on atheism. It’s kind of weird because ‘militant’ has a very clear definition of violence and war and physical force, and this is all completely absent in the recent rise of atheism in our culture.”

Going from his definition of militancy, there clearly is a militant wing of the atheist movement, and two of the authors he mentions, Harris and Hitchens, certainly fall into that category, at least in regard to Islam. It deeply disturbs me that guys like them (and for that matter girls like Ayaan Hirsi Ali) are more or less the public face of atheism in this country. I suppose I can understand – I do agree with both of them on a lot of things, I don’t expect to see eye-to-eye on everything with anyone, and it’s not like we have a lot of other people to take the job. But still, there are certain things that it’s hard for me to look past.

Why do I call them militant? Hitchens in particular was a prominent supporter of a brutal war of aggression against a Muslim country that never attacked or threatened us, a war which by some estimates has cost over a million lives. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of militancy. Harris denies that he has ever “written or spoken in support of the war in Iraq”, but from what I’ve seen his criticisms have mainly been with the handling of the war, not with the basic premise – an argument that Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias brilliantly termed the incompetence dodge. And he’s certainly never expressed much sympathy for the resulting “collateral damage” in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

I’m more familiar with Harris’ work than with Hitchens’, so it’s him that I’m going to focus on. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him racist, but he’s definitely a major proponent of the dehumanization and stereotyping of Muslims. He’s a supporter of Samuel Huntington’s crazy “clash of civilizations” theory, one part of which posits a battle to the death between the West and Islam. He supports racial profiling. He supports torture of Muslim detainees. He thinks we should mount a nuclear first strike against Islamist regimes that develop long-range nukes, potentially killing millions of innocent people. (Something tells me he wouldn’t be too opposed to war with Iran.)

In general, Harris seems to view Muslims as one big scary homogeneous “Other” that can’t be reasoned with and wants nothing more than to kill us all; all of them potential terrorists until proven otherwise. I agree with his critique of (some) multiculturalists whose overweening respect for religion leads them to avoid criticizing, for instance, the treatment of women in Muslim countries. What I don’t agree with is his apparent idea that other cultures are failed attempts at being us, and his pretty explicit belief that Western ideas should be imposed at gunpoint. As he himself admits, he has more in common with Christian conservatives than secular progressives on the subject of Islam.

I was especially struck by Harris’ jaw-dropping naivety on foreign policy issues. He sees none of the complex reasons for the popularity of Islamic militant groups like Hamas or Hezbollah – they’re all just crazed with religion as far as he’s concerned, and he regards any other attempt to explain it as tantamount to justifying it. He bends over backwards to exonerate U.S. foreign policy for the creation and sustaining of anti-Americanism in the Middle East. Harris’ position is pretty much, Why can’t those crazy Muslims see all the good things we’re trying to do for them? In one spectacularly stupid comment in The End of Faith, he criticized leftists intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy for failing to see the good intentions of the U.S. government. In my opinion, even a cursory understanding of the history of American foreign policy should put to rest any notion that our leaders give a damn about the poor oppressed masses of the world.

So, to sum up: Phrases like “militant atheism” are completely abused by Christians and other defenders of religion to slander any nonbeliever who speaks out as opposed to staying quiet. But there is such a thing as militant atheism, and it’s becoming increasingly prominent in atheist thought. The non-militants need to become more aggressive in challenging it. We need to make sure people know that Harris and Hitchens don’t speak for us on everything.

Posted in Blast from the Past, Religion | 1 Comment »

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Anti-atheist Bigotry in the IL Legislature

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 4/6/08]

I was just forwarded this piece of anti-atheist bigotry which occurred before a committee of the Illinois General Assembly. Atheist (and Green candidate for state rep. in the 53rd district) Rob Sherman was testifying against a plan to donate tax dollars to a church in Chicago. Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) lashed out at Sherman, declaring that, as quoted in the title of the post, “it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!” Davis continues: “You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.”

Follow the above link for both a transcript and audio of the exchange. Pretty disgusting stuff. More info can also be found on Rob Sherman’s site in the April 4 post, but there’s no permalink.

What Sherman encountered was not just some random fluke, but what anyone who publicly questions Christianity has probably encountered from the devout at some point. I still remember the right-wing chain email I got from my Catholic grandma (who doesn’t know about my religious beliefs) saying that the nonreligious should just be told to “sit down and shut up.” These kind of sentiments come not just from crazed fundamentalists, but from otherwise nice and well-intentioned people and/or in some cases relatively moderate believers.

Why do they view atheism as such a threat? I think it’s because to anyone who believes that Christianity is the “one true way” and those who don’t follow it will suffer for eternity, opposition is not merely a difference of opinion but is stupid and dangerous. They don’t see why they should be expected to tolerate false beliefs, or why people should have the opportunity to be led astray. From this view, it makes perfect sense to force their beliefs on people, especially children.

Anyone who questions Christianity is tends to be seen by the Rep. Davis’ of the world as a threat to society. Which begs the question: if their beliefs are so self-evidently true, then why are they so afraid criticism? Can’t Christianity stand on its own? Is the outward show of piety just a mask for their own insecurity, a la Mother Teresa?

Posted in Blast from the Past, Politics, Religion | Leave a Comment »

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Site Updates and More Blasphemy Challenge

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 6/12/07]

So, between getting married last month and not having reliable internet access for several weeks after that, I haven’t been able to do much work on the site lately. However, there have been a few changes. For those that check out the other sections of this site, there is now a listing on each page of when the last update was, so it will be a little easier to figure out what is new. (If a page doesn’t have such a date on it, like the Pick-up Lines, that means it hasn’t been updated in a long time.) The main piece of news in this regard is that the Jokes sections have come back from the dead, with most having been updated fairly recently. In that section, I recommend reading Rules for Being a Good Republican (scroll down for Rules for Being a Good Democrat).

Linked to from the Jokes page is another joke that I highly suggest reading: Hundreds of Proofs of God’s Existence, a satirical look at Christian apologetics from the Atheists of Silicon Valley. If you’ve ever debated religion with a theist, you’ve probably heard a lot of these before. I giggled when I read this one:

(1) In my younger days I was a cursing, drinking, smoking, gambling, child-molesting, thieving, murdering, bed-wetting bastard.
(2) That all changed once I became religious.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

Same goes for this one:
(1) There is overwhelming evidence for the existence of God.
(2) No, I’m not going to tell you what it is.
(3) The only possible explanation for your lack of knowledge is that you haven’t studied enough.
(4) Or maybe your Atheistic presupposition is blinding you to the truth.
(5) But trust me — it’s overwhelming.
(6) It’s so overwhelming that no reasonable person can honestly reach the conclusion that God does not exist.
(7) Therefore, God exists.

Both of those are almost verbatim from responses I got to my Blasphemy Challenge entry.

Speaking of which, after Rebecca read my comments in that post on the Blasphemy Challenge, she talked me into writing it up as an op-ed and trying to submit it to places, and in the process I lengthened it and updated it fairly significantly from the blog post. None of that worked out so well, though. I’m fairly happy with how it turned out, but it didn’t occur to me until afterward that not many mainstream publications would want to risk pissing off their largely Christian audiences by publishing anything positive toward atheism. So, long story short, no one was exactly beating a path to my door to publish my essay, so I feel safe posting it here.

A Defense of Atheist “Fundamentalism”
Late last year, a project called The Blasphemy Challenge was started by the Rational Response Squad, an online atheist group, and Beyond Belief Media, makers of the antireligion documentary “The God Who Wasn’t There.” The goal is for people to commit the one unforgivable sin and therefore condemn themselves to Hell.

As a participant in the Blasphemy Challenge, I, along with over 700 other people to date, posted a short video of myself on YouTube denying the existence of the Holy Spirit. The Bible identifies this as an unforgivable sin. “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin,” reads Mark 3:28. A similar statement can be found at Luke 12:10. Therefore, if the Bible is true, I have earned myself a one-way ticket to Hell for all eternity.

Why would anyone possibly want to do this? For me, part of the reason was to show the absurdity and injustice of a God that apparently forgives murder and child rape but not dissent. The main reason, though, was to show the faithful that, yes, I really am serious about my nonbelief in your God, and I am neither apathetic about nor ignorant of religion. I wanted to demonstrate, as participant Michael Lawson was quoted in Newsweek, that “we really mean it when we say we don’t believe a single word in [the Bible].”

Even on a purely strategic level, I’ve never really agreed with the confrontational tactics of some prominent atheists like Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins. Putting religious people on the defensive often ends up being counterproductive; if anything it just makes us come off as arrogant and elitist. At the same time, though, that does not mean nonreligious people should be quiet about our beliefs. If we ever want to gain public acceptance in this country, then we need to start coming out of the closet and assuring people that we are, in fact, people too.

Part of the public venom for atheists could stem from the fact that few people actually know any, and are therefore free to resort to all sorts of stereotypes. According to a study released last year by the University of Minnesota Department of Sociology, atheists are by far the most disdained religious group in the country, even as tolerance for other minority groups is going up. Respondents frequently used atheists as symbols for perceived problems in American society, tending to link them with law-breaking and greed. Many failed to see any possible secular basis for a good society, and therefore viewed atheism as a threat to moral order in a way other beliefs are not.

It is unfortunate for atheists that stating our views on religion will necessarily involve offending some believers, as it is pretty much impossible for me not to say I think their beliefs are wrong in the process. After all, it is not like I just have a different take on the meaning of the Bible than Christians do; rather, I do not believe the Bible is a divinely inspired document.

When some theists hear this, they scream about atheistic intolerance. For instance, Lakshmi Chaudhry, a senior editor at In These Times, derides Dawkins and his followers as atheist fundamentalists who follow “a virulent form of atheism that mirrors the polarized worldview of the religious extremists it claims to oppose.” But really, what else am I supposed to say? That God exists for you but not for me? To me, tolerance means not imposing ones views on others, provided that other views do not involve coercion or cause harm. It does not mean accepting all views as equally valid.

None of this should be understood as saying religious believers are stupid. I absolutely do not believe that. There is any number of reasons why a person might become religious besides stupidity or irrationality. Additionally, I have never claimed to have a monopoly on truth. I think my beliefs to be right, but I also admit the possibility that I could be wrong. In fact, half the point of the Blasphemy Challenge to me was admitting that I am prepared to deal with the consequences if my beliefs turn out to be mistaken. All I can do is conclude what I can from the information I have, which in the case of religion leads me to doubt the existence of God.

My point is that any comparison between atheistic “intolerance” and that of, say, right-wing Christian extremists trying to turn America into a de facto theocracy is completely without merit. Unlike them, we, for the most part, do not seek to shove our beliefs down anyone else’s throat, nor do we even really seek converts in the usual sense. All we really want is for people to think things out for themselves and be able to justify their beliefs, instead of just accepting without question what they are taught. That might lead one to atheism, and it might not. Atheism is not some sort of monolithic movement in any case. Ask five atheists their views on morality, for example, and you will probably get five different answers. Free thinking is the whole point of the movement and, as the Blasphemy Challenge creators point out, “the opposite of fundamentalism.”

Posted in Blast from the Past, Religion, Site News | Leave a Comment »

BLAST FROM THE PAST: The Blasphemy Challenge

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 12/25/06]

This is my entry in the Blashphemy Challenge. Short summary: people post short videos of themselves on YouTube denying the existence of God, thus committing the one unforgivable sin and condemning themselves to hell. I’ll be the first to admit that the presentation in mine isn’t very good; public speaking has never been my strong suit.

Some might claim that the Blasphemy Challenge is just an attempt to mock Christianity, and to some extent that may be true, but that’s not the reason I participated. Even on a purely strategic level, I’ve never really agreed with the Richard Dawkins types that putting religious people on the defensive is the best way to gain respect for the nonreligious; if anything it just makes us come off as arrogant and elitist. And personally, I just don’t tend to be very aggressive and combative. At the same time, though, that doesn’t mean that nonreligious people, including atheists like me, should be quiet about our beliefs. If we ever want to gain any respect in this country, then we need to start coming out of the closet, so to speak, and assuring people that we are, in fact, people too. I, for one, felt strangely liberated after making that video, like I’d let some deep dark secret off my chest. Even among liberal and/or more tolerant Christians, I tend to feel uncomfortable discussing religion; they don’t really display the same hostility to atheism as the fundies, but at the same time they just don’t really “get” atheism like they do other belief systems.

It’s an unfortunate fact that this will necessarily involve offending some religious believers, as it’s pretty much impossible for me not to say that I think their beliefs are wrong in the process. After all, it’s not like I just have a different view on the nature of God than Christians do; rather, I don’t believe that the Christian God exists. When some believers hear this, they scream about atheistic intolerance (Lakshmi Chauhdry, for instance, derides Dawkins and his followers as atheist fundamentalists, who follow “a virulent form of atheism that mirrors the polarized worldview of the religious extremists it claims to oppose.”), but really, what else am I supposed to say? That I think God exists for you but not for me?

That’s not the same as saying religious believers are stupid. I absolutely do not believe that. There are any number of reasons why a person might become religious, most of which, in my opinion, have to do with insecurity rather than stupidity or irrationality. Atheism, after all, isn’t the most comforting of beliefs. My contention is only that the fact that atheism is uncomfortable doesn’t make it wrong. In addition, I’ve never claimed to have a monopoly on truth. I think my beliefs to be right, but I also admit the possibility that I could be wrong. In fact, half the point of the Blasphemy Challenge to me was admitting that I’m prepared to deal with the consequences if my beliefs turn out to be wrong. All I do is conclude what I can from the information I have, which in the case of religion leads me to doubt the existence of God.

All I am saying is that any comparison between atheistic “intolerance” and that of, say, the religious right is completely without merit. Unlike them, we, for the most part, don’t seek to shove our beliefs down anyone else’s throat, nor do we even really seek converts. All we really want is for people to think things out for themselves and be able to justify their beliefs, instead of just accepting without question what they are taught from a book written thousands of years ago depicting (in the case of the New Testament) events happening decades before it was written by people who might not even have read it. That might lead them to atheism, and it might not. It’s not like atheism is some sort of monolithic movement, in any case. Ask five atheists their views on morality and you’ll probably get five different answers. That’s the whole point of the movement.

Posted in Blast from the Past, Religion | Leave a Comment »