"Soy Ateo, Gracias a Dios"

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So said Luis Buñuel, famously, but he might've been less sanguine if he'd seen this study by a team of University of Minnesota sociologists revealing a profound public hostility to atheists in America. Ilya Somin, guest-blogging at Volokh Conspiracy, posts about the findings, and then in a pair of follow-ups considers whether the godless themselves are to blame for their PR problem and why it all matters anyway. Andrew Sullivan had a series of posts on the same topic last week, and both he and Somin mention Eugene Volokh's recent law review article on discrimination against atheists in child custody cases.

Now, I live in the bizarro bubble of D.C. policy/journalism where, at absolute minimum, 90 percent of my social circle is atheist or, for those without the courage of their lack of convictions, agnostic. The situation in Manhattan, where I lived previously, was pretty similar. So I remain happily immune from any effects of this apparently pervasive attitude. But for the heathens among the Reasonoids: How's the situation in the rest of this great land of ours? Any horror stories? Pleasant tales of tolerance?

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  1. At Volokh: “…few claim that liberation theology, the Taliban, Iran, and the Inquisition prove that all religion is by nature oppressive…”

    Obviously not written by a reader of Hit and Run.

  2. Given that 90% of the population self-reports as Christian, and given the piss-poor job this same group does of actually following Christ’s teachings and emulating his life, I take their obloquy with a grain of salt and a certain amount of pride. At least I do not feel guilty about all of my hedonism. They get down on their knees and sin, feel bad about it, get down on their knees in church for a little relief, then head back out and sin again.

    It seems to me that using prayer to ease the pain of sin is like using heroin to ease the pain of morphine withdrawals.

  3. Akira? Where are you?

  4. Can’t help you. I live in Silicon Valley, another predominately godless bubble. Even most religious people in the Bay Area seem to have a new-agey, “all religions are correct” disposition.

  5. I live in a slightly overlapping bubble in DC, so I can’t say much other than it’s not a great thing to identify yourself on a dating site…which is one reason why I stopped using them.

  6. It is possible to be both an atheist or a theist and an agnostic.

    I do not believe that a God or gods exist, and yet I believe that knowing whether or not such things exist is impossible.

  7. re: “They get down on their knees and sin, feel bad about it, get down on their knees in church for a little relief, then head back out and sin again.”

    In the places where I have known lots of born-again Christians (Southern California and Nebraska), there seemed to be quite a bit of sinning on Saturday night followed by repenting on Sunday morning.

  8. In Texas, we are all God-fearing people, obviously. Here (and in South Carolina), hearing someone is an atheist is like hearing they have cancer or something. And people really do have a hard time understanding how atheist/agnostic doesn’t mean “lacking in any moral foundation or ethical compass.” The concept of a purely secular civic morality is utterly alien.

    I am not an atheist (admittedly, my theism has a low threshold: my definition of “god” can include, if all else fails, the very machinery of the universe, which, at a minimum, is self-aware to the extent that humans exist and are capable of contemplating Creation), so anti-atheist bigotry bothers me less than the fact that a LOT of highly intelligent and educated people I know out here do not believe in evolution but do believe Genesis is literally true and 100% accurate. It’s disturbing.

  9. In Texas, we are all God-fearing people, obviously. Here (and in South Carolina), hearing someone is an atheist is like hearing they have cancer or something. And people really do have a hard time understanding how atheist/agnostic doesn’t mean “lacking in any moral foundation or ethical compass.” The concept of a purely secular civic morality is utterly alien.

    Tell me about it. Church this and church that and biblical literalism this other thing…toss in that most of the people here in San Antonio are papists (with their lent and their transubstantiating) and it’s enough to drive a man mad. Folks look at you like you’ve grown a third head.

  10. As Jesse “the body” Ventura said, “religion is a sham and a crutch for weak minds” -amen. I don’t have much patience for magical world views. I don’t think a more sensitive secular movement is going to make any difference. Personally I engage the religious/spiritual whenever possible with logic and a bit of scorn. It actually seems to work. I’ve personally caused many people to start thinking about their beliefs. I usually open with, “I couldn’t care less what you believe, tell me what you know” usually shuts them up. Atheists shouldn’t back down. Faith isn’t a virtue it’s an embarrassment.

  11. One thing Somin didn’t address in the second post regarding whether atheists bring persecution down on themselves is the obnoxious prickery of many “out” atheists. (See, e.g., the “Flying Spaghetti Monster”.) While one certainly encounters just as many Christians who engage in such obnoxious behavior, there are also plenty of Christians who denounce that sort of conduct. I can’t recall ever hearing someone say, “I’m an atheist, but it’s OK if other people want to believe in God.”

  12. Clearly, we need to find something that atheists are stereotypically good at, so we can have a show like Atheist Eye for the Religious Guy. Once we become camp, we’re in like flynn among the centrists.

    We’ll never turn over the 32% of the US that thumps bibles on a regular basis.

  13. The first point to understand is that when many people say they don’t believe in God, they really mean that they hate God because their girlfriend died, or because their Bible-thumping parents abused them, or some such. An extension of this point is that even in left-wing communities (in my experience, Davis, CA) where “God” in the Christian sense provokes much condescension, there is still a sizable percentage of “atheists” who believe in plenty of cosmic spirit mumbo-jumbo, and really don’t disbelieve in “God” so much as have a beef against Him over gay rights, racial bigotry, etc.

    The second point is that most religious people have their religious belief highly compartmentalized. You invoke God and Heaven at the child’s funeral, but not when you’re trying to construct a safe playground. In the practical matters, almost every Christian is going to weigh risk like an atheist would, i.e., as if there really were no Heaven or loving God. Moreover, if an individual were really to let religious belief get de-compartmentalized, most religious communities would regard him as insane.

    It’s very important to understand this when true atheists face dicrimination. The true philosophical atheist might think this fight is about methodological naturalism, but it’s really not. It’s far more about two extended communities giving one another the finger.

  14. I’m in Phoenix, and I haven’t ever encountered any open hostility to myself as an atheist. Most of my friends don’t practise any religion, but not all of those friends are atheists. I think most are agnostic.

    But I tend to run around with a rather Bohemian crowd of musicians, academics, partiers, etc, so my sample is also skewed.

    I did tell some people at work I was an atheist the other day, and they kind of gasped, but it didn’t seem to make them angry.

  15. Personally, the only philosophy I despise is the philosophy of sneering down your nose at people who disagree with you – whether they call themselves fundamentalists or “brights” or are merely those stereotype every member of a group based on thin personal knowledge coupled with media sensationalism.

    I’ve known some nice atheists, I’ve known some really admirably fundamentalists – people whose love and kindness were all the more remarkable given how uncomfortable their charismatic rituals made me feel. And I’ve known smug, superior jerks in both groups. Whenever I hear Slacker Astronomy drag out the FSM I feel like looking them up and smacking them both silly.

    Mocking those you disagree with may make you feel better for a moment, but it makes them hate you – and if they out number you 4 to 1, that’s not a good position to be in.

  16. I can’t recall ever hearing someone say, “I’m an atheist, but it’s OK if other people want to believe in God.”

    I think that’s because – for many – it’s more easily stated as, “I’m agnostic.”

  17. When my wife told my future mother in law that I didn’t believe in God and never went to church as a child she asked, “Well how does he know the difference between right and wrong?” Like many other religious folks the idea that a good person and a godless person can exist in the same body was hard for her to process.

    Texans tend to be polite enough no to raise certain topics in mixed company. My grandfather used to say, “Never discuss religion or politics.” To this day I couldn’t tell you if he prayed or how he voted. I try to maintain that policy with all but my closest friends and faceless bloggers. However, if somone tries to push their beliefs on me I am happy to push back.

  18. I did some consulting in Alabama. Got on well with the owner of the company. Got invited to dinner at her home with her family. At one point she mentioned that I was the first atheist either to be invited to dinner at their place, or that they knew. I think it was actually the latter, but … I was drinking.

    The whole experience reminded me of when, as a child, our family first moved off base (yep, I’m a military brat) and I met people who hadn’t flown in a plane before. I was a curiosity to them, just as they were to me. Great family. Interestingly to me, they were transplants (from Chicago?) and some of the local churchgoers scared them. e.g. they were probably in the minority by believing in evolution.

    I married into a Catholic family; my side is Protestant. My wife has a priest for a brother, I have two close relatives who are ministers. I don’t wear my atheism on my sleeve, but if the subject comes up, I mention that I’m a non-believer. I still don’t post under my own name, nor would I put a Darwin fish on my car. People around here break windows for less.

    I’ve seen unreasonable theists, atheists, democrats, republicans, libertarians, etc. I’m an individualist, so when a member of some culture or sub-culture behaves like an ass, I think “he’s an ass”, not “he and all the other members of his sub-culture are asses.”

    I think I have the ability to get along with-or pick a fight with-almost anyone. Some of what I enjoy wouldn’t exist w/o religion (e.g.). Both of my parents were religious during my formative years. I live a cushy and peaceful life. My wife and I have agreed to avoid discussing religion with our children (and not take them to church) for as long as possible. Obviously we think that’s the best course to take, but since we were both raised in religious households, we have to wonder if changing the recipe will spoil the cookies.

  19. What about people who believe in some type of creator (or force that started the origins of life), but don’t believe in organized religion, the power of prayer, judgement based upon deeds/actions, an afterlife, heaven, hell, or a soul (that one for some reason always evokes a funny look or a “what?!” reaction)?

    I tend to believe that something created everything, but that was the extent of that something’s involvement. (KInd of like the God as a watchmaker who winds and lets it go analogy??)

    I’m guessing that would be an agnostic?

    I can’t say I have ever really felt any kind of persecution or attack from the religious people I interact with — but then again we don’t really talk about religion. It isn’t a subject that comes up in normal conversation.

    Then again, I don’t really go to church and tend to be in social circles with people who don’t wear their religion / beliefs on their sleeves, and don’t really work at living a religious lifestyle (except my Muslim friends….they tend to be the most willing to discuss / debate religion esp. religious extremists whether they be Muslim, Christian or whatever)

  20. ChicagoTom-
    I think the view you’re describing is a form of Deism. So you’re in good company, with many of the Founders.

  21. I can’t recall ever hearing someone say, “I’m an atheist, but it’s OK if other people want to believe in God.”

    That’s pretty much my policy. You can worship Sea Monkeys for all I care just leave me out of it.

  22. Two thoughts:
    1) I always found it interesting that many of the most vocal athiests (or in most cases agnostics as ‘scape’ stated) love to call regligious people hypocrites when they commit an offense against their fellow man, but when atheists do it there isn’t really an official word for their behavior….”asshole” maybe? But it seems to me that an offense is an offense and is morally no worse when committed by a theist or an atheist.

    2) I’d prefer that the element of society who has a low sense of self worth and lacks a moral compass to believe whatever the hell they need to so they can obtain what they are missing. Ignorance and atheism is a bad combination, IMO.

  23. I tell people I’m a Scotch Athiest — we believe there is no god, and take no comfort from it.

    I think you can talk about this kind of crap with reasonable people if you can keep a bit of humor in the conversation, but if you’re dealing with idiots, you’re dealing with idiots…

  24. I live in Ohio. There is some of that residual midwestern idea that talking about religion, pro or con, especially with people you don’t know very well, is rude. Now the fundies and Megachurches are spreading like mushrooms so that ethos isn’t going to last. But I’ve never actually experienced first-hand any hostility toward atheists. Now I have seen that old skool protestant hostility towards papists, which is deep in the closet nowadays but still there.

  25. SR,
    I’m an atheist, but it’s OK if other people want to believe in God

    There ya go.

  26. >> I can’t recall ever hearing someone say, “I’m an atheist, but it’s OK if other people want to believe in God.”

    > I think that’s because – for many – it’s more easily stated as, “I’m agnostic.”

    scape:

    Fits nicely with my point. For many people, the “atheist”/”agnostic” distinction is not about a degree of certainty in the factual nonexistence of God; rather, it’s about how much you prefer to snub the group of “believers” who themselves snub “atheists”.

    Personally, I’m not an agnostic, and find the term more than a bit silly and wussy. I am an atheist, who often finds Christianity profound in an existentialist way, who appreciates the social function of religions, and who acknowledges how very many godless belief systems have essentially the same dynamics as godded ones. But that’s rather hard to explain, isn’t it? When I occasionally attend concerts in a local Christian venue, I usually tell people that I appreciate a number of religions (true), and then end up in interesting conversations about how to understand Christianity. I doubt many suspect that I believe there’s no divine creator.

  27. How’s the situation in the rest of this great land of ours? Any horror stories? Pleasant tales of tolerance?

    Well, Julian, IMO your experience mirrors the rest of the country. Nobody really cares about atheists until they try to stir up a bucket of shit.

  28. Here’s a link trying to cast some skepticism on the study:

    http://www.felixsalmon.com/000467.html

    Nobody bothers me– but I think they’ve just given up (besides, I’m too nice a guy to not want to be around completely, so I think most people just let it slide :).

  29. You all might be interested in something found at the blog “Counterpunch.” It’s an article by a local minister in my denomination who welcomed an atheist into his congregation, St. Andrews Presbyterian, and another article by the member himself, one Robert Jensen. I know Jim Rigby, the minister, quite well and can vouch that he’s always been a sweetheart. I’ve never met Jensen, but have read some of his articles. This is by a huge margin the best thing I’ve ever read by Jensen, but then he starts from a really low beginning point in my esteem. I think both articles have some interesting points to make on this discussion.

    Full disclosure: I’m a devout Presbyterian and an ordained ruling elder in my congregation, which is the same as Rigby’s. I actually try rather hard to avoid discussing religion with anyone who isn’t close to a lifelong friend, because, well, it’s not really polite and I think I sound foolish. I also think that discriminating against atheists is just as reprehensible as discriminating based on any other prejudice.

  30. I have developed a ‘don’t tell me about it’ policy regarding all forms of mysticism. Tell me about anything else, but not that. It seems to work, mabey I give off a ‘vibe’:). Many people who claim to be non-religious, atheists, or agnostics will still have a lucky number or some get-rich-quick scheme that exposes their irrationallity.

    I am a humble atheist. The smartest human that I know of was Isaac Newton. He believed in god.

  31. Atheists and agnostics are quite different. As one who considers the question of the existence of god unknowable, I’m an agnostic. I look down my nose at athiests and theists equally because they both “believe”. So, its not a lack of conviction that makes me an agnostic, but the conviction that this is a meaningless waste of brain cells.

  32. I may be an atheist, but I more self-identify as pro-gun and pro-capitalism. I’ve found I have less in common with most atheists (H&R regulars excluded) than most social conservatives.

    Most atheists I know in person lack any belief because there’s no scientific reason to. But then they refuse to use that same healthy skepticism in other areas of their lives. All humans seem to compartmentalize, to some extent.

    Hit and Run is the only place I’ve seen self-avowed atheists who are also pro-gun. All the ones I’ve known in person are anti-gun, which makes us less than perfectly matched. A lot less. They also tend to be pro-big government, pro-environment, and oddly enough, anti-Homo sapien. (The recent uproar from Eric Pianka surprises me, because I’ve been hearing other atheists I know say the same thing for years.) Which is a big reason I keep my atheistic bona fides to myself.

  33. Dear Abby,
    There are still a few people I’m afraid to tell I’m an atheist. One is my barber. That’s because he threatened to give me a bad haircut while I was telling him I’m an anarchist.
    Come to think of it, which should I tell him first: That I’m an atheist or that I’m a nudest?

  34. … or nudest nudist?
    Nah. I’ll keep that bottled up a little longer.

  35. Try having a baby with a genetic disability to have people come out of the woodwork to tell you that god must have selected you as special parents for your child and her disability. That was extremely tedious, and was very common for me.

  36. I don’t know and neither do you!!

  37. I also think that discriminating against atheists is just as reprehensible as discriminating based on any other prejudice.

    sigh.

  38. Think about it — atheism is invisible. How can you tell if I’m an atheist that goes to church once a year to please my grandmother, or a very lazy Christian?

    I talk about it on the ‘net, but only when others bring the subject up. To me religion is a non-issue, until other people’s religions impact my life.

    The only atheists people “know” are the loud ones — and generally people being really loud about their atheism have some sort of axe to grind about religion.

    Many theists structure their lives around religion — it weaves in and out of their world view. Few atheists structure their lives around atheism — how can you? What’s to structure it around? Atheism is nothing — it’s a complete lack of belief.

    Maybe if you’re a strong atheist with a grudge against religion, you can make atheism a significant part of your worldview.

    But to atheists like me? Nada. Zip. Religious people might think a lot about God, and religious folk might believe us atheists spend all our time denying Him, but it’s about as far from the truth as you get.

    I only think about God when someone else brings him up, and only in passing — “Oh, yeah, that religious thing again….I wonder what’s on TV?”

  39. I tend to believe that something created everything

    Why? If so, then what created the something that created the everything?

  40. I do not believe that a God or gods exist, and yet I believe that knowing whether or not such things exist is impossible.
    What makes god different than a unicorn or a cardboard box? Perhaps “life is but a dream,” so why not also claim that you can’t determine whether or not a cardboard box (or a unicorn) exists?

    I look down my nose at athiests and theists equally because they both “believe”.
    Snort. See above.

    “Never discuss religion or politics.” To this day I couldn’t tell you if he prayed or how he voted. I try to maintain that policy with all but my closest friends and faceless bloggers.
    Me too.

    My daughter told some other teenagers that she was an atheist, and they thought ‘atheists’ were ‘satanists.’ That idea doesn’t make much sense, but it might’ve just been poor vocabulary.

  41. I have never, ever had an atheist harangue me. I have had none even talk about it unless the subject came up.

    I have had 2 x 10e20 religionists (or as close as Biblical math will allow) harangue me. I don’t know where this sneering first at “militant atheists” and then everybody else comes from, but I haven’t experienced anything even remotely like it.

    Also, I have had few atheists attempt to force me to be an atheist through government fiat. I have an entire political party trying to make sure I get some churchin’ up.

    Where are these annoying atheists?

    Flying Spaghetti Monster? He was just pointing out the absurdity of somebody else who had already tried to shove their religion down everybody else’s throat. Sorry you don’t like the obvious conclusions, but that’s why you probably should keep your religion to yourself and not try to convince others of its logical superiority. You might find that others disagree and are willing to argue the logic with you.

    I might philosophically be called an agnostic, but in practical terms that’s saying “I don’t know,” which is not quite the same as my statement that claims of supernatural beings are not sufficiently supported by the evidence. I find the word “atheist” better filters out people who are uncomfortable with someone who isn’t prepared to just say “I don’t know” when they try to demonstrate the obvious superiority of their religion.

    I’m going to take you on your own terms and you may not like the conversation, but remember, you started it, not me. If you don’t start it, you will never have a problem with me.

  42. I told a friend of mine I was an atheist the other day and he said “aren’t you the guys that hate religion.” I never really thought of it that way. I do hate organized religion when it makes value judgements about how I live my life, but when left alone I just go about my business.

    My wife identifies as an agnostic and she always says, “how can you say nothing created life – therefore your belief system makes you just like the people who offend you”

    I see her logic, but in order for me to say there is something bigger then me I always come back to, where’s the proof?

    I don’t see atheism as against anything – it’s just view that certain people hold that only want to hook their wagon to the known.

  43. As one who considers the question of the existence of god unknowable, I’m an agnostic. I look down my nose at athiests and theists equally because they both “believe”.

    Oh really DogBreath? So I suppose you must then be “agnostic” about the invisible, incorporeal, fire-breathing dragon that I claim to have in my garage*, right? I mean, whether he’s there or not is clearly unknowable so you certainly can’t claim to not “believe” in him. In fact, you really can’t claim to not believe in any crazy, yet unknowable, claim I might assert, which would seem to render your agnosticism rather meaningless (see Mr. F. Le Mur’s post re. belief in unicorns).

    What’s more, this agnosticism presents a false dichotomy by claiming equality between the belief in God and non-belief. In reality there is an almost endless list of gods, almost every one of which is incompatible with the others. Allah of Islam is patently not compatible with the God of Christianity (either Jesus was his son sent to die for man’s sins or he wasn’t). This leads to the obvious question – exactly which gods are you agnostic about? God? Allah? Zeus? Aphrodite? Aten? Thor? All of them? Again, meaningless.

    What is missing from this view of agnosticism, and those who equate atheists with “believers” is the very real distinction between existence and nonexistence and the concept of evidence. When someone claims that something exists, it is his burden to produce credible evidence that it is so. Absent that evidence of existence it is normal and rational to hold (albeit tentatively) the position that the thing is question does not exist (e.g. the dragon in the garage, UFO’s, etc.). Further, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”* – and what is more extraordinary than an all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe? So since neither the claim that there is a God nor the claim that I have a dragon in my garage has any credible evidence (much less extraordinary evidence!), it is quite rational and meaningful to hold that neither exists.

    * Both the idea of the dragon and the “extraordinary” quote are from the late astronomer Carl Sagan.

  44. so lets get this strieght a minisota athiest went to the south and discovered that know one liked him…what a suprise.

    I am an athiest and I do not feel unloved.

    My only tales of tolarance come from other athiests who get pissed at me for not hating christains…or thinking that the religious are somehow dumber.

    Can’t a guy just lack faith?

    by the way agnostics suck…make a fucking decision you assholes.

  45. I’m an atheist, but it’s OK if other people want to believe in God

    How about this one:

    I am an athiest and the world is probably a better place becouse people (who are not me) belive in god.

  46. I don’t believe we can say anything about G-d except what G-d isn’t. I suspect that makes me an atheist for those who think they know what or who G-d is.

  47. I like to tell people I’m a lapsed Catholic, i.e. there is no God, and Mary is His mother…

  48. Re the the whole atheist/agnostic debate:

    I would describe myself, for the purpose of this discussion, as an atheist. But I’m lots of other things as well and my definition of what an atheist is may well be different from yours.

    One problem with identifying yourself with a label is that often that label means different things to different people. The map is not the territory.

    As for discrimination, I’ve never knowingly suffered discrimination on the basis of my atheism, but then I rarely talk about it. Plus I live in the UK, which though a country with an established state religion seems a much more secular country than the U.S. at present.

  49. Religion makes sense (even if any specific religion is or may be false) — even when arbitrary. This is not to say that it always makes sense to everyone — but then the same is true of large areas of science. It is to say that people do find it sensible, just as mathematicians find esoteric mathematics sensible, and quantum physicists generally find quantum mechanics sensible, in the meaning of “not being nonsense”, if not in the meaning of “being perfectly understandable and clear”.

    The more realistic statement is not “religion is nonsense”, but “religion is faith (or inner experience), and science is demonstrable (or outer experience)”, more or less.

    Millennia of religious people are quite clear about their faiths making sense (at least to them — and even when they disagree with them, it’s very rarely on the grounds that the creed or the faith is simply incomprehensible); equally a number of scientists have been unable to make “sense” of the implications of scientific theory and observation. In the quantum area, especially; the Schroedinger’s Cat thought-experiment was developed by Schroedinger not as an example of how cool and correct that interpretation of QM is, but as an example of how nonsensical (or technically incomplete) it is. It might be true or it might be a false-but-mathematically-plausible interpretation, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense.

    Full disclosure: I say all this as a life-long atheist, alebit one with no axe to grind for religion’s neck.

  50. Sandy said Also, I have had few atheists attempt to force me to be an atheist through government fiat. I have an entire political party trying to make sure I get some churchin’ up.

    Which party is that, Sandy? if your athiesm is based on same sort of “hard evidence” you seem to base your politics on, I’m surprised you can think at all.

    This, in fact, is what annoys me most about militant athiests – the continuing chant of “we are becoming a theocracy” when a quick look at the magazine covers on any news stand will show exactly how far from a theocracy we really are.

  51. I live in the northeast and my interactions with atheists have been overwhelmingly negative. I’m very unreligious — if anything, I’m a Cromist (“Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to hell with you!”) — and like some others here I think discussing religion with anyone except your spouse and kids is impolite. Recently a group of atheist friends wanted to make plans on the Saturday night before Easter, and I asked if we could do it another night because I had to get up early to hide the Easter eggs (and not in a good way). Immediately they were all over me, and one friend said, “You don’t actually believe in that shit, do you?” These were almost his exact words. The idea of playing the Easter Bunny to my kids and believing that Christ is the Risen Messiah were not mutually exclusive ideas to this guy.

    Another atheist I know (in the Soviet style) won’t give money to charity because she says they’re all religious charities, which to me is a lazy and convenient excuse to be a cheapskate. I could go on.

    So fuck you, atheists. Maybe there’s some good ones out there and I’ve met them and just didn’t know it because they weren’t playing the obnoxious victim, but I’ll hold on to my love and tolerance until y’all start spreading some around first. Until then: break out the nightsticks. Let the fundies pound on you all they want. I don’t care.

  52. anon2, I think you’re post yesterday was on the mark.

    Has anyone else noticed how people these days are MORE religious than their parents were? About 15 years ago I worked at medical center in upper Manhattan with a large number of orthodox Jews. Not hassidic, but kept kosher, kept the sabbath, etc. In talking with many of them they said they were much more religious now then they were raised to be.

    Since I live in New York, I don’t know too may evangelicals, but I wondered if the same thing happened with them, that they are much more religious than their parents.

    If so, how long until their kids grow old enough to say “Enough with all this god stuff!”?

  53. Theists are like jigsaw puzzles with a couple pieces missing. I know lots of brilliant believers who are perfectly normal in all aspects of their lives save one: they can’t shed their childish belief in a Lord and Savior. It’s the great cosmic riddle: Sane one moment, batshit crazy the next.

  54. You can be fervent in atheism or religion and yet be agnostic. In fact, it’s the only truly rational stance.

    Why? Because rational people recognize that faith is inconsistent with knowledge. We need not believe that which we know, and so all faith is essentially a statement of agnosticism — I do not, cannot, know, therefore I believe.

    This idea may not please those who confuse that certainty born of strong belief with actual knowledge, but it should be accessible to any thinking person.

    Man, I wish I was one. Bastard.

  55. I don’t mind atheists, I appreciate their skepticism towards charlatans and con men. However, I just wish they would stand by the courage of their convictions and stop taking our holidays off. I mean, all you fuckers should be working on Christmas, and no Easter break, either. And totally forget about Mardi Gras. By the way, would it kill you to come in on a Sunday? It not like you honor the Sabbath or anything.

  56. I liked the phrase that the strange angry woman on Al-Jazeera used when she was telling the entire middle east that they were a bunch of backward looking dummies – ‘You can believe in your stones, just don’t throw them at me’.

    I don’t know if that’s particularly famous but I like it.

    The key question is, are you going to do a ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and convert to belief on your death bed. I might well do. I’m a coward.

  57. As far as militant atheists and Christian haranguers go, I’ve found that anyone and everyone can act like an asshole on occasion.

    Me, I’m a devout atheist and often enjoy getting into it with evangelicals, simply because 9 times out of 10 I’ve put way more thought and study into the issue than they have. Most of the younger fundies I’ve known grew up that way, and many of those don’t seem to have put much thought into why they believe what they believe.

    Here’s my theory in a nutshell. In the pre-modern era, religion functioned primarily as a form of pseudo-science, attempting to explain and provide context to a largely unexplainable world. That may not have been its only function, but it was primary. In the modern West, however, religion has largely become a form of therapy. Hence the rise of “feel-good” emotionalist Christianity, which has taken over even established sects. The aim of religion is now primarily to make you feel better about yourself and to ease your fears of mortality. The fundies thrive on this stuff, because their faith allows them to mentally avoid the unpleasant stuff and allow their thinking to be channeled into ‘safe’ pathways.

  58. I think the main war that Aetheists should be waging with religious types is trying to wrestle back the idea that morals belong to the church.

    There’s a lot of research that is being spent on the idea of ‘good genes’ and ‘family genes’ (in the animal sense).

    I think that way, if people engage in that sort of argument, aetheism could be seen as a lifestyle, with it’s own values, as opposed to what it is normally percevied as, a contrary stance.

  59. Mark,

    I think the main war that Aetheists should be waging with religious types is trying to wrestle back the idea that morals belong to the church.

    That’s an interesting statement since western morals are, at their core, an outgrowth of western and judaic theology.

    In my mind, this is where “secular morality” is weakest. All logical systems have to built on postulates – statements of “belief” that cannot be proven within that system. Religion may not be true but it provides those postulates. Strip that away and all that’s left is the sort of relative morality that has no strength or rigor at all.

  60. All logical systems have to built on postulates – statements of “belief” that cannot be proven within that system. Religion may not be true but it provides those postulates. Strip that away and all that’s left is the sort of relative morality that has no strength or rigor at all.

    Mike,

    I agree. The problem is, as soon as you remove the idea of a God, a moral anchor is loosed and it’s rather difficult to say ‘you shouldn’t do that’ if there’s nothing to back it up. Which is wht atheists are normally much more liberal and happy to let things or anything go.

    There was a show on TV recently, the ‘Root of all evil’ featuring everyone’s favourite angry atheist Richard Dawkins. He did his normal routine of going around and shouting at christians, muslims but it got slightly more interesting when he chatted to some sort of behavioural scientist who talked about the idea of ‘good character genes’, that had developed over just a long as time as any ‘physical gene’and that these behavioural genes included things like kindness, sharing, looking after the young etc etc.

    Now clearly, I’m no geneticist which is why I’m probably explaining a very complicated idea as if it’s a matter of pre-school maths but as I watched the show I thought to myself that this is where Atheists should be paying attention and trying to come up with scientific moral codes. Moral Facts if you were!

    It’s easy to say God doesn’t exist. What’s harder is coming up with something to replace it.

  61. However, I just wish they would stand by the courage of their convictions and stop taking our holidays off.

    I’m not sure if you’re kidding, but you want us to not take any holidays at all? All because we don’t have a religion?

    By the way, would it kill you to come in on a Sunday? It not like you honor the Sabbath or anything.

    I would except I worship at the altar of NFL Sundays.

  62. Does a workable, useful code of ethics have to be a “logical system”? And which real-life set of religious morals can be said to be an example of logical consistency?

  63. I am bothered when people claim that theists are “stupid” or “not using logic” because they believe in a higher power “with no evidence to prove it.” There may not be evidence for the existence of a god, but there is little evidence against it, either. The situation, to me, is similar to the idea of the existence of life on other planets — there’s no evidence either way, so, how would we know? Is it stupid and illogical to believe life exists somewhere else in the universe, even though we have no proof of that?

  64. Mike Laursen,

    If you’re looking for moral ethics with logical consistency I recommend you look up a Jesuit – they’ve been logic-chopping moral arguments for many centuries. You also might want to try reading any recent papal declaration – while I’m not a Catholic, I would note they tend to reason very carefully about an issue before taking a position on it.

  65. I note the irony that Julian asked for tales of horror or tolerance, and some non-atheists have provided it on this very blog. (That is, straight from the horse’s mouth, instead of second or third hand accounts.)

  66. And which would those be, kmw? I don’t see anyone in this thread saying that atheists should be treated differently from theists, or claiming that atheists have a monopoly on arrogance.

  67. I live in Guyana, South America.

    I once took part in a debate here at my university about gay marriage (that was the topic assigned for the competition. My team was required to support gay marriage) and during the open forum that followed one Rastafarian that was highly opposed to gays asked me why I thought that God’s will was irrelevant to the debate. I stated that not everyone believes in God. His reply was,”you don’t believe in God?”

    I said, “No”

    His reply? “Well, Death for you!”

    Not sure if that was some kind of spiritual prediciton or an outright threat, but my friends told me that he later had a chair and was looking for me to hit me and that they distracted him.

    Surprise ending to the story: We bumped into each other in the registration line months later. He was polite and I actually seemed to make headway in explaining the importance of Separating Church and State (I took the tack that it protected his beliefs).

    he even says hi when we pass each other now…

    I am still absolutely scared as hell of him.

    • “I’ve known some nice atheists…” sez Mike, which would be tolerance.
    • “So fuck you, atheists.” sez Amanda. Guess which one that is…
  68. Nice straw men. I really like how you don’t even bother quoting entire sentences, just to make sure there’s no context whatsoever.

    So, saying that I’ve known athiests who were nice is a sign of crypto-bias? What did you make of the next bit where I say “I’ve also known some smug superior jerks” – evidence of crypto tolerance?

    As for Amanda’s complaint about being attacked for secularly celebrating Easter – she’s not even Christian! – if you think Amanda was showing intolerance to reasonable behavior you are brain damaged – and I don’t care what your philosophy is.

  69. Mike, you take yourself way too seriously. I was making a joke.

    Does this make it easier to see my tongue in my cheek… 😉

    I was thinking about employing the Denis Leary approach to the situation, but I get the impression you wouldn’t appreciate the foul language.

  70. But have a nice day; I apparently think more highly of you, than you of me. (I was complimenting you for saying it is the individual, not the group, that should be judged.)

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