Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tactics for a cause

Many atheists justify their confrontational and blatantly insulting tactics by comparison to the struggles of other causes.

Because anger has driven every major movement for social change in this country, and probably in the world. The labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women's suffrage movement, the modern feminist movement, the gay rights movement, the anti-war movement in the Sixties, the anti-war movement today, you name it... all of them have had, as a major driving force, a tremendous amount of anger.

These may sound reasonable on the surface, but we must first find out the general purposes of these causes. Let's see ... securing more rights or equality for workers, blacks, women,  and gays. The Sixties and modern anti-war protests had dubious results, at best. Those of the Sixties may have eventually turned political opinion against the draft, but also exacerbated the poor morale of the soldiers, coming home with increased drug abuse and little support. And there's no evidence that the modern protests had much positive effect either, other than perhaps an outlet for domestic frustrations.

So, can the goals of atheism be seen as securing more rights or equality for some group?

Anger, when it's directed at a real cause of mistreatment or injustice (towards yourself or towards others) is healthy, and it can be a useful, constructive motivator to change things.

This writer would have us believe that atheists are being mistreated. So what exactly do they want to change in order to address this? We already have separation of church and state, aside from the ridiculous assumption that people of certain world views should somehow refrain from allowing what they think to inform how they vote. We already have laws against discrimination based on creed. We already have a legal system through which to address criminal wrongs and civil disputes.

What many atheists want to do is restrict theist access to government, and some even want to go so far as to usurp parental rights. That is the opposite to securing more rights or equality. But somehow all of these purported intellectuals have missed this rather striking point entirely. You see, allowing people to have more rights doesn't tend to cost those who already have them anything significant. Removing rights is the sort of thing people in a free country fight against.

I'd be happy to hear from anyone who can show me what injustice is being fought with this anger.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Greater expectations

I tend to come down more harshly on atheists for the very simple reason that they are the ones who profess objectivity, rationality, and intellect. As such, subjective self-deception, hypocrisy, and skewing the facts should not play any part in their arguments, as these are exactly what they condemn of the religious. Here are a few of the worst examples.

1. Freedom of speech double standard.

Atheists tout their First Amendment right of expressing their world view, especially when being confronted about being overly angry (as addressed in my last post). Conversely they think that this right should somehow not apply to people expressing their religious world view in public, and even in private with their own children as audience.

2. Confusing anti-religion for atheism.

A very many atheists seem to be more opposed to religious people than merely the notion of theism itself. What they argue against are behaviors and social situations that are not reliant solely upon theism.

3. Treating all religions as Abrahamic.

Granted, Abrahamic religions are prevalent in societies that are tolerant enough for atheists to be outspoken, but these do not entail the totality of theism. Or perhaps it is more precise to say that Abrahamic religions are prevalent in societies which are generally more sectarian, and conducive to such extreme social divisions.  Anyway, theism, not Christianity, is what atheism is definitively against.

4. Appealing to the Constitution.

Somehow atheists have convinced themselves that the Constitution provides for a "freedom from religion", even though it is nowhere implied. What is interpreted as intended, rather than explicitly stated, is the separation of church and state. While this does mean that government cannot enforce a state religion, this does not mean that religion should be stricken from public and political discourse.

People cannot be reasonably expected to keep their opinion from informing their voting or social agenda, and the Constitution guarantees the rights to do so.

The First Amendment ensures the freedoms of speech, religious expression and practice, and access to the government. There is no "freedom from religion" without restricting some or all of these rights in a select and biased quarter. A segment of society that is the majority even.

The Fourteenth Amendment ensures these rights cannot be usurped by individual states.

The Ire of Athiests

In a post titled Atheists and Anger, this blogger first lists ~50 things about religion that make her angry. Seems self-serving to vent that much ire and then expect to be taken as anything but justifying when she gets around to explaining why that anger is appropriate. I am not really interested in the list of personal pique, as this seems like your usual list of wrongs cobbled together across all religious activity, whether extreme, contemporary, or not.

What I do want to address is the justification for expressing this anger.

Because anger is always necessary.

Because anger has driven every major movement for social change in this country, and probably in the world. The labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women's suffrage movement, the modern feminist movement, the gay rights movement, the anti-war movement in the Sixties, the anti-war movement today, you name it... all of them have had, as a major driving force, a tremendous amount of anger. Anger over injustice, anger over mistreatment and brutality, anger over helplessness.

First you will notice that the very large majority of her examples are causes meant to secure more rights and equality for some quarter of society. This seems to be common in atheistic apologetics. The agenda forwarded by the most vocal atheists is the express restriction of the rights of their opposition, namely, freedom of speech, access to government, and parental rights. Secondly, whereas their opposition maintains the majority in most cultures within which atheism has the freedom to act, such restriction is the blatant advocacy for oligarchy.

Do you see the stark difference? More rights are progressively ensured in a democracy, but rights are removed in order to create a disparity in favor of a minority in an oligarchy. So such justifications for anger are unwarranted.

I mean, why the hell else would people bother to mobilize social movements? Social movements are hard. They take time, they take energy, they sometimes take serious risk of life and limb, community and career. Nobody would fucking bother if they weren't furious about something.

People "bother" every day without being expressly "furious". Granted, it helps to have a group of like-minded and supportive people to work with, and I surmise it may be the lack of such that angers many atheists. They often express feeling isolated or unaccepted. It may be difficult to separate these social feelings from the issue.

So when you tell an atheist (or for that matter, a woman or a queer or a person of color or whatever) not to be so angry, you are, in essence, telling us to disempower ourselves. You're telling us to lay down one of the single most powerful tools we have at our disposal.

And here I was under the impression that the power of the atheistic argument relied solely upon objective reason. The ironic part is that straying from reason creates for the atheistic cause more harm than benefit, as emotional arguments are perceived as contrary to rational ones.

(emphasis added) I'll acknowledge that anger is a difficult tool in a social movement. A dangerous one even. It can make people act rashly; it can make it harder to think clearly; it can make people treat potential allies as enemies. In the worst-case scenario, it can even lead to violence. Anger is valid, it's valuable, it's necessary... but it can also misfire, and badly.

This is the only rational sentiment I can find in this post, and exactly why anger is counterproductive. Anger easily leads to defensive and exaggerated posturing which tends to make for much more collateral damage. Those agnostics and undecideds who may very well be prime recruits to the cause are not prepared nor interested in fighting such a pitched battle. Anger just is not a number growing strategy.

And you know what else? I think we need to have some goddamn perspective about this anger business. I mean, I look at organized Christianity in this country -- not just the religious right, but some more "moderate" churches as well -- interfering with AIDS prevention efforts, trying to get their theology into the public schools, actively trying to prevent me and Ingrid from getting legally married, and pulling all the other shit I talk about in this piece.

The perspective really needed here is that we live in a democracy where people are free to vote and attempt to form government in agreement with the opinion of the majority. How exactly would an atheist somehow manage to keep any particular opinion of theirs from effecting how they vote? Yet they expect the religious to schizophrenically divorce themselves from their core beliefs. The perspective here is that such unilateral idealizations as "freedom from religion" are simply not compatible with freedom, democracy, or even what one could reasonably hope to expect from any human.

Because the other thing I'm angry about is the fact that, in this piece, I've touched on -- maybe -- a hundredth of everything that angers me about religion. This piece barely scratches the surface.

And that may be a personal problem. Might I suggest anger management?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Atheist after my own heart

In his article The Top Mistakes Atheists Make, sociology professor (but we won't hold that against him) Phil Zuckerman echoes many of my own sentiments. I would only extend a few of these to theists as well.

1. Insisting that science can, or will, answer everything.  This is where atheists are the most apt to misrepresent science, and all the while somehow skirting the fact that it is their faith (sorry, confidence) in science that prompts such insistence. Conversely, Christians often tout the Bible as similarly having all the answers. Now obviously neither can be true, as the Bible is not contemporary and science has known boundaries on available information. Both claims are transparently weak, and only fuel the opposition. And no, comparing the relative veracity of competing speculative statements is not justified. Just because science has proven its own validity does not mean that any speculation based on science has the weight of proof where none exists. "Naturalism of the gaps" is no better than "God of the gaps".

2. Condemning all religion, rather then just the bad aspects thereof.  This goes for theists as well. Granted #1 seems contributory to a general distrust in science by theists. It is much like how a child learns to distrust their parents after finding they were told some exaggeration to keep them in line. Once a theist begins to study science, which is one of the primary social goals of most atheists, they learn how it has been misrepresented. Just as atheists are prone to condemn all religion wholesale, so does this contribute to theists likewise condemning science. After all, doubts about global warming are not really pertinent to a theist's ideology.

3. Condemning the Bible as a wretched, silly book, rather than seeing it as a work full of good and insightful things as well.  This one just always baffles me. Atheists seem to have the uncanny ability to both ridicule the Bible and take it as a legitimate and inerrant source on God. I do not really see how you can have it both ways. You can either accept it as a valid source on God, and use it to form your arguments, or you can write it off as nonsense. Considering atheism, by definition, would consider the concept of God unreasonable, they cannot reasonable make arguments bases on a source for that concept. This includes making any argument about theist "cherry-picking", interpretations, or anything else which may lend credence to scripture.

4. Failing to understand and appreciate "cultural religion."  Phil covers this one well, and it can basically be lumped in with #2, where sociocultural benefits are not differentiated from negative aspects.

5. Critiquing God as nasty, wicked, and immoral.  Basically covered by my comments for #3, where scripture is lent credence by citing it as evidence of such characteristics, although there are arguments worth considering about divine intervention and freewill where "evil in the world" is concerned, even doing so.

6. Focusing on arguments against the existence of God, rather than working to make the world a better, more just place.  Why be so vociferous about why a purportedly delusional, superstitious, or unreasonable thing should not exist? Arguments should focus on their own merits rather than the weakness of their opposition. Positive evidence rather than the old "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" yarn.

7. Arguing about morality in the abstract.   So far I have yet to see a compelling argument or statistics for atheistic morality. Conversely, I have not seen a compelling argument to insist upon morals requiring a specifically Abrahamic God either.

8. Not having more kids.   An atheist recently made this argument to me:  
The demographic data indicates that higher birthrates are associated with ignorance and poverty, so by this reasoning we need to get busy and roll back western civilization a century or two. 
 Now obviously, association or coincidence does not equate to causation. On the contrary, those of means would be better suited to provide for more children.

Anyway, I though this article a fair example of much of my own opinion. Do you know of any compelling arguments for any of the above? If so, please comment.

The middle for both sides

The initial impetus for this blog is the ongoing atheism/theism controversy. So you may wonder what could possibly distinguish this blog from the plethora already devoted to the debate. There are already blogs by every flavor of theist and atheist you could probably imagine. Well, I will tell you what this blog is not. It is not a platform for any specific ideology, and perhaps surprisingly, especially not agnosticism.

What I wish to advocate here are better strategies on both sides of this debate. Personally, I don't have anything to gain by either side dominating the other, but I do take some offense when facts are skewed to accommodate any ideology. Where science is misrepresented or religion is stereotyped, I think such tactics can only harm the cause of each. Both should strive to extricate themselves from the morass of merely "preaching to the choir".

Overall I think confrontation is not productive, but competition is. I'd like to see both atheists and theists work in ways that would pit them against each other over potential allies/converts throughout a larger percentage of the population. I'd like to see both subjected to a larger natural selection rather than isolated inbreeding.

Now, no doubt, proponents of each side will wish to paint me with the same brush as they do their opposition. That is to be expected of those who hold extreme views, but I do not intend to make any concerted effort to give "equal time" to both sides in an attempt to allay such. I will follow my interest in the strength or weakness of a particular argument. Most likely I will not try to rebut everything under the sun, as many just do not have the merit to warrant my interest.

I encourage comments and suggestions of blog posts, op-eds, news articles, and the like. I am interested in putting the most compelling arguments to the test, and perhaps building a list of those I find worthy of use in this debate.