Fellow Atheists/Agnostic Atheists - Let's Chat: Do you feel it is risky being "out" these days?

KingGorilla wrote:

For me, as an atheist, I see it as much more important that we elect candidates who are secular and hold to those values of our country. Whether you are religious or not, the concern should be that the people elected are adhering to our constitution, that even if their values come from a religious life that they are not forced upon the nation, and that their god is not an enemy of education and reason.

In short, what we all should really strive for is not more atheist officials, but to engender and keep an air that it does not matter so long as you obey our laws and put all 400 million Americans first.

As a practical matter of how we are being governed, I agree with this. A person's own religious beliefs need not impact his or her ability to perform in office.

It is, however, still a barometer of sorts on the weight American voters place on religion.

KingGorilla wrote:

For me, as an atheist, I see it as much more important that we elect candidates who are secular and hold to those values of our country. Whether you are religious or not, the concern should be that the people elected are adhering to our constitution, that even if their values come from a religious life that they are not forced upon the nation, and that their god is not an enemy of education and reason.

In short, what we all should really strive for is not more atheist officials, but to engender and keep an air that it does not matter so long as you obey our laws and put all 400 million Americans first.

This week's Point of Inquiry focuses on that subject:
http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jacque...

If a Jesuit Priest can uphold secular government, then so can you.

kazooka wrote:

I actually think the word "atheist" was a little bit better off ten years ago before Dawkins and Hitchens and their ilk started parading it around. It's become a synonym for self-absorbed, self-interested and smugly superior. I'm not at all surprised that a political candidate would avoid using the word.

Citation from mainstream media/culture? I've not seen that type of antipathy thrown around, but I avoid television and talk radio. There are surely plenty of people who start out with the view that atheists and secularists are double-Hitler, but I would wager the number of those people who've actually listened to people like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc.

Well they wised up and learned that they were never going to "win" an argument with the fundamentalists.

For example The Dawkins Delusion from someone who obviously did not read The God Delusion.

And if someone could form an argument other than "well not all religious people deny science" no but almost all people who deny science do so for religious reasons.

Say what you will about Dawkins and Hitchens. Their side is winning the theology war in the US. Our theoretical rape-ologists failed to attain office (save Ryan because he campaigned harder for his seat than president), 4 states passed laws granting marriage rights to same sex couples, the census shows steady decline in not only religious affiliation but also in religious attendance. Very few Catholics or Anglicans attend services regularly (even annually).

Kraint wrote:
kazooka wrote:

I actually think the word "atheist" was a little bit better off ten years ago before Dawkins and Hitchens and their ilk started parading it around. It's become a synonym for self-absorbed, self-interested and smugly superior. I'm not at all surprised that a political candidate would avoid using the word.

Citation from mainstream media/culture? I've not seen that type of antipathy thrown around, but I avoid television and talk radio. There are surely plenty of people who start out with the view that atheists and secularists are double-Hitler, but I would wager the number of those people who've actually listened to people like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc.

That is perhaps the perception of "new atheism" among faith-based circles, sure. It's easy to just write off Hawkins and Hitch as angry and arrogant instead of addressing the poignant criticisms they levy against religious faith.

Nicholaas wrote:
Kraint wrote:
kazooka wrote:

I actually think the word "atheist" was a little bit better off ten years ago before Dawkins and Hitchens and their ilk started parading it around. It's become a synonym for self-absorbed, self-interested and smugly superior. I'm not at all surprised that a political candidate would avoid using the word.

Citation from mainstream media/culture? I've not seen that type of antipathy thrown around, but I avoid television and talk radio. There are surely plenty of people who start out with the view that atheists and secularists are double-Hitler, but I would wager the number of those people who've actually listened to people like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc.

That is perhaps the perception of "new atheism" among faith-based circles, sure. It's easy to just write off Hawkins and Hitch as angry and arrogant instead of addressing the poignant criticisms they levy against religious faith.

This is so true. Every time I've seen Dawkins or Hitchins being interviewed, they were always calm, reasonable and objective. This 'angry atheist' stereotype seems more a case of wishing it were so, rather than reality. Not to say there are no angry atheists, but as a rule it's about as true as saying that all religious people like to blow other people up.

I'm pretty much an atheist (agnostic, sure, but I don't see any good evidence, so that's close enough for me)... and I feel like the things I've read from Dawkins come across as arrogant and more than a bit obnoxious. There is a great deal of distance between "you shouldn't let faith interfere with your interpretation of evidence" and "all religion is bad and wrong". The second does not necessarily follow from the first, and the existence of religious people who are not anti-science or bigoted against people of other religious bents rather makes the second a questionable stance to take.

Unfortunately, I really [em]do[/em] get that second vibe from Dawkins, as well as some other well-known atheist spokespeople. They do not seem to me to be acting as advocates for atheism and atheists, so much as opponents of religion. And those really [em]shouldn't[/em] be the same thing. It's a terrible, terrible mistake to try to raise up one philosophy and its adherents by putting another down.

I get where they're coming from, with arguing that a variety of social ills have been motivated by religious thought over the ages. But I would argue that this is only because religion has been around for ages. There are plenty of social ills that have grown out of non-religious thought as well--and there's really not much to divide between how the bad religious ideas and the bad secular ideas worked out. A widely-held opinion doesn't have to be a traditional religious idea to be sh*tty.

I don't particularly care what people believe about unknowable things, as long as they act like civilized human beings. It's important to me that people not use "it's part of my religion" as an excuse to act with incivility. But beyond that? It really doesn't matter. So when I see people acting like jerks in the name of atheism, it kind of ticks me off--because it's jerks I don't like, not just religious jerks.

Hypatian wrote:

There is a great deal of distance between "you shouldn't let faith interfere with your interpretation of evidence" and "all religion is bad and wrong". The second does not necessarily follow from the first, and the existence of religious people who are not anti-science or bigoted against people of other religious bents rather makes the second a questionable stance to take.

Dawkins and Harris specifically take a stance against defanged "moderate" religion not because it is "bad and wrong," but because it tends to defend religion as a whole from secular criticism, which allows the crazy elements of religion to survive and flourish.

Hypatian wrote:

That would be a poor choice on their part, because it alienates a large number of people who ought to be their allies.

That explains your stance in the racism/internet thread.

That would be a poor choice on their part, because it alienates a large number of people who ought to be their allies.

Edit: To expand on that a bit...

First, I'd like to note that the very phrasing you used there reveals an assumption. 'defanged "moderate" religion'. That suggest the assumption that "normal" religion is "fanged" and "not moderate". That it has to be "defanged" before it's at all okay, and in fact deserves scare quotes around '"moderate"' because of course there's no such thing.

That right there is an example of the "oh, seems reasonable" sort of thing that's actually rather offensive and abrasive if you don't already agree with it (which I don't). It absolutely suggests that all religion is wrong, that its base state is one of extremism and militancy, and that anybody who claims otherwise is just acting as a shield for religious believers.

Second, to expand on the primary point I was trying to suggest: People who are religious but see the value in a secular society are in fact [em]exactly[/em] the people who atheists ought to be courting, if their goal is a strong secular society. You don't have to be an atheist to see the value in basing policy on sound principles that hold across a large portion of the spectrum of popular opinion, and that on matters where study of the natural world influences policy, science is the only choice of tools to apply.

And, of course, going after religion in general doesn't just turn off moderate religious people when things are stated this way, it also has the potential to turn off other people who fall into the "agnostic" or "nothing in particular" buckets of not religiously affiliated in that chart Katy posted at the top of this page.

Er. What?

The problem lies with the fact that the crazy parts of religion aren't misinterpretations or peculiarities of the extremists, the crazy parts are hard-coded into the religions themselves, and religious moderates are only moderate in their religion because they choose to ignore the parts of their religions they don't like. They will, however, come to the defense of their religion when secularists and atheists point out all the crazy crap, and will often take offense at even the most inoffensive and valid of criticisms. Metaphorically speaking, it's sort of hard to form an alliance to cure a disease with a partner who only wants to treat the symptoms and gets butthurt whenever you start trying to form a diagnosis.

Okay. So, what you're saying is "all religion is bad and wrong". In that case, isn't it a bit disingenuous to defend Dawkins and Harris by saying that "they don't take a stance against moderate religion because it's 'bad and wrong', just because of things that make it bad and wrong"?

First, I'd like to note that the very phrasing you used there reveals an assumption. 'defanged "moderate" religion'. That suggest the assumption that "normal" religion is "fanged" and "not moderate". That it has to be "defanged" before it's at all okay, and in fact deserves scare quotes around '"moderate"' because of course there's no such thing.

Take a look the big three Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Read their holy texts. Read about the history of these traditions. They are brutal, archaic, violent, misogynistic, and host to some of the worst ideas and actions in human history. This is inherent to the scriptures, mind you. These books are unambiguous in the tone they set, and in the messages they deliver. The "moderate" faith of those we speak of is one that has developed - in no small part - thanks to the "sanitization" of being exposed to Western, secular values. "Moderate" is used with an understanding that militant/fundamentalist religiosity is actually following the Bible/Koran/Torah as intended by their respective deities.

EDIT - ruhk beat me to it.

Hypatian wrote:

Okay. So, what you're saying is "all religion is bad and wrong". In that case, isn't it a bit disingenuous to defend Dawkins and Harris by saying that "they don't take a stance against moderate religion because it's 'bad and wrong', just because of things that make it bad and wrong"?

There may be a definition discrepancy here. When referring to "moderate religion," I'm referring to it as a movement, i.e.: the people participating in the religion. Not the religion itself.

As for the religions themselves, I wouldn't say that they are "bad," but they are definitively "wrong," as in factually wrong. Religions make proclamations about how the world works, or should work, and fosters cognitive dissonance and distrust in things that show that the world doesn't work that way. Such as science. Or reality.

Religions have their good aspects as well, but those tend to be more centered around the religious building communities than anything inherent to the religion itself.

My problem with militant atheists isn't their view that humanity would be better off without religion, it's their belief that they should herald the fall of religion as evangelical atheists. There was another thread about that some time ago. People like Dawkins force the religious to dig in their heels; if they truly believe that the destruction of religion is necessary, they need to back off the rhetoric and let it happen naturally. Instead of talking about this inevitability, I believe they could appease to moderates by offering an alternative to salvation: a healthy, atheist worldview that can help people live fulfilling lives without the promise of eternal life.

Right. And there, in a nutshell, is why people have the feelings that kazooka expressed.

"Bad" is a very subjective term, and "wrong" can be too, but if we're talking about whether or not it's a good idea to hold beliefs that have no validity or truth, then that's "bad," and every claim that something can be attributed to a god of some kind can either be actively disproved, or is a clearly fallacious conclusion based on lack of actual knowledge as to how it works, which means it's "wrong." The good things that come from religions, such as some of the morals they teach, and maybe some entertaining stories, have come up on their own in human history from hundreds of thousands of different cultures. They also all conform to the times in which they are contextually relevant.

Grubber788 wrote:

My problem with militant atheists isn't their view that humanity would be better off without religion, it's their belief that they should herald the fall of religion as evangelical atheists. There was another thread about that some time ago. People like Dawkins force the religious to dig in their heels; if they truly believe that the destruction of religion is necessary, they need to back off the rhetoric and let it happen naturally. Instead of talking about this inevitability, I believe they could appease to moderates by offering an alternative to salvation: a healthy, atheist worldview that can help people live fulfilling lives without the promise of eternal life.

I'm afraid I have to disagree. If you look at the history of the US, there was a time when not believing in something like a god was not so socially reprehensible. Things got a little too comfortable and there has been a resurgence of religion to the point that there are blatantly and obivously toxic elements in our society because of it. Say what you will about how Harris and Dawkins approach it, people need to hear and get comfortable with the idea that there are people who don't believe. Moderate atheists are a convenience we can't afford yet. We don't need militant zealots, but we do need thoughtful, intelligent people to make their points and stand their ground. We have a right to exist, which is really where the threat is. Our right not to believe is curtailed by the threat of reprisal and hatred. When atheists poll on the level of rapists, simply for not holding religious beliefs, but are otherwise normal contributing members of society, the religious don't get a free pass. And we can't afford to get complacent. The death of religion as it exists today is almost a necessity.

Wrong forum.

Grubber788 wrote:

My problem with militant atheists isn't their view that humanity would be better off without religion, it's their belief that they should herald the fall of religion as evangelical atheists. There was another thread about that some time ago. People like Dawkins force the religious to dig in their heels; if they truly believe that the destruction of religion is necessary, they need to back off the rhetoric and let it happen naturally.

Heh, that outlines the schizm in our thinking.

Most of us don't view it as "evangelizing," and we aren't seeking the "destruction of religion." (at least, I'm not, sorry Mike :P) The point of New Atheism is basically to stand up for ourselves as a group against people who would rather we just shut up and stay quiet, and speak out against the irrational in the hope that we can lessen the hold that those irrational beliefs have on society. The religious dig in their heels not because of the way they are being challenged, but because they are being challenged at all.

Don't forget that as an agnostic, I don't accept disproof by lack of proof any more than I accept a bogus proof, so... Unprovable things are just unprovable things, and generally don't make a damned bit of difference one way or the other.

An awful lot of religious people also shuffle anything in the "provably untrue" category into "this is a metaphor at best, and just one more stupid thing our predecessors passed down to us because they were dumbasses at worst, and either way we can discard it." Don't forget that not every religion holds to traditions as infallibly true. And that's true across all religions, including the Abrahamic religions--they all have branches that approach things that way.

Regarding getting comfortable with people who don't believe: [em]That[/em] is what I believe that atheist activists should be focused on. But it always gets mixed up in this "while we're at it, we'll also tell you about what a bad thing religion is". Separating the activism from the apologism is kind of important.

Grubber788 wrote:

My problem with militant atheists isn't their view that humanity would be better off without religion, it's their belief that they should herald the fall of religion as evangelical atheists. There was another thread about that some time ago. People like Dawkins force the religious to dig in their heels; if they truly believe that the destruction of religion is necessary, they need to back off the rhetoric and let it happen naturally. Instead of talking about this inevitability, I believe they could appease to moderates by offering an alternative to salvation: a healthy, atheist worldview that can help people live fulfilling lives without the promise of eternal life.

They - and many other atheists - do plenty of that. Most religious folk just don't want to hear about it, or are too indoctrinated with the "you can't be good without god/where do you get your morals/you're all just nihilists" misconceptions that we have to get argumentative if we are to have any hope of breaking down that mental barrier. In many cases, you're not dealing with people who are open to having their beliefs challenged - sometimes you have to push to get them thinking. It can be messy and uncomfortable, and wont work on everyone, but it's necessary if we want to remove religion from it's seat of privilege.

Most atheists I've met, talked to, read about, listened to, etc, want a better world - many still actually work towards it. Part of that entails removing religion from it's position of power and influence, thereby mitigating the seriously detrimental effects it has on society. This is not a process that will "just happen", not when religious communities the world over actively work to indoctrinate as many people as possible, spread lies and deceit, and otherwise hold humanity back with outdated views of the world and our place in it.

Word up, yo.

Hypatian wrote:

Don't forget that as an agnostic, I don't accept disproof by lack of proof any more than I accept a bogus proof, so... Unprovable things are just unprovable things, and generally don't make a damned bit of difference one way or the other.

Singly, I would agree with this assessment, however, there's a mountain of disproof against god claims (i.e., all of them can either be proven untrue, or simply fall into the realm of "we don't know yet"). And I think the latter half of your quote lines up with the idea that a god that doesn't interact or can't be observed in our reality is indistinguishable from a god that doesn't exist. Those things taken together make a very clear picture of atheism for me, to the point where I border on agnostic atheist and gnostic atheist at times.

ruhk wrote:

Most of us don't view it as "evangelizing," and we aren't seeking the "destruction of religion." (at least, I'm not, sorry Mike :P) The point of New Atheism is basically to stand up for ourselves as a group against people who would rather we just shut up and stay quiet, and speak out against the irrational in the hope that we can lessen the hold that those irrational beliefs have on society. The religious dig in their heels not because of the way they are being challenged, but because they are being challenged at all.

I think we're actually saying the same thing. Religion doesn't necessarily have to be destroyed as a whole, but it's got to change.

Bear in mind that I believe that as technology improves and more people have access to education, the negative effects of religion--and religion itself to a certain degree--become smaller parts of society. That is why I believe the march toward global atheism is an inevitability. The U.S.'s special history around Christianity and radical Islam's influence across certain regions in the world notwithstanding.

Grubber788 wrote:

Bear in mind that I believe that as technology improves and more people have access to education, the negative effects of religion--and religion itself to a certain degree--become smaller parts of society. That is why I believe the march toward global atheism is an inevitability. The U.S.'s special history around Christianity and radical Islam's influence across certain regions in the world notwithstanding.

I think you are being rather optimistic. Religion's claims will be pushed into an ever-shrinking bubble of claims that don't really stand up to scrutiny, but the danger in religion is not about how strongly science or technology can disprove those claims, it's in the emotionally manipulative side of it. People will continue to be subject to emotional manipulation regardless of how technological or educated they are, and that's where religion sets its hooks. "God loves you and there's an afterlife," can be a really appealing claim.

Religion will never go away. Evolution wired our brains to be superstitious and see patterns that don't exist. At best religion will be relegated to cultural tradition like secular Judaism, but I think the Transmetropolitan take on religion is far more likely, with the vast majority of society ignoring a small and increasingly fractious group of increasingly bizarre beliefs.

Even beyond technology, I do think religion has one hell of a battle to fight against modern society. How much longer can backwards beliefs push back against the rising tide of globalism? Look at how far liberalism has come in the past couple centuries. Look at the truly developed countries of the world and tell me that religion there is as powerful today as it was two hundred years ago. I view the issues in the United States right now as a failure of the education system and the Islamic problems across the worlds as symptoms of developing nations.

Perhaps I am just lucky to live in HK. It's a secular place for the most part. We worship one god: Money. And complaining about Mainlanders.

Bah, lost the long post I was writing.

The only major question I had to pose: what is so discomforting about atheists that we must devote ourselves to gently acclimating the religious to our existence? Why is it unreasonable to challenge someone on their beliefs, when those beliefs are voluntarily brought into the discussion as cause for what atheists view as harmful actions and discrimination?