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

Kraint wrote:

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?

The source of discomfort may not be so obvious to the believers who are distrustful, but to me it seems that the existence of a position that denies the things they take comfort in threatens the validity of their comfort. For me at least, the comfort I drew from the idea of an afterlife was more valuable than the various tenets of Catholicism, yet those two things are pieces of the same puzzle. Without one, I shed the other. I think a lot of people are afraid of ending up doing the same. And if there's anything people use as justification for being unreasonable, it's fear.

Funny thing is, I ended up being comfortable with it anyway. I'm not an extraordinary person, so if I did it, anyone can. What's more, I'm comfortable with a real situation, rather than comfortable with a fiction.

There's nothing at all. That's not the problem people are talking about.

On the one hand, you have advocacy for the acceptance of atheists--pointing out how ridiculous it is that you almost can't get elected to public office as an atheist in this country, etc. On the other hand, you have advocacy for the embrace of atheism as a position--pointing out how explaining the natural world does not require the existence of supernatural things, etc. And yes, part of the second is pointing out the failures of logic in religious viewpoints, as part of convincing people that they should be atheists.

If you argue both of these things at once without drawing a firm distinction between them, you give the impression that the acceptance of atheists requires the rejection of religion, which is not true any more than the acceptance of homosexual marriage requires the rejection of heterosexual marriage.

The first argument is the "WTF? People rate the trustworthiness of atheists as equal to that of rapists? What kind of BS screwed up idea is that?" argument. The second argument is the "Here is why people should be atheists" argument.

Both are important arguments to make. Just... not at the same time. There are a lot more people who are ready and willing to denounce bigotry against atheists than who want to be atheists.

It's like trying to convince people to love their neighbors as they love themselves... while telling them that the only way to do that is to accept Jesus Christ.

I'm sorry, but I don't see atheists with copies of The God Delusion on street corners, telling people that atheism is the one true way to go. Dawkins and Harris are as free to write about their philosophies as anyone else is, and most of the cases where they're actually talking to theists are the result of theists saying, "We want to argue with you!" and they say, "Ok."

NSMike wrote:

I'm sorry, but I don't see atheists with copies of The God Delusion on street corners, telling people that atheism is the one true way to go. Dawkins and Harris are as free to write about their philosophies as anyone else is, and most of the cases where they're actually talking to theists are the result of theists saying, "We want to argue with you!" and they say, "Ok."

Evangelical atheists don't need street corners when they've got the internet. r/atheists are just as shrill as any street preacher I've ever heard. I think Reddit specifically is where the negative stereotypes are coming from.

Two failures. One is: Dawkins and Harris fail to be good advocates for atheists [em]in the context of this thread[/em]. That is: they spend a lot more time on "why be an atheist" than "why is bigotry against atheists a bad thing". They haven't made that their job, though--it's just that they're who people turn to when they want to understand who atheists are, because they're who people have heard of.

The other is: Me. I failed to address the question of why their arguments come across as kind of rude, because I was back to thinking in the context of the thread title again, and that's not where the discussion is. On that front, here's my question: what proportion of the time do they spend talking about why atheism is good, and what proportion of the time do they spend talking about why religion is bad? What would we think about, say, a Christian preacher who split their time similarly between talking about how to be a good Christian and why Islam is bad?

I think that "definition by opposition" is a trap, and it's the thing that strikes people as "off". I [em]could not finish[/em] The God Delusion because I found the negativity of the message so off-putting. Perhaps I was hoping for too much, as somebody who's very interested in the study of religion as a phenomenon in human culture. I was hoping for interesting insights into the biological and cultural mechanisms that give rise to religious thought. I was hoping for interesting insights into the functions of religion in society, and why we need not depend on religion to provide those functions. I got a tablespoon of each of those and a great steaming heap of "oh, and this is why all religions are destructive, let me give you some anecdotes".

I am sad that there aren't well-recognized spokespeople out there in the movement who focus on the issues of rights and acceptance in preference to convincing people to become atheists. I am sad that there aren't well-recognized apologists out there in the movement who focus on "why you should be an atheist" rather than "why people shouldn't be religious". I kind of feel like if atheists (and other non-religious people) are to be accepted (which, again, is the nominal topic of this thread), it will be primarily be the work of organizations like the ACLU who advocate for everybody, rather than the work of people who advocate specifically for non-believers.

*shrug* Ahh, well.

Grubber788 wrote:

Evangelical atheists don't need street corners when they've got the internet. r/atheists are just as shrill as any street preacher I've ever heard. I think Reddit specifically is where the negative stereotypes are coming from.

/r/atheism is a pressure valve for all of the people can't come out, and those that just did. And, oddly enough, you have to go to Reddit, it doesn't wander around on your college campus or mass transit stations.

Grubber788 wrote:
NSMike wrote:

I'm sorry, but I don't see atheists with copies of The God Delusion on street corners, telling people that atheism is the one true way to go. Dawkins and Harris are as free to write about their philosophies as anyone else is, and most of the cases where they're actually talking to theists are the result of theists saying, "We want to argue with you!" and they say, "Ok."

Evangelical atheists don't need street corners when they've got the internet. r/atheists are just as shrill as any street preacher I've ever heard. I think Reddit specifically is where the negative stereotypes are coming from.

I wasn't aware the subreddits harassed people that are just trying to go to lunch.

Hypatian wrote:

Two failures. One is: Dawkins and Harris fail to be good advocates for atheists [em]in the context of this thread[/em]. That is: they spend a lot more time on "why be an atheist" than "why is bigotry against atheists a bad thing". They haven't made that their job, though--it's just that they're who people turn to when they want to understand who atheists are, because they're who people have heard of.

The other is: Me. I failed to address the question of why their arguments come across as kind of rude, because I was back to thinking in the context of the thread title again, and that's not where the discussion is. On that front, here's my question: what proportion of the time do they spend talking about why atheism is good, and what proportion of the time do they spend talking about why religion is bad? What would we think about, say, a Christian preacher who split their time similarly between talking about how to be a good Christian and why Islam is bad?

I think that "definition by opposition" is a trap, and it's the thing that strikes people as "off". I [em]could not finish[/em] The God Delusion because I found the negativity of the message so off-putting. Perhaps I was hoping for too much, as somebody who's very interested in the study of religion as a phenomenon in human culture. I was hoping for interesting insights into the biological and cultural mechanisms that give rise to religious thought. I was hoping for interesting insights into the functions of religion in society, and why we need not depend on religion to provide those functions. I got a tablespoon of each of those and a great steaming heap of "oh, and this is why all religions are destructive, let me give you some anecdotes".

I am sad that there aren't well-recognized spokespeople out there in the movement who focus on the issues of rights and acceptance in preference to convincing people to become atheists. I am sad that there aren't well-recognized apologists out there in the movement who focus on "why you should be an atheist" rather than "why people shouldn't be religious". I kind of feel like if atheists (and other non-religious people) are to be accepted (which, again, is the nominal topic of this thread), it will be primarily be the work of organizations like the ACLU who advocate for everybody, rather than the work of people who advocate specifically for non-believers.

*shrug* Ahh, well.

Kyrsten Sinema is proof that non-believers can get elected to high office. It is absolutely harder, but I don't think a stirring speech from Hitchens was going to sway the people who convinced that self-proclaimed atheists are actually possessed by demons, or believers who just want to sin their lives away. There is a point where people are too far gone to be influenced by reality.

I may have someone who is more to you liking, however. Matt Dillahunty is an atheist out of Austin that has garnered some attention through the weekly public access TV show that the local atheist club puts out. He's been getting asked to do more and more debates over the past couple of years, including one entitled Good Without God? The public access show archive is available at http://www.atheist-experience.com/archive/, though I recommend skewing heavily towards the 2008 to mid-2011 shows with Matt as host.

iaintgotnopants wrote:
Grubber788 wrote:
NSMike wrote:

I'm sorry, but I don't see atheists with copies of The God Delusion on street corners, telling people that atheism is the one true way to go. Dawkins and Harris are as free to write about their philosophies as anyone else is, and most of the cases where they're actually talking to theists are the result of theists saying, "We want to argue with you!" and they say, "Ok."

Evangelical atheists don't need street corners when they've got the internet. r/atheists are just as shrill as any street preacher I've ever heard. I think Reddit specifically is where the negative stereotypes are coming from.

I wasn't aware the subreddits harassed people that are just trying to go to lunch.

I was comparing "shrillness," not "in-your-faceness." And the influence of that subreddit extends far beyond itself. I defy anyone to post anything mildly religious on Reddit or any site of its ilk without getting flamed.

Hypatian wrote:

I am sad that there aren't well-recognized spokespeople out there in the movement who focus on the issues of rights and acceptance in preference to convincing people to become atheists. I am sad that there aren't well-recognized apologists out there in the movement who focus on "why you should be an atheist" rather than "why people shouldn't be religious".

Those people exist. That message exists. There are several annual skeptics/atheist conferences (such as Skepticon and The Amazing Meeting) filled with speakers giving that very message, and they are well-known in atheist and freethought circles, but they aren't firebrands like Hitchens or Dawkins so they don't often get invited on television or interviewed like Hitchens or Dawkins does (did, in Hitchens' case).

It's not necessarily a failing of the movement, it's just the inevitable conclusion of what the media likes to call "ratings."

Grubber788 wrote:

I was comparing "shrillness," not "in-your-faceness." And the influence of that subreddit extends far beyond itself. I defy anyone to post anything mildly religious on Reddit or any site of its ilk without getting flamed.

Your problem is that you're going to r/atheism. It's where the loudmouths go to vent, and is hardly representative of atheists or atheism as a whole. If you want to see something actually resembling semi-intelligent conversation about religion on reddit, check out r/trueatheism (and even that can devolve sometimes, because its the Internet.

IMAGE(http://art.penny-arcade.com/photos/215499488_8pSZr-L-2.jpg)

ruhk wrote:

Your problem is that you're going to r/atheism. It's where the loudmouths go to vent, and is hardly representative of atheists or atheism as a whole. If you want to see something actually resembling semi-intelligent conversation about religion on reddit, check out r/trueatheism.

I unsubbed from r/atheism over a year ago, only going back today to see if it had changed. It's basically just a parody of itself at this point. Same with trueatheism too. There's such rage lying just under that veneer of intelligent discussion, that it's hard to stomach. /r/skeptic is closer to what I view as an ideal way of addressing the main issues with religion in the world.

On the Reddit note, I want to preempt a common response to Reddit-based attacks on evangelical atheism:

"You think it's bad that atheists are talking about atheism on a subreddit devoted to atheism?"

My response:

Yes, here's why:

/r/atheism is one of Reddit's largest subreddits and one of the most-visited. It's a public venue and one of the most popular atheist venues in the entire world. It is so public and so popular that I cannot help but feel that to some extent, that subreddit represents all atheists, whether they like it or not. And I certainly do not like being represented by people who constantly post Facebook screenshots of their religious aunts making some comment about Jesus and then repeat the same Carl Sagan quotes ad nauseum in the comments. If r/atheism were a private club for venting, I would be more understanding. God knows I've been in situations where I wanted to vent, but I've had the common sense and common decency to not make a scene in public about it. But r/atheism is not private and it has decided to take the path of least resistance for making atheists happy: mocking the religious.

I know Reddit is not a particularly representative sample of the world's population, but it is a part of the global atheist persona that has formed. I loathe it because it contributes little and less to promoting atheism, helping atheists and stopping the abuses of certain religious factions worldwide.

Am I placing too much value on Reddit's role in influencing the global perception of atheism? I mean, atheism doesn't have its own Vatican or church leadership organizations, at least none powerful enough for me to be aware of. It also seems appropriate the atheism would be strongly linked with the internet in the way I am suggesting.

OR

Maybe atheism's greatest champions never use the expression "atheism" at all. Scientific organizations do much to advance our common cause, but God never comes into the equation there.

Am I placing too much value on Reddit's role in influencing the global perception of atheism?

Yes. They are no more a defining atheist community than they are the center of any non-meme culture.

Edit to add:

Grubber788 wrote:

I unsubbed from r/atheism over a year ago, only going back today to see if it had changed. It's basically just a parody of itself at this point. Same with trueatheism too. There's such rage lying just under that veneer of intelligent discussion, that it's hard to stomach. /r/skeptic is closer to what I view as an ideal way of addressing the main issues with religion in the world.

It really is a vent point for people, primarily late teens, who are just figuring it all out. It is where people go to let out all of the anger and frustration from years of strict religious upbringings, or nonsensical utterances by family and friends(picture the kids of the nut on that wife swapping tv show), or what have you. Additionally, a lot of the people there are not out as atheists, often because it would be personally risky/damaging to do so. Thus, they get it out on the interwebs. Your only real opportunity for reasonableness is /r/DebateAnAtheist.

Second edit:
I should add that I don't really grok what you mean by 'global atheist persona.' I remain unconvinced that there is any sort of atheist community at large, since the only unifying factor is a lack of belief in gods. There are smaller groups that have formed for various purposes, but I don't really interpret that as translating to even the national stage.

Kraint wrote:

Second edit:
I should add that I don't really grok what you mean by 'global atheist persona.' I remain unconvinced that there is any sort of atheist community at large, since the only unifying factor is a lack of belief in gods. There are smaller groups that have formed for various purposes, but I don't really interpret that as translating to even the national stage.

I agree with you that atheism lacks a unifying community, but I still believe that it has a persona. I think the poll about rapists vs. atheists posted earlier demonstrates that: people have strong opinions about atheists. I think it is the very lack of an atheism organizational body that makes atheists such easy targets. There's no unified voice to beat back those nasty accusations of demonism.

Grubber788 wrote:
Kraint wrote:

Second edit:
I should add that I don't really grok what you mean by 'global atheist persona.' I remain unconvinced that there is any sort of atheist community at large, since the only unifying factor is a lack of belief in gods. There are smaller groups that have formed for various purposes, but I don't really interpret that as translating to even the national stage.

I agree with you that atheism lacks a unifying community, but I still believe that it has a persona. I think the poll about rapists vs. atheists posted earlier demonstrates that: people have strong opinions about atheists. I think it is the very lack of an atheism organizational body that makes atheists such easy targets. There's no unified voice to beat back those nasty accusations of demonism.

It has a "persona" that has been defined in large part by believers themselves. And the media - who love to focus on the "angry atheist rants" - doesn't help. As has been mentioned already, there are numerous conferences, individuals, books, and groups that go well beyond criticism of religion. Those just don't make headlines, and they aren't easy targets for religious folk to lash out at. There are plenty of voices to counter the nonsense accusations of the religious; the voices just fall on deaf ears.

Nicholaas wrote:
Grubber788 wrote:
Kraint wrote:

Second edit:
I should add that I don't really grok what you mean by 'global atheist persona.' I remain unconvinced that there is any sort of atheist community at large, since the only unifying factor is a lack of belief in gods. There are smaller groups that have formed for various purposes, but I don't really interpret that as translating to even the national stage.

I agree with you that atheism lacks a unifying community, but I still believe that it has a persona. I think the poll about rapists vs. atheists posted earlier demonstrates that: people have strong opinions about atheists. I think it is the very lack of an atheism organizational body that makes atheists such easy targets. There's no unified voice to beat back those nasty accusations of demonism.

It has a "persona" that has been defined in large part by believers themselves. And the media - who love to focus on the "angry atheist rants" - doesn't help. As has been mentioned already, there are numerous conferences, individuals, books, and groups that go well beyond criticism of religion. Those just don't make headlines, and they aren't easy targets for religious folk to lash out at. There are plenty of voices to counter the nonsense accusations of the religious; the voices just fall on deaf ears.

Then atheists are essentially a chorus of people singing different melodies. Atheists need to hire a PR firm to do some quality reputation management.

Grubber788 wrote:

Then atheists are essentially a chorus of people singing different melodies. Atheists need to hire a PR firm to do some quality reputation management.

That would require that all atheists want to be seen as a single group with a single unifying purpose.

OG_slinger wrote:
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.

Hypatian wrote:

Er. What?

Not to put words in OG's mouth (or yours), but the way I read this (and your stance in that thread) is "It's not the best/most productive way to get the change you want, therefore it's the wrong way to do it."

Stengah wrote:
Grubber788 wrote:

Then atheists are essentially a chorus of people singing different melodies. Atheists need to hire a PR firm to do some quality reputation management.

That would require that all atheists want to be seen as a single group with a single unifying purpose.

The desire not be placed on the same level as rapists seems like a unifying purpose to me.

That's like saying "the desire for three square meals a day is a unifying purpose". Sure, all of humanity shares that desire, but it no more unites them than not wanting to be seen at the same level as rapists unites atheists.

Rallick wrote:

That's like saying "the desire for three square meals a day is a unifying purpose". Sure, all of humanity shares that desire, but it no more unites them than not wanting to be seen at the same level as rapists unites atheists.

I don't think that's a fair comparison. All humans eat. Only atheists (compared to other religious views) are viewed as being as lowly as rapists. Surely there must be unity in addressing that, no?

If not, how do we address that public image problem?

Here's the study (pdf warning), so we're all familiar with how it was done, and what we can accurately say about it. There were several studies done, but here's the method for the one we're talking about:

One hundred five UBC undergraduates (Age 18-25, M = 19.95; 71% Female) participated for extra credit.

Participants read the following description of an untrustworthy man who is willing to behave selfishly (and criminally) when other people will not find out:

Richard is 31 years old. On his way to work one day, he accidentally backed his car into a parked van. Because pedestrians were watching, he got out of his car. He pretended to write down his insurance information. He then tucked the blank note into the van's window before getting back into his car and driving away.
Later the same day, Richard found a wallet on the sidewalk. Nobody was looking, so he took all of the money out of the wallet. He then threw the wallet in a trash can

Next, participants chose whether they thought it more probable that Richard was either 1) a teacher, or 2) a teacher and XXXX. We manipulated XXXX between subjects. XXXX was either ―a Christian(N = 26), ―a Muslim (N = 26), ―a rapist (N = 26), or ―an atheist (someone who does not believe in God) (N = 27). The only difference in descriptions across targets was that the Muslim target was called "a man," rather than "Richard."

The study didn't show that the subjects considered rapists and atheists equally bad/immoral, but that they were equally likely to assume a person doing illegal acts (specifically insurance fraud and petty theft) was a rapist or an atheist. The study didn't test for the subject's beliefs, so we can only claim that people in general (not Christians or theists specifically) distrust atheists at the same rate they distrust rapists. Other parts of the study did show that religious people distrust atheists at higher rates than other marginalized groups, but they didn't include rapists in those parts.

Hypatian, you and others are right. People are wired to see patterns where they don't exist; if your ancestors were not that way, they'd have been eaten up by things that didn't trigger their pattern filters.

But that leaves us with a few problems. First, religions are designed to be self-sustaining. Culturally, what the people in your community do is more important to your beliefs than even the beliefs of your family. So as a religion takes hold, it holds on, not because your parents beat it into you, or because it's full of sense and reason, but because everyone else behaves as if it's true. That's hard to break, even as the understanding of how the world actually works leaves the religious explanations behind.

Second, this means that religious wisdom maintains what are actual, ancient worldviews, based on pre-scientific thought systems about the world, the nature of society, in- and out-member divisions, male and female roles, the basis of disease, how government should conduct itself, and so on. In the Bible, we have actual recommendations about how to live that were au courant when the Egyptians and the Hyksos were still fighting over who was going to control the Nile Delta. These things are taken in various degrees of literalism and applied to today's world by many adherents without regard to how the understanding of the world has changed in the intervening 3800 years or so. To be moderate in the Abrahamic tradition is simply to accept less of these ancient understandings as actual life instructions. The difference between moderation and extremism is one of degree, rather than one of overall difference in interpretation. Moderates still take many of the ancient understandings as factual, without evidence to support them.

Further, as the rise of natural philosophy and then science has changed our view of the world, the more literalist interpretations have lost many of their "common sense", "obvious" understandings, and in turn the moderate ranks have swelled (in most countries). But the problem there is that the literalists, the extremists, push back periodically. Christianity in the US is in that state now; Islam has had a problem with it since the 18th century. Judaism, not so much.

As literalists lose many of their smaller understandings, and some of the big ones too, to science and secular understandings of government, they double down on the "spiritual" and on the divisive things that differentiate them from other more moderate (less literal) understandings of the same material. They seek to hold the line, and even grow in numbers, by making the differences between secular-influenced religion and literalist religious thought even more apparent and extreme. They redefine moderates as false believers, or even not real adherents.

So one of the problems with supporting moderate views of religion is that it causes the hard-liners to dig their heels in further, and the moderates will protect them because they don't like to see religion attacked, and are used to getting a pass in that regard. I think in the long run, if we're going to get the religions updated, we have to accept that the very documents that motivate *both* moderates and extremists are the problem. It's not the interpretation per se; it's that it's impossible to argue that the *text* is wrong if one accepts one interpretation and rejects another. At that point, the atheist implicitly supports one sect over another.

It's important to separate moral guidance from the actual documents of religion itself. Most religions, if not all, provide reasonable basic morals to their followers, and oddly enough, secularists arrive at the same principles. Religion and morality are not immutably tied together, in either direction. Moral rules are not validation for other rules or judgements made about religious documents.

When the Bible tells us that the Earth was created in seven days, that's wrong. It's not that people who regard that as metaphorical are right and moderate and good, and that people who take it literally are bad and extreme and wrong. It's that the book is factually incorrect. That's the problem. Until that can be accepted by everyone who reads it, the acceptance of any version of it will continue to spawn the worst understandings as well as the ones that are not doing harm. And that's where the "New Atheists" are hanging their hats. Either there is a complete revision of religions like Christianity, or they will eventually become strongholds of extremism surrounded by soft shells of indifferently committed moderates. (I'd argue that that has already occurred in the Abrahamic traditions, with varying degrees of violent extremism as a result.)

The problem with religion is not belief, so much as it's belief in documents and beliefs established thousands of years ago. (It's interesting that newer religions which have sprung up in the last couple of centuries are all still questioned as shams or delusions, but that's a side issue.) In no other area of life do we rely on "wisdom" from the Hyksos or the Second Dynasty Egyptians or the Babylonians or Toltecs or Siberian Shamans or other Bronze Age sources, but in religion we often find that people do that with only a few sops to modern understandings.

I'll say it again. Most Western religious systems are incontrovertibly based on Bronze Age understandings of the world. Why in the *world* is it not proper, not acceptable, to simply reject them in their entirety? Is it because they, like all other cultures, got the "don't kill anyone" and "don't steal from others in your village" rules right? Does that justify the Iranian authorities stoning women? Christians burning down mosques and beating gas station attendants to death because they don't like Muslims? Yes, secular systems of thinking can lead people astray too. But why is Christianity not regarded as equally full of errors as, say, Communism? Why do snake handlers get a pass, but secularists are vicious and cruel and harmful to society?

We have a huge cultural blind spot that we need to own up to and correct. We have based many of our understandings on systems that were old-fashioned and out of date as the Romans began to consider how a Republic might work. Isn't that worth re-thinking? Why should these systems be untouchable?

There are also some semantic errors occurring here.

Atheism is not a monolithic set of beliefs with a general philosophical goal. Atheism is the lack of a belief in a god, and nothing else.

Addressing religious, theistic, and otherwise supernatural claims and seeking to analyze them logically with the goal of either proving or disproving them is skepticism. The end result of this being "there is no reason to believe X is true," is not the fault of the methodology, but the claims it examines.

Sentiments that religions should be eliminated are not atheistic, they're anti-theistic, and a distinction is important, because a Venn diagram of the two groups will show that, while there is crossover, they're not the same thing. It would actually probably be a Euler diagram, in that I doubt there are very many anti-theists who are not atheists, if any.

Any other subset of beliefs, morals, philosophies, and so forth, that does anything but say, "I do not believe a god or gods exist," is something other than atheism.

NSMike wrote:

Atheism is not a monolithic set of beliefs with a general philosophical goal. Atheism is the lack of a belief in a god, and nothing else.

Truth.

I saw a study recently that said something like a third of Americans 20 and under consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or religiously non-affiliated. Those numbers are rising every time they take a survey. Traditional organized religious is clearly dying a slow death, and, yes, it's the internet's "fault". When I was a kid, everybody I knew went to church, and it never occurred to me what I was being taught was incorrect. It wasn't until I got into college and started meeting people with different viewpoints that I re-evaluated things. Nowadays, anybody with an internet connection (i.e., pretty much everybody) sees those different viewpoints with just a mouse click. All those nice churches on every corner in the suburbs are in the midst of a long, painful death spiral, and there's going to be a whole bunch of new real estate going up in their place within the next couple decades.

Those studies that say atheists are considered to be untrustworthy would look very different adjusting for age. Yes, most 80-year-olds would be shocked that I self-identify as an atheist. 20-year-olds don't care. No amount of rational arguments from Richard Dawkins are going to dissuade the 80-year-olds out there, but the simple existence of his arguments being readily available? Yes, that's making a big difference. The simple existence of those alternate viewpoints is what's important. Old people will always think I'm a potential axe murderer because I don't believe in a deity, and no amount of PR or rational discussion will change that. Just shrug, go on with your day, and wait for the inevitable to happen as the next generation comes along and stops caring about religion at all.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

Those studies that say atheists are considered to be untrustworthy would look very different adjusting for age. Yes, most 80-year-olds would be shocked that I self-identify as an atheist. 20-year-olds don't care. No amount of rational arguments from Richard Dawkins are going to dissuade the 80-year-olds out there, but the simple existence of his arguments being readily available? Yes, that's making a big difference. The simple existence of those alternate viewpoints is what's important. Old people will always think I'm a potential axe murderer because I don't believe in a deity, and no amount of PR or rational discussion will change that. Just shrug, go on with your day, and wait for the inevitable to happen as the next generation comes along and stops caring about religion at all.

Of the 6 questions in the study, 2-5 relied heavily on college students taking psychology courses at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The one that also tested for assumptions that a "bad" person was a rapist, the group's ages ranged from 18-25 (M 19.95). They did have larger age ranges for the other questions though.

Grubber788 wrote:
Rallick wrote:

That's like saying "the desire for three square meals a day is a unifying purpose". Sure, all of humanity shares that desire, but it no more unites them than not wanting to be seen at the same level as rapists unites atheists.

I don't think that's a fair comparison. All humans eat. Only atheists (compared to other religious views) are viewed as being as lowly as rapists. Surely there must be unity in addressing that, no?

If not, how do we address that public image problem?

I think it is a fair comparison. All humans eat. All atheists dislike being viewed on par with rapists. That doesn't mean it somehow encourages them to form some kind of unified front with goals and agendas and a plan to change things. That's not to say that I wouldn't love there to be some kind of 'atheist organisation' but given that the only thing atheists have in common (other than not liking being viewed on par with rapists) is the fact that they do not believe in a deity, that is never going to happen. There are many local organisations and groups that do sterling work, but organizing them on a national or even global scale is like herding cats. All each of us can do is present a face of atheism that's totally opposite to the stereotypical view of the angry atheist, and to come out of the closet. Which brings me to:

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

Those studies that say atheists are considered to be untrustworthy would look very different adjusting for age. Yes, most 80-year-olds would be shocked that I self-identify as an atheist. 20-year-olds don't care. No amount of rational arguments from Richard Dawkins are going to dissuade the 80-year-olds out there, but the simple existence of his arguments being readily available? Yes, that's making a big difference. The simple existence of those alternate viewpoints is what's important. Old people will always think I'm a potential axe murderer because I don't believe in a deity, and no amount of PR or rational discussion will change that. Just shrug, go on with your day, and wait for the inevitable to happen as the next generation comes along and stops caring about religion at all.

I totally agree that religion as we know it is slowly, but surely, on the way out. I disagree that this means we don't need to do anything. It's like a wave. The more people who self-identify as atheist come out publicly, and be that face of atheism, the greater the impetus will be. Anything strange is viewed with suspicion, but once people get to know atheists (or homosexuals, or dungeons and dragons players) those preconceptions have a tendency to drop.

So yes, the trend is going our way, but we still need to do our small, but significant part.

Edit: Also, I love Robear's post above. Articulate and accurate, as usual.

(Thanks to Stengah for catching my embarassing mistake.)

Rallick wrote:

I totally agree that religion as we know it is slowly, but surely, on the way out. I disagree that this means we don't need to do anything. It's like a wave. The more people who self-identify as atheist come out publicly, and be that face of atheism, the greater the impetus will be. Anything strange is viewed with suspicion, but once people get to know atheists (or homosexuals, or dungeons and dragons players) those preconceptions have a tendency to drop.

So yes, the trend is going our way, but we still need to do our small, but significant part.

That's how I feel about my atheism. We are registering our presence at the moment. It would be easy for religious people to think that anyone who didn't agree with them was part of the thoughtless masses who hadn't really considered the subject thoroughly enough to realise the truth. Atheists are saying, we looked at the same evidence you have (sometimes more thoroughly than you have) and have reached a different, and possibly more logical, conclusion.

Rallick wrote:

Edit: Also, I love Robear's post above. Articulate and accurate, as usual.

(Thanks to Stengah for catching my embarassing mistake.)

I did wonder if it might be wrong when I read it in it's original form. Robear's post is excellent.

Hyp wrote:

If you argue both of these things at once without drawing a firm distinction between them, you give the impression that the acceptance of atheists requires the rejection of religion, which is not true any more than the acceptance of homosexual marriage requires the rejection of heterosexual marriage.

Since the condemnation of homosexual marriage is actually either codified in the mainstream religious scriptures or ingrained into their modern interpretations, this doesn't seem be a very well-made point.