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

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actively work to indoctrinate as many people as possible, spread lies and deceit, and otherwise hold humanity back with outdated views of the world and our place in it.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?

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.