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

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.

Isn't the Abrahamic distaste for homosexuality in part due to a rejection of Greek civilization influences?

maybe in part, but dont the parts in leviticus predate prolonged semitic contact with Greek culture?

Seth wrote:

maybe in part, but dont the parts in leviticus predate prolonged semitic contact with Greek culture?

Don't know, but there's also the theory I've read and mentioned on GWJ that interprets Leviticus 18:22 as a prohibition of multiple-male threesomes, to stop things like Maury Povich.

I believe it's usually dated to the post-exile period (by modern scholars), which puts it later than 538 (though of course parts are older). The legal codes and such are post-exile as far as I know. But, checking the timelines, it looks like Greece didn't take over Judah for another 300 years. I guess what I see there is a continuation of an older tradition, not a direct reaction to Greek influences.

Well from my heathen brain, there is only so much you can trust the uncountable re-written transcriptions of ancient texts. I have seen articles speaking of the Dead Sea Scrolls as original, which is laughable. It is not even certain who wrote and stored them, Catholics have argued that one scroll is the earliest written Gospel.

Translations and transcriptions are prone to the prejudices and needs of the day. The book of Isiah has 3-4 distinct writing styles showing revisions over time by several authors. I think it stands to reason that more Orthodox Helenic Jews may have had a bent against homosexuality.

In truth this is no different that the differences between New American, Gideon, King James bibles. Each one has different styles, different intents, different audiences, etc. And that has been going on for thousands of years as scriptures have been translated and reinterpreted.

KingGorilla wrote:

Well from my heathen brain, there is only so much you can trust the uncountable re-written transcriptions of ancient texts. I have seen articles speaking of the Dead Sea Scrolls as original, which is laughable. It is not even certain who wrote and stored them, Catholics have argued that one scroll is the earliest written Gospel.

Translations and transcriptions are prone to the prejudices and needs of the day. The book of Isiah has 3-4 distinct writing styles showing revisions over time by several authors. I think it stands to reason that more Orthodox Helenic Jews may have had a bent against homosexuality.

In truth this is no different that the differences between New American, Gideon, King James bibles. Each one has different styles, different intents, different audiences, etc. And that has been going on for thousands of years as scriptures have been translated and reinterpreted.

The counter to this is that the translation was divinely guided. If you believe the originals were divinely inspired, there's no real reason not to accept that the chain of translations down to your favored version were guided by God as well.
Edit - Of course, this requires you to believe that the original text was divinely inspired in the first place.

It also requires you to believe that when the text was *changed* by translators or copiers, all those changes were divinely inspired. Even the mistakes... Otherwise, how would you tell "divinely inspired" from "doesn't know Aramaic as well as he thought"?

Well the divine cop-out can be used just about anywhere. You can see writings about how God can change the decay and half-life of radioactive isotopes to speed them up. God can just decide to place fossils and bones in the ground, etc. A god deciding to change the words on the written page every few generations does not really answer a question. It excuses the enquiry without answer.

You also get into another area, that is almost uniquely American. Jews and Catholics would not find problem in stating that the text and meaning of the bible changes with a changing society. Even among the most Orthodox Jews this is acceptable because the important thing is the maintenance and relevance of the cannon and the law. This only becomes an issue when you try to cast a religion, a text as needing to be monolithic. Jews, Catholics, Anglicans do not view the scriptural texts in this way. It takes the newer more hard line fundamentalism of American protestantism to impose that where it has no place.

And this is in the Gospels as well. Mark, Matthew, and Luke have passages stating that purpose of the law (Of scripture) is to serve man. Man is not made to serve the law.

KingGorilla wrote:

Well the divine cop-out can be used just about anywhere. You can see writings about how God can change the decay and half-life of radioactive isotopes to speed them up. God can just decide to place fossils and bones in the ground, etc. A god deciding to change the words on the written page every few generations does not really answer a question. It excuses the enquiry without answer.

Exactly, I was just bringing it up as an example of how people can get around the pesky problem that their inerrant word of god is little better than a game of telephone that started thousands of years ago.

Kentucky requires that plaques celebrating the power of the Almighty God be installed outside the state Homeland Security building--and carries a criminal penalty of up to 12 months in jail if one fails to comply. The plaque’s inscription begins with the assertion, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

Been on the books since 2006, struck down once in a ruling that was later overturned. Not moving to Kentucky any time soon.

I have a sanctimonious former alcoholic in my office that told me "I'll pray for you" when I announced my intention to have a few too many drinks over the Thanksgiving weekend (staying at home of course). Is it wrong that I responded by saying "And I'll drink for you"?

Paleocon wrote:

I have a sanctimonious former alcoholic in my office that told me "I'll pray for you" when I announced my intention to have a few too many drinks over the Thanksgiving weekend (staying at home of course). Is it wrong that I responded by saying "And I'll drink for you"?

No and in fact I salute your calm and reasoned response.

Paleocon wrote:

I have a sanctimonious former alcoholic in my office that told me "I'll pray for you" when I announced my intention to have a few too many drinks over the Thanksgiving weekend (staying at home of course). Is it wrong that I responded by saying "And I'll drink for you"?

Sounds like you just created a perpetual prayer-inebriation feedback loop.

Hell, if they served beer and brats during mass, my wife might actually be able to get me to attend every once in a while.

Paleocon wrote:

I have a sanctimonious former alcoholic in my office that told me "I'll pray for you" when I announced my intention to have a few too many drinks over the Thanksgiving weekend (staying at home of course). Is it wrong that I responded by saying "And I'll drink for you"?

The AA and NA are really interesting cases where religion is treated as the de-facto cure for what ails ye. It seems like our default reaction to addiction is to send somebody to Jesus camp where god and pals will straighten them out.

My uncle went through a serious rough patch and he leans on NA to "keep him clean;" as a result he's gotten a little bit Jesus-y (not too Jesus-y, mind, cause he's still gay after all). This is one case where I feel really uncertain about how to respond; I don't know that the Jesus stuff actually makes these programs any more effective, but it's clear that my uncle has credited the Christian faith for his own recovery and I'm not sure how much I want to mess with that.

With NA/AA success stories, I'd be reluctant to poke the bear in general. If they feel like they need to be all churchy to stay clean, maybe it's best to just turn the other cheek and let them.

gore wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

I have a sanctimonious former alcoholic in my office that told me "I'll pray for you" when I announced my intention to have a few too many drinks over the Thanksgiving weekend (staying at home of course). Is it wrong that I responded by saying "And I'll drink for you"?

The AA and NA are really interesting cases where religion is treated as the de-facto cure for what ails ye. It seems like our default reaction to addiction is to send somebody to Jesus camp where god and pals will straighten them out.

My uncle went through a serious rough patch and he leans on NA to "keep him clean;" as a result he's gotten a little bit Jesus-y (not too Jesus-y, mind, cause he's still gay after all). This is one case where I feel really uncertain about how to respond; I don't know that the Jesus stuff actually makes these programs any more effective, but it's clear that my uncle has credited the Christian faith for his own recovery and I'm not sure how much I want to mess with that.

With NA/AA success stories, I'd be reluctant to poke the bear in general. If they feel like they need to be all churchy to stay clean, maybe it's best to just turn the other cheek and let them.

Penn and Teller in their show Bullsh!t did a segment on AA and found that the difference between the internally published success rates in 12 step treatment programs and people simply giving up on their own was in the statistical noise. Both came out to roughly 5%.

Basically, if you want to quit, you will find a way to quit with or without your special sky friend.

Chairman_Mao wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

I have a sanctimonious former alcoholic in my office that told me "I'll pray for you" when I announced my intention to have a few too many drinks over the Thanksgiving weekend (staying at home of course). Is it wrong that I responded by saying "And I'll drink for you"?

Sounds like you just created a perpetual prayer-inebriation feedback loop.

Dionysius is pleased.

Paleocon wrote:

Hell, if they served beer and brats during mass, my wife might actually be able to get me to attend every once in a while.

So there is this monastic order in Southern Wisconsin who do this very thing. After Mass though.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

Kentucky requires that plaques celebrating the power of the Almighty God be installed outside the state Homeland Security building--and carries a criminal penalty of up to 12 months in jail if one fails to comply. The plaque’s inscription begins with the assertion, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

Been on the books since 2006, struck down once in a ruling that was later overturned. Not moving to Kentucky any time soon.

I'm always struck by the growing similarities between some overly prescriptive American Christians and the Muslim countries they tend to deride.

KingGorilla wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

Hell, if they served beer and brats during mass, my wife might actually be able to get me to attend every once in a while.

So there is this monastic order in Southern Wisconsin who do this very thing. After Mass though.

No deal. Has to be in the pews and the dude in the robes has to have a two drink head start on the congregation. Oh, and none of this gods crap either.

Paleocon wrote:

No deal. Has to be in the pews and the dude in the robes has to have a two drink head start on the congregation. Oh, and none of this gods crap either.

I'm in.

Kraint wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

No deal. Has to be in the pews and the dude in the robes has to have a two drink head start on the congregation. Oh, and none of this gods crap either.

I'm in.

I'm in too. But I think you just described a brew pub.