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

KingGorilla wrote:

To a high degree, there is also a lot of having a single conversation with 2 languages or dialects as well. Or maybe just some experience bias.

James Randi has a story of taking a physics professor friend of his to see David Copperfield. Copperfield does his flying illusion. The physicist whispers to Randi that the illusion is terribly dangerous because Copperfield must be using magnets and a huge electro magnet under the stage. The illusion is really nothing of the sort. But if you live a life only of physics, and electrical physics at that, your mind is shaped to see that first and foremost.

"If all you have is a hammer, everything appears as a nail"?

Occasionally I'll see something that I can only describe as "scientific totemism," that bothers me a little bit. Things where people use scientific symbols or the names of famous scientists much like a Catholic would use holy relics and the names of saints. It's all tongue-in-cheek though, and most of the people doing this sort of thing are also doing actual scientific research.

But this is all just an excuse to quote The Stars My Destination:

They were savages, the only savages of the twenty-fifth century; descendants of a research team of scientists that had been lost and marooned in the asteroid belt two centuries before when their ship had failed. By the time their descendants were rediscovered they had built up a world and a culture of their own, and preferred to remain in space, salvaging and spoiling, and practicing a barbaric travesty of the scientific method they remembered from their forebears. They called themselves The Scientific People. The world promptly forgot them.

S. S. Nomad looped through space, neither on a course for Jupiter nor the far stars, but drifting across the asteroid belt in the slow spiral of a dying animalcule. It passed within a mile of the Sargasso Asteroid, and it was immediately captured by The Scientific People to be incorporated into their little planet. They found Foyle.

He awoke once while he was being carried in triumph on a litter through the natural and artificial passages within the scavenger asteroid. They were constructed of meteor metal, stone, and hull plates. Some of the plates still bore names long forgotten in the history of space travel: INDUS QUEEN, TERRA; SYRTIS RAMBLER, MARS; THREE RING CIRCUS, SATURN. The passages led to great halls. storerooms, apartments, and homes, all built of salvaged ships cemented into the asteroid.

In rapid succession Foyle was borne through an ancient Ganymede scow, a Lassell ice borer, a captain's barge, a Callisto heavy cruiser, a twenty-second-century fuel transport with glass tanks still filled with smoky rocket fuel. Two centuries of salvage were gathered in this hive: armories of weapons, libraries of books, museums of costumes, warehouses of machinery, tools, rations, drink, chemicals. synthetics, and surrogates.

A crowd around the litter was howling triumphantly. "Quant Suff!" they shouted. A woman's chorus began an excited bleating:

Ammonium bromide gr. 1-1/2
Potassium bromide gr. 3
Sodium bromide gr. 2
Citric acid quant. suff.

"Quant Suff!" The Scientific People roared. "Quant Suff!"

Foyle fainted.

He awoke again. He had been taken out of his spacesuit. He was in the greenhouse of the asteroid where plants were grown for fresh oxygen. The hundred-yard hull of an old ore carrier formed the room, and one wall had been entirely fitted with salvaged windows ... round ports, square ports, diamond, hexagonal ... every shape and age of port had been introduced until the vast wall was a crazy quilt of glass and light.

The distant sun blazed through; the air was hot and moist. Foyle gazed around dimly. A devil face peered at him. Cheeks, chin, nose, and eyelids were hideously tattooed like an ancient Maori mask. Across the brow was tattooed JOSEPH. The "O" in JOSEPH had a tiny arrow thrust up from the right shoulder, turning it into the symbol of Mars, used by scientists to designate male sex.

"We are The Scientific People," Joseph said. "I am Joseph; these are my brethren."

He gestured. Foyle gazed at the grinning crowd surrounding his litter. All faces were tattooed into devil masks; all brows had names blazoned across them.

"How long did you drift?" Joseph asked.

"Vorga," Foyle mumbled.

"You are the first to arrive alive in fifty years. You are a puissant man. Very. Arrival of the fittest is the doctrine of Holy Darwin. Most scientific."

"Quant Suff!" the crowd bellowed.

Joseph seized Foyle's elbow in the manner of a physician taking a pulse. His devil mouth counted solemnly up to ninety-eight.

"Your pulse. Ninety-eight-point-six," Joseph said, producing a thermometer and shaking it reverently. "Most scientific."

"Quant Suff!" came the chorus.

Joseph proffered an Erlenmeyer flask. It was labeled: Lung, Cat, c.s., hematoxylin & eosin. "Vitamin?" Joseph inquired.

When Foyle did not respond, Joseph removed a large pill from the flask, placed it in the bowl of a pipe, and lit it. He puffed once and then gestured. Three girls appeared before Foyle. Their faces were hideously tattooed. Across each brow was a name: JOAN and MOIRA and POLLY. The "O" of each name had a tiny cross at the base.

"Choose," Joseph said. "The Scientific People practice Natural Selection. Be scientific in your choice. Be genetic."

As Foyle fainted again, his arm slid off the litter and glanced against Moira.

"Quant Suff!"

http://www.american-buddha.com/stars...

(I have no idea what's going on with that website. I'm assuming this story's passed into common domain, and this was the first quotation that came up on Google.)

I was just reading about The Stars My Destination the other week, as it's author, Alfred Bester, had his name used as a character in Babylon 5.

I read a lot of Bester in my youth, he's one of the better ones. In that scene, the narrator is experiencing the end result of a tiny, isolated society that has been focused on simple survival for decades; education is not even a thing they understand, so they've become a "Cargo Cult", with science as props and trappings.

I suspect an issue some people have is trouble discerning the distinction between legitimate argument from authority and the appeal to authority fallacy.

The 'authority' in science is neither unquestionable nor permanent, we may stand on the shoulders of giants but we don't hesitate to climb down when it turns out the giants were demonstrably wrong. On that note I think another important difference is that in science we generally document these events, even celebrate them, rather than sweep them under the rug and pretend they never happened.

I've read that book and another one of Bester's, The Demolished Man. They're both awesome.

Are the laws like rape laws in Saudi Arabia where the victim can be killed?

A Third World pope for a Third World moral philosophy.

At the very least I would hope his lack of political awareness and savvy would be considered by the... whatever group it is that elects the pope, baseball team in arizona or something... when looking at him for the job. You've got to at least know which issues not to talk stupidly about.

I am pretty sure that even without Ratzinger, the church will still be in circle the wagons mode. So even if in the US and Europe nearly all people identifying as Catholic are pro choice, birth control using, sexual freedom lovers, any one of those who does not go to church is good riddance still.

To a certain degree I wonder if we aren't due for another reformation of sorts. Organized religion is on a heavy decline in the Americas, Europe, and Australia.

I would think that the current line in conservative thinking (and they don't get much more conservative than the Holy See) is to double down on the hard line attitudes. I would expect an even more hardliner as the next Pope. Most likely an Italian as they surely can't go 3 in a row from outside.

In the UK there seem to be quite a few TV personalities these days who say '...I don't personally believe in God but....' as part of their talk to camera. It sounds such a casual thing but it's actually pretty momentous. It's little acknowledgements like that that help people realise/admit that they've never actually believed in God.

Meet the Izzards is one example. A nice look at humanities genetic history with Eddie Izzard.

I've been watching a lot of QI on YouTube recently, and although Stephen Fry is well known for his atheism, it seems to feature quite a bit, and is tossed out casually. That an entertainment show can get away with that speaks volumes for how many in the UK simply don't believe.

NSMike wrote:

I've been watching a lot of QI on YouTube recently, and although Stephen Fry is well known for his atheism, it seems to feature quite a bit, and is tossed out casually. That an entertainment show can get away with that speaks volumes for how many in the UK simply don't believe.

I often get the feeling that the majority of the audience is respond enthusiastically to such comments on QI, etc but I may be projecting :).

I think you are, Higgledy. Atheism has been mainstream in British public life for decades now its just, as DanB points out, impolite to make a big deal of your belief or lack of in polite company. Evidence of this goes back to pre-WWII where the Labour and Liberal parties for various reasons gave atheists a save haven to come out in. Even in strongly Catholic Ireland, our Labour party was and still is predominantly atheist or agnostic. Having a large political party behind you gives you a lot of security.

Its not perfect. In Ireland, for example, atheist parents more or less are forced to baptise their children, like I was, because almost all the school system is run by religious orders and they are allow to discriminate by law. However I know I can contact a member of the Labour party to lobby on my behalf if something were to happen based on my beliefs. So can many citizens across Europe lobby their party that would counts atheists as its voters.

From over here it appears that due to the duopoly of parties in the US system means that if you are too small a voting block you can be treated quite poorly. Perhaps atheists should be looking at the South American first, second and later generation immigrants voting block to understand how large they have to become to be taken seriously? Or look at how the Irish voting block organised itself? Just a thought.

Higgledy wrote:

In the UK there seem to be quite a few TV personalities these days who say '...I don't personally believe in God but....' as part of their talk to camera. It sounds such a casual thing but it's actually pretty momentous. It's little acknowledgements like that that help people realise/admit that they've never actually believed in God.

Well yes and no. "Talking about your belief" has never really been regarded as especially polite in the UK. It really is the old adage of "in polite company never talk about money, religion or politics". Which in turn means that public discourse in the UK has this veneer of rationalism and a fairly secular tone. People rarely make direct assumptions about what others may or may not believe and I can think of no point since I've been alive that it wouldn't have been completely acceptable and wholly unremarkable for any celeb to go on TV and state that they were an atheist. Even when it comes to politics the British press invariably treat a politician's belief (or lack thereof) as a wholly private matter and it is seldom brought up as an issue. Plus there are a great number of atheists in the British intellectual canon who are, somewhat ironically, nearly beatified (Bertrand Russell, Keynes, Orwell etc...)

That said it is certainly true that celebs making a point of declaring they are atheists is something of a newish trend. I may be wrong but I feel this has more to do with the way the internet globalizes media so public discourse here is increasingly led or cued by the talking points of US media.

Axon wrote:

Evidence of this goes back to pre-WWII where the Labour and Liberal parties for various reasons gave atheists a save haven to come out in. Even in strongly Catholic Ireland, our Labour party was and still is predominantly atheist or agnostic. Having a large political party behind you gives you a lot of security

This is in no small part because a lot of early socialist, marxist and communist philosophy directly rejects religion. And much of the early labour and social democracy movements were founded in the light of such writing.

NSMike wrote:

That an entertainment show can get away with that speaks volumes

To flip that around, that you find that astounding speaks volumes about the pervasive religiosity of American society.

Didn’t say I found it astounding, I just know that it wouldn't be risked on a popular US show.

NSMike wrote:

Didn’t say I found it astounding, I just know that it wouldn't be risked on a popular US show.

I don't think that's true at all. I recall "House" lambasting religion on multiple episodes and generally being proven correct when he suspects religious people of being idiots.

And that was a show on FOX.

gore wrote:

And that was a show on FOX.

Well, keep in mind, Fox News nearly sued a Fox-Entertainment-broadcast tv-show before, so this part of your comment doesn't really apply.

gore wrote:
NSMike wrote:

Didn’t say I found it astounding, I just know that it wouldn't be risked on a popular US show.

I don't think that's true at all. I recall "House" lambasting religion on multiple episodes and generally being proven correct when he suspects religious people of being idiots.

And that was a show on FOX.

I didn't mean to put words in Mike's mouth. I thought he was honestly surprised that broadcasting standards in the rest of the developed world were more secular-friendly.

As for "House," I would venture Mike wasn't thinking specifically of fictional, scripted shows.

H.P. Lovesauce wrote:
gore wrote:
NSMike wrote:

Didn’t say I found it astounding, I just know that it wouldn't be risked on a popular US show.

I don't think that's true at all. I recall "House" lambasting religion on multiple episodes and generally being proven correct when he suspects religious people of being idiots.

And that was a show on FOX.

I didn't mean to put words in Mike's mouth. I thought he was honestly surprised that broadcasting standards in the rest of the developed world were more secular-friendly.

As for "House," I would venture Mike wasn't thinking specifically of fictional, scripted shows.

With a show that starred a habitual prescription pain pill abuser who was tagged as kind of a huge jerk... I would say it actually doesn't surprise me that FOX broadcast him as an atheist.

I was only using House as an example. There are countless shows on American TV with characters of various faiths held in various lights. In most cases on network TV religion is just ignored completely, but there are exceptions. On cable you have very extremely non-Christian viewpoints from people like e.g. Bill Maher who are quite successful.

If you're using a really narrow definition, and you're looking for a non-scripted comedy panel like QI... well, keep in mind that this format is very.. British. It's true that you won't see many shows like that in the states, but I don't think this fact has much to do with religion. Indeed I can't really even think of anything very much like that at all (Wait Wait Don't Tell Me pops into my head, but that's of course radio).

Maybe I'm mischaracterizing QI, but I get the feeling that it's got very different audiences than examples like Bill Maher and House, M. D. House is a character who relies on you to love to hate him, or just love his curmudgeonly nature. Bill Maher is a pundit playing to his very specific audience. I get the feeling that QI is more like British Jeopardy.

QI is more like a televised dinner conversation without the food.

There is no actual competition despite the scoring, other than the ability of contestants to throw up interesting answers. Alan's job is to throw in the wrong answer if things aren't going anywhere and get the conversation moving again.

I know this... I've watched several dozens of episodes. I was referring to audience, only.

I am an agnostic. Prior to becoming agnostic, I was an atheist for basically my entire life. I have always been extremely skeptical of religion and of the supernatural. The only reason I am agnostic now is that it would be foolish of me to make absolute claims. Even so, I lean heavily towards atheism. Despite this, I am quite open to certain concepts that have long been in the realm of religion. I am perhaps one of the very, very few atheists that are also strongly against supernatural phenomenon that believes in immortality of a sorts. I am of the opinion that the universe is infinite and eternal. And with that, I think the same conditions that led to me and all of us will occur again. It is a form of pseudo-immortality in that we will exist an endless amount of times, yet we will also die an equally endless amount of times. While I cannot offer incontrovertible evidence for this, I think it is likely enough that I am willing to accept it.