Losing our humanity

     I read a story this weekend on CNN called Holy Trollers: How to Argue About Religion Online. Of course, many of the commenters missed the point of the article. It made me appreciative of the people who comment here, who speak not to offend but to understand and inform. (So, first, a big thanks to you guys.)
     For the rest of the country, it sure would be nice if we could get to the point where there was no arguing, where there was just acceptance and understanding on both sides. But I guess that will only come when we all realize that belief in god is a choice and a preference, and not a commandment and requirement.
     You might wonder why I bother blogging. I wonder this, too. What’s the point? None of this matters. The debates over god and religion go around and around and around, with name-calling and personal attacks from both sides. There seems to be no linear movement, just one dizzying dispute after another, like a dog chasing its tail.
     When I was blogging in the early 2000’s, I was trying to connect to other parents. There wasn’t much talk about being agnostic or atheist, especially as a woman and a mom. I was frustrated at facing so much negativity and misunderstanding around nonbelievers where I live, and I was growing irritated with the assumption that we all are or should be believers in God and Jesus. 
     A few years later, I wrote an article for the local paper about being an agnostic and wanting religion handled fairly in school. I received a lot of feedback, people “calling me home,” but none of it nasty. Then new atheism came along like a steamroller, and the four horsemen proposed beating back religion with a stick. You and I understand where they are coming from. We’re tired of the assumptions, of being forced to bend to the will of those who believe their religion should be our law and our life. We don’t like being told that we’re the reason for the world’s evils and that religion makes a person better.
     But it seems like this new movement has hurt our humanity. Abraham Lincoln, in closing his first inaugural address, reminded the country that we are not enemies, but friends: “Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” We’ve all become defensive and self-righteous that we don’t see our friends and neighbors on the other side. We shoot to maim or kill. Just check out the comments in the CNN piece above or the iReport I wrote earlier in the year. One wonders how fellow humans can be so cruel.
     I realize that one reason this hostility prevails is because people can comment anonymously, and they feel that they can be as nasty as they want. But, really, is that who they–who we–want to be? Wouldn’t we be ashamed to hear our mothers or our children speaking that way? 
     I also realize that part of this nastiness grows out of the sensationalist culture and the fact that sites like CNN do not discourage people from vomiting their vile thoughts all over the page. These big news organizations–CNN, Fox and the like–are feeding the frenzy. I imagine them dropping stories like bits of flesh into a school of piranhas and watching the attack, laughing at how base we all are. Now who’s playing god?
     What I’m trying to say is, can we make changes without losing our humanity? Can we respectfully encourage the religious to move over, to keep their religion in church and out of our schools and government? We don’t mind if someone says bless you; we understand that’s their way. We just don’t want god forced on us or our children. And we don’t want god to represent, oversee or guide our nation; we elect humans for that.
     I’m guilty, too. I’ve helped spread discontent with the words I use and the things I write about. I refer to god as imaginary, no doubt offending readers who do believe. What I should say is that god is not real for me. I have no faith, but I should not try to tear down other’s faith in the process.
     So I will try to be more aware of my language because, after reading Holy Trollers, the last thing I want to be is one of those folks spreading hate. I don’t want to shame my friends or make family members feel stupid for believing.
     In the meantime, how can our nation make progress on this issue without losing our humanity?
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63 responses to “Losing our humanity

  1. I find it so odd that believers and non-believers alike cannot respect one another. I say this as a non-believer and have witnessed cruel attacks by non-believers against friends of mine who are devout Christians. What does that accomplish? And big names in non-believer literature – Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens – are no better. They come off as arrogant. I agree with you that I don’t want government using Scripture to dictate laws and I don’t want my kids harassed or proselytized to for being children of non-believers. And here’s where I fall: do we have to agree with one another to be civil?

    • Amy, I agree that many of the well known names in atheism, such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, come off as arrogant, but I would counter that by saying that most of the well known atheists are highly intelligent and highly educated. I have watched Richard Dawkins debate Christians and it’s hard to debate someone whose argument for the existence of a god is, “just because I know in my heart,” or “because I have faith.” It’s difficult to not seem arrogant in that situation, because it seems so preposterous to those of us who don’t believe. That being said, I agree that we need to have respect, if not for their beliefs, then for them as human beings.

      • I don’t think we should have to agree in order to be civil. We can disagree, but the name-calling and the personal attacks seem to have gotten out-of-hand. People have been able to debate for years over sensitive issues. Then, again, there was a time when change required physical force, too.

      • I agree. It is difficult to debate when the other side has science and evidence and the other side angels and touchy-feely stuff.
        We unbelievers should not yield anymore – I am not saying that we would need

        • to hurl insults or degrade others but not apologize either.

          IMO the main reason why the four horsemen seem arrogant and condescending to the pious is because they won’t waver and they have stuff and ability to back their opinions up. That infuriates them the hell up. The uppity heathens… :-)

          The blogs like this are a breath of fresh air – I don’t know how much moderating you have needed to do but as it seems from offset, we can disagree without insults. That is nice.

          • @saab93f True. The 4 horseman are pretty intimidating.
            I actually have to do very, very little moderating. I have the blog set to only approve a commenter once, and then after that, there’s no approval. So you can see that 99.9 percent of the people are decent folks. Don’t know if this is the case on other blogs–perhaps because we are smaller communities. I think the CNN and Fox News sites attract the negative because people get lost in the mob. They’re just punching at whoever they can reach!

  2. True human freedom needs to be completely free to mock or disparage anyone’s belief in the supernatural because the claims of the supernatural are outside of the realm of what we CAN agree upon.

    I am an atheist. Mock and belittle my godlessness all you want. It does not effect what I choose as a worldview/godview. You are free to choose your own worldview/godview in that regard.

    But part of the problem is that religionists have been mollycoddled for far too long. There was a time (and in some parts of the world still is), that the mere act of rejecting someone’s deeply held belief meant that I could be killed, tortured, imprisoned, harassed, oppressed, exiled, condemned, or otherwise sanctioned as they felt that my expression of such was an insult to their god.

    Let their god damn me as She/He/It/They see fit…NOT their proxies!

    I do not fear their hell, just their followers.

  3. Deborah, I keep re-reading your last paragraph. What a challenge indeed:) I was awake (god knows why!haha) at 1 a.m. this morning. Thought I’d drop in at Facebook and it just made my sleepless night worse to see political hate and misinformation that keeps getting passed around. Whether religious or political, the situation is the same: we see that people have no critical thinking power and are happy to regurgitate whatever they’ve been told and spread the hate around. It’s a sad scenario. I don’t want to shame family members or friends who are ‘believers’ but I think folks do need to know that there is a mass exodus, an evolutionary leap if you will, from gods and myths. It’s like that wondrous change that seemed to take place overnight but I know was years in the making when smokers’ “rights” got kicked to the curb. Likewise people have a right to practice their religion but please, give us non-myth believers our breathing room because we have rights, too. PS Saw a license plate frame that made my day during my morning walk: “Look busy. Jesus is coming.”

  4. I am amazed again and again at how you somehow put into words the thoughts in my mind. I may not comment on your blogs, but I eagerly read them, knowing that you will be able to express my feelings so accurately. Thank you for blogging and connecting with those of us out here who are feeling badgered by the believing, and are tired of being quiet about our non-belief.

  5. You are proof tht there is huge ‘linear movement’. We’ve all come along way, both because of passive and aggressive atheism. And while vitriol in the blogosphere may be on the rise, there is no doubt that society as a whole is more humane than it ever has been.

  6. Hey Debbie,
    I have to admit something. You know that family I told you about here locally in my last comment? We briefly shared with them at their house once that we were atheists. Yesterday we had them over and they mentioned that their little boy had practice later for a Christmas play. We asked where and they told us at the church they’ve been going to lately, the Southern Baptist one that my own family attended for two different periods of time. I know on one occasion we had briefly shared with them about our experiences at that church. I honestly didn’t think that they would ever be interested in it. Any way, once the mom brought up where they were attending services I just wanted to crawl under my furniture and suck my thumb like a big baby. I was glad they were on their way out the door when I found out because everything got weird. My husband and I just said “oh” to them about the news.
    The day before my oldest had a soccer double header and I believe I had already mentioned all the Jesus and morality talk among the parents at these community games. I sat by myself during both games as I had the week before. I believe my calm attitude and sentence or two I spoke a few weeks ago in response to one of the parent’s disgust over sex education in the local public schools automatically black balled me.
    Between these incidents, the continual religious and prejudice climate here in west Tennessee, divorcing my controlling,overly religious parents over the summer and the junk I’m going through with my husband, I’m overwhelmed by religiosity and the damaging residue it leaves behind. I just see it as pure evil and I try to be respectful about it and others’ morality around me, but it’s exhausting to be the lone non-believer in a tiny, southern town, especially with small children.

  7. When I first saw this I read the title as “Losing our Humility” and then read your post, then saw it was actually titled “Losing our Humanity”. Really, either title works, doesn’t it? I think sometimes it’s about being right, “winning”, or ego…everyone is an expert online, didn’t you know? Sometimes, though, I think the anger that is seen comes from a place of hurt…. hurt by what a non-believer’s religion has done to them in the past, hurt by the ridicule or prejudice someone has taken from others, or for a believer, hurt that someone would criticize and insult something they value so highly. Really, I think, for one to be polite and humble in these conversations, they first have to be secure and at peace in their belief or unbelief. Without that as a foundation, I don’t know that someone is as able to argue with humility and humanity? You strike me as someone who is incredibly secure and at peace with her unbelief, therefore not needing to “steamroll religion” as you put it.

    I saw this article on CNN too and one of the comments was: “How to argue about your religion online…. you don’t.”. That comment really stuck with me because that is definitely my husband’s opinion too… he does not understand at ALL why I am so intrigued by religious blogs. Why do we have these discussions? Do we gain anything? Do we gain more than we lose? I have had some enlightening moments through my blog discussions… like… huh, I guess I’m not quite the feminist I thought I was… or hmm, I didn’t realize saying that would come across as offensive… and I think those moments provide personal growth through humility. But, I have also had some super frustrating moments where I realize someone will never understand my point of view… or where I am extremely discouraged by the hateful comments I see (and, unfortunately, no group seems to be exempt from making or receiving them…)

    • Molly – haha. Yes, either title works!
      I think this is true: People feel “…hurt that someone would criticize and insult something they value so high.” And that could be religion (God/Allah?Jesus) or nonbelievers (science/reason).
      As you know, I, too, have gone back and said, “hmmmm….that wasn’t right.” So I think there is a lot of good that can come out of discussions.

      I think we are at a point now that one group wants something (freedom from religion) and the other group doesn’t want to give something (religion) up. I see that here with the textbook argument. Secularists want religion out of science, and the fundamentalists want to make sure God is still engaged in the classroom so that they can reinforce what their children have learned.

  8. Charity, I hear you. I know how lonely it feels.
    I don’t feel that it’s pure evil. IMO, it’s more self-righteous and judgmental attitudes that cause conflict and alienation (I suppose on both sides). I see that here.

    • I would love to share your positive non-judgmental attitude but I just cannot. I have to “side” with charity – not that I believe in biblical evil but the ultra-religious epitomize that very well IMHO.

      There is nothing but evil in denying HPV vaccine because it might increase promiscuity (the standard xian reason IIRC). There is nothing self-righteous in pushing cretin idiocy into science books – it is evil and nasty.

      I have tried to reconcile the want not to hurt or insult any person with the conviction that religions and beliefs are fair game. It is hard because many (most?) believers do see their faith intertwined with their personality to the extent that those two cannot be separated – in such cases hurt and insult follows automatically when snakes talking is questioned. It is not very easy to remain civil…

      • @saab93f I would not say that I’m positive and non-judgmental. I just think the rhetoric has deteriorated in some instances to nothing more than name calling on both sides, and that’s not helpful for the cause.

        Maybe it’s also partly a gender issue. Women are supposed to be nice, friendly, agreeable–like the skit you posted. (Or blogging as the “Nice Atheist.”) Society deems you a bad mother if you scream and name call and carry on. Perhaps I am sensitive to this, too. Do I want my kid to grow up and tell people they are stupid idiots for believing in nonsense?

        As for the ultra-religious, I have often wondered if there is an IQ correlation. I don’t think mothers are intentionally harming their kids, they’ve been programmed to believe vaccines are bad. IMHO, of course. :)

        • @Debbie and @Konsta,

          Victoria makes mention on her blogs the differences in the brain of a religious person versus a non. http://victorianeuronotes.wordpress.com/ and http://neuroresearchproject.com/ in particular.

          I think I’m extra sensitive to all of this because I was a Christian for so long. No one can just “get over” 40 years of their life in a year and a half’s time. I really do want to be a “Nice Atheist”, but my venture in attaining such a position has been much more difficult than what I thought it would be. If I were back in places where I have lived in the past, such as England, southern California or Hawai’i I don’t think it would be as difficult as it’s been here in Tennessee because 1) they’re much more populated than where I live now 2) there are many different ethnicities and 3) there are varying religions present. Grant it, I know that there are people who are killed because of their unbelief and that should never happen to me here, however, the Christians rule the land where I am at. You cannot even run for governor if you do not believe in God.

          I think what makes this even more difficult for me is the de-programming needed once one leaves a faith. Christianity is full of repetition used in brainwashing such as chants, prayers, confessions, music or the Bible itself (I’m a firm believer that not enough Christians actually read ALL of the Bible). When a person walks away there is all of this shame, guilt and belittlement he or she must deal with. This has not been easy. All of those years that people spend getting to know who they are were robbed from me through a belief system, people and churches that were Christian: Foursquare, Hope Chapel, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Assemblies of God and so on. There is also that overwhelming feeling of failure. No matter what I did in and with Christianity, I failed. I NEVER thought that I would be an unbeliever and now, religion makes absolutely no sense to me. I think that my husband had some major issues with all of this because we both deconverted towards the end of his military career, that’s when things grew even more haywire in our marriage. He was still under the oppressive cloak of “God and country” and that’s not easy. It is no wonder that I cannot make a distinction between cult and religion, it’s all the same to me now.

  9. I love the idea of celebrating each other and our differences. Not just respecting, tolerating, enduring or humoring each other. . . but . . . CELEBRATING! I work at it daily. Sometimes it can be quite difficult and other times very easy. This makes me wonder if you know someone is celebrating you . . . doesn’t that make you a celebrity? I like that! Let’s all be this kind of celebrity : )
    love dayna

  10. The ability for people to both write and comment anonymously both emboldens them to say what’s really on their minds but also care far less about the consequences if they decide to be jerks about it. I’ve fallen into both categories, I’m sure. Here’s the problem with this issue as I see it: one one hand, atheists / secularists are fighting to make sure that while people should be free to worship as they choose, it should kept in the church and out of the public arena. Then we’re happy, right? As long as people don’t push their beliefs on others, then we can let the issue alone?

    For this generation, maybe. That’s certainly the focus of my blog and the battle I fight … but I don’t think that alone is should be the long term objective. Dawkins and the other new atheists are right when they say that religion (or, more generally speaking, dogma) is still bad even if it’s restricted to someone’s personal life or in the confines of their homes because it provides a safe haven in their minds for irrational thinking. Granted, the extent of this irrationality depends solely on the individual, but it most definitely can extend beyond the walls of the church or the home to influence any number of aspects of a person’s life. Just take a look at any member of Congress who tries to play the “middle ground” game with evolution or the age of the earth (*cough*MarcoRubio*cough*). If religion had less of a hold on this country, views like this would be rejected outright by the voting population instead of seen by some as a good approach to balancing science and spirituality.

    Pushing this narrative right now … with the way people view atheists … this would be a bad approach to take. It’s not time for that. For this generation, as I said, we should enact change by fighting to enforce the First Amendment whenever we see it being violated and keep Christian mythology out of public science classes. We have the law and the scientific community on our sides with these battles, and so it’s a lot easier to associate both with concepts other than simply atheism. Besides, if we put these issues in the perspective of how people would feel if *gasp* Islam were the dominant religion, then maybe it would get a little more traction. Concurrent with this, we need to make some progress on the PR front just by being good people regardless of whether anyone knows about our beliefs (though I recommend they eventually do so they can see we’re not all satanists or something). The only thing I can recommend on the “humanity” front is to stay out of attacking religion on forums like CNN or the like, but only the public arenas in which it’s spreading. Let your opponent turn nasty if they like, but we need to keep our cool so this image of us as bitter and angry will finally die an overdue death.

    • @Senator Jason Yes, good point. People tend to care less about what others think AND feel.

      As we raise our kids, and they have kids and raise theirs, I definitely think the part of the pie belonging to the religious will decrease. Religious belief isn’t rational, and we certainly see the effects of people living exclusively by “God’s law” or word, but then there are others, who even comment here, who are very rational and can be objective. Their faith stands separate and is recognized for what it is. There’s such a wide range of beliefs from those who believe in crazy sh*t like humans and dinosaurs were buddies to those who think that god is just nature or a force or oversoul to those like Ben Franklin who believe a god created the universe and then took off.

      Regardless, you are right about staying cool while the opponent turns nasty. After all, our words speak more about who we are…

  11. Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for your post today, To concur, I sincerely think that one of our responsibilities as humans is to pursue understanding of others, especially if they have a different point of view. To me, this means that listening is just as important as speaking, being gracious during the “seeking to understand” process. As you have conveyed numerous times, being civil (as in “civilized”) is of utmost importance.

    One more pertinent thought, which also ties in with your “Dilemma” post last week: Here in California, Christians are clearly the minority. Many of my friends are not Christians. We have other things in common and have rich multidimensional relationships. Among numerous topics of conversation, we talk openly about spiritual points of view. If we don’t agree, we agree to disagree agreeably — no problem. :-)

    Take care,
    Steven

  12. Thanks, Steven. I wish everyone had your attitude.

    So….on the other hand. A friend told me about a recent interview with Scalia (thanks Theresa!). This is where things get sticky. Do we want a SC justice believing atheists are under the influence of the devil? Do we even want a SCJ who believes that people are possessed? (So much for free will.) I’m sure a lot of us are uncomfortable with leaders and policy makers who hold tight to these beliefs. Can he be fair if he believes atheists are not equal? Doubtful: http://nymag.com/news/features/antonin-scalia-2013-10/index3.html

  13. We might be able to reclaim our humanity once we accept that Jesus rode dinosaurs — see: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/10/07/creationist-billboards-urge-atheist-friends-to-learn-how-god-built-dinosaurs/

    [sigh]

  14. Here’s something that comes to mind. I generally find minority religions more accepting and agreeable than a lot of xians because they are used to dealing with people with differing views. So many (though certainly not all) xians I know are rather bullying as they are pretty arrogant about being the dominant faith culture. They see their form of xianity as a sort of populism, though they would be the first to claim that it is *not* a ‘numbers game’ if they found themselves in the minority.

  15. From my own point of view, I think a lot of the anxiety believers feel is ‘pushback’ from the way they (in society at large) have been able to call the shots for so long. I was interim president of the local Americans United for Separation of Church and State and never met a better bunch of believers in my life because they knew we were both fighting to protect one’s personal choice from the pressures of anyone or any official entity.

  16. I am a big proponent of new atheism, or is it New Atheism? Not sure.

    Part of the appeal comes from me being a university professor like Dawkins and Dennett. University faculty will tell you, in no uncertain terms, during the question time after your lecture that you are deluded and myopic in your understanding of the issues at hand. That is just part of the culture: we like to argue and we argue passionately about topics like god, freedom, truth, and meaning.

    I also like the new atheists because they have shock value. I don’t mean shock like being shock-jocks a la Howard Stern: rather, they call a spade a spade. Yes, respect and all that is good and necessary, but sometimes you just have to call BS when someone is trying to snow you. When a creationist says that they should get equal time in a science classroom, I’m sorry, but I call BS. When people in government say that employers shouldn’t have to pay for health care plans that include contraception, I call BS.

    The new atheists have jarred many people, including me, out of their complacency. Hitchens (oh, how I miss that man) and Dawkins, not to mention Harris, essentially backed me into an intellectual corner through their writings and asked me, “Do you have to cojones to look at reality and acknowledge it for what it is?” I ultimately replied, yes, I do, because otherwise, I’d be living a lie.

    I don’t look to insult or humiliate people, but I won’t tiptoe and pussyfoot around them either. I figure at age 43, my life is half over, if not more than half over, and so when I disagree with someone, I say so. No apologies on that score.

  17. @deosullivan Sorry, it should probably be New Atheists, although we don’t capitalize atheism alone because it’s not a belief system or ideology. It’s a movement like Occupy Wall Street.

  18. Call me pessimistic, but I find it very hard to envision a time when there will be acceptance and understanding on both sides. I hope so, but I just doubt it. To me it seems that a big part of the human experience on this planet is to argue and disagree. My parents, my son, my husband, my Facebook “friends”, my co-workers, my government, you name it, I very often disagree with it! :-) The challenge is for us to find a way to disagree like civilised beings. Why some of us are better at this than others I’m just not sure. Anonymity frees the nastiness I suppose, but aren’t we better than that?
    We can certainly respectfully encourage the religious to move over as you suggest, but will they? I don’t see it happening. I also think that our country would be a much better place if religion had less of a hold on it, much like the commenter who compared it to smokers. It would be so much healthier! I am always completely surprised now when I walk into a cloud of cigarette smoke, thinking “didn’t that go away a long time ago?” Wouldn’t it be nice if one day I feel the same way if I run into religion or faith being forced into my living room or neighborhood school.

    And as far as what is the point? For me, it’s definitely connection. Which is why after finding your blog I want to continue to engage with it. The fact that I disagree so often with what I see in this world makes me pounce on anyone or anything who is like-minded with me. “Oh wow, I think that too, that’s so cool!” It’s so rare I get to feel that kind of delight. A few years ago I came across a book called “Leaving the Fold”, and discovered the author has an online community of ex-fundamentalists who meet and conference regularly. I practically cried with joy, realizing I’m not the only scarred, resentful, ex-cult member out there!
    In the meantime, we can just strive to be our best selves. Try to make it abundantly clear that atheists aren’t influenced by the Devil. (A supreme court justice, really?) Argue intelligently and respectfully, and realize we probably won’t agree with a lot of people out there. I like your quote from Lincoln. We are all brothers and sisters aren’t we, at the end of it all?

    • @Angie Nice comment. You sound very real and realistic. Maybe it’s just human nature and our desire to be on the best team. No doubt having a connection and “talking” with other like-minded people helps me feel less alienated.

  19. I think the New Atheists have a place and serve a purpose, but as a longtime former believer, I try to never forget what it was like to believe so fervently, and how incredibly painful it was to let it go. This allows me to keep a measure of humility, humanity and understanding when interacting with current believers, be it online or IRL. Am I ever snarky? Yep, but only once it becomes apparent that the person just wants to preach instead of dialogue.

    • @MichaelB Yeah. That’s a good way of looking at it–New Atheism serves a purpose, but if everyone were like that, we’d have a lot of bar fights!

      • What drew me to investigate atheism was the kindness of atheists; what sold me on atheism was the consistently sound arguments that appealed to reason and intellect over emotion. Most arguments for Christianity seem to be structured around defending a belief that is held primarily for emotional reasons.

  20. Hmm. I appreciate your sentiments, Deb – they show, as usual, what a good heart you have.

    If only it were that simple, though. Like it or not, religion IS a subject that people are passionate about – on both sides. As simple as it sounds to just ask for what seems reasonable – that “we respectfully encourage the religious to move over, to keep their religion in church and out of our schools and government” – there are just too many folks who passionately believe that god BELONGS in school and government, and everywhere else.

    I get stuck on the notion, too, that belief in god is a “choice” or “preference.” If only it were that simple. I mean, in the culture we live in, it sure would make my life easier to just choose to believe in god, right? But I can’t. I can’t will myself to believe something I just don’t believe. And I think the notion that it’s a choice is problematic, too, because it’s exactly why Believers think they’re in a position to judge – because those of us who don’t believe are simply making the wrong choice. It’s what evangelicism is all about – spreading the word so as to “help” people make the right choice with regard to what they believe.

    I think the debates about faith and religion have become more heated and passionate in recent years for a variety of reasons. The media, like you say, stokes the fires. And I think people have just become a lot more open about their beliefs in recent years – it used to be that it was personal, and you really didn’t go around advertising your beliefs. And it seems like there has been such a push in the last decade or so to have god in the government, and that’s creating a pushback.

    Sometimes I wonder where it’s all leading us. Where is the discussion going to be in ten years?

    • @ Lisa @Michael B @ Deb – I wanted to respond to your comments as I thought they were interesting. I wonder where it’s all leading us too? And re Lisa’s comment “It’s what evangelicism is all about – spreading the word so as to “help” people make the right choice with regard to what they believe.” Isn’t that the same thing as “New Atheism” (or militant Atheism… I’ve heard that too… haha). I just wonder if a New Atheist looks eerily similar to a fundamentalist evangelical Christian… convinced they are right and convinced it is their “moral duty” to convert the ignorant? Am I wrong to compare the two? My point of view is much simpler (or more isolated?) – if people want to believe, let em. If they don’t, let em.

      • Hi Molly,

        No, New Atheism looks nothing like evangelical Christianity. At all.

        I think you’ll agree that few atheists in America believe that churches should be forced to shut down. I mean, a lot of us wish they would shut down, but none of us feel that we should use government, police, the courts, etc., to mandate that churches should be shut. They tried that in the USSR, and yeah, it didn’t work.

        However, fundamentalists are not content to have churches in which to practice their religion. They demand that Christian students be allowed to pray in public school; that chaplains offer prayer before government meetings; that creationism–Judeo-Christian creationism, not Hindu or African, etc.–be taught in science classes; that the ten commandments be displayed on courthouse lawns; that crosses be erected and billboards with the words, “Hell is real,” put up along highways; that abortion and birth control be restricted on religious grounds; that their churches pay no taxes; and the list goes on.

        So yeah, perhaps New Atheists can be strident, but we see them express those views at lectures, in debates; in the books they write, etc. Those are free, voluntary venues and not at all the same as those mandated by evangelicals.

        We use reason, not coercion to get our points across. That’s the difference, and that’s one hell of a big difference.

        • Yes… my interpretation of a “new” (or “militant”?) atheist is perhaps (hopefully) inaccurate as I did perceive it as someone who a) actively proselytizes and b) thinks that practicing religion should be outlawed. I find that thought second point a little concerning. Like you said, rings a little bit like what happened in the USSR.

      • @Molly I tend to be of the mind that we should live and let live, too, as long as we don’t harm anyone. (I think LT had a better quote for that!) We run into problems is when believers want their religion to be in all of our lives. Not all believers are like that, of course. But those that do are causing a lot of trouble for everyone.

  21. Pingback: The Screwball Letters | Crimes Against Divinity

    • Check out Jason’s response to the link above.

      • Great piece. Added this comment there —

        What scares/worries me is the fact that fundamentalists standing against the tide of rationalism wear it as a badge of honor. That someone with this level of retrograde thinking is in such a position of power is a testament to the sheer numbers of people who share this retrograde thinking.

        I hope at some point the balance tips in favor of rationalism…but as a culture, we are very set in our ways, particularly due to the fact that these ‘ways’ go virtually unquestioned and are treated with kid gloves and undue deference whenever the subject is broached.

        Scalia is a troglodyte who seems to wallow in his ignorance.

        Question authority!

        “Religious apologists complain bitterly that atheists and secularists are aggressive and hostile in their criticism of them. I always say: look, when you guys were in charge, you didn’t argue with us, you just burnt us at the stake. Now what we’re doing is, we’re presenting you with some arguments and some challenging questions, and you complain.” – A.C Grayling

        • Sorry, don’t know why the formatting is so strange.

          “This place is… possessed!” ~ Beef [Phantom of the Paradise]

          …or was it Anton Scalia?

  22. @Debbie First, great post. Lots to think about. Second, I viewed your post in light of the title of this blog. I see this as a parenting blog (of sorts). Even though I don’t have children of my own (wanted kids, but never found time), I am deeply involved in the lives of my niece and nephew. Hence, I thought about your post in regard to them as people.

    I want children to grow up to be human, both toward others as well as themselves. However, this does not mean I want them to roll over when some ideologically or verbally attacks them. I’ve shared my personal creed (“Be accountable. Be responsible. Bring no intentional harm to others.”) with my niece and nephews and have had long talks with them about it. Part of the lesson in our talks is to debate the issues and not the person. Hence, here is what I took away from all of this.

    We have lost civility. We forgot to debate the ideas and not debase one another. Some (like on Fox News) use derision, mockery, and ridicule as a form of debate. They are not civil, and neither do they appear inclined to be so. The moment someone uses these tactics against me, I turn up the intellect meter and use a fire hose to spray facts at them. I then also point out how they are now attacking me and not the idea. I was once told something I will never forget:

    “If you have a bad idea, then it makes you a bad person.”

    Yep, that is the level I often find most believers attaining. These are the one upon whom I douse with opprobrium and rancor, except I go after their ideas and not them personally. I find the more facts I use, the worse their personal attacks becomes. What I have learned from these encounters is some people try to use their stupidity like a bludgeon. They don’t like it when people stand up to them, and it makes them rabid. Thus, I think Lance hit it right on the head when he used the term “mollycoddled.”

    • @Derrick And I like the work opprobrium! Haven’t seen that word in a while.

      I think that is good advice and something I need to remind myself and my kids (because in all relationships this is important): “…debate the issues and not the person.” It is difficult, when people feel strongly about a topic, to not take things personally and to just focus on the ideas being debated. My brother is a believer, and I know from experience that it’s hard for people to debate when they are debating about something that is not logical.

      And I like your creed–it’s short and to the point.

  23. This quote deserves its own space (just found it – agree wholeheartedly) —

    “Religious apologists complain bitterly that atheists and secularists are aggressive and hostile in their criticism of them. I always say: look, when you guys were in charge, you didn’t argue with us, you just burnt us at the stake. Now what we’re doing is, we’re presenting you with some arguments and some challenging questions, and you complain.” – A.C Grayling

  24. Hey, thanks, Deb. I’d have missed the “Holy Trollers” piece without your heads up. This post is one of your best. I’ll never understand why people can’t disagree without being disagreeable.

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