Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why Won't Atheists Defend Themselves?

Why won’t atheists defend themselves?

And how do you get them to start?

Seriously, this is perhaps one of the most baffling situations that I encounter here on this blog – a complete indifference of atheists to their own victimization.

In the past six years alone, atheists have been subjected to a string of insults and slanders which, if they had been directed against any other group, would have caused riots. Literally. I mean, smoke rising above the city from the burning buildings and tear gas.

Look at the list.

(1) A sitting president said that atheists are not fit to be judges – and the statement can still be found on the White House’s own web site.”[W]e need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. And those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench.”

(2) We have atheists who stand and feign support for a Pledge of Allegiance that says, “As far as this government is concerned, atheists (those not ‘under god’) are the moral equivalent of those who would commit themselves to rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all.”

(3) We have a national motto on our money and going up in more and more places in this country that says, “If you do not trust in God, you are not one of us.”

(4) Atheists are routinely blamed for everything from terrorist attacks to school shootings to hurricanes to the Holocaust.

(5) On this latter point, there is a movie that will officially debut around the country on April 18th that is making a blatant attempt to link atheism to the Holocaust.

(6) A sitting legislator tells an atheist witness that atheism is a philosophy of destruction and that he has no right to be there – and apologizes only for raising her voice.

Any one of these things should have sparked massive protests – not only from atheists, but from anybody who accepts the principle that law-abiding citizens deserve the equal respect and consideration of their government. And until they make atheism illegal, atheists count as law-abiding citizens.

So, why don’t atheists defend themselves? Why don’t they get angry?

I really want to hear your ideas on this, reader.

I have my own hypothesis – but it’s only a hypothesis.

It’s because even if you do not believe intellectually that atheism is something to be ashamed of, you’re ashamed of it nonetheless. You’re ashamed on a gut level – an emotional level – that reason cannot reach.

And by 'you' I do not just mean 'you' atheists. I mean anybody who favors a fair and just society. You don't have to be a wiccan or a Jew or a Muslim to defend their rights. You don't have to be an atheist to know that the actions that I described above are wrong.

You are ashamed of it because you have been taught to be ashamed of it since you were too young to question what you were being taught. You are ashamed of it because you look at the money, and the national motto on the money tells you to feel ashamed. It tells you to feel like an outsider – like somebody who does not deserve to be counted as “one of us” if you do not trust in God.

You are ashamed of it because, every day when you were in school, you pledged allegiance to the idea that people not “under God” are no better than people who would support rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all. You were taught to be ashamed to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance. You were taught that you had to at least stand and show respect for the idea that good Americans favor “one nation under God” and anybody who does not favor “one nation under God” cannot be a good American.

You are ashamed of it because, ever since you were old enough to understand the words coming through your television set and over the radio, you have heard the lesson repeated over and over again that atheists are responsible for every child that gets shot in a school, every natural disaster that befalls the country, and would lead the nation into ruin if they ever got any real power.

You do not stand up to people like Ms. Davis because, on a gut level, you think she is right.

I know that you do not believe she is right. You string the propositions together from beginning to end and calculate all of the disjunctive syllogisms and constructive dilemmas and you know the conclusion, “Atheists are bad people,” cannot be supported.

And perhaps you can handle your atheism on an unemotional, intellectual level. You can debate the Bible with the best of them and even wear your t-shirts with the big letter A on them. But these are harmless. These are things that allow a person to think that they are doing something without actually doing something.

If you could attach some real-world accomplishments to this symbol, that would be different. If this were the case, then the symbol would be the symbol for “those of us who accomplished this thing.” In the absence of accomplishment, it is just so much red pigment on cloth (or red photons emitting from a web page).

And if I am wrong, then you tell me why Ms. Davis’ next committee hearing is not packed with a standing-room only crowd with signs that say, “We have a right to be here!” and slogans like, “Get out of that chair, Ms. Davis. Bigots like you have no right to be here.”

If I am wrong, then you tell me why atheists parents are letting their schools teach their children that those who do not favor “one nation under God” are as bad as those who do not favor “liberty and justice for all?”

But if I am right . . . .

If I am right, than we are guilty of letting that same message of shame get passed on to the next generation, and they will act the same way we do. They, too, will learn to do nothing while they are declared unfit to be judges, as bad as those who do not favor ‘liberty and justice for all’, not fit to be counted as ‘one of us’ if they do not trust in God, guilty of every terrorist attack, hurricane, and school shooting that strikes the country, guilty of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, and advocates of a philosophy of destruction that ‘have no right’ to address legislatures in this country.

Some of those atheist children (or children who later become atheists) might actually want to be judges, or representatives, or President. Some might even be good at it. But we close down these options when we let the next generation to learn the same lessons that we learned – that being an atheist is something to be ashamed of.

Sooner or later, hopefully, a generation will come along that says, “No. It stops here. You will not teach my child that those who do not favor ‘one nation under God’ are as bad as those who do not favor ‘liberty and justice for all’. You will pay with your job if you should declare that atheists are not qualified to be judges or have no right to offer testimony before a state legislature. If you produce a movie that tries to blame atheists for the holocaust you will be met with a cry that will ensure that everybody in the country hears how bigoted your claims are. And if you ever again try to blame us for a school shooting, hurricane, terrorist attack, or anything similar you will be met with a storm of protest that will bury your career.

These are the morally appropriate responses to these types of insults. Failure to respond in this way is not a morally permissible option. Failure to respond in this way says that we are going to allow the next generation to suffer the same insults and degradations that we suffer.

Until, sooner or later, one generation decides that they will do something different.

I would like it to be this generation.

46 comments:

libhom said...

Even when atheists do speak out, the media often ignores us. Media activism is important for atheists.

Anonymous said...

My mom thinks there are loads of atheists 'in the closet.' I've gotten no response regarding this matter from the national democratic party, nor the local one, or even a way to get in contact with the progressive caucus of the democratic party. One of our friends is high in state government, so when my mom is going to see him she's going to broach the subject. When I tried calling Representative Davis' office, no one was answering. I hope this is an indication the lines were being swamped with other angry people! I'm not done with the matter, being hardheaded comes in handy in times like these. No one I've spoken to had even heard about the incident! I think a lot of my peers feel very impotent, which too often turns into inaction.

Anonymous, the group who have launched a campaign against scientology, have been quite effective at organizing worldwide efforts! Maybe we should be taking a peek at their playbook.

Anonymous said...

First of all, this is a specifically American situation. In British politics, for example, people are embarrassed to declare their religion. Tony Blair went to astonishing lengths to downplay his Catholicism and 'didn't do God'.

There's the perennial problem with atheism, the one that the 'mentalists just don't see: *atheism is not a religion*. It isn't, and shouldn't be, an organisation. We don't all meet up to bow down to the same things. We're a religion is the way that not collecting stamps is a hobby. You don't have Don't Collect Stamps Magazine, so why would there be atheist pressure groups, particularly concentrated, local ones (like a church)?

A lot of this is because the fundies have been politically significant - the Republicans won because of them. That's gone away this year. They had their chance, they fucked it up over eight years, and when the Republican Party saw that the logical endpoint of this was *Huckabee*, stamping in their face forever, they understood just how wrong things had got.

Look at what the fundies say, and it's obvious they know their game is up. In a generation or two, they'll be gone. This isn't sinister. I want to eliminate religion, but only in the sense that I want to eliminate poverty or illiteracy.

And you do it the same way: better education, and more and more people are realising that religion has to keep a lot of people poor and sick and stupid or it doesn't work. It's not a coincidence, even if it's not conscious, that every religion campaigns against education and healthcare. Creationists calling medical care for poor people 'communism' in America; The Pope letting Africa die of AIDS rather than use condoms. Not coincidence.

The worst thing that could happen to atheism is that it becomes just another identity pressure group. We're not 'oppressed' in the way that black people, gay people and women have been, and we shouldn't develop some persecution complex now. We've got the vote, we're allowed to own property, we can't be fired from our jobs for not believing in a space pixie.

The solution isn't to get whiny. That's the tool of our enemies - the howl of the enfranchised. This:

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v694/Andygal/helphelp.gif

Christian fundamentalists have a ridiculous sense of being victims. They seriously believe that if all the hardcore Phelpsy Christian nutters vanished overnight the world would be a *worse* place.

We don't need to campaign for *ourselves*. We need to campaign for others. We need to defend against the church. Protect education, protect science funding. Don't let the religious get away with killing and abusing their kids because they are religious (and there's a case of that every single week):

http://www.masskids.org/dbre/dbre_9.html

Atheism's job is simple: let the facts speak for themselves. The fundamentalists know, and have thrived, on the fact that moderate Christians will always identify with nutball, racist, genocidal, homophobic, foaming Christians before they side with non-Christians.

And that's how the foaming nutters get their way on school boards. They portray logic and evidence as 'extremism', and themselves as defenders of the sacred.

We *can't* be the extremists. We have to be the normal, rational, calm, sensible ones. Let the fuckers say that if you believe in evolution you must be a Nazi. It's laughable. So we should *laugh*. We should point out the absurdities. Expose the propaganda (a word coined by the Catholic church, of course), pinpoint the lies, spell out the alternative, rational, explanations.

Expose the nutters. Highlight the prejudice. Above all else, spread the word to the brainwashed children of theists: there is another way, it's to think for yourself, and atheists are not weirdos or extremists or 'political', any more than anyone else is. Virtually everyone sitting next to you in church shares your doubts, your sense that religion just doesn't work or even make much sense.

That should be the atheists' motto: 'it's OK to ask questions'. If kids are confident enough to ask questions, to realise that they are not alone, that doubt is a virtue, then that's a million times more effective than filing lawsuits saying your atheist rights have been infringed by getting a Christmas card from your employer.

Every American has an atheist friend or workmate. And the whole *point* is you can't tell. The whole point is that it's the fundamentalist Christian leaders who are the wackos.

We'll win, and we'll win by being normal, nice people. Because the point is this: the existence of *one* normal, nice, ethical atheist destroys the basis of *every* religion, makes *all* priests and witch doctors liars.

Frank Oswalt said...

I was going to write a lengthy reply, but the third post in this thread says everything I wanted to say much better than I could have said it.

Atheists are never going to behave as a pressure group, first, of course, because they are not a group and, second, because those atheists who are also activists are not generally interested in making life easier for atheists, but in freeing the world from superstition. We don't want equal rights for atheists, we want the option of atheism for everyone, and that is a very different fight from the one that typical minorities are fighting. Therefore, it requires different strategies and much more long-term thinking.

Try to get the Christian majority to grant us "equal rights" and we would accept their eternal power to give and take such rights. But make sure that as many people as possible have access to a fact-based education and to information about the world as it really is, and the Christian majority will melt away slowly but surely.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Libhom

The media will report the news.

Fill Davis' next house session with people chanting, "No, Ms. Davis, you get out of YOUR seat!" and the media will report it.

Have the leaders of the atheist community fly to Springfield and demand to speak to the governor and the heads of the legislative bodies, and the media will report it.

Have a group of angry parents and their friends gather at a school board meeting and shout, "You will NOT teach my child that failure to support 'one nation under God' is as bad as failure to support 'liberty and justice for all', and the media will report it.

If you turn your protest into news, then the news will not ignore you.

When Boulder (Colorado) High School students walked out on the Pledge, the media did not ignore it.

As one poster already ignored, the recent global protests against scientology were reported - and they were reported because the protesters made sure that the media had something to report.

The reason that the news ignores the atheists is because the atheists do not demand to be heard.

So, get together, and plan something (peaceful, though perhaps with a touch of civil disobedience) that the media cannot ignore. Make it news worthy.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anonymous #2

Having port-wine birth marks is not a 'religion'. But, if a society has adopted the attitude that people with such birthmarks are unfit for government and are constantly being put down, then an organization should exist to say that this is wrong.

And it should not be made up just of people with port-wine birthmarks. It should be made up of anybody and everybody who accepts that discriminating against people on the basis of a trait that does not, in fact, mark them as bad people is never to be permitted in a free and just society.

And I am certain that this discrimination against atheists will end of its own accord - just as the abolitionist movement was just a waste of time and slavery would have simply died out without anybody saying a word against it, and Ghandi made no contribution whatsoever to India's independence, and the Jim Crowe laws and segregation ended without sit-ins and marches, and women would have gotten the right to vote without marches and protests, and the HOlocaust died a natural death if we had just left it alone.

I hold this belief that atheists should not be "whiners" to be an attempt to rationalize their shame and embarrassment at being atheists. Just like the bigot needs to invent rationalizations to 'justify' his bigotry, those who do nothing need to invent rationalizations for their failure to act.

Besides, it is not only foolish to sit around and do nothing and wait for people to hand you your rights. It is like saying that we should leave it up to the rapist, the robber, or the mass murderer to realize the wrongness of his action and to stop raping, robbing, and murdering on his own accord - that their victims are just 'whining' when they complain about the way they are being treated.

It is far more likely that people not willing to defend their rights will find that they have none, than it is that they will find those rights magically respected by others.

Keep listening to the people who say to do nothing and you will have nothing to show for it.

Anonymous said...

'those who do nothing need to invent rationalizations for their failure to act'

I'm saying *act*, but don't act in a way that will be counterproductive.

If you fight fire with fire, you end up with a bigger fire. We shouldn't fight ignorant shouters with shouts, we should fight them with quiet words.

And not words aimed at them. Aimed at the guy next to them: 'here's why the dumb shouting lady is wrong'. If we could convince a hardcore Christian nutcase with facts, logic, evidence, proof and so on ... they wouldn't be a Christian nutcase.

'The God delusion' isn't that God *might* exist, it's that the less evidence there is, the more faith you need.

Don't try to convert the priest, go for the congregation.

And you do that by being the rational one. The one who's looking out for their kids, the one who's not trying to steal taxpayers' funds to give to their church, the one who's not trying to cover up child abuse, the one who wants the schools to teach facts not lies.

The endgame here isn't a little bit of a theraputic shout at some councilwoman, it's the protection of *everyone's* freedom of and from religion.

Ignorance and rabble rousing are the tools of the enemy. They can't be ours.

Anonymous said...

Here's the difference between us and Gandhi and the other examples - we're seeking that the existing arrangement is enforced, not a new arrangement.

Extremist Christian groups are the ones attempting a revolution, they are the ones attempting to subvert the Constitution, to ignore the express wishes of the founding fathers, the ones attempting a Stalinist whitewash of history so that America's always been a Christian nation.

We should not portray ourselves as extremists. We should portray ourselves as the moderates we are. The people looking out for *everyone*.

And ... that's *what they do*. They don't go around saying 'we want the school textbooks changed so our religion can't be challenged' and 'we're like Stalin'. They lie. They say the exact opposite - that Hitler was an atheist, that it's evil scientists trying to suppress the facts. The exact opposite of the truth.

America is divided up as a spectrum, with 80% of people in the moderate middle, pretty happy with the way things are going. Fundamentalists are 15% of the nutters on one side who want to change things. Atheists should fool themselves that they need to be an equally extreme 'counterweight'. They need to be right there in the moderate middle, pointing and laughing at the extremists.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add Anonymous did something more than just get media attention. It also gave a mouth piece for victims who were otherwise too intimidated to speak out.

And when a strategy was actually working against their cause (sending black faxes to scientology to waste their ink, crashing servers) everyone heeded an ex-scientology member's plea to stop those sorts of activities despite the group being leaderless and w/o hierarchy. They coordinated simultaneous protests worldwide, w/o a leader. And their particular beef wasn't about the religion, it was about intimidation and squashing of dissent.

In this way, I am not against religion, I am against an elected official spreading hate and bigotry! In fact, the only person so far to help me has been Catholic. I don't see the logic in alienating potential allies.

~anonymous #1

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anonymous

You are arguing against something that I never wrote, and would not advocate. You are arguing against a foolish position that I agree is foolish, so you are not arguing against me.

I have often suggested, when debating people, that it is unwise to go after the person whose mind is already made up. You address your comments to those who are on the fence, to show them the wisdom of climbing down off the fence on your side. And you address your comments to those who are standing next to the fence on the other side, so that they see the wisdom in stepping on.

But you still have to reach the people on or near the fence.

In this society, today, the vast majority of people hear only one voice.

And the voice that they hear - the voice that says that not favoring 'one nation under God' is as bad as not favoring 'liberty and justice for all - the voice that says that 'if you do not trust in God then you are not fit to be counted one of us' - is a voice that they hear from the earliest childhood without criticism, with the idea of locking these ideas in their brain as quickly as possible.

Anonymous said...

'In this society, today, the vast majority of people hear only one voice.'

... and I agree with all that.

The tool of the enemy is extremism - they are extremists while painting atheists as extremists. No atheist I know is anything other than soft spoken and ethical. Dawkins and Pullman are portrayed as incredible angry firebrands, and it's plain nonsense.

We have to say, softly, 'no, you're the extremist'. In a week when a Fundamentalist church was discovered to have a bed by an altar so the 14 year old girls that were being married to middle aged men could be raped without the unnecessary delay of having to leave the room, it shouldn't be a difficult job.

That and the Pope apologising for the child abuse scandal in the Church. Not to the victims, for the damage it did to the church.

That and parents who prayed over their daughter, watched her die for a month from diabetes that one insulin injection would have cured.

Christians, in America. This week.

Sorry, what did Representative Davis say was a danger to children again?

Rather than shout at Davis, atheists need to get better at cataloguing and blogging these sort of things. It's more than a full time job.

But it has to be about saying to moderate Christians 'we want you to believe whatever you want ... but you can't give these people, these serious criminals, a free pass because they call themselves the same thing as you'.

You don't convince people by calling them stupid.

Anonymous said...

alonzo fye-

Just as you needn't be Jewish to have been sickened by Mel Gibson's drunken rant, you needn't be an atheist for this episode to stir outrage. I didn't mean to suggest that you were alienating anyone, but others seemed to suggest that such a pressure group would consist solely of atheists. And that insulting people you wish to persuade is a good idea. Sorry I wasn't more specific.

I am amused by the irony of the person who has faith that this bigotry will just disappear on its own.

I just want people to give their religious friends/acquaintances a bit more credit as well as get atheism out of the closet so when people like Davis' talk about the Atheist BOOGIEMAN that wants to destroy everything they hold dear, others will have faces to connect to it...Like Rob the grocer, Asha the real estate agent, or Hakim the doctor...That people who have questions about Atheism in general have a friendly face to go to about it.

You wouldn't happen to know if anyone has a recording of Davis' outburst?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

A Recording of Davis' Outburst, courtesy of Friendly Atheist

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Alonzo Fyfe said...

Relevant to this debate is an earlier posting that I had written,

The Culpability of the Moderates

M.Dorian said...

As the blogger for the NYC Atheists, I do defend my rights as an atheist, loudly, to the point where I was once told that I was "the most strident atheist" someone had ever met. But that's just me. Why the rest don't speak up is anyone's guess. Part of it, I think, is that atheists are generally smart and well-educated, and they don't feel there's much one can do to change the minds of all the ignorant, poorly-educated believers. It is going to be a long and mostly futile battle...

Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hifi said...

It would probably better further the cause to use forums like this to acknowledge the exceptions to apathy, putting role models forward, rather than chastising folks (as much as they may deserve it).

As an exception, let me share:

There is nothing, in my opinion, as insidious as the unqualified assumption of god in the Pledge in public schools.

Here's some background on my one-man crusade against the Pledge in my district.

I've petitioned the School Board, Superintendent, and Principal; put the issue to vote at a heavily attended board meeting (after I asked them, had only one supporter from a local atheist group show up); I've complained up to the state level (where I was bounced around, but found a very sympathetic assistant State Superintendent legal counsel who told me about the site diversity law); I annually conference with and educate my kids' teachers; I've done news interviews and created a website. The result of has been that in just a little over a year I achieved and continue to achieve increasingly steady gains against the status quo at the school - and amazingly so for a lone individual.

Where the first year, my girls had been sidelined, this year several other children now join them in sitting out the Pledge in their classrooms. The District code now explicitly states that students need not participate. Before each school year, teachers are instructed not to, in any way, persuade or ask about the choice of any student. In the beginning of each year, all students are instructed by their teachers about Pledge policy. Parents are now notified in writing of students' rights to abstain. The principle herself voices permission to abstain in her daily introduction to the Pledge: "If you choose to say the Pledge of Allegiance, please stand." "You may stand and say the Pledge or remain seated, quietly. Ready, begin..." The girls' teachers each reassure them directly that it is OK with them if they sit for the Pledge. One of my children's teachers went so far as to substitute an alternative patriotic activity for an entire months.

My kids have NEVER stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and when my wife and I are at school, we don't either. Every little bit of support means everything to me in standing up for my kids and what's right.

Press coverage

More information:
Patriotism For All

Charles M said...

The pledge, money, swearing in elected officials using the Bible - each reflects something about the sentiments surrounding this nation's inception. I am not suggesting that the USA was founded to be Christian state. But for many (I would say a majority) God in the pledge etc is a positive thing - and something for which they would vote.

Freedom of religion (at least in my definition) means freedom to practice one's religion - not freedom from religion. If most in a society share a belief in a higher power those who do not constitute a minority. If I were living in country where life revolved around Islamic custom and where the majority liked it that way - who would I be to call foul and insist they change everything to accomodate me?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Charles M.

To deny that freedom of religion implies freedom from religion is to say that "freedom of religion" means "freedom to force one's religion on those who have none."

It is a nonsense statement, much like saying that "freedom of the press" means "freedom to publish what I tell you to publish."

As for the pledge, consider the option of removing 'under God' from the Pledge but allowing individuals to add, "So help me God' to the end if they choose to do so.

God remains in the pledge (for those who want it), but as a statement of private belief.

The pledge, under this option, would no longer say, "Those who do not favor one nation under God are as un-American as those who do not favor liberty and justice for all."

So, the bigoted hate-mongering elements are removed, but the religious elements stay in for those who want them.

Weighing these two options, we can see the degree to which an individual values an opportunity to express his faith, versus those who value the opportunity to express hatred for those who disagree with them.

Charles M said...

Alonzo,

That is a well-intentioned compromise. I really do appreciate the points you are making.

But the pledge does not say that. And I for one am very comfortable with the idea of "one nation under God". If the majority of Americans are comfortable as well then I do not think it is justifiable to amend it.

Anyone who objects to this may use his/her freedom of speech to say so. Any one who does not believe in a god can exercise his/her freedom of religion to disbelieve.

I agree that the pledge should not be compulsory. But as long as it is not I do not find it to be any breech of the establishment clause.

I admit that this is just my opinion - but mine is the opinion of a tax-paying, voting, and well-educated citizen. I would accord yours the same status. But I feel in no way compelled to agree with it as somehow less biased than mine.

My argument

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Charles M.

The question at issue here is not what you are comfortable with. It is what is right.

Many southerners were comfortable with slavery and Jim Crowe laws. Many Crusaders and Jihadists are comfortable with the slaughter of infidels. The Inquisitors were comfortable with the torture of heretics. That is irrelevant to the question of whether these policies were right or wrong.

And the slave owner, inquisitor, crusader, jihadist, all had the option of saying, "You have the right to use your freedom of speech to criticize these actions, but this is my opinion and I will act on it.

This still does not give the slave owner, inquisitor, crusader, or jihadist the slightest measure of virtue.

The fact is, declaring that "the official government position is that those who do not favor one nation under God are to be viewed like those who do not favor liberty and justice for all," is a malicious statement that aims to promote hostility towards people who do not deserve it.

And that is wrong.

Regardless of how 'comfortable' the unjust are in their acts of injustice, it is still wrong.

The government has no right to say such things about me, about my father, and about a great many (millions) of citizens.

Only a bigot will say that no atheist is qualified to be a judge. Only a person filled with prejudice will say that atheism is a philosophy of destruction. None of these are the actions of a moral and just individual.

Charles M said...

Alonzo,

You say that only a person "filled with prejudice" would say that atheism is a "philosophy of destruction".

I think you fail to see the perspective of the theist. For a Christian theist God is the highest entity of all and the sole arbiter of truth. By definition removing Him from the equation would mean destruction of the theist's very conception of existence. And that is the very nature of my religion!

It would seem that your argument would lead to a position that freedom of religion means freedom to practice any religion, as long as it is a humanism. But theism is not humanism and it cannot be made to conform to it.

My main problem with your position here is that it seems to assume that you know what is right and what is best for the country. And I just plain ol' disagree with you. In a democratic nation my views are as viable as yours. And we both know that equating Christianity in the US with jihadists is a large straw man.

I resent the idea that those of the "intellectual aristocracy" think they should be able to tell all of us what we need - all the while still calling this a democracy.

Anonymous said...

I think you fail to see the perspective of the theist. For a Christian theist God is the highest entity of all and the sole arbiter of truth. By definition removing Him from the equation would mean destruction of the theist's very conception of existence. And that is the very nature of my religion!

I think the phrase "perspective of the theist" hits the nail on the head. God is NOT the "sole arbiter of truth." Theists will use God and religion to justify any view they want to justify. And this has happened throughout history.

Eneasz said...

Charles-

You are more than welcome to keep god in your equation. No one is trying to remove him from your equation, or your religion, or your life. We simply ask that you do not force him into the lives of others, and stop telling every man, woman, and child in the nation that those who don't hold to god beliefs are immoral, unjust, tyrannical, and destructive.

Charles M said...

Eneasz,

That sounds fine. I promise I'll never come to your home and say such things.

But in a large society things are more complex. I think most atheists would see American society as way slanted in favor of religion. But given my agreement with the tenets of Christianity I am likely to find such a situation to be beneicial effects on the societal milieu.

You may see taking down monuments with the 10 commandments or the Bible as being a good thing and something that is more neutral. I see it as decreasing a positive, nay the most positive, potential influence on society.

I certainly do not think that atheists should be compelled to participate in my religion. But I am not going to support changes in society which I think will have a destructive effect on the society in which my kids will be growing up.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Charles M.

Does your interest in this future you describe consider the possibility of a child or grandchild being an atheist and, nonetheless, wanting to be a judge, to run for public office, to have the respect of his or her classmates in school?

Does it consider the value of promoting the principle of justice that your neighbors have the same interest in the welfare of their children as you have in yours, and that there is value in adhering to the principle that you should treat the atheist children of other parents the way that you would want them to treat your child if you child was an atheist.

Hifi said...

Charles,
First, let's not forget that the issue over the Pledge is whether kids should be on the front lines of the culture wars. If your argument is about why the government should be able to use the public schools to promote religion to young children with the Pledge, then besides being a bully, it displays your fundamental ignorance about the history and principles of our constitutional republic - where a bill of rights advocates for the validity of minority positions as to guard against the whims and prejudices of the majority.

So that we can be clear as to where you stand, here's a list of government types. Please, choose one that applies to you.

- One nation under God (examples Iran, Saudi Arabia): majority controls expression of religion.
- One nation without God (example, China, Soviet Union): government controls expression religion .
- One nation, regardless of belief (pre-1954 USA): all viewpoints welcome, government is out of the picture, shows preference to no viewpoints either by statement or law.

Indeed, America was founded as a nation dedicated to civil liberties with the specific mandate to protect and promote minority belief. The difference, you see, between the US and other countries with state religions (or no religion) is that here a political majority may not, in any way, dictate belief. If it had been otherwise, we'd all be Anglicans now.

In fact, we need look no further for insight into the intent of the establishment clause than James Madison, “father of the Constitution,” it's author. He adamantly opposed all use of “religion as an engine of civil policy."

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise” (letter to William Bradford, April 1, 1774).

“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution” (Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, Section 7, 1785).

He also wrote: "We should be grateful that the Founding Fathers--whatever they believed--were so intent on making religious liberty a right for those of us who do subscribe to the Apostles' Creed and those who don't. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity in exclusion of all other religions may establish, with the same ease, any particular sect of Christians in exclusion of all other sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute threepence only of his property for the support of any one establishment may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?"

Hifi said...

Also, it is helpful to understand that there is more to the Supreme Court ruling that applies here than just declaring it unconstitutional to force kids to say the Pledge.

The majority opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, written by Justice Robert Jackson in 1943, became one of the great statements in American constitutional law and history.
"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

The true legacy of Barnette is less its jurisprudence than its defense of the principles of freedom. The opinion's eloquent closing has been cited in both religious and secular contexts. Thus, it said, in part:
'The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections…."

Charles M said...

Alonzo,

Remember I am a theist! More than the earthly futures of my children I value their souls. I would rather they be Christian ditch-diggers than atheist judges. I do not mean that as an insult to you. But I think you are forgetting the the belief that drives Christianity to begin with.

Hifi,

Of your choices I would choose the pre-1954 USA, where most folks would not think of removing monuments of the 10 commandments, where many businesses were not even open on Sunday mornings, where jesus was not considered politically incorrect.

I remind you that no kids are being forced to say the pledge - or if they are they should not be.

And as for what Madison (or Jefferson for that matter) said what allegiance do I owe him? The bill of rights guarantees the protection of minorities from oppression. It does not mandate that the majority abandon its preferences and surrender completely to the will of the minorities.

And the Barnett case (which I know from living in WV!) protects kids from being forced to say the pledge - just as it protects my kids from being forbidden to pray before school or at a graduation.

Eneasz said...

Charles:

You may see taking down monuments with the 10 commandments or the Bible as being a good thing and something that is more neutral. I see it as decreasing a positive, nay the most positive, potential influence on society.

I certainly do not think that atheists should be compelled to participate in my religion. But I am not going to support changes in society which I think will have a destructive effect on the society in which my kids will be growing up.


Well then, you have to ask yourself - what is more important to you? That your religious beliefs are propagated regardless of their effects... or that society is made better and strong, instead of being weakened, degraded, and corrupted? If it's the former, then there's not much use arguing from facts and evidence, as you don't care how destructive or constructive a religion may be on society (the society you and your children will have to live in) as long as that religion is yours.

On the other hand, if you prefer and strong, just, and responsible society that encourages the best in all of us, then you probably also want to make sure that you are helping society rather than harming it. After all, giving the wrong medication to a sick patient can not only fail to cure him, it can actualy make him worse. So how do you determine if what you are propoing is beneficial or harmful?

The only method we humans have discovered to make such a determination is to try various approaches in different areas and then compare results. If putting up religious icons and strengthening religious convictions is a good thing in a society, those areas of the nation and world which do this should be demonstrably better.

I would ask you to present such evidence for your claims that religion is such a great thing for society.

Because from what few studies there have been on the subject, it seems that the opposite is true. The more fundamentalist and religious an area is, the worse off it tends to be (measured in social ills such as crime, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, abortion, poverty, etc). And conversely, the more secular an area is, the better off it tends to be.

This may not show that religion necessarily makes a society worse. But it does *at least* demonstrate that religion does NOT make a society better. And if we are sacraficing such things as equality before the law, fair representation, and just treatment, we shouldn't do so for something which has no benefits.

Charles M said...

Eneasz,

I would not equate a greater preponderance of fundamentalism with the goodness of a society.

And as a Christian I have no intention of defending the influence of another religion on a society - since any ethic divorced from Jesus is of human invention.

If you would come to my church you would meet very kind people who would treat you well. You would meet people who spend their time having Bible studies on Friday nights instead of killing liver hepatocytes and neurons with drugs and alcohol, who try to remember to be patient with the Taco Bell drive-in guy who just completely botched your order on a busy day, who give large amounts to missionaries who preach and set up medical missions in poor countries.

Now all of these qualities could easily be found in a non-church environment. But in my perception the influence of Christianity and of our local church in the lives of our congragation is 100% positive. I also know that the assurance of salvation I have is better than any economic or intellectaul satisfaction I have ever had (and I have been blessed to have had a good deal of those things).

I am relating this to you so that you might get an idea of the mindset behind Christian belief. Many atheists with whom I blog are just indignant when they offer a nice cogent humanist argument like yours - and find that I disagree with it.

As I said before - I am a theist! As such I am not a humanist! Asking me to lay aside devotion to God in order to promote a "strong society" is about equivalent to asking me to, out of respect for your beliefs, revere your mother as much as my own!

Again - I am saying this not to "preach" to you - but rather so you might consider what underlays me devotion to Christianity. And I am confident that this would be echoed by most who consider themselves evangelical Christians.

Really. I am not stupid (actually I happen to be pretty smart). I am just devoted to God through Jesus. And please believe me I DO respect your views and understand your arguements. I just disagree with them.

And as I said I think that we also differ on freedom of religion. I have described what I believe - and what I am entitled to believe. But I often get the feeling that secularists think that freedome of religion means freedom to practice any religion, as long as that religion is a form of humanism and has humanistic priorities.

Eneasz said...

I think we're talking in circles. I have no problem with anyone practicing their religion, as long as it doesn't do harm to people who aren't part of that religion. I'm assuming you agree?

A national policy of denigrating and demeaning those who are free of god-beliefs DOES do harm to others. That is what I protest.

Charles M said...

Eneasz,

I agree.

I just think that there is a big difference in having "under God" in the pledge and forcing someone to utter those words. The second is oppression and the first is not in my opinion.

Please don't misunderstand me. Your arguments are well founded and make plenty of sense. I just differ with you on what would be the ultimate society. Given what I see of human nature I think that without God any semblance of "society" is a fiction.

Eneasz said...


I just differ with you on what would be the ultimate society. Given what I see of human nature I think that without God any semblance of "society" is a fiction.


Which is the equivilent of saying "atheists cannot have a functional society". That's bigotted in it's own right, and it's no wonder that people who think that way would tell atheists they have no right to speak with their representatives in congress and children shouldn't be allowed to know they exist.

It is obviously simple bigotry because there are counter-examples in the world right now. Saying that a society without god is a fiction is simply denying that such states exist around the world today.

And since it was obviously not the evidence that led you to this conclusion that society without god is fiction it had to be something else. Perhaps a national motto that has been telling you that atheists are not part of this society? Perhaps a national pledge of allegiance that has been drilled into all our heads from before we could even understand what it meant (regardless of whether we were forced to recite it or not) that told us all that being without god is equivilent to being for injustice, slavery, and tyrany? It's no wonder you feel that a society without a god is a fiction. And this ingrained and government-supported bigotry is EXACTLY what we are trying to stop!

Charles M said...

Eneasz,

I'm sorry if I upset you. But you are correct that my stance does not come from "evidence" (which would have been gathered by those who assume religion IS bad I would say - but rather from belief that God can mandate right and wrong.

And consider what Alonzo said in the opening post:

"You will pay with your job if you should declare that atheists are not qualified to be judges or have no right to offer testimony before a state legislature. If you produce a movie that tries to blame atheists for the holocaust you will be met with a cry that will ensure that everybody in the country hears how bigoted your claims are. And if you ever again try to blame us for a school shooting, hurricane, terrorist attack, or anything similar you will be met with a storm of protest that will bury your career."

Is it OK when a department head says that an ID proponent is not fit to be a teacher?

Was it OK when Brian Fleming made his movie about religion and its adherents?

Was it OK when Sam harris basically blamed religionists for 9/11?

We both have ideas about how we would like the world to be. I admit that mine has implicit bias (ie based on belief in the Christian God) - you dress yours up so as to make it neutral when it is anything but that.

Eneasz said...


But you are correct that my stance does not come from "evidence"
...
We both have ideas about how we would like the world to be. I admit that mine has implicit bias

So if you have no evidence, then what is your stance supported by? A biased opinion and the military power to force it on others? What happened to the claims of an objective standard? If you have nothing but biased opinions, how can you claim that you have the objective standard society must be based on?

Is it OK when a department head says that an ID proponent is not fit to be a teacher?

If that teacher is a teacher of science, and is trying to teach this in a science classroom, then yes. If it's a belief they talk about outside of the classroom then they're free to talk however they wish. My high school physics teacher was a very devout christian, he ran an after-school bible group. But he never once invoked god in the classroom, and I have much respect for him for that.

Was it OK when Brian Fleming made his movie about religion and its adherents?

I can't say, I've never seen it.

Was it OK when Sam harris basically blamed religionists for 9/11?

No. That is also bigotry, and Harris should retract that statement and apologize. This has been discussed a number of times in this blog.

Charles M said...

Eneasz,


I do not offer evidence for the veracity of my faith. If people believed in Jesus because he came down and shot lightning out of his fingers that would not be faith - it would be belief out of fear.

And regarding society and imposing my will - I would never vote for a candidate who would strip anyone of rights or force them to practice a religion. And I do not claim that society must be based on my opinion (although it seems to me that the secularists do just that). I do however think that if I, and a majority of others, desire society to be a certain way then that is OK - as long as that society does not violate the inalienable rights of others. For instance - the majority does NOT have a right to make you worship God. But it does, in my opinion, have the right to make a society in which worship is accomodated.

As far as ID goes - I do not support teaching Christianity in science class. I do not support actual lessons on 6 day creation either.

What I would like to see, given the "charged" nature of this topic, is an explanation to students that in science class there will be discussion of what science has taught us (which will include a heavy dose of material containing and consitent with evolutionary processes) - and not discussions of whether God created the universe. If I were teaching biology class I would admit that, in truth, the origin of the earth is still in the realm of theory - but that we do have a good deal of experimental knowledge suggesting that the earth is old.

What I (and I would imagine Ben Stein too) fear is someone who is an atheist or secularist who, in addition to laying out the facts and theories, will suggest in subtle (or not so subtle) ways that science has made God obsolete - that religion is worthy of scorn - that we don't need religion to explain things any more.

I really have no problems with teaching science as we know it. But I have chided some of those here for not recognizing their biases - and I suspect that someone who holds such a bias would be less than charitable to the religious sensibilities of those in class who might be believers. I recall an incident in one of my physiology classes in which a book (which was informally referred to as the "bible" of physiology) contained an error. The teacher quipped, "well it wouldn't be the first time the bible was wrong now would it..."

As I said I have taught and do still teach biochemistry and physiology on a postgraduate level - and I have never allowed my faith to color any of my presentation of the material. If you were teaching my children science I would expect that you leave your distaste for Christianity and the idea of intelligent design at the door and not allow it to color your teaching of the facts.

Eneasz said...

:) I believe we've reached an accord! I can only say that I hope more people believe as you do, given the sentements of your last post. The few disagreements I still have with you are minor enough that I would rather call you a friend than a foe.

I do have a question though. When you say:

I do however think that if I, and a majority of others, desire society to be a certain way then that is OK - as long as that society does not violate the inalienable rights of others.


Would those inalienable rights include the right to fair and equal treatment by the law? Including the right to not be singled out and ostracized based on personal (un)religious beliefs?

martino said...

Hi Charles M.

What I (and I would imagine Ben Stein too) fear is someone who is an atheist or secularist who, in addition to laying out the facts and theories, will suggest in subtle (or not so subtle) ways that science has made God obsolete - that religion is worthy of scorn - that we don't need religion to explain things any more.
Yes well this is outside the topic of teaching science in the classroom. I would not endorse such a view as I would not endorse someone forcing their religion on pupils either. One's religious views are at best a topic for a religion class not a science class.

However if this were all the case what is the justification for the dishonest methods that Ben Stein has used to make his case? Why did he not instead focus on the issues that you and I agree on here. I can only conclude that this was not his intention, given the false arguments over people being fired for their ID beliefs when they were not, and when they were, at best if at all, abusing their position in exactly the way you expressed your fears over hypothesized science teachers. Why do you not fear this too? Or are you applying double standards?


I really have no problems with teaching science as we know it. But I have chided some of those here for not recognizing their biases - and I suspect that someone who holds such a bias would be less than charitable to the religious sensibilities of those in class who might be believers. I recall an incident in one of my physiology classes in which a book (which was informally referred to as the "bible" of physiology) contained an error. The teacher quipped, "well it wouldn't be the first time the bible was wrong now would it..."
Wow this is the best you can do? An innocent joke? That is it? Well I do not endorse such behavior but, really, what is wrong with a sense of humor one way or another?

As I said I have taught and do still teach biochemistry and physiology on a postgraduate level - and I have never allowed my faith to color any of my presentation of the material. If you were teaching my children science I would expect that you leave your distaste for Christianity and the idea of intelligent design at the door and not allow it to color your teaching of the facts.
And that is why neither should be topics in a science class, the opposite of what Ben Stein was arguing for, I believe.

Charles M said...

Eneasz,

"Would those inalienable rights include the right to fair and equal treatment by the law? Including the right to not be singled out and ostracized based on personal (un)religious beliefs?"

Yes. No one should be treated poorly for any reason. Unfortunately that is difficult to put into practice since being "mean" is not properly a crime. But it is still wrong.

Eneasz said...

Charles M -

Huzzah!!

I'll not ask you to join us in any direct way, as you seem to be already occupied with other efforts to help who you can. And, on top of that, working for equality for the non-religious has certain social costs that I doubt the religious are willing to bear.

However I do ask this. Please, next time someone asks to you support them in efforts to uphold the bigotry currently enshrined in our pledge and our system, think of me (and all of us). Refuse them. If you could go so far as to tell them that you won't support their effort to oppress the non-religious and the reasons why, we would all greatly appreciate it. But even if you don't, at the very least, please don't give them your support.

Many thanks.

martino said...

Charles M.

In reply Eneasz's "Would those inalienable rights include the right to fair and equal treatment by the law? Including the right to not be singled out and ostracized based on personal (un)religious beliefs?"

You said:Yes. No one should be treated poorly for any reason. Unfortunately that is difficult to put into practice since being "mean" is not properly a crime. But it is still wrong.

This looks like a dodge to me over "mean" and crime. The issue is about institutionalized bigotry, and if one wants live in a civilized society one should be against this.

It is in your own interest too since by allowing, directly or complicity, such principles to persist, there is always the danger that, if demographics change, you could end up being the victim of such bigotry.

Anyway if god is so great why does it need these practices that encourage bigotry to help it? Surely it should be robust to stand on a level playing field and show its superiority by example instead? (Indeed religious support or "not seeing what the problem is" of the pledge and other such institutionalized practices is surely indicative evidence of the weakness of the case for god).

PS I do not think there is such a thing as "inalienable rights" at least not fundamentally. However rights are derivable from DU, as restatements of universal aversions it is in our interests to encourage others to have.

Anonymous said...

Charles M
It is interesting that you say you would prefer the America of the late 40's in the context of this disscussion as at that time neither "one nation under God" nor "In God we trust" where part of the pledge or had been accepted as an additional motto.

Hifi said...

charles m.
You think that just because young children are not being forced to say the Pledge makes it OK for the government to use it to preach a religious position to them on a daily basis? Tell me how exactly is it that you think sitting in silence and "taking it" while others stand to voice their religious beliefs is not oppressive to an elementary school child?

How would Christian children feel if they were made to sit and listen every day to "one nation, indivisible, under no gods"? Really, no Christians would take offense? You wouldn't feel oppressed?

In the interest of one nation, indivisible, wouldn't it be better to leave the Pledge neutral as to whether or not there are gods?

As a Christian and a patriot who believes government should not oppress religious expression, you should be as offended as anyone to realize that the government has set up the Pledge practice in the schools in such a way that my kids NEVER get to stand and in the hearing of all of their peers offer a contrary view. In what possible sense is that not a criminal violation of their equal rights under the law.

Tell you what, you support all kids being allowed equal religious expression in the classroom, not just Christians and Jews, and we have no problem here.

Anonymous said...

I think it's simply a matter of not being afraid. If we aren't afraid of our "oppressors" and don't care about what they do, then there's no reason to defend ourselves, because, really, all that stuff is irrelevant. It seems like no more of a problem than people asserting that the Padres (a baseball team) are terrible and saying their fans are foolish. It's inconsequential noise.

Why fight, when we've already won? Every generation, more and more people leave the religions behind because they realize that belief in god is meaningless. I'm surrounded by people who have left religion. So, I ignore the shouting and crying and accusations of the religious, because I know it's just the meaningless, empty, and fearful whining of a group that knows it's losing.

All we have to do, is protect and spread critical thinking. Only when they attack critical thinking and education, is there an actual threat worth fighting against.