Monday, January 23, 2012

Innovation, not Infighting

In my continuing evaluation of Sean Faircloth's new atheist strategy, we come to a call for innovation - as a substitute for infighting.

There is some connection between these two issues - which I have already discussed.

There are bound to be disputes over the right way to do things. Rather than have knock-down fights (without evidence) over which is right, let's do this the scientific way. Let each person try things their own way, and collect some data on the various options - then discuss the results.

Infighting among secular and atheist organizations should be modeled after infighting among academics - rather than infighting among religions.

Faircloth did not mention this aspect in his discussion of innovation. He used, as his paradigm example, the out campaign - the red letter A that identifies one as an atheist. He boasted that there is an atheist 'out' page in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, an atheist in Indonesia, last week a civil servant posted his opinion that God does not exist on a Facebook page. An angry mob came to his office, beat him up, and he was arrested - and faces a prison sentence for blasphemy. There is now a Facebook page to Support Alex Aans' human rights.

A high school student, Jessica Ahlquist ets police protection on the basis of threats surrounding a successful court case to get a religious banner removed from a public school.

A speech in London is shut down when somebody with religious passions started filming those in the audience and threatened to hunt them down if anything was said against the prophet Mohammed.

There are risks associated with being known as an atheist. The more who come out, the safer we all become.

I identify myself as an atheist.

However, I do not participate explicitly in the "Out Campaign", nor do I use the red letter A.


Flags make me nervous.

More to the point, flags should make people nervous.

There are far too many instances in history where people have given up rational thought and replaced it with a call to rally around some flag or other, giving their unquestioned loyalty and obedience to the flag waver above all other concerns. People get into a contest over who can wave the flag with the most vigor, and we start to judge each other by how well one serves the flag as the ultimate virtue.

However, this is a warning to the Out campaign, not an objection to it.

To the degree that people are afraid of the effects if coming out, it is comforting to have a group one can belong to. One of the most serious effects of coming out is the loss of family or friends who cannot accept the idea that one does not believe in God. Seeing the red letter A means that one has found an ally - and a potential new friend. As a result, one should point others to this community. At the same time, the Out campaign could be improved by putting some effort into making it a community that people can belong to.

Another useful purpose for the Out Campaign is to announce to others, "We are here, and we are no longer content to hide in the closet. You had better get used to the fact that there are atheists in your world. We are not ashamed. We will not hide."

This latter point is why I named this blog "Atheist Ethicist". There is no particular link between ethics and atheism. There are no moral conclusions that one can draw from the premise that the proposition that at least one God exists is certainly or almost certainly false. I could have easily written a blog just on ethics, leaving the "atheist" portion out - and probably had a much larger audience as a result.

However, I live in a society of prejudice against atheists - a bigotry that particularly focuses on the claim that atheists lack any moral foundation and, to the degree they are decent people, it is because they "borrow" their morality from religion. Notwithstanding the fact that many of the most popular religions have moral elements that are not worth borrowing.

Another claim is that atheists seek to live a life free of moral constraints, which is why we have rejected God.

Consequently, I hold that it is important to have an atheist explicitly discussing moral constraints without reference to any God or scripture - and I have put the term "Atheist" in this blog title.

So, I agree with all if the things that the Out campaign stands for. However, I am still concerned about the psychology of flag waving. I think somebody needs to stand away from the flag a bit (without standing outside of atheism specifically) to wave a different kind of flag - a warning flag or a penalty flag - if the psychology of flag waving starts to produce some unacceptable results.

That is my strategy - my innovation. It may not be as well thought out as I would have liked. It might have some serious flaws and its foundation might be cracked beyond repair. However, it has not (and should not) generate any form of infighting. Instead, it is best to let the strategy play itself out, and discuss its merits and demerits as one would discuss any experiment.

To the degree that there is infighting among secular and atheist societies, it should be the type of infighting we find among scientists and academics - not the type we find among religious factions.

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