Thursday, November 29, 2007

Polite Athesits

This is a “two birds with one stone” post, where I am using Bird 2 as a pretext for mentioning Bird 1 in a blog dedicated to essays on the subject of ethics.

9th Circuit Court Oral Arguments in Pledge and Under God Cases

Bird 1 is the fact that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing oral arguments on Tuesday, December 4th, on Newdow’s new Pledge of Allegiance case and his “In God We Trust” case.

The American Atheists: California Branch is among a group of organizations planning a rally around the event. I want to encourage any and all readers to find some way of expressing your support on that day as well. Through radio talk-shows, blog postings, letters to the editor, dinner conversation with people where you are not preaching to the choir . . . find something to do to help people to understand that these are representative of a national policy to alienate and denigrate atheists – to cast them in the role of ‘other’, and to place those who are not ‘under God’ on the same level as those who would support rebellion (not indivisible), tyranny (not with liberty), and injustice (not with justice for all).

I’ve already started my posting for Monday evening – that will show up on my blog on Tuesday.

To me, I don’t see why oral arguments should take that long.

Clearly, “with liberty and justice for all” was made a part of the Pledge to promote liberty and justice for all and to denigrate tyranny and injustice, right?


Clearly, the word ‘indivisible’ was put into the Pledge to promote Union and to discourage rebellion, right?

Of course. Right.

Clearly, then, the words ‘under God’ exist to promote belief in God and to denigrate and discourage those who do not believe in God, right?

Okay, then, we’re done here. On to the next case.

You’re honor, the motto says, “In God We Trust.” Right?


Well then. If “We” trust in God, then who are “They”? Who is being told that they do not belong? Who is being cast out of the group called “We?”

Thank you for your time.

The Polite Atheist

Bird 2, which has to do with Pat Condell's recent blog video in which he attacks those ‘polite atheists’ who have apparently criticized him for not being sufficiently polite.

Condell's videos do not mince words. He shows no tendency to withhold casting insults about at whomever he thinks deserves them – mostly, those who seek to base social and political policy on a stack of fairy tails and myths. In this, he reports hearing from some atheists who condemn him for his harsh language, claiming that he gives atheists a bad name, that he is not helping the cause, and that ‘you cannot convert somebody by insulting them’.

My writing style is not one that involves using the same vulgar language that Conley is prone to use. However, I do argue that engaging certain religious factions in polite debate is wrong-headed. The proper response to many of the actions that theists perform (such as instituting the denigration of atheists the national motto and the national pledge) deserve more than ‘polite debate’. They deserve harsh condemnation. When the actions that a person performs are immoral, the time for ‘polite debate’ is over. Evil is not simply to be debated, it is to be condemned, and condemned.

Imagine somebody saying in dealing with those who rape children, that we should limit ourselves to polite debate. It is not permissible to condemn these people. Instead, we must treat their views with respect, and calmly explain to them any mistakes they may have made in thinking about the issue. Imagine somebody who argues that condemning child rapists “gives anti-child rapists a bad name” or “does not help the cause” or “you can’t convert these people by insulting them.”

Imagine somebody on trial for murder, where the defense attorney stands up and says, “In suggesting that my client is a murderer, you are insulting my client. You are not respecting his beliefs or his interests. You are giving justice a bad name. You are not helping the cause. And you cannot convert my client into your cause by insulting him.”

Here, I wish to point out that there is one difference between the way that I approach this issue and the way that Conley approaches it. I hold that it is quite reasonable to assert a proposition such as, “Jones is a murderer,” or “Pete is a lair.” I hold that these statements can be proved true or false. I hold that it is perfectly consistent with rational debate to rationally demonstrate that “Jones is a murderer” or “Pete is a liar” is a true proposition. That the fact that Jones or Pete might find these conclusions insulting are irrelevant. If they are true, well, then it does not matter what Jones or Pete thinks.

Those who support a national pledge and a national motto to denigrate those who are not under or who do not trust God to be hate-mongering bigots. No decent, moral person would make or even support a national policy of bigotry and hatred – let alone make it a law giving hate-mongers special access to children in public schools. If hate-mongering bigots do not like this label, then my advice to them is to cease being hate-mongering bigots, then both of our problems would be solved.

The fact that their scripture calls upon them to be hate-mongering bigots only shows that their scripture contains a significant flaw. While they claim that their scripture gives them a special access to moral truth and gives them a special reason to behave morally, the fact of the matter is that their scripture embodies hate-mongering bigotry that was popular 2000 years ago, and gives them a special reason to transmit that hate-mongering bigotry through 2000 years where they should have learned better.

Being polite about it . . . .refusing to call these people hate-mongering bigots, is like refusing to call somebody who lies a liar or refusing to call somebody who kills unjustly a murderer. These types of attitudes actually condone the behavior in question and communicate that there is nothing wrong with it. Respecting hate-mongering bigotry, lying, or murder means saying that there is nothing wrong with hate-mongering bigotry, lying, or murder, which means you think that there is nothing wrong with being a hate-mongering bigot, liar, or murderer.

On the other hand, if you believe that there is something wrong with being a hate-mongering bigot, liar, or murderer, then there is absolutely no way to say so that hate-mongering bigots, liars, and murderers will not find insulting.

But that’s their problem.

One example I have used in the past to describe the failure of the ‘polite atheists’ is that of a group of slaves, The ‘polite slave’ is the one who says to the others, “Do not do anything to upset the master. If we are good to the master, if we treat him with respect, if we never do anything to anger him, then, perhaps, some day he will like us enough to give us our freedom.”

Or imagine the Jew saying, “If we treat the Nazi with respect, if we do nothing to anger him, if we make him confrotable and never condemn the Nazi system of beliefs, then maybe they will close the death camps.”

No. You do not fight injustice by providing the perpetrators of injustice with comfort and respect. You fight injustice by making the perpetrators of injustice uncomfortable in their position – by point out that hate-mongering bigots, liars, murders, slave-owners, and Nazis are people who deserve, and will therefore be given, no respect.

Or, “I will give you all of the respect to which you are entitled.”

It is time to take those who support a national motto and pledge to denigrate atheists – those who actively pursue a policy that gives bigots unchallenged access to young children in the public school system, exactly the level of respect that they deserve.


Moral responsibilities require that I add a standard caveat that I attach to all posts of these types. In an open society, the only legitimate response to words are words and private actions. The only legitimate response to a political campaign is a counter-campaign. Violence is not a legitimate response. This is how we keep the peace, even among populations who disagree. The contempt to be given to those who promote hate-mongering bigotry as our national pledge and motto must be kept within these moral limits. No death threats or threats of violence of any type, no vandalism, no assault is justified where a society allows individuals to express themselves in words. Let the less-moral side of the argument engage in these tactics. Better people do not behave that way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"..the fact of the matter is that their scripture embodies hate-mongering bigotry that was popular 2000 years ago, and gives them a special reason to transmit that hate-mongering bigotry through 2000 years where they should have learned better."

Very well said.