Friday, March 30, 2012

Media Distortions of the Reason Rally - Part 2

In our previous episode, I discussed a common misrepresentation of the Reason Rally. This involved the bigot's disposition to focus on anything bad that can be found at such a rally and amplify it, in order to paint all atheists with the stain of its "bottom 10%". This is how bigots work - identifying a target group, and trying to taint everybody in the group with the stain of its worse members.

There is always a bottom 10%. It would be absurd to argue that they must not exist. However, people who are unwilling to taint all Christians with the deplorable behavior of the Westboro Baptist Church or taint all Muslims with the behavior of its most violent members have responded to the Reason Rally with a lustful zeal to toss that standard aside when atheists are the target group.

That marks the person as a bigot - and a hypocritical bigot at that.

Now, let us look at the other distortion.

The Accusation

Another major distortion that came from the claim that Richard Dawkins called on atheists to ridicule believers.

My posting, like the last, references this article - but only as an example of many articles that came out:

Atheism's New Dogmatism.

Dawkins' address attracted most media attention. Reports afterwards claimed he had called on the crowd to ridicule religion and religious people....[I]f you watch the video clip of Dawkins's 16-minute address to the crowd, it appears he did indeed say exactly what he is accused of.

"When I first meet someone who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: I don't believe you, until you tell me, do you really believe - for example if they say they're Catholic - that when a priest blesses a wafer, it turns into the body of Christ?" he tells the crowd. "Are you seriously telling me that you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood? Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!" Religion contains specific claims about the world which need to be "ridiculed with contempt", he goes on to say, to loud cheering.

The Hypocrisy

Before going on with the analysis, I have to comment on the nonsensical hypocrisy of an article that ridicules the beliefs of others for the crime of ridiculing the beliefs of others. Why does the doctrine that all beliefs must be respected no matter how foolish one thinks they are not apply to the atheists?

Actually, it is a foolish doctrine to start with.

I will not demand that people refrain from criticizing atheism - and few (if any?) atheists would make such a demand. To a substantial degree, atheists tend to hold to the view, "Go ahead. Hit me with your best argument." Responding to criticism helps me to understand and strengthen my own position - and could help me to reject this view if it happens to be false.

This is significantly different from the demand we find among religious people, "Thou shalt not raise objections to or criticize or beliefs."

The Error

Recall that the accusation (made by people who - applying their own standards to their own behavior - are intolerant of atheist through public ridicule) is that atheists commit the crime of intolerance for advocating the ridicule of religious people.

The truth of the matter is contained even within the quote provided by the accuser. Read it again. Now, what is being ridiculed here?

The answer: Claims about the world.

I repeat:

Religion contains specific claims about the world which need to be "ridiculed with contempt". (emphasis added)

The Examples

We are talking here about claims like that with a few magic words one can literally change a cracker into the body of Christ and wine into its blood - even though a thorough chemical analysis shows that the cracker is still a cracker and the wine is still wine.

These beliefs go along with the belief that the earth is 6000 years old, that all human species appeared on the earth in their current form, that Noah actually fit all of the species of the Earth onto his arc, and Moses really did part the literal Red Sea to get the Jews out of Egypt (and God really did murder all first-born children using a biological weapon of mass destruction to accomplish this same end).

Living inside of a whale? Yeah. Right. Seriously? You are saying that really happened? Grow up. There is a real world out there and we need mature, responsible adults capable of understanding it as it is. This is not helping.

Somehow, I am not showing disrespect for a person if I dispute his claim that the mouse in his pocket is giving him financial advice, but I have some mysterious obligation to keep a straight face while he talks about a lady and a talking snake in the Garden of Eden as if it really happened.

My Focus

For my part, I do not spend much time writing about these silly but harmless beliefs. I think this is the first time I have mentioned them. I agree that they are laughable - and that those who laugh at them are not doing anything wrong. They simply are not my top concern.

My concerns have more to do with beliefs that are shortening people's lives, causing injury and illness, and motivating people to act in ways harmful to the interests and aspirations of their peaceful neighbors.

These include beliefs like:

A zygote has moral properties that forbid us from taking action to produce medical treatments that could save lives and treat any number of injuries and illnesses.

A person who draws a picture of Mohammed deserves death.

It is legitimate to respond to criticism of one's religion with deadly force, or to murder anybody who decides as a mature adult that the claims of the religion they were spoon fed as a child are false - or to put in prison any who say that there is no God.

A teenage girl who is raped deserves to be stoned to death for the crime of sex outside if marriage - or that holding hands is a capital offense.

A parent can remove a disease through prayer alone, or that there is some special spiritual value worthy of protection in denying a child simple life-saving medicine.

Good citizenship is compatible with ignorance of the real world in matters of chemistry, biology, and physics and that a responsible person can make responsible decisions on public policy when his beliefs on that subject are wrapped in pure fantasy.

Gays must be denied the benefits of marriage (in some parts of the world) or be killed outright (in other parts).

Toleration of homosexuals or failure to allow government-sponsored prayer in public schools influences the path of hurricanes or the destructive potential of tsunamis.

Only a person who believes in the absurdities listed above are qualified to make public policy, and those who claim that they are nonsense must be kept out of public office.

These are the types of beliefs I target.

I cannot call these beliefs "silly". They kill and maim people and deny their aspirations for the one and only life they will ever have. Calling them 'silly' denigrates and devalues the lives of those killed and maimed and denigrates their peaceful aspirations.

They not only lower the quality or unnecessary end the lives of innocent people, they waste the lives of believers as well. I suspect a great many of those believers would have preferred to spend their lives helping people and doing good - rather than harming people. The fact that they could not tell the difference between fantasy and reality thwarted those interests, and turned them into people doing harm rather than good. Certainly, they like to slap themselves on the back and celebrate the good they THINK they have done. However, reality does not change the fact that the real-world consequences of the actions they cheer and celebrate are to do harm.

For this, ridicule and mockery is not enough. What is actually deserved is moral condemnation. Live in a fantasy world if you want where your actions harm only yourself. But when your fantasies cause you to act in ways harmful to others - you don't deserve mockery. You deserve contempt. And I WILL condemn the person himself, and not just his beliefs.

P.S. There will be a Part 3 - discussing the objection that it is absurd for irrational atheists to hold a Reason Rally.

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