The link between religious fundamentalism and militant atheism

In a previous post I gave the following definitions:

“An atheist is someone who sees God’s existence as being very implausible.

An antitheist (or New Atheist, militant atheist, atheistic fundamentalist…) is an atheist believing that all religions ought to disappear and that it is morally permissible (if not mandatory) to use ridicule, mockery and emotional bullying to destroy the faith of all religious believers.”

While I have a huge respect for many great atheistic thinkers of Western history (such as Nietzche, Sartre, Camus and Macky to name only a few) I have developed a healthy disdain towards anti-theists (as defined above).

I find that there is nothing glorious about using ridicule and mockery towards respectful and intelligent people you have a strong disagreement with.

Militant atheists are characterized by a bigoted self-righteousness and an intolerance towards all kinds of non-materialist points of view.
I have seen with my own eyes (across a screen) antitheists insulting and ridiculing nice persons defending the irreducible character of our conscious experience or of mathematical equations.

Following an extreme form of binary thinking, the New Atheists believe that since Islamic terrorists or Christian fundies are non-materialists, all non-materialists ought to be ridiculed.

But where does all this irrational and hateful thinking stem from?

David Leiter described in a short article what I and many other people have experienced:

“The theme that has emerged time after time, as I become closely acquainted with individual PhACT members is this: Each one who has disclosed personal details of their formative years, say up until their early 20’s,
has had an unfortunate experience with a faith-based philosophy, most often a
conventional major religion.
Very often, their family or community has (almost forcibly) imposed this philosophy on them from a very early age; but then as they matured, they threw off this philosophy with a vengeance, vowing at a soul level never to be so victimized again. Less often, it appears that they have instead voluntarily and enthusiastically embraced, for example, a New Age cult, or have become say, a born-again Christian. Then after a few years, they become convinced of the folly of that infatuation with the same basic result. They throw off this philosophy with a vengeance, vowing at a soul level never to be so victimized again.”

This leads me to make several empirically testable claims about the psychology of militant atheism.

1) The overwhelming majority of anti-theists have had a traumatic experience with one or several religions. In most cases they were raised as fundamentalists.

2) All things being equal, the strength of their materialist belief and intolerance towards other views is proportional to the amount of abuse and suffering they underwent in the past due to a religion.

3) All other things being equal, a bullying anti-theist is more likely to have always had a bullying personality to begin with,
There are many former fundamentalists who have become atheists without having taken on a hateful rhetoric.

Michael Shermer and Johny Scaramanga are two nice examples.

4) The intensity of the hostile and disrespectful rhetoric of a militant atheist is inversely proportional to the intellectual strength of his or her arguments.

(While it arguably concerns only a minority of cases, I do think this nicely illustrates the kind of vicious circle or hatred going on).

Now I would be glad if you could share your own experiences with me.

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104 thoughts on “The link between religious fundamentalism and militant atheism

  1. I won’t deny that there are those who get personal, but in my experience, atheists tend to attack the belief rather than the believer. Atheists think that good people are good people, whereas the religious will suggest that the atheist is immoral and depraved, or secretly knows God but is defying him, or will most certainly be going to hell. Getting personal is kind of religion’s thing.

    Steven Weinburg said that it takes religion to make good people do evil things. Again, this is an attack on a belief, not on a person but I think it is far too narrow. I think it takes zealous ideology to make good people do evil things.

    • Hello, thanks for your comment.

      I think you are overgeneralizing quite a bit, which is probably due to the fact most religious believers you have encountered are fundamentalists.
      You come from America, don’t you?

      “I won’t deny that there are those who get personal, but in my experience, atheists tend to attack the belief rather than the believer. Atheists think that good people are good people, whereas the religious will suggest that the atheist is immoral and depraved, or secretly knows God but is defying him, or will most certainly be going to hell. Getting personal is kind of religion’s thing.”

      There are many, many religious believers in Europe who will never attack atheists in this way and would feel quite outraged if they were to hear such kinds of insults towards them (the atheists).
      I certainly step in if I see a nice atheist being bullied by Christians.

      “Steven Weinburg said that it takes religion to make good people do evil things. Again, this is an attack on a belief, not on a person but I think it is far too narrow. I think it takes zealous ideology to make good people do evil things.”

      The problem of Weinberg is that he speaks of “Religion” with a capital R, giving the impression that it is an united entity fostering evil deeds.
      If he had written “a religion”, or even better “an evil religion” I would have been closer to truth.

      I largely agree with your own phrase “zealous ideology though one can be zealous for good purposes.

      I think that all persons of good will should fight injustices wherever they find them.

      Friendly greetings from Europe.

      • Most believers I know are perfectly normal people who don’t wear their religion on their sleeves. It’s the ones that open their mouths though, that inform my opinion that theists tend to make personal attacks, and atheists are more prone to criticize beliefs. Admittedly, the criticism is interpreted as a personal attack, but I think there’s an ocean of difference between, “Why on earth do you believe that?” vs. “You’re going to go to hell because you’re a bad person.”

        But yeah, I’m from the U.S. I’ve heard such lovely stories of the paradise overseas.

    • I won’t deny that there are those who get personal, but in my experience, atheists tend to attack the belief rather than the believer.

      Richard Dawkins:

      Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

      You might say that two can play at that game. Suppose the religious start treating us with naked contempt, how would we like it? I think the answer is that there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it. We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison? Ann Coulter is about as good as it gets. We can’t lose!

      • People will be persuaded because they don’t want to be held in contempt or laughed at? That’s rich. Fear is a poor motivator. If someone adopts a belief out of fear, I question the strength of that adoption. Which is why I don’t think it’s a great idea to tell someone that if they reject Christianity, they’ll burn forever in hell. Persuasion is a much better vehicle for any conversion to any belief (or lack thereof); Someone as intelligent as Dawkins should know better. He ought to know there are plenty of people like me who are afraid of a little contempt. In fact, ad hominem attacks instantly invalidates the person who uses them in my eyes. Having lost credibility, it’s really hard to get any confidence going again. What a silly thing Dawkins said. And, rather sad, too. I kind of feel sorry for the guy.

      • No problem, Sheila.

        By the by – one thing about ‘attacking the idea, not the man’.

        There comes a point where this is just baloney. If you keep talking about how a given belief is ‘a stupid thing that only morons would believe’, or words to that effect? You are attacking both the idea and the people who believe in it, to give one example.

        • This is entirely true.
          But what about people who hold really dumb beliefs?

          I would treat them with respect and avoid using offensive words as long as they are themselves respectful.

      • @Crude, where is that from? Do you have an online database/webpage of these quotations? I’ve long accused atheists of emotional manipulation, which is allegedly against their core beliefs. I’ve never gotten out-snarked when I’ve asked:

        Wait a second, are you trying to rationally convince me or emotionally manipulate me?

        Often the response is silence; sometimes it is to admit that they think emotional manipulation is ok, but that is rare.

        As much as you and I disagree on some things, I appreciate your collecting of quotations which expose the heart-attitude of certain popular, influential atheists and skeptics. You may appreciate this post from Massimo Pigliucci getting attacked by fellow atheists for criticizing them.

    • in my experience, atheists tend to attack the belief rather than the believer.

      As a believer who has debated Christianity and atheism vigorously online, this is false in my experience. In my experience, atheists are quite happy to use emotional manipulation to ‘convince’ others of their ‘rational’ stance.

      • Hello Luke, nice to hear from you again!

        I think that you should replace the word “atheist” by “anti-theist” in that context, for there are many nice atheists out there.

        Otherwise I am writing a criticism of the probabilistic aspects of the Outsider Test of Faith.

        If I am correctly understanding the principle, the prior likelihood of any religion being true is very low, because
        – there are many religions out there
        AND
        – each religion should have the same initial probability

        Am I correct he means this? (I have not read the book yet, only his Internet publications).

        If so, it seems to be based on a fallacy, for it is perfectly possible for a rational agent landing on earth to view these values as unknown.

        Cheers.

        • Perhaps they are anti-theists as well as atheists, but then I can reword my statement to say that most atheists I’ve debated on the internet are also anti-theists.

          Am I correct he means this? (I have not read the book yet, only his Internet publications).

          I would highly suggest reading his book on the matter. I didn’t read it carefully enough to give you a confident answer. :-/

      • @ lotharson

        “If so, it seems to be based on a fallacy, for it is perfectly possible for a rational agent landing on earth to view these values as unknown.”

        firstly, what does “perfectly possible” mean? does this mean “possible”?

        to which values do you refer: religious values?

  2. Those who believe that anit-theists are not as vicious in their assertions probably have not spent as much time as I have on various forums. Trust me, the personal hatred flows back and forth, just as depicted in the cartoon.

    • My beef isnt with atheists they dont know God my beef is with progressives like Lotharson who continually attack Christians who he calls “fundies” even though they have accepted Christ as their Saviour.Because they believe that the whole of the bible is the word of God they are ridiculed and in doing that they ridicule the Lord

      • I think it is always wrong to bully nice people, even fundies.

        But yours is a pretty offensive comment.

        So, as a “progressive” I cannot be a Christian?

        And I will be eternally tortured owing to sins I could not have avoided , having inherited a sinful nature I never asked for ?

        How would you consider a judge who predetermines a bunch of children to act badly and torture them during all the rest of their life as a punishment?

        How dare you say that a perfectly loving and just Heavenly Father will endlessly torment billions of His beloved Creatures for trespasses they were BOUND to commit, having no other choice?

        I don’t accept the Bible “as a whole” because it is hopelessly contradictory.
        ONCE you begin using the historical method for interpreting it like you do for the Koran , you’ll realize that harmonizations are (albeit logically possible) extremely unlikely.

        • Your comment goes directly to the point I made to Frank. It’s the effect of such a belief that harms people. You rightly point to the doctrine of hell, and how it can instill fear into one’s soul instead of joy in knowing the love of God.

      • It’s not attacking fundamentalists only based on their belief about the Word of God. It is how that belief can adversely affect others. That’s my stance, too, as a former fundamentalist, myself.

  3. I think you have hit upon something here. It does go both ways and neither side can claim they are only attacking the other side’s belief system. The “leader” of the Neo-atheists, Richard Dawkins has publicly called for Christians to be mocked individually. And of course everyone who reads this can testify to a cringe moment when a pastor or priest said something totally inappropriate in the name of God.

  4. Lothar, I have made the same observations. Certain atheists behave just like Christian fundamentalists.

    Occasionally, I visit a site for those who have left Christianity. Many of them are filled with venom, and they argue against viewpoints of particular types of Christianity–fundamentalism and strict evangelicalism.

    In fact, their attacks even address the Bible as inerrantist do; they do not seem to appreciate the different approach to the Bible by more progressive believers, and they accuse anyone pointing out differences from inerrancy as cherry-pickers.

    The God to which these people object is the angry, violent, vindictive god of the Old Testament. And the doctrines they rail against include legalism and conservative doctrines such as hell and homophobia.

    I think you have called it correctly. Most of these fundamentalist atheists are influenced by fundamentalist Christianity.

  5. I agree with you that anti-theism is a rather arrogant belief and is analogous in many ways with religious extremism. The contempt and hatred that anti-theists promote towards religious people is something I strongly oppose and have argued about many times (often to the chagrin of my peers).

    However, I do NOT agree with the cartoon, because I feel like it is conflating two rather different situations. In particular, it fails to distinguish between the sorts of power that religious persons vs. atheists can wield, particularly in my country (USA) and many other majority-religious countries. Even in Europe, anti-theism has never been a powerful force that could demonize, disenfranchise, damage, criminalize, and persecute religion, but Europe’s religious history has many, many cases where religion committed these sorts of atrocities on others. This is because Christianity has historically been in power.

    For example: if I take just the word “pervert” that the Christian in the comic is saying, I can label many direct ways that it affects my life. Because Christians have the power to label me a pervert for being gay, I have no job protections, I can be fired for being gay, I can be evicted from my apartment if my landlord realizes that my roommate is my fiancé, I can be refused service at stores and restaurants for holding my fiancé’s hand, I am at increased risk of hate-fueled violence, my fiancé is scared to hold my hand in public lest we be attacked or harassed, and I am having to limit my future job and educational opportunities to just 18 States where my marriage will be recognized so I can start a family. This is just to name a few. That’s what the “cross bashing” feels like to me: systematic, harmful, dangerous, and ever-present oppression. On the other hand, the Christian being bashed by the atheist-sign feels momentarily hurt feelings until they close their internet browser. I’m not saying that the atheist’s rhetoric is okay, but it is not remotely similar to what I experience from religious persons and the two should not be conflated so lightly, in my opinion. The point is, the anti-theist does not have the power to limit the very existence of Christians with his rhetoric in the same way that Christians have the power to limit our existence.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents on the matter. Thoughts?

    • Because Christians have the power to label me a pervert for being gay

      Let me stop you right there.

      Ignoring all the problems, nuances and mistakes involved with some Christian thought on that matter, and the applicability of the labels – how do ‘Christians’ have that power?

      Historically, homosexuality was considered a mental illness by entirely secular scientific organizations, such as the APA, until relatively recently. Soviet Russia, a state atheist country, only decriminalized homosexual activity after its fall. Now, even with a majority of russians being irreligious, homosexuality is considered a perversion by something like 80% of the country.

      Where are you getting the idea that criticism of homosexual behavior – even discouragement of it, even oppression of homosexuals – is ‘Christian’, particularly in a historical sense?

      On the other hand, the Christian being bashed by the atheist-sign feels momentarily hurt feelings until they close their internet browser.

      The problem here is that you are judging who is and isn’t dangerous based purely on the political power they have at the moment, which is anything but a good measure.

      These atheists, if they had completely lacked real political power, would have likely been pussycats in terms of threat. The moment they had the power, they were complete monsters.

      • My intention was never to say that criticism of homosexual behavior is an exclusively Christian thing. That would be a bit silly as most of the countries that currently impose the death penalty for homosexuality are Muslim. There have been many other cultures with varied opinions and reactions to this subject.

        However, I am saying that, in Europe and the U.S. and many other countries, oppression of homosexuals is primarily perpetuated by Christians. In fact, the same goes in Russia, where over 70% of people are Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant (so I’m not sure why you claim most people are irreligious?) However, I suspect that this cartoon was created for a Western audience, which is why I object to it. It DOES matter how much political power someone has. You made this evident with your article about the League of Militant Atheists in the 1920’s and 30’s. In that environment, it would be insensitive and absurd to treat Christians bashing Atheists as analogous to Atheists bashing Christians for the exact same reasons: Christians could be rude, but the Atheists could kill you. The power balance is so enormously skewed, and to fail to recognize that is unconscionable.

        So, no, I never said homosexual oppression is an exclusively Christian thing. But yes, I am being oppressed and harmed by Christians in a way that Christians in my country have never had to experience, and to compare these two things is inappropriate.

      • @ crude

        “Where are you getting the idea that criticism of homosexual behavior – even discouragement of it, even oppression of homosexuals – is ‘Christian’, particularly in a historical sense?”

        Genesis 19:4/5

        “Before they could lie down, all the men of Sodom and its outskirts, both young and old, surrounded the house. They called out to Lot and asked, ‘Where are the men who came to visit you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!'”

        Leviticus 20:13

        “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

        Paul, Romans 1:26/27

        “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

        Luther

        “The vice of the Sodomites is an unparalleled enormity. It departs from the natural passion and desire, planted into nature by God, according to which the male has a passionate desire for the female. Sodomy craves what is entirely contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversion? Without a doubt it comes from the devil. After a man has once turned aside from the fear of God, the devil puts such great pressure upon his nature that he extinguishes the fire of natural desire and stirs up another, which is contrary to nature.”

        • @xon-xoff: Romans 1:27 contains the curious phrase “received in themselves the due penalty for their error”. This seems to refer to STDs, and STDs would only be a big problem with widespread promiscuity. Do you think that the Bible is wrong to argue for monogamy?

          With respect to Genesis 9:4-5, I’d suggest reading Ezekiel 16:49-50. External sources corroborate that Sodom & Gomorrah were rich, and had laws against helping the poor. It’s almost as if God had given them much, for them to give to others, but instead they turned their energies toward gratifying themselves in all ways possible, including raping visitors. Note that hospitality was a huge thing in the ANE; to violate this was a high crime not just by OT standards. Remember Zeus and Hermes visiting villages on earth to see how they’d be treated?

      • @ labreuer

        “This seems to refer to STDs, and STDs would only be a big problem with widespread promiscuity.”

        that’s an interesting understanding; it may be the case.

        “Do you think that the Bible is wrong to argue for monogamy?”

        IMHO, with the Bible, right/wrong is sometimes not clear.

        Psalms 137:8/9

        “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

        Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

        your understanding of Genesis 9:4-5 is interesting also. nonetheless, you realise that the word sodomy originates from Sodom, right.

        • IMHO, with the Bible, right/wrong is sometimes not clear.

          Might I suggest that the same is true with life? If you just want a rulebook for how to live life, Christianity is not your religion. Jesus says the whole law is summed up as loving God and loving your neighbor; Paul responds to the Corinthians’ “All things are lawful” with “not all things build up”. Knowing how to love others can be ridiculously hard! And building up can be extremely costly, hence Jesus’ warning to count the cost (perhaps not coincidentally, he used the building of a tower for ‘counting the cost’).

          Psalms 137:8/9

          “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

          Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

          A brutal song for brutal times. Although, if you note carefully, this is asking for Babylon to be treated as it had treated others. When all else fails—that is, attempts to convince someone that what they have done is wrong—being treated as you treated others seems like the maximum reasonable punishment, and one that does have redemptive power: sometimes people turn around when they understand what it is like to be treated that way. This symmetric treatment would be similar down to the glee that soldiers apparently had at murdering little ones.

          your understanding of Genesis 9:4-5 is interesting also. nonetheless, you realise that the word sodomy originates from Sodom, right.

          What is the relevance of this? Luther was an anti-Semite; should this make me antisemitic? Of course not.

          • The problem is that as Ezechiel put it, it is always wrong to punish innocent children for the sins of their parents.
            You are right that the particular situation mitigates the sin of the psalmist, but it remains a “devilish” prayer (to quote C.S. Lewis).

          • The problem is that as Ezechiel put it, it is always wrong to punish innocent children for the sins of their parents.

            I question the use of the word ‘punish’, here. I wrote a longer reply, but am reticent to publish it because I think as-written, it is too easy to misinterpret. Suffice it to say that our world is one where collateral damage is a fact of reality. While it makes me uncomfortable for God to e.g. order the tenth plague, I can also see that it was the only way for the Egyptians to be forced to realize what they—all of them—were doing to the Hebrew newborn males. It strongly seems like the children are being used as mere pawns in all this. I’m not sure how to avoid it. The Christian answer, though, is for Christians to voluntarily take on the sufferings of the sins of others, after the example of Christ. It’s an admonition that the consequences of sin are often felt by people other than the perpetrator, combined with the attitude that the strong are the ones who should bear some of the burden.

            Perhaps some of the answer is located here:

            “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Mt 25:31-40)

            Wm. Paul Young’s very controversial book The Shack, surmises that Jesus somehow mystically bears the pain with the innocent. Perhaps this is part of what he did on the cross. The more I go through life, the more it seems that bearing pain with other people is one of the most powerful ways to be in relationship—if not the most powerful. I wish sharing deep joy with others could supersede bearing pain with others, but we at least have a lot of learning to do to make that a reality. First, much pain must be borne together.

      • galactic,

        My intention was never to say that criticism of homosexual behavior is an exclusively Christian thing. That would be a bit silly as most of the countries that currently impose the death penalty for homosexuality are Muslim.

        The problem is, criticism of homosexual behavior isn’t even an ‘exclusively religious’ thing. That’s the point I was making with my examples.

        In fact, the same goes in Russia, where over 70% of people are Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant (so I’m not sure why you claim most people are irreligious?)

        Notice these stats: The remaining population is made up of 36,000,000 or 25% “spiritual but not religious” people, 18,600,000 or 13% atheist and non-religious people and 7,900,000 people or 5.5% of the total population who have deemed themselves “undecided”.[

        So 25% ‘spiritual but not religious’, 13% ‘atheist and non-religious’, 5.5% ‘undecided’.

        What’s interesting there is when you look at the number of Russians who want, say, gay propaganda banned. There’s no way they’re getting those numbers without -substantial- irreligious support.

        So, no, I never said homosexual oppression is an exclusively Christian thing. But yes, I am being oppressed and harmed by Christians in a way that Christians in my country have never had to experience, and to compare these two things is inappropriate.

        What country are you even in? And why are you again saying that you’re being ‘oppressed and harmed by Christians’ – even granting for the moment that what you experience is oppression and harm – when I’ve pointed out that opposition to homosexual acts has never been some exclusively Christian, or even exclusively religious thing?

        xon-xoff,

        You’re not going to find me disputing that Christianity teaches various sex acts are wrong. The point is that this is not some exclusively ‘religious’ thing by any means. Or was the APA under the sway of the Pope until recently?

      • @ lotharson

        “You are right that the particular situation mitigates the sin of the psalmist…”

        please, what particular situation mitigates taking little ones and dashing them against the stones?

    • @galacticexplorer: I re-read your post here and I’m not sure your point is particularly valid. Here’s why: anti-theists make claims like this one, which Crude pointed out some time ago and Randal Rauser focused on:

      “There is perhaps no greater contribution one could make to contain and perhaps even cure faith than removing the exemption that prohibits classifying religious delusions as mental illness. The removal of religious exemptions from the DSM would enable academicians and clinicians to bring considerable resources to bear on the problem of treating faith, as well as on the ethical issues surrounding faith-based interventions. In the long term, once these treatments and this body of research is refined, results could then be used to inform public health policies designed to contain and ultimately eradicate faith.” Peter Boghossian A Manual for Creating Atheists (Kindle Locations 3551-3555).

      I’m pretty sure Boghossian did not mean this to be satire. Let’s add to the mix Dawkins’ claim that religious teaching = child abuse (WP: Religion and children#Religious indoctrination of children. So I ask you: consider what would happen if these types of anti-theists were to gain power? I would like you to consider how the term “deviant behavior” or terms like it were bandied about by the Nazis, the Soviets, and Communist Chinese. I can’t guarantee that it is a slippery slope, but I do know that Boghossian wants me to be considered mentally ill, and once someone is considered mentally ill, one can legislate just about as much ‘treatment’ as he/she wants. At least, history teaches us this is a very real danger.

      Yes, atheists don’t have much power now. But they’re dropping hints as to how they would use power if they had it. What do you think of the hints?

      • I think the hints are rather heinous and are a form of bigotry. However, atheists are NOT in power and Christians are, so my argument remains valid. That is, the cartoon is not describing theoretical behavior in a theoretical future. It is comparing two CURRENT behaviors, which are not analogous because of the innate power difference between the two groups. Because Christians are in power, their cross-bashing has much more influence than an atheist’s sign-bashing. This is a fact that the cartoon was conveniently avoiding, and thus comparing the two is simply not honest. Is anti-Christian bigotry bad? Yes. But does that mean that it has the same current effect in American society as anti-atheist bigotry? No. Some theoretical “what if atheists were later in power?” argument doesn’t change that. If, in the future, atheists are in power, I would argue just as strongly against the cartoon but for the inverse situation: that the underpowered group does not have the same influence as the over-powered group and thus, the two forms of “bashing” should not be conflated.

        I stated at the start of my comment that I do not agree with anti-theist ideas and I find any form of bigotry to be wrong. But in most states in America, for example, it is still acceptable to send gay children to treatments to cure them of their “mental illness” and this has much greater repercussions (abuse, trauma, and suicide) than an asshole anti-theist calling YOU mentally ill, which probably just offended you but had NO actual harmful consequences beyond that. Yes, the rhetoric is wrong, but it should not be conflated with actual human suffering and pain. You understand what I’m saying?

        • @galacticexplorer, I understand what you’re saying. I claim you are focused too much on the short term, or at least, refuse to understand the profound importance on also focusing on the long term. You know what happens when evil is fought with evil, right? If we allow the New Atheists to continue unchallenged (or not-challenged-enough), hatred remains the modus operandi. Your attitude here is “nah, don’t worry very much about this, spend much more time over here”. Such attitudes bug me.

          Consider this: your fundamentalist gay-hater is being presented with a false dichotomy:

          (1) stay a fundamentalist gay-hater
          (2) turn into a fundamentalist theist-hater

          Am I making my point more clearly?

        • I agree about the harmfulness of “curing” gay children.
          One should help them accept how they are and deal with bullying assholes hating difference.

          But IF anti-theists were in power, they could very well do the same towards ALL religious children, as similar things occurred in Russia in China which were profoundly antitheistic.

          Cheers.

          • Someone who posts at Leaving Fundamentalism wants all Christian “madrases” to be eliminated. Talk about extreme! He believes that teaching Christianity to one’s children is child abuse, a la Dawkins. Good thing we have the First Amendment!

          • Yes, IF anti-theists were in power, they might do the same to religious children and that would be wrong. But you’re comparing an imagined wrong with an ACTUAL wrong and then equating them, which is not acceptable or reasonable. The comic seems to be written for western audiences and is thus being dishonest and disrespectful by equating prejudice against atheists with prejudice against Christians because they are in no way equivalent, especially here in the U.S. (which is where the comic was published if I’m not mistaken, but correct me if I’m wrong.)

          • The actual harm includes threats, harassment, and abuse of atheists (especially children) http://www.alternet.org/story/153803/why_is_an_atheist_high_school_student_getting_vicious_death_threats and http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/09/bullied-for-not-believing-in-god/279095/ and http://www.alternet.org/story/151086/high_school_student_stands_up_against_prayer_at_public_school_and_is_ostracized,_demeaned_and_threatened for example. Atheists are sometimes threatened, abused, or kicked out of their homes if they reveal their lack of belief to family members. Atheists are unable to hold office in many states because (although unconstitutional) many states still require religion in order to hold office http://americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2012-05-unelectable-atheists-us-states-that-prohibit-godless . There are also currently no atheists serving in Congress… at least none openly because it is considered political suicide. So, the actual harm that I was referring to is discrimination, harassment, threats, and abuse of minors that is propagated by primarily Christians in a primarily-Christian culture. So, is all bigotry bad? Sure. But not all bigotry has the same physical effects, because there are power differentials at play. Atheists are targets for discrimination in ways that Christians are not because of this power differential, which is why I find the cartoon comparing the two as if there was no difference to be disrespectful. There is a difference. The difference is the physical ramifications of the two forms of bigotry, and that should not be taken lightly or dismissed.

          • @galacticexplorer, something tells me that if the country were 80% atheist, the atheists would have no problem with there being ever-fewer theists in office. It’s hard to know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet on it.

          • That is utterly irrelevant to my argument. Majorities tend to oppress minorities. If we were majority atheist, then probably I would need to make this argument in defense of Christians. And you know what? I absolutely would, because I make a habit of defending people who are oppressed. However, right now, it is atheists that are oppressed by Christians, not the other way around and I don’t see any reason why you feel you need to keep imagining up scenarios of being oppressed in response to my discussion of actual instances of oppression.

            I’ve got no dog in this fight because I am neither explicitly atheist nor am I religious. But I have a problem with people comparing imagined, made-up discrimination (your example of “what if we were 80% atheist”) with ACTUAL current discrimination (all of my statistics and stories up there) and using the imagined, made-up discrimination as a way of dismissing or minimizing the ACTUAL discrimination.

          • @galacticexplorer

            as a way of dismissing or minimizing the ACTUAL discrimination.

            You are reading this into my words. You seem to think that this is a sort of zero-sum game, where every word spent in this blog talking about terrible things that New Atheists are doing is a word that cannot be spent criticizing terrible things that religious Americans are doing. This is not so.

          • I do not believe this is a zero-sum game. I am aware that people can be critical of both atheists and religious people because I actually said that in my original comment (that I disagree with anti-theists). So please, no more red herrings and moving the goal posts.

            What I have said repeatedly is that it is dishonest and disrespectful to compare American discrimination against atheists as equivalent to American discrimination against Christians because it is NOT equivalent. It is rude and inconsiderate, in the same way that comparing wealth disparity in America to the Holocaust would be. That does not mean that wealth disparity isn’t bad, or that we should ignore wealth disparity. We absolutely should not ignore it and it is absolutely bad. But it is disrespectful and dishonest to compare it to a much greater-scale tragedy like the Holocaust. These two things should not be conflated. THAT is what I mean when I say that the comic is dishonest and disrespectful*. It equates to totally unequal evils. That doesn’t mean that anti-Christian bigotry in America is okay. It doesn’t mean that we should be silent about it either. But it DOES mean that we shouldn’t treat them like they are equivalent, because they are not.

            I feel like I’ve repeated myself in every single comment here by now and I’m tired of it, so I’m going to have to bow out now before the goal-posts get moved again. I hope that this clarifies what I’m saying for you. All the best.

            *note: in no way am I intending to use this analogy to compare discrimination against Atheists in America to the Holocaust. That would also be dishonest and disrespectful.

          • So please, no more red herrings and moving the goal posts.

            This is an extremely uncharitable way to view others who are starting from a very different place than you, and are finding it hard to successfully simulate your form of thinking. I suggest you read the article Unknowable and incommunicable, and consider the book The Lost Art of Listening. We probably aren’t even disagreeing much, but I choose not to deal with what I see as a lot of antagonism, as if I have evil intentions in how I’m talking to you, or as if I’m a buffoon.

          • I apologize, but it’s very frustrating when I keep repeating my argument but feel like I am being purposely led in circles. I also tend to back out of conversations where I feel I am being dealt with unfairly, which was my perception of this situation. Perhaps my perception was wrong, so I apologize for getting terse. Let me take a step back. What is it about my argument that you continue to disagree with at this point, and maybe we can move from there? If you are still interested in discussing, that is…

          • @galacticexplorer, no worries, we can try again. Reset buttons can be quite nice!

            My sense is that you want Lothar and me and others to come down harder on Christian fundamentalists (CF) than atheist fundamentalists (AF), because right now, it is Christian fundamentalists who are doing more damage. What I’m not sure is whether you’ve made clear how Lothar, others, and I would actually do this, given that we’re just arguing on the internet.

            Let’s break this down into two components: momentum and thrust. Right now, CFs have more momentum than AFs. On the other hand, if we merely compare CF to AF in terms of thrust—that is, where they are ultimately trying to go—then I think both are equally horrible. It’s just that CFs have a head start.

            I see a strong danger in your proposed strategy: don’t focus too much on AFs until they’ve built up enough momentum to be dangerous. But this is inherently fallacious; it is at the low-momentum stage that we can most effectively counter badness! Once badness has built up a lot of momentum, it is very hard to stop. Think about whipping a mob into a frenzy: once you’ve done it, there’s often no way to stop it.

            The metaphor of ion thrusters is really neat, because they offer incredibly small amounts of thrust per unit time. This means they’re only really useful in space. The neat thing about them is that you can pack more total thrust into a space vehicle (vs. chemical rockets), even though it takes a lot of time to build up momentum.

            I think that the metaphor of ion thrusters is most apt to this situation: people like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Boghossian, and Dennett are like ion thrusters on society. They’re the tortoise and not the hare, and if we don’t stop what they’re doing, they will win the race, without us noticing until it is too late. And the race they would win is not a pretty one: it would effectively make religion criminal, or socially unacceptable—which is worse I don’t know.

            What I really, really hate is when we allow hypocrisy: let’s let the anti-theists do their thing without sufficient challenge, and instead focus on the theists who are doing terrible things. The problem here is that hypocrisy is the antithesis to the good—wherever it is found. And I think hypocrisy on the part of anti-theists reinforces the fundamentalist theists.

            Remember Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, who refused to play the same game as those oppressing them. I believe this is the best way to fight evil. Do not return evil for evil, but return good for evil. I get that you want to focus on the people currently causing the most harm. But I think how we deal with AFs is critical in how we do this! For imagine what happened if most atheists publicly disassociated themselves with AFs, and instead vowed to treat every human with dignity, in such a way to put CFs to shame? I think this happening is actually the biggest threat to the vast percentage of religion which is supposed to do this, but does not.

            Am I starting to make sense? I’m looking at this more holistically than you are, I think. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if you actually agreed with much of the above! Perhaps some of the problem is that merely posting blog entries and commenting on them is a little disconnected from doing something about the problem. I see discussions like this as focusing more on thrust than on momentum, because the point here is to change how people think, which is very much a thrust-type activity.

          • Aha, you are right, we do not disagree as much as we perhaps thought. I agree that the thrust of AF’s and CF’s are often the same, but the momentum is quite different. As a physicist, I prefer to think of this in terms of a vector: a measurement that has both a magnitude and a direction. AF’s and CF’s have the same direction, but CF’s have much greater magnitude. I think some confusion arose from the fact that my comment was not actually meant to indicate a course of action to take, but rather objecting to a poor comparison in the comic strip. I objected to the comic because it compared AF and CF as if they were equivalent, whereas we agree that they are not. They are quite similar in direction, but very different in magnitude, which was why I objected. I felt that the comic strip was treating the situation disrespectfully for not addressing this very important difference.

            As for my opinion on an actual course of action… I agree with you on some points and disagree on others. I do want you and Lothar to come down harder on CF’s, but perhaps not entirely for the reasons you might think. I feel that the most effective way for a community to improve itself is for its own members to police themselves. In order for this to happen, people outside of the community often need to call out when something bad is done (which is why I have no objection to Lothar or you calling out bad rhetoric from anti-theists). However, it is most effective if those who are in the atheist or secular community then do the actual censuring of these comments. In the same way, Christians often need people outside of their community to call out when abuses are occurring, but they then need to respond loudly to the abuse. Thus, ideally, you and Lothar would be coming down hard on CF’s and I would be coming down hard on AF’s.

            Now, the problem with this suggestion is that it unfortunately goes entirely against human nature. We are naturally inclined to defend our in-group and dislike our out-groups, regardless of whether or not we are justified. This is also, tragically, a self-feeding cycle. The more we defend the misbehaviors of our in-groups, the more distrust is bred among those in the out-groups, leading to more animosity and more abuses. This does not mean that I do not believe FERVENTLY that it is our responsibility to police our own in-groups. But, in addition, I do believe that a pragmatic approach is to focus the majority of our energy on the most tangibly damaging abuses. Because of the current power balance, CF’s are definitely causing greater abuses right now in my country, which is why I am often more devoted to bringing these things to light than dealing with less-harmful problems. However, this does not mean that I fail to loudly call out secular people who I feel are using bigoted language or mistreating others (whether that is anti-religious sentiment, misogyny, transphobia, etc. The secular community is most certainly NOT immune to bigotry and often times oppressed groups are spectacularly good at oppressing other oppressed groups.)

            Now, none of this was what I intended to get into with my original comment, but ah well, sometimes text translates rather poorly. But, since we have brought it up, let me explain my greatest concern with Christians placing a strong emphasis on combatting Atheist (or any other minority) bigotry. You see, it may seem to many that I hold Christians to a bit of an unfair standard when it comes to these things. After all, both AF’s and CF’s say similar nasty things, and while the magnitude of the results may be different, surely it does not detract from one anti-bigotry effort to tackle another, right? Well… yes and no. The situation is more complex than that because of the majority-minority status of these two different groups. Let me explain what I mean. When a Christian says something really offensive, it is easy for us to say “ah, but not all Christians are like that” because, in a country that is over 70% Christian, we ALL know loads and loads of Christians to compare the offender to. Thus, the offender is condemned, but Christianity itself is exonerated (which is good). HOWEVER, when an atheist says something offensive and we say “not all atheists are like that” we have a very different situation because there are many people who don’t know an atheist or know very few, or perhaps do not know that they know an atheist (given that many atheists remain private about it for fear of discrimination, mistreatment, or social harm.) Thus, atheists as a whole are more easily condemned, leading to a much faster escalation of prejudice and, again, a greater magnitude of harm. Thus, it is much easier for ANY minority group to be maligned by the actions of one than it is for a majority group. For example, there are plenty of stereotypes about what a gay man is or how a lesbian acts and looks, but we rarely have an idea in our heads of how all straight people act/look, because they are such a majority that we allow them the luxury of being more individual. This is again just a natural result of the way our minds works; by classifying subgroups into stereotypes, we can more easily navigate our world.

            Now, I don’t want to make this sound as though I want to give free passes for minority groups to be bigoted. I don’t. Indeed, because of this dangerous power imbalance, it is in our best interest NOT to be bigoted or we will experience much greater consequences. However, I do tend to get a little wary when I see Christians focusing lots and lots of energy on calling out members of minority groups (especially if I do not see 8 times the amount of energy spent on calling out Christians, since atheists are outnumbered in America more than 8 to 1.) I do want to see AF’s or any other sort of fundamentalist called out. But I think many people in majority positions do not realize how precarious it feels to be a minority without the power and influence of the majority and without the ability to say “we’re not all like that” and be believed. This is why I feel it is very important for us as secular folks to police our own community and avoid these sorts of issues but, of course, that will not always happen. I just want Christians to be aware that our position is quite different and thus treating CF’s and AF’s differently is not always hypocrisy but rather an acknowledgement of that different position.

            In addition, I have a significant issue with people responding to incidents of discrimination/cruelty/abuse against a group by saying “but your group does bad things too, sometimes” … particularly when the magnitude of the acts are vastly different. For example, I have a friend who is sincerely anti-trangender (which is leading me to rethink our friendship by now since he does not know that I am considering transitioning) and when I mentioned that his actions could put a transperson in serious danger, he responded with “but transgender people can do bad things too, like someone in Sweden who said ‘die cis scum'”. Now, I’m not denying that indicating that you want a member of another group to die is wrong and horrible. But this simply isn’t comparable to acting in a way that puts someone in serious bodily harm, and by deflecting my concerns, he was being very cruel and dismissive. As such, my opinion on this matter is that people who say “die cis scum” should be shunned by the community and told that their actions are wrong. However, their actions should not be used as a distraction from much more pressing discrimination with a comparably HUGE magnitude. Yes, the direction is the same, but Christians in America will not feel the effects of this bigotry the same way atheists, LGBT people, Muslims, and other targeted minority groups will. Thoughts?

          • @galacticexplorer, some of what you say reminds me of the following (Sam Harris directly: The Problem with Religious Moderates):

            Sam Harris and his supporters claim that religious moderates enable religious extremists.

            Was this intentional? I haven’t explored this issue in depth, so I cannot speak much on it without doing some solid research. Perhaps you have some empirical evidence on the matter you’ve collected and could share?

            I agree on the need to better self-police. What I’m personally doing in this realm is doing my best to understand Christianity on a profound level, with the following as an example, where I talk about how I dig into the triad of passages, Mt 7:1-5, Mt 23:1-4, Gal 6:1-5, and apply them to life. So, in the vein of Mt 7:1-5, can you offer advice on how to [better] self-police? I vaguely recall being turned onto Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue from a Disqus comment about the perpetual failure of communities to self-police, but as Disqus disabled search in their new dashboard, I cannot find it easily.

            Consider Francis Schaeffer’s The Mark of a Christian, which can be seen as an exposition on Mt 5:43-48, Jn 13:34-35, and Jn 17:20-23. He says that the only thing Jesus gives as evidence that (i) people are Jesus’ disciples; (ii) God sent Jesus, is the love and unity among Christians. What I suggest to you is that atheists could show up Christians by better self-policing among themselves than Christians can manage. Let it be a competition: the atheist ostensibly is more able to respect the evidence, while the Christian has increased likelihood to trust verses like Mt 7:1-5 (my exegesis). Who can construct a better community?

            galacticexplorer, I’m not sure I disagree with much of anything you say. But how do we go about doing it? As I recently pointed out, identifying problems is much easier than identifying solutions! The devil is in the details of the solutions, by the way. Some of what you say makes it seem like you think solving these problems would be easier than it is. Your analysis of the problem seems decent, but I don’t think it’s that hard to analyze the problem thusly. It’s coming up with workable solutions that is so cotton-pickin’ hard!

          • Hmm, I’ve never read Sam Harris’ stuff, and I can’t actually say I agree 100% with that article, but I do agree with the sentiment “religious moderates enable religious extremists.” After all, 70% of the US is Christian, but we assume that the number of extremists are relatively small. So why do they wield so much power? Because the moderates still cater to them, politically, socially, and culturally. Now, I’m venturing a little further from facts and more into personal opinion here, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt.

            I think that most American Christians mean well, but they have become a bit complacent with their majority status and have failed to realize the very PRESSING need to pay more attention to those outside of their groups. It is easy as a Christian to insulate yourself a little bit from secular communities, LGBT people, other religious followers, etc. That doesn’t mean that most Christians attempt to do so, but as a majority it is rather easy and understandable to overlook the minorities. However, this causes the problems of the minority to become distant and even invisible to many Christians. They aren’t often thought about, or are assumed not to be “that bad”. As a queer person, I have more experience in how this plays out for queer people than anything else, so that is the experience I will primarily draw from. Probably an atheist could give you a better idea of the exact implications for atheists.

            Example: most Christians (and Americans, for that matter) don’t realize that, in my state, I can be fired for being gay. This is just such a non-issue for non-gay people, particularly those who avoid the LGBT community, that it is unknown. Even upon learning about it, most Christians I have known will quickly say “well, I don’t agree with that, but I’m sure it is never really enforced” or “well, it’s not that big of a deal as long as you’re not going around at work kissing other women. I mean, no one at work needs to know about your sexuality, gay or straight.” I know that these people mean no harm, but this is just so far out of touch with reality. Whether or not the discrimination often occurs, having no legal protections leaves me with a constant feeling of insecurity. I don’t know who I can become friends with at work and how much of myself I dare share with them, lest the word that I am marrying a woman spread to the wrong person and I am fired. And since when do you have to kiss a woman at work for people to know you are gay? My co-workers chat about their husbands an wives all the time, and I was always uniquely excluded from joining these conversations because the risk of slipping up and using the wrong pronoun was too great. This lack of protection has HUGE consequences for me, that followed me around every single day at work for months until I had sufficiently tested out the environment that I felt safe being open about who I am. I am lucky that my workplace is quite welcoming. Not all are.

            So when Christians dismiss these Christian-perpetuated abuses as not important and continue to vote for politicians that advocate discrimination and continue to go to churches that preach discrimination, and continue to remain silent when their community allows discrimination, they are supporting extremists. They are supporting a culture and a political system that harms me on the basis that they feel bad about my problems but they are “not that important”. This is damaging me, but also it is damaging Christianity.

            Those of us in the secular community are increasingly recognizing that there is not such a defined line between religious moderates and religious extremists. Often times, they vote for the same candidates, they go to the same churches, they hang out with the same crowds. It’s just that the extremists ACT and the moderates look on a bit uncomfortably but do nothing.

            Now, I want to specify that this is all pretty darned general and applies more to certain sects of Christians than others. I have also met various denominations and people who have what I think are much healthier ideas of how to treat and view non-Christians. So I can’t agree with Harris’ article that religion itself is the primary problem. I believe that religion CAN be a huge problem, but it doesn’t have to be, and I respect those who can use it responsibly.

            But how about those workable solutions? I regret that I gave the impression that I think the solution is easy because I certainly do not. I expect it will take generations to really tackle the majority of these problems. This is a slow process, as all cultural change must be. But I see it happening. So, how do you construct a better community in the spirit of Matthew 7:1-5? Well, these are just some of my suggestions.

            – Those of you who go to church, identify the problems you see. Is there sexism codified in the church? Are leaders or members negligent or hostileto certain members (lgbt people, single mothers, etc?) Does there seem to be a bad cultural association with atheists and agnostics? If you aren’t sure, why not ask a secular/gay/single-parent friend to help you analyze it? Either ask if they can come to church or show them the church website or just describe it. It can be very enlightening to hear a non-church-goers view of church. I know it was enlightening for me to leave Christianity and then suddenly see how weird and often HORRIFYING the church is from the outside. Note, that none of these suggestions are directed specifically at YOU because I do not know which things apply to you. These are just some general ideas.

            -Once you have identified any problems you see in your faith community, consider going to the elders and asking to speak with them about it. Try discussing it with some others. Expect HUGE amounts of resistance if you are listened to at all. If they are interested, try to invite some secular people or other non-Christian groups of people to talk with some of them. Don’t try to talk them out of their beliefs, just listen to some of the stories they have and opinions they have. Remember, Christian culture has surrounded them since day one if they are American, so they’ve probably already heard all of your gospel messages and Jesus-talk. Don’t bother. Instead, use this as a way to hear a different perspective on that culture.

            -Talking to people who have attempted this has shown me that many people who bring forward hard topics and problems before their churches experience rejection and ostracizing and may be kicked out of the church. I hope this does not happen, of course, but I think the risk is necessary in order to help both the Church and those who are being harmed by it.

            -If you do not go to church, consider spending some time in non-believer-oriented circles (even if it’s just internet blogs, etc) and again, spend some time listening. Try to find some good people there that understand that you are just trying to understand. Try not to get too defensive if you end up around rude anti-religious people, but also don’t stick around for abuse. There are good forums out there. You don’t have to deal with the crappy ones.

            -Consider carefully when you vote. If that candidate was an anti-theist that said that all religious people were sick in the head, would you vote for him just because his economic policies were good? If not, then why would you vote for a candidate that says equally hateful things about gays or atheists or any other group just because they have good economic policies?

            -Teach your young people not to see divisions between themselves and other groups. Teach them that atheists have good ideas and Christians have good ideas and everyone just has to decide what is best for them. That way, they won’t perpetuation the horrors of discrimination in the next generation.

            Those are just a few of my suggestions. Let me know what you think or if you have any questions about them.

          • Yep, it’s absolutely true, and a lot of people don’t realize it. I’m glad that you are rightly shocked. Protections for transgender people is limited to 16 states, if I recall correctly. Add to that, in my state any business can also legally refuse to serve me, and my landlord can legally evict me. I’ve never been fired, evicted, or thrown out of any business, but when you realize that you uniquely are allowed no protections against these things, it is rather stressful doing normal things, like chatting with your co-workers about your upcoming wedding, or trying to decide if my partner and I should check out the apartment we are interested in together realizing that that might ruin our chances. It is quite uncomfortable, even before anyone discriminates against you. And then there’s the issue that I have to travel to a neighboring state to get married, which is rather expensive.

            It frustrates me to no end that ENDA, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act has been sitting in congress for a long time now, but the House has pretty much flatly refused to even vote on it because “it isn’t needed”. In other words, our lovely republican party wants to keep discrimination against gays legal, even though religion is already a federally protected class in every state. The republican party is very deeply hateful of people like me. Very frustrating that they have so much power.

          • After all, 70% of the US is Christian, but we assume that the number of extremists are relatively small. So why do they wield so much power? Because the moderates still cater to them, politically, socially, and culturally.

            I probably agree with this. But let’s tease out how this ‘cater’ happens. Let’s really dig into it. Most evil is extremely subtle, flying below most people’s radars. Satan is rightly viewed by the more thoughtful as insidious.

            I think that most American Christians mean well

            Honestly, this is irrelevant to me. How many people who kill people while driving drunk meant to? Christianity has the concept of sins of omission and for good reason. Nobody knowingly does evil. Instead, as I get at above, people do evil subtly, in ways that slowly amplify. I’m reading Os Guinness’ 1983 The Gravedigger File and it’s fantastic. Evil is subtle.

            Therefore, what we need are Christians “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14b) We need Christians who actively seek out the welfare of others, which is precisely what Jesus did on earth. We need Christians who don’t accept the status quo, but continually subject the status quo to criticism, seeing how much of it is still good and how much needs to excised and replaced. And sometimes, huge renovations are in order—although that’s usually because of a lapse of maintenance for a long time.

            They aren’t often thought about, or are assumed not to be “that bad”.

            Possible Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

            I know that these people mean no harm, but this is just so far out of touch with reality.

            Being out of touch with reality is tantamount to being one of the five maidens/virgins who didn’t refill their lamp oil, no?

            I don’t know who I can become friends with at work and how much of myself I dare share with them, lest

            Sadly, this criticism is not limited to LGBTQ. Churches are rarely 100% safe, safe zones. Love is not unconditional most of the time. And this is, sadly, strong evidence that Jesus really isn’t there. “If you do not love your brother who you do see, how can you love God whom you cannot see?”

            So when Christians dismiss these Christian-perpetuated abuses as not important

            I have to believe this is precisely what allowed Israel to descend into evil so often in the OT. “It isn’t that bad!” So much for loving good and abhorring evil! (Rom 12:9)

            ———

            I think I can stop here, because it seems like we have a lot of agreement. However, I actually don’t think you realize how bad things are in the American church, today. I think most Christians are doing the equivalent of driving drunk in the land of the spiritual. They don’t intend harm. That is not enough. Jesus says that loving God is the first commandment for a very important reason! C.S. Lewis wrote Till We Have Faces, in part, to show what happens when you merely try to love your neighbor without loving God (which includes loving the truth).

            Ok, one more:

            -Talking to people who have attempted this has shown me that many people who bring forward hard topics and problems before their churches experience rejection and ostracizing and may be kicked out of the church. I hope this does not happen, of course, but I think the risk is necessary in order to help both the Church and those who are being harmed by it.

            At an old church of mine, the pastor uttered the line, “We don’t need a scientific cure for AIDS; the cure is biblical morality!” At this point, the congregation clapped vigorously. I was appalled. I met with him afterward, and he was an absolute sissy, saying that he didn’t mean for them to clap and that his point wasn’t nearly as bad as it actually was. One of the fruits of such a culture was made clear at a lunch with a couple who attended the church, who said that they couldn’t manage to have any deep, meaningful conversations with anyone there. Hmmm, I wonder why!

            You might like Solzhenitsyn as Latter-Day Prophet.

          • Hmm something tells me that I would get along well with you. It’s generally so long since I see a Christian that is truly passionate about reforming the church (in a positive way) that I almost forgot they exist. I wish you the very best of luck with any endeavor you make on this front. It is possible that you are right and the church is worse than I realize. I have distanced myself from it due to the toxicity that I find there, so I do not consider myself very qualified to pass judgment on it. In addition, there are so many different flavors of Christian by now that it is impossible to paint with a broad brush, so I often try to give people the benefit of the doubt, you know? After all, it is not my in-group to police. All the same, I can’t deny I feel a rather visceral hatred for the church and Christianity at times because of the abuses that I see it perpetuating. I work hard to overcome this (and that is part of the reason that I try to be charitable and give people the benefit of the doubt, because I try hard not to let my personal biases color my vision). But I am happy to see someone on the inside who is passionate about change. All the best to you, my friend. If there is any help that you think I can do, you are welcome to suggest it.

          • Hmm something tells me that I would get along well with you.

            I agree. 🙂

            It is possible that you are right and the church is worse than I realize.

            Given what you’ve said so far, I would strongly recommend Os Guinness’ 1983 The Gravedigger File, and/or his 2010 update, The Last Christian on Earth: Uncover the Enemy’s Plot to Undermine the Church.

            Screwtape Letters : attack the person :: Gravedigger : attack the entire church

            A wonderful snippet from Gravedigger:

            Subversion works best when the process is slow and subtle. It must never be recognizable until it is irreversible. (46)

            Guinness builds a lot on Berger and Luckmann’s 1966 The Social Construction of Reality. I would challenge you to try and see what the magnitude of the error of Christians in America really is. Subtlety does not equate to smallness of error!

            Something I have long been curious about is the Bible’s focus on: (a) widows; (b) orphans; (c) the oppressed; (d) the poor; (e) the imprisoned. Mt 25:31-46 focuses on these groups, separating people into “sheep” and “goats” based on whether they gave a shit about (a-e). Because I was shown very little compassion and empathy growing up, I have the rare position of being able to evaluate (a-e) on very rational grounds. One thing I concluded is that (a-e) act as heat sinks for sin. Society needs a scapegoat, and these are the people who get scapegoated (you become (a-e) when you are scapegoated, if you weren’t already).

            What I’ve concluded from this is that if we want to see what’s fucked up in our world, the best place to look is (a-e). These are the people with the clearest idea of what is wrong with the world, and what is wrong with society in general. Now, how does society guard against these people speaking out? By blaming them for their situation, Job’s-three-friends-style. Retribution theology is everywhere. Here’s how it works “fairness is good” ⇒ “life is fair”; more simply, oughtis. The implication is false of course. Francis Schaeffer famously argued that without a doctrine of the Fall, one cannot but conclude that oughtis. I don’t know what to think about Schaeffer’s argument, but the is–ought gap and naturalistic fallacy fascinate me.

            In addition, there are so many different flavors of Christian by now that it is impossible to paint with a broad brush, so I often try to give people the benefit of the doubt, you know?

            Oh, that’s always a good thing. However, something is true: gay children are fucking killing themselves because of extreme discrimination. Christians are especially called to reach out to the oppressed. The fact that they are not doing this is a huge black mark on them—all of them. We must be very, very careful to not blame a non-local entity, and thereby exonerate all individual entities. No, society is constructed from individuals. Just like taxes are paid by individuals, like Milton Friedman liked to point out. 🙂

            After all, it is not my in-group to police.

            I am my brother’s keeper. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Recall Jn 17:20-23: oneness is the evidence non-believers have that God sent Jesus.

            All the same, I can’t deny I feel a rather visceral hatred for the church and Christianity at times because of the abuses that I see it perpetuating.

            This is justified. Do not ever fucking let someone say it isn’t. The following passage is horribly, horribly misinterpreted by so many Christians:

            Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (Ja 1:19-20)

            Here’s the heresy that is taught as gospel: man can never have the anger of God. No, that is fucking false. Rom 12:9 says to “abhor what is evil”. Abhor it! Fucking hate it! Get fucking angry about it! One thing that pisses me off about atheists in America is that they get all up in a tizzy about God’s wrath in the OT, qua wrath. When you see true evil, you can feel true anger. Evil fucks people over and destroys their lives; it is right to be angry about it, and if the perpetrators are unrepentant and lawful means fail (including civil disobedience), wrath is the right response.

            I recently read MLK Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and thus may need to temper what I’ve said above. For example, Jesus says “do not return evil for evil”. But the issue is complicated, because I do think there might be such a thing as just war, and I know that it is right to resist a rapist violently. If violence is the only way to avert harm, I can possibly see some uses for it. Alternatively, one can interpret my “wrath” above as verbal wrath, a la 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.

            A common trope in fiction as well as history is that people let wrath get the better of them. One of MLK Jr’s instructions to his fellow Civil Rights workers was purification. It is one of the most compelling ways I have ever seen of envisioning the purification/sanctification ideas in the OT and NT. My [partial] take on it is that you have to get the difference between good and evil down well enough so that you do not swerve into evil while you are fighting it. This is really, really hard! However, I reject those who say that wrath is bad because the danger of swerving is too great; sharp knives are fucking sharp.

          • I like your discussion of looking to a-e to examine how society is doing and whether Christians are doing their supposed job. American Christians have a pretty abysmal record with most of these groups right now. The majority of American Christians that I have known have a disturbing lack of compassion for the imprisoned, a very judgmental attitude towards the poor, and an obsession with painting themselves as the “oppressed” while simultaneously perpetuating oppression on other groups. It would almost be funny how backwards it all is if it weren’t so serious. I remember being taught pervasively in the church that giving money to homeless people is “casting pearls before swine” because they are probably homeless due to laziness or drug/alcohol habits and they will just waste your money. I accepted this crazy theology for a long time before I started to distance myself from the church. At that point, I suddenly started to feel more of a desire to help the needy people I saw, regardless of whether they could “prove” that they “deserved” it. I realized how inherently selfish and insulting and degrading that old mindset was, not to mention, how amazingly opposed it was to the teachings of Jesus. I can say that leaving Christianity has made me a much better and more moral person, despite still having a shit-ton of my own failings. At least I’m less of a cold-hearted bitch than I was! =P I’m not saying that this is or should be true for all people. Some find that religion improves them. For me, it was the opposite.

            I’m curious, what is your take on the American Christian “persecution” complex? I’m talking about that obsession that some Christians have with stating that they are being persecuted by the “gay agenda” or the “liberal media” etc. It’s the spirit behind the recent rash of laws that are going through state legislatures to legalize religious-based discrimination against gays and lesbians and transgender people. It’s the spirit behind the outrage and death threats against atheist children who challenge religious advocacy in public, tax-funded schools. It is so amazing to me that Christians can rage about being persecuted at the same time that they are rubbing someone else’s face in the dirt. As a Christian with perhaps a little more insight, what is your take?

          • It would almost be funny how backwards it all is if it weren’t so serious.

            I think the more you take penetrating looks at terribleness in the world, the more you will see ‘inversion of the truth’. Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, calls this “flying upside-down”. One perhaps paradoxical fact is that fighter pilots can easily get their orientations wrong, including flying upside down. The inner ear stabilization mechanisms just weren’t designed for dogfighting g-forces! Or perhaps: we need to train our senses to be truth-directed—even the introspective ones.

            I remember being taught pervasively in the church that giving money to homeless people is “casting pearls before swine” because they are probably homeless due to laziness or drug/alcohol habits and they will just waste your money.

            Read Isaiah 58 sometime. Then compare it, and other things, to Acres of Diamonds (prefer the Project Gutenberg version). Preached over 6000 times, it was a huge influence on the heresy that is the prosperity gospel.

            I accepted this crazy theology for a long time before I started to distance myself from the church.

            You are closer to Jesus, and Yahweh, having rejected that Christianity. Remember, the same people who follow John Calvin and his ilk think that the Bible is against dirty words. I destroy that idea. Inerrancy is only used when it is in people’s favor. Blargh. For many, the Bible cannot tell them they are wrong. This is called “dead faith”.

            I’m curious, what is your take on the American Christian “persecution” complex?

            What is being persecuted is not true Christianity in most cases. What is being persecuted is douchebaggery couched in Christianese. The truth is that true Christianity thrives under persecution. It makes it easy to figure out what is worth fighting for.

            As a Christian with perhaps a little more insight, what is your take?

            I think Dostoyevski’s The Grand Inquisitor captures the present situation gloriously; you can watch it here. Now, there are some Christians who “suffer for Jesus” via spending their lives fighting slavery and promoting human dignity. They are simply very quiet and/or few, compared to the progeny of the ‘Moral Majority’. Gravedigger, 42: “The confusion of Christian principles and conservative politics was priceless, and it will be a key in their undoing.” Compare the dates: the Moral Majority was started in 1979, while Gravedigger was written in 1983. Not too bad on Os Guinness’ part!

          • Haha, I love the quote about the confusion of Christian principles and conservative politics. That is a combination that I will never fully understand. Now, I am certainly not one to claim that Jesus was political… it seems to me that he specifically avoided involving himself in the politics of the day, and I think he might do the same nowadays. So I’m not going to speculate what party he would vote for, if any. But I have never understood how Christians could come to the conclusion that their faith actually supports conservative politics. It is so remarkably backwards.

            And wow, that “acres of diamonds” thing is amazing. In a bad way.

          • Haha, I love the quote about the confusion of Christian principles and conservative politics. That is a combination that I will never fully understand.

            Power and Control. You assume too much innocence, my friend!

            But I have never understood how Christians could come to the conclusion that their faith actually supports conservative politics. It is so remarkably backwards.

            Dallas Willard, in the Divine Conspiracy, calls this “flying upside-down”. I think I already said that this ‘backwards’, or ‘inversion’, is actually quite common. The truth is often the complete opposite of what is being done. It’s actually pretty fascinating to penetratingly observe this. Think about it: if truth describes actual properties of reality, and you don’t want the results of acknowledging that truth (either the physical results or mental results), you will suppress it. What is the best way to suppress a truth? To affirm its opposite.

            You might like Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit and On Truth; a pdf of the former can be found online.

            Now, I am certainly not one to claim that Jesus was political…

            You might enjoy looking up “empire criticism”; here’s a place to start. I think Jesus was fundamentally anarchist, per Mt 20:20-28. However, the path to anarchy is the path that imbues each and every person with the wisdom and intelligence to properly handle having an equal amount of power compared to every other human being. Few in the world seem to understand what this path requires. What people tend to want, instead of this, is (i) someone who will take care of them so they don’t have to; (ii) someone else to blame when the shit hits the fan.

          • I am disappointed that you don’t write more on your own blog. I’d love to see some of your inside analyzing of modern American Christianity. I’m particularly curious about your comments on the conflation with conservative politics and a reticence to Jesus’ teachings. Certainly, it is possible to suppress truth intentionally by asserting the opposite, but isn’t this sort of distortion rather easy to see? I mean, if you wanted to subtly change the truth, that would be a harder falsehood to detect than to outright turn it on its head. So, do you think that many evangelical leaders are knowingly subverting truth this way, or could it be that there is just something that is easily misunderstood in Christian doctrine? Does religious belief just naturally lend itself to this?

            I’m curious because many movements have caused all sorts of evils. For example, Nationalism is the prioritization of “us” (the nation) over “them” (anyone outside of the nation as well as any traitors within). This naturally would lend itself to abuses. But Jesus specifically attempted to affirm an inclusive ideology, with all of its emphasis ultimately not NOT creating in-groups and out-groups. He was so explicit about this, that I cannot help but think that he never, ever intended to create a religion at all (part of why I doubt that he is actually a “son of god” or any such thing rather than just a remarkable spiritual leader). Even the books written by the apostles, although they did not keep this doctrine completely pure, focused on spreading their inclusion beyond the Jews and to the gentiles. The teachings of Jesus are so deeply entrenched in (as you say) an almost anarchist idea of completely eschewing power, control, and segregation, that you might think that Christianity would have a better chance than nationalism at avoiding similar abuses. After all, if someone completely and utterly turned the doctrine on its head, it would be NOTICED, right? Especially nowadays, when everyone has access to a bible themselves. And yet Christianity joyfully lends itself to the exact same sorts of abuses that Nationalism does, and it does it remarkably well. Why is that? Why did a deep foundation in inclusion so instantly crumble? I can’t help but think that religion, like nationalism, is just naturally inclined towards these sorts of abuses, which is why, again, I think Jesus would have been horrified to learn that people were starting to worship him and build a religion and doctrine around his life. But just dismissing this inversion of Jesus’ teaching as “eh, it’s a religion thing” seems dismissive and to hardly get at the actual mechanics at play here. Any thoughts?

          • I’m loving this exchange. 🙂

            I am disappointed that you don’t write more on your own blog.

            For a long time, I did not deem my thoughts coherent and complete enough to blog about. That is slowly changing. Another hindrance is that I despise all commenting systems out there; I believe they discourage the true seeking of further understanding. So I’m working on my own blog + commenting system that will make it much easier to specify exactly what you’re talking about in what someone else says, so that conversations can be tracked with ease. Imagine being able to look at a blog post and turn on a “heat map” of which parts are being hotly discussed. Switch the display and you could find out which parts are largely agreed upon (and by whom), which parts seem iffy according to state-of-the-art research, etc.

            One thing I experience over and over again is the explosion of questions when I discuss Christianity. People want to know about slavery, about Jephthah, about the ‘genocides’ in the Bible, etc. So I want to create a sort of mind-map of my Christian beliefs, such that people can go exploring in an intuitive and fast way, such that the more I blog and the more discussion that happens, the more knowledge is crystallized and easily explorable by the next person. Otherwise, we’ll just have an infinite loop of discussing Christianity, atheism, and skepticism, with little discernible movement forward.

            I’d love to see some of your inside analyzing of modern American Christianity.

            I am honored! But I suggest you read Os Guinness’ The Last Christian on Earth; he likely has analyzed the situation much better than I could. But I will re-post my analysis of dirty words and the Bible, and claim that the Christianity of today focuses on appearances over the heart, over the true nature of things. Jesus said this:

            “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. (Mt 23:25-26)

            The author of 2 Timothy gives more details:

            But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Tim 3:1-5)

            And this is really straight out of Rom 2 (which follows on the bit about homosexuality in Romans 1 which Christians love to quote, completely ignoring the table-turning Paul does in the next passage):

            Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. […] But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
            […]
            You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

            tl;dr; Much of Christianity today is Phariseeism.

            Certainly, it is possible to suppress truth intentionally by asserting the opposite, but isn’t this sort of distortion rather easy to see?

            Only if you do not judge by appearances. What’s the difference? Just-so stories vs. tested hypotheses about reality. The skeptics and atheists do have something right, in terms of respecting the evidence. The thing they fail to recognize is that the OT and NT are expressly empirical. How does the Decalogue start? “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Empirical. Particle-and-field reality. Not Gnosticism.

            The denial of the existence of Yahweh/Jesus is the ultimate inversion. Why? Because without them, it is easy to claim that there is no objective morality, and therefore build a system of society which results in haves and have-nots. And you know what, I don’t give a flying fuck about what people say about wanting equality, if they don’t know how to move in that direction. What matters is what happens and what is happening is an increasing disparity in wealth, not an equalization. We are getting further and further away from Mt 20:20-28. The scariest thing is that we’re creating prisons without visible bars. Life is all about being able to buy the cutest action-figure from a recent box-office-busting movie, right? Control people’s expectations about what reality can deliver and you can hold them in bondage. No bloodshed required. Bloodshed is the old way. In with the new way, a prison for the mind. I’m not shitting you either, I can articulate this quite well at this point.

            So, do you think that many evangelical leaders are knowingly subverting truth this way, or could it be that there is just something that is easily misunderstood in Christian doctrine? Does religious belief just naturally lend itself to this?

            Very few people need to be knowingly pursuing evil for evil to increase. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Passivity is all that is required. Lack of sufficiently strong good intentions. Jesus said it best:

            Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

            Atheists and skeptics absolutely love to hate on Luke 14:25-33, where Jesus says his famous “If anyone… does not hate his own father and mother…” And yet, all of these attachments (see: Buddhist teachings on attachment), if held to more strongly than attachment to Jesus, will prevent us from making reality less shitty. Consider: if you come from a wealthy family, isn’t part of your duty to maintain its wealth? Fiction is replete with people who are trapped into doing evil by their attachments. The fact that so few people recognize this is something I can only attribute to Satan’s expertise in deception.

            Lest this ‘Satan’ reference throw you for a loop, it is helpful to model him as an impersonal nonlocal structure of society. Just look at institutionalisation, or read Systemantics, which explains how big systems (including but not limited to, systems of people) often go so terribly wrong. Consider the Obamacare website catastrophe, where there was general denial about how software development was nonlocally embedded in the US government. If any one person had spoken up against the early release date, he/she would have been reprimanded and/or replaced. And thus, it is incredibly hard to fight the system. But it’s more than this: systems tend to degrade over time, via a sort of entropy. And so evil is an insidious thing, hard to even detect as it eats away at things so very subtly, much of the time.

            I don’t think ‘religious belief’ naturally lends itself to any of this, unless you can show that engaging in religious thinking makes one less likely to think critically; to my knowledge, no such study has ever been done. Martin Luther famously said that “reason is the devil’s handmaiden”; this is because logic is only as good as the presuppositions you feed into it. Non-religious people might be better at logic, but I suspect religious folks are better at the presuppositions—e.g. imago dei.

            I do think some of the Christian leaders in power really do want power, and more power, and more power. Read John Calvin’s statement at the end of Michael Servetus#Imprisonment and execution. So some Christian leaders may be Baal-worshippers. But I suspect many are simply deceived. Satan has no need for [most] people to be aware of what he’s doing. He works better in the dark, as the Bible loves describing.

            The teachings of Jesus are so deeply entrenched in (as you say) an almost anarchist idea of completely eschewing power, control, and segregation, that you might think that Christianity would have a better chance than nationalism at avoiding similar abuses. After all, if someone completely and utterly turned the doctrine on its head, it would be NOTICED, right? Especially nowadays, when everyone has access to a bible themselves. And yet Christianity joyfully lends itself to the exact same sorts of abuses that Nationalism does, and it does it remarkably well. Why is that? Why did a deep foundation in inclusion so instantly crumble? I can’t help but think that religion, like nationalism, is just naturally inclined towards these sorts of abuses, which is why, again, I think Jesus would have been horrified to learn that people were starting to worship him and build a religion and doctrine around his life. But just dismissing this inversion of Jesus’ teaching as “eh, it’s a religion thing” seems dismissive and to hardly get at the actual mechanics at play here. Any thoughts?

            You’ve made some absolutely fascinating observations. I’m not sure you realize this! Consider how you describe Jesus as being fantastically anti-organized-religion, and yet his teachings are so often twisted—inverted. Perhaps we should conclude that even the most clear teachings by a human claiming to be God himself are not enough. Perhaps we should conclude that [some] humans will twist anything and everything to their purposes. I’m growing in my opinion that the Bible is a kind of Rorschach test, which it almost admits to:

            For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:12-13)

            A person’s reading of the Bible reveals deep things about him/her. But this is only clear if you realize how easy it is to completely invert the truth. I think you are coming to understand this. But keep asking questions if I haven’t convinced you! 😀

          • I don’t know. To me, inversion of truth is not actually all that easy UNLESS you are unwilling to rethink your positions, test them, and admit to being wrong. If you are unwilling to do this, then all manner of bullshit can get under your radar undetected. But this is, of course, the natural result of a lack of scrutiny. In large groups and churches, this happens much more easily because of group think, peer pressure, deference to authority, etc. But on a personal level, I really do not see any such excuse. We are all responsible for our own hearts and minds first, so we have no excuse for failing to scrutinize and test our own beliefs. And I think that we generally need a very concrete way of testing them. Just saying “does this seem good to me?” does not qualify.

            I will readily admit that I’ve been very wrong about some things and have had to change my views. I am sure that I will find myself wrong about many other things in the future and I try to keep myself open to admitting this. I’d like to think that, at least, I’ve moved to a position where I am right about more things than I used to be. That moral progression is all-important.

            But I find that there are some people who refuse to openly test whether their beliefs or actions are right or wrong. Even when I ask them to put it to the most basic test I can think of: “does this action hurt people?” I have received the response “yes it does, but it is still right for me to do it.” So should I assume that this person has completely inverted the truth that “hurting other people is bad” (something that every culture, religion, and society has generally tried to instill in its children) or should I assume that there is something much more subtle here at work? And how do we combat it?

          • To me, inversion of truth is not actually all that easy UNLESS you are unwilling to rethink your positions, test them, and admit to being wrong.

            The solution is simple: do it over multiple generations of people. Do you know the bit about stock market crashes tending to happen just around the time that folks from the last crash are retiring? We humans just refuse to learn from history. There is a kind of inter-generational entropy, fighting of which I have called “The Wisdom Propagation Problem”.

            Also, most people aren’t willing to test their positions more than a certain amount. Once you predicate enough actions on your ideas of how the world SHOULD be, it hurts to admit that you’re wrong. This potential of hurt keeps people from questioning. Who wants to admit he or she screwed up the world? And so people cling to their delusions. If only there were a source of forgiveness for those who repent (admit they are wrong and dedicate to change)…

            We are all responsible for our own hearts and minds first, so we have no excuse for failing to scrutinize and test our own beliefs.

            Wait, isn’t it society that corrupts people? :-p

            That moral progression is all-important.

            Yes! I just commented about this. 🙂 To add to that: I think there is distinct moral progression throughout the Bible; I call it a “moral trajectory”. And I think we need to continue that trajectory! The people who think that what Paul said was the be-all and end-all are wrong. But we must be careful: some of what Paul said was true for all time (e.g. 1 Cor 13), while some was a step in the progression. Which people identify as which is kind of like a Rorschach test. 🙂

            But I find that there are some people who refuse to openly test whether their beliefs or actions are right or wrong. Even when I ask them to put it to the most basic test I can think of: “does this action hurt people?” I have received the response “yes it does, but it is still right for me to do it.” So should I assume that this person has completely inverted the truth that “hurting other people is bad” (something that every culture, religion, and society has generally tried to instill in its children) or should I assume that there is something much more subtle here at work? And how do we combat it?

            Forgiveness for repentance is the only way. And this forgiveness means someone else will have to bear the consequences of the sin. Otherwise it’s not forgiveness, it’s restitution. And the only people who can bear these consequences are those who volunteer to do so—those who vow to “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me”. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is crucial to solving the problem you describe. Many extremely intelligent people who have taken penetrating views of reality have killed themselves, and I think some of them did so because they rejected the solution that Jesus provided. After all, who wants to deny his plan of salvation for the world?

          • But forgiveness is not enough of the answer. If someone repented for doing evil to me, it would be a struggle for me to forgive, but I could try. But if there is no repentance, then we stop on the first step. People are not willing to admit they are wrong, so they are not willing to repent. In this case, forgiveness is hardly a solution because if we continually forgive without a demand for change and repentance, nothing will change.

            Or perhaps I was misunderstanding your comment on repentance and you meant that God is to forgive people for their failings. This, unfortunately, is still not a solution, even if I did believe in God. Indeed, God’s ultimate forgiveness is often used as a tool for abusers to keep on abusing. I can’t say how many times I’ve heard from people who have abused me “I know I’ve done things wrong, but that’s between me and God, and I know God has forgiven me.” Yeah, great, that is absolutely meaningless and worthless to ME though, and honestly, it’s just an excuse to never have to truly apologize and change. Fuck that; forgiveness of sins is as toxic of a doctrine as it is freeing. I appreciate it on some levels, but there is so much problematic with it as well once you put it in practice. In theory, it’s nice, but in practice it has as much power to harm as it does to help.

            Actually, now that I have brought up this kinda sore-spot for me (apparently, haha!) I’d love you to comment on what you think of this. Does the forgiveness doctrine seem problematic to you, and how can Christians address the abuses that it leads to?

          • But forgiveness is not enough of the answer. If someone repented for doing evil to me, it would be a struggle for me to forgive, but I could try. But if there is no repentance, then we stop on the first step. People are not willing to admit they are wrong, so they are not willing to repent. In this case, forgiveness is hardly a solution because if we continually forgive without a demand for change and repentance, nothing will change.

            Hence v18 of Romans 1. Nobody likes judgment, until you are the one who was severely wronged. Then you want judgment. Solution? Scapegoat a section of society, so that you can blame them for the harm that you actually did to them (but through means so indirect such that you can remain in comfortable denial).

            Remember that much of contemporary Christian teaching on forgiveness is trash, and worse than trash: insidious lies. (e.g. your comment about it being a tool for abusers) God doesn’t forgive unless one repents. Forgiveness without repentance allows scapegoating, which is dehumanizing. I love the following:

            He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. (Rom 2:6-11)

            Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Rom 11:22)

            People these days despise God’s wrath and fury. He’s so mean! Why can’t he just be nice??!?? Such people do not know what it is to suffer at the hands of another being. They don’t truly know what it is like. Or they are in denial that it was wrong, which is almost worse.

            Yahweh in the OT was so wrathful and mean and utterly different from “Jesus meek and mild”, right? Hah, no. Maybe there was some barbaric projection onto Yahweh in the OT; this may be a viable thesis. However, the OT also describes barbaric times, and if folks aren’t willing to turn from their barbarity, the response is: wrath and fury. What other response is there? I reject mind control as a viable alternative: it violates human dignity.

            Or perhaps I was misunderstanding your comment on repentance and you meant that God is to forgive people for their failings. This, unfortunately, is still not a solution, even if I did believe in God. Indeed, God’s ultimate forgiveness is often used as a tool for abusers to keep on abusing. I can’t say how many times I’ve heard from people who have abused me “I know I’ve done things wrong, but that’s between me and God, and I know God has forgiven me.” Yeah, great, that is absolutely meaningless and worthless to ME though, and honestly, it’s just an excuse to never have to truly apologize and change. Fuck that; forgiveness of sins is as toxic of a doctrine as it is freeing. I appreciate it on some levels, but there is so much problematic with it as well once you put it in practice. In theory, it’s nice, but in practice it has as much power to harm as it does to help.

            You deeply understand that forgiveness as it is often taught today is poisonous. But perhaps you can imagine that there’s a non-shitty, non-demeaning version of forgiveness? One that matches forgiveness in the Old Testament? Forgiveness is there, if you’re looking for it, and not stuck on The Big Bad Dawkins Quote (of which I give a penetrating analysis, disagreeing with the blog author).

            P.S. Jesus isn’t meek and mild. I hope you know that. 🙂 Jesus method of war is simply different from Nietzsche’s.

          • Actually, now that I have brought up this kinda sore-spot for me (apparently, haha!) I’d love you to comment on what you think of this. Does the forgiveness doctrine seem problematic to you, and how can Christians address the abuses that it leads to?

            Christians need to teach the truth, instead of babyish, pollyannaish views of reality that are based on judgment by appearances and valuing the praise of men. Jesus got at this quite directly, unsurprisingly. I would suggest Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. I have more thoughts on this, but I have stuff to do, so ping me again if you want me to wax poetic.

      • @galacticexplorer, something tells me that if the country were 80% atheist, the atheists would have no problem with there being ever-fewer theists in office. It’s hard to know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet on it.

        It´s not that hard to know. There are some european countries where christians already have become the minority.

      • I’m actually trying to reply to galacticexplorer, but there’s no reply button on his/her post.

        Just curious: what kind of oppression of atheists is going on in the US?

        Just because a minority is a minority, doesn’t mean they can’t provoke significant legislative change.

        However, I think just as real a threat can come from majority *backlash* in reaction to inflammatory speech from a minority. I don’t want to see a surge of Christian fundamentalist activism because they’re convinced that Boghossian, Dawkins, and other bigots intend to round them up in concentration camps. Young Earth Creationism exists in the US because “progressive” eugenicists of the early 20th century were using evolution as scientific justification for racism, civil rights violations, medical experimentation, compulsory sterilization and other activism (the Nazis footnoted *American* “scientists” in their papers!). They made such a big deal about evolution being justification for their policy changes, that the at-the-time fairly ambivalent Christian majority suddenly decided that evolution must be the problem. And now we have Ham-on-Nye and Dover v. Kitzmiller and all sorts of other shenanigans.

        People gotta stop escalating.

      • Just to clarify: by “oppression”, I’m talking about legal oppression. If a person gets death threats for expressing their disbelief in God, that’s already criminal and should be prosecuted. If officials don’t prosecute, that’s illegal and *they* should be prosecuted.

        Now, the religious test link posted by galacticexplorer qualifies. I’d completely favor dropping the supreme being belief requirement in various state/local constitutions. Although, as that piece points out, the US Constitution already trumps those. They won’t hold in court, in the same way that no creationist victories have been won in court (though not for lack of trying). So I wonder how “oppressive” that really is.

        The real reason atheists don’t stand a chance at winning office is because people don’t trust them. That’s because a lot of people’s experience with atheists doesn’t go much beyond the media coverage of blowhards like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. “Normal” atheists have a PR hole to dig out of. Distancing themselves from Boghossian and his ilk would be a strategically smart move.

        • @RonH

          The real reason atheists don’t stand a chance at winning office is because people don’t trust them. That’s because a lot of people’s experience with atheists doesn’t go much beyond the media coverage of blowhards like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. “Normal” atheists have a PR hole to dig out of. Distancing themselves from Boghossian and his ilk would be a strategically smart move.

          Well said! There is this natural human instinct to not trust people who think you’re an idiot, a ‘dim’, a ‘faith-head’, evil, mentally ill, etc.

      • The real reason atheists don’t stand a chance at winning office is because people don’t trust them. That’s because a lot of people’s experience with atheists doesn’t go much beyond the media coverage of blowhards like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. “Normal” atheists have a PR hole to dig out of.

        Atheists were just as much a despised minority before Dawkins, Hitchens etc. wrote their respective atheist polemics as they are now. The only difference is, that now more people dare to admit that they are atheists. Your “real reason” is thus actually not a reason at all, unless Dawkins et al. mastered retrocausality.

        • @Andy

          Atheists were just as much a despised minority before Dawkins, Hitchens etc. wrote their respective atheist polemics as they are now.

          What data support this? This Gallup poll refutes your claim along the “would you elect an atheist president” dimension.

      • “What data support this? This Gallup poll refutes your claim along the “would you elect an atheist president” dimension.”
        – Are you sure that´s the link you wanted to use? Because it confirms what i said.

        • Are you sure that´s the link you wanted to use? Because it confirms what i said.

          If the data refute what I said and they are reliable, then I was wrong. You seem to have two points, a very technical one [1], and a general claim that Dawkins et al haven’t harmed the public’s impression of atheists. The technical claim is likely wrong; the Gallup poll shows 49% willing to elect atheist in 1999 and 54% in 2012. Letter to a Christian Nation, The God Delusion, and God Is Not Great were published between Sept 2006 – May 2007. Your technical point is wrong if “willingness to elect as president” is a valid measure of “despise”. Your general point seems correct to undetermined: our data are quite coarse, and we have only one measure.

          So to be clear: to support the idea that Dawkins et al have made things worse, we need to show a decline in [e.g.] trust of atheists, around the year 2007. Is this correct?

          I’m honestly interested in the truth here; RonH’s story sounds convincing, but perhaps it is just not a valid story. Anecdotally folks like Boghossian et al certainly seem to anger some Christians and increase their anti-atheist sentiments, but perhaps those people just don’t matter. Perhaps Boghossian is counting on this!

        • Oops, I left out this:

          [1] “Atheists were just as much a despised minority before Dawkins, Hitchens etc. wrote their respective atheist polemics as they are now.”

      • The technical claim is likely wrong; the Gallup poll shows 49% willing to elect atheist in 1999 and 54% in 2012. Letter to a Christian Nation, The God Delusion, and God Is Not Great were published between Sept 2006 – May 2007. Your technical point is wrong if “willingness to elect as president” is a valid measure of “despise”.

        I have no idea what this “technical point” is supposed to be.
        I replied to this statement:

        The real reason atheists don’t stand a chance at winning office is because people don’t trust them. That’s because a lot of people’s experience with atheists doesn’t go much beyond the media coverage of blowhards like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. “Normal” atheists have a PR hole to dig out of.

        Which is certainly false given that there is little change in how electable atheists are and the change that exists points in the opposite direction.

        • I have no idea what this “technical point” is supposed to be.

          Andy, would you try a bit harder, in conversations like these? You said this:

          Atheists were just as much a despised minority before Dawkins, Hitchens etc. wrote their respective atheist polemics as they are now.

          This “just as much” may well be wrong, based on the Gallup poll. You just happened to be wrong in the direction that keeps your main point correct and RonH’s point incorrect. :-p Nonetheless, I think it is very important to note that more people are now willing to elect an atheist as president in the US.

      • Seriously? I have made a “very technical point” by using the words “just as much”? Interesting, seems as if I completely misunderstood the word “technical” so far.
        What´s the correct superlative for nitpicky, “nitpickiest”?

      • Let it be a competition: the atheist ostensibly is more able to respect the evidence, while the Christian has increased likelihood to trust verses like Mt 7:1-5 (my exegesis). Who can construct a better community?

        We could hold such a competition if atheists and christians lived in isolation of each other. But we don´t. We have to get along somehow – you are stuck with us and we are stuck with you.

        • We could hold such a competition if atheists and christians lived in isolation of each other. But we don´t. We have to get along somehow – you are stuck with us and we are stuck with you.

          Oh c’mon, the competition can still happen; now you are the one nitpicking. There are still plenty of situations in which atheists are surrounded by other atheists, and when theists are surrounded by fellow theists. You don’t need complete isolation for the competition to happen.

      • So how exactly is that supposed to work then? What does “better community” mean? “Community” can´t be equal to society in general because all of us – christian, atheist or something else – are part of it. And when you are talking about christian / atheist subcommunities – you have thousands of christian subcommunities and hundreds of atheist subcommunities, some of those communities suck and some don´t. So, how does one win this competition you suggest?

        • So, how does one win this competition you suggest?

          It really seems like you aren’t trying to understand my point. galacticexplorer is noting some pretty specific problems among Christianity at large. I have established some pretty specific problems among atheists as well. Atheists could engage in fighting atheistic fundamentalism (e.g. Loftus admits Boghossian doesn’t care about truth. I call that bogusian!), and Christians could engage in fighting Christian fundamentalism. Muslims could do the same. We really could compete in our ability to self-police and reduce fundamentalism. Was this really not very clear?

  6. I think the line is very fuzzy. It can be a good idea to ridicule on a respectful level. It gets people hooked or can deliver easy to understand analogies. But i agree playing with that line is very difficult and stepping over it can have adverse effects to a point where any discussion is rendered useless.

    • I strongly disagree with you on that.

      For me, ridiculing is only permissible towards nasty opponents .

      A kind person never deserves such a treatment.
      Not even a fundamentalist.
      And according to my experience this is most often counter-productive.

      Anti-theists are well known to use mockery and disdain towards nice liberal religious people which is morally completely unjustifiable.

      Respectful atheists such as Jefrrey Jay Lowder or Stephen Law are far more likely to convert me to “godlessness” than people insulting me.

      • For me, ridiculing is only permissible towards nasty opponents .

        A kind person never deserves such a treatment.

        I think I asked you several times before but never got an answer:
        Do you, or do you not, categorically condemn satire, including political satire, as morally wrong?
        To be specific, here are two examples (both in german) of what I mean:

        Both videos ridicule a group of people (people who believe in esoterics and economists respectively), and both groups certainly include both nice people and nasty people. Is it morally wrong to make fun of them like that?
        If you affirm that – then we simply have to agree to disagree I guess.
        My own views, particularly my political views, are frequently mocked. And I have no problem with that, no problem whatsoever. In some cases, I see that mockery even as valuable – when the mockery does have a kernel of truth and / or is clever / funny.

        Respectful atheists such as Jefrrey Jay Lowder or Stephen Law are far more likely to convert me to “godlessness” than people insulting me.

        If I share this image:

        => Have I *insulted* creationists then?
        “Insult” and “ridicule” are not synonymous.

        • I think that mockery and ridicule are clearly allowed when the targets are evil, wicked, ,very rude or dishonest.
          This includes people deceiving persons for getting their money.

          But I consider it wrong to ridicule nice and honest individuals no matter how silly their belief might be.
          I know nothing abut the Esoteriker in the video, so I cannot judge.

          Likewise many creationists (Ken Ham above else) have a very arrogant and rude attitude (especially towards progressive Christians) so it can be appropriate to use ridicule towards them.

          I do not, however, use ridicule towards nice creationists, even if they are dead wrong.
          I use a respectful tone to show them their mistakes.
          There are plenty of ways to use rhetoric without hurting a person.

        • Do you, or do you not, categorically condemn satire, including political satire, as morally wrong?

          I’ve struggled a lot with this. I’ve been demeaned much in my life, and I’m not sure it ever made me a better person. Instead, it seemed to be a way to readjust the social ladder, kicking me down a few rungs and pushing the other person up a few rungs. Is there a way to avoid this consequence?

          This reminds me of A Modest Proposal; I definitely enjoyed it when I first read it. Looking back, I like how it acts as a grid through which to view people; it brings out aspects which would otherwise be harder to see. In the sense that it carries ideas to their logical conclusions, I really like that. I think people are often sliding toward logical conclusions of their beliefs; ‘looking ahead’ seems to be a valuable way of avoiding the pain and suffering caused by further sliding. So this use of satire seems quite valuable.

          Returning to my question of consequence, take a look at the Huffington Post’s Glenn Beck: I Played A Role In ‘Helping Tear The Country Apart’, published yesterday.

          “I remember it as an awful lot of fun and that I made an awful lot of mistakes, and I wish I could go back and be more uniting in my language,” Beck said during an interview with Megyn Kelly. “I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart and it’s not who we are.”

          He continued, “I didn’t realize how really fragile the people were. I thought we were kind of more in it together and now I look back and realize, if we could’ve talked about the uniting principles instead of just the problems, I think I would look back more fondly.”

          While Beck has a lot further to go in understanding what he was (if that’s not “who we are”, then “who we are” are incompetent, dangerous fools), this does admit that the consequence of “helping tear the country apart” was distinctly bad, and that the goal ought to have been one of unification. I think that should be the goal of satire. The spirit ought to be one of unification behind ‘the good’; if that does not happen, perhaps it is due to incompetence—but I’m an advocate of sometimes, “Ignorance is not an excuse.” Glenn Beck was just looking to have fun. Oops.

          • I’m sorry about the pain you went through.

            Having ADHD I had a hard time during my youth too (and I’m still having now though my social relationships are incredibly better) .

          • These days, I see it as an asset. A true example of evil being redeemed. Now, I know that sometimes, when people try and justify ridicule/mockery, I know they’re 100% full of crap. There’s nothing quite like experiencing it yourself to give certainty that some things just aren’t ok to do to other people.

      • I was wondering about satire as well. Since it provides a fast and effective way to show why you disagree with something.

        Also is the line between criticism and ridicule a slim one. One person might view criticism as constructive, another as destructive, some might be offended and others feel ridiculed.

        This for example: Critique on society is only to be uttered in such a way that no one in said society is offended. It ridicules the idea that in order to try and address a problem, you cant offend someone. Therefore if you can only propose a light version of your argument, can you then expect other people to see it as the problem it is or you think it is?

        If i were to apply the example to your text would i then be ridiculing you or would i be trying to show you that there, in my opinion, is another point to be considered?

        I think we would agree that one person has a moral obligation to tolerate another persons point of view. But tolerance is inherently negative, despite all the positive media coverage it gets. It is only possible to tolerate points of view you don’t agree with, if you agree then there is no more need to tolerate. Respect and tolerance are two very different things. In my opinion a moral obligation to tolerate does not come with a moral obligation not to offend.

        I do agree with your cycle of hatred argument to a point where it deserves very careful consideration. However as mentioned in my previous comment i tend to lean towards walking that fine line. People like Richard Dawkins are playing tennis with it. He is almost always one or two steps over it. Does he still raise other valid and important points? Yes. Is he still able to convey them towards the less militant majority and especially the people it should reach? No. This again is just my opinion.

        I think Thomas Jefferson put it well when he said: “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

        “Respectful atheists such as Jefrrey Jay Lowder or Stephen Law are far more likely to convert me to “godlessness” than people insulting me.”

        While i do not know these two i’m gonna take your word for it. It seems to me that you had already employed reason, hence those arguments could reach you. Sadly that is not always so.

        • As I pointed out above, I have nothing against ridiculing nasty (or deceitful) folks.

          The problems begins where you are considering nice and honest people who happen to be dead wrong.
          I think it is possible to point out their mistakes in a humourous way and it is true that sometimes you are going to hurt them.

          I believe it all depends on the attitude of your heart .
          If you are trying to avoid hurting them as much as possible, that’s okay.

          Cheers.

  7. […] As I pointed out previously, Christian fundamentalists and former fundamentalists having turned into militant atheists have the very same view of the Bible for what concerns morality and theology. Every command attributed to God is completely consistent with the others and the truth of Christianity (or the moral character of God) stands and falls with the validity of the smallest divine order. […]

  8. Greetings, Lotharlorraine.

    I disagree with your definition of an atheist. I guess there must be all kinds of atheist, each kind having their own definition -which is to say their own reason why they’re atheists.

    I’m the kind of atheist who finds no need for believing in some god (no capital g ’cause, there have been hundreds -maybe thousands- of gods through history, non of which should deserve the highest rank). Is it a plausible idea? Sure it is! It’s just that… That’s all it is! An idea! Such that has never been confirmed and yet many -too many- regard it as the thruth because…

    Just because some authority told them it was the thruth -their parents firt, then some other relatives, next a teacher or some sort of a priest, reverend or minister, and so on. And that’s the basis of their believe: a long, long chain of “that’s what he or she says”.

    Is there a god? I certainly don’t know. But even more certainly I won’t take serious that method of information. The existence of a god or some gods is not a bad idea, we should be investigating such posibility, wih an open mind and a strong critical attitud -so we won’t fall in the claws of charlatans.

    Meanwhile, should I worry about the existence of a god or a pantheon of them? Of course not! There are so many other ideas -at the same level of plausability as the god(s) idea- for which I’m not worrying the least bit:

    Were we created by aliens?
    Is there life after death?
    Is reality only a dream?

    All of those posibilities are as plausible as the god(s) existence posibility. But there’s no sensible way of choosing the best one, the real one, not yet.

    I call myself an atheist because global circumstances force me to. I don’t call myself an “antislaveryist” because there’s no need, slavery is not that wildly popular anymore. One day, if all goes well, there won’t be the need for anybody to call herself or himself an atheist. And no one will miss any god, the way today no one misses Horus, Athena or Hutzilopochtli.

    Sorry you’ve had bad experiences with antitheists. But I’d say you’ve made a cut, not across antitheists, but along those of them who are agressive. The antitheists I’ve seen or heard -basically in Youtube- are not offensive yet harsh, but only with those who they percieve -as I do- as charlatans who cynically use the people who believe in them, that is to say, the religious authorities.

    @PaideiaSofista

    • I’m the kind of atheist who finds no need for believing in some god (no capital g ’cause, there have been hundreds -maybe thousands- of gods through history, non of which should deserve the highest rank).

      Then how about grammar? When Christians (and Jews, and Muslims, among others) use the word “God” they use it as a proper noun, as opposed to the many gods of other religions. It is a name – one of several, but a name nonetheless.

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