How fundamentalism hinders creativity from unfolding

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Leading progressive Evangelical theologian Peter Enns wrote an excellent post on this very topic.

 

I’m now reading for the second time in 4 months an amazing book by Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. Pressfield is probably best known for being the author of  The Legend of Bagger Vance.

I’m reading the book–again–because I am having trouble breaking through the blocks to win my inner creative battle.

For me that creative battle is sitting down to write. For others it is painting, dieting, exercise, education, entrepreneurial ventures–pretty much anything you deep down want to do but, for some reason, feel blocked from doing.

Pressfield names this block, this destructive force, “Resistance,” and his explanation for what Resistance is, why we all have it, and what can be done about it is brilliantly insightful and at times snortingly HIGH-larious. The dude is funny.

For me at least, virtually every page has a quotable sentence or paragraph–beginning already in the preface written by Robert McKee, who describes his own creative paralysis: “Some years ago I was as blocked as a Calcutta sewer…” (p. ii).

I want to share with you a quote from one portion of the book that struck me in particular: “Resistance and Fundamentalism” (pp. 33-37). You have to read the whole book up to this point to catch the full impact, but even on its own, you might find this very insightful.

Pressfield, by the way, does not have Christian fundamentalism specifically in his sights (though one can hardly be blamed for making that connection). Pressfield is addressing any sort fundamentlist outlook on life, i.e., that which is hostile to the life of art/creativity.

This quote is from pp. 34-36 and I have maintained Pressfield’s paragraph divisions.

Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed. Its spawning ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat, as Hebrew fundamentalism arose during the Babylonian captivity, as white Christian fundamentalism appeared in the American South during Reconstruction, as the notion of the Master Race evolved in Germany following World War I. In such desperate times, the vanquished race would perish without a doctrine that restored hope and pride. Islamic fundamentalism ascends from the same landscape of despair and possesses the same tremendous and potent appeal.

What exactly is this despair? It is the despair of freedom. The dislocation and emasculation experienced by the individual cut free from the familiar and comforting structures of the tribe and the clan, the village and the family.

It is the state of modern life.

The fundamentalists (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both of them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted.  He creates destruction. Even the structures he builds, his schools and networks of organization, are dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself.

But the fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He experiences it as temptation to sin. Resistance to the fundamentalist is the call of the Evil one, seeking to seduce him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with Satan, whom he loves as he loves death. Is it coincidence that the suicide bombers of the World Trade Center frequented strip clubs during their training, or that they conceived of their reward as a squadron of virgin brides and the license to ravish them in the fleshpots of heaven?….

To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

 

My response follows.
Thanks Peter for having shared this wonderful quote!

Being myself a (struggling) writer, it touches me in many ways.

You’re entirely right that fundamentalism is characterized by a willingness to DESTROY one’s foe rather than trying to construct anything, it is always directed towards villains who ought to be unconditionally despised and often even hated.

It is completely true that it hinders creativity from springing up, as the infamous “Left Behind” novels illustrate all too readily.

But given the cognitive dissonance and emotional ordeal faced by Christian fundamentalists, it isn’t astounding at all they cannot genuinely create anything.

If you believe that God is going to eternally torture the large majority of human beings owing to a sinful nature they’ve never asked for, it is obvious that expressing your (God-given) creativity will occupy a pretty low position in your list of priorities.

As I once spoke with a Conservative Evangelical pastor about starting cultural activities for promoting the regional language of my homeland (Lorraine Franconian, a German dialect) he answered me at once:
“The time God granted us is limited and this isn’t going to save any additional soul!”

It cannot be denied that mainstream Conservative Evangelical beliefs have a profoundly harmful effect on our very humanity, transforming us into instrumental salvation machines .

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Now, I want to go into another type of fundamentalists, namely militant atheism who interestingly enough turns out to be mostly populated by former religious fundies.

They also divide reality into two camps (religious and non-religious) and are convinced that the most urgent priority of mankind should be to utterly wipe out religion from the face of the earth.
If you spend time looking at their websites and blogs, you’ll see striking parallels between their sub-culture and fundamentalism as described by Pressfield, i.e. the same kind of narrow-mindedness and instrumentalism.

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38 thoughts on “How fundamentalism hinders creativity from unfolding

  1. Lotharson, you’re like a dog with a bone when it comes to your perception of what you like to call ‘militant’ atheists. Your perception is wrong. It is inaccurate. It is a misrepresentation. It does not reflect reality. It is a belief you hold based on YOU believing it it to be true in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary and not on an honest reflection of those you insist it represents.

    There is no such thing as a ‘fundamentalist atheist’. One either believes in gods (or a god) or one does not. There are no gradations of non belief. There is no such thing as a kind of ‘liberal’ non belief any more than there is a kind of ‘fundamentalist’ non belief.

    An atheist who speaks out against religious privilege is deemed by the religious to be a militant. This labeling does not make it so. It is a fiction. It is a pejorative term meant to deflect attention away from the criticisms these folks dare to enunciate publicly without addressing the legitimacy and accuracy of the criticisms they raise. It is an underhanded and dishonest method to misrepresent the motivation of person who makes the criticism to be the issue rather than the criticism itself.

    You then continue this fiction by suggesting on flimsy and easily refutable evidence that such ‘militant’ atheists criticize religious privilege because they are fallen believers… again, suggesting that the motivation of those who criticize religious privilege is the source of the criticism.

    Rubbish and more rubbish.

    One only needs to look at the most visible of New Atheists to debunk your claim. Other than a very generic kind of childhood religious faith imposed on any of them, Dennett was never a fundamentalist believer. Dawkins in effect was never a fundamentalist believer. Similarly, Harris was never a fundamentalist believer. Onfray was never a fundamentalist believer. Hitchens was never a fundamentalist believer. PZ Myers was never a fundamentalist believer. Grayling was never a fundamentalist believer. Stenger was never a fundamentalist believer. Benson was never a fundamentalist believer. Coyne was never a believer. Christina was never a believer And the long list goes on and on and on.

    Sure, some New Atheists were fundamentalist believers and really did suffer through a de-conversion but it is ludicrous to suggest the reason why these folks as a group write and speak out and criticize religious privilege is because they are angry former believers. This is factually not true and you need to stop suggesting it is. It is false. It is a lie. It is a misrepresentation you seem unable to stop promoting, presumably because you continue to believe in spite of contrary evidence that it is true, believe in spite of contrary evidence that is accurate, believe in spite of contrary evidence that you are justified in maintaining this false belief. Get your faith out of the way, and you’ll quickly see that your claim is factually wrong.

    You also continue to promote the falsehood that New Atheism’s mission, the “most urgent priority of mankind should be to utterly wipe out religion from the face of the earth.”

    Rubbish again.

    You link this belief in spite of contrary evidence to a Harris article explaining the incompatibility between empowering both faith-based belief with evidence adduced belief, and his compelling reasons why we need to empower with respect evidence adduced beliefs. Nowhere does Harris call for religion to be utterly wiped off the face of the earth. This is your fear speaking out and it warps reality to fit your faith-addled belief in its truth.

    Yes, there really is an incompatibility, and yes, there really are New Atheists who think religious belief is the worst thing to come along and infect the willing and unwilling alike since measles and chickenpox parties gained popularity with those who demonstrate their incompatibility with the principles of good parenting. But, again, this is not an accurate description of why religious privilege is so richly deserving of criticism and needs to be eliminated. Note to Lotharson: it’s the PRIVILEGE that needs to be eliminated and not private religious beliefs. Awarding religious privilege is the root cause for the need of New Atheism, a movement to get religion out of the public domain.. THAT and that alone is the central issue that drives New Atheism and motivates those who join its ranks… including those de-converted fundamentalist believers who do so for other reasons.

    Most importantly, you need to stop promoting these lies and stop vilifying those who stand up for our secular values, our secular rights and secular freedoms… including YOUR right I defend as a New Atheist to hold whatever religious beliefs you want in your private life.

  2. ”Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless”

    Uneasy – it can be the philosophy of the powerful anxious about losing their power. But I’d agree in general that fundamentalism taken to its logical conclusions is a foe to creativity.

    Regarding New Atheism and it’s equivalence to fundamentalism – well Marc you speak in hyperbole from time to time in word and image (as a sort of progressive Christian shock jock :-D)– but here’s is a very interesting interview between Dan Dennet the New Atheist and Andrew Brown the ‘Atheist but’ that makes a more measured point:

    Och I mean in terms of equivalence the New Atheists are certainly in denial about their own human frailty I think. It is true that Atheist ideologies in the twentieth century were responsible for crimes that were as bad as those of religious fundamentalists. The New Atheists wish to dissociate themselves from this – but their rhetoric at least sometimes verges on the totalitarian – and similar to fundamentalist Calvinists like Frances Schaffer who tried to re tell history with everything good stemming from Reformed Orthodoxy and everything bad from the rejection of this (and had to use many strategies of denial and obfuscation to do so) the New Atheists what to retell history as if everything good that has ever happened is the result of rationalism 9and for example Marin Luther King’s Christianity was incidental to his goodness he achieved)

    • Dick assures us that It is true that Atheist ideologies in the twentieth century were responsible for crimes that were as bad as those of religious fundamentalists.

      No they weren’t.

      No totalitarian regime was based on atheism and none promoted secular enlightenment values of New Atheism. The association with atheism is as strong as it with mustaches but never do I find these same people trying to blame the Holocaust on hairy lips.

      It is exactly this kind of intentional misrepresentation that is used often and repeatedly to smear New Atheists – again, shifting attention to the imaginary motivations rather than the criticisms they level – as if it were eminently reasonable to suggest that Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett are really closet Nazis or Communists out to promote a Final Solution against the religious. It’s ludicrous.

      That this amateur smearing is transparently intentional reveals the kind of character of those who use it… trying on the one hand to sound and appear ever so reasonable and even-handed but on the other willing to engage in such grand deception and historical revisionism in their quick abandonment of intellectual integrity and honesty.

      And have you ever noticed that this kind of nastiness Dick exercises to smear good people is rarely if ever labeled ‘militant’ by those who demonstrate little trouble using the same pejorative against atheists for far less nastiness?

      • No totalitarian regime was based on atheism and none promoted secular enlightenment values of New Atheism.

        Multiple totalitarian regimes advocated atheism, attacks on religion, complete with treating religious belief as a mental illness, attempting to make religious believers the butt of contempt, etc.

        And what, ‘none promoted secular englightenment values of New Atheism’? Sure they did, insofar as the Cult of Gnu says that their interests are ‘promoting rational thought’, ‘respect for science’, ‘rejection of superstition’, etc. You can find this right in the handbook of the League of Militant Atheists and more.

        “But they SAID they were promoting those things, but they really weren’t!” you can say. But the same exact charge can be leveled against the New Atheists.

        again, shifting attention to the imaginary motivations rather than the criticisms they level

        No imaginary motivations here – people merely pay attention to their words. Hence we note when Dawkins talks about making religious believers the butt of contempt in order to scare fencer sitters into abandoning their faith. Hence we note Peter Boghossian’s lunacy with regards to defining religious belief as mental illness that must be contained and eradicated, etc.

        And have you ever noticed that this kind of nastiness Dick exercises to smear good people is rarely if ever labeled ‘militant’

        Pointing out the hate speech of people like Dawkins and Boghossian and others as they treat religious people (‘faithheads’) as mentally ill, whitewashing the history of popular anti-theist movements, etc, is not a smear on good people. It’s pointing out some obvious shortcomings.

        Let’s quote Madelyn Murray O’Hair on her son’s conversion to Christianity:

        One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess; I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times … he is beyond human forgiveness.

        Is it a smear to point out the hatred Murray engaged in there, and so often with her organization? Only if smearing now means ‘pointing out the actual statements and ramifications of those statements by individuals’.

  3. Interesting, Marc.

    I saw Peter’s blog post earlier today and was pondering the quote from Pressfield. I’m not sure that powerlessness necessarily results in fundamentalism. Perhaps there has to be a “fall” from a position of power, from a “golden age” to result in fundamentalism? I do agree that fundamentalism is anti-creative and, for my own part, know that when I moved from a rather conservative almost fundamentalist evangelicalism, my appreciation of all sorts of art expanded immensely. I no longer (consciously or unconsciously) put people into the “saved” or “unsaved” category but could appreciate people and art for what they were. I think any sort of dualistic view of fellow humans is going to be anti-creative so I would agree with you to an extent regarding the “new atheists.”

    • Hello! Thanks for your interesting testimony🙂

      My hope is that all these folks will take on more moderate views and cease viewing the world in two dimensions.

  4. RE Andrew Brown and Daniel Dennett – it’s interesting that some New Atheist argue that kind and open minded Christian are worse than fundamentalists because they give superstition and intolerance a good name. Hmmm well this is what a mean by human frailty and how we should all be mindful of our imperfections. The same argument is put forward by the odd coalition of Christian Zionist and Ayn Rand Libertarians and Neo –fascists that over egg very legitimate concerns about Islamic fundamentalism to argue that kind and open minded Muslim are more dangerous than Muslim fundamentalists (using the same moves as above) and tacitly or sometimes even openly support thuggish movements like the now defunct English Defence League and the placing of inflammatory adverts in America likely to stir up attacks on innocent Muslims. It’s also interesting that Christopher Hitchen’s gave his full support to the military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq (without thinking through outcomes) and that Tony Blair who became the most warmongering of Christians increasingly deluded that he could ‘fix the world’, was most warm in his obituary to Christopher. All of us have the ability to really mess things up – no matter how hard headed or how ‘spookist’ we might be.

  5. You’re entirely right that fundamentalism is characterized by a willingness to DESTROY one’s foe rather than trying to construct anything, it is always directed towards villains who ought to be unconditionally despised and often even hated.

    So there are progressive fundamentalists?

    Tell me how supporters of gun rights are viewed by progressives?

    Opponents of gay marriage?

    Opponents of abortion, or *gasp* feminism?

    Opponents of Obamacare?

    Would you like me to provide links of how they’re portrayed in comics? TV shows? Movies? Video games?

    If you believe that God is going to eternally torture the large majority of human beings owing to a sinful nature they’ve never asked for, it is obvious that expressing your (God-given) creativity will occupy a pretty low position in your list of priorities.

    It’s not obvious. In fact, considering the history of art, the evidence actually speaks against this. Go as far as Dante’s Inferno and you’ll see some of this.

    It is completely true that it hinders creativity from springing up, as the infamous “Left Behind” novels illustrate all too readily.

    A very popular book series being written by ‘fundamentalists’ is evidence that ‘fundamentalists’ can’t be creative? Why, because you think it’s shitty? Does conservative opinion of “progressive” fiction count as evidence too?

    I suggest another possible influence: ‘fundamentalists’ are discouraged from being creative, because creative fields currently tend to be dominated by “progressives” who seek to undercut and eliminate anyone who doesn’t adhere to their views.

    Hence Orson Scott Card is fired from writing a Superman comic because he opposed gay marriage, and Eich is fired for the same. Card wrote Ender’s Game, and Eich (among other things) created a literal programming language. Quite creative, both of them.

    Hence the very controversy taking place with the Hugo Awards. Let me quote a choice piece by a progressive reacting to the perceived offenses of dreaded “conservative” writers:

    I think Correia did two things. The first was appeal for votes on the basis of a perceived liberal bias in the genre. That was the basis of his campaign, a protest vote against liberal influence. That was divisive and did a lot to spark the backlash he’s still feeling. Secondly, and this is going to be much more damaging for him longterm, he allowed himself to become very closely associated to Vox Day in the process. Ultimately people do judge others by their associations, and both Larry Correia and John C Wright have made very public declarations of support for Day, that I fear both will deeply regret in the long run. I’m quite serious about my suggestion by the way. I think if Correia wrote publicly to support the new diversity in the genre, and apologised for any perception he was campaigning against it, that might help him a lot.

    Gosh, it sure would be a shame if your career is destroyed by free-thinking liberal “progressives”. But if you just apologize for offending them and write a public proclamation kowtowing to their dogma, they just might not try to ruin you.

    If ‘fundamentalism’ is defined as an us-versus-them mentality complete with obsessions to wipe out all those who dissent and disagree, then “progressives” are not just capable but particularly good at putting fist to heart, then hand to air and yelling “JAWOHL!” They just do it for a different set of values.

  6. Why should libertarianism be equated with the Gospel? It’s an innovation and a very American Right Wing thing -owing roe to Yan Rand and the anti pity tradition than to the Gospel of Peace. Read the early fathers on violence and using weapons and see how they interpret the sword verses in the New Testament (you’ll be surprised I think). Obamacare I cannot speak for – it’s obviously a mess and is actually leading to unfairness. But the idea of universal health care is not unchristian. Not at all. Indeed with genetic profiling coming soon insurance companies will be charging the earth to high risk people – and libertarian Christians while opposing abortion might accidentally be supporting natural selection euthanasia for the genetically challenged and the poor by the back door.

    No one is innocent Friend – neither you nor I.

  7. I meant to say Ayn Rand above – but I’m a bit dyslexic. It’s a big irony how much libertarian thinking today resembles Social Darwinism. William Jennings Bryan one of the original fundamentalists was a principled and kind man. His science may have been defective but his horror at the excesses of Social Darwinism. The idea of there begin a Common Good is intrinsic to the mainstream traditions of Christianity moral philosophy and actually I think you can even find elements of it in Jonathan Edwards (who sadly people only seem to know via his Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God sermon today).

  8. And have you ever noticed that this kind of nastiness Dick exercises to smear good people is rarely if ever labeled ‘militant’ by those who demonstrate little trouble using the same pejorative against atheists for far less nastiness?

    That is cheeky – I think the secular state is a wonderful thing and atheists can be moral/flourishing people etc and I’m not smearing Dennett and Dawkins one jot. Marxism – dialectical materialism – certainly was atheist and militantly anti religious. Now of course you might say that although it was atheist it wasn’t moral – but it was still atheist and there were many atheist scientists in the West who were also denial about Stalin for example. My ‘smears’ ‘nastiness’ – that’s just rhetoric. I’m trying to be even handed (and actually I think Dennett is a good deal more moderate/a better listener than Richard Dawkins)

    • Yes, Dick, you are… whether you realize it or not. There is no atheist ideology that results in a totalitarian expression. This is the smear. You present atheism as if it – and not the intentional centralization of power in a single man (usually with a mustache) – were responsible for totalitarianism.

      Quite the opposite and here’s why.

      Totalitarianism is a top down authority (similar to most religions) that then grants certain allowances and privileges to those who receive its beneficence. Atheism is a bottom up authority starting with each individual. Without respect for this fundamental recognition of self-authority, non believers supporting totalitarianism would be identical in principle to believers supporting a tyrannical god.

      Because there is a clash in authority within a totalitarian state between those who support the state and those who also wish to support some god’s authority, we usually find pogroms carried out by the state against those who are willing to divide their loyalties with other sources of authority. The motivation by the totalitarian state is about power, about centralizing it. It’s not about imposing non belief; it’s about eliminating all threats to its supreme authority. That’s why atheist groups in Germany, Russia, China, and Cambodia were some of the first victims – as were religious leaders and members of the intelligentsia – in the state’s drive to centralize power.

      It’s a gross misrepresentation to suggest that the cause of totalitarianism is to enhance atheism; that’s not it at all. The cause of totalitarianism is to enforce a submission to the state, which is identical in principle to religious submission to some god. The truth of the matter – whether you hear it or not – is religious belief and totalitarianism are close kin in the sense that submission to some authority other than the self is regarded as a virtue; in atheism, this kind of submission is considered a vice.

  9. Martin Marty the leading authority no religious fundamentalism has found the term applied so widely (especially as an insult) to be wihtout nay determinate meaning. But her interestingly are the features which according to him can be found across the board in religious fundamentalism (and I think his list is judicious –

    Men are to lead and women and children follow. Wives are to be subservient to their husbands. Often, this subservience applies to sisters toward their brothers. A woman’s role in life is to be a homemaker.
    The rules of their religion are complex and rigid and must be followed. Therefore, to avoid any confusion, children of fundamentalists must be sequestered in an environment of like-minded adherents to the corresponding fundamentalist religion. Especially so in their schooling.
    There is no pluralism. Their rules should apply to everyone everywhere.
    There is a distinct group of insiders and all others are outsiders. Insiders are nurtured and cared for. Outsiders are cast off and fought.
    They pine for an older age and a past when their religion was pure, as largely they no longer see it as such. Often, this time never truly existed, but they have a nostalgic view of a Utopian past and they long to acquire it.

    A lot of this doesn’t have any mirror analogy in New Atheism (and New Atheism is often more about rhetorical strategy than actual serious advocacy of illiberal policies – but rhetoric can have unintended consequences).

    • Dick, you state as if true that New Atheism is often more about rhetorical strategy than actual serious advocacy of illiberal policies. To be clear, New Atheism is about advocating for the removal of religious privilege in the public domain. There are many good reasons for this, and these reasons have been expressed by those considered the Four Horsemen, namely Dennett (advocating we study religion like we would any other social phenomena), Harris (advocating we put an end to respecting faith as a justification for acts), Dawkins (advocating we stop treating religion as a rational undertaking), and Hitchens (advocating the removal of religious privilege because it causes and excuses harm). BTW, Hitchens publicly changed his mind about Iraq and wrote about this ‘conversion’ in the New Statesman… going so far as to be water boarded to be able to write about it accurately.

      None of this advocacy we now call New Atheism is about rhetoric, although rhetorical strategy is certainly used in the delivery of its message… to no one’s surprise but those who use one metric to criticize New Atheism and entirely different metric to excuse their privileged religious beliefs. Painting New Atheism to be about rhetorical strategy again is a intentional and gross distortion of what it actually is the case.

  10. Tildeb – I think we’ll have to agree to differ here. The development of the secular state – which I think is laudable – is not directly connected to atheism at all. Roger Williams (big time), John Locke, John Milton all played a big part in this and all were Christian radicals and not atheists old or new.

    I’m not at all trying to equate new atheism or specifically you as an atheist who reads the New Atheists rather than the ‘Atheist buts..’ with murderous totalitarianism. What I am saying is that people who were atheists were very capable of supporting totalitarianism in the name of ‘progress’. Some new atheist rhetoric – and possibly done simply for effect – is totalitarian. Nicholas Humphrey’s idea that children should be taken away from parents that teach creationism and put into care is a deeply totalitarian piece of nonsense (and if he said just for effect he should guard his tongue a bit more). The whole meme theory kit and caboodle as bad since – but it was just an hypothesis that seems to have been dropped like calling yourself a ‘bright’ and a calling a religious person a ‘spookist’). But the metaphor of religion as a malignant virus passed on through copying was exactly the same metaphor of contagion used by the heresy and witch hunters in early modern Europe and by totalitarian Communists when carrying out their acts of cleansing violence. I don’t think Dawkins was for a minute intentionally promoting violence – but his use of dubious metaphor when his science strays towards the weird was in extremely poor taste.(when he writes as a scientist rather than a polemicists he’s actually brilliant and very good to read)

    All the very best to you🙂

    • I will certainly agree to differ with your distortions and smearing of New Atheism not as a rhetorical strategy but for me to respect what’s true.

      Have you ever noticed that the authority for the secular state comes from thee and me? This is why it was revolutionary. This is why those who continue to promote submission to a ‘higher’ authority in secular matters (rather than accept the principle of governance by the consent of the governed) continue to blithely subvert its principles in the name of piety. This carries a very real cost paid by very real harm done to very real people in real life. In this sense, responsible self governing reflected in secular law is atheistic to its core and that’s why there is no religious terminology needed in these Constitutional documents. None.

      To pretend as you do that secular governance is really compatible with religious authority is quite silly; the argument put forth is that religious people can be secular supporters so therefore submission to religious authority in the public domain is compatible with secularism. This is like saying priests can support pedophilia and so therefore submitting to priestly pedophilia is compatible with religious authority.

      You say that you’re not at all trying to equate new atheism or specifically you as an atheist who reads the New Atheists rather than the ‘Atheist buts..’ with murderous totalitarianism yet that’s exactly what you’ve done by claiming Atheist ideologies in the twentieth century were responsible for crimes that were as bad as those of religious fundamentalists.

      You claim Some new atheist rhetoric – and possibly done simply for effect – is totalitarian and utilize Humphrey’s suggestion to remove children from creationist homes as evidence for this ‘totalitarianism’. Well, we use this kind of ‘totalitarianism’ to remove children from harm all the time. It’s a funny name you use; most of us call it child welfare. If Humphrey can demonstrate harm to the child’s welfare done by indoctrinating children with false beliefs about reality, then he has a case, don’t you think?

      Dawkins’ hypothesis about memes is a growing field of study. I have no clue why you think it’s not. The idea that ideas – both good and bad – can be passed on (and act in biological language like a contagion) seems to align with compelling evidence in its favour. Perhaps you just feel uncomfortable when it is applied to religious belief but surely you recognize that the strongest correlation between populations and their predominant religious beliefs are with geography! This is compelling evidence that the claim about seeking what’s true to be the central feature of religious belief doesn’t fit that data!

      You utilize the fear of totalitarianism and attach its source through misrepresentation and distortion to New Atheism. I suspect you do this to avoid addressing the accuracies of the central criticisms enunciated by New Atheists. This means our disagreement is not one of personal preference – I like blue and you like red – but significant differences in respecting factual accuracies – you distort and misrepresent and I try to correct you. These are not equivalent and legitimate differences of opinion and trying to treat them as such does a disservice to first respecting what’s true.

  11. BTW, Hitchens publicly changed his mind about Iraq and wrote about this ‘conversion’ in the New Statesman… going so far as to be water boarded to be able to write about it accurately.

    But my only point is that he was fallible and prone to illiberalism in this instance. He had to learn from experience – but he supported the Iraq adventure and empowered the venture in supporting it (he had influence in some circles). I actually have more time of Christopher Hitchen’s than for some other New Atheist btw.

    And many other things I could say – now I realise Marc kind of provokes extremes in his blogs as an agent provocateur – a kind of Evil Kinevel figure.

    But I’m trying to have a conversation with you and without even knowing me and getting a feel for where I am coming from you are using rhetoric about my of ‘intentional and gross distortion. This is most discourteous good Sir.

    And by the way IMHO some of the best critique of the New Atheists some from the English Wittgensteinians such as Mary Midgley and Phlipa Foot

  12. ”To pretend as you do that secular governance is really compatible with religious authority is quite silly; the argument put forth is that religious people can be secular supporters so therefore submission to religious authority in the public domain is compatible with secularism. This is like saying priests can support pedophilia and so therefore submitting to priestly pedophilia is compatible with religious authority”.

    You’ve put words into my mouth – completely and utterly. Secular governance is based on many things – but one thing is the inalienable right to freedom of conscience. Another thing has to be a recognition of human frailty so there are lots of proper checks and balances on power. Of course there have also been notions of the secular state that have lead to tyranny – like Rousseau’s notion of the General Will taken over by the Jacobins – those that do not comply with the general Will must be forced to be free. Obviously democratic pluralism with loyal opposition and the right to hounourable disagreement etc are foundations for the best liberal stats.

    Apparently I’ve just used a common strategy by citing Nicholas Humphries – but is it really for the Sate to decide what parents teach their children. HT competency of the state extends properly to physical harm – if people Flog their children because they are fundamentalist – yes the state has rights here to prevent harm. But once the state starts interfering in other private matters – well it needs to be very careful not to create a category of thought crime’ – which will be a slippery slope situation.

    Your analogy with peadophilia and priests was naff IMHO. I mean his is a terrible, terrible thing and the way the Catholic Church has not addressed it in the past and not asked those hard questions about systemic and toxic dysfunction is scandalous. I have no time for authoritarian religion which can be used most insidiously to empower and cover up abuses of power, But this stuff also happens in a purely secular setting as we know well – in care homes for children (and powerful people with big problems are often involved in it – and they are not necessarily religious at all

    ”You say that you’re not at all trying to equate new atheism or specifically you as an atheist who reads the New Atheists rather than the ‘Atheist buts..’ with murderous totalitarianism yet that’s exactly what you’ve done by claiming Atheist ideologies in the twentieth century were responsible for crimes that were as bad as those of religious fundamentalists.”

    Atheists have supported murderous ideologies. They have done so in the past and will do so again I would think. Religious people have done the same.

    The stuff about meme theory? – obviously there is a mimetic aspect in the spread of religion as in the spread of New Atheism and I know there have been some exciting discoveries about mirror neurons recently. All fine and dandy – but a system, of beliefs is not like a virus – this is an inexact analogy. And calling religion in toto a malignant virus is top boys being Alpha male with their rhetoric. Atheism is also a virus in your terms – it’s just that you make the moral judgment that it happens to be good (and that you have faith that you can rebel against dem selfish replicators).

    • Dick, you claimed that atheist ideologies were responsible for the crimes of totalitarian regimes. I took issue with that claim because it’s not just false but a smear tactic because it’s used this way against New Atheists, This is what Marc does over and over again as if there is compelling historical evidence in the form of brutal totalitarian regimes that non belief in gods or a god is a dangerous ideology that caused these regimes. This is the sense in which you stated this claim, as if atheism were an equivalent fundamentalist ideology to religious fundamentalism that caused great harm. This line of reasoning grossly misrepresents non belief to be a causal factor in support of totalitarianism when it is not. And we know it’s not because we have historical evidence of totalitarian regimes that are secular and totalitarian regimes that are religiously sectarian. Atheism cannot be responsible for both so we know something else must be the root cause. That’s why I suggested mustaches.

      This claim you make is unmitigated bull excrement and you haven’t retracted it one iota; instead, you’ve tried to rationalize your way around it in order to leave it standing and present it as if it’s merely a difference of opinion. It’s not; it’s factually wrong.

      Atheism is as much responsible for totalitarianism as mustaches. Sure, some supporters of totalitarian regimes were atheists and some had mustaches. That’s not the claim you make. You claim atheism is a totalitarian ideology responsible for bringing totalitarian regimes into being, and this is a lie. These regimes were brought into power by those who wished to central all authority in a single man.

      You completely ignore the fact that some supporters of totalitarianism were also religious but you don’t use the identical reasoning to then claim that religion is therefore an ideology responsible for totalitarianism. You cherry pick atheism and then ignore contrary evidence. This is very poor reasoning skills. I think it is intentionally dishonest because you know better but stick to your belief.

      Atheism was not causal any more than mustaches were causal. You’d be laughed out of the room if you claimed mustaches were responsible for totalitarian crimes and you’d be ridiculed if you suggested that those people who currently supported mustaches were therefore supporters of a mustached ideology that caused past totalitarian regimes. The argument is ridiculous but you seem unwilling to revisit your assumptions in the light of this contrary data; instead, you – like lotharson – stick to your negative assumptions about atheism and continue to promote this association between the New Atheists and totalitarianism even when you know perfectly well that it’s as causal a factor as mustaches.

      • All the religious buildings and murdered priests in Russia and China have really NOTHING to do with anti-theism, right?

        I agree this is not due to Atheism, but I think a very good case can be made that ANTItheism was a significant factor in these specific atrocities directed against religious believers.

        I find it extremely hypocritical to deny this while insisting that the crusades and witch burnings were a logical consequence of Christ’s teachings.

        • Lotharson, I’m not denying anything historical. In case you missed my point, I’ll re-post what I wrote earlier about this, namely,

          “Because there is a clash in authority within a totalitarian state between those who support the state and those who also wish to support some god’s authority, we usually find pogroms carried out by the state against those who are willing to divide their loyalties with other sources of authority. The motivation by the totalitarian state is about power, about centralizing it. It’s not about imposing non belief; it’s about eliminating all threats to its supreme authority. That’s why atheist groups in Germany, Russia, China, and Cambodia were some of the first victims – as were religious leaders and members of the intelligentsia – in the state’s drive to centralize power.”

          In other words, the argument you put forth for suggesting anti-theism was a root cause could easily be replicated for each of these: ‘anti-intellectual’, ‘anti-enlightenment’, ‘anti-human rights’, and so on.

          It’s not that theism per se was targeted (to back up the claim that totalitarianism is atheist when it is not necessarily so – see any theocracy for religious totalitarianism); the target was anyone (and any group) that tested absolute loyalty to the State – represented by a single man who assumed total power and demanded total obedience (eerily similar to many fundamental religions that grant to some god absolute power and ownership over all… including an invisible Thought Police to keep tabs on everything and eliminate privacy even in one’s own head. Again, a demand for absolute loyalty or punishment).

          Atheism makes no similar demand. It’s simply non belief in gods or a god…but vilified to the nth degree by those who assume authority over one’s self is so terrible to contemplate that they must rush to their god’s defence and insist this ‘evil’ is equivalent to the most horrendous of human crimes imaginable, namely the casualty list from totalitarian states. It’s simply not true.

  13. This claim you make is unmitigated bull excrement and you haven’t retracted it one iota; instead, you’ve tried to rationalize your way around it in order to leave it standing and present it as if it’s merely a difference of opinion. It’s not; it’s factually wrong.

    You are very charming to me😀. Mimetically you resemble the people you read.

    Totalitarianism can be atheist just as theocracy is religious totalitarianism. You read the New Atheists obviously, but I’ll bet you’ve not read Camus ‘The Rebel’ for example. Dialectical Materialism has a purely non theistic basis. It was actively anti religious – at least in its Leninist and Maoist forms. Dan Dennet could not answer Andrew Browns fair point that atheists have been responsible for terrible things just as Christians have (Dan hadn’t computed that and kind of ducks it), What was wrong with these atheist regimes and why were they totalitarian – because they thought about human problems in the abstract. The original ideals were noble but they thought they could fix the world and perfect it. At this point the ends justifies the means and we slaughter people today in the name of new man of tomorrow.

    Could New Atheists do this – och I think probably not. I think the New Atheists over egg their influence. Who knows what is to come. In the sixties the inevitable secularisation thesis was orthodoxy in the West. It didn’t factor in the surge of fundamentalism. But it’s no slander to you to point you to history so that you don’t avoid learning it’s lessons

    When you address me you remind me of the people I used to meet when I was studying who belonged to the Socialist Revolutionary Party – all this stuff about lies and smears and misrepresentations. It’s agit prop speak.

    And why are you so hot under the collar about a very marginal person like me having opinions different from yours. I’m not calling for theocracy mate – I’d probably join you at the barricades if one was imminent. Then if we won you’d have me liquidated in a purge. I’m jesting about your sinister intent. But you are very rude – and you bring out the rude boy in me.

    • The level of rudeness you attribute to me is an underwhelming response to the overwhelming rudeness you shower on me and other New Atheists with the totalitarian smear, accusations of fundamentalism, and a dedication to continue to rely on historical misrepresentations and distortions to vilify New Atheism. You’ve earned much more than this most mild rebuke; if you tried the same line of reasoning with an equivalent ’cause and effect’ – such as mustaches – then I’ve explained why you would deserve ridicule and contempt for promoting such a silly argument. You seem to forget that you claimed atheist ideology was responsible for empowering totalitarianism in the twentieth century. This is demonstrably false – as I’ve shown – but you refuse to retract this deplorable accusation you wish to maintain as if true in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary. Rather than admit your claim was, is, and remains false, you choose to play the victim card and complain about my tone. My tone is justified by the intentional effrontery you continue to exercise by maintaining the claim as if true when it’s not.

      You miss the point of Dennett’s response to the faitheist Brown and continue this misunderstanding here; you conflate atheists who do bad things to an atheist ideology. This ideology you claim is totalitarianism because some totalitarian regimes had atheists and treated competing religions as enemies of the state. This connection you attribute to an atheist ideology exists only in your imagination.

      But you’re not going to take my word for it. Perhaps you’ll take your own.

      Let’s test my claim:

      Describe the atheist ideology to which all us atheists supposedly subscribe.

      I’ll wait….

        • Yes, and I would go even further: advocating for a world where no faith-based belief is empowered from having any effect in the public domain because we know the methodology is a guaranteed method to fool one’s self.

          Evolving into such a world requires us to advocate both for reason established by enlightenment values and against any and all privilege afforded to faith-based belief in the public domain. This advocacy by definition is not violent. It is a process of enlightening people by reasonable methods. And the most reasonable is to criticize the method in public. That’s the ‘mission’ so to speak of New Atheists, and it goes far beyond just criticizing religious belief; any and all woo justified by faith-based belief is fair game.

      • I’m afraid you’re digging yourself a deeper hole, Tildeb, with this kind of rhetoric. Dick is one of the most kind and fair people I know (and he’s forgotten more history than you’ll ever know.)I see little in the way of “smearing” or “rudeness” in his responses (but of course I’m biased) . If you were hoping for anger from one who sides with Dick, I’m afraid you only elicited a chuckle at your uncontrolled venomous rhetoric. Take it down a notch and people might listen to you!😉

        • It’s not a question of how nice Dick is in person; it’s a fact that he smears New Atheists – as do you – by suggesting that the atheist ‘ideology’ they supposedly follow is responsible for totalitarian crimes. In effect, this is an intentional character assassination against all New Atheists – as if they were enabling totalitarianism when such a charge is absolutely and unequivocally false – especially if someone claims to be knowledgeable about history!

          No New Atheist that I am aware of – especially the populist ones – advocates totalitarianism. Not one. To state as if factual that its part of the atheist ideology is, to be both fair and accurate, a lie. And lying about people is not a nice thing to do, Marc. In fact, that is a reprehensible act when done intentionally – especially if one also supposedly respects and advocates respect for the biblical commandments. Criticizing this kind of typical false claim about New Atheists with such mild words as ‘misrepresentation’ and ‘distortion’ is hardly as rude and it certainly isn’t an equivalent lie.

          So why the shifting goal posts here?

  14. Describe a religious ideology to which all religious people subscribe first.

    My syllogism is

    There have been atheist totalitarian ideologies (true)
    There have been secular plural states in which atheist participate fully and creatively (true)
    Therefore some atheists are/have been totalitarians

    you seem to be suggesting that all religious people are potentially totalitarians – this is false. Because the same syllogism applies to religious people

    My point to you is that you want to close your eyes to any possibility that atheists may become totalitarians (which some have done in the past). I am no at all blind to religious people becoming totalitarians – there is plenty of this today – as there are still a few states that enshrine atheism in their state ideology. I want to know why people can become violent about their ideologies – religious and atheist. And I want to work for a world where both religious people, agnostics, and atheists have at least the good will of common humanity between them.

    • Describe a religious ideology to which all religious people subscribe first.

      Too easy, Dick: a religious ideology common to all religions is the empowering of faith-based belief to describe reality. It’s an awful ideology in that its use justifies causing real harm to real people in real life.

    • I want to know why people can become violent about their ideologies – religious and atheist.

      What atheist ideology? I claim there isn’t one. You claim there is, and that it’s responsible for totalitarian crimes. You seem offended that I call that claim bull pucky.

      I have asked you to define this ideology you say atheists have. You haven’t defined it yet, and it’s not defined by saying some atheists are/have been totalitarians. Some religious people, you admit, have also been totalitarians. Some have mustaches, too.

      Still waiting…

  15. Tildeb – I have said that it is possible for atheists to become totalitarian ideologues – and not that there is an atheist ideology as such. I have not described you as a totalitarian – merely mirrored your rhetoric at points. The most I’ve said about Richard Dawikins – countering Marc’s polemical view that he is a ‘hateful bigot’ – is that he is a bit of a plonker (not as a scientist, but when he steps into his role as polemicist). I’ve actually seen him speaking even about his atheism at times when I’ve sympathised with bits of what he’s said but not agreed totally, and I’ve also seen a very charming, and funny and warm side to him on occasions. But of all the New Atheists he is the one who worryingly ramps up the dehumanising and slightly paranoid rhetoric against all people faith or atheists who disagree with him. That’s my opinion of him. He’d say that he is doing this because he fight sin a righteous cause – but religious people who trash atheists think that too.

    I don’t understand what bull pucky is but I rather like the phrased, So you are an American atheist. OK I can understand why Dawkins bullishness would appeal because you are in culture wars and lots of Christian bloggers are at the drop of the hat going to call you a fag loving, gun hating, human dinosaur co-existence denier. As such you have my sympathy. But that is just not what I ma doing

    So religion because it is ‘faith based’ always causes real harm to people in your definition. When people who happen to be atheists and have done despicable and harmful things to religious people and others in the name of an ideology that self described as atheist this was always incidental to their atheism then? And when atheist do good and beautiful things and pursue truth this is because they are atheists. But when religious people do wonderful and compassionate things this always has to be incidental to their faith based religions ideology – a bit of an accident really (I’m thinking Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu etc – what they have done is incidental to their religious ideology but what Thomas Torquemada did is a true expression of faith based ideology.

    That appears to me what you are saying – and I disagree with you.

    • Me, an American? Now you’ve really gone to far in your insults! (Just kidding… I’m actually Canadian.)

      You say So religion because it is ‘faith based’ always causes real harm to people in your definition.

      Yes. Because the justification for effects from faith-based beliefs acted upon is immune from reality’s arbitration of them, the methodology empowering faith-based belief always produces some kind of harm… if not by direct effects that are harmful, then by relegating what’s true to be of secondary importance – some motivation to be by proxy, some good deeds attributed to some other service than its targeted effects, and so on. This method’s use relegates what is demonstrably true in reality to be equivalent to what is believed to be true. Religion is in effect the Mothership for this method in that it promotes faith-based belief to be not just a virtue but the highest virtue rather than the vice it really is (which is how all other human pursuits relegates it). Your claim, for example, is a faith-based belief that harms what’s true in reality.

      No totalitarian state, for example, has ever been predicated on non belief in gods or a god. These totalitarian states have been predicated on a political ideology that is intolerant of any other authority than the state… including competing religious belief (some totalitarian states are, in fact, religious!). Sure, some of these states includes atheism… quite properly described by lotharson and you as anti-theist – as part and parcel of the host of forbidden loyalties. But that doesn’t mean atheism is responsible for the totalitarianism yet this is exactly what you claimed. Your claim – and the similar claim made repeatedly by lotharson – is a faith-based belief imposed on the historical record not to serve as a means to arriving at a better understanding of how totalitarianism comes to be (including religious totalitarianism, for crying out loud) but to vilify a particular group of people that your faith-based belief magically makes responsible. This is the historical distortion and it promotes an intentional misrepresentation of those people, namely, non believers generally and New Atheists specifically. It is used to suggest that atheism leads to totalitarianism when, in fact, we have ample historical evidence that non-diverted secularism leads to all kinds of improvements in the human condition. The US Constitution – a revolutionary document that eliminates any governing authority from gods or a god – is but one example of how human flourishing can occur when political authority is recognized as an individual inheritance that is only then lent to authority by the consent of the governed.

      I have tried to make my point by using the comparison with pedophile priests; that just because some priests are pedophiles does not mean becoming a priest is predicated on pedophilia. Just because some totalitarian states are atheist does not mean a state becoming totalitarian is predicated on atheism. Your claim is that it is… by assigning responsibility for these states to some imaginary atheistic ideology. This claim is wrong. This claim is a distortion. This claim misrepresents atheists. This claim asserts that an atheistic ideology exists when in fact it does not. No amount of slicing and dicing your claim makes it any less offensive as long as the intention is to malign New Atheists for a crime they have never committed but for which you have already passed sentence and condemned them.

  16. I see that Dan ends by saying that the good religious people don’t condemn the bad very vociferously but he seems to concede that atheists and people of (good?) faith can actually collaborate to tackle the big problems of the world in his last sentence. My experience is that religious people who are emphatic about the dignity of all people regardless of beliefs and are emphatic about liberty of conscience do indeed condemn religious people who divide the world into good and evil people in which way they will and wish to control the secular state (in other words they are theocrats). I spends a lot of time condemning these people. So no disagreements there.

  17. It’s because I’m a historian that I am so very cautious of your thoughts. I think there are dangers with New Atheist rhetoric at its most extreme. It may never be put to nay bad use – apart from skirmishes on the Net. However, when Rousseau wrote the Social Contract for example his last words about the General Will was that ‘none of this is worth paying for with the price of a single drop of blood. But given different circumstances his book became a pretext for great and terrible slaughter. Who knows – if the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism isn’t checked through careful and reasoned and proportionate means, there could be a real backlash against religion in general and all Muslims in particular in say Europe – and New Atheist rhetoric could inspire completely unfair measures based on racism – no matter what the original intention of the rhetoric was, We all need to value liberal democracy and speak carefully not assuming bad faith (me too). I can think of huge numbers of examples regarding religion too of un intended consequences resulting from lack of awareness as well as wilful naked tyranny.

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