Sunday, February 28, 2010

oh enemy of straw

An emailer to the Daily Dish violently misunderstands. To be honest, the strawmanning is so intense I'm shocked Patrick Appel posted it.

"Apparently, once you don't believe in a deity, any and all earthly concerns about the real, observable effects of religion in the world we all share become irrelevant."

Of course not. Look, if you're going to ignore the content of the post, I'm not sure why you would bother to engage at all. I oppose the actions that lead to these negative effects the same way that I oppose anything else, by participating in democracy. That opposition is independent of any belief or non-belief in religion. There are a whole host of arguments for the limitations on religious action that do not begin from an assumption of atheism. Indeed, a great number of them are referred to as "Enlightenment values." Again, I don't know why this is so hard to understand: many of the most vocal and effective defenders of the separation of church and state are religious and practicing. The large majority of the intellectual figures who devised the liberal Enlightenment values that compel us to separate church and state were themselves Christians. If you can't imagine how you can both believe and not want that belief to be involved in politics, science or medicine, I'm afraid that's simply a failure of your own imagination, and a flagrant one, considering that this is how most of the population of the world operates.

"Since Harris does not believe in a god he should not concern himself over the trifling matter of jihadists flying planes into buildings. Since Hitchens is an atheist the murder of teenage girls at the hands of their fundamentalist fathers, brothers and uncles should be of no concern to him."

This is a strawman of such pathetic character I'm tempted merely to ignore it. As I said, and I have always said, people do things out of religious conviction that must be opposed. Opposing those actions has nothing to do with eliminating the religious devotion that supposedly inspires them. Killing your teenage daughter is illegal regardless of why you intend to do it. It isn't the justification that matters. It's the action. Flying planes into buildings is an action. I am opposed to violent actions such at that whether they are undertaken for political or religious or any other reason. You stop a terrorist by killing him. You don't stop him by arguing away his religion, in part because it is precisely because of his fanaticism that he is immune to convincing.

"Later in the post he makes the almost as ridiculous claim that though of course there are people who would like to force their religious views on the rest of us and this must be fought against (gee, I forget, who are the strongest voices against this sort of thing....Sam something, Christopher someone else) the underlying truth of the religious claims on which policies are formed is irrelevant to the discussion. How someone is supposed to make the argument that a religiously mandated death penalty for homosexuality can be argued against without touching the underlying theology and rationality he does not say."

Simple: by arguing that his religious beliefs are inappropriate justification in political discourse in a democracy, the same way we have been doing for hundreds of years. People have been arguing the separation of church and state without pushing for atheism since the idea of such a separation was created. Really, this is elementary stuff, dude.

Let's talk tactics, shall we? This emailer with the terrible reading comprehension and I have as a first goal the same thing, which is keeping religious conviction out of politics, science and medicine. The history of the world teaches us that this is best accomplished not through atheism but through religious moderation. This is something many atheists must come to grips with if they are ever going to grow up: religious moderates do a far better job of opposing extremists than atheists do. Look, aside from all of the "American theocracy" hysterics, this country does quite a good job of keeping the secular and the religious separate. There is much work to be done, but this is not Saudia Arabia, it is not Yemen. And why? Not because of atheism, but because of moderate religious people who have worked to divide theology from governance for centuries. When people express incredulity at the idea that people can both be practicing and religious and yet function in a secular society, I wonder what world they live in. Here on Planet Earth, in America, you interact with such people every day. They seem to have no trouble with it whatsoever.

Look to the Muslim world. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. It has a significant Muslim minority. And yet it also has significant Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities that live quite unmolested. Women wear pants, work in public, vote, hold office. Why? Not because some tide of atheism swept through Indonesia, but because of religious moderates embracing Enlightenment values and liberal democracy. I assure you, the large majority of these people are devout. They simply see no conflict between their religious devotion and their participation in civic life. If denying terrorism or other kinds of religious extremism can come only through the enforcement of atheism-- if I am compelled, as this emailer insists, to wish to convert the unfaithful-- then the prospects of liberal democracy and Enlightenment values are threatened indeed. Those values defend the religious as well as the areligious.

There is a lot of nonsense in the competing claims of the public face of atheism, but none is more obvious than what claims it is credulous to and what it is overly skeptical about. Many atheists, presumably like this emailer, have overly skeptical opinions about the ability of most religious believers to balance religious and civic life. Again, you probably know many people who believe, go to church, and yet never think to inject their religion into politics. Balanced against that is a frankly absurd naivete about the power of argument to convince people to abandon God or religion altogether. Which do you think is easier? To convince someone who has religious faith to totally abandon that identity? Or to convince them of the righteousness of dividing it from political life? Elementary human psychology teaches me that the more you attack the fundamental basis for someone's worldview, the more likely you are to earn violent pushback as a result. If you are a liberal, you don't try to bring a conservative around on a particular issue by asking him to abandon conservatism altogether. You ask him to reconsider the issue at hand, and you do so in a way that demonstrates respect to that larger overarching belief.

This is not fun. You can't post a vlog about it on Youtube and get people applauding you for it. You can't posit that you are one of the few brilliant geniuses in a sea of idiocy by doing it. You can't come up with all sorts of self-aggrandizing narratives with it. But it is the basic task of liberal democracy and it is the path of adulthood.

I have written about a great many controversial topics since I started blogging. I never get email that is more angry or embittered than I do when I criticize militant atheism. Why? I think it's because, for most people, atheism is not just inimical to belief in God. It is inimical to pluralism. Some people just don't like to be disagreed with. Left unchecked, that can devolve to obsession with the people who you oppose. And that's exactly the poverty which I described, being defined by what you aren't.

Update: A commenter at Secular Right quotes this (perfect) passage:

I was reminded of the English novelist Howard Jacobson’s brilliant insight about Holocaust deniers: “You will know them because they know more about the Jewish religion than you do. As soon as you meet one of those, and think, by God they’ve got a lot of quotations, by God they know everything about Jews—then that’s what they are. And what cheers me about all this, is that your true anti-Semite, like your true Holocaust denier, is doomed to a kind of Dante-esque hell of living among Jewish things, Jewish books, Jewish artifacts. You can see them in the library, they’ve got the Talmud up here, and they’re burrowing away to find more and more evidence against the Jews. Few Jews live a more perfect scholarly Jewish life.” 

34 comments:

Chris said...

great post Freddie. Couldn't agree more.

Steve said...

" Indeed, a great number of them are referred to as "Enlightenment values." Again, I don't know why this is so hard to understand: many of the most vocal and effective defenders of the separation of church and state are religious and practicing. The large majority of the intellectual figures who devised the liberal Enlightenment values that compel us to separate church and state were themselves Christians."

First of all as a matter of history I think it's fair to say that the major Enlightenment thinkers were as much Christians as modern unitarians are. This was, after all, a group of people playing off of the revolution in physics and attempting to apply reason to other spheres. God himself was a sideshow at best...the God of Rousseau or Jefferson is certainly not the God of the typical Christian today. This is laid out well by Lilla in "The Stillborn God".

And the line you're trying to draw between atheism and Enlightenment values is IMO ultimately not stable. Does atheism directly cause Enlightenment values? Maybe not, but having accepted Enlightenment values and (notably) evolution it doesn't take long to arrive at atheism or a very liberal, minimalist faith.

And your claim of the impracticality of mass conversion to atheism / agnosticism is directly refuted what's gone on in the last 50 years in most of Western Europe. Once you're where Andrew Sullivan is, it's a teeny little step just to drop religion altogether. The local churches empty out and the older ones become quaint tourist destinations and places to get married.

I'm not sure why you even think what you're arguing for is all that unique or even different from the New Atheists. I don't have the references in front of me but I'm pretty sure each concedes the pervasiveness of religion, their project isn't (immediately, anyway) to eliminate all religion. So what is it you're saying, anyway? Some atheists are annoying? Nice argument.

Freddie said...

Steve, you have just employed a strawman argument; a weakman argument; an equivocation; a red herring; a false equivalence; and shoddy reasoning, in a five paragraph comment. Bravo.

Also, your last sentence directly refutes the argument that was put against me by the emailer in question.

Finally, evolution is not and has never been any more disqualifying to religion than is any other science. Bushes can't burst into flame and talk; you can't walk on water. These are just as contrary to literalist traditions of Christianity as evolution. The reason most atheists constantly harp on evolution is because it is convenient.

paul said...

"The large majority of the intellectual figures who devised the liberal Enlightenment values that compel us to separate church and state were themselves Christians."

But this is simply false. I'm trying to figure out which figures you're referring to (French, British, American? "Liberal" in what sense?) In almost every example that I can think of, you have unitarian/deist "Christians" or outright humanist/atheists. The actual Christians were more interested in shaping society according to Christian morality.

Anyway, it's nice that Andrew/Appel are still linking you!

Michelle said...

This is a strawman of such pathetic character I'm tempted merely to ignore it.

Probably you should have. It was a product of willful, obtuse misreading.

Steve said...

"Finally, evolution is not and has never been any more disqualifying to religion than is any other science. Bushes can't burst into flame and talk; you can't walk on water. These are just as contrary to literalist traditions of Christianity as evolution. The reason most atheists constantly harp on evolution is because it is convenient."

Freddie your blog is one of the best out there but man, you are completely nuts today. The wheels fell off. I can barely follow your response to Andrew's reader and then you get the machine gun out on me...strawman strawman strawman red herring strawman fallacy blah blah (how about that continent worth of atheists you haven't accounted for - that wasn't even in-bounds?).

And this last part is WILDLY wrong. There's a deep and well-documented connection between acceptance of evolution and atheism, starting with the struggles of Darwin himself, evidenced in the long and continuing tradition of religious institutional resistance to teaching of evolution. The best examination of it is Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" - the book is basically dedicated to this subject. It's crazy that I'm even enumerating this stuff...are you really that unaware of the discussion around this?

Anonymous said...

What's the point of the holocaust denier quote? Equating atheists with holocaust deniers? Suggesting that knowledgeable people don't like their subject matter?

Anonymous said...

You don't have to fight alongsidejavascript:void(0) us, but

a) first of all I don't appreciate the Holocaust-denial comparison one bit, and

b) yes, you and I both may be bewildered by our fellow citizens' constant reference to an invisible friend in the sky, and I can usually ignore it, as I do my subway preacher. But when those people use the invisible friend to justify abhorrent beliefs, I'm shocked and offended into saying "there *is* no invisible friend, for Christ's sake." And when people use the invisible friend as justification for killing, I start wanting to eradicate belief in the invisible friend entirely.

So sure, sometimes I feel tolerant, like when my family make Thanksgiving prayers. Sometimes, as in those horrifying-beliefs and plane-crashing cases, I don't want to calmly read people John Locke (as if that will work as well as you suggest, anyway). I'm so furious I want to tear their Bibles and Qurans to shreds. Shoot me for having a little bit more than bemusement about the effects of religion. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense -- that means going after your opponent's defenses.

Joshua Trevino said...

Indonesia does not have a "significant Muslim minority." It has a great huge Muslim majority of over 85%. It is furthermore ludicrous to assert that Indonesia's "significant Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities ... live quite unmolested." Here's a good place to start on that:

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/shock.as.three.christian.school.girls.in.indonesia.are.beheaded/4397.htm

Google plus five minutes of free time will reveal more of this sort of intercommunal savagery.

Some command of facts would be useful in making your case. You're right about the blazing idiocy of "militant atheism," but it's important to be accurate.

Jeremie said...

Great post Freddie. Moderation in all things, athiesm included.

Consumatopia said...

I agree with this post, but it's important to note how different it is from the original. Whereas before the atheist's mistake was some sort of deep personality defect--to become "dominated by the things one rejects". Sullivan's reader correctly pointed out that this is not what motivates actual New Atheists--they believe that religious belief is harmful to the world and opposing this belief brings utilitarian good.

Now, while you've insightfully explained what is wrong with this New Atheist strategy, that still doesn't make your original post right. The New Atheist might be wrong, but not in the way you said they were.

The Abstracted Engineer said...

Conversely, I'm not interested in a world where we all intermingle and no one knows by outward appearance if I am Christian or Buddhist or Muslim or atheist.
The pursuit of religious moderation is usually focused on toning down the radicals that do works of evil, while ignoring that some religious radicals do works of good.
Could there not be a world as Tertullian says "Look at the Christians, see how they love each other?"

Nadingo said...

Paul - what puzzles me about your post is how you allow Christianity to be defined by only a particular subgroup of Christians. I think that's one of the fundamental flaws with what Freddie refers to as militant atheism -- they react primarily to the fundamentalists' version of religion and in so doing grant fundamentalists the right to define what religion is. Why would you want to side with the fundamentalists in labeling Unitarians "Christians" instead of recognizing that there are many kinds of Christianity, some of which can be quite liberal?

This problem is particularly troubling in Israel, where -- due to a lack of any sizable conservative or reform congregations -- the country is sharply divided between the ultra-orthodox minority and the secular majority. Secular Israelis end up placing little to no value on Judaism as a religion (as opposed to a culture or a nationality) because they think that the orthodox version is the only legitimate kind.

Ebonmuse said...

Given that atheists were banned by law from speaking their minds in quite a large number of countries, even the supposedly moderate ones, for centuries, I think your point that religious moderates established the separation of church and state is more than a little unfair.

That aside, I think this post exhibits the usual confusion: Every successful social reform movement needs both the diplomats and the rabble-rousers. To shift the Overton window of what society wants and values, you have to begin with a bunch of fire-breathing radicals who are willing to take a forthright stand. The abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement all began this way.

Only once the radicals have done their work and society's notions of what is conceivable have been shifted - only then can the diplomats and the moderates come in and adjust society's policies around the new consensus. That is how these things always happen.

Nadingo said...

Anonymous -- I think the main objection to your argument is that you seem to be assuming that a world in the absence of religion would somehow also be without ideologically motivated violence. Some of the greatest human rights crises in the 20th century (in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Rwanda, and -- yes -- Nazi Germany) had almost nothing to do with religion. And while you can certainly find religious roots to some of these violent ideologies, anti-Semitism, for one, was a thoroughly secular phenomenon by the 19th century.

Also - if you're the same anonymous who asked about the holocaust denier quote, I thought it was fairly clear that the quote was simply meant to illustrate the last two sentences of his post:

"Left unchecked, [being inimical to pluralism] can devolve to obsession with the people who you oppose. And that's exactly the poverty which I described, being defined by what you aren't."

But I guess the Holocaust is so weighted that one should never use anything related to it as an example to illustrate anything. Whoops.

Anonymous said...

"religious moderation" always makes me laugh-out-loud.

Aren't those people all reading the exact same book ('fundamentalists', etc.)? It is a shame none of them understand the implication...

cleek said...

"Not because of atheism, but because of moderate religious people who have worked to divide theology from governance for centuries."

the problem with this is that there the number of politically-powerful of atheists is vanishingly small. you're essentially comparing the accomplishments of nearly the universe of politicians to the accomplishments of nobody. of course the religious win that comparison.

BobN said...

What seems to be overlooked is WHY atheists and agnostics are speaking up more and more -- some even becoming radicalized, though I suspect the motive there is book sales. This nation is not a path of religious moderation. We WERE.

Instead of complaining about atheists, complain about the pushy fundamentalists.

George From NY said...

Freddie,

"It isn't the justification that matters. It's the action."

Except that the "action" is all too often the consequence of the "justification."

Beliefs have consequences when they motivate deeds. Beliefs matter. They matter when people deny children medical care, trusting in the magic healing power of incantations to some invisible Sky Daddy.

Beliefs matter when people seek to endorse and enforce Bronze Age social mores on a modern society.

Beliefs matter when people seek to supplant public science education with their own thinly-disguised fairy tales.

Speaking of...

"Finally, evolution is not and has never been any more disqualifying to religion than is any other science. Bushes can't burst into flame and talk; you can't walk on water. These are just as contrary to literalist traditions of Christianity as evolution. The reason most atheists constantly harp on evolution is because it is convenient."

Atheists and others have been making a lot of noise about evolution because - Hello! - that's where an important battle line is - specifically, that of the subversion of education by religious dogma.

Evolution has recently come under sustained, deliberate attack in ways astronomy, geology, etc. have not.

Is this news to you? Are you actually unaware of the entire Intelligent Design controversy? Does Kitzmiller v. Dover mean anything to you?

Also, as Steve already noted, you're just flat wrong about the threat evolution poses to religious believers.

Heliocentrism. A spherical, rotating Earth. An endless universe. All these discoveries rocked people of faith... but they weren't personal.

Evolution is. Evolution is about US. Not the planet. Not the stars. Not micro or macro-cosmic physical forces. US. You and me. Your mom. My grandpa. All of us.

The central revelation (heh heh) of evolution is that we humans are mere animals, developing from previous forms of animals. "We are in the world, not of it" as the devout old saying went. But now we know better; we ARE of it. We arose from it.

That is the difference, and the danger, of the news Darwin brought. It's not that we came from apes, but that we still ARE apes.

Steven said...

Anonymous: I sure wish you knew who your "opponent" was. Is it just the people with abhorrent beliefs, or is it the entire body of spiritual people you attack by dismissing their personal observations and values as products of "an invisible man in the sky"? If your opponents are solely of the former group, why attack the latter? And if your opponent is everyone who believes in God, whether or not they also do abhorrent things, your stated reason for opposition is false; what's the real reason?

Also, if observing religious people who use their beliefs to justify killing and other abhorrent behavior makes you want to eradicate belief, what happens when you observe religious people who help others in need? Christians have been running formal and informal charities, literacy programs, patronage of the arts, secular community outreach, et cetera for centuries. Most Christians people know are more likely to be involved in something that than in criminal or even political activity. If you're guilty of the strawman argument described in the post, you'll refuse to acknowledge that such Christians even exist; if not, surely your opinion of them should inform your views of Christianity at least as much as murderers and crusaders.

paul said...

Nadingo - I'm allowing Christianity to be defined as 'liberal' forms versus 'illiberal' or conservative forms. Demographically, and logically, liberal Christianity will slowly wane until it's non-existent (in roughly 2100). And when speaking of 'actual' Christianity I was actually thinking of high Anglicans, Orthodox, and Catholics ... American Christian evangelicals are more like a Gnostic cult that uses an English translation of the Bible as a fetish or talisman, etc.

Joseph said...

I think it's important to point out for the sake of this conversation that there are a great many people, perhaps billions, all over the world, who do believe that bushes can spontaneously burst into flame and start talking to you, and that a man did once walk on the water. Among other, not necessarily Christian but equally nutty things to be believed.

I don't know what atheists you talk to but personally I'm probably going to go for the sillier things in the bible (such as Noah's arc, or the claim that the world is 6,000 years old, etc) before I start talking about evolution.

There is an ever present assault on science and freedom of thought in this country. Look at what's happening in Texas with the school board putting their I Love Jesus paintbrushes on kids' textbooks. I'm more than willing to be an annoying atheist if that means there are voices from the minority crying out against this because these touted religious moderates are either entirely apathetic or failing us spectacularly.

Mark said...

I think there's a more than a little defective logic in this post as well. You say that "The history of the world teaches us that [maintaining a separation between Church and state] is best accomplished not through atheism but through religious moderation."

Well, duh. Across most of the arc of history you're describing, religious belief was virtually universal! The atheists didn't have much to do with anything because there weren't any. I don't think that says anything useful about what could be accomplished by a critical mass of atheists in a modern society.

Some of your tactical points are well taken, but you seem to propose them as an exclusive alternative to using logic to undermine religious belief. It seems pretty obvious to me that atheists should selectively employ both approaches: supporting religious moderates who argue for church/state separation withing their own traditions AND working towards the sort of enlightenment that would render the need for church/state separation moot.

Anonymous said...

I mostly agree, however.... a few caveats:

It isn't the justification that matters.

Uh, yeah, actually it does. The justification given for an action is usually the reason the action was done in the first place (Although this is obviously not always true). If we simply ignore the reasons given for "violent action A" and more and more people begin referencing said reasons as the basis for their specific violent acts, then it would be nothing short of willful ignorance for us to simply declare that said justification doesn't matter, especially if we seek to understand the motivations that underlie certain violent acts (Something I'm particularly an advocate of). Of course, you are correct that such violent actions are illegal and immoral regardless of the justification given, but that in no way suggests we should simply brush these types of justifications aside as though they have no meaning what-so-ever.

The history of the world teaches us that this is best accomplished not through atheism but through religious moderation.

While I would agree with your sentiment in general, looking at history as your guide in this strikes me as awkward. Atheists were rarely, if at all, prominent in any meaningful capacity in whatever part of history you're likely to cite. If they dared to speak out, they were persecuted. The recent exposure of Atheists into the mainstream is incredibly recent.

Simple: by arguing that his religious beliefs are inappropriate justification in political discourse in a democracy, the same way we have been doing for hundreds of years.

This is, to be honest, the same kind of naivete that characterized the reader response you're answering. His specific example, of a person who believes there should be a religiously mandated death penalty for gays and lesbians, is quite clearly an example of the same type of extremist, fundamentalist religious type you said were "immune to convincing" in the paragraph above this.

And this is where you and I part ways somewhat. I agree with you that many prominent Atheists have the wrong idea. Aggressive argumentation, snark and derision will only be met with more of the same from the other side. That's pretty self explanatory. However, the tactic that you espouse will only find success amongst those who are already sympathetic to religious moderation (or practicing such a thing themselves). I grew up in an Evangelist household, and if there's one thing I can say about my experience in being one myself at one point, and of dealing with many people who were like me, it is that fundamentalists of any stripe have almost more contempt for their liberal counterparts than they do for outright non-believers. They view such proclamations of compromise made by their liberal brothers as quite simply, betrayal. And they would take a heavy handed plea for religious moderation, and for keeping religion out of politics, as an attack on their way of life. Fundamentalists, simply put, are generally not capable of separating religion from politics, precisely because they view their religion as all encompassing, and thus as a way to live life, not just a belief. This is why we're lucky to live in a country that inherited much of the Enlightenment thought that is sympathetic to religious freedom, because it is considered the "norm" for most people and thus we will likely always find a willing audience. However, the segment of this society that wishes to impose its religion on the rest of us.... you're not likely to win them over with the arguments you make, and as a matter of fact, they'll likely view you as just as dangerous as the non-believer (Because they would view you as having a hand in facilitating the spread of apostasy).

larryniven said...

"Killing your teenage daughter is illegal regardless of why you intend to do it."

Do you maybe mean "immoral"? Because often it is legal, and in many other cases it's neither legal nor illegal. Dunce.

Nikhil said...

Erm. The problem here is that there are large numbers of people who will not consider these things which are otherwise illegal/unacceptable as illegal when they are justified by religiousity. Which is why you will need to tackle the legitimacy of the religiosity itself. As you so smugly point out, these people have not been able to succeed in most (although it's not as though they haven't had any successes)issues in the US, but in many other countries, at least, this line of argument simply doesn't work.

Claudia said...

Well I'm the reader with the so called "terrible reading comprehension" that Freddie is talking about. I've explained several points of contention in a ridiculously long email to Freddie himself, but just to clear up a few concrete points:

- I'm 100% with Consumatopia in his or her comment. The contents of this latest post are obviously different from the last one. This post argues tactics in the fight against religious fundamentalism and attempts to argue that religion does not lie at the base of many social ills. Fair enough. I disagree on a great many points but its a legitimate argument. The previous post was entirely different and characterized activist atheists as people who define themselves as "something they are not" and go to atheist conventions to "sit around not believing in god". This is wildly inaccurate and seemed to find some sort of philosophical disorder in atheists who take a more active stance.
- Freddie is absolutely incorrect in his assumption about what I think is the proper strategy in this fight. Some people favor the encouragement of religious moderation, some the "pure reason" approach, some fight for greater acceptance of nonbelievers and others seek to directly and aggresively argue against religious beliefs. I favor the "all of the above" approach. You need the rabble-rousers AND the diplomats in any large social project.
-Insomuch as is possible, I think it would be better for all involved if we tried to keep the Holocaust out of any conversation that does not directly refer to, you know, the Holocaust.

Oh and uhm, I'm not a dude, though I recognize that this is a minor point indeed.

Benjamin Dueholm said...

I don't really have a place in a debate among enlightened atheists about whether a scorched-earth or benign-indifference policy towards us benighted religious folk is to be preferred, so I'll try to keep this brief. As you congratulate yourselves on the obvious moral superiority of "pure reason" and "Enlightenment values" over the barbaric darkness that preceded them, remember to add these things to the secular/Enlightenment/atheist side of the ledger:

*scientific racism
*imperialism
*the Terror
*Communism
*nationalism
*all the good and bad things associated with unconstrained markets and technology

And be sure to include, alongside all those beheadings and plane-crashings we dumb Christians are dreaming about, some things on the religious side:

*the university
*the patronage of virtually all culture and learning for a thousand years
*abolitionism
*women's suffrage
*the Civil Rights movement
*nonviolent resistance to colonialism around the world

Thank you.

Nadingo said...

Mark, if I understand you correctly, it sounds like you're proposing working collaboratively with religious moderates while at the same time trying to undermine the foundations of their religious belief. Do you not see the fundamental dishonesty inherent in this approach? It's really not much different from evangelicals who claim that converting others to their religion is the highest expression of love. If your mission shows a fundamental lack of respect for the way other people live their lives, why should they want to cooperate with you in any way?

Anonymous said...

Benjamin Dueholm:

I find it quite funny that you laundry list of "Yay Religion!" items include two of questionable merit and four that are distinctly post-Enlightenment and unarguably owe much to said Enlightenment values....

George From NY said...

Two parting shots...

1) Anon, give Benjamin a break; his list of repeatedly-debunked items is self-refuting. I mean, "Communism?" That old canard? Really?

2) Freddie's approving citation of Jacobson's Holocaust Denier remark - calling it a "perfect passage" - betrays a profound misunderstanding.

Many atheists DO know a lot about religious history, doctrines, social controversies, what have you. Indeed, in my experience they know more than most believers themselves do.

This is because they WERE believers once and on their way out they "hit the books" looking to answer the questions and doubts piling up in their minds.

The reason outspoken atheists can quote scripture chapter and verse is because they've studied it.

Being able to cite your sources is a sign of good scholarship and intellectual integrity - yet to Freddie this betokens some kind of morbid obsession or love/hate fixation? Wow.

On the sociopolitical front, atheists keep a close eye on religious movements and organizations because centuries of history show all too clearly what happens when such forces slip the leash.

To return to Jacobson... Atheists don't watch the religious the way anti-Semites watch Jews.

We watch the religious for the same reason Jews watch anti-Semites.

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