You're not Freud, you're not Sidney Friedman, you're not even Lucy Van Pelt
June 1, 2012 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Can we stop with bullshit, hateful mental illness accusations?

Hey, I read the profile of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and with all the posts in this thread from people who think Pentecostals are mentally ill and/or should all die, I too can make shit up that "proves" those posters themselves are mentally ill because they fit the profile.

Out of the 9 criteria in the DSM-IV, five must be met, (I looked this up on Wikipedia, so I think I'm knowledgeable enough to have my opinion be respected on this matter,)

1. "Has a grandiose sense of self-importance" (Since they believe that, even as a non-qualified professional, their diagnosis or opinion of a person or persons you never met having a mental illness is somehow valuable and worthy of contribution to a conversation.)

3. "Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)" (Like that their wish expressed in this thread, that those with differing beliefs, even if they don't materially effect them in anyway, should die.)

5. "Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations" (That their ability to eventually read something on Wikipedia or having interacted with schizophrenics makes them an expert, beyond, say, an actual professional therapist or psychaitrist.)

7. "Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others." (Isn't actually interested in helping the people they remotely diagnose, would just rather see them die.)

8. "Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitude." (Need I go on? It's soooooooo obvious.)

Can you even have a better explanation for their behavior?

Oh! I have one! Maybe they're jerks who shouldn't categorize all behavior they disagree with as mental illness, especially since

1. They aren't professionals,

and, even moreso,

2. It's pretty obvious that the motivation for such pseudo-diagnostics is not an actual attempt to explain abnormal behavior, but is from a desire to condemn and other the people that display such behavior as much as possible, up to and including wishing they were dead.

It has about as much worth in this conversation as my bullshit diagnosis I pulled from my ass. The difference is I'm not pretending my bullshit diagnosis is worth anything, and I'm not using it to conceal my contempt. My contempt is pretty naked, and people like c13 are shitting up the thread.

Can we seriously stop with the whole "I will diagnose people that I hate because it's a good avenue of attack?" It's one thing to say "That's crazy," it's quite another to pull some stuff off of Wikipedia in an attempt to give your hateful opinions some credibility. It's insulting and stigmatizing to users here who have mental illness, it makes any serious discussion of mental illness very difficult, and it derails other attempts at looking at the post topic.

Or is this just something I'm going to have to deal with? I'm not calling for mod action, except maybe calling people out on this a little more often.
posted by Snyder to Etiquette/Policy at 8:15 PM (666 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

Yes, many of the posters in that thread appear to fit those criteria... as does the original poster of this MetaTalk thread. Next.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:20 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


We left multiple callouts in that thread, though maybe the first one could have been earlier. I, too, find it distasteful.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:20 PM on June 1, 2012


Intermittent explosive disorder.
posted by Trurl at 8:22 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is it 'hateful' to say that handling poisonous snakes, with the intent to not get treated in the event of a bite, is a stupid thing to do?
posted by 0xFCAF at 8:24 PM on June 1, 2012 [16 favorites]


Given that most rattlesnake bites are NOT fatal, dying from them is not only a stupid thing to do, it's a HARD thing to do. These people really have to WORK at being stupid.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:25 PM on June 1, 2012


You're conflating multiple posters. Also, no one said that everyone who is a Pentacostal should all die. You have some valid complaints but you're being pretty hyperbolic which...is what you're complaining about. Maybe being as hyperbolic and dramatic as possible isn't the way to go for anyone.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:29 PM on June 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think it's a pretty messy thread in general. I dunno, I would have deleted it myself - super touchy topic with only two possible responses: "That's a shame", or "Those crazy bastards".
posted by smoke at 8:31 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a sidenote, I can't see this MeTa going any better with such ferocious framing and reasonably uncharitable reading of fellow mefites.
posted by smoke at 8:33 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


that thread is getting hella reddit.

the young rope-rider: "Maybe being as hyperbolic and dramatic as possible isn't the way to go for anyone."

it seemed to work well for FatherDagon.
posted by boo_radley at 8:33 PM on June 1, 2012


Oh and also it would be good if people didn't call other people spammers or say stuff like "If you had even bothered to read a wiki page about it, you would know that you are wrong." Let's not be assholes to one another or assume the most shittiest interpretation of those comments that disagree with us.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:33 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sam Kinison can speak for me. I'll leave the venomous snakes alone and I hope they extend me the same courtesy. Religious people? Fuck 'em.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:41 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would have deleted it myself

We were all looking at it but literally not a single person flagged it. Sometimes we'll make a judgment call if something has a few flags but in this case there was no indication that anyone but us found anything wrong with it. Maybe we'd do something different next time.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:44 PM on June 1, 2012


After reading parts of that thread, my night is actually worse, not the FPP mind you, but selective reactions to it.
posted by edgeways at 8:51 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the thread is valuable. Now we know which MeFites not to trust to call for a doctor at a meetup.
posted by michaelh at 9:04 PM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Huh. I always thought the 'pent' in 'pentecostal' referred to rage, but I guess not.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:13 PM on June 1, 2012


naw, it refers to the pentecost, which is where the holy spirit was like "yo, speak in tongues and everyone can hear you also flames on your heads for some reason. but look just talk about jesus a lot and don't worry about the weird sounds coming out of your mouth."
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:17 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


InsertNiftyNameHere: "Religious people? Fuck 'em."

We love you too.
posted by zarq at 9:20 PM on June 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


I thought it must be related to penta- meaning five, but didn't really think it through beyond that.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:26 PM on June 1, 2012


Oh and also it would be good if people didn't call other people spammers or say stuff like "If you had even bothered to read a wiki page about it, you would know that you are wrong."

That was me who said that. I acknowledged I was wrong in the thread, although (as mobunited pointed out) I really meant it as "you don't know what you are talking about" since the person I was responding to was under a mistaken belief about snake handling and making conclusions based on that mistaken belief. For some reason, that thread upset me more than any other thread I've participated in on Metafilter since I joined (and I seriously don't know why it upset me so much exactly). I hope my contributions were not inflammatory, as I truly tried to curb my worst instincts and to respond primarily in a direct but respectful way.
posted by Falconetti at 9:30 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah but I don't see really why you thought they were wrong or that they have a mistaken belief, except that you didn't like the implied judgment of that belief. I really appreciate that you're being chill about this and I'm not trying to make you feel bad, nor do I think it's a huge deal, but this happens a lot in religious threads and it bugs. Namely, people basically equate not liking/respecting a belief with not understanding it, when there isn't really evidence that there's a lack of understanding there.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:37 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


smoke: "I think it's a pretty messy thread in general. I dunno, I would have deleted it myself - super touchy topic with only two possible responses: "That's a shame", or "Those crazy bastards"."

I read threads like that and wonder if it is worth asking the mods to add "Those crazy bastards" to "Look at these assholes" as an insta-delete reason. There's little that can be said about the incident that is constructive or enlightening.

jessamyn: " Sometimes we'll make a judgment call if something has a few flags but in this case there was no indication that anyone but us found anything wrong with it. Maybe we'd do something different next time."

It's being used as an outlet by the usual suspects to grind their axes and go for lowest common denominator lulz. Of course they didn't flag it. Those folks saw it as an opportunity to troll for favorites. And hey look, it worked. Go figure.

I've just happened upon the thread and flagged it thanks to this Meta. So that's one.
posted by zarq at 9:39 PM on June 1, 2012


Those folks saw it as an opportunity to troll for favorites. And hey look, it worked. Go figure.

At some level if it's a despicable thread that the people in it seem to enjoy doing whatever they do inside of, that becomes a tricky issue from a moderation perspective. No one flagging the thread but a lot of people flagging a lot of the comments just leads to a pain-in-the-ass moderation babysitting exercise and the usual "this is the sort of thing MeFi doesn't seem to be able to do well" assessment and more likelihood that we'll just preemptively delete something like it next time.

And I assume you know that adding one flag at this point isn't really going to do anything. At best we can decide what to do about this sort of thing next time, but I wish more people who had happened upon that thread and found it distasteful had flagged it at the time.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:48 PM on June 1, 2012


the young rope-rider, I don't feel bad about anything you've said, but I wasn't equating disrespecting a belief with not understanding a belief. I don't want to belabor the point, but a commenter made the statement that snake handling pentecostals believe that god will protect them from being bitten or injured and that is just not true. In actuality, Pentacostal snake handlers do not believe this. This is stated in the OP's links, so it does not even necessarily require specialized knowledge. I'll drop this now (both here and in the original thread) because it is not really responsive to the concerns raised in this MetaTalk.
posted by Falconetti at 9:51 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looking back, the post itself was pretty weak. The first article consists of a photographer defend her willingness to watch a man die when she could have dialed 911. The second link dives deeper, but at first glance seems like it is just a wikipedia bio. I skipped over it entirely until just now.

A much better post would have used multiple sources, and included background information on snake handling and Pentecostal beliefs below the fold. As it is, we had to wait for mobunited's explanation several hours later.


Better framing may have helped, but I'm not sure it would have avoided the impasse between those who assert that all religious beliefs must be respected, and those who find it acceptable to point out beliefs that they believe are silly, stupid or harmful.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:52 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


What got me was that c13 claims to be an MD, which with their clearly profound disgust for the mentally ill as well as for their neighbors in the region they list in their profile, really disturbed me. That is until I remembered that they do in fact teach basic psychiatric concepts in med school, woefully inadequately but no where near this bad, that graduating with an MD requires at least enough awareness and self esteem to take out the [edit] bits stolen from wikipedia, and that those examples he gave were just so trite, convenient and logistically unlikely for someone not a specialist in a major city.

I am no longer really concerned for c13's patients, c13 is clearly as much an MD as I am an astronaut.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:53 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


I found the article to be really interesting and braced myself for the thread... I didn't do nearly enough bracing.

As I mentioned in-thread, it hits way close to home for me and the comments about wishing people with these beliefs would die... Yeah, that's something literally happening in my family.

Weirdly, the mental illness derail didn't get my hackles up much - probably just because it happens in a lot of religious threads that don't even have snake handling.
posted by sonika at 9:55 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think there's been a lot of problematic talk both on the blue and the green about mental illness. Ranging from advice like, "Don't date crazy people" to folks asking questions about what diagnosis they can use as an insult. And then in threads where people are having problems with a mentally ill family member who is not in treatment, there can be a lot of blame and anger directed at, say, a BPD mom.

Having had pretty shitty parents myself, both of whom were certainly struggling with untreated mental illnesses when I was a kid, I understand the impulse to lash out at people with terms like NPD or BPD. But I think that it would be a great goal to try to keep discussion of mental illness respectful, and be mindful that lots of us on MeFi have PTSD or depression or bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.

And no, mental illness should never ever be used as an accusation of some sort, or as a dismissal. It's a fucking tragedy, and I would very much appreciate it if we could all keep that in mind, even when making seemingly harmless jokes.
posted by brina at 9:55 PM on June 1, 2012 [25 favorites]


Yeah, seems like a shame nobody flagged it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:55 PM on June 1, 2012


Thread's pretty horrible.
posted by rtha at 9:55 PM on June 1, 2012


"this is the sort of thing MeFi doesn't seem to be able to do well" assessment

Has there ever been a topic that MeFi "didn't do well" that eventually started being done well? Nothing comes to mind. Which makes me wonder what the future site will be like....some vast implicit list of things that aren't done well and therefore can't be talked about? That sounds like a family reunion for some kind of emotionally stunted New England clan.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:56 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: a family reunion for some kind of emotionally stunted New England clan.

Sorry, but I can't help myself.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:59 PM on June 1, 2012 [22 favorites]


I normally hate the metafilter:_____ with a firey passion, but I'll forgive you just this once.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:02 PM on June 1, 2012


That sounds like a family reunion for some kind of emotionally stunted New England clan.

We traditionally sit around and watch Danny Kaye movies. If Nana offers you something to eat, don't take it - her cooking is inedible.
posted by sonika at 10:03 PM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


What got me was that c13 claims to be an MD, which with their clearly profound disgust for the mentally ill as well as for their neighbors in the region they list in their profile, really disturbed me

Uhem, I'll let the rest be, but I don't really have a profile, much less express a disgust for my neighbors, whom I've never been in contact with. Besides, my location is years out of date. It is realky affecting you way too much.
posted by c13 at 10:04 PM on June 1, 2012

And no, mental illness should never ever be used as an accusation of some sort, or as a dismissal. It's a fucking tragedy, and I would very much appreciate it if we could all keep that in mind, even when making seemingly harmless jokes.
While there were some people who were being disrespectful with the mental illness angle, I don't think I am the only one in the thread who sees the culture of snake handling as a response to untreated mental illness. And a tragedy. Maybe that didn't come across clearly and my first comment seemed too jokey.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:04 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


jessamyn: " At some level if it's a despicable thread that the people in it seem to enjoy doing whatever they do inside of, that becomes a tricky issue from a moderation perspective. No one flagging the thread but a lot of people flagging a lot of the comments just leads to a pain-in-the-ass moderation babysitting exercise and the usual "this is the sort of thing MeFi doesn't seem to be able to do well" assessment and more likelihood that we'll just preemptively delete something like it next time.

From a member's perspective, (at least one who doesn't want to intentionally make your lives more difficult,) I'd rather productively discuss whether "gawk at the crazies" threads should be pre-emptively deleted rather than turning each of them into a situation you'd want to avoid.

These sort of posts don't start well or end well. And this post combined a couple of topics that members of this site aren't really good at discussing without arguments: religion, fundamentalism, "G-d will save me from my own stupidity," and apparent negligence on the part of the photographer. All of which resulted in a needless death. The outcome was predictable.

And I assume you know that adding one flag at this point isn't really going to do anything.

A boy can dream. There's precedent, perhaps. I've seen y'all delete threads with more than a hundred comments in them before. Rarely, but it has happened. Also, it would not surprise me if y'all shut down a thread like this one because it's Friday night and it has turned into the sort of thread you wouldn't want to babysit all weekend. In your place, I wouldn't want to either.

You've had to leave two notes in the thread and we now have a Metatalk post about it, which collectively sucks for you to have to deal with. Yet the thread is not improving.

At best we can decide what to do about this sort of thing next time, but I wish more people who had happened upon that thread and found it distasteful had flagged it at the time."

Me too.
posted by zarq at 10:05 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I enjoyed the linked article--it was surprisingly sympathetic and kind of sad. No, I guess it doesn't leave room for the most interesting conversations in the world but I'm glad mudpuppie made the post. It's interesting and tragic.

The thread attached to it looks a bit of a trainwreck. I guess that's probably to be expected, but I don't think it has to be.
posted by byanyothername at 10:19 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I posted that thread. I did so because...

A) I find American subcultures I know little about fascinating, and I can be fascinated with them without judging them (frustrated holder of a BA in American Studies).

B) I totally empathized with the photojournalist, and am not sure what I would have done in the same situation (incapable of seeing things in black and white).

C) I expected it would be approached by the community with a similar perspective (totally wrong and short-sighted).

I am totally find if it's deleted. You can put "poster's request" as the reason, with an exclamation point.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:20 PM on June 1, 2012 [22 favorites]


I can be fascinated with them without judging them

I'm fascinated too, but its more of the "can't stop staring at at car crash" type of fascination. Now add in a lot of pre-crash declarations about how those cars could have never ever crashed. The greeks made the word hubris for a reason you know.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:28 PM on June 1, 2012


I don't think I am the only one in the thread who sees the culture of snake handling as a response to untreated mental illness

Mental illness doesn't work that way. If it is not causing distress or meeting Involuntary Commitment standards (and snake handling is risky but not suicidal, so no it doesn't meet criteria), then we leave it alone. People are allowed to climb mountains, ski in dangerous places, go on hikes where there is risk of death, drink too much, and engage in other risky, potentially fatal behaviors without having their freedom removed. Removing someone's freedom should be a high standard to meet, and with the budget cuts over the last few years, it's become much higher.

Don't
Diagnose
Strangers
On
The
Internet

It's wrong, it's bullshit, it trivializes the complicated process of figuring out if something is a mental illness, and it increases the stigma for people with a mental illness who really don't deserve insults on top of their difficulties with living right now.

My job is to deal with people who have florid delusions and hallucinations. I'm good at it, I love my clients, and no - their delusions are not the same as Belief System You Don't Like. Don't use their symptoms as a way to insult people who practice according to Belief System You Don't Like, it is using the vulnerable as a weapon that hurts them, too.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:33 PM on June 1, 2012 [99 favorites]


the young rope-rider, I don't feel bad about anything you've said, but I wasn't equating disrespecting a belief with not understanding a belief. I don't want to belabor the point, but a commenter made the statement that snake handling pentecostals believe that god will protect them from being bitten or injured and that is just not true. In actuality, Pentacostal snake handlers do not believe this. This is stated in the OP's links, so it does not even necessarily require specialized knowledge. I'll drop this now (both here and in the original thread) because it is not really responsive to the concerns raised in this MetaTalk.

Okay but the second link says
Each Labor Day weekend, the church has hosted a well-documented “homecoming” for snake handlers, who believe that Mark 16:17-18 mandates that true Christians “take up serpents and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.”

Wolford’s mission in life is to make sure that this custom, which he learned from his parents, survives for another generation.

“Anybody can do it that believes it,” he says. “Jesus said, ‘These signs shall follow them which believe.’ This is a sign to show people that God has the power.”
Then this:
Mack Wolford cares. When asked, he’ll display four spots on his right hand where copperheads have sunk their fangs. Like other Pentecostal snake handlers, he doesn’t seek antivenin medication when bitten but relies on God to heal him. “There’s a lot of pain,” he says. “For the first couple of weeks, you swell up and break out in hives.”
And then you said that looking at the wiki would disabuse them of that notion but the wikipedia article says the same thing as the above quotes so...I'm really just not seeing what you're getting at here unless you're splitting some fine theological hairs.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:38 PM on June 1, 2012


The post itself was totally fine and I'm glad I got the chance to read the article.

At some point once the comments get that irredeemable, though, it seems like the most merciful thing to do is just to cauterize the whole thing, regardless of how blameless and unflagged the post itself is.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:41 PM on June 1, 2012


This is starting to feel like the plot of that 30 Rock episode, "Idiots Are People Two!"
But Liz makes a critical mistake when, in her public statement on the matter, she calls Tracy an idiot. Tracy decides to fight back, claiming that, as an idiot, he’s the member of a marginalized group. He and his fellow idiots—including, but not limited, to Parrotheads, frat guys, anti-vaccine activists, people who won’t shut up about scuba diving, and Denise Richards—stage demonstrations outside 30 Rock.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:47 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


And the hammer comes down...
posted by Chekhovian at 10:51 PM on June 1, 2012


I deleted it. I hope people who were going nuts in there will take this opportunity to spend their Friday night/Saturday doing something more satisfying.

Please don't use this thread to continue the same fight. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:53 PM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


something more satisfying

My curiosity still what the long term strategy is for these sorts of "MeFi doesn't do them well issues". Historically has the number of these issues grown or stayed at roughly the same fraction of other posts? If it is growing, what is the game plan? day by day, hold the line, or hope that things improve on their own, or wait for some huge leap forward in discussion technology?

Maybe you should have a mod retreat at a tropical resort every couple years to do your deep thinking about the future of the site.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:02 PM on June 1, 2012


Thanks, Taz.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:11 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is it 'hateful' to say that handling poisonous snakes, with the intent to not get treated in the event of a bite, is a stupid thing to do?

I have no problem with that. I think it's pretty darn dumb myself. But I don't think that playing the "crazy" card in a discussion about religion and/or atheism (and advocates of religion go there as well) does anyone any favors. Especially not those of us who have a few extra bats in the belfry resulting in some complex relationships with faith and skepticism.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:12 PM on June 1, 2012


(You forgot the exclamation point.)
posted by mudpuppie at 11:13 PM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe you should have a mod retreat at a tropical resort every couple years to do your deep thinking about the future of the site.

Maybe easily triggered members/observers (myself included definitely) could do some introspection more frequently? Why does it have to be up to the mods to control behavior?

maybe it would be easier than asking us to control ourselves -- history, triggers, and all
posted by timfinnie at 11:14 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


All I can say is that thread confirmed for me that I should just avoid any thread on Metafilter that has anything to do with religion, because it will bring out the most snide, hateful, and callous on this site to come gather round and high-five each other over how those nutty religious folks are stupid and mentally ill, and if they die a painful death, well, good riddance. And then justify this behavior by saying it's nothing compared to what right-wing fundies are doing in America or whatever. Yes, you're right, your disgusting comments are nothing compared to the likes of Operation Rescue, and it doesn't make your despicable behavior any less despicable. Just because you don't believe in a deity doesn't mean your hateful othering is somehow more enlightened.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:56 PM on June 1, 2012 [37 favorites]


It's a pity, though understandable, that the thread was deleted, since the post itself was interesting and there were some highly informed comments, some relevant personal experiences, some wider political insight, some people thinking through their reaction etc. Such comments are examples of what keeps me coming back to Metafiler. The behaviours that frequently make me walk away from Metafilter include uncaring ignorance, lulz about tragedy, eliminationalism, trivialisation of mental illness and classism, all sadly on display there.

I don't much like Metafilter snark even when it's aimed at those who abuse great power, believing that there are far more productive ways to react to such evils. To see it directed at grieving poor people is more than a little distasteful. As Falconetti said in the thread, I'd rather spend an afternoon with the oddballs who pick up snakes than those who gloat over other's deaths from their macbooks. I'm reminded of the Baby Faith incident.

On Thursday, I read the 'Backdoor in FPGA chips' thread and thought, "Agenda-furthering snark rather than informed analysis. Still, a few informed comments towards the end. There will be something better tomorrow." On Friday, I read the 'Polish Death Camps' thread and thought "Parochial, ignorant snark rather than informed analysis. There will be something better tomorrow." I woke up this morning, read "I will openly ENCOURAGE a snake-handler to die for his faith" and suspect it would be wise for me not to open Metafilter tomorrow.

To say Metafilter 'doesn't do something well' is a nice formulation which is functionally equivalent to saying that this 'community' is incapable of an adult discussion on various topics. It's a point of shame, as much as the high points of Metafilter are a point of pride.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 12:15 AM on June 2, 2012 [35 favorites]


I have no objection to deleting a thread that is 12 hours old and has attracted 100+ comments. Personally, I think that if something is delete-worthy then it ought to be deleted no matter how much time passed or how many people commented before a moderator saw it. It does seem like a significant break from how things usually work, though (even comparing mod comments in this thread), and there's value in consistency.

I'm also generally opposed to "poster's request" being a reason to delete a MetaFilter post. The fact that posters are discouraged from "threadsitting" seems, at least to me, one point of evidence that once an FPP is posted, it belongs to the community. It's not AskMe.

Neither point is a complaint, really. This was a deletion I happened to agree with, anomaly or not, and "poster's request" isn't common but it also isn't new. Just adding my two cents.
posted by cribcage at 12:22 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is it 'hateful' to say that handling poisonous snakes, with the intent to not get treated in the event of a bite, is a stupid thing to do?

It's not hateful if you frame it being dumb in the same way dropping a tab of LSD and going hiking alone in the bush is dumb, even if you think it will inspire an artistic breakthrough.

It is hateful if you frame it as being dumb because all y'all are dumb, on account of your abject cultural inferiority, and also I'm glad your Dad died.
posted by mobunited at 12:27 AM on June 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


being dumb because all y'all are dumb, on account of your abject cultural inferiority

I think that's a rather unfair characterization of the "pushback" on that thread. I thought the most sympathetic part of the commentary was the point that those people have grown up entirely in that worldview, and that they haven't really made those decisions in a "well-informed" fashion. They've had people telling them to drink the poison all their lives.

That's the tragedy.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:46 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The whole world's mad, 'cept for me an' thee. And I've got me doubts about thee.

- old Yorkshire saying.
posted by Decani at 12:50 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


once an FPP is posted, it belongs to the community

Generally, you're right about that cribcage, at least once it's well underway. Sometimes people regret posting right away, and we're usually okay with deleting then. Sometimes the discussion just doesn't follow a pattern the OP would have preferred, but if it's otherwise viable, we are less likely to do a poster-request delete in an established thread. This one began with concerns about it on the admin side, then graduated into a lot of spite and anger, a shitstorm discussion, alienation of members, this Metatalk, and OP saying close it already.

So in terms of this one being something a bit of an outlier, I'm really okay with it. The damage inflicted already has been more than enough, and it's something that if it had been treated as mods'-call only would have been deleted far earlier.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:05 AM on June 2, 2012


They've had people telling them to drink the poison all their lives.

They have not. Wolford's own family did not participate. The pulpit includes a disclaimer about doing it.

He also did not want certain people touching the snakes in case they get bitten, and his congregation handle the snakes cautiously, in a way a professional reptile handler characterized as skilled.

The hard question we must ask is why, in the face of these words in the linked article, the reflex to observe the stereotype of a backwoods preacher forcing his isolated family to do it keeps working.

Then we have to ask that if it is possible to hold this belief even in spite of the information at hand, what else we treat the same way.
posted by mobunited at 1:07 AM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Maybe easily triggered members/observers (myself included definitely) could do some introspection more frequently? Why does it have to be up to the mods to control behavior?

posted by timfinnie at 7:14 AM on June 2


BLESS YOU.

It is hateful if you frame it as being dumb because all y'all are dumb, on account of your abject cultural inferiority, and also I'm glad your Dad died.
posted by mobunited at 8:27 AM on June 2


Calling something what it is, is not hateful. It's honest and, in cases where the dumb thing endangers itself or others, commendable.

I actually am glad my dad died because he was senile/crazy, not enjoying life and making my mother's life hell.
posted by Decani at 1:11 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The damage inflicted already has been more than enough, and it's something that if it had been treated as mods'-call only would have been deleted far earlier.

I don't understand what this means. Who else's call was it?
posted by andoatnp at 1:14 AM on June 2, 2012


The links in themselves were not problematic, and the post wasn't flagged, so instead of deleting purely on "Metafilter doesn't do anything at all related to religion well" pre-emptive grounds, we did a wait-and-see. If it had been flagged like crazy, it would have been "we don't think this is going to go well, and it looks like a lot of people agree."

As Jess said upthread:

We were all looking at it but literally not a single person flagged it. Sometimes we'll make a judgment call if something has a few flags but in this case there was no indication that anyone but us found anything wrong with it. Maybe we'd do something different next time.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:25 AM on June 2, 2012


Calling something what it is, is not hateful. It's honest and, in cases where the dumb thing endangers itself or others, commendable.

No disagreement! But snake handling, while dumb, is about as dumb as a number of things that people don't hold in the same contempt.

I mean, if I slam my hand in a car door and say "FOR YOU JESUS," is there something exceptional compared to me doing it while yelling "TO THE EXTREME, DUDE," or "PERFORMANCE ART," really? What makes one statement worthy of getting out the DSM and cackling that somebody's hand is broken and they deserved it?

I actually am glad my dad died because he was senile/crazy, not enjoying life and making my mother's life hell.

You're allowed to say what you like about your Dad's death. This is somebody else's Dad.

I mean, has it really become necessary to say that you shouldn't be happy that other people died without an extraordinary reason?
posted by mobunited at 1:28 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I meant "allowed" in the manners sense, not the Passing Laws About Speech sense, BTW.
posted by mobunited at 1:29 AM on June 2, 2012


I'd like to emphasize that we won't be porting the original fight over here. This is not the place to continue the same discussion; you guys can email each other.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:31 AM on June 2, 2012


if I slam my hand in a car door and say "FOR YOU JESUS,"

I just wanted to say that this is funniest mental image I've had in WEEKS. In fact I'm probably going to start shouting "FOR YOU JESUS" after everything I do, at least for the next couple of days.

*Eats a sandwhich*

"FOR YOU JESUS!"
posted by Chekhovian at 1:35 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK, to bring it back to the general then, it sure sucks when people talk about how awesome it was that somebody died, as a general thing. I recognize there are exceptions regarding Real Bad People, and a fuzzy zone and gallows humour, but I don't think this guy was in that fuzzy zone, it wasn't really gallows humour, and I have no interest in reading about how great it was that somebody died because it advances an ideological position somehow, when such a person might have only been a dummy or irritant.
posted by mobunited at 1:38 AM on June 2, 2012


Were other people talking about being glad someone had died? On my read through at least there seemed to be a bit of "weeeeeeell, that's what happens when you..." but not really any "THANK GOD FOR NATURAL SELECTION!"
posted by Estraven at 2:21 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love Metafilter for three things mainly.

1) Great links to things on the web I would've otherwise missed
2) Being kept up to date on many/most important news events of the day
3) Great discussions surrounding topics that are important to me.

It's probably the discussions that I love the most, as they both help me understand what others feel/think and why, as well as help me understand and determine my own feelings and thoughts on things.

I regret and disapprove of anything that stands in the way of these discussions or that seeks to limit their scope or substance.
posted by Bort at 3:00 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


And just to clarify, I'm not talking about the moderation. It may seem heavy to some, especially compared to other sites, but it's what keeps Metafilter useable and I greatly appreciate it.
posted by Bort at 3:02 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Were other people talking about being glad someone had died? On my read through at least there seemed to be a bit of "weeeeeeell, that's what happens when you..." but not really any "THANK GOD FOR NATURAL SELECTION!"

There was definitely a "Darwin!" comment made (which was thankfully smacked down).
posted by emergent at 3:05 AM on June 2, 2012


Well, I didn't see anyone thanking God for it. I saw the Darwin one.
posted by Estraven at 3:11 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Were other people talking about being glad someone had died?

Yep.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:35 AM on June 2, 2012


Couldn't agree more with Busy Old Fool's comment.

Too, a sense that the things he touched on his examples are far more the exception than the norm, that this is more and more a place for mouthy brats.
posted by ambient2 at 4:15 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the snake handlers are theologically incorrect and can cite Scripture to back it up. But I was shocked at the venom in that thread.(pun intended.)


Maybe a little respect for fellow humanity could be expected around here? And yes it is rude and disrespectful from every angle to call these people mentally ill both to them and to the mentally ill themselves.

The word I would use is "deceived." Technical religious term in case you are wondering.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:30 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well said.

MeFi posters and commenters are almost uniformly awesome. They're an intelligent, reasonable bunch, and it's a truly rare subject that doesn't have at least one (and probably more than one) expert in the membership. They're well read and eloquent (many to the point of being gifted), able to move from laugh-out-loud funny to 'I been cutting onions, go away' effortlessly.

It's frustrating to see that kind of potential used to laugh at someone else's pain or wish them harm. You can chalk it up to human nature, but I believe human nature isn't something to accept, it's something to overcome, and if it's to be overcome in our lifetimes, it'll be by the kind of people who come here.
posted by Mooski at 4:48 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


> Has there ever been a topic that MeFi "didn't do well" that eventually started being done well?

We've had a run of religion-related threads that went well recently. MeFites can actually discuss contentious topics they disagree on without a lot of shit-throwing. (A lot of them can anyway.) It's here happened recently on the same topic.

Most of the shitstorm in this thread is attributable to a single user posting the same thing over and over again and trying to pick fights with other users. A lot other people had interesting things to say about it. So it's a shame what happened here.
posted by nangar at 5:30 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


err, "It's happened here recently"
posted by nangar at 5:31 AM on June 2, 2012


Huh. That thread was hateful, but there's a big gap between wondering about mental illness as an explanation for X behavior and HA HA CRAZY TIMECUBE PEOPLE HA

I've got diagnosed mental illness on both sides of my family tree. I am not an MD PsyD, or whatever the hell, so I can't diagnose, but when an undiagnosed member of the family engages in bizarre behavior, of course I wonder, hmm.

Using accusations of mental illness as a cudgel is hateful. Speculating about whether a mental illness is in play -- Jesus, if I didn't do that in my own life, I would view certain folks as merely cruel. Which is a lot less empathetic, IMO, than wondering about state of minds.

However, I am not a religious person, so I may be tone deaf when it comes to religion/mental illness accusations.
posted by angrycat at 5:50 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe you should have a mod retreat at a tropical resort every couple years to do your deep thinking about the future of the site.

We have discussed this idea a decent amount. Besides the amusing "well then there would be no one to run the site!" issue, it's tough to find time for six people with busy schedules to even cover the site regularly much less take a "vacation" anywhere. I think part of the problem is that for a lot of us, it's tough to even define what would make a good retreat idea, much less finding the time. As much as I adore my colleagues here, any sort of "We're going to go someplace nice and then do work all that time" only sounds sort of fun. But if we leave it up to having those meetings virtually, we never get around to it. I'm in favor of the idea generally, just explaining why it hasn't happened.

Has there ever been a topic that MeFi "didn't do well" that eventually started being done well?

Yeah, a few actually. This thread was odd for how many times we stepped in and how it continued to go badly. Often topics like rape, religion and Israel have a tendency to be touchy but people have gone through the time/effort required to make good posts and there have been some really good threads on these topics. Likewise the gender threads. Some go well, others go less well. Really one of the hallmarks of "this is going terribly" is when we start to see a few people getting into a long back and forth shouting match with each other. This is a sign of badness. We've been trying to step in and leave notes asking people to cool it instead of deleting comments which, if they weren't part of a long thread-monopolizing discussion, would be okay.

This has had mixed success. When people get really wound up they have a really difficult time cooling it and don't see the utility of greater site harmony when someone is wrong on the internet. The bulk of my mod time over the past few days has been babysitting this sort of nonsense in a few angry threads. It might have been easier to delete threads and/or comments and/or offer timeouts but that seems more punitive than usual and comes with its own backlash. So we'll tweak things a little and maybe see if there's another way to approach this sort of thing. Maybe be a little more hardass with "Hey you can't seem to stop this argument so we'll stop it for you" or something. The big issue is, when someone is really het up about a discussion they're having with someone, it's exactly the worst time for you to give them the day off or, sometimes, call them out and tell them to knock it off in the thread. They're already irritated/angry, now they just focus that attention on the mod team and not the other person.

So, we muddle through it but this was just one of a few threads that were going badly and generally speaking we haven't had too many of those "MeFi doesn't do this well" threads that actually went badly.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:17 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought it must be related to penta- meaning five, but didn't really think it through beyond that.

You're familiar with the term bicoastal? Well, there you go.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:36 AM on June 2, 2012


I think the snake handlers are theologically incorrect and can cite Scripture to back it up

I admit, this line made me laugh uproariously.

As to the topic, I think an interesting conversation could have been had about the intersection of freedom of religion and our secular moral duties to protect each other from harm. In Canada there have been a series of interesting legal cases about whether the state can compel the children of jehova's witnesses to receive blood transfusions that are necessary for their survival.. the basic principle was that yes, the state has a duty to intervene to protect the health of the child, even where in contradicts the religious values of the parents, though of course they cannot compel an adult to receive the same kind of treatment.

In any event, I have the faith (sorry) that MeFi can have these kinds of discussions at some point.
posted by modernnomad at 6:57 AM on June 2, 2012


I know this thread is for going over the problems in the thread, but I do want to thank mobunited for this post (linked above by other posters) and this post, which were real attempts to clarify what these sects believe about what they do, and clearly took time and effort to put together. I, for one, found them useful and positive.
posted by Wylla at 7:06 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's a shame that thread turned so shouty and silly. I found the linked articles deeply affecting and last night I could not stop thinking of the photographs and the surprisingly profound story they told. I'm an atheist and I have no love for religion, but this could have been a very interesting and thoughtful discussion instead of "lol crazy people" (and I usually AGREE with the "lol crazy people" assessment).
posted by biscotti at 7:07 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not enjoying the detached commentary if three recent death threads including this one and the face eating one and the Luka Magnotta one.

If we are going to post about strange deaths and murders perhaps we need to think about what will make that post unique and awesome beyond the bizarre nature of the deaths. To do so otherwise invites voyeurism, zombie lulz or amateur psycho-evolutionary posing. None of that is unique on the web. What can we do with these topics that IS unique?
posted by salishsea at 7:09 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Modernnomad,no reason to laugh. Even if you aren't a believer you could follow a logical argument based on the Bible as a whole and not certain texts out of context or as a whole. For that matter the passage they use to back themselves up is noted in most Bibles as an addition to the text. In other words not all scholars agree it should be there.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:15 AM on June 2, 2012


To make a long story short an argument could and should be made that they do not and should not need or want to handle snakes to honor God. That passage should be read in context as to what happened with Paul in Malta (book of Acts.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:19 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


>We were all looking at it but literally not a single person flagged it. Sometimes we'll make a judgment call if something has a few flags but in this case there was no indication that anyone but us found anything wrong with it.

Maybe I'm not the only one who just doesn't read things that I have a sense will have no reasonable comments in it. Or, when I find no reasonable comments, I shrug and move on without flagging it because there would be too much to flag. It'd be a fulltime job. Maybe it's me changing, or maybe the site has more crap on it than it used to, but a lot of things disappoint lately. Braying brigades. I cringe and move on. Who am I to try to influence the site?

I'm not feeling great because I had major surgery last week, but still this trend to the disappointing seems to have gone on longer than that.
posted by Listener at 7:37 AM on June 2, 2012


And, yes, comments on anyone's so-called obvious mental illness as a snarking criticism are very cringe-worthy.
posted by Listener at 7:39 AM on June 2, 2012


St. Alia, in addition to not carrying over arguments from that thread to here, this is also not the spot for theological debates/explanations on the subject.
posted by taz (staff) at 7:45 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


taz: "St. Alia, in addition to not carrying over arguments from that thread to here, this is also not the spot for theological debates/explanations on the subject."

Would you rather we start another thread? Because I don't really want St. Alia to be silenced from addressing the religious assholishness that was going on in that thread and is inevitably spilling over into this one.

I'm still shocked that Father Dagon's rank eliminationalist rhetoric is still standing in that thread.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:09 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Because I don't really want St. Alia to be silenced from addressing the religious assholishness

I don't really feel like the "I read the Bible correctly and snake handlers read it wrong" angle is really in addressing-religious-assholery territory, though, and that's what taz is talking about.

The tendency for Metatalk threads to turn into proxy discussions of topics that only came over to metatalk because the source discussion was going badly is a complicated and often not so great thing. It'd generally work better for folks to just try and not re-up the topic and stick to the actual meta aspect in here.

If there's some future thread about the comparative theology of e.g. pentecostal snake handlers vs. southern evangelicals or what have you, that'd be a good place for a discussion of it. This isn't that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:17 AM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't really want St. Alia to be silenced from addressing the religious assholishness

There are multiple ways to do that in this thread without talking about what the right/wrong way to read the bible is. This is a longstanding and deeply entrenched site issue and one that many people in this thread are already quite familiar with. Saying "Do not retread the same religious arguments" is pretty standard for here. Talking about specific things in that MeFi thread is what this MeTa thread is for.

People's faith traditions and beliefs are deeply personal things and while we can talk in a general sense about how this site treats people's faith traditions, or specific things that people said, it's way outside the scope of this MeTa to presume there is a correct way to view any particular faith tradition and it's necessary, mission critical, that people contextualize what they are talking about if they want to have that conversation.

St. Alia is not being silenced. She is a long standing member of this site who has a bit of a minority opinion in this regard. Just saying "The bible says this" is not a way to have any of the conversations that this thread is supposed to be for and it's totally appropriate for us to be keeping this thread from turning into the other thread because people still want to argue about the topic and not the meta-topic.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:30 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought it must be related to penta- meaning five, but didn't really think it through beyond that.

It means fiftieth day. Forty days between the resurrection and the ascension plus ten days between the ascension and the Holy Spirit showing up.
posted by michaelh at 8:38 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


St alias is the us interpretation: in the church of england they handle gerbils - admittedly not as dangerous, but usually a lot safer.
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:40 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


cortex: "I don't really feel like the "I read the Bible correctly and snake handlers read it wrong" angle is really in addressing-religious-assholery territory, though, and that's what taz is talking about. "

Maybe we're reading this differently but I saw St. Alia as addressing this,

modernnomad: " I admit, this line made me laugh uproariously. "

which is among other things very much not a hug, with a helpful explanation and a refusal to shout back.

Its be great if we could someday get a thread about comparative theology without non-theologically minded folks gloating over and encouraging the deaths of theologically minded folk, generally shitting in the thread, and getting so spittle-flecked that they forget that only religious folk are allowed to not be people here before moving on to the mentally ill. I'm not holding out much hope, however, particularly if religiously minded folk really are uniquely available for target practice here.

That metafilter seems to have a brigade of atheist zealots ready to don their asshats at a moments notice to aggressively shut down religious threads is very much a meta aspect here. If you guys don't want this thread to include that, I'm happy to start another one.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:43 AM on June 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


This topic, (diagnosing strangers over the internet) comes up all the time on Metafilter, not just in threads related to religion.

I really, REALLY wish that people would refrain from bringing up possible mental health diagnosis when discussing criminal cases. I think the latest George Zimmerman thread had references to his possibly "psychotic" or "paranoid" behavior, and explicit statements that he might have a mental illness. Beyond the fact that these traits usually show up BEFORE a really dramatic thing happens, if this is actual issue that regards the possible culpability of a defendant, the defense team is going to bring it up. If they don't bring it up, we can all probably just assume that if defendant is found guilty as charged, "mental illness" isn't an excuse.

This is very important to me because when we say, "that man did a terrible thing like murder, maybe he is ill" it implies that "ill people do bad things" which is actually, in my experience, pretty rare. Mentally ill people can be very difficult to have around but it has been my impression that they are enemies of themselves far more then they are of society. It is hard enough to receive compassionate support and care when you are mentally ill. Why add to the stereotypes that make it so hard?
posted by newg at 8:47 AM on June 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


So I think the main problem here is that even the medically accepted definition of "mentally ill" is something that's been changing over time, and probably will continue to change in the future. Read some Niven or maybe "Moving Mars" by Greg Bear and many other authors too. Their future earths have evolved to where getting moderately angry is a sign of "mental illness".

So when people ask these sorts of questions ie "Is that murderer mentally ill?", what I hear is the echoes of the future. And depending on how you define "mentally ill", well maybe he is.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


That metafilter seems to have a brigade of atheist zealots ready to don their asshats at a moments notice to aggressively shut down religious threads is very much a meta aspect here

It works in both directions, you know. See any Dawkins thread for evidence.
posted by empath at 8:54 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


And to quote Dave Barry:

"There's a fine line between hobby and mental illness"
posted by Chekhovian at 8:54 AM on June 2, 2012


I only brought up what I did to show you could disagree with the snake handlers without calling for their deaths or proclaiming them crazy.

One of the longstanding problems here is the inability for people to disagree without being disagreeable.

I didn't post on the original thread because a) I suspected I'd become a target and b) the whole thread was a trainwreck, period.

I personally feel that there shouldn't be any topic that couldn't be discussed calmly and rationally here. The atheists and the mockers of religion can restrain themselves, just as I have to restrain myself in certain ways. It is just as important for the nonreligious to understand how the faithful think as it is for folks like me to understand how THEY think. If an anthropologist can study, say, the cargo cult in a way where they treat the participants respectfully even though they see the cult itself as, well, silly, then people here can at the very least put their anthropologic hat on and learn about "others."

To put it plainly, just because you don't believe in what someone else believes doesn't give you the license here to be a total jerk. Just don't be a jerk. It's not that hard.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:57 AM on June 2, 2012 [19 favorites]


That metafilter seems to have a brigade of atheist zealots ready to don their asshats at a moments notice to aggressively shut down religious threads

This is a really, really serious thing here. I know the mods are well aware and do their best with it, but it winds up having to be addressed in pretty much every thread about religious matters, no matter what the religion. It's hard because the atheist angle is partly what makes MetaFilter such a great place in terms of, say, support for LGBT people. But even in those threads the sneering gets to me sometimes, and it always makes me think that these people are missing just as fundamental a part of their empathy and humanity as the really intense Christians.

I just got back from watching the graduation ceremonies at Harvard's school of Divinity and met many wonderful people, most of whom will go on to do many amazing things. It's a huge mistake to fool yourself into thinking that religious beliefs somehow cancel out someone's intelligence or the validity of their perspective.
posted by hermitosis at 8:58 AM on June 2, 2012 [33 favorites]


That metafilter seems to have a brigade of atheist zealots ready to don their asshats at a moments notice to aggressively shut down religious threads is very much a meta aspect here. If you guys don't want this thread to include that, I'm happy to start another one.

You can talk about that here if you want, though I'd hasten to add if you actually want to have a reasonable conversation you could stand to tone down your own rhetoric if you desire to have people to actually join you in an engaged conversation. This sort of thing is really not the best way to open a dialogue:

getting so spittle-flecked that they forget that only religious folk are allowed to not be people here before moving on to the mentally ill. I'm not holding out much hope, however, particularly if religiously minded folk really are uniquely available for target practice here.

Seriously, do not start another MeTa thread. You can talk about what you want here, or you can try. What you can't do is say "Well the bible says this" and then just sort of walk away. That's not having a discussion with people on MetaFilter, and that's what we asked people not to do.

MetaFilter has brigades of zealots period, of many stripes. Zealotry makes for terrible conversations with people who do not share your beliefs. People should get better at that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:00 AM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's a huge mistake to fool yourself into thinking that religious beliefs somehow cancel out someone's intelligence or the validity of their perspective.

At the continued risk of unmetaing this metatalk, that summary of most atheist pushback is incorrect. The vast majority of them do not seek to criticize individuals, nor question their sanity, ec etc. Only to attack the application of those beliefs by the state. As Jefferson said, so long as you neither break my arm nor pick my pocket, then go do whatever the fuck you want, I don't care.

Now there are always a few people that cross over into the bad tone you mention, but there are on your side too. You can't judge the mean based solely on the extremes. Now with regard to politics, we have a handy tool that does allow us to judge means. When people vote for regressive evil laws, well, then by the transitive property they become regressive and evil.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:05 AM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I do not think the beliefs one holds, religious or not, are a direct cause of assholishness. Conflating the two is a fallacy and renders poor conversation.

I argued for self-awareness in the thread. I learned nothing of substance about religion or atheism in the discussion, but I did have that little epiphany.
posted by salishsea at 9:05 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you vote for assholish policies...you're an asshole. (Ignoring of course the least of all evil choice that is pretty much necessary in this modern age).
posted by Chekhovian at 9:10 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


As to what the root cause of that assholishness is, that's a more sophisticated question.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:11 AM on June 2, 2012


Jessamyn, the "bible says" argument IS apropos if what you are discussing is (in my case) fellow believers. It's like two lawyers going up before the judge, arguing their cases from the same basis. When I quote it, I am not insisting that everyone here has to take my viewpoint; I am sharing that there IS a viewpoint held by a subgroup which I am a part of, and that subgroup sees something in a particular fashion. Hence, the atheist who thinks I am batshit crazy for believing the Bible will still learn that a subset of believers holds belief X because of such and such. The atheist is in no way obligated to share the viewpoint but he or she can learn the basis of the viewpoint as those who hold it understand it.

(I also think that for English speakers in general Biblical illiteracy can be problematic as so much of literature and language has roots in Biblical speech. Shakespeare for instance. But that's a discussion for another thread.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:12 AM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


First you have to confront and contain the two lesser evils and then combine them in a soulstone to form the prime evil, which you can then eliminate entirely.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:13 AM on June 2, 2012


I guess I should have been more clear. The reason the line about "and I can cite scripture to back it up" made me laugh was because that is precisely what the snake-handlers themselves would have said. It's a completely circular argument that can in no way result in a useful discussion on the merits of the topic, which as far as I understood was the appropriateness of standing by and watching someone die in the service of their religious beliefs.
posted by modernnomad at 9:14 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Modernnomad, I can understand why you made that statement but I disagree with it. Unfortunately biblical illiteracy is not confined to the irreligious. I better let it go at that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:16 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jessamyn, the "bible says" argument IS apropos if what you are discussing is (in my case) fellow believers. It's like two lawyers going up before the judge, arguing their cases from the same basis.

To me it's like two lawyers from two different countries arguing in some world court based on the laws of their respective countries without being explicit about what country they're from. If you're having a conversation with your fellow believers, this is appropriate perhaps. In a mixed group of believers and non-believers it's not okay and we've asked you politely to not do it here repeatedly. Feel free to hit us on on the contact form if there is a part of this that you do not understand.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:23 AM on June 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


What is the best way to signal to the mods that you think that the post itself is valid -- I'd been trying to figure out a post on this same subject, but hadn't found a way to frame it that wasn't likely to collapse into mockery -- but that early comments are turning it into a retread of old arguments by drawing up battle lines?

I flagged an early aggressive comment, rather than the post itself, then closed the tab and did something else rather than start yelling. Would it be better, next time, to flag the post itself and leave a message via the content form?
posted by frimble at 9:26 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Flagging a couple early bumpy/noisy/fighty comments is good if you see 'em. Best thing if it feels a little complicated is to just hit us up at the contact form, yeah; that way we know more explicitly what you're feeling like is happening instead of just guessing at the flags.

The refraining from starting yelling this is also of course always appreciated, so thank you for that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:33 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


There was a point in that thread where things could have been saved, where ThePinkSuperhero suggested that he'd rather handle snakes than cats. That's the argument we should have had.
posted by philip-random at 9:45 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm still profoundly unhappy that no one put in the Simpsons clip of Moe talking about snake handling.

But I guess that was hate speech by the writers, mocking someones beliefs and all.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:45 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The pink superhero is very much a SHE, Phillip-random.
posted by jonmc at 9:48 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


That metafilter seems to have a brigade of atheist zealots ready to don their asshats at a moments notice to aggressively shut down religious threads is very much a meta aspect here.

I’m not particularly religious, I agree, and I’m really tired of it. I have slightly less respect and patience for atheist zealots than I do for religious zealots, but really they’re two sides of the same coin. Tolerance should be the rule here, the hate and nonsense shouldn’t be accepted no matter what the source.
posted by bongo_x at 9:50 AM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


There are plenty of atheists, agnostics, etc. on this site who act respectfully on topics of faith, and post respectfully on threads of that nature.


To the people who do not? Since it's been proven it's possible, my suggestion you do as they do.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:52 AM on June 2, 2012


*is*
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:53 AM on June 2, 2012


jessamyn: "To me it's like two lawyers from two different countries arguing in some world court based on the laws of their respective countries without being explicit about what country they're from. If you're having a conversation with your fellow believers, this is appropriate perhaps. In a mixed group of believers and non-believers it's not okay and we've asked you politely to not do it here repeatedly. Feel free to hit us on on the contact form if there is a part of this that you do not understand."

This seems like a really weird and almost non-sequitor restriction to place on St. Alia. Alia is one of Metafilter's relatively few experts on her brand of Christianity, which is strongly related to the one being discussed, and the Bible is indeed authoritative to these strains of Christianity. Arguments from the authority that the bible does hold for both St. Alia and Pentecostals are indeed entirely relevant to explanations of Pentecostal theology. To use your analogy, banning arguments from the authority of the bible in threads related to Christian theology because most Mefites arn't Christian would be like banning arguments from the authority of Uzbeck law in a thread about an Uzbeckistani legal case because most Mefites arn't from Uzbeckistan. Even in a thread about an Uzbeck international dispute, Uzbeck law and customs would still be a relevant and important topic, particularly if we were lucky enough to have the perspectives of actual Uzbecks. If Metafilter somehow had a well established pattern of virulent hated towards anything Uzbeck, that would make protecting that perspective all the more important.

This site clearly has always had problem with people who act like assholes to St. Alia, but I disagree strongly that the only solution is to police St. Alia. No matter how much you guys get St. Alia to stick with threads people act like assholes to her in, or leave threads people act like assholes to her in, or back up her assertions with evidence, or not back up her assertions with the wrong evidence, and no matter how polite she becomes required to be to people acting like assholes to her, the root problem will still be there. I really appreciate the massive amount of work you guys put into helping the less cluefull among us fit in here, but that honestly has not been a problem with St. Alia in a long time.

Besides, if we really took this site's commitment to diverse perspectives seriously we'd have a lower standard for minority opinions not a higher one.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:03 AM on June 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


...particularly if religiously minded folk really are uniquely available for target practice here.

There have been plenty of heated discussions involving religion, but how are religious people "uniquely available for target practice" on Metafilter?

I have slightly less respect and patience for atheist zealots than I do for religious zealots, but really they’re two sides of the same coin.

The two sides of a coin phrasing here risks conveying a false equivalency that ignores the relations of power in the US when it comes to religious identity. Atheists face prejudice and discrimination, which is why they sometimes express anger. Tolerance requires allowing those who face inequity to voice their displeasure. And those arguments, I'd suggest, are often perceived as being more zealous than they actually are. This isn't to say that atheists viewpoints aren't being expressed in an unproductive fashion on Metafilter. Sometimes they are, but they aren't uniquely disruptive or equivilent to unproductive comments coming from a religious position.

This is why I think it'd help if claims about atheist hostility could be tied to specific textual evidence. For example, saying that one would encourage death for people of certain religious beliefs is beyond the pale. But I'm not seeing evidence that religious people, as Blasdelb suggests, are uniquely the target of hostility.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:07 AM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


It was my understanding that Alia was being asked to back off on the scriptural debate here as in here in this thread in Metatalk, not as in the site in general.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:08 AM on June 2, 2012


That metafilter seems to have a brigade of atheist zealots ready to don their asshats at a moments notice to aggressively shut down religious threads is very much a meta aspect here.

That goes both ways, and, in truth, a lot more hate is expressed towards atheists by Metafilter's brigade of theists and their apologists, as their behavior in this and previous Metatalk threads have amply and repeatedly demonstrated.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:09 AM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


This seems like a really weird and almost non-sequitor restriction to place on St. Alia.

Which is made difficult by our desire to not drag out long history explicitly in public. This is not a new thing, or new to her, and if we're going to continue to try and make this a thing where we meet in the middle to make it okay for her to be here that meeting-in-the-middle needs to happen on her end too. It's not a blanket proscription against discussion religious stuff, it's a "don't get into random religious/theological asides or arguments or drive-bys like you have a history of doing" thing.

This is independent of the general question of how religious/non-religious stuff plays out on Metafilter, and we'd really appreciate it if the two things could be left separate.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:11 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Besides, if we really took this site's commitment to diverse perspectives seriously we'd have a lower standard for minority opinions not a higher one.

This has very little to do with minority opinions and a lot to do with this MeTa thread not becoming a place to rehash arguments and talking points from the now-deleted MeTa thread. This is a thing we do in MeTa. There's a lot of backstory that we are not dredging up here. St. Alia is welcome to explain her beliefs or other Christian beliefs in threads where it's on-topic and appropriate. We're not banning anything. We're asking everyone in this thread to not dredge up the arguments from the deleted awful thread.

that honestly has not been a problem with St. Alia in a long time.

I would ask you and others politely to not start this line of discussion.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:12 AM on June 2, 2012


A good "Or Else" on the end of those kind of polite askings helps a lot.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:13 AM on June 2, 2012


I'd much rather see a straight-up answer along the lines of "I believe X about Y because of Z" than the usual mode of, "the problem with those people are... (but I refuse to talk about my own beliefs)."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:16 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Atheists face prejudice and discrimination, which is why they sometimes express anger.

Many radicals of all stripes say this exact thing.
posted by bongo_x at 10:21 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Arguments from the authority that the bible does hold for both St. Alia and Pentecostals are indeed entirely relevant to explanations of Pentecostal theology.

If it's fine for her to say how she interprets it, and it's fine for atheists to sigh over how silly the whole thing is.

I've noticed that the most interesting religious discussions are between people that don't particularly care one way or the other whether a religious belief is true or not. I prefer discussions that just treat religious belief as mythology, so you can clarify what people believe and why. I love learning about systems of belief.

Unfortunately, when you are dealing with actual believers, it can be hard to maintain that distance. Practicing Christians don't just hold beliefs, they act on the beliefs they hold, and those actions can cause real, negative consequences to others. If your are engaged in a political argument or a political movement, and those that oppose you are basing their opposition on the bible or religion, it seems like you would be tying one hand behind your back if you swear off attacking the foundations of those beliefs.

And it's also frustrating to see a bunch of religious people going back and forth for hundreds of comments without being able to chime in with your belief that the whole idea of religion is wrongheaded.

I just stopped posting in religious threads or reading them, for the most part, just because they generate so much heat and so little light.
posted by empath at 10:22 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Many radicals of all stripes say this exact thing.

Have you ever seen any of those "who would you trust the least" polls?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:22 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Many radicals of all stripes say this exact thing.

Pop quiz: in how many states is it illegal for atheists to hold public office?
posted by empath at 10:22 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another thread gone because commenters screwed it up.

What I didn't like about that thread had nothing to do with the links, but the ignorant comments completely lacking in empathy, the ones that seemed to revel in the deaths. It was like reading something straight out of Dickens. In fact, Scrooge's, "If they'd rather die, then they had better do it and decrease the surplus population," pretty well sums it up.

I think we are talking at cross-purposes in this Meta. I get that some people feel that triggering has become more of an issue here of late, and that maybe, the best course of action, if you are triggered by discussion of mental illness, would be to stay out of mental illness threads.

But this is NOT a thread about mental illness, no matter how hard some people tried to turn it into one.

The thread was about a controversial practice by a religious sect. The real problem in these kinds of threads comes from those who cannot discuss religion without getting heated, angry and frankly offensive. The "mental illness" derail arose from the contention that anyone that believes what these people do must be mentally ill, and that all comes back to religious intolerance.

So I would say that if you cannot go into a thread dealing with religious faith without spewing hateful vitriol, perhaps you should avoid those threads.

That seems like a given, though, right? So, I flagged and moved on. But I couldn't help noticing with dismay how many favorites dismissive, hateful comments received, by, I assume, people who just don't agree with these religious beliefs and the snake-handling that arose from those beliefs.

I understand Mefi skews more to disbelief than faith. I have no problem with that. I'm agnostic, my spouse is Catholic, I have an agnostic and an atheist for my sons. We have debates about religion all the time. I make a point in my family that you should know a little about something before you take issue with it, though, and be respectful of others. That's not a hardship. Disagreements about religion only become an issue if you resort to name-calling, dismissive rhetoric and a hateful, die-in-a-fire attitude.

Again, that seems like a given to me. Do we really think, and by "we" here I am speaking of the community, it is acceptable to celebrate any person's death just because we don't agree with their beliefs? We are not talking about genocidal dictators here, either, so there's no need to Godwin this to make it seem like something it is not. These people, deluded though they may be by your/our/my own personal metrics, did nothing to harm any of us, or push their beliefs on any of us in any way. They don't demand that everyone do as they do (in fact, they warn others, in writing, to stay away from the snakes, and lay out very clearly what the consequences will be if a stranger is bitten). They ask only that they be allowed to practice their faith as they see fit.

So Mods, my question is: when vituperative comments in a thread are very favorited AND very flagged, how do you handle that? Seems like we are removing threads lately when that happens. I would personally like to see more time-outs for people who aren't engaging in civil discourse, whether I agree with them or not. Alia has been asked to stay out of certain threads. I would like to see those atheists with DIAF attitudes admonished in the same way.

And I would really entreat those who have a hate on for a certain to just skip right on by those threads, instead of spoiling them for the rest of us or calling for their deletion.

[And modernnomad, I like you and respect you, but I would have liked you to have shown the same restraint in this thread, by not responding to Alia's civilly-stated beliefs with, "I must confess, this lune made me laugh uproariously." that comment was nothing but noise.]
posted by misha at 10:23 AM on June 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


Blesdelb, the point here is to try to keep the discussion on the meta-topic of people's behavior in the original thread rather than rehashing the discussion of snake-handling from the original thread. Discussing other Christian denominations' theological objections to the practice was relevant in the original thread and some people did bring it up (though nobody cited the bit from Acts that St. Alia would have cited). This isn't a global ban on talking about theology in religion threads (which wouldn't make any sense), and we've had some religion threads that were specifically about theology.
posted by nangar at 10:27 AM on June 2, 2012


Pop quiz: in how many states is it illegal for atheists to hold public office?

None after the 1961 Torcaso v. Watkins applied the "no religious test" clause of the Constitution to the states. But, several states still have (inactive) laws or Constitutions on the books that prohibit atheists from holding office.

Many radicals of all stripes say this exact thing.

I'd invite anyone interested to review the thread on the Reason Rally. In my comments I try to provide some evidence to support the idea that religious privilege places atheists in subordinate positions in the US.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:27 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


So Mods, my question is: when vituperative comments in a thread are very favorited AND very flagged, how do you handle that?

I don't see them because I have favorites turned off. I don't care what people favorite.

And for the record we have not asked or told Alia to stay out of any threads.

We deleted some HURF DURF DARWIN comments from that thread, but the topic itself was difficult. "Man lets himself die" with a faith-based rationale [more or less strongly held or relevant depending on who you talk to] is a really touchy topic and people, knowing that, should have been less assholish about it.

We did not have time to babysit it as much as we maybe should have if we weren't going to delete it and at some level we also believe the community needs to be more serious about self-policing. To the question above: there weren't even many "very flagged" comments. It looked like a lot of people were mixing it up in the thread and a bunch of other people just abandoned it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:31 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


There were multiple dimensions to that story beyond just the religious ones: the ethics of refusing medical treatment and the ethics of photojournalism were more interesting to me.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:31 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


That goes both ways, and, in truth, a lot more hate is expressed towards atheists by Metafilter's brigade of theists and their apologists, as their behavior in this and previous Metatalk threads have amply and repeatedly demonstrated.

My experience on Metafilter is completely the opposite and I'm an atheist who is predisposed to notice when atheism is being attacked. Outside of Metafilter, I am frustrated by the constant unwanted imposition of religion into politics and my life. On Metafilter, I find that any attempt to understand or empathize with religious folks is drowned out by commenters bleating about "INVISIBLE SKY WIZARDS hurhur."

Blazecock, what behavior in this thread has "amply and repeatedly" demonstrated the hateful behavior of theists? I honestly want to know what you are seeing because I don't see it.
posted by Falconetti at 10:31 AM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'd agree that atheists have it tougher in America. I strongly doubt we will habpve an atheist President any time soon.

This, though, Blazecock Pileon: a lot more hate is expressed towards atheists by Metafilter's brigade of theists and their apologists, as their behavior in this and previous Metatalk threads have amply and repeatedly demonstrated.

Yeah, I don't see that AT ALL. Any examples of the hate from the theists would be welcomed, because I've only seen them responding with frustration recently. Maybe I am just missing it?
posted by misha at 10:33 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


So Mods, my question is: when vituperative comments in a thread are very favorited AND very flagged, how do you handle that?

Pretty much the same as we'd handle them if they were not at all favorited and very flagged. Favorites aren't going to save something, even if we know going in that it might signify a greater chance of pushback of some sort about the deletion.

Really, that's a thread that we weren't watching super closely because it's a low-staff weekend (MaxFunCon has eaten up half of Team Mefi for a couple dyas) and we weren't getting the typical indicators—it really is pretty rare to have a sort of slow-burn shittiness going down in a thread without seeing flags on the post itself or email giving us a heads up or etc. With a crystal ball I'd have gone in and pruned harder and heavier up front and left a note pretty much right out the gate, and I'd like to think that would have helped the thread right itself and be more of an interesting discussion and less of what it actually was, but hindsight and all that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:33 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


HEY HEY LOOK EVERYBODY HEY HEY HEY GROUP HUG!!! **JAZZ HANDS**
posted by mudpuppie at 10:36 AM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was once brainwashed by a cult of grouphuggerites in New Mexico. Never again
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:40 AM on June 2, 2012


Seriously, I'm way more wary of cats than I am of snakes. To this day, the worst ever injury inflicted on me by a non-human animal was by a cat. So let me put it forward: the strictly atheistic test of non-faith, cat-handling. Wherein a random cat is turned on its back and it's belly rubbed.
posted by philip-random at 10:41 AM on June 2, 2012


Yeah, at least snakes aren't so cute that you just have-have-have to rub their soft furry tummies, even though you know it will likely end in pain.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:45 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now I'm truly terrified, imagining venomous cats.

Somebody hold me.
posted by cmyk at 10:47 AM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


audi alteram partem: "The two sides of a coin phrasing here risks conveying a false equivalency that ignores the relations of power in the US when it comes to religious identity. Atheists face prejudice and discrimination, which is why they sometimes express anger."

They don't face it here.

I absolutely agree that the phrasing is a false equivalency, but because it ignores the power dynamics that play out on this site every single time religious topics are brought up. I have yet to see one example of atheists, agnostics, or non-religious folk experiencing any sort of a pile-on or rejection on MetaFilter due to their faith or lack thereof, or even describe a fear of it, but you did read that thread right? Just from the top before things really went bizzarro,
"Hell, I will openly ENCOURAGE a snake-handler to die for his faith. ..."
posted by FatherDagon at 2:05 PM on June 1 [41 favorites +] [!] Other [1/5]: ·≡»

"Yup, yup it is. The sooner religious lunatics like this stop trying to destroy the country I live in and the lives of those around them, the better. If it requires the leaders of their cult groups committing public suicide in the stupidest fashion possible in order for some few sane folks on the periphery to blink and say "wait, maybe this is a bad idea", then so be it."
posted by FatherDagon at 2:14 PM on June 1 [25 favorites +] [!] Other [2/5]: «≡»

"At least it's a half step up from those that shun medicine for their children and try to use 'exorcisms' to get rid of things like 'pneumonia', in that the cretins are deliberately killing themselves instead of those that can't defend themselves. Either way, the faith is toxic and the sooner it is destroyed, the better for all humanity."
posted by FatherDagon at 2:25 PM on June 1 [5 favorites +] [Flagged] Other [3/5]: «≡»

"Sounds like they need more snakes. Way, way more snakes."
posted by c13 at 3:31 PM on June 1 [1 favorite +] [!] Other [1/23]: ·≡»

"Of course there is. Just think what would happen if this guy was fucking around with snakes and drinking poison because Elvis or JFK told him so. He'd be presumed incompetent and would be on a mental ward full of Haldol due to being a danger to himself. But since he calls himself a christian, he's not having a psychotic episode with delusions and hallucinations, but testing the strength of his faith."
posted by c13 at 5:14 PM on June 1 [11 favorites +] [Flagged] Other [5/23]: «≡»
It is no wonder that mefites of all sorts of religions feel unwelcome here, but particularly Christians, and it is because to a large extent we are. There is no meaningful equivalency and regardless of whatever discrimination Atheist mefites might experience in whatever jurisdiction they're in, that is no excuse for wishing death on religious folk, declaring religious folk to be mentally ill, or more generally being an asshole here.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:47 AM on June 2, 2012 [19 favorites]


jessamyn: "St. Alia is welcome to explain her beliefs or other Christian beliefs in threads where it's on-topic and appropriate. We're not banning anything."

Thank you for clarifying this.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:48 AM on June 2, 2012


To this day, the worst ever injury inflicted on me by a non-human animal was by a cat.

Ditto. Last year my sister's cat flipped out for NO REASON and seriously shredded my forearm . Like, something snapped in him and he just became a wild animal. And even after I ran to the kitchen sink to try to stop the flow of blood (which was ASTONISHING) he continued to try to creep up on me and go for another round. I had bruises in addition to cuts and punctures, that's how insane. [PICTURE]

We had to keep him locked up the rest of the time I was there, because he would just get all bristly and begin stalking me whenever we let him out.
posted by hermitosis at 10:58 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fortunately most domestic cats are non-poisonous. Then again snakes don't have claws.

Handling MeFites would be a real test of faith in humanism. Though, as I understand, rituals were this occurs are called "meet ups", and apparently people rarely get bit at them.
posted by nangar at 11:00 AM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have yet to see one example of atheists, agnostics, or non-religious folk experiencing any sort of a pile-on or rejection on MetaFilter due to their faith or lack thereof, or even describe a fear of it, but you did read that thread right?

Atheism's critics are usually more soft-spoken about declaring us rude, emotionally abusive, spiritually deaf and dumb, or equivalent to Fred Phelps fundamentalism. And that's before we get into the tiresome tone wars which I'm strongly convinced are based on false pretenses anyway.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:01 AM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


I was expecting a picture of the CAT, hermitosis.


(Imagining a pic of a spitting, snarling, befanged cute beastie. Darn it.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:02 AM on June 2, 2012


Here's a snarling cute beastie.

FULL DISCLOSURE: that pic was accidentally snapped right when he was opening his mouth to yawn. This is what he looked like exactly 2 seconds before that.
posted by hermitosis at 11:06 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I got your killer cat right here.

please, someone take her
posted by cmyk at 11:07 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Seriously, the snake's reputation for evil is wholly undeserved when compared to the cat's well known ability for evil and caprice and capricious evil.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:14 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is what he looked like exactly 2 seconds before that.

Which is precisely how quickly it can happen.
posted by philip-random at 11:17 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


They don't face it here.

Sometimes they do. For example, the third comment from the Reason Rally thread:
Fantagonistic!
posted by stbalbach at 1:49 AM on March 24 [3 favorites +] [!]
Here an event intended to fight prejudice against atheists was labeled as antagonistic. This is the effect of religious privilege: a minority group expressing its views is tarred as being too aggressive. This privilege appears in Metafilter just as male privilege and heterosexual privilege at times appears in Metafilter discussions.

I have yet to see one example of atheists, agnostics, or non-religious folk experiencing any sort of a pile-on or rejection on MetaFilter due to their faith or lack thereof, or even describe a fear of it, but you did read that thread right? Just from the top before things really went bizzarro...

I would hope we could agree that both atheists and theists have faced unfair comments. I had asked why you thought religious perspectives were "uniquely" susceptible to being the target of bad behavior. Yes I read the thread, and I agree those comments and what followed was inappropriate.

But the thread was eventually deleted, and this thread was opened. It seems that the community is attending to the bad behavior present, not that Metafilter supports a hostile environment for religious views. We could do a better job at talking across atheist/theist lines, but I don't see that atheist zealotry "aggressively shut[s] down religious threads."

...regardless of whatever discrimination Atheist mefites might experience in whatever jurisdiction they're in, that is no excuse for wishing death on religious folk, declaring religious folk to be mentally ill, or more generally being an asshole here.

Right. I'd never suggest it should. My point was regarding the broader context of atheist/theist discussion where the context of prejudice leads both sides at times to misunderstandings, oversimplifications and other unproductive arguments.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:22 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter has brigades of zealots period, of many stripes. Zealotry makes for terrible conversations with people who do not share your beliefs. People should get better at that.

Me, I think the mods should get better at telling these people to STFU or find themselves banned.

Why people are allowed to shit all over other people and shit all over other people and shit all over other people and keep right on doing it is equally baffling, disappointing and disgraceful.
posted by ambient2 at 11:28 AM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why people are allowed to shit all over other people

If you're going to have hard and fast consequences you'd better have rigorous definitions of what those crimes you're going to be punishing. I suspect that you cannot supply that sort of rigor.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:36 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would hope we could agree that both atheists and theists have faced unfair comments.

Definitely, but I would hope we could also agree that, generally speaking, atheists face much less of that on MetaFilter than do theists. Generally speaking, MetaFilter does a much better job of being atheist-friendly than theist-friendly. I don't want to dip into analogies or "privilege" discussions, but it does seem to me like that's an obvious truth and that it would be hard to have a discussion about it if we're pretending there's equivalence.
posted by cribcage at 11:37 AM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


And reddit has r/atheism on its front page, not r/_____anity. Boo hoo hoo.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:39 AM on June 2, 2012


If you're going to have hard and fast consequences you'd better have rigorous definitions of what those crimes you're going to be punishing. I suspect that you cannot supply that sort of rigor.

I've any number of suspicions.
posted by ambient2 at 12:06 PM on June 2, 2012


audi alteram partem,

Non-religious folk are not a minority group on metafilter. Religious folk are pretty wildly outnumbered here no matter how you slice the site.

If the best example of anti-atheist sentiment is a user of indeterminate faith calling a protest antagonistic, and in a thread filled almost exclusively with atheists and agnostics arguing with each other and accumulating favorites, I think you're only demonstrating the fundamentally asymmetrical nature of all of this. The tenuous argument of privilege doesn't change the fact that there is a massive difference between suggesting that a protest is opposed to the things it is fighting on one hand, and co-opting mental illness as some kind of cudgel, encouraging suicide, and advocating for the destruction of entire cultures on the other. One of these things is not like the others.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:08 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


My personal perspective is that theists have to deal with a lot more snarling anger directed in theist directions here on MeFi whereas atheists have to deal with a lot more generalized "you have a hole in your life and you don't know it" comments when people are being really dismissive, which doesn't happen quite as often, again in my opinion. And there are the dug-in arguers on both sides of the fence. I don't totally understand why anyone who wasn't theistic would care if theists think they are going to hell, for one example. And again this is in discussions on MetaFilter that I'm referring to. I understand very much that in the larger sociopolitical context this sort of thing matters a great deal because there are many people in the US who feel that it is not merely appropriate but in fact necessary to interject their faith into public policy discussions. I have very little patience for this viewpoint.

And so the problem we have here is that it's very difficult to remove the general issues [atheists get a lot of shit in the larger world especially in the US and have to deal with people trying to direct policy according to their faith, again in the US] from the specific issues [atheists or non-believers are probably the majority here on MeFi and certainly the majority on the mod team] and people aren't very good at differentiating one from the other because it is all actually pretty closely linked.

Another possibly incorrect generalization is that at least some of our staunchest atheists are people who were raised in theist households, sometimes fundamentalist-ish theist households and problematic ones that that. Certainly not everyone, but a few that stand out in my memory. I think this can lend some baggage-type weight to the force with which they go after other theists. And because we're dealing with something like faith, it's fairly difficult to discuss first principles because at the end of the day belief doesn't lend itself to the sort of nitpicky dissection that people enjoy doing here. Or at least not everyone enjoys that sort of discussion.

And of course we have the overgeneralizers in every religion thread who can't discuss Catholicism without turning it into a discussion of pedophilia or child abuse even if that's not the topic. Similarly discussions about anything to do with Israel seem to turn into discussions of anti-semitism and Zionism with a few people being seemingly unable to NOT do that or make weird Hitler/Nazi comments. And other people seemingly NOT able to not engage those people exacerbate this.

We really try to delete "woo woo invisible sky monster" type of bullshit comments. As cortex said we're understaffed this weekend and are relying more than usual on flagging and the other meta-notifications that we usually get. And we've been probably erring more on the "Let's see what happens" side of things and we may need to get a little tighter in this regard since people are not really doing so well with the way things have been going.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:08 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Non-religious folk are not a minority group on metafilter. Religious folk are pretty wildly outnumbered here no matter how you slice the site.

Really? I feel that this is the kind of thing where because atheists are usually such a tiny minority that there being more than like, one atheist anywhere gets "OMG A BAZILLION ATHIESTS". Like if a woman takes up an equal amount of time in a conversation everyone's like "omg she took up the entire conversation".

If I had to guess I'd guess it's even atheist/religious, or majority religious.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:15 PM on June 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


Also, I'm very curious about this. Do people see something like "Christianity is a based on something that doesn't exist and it has a negative impact on the society I live in. I would be thrilled if there was no more Christianity" as bigoted and hateful?
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:18 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Religious folk are pretty wildly outnumbered here no matter how you slice the site.

This is not true. I am a religious person, and I'm pretty sure we're a slim majority here. When you're used to being 99% of the room, it can feel like you're a minority when you're only 60% of the room -- but we're not.
posted by KathrynT at 12:19 PM on June 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


Do people see something like "Christianity is a based on something that doesn't exist and it has a negative impact on the society I live in. I would be thrilled if there was no more Christianity" as bigoted and hateful?

And, yeah, I do. Not very strongly -- people experience much worse, all the time -- but I do. I think it's an opinion that it is perfectly fine to hold and express, but it definitely explicitly sends the message of "I don't like you and I don't want you around, not because of your actions, but because of your faith."
posted by KathrynT at 12:22 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Honestly the weirdest thing is not the vitriol between atheists and theists, it's the circular atheist on atheist firing squad that a lot of those threads become.

This is where the true privilege religion gets really comes into focus. Even people that aren't religious feel compelled to defend it, at least in others. Dennett calls it belief in belief.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:24 PM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


They don't face it here.

I absolutely agree that the phrasing is a false equivalency, but because it ignores the power dynamics that play out on this site every single time religious topics are brought up. I have yet to see one example of atheists, agnostics, or non-religious folk experiencing any sort of a pile-on or rejection on MetaFilter due to their faith or lack thereof


It does happen, as audi alteram partem has already demonstrated. That Reason Rally thread is a great example, as is this thread (where the OP posted a rant about "self-gratifying douchebags" halfway through a decent discussion, and then continued to drag his own thread through a huge derail on whether atheists are ever discriminated against), and the end of this one, which I believe earned someone an account deletion.

As for whether atheists have an easier time on mefi than theists: I suspect that we do, but there's no fair way to discuss this without acknowledging that the real world leans the other way, big time. The comfort of theists already comes first in nearly every other venue in life; suggesting that vocal atheism and/or anti-theism should be equally unwelcome here implies that vocal atheism and/or anti-theism cannot fairly be the dominant opinion in a room, even when it happens to be. And that is where the real privilege is.

I also agree with the young rope-rider -- I very seriously doubt that atheists are a numerical majority on the site. If you deleted the accounts of maybe five of the most outspoken people, I think the perception that mefi skews "angry atheist" would pretty much collapse.
posted by vorfeed at 12:32 PM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


the young rope-rider: "Also, I'm very curious about this. Do people see something like "Christianity is a based on something that doesn't exist and it has a negative impact on the society I live in. I would be thrilled if there was no more Christianity" as bigoted and hateful?"

I think it is about as bigoted hateful and inaccurate as a statement like "Atheism is based on a hole in some people's lives and has a negative impact on the society I live in. I would be thrilled if there was no more Atheism."

Chekhovian: "This is where the true privilege religion gets really comes into focus. Even people that aren't religious feel compelled to defend it, at least in others. Dennett calls it belief in belief."

If a comparable attack on Atheism were even possible here, I'm sure I and most of the other religious folk here would be circling up to defend you guys too, it is after all the only way any of us seem to know how.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:33 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


. I don't totally understand why anyone who wasn't theistic would care if theists think they are going to hell,

There is an implied judgement there. If I told you that you should be in jail for the rest of your life for what you believe, that's kind of offensively judgmental even if it isn't going to happen. Now say I think you deserve to be in jail for the rest of eternity and to experience neverending torture...

It sounds like I don't think very highly of you.

Any time you are taking a moral stand as an individual you run into these issues, it's why just saying you are a vegetarian can be perceived as screaming about "meat is murder!" or whatever stereotyped vegetarians are supposed to say.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:36 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think it is about as bigoted hateful and inaccurate as a statement like "Atheism is based on a hole in some people's lives and has a negative impact on the society I live in. I would be thrilled if there was no more Atheism."

I'm surprised that you think the two statements are equivalent. It's like someone equating calling a woman the c word with someone calling a man a dick and saying they're "both hateful".
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:36 PM on June 2, 2012


I think it's an opinion that it is perfectly fine to hold and express, but it definitely explicitly sends the message of "I don't like you and I don't want you around, not because of your actions, but because of your faith."

This is basically bullshit. The first thing most bigname speakers do (I'd list certain names, but that's like gasoline for these fires) is put in a long and elegant disclaimer about how we shouldn't hate people for their ideas, but rather pity them for being trapped etc.

So how can you say "what this atheist says explicity means that they hate us", when the first thing every serious atheist does is thoughtfully and considerately explain why they don't and why it would always be illogical.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:41 PM on June 2, 2012


Religious folk are pretty wildly outnumbered here no matter how you slice the site.

If you're basing this on who tends to participate in religion threads on the blue, well, that's a very skewed sample. I'd bet a decent amount of money that a whole hell of a lot of religious and non-religious people here don't touch those threads with a barge pole.
posted by rtha at 12:42 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would bet that fewer than 10% of metafilter is atheist.
posted by empath at 12:47 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


> My experience on Metafilter is completely the opposite and I'm an atheist who is predisposed to notice when atheism is being attacked. Outside of Metafilter, I am frustrated by the constant unwanted imposition of religion into politics and my life. On Metafilter, I find that any attempt to understand or empathize with religious folks is drowned out by commenters bleating about "INVISIBLE SKY WIZARDS hurhur."

What he said. I get tired of going over this ground endlessly, but anyone who thinks atheists are oppressed on MetaFilter is deluded. This is where atheists find themselves in the majority and go "Whee, now we can beat up on those fucking religious bastards!" I know the mods try to prune it when it gets too bad, but it gripes the hell out of me to see the sanctimonious sermons delivered by the fervent atheists among us. "Help help I'm being oppressed!" No you're not, not here.

> This is where the true privilege religion gets really comes into focus. Even people that aren't religious feel compelled to defend it, at least in others. Dennett calls it belief in belief.

This is a disgusting line of reasoning, and just the sort of thing that makes me ashamed of my fellow atheists. "Look, that person is standing up for the commies' right to free speech— the commies have gotten to him!"
posted by languagehat at 12:47 PM on June 2, 2012 [33 favorites]


This is a disgusting line of reasoning

I've never reasoned disgustingly before. A new point of pride!
posted by Chekhovian at 12:51 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


What he said. I get tired of going over this ground endlessly, but anyone who thinks atheists are oppressed on MetaFilter is deluded. This is where atheists find themselves in the majority and go "Whee, now we can beat up on those fucking religious bastards!" I know the mods try to prune it when it gets too bad, but it gripes the hell out of me to see the sanctimonious sermons delivered by the fervent atheists among us. "Help help I'm being oppressed!" No you're not, not here.

I don't think you get to decide how other people feel.
posted by quivering_fantods at 12:51 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just as an FYI, "pitying me for being trapped" isn't a whole lot better from a respect standpoint.

But let me make it clear: I do not need to have my belief celebrated or respected. It is fine for people to not like me because of my faith. I disagree pretty strongly that my faith is bad for society, but there are plenty of people who are bad for society who at least claim to share my faith, so I understand why people draw the conclusion. The rest of the country rolls out the red carpet for anyone who professes belief; I don't need Metafilter to do so.

The one thing that bothers me personally is when people tell me that because I am a Christian, I must hate women, gay people, abortion, &c -- and then, when I explain that I (and my whole church) hold none of those positions, tell me that we therefore aren't really Christian. I do feel the need to respond to that, because it gets my hackles up when people tell me I don't really believe what I say I believe. But people have drawn their conclusions about religious people based on a pretty broad spectrum of experiences, and I don't need them to pretend that they haven't had those experiences just because it would make me feel more comfortable or well-liked. Metafilter doesn't exist for the purpose of making me feel comfortable.
posted by KathrynT at 12:53 PM on June 2, 2012 [32 favorites]


I'm not so sure that we should enshrine protection of belief as a good thing in and of itself. Some beliefs are simply wrong or dangerous, and I think we have an obligation to argue as best we can for what we believe is right and true.

Freedom of religion, as it's used in the constitution, is mostly just a recognition that government is unsuited to determine whose religion is right or wrong, and that even if it could distinguish, the price in suffering and blood that would have to be paid to stamp out unapproved belief would be too much for society to bear.

The fact that it's not legal to ban any beliefs, however, doesn't mean that all beliefs are deserving of equal respect.
posted by empath at 12:53 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The fact that it's not legal to ban any beliefs, however, doesn't mean that all beliefs are deserving of equal respect.

But all people are. The trick is to see if you can separate the two (not, mind you, that I'm always successful myself, but it's a goal of mine).
posted by Mooski at 12:56 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it is about as bigoted hateful and inaccurate as a statement like "Atheism is based on a hole in some people's lives and has a negative impact on the society I live in. I would be thrilled if there was no more Atheism."

Personally, I think people ought to be free to discuss the social effects of belief (or non-belief, or capitalism, or communism, or whatever). Most of us tend to believe that certain worldviews are better for society than others, for some definition of "better". The idea that general statements against ideas are "bigoted hateful and inaccurate" falls down quickly once you apply it to all ideas, not just religious ones -- there are plenty of beliefs we tend to think of as being negative, and I see no reason why religion (or atheism, for that matter) can't be one of them.

This is a disgusting line of reasoning, and just the sort of thing that makes me ashamed of my fellow atheists. "Look, that person is standing up for the commies' right to free speech— the commies have gotten to him!"

Chekhovian isn't talking about a defense of free speech. He's talking about the idea that religion is special and important and shouldn't be denigrated (or, at least, shouldn't be discussed in such-and-such a "tone"), and I do see that from atheists on metafilter all the time. I've gotten much more static from my fellow atheists than from theists here, up to and including personal insults.
posted by vorfeed at 12:58 PM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think a small minority of people ate hateful here. The majority are not.



The small minority need to acknowledge other people have the right to politely express themselves. And when they wish to disagree they can figure out how to express it appropriately. Without calling for someones' death or mocking them.

It can be done. Most mefites do it without breaking a sweat.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:59 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is fine for people to not like me because of my faith
Again, why do you think we don't like you? I rather like the swings you've taken in this thread. Especially this one:
Metafilter doesn't exist for the purpose of making me feel comfortable
posted by Chekhovian at 1:00 PM on June 2, 2012


The small minority need to acknowledge other people have the right to politely express themselves. And when they wish to disagree they can figure out how to express it appropriately. Without calling for someones' death or mocking them.

Mocking what you believe is not the same as mocking who you are.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:03 PM on June 2, 2012


That's not a swing, it's a fact. Metafilter doesn't exist for the purpose of making anyone feel comfortable, never mind me.

This line of discussion started specifically in response to the young rope-rider's comment above: Also, I'm very curious about this. Do people see something like "Christianity is a based on something that doesn't exist and it has a negative impact on the society I live in. I would be thrilled if there was no more Christianity" as bigoted and hateful?

I answered that question honestly, as it was asked. I do, in fact, feel as though anyone who would make a statement like that is inclined to dislike me on the basis of my faith. I don't need them not to, but that is how I feel.
posted by KathrynT at 1:03 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would share a pot of tea with KathrynT any day of the week.

And I'm the most-reviled flavor of atheist: an igtheist. Even my fellow godless heathens get all up my butt like a Size 2 thong about being a hair-splitter / semantic snoot.
posted by quivering_fantods at 1:08 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ok, let me clarify, I did not mean to impugn your right to feel that atheists dislike me on the basis of my faith, I was just trying to give you a data point that it is not necessarily true, and maybe sneak in some assurances that its generally very very not true, at least in my broader experience.

In fact, I think a lot atheists defend theism because of how much they like the theists they know. When you make it to the core issue behind a lot of atheist on atheist fighting, its because one of them loves his theist grandma, and can't separate the criticism of her faith from criticism of her.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:09 PM on June 2, 2012


vorfeed: "suggesting that vocal atheism and/or anti-theism should be equally unwelcome"

No one is suggesting this. All that is being asked for here is not shitting in threads, not spamming threads, and having the basic fucking decency to not call for the destruction of entire cultures, not be a dick about mental illness, and not gloatingly encourage suicide.

I like that this site is able to attract folks with so many varied backgrounds and kinds of expertise on just about any topic, it would be really awesome if we could forgo even just enough dickery to have threads like that one not only go well, but attract actual Pentecostals to help explain what is going on.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:09 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


sorry, that should have read: I did not mean to impugn your right to "feel that atheists dislike me on the basis of my faith"
posted by Chekhovian at 1:10 PM on June 2, 2012


Oh, I know that atheists generally don't dislike me on the basis of my faith. My husband is on varying sides of the atheist/agnostic depending on the day, and he likes me just fine. Again, I was specifically giving my reaction to the young rope-rider's statement. (which, btw, I believe not all atheists would agree with, outside of the first sentence.)
posted by KathrynT at 1:14 PM on June 2, 2012


If the best example of anti-atheist sentiment is a user of indeterminate faith calling a protest antagonistic, and in a thread filled almost exclusively with atheists and agnostics arguing with each other and accumulating favorites, I think you're only demonstrating the fundamentally asymmetrical nature of all of this.

I said atheists face prejudice. You said: "They don't face it here." This is an unqualified statement. You could have said, "They don't face as much here," or "There's less compared to in real life" etc.

The comment I quoted was not intended to be "the best example of anti-atheist sentiment." It was intended to be a counter-example of your claim that atheists face no prejudice in Metafilter comments. And I think an immediate reaction to atheists protesting as being "antagonistic" is informed by a prejudiced perspective. The post wasn't "suggesting that a protest is opposed to the things it is fighting." It used the word "fantagonistic!" which plays into the stereotype of the angry atheist when the Reason Rally was a celebration of positive atheist identity. Antagonistic has a negative connotation, as opposed to a term such as "committed."

Maybe religious views do face more criticism. We'd need an extensive analysis of religion threads if we're going to move that question beyond personal intuition and anecdotes. I obviously don't feel the sting of anti-religious sentiment as some religious posters do, just as some religious posters don't feel the sting of anti-atheist sentiment. This would be a worthwhile research project, because, as the young rope rider says above, we know that dominant perceptions of subordinate speech are often distorted (as in the example of women dominating conversations).

The privilege argument is far from "tenuous," and it is worth pointing out that if one operates from a position of privilege that doesn't mean that one is bad or evil. It means that the way social structures have come to be arranged favors certain groups at the expense of others. In the US there are benefits that come with various Christian identities and disincentives that come with non-mainstream identities, especially atheism.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:16 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mocking what you believe is not the same as mocking who you are.

True, but dig deep enough into all of us and you'll find a belief that's gotten pretty close to the bone. You might say that it has becomes part of who we are. Which isn't to say that certain cherished illusions should beyond mockery (far from it - satire is one of my favorite sports), but as a grown up, I've certainly come to NOT expect my moments of mockery to just benignly land like little nerf-balls and be accepted as "all good fun". I know they can hurt, so I like to think I give it some serious consideration before I open fire.

Is it worth the trouble? Does this individual or this institution deserve this "shot" right now, right here? Am I really that under threat?

Ready-aim-fire versus Ready-FIRE-aim.
posted by philip-random at 1:18 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


PR, you're missing one other point. "Will my public satire of those in power provide comfort to my friends?"
posted by Chekhovian at 1:23 PM on June 2, 2012


This is where the true privilege religion gets really comes into focus. Even people that aren't religious feel compelled to defend it, at least in others. Dennett calls it belief in belief.

This is a disgusting line of reasoning, and just the sort of thing that makes me ashamed of my fellow atheists. "Look, that person is standing up for the commies' right to free speech— the commies have gotten to him!"


But this is exactly what he was talking about. He's speaking of his observations (which, to be honest, I share) that vocal atheists on this site receive verbal attacks from other atheists far more often than they do from religious people and you go right ahead and McCarthy the thread, thus validating his observation!
posted by adamdschneider at 1:36 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


In any event, I have the faith (sorry) that MeFi can have these kinds of discussions at some point.

We already have.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:42 PM on June 2, 2012


[And modernnomad, I like you and respect you, but I would have liked you to have shown the same restraint in this thread, by not responding to Alia's civilly-stated beliefs with, "I must confess, this lune made me laugh uproariously." that comment was nothing but noise.]

Yeah, fair enough. I apologize. It really wasn't supposed to come across as a broad anti-religion point but rather a commentary as I later clarified on the similarity to it and the snake-handlers position, but I can see how that wouldn't be clear, and that's on me. Sorry.
posted by modernnomad at 1:56 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought the error in that paraphrase, converting "line" to "lune," was fucking hilarious. I loved that shit to death.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:01 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb: The premise that this is a welcoming place for atheism because a handful of atheists are vocal in the one-dimensional pie-fights that discussions of atheism and religion almost inevitably become doesn't work for me. Some of us have lives outside of that line.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:07 PM on June 2, 2012


CBrachyrhynchos: "Blasdelb: The premise that this is a welcoming place for atheism because a handful of atheists are vocal in the one-dimensional pie-fights that discussions of atheism and religion almost inevitably become doesn't work for me. Some of us have lives outside of that line."

I've asked for examples of when metafilter might not have been as welcoming to atheists as we would like it to be and have thus far only been pointed to a thread that was, appropriately, dominated by atheists. If you have any other examples or had other experiences on Metafilter to share I am all ears.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:27 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


To this day, the worst ever injury inflicted on me by a non-human animal was by a cat.

Ditto. Last year my sister's cat flipped out for NO REASON and seriously shredded my forearm . Like, something snapped in him and he just became a wild animal. And even after I ran to the kitchen sink to try to stop the flow of blood (which was ASTONISHING) he continued to try to creep up on me and go for another round. I had bruises in addition to cuts and punctures, that's how insane. [PICTURE]

We had to keep him locked up the rest of the time I was there, because he would just get all bristly and begin stalking me whenever we let him out.
posted by hermitosis


When I was going through puberty, my sister's unfixed Siamese tom, with whom I'd always been close, probably mainly because I was generally the warmest object in the house, jumped up on my lap one afternoon, stood up on my bare thigh, glared up into my face, and dug all four sets of claws in hard.

"OW!" I said, and tried to lift him off, but that only made him dig in harder. It hurt, but it was also really funny, so I shouted out "OK, cat! You're on!" and put my hand around his ribcage and squeezed with moderate pressure, at which he dug in even harder! I squeezed gradually more forcefully, and finally he let go; so did I, he jumped down, and that was the end of it.

By evening he was my best friend again. That cat!
posted by jamjam at 2:29 PM on June 2, 2012


FatherDagon's "I will fucking ENCOURAGE a snake handler to die for his death" domment has 42 favorites, and it still stands. To me, wishing death on a human being falls clearly in the "offensive" zone.
posted by misha at 2:32 PM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


it still stands

The whole thread is gone.
posted by empath at 2:37 PM on June 2, 2012


empath: "The whole thread is gone."

The comment isn't.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:46 PM on June 2, 2012


The comment isn't.

I think once the mods delete threads, they don't go in and prune comments after the fact. I don't think it's particularly relevant that the comment was deleted along with the thread rather than in advance of the thread.
posted by KathrynT at 2:49 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


We do not routinely remove stuff from threads once we've killed the threads themselves. At this point pretty much the only people who will see comments in that thread are people going into it on purpose with the understanding that (a) it has been deleted and (b) there has been discussion about it in Metatalk. Making a hole in the thread where the thing people have been actively discussing is at this point would be weird.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:50 PM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


As for whether atheists have an easier time on mefi than theists: I suspect that we do, but there's no fair way to discuss this without acknowledging that the real world leans the other way, big time.

I have a hard time understanding all the statements like this. I have a pretty indeterminate religious view, and don’t identify as anything. But it doesn’t really matter, because it never comes up. I haven’t had anyone ask about my religious affiliation one way or another, or bring it up in anyway, since grade school, and I’m 48 (or something like that, I’d have to look it up).

I don’t know where all this negative interaction comes from, but I suspect that it’s often frustration with personal family drama that’s being projected on to the general public.
posted by bongo_x at 2:55 PM on June 2, 2012


If it's any consolation to anyone, many of us find political zealots to be equally, if not more, tedious than religious freaks.
posted by jonmc at 2:58 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I haven’t had anyone ask about my religious affiliation one way or another, or bring it up in anyway, since grade school, and I’m 48 (or something like that, I’d have to look it up).

I've had people tell me that I might as will kill myself if I don't believe in god. More than once.
posted by empath at 3:01 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


that the real world leans the other way, big time.

I think the real world may lean the other way in maybe passively assuming that you have religious/spiritual beliefs, and I'm sure occasionally you might run into people who seem judgmental about it. I am not, however, willing to accept that atheists in general have a markedly harder time of it.

Anything that stands out about us makes us a target for someone. Thus, in some settings being religious will get you all sorts of antagonized, and in others being non-religious will. My family is as backwoods as they come, and they're still way more understanding of atheism than say, vegetarianism.

Anyway, it's not a contest to see who gets the shortest end of the stick, and even if it was, there is more to winning than just flailing angrily and impotently in the middle of conversations that are about other people and their beliefs.
posted by hermitosis at 3:13 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've had people tell me that I might as will kill myself if I don't believe in god. More than once.

That sounds weird. I’d ignore them.

in some settings being religious will get you all sorts of antagonized, and in others being non-religious will.

It’s a very common belief among certain Evangelical Christians that they are persecuted constantly. It’s strange to listen to them describe it. I feel the same way when some Atheists do it.
posted by bongo_x at 3:17 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Atheism's critics are usually more soft-spoken about declaring us rude, emotionally abusive, spiritually deaf and dumb, or equivalent to Fred Phelps fundamentalism."

I will stand up and admit, here and now, that I have been guilty of criticising many of Metafilter's atheist members in exactly this fashion.

It's surprising how many, when called out for displaying nasty, arrogant, narrow-minded, and vindictive behaviour, immediately assume that I'm not an atheist myself.
posted by Pinback at 3:20 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've asked for examples of when metafilter might not have been as welcoming to atheists as we would like it to be and have thus far only been pointed to a thread that was, appropriately, dominated by atheists.

Below are a couple of comments from one of the two other threads vorfeed linked to above. I want to note that the unwelcoming aspects are not unique to threads on religion. They include issues like oversimplification and poor word choice that tend to crop up now and again across topics.

First:
All the angry atheists who attack religion don't really seem to realise that for many people religion provides social value rather than truth and they'd rather not be reminded about the possible or probable incorrectness of what they believe. (Atheist here BTW).
Why this is unwelcoming: It oversimplifies atheist arguments and it uses the troubling “angry” term. Prominent atheists do acknowledge that religion serves a social function (though there's an argument as to its value). This is the same sort of oversimplification that Christians cite as unwelcoming behavior on Metafilter when the nuance of their positions is oversimplified. And, as IvoShandor notes later, the perception of atheists as angry speaks to a double standard in judging demeanor between the religious and atheists.

Second:
You guys might not have not started playing the game until the Cult of Reason, but you've racked up quite an impressive score in megadeaths with the advent of Marxism, and hey I wonder how many kills objectivist-libertarianism will make before civilization bowls over to ecological and economic collapse caused by extreme laissez-faire policies promoted by secular policymakers. There's plenty of atrocity and stupidity for human beings of all beliefs and unbeliefs to go around. Rest assured, organized irreligion will have as many depredations as organized religion by the end of humanity.
Why this is unwelcoming: “You guys” i.e. atheists are members of a “Cult of Reason.” Religious commenters have found it unwelcoming when their religion is equated with a cult. This comment conflates lack of belief with certain totalitarian ideologies. Communism is not “organized irreligion,” though irreligion is one part of its ideology. Among the groups that comprise organized irreligion in the US none advocate the use of violence to suppress dissent. Religious commenters have found it unwelcoming for their faith to be equated with its totalitarian historical versions.
posted by audi alteram partem at 3:23 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I feel like Snyder's point at the top of the thread was not about religion vs. atheism. The topic of how badly MeFi does comparative religion is one we've discussed again and again, and it's unfortunate, because I really enjoy talking about the finer points of other people's theologies. But, and Snyder, please tell me if I'm wrong, I think the point was that MeFites have got a problem when it comes to hurtful offhand comments concerning mental illness.

A lot of words seem completely irreplaceable in our vocabulary. "Crazy" to describe ex-girlfriends, bad work situations, the number of sequins on an item of clothing. And sometimes some of us have had fun with that word, "crazy," and turned it into other words, like "crazypants." Which is awesome.

But the origin word is still harmful. It evokes the image of a disheveled, badly dressed, toothless, smelly dude panhandling on the subway or an even more disheveled lady in a straitjacket in a cinderblock room. Personally, I refer to myself as "crazy" all the time, because it's the simplest way of explaining my multiple diagnoses. But that's reclamation, which is a little different.

Here's a question for others who have struggled with mental health issues: When you see a word like "lunatic" show up in a thread, does it make you feel angry or worthless or anxious or frustrated? It definitely makes me feel all of those emotions, and the more specific the faux-diagnoses get, the more angry/worthless/anxious/frustrated I feel. Once you start talking about personality disorders, I have to get up and leave the computer altogether.

So I would like to reiterate that it would be fantastic if we could talk honestly and earnestly about how sensitive we ought to be on these issues. I mean, it's probably not feasible to ban the word "crazy," and nobody would want "crazypants" banned, seeing as it's awesome. But could we maybe really for serious talk about how we talk about this stuff?
posted by brina at 3:30 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've asked for examples of when metafilter might not have been as welcoming to atheists as we would like it to be and have thus far only been pointed to a thread that was, appropriately, dominated by atheists. If you have any other examples or had other experiences on Metafilter to share I am all ears.

I have a radically different view of that thread in that it was successfully trolled by someone who wanted to grind an axe about the tone wars, and refused to discuss any other aspects of the rally. Which is how these things usually go. It's a pattern that's been repeated multiple times with FPPs that have almost nothing to do with New Atheists or tone.

But it's probably a good thing that religious discourse on atheists here is impoverished and sticks closely to "Why can't atheists be less rude?" (when most of us are not.) Dumb comparisons between atheists and fundamentalists that misunderstand both. Irresponsible claims that atheism is similar to emotional abuse and or cultural genocide. Atheists don't understand spiritual/mystical experience or meaning, and should we try to talk about that, we're met with an argumentative maze of shifting goalposts. Atheists don't participate meaningfully in multifaith and religious communities, and those of us who do are ignored or attacked. I've been called a liar for saying that I engage in ceremonial practices with pagans, and at that point, I'm tempted to ask whether that person would like a map to my Grandfather's grave so he could piss on it as well.

Personally, I think religious discourse would likely improve if there were a mind virus (in the Stephenson sense, not the Dawkins sense) that caused a grand mal seizure every time a person was tempted to write a declarative statement about a philosophy that one does not practice. Practically speaking, I just treat claims about my life from anyone who does not share it in a meaningful way as laughably ignorant, and I try not to make claims about how other people live their lives.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:34 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


brina: Good points. Personally as a high-functioning madman, I don't mind "crazy" or "lunatic" as much as the suggestion that Wolford was clinically mentally ill. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. If he was, the relationship between that and his decisions to handle snakes or refuse treatment were probably complex, and can't be easily summarized as "LOL, pentacostals are crazy!"

On the other side, I think religious convictions and experiences can be wrong, without saying that a person is delusional. I've had both moments of spiritual revelation and the phantom bugs under my skin. They're not the same thing. There's a fair bit of study into the psychology of religion including the psychology of altered states of consciousness that suggests they're generally not the same thing. Treating them as the same thing doesn't do any side of the discussion any favors.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:47 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously folks, just because it's MetaTalk doesn't mean you can just holler at each other. Take a walk if you can't have a decent conversation here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:57 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


That sounds weird. I’d ignore them.

Yeah, I avoid conversations like that by never, ever talking about religion with anyone who might be religious. You would be surprised how often that kind of thing comes up when you do as an atheist. Simply stating you're an atheist starts an argument in a way that stating that you are Catholic, for example, will not.

I know you don't believe this is the case, but as someone who was raised Catholic and is an atheist, I assure you that it is. I often just tell people I'm Catholic if people get nosy about my religious beliefs just to avoid those arguments.
posted by empath at 4:03 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I avoid conversations like that by never, ever talking about religion with anyone who might be religious. You would be surprised how often that kind of thing comes up when you do as an atheist. Simply stating you're an atheist starts an argument in a way that stating that you are Catholic, for example, will not.

It seems like for southerners the second question get after you meet them: "Which church do you all go to?"

What's surprising is how many people from even northnish states ask this as their second question as well.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:13 PM on June 2, 2012


I often just tell people I'm Catholic if people get nosy about my religious beliefs just to avoid those arguments.

Living in the South I find it much easier to call myself agnostic rather than atheist. It's close enough to my beliefs, and goes over much better with family/friends/strangers than to call myself atheist.

I have no idea if I'd have this dilemma in other parts of the country. Today there were preachers screaming with a bible in hand at every busy street corner. Tomorrow, being Sunday, will be even worse.
posted by justgary at 4:17 PM on June 2, 2012


I do wish people would stop with the silly cat derails and other nonsense in this thread & MeTa in general when it's clear people are attempting to have a legitimate dialogue about something. It's profoundly irritating. Save it for the jokey threads.

Its be great if we could someday get a thread about comparative theology without non-theologically minded folks gloating over and encouraging the deaths of theologically minded folk, generally shitting in the thread, and getting so spittle-flecked that they forget that only religious folk are allowed to not be people here before moving on to the mentally ill.

I understand you're het up, Blasdelb, but that's just hyperbole. We have tonnes - tonnes! - of religious threads here all the time where discussion is interesting, informative, respectful etc. I do agree there's a small minority of militant atheists who struggle to say anything meaningful in religious threads, but I don't think you should extrapolate those users and that one particular thread to the mefi community in general - that comparison doesn't hold, as the experience of plenty of religious and atheist mefites will attest.

Additionally, the tactic of "fighting fire with fire" is not a particularly helpful one, I think. When you spark up with the swearing and calumny I think it illustrates how personally affronted you feel by atheist insults etc, but I don't think it does your arguments any favour, and it makes calls for more courtesy/understanding/etc sound a little hollow.
posted by smoke at 4:19 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


In my opinion, all posts that fail to meet some standard of sarcasm, rudeness, insult, hurtfulness, belittlement, or "lulsy"-ness should be subject to the depth penalty and immediately removed by the mod's. Mefi is doing a good job in this thread and a few others, but there is still a lot of clutter.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:22 PM on June 2, 2012


I don't totally understand why anyone who wasn't theistic would care if theists think they are going to hell, for one example.

Whenever one of my brother-in-laws is around the kids one of us always makes sure to be near by. The main reason is because he saw absolutely nothing wrong with telling her (when she was six) that her parents were going to hell. She had nightmares for years.

Now, personally I don't care if people on the site think I'm going to hell, or if they think I was crazy for being a conservative Christian in my past. In fact, most of my family members would think the first, and a good chunk of my wife always says "Thank God he's not anymore, he was really obnoxious when he was" about the second. I do care, quite a lot about what they tell my children.

The thing is, at least in the US, our definition of "obnoxious Evangelicalism" is way different for Atheists than for theists. There was a controversy not too long ago in Denver about a billboard from the Freedom from Religion foundation, that more or less said "you can be happy without a god." There are billboards all over the place, and mailings, and Newspaper ads, etc. about how God can make you happy (many imply that ONLY God can make you happy). The two are pretty equivalent statements, but nobody seems to care about the second.

My point isn't that Atheists can't be jerks about our atheism. We can, and often are. I really have to work to not fall into the "I'm right, if you would just listen to what I say you'd see that my way is the only right way" habit of thinking about these things that I developed growing up. I don't always succeed, which is why I try and avoid religious discussions.

My point is simply this: maybe some Atheists are not as being as big of jerks as you think they are, and just maybe we have a reason to be touchy and sensitive. I know that most people out there would never dream of telling my son I was going to hell, but that doesn't mean it's not going to happen. I can pretty much guarantee that it will, and honestly it can have an impact that "your parents are stupid" just couldn't approach, even if the likelihood of a theist's kid being told that was anywhere near the likelihood of my kid being told the first. In the constant bombardment from the loud voices it's hard to remember that not everyone is yelling.

Also, please try and understand that we (those atheists who sometimes get carried away) like to loudly proclaim our lack of belief online, because it's one of the few safe places to do so. It makes me sad that I can't share a large chunk of my inner life with most of my family; it would hurt them. They'd still love and accept me, but they'd also pity me and my parents at least would feel like they failed me.

Everyone has a responsibility to be a decent kind person, but my hope is that we all try and understand that there's a reason when people aren't. Atheists and Theists alike.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:26 PM on June 2, 2012 [16 favorites]


I am Lucy Van Pelt when I am fabulous.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:42 PM on June 2, 2012


Also, please try and understand that we (those atheists who sometimes get carried away) like to loudly proclaim our lack of belief online, because it's one of the few safe places to do so. It makes me sad that I can't share a large chunk of my inner life with most of my family; it would hurt them.

I guess maybe religious people don't understand what a novelty it is to find atheists at all in the US?

I kid you not, I don't think I met another atheist until I was in my 20s. Finding whole communities of them online was pretty amazing to me. It's changing, gradually, and people are being more open about talking about it in public, but that's really only been the past few years. Before Dawkins and Dennett and the rest of the New Atheists, it was a topic that wasn't even discussed as a possibility in the media, except when talking about godless communists.
posted by empath at 4:50 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am Lucy Van Pelt when I am fabulous.

Really? I'm Pig Pen.
posted by jonmc at 4:57 PM on June 2, 2012


It’s a very common belief among certain Evangelical Christians that they are persecuted constantly. It’s strange to listen to them describe it. I feel the same way when some Atheists do it.

Are these Evangelical Christians effectively barred from holding any elective office if they proclaim their beliefs? Does their church enjoy tax exemptions that amount to subsidies paid by all taxpayers, even those who do not share their beliefs?

"Persecuted" may be too strong a word for what atheists live with, but "discriminated against" is certainly not.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:14 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the real world may lean the other way in maybe passively assuming that you have religious/spiritual beliefs, and I'm sure occasionally you might run into people who seem judgmental about it. I am not, however, willing to accept that atheists in general have a markedly harder time of it.

This passive assumption, however, leads to net negative effects for atheists in inter-personal, economic, and political relationships as compared to dominant Christian groups. I sketched out some examples in this comment. Another example is the substantial barrier to out atheists running for office in much of the US that others have mentioned in this thread.

it's not a contest to see who gets the shortest end of the stick

I'm not arguing that atheists somehow have it "worst" in the US. I'm arguing that in a culture that privileges religious belief and demeans atheism, perceptions of atheist zealotry on the part of the religious may not always be accurate, and the majority may be unaware of the subordinate position of atheists that creates frustration and vehemence.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:04 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've unhesitatingly and frequently self-identified as an atheist since I was 20 years old (I'm 47 now) and I spent about 12 of those 27 years living in Texas (and four of those were in Amarillo and Lubbock). And, really, I've experienced very little outright hostility for my atheism, although I've gotten a lot of patronizing pity and the like.

That said, in the US we have the reality that more people would be willing to vote for an openly gay/lesbian person for President than an atheist. I don't think there's any doubt that in the US atheists are very much a widely (though not severely) mostly covertly oppressed minority.

Also, I'm well educated and read in both philosophy and science, and some prominent atheists were very influential to me when I was young. As an adult, I own books by outspoken atheists such as Dawkins. In some respects I find theism utterly baffling and it seems very much to me like belief in astrology. Not only that, but I don't celebrate Christmas with my family and I believe that I've been chastised by other atheists/agnostics on MetaFilter for that (because it's "family time" and I'm being rude by not participating). (And, also, my username!)

All that said, I've always defended theists on MetaFilter because I agree with those above who claim that MetaFilter is a very hostile place against theists. Well, not only that, but as an atheist who has studied a lot of religion and religious texts, I also find a portion of the anti-theism here to be, frankly, ignorant. Which is very annoying for reasons entirely independent of the religious aspect.

This argument here, which recurs on MeTa every couple of months going back years and years and it drives me nuts. Because I understand where a lot of the atheist resentment and argument comes from. At the same time, I think that what jessamyn wrote above does play a role — for a lot of atheists, this is about the theism of their childhood and there's a lot of strong emotions and anger involved in which theism becomes a scapegoat. And how do you have a reasonable conversation in the context where someone believe that it is constructive (and not begging the question) to assert that any atheist who defends theists or theism is exhibited some kind of brainwashed Uncle Tom defense of the privileged? I mean, c'mon. Sure, that's probably true for some people, some times. But if that's in your argument toolkit as a means to refute someone's defense of theism, then you're not arguing in good faith.

An absolutely essential component of most of the more narrow-minded, abrasive, and arrogant arguments against theism by atheists is that it's self-evident that religious belief and organized religion have been BAD FOR PEOPLE THROUGHOUT HISTORY. People who hold this view take it as obvious that all those wars and genocides and misogyny and oppression and the like were caused by religion and that absent religious belief, they wouldn't have happened. Which is just...weirdly oblivious to actual human history and demonstrated human nature. It's just like the theists who think that the atrocities in the 20th associated with nominally atheistic governments occurred because of the atheism. It's a completely self-satisfied and narrow-minded view of things that just isn't true. But more importantly, these theist critics seem to forget all the progressive social movements in history that were primarily motivated by theists using religious arguments. Or that people in general are irrational and uncritical in numerous respects, not just with regard to theism, and in in many cases it's functional. I feel certain that it makes many people more emotionally healthy than they'd be without the irrational belief. And, also, these are social institutions which serve social purposes. To blithely assert that the world would be better off without religion is junior-high level atheism. And, yes, I think this about Dawkins, who I otherwise respect (though not his meme nonsense).

What I see in these heated debates is mostly just another form of tribalism. To many atheists, just as is the cases with theists in the other direction, theists are very much the other. And for whatever set of complicated psychosocial reasons, but related to similar behavior here with regard to conservatives (or southerners), this is a social environment where many people feel comfortable being hateful against this "other". Have they (we) experienced hateful behavior from this other group in our pasts? Well, of course. That's how this works. It's always the other guy who started it, right? We'd all get along great if those other people wouldn't be jerks. Every defense of hateful behavior by atheists here against theists quickly devolves into "they started it". You'd think that people would outgrow such arguments in grade-school.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:25 PM on June 2, 2012 [26 favorites]


empath: Eight. Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Mind, such laws were declared unconstitutional in...1961? I think...but that's neither here nor there. Just TRY running for public office ANYWHERE if you profess to be atheist, or for more fun, any flavor of Pagan.

Some years back, I watched a pretty heated mayoral campaign here get super nasty when it came out that the frontrunner was an atheist. Talk about shit hitting the fan. He went from potential savior (heh) of the city to persona non grata overnight. Oh, no, he couldn't possibly take care of the city if he wasn't christian! The "family values" candidate won, and was joined on the podium at his swearing in by his knocked-up-out-of-wedlock daughter and his second wife, with whom he had been having an affair for years and finally married after his first wife and her first husband caught on and divorced them.

Nice christian guy, truly. (He also dumped the city promptly into the shitter.)

>: I've had people tell me that I might as will kill myself if I don't believe in god. More than once.

I've had similar, because I don't believe in someone else's god. I am a solitary Heathen, and I like it that way, thank you. I don't believe that religion is meant for public consumption - didn't when I was christian, either. But because Jehovah and I haven't been friends in a long time, sometimes I'm either asked incredulously how I could possibly learn right from wrong without him, or told my life is devoid of meaning, and I'd be better off dead. My gods and our very private relationship aren't good enough, you see.

(Those are the "christians" my Lutheran upbringing hollers "Read the fucking red words!" at. Because, wow.)
posted by MissySedai at 6:26 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just TRY running for public office ANYWHERE if you profess to be atheist
I agree with the general point, but just a little note: There is, in fact, an actual openly atheistic member of Congress: Representative Pete Stark. He wasn't open when he was first elected, but he has won reelection after having come out (twice so far).
or for more fun, any flavor of Pagan.
Does Aqua Buddhism count?
posted by Flunkie at 6:36 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aqua Buddha. The cologne that ceases desire.

hey, wait a minute...
posted by jonmc at 6:47 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


The use of shitty, stupid mental illness 'diagnosis' doesn't only happen to people who are the subject of posts, it is frequently directed at other members. It is the most frustrating part of my metafilter experience.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:51 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Blasdelb: " I've asked for examples of when metafilter might not have been as welcoming to atheists as we would like it to be and have thus far only been pointed to a thread that was, appropriately, dominated by atheists. If you have any other examples or had other experiences on Metafilter to share I am all ears."

One of the early members of this site used to comment on AskMe questions about adoption and abortion with religious rhetoric. She'd disrupt threads by lecturing people who were considering having an abortion, because her religious beliefs say abortion is a sin. The mods demanded she stop (in 2007 or 2008, I believe) after enough people complained, and I'm given to understand that they told her in no uncertain terms that her continued participation and membership here were contingent on keeping out of threads on those topics. Which she has, to the best of my knowledge.

If you want to know, I can discuss it with you via memail. But I don't think it would be fair to her to bring up examples in this thread.

Blasdelb: " Non-religious folk are not a minority group on metafilter. Religious folk are pretty wildly outnumbered here no matter how you slice the site."

I am not sure this is the case. However, I can name a good 10 MeFites who are theists (including myself,) who used to post regularly in threads about religion but no longer do so.

I can't say why all of them are choosing not to participate. But I have had memail and email conversations with a few that say the level of hostility shown to them personally (not just their religion but them as individuals) has been enough to silence them on that topic.

I also can tell you that I'm making an effort not to participate in threads about religion anymore, unless specifically in a post about my own religion. It's not worth the aggravation.
posted by zarq at 6:53 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, good for Rep. Stark, but let me ask you something: What do you think his odds of election to begin with would have been if he weren't closeted about his lack of belief in 1973? He didn't reveal himself until 2007!

Obviously, his constituents think he's the bees knees now, he had the chance to prove himself. But would he have had the opportunity to prove himself if he were openly atheist during his first run? I'd like to think he would have been, but I've seen otherwise so often that it's really hard not to be cynical.

Does Aqua Buddhism count?

It should be obvious that if you're a rich, white, straight male, you can believe anything you want. Remove "rich" from the equation, though, and all bets are off.
posted by MissySedai at 6:54 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


MissySedai, as I said, I agree with your general point. I was just pointing out something that I think is of interest.
posted by Flunkie at 6:57 PM on June 2, 2012


And no, mental illness should never ever be used as an accusation of some sort, or as a dismissal.

I have come to the party late and have not looked at the thread in question.

...So, I thought from the post that it would be about members accusing other members of having narcisstic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder or being psychotic or what have you. And that is what I want to address.

I can't believe a trained professional could or, more importantly, would make such a diagnosis via internet telepathy, let alone a well meaning and well read layperson. To publically make such an assessment about another member -- there is simply no therapeutic value to or moral justification for such a thing. Such things are only intended hatefully: to wound someone directly or to damage that person's reputation here.

Yet, such accusations used to be incredibly common, back in the day.

And, to my recollection, they were almost always given a pass by the moderators when they were made.

That sort of thing seems to happen less frequently nowadays.

At least, I hope and pray that this is the case.
posted by y2karl at 6:58 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


That sort of thing seems to happen less frequently nowadays.

I'm just shocked to see one of the ur-mefites not bemoaning the long decline of the site, and saying that not everything is worse than in those salad days of years past.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:01 PM on June 2, 2012


In other words not all scholars agree it should be there.

Like Tom Bombadil.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:07 PM on June 2, 2012


I'm just shocked to see one of the ur-mefites not bemoaning the long decline of the site, and saying that not everything is worse than in those salad days of years past.

I don't participate as much as I used to do. And yet...

The use of shitty, stupid mental illness 'diagnosis' doesn't only happen to people who are the subject of posts, it is frequently directed at other members. It is the most frustrating part of my metafilter experience.

--apparently, it does. Well, we are all flawed vessels. Try to keep that in mind.

At least most members and no moderators favorite such comments anymore. So, there has been some progress.
posted by y2karl at 7:13 PM on June 2, 2012


few members, that is....
posted by y2karl at 7:15 PM on June 2, 2012


members accusing other members of having narcisstic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder or being psychotic or what have you.

And what makes me clutch my pointy little godless skull is the way people (here, but not just here) cite passages from the DSM-IV chapter and verse, as if it is The One True Way. Man, I can't even get into THAT discussion without getting my head ripped off and my throat hollered down.
posted by quivering_fantods at 7:19 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I seem to remember back in the day it was more accusations of drubk psoting, but yeah, it's good to see less of that too.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:35 PM on June 2, 2012


I've had people tell me that I might as will kill myself if I don't believe in god. More than once.

In high school, I was told in a class discussion that my life had no purpose, meaning or value unless I believed in god. When I asked if that meant I should go outside and shoot myself as my continued existence clearly had no point, they said, no, no, they didn't mean that, how dare I suggest that. They never explained what other conclusion I was meant to draw from the lack of meaning, purpose and value in my life.
posted by hoyland at 7:35 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just TRY running for public office ANYWHERE if you profess to be atheist, or for more fun, any flavor of Pagan.

Does that mean we get to win the Oppression Olympics in the Religion category?

I've received most of the insults to my sanity and intelligence from atheists who were friends of mine (were because, obviously, after the insults they ceased to be friends). I don't consider this evidence of massive discrimination from Vague Atheist Forces, but it does make me disinclined to ever discuss religion with atheists. (That and the fact those discussions seem to inevitably center around Christianity and how Awful it is, and I am so over that conversation.)

I am both baffled and annoyed by the claim that calling atheists on their use of mental illness as a weapon is suddenly discrimination AGAINST atheists. That seems rather like the continual use of "don't cause problems" when feminists point out the racism in feminism, or skeptics point out the sexism in skepticism.

The problem isn't pointing out discriminatory and prejudiced language - it's using it to begin with.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:46 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am both baffled and annoyed by the claim that calling atheists on their use of mental illness as a weapon is suddenly discrimination AGAINST atheists.

Can you show me where this took place specifically? I'm not doubting you, I genuinely want to read it for myself so I can respond to it directly.
posted by quivering_fantods at 7:52 PM on June 2, 2012


"I can't believe a trained professional could or, more importantly, would make such a diagnosis via internet telepathy, let alone a well meaning and well read layperson. To publically make such an assessment about another member -- there is simply no therapeutic value to or moral justification for such a thing."

Yes, I recall on numerous occasions years ago a mefite diagnosing me as a narcissist with the evidence being too many anecdotes and too many first-person pronouns. It was presumptuous and insulting. Perhaps you recall who that person was.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:56 PM on June 2, 2012


Yes, please. I've spoken out before on this site about calling people "OCD" or saying a behavior is "so OCD." It's stupid, it's usually inaccurate, and it's not cute or funny, even when describing yourself, if all you're describing is some quirk of neatness or organization. This is similar. Not necessary, and this community can do better than that.
posted by agregoli at 8:08 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Deoridhe: Does that mean we get to win the Oppression Olympics in the Religion category?

I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at?

I've received most of the insults to my sanity and intelligence from atheists who were friends of mine (were because, obviously, after the insults they ceased to be friends). I don't consider this evidence of massive discrimination from Vague Atheist Forces, but it does make me disinclined to ever discuss religion with atheists. (That and the fact those discussions seem to inevitably center around Christianity and how Awful it is, and I am so over that conversation.)

I'm glad you got new friends. AFAIC, actual friends don't do stupid shit like that.

As I said upthread, I don't believe religion is meant for public consumption. I am aware of the varying religions (or lack of same) amongst my friends, and they are aware of mine, but we do not argue over such things. They're not going to change my mind, and I'm not even remotely interested in changing theirs - one of my core philosophies is "I talk to my gods, you talk to yours, and when we talk to each other, we leave THEM out of it." Some of my friends are lovely liberal Lutherans, others are incredibly bitter atheists...and yet, they manage to get along fine and not be assholes to each other, because we ultimately all subscribe to the Bill and Ted Theory.
posted by MissySedai at 8:18 PM on June 2, 2012


Perhaps you recall who that person was.

A person who accused other members of having various personality disorders and hinted darkly about personal facts of their lives he made up from whole cloth. Perhaps we can compare notes sometimes.
posted by y2karl at 8:26 PM on June 2, 2012


To clarify a bit of bad editing from my earlier comment, my brother-in-law told my wife when she was six that her parents were going to hell.

It’s a very common belief among certain Evangelical Christians that they are persecuted constantly. It’s strange to listen to them describe it. I feel the same way when some Atheists do it.

As an Evangelical Christian I was told I was being persecuted constantly. As an Atheist I've actually experienced bigotry. Not out and out systemic persecution, but bigotry none the less. I'm fairly choosy about who I tell about my Atheism in person partially because I've had good friends stop talking to me when they found out about it.

The problem is the bigotry is usually very very low grade. I mean, I have a very good life, and I don't have to fear for my family's safety or anything, but the underlying assumption in most conversations in America is that you believe in a god of some sort. Next time you hear a speech by a politician, try and keep track of how many times they mention belief or faith. See if you can think of any portrait of an Atheist in pop culture that's positive (and no anti-heros like House don't count). It's not something that's worth complaining about most of the time, but it is there. Most people don't realize it for the same reason most people don't realize what a pain it is to change upright bass strings, it doesn't effect them and they're unlikely to hear someone who is effected by it complain.

I don't consider this evidence of massive discrimination from Vague Atheist Forces, but it does make me disinclined to ever discuss religion with atheists. (That and the fact those discussions seem to inevitably center around Christianity and how Awful it is, and I am so over that conversation.)


Please don't judge Atheism by its outliers. The people who want to convert you to their beliefs are the least likely to be rational and calm about them. If you want to have a calm rational discuss about religion with an Atheist, feel free to me-mail me.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:30 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"As I said upthread, I don't believe religion is meant for public consumption."

I get the strong impression that you think this is a self-evidently ethically superior position. But that's far from proven. I think it's more a sensibility of yours (shared by many, mind) that has more to do with your own personal experience and a particular cultural milieu that sees religious belief as a personal and not a social/communal matter.

I generally share that perspective and sensibility, but I don't at all think it's self-evidently "better" and I certainly don't look down my nose at people who think differently.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:50 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've spoken out before on this site about calling people "OCD" or saying a behavior is "so OCD." It's stupid
This usage of "stupid" actually strikes me as similar to what you're advocating against. The fact that someone uses "OCD" in reference to some relatively minor quirk about neatness or whatever doesn't seem to me to be particularly indicative that the person is stupid. They're probably not intellectually incapable of grasping the difference between what they're talking about and real OCD.

It seems more likely to me that the person is either ignorant of what real OCD is or else speaking more loosely than you would prefer, neither of which seems to imply stupidity to me.

I suppose you could say "I'm not calling the person stupid, I'm calling the act of using the term 'OCD' in that way stupid; even people who aren't stupid can do stupid things", but that seems like a pretty fine hair to me, and besides, (at least some of) the people calling religious people crazy could likewise retort that they actually mean the belief, not the person, is crazy.
posted by Flunkie at 8:50 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I get the strong impression that you think this is a self-evidently ethically superior position.

How lovely of you to project such utter nonsense! I said absolutely nothing of the sort. But if you're so insecure that you feel the need to make such a ridiculous claim, by all means, have at it.

I simply don't find making a big public fuss about my religion - or anyone else's - at all productive. Feel free to engage in those arguments if that's your wont, I'm certainly not going to stop you, unless you're in my house.
posted by MissySedai at 8:58 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"A person who accused other members of having various personality disorders and hinted darkly about personal facts of their lives he made up from whole cloth. Perhaps we can compare notes sometimes."

Yes, well, even if I were guilty of that (and maybe I was), I'm not the person who just piously argued that it was entirely unacceptable for mefites to diagnose other mefites with personality disorders while having a history of doing so. Whatever our personal history in this regard, it's ancient now, both yours and mine. Hopefully, we both behave better these days.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:02 PM on June 2, 2012


My last comment was beneath contempt and will hopefully soon disappear.

For the record, sometimes a general comment is a general comment snf not sa veiled dig, a bolt of cloth rather than a bespoke suit. Everyeone deserves a second chance. This si what I believe.
posted by y2karl at 9:04 PM on June 2, 2012


And, furthermore, my connection is slow and my computer is on its last legs. Whatever was written between happened unseen to me.
posted by y2karl at 9:08 PM on June 2, 2012


What about complaints about about atheist zealotry from atheists, audi alteram partem? Some of us have a problem with religious groups' tendency to attack and kill members of other groups they consider to be non-believers or heretics. It bothers us to hear atheists engaging in the same kind of dehumanizing rhetoric that religious and ethnic groups have used to justify attempted extermination of others.

It's pretty clear listening to these people talk that the only thing that stands between them and committing pogroms is small numbers and lack of political capital, not a lack of hate.

You would think we would have have learned something from our own history, namely that freedom of thought and opinion is valuable, and without it we'd be dead. But obviously some of us haven't learned that and don't see any value in those lessons from history at all.
posted by nangar at 9:16 PM on June 2, 2012


"How lovely of you to project such utter nonsense.

If I were projecting (ironically a psychiatric term, by the way), I'd have asserted as fact that you were doing such, rather than carefully qualifying it as being my "strong impression".

Also, "insecure". Really? In this thread? Along with "projecting"?? I can't even figure out what you think I might be insecure about that would motivate me to inaccurately form the impression I have. It might make sense if I were an evangelizing theist (or atheist, for that matter)...but I'm not. Indeed, I wrote that I share your sensibility about this. But I don't expect others to agree and that's why, for example, I didn't bring up that sensibility in this conversation...much less on numerous occasions.

Anyway, what you wrote above is that it's "not productive" to bring religion into the public/social sphere, which by itself can't be read as necessarily claiming that it's "ethically superior" to keep it private. But you also argue, implicitly, that the reason you and your friends, with your varying beliefs, get along without conflict is because you and they keep your religious beliefs to yourself. Those two bits in conjunction make it pretty clear that you think it's ethically superior, assuming you believe that interpersonal conflict is ethically inferior (and you seem to, as you clearly are implying that avoiding it has been a Good Thing).

However, it's entirely possible to avoid interpersonal conflict while still being overtly religious in social contexts. People can avoid conflict when they have respect and empathy for the perspectives and beliefs of others, whether it be about religion or politics or other divisive things. Avoidance and/or compartmentalization isn't the only solution, nor even the best solution.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:28 PM on June 2, 2012


It's pretty clear listening to these people talk that the only thing that stands between them and committing pogroms is small numbers and lack of political capital, not a lack of hate.

Vell den, you are now number eins on mein list. You vill regret ze day you trifled with ze secret atheist cabal. Yes, you vill regret it very...severely...
posted by Chekhovian at 9:36 PM on June 2, 2012


That's a terrible Austrian accent, and sounds nothing like Freud!
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 9:40 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ivan, you're really unclear about the Bill and Ted theory, aren't you?
posted by MissySedai at 9:42 PM on June 2, 2012


People can avoid conflict when they have respect and empathy for the perspectives and beliefs of others, whether it be about religion or politics or other divisive things. Avoidance and/or compartmentalization isn't the only solution, nor even the best solution.

Yet sometimes it absolutely is the best solution, and that is situation dependent. Among other things, I was called a "Christ killer" when I was a kid. Was beaten up for being Jewish. Was asked where my horns were by people I thought were my friends. Among other things. That sort of ongoing childhood experience tends to put a damper on wanting to talk openly about your religious beliefs. For that matter, so do comments like "Religious people? Fuck 'em."

Not everyone is at a point in their lives where they're capable of respect and empathy for others. Being cognizant of that and not assuming that everyone can handle challenges to their beliefs (be they theist or atheist) seems only prudent, especially when you're in the minority.
posted by zarq at 9:55 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Ivan, you're really unclear about the Bill and Ted theory, aren't you?"

I don't know. If that rhetorical question and your other comments addressed to me are examples of behavior informed by it, then apparently I am very unclear.

Please do me a favor if you're going to continue this discussion: state whether or not you believe that it's better for people to keep their religious beliefs private (than it is to be public about them), explain what "better" means and why you think it's "better" (if you do believe it's "better"). Or, if you don't believe it's better, then explain why you keep mentioning this preference of yours in this context and as part of an anecdote about how you and your friends, with your differing beliefs, manage to avoid conflict.

"Not everyone is at a point in their lives where they're capable of respect and empathy for others. Being cognizant of that and not assuming that everyone can handle challenges to their beliefs (be they theist or atheist) seems only prudent, especially when you're in the minority."

Sure. I agree. I don't know how often that's the case, but I'm certain that it's frequently the case.

However, I'm also sure that it's frequently not the case, too. And that it's frequently the case that people avoid discussing religion and politics because they can't be bothered to be respectful and empathetic about the beliefs and perspectives of other people.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:37 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also... people can be startlingly uneducated about religious faiths, and tend to make blanket assumptions about those that are unfamiliar. I admit, I've done it myself. For that matter, people can be the same way about atheism.

But I've lost count of the times I've felt the need to mention here that, generally speaking, Jews don't proselytize or try to convert people. That we don't think our beliefs apply to anyone but us, and aren't particularly interested in legislating our religious tenets to the non-Jewish masses. That just because someone is a theist that doesn't automatically them an intolerant, anti-science pro-life bigot.

I've commented about this repeatedly on the Blue and Gray, because too often folks say "religion" as an epithet and mean "Christians." It seems ridiculously stupid that I would have to remind folks here that atheists are not the only "heretical" non-Christians that have been subject to persecution and oppression in the name of Jesus. That being a theist isn't protection from any of that. But it keeps coming up.

Meanwhile, there are folks here that equate all Christian sects with fundie dominionists. Or declare all Catholics to be protecting and supporting pedophiles. It makes it kinda hard to have reasonable, respectful discussions.

On preview:

However, I'm also sure that it's frequently not the case, too. And that it's frequently the case that people avoid discussing religion and politics because they can't be bothered to be respectful and empathetic about the beliefs and perspectives of other people.

I bet you're right about that.
posted by zarq at 10:47 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Being cognizant of that and not assuming that everyone can handle challenges to their beliefs (be they theist or atheist) seems only prudent, especially when you're in the minority."

Here's the thing: the real reason for a lot of atheist pushback isn't to win converts or destroy other people's fragile faith or whatever. The real reason for the surge in public atheism is to make it acceptable for people that are already atheists to come out of the closet, as it were. There's more of us out there than you might think.

So I'm fucking tired of this constant refrain that we need to "Be Nice" or "Show Respect for Other People's Beliefs". That's just another way to shut us up and make it easier to continue ignoring our very existence.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:48 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thank you for sharing your beliefs with us.
posted by y2karl at 11:06 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


You joke, but look at that thread on the atheism rally in DC. The first 50% or so is just people saying "atheists are such wankers" or "I hate those assholes" or the equivalent. This is in a thread FOR ATHEISTS.

So threadshitting is a two way street.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:10 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


"So I'm fucking tired of this constant refrain that we need to "Be Nice" or "Show Respect for Other People's Beliefs". That's just another way to shut us up and make it easier to continue ignoring our very existence."

Well, I don't see that "public atheism" and "being nice"/"showing respect for other people's religious beliefs" are opposed. I absolutely don't believe that showing respect for other people's religions requires one to not be publicly atheist. What it requires is one to be respectful of other people's religious beliefs.

Being very assertive about one's right to be a non-believer and that it's a reasonable and socially acceptable view is not at all the same as, for example, claiming that believers are irrational. And when people are critical of atheists claiming that theists are irrational, that's not the same thing as them saying that it's unacceptable to be an atheist.

I think a lot of people are confused — and this most recent comment of yours seems to indicate this in your case, though I'm probably mistaken — and think that a) being an atheist is equivalent to asserting that there's something wrong with being a theist (beyond the obvious sense of it being "wrong" as in "true", as a matter of fact of existence of a god or gods) and b) that having a right to be an atheist is equivalent to having a right to tell theists that they're in the wrong (not just factually, but morally/ethically in some sense). But it's not. It't no more okay than it is when those theists tell we atheists that we're wrong for being atheists. That's not respectful. It's not respectful when we do it to them.

And it's implicit in many (not all) theisms that the other, differing beliefs are at the very least factually wrong. That's the whole point of being respectful and empathetic — the assumption is that the other person is wrong, so one makes an effort to mediate the implicit conflict. Theists can go right on believing that we atheists are wrong because, well, that's the nature of having contradictory beliefs of any kind. But they ought to allow that our views are a) valid, and b) socially acceptable. And we ought to allow them the same.

But many atheists don't. They argue that theism is not valid (it's not just wrong, it's inherently irrational) and they argue that it's morally wrong (on various grounds). Being critical of this is not equivalent to delegitimizing atheism. It's delegitimizing being a jerk.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:14 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes, I joke. But, for a fact, you are sharing your beliefs with us. Not facts but heartfelt self-serving irrational emotional beliefs.

And I'm not on any street. I don't have a driver's license. I'm on the sidewalk on my bike.
posted by y2karl at 11:16 PM on June 2, 2012


Here's the thing: the real reason for a lot of atheist pushback isn't to win converts or destroy other people's fragile faith or whatever. The real reason for the surge in public atheism is to make it acceptable for people that are already atheists to come out of the closet, as it were.

I have exactly zero problem with that. In fact, I support it.

There's more of us out there than you might think.

Whether there are just two or fifty million, it's all the same to me. You're in the minority, you've had to hide your beliefs (or lack thereof) from the majority for fear of persecution. I'm Jewish. My people and yours have been in the exact same boat in most places on this planet for many hundreds of years. I see little difference between our experiences, historically speaking.

So I'm fucking tired of this constant refrain that we need to "Be Nice" or "Show Respect for Other People's Beliefs". That's just another way to shut us up and make it easier to continue ignoring our very existence.

That's not what I'm saying.

I'm saying that I've had enough negative experiences in my life that I don't feel comfortable talking about my own religious beliefs to strangers -- or even to certain friends. That thinking this way doesn't mean I think I'm superior to anyone. Or that my religion is superior to anyone else's, or to agnosticism or atheism. And also that my own religious faith dictates that I shouldn't be trying to convert people.

I have no problem with atheists speaking out about their beliefs. I have a problem with anyone who makes inappropriate generalizations and asserts that atheists and/or religious faiths and their followers are all a particular way when they aren't. I have a problem with people who attack theists and atheists when they don't really know a damned thing about what they really believe or support, and can't be bothered to ask.

However, Mefites who wouldn't dare stereotype people by race in a comment seem to have no problem doing so to theists. I think that betrays a stunning lack of awareness and nuance on their part. There's no excuse for it, really. Other than that they're constructing lazy arguments and have perhaps never needed to make thoughtful distinctions. I see this done infrequently outside of Metafilter to atheists and it's just as distasteful.

I am not trying to silence or ignore you. I honestly don't care what you or anyone else believes, except as an intellectual curiosity, as long as it doesn't infringe on my right to do the same. But at the same time, while I don't ask you or anyone else to treat my religious beliefs as sacred, I'll thank you and them not to belittle or attack me for having them.
posted by zarq at 11:27 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't feel any extra duty of care as an atheist to *respect* others' beliefs. Accept them, yes; respect, no. I can still like a person, and respect other aspects of their character and worldview, without respecting their religious beliefs.

That doesn't mean I go around saying disrespectful things -- I keep that shit in the thought bubble vs. speech bubble.

But I'm not going to tie my brain in knots trying to pretend I respect something I don't.
posted by quivering_fantods at 11:33 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


not to belittle or attack me for having them

Again, attacking your beliefs is not the same as attacking you. I can hold you in perfect esteem as a person while thinking your habit of playing with venomous snakes (were you a pentacostal) is utter lunacy. That circle can be squared.

It't no more okay than it is when those theists tell we atheists that we're wrong for being atheists. That's not respectful. It's not respectful when we do it to them.

I don't mind being told that my beliefs are wrong. That's perfectly okay, so long as I can answer right back. If you attack my beliefs or attack yours, that is not the same as attacking you or disrespecting you as a person.

Now if the way you "attack my beliefs" is to call me a shrill, strident asshole, that crosses the line. Attack my logic with your logic, or shut the fuck up.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:34 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is in a thread FOR ATHEISTS.

It was a thread 'about atheists.' Not 'for atheists.'

If I post something about Israel to Metafilter, that doesn't mean it's only for Israelis and/or their supporters. Nor does being the focus of an FPP make Israel above criticism or in any way sacrosanct.

The argument in that thread was idiotic in a lot of ways, although I wouldn't necessarily characterize 50% of the opening comments as threadshitting. But the thread wasn't some sort of safe place for atheists, nor should it have been. And if any theist had made a similar assertion about a thread regarding the Catholic Church, I guarantee you that a bunch of people would be crying foul and saying that there is no reason why criticism of Catholicism or the Church should be off limits.
posted by zarq at 11:35 PM on June 2, 2012


It was a thread 'about atheists.' Not 'for atheists.'

Fair enough. But certainly most of those early comments were not exactly "on topic".
posted by Chekhovian at 11:38 PM on June 2, 2012


I'm getting tired of hearing that requests for civility are in fact oppressive subterfuge from cowards who are trying to distract from the real issues, which can only be discussed using insults and personal attacks. It's beginning to be a trope on MetaFilter, and I think the mods should address it at some point.

I also think, more generally, that comments telling other members to "shut the fuck up" should be treated identically to comments that tell other members to "take a walk, jackass."
posted by cribcage at 11:39 PM on June 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


But they ought to allow that our views are a) valid...They argue that theism is not valid (it's not just wrong, it's inherently irrational) and they argue that it's morally wrong (on various grounds).

This is totally perplexing. If all sets of views are equally valid, why should anyone have any particular set of views? Is the view that 2+2 =5 just as valid as someone else's view that 2+2=4?
posted by Chekhovian at 11:42 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Again, attacking your beliefs is not the same as attacking you.

Yes, but it can be. Note again the "Fuck religious people" comment above. It's the difference between challenging someone's beliefs and telling them they're an asshole for having them.

Many theists spend their entire lives thinking about these concepts in depth. My own beliefs are constantly evolving and changing. Challenging them is good -- I actually like it when my beliefs are challenged intelligently.

Taking these things on a case by case, person by person, comment by comment basis is probably best.

I can hold you in perfect esteem as a person while thinking your habit of playing with venomous snakes (were you a pentacostal) is utter lunacy. That circle can be squared.

I agree. And fwiw, I also thought the pastor was an idiot. Don't think he deserved his fate.

However, I often find that the comments on Metafilter threads about religious lunacy or offensive behavior don't restrict themselves to specific instances. Glib, generalized statements are made which condemn anyone who has any sort of faith as an idiot, or even some sort of evil collaborator. (That last turns up a lot in threads about Catholic pedophile priests.)

I get that sometimes people speak out of anger and frustration. I do that a lot, too. I just wish that people wouldn't assume that religious people are all idiots, or on the other side, that atheists are in any way a threat to them
posted by zarq at 11:50 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, but it can be. Note again the "Fuck religious people" comment above. It's the difference between challenging someone's beliefs and telling them they're an asshole for having them.

In any faction there will be more extreme members. Personal insults cross that line, as the helpful note next to "Post" button reminds us. As for broad insults to classes of people, I don't approve of them, but I find it hard to get worked up about them. Their very nature dilutes their impact. I find them silly more than anything. Why bother firing such an impotent round?
posted by Chekhovian at 12:00 AM on June 3, 2012


Athiests can be utter wankers. And I say that as an athiest wanker.

Given that religiosity probably has a genetic component, I have a hard time slagging people off for something they've been born with. Religion is not a mark of stupidity or a lifestyle choice.

And yes, my choice of words there is deliberately provocative.
posted by zoo at 12:16 AM on June 3, 2012


zoo, I don't really want this kind of "help"
posted by Chekhovian at 12:17 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I don't mind being told that my beliefs are wrong. That's perfectly okay, so long as I can answer right back. If you attack my beliefs or attack yours, that is not the same as attacking you or disrespecting you as a person."

This came up recently in another thread, and very possibly when you'd written something similar there (or someone else did), but this is an idiosyncratic position you've staked out. Most people have at least some beliefs that are so meaningful to them that "attacking" those beliefs (your choice of wording) feels pretty much exactly the same as attacking them.

And rightly so. Because, for example, it's implicit in many attacks of beliefs that there's something wrong with someone being so wrongheaded as to believe them. But, also, and more simply and unavoidably psychologically true, a great many beliefs form the core of someone's social persona, and when you attack their social persona, you're attacking the person in some very real sense. The distinction you're making is convenient when you want to justify being insensitive about other people's beliefs, but it's at the extreme edge of normal human behavior. Almost all people have numerous beliefs that are so important to them that the boundary between their belief and their self is ambiguous. And lest you claim that this is pathological, I suggest you consider a great deal of both philosophy and literature that deals with the matter of belief and identity.

"This is totally perplexing. If all sets of views are equally valid, why should anyone have any particular set of views? Is the view that 2+2 =5 just as valid as someone else's view that 2+2=4?"

I never asserted that all views are valid. But with regard to the sorts of issues we're discussing here, they almost all are. Validity is distinct from truth. A syllogism, for example, can be valid but be false because it has untrue premises. In the real world with complex issues like politics and religion — and the existence of a god is, at present, included in this, in my opinion — whether a premise is true or false is not available and unambiguous. For that matter, in complex arguments, the validity of the reasoning is difficult or impossible to discern and usually ambiguous. In this context, valid often becomes nothing more or less than "most people with that person's life experiences and knowledge would not find this belief irrational". Of course, we can't really know that, either; but what we can do is look at other people from similar circumstances and make generalizations about them. The overwhelming majority of all the people who are alive today and who have ever lived believed in one or more gods. For that reason alone, I will not judge such a belief "unreasonable" or "invalid". I do judge it false, but I'm not certain of this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:19 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, like God's love, you may not want it, but its always there for you.
posted by zoo at 12:20 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


you may not want it, but its always there for you

Lol, okay, that's pretty solid.

Most people have at least some beliefs that are so meaningful to them that "attacking" those beliefs (your choice of wording) feels pretty much exactly the same as attacking them.

Well, that's their fault not mine.

I suggest you consider a great deal of both philosophy and literature that deals with the matter of belief and identity.

That's the wonderful thing about a scientific education. Day after you day your "beliefs" and your "intuition" are ground down by the relentless truth of experiment. You can choose to believe whatever you want, but nature will do what nature will do independent of those beliefs. Philosphy and literature disagree with nature, well, then they deserve the same treatment Alexander gave that wonderful knot.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:33 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


*If Philosophy and literature
posted by Chekhovian at 12:33 AM on June 3, 2012


An absolutely essential component of most of the more narrow-minded, abrasive, and arrogant arguments against theism by atheists is that it's self-evident that religious belief and organized religion have been BAD FOR PEOPLE THROUGHOUT HISTORY. People who hold this view take it as obvious that all those wars and genocides and misogyny and oppression and the like were caused by religion and that absent religious belief, they wouldn't have happened. Which is just...weirdly oblivious to actual human history and demonstrated human nature.

Racism causes wars and genocides and misogyny and oppression, and I doubt anyone here would disagree. Tribalism causes this kind of harm, as you yourself implied above. Extreme ideologies, sheer jealousy, naked greed -- all these things cause people to hurt each other in these ways, and no one ever argues that they are simply an excuse without which the same things would inevitably have happened in precisely the same ways. But religion? Oh, no, not religion -- people who say that religion ever causes things (other than "all the progressive social movements in history primarily motivated by theists using religious arguments", of course) are just "junior-high level atheists".

I think it's obvious how bankrupt that argument is. I fully acknowledge that religion was not the sole cause of all this pain, and that things like wars and genocides and misogyny and oppression would still have existed without religion... but one can understand just how convoluted cause and effect can be, and still find that religion has been, at the least, a consistently effective way to get the common man to participate in atrocity throughout human history. Even if it is a mere excuse and never so much as even a secondary or tertiary cause -- which I don't believe for a second -- it works and it keeps on working. And even if we discounted every religious war, every religious genocide, every religious misogyny, and every religious oppression, we would still be left with those who were put through death or suffering due to religious laws they themselves accepted, those whose entire lives were limited by a religious code they would not have accepted had they had a choice, and those who suffered even further due to their inability to live with that limitation. Hell, even askme sees plenty of people who are still really, truly suffering due to the impact of religion on their lives. The idea that religion hasn't been BAD FOR PEOPLE THROUGHOUT HISTORY is... well, weirdly oblivious to actual human history and demonstrated human nature.

The real question is whether the bad outweighs the good (and what "bad" and "good" are in the first place), not whether the bad or the good don't exist or don't count.

And this is exactly why I speak out about this: because silent, shame-filled capitulation is what's expected from people who are "wrong" the way I am "wrong", and I decided long ago that I wasn't going to participate. Honesty matters to me, and I honestly believe that religion is generally negative, in light of my own value system and the kind of society I want to live in. Therefore I will say so, whether others think I'm a "jerk" or not. I might be wrong, and if so, so be it, but I do not have to lie or be silent, not any more than people who think religion is generally positive have to do so. Bad enough that I've got to live in topsy-turvy world -- not to speak of the wires would be torture, and there are four lights.
posted by vorfeed at 12:46 AM on June 3, 2012 [26 favorites]


vorfeed, you put me to shame with your eloquence. Damn you.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:02 AM on June 3, 2012


I'm kind of curious how many people in this thread (or the now-defunct one) have ever actually been to a pentecostal church for sunday morning services. Even with my pre-adolescent lack of self awareness, the guys having (what looked like) a seizure up front seemed to be in some medical trouble to me. "No, no--it's just the holy spirit, flaming up when and where he wills..." ...all right then...

They did have some really tasty bread they gave away to first time attendees though. For that reason, I was still a little sad that my family didn't decide to ever go back. Church services were always so boring--people convulsing on the floor and speaking gibberish was a little more entertaining from a kid's perspective.
posted by Estraven at 1:30 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


MissySedai:
Deoridhe: Does that mean we get to win the Oppression Olympics in the Religion category?

I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at?


If pagans have it "worse" than atheists at being elected, does that mean we win?

It was a flippant response with several layers of meaning to it. The main thrust was about the illogic of trying to rank oppressions as if there were a top to bottom hierarchy, instead of it being a complex kyriachal web where power and influence shift with the context. There was also a bit in there about how funny it is that a religious group and a non-religous group could be grouped as somehow on the bottom of the pile in one context, especially since many athiests are actually rather hostile to most of paganism in a dismissive way (I believe the phrase is, "I don't believe in Odin, either", with the usual assumption that of course no one could believe in Odin. I mean, he's in myths.). Much like the comparison of atheists and Jews above, it's a pairing of two rather extreme minorities where the minorities often end up set against each other. This is all in the contexts of the ludicrous idea of "winning" by being "most oppressed" which includes my usual barbs against people who add as many subgroups as possible to win, and the people who claim people want to be oppressed so that they win.

Mostly I thought it was funny, though.

As I said upthread, I don't believe religion is meant for public consumption.

I'm happy to you, I guess? I tend to not discuss religion outside of overt places; all the times I have discussed it with athiests, they have brought it up.

I still think the far more important point is that Mental Illness should not be used as an insult, against any people including those with mental illnesses.

Gygesringtone: I don't, actually. I was raised by an agnostic with an atheist. I'm just pointing out that there is a subset of atheist who is obsessed with Christianity. I'm ill equipped, and have no inclination, to analyze their reasons. And honestly, I'm not sure what the point of having a calm, rational discussion with an atheist would be, including my religion. I have no desire to proselytize, I'm happy to give my opinions on this and wax at length about my religion but only to those who are interested and outright ask, and I'm not sure exactly what perspective an atheist would have on my religion; it would seem rather one-sided, since the chances of anyone having met anyone of my religion is passing unlikely.

I still think the far more important point is that Mental Illness should not be used as an insult, against any people including those with mental illnesses.

nangarIt's pretty clear listening to these people talk that the only thing that stands between them and committing pogroms is small numbers and lack of political capital, not a lack of hate.
Personally, I'd argue that it's the human tendency for an in-group/out-group dichotomy with violence acceptable against the latter that is more of a problem than religion per se. Were my religion to ever become dominant, it certainly would have those same tendencies. So far I've not found any reliable, replicable across a large population means to mitigate that tendency. Talking and diversity seem to do it, but often "diverse" groups come up with some sort of shibboleth characteristic, and the whole dance starts over again.

I still think the far more important point is that Mental Illness should not be used as an insult, against any people including those with mental illnesses.

ChekhovianThis is totally perplexing. If all sets of views are equally valid, why should anyone have any particular set of views? Is the view that 2+2 =5 just as valid as someone else's view that 2+2=4?"
There are 10 kinds of people. Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

I still think the far more important point is that Mental Illness should not be used as an insult, against any people including those with mental illnesses.

vorfeedRacism causes wars and genocides and misogyny and oppression, and I doubt anyone here would disagree. Tribalism causes this kind of harm, as you yourself implied above. Extreme ideologies, sheer jealousy, naked greed -- all these things cause people to hurt each other in these ways, and no one ever argues that they are simply an excuse without which the same things would inevitably have happened in precisely the same ways. But religion? Oh, no, not religion
Your logic doesn't follow in this paragraph, which makes the following paragraphs very confusing. Since religion can validate and encompass racism, misogyny, oppression, and tribalism, as well as extreme ideologies, jealous, and greed, then of course there are circumstances where religion causes wars. While I appreciate your attempt for a rhetorical "gotcha", it really seems out of place when no one has claimed your "gotcha" phrase. Perhaps save the "gotcha" for when a religious person has claimed their religion is pure rather than tossing it in while religious (and non religious) people are asking for basic respect as well as to not use Mental Illness as a weapon because it hurts people with mental illnesses?

I still think the far more important point is that Mental Illness should not be used as an insult, against any people including those with mental illnesses.

Even with my pre-adolescent lack of self awareness, the guys having (what looked like) a seizure up front seemed to be in some medical trouble to me.
Can we drop the armchair medical diagnosis trend before it starts? It's really no more reasonable, rational, or appropriate than armchair mental illness diagnosing. Until recently, epileptics were actually locked up in mental hospitals with the rest of the mentally ill and socially inconvenient - so you're skating on thin ice here.


Well, like God's love, you may not want it, but its always there for you.
Baldr died for YOU!*


*Actually he didn't, he died so that the world could be restarted and he really doesn't care much about humans at all, and given the myth he might actually be more of a symbol than a god per se, since his name means peace and he's killed by his brother named war, but really when you're trying to twist one belief system to mimic another these sorts of inaccuracies are inevitable.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:14 AM on June 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


So are there any approved ways to criticize people? If you're juggling venomous snakes...you need some criticism for your own good. Can we say its "unfortunate" that you're doing that? Or does that offend unlucky people?
posted by Chekhovian at 2:25 AM on June 3, 2012


Also, as a sidenote, I find it symbolic that the very last reply in the thread was addressed to me (an atheist) from a theist providing ~even more opinions~ in regard to my request for the source of a different theist's allegations of atheistic biblical illiteracy. I provided a study showing the opposite, but apparently asking where Jesus was born or what is the first book of the bible is "cherrypicking" facts that only atheists would know (!). If you want to give your opinion on whatever, that's ok, but I wasn't asking for an opinion from some random person, I was asking a previous poster for a source. Not a tl;dr from an onlooker.

I think where a lot of the atheist vs. theist thing goes so "wrong" is that the atheist will generally try to approach a discussion with a theist very empirically, a tendency possibly heightened by the choice many of us make to go into the math and science fields. ("Well, what if we introduce A? No? *introduces B* Still....no? Well, what about...") As a famous fictional doctor once said, “Rational arguments don’t usually work on religious people. Otherwise there would be no religious people.”

Still, it's pretty interesting to watch people fail the vertical line test. That said, not everyone, ahem, functions the way you'd expect. Some people will stick with their religious views their entire lives; others will switch or even discard religions entirely. But in a society where even putting up a billboard saying, "Don't believe in God? You are not alone." is a controversial affair, I don't know that we're really the oppressive majority yet. And for people who have their doubts, but haven't been able to come out of the closet yet, the New Atheist movement has really done a lot to at least put the existence of non-theistic people in the modern discourse.

From my humanistic perspective, it is too bad that the man in the article died. He could have been doing so many greater things than decomposing, and the waste of a life is interminably sad. Despite their beliefs, I'm sure his family will miss him very much.

“I’m getting the [faith-based rattle snake handling practice] started in other states, where I am seeing a positive turnout,” he said. “Remember, back in the Bible, it was the miracles that drew people to Christ.”

Sadder is the fact that this tragedy will likely do little to change the circumstances that allowed it.
posted by Estraven at 2:25 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always defended theists on MetaFilter because I agree with those above who claim that MetaFilter is a very hostile place against theists. Well, not only that, but as an atheist who has studied a lot of religion and religious texts, I also find a portion of the anti-theism here to be, frankly, ignorant.

If I have decided that the underlying, irreducible tenet of a belief system is false, then expending energy learning more about that belief system becomes an investigation of psychology, or maybe a hobby. In any case, it's a personal choice. I don't choose to learn more than I already do. I have also chosen not to become more educated about Astrology and Alchemy, for similar reasons. You've apparently chosen to educate yourself about religions, beyond what you learned in childhood, even though you do not believe in God. More power to you. So you're less ignorant about religion than I am, but I am not persuaded that my ignorance is great enough to invalidate my atheism.

An absolutely essential component of most of the more narrow-minded, abrasive, and arrogant arguments against theism by atheists is that it's self-evident that religious belief and organized religion have been BAD FOR PEOPLE THROUGHOUT HISTORY. People who hold this view take it as obvious that all those wars and genocides and misogyny and oppression and the like were caused by religion and that absent religious belief, they wouldn't have happened.

I think the part about "all those wars and genocides" is hyperbolic, and even your extreme fringe atheists don't make those claims. There are certainly SOME wars & etc. that would not have happened if religion had not been active. It is entirely fair to blame the religion in question for all the death and suffering consequent to those events. Unless you believe that some greater good resulted from them, those events are arguments that religion has had a negative effect on humanity.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:25 AM on June 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's beginning to be a trope on MetaFilter, and I think the mods should address it at some point.

I also think, more generally, that comments telling other members to "shut the fuck up" should be treated identically to comments that tell other members to "take a walk, jackass."


We address the civility thing nearly constantly in MetaTalk. It has not gone unaddressed by us. I will address it again.

And yes the "shut the fuck up" stuff generally does get the same treatment as "take a walk, jackass" but only if it's directed as a specific person and not a general "If you did this I would tell you to shut the fuck up" scenario envisioning.

We've got sort of a perfect storm in MeTa this weekend where there's another thread about maybe flagging not working right and so people are flagging a TON of shit which makes it a little difficult [on an understaffed weekend as we've mentioned previously] to keep up. That said, this isn't something we would have deleted. THAT said, per the above, we expect people to treat each other civilly even if you do not agree with or respect others' beliefs, WHATEVER they are. We feel this way because it's MetaFilter and that's how we treat each other, not because we have some sort of "be nice" rule.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:12 AM on June 3, 2012


Compassion and empathy and motherfucking kindness. If you don't have this, it doesn't matter how the fuck you label yourself, you're in the wrong.

I'll be the first to say plenty of religious folk go zero-for-three here. That includes members of my family. I've been in plenty of fights with various stripes of Christians where I had to argue that humanity is beautiful because of HUMANITY, and can be appreciated without any goddamn faith whatsoever. Plus the arguments against my going to hell because I don't usually put a cookie in my mouth Sundays.

But when you're a hateful dick to somebody just because they were a hateful dick first, you're as bad as they are. Maybe not in the "I picked the right side in the cosmic faith war" category, maybe the anti-organized-religion folks are gonna win that, but in the even more crucial "don't be a hateful dick" category, which is the real war all of humanity is fighting at approximately all times.

Often, fighting the hateful dicks means being passionate for causes which some scummy religious types oppose. Compassion and empathy should be for EVERYONE, especially people who are in legitimate peril beyond "my friends all gonna burn in hell", and when those hellfire sorts get pissy cos you value somebody else's real suffering over their hurt feelings, they're clearly not the more important issue. At the same time, going out of the way just to hurt feelings is kind of definitely shitty. Even if the other person has faith and you think that's ridiculous. Don't be a hateful dick.

What complicates this discussion further is that I find most religions and faiths ARE pointing to something real. They cover it up in dogma and their traditions fail to make that thing come properly alive, but there's a real "thing" at the center of those religions, a "thing" which each approaches differently but is very definitely there. The idea of there being a universal higher order isn't necessarily a religious one, and the idea that people can work together to realize that higher order within a society, whether that society's local or national or global, similarly is not a religious idea at all, yet it can be found in every religion.

And many religious communities I know have found that higher order, at least on a local scale. People rely on those communities for health and sustenance, and what they're relying on ISN'T the dogma – it's that higher order which the dogma enables. I find that if I point myself to the deeper "thing", and try to understand the reasons for the dogma taking people there, religions open up to me and I understand things about them which I never understood before. I don't condone religious dickery because of this – in fact, this makes me hopeful that someday the meaner religions WILL be replaced – but this is an important factor which often gets missed in discussions about religious faith:

The dogma may be lunacy or ill-thought, but it points to something real. What people get out of religious community is a powerful thing, not delusional whatsoever (even if their explanations for how they got to that powerful thing are a combination of beautiful metaphor and wacky-go-nuts).

Too many religious attacks go after not the dogma, but the idea that religious people get anything out of religion at all. There's a scorn for the idea that religion formed around anything other than people trying to gain power and oppress the masses, sometimes. Sometimes I think atheists "want to believe", only their belief is that religion offers nothing they don't already have.

Some atheists DO have this, without religion's help. But some would enjoy having what people of faith seem to have: they'll admit this openly. And while there are some alternatives for atheists, I don't find any to be as comprehensive or as satisfying as the religious communities I know. Christopher Alexander talks about how the problem with a science-driven culture is its reliance on mechanistic models: when you focus too much on models of things, you sometimes stop appreciating the beauty and wonder of the unknown, or you stop feeling like there's anything special about the human mind's subjective experiences beyond cold chemical reactions. Maybe he's right, and that's why people still turn to religion (even atheists find faith, so it's not indoctrination entirely).

Alexander proposes a culture that acknowledges the deeper mysteries of life and eschews the dogmas, which sounds like paradise to me. In any event, that's not what we have on either the theist or the atheist side, not in bulk, and realizing that something's missing on both sides can be valuable. (Again, missing in the greater culture, not among individuals. I know both theists and atheists who have both.) We have to recognize that by alienating others, by treating them as "others", as crazy or stupid or deluded, we make it that much harder for ourselves to recognize the good in them, and to separate the weirdnesses in their behavior from the goodness. It's not as easy as saying religion is the weird and without it they'd be all good. A lot of that goodness is brought about by religion in ways more comprehensive than any secular institution I know. The institution isn't necessary, I prefer to go without it, and there's a lot of bad in the institution as well. But that's not saying it's all just a lunatic delusion either. Think about it.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:14 AM on June 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


Sometimes I think atheists "want to believe", only their belief is that religion offers nothing they don't already have.

Good thing you only think that some of the time, because it's pretty condescending.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:40 AM on June 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


Sometimes I think atheists "want to believe", only their belief is that religion offers nothing they don't already have.

I was raised religiously, was devoutly religious for some time as an adult, have religious family, am surrounded by religious people in my community, am good friends with people who are religious (up to and including a couple of people who are going into the ministry)...but because I'm an atheist you assume that I have no idea what religion might offer to me, personally and am just in denial of the truth that you and/or religious people understand. Ugh.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:50 AM on June 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


The distinction you're making is convenient when you want to justify being insensitive about other people's beliefs, but it's at the extreme edge of normal human behavior. Almost all people have numerous beliefs that are so important to them that the boundary between their belief and their self is ambiguous. And lest you claim that this is pathological, I suggest you consider a great deal of both philosophy and literature that deals with the matter of belief and identity.

You weren't responding to me, but I'll bite. I don't think there is anything wrong with identifying with your beliefs. What I think is wrong is that certain things that our society arbitrarily classifies as "religions" or "religious beliefs" are given special exemption from criticism. Special exemption from the idea that they might cause bigotry. Special exemption from the idea that they might hurt people. Special exemption from the idea that some might be better off if they did not hold those beliefs. Criticizing those beliefs is seen to be inherently bigoted, assholish, thoughtless, or whatever adjectives get thrown around to describe statements like "if no one were Christian, the world would be a better place".

The same freedom from criticism isn't accorded to other beliefs. Belief in homeopathy. Belief in astrology. Belief in trickle-down economics. Belief that certain races are superior to others. All of these beliefs can (and are) criticized here. Their influence on society at large and on personal decision making can be discussed and often people come to the conclusion that that influence is negative and that the world would be a better place if no one held those beliefs. Christianity? No. Exempt because it might hurt people's feelings.

The irony being that the wrong kind of religious beliefs aren't exempt from criticism either, unless one implies that the criticisms might also apply to the "right" kind of religion and belief. So what we have is a ranking system for belief that is arbitrary and entirely based on people's unwillingness to accept that their personal beliefs are not special and that reasonable people might be critical of them.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:04 AM on June 3, 2012 [23 favorites]


What about complaints about about atheist zealotry from atheists, audi alteram partem? Some of us have a problem with religious groups' tendency to attack and kill members of other groups they consider to be non-believers or heretics. It bothers us to hear atheists engaging in the same kind of dehumanizing rhetoric that religious and ethnic groups have used to justify attempted extermination of others.

Nangar, I have no objection to atheists criticizing other atheists who use dehumanizing rhetoric. I encourage it. I encourage criticizing the use of dehumanizing rhetoric no matter what position it comes from and what position it is applied to. I have said this earlier in the thread.

My argument is that perceptions of "zealotry" and "civility" are contested. One position will see an argument as inappropriate that others see as fine. This difference in perception occurs in part because of religious privilege which influences atheists and theists alike.

You used a very specific term: dehumanizing rhetoric. This is the sort of specificity I'd like to see more of in these theist/atheist discussions along with quotations of problematic rhetoric. We can only talk about civility in the abstract productively when we have particular criteria for what constitutes civility, criteria that all (or almost all) parties involved agree to and that are applied consistently across different arguments coming from different viewpoints.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:12 AM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


At the same time, going out of the way just to hurt feelings is kind of definitely shitty. Even if the other person has faith and you think that's ridiculous. Don't be a hateful dick.

Also, Rory, I'm curious why you think this is happening here. Do you think people here, on Metafilter, are going out of the way just to hurt feelings? If so, I'd like to know why you make that extremely negative assumption about people's motivations for commenting in the way that they do.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:29 AM on June 3, 2012


Here's a question for others who have struggled with mental health issues: When you see a word like "lunatic" show up in a thread, does it make you feel angry or worthless or anxious or frustrated?

No. None of those things.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:31 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Me neither. However, if somebody wrote, people mental illness suck, amirite, or mental illness ha ha ha that would be a different matter.

Laughing at mental illness is yuck. Making generalizations about X mental illness is yuck. Many, many things are "lunatic" w/o diagnosis x, y, and z.

Saying of self-destructive behavior: That is lunacy, lunatic, or even maybe they suffer from A, B, and C -- really, that's fine with me.
posted by angrycat at 6:41 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, here's another peeve. Saying that somebody exhibits behaviour traits or characteristics similar to somebody with Borderline Personality Disorder or schizophrenia or whatever is *not* doing a diagnosis.

If the person pointing out those traits isn't delivering treatment, and doesn't have the power to make their observations stick, then all they're doing is saying so-and-so acts like somebody who has a psychiatric condition.

I can't for the life of me see what's wrong with that. If you disagree, then you're perfectly free to say why you think that's not the case.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:48 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


audi, I totally agree with everything you just said.
posted by nangar at 7:04 AM on June 3, 2012


I'd just like to that Ivan Fyodorovich and zarq for their patient and eloquent comments here. My first MeTa post, back in 2002, was a complaint about all the arguments about religion that (it seemed to me) were pointless and bad for MetaFilter, and it hasn't gotten any better since then. I understand the feelings of both sides but despair at their inability to coexist without fighting, and in particular at the inability of my atheist comrades to let a discussion about some facet of religious belief proceed without jumping in to make a "Who cares? Religion is stupid!" comment that does nothing for the thread but relieves their feelings. When you feel tempted to point out that somebody else believes something stupid, why not remind yourself that you probably believe some stupid things too and just let it go? Someone Is Wrong on the Internet should not be your eternal call to action.
posted by languagehat at 7:25 AM on June 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


I am an atheist comfortable in my lack of belief. I am the daughter of a woman raised modern Orthodox and I am comfortable with my cultural Jewish heritage. I am the granddaughter of an increasingly devout Methodist woman and I am, if not comfortable with my grandma's religious outbursts, appreciative of the fact that when she tells me she's praying for me, what it means is she loves me. I have also been in situations whereI had to decide if I would be safer telling people I am an atheist or a Jew (turns out that in Northwestern Kenya, I may have killed Christ and I may have horns, but at least I believe something).

I treat most religious beliefs like I treat any cultural belief system I don't participate in. They are culturally situated. They perform a cultural function and allow people a sense of identity and meaning. They act as ways to identify in- and out-groups. They give people motivation to do wonderful, awful, or mundane things. They can be repellant, cruel, misguided, meaningful, beautiful, something the participant believe in thoughtlessly or something the participants believe in after deliberation and evaluation and conscious choice or something participants believe in just because that's what everybody does. Like female genital mutilation, or growing up a Yankees fan, or choosing to participate in any number of subcultures.

Being atheist is culturally situated, too. I get to participate in skeptic groups and can be a scientist who studies evolution and loves gay people without worrying about compromising my beliefs or the beliefs the broader culture ascribes to me. I see the world as a beautiful expression of scientific processes that give me hope for nature, humanity, and reason. Of course, I can't tell my grandma what I really think or she would be terrified for me and likely insulted. And I can't run for office without having my character impugned. And I am frequently represented to the broader human population by angry white men who lead atheists to be viewed as a group to fear, a group to pity, a group to hat, and a group to be combative against, when many of us would prefer to foster mutual respect, or at last be left alone in our lack of belief.

Upthread, somebody suggested we should be more anthropological in our dealings as atheists with religious folks. Religious folks should try to think anthropologically about atheists, too. We're all just products of our culture.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:55 AM on June 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


> Do people see something like "Christianity is a based on something that doesn't exist and it has a negative impact on the society I live in. I would be thrilled if there was no more Christianity" as bigoted and hateful?

No, I don't. It's a legitimate opinion about Christianity as a belief system, and it's not inherently bigoted or hateful. I think it's necessary for people to be able express opinions like this if we're going to have a discussion about religion.


I like to add:

I disagree with statements like "All religions are inherently evil". I do not object to people making statements like this. All I ask is that I be able to explain why I disagree without being attacked as a person for disagreeing. I have no problem with people disagreeing with my disagreement.
posted by nangar at 8:03 AM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, Rory, I'm curious why you think this is happening here. Do you think people here, on Metafilter, are going out of the way just to hurt feelings? If so, I'd like to know why you make that extremely negative assumption about people's motivations for commenting in the way that they do.

I've seen many users argue on many occasions that:

– because religion is chosen, unlike race or sexuality, we are justified in judging, mocking, or insulting religious beliefs; or
– because religion does so much harm, we should focus on those hurt by religion to the exclusion of any minor hurts caused by sharp language.

There're a few other arguments bandied about, but those are the two I see most frequently.

w/r/t "atheists want to believe": I should have punctuated differently. Not all atheists want to believe. I've heard many say they wish they had what faith seems to bring the faithful, and I think it's because many people do get something out of their chosen religion that is perhaps not as easy to find elsewhere. Not that it's impossible to find – I've found it in art and philosophy and nature and a dozen nooks and crannies – but that it's not as easy to find as it is in a certain kind of religious community.

I am an atheist. I am critical of a lot of what I see in organized religion. Yet the religious people I know find something valuable and real in their devotion, and I find it difficult to criticize the path they've taken to find it when I know how important what they've found is. It's better to point to other ways of finding the same thing which lack the dogma or baggage, and to criticize the dogma while acknowledging the reason it exists in the first place.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:46 AM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


The young rope rider: What I think is wrong is that certain things that our society arbitrarily classifies as "religions" or "religious beliefs" are given special exemption from criticism. Special exemption from the idea that they might cause bigotry. Special exemption from the idea that they might hurt people. Special exemption from the idea that some might be better off if they did not hold those beliefs.

Yes! Well-said, and you've hit it right on the head. That is, at least, what we Americans face, for those of you who might not understand the frustration atheists are dealing with, pretty much on a daily basis.

Criticizing those beliefs is seen to be inherently bigoted, assholish, thoughtless, or whatever adjectives get thrown around to describe statements like "if no one were Christian, the world would be a better place".

Ugh. See, I don't think that follows, but that doesn't matter because you do. But I think you may also be missing something here.

Until you became an atheist, you would fall into that Christian subgroup right? But you questioned what you thought was wrong, even then. Just because someone identifies as Christian doesn't mean they accept every tenet of every Christian sect--Protestants, Episcopalians and Catholics disagree about a LOT--and it doesn't mean they believe in or support everything ever done in the name of Christianity, either.

And some people who self-identify as Christian are great people, who do good things in their community through their involvement in the church.

The world would definitely not be a better place without those people, including you.

So I think it is wrong not because you shouldn't voice your opinion, but because it is a huge generalization that encompasses those good people, too. And now those people, arguably the best of the Christian community, feel attacked, when they might have been on your side.

Plus, your own background is showing here. Why single out Christianity, instead of all religion? Has nothing bad been done by any of them? Sure it has. So are we going to say that the world would be a better place without any theists at all? That's a LOT of people. Seems like a lonely world we are setting up here.

If, instead, you took a moment to reflect about what bothers you, I think you and I would be on the same page, ie: "The world would be a better place without extremists trying to force their beliefs on to everyone else." You could go for 'fanatics' instead of extremists, but I thnk that sentiment nails it for me. i don't even have to specify religion in there, because I think it applies just as well to my political stance.

And most people would still support you, because no one really considers herself/himself an extremist.
posted by misha at 8:51 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The dogma may be lunacy or ill-thought, but it points to something real

You sort of say this same thing over and over, but never really get around to saying what you think it might be. "Higher order" is no more specific.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:54 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


> And some people who self-identify as Christian are great people, who do good things in their community through their involvement in the church.

The world would definitely not be a better place without those people, including you.


misha, a critical difference between rope rider's statement and one I think would actually be problematic is she didn't say anything about eliminating people.
posted by nangar at 9:11 AM on June 3, 2012


I'm sorry I had to run off before, when I mentioned When FatherDagon's comment, by the way.

When I expressed frustration that it was still there, it's because I feel like it is a no-brainer that the comment should have been flagged from the beginning.

He is arguing someone he's never even met deserves to die, because he disagreed with something that person did, something that had no direct affect on him, something he wasn't even aware of before that thread. How is that okay, no matter what you think about snake handling or Pentecostal beliefs?

What appalled me is the 43 favorites on that comment! Not because I think snake handlers are cool and righteous but because the sentiment is as abhorrent to me as someone who is not pro-choice saying a doctor who performs abortions deserves to die.

I guess people favorited the sentiment because they don't like snake handling, or Pentecostal Christians, or all Christianity? Those snake handlers and their grieving families wish you no ill will for not believing, but you "will openly ENCOURAGE a snake-handler to die". Explain to me again why they are the bad guys?

Did I miss the part where whooping it up when someone dies became socially acceptable? I thought when the Westboro Baptist church went to soldiers' funerals and partied, we all thought that was a bad thing.

Atheists often pride themselves on their lear -headed, rational worldview. How is rushing to favorite that comment an example of rational reasoning? Well done! Ysy for the triumph of hate and intolerance, as long as the hate and intolerance is directed away from me! Towards something I don't like either!

Sheesh. Really?!

So when I complained about how the comment "still stands", I wasn't saying the mods should delete it once the thread was gone. I was asking, "Why didn't more Mefites call this crap out? Why was it favorited instead of flagged to begin with?"

Then maybe we'd have productive threads instead of deleted ones.

(This is where someone says, "This is why we can't have nice things.)
posted by misha at 9:29 AM on June 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


The young rope rider:
What I think is wrong is that certain things that our society arbitrarily classifies as "religions" or "religious beliefs" are given special exemption from criticism. Special exemption from the idea that they might cause bigotry. Special exemption from the idea that they might hurt people. Special exemption from the idea that some might be better off if they did not hold those beliefs.

The thing is, they aren't given special exemption. This threads and others before them are chocka with non-religious people being rude to a degree which would not be tolerated in conversations about race or sexuality. In the media, religious people are constantly mocked, challenged and stereotyped.

"Oh HAI - My {insert family member here} is a religious nutcake and s/he thinks the world was made in 7 days Ha! Ha! Ha!!" is an utterly overused & tired cultural trope.

You're making the assumption that because you've been pulled up for being overly aggressive in conversations about religion that this is how the world works. It's not the case. Sure, there are some people that are going to take you to task for your athiest views, and it's going to sting when they do it, but this is summer/swallow territory.

Here's how it is. There is a minority of religious folk on metafilter. It upsets them when they get mocked for being a certain way. Though they'd never agree with it, they're probably genetically predisposed to be that way.

And there's a bunch of other folks that are delighting (and demanding) that they can attack them. They say they should be able to attack these crazy religious people for a number of reasons, none of which are particularly provable, and most of which are completely unrelated to the people being attacked.

And what sticks in my craw, The young rope rider, is you're normally all about the social justice. I'm the fucking idiot demanding we should be allowed to call people bitch for the lulz. I'm the moron who thinks conversations like this are completely gay. I'm the fool who would rather that we be allowed to stereotype and demean and marginalise people if it means we get to say what we're trying to say.

You're the voice of reason. You're the one who normally sticks up for the people who's voices are drowned out. And here, you're demonstrating quite viscerally that it's not about that at all. That it's about something else entirely.
posted by zoo at 9:32 AM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


So you're less ignorant about religion than I am, but I am not persuaded that my ignorance is great enough to invalidate my atheism.

As I see it, the argument for a non-believer knowing more about any religion/belief is to know more about their culture, and that of others -- how various customs, rituals, biases, governing principles, song lyrics, Hollywood movie titles have come to be. As for validating and/or invalidating their own beliefs, well, whatever. As I concluded a long time ago while rather high on acid, the truth is the truth regardless of what I believe, or don't. The full sweep of it will always be beyond me and as such, the truth will always be somewhat mysterious. And where there's mystery, there's doubt, and where there's doubt, there's an argument for being humble. And in the context of the community that is Metafilter, most of the un-humble folks I encounter tend not to be theists. Because un-humble theists tend to get burned at the stake around here (figuratively, of course). Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by philip-random at 9:33 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


cribcage: I'm getting tired of hearing that requests for civility are in fact oppressive subterfuge from cowards who are trying to distract from the real issues, which can only be discussed using insults and personal attacks. It's beginning to be a trope on MetaFilter, and I think the mods should address it at some point.

I don't think there's much subterfuge involved. The most vocal advocates of civility have been explicit about their unwillingness to discuss their personal views on the FPPs in question. So you have people making bad, sloppy, and irresponsible generalizations about my beliefs, but refusing to talk about their own or the FPP.

In practice, the civility discussion is almost always uncivil. First because it's almost always off-topic thread noise, second because its advocates often drop a high number of "dicks" and "assholes" into the discussion, and third, because I think it's fundamentally rude to lecture people about their own religious/philosophical beliefs and relationships from a position of ignorance.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:35 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I understand the feelings of both sides but despair at their inability to coexist without fighting, and in particular at the inability of my atheist comrades to let a discussion about some facet of religious belief proceed without jumping in to make a "Who cares? Religion is stupid!" comment that does nothing for the thread but relieves their feelings.

That's a sloppy generalization. Not all atheist-theist relationships here are antagonistic.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:42 AM on June 3, 2012

Estraven: "Also, as a sidenote, I find it symbolic that the very last reply in the thread was addressed to me (an atheist) from a theist providing ~even more opinions~ in regard to my request for the source of a different theist's allegations of atheistic biblical illiteracy. I provided a study showing the opposite, but apparently asking where Jesus was born or what is the first book of the bible is "cherrypicking" facts that only atheists would know (!). If you want to give your opinion on whatever, that's ok, but I wasn't asking for an opinion from some random person, I was asking a previous poster for a source. Not a tl;dr from an onlooker.

I think where a lot of the atheist vs. theist thing goes so "wrong" is that the atheist will generally try to approach a discussion with a theist very empirically, a tendency possibly heightened by the choice many of us make to go into the math and science fields. ("Well, what if we introduce A? No? *introduces B* Still....no? Well, what about...") As a famous fictional doctor once said, “Rational arguments don’t usually work on religious people. Otherwise there would be no religious people.”
"
That was me, and I would caution you against essentialist thinking in discussing social constructs like religion and a lack thereof. For example, I wrote that reply from my laboratory late last night while waiting for an experiment to dry before opening my email to find that one of my papers was accepted to a major peer reviewed journal (Incidentally, WOOOOOO!!!!, *CV DANCE*). I do empirical thinking just fine, hell, I'm even tasked with teaching it to undergrads..

You were using that survey to attempt to disprove this statement,
"As you know perfectly well, I'm saying that many atheists are mistaken about what Christians believe, and in their lack of knowledge, make criticisms that achieve absolutely no traction."
Which it utterly failed to do.

I'm not sure how you got
"... but apparently asking where Jesus was born or what is the first book of the bible is "cherrypicking" facts that only atheists would know (!)."
from
"The study that your1 referencing asks mostly politically, historically, and geographically focused questions, and a few seem awfully cherry picked towards subjects of particular interest to Atheist Americans like prayer in schools."
but only twelve out of the twenty questions in the survey had anything to do with the bible or Christianity, while the others focused on world religions and religion in public life. Thus, it is no wonder that the survey found that education level was as powerful a predictor of total survey success as religion. However, if you read the survey carefully, you'll find that when the twelve questions related to biblical literacy and Christianity are considered separately, both Mormons and White Evangelicals trounce Atheists.

Not only does the survey explicitly validate mobunited's observation as generalizable, but particularly in the context of the conversation at hand, I'm not sure that anyone would argue that the average mefite atheist has a better idea of the counter-intuitive particulars of Pentecostal theology than the average Pentecostal Christian. The pretty dramatic and loud ignorance of Pentecostal theology in that thread is a pretty good demonstration of mobunited's point, I couldn't imagine it getting any traction with honest to goodness snake handlers, could you?

1[sic], so embarrassed...
posted by Blasdelb at 9:51 AM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


One way to express Father Dagon's comment in a less, perhaps, incendiary way would be:

"I am not glad that a man suffered from snakebite and died from it. I am sorry that his loved ones are suffering because of his loss.

I am, however, glad that he is no longer around to spread the idea that thumbs up on playing with poisonous snakes. I am also glad that a proponent of fooling around with poisonous snakes died from doing the same, insofar as it will discourage others from doing so."

Is that also very uncool? It does seem like a pretty logical statement to make -- fighty, I suppose, and maybe a derail given the issue was not snake playing yay or nay.
posted by angrycat at 9:52 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


That sounds like a family reunion for some kind of emotionally stunted New England clan.

You have clearly never been to my family reunion. Sure, there are many topics we don't discuss openly, but if Veiled Recriminations were an Olympic sport, we would bring home the gold medal every time.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:55 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


In practice, the civility discussion is almost always uncivil. First because it's almost always off-topic thread noise, second because its advocates often drop a high number of "dicks" and "assholes" into the discussion, and third, because I think it's fundamentally rude to lecture people about their own religious/philosophical beliefs and relationships from a position of ignorance.

The Lecture, as it were:

It's always best to be kind to one another.

The statement ends with a period. This is because appending 'unless' or 'except' basically negates the statement. Another interesting thing about the statement is it's completely neutral as to any ways we can come up with to categorize one another. I need not know what you believe, and you need not know what I believe about any particular thing for the statement to work.

I've repeated this and variations on it a few times, and I can see where that would start to get annoying, so I won't say it anymore. Have a good day.
posted by Mooski at 9:57 AM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]



Is that also very uncool? It does seem like a pretty logical statement to make


It sucks that a guy has died ahead of his time, who really is not any kind of reasonable threat to you or your loved ones' security. Why should you be glad?
posted by philip-random at 9:58 AM on June 3, 2012


The Lecture, as it were:

It's always best to be kind to one another.


Or as I've heard it put. "Try to be kind. Asshole."
posted by philip-random at 10:00 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're the voice of reason. You're the one who normally sticks up for the people who's voices are drowned out. And here, you're demonstrating quite viscerally that it's not about that at all. That it's about something else entirely.

This genuinely makes no sense to me. Are you saying that I'm really not about social justice after all? That Christians have their voices drowned out in society? Just on this site?
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:00 AM on June 3, 2012


The most vocal advocates of civility have been explicit about their unwillingness to discuss their personal views on the FPPs in question.

Huh?

I think it's fundamentally rude to lecture people about their own religious/philosophical beliefs and relationships from a position of ignorance.

I agree with you. It's something I think is problematic, and it's something I've complained in the past (and been attacked for complaining about). I'm confused about how this is something I'm supposedly doing to you by complaining about.

(Just to be clear I think this is a problem when religious people do this to atheists and vice versa, and when religious people do it to each other.)

That's a sloppy generalization. Not all atheist-theist relationships here are antagonistic.

Yeah, but the problem is a lot of them are antagonistic.
posted by nangar at 10:02 AM on June 3, 2012


The statement ends with a period. This is because appending 'unless' or 'except' basically negates the statement.

Or 'especially' as it's usually the case.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:03 AM on June 3, 2012


It's always best to be kind to one another.

Kindness for some means converting people so that they may enjoy the benefits of religion as they perceive it. For others, kindness means debunking faith in order that we may better enjoy the benefits of critical and empirical thinking as they perceive them.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:04 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


In practice, the civility discussion is almost always uncivil. First because it's almost always off-topic thread noise, second because its advocates often drop a high number of "dicks" and "assholes" into the discussion, and third, because I think it's fundamentally rude to lecture people about their own religious/philosophical beliefs and relationships from a position of ignorance.

I'll let a mod speak to whether asking people to be civil in a thread constitutes offtopic thread noise, since they're the ones who answer flags. My contention is that it does not, that in at least some sense MetaFilter is still intended to be self-policing by its membership, and that in fact a comment asking people to curb personal attacks is in fact an attempt to prevent the thread from derailing and devolving.

I don't have an answer to your second point, because it does not match my experience here. I have definitely not noticed that the people chiming in with, "Hey, cool it with the personal attacks and let's talk like grown-ups" are often (your word) meanwhile cursing-out other members. If you see that, I'd encourage you to call it out and flag it.

Your last point reads to me as, "Two wrongs make a right." I disagree.

There are all sorts of ways we can formulate civility, but probably the most common formulation on the Internet is the admonition, "Don't write anything that you wouldn't be comfortable signing your name to, in-person." While it isn't necessarily a relevant point, it is sometimes interesting to notice correlations between uncivil behavior and more-anonymous user profiles.
posted by cribcage at 10:09 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


However, if you read the survey carefully, you'll find that when the twelve questions related to biblical literacy and Christianity are considered separately, both Mormons and White Evangelicals trounce Atheists.

Trounced is a little strong.

Out of twelve questions, if you just look at the 12 Bible and Christianity questions, the average number of questions correct was

Mormons  7.9
White Evangelical   7.3
Atheist/Agnostic  6.7
Jewish   6.3
Black Protestant   5.9
White Catholic   5.9
White Mainline   5.8
Hispanic Catholic   4.2
Nothing in particular   4.9

So Atheist/Agnostic gets a pretty honorable 3rd place.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:13 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's always best to be kind to one another.

The statement ends with a period. This is because appending 'unless' or 'except' basically negates the statement. Another interesting thing about the statement is it's completely neutral as to any ways we can come up with to categorize one another.


No, it's not. There are religions which don't believe this, and many secular people who don't, either -- whether kindness always trumps other considerations is a reasonably complex ethical question, not a bumper sticker.
posted by vorfeed at 10:21 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Criticizing those beliefs is seen to be inherently bigoted, assholish, thoughtless, or whatever adjectives get thrown around to describe statements like "if no one were Christian, the world would be a better place".

Ugh. See, I don't think that follows, but that doesn't matter because you do. But I think you may also be missing something here.


Please note that I'm not actually making that statement. I'm saying that it's a perfectly valid statement that is not inherently bigoted, assholish, or thoughtless (or whatever else might come up). No more than "the world would be better if no one believed in homeopathy" is bigoted or assholish etc.

The rest of your comment is an argument with a statement that I never actually asserted as truth. I don't think there's any way we can know if Christianity is good for the world as a whole or bad for it. But I do wholeheartedly support anyone who wants to assert that it is bad for the world as a whole, and I don't think that assertion deserves to be treated as obviously unworthy of discussion, bigoted, genocidal, or whatever.

I also specifically used the word "Christianity" instead of saying "Christians"; another thing that wrecks discussion here is the insistence on reading statements with the worst possible interpretation and then insisting that people are saying things they're not. That statement says nothing about eliminating Christians or even eliminating all Christian belief. The statement (which again, I was using as an example and not asserting as truth) was that IF Christian belief didn't exist, the world would be a better place. Why take that to mean that I think that no Christians have value or add anything to the world?

Plus, your own background is showing here. Why single out Christianity, instead of all religion? Has nothing bad been done by any of them? Sure it has. So are we going to say that the world would be a better place without any theists at all? That's a LOT of people. Seems like a lonely world we are setting up here.

Even though I wasn't asserting that situation is best, I don't think there's anything wrong with talking about one religion and not others. Otherwise it'd be like saying you can't criticize homeopathy without critizing acupuncture. (This is a catch-22 because the other criticism is that athiests criticizing a religion don't understand it. Criticize only the religion you understand well? You're doin' it wrong. Criticize a religion you don't understand well? You're doin' it wrong. The end result being that someone can always find something to address about the criticism besides the criticism itself.)


If, instead, you took a moment to reflect about what bothers you, I think you and I would be on the same page, ie: "The world would be a better place without extremists trying to force their beliefs on to everyone else." You could go for 'fanatics' instead of extremists, but I thnk that sentiment nails it for me. i don't even have to specify religion in there, because I think it applies just as well to my political stance.

And most people would still support you, because no one really considers herself/himself an extremist.


You're essentially saying that the only okay criticism is one that doesn't hurt anyone's feelings because it's related to no one's religious beliefs, which is the exact kind of limitation on critique that I'm arguing against. You're also making an assumption that there's no way I could REALLY find anything wrong with your religious beliefs and that if I just thought about it more I'd realize that there is no valid critique of your beliefs to be made. I absolutely do not think that at all.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:25 AM on June 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


The thing is, they aren't given special exemption. This threads and others before them are chocka with non-religious people being rude to a degree which would not be tolerated in conversations about race or sexuality.

This right here, THAT is the special exemption she's talking about: Religion is an Idea, not a physical characteristic. It should be thrown in with political views, personal aesthetics, etc. NOT race, gender, and sexuality.
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:27 AM on June 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


That's a bit of a narrow and windy definition of "physical characteristic," based both on what you're including and what you're excluding.
posted by cribcage at 10:31 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This genuinely makes no sense to me. Are you saying that I'm really not about social justice after all? That Christians have their voices drowned out in society? Just on this site?
I probably let hyperbole get the better of me then. I do think you're about social justice, normally - but there's a bit of a gap with this subject that I find worrying.

And obviously, there is a loud Christian voice apparent in America. Not so much on metafilter, which is where we are, and where maybe we can afford to be a bit more compassionate to those that believe differently to the norm.
posted by zoo at 10:35 AM on June 3, 2012


Sometimes religious identity is an inextricable component of ethnicity, but what I'm talking about here is religious belief. I'm not arguing for the ability to criticize everyone who is raised Catholic for being born into a Catholic family. I'm arguing for the ability to say that, FOR EXAMPLE, the Catholic church's teachings are harmful.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:37 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


This genuinely makes no sense to me. Are you saying that I'm really not about social justice after all? That Christians have their voices drowned out in society? Just on this site?

I probably let hyperbole get the better of me then. I do think you're about social justice, normally - but there's a bit of a gap with this subject that I find worrying.

And obviously, there is a loud Christian voice apparent in America. Not so much on metafilter, which is where we are, and where maybe we can afford to be a bit more compassionate to those that believe differently to the norm.


Thank you for clarifying, but I disagree with your underlying assumptions, which is probably why you find my behavior discordant. I don't think atheists are a majority on this site, nor am I arguing against compassion (unless by "compassion" you mean "freedom from people saying things that make me uncomfortable")
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:39 AM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Gygesringtone: I've stated twice that I believe religiosity to have a genetic component. Once above, and once in the comment you're referencing. I'm happy to discuss the merits of this as a concept, but your comment implies that *nobody* could believe religion to have a physical component when one of the axioms I used to make my point was that it does.
posted by zoo at 10:39 AM on June 3, 2012


I agree the young rope-rider. We should not be discouraged from saying things that "make me feel uncomfortable."

*bookmarks comment.*
posted by zoo at 10:42 AM on June 3, 2012


Heh. Fair enough. But obviously there is a huge difference between, for example, a gendered slur and a critical statement about the dominant group of religions in the US.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:45 AM on June 3, 2012


You know, as an atheist, I never questioned why religious people sometimes found it impossible to talk about their faith without being a dick about it. But it really puzzles me how many atheists will spend hours talking about their right to be a dick, because, somehow, their dickishness is doing the world a favor.

It's not. And it's not doing me a favor. I share some of your viewpoints, in that I don't believe in a God. But I sure don't share this idea that faith is necessarily a pernicious evil in the world, and that the best thing we can do is rudely disabuse people of their idiot notions and any effort to ask for civility and respect is just some plot to shut us up.

You don't represent me, or my atheism. You represent the forces of dickishness, which I legitimately believe to be a pernicious force of evil. These are not your enemies, and they are not fools whose lives have been spent in beknighted foolishness waiting for you to come along and Spock them out of their world-ruining idiocy. They are your fellow MeFites, and they are people that, by virtue of the fact that we have collectively chosen to be part of a community that presumes good faith and that fairness and equanimity are common values, deserve to be treated with respect.

If you don't know that gloating over somebody's death because you don't agree with them is assholish, your atheism is doing you no good. Assholes of any stripe make the world worse.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:47 AM on June 3, 2012 [24 favorites]


the young rope-rider: "Criticizing those beliefs is seen to be inherently bigoted, assholish, thoughtless, or whatever adjectives get thrown around to describe statements like "if no one were Christian, the world would be a better place"."

"I also specifically used the word "Christianity" instead of saying "Christians"; another thing that wrecks discussion here is the insistence on reading statements with the worst possible interpretation and then insisting that people are saying things they're not."

You used 'Christians' right there. I included the quote, so you could see what I was referring to, because I don't want any misunderstanding. Although you seem to get exactly what I am referring to here:

That statement says nothing about eliminating Christians or even eliminating all Christian belief. The statement (which again, I was using as an example and not asserting as truth) was that IF Christian belief didn't exist, the world would be a better place.

You didn't say that, though. You didn't attack the belief, you attacked the people--if NO ONE were Christian, the world would be a better place. That made me interpret it as you thinking the world would be better without any Christians. Hence my arguments to you about religions in general, which came from that interpretation.

You're essentially saying that the only okay criticism is one that doesn't hurt anyone's feelings because it's related to no one's religious beliefs.

Nope, not even close. I'm saying think before you criticize, and criticize what actually bothers you about a religion or a political position or, hell, a blueberry muffin if you want, rather than making blanket statements encompassing Christians/Jews/Buddhists/Muslims, Republicans/Democrats/Independent or muffins. Because those come across as attacks. And when people feel attacked, threads derail, and get deleted. Which is what I am trying to avoid, at least.

You're also making an assumption that there's no way I could REALLY find anything wrong with your religious beliefs and that if I just thought about it more I'd realize that there is no valid critique of your beliefs to be made.

Um, I don't have any religious beliefs!

You can criticize agnosticism all you want, though. Really, I'm fine with that. And I've already said I agree with you that atheists are marginalized in America. And also that there are certainly valid criticisms to be made of Christianity, or in fact any religion. I am not against criticizing anything, just against criticisms like, you know, wishing people would die, as FatherDagon did.

So your only argument with me seems to be, "But I want to criticize people how I like without being held accountable for it!"
posted by misha at 10:55 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


nangar and cribcage: It's my experience that a few people will use a few posts by a handful of people to launch into an argument spanning dozens of posts that atheists are generally or systematically rude, and that the Problem of Assholes (aka the Problem of Dawkins) must be dealt with before any other discussion can move forward. When you ask "What do you think about the FPP?" you get no answer or a defeatist response that it can't even be discussed.

It's that twist from "he/she/zie made a bad post" to "atheists are generally intolerant" that I object to. I'm not even convinced that antagonistic relationships are the norm for atheists here on metafilter given that the bad posts usually get as much criticism from atheists as well as from religious members.

cribcage: Your last point reads to me as, "Two wrongs make a right." I disagree.

I don't see where you get that. It's my view that most religious discussions on the internet are flawed because people spend more time talking in ignorance about what they don't believe, than in knowledge about what they do believe. I did not, and would not comment on snake handling as a Christian doctrine, because I don't understand Christian doctrine well enough to have an informed opinion. (I did express my opinion as a person who's is a point of contact for DNR/AND orders, and as a high-functioning madman.) If I did, I hope someone would talk some sense into me.

A choice to stick to what we know, rather than what we don't know, would make most of those discussions less wrong, don't you think?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:57 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


But I sure don't share this idea that faith is necessarily a pernicious evil in the world, and that the best thing we can do is rudely disabuse people of their idiot notions and any effort to ask for civility and respect is just some plot to shut us up.

I don't think "faith is necessarily a pernicious evil in the world." I think some instances of religion encourage patterns of thought and behavior that are detrimental to human well being.

I don't think "any effort to ask for civility and respect is just some plot to shut us up." I do think calls for civility can at times be used to tamp down criticism of culturally dominant ideologies.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:00 AM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is totally perplexing. If all sets of views are equally valid, why should anyone have any particular set of views?

So you do understand.
posted by bongo_x at 11:02 AM on June 3, 2012



Is that also very uncool? It does seem like a pretty logical statement to make

It sucks that a guy has died ahead of his time, who really is not any kind of reasonable threat to you or your loved ones' security. Why should you be glad?


'Glad' is perhaps not the correct word. 'Appreciative of the nature of his death's beneficial effects' is perhaps better. Are fewer people handling rattlesnakes than if he'd died, say, of a heart attack sans snake? Maybe. That result seems beneficial to me.
posted by angrycat at 11:02 AM on June 3, 2012


Also, I should point out that one of the odd side-effects of grief in this digital era is that people who are grieving will often do web searches about their lost family member. We are not two voices in an empty, locked room.

When we mock the death of a person online, there is a real chance we are mocking that loss directly to the face of the bereaved. I do not want to be that person, neither do I want to know people who are okay with that.

We did not know this man. We did not know whether he did good in the world or evil. We do not know how his family cared for him, and how the grieved when he died. All we know if that he has a sort of risky hobby -- so do many of my friends who, I dunno, bungee jump or travel to other countries or drive cars or eat at restaurants that aren't Zagat-approved. We know he tried to do it as carefully as he could, but sometimes risky hobbies have fatal consequences.

We also know that we didn't like his worldview, which many of us scarcely understand. And so therefore we have given ourselves permission to laugh at this man's death, quite possibly in the face of his grieving family members.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:02 AM on June 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't see where you get that. It's my view that most religious discussions on the internet are flawed because people spend more time talking in ignorance about what they don't believe, than in knowledge about what they do believe.

I understood your third point to be that having a discussion from a position of ignorance is inherently uncivil (which I somewhat agree with), and in that context it's unfair to criticize personal attacks, etc. for being uncivil (which I disagree with). In other words, that two wrongs make a right and the pot shouldn't call the kettle black, etc. Maybe I misunderstood what you were trying to say.

If your underlying point is that you'd like to see future discussions about religion or atheism proceed with more input from knowledgeable MeFites and less input (i.e., more listening) from the folks packing more opinions than knowledge...well, I agree with that 100%, without reservation.
posted by cribcage at 11:06 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's more of us out there than you might think.

No, this is where I think huge assumptions are the problem. I don't think the majority of people in the U.S. particularly religious. If you ask them in a poll many of them will give some sort of affiliation for various reasons, they were raised a certain way, family pressure, social standing, and maybe mostly "why not". I think a lot of people just don’t care strongly enough to argue about it, "you can call me Zoroastrian, just don’t call me late for dinner". Many feel strongly about their religion, obviously, but I think there are many who treat those polls like "what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?".

It’s the people on the fringes who want to argue, preach and convert. Like I said, two sides of the same coin. Some of the most zealous Atheists are are former Evangelicals, and vice versa.

I think the country and the world is full of Atheists, Agnostics, and even more people who don't care enough to give themselves a label, but they don’t feel like screaming from the rooftops or calling people names on discussion sites.
posted by bongo_x at 11:07 AM on June 3, 2012


On preview: no one on Metafilter has ever said one cannot argue, "The Catholic Church's teachings are harmful." You might be asked specifically which ones, I guess, because that's a pretty broad statement.

I'm pretty down on some aspects of Catholicism--which I know you were only using as an example!--for instance, because I feel the hierarchy of the church is set up, and has been set up since its inception, to keep women in an inferior position to men. There can never be women priests or a woman Pope, because of Apostolic Succession. I think that's wrong, I think it is not really a biblical thing but a "Corrupt male church leaders trying to keep control," thing, and that it hurts women in other ways, including women that are not Catholic, like just recently with the ridiculous healthcare birth control argument and the Catholic church in the US.

And don't even get me started on the Catholic church's official opinion on condom use!
posted by misha at 11:08 AM on June 3, 2012


I don't think "faith is necessarily a pernicious evil in the world." I think some instances of religion encourage patterns of thought and behavior that are detrimental to human well being.

That so true of so many human activities that were I try to police all of the nonsense of the world, I should soon collapse from exhaustion. Heck, I believe in a lot of nonsense too, like democracy. I would prefer if every time the subject came up, somebody who knew better than me didn't step in to remind me what a fool I am for thinking that having public policy determined by egalitarian voting won't fuck things up as much as it fixes them.

Some instances of religion also wind up leading to great social good, as anybody who has worked for social justice and spent hours and months and years, well, past the point of exhaustion and reason, and found, by their side, people of faith who also do the work because their faith has lead them to the conclusion that the work must be done to make an equitable world.

I never really cared what people believe. Sometimes nonsense makes us do terrible things, and sometimes great things. It's what they do that concerns me. I only address myself to the institutions of religion when they support injustice. Whatever they believe that led them to that is their own business.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:09 AM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I keep seeing buses driving around with billboards on them that read "Jesus is _____________." In my head I always add in the words "COMING! DUH DUH DUHHH."

Just wanted to share.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 11:12 AM on June 3, 2012


I don't think the majority of people in the U.S. particularly religious.

You are incorrect. 56% of Americans self-report that religion is "very important" to their lives, and for a full third of the religious groups surveyed this was above 70%. Another 26% of the general population say it's "somewhat important".
posted by vorfeed at 11:16 AM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


...were I try to police all of the nonsense of the world, I should soon collapse from exhaustion.

I agree. This is why I like participating in discussions where people can agree and disagree with each other, not try to control everything. I try not to police conversations I have online or off, though I'm sure sometimes I do, and in that case I hope people would let me know.

I'm curious where in my comments in this thread you've seen me operate more in "police the world" mode and less "good faith interlocutor" mode.

Some instances of religion also wind up leading to great social good, as anybody who has worked for social justice and spent hours and months and years, well, past the point of exhaustion and reason, and found, by their side, people of faith who also do the work because their faith has lead them to the conclusion that the work must be done to make an equitable world.

I've never indicated otherwise. Though I think there's a fair and complex question to consider as to whether the good outweighs the bad and in what contexts.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:19 AM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


'Appreciative of the nature of his death's beneficial effects' is perhaps better. Are fewer people handling rattlesnakes than if he'd died, say, of a heart attack sans snake? Maybe. That result seems beneficial to me.

I also don’t understand how the death of the rattlesnake handler benefits anyone, or the world. What about the people climbing Mt. Everest? To me that’s a stupid and pointless endeavor, one where you know you have a good chance of dying, but I don’t mock them or celebrate their death. The same with auto racers, etc. I my opinion most of us are not doing much of worth compared to what we could/should be doing. We’re all just trying to figure it out.

Which is my point, in my opinion anyone who thinks they have figured out how the world works is a fool. And the more sure you are, the more a fool. There is a tremendous imbalance between ego and sense involved in thinking you’ve figured out our existence and need to enlighten others.

I’m not buying the argument "well, I know how it doesn’t work". When my wife loses something, like her keys, we often have a conversation like this;
"did you look in X?"
"no, I’m sure it’s not there"
"don’t tell me where it’s not until you know where it is"
posted by bongo_x at 11:19 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm curious where in my comments in this thread you've seen me operate more in "police the world" mode and less "good faith interlocutor" mode.

You seem to be under the impression that I am addressing you and your behavior specifically.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:19 AM on June 3, 2012

misha: "If, instead, you took a moment to reflect about what bothers you, I think you and I would be on the same page, ie: "The world would be a better place without extremists trying to force their beliefs on to everyone else." You could go for 'fanatics' instead of extremists, but I thnk that sentiment nails it for me. i don't even have to specify religion in there, because I think it applies just as well to my political stance.

And most people would still support you, because no one really considers herself/himself an extremist.
"
Not to be contrary, but I see the problem differently. I think it is more that most people, of all sorts of faiths and lacks thereof, do extremism poorly; that is in a way that is selfish, shortsighted, inherently harmful, ineffective, or immoral.
"Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail
posted by Blasdelb at 11:21 AM on June 3, 2012


You seem to be under the impression that I am addressing you and your behavior specifically.

Because you were addressing one of my comments. If my assumption here is mistaken, I apologize.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:21 AM on June 3, 2012


The place where this conversation has gone is just totally shocking to me. Apparently no one is allowed to question anyone else's beliefs for any reason, after all it might hurt hurt their delicate feelings. Paternalizing much? And *jaw drops*, people might think that you're a dick. Ludicrous.

But let's go back to the original FPP. What if the post had been about circus performer attempting a new trick, say freeform lion shaving that resulted in him being mauled to death, or running chain saw swallowing that resulted in him cutting his own head off. What would be the reaction?

Mine would be: it saddens me that he died, as it does when I hear of the death of most any of my fellow creatures, but he was sort of asking for it...the Greeks invented the word hubris for a reason.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:22 AM on June 3, 2012


Though I think there's a fair and complex question to consider as to whether the good outweighs the bad and in what contexts.

Wouldn't it be more productive to extract the good from the bad, in all contexts?
posted by philip-random at 11:22 AM on June 3, 2012


Or as Blade says: "Some muthafucker is always trying to ice-skate uphill".
posted by Chekhovian at 11:23 AM on June 3, 2012


The place where this conversation has gone is just totally shocking to me. Apparently no one is allowed to question anyone else's beliefs for any reason, after all it might hurt hurt their delicate feelings. Paternalizing much? And *jaw drops*, people might think that you're a dick. Ludicrous.

Why do you want to question anyone’s religious beliefs? I’m not sure where you’re getting "not allowed". Stating that something is bad behavior and makes people think less of you is not "not allowed".
posted by bongo_x at 11:25 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apparently no one is allowed to question anyone else's beliefs for any reason

I am curious as to what conversation has taken this turn. It is not here.

people might think that you're a dick. Ludicrous.

Well, I have never said that. I have said don't be a dick. That's a somewhat different proposition.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:26 AM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I also don’t understand how the death of the rattlesnake handler benefits anyone, or the world. What about the people climbing Mt. Everest? To me that’s a stupid and pointless endeavor, one where you know you have a good chance of dying, but I don’t mock them or celebrate their death. The same with auto racers, etc. I my opinion most of us are not doing much of worth compared to what we could/should be doing. We’re all just trying to figure it out.

Which is my point, in my opinion anyone who thinks they have figured out how the world works is a fool. And the more sure you are, the more a fool. There is a tremendous imbalance between ego and sense involved in thinking you’ve figured out our existence and need to enlighten others.

I’m not buying the argument "well, I know how it doesn’t work". When my wife loses something, like her keys, we often have a conversation like this;
"did you look in X?"


I am in no way mocking or celebrating his death. I would celebrate somebody's decision to not lead a faith that leads them to exposure to snake bite, because that is a good thing. But that's a mere hypothetical, so I am not, in fact, celebratory about anything.

Mountain climbers take certain risks with the benefit of training and technology, and I know nothing about either. I can't speak to the risks they take. Same goes with car racing. I don't know about this person's faith, either. But I think faith is the key word here. I distrust any faith, as opposed to empirical evidence, that sez deadly snakes are good to handle.

At any rate, that doesn't address tone, which is your central beef, I think. No, nobody should be doing a happy dance when somebody dies or use it as an opportunity as snark. There you and I are in agreement.
posted by angrycat at 11:33 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't it be more productive to extract the good from the bad, in all contexts?

I'm not quite sure what you mean here by "extract."
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:33 AM on June 3, 2012


I’m not sure where you’re getting "not allowed

This is more in response to Ivans walls of texts 15% back in the thread. Seems like there were also some strains of that thought that young-rope-rider was handling quite ably about 7% back in the thread.

I have said don't be a dick. That's a somewhat different proposition.

And some people said that ever criticizing any ones ideas automatically makes you into a dick. Because some people hold their ideas very closely and might take criticism of their ideas personally. So what is the Platonic definition of "being a dick"? If everyone has different ideas of what it means, then it doesn't mean anything.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:34 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chekhovian: "The place where this conversation has gone is just totally shocking to me. Apparently no one is allowed to question anyone else's beliefs for any reason, after all it might hurt hurt their delicate feelings. Paternalizing much? And *jaw drops*, people might think that you're a dick. Ludicrous.

But let's go back to the original FPP. What if the post had been about circus performer attempting a new trick, say freeform lion shaving that resulted in him being mauled to death, or running chain saw swallowing that resulted in him cutting his own head off. What would be the reaction?
"
I think the contention comes from the substantial difference between this,
FatherDagon: "Hell, I will openly ENCOURAGE a snake-handler to die for his faith." ... "The sooner religious lunatics like this stop trying to destroy the country I live in and the lives of those around them, the better. If it requires the leaders of their cult groups committing public suicide in the stupidest fashion possible in order for some few sane folks on the periphery to blink and say "wait, maybe this is a bad idea", then so be it."
Which is just fucking awful and this,
Chekhovian: "Mine would be: it saddens me that he died, as it does when I hear of the death of most any of my fellow creatures, but he was sort of asking for it...the Greeks invented the word hubris for a reason."
which just might attract someone with a knowledge of snake handling culture who could enlighten us on how the practice intersects with the concept of hubris for them.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:36 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


And some people said that ever criticizing any ones ideas automatically makes you into a dick.

Have they? I must have missed it. It seems like such an outlier viewpoint as to not be representative of the thrust of this conversation, and so maybe shouldn't be what we focus on.

Most of the comments have sounded more like this to me: Of course you can criticize somebody's ideas. Don't be a jerk about it. If you're not sure what being a jerk is, maybe get some help with that.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:37 AM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mountain climbers take certain risks with the benefit of training and technology, and I know nothing about either. I can't speak to the risks they take. Same goes with car racing. I don't know about this person's faith, either. But I think faith is the key word here. I distrust any faith, as opposed to empirical evidence, that sez deadly snakes are good to handle.

Do you know anything about snake-handling? (I don't.) The reason I ask is that you appear to be assuming that mountain-climbing and car-racing involve training and skill, and you appear to also be assuming that snake-handling does not. I'm wondering if you have a basis for that assumption.

I'm not trying to rehash the thread by asking that. It seems relevant to where this discussion has gone. Is it okay to assume competence of climbers and racers, but to assume incompetence of a snake-handler because we know his motives to be religious?
posted by cribcage at 11:39 AM on June 3, 2012


cribcage: I understood your third point to be that having a discussion from a position of ignorance is inherently uncivil (which I somewhat agree with), and in that context it's unfair to criticize personal attacks, etc. for being uncivil (which I disagree with). In other words, that two wrongs make a right and the pot shouldn't call the kettle black, etc. Maybe I misunderstood what you were trying to say.

Personally, I suspect that individual posts are better handled with a "flag and move on" philosophy. But the "civility" discussion rarely stops with criticism of individual posts. It almost always moves on to criticism of atheism and atheists as a group using those individual posts as evidence to justify some pretty ugly stereotypes.

There is this disturbing notion of communal responsibility (which is often used by atheists against religious people as well) that I explicitly reject.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:39 AM on June 3, 2012


I understand the feelings of both sides but despair at their inability to coexist without fighting, in particular at the inability of my atheist comrades to let a discussion about some facet of religious belief proceed without jumping in to make a "Who cares? Religion is stupid!" comment that does nothing for the thread but relieves their feelings.

This happens all the time. I remember the recent post about Orthodox Judaism and misogyny and most of the comments where Jews arguing with Jews about how misogynistic or not Orthodox Judaism is. A few atheists asked questions but I don't recall any disparaging comments about religion made by atheists.

So, remembering that thread, I looked through the first page of the posts tagged religion. I divided them into five categories: A) Religious People Being Douchebags, B) Religion & Politics, C) Atheism and Atheism and Religion, D) Religion in General and E) Everything Else.

I reviewed the posts that had 50 comments or less for comments disparaging religion. Out of 28 threads reviewed, only one had comments that are analogous to "religion is stupid". They were made by one person and most of his comments were deleted. So, yes people can talk about "facets of religion", e.g King James Bible, American Jews in 1870, famous Catholic authors, religious movies, religious video games, Mormonism in politics, etc., without atheists "jumping in to remind people that religion is stupid."

The threads that draw a lot of comments are Religious People Being Douchebags, Religion and Politics, and Atheism and Atheism and Religion. Given the nature of these topics, it's unreasonable to expect atheist who believe that "religion is stupid" or that religion causes more harm than good not to comment in them.

It seems to me that confirmation bias is at play here. Type A, B, and C threads draw the most participation and, due to the nature of topics, comments not complementary to religion will be made. So, then people go "Atheists always 'attack' religious people" because they only participated in those threads and completely ignored the threads about religious topics that had no 'negative' atheist commentary.


Posts from First page of posts tagged with religion
* 50 comments or less
N - No 'Religion is stupid' comments
Y - 'Religion is stupid' comments

A) Religious People Being Douchebags (12)
What happened to Harold Camping’s followers.
Woman, disowned by family for being gay, takes in nephew also disowned for being gay
Andrea Yates
Mormons baptizing Dead People, Gay people converting dead Mormons
End of Religious Right in American Politics
Obama, Catholics & contraception
Mars Hill Church is really sexist
*Makoto Hirata - sarin attacks in Japan - N
Unregulated Christian homes for troubled children
Netanyu govt - American jews are lame
Michigan Senate - you can totes bully for relgious reasons
*How the religious right censored the UK media - N

B) Religion & Politics (6)
*Mormonism and religion in 2012 Republican Primary - N
*Iran executes a lot of People - N
*Muslim-American terrorism in America since 9/11 -N
Clive Hamiltion - God, Sex, and the Left
Slacktivist
Mitt Romney and Gay Veteran

C) Atheism and Atheism and Religion (8)
Think Analytically, less likely to be religious
Stanley Fish - science and religion are totes the same!!!
*Life of Brian debate - N
Organized Irreligion
Alain de Botton on Atheism
Why I hate Religion and Love Jesus
Penn Jillette: An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election
Dale McGowan talks with some Jehovah's witness

D) Religion in general (18)
*Messaien's organ music - N
*Collages out of individual letters from spiritual and philosophical texts - N
*Felix, Regula and Exuperantius - headless saints - N
*Body Horror and Binding of Isaac - N
*Making of the King James - N
*Diamanda Galas - N
*Alan Meales - WW2 hero and godhead - N
*Thomas Merton, influential Cathloic author - N
*Babies preaching, rapping and worshiping - N
*Maps of Biblical Prophecy and History - N
*Michael Tolkin's The Rapture - N
*Frequencies - Ask scholars, writers, and artists what they think of when they think of the word spirituality. - N
*Zen - Teachings on Right Practice by Shunryu Suzuki - N
*Robert Duvall's the Apostle - N
*The Hajj - Y
Taking Care of the Dying Jehovah’s Witness.
*Scott Anderson became the first openly gay person to be ordained as a minister by the Presbyterian Church (UsA) - N
*American Jews celebrate High Holidays in 1870 - N

E) Everything else (6)
Preisthood of Economics
*Egyptian Revolution - N
*Simone Weil - N
Battlestar Galactica sucked
*Beauty, Virtue and Vice: Images of Women in Nineteenth-Century American Prints - N
*Carl Jung: Taking inner life seriously. -

posted by nooneyouknow at 11:43 AM on June 3, 2012 [15 favorites]


It make more sense to look at religious folks by community though, because most of them are members of communities with codified communal beliefs, though of course individual adherence varies. Atheists have no more connection with each other than people who don't believe in alien abduction.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:44 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd argue that sentence itself is good evidence that there's a difference in terms of grouping: We have a word for "atheists," but none for "people who don't believe in alien abduction."
posted by cribcage at 11:49 AM on June 3, 2012


> We have a word for "atheists," but none for "people who don't believe in alien abduction."

Sheeple!
posted by Burhanistan at 11:50 AM on June 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Man, just reading Stanley Fish's name again...man that guy is terrible at everything.

But thanks noone! Great bit of research! I'm looking forward to your invited talk at the next metafilter world conference and free form lion shaving competition.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:56 AM on June 3, 2012


Please do me a favor if you're going to continue this discussion: state whether or not you believe that it's better for people to keep their religious beliefs private (than it is to be public about them), explain what "better" means and why you think it's "better" (if you do believe it's "better"). Or, if you don't believe it's better, then explain why you keep mentioning this preference of yours in this context and as part of an anecdote about how you and your friends, with your differing beliefs, manage to avoid conflict.

How about you do me the courtesy of reading the entirety of the whole TWO comments that have your britches in such a bunch that they merited your screeds?

It would be kind of cute that you insist on equating "we don't argue about such things" with "STFU about your religion, never ever mention it", if it weren't so silly. I want you to very, very carefully read the bit where I state that we are all aware of each others' beliefs, and aware that no one is going to change anyone's mind about their beliefs, and no one is interested in doing so. There's a world of difference between "being openly religious" and "making a big public fuss".

Surely, this is not hard to understand?
posted by MissySedai at 12:00 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


mountain-climbing and car-racing involve training and skill, and you appear to also be assuming that snake-handling does not

Lets pivot 90 degrees on that point. Remember that one of the other things he did was drink Strychnine. There is no "drinks poison well" skill he could have developed, other than not drinking it.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:01 PM on June 3, 2012


No one, to include me, wants to censor anyone here. I simply suggest we don't express things dickishly. And again I believe all but a small minority here already have shown the ability to discuss anything in a reasonable manner. To the rest, go and do thou likewise.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:06 PM on June 3, 2012


Mountain climbers take certain risks with the benefit of training and technology, and I know nothing about either. I can't speak to the risks they take. Same goes with car racing. I don't know about this person's faith, either. But I think faith is the key word here. I distrust any faith, as opposed to empirical evidence, that sez deadly snakes are good to handle.

Do you know anything about snake-handling? (I don't.) The reason I ask is that you appear to be assuming that mountain-climbing and car-racing involve training and skill, and you appear to also be assuming that snake-handling does not. I'm wondering if you have a basis for that assumption.

I'm not trying to rehash the thread by asking that. It seems relevant to where this discussion has gone. Is it okay to assume competence of climbers and racers, but to assume incompetence of a snake-handler because we know his motives to be religious?


I'd argue that religious faith is no reason for exposure to snakebite. I've got a bit of a travel bug, so I grok that. Now, I'm a spiritual person, and I could maybe see the spiritual analogue to travel. I just don't see how venomous snakes could come into it. It's not so much a "I don't understand X" as it is "there is no way that X could be reasonable"
posted by angrycat at 12:09 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I’m not sure where you’re getting "not allowed"
Most people have at least some beliefs that are so meaningful to them that "attacking" those beliefs (your choice of wording) feels pretty much exactly the same as attacking them.

And rightly so. Because, for example, it's implicit in many attacks of beliefs that there's something wrong with someone being so wrongheaded as to believe them. But, also, and more simply and unavoidably psychologically true, a great many beliefs form the cemeone's social persona, and when you attack their social persona, you're attacking the person in some very real sense.
And there have been some others too. I don't mean to just single out Ivan. There's this constant refrain that we need to "respect" other people's ideas, not just other people. That's supreme bullshit.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:16 PM on June 3, 2012


I'd argue that religious faith is no reason for exposure to snakebite. ... It's not so much a "I don't understand X" as it is "there is no way that X could be reasonable"

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, because that would seem to cross into bigotry. Is the only reason you're taking issue with snake-handling the religious aspect? In other words, if a free-solo climber suddenly decided he was going to get thrills from snake-handling instead of scaling cliffs, would you think that sounded reasonable?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding, and you're just objecting to snake-handling as a proposition irrespective of motive? In which case I'd agree with you from my own personal perspective, but then we're right back to mountain-climbing and car-racing.
posted by cribcage at 12:17 PM on June 3, 2012


As I said, let's talk about the poison drinking instead. After all, you must agree that there could beno skill in poison drinking right? There is at least skill and preparedness involved in climbing.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:20 PM on June 3, 2012


I'm not quite sure what you mean here by "extract."

Original comment:
Though I think there's a fair and complex question to consider as to whether the good outweighs the bad and in what contexts.

My response:
Wouldn't it be more productive to extract the good from the bad, in all contexts?

In other words, my generally agnostic position on things leads me to believe that it's not a case of arguing down someone's position because the bad outweighs the good in it (ie: trying to win the argument as if there were judges with scorecards), but to try to identify that which is good about their position and focus on that, encourage it, try to make something of it.

For instance, a friend's hardcore Baptist family. Rather annoying people in all manner of ways, but holy shit, did they (and their whole community) rally around when his mom got sick. Why would I NOT want to encourage this sort of behavior, not just for them but for everyone (ie: also my secular, vaguely atheist/agnostic/whatever crowd)? I mean, I still think my crowds' overall good-vs-bad quotient outweighs theirs, but why should I have to choose between A + B when I can build a better than either C based on extracting the best of both.

Secure the babies, then chuck the bathwater.
posted by philip-random at 12:24 PM on June 3, 2012


That's a bit of a narrow and windy definition of "physical characteristic," based both on what you're including and what you're excluding.

Well, no amount of talking will change the color of your skin or whether or not you like penises, but it can and has changed minds about religion.

The Tone Argument argument (i.e. you're just trying to shut me up by asking me to be civil) is like Occam's Razor: useful, perhaps, but in no way a natural law. I think the TAA is being deployed too liberally in this discussion, but it gets deployed pretty universally in discussions about feminism, which I also think is pretty B.S. Sometimes being more civil will get people to listen to you when they wouldn't otherwise.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:25 PM on June 3, 2012


I reviewed the posts that had 50 comments or less for comments disparaging religion. Out of 28 threads reviewed, only one had comments that are analogous to "religion is stupid".

Interesting. So I repeated that experiment, but just by doing a random sampling of every single thread tagged religion.

The Harold Camping thread:

For those following at home, religious leaders who make absurd short-term predictions are charlatans; religious leaders who make absurd long-term predictions are pillars of society

From the Discobolus thread:

"Study shows those who think analytically are less likely to be religious:"

You don't say.


From the Mormonism and Elections thread:

...the role of religion in the context of the 2012 Republican primaries and American politics generally.

To paraphrase Gandhi: I think it would be a bad idea.


From the Catholic Church and contraception thread:

Catholics are never satisfied.

These are just from this year, and the first 20 comments, and, keep in mind, the mods now nuke "superhero in the sky" comments when they see them and when they are flagged (and I always flag them.) There's still plenty of painting all of religion with a wide brush, and drive-by slagging of religions.

I assume your take on what is "disparaging" is different from mine. I'm going with "any comment that contributes nothing more than a sense that religion is ridiculous."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:30 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, because that would seem to cross into bigotry. Is the only reason you're taking issue with snake-handling the religious aspect? In other words, if a free-solo climber suddenly decided he was going to get thrills from snake-handling instead of scaling cliffs, would you think that sounded reasonable?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding, and you're just objecting to snake-handling as a proposition irrespective of motive? In which case I'd agree with you from my own personal perspective, but then we're right back to mountain-climbing and car-racing.


It's a combo of both. My reasoning is: a) Boy, you'd need a damned good benefit from being with that snake to justify doing it and b) Faith is not a good enough benefit arising from being with that snake nor is it a good enuf reason for it.

I also mistrust the co-mingling of God with the predatory instincts of an animal. It's a pissed off snake. Of course it's going to bite you. God made it to bite you
posted by angrycat at 12:31 PM on June 3, 2012


it's not a case of arguing down someone's position because the bad outweighs the good in it

So you're talking about interpersonal contexts? I'm talking about a more abstract discussion context. If an idea or behavior is arguably harmful, I think we (e.g. here on Metafilter) can talk about why it is or isn't without "trying to win the argument as if there were judges with scorecards."
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:31 PM on June 3, 2012


Do you think people here, on Metafilter, are going out of the way just to hurt feelings?

I've seen it happen in quite a few threads about religion that someone will present a particularly caustic comment - get called out on how it's unnecessarily abrasive - and respond with a variation "I don't care if this hurts your feelings, theists are oppressing me all the time."

So, perhaps it's not entirely accurate to say that they're deliberately trying to hurt someone's feelings but there have been many cases I've seen where the hurt feelings are seen as totally justified.

And it's not just once or twice that I've seen this, it's many. Many. Many. Times. I don't have the energy to go through and pick out specific instances, nor do I think that would be fair to commenters to be "called out" like that, but it's something that I've witnessed again and again and again and again in threads about religion.
posted by sonika at 12:42 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


So you're talking about interpersonal contexts? I'm talking about a more abstract discussion context. If an idea or behavior is arguably harmful, I think we (e.g. here on Metafilter) can talk about why it is or isn't without "trying to win the argument as if there were judges with scorecards."

Problem is, a religious faith isn't an idea or behavior -- it's a whole bunch of them all swarming around together, hence all the divisions within the various faiths out there. There's just so much to argue about. Fundamentalists (and here I'm talking about Christianity) make it easier for us (sort of) by just loudly exclaiming that EVERYTHING IN THE BIBLE IS TRUE, even the parts that directly contradict each other. RED-LETTER-CHRISTIANS focus exclusively on what Jesus himself is reported to have said. ROMAN CATHOLICS let their various pointed-hat-types decide what is or isn't THE TRUTH ALWAYS AND FOREVER (for now - until they meet up again and change their minds).

And so on. I think we're back to herding cats. Which may well be more dangerous than handling snakes.
posted by philip-random at 12:51 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Tone Argument argument (i.e. you're just trying to shut me up by asking me to be civil) is like Occam's Razor: useful, perhaps, but in no way a natural law. I think the TAA is being deployed too liberally in this discussion, but it gets deployed pretty universally in discussions about feminism, which I also think is pretty B.S. Sometimes being more civil will get people to listen to you when they wouldn't otherwise.

There's no lack of polite and sympathetic atheists in these discussions. The tragedy of metafilter is that being civil won't get people to listen to you in those discussions, because people would rather argue about things like Dawkins's book titles from last decade than express a polite opinion on the FPP. Even asking, "what are your views on the linked articles" doesn't appear to help.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:00 PM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod,

I said I did not look at threads that had more than 50 commments. Camping thread, Discobolus, Catholic Church and contraception had more than 50, so I did not look at them.

DUs' comment means he thinks its a bad idea for religion to have a role in politics. A lot of people think that. I don't see how it disparages religion.
...the role of religion in the context of the 2012 Republican primaries and American politics generally.

To paraphrase Gandhi: I think it would be a bad idea.


The point of my post was to show that conversations about religious topics have occurred without atheists "insulting" religion. And they have. Nobody popped into the thread about the making of the King James Bible to mention that Jesus probably never existed so who cares about all this anyway.

"any comment that contributes nothing more than a sense that religion is ridiculous." will occur in contentious threads about religion, especially, like I said, on topics about religious people doing crappy things (Camping), religion in politics (Catholics and contraception), and atheism (Discobolus). And since some atheists do think religion is ridiculous, I don't see why they should be quiet about in those types of threads.

But outside of those topics, those types of comments are unlikely to occur. And thus people who say that atheists constantly disparage religion on Metafilter are incorrect.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:01 PM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ah, I see. So, except in places where people will behave like dicks, they don't behave like dicks.

Sort of skews the results, don't you think?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:09 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait, I don't understand how any of the comments you quoted, except perhaps the last one, can be considered objectionable by the normal standards of discourse on Metafilter unless everything the young rope rider and others claim about religion enjoying a special protected status on this site (on top of in society in general, obviously) is true.

I mean, fine, you've shown that some people say disparaging things, but so what, if that's what disparaging looks like? I get why something more along the lines of FatherDagon's comment might bother people, but how does most of that other stuff even enter into it unless it's not ok to express a negative opinion about religion at all? Is there even a single other thing it's considered inappropriate, hateful or "behaving like a dick" to say "I think it would be a bad idea" about on here?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:14 PM on June 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Wait, I don't understand how any of the comments you quoted, except perhaps the last one, can be considered objectionable by the normal standards of discourse on Metafilter unless everything the young rope rider and others claim about religion enjoying a special protected status on this site (on top of in society in general, obviously) is true.

Well, let's see. In every case, they have been comments that are contentless digs at religion (or a religious group) as a whole, instead of addressing the specifics of the FPP, or contributing anything to the discussion except contempt.

How are they objectionable by standards of discourse on MetaFilter? Because they are drive-by noise.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:17 PM on June 3, 2012


How are they objectionable by standards of discourse on MetaFilter? Because they are drive-by noise.

Well, they aren't all drive-by. LordSludge hung around to discuss. As for being noise, this is very much in the eye of the beholder. I have flagged plenty of comments as noise, though I know I'm generally tilting at windmills there, as it seems noise as such rarely gets deleted, probably because it's so hard to judge.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:27 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm honestly finding it difficult to believe this discussion has gone on as long as it has.

Yes, I know this is not, officially, a discussion about snake handlers.

But it really is.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:28 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's less that they're contentless and more that their content is something you don't want to hear. I like you so much, but I also think the insistence of you and certain other "good" MeFi atheists on turning every minor contretemps between theist and non-theist Mefites, most all of them identical to any other heated debate that takes place on this site, into a referendum on the atheists here as well as an opportunity to scold and say "dick" and "asshole" is a kind of awful noise in itself. It's so bloody unnecessary.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:29 PM on June 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


I just want to add, it's not just people who believe in god who refrain from participating in these discussions because they feel unwelcome. I'm really not up for the abuse.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:31 PM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like you so much, but I also think the insistence of you and certain other "good" MeFi atheists on turning every minor contretemps between theist and non-theist Mefites, most all of them identical to any other heated debate that takes place on this site, into a referendum on the atheists here as well as an opportunity to scold and say "dick" and "asshole" is a kind of awful noise in itself. It's so bloody unnecessary.

Our definition of necessary is obviously different. When a fellow atheist takes time out of their day to dance on the grave of a dead man, I do find it necessary to say that they do not represent me, and I think it's sort of jerky behavior.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:32 PM on June 3, 2012


I think it becomes difficult to have a discussion when one person impugns the motives of another. If Tom says he is objecting for reason X, and Bill's answer is to basically call Tom a liar and insist that Tom is actually objecting because of Y...that kinda chokes off the discussion.
posted by cribcage at 1:33 PM on June 3, 2012


Ah, I see. So, except in places where people will behave like dicks, they don't behave like dicks.

Nope, that's not what I said. I've explained myself twice and I'm really not inclined to do it again, so we'll have to part ways on this subject.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:35 PM on June 3, 2012


Nope, that's not what I said. I've explained myself twice and I'm really not inclined to do it again, so we'll have to part ways on this subject.

Listen, I'm not restating what you said, and getting it wrong. I'm interpreting your data. And in my interpretation, you have skewed the result by leaving out the threads where people behaved badly, by saying, well, that's where people are going to behave badly. In other places, they haven't.

I think things have gotten a lot better on this topic. I think, in general, people have been more civil, and found ways to disagree that don't involve mockery or name-calling. But when the slant of a thread seems to lean toward religious people being ridiculous, it does still seem to offer a lot of license toward a generalized mockery, and, when people are discussing the subject, they are not eliminating those threads from the discussion, as you did.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:39 PM on June 3, 2012


It is one thing to criticize people for what they DO and quite another to criticize them for who they ARE.

I'm perhaps more guilty than most of violating this simple rule of civility. I'm sure my comments history is littered with drive-by LOLXIANS snark, and I apologize for that. I'm not a very thoughtful person.

But the idea that questioning religion itself is somehow "disparaging" is nonsense. It does a disservice to the faith community by presuming that they somehow lack the intellectual capacity to defend themselves and it paints non-believers as rude for merely attempting to engage believers in the kind of back-and-forth that is the foundation of a free and open society.

This problem is, I think, amplified on MeFi because to some nonbelievers (like me) this is (rightly or wrongly) a "safe space" where we aren't outnumbered, shamed, and shouted down. So the amplification effect kicks in and we veer too far in the other direction. It's a hard problem.

On the one hand, "Don't be a dick" is an excellent rule for living one's life, online and off. On the other hand, I'm reluctant to endorse a rule that will be employed against me as a cudgel (not here, but in the larger cultural conversation).
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:43 PM on June 3, 2012 [15 favorites]


I said I did not look at threads that had more than 50 commments.

A cursory *glance* at the front page shows that the average thread about anything has at least 30 comments. There are a few with less, but not many. In a thread about any hot-button issue, the comment count is going hit 50 within a few hours.

To say you're examining threads about religion and ignoring the larger ones is missing the point entirely when it comes to the behavior being discussed here. Threads about any popular issue - religion, politics, Game of Thrones, comic books - are going to have 100+ comments pretty much guaranteed. The old halcyon days where 50 comments was a large thread are long gone.
posted by sonika at 1:44 PM on June 3, 2012


> That's a sloppy generalization. Not all atheist-theist relationships here are antagonistic.

What you said has nothing to do with what I said, but I imagine it made you feel better to get it off your chest.

> [quoted:] And some people said that ever criticizing any ones ideas automatically makes you into a dick.

Have they? I must have missed it.


No, they haven't, but it's so much easier to make up an argument that one can easily argue with than go to the trouble of engaging with what people actually say.
posted by languagehat at 1:44 PM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, they haven't, but it's so much easier to make up an argument that one can easily argue with than go to the trouble of engaging with what people actually say.

I'm going to go ahead and disagree that bald men are not attractive, and am not clear why you just made this claim.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:46 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I'm going to go ahead and disagree that bald men are not attractive, and am not clear why you just made this claim.

See, there you go again with your "hats suck" propaganda. Drop it right now or I'll... I'll use the contact form. I mean it.
posted by languagehat at 1:48 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, they haven't, but it's so much easier to make up an argument

LH, I already explicated this, but it is easy to miss point in these long threads, I agree, so for your convenience, here it is again.
I’m not sure where you’re getting "not allowed"
Most people have at least some beliefs that are so meaningful to them that "attacking" those beliefs (your choice of wording) feels pretty much exactly the same as attacking them.

And rightly so. Because, for example, it's implicit in many attacks of beliefs that there's something wrong with someone being so wrongheaded as to believe them. But, also, and more simply and unavoidably psychologically true, a great many beliefs form the cemeone's social persona, and when you attack their social persona, you're attacking the person in some very real sense.
And there have been some others too. I don't mean to just single out Ivan. There's this constant refrain that we need to "respect" other people's ideas, not just other people. That's supreme bullshit.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:51 PM on June 3, 2012


Maybe you don't think that attacking the person in some very real sense counts as being a dick? But if that doesn't, does anything?
posted by Chekhovian at 1:52 PM on June 3, 2012


Bunny, I don't object to that, but to me, the people I'm referring to seem to react badly more often than just when an atheist says something outrageous. Also, I'm a feminist who often disagrees with things feminists say here, but I must accept that those people don't speak for me, just as I don't speak for them, and that neither of us quite speaks for our cause. What with atheism not even being an actual ideology, atheists are bound to disagree with each other even more than that. But it's not possible or even OK to manage what other people say just because they happen not to believe the same thing you don't believe and you wish you didn't have to be associated with them. This site has referees already. Me, I would like to see the atheists who have a serious problem with dismissive comments about religion stick to making the kinds of contributions they want to see made (which they do sometimes, of course) rather than worrying about what other people are saying, unless those things are really wrong in the way most things that make it to MeTa are wrong, and not just things they wish other people didn't want to say.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:55 PM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


You didn't attack the belief, you attacked the people--if NO ONE were Christian, the world would be a better place. That made me interpret it as you thinking the world would be better without any Christians.

This is a fine example of putting the worst interpretation on a statement. It is not about eliminating people who are currently Christian. It is about eliminating Christianity, so that no people are Christians.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:55 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bunny, I don't object to that, but to me, the people I'm referring to seem to react badly more often than just when an atheist says something outrageous.

I just don't know if this is the case or not. Some atheists seem to think they get attacked more, some think religion gets attacked more. I don't have a sense of if there is consensus from the religious community on Metafilter.

Regardless, I think the concerns should only be whether the critiques are valid, not of there is an unfair amount of them. It may be that there are as many as they are -- and so often from other atheists -- because there are some atheists who just sort of behave wretchedly. And, as we're discussing one thread in specific, there was some really, genuinely, unarguably awful stuff in that thread, and it didn't seem to be coming from the religious side.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:02 PM on June 3, 2012


Threads about any popular issue - religion, politics, Game of Thrones, comic books - are going to have 100+ comments pretty much guaranteed.

This is not true when it comes to religion, probably the others as well.

First 50 posts tagged religion: 27 posts have 0 - 50 comments. 5 posts have 51 - 100. 18 have more than 100 comments. A little more than 1/2 have less than 50 comments. That's why I looked at them. And in these posts, there was very little "religion is stupid" comments. People seem to be confusing controversial religious topics with religious topics in general. They are not the same.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:05 PM on June 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


languagehat: ... and in particular at the inability of my atheist comrades to let a discussion about some facet of religious belief proceed without jumping in to make a "Who cares? Religion is stupid!" comment that does nothing for the thread but relieves their feelings.

How is that not a sweeping generalization? I don't see a "some" or even a "many" in there. And as the evidence shows, it's not even remotely true. It's a perfect example of what I find objectionable, extrapolating from "that post was bad" to "atheists can't engage in discussion here at all." There's apparently more willingness to engage in grar than to actually have interesting and civil conversations.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:09 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


a fellow atheist

Other atheists aren't really your fellows. It's not like a religion.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:22 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, Bunny Ultramod, an example of what I meant by that line is your characterising the quotes you gave just up there as people "behav[ing] like dicks". When I actually don't think any of them appear to be an unusual mode of disagreement for this site, and I only consider maybe one of them over what I see as the line itself (as opposed to my personal line, which is conservatively drawn on this topic). And I don't know if I do consider a critique like that valid. It seems not so much part of an unfairly large group as unfairly rigorous in itself. And I don't know where this - that is, what I see as hypersensitivity to allegedly bad behaviour on the part of our atheists - comes from, nor do I want to speculate about that, but I think that it's something that is often unfair and should be considered and sometimes suppressed. I agree that wrt the thread this MeTa is actually about, you have your grounds.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:25 PM on June 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Problem is, a religious faith isn't an idea or behavior -- it's a whole bunch of them all swarming around together, hence all the divisions within the various faiths out there.

I believe we can discuss elements of any complex cultural phenomenon (religious, political, etc.). It's hard work to make those discussions productive, but I believe it is possible to do so.

I assume your take on what is "disparaging" is different from mine.

This is part of the argument I've been making. I thank nooneyouknow for the analysis, and I'd be interested to see it pushed further, though I doubt anyone has the resources or desire to go into a high level of detail (unless one of resident scholars sees an interesting research project in this issue).

I wonder how a team of coders who have been normed on a rubric defining acceptable/unacceptable comments might describe the comments in religion threads. And, as it's unlikely we could come to a consensus on such a rubric, it'd be interesting to have coders drawn from the different parties in this discussion and see how they code comments as charted against their attitudes about the extent of hostility toward theists/atheists. I'm sure people trained in qualitative analysis could come up with a more rigorous protocol.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:27 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, here's another peeve. Saying that somebody exhibits behaviour traits or characteristics similar to somebody with Borderline Personality Disorder or schizophrenia or whatever is *not* doing a diagnosis.

If the person pointing out those traits isn't delivering treatment, and doesn't have the power to make their observations stick, then all they're doing is saying so-and-so acts like somebody who has a psychiatric condition.

I can't for the life of me see what's wrong with that. If you disagree, then you're perfectly free to say why you think that's not the case


A few points come to mind:

1. The people who are most familiar with assessing those disorders -- i.e., trained professionals in the mental health field -- are the very people who would NOT be saying such things on the internet.

2. People on this site who have legitimately been diagnosed with those conditions are already subject to enough stigma and misunderstanding out in the real world. To come here and see people loosely bandying about terms that represent real, day-to-day, deep suffering for them? That creates an unwelcoming environment for those people. I want those people here, participating. Do you?

3. Historically, labeling people with mental illness has been a way to control them, to diminish them, to dismiss them, to make it OK in our minds to isolate them from "polite" society. (Foucault has some interesting things to say about this.) The actual labels have shifted over the years, but the process is still in place.

4. The DSM-IV (and Western psych in general) is NOT the only way to understand the human condition in re: mental health. To cite these labels as some sort of authoritive truths is to deny that maaaaaaaaybe there are other, more humane ways to understand people.

5. If these labels are being directed toward other users here (vs. commenting on people in articles), then it is straight up asshole-ish behavior, and violates the etiquette of metafilter as I understand it.
posted by quivering_fantods at 2:33 PM on June 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


Well, I'm not shocked, exactly, but annoyed that the thread took this turn.

I didn't use the words atheist or atheism anywhere in my post, and it had nothing to with anyone's theological (or lack thereof) beliefs.

It did have to do with people using accusations of serious mental illness as either an attack or a mask and pretense of rationality for their hostile feelings about people. I don't think I even take a hard-line stance on it, I don't think it's a big deal if someone offhandedly says "That's crazy," or "What a whackadoo."

But for some reason, some people decided all on their own that the more important discussion was about how this was all about their beliefs about religion was under attack, that I was somehow unfair or hypocritical for some reason, and that really, as atheists, they are the real victims here on metafilter because someone said something unkind about some atheists once, and this thread was the perfect place to to talk at length about it.

The thread was garbage, which was terribly unfortunate, as mudpuppie's original FPP was pretty good, and there were some good responses in the thread, but it was ruined by all-too-familiar bullshit. Instead of going after every single shitty thing in that thread, I confined myself to the mental illness issue because it bothers me and that going after the anti-religious and eliminationist rhetoric, and classism was just to much for me to deal with.

All that stuff pissed me off too, but I felt this was a more solvable problem, that it was a purely behavioral issue, that no one's ideology or belief system was tied up in being able to make serious diagnosis of mental illness over the internet of people they never met, or that mental illness should be used as a cudgel.

Guess I was wrong.
posted by Snyder at 2:33 PM on June 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


bongo_x: “I don't think the majority of people in the U.S. particularly religious.”

vorfeed: “You are incorrect. 56% of Americans self-report that religion is ‘very important’ to their lives, and for a full third of the religious groups surveyed this was above 70%. Another 26% of the general population say it's ‘somewhat important’.”

Er – if you read the rest of bondgo_x's comment, I think it makes perfect sense, and I agree. Self-reporting surveys are notoriously bad scientifically; in particular, people who feel a lot of pressure to act religious will obviously report as somewhat or even very religious. Imagine doing a survey in a place that is very homophobic and asking people if they're gay; I have a feeling not many people would report as gay. And homosexuality seems a lot less nebulous than religiosity – I mean, who can really define what 'very religious' means? I have a feeling there are a lot of people who don't necessarily believe that Jesus was an actual person who did stuff, or in fact who don't really even think about it at all, but who are really good friends with the rest of the people in their Bible Study group or who really like cooking for the potlucks or whatver; to those people, maybe by their definition religion is "very important" to them even though the reality or unreality of God is absolutely not essential to "religion" in their eyes.

In general, I just feel as though people (in the United States at least) are much more likely to self-report as "religious" when they're not than they are to self-report as "atheist" when they are actually religious. In fact, I can think of dozens of reasons why an atheist would claim to be religious on a survey or in public, but I have a hard time thinking of a reason why a religious person would pretend to be an atheist. To put it bluntly, things have historically been a bit tougher on atheists than they have been on religious people, and because of the incentives I think a lot of people who actually are indifferent to the existence of god and all that are likely to report themselves as religious or even very religious.
posted by koeselitz at 2:43 PM on June 3, 2012


But for some reason, some people decided all on their own that the more important discussion was about how this was all about their beliefs about religion was under attack, that I was somehow unfair or hypocritical for some reason, and that really, as atheists, they are the real victims here on metafilter because someone said something unkind about some atheists once, and this thread was the perfect place to to talk at length about it.

jessamyn said responding to Blasdelb: Seriously, do not start another MeTa thread. You can talk about what you want here, or you can try. What you can't do is say "Well the bible says this" and then just sort of walk away. That's not having a discussion with people on MetaFilter, and that's what we asked people not to do.

Given Blasdelb & jessamyn's exchange, I thought it was appropriate to respond to Blasdelb's comments. I understand your annoyance, and I hope people will continue to respond to the issues raised in your original post as they have periodically throughout the thread.

However, I think you oversimplify when describing the argument as "really, as atheists, they are the real victims here on metafilter because someone said something unkind about some atheists once."
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:44 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


56% of Americans self-report that religion is ‘very important’ to their lives

What's interesting about the phrasing of the question there -- Is religion is 'very important' to [my] life? -- is that, though I'm not religious, I would probably answer 'yes'. The impact *other* people's religions is very important in my day-to-day life here in the U.S.

I know that's probably a Dept. of Duh thing to say, but I recently stumbled over that very question on a dating site of all places, and had to scratch my head a bit.
posted by quivering_fantods at 3:03 PM on June 3, 2012


Snyder, I am sorry you feel that the thread was hijacked. I feel like it evolved from those comments that audi alterem partem referenced.

It all comes down to the same thing, though, really: don't be a dick on Metafilter.
posted by misha at 3:04 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


don't be a dick on Metafilter

But what is a "dick on Metafilter"?
posted by Chekhovian at 3:11 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Er – if you read the rest of bondgo_x's comment, I think it makes perfect sense, and I agree. Self-reporting surveys are notoriously bad scientifically; in particular, people who feel a lot of pressure to act religious will obviously report as somewhat or even very religious.

I agree that self-reporting surveys aren't particularly accurate by definition, but I don't see how else one could possibly get an idea of how important religion is to most people in the country -- "who can really define what 'very religious' means?" is exactly the problem you'd encounter in using any other method. Besides, that survey would have to be off by almost 40% in order to turn "majority very important/somewhat important" into "majority not too important/not important at all", and I don't buy the idea that this is a reasonable assumption.

I also doubt that atheists would "obviously report as somewhat or even very religious" in a survey with zero repercussions, yet not feel the very same pressure to appear "somewhat or even very religious" in daily public life. Which would make them somewhat or very religious, at least in terms of what they actually do.

I have a feeling there are a lot of people who don't necessarily believe that Jesus was an actual person who did stuff, or in fact who don't really even think about it at all, but who are really good friends with the rest of the people in their Bible Study group or who really like cooking for the potlucks or whatver; to those people, maybe by their definition religion is "very important" to them even though the reality or unreality of God is absolutely not essential to "religion" in their eyes.

I agree, but I also don't get why this makes them non-religious, nor why it should make religion unimportant to their lives. The question was "How important is religion in your life", not "how strongly do you believe in the existence of Jesus or God," and the social aspect of religion is in fact very important to lots of people who identify as religious. I also doubt that a whole bunch of atheists felt extreme pressure to spontaneously invent a belief in Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Other Faiths... all of which still reported over 70% "very important/somewhat important". Not one group reported less than 70% very/somewhat important save "Unaffiliated", which is probably where many of your atheists who felt like they couldn't say they were atheists ended up.
posted by vorfeed at 3:22 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


All that stuff pissed me off too, but I felt this was a more solvable problem, that it was a purely behavioral issue, that no one's ideology or belief system was tied up in being able to make serious diagnosis of mental illness over the internet of people they never met, or that mental illness should be used as a cudgel.

Yes, I was hoping for more back-and-forth in this discussion on the complaint you raised. I understand that MeTas will meander, and often enjoy those meanderings (or evolutions, as misha nicely put it). But the issue you raised is very interesting in its own right, and I think deserves focused consideration. It's come up tangentially in other recent MeTas, so I was glad to see you starting a post specific to the issue.
posted by quivering_fantods at 3:36 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Folks this thread is difficult enough without going favorites-trawling from other touchy threads and bringing up shit here.Do not do that, feel free to hit us up on the contact form if you want to talk about it. I am otherwise unfollowing this thread, so feel free to email us if something here needs mod attention.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:37 PM on June 3, 2012


?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:40 PM on June 3, 2012


Separately, I think I'm out, at least for now.

I came for the best of the web, but the fine distinctions between eliminating me and eliminating who I am are not really that.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:43 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


being able to make serious diagnosis of mental illness over the internet of people they never met

When you get down to brass tacks, I don't think that any of the snake-handlers and poison drinkers actually are mentally ill. I mean they're clearly crazy, they're drinking fucking POISON, and not as an attempt to kill themselves. So it must be some kind of induced crazyness, they've grown up steeped in those ideas and its just "normal" to them.

That's the tragedy, and as far as making crazy seem normal, religion is the best tool humanity has ever developed.
Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg
posted by Chekhovian at 3:45 PM on June 3, 2012


"And there have been some others too. I don't mean to just single out Ivan. There's this constant refrain that we need to 'respect' other people's ideas, not just other people. That's supreme bullshit."

You quoted that twice but you've apparently not actually read it. I didn't say that all beliefs should be respected and that attacking any particular person's particular belief is very much like attacking them. I said that most people have some beliefs that are so core to their sense of self that attacking that belief in that person feels to them like an attack on their self. That's a long, long way from a demand that one respect all beliefs and never attack any beliefs. That misrepresentation of what I wrote is, as you put it, supreme bullshit.

You are deeply enamored of your puerile distinction between beliefs and identity even though basically no one, not even you, actually has a psychology that segregates those in the way that you presume. Notice that puerile? I described your distinction — a belief — such. Did it bother you? It should. If your belief is childhish, then it clearly implies that you are childhish. And this is with regard to something as trivial and far removed from identity as that distinction. You undoubtedly believe many, many things about the world that are very central to your identity and attacking those beliefs will feel very much like attacking you. Not all your beliefs, of course. And other people will share some of those beliefs without sharing the integration into identity.

Furthermore, as others have pointed out, the belief aspect of religion is really only a part of it, and in many cases (many individual people, and varying according to religion as well) it's not a very important part of it. Religion is often deeply involved in ethnicity, in community, in habit and the structure of daily life. When you attack an entire religion — or, when you're feeling especially ambitious, all religion — you're not just attacking your arbitrary distinguished belief, you're attacking everything that goes along with it. You're attacking a community of people, lifestyles, relationships, bodies of literature, and much more.

Other people here have made a distinction between what one chooses and what is biologically determined in order to say that one can be criticized and the other cannot. These sorts of distinctions are grossly artificial and self-serving. The reason why, say, liberals are inclined to discourage people being judgmental, critical, ridiculing, attacking of others is not because there's some strictly defined class of traits that rationally cannot be justified as the object of these things, but because more bad from good comes from being intolerant. Tolerance allows judgments (as distinct from judgmental). Merely saying that I believe that you're mistaken in one of your beliefs is not intolerant. Saying that I believe that your mistaken belief is the product of stupidity of moral failure or some other thing that assumes bad-faith on your part...that's intolerant. Intolerance can't imagine that other people have good reasons for the things they believe and do...though most people generally assume this about themselves.

The respect that I mentioned is taking as an initial assumption, until it's proven false, that people who believe different things and have different habits than oneself have good reasons for those things, just as you yourself have good reasons for your beliefs and habits. That doesn't require that you assume everyone else is right. It doesn't even require that you not assume that other people are wrong. It does require that you not assume that you're some enlightened paragon of reason while, in contrast, those who disagree with you are fools or ignorant or craven or insane.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:45 PM on June 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Blasdelb, I really like you and if you're leaving the site I will be very sad to see you go.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:46 PM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Did it bother you? It should. If your belief is childhish, then it clearly implies that you are childhish.

No, in all honesty it didn't really bother me. What's wrong with being a child?

You undoubtedly believe many, many things about the world that are very central to your identity and attacking those beliefs will feel very much like attacking you

I would hope that any belief to which I would cling that strongly would be based on reason and evidence. If it felt to me like an attack on my own person, then I would need to "grow up" to continue your particular bit of parlance.

I didn't say that all beliefs should be respected and that attacking any particular person's particular belief is very much like attacking them.

This is a rather finely split hair don't you think? The greater context of that conversation was that attacking people was bad, as is commonly agreed. Then you come along and try and throw down some logic that attacking beliefs is the same as attacking people? There is such a thing as the transitive principle.

If we're getting personal, can I ask one question? How have you avoided incredible carpal tunnel syndrome?
posted by Chekhovian at 3:56 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dude, chill out.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:58 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you feel tempted to point out that somebody else believes something stupid, why not remind yourself that you probably believe some stupid things too and just let it go? Someone Is Wrong on the Internet should not be your eternal call to action.

Problem with this is, people think it applies to everyone else, but not to them. If you were to follow your own advice in this regard, you wouldn't have posted this comment. If everyone followed it (and I agree that it's damn good advice), we'd get far fewer Metatalk call-outs.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:59 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fake doctors, heal thyselves.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:00 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


To misha and others who mentioned thread evolution. I don't mind that, and wouldn't think of trying to police the thread (assuming I had the inclination, I have other things to do,) it's just makes me upset that a lot of posters were running away from the issue as fast as possible. I'm glad that other people see this as something worth discussing. It just seems like a minority want to.

You're right, it is about not being a "dick on metafilter." I don't believe (and I'm not saying you do,) that it's possible to catalog all the various particular ways one can be a dick. But it bothers me a little when, after your statement, Chekhovian wrote:' But what is a "dick on Metafilter"?' I dunno, maybe, the issue at hand?

I understand and have zero problem with people wanting to discuss larger overarching issues regarding dickishness and behavior among a subset of atheist users and whatnot, but I feel the elephant in the room has been largely ignored. Namely, that it's one thing to say,"There are certain atheist users on metafilter who are obnoxious and/or bigoted," (which I do agree with,) and "This behavior, regardless of who is doing it in service of whatever ideology, is shitty."
posted by Snyder at 4:08 PM on June 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Blasdelb, I hope you enjoy your break and come back when you're ready. The times I've taken a break from MetaFilter were also religion-thread related, so I totally grok the "this topic is important to me and the discussion surrounding it is getting exhausting" feeling. I hope that after some space you decide to re-join us. (If not, y'know, that's your call and we'll be sad to see you go.)
posted by sonika at 4:11 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


1. The people who are most familiar with assessing those disorders -- i.e., trained professionals in the mental health field -- are the very people who would NOT be saying such things on the internet.

Well, not without a damn good cloak of anonymity in place, that's for sure.

2. People on this site who have legitimately been diagnosed with those conditions are already subject to enough stigma and misunderstanding out in the real world. To come here and see people loosely bandying about terms that represent real, day-to-day, deep suffering for them? That creates an unwelcoming environment for those people. I want those people here, participating. Do you?


I disagree with your premise. If I've been diagnosed with cancer, why would it bother me that somebody refers to someone as a cancer on our society? The cancer might represent real, deep suffering -- the insult has no bearing whatsoever on the issue.

What makes mental illness any different? Are you suggesting that people who have suffered from mental illnesses are delicate little flowers who must all be coddled and not upset under any circumstances, because their emotional constitutions are such that they just can't stand robust discourse? If you ask me, that's way more stigmatizing than someone making reference to psychiatric conditions when describing someone's behaviour.

3. Historically, labeling people with mental illness has been a way to control them, to diminish them, to dismiss them, to make it OK in our minds to isolate them from "polite" society. (Foucault has some interesting things to say about this.) The actual labels have shifted over the years, but the process is still in place.

If I recall my Foucault, the reason this labelling process works is because certain people have the power to impose those definitions, make them stick and have a material impact on people's lives as a consequence. That's a very different process from a bunch of yahoo's using a term you don't approve of on Metafilter.

4. The DSM-IV (and Western psych in general) is NOT the only way to understand the human condition in re: mental health. To cite these labels as some sort of authoritive truths is to deny that maaaaaaaaybe there are other, more humane ways to understand people.

Is somebody doing that? Where? I've never seen it.

5. If these labels are being directed toward other users here (vs. commenting on people in articles), then it is straight up asshole-ish behavior, and violates the etiquette of metafilter as I understand it.

Unless the person that they're commenting on happens to have tried to game us recently -- for example, pretending that their partner has just died.

In those circumstances, all bets are off, amirite?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:15 PM on June 3, 2012


Synder, I think your attempt to separately diagonalize the mental illness angle and religion angle is impossible. And I would wager that if they were cornered, most of the people making accusations of mental illness in that thread would admit that they did not mean that those people were mentally ill in the organic wayin chemical for which a doctor would prescribe medicine (chemical imbalances that could be fixed by the right drugs or something? My knowledge in this areaL is incredibly small)....

So then how do your characterize their behavior, which doesn't make any sort of rational sense. You don't drink poison if you are not actively trying to die!

Im not defending the people calling them crazy, but what else should they call them instead? I don't think our language is properly equipped.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:29 PM on June 3, 2012


Is somebody doing that? Where? I've never seen it.

From the deleted thread:

They fit the DSM criteria. What can I say?
posted by c13 at 5:19 PM on June 1 [1 favorite +] [!]

religion would fall into a category of delusion. However, according to wiki, delusion is always pathological. So you see the problem. From what I gathered in my discussions with mentors, a delusion is pathologic when it leads to harm to an individual holding the delusion, or bystaners.
In this case, the delusion is(was) clearly pathologic. In a general case of a religious beliver that claims to be in direct communication with god, it is still a delusion, but not a pathological one.
posted by c13 at 7:28 PM on June 1 [2 favorites +] [!]
posted by Bort at 4:32 PM on June 3, 2012


But what is a "dick on Metafilter"?

Not much different that a "dick in real life", I suspect.

I think what really bothers me about the whole labelling others as mentally ill thing relates back to a discussion I had in the past with a Mensan Randroid. I won't rehash it, but the part that really got me was the firm conviction that disagreement could only be the result of a) stupidity, b) insanity, or c) malice. There was simply no room for an honest disagreement, and, therefore, there was nothing more to be said. The conversation ended pretty quickly, as did my flirtation with Mensa.

Thing is, that wasn't all that different from a conversation I had with a former good friend from high school who got born again in my freshman year of college. Upon seeing a Jesus & Mary Chain CD on top of my stereo system, he proclaimed "you're going to hell" and his entire demeanor changed. Apparently, I was no longer a person to relate to - I was either an object to "save" or to shun.

This labelling of people who one might disagree with or whom one might think differently than dehumanizes the object of the label. In Robert Jay Lifton's famous phrase, it's a "thought-terminating cliche". There's a bit of Orwell's "duckspeaking", too - again, it's a way to avoid engagement and empathy for another. It's not generous. To borrow from one more great mind, John Carpenter (from "The Prince of Darkness"), it's "assholish".

It might be a cliche, but maybe it would be a good idea to try not to be a dick to one another. Yes, everyone's been hurt by someone and everyone has a reason to be a dick to someone, but maybe it would be a good idea to break the chain of dickishness and show a little kindness. To some people, it'll be wishy-washy or wimpy, but really, who cares? Who will lay on their deathbed regretting that they didn't sufficiently make someone on an Internet message board feel enough like dog shit? And if there's a person out there like that, is that really what people should aspire to be?
posted by jhandey at 4:34 PM on June 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Peter: What makes mental illness any different? Are you suggesting that people who have suffered from mental illnesses are delicate little flowers who must all be coddled and not upset under any circumstances, because their emotional constitutions are such that they just can't stand robust discourse? If you ask me, that's way more stigmatizing than someone making reference to psychiatric conditions when describing someone's behaviour.

Because discussions based on stereotypes and urban legends are unlikely to be productive? Of course, the discussion in question went beyond just saying that snake handling was metaphorically similar to schizophrenia to saying that it was functionally indistinguishable from schizophrenia. Even were it to be limited to strictly a metaphor, we can still debate whether that metaphor is appropriate.

There's another way to look at it. What does calling the other side mentally ill do as a speech act? What it says is that the differences of opinion are so irreconcilable that we shouldn't listen to the other person at all. In most cases, I think that's premature.

Chekhovian: Im not defending the people calling them crazy, but what else should they call them instead?

Wrong?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:34 PM on June 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


"You don't drink poison if you are not actively trying to die!"

All those people drinking alcohol would disagree. Or those who smoke. Or skydive. It's very convenient for you to variously define different risks in a way that makes those you personally engage in (or which are conventional in your subculture) rational/reasonable/normal and many of those you don't irrational/unreasonable/crazy.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:37 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else remember that wonder british show Return of the Tribe? About the Papua New Guinea hill tribe that comes to visit London? The first thing they want to see in London is our "God House", their name for the hut in their village that holds all the religious artifacts. So the go to a catheredal and are completely amazed.

Then they agonize over whether to let their women inside to see it. It turns out that they believe that if a woman were ever to enter their god house, she would instantly die. So they have to decide if the same rules apply to our god house. Eventually they try it, and no one dies.

So were those tribal elders crazy for thinking that their women might die? No, they were operating within the beliefs of their their, which unfortunately was not explicit rationality.

The same is true for the snake handlers.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:44 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your understanding of reason and rationality is very reminiscent of an objectivist's. Which is extremely amusing to me in the context of your comment, as I like to say that objectivism is the cargo cult of philosophy.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:54 PM on June 3, 2012


Ivan, I'm sorry I've offended you. And I promise I will someday read those replies on the punctured can problem you sent so long ago. I really did mean to do it, and then I kept looking at all the many words, and I was really tired and couldn't manage the energy, and I kept putting it off. Then I tried not to think about it, because I felt bad for not having done it, and you know, classic avoidance personality disorder kicks in... (diagnosing myself here, is that okay, or is that against the spirit of the thread?)

And regarding objectivism, Rand is a bloody nutter, and politically, its hard to find someone to the left of me on economic issues. So there you go, what does that make me?
posted by Chekhovian at 5:04 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


No never, mind not avoidant personality disorder, having just looked it up on the wiki. There must be name for the cycle of procrastination, then guilt, then shame? Seems like I've heard a name for that before.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:07 PM on June 3, 2012


"All that can accurately be said about a man who thinks he is a poached egg is that he is in the minority." - James Burke
posted by bongo_x at 5:23 PM on June 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


PeterMcDermott: If the person pointing out those traits isn't delivering treatment, and doesn't have the power to make their observations stick, then all they're doing is saying so-and-so acts like somebody who has a psychiatric condition.

Yeah, no. Usually those people are wrong, and even if some of the symptoms as similar to a mental disorder why not critique the beliefs you want instead of bringing a fucking diagnosis into it? Because the diagnosis is a lot more insulting; crazy comes with it an assumption that the person speaking is inherently wrong because they are "crazy" and thus you can discount anything they say. Which is why people with mental illnesses are targets for violence, and sexual assault, and robbery, because people won't believe them when they complain. It's why women are often described as "crazy" - so that people won't listen to them. It's a dismissal of another human being via a diagnosis which can only be inaccurate because you're making it on the MOTHERFUCKING internet based on REALLY FUCKING LIMITED data.

It's hinging on the existing prejudice against the mentally ill to not only reinforce that but to extend it to a person simply because you've decided they have "some characteristics like" a psychiatric condition.

You do know this is one of the only populations in the USA which can be deprived of their liberty without ever breaking a law, right? I've been the person setting the wheels in motion to take someone's liberty away, and while I'm glad I could get that person the help I thought they needed, the sheer power over their life that I had terrified me.

People talk so casually about "locking people up" when they're "crazy."

Imagine you have some behaviors, and so when someone rapes you and beats you up behind the grocery store, where you've found a little warm area by the vents to sleep at so you don't freeze at night, and when you go to the police they check your record and decide you must have injured yourself and so they throw you into a locked building where people force you to take medications and make you admit what they want you to admit before they let you go.



Checkhovian
: Mine would be: it saddens me that he died, as it does when I hear of the death of most any of my fellow creatures, but he was sort of asking for it...the Greeks invented the word hubris for a reason.
Ironically, hubris doesn't apply in this case. Hubris is a form of pride and insult against the gods - and wouldn't apply to the belief that one could keep a lion from killing one.

Perhaps you might chose a human flaw less religious?


PeterMcDermott: Are you suggesting that people who have suffered from mental illnesses are delicate little flowers who must all be coddled and not upset under any circumstances, because their emotional constitutions are such that they just can't stand robust discourse? If you ask me, that's way more stigmatizing than someone making reference to psychiatric conditions when describing someone's behaviour.

You can't be removed of your right of freedom for having cancer. People don't discount what you say because you have cancer. Mental illness is treated qualitatively differently than physical illness. People also don't use, "Well, those people just have CANCER," to dismiss what they say - that is, physical illnesses are usually (though epilepsy was used as a "diagnosis" earlier, so not always) not used as insults.



Chekhovian: mentally ill in the organic wayin chemical for which a doctor would prescribe medicine (chemical imbalances that could be fixed by the right drugs or something? My knowledge in this areaL is incredibly small)
yeah, it really is small knowledge. Most mental illnesses are not reliably treated with medication. most of the medication used for people wish schizophrenia were originally epileptic medication and anti-convulscents, and often only work for the "positive" or "hot" symptoms, like hallucinations and delusions; treating the cognitive deficits etc... is a lot more complicated. Developmental disorders, which are also mental illnesses, are largely treated through skills training and b-mod. I use a mix of b-mod, Rogerian therapy, Jungian theory, and parenting in my job.

We also don't know why medications work - and I mean that quite seriously. We have a vague idea how bipolar might work (too little lithium in the brain) but simply introducing lithium often doesn't work (we don't know why). The DSM-V will be much more medication focused, but that's more due to the financially wealthy pharmaceutical companies than anything int he interests of our clients (many medications perform little better than placebo - and we suck at figuring out how placebo works so we can induce it without side effects).

Mental illness is poorly defined in part because it's used as a form of societal control; within the last century people would be declared mentally ill to control and remove them from society. I tend to go with "sufficiently impaired in how they think so that they are unable to adapt to the dominant culture so that one has persistent suffering and so seeks support."

And yeah, Ivan makes a good point - alcohol has the effects it does because we are poisoning ourselves. The same with most other drugs, including (ironically) most psychiatric medications (they have nasty side effects).



I would be happy to educate people on mental illness, schizophrenia in particular since I have the most personal experience with it (personality disorders are very, very, very rare; schizophrenia is relatively common and one of the only mental illnesses that seems to exist in all cultures, though it's treated very differently and our culture is one of the only ones where it isn't acute).

And for the record - people who do risky things but think they shall survive are not suicidal; they do not meet the criteria. Suicidal ideation requires a desire to be dead, not a decision to do something risky because they want to.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:39 PM on June 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


Oh blah, the casual definition of hubris is just reckless overconfidence, and I don't know what could be more recklessly overconfident than being sure that you will survive poison drinking...One doesn't need the believe in Zeus to exhibit hubris.

alcohol has the effects it does because we are poisoning ourselves. The same with most other drugs, including (ironically) most psychiatric medications (they have nasty side effects).


Alcohol and cigarettes have direct short term benefits, even though they are poisons in the long term/large enough dose. Do you get a sweet high off of snake venom and poison? Maybe you get some adrenaline or something...but there are other ways to get that kind of excitement.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:48 PM on June 3, 2012


All this talk about past behavior makes me crave a Blizzard®!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 5:53 PM on June 3, 2012


Alcohol and cigarettes have direct short term benefits

In the case of alcohol, the benefit is due to the brain being poisoned.

I am wondering why you, however, get to decide how other people should get their "adrenaline or something" as well as how you get to decide what a word significantly older than you - and which is rooted deeply in Greek religion - means.

That might actually BE hubris.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:54 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lol, maybe we should go back to all the exact original meanings of all words. You're on notice internet, anyone using the word juggernaut can only use it if they are describing a very large cart carrying a sort of mobile hindu temple thing whose wheels were reputed to crush the faithful.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:01 PM on June 3, 2012


There must be name for the cycle of procrastination, then guilt, then shame?

I call it "working".
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:01 PM on June 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


vorfeed: " You are incorrect. 56% of Americans self-report that religion is "very important" to their lives, and for a full third of the religious groups surveyed this was above 70%. Another 26% of the general population say it's "somewhat important"."

Yes, but why is it important?

koselitz touched on this a bit. Being religious, meaning participating in an organized religion, is not necessarily representative of one's level of belief. In many small communities throughout America, churches serve a communal function as well as a spiritual one. A person could easily be a member of a church for all the social advantages that provides, yet participate minimally (if at all) in religious services. Go through the motions, so they can enjoy luncheons with their neighbors, etc.

The structure of the religion may be important to their lives. It does not necessarily follow that the beliefs of that religion rule their lives.
posted by zarq at 6:06 PM on June 3, 2012


blasdelb, like sonika I've also taken a break from the site because I was finding a thread on a religious topic frustrating and difficult. Completely understandable, although I'm also sad to see you go. I hope your breather is helpful to you, and for all our sakes, I hope it's brief, too.
posted by zarq at 6:14 PM on June 3, 2012



In the case of alcohol, the benefit is due to the brain being poisoned.


I believe it's the liver that gets the poison. The brain gets the fun and/or the recklessness.
posted by philip-random at 6:18 PM on June 3, 2012


Are you suggesting that people who have suffered from mental illnesses are delicate little flowers who must all be coddled and not upset under any circumstances, because their emotional constitutions are such that they just can't stand robust discourse?

Your words, not mine.

I'm suggesting that there are much better ways to express disagreement, and to discredit others' fallacious lines of thinking, than to throw around amateur psych analyses.

It lacks intellectual rigor. And, it's asshole-ish.
posted by quivering_fantods at 6:23 PM on June 3, 2012


nooneyouknow: "A few atheists asked questions but I don't recall any disparaging comments about religion made by atheists."

Among other comments, that Orthodox thread (on the Blue) included one with: "The problem is that the world's major religious traditions impart this poisonous, asinine belief system...." Which was then deleted. But it remains in the thread because valkyrn quoted it in a response.

Worth noting that one of the deleted comments was a callout of me, because I'm Jewish. I hadn't participated in the main thread when it happened, and the commenter was given a week off over it. In fact, I only found out about it through gingerest's meta.

It is impossible to accurately measure how well an FPP progressed without seeing what the mods deleted.

You also missed any related metatalk posts. Where comments generally aren't deleted by the mods.

Anyway, the orthodox thread's meta also had this comment by decani, which I responded to. There really were people in the main thread (at least a couple) that took that one incident and turned it into an inappropriate diatribe against all organized religion.

So yes, there were disparaging comments. They were removed.
posted by zarq at 6:30 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alcohol and cigarettes have direct short term benefits, even though they are poisons in the long term/large enough dose. Do you get a sweet high off of snake venom and poison?

Oh my goodness, yes.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:38 PM on June 3, 2012


Sounds like a new front in the War on Drug!

Kids, just say no when your friends offer you "a hit off the serpent".

And imagine the needle sharing issues that would accumulate too...
posted by Chekhovian at 6:48 PM on June 3, 2012


That's useful information Bunny Ultramod, thanks for sharing it. It could be useful in understanding, in part, why someone who has been bitten by snakes before might keep doing it.
posted by Danila at 6:50 PM on June 3, 2012


I highly doubt that rattle snake bites are addictive. You realize that their venom starts digesting your body from the inside?
posted by Chekhovian at 6:51 PM on June 3, 2012


It is impossible to accurately measure how well an FPP progressed without seeing what the mods deleted.
If I was actually doing a peer reviewed study, I'd be worried about that. The people accusing atheists of insulting religion in every post about religion are just going on memories. As you just showed, memory can be inaccurate. So, I took a look at what evidence was available to me.

You also missed any related metatalk posts. Where comments generally aren't deleted by the mods.
People are always dickish in Metatalk, whatever the subject.

What about the post you made about the Atlantic article about the 1870's Jews celebrating the high holidays? Anybody make disparaging comments?
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:56 PM on June 3, 2012


It seems to me much of this discussion as it relates to the deleted FPP centers around whether or not someone has to be certifiably crazy in order to engage in this behavior. That's what the contentious comments were saying and what Snyder is calling out here. The comparison was made to other risky behaviors that can have a detrimental affect on the body, like smoking and drinking alcohol. People can engage in those behaviors without being crazy. You, Chekhovian, questioned the comparison due to the short-term benefits one can get from those behaviors, and you were provided information showing there can be short-term benefits to being bitten by a snake. In my mind this should alter your understanding to a significant extent rather than move the goalposts to another argument to try to win.

I think it's pretty indefensible to make mental health diagnoses to attack people, which is what was happening there. It's happened before here on non-religious topics as well, and it's been directed at other members. It is a hurtful and disingenuous thing to do.
posted by Danila at 7:12 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


nooneyouknow: " What about the post you made about the Atlantic article about the 1870's Jews celebrating the high holidays? Anybody make disparaging comments?"

Nope! At least, not that I know of.

The article probably didn't appeal to most people. It was sort of esoteric, uncontroversial, didn't attract many comments, and didn't spark any deep discussions.

That said, I don't believe atheists insult religion in every related post. Or vice versa.
posted by zarq at 7:21 PM on June 3, 2012


you were provided information showing there can be short-term benefits to being bitten by a snake. In my mind this should alter your understanding to a significant extent rather than move the goalposts to another argument to try to win.

Pssssh, getting high on snake venom was so last year. These days the in thing is to inject scorpion venom into your eyeballs. Its called "seeing the sting", or "getting pinced".

Hahahahahaha. Things are going to be interesting when high school students discover this hiding them in their lockers, selling them on a street corners. The coast guard will intercept speed boats full of exotic snakes. Meth labs will change over in snake venom farms. Actually that's incredibly terrifying...anonymous houses in average neighborhoods full of deadly creatures that could escape at a moments notice....*Shudders*

"Dude, everyone's doing it!...It will fuck...you...up!"
posted by Chekhovian at 7:35 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


That said, I don't believe atheists insult religion in every related post. Or vice versa.

Yeah, atheists can be jerks about religion on Metafilter (the guy who called you out was ridiculous), especially in threads about controversial subjects that touch on religion, but it's not like there is some atheist brigade out there waiting to pounce on all religious posts, as some people asserted in this thread.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:45 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually that's incredibly terrifying...anonymous houses in average neighborhoods full of deadly creatures that could escape at a moments notice....*Shudders*

Sounds like a Lifetime movie of the week: "Dean Cain and Jennifer Love Hewitt star in VENOM: CURSE OF THE NATION"
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:48 PM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


you were provided information showing there can be short-term benefits to being bitten by a snake

I don't know if I'd call that a benefit, exactly...
posted by Estraven at 7:57 PM on June 3, 2012


but it's not like there is some atheist brigade out there waiting to pounce on all religious posts, as some people asserted in this thread.

Well, there is the atheist pounce phone tree a bunch of us are on but I would hardly say we're a "brigade".
posted by fuq at 8:06 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


That we're arguing about whether a religious ritual has any benefit to those who participate in it on the basis of whether it gets them high or not just demonstrates how peculiarly blinkered some people are on this topic. Will we next be evaluating all physically risky activities purely in terms of the adrenaline and dopamine highs they may or may not facilitate in those who engage in them while ignoring every other possible reason, personal and social, that someone might enjoy such activities? If you can only see a dangerous religious ritual in terms of it either being "rational" (by your idiosyncratic definition) or gets you high, and otherwise must be CRAZY then you have a very limited view of human nature and very limited comprehension of what is legitimately important to people other than yourself.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:06 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Speaking of esoteric and probably harmful ways to get high: one of my friends used to work with this Finnish guy. Sometimes he'd squirt a little methonal into his mouth from one of the little bottles around the lab. Now Methonal is the bad bad bad bad form of ethonal, the kind that causes you to go blind and kills your brain pretty much instantly, when ingested in sufficient quantity. The first time my friend saw him do it...he was was like: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Finnish guy was just confused that my friend would react that way. Apparently he responded with this: "What's the problem? There isn't enough in that little squirt to cause any problems and I wanted a little buzz. Big fucking deal."
posted by Chekhovian at 8:12 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what the moral of that story was. Maybe never trust Finnish people?
posted by Chekhovian at 8:13 PM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: " If you can only see a dangerous religious ritual in terms of it either being "rational" (by your idiosyncratic definition) or gets you high,"

Hey, hey, hey. There's *nothing* wrong with Naked Manischewitz Jello Shot Parties and we can stop any time we want.
posted by zarq at 8:15 PM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


This thread reminds me of youth group meetings as a Unitarian Universalist. I'm getting flashbacks to high school and spending Saturday nights with a bunch of angry fourteen-year-old ex-Catholic Wiccans. I can't believe that we made jessamyn basically throw up her hands in disgust and walk out of the room. Nice going, guys and gals.
posted by Scientist at 9:03 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Speaking of esoteric and probably harmful ways to get high: one of my friends used to work with this Finnish guy. Sometimes he'd squirt a little methonal into his mouth from one of the little bottles around the lab."

I had the same experience with a friend of mine who was working as a radio DJ and was taking sips of the methanol used to clean the record albums1. Except in his case, he didn't know there was a difference between ethanol and methanol (or, possibly, he assumed they were using ethanol, which they weren't). I told him that if he drank enough of that stuff, it'd blind him. But he laughed it off. I shrugged.

1. Pro-tip: When I worked at a radio production company (one of the two companies at the time that provided reel-to-reel automation content for stations nationwide) a year or so later, I learned the trick from the production staff of dripping a spiral of methanol on the record when they'd master something to reel-to-reel. The little brush in front of the needle would smooth out the liquid in front of it and create a layer that did two things. First, it slightly reduced pops from scratches. Also, the surface tension of it caused the dust and plastic fragments drawn up by the needle to float on top of the liquid, making the records more clean when you wiped them down before re-storing them. My job wasn't nearly as much fun — I spliced dubbed tape into individual carts and assembled them in eight hour shifts. For fun, I'd use the dbase III on an IBM PC to enter in a PD's selections for their station's programming and then print out two weeks worth of carefully selected programming, conforming to rules such as "no two female singers back-to-back" and such. Apropro of nothing, really, I'll also mention that I memorably spent about three minutes one night when I was DJing on a C&W AM station explaining the difference between temperature and wind-chill and why there's a difference. That friend and fellow jock I just mentioned teased me about that for years.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:29 PM on June 3, 2012


This thread reminds me of youth group meetings as a Unitarian Universalist. I'm getting flashbacks to high school and spending Saturday nights with a bunch of angry fourteen-year-old ex-Catholic Wiccans.I can't believe that we made jessamyn basically throw up her hands in disgust and walk out of the room. Nice going, guys and gals.

And yet this guilt trip reminds me so much of my Jewish upbringing...
posted by The Gooch at 9:46 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nice going, guys and gals.

I found there to be some very interesting posts in this thread.

You did not? Then: perhaps you could contribute something constructive to the discussion, or add a comment that might lead it in a direction that you feel is interesting and productive?

You'll notice that jessamyn didn't lock the thread, and I'm not sure it's reasonable to assign feelings to her ("disgust") that may or may not be accurate.
posted by quivering_fantods at 9:48 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read her "unfollowing" the thread as a gesture of inviting people to hash it out like adults without relying on a nanny.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:00 PM on June 3, 2012


Okay, you have got to be kidding me.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:06 PM on June 3, 2012


Well, wouldn't that be preferable to the same old vomit sniffing game?
posted by Burhanistan at 10:09 PM on June 3, 2012


the same old vomit sniffing game

Is this your contribution to the sweet high generation game?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:26 PM on June 3, 2012


You'll notice that jessamyn didn't lock the thread

She's just deleting on-topic comments that have to do with the OP and his relevant actions in a previous thread.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:02 PM on June 3, 2012


Oh, heh. I forgot about that whole thing. Nevermind. Here's some mega-dub to sniff. It's good shit.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:08 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


She's just deleting on-topic comments that have to do with the OP and his relevant actions in a previous thread.

Generally searching through old post history to find some sort of gotcha is frowned upon. It would be more surprising if they chose to just let it go in one case.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:13 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


She's just deleting on-topic comments that have to do with the OP and his relevant actions in a previous thread.

You are being weird and grindy about who-favorited-what stuff from some previous crappy interactions you had. You very much need to cut it out. Leave it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:16 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what is a "dick on Metafilter"?

Five bucks. Same as in town.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:31 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


you were provided information showing there can be short-term benefits to being bitten by a snake.

Given their pro-life stance, it would be interesting to know whether Pentecostals allow women of child bearing age to handle snakes:
Some lifestyle factors that could slightly increase the risk of a miscarriage include:

* Use of NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen or naproxen) during conception or early pregnancy
* Use of alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, or other drugs
* Heavy caffeine intake
* Certain snake bites
I've often thought that must be what Cleopatra was doing with those asps-- keeping pregnancy from interfering with politically expedient liaisons-- and it wouldn't surprise me if Eve's sin had more to do with controlling her own reproduction than the knowledge of good and evil in the earliest versions of the story.
posted by jamjam at 11:34 PM on June 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


I thought this was Metatalk, where we should be allowed to discuss the subject of the post in question. If the OP doesn't like comments about people's mental health, which is what this post is about, then maybe he shouldn't endorse those same comments.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:34 PM on June 3, 2012


Anyway, I'm leaving it. I just hope I made my point clear, being the victim of this myself.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:35 PM on June 3, 2012


it wouldn't surprise me if Eve's sin had more to do with controlling her own reproduction than the knowledge of good and evil

WTF is with all the people in this thread that think snake bites are no big deal?!? Even venom free cat bites with much much less penetration can result in nasty infections and significant medical problems in the Modern Age!
posted by Chekhovian at 11:51 PM on June 3, 2012


First you induce the snake to bite something else a couple of times, then when it bites you, it has very little venom left.
posted by jamjam at 11:55 PM on June 3, 2012


And to think I've just been going for the 1st pass venom injections all these years. What a fool I've been.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:58 PM on June 3, 2012


I'd advise you to persist in your folly to become wise, as Blake suggests, but that would be superfluous in your case, I'd think.
posted by jamjam at 12:29 AM on June 4, 2012


Wasn't Blake the one that set himself on fire while freebasing some premium cobra venom? heavy price he paid for that wisdom, a heavy price indeed...
posted by Chekhovian at 12:41 AM on June 4, 2012


which is what this post is about, then maybe he shouldn't endorse those same comments.

Maybe he just favorited it as a bookmark. Marbe he hit favorite by accident. Maybe trolling through people's favoriting history, ascribing motivations, and then calling them out on it is a shitty way to discuss thing. The OP could have participated in a million threads har har-ring about mental illness and had a change of heart. Or even not, and still be right -- that armchair psychoanalyzing people online because you disagree with their worldview is both poor faith arguing and does a disservice to the mentally ill.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:00 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let's please give the who-favorited-what thing a complete rest now. Resistance to stray impulses to attack other members also very gratefully accepted.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:31 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


GetReligion talks about the article in the original FPP and the coverage in the Washington Post.
posted by jquinby at 5:31 AM on June 4, 2012


grindy

*explodes*
posted by jonmc at 6:29 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


> This is a catch-22 because the other criticism is that athiests criticizing a religion don't understand it. Criticize only the religion you understand well? You're doin' it wrong. Criticize a religion you don't understand well? You're doin' it wrong. The end result being that someone can always find something to address about the criticism besides the criticism itself.

I've made this criticism. But not as some kind of generalized complaint about atheists criticizing religion, and I don't think my version of this complaint sets up a catch-22 situation for atheists. I'm sorry if you and others have seen it that way, that certainly wasn't my intent. Let me clarify a bit:
  1. Some atheists aren't knowledgeable about some of the religions they talk about. This is not something that's true in general about atheists talking about religion.
  2. This is not an issue peculiar to atheists. Religious people often have some pretty bizarre notions about atheists. They are also, like atheists, often pretty ignorant about other religions they aren't familiar with.
  3. Atheists aren't more ignorant in general about other people's beliefs than religious people are. Statistically, the reverse is true. I'm familiar with the Pew survey that's been mentioned a few times in this thread, and my personal experience bears this out.
  4. This isn't really specific to religion. People who aren't psychologists, for instance, can have some rather odd notions about what psychology is or what psychologists do.
  5. Ignorance itself is not a problem. Not everybody knows everything about everything.
This is only a problem when people combine ignorance with arrogance, and possibly hatred.

Do you believe that all religious people believe in some kind of deity? This is factually incorrect, but it's understandable if the only religions you're familiar with insist that believing in God is absolutely essential.

When a Buddhist shows up on a MetaFilter thread, for instance, and tries to explain that Buddhists don't believe in God or gods, do you tell them they're lying about what they believe, or that their religion is not a real religion because it's not like Christianity? That's a problem, and that's something that has happened to Buddhists in MetaFilter threads. It's incredibly arrogant to assume that you know what somebody else thinks and believes better than they do.

It's also a problem that this kind of treatment is more commonly directed at people whose cultural background falls outside the MeFi norm.

I've only ever complained about people engaging 'fuck you, I'll tell you what you believe' behavior. It's not an argument that atheists shouldn't talk about religion. Most atheists don't do this, only some of them do. And it's a problem regardless of who does it or what the topic is.
posted by nangar at 6:53 AM on June 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'll add that the 'not a real religion' thing, coming from atheists, might be intended as a kind of weird compliment, but it's a pretty weird kind of compliment, and it doesn't really come across that way.
posted by nangar at 7:00 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My previous comment notwithstanding, I thought BP's mention of that favorite was at least halfway to enlightening. Obviously it could have been phrased as more a request for clarification, but it does make one wonder if we're all dancing on strings when someone so outraged over this (frankly unacceptable) tactic of diagnosing foolish people as mentally impaired has apparently applauded such tactics in the past.

Of course, it breaks a guideline -- here in Metatalk, the rules apply so rarely while so much bullshit stands that any actual deletion seems somehow capricious -- so of course, mods don't have to justify much before axing any display of a poster's history of favorites. And of course, the reason is that favorites are used for all sorts of purposes, including bookmarking, and this particular favorite could well have been Snyder setting aside evidence for the eventual Metatalk post about how corrosive such comments are.

But that evidence could just as well imply that we've seen some highly successful trolling here, and that the combative and insulting late drop-in about how hurt the OP's feelings are by the bad atheists and their unfair derail is in fact a continuation of an epic troll. Of course, this thread, itself, isn't a waste of time, because hashing these things out is what the grey is for, but I for one wouldn't mind confirmation one way or the other.

Because even though bringing this up is verboten and comment/favorite histories are best left alone, something seems fishy, and a little clarification would help.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:08 AM on June 4, 2012


do you tell them they're lying about what they believe, or that their religion is not a real religion because it's not like Christianity?

There is a bit of a "dog chasing its own tail element" to those debates, in that say the atheist hammers home a point, then a person of a different religion counters that your hard hitting point is not true for their special snowflakeness, so you respond with a differently directly salvo, to which a person of a different religion counters as not being true for their individual religion....

Then after about four more repetitions of this, you make some point directed at something way different from where you started, and the original person you targeted fires back claiming your latest salvo is clearly not valid for their religion, while they're still ignoring the original one meant just for them.

So while Atheists shouldn't tell religious people what they believe, can you see how it might be incredibly frustrating debating a point against an ensemble of opponents that, taken all together, both believe and don't believe any specific point you make?

Oh and that's the other thing, if instead of trying to make specific points, you try and make general points that would be widely applicable, you get shouted down for not being specific enough!
posted by Chekhovian at 7:15 AM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


a little clarification would help.

We've asked politely and not-so-politely for people to drop this. If people want to talk to us about whether they think someone is trolling and/or talk about the topic generally, go ahead. Playing gotcha games with single favorites that people have made in the past is not okay, is bad behavior, and is derailing an already difficult thread.

If you think you're being trolled you can just walk away and you are not being trolled anymore. Accusing a ten-year member of epic trolling as the result of a single favorite, especially by bringing up a past negative interaction that involve you personally, is not seen as a good faith attempt to actually help this conversation go more smoothly or help the community work out an issue. It's seen as problematic axe-grinding. If there is a pattern of behavior, talk about that. If there's a single favorite that you have an issue with, we'd like to politely suggest that you get over it.

We try, very hard, to not start digging through poster's histories when we talk about issues in MeTa in order to let their words and actions speak for themselves, and to allow people to learn and grow from past mistakes. If we've done that, gone on record saying "You do this all the time, cut it out" you know there is a longstanding fairly serious problem. I'd prefer to not start down that path here except to say that people are welcome to contact us via the contact form if they have questions and that we've asked people to not go comment/favorites trawling in order to score gotcha points.

If they'd like to address a larger issue that they think affects the site and not just them personally, they need to phrase it as such and make it clear.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:22 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


nooneyouknow: " Yeah, atheists can be jerks about religion on Metafilter (the guy who called you out was ridiculous), especially in threads about controversial subjects that touch on religion, but it's not like there is some atheist brigade out there waiting to pounce on all religious posts, as some people asserted in this thread."

Yes. Agreed.

At most, I do think (and I freely admit this may be confirmation bias on my part) that there are people here who feel passionately about the subject and perhaps also feel moved to express themselves when they read about an incident that disturbs them.

I also agree with you that the more upsetting or controversial a post's content, the more likely people are to respond emotionally / hyperbolically. Look at the thread about the Pearls. Many of us were furious and horrified, and with good reason. As the thread progressed, this popped up: "There is no poison more virulent, more toxic to the human mind than religion - not even money. It's poison, and the day it is finally eradicated from humanity will be a great day, whatever else may come." But as much as the sentiment grates on my nerves, I honestly can't fault anyone for reading about infants and young children being whipped and beaten in the name of religion and expressing that conclusion.
posted by zarq at 7:26 AM on June 4, 2012


Yeah, in threads that I refer to as "Religious People Doing Crappy Things" there are going to be comments about how is "religion is clearly the worst thing ever". And I know that it makes religious people feel insulted and unwelcome. But, on other hand, I think that it is a valid position to take on religion and I don't think people who feel that way should have to keep quiet about it. I don't know what the balance is on that. I'm just glad I don't have to figure it out.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:39 AM on June 4, 2012


This is only a problem when people combine ignorance with arrogance, and possibly hatred.

I'd say it's also a problem when ignorance persists in the face of knowledge offered in comments or external links. nangar's right that this isn't a problem unique to religion threads, though in religion threads (and some other topics) posters exchanging ill-informed views tends to lead to more disruption and rancor than in others.

This raises the question of what concrete steps we can take to encourage dialogue that evinces a nuanced understanding of all interlocutors. One step, I think, would be more consistent and rigorous citation of sources. In this thread there are comments (from all viewpoints) that summarize arguments or speak to general trends without linking to specific comments or providing quotes. In the absence of textual evidence, it is very easy to distort (subtly or substantially) other viewpoints. These distortions can lead to a feedback loop where people are responding to each others' straw-person arguments instead of positions actually forwarded.

Obviously not every summary statement needs a quote or link, and providing citations is more work, but I think more quotations might yield discussions that are more understanding of all the viewpoints involved.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:48 AM on June 4, 2012


"This is a catch-22 because the other criticism is that athiests criticizing a religion don't understand it. Criticize only the religion you understand well? You're doin' it wrong. Criticize a religion you don't understand well? You're doin' it wrong. The end result being that someone can always find something to address about the criticism besides the criticism itself."

This is just like those generalized accusations of hypocrisy political partisans make all the time. This complaint would have a lot of merit if the criticisms ("you're doing it wrong") came from the same person (and besides being implicit, that premise is made explicit in the phrase "someone can always find something..."). This is a gross and unfair generalization.

So various people with whom you disagree make various critiques which aren't collectively consistent and this seems unfair because all your critics are not The Borg and speak with one, consistent mind forming arguments you can refute, thus silencing their critique for all time. How inconvenient. The next best thing, then, is to just mentally transform all those various individuals who diversely disagree with you into a Hive Mind Strawman that you can refute and/or demonstrate bad-faith within (by showing inconsistency/hypocrisy) and reassure yourself that you're both factually correct and also a better person.

Anyway, I'm the person who mentioned in an aside that it annoys me when atheists criticize religions they know little or nothing about. I should clarify that. The complaint applies when either a) the criticism is factually wrong about a specific contention that even a small amount of research would have revealed; or b) the criticism is based upon a generalization that is factually wrong because there's a large diversity with regards to what has improperly been generalized. In both cases, the non-believer feels that they are correct in their criticism because it's either Something Everyone Knows or Something They've Always Known or It Doesn't Matter If It's Not Exactly True, Those People Are Weird. As is just slightly implied by the quote above, no matter how many times such a non-believer is corrected about errors of fact, they are still fairly sure that they both know what they're talking about and that their conclusions are correct. This is just like how most political partisans argue. The conclusions come first, then the rationalizations. What's perversely ironic is that this sort of atheist and this sort of Fox News viewer is absolutely damn sure that they're the informed and rational partisan and it's all those other folk who have both been lied to and are irrational. No matter how many times they're proven factually wrong about their assertions and generalizations (notice, by the way, that I wrote "this sort of..." in the previous sentence).

Per Kirth Gerson's comment, I'm not really complaining about very general criticisms about religion by atheists that don't involve errors of fact. You can be mostly ignorant about something and decide you don't like it. That's true about me and everyone else about numerous things. But if we decide to criticize those things, we ought to be careful about how we criticize them and limit ourselves to what we actually know about them.

This does apply to blanket criticisms of religion when such criticisms rely upon ascribing some characteristic to all religions that isn't, in fact, universal. People do this quite often, usually assuming that the one religious belief (or sect within that belief!) with which they're most familiar is characteristic of all other religions and then use, implicitly or explicitly, that one example as a stand-in for all religion. This is frustrating and wrong because the diversity in religious belief and practices is huge.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:55 AM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Chekhovian: " There is a bit of a "dog chasing its own tail element" to those debates, in that say the atheist hammers home a point, then a person of a different religion counters that your hard hitting point is not true for their special snowflakeness, so you respond with a differently directly salvo, to which a person of a different religion counters as not being true for their individual religion....

Okay, so if you or anyone else makes an inaccurate generalization about all religions that doesn't apply to mine, I totally reserve the right to say so. Christianity may be in the majority, but it is not the only religion on this planet. Using "Christian" as an all-encompassing definition for all religions is lazy as hell and shouldn't be given a free pass here because people can't be bothered to express themselves precisely and accurately.

We're all adults here. It should not be difficult for any of us to be specific when we speak, nor to acknowledge that sweeping generalizations aren't always widely applicable.

For the record, I do this a LOT when speaking about my own religion on Mefi. Religious Jews have very diverse beliefs, and the three major American sects not only vary widely in what they embrace and believe, they are also tend to disagree with each other on some pretty basic things. What is important and what's not. To simplify greatly, at one end of the spectrum you have the largest sect eschewing ritual, and at the other end, you have the smallest sect wholeheartedly embracing it. So I try to make sure I don't inappropriately define all religious Jews a certain way. The easiest way to do so is by not speaking in absolutes.

Then after about four more repetitions of this, you make some point directed at something way different from where you started, and the original person you targeted fires back claiming your latest salvo is clearly not valid for their religion, while they're still ignoring the original one meant just for them.

It shouldn't be hard to say, "X applies to the teachings of your religion. I asked you to address this and you haven't. Could you please respond?"

So while Atheists shouldn't tell religious people what they believe, can you see how it might be incredibly frustrating debating a point against an ensemble of opponents that, taken all together, both believe and don't believe any specific point you make?

Yes. It's rather like trying to explain that your religion is being inappropriately characterized by people who can't be bothered to express themselves carefully. That happens here all the time. And yes, it can be very frustrating.

Oh and that's the other thing, if instead of trying to make specific points, you try and make general points that would be widely applicable, you get shouted down for not being specific enough!"

I realize that not being able to make blanket condemnations is less satisfying. But it's more honest.
posted by zarq at 8:04 AM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


> Remember that one of the other things he did was drink Strychnine. There is no "drinks poison well"
> skill he could have developed, other than not drinking it.


It's not entirely unheard of.

In his youth, after the assassination of his father Mithridates V in 120 BC, Mithridates is said to have lived in the wilderness for seven years, inuring himself to hardship. While there, and after his accession, he cultivated an immunity to poisons by regularly ingesting sub-lethal doses of the same.[15]


There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that sprang to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
--I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.


- A. E. Housman
posted by jfuller at 8:05 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


> can you see how it might be incredibly frustrating debating a point against an ensemble of opponents that, taken all together, both believe and don't believe any specific point you make?

I say this as someone who used to be a pretty outspoken atheist/agnostic ("agnostic atheist", in Flint's term) who really enjoyed debating it on the internet as a hobby, so: yes, yes I can understand that this must be frustrating.

However. It seems that your frustration here is somewhat embedded in what you're trying to do. If you want to debate a point about the flaws of monotheism, say, with monotheists, that's one thing, and it would be frustrating and distracting for non-monotheist religious/spiritual people to jump in and say 'hey, but, I don't believe that!'. But if you want to debate a point about the flaws of monotheism with religious people in general, then the group you're addressing will include people who aren't monotheists, who will say so - and ditto any specific belief which is not held by all members of the group you're arguing with.

I can also understand how it feels like you're 'hammer[ing] home a point' as the voice of rationality, and how the differing views and approaches among religious people as a whole might feel like 'special snowflakiness' to you, moving the goalposts and dodging the issue as you continue searching for that point to hammer home. But whatever your views on its merit, that diversity of beliefs is a real thing. If you want to debate 'religious people' as a group, but you don't want to take said diversity into account, you're going to continue to find the experience frustrating. To you it might feel like you're playing Whack-A-Mole; to others, it only looks like you're trying to play fifteen different board games at one, and getting frustrated because no single playing strategy will let you simultaneously win at all of them.
posted by Catseye at 8:09 AM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: "Anyway, I'm the person who mentioned in an aside that it annoys me when atheists criticize religions they know little or nothing about. I should clarify that. The complaint applies when either a) the criticism is factually wrong about a specific contention that even a small amount of research would have revealed; or b) the criticism is based upon a generalization that is factually wrong because there's a large diversity with regards to what has improperly been generalized. In both cases, the non-believer feels that they are correct in their criticism because it's either Something Everyone Knows or Something They've Always Known or It Doesn't Matter If It's Not Exactly True, Those People Are Weird. As is just slightly implied by the quote above, no matter how many times such a non-believer is corrected about errors of fact, they are still fairly sure that they both know what they're talking about and that their conclusions are correct. This is just like how most political partisans argue. The conclusions come first, then the rationalizations. What's perversely ironic is that this sort of atheist and this sort of Fox News viewer is absolutely damn sure that they're the informed and rational partisan and it's all those other folk who have both been lied to and are irrational. No matter how many times they're proven factually wrong about their assertions and generalizations (notice, by the way, that I wrote "this sort of..." in the previous sentence).

You know, this is the exact complaint I have about a few of my crazy Jewish relatives who speak about Islam: the conclusions come first, then the rationalizations. They know in their heart that all Muslims are terrorists, they all hate Israel, and all Arabs want to is to slaughter Jews. Rational discussion is therefore impossible because they refuse to acknowledge in any way that the assumptions supporting their position could possibly be wrong.

But if we decide to criticize those things, we ought to be careful about how we criticize them and limit ourselves to what we actually know about them.

This does apply to blanket criticisms of religion when such criticisms rely upon ascribing some characteristic to all religions that isn't, in fact, universal. People do this quite often, usually assuming that the one religious belief (or sect within that belief!) with which they're most familiar is characteristic of all other religions and then use, implicitly or explicitly, that one example as a stand-in for all religion. This is frustrating and wrong because the diversity in religious belief and practices is huge.
"

Well said.
posted by zarq at 8:23 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find it interesting that this was quoted as an example of what makes Metafilter "not welcoming" to atheists:
All the angry atheists who attack religion don't really seem to realise that for many people religion provides social value rather than truth and they'd rather not be reminded about the possible or probable incorrectness of what they believe. (Atheist here BTW).
...Compared to things like "Religious people? Fuck 'em", that's downright polite.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:24 AM on June 4, 2012


If you think you're being trolled you can just walk away and you are not being trolled anymore. Accusing a ten-year member of epic trolling as the result of a single favorite, especially by bringing up a past negative interaction that involve you personally, is not seen as a good faith attempt to actually help this conversation go more smoothly or help the community work out an issue. It's seen as problematic axe-grinding. If there is a pattern of behavior, talk about that. If there's a single favorite that you have an issue with, we'd like to politely suggest that you get over it.

I'm sorry. I see your point, as I mentioned in the comment that tugged you back into this thread. Favorite-picking is an automatic deletion, and probably should be, whether it sits well or not. Metatalk just seemed to be the place to talk about these things, but you're the boss. I can see why you want the conversations to go smoothly, even after you've removed them from your attention.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:24 AM on June 4, 2012


EmpressCallipygos: That quote was intended to show Blasdelb evidence that prejudiced or otherwise "unwelcoming" (Blasdelb's word) attitudes toward atheists have been expressed on Metafilter. I never stated that that quote was the same or worse than the comments targeting theists. Especially relevant is IvoShandor's comment that I linked to which talks about the double standard applied to atheists when it comes to the "angry" epithet. Not all prejudice takes the form of expletives.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:35 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


That quote was intended to show Blasdelb evidence that prejudiced or otherwise "unwelcoming" (Blasdelb's word) attitudes toward atheists have been expressed on Metafilter. I never stated that that quote was the same or worse than the comments targeting theists.

Right, but I'm questioning whether it is indeed "unwelcoming" in the first place. I mean, there are a few in here who have said that theists should be able to withstand their faiths being questioned, as long as it is done with civility -- and the quote you're citing actually sounds like precisely the same kind of civil questioning we're talking about, only with atheists as the ones under scruitiny.

So are you saying that that kind of statement is unwelcoming across the board? If so, then you must also support protecting theists from that kind of questioning -- which is in itself putting you in opposition to a number of others in here, regarding whether theism should be a protected class.

If that's not what you're saying, then can you explain why this statement is "unwelcoming," when it's the very kind of civilly-phrased questioning that people agree should be permitted, only focused on atheists instead of theists?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


These online discussions are pushing me into something that, with no small amount of irony, can be characterized as a radical interfaith separatism. If you're not involved in the sausage-making that makes up my life and community, your comments will probably come off as deeply ignorant, officious, and dumb.
Right, but I'm questioning whether it is indeed "unwelcoming" in the first place. I mean, there are a few in here who have said that theists should be able to withstand their faiths being questioned, as long as it is done with civility -- and the quote you're citing actually sounds like precisely the same kind of civil questioning we're talking about, only with atheists as the ones under scruitiny.
I don't see a question there, much less a civil one. I see a stupid and obviously false accusation. If you don't know, ask a question. Don't throw bullshit against the wall and see if it sticks.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:12 AM on June 4, 2012


As I've said throughout this discussion, "civility" is a troubling metric because it means different things to different people.

In the original comment I explained why the comment was unwelcoming. There were two specific reasons: (1) it oversimplified the arguments of prominent atheists and (2) it used the "angry" epithet in a way that plays into a longstanding anti-atheist stereotype and perpetuates a double standard (as IvoShandor explained).

Theists do not want their positions oversimplified and don't want to be the subject of stereotypes and double standards. I'm saying the same standard should apply to atheists.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:16 AM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I agree that theists don't want their positions simplified and don't want to be subjected to stereotypes...but I think you're advancing the issue a few steps, which is the flaw in the comparison (theists to atheists). Before getting to those somewhat higher-level civility complaints, I suspect theists would first like to not be called stupid and not be told their religion should be wiped from the face of the planet. That sort of thing.
posted by cribcage at 9:21 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Again, I'm really not seeing the distinction between the language in that comment and some of the language that some have advocated they be permitted to use when speaking to theists. I agree that it could be more carefully phrased, but I find it a curious choice to use as an example of "how atheists can be made to feel unwelcome".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on June 4, 2012


audi: Theists do not want their positions oversimplified and don't want to be the subject of stereotypes and double standards. I'm saying the same standard should apply to atheists.

Nailed it in two sentences. Thank you.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:22 AM on June 4, 2012


And for the record:

Theists do not want their positions oversimplified and don't want to be the subject of stereotypes and double standards. I'm saying the same standard should apply to atheists.

I completely agree that it should.

I was only questioning the use of the "unwelcoming" epithet - I'd categorize that kind of generalization, regardless of the target, as "ignorant" or "ham-handed" rather than "unwelcoming" (The "unwelcoming" I save for much cruder discourse, as the kind I pulled out myself).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:25 AM on June 4, 2012


cribcage: I agree that theists don't want their positions simplified and don't want to be subjected to stereotypes...but I think you're advancing the issue a few steps, which is the flaw in the comparison (theists to atheists). Before getting to those somewhat higher-level civility complaints, I suspect theists would first like to not be called stupid and not be told their religion should be wiped from the face of the planet. That sort of thing.

I suspect at this point, most of the people participating in this discussion are in consensus on those points. I'm not certain how much further we can flog that horse (which is often flagged and deleted) that beyond what we've done in the last 400-odd comments.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:33 AM on June 4, 2012


but I think you're advancing the issue a few steps, which is the flaw in the comparison (theists to atheists). Before getting to those somewhat higher-level civility complaints, I suspect theists would first like to not be called stupid and not be told their religion should be wiped from the face of the planet.

I don't think there is a hierarchy of discursive good behavior. Combative and demeaning word choice, grandiose dismissals, oversimplification, distorted summaries and paraphrases, eliminationist rhetoric, stereotypes and every other ill of discourse demand our equal attention in order to keep them in check.

I was only questioning the use of the "unwelcoming" epithet - I'd categorize that kind of generalization, regardless of the target, as "ignorant" or "ham-handed" rather than "unwelcoming" (The "unwelcoming" I save for much cruder discourse, as the kind I pulled out myself).

"Ignorant" works for reasons nangar talked about above and I elaborated on, if you prefer that term. The behavior is still problematic in that it inhibits a productive dialogue (which is how I'm using the term unwelcoming). If people don't see their positions being fairly described, they're less like to participate, or they may respond in kind with distortions of their own further disrupting the conversation, further alienating people from the discussion.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:36 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Then after about four more repetitions of this, you make some point directed at something way different from where you started, and the original person you targeted fires back claiming your latest salvo is clearly not valid for their religion, while they're still ignoring the original one meant just for them.

So while Atheists shouldn't tell religious people what they believe, can you see how it might be incredibly frustrating debating a point against an ensemble of opponents that, taken all together, both believe and don't believe any specific point you make?


Well, like I suggested already -- herding cats. Which I've now come to conclude is what's happening when a non-believer tries to make some kind of all-encompassing sense of believers. And visa versa.

Humans, we're so damned ... catlike sometimes. Which is one of my favorite things about humans.
posted by philip-random at 9:42 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


EC: I was only questioning the use of the "unwelcoming" epithet - I'd categorize that kind of generalization, regardless of the target, as "ignorant" or "ham-handed" rather than "unwelcoming" (The "unwelcoming" I save for much cruder discourse, as the kind I pulled out myself).

Just for myself, the fact that these generalizations come to dominate just about every thread about atheism and religion makes me unwilling to submit FPPs about either. Having wasted a good chunk of my life and experiences more than a little emotional pain playing wack-a-mole with these stereotypes, I'm unwilling to open the door for people to troll discussions with "angry atheist" arguments.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:53 AM on June 4, 2012


Troll is the wrong word because the people lecturing atheists about atheism are certainly earnest in their misconceptions.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:22 AM on June 4, 2012


Having wasted a good chunk of my life and experiences more than a little emotional pain playing wack-a-mole with these stereotypes, I'm unwilling to open the door for people to troll discussions with "angry atheist" arguments.

I am similarly unwilling to open the door for people to troll discussions with "homophobe theists" discussions.

But others continue to hold out hope that people will participate in good faith, so all that we all can do, I guess, is call out the individuals who make such generalizing statements, or just not take part in them ourselves.

On the face of it, though, I would say that Metafilter is generally welcoming to everyone -- it's just that for every group of people, there are two or three loudmouths who don't like those people, and will say shitty things. But I chalk that more up to the fact that "every person just has something that they personally are shitty about" than I would chalk it up to religion or sexism or politics or whatever (although, the odds are that you'll find more people who are shitty about big topics like religion or politics than you'd find people who are shitty about, say, the proper percentage of butterfat in ice cream).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


EC: But others continue to hold out hope that people will participate in good faith, so all that we all can do, I guess, is call out the individuals who make such generalizing statements, or just not take part in them ourselves.

Ok, how about hijacking a thread with a multi-post rant about "assholes?"
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:39 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


*silence*

I give up.

*walks out*
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 AM on June 4, 2012


CBrachyrhynchos, EmpressCallipygos already admitted to acting in a way she sees as inappropriate in this comment: (The "unwelcoming" I save for much cruder discourse, as the kind I pulled out myself).
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:04 AM on June 4, 2012


Gygesringtone: I've stated twice that I believe religiosity to have a genetic component.

Unless you're saying that people are genetically inclined to be Christian or Buddhist, I think we're talking about different things. My phrasing was a little unclear, so that probably is part of it.

In "What I think is wrong is that certain things that our society arbitrarily classifies as "religions" or "religious beliefs" are given special exemption from criticism." The complaint isn't that "being religious" is given an exemption. The complaint is that any discussion of specific religious beliefs is considered as socially taboo as bigoted comments about gender.

To illustrate with an example (chosen to be as non-charged a topic as possible): I wear glasses. If you went around saying "fuck people whose eyes don't focus properly" it'd be similar to saying "fuck the religious." In a word, gross. That doesn't mean that if my glasses were made in a factory that employed child labor, you wouldn't be perfectly justified in calling the ethics of how I choose to correct my vision into question. If vision correction was treated the same way as religion, bringing that up would be considered rude.
posted by Gygesringtone at 11:23 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know you were deliberately trying to pick a non-charged example and I totally agree that's difficult, but prescription eyeglasses ends up being a very weird and contorted analogy. I'm trying to interpret the comparison in a logical way, and I guess if the criticism of religion had to do with how they raise funds to build churches, then okay...but you're not talking about arguing in favor of revoking tax-exempt status, you're talking about criticizing the underlying beliefs. Which feels like it would be less like asking about the ethics of how you correct your vision, and more like asking why you feel compelled to correct it in the first place.

I do think gender is probably a closer analogy on this subject (atmosphere). If a thread about Danica Patrick began with a half-dozen cracks about "women drivers," then I suspect females would feel less welcomed on MetaFilter.
posted by cribcage at 11:45 AM on June 4, 2012


CBrachyrhynchos: " Ok, how about hijacking a thread with a multi-post rant about "assholes?""

As audi says, she basically admitted it would have fallen into the "called out behavior" category. Seems reasonable.

I have been guilty of making a handful of similar comments over the years. That shouldn't invalidate the points I've made in this thread, when I was calmer, more rational and less angry. Nor should that comment you linked to invalidate Empress' point.

Feel free to disagree, but those of us who feel these conversations (religion/atheism, etc) often go nowhere but would like to see them remain interesting and productive, owe it to ourselves to at least attempt to steer discussions so that fewer people are shouting past or spouting misconceptions at each other.
posted by zarq at 12:07 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess if the criticism of religion had to do with how they raise funds to build churches, then okay...but you're not talking about arguing in favor of revoking tax-exempt status, you're talking about criticizing the underlying beliefs.

That's just it. What is fundamentally different about the those beliefs that excludes them from criticism? Why is "I think Paul was right about not letting women be in a position of authority" considered something that it's inappropriate to argue with and "I think churches shouldn't pay taxes" isn't? I'm honestly asking, because I've held strong religious beliefs, and I've held strong political beliefs, both sets were equally part of my identity and equally shaped my actions and views on other subjects; both sets were influenced by my upbringing, temperament, the events going on in the world at the time; arguing I was wrong about both sets would have provoked the same defensive reaction. So, what is different?

If someone is being a jerk about how they address either, then they're being a jerk. The question is, why is the standard different between what makes a jerk when discussing religion and what makes one with politics?
posted by Gygesringtone at 12:11 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I liked the original post, and thought it was a shame that it got deleted basically because at least one atheist couldn't stop being an asshole long enough to have a discussion. Likewise, the mental health thing is a pretty shitty rhetorical technique.

I had felt like things had been getting better on MeFi with regard to the atheist/theist demagoguery, and I think this one post was just a bit of an aberration on it; because of that, I'm not as inclined to fight old fights again.
posted by klangklangston at 12:41 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is "I think Paul was right about not letting women be in a position of authority" considered something that it's inappropriate to argue with and "I think churches shouldn't pay taxes" isn't? ... The question is, why is the standard different between what makes a jerk when discussing religion and what makes one with politics?

I think those are different questions.

Regarding the first, I think most MeFites would agree there is nothing per se wrong with posting, "I think Paul was wrong about not letting women be in a position of authority." Presumably that's a sentence that gets written in the context of a larger discussion, and frankly I think plenty of MeFites would find it exceptionally cool to read a civil debate between several informed persons about the religious, social, and historical context of various decisions made by the Church's founders. To the extent that I understand you to be asking why it is per se inappropriate, divorced from other being-a-jerk aspects, I don't think it is.

As to the second...? Religion and politics are different. For most people who are strongly invested in one or the other, religion is more deeply personal. We don't have any cultural idioms about forcing someone to disavow his political party. Religion is also ethnic and inherited, in deeper and more complex ways than politics. I don't want to derail by getting into that too far, but there's an argument that religion is less a voluntary choice than is political affiliation. Religion has a closer link with personal identity than does politics.
posted by cribcage at 1:01 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


As audi says, she basically admitted it would have fallen into the "called out behavior" category. Seems reasonable.

At least until the same thing happens next month. The thread hijacking appears to be a perpetual problem.

Feel free to disagree, but those of us who feel these conversations (religion/atheism, etc) often go nowhere but would like to see them remain interesting and productive, owe it to ourselves to at least attempt to steer discussions so that fewer people are shouting past or spouting misconceptions at each other.

I'm burned out, and all out of trust or goodwill. And perhaps that's a good place because I've come to the conviction that discussing religious perspectives from an etic rather than an emic view is largely noise. Tell me what you (indefinite plural) believe! But lectures about what I believe will just piss me off.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:51 PM on June 4, 2012


> What is fundamentally different about the those beliefs that excludes them from criticism? Why is "I think Paul was right about not letting women be in a position of authority" considered something that it's inappropriate to argue with ...

I don't think that's something that it's inappropriate to argue with. I don't think anyone here has been arguing that it should be. It's been a long thread and maybe I missed something, but I think you're arguing with a position no one's actually taking.
posted by nangar at 1:52 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


As an atheist, I would say something like, "Interpretations of scripture are not relevant to my feminist beliefs." I don't have the necessary background or experience to get into a debate over competing interpretations of the Epistles of Paul.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:58 PM on June 4, 2012


That is, assuming that the issue was something like women in politics and not the ordination of women within a Christian congregation. If it's the latter, then it's really none of my business.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:02 PM on June 4, 2012


If you're feeling burned-out and "all out of trust or goodwill" regarding this conversation, then maybe it would be better to take a walk and replenish? That's a crappy way to feel and I wish you the best. But also, it's difficult to want to engage in conversation with someone who is feeling that way.
posted by cribcage at 2:06 PM on June 4, 2012


cribcage, it sounds like your second paragraph up there is saying that religion merits special consideration compared to other institutions. (And it seems to me, from reading all these threads over the years, that a lot more people here approach these discussions with that assumption than are prepared to acknowledge and defend it, so I appreciate your being more explicit about that.) I don't really think it's legitimate for people to expect everyone to accord religion that kind of special consideration (or else they're jerks), even if that's the way they themselves are inspired to behave.

Personally, I see how being religious could feel more personal than politics - but so is being straight, a man, or white. While I don't support any sort of unkindness to people in those groups, they get the opposite of special treatment here for reasons we've all discussed at great length already, and with which I pretty much agree. I feel like religion entirely belongs in that basket. Personal attacks on religious members can't be accepted or defended, but I don't think they need to be shielded from hearing things about this particular institution that any of us would be expected to just deal with and move on from if it were about some other one.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:10 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


"cribcage, it sounds like your second paragraph up there is saying that religion merits special consideration compared to other institutions. (And it seems to me, from reading all these threads over the years, that a lot more people here approach these discussions with that assumption than are prepared to acknowledge and defend it, so I appreciate your being more explicit about that.) I don't really think it's legitimate for people to expect everyone to accord religion that kind of special consideration (or else they're jerks), even if that's the way they themselves are inspired to behave. "

Others agree with you, but I think you're wrong and I have numerous good reasons for thinking you're wrong about this. I've mentioned them before.

For most people around the world, and certainly throughout history, religious belief and the practice of religion are about as voluntary as one's native language. And those two things are extremely similar in many ways. Religion forms one leg of a three- or four-leg "table" of culture and identity for most people. There's a bit of a perfect storm for Americans with regard to religion because of the combination of the influence of western secularism, the historically contingent amount of religious diversity here, and the influence of American individualism. More than almost anywhere else, religion is understood to be something that is a voluntary set of beliefs and practices. But for most people around the world, that's just not the case. And it's far less the case even in America than many non-believers think it is.

Religion is a far, far more fundamental institution than is even politics. I guess I'm repeating myself, but it's much closer to language and ethnicity than it is to political affiliation or "beliefs" in general, which people like Chekhovian wrongly seem to think are mostly deliberately acquired and separate from identity. And, as someone has been insisting upon in this thread (somewhat dubiously, in my opinion, regarding the specifics), religion isn't just something that is fundamental to culture arbitrarily, or as an accident of history, but probably because there's something inherent in most people's brains to place themselves in such metaphysical contexts, or at least create a subjective experience which is the equivalent. My own understanding of the universe and its meaning is very much like Sagan's (and no accident there) and while it's entirely materialistic and allows no metaphysics, its subjective experience is very similar to that of a believer. I assume a kind of "meaning", even if it's a human (or intelligent) artifice. I assume beauty. I assume something that works very much like "purpose". I experience these things. I am extremely careful about these things within a rational context. It's context-dependent — on the most superficial level, I'm more typically relativist than absolutist, as this thread exemplifies. Below that, I'm more absolutist (also as this thread exemplifies — in practice, I assume a large swath of ethical principles applies to pretty much everyone, everywhere). And at the rock-bottom, rigorous level, I'm without question a relativist.

That's a digression, but my point was that people as individuals have some apparent natural affinity toward something we might very loosely call "spirituality". Meaning. There's no reason why this must be so for any intelligent being (though, actually, arguably it might be an ambiguous motivating force involved in cognition itself, or at least cognition among social animals, which is close to what I've argued in the past when I say that human cognition is inherently teleological). But it is so. And this deals with religion only within the context of personal psychology.

Beyond that, it's manifest that religion permeates almost every layer of the social lives of most people alive today and certainly who have lived in the past. You can't just pull it out of this cultural identity context and treat it as just a set of beliefs like any other.

It is different.

I'm not saying that it's different with regard to whether any of these beliefs are true. I approach these things as an empiricist, just like most of the other scientifically-minded atheists here. But this aspect of religion, these beliefs as assertions about the nature of reality, are only a portion, and in many cases a small portion, of what religion is. Both in general, and for individual people.

That a religion's assertion about reality is either true or false is most certainly not entitled to any special consideration relative to any other belief. I agree that because most people are theists and most people have some visceral certainty that "there is/are (a) God(s)" that they act as if an atheist's denial of this is some sort of prima facie form of insanity. I'm not defending that example of exceptionalism. But many atheists argue about theism from an apparent perspective that those truth values are the be-all-and-end-all of the whole discussion. They are therefore insensitive to all the attendent cultural stuff that many of them would be otherwise sensitive to outside the context of religion. We don't (or shouldn't) make fun of another culture's traditional dress, or style of dance, or eating habits, or innumerable other customs...but for some people, if it involves religion, then it's fair game. Part of why we don't make fun of those things is because we naturally understand that these things which form the warp and weave of someone's cultural existence also forms the cloth upon which much of their identity has been written. Saying that these rules of tolerance apply to many aspects of religion is not making a special exemption for religion — rather, saying that religion shouldn't be included among the things about which we're sensitive to when approaching foreign cultures is the exceptionalism.

That theists have been, and notoriously are, deeply insensitive, insulting, and outright bigoted and oppressive with regard to atheism is not germane unless you think that "he did it too" is a legitimate moral argument.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:00 PM on June 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ivan: That theists have been, and notoriously are, deeply insensitive, insulting, and outright bigoted and oppressive with regard to atheism is not germane unless you think that "he did it too" is a legitimate moral argument.

That's not the argument I'm making. The argument I'm making is that most of the religious conflict here on metafilter involves people making criticisms of beliefs from an indefensibly ignorant etic view of the communities in question. These arguments are universally of poor quality regardless of who makes them about which community.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:14 PM on June 4, 2012


CBrachyrhynchos: " At least until the same thing happens next month. The thread hijacking appears to be a perpetual problem. "

Are you saying this about Empress specifically, or in general?

On both sides, I agree it's an ongoing problem. It's not restricted to one side or the other.

CBrachyrhynchos: " I'm burned out, and all out of trust or goodwill. And perhaps that's a good place because I've come to the conviction that discussing religious perspectives from an etic rather than an emic view is largely noise. Tell me what you (indefinite plural) believe! But lectures about what I believe will just piss me off."

We disagree. I see value in both.
posted by zarq at 3:19 PM on June 4, 2012


Because even though bringing this up is verboten and comment/favorite histories are best left alone, something seems fishy, and a little clarification would help.

Agreed. I doubt it will be forthcoming, but it's good that we now have a clear statement from the moderators that calling other users mentally ill (especially for the purpose of bullying them, as was done to me) will no longer be tolerated.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:45 PM on June 4, 2012


To the several people that responded to me along the lines of:
It seems that your frustration here is somewhat embedded in what you're trying to do. If you want to debate a point about the flaws of monotheism, say, with monotheists, that's one thing, and it would be frustrating and distracting for non-monotheist religious/spiritual people to jump in and say 'hey, but, I don't believe that!'. But if you want to debate a point about the flaws of monotheism with religious people in general, then the group you're addressing will include people who aren't monotheists, who will say so - and ditto any specific belief which is not held by all members of the group you're arguing with.
To distill my original point, I suppose I was complaining more about the general nature of debates on this site. Say you debate person A and you make a particularly good point, one that they can't really defend. Frequently they just don't answer you about that point, or just don't answer at all. And frequently a third party with a different agenda jumps in and takes the conversation away from that point. From a debate point, frustrating.

I think this is particularly common in religion debates, because you have basically one side, versus many, so arguing that one side feels like fighting a war on twelve fronts.

Part of it is of course the fluid nature of these debates, people come people go, we all have jobs and sleep occasionally. Plus the technology of it might be better implemented. Certainly I imagine that these same debates on future metafilter in 500 years will work differently.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:50 PM on June 4, 2012


When a Buddhist shows up on a MetaFilter thread, for instance, and tries to explain that Buddhists don't believe in God or gods, do you tell them they're lying about what they believe, or that their religion is not a real religion because it's not like Christianity? That's a problem, and that's something that has happened to Buddhists in MetaFilter threads.

I have been in many a MetaFilter thread about religion and have many, many complaints about how they have gone - however, I am a Buddhist and not once has this happened to me in my many years here on the 'Filter. For better or worse, I have yet to be accused of lying about my religious belief and have found that most people have a passing understanding of "Buddhism is a religion with no set concept of god/s."

(I mean, sure, I get flack for having religious belief - but my religion itself has not been the subject of criticism in any thread I've participated in.)

(Not saying it doesn't happen, but that I am of the demographic you describe and have never experienced it and have participated in a metric squijillion religion threads.)
posted by sonika at 3:54 PM on June 4, 2012


Y'all are making this way too complicated.
What is so hard about being kind to the person you are discussing a so -called hard topic with? It isn't rocket science, is it?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:57 PM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Religion is a far, far more fundamental institution than is even politics. I guess I'm repeating myself, but it's much closer to language and ethnicity than it is to political affiliation or "beliefs" in general, which people like Chekhovian wrongly seem to think are mostly deliberately acquired and separate from identity

Alright Ivan, how should things be? Tell me about how religion should be treated.

-When a dozen 60 year old virgin males are called before congress to testify about women's issues, should they accorded the same level of important as actual women?
-How aout if a church spends 10s of millions of dollars to push through legislation about who can be married and who cannot, even people not in the church?
....
I can go on.

And I don't mean to particularly harp on those particularly issues, they were just the first things that came to mind under the category of religious privilege. BECAUSE THAT'S HOW THE WORLD ALREAY IS!!! Religion already get the kind of special consideration for which you're asking. How's that been working out so far for humanity? All of this terrible atheism thats shattering people's hearts and spirits is all bush league stuff.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:01 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


St. Alia of the Bunnies: " What is so hard about being kind to the person you are discussing a so -called hard topic with? It isn't rocket science, is it?"

This was raised upthread. Personally, I think this is a good way to progress through life. Trying to be kind to others. To give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them with empathy. To offer a hand up or a shoulder to lean on when you can, and ask for nothing in return. I think that's all good to strive for.

However, kindness doesn't have a set definition to everyone. Some people think converting others to their religious belief is a form of kindness. Or lecturing them about their life choices and encouraging them to embrace faith. Personally, I don't think those are acts of kindness, although you may disagree.

I think it's a good sentiment. In practice though, it can be difficult to achieve.
posted by zarq at 4:06 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


For most people around the world, and certainly throughout history, religious belief and the practice of religion are about as voluntary as one's native language.

I think this is a questionable statement. History and anthropology record too many doubters, heretics, converts, and indifferent iconoclasts among "involuntarily" religious people for this to be quite true -- the word "atheist" comes from an ancient Greek word (a pejorative for people who didn't act properly with respect to the gods), for example. The Greeks were certainly aware that religious belief and the practice of religion were not "about as voluntary as one's native language"... and frankly, I find it hard to believe that so many different religions would contain warnings about people who practiced insufficiently or incorrectly, if religious practice were itself involuntary.

Or, to put it another way: religious belief and practice has to be taught through deliberate, formal instruction. Language acquisition does not.

Also, you're conflating religion with everything from deliberate belief to cultural practice to "something inherent in most people's brains to place themselves in such metaphysical contexts" to "some apparent natural affinity toward something we might very loosely call "spirituality", which is itself a very western-secular, post-modern position. The implication here is that you (and those who agree with you) can change the rules regarding what religion is and what it means, but atheists can't -- religion can go from an absolute, innate, and involuntary part of cultural identity to a philosophical/psychological/cultural/practical/metaphysical chimera, and that's just fine, but it can't ever be a voluntary choice and/or the same as other ideas.

We'll see about that. If human beings are malleable enough to go from hunter-gathering to being stock traders living in high-rises, I think it's reasonable to conclude that we are malleable enough to take the impulses you mentioned and do something other than organized religion with them. The idea that we shouldn't discuss the possibility because religion is innate begs the question of whether religion is innate.
posted by vorfeed at 4:08 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is so hard about being kind to the person you are discussing a so -called hard topic with? It isn't rocket science, is it?

In all fairness, I think that kindness is often harder than rocket science. Not just on MetaFilter, but in life in general.
posted by sonika at 4:08 PM on June 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


"For most people around the world, and certainly throughout history, religious belief and the practice of religion are about as voluntary as one's native language."

While I think the comparison to native language is apt (especially with regard to whether or not someone chooses it), the other part of why religion is personal is that an experience with God (or lack thereof) is at its center an entirely subjective experience. (There may be religious who would argue that, but to them I'd say that if you think you can prove your faith, you're doing it wrong.)

As it's subjective, it's intimate. As it's intimate, it's personal.
posted by klangklangston at 4:14 PM on June 4, 2012


It is just as important for the nonreligious to understand how the faithful think as it is for folks like me to understand how THEY think.

I just want to point at this and agree. I personally find Christianity ridiculous but utterly fascinating, and religion to be a corrosive influence on our modern world, but I am always very interested to learn more about it, and to try to get inside the heads of believers (even if I find being in there a frustrating experience). I legitimately wish there were more measured debate and discussion about Christianity and religion in general here, if that were possible. I also find it difficult not to descend into mockery and needling, though, so you know, let he without sin etc.

But the religious discussion doesn't belong in this thread, because it's Metatalk and, as the mods have said, that's not really what MeTa's for.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:15 PM on June 4, 2012


"Or, to put it another way: religious belief and practice has to be taught through deliberate, formal instruction. Language acquisition does not."

If cherry-picking heretics was your idea of refuting EB's statement, then the existence of English classes should be enough to give the lie to your particular assertion.

(Yes, I know that you'll shift the goalposts and talk about how language acquisition is inherent, see: Chomsky; I'll point out that there's been reasonable research to show that religious belief can have a biological component and also that people can transpose feelings of wonderment into the sublime without any formal help.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:17 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm burned out, and all out of trust or goodwill. And perhaps that's a good place because I've come to the conviction that discussing religious perspectives from an etic rather than an emic view is largely noise.

I understand the frustration and to some extent I share it, but I think I have a much higher tolerance for "noise" than average when it comes to arguments. I always chuckle a little when I see someone say that Metafilter "doesn't do X well." Not because I disagree. Just look at this thread for evidence of the difficulty of the dialogue. But in general people don't have an easy time discussing issues they care deeply about. If Metafilter doesn't discuss X well, it's because people don't discuss X well. A lot of the discussion on any topic of import is noise.

I regret seeing people withdraw because of the quality of discussion, but I don't begrudge anyone taking a break or choosing not to participate in threads on particular topics. I try to muster goodwill even when I suspect it won't always be reciprocated, because there a moments when we transcend the noise to reach a better understanding of each others' positions (if not a resolution to our disagreement).

What is so hard about being kind to the person you are discussing a so -called hard topic with? It isn't rocket science, is it?

As zarq says, the meaning of kindness (and I'd add civility) is contested. I think a more useful measurement than kindness is to ask: "Do I understand what those who disagree are saying, am I fairly summarizing their position, and am I being fairly summarized in turn?"
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:22 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


We don't (or shouldn't) make fun of another culture's traditional dress, or style of dance, or eating habits, or innumerable other customs...but for some people, if it involves religion, then it's fair game. Part of why we don't make fun of those things is because we naturally understand that these things which form the warp and weave of someone's cultural existence also forms the cloth upon which much of their identity has been written. Saying that these rules of tolerance apply to many aspects of religion is not making a special exemption for religion — rather, saying that religion shouldn't be included among the things about which we're sensitive to when approaching foreign cultures is the exceptionalism.

First, I'm not really talking about making fun. I'm talking about disagreeing with the whole project of religion from a moral, rational, practical (or whatever) point of view in terms that don't seem unusual to me but that other people here have called offensive. Apart from that, though, I disagree that that's the most relevant part about why we don't make fun of other cultural traditions. That is, those of us who don't, because it's very much a learned sensitivity. Enlightened Westerners can't actually make fun of most of the world's cultures (that are actually likely to strike them as strange) any more without being aware of participating in a historical tradition of persecution, exploitation and every kind of violence, where they were the perpetrators and where the other participants often continue to suffer the consequences. Between groups of these enlightened Westerners, mockery isn't nearly as loaded (England vs France, etc), though my impression is that it is also increasingly proscribed, probably because of associations with the aforementioned category of othering, and also because it's fairly widely considered a tired and stupid form of humour. But the same people who object to that stuff don't call say, black American comedians out for their lack of cultural sensitivity when they make fun of stereotypically white American ways. It's a power thing.

More importantly, religion is different from the forms of culture you cite because ideas are a prominent part of it. I won't say it's impossible to legitimately disagree with a style of dance from a moral and intellectual point of view, but it's hard. Where traditions such as dress do contain ideas, like ones about what men and women should wear, or even more basic assumptions such as that we should cover our bodies at all, those things certainly are criticised, and not always respectfully either. Internally with whatever justification, but externally mostly with moral ones (see American opinions about burqas in Middle Eastern countries).

Finally, I want to point out a difference in perspective between people who, like you, see religion as analogous to a "foreign culture" from an atheist point of view, and a lot of atheists who actually seem to see it as an element of their own culture that is doing harm in some way. I don't think it necessarily occurs to people to extend the special courtesy they might for a culture they recognise as alien to them to a movement and worldview they were steeped in from birth and to whose whims they are still subject.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:23 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


If cherry-picking heretics was your idea of refuting EB's statement, then the existence of English classes should be enough to give the lie to your particular assertion.

(Yes, I know that you'll shift the goalposts and talk about how language acquisition is inherent, see: Chomsky; I'll point out that there's been reasonable research to show that religious belief can have a biological component and also that people can transpose feelings of wonderment into the sublime without any formal help.)


Not only would it not be shifting the goalposts to point out that those things are completely different, it would be outright dishonest to imply that they weren't. The process of language acquisition goes so far beyond "can have a biological component" that I can hardly express it. Religion is like language in the sense that you pick up the one that's around you, rather than spontaneously developing one of the others, and in the sense that your culture imparts it to you before you have a chance to decide if or how you want it. I would be surprised if any inclination as overwhelmingly strong or universal as the one to acquire language has been demonstrated, and I would be equally surprised to see as many atheists as there are if one existed.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:39 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


We don't (or shouldn't) make fun of another culture's traditional dress, or style of dance, or eating habits, or innumerable other customs

But does that force us to embrace relativism? It is the "innumerable other customs" part that could become problematic.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:41 PM on June 4, 2012


But does that force us to embrace relativism?

I wish people would stop using "relativism" as a boogeyman. A soft relativism is perfectly workable in everyday life and makes a lot of sense given uncertainty on so many of the "big questions".
posted by Hoopo at 4:51 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


As it's subjective, it's intimate. As it's intimate, it's personal.

I'd say the very same thing about taste in art, but you once felt free to tell me that my favorite band sucks, so c'est la vie. Plenty of things are intimate and personal without being considered inviolable.

If cherry-picking heretics was your idea of refuting EB's statement, then the existence of English classes should be enough to give the lie to your particular assertion.

I said that religious belief and practice has to be taught through deliberate instruction, whereas language does not have to be. The existence of English classes says nothing about whether two year olds spontaneously demonstrate the things they are expected to believe and know regarding the gods.

I'll point out that there's been reasonable research to show that religious belief can have a biological component and also that people can transpose feelings of wonderment into the sublime without any formal help.

Carl Sagan could also do this without any formal help, and so can I, but neither of us is religious. Likewise, I don't see how there are any human beliefs or behaviors which don't "have a biological component". Data points like these can fit any number of different conclusions, not just one.
posted by vorfeed at 4:55 PM on June 4, 2012


I wish people would stop using "relativism" as a boogeyman.

A low key, soft relativism is one thing. But when it's weaponized as a tool to stifle debate it goes too far.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:07 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I said that religious belief and practice has to be taught through deliberate instruction, whereas language does not have to be. The existence of English classes says nothing about whether two year olds spontaneously demonstrate the things they are expected to believe and know regarding the gods."

That's not true, and relies on a definition of religious belief and practice that begs the question. Plenty of two-year-olds invent their own theologies fairly spontaneously; they are certainly magical thinkers.

"I'd say the very same thing about taste in art, but you once felt free to tell me that my favorite band sucks, so c'est la vie. Plenty of things are intimate and personal without being considered inviolable."

Well, first off, it's you setting up the straw man of religious belief and practice as being inviolable, specifically through your general hobbyhorse of atheism having the right to be offensive. But we can dispense with this argument through several different objections: that religious belief is generally held to be deeper than aesthetic preference, and to the extent they're conflated it's almost always someone proffering aesthetic preference in the language of religious belief; that regardless of the relative merits, it still hurt your feelings to have that part of your identity insulted (especially if you've remembered it this far out — I'll take your word that I told you that, but I don't remember it at all); that I likely said something more substantive, and that just saying, "Your religion sucks," is a pretty empty and dickish statement.

Carl Sagan could also do this without any formal help, and so can I, but neither of us is religious. Likewise, I don't see how there are any human beliefs or behaviors which don't "have a biological component". Data points like these can fit any number of different conclusions, not just one."

It's far more common for someone to spontaneously attribute wonder at the universe to God than it is for them to attribute it to the cold laws of physics. To any extent, your argument against religion being similar to language is specious and relies on discounting positive examples and ignoring negative ones.
posted by klangklangston at 5:09 PM on June 4, 2012


zarq: We disagree. I see value in both.

Ultimately, I do as well. But good etic perspectives require time, intimacy, and open-mindedness, all of which I find lacking here on metafilter. I'll grant that Pond could probably fairly talk about Wolford's views. There's a handful of people that I'll talk spirituality and morality with across religious lines. But those were relationships built cautiously over time, and I wouldn't dare generalize from those cases.

That's not a "precious snowflake" argument. It's a statement about the complexities of religious experience and identity in the world around me. I don't know everything there is to know about my own profession, why would I presume to talk with authority about another person's religion?

Most outsider criticisms I see flying all ways are laughably wrong, overly general, and frequently offensive. If you try to engage me on what you assume my views must be, you'll probably get it wrong. But if you talk about your own experiences, I'm willing to bet that there's a lot of common ground there.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:52 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's not true, and relies on a definition of religious belief and practice that begs the question. Plenty of two-year-olds invent their own theologies fairly spontaneously; they are certainly magical thinkers.

That's the problem, isn't it? What's the definition of religion, and how do we find one that doesn't beg one question or another? (And as for begging the question -- why "their own theologies" rather than "their own myths" or "their own stories"?)

I would say that "magical thinking" is not religion, in and of itself. It's a part of (some) religion, yes, but it's also a part of thinking that your favorite stuffed animal has emotions and that your doll is a real baby, and we're not about to claim that those beliefs are sacred.

that religious belief is generally held to be deeper than aesthetic preference

That was actually my point, not an objection to it. I was trying to demonstrate that this is not just about "As it's subjective, it's intimate. As it's intimate, it's personal."

It's far more common for someone to spontaneously attribute wonder at the universe to God than it is for them to attribute it to the cold laws of physics.

I don't see how either can be "spontaneous" in that way. People have to be taught about physics, just as they have to be taught about God. The idea that the latter is "spontaneously" more of an object of wonder than the former seems to me to be cultural bias, since a great many cultures have in fact attributed wonder to the workings of the natural world.
posted by vorfeed at 8:42 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is shakespeherian gone over this?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:40 PM on June 4, 2012


I felt that the outcome of that thread was a predictable argument, but it was interesting nonetheless. Even though a lot of the commentors may have had axes to grind, some of them were interesting, shiny axes, and the swinging of said axes gave me a more nuanced appreciation of boths the pros and cons of deeply held religious belief.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:43 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is shakespeherian gone over this?

Jesus Christ, that would really fucking suck.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:33 PM on June 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


"I said that religious belief and practice has to be taught through deliberate instruction, whereas language does not have to be."

I compared religion to language specifically within the context of identity and culture and only slightly and tangentially with regard to biology. That it's mostly nor comparable biologically does not in any way lessen the strength of my argument with regard to culture and identity.

Also, I think you're probably aware — though it's worth mentioning if you're not — that all the available evidence currently indicates that language exists only at the intersection of nature and nurture. People do not spontaneously develop language outside of a cultural linguistic context. Language need not be (and mostly isn't) explicitly taught to be learned, but it certainly needs to be demonstrated and participated within a social context. Similarly, conversely, religious belief as mere belief need not be culturally transmitted; but it usually is and, more to the point, it almost without exception exists as cultural institutions, practices, and relationships. This insistence by you and others as seeing religion as nothing more than, or even primarily, various lists about the nature of reality is being blind to about 90% of what religion really is. And this isn't some off-the-cuff, touchy-feely assertion I'm making here, there's loads of scientific scholarship in anthropology and a few related fields that make this abundantly clear.

"The implication here is that you (and those who agree with you) can change the rules regarding what religion is and what it means, but atheists can't..."

Try to keep in mind that I'm an atheist, too.

Anyway, religion is whatever it is. If you're going to argue against religion qua religion, then you've explicitly opened the door to what it is in its entirety. If you don't want to include everything outside the parts of religion which are specific assertions about reality and institutional structure, then you should restrict your arguments to...specific assertions about reality and institutional structures. But you don't want to do that, really, because much of what you think is wrong about religion is how it operates culturally, the effect it has on the world above and beyond the most proximate consequences of specifically false beliefs. So your critique really requires a larger scope — but when various things within that larger scope undercut your argument, you say those aren't really "religion". You're the one who's moving the goalposts when convenient, not me.

"I find it hard to believe that so many different religions would contain warnings about people who practiced insufficiently or incorrectly, if religious practice were itself involuntary."

In American culture, I encounter very frequent warnings against socialism. Does that mean that either a) there's necessarily a large number of socialists in America and/or b) that being a capitalist in America is entirely voluntary?

"Alright Ivan, how should things be? Tell me about how religion should be treated.

-When a dozen 60 year old virgin males are called before congress to testify about women's issues, should they accorded the same level of important as actual women?
-How aout if a church spends 10s of millions of dollars to push through legislation about who can be married and who cannot, even people not in the church?
....
I can go on.

And I don't mean to particularly harp on those particularly issues, they were just the first things that came to mind under the category of religious privilege. BECAUSE THAT'S HOW THE WORLD ALREAY IS!!! Religion already get the kind of special consideration for which you're asking"


I am baffled to the point of hostility as to how you can read what I wrote and infer from it that I'm saying that being respectful of how religion forms part of most people's identities and therefore, in those cases, attacking those person's religion is more like attacking them than unlike, in any possible way, in any fair-reading, results in your examples of "special consideration". Especially when I very carefully and explicitly made it clear that I'm not disallowing disagreement, or assertions that a religious belief is factually wrong, or opposing public policies that the some believers favor.

Remember, by the way, that you were the person who used the word attack in this context when you said that attacking a person is unacceptable but attacking their beliefs is acceptable. I've been disputing that particular ethical assertion and you've been taking the arguments I've offered and radically distorted them as being implicit arguments of the sort that, for example, I then shouldn't contest pro-lifers whose motivations and reasoning are religious in nature, or sexist/misogynist beliefs and practices that are religious in nature. Of course I'm not asserting that; and I quite eagerly and frequently and loudly contest all sorts of noxious beliefs and policies that involve religion. All the damn time. Here and elsewhere.

"The idea that the latter is 'spontaneously' more of an object of wonder than the former seems to me to be cultural bias, since a great many cultures have in fact attributed wonder to the workings of the natural world."

This is just silly because the naturalism you're alluding to is quite a different thing than the materialist physics that klanglangston mentioned and about which your comment was a response.

One of the most naturalistic western, pre-modern texts I can think of is the epicurean De rerum natura by Lucretius. Really, it's as close to a physicalist non-theist view of the cosmos as you'll find in the ancient world. In it you'll find atomism and other startlingly almost modern science-like explanations of natural phenomena, with an emphasis on reductionism and regular natural laws. Epicurean philosophy was essentially critical of superstition and the way in which beliefs about the gods distorted thought and hindered knowledge. De rerum natura is in many ways a fiery critique of many of the things that people are critiquing here with regard to religion. And yet...it was in no sense atheistic.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:53 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


how you can read what I wrote and infer from it that I'm saying that being respectful of how religion forms part of most people's identities and therefore, in those cases, attacking those person's religion is more like attacking them than unlike
...
you were the person who used the word attack in this context when you said that attacking a person is unacceptable but attacking their beliefs is acceptable. I've been disputing that particular ethical assertion

Okay, maybe I've been too dim to "get" what you've been saying. Here is my guess at understanding, please correct me if I have mistaken your points (again?):

So you're okay with going toe-to-toe with religious types about the merits of belief vs non-belief? And you're saying that they construe those debates as personal attacks, but you're still okay with the debates anyway, even if they take attacks on their beliefs as personal attacks? And was the crux of your point that what counts as a personal attack is a completely subjective thing?
posted by Chekhovian at 11:31 PM on June 4, 2012


You're splitting hairs about distinctions that we can't really make categorical rules about, but which are in practice usually pretty obvious. But the one really big one that you're ignoring is the difference between "disagreeing" and "attacking", and it's not an accident that I've harped on it. Because it's not an accident that you used that particular word — I'm certain your whole point was that something as aggressive, even (metaphorically) violent as attacking a belief is perfectly okay because, well, it's just a belief. Which, I suppose, partly explains why you want to elide any distinction between "attack" and "disagree" or even "criticize". Because, apparently, outside of doing these things to a person, they're synonyms. Most other people, I feel safe in asserting, don't see it that way.

Also, I earlier provided some examples. Saying "your premises and reasoning that lead to your pro-life position are wrong and the consequences of your favored policy are oppressive and arguably misogynist" is not the same thing as saying "your pro-life position is stupid" and it's very much not the same as saying "catholicism is stupid and hateful because it's pro-life" and it's absolutely not the same as saying "catholics are stupid and hateful, as pro-life activism demonstrates". I don't really need to say what I think about "catholics are stupid and hateful".

Anyway, the core of my argument against your assertion about person versus belief is that the difference you assert is not as absolute and unambiguous as you claim. I certainly implied, and in fact believe to a limited degree, that you shouldn't attack a person. But that's not an absolute for me and I'll use the same reasoning process to conclude that it's okay for me to criticize or even attack someone's identity or even their physical self that I use to conclude that it's not okay to criticize or attack one of their beliefs. Because, the bottom line is to what degree to which I think I may do them unwarranted harm in doing so. And harm is never its own justification; it's only warranted when it's an unavoidable consequence of the pursuit of a greater good. (And I don't need to tell you that all such reasoning that ends with this conclusion ought to be thought and then rethought and then rethought again, for good measure.)

I'm not giving religion any "special consideration". Rather, I think you and others are doing so by presuming that it's qualitatively distinct from everything else that we normally consider when we make these sorts of judgments about what and how to deal with social diversity.

I well understand most of what's likely motivating you about this because I share many of the same experiences. Hell, I mentioned what I personally feel is a stellar example of it in my own life — the "special" status that Christmas celebrations have in our culture. I'm expected to participate because, well, everyone does and practically no one contests the prominence that this religious holiday and tradition has in American life because, well, the majority are Christians and it's "normal" and it's what everyone does. As I wrote earlier, even here on MetaFilter a number of years ago, in an AskMe thread, I believe, I got much more criticism than support for my decision to not participate in celebrating Christmas with my family.

And, you know, that example proves how both of us are essentially correct in some respects, at least some of the time. I certainly don't think that everything that involves religion in any respect in America is as pervasive and unquestioned as Christmas, which is one part of why we disagree. But I do think it's a good example of this and in the US, at least, if you have any family who celebrate Christmas, you're labeled as some sort of a freak if you refuse and, specific to your argument, it's almost as if you're the person who is intolerant. (Thus the absurd "war on Christmas" crap.) But, on the other hand, the people who are critical of my decision also have a good point and it's based upon what I've been trying to argue to you and vorfeed: religion is much more than a set of beliefs, or even rituals. It's deeply cultural, social, and involves personal relationships. When I refuse to spend Christmas day with my family, I'm making a statement that, to them, goes far beyond my disbelief in their deity. It feels, to some degree, like a rejection of them. And so, it's very much arguable that in refusing to spend Christmas with family, I've moved beyond the bounds of simply having a different belief and not conforming to convention and into something that is hurtful or, at the very least, disrespectful. It's not disrespectful of Christmas or Christ or whatever (though many Christians would say that it is and by some narrow definition it is). It's disrespectful of the identities and relationships that are wrapped up in the celebration of Christmas.

So it's a dilemma. That doesn't mean that I cannot make a choice. I have made a choice, a number of years ago, and I've stuck with it. But let's be clear about what that choice is: I've privileged my own comfort (or lack) regarding celebrating a religious holiday of a religion I am not a part of and explicitly disbelieve over things like the shared importance of a long tradition of spending that day with my family and how my decision affects them and what it signals to them.

Respect and sensitivity are just going to the trouble of thinking these things through, trying to avoid offense and hurt as much as possible, and making the appropriate judgments.

Maybe gender is a not-bad example to use. If you're in the camp that believes that gender is entirely a social construct, then it's necessarily much, much more like the "beliefs" you are discussing than it is "identity". And, as a matter of fact, in my case, and some small minority of other cases, it's not so deeply entwined with my identity that I will feel attacked when you "attack" (or whatever) my notions about my gender. But, as you well know, this is the exception and not the rule. Because even if it's totally culturally constructed, gender is something that forms a core part of people's individual identities. And because of that, to the degree to which we know this is generally true and especially the degree to which we know this is individually true, we try to approach the topic with sensitivity. With respect. Even when we think that someone else's ideas about sex and gender are wrong (as I often do, as it happens). Not because I think the universe has carved out some special exception for this topic, nor because I think it inherently ought to be handled carefully, but just because it so happens that this is the way people actually are, whatever the reason. Maybe they won't always be this way. Personally, I want the future without religion that vorfeed envisions probably as much as she does. I'd be thrilled to wake up one day and find I live in that world. But, for now, I live in this one.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:28 AM on June 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm going to have to read that again in the morning when I'm less tired...but it sounds like we're debating degree and not difference.

I don't really need to say what I think about "catholics are stupid and hateful".

Independent of any other qualms I might have about that statement, its certainly a crude, tasteless, and unrefined way to make an insult. Much better to dress up your insults in obscure references and elliptical phrasing if you absolutely have to do it.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:08 AM on June 5, 2012


Anyway, religion is whatever it is. If you're going to argue against religion qua religion, then you've explicitly opened the door to what it is in its entirety.

To me, religion is a shared set of beliefs, practices, and cultural contexts or systems which connect humankind to the spiritual or metaphysical. These may have to do with "the nature of reality" or they may not; they may or may not have to do with what we'd call "the supernatural", either. Any number of other things can also be religious, such as communities, relationships, ritual, feelings of meaning and beauty and purpose, and spiritual or metaphysical feelings and concepts (and this is where I depart from the "90% blind" view you mentioned above), but these things are not necessarily religious, because they can also be encountered outside of a shared religious cultural context. When these things are in a religious context I am more than happy to discuss them as part of religion qua religion; when they're not, I think it's important to acknowledge that their mere existence does not imply religion. That's the problem with saying "people as individuals have some apparent natural affinity toward something we might very loosely call 'spirituality'" -- yes, we certainly do, but this is equally true of atheists, as you yourself noted.

Which brings me to the question: are atheists religious? If so, then I guess we have nothing further to discuss, and if not, then I can't see how religion could be "about as voluntary as one's native language". If religion were truly almost entirely involuntary, then atheism couldn't have become a viable alternative in such a short amount of time, and the "90% blind" American view of religion couldn't be making a significant impact on American religious demographics. Yet it is. The numbers of people who are non-religious and people who have changed their religion have gone through the roof, all thanks to the idea that religion is something you can choose.

Culture clearly has a powerful amount of bearing here, and if so, then culture can change.

On preview, I think we largely agree about the nature of religion and its intersection with culture. I disagree that I should treat it with sensitivity and respect, but that's just my nature; I do my best to stay polite when I argue, as I hope you've noticed, but blunt honesty also means a lot to me, and I see little hope of cultural change without it (although, as I've said before, we do need sensitivity and respect for maximum effectiveness -- human cooperation is a tag-team thing, not an "everyone has to be in lock-step" thing). And that's where we fundamentally disagree, I guess: I don't "assume a large swath of ethical principles applies to pretty much everyone, everywhere". I think we are each accountable to our own selves and our own ways of living, which is why I see as much potential harm in universal respect as in universal disrespect -- and speaking as someone who's been labeled "disrespectful" on and off since she first learned to talk, I hope you'll understand the reason why.
posted by vorfeed at 1:15 AM on June 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I would say that "magical thinking" is not religion, in and of itself.

What would you say about the reverse? Is religion magical thinking, in and of itself?



Jesus Christ, that would really fucking suck.

I'm certainly no expert, but I don't think that's how prayers are typically phrased.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:13 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ivan: One of the most naturalistic western, pre-modern texts I can think of is the epicurean De rerum natura by Lucretius. Really, it's as close to a physicalist non-theist view of the cosmos as you'll find in the ancient world. In it you'll find atomism and other startlingly almost modern science-like explanations of natural phenomena, with an emphasis on reductionism and regular natural laws. Epicurean philosophy was essentially critical of superstition and the way in which beliefs about the gods distorted thought and hindered knowledge. De rerum natura is in many ways a fiery critique of many of the things that people are critiquing here with regard to religion. And yet...it was in no sense atheistic.

Could you explain this further? Because for me, atheism is a drunken love of the universe.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:25 AM on June 5, 2012


I'm certainly no expert, but I don't think that's how prayers are typically phrased.

You might be surprised.
posted by jquinby at 5:42 AM on June 5, 2012


It's my feeling that atheism should be kept as the antonym to theism, and just as we can't assume that theism is equivalent to modern Christian Fundamentalism, we should be hesitant about associating atheism with specific movements in England and America. Also, the reluctance to affirm the existence of a personal and creator deity has often been sufficient grounds to identify a person as an atheist historically.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:58 AM on June 5, 2012


Because for me, atheism is a drunken love of the universe.

For everyone else, it's simply the absence of belief in a god.

And this is the crux of it - you're allowed to define your atheism as a drunken love of the universe, because conviction is a personal issue. I'm allowed to define atheism as the dictionary does, because conviction is a personal issue.

This whole anti-religion nonsense reminds me of the Republican "How dare you be intolerant of our intolerance!" schtick. If you can't discuss issues of faith without proselytizing, maybe you shouldn't discuss issues of Faith? This applies to religionists and areligionists alike.

Moreover, I'd posit that religion isn't the problem - it's the lack of respect for the spiritual convictions of others that's the problem. Whenever people go from "this is what I believe and why I believe it" to "This is what you should believe and I'll denounce and punish you if you don't", bad, bad, bad things happen.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:01 AM on June 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


When I refuse to spend Christmas day with my family, I'm making a statement that, to them, goes far beyond my disbelief in their deity. It feels, to some degree, like a rejection of them. And so, it's very much arguable that in refusing to spend Christmas with family, I've moved beyond the bounds of simply having a different belief and not conforming to convention and into something that is hurtful or, at the very least, disrespectful. It's not disrespectful of Christmas or Christ or whatever (though many Christians would say that it is and by some narrow definition it is). It's disrespectful of the identities and relationships that are wrapped up in the celebration of Christmas.

Wait, I don't buy that. Why isn't it up to your family to be respectful of your identity? What if it were one of my Muslim cousins not wanting to wear hijab any more? Or one of my Christian ones switching denominations? What if it were my once-devout Hindu mother being instantly disowned for marrying a black man? What if it were atheist me wanting to bring a girlfriend home for Christmas to my grandmother (who's actually dead now, but who told me as a child that she would forgive her children anything, murder, but if any of her sons told her they liked it in the ass, she would poison them slowly until they died, and feel nothing - thank you Leviticus). I don't see how any of that's different from the situation you describe except that that the expectation your family has of you is not all that burdensome to you.

I understand "disrespectful" to describe something that is wrong and should not be. But not every feeling of having been disrespected is legitimate, or deserves to be treated as such. It's perfectly common in this world for people to foster feelings of hurt in their own hearts in order to manipulate and control people who love them. Well, let those people learn not to feel victimised by others' merely acting in accordance with who they are, the same way all the other groups who have made inappropriate demands on the course of people's lives have had to or are having to or will have to, god willing.

And seriously, I think a lot of this discussion is based on a false premise, namely that the relevant conflict here is between religious groups and the non-religious. When honestly, if you are an atheist and a man and straight and reasonably un-tenderhearted and weren't planning to run for office anyway (in America), a lot of this is philosophical for you. I'm not impressed that people who fit in to that category are able to bear religious domination with absolute grace, and talk as though the unmerited deference routinely paid to religious groups were its own discrete phenomenon, all apart from the misogyny and homophobia that neither your hyperreligious society nor mine is not even prepared to view as definitely wrong or as not quite its victims' fault somehow. I can't personally afford for that to be seen as the virtuous way to proceed. Because those things aren't separate; one facilitates the other.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:16 AM on June 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Could you explain this further? Because for me, atheism is a drunken love of the universe."

I'm not sure what you want me to explain, nor how your second sentence relates to what you quoted.

Lucretius's book was emphatically not atheistic in the sense you defend in your most recent comment (asserting that atheism should be strictly understood as the antonym to theism). But its philosophy apart from the specific matter of the existence of gods is in very many respects the opposite of the philosophy which some atheists here are characterizing as the philosophy typical of theism.

Indeed, it's specifically critical of superstition and how fear of the gods limits and distorts one's ability to understand the cosmos. It's empirical (within the relative context of its time).

Anyway, I brought it up because vorfeed mentioned naturalistic cosmologies filled with wonder as counter-examples to religious wonder and yet one of the premiere and strikingly modern-seeming examples of such a thing from the ancient western world is explicitly theist. But it's in many other respects more like how (many of) we atheists understand the world than it's like, say, how a Pentecostal understands the world.

For me, too, atheism is more like a drunken love and wonder at the cosmos. It's certainly nothing like how many theists clearly imagine an atheist worldview. But the reverse, opposing assumption and generalization about theists and theism is also often very untrue.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:35 AM on June 5, 2012


"Wait, I don't buy that. Why isn't it up to your family to be respectful of your identity?"

They are. And they're a little disrespectful, too, just as my decision not to attend and how I negotiate it is not entirely one thing or another. And whether or how much one party is right or wrong or respectful or disrespectful does not affect how much the other party is or isn't. It's not zero-sum.

"When honestly, if you are an atheist and a man and straight and reasonably un-tenderhearted and weren't planning to run for office anyway (in America), a lot of this is philosophical for you. I'm not impressed that people who fit in to that category are able to bear religious domination with absolute grace, and talk as though the unmerited deference routinely paid to religious groups were its own discrete phenomenon, all apart from the misogyny and homophobia that neither your hyperreligious society nor mine is not even prepared to view as definitely wrong or as not quite its victims' fault somehow. I can't personally afford for that to be seen as the virtuous way to proceed. Because those things aren't separate; one facilitates the other."

That argument cuts both ways. If it applies to me when I disagree with you, then it will also apply to those like me when they agree, rather than disagree, with you.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:19 AM on June 5, 2012


Ivan: I guess that if we're going to allow that modern theism as evolved along with culture as well, we must also account for the fact that modern atheism has evolved from roots that could be characterized as pagan or deistic. But I'm a big tent person and don't have a problem in seeing common ground with negative theology or Spinoza.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2012


I didn't intend that as an ad hominem attack - I'm not saying your opinion isn't legitimate because it comes from people like you. I'm saying that if we focus so much on how all of our deference to religious forces affects people like you, we overlook the better part of its harmful consequences. And if we treat the serenity with which people like you are able to face the hurt those forces inflict on you as normal, correct and virtuous, we risk treating the agitation it inspires in people who face greater hurt, or even in people who don't face it directly but are concentrating on it, as illegitimate and perplexing.

Let me reiterate that this isn't about wanting permission to treat religious people as harshly as many of them have treated women, gays and others. This is about saying no to the notion that they should be given any argumentative advantage or treated with any special gentleness compared to other ideas and institutions that have power in the world. That is a critical factor in the environment that lets the subset of religious people who want to hurt and control continue to do so without a fraction of the opposition they ought to face.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:53 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


then I can't see how religion could be "about as voluntary as one's native language". If religion were truly almost entirely involuntary, then atheism couldn't have become a viable alternative in such a short amount of time,

I read that initial "voluntary as one's language" comment as suggesting that, like language, you tend to get religion very, very early in your development, well in advance of any critical thinking skills (ie: it's imposed on you by your immediate family etc as a matter of course). Maybe language comes sooner and easier, but religion still comes pretty darned easy and soon.

In a weird way, it aligns with my interpretation of the original sin concept. Are little babies born with evil in them? Who knows? But even if they're not, they quickly start picking up little evil tendencies from those that are caring for them and their culture: all the various prejudices and cruelties, the ignorance and fear. So I've never had a problem looking at a cute as a puppydog four year old and knowing they've got some evil in them -- from nurture, if not nature.

As for how atheism so quickly and easily becomes a viable alternative to theism, look no further than even a half-assed education and the growth of the child's critical thinking (the fact that it's natural for us to question pretty much everything). I was raised Catholic, but I remember as young as seven or eight being well on my way to being ensconced in reasonable doubt. I wasn't sure that there was no God or Jesus, but I certainly wasn't buying them as mystical sky faeries. It had to be subtler, more complex than that.
posted by philip-random at 9:09 AM on June 5, 2012


"I'm saying that if we focus so much on how all of our deference to religious forces affects people like you..."

Yes, but I never offered my own experience as characteristic and, rather, only as a counter-example against opposing attestations which were being offered as characteristic. And your assumptions about this have a no true scotsman flavor to them — while I've described some aspects of myself and life that might accord with your assumption, there's others which I've not mentioned which do not and, more to the point, if I had been agreeing with you, as others here are, you'd have not thought to look at these assumed attributes as bearing on the validity of my larger argument about how we should behave.

Again, I'm not arguing primarily from my own personal experience. In fact, when I think about these issues and I've synthesized my beliefs about them in the past, I'm always careful to take into account the ways in which I'm not representative. And as a general rule, I don't formulate my opinions about any of these sorts of things on that very subjective basis because I've a great deal of experience and knowledge within the context of, for example, sexism and feminism about just how invisible privilege is and how much arguing from one's own personal experience of not noticing oppression can lead to utterly, offensively wrong conclusions about other peoples' lives and how the world actually works.

Indeed, I've known numerous women and people of color who were unusually privileged, or just had a certain unusually resilient temperament or an unusually strong sense of independence and self-esteem who wrongly generalize about what all other women or people of color experience and how they should think about and respond to oppression on that basis. I've very well aware of the ways in which I've been shielded from oppression that atheists face as well as the ways in which I have not.

My opinion is wrong if I'm generalizing on the basis of my own idiosyncratic or rare or exceptional experience. But I'm not. And that I have a contrary opinion is not at all evidence that I necessarily am. I'm certainly not normalizing my own experience and reaction to it to all other atheists. I'm normalizing something that I believe I've formulated as independently from my mere personal experience as much as I can be reasonably expected to have done.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:55 AM on June 5, 2012


This is about saying no to the notion that they should be given any argumentative advantage or treated with any special gentleness compared to other ideas and institutions ...

This is a discussion about site policy. Religious people aren't given argumentative advantage or treated with special gentleness on the site. No one, or almost no one, in this discussion has argued that they should be. I certainly haven't argued this.

The OP's complaint was that someone in the original thread said they wished more people in a particular group would die so there'd be less of them, and another person in the made a bogus diagnosis of a group of people as 'psychotic' to justify regarding them as subhuman. This kind of rhetoric is a problem regardless of the groups it's applied to.

I wish we could agree on that.

In the original complaint, the OP emphasized that this use of bogus psychriatric diagnosis is "insulting and stigmatizing to users here who have mental illness". Is it OK to dehumanize people with mental illness, and throw actual diagnostic procedures and criteria out the window, as long as you're using this as part of an argument that a subgroup of Pentecostals are also subhuman?
posted by nangar at 10:57 AM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Because for me, atheism is a drunken love of the universe.

Is this much different than pantheism? I understand they have identified the altruism gene. If we truly want to be sane, and stop going crazy with this psychotic "love" of "the universe", or "god", or whatever, we should have the altruism gene permanently removed from the human genome. Good riddance! While we're at it, we can find a way to enhance or add to the "asshole" gene. I'm not sure if they've found this gene yet, but a comparative analysis of the mefi genome might be a good place to start.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:14 AM on June 5, 2012


Golden Eternity: Is this much different than pantheism?

Is it?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:16 AM on June 5, 2012


Because for me, atheism is a drunken love of the universe.

Jesus turned water to wine, his first miracle as I recall. Where does this put him?
posted by philip-random at 11:20 AM on June 5, 2012


Jesus turned water to wine, his first miracle as I recall. Where does this put him?

In a booth with a fruity drink? Probably one with a little umbrella in it?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:28 AM on June 5, 2012


The OP's complaint was that someone in the original thread said they wished more people in a particular group would die so there'd be less of them, and another person in the made a bogus diagnosis of a group of people as 'psychotic' to justify regarding them as subhuman. This kind of rhetoric is a problem regardless of the groups it's applied to.

I wish we could agree on that.


So do I. I didn't start this thread to single out anything but the behavior. I don't know why this gets read as special deference for theists or that we should just ignore this as it doesn't involve people being attacked by theists it's irrelevant.

I thought there might be some mild controversy and discussion about this, and I expected thread drift, but I am boggled that some people are ignoring the entire point to ride some hobby-horse.
posted by Snyder at 1:07 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


This thread makes me wonder if there's an active membership count above which the moderation style of Metafilter becomes unsustainable.
posted by NeonSurge at 1:30 PM on June 5, 2012


I'm not sure that much of this has to do with moderation, honestly.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:33 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I didn't start this thread to single out anything but the behavior. I don't know why this gets read as special deference for theists or that we should just ignore this as it doesn't involve people being attacked by theists it's irrelevant.

I think you should try this thread again the next time this sort of stuff happens, but only in a nonreligious setting. Maybe the next Apple vs everything else thread?

The whole problem with people doing weird things because of religion is that it really brings up the "what is mental illness question?", which is really not the point you'd hoping to push.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:43 PM on June 5, 2012


Actually maybe not Apple vs everyone else either, that might actually make people more angry than religion ;-)
posted by Chekhovian at 1:44 PM on June 5, 2012


nangar and Snyder, I identified the comments and ideas I'm referring to, so there's no reason for you to think I intended to address any of that. If the thread hadn't already drifted away from its original topic when I first commented, and if i didn't have a whole bottle of wine in me but that's neither here nor there I wouldn't have.

Ivan, thanks for your response, but it's been days and I just don't feel like talking about this any more. And since I'm trying to do less sudden disappearing from a conversation when I get tired of it, here's me signing off. :)
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:05 PM on June 5, 2012


I just found out about this exceedingly long thread. I'll skim it. But I don't think my fundamental attitude is likely to change: the amount of willful, obtuse ignorance required to believe in, say, creationism is awe-inspiring, and not in a good way. Calling it an 'illness' seems fair and practical, in that it sure isn't a sign of healthy mental processes.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:45 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Calling it an 'illness' seems fair and practical, in that it sure isn't a sign of healthy mental processes.

Thank you for your carefully-considered, scientific opinion.

fwiw, I'm not a creationist. But for crying out loud, what a ridiculous and willfully uncharitable thing to say.
posted by The World Famous at 5:59 PM on June 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'll skim it.

That’s where you screwed up.
posted by bongo_x at 7:03 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Calling it an 'illness' seems fair and practical, in that it sure isn't a sign of healthy mental processes.

Yeah, no. That is REALLY not how mental illnesses work.

It's neither fair, nor practical.

We really don't have a clear definition of "sanity" by the way.

Which is why the pharmaceutical companies are making millions giving people pills that might or might not actually have an effect greater than placebo (funnily enough, pharmaceutical companies have a tendency to only publish the studies that say what they want them to say - it's almost as if they had a motive other than inducing mental health in someone...). Most clients self-medicate with a combination of caffeine and nicotine in addition to their medications.

Interestingly, people are really UNinterested in the placebo effect, despite it being nearly as efficacious and much less prone to side effects than many medications. Had I the funding...

A lot of the medications got their reputation for being so wonderful not because they actually created this thing we call "mental health" (which has a shitty operational definition, btw - you try to write one up that isn't sexist, racist, and classist) but rather because they shut deeply disturbed clients up.

And I do mean that literally.

Apparently mental institutions are really noisy places. I've only been in a relatively controlled, twelve bed locked ward, so I really don't have a sense of it outside of the stories (thank the gods).

There's a good chance that many of the symptoms we think are part of schizophrenia were actually induced by being kept in a locked facility without any rights or self-determination. It's telling that now that people are bumped out to the street pretty quickly that catatonia has virtually disappeared. I've only run into one instance where catatonia seemed even plausible, and that was with an individual with extreme paucity of surroundings, which would be similar to an institutional setting.

A lot of the avolition is likely learned as a side effect of being obedient and thus getting rewards and praise from the staff. Paucity of thought is a logical consequence of never being asked your opinion or shown new and interesting things - it can be induced into even 'sane' people. The studies on solitary confinement and it's effects on mental health are also telling when you consider that the other wards would have solitary situations; many "sane" people hallucinate or become delusional when isolated from human contact for too long.

We suck SO MUCH at telling "mental illness" from "mental health" that it is pretty easy to get "sane" people locked up and forced to take medications (and make clinicians doubt their clients' veracity of report). Even in relatively clear cut cases like the recent sociopath tests, which have an 80% rate of recidivism prediction (which doesn't mean it necessarily actually measures what we call sociopathy), we're still wrong 1/5 of the time. Most psychological studies have much closer margins like that - think 60% of a population having a characteristic being significant. That means nearly half the time we're just... wrong!

This is why a lot of the so-called "gender studies" are such bunk (in addition to their being quasi-experimental instead of experimental, and thus unable to give causal data due to a large number of uncontrolled confounds).

Really, if that is your idea of "fair and practical," you need a new sense of perspective.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:00 AM on June 6, 2012


five fresh fish, jumping to the bottom of a long, arduous, difficult thread about a not-so-simple aspect of site policy and behavior just to say you haven't read the thread and won't change your mind about anything if you do read it, yet you still want to leave a comment that will be incredibly personally insulting to a lot of people actively engaged in the conversation ... is a very, very bad way to use Metatalk.

I understand the thread is long, but you can spend a little time with it if you actually want to be a part of the process – otherwise it seems like you are just trying to stir shit, which is probably exactly the last thing we need here now.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:37 AM on June 6, 2012


"The Simpsons: Marge in Chains (#4.21)" (1993)
Crowd: We need a cure! We need a cure!
Dr. Hibbert: Why, the only cure is bed rest. Anything I give you would only be a placebo.
Blonde Woman: Where do we get these placebos?
Man: Maybe there's some in this truck!
[the panicky crowd push over a truck, boxes labeled "danger killer bees" break open, the bees go everywhere and everyone panics, one man puts a bee in his mouth]
Man: I'm cured! I mean, ouch!
posted by Chekhovian at 12:38 AM on June 6, 2012


Yeah, interestingly there's at least one case of a woman who had the choice between a medication which would kill her in six months, or a disease which would kill her in six months. They paired giving the medication with two unfamiliar things - one was the strong scent of attar of roses, the other was a spoonful of cods liver oil. After awhile, before the medication could destroy any organs, they stopped giving her the medication and just gave her the attar of roses and the cods liver oil.

Her body behaved as if it were still getting the medication, only without the side effects, meaning she got to live.



People who dismiss the placebo effect as some silly, useless thing make me sad.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:49 AM on June 6, 2012


I'd agree that religion isn't technically a mental illness, maybe all their profits were mentally ill, but not the followers.

Instead, you should more accurately characterize religion as memetic "junk" that occasionally creates memetic "diseases", i.e. religion once provided significant survival value, mostly it does very little now, but occasionally it's quite deleterious.

In particular, there are broadly two classes of deleterious consequences of religious belief that I've witnessed : outright injustice and impeding progress.

These should both usually be treated by exposing the deleterious consequences of the religious believe and circumventing them, like say making it easier to escape religious oppressors. Homosexuals should receive a strong preference amongst asylum cases from religiously conservative countries, for example.

Critically, there isn't usually a clear deleterious effect on the religious people who actually perpetrate the injustice or whatever. Yes, they might be happier if they accepted their kids homosexuality, but that's not a mental illness, you should not tell people how to be happy.

posted by jeffburdges at 4:46 AM on June 6, 2012


Step 1: Become charismatic

Step 2: Found a religion

Step 3: Prophet!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:38 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


My bottom line: if, in the face of overwhelming and simple evidence you continue to believe in something so fucking stupid as creationism, you're … fucking stupid.

I don't enjoy the company of fucking stupid people, and I actively and angrily dislike it when fucking stupid people gain power and succeed at making their fellow citizens fucking stupid.

I'm about 1/3rd through the thread. So far, it has yet to convince me that we should be quiet and meek in the face of the fucking stupid.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:03 AM on June 6, 2012


I hate nuance!
posted by Burhanistan at 9:15 AM on June 6, 2012


five fresh fish: "My bottom line: if, in the face of overwhelming and simple evidence you continue to believe in something so fucking stupid as creationism, you're … fucking stupid. "

600+ comments in, you are the only person who has mentioned creationism in this thread. No one has mentioned so-called "Intelligent" Design, either. No one here is suggesting that you or anyone else be silenced, meek or quiet. We've actually spent a great deal of time discussing that in this thread, and whether criticism of religion, atheism and their respective adherents* should be sacrosanct or not on Metafilter. The collective understanding seems to be 'not,' and we've also discussed what types of criticism are more desirable/effective/productive/accurate than others.

You seem to be arguing a straw man that has nothing to do with the original topic. It is barely relevant to the lengthy discussion that just took place in this thread.

Respectfully, I don't think you're helping.

Read the thread, then comment. Please.

* Can atheism even be said to have adherents? Is lack of belief in an idea something one can adhere to?
posted by zarq at 9:41 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't find much nuance in removing factual science from school textbooks, to be replaced with a so-stupid-it's-crazy fairy tales of creationism.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:43 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is lack of belief in an idea something one can adhere to?

Now that's meta...good job.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:48 AM on June 6, 2012


Is lack of belief in an idea something one can adhere to?

Yes, this is fine. Pacifists believe in not using war and violence to solve problems. Atheists believe in the absence of deities or, spun differently "not using the existence of deities to solve problems." Obviously there are many forms of atheist belief and I am oversimplifying but it's totally okay to come together over a shared lack of theism just like you can come together over a shared lack of meat eating a shared lack of hair or a shared absence of children.

I don't enjoy the company of fucking stupid people

Depending on your definition of "fucking stupid" it's possible that you may find that people here fit your rigid definition in which case you will have to make a choice about what to do. We objected to your trotting out the tired [and currently being hotly discussed here] "People who have this religious belief are mentally ill" assertion and we mentioned that this thread was where there was a discussion taking place. If you want to defend your right to jump into any thread and call people "fucking stupid" because you do not agree with your beliefs this may not be something that you are able to do anywhere but MetaTalk and you may need to think about how you feel about that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:50 AM on June 6, 2012


I don't find much nuance in removing factual science from school textbooks, to be replaced with a so-stupid-it's-crazy fairy tales of creationism.

I'm pretty damned sure there were at least two shooters the day President Kennedy was killed.
posted by philip-random at 9:50 AM on June 6, 2012


five fresh fish: "I don't find much nuance in removing factual science from school textbooks, to be replaced with a so-stupid-it's-crazy fairy tales of creationism."

Okay. Agreed. Neither do I.

Why are you bringing it up? Who in this thread is advocating teaching religion as science? Was it a part of the original post on the Blue? Why are you mentioning it here?

I'm asking you all of this because it seems very much like you're engaging in quasi-off-topic axe-grinding. I get that this is the wild and wooly metatalk jungle where anything goes and we can talk about everything. But it seems really out of the blue and perhaps even disruptive to the productive discussion we've been having.
posted by zarq at 9:53 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chekhovian: " Now that's meta...good job."

I was really asking! :)

jessamyn: " Yes, this is fine. Pacifists believe in not using war and violence to solve problems. Atheists believe in the absence of deities or, spun differently "not using the existence of deities to solve problems." Obviously there are many forms of atheist belief and I am oversimplifying but it's totally okay to come together over a shared lack of theism just like you can come together over a shared lack of meat eating a shared lack of hair or a shared absence of children."

Ah. Yes. Okay, that makes sense. Thanks for the explanation.

I didn't want to blithely imply atheists are equivalent to theists. I've seen that rhetorical argument used in Metatalk in the past and it's never sat well with me.

philip-random: " I'm pretty damned sure there were at least two shooters the day President Kennedy was killed."

Han shot first?
posted by zarq at 10:01 AM on June 6, 2012


I don't find much nuance in removing factual science from school textbooks, to be replaced with a so-stupid-it's-crazy fairy tales of creationism.

I'm with you 100%, but nobody brought creationism up in this thread or any of the threads being discussed.
posted by empath at 10:02 AM on June 6, 2012


The Korean thread was explicitly redirected here before it vanished.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:05 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aw, shit. fff, you're referring to the South Korean thread, aren't you? I just looked at my recent activity, and remembered it includes a comment from jessamyn: "[If you have, possibly, missed the long ass MetaTalk thread talking about religion and how we talk about it here on MetaFilter, I invite you to please saunter over and talk with us there. It's almost 600 comments long. That is where you go talk about policy, not here. Also, maybe try to not make racist sounding remarks.]"

I understand what you're referring to now. Sorry. So let me back up a little.

This has been a really long thread, and we've covered a lot of things in depth. Even though this topic isn't a derail, you're still probably going to be better off reading the whole thing before commenting. Because we really weren't discussing creationism before you got here.
posted by zarq at 10:08 AM on June 6, 2012


I'm pretty damned sure there were at least two shooters the day President Kennedy was killed.

I went to the book depository and associated area when I was in Dallas for a conference. Talk about disappointing. After years of breathless history channel coverage you expect it to be this big fucking deal, swollen with importance. Nah its just an average small building on an average street in anywhere America. You go there, and any faith in any of the idea immediately vanishes.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:00 AM on June 6, 2012


Hey, it turns out that if I support Korea in wrecking its education system, I get deleted, too.

Silenced all my life.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:22 AM on June 6, 2012


Silenced all my life.

I'm just glad to see that a 10+ year veteran of the site can still mix it up. I'd sort of feared that eventually the milquetoast-limpwristed-relativist-wenusi eventually got everyone to join the collective and go all "You need to be moar respectful!" or "You're just too young to understand it" on everything.

So don't fear, your good works have not gone unnoticed.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:32 AM on June 6, 2012


Yes, this is fine. Pacifists believe in not using war and violence to solve problems. Atheists believe in the absence of deities or, spun differently "not using the existence of deities to solve problems." Obviously there are many forms of atheist belief and I am oversimplifying but it's totally okay to come together over a shared lack of theism just like you can come together over a shared lack of meat eating a shared lack of hair or a shared absence of children.

I think "atheists believe in the absence of deities" is a bit problematic -- "atheists do not believe in deities" is a lot more even-handed. I also agree that people can come together over a shared lack of theism, but in its widest sense atheism is exactly that: a lack of belief in things other people believe in. Framing it as an active belief in Not-God (whatever that is) leaves out those who don't hold such an active belief, and is hard to do without implying that theism is the default.
posted by vorfeed at 11:39 AM on June 6, 2012


Yeah, in fairness to five fresh fish, shunting off conversation from a different thread into here where it's already been a long and contentious thread maybe wasn't the best thing.

> I'd sort of feared that eventually the milquetoast-limpwristed-relativist-wenusi eventually got everyone to join the collective and go all "You need to be moar respectful!" or "You're just too young to understand it" on everything.

You know, pretty much all you've done is hurl bluster and not really say anything.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:52 AM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think "atheists believe in the absence of deities" is a bit problematic -- "atheists do not believe in deities" is a lot more even-handed. I also agree that people can come together over a shared lack of theism, but in its widest sense atheism is exactly that: a lack of belief in things other people believe in. Framing it as an active belief in Not-God (whatever that is) leaves out those who don't hold such an active belief, and is hard to do without implying that theism is the default.

Atheism isn't a coherent belief system, which is why we constantly have atheists going after each other's throats here.
posted by empath at 11:57 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


He's always been pretty much willing to mix it up. April was my eighth anniversary (though not with the username and I've not been here continuously) and I've been pretty combative and insulting in phases, but I've never been inclined to insult all religious people and think I'm being brave and virtuous.

Creationism, on the other hand, is stupid. Although there are forms which are less stupid than others.

"Framing it as an active belief in Not-God (whatever that is) leaves out those who don't hold such an active belief, and is hard to do without implying that theism is the default."

That's all true and I think those distinctions make a great deal of sense in the context in which we live. I get a little annoyed, though, with atheists who sort of dogmatically assert that atheism is, by definition and necessarily, not an active disbelief but a passive sort of disbelief in the same sense that I passively disbelieve in the existence of amazonian women on Pluto with three legs. In a theist world, my atheism is most certainly an active disbelief. Theism is the default, generally. Not in principle and it shouldn't be. In practice, though, it is. (Though subcultures exist where it isn't.)

I lost interest in parsing atheism/agnosticism and all that in my late twenties or early thirties. I do still find myself very annoyed with, well, all varieties (theist/agnostic/atheist) when they assert that in principle it's impossible to prove the existence of god. I've read a lot of philosophy and theology and although I am aware of some of the theology that asserts this while talking about faith, I'm very puzzled as to why it is that everyone else (especially non-believers of the specific religions/sects that think in terms of "faith" and in this manner) goes along with this. There's no reason why it's necessarily the case that one can't prove the existence of a god. Indeed, asserting that this is necessarily the case is a good way to avoid concluding that there's not a good because god hasn't been proven, despite all the attempts to do so. (Some of them stupid: Anselm, I'm looking at you.) So maybe that's why so many people, even non-believers, assume this — they want to keep the question open. I guess not that many atheists push that line (why would they?) though I feel like I've encountered this (maybe because it's so ubiquitous that many haven't even thought to question it). Agnosticism, of course, can technically be based upon that assumption. But lots of people call themselves agnostics without meaning it in the most technical sense.

It's too bad there aren't any gnostics. (Although Robert Charles Wilson's parallel-world SF novel Mysterium argues that it likely is a good thing they didn't win the argument.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:57 AM on June 6, 2012


So maybe that's why so many people, even non-believers, assume this — they want to keep the question open. I guess not that many atheists push that line (why would they?) though I feel like I've encountered this (maybe because it's so ubiquitous that many haven't even thought to question it).

On the contrary, that's why most atheists consider themselves atheist. Given the definition of God that most religions operate under, you should be able to find evidence of it's existence. Since we can't, God doesn't exist. And whatever God could exist that we couldn't find evidence of, wouldn't be the God that Christians claim to believe in.
posted by empath at 12:01 PM on June 6, 2012


Christians, at least, have pretty elaborate rationalizations why in the past there necessarily must have been empirical evidence for their beliefs but there is none available today. It's very convenient, of course.

But you're not right in your generalization about "the definition of God that most religions operate under". This is another example of reducing a religion to some set of explicit beliefs and then characterizing the entire religion according to that set. While some Christians will claim, predictably, that this makes the others non-Christians, there are Christians who pretty much don't believe any of the explicit claims about historical events in the Bible. I don't think that makes them non-Christians.

By the way, I think you misunderstood what I meant when I wrote "non-believers". I didn't mean atheists. I meant those who don't believe in any particular religion (and therefore aren't bound by any doctrine) but do believe in a generic god. Lots of people want to keep the question open (without committing to anything!) and asserting that it's "unprovable" is a pretty good basis for rationalizing doing so.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:15 PM on June 6, 2012


I'd agree that religion isn't technically a mental illness, maybe all their profits were mentally ill, but not the followers.

Oh for fuck's sake.

DON'T FUCKING DIAGNOSE PEOPLE WITH A FUCKING MENTAL ILLNESS WITH EXTREMELY LIMITED DATA ESPECIALLY IF THE REASON YOU WANT TO DO THIS SHITTY THING IS TO INSULT THEM AND DISCOUNT THEIR EXPERIENCES.

THIS IS A FUCKED UP THING TO DO, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT IS CROSS CULTURAL.

Stop using the mentally ill as your fucking weapons when you want to insult people, especially when you're so fucking ignorant that you think the only explanation for beliefs you don't agree with is that SOMEONE HAS A MENTAL ILLNESS.

No wonder my clients get so much shit if a normally intelligent group of people can have this much fucking bigotry and assholishness with regards to mental illness.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:27 PM on June 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


I get a little annoyed, though, with atheists who sort of dogmatically assert that atheism is, by definition and necessarily, not an active disbelief but a passive sort of disbelief in the same sense that I passively disbelieve in the existence of amazonian women on Pluto with three legs.

I can't speak to "dogmatically," because I haven't seen recent examples of the argument so presented. I do see a lot of attention paid to the 'disbelief vs. active belief against theism' argument in a/theism discussions. One reason, I think, atheists spend a lot of time addressing it is that it is often used to deny atheists their chance to define their own position.

I would describe my own atheism as an absence of belief. I've never encountered a conception of deity that has gained my adherence. However, in personal conversation or in discussions I've observed online, when atheism is presented as such absence of belief, theists often claim that, no, atheists don't lack belief but hold a positive belief against deity. Sometimes this takes the form of "atheism requires as much faith as theism" arguments. In this way, theists try to set the terms and resist listening to atheist positions as atheists make them.

Obviously this isn't how jessamyn used the argument, and atheism can be conceptualized as both lack of belief and active skeptical belief. But that way of framing atheism, "atheists believe in," can function to disrupt productive dialogue with atheists (even among atheists), which is why I like to stick to the "absence of belief" definition until my interlocutors indicate they believe otherwise.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:33 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I get a little annoyed, though, with atheists who sort of dogmatically assert that atheism is, by definition and necessarily, not an active disbelief but a passive sort of disbelief in the same sense that I passively disbelieve in the existence of amazonian women on Pluto with three legs. In a theist world, my atheism is most certainly an active disbelief.

Mine's not. I was born an atheist to (ex-Christian) atheist parents; I never believed in a God despite having free access to a very lovely illustrated children's Bible, several books on world religion, and an atmosphere free of aspersions on religion (and a brother who did become Christian on his own). It was just not an issue in our household. To me it has always felt the same as not believing in wizards, despite having had many wonderful books with wizards in them. The fact that many other people are really, really concerned about gods does not make my non-belief in them an act of positive effort -- I just never bought the idea, and that's that. Anti-theism is most certainly active for me, but that developed much later.

I'm not claiming that atheism has to be a passive disbelief, but in its widest sense -- which I specified explicitly above -- that is what it is. You can consider your own disbelief to be active if you want to, but I see no reason to require that (or anything else save non-belief) of all atheists.

Theism is the default, generally. Not in principle and it shouldn't be. In practice, though, it is. (Though subcultures exist where it isn't.)

I think we're probably talking past each other with regards to what "the default" means. I am using it to mean "something everyone in the world naturally has, which must be actively overcome in order for a person not to have it", not "the most common belief in a given culture".
posted by vorfeed at 12:43 PM on June 6, 2012


"Theism" is kind of nonsensical as a concept, imo.
posted by empath at 12:54 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


To me it has always felt the same as not believing in wizards, despite having had many wonderful books with wizards in them. The fact that many other people are really, really concerned about gods does not make my non-belief in them an act of positive effort

I question this. Wizards (ie: the Gandalf, Harry Potter kind) are clearly fictional characters and nobody over the age of say seven (that I know of anyway) is arguing or believing otherwise. Whereas the fictionality of the various gods and divinities of the world's many religions is very much being argued by all kinds of people.

I can't help but feel that means that it takes at least some thought, some consideration, some will, to not believe.
posted by philip-random at 1:06 PM on June 6, 2012


I takes as much will for me not to believe in god(s) as it does for me to not believe in Atlantis, Robin Hood, Camelot, people stealing kidneys, Bigfoot, elves, yeti, the Illuminati, vampires, Paul Bunyan and Santa Claus.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:27 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I question this. Wizards (ie: the Gandalf, Harry Potter kind) are clearly fictional characters and nobody over the age of say seven (that I know of anyway) is arguing or believing otherwise. Whereas the fictionality of the various gods and divinities of the world's many religions is very much being argued by all kinds of people.

Like I said, this was not the case in our household. I was always a pretty independent/lone-wolf kind of kid, so while I was aware of religion, I didn't really get the extent to which other people were into it until I was at least in late elementary school (for instance, we sang "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands" all through Girl Scout Camp, and it wasn't until much later that it even occurred to me who "He" was supposed to be.) Guess you'll just have to believe me when I say that this stuff was not on my radar as a little kid, except as one thing among many I didn't care about. Hell, at that age I believed in El-Ahrairah, and even then I'd have gladly told you he wasn't really real.
posted by vorfeed at 1:28 PM on June 6, 2012


I'll openly admit that certain concepts of god are plausible, but none of them are so plausible to justify even the handful of behavioral and philosophical commitments demanded of me by their believers. But I don't live in a theistic culture. I live in a multicultural society where "god exists" is not necessarily the central question. In fact, it's a question that's largely irrelevant in many religious perspectives.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:29 PM on June 6, 2012


...I will gladly cop to having had a painfully deep belief in both Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny when I was very small, though. Feel free to lecture us all about the constant effort of will it must take for me to not-believe in those.
posted by vorfeed at 1:31 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


". You can consider your own disbelief to be active if you want to..."

Oh, well, I'm glad I've received your permission. I can sleep much better now.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:44 PM on June 6, 2012


I think the assholeness on display in this thread might support a scientific argument against evolution. What natural advantage is gained by being an insufferable asshole? As pointed out much earlier, this is a very sophisticated and important question. Surely, an asshole would not make for an attractive mate, and as we see here only appears to disintegrate a community and make the tribe weaker. There is little empirical data to suggest that assholeness should have survived within the human source code for so long. This is a big mystery. It must either be an extremely unlikely statistical aberration, or, as unbelievable as it may seem, there is something else at play outside the process of random mutation and natural selection. Indeed, perhaps God has Created our asshole nature knowing that it defies scientific explanation, just to leave a clue as to His existence.
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:47 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh, well, I'm glad I've received your permission. I can sleep much better now.

I said that because I wanted to make it absolutely clear I wasn't speaking "by definition and necessarily", not because I wanted to "give you permission". I apologize if it came off wrong.
posted by vorfeed at 1:52 PM on June 6, 2012


Okay, so I won't use the word "adherents" in the future, to make sure that no one misinterprets.
posted by zarq at 2:33 PM on June 6, 2012


Yeah, it did seem like you were saying something like "well, you're wrong about this but if you insist on thinking this way, I can't stop you". I appreciate the apology. I apologize for being snarky in return.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:22 PM on June 6, 2012


You know, pretty much all you've done is hurl bluster and not really say anything.

And I'd been hoping to bloviate pompously, I'll have to recalibrate.

DON'T FUCKING DIAGNOSE PEOPLE WITH A FUCKING MENTAL ILLNESS WITH EXTREMELY LIMITED DATA....THIS IS A FUCKED UP THING TO DO, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT IS CROSS CULTURAL.

The cross cultural aspect here is really the key that unlocks this mystery. To those Papua new guinea tribesman, it's perfectly natural that any woman that enters their god house will instantly die. They've been taught this "fact" all their lives. They've surely never tested it, I mean what rational person would, from a cost benefit perspective. I've never drunk mercury. Maybe it's awesome, and the rumors about the terrible problems it causes are just lies. But I don't intend to find out...though apparently it makes your sweat look really shiny and awesome.

Now no one is going to call those PNG guys crazy, even though they believe things that make no sense, because there's a cultural framework that excuses their ignorance. But if one of Deoridhe's patients showed up at her office and spouted the same ideas without being a PNG tribesman...is suspect she might diagnose something wrong there.

So people can believe ludicrous crazy assed things without being crazy. Thats the confusion, you the effect of crazy without the cause of crazy. Well maybe from some crazy prophet thousands of years before, thats the first cause of crazy I suppose.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:31 PM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Explanation of the spirit house

The chief deciding if the British Spirit house is safe for their women to enter

The best part is that while the chief is checking out the spirit house, he can clearly see many (english) women in there and not dead. A paradox.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:00 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry about my interjection. I was directed here from the Korean thread.

I will try to avoid describing denial of facts as a "mental illness". But to deny fundamentally true facts like evolution? In a modern society, that is something akin to... well, if the colloquial "crazy" isn't allowed, "stupid" will have to suffice.

I'm open to alternatives.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:58 PM on June 6, 2012


The cross cultural aspect here is really the key that unlocks this mystery.

It's a piece of it, but honestly I remain dismayed and really pissed off that people are using "mental illness" as an insult, especially atheists whose reason for dismissing any form of theism (and insulting theists) is that religion isn't rational.

Diagnosing people as mentally ill with limited data and using mentally ill as an insult isn't rational either. It is an aspect of the same irrational in/out group tribalism people decry religion for, where you insult, dehumanize and objectify the people you don't like.

Take the rationality plank out of your own eyes before going plank-hunting in other people's eyes, seriously. If rationality is so important to you, start it at fucking home.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:13 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm open to alternatives.

I feel like for most purposes it's sufficient to just refer to them as being really, really incorrect. It doesn't have as much snap to it maybe, but if the problem is that they're profoundly wrong about something, then the problem is that they're profoundly wrong.

I mean, I've known sane, smart people who have been from my perspective really really off-base on something, to the point where it boggles me that we're so far apart on what we think is the obvious truth of the matter. People can just be straight up wrong about stuff, even systemically wrong about it if there's a local context supporting that wrongheadness for one reason or another, without needing to muddy the issue by conflating it with references to intelligence let alone mental illness.

I get that it's satisfying to just forcefully dismiss shit with indelicate words sometimes, and god knows I have my moments there as well, but to the extent that it helps conversations here go better and keeps people from instantly losing you and whatever argument you're trying to make, taking more care and skipping that stuff in favor of a more nuanced statement is pretty much always a good idea.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:14 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


The best part is that while the chief is checking out the spirit house, he can clearly see many (english) women in there and not dead. A paradox.

Also, cross-cultural means that the women in the group may be different from the women outside of it. Most tribal/behavior based religions make no demands on outsiders because the rules don't apply to them. Of course, most tribal/behavior based religions also have no concept of faith, and a much more flexible attitude toward the "truth" of their myths.

One really interesting book - Peyote Hunt - talks about the delicate balances the mara'kame is walking when the anthropologist is allowed to come along on the hunt. The myth which dictates how things are supposed to work has a lot of rules; the anthropologist needs to be incorporated within those rules along with the bus and driver he needs to carry his supplies.

One of the rules which really struck me at the time was that a certain item, usually held by the leader, had to go "first." After a great deal of thought, the mara'kame tied it to the front of the bus they would be using (then arranged everyone in their proper "order" including the bus driver). I was fascinated by the respect he held for all of the differing, one might say conflicting, sides and how he developed a resolution that met everyone's needs; I've tried to use a similar attitude when adapting my own religion to modern times and things.

It also reminds me of how on Anthony Bourdain's cross-cultural traveling the camera men and other "invisibles" from our (the viewer's) perspective are visible to the tribes and thus included in welcoming ceremonies (which always struck me as remarkably similar to my favorite religious rite, the Sumbel, which I officiated before I knew what it was).

Who "counts" and is "visible" and what is important varies by context when you're dealing with practical, rather than theological, religions.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:22 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I will try to avoid describing denial of facts as a "mental illness". But to deny fundamentally true facts like evolution? In a modern society, that is something akin to... well, if the colloquial "crazy" isn't allowed, "stupid" will have to suffice.

I'm open to alternatives.


I'm not shy about calling religious ideas wrong, but I don't think you need to call people crazy or stupid. What really drives me up the wall here is when other religious people call people like the Rapture-guy or the snake guy crazy when they hold many beliefs that are equally 'crazy' on any objective level.

If you just want to circle-jerk about how dumb Christians are, though, /r/atheism is always available.

Like it or not, metafilter is mixed company, belief-wise, and I guess we kind of have to moderate our tone a bit. But the conversation about here is leagues better than the shit-show on /r/atheism, probably because we're constantly challenged by religious people here who aren't crazy or morons.
posted by empath at 7:35 PM on June 6, 2012


I just wanted to thank the thread participants before they all go their separate ways. My profile page has been flux since I joined, as I tried to find good jokes for every little bit, but it had never really gotten past the "Meh" stage, to be honest.

Now this:
Occupation: Disgusting Reasoner
Gender: Bluster Hurler

I've been giggling over that free form gender description for the last hour. So once again, thanks!
posted by Chekhovian at 9:02 PM on June 6, 2012


It isn't so much that "profoundly wrong" is the root problem. It is that they coordinate in their denial of fact, to better enact social or political change. That has real consequences well beyond profoundly fucking up just their own life.

I've long thought we shouldn't bother with freakshow posts, be they timecubists or snake-handlers. We don't need to mock the mentally ill, and especially not individuals.

But when a group of profoundly wrong people manage to affect a nation's educational curriculum, I really do think it should be okay to speak plainly and forcefully.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:54 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


"But when a group of profoundly wrong people manage to affect a nation's educational curriculum, I really do think it should be okay to speak plainly and forcefully."

Yeah, I pretty much agree. Which is saying something considering my more general stance on all this sort of thing and what I've written in this thread.

I don't have much of a problem with someone being willfully scientifically ignorant. I don't like it, I think the world would be better if they and those like them weren't, but people are willfully ignorant about a bazillion other things that I wish they weren't and I've learned to live with it.

But when they become aggressively activist and change public education such that they infect other people's children with this crap? Yeah, that's when I stop being so nice about this stuff.

Those of who you who are inclined to the "why should I know anything about those people I don't agree with, like, or respect?" point-of-view will probably think this is nuts and perhaps mock me for it, but almost thirty years ago I took a course at a major public university that examined creationism vs evolution. And it was fascinating, though depressing. It's useful to be familiar with the sources these folk work from, and their reasoning and such. The class actually in the end made me even less tolerant of creationists because the whole enterprise was even more weak and ex post facto than I had thought. It's a cargo cult -- it looks a bit like science, kinda sorta, but it's so transparently a fitting of things to Genesis and then claiming, unconvincingly, that it just happens to correspond to Genesis, it's truly absurd. And this was before the rise of ID, which in its attempts to be more science-like, it just makes it that more sad and pitiful.

But besides the overt, scary stuff from places like the Discovery Institute, having had friends who were variously editors of high school science textbooks, in Texas (which ends up having nationwide influence), a lone individual who's a creationist on an advisory committee and the like can singlehandedly distort what appears in a biology text. (This is a general problem with primary-secondary education textbook publishing, it's much worse of a sausage factory than you might think.)

And the thing about young-earth creationism is that it directly contradicts not just evolution, which is their main target, but huge swaths of other major sciences, too. I don't understand how any of these people can exist in a modern scientific world, denying (though I suspect they don't realize much of it because they're even more scientifically ignorant/uneducated than the general population) so much established scientific fact, without extreme cognitive dissonance. But, as I parenthetically wrote, I guess it's because they actually know so little that they don't even know how much they're denying.

To repeat, though, while I dislike this a lot on an individual basis, it's not that much different from all the other scientific ignorance that I dislike. What moves it into an entirely different context is their influence on public education. I find it very hard to be civil given that reality.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:44 AM on June 7, 2012


cortex: " I feel like for most purposes it's sufficient to just refer to them as being really, really incorrect. It doesn't have as much snap to it maybe, but if the problem is that they're profoundly wrong about something, then the problem is that they're profoundly wrong. "

I agree with this, but the problem with creationism specifically is that it typically isn't restricted to the people who believe it. Creationists (at least, the Christian variety) tend to try to impose that belief on the unwilling in non-religious settings

It's not enough that Creationists believe in something -- many of them feel they must teach or indoctrinate others. And therein lies the problem.

I don't think we should be calling them names and certainly don't think we should be saying they're mentally ill. But at the same time, this is an example of dominionism that reaches beyond a bunch of people holding a self-contained belief. They're trying to teach religion as fact in public schools, and I truly think that's dangerous and offensive.

So if we were talking about a self-contained ritual I'd say it's perfectly fine for someone to say they think people are wrong and leave it at that. But I think Creationism has wider ramifications that need to be taken into consideration. What they do affects the rest of us.
posted by zarq at 1:42 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those of who you who are inclined to the "why should I know anything about those people I don't agree with, like, or respect?" point-of-view will probably think this is nuts and perhaps mock me for it

No no no, only a fool doesn't try to know his enemy. I just get pissed when theists put forth this claim that only people that have studied every little bit of religious esoterica in existence are the only ones that could ever be qualified to criticize religion in any way. Or that some obscure tenant of some minor faith redeems religion in general. Also when angels dancing on pinhead type calculations are presented as real knowledge.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:09 AM on June 7, 2012


I'd agree that creationists are extremely bad, so much so that I've view their religious believes as a social disease, but they are not actually mentally ill themselves. I suppose calling them crazy is a-okay for the same reason that real mental ill people should not usually be called crazy, i.e. crazy is a generic dismissive term.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:23 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those of who you who are inclined to the "why should I know anything about those people I don't agree with, like, or respect?" point-of-view...

Once again, nobody is really saying that. Atheists pretty much all do know something about "those people," either through early indoctrination, or school, or just exposure to media and the people around them. It's not like atheists are doing a "see-no-evil, hear-no-evil" routine, as much as it might look that way to you. Because you find religions interesting and worth studying, but many atheists do not, does not mean those atheists are completely ignorant.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:44 AM on June 7, 2012


> I'd agree that creationists are extremely bad, so much so that I've view their religious believes as a social disease, but they are not actually mentally ill themselves. I suppose calling them crazy is a-okay for the same reason that real mental ill people should not usually be called crazy, i.e. crazy is a generic dismissive term.

In a better world, this comment would be the only one in the thread.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:23 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


But when a group of profoundly wrong people manage to affect a nation's educational curriculum, I really do think it should be okay to speak plainly and forcefully.

I agree more or less. But the points where what you're saying aren't really addressing what I was saying about what you said earlier are:

1. Metafilter is not particularly the place where that plain and forceful speaking is most likely to have some effect on the situation, and
2. "They're mentally ill" is not any sort of effective kind of "plain and forceful speaking" if the goal is to produce some sort of change-making conversation rather than to just vent spleen.

It's way too easy to say, "yes, of course I'm angry, I have a good reason to be angry, hence [unproductive shitty GRAR]" and then when called on the last bit defend it in terms of the first bit. Angry about creeping creationist bullshit in educational contexts? Great! Do something more productive about it than declaring creationists to be mentally ill in a drive-by mefi comment, because that's seriously not any kind of defensible attempt to improve the situation.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:16 AM on June 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


"But when a group of profoundly wrong people manage to affect a nation's educational curriculum, I really do think it should be okay to speak plainly and forcefully."

But that group of people does not equal "religious people". That’s where your problem lies. That’s no different that saying Muslims are terrorists, or Middle Eastern people are terrorists, or Jews are stingy. All of those statements would be defended by many, many people as "just the straight truth", or "what everyone knows but is afraid to say", or "just being honest".
posted by bongo_x at 11:20 AM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


But that group of people does not equal "religious people". That’s where your problem lies. That’s no different that saying Muslims are terrorists, or Middle Eastern people are terrorists, or Jews are stingy.

Indeed. In fact, it's no different than saying that religious people are mentally ill, which is profoundly wrong. I suppose it's OK to speak plainly and forcefully if people who call religious people mentally ill manage to affect a nation's educational curriculum.

But I think it's important to be careful to speak plainly and forcefully against the profoundly wrong ideas, not against the people who happen to hold those particular ideas. I can note that five fresh fish is profoundly wrong on that issue but still recognize that five fresh fish may have valuable contributions to make to society and even to a nation's educational system.
posted by The World Famous at 12:11 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


The thing is, I'm okay with people saying "Canada is stupid about their tar sands" or "Canada committed crimes against humanity in screwing-over the natives".

What my nation does, it does in all our names. Even though I disagree with how the tar sands are being developed, I'm also responsible for what my country is allowing.

I think the same applies in the general sense for many things. When a Creationist Christians succeed in removing science from school, all Christians share a responsibility for it.

I probably should be at the tar sands chaining myself to the gates. "The Christians" should have raised a ruckus about rejecting science. We didn't, and bad things happen.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:52 PM on June 7, 2012


five fresh fish: " I probably should be at the tar sands chaining myself to the gates. "The Christians" should have raised a ruckus about rejecting science. We didn't, and bad things happen."

During the Dover, PA Creationism trial a few years ago, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State acted as co-counsel for the school district. They are run by a Reverend in the Church of Christ, Barry Lynn. Among the people who testified for the plaintiffs against "intelligent" design were Roman Catholic theologian John Haught, who teaches at Georgetown, and a couple of local parents who run a "Vacation Bible School." After the trial, a Baptist group for religious freedom issued a statement supporting the rejection of religion being taught in school as science.

Some Christians do raise a ruckus, and when they do, they deserve to be recognized.
posted by zarq at 8:06 AM on June 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


Correction: Barry Lynn's a Reverend in the United Church of Christ.
posted by zarq at 9:20 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think all of the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller identified as a member of a major religious group. Tammy Kitzmiller herself was Catholic. The judge who decided in favor of Kitzmiller was a conservative Republican.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:24 AM on June 8, 2012


I think all of the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller identified as a member of a major religious group.

I suspect that the percentage of civil lawsuits in the United States wherein the individual plaintiffs do not identify as members of any major religious group is likely quite small.
posted by The World Famous at 10:37 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect that the percentage of civil lawsuits in the United States wherein the individual plaintiffs do not identify as members of any major religious group is likely quite small.

True, but the conservative spin is usually that it's a minority of atheists litigating religious liberty issues in classrooms rather than the larger number of religious people who want their kids to have a good education and few objections to evolution.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:44 PM on June 8, 2012


Ah. That's a very good point.
posted by The World Famous at 1:14 PM on June 8, 2012


During and after the Dover trial, a number of local rabbis spoke out against creationism and then they responded in force when Pat Robertson shot his mouth off after the trial. With the exception of some orthodox and hareidi rabbis, Jews in this country seem to be strongly (overwhelmingly?) against the teaching of creationism in schools in place of, (or in conjunction with) teaching evolution. Wikipedia has a few references.

There was an interesting article that ran on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's wire after the trial. In it, a number of rabbis pointed out that the so-called "War on Christmas" that's often complained about in the media is a symbolic effort by some Christians to force their religious symbols into ostensibly secular, public spaces. However, forcing Christian religious beliefs upon children by teaching them in public schools -- especially in the guise of science -- is not symbolic. It's a much more threatening to non-Christian civil liberty than whether a Christmas tree shows up in a public square, or if someone wishes you Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays at a check-out counter.
posted by zarq at 1:20 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


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