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Please tell me what I can and can't say about religion on MetaFilter. September 14, 2013 10:04 AM   Subscribe

I would appreciate some official, documented clarification of MeFi's policy on conversations about religion—specifically, what kinds of criticisms of religion are acceptable, under what circumstances—and I suspect that others would too.

Is there an official policy on this, or is it up to the discretion of individual moderators?

To whatever extent an official policy exists, what is the rationale behind it?

Is it spelled out somewhere, or do we just have to guess at the law?

I'm asking because, in recent months, the mods have been taking a much more heavy-handed approach to deleting comments and otherwise steering threads in this area—and I don't understand the rhyme or reason of it.

Is it believed (perhaps rightly) that challenges to the legitimacy of religious beliefs will inevitably degenerate into unproductive flamewars?

Does that mean that it's never okay to question religious beliefs on MetaFilter, for fear of starting a flamewar? (And if so, how is that distinguishable from an officially pro-religious editorial policy?)

Is the likelihood of a comment being deleted (or line of discussion being discouraged) proportional to the likelihood that the comment with be regarded as offensive or controversial among MetaFilter's user base?

(For example, certain denominations of certain faiths have beliefs about women, homosexuals, and evolution that are roundly and vocally criticized on MetaFilter—and I've never seen any moderator objection to those criticisms. On the other hand, deletions of comments that criticize belief in the existence of deities are routine.)

Is it that we're allowed to question specific dogmas, but not the fundamental idea that some kind of supernatural intelligence exists?

Are we supposed to assume the same view of religion that's assumed by the FPP? (So in a thread about Richard Dawkins' new book, we're supposed to avoid challenging the atheist viewpoint—but in a thread about a particular church community, we're supposed to avoid challenging the religious viewpoint?)

These are just guesses; I suspect that they touch on the full reality, but that none of them describe it completely. At least, I'll be damned if I can make them add up.

This issue comes up frequently enough that I think we could stand to have some clarifying remarks in the FAQ.

Thanks!
posted by escape from the potato planet to Etiquette/Policy at 10:04 AM (317 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

My eyes started to glaze over about 1/3 of the way through this. Can't we just go with "it depends" as the answer to all of your questions?
posted by Justinian at 10:10 AM on September 14, 2013 [49 favorites]


I would hope not?

I mean, it depends on what?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:12 AM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've found you can say pretty much whatever you like, as long as you're not a huge jerk about it.
posted by ryanrs at 10:12 AM on September 14, 2013 [103 favorites]


It's more how you say it or what's the context than what you say.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:12 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you're allowed to say whatever you want as long as you don't say it in a way that is unnecessarily inflammatory.

For example:

"I bet you believe your invisible sky wizard buried dinosaur bones to confuse us *rolls eyes* #lolchristian" (likely to be deleted)

vs.

"I find it hard to understand how people of religious faith can go to such lengths to adapt physical evidence to their belief system. I would be interested to hear insight from anyone who believes in a young-earth theory here." (not likely to be deleted)

The key, as I understand it, is to show a good-faith effort to maintain a modicum of respect, ESPECIALLY when you don't feel the target of your comment deserves respect.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:14 AM on September 14, 2013 [54 favorites]


Is the likelihood of a comment being deleted (or line of discussion being discouraged) proportional to the likelihood that the comment with be regarded as offensive or controversial among MetaFilter's user base?

That's nearest the mark, in my experience, though the offensive aspect concerned always has far less to do with the commenter's point of view than with the manner in which the commenter chooses to express it.

If you derail a thread to make a gratuitously polemical point that's already derailed a million billion gazillion threads of that nature before, your derail is likely to disappear. This is quadruply true if you do it in an AskMe answer that doesn't actually answer the question.
posted by flabdablet at 10:14 AM on September 14, 2013




Unless I am mistaken there are no official policies but some good guidelines:

Don't be an asshole
Don't attack other users
Avoid as much as possible: ascribing negative behaviors to a whole group of people.

in recent months, the mods have been taking a much more heavy-handed approach to deleting comments and otherwise steering threads in this area

You'll have to be more than declarative for this statement to hold water.

On the other hand, deletions of comments that criticize belief in the existence of deities are routine

That type of comments is not attacking a particular bad behavior, it is attacking a neutral behavior that sometimes have negative causal sub-behaviors, and sometimes positive ones and sometimes neutral ones.

It a nutshell (I think) it is not ok to question overall "belief" as a horrible thing but ok to question certain behaviors that get justified by said beliefs.
posted by edgeways at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I believe to that the extent this policy exists, it falls under "don't be an asshole."
posted by Miko at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


As per usual, I think the general rule is "Please try not to be a douchebag".
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Damn it!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I would hope not?

Well, you're going to be fantastically disappointed. There isn't really any rule about it other than "don't be a dick". Coming into any discussion that discusses religion however tangentially and using it as a springboard for a rant about how stupid religious people are is never going to work. Like, with the Christian canon post today - people might like to have a discussion about how decisions were made about what stuff actually got into the bible and the presentation of the link that discusses that process. Questioning the validity of the Christian religion really has no place there and is a complete derail from that discussion - a derail that we've had hundreds of times and never goes well.
posted by LionIndex at 10:18 AM on September 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


What Salvor Hardin said.
posted by flabdablet at 10:19 AM on September 14, 2013


In addition to not being an asshole about it, it's probably worth considering that a lot of the religious comments/criticisms can be pretty serious derails. So before leveling a criticism you could check the tone of the thread and try to figure out whether you're advancing the conversation or just taking up an issue that's mainly of interest to you and likely to piss other people off and derail the conversation.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:20 AM on September 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yes, don't be an asshole.

But also - stay reasonably on topic, and allow space for more interesting conversations. Some people have generalized things they like to say any time a given topic comes up, regardless of the specific article linked -- this is derailing and leads to rehashing the same old fights over and over. This is true of religious stuff. Around here, generic skepticism about religion can easily drown out more on-topic comments that actually engage with the substance of a linked article - and that sucks, it makes conversations less interesting.

For a long time we have had a guideline against just shitting up a thread with generalized LOLreligion stuff. The exact bounds of this vary a little and depend a lot on context. But it's all in the service of giving threads the air needed to let people actually engage with the linked content, and letting conversations get more interesting than "nuh uh" and "yuh huh".

Just a quick example from today's thread where your comment was deleted, here's an interesting and knowledgable comment in a thread on religion that engages more deeply with the linked content.

If every time anything religious is mentioned, a bunch of people tromp in and take over with "religion! it's so stupid! and hey isn't it silly to believe in an invisible man in the sky!", we miss out on the more interesting comments like that.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:23 AM on September 14, 2013 [29 favorites]


So before leveling a criticism you could check the tone of the thread and try to figure out whether you're advancing the conversation or just taking up an issue that's mainly of interest to you and likely to piss other people off and derail the conversation.

Yeah - very few threads are ever going to be posted to MeFi where the discussion topics "is [religion] true?" or "does [deity] exist?" are germane to the actual posted material.
posted by LionIndex at 10:25 AM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is there an official policy on this, or is it up to the discretion of individual moderators?

As with most things, we have loose guidelines that all the moderators work with and decide things on a case by case basis. Being an asshole is against the rules, generally. If you're doing that because you're being a jerk about religion, its still against the rules. Here are some other rules of thumb that I know that I use....

Going after someone specifically because of their religion is pretty much a non-starter because it's a personal attack. Making sneering comments about an "invisible sky wizard" or derailing threads not about religion just to be a jerk about religion isn't okay because derailing threads is not okay. Showing up in threads that are about religion just to bitch about religion generally is rarely on-topic and is a weird sort of derail that we only see with certain sorts of topics that people hold strong feelings about. Anything that starts off on a "religion is child abuse" foot will generally not last long because it's basically a thrown-down gauntlet fight starter. People who derail conversations with "Well my religion says this is so and it's not really up for discussion" are likewise not really contributing to the discussion. People who frequently judge other people based on their own personally-held religious beliefs will usually be told to stop it.

the mods have been taking a much more heavy-handed approach to deleting comments and otherwise steering threads in this area

This is not a trend I've noticed but it's a thing I might not notice. It's definitely not any concerted effort on our part. Most of the mods here are some flavor of atheist or are more private about their religious beliefs and we try pretty hard to not let our personal beliefs about religion flavor the way we moderate.

Does that mean that it's never okay to question religious beliefs on MetaFilter, for fear of starting a flamewar?

It does not mean that. However members' personal religious beliefs are rarely the topic of threads on MeFi and interrogating single users about their beliefs is usually a non-productive tactic and something we try to steer people away from. Threads about religious topics are specifically difficult here because there are often assumptions that some people want to strongly question and other people don't feel the same way. If there is a thread about religion and your feedback is "religion is fake/jesus isn't real" then it's probably not a discussion you should be involved in. If it's something more nuanced where the absence or presence of doubt or a problem is actually part of the thread, then sure, nitpick away, just be aware that there are people in the thread who may not feel the same as you and we basically want you to be having a conversation with other people, not grinding some pre-existing axe about religious belief.

Also if this is specifically about your deleted comment from today and a question about it, let us know and we can reproduce it here and you can get feedback about it from other people.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:25 AM on September 14, 2013 [24 favorites]


The question was most immediately spurred by my deleted comment from today, yes. I wouldn't mind having it reproduced here for discussion. In particular, I would like to know whether folks think I was being a [jerk|dick|douchebag] in said comment—and if so, exactly where.

Perhaps the reason for the deletion was more the "derail" thing than the "jerk" thing—I thought, at least, that my remarks were sincere and not snarky.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:30 AM on September 14, 2013


Showing up in threads that are about religion just to bitch about religion generally is rarely on-topic and is a weird sort of derail that we only see with certain sorts of topics that people hold strong feelings about.

And yet people do precisely this in almost all hiphop threads with total impunity.

Hova is my deity.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:33 AM on September 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


Is the likelihood of a comment being deleted (or line of discussion being discouraged) proportional to the likelihood that the comment with be regarded as offensive or controversial among MetaFilter's user base?

(For example, certain denominations of certain faiths have beliefs about women, homosexuals, and evolution that are roundly and vocally criticized on MetaFilter—and I've never seen any moderator objection to those criticisms. On the other hand, deletions of comments that criticize belief in the existence of deities are routine.)


Wait, what is the equivalence you're making here? Criticizing beliefs that lead to impinging on others' freedom == criticizing others' spirituality and personal beliefs? Perhaps we should start there, because those are fundamentally different conversations and any comparison of deletions by "likelihood to offend the user base" is not likely to be productive.
posted by pahalial at 10:34 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


here's your comment:

Could we please just this once have a thread about something to do with religion that doesn't devolve into "religion is fake and theists are dumb poopyheads" bickering?

Are we not allowed to question the fundamental premises of ideas that are discussed on Metafilter? Must we approach every conversation with the assumption that the ideas are basically sound? Granted, the main subject here is the actual history of a particular era of a particular faith—but surely a conversation about the history of a belief admits discussion of the belief itself, and surely discussion of a belief admits challenges to the validity of that belief. I mean, if you guys are talking about the biology of dragons, wouldn't it be legitimate for me to opine that dragons don't, in fact, exist, and that the whole conversation is therefore a bit nonsensical? Or am I obliged to stay out of the conversation if I'm not willing to accept the existence of dragons?


I might have axed ECs comment too, but that's a judgment call to me. Your comment should have been in MetaTalk, not in the thread about something else.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:37 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also: if atheists can't jump into a thread about religion and shit it all up (and I'm not saying that's an unreasonable policy), I would be interested to know what made it okay for theists to jump into this thread about atheism and shit it all up.

Please don't misunderstand: I'm not asking the mods to justify their handling of a two-and-a-half-year-old thread. It just seems that there is some material difference between the atheist commentary in today's FPP, and the theist commentary in this atheist FPP, which makes the latter okay and the former not—and I would like to know what it is.

(I quite liked the article in today's FPP, incidentally.)

Criticizing beliefs that lead to impinging on others' freedom == criticizing others' spirituality and personal beliefs?

In the sense that both are beliefs—yes. I don't think that any category of beliefs is, or should be, exempt from questioning.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:38 AM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


the main subject here is the actual history of a particular era of a particular faith—but surely a conversation about the history of a belief admits discussion of the belief itself,

Yeah, no, that first discussion is one thing, the second is another. The "surely" assumption is incorrect, and following the "surely" assumption begins a derail.
posted by Miko at 10:38 AM on September 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


Thanks, jessamyn. To clarify, the first sentence there ("Could we please just this once have a thread about something to do with religion that doesn't devolve into 'religion is fake and theists are dumb poopyheads' bickering?") was quoted from another commenter.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:39 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


surely a conversation about the history of a belief admits discussion of the belief itself

I disagree and would find many conversations less interesting if this was the approach taken.
posted by pahalial at 10:39 AM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I mean, if you guys are talking about the biology of dragons, wouldn't it be legitimate for me to opine that dragons don't, in fact, exist, and that the whole conversation is therefore a bit nonsensical? Or am I obliged to stay out of the conversation if I'm not willing to accept the existence of dragons?

Yeah, in that example I would say you should stay out of the conversation.
posted by pete_22 at 10:40 AM on September 14, 2013 [18 favorites]


I'm not asking the mods to justify their handling of a two-and-a-half-year-old thread.

Then let's not use that as an example. I, for one, have modulated the way I participate in these threads over the years and would not even want my own participation from 2 1/2 years ago to set precedent for how I aim to act now. These threads have largely improved as we've wised up about how to converse about these topics - let's not look backward for help on that. We won't find it.
posted by Miko at 10:40 AM on September 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


The key, as I understand it, is to show a good-faith effort to maintain a modicum of respect, ESPECIALLY when you don't feel the target of your comment deserves respect.

I just wanted to see it written out again.
posted by carsonb at 10:41 AM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it was me that deleted that. Here's what happened - in the thread, there were a few comments in the lolreligion vein already. Then a comment objecting to those. I had been deciding whether to leave a note, but then it looked briefly like the thread was moving away from that derail... then your comment came in and I figured, ok, probably a good idea to draw a line here. Your comment also was fairly meta, as jessamyn says, which means it doesn't really belong there. So - this wasn't a case where your comment was much worse than prior ones, more that it was another in a series, and I wanted to stop that whole derail.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:41 AM on September 14, 2013


Okay. I appreciate everyone's feedback, especially the mods. I think I understand a little better now. Sorry to have been part of the problem.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:43 AM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Although I still think the criteria for "being a jerk" are drawn an awful lot more broadly for religion than they are for other topics...but perhaps that's a cranky MeTalk post for another day :)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2013


I like the inside baseball analogy.

If there's a lively discussion on the interpretation of the infield fly rule or whether designated hitters should be done away with, it shows a little tone-deafness to drop into the thread with a brilliant insight about how the fundamental premise of baseball is flawed, the sport's boring and MLB fans are deluded. Not to worry, where religion is concerned, there's sure to be a post where religion in general is being trashed sooner or later. When you see it, knock yourself out, I guess.
posted by klarck at 10:45 AM on September 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


if atheists can't jump into a thread about religion and shit it all up (and I'm not saying that's an unreasonable policy), I would be interested to know what made it okay for theists to jump into this thread about atheism and shit it all up.

I agree with Miko that the time frame of that thread is problematic for comparisons, though I suspect there might be more recent disparities that could be cited between handling of critical-of-religious and critical-of-atheists derails. After all, perceptions of jerk-like behavior do differ. However, I don't think the disparity comes from any overt, conscious actions on the part of the mods. As with many moderating issues, flagging and using the contact form would seem to be the best actions to tend to any disparities you do see.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:46 AM on September 14, 2013


Yeah, and really the derail thing is equal to the "jerk" thing.
posted by Miko at 10:49 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why anyone would want to escape from a potato planet.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:53 AM on September 14, 2013 [30 favorites]


it shows a little tone-deafness to drop into the thread with a brilliant insight about how the fundamental premise of baseball is flawed, the sport's boring and MLB fans are deluded

Invalid analogy. Enjoyment (or non-enjoyment) of baseball is a matter of taste—there is no "premise" there that can be valid or invalid.

Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are claims of fact—and are subject to the same kind of questioning as any other claim of fact, whether it's the flat-earth theory or the theory of evolution. Claims which correspond to reality will stand up to such questioning. Claims which aren't, won't. It's kind of the whole reason that humans know anything about anything.

If someone says "Nine Inch Nails sure are great, aren't they", I can say "well, they're not to my taste", but I can't say that person is wrong.

If someone says "the fact that dragons exist sure is great, isn't it"—well, maybe dragons exist, and maybe they don't, but one or the other is surely true, even if we don't know which. And the answer to that question is hugely important to any meaningful engagement with the original statement.

Asserting or doubting the existence of deities is not equivalent to "your favorite [sport|band] [rules|sucks]". It's equivalent to "[bacteria|dragons] [do|do not] exist".
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:59 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


And yet people do precisely this in almost all hiphop threads with total impunity.

I fully agree, but I feel like we're seeing a bit of a crackdown on that, actually. cf Jessmyn's posts in the Kendrick Lamar thread, especially here. Now all we need is life bans* for anyone making "oh, I thought this thread was about American football" comments, and Metafilter would be paradise on earth.

*May be an overreaction on my part.
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:05 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are claims of fact—and are subject to the same kind of questioning as any other claim of fact, whether it's the flat-earth theory or the theory of evolution. Claims which correspond to reality will stand up to such questioning. Claims which aren't, won't. It's kind of the whole reason that humans know anything about anything.

Whether a deity or deities exist doesn't fit into this framework, though. There's no way to prove either conclusion, which is why religion is a faith and not a science.

If there's a thread about flat-earth theory or evolution, I suspect the moderation would be a bit more lenient in allowing scientific arguments against religious beliefs (depending on the material in the original post, I guess). But saying "Hey, dragons don't exist, just like god doesn't exist" is not a scientific argument, and even if it were, it doesn't generate anything other than the boring "nuh uh" / "yuh huh" debate that LobsterMitten mentioned.
posted by jaguar at 11:06 AM on September 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are claims of fact

That's how some people tend to see them, particularly atheists, but it's not really how all religious people conceive of their religious practices. I count myself to be a religious person and practice a faith tradition, but I avoid making fact claims as that, to me, is the least important aspect of my practice.

Religion can, essentially, be kind of a matter of taste, too - not to minimize something that for many people is a serious pursuit, but there's no reason you need to treat it differently just because it's not to your taste to, say, meditate daily on the Buddhist path to spiritual freedom.

It's fair to question whether establishing empirical "truths" is the most important or most relevant discussion about anything. I understand that empirical truth is very important to many people, but don't necessarily accept that it has to be so important to all of us that we just stop talking about anything we cannot establish as empirically true.
posted by Miko at 11:08 AM on September 14, 2013 [33 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: "I don't understand why anyone would want to escape from a potato planet."

To return to the Steak Zone.
posted by boo_radley at 11:08 AM on September 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


Asserting or doubting the existence of deities is not equivalent to "your favorite [sport|band] [rules|sucks]". It's equivalent to "[bacteria|dragons] [do|do not] exist".


I don't believe in dragons*. But there are things we could discuss with regard to the biology of dragons--for example, their bodily composition in Eastern vs. Western art and the origins of each. And if I'm talking to someone about this, and you come in and are like, "But dragons don't actually exist!" you are both missing the point of the conversation and massively derailing. I would be suspicious that you were joining the conversation in good faith, and not to just hear yourself talk. If, additionally, the existence of dragons was not only highly debated in our culture, but a highly emotional subject for some people, I'd wonder if you were just looking for an excuse to be hurtful toward people who put their faith in dragons. Because, again, I don't personally believe in dragons, but I can discuss the myth or legend or storytelling tradition of dragons without stomping on anyone's feelings about their existence. I can be respectful of that belief even if I don't partake in that belief.

*Unicorns, though, unicorns are totes real.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:12 AM on September 14, 2013 [71 favorites]


Then you are differently constituted than I. I believe that our respect for a given belief should be directly proportional to whether we, y'know, think that belief is true or not—not on how we think that might affect someone's feelings somewhere.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:18 AM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's kind of dickish, though, if you prioritize your definition of the truth over hurt feelings or even whether your definition is relevant to the conversation at hand. I mean, a big part of the problem here is that you're presuming that people care whether you think these metaphorical dragons are real or not.

Mostly they don't.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:23 AM on September 14, 2013 [41 favorites]


Then you are differently constituted than I. I believe that our respect for a given belief should be directly proportional to whether we, y'know, think that belief is true or not—not on how we think that might affect someone's feelings somewhere.

The Bible (which is what the FPP was actually about) exists, however. It was written. It's still around today. Saying that the Bible exists and was written is a fact, not a belief.

I assume you could discuss the themes, characters, author, etc. of a novel, for example, without making sure that everyone first agreed that whatever happened in the novel is made up?
posted by jaguar at 11:24 AM on September 14, 2013 [20 favorites]


Whether a deity or deities exist doesn't fit into this framework, though. There's no way to prove either conclusion, which is why religion is a faith and not a science.

A: "There's a celestial teapot orbiting the sun somewhere between Uranus and Neptune."

B: "Really? Can I see?"

A: "Well, it's too small to be visible through even our most powerful telescopes."

B: "Oh. So it's been spotted by space probes?"

A: "No. No probe has ever come within visual range of it."

B: "...so its existence is confirmed by gravometric readings or something?"

A: "No."

B: "So what evidence do you have that it exists?"

A: "I have none! What evidence do you have that it doesn't exist?"

This belief in a celestial teapot, too, is a matter of faith. But isn't it also nonsense?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:24 AM on September 14, 2013


This makes as much sense as, "Surely, if we can talk about your preferences, then we can talk about your dumb haircut."
posted by klangklangston at 11:26 AM on September 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


See, now you're being a jerk. And I'm not religious, so you're not offending me personally.
posted by jaguar at 11:26 AM on September 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


I believe that our respect for a given belief should be directly proportional to whether we, y'know, think that belief is true or not—not on how we think that might affect someone's feelings somewhere.

Then you should probably be careful in threads about religious topics and anything else that doesn't have a strictly fact-based outline. I hear what you are saying and I know how that feels personally, but whether you do or do not respect a thing isn't really on-topic in most threads.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:26 AM on September 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


I assume you could discuss the themes, characters, author, etc. of a novel, for example, without making sure that everyone first agreed that whatever happened in the novel is made up?

Can and do. Like I said, I liked the FPP. My last few comments in this thread have been responses to some of the various lines of arguments made here, and don't really have anything to do with the FPP.

Which means that they are derails of a derail. Which means that I should probably call this a day.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:27 AM on September 14, 2013


I believe that our respect for a given belief should be directly proportional to whether we, y'know, think that belief is true or not—not on how we think that might affect someone's feelings somewhere.

Well, according to your own rationale, a belief is a claim of fact, so we should quickly be able to determine whether your belief in not respecting some other people's belief is true. Except we can't, because a belief is NOT inherently a claim of fact except insofar that it is a claim of the fact that the person believes that thing.
posted by solotoro at 11:27 AM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, I know that you were just hatched fully formed from Bertrand Russell's headstone, but almost all of us have seen these arguments before (cf. invisible teapot) and find them fairly hackneyed.
posted by klangklangston at 11:27 AM on September 14, 2013 [53 favorites]


I'm not surprised that you've seen the teapot argument before. I guess I'm also not surprised that you fail to understand the point of it, though I am mystified.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:29 AM on September 14, 2013


I believe that our respect for a given belief should be directly proportional to whether we, y'know, think that belief is true or not—not on how we think that might affect someone's feelings somewhere.

If you want to have a decent discussion, you should be considerate of their beliefs.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:31 AM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm also not surprised that you fail to understand the point of it, though I am mystified.

Litigating the existence of deity is an even worse use of MeTa than using a clarification request as a screen for criticizing a portion of the userbase for belief in said existence.

Ugh, I'm going outside. It's too beautiful a day to spend arguing about something as trivial as the fundamental nature of the universe.
posted by solotoro at 11:38 AM on September 14, 2013 [35 favorites]


Okay, but I have no personal obligation to be considerate of religious beliefs that are directly hurtful to, and are used to cause/promote/defend harm towards, individuals in my demographic.
posted by elizardbits at 11:39 AM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


like, in general
posted by elizardbits at 11:39 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I'm not surprised that you've seen the teapot argument before. I guess I'm also not surprised that you fail to understand the point of it, though I am mystified."

I understand it perfectly well — I was in high school when I first read "Why I am not a Christian." That was about 15 years ago.

Wait, there are people who have already had these arguments and understand all the points you're going to make before you make them?

MIND BLOWN.
posted by klangklangston at 11:47 AM on September 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


ohh that looks so messy though klang
posted by sweetkid at 11:49 AM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dude just needs to spend a few months or so getting his ya-yas out on a webcomic forum or something, then we can all revisit this thread then and have a laugh about youthful indiscretion.
posted by invitapriore at 11:50 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes you are elizardbits, yes. You. Are!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:53 AM on September 14, 2013


It's too beautiful a day to spend arguing about something as trivial as the fundamental nature of the universe.

This is seriously my new favorite sentence.
posted by mstokes650 at 11:57 AM on September 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are claims of fact

Only in arguments between dicks, such as those in which I used to participate with relish as a younger man.

Once you learn that waving your dick about does not impress anybody worth impressing, you'll realize that the only worthwhile religious discussions concern what is to be respected rather than what is.
posted by flabdablet at 11:57 AM on September 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


This really boils down to whether you're on topic or whether you're making comments to show how superior you are.

Comments which are basically "I'm too smart to believe in your religion" are flamebait. Comments which are "I'm to righteous to be a sinner like you" are also flamebait. Don't do that. It diminishes the site for all users.
posted by 26.2 at 12:02 PM on September 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


Please tell me what I can and can't say about religion on MetaFilter.
The answer I've intuited to this question is:
1. Don't perform atheism on Metafilter.
2. Don't perform religion on Metafilter.

Performances are right out, basically. Everything else is fine.

Ugh, I'm going outside. It's too beautiful a day to spend arguing about something as trivial as the fundamental nature of the universe.
Might be a short walk. According to my computer the universe is a spheroid region 705 meters in diameter.
posted by comealongpole at 12:04 PM on September 14, 2013 [15 favorites]


Perhaps you might want to consider what you want to achieve when you break out the celestial teapot business. Is the thread actually one where people are going to be convinced by your argument because they are looking for a new perspective on religion? Is the thread one where people are going to be angry because, for example, we're discussing bias against Muslims and you drop in to make noises about how dumb Islam is? Is the thread one where people want to discuss theology and are just going to be pissed when you start with the atheist routine? It sounds as though you have a sort of "bearing witness" feeling about atheism - like, whatever other people want to talk about and whether your point will advance atheism or not, you must bear witness to the falseness of religion just because. And you want everyone to agree that we will all be witnessed to whenever you feel it is necessary.

This is unlikely to advance the cause of atheism!

I have a lot of beliefs that are fightin' beliefs here on metafilter - I'm an anarchist, I'm a [more or less] vegan and I have a variety of other specific leftish but unusual viewpoints. It would be easy to feel that I need to drop in to the "what should I do with all this lovely bacon" threads to remind everyone that meat is murder, or drop in to the threads about voting rights to contribute that after all, if voting changed anything it would be illegal. But those would be asshole moves! Partly, they'd be asshole moves because they'd be oppressive and thus contravene my anarchist beliefs - I don't believe in a world where the Worthy Teacher is constantly popping in to remind you that you need to believe better. But mostly it's asshole-ish because it refuses to take people's lived experience into consideration. I'm a vegan, for example, because of a particular confluence of stuff about class, race, education, access to food, food anxiety, activist culture...I think I'm right, of course, but the fact that I have this belief is really contingent. Maybe I'd be encountering, say, someone who was food insecure as a child and for whom meat was a big symbol of plentitude, security and love. I, never having been food insecure, am not going to convince that person to be vegan based on dropping a few platitudes. All I'm going to do is convince her that I am so clueless about the world and people's experiences in it and so selfish that I think I ought to be the boss of everyone. My strategies for forwarding veganism are not "harangue people until they hate me"; they have to do with food policy and cultural practice, and they're pretty flexible.

I mean honestly, I'm an atheist and I still like to discuss all that angels-on-the-head-of-the-pin stuff. Not because I think it's true, but because I think it's interesting. I'm interested in a lot of stuff that doesn't have truth value, as are most of us if we're honest about it.
posted by Frowner at 12:06 PM on September 14, 2013 [103 favorites]


Here's where I am: I don't really know what the hell I believe anymore, I just get frustrated by bad faith (or just plain bad) arguments whatever side they come from. I like gracious, thoughtful atheists, and I like gracious, thoughtful believers. I like people who are kind and are making the world a better place. I tend to try to do that in a liberal religious context, but I consider social-justice-oriented atheists my allies, and for that matter, social-justice-oriented evangelicals, at least where our goals overlap. Looking through the gospels, I don't see much of a hard sell approach from Jesus, more of a "hey, this is what we are up to, and if that sounds good to you, you are welcome to join in. Love to have you." Jesus certainly didn't expect all, or even most, people would take him up on the offer.

Regarding the thread in question: we really ought to be able to discuss canon formation without dealing too directly with the issue of whether Jesus exists, and a passing reference to his historical existence shouldn't be enough to dissuade someone from reading the rest of TFA. I think it's a pretty extreme position to say that there was no sort of historical Jesus at all, not even a particularly charismatic but otherwise ordinary itinerant rabbi, but even if you do take that position, it really has nothing to do with church councils 300 years later, which certainly did exist.

I wasn't a big fan of the post itself. I think canon formation is a pretty interesting issue, and is widely misunderstood, both inside and outside the church. (Dan Brown sold a bunch of folks on a really untenable account of the process.) I'd rather see a straightforward presentation of it (and if anyone wants one, Harry Gamble's The New Testament Canon is short, cheap, and good). I don't really have time today to interact in-thread as much as I might like, and I limited my own response to a bit of admitted snark addressing the "I stopped reading after this one line" comment. It feels like I see those more and more often around here, and I don't really understand the attitude that says "I disagree on this one thing, so I'm not reading anything else." I guess that approach keeps you from having your assumptions challenged, and maybe that's cognitively comfortable, but it seems too limited and safe to me. (Then again, I read everything, and don't know what I believe right now, as mentioned before. So maybe limiting my reading would have kept me safe in someone's fold.)

My comment may not have been helpful. Satire often isn't, but I keep coming back to it because I can make a point in four sentences of satire that it would take me a page and a half of straight writing to make. (I used to write a page and half on Metafilter pretty often, in fact, but that was before the "three kids, two jobs, and a doctoral thesis" era of my life I'm in now.) At any rate, I guess the TL:DL version is:

1) I like nice people, whatever they believe
2) I like thoughtful people, whatever they believe
3) I like people who assume the best about people who disagree (which includes not attacking straw-man 'invisible wizard' versions of theistic arguments)
4) Seriously, can't we talk about some narrow aspect of religion (like fourth century canon formation) without having people say "There is no God/Jesus/whatever so POINTLESS for REASONS." Canon formation happened whether there was a God or not. If all you have to say is "I didn't read this and I think it's dumb to discuss it" I seriously don't know why you are typing. Honestly, I don't. I cannot for the life of me think of anything less consequential than which dude caught which ball in which city, except dropping in to sports threads to say how dumb the whole thing is. If it's really that pointless, move on to a thread you like.

I guess that's the real issue. If you want to have a discussion, join in with your questions or information. If you want to say the whole discussion is dumb or pointless...why are you in it? It's Saturday. There's a game on.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:11 PM on September 14, 2013 [150 favorites]


Are we not allowed to question the fundamental premises of ideas that are discussed on Metafilter? Must we approach every conversation with the assumption that the ideas are basically sound?

I agree that this wording would make for a solid MetaTalk post, yet it doesn't belong in many an FPP discussion.

Also, Pater A just knocked that one out of the park.
posted by philip-random at 12:21 PM on September 14, 2013


Threadshitting is not OK. That means no "your favorite band sucks," no "your favorite sports team sucks," no "your favorite god sucks." The blue is full of posts right now that could easily be derailed by arguing with the basic premise, but that derail wouldn't be welcome in any of them.

If the topic of the post is "Is God real?" or "What is the nature of belief?" or "Why do people believe with such conviction things that not only have no supporting evidence, but can never have supporting evidence?" then your questions will be on-topic. But if the topic of the post is "Here's some history about how the book we know as the modern Bible was assembled, with a new perspective". . . then invisible sky wizard lolchristians gotchas will be deleted as the threadshitting they are.
posted by KathrynT at 12:32 PM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the recurring problem that exists on MeFi and in other arenas in terms of religion/atheism discussions is that there are two scales that people are measuring comments on, but many act as though there is only one.
correct/rational . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . incorrect/irrational
and
kind/respectful  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . unkind/disrespectful
It's possible to be correct and kind, or correct and unkind.
It's possible to be incorrect and kind, or incorrect and unkind.

When someone is told they are being unkind, often their response is "but I'm correct!"

When someone is incorrect, others sometimes believe that makes it OK to be unkind in response.

I have been guilty of pretending that correctness is interchangeable with kindness, or that incorrectness is an equivalent sin to unkindness. This issue is made especially difficult when someone is being incorrect and kind, and is thereby doing measurable damage to the world through their incorrectness - that makes it very difficult to respond in a correct and kind way.

It's good to be correct, but there's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:25 PM on September 14, 2013 [30 favorites]


Asking yourself why you, to whom belief is meaningless, have such an investment in the matter of other people's beliefs, can be quite instructive.
posted by pipeski at 1:25 PM on September 14, 2013 [15 favorites]


Your favorite teapot-based thought experiment sucks.
posted by box at 1:27 PM on September 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


From my perspective, it does not offend me if someone does not believe what I believe. I know a lot of people on here who I like and respect who are atheist, or at least agnostic. There are others who seem to feel that they are not standing up for their own nonbelief if they aren't as rude as possible to those of us who are believers. I would very much like it if that second group would reconsider that view.


I would LOVE LOVE LOVE it if all of you came to the same conclusions about reality that I have, but even Jesus said that was not going to happen. God is in charge of anyone's religious epiphany, not me. So those of you who want to be rude? You don't HAVE to be.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:40 PM on September 14, 2013 [17 favorites]


Yeah dude you're really not as insightful here as you seem to think you are.

Especially because you seem to be thinking of yourself as an icy champion of pure rational thought or whatever, and in the process thoroughly ignoring real-world facts such as "religious belief is a big deal in our culture."

And also the sum and total of what you want to add to a discussion seems to be "BUT YOU'RE ALL WRONG" and... seriously, no one cares what you have to say if that's it.

Please reflect on PhoB's comment, specifically as regards the ability to talk about (for example) the differences in depictions between Eastern and Western dragons, and how that leads to questions like "why do we call these very different things by the same name?" and etc. Busting in to that question and going "YO DUDES DRAGONS DON'T EXIST" is ... pretty much valueless, especially since the above discussion could easily be had by a bunch of people that already agree with that statement and don't care because it reveals nothing about the underlying cultures.

Like, honestly? If you're a serious materialist? A religion's truth or falsehood should be largely irrelevant to most discussions because here in the real, material world, lots of people behave as if it's true, and sophomoric strawman dialogues about teapots don't change that fact. The world we live in is shaped by religious beliefs, so understanding them is part of understanding that world.
posted by kavasa at 1:43 PM on September 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are claims of fact

This is so often untrue in religion that it makes me wonder if you know enough about the subject to interrogate its basic principals.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:46 PM on September 14, 2013 [35 favorites]


To the OP-

What truth?
What makes you so certain that there is one distinct truth?
posted by windykites at 1:51 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind that MetaFilter generally is atheism-friendly so the amount of pushback you're getting here should tell you something about how inappropriate it usually is to argue about the existence of god around here.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:02 PM on September 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


> God is in charge of anyone's religious epiphany

I'm fine with you believing that.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:08 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


but surely a conversation about the history of a belief admits discussion of the belief itself,

I am almost certain I learned this via metafilter, but using a word like "surely" in front of an argument is a good indicator that what follows is bunk.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:08 PM on September 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Keep in mind that MetaFilter generally is atheism-friendly so the amount of pushback you're getting here should tell you something about how inappropriate it usually is to argue about the existence of god around here.

I don't know. I think people here are as likely to jump on people spouting tired atheist dogma as they are to object to a statement based on faith. Going into a thread assuming we haven't all heard every side of the argument a dozen times before is to badly underestimate the people you're talking to.
posted by pipeski at 2:26 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Going into a thread assuming we haven't all heard every side of the argument a dozen times before is to badly underestimate the people you're talking to.

Well, there are probably some unique arguments we don't deal with much, but Russell/Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens/Dennett is pretty familiar territory. Bring up the invisible teapot, you're going to get yawns all around. It's fine for what it
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:33 PM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


What truth?
What makes you so certain that there is one distinct truth?


Aaaaand now I'm song virused by the Trial Before Pilate part of Jesus Christ Superstar.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:34 PM on September 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Have you ever really looked at your hand?
posted by Miko at 2:36 PM on September 14, 2013 [17 favorites]


I guess I'm also not surprised that you fail to understand the point of it, though I am mystified.

I completely understand the point of it. I just think it's unimportant.
posted by Miko at 2:36 PM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Argh... Phone commenting....

It's fine for what it is, but it's old and limited. And most serious believers aren't arguing "you should believe this based on nothing at all." In general, they consider the New Testament basically trustworthy. You are welcome to disagree, but there's a world of difference between an invisible God no one has ever seen and an incarnate God witnessed by hundreds. Making God visible and present is the whole point of the Jesus story. Ignore it or argue against it, but please don't assume Russell's teapot is anything like an adequate response.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:38 PM on September 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


I suppose I'm confused by the OP of this thread - the stated purpose was to identify what could/could not be said about religion. The (very reasonable) "don't be a jerk" answer was given in a number of succinct and easily understood ways.

It would seem that should be the end of it, but now it's gone to the OP basically saying, "But having a belief in God means you think it's a fact and I should be allowed to argue that you're wrong!" in a variety of (tired and played out) ways.

So, I would ask the OP - how is trying to force people who accept your 'fact' that there is no God (despite no evidence to support it) not being a jerk? And further, what do you hope to accomplish by campaigning for the right to do so?
posted by dotgirl at 2:41 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are 10 questions in the text of this post.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:44 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


> I think I'm right, of course, but the fact that I have this belief is really contingent.

This is a beautifully succinct version of something I've felt more and more strongly over the years (and sometimes summarize in a joking fashion as "I'm bored by my own opinions"). Our beliefs are contingent, no matter how strongly held; furthermore, if we do any actual growing up during our lives (as opposed to simply tearing off more calendar pages), we wind up changing some of our beliefs, and the more beliefs you change, the less you feel inclined to get up on your high horse and bellow your ideas as if they were Revealed Truth. Oliver Cromwell was an asshole, and I'm an atheist, but I've always loved his "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken."

> I'm not surprised that you've seen the teapot argument before. I guess I'm also not surprised that you fail to understand the point of it, though I am mystified.

You seriously think that anyone who objects to the teapot argument fails to understand the point of it? We all understand the point of it, just as we understand the point of "I'm rubber, you're glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!" Neither is a suitable argument around here.
posted by languagehat at 2:52 PM on September 14, 2013 [40 favorites]


I'm generally in favor of giving people the benefit of the doubt, but in this case I'm having a very difficult time believing this Meta was posted in good faith.

This is the second Meta started by the exact same user within the past few months and it is functionally the same as the first, essentially asking, in just a slightly different way, "Why am I not allowed to lay down some truth on all these fools about religion being a bunch of bullshit?"

Since the question was answered by the owner of the site himself the first time around, I can't help but suspect that this Meta was not intended as the "request for clarification" it was presented as, but more as a chance for the user to complain about the existing policy and to move the "Religion is dumb, AMIRITE" argument to a different part of the site where it was less likely to be deleted.
posted by The Gooch at 2:57 PM on September 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


MoonOrb: generally is atheism-friendly so the amount of pushback you're getting here should tell you something about how inappropriate it usually is to argue about the existence of god around here.

pipeski: I think people here are as likely to jump on people spouting tired atheist dogma as they are to object to a statement based on faith.

It's important not to lose sight of the context-based judgments of whether an argument is a derail or not as was discussed earlier in the thread. I'm not sure it makes sense to whether it is appropriate or not to have theological arguments "around here" when "around here" means Metafilter in general. There are productive threads on particularities of religious belief and atheism that do engage such questions.

As for Metafilter being atheist-friendly or not, again, I have difficulties with site-wide generalizations. How "people here" behave changes depending on context. The anti-atheist prejudices that circulate in the larger culture do crop up here from time to time. For the most part, problematic behavior is kept in check through the moderating here that, I feel, on balance encourages a good range of diverse perspectives. For example, this thread was deleted before it could spiral into a LOLatheists discussion.

There are, though, subtler presuppositions about atheists that sometimes influence arguments here that don't really meet the standard for moderator action but still make conversations more difficult than they could be otherwise. For example, I've experienced having my viewpoints in atheism discussions strawmanned as more strident/excessive/absolutist than the qualified arguments I actually put forward, and I wonder if these misreadings occur in part due to widespread unconscious attitudes toward atheists as strident etc.

but Russell/Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens/Dennett is pretty familiar territory.

Familiar but at times overgeneralized as well. In some discussions touching on atheism, I've encountered resistance to engaging the diversities of lived atheism in the world today, as people prefer to stick with ragging on the devil they know in the Old White New Atheism instead of getting to know the atheisms of today.

Of course, it doesn't help when an atheist viewpoint insists on remaining within the Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens frameworks. However, if not being a jerk is a good goal (and I think it is even if jerkishness is a contested value), then I find it somewhat dismaying that escape from the potato planet's needling on theology (a self-admitted derail of the OP) has provoked some tit-for-tat responses. But then, that's why derails, even the pernicious ones, can prove poisonious to dialogue.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:58 PM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's that difficult to stay on the right side of the line in commenting about religion. I think it's sort of a modification of the cocktail party rule - you should try to remember that you're talking to people and those people have feelings. So if you probably wouldn't say it to someone's face, try not to say it on the blue.

Of course, if you are the sort of person who enjoys being confrontational in person that may not work as well as it might otherwise.

Also, I am an atheist who quite enjoys religion as an interesting cultural product, and it is even annoying for me when people derail threads about it by dropping the Amazing Truth of atheism in them. It's akin to getting witnessed at out of the blue and exhorted to go find Jesus, except on the other side. I don't mind if we don't get to thresh out that argument in every thread that impinges on theological issues - in fact I'd prefer it.
posted by winna at 3:09 PM on September 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Okay, but I have no personal obligation to be considerate of religious beliefs that are directly hurtful to, and are used to cause/promote/defend harm towards, individuals in my demographic.

But you're not being asked to be considerate of beliefs. Believes are intangible and can't hurt anyone's feelings. You're being asked to be considerate of other users who have those beliefs. If we all made the site a place where we gunned for everyone whose beliefs were hurtful to our lives, it would be a constant warzone.
posted by corb at 3:17 PM on September 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


I guess you missed the comment from Brandon Blatcher to which I am directly responding in which the statement "If you want to have a decent discussion, you should be considerate of their beliefs" was made.
posted by elizardbits at 3:52 PM on September 14, 2013


Aaaaand now I'm song virused by the Trial Before Pilate part of Jesus Christ Superstar.

For the past two weeks a guy named Joe has been crashing at my house and I'm more than ready for him to move on down the road and lately I keep wanting to shout "Get out, you king of the Joes! Get out of my life!"
posted by ludwig_van at 3:59 PM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't believe in the body/bicycle dichotomy that most people are unfortunately conditioned to think exists. It's just a fractalizing glittery trail of plasma on the asphalt, is all it is.
posted by planetesimal at 4:03 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


That is so strange. I just remembered I dreamed about Jesus Christ Superstar last night. I dreamed I went to see it in a large outdoor theater venue, and the cast was amateur and largely made up of children who didn't know the material well. Between each song the director had to ask to take a long break so they could practice the next one before they went on again, so there was a lot of downtime for us in the audience.

Not that that has anything to do with the thread.
posted by Miko at 4:04 PM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm feeling some deja vu.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:11 PM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Have you ever really looked at your hand?

They call them fingers, but I've never seen them fing.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:28 PM on September 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


MIND BLOWN.

If nothing good comes out of this thread otherwise, I'm glad that I finally found a larger version of this gif.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:28 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I'm feeling some deja vu."

Oh, man, so he's that guy at parties?
posted by klangklangston at 4:50 PM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm feeling some deja vu.

blessed are the cheesemakers?
posted by philip-random at 4:54 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


blessed are the cheesemakers?

for they shall be called the cheddar of god
posted by a humble nudibranch at 5:13 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I once made a comment of frustration regarding something said in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and my sister noted with amusement that I had no problem with the existence of a two hundred and forty-odd year old vampire, just that what he said was improbable. And I shouted, vociferously, that yes, that was true. I had a problem with the lack of internal character consistency. Harrumph.

I can see no reason to have to agree to the "fact" or reality of a deity to discuss one's opinions regarding it. Beliefs are not facts; beliefs are conclusions drawn from interpretations.

blessed are the cheesemakers?

And philip-random, I'd agree, but I'm The Wrong Kind of Cheese, so I guess the OP might think I ought not share my opinion. ;-)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 5:13 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the spirit of not being a dick (because seriously, it's the first thing they teach you at Don't Be a Dick School) I'll try to swing at this from a slightly different angle from where I've seen others coming from.

1. No matter how assured you are of being correct, others will always be as sure of a different belief. I'm an atheist, and for instance I've always found St. Alia's contributions here to be valuable and considered even though they will oftentimes differ from my own views (whether on religion or politics or what have you.) It is a huge benefit to this site to have those whose beliefs or opinions which might be outside of the consensus here feel welcome to express them. For me personally, it is far more valuable to have a ton of kind and thoughtful members whom I disagree with than to see snarky or facile or tired arguments with which I already agree.

2. If you disagree with somebody on one issue so fundamentally that you feel like so simply can't engage with them, that person might still easily be the most enlightening member to you on another subject. That's just how community works, and especially how it works here. The fact that a site which leans so heavily atheist/agnostic outside of the mainstream is coming out in full force here to ask you to respect the beliefs of believers is really something kind of cool, I think, and it speaks to a community that at its best doesn't wish to drive anyone away (at least not for harmless differences of opinion; it will do so for harmful uncivil behavior, of which I don't think yours has reached the bar, to be clear.)

3. And this one is important to me - Religion is about so, so much more than a truth value that it's not even funny. It is about history, art, world politics, and philosophy, and a hell of a lot of people value it and are curious about it because of those many, many aspects which inform our daily lives and pique our curiosities even if we will never believe in the fundamental tenets involved. As I said, I am an atheist. I was raised Methodist, however, with some time dabbling in Catholicism in my teenage years, before coming to that point. Philosophically I could be described as a secular humanist, with a silly amount of that view informed by Bokononism as described in Cat's Cradle.

Now, do you believe for a second that the fact that I came to atheism erased the effect on my worldview that being brought up in religion granted me? Of course it didn't, and couldn't.

I recall studying Cartesian Skepticism in one of my undergrad philosophy classes, and as we were having fun with it, the professor said something like, "Okay, this is fun, and important to know, but this is McDonalds french fries. We need to move on from this in order to get to the steak, and as long as we keep going back to this we will never get to the steak."

So that's my big argument. It is highly unlikely that you will have a positive effect with teapot arguments rather than a negative effect, and besides, such derails keep us from getting to the steak.

Thank you.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:19 PM on September 14, 2013 [37 favorites]


Is it spelled out somewhere, or do we just have to guess at the law?

The first Law of "debating" about (religion) anything on Metafilter is that you want something that you will not likely get here, it is worth considering that there are not laws, but general guidelines on the site.

The part where it seems 'wrong' (and why your comments are 100% derails to the thread in question, and are really not going to be as 'well received' as you seem to desire (*), is that you think you generated "challenges to the legitimacy of religious beliefs". You seem "proud" of how little you put into "understanding" faith, which explains why your critique is weak; rather the weak wack sad sack physiqued critique tastes like the rude pre-chewed food dudes day old flavor of the week, blessed though it may be to be meek, mild manned isn't a crime, it's an insurmountable peak. Do rhymes on your faith belief get you piqued?
My Unworthy Hands Up To HOV.

But saying others "don't understand"? With the Teapot thing? Or the Dragons? Metaphor and allusion and transferred ideas are useful to help someone who "Doesn't Understand Even What You Are Talking About". They are not actually usable in some sort of "Formal Logic" way, like, it is a ludicrous statement to suggest that "because X is true in my Thought Experiment, X is True". They can introduce a topic, but to see such a "gambit" as if it Quote: "challenges to the legitimacy of religious beliefs". That is such a laughable proposition that it isn't even wrong.

Every atheist has heard it and many find it tedious repetitive sophistry(!), and, conversely, the weakness of the provided critiques make the religious person think... really, that is the "best" argument you have? Some appeal to ("your own") "belief" in the need to "prove" "Belief", that is then not even backed up by more than a wishy washy "analogy", and a statement of a Belief as Truth? So you did nothing to reframe the non-believers views, nor to shake up the believers view. And you drive a climate that makes the other non-religious folks chatting nearby you come off as intolerant, and so they will likely criticize your argument, for leaving it alone weakens their positions by proximity yours, should they remain, or remain unchallenged. Again; making a thread about how you abstractly "feel" about a tangential topic is rarely conducive to a discussion. Especially if your "feelings" may be boiled down to a simmering bland boulliabasic-broth of "Idiot Blind Fools! My belief is Truth".

The religious have heard it from the intolerant amongst them, as has the atheist. Tolerance is not weakness, it is how you can calm two factions to talk till death, rather than wield gilded sword and shield.

One might wonder if you can perhaps sympathize with a proselytizing religious person; the need, the absolute desire, the entrenched *Belief* that you must state your beliefs (on belief), and not just to state them, but to attach a value/virtue judgement upon those not willing/not interested in following your chosen belief system.

The "atheism" thread that you seem to see as being religious folks jumping in and lol-atheist'ing/derialing is, if read closely, largely self-described Atheists who are generating criticisms, and defences, and, generally, thoughtful back and forth's, and yes, religious people can comment in threads on atheism, and non-religious folks vice-versa (not to mention "old thread is different" factors). Which... yeah, you know who will be quickest to break apart, and find flaws in a weak argument (InFRAcultural critiques hold water). Glittering generalities (and the sort of inTERcultural critique you want to get plaudits for are easy cover for deeper and larger biases and prejudice (coming from all directions), which generally miss the point of dialogical discussion.

People from inside a particular community are who need to be listened to, when they speak up, in defence, or criticism; that (I believe) is where you will find lasting, and strong, yet loving and understanding critiques. People of faith have generated some of the most thought provoking critiques of religious practices/actions/powers; and concurrently, atheists are some of the most ruthless critics of WeakSauce "anti-theist" stuff.

Infracultural critiques change peoples views, outsider aggression... changes nothing and builds false wedges between folks. I could name users who have shared insights into communities that they are members of which have acted to refine critiques of those very communities, but which do not seek to tear down or destroy those communities, but rather, to reform, to build tolerance within those communities, to hold those communities to the highest standards, rather than some abstruse standard of critique like "User X doesn't believe that deities make sense", but I don't really want to single them out, or shine spotlights on their (often very personal) comments.

But as noted before, and in other comments; your comments aren't "offending" religious users... people who are religious are reading your critique and wondering why you believe they are so powerful, it is offensive (if to anyone at all), to atheist and religious critics of institutional power structures, and religious powers. (*)If anything is "offensive" it is your low view of fellow critics of faith; that they "don't understand", rather than simply not agreeing with your, again, BELIEFS about truth, about "discussions", and about the importance of tolerance, and the importance of the feelings of those you (seem to) want to be in dialogue with. But really, offence is pointless, racists get offended at things all the time, offence is often regarded as secondary to harm. Harming discussions, harming the freedom of conscience generally considered to be afforded in Western society, etc.,

Your belief is frustrating because the same sort of divisive self-rightous certainty is all too familiar to religious minority groups who face oppression by other religious (or supposedly secular) power structures.

Grand "critiques" of sweeping, and glittering generalities bother me because hey, why should someone with insider knowledge, insights and (likely) critiques that 'you' (I, or the Observer) could not come up with from "feelings about a topic" or even "general knowledge" about the topic, bother to participate, when a swamp of the sort that praises "outsider" general "sweeping blows", and they could provide insights about the inside that might actually be something that could reframe issues for other people looking to develop higher level critiques.

I mean lol-troubles with polycultural modernity, amirite.
posted by infinite intimation at 5:40 PM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


The "atheism" thread that you seem to see as being religious folks jumping in and lol-atheist'ing/derialing is, if read closely, largely self-described Atheists who are generating criticisms, and defences, and, generally, thoughtful back and forth's, and yes, religious people can comment in threads on atheism, and non-religious folks vice-versa (not to mention "old thread is different" factors).

Interesting. That was my impression as well.

escape from the potato planet: " Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are claims of fact

Many people have responded to this statement quite eloquently upthread, but I'd like to also note that this is not true for my beliefs. I suspect but am not certain that it is probably not true for many other Jews on MeFi as well. We're a diverse group, with many different degrees of belief and observance. And a cultivated and thriving skepticism is an inherent part of our religion.

A friendly suggestion: be careful when generalizing theists and religion. Not all of us are Christians. Nor are we easily pigeonholed into neat categories.
posted by zarq at 6:47 PM on September 14, 2013 [15 favorites]


Is it spelled out somewhere, or do we just have to guess at the law?

Not to act like animals, that is the law!
posted by octobersurprise at 6:50 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


And a cultivated and thriving skepticism is an inherent part of our religion.

Yes, as seen in the book of Job, which is all "Really God?" Plus a million other things I have read/experienced about Judaism (as an outsider).
posted by sweetkid at 6:52 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The study of religion is a huge, broad area that encompasses a lot more than "Does God exist?" and "Here's what MY FAITH THE RIGHT ONE tells you to do." The discussion was about historical-critical study of the Bible and related literature, specifically canon formation. It wasn't even REMOTELY about whether God exists or not, and the fact that you think it was is a little puzzling. Whether or not you think God exists, there is a body of Judeo-Christian literature from particular eras in history, some of which became "scripture" and some of which did not. There was a process that occurred at a specific point in history by which some of this literature was accepted into canonical scripture and some was not. The collection of this literature that we call "The Bible" has had ENORMOUS impact on history, literature, philosophy, etc. How a particular subset of Judeo-Christian literature came to be included in "The Bible" is a fascinating discussion in and of itself, because "The Bible" has been a primary text (if not THE primary text) of Western civilization for almost two millennia, influencing people and ideas and actions. Whether or not God exists is basically entirely orthogonal to the historical-critical study of the Bible and its related literature.

Since we're using metaphors, it's sort-of like you stumbled into a cocktail party conversation between two molecular biologists having an animated discussion about, I don't know, DNA transcription and cell differentiation in the blastocyst stage of mammalian reproduction, and you said, "HEY GUYS, DOGS LIKE TO HUMP THINGS, AMIRITE?" You've brought an interesting conversation to a standstill, and everyone is embarrassed for you because you think you're adding something really interesting to the conversation the biologists are having, and you don't even know enough to know you're not remotely on point. I mean, okay, sure, you're in the same general ballpark as they are -- you're both talking about sexual reproduction. But you're not adding anything to the conversation, and in fact you're either really ignorant or you're aggressively trying to derail their discussion.

I, like most people who've studied religion or theology, understand that people are interested in the topic and often uneducated, and when people really want to talk about "Theology 101" I don't mind in the least. But when people come in and are like "GUYS WHAT YOU DO IS STUPID GOD DOESN'T EXIST I KNOW THIS BECAUSE I READ A COUPLE POPULAR PRESS BOOKS" and are all smug about how they've demolished religion logically, it's just incredibly tedious. Incredibly tedious. I have heard your arguments 500 times before. They argue from a position of ignorance while claiming greater knowledge. They set up strawmen that a college freshman who's actually taken Theology 101 could explain away. It's just exasperating.

"God doesn't exist, we shouldn't talk about this" isn't remotely an answer to "Let's talk about the historical process of canon formation!" I mean, honestly, you're saying you should get to point out when ideas aren't sound -- "Must we approach every conversation with the assumption that the ideas are basically sound?" -- but you seem to have no idea that you're the one jumping into a historical-critical conversation and apparently dismissing the historical process of canon formation, or the importance of the Bible as a text in Western history, or I don't even know what.

If you want to say "Everything Catholicism believes is stupid," whatever, that doesn't really upset me. If you want to say, "You're stupid for believing in Catholicism," that makes me roll my eyes, but that's fine. When you're like, "Studying the history of Catholicism in the middle ages is pointless because God doesn't exist," well, one of us is having a problem interfacing with reality, and it isn't the one of us who believes in a magical sky ghost talking to Roman guys in funny hats.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:52 PM on September 14, 2013 [76 favorites]


I'm not surprised that you've seen the teapot argument before. I guess I'm also not surprised that you fail to understand the point of it, though I am mystified.

In case you are wondering, this statement makes you sound like an arrogant ass.

There are many smart people on this site, and a staggering diversity of experience. Abandoning the premise that you are the smartest person in the room can only benefit you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:54 PM on September 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


but Russell/Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens/Dennett is pretty familiar territory.

Most of us with an interest in such things have seen the various discussions on YouTube and the like. But when Chris Hayes (himself the son of a Jesuit) hosted a panel of atheists on his show on the topic of dealing with the inappropriate privileging of religion in science education and in the public sphere generally, one of the results was pretty remarkable: a basically unanimous "Don't be a dick, Professor Dawkins" from all present.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:13 PM on September 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


> This is unlikely to advance the cause of atheism!

I'm of two minds here. I used to be a live and let live sort of guy, and didn't really give much thought to what others chose to believe. God was like baseball to me. Something I didn't much care about in any way. I figured it was mostly harmless and probably a factor for good at the end of the day, and in the event people were wasting their time and money...well, it was theirs to waste. So this idea of advancing a cause seemed dumb to me. I have a friend that is a militant atheist and he's out for conversions. I used to never understand this. Why be vested in the idea of getting people to join your club that's centered around something not existing?

I've had a lot of interaction with religion in my life. Religious studies was my minor in college. I had a decade perfect attendance pin for church and attend for another decade and a half after. I was confirmed. I am a hobbyist when it comes to religion and mythology and have studied many religions both extinct and extant. I've accessed some of the best biblical concordances and papers (both religious and secular). I've been to services for all the Abrahamic religions (and can fine tune that to denominations if need be) and many other world religions: American Indian ceremonies, Shaker/Quaker and Amish, Mormon, Hindu, etc. I've also done the whole meditation/yoga, Buddhism/Eastern religions thing.

I've never been religious. I hid this for 30 years. I was raised religious. I attended church, went through the motions, performed my rituals, and kept my head down.

At some point in the last decade my opinion on religion started to shift. I started to see it as an immoral and dangerous thing. The Catholic sex abuse coverups. Muslim extremists threatening artists, stabbing a filmmaker, and flying planes into buildings. Christians burning mosques. Muslims burning churches. Genocide and pogroms and suicide bombs. Genital mutilation, babies getting herpes from a Rabbi. Oppression of women and gays. Government officials answering only to their religion. Tibetan monk murders and murderous monks, ritual suicides, etc. I could go on all day and I haven't even bothered with cults.

I'm still mostly a live and let live sort of guy, but not if you're a member of a group that isn't. If you are a member of an organization that promotes hatred and bigotry I think there's a moral imperative to call out bullshit especially if it's institutionalized bullshit. I don't care if this is in a church, a tech conference, a skeptics community, a hate group, mens' rights group, etc. Excuses need to stop and people need to speak up.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." —Edmund Burke

> If you want to have a decent discussion, you should be considerate of their beliefs.

Only if those beliefs are worthy of consideration. Most religions build in a defense against being challenged: the persecution complex.

I know it's easy to conflate a religion with the actions of it adherents, but often that distinction doesn't much matter to me. If you are a member of a group that engages in oppression you can be a perfectly upstanding citizen, but you are still perpetuating an institution designed to reward only a select few.

I also know that there's a lot of shitty things done by non-religious people, and a lot of shitty things done by religious people that have nothing to do with religion. I'm all for calling these people out as well.

I know it can get onerous, but at the end of the day nothing will changed if it goes unchallenged.

It's late, so I'll take my answer off the air.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:16 PM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


What sort of loving God would create a universe where tea pots and neti pots were so easy to confuse?

*Disinfects mouth again*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:31 PM on September 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Okay, look - cjorgensen, you do indeed make good points about how people have used religion to drive some pretty heinous public policy, and those public policies should indeed be called out.

What I'm not understanding is - exactly how does a discussion about "how certain specific scriptures were selected as being canon in the year 400 AD or so" connect to these issues? And how does Making A Stand about religion in what is pretty much an inside-baseball discussion advance that particular cause?

Because from where I'm sitting, interjecting a statement about The Evils of Religion into a discussion about how the canonical scripture was selected sounds kind of like interjecting into a discussion between two cheesemakers about what brand of rennet was best with a statement about how many people suffer from lactose intolerance or something. It's not an incorrect statistic, and it is a statistic worthy of discussion, it just....doesn't really fit in a conversation about Brand X vs. Brand Y of rennet.

At the very least, I think people need bigger hints as to why a given particular discussion relates to these complaints. Otherwise it just feels like you've got this weird sort of Bat Signal that goes up whenever anyone says the word "religion" or "God" or "church" or something that makes you come in with a prepared speech.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 PM on September 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


They call them fingers, but I've never seen them fing.

Oop! There they go.
posted by like_a_friend at 7:43 PM on September 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


If you are a member of a group that engages in oppression you can be a perfectly upstanding citizen, but you are still perpetuating an institution designed to reward only a select few.

That covers pretty much everyone in the developed world, and quite a few in the developing world. So maybe we can just take that as a given, and only point it out when the individual in question is actively oppressing someone else?
posted by jaguar at 7:43 PM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm a religious person, and I agree that human institutions have many flaws which can become dangerous. All human institutions.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on September 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


At some point in the last decade my opinion on religion started to shift. I started to see it as an immoral and dangerous thing. The Catholic sex abuse coverups. Muslim extremists threatening artists, stabbing a filmmaker, and flying planes into buildings. Christians burning mosques. Muslims burning churches. Genocide and pogroms and suicide bombs. Genital mutilation, babies getting herpes from a Rabbi. Oppression of women and gays. Government officials answering only to their religion. Tibetan monk murders and murderous monks, ritual suicides, etc. I could go on all day and I haven't even bothered with cults.


If you are not religious, then you must realize that they do these things because this is just what people are like. We're all good Darwinists here, and none of us can kill the monkey inside.

I mean, I don't want to be a totally Debbie Downer. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, humanity is the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape. But you need not believe in God to be a millenarian; Marx was. Baukunin was. God knows what Nechayev was, but he gave us the terror cell. Milton tried to explain God's cruelties as justice; if there is no god then the cruelties are all ours, and need no justification. This is the hubris of atheism, to think if only we could talk people out of God we'd all be lovely. Nature the blacksmith has been at the anvil for four million years; the bastard bits have been hammered and folded and fired and hammered again, a mere bit of spit and polish ain't getting them out. They're probably what gives the ability to hold an edge....
posted by Diablevert at 8:27 PM on September 14, 2013 [15 favorites]


Otherwise it just feels like you've got this weird sort of Bat Signal that goes up whenever anyone says the word "religion" or "God" or "church" or something that makes you come in with a prepared speech.

Maybe it's just my experience with MetaFilter lately, but this doesn't seem all that weird. From Jonathan Franzen to EVE Online to Penny Arcade to whatever else it does seem like there's a lot of "batsignal" type responses around here (and yeah, I'm probably just as guilty of it myself). If we're trying to cut down on them, great, I'm trying to do my bit with varying levels of success, but it doesn't really seem like a cjorgensen problem.
posted by ODiV at 8:27 PM on September 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


I spent a long time being nonreligious. I trained formally as a scientist and was raised athiest.

It wasn't until I encountered some things that sort of fell outside of the athiest systems of belief that I found another path.

This doesn't make me any less able to do science. I know the arguments, the hypotheses, the theorems.

What really bothers me, though, is the zealotry that many skeptics come to the discussion about religion with. A lot of skeptics are actually ignorant of the scientific process. I've spoken with some folks who sound very vehement and certain of skepticism who are not actually aware of the incompleteness of scientific knowledge and the incompleteness of knowability.

I guess it sort of derives from actually having done science and for being paid to be a scientist - I know the behind-the-scenes of actual research science. I know what scientists do to know stuff, and I am aware enough of scientific method and practices to know that it's not always as rigorous a process as we all suppose.

What I do wish I never hear again, though, is the "Do you believe in the tooth fairy too?" question in a sarcastic tone from another skeptic.
posted by kalessin at 8:50 PM on September 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


there's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.

Ugh, speaking of hackneyed.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:22 PM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Speaking of unkind.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:25 PM on September 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


Fish fingers fing fish.
posted by planetesimal at 10:47 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or do they?
posted by planetesimal at 10:51 PM on September 14, 2013


How many fish could a fish finger fing if a fish finger could fing fish?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:15 AM on September 15, 2013


I'm super late to the thread, and lots of people have already said what I'd say more eloquent than I would have. So I'll just chime in as one more religious person whose religious beliefs are not necessarily claims of fact. It just doesn't work that way for me.
posted by The World Famous at 12:37 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


> This is the hubris of atheism, to think if only we could talk people out of God we'd all be lovely.

I've never heard that opinion expressed by a single atheist before. I have the inpression that most atheists seem to feel that it works for them, and maybe that it wouldn't hurt if others felt the same; I've never heard of the idea that not believing in gods would make us flawless.

Personally I don't feel that being an agnostic makes me a better person. It just makes me a more free person (in my view). And it happens to be what I am.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:06 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


> This is the hubris of atheism, to think if only we could talk people out of God we'd all be lovely.

I've never heard that opinion expressed by a single atheist before.


I've certainly heard it implied ad nauseum -- religion being the primary evil in the world (yada-yada-yada).
posted by philip-random at 1:27 AM on September 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


Anger in ignorance is really, I think, metafilter's greatest vice

I am a molecular geneticist who tries my best to engage in threads on biology that mefites as a whole feel strongly about but have a generally very shallow understanding of, and I see this this thread as a function of a few of the problems I also see there. Sometimes really engaging with core aspects of a topic and having something interesting to say about them really does require at least an undergraduate level understanding of immunology, or product pipelines in the pharmaceutical industry, or statistics, or how to read a scientific article, which all but a few of us do not have. However, with many of these topics there are always at least a few users who, instead of discussing the things they know, discuss the things they plainly don't know in an authoritative tone. It represents a reversal of something fundamental to the honest practice and communication of science, where it is all about finding ways to feel smart - smarter than everyone else - whereas as good scientists are constantly finding new ways to feel stupid - pushing themselves to the edge of knowledge where they know nothing and no one can help them. So we get people who believe that the cure for cancer is readily at hand but suppressed by greedy and incompetent scientists quoting wikipedia at cancer biologists, people who believe that GMOs are inherently toxic arguing with molecular biologists, and people who believe in various Chronic Lyme Syndrome folk etiologies yelling at microbiologists. It results from a fundamental mismatch in levels of knowledge and a strange seemingly desperate need to say something.

In religion threads we often have people who conspicuously know nothing about interesting, complex, and deep topics like canon formation feel what I think is roughly the same strange desperate need to engage anyhow with shallow evangelism for their poorly examined view. I don't think that going over poorly is really a sign that anything is wrong.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:54 AM on September 15, 2013 [28 favorites]


I read much less comment on slashdot.org now but my tagline there remains :

"The Christian religion .. has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world." -Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian

Russell wrote that in 1927, well before MLK's civil right's movement. I've no idea if he restricted his criticism to Christianity in difference to Gandhi or just because European atheists spoke about what they knew then.

In context, Russell isn't literally saying "the plebes must give up god", but "the priests always oppose social progress". Atheists like Russell want religious organizations to pay a high price for opposing social progress to at least inoculate everyone against their bigoted bullshit.

Example : Both Women's rights and Christian denominations weave long complicated trails through American history, which courses cover extensively. Yet, we omit how most feminist movements have been atheist almost by necessity. Elizabeth Cady Stanton remained an ardent atheist throughout her working life. Susan B. Anthony went from a quaker to an agnostic. etc. etc. etc. Conversely, we rave about how Christian the Civil tights movement was.

You should criticize religion quite harshly whenever you encounter it acting as an agent of injustice, social control, etc., but : Avoid criticizing the involved believer directly because attacking people directly makes them defensive. Connect past religious abuses with the current injustice, because most believers at least acknowledge past abuses. Connect the worst aspects of the current injustice with the religion, because people often acknowledge a clear injustice.

There are plenty of sane believers who'll simply back down from unjust beliefs when they realize the threat it poses to their belief system. Just witness all the moderate priests coming out in favor of gay marriage now.

Russell's quote essentially laments this process cannot move more quickly, singling out religion as the principle agent slowing it. Realistically though, any class to whom so many people "subcontracted their sense of morality" would probably turn into an agent of social repression eventually.

There are plenty of Christians who do not "subcontracted their sense of morality" to Christian authority, but they never cause problems for social progress. Don't complain about folks like Jimmy Carter!
posted by jeffburdges at 5:53 AM on September 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


If we're trying to cut down on them, great, I'm trying to do my bit with varying levels of success, but it doesn't really seem like a cjorgensen problem.

It's not; I did indeed mean a more collective "you" ("you" being "the group of people who come into religious threads to make antitheist statements"). But I do apologize if it sounded like I was blaming cjorgensen for it all; the most vocal people I'm thinking of who do this aren't even in this discussion.

But I agree yes - it's just like the "your favorite band sucks" comments. Or the "don't forget John Lennon beat his wife" comments in a Beatles thread or "don't forget Pete Townsend got investigated for child porn" in a thread about Quadrophenia or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:33 AM on September 15, 2013


As for Metafilter being atheist-friendly or not, again, I have difficulties with site-wide generalizations. How "people here" behave changes depending on context. The anti-atheist prejudices that circulate in the larger culture do crop up here from time to time. For the most part, problematic behavior is kept in check through the moderating here that, I feel, on balance encourages a good range of diverse perspectives.

Yeah, I can think of few places, other than with small groups of friends, where I can say "I'm an atheist" without causing at the very least uncomfortable silence and at the worst people trying to convert me (usually people have to good grace to try that in private some days later, but I've had some guy witness to me at a birthday party), and Metafilter is one of them.

Just like as an atheist I'm expected to not go out of my way to be insulting (which, OP, is exactly what comparing someone's religious beliefs to various fairytale creatures is) and not derail the conversation (Which is what changing a conversation from the history of a religious text to a broader discussion of theism vs. atheism is), theists of all stripes are asked the same. Atheists here are given the same (official) consideration for their beliefs and theists. Not being rude and insulting is a small price to pay for being able to talk about atheism openly.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:38 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos, cjorgensen's actual comment in the original thread was a pretty unobjectionable response to paulsc's "I guess if you get at least some of your jollies dissing religion" comment. And it's worth remembering that thread was about an article satirizing early Christian theological disputes.
posted by nangar at 7:18 AM on September 15, 2013


This is a beautifully succinct version of something I've felt more and more strongly over the years (and sometimes summarize in a joking fashion as "I'm bored by my own opinions"). Our beliefs are contingent, no matter how strongly held; furthermore, if we do any actual growing up during our lives (as opposed to simply tearing off more calendar pages), we wind up changing some of our beliefs, and the more beliefs you change, the less you feel inclined to get up on your high horse and bellow your ideas as if they were Revealed Truth.

Ironically for this thread, of course, this truth – that for all our efforts, we will only ever reflect but a facet of the reality we belong to, and a skewed, flawed facet at that – is at the heart of why people form religions, and why religion is still such an important part of the human condition to this day.

I'm an atheist. Started doubting at 11 or 12, lucked out and had the world's best rabbi so when I was 13 and preparing for my bar mitzvah I asked her "Does it make me a bad person if I don't think God exists?" the response was "No, not at all! And the community we have at this synagogue matters much, much more than any arbitrary adherence to belief. You will always be welcome here." And I have been.

Went through my teenage years, struggled with misery and depression, kept convincing myself that all of my problems involved me not being an awesome enough person. This climaxed when I (self-)published a novel in my senior year of high school, and the world failed to kneel before my feet. And a week after I published, I had to accept the awful, awful fact that no matter what I did with my life, I would never cease to be myself. I would never become that flat, pixelated smiling face I saw people wear on TV. I'd be a person for whom years consisted, not of press releases and carefully edited trivium, but of months and weeks and days and hours and minutes. For a long time, the book I've been writing for the past few years revolved around the crucial line: there is no escape. Because there isn't. (The line has since been improved.)

I lucked out in my choice, freshman year, to randomly take a course on world religions, taught by a guy who was determined to hammer into our heads the notion that religion is not about God. Religion often involves a God, sure. But sometimes that God is a person and sometimes it's several and sometimes the multiple Gods are actually just aspects of human existence and sometimes God is simply a metaphor for describing "that which IS and cannot help to BE" because saying a phrase that long every fucking time can start really sounding like a drag. And in some religions, of course, you do have to say a phrase that long every fucking time, because to shorten it would be to possibly forget what the hell God actually is, which happens a lot anyway.

Religion is not about God. Religion is about understanding patterns in human experience. We're not talking psychology, "this is why people are like this"; religion is more about the fact that certain patterns exist, and that there are certain ways for you to combat the shitty things that happen when you fall into these patterns. It's like self-help or AA, both of which have blatant religious undertones to them, except that all the major religions have had thousands of years to grow and as a result are tremendously subtle and powerful examinations of what it means to be human, what makes us unhappy (and what we do that makes others unhappy), and what behaviors bring us fleeting pleasure at the expense of longer misery.

Obviously many of these things are up for debate, and the dogmatic adherence to very, very simple definitions of these things is why some religious people say and believe some truly awful things, but that's a problem with the institutions that house religion, not with religion itself. Ironically, many religious institutions forget that social organizations, seeing as they reflect the humans that made them, are similarly limited and ignorant for all they've had many thousands of years to grow, and they become conservative/reactionary and start promoting some completely awful shit without wondering whether or not they've become a part of the thing they were originally supposed to combat. Believe me, I love a good fierce religious debate, and I think that certain religious institutions have contributed tremendous evils to the world. But this isn't the place for that.

What's important is that if you're looking for a certain perspective on what it means to be human, and on how your experiences are similar to experiences other people have had over the millennia, then religion is still one of the best (if not the best) venues to explore these questions. There's art, but art is messier and not as well-structured by design; if you're searching for answers to very specific questions, it can sometimes be hard to find what you need in a library shelf full of novels or a gallery full of art, and meanwhile religion practically/literally has indexes for you to peruse. There's philosophy, and I love philosophy, but even at its simplest philosophy can be a fairly daunting endeavor. It's not just that it's intellectual rather than emotional; it's also not social in the same sense that religion is, where you meet like minded people who are on the same particular path that you're on and to forward together. There are alternatives to religion, and for some people that's enough, but religion is hella potent and hella comprehensive, even if you're a skeptical atheist who's completely convinced that no God ever lit a goddamned bush on fire.

In the writing of this long-ass and weird-ass book of mine, I came to a way of understanding the world that requires seeing the world in three facets: there's the world, there's you, and then there're other people, who are so unique/frustrating thanks to their entirely different perspectives on reality/life/you/everything. And if you're able to accept that you're just a speck in the universe, and that everybody you meet is a speck fighting the same fight that you're fighting, then you can come to some kind of peace with the things that haunt you. And that once you have some semblance of this peace, though it's never entirely complete, then you can start playing at ways for other people to recognize you and maybe even benefit from your being here, which is hard because most people will only ever think of you as an insignificant speck compared to Them.

This is essentially a religious mindset. Rather, it borrows a lot from a number of religions, since most of the major religions have some understanding of this at their core. (Though none of them agree on what accepting this means you should do, and that question is one of the primary distinctions between religions in my mind.) Philosophers have touched upon these questions as well, but they usually attempt to come at this problem from an objective place – "what IS, and how do I fit into it?" – rather than a subjective one – "what am I experiencing and why?" Though it is fraught with problems and can quickly turn into something very ugly and non-functioning, I prefer the subjective approach to the objective, both when I'm personally trying to study something and when I'm trying to reach out to others. It strikes me as a very nice thing to do, speaking to your audience as if you know they're there and want to address them. I love intangible abstractions like few men do, but sometimes I need some water to dip my toes into, you know?

The real challenge, for me, is this one: how do you express truths of impermanence and of flawed perspectives, knowing that all expressions pretend to be permanent and objective by the very nature of their coming into existence? Which sounds lofty, but it's a fun little conundrum, a brain teaser of sorts. Monty Python expressed it beautifully:
BRIAN: You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!

CROWD: Yes! We're all individuals!
How do you somehow express this paradox without embodying it? It's a tricky question and my answer to it is essentially this book that I'm writing, but it has a lot to do with using paradox and contradiction and tricking people into recognizing themselves, very briefly, as limited and small. And religion succeeds at doing this in a marvelous way. I've found that a church or synagogue service, if attended with the right crowd and under the supervision of the right rabbi or pastor, can quickly shock me into contemplating myself, very seriously, as if I was not myself, and looking at myself as if I were not myself already.

The detachment and pomposity and sometimes sheer impossibility of God, in other words, is a feature, not a bug. God is a very long lever from which you can sometimes move the Earth. And the problems with religion arise, I've found, not when religious people make God out to be some grand entity, but rather when they shrink and belittle him in order to further their neurotic, asinine beliefs. When God starts being an excuse to deny gay people their happiness or at as if climate change isn't a thing that exists, then we're remaking God in our image, rather than accepting that if there is a God, we are puny and silly by comparison. God always gets mad in the Judeochristian Bible when people try to fight what IS for the sake of what they believe OUGHT TO BE, yet we find people still doing that shit today. (Yes, claiming the Bible is truth in the wake of scientific and rational and personal arguments is doing exactly that. God's guide to the universe isn't a book, it's the universe.)

So I, an atheist since pretty much ever, think that God is a beautiful concept and that religion is an astonishingly worthwhile institution. It's corrupt, as are all large institutions including law/politics/capitalism/Reddit, and its corruption leads to horrible atrocities committed in its name, but pretending like the problem is religion ignores that really, the problem is human beings, and that's a problem that religion attempts to solve.

(Its failures to do so mean that religion probably shouldn't be the only solution attempted, but I don't think it's fair to blame it entirely for its failure. We are very problematic creatures, after all.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:22 AM on September 15, 2013 [27 favorites]


Take off your fedora, son, and welcome to the grown-ups' table.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:48 AM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Milton tried to explain God's cruelties as justice; if there is no god then the cruelties are all ours, and need no justification.

I've never heard that expressed so succinctly before. Thanks.

I've never heard that opinion expressed by a single atheist before.

I've heard it many times, including right here on MeFi. It's embedded in the argument that essentially goes "It is immoral and dangers to be religious because religious institutions have been responsible for terrible crimes against humanity X, Y, and Z, and getting rid of religious institutions would be an overall improvement to morality and safety." Despite the disclaimer that followed his comment above, Jeffburdges just demonstrated it for us nicely, based on something said in 1927 that seems to be completely exclusive of progressive religious traditions (a few of which we have discussed lately) and which can be entirely reframed as institutional, rather than solely religious, bias. Certainly the women's movement was also opposed by the scientific (especially medical) community, but we don't see those institutions singled out for indictment too because that is not useful to this argumentative project.

Yeah, I can think of few places, other than with small groups of friends, where I can say "I'm an atheist" without causing at the very least uncomfortable silence and at the worst people trying to convert me

It has helped me a lot to understand that this is the context many athiests are coming from. Since I grew up in a (very skeptical and science-based) environment in which athiests were quite common, empowered, and respected, and identified as one myself for a lengthy time, until very recently I have been less well attuned to the fact that some people have been immersed in a cultural context in which religion is assumed to be central to everyone's life and which they found as oppressive and antithetical to the development of their own thought path. I understand how difficult an experience that must be. At the same time, it was an intellectual/emotional risk for me to become a religious participant in my own context, as well (I don't claim it was equivalently difficult, but it was not the easy, unthinking path of being born and brought up i a religion without ever once questioning it) - so I'm always a bit uncomfortable being identified with an (imagined or real) monolothic religious horde that never had a free thought in its life. I often feel I am on the receiving end of a lot of anger that is directed very generally at the religious- and have reacted with the sense "why are you browbeating me when you are already so powerful and in excellent company?!" - but I did not recognize that many atheists don't have this same sense of themselves. As far as being the target of anger sometimes, I do now accept as one cost of the privilege of being able to count myself a believer, though I will still stand up for the utility of religious traditions and refuse to conflate the project of religion generally with the excesses of any particular religious institution or harmfulness of any specific religious view. I oppose the negatives just as much as any nonbeliever.

Still, as an individual, I don't want to join in conversations in which I'm being sneered at, or asked to characterize and justify every detail of my worldview. I certainly agree that theists need to be as considerate as anti-theists are being asked to.
posted by Miko at 7:52 AM on September 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


This is the hubris of atheism, to think if only we could talk people out of God we'd all be lovely.

This is not my atheism nor the atheism of many others. If you want nuanced, respectful discussions of religion, please do the same for atheism.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:53 AM on September 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


audi alteram partem, from past discussions with you I understand you are coming from a place of goodwill and wanting to complicate the discussion, which is great. But just as progressive religious people do, atheists who do not adopt the Dawkins-style path may need to represent and educate others a bit more about the variety of forms of atheism. One part of what's seen as a bias is illiteracy about the topic, and unfortunately, the pop-culture proliferation of one brand of atheism has come to dominate the perceptions of many people - in the same way one brand of evangelical Christianity dominated the perception of all Christianity for the past 25 years. So many people have made the assumption, based on the most visible-to-them facts, that "atheism" is one thing characterized by that most visible set of beliefs. If it is not that one thing, people are indeed ignorant, but before they can be considerate enough to make the distinctions you want, they need to be made less ignorant.
posted by Miko at 8:01 AM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


> That covers pretty much everyone in the developed world, and quite a few in the developing world. So maybe we can just take that as a given, and only point it out when the individual in question is actively oppressing someone else?

I'm not going to hold a person's place of birth against them, but when you make a choice to to align yourself with a group, when you continue to participate and further this group's agenda, then, yes, you are culpable for the actions of the larger group. I do understand cultural and moral relativism, but at the end of the day there are some things I think we can all agree are immoral, and if you aren't in agreement, then I'm not sure what to say.

Changing from within is perhaps possible and a valid counterpoint. It just doesn't scale and isn't practical. Often the choice is easy. You can continue to be a member of the Westboro Baptist Church and I'll continue to see you as a bigot, or you can leave and maybe someday hope you've made up for your past. Pop into many churches

> What I'm not understanding is - exactly how does a discussion about "how certain specific scriptures were selected as being canon in the year 400 AD or so" connect to these issues? And how does Making A Stand about religion in what is pretty much an inside-baseball discussion advance that particular cause?

Yeah, I'm not going to die on the hill of that comment. I would have been fine if it was removed, just as I am fine with it staying. When the article was a humor piece about how the book Christians follow was constructed, and someone says, "This is only funny if you find this kind of stuff funny," well I land in that category. I wouldn't have gone into a thread where the subject matter was deferential and been LOLxian! But when the linked article isn't exactly supportive of the Christian bible origin story, I didn't feel like I was pooping in the pool to point out that yes, many people do find humor at the expense of religion.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:08 AM on September 15, 2013


EmpressCallipygos, cjorgensen's actual comment in the original thread was a pretty unobjectionable response to paulsc's "I guess if you get at least some of your jollies dissing religion" comment.

that's as may be, but I was referring to something cjorgensen said in this thread.

But for the record, cjorgensen, I actually have no problem with the original piece either, nor to anything you said in that thread. I just got the impression, from comments you made in THIS thread, that you were defending the kind of bat-signal type of comments others made in that thread, and that concept is one I object to, because a) it just kicks up a hornets' nest that's always below the surface in here, and b) it's just plain off-topic. But I think we're on the same page so yay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:16 AM on September 15, 2013


But just as progressive religious people do, atheists who do not adopt the Dawkins-style path may need to represent and educate others a bit more about the variety of forms of atheism.

Miko. First, let me say thank you for the "goodwill and wanting to complicate" and please read the following in the same vein. In every discussion touching on atheism here on Metafilter I do my best to represent my humanism and atheism which is at odds with Dawkins' variety. What more do you want me to do? If I talk too much about atheism I'd be seen as disruptive and strident.

So many people have made the assumption, based on the most visible-to-them facts, that "atheism" is one thing characterized by that most visible set of beliefs. If it is not that one thing, people are indeed ignorant, but before they can be considerate enough to make the distinctions you want, they need to be made less ignorant.

You are asking for a double standard. You say, "I'm always a bit uncomfortable being identified with an (imagined or real) monolithic religious horde that never had a free thought in its life." So you do not want to be automatically grouped together with the worst aspects of religion. You want to be seen as you are based on your participation in a discussion. I want the same thing.

Education is a two-way street. I present my atheism positively and respectfully. I can't make people less ignorant. People have to be open to change, and often their biases get in the way of such change. And I'm going to call out those biases when voiced in a discussion here because they make it more difficult to have a honest discussion where people are seen as they are and not as they seem to be through the lenses others biases.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:17 AM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


A friendly suggestion: be careful when generalizing theists and religion. Not all of us are Christians. Nor are we easily pigeonholed into neat categories.

I'm not going to get into my personal beliefs on religion and spirituality, but I want to add that not all of us came from places where the open practice of any religion was considered acceptable or even lawful, and the punishment for it severe. I can personally guarantee that at least one such place did not become a scientific utopia simply because the churches were torn down and the clergy sent into hiding.

Quite fortunately, MeFi is (mostly) free of the burn-it-down-and-salt-the-earth sort of atheism. But traces of it do pop up, and they can be just as ignorant and faith-based as the faith-based ignorance they're denouncing.
posted by griphus at 8:18 AM on September 15, 2013 [14 favorites]


when you make a choice to to align yourself with a group, when you continue to participate and further this group's agenda,

Part of the trouble people have is determining what the criteria of "group" is. Being part of the Westboro Baptist Church, probably the most extreme example available, is certainly supporting their agenda. But there are people who would identify me with the WBC because I am part of the group "Christian." And I don't do anything that justifies identifying me with the WBC. One type of group is very specific, intentional, organized, codified, and the other is really an enormous and loosely related family of traditions inside which there are countless variations and innumberable indivudual perspectives. Many people seem to have difficulty understanding that being a member of a specific denomination does not imply an endorsement of every other religious project by every other denomination that is in the same broad thological family (Hasidic Jews and Reform Jews and secular Jews are different, for example), or even that being a member of a denomination does not imply wholesale acceptance of every activity and belief of that denomination (lots and lots of American Catholics provide a marvelous example). There are people who would berate me for what they perceive my "group" is, and they're as wrong as people who berate a Dawkins-type atheist for what they perceive that group is. As you note, there's more than one flavor, and understanding that makes the conversation better.

What more do you want me to do?

Exactly what you're doing - I just want to frame this problem as exactly the same problem I have seen happen to religious people of a progressive bent. We can't get there until we get there, and we need to keep doing the talking about it. It does get irritating sometimes to be like "I am an X but I am not THAT KIND of an X" but it takes a lot of that to break through the shallower stereotypes we all have.

If I talk too much about atheism I'd be seen as disruptive and strident.

No, not if it is in the appropriate thread, you wouldn't.

You are asking for a double standard.

Please read my comment again. I'm not asking for a double standard. I'm noting that a double standard exists, already, in the minds of many people, and that I am caught up in it too. And I can understand why, to some degree. I'mnnoting that those of us that want the discussion to be more complex need to make it so - and not by making assumptions about the other, but attempting to broaden their understandings, in a collegial way.
posted by Miko at 8:23 AM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


that's as may be, but I was referring to something cjorgensen said in this thread.

Hhhhmmm, I read your comment as being about my comment in that thread, not this one.

As far as what I said here they were in direct responses to statements made here that I don't agree with. That being that atheism has a cause to be advanced and that we have to be respectful of others' beliefs. I'm still trying to figure out the former and the latter I don't agree with at all.

Considering the wide net this post casts I didn't feel I was off-topic. if I missed something let me know.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:26 AM on September 15, 2013


I think we might get hung up sometimes on this phraseology of "respecting others' beliefs." What if it were just "respecting others"?
posted by Miko at 8:29 AM on September 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hhhhmmm, I read your comment as being about my comment in that thread, not this one.

Nah, it was about this thread. I was parsing what you said about your objections to religion to be justification for thoughts-on-cheese off-topic things, but I understand now that they weren't. Yay!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on September 15, 2013


Part of the trouble people have is determining what the criteria of "group" is.

Fair enough. I run into that myself all the time.

Someone blames Middle Easterners for terrorism. You point out there are a lot of countries there and they are not full of terrorists. You are then told it's Muslims, but even if you then finally get the person to admit it's religious extremists that are the problem you get, "Well, why are the rest of them denouncing the terrorists?" Try to point out they are denouncing them, or ask why white Christians aren't spending their days running around denouncing Koresh and McVeigh, and you get no where.

But forget the outside judgement for a bit. If you know your group is bigoted or oppressive and you continue to identify with it, then I can feel sorry for you, since I understand the mental gymnastics this often requires.

The above is a generalized "you."

I think we might get hung up sometimes on this phraseology of "respecting others' beliefs." What if it were just "respecting others"?

I'm generally fine with this unless your beliefs are abhorrent. I once had an "Intercessor for God" (that's what he called himself) tell me the reason my mother was dying of cancer was because she was relying on chemo instead of faith. He also told this to my mother. That guy died a couple years later from an easily treated medical condition. Simple blood thinners and he'd still be alive. Guess his faith wasn't strong enough. I couldn't tell this man I thought he was one of the most detestable human beings I'd ever met because that would have been disrespectful.

I had to listen to a "fags will burn in hell" sermon on Easter (the last time I was in church) seven or eight years ago, while the congregation gave a bunch of "You tell it brother!" and "Amen!" while this prick fucked up the one sermon that writes itself. Instead of renewal and rebirth I got bigotry. Again, I'll defend these people's right to believe whatever they like, but I am not going to respect these beliefs or the believers.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:46 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm generally fine with this unless your beliefs are abhorrent.

Well, I think that guy you described is the kind of a person who does not deserve much respect, regardless of what he believes. I think the belief stuff is a big red herring - if someone's an arrogant, cruel jerk, they're an arrogant, cruel jerk. And people use all kinds of tools for being that way.

You really aren't likely to hear much of that stuff on MeFi.
posted by Miko at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2013


I just want to frame this problem as exactly the same problem I have seen happen to religious people of a progressive bent.

And I want to frame the problem as I have experienced it. I'm open to the idea that multiple frames/perspectives are useful.

No, not if it is in the appropriate thread, you wouldn't.

I do not think this can be categorically stated as true. I've seen misreadings of atheist comments on MeFi, including my own, where a nuanced statement is seen as strident or otherwise distorted.

Please read my comment again. I'm not asking for a double standard. I'm noting that a double standard exists, already, in the minds of many people, and that I am caught up in it too. And I can understand why, to some degree. I'mnnoting that those of us that want the discussion to be more complex need to make it so - and not by making assumptions about the other, but attempting to broaden their understandings, in a collegial way.

Please consider the possibility that we may just disagree without one of us misreading the other. The double standard I'm seeing is this: It's OK to say "hubris of atheism" reducing the considerable complexities of atheism but not OK to say "hubris of religion" having the same result, so that's a double standard. Is it uncollegial of me to politely invite more complex understandings of atheism when faced with a statement like "hubris of atheism"?
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:06 AM on September 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


"hubris of atheism"

I note also that a lot of atheists, skeptics especially, really dislike having the language and vocabulary of faith applied to them. Hubris is a term with an official definition that's nonreligious, but colloquially, at least in my various necks of the wood, connotes an arrogance derived from the certainty of faith.

So I think using "hubris" when applied to atheism is fighting words.

That said, it can get hard to figure out what exactly is at root of some of the most certain and arrogant skeptics' beliefs - because they seem to go far beyond what is actually knowable when they apply Occam's razor to the tenets of the religions they rail against.

I suggest that we all have a lot to think about. But it might be worth it to try to be careful with our language and carefully specific in our criticisms. Generalizing isn't going to help any of us navigate these waters. Except, you know, right here.
posted by kalessin at 9:36 AM on September 15, 2013


audi alteram partem: "If I talk too much about atheism I'd be seen as disruptive and strident."

Miko: "No, not if it is in the appropriate thread, you wouldn't."

audi alteram partem: "I do not think this can be categorically stated as true. I've seen misreadings of atheist comments on MeFi, including my own, where a nuanced statement is seen as strident or otherwise distorted."

Well, clearly this is a little disingenuous, isn't it? You clearly don't think it could possibly be stated as true; you can pretend now that you think it's an open question whether people are fair about atheism here on Metafilter, but the fact is that you categorically stated, without equivocation, that they are not. You said, and quite clearly, that atheists can't talk too much about atheism on Metafilter without being branded as "disruptive and strident." You can't have thought that that accusation wouldn't ruffle some feathers, not least because it's an accusation of deeply unfair bias. If Metafilter really does that, then Metafilter has a terrible problem. Maybe we should address that directly rather than making sideways comments that note it obliquely.

As far as "hubris of atheism" goes - well, I think we'd have to know what Diablevert actually meant before trying to figure out if it's fair. The phrase is not helped by its vagueness. Personally, I read it as "the hubris particular to atheism," and in that vein it doesn't seem prejudicial where atheism is concerned. If that reading is correct, it just means "the hubris atheists are more prone to;" it does not mean that atheism is intrinsically hubristic. In the same way, one could speak of the hubris to which religious people are prone without dismissing religion itself as inherently hubristic. But, again, the vagueness of the phrase doesn't help.
posted by koeselitz at 9:43 AM on September 15, 2013


Hubris is a term with an official definition that's nonreligious, but colloquially, at least in my various necks of the wood, connotes an arrogance derived from the certainty of faith.

So I think using "hubris" when applied to atheism is fighting words.


You're upset that your contemptuous word has been co-opted by the people it's contemptuous of? That sounds familiar...
posted by Etrigan at 9:55 AM on September 15, 2013


I'm not going to hold a person's place of birth against them, but when you make a choice to to align yourself with a group, when you continue to participate and further this group's agenda, then, yes, you are culpable for the actions of the larger group.

OK, I'm not sure I understand why you'd exclude birthplace from this idea, but I'll go with it. "Aligning yourself with a group" still covers people who use fossil fuels, who buy products like food and clothing that used fossil fuels to get to where they are, who use electronics, who participate in capitalism, who shop in non-union stores, who buy products made in sweat-shop countries, who attend colleges or work in companies or patronize companies that don't have gender or racial or other equalities, who watch porn, who eat factory-farmed meat, who eat vegetables from large farms rather than local farms...

Basically, as a white Westerner, almost everything I do on a daily basis is helping reinforce a world system that oppresses people. I have a hard time imagining anyone who lives in the developed world who's not similarly reinforcing a system that oppresses people, and it's a system we're exporting into the developing world as well. I believe it's important to work against supporting this system in whatever small ways I can, but I can't really escape it. I hope that people call me out when I'm personally, actively making things worse (using racist assumptions, for example), and I'm happy to condemn the system as a whole, but I can't really call out anyone who's aligned themselves with a group that oppresses people, because then that's all I'd do, all day long (seriously, the only comment I'd be able to make on MetaFilter, or online anywhere, would be, "Are you using an electronic device to type your comment? Then you're aligning yourself with groups that oppress mine workers."), and that would be boring and not very productive.
posted by jaguar at 10:09 AM on September 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


You really aren't likely to hear much of that stuff on MeFi.

Indeed, you also aren't likely to hear MeFites of faith using the Bible as the authority for condemning homosexuality as perversion, demanding the teaching of Creationism in public schools, saying that Atheists don't belong in a Christian nation and should leave if they hate it so much, and so forth. So many of the reasons for the rise of miitiant atheism in the wider world are basically just rude here.

As far as I'm concerned, those are the things which justify attacking religion at the root -- if you campaign for privileged place in government to your religion-inspired beliefs, have them taught in public schools, and use them to deny rights to your fellow citizens, then pointing out the preposterousness of those beliefs is not only fair it is appropriate. But Mefites by and large are not like that, and when one turns up who is, they tend to get shouted down on all sides. So yeah, I'm not real big on the being rude about other peoples' beliefs here, despite the fact that all my intellectual sympathies are atheist.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:18 AM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


So I think using "hubris" when applied to atheism is fighting words.

Interesting. If you wade into this fight, then what constitutes a victory and what defines a loss?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:57 AM on September 15, 2013


That is interesting, I don't have the religious association with "hubris" that you mention.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:59 AM on September 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


cjorgensen, I'm very late coming in to read this thread, but you wrote Shaker/Quaker and I wanted to point out that there's no slash there. Shakers and Quakers are not the same thing. I know this because I am a Quaker. We are often mistaken for Amish, Mennonites, and Shakers but we are none of these things.
posted by not that girl at 11:29 AM on September 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, clearly this is a little disingenuous, isn't it? You clearly don't think it could possibly be stated as true; you can pretend now that you think it's an open question whether people are fair about atheism here on Metafilter, but the fact is that you categorically stated, without equivocation, that they are not. You said, and quite clearly, that atheists can't talk too much about atheism on Metafilter without being branded as "disruptive and strident." You can't have thought that that accusation wouldn't ruffle some feathers, not least because it's an accusation of deeply unfair bias. If Metafilter really does that, then Metafilter has a terrible problem. Maybe we should address that directly rather than making sideways comments that note it obliquely.

koeselitz, that is not an accurate summary of my position. First of all, I am not being disingenuous. I am acting in good faith, offering my perspective, which others are free to disagree with. Sometimes people are fair, sometimes they are not. Sometimes arguments by atheists are misread unfairly. Sometimes the arguments of theists are misread unfairly. My statement was not categorical. I was responding to a categorical statement from Miko that I "wouldn't" be misread if on topic. I was offering a qualification. Here's an example of where I was misread. This happens. It doesn't always happen.

I did not say "atheists can't talk too much about atheism on Metafilter without being branded as 'disruptive and strident.'" Nowhere did I say "can't...without," which is a categorical statement. If I came across categorically, I apologize. I did not mean to. I said, "I've seen misreadings of atheist comments on MeFi, including my own, where a nuanced statement is seen as strident or otherwise distorted." Earlier I said, "The anti-atheist prejudices that circulate in the larger culture do crop up here from time to time. For the most part, problematic behavior is kept in check through the moderating here that, I feel, on balance encourages a good range of diverse perspectives." That last sentence, I hope, conveys that I am not talking about problematic discourse in the sense that it categorically occurs but rather problems can happen and for the most part the community deals with them admirably.

The deeply unfair bias exists. It doesn't affect our discourse here all the time. Sometimes it shows up, sometimes it doesn't. Just like sometimes religion or atheism threads go well, and sometimes they don't. I'm not accusing Metafilter of having some systemic "terrible problem" that merits an emergency intervention. I am saying that there're patterns of discourse which can inhibit productive conversation, and I'm pointing out one pattern that is relevant to my participation.

I think we'd have to know what Diablevert actually meant before trying to figure out if it's fair. The phrase is not helped by its vagueness.

And it's vagueness is my only concern. As phrased, the sentence occludes the diversity of atheisms as practiced within America and globally. I don't see hubris as fighting words. There are approaches to atheism that I would agree could be characterized with the term hubris.

escape from the potato planet said "religious beliefs are...claims of fact." People have explained why this is an oversimplification and an inaccurate statement. I see "the hubris of atheism" as enacting the same kind of difficulties, which is why I would welcome a qualification. I agree with zarq but would apply the sentiment to all positions, religious or not: "be careful when generalizing theists and religion. Not all of us are Christians. Nor are we easily pigeonholed into neat categories."
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:47 AM on September 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


escape from the potato planet said "religious beliefs are...claims of fact." People have explained why this is an oversimplification and an inaccurate statement. I see "the hubris of atheism" as enacting the same kind of difficulties,

I'm guessing that a better way of phrasing it would have been "the hubris that often tends to pop up with atheists" (or some variant). Because obviously not all or even most atheists have issues with hubris, but some definitely do, and they're often the LOUD ones. As for not being allowed to use the word hubris outside of an explicitly religious context, I don't buy it. Our culture is rife with judeo-christian influences. Indeed, they go right to the core of things. To suddenly say that we can't use such to make allusions that look outside of specifically religious issues feels all kinds of restrictive, anti-poetic even.
posted by philip-random at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2013


"I note also that a lot of atheists, skeptics especially, really dislike having the language and vocabulary of faith applied to them. Hubris is a term with an official definition that's nonreligious, but colloquially, at least in my various necks of the wood, connotes an arrogance derived from the certainty of faith.

So I think using "hubris" when applied to atheism is fighting words.
"

o_0

Hubris is excessive pride leading to nemesis, or bringing low. I mean, I guess because of Greek gods, that's a faith thing? But since classically it's defying the gods, not acting in their stead, it seems like a weird thing to take as fighting words.
posted by klangklangston at 1:48 PM on September 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


I did not say "atheists can't talk too much about atheism on Metafilter without being branded as 'disruptive and strident.'" Nowhere did I say "can't...without," which is a categorical statement.

Come on, I speak English and logic. This is what you said originally:

If I talk too much about atheism I'd be seen as disruptive and strident.

"If...then." It's not possible to read this two different ways: "if/then" means the same thing as "can't/without." If I talk too much about atheism, then I will be seen as disruptive and strident. I can't talk too much about atheism without being seen as disruptive and strident. These statements are identical, it's just that one is given in the negative and one in the positive.

I'm happy to qualify my statement to say that you usually wouldn't be called disruptive and strident on MeFi for sharing your views respectfully. That's really not usually a big risk, and usually where you get the vociferous objections, we haven't seen the calm and respectful sharing of views. But it would've been easy enough just to request that modification without going on this long, shaky tangent about categoricism. You want a qualification from me? Sure, have it. The thing I would call false is the idea that a person can never profess atheism here on the site without being seen as "disruptive and strident."

I'm also happy to consider it a "hubris unique to atheism." I can't say whether Diablevert meant that, but it makes complete sense - it is not a hubris that non-atheists ]could have, so it is unique to atheism, though that can be true while also not being characteristic of every atheist. There are hubrises unique to atheism, and hubrises unique to religion. Seems uncontroversial. The fault in the statement is in its lack of distinction, and that's why I am talking about ways to respond when there is a lack of distinction on either side.
posted by Miko at 2:07 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hubris is a term with an official definition that's nonreligious, but colloquially, at least in my various necks of the wood, connotes an arrogance derived from the certainty of faith.

Where exactly is your neck of the woods? Sparta?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:17 PM on September 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Hubris has nothing to do with religion. Now pride on the other hand....
posted by cjorgensen at 2:22 PM on September 15, 2013


THIS
IS
META
posted by Etrigan at 2:22 PM on September 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


First they came for the classicists and I did not speak up...
posted by corb at 2:29 PM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I talk too much about atheism I'd be seen as disruptive and strident.

I apologize. I meant to say "I may be seen" or "could be seen." I am attempting a good faith effort here and I did not intend to make an absolute statement.

The thing I would call false is the idea that a person can never profess atheism here on the site without being seen as "disruptive and strident."

My wording did not reflect my intended meaning. I am sorry, and I happily revise my statement.

I'm guessing that a better way of phrasing it would have been "the hubris that often tends to pop up with atheists" (or some variant). Because obviously not all or even most atheists have issues with hubris, but some definitely do, and they're often the LOUD ones.

This would be better because it is qualified. I would disagree with "often," but that's a debatable matter. It isn't obvious to all, however, that atheists don't mostly have issues with hubris. This is one of the common prejudices people (usually unconsciously) can hold about atheists: that disbelief is associated with arrogance.

I may not be able to respond further in a timely manner in this thread, but I can follow up via MeMail if anyone's interested, and please believe me when I say that I value my interlocutors here even when (or perhaps especially when) we disagree.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:36 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm just sick and tired of the hubris of people who don't wear fedoras.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:36 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks, audi alteram partem. I heartily endorse the goal of helping site members better allow for a divergence of views among members of the massive and complicated groups we lump together under banners like "atheists" and "religious."
posted by Miko at 2:40 PM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm generally fine with this unless your beliefs are abhorrent. I once had an "Intercessor for God" (that's what he called himself) tell me the reason my mother was dying of cancer was because she was relying on chemo instead of faith. He also told this to my mother. That guy died a couple years later from an easily treated medical condition. Simple blood thinners and he'd still be alive. Guess his faith wasn't strong enough. I couldn't tell this man I thought he was one of the most detestable human beings I'd ever met because that would have been disrespectful.

I had to listen to a "fags will burn in hell" sermon on Easter (the last time I was in church) seven or eight years ago, while the congregation gave a bunch of "You tell it brother!" and "Amen!" while this prick fucked up the one sermon that writes itself. Instead of renewal and rebirth I got bigotry. Again, I'll defend these people's right to believe whatever they like, but I am not going to respect these beliefs or the believers.


But this is where you're confusing...oh, gee, let's call it "outcomes" with what we could call "institutions".

The outcome that is homophobia is bad, whether it's the result of conservative christianity or Stalin deciding that the USSR needs more babies. Homophobia would be bad if it were a sort of accidental externalization of an otherwise awesome revolutionary project.

[note that of course asserting that homophobia is bad is itself a statement of belief]

Institutions can be homophobic or not.

I'd say there's probably a primitivist critique of institutions - that the reason human history is so terrible is that we started setting up hereditary tribal leadership and ultimately temples, palaces, bureaucracies and markets, and that those things in themselves always produce bad outcomes. But that's a critique of all institutions as institutions, not a critique of churches only.

Once you start saying that institutions can be good, bad, neutral or a mixed blessing, and that they are endemic to human society, you have a different question - how do we get the desired outcome from institutions?

I mean, if we actually literally do not care what others think as long as they don't hurt each other [and again, the definition of "hurt" is pretty subjective], then the only thing we can judge religions on is outcomes. Assuming, of course, that we can agree on the desired ones.

So religion produces bad outcomes. But also good ones! And mixed ones! Consider liberation theology, the religious aspect of the civil rights movement, the medieval heretics, the Diggers. And there's something to be said for the art that has been produced, the libraries, the schools. It's true that those were all imperfect institutions, but when your choice is "library, but it's run by monks" or "no library" - we're all going to pick library every time.

Who can do the accounts to decide that there has been more harm than good?

I mean, I think people are terrible and that coming down out of the trees in the first place was our biggest mistake.

***

I am not as much a fan of "we are all particles doing the best we can" because, like, what about Hitler? Was Hitler doing the best he could? Is Henry Kissinger? The guy who bombed the church in Birmingham? If we're all "fighting our own fight", what does "the best we can" even mean? Does that mean that if he hadn't committed himself to constant struggle and self-improvement, Stalin would have been even more terrible? If that's the case, aren't we all already in sort of a determinist universe? I mean, here I am being all "stop yelling homophobic slurs at me, people" and the meditative answer is "but remember that they are all just your fellow particles, everyone has their own struggle". Where does that leave social change? I think this theory does not account very well for groups or for people as members of/expressions of groups.
posted by Frowner at 2:44 PM on September 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


Hubris is a term with an official definition that's nonreligious, but colloquially, at least in my various necks of the wood, connotes an arrogance derived from the certainty of faith.

So I think using "hubris" when applied to atheism is fighting words.


I don't think I've heard this word used that specifically. And I'd actually be disappointed if it became that ideologically loaded, because we need a word that applies equally to anyone who is overly arrogant regarding their beliefs, regardless of ideology. It's a pretty good one.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:24 PM on September 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't think I've heard this word used that specifically. And I'd actually be disappointed if it became that ideologically loaded, because we need a word that applies equally to anyone who is overly arrogant regarding their beliefs, regardless of ideology. It's a pretty good one.

Fair enough.

My neck of the woods is the SF Bay Area, but I also spent a lot of time on the East Coast, where I think I picked up that colloquial usage.

But if we think it's nonreligious, let's use it as such.
posted by kalessin at 8:39 PM on September 15, 2013


I grew up and live on the East Coast. The word "hubris" has never had any religious connotation in any setting I've been in, unless the religion in question was that of ancient Greece, and I'd venture many people who know the word and what it means don't even know that derivation.
posted by Miko at 8:42 PM on September 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


If I am not supposed to belong to any organizations that have ever committed the sins of oppression and genocide, there is no country on Earth where I can live, is there?

And as others have pointed out, groups calling themselves "atheist" have done horrible things to their fellow humans, as well.

Human beings may use labels to justify doing horrible things (and to get others to join in) but I think it would be a mistake to take those labels as anything but justifications.

Now, there is good discussion to be had as to why and how humanity embeds abuses into its various institutions, but you would have to include nation-states, the military, schools, and economic systems as well as religion. We've had several recent stories about horrible bullying here on the Blue, that were not driven by religion as far as I know.

The evil that we do, as a species, remains remarkably similar no matter what costumes or labels we put on it. Ironically, many of the institutions that end up perpetuating that evil set out originally to combat it, or at least hoping to.

And though I am not a believer, I can understand wanting to believe that there is a larger force outside of humanity, because humanity is remarkably committed to tearing itself to pieces a lot of the time.
posted by emjaybee at 8:46 PM on September 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I grew up and live on the East Coast. The word "hubris" has never had any religious connotation in any setting I've been in

Yeah. The Baltimoreans I hung out with had a special vocabulary. I'd wager that if it was there that I learned the colloquial use that it's very unpopular and very unknown.

Like I said, I'm fine with retooling my understanding of the use of hubris. So I'm cool. I don't think I need any more correction. :)
posted by kalessin at 8:47 PM on September 15, 2013


Hubris is a term with an official definition that's nonreligious, but colloquially, at least in my various necks of the wood, connotes an arrogance derived from the certainty of faith.

So I think using "hubris" when applied to atheism is fighting words.


As far as I knew, hubris doesn't have a religious connotation, but simply comes to us from the Greeks and means something like "blinkered arrogance."

I think we'd have to know what Diablevert actually meant before trying to figure out if it's fair. The phrase is not helped by its vagueness.

And it's vagueness is my only concern. As phrased, the sentence occludes the diversity of atheisms as practiced within America and globally. I don't see hubris as fighting words. There are approaches to atheism that I would agree could be characterized with the term hubris.


I was referring to the particular strain in atheism which regards religion as an evil to be combated, a millstone of ignorance on the neck of humanity. That because many people have done much evil in the name of faith, if only people stopped believing the world would be better. (That was the thrust of cjorgensen' comment, that I was replying to -- they said that as they had grown older they had grown less tolerant of the religious, because they saw religion as a force for ill.)

In my admittedly limited experience, a lot of vocal atheists think this way. Certainly it is a common theme in the writings and speeches of many of the prominent intellectuals who evangelize atheism in public. Of course, there's plenty of people who have just quietly decided that they don't believe in the Man Upstairs, yet don't think that fact is worthy of public comment. I imagine most such people don't feel the need to seek out a movement of like-minded individuals to discuss how to best convert others to their way of thinking. The public face of "skepticism" or the "new atheism" may be very different from just mere people who don't believe in God. Squeaky wheel gets the book deal, and all that.

On the other hand, I do think there's such a thing as culture, and characteristics, and temperaments. That many members of a group may not exhibit a certain characteristic of that group does not make them any less members, nor the trait any less characteristic --- not if it is a trait which does belong to a plurality of such members, and can be used to help predict whether or not someone'll be likely to join. All that is required to be an atheist is to be awfully certain that there is no god. But many of the people who are atheists share certain things: a reverence for science, and a belief in humanity's ability to decipher the universe; a love of logic, a hatred of ignorance, a pride in their own intelligence. Many people come to atheism because they have questioning minds, who cannot but probe the logical inconsistencies in religious texts and edicts, and come away baffled. Many come because they are repulsed by barbarities committed in the name of religion, or in revolt against the necessity of faith, "n. belief without evidence in that which is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel," to quote Bierce. There's a cast of mind, a temperament, that many atheists share.

So I'd agree that to say that all atheists are counter-theists is wrong. I agree that there's many ways to be an atheist, and there mere fact that someone doesn't believe in God themselves doesn't tell you much about what they think of religion (or whether anything ought to be done about it). But I'm standing by what I said about the hubris of atheism is believing that taking out God would do much to make us all better people. It seems to be, as Dante said of the simonists --- and here I'm afraid I am nose-tweaking a bit --- a sin to which they are uniquely prone.

But then again, as an agnostic, most of them would think me a squish.


Sidebar: How does one practice a lack? It seems like one could be extremely competent at not having something from the get go...
posted by Diablevert at 8:57 PM on September 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


"No matter how assured you are of being correct, others will always be as sure of a different belief. I'm an atheist, and for instance I've always found St. Alia's contributions here to be valuable and considered even though they will oftentimes differ from my own views (whether on religion or politics or what have you.) It is a huge benefit to this site to have those whose beliefs or opinions which might be outside of the consensus here feel welcome to express them. For me personally, it is far more valuable to have a ton of kind and thoughtful members whom I disagree with than to see snarky or facile or tired arguments with which I already agree."

The dampening effect that Navelgazer alludes to is real. I hardly ever even scan the comments on religious threads anymore, because it's just not worth the hassle. There are many interesting things to talk about with respect to religions (and I as a religious person might have something to contribute), but I just don't feel like having the same fight (with strident atheists) every. single. time. (I've also outgrown the need to engage in fights just for the sake of dogmatic zeal.)
posted by oddman at 9:32 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think, in general, a good rule of thumb is to not talk too much about atheism in a thread about Christianity, and vice-versa.
posted by empath at 11:23 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think, in general, a good rule of thumb is to not talk too much about atheism in a thread about Christianity, and vice-versa.

That seems like a bit of a blunt instrument - rather, I think that the question should be whether the atheism is a derail in the religious thread (as it was in the recent Christian canon thread), or vice versa.

Then we just come to the old, simple rules of 'don't derail threads', and 'don't be a dick'.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:35 AM on September 16, 2013


The key, as I understand it, is to show a good-faith effort to maintain a modicum of respect, ESPECIALLY when you don't feel the target of your comment deserves respect.

And this is why I try not to comment on religion threads any more. :-)
posted by Decani at 2:09 AM on September 16, 2013


I too read "Why I am Not a Christian" back in high school along with "Atheism: The Case Against God" and various books culminating in several Dawkins books. I am fortunate to have gotten all of the trolly smarmy "I don't really expect you to become an atheist overnight but I will insult your intelligence in some apparent effort to persuade you which is really just an opportunity for me to put a notch in my 'people I felt superior to today' belt" stuff out of my system long before discovering MeFi.

It was amusing going through the virulently hostile-towards religion age at a typical high-school age (followed up by a brief stint with LaVey and "Satanism") only to witness my dad experience the same thing in his 40's. He wasn't particularly Christian at all but went through a New Age / Wiccan "Blessed Be" phase and then started rebelling against invisible sky parents and went Aggro Atheist wearing Darwin T-Shirts and shit (he is a scientist by trade, mind, but he went all-out with the bumper stickers, posting pictures of Darwin in the lunch room on Darwin's birthday, etc kind of stuff).

In my day Hitchens and Harris weren't established so there was an interesting role-reversal where I was like "what are the atheists reading these days to get all righteous and indignant about their lack of believing something?" After 9/11 the Islamophobia element got mixed into Hitchens' and Harris' work and they really jumped the shark into weird-ass fundamentalist judgmental prick mode, IMHO. Luckily my dad hadn't deep into contemporary politics and it was relatively easy to get him to see the broader perspective on how we are perceived in the middle east and how that Christian religion you kicked to the side years ago also comes with books that prescribe violent and dominating tactics that often come across as primitive and barbaric, almost like the people who wrote the books were from a more primitive and barbaric time...

I think the "best" atheists who are "little-a" atheists because they just don't believe in a god and it isn't a lifestyle they proselytize in some vain attempt to feel superior in an unfair world that seems to select "winners" at random. During my youth phase I didn't really find myself expecting to convince people that "there is no god" but I did want to help people think that there are people all over the world who believe completely different things and don't deserve to burn in bell because some dude interpreted the Bible that way. And I had a small obsession along the same lines with getting people to stop repeating Pascal's Wager because like the now-facile and obvious "Teapot" scenario, it just makes you look out of touch and bad and unaware of your audience when you trot that stuff out.

I don't really attach any baggage to the word "atheism", leaning towards the simple "lack of belief" with little desire to incorporate qualifiers like "strong" and "weak." "We" feel annoyed getting lumped in with the loud-mouth types who just discovered Atlas Shrugged and shit, especially some of us progressive ones who are like "no, no, no, you shouldn't be excited about being a total dick to your fellow man now that you've decided there is no hell, you should probably look into being someone people are happy to be around." My one real attachment to the word "atheism," my "baggage" that makes me cringe when people seem to discuss the word like they're borrowing my first Game Boy and tossing it back and forth while I forlornly try to get it back (and the philistines start Tetris at level 1, ha), is a desire to keep the word clean and simple.

The strident evangelistic types don't do much service to the "hey be cool man it's just a lack of belief, not a faith and belief system" atheists when they seem to very much embrace atheism as a high-value belief system that others simply must not have stumbled onto yet. To the novice "strong" atheist, atheism is a novel thing and the desire to show it off is strong. It's like a tattoo, it gets a rise out of your parents and can seem edgy and cool. But it's just a lack of belief, not a cross to bear.
posted by lordaych at 2:52 AM on September 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well I'm a member of an Extreme Atheist Congregation, and we all think that you "non-Brights" are just FOOLING YOURSELVES if you indulge in the superstitious, anti-rational bigotry which is a belief in a "god".

As such, it's not enough for me that you people reject the Christian god - I'm afraid that my brand of atheism demands much more than that, from both me and you. No - I demand that you reject ALL the different gods that humanity has ever believed in, since the dawn of recorded history.

And don't think you can get away with a "job lot" - that is simply laziness. What I am calling for is a good three- or four-year deprogramming course, in which I tie you to a chair and yell a series of arguments at you about the non-existence of everyone from Amon-Ra to Zeus, in alphabetical order. I mean, you might be an atheist about Pazuzu, king of the demons of the wind, but that doesn't mean that you are atheist about Freyr, the Norse god of sun and rain and patron of bountiful harvests. I demand RIGOUR in your non-belief, and if you drop dead in the middle of my multi-year lecture I will take that as an ADMISSION that actually you DO believe in Kwoth, the great spirit god of the South Sudan, or whoever the hell I am yelling about at the relevant time. GOD I love yelling.

Wait, I don't mean "God", I mean - uh ... fuck. OK let me just yell at myself over here for a couple of years and then I'll come back to the thread and answer any questions you may have about all this.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:38 AM on September 16, 2013 [18 favorites]


I'd venture many people who know the word and what it means don't even know that derivation.

I've actually never heard the word used by anyone who wasn't familiar with the derivation, but everyone's mileage varies.
posted by corb at 5:10 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of conversations would go better if people could add the modifier "that I have encountered" to broad statments. So "christians that I have encountered tend to be prideful" or "atheists that I have encountered tend to be hubristic". This is actually kind of a discussion 101 move, along with saying that someone made you feel something rather, than they did something to you (eg "You can make me feel that you are angry with me, even if you do not mean to" rather than "you are always so angry with me"). It has the benefit of being uncontroversial, primarily because it is accurate. If you want to make claims about a group you haven't encountered in its entireity you will need to

a)carefully define who is a member of that group
b)Gather scientific evidence as to the behaviours of the members of that group

Usually people commenting haven't done that, and they really mean "I have encountered this attitude online and in the media a lot".

Since joining meta filter I have written then deleted a lot of comments that I could have put out. I like to try (and don't always succeed) and think about what the purpose of my comment is, and whether it is acheiving that aim. If my goal is genuinely to change people's minds about religion, is butting into their conversation a useful intervention towards that goal? I would argue that it probably isn't.

Generally speaking metafilter threads tend to be confined to the post, or around that post. There might be an interesting derail or two, but they tend to grow organically, rather than have a user turn up and make it about them. There are, of course, exceptions: I'm thinking Amanda Palmer, Isreal Palestine and many other hot topics (I think theres a meta with a list somehwere) which sadly always devolve into the exact same conversation regardless as to what the original post was about. The fact that these exceptions exist doesn't say that we should behave like that in all threads, merely that it is a shame that in some cases the standard doesn't seem to be held. I don't blame the mods for this: if the majority of users who read and comment on AP/IP threads want to talk about the same old subjects then it is difficult to guide the conversation away from that.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:12 AM on September 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Diablevert: The public face of "skepticism" or the "new atheism" may be very different from just mere people who don't believe in God. Squeaky wheel gets the book deal, and all that.

I see a fair bit of media bias at work there, in that Dawkins makes the headlines just about every time he farts in a bathtub, while other writers don't even get book reviews, and his critics in the media tend to have their atheism erased from the discussion.

In my opinion, the Silver/Coleman research puts to rest the notion that atheists in the United States are all one unified group.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:49 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


So "christians that I have encountered tend to be prideful" or "atheists that I have encountered tend to be hubristic".

Because that goes oh so well when discussing race. Seriously, sock in African American and Hispanic and your adjectives of choice in the above example and it should be obvious why this won't work. It also doesn't really solve the problem.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:23 AM on September 16, 2013


There are differences, however, between an affiliation that you choose (religion) and one that you do not choose (race) and that's not only a useful distinction but one that we-as-mods pay attention to here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:31 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've actually never heard the word used by anyone who wasn't familiar with the derivation, but everyone's mileage varies.

What a classically educated crowd you must hang out with.

If "hubris" is religious, then so is "nemesis," "titanic," "mentor," "paean," "chimera," "narcissism," "tantalize," and countless others.
posted by Miko at 6:38 AM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Huh, count me as another person who always considered "hubris" to have a vaguely religious connotation.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 6:48 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are differences, however, between an affiliation that you choose (religion) and one that you do not choose (race) and that's not only a useful distinction but one that we-as-mods pay attention to here.

It might be useful to remember that while many believe religion is an affiliation you choose, many others believe religion is in fact one you are born or baptized into - Jews, Catholics, and Mormons, for example, to name a few major religions. In those cases, being that religion is not really something you can "give away" easily.

It is possible that by treating religion as something you choose, you are unintentionally falling a little harder on the side of atheism (which considers religion a personal choice) than you perhaps would wish to.
posted by corb at 6:54 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


It might be useful to remember that while many believe religion is an affiliation you choose...

Yes thank you, I am Jewish and I am aware of how various faith traditions work. We moderate on this site as if religion is a thing that people choose, just like political affiliation. I have outlined this many times in MetaTalk. While there are definitely arguments to be made that in some senses this is not the case, in the interests of setting expectations that is how we are treating things here. People can do what they want with this information.

As a larger aside we have never said we are trying to have MetaFilter present any sort of "balanced" approach to religion. I keep my religious beliefs mostly to myself, as do most of the mods, but I don't claim that I'm entirely objective nor do I aim to be. We are aiming for a community space where people who have many differing belief systems can have conversations without being attacked by other people here, that's mostly it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:09 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


"We moderate on this site as if religion is a thing that people choose, just like political affiliation. I have outlined this many times in MetaTalk. While there are definitely arguments to be made than in some senses this is not the case, in the interests of setting expectations that is how we are treating things here. People can do what they want with this information."


I'm confused, could you outline how you feel this distinction impacts mod decisions on things?
posted by Blasdelb at 7:13 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I actually was gonna ask cjorgensen about why race and religion are the same, myself, so I kind of see the distinction between racial makeup vs. philosophical school of thought; race is a kind of amorphous construct, but it still is different from being a school of thought.

But then again, I also think that cjorgensen's still right that "the [schmeh's] that I've encountered were [foo]" doesn't really help as much as one might hope.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:17 AM on September 16, 2013


while many believe religion is an affiliation you choose, many others believe religion is in fact one you are born or baptized into

And all of the faith traditions mentioned include a point somewhere after the onset of adolescence where the individual elects to confirm his participation, because the "born into" distincton is theological, not practical, and the act of choosing to participate in the faith (as opposed to merely being claimed by its institutions or other institutions) is actually an act of will.
posted by Miko at 7:18 AM on September 16, 2013


Cannon Fodder: "I think a lot of conversations would go better if people could add the modifier "that I have encountered" to broad statments. So "christians that I have encountered tend to be prideful" or "atheists that I have encountered tend to be hubristic". This is actually kind of a discussion 101 move, along with saying that someone made you feel something rather, than they did something to you (eg "You can make me feel that you are angry with me, even if you do not mean to" rather than "you are always so angry with me"). It has the benefit of being uncontroversial, primarily because it is accurate. If you want to make claims about a group you haven't encountered in its entireity you will need to "

Direct interaction with fundamentalists isn't necessary for us to see and judge their behavior. Various groups show up in the news constantly for one thing or another. Many of us aren't necessarily directly impacted by what they do, but that doesn't mean we can't speak out against things that bother us.
posted by zarq at 7:23 AM on September 16, 2013


I could you outline how you feel this distinction impacts mod decisions on things?

I would love to not have to get into this any more than we already have in this and many other MeTa threads about religious topics. I was trying to address cjorgensen's comment about why substituting race for religion makes the sort of statements he was making different from each other. If people are discussing religion on MetaFilter and bring up their own presence or absence of religious belief, the assumption is that they have chosen that belief at some level. If people bring up their race, there is an assumption that they have not chosen that. We have many non-traditional religious adherents so blanket stereotyping isn't helpful in either case.

If there are concerns about actual moderation we have done on these topics, please bring it up, otherwise this is getting into "Well how would you moderate this sort of future hypothetical situation?" territory.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:27 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


And all of the faith traditions mentioned include a point somewhere after the onset of adolescence where the individual elects to confirm his participation, because the "born into" distincton is theological, not practical, and the act of choosing to participate in the faith (as opposed to merely being claimed by its institutions or other institutions) is actually an act of will.

Yes, but if you don't do those post-adolescence rites, you are still counted as a member of that religion and in some cases still "on the books", as it were.
posted by corb at 7:33 AM on September 16, 2013


Many of us aren't necessarily directly impacted by what they do, but that doesn't mean we can't speak out against things that bother us.

There's a difference between "X are Y" and "X do Y."
posted by Etrigan at 7:34 AM on September 16, 2013


I actually was gonna ask cjorgensen about why race and religion are the same...

I was just trying to make an analogy. I probably should have gone for something else, since race has an intertwined background with religion that makes the two sometimes difficult to view independently. I wasn't trying to say they are the same, just that adding a qualifier to your statements doesn't actually make them read less fighty.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:35 AM on September 16, 2013


corb: " It might be useful to remember that while many believe religion is an affiliation you choose, many others believe religion is in fact one you are born or baptized into - Jews, Catholics, and Mormons, for example, to name a few major religions. In those cases, being that religion is not really something you can "give away" easily."

Religious Jews of every sect that I'm aware of believe that free will is an inherent part of who we are as human beings. We may be born Jewish, but any actions we take once we reach adulthood are our responsibility. Because of this, it's important to understand that we Jews are expected to think for ourselves. To analyze and draw our own conclusions in any given situation. Thus, our Judaism does not dictate. It informs.

Orthodox Judaism is more rigidly structured in this regard. And one of the primary complaints that some Orthodox Jews have about Reform and Conservative Judaism is the latter, less rigid sects have what I have heard termed as a "pick and choose" philosophy -- one so fluid and non-binding that it dilutes what the Orthodox feel is "proper" Jewish theology.

I am Jewish because I was born Jewish. But I am a religious Jew by choice. I wasn't always. As Miko says so succinctly, I made a choice to participate, but didn't have to. Most theists really do have the same option, no matter what their religious affiliation.
posted by zarq at 7:41 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


you are still counted as a member of that religion and in some cases still "on the books"

While there may be ways this matters in the larger world, this does not matter on MetaFilter.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:43 AM on September 16, 2013


I am Jewish because I was born Jewish. But I am a religious Jew by choice.

I appreciate your explanation, zarq, and do understand where you're coming from. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that the separation between those two is not always as big - or as easy to clarify - as it might appear.

For example: I'm Catholic. I was baptized Catholic. If someone talks about all Catholics, they are talking about me - even though I haven't seen the inside of a church more than maybe four times this year, am not permitted to take communion at the moment, and am not even sure whether I believe in a God or not. I would have to work staggeringly hard to not be Catholic - I'd have to go get myself excommunicated. Which would take some doing. If anyone says, "You Catholics, you support terrible things" - as has actually happened in multiple discussions concerning happenings in the world of Catholicism - then in my view, they are saying I am personally supporting terrible things, regardless of my state of religion at the time.
posted by corb at 7:47 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the clarification Diablevert. I still disagree, but I understand your position better. I'm one of the atheists who would not subscribe to "the hubris of atheism is believing that taking out God would do much to make us all better people." Many atheists are concerned with the limitations of humanity qua humanity and don't blame religion as the source of those limitations.

I believe that people have the potential to be good and bad whether they believe in religion or not. If there were no religion, our cognitive biases and prejudices would manifest in troubling manifestations of other secular ideologies, and our efforts to fight those biases and prejudices would manifest in more hopeful ideologies, just as in the world today there are troubling and hopeful manifestations of both religious and secular ideologies. I'm strongly influenced by Felix Adler who thought the most important task in our lives was to come together, regardless of our religious identities, to ask ourselves what it means to act ethically and try to enact that meaning.

As for most atheists thinking you a "squish" for being agnostic, my experience with atheists is more complex. A lot of atheists I've encountered consider themselves both atheist and agnostic, and I don't have any ill-feelings toward those who identify as agnostic. I'm quite dismayed and puzzled at those atheists who do object to positions described as agnostic. Moreover, even the definition of atheist is contested (among atheists and between theists and atheists). For example, I wouldn't identify with your definition atheism as "All that is required to be an atheist is to be awfully certain that there is no god." Rather, I disbelieve in descriptions of deity that I've encountered. None of them, to my thinking, appear to fit with my understanding of the cosmos as I've experienced it.

CBrachyrhynchos brings up an important point about biases in the perception of dominant atheist identities. Bias pervades media. Just as the cable news and best seller lists don't accurately portray the range of political views, the pop atheism books don't describe the range of atheism. As for the squeaky wheel getting the book deal, I do a lot of "squeaking" in conversations (in person and here on MeFi) about atheism trying to promote lesser known atheists and it seems to me like people's attention still gravitates toward Dawkins et al. For example of those beyond the Dawkins set see "100 of Britain and Ireland’s secular thinkers you should know about, who aren’t white men."

Regarding practicing a lack, I don't practice atheism, but atheism is an important part of my identity as a Humanist, most succinctly described by the American Humanist Association's definition: "Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity."
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:55 AM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would have to work staggeringly hard to not be Catholic - I'd have to go get myself excommunicated.

I am technically in the same place as you; I was baptized, I haven't been formally kicked out, as far as the Catholic church is concerned (to the extent that they would ever be concerned, which is vanishingly unlikely) I'm still playing ball for Team Rome.

But for me, personally, that's a big pile of who cares; it has zero resonance for me and I find the idea of the Church having a say in it silly because I stone cold do not give a fig tree.

That's me personally. Everybody's different, and you may personally feel a very strong attachment to the Church regardless, as you say, of the state of your religion at the time. But you should keep in mind that that is you personally and that you feeling that way does not generalize to how everyone feels about every association they have.

then in my view, they are saying I am personally supporting terrible things

Your view may differ significantly from a whole lot of other people's views. You may need to work to modulate your reading of other people's comments about not-literally-you to be less about-you than you are naturally inclined, because while we don't want people to actively be jerks to each other we also cannot accommodate claims of personal-from-the-general injuries here on the scale that you are suggesting here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:59 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


My direct experience with fundamentalists suggests that there is a fair bit of web/media bias at play there as well.

I don't just think people here should qualify statements as their personal experience, I think that people should think very carefully when they're making generalizations beyond their personal experience. If you're not a part of religious/philosophical group, I'm going to doubt that you have the expertise to talk about that group fairly. There's too much, "let me tell you what you really think," and not enough, "here are the complexities of what I think."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:00 AM on September 16, 2013


If anyone says, "You Catholics, you support terrible things" - as has actually happened in multiple discussions concerning happenings in the world of Catholicism - then in my view, they are saying I am personally supporting terrible things, regardless of my state of religion at the time.

I think anyone saying "You Catholics, you support terrible things" would not be arguing in good faith or helping to advance discussion - but I also think you are also paraphrasing this in a certain way to advance your argument - probably what was said was something like "Catholics support terrible things," which still is a blanket statement and not OK, but removes the personalization.

Also, though, I think it's a problem to take what someone's saying about a group of people and think they are "talking about you." This also doesn't lead to a productive discussion. Again, skip the depersonalization. If someone says "people who vote Democrat tend to ignore X and Y issues" I shouldn't get as heated as I would if someone said, "sweetkid, your habit of leaving towels on the floor makes you disgusting." (I don't leave towels on the floor and am not disgusting, that's just an example).

I mean it's something I need to think about as well. But personalization doesn't help anything. There is a difference when racial insults are involved, but that's a whole other topic.
posted by sweetkid at 8:00 AM on September 16, 2013


One interesting wild card I've just realized - there are actually representatives of only one type of theistic community here on MeFi, whereas for the atheist community there is more than one type. There are folks in here who would, I assume, identify more closely with the "new atheism" - and there are also those who are much more laid-back, of the "I personally don't believe, but that's just me" approach. Among the theistic MeFites, however, I'd wager that with extremely few exceptions, we don't have anyone from a hardline evangelical outlook in here at all (I'm using "evangelical" to mean "consciously trying to convert everyone").

I'm wondering how that may impact the conversation. I'm not sure.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:06 AM on September 16, 2013


seetkid: Also, though, I think it's a problem to take what someone's saying about a group of people and think they are "talking about you."

The problem I see here is that personal testimony is often the best way to rebut overly general and essentialist statements about a group.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:07 AM on September 16, 2013


Yes, but if you don't do those post-adolescence rites, you are still counted as a member of that religion and in some cases still "on the books", as it were.

That's exactly what "claimed by institutions" means and that's exactly why I said it, though you don't seem to have taken it in.

And what an institution claims about an individual doesn't mean anything here on MeFi when we're discussing something with that individual.
posted by Miko at 8:08 AM on September 16, 2013


The problem I see here is that personal testimony is often the best way to rebut overly general and essentialist statements about a group.

The problem I've seen with that is that those personal testimonies often get a response along the lines of "but you're still a member of the institution, which is a passive acceptance of that institution" or whatever. So even when someone does try to rebut general statements about a group, the accusers find a way to hang on to their generalization anyway - and make it personal at the same time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


. A lot of atheists I've encountered consider themselves both atheist and agnostic

Is this actually philosophically possible? Aren't they mutually exclusive? I thought that agnostics' stance with regard to nonmaterial phenomena was "nothing can be known about that" (which forestalls the assertion of a claim) rather than "there is none of that" (which is a falsifiable claim).

Regarding practicing a lack, I don't practice atheism, but atheism is an important part of my identity as a Humanist

I would argue that your formation of an identity around atheism and Humanism, and your participation in a community of Humanists and review of/thought about Humanist beliefs, is a practice. Of a very similar kind to practices I have that I think of as "religious."
posted by Miko at 8:14 AM on September 16, 2013


Is this actually philosophically possible? I thought that agnostics' stance with regard to nonmaterial phenomena was "nothing can be known about that," rather than "there is none of that."

There are different kinds of agnosticism, and I know that it's easier to sort of handwave the details of my agnosticism as somewhere between atheist and agnosticism than use technical terms with people who won't understand the nuances or who would even be offended by my strong agnosticism (which wikipedia describes pretty well as "I can't know whether a deity exists or not, and neither can you.") And yeah, I've met atheists who are offended by that. Certainty is one thing shared between both some religious and areligious folks, and they are sometimes really unnerved by us wishy-washy peeps in the middle.

There's also just plain ol' agnostic atheism.

Incidentally, my Judaism is pretty different from zarq's, strongly informed by my mother lecturing me throughout my childhood that I'm a Jew no matter what my father was and no matter what I choose to believe. Jewish mother? Jewish kid. Odd thing is, it's worked; I would never disclaim my Judaism and get pretty het up about antisemitism, too. Despite non-observance.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:25 AM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is this actually philosophically possible? I thought that agnostics' stance with regard to nonmaterial phenomena was "nothing can be known about that," rather than "there is none of that."

There are much better versions of this chart out there, but it's the best I could find on short notice.

The position of the agnostic atheists I know can probably be summed up as, "No, I cannot prove that the mathematical probability of the existence of a deity is zero, but since I see no indication that there might be one, and all arguments used to show the possibility of one don't hold water for me, I'm pretty sure there isn't one. There are lots of other things I can't disprove, but have no reason to believe, either, so I'm going to operate on the premise that deities are one of those."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:27 AM on September 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Agnostic atheism: that's interesting etymologically because it makes a distinction between not holding a belief in a deity and holding the belief that there is no deity.

The chart is not bad; I was aware of agnostic theism because I identify as an agnostic Quaker (there are many), but had not carried this distinction over to atheism.
posted by Miko at 8:29 AM on September 16, 2013


Odd thing is, it's worked; I would never disclaim my Judaism and get pretty het up about antisemitism, too. Despite non-observance.

For the record, I'm the WASCiest WASC to ever WASC, and I also get het up about antisemitism. I get what you're saying, but getting het up about antisemitism may not be "proof of self-identity as a Jew" so much as it's "proof of self-identity as a compassionate human".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


EC: The problem I've seen with that is that those personal testimonies often get a response along the lines of "but you're still a member of the institution, which is a passive acceptance of that institution" or whatever. So even when someone does try to rebut general statements about a group, the accusers find a way to hang on to their generalization anyway - and make it personal at the same time.

I agree this is a problem. Or rather, I think the root of the problem is with the characterization of a religious/philosophical group as a monolithic consensus to start with.

Miko: Is this actually philosophically possible? I thought that agnostics' stance with regard to nonmaterial phenomena was "nothing can be known about that," rather than "there is none of that."

Yes, in fact it's arguably been the dominant epistemology among atheists in the 20th century, especially those who spin off of Russell's teapot which is a fundamentally agnostic argument which asserts that doubt, not faith, is the reasonable default.

"Nothing can be known about that" is more Spencer than Huxley. Huxley in my reading rebuts Victorian atheists but adopts a position largely indistinguishable from what you'd find from 20th century atheists. I see him as a bit anachronistic when contrasted with 21st century atheism, or even theology. "There is none of that," these days tends to be called hard or gnostic atheism, which seems to me to be a bit of a minority view.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:30 AM on September 16, 2013


For the record, I'm the WASCiest WASC to ever WASC, and I also get het up about antisemitism. I get what you're saying, but getting het up about antisemitism may not be "proof of self-identity as a Jew" so much as it's "proof of self-identity as a compassionate human".

Well, sure, but when people make broad statements about Jews, there's a personal component there, just as there is for the lapsed Catholic who hears sweeping statements about what Catholics believe.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:31 AM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


"There is none of that," these days tends to be called hard or gnostic atheism, which seems to me to be a bit of a minority view.

It may be the minority view, but it is highly visible, and I think that's one of the flavors that tends to produce the fightiness in places like MeFi.
posted by Miko at 8:31 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would argue that your formation of an identity around atheism and Humanism, and your participation in a community of Humanists and review of/thought about Humanist beliefs, is a practice. Of a very similar kind to practices I have that I think of as "religious."

I wouldn't disagree with that. I was trying to respond to Diablevert's sidebar question "How does one practice a lack?" i.e. how does one practice lack of belief in deity. Atheism is part of my practices, but I don't practice it in isolation (indeed, I can't really separate it from my Humanism, though others do or attach it to other ideologies, like Libertarianism).

Another part of the agnostic/atheist terminology question, in addition to the already complicated situation described above, is the pragmatic, inter-social effects of the terms. Atheist tends to provoke a more negative response than agnostic, so that's why some might tend to use the latter instead of the former.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:37 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would argue that your formation of an identity around atheism and Humanism, and your participation in a community of Humanists and review of/thought about Humanist beliefs, is a practice. Of a very similar kind to practices I have that I think of as "religious."

But this only occurs -- when it does -- because of the inescapable social context of living in a world of believers and the need to contend with what they do that impinges on your life. There is no "practice" associated with not believing in the teapot because there is no need for one.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:41 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The practice is in making an effort to ally with people who share your worldview (whether it's humanism or some other flavor of moral/philosophical system) and to think about the questions it poses. That wouldn't occur only in a world of mostly believers, if what you are saying about the diversity of nonbelief in a deity is true.
posted by Miko at 8:48 AM on September 16, 2013


Odd thing is, it's worked; I would never disclaim my Judaism and get pretty het up about antisemitism, too. Despite non-observance.

This is the break (as you may very well be aware) between "ethnically Jewish" and "religiously Jewish" that is, ironically, harder to get across in places that don't have a strong history of anti-Semitism and/or have a cultural of religious and ethnic tolerance. Because, in America, a lot of Jews -- at least the Ashkenazim -- are just seen as other white people, the distinction between a Jew as a person who is ethnically Jewish and a Jew as a person who practices Judaism is eroded, even though it's a very important distinction when there's a distinction to be made.

Like, I don't have any truck with Judaism as a religion, but I can't not be a Jew any more than a black guy can stop being black or a Japanese guy can stop being Japanese. My birth certificate from my home country says "Jew" in the same way that someone else's says "Russian" or "Georgian" or "Uzbek."
posted by griphus at 8:49 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


It may be the minority view, but it is highly visible, and I think that's one of the flavors that tends to produce the fightiness in places like MeFi.

I disagree there. Contemporary antitheism tends to be spearheaded by New/Gnu Atheists who tend to be pragmatic skeptics. Which leads to funny headlines like "Richard Dawkins: not an Atheist?" every time he paraphrases one of the early chapters of The God Delusion.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:53 AM on September 16, 2013


The whole point of that spiel being that the atheism/theism binary gets really, really murky when you bring Jews into the picture. Because unlike, say, an Italian who is a Roman Catholic and can, to some extent detach the two identities from one another, it's a different story with ethnic and religious Judaism (for reason extending beyond the two things sharing a name.) And the atheism/theism debate tends to be framed in Christian vs. not Christian around here.
posted by griphus at 8:53 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


That wouldn't occur only in a world of mostly believers, if what you are saying about the diversity of nonbelief in a deity is true.

I'm not the one who said that. But if pressed I would hold that the diversity of nonbelief is itself a result of the -- to put it mildly -- significant presence of belief in the world. There might hypothetically be a diversity of nonbelief in the teapot but we'd never find out because, lacking any pressing social context of generalized belief in it, the subject would never come up.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:55 AM on September 16, 2013


PhoBWanKenobi: " Incidentally, my Judaism is pretty different from zarq's, strongly informed by my mother lecturing me throughout my childhood that I'm a Jew no matter what my father was and no matter what I choose to believe. Jewish mother? Jewish kid. Odd thing is, it's worked; I would never disclaim my Judaism and get pretty het up about antisemitism, too. Despite non-observance."

*nod*

What the religion itself says and what we're taught by our parent(s) as children can differ kinda drastically. A lot of my knowledge of Judaism (and other religions) has been from actively learning as an adult, rather than what I was force-fed as a kid.

It happened with many other subjects as well.
posted by zarq at 8:57 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


To put it another way, if everyone was an atheist, no-one would be. Because disbelief in a given thing that nobody believes in is a completely uninteresting topic, certainly not one meriting its own label.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:00 AM on September 16, 2013


Probably also worth noting that "what the religion itself says" can change depending on the sect and rabbi/teacher saying it. Judaism has very few top-of-the-hierarchy-on-down binding rulings on religious beliefs that are applied across all sects.
posted by zarq at 9:01 AM on September 16, 2013


Sorry, not to spam, but the other thing about the treatment of Judaism as an ethnicity is re this:

I get what you're saying, but getting het up about antisemitism may not be "proof of self-identity as a Jew" so much as it's "proof of self-identity as a compassionate human".

So while "het up" is a really vague term, there's a big difference between acknowledging anti-Semitism as a Jew and as a non-Jew. A non-Jew would not necessarily have to fear anti-Semitism in the same visceral way that a Jew would because they most likely were not raised in the culture, and a huge component of the culture regards the diaspora, the historical maltreatment of Jews, and so on.

In the same sense, while I am compassionate toward the struggles of minorities, women, and people with various gender and sexual identities, there's a point at which I have to admit that the empathy can't carry me across just because I'm not on the inside. It's the same with anti-Semitism; I don't really expect people who aren't raised in the culture (or go to great lengths to study it, whether for conversion or just education) to grasp it in the way people within it do. And, beyond that, it's a little off-putting to hear conflations of the experience of anti-Semitism between Jews and non-Jews, regardless of the intentions.

And, of course, I'm not about to assign those feelings to anyone here but myself, but I will say I know many other people who feel the same way.
posted by griphus at 9:11 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I saw more clearly what PhoBwankenobi was getting at with his clarification, and decided to keep my mouth shut 'cos I felt a little stupid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:15 AM on September 16, 2013


Oh, I totally missed that she clarified. Didn't mean to pile-on.
posted by griphus at 9:18 AM on September 16, 2013


The whole point of that spiel being that the atheism/theism binary gets really, really murky when you bring Jews into the picture. Because unlike, say, an Italian who is a Roman Catholic and can, to some extent detach the two identities from one another, it's a different story with ethnic and religious Judaism (for reason extending beyond the two things sharing a name.) And the atheism/theism debate tends to be framed in Christian vs. not Christian around here

95.88% of Italians are Catholic, if wiki is to be believed. What percentage of them are in church every Sunday or Christmas and Easter Catholics or only show up for weddings and funeral types is a different question, of course. But I imagine asking an Italian what religion she is will get you about the same amount of puzzlement as asking a fish whether it has gills...

All of which is to say that I totally agree that Judaism in particularis both an ethnicity and a faith, and to a large extent being Jewish has very little to do with believing in god. But I think you see that same dynamic crop up with other religions, too. Discrimination seems to enhance the effect.
posted by Diablevert at 9:20 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Yeah, I saw more clearly what PhoBwankenobi was getting at with his clarification, and decided to keep my mouth shut 'cos I felt a little stupid."

Don't. You made a good point, and in your place I think... I hope I would have thought similarly.
posted by zarq at 9:22 AM on September 16, 2013


But if pressed I would hold that the diversity of nonbelief is itself a result of the -- to put it mildly -- significant presence of belief in the world. There might hypothetically be a diversity of nonbelief in the teapot but we'd never find out because, lacking any pressing social context of generalized belief in it, the subject would never come up.

I really find it doubtable that, even if the idea of a deity never came up, human beings would not differ about the ways in which we can know things, the path to knowledge, the utility of knowledge, and the path to establishing the importance or priority of different kinds of knowledge. If they already differ about to what extent we can or cannot be said to "know" something, it stands to reason they would continue to differ about that with regard to even empirical reality.

There are already varying ideologies that have nothing to do with deities at all - political philosophy for instance, and moral philosophy. Why would there not be varying epistemological philosophies even in the absence of the discussion of a deity? That just seems counter to everything we observe human beings to be like.
posted by Miko at 9:27 AM on September 16, 2013


I'm not sure why you're conflating theism and philosophy.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:33 AM on September 16, 2013


I'm not sure why you're conflating theism and philosophy.

You can respond to my ideas without challenging me on theism. They do not necessitate it. That's the point.

That is a pretty sneering comment, though, showing an ignorance of the relationships betwen religion and philosophy. Not a great example of how to have a good-faith discussion.
posted by Miko at 9:35 AM on September 16, 2013


A surprisingly small number of religious tenets reduce to an appeal to Authority (God).
posted by klarck at 9:36 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


You can respond to my ideas without challenging me on theism. They do not necessitate it. That's the point.

I'd be delighted to. But the part of the discussion I was addressing was about the "practice" of atheism and that's all I was speaking to.

That is a pretty sneering comment, though, showing an ignorance of the relationships betwen religion and philosophy. Not a great example of how to have a good-faith discussion.

I am baffled as to why you think I'm sneering. You responded to my specific remarks about the absence of a belief in a deity in a way that seemed to conflate it with an absence of any or all philosophy. I questioned this apparent conflation. Forgive me if that is not what you intended.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:42 AM on September 16, 2013


the part of the discussion I was addressing was about the "practice" of atheism

Right. That's the part of the discussion I'm having, too.

Setting aside that there would be no practice explictly termed "atheism," because no need for one in the absence of theism, I find it doubtable that people would not still differ about the nature of knowledge. There would still be a diversity of practices about knowledge itself. If they then created titled thought-systems and interacted with one another about them, choosing allegiance to one or the other, reading and writing about them, having discussions and lecturing about them, etc., they would have a practice around that thought system.

To me, a "practice" is a behavioral thing. It isn't just thought, it's a set of actions that a person does to explore or engage in an idea. I have a hard time picturing a universe in which humans sit around and think about things, but never in any way act on those thoughts by talking about them, forming groups of like-minded thinkers, developing bodies of literature about the thoughts, etc. Those actions would be practices.

Forgive me if that is not what you intended.

It's not. Try reading it and thinking about it without just trying to catch me out.
posted by Miko at 9:47 AM on September 16, 2013


Folks this is sort of getting into our "same old arguments about religion" territory. You're welcome to keep talking about this if you want, but it's getting a bit far afield from the MetaFilter-related category and just a basic reminder that we don't really moderate in here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:51 AM on September 16, 2013


I think I understand now; your take on atheism is that it is inclusive of a broader system thought than the simple absence of a single fairly specific belief about a deity. Mine was confined to just that simple question.

I am not at all sure how I am giving offense -- it is certainly not intentional. But given that I don't know how I'm doing it, it perforce follows that I don't know how to avoid continuing to do so, so I'm going to stop here.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:52 AM on September 16, 2013


What the religion itself says and what we're taught by our parent(s) as children can differ kinda drastically. A lot of my knowledge of Judaism (and other religions) has been from actively learning as an adult, rather than what I was force-fed as a kid.

Maybe it's overly sentimental, but I really object to the idea thatmy Judaism was "force-fed," I mean, not that you mean anything by it or could really know. I had no formal Jewish education other than the cultural Judaism my mother and grandmother raised me with; I know all of the daily prayers and how to light candles and all the songs but not necessarily the deliberate meaning behind them. And in fact, this kind of jives with the Orthodox Judaism my mother was raised with, where women are the keepers of household ritual but non-participant in much religious formal study. But the thing is, that worked for me, in a way that, say, the Judaism that my husband was raised with (no at-home worship, but decided to go to Hebrew school around age 10) didn't. I find enacting these rituals to be an important link to my past, especially the women of my past, in much the same way that crypto-Jewish women of Spain and southwest America find rituals important.

Which is why religious identification--perhaps especially the question of "What makes a Jew?" is complicated. I am ironically less Jewish in the eyes of some reform Jews than I am to Orthodox Jews and Israeli Jews would tell me something else entirely. But I feel Jewish; I am Jewish, and would trust someone else's self-reporting of Jewish identity just as I would Catholic or Methodist or Buddhist or whatever.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:52 AM on September 16, 2013


I think I understand now; your take on atheism is that it is inclusive of a broader system thought than the simple absence of a single fairly specific belief about a deity

Yes. That connects to what some others in this thread have been saying about their own [atheistic] practices of understanding the universe/human society/etc.

Sorry to misunderstand your intent.
posted by Miko at 10:02 AM on September 16, 2013


Folks this is sort of getting into our "same old arguments about religion" territory. You're welcome to keep talking about this if you want, but it's getting a bit far afield from the MetaFilter-related category and just a basic reminder that we don't really moderate in here.

Give us five more minutes, boss, I think we've nearly got it solved!
posted by Diablevert at 10:05 AM on September 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


I blame Dawkins and his "brights". Way to take something that is already too easy to construe as belligerent and remove any doubt. I admire the living hell out of the guy and have never disagreed with single assertion of fact from him (so far as I've seen, anyway), and I still want to smack him.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:17 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Like, I don't have any truck with Judaism as a religion, but I can't not be a Jew any more than a black guy can stop being black or a Japanese guy can stop being Japanese. My birth certificate from my home country says "Jew" in the same way that someone else's says "Russian" or "Georgian" or "Uzbek.""

Yeah, I got into an ugly fight in MeTa some years back over a good friend of mine from high school who is a hard atheist and rejects identifying as a Jew explicitly because of his hard atheism. (Mention any religion around him and expect a long lecture on how it's the root of every evil ever known to man.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:28 AM on September 16, 2013


I believe that our respect for a given belief should be directly proportional to whether we, y'know, think that belief is true or not

Maybe it would be more helpful to think of it as respect owed to your fellow MetaFilter members, rather than respect owed to their beliefs.

There are people here with whom I have strong disagreements, but if nothing else, I owe them respect because they and I are all guests in mathowie's house.
posted by straight at 11:50 AM on September 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


Seconding straight: It's not about respecting beliefs. It's about respecting people.
posted by The World Famous at 12:24 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think of atheism as an uncapitalized -ism that's a characteristic of multiple philosophies akin to theism, pacifism, vegetarianism, etc.. That is, we don't say that because Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, and modern Heathenism all profess theism (strongly so in many cases), that they share some sort of consensus "movement" or "project." While a Buddhist and Quaker may both practice pacifism, we don't say they're the same religion, and it might be misleading to say they practice the same kind of pacifism as well.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:25 PM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi: " Maybe it's overly sentimental, but I really object to the idea thatmy Judaism was "force-fed,"

Ack. Sorry. Very poor choice of words on my part.

I tend to draw a bit of a mental line between what I was personally taught and learned about Judaism as a child and what I have voluntarily learned as an adult. There is a gap of over 15 years between those two time frames. I should have been a lot more careful with the words I was using when describing your (or anyone else's) experience, which is obviously different than mine. It was never my intention to criticize or diminish your religious education (or religiosity) in any way, but the term must have sounded disparaging and disrespectful. My apologies.

Which is why religious identification--perhaps especially the question of "What makes a Jew?" is complicated. I am ironically less Jewish in the eyes of some reform Jews than I am to Orthodox Jews and Israeli Jews would tell me something else entirely. But I feel Jewish; I am Jewish, and would trust someone else's self-reporting of Jewish identity just as I would Catholic or Methodist or Buddhist or whatever."

*nod* I agree. Self-identity is paramount.
posted by zarq at 12:26 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I appreciate that, zarq. Like I said, I realized you weren't trying to be judgmental. It's such a loaded thing, religious identity.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:28 PM on September 16, 2013



If "hubris" is religious, then so is "nemesis," "titanic," "mentor," "paean," "chimera," "narcissism," "tantalize," and countless others.

''Enthusiastically'' agree.
posted by y2karl at 5:46 PM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think of atheism as an uncapitalized -ism that's a characteristic of multiple philosophies akin to theism, pacifism, vegetarianism, etc.. That is, we don't say that because Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, and modern Heathenism all profess theism (strongly so in many cases), that they share some sort of consensus "movement" or "project."

And I think of religions as non-proper nouns. So catholicism, judaism, hinduism, and modern heathenism. I don't do this out of disrespect, like they are like baseball, football, and tennis to me. They hold little influence in my life, and I get confused when people try to explain them, but I often still like the stories. He killed a lion with the jawbone of an ass? Awesome! He swan in the Olympics after having his appendix out, tore his stitches on a flip, and still won? Awesome! (Note I may have gotten my stories somewhat off.)

Religion is a lot like history for me. I am bad with the names and the dates, but I find it fascinating as something to study. Again, somewhat like sports. I don't want to watch them or participate, but I followed all of Tiger's implosion and Armstrong's fall from grace. I pay attention to who wins the big games and matches, but I'm not vested in the outcomes, and I am not going to remember next week.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:49 PM on September 16, 2013


I really don't understand why you wouldn't capitalize them. The names of religions are, in fact, proper nouns. Not like "golf," but like "National Golf Association." It's an important distinction, even if only because, for instance, Catholic and catholic have two different meanings (kind of like God and god, Renaissance and renaissance, United States and united states). I can't fathom a justification for not doing it - it's like me refusing to capitalize tiger woods' name, or the name of the nation of brazil - and it doesn't clarify meaning not to do it. It just looks like maybe you forgot.
posted by Miko at 7:34 PM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I meant mentally. I generally obey rules of grammar.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:57 PM on September 16, 2013


Oh...okay then...sorry. Just didn't understand that one.
posted by Miko at 8:02 PM on September 16, 2013


Who Would Jesus Hit?
posted by telstar at 10:02 PM on September 16, 2013


Forgive me for being both late and uninformed. But I'm never sure why a rejection of organised religions is necessarily the same as not believing in a God. I don't really get the equation: humans are hateful to each other under the guise of following rules that they invented/interpreted etc, therefore there is no magik sky-wizard.

As an adult I have been able to question and disregard aspects of the Catholic faith that were taught to me as a child, and I don't believe that any organisation run by men in a patriarchal society can be free of injustice and oppression. However I still believe in God although I accept there's no scientific proof (I guess I'm an agnostic theist). I also love science and I'm never sure why the two are seen as mutually exclusive.

I accept that people can say they can't tolerate oppressive religious beliefs, but "there is no God" is a separate debate IMO.
posted by billiebee at 3:40 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I'm never sure why a rejection of organised religions is necessarily the same as not believing in a God.

It's not. But the existence of atheists within religious communities and religious movements is an evergreen man-bites-dog story.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:20 AM on September 17, 2013


But I'm never sure why a rejection of organised religions is necessarily the same as not believing in a God.

It isn't, as the ARIS survey results demonstrate. There's a growing population of "nones" who do not associate with any religion but aren't necessarily atheist.

I don't really get the equation: humans are hateful to each other under the guise of following rules that they invented/interpreted etc, therefore there is no magik sky-wizard.

The atheist arguments I usually encounter separate the existence of deity question from criticisms of religious institutions.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:01 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The arguments you encounter on MeFi?
posted by Miko at 6:04 AM on September 17, 2013


The arguments you encounter on MeFi?

I meant the full range of atheist viewpoints.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:11 AM on September 17, 2013


Oh...okay then...sorry. Just didn't understand that one.

Yeah, and I wasn't clear. When CBrachyrhynchos said how he thought of atheism in comparison to other -isms it made me think about how I think about religions. I actually think the sports metaphor isn't bad. There are tons of sports out there. Some I'm not even aware of. Within these sports there are people who align with one particular team. They can choose another team, take on a new sport, but chances are they will just like whatever team and sport their parents liked. Some people reject sports entirely. Some people think there are immoral aspects to sports (pay, taxpayer funding, drugs, etc.). A lot of people are convinced their sport is the best and only true sport.

So when someone says, "I am a Hindu," it has the same resonance with me as someone that says, "I like cricket." It wasn't an attempt to deny religion its actual place in the world, but rather a personal viewing of it.

To modify my previous analogy where I used race, I think sports is a better one. Using a qualifier to indicate personal experience doesn't diffuse the potential offense given. "Every Packers fan i've met tends to eat too much," or "In my experience Jai alai players tend to be more intelligent than football players."
posted by cjorgensen at 6:43 AM on September 17, 2013


"And I think of religions as non-proper nouns. So catholicism, judaism, hinduism, and modern heathenism."

So catholicism, from καθολικισμός meaning "according to the whole," describes an emphasis in the abstract sense on historical continuity in theology and practice. While I'm sure this will summon Tanizaki from the ether to come in and plug Greek Orthodoxy, the Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians are all pretty darn catholic even though they are not at all Catholic, which means something totally different. When one uses big C Catholic it pretty much always means the Roman Catholic Church as well as usually the various other Churches that are in full communion with it. Similarly, orthodox means not heretical while Orthodox means a specific faith tradition.

Judaism and to a lesser extent Hinduism each have such a wide array of meanings, each of which is so clearly a proper noun, that it would be pretty strange to encounter someone neglecting to capitalize them on purpose without some kind of weird racist intent.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:10 AM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


cjorgensen: "And I think of religions as non-proper nouns. So catholicism, judaism, hinduism, and modern heathenism. I don't do this out of disrespect, like they are like baseball, football, and tennis to me. "

You're free to hold that opinion, of course. But grammatically-speaking, you're wrong. They're proper nouns. That's what they are by definition.

The only concern I would have with what you're doing is it might introduce unnecessary confusion into conversation, by blurring the line between an individual adherent of a religion and the religion itself. Assuming they associate with a religion or religions, theists hardly ever follow all the tenets of them. And the various sects of those religions themselves differ widely in their dictates, structure and impact on non-believers. These are distinctions which come up a lot on MeFi -- and they seem to require endless qualification and explanations to folks who have had negative experiences with fundamentalist and/or orthodox Christianity and think all religions are like it.
posted by zarq at 7:36 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oops. I meant arguments I see appearing in the wider range of atheist viewpoints extending beyond MeFi discussions. I don't even read all atheism-related material on MeFi, so obviously I'm not familiar with the full range of atheism everywhere.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:38 AM on September 17, 2013


MetaTalk: I'm sure this will summon Tanizaki from the ether
posted by MoonOrb at 7:40 AM on September 17, 2013


Don't worry. His name has to be said three times before he'll appear, and people have only said "Tanizaki" twice in this thread.

Oops
posted by zarq at 7:54 AM on September 17, 2013


Folks summoning people who aren't part of the conversation is considered sort of poor form, please stop.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:54 AM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


We've come for your daughter, Chuck.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:58 AM on September 17, 2013 [24 favorites]


Miko: The arguments you encounter on MeFi?

I'd say that metafilter has a fair spectrum of atheists, to such an extent, that many of these threads are dominated by athiests debating atheists.

cjorgensen: I think your "sports team" analogy misses the distinction that I was trying to make. American Football fans might champion different teams, but most of them have a rough consensus that American Football is a game in which opposing teams try to move a ball across a 100-yard field, in the context of regional and national leagues.

In fact, American Football has many of the same elements that characterize religion: shared practice, history, and community. It lacks others.

To extend the analogy, atheism and theism are akin to athleticism. Different sports are characterized by different practices, have different (if overlapping) communities, and different histories. We don't say that tennis and baseball are the same thing, so we probably shouldn't conclude that Dawkins and McGowan are doing the same thing either.

Especially not here.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:58 AM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Judaism and to a lesser extent Hinduism each have such a wide array of meanings, each of which is so clearly a proper noun, that it would be pretty strange to encounter someone neglecting to capitalize them on purpose without some kind of weird racist intent.

It has nothing to do with racism. In fact I can't even see how you'd get there. I said this is how I think about these things. If I don't give Catholicism the proper reverence in my head that a Catholic does, or even the significance a Lutheran or Muslim gives the word (or religion) "Catholic," this doesn't make me a racist. (The Irish don't bother me at all! I have plenty of Irish friends.) Seriously. What I am saying is that as a non-religious person, no religion is more important to me than another, (other than how they impact me culturally or as a member of society). Mentally the word "Hindu" holds very little significance for me on any kind of daily basis. Just like the Boston Red Sox don't. If I think of these players as "baseball players" or even 'boston red sox," it doesn't mean I hate Boston, baseball, these players, or the people who love and support them. It means I don't give much of a fig. I suppose if not caring about Judaism and Hinduism in my life, and in my head makes me a racist, then I am also a baseball bigot. I bet dollars to donuts there are a shitload of religions out there you don't care about as well. You just don't care about different ones.

You're free to hold that opinion, of course. But grammatically-speaking, you're wrong. They're proper nouns. That's what they are by definition.

Yeah, I get that. I guess I threw a red herring, since you are correct since they are proper nouns. I was trying to make a point about how someone outside of the activity might think about them. So while the distinctions between religions are important to some, to others they are not, so when a person says "Catholic, Hindu, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhism, Etc." what I hear is "religion." If anything where I erred in my statement above was to make a concession for the various flavors. I wasn't trying to be grammatically incorrect or deny some group their earned Capitalization.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:31 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


cjorgensen: " Yeah, I get that. I guess I threw a red herring, since you are correct since they are proper nouns. I was trying to make a point about how someone outside of the activity might think about them. So while the distinctions between religions are important to some, to others they are not."

No, I get that. I understood that part. Which is why I went on to discuss it further in my comment, and directly addressed the distinctions between religions and in observance between intra-religious sects. This stuff definitely matters if you're going to be referring to groups of people accurately, and by extension speak to the actual influence of various religious institutions on their lay followers.

so when a person says "Catholic, Hindu, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhism, Etc." what I hear is "religion."

OK. But when we discuss religious institutions and their followers on MeFi, it can actually be quite helpful to discern, separate and discuss the differences between what an institution says and what its followers actually do. Does the Pope speak for all Catholics? For all Christians? Does Rabbi X speak for all Jews? Do all Muslims believe X and if yes, to what extent? These are questions that are raised rather often on MeFi and the answers given can help us view people more accurately as individuals, not monolithic groups. Especially since most theists here probably don't rely wholly on blind faith. So it's nice to be able to discuss them with clarity and not in reductio ad absurdum arguments.

If anything where I erred in my statement above was to make a concession for the various flavors. I wasn't trying to be grammatically incorrect or deny some group their earned Capitalization.

I was not complaining about a group's "earned Capitalization." This has nothing to do entitlement.
posted by zarq at 9:52 AM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hate to butt in but what a wonderful converstation.
I'll be at the Font
posted by clavdivs at 10:26 AM on September 17, 2013


I think we're talking past each other.

I can have a discussion on the rules of hockey vs. the rules of tennis. I can have a discussion of the fans or either sport and how they behave. I can even study these games and understand how some people dedicate their whole lives and identities and sense of community to one particular team or player. I can appreciate the accomplishments. I can admire the skill. I can follow the celebrity. I can have strong opinions on the topic (i.e. I don't think the highest paid government employee in many states should be a football coach!). I can still not be someone who is a sports fan.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:28 AM on September 17, 2013


cjorgensen: "I think we're talking past each other.

Possibly!

cjorgensen: " I can still not be someone who is a sports fan."

Sure.

But unless I missed it, no one here has asked you to be pro-religion? I'm not really understanding how using a capital letter for clarity's sake is kowtowing to religion, either.
posted by zarq at 10:59 AM on September 17, 2013


cjorgensen, I am loving this guided tour of your head. The tile in kitchen is lovely, and those colors in the dining room!!!! Not crazy about the landscaping though, but to each his own.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:22 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Unless you're telepathic why do you care how I think about religion? Like I stated multiple times I try obey the rules of grammar in print. When speaking there's no way you could tell. I stated this was shorthand way of thinking about religion. Catholicism and atheism and Taoism and skepticism and tourism all hold the same resonance for me. I'm not out to deny you the existence of your God (or god).

Did I say anyone said I had to be pro-religion?
posted by cjorgensen at 11:28 AM on September 17, 2013


cjorgensen: " Unless you're telepathic why do you care how I think about religion?

I don't.

Like I stated multiple times

As far as I could tell, you said that only once, and it wasn't particularly clear to me that this entire conversation was all about what you think in the privacy of your own head, not how you converse on mefi.

I would not have bothered to talk to you at all about ways your use of grammar on mefi might affect discussions here if I had realized that this entire conversation had nothing to do with that. I've pretty consistently said that I was concerned about conversations here. Thats why I said, "The only concern I would have with what you're doing is it might introduce unnecessary confusion into conversation," when I first responded to you.

I try obey the rules of grammar in print. When speaking there's no way you could tell. I stated this was shorthand way of thinking about religion.

OK. That makes more sense. And no, it wasn't clear to me earlier. Thank you for explaining.

I'm not out to deny you the existence of your God (or god).

The points I have raised to you have never been about that. I never once thought that your comments were about "denying" me anything, nor would I have given a damn if that had been your intention. I'm not a Christian. Your agreement or disagreement with what I believe is largely irrelevant to me. I don't see non-belief as a threat and have no interest in convincing you of the rightness or wrongness of my point of view. Heck, I'm not sure what I believe most days.

Did I say anyone said I had to be pro-religion?"

Through metaphor, I believe so:

"I can have a discussion on the rules of hockey vs. the rules of tennis. I can have a discussion of the fans or either sport and how they behave. I can even study these games and understand how some people dedicate their whole lives and identities and sense of community to one particular team or player. I can appreciate the accomplishments. I can admire the skill. I can follow the celebrity. I can have strong opinions on the topic (i.e. I don't think the highest paid government employee in many states should be a football coach!). I can still not be someone who is a sports fan."

We were definitely talking past each other.
posted by zarq at 12:07 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't capitalize anything in my head. Also, everything is in italics.
posted by Area Man at 2:14 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


In my head, it's like an eighteenth-century personal letter. Completely random capitalization of the odd Noun here or there, idiosyncratic spelling, and incomprehensible abbrvtns.
posted by Miko at 3:13 PM on September 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


That's exactly the sort of opinion M— of Boston would espouse.
posted by klangklangston at 4:08 PM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


"It means I don't give much of a fig. I suppose if not caring about Judaism and Hinduism in my life, and in my head makes me a racist, then I am also a baseball bigot. I bet dollars to donuts there are a shitload of religions out there you don't care about as well. You just don't care about different ones."

You can spare us the evangelistic talking points, no one is calling you a racist or a bigot. You made your harmlessly idiosyncratic reasoning for your capitalization preferences abundantly clear, but the capitalization of the adjectives and descriptors used to denote religious traditions do have millennia old meanings that will at best confuse most anyone you talk to who might know what they're talking about.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:13 PM on September 17, 2013


Miko gets me.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:23 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can spare us the evangelistic talking points, no one is calling you a racist or a bigot.

Millennia old? Seriously, spelling hasn't been standardized for more than a few hundred years, and some would argue it still hasn't been.

And what am I evangelizing?

And I think you were the one that said "Judaism and to a lesser extent Hinduism each have such a wide array of meanings, each of which is so clearly a proper noun, that it would be pretty strange to encounter someone neglecting to capitalize them on purpose without some kind of weird racist intent."

When I speak or write to people I try to use common language and uses. When I write I pick my audience. I write to them. If you find I've been inconsistent, great, call me out. Otherwise, I think you're not acting in good faith. It's like you are ignoring most everything I've written and are picking for points.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:39 PM on September 17, 2013


It's like you are ignoring most everything I've written and are picking for points.

I think people are generally trying to assume you're saying something more substantial than "I don't care very much about this subject" since you've gone to some trouble to talk about it. If that isn't your point, maybe you could be more clear? If that is, then what response are you actually expecting?
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:49 PM on September 17, 2013


I think where this went a bit off the rails, restless_nomad, is when Blasdelb threw "racism" into the discussion, which probably made cjorgensen feel a little defensive. I know that would bother me (I still don't get where that was coming from and feel Blasdelb's follow-up reads as inflammatory as well).
posted by misha at 5:34 PM on September 17, 2013


When Escape from the Potato Planet made this meta, I suspect his secret goal was for it to degenerate into a surreal conversation about whether cjorgensen should capitalise the names of religions or not.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:57 PM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


THERE IS A SIMPLE SOLUTION THAT WOULD NEGATE ALL OF THIS. IT'S NOT ELEGANT BUT IT WOULD SUFFICE.
posted by philip-random at 12:32 AM on September 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


1. Make an anti-religion comment on the blue in the hopes of having a good old-fashioned argument with believers.

2. Question the deletion of your comment on the grey and have the good old-fashioned argument there instead.

3. ????

4. Profit!! Prophet!!
posted by rocket88 at 5:30 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this has been a pretty cool discussion, despite what may have been its original intent. Thanks all.
posted by Miko at 5:55 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


THERE IS A SIMPLE SOLUTION THAT WOULD NEGATE ALL OF THIS. IT'S NOT ELEGANT BUT IT WOULD SUFFICE.

THIS CONVERSATION WOULD NEVER HAVE EVEN COME UP IF PEOPLE HAD HAD THE GOOD SENSE TO ADOPT WEBTV AS THE DEFAULT INTERNET CONSOLE.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:03 AM on September 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


CAN EVERYONE PLEASE YELL A LITTLE QUIETER
posted by griphus at 7:21 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


JESUS SAVED 10% BY USING HIS STORE CARD
posted by planetesimal at 7:35 AM on September 18, 2013


Huh, I thought it was by switching to Geico.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 11:38 AM on September 18, 2013


Sheesh. I thought this thread was over 200 comments ago.

Since everyone is falling over themselves to tell me that the "invisible sky wizard" business (which I never said, but whatevs) is a straw-man version of actual theistic beliefs, care to share a link or something that explains what actual theistic beliefs are, and how they differ meaningfully from "there's an invisible wizard in the sky"?

Probably best to memail me, unless there's a reason to keep this thread going.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:56 AM on September 19, 2013


escape, you're not getting it. People don't really want to argue with you about the virtues about atheism vs. theism. They never really did, even if some of them took your bait in the first place, and that is the fundamental source of the conflict here. The actual conversation moved on to other, more engaging topics a long time ago.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:04 PM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


escape from the potato planet: " Since everyone is falling over themselves to tell me that the "invisible sky wizard" business (which I never said, but whatevs) is a straw-man version of actual theistic beliefs, care to share a link or something that explains what actual theistic beliefs are, and how they differ meaningfully from "there's an invisible wizard in the sky"?"

Read this comment. Seriously. There's a lot of wisdom to unpack there.
posted by zarq at 12:15 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry about moving on to another topic--when we didn't see you for a couple hundred comments, we figured you were mad about the online social-justice contingent now.
posted by box at 12:18 PM on September 19, 2013


escape, you're not getting it. People don't really want to argue with you about the virtues about atheism vs. theism. They never really did, even if some of them took your bait in the first place, and that is the fundamental source of the conflict here. The actual conversation moved on to other, more engaging topics a long time ago.

yeah, you're rather like the guy who had a couple bad experiences with Chinese food when you were young and have since decided that any remotely Asian food must be bad.

Your loss, and only ours if we waste our time trying to convince you otherwise. Because clearly your mind's all made up.
posted by philip-random at 12:26 PM on September 19, 2013


People don't really want to argue with you about the virtues about atheism vs. theism.

And I don't want to argue with them about it. I'm not asking for clarification on the "invisible sky wizard" thing because I intend to argue with the people who provide that clarification. I'm asking because, if there's any substance to the objections people have raised to that characterization of religion, I want to know about it.

I may be guilty of any number of the charges that people have made against me here. I can assure you, though, that more than a few of you are guilty of believing whatever unpleasant things you want to believe about me, based on not much evidence. Have fun with that, I guess.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 12:40 PM on September 19, 2013


escape from the potato planet: "I'm not asking for clarification on the "invisible sky wizard" thing because I intend to argue with the people who provide that clarification. I'm asking because, if there's any substance to the objections people have raised to that characterization of religion, I want to know about it."

The characterization you are making about religions seems to include an assumption that you should actually be questioning.

Not all religions dictate a belief in a deity or deities. Traditional Buddhism, for example. In addition, in some religious traditions there are sects are open to the idea of agnosticism, without pressuring their adherents towards blind faith. Some encourage criticism and questioning. I mentioned some sects of Judaism upthread, but Hinduism also has a tradition of both atheistic and theistic agnosticism.

You asked why people are objecting to "invisible sky wizard" characterizations. Many people answered you up-thread, that it makes the person saying it sound like a jerk. You accepted this answer and thanked them for it. But did you in fact learn the lesson they were trying to teach? Or have you changed your mind in the interim?
posted by zarq at 1:08 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Look, I can't give you a point-by-point response to everything in the preceding 300 comments, and this isn't the place for it anyway.

My original interest in this post was exactly what it says: to get some clarification on the official MeFi policy in this area. I believe I've gotten as much of that from the thread as I'm likely to, so I'm done with that (at least for now).

My sole remaining interest, if anyone cares to indulge it (and I thank those who have), is to read material that explains why "god = invisible wizard" is a strawman.

God is not evident to the senses or to scientific instruments (hence "invisible"). God is (allegedly) a being capable of extraordinary supernatural feats (hence "wizard"). (The "sky" bit, I'll give you, is probably just snideness.)

Hence, God is a being with supernatural abilities, for which there is no material evidence. Those are two of the main reasons I object to the idea that God exists, and they are the objections that I mean to draw attention to when (if) I use the term "invisible wizard".

So, please show me where that understanding of theistic belief is mistaken—i.e., show me that there is material evidence for the existence of God, and/or show me that theists aren't actually asserting the existence of a being with supernatural abilities.

This is not a challenge or an entré to a debate. I will not debate you here. It is a request for information that supports the assertions upthread that "invisible sky wizard" is an inaccurate characterization of theistic belief.

If you well and truly want to hear my reaction to that information, I can oblige (briefly, privately, and as civilly as I know how).

However, I'm assuming that no one does want to hear my reaction, and I really am uninterested in turning this into a debate.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 1:44 PM on September 19, 2013


It is a request for information that supports the assertions upthread that "invisible sky wizard" is an inaccurate characterization of theistic belief.

Imagine you worked for IBM. Huge company, does a lot of things, right? Now imagine that every time you said anything about work -- anything at all, from "This project is taking way more time than I thought" to "Some schmuck didn't refill the coffeepot after taking the last cup," one of your friends replied, "Wow, it must be really tough working for a company that aided and abetted the Holocaust." Would you want to spend any time with that person, regardless of the fact that he was making a perfectly accurate characterization of your company?
posted by Etrigan at 1:53 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


escape from the potato planet, I think the question you're asking is pretty far outside the scope of what a MeTa thread can reasonably hope to solve.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:55 PM on September 19, 2013


And that is why I am declining every invitation to debate/solve it here. MeMail or nothing, please. Thank you all.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 1:57 PM on September 19, 2013


My sole remaining interest, if anyone cares to indulge it (and I thank those who have), is to read material that explains why "god = invisible wizard" is a strawman.

Hi! Religious person here. I don't believe God is invisible and I don't believe God is a wizard. So perhaps that can be at least a beginning of an answer to your question. I also don't believe God is in the sky, in case you were curious. The term "invisible [sky] wizard" is not only a straw man (as it mischaracterizes the belief) but is insulting and reduces the argument to the absurd.

So, please show me where that understanding of theistic belief is mistaken—i.e., show me that there is material evidence for the existence of God,

We'd have to come to a reasonable agreement first as to what constitutes "material evidence." See, the term "material evidence" generally comes from the legal world, in my experience, and what is or is not "material" depends on the context of the matter being discussed. So let's first agree on what would constitute "material evidence" and then I can give you my personal take on whether or not I'm aware of the existence of such evidence for the existence of God (since it would be impossible for anyone to be aware of whether or not the evidence exists, one can only make a representation as to their own knowledge, as opposed to the absolute question of whether or not evidence exists). Make sense?

and/or show me that theists aren't actually asserting the existence of a being with supernatural abilities.

All theists or some specific subset of theists? And what do you mean by "supernatural abilities?" Depending on what you mean, I might be an example of a theist who does not assert the existence of a being with supernatural abilities. Let's flesh out the definition and see what we come up with.

And now I see your request for a MeMail, so I'll do that. Thanks.
posted by The World Famous at 1:58 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


escape from the potato planet: "My original interest in this post was exactly what it says: to get some clarification on the official MeFi policy in this area. I believe I've gotten as much of that from the thread as I'm likely to, so I'm done with that (at least for now).

I see.

My sole remaining interest, if anyone cares to indulge it (and I thank those who have), is to read material that explains why "god = invisible wizard" is a strawman.

Ah.

No thanks.

The World Famous: " We'd have to come to a reasonable agreement first as to what constitutes "material evidence." See, the term "material evidence" generally comes from the legal world, in my experience, and what is or is not "material" depends on the context of the matter being discussed. So let's first agree on what would constitute "material evidence" and then I can give you my personal take on whether or not I'm aware of the existence of such evidence for the existence of God (since it would be impossible for anyone to be aware of whether or not the evidence exists, one can only make a representation as to their own knowledge, as opposed to the absolute question of whether or not evidence exists). Make sense?"

Oh, to be a silent fly on the wall. :)
posted by zarq at 2:01 PM on September 19, 2013


escape from the potato planet: "Hence, God is a being with supernatural abilities, for which there is no material evidence."

Well, as a religious person, I don't particularly disagree with either of those statements, but I would not consider that the totality of my definition of God, which seems to be your line of logical argumentation here, which is what people are objecting to as a straw man. Your definition of God, which you're using to underlie your argument that God doesn't exist, is incomplete for most people.

But then as a religious person I'm not particularly offended by the phrase "invisible sky wizard." I personally find it amusing. But it's straight-up childish as a definition of God, in two senses: One, it's clearly calculated to insult and offend, not to forward a good-faith conversation; Two, it's the sort of very limited, basic definition that a very young or uneducated person would use in a beginner's discussion.

I mean, yes, God is claimed by my sort of Christian to be a being with supernatural abilities, for whom there is no material evidence. You are correct in both those statements. That doesn't ... particularly undermine my faith in God? Like, I noticed these things during First Communion preparation when I was six. I mean, I'm not dumb. I fully realize I believe in an invisible sky wizard who may or may not exist. I realized that when I was six. Presenting it to me as a shattering revelation I have not yet noticed at age 35 after 8 years of formal theological education is a little dismissive, and feels as if it is either not in good faith (i.e., seeking to offend) or else very, very rudimentary and unsophisticated as an understanding of others' beliefs/ideas/thoughts.

You're not obligated to believe in God and it's perfectly fine with me if you do not believe in invisible supernatural beings for whom there is no material evidence. That is a totally reasonable position with which I have no beef, and one that I can absolutely understand how a reasonable, good-faith individual would come to. But not everyone ascribes to the same definition or would accept your premises as complete, so when you argue against those incomplete premises and insist they're you're opponent's premises as well, it becomes a straw man.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:04 PM on September 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: "You're not obligated to believe in God and it's perfectly fine with me if you do not believe in invisible supernatural beings for whom there is no material evidence. That is a totally reasonable position with which I have no beef, and one that I can absolutely understand how a reasonable, good-faith individual would come to. "

This is also, incidentally, why I like to discuss things about religion, which I think are very interesting, but I'm not really interested in whether one particular religion is correct or whether God exists or whatever, which I think are very boring discussions. I see how reasonable, good-faith people could come to different conclusions on those questions, so those debates to me seem very dull. But discussing the theological underpinnings of Tibetan sky burials or the historical-critical interpretation of Genesis, THAT is interesting to me, because we can have much more interesting discussions from within a particular faith framework, which is why I'm more likely to participate in that sort of thread and get aggravated if that sort of thread turns into a God/no God debate.

Again I understand that other people feel differently about how interesting those questions are, which is why they major in philosophy rather than theology and why I do not go shitting in those big-question threads complaining that they are boring. If I think the discussion is boring or dumb, nobody's making me read it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:12 PM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


and/or show me that theists aren't actually asserting the existence of a being with supernatural abilities.

some theists assert. some merely believe. there's a difference. rather big actually.
posted by philip-random at 2:44 PM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


...But discussing the theological underpinnings of Tibetan sky burials or the historical-critical interpretation of Genesis, THAT is interesting to me, because we can have much more interesting discussions from within a particular faith framework, which is why I'm more likely to participate in that sort of thread and get aggravated if that sort of thread turns into a God/no God debate.

Oh, yes.

To know things well, we must know the details and since detail is almost infinite, our knowledge remains superficial and imperfect, wrote La Rochefoucauld.

For a god for this entire universe of countless clouds of galaxies flying apart all these past thirteeen billion years, them's a lot of details. 'A being,' 'sky' and 'wizard' seem a bit limiting as descriptions. But if such a God exists, it's hard to see how we, individually or in toto -- what's the difference?-- should matter than a bacterium to Him, Her or... ? But I do love hearing about the details.
posted by y2karl at 2:49 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was about to compose a reply, but Eyebrows McGee composed it for me. There's some kind of naive simplicity to the idea that somebody in a MeMail or internet comment could supply a complete defense of "theistic beliefs," as if they are monolithic, or homogenous, or straightforward. Nor am I really interested in the project of illustrating my religious thinking for a hostile interlocutor. I mean, why? I am not a case study.

There seems to be little point in that sort of exchange. If a person wants to limit themselves to talking and thinking only about empirically observable material things, fine. No problem with that way of moving through the world (though in all honestly it is nearly impossible for humans to do, it is a perfectly acceptable intellectual goal or thought practice). That is a valid choice that is many by many many people and, within their terms of engagement, they are exceedingly well supported, and again within their terms of engagement, I make no claims of fact that I expect them to accept. So great. At the same time, I find my life enhanced by entertaining additional ideas, maintaining a faith practice, and also enjoying and investigating the multitudinous other ideas that have existed in human history and the complicated and fascinating ways those ideas have interacted with our cultures, institutions, and personal lives.
posted by Miko at 2:57 PM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm generally of the opinion that tit-for-tat between antitheists and apoligist is one of the less interesting aspects of atheism as well.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:28 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Even more annoying than the "invisible sky wizard" trope is asking people to MeMail and then not responding when they do. I mean come on.
posted by The World Famous at 4:44 PM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Maybe you convinced him and he's spending the rest of the day selling off his stuff so he can be a missionary in the jungle.
posted by klangklangston at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


For me, "(The "sky" bit, I'll give you, is probably just snideness.)" might've been the tipping point.
posted by box at 5:11 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to follow up and so nobody gets the wrong idea, escape from the potato planet finally did respond to me very politely.
posted by The World Famous at 6:17 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even more annoying than the "invisible sky wizard" trope is asking people to MeMail and then not responding when they do. I mean come on.

What's really funny is to read that sentence with the word "pray" in place of "MeMail".
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:27 PM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


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