A set of comments …

So, my latest post seems to have generated a fair amount of heat, and since I’m not replying at Butterflies and Wheels at the somewhat request of Ophelia — I’m not sure where the line would be in what would be a reasonable reply and one that isn’t, and have no interest in working under those constraints — I’ll reply to some of them here.

Rieux is a very frequent commenter all over the place, and people really seem to like his comments.  I, personally, have not found them that impressive, because to me a lot of the time they are light on argument and analysis and long on ranting and rhetoric, and his comment to me is no exception:


“You missed the point.

Oh, no, I didn’t. You’re just trying to hide nasty atheophobic bigotry behind a fog of handwaving and circumlocution.”

Ah, this lovely new term “atheophobic”.  Since I was talking specifically about fundamentalist, militant and Gnu atheists, that’s hardly evidence for anything about my views about atheists in general.  And if he thinks he didn’t miss my point, the idea would be for him to not simply interrupt the comment at the first sentence to express that, but to look at my explanation of my point and say “That’s what I thought” or, even — as he does try to do later — show that the point I’m saying is not what I said.  This paragraph, then, is void of content, and at least the sentence he was replying made no pretentions of saying anything useful.

“The point is that at least some of the atheists being called fundmentalists….

…by clueless people who neither know nor care the first thing about what fundamentalism actually is…”

Well, see, if we don’t know what this is, the way to find out if we care is to, in fact, fill us in and cure us of our cluelessness.  But the original statement from Sigmund did try to do that, by comparing behaviours.  But it seems to me that for the people Sigmund was attacking, that’s not the criteria for fundamentalism.  Yes, I will admit here that if Sigmund — and possibly Rieux, if he’d deign to actually give his definition or criteria for fundamentalism — is right that it’s about behaviours, then at least right now there are no — or, at least, vanishingly few — fundamentalist atheists.  But I think the criteria that the others are using — and this is the criteria I use — is about attitudes.  So saying “atheists aren’t killing people” doesn’t disprove that they’re militant or fundamentalists, nor does it mean that they are immune from the problems of militant or fundamentalist attitudes.  Now, we can work out what is required for a fundamentalist view, but one criteria tossed out is that it is immune to evidence.  Some Gnu atheists clearly and proudly express this (P.Z. Myers is among them; Jerry Coyne is not).  Another criteria that can be used is an attitude that they are right and their opponents are, in fact, just wrong.  When you call your opponents delusional and that your side is the only rational position, that tends to fit in that category.  Rieux’s comment is permeated with that sort of attitude; we’re just wrong and don’t care about the truth, you see, that he so nicely fails to impart.  Declaring your opponents evil seems to fit as well.   Now, the response to this from Gnus is that their opponents are evil, and my reply is “Yes, and that’s what religious fundamentalists think, too.  I think that you’re both oversimplifying it, and I can argue for it anytime, anywhere.”  For militant, you’d have to be aggressive about these views, and Gnu atheists certainly are that, and proud of it.

Now, is fundamentalism and militancy always a bad thing.  Maybe not.  Some of the defenses of Gnu atheism against accommodationists seem to claim that militancy sometimes is good and required.  I’m skeptical, but at least that would be a defensible position.  Shame that Rieux didn’t try to make it, and also declined to demonstrate what it really means to be fundamentalist and militant … because that’s the other defensible position:   to argue that Gnu atheism is neither fundamentalist nor militant.  Not just assert, but argue.  And that’s missing in a lot of replies.

Moving on:

…express attitudes that seem to moderates on all sides as being close to those of the fundamentalist theists.

“They “seem to [‘]moderates[’]” that way because said “moderates” are so buried in religious privilege that the mildest skeptical critique of religious belief sounds to them like a feverish assault.

Blind and privileged misconceptions such as the way Gnu Atheism “seems” to self-declared privileged “moderates” are useless as evidence of anything. You can’t build a sociological case on that garbage.”

Well, first, I wasn’t aware that I was.  I was mostly expressing a philosophical — and possibly psychological — view explaining what moderates were worried about:  that their attitudes appeared to them to be no different than those of religious fundamentalists that worry them.  This, then, could cause them to worry a bit about that and ask that Gnu atheists try to tone those attitudes down.  That’s it.

Second, all Rieux did here was assert that it is privilege that makes them blind to the distinction that he can see, but somehow doesn’t feel the need to explain in any detail.  I’d have rathered he demonstrate the privilege and not go on the rant, myself …

“And then we can wonder — quite reasonably — if it really is the same attitude and if it will lead to the more extreme behaviours.

You can “wonder” it, but there’s nothing the slightest bit reasonable about it. It’s just privilege and atheophobia talking.”

So, is he denying that it is the same attitude or that it will not lead to the more extreme behaviours or … what, exactly?  And still note the lack of anything that’s actually an argument; this is bald assertion at its best.  If he had demonstrated it earlier in the post, that would be acceptable, but he didn’t, so it ain’t.

“As I was exceptionally careful to point out in the comment and in the post, I’m not saying that it will lead to that….

Oh, no, of course not! You were only suggesting that maybe if we let one of those darkies into the White House, every Caucasian American would be in shackles toiling on watermelon plantations by July 2009. How could I have been so blind as to mistake your “exceptionally careful” airy hypotheses about Gnu Atheism leading to Stalinist oppression for something offensive? Shame, shame on me.”

So, here he makes an analogy to race, but never shows how — and this is an odd comment, since I’m not American and certainly didn’t say anything like that about Obama — my comments actually are the same as that.  The closest he gets is talking specifically about “Stalinist oppression”, but Stalinist oppression certainly a) occurred and b) was indeed linked — as the quote I made in the comment demonstrated — to an explicitly anti-religious philosophy.  None of that applies to his example.  Again, this is a rant, not an argument.

“But I’m getting cynical and no longer believe that there is any movement or philosophy no matter how will intentioned that is immune to abuse.

Buddy, your post isn’t about “abuse,” it’s about Stalinist autocracy. Don’t insult us with that minimizing, goalpost-moving bullshit.”

No, my post is about abuse — an abuse of a decent, well-meaning movement or philosophy to turn it into something like a Stalinist autocracy.  I’m not sure why Rieux would think that abuse isn’t supposed to be taken as an expression of severity here.  Just what is his rant trying to get at here?  He’s accusing me of moving the goalposts, but a well-meaning movement being used to justify that sort of extreme behaviour surely counts as abuse by all meanings of the word, doesn’t it?  Does he somehow think that my comment was minimizing my position on this or something?

And I think it obvious that Stalinism abused the reasonableness of Marxism, although Stalinism isn’t alone, as China doesn’t have a good record here either:


“Persecution of Christians in China has been sporadic. The most severe times were during the Cultural Revolution. Believers were arrested and imprisoned and sometimes tortured for their faith.[28] Bibles were destroyed, churches and homes were looted, and Christians were subjected to humiliation.[28] Several thousand Christians were known to have been imprisoned between 1983-1993.[28] In 1992 the government began a campaign to shut down all of the unregistered meetings. However, government implementation of restrictions since then has varied widely between regions of China and in many areas there is greater religious liberty.[28] “

Grain of salt there:  some of that would be for Christian religions that are not officially recognized, which is slightly different.  The Chinese Constitution does guarantee freedom of religion, within limits.

“And thus, the concerns about attitudes stay in play.

You can stick your whining about “attitudes” up your ass. Stalinism is not an “attitude,” it is a form of totalitarianism. Pretending that you can extrapolate from “ridicule of religion” and “scientific atheism” to autocracy and mass murder is obscene.”

Well, if I’d been talking about Stalinism really, he’d have a point.  But Stalinism used the Marxist anti-religious attitudes to justify practicing all of those things.  In a reaonable discussion, Rieux would make an argument here.  Like “Marxism would not lead to those things outside of an additional philosophy like Stalinism imposing it.  We have a liberal democracy and humanistic philosophy, and so that won’t happen even if we espouse those anti-religious attitudes.”  Or something like that.  It always bothers me to have to argue for my opponents’ position.

“Why, Rieux, do you think that the anti-religious views of the Gnu atheists will not promote the same abuses as the anti-religious views of Marxist-Leninism?

Gee, I don’t know; maybe it’s because Marxism demanded the revolutionary overthrow of governments it opposed in order to install a dictatorship of the proletariat, you dumbass. Whereas no Gnu Atheist has ever even sought political power in the name of Gnu ideology, much less advocated violating anyone’s civil rights.”

And gee, finally, here at the end, there’s something that kinda looks like an argument.   Note, though, that he’s dropped talking about Stalinism and is talking about Marxism directly, which is an improvement but kinda makes the rest of the post pointless.  So, yes, Marxism is a revolutionary philosophy.  It advocates for the people — that’s who the proletariat are, BTW — to rise up and overthrow the government and install a fair system in place of the one that keeps them poor and oppressed.  This, interestingly, sounds an awful lot like the protests and revolutions that we’ve just had in Egypt and are going on in the Middle East, and that we’re thinking are good things.  The only difference is that those are in service of democracy, not socialism.  But both democracy and Marxism claimed to be in the best interests of the people.  So, maybe Marxism explicitly allows for violent overthrow, which would lead to a society that accepts violence more readily and then is more prime for a Stalinist approach.  Well, I don’t think it really does (I’d have to look in far more detail than a simple quick Google search) but Libya is using violence to overthrow their government and we’re even supporting it.  Yes, the Libyan government is clearly bad and we should do all of these things, but Marxism claimed the same about their leaders.  So the use of violence is not verbotten, so it seems that that isn’t the difference.  So, then, what is it about it being revolutionary that makes Marxism special?

As for no Gnu atheist ever seeking political power … this isn’t really true.  Gnu atheists clearly want to influence politics, as do the organizations they support.  They say that it’s to remove religious privilege, but that’s enough to refute his point.  Gnu atheists, I concede, do talk a lot about rights and do seem to want to preserve them, but Richard Dawkins didn’t want someone to defend their right to have a religious message on their shirt on the basis of freedom of religion (freedom of speech was okay), Sarah Braash recently said (in a comment at Daylight Atheism that I have yet to get back to unfortunately):


“Now, could this mean that the government might enact a law that incidentally infringes on the religious exercise of private citizens.

Perhaps. And, if it does, too bad, so sad. As long as the law was enacted for secular reasons, you don’t get to reject it, because of your religion.”

The problem, of course, is that if a law even incidentally infringes on my religious exercise, that violates my rights.  And if it does that, then I can take that to court and should usually win, secular reasons or no.  If she really means this, then she is advocating for at least ignoring the right to freedom of religion.  But she may not.  As she says later:

“So, yeah, sometimes, you will be forced to follow secular laws that disagree with your religious doctrine.

That’s the way it goes.”

This is slightly different.  If the “forced to follow” is just a misstatement, this could simply mean that I would, say, have to allow abortions to occur even if my religion said they were bad; I’m not forced to have one, just to accept that the law allows it.  And in some cases, of course, if multiple rights clash sometimes the right to freedom of religion will lose.  But if the law forces me to act against my religion, that would violate the right to freedom of religion and should not exist in any secular state.  Note that cases like those of marriage commissioners and gay marriage are borderline cases; if someone enters a job that doesn’t violate their religion but the rules suddenly change so that now it does, they should get a nice easing out of that position with some compensation, but if they entered knowing it could happen they’re fair game.

And the usually quite good Russell Blackford recently said this, that I ended up not commenting on:


“Roman Catholicism has a long history of suppressing ideas and images that it considers threatening. In past centuries it has had considerable success with this, acting through state power. The hierarchy is fundamentally opposed to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and this has been shown numerous times.

There is nothing “moderate” about the Catholic Church or the Catholic faith, despite the way it is often held out as one of the nice, cuddly religions. It’s just as bad as any other – and in some ways, it’s worse than most. Once again, I call on decent people who belong to the Catholic Church to leave it and join some other Christian denomination. If these sorts of barbaric actions don’t represent you … well, maybe you need to look further into the positions that the hierarchy takes.

After that, I suggest you just pack up and leave.”

This isn’t problematic, but when he clarifies what he means by censorship, he gives this case:

” “In 1994, the newspaper Le quotidien de Paris published the article L’obscurité de l’erreur by journalist, sociologist, and historian Paul Giniewski. The article was a reaction to the publication of the papal encyclical Veritatis Splendor. In the article, Giniewski criticizes the Pope, and states that Catholic doctrine abetted the conception and the realization of Auschwitz. A Catholic organization initiated criminal proceedings on the ground that the article was an insult to a group because of its religion. The court of first instance convicted the newspaper, but the first court of appeal annulled the conviction. The Catholic organization launched a civil action. The court of first instance decided that the article constituted a defamation of Catholics. The first court of appeal disagreed. The Supreme Court of Appeal held that the first court of appeal had made an error, and referred the matter back to that court. The first court of appeal then held Giniewski liable for defaming Catholics. Giniewski appealed, but the Supreme Court of Appeal rejected his contention that his aim was not to insult Catholics but to present an opinion in good faith. Giniewski appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. The European Court held that the courts of France were wrong.”

That’s a very clear-cut case of the Catholic body in France which takes on these cases seeking outright of censorship of ideas – and succeeding all the way through the French legal system until they finally failed in the European Court of Human Rights.

There are numerous such examples, but maybe the above is enough to get you started and to give you some of what was in my mind. Of course, among all this, they will say “We support freedom of speech, but …”

Now, I’m no expert on French law, but I’m going to guess that if it got this far France has a set of laws on the books like there is in Canada that you cannot defame or produce hate speech against a protected group.  Homosexuals, for example, are one such group, as are racial groups … as are religious groups.  So, the Catholic Church in this example clearly asked if what that person had said met the criteria for those laws.  The French courts decided “Yes”.  The EU court said “No”.  Blackford here seems to be suggesting that the Church just going through those proceedings is an invalid attempt to censor, while my interpretation is that they were simply following the laws of the country and asking.  Surely we can consider asking if claiming that Catholic policy abetted genocide is arguing in good faith or is an attempt to defame.  You could do it for anything else.  Why not religion?

These are not,  hasten to add, smoking guns.  Blackford likely has a more reasonable interpretation than it seems at first glance here (although he has a tendency to saying fairly irrational things when he gets angry).  Sarah Braash may well respect the case I think is covered by her claim.  There’s not much excuse for Dawkins, though.  But anyway, wanting religion to be treated specially from everything else and not recognizing freedom of religion as an important right in those cases is at least potentially problematic.  So some clarity, at least, is called for here.

“The whining about “attitude” you build your entire obscene case on is nothing more than a privileged and bigoted backlash against atheists who have refused to obey the unjust dictates that we stay in “our place” and not trouble our religious betters.”

And his evidence is … what, exactly?  I spend a lot of time in academics and workplaces where atheism is generally presumed.  I have no problem with atheists.  I even have no problem with vocal atheists.  I don’t like atheists who call me delusional or irrational or rant about religious people even when the atheists don’t necessarily have a better view or alternative.  I welcome debate with atheists, which would be “troubling their religious betters”.  It’s unfortunate that I feel the militant atheists really don’t do more than rant, and fall far sort of debate and dialogue.  As Rieux’s comment is an excellent case in point.

“Gnu Atheism won’t lead to brutal dictatorship for the same reasons that abolitionism hasn’t lead to a brutal dictatorship, nor has feminism, nor has the union movement, nor has the Civil Rights movement, nor has the GLBT rights movement, nor has the collapse of religion in most of Europe, East Asia, and Oceania. All of the above have prompted similar moaning and wailing about gauche “attitudes,” but it was all bullshit concocted by a self-satisfied hegemon that desperately wanted to retain its heedless power.”

Well, most of those were never accused of such, as far as I know.  In fact, the claim was the exact opposite — that it would lead to immorality and anarchy.  As for the collapse of religion, again move of those movements weren’t as explicitly anti-religious as Gnu atheism seems to be, as far as I know.

Now, if Rieux is right, then I’d feel a lot better about the future, and about secularism.  This, of course, is a far cry from trying to preserve power; heck, I dislike overly religious views and policies as much as the converse.  But he’s going to have to support that contention.  And he never did.

“You took a hateful backlash against a group of atheists who dare to speak their minds, who do so without the slightest hint of violence or political aspirations, and pretended that it’s serious and “reasonable” to worry about the targets of that bigotry resorting to Stalinist tyranny. As I said, your post is one disgusting piece of ****.”

Well, except that my whole argument — that Rieux somehow missed despite my stating it multiple times — is that fundamentalist and militant attitudes seem to be the cause of issues, and that to at least some people at least some atheists and some Gnu atheists express that.  I also made a link between anti-religious views and religious persecution, which seems safe to me.  That I used an actual example of religious persecution that was horrible but was clearly based on anti-religious attitudes seems somehow to be verbotten, even though comparisons of religions to Nazis are not.  His comment rarely makes an argument and gets things wrong when it does … and then makes presumptions like “Dare to speak their minds” which I can assure you I have no issue with.  There’s no reply to what I said there, no attempt to engage, clarify or argue.  Why, then is this a comment worthy of being considered good or useful, again?

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